We’re running down the home stretch in our jungle marathon, but there is still a lot to happen before ERB wraps this one up. I mean, what happened to Jane Clayton? Who has the jewels? What happened to Mugambi, or even Chulk? You see what I mean? So let’s get on with it.
XXIII: A Night of Terror
To Jane Clayton, waiting in the tree where Werper had placed her, it seemed that the long night would never end, yet end it did at last, and within an hour of the coming of the dawn her spirits leaped with renewed hope at sight of a solitary horseman approaching along the trail.
The flowing burnoose, with its loose hood, hid both the face and the figure of the rider; but that it was M. Frecoult the girl well knew, since he had been garbed as an Arab, and he alone might be expected to seek her hiding place.
That which she saw relieved the strain of the long night vigil; but there was much that she did not see. She did not see the black face beneath the white hood, or the file of ebon horsemen beyond the trail’s bend riding slowly in the wake of their leader. These things she did not see at first, and so she leaned downward toward the approaching rider, a cry of welcome forming in her throat.
At the first word the man looked up, reining in in surprise, and as she saw the black face of Abdul Marouk, the Abyssinian, she shrank back in terror among the branches; but it was too late. The man had seen her, and now he called to her to descend. At first she refused; but when a dozen black cavalry drew up behind their leader, and at Abdul Marouk’s command one of them started to climb the tree after her she realized that resistance was futile, and came slowly down to stand upon the ground before this new captor and plead her cause in the name of justice and humanity.
Angered by recent defeat, and by the loss of the gold, the jewels, and his prisoners, Abdul Marouk was in no mood to be influenced by any appeal to those softer sentiments to which, as a matter of fact, he was almost a stranger even under the most favorable conditions.
He looked for degredation and possible death in punishment for his failures and his misfortunes when he should have returned to his native land and made his report to Menelek; but an acceptable gift might temper the wrath of the emperor, and surely the fair flower of another race should be gratefully received by the black ruler!
When Jane Clayton had concluded her appeal, Abdul Marouk replied briefly that he would promise her protection; but that he must take her to his emperor. The girl did not need to ask him why, and once again hope died within her breast. Resignedly she permitted herself to be lifted to a seat behind one of the troopers, and again, under new masters, her journey was resumed toward what she now began to believe was her inevitable fate.
Abdul Marouk, bereft of his guides by the battle he had waged against the raiders, and himself unfamiliar with the country, had wandered far from the trail he should have followed, and as a result had made but little progress toward the north since the beginning of his flight. Today he was beating toward the west in the hope of coming upon a village where he might obtain guides; but night found him still as far from the realization of his hopes as had the rising sun.
It was a dispirited company which went into camp, waterless and hungry, in the dense jungle. Attracted by the horses, lions roared about the boma, and to their hideous din was added the shrill neighs of the terror-stricken beasts they hunted. There was little sleep for man or beast, and the sentries were doubled that there might be enough on duty both to guard against the sudden charge of an overbold, or overhungry lion, and to keep the fire blazing which was an even more efffectual barrier against them than the thorny boma.
It was well past midnight, and as yet Jane Clayton, notwithstanding that she had passed a sleepless night the night before, had scarcely more than dozed. A sense of impending danger seemed to hang like a black pall over the camp. The veteran troopers of the black emperor were nervous and ill at ease. Abdul Marouk left his blankets a dozen times to pace restlessly back and forth between the tethered horses and the crackling fire. The girl could see his great frame silhouetted against the lurid glare of the flames, and she guessed from the quick, nervous movements of the man that he was afraid.
The roaring of the lions rose in sudden fury until the earth trembled to the hideous chorus. The horses shrilled their neighs of terror as they lay back upon their halter ropes in their mad endeavors to break loose. A trooper, braver than his fellows, leaped among the kicking, plunging, fear-maddened beasts in a futile attempt to quiet them. A lion, large, and fierce, and courageous, leaped almost to the boma, full in the bright light from the fire. A sentry raised his piece and fired, and the leaden pellet unstoppered the vials of hell upon the terrro-stricken camp.
The shot plowed a deep and painful furrow in the lion’s side, arousing all the bestial fury of the little brain; but abating not a whit the power and vigor the great body.
Unwounded, the boma and the flames might have turned him back; but now the pain and the rage wiped caution from his mind, and with a loud, and angry roar he topped the barrier with an easy leap and was among the horses.
What had been pandemonium before became now an indescribable tumult of hideous sound. The stricken horse upon which the lion leaped shrieked out his terror and its agony. Several about it broke their tethers and plunged madly about the camp. Men leaped from their blankets and with guns ready toward the picket line, and then from the jungle beyond the boma a dozen lions, emboldened by the example of their fellow charged fearlessly upon the camp.
Singly and in twos and threes they leaped the boma, until the little enclosure was filled with cursing men and screaming horses battling for their lives with the green-eyed devils of the jungle.
With the charge of the first lion, Jane Clayton had scramble to her feet, and now she stood horror-struck at the scene of savage slaughter that swirled and eddied about her. Once a bolting horse knocked her down, and a moment later a lion, leaping in pursuit of another terror-stricken animal, brushed her so closely that she was again thrown from her feet.
Amidst the cracking of the rifles and the growls of the carnivora rose the death screams of stricken men and horses as they were dragged down by the blood-mad cats. The leaping carnivora and the plunging horses, prevented any concerted action by the Abyssinians – it was every man for himself – and in the melee, the defenseless woman was either forgotten or ignored by her black captors. A score of times was her life menaced by charging lions, by plunging horses, or by the wildly fired bullets of the frightened troopers, yet there was no chance of escape, for now with the fiendish cunning of their kind, the tawny hunters commenced to circle about their prey, hemming them within a ring of mighty, yellow fangs, and sharp, long talons. Again and again an individual lion would dash suddenly among the frightened men and horses, and occasionally a horse, goaded to frenzy by pain or terror, succeeded in racing safely through the circling lions, leaping the boma, and escaping into the jungle; but for the men and the woman, no such escape was possible.
A horse, struck by a stray bullet, fell beside Jane Clayton, a lion leaped across the expiring beast full upon the breast of a black trooper just beyond. The man clubbed his rifle and struck futilely at the broad head, and then he was down and the carnivore was standing above him.
Shrieking out his terror, the soldier clawed with puny fingers at the shaggy breast in vain endeavor to push away the grinning jaws. The lion lowered his head, the gaping fangs closed with a single sickening crunch upon the fear-distorted face, and turning strode back across the body of the dead horse dragging his limp and bloody burden with him.
Wide-eyed the girl stood watching. She saw the carnivore step upon the corpse, stumblingly, as the grisly thing swung between its forepaws, and her eyes remained fixed in fascination while the beast passed within a few paces of her.
The interference of the body seemed to enrage the lion. He shook the inanimate body venomously. He growled and roared hideously at the dead, insensate thing, and then he dropped it and raised his head to look about in search of some living victim upon which to wreak his ill temper. His yellow eyes fastened themselves balefully upon the figure of the girl, the bristling lips raised, disclosing the grinning fangs. A terrific roar broke from that savage throat, and the great beast crouched to spring upon this new and helpless victim.Quiet had fallen early upon the camp where Tarzan and Werper lay securely bound. Two nervous sentries paced their beats, their eyes rolling often toward the impenetrable shadows of the gloomy jungle. The others slept or tried to sleep – all but the ape-man. Silently and powerfully he strained at the bonds which fettered his wrists.
ERB was the master of the cliff hanger, evidenced by the fact that at this point in Jane’s story ERB switches the scene back to Tarzan, keeping the reader in suspense until he’s ready to reveal what happens. Keep reading and you will see what I mean.
The muscles knotted beneath the smooth, brown skin of his arms and shoulders, the veins stood out upon his temples from the force of his exertions – a strand parted, another and another, and one hand was free. Then from the jungle came a low gutteral, and the ape-man became suddenly a silent, rigid statue, with ears and nostrils straining to span the black void where his eyesight could not reach.
Again came the uncanny sound from the thick verdure beyond the camp. A sentry halted abruptly, straining his eyes into the gloom. The kinky wool upon his head stiffened and raised. He called to his comrade in a hoarse whisper.
“Did you hear it?” he asked.
The other came close, trembling.
Again was the weird sound was repeated, followed almost immediately by a similar and answering sound from the camp. The sentries drew close together, watching the black spot from which the voice seemed to come.
Trees overhung the boma at this point which was upon the opposite side of the camp from them. They dared not approach. Their terror even prevented them from arousing their fellows – they could only stand in frozen fear and watch for the fearsome apparition they momentarily expected to see leap from the jungle.
Nor had they long to wait. A dim, bulky form dropped lightly from the branches of a tree into the camp. At sight of it one of the sentries recovered command of his muscles and his voice. Screaming loudly to awaken the sleeping camp, he leaped toward the flickering watch fire and threw a mass of brush upon it.
The white officer and the black soldiers sprang from their blankets. The flames leaped high upon the rejuvenated fire, lighting the entire camp, and the awakened men shrank back in superstitious terror from the sight that met their frightened and astonished vision.
A dozen huge, and hairy forms loomed large beneath the trees at the far side of the enclosure. The white giant, one hand freed, had struggled to his knees and was calling to the frightful, nocturnal visitors in a hideous medley of bestial gutterals, barkings and growlings.
Werper had managed to sit up. He, too, saw the savage faces of the approaching anthropoids and scarcely knew whether to be relieved or terror-stricken.
Growling, the great apes leaped forward toward Tarzan and Werper. Chulk led them. The Belgian officer called to his men to fire upon the intruders; but the Negroes held back, filled as they were with superstitious terror of the hairy tree-men, and with the conviction that the white giant who could thus summon the beasts of the jungle to his aid was more than human.
Drawing his own weapon, the officer fired, and Tarzan fearing the effect of the noise upon his really timid friends called to them to hasten and fulfill his commands.
A couple of the apes turned and fled at the sound of the firearm; but Chulk and a half dozen others waddled rapidly forward, and following the ape-man’s directions, seized both him and Werper and bore them off toward the jungle.
By dint of threats, reproaches and profanity the Belgian officer succeeded in persuading his trembling command to fire a volley after the retreating apes. A ragged, straggling volley it was, but at least one of its bullets found a mark, for as the jungle closed about the hairy rescuers, Chulk, who bore Werper across one broad shoulder, staggered and fell.
In an instant he was up again; but the Belgian guessed from his unsteady gait that he was hard hit. He lagged far behind the others, and it was several minutes after they had halted at Tarzan’s command before he came slowly up to them, reeling from side to side, and at last falling again beneath the weight of his burden and the shock of his wound.
As Chulk went down he dropped Werper, so that latter fell face downward with the body of the ape lying half across him. In this position, the Belgian felt something resting against his hands, which were still bound at his back – something that was not a part of the hairy body of the ape.
Mechanically the man’s fingers felt of the object resting almost in their grasp – it was a soft pouch, filled with small, hard particles. Werper gasped in wonderment as recognition filtered through the incredulity of his mind. It was impossible, and yet – it was true!Feverishly he strove to remove the pouch from the ape and transfer it to his own possession; but the restricted radius to which his bonds held his hands prevented this, though he did succeed in tucking the pouch with its precious contents inside the waist band of his trousers.
Did you remember our earlier analysis that it was likely that Chulk held the jewels if indeed Mugambi had been the one that performed the old switcheroo upon Werper? Let us see if we were good detectives.
Tarzan, sitting at a short distance, was busy with the remaining knots of the cords which bound him. Presently he flung aside the last of them and rose to his feet. Approaching Werper he knelt beside him. For a moment he examined the ape.
“Quite dead,” he announced. “It is too bad – he was a splendid creature,” and he turned to the work of liberating the Belgian.
He freed his hands first, and then commenced upon the knots at his ankles.
“I can do the rest,” said the Belgian. “I have a small pocketknife which they overlooked when they searched me,” and in this way he succeeded in ridding himself of the ape-man’s intentions that he might find and open his little knife and cut the thong which fastened the pouch about Chulk’s shoulder, and transfer it from his waist band to the breast of his shirt. Then he rose and approached Tarzan.
Once again avarice claimed him. Forgotten were the good intentions which the confidence of Jane Clayton in his honor had awakened. What she had done, the little pouch had undone. How it had come upon the person of the great ape, Werper could not imagine, unless it had been that the anthropoid had witnessed his fight with Achmet Zek, seen the Arab with the pouch and taken it away with him; but that this pouch contained the jewels of Opar, Werper was positive, and that was all that interested him greatly.
“Now,” said the ape-man. “keep your promise to me. Lead me to the spot where you last saw my wife.”
It was slow work pushing through the jungle in the dead of night behind the slow-moving Belgian. The ape-man chafed at the delay, but the European could not swing through the trees as could his more agile and muscular companions, and so the speed of all was limited to that of the slowest.
The apes trailed out behind the two white men for a matter of a few miles; but presently their interest lagged, the foremost of them halted in a little glade and the others stopped at his side. There they sat peering from beneath their shaggy brows at the figures of the two men forging steadily ahead, until the latter disappeared in the leafy trail beyond the clearing. Then an ape sought a comfortable couch beneath a tree, and one by one the others followed his example, so that Werper and Tarzan continued their journey alone; nor was the latter either surprised or concerned.
The two had gone but a short distance beyond the glade where the apes had deserted them, when the roaring of distant lions fell upon their ears. The ape-man paid no attention to the familiar sounds until the crack of a rifle came faintly from the same direction, and when this was followed by the shrill neighing of horses, and an almost continuous fusillade of shots intermingled with increased and savage roaring of a large troop of lions, he became immediately concerned.
“Someone is having trouble over there,” he said, turning toward Werper. “I’ll have to go to them – they may be friends.”
“Your wife might be among them,” suggested the Belgian, for since he had again come into possession of the pouch he had become fearful and suspicious of the ape-man, and in his mind had constantly resolved many plans for eluding this giant Englishman, who was at once his savior and his captor.
At the suggestion Tarzan started as though struck with a whip.
“God!” he cried, “she might be, and the lions are attacking them – they are in the camp. I can tell from the screams of the horses – and there! that was the cry of a man in his death agonies. Stay here, man – I will come back for you. I must go first to them,’ and swinging into a tree the lithe figure swung rapidly off into the night with the speed and silence of a disembodied spirit.
For a moment Werper stood where the ape-man had left him. Then a cunning smile crossed his lips. “Stay here?” he asked himself. “Stay here and wait until you return to find and take these jewels from me? Not I, my friend, not I,” and turning abruptly eastward Albert Werper passed through the foliage of a hanging vine and out of the sight of his fellow-man – forever.
Isn’t it grand how ERB set up his story? We have caught up with that moment when the lion was about to spring upon Jane. What splendid timing. So we come to the final chapter in our jungle adventure. There’s just no place like home.
As Tarzan of the Apes hurtled through the trees the discordant sounds of the battle between the Abyssinians and the lions smote more and more distinctly upon the sensitive ears, redoubling his assurance that the plight of the human element of the conflict was critical indeed.
At last the glare of the camp fire shone plainly through the intervening trees, and a moment later the giant figure of the ape-man passed upon an overhanging bough to look down upon the bloody scene of carnage below.
His quick eye took in the whole scene with a single comprehending glance and stopped upon the figure of a woman facing a great lion across the carcass of a horse.
The carnivore was crouching to spring as Tarzan discovered the tragic tableau. Numa was almost beneath the branch upon which the ape-man stood, naked and unarmed. There was not even an instant’s hesitation upon the part of the latter – it was as though he had not even passed in his swift progress through the trees, so lightning-like his survey and comprehension of the scene below him – so instantaneous his consequent action.
So hopeless had seemed her situation to her that Jane Clayton but stood in lethargic apathy awaiting the momentary agony that cruel talons and grisly fangs may inflict before the coming of the merciful oblivion which would end her sorrow and her suffering.
What use to attempt escape? As well face the hideous end as to be dragged down from behind in futile flight. She did not even close her eyes to shut out the frightful aspect of that snarling face, and so it was that as she saw the lion preparing to charge she saw, too, a bronzed and mighty figure leap from an overhanging tree at the instant that Numa rose in his spring.
Wide went her eyes in wonder and incredulity, as she beheld this seeming apparition risen from the dead. The lion was forgotten – her own peril – everything save the wondrous miracle of this strange recrudescence. With parted lips, with palms tight pressed against her heaving bosom, the girl leaned forward, large-eyed, enthralled by the vision of her dead mate.She saw the sinewy form leap to the shoulder of the lion, hurtling against the leaping beast like a huge, animate battering ram. She saw the carnivore brushed aside as he was almost upon her, and in the instant she realized that no substanceless wraith could thus turn the charge of a maddened lion with brute force greater than the brute’s.
Ah, that old heaving bosom again! Isn’t it grand that he doesn’t let us forget it? I suspect that her clothes are torn in such a manner that there is little left to the imagination. And, oh, what a view we get as she leans forward. Leave it to ERB to keep his eye on the ball.
Tarzan, her Tarzan, lived! A cry of unspeakable gladness broke from her lips, only to die in terror as she saw the utter defenselessness of her mate, and realized that the lion had recovered himself and was turning upon Tarzan in mad lust for vengeance.
At the ape-man’s feet lay the discarded rifle of the dead Abyssinian whose mutilated corpse sprawled where Numa had abandoned it. The quick glance which had swept the ground for some weapon of defense discovered it, and as the lion reared upon his hind legs to seize the rash man-thing who had dared interpose its puny strength between Numa and his prey, the heavy stock whirred through air and splintered upon the broad forehead.
Not as an ordinary mortal might strike a blow did Tarzan of the Apes strike; but with the maddened frenzy of a wild beast backed the steel thews which his wild, arboreal boyhood had bequeathed him. When the blow ended the splintered stock was driven through the splintered skull into the savage brain, and the heavy iron barrel was bent into a rude V.
In the instant that the lion sank, lifeless, to the ground, Jane Clayton threw herself into the eager arms of her husband. For a brief instant he strained her dear form to his breast, and then a glance about him awakened the ape-man to the dangers which still surrounded them.
Upon every hand the lions were still leaping upon new victims. Fear-maddened horses menaced them with their erratic bolting from one side of the enclosure to the other. Bullets from the guns of the defenders who remained alive but added to the perils of their situation.
To remain was to court death. Tarzan seized Jane Clayton and lifted her to a broad shoulder. The blacks who had witnessed his advent looked on in amazement as they saw the naked giant leap easily into the branches of the tree from whence he had dropped so uncanningly upon the scene, and vanish as he had come, bearing away their prisoner with him.
They were too well occupied in self-defense to attempt to halt him, nor could they have done so other than by the wasting of a precious bullet which might be needed the next instant to turn the charge of a savage lion.
And so, unmolested, Tarzan passed from the camp of the Abyssinians, from which the din of conflict followed him deep into the jungle until distance gradually obliterated it entirely.
Back to the spot where he had left Werper went the ape-man, joy in his heart now, where fear and sorrow had so recently reigned; and in his mind a determination to forgive the Belgian and aid him in making good his escape. But when he came to the place, Werper was gone, and though Tarzan called aloud many times he received no reply. Convinced that the man had purposely eluded him for reasons of his own, John Clayton felt that he was under no obligation to expose his wife to further danger and discomfort in the prosecution of a more thorough search for the missing Belgian.
“He has acknowledged his guilt by his flight, Jane,” he said. “We will let him go to lie in his bed that he has made for himself.’
Straight as homing pigeons, the two made their way toward the ruin and desolation that had once been the center of their happy lives, and which was soon to be restored by the willing black hands of laughing laborers, made happy again by the return of the master and mistress whom they had mourned as dead.
Past the the village of Achmet Zek their way led them, and there they found but the charred remains of the palisade and the native huts, still smoking, as mute evidence of the wrath and vengeance of a powerful enemy.
“The Waziri,” commented Tarzan with a grim smile.
“God bless them!” cried Jane Clayton.
“They cannot be far ahead of us,” said Tarzan, “Basuli and the others. The gold is gone and the jewels of Opar, Jane; but we have each other and the Waziri – and we have love and loyalty and friendship. And what are gold and jewels to these?”
“If only Mugambi lived,” she replied, “and those other brave fellows, who sacrificed their lives in vain endeavor to protect me!”
In the silence of mingled joy and sorrow they passed along through the familiar jungle, and as the afternoon was waning there came faintly to the ears of the ape-man the murmuring cadence of distant voices.
“We are nearing the Waziri, Jane,” he said. “I can hear them ahead of us. They are going into camp for the night, I imagine.”
A half hour later the two came upon a horde of ebon warriors which Basuli had collected for his war of vengeance upon the raiders. With them were the captured women of the tribe whom they had found in the village of Achmet Zek, and tall, even among the giant Waziri, loomed a familiar black form at the side of Basuli. It was Mugambi, whom Jane had thought dead amidst the charred ruins of the bungalow.
Ah, such a reunion! Long into the night the dancing and the singing and the laughter awoke the echoes of the somber wood. Again and again were the stories of their various adventures retold. Again and once again they fought their battles with savage beast and savage man, and dawn was already breaking when Basuli, for the fortieth time,
narrated how he and a handful of his warriors had watched the battle for the golden ingots which the Abyssinians of Abdul Marouk had waged against the Arab raiders of Achmet Zek, and how, when the victors had ridden away they had sneaked out of the river reeds and stolen away with the precious ingots to hide them where no robber eye ever could discover them.
Pieced out from the fragments of their various experiences with the Belgian the truth concerning the malign activities of Albert Werper became apparent. Only Lady Greystoke found aught to praise in the conduct of the man, and it was difficult even for her to reconcile his many heinous acts with this one evidence of chivalry and honor.
“Deep in the soul of every man,” said Tarzan, “must lurk the germ of righteousness. It was your own virtue, Jane, rather even than your helplessness which awakened for an instant the latent decency of this degraded man. In that one act he retrieved himself, and when he is called to face his Maker may it outweigh in the balance, all the sins he had committed!
And Jane Clayton breathed a fervent, “Amen!”Months had passed. The labor of the Waziri and the gold of Opar had rebuilt and refurnished the wasted homestead of the Greystokes. Once more the simple life of the great African farm went on as it had before the coming of the Belgian and the Arab. Forgotten were the sorrows and dangers of yesterday.
Okay, great; but what about the jewels, Tarzan? Surely Werper ended up with them, right? Isn’t that right?
For the first time in months Lord Greystoke felt that he might indulge in a holiday, and -so a great hunt was organized that the faithful laborers might feast in celebration of the completion of their work.
In itself the hunt was a success, and ten days after its inaugeration, a well-laden safari took up its return march toward the Waziri plain. Lord and Lady Greystoke with Basuli and Mugambi rode together at the head of the column, laughing and talking together in that easy familiarity which common interests and mutual respect breed between honest and intelligent men of any races.
Jane Clayton’s horse shied suddenly at an object half hidden in the long grasses of an open space in the jungle. Tarzan’s keen eyes sought quickly for an explanation of the animal’s action.
“What have we here?” he cried, swinging from his saddle, and a moment later the four were grouped about a human skull and a litter of whitened human bones.
Tarzan stooped and lifted a leathern pouch from the grisly relics of a man. The hard outlines of the contents brought an exclamation of surprise to his lips.
“The jewels of Opar!” he cried, holding the pouch aloft, “and,” pointing to the bones at his feet, “all that remains of Werper, the Belgian.’
Mugambi laughed. “Look within, Bwana,” he cried, “and you will see what are the jewels of Opar – you will see what the Belgian gave his life for,” and the black laughed aloud.
“Why do you laugh?” asked Tarzan.
“Because,” replied Mugambi, “I filled the Belgian’s pouch with river gravel before I escaped the camp of the Abyssinians whose prisoners we were. I left the Belgian only worthless stones, while I brought away with me the jewels he had stolen from you. That they were afterward stolen from me while I slept in the jungle is my shame and my disgrace; but at least the Belgian lost them – open his pouch and you will see.”
Tarzan untied the thong which held the mouth of the leathern bag closed, and permitted the contents to trickle slowly forth into his open palm. Mugambi’s eyes went wide at the sight, and the others uttered exclamations of surprise and incredulity, for from the rusty and weatherworn pouch ran a stream of brilliant, scintillating gems.
“The jewels of Opar!” cried Tarzan. “But how did Werper come by them again?”
None could answer, for both Chulk and Werper were dead, and no other knew.
“Poor devil!” said the ape-man, as he swung back into his saddle. “Even in death he had made restitution – let his sins lie with his bones.”
Ah, jungle justice! Wasn’t that fun? and at least we discovered that our insightful detective work was correct, even though ERB kept us guessing, never revealing the contents of Chulk’s pouch until the very end. I hope you had as much fun as I did writing this commentary. Adios!
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