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S.O.S. FOR STRANG THE TERRIBLE

First episode taken from Adventure issue: 1239 August 21st 1948.

THE MYSTERIOUS MISSION WHICH TAKES STRANG IN SEARCH OF A LOST CITY.

THE CHALLENGE

 

All day long the drums had been sounding on both sides of the Ruaha River in central Tanganyika. All day long canoes had been arriving in the vicinity of Masombe, where they disgorged excited natives dressed in gala attire. Hundreds of others had come through the jungle from the east and west. It was going to be the largest gathering ever known in that part of the country.

From his porch overlooking the river, Donald Frobisher, the District Commissioner, watched anxiously. A small, blue-eyed man, burnt to little more than bone and sinew by long years in Africa, he glanced anxiously at his visitor, who sprawled in a big wicker chair. “It will be a terrible thing, Strang, if you don’t beat him!” Frobisher said. “There will be no holding the tribe in check afterwards.” “I mean to beat him,” the giant in the chair replied quietly. “That’s why you sent for me, isn’t it?” “Yes,” agreed Frobisher, and took comfort from the confidence in Strang’s tone. “It was good of you to come.”

His guest rose, grinning as he did so, and for the first time a real idea of his size could be gained. He was well over six feet in height, with a chest and shoulders like a gorilla. With heavily-muscled limbs which light tropical garb scarcely hid, Strang the Terrible was the perfect figure of an athlete. Coupled with that magnificent body of his was a fine head and features which told of unusual intelligence and resource. There were many who considered Strang to be the strongest man in the world. Certainly he had adventured in many countries, and he was never happier than when away from civilization. He had been in Dar-es-Salaam on a cargo steamer when word had reached him from Donald Frobisher, an old friend in the Colonial service. Frobisher had begged him to break his journey and come up to Masombe, where trouble was brewing. When Strang had learned how he might help, he had answered the call at once.

The Masombe were a well-behaved people, or had been so until one of their number named Dunda had returned from South Africa, where he had been working. He was now boasting that he had never found a white man who could equal him in strength and athletic ability. For proof he brought money and prizes which he had won in many contests. A bully of a man, he had terrified the chieftain and had roused the people to resent being ruled by whites. He had begun to make them believe that all blacks were better than all whites, and the natives were rapidly becoming restless.

Dunda swaggered about, insulting and defying every white man he met, challenging him to physical combat, and always winning. His influence on the tribesmen was so bad that there had been something like open defiance of the government when Frobisher had thought to send for Strang. “Come up here and put this big bully in his place,” he had begged. “Only if he is beaten by a white man before his own people shall we have any peace.”

Now the word had gone out far and wide that a Briton had arrived to pit himself against the black champion. Dunda had boasted that he would make the challenger grovel in the dust, and had called upon the neighbouring tribesmen to come and see his triumph. Im going to enjoy this, declared Strang, stretching himself and hearing an ominous tearing across the back of his shirt. Huh, how I hate clothes and all the trappings with which we civilised men surround ourselves! These blacks live much simpler, saner lives. Across the river the natives were massed in their thousands around a clearing, and suddenly a great voice was heard from across the water.

White man, are you ready? I, Dunda, the Eater of Elephants and Slayer of Lions, am waiting for you! Why do you skulk in your hut when all these people are waiting to witness your downfall? Are you afraid? Thats Dunda, muttered the District Commissioner. We had better get my boys to paddle us across. The crowd will grow impatient very quickly. Strang narrowed his eyes. Despite the glare of the sun on the water, he could see a massive figure standing at the waters edge, an almost naked black figure made even taller by the ostrich feathers on his head. So thats Dunda! Strang muttered. Well, I wont keep him waiting. Here goes! With a tug and a shrug he had pulled the torn shirt over his head, his belt and shorts had fallen to the floor, and it could be seen that he was wearing a loincloth of leopard-skin. His muscles rippled and rolled under his skin as he vaulted the verandah rail and landed on the river bank. The next moment he had dived in head-first. Come back, man, come back! roared Frobisher, suddenly pale with terror. Strangthe crocodiles! Strang the Terrible was churning through the water with long, powerful strokes which drove him faster than the fish which scattered before him. The sun brought out the golden glint in his hair, and there was a sparkle in his eyes when once he half-turned to wave a reassuring hand to his friend. The natives became silent. Dunda stood with hands on hips, scowling and watching the crocodile which had begun to move towards the swimmer. If Strang saw the animal cutting across his path, he made no effort to avoid it. Frobisher shouted himself hoarse, then jumped into a canoe and seized the paddle. He feared he would be too late. The crocodile was a big, gnarled brute, and Strang encountered it when he was only a dozen yards from the other bank. It came at him with open jaws, confident that it had found a tasty meal. The natives held their breaths, then gasped when the head of the swimmer suddenly vanished. Strang the Terrible had dived.

He was gone from sight for only a second, but when he came up he gripped in his raised hands the tapering tail of the crocodile! High above his head he raised it, then with a swing which made the water foam, he heaved the reptile into the air. Such was the strength behind his throw that the crocodile landed ashore almost at the feet of Dunda, who leapt back with a howl of fear. The recoil sent Strang below the surface again, and he swam the rest of the way underwater, arriving on the bank in time to give the shocked and startled crocodile a hearty kick as it fled for the water. The assembled natives roared and stamped, rattling their spears on their shields to show their admiration on this feat. By the time Dunda had collected his wits and composure, Strang was standing before him with folded arms, a wet, bronzed figure in the strong sunshine.

Here I am, Dunda, he said in a loud voice. What do you want with me?

 

THE HIDDEN SPECTATOR

 

The black champion was a brutal looking man, but there was no denying the size of his muscles. It was obvious that the manner of the white man’s arrival and the incident with the crocodile had badly shaken him. Showing his large teeth, he suddenly turned and pointed to a boulder which had been rolled into the clearing. “Let me see you do this!” he growled, and gripped the rock on either side as he straddled before it. Again the crowd was silent. Donald Frobisher was stepping ashore from the canoe, sweat running down his face. Even yet he found it hard to believe that Strang was unharmed.

Dunda’s great muscles bulged more than ever. They seemed about to burst through the skin. Gradually he took the strain on his arms and straightened up, lifting the rock from the ground. For a moment he held it knee-high, then uttered a loud grunt as he swung it above his head. His eyes were blazing with triumph. A bellow went up from the assembled tribesmen, and again they hammered on their shields. “Father of the Elephants!” they shouted. “Dunda is the Father of the Elephants!” “Let me see you do that!” gasped their champion, tossing the boulder down perilously near Strang’s toes. Strang the Terrible shrugged. He gripped the boulder as the black man had done, then with one quick, supple heave he raised it above his head. The muscles of his back had danced for a moment, then became still. It had all taken place so quickly that the crowd found themselves blinking. It was fully five seconds before they howled applause. Dunda showed his teeth in a fearsome snarl, and there was a savage glint in his eyes. “Lifting is not everything!” he growled, and clapped his hands. Four men proceeded to fix two poles into the ground. Across them they laid a bamboo rod. When they placed these to their liking, the rod was about seven feet from the ground. Strang realised that he was going to be asked to jump over it. All the Masombe tribe were long-legged and remarkable jumpers. Dunda evidently inherited this tribal ability. He began to grin with triumph as he watched the white man’s face. To the left of the clearing where the tribes were assembled was a steep hill, and halfway up this was a clump of bushes. If anyone had been looking in that direction they would have detected a movement and have glimpsed a pale golden skin. A man was hidden there, watching the contest below with eager interest. He was not a native of the district, neither was he European. He wore a loose tunic to the knees, girded at the waist with a belt of plaited leather. His hair was fair and his eyes blue. His features were more Arabic than Negroid. As he lay there his gaze rarely left Strang. He saw Dunda mockingly wave the white man towards the seven-feet jump. It was obvious that the jeering black did not expect his rival to be able to clear it. Strang walked up to the rod and examined it, then he went back a few paces and made a short run, stopping at the last moment and shaking his head. The crowd laughed with glee, and Dunda roared: “What keeps you, white man? It won’t bite. Go on, jump it—if you can!” Strang turned away from the rod, and suddenly bent towards the boulder which had been used for the lifting test. Before anyone realised what he was going to do, he had hoisted it into his arms, swung about and run at the seven-feet leap. He gathered speed with every stride, then he seemed to soar aloft. He cleared the rod with ease and landed on the other side with the boulder still clasped to him. The startled silence which followed was broken by a bellow from the District Commissioner: “Magnificent! Stupendous! Let us see you do that, Dunda!”

Up on the hillside the golden-skinned stranger began to mutter under his breath. His fingers dug into his palms with excitement. As for Dunda he stared in sullen silence. He realised that he could never imitate this amazing feat and his anger rose. Screaming something in his own tongue, he snatched a hidden knife from his loincloth and hurled himself at Strang. Everyone leapt to their feet. Donald Frobisher dropped a hand to his revolver, but there was no necessity for him to draw it. Strang the Terrible tossed the boulder to one side, and with the same forward movement drove out a clenched fist to meet the oncoming negro. It caught Dunda on the side of his broad jaw. The assembled thousands saw the defeated black turn a complete somersault before landing on his back five yards away. There he lay motionless, blood trickling from his open mouth. Before uproar could break out, the District Commissioner raised his hand and cried: “People of the Masombe, let there be no more trouble between us! You have seen that Dunda has lied to you, and that there are white men who are more than his equal. Do not let your pride in the strength of one man lead you into foolishness. Go to your homes, and tell what you have witnessed!” Silently the tribesmen turned about and began to shuffle from the clearing, casting awed glances at the mighty white champion who was now strolling back to the canoe. Dunda lay where he had fallen, and none went near him to comfort or assist him. His day was over. When he came to his senses he would find that all respect for him had vanished. No longer would his fellow tribesmen listen to his boasting.

From the thicket on the hillside the light-skinned stranger watched Donald Frobisher shake Strang by the hand. He saw them paddle back to the bungalow on the other side, and his gaze followed the bronzed figure of Strang until it vanished indoors. For a long time the man lay in that thicket, until every tribesman had vanished from sight. Even Dunda himself had risen and limped away. Only when he was sure that he was not watched did the stranger go down-stream to where rushes grew in dense profusion. There he cut three big bundles of dry rushes and bound these together with plaited grasses. Using this as a raft he propelled himself to the other bank of the river. The sun had gone down before the golden-skinned man came to the garden round the District Commissioner’s bungalow.

Dinner was being served, and he could see the two white men on the verandah. The Commissioner was in high spirits, and Strang was eating heartily. Household servants were moving about the grounds, and the stranger hid in an irrigation-ditch until the evening wore on and they went to their compound. Then only the two white men were left. For more than three hours they sat there in the cool of the night, talking over old times. The man in the garden did not stir. For most of the time he stared at Strang. He seemed to be trying to nerve himself to go forward and speak, but he did not do so. He was still crouching in the ditch when the two men rose, yawned and said good-night to each other. On one side of the bungalow there was a sleeping-porch, screened against mosquitoes. It was here that the golden-skinned stranger presently saw Strang stretch out on a camp-bed to sleep. The District Commissioner preferred to sleep inside. Time passed, and Strang no longer stirred. His breathing was slow and regular when the man in the ditch rose with a purposeful air. He meant to waken the big Briton and ask him a favour. Even as he rose, however, there was a movement on the other side of the garden, and he saw a black shape crawling across a patch of moonlight. At first he could not see clearly what it was, but as it neared the steps leading to the sleeping-porch, he saw that it was a huge negro, naked but for a loincloth, with a knife clenched between his big, yellow teeth. Just for a moment his face was visible in the moonlight, and the hidden onlooker recognised Dunda.

Breathing quickly, the stranger rose to his feet and darted forward. Dunda was too intent upon creeping up the steps to heed movement behind him. He had transferred his knife to his hand, and his eyes were on the upturned throat of Strang the Terrible. His intention was obvious. He meant to avenge himself for the humiliation which he had suffered before the eyes of his tribe.

 

A CALL FOR HELP

 

Strang was startled out of his sleep by a bull-like roar, and by a crashing on the verandah steps. The bungalow shook with the violence of the struggle. Two figures rolled over and over just below the porch. Strang vaulted the rail and landed beside them as Frobisher came out of the building. One of the struggling pair was Dunda. In his hand he held an ugly knife with which he vainly tried to slash the lithe, golden-skinned figure who clung to his back. Dunda had been attacked from behind, and for a few moments even his vast strength was unable to shake off his attacker. It was only a question of time however. Within half a minute he would have torn himself loose and would have ripped the other man to shreds. It did not take Strang more than a second to size up the situation, then he swung the edge of his hand viciously at the back of Dunda’s neck. Thud! It was a rabbit-punch with more than the usual force behind it. Dunda went limp and rolled back across the legs of his panting opponent, whom Strang now hoisted to his feet. “What’s going on here?” Strang demanded sternly, and forgot that he spoke in English.

The light-skinned man was almost exhausted. “He—he came to kill you!” he gasped, and he pronounced the Swahili words with an unusual accent. “I was waiting to speak to you, and he came crawling over that wall. He was on the steps with the knife when I leapt on him.” “Then you saved my life,” declared Strang, also speaking in the same Swahili dialect. “Did you hear that, Frobisher? Dunda came here to slit my throat.”  The D.C. had come down the steps from the verandah. Two native policemen had come running from their quarters at the sound of the commotion. They now looked inquiringly at Frobisher, and he signed for them to take the black giant away. “Handcuff him and see that he does not escape,” the D.C. told them. Then he added to Strang: “This means that we can put him out of the way for a good many years to come. I’m sorry this happened to you here, however. I ought to have suspected something and had you guarded.” Strang looked curiously at the golden-skinned stranger, then took him gently by an elbow and led him into the bungalow. “It seems that I was already guarded! Who are you, and why were you waiting to speak to me?” The man glanced nervously about the room, then straight at the powerful figure clad in the leopard-skin. “Strong! Strong!” he muttered. “That is why I wished to speak to you. You are strong enough.” Strong enough for what?” demanded the puzzled Briton. “Who are you, and where are you from?”

For reply the stranger turned and pointed to the west. It was obvious that he found difficulty in pronouncing the Swahili words. Sometimes he failed to remember the right word and they had trouble in guessing what he meant. “Over there, far away, are the mountains of Udz. My people live there—light-skinned people like me.” The District Commissioner started to say something, but the man hurried on: “We are called the Karams. I am Lah, the son of the chief, but they killed my father when they came.” “When who came?” asked Strang. The man’s eyes opened wide in horror. “The Ru-men—the black Ru-men! The men of iron, the monsters without feeling! They came and conquered. They killed my father and made me prisoner, but I have escaped. I have travelled far, looking for someone light-skinned who is strong enough to beat even the black men of iron who make slaves of my countrymen. As soon as I saw you testing your strength against that black giant I knew I had found the one I sought. Frobisher and Strang exchanged glances. “Let’s get this straight,” said the District Commissioner. “Are you telling us that a light-skinned race like yourself live in the Mountains of Udz? Do they wear the same dress as you? Are they as civilised as you?” “Yes, yes, we have a city—houses, streets, fine buildings. We were very happy, far from all other peoples, but the men of iron—the Ru-men—have changed it all. Now my people are slaves.” “You mean you’ve been invaded by another tribe—a black tribe?” Lah screwed up his face as though trying to find the words with which to express himself. “They are black, but they are not a tribe. There are not many of them, but they are strong and hard—so strong and so hard that not even swords will cut them. They are like that man who came here to kill you, but they have no hair. They do not speak. Only Uj speaks. Strang frowned. “Who is Uj?” “He is their leader. He lives in my father’s palace. He rules us. Each day many of my people die. Each day the Ru-men kill many of them. They are not human, they have no pity. Before long we Karams will die out unless help comes. That is why I beg you to come and help me. Only one as strong as you can stand against the Ru-men.” Lah had turned to Strang and seemed about to drop on his knees to plead his cause. Strang checked him, and began to ask questions. It was not easy to understand things clearly, but the facts appeared to be that a white or golden-skinned race with an advanced state of civilization lived in the unexplored Udz Mountains. They had been invaded and enslaved by some black giants called Ru-men. These blacks were of exceptional strength and could not be hurt. Lah insisted on this point. He said that at first his people had tried to fight the invaders, but had been unable to kill any of them. He insisted that swords bounced from them, and daggers would not penetrate them. They had made themselves the overlords of the city and employed the normal inhabitants as slaves. Their leader, Uj, lived in remote splendour in the palace, where they guarded him day and night. It all sounded very odd, but although he could not understand many things, what he heard fired Strang’s imagination. He was always seeking adventure in strange places. This looked like a great opportunity of encountering new thrills. Lah declared that it was only because Strang was white, and because he had seen him defeat the black champion, that he felt sure Strang would be the saviour of their people.

“What beats me is how a few of these black giants could beat a whole tribe!” exclaimed Frobisher. “How big are they? Are they real giants?” Lah shook his head. “The same size as the big black man who came to kill your friend, but without hair. It would be useless to hit them with the fist. They would not drop.” “Could you find your way back to your city in the mountains?” asked Strang, and there was a note in his voice which made his friend look at him sharply. “Yes, we would have to travel for many days, but I know the way,” Lah replied. “Will you come?” His face glowed with hope. Strang slapped him on the back, rocking him to his heels. “I will! You saved my life, and I’m not the sort to overlook such a service as that. Besides, it means adventure in a new setting! It means getting away from civilization. Lah, I’ll come with you as soon as you like!” “Strang, think well,” muttered Donald Frobisher. “That district if totally unexplored.” “All the better!” There was a boyish grin in Strang’s eyes. “The unknown always appealed to me. Yes. I’ll come with you, Lah, and see this white-skinned race for myself. I want to find out what you mean by black men of iron!”

For the time since he had met the two Briton, Lah gave a smile of pleasure. “Thank you,” he murmured gratefully. “My people are indeed in great need of your help.” Although Frobisher was still uneasy at the thought of Strang journeying into this unexplored territory, Strang himself insisted on making the necessary arrangements there and then, so that they could set off first thing in the morning.

 

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd

Vic Whittle 2007