Tarzan’s Quest

Chapter 6

The Ballot of Death

Edgar Rice Burroughs

AS the Bukena warriors closed in upon him, Tarzan stood with folded arms, ignoring them. He was surrounded by many spears; and he knew that at this instant, if he sought to escape or give battle, a dozen spearpoints would transfix him instantly.

His one hope lay in gaining tune, and he felt that he could accomplish this best by feigning indifference.

“Kill the Kavuru!” shouted a woman in rear of the warriors. “They stole my daughter.”

“And mine,” screamed another.

“Kill him! Kill him!” urged others of the savage throng.

A very old man, who had been squatting beside Udalo, leaped to his feet. “No! No!” he screamed. “Do not kill him. If he be a Kavuru, his people will come and punish us. They will kill many of us and take all of our girls.”

Instantly the blacks commenced arguing among themselves. Some insisted upon killing him, others wanted to take him prisoner, while others thought that he should be released to mollify the Kavuru.

As they jabbered, the spearmen in the front rank relaxed their vigilance. Some of them turned around and sought to expound their views to those behind them, and in this circumstance Tarzan thought he saw his chance to escape. With the speed of Ara, the lightning, and the strength of Gorgo, the buffalo, he leaped upon a nearby warrior and holding him as a shield in front of him, charged through the human ring that surrounded him, turning constantly so that no weapon could be directed against him without endangering the life of the black.

So quickly had he acted that the blacks were taken entirely off their guard; and he had won almost to the clear, where he might have made a quick run for the village gate, when something struck him heavily on the back of the head.

When he regained consciousness, he found himself in the dark interior of an evil-smelling hut, his wrists and ankles securely bound.

With the return of consciousness came recollection of what had transpired; and the ape-man could not restrain a slow smile, for it was evident to him that the faction that had been afraid to kill him was more powerful than that which would have taken his life. Once again luck was with him.

For the time being, therefore, he was safe; and so he was certain of escape; for he was so constituted that while life remained in him, he could not conceive a permanent captivity; nor could anything for long shake his confidence in his ability to extricate himself from any predicament that might overtake him; for was he not Tarzan of the Apes, Lord of the Jungle?

Presently he commenced to test the bonds that secured his wrists and ankles. They were very strong and there were a great many strands, and soon he saw that it would be hopeless to attempt to liberate himself. There was nothing to do, therefore, but wait.

Unlike an ordinary man, he did not waste time wondering what his fate would be. Instead, he composed himself as comfortably as he could and fell asleep.

And while he slept, a council of warriors plotted in the council house with Udalo, the chief. It was they who were wondering what Tarzan’s fate should be.

The old man who had first warned them against killing their prisoner was still his staunchest defender. He was Gu-pingu, the witch-doctor. He prophesied that dire calamity would befall them if they harmed this man who, he assured them, was a Kavuru. But there were others who spoke quite as insistently for death.

“If he is a Kavuru,” said one of these, “his people will come and punish us as soon as they find that we have attacked him and made him prisoner. If we kill him, he cannot go back to them and tell them; and the chances are that they will never know what became of him.”

“Those are true words,” said another; “a dead Kavuru is better than a live one.”

Then Udalo spoke. “It is not for one man to decide,” he said. “The talk of many men is better than the talk of one.”

On the ground beside him were two bowls. One contained kernels of corn and the other small, round pebbles. He passed one of these bowls to the warrior upon his right and one to him upon his left. “Let each warrior take a kernel of corn and a pebble—just one of each, not more,” he said.

They passed the bowls from hand to hand about the circle; and each warrior took a kernel of corn and a pebble; and when the bowls were returned to Udalo, he set them down beside him and picked up a gourd with a small neck.

“We will pass this gourd around the circle,” he said, “and each man shall speak either with a kernel of corn or with a pebble for the life or the death of the stranger. If you wish him to live, put a kernel of corn in the gourd; if you wish him to die, put a pebble.”

In silence, the gourd was passed around the grim circle as savage eyes followed it from the tense, painted faces of the warriors.

The dropping of the fateful ballots into the hollow gourd sounded distinctly in every part of the large council-house. At last the gourd completed the circle and came back to Udalo.

There were fully a hundred warriors in the circle; and Udalo could not count to a hundred, but he had an equally certain way of determining the outcome of the voting even though he was unable to determine how many votes were cast upon each side.

He emptied the contents of the gourd upon the ground in front of him. Then with one hand, he picked up a grain of corn and, simultaneously, with the other, a pebble, and placed each in its respective bowl; and this he continued to do as long as there were kernels of corn and pebbles to match one another. But this was not for long, for he soon ran out of corn; and even then there were seventy-five or eighty pebbles left, showing that only a few had voted to spare the life of the ape-man.

Udalo looked up and around the table. “The stranger dies,” he said. A savage, sinister shout rose from the assembled warriors.

“Let us go and kill him now,” said one, “before the Kavuru can come and find him among us.”

“No,” said Udalo, “tomorrow night he dies. Thus will the women have time to prepare a feast. Tomorrow night we shall eat and drink and dance, while we torture the Kavuru. Let him suffer as he has made us suffer when he stole our children.”

A roar of approval and satisfaction greeted this suggestion.

The council was over. The warriors had returned to their huts. Fires were banked. Silence had fallen upon the village of the Bukena. Even the usually yapping curs were silent. The kraal was wrapped in slumber.

From a hut near the chiefs, a figure crept silently into the night. It paused in the shadow of the hut from which it had emerged and looked fearfully about.

Nothing stirred, and silently as a ghostly shadow the figure crept along the village streets.

Tarzan had been awakened by the savage cries from the council-house; and he had lain sleepless for some time because of the discomfort of his bonds, but presently he dozed again.

He was not yet fully asleep when something awakened him—a sound that you or I, with our dull ears, might not have heard—the sound of naked feet creeping slowly and stealthily toward the hut where he lay.

Tarzan rolled over so that he could see the entrance to the but, and presently it was filled by a shadowy form. Someone was entering. Was it the executioner coming to destroy him?

Tarzan’s Quest - Contents    |     Chapter 7 - The Merry Company

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