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Chapter 10 Tarzan and the Castaways by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The ship's company stood in tense expectancy as a wave lifted the Saigon above a maelstrom of water surging over the reef.

As the sea dropped them with terrific impact upon the jagged coral rocks, the grinding and splintering of wood sounded her death knell. She reeled drunkenly toward the deep water outside the reef. More than one heart stood still in that tense moment; if she slipped back into the sea many would be lost, and there was no doubt now but that she was slipping.

"Percy," said Mrs. Leigh to the Colonel—she always called him Percy in her softer moods—"Percy, if I have been trying at times, I hope that you will forgive me now that we face our Maker."

"Harrumph!" grunted the Colonel. "It is all my fault; I should never have read that Beebe yarn."

As the Saigon slipped back into deep water, a following wave, larger than that which had preceded it, lifted the ship again and dropped her heavily upon the reef. This time she lodged firmly, and as the wave receded, she was left resting with her decks almost level.

"I say," said Algy, "this is a little bit of all right, what? Just like Noah's Ark—a bally old tub full of wild animals sitting high and dry on top of Mount Ararat."

A succession of smaller waves beat against the Saigon while the men worked to get the boats and the rafts over into the lagoon; and then another large wave broke entirely over the ship, but she did not budge from her position.

Lines leading to the ship held the boats and the rafts from drifting away, but now the question arose as to how to get the women down to them. The reef was narrow, and the Saigon rested only a few feet from its shoreward side. An athletic man might leap from the rail, clear the reef, and land in the lagoon; but Mrs. Leigh was not an athletic man, and she was the real problem.

She looked down over the rail of the ship at the waters still surging across the reef. "I can never get down there, William," she said; "you go on. Pay no attention to me; perhaps we shall meet in a happier world."

"Bosh and nonsense," exclaimed the Colonel. "We'll get you down some way."

"I'll go down there," said Tarzan, "and you lower her from one of the ship's davits; I'll see that she's gotten on one of the rafts safely."

"Never," said Mrs. Leigh emphatically.

Tarzan turned to Captain Bolton. "I shall expect you to lower her immediately," he said, "and there will be no nonsense about it. I'm going down now to see how deep the water is inside the reef. Those who can't swim can jump in, and I will help them into one of the boats or onto a raft." He climbed to the top of the rail, poised there a moment, and then leaped far out, and dove towards the lagoon.

All hands started towards the rail to watch him. They saw him make a shallow dive and then turn over and disappear beneath the surface. Presently his head broke the water, and he looked up. "It is plenty deep right here," he said.

Patricia Leigh-Burden stripped off her life belt, climbed to the rail, and dove. When she came up, Tarzan was beside her. "I don't need to ask if you can swim," he said.

She smiled. "I'll stay here and help you with the others," she said. Janette Laon was the next to jump. She did not dive, and she just cleared the reef.

Tarzan had hold of her before she reached the surface. He still supported her when their heads were above water.

"Can you swim?" he asked.

"No," she replied.

"You are a very brave girl," he said, as he swam towards one of the boats with her and helped her aboard.

By this time, they had rigged a boatswain's chair and were lowering a highly irate and protesting Mrs. Leigh over the ship's side. As she reached the surface of the lagoon, Tarzan was awaiting her.

"Young man," she snapped, "if anything happens to me, it will be your fault."

"Be quiet," said Tarzan, "and get out of that chair."

Probably in all her life, Penelope Leigh had never before been spoken to in the voice of real authority; it not only took her breath away, but it cowed her; and she slipped meekly out of the boatswain's chair and into Tarzan's arms. He swam with her to one of the rafts and helped her on, for they were easier to board than the lifeboats.

Tarzan swam back to the ship. The boatswain's chair was still swinging close above the water. He seized it and climbed hand over hand to the deck. One by one, men were jumping or diving from the rail when he stopped them.

"I want ten or fifteen volunteers for some very dangerous work," he said; "they have got to have what the Americans call 'guts'."

"What do you intend doing?" asked Bolton.

"Now that everybody else is safely on shore, I am going to set the animals free," said the ape man, "and make them take to the water."

"But, man," cried Colonel Leigh, "many of them are dangerous beasts of prey."

"Their lives are as important to them as ours are to us," replied Tarzan, "and I am not going to leave them here to die of starvation."

"Quite right, quite right," said the Colonel, "but why not destroy them. That would be the humane way."

"I did not suggest destroying your wife or your friends," said Tarzan, "and nobody is going to destroy my friends."

"Your friends?" ejaculated the Colonel.

"Yes, my friends," replied the Lord of the Jungle, "or perhaps it would be better to say, my people. I was born and raised among them; I never saw a human being until I was almost grown, nor did I see a white man 'til I was fully twenty years old. Will anyone volunteer to help me save them?"

"By Jove!" exclaimed the Colonel; "that is certainly a sporting proposition; I'm with you, young man."

De Groote, Bolton, Tibbet, Crouch, a number of the Naiad crew and several Chinese volunteered to help him, as well as the three Indian keepers, who had been signed on by Krause to look after the animals.

While those who had not volunteered to remain with him were leaving the ship, Tarzan released the orangutans. He spoke to them in their own language, and they clung to him like frightened children; then he led his men below to the animal deck and opened the great double doors in the side of the ship, through which all of the larger animals had been loaded.

There were three Indian elephants, and these he liberated first, as they were docile and well trained. He had one of the Indian mahouts mount the best of these and told him to ride this one into the lagoon the moment that a wave covered the reef. There was a brief battle with the animal before it could be forced to take the plunge; but once he was swimming, it was comparatively easy to get the other two elephants to follow him, and then the African elephants were released. These were wild beasts and far more dangerous and difficult, but once their leader saw the Indian elephants swimming away he lumbered into the lagoon and followed, and his fellows trailed after him.

The cages of the lions and tigers were dragged one by one to the door, the doors of the cages opened, and the cages tilted until the beasts were spilled out. The lesser animals were disembarked in the same way.

It was a long and arduous job, but at last it was over, and only the snakes remained.

"What are you going to do about them?" asked Bolton.

"Histah, the snake, has always been my enemy," replied Tarzan; "him, we shall destroy."

They stood in the doorway of the ship watching the beasts making their way toward shore, from which the empty boats and rafts were already being returned to the ship in accordance with Bolton's orders.

Along the shore line was a narrow beach, and beyond that dense jungle broke gradually upward to the foot of the green-clad, volcanic mountains which formed a fitting backdrop for the wild and desolate scene.

The landing party huddled on the beach as the wild creatures swam or waded to shore. But the animals bolted into the jungle as fast as they came out of the water. A single elephant turned and trumpeted, and a lion roared, whether in challenge or thanksgiving, who may know? And then the jungle closed about them, and they took up their new lives in a strange world.

Most of the sailors had returned to the ship with the rafts and boats, and the remainder of the day was spent in transporting the ship's stores to the beach.

For two days they worked, stripping the ship of everything that might add to their comfort or convenience, and while half of the men worked at this, the other half cut a clearing in the jungle, for a permanent camp. They had chosen this site because a little stream of fresh water ran through it.

In the afternoon of the third day when the work was almost completed, a little party of a dozen men looked down upon the camp from the summit of the cliff that hemmed the beach upon the south. Concealed by the verdure there, they watched the first strangers who had come to their island for many a long year.

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