Tarzan’s Quest

Chapter 16

The Message

Edgar Rice Burroughs

THE THREE Bukena warriors crept into the hut where Tarzan and the ten Waziri warriors lay waiting for them in silence.

As the last of the three entered, Tarzan leaped upon him. Powerful fingers closed about the fellow’s throat; and simultaneously the other two were dragged down by Muviro and a couple of his warriors. There was no outcry; there was only the subdued sound of the shuffling feet of struggling men, and that for but a moment.

Quickly the three were bound and gagged; then the Waziri, headed by Tarzan, carried them to the tree beside the chiefs hut, where a corner of the latter concealed them from the sight of the drunken natives assembled in the street in front.

Shouldering one of the warriors, Tarzan swarmed up into the tree; then after he had deposited his burden safely where it would not fall, the Waziri handed the other two up to him.

Taking his victims up into the denser foliage where they would not be visible from the ground, Tarzan laid them side by side across the huge branch that projected out over the Negroes assembled below.

Tarzan ran his rope through the bonds that encircled the ankles of one of the prisoners. Then he removed the gag from the fellow’s mouth and lowered him, head foremost, toward the ground; but before the fellow’s head broke through the foliage and came in sight of those below, Tarzan voiced the warning cry of the bull ape. Instantly the dancing stopped; the natives looked around them in evident terror; the sound was very close; it seemed right beside them, but as yet they had been unable to locate it.

Silence followed; and then the head of one of their fellows broke through the foliage above them, and slowly his body descended.

The blacks were already on the verge of panic, for this was a mysterious, supernatural occurrence for which they could find no explanation in their past experience; yet they hesitated, perhaps fascinated and momentarily incapable of movement.

The deep voice rang out above them. “I am Tarzan of the Apes. Let those beware who would harm Tarzan or his Waziri. Open the gates and let my people go in peace, or many of you shall die by the hand of Tarzan.”

The victim hanging head downward found his tongue. “Open the gates,” he screamed. “Let them go before they kill me.”

Still the blacks hesitated.

“The time is short,” said Tarzan, and then he started to drag the warrior back up into the tree again.

“Do you promise that none of us will be harmed if we open the gates?” demanded Udalo.

“None will be harmed if you open the gates and let us go in peace, returning their weapons to my Waziri.”

“It shall be done,” said Udalo. “Fetch the weapons of the Waziri; open the gates; let them go, and may they never return.”

Tarzan drew the warrior back up into the tree and laid him beside his fellows.

“Keep still,” he warned them, “and I shall kill none of you.” Then he dropped to the ground and joined the Waziri.

Fearlessly they walked around the end of the hut; and the blacks gave way fearfully, opening a path before them. Some little boys ran timidly forward with their weapons, for the warriors had not dared to do so. The gates were opened, and Tarzan led his Waziri toward them.

“Where are my three warriors?” demanded Udalo. “You have not kept your word.”

“You will find your three warriors alive in the tree above your hut,” replied the ape-man. He halted and turned toward the chief. “And now, Udalo, when strangers come to your kraal, treat them well, and especially Tarzan and the Waziri.” A moment later the black jungle night beyond the palisade had swallowed them.

Little Naika, the daughter of Gupingu, the witch-doctor danced up and down and clapped her hands. “It is he!” she cried. “It is the white warrior who saved me. I am glad that he and his Waziri got away before we killed them. I told you not to do it.”

“Shut up,” cried Udalo, “and go to your hut. I never want to hear that white man spoken of again.”

“I thought that it was the end,” said Muviro, as they crossed the clearing toward the forest.

“Thanks to Nkima’s bad memory, it came very near being the end,” replied the ape-man. Then he voiced a strange, weird note; and an answer came from the blackness of the jungle trees.

“He is still there,” said the ape-man to Muviro.

“Hurry, hurry,” cried the monkey. “Little Nkima is fighting with Sheeta, the panther; he is beating him on the head with a stick; he is pounding him on the nose. Sheeta is very frightened.”

Tarzan grinned and walked on slowly through the forest, and when he came under the first tree, the little monkey dropped down upon his shoulder. “Where is Sheeta?” demanded Tarzan.

“Little Nkima beat him so hard on the face that he ran away.”

“Little Nkima is very brave,” said the ape-man.

“Yes,” replied the monkey, “little Nkima is a mighty fighter, a mighty hunter.”

The following day, Tarzan and the Waziri moved slowly toward the north, resting often, for the latter were still suffering from the effects of the drug that had been administered to them by Gupingu, the witch-doctor. Finally, when Tarzan realized their condition more fully, he ordered a halt; and the party went into camp upon the banks of a river.

As time had never been a matter of consequence to the ape-man, delays, except in cases of immediate emergency, gave him no concern. He could wait there for one day, or two days, or as long as was necessary while his warriors recuperated; nor would he leave them while they needed someone to hunt for them. He made them rest therefore while he foraged for food.

The day after they had left the village of Udalo, a lone warrior trotted into the clearing and approached the gates of the kraal. The white plume of the Waziri waved above his head; and in his hand he carried a split stick, in the end of which an envelope was inserted.

When warriors met him at the gates, he asked to see the chief; and they took him to Udalo, but not without misgivings; for he bore a marked resemblance to the ten prisoners who had escaped them.

Udalo eyed the warrior sullenly. “Who are you?” he demanded, “and what do you want in the village of Udalo?

“I am a Waziri,” replied the man. “I bear a message for the big bwana, Tarzan. The sun has risen many times since he left his country to come here in search of the Kavuru. I have followed to bring this message to him. Have you seen him?”

“He has been here, but he has gone,” said Udalo, sullenly.

“When did he go, and in which direction?” asked the messenger.

“He went away yesterday with ten Waziri warriors. They took the trail toward the north. You will follow him?”


“I will give you food before you go, and when you find Tarzan tell him that Udalo treated you well.” The fear of the Lord of the Jungle was in the heart of Udalo, the chief.

It was mid-day of the following day. The Waziri lay resting in their camp beside the river. Tarzan squatted at the base of a tree fashioning arrows for his quiver. Little Nkima perched upon one of his shoulders, busily occupied by that age-old simian pastime of searching for fleas upon his belly. He was vastly contented.

Presently the ape-man raised his head and looked toward the south where the trail debauched upon the clearing where they were encamped.

“Someone comes,” he said.

The Waziri stirred themselves. Some of them seized their weapons and started to rise, but Tarzan reassured them.

“There is no danger,” he said; “there is only one. He comes boldly, and not by stealth.”

“Who could it be?” asked Muviro. “We have seen no one in all this lonely country since we left the Bukena village.”

The ape-man shrugged. “We shall have to wait,” he said, “until our eyes tell us, for he is down-wind from us.”

Little Nkima, noting the listening attitudes of the others, abandoned the pursuit of a singularly notable specimen and following the example of the Waziri, stared intently toward the south.

“Something comes?” he asked Tarzan.


Little Nkima slipped quickly down behind Tarzan’s back, and peered anxiously across his left shoulder. “Something is coming to eat little Nkima?” he demanded.

He glanced up into the tree behind him, gauging the distance to the lowest branch, and debated in his little mind the wisdom of discretion. However, feeling reasonably safe in his present sanctuary, he stood his ground; and a moment later a lone warrior trotted into the clearing. At sight of the party encamped there, he voiced his pleasure in a series of savage whoops; and the Waziri returned his greeting in kind, for he was the runner bearing a message for Tarzan.

As he came forward with the message in the split stick to deliver it to Tarzan, little Nkima evinced great interest and as the message was handed to his master he seized the stick and commenced to scold and jabber when Tarzan took the envelope from it.

The ape-man removed the message and dropped the envelope to the ground, whereupon little Nkima sprang upon it and occupied himself in a futile endeavor to make it remain upright on the end of the stick as the messenger had carried it.

The Waziri were looking expectantly at Tarzan as he read the message, for messages delivered in the depths of the forest were rare indeed.

As he read, Tarzan’s brow clouded; and when he had finished he turned to Muviro.

“There is bad news, bwana?” asked the black.

“The mem-sahib left London for Nairobi in an aeroplane,” he said; “that was just before the big storm. You remember, Muviro, that after the storm broke we heard an aeroplane circling above?”

“Yes, bwana.”

“We thought then that it was in great danger. Perhaps that was the ship in which the mem-sahib rode.”

“It went away,” Muviro reminded him, “and we did not hear it again. Perhaps it went on to Nairobi.”

“Perhaps,” said the ape-man, “but it was a very bad storm and the pilot was lost. Either that, or he was in trouble and looking for a landing place; otherwise he would not have been circling as he was.”

For some time Tarzan sat in thought, and then the silence was broken by Muviro. “You will go back at once to Nairobi, bwana?” he asked.

“What good would it do?” asked the ape-man. “If they reached Nairobi, she is safe; if they did not, where might I search? In an hour an aeroplane might fly as far as one could travel on the ground in a day; perhaps, if they had trouble, it flew for many hours after we heard it before it came down; and if the pilot were lost, there is no telling in what direction it went. The chances are that I should never find it; even if I did, it would be too late. Then, too, it may as easily be that it came down in the direction we are going as in any other direction.”

“Then we may continue to search for my daughter, Buira?” asked Muviro.

“Yes,” said Tarzan. “As soon as you are rested and well again, we shall go on toward the country of the Kavuru.”

Little Nkima was becoming more and more excited and irritable. Notwithstanding all his efforts, the envelope would not remain upright upon the end of the stick. He chattered and scolded, but it availed him nothing; and then Tarzan noticed him, and taking the stick from him spread the slit end open and inserted the envelope.

Nkima watched him intently, his head cocked upon one side. Tarzan repeated the operation several times, and then he handed the envelope and the stick to Nkima.

An adept in mimicry, the monkey re-enacted all that he had watched Tarzan do; and after a few trials succeeded in inserting the envelope into the end of the stick.

His achievement filled him with enthusiasm and pride. Jabbering excitedly, he leaped from Waziri to Waziri until all had examined the marvel that little Nkima had wrought; nor did his excitement soon subside, and in the exuberance of his spirits he went racing through the trees clinging tightly to the stick that bore the envelope in its end. Tarzan and the Waziri laughed at his antics.

“Little Nkima is proud because he has learned a new trick,” said one.

“He thinks now he is a great witch-doctor among the monkeys,” said Muviro.

“It is like many of the useless things that man learns,” said Tarzan. “It will never do him nor anyone else any good; but if it makes him happy, that is enough.”

For three days more the Waziri rested, and then Muviro said that they were ready to continue on toward the north.

In the meantime, Tarzan had dispatched the runner back to Nairobi with a message for Jane and also one to the authorities there, asking them to make a search for the ship in the event that it had not already arrived.

Little Nkima was still intrigued by his new accomplishment. He would sit for an hour at a time taking the envelope out of the stick and putting it back in, and he never permitted it out of his possession. Wherever he went, he carried the stick and the envelope with him.

Having been several days in this camp, and having seen no danger, Nkima, always restless, had formed the habit of wandering farther and farther away. He found some other little monkeys of his own species with whom he tried to make friends; but in this he succeeded only partially; the males bared their teeth and chattered at him, scolding; and sometimes when he came too close, they chased him away. But handicapped though he was by his stick and his envelope, he always succeeded in eluding them; for Nkima was an adept in escaping danger.

But there was one who did not bare her teeth and scold. However, it was difficult for Nkima to find her when there was not an old male hanging around; and old males can be very disagreeable.

This last day in camp, however, he was more successful; he discovered her some little distance from her fellows.

The young lady was coy; she did not repulse him but she led Nkima a merry chase through the trees. It was all in fun; and they were enjoying it greatly, for she was not really trying to escape from Nkima, nor was he seriously intent upon capturing her, for he knew that eventually she would stop and let him come close.

And so, thoughtless of time or direction or distance, they swung through the trees, a little lady monkey and Nkima with his stick and his envelope.

They had had a glorious time and thoroughly understood one another when the little lady finally came to rest upon a broad branch. That they might permanently cement this friendship, each was soon searching for what he might find upon the head of the other, and certainly that is almost the last word in intimacy—the final proof of trust and confidence and friendship.

They were very happy, and only once did a shadow momentarily becloud this bliss. That was when the young lady sought to snatch the stick and envelope from Nkima. He bared his teeth in a terrible grimace, and gave her a resounding box on one of her shell-like ears. She lowered her head sheepishly then and cuddled closer to him, and it was plain to see that she liked this dominant male and his cave-man tactics.

What a day for little Nkima! They hunted for fruit and nuts; they ate together; they scampered through the trees; they sat enfolded in each other’s arms; and little Nkima was entirely unaware that Tarzan and the Waziri had broken camp and started north again. Perhaps if he had known, it would have made no difference at the moment for the alchemy of love works strange metamorphoses in the minds of its victims.

To their consternation, while they were still far away, night overtook them; and they were afraid to return through the menacing darkness of the glowering forest. They were afraid; but they were happy, and when the moon rose it looked down upon two little monkeys clutched tightly in each other’s arms. Above their heads rose a little stick bearing an envelope in its split end.

Tarzan’s Quest - Contents    |     Chapter 17 - The Snake

Back    |    Words Home    |    Edgar Rice Burroughs Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback