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Jungle Girl Season 2 #1 - 5 FREE Comics Download on CBR CBZ Format. Download FREE DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, Dynamite, IDW. Dynamite proudly presents "Frank Cho's Jungle Girl"! Overseen by co-writer and artist Frank Cho and infused the issue with everything Cho. EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS'. JUNGLE GIRL' with. FRANCIS GIFFORD. TOM NEAL. Trevor Bardette - Gerald Mohr. Eddie Acuff - Frank Lackteen. Tommy Cook .
The subaltern turned eagerly to the children. Then, bidding the boy hold on to the sleeve of the arm carrying the gun, Wargrave started back with Eileen perched on his shoulder. Nasty, bad dog! As he struggled up the steep side of the nullah he heard their mother calling the children with a note of inquietude in her voice; and he answered her with a reassuring shout. Coming up on the level behind the low stone wall of the garden he found Mrs. Dermot and Muriel anxiously awaiting him. Hallo, Mumsie!
He was impelled to bury his teeth in the raw flesh and gorge himself. He realized that this was partially the result of gnawing hunger; but yet it seemed deeper, something primitive and bestial that always had been a part of him but that never before had had occasion to come to the surface.
He knew in that brief instant the feeling of the wild beast for its kill. He looked quickly and furtively about to see if there might be any creature bold enough to contest his possession of the fruit of his prowess. He felt the snarling muscles of his upper lip tense and he sensed within him the rumblings of a growl, though no sound passed his lips. It required a determined effort of will power to refrain from eating the flesh raw, so hungry was he; but he managed to conquer the urge and set about building a fire, though the meal that he finally produced was scarcely more than a compromise, the meat being charred upon the outside and raw within.
After he had eaten he felt renewed strength, but now the tortures of thirst assailed him more poignantly than before. His canteen was empty; and though he had passed by stagnant pools of water during the day, he had been able to resist the temptation to drink, realizing, as he did, the germs of terrible fever that lurked in these slimy pools. The next few days constituted a long nightmare of suffering and disappointment. He found his path toward the Mekong barred by impassable swamps that forced him northward over a broken terrain of ravines and ridges that taxed his rapidly waning strength.
For some time after leaving the marshes he had seen no water, but upon the third day he came to a pool in the bottom of a ravine. That it was the drinking-hole of wild beasts was evidenced by the multitude of tracks in the muddy bank. The liquid was green and thick, but not for an instant did the man hesitate.
Throwing himself upon his belly, he plunged his hands and face into the foul mess and drank. Neither fever nor death could be worse than the pangs of thirst. Later that day he shot a monkey and, cooking some of the flesh, appeased his hunger; and thus for several days he wandered, shooting an occasional monkey for food and drinking water wherever he found it. He was always conscious of the presence of the great cats, though only upon one or two occasions did he catch fleeting glimpses of them; but at night he heard them moving softly beneath some tree in which he had found precarious sanctuary, where he crouched nursing the hope that no leopard or panther would discover him.
Occasionally he saw small herds of wild elephants, and these he always gave a wide berth. He had long given up all hope of escaping from the jungle, and he could not but wonder at man's tenacity in clinging to life in the face of suffering and hardship when he knew that at best he was but prolonging his agony and only temporarily delaying the inevitable.
Seven days and seven nights he had spent in the jungle, and the last night had been the worst of all. He had dozed intermittently. The jungle had been full of noises, and he had seen strange, dim figures passing beneath him.
When the eighth morning broke, he was shivering with cold. His chattering teeth reminded him of castanets. He looked about him for dancers and was surprised that he saw none. Something moved through the foliage of the jungle beneath him. It was yellowish-brown with dark stripes.
He called to it and it disappeared. Quite remarkably he ceased to be cold, and instead his body burned as though consumed by internal fires. The tree in which he sat swayed dizzily, and then with an effort he pulled himself together and slipped to the ground. He found that he was very tired and that he was forced to stop to rest every few minutes, and sometimes he shook with cold and again he burned with heat.
It was about noon; the sun was high and the heat terrific. King lay shivering where he had fallen at the foot of a silk-cotton tree, against the bole of which he leaned for support.
Far down a jungle aisle he saw an elephant. It was not alone; there were other things preceding it—things that could not be in this deserted primeval jungle.
He closed his eyes and shook his head. It was only an hallucination brought on by a touch of fever, of that he was certain.
But when he opened his eyes again the elephant was still there, and he recognized the creatures that preceded it as warriors clothed in brass. They were coming closer. King crawled back into the concealing verdure of the underbrush.
His head ached terribly. There was a buzzing hum in his ears that drowned all other sounds. The caravan passed within fifty feet of him, but he heard no sound. There were archers and spear men—brown men with cuirasses of burnished brass—and then came the elephant trapped in regal splendor, and in a gorgeous howdah upon its back rode a girl.
He saw her profile first, and then as something attracted her attention she turned her face full toward him. It was a face of exquisite and exotic beauty, but a sad face with frightened eyes. Her trappings were more gorgeous than the trappings of the elephant. Behind her marched other warriors, but presently all were gone down the aisles of the jungle in spectral silence. I could have sworn that what I saw was real. Slowly he staggered to his feet and pushed on, whither or in what direction he had no idea.
It was a blind urge of self-preservation that goaded him forward; to what goal, he did not know; all that he knew was that if he remained where he was he must inevitably perish. Perhaps he would perish anyway, but if he went on, there was a chance.
Figures, strange and familiar, passed in jumbled and fantastic procession along the corridors of his mind.
Susan Anne Prentice clothed in brass rode upon the back of an elephant. A weeping queen with painted cheeks and rouged lips came and knelt beside him offering him a draft of cold, crystal-clear water from a golden goblet, but when he lifted it to his lips the goblet became a battered canteen from which oozed a slimy green liquid that burned his mouth and nauseated him. Then he saw soldiers in brass who held platters containing steaming sirloin steaks and French-fried potatoes, which changed magically to sherbet, iced tea, and waffles with maple syrup.
I wonder how long the fever lasts, or how long it takes to finish a fellow. He was lying upon the ground at the edge of a little clearing partially hid by the tall grass into which he had sunk. Suddenly everything seemed to whirl around in circles, and then the world went black and he lost consciousness. It was very late in the afternoon when he came to; but the fever seemed to have left him, temporarily at least, and his mind was clear.
I wonder what it feels like to be mauled by a tiger. But when he attempted to rise he discovered to his horror that he had not sufficient strength to get to his feet. He still clung to his rifle. He had long since made up his mind that in it lay his principal hope of salvation. Without it, he must go hungry and fall prey to the first beast that attacked him. He knew that if he discarded it and his heavy belt of ammunition he might stagger on a short distance and then, when he fell again, he would be helpless.
As he lay there looking out into the little clearing, speculating upon his fate and trying to estimate the number of hours of life that might remain to him, he saw a strange figure enter the clearing. It was an old man with a straggly white beard growing sparsely upon his chin and upper lip. He wore a long, yellow cloak and a fantastic headdress, above which he carried a red umbrella.
He moved slowly, his eyes bent upon the ground. He kept them closed for a minute or two, but when he opened them the old man was still in sight, though by this time he had almost crossed the clearing, and now there was another figure in the picture. From out of the foliage beyond the clearing appeared a savage, snarling face—a great, vicious, yellow-fanged face; yellowish-white and tan with broken markings of dark brown stripes that looked almost black—a hideous head, and yet, at the same time, a gorgeously majestic head.
Slowly, silently the great tiger emerged into the clearing, its gaunt, flat-sided body moving sinuously, its yellow-green eyes blazing terribly at the back of the unconscious old man. Only the impossible figure of that old man with the red parasol could convince me that they are both made of the same material as the spectral elephant, the weeping queen, and the brass-bound soldiers.
There was a short coughing roar as the tiger charged, and at the same instant King squeezed the trigger of his rifle and fainted. Vay Thon, high priest of the temple of Siva in the city of Lodidhapura, was the source of much anxiety on the part of the lesser priests, who felt responsible to Siva and the King for the well-being of Vay Thon. But how might one cope with the vagaries of a weakness so holy and, at the same time, so erratic as that which occasionally claimed the amnesic Vay Thon?
They tried to watch over him at all times, but it is difficult to maintain constant espionage over one so holy, whose offices or whose meditations may not lightly be broken in upon by lesser mortals, even though they be priests of the great god, Siva. All was well when Vay Thon confined himself in his meditations to the innermost sanctum of the Holy of Holies; here, in the safe-keeping of his god, he was isolated from mankind and safe from danger.
But the meditations of Vay Thon were not always thus securely cloistered. Often he strolled along the broad terrace beside the mighty temple, where wrapped in utter forgetfulness of himself and of the world he walked in silent communion with his god. With his long, yellow cloak and his red parasol he was also a familiar figure upon the streets of Lodidhapura. Here he was often accompanied by lesser priests, who walked in cuirasses of polished brass, who marched ahead and in the rear.
Of all these symbols of worldly pomp and power, Vay Thon was entirely unconscious. During those periods that he was wrapped in the oblivion of meditation and upon the numerous occasions when he had managed to leave the temple ground unperceived, he had walked through the streets of the city equally unaware of all that surrounded him. Upon three separate and distinct occasions he had been found wandering in the jungle, and Lodivarman, the King, had threatened to wreak dire punishment upon the lesser priests should harm ever befall Vay Thon during one of these excursions.
It so happened that upon this very day Vay Thon had walked out of the city and into the jungle alone. That he had been able to leave a walled city, the gates of which were heavily guarded by veteran warriors, might have seemed a surprising thing to the citizens of Lodidhapura; but not so to the one familiar with the secret galleries that lay beneath the temple and the palace, through which the ancient builders of Lodidhapura might well have expected to flee the wrath of the downtrodden slaves who comprised 75 per cent of the population.
Though times have changed with the passing centuries, the almost forgotten passageways remain. It was through one of these that Vay Thon reached the jungle. He did not know that he was in the jungle. He was as totally oblivious of his surroundings as is one who is wrapped in deep and dreamless sleep. The last that the lesser priests had seen of Vay Thon was when he had entered the Holy of Holies, which houses the symbol of Siva.
As they had noticed a glassy expression in his eyes, they had known that he was entering upon a period of meditation. Therefore, they maintained a watch at the entrance to the chamber, but felt no concern during the passing hours since they knew that Vay Thon was safe.
What they did not know of was the loose stone in the flooring of the chamber directly behind the symbol of Siva, or the passageway beneath, which led to a ravine in the jungle beyond the city wall. And so during those hours Vay Thon wandered far into the jungle, and with him, perhaps, walked Siva, the Destroyer. His rapt meditation, which amounted to almost total unconsciousness of his mundane surroundings, was shattered by a noise of terrific violence such as had never before impinged upon the ears of Vay Thon or any other inhabitant of Lodidhapura, Awakened suddenly as from a deep sleep, the startled priest wheeled about amazed at his surroundings, but more amazed by the sight which greeted his eyes.
Wallowing in its own gore scarce three paces behind him lay a great tiger in its death throes; and a little to his right, a wisp of blue smoke rose from some grasses at the edge of the clearing. When King regained consciousness he was vaguely aware of voices that seemed to be floating in the air about him. The sounds were meaningless, but they conveyed to his fevered brain an assurance of human origin. He opened his eyes. Above him was a brown face. Supporting his head and shoulders he felt the naked flesh of a human arm.
His eyes wandered. Standing close was a woman, naked but for a sampot drawn diaperwise between her legs and knotted at the belt. Hiding fearfully behind her was a naked child. The man who supported him spoke to him, but in a language that he could not understand.
From whence had these people come, or were they but figments of his fevered imagination like the old man with the yellow cloak and the red parasol? Were they no more real than the spectral tiger that he had shot at in his delirium? He closed his eyes in an effort to gain control of his senses, but when he opened them again the man and the woman and the child were still there.
With a sigh of resignation he gave it up. His throbbing temples were unequal to the demands of sustained thought. He closed his eyes, and his chin dropped upon his breast. As the man lifted King in his arms and turned to carry him away, the American caught a glimpse of an old man in a long, yellow cloak and a strange headdress, who carried above his head a red parasol. The American closed his eyes against the persistent hallucination of his fever. His head swam, and once again he lost consciousness.
King never knew how long he remained unconscious, but when he next opened his eyes he found himself lying upon a bed of grasses in the interior of a dark retreat which he thought, at first, was a cave.
Gradually he discerned the presence of a man, a woman, and a child. He did not remember ever having seen them before. The child was naked, and the man and woman were clothed only in sampots. The woman was ministering to him, forcing a liquid between his lips. Slowly and sluggishly his mind commenced to function, and at last he recalled them—the creatures of the hallucination that had conjured the image of the old man in the yellow cloak with the red parasol, and the charging tiger that he had dreamed of shooting.
Would the fever never leave him? Was he to die thus alone in the somber jungle tortured by hallucinations that might terminate only with his discovery by a tiger? But yet how real was the feeling and taste of the liquid that the woman was forcing between his lips.
He could even feel the animal warmth of the bare arm that was supporting his head and shoulders. Could any figment of a fever-tortured brain be as realistic as these? Repeatedly he closed his eyes and opened them again, but always the same picture was there before him. He raised one hand weakly and touched the woman's shoulder and face. They seemed real. He was almost convinced that they were when he sank again into unconsciousness.
For days Gordon King hovered between life and death. Kangrey, the woman, ministered to him, utilizing the lore of the primitive jungle dweller in the brewing of medicinal potions from the herbs of the forest.
Of equal or perhaps greater value were certain incantations which she droned monotonously above him. Little Uda, the child, was much impressed with all these unusual and remarkable occurrences. The stranger with the pale skin was the first momentous event of his little life. The strange clothing that his parents had removed from their helpless charge thrilled him with awe, as did the rifle, the knife, and the revolver, which he rightfully guessed to be weapons, though he had no more conception of the mechanism of the firearms than did his parents.
Uda was indefatigable in his search for the herbs and roots that Kangrey, his mother, required; and when Che returned from the hunt it was always Uda who met him first with a full and complete history of their patient's case brought down to the last minute with infinite attention to details. At last the fever broke. Though it left King weak and helpless in body, his mind was clear, and he knew at last that the man and the woman and the child were no figments of his imagination.
Of course, the old man with the yellow cloak and the red parasol had been but an hallucination of a kind with the charging tiger; but this kindly brown woman, who was nursing him back to health, was real; and his eyes filled as the thanks which he could not voice welled up within his breast.
A day and a night without any return of the fever or hallucination convinced King that the ministration of the kindly natives had rid him of the illness that had nearly killed him, yet he was so weak that he still had little or no hope of ultimate recovery. He had not the strength to raise a hand to his face. It required a real physical effort to turn his head from side to side upon the rough pallet of grasses upon which he lay.
He noticed that they never left him alone for long. Either the woman or the child was with him during the day, and all three slept near him upon the floor of their little den at night. In the daytime the woman or the child brushed the flies and other insects from him with a leafy branch and gave him food at frequent intervals. What the food was he did not know except that it was semi-liquid, but now that his fever had passed he was so ravenous that whatever it was they gave him he relished it.
One day when he had been left alone with the little boy longer than usual, the child, possibly tiring of the monotony of brushing insects from the body of the pale one, deserted his post, leaving King alone. King did not care, for much of his time, anyway, was spent in sleep and he had become so accustomed to the insects that they no longer irritated him as they formerly had. He was awakened from a sleep by the feel of a rough hand upon his face. Opening his eyes, he saw a monkey squatting beside him.
When King opened his eyes the animal leaped nimbly away, and then the American saw that there were several monkeys in the chamber. They were quite the largest that he had seen in the jungle, and in his helpless condition he knew that they might constitute a real menace to his life. But they did not attack him, nor did they come close to him again; and it soon became evident that their visit was prompted solely by curiosity.
A little later he heard a scraping sound behind him in one corner of the chamber. Having regained his strength during the past few days sufficiently to be able to move his head and hands with comparative ease, he turned his head to see what was going on.
The sight that met his eyes would have been highly amusing had it not been fraught with the possibility of such unhappy results. The monkeys had discovered his weapons and his clothing. All had congregated at the point of interest. They were dragging the things about and chattering excitedly. They seemed to be quarrelling about something; and their chattering and scolding rose in volume until finally one old fellow, who was apparently contesting possession of the rifle with two others, leaped angrily upon them, growling and biting.
Instantly the other two relinquished their holds upon the firearm and scurried to a far corner of the chamber; whereupon the victor seized the weapon again and dragged it toward the doorway. The sound of the human voice seemed to startle the monkeys, but not sufficiently to cause them to relinquish the purpose they had in mind. It is true that they scampered from the chamber, but they gathered up all of King's belongings and took them with them, even to his socks.
King shouted to the boy whom he had heard the parents address as Uda; but when at last the little chap came, breathless and frightened, it was too late to avert or remedy the catastrophe, even if King had been able to explain to Uda what had happened. The night when she returned, Kangrey found her patient very weak, but she did not guess the cause of it since she could not know that in the mind of the pale one was implanted the conviction that his only hope for eventual escape from the jungle had lain in the protection that the stolen weapons would have afforded him.
The days and nights wore slowly on as gradual convalescence brought returning strength to the sick man. To while away the tedious hours he sought to learn the language of his benefactors; and when, finally, they understood his wish they entered with such spirit into its consummation that he found himself deluged with such a variety of new words that his mind became fogged with information. But eventually some order and understanding came out of the chaos, so that presently he was able to converse with Che and Kangrey and Uda.
Thereafter his existence was far less monotonous; but his slow recovery irked and worried him, for it seemed impossible that his strength ever would return. He was so emaciated that it was well for his peace of mind that he had no access to any mirrors. Yet surely though slowly, his strength was returning. From sitting up with his back against the wall he came at length to standing upon his feet once more; and though he was weak and tottering, it was a beginning; and each day now he found his strength returning more rapidly.
From talking with Che and Kangrey, King had learned the details of the simple life they led. Che was a hunter. Some days he brought back nothing, but as a rule he did not return without adding to the simple larder. The flesh was usually that of a monkey or bird or one of the small rodents that lived in the jungle.
Fish he brought, too, and fruit and vegetables and sometimes wild honey. Che and Kangrey and Uda were equally proficient in making fires with a primitive fire stick, which they twirled between the palms of their hands. Kangrey possessed a single pot in which all food was cooked. It was a brass pot, the inside of which she kept scrupulously polished, using earth and leaves for this purpose.
Che was, indeed, a primitive hunter, armed with a spear, bow and arrows, and a knife. When King explained to him the merits of the firearms that had been stolen by the monkeys, Che sympathized with his guest in their loss; but he promised to equip King with new weapons such as he himself carried; and King expressed his gratitude to the native, though he could not arouse within himself much enthusiasm at the prospect of facing a long trip through this tiger-infested forest armed only with the crude weapons of primitive man, even were he skilled in their use.
As King's strength had returned, he had tried to keep together in his mind the happenings that had immediately preceded his illness, but he always felt that the old man with the yellow cloak and the red parasol and the charging tiger that had fallen to a single shot were figments of a fever-tortured brain.
He had never spoken to Che and Kangrey about the hallucination because it seemed silly to do so; yet he found its memory persisting in his mind as a reality rather than an hallucination, so that at last, one evening, he determined to broach the subject, approaching it in a roundabout way.
King looked at the native in open-mouthed astonishment. In all the years that I have known him, he has never been ill. There was a little round hole just behind his left ear; and when Che cut him open to see why he died, he found a piece of metal in his brain, the same metal that the walls of the palace of Lodivarman are covered with.
They were real. And it was good for you and for me and for Vay Thon that you killed the tiger, though how you did it neither Vay Thon nor I can understand. He is very powerful. Only Lodivarman, the King, is more powerful. Vay Thon had wandered far from the city immersed in deep thought. He did not know where he was. He did not know how to return to Lodidhapura. Kangrey and I are runaway slaves of Lodidhapura. Had we been discovered before this happened, we should have been killed; but Vay Thon promised us our freedom if I would lead him back to the city.
In gratitude to you for having saved his life he charged Kangrey and me to nurse you back to health and to take care of you. So you see it was good for all of us that you killed the tiger that would have killed Vay Thon.
For a time King remained in silent thought, wondering, in view of what he had just heard, where the dividing line had lain between reality and hallucination. Every one in Lodidhapura said so. Is that close beside the jungle? King shook his head. You may be glad that you did not see them. They have seven heads and can change themselves into any form of creature that they desire. They are workers of magic. It is said that Lodivarman's principal wife is the queen of the Nagas and that she changed herself into the form of a beautiful woman that she might rule directly over the mortals as well as the gods.
But I do not believe that, because no one, not even a Naga, would choose to be the queen of a leper. But the Yeacks are most to be feared because they do not live far away upon a mountain-top, but are everywhere in the jungle. Gordon King listened with polite attention to the folk tales of Che and Kangrey, but he knew that they were only legends of a kind with the fabulous city of Lodidhapura and its Leper King, Lodivarman. He was somewhat at a loss to account for Vay Thon, the high priest, but he decided finally that the old man was an eccentric hermit who had come into the jungle to live and that to him might be attributed many of the fabulous tales that Che and Kangrey narrated so glibly.
That his two friends were runaway slaves from the fabulous city of Lodidhapura, King doubted, attributing their story to the desire of primitive minds to inject a strain of romance into their otherwise monotonous lives. As King's strength returned rapidly, he insisted more and more upon getting out into the open.
He was anxious to accompany Che upon his hunting trips, but the native insisted that he was not yet sufficiently strong. So the American had to content himself with remaining with Kangrey and Uda at home, where he practised using the weapons that Che had made for him, which consisted of a bow and arrow and a short, heavy javelin-like spear.
Thanks to the training of his college days, King was proficient in the use of the latter; and he practised assiduously with his bow and arrows until his marksmanship aroused the admiring applause of even Kangrey, who considered Che the best bowman in the world, to whose expert proficiency no other mortal might hope to attain.
The dwelling of Che and Kangrey and Uda was in an ancient Khmer ruin and consisted of a small room which had withstood the march of the centuries—a room that was peculiarly suited to the requirements of the little jungle family since it had but a single entrance, a small aperture that could be effectually blocked at night with a flat slab of stone against the depredations of marauding cats. Their existence was as simple and primitive as might have been that of the first man; yet there was inherent in it an undeniable charm that King felt in spite of the monotony and his anxiety to escape from the jungle.
Che knew nothing but the jungle and the fabulous city of Lodidhapura. It is difficult for us to conceive of an endless infinity of space, but Che could imagine an endless jungle. The question of limitation did not enter his mind and, therefore, did not confuse him. To him, the world was a jungle. When King realized this, he knew, too, that it was hopeless to expect Che to attempt to lead him out of a jungle that he believed had no end.
For some time King had been making short excursions into the jungle in search of game while he repeatedly sought to impress upon Che that he was strong enough to accompany the native upon his hunts; but he was met with so many excuses that he at last awoke to the fact that Che did not want him along; and so the American determined to set out by himself upon a prolonged and determined effort to prove his efficiency.
He left one morning after Che had departed, turning his steps in a different direction from that taken by the native. He was determined to bring back something to demonstrate his prowess to Che, but though he moved silently through the jungle, keeping the sharpest look out, he saw no sign of game of any description; and having had past experience of the ease with which one might become lost in the jungle, he turned back at last empty-handed. During his long convalescence King had had an opportunity to consider many things, and one of them had been his humiliating lack of jungle craft.
He knew, therefore, that he must mark the trail in some way if he were to hope to return to the dwelling of Che and Kangrey. He could not blaze the trees with his knife on a hunting excursion since the noise would unquestionably frighten away the game, and so he invented several other ways of marking the trail—sticking twigs in the rough bark of trees that he passed, scraping the ground with the sharp point of his javelin, and placing three twigs in the form of an arrow, pointing backward along the trail over which he had come.
Accordingly, he had little difficulty today in back-tracking along the way to the home of Che. Practising jungle craft necessitated moving as noiselessly as possible, and so it was that he came as silently as might a hunting cat to the edge of the ruin where lay the dwelling of his friend. As King came within sight of the familiar entrance, a scene met his eyes that froze his blood and brought his heart into his throat. In the small clearing that Che had made, little Uda was at play.
He was digging with a sharp stick in the leafy mould of the ground, while watching him at the edge of the clearing crouched a great panther. King saw the beast gradually drawing its hind feet well beneath its body as it prepared to charge.
Returning early from a successful hunt, Che approached the clearing. He, too, moved silently, for thus he always moved through the jungle. Along a forest aisle he could see the clearing before he reached it. He saw Uda digging among the dry leaves, which made a rustling sound that would have drowned the noise of the approach of even a less careful jungle animal than Che.
The father smiled as his eyes rested upon his first-born, but in the same instant the smile froze to an expression of horror as he saw a panther leap into the clearing. Kangrey, emerging at that moment from their gloomy dwelling, saw it too, and screamed as she rushed forward barehanded, impelled by the mother instinct to protect its young.
And then, all in the same brief instant, Che saw a heavy javelin streak lightning-like from the jungle. He saw the panther crumple in its charge, and as he ran forward he saw the pale one leap into the clearing and snatch Uda into his arms. Che, realizing, as had King, the fury of a wounded panther, rushed upon the scene with ready spear as the pale one tossed Uda to Kangrey and turned again to face the great cat. But there was no necessity for the vicious thrust with which Che drove his spear into the carcass of the beast, for the panther was already dead.
For a moment they stood in silence, looking down upon the kill—four primitive jungle people, naked but for sampots. It was King's first experience of a thrill of the primitive hunter.
He trembled a little, but that was reaction to the fear that he had felt for the life of little Uda. It was the spear of the pale one that laid low the prince of darkness," said Che. Kangrey looked her astonishment and would not be convinced until she had examined the spear that protruded from beneath the left shoulder of the great cat. Uda said nothing, but, squirming from his mother's arms, he ran to the side of the dead panther and belabored it with his little stick. The next day Che invited King to accompany him upon his hunt.
When after a hard day they returned empty-handed, King was convinced that in the search for small game a lone hunter would have greater chances for success.
In the morning, therefore, he announced that he would hunt alone in another part of the jungle, and Che agreed with him that this plan would be better. Marking his trail as he had before, King hunted an unfamiliar territory. The forest appeared more open. There was less underbrush; and he had discovered what appeared to be a broad elephant trail, along which he moved with far greater speed than he had ever been able to attain before in his wanderings through this empire of trees and underbrush.
He had no luck in his hunting; and when he had about determined that it was time to turn back, his ears caught an unfamiliar sound. What it was he did not know.
There was a peculiar metallic ring and other sounds that might have been human voices at a distance. The sound was steadily approaching; and as he had learned enough from his intercourse with Che and Kangrey to know that no friendly creatures might be encountered in the jungle, he drew to one side of the elephant trail and concealed himself behind some shrubbery.
He had not waited long when he saw the authors of the sounds approaching. Suddenly he felt his head. It did not seem over-hot. As he had upon other similar occasions, he closed his eyes tightly and then opened them again, but still the vision persisted—a vision of brown-skinned soldiers in burnished brass cuirasses over leather jerkins that fell midway between their hips and their knees, with heavy sandals on their feet, strange helmets on their heads, and armed with swords and spears and bows and arrows.
They came on talking among themselves, and as they passed close to King he discovered that they spoke the same language that he had learned from Che and Kangrey. Evidently the men were arguing with their leader, who wanted to go on, while the majority of his followers seemed in favor of turning back. Only a fool would choose to lair with My Lord the Tiger. They had stopped now almost opposite King, so that he could clearly overhear all that passed between them.
The man in charge appeared to be a petty officer with little real authority, for instead of issuing orders he argued and pleaded. Should we return to the city tomorrow without the girl and Vama charged that we had forced him to turn back, Lodivarman, if he were in ill-humor, as he usually is, would have us all put to death; but if we remain away for many days and then return with a story of many hardships and dangers he will know that we did all that might be expected of brave warriors, and thus the anger of Lodivarman might be assuaged.
Come, now, and let us resume the search. As they moved away King heard one of the men suggest that they find a safe and comfortable camp site where they might remain for a sufficient length of time to impress upon the King the verity of the story that they would relate to him.
He waited only until they were out of sight before he arose from his place of concealment, for he was much concerned with the fact that they were proceeding in the general direction of the dwelling of Che and Kangrey.
King was much mystified by what he had seen. He knew that these soldiers were no children of a fevered brain. They were flesh and blood warriors and for that reason a far greater mystery than any of the creatures he had seen in his delirium, since they could not be accounted for by any process of intelligent reasoning. His judgment told him that there were no warriors in this uninhabited jungle and certainly none with the archaic accoutrements and weapons that he had seen.
It might be reasonable to expect to meet such types in an extravaganza of the stage or screen; and, doubtless, centuries ago warriors such as these patrolled this very spot which the jungle and the tiger and the elephant had long since reclaimed. He recalled the stories that his guide had told him of the ghosts of the ancient Khmers, which roamed through the somber aisles of the forest. He remembered the other soldiers that he had seen and the girl with the frightened eyes that rode upon the great elephant, and the final result was a questioning of his own sanity.
Since he knew that a fever, such as the one through which he had passed, might easily affect one's brain either temporarily or permanently, he was troubled and not a little frightened as he made his way in the direction of the dwelling of Che and Kangrey. But the fact that he took a circuitous route that he might avoid the warriors indicated that either he was quite crazy or, at least, that he was temporizing with his madness.
There has been enough evidence accumulated during historic times to prove that the materialization of disembodied spirits may have occurred upon countless occasions. That I never saw a ghost is not necessarily conclusive evidence that they do not exist. There are many strange things in the Orient that the western mind cannot grasp. Perhaps, after all, I have seen ghosts; but if so, they certainly were thoroughly materialized, even to the dirt on their legs and the sweat on their faces.
I suppose I shall have to admit that they are ghosts, since I know that no soldiers like them exist in the flesh anywhere in the world. As King moved silently through the jungle, he presented an even more anachronistic figure than had the soldiers in brass; for they, at least, personified an era of civilization and advancement, while King, to all outward appearances, was almost at the dawn of human evolution—a primitive hunter, naked but for a sampot of leopard skin and rude sandals fashioned by Kangrey because the soles of his feet, innocent of the callouses that shod hers and Che's, had rendered him almost helpless in the jungle without this protection.
His skin was brown from exposure to the sun, and his hair had grown thick and shaggy. That he was smooth-shaven was the result of chance. He had always made it a habit, since he had taken up the study of medicine and surgery, to carry a safety razor blade with him, for what possible emergency he could not himself have explained. It was merely an idiosyncrasy, and it had so chanced that among several other things that the monkeys had dropped from his pockets and scattered in the jungle the razor blade had been recovered by little Uda along with a silver pencil and a handful of French francs.
He moved through the jungle with all the assurance of a man who has known no other life, so quickly does humankind adapt itself to environment. Already his ears and his nostrils had become inured to their surroundings to such an extent, at least, as to permit them to identify and classify easily and quickly the more familiar sounds and odors of the jungle. Familiarity had induced increasing self-assurance, which had now reached a point that made him feel he might soon safely set out in search of civilization.
However, to-day his mind was not on this thing; it was still engaged in an endeavor to solve the puzzle of the brass-bound warriors.
But presently the baffling contemplation of this matter was rudely interrupted by a patch of buff coat and black stripes of which he caught a momentary, fleeting glimpse between the boles of two trees ahead of him. A species of unreasoning terror that had formerly seized him each time that he had glimpsed the terrifying lord of the jungle had gradually passed away as he had come to recognize the fact that every tiger that he saw was not bent upon his destruction and that nine times out of ten it would try to get out of his way.
Of course, it is the tenth tiger that one must always reckon with; but where trees are numerous and a man's eyes and ears and nose are alert, even the tenth tiger may usually be circumvented. So now King did not alter his course, though he had seen the tiger directly ahead of him. It would be time enough to think of retreat when he found that the temper and intentions of the tiger warranted it, and, further, it was better to keep the brute in sight than to feel that perhaps he had circled and was creeping up behind one.
It was, therefore, because of this that King pushed on a little more rapidly; and soon he was rewarded by another glimpse of the great carnivore and of something else, which presented a tableau that froze his blood.
Beyond the tiger and facing it stood a girl.
Her wide eyes were glassy with terror. She stood as one in a trance, frozen to the spot, while toward her the great cat crept. She was a slender girl, garbed as fantastically as had been the soldiers that had passed him in the jungle shortly before; but her gorgeous garments were soiled and torn, and even at a distance King could see that her face and arms were scratched and bleeding.
In the instant that his eyes alighted upon her he sensed something strangely familiar about her. It was a sudden, wholly unaccountable impression that somewhere he had seen this girl before; but it was only a passing impression, for his whole mind now was occupied with her terrifying predicament.
To save her from the terrible death creeping slowly upon her seemed beyond the realms of possibility, and yet King knew that he must make the attempt.
He recognized instantly that his only hope lay in distracting the attention of the tiger. If he could center the interest of the brute upon himself, perhaps the girl might escape. As he spoke, King was running forward. His heavy spear was ready in his hand, but yet it was a mad chance to take. Perhaps he forgot himself and his own danger, thinking only of the girl. The tiger glanced back at the girl, who, obeying King's direction, had run quickly to a nearby tree into which she was trying to scramble, badly hampered by the long skirt that enveloped her.
For only an instant did the tiger hesitate. His short and ugly temper was fully aroused now in the face of this rude interruption of his plan. With a savage snarl and then the short coughing roars with which King was all too familiar, he wheeled and sprang toward the man in long, easy bounds. Twelve to fifteen feet he covered in a single leap. Flight was futile. There was nothing that King could do but stand his ground and pit his puny spear against this awful engine of destruction.
In that brief instant there was pictured upon the screen of his memory a tree-girt athletic field. He saw young men in shirts and shorts throwing javelins. He saw himself among them. It was his turn now.
His arm went back. He recalled how he had put every ounce of muscle, weight, and science into that throw. He recalled the friendly congratulations that followed it, for every one knew without waiting for the official verdict that he had broken a world's record. Again his arm flew back. Today there was more at stake than a world's record, but the man did not lose his nerve.
Timed to the fraction of an instant, backed by the last ounce of his weight and his skill and his great strength, the spear met the tiger in mid-leap; full in the chest it struck him. King leaped to one side and ran for a tree, his single, frail hope lying in the possibility that the great beast might be even momentarily disabled. He did not waste the energy or the time even to glance behind him.
If the tiger were able to overtake him, it must be totally a matter of indifference to King whether the great brute seized him from behind or in front—he had led his ace and he did not have another. No fangs or talons rent his flesh as King scrambled to the safety of the nearest tree. It was not without a sense of considerable surprise that he found himself safely ensconced in his leafy sanctuary, for from the instant that the tiger had turned upon him in its venomous charge he had counted himself already as good as dead.
Now that he had an opportunity to look about him, he saw the tiger struggling in its death throes upon the very spot where it had anticipated wreaking its vengeance upon the rash man-thing that had dared to question its right to the possession of its intended prey; and a little to the right of the dying beast the American saw the girl crouching in the branches of a tree.
Together they watched the death throes of the great cat; and when at last the man was convinced that the beast was dead, he leaped lightly to the ground and approached the tree among the branches of which the girl had sought safety. That she was still filled with terror was apparent in the strained and frightened expression upon her face. King smiled.
I shall not harm you. I should not be surprised to learn that you are the queen of the Nagas. Nothing would surprise me in this jungle of anachronism, hallucination, and impossibility. Nothing seems impossible after what I have witnessed; but come, let me touch you; let me assure myself that I am not again the victim of a pernicious fever.
Come, I will help you down. You may trust me. He raised his hands toward her, and after a moment's hesitation she slipped into his arms and he lowered her to the ground.
As he felt her soft, lithe body momentarily in his arms, King knew that this was no tenuous spirit of a dream. For an instant her small hand touched his shoulder, her warm breath fanned his cheek, and her firm, young breasts were pressed against his naked body.
Then she stepped back and surveyed him. Your color is not the color of any man that I have ever seen, nor are your features those of the people of my race. Perhaps you are a reincarnation of one of those ancients of whom our legends tell us; or perhaps you are a Naga who has taken the form of man for some dire purpose of your own. I have never seen the King, Lodivarman, and, as a matter of fact, I have always doubted their existence.
The girl's dark eyes regarded him steadily. For a moment the girl was silent, evidently pondering the logic of his statement. But tell me—you risked your life to save mine—why did you do that? King smiled, but he made no reply. He was wondering if there existed any man who could have run away and left one so beautiful and so helpless to the mercies of My Lord the Tiger. King thought Fou-tan a pretty name, but it seemed banal to say so.
He was appraising her small, delicate features, her beautiful eyes and her soft brown skin. They recalled to him the weeping queen upon the misty elephant that he had seen in his delirium, and once again there arose within him doubts as to his sanity. King shook his head in perplexity. You are not like any other man I have ever known.
What do you intend to do with me? As they seated themselves, King became acutely conscious of the marked physical attraction that this girl of a forgotten age exercised over him. Every movement of her lithe body, every gesture of her graceful arms and hands, each changing expression of her beautiful face and eyes were provocative.
She radiated magnetism. He sensed it in the reaction of his skin, his eyes, his nostrils. It was as though ages of careful selection had produced her for the purpose of arousing in man the desire of possession, and yet there enveloped her a divine halo of chastity that aroused within his breast the protective instinct that governs the attitude of a normal man toward a woman that Fate has thrown into his keeping.
Never in his life had King been similarly attracted to any woman. He wished to take me to wife. I pleaded with my father the—I pleaded with my father not to give me in marriage to Bharata Rahon; but he told me that I did not know my own mind, that I only thought that I did not like Bharata Rahon, that he would make me a good husband, and that after we were married I should be happy. I wanted them to come and find me very quickly, and when night came I was terrified.
I climbed into a tree where I crouched in terror. I heard My Lord the Tiger pass beneath in the darkness of the night, and my fear was so great that I thought that I should faint and fall into his clutches; yet when day came again I was still convinced that I would rather lie in the arms of My Lord the Tiger than in those of Bharata Rahon, who is a loathsome man whose very name I detest.
I hoped that searchers sent out by my father would find me, for I did not wish to return of my own volition to Pnom Dhek. Then I heard the heavy tread of an elephant and the clank of arms and men's voices, and I was filled with relief and gratitude, for I thought at last that the searchers were about to find me. I was terrified and tried to escape them, but they had seen me and they pursued me. Easily they overtook me, and great was their joy when they looked upon me.
I was terrified when I found myself so close to the leper king of Lodidhapura. Jean Vegas.
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