Tarzan’s Quest

Chapter 18

A Bit of Paper

Edgar Rice Burroughs

WHEN morning broke, Nkima, had he been a man, would have said that he had not slept a wink all night; but that was because when he was awake he was so worried and frightened that the tune had dragged interminably. During the night, he regretted that he had not stayed with Tarzan and determined to return to the camp the first thing in the morning; but when morning came, dispelling the gloom with brilliant sunshine, his little monkey mind forgot its good resolution and concerned itself only with the moment and his new playmate.

Off they went, racing through the jungle, swinging from limb to limb, scampering high aloft, dropping again to lower levels.

Nkima was very happy. The sun was shining. It would always shine. He could not vision that another night of cold and dread was coming quickly.

Farther and farther toward the west they scampered, farther and farther away from camp; and in one hand Nkima clutched the little stick with the split end, topped by the soiled and crumpled envelope. Through all the playing and the love-making and the long night, little Nkima had clung to his sole treasure.

The little she, who was Nkima’s playmate, was mischievous. She was also covetous. For long had she looked upon the stick and the envelope with envy, but she had been cuffed once for trying to take them; so she was wary, yet the more she saw them, the more she wished them.

Nkima was running along a branch holding the envelope on high. The little she was following in his wake when she saw her chance—just ahead, a limb beneath which Nkima would have to pass. Quickly she sprang upward and raced ahead along this limb; and, as Nkima passed beneath her, she reached down and seized the envelope. She was disappointed because she did not get the stick, too; but even a part of this wonderful thing was better than nothing.

Having achieved her design, she scampered on ahead as fast as she could go. Nkima witnessed the theft, and his heart was filled with righteous anger and indignation. He pursued her, but fear lent her a new speed.

On they raced; but the little she always seemed to have the advantage, for she steadily outdistanced Nkima until she was lost to his sight; and then his indignation and sorrow at the loss of his treasure was submerged in a fear that he had lost the little she also.

But he had not. He came upon her perched innocently in a high-flung crotch, contentedly eating a piece of fruit. As Nkima approached her, he looked for the envelope. It was gone. He wanted to pound her, but he also wanted to hug her; so he compromised by hugging her.

He asked for his bit of paper. Of course, he had no name for it; but he made her understand. It seemed that she had become frightened and thrown it away.

Nkima went back a little way to look for it, but he became interested in some fuzzy caterpillars that he passed on the way; and when he had eaten all that he could find, he had temporarily forgotten the paper.

A little river flowed beneath them. Rivers always intrigued Nkima. He liked to follow them; so he followed this one.

Presently he espied something that brought him to a sudden stop. In a small, natural clearing on the bank of the river was a flimsy man-made hut.

Nkima thought that there must be gomangani around; and he was wary, but he was also very curious. He watched and listened. The place seemed deserted. Finally he mustered sufficient courage to drop to the ground and investigate.

Followed by the little she, he crept toward the entrance to the hut. Cautiously he peeked around a corner of the door frame and peered within. There was no one there. Nkima entered. Luggage and clothing were strewn about the floor. He looked things over, seeking what he might appropriate. Then his eyes fell upon a piece of paper fastened to the wall with a sliver of wood. With a yelp of delight, Nkima leaped for it. Then he scampered out of the hut with his prize, raced across the clearing, and swarmed up to the topmost branches of a giant tree. Behind him came the little she.

By the time Nkima had succeeded in inserting the piece of paper in the notch at the end of the stick, his interest in the other things that he had seen in the hut had, monkey-like, waned.

Now he recalled the tall warrior who had brought the piece of paper in the end of the stick to Tarzan. Nkima decided that he would do likewise. He felt very important and was only sorry that he did not have a white plume to wave above his head.

Holding to this single idea for an unusually long time, Nkima raced back in the direction of the camp where he had left Tarzan and the Waziri.

It was late in the afternoon when he got there, and his little heart leaped into his throat when he discovered that his friends were gone.

He was very sad and a little frightened, although it was not yet dark; but when his lady friend came and sat close beside him, he felt better.

Unfortunately, this respite from despair was all too brief. The little band of monkeys to which his playmate belonged came trooping through the trees. They saw Nkima and the shameless young creature who had run away with him.

Jabbering, chattering, scolding, several of the males of the clan came swinging through the trees toward Nkima and his light-of-love. For a moment, just a fleeting moment, Nkima had visions of standing his ground and doing battle; but the leading male was an old fellow, very large and strong. His fangs were bared in a most disconcerting manner; and he voiced terrifying threats that made Nkima’s heart quail, so that on second thought he determined to go elsewhere and go quickly; but his lady friend clung to him tightly, hampering his movements, for she, too, was frightened. Perhaps she did not want to lose Nkima who, after all, had a way with him.

The terrifying old monkey was approaching rapidly, and then Nkima did a most ungallant thing; he struggled to free himself from the lady’s embrace, and when she only clung more tightly he tore at her arms to disengage himself, and then struck her in the face until she finally released him.

By now, Nkima was screaming in terror. The little she was screaming, and so were all the other monkeys. Bedlam reigned in the jungle; and to the accompaniment of this din of rage and terror, little Nkima broke away and fled; but through it all he had clung to his stick with its fluttering bit of paper, and now toward the north he bore it away like a banner, but scarcely triumphantly.

Some of the males pursued him for a short distance; but when terror impelled little Nkima only a bird on the wing might hope to overtake him; and so his pursuers soon gave up the chase.

For some time thereafter, Nkima did not reduce his speed; he continued to flee, screaming at the top of his voice.

It was only after he had almost reached the point of exhaustion that he slowed down and looked back, listening. In his mind’s eye was the picture of the snarling visage of the old male; but he was nowhere to be seen, nor was there any sound of pursuit; so little Nkima took heart and his courage commenced to return. He even swaggered a little as though he were returning triumphant from a well-earned victory. Had he had a wife, he would have gone home to her and bragged of his exploits; there are men like that; so who may censure little Nkima who was only a monkey.

Presently he found the trail of Tarzan and the Waziri. He knew that they had been travelling north, and so he came down and sniffed the earth in the game trail that they had been following. Clear in his nostrils was the scent spoor of his friends. This heartened him, and he hurried on again.

Little Nkima moved through the trees many times faster than a man on foot. His fear of the coming jungle night held him to his purpose, so that he did not stop along the way to chase butterflies and birds.

That night he perched high among the smaller branches where Sheeta, the panther, cannot go.

Tarzan’s Quest - Contents    |     Chapter 19 - Hate and Lust

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