Perhaps these very thoughts were in the mind of Numa, when, borne upon the air that moved down the tunnel-like trail, a scent filled his nostrils that brought him to a sudden stop. It was the scent that ever aroused hatred in the heart of Numa—it was the scent of man! Perhaps it aroused hatred because of the fact that it engendered a little fear as well, though fear was something that the king could not admit. But there was something strange, something a little different in this scent than in anything he had ever noticed in the scent spoor of the gomangani. It differed from the scent spoor of the negro quite as much as their scent differed from that of the mangani, or great apes. He was sure then that it was neither gomangani, the black man or (great black ape), or mangani, whose odor was wafted down to him; but of one thing Numa was certain, the odor was that of man, and so he moved along the trail, but more carefully now, his great, padded feet making no sound. Once, in the freshness of his first anger, he had roared forth his challenge; now he was silent. When he came to the spot where the boys had stopped before they turned back, he paused and sniffed the air, his tail moving nervously from side to side; then he started at a trot along their trail, head flattened and every sense alert. The great muscles moving in supple waves beneath his tawny hide, his tufted tail held just above the ground, his black mane rippling in the gentle breeze, Numa, the lion, followed the scent spoor of his prey. Dick and Doc were used to long cross-country runs, for many were the paper chases in which they had taken part, and now they were glad that they had developed their muscles and their lungs in clean, out-door exercise, for though they had run now for a long distance, they were neither tired nor out of breath. However, they slowed down to a walk as each was already troubled with the same doubt. It was Doc who first voiced it.
“I didn’t think we’d come this far,” he said. “Do you suppose we passed the little path leading to the railway, without seeing it?”
“I don’t know,” replied Dick, “but it certainly seems as though we had come back a whole lot further than we went in. But then, of course, you said it would be great to spend the night in here,” he added.
“Well, it would,” insisted Doc; “but it wouldn’t be very nice to have the train go off and leave us here, forever, and that’s just what it may do, if we don’t get back to it pretty soon. Let’s go on a little way, then if we don’t find the path, we’ll turn around and go back and try the other fork of the trail.”
“What do you suppose made that noise?” asked Dick, presently, as they walked along, peering anxiously into the dense wall of jungle for the opening that they hoped would lead them back to the train. It was the first time that either of them had mentioned the cause of their fright; partly because they had been too busy running and partly because each of them was a little ashamed of his headlong flight.
“Sounded like a lion,” said Doc.
“That’s what I thought,” said Dick.
“Why didn’t you wait and see then?” demanded his cousin. “On the train this morning, you said you’d like to see a real lion.”
“I didn’t see you waiting,” Dick shot back. “I guess you were afraid, all right. I never saw anyone run so fast in my life.”
“I had to, to keep up with you,” replied Doc. “Anyhow, I hadn’t lost a lion. Who wants an old lion, anyway?”
“I guess yon don’t, fraidy-cat.”
“Fraidy-cat nothing,” replied Doc. “I’m not afraid of any old lion. All you got to do is look ’em right in the eye, an’—”
“An’ they put their tail between their legs and beat it.”
“An umbrella’s a good thing to frighten a lion with,” offered Dick.
“Say, look at that big rock!” exclaimed Doc, pointing to a vine covered, rocky outcropping, around which the rail disappeared just ahead.
“We didn’t pass anything like that when we came in.”
“No,” admitted Dick, “we didn’t. That means that we are sure enough on the wrong trail. Let’s turn around and go back to the other fork.”
Together they turned to retrace their steps. Before them the trail ran quite straight for almost a hundred yards, and there, just at the end of it, a great black-maned lion emerged into full view. Dick and Doc stood frozen in their tracks and the lion stopped, too, and surveyed them. It seemed a very long time to the boys that they stood there, but it really could have been only a moment. Then the lion opened his mouth in the most terrific roar those boys had ever heard in all their lives, and, still roaring, moved toward them.
“Quick! the trees!” whispered Dick, as though fearful that the lion would overhear him.
As the boys sprang for the nearest tree Numa broke into a trot. It was then that Doc caught his toe beneath a root and fell headlong to the ground. The lion seemed very near, yet Dick turned back and seizing Doc helped him to his feet. All instant later, as the lion charged in real earnest, at a terrific speed, the boys were clambering swiftly into the lower branches of a great tree that overspread the trail. Roaring angrily, Numa sprang into the air, his mighty talons unsheathed to seize and drag them down. He missed them, but by a margin so narrow that one of his claws touched the heel of Dick’s shoe. With an agility far beyond their own dreams Dick and Doc climbed high above the menace of the angry beast of prey, finally seating themselves upon a limb that projected above the trail. Beneath them the lion stood glaring up, with round, yellow-green, blazing eyes. He was growling angrily, exposing yellow fangs that made them shudder.
“Why didn’t you look him in the eye?” demanded Dick.
“I was goin’ to, but he wouldn’t stand still,” replied Doc. “Why didn’t you bring an umbrella?”
Numa, nervous, irritable, did not relish the idea of losing his supper now that he had discovered a quarry of two young and tender tarmangani, for if there is anything that Numa relishes, even before old age has reduced him to a diet of human flesh, it is the young of the man-tribe. Therefore, as long as they were in sight he did not give up hope. Seldom did Numa, the lion, have reason to envy his cousin Sheeta, the panther; but this was most certainly such an occasion, for could he have climbed with the agility of Sheeta, the prey would soon have been his. Not being able to climb into the tree after his supper he did the next best thing, which was to lie down and wait for it to descend.
Of course if Numa had had the brains of a man he would have known that the boys would not come down while he lay there waiting for them. Perhaps he hoped that they would fall asleep and tumble out of the tree. And it may be that after a while he really did reason the thing out almost as a man would have reasoned it, for after half an hour of waiting he arose and strode majestically back along the trail in the direction from which he had come; but just around the first turn he halted, wheeled about and lay down just out of sight of his intended victims.
“I believe he’s gone,” whispered Dick. “Let’s wait a few minutes and then climb down and see if we can find the path. It can’t be so very far from here.”
“If we wait very long it will be dark,” said Doc.
“Do you suppose they could hear us if we yelled?” asked Dick.
“If they did hear us and came in, the lion might get them.”
“I never thought of that—no, we mustn’t yell.” Dick scratched his head in thought. “There must be some way out of this,” he continued. “We can’t stay here forever—even if you do think it would be nice to spend the night in the jungle.”
“If we climb down we may run right into that old lion and we haven’t got an umbrella, or anything,” said Doc, grinning.
“I’ve got it!” cried Dick. “I’ve got it! Why didn’t we think of it before?”
“Think of what?”
“Why, swinging through the trees like Tarzan! He didn’t come down to the ground when a lion was after him, if he didn’t want to—he just swung through the trees. Why can’t we swing through the trees right back to the train?”
“Gee!” exclaimed Doc. “That’s a great idea. I’ll bet they’ll be surprised when we come swinging through the trees and drop right down in front of them.”
“And I guess their eyes won’t stick out like two peeled onions or anything when we tell ’em we were chased by a lion,” added Dick.
“Come on then! Which way is the train?”
“This way,” and Dick led off at right angles to the trail, working his way carefully along the limb of the tree, seeking carefully foothold below and handhold above.
“I don’t call that swinging,” said Doc.
“Well, smarty, let’s see you swing.”
“You’re Tarzan’s cousin—if you can’t do it how do you expect me to?”
“Well,” explained Dick, “I’ve got to practice a little bit, haven’t I? You don’t expect a fellow to do it the first thing off without a little practice, do you?”
But at the moment Doc was too busy worming his way gingerly after Dick to think up a suitable reply. From one tree to another they made their way and as they progressed they soon became more sure of themselves and their pace increased accordingly. By chance Dick had started in the right direction. The train lay directly ahead of them, though further away than either would have imagined; but following a straight line through the trees of a dense forest where there are no land marks to guide one and where the sun is not visible as a beacon of safety is a thing not easily done. It was not at all strange, therefore, that within the first hundred yards Dick had so altered his original course that the boys were moving at a right angle to the proper direction and within the next hundred had turned almost completely back and were “swinging” directly away from the railway. A few minutes later they crossed the wide game trail they had so recently left, but so thick was the foliage beneath them that they did not see the trail at all, and they were still bravely travelling their perilous path when the sudden tropical night shut down upon the jungle, engulfing them in its black folds.
Below them a lion roared. Out of the black void rose the weird scream of a panther. Something moved in the trees above them. The night life of the jungle was awakening with its sounds of stealthily moving bodies, with its terrifying noises, with its awful silences.