Tarzan and the Lion Man

Chapter 31


Edgar Rice Burroughs

AT LAST the long day drew to a close. All were hungry and thirsty. All were anxious to leave the hard, uncomfortable ledge where they had been exposed to the hot African sun since morning.

Tarzan and Rhonda had been entertained and amused by the savage little wild-girl. She was wholly unspoiled and, without inhibitions of any nature. She said or did whatever she wished to say or do with a total lack of self-consciousness that was disarming and, often, not a little embarrassing.

As the sun was dropping behind the western hills across the valley, she rose to her feet. “Come,” she said; “we can go now. They will not follow, for it will soon be night.”

She led the way into the interior of the cave that opened upon the ledge. The cave was narrow but quite straight. The girl led them to the back of the cave to the bottom of a natural chimney formed by a cleft in the rocky hill. The twilight sky was visible above them, the light revealing the rough surface of the interior of the chimney to its top a few yards up.

Tarzan took in the situation at a glance. He saw that by bracing their backs against one side of the chimney, their feet against the other, they could work themselves to the top; but he also realized that the rough surface would scratch and tear the flesh of the girls’ backs.

“I’ll go first,” he said. “Wait here, and I’ll drop a rope for you. It’s strange, Balza, that your people didn’t come to the cliff top and get us from above—they could have come down this chimney and taken us by surprise.”

“They are too stupid,” replied the girl. “They have brains enough only to follow us; they would never think of going around us and heading us off.”

“Which is fortunate for us and some of them,” remarked the ape-man as he started the ascent of the chimney.

Reaching the top, he lowered his rope and raised the two girls easily to his side, where they found themselves in a small, bowl-shaped gully the floor of which was covered with rough, crystallized pebbles that gave back the light of the dying day, transforming the gully into a well of soft luminance.

The moment that her eyes fell upon the scene, Rhonda voiced an exclamation of surprised incredulity. “Diamonds!” she gasped. “The valley of diamonds!”

She stooped and gathered some of the precious stones in her hands. Balza looked at her in surprise; the gems meant nothing to her. Tarzan, more sophisticated, gathered several of the larger specimens.

“May I take some with me?” asked Rhonda.

“Why not?” inquired the ape-man. “Take what you can carry comfortably.”

“We shall all be rich!” exclaimed the American girl. “We can bring the whole company here and take truck loads of these stones back with us—why there must be tons of them here!”

“And then do you know what will happen?” asked Tarzan.

“Yes,” she replied. “I shall have a villa on the Riviera, a town house in Beverly Hills, a hundred and fifty thousand dollar cottage at Malibu, a place at Palm Beach, a penthouse in New York, a——”

“You will have no, more than you have always had,” the ape-man interrupted, “for if you took all these diamonds back to civilization the market would be glutted; and diamonds would be as cheap as glass. If you are wise, you will take just a few for yourself and your friends; and then tell nobody how they may reach the valley of diamonds.”

Rhonda pondered this for a moment. “You are right,” she admitted. “From this moment, as far as I am concerned, there is no valley of diamonds.”

During the brief twilight Balza guided them to a trail that led down into the valley some distance below the cave dwellings of the tribe of mutants, and all during the night they moved southward toward the escarpment and Omwamwi Falls.

The way was new to all of them, for Balza had never been far south of the cave village; and this, combined with the darkness; retarded them; so that it was almost dawn when they reached the escarpment.

For much of the way Tarzan carried Rhonda who was almost exhausted by all that she had passed through, and only thus were they able to progress at all. But Balza was tireless, moving silently in the footsteps of her man, as she now considered Tarzan. She did not speak, for experience and instinct both had trained her to the necessity for stealth if one would pass through savage nights alive. Every sense must be alert, concentrated upon the business of self-preservation. But who may know what passed in that savage little brain as the beautiful creature followed her new lord and master out into a strange world?

In the early dawn the scene from the top of the escarpment looked weird and forbidding to Rhonda Terry. The base was mist-hidden. Only the roar of the falls, rising sepulchral, like the voices of ghostly Titans from the tomb, belied the suggestion of bottomless depth. She seemed to be gazing down into another world, a world she would never reach alive.

Strong in her memory was that other experience when the giant gorilla had carried her up this dizzy height. She knew that she could never descend it safely alone. She knew that Stanley Obroski could not carry her down. She had learned that he could do many things with the possibility of which none might ever have credited him a few weeks before, but here was something that no man might do. She even doubted his ability to descend alone.

Even as these thoughts passed quickly through her mind the man swung her across one broad shoulder and started the descent. Rhonda gasped, but she clenched her teeth and made no outcry. Seemingly with all the strength of the bull gorilla and with far greater agility he swung down into the terrifying abyss, finding foothold and handhold with unerring accuracy; and after him came Balza, the wild-girl, as sure of herself as any monkey.

And at last the impossible was achieved—the three stood safely at the foot of the escarpment. The sun had risen, and before it the mist was disappearing. New hope rose in the breast of the American girl, and new strength animated her body.

“Let me down, Stanley,” she said. “I am sure I can walk all right now. I feel stronger.”

He lowered her to the ground. “It is not a great way to camp where I left Orman and the others,” he said.

Rhonda glanced at Balza and cleared her throat. “Of course we’re all from Hollywood,” she said, “but don’t you think we ought to rig some sort of skirt for Balza before we take her into camp?”

Tarzan laughed. “Poor Balza,” he said; “she will have to eat of the apple soon enough now that she is coming into contact with civilized man. Let her keep her naturalness and her purity of mind as long as she may.”

“But I was thinking of her,” remonstrated Rhonda.

“She won’t be embarrassed,” Tarzan assured her. “A skirt would probably embarrass her far more.”

Rhonda shrugged. “O.K.” she said. “And Tom and Bill forgot how to blush years ago, anyway.”

They had proceeded but a short distance down the river when Tarzan stopped and pointed. “There is where they were camped,” he said, “but they are gone.”

“What could have happened to them? Weren’t they going to wait for you?”

The ape-man stood listening and sniffing the air. “They are farther down the river,” he announced presently, “and they are not alone—there are many with them.”

They continued on for over a mile when they suddenly came in sight of a large camp. There were many tents and motor trucks.

“The safari!” exclaimed Rhonda. “Pat got through!”

As they approached the camp some one saw them and commenced to shout; then there was a stampede to meet them. Everyone kissed Rhonda, and Naomi Madison kissed Tarzan; whereat, with a growl, Balza leaped for her. The ape-man caught the wild-girl around the waist and held her, while Naomi shrank back, terrified.

“Hands off Stanley,” warned Rhonda with a laugh. “The young lady has annexed him.”

Tarzan took Balza by the shoulders. and wheeled her about until she faced him: “These are my people,” he said. “Their ways are not as your ways. If you quarrel with them I shall send you away. These shes are your friends.”

Every one was staring at Balza with open admiration, Orman with the eye of a director discovering a type, Pat O’Grady with the eye of an assistant director—which is something else again.

“Balza,” continued the ape-man, “go with these shes. Do as they tell you. They will cover your beautiful body with uncomfortable clothing, but you will have to wear it. In a month you will be smoking cigarettes and drinking high balls; then you will. be civilized. Now you are only a barbarian. Go with them and be unhappy.”

Every one laughed except Balza. She did not know what it was all about; but her god had spoken, and she obeyed. She went with Rhonda and Naomi to their tent.

Tarzan talked with Orman, Bill West, and O’Grady. They all thought that he was Stanley Obroski, and he did not attempt to undeceive them. They told him that Bill West had spent half the previous night trying to scale the escarpment.

He had ascended far enough to see the camp fires of the safari and the headlights of some of the trucks; then, forced to abandon his attempt to reach the summit, he had returned and led the others to the main camp.

Orman was now enthusiastic to go ahead with the picture. He had his star back again, his leading woman, and practically all the other important members of his cast. He decided to play the heavy himself and cast Pat O’Grady in Major White’s part, and he had already created a part for Balza. “She’ll knock ’em cold,” he prophesied.

Tarzan and the Lion Man - Contents    |     Chapter 32 - Good-bye, Africa!

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