Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute and Weekly Webzine Site
Since 1996 ~ Over 10,000 Web Pages in Archive
TARZAN AT THE EARTH’S CORE
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
While we leave Tarzan dangling upsidedown as a great saber-tooth tiger menacingly approaches him, we return to our hapless crew aboard the 0-220, who have no idea that the ape-man is in dire straits.
The ebbing tide of the great war had left human flotsam stranded upon many an unfamiliar beach. In its full flow it had lifted Robert Jones, high private in the ranks of a labor battalion, from uncongenial surroundings and landed him in a prison camp behind the enemy line. Here his good nature won him friends and favors, but neither one nor the other served to obtain his freedom. Robert Jones seemed to have been lost in the shuffle. And finally, when the evacuation of the prison had been completed, Robert Jones still remained, but he was not down-hearted. He had learned the language of his captors and had made many friends among them. They found him a job and Robert Jones of Alabama was content to remain where he was. He had been graduated from body servant to cook of an officer’s mess and it was in this capacity that he had come under the observation of Captain Zuppner, who had drafted him for the 0-220 expedition.
III. THE GREAT CATS
African-American comedy has always had deep and rich roots in America, even though most of its earliest history is regarded as racist today. I’m sorry, but I am unable to perceive the recent accusations of racism everywhere – we are currently in Day 11 of the Michael Brown shooting – as nothing but a totalitarian attempt at mind control, vis-a-vis Orwell’s Newspeak Dictionary. I first became aware of this governmental tyranny when they stopped showing Amos and Andy on TV. I mean, why can’t I see any past episodes of one of my favorite TV shows on any of the hundreds of cable channels today?
I used to love to watch the show – especially the Kingfish – when I was a young nine year old boy and it wasn’t until the second year of watching that I first noticed that there were no white people in it. Here I was, a young white boy, watching and laughing at a TV show composed of a total black cast dealing with black people issues. I mean, this was virtually my only contact with African Americans as a young boy. How was that racist?
I was brought up innocently believing that “nigger” was just another word for African-Americans. “Eeny, meeny, miney, moe, catch a nigger by his toe,” was the way to make a choice whenever white kids were playing. To my understanding there was no latent hate of black people involved with the use of this word. It was used innocently by us kids like it was used by Huck in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. My mother, born in Oakland and raised in Alameda, disapproved of the word and taught me to say “Negro” instead. But to me, there was nothing racist about the use of the so-called “N-word” within these contexts, just as “cracker” is just another word for “white person” to most black people today.
My grandfather, a retired Fresno Police Department officer, used to hire a black man to help him with his carpentry hobby when I was a kid. Whenever he’d have a new project and I was around, he’d say, “Come on, Woody, let’s go get my nigger,” and I’d say, “You mean, Louie, Grandpa?” and he’d nod his head. Louie lived in a nice house just off Kearney Boulevard close to Chandler Field and my grandfather treated him like a member of the family. The only other time I had contact with black people before I was eighteen was at Bullard High football games when the Knights would play the black kids from Edison High. There were no black kids at Bullard High at that time. I believe there were a handful of Hispanics in the entire school, but that was from between 1961-1964, and, of course, Bullard High today is totally different.
My oldest daughter cringes whenever I discuss the subject with her since she knows I don’t get excited when I am called a racist when expressing what I consider to be my educated position. I also know that she will never be comfortable hearing the N-word since she was brought up that way by my ex-wife and I as well as in our public schools. Orwellian moralists won’t be happy until the word is totally eliminated from our vocabulary, thus erasing one more word from the Newspeak Dictionary. Fuck the Orwellians! As if you can ever eliminate a word from a living language! After all, black people have made the word popular again.
Now back to African-American humor. All one has to do is watch any old Hollywood movie to see how black people went hand in hand with comedy in the early days of the 20th Century. Black comedians today are some of the funniest and most popular ever. When ERB used blacks for humor, he was just doing what was normal at the time. You can call it racist humor if you want, but that doesn’t make it any less funny. After all, to the Orwellians, the entire history of the world is a history of racism, including the present. I wish everyone could see this totalitarian attack of the independent mind and all that it represents, but I am afraid I will die an unrepentant racist in the eyes of many. I know you can never win at this game since every reason you give is just one more symptom of denial to them.
White audiences loved African-American humor and ERB wrote to white audiences and sometimes black ones. I recall watching a documentary of a famous elder black CEO of a prosperous American corporation and him mentioning a profound experience he had had as a young black man on the streets of New York City. One day he discovered a paperback discarded in the gutter and he retrieved it since he couldn’t afford to buy a book of his own. The cover and a few of the first pages were missing but he could still follow the story and it made him want to become more educated. What was the name of the book? Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, where Tarzan comes down with a famous case of amnesia within the secret gold vaults of Opar. I highly recommend this novel as well.
Thus, let us return to a time – 1928 – when men of good will like ERB, one of the more nonracist white people in America at the time, could generate humor out of black culture with little or no offense. Let us return to Robert Jones.Here is another example of ERB’s humor, where he knows the reader is aware of Tarzan’s predicament with exactly this scenario in mind. I mean, Gridley is sure that Tarzan can handle any danger, whereas the loyal reader of Tarzan knows that sometimes he is totally helpless and needs outside aid to save him, which always miraculously seems to come at the last possible moment.Robert Jones yawned, stretched, turned over in his narrow berth aboard the 0-220, opened his eyes and sat up with an exclamation of surprise. He jumped to the floor and stuck his head out of an open port.
“Lawd!” he exclaimed; “you all suah done overslep’ yo’sef.”
For a moment he gazed up at the noonday sun shining down upon him and then, hastily dressing, hurried into his galley.
“‘S funny,” he soliloquized; “dey ain’t no one stirrin’ – mus’ all of overslep’ demsef.” He looked at the clock on the galley wall. The hour hand pointed to six. He cocked his ear and listened. “She ain’t stopped,” he muttererd. Then he went to the door that opened from the galley through the ship’s side and pushed it back. Leaning far out he looked up again at the sun. Then he shook his head. “Dey’s sumpin wrong,” he said. “Ah dunno whether to cook breakfas’, dinner or supper.”
Jason Gridley, emerging from his cabin, sauntered down the narrow corridor toward the galley. “Good morning, Bob!” he said, stopping in the open doorway. “What’s the chance for a bite of breakfast?”
“Did you all say breakfas’, suh?” inquired Robert.
“Yes,” replied Gridley; “just toast and coffee and a couple of eggs – anything you have handy.”
“Ah knew it!” the man exclaimed. “Ah knew dat ol’ clock couldn’t be wrong, but Mistah Sun he suah gone hay wire.”
Gridley grinned. “I’ll drop down and have a little walk,” he said. “I’ll be back in fifteen minutes. Have you seen anything of Lord Greystoke?”
“No, suh, Ah ain’t seen nothin’ o’ Tarzan sense yesterday.”
“I wondered,” said Gridley; “he is not in his cabin.”
For fifteen minutes Gridley walked briskly about in the vicinity of the ship. When he returned to the mess room he found Zuppner and Dorf awaiting breakfast and greeted them with a pleasant “good morning.”
“I don’t know whether it is good morning or good evening,” said Zuppner.
“We have been here twelve hours,” said Dorf, “and it is just the same time it was when we arrived. I have been on watch for the last four hours and if it hadn’t been for the chronometer I could not swear that I had been on fifteen minutes or that I had not been on a week.”
“It certainly induces a feeling of unreality that is hard to explain,” said Gridley.
“Where is Greystoke?” asked Zuppner. “He is usually an early riser.”
“I was just asking Bob,” said Gridley, “but he has not seen him.”
“He left the ship shortly after I came on watch,” said Dorf. “I should say about three hours ago, possibly longer. I saw him cross the open country and enter the forest.”
“I wish he had not gone out alone,” said Gridley.
“He strikes me as a man who can take care of himself,” said Zuppner.
“I have seen some things during the last four hours,” said Dorf, “that makes me doubt whether any man can take care of himself alone in this world, especially one armed only with the primitive weapons that Greystoke carried with him.”
“You mean he carried no firearms?” demanded Zuppner.
“He was armed with a bow and arrows, a spear and a rope,” said Dorf, “and I think he carried a hunting knife as well. But he might as well have had nothing but a pea-shooter, if he met some of the things I have seen since I went on watch.”
“What do you mean?” demanded Zuppner. “What have you seen?”
Dorf grinned sheepishly. “Honestly, Captain, I hate to tell you,” he said, “for I’m damned if I believe it myself.”
“Well, out with it,” exclaimed Zuppner. “We will make allowances for your youth and for the effect that the sun and horizon of Pellucidar may have had upon your eyesight or your veracity.”
“Well,” said Dorf, “about an hour ago a bear passed within a hundred yards of the ship.”
“There is nothing remarkable about that,” said Zuppner.
“There was a great deal that was remarkable about the bear, however,” said Dorf.
“In what way?” asked Gridley.
“It was fully as large as an ox,” said Dorf, “ and if I were going out after bear in this country, I should want to take along field artillery.”
“Was that all you saw – just a bear?” asked Zuppner.
“No,” said Dorf, “I saw tigers, not one but fully a dozen, and they were as much larger than our Bengal tigers as the bear was larger than any bear of the outer crust that I have ever seen. They were perfectly enormous and they were armed with the most amazing fangs you ever saw – great curved fangs that extended from their upper jaws to lengths of from eight inches to a foot. They came down to this stream here to drink and then wandered away, some of them toward the forest and some down toward that big river yonder.”
“Greystoke couldn’t do much against such creatures as those even if he had carried a rifle,” said Zuppner.
“If he was in the forest he could escape them,” said Gridley.There is subtle humor here about the nature of military – especially German – obedience to orders. Blind obedience, on both sides, led to unbelievable casualties in WWI. A half a million died in one battle alone on Flanders Field. This was 1928 – before Hitler’s seizure of the German government – and WWI was still hoped to be the war to end all wars.Zuppner shook his head. “I don’t like the looks of it,” he said. “I wish that he had not gone out alone.”
“The bear and the tigers were bad enough,” continued Dorf, “but I saw another creature that to me seemed infinitely worse.”
Robert, who was more or less a privileged character, had entered from the galley and was listening with wide-eyed interest to Dorf’s account of the creatures he had seen, while Victor, one of the Filipino cabin-boys, served the officers.
“Yes,” continued Dorf, “I saw a mighty strange creature. It flew directly over the ship and I had an excellent view of it. At first I thought that it was a bird, but when it approached more closely I saw that it was a winged reptile. It had a long, narrow head and it flew so close that I could see its great jaws, armed with an infinite number of long, sharp teeth. Its head was elongated above the eyes and came to a sharp point. It was perfectly immense and must have had a wing spread of at least twenty feet. While I was watching it, it dropped suddenly to earth only a short distance beyond the ship, and when it arose again it was carrying in its talons some animal that must have been fully as large as a good sized sheep, with which it flew away without apparent effort. That the creature is carnivorous is evident as is also the fact that it has sufficient strength to carry away a man.”
Robert Jones covered his large mouth with a pink palm and with hunched and shaking shoulders turned and tiptoed from the room. Once in the galley with door closed, he gave himself over to unrestrained mirth.
“What is the matter with you?” asked Victor.
“Lawd-a-massy!” exclaimed Robert. “Ah allus thought some o’ dem gem’n in dat dere Aventurous Club in Bummingham could lie some, but, shucks, dey ain’t in it with this Lieutenant Dorf. Did you all heah him tell about dat flyin’ snake what carries off sheep?”
But back in the mess room Dorf’s statement was taken more seriously.
“That would be a pterodactyl,” said Zuppner.
“Yes,” replied Dorf. “I classified it as a Pteranodon.”
“Don’t you think we ought to send out a search party?” asked Gridley.
“I am afraid Greystoke would not like it,” replied Zuppner.
“It could go out under the guise of a hunting party,” suggested Dorf.
“If he has not returned within an hour,” said Zuppner, “we shall have to do something of the sort.”
Hines and Von Horst now entered the mess room, and when they learned of Tarzan’s absence from the ship and had heard from Dorf a description of some of the animals that he might have encountered, they were equally as apprehensive as the others of his safety.
“We might cruise around a bit, sir,” suggested Von Horst to Zuppner.
“Could you return the ship to this anchorage again?” inquired Zuppner.
“I doubt it,” replied the Lieutenant. “Our instruments are almost worthless under the conditions existing in Pellucidar.
“Then we had better remain where we are,” said Gridley, “until he returns.”
“But if we send a searching party after him on foot, what assurance have we that it will be able to find its way back to the ship?” demanded Zuppner.
“That will not be so difficult,” said Gridley. “We can always blaze our trail as we go and thus easily retrace our steps.”
“Yes, that is so,” agreed Zuppner.
“Suppose,” said Gridley, “that Von Horst and I go out with Muviro and his Waziri. They are experienced trackers, prime fighting men and they certainly know the jungle.”
“Not this jungle,” said Dorf.
“But at least they know any jungle better than the rest of us,” insisted Gridley.
“I think your plan is a good one,” said Zuppner, “and anyway as you are in command now, the rest of us gladly place ourselves under your orders.”
“The conditions that confront us here are new to all of us,” said Gridley. “Nothing that anyone of us can suggest or command can be based upon any personal experience or knowledge that the rest do not possess, and in matters of this kind I think that we had better reach our decision after full discussion rather than to depend blindly upon official priority of authority.”The first expedition was to find Tarzan and construct the 0-220. The second expedition was to rescue David Innes from the Korsars in the 0-220. The third expedition is to find Tarzan who has become lost in Pellucidar. See, it all makes sense.....sort of.“That has been Greystoke’s policy,” said Zuppner, “and it has made it very easy and pleasant for all of us. I quite agree with you, but I can think of no more feasible plan than which you have suggested.
“Very good,” said Gridley. “Will you accompany me, Lieutenant?” he asked, turning to Von Horst.
The officer grinned. “Will I?” he exclaimed. “I should never have forgiven you if you had left me out of it.”
“Fine,” said Gridley. “And now, I think, we might as well make our preparations at once and get as early a start as possible. See that the Waziri have eaten, Lieutenant, and tell Muviro that I want them armed with rifles. These fellows can use them all right, but they rather look with scorn upon anything more modern than their war spears and arrows.”
“Yes, I discovered that,” said Hines. “Muviro told me a few days ago that his people consider firearms as something of an admission of cowardice. He told me that they use them for target practice, but when they go out after lions or rhino they leave their rifles behind and take their spears and arrows.”
“After they have seen what I saw,” said Dorf, “they will have more respect for an express rifle.”
“See, that they take plenty of ammunition, Von Horst,” said Gridley, “for from what I have seen in this country we shall not have to carry any provisions.”
“A man who could not live off this country would starve to death in a meat market,” said Zuppner.
Von Horst left to carry out Gridley’s orders while the latter returned to his cabin to prepare for the expedition.Have you lost that sustained imagination yet? I know how easy it is to forget the curving geography overhead, but keep trying!The officers and crew remaining with the 0-220 were all on hand to bid farewell to the expedition starting out in search of Tarzan of the Apes, and as the ten stalwart Waziri warriors marched away behind Gridley and Von Horst, Robert Jones, watching from the galley door, swelled with pride. “All dem flyin’ snakes bettah clear out de country now,” he exclaimed. With the others Robert watched the little party as it crossed the plain and until it had disappeared within the dark precincts of the forest upon the opposite side. Then he glanced up at the noonday sun, shook his head, elevated his palms in resignation and turned back into his galley.
Almost immediately after the party had left the ship, Gridley directed Muviro to take the lead and watch for Tarzan’s trail since, of the entire party, he was the most experienced tracker; nor did the Waziri chieftan have any difficulty in following the spoor of the ape-man across the plain and into the forest, but here, beneath a great tree, it disappeared.
“The Big Bwana took to the trees here,” said Muviro, “and no man lives who can follow his spoor through the lower, the middle or the upper terraces.”
“What do you suggest, then, Muviro?” asked Gridley.
“If this were his own jungle,” replied the warrior, “I should feel sure that when he took to the trees he would move in a straight line toward the place he wished to go; unless he happened to be hunting, in which case his direction would be influenced by the sign and scent of game.”
“Doubtless he was hunting here,” said Von Horst.
“If he was hunting,” said Muviro, “he would have moved in a straight line until he caught the scent spoor of game or came to a well-beaten game trail.”
“And then what would he do?” asked Gridley.
“He might wait above the trail,” replied Muviro, “or he might follow it. In a new country like this, I think he would follow it, for he has always been interested in exploring every new country he entered.”
“Then let us push straight into the forest in this same direction until we strike a game trail,” said Gridley.
Muviro and three of his warriors went ahead, cutting brush where it was necessary and blazing the trees at frequent intervals that they might more easily retrace their steps to the ship. With the aid of a small pocket compass Gridley directed the line of advance, which otherwise it would have been difficult to hold accurately beneath that eternal noonday sun, whose warm rays filtered down through the foliage of the forest.Ah, the progress of 1928! The beginning of the Age of Technology still seems like the Stone Age compared with our big screen TV’s, smart phones, internet, and other electronic marvels that would have sounded like science fiction in 1928, just as impossible in the imagination of most folks as the vacuum airship is to us today.“God! What a forest!” exclaimed Von Horst. “To search for a man here is like the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack.”
“Except,” said Gridley, “that one might stand a slight chance of finding the needle.”
“Perhaps we had better fire a shot occasionally,” suggested Von Horst.
“Excellent,” said Gridley. “The rifles carry a much heavier charge and make a louder report than our revolvers.”
After warning the others of his intention, he directed one of the blacks to fire three shots at intervals of a few seconds, for neither Gridley nor Von Horst was armed with rifles, each of the officers carrying two .45 caliber Colts. Thereafter, at intervals of about half an hour, a single shot was fired, but as the searching party forced its way on into the forest each of its members became gloomily impressed with the futility of their search.
Presently the nature of the forest changed. The trees were set less closely together and the underbrush, while still forming an almost impenetrable screen, was less dense than it had been heretofore and here they came upon a wide game trail, worn by countless hoofs and padded feet to a depth of two feet or more below the surface of the surrounding ground, and here Jason Gridley blundered.
“We won’t bother about blazing the trees as long as we follow this trail,” he said to Muviro, “except at such places as it may fork or be crossed by some other trails.”
It was, after all, a quite natural mistake since a few blazed trees along the way would not serve any purpose in following it back when they wished to return.
The going here was easier and as the Waziri warriors swung along at a brisk pace, the miles dropped quickly behind them and already had the noonday sun so cast its spell upon them that the element of time seemed not to enter into their calculations, while the teeming life about them absorbed the attention of blacks and whites alike.
Strange monkeys, some of them startlingly manlike in appearance and of large size, watched them pass. Birds of both gay and somber plumage scattered protestingly before their advance, and again dim bulks loomed through the undergrowth and the sound of padded feet was everywhere.
At times they would pass through a stretch of forest as silent as the tomb, and then again they seemed to be surrounded by a bedlam of hideous growls and roars and screams.
“I’d like to see some of those fellows,” said Von Horst after a particularly savage outburst of sound.
“I am surprised that we haven’t,” replied Gridley; “but I imagine that they are a little bit leery of us right now, not alone on account of our numbers but because of the, to them strange and unfamiliar, odors which must surround us. These would naturally increase the suspicion which must have been aroused by the sound of our shots.”
“Have you noticed,” said Von Horst, “that most of the noise seems to come from behind us; I mean the more savage, growling sounds. I have heard squeals and noises that sounded like the trumpeting of elephants to the right and to the left and ahead, but only an occasional growl or roar seems to come from these directions and then always at a considerable distance.”
“How do you account for it?” asked Gridley.
“I can’t account for it,” replied Von Horst. “It is as though we were moving along in the center of a procession with all the savage carnivores behind us.”
“The perpetual noonday sun has its compensations,” remarked Gridley with a laugh, “for at least it insures that we shall not have to spend the night here.”
At that instant the attention of the two men was attracted by an exclamation from one of the Waziri behind them. “Look, Bwana! Look!” cried the man, pointing back along the trail. Following the direction of the Waziri’s extended finger, Gridley and Von Horst saw a huge beast slinking slowly along the trail in their rear.
“God!” exclaimed Von Horst, “and I thought Dorf was exaggerating.”
“It doesn’t seem possible,” exclaimed Gridley, “that five hundred miles below our feet automobiles are dashing through crowded streets lined by enormous buildings; that there the telegraph, the telephone and the radio are so commonplace as to excite no comment; that countless thousands live out their entire lives without ever having to use a weapon in self-defense, and yet at the same instant we stand here facing a saber-tooth in surroundings that may not have existed upon the outer crust for a million years.”I like to imagine this scene as an aerial view, where, looking down from a great height, we see several trails converge in the center kill zone like spokes on a giant wheel. I don’t know if this helps, but it works for me.“Look at them!” exclaimed Von Horst. “If there is one there is a dozen of them.”
“Shall we fire, Bwana?” asked one of the Waziri.
“Not yet,” said Gridley. “Close up and be ready. They seem to only be following us.”
Slowly the party fell back, a line of Waziri in the rear facing the tigers and backing slowly away from them. Muviro dropped back to Gridley’s side.
“For a long time, Bwana,” he said, “there has been the spoor of many elephants, though it was different. And just now I sighted some of the beasts ahead. I could not make them out distinctly, but if they are not elephants they are very much like them.”
“We seem to be between the devil and the deep blue sea,” said Von Horst.
“And there are either elephants or tigers on each side of us,” said Muviro. “I can hear them moving through the brush.”
Perhaps the same thought was in the minds of all these men, that they might take to the trees, but for some reason no one expressed it. And so they continued to move slowly along the trail until suddenly it broke into a large, open area in the forest, where the ground was scantily covered with brush and there were few trees. Perhaps a hundred acres were included in the clearing and then the forest commenced again upon all sides.
And into the clearing, along numerous trails that seemed to center at this spot, came as strange a procession as the eyes of these men had ever rested upon.One can almost hear the stirring John Williams music to Jurassic Park in this scene. At least I can hear it.There were great ox-like creatures with shaggy coats and wide-spreading horns. There were red deer and sloths of gigantic size. There were mastadon and mammoth, and a huge, elephantine creature that resembled an elephant and yet did not seem to be an elephant at all. Its great head was four feet long and three feet wide. It had a short, powerful trunk and from its lower jaw mighty tusks curved downward, their points bending inward toward the body. At the shoulders it stood at least ten feet above the ground, and in length it must have been fully twenty feet. But what resemblance it bore to an elephant was lessened by its small, pig-like ears.
The two white men, momentarily forgetting the tigers behind them in their amazement at the sight ahead, halted and looked with wonder upon the huge gathering of creatures within the clearing.If you have read The Land that Time Forgot trilogy you will remember that it was the German commander of the U-boat that was educated in paleontology. Even though we were told earlier that Gridley too was a whiz at paleontology, it is still the German who bests him.“Did you even see anything like it?” exclaimed Gridley.
“No, nor anyone else,” replied Von Horst.
“I could catalog a great many of them,” said Gridley, “although practically all are extinct upon the outer crust. But that fellow there gets me,” and he pointed to the elephantine creature with the downward pointing tusks.
“A Dinotherium of the Miocene,” said Von Horst.These are the last words Von Horst will say in this novel. In fact, his fate will be unknown for almost 7 years, when at last in 1935 readers will discover what happened to him in Back to the Stone Age (ERBzine 0745). But for now his fate will remain a mystery.Muviro had stopped between the two whites and was gazing in wide-eyed astonishment at the scene before him.
“Well,” asked Gridley, “what do you make of it, Muviro?”
“I think I understand now, Bwana,” replied the black, “ and if we are ever going to escape our one chance is to cross that clearing as soon as possible. The great cats are herding these creatures here and presently there will be such a killing as the eyes of man have never before seen. If we are not killed by the cats, we shall be trampled to death by these beasts in their efforts to escape or to fight the tigers.”
“I believe you are right, Muviro,” said Gridley.
“There is an opening just ahead of us,’ said Von Horst.
Gridley called the men around him and pointed out across the clearing to the forest upon the opposite side. “Apparently our only chance now,” he said, “is to cross before the cats close in on these beasts. We have already come into the clearing too far to try to take refuge in the trees on this side for the saber-tooths are too close. Stick close together and fire at nothing unless you are charged.”
“Look!” exclaimed Von Horst. “The tigers are entering the clearing from all sides. They have surrounded their quarry.”
“There is still the one opening ahead of us, Bwana,” said Muviro.
Already the little party was moving slowly across the clearing, which was covered with nervous beasts moving irritably to and fro, their whole demeanor marked by nervous apprehension. Prior to the advent of the tigers the animals had been moving quietly about, some of them grazing on the short grass of the clearing or upon the leaves and twigs of the scattered trees growing in it; but with the appearance of the first carnivores their attitude changed. A huge, bull mastadon raised his trunk and trumpeted shrilly, and instantly every herbivore was on the alert. And as eyes or nostrils detected the presence of the great cats, or the beasts became excited to the excitement of their fellows, each added his voice to the pandemonium that now reigned. To the squealing, trumpeting and bellowing of the quarry were added the hideous growls and roars of the carnivores.
“Look at those cats!” cried Von Horst. “There must be hundreds of them.” Nor was his estimate an exaggeration for from all sides of the clearing, with the exception of a single point opposite them, the cats were emerging from the forest and starting to circle the herd. That they did not rush it immediately evidenced their respect for the huge beasts they had corraled, the majority of which they would not have dared to attack except in superior numbers.
Now a mammoth, a giant bull with tail raised and ears up-cocked, curled his trunk above his head and charged. But a score of the great cats, growling hideously, sprang to meet him, and the bull, losing his nerve, wheeled in a wide circle and returned to the herd. Had he gone through that menacing line of fangs and talons, as with his great size and weight and strength he might have done, he would have opened a hole through which a stampede of the other animals would have carried the bulk of them to safety.
The frightened herbivores, their attention centered upon the menacing tigers, paid little attention to the insignificant man-things passing among them. But there were some exceptions. A thag, bellowing and pawing the earth directly in their line of march, terrified by the odor of the carnivores and aroused and angered by the excited trumpeting and squealing of the creatures about him, seeking to vent his displeasure upon something, lowered his head and charged them. A Waziri warrior raised his rifle to his shoulder and fired, and a prehistoric Bos Primigenus crashed to the impact of a modern bullet.
As the report of the rifle sounded above the other noises of the clearing, the latter were momentarily stilled, and the full attention of hunters and hunted was focused upon the little band of men, so puny and insignificant in the presence of the mighty beasts of another day. A dinotherium, his little ears up-cocked, his tail stiffly erect, walked slowly toward them. Almost immediately others followed his example until it seemed that the whole aggregation was converging upon them. The forest was yet a hundred yards away as Jason Gridley realized the seriousness of the emergency that now confronted them.
“We shall have to run for it,” he said. “Give them a volley, and then beat it for the trees. If they charge, it will have to be every man for himself.”
The Waziri wheeled and faced the slowly advancing herd and then, at Gridley’s command, they fired. The thunderous volley had its effect upon the advancing beasts. They hesitated and then turned and retreated; but behind them were the carnivores. And once again they swung back in the direction of the men, who were now moving rapidly toward the forest.
“Here they come!” cried Von Horst. And a backward glance revealed the fact that the entire herd, goaded to terror by the tigers behind them, had broken into a mad stampede.Wow, how is that for action writing? Thanks to the myriad of nature channels on TV today, we know how accurate many of these descriptions of beast against beast battles are portrayed. But what an imagination to be able to describe in detail such an unbelievable scenario of chaos and savagery. I believe this is one of the most brilliant scenes in all of literature.Whether or not it was a direct charge upon the little party of men is open to question, but the fact that they lay in its path was sufficient to seal their doom if they if they were unable to reach the safety of the forest ahead of the charging quadrupeds.
“Give them another volley!” cried Gridley. And again the Waziri turned and fired. A dinotherium, a thag and two mammoths stumbled and fell to the ground, but the remainder of the herd did not pause. Leaping over the carcasses of their fallen comrades they thundered down upon the fleeing men.
It was now, in truth, every man for himself, and so close pressed were they that even the brave Waziri warriors threw away their rifles as useless encumbrances to flight.
Several of the red deer, swifter in flight than the other members of the herd, had taken the lead, and, stampeding through the party, scattered them to left and right.
Gridley and Von Horst were attempting to cover the retreat of the Waziri and check the charge of the stampeding animals with their revolvers. They succeeded in turning a few of the leaders, but presently a great, red stag passed between them, forcing them to jump quickly apart to escape his heavy antlers, and behind him swept a nightmare of terrified beasts forcing them still further apart.
Not far from Gridley grew a single, giant tree, a short distance from the edge of the clearing, and finding himself alone and cut off from further retreat, the American turned and ran for it, while Von Horst was forced to bolt for the jungle which was now almost within reach.
Bowled over by a huge sloth, Gridley scrambled to his feet, and, passing in front of a fleeing mastadon, reached the tree just as the main body of the stampeding herd closed about it. Its great bole gave him momentary protection and an instant later he had scrambled among its branches.
Instantly his first thought was for his fellows, but where they had been a moment before was now only a solid mass of leaping, plunging, terrified beasts. No sign of a human being was anywhere to be seen and Gridley knew that no living thing could have survived the trampling of those incalculable tons of terrified flesh.
Some of them, he knew, must have reached the forest, but he doubted that all had come through in safety and he feared particularly for Von Horst, who had been some little distance in the rear of the Waziri.
The eyes of the American swept back over the clearing to observe such a scene a probably in all the history of the world had never before been vouchsafed to the eyes of man.
Literally thousands of creatures, large and small, were following their leaders in a break for life and liberty, while upon their flanks and at their rear hundreds of savage saber-tooth tigers leaped upon them, dragging down the weaker, battling with the stronger, leaving the maimed and crippled behind that they might charge into the herd again and drag down others.
The mad rush of the leaders across the clearing had been checked as they entered the forest, and now those in the rear were forced to move more slowly, but in their terror they sought to clamber over the backs of those ahead. Red deer leaped upon the backs of mastadons and fled across the heaving bodies beneath them, as a mountain goat may leap from rock to rock. Mammoths raised their huge bulks upon lessesr animals and crushed them to the ground. Tusks and horns were red with gore as the maddened beasts battled for their lives. The scene was sickening in its horror, and yet fascinating in its primitive strength and savagery – and everywhere were the great, savage cats.
Slowly they were cutting into the herd from both sides in an effort to encircle a portion of it and at last they were successful, though within the circle there remained but a few scattered beasts that were still unmaimed or uncrippled. And then the great tigers turned upon these, closing in and drawing tighter their hideous band of savage fury.
In twos and threes and scores they leaped upon the remaining beasts and dragged them down until the sole creature ramaining alive within their circle was a gigantic bull mammoth. His shaggy coat was splashed blood and his tusks were red with gore. Trumpeting, he stood at bay, a magnificent picture of primordial power, of sagacity, of courage.
The heart of the American went out to that lone warrior trumpeting his challenge to overwhelming odds in the face of certain doom.
By hundreds the carnivores were closing in upon the great bull; yet it was evident that even though they outnumbered him so overwhelmingly, they still held him in vast respect. Growling and snarling, a few of them slunk in stealthy circles about him, and as he wheeled about with them, three of them charged him from the rear. With a swiftness that matched their own, the pachyderm wheeled to meet them. Two of them he caught upon his tusks and tossed them high into the air, and at the same instant a score of others rushed him from each side and from the rear and fastened themselves to his back and flanks. Down he went as though struck by lightning, squatting quickly upon his haunches and rolling over backward, crushing a dozen tigers before they could escape.
Gridley could scarce repress a cheer as the great fellow staggered to his feet and threw himself again upon the opposite side to the accompaniment of hideous screams of pain and anger from the tigers he pinioned beneath him. But now he was gushing blood from a hundred wounds, and other scores of the savage carnivores were charging him.
Though he put up a magnificent battle the end was inevitable and at last they dragged him down, tearing him to pieces while he yet struggled to rise again and battle with them.
And then commenced the aftermath as the savage beasts fought among themselves for possession of their prey. For even though there was flesh to more than surfeit them all, in their greed, jealousy and ferocity, they must still battle one with another.
That they had paid heavily for their meat was evident by the carcasses of tigers strewn about the clearing and as the survivors slowly settled down to feed, there came the jackals, the hyaenodons and the wild dogs to feast upon their leavings.
So, what happens next? Sorry, ERB again leaves us hanging.
See you next time for Part Four.
INTRODUCTORY AND CONTENTS PAGE FOR
THE EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS SERIES OF ARTICLES
BY WOODROW EDGAR NICHOLS, JR.
Visit our thousands of other sites at:
BILL AND SUE-ON HILLMAN ECLECTIC STUDIO
All ERB Images© and Tarzan® are Copyright ERB, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
All Original Work © 1996-2014 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners
No part of this web site may be reproduced without permission from the respective owners.