Tarzan and the Lost Empire

Chapter 5

Edgar Rice Burroughs

LUKEDI, THE BAGEGO, carried a gourd of milk to a hut in the village of his people on the lower slopes at the west end of the Wiramwazi range.

Two stalwart spearmen stood guard at the doorway of the hut. “Nyuto has sent me with milk for the prisoner,” said Lukedi. “Has his spirit returned to him?”

”Go in and see,” directed one of the sentries.

Lukedi entered the hut and in the dim light saw the figure of a giant white man sitting upon the dirt floor gazing at him. The man’s wrists were bound together behind his back and his ankles were secured with tough fiber strands.

“Here is food,” said Lukedi, setting the gourd upon the ground near the prisoner.

“How can I eat with my hands tied behind my back?” demanded Tarzan. Lukedi scratched his head. “I do not know,” he said. “Nyuto sent me with the food. He did not tell me to free your hands.”

“Cut the bond,” said Tarzan, “otherwise I cannot eat.” One of the spearmen entered the hut. “What is he saying?” he demanded.

“He says that he cannot eat unless his hands are freed,” said Lukedi.

“Did Nyuto tell you to free his hands?” asked the spearman.

“No,” said Lukedi.

The spearman. shrugged his shoulders. “Leave the food then; that is all you were asked to do.”

Lukedi turned to leave the hut. “Wait,” said Tarzan. “Who is Nyuto?”

“He is chief of the Bagegos,” said Lukedi.

“Go to him and tell him that I wish to see him. Tell him also that I cannot eat with my hands tied behind my back.”

Lukedi was gone for half an hour. When he returned he brought an old, rusted slave chain and an ancient padlock.

“Nyuto says that we may chain him to the center pole and then cut the bonds that secure his hands,” he said to the guard.

The three men entered the hut where Lukedi passed one end of the chain around the center pole, Pulling it through a ring on the other end; the free end he then passed around Tarzan’s neck, securing it there with the old slave padlock.

“Cut the bonds that hold his wrists,” said Lukedi to one of the spearmen.

“Do it yourself,” retorted the warrior. “Nyuto sent you to do it, He did not tell me to cut the bonds.”

Lukedi hesitated. It was apparent that he was afraid.

“We will stand ready with our spears,” said the guardsmen; “then he cannot harm you.”

“I shall not harm him,” said Tarzan. “Who are you anyway and who do you think I am?”

One of the guardsmen laughed. “He asked who we are as though he did not know!”

“We know who you are, all right,” said the other warrior.

“I am Tarzan of the Apes,” said the prisoner, “and I have no quarrel with the Bagegos.”

The guardsman who had last spoken laughed again derisively. “That may be your name,” he said. “You men of The Lost Tribe have strange names. Perhaps you have no quarrel with the Bagegos, but the Bagegos have a quarrel with you,” and still laughing he left the hut followed by his companion, but the youth Lukedi remained, apparently fascinated by the prisoner at whom he stood staring as he might have stared at a deity.

Tarzan reached for the gourd and drank the milk it contained, and never once did Lukedi take his eyes from him.

“What is your name?” asked Tarzan.

“Lukedi,” replied the youth.

“And you have never heard of Tarzan of the Apes?”

“No,” replied the youth.

“Who do you think, I am?” demanded the ape-man.

“We know that you belong to The Lost Tribe.”

“But I thought the members of The Lost Tribe were supposed to be the spirits of the dead,” said Tarzan.

“That we do not know,” replied Lukedi. “Some think one way, some another; but you know, for you are one of them.”

“I am not one of them,” said Tarzan. “I come from a country farther south, but I have heard of the Bagegos and I have heard of The Lost Tribe.”

“I do not believe you,” said Lukedi.

“I speak the truth,” said Tarzan.

Lukedi scratched his head. “Perhaps you do,” he said. “You do not wear clothes like the members of The Lost Tribe, and the weapons that we found with you are different.”

“You have seen members of The Lost Tribe?” asked Tarzan.

“Many times,’ replied Lukedi. “Once a year they come out of the bowels of the Wiramwazi and trade with us. They bring dried fish, snails, and iron and take in exchange salt, goats, and cows.”

“If they come and trade with you peacefully, why do you make me a prisoner if you think I am one of them?” demanded Tarzan.

“Since the beginning we have been at war with the members of The Lost Tribe,” replied Lukedi. “It is true that once a year we trade with them, but they are always our enemies.”

“Why is that?” demanded the ape-man.

“Because at other times we cannot tell when they will come with many warriors and capture men, women, and children whom they take away with them into the Wiramwazi. None ever returns, We do not know what becomes of them. Perhaps they are eaten.”

“What will your chief, Nyuto, do with me?” asked Tarzan.

“I do not know,” said Lukedi. “They are discussing the question now. They all wish to put you to death, but there are some who believe that this would arouse the anger Of the ghosts of all the dead Bagegos.”

“Why should the ghosts of your dead wish to protect me?” demanded Tarzan.

“There are many who think that you members of The Lost Tribe are the ghost of our dead,” replied Lukedi.

“What do you think, Lukedi?” asked the ape-man.

“When I look at you I think that you are a man of flesh and blood the same as I, and so I think that perhaps you are telling me the truth when you say that you are not a member of The Lost Tribe, because I am sure that they are all ghosts.”

“But when they come to trade with you and when they come to fight with you, can you not tell whether they are flesh and blood or not?”

“They are very powerful,” said Lukedi. “They might come in the form of men in the flesh or they might come as snakes or lions. That is why we are not sure.”

”And what do you think the council will decide to do with me?” asked Tarzan.

“I think that there is no doubt but that they will burn you alive, for thus both you and your spirit will be destroyed so that it cannot come back to haunt and annoy us.”

“Have you seen or heard of another white man recently?” asked Tarzan.

“No,” replied the youth. “Many years ago, before I can remember, two white men came who said that they were not members of The Lost Tribe, but we did not believe them and they were killed. I must go now. I shall bring you more milk tomorrow.”

After Lukedi had left, Tarzan commenced examining the chain, padlock, and the center pole of the hut in an effort to discover some means of escape. The hut was cylindrical and surmounted by a conical roof of grass. The side wall were of stakes set upright a few inches in the ground and fastened together at their tops and bottoms by creepers. The center pole was much heavier and was secured in position by rafters radiating from it to the top of the wall. The interior of the hut was plastered with mud, which had been thrown on with force and then smoothed with the palm of the hand. It was a common type with which Tarzan was familiar. He knew that there was a possibility that he might be able to raise the center pole and withdraw the chain from beneath it.

It would, of course, be difficult to accomplish this without attracting the attention of the guards, and there was a possibility that the center pole might be set sufficiently far in the ground to render it impossible for him to raise it. If he were given time he could excavate around the base of it, but inasmuch as one or the other of the sentries was continually poking his head into the hut to see that all was well, Tarzan saw little likelihood of his being able to free himself without being discovered.

As darkness settled upon the village Tarzan stretched himself upon the hard dirt floor of the hut and sought to sleep. For some time the noises of the village kept him awake, but at last he slept. How long thereafter it was that he was awakened he did not know. From childhood he had shared with the beasts, among whom he had been raised, the ability to awaken quickly and in full command of all his faculties. He did so now, immediately conscious that the noise that had aroused him came from an animal upon the roof of the hut. Whatever it was, it was working quietly, but to what end the ape-man could not imagine.

The acrid fumes of the village cook fires so filled the air that Tarzan was unable to catch the scent of the creature upon the roof. He carefully reviewed all the possible purposes for which an animal might be upon the thatched, dry-grass roof of the Bagego hut and through a process of elimination he could reach but one conclusion. That was that the thing upon the outside wished to come in and either it did not have brains enough to know that there was a doorway, or else it was too cunning to risk detection by attempting to pass the sentries.

But why should any animal wish to enter the hut? Tarzan lay upon his back, gazing up through the darkness in the direction of the roof above him as he tried to find an answer to his question. Presently, directly above his head, he saw a little ray of moonlight. Whatever it was upon the roof had made an opening that grew larger and larger as the creature quietly tore away the thatching. The aperture was being made close to the wall where the radiating rafters were farthest apart, but whether this was through intent or accident Tarzan could not guess. As the hole grew larger and he caught occasional glimpses of the thing silhouetted against the moonlit sky, a broad smile illuminated the face of the ape-man. Now he saw strong little fingers working at the twigs that were fastened laterally across the rafters to support the thatch and presently, after several of these had been removed, the opening was entirely closed by a furry little body that wriggled through and dropped to the floor close beside the prisoner.

“How did you find me, Nkima?” whispered Tarzan.

“Nkima followed,” replied the little monkey. “All day he has been sitting in a high tree above the village watching this place and waiting for darkness. Why do you stay here, Tarzan of the Apes? Why do you not come away with little Nkima?”

“I am fastened here with a chain,” said Tarzan. “I cannot come away.”

“Nkima will go and bring Muviro and his warriors,” said Nkima.

Of course he did not use these words at all, but what he said in the language of the apes conveyed the same meaning to Tarzan. Black apes carrying sharp, long sticks was the expression that he used to describe the Waziri warriors, and the name for Muviro was one of his own coining, but he and Tarzan understood one another.

“No,” said Tarzan. “If I am going to need Muviro, he could not get here in time now to be of any help to me. Go back into the forest, Nkima, and wait for me. Perhaps I shall join you very soon.”

Nkima scolded, for he did not want to go away. He was afraid alone in this strange forest; in fact, Nkima’s life had been one long complex of terror, relieved only by those occasions when he could snuggle in the lap of his master, safe within the solid walls of Tarzan’s bungalow. One of the sentries heard the voices within the hut and crawled part way in.

“There,” said Tarzan to Nkima, “you see what you have done. Now you had better do as Tarzan tells you and get out of here and into the forest before they catch you and eat you.”

“Who are you talking to?” demanded the sentry. He heard a scampering in the darkness and at the same instant he caught sight of the hole in the roof and almost simultaneously he saw something dark go through it and disappear. “What was that?” he demanded, nervously.

“That,” said Tarzan, “was the ghost of your grandfather. He came to tell me that you and your wives and all your children would take sick and die if anything happens to me. He also brought the same message for Nyuto.”

The sentry trembled. “Call him back,” he begged, “and tell him that I had nothing to do with it. It is not I, but Nyuto, the chief, who is going to kill you.”

“I cannot call him back,” said Tarzan, “and so you had better tell Nyuto not to kill me.”

“I cannot see Nyuto until morning”, wailed the sentry. “Perhaps then it will be too late.”

“No,” said Tarzan. “The ghost of your grandfather will not do anything until tomorrow.”

Terrified, the sentry returned to his post where Tarzan heard him fearfully and excitedly discussing the matter with his companion until the ape-man finally dropped off to sleep again.

It was late the following morning before anyone entered the hut in which Tarzan was confined. Then came Lukedi with another gourd of milk. He was very much excited.

“Is what Ogonyo says true?” he demanded.

“Who is Ogonyo?” asked Tarzan.

“He was one of the warriors who stood guard here last night, and he has told Nyuto and all the village that he heard the ghost of his grandfather talking with you and that the ghost said that he would kill everyone in the village if you were harmed, now everyone is afraid.”

“And Nyuto?” asked Tarzan.

“Nyuto is not afraid of anything,” said Lukedi.

“Not even of ghosts of grandfather?” asked Tarzan.

“No. He alone of all the Bagegos is not afraid of the men of The Lost Tribe, and now he is very angry at you because you have frightened his people and this evening you are to be burned. Look!” And Lukedi pointed to the low doorway of the hut. “From here you can see them placing the stakes to which you are to be bound, and the boys are in the forest gathering fagots.”

Tarzan pointed the hole in the roof. “There,” he said, “is the hole made by the ghost of Ogonyo’s grandfather. Fetch Nyuto and let him see. Then, perhaps, he will believe.”

“It will make no difference.” said Lukedi. “If he saw a thousand ghost with his on eyes, he would not be afraid. He is very brave, but he is also very stubborn and a fool. Now we shall all die.”

“Unquestionably,” said Tarzan.

“Can you not save me?” asked Lukedi.

“If you will help me to escape, I promise you that the ghosts shall not harm you.”

“Oh, if I could but do it,” said Lukedi, as he passed the gourd of milk to the ape-man.

“You bring me nothing but milk,” said Tarzan. “Why is that?”

“In this village we belong to the Buliso clan and, therefore, We may not drink the milk nor eat the flesh of Timba, the black cow, so when we have guests or prisoners we save this food for them.”

Tarzan was glad that the totem of the Buliso clan was a cow instead of a grasshopper, or rainwater from the roofs of houses or one of the hundreds of other objects that are venerated by different clans, for while Tarzan’s early training had not placed grasshoppers beyond the pale as food for men, he much preferred the milk of Timba.

“I wish that Nyuto would see me and talk with me,” said Tarzan of the Apes. “Then he would know that it would be better to have me for a friend than for an enemy. Many men have tried to kill me, many chiefs greater than Nyuto. This is not the first hut in which I have lain a prisoner, nor is it the first time that men have prepared fires to receive me, yet I still live, Lukedi, and many of them are dead. Go, therefore, to Nyuto and advise him to treat me as a friend, for I am not from The Lost Tribe of the Wiramwazi.”

“I believe you,” said Lukedi, “and I shall go and beg Nyuto to hear me, but I am afraid that he will not.”

As the youth reached the door-way of the hut, there suddenly arose a great commotion in the village. Tarzan heard men issuing orders. He heard children crying and the pounding of many naked feet upon the hard ground. Then the war-drums boomed and he heard clashing of weapons upon shields and loud shouting. He saw the guards before the doorway spring to their feet and run to join the other warriors and then Lukedi, at the doorway, shrank back with a cry of terror.

“They come! They come!” he cried, and ran to the far side of the hut where he crouched in terror.

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