Part 3 out of 6
Negroes with contempt. The return journey led them straight up
wind. The result being that the scent of their pursuers was borne
away from them, so they proceeded upon their way in total ignorance
of the fact that tireless trackers but little less expert in the
mysteries of woodcraft than themselves were dogging their trail
with savage insistence.
The little party of warriors was led by Kovudoo, the chief; a
middle-aged savage of exceptional cunning and bravery. It was he
who first came within sight of the quarry which they had followed
for hours by the mysterious methods of their almost uncanny powers
of observation, intuition, and even scent.
Kovudoo and his men came upon Korak, Akut and Meriem after the
killing of the king ape, the noise of the combat having led them
at last straight to their quarry. The sight of the slender white
girl had amazed the savage chief and held him gazing at the trio
for a moment before ordering his warriors to rush out upon their
prey. In that moment it was that the great apes came and again the
blacks remained awestruck witnesses to the palaver, and the battle
between Korak and the young bull.
But now the apes had gone, and the white youth and the white maid
stood alone in the jungle. One of Kovudoo's men leaned close to the
ear of his chief. "Look!" he whispered, and pointed to something
that dangled at the girl's side. "When my brother and I were
slaves in the village of The Sheik my brother made that thing for
The Sheik's little daughter--she played with it always and called
it after my brother, whose name is Geeka. Just before we escaped
some one came and struck down The Sheik, stealing his daughter
away. If this is she The Sheik will pay you well for her return."
Korak's arm had again gone around the shoulders of Meriem. Love
raced hot through his young veins. Civilization was but a
half-remembered state--London as remote as ancient Rome. In all
the world there were but they two--Korak, The Killer, and Meriem,
his mate. Again he drew her close to him and covered her willing
lips with his hot kisses. And then from behind him broke a hideous
bedlam of savage war cries and a score of shrieking blacks were
Korak turned to give battle. Meriem with her own light spear stood
by his side. An avalanche of barbed missiles flew about them. One
pierced Korak's shoulder, another his leg, and he went down.
Meriem was unscathed for the blacks had intentionally spared her.
Now they rushed forward to finish Korak and made good the girl's
capture; but as they came there came also from another point in
the jungle the great Akut and at his heels the huge bulls of his
Snarling and roaring they rushed upon the black warriors when they
saw the mischief they had already wrought. Kovudoo, realizing
the danger of coming to close quarters with these mighty ape-men,
seized Meriem and called upon his warriors to retreat. For a time
the apes followed them, and several of the blacks were badly mauled
and one killed before they succeeded in escaping. Nor would they
have gotten off thus easily had Akut not been more concerned with
the condition of the wounded Korak than with the fate of the girl
upon whom he had always looked as more or less of an interloper
and an unquestioned burden.
Korak lay bleeding and unconscious when Akut reached his side. The
great ape tore the heavy spears from his flesh, licked the wounds
and then carried his friend to the lofty shelter that Korak
had constructed for Meriem. Further than this the brute could do
nothing. Nature must accomplish the rest unaided or Korak must
He did not die, however. For days he lay helpless with fever, while
Akut and the apes hunted close by that they might protect him from
such birds and beasts as might reach his lofty retreat. Occasionally
Akut brought him juicy fruits which helped to slake his thirst and
allay his fever, and little by little his powerful constitution
overcame the effects of the spear thrusts. The wounds healed and
his strength returned. All during his rational moments as he had
lain upon the soft furs which lined Meriem's nest he had suffered
more acutely from fears for Meriem than from the pain of his own
wounds. For her he must live. For her he must regain his strength
that he might set out in search of her. What had the blacks done
to her? Did she still live, or had they sacrificed her to their
lust for torture and human flesh? Korak almost trembled with terror
as the most hideous possibilities of the girl's fate suggested
themselves to him out of his knowledge of the customs of Kovudoo's
The days dragged their weary lengths along, but at last he had
sufficiently regained his strength to crawl from the shelter and make
his way unaided to the ground. Now he lived more upon raw meat,
for which he was entirely dependent on Akut's skill and generosity.
With the meat diet his strength returned more rapidly, and at last
he felt that he was fit to undertake the journey to the village of
Two tall, bearded white men moved cautiously through the jungle
from their camp beside a wide river. They were Carl Jenssen and
Sven Malbihn, but little altered in appearance since the day, years
before, that they and their safari had been so badly frightened by
Korak and Akut as the former sought haven with them.
Every year had they come into the jungle to trade with the natives,
or to rob them; to hunt and trap; or to guide other white men in
the land they knew so well. Always since their experience with
The Sheik had they operated at a safe distance from his territory.
Now they were closer to his village than they had been for years,
yet safe enough from discovery owing to the uninhabited nature of
the intervening jungle and the fear and enmity of Kovudoo's people
for The Sheik, who, in time past, had raided and all but exterminated
This year they had come to trap live specimens for a European
zoological garden, and today they were approaching a trap which they
had set in the hope of capturing a specimen of the large baboons
that frequented the neighborhood. As they approached the trap they
became aware from the noises emanating from its vicinity that their
efforts had been crowned with success. The barking and screaming
of hundreds of baboons could mean naught else than that one or more
of their number had fallen a victim to the allurements of the bait.
The extreme caution of the two men was prompted by former experiences
with the intelligent and doglike creatures with which they had to
deal. More than one trapper has lost his life in battle with enraged
baboons who will hesitate to attack nothing upon one occasion, while
upon another a single gun shot will disperse hundreds of them.
Heretofore the Swedes had always watched near-by their trap, for
as a rule only the stronger bulls are thus caught, since in their
greediness they prevent the weaker from approaching the covered
bait, and when once within the ordinary rude trap woven on the
spot of interlaced branches they are able, with the aid of their
friends upon the outside, to demolish their prison and escape. But
in this instance the trappers had utilized a special steel cage
which could withstand all the strength and cunning of a baboon. It
was only necessary, therefore, to drive away the herd which they
knew were surrounding the prison and wait for their boys who were
even now following them to the trap.
As they came within sight of the spot they found conditions precisely
as they had expected. A large male was battering frantically
against the steel wires of the cage that held him captive. Upon
the outside several hundred other baboons were tearing and tugging
in his aid, and all were roaring and jabbering and barking at the
top of their lungs.
But what neither the Swedes nor the baboons saw was the half-naked
figure of a youth hidden in the foliage of a nearby tree. He
had come upon the scene at almost the same instant as Jenssen and
Malbihn, and was watching the activities of the baboons with every
mark of interest.
Korak's relations with the baboons had never been over friendly. A
species of armed toleration had marked their occasional meetings.
The baboons and Akut had walked stiff legged and growling past one
another, while Korak had maintained a bared fang neutrality. So
now he was not greatly disturbed by the predicament of their king.
Curiosity prompted him to tarry a moment, and in that moment his
quick eyes caught the unfamiliar coloration of the clothing of the
two Swedes behind a bush not far from him. Now he was all alertness.
Who were these interlopers? What was their business in the jungle
of the Mangani? Korak slunk noiselessly around them to a point
where he might get their scent as well as a better view of them,
and scarce had he done so when he recognized them--they were the
men who had fired upon him years before. His eyes blazed. He could
feel the hairs upon his scalp stiffen at the roots. He watched them
with the intentness of a panther about to spring upon its prey.
He saw them rise and, shouting, attempt to frighten away the
baboons as they approached the cage. Then one of them raised his
rifle and fired into the midst of the surprised and angry herd.
For an instant Korak thought that the baboons were about to charge,
but two more shots from the rifles of the white men sent them
scampering into the trees. Then the two Europeans advanced upon
the cage. Korak thought that they were going to kill the king.
He cared nothing for the king but he cared less for the two white
men. The king had never attempted to kill him--the white men had.
The king was a denizen of his own beloved jungle--the white men
were aliens. His loyalty therefore was to the baboon against the
human. He could speak the language of the baboon--it was identical
to that of the great apes. Across the clearing he saw the jabbering
Raising his voice he shouted to them. The white men turned at the
sound of this new factor behind them. They thought it was another
baboon that had circled them; but though they searched the trees
with their eyes they saw nothing of the now silent figure hidden
by the foliage. Again Korak shouted.
"I am The Killer," he cried. "These men are my enemies and yours.
I will help you free your king. Run out upon the strangers when
you see me do so, and together we will drive them away and free
And from the baboons came a great chorus: "We will do what you
Dropping from his tree Korak ran toward the two Swedes, and at the
same instant three hundred baboons followed his example. At sight
of the strange apparition of the half-naked white warrior rushing
upon them with uplifted spear Jenssen and Malbihn raised their
rifles and fired at Korak; but in the excitement both missed and
a moment later the baboons were upon them. Now their only hope
of safety lay in escape, and dodging here and there, fighting off
the great beasts that leaped upon their backs, they ran into the
jungle. Even then they would have died but for the coming of their
men whom they met a couple of hundred yards from the cage.
Once the white men had turned in flight Korak gave them no further
attention, turning instead to the imprisoned baboon. The fastenings
of the door that had eluded the mental powers of the baboons,
yielded their secret immediately to the human intelligence of The
Killer, and a moment later the king baboon stepped forth to liberty.
He wasted no breath in thanks to Korak, nor did the young man
expect thanks. He knew that none of the baboons would ever forget
his service, though as a matter of fact he did not care if they
did. What he had done had been prompted by a desire to be revenged
upon the two white men. The baboons could never be of service
to him. Now they were racing in the direction of the battle that
was being waged between their fellows and the followers of the two
Swedes, and as the din of battle subsided in the distance, Korak
turned and resumed his journey toward the village of Kovudoo.
On the way he came upon a herd of elephants standing in an open
forest glade. Here the trees were too far apart to permit Korak
to travel through the branches--a trail he much preferred not only
because of its freedom from dense underbrush and the wider field
of vision it gave him but from pride in his arboreal ability. It
was exhilarating to swing from tree to tree; to test the prowess
of his mighty muscles; to reap the pleasurable fruits of his hard
won agility. Korak joyed in the thrills of the highflung upper
terraces of the great forest, where, unhampered and unhindered,
he might laugh down upon the great brutes who must keep forever to
the darkness and the gloom of the musty soil.
But here, in this open glade where Tantor flapped his giant ears
and swayed his huge bulk from side to side, the ape-man must pass
along the surface of the ground--a pygmy amongst giants. A great
bull raised his trunk to rattle a low warning as he sensed the
coming of an intruder. His weak eyes roved hither and thither but
it was his keen scent and acute hearing which first located the
ape-man. The herd moved restlessly, prepared for fight, for the
old bull had caught the scent of man.
"Peace, Tantor," called The Killer. "It is I, Korak, Tarmangani."
The bull lowered his trunk and the herd resumed their interrupted
meditations. Korak passed within a foot of the great bull.
A sinuous trunk undulated toward him, touching his brown hide in
a half caress. Korak slapped the great shoulder affectionately
as he went by. For years he had been upon good terms with Tantor
and his people. Of all the jungle folk he loved best the mighty
pachyderm--the most peaceful and at the same time the most terrible
of them all. The gentle gazelle feared him not, yet Numa, lord of
the jungle, gave him a wide berth. Among the younger bulls, the
cows and the calves Korak wound his way. Now and then another
trunk would run out to touch him, and once a playful calf grasped
his legs and upset him.
The afternoon was almost spent when Korak arrived at the village
of Kovudoo. There were many natives lolling in shady spots beside
the conical huts or beneath the branches of the several trees
which had been left standing within the enclosure. Warriors were
in evidence upon hand. It was not a good time for a lone enemy to
prosecute a search through the village. Korak determined to await
the coming of darkness. He was a match for many warriors; but
he could not, unaided, overcome an entire tribe--not even for his
beloved Meriem. While he waited among the branches and foliage
of a near-by tree he searched the village constantly with his keen
eyes, and twice he circled it, sniffing the vagrant breezes which
puffed erratically from first one point of the compass and then
another. Among the various stenches peculiar to a native village
the ape-man's sensitive nostrils were finally rewarded by cognizance
of the delicate aroma which marked the presence of her he sought.
Meriem was there--in one of those huts! But which one he could
not know without closer investigation, and so he waited, with the
dogged patience of a beast of prey, until night had fallen.
The camp fires of the blacks dotted the gloom with little points
of light, casting their feeble rays in tiny circles of luminosity
that brought into glistening relief the naked bodies of those who
lay or squatted about them. It was then that Korak slid silently
from the tree that had hidden him and dropped lightly to the ground
within the enclosure.
Keeping well in the shadows of the huts he commenced a systematic
search of the village--ears, eyes and nose constantly upon the
alert for the first intimation of the near presence of Meriem. His
progress must of necessity be slow since not even the keen-eared
curs of the savages must guess the presence of a stranger within
the gates. How close he came to a detection on several occasions
The Killer well knew from the restless whining of several of them.
It was not until he reached the back of a hut at the head of the
wide village street that Korak caught again, plainly, the scent of
Meriem. With nose close to the thatched wall Korak sniffed eagerly
about the structure--tense and palpitant as a hunting hound.
Toward the front and the door he made his way when once his nose
had assured him that Meriem lay within; but as he rounded the side
and came within view of the entrance he saw a burly Negro armed
with a long spear squatting at the portal of the girl's prison.
The fellow's back was toward him, his figure outlined against the
glow of cooking fires further down the street. He was alone. The
nearest of his fellows were beside a fire sixty or seventy feet
beyond. To enter the hut Korak must either silence the sentry or
pass him unnoticed. The danger in the accomplishment of the former
alternative lay in the practical certainty of alarming the warriors
near by and bringing them and the balance of the village down upon
him. To achieve the latter appeared practically impossible. To
you or me it would have been impossible; but Korak, The Killer,
was not as you or I.
There was a good twelve inches of space between the broad back of
the black and the frame of the doorway. Could Korak pass through
behind the savage warrior without detection? The light that fell
upon the glistening ebony of the sentry's black skin fell also upon
the light brown of Korak's. Should one of the many further down
the street chance to look long in this direction they must surely
note the tall, light-colored, moving figure; but Korak depended
upon their interest in their own gossip to hold their attention fast
where it already lay, and upon the firelight near them to prevent
them seeing too plainly at a distance into the darkness at the
village end where his work lay.
Flattened against the side of the hut, yet not arousing a single
warning rustle from its dried thatching, The Killer came closer
and closer to the watcher. Now he was at his shoulder. Now he
had wormed his sinuous way behind him. He could feel the heat of
the naked body against his knees. He could hear the man breathe.
He marveled that the dull-witted creature had not long since been
alarmed; but the fellow sat there as ignorant of the presence of
another as though that other had not existed.
Korak moved scarcely more than an inch at a time, then he would
stand motionless for a moment. Thus was he worming his way behind
the guard when the latter straightened up, opened his cavernous
mouth in a wide yawn, and stretched his arms above his head. Korak
stood rigid as stone. Another step and he would be within the hut.
The black lowered his arms and relaxed. Behind him was the frame
work of the doorway. Often before had it supported his sleepy
head, and now he leaned back to enjoy the forbidden pleasure of a
But instead of the door frame his head and shoulders came in contact
with the warm flesh of a pair of living legs. The exclamation
of surprise that almost burst from his lips was throttled in his
throat by steel-thewed fingers that closed about his windpipe with
the suddenness of thought. The black struggled to arise--to turn
upon the creature that had seized him--to wriggle from its hold;
but all to no purpose. As he had been held in a mighty vise of
iron he could not move. He could not scream. Those awful fingers
at his throat but closed more and more tightly. His eyes bulged
from their sockets. His face turned an ashy blue. Presently he
relaxed once more--this time in the final dissolution from which
there is no quickening. Korak propped the dead body against the
door frame. There it sat, lifelike in the gloom. Then the ape-man
turned and glided into the Stygian darkness of the hut's interior.
"Meriem!" he whispered.
"Korak! My Korak!" came an answering cry, subdued by fear of
alarming her captors, and half stifled by a sob of joyful welcome.
The youth knelt and cut the bonds that held the girl's wrists and
ankles. A moment later he had lifted her to her feet, and grasping
her by the hand led her towards the entrance. Outside the grim
sentinel of death kept his grisly vigil. Sniffing at his dead feet
whined a mangy native cur. At sight of the two emerging from the
hut the beast gave an ugly snarl and an instant later as it caught
the scent of the strange white man it raised a series of excited
yelps. Instantly the warriors at the near-by fire were attracted.
They turned their heads in the direction of the commotion. It
was impossible that they should fail to see the white skins of the
Korak slunk quickly into the shadows at the hut's side, drawing
Meriem with him; but he was too late. The blacks had seen enough
to arouse their suspicions and a dozen of them were now running to
investigate. The yapping cur was still at Korak's heels leading
the searchers unerringly in pursuit. The youth struck viciously
at the brute with his long spear; but, long accustomed to dodging
blows, the wily creature made a most uncertain target.
Other blacks had been alarmed by the running and shouting of their
companions and now the entire population of the village was swarming
up the street to assist in the search. Their first discovery was
the dead body of the sentry, and a moment later one of the bravest
of them had entered the hut and discovered the absence of the
prisoner. These startling announcements filled the blacks with
a combination of terror and rage; but, seeing no foe in evidence
they were enabled to permit their rage to get the better of their
terror, and so the leaders, pushed on by those behind them, ran
rapidly around the hut in the direction of the yapping of the mangy
cur. Here they found a single white warrior making away with
their captive, and recognizing him as the author of numerous raids
and indignities and believing that they had him cornered and at a
disadvantage, they charged savagely upon him.
Korak, seeing that they were discovered, lifted Meriem to his
shoulders and ran for the tree which would give them egress from
the village. He was handicapped in his flight by the weight of the
girl whose legs would but scarce bear her weight, to say nothing of
maintaining her in rapid flight, for the tightly drawn bonds that
had been about her ankles for so long had stopped circulation and
partially paralyzed her extremities.
Had this not been the case the escape of the two would have been a
feat of little moment, since Meriem was scarcely a whit less agile
than Korak, and fully as much at home in the trees as he. But
with the girl on his shoulder Korak could not both run and fight
to advantage, and the result was that before he had covered half
the distance to the tree a score of native curs attracted by the
yelping of their mate and the yells and shouts of their masters had
closed in upon the fleeing white man, snapping at his legs and at
last succeeding in tripping him. As he went down the hyena-like
brutes were upon him, and as he struggled to his feet the blacks
A couple of them seized the clawing, biting Meriem, and subdued
her--a blow upon the head was sufficient. For the ape-man they
found more drastic measures would be necessary.
Weighted down as he was by dogs and warriors he still managed to
struggle to his feet. To right and left he swung crushing blows
to the faces of his human antagonists--to the dogs he paid not the
slightest attention other than to seize the more persistent and
wring their necks with a single quick movement of the wrist.
A knob stick aimed at him by an ebon Hercules he caught and wrested
from his antagonist, and then the blacks experienced to the full the
possibilities for punishment that lay within those smooth flowing
muscles beneath the velvet brown skin of the strange, white giant.
He rushed among them with all the force and ferocity of a bull
elephant gone mad. Hither and thither he charged striking down the
few who had the temerity to stand against him, and it was evident
that unless a chance spear thrust brought him down he would rout
the entire village and regain his prize. But old Kovudoo was not
to be so easily robbed of the ransom which the girl represented,
and seeing that their attack which had up to now resulted in a
series of individual combats with the white warrior, he called his
tribesmen off, and forming them in a compact body about the girl
and the two who watched over her bid them do nothing more than
repel the assaults of the ape-man.
Again and again Korak rushed against this human barricade bristling
with spear points. Again and again he was repulsed, often with
severe wounds to caution him to greater wariness. From head to
foot he was red with his own blood, and at last, weakening from the
loss of it, he came to the bitter realization that alone he could
do no more to succor his Meriem.
Presently an idea flashed through his brain. He called aloud to
the girl. She had regained consciousness now and replied.
"Korak goes," he shouted; "but he will return and take you from the
Gomangani. Good-bye, my Meriem. Korak will come for you again."
"Good-bye!" cried the girl. "Meriem will look for you until you
Like a flash, and before they could know his intention or prevent
him, Korak wheeled, raced across the village and with a single
leap disappeared into the foliage of the great tree that was his
highroad to the village of Kovudoo. A shower of spears followed
him, but their only harvest was a taunting laugh flung back from
out the darkness of the jungle.
Meriem, again bound and under heavy guard in Kovudoo's own hut, saw
the night pass and the new day come without bringing the momentarily
looked for return of Korak. She had no doubt but that he would
come back and less still that he would easily free her from her
captivity. To her Korak was little short of omnipotent. He embodied
for her all that was finest and strongest and best in her savage
world. She gloried in his prowess and worshipped him for the
tender thoughtfulness that always had marked his treatment of her.
No other within the ken of her memory had ever accorded her the
love and gentleness that was his daily offering to her. Most of
the gentler attributes of his early childhood had long since been
forgotten in the fierce battle for existence which the customs of
the mysterious jungle had forced upon him. He was more often savage
and bloodthirsty than tender and kindly. His other friends of the
wild looked for no gentle tokens of his affection. That he would
hunt with them and fight for them was sufficient. If he growled and
showed his fighting fangs when they trespassed upon his inalienable
rights to the fruits of his kills they felt no anger toward him--only
greater respect for the efficient and the fit--for him who could
not only kill but protect the flesh of his kill.
But toward Meriem he always had shown more of his human side. He
killed primarily for her. It was to the feet of Meriem that he
brought the fruits of his labors. It was for Meriem more than for
himself that he squatted beside his flesh and growled ominously at
whosoever dared sniff too closely to it. When he was cold in the
dark days of rain, or thirsty in a prolonged drouth, his discomfort
engendered first of all thoughts of Meriem's welfare--after she had
been made warm, after her thirst had been slaked, then he turned
to the affair of ministering to his own wants.
The softest skins fell gracefully from the graceful shoulders of
his Meriem. The sweetest-scented grasses lined her bower where
other soft, furry pelts made hers the downiest couch in all the
What wonder then that Meriem loved her Korak? But she loved him
as a little sister might love a big brother who was very good to
her. As yet she knew naught of the love of a maid for a man.
So now as she lay waiting for him she dreamed of him and of all
that he meant to her. She compared him with The Sheik, her father,
and at thought of the stern, grizzled, old Arab she shuddered.
Even the savage blacks had been less harsh to her than he. Not
understanding their tongue she could not guess what purpose they
had in keeping her a prisoner. She knew that man ate man, and she
had expected to be eaten; but she had been with them for some time
now and no harm had befallen her. She did not know that a runner
had been dispatched to the distant village of The Sheik to barter
with him for a ransom. She did not know, nor did Kovudoo, that
the runner had never reached his destination--that he had fallen in
with the safari of Jenssen and Malbihn and with the talkativeness
of a native to other natives had unfolded his whole mission to
the black servants of the two Swedes. These had not been long in
retailing the matter to their masters, and the result was that when
the runner left their camp to continue his journey he had scarce
passed from sight before there came the report of a rifle and he
rolled lifeless into the underbrush with a bullet in his back.
A few moments later Malbihn strolled back into the encampment, where
he went to some pains to let it be known that he had had a shot
at a fine buck and missed. The Swedes knew that their men hated
them, and that an overt act against Kovudoo would quickly be carried
to the chief at the first opportunity. Nor were they sufficiently
strong in either guns or loyal followers to risk antagonizing the
wily old chief.
Following this episode came the encounter with the baboons and
the strange, white savage who had allied himself with the beasts
against the humans. Only by dint of masterful maneuvering and
the expenditure of much power had the Swedes been able to repulse
the infuriated apes, and even for hours afterward their camp was
constantly besieged by hundreds of snarling, screaming devils.
The Swedes, rifles in hand, repelled numerous savage charges which
lacked only efficient leadership to have rendered them as effective
in results as they were terrifying in appearance. Time and time
again the two men thought they saw the smooth-skinned body of the
wild ape-man moving among the baboons in the forest, and the belief
that he might head a charge upon them proved most disquieting.
They would have given much for a clean shot at him, for to him they
attributed the loss of their specimen and the ugly attitude of the
baboons toward them.
"The fellow must be the same we fired on several years ago," said
Malbihn. "That time he was accompanied by a gorilla. Did you get
a good look at him, Carl?"
"Yes," replied Jenssen. "He was not five paces from me when I fired
at him. He appears to be an intelligent looking European--and not
much more than a lad. There is nothing of the imbecile or degenerate
in his features or expression, as is usually true in similar cases,
where some lunatic escapes into the woods and by living in filth
and nakedness wins the title of wild man among the peasants of
the neighborhood. No, this fellow is of different stuff--and so
infinitely more to be feared. As much as I should like a shot at
him I hope he stays away. Should he ever deliberately lead a charge
against us I wouldn't give much for our chances if we happened to
fail to bag him at the first rush."
But the white giant did not appear again to lead the baboons against
them, and finally the angry brutes themselves wandered off into
the jungle leaving the frightened safari in peace.
The next day the Swedes set out for Kovudoo's village bent on
securing possession of the person of the white girl whom Kovudoo's
runner had told them lay captive in the chief's village. How they
were to accomplish their end they did not know. Force was out of
the question, though they would not have hesitated to use it had
they possessed it. In former years they had marched rough shod over
enormous areas, taking toll by brute force even when kindliness or
diplomacy would have accomplished more; but now they were in bad
straits--so bad that they had shown their true colors scarce twice
in a year and then only when they came upon an isolated village,
weak in numbers and poor in courage.
Kovudoo was not as these, and though his village was in a way
remote from the more populous district to the north his power was
such that he maintained an acknowledged suzerainty over the thin
thread of villages which connected him with the savage lords to
the north. To have antagonized him would have spelled ruin for the
Swedes. It would have meant that they might never reach civilization
by the northern route. To the west, the village of The Sheik lay
directly in their path, barring them effectually. To the east the
trail was unknown to them, and to the south there was no trail.
So the two Swedes approached the village of Kovudoo with friendly
words upon their tongues and deep craft in their hearts.
Their plans were well made. There was no mention of the white
prisoner--they chose to pretend that they were not aware that
Kovudoo had a white prisoner. They exchanged gifts with the old
chief, haggling with his plenipotentiaries over the value of what
they were to receive for what they gave, as is customary and proper
when one has no ulterior motives. Unwarranted generosity would
have aroused suspicion.
During the palaver which followed they retailed the gossip of the
villages through which they had passed, receiving in exchange such
news as Kovudoo possessed. The palaver was long and tiresome, as
these native ceremonies always are to Europeans. Kovudoo made no
mention of his prisoner and from his generous offers of guides and
presents seemed anxious to assure himself of the speedy departure
of his guests. It was Malbihn who, quite casually, near the close
of their talk, mentioned the fact that The Sheik was dead. Kovudoo
evinced interest and surprise.
"You did not know it?" asked Malbihn. "That is strange. It
was during the last moon. He fell from his horse when the beast
stepped in a hole. The horse fell upon him. When his men came up
The Sheik was quite dead."
Kovudoo scratched his head. He was much disappointed. No Sheik
meant no ransom for the white girl. Now she was worthless, unless
he utilized her for a feast or--a mate. The latter thought aroused
him. He spat at a small beetle crawling through the dust before
him. He eyed Malbihn appraisingly. These white men were peculiar.
They traveled far from their own villages without women. Yet he knew
they cared for women. But how much did they care for them?--that
was the question that disturbed Kovudoo.
"I know where there is a white girl," he said, unexpectedly. "If
you wish to buy her she may be had cheap."
Malbihn shrugged. "We have troubles enough, Kovudoo," he said,
"without burdening ourselves with an old she-hyena, and as for
paying for one--" Malbihn snapped his fingers in derision.
"She is young," said Kovudoo, "and good looking."
The Swedes laughed. "There are no good looking white women in the
jungle, Kovudoo," said Jenssen. "You should be ashamed to try to
make fun of old friends."
Kovudoo sprang to his feet. "Come," he said, "I will show you that
she is all I say."
Malbihn and Jenssen rose to follow him and as they did so their
eyes met, and Malbihn slowly drooped one of his lids in a sly
wink. Together they followed Kovudoo toward his hut. In the dim
interior they discerned the figure of a woman lying bound upon a
Malbihn took a single glance and turned away. "She must be a
thousand years old, Kovudoo," he said, as he left the hut.
"She is young," cried the savage. "It is dark in here. You cannot
see. Wait, I will have her brought out into the sunlight," and he
commanded the two warriors who watched the girl to cut the bonds
from her ankles and lead her forth for inspection.
Malbihn and Jenssen evinced no eagerness, though both were fairly
bursting with it--not to see the girl but to obtain possession
of her. They cared not if she had the face of a marmoset, or the
figure of pot-bellied Kovudoo himself. All that they wished to
know was that she was the girl who had been stolen from The Sheik
several years before. They thought that they would recognize her
for such if she was indeed the same, but even so the testimony of
the runner Kovudoo had sent to The Sheik was such as to assure them
that the girl was the one they had once before attempted to abduct.
As Meriem was brought forth from the darkness of the hut's interior
the two men turned with every appearance of disinterestedness to
glance at her. It was with difficulty that Malbihn suppressed an
ejaculation of astonishment. The girl's beauty fairly took his
breath from him; but instantly he recovered his poise and turned
"Well?" he said to the old chief.
"Is she not both young and good looking?" asked Kovudoo.
"She is not old," replied Malbihn; "but even so she will be a
burden. We did not come from the north after wives--there are more
than enough there for us."
Meriem stood looking straight at the white men. She expected nothing
from them--they were to her as much enemies as the black men. She
hated and feared them all. Malbihn spoke to her in Arabic.
"We are friends," he said. "Would you like to have us take you
away from here?"
Slowly and dimly as though from a great distance recollection of
the once familiar tongue returned to her.
"I should like to go free," she said, "and go back to Korak."
"You would like to go with us?" persisted Malbihn.
"No," said Meriem.
Malbihn turned to Kovudoo. "She does not wish to go with us," he
"You are men," returned the black. "Can you not take her by force?"
"It would only add to our troubles," replied the Swede. "No,
Kovudoo, we do not wish her; though, if you wish to be rid of her,
we will take her away because of our friendship for you."
Now Kovudoo knew that he had made a sale. They wanted her. So he
commenced to bargain, and in the end the person of Meriem passed
from the possession of the black chieftain into that of the two
Swedes in consideration of six yards of Amerikan, three empty brass
cartridge shells and a shiny, new jack knife from New Jersey. And
all but Meriem were more than pleased with the bargain.
Kovudoo stipulated but a single condition and that was that the
Europeans were to leave his village and take the girl with them as
early the next morning as they could get started. After the sale
was consummated he did not hesitate to explain his reasons for
this demand. He told them of the strenuous attempt of the girl's
savage mate to rescue her, and suggested that the sooner they got
her out of the country the more likely they were to retain possession
Meriem was again bound and placed under guard, but this time in
the tent of the Swedes. Malbihn talked to her, trying to persuade
her to accompany them willingly. He told her that they would return
her to her own village; but when he discovered that she would rather
die than go back to the old sheik, he assured her that they would
not take her there, nor, as a matter of fact, had they had an
intention of so doing. As he talked with the girl the Swede feasted
his eyes upon the beautiful lines of her face and figure. She had
grown tall and straight and slender toward maturity since he had
seen her in The Sheik's village on that long gone day. For years
she had represented to him a certain fabulous reward. In his
thoughts she had been but the personification of the pleasures and
luxuries that many francs would purchase. Now as she stood before
him pulsing with life and loveliness she suggested other seductive
and alluring possibilities. He came closer to her and laid his
hand upon her. The girl shrank from him. He seized her and she
struck him heavily in the mouth as he sought to kiss her. Then
Jenssen entered the tent.
"Malbihn!" he almost shouted. "You fool!"
Sven Malbihn released his hold upon the girl and turned toward his
companion. His face was red with mortification.
"What the devil are you trying to do?" growled Jenssen. "Would
you throw away every chance for the reward? If we maltreat her we
not only couldn't collect a sou, but they'd send us to prison for
our pains. I thought you had more sense, Malbihn."
"I'm not a wooden man," growled Malbihn.
"You'd better be," rejoined Jenssen, "at least until we have
delivered her over in safety and collected what will be coming to
"Oh, hell," cried Malbihn. "What's the use? They'll be glad enough
to have her back, and by the time we get there with her she'll be
only too glad to keep her mouth shut. Why not?"
"Because I say not," growled Jenssen. "I've always let you
boss things, Sven; but here's a case where what I say has got to
go--because I'm right and you're wrong, and we both know it."
"You're getting damned virtuous all of a sudden," growled Malbihn.
"Perhaps you think I have forgotten about the inn keeper's daughter,
and little Celella, and that nigger at--"
"Shut up!" snapped Jenssen. "It's not a matter of virtue and you
are as well aware of that as I. I don't want to quarrel with you,
but so help me God, Sven, you're not going to harm this girl if I
have to kill you to prevent it. I've suffered and slaved and been
nearly killed forty times in the last nine or ten years trying to
accomplish what luck has thrown at our feet at last, and now I'm
not going to be robbed of the fruits of success because you happen
to be more of a beast than a man. Again I warn you, Sven--" and
he tapped the revolver that swung in its holster at his hip.
Malbihn gave his friend an ugly look, shrugged his shoulders, and
left the tent. Jenssen turned to Meriem.
"If he bothers you again, call me," he said. "I shall always be
The girl had not understood the conversation that had been carried
on by her two owners, for it had been in Swedish; but what Jenssen
had just said to her in Arabic she understood and from it grasped
an excellent idea of what had passed between the two. The expressions
upon their faces, their gestures, and Jenssen's final tapping of
his revolver before Malbihn had left the tent had all been eloquent
of the seriousness of their altercation. Now, toward Jenssen she
looked for friendship, and with the innocence of youth she threw
herself upon his mercy, begging him to set her free, that she might
return to Korak and her jungle life; but she was doomed to another
disappointment, for the man only laughed at her roughly and told
her that if she tried to escape she would be punished by the very
thing that he had just saved her from.
All that night she lay listening for a signal from Korak. All about
the jungle life moved through the darkness. To her sensitive ears
came sounds that the others in the camp could not hear--sounds that
she interpreted as we might interpret the speech of a friend, but
not once came a single note that reflected the presence of Korak.
But she knew that he would come. Nothing short of death itself
could prevent her Korak from returning for her. What delayed him
When morning came again and the night had brought no succoring Korak,
Meriem's faith and loyalty were still unshaken though misgivings
began to assail her as to the safety of her friend. It seemed
unbelievable that serious mishap could have overtaken her wonderful
Korak who daily passed unscathed through all the terrors of the
jungle. Yet morning came, the morning meal was eaten, the camp
broken and the disreputable safari of the Swedes was on the move
northward with still no sign of the rescue the girl momentarily
All that day they marched, and the next and the next, nor did Korak
even so much as show himself to the patient little waiter moving,
silently and stately, beside her hard captors.
Malbihn remained scowling and angry. He replied to Jenssen's friendly
advances in curt monosyllables. To Meriem he did not speak, but
on several occasions she discovered him glaring at her from beneath
half closed lids--greedily. The look sent a shudder through her.
She hugged Geeka closer to her breast and doubly regretted the
knife that they had taken from her when she was captured by Kovudoo.
It was on the fourth day that Meriem began definitely to give up
hope. Something had happened to Korak. She knew it. He would
never come now, and these men would take her far away. Presently
they would kill her. She would never see her Korak again.
On this day the Swedes rested, for they had marched rapidly and
their men were tired. Malbihn and Jenssen had gone from camp to
hunt, taking different directions. They had been gone about an
hour when the door of Meriem's tent was lifted and Malbihn entered.
The look of a beast was on his face.
With wide eyes fixed upon him, like a trapped creature horrified
beneath the mesmeric gaze of a great serpent, the girl watched
the approach of the man. Her hands were free, the Swedes having
secured her with a length of ancient slave chain fastened at one
end to an iron collar padlocked about her neck and at the other to
a long stake driven deep into the ground.
Slowly Meriem shrank inch by inch toward the opposite end of
the tent. Malbihn followed her. His hands were extended and his
fingers half-opened--claw-like--to seize her. His lips were parted,
and his breath came quickly, pantingly.
The girl recalled Jenssen's instructions to call him should Malbihn
molest her; but Jenssen had gone into the jungle to hunt. Malbihn
had chosen his time well. Yet she screamed, loud and shrill, once,
twice, a third time, before Malbihn could leap across the tent
and throttle her alarming cries with his brute fingers. Then she
fought him, as any jungle she might fight, with tooth and nail. The
man found her no easy prey. In that slender, young body, beneath
the rounded curves and the fine, soft skin, lay the muscles of
a young lioness. But Malbihn was no weakling. His character and
appearance were brutal, nor did they belie his brawn. He was of
giant stature and of giant strength. Slowly he forced the girl
back upon the ground, striking her in the face when she hurt him
badly either with teeth or nails. Meriem struck back, but she was
growing weaker from the choking fingers at her throat.
Out in the jungle Jenssen had brought down two bucks. His hunting
had not carried him far afield, nor was he prone to permit it
to do so. He was suspicious of Malbihn. The very fact that his
companion had refused to accompany him and elected instead to hunt
alone in another direction would not, under ordinary circumstances,
have seemed fraught with sinister suggestion; but Jenssen knew
Malbihn well, and so, having secured meat, he turned immediately
back toward camp, while his boys brought in his kill.
He had covered about half the return journey when a scream came
faintly to his ears from the direction of camp. He halted to
listen. It was repeated twice. Then silence. With a muttered
curse Jenssen broke into a rapid run. He wondered if he would be
too late. What a fool Malbihn was indeed to thus chance jeopardizing
Further away from camp than Jenssen and upon the opposite side
another heard Meriem's screams--a stranger who was not even aware
of the proximity of white men other than himself--a hunter with a
handful of sleek, black warriors. He, too, listened intently for
a moment. That the voice was that of a woman in distress he could
not doubt, and so he also hastened at a run in the direction of
the affrighted voice; but he was much further away than Jenssen
so that the latter reached the tent first. What the Swede found
there roused no pity within his calloused heart, only anger against
his fellow scoundrel. Meriem was still fighting off her attacker.
Malbihn still was showering blows upon her. Jenssen, streaming foul
curses upon his erstwhile friend, burst into the tent. Malbihn,
interrupted, dropped his victim and turned to meet Jenssen's
infuriated charge. He whipped a revolver from his hip. Jenssen,
anticipating the lightning move of the other's hand, drew almost
simultaneously, and both men fired at once. Jenssen was still
moving toward Malbihn at the time, but at the flash of the explosion
he stopped. His revolver dropped from nerveless fingers. For a
moment he staggered drunkenly. Deliberately Malbihn put two more
bullets into his friend's body at close range. Even in the midst
of the excitement and her terror Meriem found herself wondering at
the tenacity of life which the hit man displayed. His eyes were
closed, his head dropped forward upon his breast, his hands hung
limply before him. Yet still he stood there upon his feet, though
he reeled horribly. It was not until the third bullet had found
its mark within his body that he lunged forward upon his face.
Then Malbihn approached him, and with an oath kicked him viciously.
Then he returned once more to Meriem. Again he seized her, and at
the same instant the flaps of the tent opened silently and a tall
white man stood in the aperture. Neither Meriem or Malbihn saw
the newcomer. The latter's back was toward him while his body hid
the stranger from Meriem's eyes.
He crossed the tent quickly, stepping over Jenssen's body. The
first intimation Malbihn had that he was not to carry out his design
without further interruption was a heavy hand upon his shoulder. He
wheeled to face an utter stranger--a tall, black-haired, gray-eyed
stranger clad in khaki and pith helmet. Malbihn reached for his
gun again, but another hand had been quicker than his and he saw
the weapon tossed to the ground at the side of the tent--out of
"What is the meaning of this?" the stranger addressed his question
to Meriem in a tongue she did not understand. She shook her head
and spoke in Arabic. Instantly the man changed his question to
"These men are taking me away from Korak," explained the girl.
"This one would have harmed me. The other, whom he had just killed,
tried to stop him. They were both very bad men; but this one is
the worse. If my Korak were here he would kill him. I suppose
you are like them, so you will not kill him."
The stranger smiled. "He deserves killing?" he said. "There is
no doubt of that. Once I should have killed him; but not now. I
will see, though, that he does not bother you any more."
He was holding Malbihn in a grasp the giant Swede could not break,
though he struggled to do so, and he was holding him as easily as
Malbihn might have held a little child, yet Malbihn was a huge man,
mightily thewed. The Swede began to rage and curse. He struck
at his captor, only to be twisted about and held at arm's length.
Then he shouted to his boys to come and kill the stranger. In
response a dozen strange blacks entered the tent. They, too, were
powerful, clean-limbed men, not at all like the mangy crew that
followed the Swedes.
"We have had enough foolishness," said the stranger to Malbihn.
"You deserve death, but I am not the law. I know now who you are.
I have heard of you before. You and your friend here bear a most
unsavory reputation. We do not want you in our country. I shall
let you go this time; but should you ever return I shall take the
law into my own hands. You understand?"
Malbihn blustered and threatened, finishing by applying a most
uncomplimentary name to his captor. For this he received a shaking
that rattled his teeth. Those who know say that the most painful
punishment that can be inflicted upon an adult male, short of
injuring him, is a good, old fashioned shaking. Malbihn received
such a shaking.
"Now get out," said the stranger, "and next time you see me remember
who I am," and he spoke a name in the Swede's ear--a name that more
effectually subdued the scoundrel than many beatings--then he gave
him a push that carried him bodily through the tent doorway to
sprawl upon the turf beyond.
"Now," he said, turning toward Meriem, "who has the key to this
thing about your neck?"
The girl pointed to Jenssen's body. "He carried it always," she
The stranger searched the clothing on the corpse until he came upon
the key. A moment more Meriem was free.
"Will you let me go back to my Korak?" she asked.
"I will see that you are returned to your people," he replied.
"Who are they and where is their village?"
He had been eyeing her strange, barbaric garmenture wonderingly.
From her speech she was evidently an Arab girl; but he had never
before seen one thus clothed.
"Who are your people? Who is Korak?" he asked again.
"Korak! Why Korak is an ape. I have no other people. Korak and
I live in the jungle alone since A'ht went to be king of the apes."
She had always thus pronounced Akut's name, for so it had sounded
to her when first she came with Korak and the ape. "Korak could
have been kind, but he would not."
A questioning expression entered the stranger's eyes. He looked
at the girl closely.
"So Korak is an ape?" he said. "And what, pray, are you?"
"I am Meriem. I, also, am an ape."
"M-m," was the stranger's only oral comment upon this startling
announcement; but what he thought might have been partially
interpreted through the pitying light that entered his eyes. He
approached the girl and started to lay his hand upon her forehead.
She drew back with a savage little growl. A smile touched his
"You need not fear me," he said. "I shall not harm you. I only
wish to discover if you have fever--if you are entirely well. If
you are we will set forth in search of Korak."
Meriem looked straight into the keen gray eyes. She must have
found there an unquestionable assurance of the honorableness of
their owner, for she permitted him to lay his palm upon her forehead
and feel her pulse. Apparently she had no fever.
"How long have you been an ape?" asked the man.
"Since I was a little girl, many, many years ago, and Korak came
and took me from my father who was beating me. Since then I have
lived in the trees with Korak and A'ht."
"Where in the jungle lives Korak?" asked the stranger.
Meriem pointed with a sweep of her hand that took in, generously,
half the continent of Africa.
"Could you find your way back to him?"
"I do not know," she replied; "but he will find his way to me."
"Then I have a plan," said the stranger. "I live but a few marches
from here. I shall take you home where my wife will look after you
and care for you until we can find Korak or Korak finds us. If he
could find you here he can find you at my village. Is it not so?"
Meriem thought that it was so; but she did not like the idea of
not starting immediately back to meet Korak. On the other hand
the man had no intention of permitting this poor, insane child to
wander further amidst the dangers of the jungle. From whence she
had come, or what she had undergone he could not guess, but that
her Korak and their life among the apes was but a figment of a
disordered mind he could not doubt. He knew the jungle well, and
he knew that men have lived alone and naked among the savage beasts
for years; but a frail and slender girl! No, it was not possible.
Together they went outside. Malbihn's boys were striking camp
in preparation for a hasty departure. The stranger's blacks were
conversing with them. Malbihn stood at a distance, angry and
glowering. The stranger approached one of his own men.
"Find out where they got this girl," he commanded.
The Negro thus addressed questioned one of Malbihn's followers.
Presently he returned to his master.
"They bought her from old Kovudoo," he said. "That is all that
this fellow will tell me. He pretends that he knows nothing more,
and I guess that he does not. These two white men were very bad
men. They did many things that their boys knew not the meanings
of. It would be well, Bwana, to kill the other."
"I wish that I might; but a new law is come into this part of the
jungle. It is not as it was in the old days, Muviri," replied the
The stranger remained until Malbihn and his safari had disappeared
into the jungle toward the north. Meriem, trustful now, stood
at his side, Geeka clutched in one slim, brown hand. They talked
together, the man wondering at the faltering Arabic of the girl,
but attributing it finally to her defective mentality. Could he
have known that years had elapsed since she had used it until she
was taken by the Swedes he would not have wondered that she had
half forgotten it. There was yet another reason why the language
of The Sheik had thus readily eluded her; but of that reason she
herself could not have guessed the truth any better than could the
He tried to persuade her to return with him to his "village" as he
called it, or douar, in Arabic; but she was insistent upon searching
immediately for Korak. As a last resort he determined to take
her with him by force rather than sacrifice her life to the insane
hallucination which haunted her; but, being a wise man, he determined
to humor her first and then attempt to lead her as he would have
her go. So when they took up their march it was in the direction
of the south, though his own ranch lay almost due east.
By degrees he turned the direction of their way more and more
eastward, and greatly was he pleased to note that the girl failed
to discover that any change was being made. Little by little she
became more trusting. At first she had had but her intuition to
guide her belief that this big Tarmangani meant her no harm, but
as the days passed and she saw that his kindness and consideration
never faltered she came to compare him with Korak, and to be very
fond of him; but never did her loyalty to her apeman flag.
On the fifth day they came suddenly upon a great plain and from
the edge of the forest the girl saw in the distance fenced fields
and many buildings. At the sight she drew back in astonishment.
"Where are we?" she asked, pointing.
"We could not find Korak," replied the man, "and as our way led
near my douar I have brought you here to wait and rest with my wife
until my men can find your ape, or he finds you. It is better thus,
little one. You will be safer with us, and you will be happier."
"I am afraid, Bwana," said the girl. "In thy douar they will beat
me as did The Sheik, my father. Let me go back into the jungle.
There Korak will find me. He would not think to look for me in
the douar of a white man."
"No one will beat you, child," replied the man. "I have not done
so, have I? Well, here all belong to me. They will treat you
well. Here no one is beaten. My wife will be very good to you,
and at last Korak will come, for I shall send men to search for
The girl shook her head. "They could not bring him, for he would
kill them, as all men have tried to kill him. I am afraid. Let
me go, Bwana."
"You do not know the way to your own country. You would be lost.
The leopards or the lions would get you the first night, and after
all you would not find your Korak. It is better that you stay
with us. Did I not save you from the bad man? Do you not owe me
something for that? Well, then remain with us for a few weeks at
least until we can determine what is best for you. You are only
a little girl--it would be wicked to permit you to go alone into
Meriem laughed. "The jungle," she said, "is my father and my
mother. It has been kinder to me than have men. I am not afraid
of the jungle. Nor am I afraid of the leopard or the lion. When
my time comes I shall die. It may be that a leopard or a lion
shall kill me, or it may be a tiny bug no bigger than the end of
my littlest finger. When the lion leaps upon me, or the little bug
stings me I shall be afraid--oh, then I shall be terribly afraid,
I know; but life would be very miserable indeed were I to spend
it in terror of the thing that has not yet happened. If it be the
lion my terror shall be short of life; but if it be the little bug
I may suffer for days before I die. And so I fear the lion least
of all. He is great and noisy. I can hear him, or see him, or
smell him in time to escape; but any moment I may place a hand or
foot on the little bug, and never know that he is there until I
feel his deadly sting. No, I do not fear the jungle. I love it.
I should rather die than leave it forever; but your douar is close
beside the jungle. You have been good to me. I will do as you
wish, and remain here for a while to wait the coming of my Korak."
"Good!" said the man, and he led the way down toward the
flower-covered bungalow behind which lay the barns and out-houses
of a well-ordered African farm.
As they came nearer a dozen dogs ran barking toward them--gaunt
wolf hounds, a huge great Dane, a nimble-footed collie and a number
of yapping, quarrelsome fox terriers. At first their appearance
was savage and unfriendly in the extreme; but once they recognized
the foremost black warriors, and the white man behind them their
attitude underwent a remarkable change. The collie and the fox
terriers became frantic with delirious joy, and while the wolf
hounds and the great Dane were not a whit less delighted at the
return of their master their greetings were of a more dignified
nature. Each in turn sniffed at Meriem who displayed not the
slightest fear of any of them.
The wolf hounds bristled and growled at the scent of wild beasts
that clung to her garment; but when she laid her hand upon their
heads and her soft voice murmured caressingly they half-closed
their eyes, lifting their upper lips in contented canine smiles.
The man was watching them and he too smiled, for it was seldom
that these savage brutes took thus kindly to strangers. It was
as though in some subtile way the girl had breathed a message of
kindred savagery to their savage hearts.
With her slim fingers grasping the collar of a wolf hound upon
either side of her Meriem walked on toward the bungalow upon the
porch of which a woman dressed in white waved a welcome to her
returning lord. There was more fear in the girl's eyes now than
there had been in the presence of strange men or savage beasts.
She hesitated, turning an appealing glance toward the man.
"This is my wife," he said. "She will be glad to welcome you."
The woman came down the path to meet them. The man kissed her, and
turning toward Meriem introduced them, speaking in the Arab tongue
the girl understood.
"This is Meriem, my dear," he said, and he told the story of the
jungle waif in so far as he knew it.
Meriem saw that the woman was beautiful. She saw that sweetness
and goodness were stamped indelibly upon her countenance. She no
longer feared her, and when her brief story had been narrated and
the woman came and put her arms about her and kissed her and called
her "poor little darling" something snapped in Meriem's little heart.
She buried her face on the bosom of this new friend in whose voice
was the mother tone that Meriem had not heard for so many years
that she had forgotten its very existence. She buried her face
on the kindly bosom and wept as she had not wept before in all her
life--tears of relief and joy that she could not fathom.
And so came Meriem, the savage little Mangani, out of her beloved
jungle into the midst of a home of culture and refinement. Already
"Bwana" and "My Dear," as she first heard them called and continued
to call them, were as father and mother to her. Once her savage
fears allayed, she went to the opposite extreme of trustfulness
and love. Now she was willing to wait here until they found Korak,
or Korak found her. She did not give up that thought--Korak, her
Korak always was first.
And out in the jungle, far away, Korak, covered with wounds, stiff
with clotted blood, burning with rage and sorrow, swung back upon
the trail of the great baboons. He had not found them where he
had last seen them, nor in any of their usual haunts; but he sought
them along the well-marked spoor they had left behind them, and
at last he overtook them. When first he came upon them they were
moving slowly but steadily southward in one of those periodic
migrations the reasons for which the baboon himself is best able
to explain. At sight of the white warrior who came upon them from
down wind the herd halted in response to the warning cry of the
sentinel that had discovered him. There was much growling and
muttering; much stiff-legged circling on the part of the bulls.
The mothers, in nervous, high pitched tones, called their young to
their sides, and with them moved to safety behind their lords and
Korak called aloud to the king, who, at the familiar voice, advanced
slowly, warily, and still stiff-legged. He must have the confirmatory
evidence of his nose before venturing to rely too implicitly upon
the testimony of his ears and eyes. Korak stood perfectly still.
To have advanced then might have precipitated an immediate attack,
or, as easily, a panic of flight. Wild beasts are creatures
of nerves. It is a relatively simple thing to throw them into a
species of hysteria which may induce either a mania for murder, or
symptoms of apparent abject cowardice--it is a question, however,
if a wild animal ever is actually a coward.
The king baboon approached Korak. He walked around him in an ever
decreasing circle--growling, grunting, sniffing. Korak spoke to
"I am Korak," he said. "I opened the cage that held you. I saved
you from the Tarmangani. I am Korak, The Killer. I am your friend."
"Huh," grunted the king. "Yes, you are Korak. My ears told me
that you were Korak. My eyes told you that you were Korak. Now
my nose tells me that you are Korak. My nose is never wrong. I
am your friend. Come, we shall hunt together."
"Korak cannot hunt now," replied the ape-man. "The Gomangani have
stolen Meriem. They have tied her in their village. They will
not let her go. Korak, alone, was unable to set her free. Korak
set you free. Now will you bring your people and set Korak's Meriem
"The Gomangani have many sharp sticks which they throw. They
pierce the bodies of my people. They kill us. The gomangani are
bad people. They will kill us all if we enter their village."
"The Tarmangani have sticks that make a loud noise and kill at
a great distance," replied Korak. "They had these when Korak set
you free from their trap. If Korak had run away from them you
would now be a prisoner among the Tarmangani."
The baboon scratched his head. In a rough circle about him and the
ape-man squatted the bulls of his herd. They blinked their eyes,
shouldered one another about for more advantageous positions,
scratched in the rotting vegetation upon the chance of unearthing
a toothsome worm, or sat listlessly eyeing their king and the strange
Mangani, who called himself thus but who more closely resembled
the hated Tarmangani. The king looked at some of the older of his
subjects, as though inviting suggestion.
"We are too few," grunted one.
"There are the baboons of the hill country," suggested another.
"They are as many as the leaves of the forest. They, too, hate
the Gomangani. They love to fight. They are very savage. Let us
ask them to accompany us. Then can we kill all the Gomangani in
the jungle." He rose and growled horribly, bristling his stiff
"That is the way to talk," cried The Killer, "but we do not need the
baboons of the hill country. We are enough. It will take a long
time to fetch them. Meriem may be dead and eaten before we could
free her. Let us set out at once for the village of the Gomangani.
If we travel very fast it will not take long to reach it. Then,
all at the same time, we can charge into the village, growling and
barking. The Gomangani will be very frightened and will run away.
While they are gone we can seize Meriem and carry her off. We do
not have to kill or be killed--all that Korak wishes is his Meriem."
"We are too few," croaked the old ape again.
"Yes, we are too few," echoed others.
Korak could not persuade them. They would help him, gladly; but they
must do it in their own way and that meant enlisting the services
of their kinsmen and allies of the hill country. So Korak was
forced to give in. All he could do for the present was to urge
them to haste, and at his suggestion the king baboon with a dozen
of his mightiest bulls agreed to go to the hill country with Korak,
leaving the balance of the herd behind.
Once enlisted in the adventure the baboons became quite enthusiastic
about it. The delegation set off immediately. They traveled
swiftly; but the ape-man found no difficulty in keeping up with
them. They made a tremendous racket as they passed through the
trees in an endeavor to suggest to enemies in their front that a
great herd was approaching, for when the baboons travel in large
numbers there is no jungle creature who cares to molest them. When
the nature of the country required much travel upon the level, and
the distance between trees was great, they moved silently, knowing
that the lion and the leopard would not be fooled by noise when
they could see plainly for themselves that only a handful of baboons
were on the trail.
For two days the party raced through the savage country, passing
out of the dense jungle into an open plain, and across this to
timbered mountain slopes. Here Korak never before had been. It
was a new country to him and the change from the monotony of the
circumscribed view in the jungle was pleasing. But he had little
desire to enjoy the beauties of nature at this time. Meriem, his
Meriem was in danger. Until she was freed and returned to him he
had little thought for aught else.
Once in the forest that clothed the mountain slopes the baboons
advanced more slowly. Constantly they gave tongue to a plaintive
note of calling. Then would follow silence while they listened.
At last, faintly from the distance straight ahead came an answer.
The baboons continued to travel in the direction of the voices
that floated through the forest to them in the intervals of their
own silence. Thus, calling and listening, they came closer to
their kinsmen, who, it was evident to Korak, were coming to meet
them in great numbers; but when, at last, the baboons of the hill
country came in view the ape-man was staggered at the reality that
broke upon his vision.
What appeared a solid wall of huge baboons rose from the ground
through the branches of the trees to the loftiest terrace to which
they dared entrust their weight. Slowly they were approaching,
voicing their weird, plaintive call, and behind them, as far as
Korak's eyes could pierce the verdure, rose solid walls of their
fellows treading close upon their heels. There were thousands of
them. The ape-man could not but think of the fate of his little
party should some untoward incident arouse even momentarily the
rage of fear of a single one of all these thousands.
But nothing such befell. The two kings approached one another, as
was their custom, with much sniffing and bristling. They satisfied
themselves of each other's identity. Then each scratched the
other's back. After a moment they spoke together. Korak's friend
explained the nature of their visit, and for the first time Korak
showed himself. He had been hiding behind a bush. The excitement
among the hill baboons was intense at sight of him. For a moment
Korak feared that he should be torn to pieces; but his fear was
for Meriem. Should he die there would be none to succor her.
The two kings, however, managed to quiet the multitude, and Korak
was permitted to approach. Slowly the hill baboons came closer to
him. They sniffed at him from every angle. When he spoke to them
in their own tongue they were filled with wonder and delight. They
talked to him and listened while he spoke. He told them of Meriem,
and of their life in the jungle where they were the friends of all
the ape folk from little Manu to Mangani, the great ape.
"The Gomangani, who are keeping Meriem from me, are no friends of
yours," he said. "They kill you. The baboons of the low country
are too few to go against them. They tell me that you are very
many and very brave--that your numbers are as the numbers of the
grasses upon the plains or the leaves within the forest, and that
even Tantor, the elephant, fears you, so brave you are. They told
me that you would be happy to accompany us to the village of the
Gomangani and punish these bad people while I, Korak, The Killer,
carry away my Meriem."
The king ape puffed out his chest and strutted about very stiff-legged
indeed. So also did many of the other great bulls of his nation.
They were pleased and flattered by the words of the strange
Tarmangani, who called himself Mangani and spoke the language of
the hairy progenitors of man.
"Yes," said one, "we of the hill country are mighty fighters.
Tantor fears us. Numa fears us. Sheeta fears us. The Gomangani
of the hill country are glad to pass us by in peace. I, for one,
will come with you to the village of the Gomangani of the low
places. I am the king's first he-child. Alone can I kill all the
Gomangani of the low country," and he swelled his chest and strutted
proudly back and forth, until the itching back of a comrade commanded
his industrious attention.
"I am Goob," cried another. "My fighting fangs are long. They are
sharp. They are strong. Into the soft flesh of many a Gomangani
have they been buried. Alone I slew the sister of Sheeta. Goob
will go to the low country with you and kill so many of the Gomangani
that there will be none left to count the dead," and then he, too,
strutted and pranced before the admiring eyes of the shes and the
Korak looked at the king, questioningly.
"Your bulls are very brave," he said; "but braver than any is the
Thus addressed, the shaggy bull, still in his prime--else he had
been no longer king--growled ferociously. The forest echoed to his
lusty challenges. The little baboons clutched fearfully at their
mothers' hairy necks. The bulls, electrified, leaped high in
air and took up the roaring challenge of their king. The din was
Korak came close to the king and shouted in his ear, "Come."
Then he started off through the forest toward the plain that they
must cross on their long journey back to the village of Kovudoo,
the Gomangani. The king, still roaring and shrieking, wheeled
and followed him. In their wake came the handful of low country
baboons and the thousands of the hill clan--savage, wiry, dog-like
creatures, athirst for blood.
And so they came, upon the second day, to the village of Kovudoo.
It was mid-afternoon. The village was sunk in the quiet of the
great equatorial sun-heat. The mighty herd traveled quietly now.
Beneath the thousands of padded feet the forest gave forth no greater
sound than might have been produced by the increased soughing of
a stronger breeze through the leafy branches of the trees.
Korak and the two kings were in the lead. Close beside the village
they halted until the stragglers had closed up. Now utter silence
reigned. Korak, creeping stealthily, entered the tree that overhung
the palisade. He glanced behind him. The pack were close upon his
heels. The time had come. He had warned them continuously during
the long march that no harm must befall the white she who lay
a prisoner within the village. All others were their legitimate
prey. Then, raising his face toward the sky, he gave voice to a
single cry. It was the signal.
In response three thousand hairy bulls leaped screaming and barking
into the village of the terrified blacks. Warriors poured from
every hut. Mothers gathered their babies in their arms and fled
toward the gates as they saw the horrid horde pouring into the
village street. Kovudoo marshaled his fighting men about him and,
leaping and yelling to arouse their courage, offered a bristling,
spear tipped front to the charging horde.
Korak, as he had led the march, led the charge. The blacks were
struck with horror and dismay at the sight of this white-skinned
youth at the head of a pack of hideous baboons. For an instant
they held their ground, hurling their spears once at the advancing
multitude; but before they could fit arrows to their bows they
wavered, gave, and turned in terrified rout. Into their ranks,
upon their backs, sinking strong fangs into the muscles of their
necks sprang the baboons and first among them, most ferocious, most
blood-thirsty, most terrible was Korak, The Killer.
At the village gates, through which the blacks poured in panic,
Korak left them to the tender mercies of his allies and turned
himself eagerly toward the hut in which Meriem had been a prisoner.
It was empty. One after another the filthy interiors revealed
the same disheartening fact--Meriem was in none of them. That she
had not been taken by the blacks in their flight from the village
Korak knew for he had watched carefully for a glimpse of her among
To the mind of the ape-man, knowing as he did the proclivities of
the savages, there was but a single explanation--Meriem had been
killed and eaten. With the conviction that Meriem was dead there
surged through Korak's brain a wave of blood red rage against those
he believed to be her murderer. In the distance he could hear the
snarling of the baboons mixed with the screams of their victims, and
towards this he made his way. When he came upon them the baboons
had commenced to tire of the sport of battle, and the blacks
in a little knot were making a new stand, using their knob sticks
effectively upon the few bulls who still persisted in attacking
Among these broke Korak from the branches of a tree above them--swift,
relentless, terrible, he hurled himself upon the savage warriors of
Kovudoo. Blind fury possessed him. Too, it protected him by its
very ferocity. Like a wounded lioness he was here, there, everywhere,
striking terrific blows with hard fists and with the precision and
timeliness of the trained fighter. Again and again he buried his
teeth in the flesh of a foeman. He was upon one and gone again to
another before an effective blow could be dealt him. Yet, though
great was the weight of his execution in determining the result of
the combat, it was outweighed by the terror which he inspired in
the simple, superstitious minds of his foeman. To them this white
warrior, who consorted with the great apes and the fierce baboons,
who growled and snarled and snapped like a beast, was not human.
He was a demon of the forest--a fearsome god of evil whom they had
offended, and who had come out of his lair deep in the jungle to
punish them. And because of this belief there were many who offered
but little defense, feeling as they did the futility of pitting
their puny mortal strength against that of a deity.
Those who could fled, until at last there were no more to pay
the penalty for a deed, which, while not beyond them, they were,
nevertheless, not guilty of. Panting and bloody, Korak paused for
want of further victims. The baboons gathered about him, sated
themselves with blood and battle. They lolled upon the ground,
In the distance Kovudoo was gathering his scattered tribesmen,
and taking account of injuries and losses. His people were panic
stricken. Nothing could prevail upon them to remain longer in
this country. They would not even return to the village for their
belongings. Instead they insisted upon continuing their flight
until they had put many miles between themselves and the stamping
ground of the demon who had so bitterly attacked them. And thus
it befell that Korak drove from their homes the only people who
might have aided him in a search for Meriem, and cut off the only
connecting link between him and her from whomsoever might come in
search of him from the douar of the kindly Bwana who had befriended
his little jungle sweetheart.
It was a sour and savage Korak who bade farewell to his baboon
allies upon the following morning. They wished him to accompany
him; but the ape-man had no heart for the society of any. Jungle
life had encouraged taciturnity in him. His sorrow had deepened
this to a sullen moroseness that could not brook even the savage
companionship of the ill-natured baboons.
Brooding and despondent he took his solitary way into the deepest
jungle. He moved along the ground when he knew that Numa was abroad
and hungry. He took to the same trees that harbored Sheeta, the
panther. He courted death in a hundred ways and a hundred forms.
His mind was ever occupied with reminiscences of Meriem and the
happy years that they had spent together. He realized now to the
full what she had meant to him. The sweet face, the tanned, supple,
little body, the bright smile that always had welcomed his return
from the hunt haunted him continually.
Inaction soon threatened him with madness. He must be on the go.
He must fill his days with labor and excitement that he might
forget--that night might find him so exhausted that he should sleep
in blessed unconsciousness of his misery until a new day had come.
Had he guessed that by any possibility Meriem might still live he
would at least have had hope. His days could have been devoted to
searching for her; but he implicitly believed that she was dead.
For a long year he led his solitary, roaming life. Occasionally
he fell in with Akut and his tribe, hunting with them for a day
or two; or he might travel to the hill country where the baboons
had come to accept him as a matter of course; but most of all was
he with Tantor, the elephant--the great gray battle ship of the
jungle--the super-dreadnaught of his savage world.
The peaceful quiet of the monster bulls, the watchful solicitude
of the mother cows, the awkward playfulness of the calves rested,
interested, and amused Korak. The life of the huge beasts took his
mind, temporarily from his own grief. He came to love them as he
loved not even the great apes, and there was one gigantic tusker
in particular of which he was very fond--the lord of the herd--a
savage beast that was wont to charge a stranger upon the slightest
provocation, or upon no provocation whatsoever. And to Korak this
mountain of destruction was docile and affectionate as a lap dog.
He came when Korak called. He wound his trunk about the ape-man's
body and lifted him to his broad neck in response to a gesture, and
there would Korak lie at full length kicking his toes affectionately
into the thick hide and brushing the flies from about the tender
ears of his colossal chum with a leafy branch torn from a nearby
tree by Tantor for the purpose.
And all the while Meriem was scarce a hundred miles away.
To Meriem, in her new home, the days passed quickly. At first she
was all anxiety to be off into the jungle searching for her Korak.
Bwana, as she insisted upon calling her benefactor, dissuaded her
from making the attempt at once by dispatching a head man with
a party of blacks to Kovudoo's village with instructions to learn
from the old savage how he came into possession of the white girl
and as much of her antecedents as might be culled from the black
chieftain. Bwana particularly charged his head man with the duty
of questioning Kovudoo relative to the strange character whom the
girl called Korak, and of searching for the ape-man if he found the
slightest evidence upon which to ground a belief in the existence
of such an individual. Bwana was more than fully convinced that
Korak was a creature of the girl's disordered imagination. He
believed that the terrors and hardships she had undergone during
captivity among the blacks and her frightful experience with the
two Swedes had unbalanced her mind but as the days passed and he
became better acquainted with her and able to observe her under the
ordinary conditions of the quiet of his African home he was forced
to admit that her strange tale puzzled him not a little, for there
was no other evidence whatever that Meriem was not in full possession
of her normal faculties.
The white man's wife, whom Meriem had christened "My Dear" from
having first heard her thus addressed by Bwana, took not only
a deep interest in the little jungle waif because of her forlorn
and friendless state, but grew to love her as well for her sunny
disposition and natural charm of temperament. And Meriem, similarly
impressed by little attributes in the gentle, cultured woman,
reciprocated the other's regard and affection.
And so the days flew by while Meriem waited the return of the head
man and his party from the country of Kovudoo. They were short days,
for into them were crowded many hours of insidious instruction of
the unlettered child by the lonely woman. She commenced at once
to teach the girl English without forcing it upon her as a task.
She varied the instruction with lessons in sewing and deportment,
nor once did she let Meriem guess that it was not all play. Nor
was this difficult, since the girl was avid to learn. Then there
were pretty dresses to be made to take the place of the single
leopard skin and in this she found the child as responsive and
enthusiastic as any civilized miss of her acquaintance.
A month passed before the head man returned--a month that had
transformed the savage, half-naked little tarmangani into a daintily
frocked girl of at least outward civilization. Meriem had progressed
rapidly with the intricacies of the English language, for Bwana
and My Dear had persistently refused to speak Arabic from the time
they had decided that Meriem must learn English, which had been a
day or two after her introduction into their home.
The report of the head man plunged Meriem into a period of despondency,
for he had found the village of Kovudoo deserted nor, search as he
would, could he discover a single native anywhere in the vicinity.
For some time he had camped near the village, spending the days in
a systematic search of the environs for traces of Meriem's Korak;
but in this quest, too, had he failed. He had seen neither apes
nor ape-man. Meriem at first insisted upon setting forth herself
in search of Korak, but Bwana prevailed upon her to wait. He would
go himself, he assured her, as soon as he could find the time, and
at last Meriem consented to abide by his wishes; but it was months
before she ceased to mourn almost hourly for her Korak.
My Dear grieved with the grieving girl and did her best to comfort
and cheer her. She told her that if Korak lived he would find her;
but all the time she believed that Korak had never existed beyond
the child's dreams. She planned amusements to distract Meriem's
attention from her sorrow, and she instituted a well-designed
campaign to impress upon the child the desirability of civilized
life and customs. Nor was this difficult, as she was soon to learn,
for it rapidly became evident that beneath the uncouth savagery
of the girl was a bed rock of innate refinement--a nicety of taste
and predilection that quite equaled that of her instructor.
My Dear was delighted. She was lonely and childless, and so she
lavished upon this little stranger all the mother love that would
have gone to her own had she had one. The result was that by the
end of the first year none might have guessed that Meriem ever had
existed beyond the lap of culture and luxury.
She was sixteen now, though she easily might have passed for
nineteen, and she was very good to look upon, with her black hair
and her tanned skin and all the freshness and purity of health and
innocence. Yet she still nursed her secret sorrow, though she no
longer mentioned it to My Dear. Scarce an hour passed that did
not bring its recollection of Korak, and its poignant yearning to
see him again.
Meriem spoke English fluently now, and read and wrote it as well.
One day My Dear spoke jokingly to her in French and to her surprise
Meriem replied in the same tongue--slowly, it is true, and haltingly;
but none the less in excellent French, such, though, as a little
child might use. Thereafter they spoke a little French each day,
and My Dear often marveled that the girl learned this language with
a facility that was at times almost uncanny. At first Meriem had
puckered her narrow, arched, little eye brows as though trying to
force recollection of something all but forgotten which the new
words suggested, and then, to her own astonishment as well as to
that of her teacher she had used other French words than those in
the lessons--used them properly and with a pronunciation that the
English woman knew was more perfect than her own; but Meriem could
neither read nor write what she spoke so well, and as My Dear
considered a knowledge of correct English of the first importance,
other than conversational French was postponed for a later day.
"You doubtless heard French spoken at times in your father's douar,"
suggested My Dear, as the most reasonable explanation.
Meriem shook her head.
"It may be," she said, "but I do not recall ever having seen
a Frenchman in my father's company--he hated them and would have
nothing whatever to do with them, and I am quite sure that I never
heard any of these words before, yet at the same time I find them
all familiar. I cannot understand it."
"Neither can I," agreed My Dear.
It was about this time that a runner brought a letter that, when
she learned the contents, filled Meriem with excitement. Visitors
were coming! A number of English ladies and gentlemen had accepted
My Dear's invitation to spend a month of hunting and exploring with
them. Meriem was all expectancy. What would these strangers be
like? Would they be as nice to her as had Bwana and My Dear, or
would they be like the other white folk she had known--cruel and
relentless. My Dear assured her that they all were gentle folk
and that she would find them kind, considerate and honorable.
To My Dear's surprise there was none of the shyness of the wild
creature in Meriem's anticipation of the visit of strangers.
She looked forward to their coming with curiosity and with a certain
pleasurable anticipation when once she was assured that they would
not bite her. In fact she appeared no different than would any
pretty young miss who had learned of the expected coming of company.
Korak's image was still often in her thoughts, but it aroused now
a less well-defined sense of bereavement. A quiet sadness pervaded
Meriem when she thought of him; but the poignant grief of her loss
when it was young no longer goaded her to desperation. Yet she was
still loyal to him. She still hoped that some day he would find
her, nor did she doubt for a moment but that he was searching for
her if he still lived. It was this last suggestion that caused her
the greatest perturbation. Korak might be dead. It scarce seemed
possible that one so well-equipped to meet the emergencies of
jungle life should have succumbed so young; yet when she had last
seen him he had been beset by a horde of armed warriors, and should
he have returned to the village again, as she well knew he must
have, he may have been killed. Even her Korak could not, single
handed, slay an entire tribe.
At last the visitors arrived. There were three men and two women--the
wives of the two older men. The youngest member of the party was
Hon. Morison Baynes, a young man of considerable wealth who, having
exhausted all the possibilities for pleasure offered by the capitals
of Europe, had gladly seized upon this opportunity to turn to
another continent for excitement and adventure.
He looked upon all things un-European as rather more than less
impossible, still he was not at all averse to enjoying the novelty
of unaccustomed places, and making the most of strangers indigenous
thereto, however unspeakable they might have seemed to him at home.
In manner he was suave and courteous to all--if possible a trifle
more punctilious toward those he considered of meaner clay than
toward the few he mentally admitted to equality.
Nature had favored him with a splendid physique and a handsome
face, and also with sufficient good judgment to appreciate that
while he might enjoy the contemplation of his superiority to the
masses, there was little likelihood of the masses being equally
entranced by the same cause. And so he easily maintained the
reputation of being a most democratic and likeable fellow, and
indeed he was likable. Just a shade of his egotism was occasionally
apparent--never sufficient to become a burden to his associates.
And this, briefly, was the Hon. Morison Baynes of luxurious European
civilization. What would be the Hon. Morison Baynes of central
Africa it were difficult to guess.
Meriem, at first, was shy and reserved in the presence of the
strangers. Her benefactors had seen fit to ignore mention of her
strange past, and so she passed as their ward whose antecedents
not having been mentioned were not to be inquired into. The guests
found her sweet and unassuming, laughing, vivacious and a never
exhausted storehouse of quaint and interesting jungle lore.
She had ridden much during her year with Bwana and My Dear. She
knew each favorite clump of concealing reeds along the river that
the buffalo loved best. She knew a dozen places where lions laired,
and every drinking hole in the drier country twenty-five miles back
from the river. With unerring precision that was almost uncanny she
could track the largest or the smallest beast to his hiding place.
But the thing that baffled them all was her instant consciousness
of the presence of carnivora that others, exerting their faculties
to the utmost, could neither see nor hear.
The Hon. Morison Baynes found Meriem a most beautiful and charming
companion. He was delighted with her from the first. Particularly
so, it is possible, because he had not thought to find companionship
of this sort upon the African estate of his London friends. They
were together a great deal as they were the only unmarried couple
in the little company. Meriem, entirely unaccustomed to the
companionship of such as Baynes, was fascinated by him. His tales
of the great, gay cities with which he was familiar filled her with
admiration and with wonder. If the Hon. Morison always shone to
advantage in these narratives Meriem saw in that fact but a most natural
consequence to his presence upon the scene of his story--wherever
Morison might be he must be a hero; so thought the girl.
With the actual presence and companionship of the young Englishman
the image of Korak became less real. Where before it had been an
actuality to her she now realized that Korak was but a memory. To
that memory she still was loyal; but what weight has a memory in
the presence of a fascinating reality?
Meriem had never accompanied the men upon a hunt since the arrival
of the guests. She never had cared particularly for the sport of
killing. The tracking she enjoyed; but the mere killing for the
sake of killing she could not find pleasure in--little savage that
she had been, and still, to some measure, was. When Bwana had
gone forth to shoot for meat she had always been his enthusiastic
companion; but with the coming of the London guests the hunting
had deteriorated into mere killing. Slaughter the host would not
permit; yet the purpose of the hunts were for heads and skins and
not for food. So Meriem remained behind and spent her days either
with My Dear upon the shaded verandah, or riding her favorite pony
across the plains or to the forest edge. Here she would leave him
untethered while she took to the trees for the moment's unalloyed
pleasures of a return to the wild, free existence of her earlier
Then would come again visions of Korak, and, tired at last of
leaping and swinging through the trees, she would stretch herself
comfortably upon a branch and dream. And presently, as today, she
found the features of Korak slowly dissolve and merge into those of
another, and the figure of a tanned, half-naked tarmangani become
a khaki clothed Englishman astride a hunting pony.
And while she dreamed there came to her ears from a distance,
faintly, the terrified bleating of a kid. Meriem was instantly
alert. You or I, even had we been able to hear the pitiful wail
at so great distance, could not have interpreted it; but to Meriem
it meant a species of terror that afflicts the ruminant when a
carnivore is near and escape impossible.
It had been both a pleasure and a sport of Korak's to rob Numa of
his prey whenever possible, and Meriem too had often enjoyed in
the thrill of snatching some dainty morsel almost from the very
jaws of the king of beasts. Now, at the sound of the kid's bleat,
all the well remembered thrills recurred. Instantly she was all
excitement to play again the game of hide and seek with death.
Quickly she loosened her riding skirt and tossed it aside--it was
a heavy handicap to successful travel in the trees. Her boots and
stockings followed the skirt, for the bare sole of the human foot
does not slip upon dry or even wet bark as does the hard leather
of a boot. She would have liked to discard her riding breeches
also, but the motherly admonitions of My Dear had convinced Meriem
that it was not good form to go naked through the world.
At her hip hung a hunting knife. Her rifle was still in its boot
at her pony's withers. Her revolver she had not brought.
The kid was still bleating as Meriem started rapidly in its direction,
which she knew was straight toward a certain water hole which had
once been famous as a rendezvous for lions. Of late there had
been no evidence of carnivora in the neighborhood of this drinking
place; but Meriem was positive that the bleating of the kid was
due to the presence of either lion or panther.
But she would soon know, for she was rapidly approaching the
terrified animal. She wondered as she hastened onward that the
sounds continued to come from the same point. Why did the kid
not run away? And then she came in sight of the little animal and
knew. The kid was tethered to a stake beside the waterhole.
Meriem paused in the branches of a near-by tree and scanned the
surrounding clearing with quick, penetrating eyes. Where was the
hunter? Bwana and his people did not hunt thus. Who could have
tethered this poor little beast as a lure to Numa? Bwana never
countenanced such acts in his country and his word was law among
those who hunted within a radius of many miles of his estate.
Some wandering savages, doubtless, thought Meriem; but where were
they? Not even her keen eyes could discover them. And where
was Numa? Why had he not long since sprung upon this delicious
and defenseless morsel? That he was close by was attested by the
pitiful crying of the kid. Ah! Now she saw him. He was lying
close in a clump of brush a few yards to her right. The kid was
down wind from him and getting the full benefit of his terrorizing
scent, which did not reach Meriem.
To circle to the opposite side of the clearing where the trees
approached closer to the kid. To leap quickly to the little
animal's side and cut the tether that held him would be the work
of but a moment. In that moment Numa might charge, and then there
would be scarce time to regain the safety of the trees, yet it
might be done. Meriem had escaped from closer quarters than that
many times before.
The doubt that gave her momentary pause was caused by fear of the
unseen hunters more than by fear of Numa. If they were stranger
blacks the spears that they held in readiness for Numa might as
readily be loosed upon whomever dared release their bait as upon
the prey they sought thus to trap. Again the kid struggled to be
free. Again his piteous wail touched the tender heart strings of
the girl. Tossing discretion aside, she commenced to circle the
clearing. Only from Numa did she attempt to conceal her presence.
At last she reached the opposite trees. An instant she paused to
look toward the great lion, and at the same moment she saw the huge
beast rise slowly to his full height. A low roar betokened that
he was ready.
Meriem loosened her knife and leaped to the ground. A quick
run brought her to the side of the kid. Numa saw her. He lashed
his tail against his tawny sides. He roared terribly; but, for
an instant, he remained where he stood--surprised into inaction,
doubtless, by the strange apparition that had sprung so unexpectedly
from the jungle.
Other eyes were upon Meriem, too--eyes in which were no less surprise
than that reflected in the yellow-green orbs of the carnivore. A
white man, hiding in a thorn boma, half rose as the young girl
leaped into the clearing and dashed toward the kid. He saw Numa
hesitate. He raised his rifle and covered the beast's breast. The
girl reached the kid's side. Her knife flashed, and the little
prisoner was free. With a parting bleat it dashed off into the
jungle. Then the girl turned to retreat toward the safety of the
tree from which she had dropped so suddenly and unexpectedly into
the surprised view of the lion, the kid and the man.
As she turned the girl's face was turned toward the hunter. His
eyes went wide as he saw her features. He gave a little gasp of
surprise; but now the lion demanded all his attention--the baffled,
angry beast was charging. His breast was still covered by the
motionless rifle. The man could have fired and stopped the charge
at once; but for some reason, since he had seen the girl's face,
he hesitated. Could it be that he did not care to save her? Or,
did he prefer, if possible, to remain unseen by her? It must have
been the latter cause which kept the trigger finger of the steady
hand from exerting the little pressure that would have brought the
great beast to at least a temporary pause.
Like an eagle the man watched the race for life the girl was making.
A second or two measured the time which the whole exciting event
consumed from the moment that the lion broke into his charge. Nor
once did the rifle sights fail to cover the broad breast of the
tawny sire as the lion's course took him a little to the man's left.
Once, at the very last moment, when escape seemed impossible, the
hunter's finger tightened ever so little upon the trigger, but
almost coincidentally the girl leaped for an over hanging branch
and seized it. The lion leaped too; but the nimble Meriem had
swung herself beyond his reach without a second or an inch to spare.
The man breathed a sigh of relief as he lowered his rifle. He saw
the girl fling a grimace at the angry, roaring, maneater beneath
her, and then, laughing, speed away into the forest. For an hour
the lion remained about the water hole. A hundred times could the
hunter have bagged his prey. Why did he fail to do so? Was he
afraid that the shot might attract the girl and cause her to return?
At last Numa, still roaring angrily, strode majestically into the
jungle. The hunter crawled from his boma, and half an hour later
was entering a little camp snugly hidden in the forest. A handful
of black followers greeted his return with sullen indifference.
He was a great bearded man, a huge, yellow-bearded giant, when he
entered his tent. Half an hour later he emerged smooth shaven.
His blacks looked at him in astonishment.
"Would you know me?" he asked.
"The hyena that bore you would not know you, Bwana," replied one.
The man aimed a heavy fist at the black's face; but long experience
in dodging similar blows saved the presumptuous one.