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TARZAN of the Apes
by Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Chapter 21

The Village of Torture

As the little expedition of sailors toiled through the dense

jungle searching for signs of Jane Porter, the futility of

their venture became more and more apparent, but the grief

of the old man and the hopeless eyes of the young Englishman

prevented the kind hearted D'Arnot from turning back.

He thought that there might be a bare possibility of finding

her body, or the remains of it, for he was positive that she

had been devoured by some beast of prey. He deployed his

men into a skirmish line from the point where Esmeralda had

been found, and in this extended formation they pushed their

way, sweating and panting, through the tangled vines and

creepers. It was slow work. Noon found them but a few

miles inland. They halted for a brief rest then, and after

pushing on for a short distance further one of the men

discovered a well-marked trail.

It was an old elephant track, and D'Arnot after consulting

with Professor Porter and Clayton decided to follow it.

The path wound through the jungle in a northeasterly

direction, and along it the column moved in single file.

Lieutenant D'Arnot was in the lead and moving at a quick

pace, for the trail was comparatively open. Immediately

behind him came Professor Porter, but as he could not keep

pace with the younger man D'Arnot was a hundred yards in

advance when suddenly a half dozen black warriors arose

about him.

D'Arnot gave a warning shout to his column as the blacks

closed on him, but before he could draw his revolver he had

been pinioned and dragged into the jungle.

His cry had alarmed the sailors and a dozen of them

sprang forward past Professor Porter, running up the trail to

their officer's aid.

They did not know the cause of his outcry, only that it was

a warning of danger ahead. They had rushed past the spot

where D'Arnot had been seized when a spear hurled from the

jungle transfixed one of the men, and then a volley of arrows

fell among them.

Raising their rifles they fired into the underbrush in the

direction from which the missiles had come.

By this time the balance of the party had come up, and

volley after volley was fired toward the concealed foe. It was

these shots that Tarzan and Jane Porter had heard.

Lieutenant Charpentier, who had been bringing up the rear

of the column, now came running to the scene, and on hearing

the details of the ambush ordered the men to follow him,

and plunged into the tangled vegetation.

In an instant they were in a hand-to-hand fight with some

fifty black warriors of Mbonga's village. Arrows and bullets

flew thick and fast.

Queer African knives and French gun butts mingled for a

moment in savage and bloody duels, but soon the natives fled

into the jungle, leaving the Frenchmen to count their losses.

Four of the twenty were dead, a dozen others were

wounded, and Lieutenant D'Arnot was missing. Night was

falling rapidly, and their predicament was rendered doubly

worse when they could not even find the elephant trail which

they had been following.

There was but one thing to do, make camp where they

were until daylight. Lieutenant Charpentier ordered a

clearing made and a circular abatis of underbrush constructed

about the camp.

This work was not completed until long after dark, the

men building a huge fire in the center of the clearing to give

them light to work by.

When all was safe as possible against attack of wild beasts

and savage men, Lieutenant Charpentier placed sentries

about the little camp and the tired and hungry men threw

themselves upon the ground to sleep.

The groans of the wounded, mingled with the roaring and

growling of the great beasts which the noise and firelight had

attracted, kept sleep, except in its most fitful form, from the

tired eyes. It was a sad and hungry party that lay through the

long night praying for dawn.

The blacks who had seized D'Arnot had not waited to participate

in the fight which followed, but instead had dragged their

prisoner a little way through the jungle and then struck

the trail further on beyond the scene of the fighting in which

their fellows were engaged.

They hurried him along, the sounds of battle growing fainter

and fainter as they drew away from the contestants until there

suddenly broke upon D'Arnot's vision a good-sized clearing

at one end of which stood a thatched and palisaded village.

It was now dusk, but the watchers at the gate saw the

approaching trio and distinguished one as a prisoner ere they

reached the portals.

A cry went up within the palisade. A great throng of

women and children rushed out to meet the party.

And then began for the French officer the most terrifying

experience which man can encounter upon earth--the reception

of a white prisoner into a village of African cannibals.

To add to the fiendishness of their cruel savagery was the

poignant memory of still crueler barbarities practiced upon

them and theirs by the white officers of that arch hypocrite,

Leopold II of Belgium, because of whose atrocities they had

fled the Congo Free State--a pitiful remnant of what once

had been a mighty tribe.

They fell upon D'Arnot tooth and nail, beating him with

sticks and stones and tearing at him with claw-like hands.

Every vestige of clothing was torn from him, and the merciless

blows fell upon his bare and quivering flesh. But not

once did the Frenchman cry out in pain. He breathed a silent

prayer that he be quickly delivered from his torture.

But the death he prayed for was not to be so easily had.

Soon the warriors beat the women away from their prisoner.

He was to be saved for nobler sport than this, and the first

wave of their passion having subsided they contented themselves

with crying out taunts and insults and spitting upon him.

Presently they reached the center of the village. There

D'Arnot was bound securely to the great post from which no

live man had ever been released.

A number of the women scattered to their several huts to

fetch pots and water, while others built a row of fires on

which portions of the feast were to be boiled while the balance

would be slowly dried in strips for future use, as they

expected the other warriors to return with many prisoners.

The festivities were delayed awaiting the return of the warriors

who had remained to engage in the skirmish with the white men,

so that it was quite late when all were in the village,

and the dance of death commenced to circle around the

doomed officer.

Half fainting from pain and exhaustion, D'Arnot watched from

beneath half-closed lids what seemed but the vagary of delirium,

or some horrid nightmare from which he must soon awake.

The bestial faces, daubed with color--the huge mouths and

flabby hanging lips--the yellow teeth, sharp filed--the rolling,

demon eyes--the shining naked bodies--the cruel spears.

Surely no such creatures really existed upon earth--he must

indeed be dreaming.

The savage, whirling bodies circled nearer. Now a spear

sprang forth and touched his arm. The sharp pain and the

feel of hot, trickling blood assured him of the awful

reality of his hopeless position.

Another spear and then another touched him. He closed

his eyes and held his teeth firm set--he would not cry out.

He was a soldier of France, and he would teach these

beasts how an officer and a gentleman died.

Tarzan of the Apes needed no interpreter to translate the

story of those distant shots. With Jane Porter's kisses still

warm upon his lips he was swinging with incredible rapidity

through the forest trees straight toward the village of Mbonga.

He was not interested in the location of the encounter, for

he judged that that would soon be over. Those who were

killed he could not aid, those who escaped would not need

his assistance.

It was to those who had neither been killed or escaped that

he hastened. And he knew that he would find them by the

great post in the center of Mbonga village.

Many times had Tarzan seen Mbonga's black raiding parties

return from the northward with prisoners, and always

were the same scenes enacted about that grim stake,

beneath the flaring light of many fires.

He knew, too, that they seldom lost much time before

consummating the fiendish purpose of their captures.

He doubted that he would arrive in time to do more

than avenge.

On he sped. Night had fallen and he traveled high along

the upper terrace where the gorgeous tropic moon lighted the

dizzy pathway through the gently undulating branches of the

tree tops.

Presently he caught the reflection of a distant blaze. It lay

to the right of his path. It must be the light from the camp

fire the two men had built before they were attacked--Tarzan

knew nothing of the presence of the sailors.

So sure was Tarzan of his jungle knowledge that he did not

turn from his course, but passed the glare at a distance of a

half mile. It was the camp fire of the Frenchmen.

In a few minutes more Tarzan swung into the trees above

Mbonga's village. Ah, he was not quite too late! Or, was he?

He could not tell. The figure at the stake was very still, yet

the black warriors were but pricking it.

Tarzan knew their customs. The death blow had not been

struck. He could tell almost to a minute how far the dance

had gone.

In another instant Mbonga's knife would sever one of the

victim's ears--that would mark the beginning of the end, for

very shortly after only a writhing mass of mutilated flesh

would remain.

There would still be life in it, but death then would be the

only charity it craved.

The stake stood forty feet from the nearest tree. Tarzan

coiled his rope. Then there rose suddenly above the fiendish

cries of the dancing demons the awful challenge of the ape-man.

The dancers halted as though turned to stone.

The rope sped with singing whir high above the heads of

the blacks. It was quite invisible in the flaring lights

of the camp fires.

D'Arnot opened his eyes. A huge black, standing directly before

him, lunged backward as though felled by an invisible hand.

Struggling and shrieking, his body, rolling from side to

side, moved quickly toward the shadows beneath the trees.

The blacks, their eyes protruding in horror, watched spellbound.

Once beneath the trees, the body rose straight into the air,

and as it disappeared into the foliage above, the terrified

negroes, screaming with fright, broke into a mad race for the

village gate.

D'Arnot was left alone.

He was a brave man, but he had felt the short hairs bristle

upon the nape of his neck when that uncanny cry rose upon

the air.

As the writhing body of the black soared, as though by

unearthly power, into the dense foliage of the forest, D'Arnot

felt an icy shiver run along his spine, as though death had

risen from a dark grave and laid a cold and clammy finger on

his flesh.

As D'Arnot watched the spot where the body had entered

the tree he heard the sounds of movement there.

The branches swayed as though under the weight of a

man's body--there was a crash and the black came sprawling

to earth again,--to lie very quietly where he had fallen.

Immediately after him came a white body, but this one

alighted erect.

D'Arnot saw a clean-limbed young giant emerge from the

shadows into the firelight and come quickly toward him.

What could it mean? Who could it be? Some new creature

of torture and destruction, doubtless.

D'Arnot waited. His eyes never left the face of the advancing

man. Nor did the other's frank, clear eyes waver beneath

D'Arnot's fixed gaze.

D'Arnot was reassured, but still without much hope,

though he felt that that face could not mask a cruel heart.

Without a word Tarzan of the Apes cut the bonds which

held the Frenchman. Weak from suffering and loss of blood,

he would have fallen but for the strong arm that caught him.

He felt himself lifted from the ground. There was a sensation

as of flying, and then he lost consciousness.



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