Tarzan the Magnificent

Chapter 17

Strangers

Edgar Rice Burroughs


SPIKE AND TROLL were holding palaver with the chief of a northern tribe. They had come far, guided from village to village by friendly natives. Luck had been with them, but now this good fortune seemed to be at an end. They were trying to persuade the old chief to furnish them with guides to the next village.

“No more villages,” he said. He did not like these white men. He held them in contempt because their safari was small and poor, too poor even to rob. They had nothing but two rifles—and the girl. He had been thinking about her. He was also thinking of a black sultan to the east to whom she might be sold, but he put this thought from him. He did not wish any trouble with the white men. Native soldiers had come to his village once under white officers and punished him for ill-treating the safari of some white hunters. They had come from a great distance just to do that, and the incident had given him vast respect for the power and the long arm of the white man.

“What is north?” asked Spike.

“Mountains,” replied the chief.

“That,” said Spike to Troll, “is like the country where my valley is. It is surrounded by mountains.” He tried to explain to the chief the valley for which they were searching and the tribe that inhabited it.

A cunning look came into the eyes of the chief. He wished to be rid of these men, and he saw how he might do it. “I know the valley,” he said. “Tomorrow I will give you guides.”

“I guess maybe we ain’t lucky,” gloated Spike, as he and Troll came from their palaver with the chief and sat down beside Gonfala. The girl did not inquire why; but Spike explained, nevertheless. “It won’t be long now,” he said, “before we’re safe and sound in my valley.”

“You won’t be safe,” said Gonfala. “Tarzan and Stanlee Wood will come soon—very soon now.”

“They won’t never find us where we’re goin’.”

“The natives will guide them from village to village just as they have guided you,” she reminded him. “It will be very easy to follow you.”

“Yes,” admitted Spike, “they can follow us up to where these people will guide us.”

“But there we will stop. They will find you there.”

“We don’t stop there,” said Spike. “I guess I ain’t nobody’s fool. The valley these people are takin’ us to, ain’t my valley; but once I get in this here first valley, I can find the other. I passed through it comin’ out of my valley. It’s about two marches east of where we want to go. When we get to this first valley, we won’t need no guides the rest of the way; so, when we leave this here first valley, we’ll tell ’em we’re goin’ to the coast, an’ start off to the east; then we’ll swing around back way to the north of ’em an’ go west to my valley. And there won’t nobody never find us.”

“Tarzan and Stanlee Wood will find you.”

“I wisht you’d shut up about this here Tarzan and Stanlee Wood. I’m sick of hearin’ of ’em. It’s gettin’ on my nerves.”

Troll sat staring at Gonfala through half closed lids. He had not spoken much all day, but he had looked much at Gonfala. Always when she caught his glance he turned his eyes away.

They had been able to sustain themselves this far by killing game and trading the meat to natives for other articles of food, principally vegetables and corn. Tonight they feasted royally and went to their beds early. Gonfala occupied a hut by herself; the two men had another near by. They had had a hard day’s trek, and tired muscles combined with a heavy meal to induce early slumber. Gonfala and Spike were asleep almost as soon as they had stretched themselves on their sleeping mats.

Not so Troll. He remained very much awake—thinking. He listened to the heavy breathing of Spike that denoted that he slept soundly. He listened to the sounds in the village. Gradually they died out—the village slept. Troll thought how easy it would be to kill Spike, but he was afraid of Spike. Even when the man slept, he was afraid of him. That made Troll hate him all the more, but it was not hate alone that made him wish to kill him. Troll had been daydreaming—very pleasant dreams. Spike stood in the way of their fulfillment, yet he could not muster the courage to kill the sleeping man—not yet. “Later,” he thought.

He crawled to the doorway of the hut and looked out. There was no sign of waking life in the village. The silence was almost oppressive; it extended out into the black void of night beyond the village. As Troll rose to his feet outside the hut he stumbled over a cooking pot; the noise, against the background of silence, seemed terrific. Cursing under his breath, the man stood motionless, listening.

Spike, disturbed but not fully awakened, moved in his sleep and turned over; the first dead slumber of early night was broken. Thereafter he would be more restless and more easily awakened. Troll did not hear him move, and after a moment of listening he tip-toed away. Stealthily he approached the hut in which Gonfala slept.

The girl, restless and wakeful, lay wide-eyed staring out into the lesser darkness framed by the doorway of her hut. She heard footsteps approaching. Would they pass, or were they coming here for her? Weeks of danger, weeks of suspicion, weeks of being constantly on guard had wrought upon her until she sensed menace in the most ordinary occurrences; so now she felt, intuitively, she believed, that someone was coming to her hut. And for what purpose, other than evil, should one come thus stealthily by night?

Raising herself upon her hands, she crouched, waiting. Every muscle tense, she scarcely breathed. Whatever it was, it was coming closer, closer. Suddenly a darker blotch loomed in the low opening that was the doorway. An animal or a man on all fours was creeping in!

“Who are you? What do you want?” It was a muffled scream of terror.

“Shut up! It’s me. Don’t make no noise. I want to talk to you.”

She recognized the voice, but it did not allay her fears. The man crept closer to her. He was by her side now. She could hear his labored breathing.

“Go away,” she said. “We can talk tomorrow.”

“Listen!” he said. “You don’t want to go to that there valley and spend the rest of your life with Spike an’ a bunch o’ niggers, do you? When he gets us there, he’ll kill me an’ have you all to himself. I knows him—he’s that kind of a rat. Be good to me an’ I’ll take you away. Me an’ you’ll beat it with the diamond. We’ll go to Europe, to Paris.”

“I don’t want to go anywhere with you. Go away! Get out of here, before I call Spike.”

“One squawk out of you, an’ I’ll wring your neck. You’re goin’ to be good to me whether you want to or not.” He reached out in the darkness and seized her, feeling for her throat.

Before he found it she had time to voice a single scream and cry out once, “Spike!” Then Troll closed choking fingers upon her throat and bore her down beneath his weight. She struggled and fought, striking him in the face, tearing at the fingers at her throat.

Awakened by the scream, Spike raised upon an elbow. “Troll!” he called. “Did you hear anything?” There was no response. “Troll!” He reached out to the mat where Troll should have been. He was not there. Instantly his suspicions were aroused and, because of his own evil mind, they centered unquestioningly upon the truth.

In a dozen strides he was at Gonfalas hut; and as he scrambled through the doorway, Troll met him with an oath and a snarl. Clinching, the two men rolled upon the floor, biting, gouging, striking, kicking; occasionally a lurid oath or a scream of pain punctuated their heavy breathing. Gonfala crouched at the back of the hut, terrified for fear that one of them would kill the other, removing the only factor of safety she possessed.

They rolled closer to her; and she edged to one side, out of their way. Her new position was nearer the doorway. It suggested the possibility of temporary escape, of which she was quick to take advantage. In the open, she commenced to worry again for fear that one of the men would be killed.

She saw that some of the natives, aroused by the commotion within her hut, had come from theirs. She ran to them, begging them to stop the fight. The chief was there, and he was very angry because he had been disturbed. He ordered several warriors to go and separate the men. They hesitated, but finally approached the hut. As they did so, the sounds of conflict ended; and a moment later Spike crawled into the open and staggered to his feet.

Gonfala feared that the worst had happened. Of the two men, she had feared Spike the more; for while both were equally brutal and devoid of decency, Troll was not as courageous as his fellow. Him she might have circumvented through his cowardice. At least, that she had thought until tonight; now she was not so sure. But she was sure that Spike was always the more dangerous. Her one thought now was to escape him, if only temporarily. Inflamed by his fight, secure in the knowledge that Troll was dead, what might he not do? To a far corner of the village she ran and hid herself between a hut and the palisade. Each moment she expected to hear Spike hunting for her, but he did not come. He did not even know that she had left her hut where he thought he had left her with the dead Troll, and he had gone to his own hut to nurse his wounds.

But Troll was not dead. In the morning Spike found him bloody and dazed squatting in the village street staring at the ground. Much to the former’s disgust, Troll was not even badly injured. He looked up as Spike approached.

“Wot happened?” he asked.

Spike looked at him suspiciously for a moment; then his expression turned to puzzlement. “A bloomin’ lorry ran over you,” he said.

“ ‘A bloomin’ lorry,”’ Troll repeated. “I never even seen it.”

Gonfala, looking around a corner of the hut behind which she had been hiding, saw the two men and breathed a sigh of relief. Troll was not dead; she was not to be left alone with Spike. She came toward them. Troll glanced up at her.

“’Ose the dame?” he asked.

Gonfala and Spike looked at one another, and the latter tapped his forehead. “A bit balmy,” he explained.

“She don’t look balmy,” said Troll. “She looks like my sister—my sister—sister.” He continued to stare at her, dully.

“We better get some grub an’ be on our way,” interrupted Spike. He seemed nervous and ill at ease in the presence of Troll. It is one thing to kill a man, quite another to have done this thing to him.

It was a silent, preoccupied trio that moved off behind two guides in a northeasterly direction after the morning meal had been eaten. Spike walked ahead, Troll kept close to Gonfala. He was often looking at her, a puzzled expression in his eyes.

“Wot’s your name?” he asked.

Gonfala had a sudden inspiration. Perhaps it was madness to hope that it might succeed, but her straits were desperate. “Don’t tell me you don’t remember your sister’s name,” she exclaimed.

Troll stared at her, his face expressionless. “Wot is your name?” he asked. “Everything is sort o’ blurrylike in my memory.”

“Gonfala,” she said. “You remember, don’t you—your sister?”

“Gonfala; oh, yes—my sister.”

“I’m glad you’re here,” she said; “for now you won’t let anyone harm me, will you?”

“Harm you? They better not try it,” he exclaimed belligerently.

The safari had halted, and they caught up with Spike who was talking with the two guides.

“The beggars won’t go no farther,” he explained. “We ain’t made more’n five miles an’ they quits us, quits us cold.”

“Why?” asked Gonfala.

“They say the country ahead is taboo. They say they’s white men up ahead that’ll catch ’em an’ make slaves out of ’em an’ feed ’em to lions. They’ve went an’ put the fear o’ God into our boys, too.”

“Let’s turn back,” suggested the girl. “What’s the use anyway, Spike? If you get killed the Gonfal won’t do you any good. If you turn around and take me back safely to my friends, I’ll do my best to get them to give you the Gonfal and let you go. I give you my word that I will, and I know that Stanlee Wood will do anything that I ask.”

Spike shook his head. “Nothin’ doin’! I’m goin’ where I’m goin’, an’ you’re goin’ with me.” He bent close and stared boldly into her eyes. “If I had to give up one or t’other, I’d give up the Gonfal before I would you—but I’m not ‘goin’ to give up neither.”

The girl shrugged. “I’ve given you your chance,” she said. “You are a fool not to take it.”

So they pushed on without guides farther and farther into the uncharted wilderness; and each new day Spike was confident that this day he would stumble upon the enchanted valley of his dreams, and each night he prophesied for the morrow.

Troll’s mental condition remained unchanged. He thought that Gonfala was his sister, and he showed her what little consideration there was in his gross philosophy of life to accord any one. The protective instinct of the brutal male was stimulated in her behalf; and for this she was grateful, not to Troll but to fate. Where he had been, where he was going he appeared not to know or to care. He trudged on day after day in dumb silence, asking no question, showing no interest in anything or anyone other than Gonfala. He was obsessed by a belief that she was in danger, and so he constantly carried one of the rifles the better to protect her.

For many days they had been in mountainous country searching for the elusive valley, and at the end of a hard trek they made camp on the shoulder of a mountain beside a little spring of clear water. As night fell the western sky was tinged with the golden red of a dying sunset. Long after the natural phenomenon should have faded into the blackness of the night the red glow persisted.

Gonfala sat gazing at it, dreamily fascinated. Spike watched it, too, with growing excitement. The blacks watched it with fear. Troll sat crosslegged, staring at the ground.

Spike sat down beside Gonfala. “You know wot that is, girlie?” he asked. “You know it ain’t no sunset, don’t you?”

“It looks like a fire—a forest fire,” she said.

“It’s a fire all right. I ain’t never been there, but I’ve seen that light before. I figure it’s from the inside of one of them volcanoes, but I’ll tell you wot it means to us—it means we found our valley. When I was in that valley I seen that light to the south at night. All we got to do now is trek along a little west o’ north, an’ in maybe four or five marches we orter be there; then, girlie, you an’ me’s goin’ to settle down to housekeepin’.”

The girl made no reply. She was no longer afraid; for she knew that Troll would kill Spike if she asked him to; and now she had no reason to fear being alone with Troll, other than the waning possibility that he might regain his memory.

The new day found Spike almost jovial, so jubilant was he at the prospect of soon finding his valley; but his joviality disappeared when he discovered that two of his six men had deserted during the night. He was in a cold sweat until he found that they had not taken the Gonfal with them. After that, he determined, he would sleep with the great stone at his side, taking no more chances. He could do this now without arousing the suspicions of Troll, for Troll had no suspicions. He paid no attention to the Gonfal nor ever mentioned it.

Toward noon a great valley opened before them, the length of which ran in the direction Spike wished to travel; and so they dropped down into it to easy travelling after their long days in the mountains.

The valley was partially forested, the trees growing more profusely along the course of a river that wound down from the upper end of the valley, crossed it diagonally, and disappeared in a cleft in the hills to the west; but considerable areas were open and covered with lush grasses, while on the east side of the valley was a veritable forest of bamboo.

Spike, not knowing if the valley were inhabited; nor, if it were, the nature or temper of its inhabitants, chose to follow the wooded strip that bordered the river, taking advantage of the cover it afforded. Along the river he found a wide elephant trail, and here they were making excellent speed when one of the blacks stopped suddenly, listened intently, and pointed ahead.

“What’s the matter?” demanded Spike.

“Men, Bwana—coming,” replied the black.

“I don’t hear nothin’,” said Spike. “Do you?” he turned to Gonfala.

She nodded. “Yes, I hear voices.”

“Then we better get off the trail and hide—at least until we see who they are. Here, all of you! Here’s a little trail leadin’ off here.”

Spike herded the party off to the left of the main trail along a little winding path through rather heavy underbrush, but they had covered little more than a hundred yards when they came out onto the open plain. Here they stopped at the edge of the wood, waiting and listening. Presently the voices of men came plainly to their ears, constantly closer and closer, until suddenly it dawned on them all that the men they heard were approaching along the little trail through which they had sought to escape.

Spike looked for a place of concealment, but there was none. The thick underbrush was almost impenetrable behind them, while on the other hand the plain stretched away across the valley to the hills upon the west. As a last resort he turned north along the edge of the wood, urging the others to haste until all were running.

Glancing back, Gonfala saw the party that had alarmed them debouching onto the plain. First came a dozen huge Negroes, each pair of whom held a lion in leash. Following these were six white men strangely garbed. Even at a distance she could see that their trappings were gorgeous. Behind them followed a score or more of other white men. They were similarly dressed but in quieter raiment. They carried spears as well as swords. One of the warriors carried something dangling at his side which, even at a distance, could not have been mistaken for other than it was—a bloody human head.

“They’re white men,” Gonfala called to Spike. “Maybe they’d be friendly.”

“They don’t look like it to me,” he replied. “I ain’t takin’ no chances after wot I been through gettin’ you an’ the Gonfal this far.”

“Anyone would be better than you,” said the girl, and stopped.

“Come on, you fool!” he cried; and, coming back, seized her and sought to drag her with him.

“Troll!” she cried. “Help!”

Troll was ahead of them, but now he turned; and, seeing Spike and the girl scuffling, he ran back. His face was white and distorted with rage. “Le’ go her,” he bellowed. “Le’ go my sister!” Then he was upon Spike; and the two went down, striking kicking and biting.

For an instant Gonfala hesitated, undecided. She looked at the two beasts upon the ground, and then she turned in the direction of the strange warriors. No one, she reasoned, could be more of a menace to her than Spike; but she soon saw that the decision had already been made for her—the entire party was moving in their direction. She stood and waited as they approached.

They had covered about half the distance when a warrior in the lead halted and pointed up the valley. For an instant they hesitated; then they turned and started off across the valley at a run, the lions tugging at their leashes and dragging their keepers after them, the warriors keeping in formation behind them.

The girl, wondering at their sudden flight, looked up the valley in the direction in which the warrior had pointed. The sight that met her eyes filled her with amazement. A herd of perhaps a hundred elephants carrying warriors on their backs was moving rapidly down upon them. On the ground at her feet Spike and Troll still bit and gouged and kicked.


Tarzan the Magnificent - Contents    |     Chapter 18 - Ingratitude


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