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Chapter 14 Tarzan and the Leopard Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The wavering light of the smoky torches illuminated the interior of the temple of the Leopard God, revealing the barbaric, savage drama being enacted there; but outside it was very dark, so dark that the figure of a man moving swiftly along the river bank might scarcely have been seen at a distance of fifty feet. He stepped quickly and silently among the canoes of the Leopard Men, pushing them out into the current of the stream. When all had been turned adrift save one, he dragged that up the river and partially beached it opposite the rear of the temple; then he ran toward the building, scaled one of the piles to the verandah, and a moment later paused upon the tiebeam just beneath the overhanging roof at the front of the building, where, through an opening, he could look down upon the tragic scene within.

He had been there a few moments before, just long enough to see and realize the precarious position of the white prisoner. Instantly his plan had been formed, and he had dropped swiftly to the river bank to put a part of it into immediate execution. Now that he was back he realized that a few seconds later he would have been too late. A sudden silence had fallen upon the chamber below. The priestesses of the Leopard God were sneaking stealthily toward their prostrate victim. No longer did the lesser priests make the purely histrionic pretense of protection. The end had come.

Through the aperture and into the interior of the temple swung Tarzan of the Apes. From tiebeam to tiebeam he leaped, silent as the smoke rising from the torches below. He saw that the priestesses were almost upon the white prisoner, that, swift as he was, he might not be able to reach the man's side in time. It was a bold, mad scheme that had formed in the active brain of the ape-man, and one that depended for success largely upon its boldness. Now it seemed that it was foredoomed to failure even before it could be put into execution.

The sudden silence, following the din of drums and yells and dancing feet, startled the tense nerves of the pinioned prisoner. He turned his eyes from side to side and saw the priestesses creeping toward him. Something told him that the final, hideous horror was upon him now. He steeled himself to meet the agony of it, lest his tormentors should have the added gratification of witnessing the visible effects of his suffering. Something inherent, something racial rebelled at the thought of showing fear or agony before these creatures of an inferior race.

The priestesses were almost upon him when a voice high above them broke the deathly silence. "Sobito! Sobito! Sobito!" it boomed in hollow accents from the rafters of the temple. "I am the muzimo of Orando, the friend of Nyamwegi. I have come for you. With The Spirit of Nyamwegi, I have come for you!"

Simultaneously a giant white man, naked but for a loin cloth, ran down one of the temple pillars like an agile monkey and leaped to the lower dais. The startling interruption momentarily paralyzed the blacks, partially from astonishment and partially from fear. Sobito was speechless. His knees trembled beneath him; then, recovering himself, he fled screaming from the dais to the protection of the concourse of warriors on the temple floor.

Old Timer, no less astonished than the Negroes, looked with amazement upon the scene. He expected to see the strange white man pursue Sobito, but he did nothing of the sort. Instead, he turned directly toward the prisoner.

"Be ready to follow me," commanded the stranger. "I shall go out through the rear of the temple." He spoke in low tones and in English; then, as swiftly, he changed to the dialect of the district. "Capture Sobito and bring him to me," he shouted to the warriors below the dais. "Until you fetch him I shall hold this white man as hostage."

Before there could be either reply or opposition, he leaped to the side of Old Timer, hurled the terrified priests from him, and seizing him by the hand jerked him to his feet. He spoke no further word but turned and ran swiftly across the lower dais, leaped to the higher one where Imigeg shrank aside as they passed, and disappeared from the sight of the Leopard Men through the doorway at its rear. There he paused for a moment and stopped Old Timer.

"Where is the white girl?" he demanded. "We must take her with us."

"She is not here," replied old Timer; "a chief stole her and, I imagine, took her down river to his village."

"This way, then," directed Tarzan, darting into a doorway on their left.

A moment later they were on the verandah, from which they gained the ground by way of one of the piles that supported the building; then the ape-man ran quickly toward the river, followed closely by Old Timer. At the edge of the river Tarzan stopped beside a canoe.

"Get into this," he directed; "it is the only one left here. They cannot follow you. When you reach the main river you will have such a start that they cannot overtake you."

"Aren't you coming with me?"

"No," he replied and started to shove the craft out into the stream. "Do you know the name of the chief who stole the girl?" he asked.

"It was Bobolo."

Tarzan pushed the canoe away from the bank.

"I can't thank you, old man," said Old Timer; "there just aren't the right words in the English language."

The silent figure on the river bank made no reply, and a moment later, as the current caught the canoe, it was swallowed up in the darkness. Then Old Timer seized a paddle and sought to accelerate the speed of the craft, that he might escape as quickly as possible from this silent river of mystery and death.

The canoe had scarcely disappeared in the darkness when Tarzan of the Apes turned back toward the temple. Once again he scaled a pile to the verandah and reentered the rear of the building. He heard screaming and scuffling in the fore part of the temple, and a grim smile touched his lips as he recognized the origin of the sounds. Advancing quickly to the doorway that opened upon the upper dais he saw several warriors dragging the kicking, screaming Sobito toward him; then he stepped out upon the dais beside the Leopard God. Instantly all eyes were upon him, and fear was in every eye. The boldness of his entrance into their holy of holies, his effrontery, the ease with which he had taken their prisoner from them had impressed them, while the fact that Sobito, a witch-doctor, had fled from him in terror had assured them of his supernatural origin.

"Bind his hands and feet," commanded Tarzan, "and deliver him to me. The Spirit of Nyamwegi watches, waiting whom he shall kill; so delay not."

Hastily the warriors dragging Sobito secured his wrists and ankles; then they lifted him to their shoulders and carried him through the doorway at the side of the dais to the rear chambers of the temple. Here Tarzan met them.

"Leave Sobito with me," he directed.

"Where is the white prisoner you seized as hostage?" demanded one more courageous than his fellows.

"Search for him in the last room at the far end of the temple," said the ape-man; but he did not say that they would find him there. Then he lifted Sobito to his shoulder and stepped into the room through which he had led Old Timer to freedom, and as the warriors groped through the darkness in search of their victim the ape-man carried Sobito, screaming from fright, out into the forest.

For a long time the silent, terrified listeners in the temple of the Leopard God heard the eerie wails of the witch-doctor of Tumbai growing fainter in the distance; then the warriors returned from their search of the temple to report that the prisoner was not there.

"We have been tricked!" cried Imigeg. "The muzimo of Orando, the Utenga, has stolen our prisoner."

"Perhaps he escaped while the muzimo was taking Sobito," suggested Gato Mgungu.

"Search the island," cried another chief.

"The canoes!" exclaimed a third.

Instantly there was a rush for the river, and then the Leopard Men realized the enormity of the disaster that had befallen them, for not a canoe was left of all those that had brought them to the temple. Their situation was worse than it might appear at first glance. Their village had been burned and those of their fellows who had not accompanied them to the temple were either dead or scattered; there was no path through the tangled mazes of the jungle; but worse still was the fact that religious superstition forbade them from entering the dismal stretch of forest that extended from the island to the nearest trail that they might utilize. The swamps about them and the river below them were infested with crocodiles. The supply of food at the temple was not sufficient to support them for more than a few days. They were cannibals, and the weaker among them were the first to appreciate the significance of that fact.

The warriors of Orando squatted about their fires in their camp beside the manioc field of Gato Mgungu. Their bellies were full, and they were happy. Tomorrow they would start upon the return march to their own country. Already they were anticipating the reception that awaited victorious warriors. Again and again each, when he could make himself heard, recounted his own heroic exploits, none of which lost dramatic value in the retelling. A statistician overhearing them might have computed the enemy dead at fully two thousand.

Their reminiscences were interrupted by the appearance of a giant figure among them. It appeared to have materialized from thin air. It had not been there one moment; the next it had. It was he whom they had known as Muzimo; it was Tarzan of the Apes. Upon his shoulder he bore the bound figure of a man.

"Tarzan of the Apes!" cried some.

"Muzimo!" cried others.

"What have you brought us?" demanded Orando.

Tarzan threw the bound figure to the ground. "I have brought back your witch-doctor," he replied. "I have brought back Sobito, who is also a priest of the Leopard God."

"It is a lie!" screamed Sobito.

"See the leopard skin upon him," exclaimed a warrior.

"And the curved claws of the Leopard Men!" cried another.

"No, Sobito is not a Leopard Man!" jeered a third.

"I found him in the temple of the Leopard Men," explained Tarzan. "I thought you would like to have your witch-doctor back to make strong medicine for you that would preserve you from the Leopard Men."

"Kill him!" screamed a warrior.

"Kill Sobito! Kill Sobito!" was taken up by four score throats.

Angry men advanced upon the witch-doctor.

"Wait!" commanded Orando. "It will be better to take Sobito back to Tumbai, for there are many there who would like to see him die. It will give him time to think about the bad things he has done; it will make him suffer longer, as he has made others suffer; and I am sure that the parents of Nyamwegi would like to see Sobito die."

"Kill me now," begged Sobito. "I do not wish to go back to Tumbai."

"Tarzan of the Apes captured him," suggested a warrior. "Let him tell us what to do with Sobito."

"Do as you please with him," replied the apeman; "he is not my witch-doctor. I have other business to attend to. I go now. Remember Tarzan of the Apes, if you do not see him again, and because of him treat white men kindly, for Tarzan is your friend and you are his."

As silently as he had come, he disappeared; and with him went little Nkima, whom the warriors of the Watenga country knew as The Spirit of Nyamwegi.

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