She rose and approached a window. Catherine of Aragon saw her and bared her fangs in a vicious snarl.
“It is she they want,” growled the old queen.
From the window Rhonda saw in the light of torches a mass of hairy forms battling to the death. She gasped and pressed a hand to her heart, for among them she saw Stanley Obroski fighting his way toward an entrance to the palace.
At first it seemed to her that he was fighting alone against that horde of beasts, but presently she realized that many of them were his allies. She saw the gorilla god close to Obroski; she even saw the grass rope about the creature’s neck. Now her only thought was of the safety of Obroski.
Vaguely she heard voices raised about her in anger; then she became conscious of the words of the old queen. “She has caused all this trouble,” Catherine of Aragon was saying. “If she were dead we should have peace.”
“Kill her, then,” said Anne of Cleves.
“Kill her!” screamed Anne Boleyn.
The girl turned from the window to see the savage beasts advancing upon her—great hairy brutes that could tear her to pieces. The incongruity of their human speech and their bestial appearance seemed suddenly more shocking and monstrous than ever before.
One of them stepped forward from her side and stood in front of her, facing the others. It was Catherine Parr. “Leave her alone,” she said. “It is not her fault that she is here.”
“Kill them both! Kill Parr too!” screamed Catherine Howard.
The others took up the refrain. “Kill them both!” Then Howard leaped upon the Parr; and with hideous growls the two sought each other’s throat with great, yellow fangs. Then the others rushed upon Rhonda Terry.
There was no escape. They were between her and the door; the windows were barred. Her eyes searched vainly for something with which to beat them off, but there was nothing. She backed away from them, but all the time she knew that there was no hope.
Then the door was suddenly thrown open, and three great bulls stepped into the apartment. “His Majesty, the King!” cried one of, them, and the shes quieted their tongues and fell away from Rhonda. Only the two battling on the floor did not hear.
The great bull gorilla that was Henry the Eighth rolled into the room. “Silence!” he bellowed, and crossing to the embattled pair he kicked and cuffed them until they desisted. “Where is the fair hairless one?” he demanded, and then his eyes alighted upon Rhonda where she stood almost hidden by the great bulks of his wives.
“Come here!” he commanded. “God has come for you, but he’ll never get you. You belong to me.”
“Let him have her, Henry,” cried Catherine of Aragon; “she has caused nothing but trouble.”
“Silence, woman!” screamed the king. “Or you’ll go to the Tower and the block.”
He stepped forward and seized Rhonda, throwing her across one shoulder as though she had no weight whatever; then he crossed quickly to the door. “Stand in the corridor here; Suffolk and Howard, and, if God’s men reach this floor, hold them off until I have time to get safely away.”
“Let us go with you, Sire,” begged one of them.
“No; remain here until you have news for me; then follow me to the north end of the valley, to the canyon where the east branch of the Thames rises.” He turned then and hurried down the corridor.
At the far end he turned into a small room, crossed to a closet, and raised a trap door. “They’ll never follow us here, my beauty,” he said. “I got this idea from God, but he doesn’t know that I made use of it.”
Like a huge monkey he descended a pole that led downward into darkness, and after they reached the bottom Rhonda became aware that they were traversing a subterranean corridor. It was very long and very dark. The gorilla king moved slowly, feeling his way; but at last they came out into the open.
He had set Rhonda down upon the floor of the corridor, and she had been aware by the noises that she heard that he was moving some heavy object. Then she had felt the soft night air and had seen stars above them. A moment later they stood upon the bank of a river at the foot of a low cliff while Henry replaced a large, flat stone over the dark entrance to the tunnel they had just quitted.
Then commenced a trek of terror for Rhonda. Following the river, they hurried along through the night toward the upper end of the valley. The great brute no longer carried her but dragged her along by one wrist. He seemed nervous and fearful, occasionally stopping to sniff the air or listen. He moved almost silently, and once or twice he cautioned her to silence.
After a while they crossed the river toward the east where the water, though swift, was only up to their knees; then they continued in a northeasterly direction. There was no sound of pursuit, yet the gorilla’s nervousness increased. Presently Rhonda guessed the reason for it—from the north came the deep throated roar of a lion.
The gorilla king growled deep in his chest and quickened his pace. A suggestion of dawn was tinging the eastern horizon. A cold mist enveloped the valley. Rhonda was very tired. Every muscle in her body ached and cried out for rest, but still her captor dragged her relentlessly onward.
Now the voice of the lion sounded again, shattering the silence of the night, making the earth tremble. It was much closer than before—it seemed very near. The gorilla broke into a lumbering run. Dawn was coming. Nearby objects became visible.
Rhonda saw a lion ahead of them and a little to their left. The gorilla king saw it too, and changed his direction toward the east and a fringe of trees that were visible now about a hundred yards ahead of them.
The lion was approaching them at an easy, swinging walk. Now he too changed his direction and broke into a trot with the evident intention of heading them off before they reached the trees.
Rhonda noticed how his flat belly swung from side to side to the motion of his gait. It is strange how such trivialities often impress one at critical moments of extreme danger. He looked lean and hungry. He was roaring almost continuously now as though he were attempting to lash himself into a rage. He commenced to gallop.
Now it became obvious that they could never reach the trees ahead of him. The gorilla paused, growling. Instantly the lion changed its course again and came straight for them. The gorilla hesitated; then he lifted the girl in his powerful paws and hurled her into the path of the lion, at the same time turning and running at full speed back in the direction from which they had come. His prize had become the offering which he hoped would save his life.
But he reckoned without sufficient knowledge of lion psychology. Rhonda fell face downward. She knew that the lion was only a few yards away and coming toward her, that she could not escape him; but she recalled her other expeience with a lion, and so she lay very still. After she fell she not move a muscle.
It is the running creature that attracts the beast of prey. You have seen that exemplified by your own dog, which is a descendant of beasts of prey. Whatever runs he must chase. He cannot help it. Provided it is running away has to chase it because he is the helpless pawn of a natural law a million years older than the first dog.
If Henry the Eighth had ever known this he must have forgotten it; otherwise he would have made the girl run while he lay down and remained very quiet. But he did not, and the inevitable happened. The lion ignored the still figure of the girl and pursued the fleeing gorilla.
Rhonda felt the lion pass swiftly, close to her; then raised her head and looked. The gorilla was moving much more swiftly than she had guessed possible but not swiftly enough. In a moment the lion would overhaul it. They would be some distance from Rhonda when this happened, and the lion would certainly be occupied for a few moment, with the killing of its prey it seemed incredible that the huge ape, armed as it was with powerful jaws and mighty fangs, would not fight savagely for self-preservation.
The girl leaped to her feet, and without a backward glance raced for the trees. She had covered but a few yards when she heard terrific roars and growls and screams that told her that the lion had overtaken the gorilla and that the two beasts were already tearing at one another. As long as these sounds lasted she knew that her flight would not be noticed by the lion.
When, breathless, she reached the trees she stopped and looked back. The lion was dragging the gorilla down, the great jaws closed upon its head, there was a vicious shake; and the ape went limp. Thus died Henry the Eighth.
The carnivore did not even look back in her direction but immediately crouched upon the body of its kill and commenced to feed. He was very hungry.
The girl slipped silently into the wood. A few steps brought her to the bank of a river. It was the east fork of the Thames, the wood a fringe of trees on either side. Thinking to throw the lion off her trail should it decide to follow her, as well as to put the barrier of the river between them, she entered it and swam to the opposite shore.
Now, for the first time in many a long day, she was inspired by hope: She was free! Also, she knew where her friends were; and that by following the river down to the escarpment that formed the Omwamwi Falls she could find them. What dangers beset her path she did not know, but it seemed that they must be trivial by comparison with those she had already escaped. The trees that lined the river bank would give her concealment and protection, and before the day was over she would be at the escarpment. How she was to descend it she would leave until faced by the necessity.
She was tired, but she did not stop to rest—there could be no rest for her until she had found safety. Following the river, she moved southward. The sun had risen above the mountains that hemmed the valley on the east. Her body was grateful for the warmth that dispelled the cold night mists.
Presently the river turned in a great loop toward the east, and though she knew that following the meanderings of the river would greatly increase the distance that she must travel there was no alternative—she did not dare leave the comparative safety of the wood nor abandon this unfailing guide that would lead her surely to her destination.
On and, on she plodded in what approximated a lethargy of fatigue, dragging one foot painfully after another. Her physical exhaustion was reflected in her reactions. They were dull and slow. Her senses were less acute. She either failed to hear unusual sounds or to interpret them as subjects worthy of careful investigation. It was this that brought disaster.
When she became aware of danger it was too late. A hideous creature, half man, half gorilla, dropped from a tree directly in her path. It had the face of a man, the ears and body of an ape.
The girl turned to run toward the river, thinking to plunge in and escape by swimming; but as she turned another fearsome thing dropped from the trees to confront her; then, growling and snarling, the two leaped forward and seized her. Each grasped her by an arm, and one pulled in one direction while the other pulled in the opposite. They screamed and gibbered at one another.
She thought that they must wrench her arms from their sockets, She had given up hope when a naked white man dropped from an overhanging branch. He carried a club in his hand, and with it he belabored first one and then the other of her assailants until they relinquished their holds upon her. But to her horror she saw that her rescuer gibbered and roared just as the others had.
Now the man seized her and stood snarling like a wild beast as a score of terrible beast-men swung from the trees and surrounded them. The man who held her was handsome and well formed; his skin was tanned to a rich bronze; a head of heavy blond hair fell about his shoulders like the mane of a lion.
The creatures that surrounded them were hybrids of all degrees of repulsiveness; yet he seemed one of them, for he made the same noises that they made. Also, it was evident that he had been in the trees with them. The others seemed to stand a little in awe of him or of his club; for, while they evidently wanted to come and lay hands upon the girl, they kept their distance, out of range of the man’s weapon.
The man started to move away with his captive, to withdraw her from the circle surrounding them; then, above the scolding of the others, a savage scream sounded from the foliage overhead.
The man and the beasts glanced nervously aloft. Rhonda let her eyes follow the direction in which they were looking. Involuntarily she voiced a gasp of astonishment at what she beheld. Swinging downward toward them with the speed and agility of a monkey was a naked white girl, her golden hair streaming out behind her. From between her perfect lips issued the horrid screams of a beast.
As she touched the ground she ran toward them. Her face, even though reflecting savage rage, was beautiful; her youthful body was flawless in its perfection. But her disposition was evidently something else.
As she approached, the beasts surrounding Rhonda and the man edged away, making a path for her, though they growled and bared their teeth at her. She paid no attention to them, but came straight for Rhonda.
The man screamed at her, backing away; then he whirled Rhonda to a shoulder, turned, and bolted. Even burdened with the weight of his captive he ran with great speed. Behind him, raging and screaming, the beautiful she-devil pursued.