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Chapter 21 Tarzan and the Leopard Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Zu-tho, the great ape, had quarrelled with To- yat, the king. Each had coveted a young she just come into maturity. To-yat was a mighty bull, the mightiest of the tribe, for which excellent reason he was king; therefore Zu-tho hesitated to engage him in mortal combat. However, that did not lessen his desire for the fair one; so he ran away with her, coaxing some of the younger bulls who were dissatisfied with the rule of To-yat to accompany them. They came and brought their mates. Thus are new tribes formed. There is always a woman at the bottom of it.

Desiring peace, Zu-tho had moved to new hunting grounds far removed from danger of a chance meeting with To-yat. Ga-yat, his life-long friend, was among those who had accompanied him. Ga-yat was a mighty bull, perhaps mightier than To-yat himself; but Ga- yat was of an easy-going disposition. He did not care who was king as long as he had plenty to eat and was not disturbed in the possession of his mates, a contingency that his enormous size and his great strength rendered remote.

Ga-yat and Zu-tho were good friends of Tarzan, perhaps Ga-yat even more than the latter, for Ga-yat was more inclined to be friendly; so when they saw Tarzan in the new jungle they had chosen for their home they were glad, and when they heard his cry for help they hastened to him, taking all but the two that Zu-tho left to guard the shes and the balus.

They had carried Tarzan far away from the village of the Gomangani to a little open glade beside a stream. Here they laid him on soft grasses beneath the shade of a tree, but they could not remove the wires that held his wrists and ankles. They tried and Nkima tried; but all to no avail, though the little monkey finally succeeded in gnawing the ropes which had also been placed around both his wrists and his ankles.

Nkima and Ga-yat brought food and water to Tarzan, and the great apes were a protection to him against the prowling carnivores; but the ape-man knew that this could not last for long. Soon they would move on to some other part of the forest, as was their way, nor would any considerations of sympathy or friendship hold them. Of the former they knew little or nothing, and of the latter not sufficient to make them self- sacrificing.

Nkima would remain with him; he would bring him food and water, but he would be no protection. At the first glimpse of Dango, the hyaena, or Sheeta, the leopard, little Nkima would flee, screaming, to the trees. Tarzan racked his fertile brain for a solution to his problem. He thought of his great and good friend, Tantor, the elephant, but was forced to discard him as a possibility for escape as Tantor could no more remove his bonds than the apes. He could carry him, but where? There was no friend within reach to untwist the confining wire. Tantor would protect him, but of what use would protection be if he must lie here bound and helpless. Better death than that.

Presently, however, a solution suggested itself; and he called Ga-yat to him. The great bull came lumbering to his side. "I am Ga-yat," he announced, after the manner of the great apes. It was a much shorter way of saying, "You called me, and I am here. What do you want?"

"Ga-yat is not afraid of anything," was Tarzan's manner of approaching the subject he had in mind.

"Ga-yat is not afraid," growled the bull. "Ga-yat kills."

"Ga-yat is not afraid of the Gomangani," continued the ape- man.

"Ga-yat is not afraid," which was a much longer way of saying no.

"Only the Tarmangani or the Gomangani can remove the bonds that keep Tarzan a prisoner."

"Ga-yat kills the Tarmangani and the Gomangani."

"No," objected Tarzan. "Ga-yat will go and fetch one to take the wires from Tarzan. Do not kill. Bring him here."

"Ga-yat understands," said the bull after a moment's thought.

"Go now," directed the ape-man, and with no further words Ga- yat lumbered away and a moment later had disappeared into the forest.

* * * * *
The Kid and his five followers arrived at the north bank of the river opposite the village of Bobolo, where they had no difficulty in attracting the attention of the natives upon the opposite side and by means of signs appraising them that they wished to cross.

Presently several canoes put out from the village and paddled up stream to make the crossing. They were filled with warriors, for as yet Bobolo did not know either the identity or numbers of his visitors and was taking no chances. Sobito was still with him and had given no intimation that the Leopard Men suspected that he had stolen the white priestess, yet there was always danger that Gato Mgungu might lead an expedition against him.

When the leading canoe came close to where The Kid stood, several of the warriors in it recognized him, for he had been often at the village of Bobolo; and soon he and his men were taken aboard and paddled across to the opposite bank.

There was little ceremony shown him, for he was only a poor elephant poacher with a miserable following of five Negroes; but eventually Bobolo condescended to receive him; and he was led to the chief's hut, where Bobolo and Sobito, with several of the village elders, were seated in the shade.

The Kid's friendly greeting was answered with a surly nod. "What does the white man want?" demanded Bobolo.

The youth was quick to discern the altered attitude of the chief; before, he had always been friendly. He did not relish the implied discourtesy of the chief's salutation, the omission of the deferential bwana; but what was he to do? He fully realized his own impotency, and though it galled him to do so he was forced to overlook the insulting inflection that Bobolo had given the words "white man."

"I have come to get you to help me find my friend, the old bwana," he said. "My boys say that he went into the village of Gato Mgungu, but that he never came out."

"Why do you come to me, then," demanded Bobolo; "why do you not go to Gato Mgungu?"

"Because you are our friend," replied The Kid; "I believed that you would help me."

"How can I help you? I know nothing about your friend."

"You can send men with me to the village of Gato Mgungu," replied The Kid, "while I demand the release of the old bwana."

"What will you pay me?" asked Bobolo.

"I can pay you nothing now. When we get ivory I will pay."

Bobolo sneered. "I have no men to send with you," he said. "You come to a great chief and bring no presents; you ask him to give you warriors and you have nothing to pay for them."

The Kid lost his temper. "You lousy old scoundrel!" he exclaimed. "You can't talk that way to me and get away with it. I'll give you until tomorrow morning to come to your senses." He turned on his heel and walked down the village street, followed by his five retainers; then he heard Bobolo yelling excitedly to his men to seize him. Instantly the youth realized the predicament in which his hot temper had placed him. He thought quickly, and before the warriors had an opportunity to arrest him he turned back toward Bobolo's hut.

"And another thing," he said as he stood again before the chief; "I have already dispatched a messenger down river to the station telling them about this affair and my suspicions. I told them that I would be here waiting for them when they came with soldiers. If you are thinking of harming me, Bobolo, be sure that you have a good story ready, for I told them that I was particularly suspicious of you."

He waited for no reply, but turned again and walked toward the village gate, nor was any hand raised to stay him. He grinned to himself as he passed out of the village, for he had sent no messenger, and no soldiers were coming.

As a gesture of contempt for the threats of Bobolo, The Kid made camp close to the village; but his men were not a little perturbed. Some of the villagers came out with food, and from his almost exhausted stores the white extracted enough cloth to purchase a day's rations for himself and his men. Among his callers was a girl whom he had known for some time. She was a happy, good-natured creature; and The Kid had found amusement in talking to her. In the past he had given her little presents, which pleased her simple heart, as did the extravagant compliments that The Kid amused himself by paying her.

Bring a girl presents often and tell her that she is the most beautiful girl in the village, and you may be laying the foundation for something unpleasant in the future. You may be joking, but the girl may be in earnest. This one was. That she had fallen in love with The Kid should have worked to his detriment as a punishment for his thoughtlessness, but it did not.

At dusk the girl returned, sneaking stealthily through the shadows. The Kid was startled by her abrupt appearance before his tent, where he sat smoking.

"Hello there, Nsenene!" he exclaimed. "What brings you here?" He was suddenly impressed by the usually grave demeanor of the girl and her evident excitement.

"Hush!" cautioned the girl. "Do not speak my name. They would kill me if they knew I had come here."

"What's wrong?"

"Much is wrong. Bobolo is going to send men with you tomorrow. He will tell you that they are going to the village of Gato Mgungu with you, but they will not. When they get you out in the river, out of sight of the village, they will kill you and all your men and throw you to the crocodiles. Then when the white men come, they will tell them that they left you at the village of Gato Mgungu; and the white men will go and they will find no village, because it has been burned by the Utengas. There will be no one there to tell them that Bobolo lied."

"Gato Mgungu's village burned! What became of the old bwana?"

"I know nothing about him, but he is not at the village of Gato Mgungu, because there is no village there. I think he is dead. I heard it said that the Leopard Men killed him. Bobolo is afraid of the Leopard Men because he stole their white priestess from them."

"White priestess! What do you mean?" demanded The Kid.

"They had a white priestess. I saw her here when Bobolo brought her to be his wife, but Ubooga would not have her around and made Bobolo send her away. She was a white woman, very white, with hair the color of the moon."

"When was this?" demanded the astonished youth.

"Three days ago, maybe four days. I do not remember."

"Where is she now? I should like to see her."

"You will never see her," replied Nsenene; "no one will ever see her."

"Why not?"

"Because they sent her to the village of the little men."

"You mean the Betetes?"

"Yes, the Betetes. They are eaters of men."

"Where is their village?" asked The Kid.

"You want to go there and get the white woman?" demanded Nsenene suspiciously.

There was something in the way the girl asked the question that gave The Kid his first intimation that her interest was prompted by more than friendship for him, for there was an unquestionable tinge of jealous suspicion in her tone. He leaned forward with a finger on his lips. "Don't tell anybody, Nsenene," he cautioned in a whisper; "but the white woman is my sister. I must go to her rescue. Now tell me where the village is, and next time I come I'll bring you a fine present." If he had felt any compunction about lying to the girl, which he did not, he could easily have salved his conscience with the knowledge that he had done it in a good cause; for if there was any truth in the story of the white priestess, captive of the Betetes, then there was but one course of procedure possible for him, the only white man in the district who had knowledge of her predicament. He had thought of saying that the woman was his mother or daughter, but had compromised on sister as appearing more reasonable.

"Your sister!" exclaimed Nsenene. "Yes, now that I remember, she looked like you. Her eyes and her nose were like yours."

The Kid suppressed a smile. Suggestion and imagination were potent powers. "We do look alike," he admitted; "but tell me, where is the village?"

As well as she could Nsenene described the location of the village of Rebega. "I will go with you, if you will take me," she suggested. "I do not wish to stay here any longer. My father is going to sell me to an old man whom I do not like. I will go with you and cook for you. I will cook for you until I die."

"I cannot take you now," replied The Kid. "Maybe some other time, but this time there may be fighting."

"Some other time then," said the girl. "Now I must go back to the village before they close the gates."

At the first break of dawn, The Kid set out in search of the village of Rebega. He told his men that he had given up the idea of going to the village of Gato Mgungu, but that while they were here he was going to look for ivory on this side of the river. If he had told them the truth, they would not have accompanied him.

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