Tarzan the Magnificent

Chapter 16

Tantor

Edgar Rice Burroughs


WEARY DAY after weary day Gonfala had trudged north with Spike and Troll. They had made a wide detour to avoid the country of the Bantangos, for although they had both the Gonfal and Gonfala they lacked the courage of their convictions relative to this combination that previously had seemed all-powerful to them.

Gonfala’s safety, so far, had lain in the men’s jealousy of one another. Neither would leave her alone with the other. Because of her, they had ceased to speak except when absolutely necessary; and each was constantly afraid that the other would murder him. To assure her own safety, the girl watched over the safety of each of the others as though she loved them both.

One of the blacks carried the great diamond, nor did either of the white men attempt to touch it without arousing the savage objections of the other; for now that Gonfala was with them each feared that the other might use the magical power of the stone to destroy him.

Spike was in search of a district which he had passed through on safari several years before.

“It’s a regular garden, Miss,” he explained to Gonfala; “and game! S’elp me, it’s lousy with game; and that gentle, from not bein’ hunted none, that you can walk right up to ’em an’ bat ’em over the head, if you’d a mind to. We could live like kings and with plenty of servants, too; for the natives is peaceablelike, and not many of ’em. I mean not too many. We could rule ’em easy what with our havin’ the Gonfal and you.”

“I don’t know that the Gonfal would do you much good,” said the girl.

“Wy not?” demanded Troll.

“You don’t know how to use it. One must have certain mental powers to succeed with the Gonfal.”

“Have you got ’em?” asked Spike.

“I could use it unless Mafka desired to prevent me. He could do that, for his mind could control mine. I have never tried to use these powers since Mafka died.”

“But you think you can?” Spike’s voice reflected the fear that was in him. He had banked heavily on the power of the Gonfal. All his future plans were dependent upon his being able to control the acts of others through the mysterious powers of the great diamond, and now there was doubt. It haunted him day and night.

“I think so,” replied Gonfala, “but I shall not use it to help either of you unless I am absolutely assured that neither one of you will harm me.”

“I wouldn’t think of hurtin’ you, Miss,” Spike assured her.

“Me neither, but you better not trust him,” said Troll.

Spike took a step toward Troll, his fist clenched. “You dirty crook,” he shouted, “you’re the one needs watchin’, but you won’t need it much longer. I’m goin’ to break your neck for you right now.”

Troll jumped back and picked up his rifle. “Come any closer and I’ll let you have it,” he threatened, holding the muzzle of the weapon aimed at Spike’s belly.

“You’d better not,” Spike admonished him. “You may need another gun in some of the country we got to go through. You’d never get through alone with just six niggers.”

“That goes for you, too,” growled Troll.

“Then let’s call it quits, and quit our rowin’—it ain’t gettin’ us nothin’.”

“It won’t ever get either one of you me,” said Gonfala, “and that’s what’s been the trouble between you. You stole me from my friends, and some day they’re going to catch up with you. When they do, it’ll be better for you if you haven’t harmed me. Stanlee Wood will never give up until he finds me; and when he tells Tarzan I have been stolen, you can rest assured I’ll be found and you will be punished.”

“Tarzan!” exclaimed Spike. “What’s Tarzan got to do with it?”

“You know who he is?” demanded Gonfala.

“Sure—everybody’s heard of him; but I ain’t never seen him. I always thought maybe he was just somethin’ somebody made up. What do you know about him? Have you ever seen him?”

“Yes, and so have you.”

“Not us,” said Troll.

“You remember Clayton?” asked the girl.

“Sure, I remember Clayton. That bloke was as good as two—Say! You don’t mean—?”

“Yes, I do. Clayton is Tarzan.”

Troll looked worried. Spike scowled; then he shrugged. “Wot if he is?” he demanded. “He couldn’t never find us—not where we’re goin’; and even if he did, wot could he do against the Gonfal? We could do what we pleased with him.”

“Sure,” agreed Troll; “we could snuff him out like that.” He snapped his fingers.

“Oh, no you couldn’t,” said Gonfala.

“An’ wy couldn’t we?”

“Because I wouldn’t let you. You can’t use the Gonfal without my help, and when Tarzan and Stanlee come I shall help them. You see, with the Gonfal, I can snuff you out.”

The two men looked at one another. Presently Spike walked away and called to Troll to accompany him. When he was out of earshot of Gonfala be stopped. “Listen,” he said; “that dame’s got us to rights. If she ever gets her paws on that rock our lives won’t be worth nothin.”

“Looks like the Gonfal ain’t goin’ to do us much good,” said Troll. “We can’t make it work without her; and if we let her get her hands on it, she’ll kill us. Wot are we goin’ to do?”

“In the first place we got to see that she doesn’t get to touch it. One of us has got to carry it—she might get the nigger to let her touch it some time when we weren’t around. You can carry it if you want to.”

“That’s wot I been sayin’ for a long time,” Troll reminded him.

“Well, it’s different now,” Spike explained. “Neither one of us can get it to work, an’ neither one of us dares let her touch it; so we’re safe as long as one of us has it.”

“But wot good is the stone goin’ to do us, then?”

“Wait ‘til we get up in that country I been tellin’ you about. We can make the dame be good then. All we got to do is tell her to work the stone the way we say or we’ll croak her. She’ll have to do it, too; for where I’m takin’ her she couldn’t never find her way out after she’d killed us; so it wouldn’t do her no good.”

Troll shook his head. “Maybe she’d kill us any way, just to get even with us.”

“Well, there ain’t nothin’ we can do about it now, anyway,” said Spike; “so let’s get goin’. Come on, you niggers! Come on, Gonfala! we’re trekkin’—the sun’s been up an hour.”

As they broke camp far to the north of him, Tarzan stopped at the edge of the forest that bordered the valley of the Bantangos on the west. He looked about him, carefully taking his bearings; then with the tip of his spear he loosened the earth in the center of a triangle formed by three trees and with his hands scooped out the earth until he had a hole about a foot deep. Into this he dropped the Great Emerald of the Zuli. When he had refilled the hole and covered it with the fallen leaves and twigs that he had carefully scraped away, no human eye could have detected the hiding place. With his knife he blazed a tree fifteen paces from one of the three trees that formed the triangle. Only Tarzan could ever find the place again. Should he never return, the ransom of a dozen kings would lie there to the end of time, undiscovered.

Unable to find the trail that the storm had obliterated, the ape-man attempted to deduce from his knowledge of the two men he was now positive were the abductors of Gonfala and from his knowledge of events leading up to the present moment the logical destination for which they were headed.

He knew that they were familiar with the miraculous powers of the Gonfal and that they had been unable to call these powers into being themselves. The chief of the Bantangos had told him of their failure to demonstrate the value of their big medicine. Either by accident or intent they had found Gonfala, and what more natural than that they would assume that with her aid they could command the wonders of the Gonfal? And where would be the best place to utilize these powers? Why, the country of the Kaji, naturally; for there they would be safer from detection than almost anywhere on earth, and there they would find a tribe accustomed to the domination of the stone. There they would find women; and Tarzan felt that if he were any judge of men, that circumstance would have considerable bearing with Troll and Spike. So Tarzan travelled toward the north on a trail parallel to that taken by Spike and Troll but some distance to the west of it.

For two days Tarzan moved toward the north, and still there was no sign of those whom he sought. He made his kills and ate and slept, and swung on tirelessly through forest or across plains.

As he was passing through a strip of forest along the shoulder of a range of hills thick with bamboo he heard a sound that brought him to halt, listening. It was repeated—the weak trumpeting of an elephant in distress. The ape-man turned aside from the direction he had been travelling and moved cautiously through the bamboo thicket. He was moving down wind; so he made a wide circuit in order to pick up the scent spoor of what lay ahead. There might be something beside an elephant. The caution of the beast aided and abetted the reasoning powers of the man.

Presently the scent of Tantor the elephant told him that he had circled his quarry, and even stronger was the rank odor of Dango the hyena; then, harsh and raucous, came the hideous laughing cry of the unclean beast followed by the plaintive help—cry of the elephant. Tantor was in trouble, and the ape-man pushed forward to learn the cause.

Almost as old as Tarzan was the friendship of Tarzan and Tantor. Perhaps he had never seen this elephant before; but still, to Tarzan, he would be Tantor—the name and the friendship belonged to all elephants.

As he came closer, he moved more cautiously—beastlike, always scenting a trap. For those of the jungle, eternal vigilance is the price of life. At last he came close enough so that by parting the bamboo he could see that for which he had been searching. The top of Tantor’s back was just visible in an elephant pit. Snapping and growling at the edge of the pit were a pair of hyenas, circling above was Ska the vulture; and from these omens the ape-man knew that Tantor was near death.

Parting the bamboo, Tarzan stepped into the little clearing that the builders of the pit had made, an enlargement of a wide elephant trail. Instantly the hyenas transferred their attention from the elephant to the ape-man, and with bared fangs faced him. But as the man advanced, they retreated snarling. He paid no attention to them; for he knew that ordinarily Dango would not attack any but a helpless man.

As he approached the pit Tantor saw him and trumpeted a feeble warning. The elephant’s skin hung loosely on its great frame, evidencing that it had been long without food or water. It had fallen into a pit that must have been dug and then abandoned, either because the tribe that dug it had moved away or because no elephant having fallen into it, they had ceased to visit it.

Tarzan spoke to Tantor in the strange language that he used with the beasts of the jungle. Perhaps Tantor did not understand the words—who may know?—but something, the tone perhaps, carried the idea that the ape-man wished to convey, that he was a friend; but Tantor needed something beside kind words, and so Tarzan set about cutting the bamboo that bore the tenderest shoots and carrying them to the imprisoned beast.

Tantor ate with avidity, the water content of the shoots furnishing at least some of the moisture that his great frame required even more than it required food; then Tarzan set to work with spear and knife and hands upon the seemingly Herculean task of excavating a ramp up which Tantor could walk to liberty. It was the work not of an hour but of many hours, and it was not completed until the following day; then, weak and staggering, the great pachyderm climbed slowly from the pit. He was a huge beast, one of the largest old bulls Tarzan had ever seen. One tusk, by some peculiar freak of nature, was much darker than the other; and this, with his great size, must have marked him among his fellows as a bull of distinction.

As he came out of the pit, his sensitive trunk passed over the body of the ape-man in what was almost a caress; then, as Tarzan took his way once more toward the north, Tantor turned and moved slowly along the elephant trail toward the east and the nearest water.

 

Days passed. Stanley Wood, waiting at Tarzan’s estate, grew more and more frantic as no news came of the whereabouts of Tarzan. He plead with Muviro, headman of the Waziri, to furnish him with an escort and let him set out in search of Gonfala; and at last Muviro yielded to his importunities and sent him away with half a dozen warriors as an escort.

Wood took up the search at the point at which Tarzan had left him, where the clean picked bones of the lion Gonfala had killed lay bleaching in the sun. He knew only that those he sought had started north at that spot. It was a blind and seemingly hopeless search; but it meant action; and anything was preferable to sitting idly, his mind torn by fears and doubts as to the fate of Gonfala.

As they approached the Bantango country, the Waziri, knowing the nature and temper of the inhabitants, counseled making a detour to avoid them; and entirely by chance they selected an easterly route—the route that Spike and Troll had chosen for the same reason. Thus it happened that a week later they received definite proof that they were on the right trail. At a village of friendly blacks they were told that a safari of nine that included two white men and a white girl had stopped overnight with the tribe. The chief had furnished them with guides to the next friendly village to the north.

Wood talked to these men and learned that the chief of the village to which they had guided the safari had also furnished them guides for the next stage of their journey, and for the first time in weeks the young American found hope rekindled in his bosom. He had learned that up to this point Gonfala had been alive and well; and that, from what the villagers had seen, there was no indication that she was being ill-treated.

All the marvelous tracking skill of the Lord of the Jungle had been nullified by a heavy rain, and then chance had set in and sent him upon the wrong trail and Stanley Wood upon the right one.

Through such a trivial vagary of fate lives were jeopardized and men died.


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