Back to the Primitive
As Tarzan struck the water, his first impulse was to swim clear
of the ship and possible danger from her propellers. He knew
whom to thank for his present predicament, and as he lay in
the sea, just supporting himself by a gentle movement of his
hands, his chief emotion was one of chagrin that he had been
so easily bested by Rokoff.
He lay thus for some time, watching the receding and
rapidly diminishing lights of the steamer without it ever once
occurring to him to call for help. He never had called for
help in his life, and so it is not strange that he did not think
of it now. Always had he depended upon his own prowess
and resourcefulness, nor had there ever been since the days
of Kala any to answer an appeal for succor. When it did
occur to him it was too late.
There was, thought Tarzan, a possible one chance in a
hundred thousand that he might be picked up, and an even
smaller chance that he would reach land, so he determined
that to combine what slight chances there were, he would
swim slowly in the direction of the coast--the ship might
have been closer in than he had known.
His strokes were long and easy--it would be many hours
before those giant muscles would commence to feel fatigue.
As he swam, guided toward the east by the stars, he noticed
that he felt the weight of his shoes, and so he removed them.
His trousers went next, and he would have removed his coat
at the same time but for the precious papers in its pocket.
To assure himself that he still had them he slipped his
hand in to feel, but to his consternation they were gone.
Now he knew that something more than revenge had
prompted Rokoff to pitch him overboard--the Russian had
managed to obtain possession of the papers Tarzan had
wrested from him at Bou Saada. The ape-man swore softly,
and let his coat and shirt sink into the Atlantic. Before many
hours he had divested himself of his remaining garments,
and was swimming easily and unencumbered toward the east.
The first faint evidence of dawn was paling the stars ahead
of him when the dim outlines of a low-lying black mass
loomed up directly in his track. A few strong strokes brought
him to its side--it was the bottom of a wave-washed derelict.
Tarzan clambered upon it--he would rest there until daylight
at least. He had no intention to remain there inactive--a prey
to hunger and thirst. If he must die he preferred dying in
action while making some semblance of an attempt to save himself.
The sea was quiet, so that the wreck had only a gently
undulating motion, that was nothing to the swimmer who
had had no sleep for twenty hours. Tarzan of the Apes
curled up upon the slimy timbers, and was soon asleep.
The heat of the sun awoke him early in the forenoon.
His first conscious sensation was of thirst, which grew
almost to the proportions of suffering with full returning
consciousness; but a moment later it was forgotten in the
joy of two almost simultaneous discoveries. The first was
a mass of wreckage floating beside the derelict in the midst
of which, bottom up, rose and fell an overturned lifeboat;
the other was the faint, dim line of a far-distant shore
showing on the horizon in the east.
Tarzan dove into the water, and swam around the wreck
to the lifeboat. The cool ocean refreshed him almost as
much as would a draft of water, so that it was with renewed
vigor that he brought the smaller boat alongside the derelict,
and, after many herculean efforts, succeeded in dragging it
onto the slimy ship's bottom. There he righted and examined
it--the boat was quite sound, and a moment later floated upright
alongside the wreck. Then Tarzan selected several pieces
of wreckage that might answer him as paddles, and presently
was making good headway toward the far-off shore.
It was late in the afternoon by the time he came close
enough to distinguish objects on land, or to make out the
contour of the shore line. Before him lay what appeared to
be the entrance to a little, landlocked harbor. The wooded
point to the north was strangely familiar. Could it be
possible that fate had thrown him up at the very threshold
of his own beloved jungle! But as the bow of his boat
entered the mouth of the harbor the last shred of doubt was
cleared away, for there before him upon the farther shore,
under the shadows of his primeval forest, stood his own
cabin--built before his birth by the hand of his long-dead
father, John Clayton, Lord Greystoke.
With long sweeps of his giant muscles Tarzan sent the little
craft speeding toward the beach. Its prow had scarcely
touched when the ape-man leaped to shore--his heart beat
fast in joy and exultation as each long-familiar object came
beneath his roving eyes--the cabin, the beach, the little
brook, the dense jungle, the black, impenetrable forest.
The myriad birds in their brilliant plumage--the gorgeous
tropical blooms upon the festooned creepers falling in great
loops from the giant trees.
Tarzan of the Apes had come into his own again, and that
all the world might know it he threw back his young head,
and gave voice to the fierce, wild challenge of his tribe.
For a moment silence reigned upon the jungle, and then,
low and weird, came an answering challenge--it was the
deep roar of Numa, the lion; and from a great distance,
faintly, the fearsome answering bellow of a bull ape.
Tarzan went to the brook first, and slaked his thirst.
Then he approached his cabin. The door was still closed
and latched as he and D'Arnot had left it. He raised the
latch and entered. Nothing had been disturbed; there were
the table, the bed, and the little crib built by his
father--the shelves and cupboards just as they had stood
for ever twenty-three years--just as he had left them
nearly two years before.
His eyes satisfied, Tarzan's stomach began to call aloud for
attention--the pangs of hunger suggested a search for food.
There was nothing in the cabin, nor had he any weapons;
but upon a wall hung one of his old grass ropes. It had
been many times broken and spliced, so that he had discarded
it for a better one long before. Tarzan wished that he had a knife.
Well, unless he was mistaken he should have that and a spear and
bows and arrows before another sun had set--the rope would take
care of that, and in the meantime it must be made to procure
food for him. He coiled it carefully, and, throwing it about
his shoulder, went out, closing the door behind him.
Close to the cabin the jungle commenced, and into it
Tarzan of the Apes plunged, wary and noiseless--once more
a savage beast hunting its food. For a time he kept to the
ground, but finally, discovering no spoor indicative of
nearby meat, he took to the trees. With the first dizzy swing
from tree to tree all the old joy of living swept over him.
Vain regrets and dull heartache were forgotten. Now was he living.
Now, indeed, was the true happiness of perfect freedom his.
Who would go back to the stifling, wicked cities of civilized
man when the mighty reaches of the great jungle offered peace
and liberty? Not he.
While it was yet light Tarzan came to a drinking place by
the side of a jungle river. There was a ford there, and for
countless ages the beasts of the forest had come down to
drink at this spot. Here of a night might always be found
either Sabor or Numa crouching in the dense foliage of the
surrounding jungle awaiting an antelope or a water buck for
their meal. Here came Horta, the boar, to water, and here
came Tarzan of the Apes to make a kill, for he was very empty.
On a low branch he squatted above the trail. For an hour
he waited. It was growing dark. A little to one side of the
ford in the densest thicket he heard the faint sound of padded
feet, and the brushing of a huge body against tall grasses
and tangled creepers. None other than Tarzan might have
heard it, but the ape-man heard and translated--it was Numa,
the lion, on the same errand as himself. Tarzan smiled.
Presently he heard an animal approaching warily along
the trail toward the drinking place. A moment more and it
came in view--it was Horta, the boar. Here was delicious
meat--and Tarzan's mouth watered. The grasses where Numa
lay were very still now--ominously still. Horta passed
beneath Tarzan--a few more steps and he would be within the
radius of Numa's spring. Tarzan could imagine how old
Numa's eyes were shining--how he was already sucking
in his breath for the awful roar which would freeze his prey
for the brief instant between the moment of the spring and
the sinking of terrible fangs into splintering bones.
But as Numa gathered himself, a slender rope flew through
the air from the low branches of a near-by tree. A noose
settled about Horta's neck. There was a frightened grunt,
a squeal, and then Numa saw his quarry dragged backward
up the trail, and, as he sprang, Horta, the boar, soared
upward beyond his clutches into the tree above, and a mocking
face looked down and laughed into his own.
Then indeed did Numa roar. Angry, threatening, hungry,
he paced back and forth beneath the taunting ape-man.
Now he stopped, and, rising on his hind legs against the stem
of the tree that held his enemy, sharpened his huge claws upon
the bark, tearing out great pieces that laid bare the white
And in the meantime Tarzan had dragged the struggling
Horta to the limb beside him. Sinewy fingers completed the
work the choking noose had commenced. The ape-man had
no knife, but nature had equipped him with the means of
tearing his food from the quivering flank of his prey, and
gleaming teeth sank into the succulent flesh while the raging
lion looked on from below as another enjoyed the dinner
that he had thought already his.
It was quite dark by the time Tarzan had gorged himself.
Ah, but it had been delicious! Never had he quite accustomed
himself to the ruined flesh that civilized men had served
him, and in the bottom of his savage heart there had
constantly been the craving for the warm meat of the
fresh kill, and the rich, red blood.
He wiped his bloody hands upon a bunch of leaves,
slung the remains of his kill across his shoulder, and swung
off through the middle terrace of the forest toward his cabin,
and at the same instant Jane Porter and William Cecil
Clayton arose from a sumptuous dinner upon the LADY
ALICE, thousands of miles to the east, in the Indian Ocean.
Beneath Tarzan walked Numa, the lion, and when the ape-man
deigned to glance downward he caught occasional glimpses
of the baleful green eyes following through the darkness.
Numa did not roar now--instead, he moved stealthily,
like the shadow of a great cat; but yet he took no step
that did not reach the sensitive ears of the ape-man.
Tarzan wondered if he would stalk him to his cabin door.
He hoped not, for that would mean a night's sleep curled in
the crotch of a tree, and he much preferred the bed of
grasses within his own abode. But he knew just the tree
and the most comfortable crotch, if necessity demanded that
he sleep out. A hundred times in the past some great jungle
cat had followed him home, and compelled him to seek shelter
in this same tree, until another mood or the rising sun had
sent his enemy away.
But presently Numa gave up the chase and, with a series
of blood-curdling moans and roars, turned angrily back in
search of another and an easier dinner. So Tarzan came to his
cabin unattended, and a few moments later was curled up in
the mildewed remnants of what had once been a bed of grasses.
Thus easily did Monsieur Jean C. Tarzan slough the thin skin
of his artificial civilization, and sink happy and contented
into the deep sleep of the wild beast that has fed to repletion.
Yet a woman's "yes" would have bound him to that other life
forever, and made the thought of this savage existence repulsive.
Tarzan slept late into the following forenoon, for he had
been very tired from the labors and exertion of the long
night and day upon the ocean, and the jungle jaunt that had
brought into play muscles that he had scarce used for nearly
two years. When he awoke he ran to the brook first to drink.
Then he took a plunge into the sea, swimming about for
a quarter of an hour. Afterward he returned to his cabin,
and breakfasted off the flesh of Horta. This done, he buried
the balance of the carcass in the soft earth outside the cabin,
for his evening meal.
Once more he took his rope and vanished into the jungle.
This time he hunted nobler quarry--man; although had you
asked him his own opinion he could have named a dozen
other denizens of the jungle which he considered far the
superiors in nobility of the men he hunted. Today Tarzan
was in quest of weapons. He wondered if the women and
children had remained in Mbonga's village after the punitive
expedition from the French cruiser had massacred all the
warriors in revenge for D'Arnot's supposed death. He hoped
that he should find warriors there, for he knew not how
long a quest he should have to make were the village deserted.
The ape-man traveled swiftly through the forest, and about
noon came to the site of the village, but to his disappointment
found that the jungle had overgrown the plantain fields
and that the thatched huts had fallen in decay. There was no
sign of man. He clambered about among the ruins for half
an hour, hoping that he might discover some forgotten
weapon, but his search was without fruit, and so he took up
his quest once more, following up the stream, which flowed
from a southeasterly direction. He knew that near fresh
water he would be most likely to find another settlement.
As he traveled he hunted as he had hunted with his ape
people in the past, as Kala had taught him to hunt, turning
over rotted logs to find some toothsome vermin, running high
into the trees to rob a bird's nest, or pouncing upon a tiny
rodent with the quickness of a cat. There were other things
that he ate, too, but the less detailed the account of an ape's
diet, the better--and Tarzan was again an ape, the same fierce,
brutal anthropoid that Kala had taught him to be, and that
he had been for the first twenty years of his life.
Occasionally he smiled as he recalled some friend who
might even at the moment be sitting placid and immaculate
within the precincts of his select Parisian club--just as Tarzan
had sat but a few months before; and then he would stop,
as though turned suddenly to stone as the gentle breeze
carried to his trained nostrils the scent of some new prey or
a formidable enemy.
That night he slept far inland from his cabin, securely
wedged into the crotch of a giant tree, swaying a hundred
feet above the ground. He had eaten heartily again--this
time from the flesh of Bara, the deer, who had fallen prey to
his quick noose.
Early the next morning he resumed his journey, always
following the course of the stream. For three days he
continued his quest, until he had come to a part of the
jungle in which he never before had been. Occasionally upon
the higher ground the forest was much thinner, and in the far
distance through the trees he could see ranges of mighty
mountains, with wide plains in the foreground. Here, in the
open spaces, were new game--countless antelope and vast
herds of zebra. Tarzan was entranced--he would make a long
visit to this new world.
On the morning of the fourth day his nostrils were suddenly
surprised by a faint new scent. It was the scent of man,
but yet a long way off. The ape-man thrilled with pleasure.
Every sense was on the alert as with crafty stealth he
moved quickly through the trees, up-wind, in the direction
of his prey. Presently he came upon it--a lone warrior
treading softly through the jungle.
Tarzan followed close above his quarry, waiting for a
clearer space in which to hurl his rope. As he stalked
the unconscious man, new thoughts presented themselves to
the ape-man--thoughts born of the refining influences of
civilization, and of its cruelties. It came to him that
seldom if ever did civilized man kill a fellow being without
some pretext, however slight. It was true that Tarzan wished
this man's weapons and ornaments, but was it necessary to take
his life to obtain them?
The longer he thought about it, the more repugnant became
the thought of taking human life needlessly; and thus
it happened that while he was trying to decide just what
to do, they had come to a little clearing, at the far side of
which lay a palisaded village of beehive huts.
As the warrior emerged from the forest, Tarzan caught a
fleeting glimpse of a tawny hide worming its way through the
matted jungle grasses in his wake--it was Numa, the lion.
He, too, was stalking the black man. With the instant that
Tarzan realized the native's danger his attitude toward his
erstwhile prey altered completely--now he was a fellow man
threatened by a common enemy.
Numa was about to charge--there was little time in which
to compare various methods or weigh the probable results
of any. And then a number of things happened, almost
simultaneously--the lion sprang from his ambush toward the
retreating black--Tarzan cried out in warning--and the black
turned just in time to see Numa halted in mid-flight by a
slender strand of grass rope, the noosed end of which
had fallen cleanly about his neck.
The ape-man had acted so quickly that he had been
unable to prepare himself to withstand the strain and shock
of Numa's great weight upon the rope, and so it was that
though the rope stopped the beast before his mighty talons
could fasten themselves in the flesh of the black, the strain
overbalanced Tarzan, who came tumbling to the ground not
six paces from the infuriated animal. Like lightning Numa
turned upon this new enemy, and, defenseless as he was,
Tarzan of the Apes was nearer to death that instant than he
ever before had been. It was the black who saved him.
The warrior realized in an instant that he owed his life
to this strange white man, and he also saw that only a miracle
could save his preserver from those fierce yellow fangs that
had been so near to his own flesh.
With the quickness of thought his spear arm flew back,
and then shot forward with all the force of the sinewy
muscles that rolled beneath the shimmering ebon hide.
True to its mark the iron-shod weapon flew, transfixing
Numa's sleek carcass from the right groin to beneath the
left shoulder. With a hideous scream of rage and pain the
brute turned again upon the black. A dozen paces he had
gone when Tarzan's rope brought him to a stand once more--
then he wheeled again upon the ape-man, only to feel the
painful prick of a barbed arrow as it sank half its length
in his quivering flesh. Again he stopped, and by this time
Tarzan had run twice around the stem of a great tree with
his rope, and made the end fast.
The black saw the trick, and grinned, but Tarzan knew
that Numa must be quickly finished before those mighty
teeth had found and parted the slender cord that held him.
It was a matter of but an instant to reach the black's side
and drag his long knife from its scabbard. Then he signed
the warrior to continue to shoot arrows into the great beast
while he attempted to close in upon him with the knife; so
as one tantalized upon one side, the other sneaked cautiously
in upon the other. Numa was furious. He raised his voice
in a perfect frenzy of shrieks, growls, and hideous moans,
the while he reared upon his hind legs in futile attempt
to reach first one and then the other of his tormentors.
But at length the agile ape-man saw his chance, and rushed
in upon the beast's left side behind the mighty shoulder.
A giant arm encircled the tawny throat, and a long blade sank
once, true as a die, into the fierce heart. Then Tarzan arose,
and the black man and the white looked into each other's eyes
across the body of their kill--and the black made the sign of
peace and friendship, and Tarzan of the Apes answered in kind.
Return of Tarzan Chapter 13
... Return of Tarzan Chapter 15