The white giant lying upon the ground opened his eyes and looked about him. He saw Orando and many warriors gathered about. A puzzled expression overspread his countenance. Suddenly he leaped to his feet.
“Nkima! Nkima!” he called in the language of the great apes. “Where are you, Nkima? Tarzan is here!”
The little monkey leaped from the tree and came bounding across the field of manioc. With a glad cry he leaped to the shoulder of the white man and throwing his arms about the bronzed neck pressed his cheek close to that of his master; and there he clung, whimpering with joy.
“You see,” announced Orando to his fellows, “Muzimo is not dead.”
The white man turned to Orando. “I am not Muzimo,” he said; “I am Tarzan of the Apes.” He touched the monkey. “This is not The Spirit of Nyamwegi; it is Nkima. Now I remember everything. For a long time I have been trying to remember but until now I could not—not since the tree fell upon me.”
There was none among them who had not heard of Tarzan of the Apes. He was a legend of the forest and the jungle that had reached to their far country. Like the spirits and the demons which they never saw, they had never expected to see him. Perhaps Orando was a little disappointed, yet, on the whole, it was a relief to all of them to discover that this was a man of flesh and blood, motivated by the same forces that actuated them, subject to the same laws of Nature that controlled them. It had always been a bit disconcerting never to be sure in what strange form the ancestral spirit of Orando might choose to appear, nor to know of a certainty that he would turn suddenly from a benign to a malign force; and so they accepted him in his new role, but with this difference: where formerly he had seemed the creature of Orando, doing his bidding as a servant does the bidding of his master, now he seemed suddenly clothed in the dignity of power and authority. The change was so subtly wrought that it was scarcely apparent and was due, doubtless, to the psychological effect of the reawakened mentality of the white man over that of his black companions.
They made camp beside the river near the ruins of Gato Mgungu’s village, for there were fields of manioc and plantain that, with the captured goats and chickens of the Leopard Men, insured full bellies after the lean fare of the days of marching and fighting.
During the long day Tarzan’s mind was occupied with many thoughts. He had recalled now why he had come into this country, and he marvelled at the coincidence of later events that had guided his footsteps along the very paths that he had intended trodding before accident had robbed him of the memory of his purpose. He knew now that depredations by Leopard Men from a far country had caused him to set forth upon a lonely reconnaissance with only the thought of locating their more or less fabled stronghold and temple. That he should be successful in both finding these and reducing one of them was gratifying in the extreme, and he felt thankful now for the accident that had been responsible for the results.
His mind was still not entirely clear on certain details; but these were returning gradually, and as evening fell and the evening meal was under way he suddenly recalled the white man and the white girl whom he had seen in the temple of the Leopard God. He spoke to Orando about them, but he knew nothing of them.
“If they were in the temple they probably have been killed.”
Tarzan sat immersed in thought for a long time. He did not know these people, yet he felt a certain obligation to them because they were of his race. Finally he arose and called Nkima, who was munching on a plantain that a warrior was sharing with him.
“Where are you going?” asked Orando.
“To the temple of the Leopard God,” replied Tarzan.
He was trying to reason against his better judgment that having once escaped from the temple they could do so again, when a priest entered the room, bearing a torch. He was an evil-appearing old fellow, whose painted face accentuated the savagery of the visage. He was Sobito, the witch-doctor of Tumbai. Stooping, he commenced to untie the cords that secured the white man’s ankles.
“What are they going to do to me?” demanded Old Timer.
A malevolent grin bared Sobito’s yellow fangs. “What do you suppose, white man?”
Old Timer shrugged. “Kill me, I suppose.”
“Not too quickly,” explained Sobito. “The flesh of those who die slowly and in pain is tender.”
“You old devil!” exclaimed the prisoner.
Sobito licked his lips. He delighted in inflicting torture either physical or mental. Here was an opportunity he could not forego. “First your arms and legs will be broken,” he explained; “then you will be placed upright in a hole in the swamp and fastened so that you cannot get your mouth or nose beneath the surface and drown yourself. You will be left there three days, by which time your flesh will be tender.” He paused.
“And then?” asked the white. His voice was steady. He had determined that he would not give them the added satisfaction of witnessing his mental anguish, and when the time came that he must suffer physically he prayed that he might have the strength to endure the ordeal in a manner that would reflect credit upon his race. Three days! God, what a fate to anticipate!
“And then?” repeated Sobito. “Then you will be carried into the temple, and the children of the Leopard God will tear you to pieces with their steel claws. Look!” He exhibited the long, curved weapons which dangled from the ends of the loose leopard skin sleeves of his garment.
“After which you will eat me, eh?”
“I hope you choke.”
Sobito had at last untied the knots that had secured the bonds about the white man’s ankles. He gave him a kick and told him to rise.
“Are you going to kill and eat the white girl, too?” demanded Old Timer.
“She is not here. Bobolo has stolen her. Because you helped her to escape, your suffering shall be greater. I have already suggested to Imigeg that he remove your eyeballs after your arms and legs are broken. I forgot to tell you that we shall break each of them in three or four places.”
“Your memory is failing,” commented Old Timer, “but I hope that you have not forgotten anything else.”
Sobito grunted. “Come with me,” he commanded, and led the white man through the dark corridor to the great chamber where the Leopard Men were gathered.
At sight of the prisoner a savage cry broke from a hundred and fifty throats, the leopard growled, the high priest danced upon the upper dais, the hideous priestesses screamed and leaped forward as though bent upon tearing the white man to pieces. Sobito pushed the prisoner to the summit of the lower dais and dragged him before the high priest. “Here is the sacrifice!” he screamed.
“Here is the sacrifice!” cried Imigeg, addressing the Leopard God. “What are your commands, O father of the leopard children?”
The bristling muzzle of the great beast wrinkled into a snarl as Imigeg prodded him with his sharp pole, and from the growling throat the answer seemed to come. “Let him be broken, and on the third night let there be a feast!”
“And what of Bobolo and the white priestess?” demanded Imigeg.
“Send warriors to fetch them to the temple that Bobolo may be broken for another feast. The white girl I give to Imigeg, the high priest. When he tires of her we shall feast again.”
“It is the word of the Leopard God,” cried Imigeg. “As he commands, it shall be done.”
“Let the white man be broken,” growled the leopard, “and on the third night let my children return that each may be made wise by eating the flesh of a white man. When you have eaten of it the white man’s weapons can no longer harm you. Let the white man be broken!”
“Let the white man be broken!” shrieked Imigeg.
Instantly a half dozen priests leaped forward and seized the prisoner, throwing him heavily to the clay floor of the dais, and here they pinioned him, stretching his arms and legs far apart, while four priestesses armed with heavy clubs rushed forward. A drum commenced to boom somewhere in the temple, weirdly, beating a cadence to which the priestesses danced about the prostrate form of their victim.
Now one rushed in and flourished her club above the prisoner; but a priest pretended to protect him, and the woman danced out again to join her companions in the mad whirl of the dance. Again and again was this repeated, but each succeeding time the priests seemed to have greater difficulty in repulsing the maddened women.
That it was all acting (part of a savage ceremony) the white man realized almost from the first, but what it was supposed to portray he could not imagine. If they had hoped to wring some evidence of fear from him, they failed. Lying upon his back, he watched them with no more apparent concern than an ordinary dance might have elicited.
Perhaps it was because of his seeming indifference that they dragged the dance out to great lengths, that they howled the louder, and that the savagery of their gestures and their screams beggared description; but the end, he knew, was inevitable. The fate that Sobito had pictured had been no mere idle threat. Old Timer had long since heard that among some cannibal tribes this method of preparing human flesh was the rule rather than the exception. The horror of it, like a loathsome rat, gnawed at the foundations of the citadel of his reason. He sought to keep his mind from contemplation of it, lest he go mad.
The warriors, aroused to frenzy by the dancing and the drum, urged the priestesses on. They were impatient for the climax of the cruel spectacle. The high priest, master showman, sensed the temper of his audience. He made a signal, and the drumming ceased. The dancing stopped. The audience went suddenly quiet. Silence even more terrifying than the din which had preceded it enveloped the chamber. It was then that the priestesses, with raised clubs, crept stealthily toward their helpless victim.