Danny had selected Obambi as his companion, a fact which irked the black boy considerably as he had been the target for a great deal of angry vituperation ever since Danny had discovered, the afternoon before, that he had left Smith alone in the mountains.
“It don’t make no difference what he told you, you punk,” the ‘Gunner’ assured him, “you didn’t have no business leavin’ him out there alone. Now I’m goin’ to take you for a walk, and if we don’t find Lafayette you ain’t never comin’ back.”
“Yes, bwana,” replied Obambi, who had not even a crude idea of what the white man was talking about. One thing, however, pleased him immensely and that was that the bwana insisted on carrying his own gun, leaving nothing for Obambi to carry but a light lunch and two fifty-round drums of ammunition. Not that the nine pounds and thirteen ounces of a Thompson submachine gun would have been an exceptionally heavy burden, but that Obambi was always glad to be relieved of any burden. He would have been mildly grateful for a load reduction of even thirteen ounces.
The ‘Gunner,’ in attempting to determine the probable route that Smith would have followed in his search for the camp, reasoned in accordance with what he assumed he would have done under like circumstances; and, knowing that Smith had been last seen well above the camp and a little to the north of it, he decided to search in a northerly direction along the foothills, it being obvious that a man would come down hill rather than go farther up in such an emergency.
The day was hot and by noon the ‘Gunner’ was tired, sweating, and disgusted. He was particularly disgusted with Africa, which, he informed Obambi, was “a hell of a burgh.”
“Geeze,” he grumbled; “I’ve walked my lousy legs off, and I ain’t been no further than from The Loop to Cicero. I been six hours, and I could of done it in twenty minutes in a taxi. Of course they ain’t got no cops in Africa, but they ain’t got no taxis either.”
“Yes, bwana,” agreed Obambi.
“Shut up!” growled the ‘Gunner.’
They were sitting beneath the shade of a tree on a hillside, resting and eating their lunch. A short distance below them the hillside dropped sheer in a fifty foot cliff, a fact that was not apparent from where they sat, any more than was the palisaded village at the cliff’s base. Nor did they see the man squatting by a bush at the very brink of the cliff. His back was toward them, as, from the concealment of the bush, he gazed down upon the village below.
Here, the watcher believed, was the man he sought; but he wished to make sure, which might require days of watching. Time, however, meant little or nothing to Tarzan—no more than it did to any other jungle beast. He would come back often to this vantage spot and watch. Sooner or later he would discover the truth or falsity of his suspicion that one of the white men he saw in the village below was the slave raider for whom he had come north. And so, like a great lion, the ape-man crouched, watching his quarry.
Below him Dominic Capietro and Leon Stabutch lolled in the shade of a tree outside the hut of the raider, while a half dozen slave girls waited upon them as they leisurely ate their belated breakfast.
A couple of fiery liquid bracers had stimulated their jaded spirits, which had been at low ebb after their awakening following their debauch of the previous day, though, even so, neither could have been correctly described as being in fine fettle.
Capietro, who was even more surly and quarrelsome than usual, vented his spleen upon the hapless slaves, while Stabutch ate in morose silence, which he finally broke to revert to the subject of his mission.
“I ought to get started toward the south,” he said. “From all I can learn there’s nothing to be gained looking for the ape-man in this part of the country.”
“What you in such a hurry to find him for?” demanded. Capietro. “Ain’t my company good enough for you?”
“‘Business before pleasure,’ you know, comrade,” Stabutch reminded the Italian in a conciliatory tone.
“I suppose so,” grunted Capietro.
“I should like to visit you again after I have come back from the south,” suggested Stabutch.
“You may not come back.”
“I shall. Peter Zveri must be avenged. The obstacle in the path of communism must be removed.”
“The monkey-man killed Zveri?”
“No, a woman killed him,” replied the Russian, “but the monkey-man, as you call him, was directly responsible for the failure of all Zveri’s plans and thus indirectly responsible for his death.”
“You expect to fare better than Zveri, then? Good luck to you, but I don’t envy you your mission. This Tarzan is like a lion with the brain of a man. He is savage. He is terrible. In his own country he is also very powerful.”
“I shall get him, nevertheless,” said Stabutch, confidently. “If possible I shall kill him the moment I first see him, before he has an opportunity to become suspicious; or, if I cannot do that, I shall win his confidence and his friendship and then destroy him when he least suspects his danger.” Voices carry upward to a great distance, and so, though Stabutch spoke only in normal tones, the watcher, squatting at the cliff top, smiled—just the faintest suggestion of a grim smile.
So that was why the man from “Russa,” of whom Goloba the headman had told him, was inquiring as to his whereabouts? Perhaps Tarzan had suspected as much, but he was glad to have definite proof.
“I shall be glad if you do kill him,” said Capietro. “He would drive me out of business if he ever learned about me. He is a scoundrel who would prevent a man from earning an honest dollar.”
“You may put him from your mind, comrade,” Stabutch assured the raider. “He is already as good as dead. Furnish me with men, and I shall soon be on my way toward the south.”
“My villains are already saddling to go forth and find men for your safari,” said Capietro, with a wave of his hand in the direction of the central compound, where a score of cutthroats were saddling their horses in preparation for a foray against a distant Galla village.
“May luck go with them,” said Stabutch. “I hope—What was that?” he demanded, leaping to his feet as a sudden crash of falling rock and earth came from behind them.
Capietro was also upon his feet. “A landslide,” he exclaimed. “A portion of the cliff has fallen. Look! What is that?” he pointed at an object half way up the cliff—the figure of a naked white man clinging to a tree that had found lodgment for its roots in the rocky face of the cliff. The tree, a small one, was bending beneath the weight of the man. Slowly it gave way, there was the sound of rending wood, and then the figure hurtled downward into the village where it was hidden from the sight of the two white watchers by an intervening hut.
But Stabutch had seen the giant figure of the almost naked white long enough to compare it with the description he had had of the man for whom he had come all the long way from Moscow. There could not be two such, of that he was certain. “It is the ape-man!” he cried. “Come, Capietro, he is ours!”
Instantly the Italian ordered several shiftas to advance and seize the ape-man.
Fortune is never necessarily with either the brave or the virtuous. She is, unfortunately, quite as likely to perch upon the banner of the poltroon or the blackguard. Today she deserted Tarzan completely. As he squatted upon the edge of the cliff, looking down upon the village of Dominic Capietro, he suddenly felt the earth giving beneath him. Catlike, he leaped to his feet, throwing his hands above his head, as one does, mechanically, to preserve his balance or seek support, but too late. With a small avalanche of earth and rock he slid over the edge of the cliff. The tree, growing part way down the face of the escarpment, broke his fall and, for a moment, gave him hope that he might escape the greater danger of the final plunge into the village, where, if the fall did not kill him it was quite evident that his enemies would. But only for a moment were his hopes aroused. With the breaking of the bending stem hope vanished as he plunged on downward.
Danny ‘Gunner’ Patrick, having finished his lunch, lighted a cigarette and let his gaze wander out over the landscape that unfolded in a lovely panorama before him. City bred, he saw only a part of what there was to be seen and understood but little of that. What impressed him most was the loneliness of the prospect. “Geeze,” he soliloquized, “what a hideout! No one wouldn’t ever find a guy here.” His eyes suddenly focused upon an object in the foreground. “Hey, feller,” he whispered to Obambi, “what’s that?” He pointed in the direction of the thing that had aroused his curiosity.
Obambi looked and, when they found it, his keen eyes recognized it for what it was. “It is a man, bwana,” he said. “It is the man who kified Simba in our camp that night. It is Tarzan of the Apes.”
“How t’ell do you know?” demanded the ‘Gunner.’
“There is only one Tarzan,” replied the black. “It could be no other, as no other white man in all the jungle country or the mountain country or the plains country goes thus naked.”
The ‘Gunner’ rose to his feet. He was going down to have a talk with the ape-man, who, perhaps, could help him in his search for Lafayette Smith; but as he arose he saw the man below him leap to his feet and throw his arms above his head. Then he disappeared as though swallowed up by the earth. The ‘Gunner’ knitted his brows.
“Geeze,” he remarked to Obambi, “he sure screwed, didn’t he?”
“What, bwana?” asked Obambi.
“Shut up,” snapped the ‘Gunner.’ “That was funny,” he muttered. “Wonder what became of him. Guess I’ll give him a tail. Come on,” he concluded aloud to Obambi.
Having learned through experience, wholly the experience of others who had failed to do so, that attention to details is essential to the continued pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, the ‘Gunner’ looked carefully to his Thompson as he walked rapidly but cautiously toward the spot where Tarzan had disappeared. He saw that there was a cartridge in the chamber, that the magazine drum was properly attached and that the fire control lever was set for full automatic fire.
In the village, which he could not yet see and of the presence of which he did not dream, the shiftas were running toward the place where they knew the body of the fallen man must lie; and in the van were Stabutch and Capietro, when suddenly there stepped from the interior of the last hut the man they sought. They did not know that he had alighted on the thatched roof of the hut from which he had just emerged, nor that, though he had broken through it to the floor below, it had so broken his fall that he had suffered no disabling injury.
To them it seemed a miracle; and to see him thus, apparently uninjured, took the two white men so by surprise that they halted in their tracks while their followers, imitating their example, clustered about them.
Stabutch was the first to regain his presence of mind. Whipping a revolver from its holster he was about to fire point blank at the ape-man, when Capietro struck his hand up. “Wait,” growled the Italian. “Do not be too fast. I am in command here.”
“But it is the ape-man,” cried Stabutch.
“I know that,” replied Capietro, “and for that very reason I wish to take him alive. He is rich. He will bring a great ransom.”
“Damn the ransom,” ejaculated Stabutch. “It is his life I want.”
“Wait until I have the ransom,” said Capietro, “and then you can go after him.”
In the meantime Tarzan stood watching the two. He saw that his situation was fraught with exceptional danger. It was to the interest of either one of these men to kill him; and while the ransom of which one spoke might deter him temporarily he knew that but little provocation would be required to induce this one to kill him rather than to take the chance that he might escape, while it was evident that the Russian already considered that he had sufficient provocation, and Tarzan did not doubt but that he would find the means to accomplish his design even in the face of the Italian’s objections.
If he could but get among them, where they could not use firearms against him, because of the danger that they might kill members of their own party, he felt that, by virtue of his superior strength, speed and agility, he might fight his way to one of the palisaded walls of the village where he would have a fair chance to escape. Once there he could scale the palisade with the speed of Manu, the monkey, and with little danger other than from the revolvers of the two whites, since he held the marksmanship of the shiftas in contempt.
He heard Capietro call to his men to take him alive; and then, waiting not upon them, he charged straight for the two whites, while from his throat burst the savage growl of a wild beast that had, upon more than a single occasion in the past, wrought havoc with the nerves of human antagonists.
Nor did it fail in its purpose now. Shocked and unnerved for the instant, Stabutch fell back while Capietro, who had no desire to kill the ape-man unless it became necessary, leaped to one side and urged his followers to seize him.
For a moment bedlam reigned in the village of the white raider. Yelling, cursing men milled about a white giant who fought with his bare hands, seizing an antagonist and hurling him in the faces of others, or, using the body of another like a flail, sought to mow down those who opposed him.
Among the close massed fighters, excited curs ran yelping and barking, while children and women upon the outskirts of the mêlée shrieked encouragement to the men.
Slowly Tarzan was gaining ground toward one of the coveted walls of the village where, as he stepped quickly backward to avoid a blow, he stumbled over a yapping cur and went down beneath a dozen men.
From the top of the cliff ‘Gunner’ Patrick looked down upon this scene. “That mob has sure got him on the spot,” he said aloud. “He’s a regular guy, too. I guess here’s where I step for him.”
“Yes, bwana,” agreed the willing Obambi.
“Shut up,” said the ‘Gunner,’ and then he raised the butt of the Thompson to his shoulder and squeezed the trigger.
Mingled with the rapid reports of the machine gun were the screams and curses of wounded and frightened men and the shrieks of terrified women and children. Like snow before a spring shower, the pack that had surrounded Tarzan melted away as men ran for the shelter of their huts or for their saddled ponies.
Capietro and Stabutch were among the latter, and even before Tarzan could realize what had happened he saw the two racing through the open gates of the village.
The ‘Gunner,’ noting the satisfactory effect of his fire, had ceased, though he stood ready again to rain a hail of death down upon the village should necessity require. He had aimed only at the outskirts of the crowd surrounding the ape-man, for fear that a bullet might strike the man he was endeavoring to succor; but he was ready to risk finer shooting should any press the naked giant too closely.
He saw Tarzan standing alone in the village street like a lion at bay, and then he saw his eyes ranging about for an explanation of the burst of fire that had liberated him.
“Up here, feller!” shouted the ‘Gunner.’
The ape-man raised his eyes and located Danny instantly.
“Wait,” he called; “I’ll be up there in a moment.”