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Tarzan of the Apes, Page 2

Edgar Rice Burroughs

  Chapter II

  The Savage Home

  Nor did they have long to wait, for the next morning as Clayton wasemerging on deck for his accustomed walk before breakfast, a shot rangout, and then another, and another.

  The sight which met his eyes confirmed his worst fears. Facing thelittle knot of officers was the entire motley crew of the Fuwalda, andat their head stood Black Michael.

  At the first volley from the officers the men ran for shelter, and frompoints of vantage behind masts, wheel-house and cabin they returned thefire of the five men who represented the hated authority of the ship.

  Two of their number had gone down before the captain's revolver. Theylay where they had fallen between the combatants. But then the firstmate lunged forward upon his face, and at a cry of command from BlackMichael the mutineers charged the remaining four. The crew had beenable to muster but six firearms, so most of them were armed with boathooks, axes, hatchets and crowbars.

  The captain had emptied his revolver and was reloading as the chargewas made. The second mate's gun had jammed, and so there were but twoweapons opposed to the mutineers as they bore down upon the officers,who now started to give back before the infuriated rush of their men.

  Both sides were cursing and swearing in a frightful manner, which,together with the reports of the firearms and the screams and groans ofthe wounded, turned the deck of the Fuwalda to the likeness of amadhouse.

  Before the officers had taken a dozen backward steps the men were uponthem. An ax in the hands of a burly Negro cleft the captain fromforehead to chin, and an instant later the others were down: dead orwounded from dozens of blows and bullet wounds.

  Short and grisly had been the work of the mutineers of the Fuwalda, andthrough it all John Clayton had stood leaning carelessly beside thecompanionway puffing meditatively upon his pipe as though he had beenbut watching an indifferent cricket match.

  As the last officer went down he thought it was time that he returnedto his wife lest some members of the crew find her alone below.

  Though outwardly calm and indifferent, Clayton was inwardlyapprehensive and wrought up, for he feared for his wife's safety at thehands of these ignorant, half-brutes into whose hands fate had soremorselessly thrown them.

  As he turned to descend the ladder he was surprised to see his wifestanding on the steps almost at his side.

  "How long have you been here, Alice?"

  "Since the beginning," she replied. "How awful, John. Oh, how awful!What can we hope for at the hands of such as those?"

  "Breakfast, I hope," he answered, smiling bravely in an attempt toallay her fears.

  "At least," he added, "I'm going to ask them. Come with me, Alice. Wemust not let them think we expect any but courteous treatment."

  The men had by this time surrounded the dead and wounded officers, andwithout either partiality or compassion proceeded to throw both livingand dead over the sides of the vessel. With equal heartlessness theydisposed of their own dead and dying.

  Presently one of the crew spied the approaching Claytons, and with acry of: "Here's two more for the fishes," rushed toward them withuplifted ax.

  But Black Michael was even quicker, so that the fellow went down with abullet in his back before he had taken a half dozen steps.

  With a loud roar, Black Michael attracted the attention of the others,and, pointing to Lord and Lady Greystoke, cried:

  "These here are my friends, and they are to be left alone. D'yeunderstand?

  "I'm captain of this ship now, an' what I says goes," he added, turningto Clayton. "Just keep to yourselves, and nobody'll harm ye," and helooked threateningly on his fellows.

  The Claytons heeded Black Michael's instructions so well that they sawbut little of the crew and knew nothing of the plans the men weremaking.

  Occasionally they heard faint echoes of brawls and quarreling among themutineers, and on two occasions the vicious bark of firearms rang outon the still air. But Black Michael was a fit leader for this band ofcutthroats, and, withal held them in fair subjection to his rule.

  On the fifth day following the murder of the ship's officers, land wassighted by the lookout. Whether island or mainland, Black Michael didnot know, but he announced to Clayton that if investigation showed thatthe place was habitable he and Lady Greystoke were to be put ashorewith their belongings.

  "You'll be all right there for a few months," he explained, "and bythat time we'll have been able to make an inhabited coast somewhere andscatter a bit. Then I'll see that yer gover'ment's notified where yoube an' they'll soon send a man-o'war to fetch ye off.

  "It would be a hard matter to land you in civilization without a lot o'questions being asked, an' none o' us here has any very convincin'answers up our sleeves."

  Clayton remonstrated against the inhumanity of landing them upon anunknown shore to be left to the mercies of savage beasts, and,possibly, still more savage men.

  But his words were of no avail, and only tended to anger Black Michael,so he was forced to desist and make the best he could of a badsituation.

  About three o'clock in the afternoon they came about off a beautifulwooded shore opposite the mouth of what appeared to be a land-lockedharbor.

  Black Michael sent a small boat filled with men to sound the entrancein an effort to determine if the Fuwalda could be safely worked throughthe entrance.

  In about an hour they returned and reported deep water through thepassage as well as far into the little basin.

  Before dark the barkentine lay peacefully at anchor upon the bosom ofthe still, mirror-like surface of the harbor.

  The surrounding shores were beautiful with semitropical verdure, whilein the distance the country rose from the ocean in hill and tableland,almost uniformly clothed by primeval forest.

  No signs of habitation were visible, but that the land might easilysupport human life was evidenced by the abundant bird and animal lifeof which the watchers on the Fuwalda's deck caught occasional glimpses,as well as by the shimmer of a little river which emptied into theharbor, insuring fresh water in plenitude.

  As darkness settled upon the earth, Clayton and Lady Alice still stoodby the ship's rail in silent contemplation of their future abode. Fromthe dark shadows of the mighty forest came the wild calls of savagebeasts--the deep roar of the lion, and, occasionally, the shrill screamof a panther.

  The woman shrank closer to the man in terror-stricken anticipation ofthe horrors lying in wait for them in the awful blackness of the nightsto come, when they should be alone upon that wild and lonely shore.

  Later in the evening Black Michael joined them long enough to instructthem to make their preparations for landing on the morrow. They triedto persuade him to take them to some more hospitable coast near enoughto civilization so that they might hope to fall into friendly hands.But no pleas, or threats, or promises of reward could move him.

  "I am the only man aboard who would not rather see ye both safely dead,and, while I know that's the sensible way to make sure of our ownnecks, yet Black Michael's not the man to forget a favor. Ye saved mylife once, and in return I'm goin' to spare yours, but that's all I cando.

  "The men won't stand for any more, and if we don't get ye landed prettyquick they may even change their minds about giving ye that much show.I'll put all yer stuff ashore with ye as well as cookin' utensils an'some old sails for tents, an' enough grub to last ye until ye can findfruit and game.

  "With yer guns for protection, ye ought to be able to live here easyenough until help comes. When I get safely hid away I'll see to itthat the British gover'ment learns about where ye be; for the life ofme I couldn't tell 'em exactly where, for I don't know myself. Butthey'll find ye all right."

  After he had left them they went silently below, each wrapped in gloomyforebodings.

  Clayton did not believe that Black Michael had the slightest intentionof notifying the British government of their whereabouts, nor was heany too sure but that some treachery was contemplated
for the followingday when they should be on shore with the sailors who would have toaccompany them with their belongings.

  Once out of Black Michael's sight any of the men might strike themdown, and still leave Black Michael's conscience clear.

  And even should they escape that fate was it not but to be faced withfar graver dangers? Alone, he might hope to survive for years; for hewas a strong, athletic man.

  But what of Alice, and that other little life so soon to be launchedamidst the hardships and grave dangers of a primeval world?

  The man shuddered as he meditated upon the awful gravity, the fearfulhelplessness, of their situation. But it was a merciful Providencewhich prevented him from foreseeing the hideous reality which awaitedthem in the grim depths of that gloomy wood.

  Early next morning their numerous chests and boxes were hoisted on deckand lowered to waiting small boats for transportation to shore.

  There was a great quantity and variety of stuff, as the Claytons hadexpected a possible five to eight years' residence in their new home.Thus, in addition to the many necessities they had brought, there werealso many luxuries.

  Black Michael was determined that nothing belonging to the Claytonsshould be left on board. Whether out of compassion for them, or infurtherance of his own self-interests, it would be difficult to say.

  There was no question but that the presence of property of a missingBritish official upon a suspicious vessel would have been a difficultthing to explain in any civilized port in the world.

  So zealous was he in his efforts to carry out his intentions that heinsisted upon the return of Clayton's revolvers to him by the sailorsin whose possession they were.

  Into the small boats were also loaded salt meats and biscuit, with asmall supply of potatoes and beans, matches, and cooking vessels, achest of tools, and the old sails which Black Michael had promised them.

  As though himself fearing the very thing which Clayton had suspected,Black Michael accompanied them to shore, and was the last to leave themwhen the small boats, having filled the ship's casks with fresh water,were pushed out toward the waiting Fuwalda.

  As the boats moved slowly over the smooth waters of the bay, Claytonand his wife stood silently watching their departure--in the breasts ofboth a feeling of impending disaster and utter hopelessness.

  And behind them, over the edge of a low ridge, other eyeswatched--close set, wicked eyes, gleaming beneath shaggy brows.

  As the Fuwalda passed through the narrow entrance to the harbor and outof sight behind a projecting point, Lady Alice threw her arms aboutClayton's neck and burst into uncontrolled sobs.

  Bravely had she faced the dangers of the mutiny; with heroic fortitudeshe had looked into the terrible future; but now that the horror ofabsolute solitude was upon them, her overwrought nerves gave way, andthe reaction came.

  He did not attempt to check her tears. It were better that nature haveher way in relieving these long-pent emotions, and it was many minutesbefore the girl--little more than a child she was--could again gainmastery of herself.

  "Oh, John," she cried at last, "the horror of it. What are we to do?What are we to do?"

  "There is but one thing to do, Alice," and he spoke as quietly asthough they were sitting in their snug living room at home, "and thatis work. Work must be our salvation. We must not give ourselves timeto think, for in that direction lies madness.

  "We must work and wait. I am sure that relief will come, and comequickly, when once it is apparent that the Fuwalda has been lost, eventhough Black Michael does not keep his word to us."

  "But John, if it were only you and I," she sobbed, "we could endure itI know; but--"

  "Yes, dear," he answered, gently, "I have been thinking of that, also;but we must face it, as we must face whatever comes, bravely and withthe utmost confidence in our ability to cope with circumstanceswhatever they may be.

  "Hundreds of thousands of years ago our ancestors of the dim anddistant past faced the same problems which we must face, possibly inthese same primeval forests. That we are here today evidences theirvictory.

  "What they did may we not do? And even better, for are we not armedwith ages of superior knowledge, and have we not the means ofprotection, defense, and sustenance which science has given us, but ofwhich they were totally ignorant? What they accomplished, Alice, withinstruments and weapons of stone and bone, surely that may weaccomplish also."

  "Ah, John, I wish that I might be a man with a man's philosophy, but Iam but a woman, seeing with my heart rather than my head, and all thatI can see is too horrible, too unthinkable to put into words.

  "I only hope you are right, John. I will do my best to be a braveprimeval woman, a fit mate for the primeval man."

  Clayton's first thought was to arrange a sleeping shelter for thenight; something which might serve to protect them from prowling beastsof prey.

  He opened the box containing his rifles and ammunition, that they mightboth be armed against possible attack while at work, and then togetherthey sought a location for their first night's sleeping place.

  A hundred yards from the beach was a little level spot, fairly free oftrees; here they decided eventually to build a permanent house, but forthe time being they both thought it best to construct a little platformin the trees out of reach of the larger of the savage beasts in whoserealm they were.

  To this end Clayton selected four trees which formed a rectangle abouteight feet square, and cutting long branches from other trees heconstructed a framework around them, about ten feet from the ground,fastening the ends of the branches securely to the trees by means ofrope, a quantity of which Black Michael had furnished him from the holdof the Fuwalda.

  Across this framework Clayton placed other smaller branches quite closetogether. This platform he paved with the huge fronds of elephant'sear which grew in profusion about them, and over the fronds he laid agreat sail folded into several thicknesses.

  Seven feet higher he constructed a similar, though lighter platform toserve as roof, and from the sides of this he suspended the balance ofhis sailcloth for walls.

  When completed he had a rather snug little nest, to which he carriedtheir blankets and some of the lighter luggage.

  It was now late in the afternoon, and the balance of the daylight hourswere devoted to the building of a rude ladder by means of which LadyAlice could mount to her new home.

  All during the day the forest about them had been filled with excitedbirds of brilliant plumage, and dancing, chattering monkeys, whowatched these new arrivals and their wonderful nest building operationswith every mark of keenest interest and fascination.

  Notwithstanding that both Clayton and his wife kept a sharp lookoutthey saw nothing of larger animals, though on two occasions they hadseen their little simian neighbors come screaming and chattering fromthe near-by ridge, casting frightened glances back over their littleshoulders, and evincing as plainly as though by speech that they werefleeing some terrible thing which lay concealed there.

  Just before dusk Clayton finished his ladder, and, filling a greatbasin with water from the near-by stream, the two mounted to thecomparative safety of their aerial chamber.

  As it was quite warm, Clayton had left the side curtains thrown backover the roof, and as they sat, like Turks, upon their blankets, LadyAlice, straining her eyes into the darkening shadows of the wood,suddenly reached out and grasped Clayton's arms.

  "John," she whispered, "look! What is it, a man?"

  As Clayton turned his eyes in the direction she indicated, he sawsilhouetted dimly against the shadows beyond, a great figure standingupright upon the ridge.

  For a moment it stood as though listening and then turned slowly, andmelted into the shadows of the jungle.

  "What is it, John?"

  "I do not know, Alice," he answered gravely, "it is too dark to see sofar, and it may have been but a shadow cast by the rising moon."

  "No, John, if it was not a man it was some huge and grotesque mockeryof man.
Oh, I am afraid."

  He gathered her in his arms, whispering words of courage and love intoher ears.

  Soon after, he lowered the curtain walls, tying them securely to thetrees so that, except for a little opening toward the beach, they wereentirely enclosed.

  As it was now pitch dark within their tiny aerie they lay down upontheir blankets to try to gain, through sleep, a brief respite offorgetfulness.

  Clayton lay facing the opening at the front, a rifle and a brace ofrevolvers at his hand.

  Scarcely had they closed their eyes than the terrifying cry of apanther rang out from the jungle behind them. Closer and closer itcame until they could hear the great beast directly beneath them. Foran hour or more they heard it sniffing and clawing at the trees whichsupported their platform, but at last it roamed away across the beach,where Clayton could see it clearly in the brilliant moonlight--a great,handsome beast, the largest he had ever seen.

  During the long hours of darkness they caught but fitful snatches ofsleep, for the night noises of a great jungle teeming with myriadanimal life kept their overwrought nerves on edge, so that a hundredtimes they were startled to wakefulness by piercing screams, or thestealthy moving of great bodies beneath them.