Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Beasts of Tarzan online

. (page 4 of 15)
Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsBeasts of Tarzan → online text (page 4 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


grotesquely painted faces, together with their many metal ornaments and
gorgeously coloured feathers, adding to their wild, fierce appearance.

Once at the foot of the ridge, they came cautiously to their feet, and,
bent half-double, advanced silently upon the unconscious white man,
their heavy war-clubs swinging menacingly in their brawny hands.

The mental suffering that Tarzan's sorrowful thoughts induced had the
effect of numbing his keen, perceptive faculties, so that the advancing
savages were almost upon him before he became aware that he was no
longer alone upon the beach.

So quickly, though, were his mind and muscles wont to react in unison
to the slightest alarm that he was upon his feet and facing his
enemies, even as he realized that something was behind him. As he
sprang to his feet the warriors leaped toward him with raised clubs and
savage yells, but the foremost went down to sudden death beneath the
long, stout stick of the ape-man, and then the lithe, sinewy figure was
among them, striking right and left with a fury, power, and precision
that brought panic to the ranks of the blacks.

For a moment they withdrew, those that were left of them, and consulted
together at a short distance from the ape-man, who stood with folded
arms, a half-smile upon his handsome face, watching them. Presently
they advanced upon him once more, this time wielding their heavy
war-spears. They were between Tarzan and the jungle, in a little
semicircle that closed in upon him as they advanced.

There seemed to the ape-man but slight chance to escape the final
charge when all the great spears should be hurled simultaneously at
him; but if he had desired to escape there was no way other than
through the ranks of the savages except the open sea behind him.

His predicament was indeed most serious when an idea occurred to him
that altered his smile to a broad grin. The warriors were still some
little distance away, advancing slowly, making, after the manner of
their kind, a frightful din with their savage yells and the pounding of
their naked feet upon the ground as they leaped up and down in a
fantastic war dance.

Then it was that the ape-man lifted his voice in a series of wild,
weird screams that brought the blacks to a sudden, perplexed halt.
They looked at one another questioningly, for here was a sound so
hideous that their own frightful din faded into insignificance beside
it. No human throat could have formed those bestial notes, they were
sure, and yet with their own eyes they had seen this white man open his
mouth to pour forth his awful cry.

But only for a moment they hesitated, and then with one accord they
again took up their fantastic advance upon their prey; but even then a
sudden crashing in the jungle behind them brought them once more to a
halt, and as they turned to look in the direction of this new noise
there broke upon their startled visions a sight that may well have
frozen the blood of braver men than the Wagambi.

Leaping from the tangled vegetation of the jungle's rim came a huge
panther, with blazing eyes and bared fangs, and in his wake a score of
mighty, shaggy apes lumbering rapidly toward them, half erect upon
their short, bowed legs, and with their long arms reaching to the
ground, where their horny knuckles bore the weight of their ponderous
bodies as they lurched from side to side in their grotesque advance.

The beasts of Tarzan had come in answer to his call.

Before the Wagambi could recover from their astonishment the frightful
horde was upon them from one side and Tarzan of the Apes from the
other. Heavy spears were hurled and mighty war-clubs wielded, and
though apes went down never to rise, so, too, went down the men of
Ugambi.

Sheeta's cruel fangs and tearing talons ripped and tore at the black
hides. Akut's mighty yellow tusks found the jugular of more than one
sleek-skinned savage, and Tarzan of the Apes was here and there and
everywhere, urging on his fierce allies and taking a heavy toll with
his long, slim knife.

In a moment the blacks had scattered for their lives, but of the score
that had crept down the grassy sides of the promontory only a single
warrior managed to escape the horde that had overwhelmed his people.

This one was Mugambi, chief of the Wagambi of Ugambi, and as he
disappeared in the tangled luxuriousness of the rank growth upon the
ridge's summit only the keen eyes of the ape-man saw the direction of
his flight.

Leaving his pack to eat their fill upon the flesh of their
victims - flesh that he could not touch - Tarzan of the Apes pursued the
single survivor of the bloody fray. Just beyond the ridge he came
within sight of the fleeing black, making with headlong leaps for a
long war-canoe that was drawn well up upon the beach above the high
tide surf.

Noiseless as the fellow's shadow, the ape-man raced after the
terror-stricken black. In the white man's mind was a new plan,
awakened by sight of the war-canoe. If these men had come to his
island from another, or from the mainland, why not utilize their craft
to make his way to the country from which they had come? Evidently it
was an inhabited country, and no doubt had occasional intercourse with
the mainland, if it were not itself upon the continent of Africa.

A heavy hand fell upon the shoulder of the escaping Mugambi before he
was aware that he was being pursued, and as he turned to do battle with
his assailant giant fingers closed about his wrists and he was hurled
to earth with a giant astride him before he could strike a blow in his
own defence.

In the language of the West Coast, Tarzan spoke to the prostrate man
beneath him.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"Mugambi, chief of the Wagambi," replied the black.

"I will spare your life," said Tarzan, "if you will promise to help me
to leave this island. What do you answer?"

"I will help you," replied Mugambi. "But now that you have killed all
my warriors, I do not know that even I can leave your country, for
there will be none to wield the paddles, and without paddlers we cannot
cross the water."

Tarzan rose and allowed his prisoner to come to his feet. The fellow
was a magnificent specimen of manhood - a black counterpart in physique
of the splendid white man whom he faced.

"Come!" said the ape-man, and started back in the direction from which
they could hear the snarling and growling of the feasting pack.
Mugambi drew back.

"They will kill us," he said.

"I think not," replied Tarzan. "They are mine."

Still the black hesitated, fearful of the consequences of approaching
the terrible creatures that were dining upon the bodies of his
warriors; but Tarzan forced him to accompany him, and presently the two
emerged from the jungle in full view of the grisly spectacle upon the
beach. At sight of the men the beasts looked up with menacing growls,
but Tarzan strode in among them, dragging the trembling Wagambi with
him.

As he had taught the apes to accept Sheeta, so he taught them to adopt
Mugambi as well, and much more easily; but Sheeta seemed quite unable
to understand that though he had been called upon to devour Mugambi's
warriors he was not to be allowed to proceed after the same fashion
with Mugambi. However, being well filled, he contented himself with
walking round the terror-stricken savage, emitting low, menacing growls
the while he kept his flaming, baleful eyes riveted upon the black.

Mugambi, on his part, clung closely to Tarzan, so that the ape-man
could scarce control his laughter at the pitiable condition to which
the chief's fear had reduced him; but at length the white took the
great cat by the scruff of the neck and, dragging it quite close to the
Wagambi, slapped it sharply upon the nose each time that it growled at
the stranger.

At the sight of the thing - a man mauling with his bare hands one of the
most relentless and fierce of the jungle carnivora - Mugambi's eyes
bulged from their sockets, and from entertaining a sullen respect for
the giant white man who had made him prisoner, the black felt an almost
worshipping awe of Tarzan.

The education of Sheeta progressed so well that in a short time Mugambi
ceased to be the object of his hungry attention, and the black felt a
degree more of safety in his society.

To say that Mugambi was entirely happy or at ease in his new
environment would not be to adhere strictly to the truth. His eyes
were constantly rolling apprehensively from side to side as now one and
now another of the fierce pack chanced to wander near him, so that for
the most of the time it was principally the whites that showed.

Together Tarzan and Mugambi, with Sheeta and Akut, lay in wait at the
ford for a deer, and when at a word from the ape-man the four of them
leaped out upon the affrighted animal the black was sure that the poor
creature died of fright before ever one of the great beasts touched it.

Mugambi built a fire and cooked his portion of the kill; but Tarzan,
Sheeta, and Akut tore theirs, raw, with their sharp teeth, growling
among themselves when one ventured to encroach upon the share of
another.

It was not, after all, strange that the white man's ways should have
been so much more nearly related to those of the beasts than were the
savage blacks. We are, all of us, creatures of habit, and when the
seeming necessity for schooling ourselves in new ways ceases to exist,
we fall naturally and easily into the manners and customs which long
usage has implanted ineradicably within us.

Mugambi from childhood had eaten no meat until it had been cooked,
while Tarzan, on the other hand, had never tasted cooked food of any
sort until he had grown almost to manhood, and only within the past
three or four years had he eaten cooked meat. Not only did the habit
of a lifetime prompt him to eat it raw, but the craving of his palate
as well; for to him cooked flesh was spoiled flesh when compared with
the rich and juicy meat of a fresh, hot kill.

That he could, with relish, eat raw meat that had been buried by
himself weeks before, and enjoy small rodents and disgusting grubs,
seems to us who have been always "civilized" a revolting fact; but had
we learned in childhood to eat these things, and had we seen all those
about us eat them, they would seem no more sickening to us now than do
many of our greatest dainties, at which a savage African cannibal would
look with repugnance and turn up his nose.

For instance, there is a tribe in the vicinity of Lake Rudolph that
will eat no sheep or cattle, though its next neighbors do so. Near by
is another tribe that eats donkey-meat - a custom most revolting to the
surrounding tribes that do not eat donkey. So who may say that it is
nice to eat snails and frogs' legs and oysters, but disgusting to feed
upon grubs and beetles, or that a raw oyster, hoof, horns, and tail, is
less revolting than the sweet, clean meat of a fresh-killed buck?

The next few days Tarzan devoted to the weaving of a barkcloth sail
with which to equip the canoe, for he despaired of being able to teach
the apes to wield the paddles, though he did manage to get several of
them to embark in the frail craft which he and Mugambi paddled about
inside the reef where the water was quite smooth.

During these trips he had placed paddles in their hands, when they
attempted to imitate the movements of him and Mugambi, but so difficult
is it for them long to concentrate upon a thing that he soon saw that
it would require weeks of patient training before they would be able to
make any effective use of these new implements, if, in fact, they
should ever do so.

There was one exception, however, and he was Akut. Almost from the
first he showed an interest in this new sport that revealed a much
higher plane of intelligence than that attained by any of his tribe.
He seemed to grasp the purpose of the paddles, and when Tarzan saw that
this was so he took much pains to explain in the meagre language of the
anthropoid how they might be used to the best advantage.

From Mugambi Tarzan learned that the mainland lay but a short distance
from the island. It seemed that the Wagambi warriors had ventured too
far out in their frail craft, and when caught by a heavy tide and a
high wind from off-shore they had been driven out of sight of land.
After paddling for a whole night, thinking that they were headed for
home, they had seen this land at sunrise, and, still taking it for the
mainland, had hailed it with joy, nor had Mugambi been aware that it
was an island until Tarzan had told him that this was the fact.

The Wagambi chief was quite dubious as to the sail, for he had never
seen such a contrivance used. His country lay far up the broad Ugambi
River, and this was the first occasion that any of his people had found
their way to the ocean.

Tarzan, however, was confident that with a good west wind he could
navigate the little craft to the mainland. At any rate, he decided, it
would be preferable to perish on the way than to remain indefinitely
upon this evidently uncharted island to which no ships might ever be
expected to come.

And so it was that when the first fair wind rose he embarked upon his
cruise, and with him he took as strange and fearsome a crew as ever
sailed under a savage master.

Mugambi and Akut went with him, and Sheeta, the panther, and a dozen
great males of the tribe of Akut.




Chapter 6

A Hideous Crew


The war-canoe with its savage load moved slowly toward the break in the
reef through which it must pass to gain the open sea. Tarzan, Mugambi,
and Akut wielded the paddles, for the shore kept the west wind from the
little sail.

Sheeta crouched in the bow at the ape-man's feet, for it had seemed
best to Tarzan always to keep the wicked beast as far from the other
members of the party as possible, since it would require little or no
provocation to send him at the throat of any than the white man, whom
he evidently now looked upon as his master.

In the stern was Mugambi, and just in front of him squatted Akut, while
between Akut and Tarzan the twelve hairy apes sat upon their haunches,
blinking dubiously this way and that, and now and then turning their
eyes longingly back toward shore.

All went well until the canoe had passed beyond the reef. Here the
breeze struck the sail, sending the rude craft lunging among the waves
that ran higher and higher as they drew away from the shore.

With the tossing of the boat the apes became panic-stricken. They
first moved uneasily about, and then commenced grumbling and whining.
With difficulty Akut kept them in hand for a time; but when a
particularly large wave struck the dugout simultaneously with a little
squall of wind their terror broke all bounds, and, leaping to their
feet, they all but overturned the boat before Akut and Tarzan together
could quiet them. At last calm was restored, and eventually the apes
became accustomed to the strange antics of their craft, after which no
more trouble was experienced with them.

The trip was uneventful, the wind held, and after ten hours' steady
sailing the black shadows of the coast loomed close before the
straining eyes of the ape-man in the bow. It was far too dark to
distinguish whether they had approached close to the mouth of the
Ugambi or not, so Tarzan ran in through the surf at the closest point
to await the dawn.

The dugout turned broadside the instant that its nose touched the sand,
and immediately it rolled over, with all its crew scrambling madly for
the shore. The next breaker rolled them over and over, but eventually
they all succeeded in crawling to safety, and in a moment more their
ungainly craft had been washed up beside them.

The balance of the night the apes sat huddled close to one another for
warmth; while Mugambi built a fire close to them over which he
crouched. Tarzan and Sheeta, however, were of a different mind, for
neither of them feared the jungle night, and the insistent craving of
their hunger sent them off into the Stygian blackness of the forest in
search of prey.

Side by side they walked when there was room for two abreast. At other
times in single file, first one and then the other in advance. It was
Tarzan who first caught the scent of meat - a bull buffalo - and
presently the two came stealthily upon the sleeping beast in the midst
of a dense jungle of reeds close to a river.

Closer and closer they crept toward the unsuspecting beast, Sheeta upon
his right side and Tarzan upon his left nearest the great heart. They
had hunted together now for some time, so that they worked in unison,
with only low, purring sounds as signals.

For a moment they lay quite silent near their prey, and then at a sign
from the ape-man Sheeta sprang upon the great back, burying his strong
teeth in the bull's neck. Instantly the brute sprang to his feet with
a bellow of pain and rage, and at the same instant Tarzan rushed in
upon his left side with the stone knife, striking repeatedly behind the
shoulder.

One of the ape-man's hands clutched the thick mane, and as the bull
raced madly through the reeds the thing striking at his life was
dragged beside him. Sheeta but clung tenaciously to his hold upon the
neck and back, biting deep in an effort to reach the spine.

For several hundred yards the bellowing bull carried his two savage
antagonists, until at last the blade found his heart, when with a final
bellow that was half-scream he plunged headlong to the earth. Then
Tarzan and Sheeta feasted to repletion.

After the meal the two curled up together in a thicket, the man's black
head pillowed upon the tawny side of the panther. Shortly after dawn
they awoke and ate again, and then returned to the beach that Tarzan
might lead the balance of the pack to the kill.

When the meal was done the brutes were for curling up to sleep, so
Tarzan and Mugambi set off in search of the Ugambi River. They had
proceeded scarce a hundred yards when they came suddenly upon a broad
stream, which the Negro instantly recognized as that down which he and
his warriors had paddled to the sea upon their ill-starred expedition.

The two now followed the stream down to the ocean, finding that it
emptied into a bay not over a mile from the point upon the beach at
which the canoe had been thrown the night before.

Tarzan was much elated by the discovery, as he knew that in the
vicinity of a large watercourse he should find natives, and from some
of these he had little doubt but that he should obtain news of Rokoff
and the child, for he felt reasonably certain that the Russian would
rid himself of the baby as quickly as possible after having disposed of
Tarzan.

He and Mugambi now righted and launched the dugout, though it was a
most difficult feat in the face of the surf which rolled continuously
in upon the beach; but at last they were successful, and soon after
were paddling up the coast toward the mouth of the Ugambi. Here they
experienced considerable difficulty in making an entrance against the
combined current and ebb tide, but by taking advantage of eddies close
in to shore they came about dusk to a point nearly opposite the spot
where they had left the pack asleep.

Making the craft fast to an overhanging bough, the two made their way
into the jungle, presently coming upon some of the apes feeding upon
fruit a little beyond the reeds where the buffalo had fallen. Sheeta
was not anywhere to be seen, nor did he return that night, so that
Tarzan came to believe that he had wandered away in search of his own
kind.

Early the next morning the ape-man led his band down to the river, and
as he walked he gave vent to a series of shrill cries. Presently from
a great distance and faintly there came an answering scream, and a
half-hour later the lithe form of Sheeta bounded into view where the
others of the pack were clambering gingerly into the canoe.

The great beast, with arched back and purring like a contented tabby,
rubbed his sides against the ape-man, and then at a word from the
latter sprang lightly to his former place in the bow of the dugout.

When all were in place it was discovered that two of the apes of Akut
were missing, and though both the king ape and Tarzan called to them
for the better part of an hour, there was no response, and finally the
boat put off without them. As it happened that the two missing ones
were the very same who had evinced the least desire to accompany the
expedition from the island, and had suffered the most from fright
during the voyage, Tarzan was quite sure that they had absented
themselves purposely rather than again enter the canoe.

As the party were putting in for the shore shortly after noon to search
for food a slender, naked savage watched them for a moment from behind
the dense screen of verdure which lined the river's bank, then he
melted away up-stream before any of those in the canoe discovered him.

Like a deer he bounded along the narrow trail until, filled with the
excitement of his news, he burst into a native village several miles
above the point at which Tarzan and his pack had stopped to hunt.

"Another white man is coming!" he cried to the chief who squatted
before the entrance to his circular hut. "Another white man, and with
him are many warriors. They come in a great war-canoe to kill and rob
as did the black-bearded one who has just left us."

Kaviri leaped to his feet. He had but recently had a taste of the
white man's medicine, and his savage heart was filled with bitterness
and hate. In another moment the rumble of the war-drums rose from the
village, calling in the hunters from the forest and the tillers from
the fields.

Seven war-canoes were launched and manned by paint-daubed, befeathered
warriors. Long spears bristled from the rude battle-ships, as they
slid noiselessly over the bosom of the water, propelled by giant
muscles rolling beneath glistening, ebony hides.

There was no beating of tom-toms now, nor blare of native horn, for
Kaviri was a crafty warrior, and it was in his mind to take no chances,
if they could be avoided. He would swoop noiselessly down with his
seven canoes upon the single one of the white man, and before the guns
of the latter could inflict much damage upon his people he would have
overwhelmed the enemy by force of numbers.

Kaviri's own canoe went in advance of the others a short distance, and
as it rounded a sharp bend in the river where the swift current bore it
rapidly on its way it came suddenly upon the thing that Kaviri sought.

So close were the two canoes to one another that the black had only an
opportunity to note the white face in the bow of the oncoming craft
before the two touched and his own men were upon their feet, yelling
like mad devils and thrusting their long spears at the occupants of the
other canoe.

But a moment later, when Kaviri was able to realize the nature of the
crew that manned the white man's dugout, he would have given all the
beads and iron wire that he possessed to have been safely within his
distant village. Scarcely had the two craft come together than the
frightful apes of Akut rose, growling and barking, from the bottom of
the canoe, and, with long, hairy arms far outstretched, grasped the
menacing spears from the hands of Kaviri's warriors.

The blacks were overcome with terror, but there was nothing to do other
than to fight. Now came the other war-canoes rapidly down upon the two
craft. Their occupants were eager to join the battle, for they thought
that their foes were white men and their native porters.

They swarmed about Tarzan's craft; but when they saw the nature of the
enemy all but one turned and paddled swiftly up-river. That one came
too close to the ape-man's craft before its occupants realized that
their fellows were pitted against demons instead of men. As it touched
Tarzan spoke a few low words to Sheeta and Akut, so that before the
attacking warriors could draw away there sprang upon them with a
blood-freezing scream a huge panther, and into the other end of their
canoe clambered a great ape.

At one end the panther wrought fearful havoc with his mighty talons and
long, sharp fangs, while Akut at the other buried his yellow canines in
the necks of those that came within his reach, hurling the
terror-stricken blacks overboard as he made his way toward the centre
of the canoe.

Kaviri was so busily engaged with the demons that had entered his own
craft that he could offer no assistance to his warriors in the other.
A giant of a white devil had wrested his spear from him as though he,


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsBeasts of Tarzan → online text (page 4 of 15)