At the end of our last outing, Tarzan, aka Lord Greystoke, and fifty of his loyal Waziri warriors, were on the road to Opar, with the Belgian traitor, Werper, and a few of his porters, hot on his trail, while Werper’s new employer, the Arab raider, Achmet Zek, with his slave-trader band, is about to raid Tarzan’s huge African estate, where the beautiful blond, Jane Clayton, aka Lord Greystoke’ wife, patiently awaits her husband’s return.
Unlike The Beasts of Tarzan, Jane is not the leading lady of this story. La is. La allows ERB to play with the idea of faithfulness, for as we shall see, Tarzan gets
amnesia and can’t remember that he is married, while La takes him beyond temptation in her wanton lust for him. In the background there brews even more lust: for gold, rare gems and jewels, and revenge. So, with Tarzan musing on the excitement of a fresh kill, we’re off to Opar!
Moved by these vague yet all-powerful urgings the ape-man lay awake one night in the little thorn boma that protected, in a way, his party from the depradations of the great carnivores of the jungle. A single warrior stood sleepy guard beside the fire that yellow eyes out of the darkness beyond the camp made imperative. The moans and the coughing of the big cats mingled with the myriad noises of the lesser denizens of the jungle to fan the savage flame in the breast of this savage English lord. He tossed upon his bed of grasses, sleepless, for an hour and then he rose, noiseless as a wraith, and while the Waziri’s back was turned, vaulted the boma wall in the face of the flaming eyes, swung silently into a great tree and was gone.
III: The Call of the Jungle
For a time in sheer exuberance of animal spirit he raced swiftly through the middle terrace, swinging perilously across wide spans from one jungle giant to the next, and then he clambered upward to the swaying, lesser boughs of the upper terrace where the moon shone full upon him and the air was stirred by little breezes and death lurked ready in each frail branch. Here he paused and raised his face to Goro, the moon. With uplifted arm he stood, the cry of the bull ape quivering upon his lips, yet he remained silent lest he arouse his faithful Waziri who were all too familiar with the hideous challenge of their master.
And then he went on more slowly and with greater stealth and caution, for now Tarzan of the Apes was seeking a kill. Down to the ground he came in the utter blackness of the close-set boles and the overhanging verdure of the jungle. He stooped from time to time and put his nose close to the earth. He sought and found a wide game trail and at last his nostrils were rewarded with the scent of the fresh spoor of Bara, the deer. Tarzan’s mouth watered and a low growl escaped his patrician lips. Sloughed from him was the last vestige of artificial caste – once again he was the primeval hunter – the first man – the highest caste type of the human race. Up wind he followed the elusive spoor with sense of perception so transcending that of ordinary man as to be incomprehensible to us. Through counter currents of the heavy stench of meat eaters he traced the trail of Bara; the sweet and cloying stink of Horta, the boar, could not drown his quarry’s scent – the permeating, mellow musk of the deer’s foot.
Presently the body scent of the deer told Tarzan that his prey was close at hand. It sent him into the trees again – into the lower terraces where he could watch the ground below and catch with ears and nose the first intimation of actual contact with his quarry. Nor was it long before the ape-man came upon Bara standing alert at the edge of a moon-bathed clearing.
Noiselessly Tarzan crept through until he was directly over the deer. In the ape-man’s right hand was the long hunting knife of his father and in his heart the blood lust of the carnivore. Just for an instant he poised above the unsuspecting Bara and then he launched himself downward upon the sleek back. The impact of his weight carried the deer to its knees and before the animal could regain its feet the knife had found its heart. As Tarzan rose upon the body of his kill to scream forth his hideous victory cry into the face of the moon the wind carried to his nostrils something which froze him to statuesque immobility and silence. His savage eyes blazed into the direction from which the wind had borne down the warning to him and a moment later the grasses at one side of the clearing parted and Numa, the lion, strode majestically into view. His yellow-green eyes were fastened upon Tarzan as he halted just within the clearing and glared enviously at the successful hunter, for Numa had had no luck this night.
From the lips of the ape-man broke a rumbling growl of warning. Numa answered but he did not advance. Instead he stood waving his tail gently to and fro, and presently Tarzan squatted upon his kill and cut a generous portion from a hind quarter. Numa eyed him with growing resentment and rage as, between mouthfuls, the ape-man growled out his savage warnings. Now this particular lion had never before come in contact with Tarzan of the Apes and he was much mystified. Here was the appearance and the scent of a man-thing and Numa had tasted of human flesh and learned that though not the most palatable it was certainly by far the easiest to secure, yet there was that in the bestial growls of the savage creature which reminded him of the formidable antagonists and gave him pause, while the hunger and the odor of the hot flesh of Bara goaded him almost to madness. Always Tarzan watched him, guessing what was passing in the little brain of the carnivore and well it was that he did watch him, for at last Numa could stand it no longer. His tail shot suddenly erect and at the same instant the wary ape-man, knowing all to well what the signal portended, grasped the remainder of the deer’s hind quarter between his teeth and leaped into a nearby tree as Numa charged him with all the speed and sufficient semblance of the weight of an express train.
Tarzan’s retreat was no indication that he felt fear. Jungle life is ordered along different lines than ours and different standards prevail. Had Tarzan been famished he would, doubtless, had stood his ground and met the lion’s charge. He had done the thing before upon more than one occasion, just as in the past he had charged lions himself; but tonight he was far from famished and in the hind quarter he had carried off with him was more raw flesh than he could eat; yet it was with no equanimity that he looked down upon Numa rending the flesh of Tarzan’s kill. The presumption of this strange Numa must be punished! And forthwith Tarzan set out to make life miserable for the big cat. Close by were many trees bearing large, hard fruits and to one of these the ape-man swung with the agility of a squirrel. Then commenced a bombardment which brought forth earth-shaking roars from Numa. One after another as rapidly as he could gather and hurl them Tarzan pelted the hard fruit down upon the lion. It was impossible for the tawny cat to eat under that hail of missiles – he could but roar and growl and dodge and eventually he was driven away entirely from the carcass of Bara, the deer. He went roaring and resentful; but in the very center of the clearing his voice was suddenly hushed and Tarzan saw the great head lower and flatten out, the body crouch and the long tail quiver, as the beast slunk cautiously toward the trees upon the opposite side.Immediately Tarzan was alert. He lifted his head and sniffed the slow, jungle breeze. What was it that had had attracted Numa’s attention and taken him soft-footed and silent away from the scene of his discomfture? Just as the lion disappeared among the trees beyond the clearing Tarzan caught upon the down-coming wind the explanation of his new interest – the scent spoor of man was wafted strongly to the sensitive nostrils. Catching the remainder of the deer’s hind quarter in the crotch of a tree the ape-man wiped his greasy palms upon his naked thighs and swung off in pursuit of Numa. A broad, well-beaten, elephant path led into the forest from the clearing. Parallel to this slunk Numa, while above him Tarzan moved through the trees, the shadow of a wraith. The savage cat and the savage man saw Numa’s quarry simultaneously, though both had known before it came within the vision of their eyes that it was a black man.
This chapter is not called “The Call of the Jungle” for nothing. ERB loved the confrontations between Tarzan, the super human king of the jungle, and fierce jungle animals. He knew that they were impossible for normal human hunters, but Tarzan is far from normal. He moves supernaturally through the trees and has the keen senses of the natural predator. Basically, this is the charm of the ape-man, a charm most readers find fascinating. No matter how well he treats other people and tries to help them, he never lets them forget that he is a supernatural killing machine.
Their sensitive nostrils had told them this much and Tarzan’s had told him that the scent spoor was that of a stranger – old and male, for race and sex and age each has its own distinctive scent. It was an old man that made his way alone through the gloomy jungle, a wrinkled, dried-up, little old man hideously scarred and tattooed and strangely garbed, with the skin of a hyena about his shoulders and the dried head mounted upon his grey pate. Tarzan recognized the ear-marks of the witch-doctor and awaited Numa’s charge with a feeling of pleasurable anticipation, for the ape-man had no love for witch-doctors; but in the instant that Numa did charge, the white man suddenly recalled that the lion had stolen his kill a few minutes before and that revenge is sweet. The first intimation the black man had that he was in danger was the crash of twigs as Numa charged through the bushes into the game trail not twenty yards behind him. Then he turned to see a huge, black-maned lion, racing toward him and even as he turned, Numa seized him. At the same instant the ape-man dropped from an overhanging limb full upon the lion’s back and as he alighted he plunged his knife into the tawny side behind the left shoulder, tangled the fingers of his right hand in the long mane, buried his teeth in Numa’s neck and wound his powerful legs about the beast’s torso. With a roar of pain and rage, Numa reared up and fell backwards upon the ape-man; but still the mighty man-thing clung to his hold and repeatedly the long knife plunged rapidly into his side. Over and over rolled Numa, the lion, clawing and biting the air, roaring and growling horribly in savage attempt to reach the thing upon its back. More than once was Tarzan almost brushed from his hold. He was battered and bruised and covered with blood from Numa and dirt from the trail, yet not for an instant did he lessen the ferocity of his mad attack nor his grim hold upon the back of his antagonist. To have lessened for an instant his grip there, would have been to bring him within reach of those tearing talons or rending fangs, and have ended forever the grim career of this jungle-bred English lord. Where he had fallen beneath the spring of the lion the witch-doctor lay, torn and bleeding, unable to drag himself away and watched the terrific battle between these two lords of the jungle. His sunken eyes glittered and his wrinkled lips moved over toothless gums as he mumbled weird incantations to the demons of his cult.For a time he felt no doubt as to the outcome – the strange white man must certainly succumb to the terrible Simba – whoever heard of a lone man armed only with a knife slaying so mighty a beast! Yet presently the old black man’s eyes went wider and he commenced to have his doubts and misgivings. What wonderful sort of creature was this that battled with Simba and held his own despite the mighty muscles of the king of beasts and slowly there dawned in those sunken eyes, gleaming so brightly from the scarred and wrinkled face, the light of a dawning recollection. Gropingly backwards into the past reached the fingers of memory, until at last they seized upon a faint picture, faded and yellow with the passing years. It was the picture of a lithe, white-skinned youth swinging through the trees in company with a band of huge apes, and the old eyes blinked and a great fear came into them – the superstitious fear of one who believes in ghosts and spirits and demons.
In this day of political correctness, it is a real joy to read passages like the above. I find modern censorship to be much worse than the censorship of the pulps, because with authors such as ERB, that censorship was worth bearing because the genius of the writers let the readers boldly read between the lines.
And came the time once more when the witch-doctor no longer doubted the outcome of the duel, yet his first judgment was reversed, for now he knew that the jungle god would slay Simba and the old black was even more terrified of his own impending fate at the hands of the victor than he had been by the sure and sudden death which the triumphant lion would have meted out to him. He saw the lion weaken from loss of blood. He saw the mighty limbs tremble and stagger and at last he saw the beast sink down to rise no more. He saw the forest god or demon rise from the vanquished foe, and placing a foot upon the still quivering carcass, raise his face to the moon and bay out a hideous cry that froze the ebbing blood in the veins of the witchdoctor.
This witch-doctor had a long history with the young boy, Tarzan, documented in Jungle Tales of Tarzan, the book ERB wrote after The Son of Tarzan. The Jungle Tales are a series of well-written short stories that display most of the characteristics of the growing jungle lord. Tarzan did not like Bukawai, the evil witch-doctor. It seems clear that this is the same witchdoctor that the boy Tarzan left to die with a horde of hyenas, even though his name is never mentioned in this story. It also seems clear that he somehow lived from the hyena ordeal. If Tarzan had known this he might not have saved him from Numa, the lion,
Then Tarzan turned his attention to the man. He had not slain Numa to save the Negro – he had merely done it in revenge upon the lion; but now that he saw the old man lying helpless and dying before him something akin to pity touched his savage heart. In his youth he would have slain the witch-doctor before him without the slightest compunction; but civilization had had its softening effect upon him even as it does upon the nations and races which it touches, though it had not yet gone far enough with Tarzan to render him either cowardly or effeminate. He saw an old man suffering and dying, and he stooped and felt of his wounds and stanched the flow of blood.
IV: Prophecy and Fulfillment
“Who are you?” asked the old man in trembling voice.
“I am Tarzan – Tarzan of the Apes,” replied the ape-man and not without a greater touch of pride than he would have said, “I am John Clayton, Lord Greystoke.”
The witch-doctor shook convulsively and closed his eyes. When he opened them again there was in them a resignation to whatever horrible fate awaited him at the hands of this feared demon of the woods. “Why do you not kill me?” he asked.
“Why should I kill you?” inquired Tarzan. “You have not harmed me, and anyway you are already dying. Numa, the lion, has killed you.”
“You would not kill me?” Surprise and incredulity were in the tones of the quavering old voice.
“I would save you if I could,” replied Tarzan, “but that cannot be done. Why did you think I would kill you?”
For a moment the old man was silent. When he spoke it was evidently after some little effort to muster his courage. “I knew you of old,” he said, “when you ranged the jungle of the country of Mbonga, the chief. I was already a witch-doctor when you slew Kulonga and the others, and when you robbed our huts and our poison pot. At first I did not remember you; but at last I did – the white-skinned ape that lived with the hairy apes and made life miserable in the village of Mbonga, the chief – the forest god – the Munango-Keewati for whom we set food outside our gates and who came and ate it. Tell me before I die – are you man or devil?” Tarzan laughed. “I am a man,” he said.
The old fellow sighed and shook his head. “You have tried to save me from Simba,” he said. “For that I shall reward you. I am a great witch-doctor. Listen to me, white man! I see bad days ahead of you. It is writ in my own blood which I have smeared upon my palm. A god greater even than you will rise up and strike you down. Turn back, Munango-Keewati! Turn back before it is too late. Danger lies ahead of you and danger lurks behind; but greater is the danger before. I see –” He paused and drew a long, gasping breath. Then he crumpled into a little, wrinkled heap and died. Tarzan wondered what else he had seen.It was very late when the ape-man reentered the boma and lay down among his black warriors. None had seen him go and none saw him return. He thought about the warning of the old witch-doctor before he fell asleep and he thought of it again after he awoke; but he did not turn back for he was unafraid, though had he known what lay in store for one he loved most of all in the world he would have flowed through the trees to her side and allowed the gold of Opar to remain forever hidden in its forgotten storehouse.
What a reward for saving the life of an old enemy! The question we now must ask ourselves is, “Will this prophecy come true?” Or at least part of it, since the old man died before finishing. Not only are there supernatural elements to the Tarzan tales, but ERB liked to throw a little magic into them as well. After all, he is the god of his fictional worlds and is the sole judge of who lives and who dies. It will be easy for him to make the prophecy come true. At least we know that Opar is a greater danger than Werper.
Behind him that morning another white man pondering something he had heard during the night and very nearly did he give up his project and turn back upon his trail. It was Werper, the murderer, who in the still of the night had heard far away upon the trail ahead of him a sound that had filled his cowardly soul with terror – a sound such as he never had heard in all his life, nor dreamed that such a frightful thing could emanate from the lungs of a God-created creature. He had heard the victory cry of the bull ape as Tarzan had screamed it forth into the face of Goro, the moon, and he had trembled then and hidden his face; and now in the broad light of a new day he trembled again as he recalled it, and would have turned back from the nameless danger the echo of that frightful sound seemed to portend, had he not stood in even greater fear of Achmet Zek, his master.
And so Tarzan of the Apes forged steadily ahead toward Opar’s ruined ramparts and behind him slunk Werper, jackal-like, and only God knew what lay in store for each.
At the edges of the desolate valley, overlooking the golden domes and minarets of Opar, Tarzan halted. By night he would go alone to the treasure vault, reconnoitering, for he had determined that caution should mark his every move upon the expedition.
With the coming of night he set forth, and Werper, who had scaled the cliffs alone behind the ape-man’s party, and hidden through the day among the rough boulders of the mountain top, slunk stealthily after him. The boulder-strewn plain beneath the valley’s edge and the mighty granite kopje, outside the city’s walls, where lay the entrance to the passage-way leading to the treasure vault, gave the Belgian ample cover as he followed Tarzan toward Opar.
He saw the giant ape-man swing himself nimbly up the face of the great rock. Werper, clawing fearfully during the perilous ascent, sweating in terror, amost palsied by fear, but spurred on by avarice, followed upward, until at last he stood upon the summit of the rocky hill.
Tarzan was nowhere in sight. For a time Werper hid behind one of the lesser boulders that were scattered over the top of the hill, but, seeing or hearing nothing of the English-man, he crept from his place of concealment to undertake a systematic search of his surroundings. In the hope he might discover the location of the treasure in ample time to make his escape before Tarzan returned, for it was the Belgian’s desire merely to locate the gold, that, after Tarzan had departed, he might come in safety with his followers and carry away as much as he could transport.
He found the narrow cleft leading downward into the heart of the kopje along well-worn granite steps. He advanced quite to the dark mouth of the tunnel into which the runway disappeared; but here he halted, fearing to enter, lest he meet Tarzan returning.
The ape-man, far ahead of him, groped his way along the rocky passage, until he came to the ancient wooden door. A moment later he stood within the treasure chamber, where, ages since, long-dead hands had ranged the lofty rows of precious ingots for the rulers of that great continent which now lies submerged beneath the waters of the Atlantic.
No sound broke the stillness of the subterranean vault. There was no evidence that another had discovered the forgotten wealth since last the ape-man had visited its hiding place.
Satisfied, Tarzan returned and retraced his steps toward the summit of the kopje. Werper, from the concealment of a jutting, granite boulder, watched him pass up from the shadows of the stairway and advance toward the edge of the hill which faced the rim of the valley where the Waziri awaited the signal of their master. Then Werper, slipping stealthily from his hiding place, dropped into the somber darkness of the entrance and disappeared.
Tarzan, halting upon the kopje’s edge, raised his voice in the thunderous roar of a lion. Twice, at regular intervals, he repeated the call, standing in attentive silence for several minutes after the echoes of the third call had died away. And then, from far across the valley, faintly, came an answering roar – once, twice, thrice. Basuli, the Waziri chieftain, had heard and replied.
Tarzan again made his way toward the treasure vault, knowing that in a few hours his blacks would be with him, ready to bear away another fortune in the strangely shaped, golden ingots of Opar. In the meantime he would carry as much of the precious metal to the summit of the kopje as he could.
Six trips he made in the five hours before Basuli reached the kopje, and at the end of that time he had transported forty-eight ingots to the edge of the great boulder, carrying upon each trip a load which might well have staggered two ordinary men, yet his giant frame showed no evidence of fatigue, as he helped to raise his ebon warriors to the hill top with the rope that had been brought for the purpose.
Six times he had returned to the treasure chamber, and six times Werper, the Belgian, had cowered in the black shadows of the far end of the long vault. Once again came the ape-man, and this time there came with him fifty fighting men, turned porters for love of the only creature in the world that might command of their fierce and haughty natures such menial service. Fiftytwo more ingots passed out of the vaults, making the total of one hundred which Tarzan intended taking away with him.As the last of the Waziri filed from the chamber, Tarzan turned back for a last glimpse of the fabulous wealth upon which his two inroads had made no appreciable impression . Before he extinguished the single candle he had brought with him for the purpose, and the flickering light of which had cast the first alleviating rays into the impenetrable darkness of the buried chamber, that it had known for the countless ages since it had lain forgotten of man, Tarzan’s mind reverted to that first occasion upon which he had entered the treasure vault, coming upon it by chance as he fled from the pits beneath the temple, where he had been hidden by La, the High Priestess of the Sun Worshipers.
ERB first described these ingots near the end of The Return of Tarzan. He states that they were “not unlike double-headed bootjacks. The ingots were quite heavy...” So, how much money in American dollars would one hundred of these ingots be worth? Well, Tarzan was able to carry six at a time, so, let’s say, they weigh twenty pounds each. Gold is currently selling for over $1300 an ounce. There are sixteen ounces in a pound. Thus one ingot would be worth $1300 x 16 ounces = $20,800 x 100 = $2,080,000. That was a hell of a lot of money in 1915.
He recalled the scene within the temple when he had lain stretched upon the sacrificial altar, while La, with high-raised dagger, stood above him, and the rows of priests and priestesses awaited, in the ecstatic hysteria of fanaticism, the first gush of their victim’s warm blood, that they might fill their golden goblets and drink to the glory of their Flaming God.The brutal and bloody interruption by Tha, the mad priest, passed vividly before the apeman’s recollective eye, the flight of the votaries before the insane blood lust of the hideous creature, the brutal attack upon La, and his own part in the grim tragedy when he had battled with the infuriated Oparian and left him dead at the feet of the priestess he would have profaned.
It might be a good idea to describe La as she was portrayed when Tarzan first spied her in The Return of Tarzan. Unlike the men, who were more gorilla than human, the women were gorgeous, and except for adornments in their hair and about their waists, were naked:“They wore, like the men, only skins of wild animals caught about their waists with rawhide belts or chains of gold; but the black masses of their hair were incrusted with golden headgear composed of many circular and oval pieces ingeniously held together to form a metal cap from which depended, at each side of the head, long strings of oval pieces falling to the waist.Yes, La is one hot babe. I don’t believe it takes too much imagination to see that she is topless. She is a femme fatale and the desire of all red-blooded men. Yes, ERB knew exactly what he was doing when he created her.
The females were more symmetrically proportioned than the males, their features were much more perfect, the shapes of their heads and their large, soft, black eyes denoting far greater intelligence and humanity than was possessed by their lords and masters.
Each priestess bore two golden cups, and as they formed in line along one side of the altar the men formed opposite, advancing and taking each a cup from the female opposite. Then the chant began once more, and presently from a dark passageway beyond the altar another female emerged from the cavernous depths beneath the chamber.
The high priestess, thought Tarzan. She was a young woman with a rather intelligent and shapely face. Her ornaments were similar to those worn by her votaries, but much more elaborate, many being set with diamonds. Her bare arms and legs were almost concealed by the massive, bejeweled ornaments which covered them, while her single leopard skin was supported by a close-fitting girdle of golden rings set in strange designs with innumerable small diamonds. In the girdle she carried a long, jeweled knife, and in her hand a slender wand in lieu of a bludgeon.”
This and much more passed through Tarzan’s memory as he stood gazing at the long tiers of dull-yellow metal. He wondered if La still ruled in the temples of the ruined city whose crumbling walls rose upon the very foundations about him. Had she finally been forced into a union with one of her grotesque priests? It seemed a hideous fate, indeed, for one so beautiful. With a shake of his head, Tarzan stepped to the flickering candle, extinguished its feeble rays and turned toward the exit.
Behind him the spy waited for him to be gone. He had learned the secret for which he had come, and now he could return at his leisure to his waiting followers, bring them to the treasure vault and carry away all the gold that they could stagger under.
The Waziri had reached the outer end of the tunnel, and were winding upward toward the fresh air and the welcome starlight of the kopje’s summit, before Tarzan shook off the detaining hand of reverie and started slowly after them.
Once again, and, he thought, for the last time, he closed the massive door of the treasure room. In the darkness behind him Werper rose and stretched his cramped muscles. He stretched forth a hand and lovingly caressed a golden ingot on the nearest tier. He raised it from its immemorial resting place and weighed it in his hands. He clutched it to his bosom in an ecstasy of avarice.
Tarzan dreamed of the happy homecoming which lay before him, of dear arms about his neck, and a soft cheek pressed to his; but there rose to dispel that dream the memory of the old witch-doctor and his warning.
And then, in the span of a few brief seconds, the hopes of both these men were shattered. The one forgot even his greed in the panic of terror – the other was plunged into total forgetfulness of the past by a jagged fragment of rock which gashed a deep cut upon his head.
Thus ends the second part in our adventurre. A higher God had indeed struck Tarzan down by means of an ground-shattering earthquake. Now we are left to wonder about the other part of that prophecy that the old man was unable to utter. See you next time for the next chapter: “The Altar of the Flaming God.”
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