THE SHIP settled toward the madly tossing sea of green foliage below. Blinding rain drove in sheets against the windows of the cabin. Vivid lightning shot the gloom beneath the dark, glowering clouds. Thunder crashed. Straight into the teeth of the gale, Brown nosed down. The force of the wind held the ship until it seemed to hover above the tree tops as the pilot leveled off just above them; and as the ship settled, he brought the tail down sharply. There was a crash of splintering wood, the ripping of torn fabric as the ship nosed down into the swaying, slashing branches. And above the noise of the storm and the crashing of the ship were the screams and curses of the terrified passengers in the cabin.
But at last it was over. With a final ripping, tearing jolt, the ship came to rest.
Then, for a tense and terrible moment, silence.
Brown turned to the girl at his side. “Are you hurt, Miss?” he asked.
“I don’t think so,” she said; “just dazed. It was terrible, wasn’t it?”
He turned then and glanced back into the cabin. The four passengers were hanging in their safety belts in various stages of collapse. “All right back there?” he demanded. “How about you, Annette?” There was a note of greater concern in Brown’s voice.
“Oh, mon Dieu!” moaned the French girl. “I am already dead.”
The Princess Sborov groaned. “Oh, how horrible! Why doesn’t someone do something for me? Why doesn’t someone help me? Annette! Alexis! Where are you? I am dying. Where are my smelling salts?”
“It would serve you right,” growled Alexis, “dragging me off on a crazy adventure like this. It’s a wonder we weren’t all killed. If we’d had a French pilot, this would never have happened.”
“Don’t be so stupid,” snapped Jane. “Brown handled the ship magnificently.”
Alexis turned upon Tibbs. “Why don’t you do something, you idiot? You English and Americans are all alike—stupid, dumb. I wanted a French valet in the first place.”
“Yes, sir,” said Tibbs. “I am very sorry that you didn’t get one, sir.”
“Well, shut up and do something.”
“What shall I do, sir?”
“Sapristi! How should I know? But do something.”
“I am sorry, sir, but I am not a mountain goat nor a monkey. If I unfasten this seat belt, I shall simply land on your head, sir.”
“Wait a minute,” called Jane. “I’ll see what can be done.” And she unfastened her belt and climbed up into the cabin.
The ship had come to rest at an angle of about 45 degrees with the nose down, but Jane easily made her way into the cabin; and Brown followed close behind her. She went first to the Princess Sborov.
“Are you really seriously hurt, Kitty?” she asked. “I am torn in two; I know that all my ribs are broken.”
“You got us into this, Brown,” snapped Alexis. “Now get us out of it.”
“Listen,” said the American, “you may be better off in than out, for when we get on the ground I ain’t pilot no more. I ain’t responsible then, and I won’t be taking any of your lip.”
“Did you hear that, Kitty?” demanded Alexis. “Would you sit there and let a servant talk to me like that? If you don’t discharge him, I will.”
Brown snorted “Don’t make me laugh. You didn’t hire me, you little runt; and you ain’t going to fire me.”
“Don’t be impudent, my man,” cried Alexis, his voice trembling. “You forget who I am.”
“No, I don’t forget who you are; you ain’t nothing. In the country you come from, half the cab drivers are princes.”
“Come, come,” snapped Jane. “Stop bickering. We must find out if anyone is really injured.”
“Get me out of here,” wailed Princess Sborov. “I can’t stand it any longer.”
“It would be foolish to try to get out now,” said Jane. “Just look at that storm. We shall be safer and much more comfortable here in the ship while the storm lasts.”
“Oh, we’ll never get down from here. We are way up in the tops of the trees,” wailed Annette.
“Don’t worry none, sister,” said Brown, reassuringly. “We’ll find a way to get down from here when the storm lets up. The ship’s lodged tight; she won’t fall no farther; so we might as well sit tight like Lady Greystoke says and wait for it to quit raining and blowing.”
Tibbs strained his eyes upwards through the window at his side. “It doesn’t seem to be clearing any, if I may say so,” he remarked.
“These equatorial storms oftentimes end as suddenly as they commence,” said Jane. “It may be all over, and the sun out, within half an hour. I’ve seen it happen a hundred times.”
“Oh, it won’t ever stop raining; I know it won’t,” wailed the princess, “and I don’t see how we are ever going to get down from here if it does. This is terrible. I mean I wish I’d never come.”
“Crying about it now, Kitty, won’t do any good,” said Jane. “The thing to do is try to make ourselves comfortable and then make the best of it until the storm lets up and we can get down. Here, Brown, get a couple of those seat cushions and put them down here on the floor in front of the princess’ chair. Then we’ll unfasten her seat belt and she can turn around and sit on the floor with her back against the pilot’s compartment.”
“Let me help, milady,” said Tibbs, as he unfastened his belt and slid forward.
“The rest of you had better do the same thing,” said Brown. “Unfasten your belts and sit on the floor with your backs against the seat in front of you.”
With some difficulty and much sobbing on her part, the Princess Sborov was finally arranged in a more comfortable position; and the others, following Brown’s suggestion, disposed themselves as best they could for the wait, long or short, until the storm should subside.
Tarzan and the Waziri hunched in what meager protection they could find until the storm should abate; for, in its fury, it was a force against which it were foolish for man to pit himself unless the need were great.
For awhile Tarzan had heard the roar of the ship’s motor, even above the storm. It had been evident to him that the ship was circling, and then gradually the sound had diminished and quickly faded into nothingness.
“Bwana,” said Muviro, “were there men up there above the storm?”
“Yes, at least one,” replied the ape-man, “above it or in it. In either event, I should not care to be in his place. The forest stretches many marches in all directions. If he were looking for a place to land, I do not know where he would find it.”
“It is well to be on the ground,” said Muviro. “I do not think that the gods intended that men should fly like birds. If they had, they would have given them wings.”
Little Nkima cuddled close to his master. He was drenched and cold and miserable. The world looked very black to Nkima, and there was no future. He was quite sure that it would always be dark, but he was not resigned to his fate. He was merely too crushed and unhappy to complain. But presently it commenced to get lighter. The wind passed on with a last, dismal wail. The sun burst forth, and the crushed jungle arose once more to its full life.
The ape-man arose and shook himself, like a great lion. “I shall start now for Ukena,” he said, “and talk with the Bu-kena. This time, perhaps, they will tell me where the Kavuru dwell.”
“There are ways of making them talk,” said Muviro.
“Yes,” said Tarzan, “there are ways.”
“And we will follow on to Ukena,” said Muviro.
“If you do not find me there, you will know that I am searching for the Kavuru and Buira. If I need you, I will send Nkima back to guide you to me.”
Without further words, without useless good-byes and God-speeds, Tarzan swung Into the dripping trees and disappeared toward the West.
Strange stories had come from the Bukena, and filtered by word of mouth through a hundred tribes to Uziri, the land of the Waziri. They were tales of the Kavuru, tales of a savage, mysterious people, whom no man saw, or seeing, lived to tell. They were demons with horns and tails. Or again, they were a race of men without heads. But the most common report was that they were a race of savage whites, who had reverted to barbarism and went naked in their hidden fastness. One story had it that they were all women, and another that they were all men. But Tarzan knew the distortion that was the fruit of many tongues, and gave little heed to things he heard; only the things that he had seen with his own eyes was he sure of.
He knew that many tribes stole women, but oftentimes these women were seen again. Yet the women that the Kavuru stole were not, and so he was willing to admit that there was some tribe dwelling in a remote fastness that specialized in the stealing of young girls. But many of the other stories he heard, he did not believe.
For instance, there was the fable of the longevity and perpetual youth of the Kavuru. That, Tarzan did not believe, although he knew that there were many strange and unbelievable happenings in the depths of the Dark Continent.
It was a long trek, even for Tarzan, back to the country of the Bukena. The forest was soggy and dripping; the jungle steamed. But of such things and their attendant discomfort, the ape-man took small note. From birth he had become inured to discomfort, for the jungle is not a comfortable place. Cold, heat, danger were as natural to him as warmth and comfort and safety are to you. As you take the one, he took the other, as a matter of course. Even in infancy, he had never whined because he was uncomfortable, nor did he ever complain. If he could better conditions, he did so; if he could not, he ignored them.
Just before dark, Tarzan made a kill; and the fresh meat warmed him and gave him new life, but that night he slept cold and uncomfortable in the dank and soggy forest.
Before dawn he was astir again, eating once more of his kill. Then he swung off swiftly upon his journey, until the good red blood flowed hot through his veins, bringing warmth and a sense of well-being.
But Nkima was miserable. He had wanted to go home, and now he was going back into a strange country that he did not like. He scolded and fretted a great deal; but when the sun came out and warmed him, he felt better; and then he scampered through the trees, looking for whom he might insult.
On the morning of the third day, Tarzan came to the kraal of Udalo, chief of the Bukena.
The sight of the tall, bronzed white, with the little monkey perched upon his shoulder, striding through the gate into the village, brought a horde of blacks jabbering and chattering about him. He was no stranger to them, for he had been there a short time before; and so they were not afraid of him. They were a little awed, however, for tales of the mighty ape-man had reached them even over the great distance that separated Ukena from the land of the Waziri.
Paying no more attention to them than he would have to a herd of wildebeest, Tarzan strode straight to the hut of Udalo, the chief, where he found the old man squatting beneath the shade of a tree, talking with some of the elders of the tribe.
Udalo had been watching the approach of the ape-man along the village street. He did not seem overly pleased to see him.
“We thought the big Bwana had gone away, and that he would not return,” said the chief; “but now he is back. Why?”
“He has come to make talk with Udalo.”
“He has made talk with Udalo before. Udalo has told him all that he knows.”
“This time Udalo is going to tell him more. He is going to tell him where lies the country of the Kavuru.”
The old man fidgeted. “Udalo does not know.”
“Udalo does not talk true words. He has lived here all his life. The young girls of his tribe have been stolen by the Kavuru. Everyone knows that. Udalo is not such a fool that he does not know where these young girls are taken. He is afraid of what the Kavuru will do to him, if he leads people to their kraal. But he need not be afraid; the Kavuru need not know how Tarzan finds them.”
“Why do you want to go to the kraal of the Kavuru? They are bad people.”
“I will tell you,” said Tarzan. “Buira, the daughter of Muviro, the hereditary chief of the Waziri, has disappeared. Muviro thinks that the Kavuru took her; that is why Tarzan, who is war chief of the Waziri, must find the kraal of the Kavuru.”
“I do not know where it is,” insisted Udalo, sullenly. As they talked, warriors had been approaching from all parts of the village, until now Tarzan and the chief had been surrounded by scowling, silent spear-men.
Udalo appeared ill at ease; his eyes shifted restlessly. The whole atmosphere seemed surcharged with suspicion and danger. Even little Nkima sensed it; he trembled as he clung tightly to Tarzan.
“What is the meaning of this, Udalo?” demanded the ape-man, indicating the surrounding warriors, with a nod. “I came in peace, to talk to you as a brother.”
Udalo cleared his throat nervously. “Since you were here and went away, there has been much talk. Our people remembered the stories they had heard about the Kavuru. It is said that they are white men who go naked, even as you. We do not know anything about you; you are a stranger. Many of my people think that you are a Kavuru, that you have come to spy upon us and select young girls to steal from us.”
“That is foolish talk, Udalo,” said Tarzan.
“My people do not think it is foolish talk,” growled the chief. “You have come to the kraal of Udalo once too often.” He rose slowly to his feet. “You shall not steal any more of our young girls.” And with that, he slapped his palms sharply together; and instantly the surrounding warriors leaped upon the ape-man.