Tarzan’s Quest

Chapter 14

Nkima Forgets

Edgar Rice Burroughs

NAIKI, the daughter of Gupingu, the witch-doctor, accompanied her new captor because the only alternative was to be left alone in the jungle, a prey not only to wild beasts but to the numerous demons that infest the grim forest. At first, she momentarily expected the worst; but as time went on and no harm befell her, she gained confidence in the tall, bronzed warrior who accompanied her. Eventually all fear of him vanished.

But if she were no longer afraid of Tarzan, she was far from being without fear; for the jungle night was very black and she conjured in that Stygian gloom all manner of horrifying creatures lying in wait to spring upon her. She could not understand how he travelled so surely through the darkness, and she marvelled at his great courage.

She knew that few men are so brave, and therefore it occurred to her that he must be a demon.

Here, indeed, was an adventure, one that she, Naika, could boast about as long as she lived; for had she not travelled at night through the jungle with a demon? She should have liked to ask him point-blank, but of course there was always the danger of offending a demon. Perhaps if she questioned him adroitly, he might accidentally reveal the truth.

It took quite a little will-power to screw up her courage to the point where she might ask him any question at all; but finally she succeeded. “What country are you from?” she asked.

“I am from the land of the Waziri.”

“What sort of men are they?”

“They are black men.”

“But you are white.”

“Yes,” he replied, “but many years ago, when I was much younger, I was adopted into the tribe.”

“Have you ever met a demon?” she asked.

“No, there are no such things.”

“Then you are not a demon?”

“I am Tarzan of the Apes.”

“Then you are not a Kavuru?”

“I told you I am from the land of the Waziri. When you are back among your people, tell them that Tarzan of the Apes is not a Kavuru. Tell them also that he rescued you from the Kavuru, and that they must always be friends with Tarzan and the Waziri.”

“I will tell them,” said Naika; and, after a moment, “I am very tired.”

“We will stop here the rest of the night,” said the ape-man.

Picking her up, he carried her high among the trees until she was very much afraid; and when he set her down upon a branch she clung frantically to the bole of the tree.

Here the moon was filtering through the foliage, and it was much less dark than on the ground. In this semi-light, Tarzan cut branches and built a platform upon which Naika could lie during the night.

In the early morning, Tarzan gathered food for himself and the girl; and after they had eaten, they resumed their journey toward the village of the Bukena.

Feeling that she was approaching her home, and with all her fears dissipated, Naika’s spirits rose. She laughed and chatted happily; and so at last they came to the edge of the clearing that encircles the village of the Bukena.

“You are safe now, Naika,” said the ape-man. “Return to your people and tell them that Tarzan of the Apes is not their enemy.” Then he turned and disappeared into the forest, but not before a pair of sharp little eyes had seen him; and as Naika ran shouting toward the gates of the village, little Nkima swung through the trees screaming at the top of Ms voice, as he pursued his lord and master into the forest.

The diminutive monkey soon overtook the ape-man, and with a final ecstatic yelp leaped to one of his broad shoulders.

Tarzan reached up and took the little fellow in his hand. “So Nkima is back again,” he said; “Sheeta did not get him.”

“Nkima is not afraid of Sheeta,” boasted the monkey. “Sheeta came into the trees hunting for little Nkima; crouching, he crept; he came close. Little Nkima took a stick and beat Sheeta on the head. Sheeta was afraid, and ran away.”

“Yes,” said Tarzan, “little Nkima is very brave.”

Thus encouraged, the monkey became enthusiastic and still more imaginative. “Then came the gomangani, many goman-gani; they were going to kill little Nkima and eat him. Little Nkima took two sticks and beat them on the head. They were afraid; they ran away.”

“Yes,” said Tarzan, “everyone is afraid of little Nkima.”

Nkima stood up in the palm of Tarzan’s hand and beat his chest. He grimaced, showing his teeth, and looked very fierce. “Everyone is afraid of Nkima,” he said.

Back along the trail to the north, in search of the village of the Kavuru went Tarzan and Nkima; and in the village of the Bukena Naika was the center of an admiring and curious throng.

She told her story well, omitting nothing, adding considerable embroidery; it was a good story and it held her listeners spell-bound. She told it many times, for the blacks like repetition; and always she stressed the fact that Tarzan had saved her, that he was the friend of the Bukena and that they must never harm Tarzan or the Waziri; and at that time she did not know that ten Waziri lay bound in a nearby hut waiting for the orgy that would spell their doom.

The Bukena warriors looked at one another and at Udalo, their chief. Udalo was slightly disconcerted; his runners had long since reached their destinations, and by this time the inhabitants of several villages must be on their way toward his kraal. Udalo did not know what to do about it.

Gupingu was troubled, too. He realized now that the giant white, whom he had liberated, had not stolen his daughter as he had thought, but had rescued her and returned her to him. Udalo looked at him questioningly, but Gupingu did not know what to say.

At last the chief spoke, for he saw the question in the eyes of his warriors. “You said, Naika, that you thought this Tarzan of the Apes was a demon; you said that he was fearless in the dark, and that he did things that no man could do; you said also that he went through the trees even more easily than the Kavuru. All these things we believe, but we could not believe them if we knew that he were a man like ourselves. He must therefore be a demon. None but a demon could have escaped from his bonds and left the village as easily as he did.”

“If he were a demon, why did he save me from the Kavuru and return me to the village?” demanded Naika.

“The ways of demons are strange,” said Udalo. “I think that he wanted to make our fears dead, so that he could come safely into our village and harm us as he pleases. No, I am sure that he is a demon and a Kavuru, and that the prisoners we have taken are Kavuru. We shall not let them escape; they might come back and kill us, and furthermore the Bukena are coming from every village to dance and feast and eat the hearts of our enemies.”

Thus did the highest court of the Bukena uphold itself and place its final seal upon the death warrant of Muviro and his warriors.

Through the brooding forest, moving northward, went the Lord of the Jungle, ignorant of the impending fate of his people; and on his shoulder rode Nkima, his little mind fully occupied with his boasting and the present.

Short is the memory of Manu, the monkey. Great is his egotism and his selfishness. Little Nkima had not meant to forget the Waziri; they were his friends and he loved them.

But being wholly occupied with thoughts of himself and with relief at being safe again in the arms of his master, the plight of the Waziri had been crowded into the background of his consciousness. Eventually he would think of them again, but perhaps only after it was too late to be of any benefit to them.

And so the afternoon was half gone, and Nkima was happy, and Tarzan was satisfied; for once again he was on the trail of the Kavuru, concerning whom his curiosity had been intrigued by his brief contact with Ydeni and the suggestion of mystery that Kavuru’s few words had lent to the manners and customs of this strange and savage tribe.

Tarzan had not forgotten the Waziri; but his mind was at rest concerning them for he felt that now, because of his rescue of Naika, they would be welcomed in the village of Udalo and directed on their way toward the Kavuru country.

The ape-man seldom spoke unless that which he had to say warranted expression. Ordinarily he kept his thoughts to himself, especially in the presence of men; but he often relaxed with little Nkima and with Tantor, the elephant, for of such were the friendships of his childhood; and deep-rooted within him was the sense of their loyalty and sympathy.

Thus it happened that while he was thinking of the Waziri, he spoke of them to Nkima. “Muviro must be close to the village of the Bukena,” he said; “so he and his warriors will not be far behind us when we reach the village of the Kavuru. Then little Nkima will have many good friends to defend him from Sheeta, the leopard, and from Hista, the snake, and from all the gomangani who would catch and devour him.”

For a moment Nkima was silent. He was gathering his thoughts and his memory. Then suddenly he began to leap up and down upon Tarzan’s shoulder and screech in his ear.

“What is the matter with you, Nkima?” demanded the ape-man. “Are your brains chasing one another around in your head? Stop screaming in my ear.”

“Tarzan, the Waziri! the Waziri!” cried the little monkey.

Tarzan looked quickly around. “What of them?” he demanded. “They are not here.”

“They are there,” cried Nkima. “They are back there in the village of the gomangani. Their feet and their hands are wrapped with cord; they lie in the hut where Tarzan lay. The gomangani will kill them and eat them.”

Tarzan halted in his tracks. “What are you saying, Nkima?” he demanded, and then as best he could in the simple language that is common to the greater apes, and the lesser apes, and the little monkeys, and to their cousin Tongani, the baboon, and to their friend Tarzan, he narrated all that he had witnessed since he had met the Waziri in the forest.

The ape-man turned about then, and started back toward the village of the Bukena. He did not ask Nkima why he had not told him this before because he knew full well; nor did he scold the little monkey, nor reproach him, for he knew that it would do no good. Little Nkima would always be a monkey; he was born that way, and he would never have the mind of a man, even though in many other respects he was more admirable than man.

The sun had not been long down when Tarzan came to the village. From a tall tree at the edge of the clearing, he looked down at the scene beyond the palisade. He saw that there were many people there, many more than there had been before; and he guessed that they were gathered for a feast. But his knowledge of the customs of the blacks told him that it would not be this night. Doubtless they were awaiting others that would come upon the morrow; perhaps then the feast would be held, and he guessed that the Waziri were being saved for sacrifice at that time.

When boldness is necessary, the ape-man acts boldly. No spirit of bravado animates him; and when no emergency confronts him, his acts reflect only the caution and stealth of the wild beasts who, impelled by instinct, avoid all unnecessary risks and dangers.

Tonight he reasoned that if the Waziri were already dead he could accomplish nothing by boldly entering the kraal of the Bukena; if they were still alive there was little likelihood that they would be harmed before the following night; but if he were wrong, and this night were the night set for their destruction, he would know it in ample time; for they would he brought out into the open where they would be tortured and killed for the edification of the assembled Bukena. Then he would have to do something about it; in the meantime, he would go closer where he could see and hear what transpired in the village.

“Tarzan goes into the village,” he whispered to Nkima. “If Nkima comes, he will make no noise. Does Nkima understand?”

“No noise, no talk,” repeated the monkey.

Moving quietly through the trees, Tarzan circled the village; and close beside him, silent as he, moved little Nkima.

At last the two came opposite the rear of the kraal. That part of the village seemed dark and deserted, for all were congregated in the wide street before the hut of Udalo, the chief.

Tarzan dropped to the ground and moved toward the palisade. When a few paces from it, he sprang swiftly forward, leaped into the air, and ran up the barrier with all the agility of little Nkima, who followed close behind him. Then the two dropped silently into the shadows among the huts in the rear of the village.

Creeping stealthily, noiseless as the shadow of a shadow, the two crept toward the hut of the chief. Separated biologically by countless ages, one a little monkey, the other a peer of England, yet there was little difference in the way they passed through the night and swung nimbly into the tree that overshadowed Udalo’s hut.

As Tarzan looked down at close range upon the dancing, shouting blacks, he realized that they had been partaking too freely of their native beer; and he knew that under such circumstances anything might happen.

A big black, half drunk, was haranguing Udalo. The man was evidently a sub-chief from another village.

“Bring out the Kavuru,” he said; “let us have a look at them; we’ll give them a taste of what they are going to get tomorrow night.”

“The others are not here,” said Udalo; “we should wait for the rest of the tribe.”

“Bring them out,” demanded another; “we have not seen them; we want to see the Kavuru who steal our girls.”

“Bring them out,” shrieked a woman. “They stole my daughter; let me burn out their eyes with a red-hot coal, that they may suffer as I have suffered.”

Then Tarzan heard the voice of a child. “Do not harm the Waziri,” she said; “they are the friends of Tarzan, and Tarzan is a friend of the Bukena. He saved me from the Kavuru and brought me back to my village.”

“You cannot trust the Kavuru or a demon,” said Udalo. He turned to some of his warriors. “Bring the prisoners,” he said, “but see that they are not killed tonight.”

Already Tarzan of the Apes was on the ground behind the hut of the chief. Here was an emergency. Every danger, every risk, must be faced without hesitation, boldly, after the manner of the Lord of the Jungle.

He moved quickly to the hut where he had been confined; and as he stooped and entered it, his sensitive nostrils told him that the Waziri were there.

“Silence,” he whispered; “it is I, Tarzan. They are coming for you. I will cut your bonds. We will fall upon the warriors who come and take their weapons from them; bind and gag them; let them make no noise. Then bring them where Tarzan leads, to the rear of the chiefs hut.”

He worked quickly as he talked; and when the three warriors came to fetch the prisoners, all of them were free and waiting, waiting in silence in the darkness.

Tarzan’s Quest - Contents    |     Chapter 15 - A Bit of Cloth

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