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“...The original Kurtz had been educated partly in England, and – as he was good enough to say himself – his sympathies were in the right place. His mother was half-English, his father was half-French. All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz; and by-and-by I learned that, most appropriately, the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs had entrusted him with the making of a report, for its future guidance. And he had written it, too. I’ve seen it. I’ve read it. It was eloquent, vibrating with eloquence, but too high-strung, I think. Seventeen pages of close writing he had found time for! But this must have been before his – let us say – nerves, went wrong, and caused him to preside at certain midnight dances ending with unspeakable rites, which – as far as I reluctantly gathered from what I heard at various times – were offered up to him – do you understand? – to Mr. Kurtz himself. But it was a beautiful piece of writing. The opening paragraph, however, in the light of later information, strikes me now as ominous. He began with the argument that we whites, from the point of development we had arrived at, ‘must necessarily appear to them [savages] in the nature of supernatural beings – we approach them with the might as of a deity,’ and so on. ‘By the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for good practically unbounded,’ etc., etc. From that point he soared and took me with him. The peroration was magnificent, though difficult to remember, you know. It gave me the notion of an exotic Immensity ruled by an august Benevolence. It made me tingle with enthusiasm. This was the unbounded power of eloquence – of words – of burning noble words. There were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current of phrases, unless a kind of note at the foot of the last page, scrawled evidently much later, in an unsteady hand, may be regarded as the exposition of a method. It was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: ‘Exterminate all the brutes!’”– Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1902)
Ah, “the magic current of phrases.” I first read Heart of Darkness in March 1978, while living in Berkeley. I finished it for the second time today, February 26, 2015. Next to his “The Secret Sharer,” it is one of my favorite Joseph Conrad stories. I’m amazed at how much of it I had forgotten, and how close the motion picture, Apocalypse Now, kept to the spirit of the text. In both readings I received a carousel slide-show from the Id, the heart of darkness in the human brain.
There is no empirical evidence that ERB ever read Heart of Darkness – it does not appear in his library – but when I read about the desolate Russian sailor, whom the crazy character Dennis Hopper played in the movie was based upon, as well as the themes themselves exposed in the narrative, I can’t help but believe that he spent many hours perusing this text. After all, one of ERB’s greatest villains, Nikolas Rokoff, is also a Russian, and he is at the center of the second and third Tarzan novels, which can be read seamlessly together: The Return of Tarzan (ERBzine 0484), and The Beasts of Tarzan (ERBzine 0485 & 0486).
ERB wrote these two novels at the height of his creative genius, before repetition of story ideas began to complicate his fiction, which is why they are at the top of my list of favorites. ERB's original title for The Return of Tarzan was, appropriately, Monsieur Tarzan, since this adventure takes place mainly in Paris and French North Africa, after Tarzan is recruited to spy for French Army Intelligence on activities taking place in the latter place, largely initiated by the intrigue of Nikolas Rokoff. He completed this story in January 1913, after finishing the John Carter of Mars story, The Gods of Mars.
The Beasts of Tarzan – written two years later between January and February 1914, after writing seven more novels in between – takes place in the heart of equatorial Africa – Conrad's heart of darkness, mainly as the result of Rokoff kidnapping Tarzan and his wife, Jane, as well as – it is believed – their young baby boy, to render revenge on Tarzan for defeating his purposes in the first narrative. It is much closer in theme to Heart of Darkness, where Tarzan travels up the Ugambi River, not in a steamboat, but in a canoe filled with his animal army. In fact, this is my favorite ERB story. It captures the full nature of his brilliance.
The Beasts of Tarzan is also my favorite Tarzan novel because of the role Jane plays in the story. As the result of her courage, heroism and resolve, we would have expected her to be a strong presence in all of the subsequent Tarzan novels, but alas, this was not the case. Afterwards, she plays little more than cameo roles. It is my belief that this was the result of tension in ERB’s marriage where the common understanding in ERB's family was that he was Tarzan and Emma, his wife, was Jane. In fact, after a few more novels ERB was looking to get rid of Jane and kill her off once and for all, but his editors and readers would not, thank God, allow that.
I am using the July 1963 Ballantine Books edition, eighteenth printing, as my text for The Return of Tarzan, and the July 1963 Ballantine Books edition, eighteenth printing, as my text for The Beasts of Tarzan. The latter has a really cool book cover with art by Neal Adams. (ERBzine 3610; or, for the art without the book cover click on the title image above).
So, the stories are waiting to be told. Let us not linger.
THE RETURN OF TARZAN
I. The Affair on the Liner
“MAGNIFIQUE!” ejaculated the Countess de Coude, beneath her breath.You may notice as the story progresses that the sexual tension in the narrative is at a much higher pitch than the normal ERB narrative. You must remember that in The Return of Tarzan, he is still single, having given up on Jane at the end of the first novel. English, although he learned to read and write in it in his youth, is his second spoken language, his first being French. He is still very much primitive in his thinking, although he can give to the uninitiated the outward appearance of civilization.
“Eh?” questioned the count, turning toward his young wife. “What is it that is magnificent?” And the count bent his eyes in various directions in quest of the object of her admiration.
“Oh, nothing at all, my dear,” replied the countess, a slight flush momentarily coloring her already pink cheek. “I was but recalling with admiration those stupendous skyscrapers, as they call them, of New York,” and the fair countess settled herself more comfortably in her steamer chair, and resumed the magazine which “nothing at all” had caused her to let fall upon her lap.
Her husband again buried himself in his book, but not without mild wonderment that three days out from New York his countess should suddenly have realized an admiration for the very buildings she had but recently characterized as horrid.
Presently the count put down his book. “It is very tiresome, Olga,” he said. “I think that I shall hunt up some others who may be equally bored, and see if we cannot find enough for a game of cards.”
“You are not very gallant, my husband,” replied the young woman, smiling, “but as I am equally bored I can forgive you. Go and play at your tiresome old cards, then, if you will.”
When he had gone she let her eyes wander slyly to the figure of a tall young man stretched lazily in a chair not far distant.
“Magnifique!” she breathed once more.
The Countess Olga de Coude was twenty. Her husband forty. She was a very faithful and loyal wife, but as she had had nothing whatever to do with the selection of a husband, it is not at all unlikely that she was not wildly and passionately in love with the one that fate and her titled Russian father had selected for her. However, simply because she was surprised into a tiny exclamation of approval at sight of a splendid young stranger it must not be inferred therefrom her thoughts were in any way disloyal to her spouse. She merely admired, as she might have admired a particularly fine specimen of any species. Furthermore, the young man was unquestionably good to look at.
As her furtive glance rested upon his profile he rose to leave the deck. The Countess de Coude beckoned to a passing steward.
“Who is that gentleman?” she asked.
“He is booked, madam, as Monsieur Tarzan, of Africa,” replied the steward.
“Rather a large estate,” thought the girl, but now her interest was still further aroused.
As the result, Tarzan is free to flirt as he will, and, unsurprisingly, he is at the heart of many female fantasies and intrigues. You may have noticed ERB's use of words in the above lustful musings of the countess, for example, the use of the words “ejaculated” and “aroused.” The reading may seem mild by today’s sexual standards, but I can assure you, at the time this sort of prose amounted to the equivalence of soft pornography. You may also notice that once a scene begins to get sexual there is always some kind of disclaimer, as in the Countess being a faithful and loyal wife, even though she does have a lustful, wandering eye. But, hey, Tarzan is on the first class deck and the countess is one first class babe.
One thing about Tarzan, he always goes first class when he can, with all of its civilized smoking and drinking as well. Tarzan is no prude. This novel was written after the sinking of the Titanic, so we can imagine him being on some non-French ocean liner of equivalent size. As for the French name “coude,” I googled it, and it turns out to mean nothing but “elbow” in French. “Coude a coude” means side by side or shoulder to shoulder,” whereas “au coude a coude” means neck and neck. I don’t believe there is any hidden symbolism with the name and I have no idea why ERB came up with it.As Tarzan walked slowly toward the smoking-room he came unexpectedly upon two men whispering excitedly just without. He would have vouchsafed them not even a passing thought but for the strangely guilty glance that one of them shot in his direction. They reminded Tarzan of melodramatic villains he had seen in the theaters in Paris. Both were very dark, and this, in connection with the shrugs and stealthy glances that accompanied their palpable intriguing, lent still greater force to the similarity.You may recall that at the end of the first Tarzan novel, Tarzan of the Apes, he relates to Clayton, after being asked, how he came about to being in the jungle. He tells him: “I was born there... My mother was an Ape, and of course she couldn’t tell me much about it. I never knew who my father was.” Yes, it appears as if Tarzan has some self-esteem issues.
Tarzan entered the smoking-room, and sought a chair a little apart from the others who were there. He felt in no mood for conversation, and as he sipped his absinth he let his mind run rather sorrowfully over the past few weeks of his life. Time and again he had wondered if he had acted wisely in renouncing his birthright to a man to whom he owed nothing. It is true that he liked Clayton, but – ah, but that was not the question. It was not for William Cecil Clayton, Lord Greystoke, that he had denied his birth. It was for the woman whom both he and Clayton loved, and whom a strange freak of fate had given to Clayton instead of to him.
That she loved him made the thing doubly difficult to bear, yet he knew that he could have done nothing less than he did do that night within the little railway station in the far Wisconsin woods. To him her happiness was the first consideration of all, and his brief experience with civilization and civilized men had taught him that without money and position life to most of them was unendurable.
Jane Porter had been born to both, and had Tarzan taken them away from her future husband it would doubtless have plunged her into a life of misery and torture. That she would have spurned Clayton once he had been stripped of both his title and his estates never for once occurred to Tarzan, for he credited to others the same honest loyalty that was so inherent a quality in himself. Nor, in this instance, had he erred. Could any one thing have further bound Jane Porter to her promise to Clayton it would have been in the nature of some misfortune as this overtaking him.Tarzan’s thoughts drifted from the past to the future. He tried to look forward with pleasurable sensations to his return to the jungle of his birth and boyhood; the cruel, fierce jungle in which he had spent twenty of his twenty-two years. But who or what of all the myriad jungle life would there be to welcome his return? Not one. Only Tantor, the elephant, could he call friend. The others would hunt him or flee from him as had been their way in the past.Of course, Tarzan will live to regret his proud prediction. The only thing that will stop Rokoff from a lust for revenge is death itself. In fact, Tarzan will not have to wait very long before Rokoff’s first attempt.
Not even the apes of his own tribe would extend the hand of fellowship to him.
If civilization had done nothing else to Tarzan of the Apes, it had to some extent taught him to crave the society of his own kind, and to feel with genuine pleasure the congenial warmth of companionship. And in the same ratio had it made any other life distasteful to him. It was difficult to imagine a world without a friend – without a living thing who spoke the new tongues which Tarzan had learned to love so well. And so it was that Tarzan looked with little relish upon the future he had mapped out for himself.
As he sat musing over his cigarette his eyes fell upon a mirror before him, and in it he saw reflected a table at which four men sat at cards. Presently one of them rose to leave, and then another approached, and Tarzan could see that he courteously offered to fill the vacant chair, that the game might not be interrupted. He was the smaller of the two whom Tarzan had seen whispering just outside the smoking-room.
It was this fact that aroused a faint spark of interest in Tarzan, and so as he speculated upon the future he watched in the mirror the reflection of the players at the table behind him. Aside from the man who had but just entered the game Tarzan knew the name of but one of the other players. It was he who sat opposite the new player, Count Raoul de Coude, whom an over-attentive steward had pointed out as one of the celebrities of the passage, describing him as a man high in the official family of the French minister of war.
Suddenly Tarzan’s attention was riveted upon the picture in the glass. The other swarthy plotter had entered, and was standing behind the count’s chair. Tarzan saw him turn and glance furtively about the room, but his eyes did not rest for a sufficient time upon the mirror to note the reflection of Tarzan’s watchful eyes. Stealthily the man withdrew something from his pocket. Tarzan could not discern what the object was, for the man’s hand covered it.
Slowly the hand approached the count, and then, very deftly, the thing that was in it was transferred to the count’s pocket. The man remained standing where he could watch the Frenchman’s cards. Tarzan was puzzled, but he was all attention now, nor did he permit another detail of the incident to escape him.
The play went on for some ten minutes after this, until the count won a considerable wager from him who had last joined the game, and then Tarzan saw the fellow back of the count’s chair nod his head to his confederate. Instantly the player arose and pointed a finger at the count.
“Had I known that monsieur was a professional card sharp I had not been so ready to be drawn into the game,” he said.
Instantly the count and two other players were upon their feet.
De Coude’s face went white.
“What do you mean, sir?” he cried. “Do you know to whom you speak?”
“I know that I speak, for the last time, to one who cheats at cards,” replied the fellow.
The count leaned across the table, and struck the man full in the mouth with his open palm, and then the others closed in between them.
“There is some mistake, sir,” cried one of the other players. “Why, this is Count de Coude, of France.”
“If I am mistaken,” said the accuser, “I shall gladly apologize; but before I do so first let monsieur le count explain the extra cards which I saw him drop into his side pocket.”
And then the man whom Tarzan had seen drop them there turned to sneak from the room, but to his annoyance he found the exit barred by a tall, gray-eyed stranger.
“Pardon,” said the man brusquely, attempting to pass to one side.
“Wait,” said Tarzan.
“But why, monsieur?” exclaimed the other petulantly. “Permit me to pass, monsieur.”
“Wait,” said Tarzan. “I think that there is a matter in here that you may doubtless be able to explain.”
The fellow had lost his temper by this time, and with a low oath seized Tarzan to push him to one side. The ape-man but smiled as he twisted the big fellow about and, grasping him by the collar of his coat, escorted him back to the table, struggling, cursing, and striking in futile remonstrance. It was Nikolas Rokoff’s first experience with the muscles that had brought their savage owner victorious through encounters with Numa, the lion, and Terkoz, the great bull ape.
The man who had accused De Coude, and the two others who had been playing, stood looking expectantly at the count. Several other passengers had drawn toward the scene of the altercation, and all awaited the denouement.
“The fellow is crazy,” said the count. “Gentlemen, I implore that one of you search me.”
“The accusation is ridiculous.” This from one of the players.
“You have but to slip your hand in the count’s coat pocket and you will see that the accusation is quite serious,” insisted the accuser. And then, as the others still hesitated to do so: “Come, I shall do it myself if no other will,” and he stepped forward toward the count.
“No, monsieur,” said De Coude. “I will submit to a search only at the hands of a gentleman.”
“It is unnecessary to search the count. The cards are in his pocket. I myself saw them placed there.”
All turned in surprise toward this new speaker, to behold a very well-built young man urging a resisting captive toward them by the scruff of his neck.
“It is a conspiracy,” cried De Coude angrily. “There are no cards in my coat,” and with that he ran his hand into his pocket. As he did so tense silence reigned in the little group. The count went dead white, and then very slowly he withdrew his hand, and in it were three cards.
He looked at them in mute and horrified surprise, and slowly the red of mortification suffused his face. Expressions of pity and contempt tinged the features of those who looked on at the death of a man’s honor.
“It is a conspiracy, monsieur.” It was the gray-eyed stranger who spoke. “Gentlemen,” he continued, “monsieur le count did not know that those cards were in his pocket. They were placed there without his knowledge as he sat at play. From where I sat in that chair yonder I saw the reflection of it all in the mirror before me. This person whom I just intercepted in an effort to escape placed the cards in the count’s pocket.”
De Coude had glanced from Tarzan to the man in his grasp.
“Mon Dieu, Nikolas!” he cried. “You?”
Then he turned to his accuser, and eyed him intently for a moment.
“And you, monsieur, I did not recognize you without your beard. It quite disguises you, Paulvitch. I see it all now. It is quite clear, gentlemen.”
“What shall we do with them, monsieur?” asked Tarzan. “Turn them over to the captain?”
“No, my friend,” said the count hastily. “It is a personal matter, and I beg that you will let it drop. It is sufficient that I have been exonerated from the charge. The less we have to do with such fellows, the better. But, monsieur, how can I thank you for the great kindness you have done me? Permit me to offer you my card, and should the time come when I may serve you, remember that I am yours to command.”
Tarzan had released Rokoff, who, with his confederate, Paulvitch, had hastened from the smoking-room. Just as he was leaving, Rokoff turned to Tarzan. “Monsieur will have ample opportunity to regret his interference in the affairs of others.”
Tarzan smiled, and then, bowing to the count, handed him his own card.
The count read:
M. Jean C. Tarzan“Monsieur Tarzan,” he said, “may indeed wish that he had never befriended me, for I can assure him that he has won the enmity of two of the most unmitigated scoundrels in all Europe. Avoid them, monsieur, by all means.”
“I have had more awe-inspiring enemies, my dear count,” replied Tarzan, with a quiet smile, “yet I am still alive and unworried. I think that neither of these two will ever find the means to harm me.”“Let us hope not, monsieur,” said De Coude; “but yet it will do no harm to be on the alert, and to know that you have made at least one enemy today who never forgets and never forgives, and in whose malignant brain there are always hatching new atrocities to perpetrate upon those who have thwarted or offended him. To say that Nikolas Rokoff is a devil would be to place a wanton affront upon his satanic majesty.”Thus closes the first chapter. Hmm, it seemeth that not only does Tarzan have to worry about Nikolas Rokoff, but he has more to worry about Rokoff’s sister, the countess. Sure, she is faithful and loyal, but she is a very beautiful and desirable woman married to a Frenchman, and we all know how those French live their lives. A little sexual intrigue is necessary to spice things up at times. Stay tuned for Chapter 2.
That night as Tarzan entered his cabin he found a folded note upon the floor that had evidently been pushed beneath the door. He opened it and read:
M. TARZAN:Tarzan permitted a grim smile to play about his lips for a moment, then he promptly dropped the matter from his mind, and went to bed.
Doubtless you did not realize the gravity of your offense, or you would not have done the thing you did today.
I am willing to believe that you acted in ignorance and without any intention to offend a stranger.
For this reason I shall gladly permit you to offer an apology, and on receiving your assurances
that you will not again interfere in affairs that do not concern you, I shall drop the matter.
Otherwise – but I am sure that you will see the wisdom of adopting the course I suggest.
In a nearby cabin the Countess de Coude was speaking to her husband.
“Why so grave, my dear Raoul?” she asked. “You have been as glum as could be all evening. What worries you?”
“Olga, Nikolas is on board. Did you know it?”
“Nikolas!” she exclaimed. “But it impossible, Raoul. It cannot be. Nikolas is under arrest in Germany.”
“So I thought myself until I saw him today – him and that other arch-scoundrel, Paulvitch. Olga, I cannot endure his persecution much longer. No, not even for you. Sooner or later I shall turn him over to the authorities. In fact, I am half minded to explain all to the captain before we land. On a French liner it were an easy matter, Olga, permanently to settle this Nemesis of ours.”
“Oh no, Raoul!” cried the countess, sinking to her knees before him as he sat with bowed head upon a divan. “Do not do that. Remember your promise to me. Tell me, Raoul, that you will not do that. Do not even threaten him, Raoul.”
De Coude took his wife’s hands in his, and gazed upon her pale and troubled countenance for some time before he spoke, as though he would wrest from those beautiful eyes the real reason which prompted her to shield this man.
“Let it be as you wish, Olga,” he said at length. “I cannot understand. He has forfeited all claim upon your love, loyalty, or respect. He is a menace to your life and honor, and the life and honor of your husband. I trust that you may never forget championing him.”
“I do not champion him, Raoul,” she interrupted vehemently. “I believe that I hate him as much as you do, but – Oh, Raoul, blood is thicker than water.”
“I should today have liked to sample the consistency of his,” growled De Coude grimly. “The two deliberately attempted to besmirch my honor, Olga,” and then he told her of all that had happened in the smoking-room. “Had it not been for this utter stranger, they had succeeded, for who would have accepted my unsupported word against the damning evidence of those cards hidden on my person? I had almost begun to doubt myself when this Monsieur Tarzan dragged your precious Nikolas before us, and explained the whole cowardly transaction.”
“Monsieur Tarzan?” asked the countess, in evident surprise.
“Yes. Do you know him, Olga?”
“I have seen him. A steward pointed him out to me.”
“I did not know that he was a celebrity,” said the count.
Olga de Coude changed the subject. She discovered suddenly that she might find it difficult to explain just why the steward had pointed out the handsome Monsieur Tarzan to her. Perhaps, she flushed the least little bit, for was not the count, he husband, gazing at her with a strangely quizzical expression. “Ah,” she thought, “a guilty conscience is a most suspicious thing.”
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