A tall, well built Negro approached the fly beneath which Lord Passmore’s camp table had been placed. “You sent for me, bwana?” he asked.
Lord Passmore glanced up into the intelligent eyes of the handsome black. There was just the faintest shadow of a smile lurking about the corners of the patrician mouth of the white man. “Have you anything to report?” he asked.
“No, bwana,” replied the black. “Neither to the east nor to the west were there signs of game. Perhaps the bwana had better luck.”
“Yes,” replied Passmore, “I was more fortunate. To the north I saw signs of game. Tomorrow, perhaps, we shall have better hunting. Tomorrow I shall—” He broke off abruptly. Both men were suddenly alert, straining their ears to a faint sound that rose above the nocturnal voices of the jungle for a few brief seconds.
The black looked questioningly at his master. “You heard it, bwana?” he asked. The white nodded. “What was it, bwana?”
“It sounded deucedly like a machine gun,” replied Passmore. “It came from south of us; but who the devil would be firing a machine gun here? and why at night?”
“I do not know, bwana,” replied the headman. “Shall I go and find out?”
“No,” said the Englishman. “Perhaps totnorrow. We shall see. Go now, and get your sleep.”
“Yes, bwana; good night.”
“Good night—and warn the askari on sentry duty to be watchful.”
“Yes, bwana.” The black bowed very low and backed from beneath the fly. Then he moved silently away, the flickering flames of the cook fires reflecting golden high lights from his smooth brown skin, beneath which played the mighty muscles of a giant.
“This,” remarked ‘Gunner’ Patrick, “is the life. I ain’t seen a cop for weeks.”
Lafayette Smith smiled. “If cops are the only things you fear, Danny, your mind and your nerves can be at rest for several weeks more.”
“What give you the idea I was afraid of cops?” demanded Danny. “I ain’t never seen the cop I was afraid of. They’re a bunch of punks. Anyhow, they ain’t got nothin’ on me. What a guy’s got to look out for though is they might frame a guy. But, geeze, out here a guy don’t have to worry about nothin’.” He settled back easily in his camp chair and exhaled a slowly spiraling column of cigarette smoke that rose lazily in the soft night air of the jungle. “Geeze,” he remarked after a brief silence, “I didn’t know a guy could feel so peaceful. Say, do you know this is the first time in years I ain’t packed a rod?”
“A rod, iron, a gat—you know—a gun.”
“Why didn’t you say so in the first place?” laughed Smith. “Why don’t you try talking English once in a while?”
“Geeze!” exclaimed Danny. “You’re a great guy to talk about a guy talkin’ English. What’s that you pulled on me the other day when we was crossin’ that open rollin’ country? I learned that by heart—‘a country of low relief in an advanced stage of mature dissection’—an’ you talk about me talkin’ English! You and your thrust faults and escarpments, your calderas and solfataras—geeze!”
“Well, you’re learning, Danny.”
“Learnin’ what? Every racket has its own lingo. What good is your line to me? But every guy wants to know what a rod is—if he knows what’s good for his health.”
“From what Ogonyo tells me it may be just as well to continue ‘packing your rod,’” said Smith.
“He says we’re getting into lion country. We may even find them near here. They don’t often frequent jungles, but we’re only about a day’s march to more open terrain.”
“Whatever that is. Talk English. Geeze! What was that?” A series of coughing grunts rose from somewhere in the solid black wall of jungle that surrounded the camp, to be followed by a thunderous roar that shook the earth.
“Simba!” cried one of the blacks, and immediately a half dozen men hastened to add fuel to the fires.
‘Gunner’ Patrick leaped to his feet and ran into the tent, emerging a moment later with a Thompson submachine gun. “T’ell with a rod,” he said. “When I get that baby on the spot I want a typewriter.”
“Are you going to take him for a ride?” inquired Lafayette Smith, whose education had progressed noticeably in the weeks he had spent in the society of Danny ‘Gunner’ Patrick.
“No,” admitted Danny, “unless he tries to muscle in on my racket.”
Once again the rumbling roar of the lion shattered the quiet of the outer darkness. This time it sounded so close that both men started nervously.
“He appears to be harboring the thought,” commented Smith.
“What thought?” demanded the ‘Gunner.’
“About muscling in.”
“The smokes got the same hunch,” said Danny. “Look at ’em.”
The porters were palpably terrified and were huddled close to the fires, the askaris fingering the triggers of their rifles. The ‘Gunner’ walked over to where they stood straining their eyes out into the impenetrable darkness.
“Where is he?” he asked Ogonyo, the headman. “Have you seen him?”
“Over there,” said Ogonyo. “It looks like something moving over there, bwana.”
Danny peered into the darkness. He could see nothing, but now he thought he heard a rustling of foliage beyond the fires. He dropped to one knee and aimed the machine gun in the direction of the sound. There was a burst of flame and the sudden rat-a-tat-tat of the weapon as he squeezed the trigger. For a moment the ringing ears of the watchers heard nothing, and then, as their auditory nerves returned to normal, to the keenest ears among them came the sound of crashing among the bushes, diminishing in the distance.
“I guess I nicked him,” said Danny to Smith, who had walked over and was standing behind him.
“You didn’t kill him,” said Smith. “You must have wounded him.”
“Simba is not wounded, bwana,” said Ogonyo.
“How do you know?” demanded Danny. “You can’t see nothin’ out there.”
“If you had wounded him he would have charged,” explained the headman. “He ran away. It was the noise that frightened him.”
“Do you think he will come back?” asked Smith.
“I do not know, bwana,” replied the negro. “No one knows what Simba will do.”
“Of course he won’t come back,” said Danny. “The old typewriter scared him stiff. I’m goin’ to turn in.”
Numa, the lion, was old and hungry. He had been hunting in the open country; but his muscles, while still mighty, were not what they had been in his prime. When he reared to seize Pacco, the zebra, or Wappi, the antelope, he was always just a trifle slower than he had been in the past; and his prey eluded him. So Numa, the lion, had wandered into the jungle where the scent of man had attracted him to the camp. The beast fires of the blacks blinded him; but, beyond them, his still keen scent told him there was flesh and blood, and Numa, the lion, was ravenous.
Slowly his hunger was overcoming his inherent urge to avoid the man-things; little by little it drew him closer to the hated fires. Crouched almost upon his belly he moved forward a few inches at a time. In another moment he would charge—and then came the sudden burst of flame, the shattering crash of the machine gun, the shriek of bullets above his head.
The startling suddenness with which this unexpected tumult broke the fear laden silence of the camp and the jungle snapped the taut nerves of the great cat, and his reaction was quite as natural as it was involuntary. Wheeling in his tracks, he bounded away into the forest.
The ears of Numa, the lion, were not the only jungle ears upon which the discord of ‘Gunner’ Patrick’s typewriter impinged, for that seeming solitude of impenetrable darkness harbored a myriad life. For an instant it was motionless, startled into immobility; and then it moved on again upon the multitudinous concerns of its varied existence. Some, concerned by the strangeness of the noise, moved farther from the vicinity of the camp of the man-things; but there was at least one that curiosity attracted to closer investigation.
Gradually the camp was settling down for the night. The two bwanas had retired to the seclusion of their tent. The porters had partially overcome their nervousness, and most of them had lain down to sleep. A few watched the beast fires near which two askaris stood on guard, one on either side of the camp.
Numa stood with low hung head out there, somewhere, in the night. The tattoo of the machine gun had not appeased his appetite, but it had added to his nervous irritability—and to his caution. No longer did he rumble forth his coughing protests against the emptiness of his belly as he watched the flames of the beast fires that now fed the flood of his anger until it submerged his fears.
And as the camp drifted gradually into sleep the tawny body of the carnivore slunk slowly closer to the dancing circle of the beast fires’ light. The yellow-green eyes stared in savage fixity at an unsuspecting askari leaning sleepily upon his rifle.
The man yawned and shifted his position. He noted the condition of the fire. It needed new fuel, and the man turned to the pile of branches and dead wood behind hun. As he stooped to gather what he required, his back toward the jungle, Numa charged.
The great lion wished to strike swiftly and silently; but something within him, the mark of the ages of charging forebears that had preceded him, raised a low, ominous growl in his throat.
The victim heard and so did ‘Gunner’ Patrick, lying sleepless on his cot. As the askari wheeled to the menace of that awesome warning, the ‘Gunner’ leaped to his feet, seizing the Thompson as he sprang into the open just as Numa rose, towering, above the black. A scream of terror burst from the lips of the doomed man in the instant that the lion’s talons buried themselves in his shoulders. Then the giant jaws closed upon his face.
The scream, fraught with the terror of utter hopelessness, awakened the camp. Men, startled into terrified consciousness, sprang to their feet, most of them in time to see Numa, half carrying, half dragging his victim, bounding off into the darkness.
The ‘Gunner’ was the first to see all this and the only one to act. Without waiting to kneel he raised the machine gun to his shoulder. That his bullets must indubitably find the man if they found the lion was of no moment to Danny Patrick, intimate of sudden and violent death. He might have argued that the man was already dead, but he did not waste a thought upon a possibility which was, in any event, of no consequence, so do environment and habitude warp or dull the sensibilities of man.
The lion was still discernible in the darkness when Danny squeezed the trigger of his beloved typewriter, and this time he did not miss—perhaps unfortunately, for a wounded lion is as dangerous an engine of destruction as an all wise Providence can create.
Aroused by the deafening noise of the weapon, enraged by the wound inflicted by the single slug that entered his body, apprehending that he was to be robbed of his prey, and bent upon swift and savage reprisal, Numa dropped the askari, wheeled about, and charged straight for Danny Patrick.
The ‘Gunner’ was kneeling, now, to take better aim. Lafayette Smith stood just behind him, armed only with a nickel plated .32 caliber revolver that some friend had given him years before. A great tree spread above the two men—a sanctuary that Lafayette Smith, at least, should have sought, but his mind was not upon flight, for, in truth, Lafayette was assailed by no fear for his own welfare or that of his companion. He was excited, but not afraid, since he could conceive of no disaster, in the form of man or beast, overwhelming one under the protection of Danny Patrick and his submachine gun. And even in the remote contingency that they should fail, was not he, himself, adequately armed? He grasped the grip of his shiny toy more tightly and with a renewed sensation of security.
The porters, huddled in small groups, stood wide eyed awaiting the outcome of the event, which was accomplished in a few brief seconds from the instant that one of Danny’s slugs struck the fleeing carnivore.
And now as the lion came toward him, not in bounds, but rather in a low gliding rush of incredible speed, several things, surprising things, occurred almost simultaneously. And if there was the element of surprise, there was also, for Danny, at least one cause for embarrassment.
As the lion had wheeled Danny had again squeezed the trigger. The mechanism of the piece was set for a continuous discharge of bullets as long as Danny continued to squeeze and the remainder of the one hundred rounds in the drum lasted; but there was only a brief spurt of fire, and then the gun jammed.
How may one record in slow moving words the thoughts and happenings of a second and impart to the narration any suggestion of the speed and action of the instant?
Did the ‘Gunner’ seek, frantically, to remove the empty cartridge that had caused the jam? Did terror enter his heart, causing his fingers to tremble and bungle? What did Lafayette Smith do? Or rather, what did he contemplate doing? since he had no opportunity to do aught but stand there, a silent observer of events. I do not know.
Before either could formulate a plan wherewith to meet the emergency, a bronzed white man, naked but for a G string, dropped from the branches of the tree above them directly into the path of the charging lion. In the man’s hand was a heavy spear, and as he alighted silently upon the soft mold he was already braced to receive the shock of the lion’s charge upon the point of his weapon.
The impact of Numa’s heavy body would have hurled a lesser man to earth; but this one kept his feet, and the well placed thrust drove into the carnivore’s chest a full two feet, while in the same instant the man stepped aside. Numa, intercepted before the completion of his charge, had not yet reared to seize his intended victim. Now, surprised and thwarted by this new enemy, while the other was almost within his grasp, he was momentarily confused; and in that brief moment the strange man-thing leaped upon his back. A giant arm encircled his throat, legs of steel locked around his shrunken waist, and a stout blade was driven into his side.
Spellbound, Smith and Patrick and their men stood staring incredulously at the sight before them. They saw Numa turn quickly to seize his tormentor. They saw him leap and bound and throw himself to the ground in an effort to dislodge his opponent. They saw the free hand of the man repeatedly drive home the point of his knife in the tawny side of the raging lion.
From the tangled mass of man and lion there issued frightful snarls and growls, the most terrifying element of which came to the two travellers with the discovery that these bestial sounds issued not alone frem the savage throat of the lion but from that of the man as well.
The battle was brief, for the already sorely wounded animal had received the spear thrust directly through its heart, only its remarkable tenacity of life having permitted it to live for the few seconds that intervened between the death blow and the collapse.
As Numa slumped suddenly to his side, the man leaped clear. For a moment he stood looking down upon the death throes of his vanquished foe, while Smith and Patrick remained in awestruck contemplation of the savage, primordial scene; and then he stepped closer; and, placing one foot upon the carcass of his kill, he raised his face to the heavens and gave tongue to a cry so hideous that the negroes dropped to the ground in terror while the two whites felt the hair rise upon their scalps.
Once again upon the jungle fell the silence and the paralysis of momentary terror. Then faintly, from the far distance, came an answering challenge. Somewhere out there in the black void of night a bull ape, awakened, had answered the victory cry of his fellow. More faintly, and from a greater distance, came the rumbling roar of a lion.
The stranger stooped and seized the haft of his spear. He placed a foot against Numa’s shoulder and withdrew the weapon from the carcass. Then he turned toward the two white men. It was the first intimation he had given that he had been aware of their presence.
“Geeze!” exclaimed ‘Gunner’ Patrick, beyond which his vocabulary failed to meet the situation.
The stranger surveyed them coolly. “Who are you?” he asked. “What are you doing here?”
That he spoke English was both a surprise and a relief to Lafayette Smith. Suddenly he seemed less terrifying. “I am a geologist,” he explained. “My name is Smith—Lafayette Smith—and my companion is Mr. Patrick. I am here to conduct some field research work—purely a scientific expedition.”
The stranger pointed to the machine gun. “Is that part of the regular field equipment of a geologist?” he asked.
“No,” replied Smith, “and I’m sure I don’t know why Mr. Patrick insisted on bringing it along.”
“I wasn’t takin’ no chances in a country full of strange characters,” said the ‘Gunner.’
“Say, a broad I meets on the boat tells me some of these guys eats people.”
“It would come in handy, perhaps, for hunting,” suggested the stranger. “A herd of antelope would make an excellent target for a weapon of that sort.”
“Geeze!” exclaimed the ‘Gunner,’ “wot do you think I am, Mister, a butcher? I packs this for insurance only. It sure wasn’t worth the premium this time though,” he added disgustedly; “jammed on me right when I needed it the most. But say, you were there all right. I gotta hand it to you. You’re regular, Mister, and if I can ever return the favor—” He made an expansive gesture that completed the sentence and promised all that the most exacting might demand of a reciprocatory nature.
The giant nodded. “Don’t use it for hunting,” he said, and then, turning to Smith, “Where are you going to conduct your research?”
Suddenly a comprehending light shone in the eyes of the ‘Gunner,’ and a pained expression settled definitely upon his face. “Geeze!” he exclaimed disgustedly to Smith. “I might have known it was too good to be true.”
“What?” asked Lafayette.
“What I said about there not bein’ no cops here.”
“Where are you going?” asked the stranger, again.
“We are going to the Ghenzi Mountains now,” replied Smith.
“Say, who the hell are you, anyhow?” demanded the ‘Gunner,’ “and what business is it of yours where we go?”
The stranger ignored him and turned again toward Smith. “Be very careful in the Ghenzi country,” he said. “There is a band of slave raiders working there at present, I understand. If your men learn of it they may desert you.”
“Thanks,” replied Smith. “It is very kind of you to warn us. I should like to know to whom we are indebted,” but the stranger was gone.
As mysteriously and silently as he had appeared, he swung again into the tree above and disappeared. The two whites looked at one another in amazement.
“Geeze,” said Danny.
“I fully indorse your statement,” said Smith.
“Say, Ogonyo,” demanded the ‘Gunner,’ “who was that bozo? You or any of your men know?”
“Yes, bwana,” replied the headman, “that was Tarzan of the Apes.”