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Chapter 16 Tarzan and the Leopard Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The night that Tarzan had brought Sobito to their camp the Utengas had celebrated the event in beer salvaged from the loot of Gato Mgungu's village before they had burned it. They had celebrated late into the night, stopping only when the last of the beer had been consumed; then they had slept heavily and well. Even the sentries had dozed at their posts, for much beer poured into stomachs already filled with food induces a lethargy difficult to combat.

And while the Utenga warriors slept, Sobito was not idle. He pulled and tugged at the bonds that held his wrists, with little fear that his rather violent efforts would attract attention. At last he felt them gradually stretching. Sweat poured from his tough old hide; beads of it stood out upon his wrinkled forehead. He was panting from the violence of his exertions. Slowly he dragged one hand farther and farther through the loop; just a hair's breadth at a time it moved, but eventually it slipped out—free!

For a moment the old witch-doctor lay still, recouping the energy that he had expended in his efforts to escape his bonds. Slowly his eyes ranged the camp. No one stirred. Only the heavy, stertorous breathing of the half-drunk warriors disturbed the silence of the night. Sobito drew his feet up within reach of his hands and untied the knots of the cords that confined them; then very quietly and slowly he arose and slipped, bent half-doubled, down toward the river. In a moment the darkness had swallowed him, and the sleeping camp slept on.

On the shore he found the canoes that the Utengas had captured from the forces of Gato Mgungu; with considerable difficulty he pushed one of the smaller of them into the river, after satisfying himself that there was at least one paddle in it. As he leaped into it and felt it glide out into the current, he felt like one snatched from the jaws of death by some unexpected miracle.

His plans were already made. He had had plenty of time while he was lying working with his bonds to formulate them. He might not with safety return to the temple of the Leopard God, that he knew full well; but down the river lay the village of his old friend Bobolo, who by the theft of the white priestess was doubtless as much anathema in the eyes of the Leopard Men as he. To Bobolo's village, therefore, he would go. What he would do afterward was in the laps of the gods.

* * * * *
Another lone boatman drifted down the broad river toward the village of Bobolo. It was Old Timer. He, too, had determined to pay a visit to the citadel of his old friend; but it would be no friendly visit. In fact, if Old Timer's plans were successful, Bobolo would not be aware that a visit was being paid him, lest his hospitality wax so mightily that the guest might never be permitted to depart. It was the white girl, not Bobolo, who lured Old Timer to this rash venture. Something within him more powerful than reason told him that he must save her, and he knew that if any succor was to avail it must come to her at once. As to how he was to accomplish it he had not the most remote conception; all that must depend upon his reconnaissance and his resourcefulness.

As he drifted downward, paddling gently, his mind was filled with visions of the girl. He saw her as he had first seen her in her camp: her blood-smeared clothing, the dirt and perspiration, but, over all, the radiance of her fair face, the haunting allure of her blond hair, dishevelled and falling in wavy ringlets across her forehead and about her ears. He saw her as he had seen her in the temple of the Leopard God, garbed in savage, barbaric splendor, more beautiful than ever. It thrilled him to live again the moments during which he had talked to her, touched her.

Forgotten was the girl whose callous selfishness had made him a wanderer and an outcast. The picture of her that he had carried constantly upon the screen of memory for two long years had faded. When he thought of her now he laughed; and instead of cursing her, as he had so often done before, he blessed her for having sent him here to meet and know this glorious creature who now filled his dreams.

Old Timer was familiar with this stretch of the river. He knew the exact location of Bobolo's village, and he knew that day would break before he came within sight of it. To come boldly to it would be suicidal; now that Bobolo was aware that the white man knew of his connection with the Leopard Men, his life would not be safe if he fell into the hands of the crafty old chief.

For a short time after the sun rose he drifted on down stream, keeping close to the left bank; and shortly before he reached the village, he turned the prow of his craft in to shore. He did not know that he would ever need the canoe again but, on the chance that he might, he secured it to the branch of a tree, and then clambered up into the leafy shelter of the forest giant.

He planned to make his way through the forest toward the village in the hope of finding some vantage point from which he might spy upon it; but he was confident that he would have to wait until after darkness had fallen before he could venture close, when it was in his plan to scale the palisade and search the village for the girl while the natives slept. A mad scheme—but men have essayed even madder when spurred on by infatuation for a woman.

As Old Timer was about to leave the tree and start toward the village of Bobolo, his attention was attracted toward the river by a canoe which had just come into sight around a bend a short distance up stream. In it was a single native. Apprehending that any movement on his part might attract the attention of the lone paddler and wishing above all things to make his way to the village unseen, he remained motionless. Closer and closer came the canoe, but it was not until it was directly opposite him that the white man recognized its occupant as that priest of the Leopard God whom his rescuer had demanded should be delivered into his hands.

Yes, it was Sobito; but how had Sobito come here? What was the meaning of it? Old Timer was confident that the strange white giant who had rescued him had not demanded Sobito for the purpose of setting him free. Here was a mystery. Its solution was beyond him, but he could not see that it materially concerned him in any way; so he gave it no further thought after Sobito had drifted out of sight beyond the next turning of the river below.

Moving cautiously through the jungle the white man came at last within sight of the village of Bobolo. Here he climbed a tree well off the trail where he could overlook the village without being observed. He was not surprised that he did not see the girl who he was confident was there, knowing that she was doubtless a prisoner in one of the huts of the chief's compound. All that he could do was wait until darkness had fallen—wait and hope.

Two days' march on the opposite side of the river lay his own camp. He had thought of going there first and enlisting the aid of his partner, but he dared not risk the four days' delay. He wondered what The Kid was doing; he had not had much time to think about him of late, but he hoped he had been more successful in his search for ivory than he had.

The tree in which Old Timer had stationed himself was at the edge of a clearing. Below him and at a little distance women were working, hoeing with sharpened sticks. They were chattering like a band of monkeys. He saw a few warriors set out to inspect their traps and snares. The scene was peacefully pastoral. He had recognized most of the warriors and some of the women, for Old Timer was well acquainted in the village of Bobolo. The villagers had been friendly, but he knew that he dared no longer approach the village openly because of his knowledge of Bobolo's connection with the Leopard Men. Because of that fact and his theft of the white girl the chief could not afford to let him live; he knew too much.

He had seen the village many times before, but now it had taken on a new aspect. Before, it had been only another native village inhabited by savage blacks; today it was glorified in his eyes by the presence of a girl. Thus does imagination color our perceptions. How different would the village of Bobolo have appeared in the eyes of the watcher had he known the truth, had he known that the girl he thought so near him was far away in the hut of Wlala, the Betete pygmy, grinding corn beneath the hate- filled eyes of a cruel taskmaster, suffering from hunger!

In the village Bobolo was having troubles of his own. Sobito had come! The chief knew nothing of what had befallen the priest of the Leopard God. He did not know that he had been discredited in the eyes of the order; nor did Sobito plan to enlighten him. The wily old witch-doctor was not sure that he had any plans at all. He could not return to Tumbai, but he had to live somewhere. At least he thought so; and he needed, if not friends, allies. He saw in Bobolo a possible ally. He knew that the chief had stolen the white priestess, and he hoped that this knowledge might prove of advantage to him; but he said nothing about the white girl. He believed that she was in the village and that sooner or later he would see her. They had talked of many things since his arrival, but they had not spoken of the Leopard Men nor of the white girl. Sobito was waiting for any turn of events that would give him a cue to his advantage.

Bobolo was nervous. He had been planning to take food to Rebega this day and visit his white wife. Sobito had upset his plans. He tried to think of some way by which he could rid himself of his unwelcome guest. Poison occurred to him; but he had already gone too far in arousing the antagonism of the Leopard Men, and knowing that there were loyal members of the clan in his village, he feared to add the poisoning of a priest to his other crime against the Leopard God.

The day dragged on. Bobolo had not yet discovered why Sobito had come to his village; Sobito had not yet seen the white girl. Old Timer was still perched in the tree overlooking the village. He was hungry and thirsty, but he did not dare desert his post lest something might occur in the village that it would be to his advantage to see. Off and on all day he had seen Bobolo and Sobito. They were always talking. He wondered if they were discussing the fate of the girl. He wished that night would come. He would like to get down and stretch his legs and get a drink. His thirst annoyed him more than his hunger; but even if he had contemplated deserting his post to obtain water, it could not be done now. The women in the field had worked closer to his tree. Two of them were just beneath its overhanging branches. They paused in the shade to rest, their tongues rattling ceaselessly.

Old Timer had overheard a number of extremely intimate anecdotes relating to members of the tribe. He learned that if a certain lady were not careful her husband was going to catch her in an embarrassing situation, that certain charms are more efficacious when mixed with nail parings, that the young son of another lady had a demon in his belly that caused him intense suffering when he overate. These things did not interest Old Timer greatly, but presently one of the women asked a question that brought him to alert attention.

"What do you think Bobolo did with his white wife?"

"He told Ubooga that he had sent her back to the Leopard Men from whom he says that he stole her," replied the other.

"Bobolo has a lying tongue in his head," rejoined the first woman; "it does not know the truth."

"I know what he did with her," volunteered the other. "I overheard Kapopa telling his wife."

"What did he say?"

"He said that they took her to the village of the little men."

"They will eat her."

"No, Bobolo has promised to give them food every moon if they keep her for him."

"I would not like to be in the village of the little men no matter what they promised. They are eaters of men, they are always hungry, and they are great liars." Then the women's work carried them away from the tree, and Old Timer heard no more; but that which he had heard had changed all his plans.

No longer was he interested in the village of Bobolo; once again it was only another native village.

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