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Chapter 17

  • Meriem returned slowly toward the tree in which she had left her skirt, he_hoes and her stockings. She was singing blithely; but her song came to _udden stop when she came within sight of the tree, for there, disportin_hemselves with glee and pulling and hauling upon her belongings, were _umber of baboons. When they saw her they showed no signs of terror. Instea_hey bared their fangs and growled at her. What was there to fear in a singl_he-Tarmangani? Nothing, absolutely nothing. In the open plain beyond th_orest the hunters were returning from the day's sport. They were widel_eparated, hoping to raise a wandering lion on the homeward journey across th_lain. The Hon. Morison Baynes rode closest to the forest. As his eye_andered back and forth across the undulating, shrub sprinkled ground the_ell upon the form of a creature close beside the thick jungle where i_erminated abruptly at the plain's edge.
  • He reined his mount in the direction of his discovery. It was yet too far awa_or his untrained eyes to recognize it; but as he came closer he saw that i_as a horse, and was about to resume the original direction of his way when h_hought that he discerned a saddle upon the beast's back. He rode a littl_loser. Yes, the animal was saddled. The Hon. Morison approached yet nearer, and as he did so his eyes expressed a pleasurable emotion of anticipation, fo_hey had now recognized the pony as the special favorite of Meriem.
  • He galloped to the animal's side. Meriem must be within the wood. The ma_huddered a little at the thought of an unprotected girl alone in the jungl_hat was still, to him, a fearful place of terrors and stealthily stalkin_eath. He dismounted and left his horse beside Meriem's. On foot he entere_he jungle. He knew that she was probably safe enough and he wished t_urprise her by coming suddenly upon her.
  • He had gone but a short distance into the wood when he heard a great jabberin_n a near-by tree. Coming closer he saw a band of baboons snarling ove_omething. Looking intently he saw that one of them held a woman's ridin_kirt and that others had boots and stockings. His heart almost ceased to bea_s he quite naturally placed the most direful explanation upon the scene. Th_aboons had killed Meriem and stripped this clothing from her body. Moriso_huddered.
  • He was about to call aloud in the hope that after all the girl still live_hen he saw her in a tree close beside that was occupied by the baboons, an_ow he saw that they were snarling and jabbering at her. To his amazement h_aw the girl swing, ape-like, into the tree below the huge beasts. He saw he_ause upon a branch a few feet from the nearest baboon. He was about to rais_is rifle and put a bullet through the hideous creature that seemed about t_eap upon her when he heard the girl speak. He almost dropped his rifle fro_urprise as a strange jabbering, identical with that of the apes, broke fro_eriem's lips.
  • The baboons stopped their snarling and listened. It was quite evident tha_hey were as much surprised as the Hon. Morison Baynes. Slowly and one by on_hey approached the girl. She gave not the slightest evidence of fear of them.
  • They quite surrounded her now so that Baynes could not have fired withou_ndangering the girl's life; but he no longer desired to fire. He was consume_ith curiosity.
  • For several minutes the girl carried on what could be nothing less than _onversation with the baboons, and then with seeming alacrity every article o_er apparel in their possession was handed over to her. The baboons stil_rowded eagerly about her as she donned them. They chattered to her and sh_hattered back. The Hon. Morison Baynes sat down at the foot of a tree an_opped his perspiring brow. Then he rose and made his way back to his mount.
  • When Meriem emerged from the forest a few minutes later she found him there, and he eyed her with wide eyes in which were both wonder and a sort of terror.
  • "I saw your horse here," he explained, "and thought that I would wait and rid_ome with you—you do not mind?"
  • "Of course not," she replied. "It will be lovely."
  • As they made their way stirrup to stirrup across the plain the Hon. Moriso_aught himself many times watching the girl's regular profile and wondering i_is eyes had deceived him or if, in truth, he really had seen this lovel_reature consorting with grotesque baboons and conversing with them a_luently as she conversed with him. The thing was uncanny—impossible; yet h_ad seen it with his own eyes.
  • And as he watched her another thought persisted in obtruding itself into hi_ind. She was most beautiful and very desirable; but what did he know of her?
  • Was she not altogether impossible? Was the scene that he had but jus_itnessed not sufficient proof of her impossibility? A woman who climbed tree_nd conversed with the baboons of the jungle! It was quite horrible!
  • Again the Hon. Morison mopped his brow. Meriem glanced toward him.
  • "You are warm," she said. "Now that the sun is setting I find it quite cool.
  • Why do you perspire now?"
  • He had not intended to let her know that he had seen her with the baboons; bu_uite suddenly, before he realized what he was saying, he had blurted it out.
  • "I perspire from emotion," he said. "I went into the jungle when I discovere_our pony. I wanted to surprise you; but it was I who was surprised. I saw yo_n the trees with the baboons."
  • "Yes?" she said quite unemotionally, as though it was a matter of littl_oment that a young girl should be upon intimate terms with savage jungl_easts.
  • "It was horrible!" ejaculated the Hon. Morison.
  • "Horrible?" repeated Meriem, puckering her brows in bewilderment. "What wa_orrible about it? They are my friends. Is it horrible to talk with one'_riends?"
  • "You were really talking with them, then?" cried the Hon. Morison. "Yo_nderstood them and they understood you?"
  • "Certainly."
  • "But they are hideous creatures—degraded beasts of a lower order. How coul_ou speak the language of beasts?"
  • "They are not hideous, and they are not degraded," replied Meriem. "Friend_re never that. I lived among them for years before Bwana found me and brough_e here. I scarce knew any other tongue than that of the mangani. Should _efuse to know them now simply because I happen, for the present, to liv_mong humans?"
  • "For the present!" ejaculated the Hon. Morison. "You cannot mean that yo_xpect to return to live among them? Come, come, what foolishness are w_alking! The very idea! You are spoofing me, Miss Meriem. You have been kin_o these baboons here and they know you and do not molest you; but that yo_nce lived among them—no, that is preposterous."
  • "But I did, though," insisted the girl, seeing the real horror that the ma_elt in the presence of such an idea reflected in his tone and manner, an_ather enjoying baiting him still further. "Yes, I lived, almost naked, amon_he great apes and the lesser apes. I dwelt among the branches of the trees. _ounced upon the smaller prey and devoured it—raw. With Korak and A'ht _unted the antelope and the boar, and I sat upon a tree limb and made faces a_uma, the lion, and threw sticks at him and annoyed him until he roared s_erribly in his rage that the earth shook.
  • "And Korak built me a lair high among the branches of a mighty tree. H_rought me fruits and flesh. He fought for me and was kind to me—until I cam_o Bwana and My Dear I do not recall that any other than Korak was ever kin_o me." There was a wistful note in the girl's voice now and she had forgotte_hat she was bantering the Hon. Morison. She was thinking of Korak. She ha_ot thought of him a great deal of late.
  • For a time both were silently absorbed in their own reflections as they rod_n toward the bungalow of their host. The girl was thinking of a god-lik_igure, a leopard skin half concealing his smooth, brown hide as he leape_imbly through the trees to lay an offering of food before her on his retur_rom a successful hunt. Behind him, shaggy and powerful, swung a hug_nthropoid ape, while she, Meriem, laughing and shouting her welcome, swun_pon a swaying limb before the entrance to her sylvan bower. It was a prett_icture as she recalled it. The other side seldom obtruded itself upon he_emory—the long, black nights—the chill, terrible jungle nights—the cold an_amp and discomfort of the rainy season—the hideous mouthings of the savag_arnivora as they prowled through the Stygian darkness beneath—the constan_enace of Sheeta, the panther, and Histah, the snake—the stinging insects—th_oathesome vermin. For, in truth, all these had been outweighed by th_appiness of the sunny days, the freedom of it all, and, most, th_ompanionship of Korak.
  • The man's thoughts were rather jumbled. He had suddenly realized that he ha_ome mighty near falling in love with this girl of whom he had known nothin_p to the previous moment when she had voluntarily revealed a portion of he_ast to him. The more he thought upon the matter the more evident it became t_im that he had given her his love—that he had been upon the verge of offerin_er his honorable name. He trembled a little at the narrowness of his escape.
  • Yet, he still loved her. There was no objection to that according to th_thics of the Hon. Morison Baynes and his kind. She was a meaner clay than he.
  • He could no more have taken her in marriage than he could have taken one o_er baboon friends, nor would she, of course, expect such an offer from him.
  • To have his love would be sufficient honor for her—his name he would, naturally, bestow upon one in his own elevated social sphere.
  • A girl who had consorted with apes, who, according to her own admission, ha_ived almost naked among them, could have no considerable sense of the fine_ualities of virtue. The love that he would offer her, then, would, far fro_ffending her, probably cover all that she might desire or expect.
  • The more the Hon. Morison Baynes thought upon the subject the more full_onvinced he became that he was contemplating a most chivalrous and unselfis_ct. Europeans will better understand his point of view than Americans, poor, benighted provincials, who are denied a true appreciation of caste and of th_act that "the king can do no wrong." He did not even have to argue the poin_hat she would be much happier amidst the luxuries of a London apartment, fortified as she would be by both his love and his bank account, than lawfull_ed to such a one as her social position warranted. There was one questio_owever, which he wished to have definitely answered before he committe_imself even to the program he was considering.
  • "Who were Korak and A'ht?" he asked.
  • "A'ht was a Mangani," replied Meriem, "and Korak a Tarmangani."
  • "And what, pray, might a Mangani be, and a Tarmangani?"
  • The girl laughed.
  • "You are a Tarmangani," she replied. "The Mangani are covered with hair—yo_ould call them apes."
  • "Then Korak was a white man?" he asked.
  • "Yes."
  • "And he was—ah—your—er—your—?" He paused, for he found it rather difficult t_o on with that line of questioning while the girl's clear, beautiful eye_ere looking straight into his.
  • "My what?" insisted Meriem, far too unsophisticated in her unspoiled innocenc_o guess what the Hon. Morison was driving at.
  • "Why—ah—your brother?" he stumbled.
  • "No, Korak was not my brother," she replied.
  • "Was he your husband, then?" he finally blurted.
  • Far from taking offense, Meriem broke into a merry laugh.
  • "My husband!" she cried. "Why how old do you think I am? I am too young t_ave a husband. I had never thought of such a thing. Korak was—why—," and no_he hesitated, too, for she never before had attempted to analyse th_elationship that existed between herself and Korak—"why, Korak was jus_orak," and again she broke into a gay laugh as she realized the illuminatin_uality of her description.
  • Looking at her and listening to her the man beside her could not believe tha_epravity of any sort or degree entered into the girl's nature, yet he wante_o believe that she had not been virtuous, for otherwise his task was less _inecure—the Hon. Morison was not entirely without conscience.
  • For several days the Hon. Morison made no appreciable progress toward th_onsummation of his scheme. Sometimes he almost abandoned it for he foun_imself time and again wondering how slight might be the provocation necessar_o trick him into making a bona-fide offer of marriage to Meriem if h_ermitted himself to fall more deeply in love with her, and it was difficul_o see her daily and not love her. There was a quality about her which, al_nknown to the Hon. Morison, was making his task an extremely difficult one—i_as that quality of innate goodness and cleanness which is a good girl'_toutest bulwark and protection—an impregnable barrier that only degenerac_as the effrontery to assail. The Hon. Morison Baynes would never b_onsidered a degenerate.
  • He was sitting with Meriem upon the verandah one evening after the others ha_etired. Earlier they had been playing tennis— a game in which the Hon.
  • Morison shone to advantage, as, in truth, he did in most all manly sports. H_as telling Meriem stories of London and Paris, of balls and banquets, of th_onderful women and their wonderful gowns, of the pleasures and pastimes o_he rich and powerful. The Hon. Morison was a past master in the art o_nsidious boasting. His egotism was never flagrant or tiresome—he was neve_rude in it, for crudeness was a plebeianism that the Hon. Morison studiousl_voided, yet the impression derived by a listener to the Hon. Morison was on_hat was not at all calculated to detract from the glory of the house o_aynes, or from that of its representative.
  • Meriem was entranced. His tales were like fairy stories to this little jungl_aid. The Hon. Morison loomed large and wonderful and magnificent in he_ind's eye. He fascinated her, and when he drew closer to her after a shor_ilence and took her hand she thrilled as one might thrill beneath the touc_f a deity—a thrill of exaltation not unmixed with fear.
  • He bent his lips close to her ear.
  • "Meriem!" he whispered. "My little Meriem! May I hope to have the right t_all you `my little Meriem'?"
  • The girl turned wide eyes upward to his face; but it was in shadow. Sh_rembled but she did not draw away. The man put an arm about her and drew he_loser.
  • "I love you!" he whispered.
  • She did not reply. She did not know what to say. She knew nothing of love. Sh_ad never given it a thought; but she did know that it was very nice to b_oved, whatever it meant. It was nice to have people kind to one. She ha_nown so little of kindness or affection.
  • "Tell me," he said, "that you return my love."
  • His lips came steadily closer to hers. They had almost touched when a visio_f Korak sprang like a miracle before her eyes. She saw Korak's face close t_ers, she felt his lips hot against hers, and then for the first time in he_ife she guessed what love meant. She drew away, gently.
  • "I am not sure," she said, "that I love you. Let us wait. There is plenty o_ime. I am too young to marry yet, and I am not sure that I should be happy i_ondon or Paris—they rather frighten me."
  • How easily and naturally she had connected his avowal of love with the idea o_arriage! The Hon. Morison was perfectly sure that he had not mentione_arriage—he had been particularly careful not to do so. And then she was no_ure that she loved him! That, too, came rather in the nature of a shock t_is vanity. It seemed incredible that this little barbarian should have an_oubts whatever as to the desirability of the Hon. Morison Baynes.
  • The first flush of passion cooled, the Hon. Morison was enabled to reason mor_ogically. The start had been all wrong. It would be better now to wait an_repare her mind gradually for the only proposition which his exalted estat_ould permit him to offer her. He would go slow. He glanced down at the girl'_rofile. It was bathed in the silvery light of the great tropic moon. The Hon.
  • Morison Baynes wondered if it were to be so easy a matter to "go slow." Sh_as most alluring.
  • Meriem rose. The vision of Korak was still before her.
  • "Good night," she said. "It is almost too beautiful to leave," she waved he_and in a comprehensive gesture which took in the starry heavens, the grea_oon, the broad, silvered plain, and the dense shadows in the distance, tha_arked the jungle. "Oh, how I love it!"
  • "You would love London more," he said earnestly. "And London would love you.
  • You would be a famous beauty in any capital of Europe. You would have th_orld at your feet, Meriem."
  • "Good night!" she repeated, and left him.
  • The Hon. Morison selected a cigarette from his crested case, lighted it, ble_ thin line of blue smoke toward the moon, and smiled.