“The end of the show.”
Tarzan smiled: “I suppose you mean that there is no hope for us—that we are doomed.”
“It looks like it, and I am afraid. Aren’t you afraid?”
“I presume that I am supposed to be, eh?”
She surveyed him from beneath puckered brows. “I cannont understand you, Stanley,” she said. “You do not seem to be afraid now, but you used to be afraid of everything. Aren’t you really afraid, or are you just posing—the actor, you know?
“Perhaps I feel that what is about to happen is about to happen and that being afraid won’t help any. Fear will never get us out of here alive, and I certainly don’t intend to stay here and die if I can help it.”
“I don’t see how we are going to get out,” said Rhonda.
“We are nine tenths out now.”
“What do you mean?”
“We are still alive,” he laughed, “and that is fully nine tenths of safety. If we were dead we would be a hundred per cent lost; so alive we should certainly be at least ninety per cent saved.”
Rhonda laughed. “I didn’t know you were such an optimist,” she declared.
“Perhaps I have something to be optimistic about,” he replied. “Do you feel that draft on the floor?”
She looked up at him quickly. There was a troubled expression in her eyes as she scrutinized his. “Perhaps you had better lie down and try to sleep,” she suggested: “You are overwrought.”
It was his turn to eye her. “What do you mean?” he asked. “Do I seem exhausted?”
“No, but—but I just thought the strain might have been too great on you.”
“What strain?” he inquired.
“What strain!” she exclaimed. “Stanley Obroski, you come and lie down here and let me rub your head—perhaps it will put you to sleep.”
“I’m not sleepy. Don’t you want to get out of here?”
“Of course I do, but we can’t.”
“Perhaps not, but we can try. I asked you if you felt the draft on the floor.”
“Of course I feel it, but what has that to do with anything. I’m not cold.”
“It may not have anything to do with anything,” Tarzan admitted, “but it suggests possibilities.”
“What possibilities?” she demanded.
“A way out. The fresh air comes in from that other room through the bars of that door; it has to go out somewhere. The draft is so strong that it suggests a rather large opening. Do you see any large opening in this room through which the air could escape.”
The girl rose to her feet. She was commencing to understand the drift of his remarks. “No,” she said, “I see no opening.”
“Neither do I; but there must be one, and we know that it must be some place that we cannot see.” He spoke in a whisper.
“Yes, that is right.”
“And the only part of this room that we can’t see plainly is among the dark shadows on the ceiling over in that far corner. Also, I have felt the air current moving in that direction.”
He walked over to the part of the room he had indicated and looked up into the darkness. The girl came and stood beside him, also peering upward.
“Do you see anything?” she asked, her voice barely audible.
“It is very dark,” he replied, “but I think that I do see something—a little patch that appears darker than the rest, as though it had depth.”
“Your eyes are better than mine,” she said. “I see nothing.”
From somewhere apparently directly above them, but at a distance, sounded a hollow chuckle, weird, uncanny.
Rhonda laid her hand impulsively on Tarzan’s arm. “You are right,” she whispered. “There is an opening above us—that sound came down through it.”
“We must be very careful what we say above a whisper,” he cautioned.
The opening in the ceiling, if such it were, appeared to be directly in the corner of the room. Tarzan examined the walls carefully, feeling every square foot of them as high as he could reach; but he found nothing that would give him a handhold. Then he sprang upward with outstretched hand—and felt an edge of an opening in the ceiling.
“It is there,” he whispered.
“But what good will it do us? We can’t reach it.”
“We can try,” he said; then he stooped down close to the wall in the corner of the room. “Get on my shoulders,” he directed—“Stand on them. Support yourself with your hands against the wall.”
Rhonda climbed to his broad shoulders. Grasping her legs to steady her, he rose slowly until he stood erect.
“Feel carefully in all directions,” he whispered. “Estimate the size of the opening; search for a handhold.”
For some time the girl was silent. He could tell by the shifting of her weight from one foot to the other and by the stretching of her leg muscles that she was examining the opening in every direction as far as she could reach.
Presently she spoke to him. “Let me down,” she said.
He lowered her to the floor. “What did you discover?” he asked.
“The opening is about two feet by three. It seems to extend inward over the top of the wall at one side—I could distinctly feel a ledge there. If I could get on it I could explore higher.”
“We’ll try again,” said Tarzan. “Put your hands on my shoulders.” They stood facing one another. “Now place your left foot in my right hand. That’s it! Straighten up and put your other foot in my left hand. Now keep your legs and body rigid, steady yourself with your hands against the wall; and I’ll lift you up again probably a foot and a half higher than you were before.”
“All right,” she whispered. “Lift!”
He raised her easily but slowly to the full extent of his arms. For a moment he held her thus; then, first from one hand and then from the other, her weight was lifted from him.
He waited, listening. A long minute of silence ensued; then, from above him, came a surprised “Ouch!”
Tarzan made no sound, he asked no question—he waited. He could hear her breathing, and knew that nothing very serious had surprised that exclamation from her. Presently he caught a low whisper from above.
“Toss me your rope!”
He lifted the grass rope from where it lay coiled across one shoulder and threw a loop upward into the darkness toward the girl above. The first time, she missed it and it fell back; but the next, she caught it. He heard her working with it in the darkness above.
“Try it,” she whispered presently.
He seized the rope above his head and raised his feet from the ground so that it supported all his weight. It held without slipping; then, hand over hand, he climbed. He felt the girl reach out and touch his body; then she guided one of his feet to the ledge where she stood—a moment later he was standing by her side.
“What have you found?” he asked, straining his eyes through the darkness.
“I found a wooden beam,” she replied. “I bumped my head on it.”
He understood now the origin of the exclamation he had heard, and reaching out felt a heavy beam opposite his shoulders. The rope was fastened around it. The ledge they were standing on was evidently the top of the wall of the room below. The shaft that ran upward was, as the girl had said, about two feet by three. The beam bisected its longer axis, leaving a space on each side large enough to permit a man’s body to pass.
Tarzan wedged himself through, and clambered to the top of the beam. Above him, the shaft rose as far as he could reach without handhold or foothold.
He leaned down toward the girl. “Give me your hand,” he said, and lifted her to the beam. “We’ve got to do a little more exploring,” he whispered. “I’ll lift you as I did before.”
“I hope you can keep your balance on this beam,” she said, but she did not hesitate to step into his cupped hands.
“I hope so,” he replied laconically.
For a moment she groped about above her; then she whispered, “Let me down.”
He lowered her to his side, holding her so that she would not lose her balance and fall.
“Well?” he asked.
“I found another beam,” she said, “but the top of it is just our of my reach. I could feel the bottom and a part of each side, but I was just a few inches too short to reach the top. What are we to do? It is just like a nightmare—straining here in the darkness, with some horrible menace lurking ready to seize one, and not being quite able to reach the sole means of safety.”
Tarzan stooped and untied the rope that was still fastened around the beam upon which they stood.
“The tarmangani have a number of foolish sayings,” he remarked. “One of them is that there are more ways than one of skinning a cat.”
“Who are the tarmangani?” she asked.
Tarzan grinned in the safety of the concealing darkness. For a moment he had forgotten that he was playing a part. “Oh, just a silly tribe,” he replied.
“That is an old saying in America. I have heard my grandfather use it. It is strange that an African tribe should have an identical proverb.”
He did not tell her that in his mother tongue, the first language that he had learned, the language of the great apes, tarmangani meant any or all white men.
He coiled the rope; and, holding one end, tossed the coils into the darkness of the shaft above him. They fell back on top of them: Again he coiled and threw—again with the same result. Twice more he failed, and then the end of the rope that he held in his hand remained stretching up into the darkness while the opposite end dropped to swing against them. With the free end that he had thrown over the beam he bent a noose around the length that depended from the opposite side of the beam, making it fast with a bowline knot; then he pulled the noose up tight against the beam above.
“Do you think you can climb it?” he asked the girl.
“I don’t know,” she said, “but I can try.”
“You might fall,” he warned. “I’ll carry you.” He swung her lightly to his back before she realized what he purposed. “Hold tight!” he admonished; then he swarmed up the rope like a monkey.
At the top he seized the beam and drew himself and the girl onto it; and here they repeated what they had done before, searching for and finding another beam above the one upon which they stood.
As the ape-man drew himself to the third beam he saw an opening directly before his face, and through the opening a star. Now the darkness was relieved. The faint light of a partially cloudy night revealed a little section of flat roof bounded by a parapet, and when Tarzan reconnoitered further he discovered that they had ascended into one of the small towers that surmounted the castle.
As he was about to step from the tower onto the roof he heard the uncanny chuckle with which they were now so familiar, and drew back into the darkness of the interior. Silent and motionless the two stood there waiting, listening.
The chuckling was repeated, this time nearer; and to the keen ears of Tarzan came the sound of naked feet approaching. His ears told him more than this; they told him that the thing that walked did not walk alone—there was another with it.
Presently they came in sight, walking slowly. One of them, as the ape-man had guessed, was the creature that called itself God; the other was a large bull gorilla.
As they came opposite the two fugitives they stopped and leaned upon the parapet, looking down into the city.
“Henry should not have caroused tonight, Cranmer,” remarked the creature called God. “He has a hard day before him tomorrow.”
“How is that, My Lord God?” inquired the other.
“Have you forgotten that this is the anniversary of the completion of the Holy Stairway to Heaven?”
“’Sblood! So it is, and Henry has to walk up it on his hands to worship at the feet of his God.”
“And Henry is getting old and much too fat: The sun will be hot too. But—it humbleth the pride of kings and teacheth humility to the common people.”
“Let none forget that thou art the Lord our God, O Father!” said Cranmer piously.
“And what a surprise I’ll have for Henry when he reaches the top of the stairs! There I’ll stand with this English girl I stole from him kneeling at my feet. You sent for her, didn’t you, Cranmer?”
“Yes, My Lord, I sent one of the lesser priests to fetch her. They should be here any minute now. But, My Lord, do you think that it will be wise to anger Henry further? You know many of the nobles are on his side and are plotting against you.”
A horrid chuckle broke from the lips of the gorilla-man. “You forget that I am God,” he said. “You must never forget that fact, Cranmer. Henry is forgetting it, and his poor memory will prove his undoing.” The creature straightened up to its full height. An ugly growl supplanted the chuckle of a moment before. “You all forget,” he cried, “that it was I who created you; it is I who can destroy you! First I shall make Henry mad, and then I shall crush him. That is the kind of god that humans like—it is the only kind they can understand. Because they are jealous and cruel and vindictive they have to have a jealous, cruel, vindictive god. I was able to give you only the minds of humans; so I have to be a god that such minds can appreciate. Tomorrow Henry shall appreciate me to the full!”
“What do you mean, My Lord?”
The gorilla god chuckled again. “When he reaches the top of the stairs I am going to blast him; I am going to destroy him.”
“You are going to kill the king! But, My Lord, the Prince of Wales is too young to be king.”
“He will not be king—I am tired of kings. We shall pass over Edward VI and Mary. That is one of the advantages of having God on your side, Cranmer—we shall skip eleven years and save you from burning at the stake. The next sovereign of England will be Elizabeth.”
“Henry has many daughters from which to choose, My Lord Cranmer.
“I shall choose none of them. I have just had an inspiration, Cranmer.”
“From whence, My Lord God?”
“From myself, of course, you fool! It is, perfect. It is ideal.” He chuckled appreciatively. “I am going to make this English girl queen of England—Queen Elizabeth! She will be tractable—she will do as I tell her; and she will serve all my other purposes as well. Or almost all. Of course I cannot eat her, Cranmer. One cannot eat his queen and have her too.”
“Here comes the under priest, My Lord,” interrupted Cranmer.
“He is alone,” exclaimed God. “He has not brought the girl.”
An old gorilla lumbered up to the two. He appeared excited.
“Where is the girl?” demanded God.
“She was not there, My Lord. She is gone, and the man too.”
“Gone! But that is impossible.”
“The room is empty.”
“And the doors! Had they been unlocked—either of them?”
“No, My Lord; they were both locked,” replied the under priest.
The gorilla god went suddenly silent. For a few moments he remained in thought; then he spoke in very, low tones to his two companions.
Tarzan and the girl watched them from their place of concealment in the tower. The ape-man was restless. He wished that they would go away so that he could search for some avenue of escape from the castle. Alone, he might have faced them and relied on his strength and agility to win his freedom; but he could not hope to make good the escape of the girl and himself both in the face of their ignorance of a way out of the castle and the numbers which he was sure the gorilla god could call to his assistance in case of need.
He saw the priest turn and hurry away. The other two walked a short distance from the tower, turned so that they faced it, leaned against the parapet, and continued their conversation; though now Tarzan could no longer overhear their exact words. The position of the two was such that the fugitives could not have left tower without being seen by them.
The ape-man became apprehensive. The abnormal sensibility of the hunted beast warned him of impending danger; but he did not know where to look for it, nor in what form to expect it.
Presently he saw a bull gorilla roll within the range of his vision. The beast carried a poke. Behind him came another similarly armed, and another and another and another until twenty of the great anthropoids were gathered on the castle roof.
They clustered about Cranmer and the gorilla god for a minute or two. The latter was talking to them. Tarzan could recognize the tones if not the words. Then the twenty approached the tower and grouped themselves in a semicircle before the low aperture leading into it.
Both Rhonda Terry and the lord of the jungle were assured that their hiding place was guessed if not known, yet they could not be certain. They would wait. That was all that they could do. However, it was an easy place to defend; and they might remain there awaiting some happy circumstance that would give them a better chance of escape than was presented to them at the moment.
The gorillas on the roof seemed only to be waiting. They did not appear to be contemplating an investigation of the interior of the tower. Perhaps, thought Tarzan, they were there for some other purpose than that which he had imagined. They might have been gathered in preparation for the coming of the king to his death in the morning.
By the parapet stood the gorilla god with the bull called Cranmer. The weird chuckle of the former was the only sound that broke the silence of the night. The ape-man wondered why the thing was chuckling.
A sudden upward draft from the shaft below them brought a puff of acrid smoke and a wave of heat. Tarzan felt the girl clutch his arm. Now he knew why the gorillas waited so patiently before the entrance to the tower. Now he knew why the gorilla god chuckled.