For three nights he had heard the almost continuous booming of tom-toms, faintly from afar; and during the day following the third night he had drifted slowly in his hunting in the direction from which the sounds had come.
He had seen something of the natives who inhabited this region: He had witnessed their methods of warfare against the whites who had invaded their territory. His sympathies had been neither with one side nor the other. He had seen Orman, drunk, lashing his black porters; and he had felt that whatever misfortunes overtook him he deserved them.
Tarzan did not know these Tarmangani; and so they were even less to him than the other beasts that they would have described as lower orders but which Tarzan, who knew an orders well, considered their superiors in many aspects of heart and mind.
Some passing whim, some slight incitement, might have caused him to befriend them actively, as he had often befriended Numa and Sabor and Sheeta, who were by nature his hereditary enemies. But no such whim had seized him, no such incitement had occurred; and he had seen them go upon their way and had scarcely given them a thought since the last night that he had entered their camp.
He had heard the fusillade of shots that had followed the attack of the Bansutos upon the safari; but he had been far away, and as he had already witnessed similar attacks during the preceding days his curiosity was not aroused; and he had not investigated.
The doings of the Bansutos interested him far more. The Tarmangani would soon be gone—either dead or departed—but the Gomangani would be here always; and he must know much about them if he were to remain in their country.
Lazily he swung through the trees in the direction of their village. He was alone now; for the great golden lion, Jad-bal-ja, was hunting elsewhere, hunting trouble, Tarzan thought with a half smile as he recalled the sleek young lioness that the great beast had followed off into the forest fastness.
It was dark before the ape-man reached the village of Rungula. The rhythm of the tom-toms blended with a low, mournful chant. A few warriors were dancing listlessly—a tentative excursion into the borderland of savage ecstaey into which they would later hurl themselves as their numbers increased with the increasing tempo of the dance.
Tarzan watched from the concealment of the foliage of a tree at the edge of the clearing that encircled the village. He was not greatly interested; the savage orgies of the blacks were an old story to him. Apparently there was nothing here to hold his attention, and he was about to turn away when his eyes were attracted to the figure of a man who contrasted strangely with the savage black warriors of the village.
He was entering the open space where the dancers were holding forth—a tall, bronzed, almost naked white man surrounded by a group of warriors. He was evidently a prisoner.
The ape-man’s curiosity was aroused. Silently he dropped to the ground, and keeping in the dense shadows of the forest well out of the moonlight he circled to the back of the village. Here there was no life, the interest of the villagers being centered upon the activities near the chiefs hut.
Cautiously but quickly Tarzan crossed the strip of moonlit ground between the forest and the palisade. The latter was built of poles sunk into the ground close together and lashed with pliant creepers. It was about ten feet high.
A few quick steps; a running jump, and Tarzan’s fingers closed upon the top of the barrier. Drawing himself cautiously up, he looked over into the village. In silence he listened, sniffing the air. Satisfied, he threw a leg over the top of the palisade, and a moment later dropped lightly to the ground inside the village of Rungula, the Bansuto.
When the ground had been cleared for the village a number of trees had been left standing within the palisade to afford shelter from the equatorial sun. One of these overhung Rungula’s hut, as Tarzan had noticed from the forest; and it was this tree that he chose from which to examine the white prisoner more closely.
Keeping well in the rear of the chiefs hut and moving cautiously from the shadow of one hut to that of the next, the ape-man approached his goal. Had he moved noisily the sound of his coming would have been drowned by the tom-toms and the singing; but he moved without sound, as was second nature to him.
The chance of discovery lay in the possibility that some native might not have yet left his hut to join the throng around the dancers and that such a belated one would see the strange white giant and raise an alarm. But Tarzan came to the rear of Rungula’s hut unseen.
Here fortune again favored him; for while the stem of the tree he wished to enter stood in front of the hut in plain view of the entire tribe, another, smaller tree grew at the rear of the hut, and, above it, mingled its branches with its fellow.
As the ape-man moved, stealthily into the trees and out upon a great branch that would hold his weight without bending, the savage scene below unfolded itself before him. The tempo of the dance had increased. Painted warriors were leaping and stamping around a small group that surrounded the prisoner, and as Tarzan’s gaze fell upon the man he experienced something in the nature of a shock. It was as though his disembodied spirit hovered above and looked down upon himself, so startling was the likeness of this man to the Lord of the Jungle.
In stature, in coloring, even in the molding of his features he was a replica of Tarzan of the Apes; and Tarzan realized it instantly although it is not always that we can see our own likeness in another even when it exists.
Now indeed was the ape-man’s interest aroused. He wondered who the man was and where he had come from. By the accident of chance he had not seen him when he had visited the camp of the picture company, and so he did not connect him with these people. His failure to do so might have been still further explained by the man’s nakedness. The clothing that had been stripped from him might, had he still worn it, have served to place him definitely; but his nakedness gave him only fellowship with the beasts. Perhaps that is why Tarzan was inclined to be favorably impressed with him at first sight.
Obroski, unconscious that other eyes than those of black enemies were upon him, gazed from sullen eyes upon the scene around him. Here, at the hands of these people, his three fellow prisoners had met hideous torture and death; but Obroski was in no mind to follow docilely in their footsteps. He had a plan.
He expected to die. He could find no slenderest hope for any other outcome, but he did not intend to submit supinely to torture. He had a plan.
Rungula squatted upon a stool eyeing the scene from bloodshot eyes beneath scowling brows. Presently he shouted directions to the warriors guarding Obroski, and they led him toward the tree on the opposite side of the open space. With thongs they prepared to bind him to the bole of the tree, and then it was that the prisoner put his plan into action; the plan of a fear-maddened brain.
Seizing the warrior nearest him he raised the man above his head as though he had been but a little child and hurled him into the faces of the others, knocking several of them to the ground. He sprang forward and laid hold upon a dancing buck, and him he flung to earth so heavily that he lay still as though dead.
So sudden, so unexpected had been his attack that it left the Bansutos momentarily stunned; then Rhngula leaped to his feet. “Seize him!” he cried. “But do not harm him.” Rungula wished the mighty stranger to die after a manner of Rungula’s own choosing, not the swift death that Obroski had hoped to win by his single-handed attack upon a thousand armed warriors.
As they closed upon him, Obroski felled them to right and left with mighty blows rendered even more terrific by the fear-maddened brain that directed them. Terror had driven him berserk.
The cries of the warriors, the screams of the women and children formed a horried cacophony in his ears that incited him to madder outbursts of fury. The arms that reached out to seize him he seized and broke like pipe stems.
He wanted to scream and curse, yet he fought in silence. He wanted to cry out against the terror that engulfed him, but he made no sound. And so, in terror, he fought a thousand men.
But this one-sided battle could not go on for long. Slowly, by force of numbers, they closed upon him; they seized his ankles and his legs. With heavy fists he struck men unconscious with a single blow; but at last they dragged him down.
And then ——