Chapter 5: Tarzan and the Black Boy
TARZAN OF THE Apes sat at the foot of a great tree braiding a new grass rope. Beside him lay the frayed remnants of the old one, torn and severed by the fangs and talons of Sheeta, the panther. Only half the original rope was there, the balance having been carried off by the angry cat as he bounded away through the jungle with the noose still about his savage neck and the loose end dragging among the underbrush.
Tarzan smiled as he recalled Sheeta's great rage, his frantic efforts to free himself from the entangling strands, his uncanny screams that were part hate, part anger, part terror. He smiled in retrospection at the discomfiture of his enemy, and in anticipation of another day as he added an extra strand to his new rope.
This would be the strongest, the heaviest rope that Tarzan of the Apes ever had fashioned. Visions of Numa, the lion, straining futilely in its embrace thrilled the ape-man. He was quite content, for his hands and his brain were busy. Content, too, were his fellows of the tribe of Kerchak, searching for food in the clearing and the surrounding trees about him. No perplexing thoughts of the future burdened their minds, and only occasionally, dimly arose recollections of the near past. They were stimulated to a species of brutal content by the delectable business of filling their bellies. Afterward they would sleep--it was their life, and they enjoyed it as we enjoy ours, you and I--as Tarzan enjoyed his. Possibly they enjoyed theirs more than we enjoy ours, for who shall say that the beasts of the jungle do not better fulfill the purposes for which they are created than does man with his many excursions into strange fields and his contraventions of the laws of nature? And what gives greater content and greater happiness than the fulfilling of a destiny?
As Tarzan worked, Gazan, Teeka's little balu, played about him while Teeka sought food upon the opposite side of the clearing. No more did Teeka, the mother, or Taug, the sullen sire, harbor suspicions of Tarzan's intentions toward their first-born. Had he not courted death to save their Gazan from the fangs and talons of Sheeta? Did he not fondle and cuddle the little one with even as great a show of affection as Teeka herself displayed? Their fears were allayed and Tarzan now found himself often in the role of nursemaid to a tiny anthropoid-- an avocation which he found by no means irksome, since Gazan was a never-failing fount of surprises and entertainment.
Just now the apeling was developing those arboreal tendencies which were to stand him in such good stead during the years of his youth, when rapid flight into the upper terraces was of far more importance and value than his undeveloped muscles and untried fighting fangs. Backing off fifteen or twenty feet from the bole of the tree beneath the branches of which Tarzan worked upon his rope, Gazan scampered quickly forward, scrambling nimbly upward to the lower limbs. Here he would squat for a moment or two, quite proud of his achievement, then clamber to the ground again and repeat. Sometimes, quite often in fact, for he was an ape, his attention was distracted by other things, a beetle, a caterpillar, a tiny field mouse, and off he would go in pursuit; the caterpillars he always caught, and sometimes the beetles; but the field mice, never.
Now he discovered the tail of the rope upon which Tarzan was working. Grasping it in one small hand he bounced away, for all the world like an animated rubber ball, snatching it from the ape-man's hand and running off across the clearing. Tarzan leaped to his feet and was in pursuit in an instant, no trace of anger on his face or in his voice as he called to the roguish little balu to drop his rope.
Straight toward his mother raced Gazan, and after him came Tarzan. Teeka looked up from her feeding, and in the first instant that she realized that Gazan was fleeing and that another was in pursuit, she bared her fangs and bristled; but when she saw that the pursuer was Tarzan she turned back to the business that had been occupying her attention. At her very feet the ape-man overhauled the balu and, though the youngster squealed and fought when Tarzan seized him, Teeka only glanced casually in their direction. No longer did she fear harm to her first-born at the hands of the ape-man. Had he not saved Gazan on two occasions?
Rescuing his rope, Tarzan returned to his tree and resumed his labor; but thereafter it was necessary to watch carefully the playful balu, who was now possessed to steal it whenever he thought his great, smooth-skinned cousin was momentarily off his guard.
But even under this handicap Tarzan finally completed the rope, a long, pliant weapon, stronger than any he ever had made before. The discarded piece of his former one he gave to Gazan for a plaything, for Tarzan had it in his mind to instruct Teeka's balu after ideas of his own when the youngster should be old and strong enough to profit by his precepts. At present the little ape's innate aptitude for mimicry would be sufficient to familiarize him with Tarzan's ways and weapons, and so the ape-man swung off into the jungle, his new rope coiled over one shoulder, while little Gazan hopped about the clearing dragging the old one after him in childish glee.
As Tarzan traveled, dividing his quest for food with one for a sufficiently noble quarry whereupon to test his new weapon, his mind often was upon Gazan. The ape-man had realized a deep affection for Teeka's balu almost from the first, partly because the child belonged to Teeka, his first love, and partly for the little ape's own sake, and Tarzan's human longing for some sentient creature upon which to expend those natural affections of the soul which are inherent to all normal members of the GENUS HOMO. Tarzan envied Teeka. It was true that Gazan evidenced a considerable reciprocation of Tarzan's fondness for him, even preferring him to his own surly sire; but to Teeka the little one turned when in pain or terror, when tired or hungry. Then it was that Tarzan felt quite alone in the world and longed desperately for one who should turn first to him for succor and protection.
Taug had Teeka; Teeka had Gazan; and nearly every other bull and cow of the tribe of Kerchak had one or more to love and by whom to be loved. Of course Tarzan could scarcely formulate the thought in precisely this way--he only knew that he craved something which was denied him; something which seemed to be represented by those relations which existed between Teeka and her balu, and so he envied Teeka and longed for a balu of his own.
He saw Sheeta and his mate with their little family of three; and deeper inland toward the rocky hills, where one might lie up during the heat of the day, in the dense shade of a tangled thicket close under the cool face of an overhanging rock, Tarzan had found the lair of Numa, the lion, and of Sabor, the lioness. Here he had watched them with their little balus--playful creatures, spotted leopard-like. And he had seen the young fawn with Bara, the deer, and with Buto, the rhinoceros, its ungainly little one. Each of the creatures of the jungle had its own--except Tarzan. It made the ape-man sad to think upon this thing, sad and lonely; but presently the scent of game cleared his young mind of all other considerations, as catlike he crawled far out upon a bending limb above the game trail which led down to the ancient watering place of the wild things of this wild world.
How many thousands of times had this great, old limb bent to the savage form of some blood-thirsty hunter in the long years that it had spread its leafy branches above the deep-worn jungle path! Tarzan, the ape-man, Sheeta, the panther, and Histah, the snake, it knew well. They had worn smooth the bark upon its upper surface.
Today it was Horta, the boar, which came down toward the watcher in the old tree--Horta, the boar, whose formidable tusks and diabolical temper preserved him from all but the most ferocious or most famished of the largest carnivora.
But to Tarzan, meat was meat; naught that was edible or tasty might pass a hungry Tarzan unchallenged and unattacked. In hunger, as in battle, the ape-man out-savaged the dreariest denizens of the jungle. He knew neither fear nor mercy, except upon rare occasions when some strange, inexplicable force stayed his hand--a force inexplicable to him, perhaps, because of his ignorance of his own origin and of all the forces of humanitarianism and civilization that were his rightful heritage because of that origin.
So today, instead of staying his hand until a less formidable feast found its way toward him, Tarzan dropped his new noose about the neck of Horta, the boar. It was an excellent test for the untried strands. The angered boar bolted this way and that; but each time the new rope held him where Tarzan had made it fast about the stem of the tree above the branch from which he had cast it.
As Horta grunted and charged, slashing the sturdy jungle patriarch with his mighty tusks until the bark flew in every direction, Tarzan dropped to the ground behind him. In the ape-man's hand was the long, keen blade that had been his constant companion since that distant day upon which chance had directed its point into the body of Bolgani, the gorilla, and saved the torn and bleeding man-child from what else had been certain death.
Tarzan walked in toward Horta, who swung now to face his enemy. Mighty and muscled as was the young giant, it yet would have appeared but the maddest folly for him to face so formidable a creature as Horta, the boar, armed only with a slender hunting knife. So it would have seemed to one who knew Horta even slightly and Tarzan not at all.
For a moment Horta stood motionless facing the ape-man. His wicked, deep-set eyes flashed angrily. He shook his lowered head.
"Mud-eater!" jeered the ape-man. "Wallower in filth. Even your meat stinks, but it is juicy and makes Tarzan strong. Today I shall eat your heart, O Lord of the Great Tusks, that it shall keep savage that which pounds against my own ribs."
Horta, understanding nothing of what Tarzan said, was none the less enraged because of that. He saw only a naked man-thing, hairless and futile, pitting his puny fangs and soft muscles against his own indomitable savagery, and he charged.
Tarzan of the Apes waited until the upcut of a wicked tusk would have laid open his thigh, then he moved--just the least bit to one side; but so quickly that lightning was a sluggard by comparison, and as he moved, he stooped low and with all the great power of his right arm drove the long blade of his father's hunting knife straight into the heart of Horta, the boar. A quick leap carried him from the zone of the creature's death throes, and a moment later the hot and dripping heart of Horta was in his grasp.
His hunger satisfied, Tarzan did not seek a lying-up place for sleep, as was sometimes his way, but continued on through the jungle more in search of adventure than of food, for today he was restless. And so it came that he turned his footsteps toward the village of Mbonga, the black chief, whose people Tarzan had baited remorselessly since that day upon which Kulonga, the chief's son, had slain Kala.
A river winds close beside the village of the black men. Tarzan reached its side a little below the clearing where squat the thatched huts of the Negroes. The river life was ever fascinating to the ape-man. He found pleasure in watching the ungainly antics of Duro, the hippopotamus, and keen sport in tormenting the sluggish crocodile, Gimla, as he basked in the sun. Then, too, there were the shes and the balus of the black men of the Gomangani to frighten as they squatted by the river, the shes with their meager washing, the balus with their primitive toys.
This day he came upon a woman and her child farther down stream than usual. The former was searching for a species of shellfish which was to be found in the mud close to the river bank. She was a young black woman of about thirty. Her teeth were filed to sharp points, for her people ate the flesh of man. Her under lip was slit that it might support a rude pendant of copper which she had worn for so many years that the lip had been dragged downward to prodigious lengths, exposing the teeth and gums of her lower jaw. Her nose, too, was slit, and through the slit was a wooden skewer. Metal ornaments dangled from her ears, and upon her forehead and cheeks; upon her chin and the bridge of her nose were tattooings in colors that were mellowed now by age. She was naked except for a girdle of grasses about her waist. Altogether she was very beautiful in her own estimation and even in the estimation of the men of Mbonga's tribe, though she was of another people--a trophy of war seized in her maidenhood by one of Mbonga's fighting men.
Her child was a boy of ten, lithe, straight and, for a black, handsome. Tarzan looked upon the two from the concealing foliage of a near-by bush. He was about to leap forth before them with a terrifying scream, that he might enjoy the spectacle of their terror and their incontinent flight; but of a sudden a new whim seized him. Here was a balu fashioned as he himself was fashioned. Of course this one's skin was black; but what of it? Tarzan had never seen a white man. In so far as he knew, he was the sole representative of that strange form of life upon the earth. The black boy should make an excellent balu for Tarzan, since he had none of his own. He would tend him carefully, feed him well, protect him as only Tarzan of the Apes could protect his own, and teach him out of his half human, half bestial lore the secrets of the jungle from its rotting surface vegetation to the high tossed pinnacles of the forest's upper terraces.
Tarzan uncoiled his rope, and shook out the noose. The two before him, all ignorant of the near presence of that terrifying form, continued preoccupied in the search for shellfish, poking about in the mud with short sticks.
Tarzan stepped from the jungle behind them; his noose lay open upon the ground beside him. There was a quick movement of the right arm and the noose rose gracefully into the air, hovered an instant above the head of the unsuspecting youth, then settled. As it encompassed his body below the shoulders, Tarzan gave a quick jerk that tightened it about the boy's arms, pinioning them to his sides. A scream of terror broke from the lad's lips, and as his mother turned, affrighted at his cry, she saw him being dragged quickly toward a great white giant who stood just beneath the shade of a near-by tree, scarcely a dozen long paces from her.
With a savage cry of terror and rage, the woman leaped fearlessly toward the ape-man. In her mien Tarzan saw determination and courage which would shrink not even from death itself. She was very hideous and frightful even when her face was in repose; but convulsed by passion, her expression became terrifyingly fiendish. Even the ape-man drew back, but more in revulsion than fear--fear he knew not.
Biting and kicking was the black she's balu as Tarzan tucked him beneath his arm and vanished into the branches hanging low above him, just as the infuriated mother dashed forward to seize and do battle with him. And as he melted away into the depth of the jungle with his still struggling prize, he meditated upon the possibilities which might lie in the prowess of the Gomangani were the hes as formidable as the shes.
Once at a safe distance from the despoiled mother and out of earshot of her screams and menaces, Tarzan paused to inspect his prize, now so thoroughly terrorized that he had ceased his struggles and his outcries.
The frightened child rolled his eyes fearfully toward his captor, until the whites showed gleaming all about the irises.
"I am Tarzan," said the ape-man, in the vernacular of the anthropoids. "I will not harm you. You are to be Tarzan's balu. Tarzan will protect you. He will feed you. The best in the jungle shall be for Tarzan's balu, for Tarzan is a mighty hunter. None need you fear, not even Numa, the lion, for Tarzan is a mighty fighter. None so great as Tarzan, son of Kala. Do not fear."
But the child only whimpered and trembled, for he did not understand the tongue of the great apes, and the voice of Tarzan sounded to him like the barking and growling of a beast. Then, too, he had heard stories of this bad, white forest god. It was he who had slain Kulonga and others of the warriors of Mbonga, the chief. It was he who entered the village stealthily, by magic, in the darkness of the night, to steal arrows and poison, and frighten the women and the children and even the great warriors. Doubtless this wicked god fed upon little boys. Had his mother not said as much when he was naughty and she threatened to give him to the white god of the jungle if he were not good? Little black Tibo shook as with ague.
"Are you cold, Go-bu-balu?" asked Tarzan, using the simian equivalent of black he-baby in lieu of a better name. "The sun is hot; why do you shiver?"
Tibo could not understand; but he cried for his mamma and begged the great, white god to let him go, promising always to be a good boy thereafter if his plea were granted. Tarzan shook his head. Not a word could he understand. This would never do! He must teach Go-bu-balu a language which sounded like talk. It was quite certain to Tarzan that Go-bu-balu's speech was not talk at all. It sounded quite as senseless as the chattering of the silly birds. It would be best, thought the ape-man, quickly to get him among the tribe of Kerchak where he would hear the Mangani talking among themselves. Thus he would soon learn an intelligible form of speech.
Tarzan rose to his feet upon the swaying branch where he had halted far above the ground, and motioned to the child to follow him; but Tibo only clung tightly to the bole of the tree and wept. Being a boy, and a native African, he had, of course, climbed into trees many times before this; but the idea of racing off through the forest, leaping from one branch to another, as his captor, to his horror, had done when he had carried Tibo away from his mother, filled his childish heart with terror.
Tarzan sighed. His newly acquired balu had much indeed to learn. It was pitiful that a balu of his size and strength should be so backward. He tried to coax Tibo to follow him; but the child dared not, so Tarzan picked him up and carried him upon his back. Tibo no longer scratched or bit. Escape seemed impossible. Even now, were he set upon the ground, the chance was remote, he knew, that he could find his way back to the village of Mbonga, the chief. Even if he could, there were the lions and the leopards and the hyenas, any one of which, as Tibo was well aware, was particularly fond of the meat of little black boys.
So far the terrible white god of the jungle had offered him no harm. He could not expect even this much consideration from the frightful, green-eyed man-eaters. It would be the lesser of two evils, then, to let the white god carry him away without scratching and biting, as he had done at first.
As Tarzan swung rapidly through the trees, little Tibo closed his eyes in terror rather than look longer down into the frightful abysses beneath. Never before in all his life had Tibo been so frightened, yet as the white giant sped on with him through the forest there stole over the child an inexplicable sensation of security as he saw how true were the leaps of the ape-man, how unerring his grasp upon the swaying limbs which gave him hand-hold, and then, too, there was safety in the middle terraces of the forest, far above the reach of the dreaded lions.
And so Tarzan came to the clearing where the tribe fed, dropping among them with his new balu clinging tightly to his shoulders. He was fairly in the midst of them before Tibo spied a single one of the great hairy forms, or before the apes realized that Tarzan was not alone. When they saw the little Gomangani perched upon his back some of them came forward in curiosity with upcurled lips and snarling mien.
An hour before little Tibo would have said that he knew the uttermost depths of fear; but now, as he saw these fearsome beasts surrounding him, he realized that all that had gone before was as nothing by comparison. Why did the great white giant stand there so unconcernedly? Why did he not flee before these horrid, hairy, tree men fell upon them both and tore them to pieces? And then there came to Tibo a numbing recollection. It was none other than the story he had heard passed from mouth to mouth, fearfully, by the people of Mbonga, the chief, that this great white demon of the jungle was naught other than a hairless ape, for had not he been seen in company with these?
Tibo could only stare in wide-eyed horror at the approaching apes. He saw their beetling brows, their great fangs, their wicked eyes. He noted their mighty muscles rolling beneath their shaggy hides. Their every attitude and expression was a menace. Tarzan saw this, too. He drew Tibo around in front of him.
"This is Tarzan's Go-bu-balu," he said. "Do not harm him, or Tarzan will kill you," and he bared his own fangs in the teeth of the nearest ape.
"It is a Gomangani," replied the ape. "Let me kill it. It is a Gomangani. The Gomangani are our enemies. Let me kill it."
"Go away," snarled Tarzan. "I tell you, Gunto, it is Tarzan's balu. Go away or Tarzan will kill you," and the ape-man took a step toward the advancing ape.
The latter sidled off, quite stiff and haughty, after the manner of a dog which meets another and is too proud to fight and too fearful to turn his back and run.
Next came Teeka, prompted by curiosity. At her side skipped little Gazan. They were filled with wonder like the others; but Teeka did not bare her fangs. Tarzan saw this and motioned that she approach.
"Tarzan has a balu now," he said. "He and Teeka's balu can play together."
"It is a Gomangani, " replied Teeka. "It will kill my balu. Take it away, Tarzan."
Tarzan laughed. "It could not harm Pamba, the rat," he said. "It is but a little balu and very frightened. Let Gazan play with it."
Teeka still was fearful, for with all their mighty ferocity the great anthropoids are timid; but at last, assured by her great confidence in Tarzan, she pushed Gazan forward toward the little black boy. The small ape, guided by instinct, drew back toward its mother, baring its small fangs and screaming in mingled fear and rage.
Tibo, too, showed no signs of desiring a closer acquaintance with Gazan, so Tarzan gave up his efforts for the time.
During the week which followed, Tarzan found his time much occupied. His balu was a greater responsibility than he had counted upon. Not for a moment did he dare leave it, since of all the tribe, Teeka alone could have been depended upon to refrain from slaying the hapless black had it not been for Tarzan's constant watchfulness. When the ape-man hunted, he must carry Go-bu-balu about with him. It was irksome, and then the little black seemed so stupid and fearful to Tarzan. It was quite helpless against even the lesser of the jungle creatures. Tarzan wondered how it had survived at all. He tried to teach it, and found a ray of hope in the fact that Go-bu-balu had mastered a few words of the language of the anthropoids, and that he could now cling to a high-tossed branch without screaming in fear; but there was something about the child which worried Tarzan. He often had watched the blacks within their village. He had seen the children playing, and always there had been much laughter; but little Go-bu-balu never laughed. It was true that Tarzan himself never laughed. Upon occasion he smiled, grimly, but to laughter he was a stranger. The black, however, should have laughed, reasoned the ape-man. It was the way of the Gomangani.
Also, he saw that the little fellow often refused food and was growing thinner day by day. At times he surprised the boy sobbing softly to himself. Tarzan tried to comfort him, even as fierce Kala had comforted Tarzan when the ape-man was a balu, but all to no avail. Go-bu-balu merely no longer feared Tarzan--that was all. He feared every other living thing within the jungle. He feared the jungle days with their long excursions through the dizzy tree tops. He feared the jungle nights with their swaying, perilous couches far above the ground, and the grunting and coughing of the great carnivora prowling beneath him.
Tarzan did not know what to do. His heritage of English blood rendered it a difficult thing even to consider a surrender of his project, though he was forced to admit to himself that his balu was not all that he had hoped. Though he was faithful to his self-imposed task, and even found that he had grown to like Go-bu-balu, he could not deceive himself into believing that he felt for it that fierce heat of passionate affection which Teeka revealed for Gazan, and which the black mother had shown for Go-bu-balu.
The little black boy from cringing terror at the sight of Tarzan passed by degrees into trustfulness and admiration. Only kindness had he ever received at the hands of the great white devil-god, yet he had seen with what ferocity his kindly captor could deal with others. He had seen him leap upon a certain he-ape which persisted in attempting to seize and slay Go-bu-balu. He had seen the strong, white teeth of the ape-man fastened in the neck of his adversary, and the mighty muscles tensed in battle. He had heard the savage, bestial snarls and roars of combat, and he had realized with a shudder that he could not differentiate between those of his guardian and those of the hairy ape.
He had seen Tarzan bring down a buck, just as Numa, the lion, might have done, leaping upon its back and fastening his fangs in the creature's neck. Tibo had shuddered at the sight, but he had thrilled, too, and for the first time there entered his dull, Negroid mind a vague desire to emulate his savage foster parent. But Tibo, the little black boy, lacked the divine spark which had permitted Tarzan, the white boy, to benefit by his training in the ways of the fierce jungle. In imagination he was wanting, and imagination is but another name for super-intelligence.
Imagination it is which builds bridges, and cities, and empires. The beasts know it not, the blacks only a little, while to one in a hundred thousand of earth's dominant race it is given as a gift from heaven that man may not perish from the earth.
While Tarzan pondered his problem concerning the future of his balu, Fate was arranging to take the matter out of his hands. Momaya, Tibo's mother, grief-stricken at the loss of her boy, had consulted the tribal witch-doctor, but to no avail. The medicine he made was not good medicine, for though Momaya paid him two goats for it, it did not bring back Tibo, nor even indicate where she might search for him with reasonable assurance of finding him. Momaya, being of a short temper and of another people, had little respect for the witch-doctor of her husband's tribe, and so, when he suggested that a further payment of two more fat goats would doubtless enable him to make stronger medicine, she promptly loosed her shrewish tongue upon him, and with such good effect that he was glad to take himself off with his zebra's tail and his pot of magic.
When he had gone and Momaya had succeeded in partially subduing her anger, she gave herself over to thought, as she so often had done since the abduction of her Tibo, in the hope that she finally might discover some feasible means of locating him, or at least assuring herself as to whether he were alive or dead.
It was known to the blacks that Tarzan did not eat the flesh of man, for he had slain more than one of their number, yet never tasted the flesh of any. Too, the bodies always had been found, sometimes dropping as though from the clouds to alight in the center of the village. As Tibo's body had not been found, Momaya argued that he still lived, but where?
Then it was that there came to her mind a recollection of Bukawai, the unclean, who dwelt in a cave in the hillside to the north, and who it was well known entertained devils in his evil lair. Few, if any, had the temerity to visit old Bukawai, firstly because of fear of his black magic and the two hyenas who dwelt with him and were commonly known to be devils masquerading, and secondly because of the loathsome disease which had caused Bukawai to be an outcast--a disease which was slowly eating away his face.
Now it was that Momaya reasoned shrewdly that if any might know the whereabouts of her Tibo, it would be Bukawai, who was in friendly intercourse with gods and demons, since a demon or a god it was who had stolen her baby; but even her great mother love was sorely taxed to find the courage to send her forth into the black jungle toward the distant hills and the uncanny abode of Bukawai, the unclean, and his devils.
Mother love, however, is one of the human passions which closely approximates to the dignity of an irresistible force. It drives the frail flesh of weak women to deeds of heroic measure. Momaya was neither frail nor weak, physically, but she was a woman, an ignorant, superstitious, African savage. She believed in devils, in black magic, and in witchcraft. To Momaya, the jungle was inhabited by far more terrifying things than lions and leopards--horrifying, nameless things which possessed the power of wreaking frightful harm under various innocent guises.
From one of the warriors of the village, whom she knew to have once stumbled upon the lair of Bukawai, the mother of Tibo learned how she might find it--near a spring of water which rose in a small rocky canon between two hills, the easternmost of which was easily recognizable because of a huge granite boulder which rested upon its summit. The westerly hill was lower than its companion, and was quite bare of vegetation except for a single mimosa tree which grew just a little below its summit.
These two hills, the man assured her, could be seen for some distance before she reached them, and together formed an excellent guide to her destination. He warned her, however, to abandon so foolish and dangerous an adventure, emphasizing what she already quite well knew, that if she escaped harm at the hands of Bukawai and his demons, the chances were that she would not be so fortunate with the great carnivora of the jungle through which she must pass going and returning.