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both, and then Ay couldn't do you no good at all. Think of the kid,
lady, and what it would be for you both to fall into Rokoff's hands
again. For his sake you must do what Ay say. Here, take my rifle and
ammunition; you may need them."

He shoved the gun and bandoleer into the shelter beside Jane. Then he
was gone.

She watched him as he returned along the path to meet the oncoming
safari of the Russian. Soon a turn in the trail hid him from view.

Her first impulse was to follow. With the rifle she might be of
assistance to him, and, further, she could not bear the terrible
thought of being left alone at the mercy of the fearful jungle without
a single friend to aid her.

She started to crawl from her shelter with the intention of running
after Anderssen as fast as she could. As she drew the baby close to
her she glanced down into its little face.

How red it was! How unnatural the little thing looked. She raised
the cheek to hers. It was fiery hot with fever!

With a little gasp of terror Jane Clayton rose to her feet in the
jungle path. The rifle and bandoleer lay forgotten in the shelter
beside her. Anderssen was forgotten, and Rokoff, and her great peril.

All that rioted through her fear-mad brain was the fearful fact that
this little, helpless child was stricken with the terrible
jungle-fever, and that she was helpless to do aught to allay its
sufferings - sufferings that were sure to come during ensuing
intervals of partial consciousness.

Her one thought was to find some one who could help her - some woman who
had had children of her own - and with the thought came recollection of
the friendly village of which Anderssen had spoken. If she could but
reach it - in time!

There was no time to be lost. Like a startled antelope she turned and
fled up the trail in the direction Anderssen had indicated.

From far behind came the sudden shouting of men, the sound of shots,
and then silence. She knew that Anderssen had met the Russian.

A half-hour later she stumbled, exhausted, into a little thatched
village. Instantly she was surrounded by men, women, and children.
Eager, curious, excited natives plied her with a hundred questions, no
one of which she could understand or answer.

All that she could do was to point tearfully at the baby, now wailing
piteously in her arms, and repeat over and over, "Fever - fever - fever."

The blacks did not understand her words, but they saw the cause of her
trouble, and soon a young woman had pulled her into a hut and with
several others was doing her poor best to quiet the child and allay its
agony.

The witch doctor came and built a little fire before the infant, upon
which he boiled some strange concoction in a small earthen pot, making
weird passes above it and mumbling strange, monotonous chants.
Presently he dipped a zebra's tail into the brew, and with further
mutterings and incantations sprinkled a few drops of the liquid over
the baby's face.

After he had gone the women sat about and moaned and wailed until Jane
thought that she should go mad; but, knowing that they were doing it
all out of the kindness of their hearts, she endured the frightful
waking nightmare of those awful hours in dumb and patient suffering.

It must have been well toward midnight that she became conscious of a
sudden commotion in the village. She heard the voices of the natives
raised in controversy, but she could not understand the words.

Presently she heard footsteps approaching the hut in which she squatted
before a bright fire with the baby on her lap. The little thing lay
very still now, its lids, half-raised, showed the pupils horribly
upturned.

Jane Clayton looked into the little face with fear-haunted eyes. It
was not her baby - not her flesh and blood - but how close, how dear the
tiny, helpless thing had become to her. Her heart, bereft of its own,
had gone out to this poor, little, nameless waif, and lavished upon it
all the love that had been denied her during the long, bitter weeks of
her captivity aboard the Kincaid.

She saw that the end was near, and though she was terrified at
contemplation of her loss, still she hoped that it would come quickly
now and end the sufferings of the little victim.

The footsteps she had heard without the hut now halted before the door.
There was a whispered colloquy, and a moment later M'ganwazam, chief of
the tribe, entered. She had seen but little of him, as the women had
taken her in hand almost as soon as she had entered the village.

M'ganwazam, she now saw, was an evil-appearing savage with every mark
of brutal degeneracy writ large upon his bestial countenance. To Jane
Clayton he looked more gorilla than human. He tried to converse with
her, but without success, and finally he called to some one without.

In answer to his summons another Negro entered - a man of very different
appearance from M'ganwazam - so different, in fact, that Jane Clayton
immediately decided that he was of another tribe. This man acted as
interpreter, and almost from the first question that M'ganwazam put to
her, Jane felt an intuitive conviction that the savage was attempting
to draw information from her for some ulterior motive.

She thought it strange that the fellow should so suddenly have become
interested in her plans, and especially in her intended destination
when her journey had been interrupted at his village.

Seeing no reason for withholding the information, she told him the
truth; but when he asked if she expected to meet her husband at the end
of the trip, she shook her head negatively.

Then he told her the purpose of his visit, talking through the
interpreter.

"I have just learned," he said, "from some men who live by the side of
the great water, that your husband followed you up the Ugambi for
several marches, when he was at last set upon by natives and killed.
Therefore I have told you this that you might not waste your time in a
long journey if you expected to meet your husband at the end of it; but
instead could turn and retrace your steps to the coast."

Jane thanked M'ganwazam for his kindness, though her heart was numb
with suffering at this new blow. She who had suffered so much was at
last beyond reach of the keenest of misery's pangs, for her senses were
numbed and calloused.

With bowed head she sat staring with unseeing eyes upon the face of the
baby in her lap. M'ganwazam had left the hut. Sometime later she
heard a noise at the entrance - another had entered. One of the women
sitting opposite her threw a faggot upon the dying embers of the fire
between them.

With a sudden flare it burst into renewed flame, lighting up the hut's
interior as though by magic.

The flame disclosed to Jane Clayton's horrified gaze that the baby was
quite dead. How long it had been so she could not guess.

A choking lump rose to her throat, her head drooped in silent misery
upon the little bundle that she had caught suddenly to her breast.

For a moment the silence of the hut was unbroken. Then the native
woman broke into a hideous wail.

A man coughed close before Jane Clayton and spoke her name.

With a start she raised her eyes to look into the sardonic countenance
of Nikolas Rokoff.




Chapter 13

Escape


For a moment Rokoff stood sneering down upon Jane Clayton, then his
eyes fell to the little bundle in her lap. Jane had drawn one corner
of the blanket over the child's face, so that to one who did not know
the truth it seemed but to be sleeping.

"You have gone to a great deal of unnecessary trouble," said Rokoff,
"to bring the child to this village. If you had attended to your own
affairs I should have brought it here myself.

"You would have been spared the dangers and fatigue of the journey.
But I suppose I must thank you for relieving me of the inconvenience of
having to care for a young infant on the march.

"This is the village to which the child was destined from the first.
M'ganwazam will rear him carefully, making a good cannibal of him, and
if you ever chance to return to civilization it will doubtless afford
you much food for thought as you compare the luxuries and comforts of
your life with the details of the life your son is living in the
village of the Waganwazam.

"Again I thank you for bringing him here for me, and now I must ask you
to surrender him to me, that I may turn him over to his foster
parents." As he concluded Rokoff held out his hands for the child, a
nasty grin of vindictiveness upon his lips.

To his surprise Jane Clayton rose and, without a word of protest, laid
the little bundle in his arms.

"Here is the child," she said. "Thank God he is beyond your power to
harm."

Grasping the import of her words, Rokoff snatched the blanket from the
child's face to seek confirmation of his fears. Jane Clayton watched
his expression closely.

She had been puzzled for days for an answer to the question of Rokoff's
knowledge of the child's identity. If she had been in doubt before the
last shred of that doubt was wiped away as she witnessed the terrible
anger of the Russian as he looked upon the dead face of the baby and
realized that at the last moment his dearest wish for vengeance had
been thwarted by a higher power.

Almost throwing the body of the child back into Jane Clayton's arms,
Rokoff stamped up and down the hut, pounding the air with his clenched
fists and cursing terribly. At last he halted in front of the young
woman, bringing his face down close to hers.

"You are laughing at me," he shrieked. "You think that you have beaten
me - eh? I'll show you, as I have shown the miserable ape you call
'husband,' what it means to interfere with the plans of Nikolas Rokoff.

"You have robbed me of the child. I cannot make him the son of a
cannibal chief, but" - and he paused as though to let the full meaning
of his threat sink deep - "I can make the mother the wife of a cannibal,
and that I shall do - after I have finished with her myself."

If he had thought to wring from Jane Clayton any sign of terror he
failed miserably. She was beyond that. Her brain and nerves were numb
to suffering and shock.

To his surprise a faint, almost happy smile touched her lips. She was
thinking with thankful heart that this poor little corpse was not that
of her own wee Jack, and that - best of all - Rokoff evidently did not
know the truth.

She would have liked to have flaunted the fact in his face, but she
dared not. If he continued to believe that the child had been hers, so
much safer would be the real Jack wherever he might be. She had, of
course, no knowledge of the whereabouts of her little son - she did not
know, even, that he still lived, and yet there was the chance that he
might.

It was more than possible that without Rokoff's knowledge this child
had been substituted for hers by one of the Russian's confederates, and
that even now her son might be safe with friends in London, where there
were many, both able and willing, to have paid any ransom which the
traitorous conspirator might have asked for the safe release of Lord
Greystoke's son.

She had thought it all out a hundred times since she had discovered
that the baby which Anderssen had placed in her arms that night upon
the Kincaid was not her own, and it had been a constant and gnawing
source of happiness to her to dream the whole fantasy through in its
every detail.

No, the Russian must never know that this was not her baby. She
realized that her position was hopeless - with Anderssen and her husband
dead there was no one in all the world with a desire to succour her who
knew where she might be found.

Rokoff's threat, she realized, was no idle one. That he would do, or
attempt to do, all that he had promised, she was perfectly sure; but at
the worst it meant but a little earlier release from the hideous
anguish that she had been enduring. She must find some way to take
her own life before the Russian could harm her further.

Just now she wanted time - time to think and prepare herself for the
end. She felt that she could not take the last, awful step until she
had exhausted every possibility of escape. She did not care to live
unless she might find her way back to her own child, but slight as such
a hope appeared she would not admit its impossibility until the last
moment had come, and she faced the fearful reality of choosing between
the final alternatives - Nikolas Rokoff on one hand and self-destruction
upon the other.

"Go away!" she said to the Russian. "Go away and leave me in peace
with my dead. Have you not brought sufficient misery and anguish upon
me without attempting to harm me further? What wrong have I ever done
you that you should persist in persecuting me?"

"You are suffering for the sins of the monkey you chose when you might
have had the love of a gentleman - of Nikolas Rokoff," he replied. "But
where is the use in discussing the matter? We shall bury the child
here, and you will return with me at once to my own camp. Tomorrow I
shall bring you back and turn you over to your new husband - the lovely
M'ganwazam. Come!"

He reached out for the child. Jane, who was on her feet now, turned
away from him.

"I shall bury the body," she said. "Send some men to dig a grave
outside the village."

Rokoff was anxious to have the thing over and get back to his camp with
his victim. He thought he saw in her apathy a resignation to her fate.
Stepping outside the hut, he motioned her to follow him, and a moment
later, with his men, he escorted Jane beyond the village, where beneath
a great tree the blacks scooped a shallow grave.

Wrapping the tiny body in a blanket, Jane laid it tenderly in the black
hole, and, turning her head that she might not see the mouldy earth
falling upon the pitiful little bundle, she breathed a prayer beside
the grave of the nameless waif that had won its way to the innermost
recesses of her heart.

Then, dry-eyed but suffering, she rose and followed the Russian through
the Stygian blackness of the jungle, along the winding, leafy corridor
that led from the village of M'ganwazam, the black cannibal, to the
camp of Nikolas Rokoff, the white fiend.

Beside them, in the impenetrable thickets that fringed the path, rising
to arch above it and shut out the moon, the girl could hear the
stealthy, muffled footfalls of great beasts, and ever round about them
rose the deafening roars of hunting lions, until the earth trembled to
the mighty sound.

The porters lighted torches now and waved them upon either hand to
frighten off the beasts of prey. Rokoff urged them to greater speed,
and from the quavering note in his voice Jane Clayton knew that he was
weak from terror.

The sounds of the jungle night recalled most vividly the days and
nights that she had spent in a similar jungle with her forest god - with
the fearless and unconquerable Tarzan of the Apes. Then there had been
no thoughts of terror, though the jungle noises were new to her, and
the roar of a lion had seemed the most awe-inspiring sound upon the
great earth.

How different would it be now if she knew that he was somewhere there
in the wilderness, seeking her! Then, indeed, would there be that for
which to live, and every reason to believe that succour was close at
hand - but he was dead! It was incredible that it should be so.

There seemed no place in death for that great body and those mighty
thews. Had Rokoff been the one to tell her of her lord's passing she
would have known that he lied. There could be no reason, she thought,
why M'ganwazam should have deceived her. She did not know that the
Russian had talked with the savage a few minutes before the chief had
come to her with his tale.

At last they reached the rude boma that Rokoff's porters had thrown up
round the Russian's camp. Here they found all in turmoil. She did not
know what it was all about, but she saw that Rokoff was very angry, and
from bits of conversation which she could translate she gleaned that
there had been further desertions while he had been absent, and that
the deserters had taken the bulk of his food and ammunition.

When he had done venting his rage upon those who remained he returned
to where Jane stood under guard of a couple of his white sailors. He
grasped her roughly by the arm and started to drag her toward his tent.
The girl struggled and fought to free herself, while the two sailors
stood by, laughing at the rare treat.

Rokoff did not hesitate to use rough methods when he found that he was
to have difficulty in carrying out his designs. Repeatedly he struck
Jane Clayton in the face, until at last, half-conscious, she was
dragged within his tent.

Rokoff's boy had lighted the Russian's lamp, and now at a word from his
master he made himself scarce. Jane had sunk to the floor in the
middle of the enclosure. Slowly her numbed senses were returning to
her and she was commencing to think very fast indeed. Quickly her eyes
ran round the interior of the tent, taking in every detail of its
equipment and contents.

Now the Russian was lifting her to her feet and attempting to drag her
to the camp cot that stood at one side of the tent. At his belt hung
a heavy revolver. Jane Clayton's eyes riveted themselves upon it. Her
palm itched to grasp the huge butt. She feigned again to swoon, but
through her half-closed lids she waited her opportunity.

It came just as Rokoff was lifting her upon the cot. A noise at the
tent door behind him brought his head quickly about and away from the
girl. The butt of the gun was not an inch from her hand. With a
single, lightning-like move she snatched the weapon from its holster,
and at the same instant Rokoff turned back toward her, realizing his
peril.

She did not dare fire for fear the shot would bring his people about
him, and with Rokoff dead she would fall into hands no better than his
and to a fate probably even worse than he alone could have imagined.
The memory of the two brutes who stood and laughed as Rokoff struck her
was still vivid.

As the rage and fear-filled countenance of the Slav turned toward her
Jane Clayton raised the heavy revolver high above the pasty face and
with all her strength dealt the man a terrific blow between the eyes.

Without a sound he sank, limp and unconscious, to the ground. A
moment later the girl stood beside him - for a moment at least free from
the menace of his lust.

Outside the tent she again heard the noise that had distracted Rokoff's
attention. What it was she did not know, but, fearing the return of
the servant and the discovery of her deed, she stepped quickly to the
camp table upon which burned the oil lamp and extinguished the smudgy,
evil-smelling flame.

In the total darkness of the interior she paused for a moment to
collect her wits and plan for the next step in her venture for freedom.

About her was a camp of enemies. Beyond these foes a black wilderness
of savage jungle peopled by hideous beasts of prey and still more
hideous human beasts.

There was little or no chance that she could survive even a few days of
the constant dangers that would confront her there; but the knowledge
that she had already passed through so many perils unscathed, and that
somewhere out in the faraway world a little child was doubtless at that
very moment crying for her, filled her with determination to make the
effort to accomplish the seemingly impossible and cross that awful land
of horror in search of the sea and the remote chance of succour she
might find there.

Rokoff's tent stood almost exactly in the centre of the boma.
Surrounding it were the tents and shelters of his white companions and
the natives of his safari. To pass through these and find egress
through the boma seemed a task too fraught with insurmountable
obstacles to warrant even the slightest consideration, and yet there
was no other way.

To remain in the tent until she should be discovered would be to set at
naught all that she had risked to gain her freedom, and so with
stealthy step and every sense alert she approached the back of the tent
to set out upon the first stage of her adventure.

Groping along the rear of the canvas wall, she found that there was no
opening there. Quickly she returned to the side of the unconscious
Russian. In his belt her groping fingers came upon the hilt of a long
hunting-knife, and with this she cut a hole in the back wall of the
tent.

Silently she stepped without. To her immense relief she saw that the
camp was apparently asleep. In the dim and flickering light of the
dying fires she saw but a single sentry, and he was dozing upon his
haunches at the opposite side of the enclosure.

Keeping the tent between him and herself, she crossed between the small
shelters of the native porters to the boma wall beyond.

Outside, in the darkness of the tangled jungle, she could hear the
roaring of lions, the laughing of hyenas, and the countless, nameless
noises of the midnight jungle.

For a moment she hesitated, trembling. The thought of the prowling
beasts out there in the darkness was appalling. Then, with a sudden
brave toss of her head, she attacked the thorny boma wall with her
delicate hands. Torn and bleeding though they were, she worked on
breathlessly until she had made an opening through which she could worm
her body, and at last she stood outside the enclosure.

Behind her lay a fate worse than death, at the hands of human beings.

Before her lay an almost certain fate - but it was only death - sudden,
merciful, and honourable death.

Without a tremor and without regret she darted away from the camp, and
a moment later the mysterious jungle had closed about her.




Chapter 14

Alone in the Jungle


Tambudza, leading Tarzan of the Apes toward the camp of the Russian,
moved very slowly along the winding jungle path, for she was old and
her legs stiff with rheumatism.

So it was that the runners dispatched by M'ganwazam to warn Rokoff that
the white giant was in his village and that he would be slain that
night reached the Russian's camp before Tarzan and his ancient guide
had covered half the distance.

The guides found the white man's camp in a turmoil. Rokoff had that
morning been discovered stunned and bleeding within his tent. When he
had recovered his senses and realized that Jane Clayton had escaped,
his rage was boundless.

Rushing about the camp with his rifle, he had sought to shoot down the
native sentries who had allowed the young woman to elude their
vigilance, but several of the other whites, realizing that they were
already in a precarious position owing to the numerous desertions that
Rokoff's cruelty had brought about, seized and disarmed him.

Then came the messengers from M'ganwazam, but scarce had they told
their story and Rokoff was preparing to depart with them for their
village when other runners, panting from the exertions of their swift
flight through the jungle, rushed breathless into the firelight, crying
that the great white giant had escaped from M'ganwazam and was already
on his way to wreak vengeance against his enemies.

Instantly confusion reigned within the encircling boma. The blacks
belonging to Rokoff's safari were terror-stricken at the thought of the
proximity of the white giant who hunted through the jungle with a
fierce pack of apes and panthers at his heels.

Before the whites realized what had happened the superstitious fears of
the natives had sent them scurrying into the bush - their own carriers
as well as the messengers from M'ganwazam - but even in their haste they
had not neglected to take with them every article of value upon which
they could lay their hands.

Thus Rokoff and the seven white sailors found themselves deserted and
robbed in the midst of a wilderness.

The Russian, following his usual custom, berated his companions, laying
all the blame upon their shoulders for the events which had led up to
the almost hopeless condition in which they now found themselves; but
the sailors were in no mood to brook his insults and his cursing.

In the midst of this tirade one of them drew a revolver and fired
point-blank at the Russian. The fellow's aim was poor, but his act so
terrified Rokoff that he turned and fled for his tent.

As he ran his eyes chanced to pass beyond the boma to the edge of the
forest, and there he caught a glimpse of that which sent his craven
heart cold with a fear that almost expunged his terror of the seven men
at his back, who by this time were all firing in hate and revenge at
his retreating figure.


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Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsBeasts of Tarzan → online text (page 9 of 15)