In the forest of the table-land a mile back from the ocean
old Kerchak the Ape was on a rampage of rage among his people.
The younger and lighter members of his tribe scampered to
the higher branches of the great trees to escape his wrath;
risking their lives upon branches that scarce supported their
weight rather than face old Kerchak in one of his fits of
The other males scattered in all directions, but not before
the infuriated brute had felt the vertebra of one snap between
his great, foaming jaws.
A luckless young female slipped from an insecure hold
upon a high branch and came crashing to the ground almost
at Kerchak's feet.
With a wild scream he was upon her, tearing a great piece
from her side with his mighty teeth, and striking her viciously
upon her head and shoulders with a broken tree limb until
her skull was crushed to a jelly.
And then he spied Kala, who, returning from a search for
food with her young babe, was ignorant of the state of the
mighty male's temper until suddenly the shrill warnings of
her fellows caused her to scamper madly for safety.
But Kerchak was close upon her, so close that he had almost
grasped her ankle had she not made a furious leap far into
space from one tree to another--a perilous chance which
apes seldom if ever take, unless so closely pursued by danger
that there is no alternative.
She made the leap successfully, but as she grasped the limb
of the further tree the sudden jar loosened the hold of the
tiny babe where it clung frantically to her neck, and she saw
the little thing hurled, turning and twisting, to the ground
thirty feet below.
With a low cry of dismay Kala rushed headlong to its side,
thoughtless now of the danger from Kerchak; but when she
gathered the wee, mangled form to her bosom life had left it.
With low moans, she sat cuddling the body to her; nor did
Kerchak attempt to molest her. With the death of the babe his
fit of demoniacal rage passed as suddenly as it had seized him.
Kerchak was a huge king ape, weighing perhaps three hundred
and fifty pounds. His forehead was extremely low and receding,
his eyes bloodshot, small and close set to his coarse, flat
nose; his ears large and thin, but smaller than most of his kind.
His awful temper and his mighty strength made him supreme
among the little tribe into which he had been born some
twenty years before.
Now that he was in his prime, there was no simian in all the
mighty forest through which he roved that dared contest his
right to rule, nor did the other and larger animals molest him.
Old Tantor, the elephant, alone of all the wild savage life,
feared him not--and he alone did Kerchak fear. When Tantor
trumpeted, the great ape scurried with his fellows high
among the trees of the second terrace.
The tribe of anthropoids over which Kerchak ruled with an
iron hand and bared fangs, numbered some six or eight families,
each family consisting of an adult male with his females and
their young, numbering in all some sixty or seventy apes.
Kala was the youngest mate of a male called Tublat,
meaning broken nose, and the child she had seen dashed to
death was her first; for she was but nine or ten years old.
Notwithstanding her youth, she was large and powerful--a
splendid, clean-limbed animal, with a round, high forehead,
which denoted more intelligence than most of her kind
possessed. So, also, she had a great capacity for mother love
and mother sorrow.
But she was still an ape, a huge, fierce, terrible beast of a
species closely allied to the gorilla, yet more intelligent;
which, with the strength of their cousin, made her kind the
most fearsome of those awe-inspiring progenitors of man.
When the tribe saw that Kerchak's rage had ceased they
came slowly down from their arboreal retreats and pursued
again the various occupations which he had interrupted.
The young played and frolicked about among the trees and
bushes. Some of the adults lay prone upon the soft mat of
dead and decaying vegetation which covered the ground,
while others turned over pieces of fallen branches and clods
of earth in search of the small bugs and reptiles which
formed a part of their food.
Others, again, searched the surrounding trees for fruit,
nuts, small birds, and eggs.
They had passed an hour or so thus when Kerchak called
them together, and, with a word of command to them to
follow him, set off toward the sea.
They traveled for the most part upon the ground, where it
was open, following the path of the great elephants whose
comings and goings break the only roads through those
tangled mazes of bush, vine, creeper, and tree. When they
walked it was with a rolling, awkward motion, placing the
knuckles of their closed hands upon the ground and swinging
their ungainly bodies forward.
But when the way was through the lower trees they moved
more swiftly, swinging from branch to branch with the agility
of their smaller cousins, the monkeys. And all the way Kala
carried her little dead baby hugged closely to her breast.
It was shortly after noon when they reached a ridge
overlooking the beach where below them lay the tiny cottage
which was Kerchak's goal.
He had seen many of his kind go to their deaths before the
loud noise made by the little black stick in the hands of the
strange white ape who lived in that wonderful lair, and Kerchak
had made up his brute mind to own that death-dealing
contrivance, and to explore the interior of the mysterious den.
He wanted, very, very much, to feel his teeth sink into the
neck of the queer animal that he had learned to hate and
fear, and because of this, he came often with his tribe to
reconnoiter, waiting for a time when the white ape should be
off his guard.
Of late they had quit attacking, or even showing themselves;
for every time they had done so in the past the little
stick had roared out its terrible message of death to some
member of the tribe.
Today there was no sign of the man about, and from
where they watched they could see that the cabin door was
open. Slowly, cautiously, and noiselessly they crept through
the jungle toward the little cabin.
There were no growls, no fierce screams of rage--the little
black stick had taught them to come quietly lest they awaken it.
On, on they came until Kerchak himself slunk stealthily to the
very door and peered within. Behind him were two males, and
then Kala, closely straining the little dead form to her breast.
Inside the den they saw the strange white ape lying half
across a table, his head buried in his arms; and on the bed
lay a figure covered by a sailcloth, while from a tiny rustic
cradle came the plaintive wailing of a babe.
Noiselessly Kerchak entered, crouching for the charge; and
then John Clayton rose with a sudden start and faced them.
The sight that met his eyes must have frozen him with horror,
for there, within the door, stood three great bull apes,
while behind them crowded many more; how many he never
knew, for his revolvers were hanging on the far wall beside
his rifle, and Kerchak was charging.
When the king ape released the limp form which had been
John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, he turned his attention toward
the little cradle; but Kala was there before him, and
when he would have grasped the child she snatched it herself,
and before he could intercept her she had bolted through the
door and taken refuge in a high tree.
As she took up the little live baby of Alice Clayton she
dropped the dead body of her own into the empty cradle; for
the wail of the living had answered the call of universal
motherhood within her wild breast which the dead could not still.
High up among the branches of a mighty tree she hugged
the shrieking infant to her bosom, and soon the instinct that
was as dominant in this fierce female as it had been in the
breast of his tender and beautiful mother--the instinct of
mother love--reached out to the tiny man-child's half-formed
understanding, and he became quiet.
Then hunger closed the gap between them, and the son of
an English lord and an English lady nursed at the breast of
Kala, the great ape.
In the meantime the beasts within the cabin were warily
examining the contents of this strange lair.
Once satisfied that Clayton was dead, Kerchak turned his
attention to the thing which lay upon the bed, covered by a
piece of sailcloth.
Gingerly he lifted one corner of the shroud, but when he
saw the body of the woman beneath he tore the cloth roughly
from her form and seized the still, white throat in his huge,
A moment he let his fingers sink deep into the cold flesh,
and then, realizing that she was already dead, he turned from
her, to examine the contents of the room; nor did he again
molest the body of either Lady Alice or Sir John.
The rifle hanging upon the wall caught his first attention; it
was for this strange, death-dealing thunder-stick that he had
yearned for months; but now that it was within his grasp he
scarcely had the temerity to seize it.
Cautiously he approached the thing, ready to flee
precipitately should it speak in its deep roaring tones,
as he had heard it speak before, the last words to those
of his kind who, through ignorance or rashness, had attacked
the wonderful white ape that had borne it.
Deep in the beast's intelligence was something which assured
him that the thunder-stick was only dangerous when in the
hands of one who could manipulate it, but yet it was several
minutes ere he could bring himself to touch it.
Instead, he walked back and forth along the floor before it,
turning his head so that never once did his eyes leave the
object of his desire.
Using his long arms as a man uses crutches, and rolling his
huge carcass from side to side with each stride, the great king
ape paced to and fro, uttering deep growls, occasionally
punctuated with the ear-piercing scream, than which there is
no more terrifying noise in all the jungle.
Presently he halted before the rifle. Slowly he raised a
huge hand until it almost touched the shining barrel, only to
withdraw it once more and continue his hurried pacing.
It was as though the great brute by this show of fearlessness,
and through the medium of his wild voice, was endeavoring
to bolster up his courage to the point which would permit
him to take the rifle in his hand.
Again he stopped, and this time succeeded in forcing his
reluctant hand to the cold steel, only to snatch it away almost
immediately and resume his restless beat.
Time after time this strange ceremony was repeated, but on each
occasion with increased confidence, until, finally, the rifle
was torn from its hook and lay in the grasp of the great brute.
Finding that it harmed him not, Kerchak began to examine
it closely. He felt of it from end to end, peered down the
black depths of the muzzle, fingered the sights, the breech,
the stock, and finally the trigger.
During all these operations the apes who had entered sat
huddled near the door watching their chief, while those outside
strained and crowded to catch a glimpse of what transpired within.
Suddenly Kerchak's finger closed upon the trigger. There was
a deafening roar in the little room and the apes at and beyond
the door fell over one another in their wild anxiety to escape.
Kerchak was equally frightened, so frightened, in fact, that he
quite forgot to throw aside the author of that fearful noise,
but bolted for the door with it tightly clutched in one hand.
As he passed through the opening, the front sight of the
rifle caught upon the edge of the inswung door with sufficient
force to close it tightly after the fleeing ape.
When Kerchak came to a halt a short distance from the cabin
and discovered that he still held the rifle, he dropped it
as he might have dropped a red hot iron, nor did he again
attempt to recover it--the noise was too much for his brute
nerves; but he was now quite convinced that the terrible stick
was quite harmless by itself if left alone.
It was an hour before the apes could again bring themselves
to approach the cabin to continue their investigations,
and when they finally did so, they found to their chagrin that
the door was closed and so securely fastened that they could
not force it.
The cleverly constructed latch which Clayton had made for
the door had sprung as Kerchak passed out; nor could the
apes find means of ingress through the heavily barred windows.
After roaming about the vicinity for a short time, they
started back for the deeper forests and the higher land from
whence they had come.
Kala had not once come to earth with her little adopted
babe, but now Kerchak called to her to descend with the rest,
and as there was no note of anger in his voice she dropped
lightly from branch to branch and joined the others on their
Those of the apes who attempted to examine Kala's
strange baby were repulsed with bared fangs and low
menacing growls, accompanied by words of warning from Kala.
When they assured her that they meant the child no harm
she permitted them to come close, but would not allow them
to touch her charge.
It was as though she knew that her baby was frail and delicate
and feared lest the rough hands of her fellows might injure
the little thing.
Another thing she did, and which made traveling an onerous
trial for her. Remembering the death of her own little
one, she clung desperately to the new babe, with one hand,
whenever they were upon the march.
The other young rode upon their mothers' backs; their little
arms tightly clasping the hairy necks before them, while
their legs were locked beneath their mothers' armpits.
Not so with Kala; she held the small form of the little
Lord Greystoke tightly to her breast, where the dainty hands
clutched the long black hair which covered that portion of
her body. She had seen one child fall from her back to a
terrible death, and she would take no further chances with this.
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Room | TARZAN
of the Apes