AT the head of the valley, where the stream was born in a little spring that gurgled from beneath a limestone cliff, there were many caves, easily defendable. Here van Prins decided to make a more or less permanent camp and await the coming of Allied forces under MacArthur, for since the Americans had come he had learned for the first time that MacArthur was really drawing nearer week by week. When the Allies established a beachhead, he and other guerrilla leaders would come down out of the mountains and harass the enemy’s rear and communications. In the meantime about all that they could accomplish was an occasional sally against a Jap outpost.
From this camp the Americans planned to cross over to the other side of the mountains, as soon as Jerry was fully recovered, and follow a trail along the eastern side of the range to the point where they would recross to the west and try to make their way to the coast. Tak van der Bos was going with them; because it was thought that his knowledge of Sumatra and the location of Jap positions might prove of value to the Allied forces. “In the very doubtful eventuality that you ever reach them,” said van Prins.
He had little hope for the success of what he considered a mad venture, and he tried to persuade Corrie not to take the risk. “We can hide you here in the mountains indefinitely,” he told her, “and you will be safe among your own people.”
Jerry wasn’t so sure that she would be safe. If the Japs ever made a serious effort to liquidate the guerrillas, using both infantry and planes, Corrie would be anything but safe. Yet he did not urge her to come with him. He would have felt much more assured of the chances for the success of their venture if Tarzan had not been lost to them.
Tak van der Bos agreed with van Prins. “I really think you’d be safer here, Corrie,” he told her. “And I think that we four men would stand a better chance of getting away if—if—”
“If you weren’t burdened with a couple of women. Why don’t you say it, Tak?”
“I didn’t know just how to say it inoffensively, Corrie; but that’s what I meant.”
“Sarina and I will not be a burden. We’ll be two more rifles. We have proved that we can hold our own on the trail with any of you men. I think you will admit that Sarina would prove an even more ferocious fighter than any of you, and I have already shown that I won’t scream and faint when the shooting starts. Besides all that, Sarina believes that she knows exactly where she can locate a boat for us and get it provisioned by friendly natives. And another thing to consider: Sarina has sailed these seas all her life. She not only knows them, but she is an experienced navigator. I think that we can be a lot of help to you. As far as the danger is concerned, it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. The Japs may get us if we try to get away, or they may get us if we stay. Sarina and I want to go with you men; but if Jerry says no, that will settle it.”
Bubonovitch and Rosetti were interested listeners to the discussion. Jerry turned to them. “What do you fellows think?” he asked. “Would you want Corrie and Sarina to come with us, or would you rather they didn’t?”
“Well, it’s like this,” said Bubonovitch. “If we had two men who were as good soldiers as they are, there wouldn’t be any question. It’s just that a man hesitates to place a woman in danger if he can avoid it.”
“That’s the hell of it,” said Jerry. He looked at Rosetti, questioningly, Rosetti the confirmed woman hater.
“I say let’s all go, or all stay. Let’s stick togedder.”
“Corrie and Sarina know what dangers and hardships may be involved,” said Bubonovitch. “Let them decide. I can’t see that any of us has any right to do their thinking for them.”
“Good for you, sergeant,” said Corrie. “Sarina and I have already decided.”
Captain van Prins shrugged. “I think you are crazy,” he said; “but I admire your courage, and I wish you luck.”
“Look!” exclaimed Rosetti, pointing. “Everyt’ing’s goin’ to be hotsy-totsy now.”
Everyone looked in the direction that Rosetti was pointing. Coming toward them was the familiar, bronzed figure that the Americans and Corrie had so grown to lean upon; and upon one of its shoulders squatted a little monkey; across the other was the carcass of a deer.
Tarzan dropped the deer at the edge of camp and walked toward the group gathered around Jerry’s litter. Keta encircled Tarzan’s neck with both arms, screaming at the strange tarmangani, hurling jungle invective at them. Little Keta was terrified.
“They are friends, Keta,” said Tarzan in their common language. “Do not be afraid.”
“Keta not afraid,” shrilled the monkey. “Keta bite tarmangani.”
Tarzan was welcomed with enthusiasm. He went at once to Jerry and stood looking down at him, smiling. “So they didn’t get you,” he said.
“Just nicked me,” said Jerry.
“The last time I saw you, I thought you were dead.”
“We have been afraid that you were dead. Did you get into some trouble?”
“Yes,” replied Tarzan, “but it wasn’t my trouble; it was the Japs’. I followed them. No matter what they may do to you in the future, you are already avenged.”
Jerry grinned. “I wish I had been there to see.”
“It was not pretty,” said Tarzan: “Soulless creatures in a panic of terror—living robots helpless without their masters. I was careful to pick those off first.” He smiled at the recollection.
“You must have followed them a long way,” suggested van Prins.
“No; but after I finished with them I wandered deep into the forest. I am always curious about a country with which I am not familiar. However, I did not learn much of value. Late yesterday afternoon I located an enemy battery of big guns; and this morning, another. If you have a map, I can mark their positions fairly closely.
“The first day, I found an isolated village of natives. It was built in the shallow waters near the shore of a lake in a great primeval forest which appeared to me impenetrable. The people were fishing with nets. They threatened me with bows and arrows after I gave them the peace sign.”
“I think I know the village,” said van Prins. “Fliers have seen it; but as far as is known, no other civilized men have seen it and lived. One or two have tried to reach it. Maybe they did, but they never came back. The inhabitants of that village are thought to be the remnants of an aboriginal people from whom the Battaks descended—true savages and cannibals. Until recently the modern Battaks were cannibals—what one might call beneficent cannibals. They ate their old people in the belief that thus they would confer immortality upon them, for they would continue to live in the persons of those who devoured them. Also, the devourer would acquire the strengths and virtues of the devoured. For this latter reason, they also ate their enemies—partly cooked and with a dash of lemon.”
“These lake dwellers,” said van der Bos, “are also supposed to have discovered the secret of perpetual youth.”
“That, of course, is all tommy-rot,” said Dr. Reyd.
“Perhaps not,” said Tarzan.
Reyd looked at him in surprise. “You don’t mean to tell me that you believe any such silly nonsense as that, do you?” he demanded.
Tarzan smiled and nodded. “Naturally, I believe in those things which I have myself seen or experienced; and I have twice seen absolute proof that perpetual youth can be achieved. Also, I learned long ago not to deny the possibility of anything emanating from the superstitions of religions of primitive peoples. I have seen strange things in the depths of Darkest Africa.” He ceased speaking, evidently having no intention to elaborate. His eyes, wandering over the faces of his listeners, fixed on Sarina. “What is that woman doing here?” he asked. “She belongs to Hooft and his gang of outlaws.”
Corrie and Rosetti both tried to explain simultaneously, the latter fairly leaping to Sarina’s defense. When he had heard the story, Tarzan was satisfied. “If Sergeant Rosetti is satisfied to have any woman around, she must be beyond criticism.”
Rosetti flushed uncomfortably, but he said, “Sarina’s okay, Colonel.”
Dr. Reyd cleared his throat. “What you said about the verity of the superstitions and religions of primitive peoples and that perpetual youth might be achieved, interests me. Would you mind being more explicit?”
Tarzan sat down cross-legged beside Jerry. “On numerous occasions, I have known witch doctors to kill people at great distances from them; and some times after a lapse of years. I do not know how they do it. I merely know that they do do it. Perhaps they plant the idea in the mind of their victim and he induces death by autosuggestion. Most of their mumbo jumbo is pure charlatanism. Occasionally it appears as an exact science.”
“We are easily fooled, though,” said Jerry. ‘Take some of these fellows who have made a hobby of so-called parlor magic. They admit that they are tricking you; but if you were an ignorant savage and they told you it was true magic, you’d believe them. I had a friend in Honolulu when I was stationed at Hickam, who was as good as any professional I have ever seen. Paint Colonel Kendall J. Fielder black, dress him up in a breechclout and a feather headdress, give him some odds and ends of bones and pieces of wood and a zebra’s tail, and turn him loose in Africa; and he’d have all the other witch doctors green with envy.
“And what he could do with cards! I used to play bridge against him, and he always won. Of course his game was on the level, but he had two strikes on you before you started—just like Tarzan’s witch doctors had on their victims. You just autosuggested yourself to defeat. It was humiliating, too,” added Jerry, “because I am a very much better bridge player than he.”
“Of course anyone can learn that kind of magic,” said Reyd, “but how about perpetual youth? You have really seen instances of this, Colonel?”
“When I was a young man,” said Tarzan, “I saved a black from a man-eating lion. He was very grateful, and wished to repay me in some way. He offered me perpetual youth. I told him that I didn’t think such a thing was possible. He asked me how old I thought he was, and I said that he appeared to be in his twenties. He told me that he was a witch doctor. All the witch doctors I had ever seen were much older men than he; so I rather discounted that statement as well as his claim to being able to confer perpetual youth on me.
“He took me to his village, where I met his chief. He asked the chief how long he had known him. ‘All my life,’ replied the chief, who was a very old man. The chief told me that no one knew how old the witch doctor was; but that he must be very old, as he had known Tippoo Tib’s grandfather. Tippoo Tib was born, probably, in the 1840’s, or, possibly, the 1830’s; so his grandfather may have been born as long ago as the eighteenth century.
“I was quite young and, like most young men, adventurous. I would try anything; so I let the witch doctor go to work on me. Before he was through with me, I understood why he was not conferring perpetual youth wholesale. It required a full month of concocting vile brews, observing solemn rituals, and the transfusion of a couple of quarts of the witch doctor’s blood into my veins. Long before it was over, I regretted that I had let myself in for it; because I didn’t take any stock in his claims.” Tarzan ceased speaking as though he had finished his story.
“And you were quite right,” said Dr. Reyd.
“You think I will age, then?”
“Most certainly,” said the doctor.
“How old do you think I am now?” asked Tarzan.
“In your twenties.”
Tarzan smiled. “That which I have told you of occurred many years ago.”
Dr. Reyd shook his head. “It is very strange,” he said. It was evident that he was not convinced.
“I never gave a thought to your age, Colonel,” said Jerry; “but I remember now that my father said that he read about you when he was a boy. And I was brought up on you. You influenced my life more than anyone else.”
“I give up,” said Dr. Reyd. “But you said that you had known of two instances in which perpetual youth was achieved. What was the other one. You’ve certainly aroused my interest.”
“A tribe of white fanatics in a remote part of Africa compounded a hellish thing that achieved perpetual youth. I mean the way that they obtained one of the principal ingredients was hellish. They kidnaped young girls, killed them, and removed certain glands.
“In the course of tracing a couple of girls they had stolen, I found their village. To make a long story short, my companions and I succeeded in rescuing the girls and obtaining a supply of their compound.1 Those who have taken it, including a little monkey, have shown no signs of aging since.”
“Amazing!” said Dr. Reyd. “Do you expect to live forever?”
“I don’t know what to expect.”
“Maybe,” suggested Bubonovitch, “you’ll just fall to pieces all at once, like the One Hoss Shay.”
“Would you want to live forever?” asked van der Bos.
“Of course—if I never had to suffer the infirmities of old age.”
“But all your friends would be gone.”
“One misses the old friends, but one constantly makes new ones. But really my chances of living forever are very slight. Any day, I may stop a bullet; or a tiger may get me, or a python. If I live to get back to my Africa, I may find a lion waiting for me, or a buffalo. Death has many tricks up his sleeve beside old age. One may outplay him for a while, but he always wins in the end.”