And out in the jungle, far away, Korak, covered with wounds, stiff wit_lotted blood, burning with rage and sorrow, swung back upon the trail of th_reat baboons. He had not found them where he had last seen them, nor in an_f their usual haunts; but he sought them along the well-marked spoor they ha_eft behind them, and at last he overtook them. When first he came upon the_hey were moving slowly but steadily southward in one of those periodi_igrations the reasons for which the baboon himself is best able to explain.
At sight of the white warrior who came upon them from down wind the her_alted in response to the warning cry of the sentinel that had discovered him.
There was much growling and muttering; much stiff-legged circling on the par_f the bulls. The mothers, in nervous, high pitched tones, called their youn_o their sides, and with them moved to safety behind their lords and masters.
Korak called aloud to the king, who, at the familiar voice, advanced slowly, warily, and still stiff-legged. He must have the confirmatory evidence of hi_ose before venturing to rely too implicitly upon the testimony of his ear_nd eyes. Korak stood perfectly still. To have advanced then might hav_recipitated an immediate attack, or, as easily, a panic of flight. Wil_easts are creatures of nerves. It is a relatively simple thing to throw the_nto a species of hysteria which may induce either a mania for murder, o_ymptoms of apparent abject cowardice—it is a question, however, if a wil_nimal ever is actually a coward.
The king baboon approached Korak. He walked around him in an ever decreasin_ircle—growling, grunting, sniffing. Korak spoke to him.
"I am Korak," he said. "I opened the cage that held you. I saved you from th_armangani. I am Korak, The Killer. I am your friend."
"Huh," grunted the king. "Yes, you are Korak. My ears told me that you wer_orak. My eyes told you that you were Korak. Now my nose tells me that you ar_orak. My nose is never wrong. I am your friend. Come, we shall hun_ogether."
"Korak cannot hunt now," replied the ape-man. "The Gomangani have stole_eriem. They have tied her in their village. They will not let her go. Korak, alone, was unable to set her free. Korak set you free. Now will you bring you_eople and set Korak's Meriem free?"
"The Gomangani have many sharp sticks which they throw. They pierce the bodie_f my people. They kill us. The gomangani are bad people. They will kill u_ll if we enter their village."
"The Tarmangani have sticks that make a loud noise and kill at a grea_istance," replied Korak. "They had these when Korak set you free from thei_rap. If Korak had run away from them you would now be a prisoner among th_armangani."
The baboon scratched his head. In a rough circle about him and the ape-ma_quatted the bulls of his herd. They blinked their eyes, shouldered on_nother about for more advantageous positions, scratched in the rottin_egetation upon the chance of unearthing a toothsome worm, or sat listlessl_yeing their king and the strange Mangani, who called himself thus but wh_ore closely resembled the hated Tarmangani. The king looked at some of th_lder of his subjects, as though inviting suggestion.
"We are too few," grunted one.
"There are the baboons of the hill country," suggested another. "They are a_any as the leaves of the forest. They, too, hate the Gomangani. They love t_ight. They are very savage. Let us ask them to accompany us. Then can we kil_ll the Gomangani in the jungle." He rose and growled horribly, bristling hi_tiff hair.
"That is the way to talk," cried The Killer, "but we do not need the baboon_f the hill country. We are enough. It will take a long time to fetch them.
Meriem may be dead and eaten before we could free her. Let us set out at onc_or the village of the Gomangani. If we travel very fast it will not take lon_o reach it. Then, all at the same time, we can charge into the village, growling and barking. The Gomangani will be very frightened and will run away.
While they are gone we can seize Meriem and carry her off. We do not have t_ill or be killed— all that Korak wishes is his Meriem."
"We are too few," croaked the old ape again.
"Yes, we are too few," echoed others.
Korak could not persuade them. They would help him, gladly; but they must d_t in their own way and that meant enlisting the services of their kinsmen an_llies of the hill country. So Korak was forced to give in. All he could d_or the present was to urge them to haste, and at his suggestion the kin_aboon with a dozen of his mightiest bulls agreed to go to the hill countr_ith Korak, leaving the balance of the herd behind.
Once enlisted in the adventure the baboons became quite enthusiastic about it.
The delegation set off immediately. They traveled swiftly; but the ape-ma_ound no difficulty in keeping up with them. They made a tremendous racket a_hey passed through the trees in an endeavor to suggest to enemies in thei_ront that a great herd was approaching, for when the baboons travel in larg_umbers there is no jungle creature who cares to molest them. When the natur_f the country required much travel upon the level, and the distance betwee_rees was great, they moved silently, knowing that the lion and the leopar_ould not be fooled by noise when they could see plainly for themselves tha_nly a handful of baboons were on the trail.
For two days the party raced through the savage country, passing out of th_ense jungle into an open plain, and across this to timbered mountain slopes.
Here Korak never before had been. It was a new country to him and the chang_rom the monotony of the circumscribed view in the jungle was pleasing. But h_ad little desire to enjoy the beauties of nature at this time. Meriem, hi_eriem was in danger. Until she was freed and returned to him he had littl_hought for aught else.
Once in the forest that clothed the mountain slopes the baboons advanced mor_lowly. Constantly they gave tongue to a plaintive note of calling. Then woul_ollow silence while they listened. At last, faintly from the distanc_traight ahead came an answer.
The baboons continued to travel in the direction of the voices that floate_hrough the forest to them in the intervals of their own silence. Thus, calling and listening, they came closer to their kinsmen, who, it was eviden_o Korak, were coming to meet them in great numbers; but when, at last, th_aboons of the hill country came in view the ape-man was staggered at th_eality that broke upon his vision.
What appeared a solid wall of huge baboons rose from the ground through th_ranches of the trees to the loftiest terrace to which they dared entrus_heir weight. Slowly they were approaching, voicing their weird, plaintiv_all, and behind them, as far as Korak's eyes could pierce the verdure, ros_olid walls of their fellows treading close upon their heels. There wer_housands of them. The ape-man could not but think of the fate of his littl_arty should some untoward incident arouse even momentarily the rage of fea_f a single one of all these thousands.
But nothing such befell. The two kings approached one another, as was thei_ustom, with much sniffing and bristling. They satisfied themselves of eac_ther's identity. Then each scratched the other's back. After a moment the_poke together. Korak's friend explained the nature of their visit, and fo_he first time Korak showed himself. He had been hiding behind a bush. Th_xcitement among the hill baboons was intense at sight of him. For a momen_orak feared that he should be torn to pieces; but his fear was for Meriem.
Should he die there would be none to succor her.
The two kings, however, managed to quiet the multitude, and Korak wa_ermitted to approach. Slowly the hill baboons came closer to him. The_niffed at him from every angle. When he spoke to them in their own tongu_hey were filled with wonder and delight. They talked to him and listene_hile he spoke. He told them of Meriem, and of their life in the jungle wher_hey were the friends of all the ape folk from little Manu to Mangani, th_reat ape.
"The Gomangani, who are keeping Meriem from me, are no friends of yours," h_aid. "They kill you. The baboons of the low country are too few to go agains_hem. They tell me that you are very many and very brave—that your numbers ar_s the numbers of the grasses upon the plains or the leaves within the forest, and that even Tantor, the elephant, fears you, so brave you are. They told m_hat you would be happy to accompany us to the village of the Gomangani an_unish these bad people while I, Korak, The Killer, carry away my Meriem."
The king ape puffed out his chest and strutted about very stiff-legged indeed.
So also did many of the other great bulls of his nation. They were pleased an_lattered by the words of the strange Tarmangani, who called himself Mangan_nd spoke the language of the hairy progenitors of man.
"Yes," said one, "we of the hill country are mighty fighters. Tantor fears us.
Numa fears us. Sheeta fears us. The Gomangani of the hill country are glad t_ass us by in peace. I, for one, will come with you to the village of th_omangani of the low places. I am the king's first he-child. Alone can I kil_ll the Gomangani of the low country," and he swelled his chest and strutte_roudly back and forth, until the itching back of a comrade commanded hi_ndustrious attention.
"I am Goob," cried another. "My fighting fangs are long. They are sharp. The_re strong. Into the soft flesh of many a Gomangani have they been buried.
Alone I slew the sister of Sheeta. Goob will go to the low country with yo_nd kill so many of the Gomangani that there will be none left to count th_ead," and then he, too, strutted and pranced before the admiring eyes of th_hes and the young.
Korak looked at the king, questioningly.
"Your bulls are very brave," he said; "but braver than any is the king."
Thus addressed, the shaggy bull, still in his prime—else he had been no longe_ing—growled ferociously. The forest echoed to his lusty challenges. Th_ittle baboons clutched fearfully at their mothers' hairy necks. The bulls, electrified, leaped high in air and took up the roaring challenge of thei_ing. The din was terrific.
Korak came close to the king and shouted in his ear, "Come." Then he starte_ff through the forest toward the plain that they must cross on their lon_ourney back to the village of Kovudoo, the Gomangani. The king, still roarin_nd shrieking, wheeled and followed him. In their wake came the handful of lo_ountry baboons and the thousands of the hill clan—savage, wiry, dog-lik_reatures, athirst for blood.
And so they came, upon the second day, to the village of Kovudoo. It was mid- afternoon. The village was sunk in the quiet of the great equatorial sun-heat.
The mighty herd traveled quietly now. Beneath the thousands of padded feet th_orest gave forth no greater sound than might have been produced by th_ncreased soughing of a stronger breeze through the leafy branches of th_rees.
Korak and the two kings were in the lead. Close beside the village they halte_ntil the stragglers had closed up. Now utter silence reigned. Korak, creepin_tealthily, entered the tree that overhung the palisade. He glanced behin_im. The pack were close upon his heels. The time had come. He had warned the_ontinuously during the long march that no harm must befall the white she wh_ay a prisoner within the village. All others were their legitimate prey.
Then, raising his face toward the sky, he gave voice to a single cry. It wa_he signal.
In response three thousand hairy bulls leaped screaming and barking into th_illage of the terrified blacks. Warriors poured from every hut. Mother_athered their babies in their arms and fled toward the gates as they saw th_orrid horde pouring into the village street. Kovudoo marshaled his fightin_en about him and, leaping and yelling to arouse their courage, offered _ristling, spear tipped front to the charging horde.
Korak, as he had led the march, led the charge. The blacks were struck wit_orror and dismay at the sight of this white-skinned youth at the head of _ack of hideous baboons. For an instant they held their ground, hurling thei_pears once at the advancing multitude; but before they could fit arrows t_heir bows they wavered, gave, and turned in terrified rout. Into their ranks, upon their backs, sinking strong fangs into the muscles of their necks spran_he baboons and first among them, most ferocious, most blood-thirsty, mos_errible was Korak, The Killer.
At the village gates, through which the blacks poured in panic, Korak lef_hem to the tender mercies of his allies and turned himself eagerly toward th_ut in which Meriem had been a prisoner. It was empty. One after another th_ilthy interiors revealed the same disheartening fact—Meriem was in none o_hem. That she had not been taken by the blacks in their flight from th_illage Korak knew for he had watched carefully for a glimpse of her among th_ugitives.
To the mind of the ape-man, knowing as he did the proclivities of the savages, there was but a single explanation—Meriem had been killed and eaten. With th_onviction that Meriem was dead there surged through Korak's brain a wave o_lood red rage against those he believed to be her murderer. In the distanc_e could hear the snarling of the baboons mixed with the screams of thei_ictims, and towards this he made his way. When he came upon them the baboon_ad commenced to tire of the sport of battle, and the blacks in a little kno_ere making a new stand, using their knob sticks effectively upon the fe_ulls who still persisted in attacking them.
Among these broke Korak from the branches of a tree above them—swift, relentless, terrible, he hurled himself upon the savage warriors of Kovudoo.
Blind fury possessed him. Too, it protected him by its very ferocity. Like _ounded lioness he was here, there, everywhere, striking terrific blows wit_ard fists and with the precision and timeliness of the trained fighter. Agai_nd again he buried his teeth in the flesh of a foeman. He was upon one an_one again to another before an effective blow could be dealt him. Yet, thoug_reat was the weight of his execution in determining the result of the combat, it was outweighed by the terror which he inspired in the simple, superstitiou_inds of his foeman. To them this white warrior, who consorted with the grea_pes and the fierce baboons, who growled and snarled and snapped like a beast, was not human. He was a demon of the forest—a fearsome god of evil whom the_ad offended, and who had come out of his lair deep in the jungle to punis_hem. And because of this belief there were many who offered but littl_efense, feeling as they did the futility of pitting their puny morta_trength against that of a deity.
Those who could fled, until at last there were no more to pay the penalty fo_ deed, which, while not beyond them, they were, nevertheless, not guilty of.
Panting and bloody, Korak paused for want of further victims. The baboon_athered about him, sated themselves with blood and battle. They lolled upo_he ground, fagged.
In the distance Kovudoo was gathering his scattered tribesmen, and takin_ccount of injuries and losses. His people were panic stricken. Nothing coul_revail upon them to remain longer in this country. They would not even retur_o the village for their belongings. Instead they insisted upon continuin_heir flight until they had put many miles between themselves and the stampin_round of the demon who had so bitterly attacked them. And thus it befell tha_orak drove from their homes the only people who might have aided him in _earch for Meriem, and cut off the only connecting link between him and he_rom whomsoever might come in search of him from the douar of the kindly Bwan_ho had befriended his little jungle sweetheart.
It was a sour and savage Korak who bade farewell to his baboon allies upon th_ollowing morning. They wished him to accompany him; but the ape-man had n_eart for the society of any. Jungle life had encouraged taciturnity in him.
His sorrow had deepened this to a sullen moroseness that could not brook eve_he savage companionship of the ill-natured baboons.
Brooding and despondent he took his solitary way into the deepest jungle. H_oved along the ground when he knew that Numa was abroad and hungry. He too_o the same trees that harbored Sheeta, the panther. He courted death in _undred ways and a hundred forms. His mind was ever occupied wit_eminiscences of Meriem and the happy years that they had spent together. H_ealized now to the full what she had meant to him. The sweet face, th_anned, supple, little body, the bright smile that always had welcomed hi_eturn from the hunt haunted him continually.
Inaction soon threatened him with madness. He must be on the go. He must fil_is days with labor and excitement that he might forget—that night might fin_im so exhausted that he should sleep in blessed unconsciousness of his miser_ntil a new day had come.
Had he guessed that by any possibility Meriem might still live he would a_east have had hope. His days could have been devoted to searching for her; but he implicitly believed that she was dead.
For a long year he led his solitary, roaming life. Occasionally he fell i_ith Akut and his tribe, hunting with them for a day or two; or he migh_ravel to the hill country where the baboons had come to accept him as _atter of course; but most of all was he with Tantor, the elephant—the grea_ray battle ship of the jungle—the super-dreadnaught of his savage world.
The peaceful quiet of the monster bulls, the watchful solicitude of the mothe_ows, the awkward playfulness of the calves rested, interested, and amuse_orak. The life of the huge beasts took his mind, temporarily from his ow_rief. He came to love them as he loved not even the great apes, and there wa_ne gigantic tusker in particular of which he was very fond—the lord of th_erd—a savage beast that was wont to charge a stranger upon the slightes_rovocation, or upon no provocation whatsoever. And to Korak this mountain o_estruction was docile and affectionate as a lap dog.
He came when Korak called. He wound his trunk about the ape-man's body an_ifted him to his broad neck in response to a gesture, and there would Kora_ie at full length kicking his toes affectionately into the thick hide an_rushing the flies from about the tender ears of his colossal chum with _eafy branch torn from a nearby tree by Tantor for the purpose.
And all the while Meriem was scarce a hundred miles away.