Slowly Tarzan unfolded the note the sailor had thrust into his hand, and rea_t. At first it made little impression on his sorrow-numbed senses, bu_inally the full purport of the hideous plot of revenge unfolded itself befor_is imagination.
"This will explain to you" [the note read] "the exact nature of my intention_elative to your offspring and to you.
"You were born an ape. You lived naked in the jungles—to your own we hav_eturned you; but your son shall rise a step above his sire. It is th_mmutable law of evolution.
"The father was a beast, but the son shall be a man—he shall take the nex_scending step in the scale of progress. He shall be no naked beast of th_ungle, but shall wear a loincloth and copper anklets, and, perchance, a rin_n his nose, for he is to be reared by men—a tribe of savage cannibals.
"I might have killed you, but that would have curtailed the full measure o_he punishment you have earned at my hands.
"Dead, you could not have suffered in the knowledge of your son's plight; bu_iving and in a place from which you may not escape to seek or succour you_hild, you shall suffer worse than death for all the years of your life i_ontemplation of the horrors of your son's existence.
"This, then, is to be a part of your punishment for having dared to pi_ourself against
"P.S.—The balance of your punishment has to do with what shall presentl_efall your wife—that I shall leave to your imagination."
As he finished reading, a slight sound behind him brought him back with _tart to the world of present realities.
Instantly his senses awoke, and he was again Tarzan of the Apes.
As he wheeled about, it was a beast at bay, vibrant with the instinct of self- preservation, that faced a huge bull-ape that was already charging down upo_im.
The two years that had elapsed since Tarzan had come out of the savage fores_ith his rescued mate had witnessed slight diminution of the mighty power_hat had made him the invincible lord of the jungle. His great estates i_ziri had claimed much of his time and attention, and there he had found ampl_ield for the practical use and retention of his almost superhuman powers; bu_aked and unarmed to do battle with the shaggy, bull-necked beast that no_onfronted him was a test that the ape-man would scarce have welcomed at an_eriod of his wild existence.
But there was no alternative other than to meet the rage-maddened creatur_ith the weapons with which nature had endowed him.
Over the bull's shoulder Tarzan could see now the heads and shoulders o_erhaps a dozen more of these mighty fore-runners of primitive man.
He knew, however, that there was little chance that they would attack him, since it is not within the reasoning powers of the anthropoid to be able t_eigh or appreciate the value of concentrated action against a_nemy—otherwise they would long since have become the dominant creatures o_heir haunts, so tremendous a power of destruction lies in their mighty thew_nd savage fangs.
With a low snarl the beast now hurled himself at Tarzan, but the ape-man ha_ound, among other things in the haunts of civilized man, certain methods o_cientific warfare that are unknown to the jungle folk.
Whereas, a few years since, he would have met the brute rush with brute force, he now sidestepped his antagonist's headlong charge, and as the brute hurtle_ast him swung a mighty right to the pit of the ape's stomach.
With a howl of mingled rage and anguish the great anthropoid bent double an_ank to the ground, though almost instantly he was again struggling to hi_eet.
Before he could regain them, however, his white-skinned foe had wheeled an_ounced upon him, and in the act there dropped from the shoulders of th_nglish lord the last shred of his superficial mantle of civilization.
Once again he was the jungle beast revelling in bloody conflict with his kind.
Once again he was Tarzan, son of Kala the she-ape.
His strong, white teeth sank into the hairy throat of his enemy as he sough_he pulsing jugular.
Powerful fingers held the mighty fangs from his own flesh, or clenched an_eat with the power of a steam-hammer upon the snarling, foam-flecked face o_is adversary.
In a circle about them the balance of the tribe of apes stood watching an_njoying the struggle. They muttered low gutturals of approval as bits o_hite hide or hairy bloodstained skin were torn from one contestant or th_ther. But they were silent in amazement and expectation when they saw th_ighty white ape wriggle upon the back of their king, and, with steel muscle_ensed beneath the armpits of his antagonist, bear down mightily with his ope_alms upon the back of the thick bullneck, so that the king ape could bu_hriek in agony and flounder helplessly about upon the thick mat of jungl_rass.
As Tarzan had overcome the huge Terkoz that time years before when he had bee_bout to set out upon his quest for human beings of his own kind and colour, so now he overcame this other great ape with the same wrestling hold upo_hich he had stumbled by accident during that other combat. The littl_udience of fierce anthropoids heard the creaking of their king's nec_ingling with his agonized shrieks and hideous roaring.
Then there came a sudden crack, like the breaking of a stout limb before th_ury of the wind. The bullet-head crumpled forward upon its flaccid nec_gainst the great hairy chest—the roaring and the shrieking ceased.
The little pig-eyes of the onlookers wandered from the still form of thei_eader to that of the white ape that was rising to its feet beside th_anquished, then back to their king as though in wonder that he did not aris_nd slay this presumptuous stranger.
They saw the new-comer place a foot upon the neck of the quiet figure at hi_eet and, throwing back his head, give vent to the wild, uncanny challenge o_he bull-ape that has made a kill. Then they knew that their king was dead.
Across the jungle rolled the horrid notes of the victory cry. The littl_onkeys in the tree-tops ceased their chattering. The harsh-voiced, brilliant- plumed birds were still. From afar came the answering wail of a leopard an_he deep roar of a lion.
It was the old Tarzan who turned questioning eyes upon the little knot of ape_efore him. It was the old Tarzan who shook his head as though to toss back _eavy mane that had fallen before his face—an old habit dating from the day_hat his great shock of thick, black hair had fallen about his shoulders, an_ften tumbled before his eyes when it had meant life or death to him to hav_is vision unobstructed.
The ape-man knew that he might expect an immediate attack on the part of tha_articular surviving bull-ape who felt himself best fitted to contend for th_ingship of the tribe. Among his own apes he knew that it was not unusual fo_n entire stranger to enter a community and, after having dispatched the king, assume the leadership of the tribe himself, together with the fallen monarch'_ates.
On the other hand, if he made no attempt to follow them, they might mov_lowly away from him, later to fight among themselves for the supremacy. Tha_e could be king of them, if he so chose, he was confident; but he was no_ure he cared to assume the sometimes irksome duties of that position, for h_ould see no particular advantage to be gained thereby.
One of the younger apes, a huge, splendidly muscled brute, was edgin_hreateningly closer to the ape-man. Through his bared fighting fangs ther_ssued a low, sullen growl.
Tarzan watched his every move, standing rigid as a statue. To have fallen bac_ step would have been to precipitate an immediate charge; to have rushe_orward to meet the other might have had the same result, or it might have pu_he bellicose one to flight—it all depended upon the young bull's stock o_ourage.
To stand perfectly still, waiting, was the middle course. In this event th_ull would, according to custom, approach quite close to the object of hi_ttention, growling hideously and baring slavering fangs. Slowly he woul_ircle about the other, as though with a chip upon his shoulder; and this h_id, even as Tarzan had foreseen.
It might be a bluff royal, or, on the other hand, so unstable is the mind o_n ape, a passing impulse might hurl the hairy mass, tearing and rending, upo_he man without an instant's warning.
As the brute circled him Tarzan turned slowly, keeping his eyes ever upon th_yes of his antagonist. He had appraised the young bull as one who had neve_uite felt equal to the task of overthrowing his former king, but who one da_ould have done so. Tarzan saw that the beast was of wondrous proportions, standing over seven feet upon his short, bowed legs.
His great, hairy arms reached almost to the ground even when he stood erect, and his fighting fangs, now quite close to Tarzan's face, were exceptionall_ong and sharp. Like the others of his tribe, he differed in several mino_ssentials from the apes of Tarzan's boyhood.
At first the ape-man had experienced a thrill of hope at sight of the shagg_odies of the anthropoids—a hope that by some strange freak of fate he ha_een again returned to his own tribe; but a closer inspection had convince_im that these were another species.
As the threatening bull continued his stiff and jerky circling of the ape-man, much after the manner that you have noted among dogs when a strange canin_omes among them, it occurred to Tarzan to discover if the language of his ow_ribe was identical with that of this other family, and so he addressed th_rute in the language of the tribe of Kerchak.
"Who are you," he asked, "who threatens Tarzan of the Apes?"
The hairy brute looked his surprise.
"I am Akut," replied the other in the same simple, primal tongue which is s_ow in the scale of spoken languages that, as Tarzan had surmised, it wa_dentical with that of the tribe in which the first twenty years of his lif_ad been spent.
"I am Akut," said the ape. "Molak is dead. I am king. Go away or I shall kil_ou!"
"You saw how easily I killed Molak," replied Tarzan. "So I could kill you if _ared to be king. But Tarzan of the Apes would not be king of the tribe o_kut. All he wishes is to live in peace in this country. Let us be friends.
Tarzan of the Apes can help you, and you can help Tarzan of the Apes."
"You cannot kill Akut," replied the other. "None is so great as Akut. Had yo_ot killed Molak, Akut would have done so, for Akut was ready to be king."
For answer the ape-man hurled himself upon the great brute who during th_onversation had slightly relaxed his vigilance.
In the twinkling of an eye the man had seized the wrist of the great ape, an_efore the other could grapple with him had whirled him about and leaped upo_is broad back.
Down they went together, but so well had Tarzan's plan worked out that befor_ver they touched the ground he had gained the same hold upon Akut that ha_roken Molak's neck.
Slowly he brought the pressure to bear, and then as in days gone by he ha_iven Kerchak the chance to surrender and live, so now he gave to Akut—in who_e saw a possible ally of great strength and resource—the option of living i_mity with him or dying as he had just seen his savage and heretofor_nvincible king die.
"Ka-Goda?" whispered Tarzan to the ape beneath him.
It was the same question that he had whispered to Kerchak, and in the languag_f the apes it means, broadly, "Do you surrender?"
Akut thought of the creaking sound he had heard just before Molak's thick nec_ad snapped, and he shuddered.
He hated to give up the kingship, though, so again he struggled to fre_imself; but a sudden torturing pressure upon his vertebra brought an agonized
"ka-goda!" from his lips.
Tarzan relaxed his grip a trifle.
"You may still be king, Akut," he said. "Tarzan told you that he did not wis_o be king. If any question your right, Tarzan of the Apes will help you i_our battles."
The ape-man rose, and Akut came slowly to his feet. Shaking his bullet hea_nd growling angrily, he waddled toward his tribe, looking first at one an_hen at another of the larger bulls who might be expected to challenge hi_eadership.
But none did so; instead, they drew away as he approached, and presently th_hole pack moved off into the jungle, and Tarzan was left alone once more upo_he beach.
The ape-man was sore from the wounds that Molak had inflicted upon him, but h_as inured to physical suffering and endured it with the calm and fortitude o_he wild beasts that had taught him to lead the jungle life after the manne_f all those that are born to it.
His first need, he realized, was for weapons of offence and defence, for hi_ncounter with the apes, and the distant notes of the savage voices of Num_he lion, and Sheeta, the panther, warned him that his was to be no life o_ndolent ease and security.
It was but a return to the old existence of constant bloodshed and danger—t_he hunting and the being hunted. Grim beasts would stalk him, as they ha_talked him in the past, and never would there be a moment, by savage day o_y cruel night, that he might not have instant need of such crude weapons a_e could fashion from the materials at hand.
Upon the shore he found an out-cropping of brittle, igneous rock. By dint o_uch labour he managed to chip off a narrow sliver some twelve inches long b_ quarter of an inch thick. One edge was quite thin for a few inches near th_ip. It was the rudiment of a knife.
With it he went into the jungle, searching until he found a fallen tree of _ertain species of hardwood with which he was familiar. From this he cut _mall straight branch, which he pointed at one end.
Then he scooped a small, round hole in the surface of the prostrate trunk.
Into this he crumbled a few bits of dry bark, minutely shredded, after whic_e inserted the tip of his pointed stick, and, sitting astride the bole of th_ree, spun the slender rod rapidly between his palms.
After a time a thin smoke rose from the little mass of tinder, and a momen_ater the whole broke into flame. Heaping some larger twigs and sticks upo_he tiny fire, Tarzan soon had quite a respectable blaze roaring in th_nlarging cavity of the dead tree.
Into this he thrust the blade of his stone knife, and as it became superheate_e would withdraw it, touching a spot near the thin edge with a drop o_oisture. Beneath the wetted area a little flake of the glassy material woul_rack and scale away.
Thus, very slowly, the ape-man commenced the tedious operation of putting _hin edge upon his primitive hunting-knife.
He did not attempt to accomplish the feat all in one sitting. At first he wa_ontent to achieve a cutting edge of a couple of inches, with which he cut _ong, pliable bow, a handle for his knife, a stout cudgel, and a goodly suppl_f arrows.
These he cached in a tall tree beside a little stream, and here also h_onstructed a platform with a roof of palm-leaves above it.
When all these things had been finished it was growing dusk, and Tarzan felt _trong desire to eat.
He had noted during the brief incursion he had made into the forest that _hort distance up-stream from his tree there was a much-used watering place, where, from the trampled mud of either bank, it was evident beasts of al_orts and in great numbers came to drink. To this spot the hungry ape-man mad_is silent way.
Through the upper terrace of the tree-tops he swung with the grace and ease o_ monkey. But for the heavy burden upon his heart he would have been happy i_his return to the old free life of his boyhood.
Yet even with that burden he fell into the little habits and manners of hi_arly life that were in reality more a part of him than the thin veneer o_ivilization that the past three years of his association with the white me_f the outer world had spread lightly over him—a veneer that only hid th_rudities of the beast that Tarzan of the Apes had been.
Could his fellow-peers of the House of Lords have seen him then they woul_ave held up their noble hands in holy horror.
Silently he crouched in the lower branches of a great forest giant tha_verhung the trail, his keen eyes and sensitive ears strained into the distan_ungle, from which he knew his dinner would presently emerge.
Nor had he long to wait.
Scarce had he settled himself to a comfortable position, his lithe, muscula_egs drawn well up beneath him as the panther draws his hindquarters i_reparation for the spring, than Bara, the deer, came daintily down to drink.
But more than Bara was coming. Behind the graceful buck came another which th_eer could neither see nor scent, but whose movements were apparent to Tarza_f the Apes because of the elevated position of the ape-man's ambush.
He knew not yet exactly the nature of the thing that moved so stealthil_hrough the jungle a few hundred yards behind the deer; but he was convince_hat it was some great beast of prey stalking Bara for the selfsame purpose a_hat which prompted him to await the fleet animal. Numa, perhaps, or Sheeta, the panther.
In any event, Tarzan could see his repast slipping from his grasp unless Bar_oved more rapidly toward the ford than at present.
Even as these thoughts passed through his mind some noise of the stalker i_is rear must have come to the buck, for with a sudden start he paused for a_nstant, trembling, in his tracks, and then with a swift bound dashed straigh_or the river and Tarzan. It was his intention to flee through the shallo_ord and escape upon the opposite side of the river.
Not a hundred yards behind him came Numa.
Tarzan could see him quite plainly now. Below the ape-man Bara was about t_ass. Could he do it? But even as he asked himself the question the hungry ma_aunched himself from his perch full upon the back of the startled buck.
In another instant Numa would be upon them both, so if the ape-man were t_ine that night, or ever again, he must act quickly.
Scarcely had he touched the sleek hide of the deer with a momentum that sen_he animal to its knees than he had grasped a horn in either hand, and with _ingle quick wrench twisted the animal's neck completely round, until he fel_he vertebrae snap beneath his grip.
The lion was roaring in rage close behind him as he swung the deer across hi_houlder, and, grasping a foreleg between his strong teeth, leaped for th_earest of the lower branches that swung above his head.
With both hands he grasped the limb, and, at the instant that Numa sprang, drew himself and his prey out of reach of the animal's cruel talons.
There was a thud below him as the baffled cat fell back to earth, and the_arzan of the Apes, drawing his dinner farther up to the safety of a highe_imb, looked down with grinning face into the gleaming yellow eyes of th_ther wild beast that glared up at him from beneath, and with taunting insult_launted the tender carcass of his kill in the face of him whom he had cheate_f it.
With his crude stone knife he cut a juicy steak from the hindquarters, an_hile the great lion paced, growling, back and forth below him, Lord Greystok_illed his savage belly, nor ever in the choicest of his exclusive Londo_lubs had a meal tasted more palatable.
The warm blood of his kill smeared his hands and face and filled his nostril_ith the scent that the savage carnivora love best.
And when he had finished he left the balance of the carcass in a high fork o_he tree where he had dined, and with Numa trailing below him, still keen fo_evenge, he made his way back to his tree-top shelter, where he slept unti_he sun was high the following morning.