Tarzan and the Lion Man

Chapter 24


Edgar Rice Burroughs

BEYOND THE SUMMIT of the escarpment the ape-man moved silently through the night. He heard familiar noises, and his nostrils caught familiar scents that told him that the great cats roamed this strange valley of the gorillas.

He crossed the river farther up than he had swum it with Naomi, and he kept to the floor of the valley as he sought the mysterious city. He had no plan, for he knew nothing of what lay ahead of him—his planning must await the result of his reconnaissance.

He moved swiftly, often at a trot that covered much ground; and presently he saw dim lights ahead. That must be the city! He left the river and moved in a straight line toward the lights, cutting across a bend in the river which again swung back into his path just before he reached the shadowy mass of many buildings.

The city was walled, probably, he thought, against lions; but Tarzan was not greatly concerned—he had scaled walls before. When he reached this one he discovered that it was not high—perhaps ten feet—but sharpened stakes, pointing downward, had been set at close intervals just below the cap-stones, providing an adequate defense against the great cats.

The ape-man followed the wall back toward the cliff, where it joined the rocky, precipitous face of the escarpment. He listened, scenting the air with his delicate nostrils, seeking to assure himself that nothing was near on the opposite side of the wall.

Satisfied, he leaped for the stakes. His hands closed upon two of them; then he drew himself up slowly until his hips were on a level with his hands, his arms straight at his sides. Leaning forward, he let his body drop slowly forward until it rested on the stakes and the top of the wall.

Now he could look down into the narrow alleyway beyond the barrier. There was no sign of life as far as he could see in either direction—just a dark, shadowy, deserted alleyway. It required but a moment now to draw his body to the wall top and drop to the ground inside the city of the gorillas.

From the vantage point of the wall he had seen lights a short distance above the level of the main part of the city and what seemed to be the shadowy outlines of a large building. That, he conjectured, must be the castle of God, of which Naomi Madison had spoken.

If he were right, that would be his goal; for there the other girl was supposed to be imprisoned. He moved along the face of the cliff in a narrow, winding alley that followed generally the contour of the base of the mountain, though sometimes it wound around buildings that had been built against the cliff.

He hoped that he would meet none of the denizens of the city, for the passage was so narrow that he could not avoid detection; and it was so winding that an enemy might be upon him before he could find concealment in a shadowy doorway or upon a rooftop, which latter he had decided would make the safest hiding place and easy of access, since many of the buildings were low.

He heard voices and saw the dim glow of lights in another part of the city, and presently there rose above the strange city the booming of drums.

Shortly thereafter Tarzan came to a flight of steps cut from the living rock of the cliff. They led upward, disappearing in the gloom above; but they pointed in the general direction of the building he wished to reach. Pausing only long enough to reconnoiter with his ears, the ape-man started the ascent.

He had climbed but a short distance when he turned to see the city spread out below him. Not far from the foot of the cliff rose the towers and battlements of what appeared to be a medieval castle. From within its outer walls came the light that he had seen dimly from another part of the city; from here too. came the sound of drumming. It was reminiscent of another day, another scene. In retrospection it all came vividly before him now.

He saw the shaggy figures of the great apes of the tribe of Kerchak. He saw an earthen drum. About it the apes were forming a great circle. The females and the young squatted in a thin line at its periphery, while just in front of them ranged the adult mates. Before the drum sat three old females, each armed with a knotted branch fifteen or eighteep inches in length.

Slowly and softly they began tapping upon the resounding surface of the drum as the first, faint rays of the ascending moon silvered the encircling tree-tops. Then, as the light in the amphitheater increased, the females augmented the frequency and force of their blows until presently a wild, rhythmic, din pervaded the great jungle for miles in every direction.

As the din of the drum rose to almost deafening volume Kerchak sprang into the open space between the squatting males and the drummers. Standing erect he threw his head far back and looking full into the eye of the rising moon he beat, upon his breast with his great hairy paws and emitted a fearful, roaring shriek.

Then, crouching, Kerchak slunk noiselessly around the open circle, veering away from a dead body that lay before the altar-drum; but, as he passed, keeping his fierce, wicked eyes upon the corpse.

Another male then sprang into the arena and, repeating the horrid cries of his king, followed, stealthily in his wake. Another and another followed in quick succession until the jungle reverberated with the now almost ceaseless notes of their bloodthirsty screams. It was the challenge and the hunt.

How plainly it all came back to the ape-man now as he heard the familiar beating of the drums in this far-off city!

As he ascended the steps farther he could see over the top of the castle wall below into the courtyard beyond. He saw a number of gorillas dancing to the booming of the drums. The scene was lit by torches, and as he watched, a fire was lighted near the dancers. The dry material of which it was built ignited quickly and blazed high, revealing the scene in the courtyard like, daylight and illuminating the face of the cliff and the stairway that Tarzan was ascending; then it died down as quickly as it had arisen.

The ape-man hastened up the stone stairway that wound and zigzagged up the cliff face, hoping that no eye had discerned him during the brief illumination of the cliff. There was no indication that he had been discovered as he approached the grim pile now towering close above him, because the strange figure gazing down upon him from the ramparts of the castle gave no sign that might apprise the ape-man of its presence. Chuckling, it turned away and disappeared through an embrasure in a turret.

At the top of the stairway Tarzatt found himself upon a broad terrace, the fore part of the great ledge upon which the castle was built. Before him rose the grim edifice without wall or moat looming menacingly in the darkness.

The only opening on the level of the ledge was a large double doorway, one of the doors of which stood slightly ajar. Perhaps the lord of the jungle should have been warned by this easy accessibility. Perhaps it did arouse his suspicions—the natural suspicion of the wild thing for the trap—but he had come here for the purpose of entering this building; and he could not ignore such a God-given opportunity.

Cautiously he approached the doorway. Beyond was only darkness. He pushed against the great door, and it swung silently inward. He was glad that the hinges had not creaked. He paused a moment in the opening, listening. From within came the scent of gorillas and a strange man-like scent that intrigued and troubled him, but he neither heard nor saw signs of life beyond the doorway.

As his eyes became accustomed to the gloom of the interior he saw that he was in a semi-circular foyer in the posterior wall of which were set several doors. Approaching the door farthest to the left he tried it; but it was locked, nor could he open the second. The third, however, swung in as he pushed upon it, revealing a descending staircase.

He listened intently but heard nothing; then he tried the fourth door. It too was locked. So were the fifth and sixth. This was the last door, and he returned to the third. Passing through it he descended the stairway, feeling his way through the darkness.

Still all was silence. Not a sound had come to his ears since he had entered the building to suggest that there was another within it than himself; yet he knew that there were living creatures there. His sensitive nostrils had told him that and the strange, uncanny instinct of the jungle beast.

At the foot of the stairs he groped with his hands, finding a door. He felt for and found a latch. Lifting it, he pushed upon the door; and it opened. Then there came strongly to his nostrils the scent of a woman—a white woman! Had he found her? Had he found the one he sought?

The room was utterly dark. He stepped into it, and as he released the door he heard it close behind him with a gentle click. With the quick intuition of the wild beast, he guessed that he was trapped. He sprang back to the door, seeking to open it; but his fingers found only a smooth surface.

He stood in silence, listening, waiting. He heard rapid breathing at a little distance from him. Insistent in his nostrils was the scent of the woman. He guessed that the breathing he heard was hers; its tempo connoted fear. Cautiously he approached the sound.

He was quite close when a noise ahead of him brought him to a sudden halt. It sounded like the creaking of rusty hinges. Then a light appeared revealing the whole scene.

Directly before him on a pallet of straw sat a white woman. Beyond her was a door constructed of iron bars through which he saw another chamber. At the far side of this second chamber was a doorway in which stood a strange creature holding a lighted torch in one hand. Tarzan could not tell if it were human or gorilla.

It approached the barred doorway, chuckling softly to itself. The woman had turned her face away from Tarzan and was looking at the thing in horror. Now she turned a quick glance toward the ape-man. He saw that she was quite like the girl, Naomi, and very beautiful.

As her eyes fell upon him, revealed by the flickering light of the torch; she gasped in astonishment. “Stanley Obroski!” she ejaculated. “Are you a prisoner too?”

“I guess I am,” replied the ape-man.

“What were you doing here? How did they get you? I thought that you were dead.”

“I came here to find you,” he replied.

“You!” Her tone was incredulous.

The creature in the next room had approached the bars, and stood there chuckling softly. Tarzan looked up at it. It had the face of a man, but its skin was black like that of a gorilla. Its grinning lips revealed the heavy fangs an the anthropoid. Scant black hair covered those portions of its body that an open shirt and a loin cloth revealed. The skin of the body, arms, and legs was black with large patches of white. The bare feet were the feet of a man; the hands were black and hairy and wrinkled, with long, curved claws; the eyes were the sunken eyes of an old man—a very old man.

“So you are acquainted?” he said. “How interesting! And you came to get her, did you? I thought that you had come to call on me. Of course it is not quite the proper thing for a stranger to come by night without an invitation—and by stealth.

“It was just by the merest chance that I learned of your coming. I have Henry to thank for that. Had he not been staging a dance I should not have known, and thus I should have been denied the pleasure of receiving you as I have.

“You see, I was looking down from my castle into the courtyard of Henry’s palace when his bonfire flared up and lighted the Holy Stairs—and there you were!”

The creature’s voice was well modulated, its diction that of a cultivated Englishman. The incongruity between its speech and its appearance rendered the latter all the more repulsive and appalling by contrast.

“Yes, I came for this girl,” said the ape-man.

“And now you are a prisoner too.” The creature chuckled.

“What do you want of us?” demanded Tarzan. “We are not enemies; we have not harmed you.”

“What do I want of you! That is a long story. But perhaps you two would understand and appreciate it. The beasts with which I am surrounded hear, but they do not understand. Before you serve my final purpose I shall keep you for a while for the pleasure of conversing with rational human beings.

“I have not seen any for a long time, a long, long time. Of course I hate them none the less, but I must admit that I shall find pleasure in their companionship for a short time. You are both very good-looking too. That will make it all the more pleasant, just as it increases your value for the purpose for which I intend you—the final purpose, you understand. I am particularly pleased that the girl is so beautiful. I always did have a fondness for blonds. Were I not already engaged along other lines of research, and were it possible, I should like nothing better than to conduct a scientific investigation to determine the biological or psychological explanation of the profound attraction that the blond female has for the male of all races.”

From the pocket of his shirt he extracted a couple of crudely fashioned cheroots, one of which he proferred through the bars to Tarzan. “Will you not smoke Mr.—ah—er—Obroski I believe the young lady called you. Stanley Obroski! That would be a Polish name, I believe; but you do not resemble a Pole. You look quite English—quite as English as I.”

“I do not smoke,” said Tarzan, and then added, “thank you.”

“You do not know what you miss—tobacco is such a boon to tired nerves.”

“My nerves are never tired.”

“Fortunate man! And fortunate for me too. I could ask for anything better than a combination of youth with a healthy body and a healthy nervous system—to say nothing of your unquestionable masculine beauty. I shall be wholly regenerated.”

“I do not know what you are talking about,” said Tarzan.

“No, of course not. How could one expect that you would understand what I alone in all the world know! But some other time I shall be delighted to explain. Right now I must go up and have a look down into the king’s courtyard. I find that I must keep an eye on Henry the Eighth. He has been grossly misbehaving himself of late—he and Suffolk and Howard. I shall leave this torch burning for you—it will make it much more pleasant; and I want you to enjoy yourselves as much as possible before the—ah—er—well, au revoir! Make yourselves quite at home.” He turned and crossed toward a door at the opposite side of the room; chuckling as he went.

Tarzan stepped quickly to the bars separating the two rooms. “Come back here!” he commanded. “Either let us out of this hole or tell us why you are holding us—what you intend doing with us.”

The creature wheeled suddenly, its expression transformed by a hideous snarl. “You dare issue orders to me!” it screamed.

“And why not?” demanded the ape-man. “Who are you?”

The creature took a step nearer the bars and tapped its hairy chest with a horny talon. “I am God!” it cried.

Tarzan and the Lion Man - Contents    |     Chapter 25 - “Before I Eat You!”

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