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Chapter 15 Tarzan and the Castaways by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Life in the camp of the castaways was well ordered and run along military lines, for Colonel Leigh had taken full command. Lacking bugles, he had set up the ship's bell, which rang at six o'clock each morning, a clanging imitation of reveille; it summoned the company to mess three times a day, and announced tattoo at nine, and taps at ten each night. Sentries guarded the camp twenty-four hours each day, and working parties policed it, or chopped wood, or gathered such natural foods as the jungle afforded. It was indeed a model camp, from which fishing parties rowed out upon the lagoon daily, and hunting parties went into the forest in search of game, wherewith to vary the monotony of their fruit and vegetable diet. It was the duty of the women to keep their own quarters in order and do such mending as might be required.

Tarzan's mysterious disappearance and protracted absence was the subject of considerable conversation. "It is good riddance," said Penelope Leigh. "Never, since I first saw that terrible creature, have I felt safe until now."

"I don't see how you can say such a thing," said her niece; "I should feel very much safer were he here."

"One never knew when he might take it into his head to eat one," insisted Mrs. Leigh.

"I was shut up with him for days in that cage," said Janette Laon; "and he never showed me even the slightest incivility, let alone threatening to harm me."

"Hmph!" snorted Penelope, who had never as yet condescended to recognize the existence of Janette, let alone speak to her. She had made up her mind on first sight that Janette was a loose woman; and when Penelope Leigh made up her mind, not even an act of Parliament might change it ordinarily.

"Before he went away, he had been making weapons," recalled Patricia, "and I suppose he went into the forest to hunt; perhaps a lion or a tiger got him."

"Serve him right," snapped Mrs. Leigh. "The very idea of turning all those wild beasts loose on this island with us. It will be a miracle if we are not all devoured."

"He went out into the jungle without any firearms," mused Janette Laon, half to herself; "I heard Colonel Leigh say that not even a pistol was missing. Just think of going into that jungle where he knew all those ferocious beasts were, and with only a gaff and some homemade arrows and a bow."

Mrs. Leigh hated to acknowledge any interest in Janette Laon's conversation, but she couldn't resist the temptation of saying, "He's probably a half-wit; most of these wild men are."

"I wouldn't know," said Janette Laon sweetly, "never having had an occasion to associate with any."

Mrs. Leigh sniffed, and Patricia turned her back to hide a smile.

Algernon Wright-Smith, Captain Bolton, and Dr. Crouch were hunting. They had gone northward into the jungle hoping to bring fresh meat back to the camp. They were following a dim trail in the damp earth of which the footprints of pig could occasionally be identified, and these gave them hope and lured them on.

"Nasty place to meet a tusker," remarked Crouch.

"Rather," agreed Algy.

"Look here!" exclaimed Bolton, who was in advance.

"What is it?" asked Crouch.

"The pug of a tiger or a lion," replied Bolton; "fresh too—the blighter must just have crossed the trail."

Crouch and Algy examined the imprint of the beast's pug in the soft earth. "Tiger," said Crouch; "no doubt about it—I've seen too many of them to be mistaken."

"Rotten place to meet old stripes," said Algy; "I—," a coughing grunt interrupted him. "I say!" he exclaimed, "there's the beggar now."

"Where?" demanded Bolton.

"Off there to the left," said Crouch.

"Can't see a bloody thing," said Algy.

"I think we should go back," said Bolton; "we wouldn't have a chance if that fellow charged; one of us would be sure to be killed—maybe more."

"I think you're right," said Crouch; "I don't like the idea of having that fellow between us and camp." There was a sudden crashing in the underbrush a short distance from them.

"My God!" exclaimed Algy, "here he comes!" as he threw down his gun and clambered into a tree.

The other men followed Algy's example and none too soon, for they were scarcely out of harm's way when a great Bengal tiger broke from cover and leaped into the trail. He stood looking around for a moment, and then he caught sight of the treed men and growled. His terrible yellow-green eyes and his snarling face were turned up toward them.

Crouch commenced to laugh, and the other two men looked at him in surprise. "I'm glad there was no one here to see that," he said; "it would have been a terrible blow to British prestige."

"What the devil else could we do?" demanded Bolton. "You know as well as I do that we didn't have a ghost of a show against him, even with three guns."

"Of course not," said Algy; "couldn't have got a sight of him to fire at until he was upon us. Certainly was lucky for us there were some trees we could climb in a hurry; good old trees; I always did like trees."

The tiger came forward growling, and when he was beneath the tree in which Algy was perched, he crouched and sprang.

"By Jove!" exclaimed Algy, climbing higher; "the beggar almost got me."

Twice more the tiger sprang for one of them, and then he walked back along the trail a short distance and lay down patiently.

"The beggar's got us dead to rights," said Bolton.

"He won't stay there forever," said Crouch.

Bolton shook his head. "I hope not," he said, "but they have an amazing amount of patience; I know a chap who was treed by one all night in Bengal."

"Oh, I say, he couldn't do that, you know," objected Algy. "What does he take us for—a lot of bally asses? Does he think we're coming down there to be eaten up?"

"He probably thinks that when we are ripe, we'll fall off, like apples and things."

"This is deucedly uncomfortable," said Algy after a while; "I'm pretty well fed up with it. I wish I had my gun."

"It's right down there at the foot of your tree," said Crouch; "why don't you go down and get it?"

"I say, old thing!" exclaimed Algy; "I just had a brainstorm. Watch." He took off his shirt, commenced tearing it into strips which he tied together, and when he had a long string of this he made a slip noose at one end; then he came down to a lower branch and dropped the noose down close to the muzzle of his gun, which, because of the way in which the weapon had fallen, was raised a couple of inches from the ground.

"Clever?" demanded Algy.

"Very," said Bolton. "The tiger is admiring your ingenuity; see him watching you?"

"If that noose catches behind the sight, I can draw the bally thing up here, and then I'll let old stripes have what for."

"You should have been an engineer, Algy," said Crouch.

"My mother wanted me to study for the Church," said Algy, "and my father wanted me to go into the diplomatic corps—both make me bored; so I just played tennis instead."

"And you're rotten at that," said Crouch, laughing.

"Righto, old thing!" agreed Algy. "Look! I have it."

After much fishing, the noose had slipped over the muzzle of the gun, and as Algy pulled gently, it tightened below the sight; then he started drawing the weapon up towards him.

He had it within a foot of his hand when the tiger leaped to his feet with a roar and charged. As the beast sprang into the air towards Algy, the man dropped everything and scrambled towards safety, as the raking talons swept within an inch of his foot.

"Whe-e-ew!" exclaimed Algy, as he reached a higher branch.

"Now you've even lost your shirt," said Crouch.

The tiger stood looking up for a moment, growling and lashing his tail, and then he went back and lay down again.

"I believe the beggar is going to keep us here all night," said Algy.

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