Tarzan and the Lion Man

Chapter 28

Through Smoke and Flame

Edgar Rice Burroughs

AS THE TERRIFIED horde fought for safety and leaped to death from the roof of the castle of God, the gorilla god himself scurried for a secret stairway that led to the courtyard of the castle.

Cranmer and some of the priests knew also of this stairway; and they, too, bolted for it. Several members of the gorilla guard, maddened by terror, followed them; and when they saw the entrance to the stairway fought to be the first to avail themselves of its offer of safety.

Through this fighting, screaming pack the gorilla god sought to force his way. He was weaker than his creatures, and they elbowed him aside. Screaming commands and curses which all ignored, he pawed and clawed in vain endeavor to reach the entrance to the stairs; but always they beat him back.

Suddenly terror and rage drove him mad. Foaming at the mouth, gibbering like a maniac, he threw himself upon the back of a great bull whose bulk barred his way. He beat the creature about the head aud shoulders, but the terrified brute paid no attention to him until he sank his fangs deep in its neck; then with a frightful scream it turned upon him. With its mighty paws it tore him from his hold; then, lifting him above its head, the creature hurled him from it. The gorilla god fell heavily to the roof and lay still, stunned.

The crazed beasts at the stairway fought and tore at one another, jamming and wedging themselves into the entrance until they clogged it; then those that remained outside ran toward other stairways, but now it was too late. Smoke and flame roared from every turret and tower. They were trapped!

By ones and twos, with awful shrieks, they hurled themselves over the parapet, leaving the roof to the bodies of the gorilla god and his erstwhile captive.

The flames roared up through the narrow shafts of the towers, transforming them into giant torches, illuminating the face of the cliff towering above, shedding weird lights and shadows on the city and the valley. They ate through the roof at the north end of the castle, and the liberated gases shot smoke and flame high into the night. They gnawed through a great roof beam, and a section of the roof fell into the fiery furnace below showering the city with sparks. Slowly they crept toward the bodies of the ape-man and the gorilla god.

Before the castle, the Holy Stairway and the ledge were packed with the horde that had come up from the city to watch the holocaust. They were awed to silence. Somewhere in that grim pile was their god. They knew nothing of immortality, for he had not taught them that. They thought that their god was dead, and they were afraid. These were the lowly ones. The creatures of the king rejoiced; for they envisaged the power of the god descending upon the shoulders of their leader, conferring more power upon themselves. They were gorillas contaminated by the lusts and greed of men.

On the roof one of the bodies stirred. The eyes opened. It was a moment before the light of consciousness quickened them; then the man sat up. It was Tarzan. He leaped to his feet. All about him was the roaring and crackling of the flames. The heat was intense, almost unbearable.

He saw the body of the gorilla god lying near him. He saw it move. Then the creature sat up quickly and looked about. It saw Tarzan. It saw the flames licking and leaping on all sides, dancing the dance of death—its death.

Tarzan gave it but a single glance and walked away. That part of the roof closest to the cliff was freest of flames, and toward the parapet there he made his way.

The gorilla god followed him. “We are lost,” he said. Every avenue of escape is cut off.”

The ape-man shrugged and looked over the edge of the parapet down the side of the castle wall. Twenty feet below was the roof of a section of the building that rose only one storey. It was too far to jump. Flames were coming from the windows on that side, flames and smoke, but not in the volume that were pouring from the openings on the opposite side. Tarzan tested the strength, of one of the merlons of the battlemented parapet. It was strong. The stones were set in good mortar. He uncoiled, his rope, and passed it about the Merlon.

The gorilla god had followed him and was watching. “You are going to escape!” he cried. “Oh, save me too.”

“So that you can kill and eat me later?” asked the ape-man.

“No, no! I will not harm you. For God’s sake save me!”

“I thought you were God. Save yourself.”

“You can’t desert me. I’m an Englishman. Blood is thicker than water—you wouldn’t see an Englishman die when you can save him!”

“I am an Englishman,” replied the ape-man, “but you would have killed me and eaten me into the bargain.”

“Forgive me that. I was mad to regain my ‘human’ form, and you offered the only chance that I may ever have. Save me, and I will give you wealth beyond man’s wildest dreams of avarice.”

“I have all I need,” replied Tarzan.

“You don’t know what you are talking about. I can lead you to diamonds. Diamonds! Diamonds! You can scoop them up by the handful.”

“I care nothing for your diamonds,” replied the: ape-man; “but I will save you on one condition.”

“What is that?”

“That you help me save the girl, if she still lives, and get her out of this valley.”

“I promise. But hurry—soon it will be too late.”

Tarzan had looped the center of his rope about the merlon; the loose ends dangled a few feet above the roof below. He saw that the rope hung between windows where the flames could not reach it.

“I will go first,” he said, “to be sure that you do not run away and forget your promise.”

“You do not trust me!” exclaimed the gorilla god.

“Of course not—you are a man.”

He lowered his body over the parapet, hung by one hand, and seized both strands of the rope in the other.

The gorilla god shuddered. “I could never do that,” he cried: “I should fall. It is awful!” He covered his eyes with his hands.

“Climb over the parapet and get on my back, then,” directed the ape-man. “Here, I will steady you.” He reached up a powerful hand.

“Will the rope hold us both?”

“I don’t know. Hurry, or I’ll, have to go without you. The heat is getting worse.”

Trembling, the gorilla god climbed over the parapet; and, steadied and assisted by Tarzan, slid to the ape-man’s back where he clung with a deathlike grip about the bronzed neck.

Slowly and carefully Tarzan descended. He had no doubt to the strength of the rope on a straight pull, but feared that the rough edges of the merlon might cut it.

The heat was terrific. Flames leaped out of the openings on each side of them. Acrid, stifling smoke enveloped them. Where the descent at this point had seemed reasonably safe moment before, it was now fraught with dangers that made the outcome of their venture appear more than doubtful. It was as though the fire demon had discovered their attempt to escape his clutches and had marshalled all his forces to defeat it and add them to his list of victims.

With grim persistence Tarzan continued his slow descent. The creature clinging to his back punctuated paroxysms of coughing and choking with piercing screams of terror. The ape-man kept his eyes closed and tried not to breathe in the thick smoke that enveloped them.

His lungs seemed upon the point of bursting when, to his relief, his feet touched solid footing. Instantly he threw himself upon his face and breathed. The rising smoke, ascending with the heat of flames, drew fresh air along the roof on which the two lay; and they filled their lungs with it.

Only for a moment did Tarzan lie thus; then he rolled over on his back and pulled rapidly upon one end of the rope until the other passed about the merlon above and fell to the roof beside him.

This lower roof on which they were was but ten feet above the level of the ground; and, using the rope again, it was only a matter of seconds before the two stood in comparative safety between the castle and the towering cliff.

“Come now,” said the ape-man; “we will go around to the front of the castle and find out if the girl escaped.”

“We shall have to be careful,” cautioned the gorilla god. “This fire will have attracted a crowd from the city. I have many enemies in the palace of the king who would be glad to capture us both. Then we should be killed and the girl lost—if she is not already dead.”

“What do you suggest, then?” Tarzan was suspicious. He saw a trap, he saw duplicity in everything conceived by the mind of man.

“The fire has not reached this low wing yet,” explained the other. “In it is the entrance to a shaft leading down to the quarters of a faithful priest who dwells in a cave at the foot of the cliff on a level with the city. If we can reach him we shall be safe. He will hide us and do my bidding.”

Tarzan scowled. He had the wild beast’s aversion to entering an unfamiliar enclosure, but he had overheard enough of the conversation between the gorilla god and Cranmer to know that the former’s statement was at least partially true—his enemies in the palace might gladly embrace an opportunity to imprison or destroy him.

“Very well,” he assented; “but I am going to tie this rope around your neck so that you may not escape me, and remind you that I still have the knife with which I killed several of your gorillas. I and the knife will be always near.

The gorilla god made no reply; but he submitted to being secured, and then led the way into the building and to a cleverly concealed trap opening into the top of a shaft descending into darkness.

Here a ladder led downward, and Tarzan let his companion precede him into the Stygian blackness of the shaft. They descended for a short distance to a horizontal corridor which terminated at another, vertical shaft. These shafts and corridors alternated until the gorilla god finally announced that they had reached the bottom of the cliff.

Here they proceeded along a corridor until a heavy wooden door blocked their progress. The gorilla god listened intently for a moment, his ear close to the planking of the door. Finally he raised the latch and pushed the door silently ajar. Through the crack the ape-man saw, a rough cave lighted by a single smoky torch.

“He is not here,” said the gorilla god as he pushed the door open and entered. “He has probably gone with the others to see the fire.”

Tarzan looked about the interior. He saw a smoke blackened cave, the floor littered with dirty straw. Opposite the doorway through which they had entered was another probably leading into the open. It was closed with a massive wooden door. Near the door was a single small window. Some sacks made of skins of animals hung from pegs driven into the walls. A large jar sitting on the floor held water.

“We shall have to await his return,” said the gorilla god. “In the meantime let us eat.”

He crossed to the bags hanging on the wail and examined their contents, finding celery, bamboo tips, fruit, and nuts. He selected what he wished and sat down on the floor. “Help youeself,” he invited with a wave of a hand toward the sacks.

“I have eaten,” said Tarzan and sat down near the gorilla god where he could watch both him and the doorway.

His companion ate in silence for a few minutes; then he looked up at the ape-man. “You said that you did not want diamonds.” His tone was skeptical. “Then why did you come here?”

“Not for diamonds.”

The gorilla god chuckled. “My people killed some of your party as they were about to enter the valley. On the body of one of them was a map of this valley—the valley of diamonds. Are you surprised that I assume that you came for the diamonds?”

“I knew nothing of the map. How could we have had a map of this valley which, until we came, was absolutely unkown to white men?”

“You had a map.”

“But who could have made it?”

“I made it.”

“You! How could we have a map that you made? Have you returned to England since you first came here?”

“No—but I made that map.”

“You came here because you hated men and to escape them. It is not reasonable that you should have made a map to invite men here, and if you did make it how did it get to America or to England or wherever it was that these—my people got it?” demanded Tarzan.

“I will tell you. I loved a girl. She was not interested in a scientist with no financial future ahead of him. She wanted wealth and luxuries. She wanted a rich husband.

“When I came to this valley and found the diamonds I thought of her. I cannot say that I still loved her, but I wanted her. I should have liked to be revenged upon her for the suffering that she had caused me. I thought what a fine revenge it would be to get her here and keep her here as long as she lived. I would give her wealth—more wealth than any other creature in the world possessed; but she would be unable to buy anything with it.” He chuckled as he recalled his plan.

“So I made the map, and I wrote her a letter. I told her what to do, where to land, and how to form her, safari. Then I waited. I have been waiting for seventy-four years, but she has never came.

“I had gone to considerable effort to get the letter to her. It had been necessary for me to go a long way from the valley to find a friendly tribe of natives and employ one of them as a runner to take my letter to the coast. I never knew whether or not the letter reached the coast. The runner might have been killed. Many things might have happened. I often wondered what became of the map. Now it has come back to me—after seventy-four years.” Again he chuckled. “And brought another girl—a very much prettier girl. Mine would be—let’s see—ninety-four years old, a toothless old hag.” He sighed. “But now I suppose that I shall not have either of them.”

There was a sound at the outer door. Tarzan sprang to his feet. The door opened, and an old gorilla started to enter. At sight of the ape-man he bared his fangs and paused.

“It is all right, Father Tobin,” said the gorilla god. “Come in and close the door.”

“My Lord!” exclaimed the old gorilla as he closed the door behind him and threw himself upon his knees. “We thought that you had perished in the flames. Praises be to heaven that you have been spared to us.”

“Blessing be upon you, my son,” replied the gorilla god. “And now tell me what has happened in the city.”

“The castle is destroyed.”

“Yes, I knew that, but what of the king? Does he think me dead?”

“All think so; and, may curses descend, upon him, Henry is pleased. They say that he will proclaim himself God.”

“Do you know aught of the fate of the girl Wolsey rescued from Henry’s clutches and brought to my castle? Did she die in the fire?” asked the gorilla god.

“She escaped, My Lord. I saw her.”

“Where is she?” demanded Tarzan.

“The king’s men recaptured her and took her to the palace.”

“That will be the end of her,” announced the gorilla god, “for if Henry insists on marrying her, as he certainly will, Catherine of Aragon will tear her to pieces.”

“We must get her away from him at once,” said Tarzan.

The gorilla god shrugged. “I doubt if that can be done.”

“You have said that some one did it before—Wolsey I think you called him.”

“But Wolsey had a strong incentive.”

“No stronger than the one you have,” said the ape-man quietly, but he jerked a little on the rope about God’s neck and fingered the hilt of his hunting knife.

“But how can I do it?” demanded the gorilla god. “Henry has many soldiers. The people think that I am dead, and now they will be more afraid of the king than ever.”

“You have many faithful followers, haven’t you?” inquired Tarzan.


“Then send this priest out to gather them. Tell them to meet outside this cave with whatever weapons they can obtain.”

The priest was looking in astonishment from his god to the stranger who spoke to him with so little reverence and who held an end of the rope tied about the god’s neck. With horror, he had even seen the creature jerk the rope.

“Go, Father Tobin,” said the gorilla god, “and gather the faithful.”

“And see that there is no treachery,” snapped Tarzan. “I have your god’s promise to help me save that girl. You see this rope about his neck? You see this knife at my side?”

The priest nodded.

“If you both do not do all within your power to help me your god dies.” There was no mistaking the sincerity of that statement.

“Go, Father Tobin,” said the gorilla god.

“And hurry,” added Tarzan.

“I go, My Lord,” cried the priest; “but I hate to leave you in the clutches of this creature.”

“He will be safe enough if you do your part,” Tarzan assured him.

The priest knelt again, crossed himself, and departed. As the door closed after him, Tarzan turned to his companion. “How is it,” he asked, “that you have been able to transmit the power to speak and perhaps to reason to these brutes, yet they have not taken on any of the outward physical altributes of man?”

“That is due to no fault of mine,” replied the gorilla god, “but rather to an instinct of the beasts themselves more powerful than their newly acquired reasoning faculties. Transmitting human germ cells from generation to generation, as they now do, it is not strange that there are often born to them children with the physical attributes of human beings. But in spite of all that I can do these sports have invariably been destroyed at birth.

“In the few cases where they have been spared they have developed into monsters that seem neither beast nor human—manlike creatures with all the worst qualities of man and beast. Some of these have either been driven out of the city or have escaped, and there is known to be a tribe of them living in caves on the far side of the valley.

“I know of two instances where the mutants were absolutely perfect in human form and figure but possessed the minds of gorillas; the majority, however, have the appearance of grotesque hybrids.

“Of these two, one was a very beautiful girl when last I saw her but with the temper of a savage lioness; the other was a young man with the carriage and the countenance of an aristocrat and the sweet amiability of a Jack the Ripper.

“And now, young man,” continued the gorilla god, “when my followers have gathered here, what do you purpose doing?”

“Led by us,” replied Tarzan, “they will storm the palace of the king and take the girl from him.”

Tarzan and the Lion Man - Contents    |     Chapter 29 - Death at Dawn

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