Tarzan and the Lost Empire

Chapter 3

Edgar Rice Burroughs

LITTLE NKIMA came racing through the tree tops, jabbering excitedly, and dropped to the knee of Tarzan of the Apes where the latter lay stretched upon the great branch of a jungle giant, his back against the rough bole, where he was lying up after making a kill and feeding.

“Gomangani! Gomangani!” shrilled Nkima. “They come! They come!”

“Peace,” said Tarzan. “You are a greater nuisance than all the Gomangani in the jungle.”

“They will kill little Nkima,” cried the monkey. “They are strange Gomangani, and there are no Tarmangani among them.”

“Nkima thinks everything wants to kill him,” said Tarzan, “and yet he has lived many years and is not dead yet.”

“Sabor and Shetta and Numa, the Gomangani, had Histah the snake like to eat poor little Nkima,” wailed the monkey, “That is why he is afraid.”

“Do not fear, Nkima,” said the ape-man. “Tarzan will let no one hurt you.”

“Go and see the Gomangani,” urged Nkima. “Go and kill them. Nkima does not like the Gomangani.”

Tarzan arose leisurely. “I go,” he said. “Nkima may come or he may hide in the upper terraces.”

“Nkima is not afraid,” blustered the little monkey. “He will go and fight the Gomangani with Tarzan of the Apes,” and he leaped to the back of the ape-man and clung there with his arms about the bronzed throat, from which point of vantage he peered fearfully ahead, first over the top of one broad shoulder and then over the top of the other.

Tarzan swung swiftly and quietly through the trees toward a point where Nkima had discovered the Gomangani, and presently be saw below him some score of natives straggling along the jungle trail. A few of them were armed with rifles and all carried packs of various sizes—such packs as Tarzan knew must belong to the equipment of a white man.

The Lord of the Jungle hailed them and, startled, the men halted, looking up fearfully.

”I am Tarzan of the Apes. Do not be afraid,” Tarzan reassured them, and simultaneously he dropped lightly to the trail among them, but as he did so Nkima leaped frantically from his shoulders and scampered swiftly to a high branch far above, where he sat chattering and scolding, entirely forgetful of his vain boasting of a few moments before.

“Where is your master?” demanded Tarzan.

The Africans looked sullenly at the ground, but did not reply.

“Where is the Bwana, von Harben?” Tarzan insisted.

A tall man standing near fidgeted uneasily. “He is dead,” he mumbled.

“How did he die?” asked Tarzan.

Again the man hesitated before replying. “A bull elephant that he had wounded killed him”, he said at last.

“Where is his body?”

“We could not find it.”

“Then how do you know that he was killed by a bull elephant?” demanded the ape-man.

“We do not know,” another spoke up. “He went away from camp and did not return.”

“There was an elephant about and we thought that it had killed him,” said the tall man.

“You are not speaking true words,” said Tarzan.

“I shall tell you the truth,” said a third. “Our Bwana ascended the slopes of the Wiramwazi and the spirits of the dead being angry seized and carried him away.”

“I shall tell you the truth,” said Tarzan. “You have deserted your master and run away, leaving him alone in the forest.”

“We were afraid,” the man replied. “We warned him not to ascend the slopes of the Wiramwazi. We begged him to turn back. He would not listen to us, and the spirits of the dead carried him away.”

“How long ago was that?” asked the ape-man.

“Six, seven, perhaps ten marchings. I do not remember.”

“Where was he when you last saw him?”

As accurately as they could the men described the location of their last camp upon the slopes of the Wiramwazi.

“Go your way back to your own villages in the Urambi country. I shall know where to find you if I want you. If your Bwana is dead, you shall be punished,” and swinging into the branches of the lower terrace, Tarzan disappeared from the sight of the unhappy natives in the direction of the Wiramwazi, while Nkima, screaming shrilly, raced through the trees to overtake him.

From his conversation with the deserting members of von Harben’s safari, Tarzan was convinced that the young man had been traitorously abandoned and that in all likelihood he was making his way alone back upon the trail of the deserters.

Not knowing Erich von Harben, Tarzan could not have guessed that the young man would push on alone into the Unknown and forbidding depths of the Wiramwazi, but assumed on the contrary that he would adopt the more prudent alternative and seek to overtake his men as rapidly as possible. Believing this, the ape-man followed back along the trail of the safari, expecting momentarily to meet von Harben.

This plan greatly reduced his speed, but even so he traveled with so much greater rapidity than the natives that he came to the slopes of the Wiramwazi upon the third day after he had interviewed the remnants of von Harben’s safari.

It was with great difficulty that he finally located the point at which von Harben had been abandoned by his men, as a heavy rain and wind-storm had obliterated the trail, but at last he stumbled upon the tent, which had blown down, but nowhere could he see any signs of von Harben’s trail.

Not having come upon any signs of the white man in the jungle or any indication that he had followed his fleeing safari, Tarzan was forced to the conclusion that if von Harben was not indeed dead he must have faced the dangers of the unknown alone and now be either dead or alive somewhere within the mysterious fastnesses of the Wiramwazi.

“Nkima,” said the ape-man, “the Tarmangani have a saying that when it is futile to search for a thing, it is like hunting for a needle in a haystack. Do you believe, Nkima, that in this great mountain range we shall find our needle?”

“Let us go home,” said Nkima, “where it is warm. Here the wind blows and up there it is colder. It is no place for little Manu, the monkey.”

“Nevertheless, Nkima, there is where we are going.” The monkey looked up toward the frowning heights above. “Little Nkima is afraid,” he said. “It is in such places that Sheeta, the panther, lairs.”

Ascending diagonally and in a westerly direction in the hope of crossing von Harben’s trail, Tarzan moved constantly in the opposite direction from that taken by the man he sought. It was his intention, however, when he reached the summit, if he had in the meantime found no trace of von Harben, to turn directly eastward and search at a higher altitude in the opposite direction. As he proceeded, the slope became steeper and more rugged until at one point near the western end of the mountain mass he encountered an almost perpendicular barrier high up on the mountain side along the base of which he picked his precarious way among loose bowlders that had fallen from above. Underbrush and stunted trees extended at different points from the forest below quite up to the base of the vertical escarpment.

So engrossed was the ape-man in the dangerous business of picking his way along the mountainside that be gave little heed to anything beyond the necessities of the trail and his constant search for the spoor of von Harben, and so he did not see the little group of warriors that were gazing up at him from the shelter of a clump of trees far down the slope, nor did Nkima, usually as alert as his master, have eyes or ears for anything beyond the immediate exigencies of the trail. Nkima was unhappy. The wind blew and Nkima did not like the wind. All about him he smelled the spoor of Sheeta, the panther, while he considered the paucity and stunted nature of the few trees along the way that his master had chosen. From time to time he noted, with sinking heart, ledges just above them from which Sheeta might spring down upon them; and the way was a way of terror for little Nkima.

Now they had come to a particularly precarious point upon the mountainside. A sheer cliff rose above them on their right and at their left the mountainside fell away so steeply that as Tarzan advanced his body was pressed closely against the granite face of the cliff as he sought a foothold upon the ledge of loose rubble. Just ahead of them the cliff shouldered out boldly against the distant skies. Perhaps beyond that clear-cut corner the going might be better. If it should develop that it was worse, Tarzan realized that he must turn back.

At the turn where the footing was narrowest a stone gave beneath Tarzan’s foot, throwing him off his balance for an instant and at that same instant Nkima, thinking that Tarzan was falling, shrieked and leaped from his shoulder, giving the ape-man’s body just the impetus that was required to overbalance it entirely.

The mountainside below was steep, though not perpendicular, and if Nkima had not pushed the ape-man outward he doubtless would have slid but a short distance before being able to stay his fall, but as it was he lunged headforemost down the embankment, rolling and tumbling for a short distance over the loose rock until his body was brought to a stop by one of the many stunted trees that clung tenaciously to the wind-swept slope.

Terrified, Nkima scampered to his master’s side. He screamed and chattered in his ear and pulled and tugged upon him in an effort to raise him, but the ape-man lay motionless, a tiny stream of blood trickling from a cut on his temple into his shock of black hair.

As Nkima mourned, the warriors, who had been watching them from below, clambered quickly up the mountainside toward him and his helpless master.

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