Chapter 26 - The Height of Civilization
Another month brought them to a little group of buildings at the mouth of a wide river, and there Tarzan saw many boats, and was filled with the timidity of the wild thing by the sight of many men.
Gradually he became accustomed to the strange noises and the odd ways of civilization, so that presently none might know that two short months before, this handsome Frenchman in immaculate white ducks, who laughed and chatted with the gayest of them, had been swinging naked through primeval forests to pounce upon some unwary victim, which, raw, was to fill his savage belly.
The knife and fork, so contemptuously flung aside a month before, Tarzan now manipulated as exquisitely as did the polished D'Arnot.
So apt a pupil had he been that the young Frenchman had labored assiduously to make of Tarzan of the Apes a polished gentleman in so far as nicety of manners and speech were concerned.
"God made you a gentleman at heart, my friend," D'Arnot had said; "but we want His works to show upon the exterior also."
As soon as they had reached the little port, D'Arnot had cabled his government of his safety, and requested a three- months' leave, which had been granted.
He had also cabled his bankers for funds, and the enforced wait of a month, under which both chafed, was due to their inability to charter a vessel for the return to Tarzan's jungle after the treasure.
During their stay at the coast town "Monsieur Tarzan" became the wonder of both whites and blacks because of several occurrences which to Tarzan seemed the merest of nothings.
Once a huge black, crazed by drink, had run amuck and terrorized the town, until his evil star had led him to where the black-haired French giant lolled upon the veranda of the hotel.
Mounting the broad steps, with brandished knife, the Negro made straight for a party of four men sitting at a table sipping the inevitable absinthe.
Shouting in alarm, the four took to their heels, and then the black spied Tarzan.
With a roar he charged the ape-man, while half a hundred heads peered from sheltering windows and doorways to witness the butchering of the poor Frenchman by the giant black.
Tarzan met the rush with the fighting smile that the joy of battle always brought to his lips.
As the Negro closed upon him, steel muscles gripped the black wrist of the uplifted knife-hand, and a single swift wrench left the hand dangling below a broken bone.
With the pain and surprise, the madness left the black man, and as Tarzan dropped back into his chair the fellow turned, crying with agony, and dashed wildly toward the native village.
On another occasion as Tarzan and D'Arnot sat at dinner with a number of other whites, the talk fell upon lions and lion hunting.
Opinion was divided as to the bravery of the king of beasts --some maintaining that he was an arrant coward, but all agreeing that it was with a feeling of greater security that they gripped their express rifles when the monarch of the jungle roared about a camp at night.
D'Arnot and Tarzan had agreed that his past be kept secret, and so none other than the French officer knew of the ape-man's familiarity with the beasts of the jungle.
"Monsieur Tarzan has not expressed himself," said one of the party. "A man of his prowess who has spent some time in Africa, as I understand Monsieur Tarzan has, must have had experiences with lions--yes?"
"Some," replied Tarzan, dryly. "Enough to know that each of you are right in your judgment of the characteristics of the lions--you have met. But one might as well judge all blacks by the fellow who ran amuck last week, or decide that all whites are cowards because one has met a cowardly white.
"There is as much individuality among the lower orders, gentlemen, as there is among ourselves. Today we may go out and stumble upon a lion which is over-timid--he runs away from us. To-morrow we may meet his uncle or his twin brother, and our friends wonder why we do not return from the jungle. For myself, I always assume that a lion is ferocious, and so I am never caught off my guard."
"There would be little pleasure in hunting," retorted the first speaker, "if one is afraid of the thing he hunts."
D'Arnot smiled. Tarzan afraid!
"I do not exactly understand what you mean by fear," said Tarzan. "Like lions, fear is a different thing in different men, but to me the only pleasure in the hunt is the knowledge that the hunted thing has power to harm me as much as I have to harm him. If I went out with a couple of rifles and a gun bearer, and twenty or thirty beaters, to hunt a lion, I should not feel that the lion had much chance, and so the pleasure of the hunt would be lessened in proportion to the increased safety which I felt."
"Then I am to take it that Monsieur Tarzan would prefer to go naked into the jungle, armed only with a jackknife, to kill the king of beasts," laughed the other, good naturedly, but with the merest touch of sarcasm in his tone.
"And a piece of rope," added Tarzan.
Just then the deep roar of a lion sounded from the distant jungle, as though to challenge whoever dared enter the lists with him.
"There is your opportunity, Monsieur Tarzan," bantered the Frenchman.
"I am not hungry," said Tarzan simply.
The men laughed, all but D'Arnot. He alone knew that a savage beast had spoken its simple reason through the lips of the ape-man.
"But you are afraid, just as any of us would be, to go out there naked, armed only with a knife and a piece of rope," said the banterer. "Is it not so?"
"No," replied Tarzan. "Only a fool performs any act without reason."
"Five thousand francs is a reason," said the other. "I wager you that amount you cannot bring back a lion from the jungle under the conditions we have named--naked and armed only with a knife and a piece of rope."
Tarzan glanced toward D'Arnot and nodded his head.
"Make it ten thousand," said D'Arnot.
"Done," replied the other.
"I shall have to leave my clothes at the edge of the settlement, so that if I do not return before daylight I shall have something to wear through the streets."
"You are not going now," exclaimed the wagerer--"at night?"
"Why not?" asked Tarzan. "Numa walks abroad at night --it will be easier to find him."
"No," said the other, "I do not want your blood upon my hands. It will be foolhardy enough if you go forth by day."
"I shall go now," replied Tarzan, and went to his room for his knife and rope.
The men accompanied him to the edge of the jungle, where he left his clothes in a small storehouse.
But when he would have entered the blackness of the undergrowth they tried to dissuade him; and the wagerer was most insistent of all that he abandon his foolhardy venture.
"I will accede that you have won," he said, "and the ten thousand francs are yours if you will but give up this foolish attempt, which can only end in your death."
Tarzan laughed, and in another moment the jungle had swallowed him.
The men stood silent for some moments and then slowly turned and walked back to the hotel veranda.
Tarzan had no sooner entered the jungle than he took to the trees, and it was with a feeling of exultant freedom that he swung once more through the forest branches.
This was life! Ah, how he loved it! Civilization held nothing like this in its narrow and circumscribed sphere, hemmed in by restrictions and conventionalities. Even clothes were a hindrance and a nuisance.
At last he was free. He had not realized what a prisoner he had been.
How easy it would be to circle back to the coast, and then make toward the south and his own jungle and cabin.
Now he caught the scent of Numa, for he was traveling up wind. Presently his quick ears detected the familiar sound of padded feet and the brushing of a huge, fur-clad body through the undergrowth.
Tarzan came quietly above the unsuspecting beast and silently stalked him until he came into a little patch of moonlight.
Then the quick noose settled and tightened about the tawny throat, and, as he had done it a hundred times in the past, Tarzan made fast the end to a strong branch and, while the beast fought and clawed for freedom, dropped to the ground behind him, and leaping upon the great back, plunged his long thin blade a dozen times into the fierce heart.
Then with his foot upon the carcass of Numa, he raised his voice in the awesome victory cry of his savage tribe.
For a moment Tarzan stood irresolute, swayed by conflicting emotions of loyalty to D'Arnot and a mighty lust for the freedom of his own jungle. At last the vision of a beautiful face, and the memory of warm lips crushed to his dissolved the fascinating picture he had been drawing of his old life.
The ape-man threw the warm carcass of Numa across his shoulders and took to the trees once more.
The men upon the veranda had sat for an hour, almost in silence.
They had tried ineffectually to converse on various subjects, and always the thing uppermost in the mind of each had caused the conversation to lapse.
"MON DIEU," said the wagerer at length, "I can endure it no longer. I am going into the jungle with my express and bring back that mad man."
"I will go with you," said one.
"And I"--"And I"--"And I," chorused the others.
As though the suggestion had broken the spell of some horrid nightmare they hastened to their various quarters, and presently were headed toward the jungle--each one heavily armed.
"God! What was that?" suddenly cried one of the party, an Englishman, as Tarzan's savage cry came faintly to their ears.
"I heard the same thing once before," said a Belgian, "when I was in the gorilla country. My carriers said it was the cry of a great bull ape who has made a kill."
D'Arnot remembered Clayton's description of the awful roar with which Tarzan had announced his kills, and he half smiled in spite of the horror which filled him to think that the uncanny sound could have issued from a human throat --from the lips of his friend.
As the party stood finally near the edge of the jungle, debating as to the best distribution of their forces, they were startled by a low laugh near them, and turning, beheld advancing toward them a giant figure bearing a dead lion upon its broad shoulders.
Even D'Arnot was thunderstruck, for it seemed impossible that the man could have so quickly dispatched a lion with the pitiful weapons he had taken, or that alone he could have borne the huge carcass through the tangled jungle.
The men crowded about Tarzan with many questions, but his only answer was a laughing depreciation of his feat.
To Tarzan it was as though one should eulogize a butcher for his heroism in killing a cow, for Tarzan had killed so often for food and for self-preservation that the act seemed anything but remarkable to him. But he was indeed a hero in the eyes of these men--men accustomed to hunting big game.
Incidentally, he had won ten thousand francs, for D'Arnot insisted that he keep it all.
This was a very important item to Tarzan, who was just commencing to realize the power which lay beyond the little pieces of metal and paper which always changed hands when human beings rode, or ate, or slept, or clothed themselves, or drank, or worked, or played, or sheltered themselves from the rain or cold or sun.
It had become evident to Tarzan that without money one must die. D'Arnot had told him not to worry, since he had more than enough for both, but the ape-man was learning many things and one of them was that people looked down upon one who accepted money from another without giving something of equal value in exchange.
Shortly after the episode of the lion hunt, D'Arnot succeeded in chartering an ancient tub for the coastwise trip to Tarzan's land-locked harbor.
It was a happy morning for them both when the little vessel weighed anchor and made for the open sea.
The trip to the beach was uneventful, and the morning after they dropped anchor before the cabin, Tarzan, garbed once more in his jungle regalia and carrying a spade, set out alone for the amphitheater of the apes where lay the treasure.
Late the next day he returned, bearing the great chest upon his shoulder, and at sunrise the little vessel worked through the harbor's mouth and took up her northward journey.
Three weeks later Tarzan and D'Arnot were passengers on board a French steamer bound for Lyons, and after a few days in that city D'Arnot took Tarzan to Paris.
The ape-man was anxious to proceed to America, but D'Arnot insisted that he must accompany him to Paris first, nor would he divulge the nature of the urgent necessity upon which he based his demand.
One of the first things which D'Arnot accomplished after their arrival was to arrange to visit a high official of the police department, an old friend; and to take Tarzan with him.
Adroitly D'Arnot led the conversation from point to point until the policeman had explained to the interested Tarzan many of the methods in vogue for apprehending and identifying criminals.
Not the least interesting to Tarzan was the part played by finger prints in this fascinating science.
"But of what value are these imprints," asked Tarzan, "when, after a few years the lines upon the fingers are entirely changed by the wearing out of the old tissue and the growth of new?"
"The lines never change," replied the official. "From infancy to senility the fingerprints of an individual change only in size, except as injuries alter the loops and whorls. But if imprints have been taken of the thumb and four fingers of both hands one must needs lose all entirely to escape identification."
"It is marvelous," exclaimed D'Arnot. "I wonder what the lines upon my own fingers may resemble."
"We can soon see," replied the police officer, and ringing a bell he summoned an assistant to whom he issued a few directions.
The man left the room, but presently returned with a little hardwood box which he placed on his superior's desk.
"Now," said the officer, "you shall have your fingerprints in a second."
He drew from the little case a square of plate glass, a little tube of thick ink, a rubber roller, and a few snowy white cards.
Squeezing a drop of ink onto the glass, he spread it back and forth with the rubber roller until the entire surface of the glass was covered to his satisfaction with a very thin and uniform layer of ink.
"Place the four fingers of your right hand upon the glass, thus," he said to D'Arnot. "Now the thumb. That is right. Now place them in just the same position upon this card, here, no--a little to the right. We must leave room for the thumb and the fingers of the left hand. There, that's it. Now the same with the left."
"Come, Tarzan," cried D'Arnot, "let's see what your whorls look like."
Tarzan complied readily, asking many questions of the officer during the operation.
"Do fingerprints show racial characteristics?" he asked. "Could you determine, for example, solely from fingerprints whether the subject was Negro or Caucasian?"
"I think not," replied the officer.
"Could the finger prints of an ape be detected from those of a man?"
"Probably, because the ape's would be far simpler than those of the higher organism."
"But a cross between an ape and a man might show the characteristics of either progenitor?" continued Tarzan.
"Yes, I should think likely," responded the official; "but the science has not progressed sufficiently to render it exact enough in such matters. I should hate to trust its findings further than to differentiate between individuals. There it is absolute. No two people born into the world probably have ever had identical lines upon all their digits. It is very doubtful if any single fingerprint will ever be exactly duplicated by any finger other than the one which originally made it."
"Does the comparison require much time or labor?" asked D'Arnot.
"Ordinarily but a few moments, if the impressions are distinct."
D'Arnot drew a little black book from his pocket and commenced turning the pages.
Tarzan looked at the book in surprise. How did D'Arnot come to have his book?
Presently D'Arnot stopped at a page on which were five tiny little smudges.
He handed the open book to the policeman.
"Are these imprints similar to mine or Monsieur Tarzan's or can you say that they are identical with either?" The officer drew a powerful glass from his desk and examined all three specimens carefully, making notations meanwhile upon a pad of paper.
Tarzan realized now what was the meaning of their visit to the police officer.
The answer to his life's riddle lay in these tiny marks.
With tense nerves he sat leaning forward in his chair, but suddenly he relaxed and dropped back, smiling.
D'Arnot looked at him in surprise.
"You forget that for twenty years the dead body of the child who made those fingerprints lay in the cabin of his father, and that all my life I have seen it lying there," said Tarzan bitterly.
The policeman looked up in astonishment.
"Go ahead, captain, with your examination," said D'Arnot, "we will tell you the story later--provided Monsieur Tarzan is agreeable."
Tarzan nodded his head.
"But you are mad, my dear D'Arnot," he insisted. "Those little fingers are buried on the west coast of Africa."
"I do not know as to that, Tarzan," replied D'Arnot. "It is possible, but if you are not the son of John Clayton then how in heaven's name did you come into that God forsaken jungle where no white man other than John Clayton had ever set foot?"
"You forget--Kala," said Tarzan.
"I do not even consider her," replied D'Arnot.
The friends had walked to the broad window overlooking the boulevard as they talked. For some time they stood there gazing out upon the busy throng beneath, each wrapped in his own thoughts.
"It takes some time to compare finger prints," thought D'Arnot, turning to look at the police officer.
To his astonishment he saw the official leaning back in his chair hastily scanning the contents of the little black diary.
D'Arnot coughed. The policeman looked up, and, catching his eye, raised his finger to admonish silence. D'Arnot turned back to the window, and presently the police officer spoke.
"Gentlemen," he said.
Both turned toward him.
"There is evidently a great deal at stake which must hinge to a greater or lesser extent upon the absolute correctness of this comparison. I therefore ask that you leave the entire matter in my hands until Monsieur Desquerc, our expert returns. It will be but a matter of a few days."
"I had hoped to know at once," said D'Arnot. "Monsieur Tarzan sails for America tomorrow."
"I will promise that you can cable him a report within two weeks," replied the officer; "but what it will be I dare not say. There are resemblances, yet--well, we had better leave it for Monsieur Desquerc to solve."