FRAMED in the small doorway of the hut and silhouetted against the lesser darkness beyond, Tarzan saw the figure of his stealthy nocturnal visitor and knew that it was a man.
Helpless in his bonds, the Lord of the Jungle could only wait, for he could not defend himself. And though he chafed at the thought of giving up his life without an opportunity to defend it, he was still unmoved and unafraid.
The figure crept closer, groping in the darkness, when suddenly Tarzan spoke. “Who are you?” he demanded.
The creature sought to silence him with a sibilant hiss. “Not so loud,” he cautioned. “I am Gupingu, the witchdoctor.”
“What do you want?”
“I have come to set you free. Go back to your people, Kavuru, and tell them that Gupingu saved you from death. Tell them that because of this, they must not harm Gupingu or take his daughters from him.”
Darkness hid the faint smile with which Tarzan received this charge. “You are a wise man, Gupingu,” he said; “now cut my bonds.”
“One thing more,” said Gupingu.
“What is that?”
“You must promise never to tell Udalo, or any of my people, that I freed you.”
“They will never know from me,” replied the ape-man, “if you will tell me where your people think we Kavuru live.”
“You live to the north, beyond a barren country, by a high mountain that stands alone in the center of a plain,” explained Gupingu.
“Do your people know the trail to the Kavuru country?”
“I know it,” replied the witch-doctor, “but I promise not to lead anyone there.”
“That is well—if you know.”
“I do know,” insisted Gupingu.
“Tell me how you would reach this trail; then I shall know whether you know or not.”
“To the north of our kraal, leading to the north, is an old elephant trail. It winds much, but it leads always toward the country of the Kavuru. Much bamboo grows on the slopes of the mountain beside your village, and there the elephants have gone for years to feed on the young shoots.”
The witch-doctor came closer and felt for the bonds around Tarzan’s ankles. “After I have freed you,” he said, “wait here until I have had time to return to my hut; then go silently to the gates of the village; there you will find a platform just inside the palisade from which the warriors shoot their arrows over the top when enemies attack us. From there you can easily climb over the top of the palisade, and drop to the ground on the outside.”
“Where are my weapons?” demanded Tarzan.
“They are in the hut of Udalo, but you cannot get them. A warrior sleeps just inside the doorway; you would awaken him if you tried to enter.”
“Cut my bonds,” said the ape-man.
With his knife, Gupingu severed the thongs about the prisoner’s ankles and wrists. “Wait now, until I have reached my hut,” he said, and turning, crawled silently through the doorway.
The ape-man stood up and shook himself. He rubbed his wrists and then his ankles to restore circulation. As he waited for Gupingu to reach his hut, he considered the possibility of regaining his weapons.
Presently, dropping to his knees, he crawled from the hut; and when he stood erect again upon the outside, he drew a deep breath. It was good to be free. On silent feet he moved down the village street. Other than in silence, he sought no concealment for he knew that even if he were discovered they could not take him again before he could reach the palisade and scale it.
As he approached the chief’s hut, he paused. The temptation was very great; for it takes time and labor to produce weapons, and there were his own only a few paces from him.
He saw a faint light illuminating the interior of the hut—a very faint light from the embers of a dying fire. He approached the entrance, which was much larger than those of the other huts, and just inside and across the threshold he saw the figure of a sleeping warrior.
Tarzan stooped and looked into the interior. His quick, keen eyes, accustomed to darkness, discovered much more than might yours or mine; and one of the first things that they discovered were his weapons lying near the fire beyond the body of the warrior.
The throat of the sleeping man lay bare and fully exposed. It would have been the work of but a moment for the steel-thewed fingers of the ape-man to have throttled life from that unconscious figure. Tarzan considered the possibilities of this plan, but he discarded it for two reasons. One was that he never chose to kill wantonly; and the other, and probably the dominating reason, was that he was sure that the man would struggle even if he could not cry out and that his struggles would awaken the sleepers inside the hut, an event which would preclude the possibility of Tarzan retrieving his weapons. So he decided upon another and even more dangerous plan.
Stooping and moving cautiously, he stepped over the body of the warrior. He made no sound, and the two steps took him to his weapons.
First of all, he retrieved his precious knife, which he slipped into the sheath at his hip; then he adjusted the quiver of arrows behind his right shoulder and looped his rope across his left. Gathering his short spear and bow in one hand, he turned again toward the entrance, after a hasty glance around the interior of the hut to assure himself that its occupants were all asleep.
At that instant, the warrior rolled over and opened his eyes. At the sight of a man standing between himself and the fire, he sat up. In the gloom of the interior, it was impossible for him to know that this was an enemy, and the natural assumption was that one of the inmates of the hut was moving about in the night. Yet the figure did not seem familiar, and the warrior was puzzled.
“Who’s that?” he demanded. “What’s the matter?”
Tarzan took a step nearer the man. “Silence,” he whispered. “One sound and you die; I am the Kavuru.”
The black’s lower jaw dropped; his eyes went wide. Even in the semi-darkness, Tarzan could see him tremble.
“Go outside,” directed the ape-man, “and I will not harm you; and go quietly.”
Shaking like a leaf, the warrior did as he was bid; and Tarzan followed him. He made the warrior accompany him to the gates and open them; then he passed out of the village of Udalo into the black jungle night. A moment later he heard the shouts of the warrior as he aroused the village, but Tarzan knew that there would be no pursuit. They would not dare follow a Kavuru into the night.
For an hour Tarzan followed the trail toward the north in accordance with Gupingu’s directions. All about him were the noises of the jungle night—stealthy movements in the underbrush, the sound of padded feet, the coughing grunts of a nearby lion, the roar of a distant one; but his sensitive ears and nostrils told him where danger lurked; so that he was always alert to avoid it.
He was moving up wind, and presently he caught the scent of a lion that had not fed—a hunting lion, a hungry lion; and Tarzan took to the trees. A short search revealed a comfortable resting place, and here he lay up for the remainder of the night. Wondering what had become of Nkima, whom he had not seen since he was captured, he fell asleep, soothed by the familiar jungle sounds.
With the coming of dawn, he moved on again toward the north; and back in the village of Udalo, little Nkima cowered among the branches of the tree above the chief’s hut.
He was a most unhappy little monkey, a very frightened little monkey. During the night the blacks had run from their huts shouting and jabbering. That had awakened Nkima, but he had not known the cause of it; he did not know that it meant that his master had escaped from the village. He thought he was still lying in the hut where he had seen the Bukena take him.
When Nkima awoke again, dawn was dispelling the darkness. Below him, the village streets were deserted. He heard no sound of life from any hut. He looked down upon that one to which they had dragged his master; and, summoning all his courage, he dropped quickly to the ground and scampered along the village street to the entrance to this hut.
A woman, coming from her hut to start her cooking fire, saw the little monkey and tried to catch him; but he escaped her and, racing across the village, scaled the palisade.
Not daring to enter the village again, and terrified at the thought of being alone in this strange country, Nkima fled through the jungle in the direction of home. And so Nkima went his way not knowing that his master had escaped.
All day Tarzan made his way north along the winding elephant trail. It was not until late in the afternoon that he was able to make a kill; and then after feeding he lay up once more for the night.
In the afternoon of the second day the nature of the country changed. The jungle became more open and there were park-like places where there was little or no underbrush and the trees grew farther apart. It was a country entirely new to Tarzan, and as such whetted his imagination and aroused within him the instinct of exploration which had always been a powerful factor in affecting his destiny; for he had that intelligent inquisitiveness which set him above the other beasts of the jungle.
As he moved silently along his way, constantly on the alert, a vagrant breeze carried to his nostrils a strange scent that brought him to a halt. For a moment he stood in statuesque pose, every faculty alert.
Tarzan was puzzled. The scent was that of a tarmangani, and yet there was a difference. It was an odor entirely new to him; and then, mingling with it, but fainter, came the familiar scent spoor of Numa, the lion.
Those two in proximity often meant trouble, and while Tarzan was not particularly interested in saving the man from the lion, or the lion from the man, whichever was hunting the other, natural curiosity prompted him to investigate.
The trees ahead of him grew sufficiently close together so that he could move through their branches; and this he elected to do, since always it gave him an advantage to come from above upon those he sought, especially where, in the case of men, they would not be expecting him.
The perception of the eyes of man is normally in a horizontal plane, while those of the cat family, with their vertical pupils, detect things above them far more quickly than would a man. Perhaps this is because for ages the cat family has hunted its prey in trees, and even though the lion no longer does so, he still has the eyes of his smaller progenitors. As Tarzan swung in the direction of the strange scent spoor, he was aware that the odor of the lion was becoming stronger much more rapidly than the other scent, a fact which convinced him that the lion was approaching the man, though whether by accident or intent he could not of course determine; but the fact that the lion scent was that of a hungry lion, led him to believe that the beast was stalking the man.
Any beast with a full belly gives off a different odor from one that is empty; and as an empty stomach is always a hungry one, and as hungry lions are hunting lions, to Tarzan’s mind it was a foregone conclusion that the man was the quarry and the lion the hunter.
Tarzan came in sight of the man first, and the initial glimpse brought the Lord of the Jungle to a sudden stop.
Here, indeed, was a white man, but how different from any white man that Tarzan had seen before! The fellow was clothed only in a loin cloth that appeared to be made of gorilla hide. His ankles and wrists and arms were loaded with bracelets; a many-stranded necklace of human teeth, fell across his breast. A slender cylinder of bone or ivory ran transversely through the pierced septum of his nose; his ears were ornamented with heavy rings. Except for a mane of hair from his forehead to the nape of his neck, his skull was shaved; and in this mane were fastened gay feathers which floated above a face hideously painted; and yet, with all these earmarks of the savage Negro, the man was undoubtedly white, even though his skin was bronzed by much exposure to the weather.
He was sitting on the ground with his back against a tree, eating something from a skin bag fastened to the string that supported his loin cloth, and it was apparent that he was absolutely unaware of the proximity of the lion.
Cautiously, silently, Tarzan moved nearer until he was in the tree directly above the unconscious man. As he examined him more closely, he recalled the many fables concerning the Kavuru, and especially the one which described them as white savages.
This stranger then, might be a Kavuru. It seemed reasonable to assume that he was, but further speculation on this subject was interrupted by a low snarl a short distance away.
Instantly the savage white was on his feet. In one hand he grasped a heavy spear, in the other a crude knife.
The lion burst from the underbrush at full charge. He was so close that the man had no chance to seek safety in the tree above him. All that he could do, he did. Swiftly his spear hand flew back, and in the next lightning move he launched the heavy weapon.
Perhaps the suddenness of this unexpected attack had momentarily unnerved him, for he made a clean miss; and simultaneously Tarzan leaped for the carnivore from a branch above the two.
He struck the lion at the shoulder diagonally from above just as he reared upon his hind legs to seize his victim. The impact of the ape-man’s body toppled the lion upon its side. With a frightful roar, it regained its feet but not before the ape-man had locked his powerful legs around the small of its body and encircled its massive throat with one great arm.
As the two beasts fought, the white savage stood an awestruck witness to the strange duel. He heard the growls and roars of the man mingle with those of the lion. He saw them roll upon the ground together as lashing talons sought to reach the bronzed hide of the man-thing; and then he saw the knife hand rise and fall; and each time it drove the blade deep into the side of the king of beasts, until at last the roaring ceased and the tawny body collapsed in the final spasm of death.
The ape-man leaped erect. He placed a foot upon the carcass of his foe and raising his face to the sky voiced the kill-cry of the victorious bull ape.
At that weird and hideous call, the white savage shrank back and clutched the hilt of his knife more tightly.
As the last weird note died away in the distance, Tarzan, turned and faced the creature whose life he had saved.
The two stood appraising each other in silence for a moment; then the savage spoke. “Who are you?” he demanded, in the same dialect that the Bukena used.
“I am Tarzan of the Apes,” replied the ape-man. “And you?”
“I am Ydeni, the Kavuru.”
Tarzan experienced that sense of satisfaction which one feels when events bear out his judgment. This was, indeed, a bit of good fortune, for now he would at least know what sort of people the Kavuru were. Perhaps this fellow would even guide him to the country he sought.
“But why did you kill the lion?” asked Ydeni.
“If I had not, he would have killed you.”
“Why should you care if he killed me? Am I not a stranger?”
The ape-man shrugged. “Perhaps it was because you are a white man,” he said.
Ydeni shook his head. “I do not understand you. I’ve never seen anyone like you before. You are not a black; you are not a Kavuru. What are you?”
“I am Tarzan,” replied the ape-man. “I am looking for the village of the Kavuru; now you can take me there. I wish to speak with your chief.”
Ydeni scowled and shook his head. “No one comes to the village of the Kavuru,” he said, “other than those who come there to die. Because you have saved my life, I will not take you there, nor will I kill you now, as I should. Go your way, Tarzan, and see that it does not lead you to the village of the Kavuru.”