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Chapter 17 Tarzan and the Leopard Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs

When Tarzan of the Apes left the camp of the Utengas, he appropriated one of the canoes of the defeated Leopard Men, as Sobito was to do several hours later, and paddled across the broad river to its opposite shore. His destination was the village of Bobolo; his mission, to question the chief relative to the white girl. He felt no keen personal interest in her and was concerned only because of racial ties, which, after all, are not very binding. She was a white woman and he was a white man, a fact that he sometimes forgot, since, after all, he was a wild beast before everything else.

He had been very active for several days and nights, and he was tired. Little Nkima also was tired, nor did he let Tarzan forget it for long; so when the ape-man leaped ashore from the canoe he sought a comfortable place among the branches of a tree where they might lie up for a few hours.

The sun was high in the heavens when Tarzan awoke. Little Nkima, snuggling close to him, would have slept longer; but the ape-man caught him by the scruff of the neck and shook him into wakefulness. "I am hungry," said Tarzan; "let us find food and eat."

"There is plenty to eat in the forest," replied Nkima; "let us sleep a little longer."

"I do not want fruit or nuts," said the ape-man. "I want meat. Nkima may remain here and sleep, but Tarzan goes to kill."

"I shall go with you," announced Nkima. "Strong in this forest is the scent of Sheeta, the leopard. I am afraid to remain alone. Sheeta is hunting, too; he is hunting for little Nkima."

The shadow of a smile touched the lips of the ape-man, one of those rare smiles that it was vouchsafed but few to see. "Come," he said, "and while Tarzan hunts for meat Nkima can rob birds' nests."

The hunting was not good, for though the apeman ranged far through the forest his searching nostrils were not rewarded with the scent of flesh that he liked. Always strong was the scent of Sheeta, but Tarzan liked not the flesh of the carnivores. Driven to it by the extremity of hunger, he had eaten more than once of Sheeta and Numa and Sabor; but it was the flesh of the herbivores that he preferred.

Knowing that the hunting was better farther from the river, where there were fewer men, he swung deeper and deeper into the primeval forest until be was many miles from the river. This country was new to Tarzan, and he did not like it; there was too little game. This thought was in his mind when there came to his nostrils the scent of Wappi, the antelope. It was very faint, but it was enough. Straight into the wind swung Tarzan of the Apes, and steadily the scent of Wappi grew stronger in his nostrils. Mingling with it were other scents: the scent of Pacco, the zebra, and of Numa, the lion; the fresh scent of open grassland.

On swung Tarzan of the Apes and little Nkima. Stronger grew the scent spoor of the quarry in the nostrils of the hunter, stronger the hunger-craving growing in his belly. His keen nostrils told him that there was not one antelope ahead but many. This must be a good hunting ground that he was approaching! Then the forest ended; and a rolling, grassy plain, tree-dotted, stretched before him to blue mountains in the distance.

Before him, as he halted at the forest's edge, the plain was rich with lush grasses; a mile away a herd of antelope grazed, and beyond them the plain was dotted with zebra. An almost inaudible growl rumbled from his deep chest; it was the anticipatory growl of the hunting beast that is about to feed.

Strong in his nostrils was the scent of Numa, the lion. In those deep grasses were lions; but in such rich hunting ground, they must be well fed, he knew, and so he could ignore them. They would not bother him, if he did not bother them, which he had no intention of doing.

To stalk the antelope amid the concealment of this tall grass was no difficult matter for the apeman. He did not have to see them; his nose would guide him to them. First he noted carefully the terrain, the location of each tree, an outcropping of rock that rose above the grasses. It was likely that the lions would be lying up there in the shadow of the rocks. He beckoned to Nkima, but Nkima held back. "Numa is there," complained the monkey, "with all his brothers and sisters. They are waiting there to eat little Nkima. Nkima is afraid."

"Stay where you are, then; and when I have made my kill I will return."

"Nkima is afraid to remain."

Tarzan shook his head. "Nkima is a great coward," he said. "He may do what he pleases. Tarzan goes to make his kill."

Silently he slid into the tall grasses, while Nkima crouched high in a great tree, choosing the lesser of two evils. The little monkey watched him go out into the great plain where the lions were; and he shivered, though it was very warm.

Tarzan made a detour to avoid the rocks; but even where he was, the lion scent was so strong that he almost lost the scent of Wappi. Yet he felt no apprehension. Fear he did not know. By now he had covered half the distance to the quarry, which was still feeding quietly, unmindful of danger.

Suddenly to his left he heard the angry coughing growl of a lion. It was a warning growl that the ape-man knew might presage a charge. Tarzan sought no encounter with Numa. All that he wished was to make his kill and depart. He moved away to the right. Fifty feet ahead of him was a tree. If the lion charged, it might be necessary to seek sanctuary there, but he did not believe that Numa would charge. He had given him no reason to do so; then a cross current of wind brought to his nostrils a scent that warned him of his peril. It was the scent of Sabor, the lioness. Now Tarzan understood; he had nearly stumbled upon a mating lion, which meant that a charge was almost inevitable, for a mating lion will charge anything without provocation.

Now the tree was but twenty-five feet away. A roar thundered from the grasses behind him. A quick backward glance, showing the grass tops waving tumultuously, revealed the imminence of his danger; Numa was charging!

Up to that time he had seen no lion, but now a massive head framed by a dark brown mane burst into view. Tarzan of the Apes was angry. It galled him to flee. A dignified retreat prompted by caution was one thing; abject flight, another. Few creatures can move with the swiftness of Tarzan, and he had a start of twenty- five feet. He could have reached the tree ahead of the lion, but he did not attempt to do so—not at once. Instead he wheeled and faced the roaring, green-eyed monster. Back went his spear arm, his muscles rolling like molten steel beneath his bronzed skin, then forward with all the weight of his powerful frame backed by those mighty thews. The heavy Utenga war spear shot from his hand. Not until then did Tarzan of the Apes turn and fly; but he did not run from the lion that was pursuing him. Behind Numa he had seen Sabor coming, and behind her the grasses waved in many places above the rushing bodies of charging lions. Tarzan of the Apes fled from certain and sudden death.

The spear momentarily checked the charge of the nearest lion and, in that fraction of a split second that spelled the difference between life and death the ape-man swarmed up the tree that had been his goal, while the raking talons of Numa all but grazed his heel.

Safe out of reach Tarzan turned and looked down. Below him a great lion in his death throes was clawing at the haft of the spear that was buried in his heart. Behind the first lion a lioness and six more males had burst into view. Far out across the plain the antelopes and the zebras were disappearing in the distance, startled into flight by the roars of the charging lion.

The lioness, never pausing in her charge, ran far up the bole of the tree in her effort to drag down the man-thing. She had succeeded in getting one forearm across a lower branch, and she hung there a moment in an effort to scramble farther upward; but she could not get sufficient footing for her hind feet to force her heavy weight higher, and presently she slipped back to the ground. She sniffed at her dead mate and then circled the tree, growling. The six males paced to and fro, adding their angry roars to the protest of Sabor, while from above them the ape-man looked down and through snarling lips growled out his own disappointment and displeasure. In a tree top half a mile away a little monkey screamed and scolded.

For half an hour the lioness circled the tree, looking up at Tarzan, her yellow-green eyes blazing with rage and hatred; then she lay down beside the body of her fallen mate, while the six males squatted upon their haunches and watched now Sabor, now Tarzan, and now one another.

Tarzan of the Apes gazed ruefully after his departed quarry and back toward the forest. He was hungrier now than ever. Even if the lions went away and permitted him to descend, he was still as far from a meal as he had been when he awoke in the morning. He broke twigs and branches from the tree and hurled them at Sabor in an attempt to drive her away, knowing that wherever she went the males would follow; but she only growled the more ferociously and remained in her place beside the dead lion.

Thus passed the remainder of the day. Night came, and still the lioness remained beside her dead mate. Tarzan upbraided himself for leaving his bow and arrows behind in the forest. With them he could have killed the lioness and the lions and escaped. Without them he could do nothing but throw futile twigs at them and wait. He wondered how long he would have to wait. When the lioness waxed hungry enough she would go away; but when would that be? From the size of her belly and the smell of her breath the man-beast squatting above her knew that she had eaten recently and well.

Tarzan had long since resigned himself to his fate. When he had found that hurling things at Sabor would not drive her away, he had desisted. Unlike man he did not continue to annoy her merely for the purpose of venting his displeasure. Instead he curled himself in a crotch of the tree and slept.

In the forest, at the edge of the plain, a terrified little monkey rolled himself into the tiniest ball that he could achieve and suffered in silence. If he were too large or too noisy, he feared that he might sooner attract the attention of Sheeta, the leopard. That Sheeta would come eventually and eat him he was certain. But why hasten the evil moment?

When the sun rose and he was still alive, Nkima was surprised but not wholly convinced. Sheeta might have overlooked him in the dark, but in the daylight he would be sure to see him; however, there was some consolation in knowing that he could see Sheeta sooner and doubtless escape him. With the rising sun his spirits rose, but he was still unhappy because Tarzan had not returned. Out on the plain he could see him in the tree, and he wondered why he did not come down and return to little Nkima. He saw the lions, too; but it did not occur to him that it was they who prevented Tarzan returning. He could not conceive that there might be any creature or any number of creatures which his mighty master could not overcome.

Tarzan was irked. The lioness gave no sign that she was ever going away. Several of the males had departed to hunt during the night, and one that had made a kill nearby lay on it not far from the tree. Tarzan hoped that Sabor would be attracted by it; but though the odor of the kill was strong in the ape-man's nostrils, the lioness was not tempted away by it.

Noon came. Tarzan was famished and his throat was dry. He was tempted to cut a club from a tree branch and attempt to battle his way to liberty; but he knew only too well what the outcome would be. Not even he, Tarzan of the Apes, could hope to survive the onslaught of all those lions, which was certain to follow immediately he descended from the tree if the lioness attacked him. That she would attack him if he approached that close to her dead mate was a foregone conclusion. There was nothing to do but wait. Eventually she would go away; she could not remain there forever.

Nor did she. Shortly after noon she arose and slunk toward the kill that one of the males had made. As she disappeared in the tall grass, the other males followed her. It was fortunate for the ape-man that the kill lay beyond the tree in which he had taken refuge, away from the forest. He did not wait after the last male disappeared among the waving grasses, but dropped from the tree, recovered his spear from the carcass of Numa, and started at a brisk walk toward the forest. His keen ears took note of every sound. Not even soft-padded Numa could have stalked him without his being aware of it, but no lion followed him.

Nkima was frantic with joy. Tarzan was only hungry and thirsty. He was not long in finding the means for quenching his thirst, but it was late before he made a kill and satisfied his hunger; then his thoughts returned to the object of his excursion. He would go to the village of Bobolo and reconnoiter.

He had gone far inland from the river, and his hunting had taken him down the valley to a point which he guessed was about opposite the village where he hoped to find the girl. He had passed a band of great apes led by Zu-tho, whom he had thought far away in his own country; and he had stopped to talk with them for a moment; but neither the great apes nor Tarzan, who was reared among them, are loquacious, so that he soon left them to pursue the purpose he had undertaken. Now he swung through the trees directly toward the river, where he knew that he could find landmarks to assure him of his position.

It was already dark; so Nkima clung to the back of his master, his little arms about the bronzed neck. By day he swung through the trees with Tarzan; but at night he clung tightly to him, for by night there are terrible creatures abroad in the jungle; and they are all hunting for little Nkima.

The scent spoor of man was growing stronger in the nostrils of Tarzan, so that he knew that he was approaching a village of the Gomangani. He was certain that it could not be the village of Bobolo; it was too far from the river. Furthermore, there was an indication in the odors wafted to his nostrils that the people who inhabited it were not of the same tribe as Bobolo. The mere presence of Gomangani would have been sufficient to have caused Tarzan to investigate, for it was the business of the Lord of the Jungle to have knowledge of all things in his vast domain; but there was another scent spoor faintly appreciable among the varied stenches emanating from the village that in itself would have been sufficient to turn him from his direct path to the river. It was but the faintest suggestion of a scent, yet the ape-man recognized it for what it was; and it told him that the girl he sought was close at hand.

Silently he approached the village, until from the outspreading branches of a great tree he looked down upon the compound before the hut of Rebega, the chief.

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