"TARZAN" by J. D. VAN DER MERWE
of DUIVELS-KLOOF, TRANSVAAL, SOUTH AFRICA
from the British True-Life Adventures Pulp Magazine
WIDE WORLD - July, 1946
"A South African hunter's account of a decidedly hectic experience."
During the winter of 1933 two American zoologists who were engaged in collecting live wild animals and reptiles engaged me to take charge of their three wagons; they were bound for Hlengaland, part of Portuguese East Africa bordering on Mashonaland. This is very wild country, bounded on the north by the Limpopo and on the south by the Great Sabi River. There are no railways in the area, no bridges across the rivers, and the "roads," are decidedly sketchy. For this reason we were forced to travel by donkey-wagon, drawn by teams of twenty; oxen could not be used on account of the tsetse fly.
I was the only white man with the transport, being assisted by a few native "boys"; my two employers travelled in more comfortable fashion in a cart drawn by mules, moving independently of the wagons.
When we eventually reached our destination there followed a six-months' jungle nightmare during which we engaged in the trapping of the creatures the Americans had come to Hlengaland to obtain. Recollection of our experiences during that period makes my nerves tingle even now; I can't imagine why zoos and menageries hazard the lives of collectors on such dangerous undertakings. Suffice it to say here, however, that at the end of this hair-raising six months we had filled several cages with wild animals, including a couple of lions, and had also secured a number of repulsive-looking reptiles. The gem of the whole collection, perhaps, was a full-grown chimpanzee, a splendid specimen possessing all the strength and cunning of its species. We had a terrific job to cage him when he was first captured, and I foresaw further trouble before the trip ended, for "Tarzan," as we christened him, was most intelligent.
At the moment when my story really begins we were on our way back, our mission accomplished -- much to my relief. Trudging along beside the leading wagon, clad in shirt and shorts and wearing a pith helmet, I paused to wipe away the seat that continually trickled down my face and neck. The sun glared down unmercifully on the white, sandy road, which wound in and out among rugged kopjes. Save for the steady cloppity-clop of the donkeys, the creaking of the lumbering wagons, and an occasional yell from one of the drivers, everything was quiet.
"Only another two days," I told myself thankfully. That meant the Transvaal, a railroad, and civilization; my heart beat faster at the thought of peace and comfort at home after my strenuous experience in the wilds.
All went well until my wagon arrived at the edge of an escarpment down which the "road" wound in serpentine curves. I shouted to the native drivers in rear to be on their guard, but had hardly voiced the warning when I heard a terrific crash somewhere behind. At the moment, being fully occupied in guiding my own vehicle round a bend, I was unable to look back and ascertain what had happened. I yelled to my assistants, however, and one of them came running up.
"Go and find out what that racket was," I told him. "And tell the drivers to be very careful. If those cages get loose there'll be the devil to pay!"
The boy departed at a trot, and I proceeded to give my full attention to keeping the wagon on the road, seeing that the donkeys pulled together, and making sure that the brakes were working properly.
When, some time later, I heard footsteps close behind me I paid little heed, imagining that the boy had returned to report upon the crash.
"Well, what was the trouble?" I called out, over my shoulder, but there was no reply.
Just at that moment I spotted some boulders ahead and shouted to Kleinbooi, the voorlooper (lead-boy): "Pull to the left! Can't you see those rocks?"
The voorlooper swung the leading donkeys sharply aside, and, grabbing the doubletree to ease the wagon round the obstruction, I yelled to Klaas, the brickdraaier (brake-boy): "Put the brake on gently." Then, remembering the native behind me, and wondering why he hadn't answered me, I called out again: "Well, what was the trouble?"
There was still no reply, but at that precise instant the voorlooper gave vent to a terrified yell.
"Look out, baas!" he screamed.
Startled, I instinctively leaped aside and looked round. Just behind me stood the big chimpanzee! While I stared at him, momentarily paralysed with astonishment, he gave a fierce growl and snatched the long donkey-whip from my hands. Anxious to get out of his way, I jumped on to the wagon, but Tarzan raised the whip and gave me a vicious cut across the cheek. As I winced at the blow my helmet toppled off, coming to rest between the doubletree and the disselboom. Clapping my hand to my injured cheek, from which the blood was pouring, I ducked nimbly as he aimed another blow at me. This time the brute missed, the lash cracking sharply against the side of one of the two lion-cages. The excited animals roared savagely, but instead of cowing the chimpanzee the blood-curdling noise only seemed to make him angrier.
Lifting the whip again, Tarzan slashed me across my bare legs -- and I mentally vowed never to wear flimsy shorts again. The success of this stroke appeared to please the ape mightily; he danced up and down, uttering piercing cries of joy. Presently he made another swipe at me, but this time the snake-like coil wrapped itself round his own body, causing him to yell with mingled pain and anger.
Though the lions were now thoroughly aroused, and therefore none-too-pleasant neighbours, I continued to keep close to their cages, remembering the chimpanzee's terrific strength. After we had captured him it took ten men to get him into a cage -- and not all of them escaped unscathed, either. Looking up and down the road, I could see no sign of any of my natives; the whole lot had evidently fled in terror, leaving me to face t his maddened brute alone. What a predicament!
I had hardly realized that I had been deserted when the wagon began to move at an increasingly rapid pace; the donkeys had obviously taken fright and were now careening down the slope! This, if not speedily checked, meant disaster! Where had that wretched Kleinbooi go to?
Just then, however, the vehicle crashed into some rocks and came to an abrupt halt, nearly flinging me off. Peering ahead, I saw the donkeys piling up in a confused heap, and yelled for the voorlooper, but received no reply. What I did get, however, was another stinging cut from the whip, which mead me growl with pain. Tarzan was on the job once more!
Creeping between the cages, I tried to climb off the wagon on the opposite side, hoping to take refuge among the kopjes that lined the road, but the crafty brute, comprehending what I had in mind, immediately galloped round, with the whip raised to strike, and I had to jump back. Seizing the side of the wagon in this powerful grip, the great ape gave it a violent shake; then it sat down and indulged in a flea-hunt!
This diversion only occupied him for a moment or two; then he got up again and once more started using the whip in efforts to slash at me. Meanwhile the donkeys had apparently sorted themselves out, for presently -- startled by the continual cracking of the whip -- they moved on once more, nearly jerking me off as the wagon jolted forward.
"Kleinbooi!" I shouted, at the top of my voice. "If the wagon goes on it will be wrecked. Come and put the brake on! The chimpanzee is busy with me; he won't notice you."
This time, thank goodness, the voorlooper answered me from a kopje about a hundred yards away. He was very reluctant to take any risk, and told me so in a torrent of Shangaan, but eventually I persuaded him to make the attempt. He was creeping cautiously towards the rear of the moving wagon when Tarzan suddenly caught sight of him, grunted ominously, and started to approach him. With a howl of terror Keleinbooi took to his heels, streaking for the Kopje again. Disgusted with such cowardice, the chimpanzee sat down to hunt for grasshoppers.
I was just reaching for the brake, intending to twist it tight, when the big ape suddenly dashed back to the wagon, the whip raised for a cut. I got back between the lion-cages just in time.
Apparently puzzled as to what I was doing with that iron handle at the rear of the wagon, Tarzan proceeded to investigate it. Meanwhile I reviewed my position; and the more I contemplated it the less I liked it. The rear wagon, I decided -- the one that carried Tarzan's cage-- must have met with disaster, otherwise the chimpanzee could not have escaped. The second wagon was out of sight round a bend, and my own vehicle was travelling down this dangerous slope without a driver, heading for almost certain disaster. In addition, there was this big ape to reckon with! No help could be expected from my natives; I should have to rely entirely on myself. Suddenly I had a brain-wave.
"Wow-w-w!" I wailed, in a long-drawn screech. "Wow-w-w!"
It was the familiar and ever-welcome command to halt, and on hearing it the tired donkeys stopped so suddenly that the ape, still busy with the brake, collided with the stationary wagon. With a cry of annoyance he stood back and stared at it angrily. Why had the thing stopped? Grabbing the back with his powerful hands, he first shook it and then tried to push it, but the heavy vehicle did not move. Tarzan leaped up and down, uttering piercing yells; still the wagon remained motionless. Thereupon the chimpanzee flew into a furious rage, charging at the vehicle repeatedly and shaking it vigorously. Every now and again he glared and growled at me, sure he would have jumped up and dragged me off. The lion is no friend of the chimpanzee, however, and while I was able to crouch between the two cages I felt tolerably safe.
Tiring of his efforts to get the wagon under way again, the brute presently left the rear of the vehicle and prowled round. After a moment or so he spied my helmet, which still lay on the disselboom. Screeching with pleasure, he retrieved the headgear, deliberately tore off the chin-strap, and then clapped the helmet on his own head. Being a little too large, it sank down over the ape's eyes, whereupon Tarzan snatched it off again and bit the crown out.
After examining this with interest he threw it away and devoted his attention to the brim, which seemed to fascinate him. Having looked through it from various angles, he put his head into it; the brim slipped down and hung round his neck. In a sudden panic the big ape tried to remove it, but the rim refused to budge. Twisting and turning this way and that, he endeavoured to get at the obstruction with his teeth, meanwhile screaming in fright. The lions, scenting more trouble, renewed their roaring. I decided it was time for action.
"Kleinbooi!" I yelled, going to the other side of the wagon. "Run and fetch the Americans. Tell them Tarzan is loose, and ask them to bring their rifles!"
This was language Kleinbooi could understand, and he was quite ready to carry out my instructions, for the taking of the message meant his removal from the danger-zone. He set off at his best speed, leaving me wondering just how long it would be before my employers could arrive. Still keenly enthusiastic about their collecting, they had remained behind at our last halt in order to trap some field-mice belonging to a species possessing very long noses. I speculated, moreover, as to what they would do when they reached me. In view of his value, and all the trouble his capture had entailed, they would certainly be very reluctant to shoot Tarzan. Nevertheless, I couldn't see any other way out of the difficulty.
Meanwhile, the chimpanzee, by dint of desperate efforts, had succeeded in freeing himself from the helmet-brim that had worried him so greatly. Shambling up to the wagon, he favoured me with a long and hostile stare, as though to let me know he hadn't finished with me yet, and then passed on to have a look at the sunshine, their ears drooping dejectedly; no doubt they were wondering why someone didn't come along to feed them.
Approaching the rearmost animal, Tarzan gave it a pinch, whereupon the startled donkey let out a vicious kick. Angered at this hostile reception, the chimpanzee seized the donkey's ears and almost lifted the poor beast out of its harness. I began to fear the vicious brute might run amuck among the team and cause still further mischief. How I longed for a rifle!
Just at that moment there came to my nostrils, strong and unmistakable, the odour of bananas; it seemed to be all around me. Where on earth could it be coming from? Puzzled, I proceeded to investigate, discovering that the aroma came from my own shorts; I remembered then that I had thrust a banana into my pocket earlier in the day. Apparently, during one of my last leaps for safety, I had crushed the fruit against the lion-cages -- hence the smell. As I pulled the mutilated object out of my shorts and contemplated it, Tarzan turned round, looked at me, sniffed the air questioningly, and then bounded towards me with a deep grunt of anticipation and delight. He had smelt that banana! Next instant, the lions forgotten, the ape leaped on to the wagon, but as he did so I threw the pulpy mass some distance away. Unhesitatingly the chimpanzee jumped after it, retrieved it, and sat there munching it with every appearance of keen enjoyment. It was obvious that if there was anything he liked better than a banana it was more bananas.
The sight of the great brute sitting there mouthing the fruit gave me an idea. In a box on the wagon was a whole bunch of bananas! Opening the lid, I hurriedly plucked off another banana and flung it as far away as I could; Tarzan was after it like a shot from a gun. Tucking the rest of the bunch under my arm, I jumped off the wagon and took to my heels up the road at my best speed. The chimpanzee promptly retrieved the banana, thrust it into his mouth, and then came after me. When he drew near I dropped another banana, which the monkey stopped to eat while I dashed onwards.
Just round the bend in the road, a hundred yards away, I passed the second wagon, quite deserted, and presently reached the third. One glance at it revealed what had happened. Both left-hand wheels were smashed and the vehicle was now tilted on its side. The cage from which Tarzan had escaped had toppled off, rolled down the incline, and lay with its door wide open.
By this time, having wolfed the second banana, the chimpanzee was almost on my heels. I flung a couple more in his path and dashed to the cage. With an effort which I believe would have been quite beyond me in normal circumstances, I jerked the fallen cage upright and tossed the bunch of bananas into the far corner. Then I dodged aside -- just in time! Next instant the excited Tarzan leaped past me into the cage, hitting my unprotected head heavily as he did so. Chuckling with joy, he dived at the bananas, and simultaneously I seized the door, slammed it shut, and shot the bolt home. I leaned against the cage wiping my forehead, realizing that I was feeling very tired and weak.
Ten seconds later the two Americans came pelting round the corner, their rifles in their hands.
"Hey! Don't monkey round that cage!" roared the leader. "If that chimp gets out he'll tear you into little pieces.!"
I gazed at the speaker in a sort of daze; I couldn't find words to answer him. Fumbling in my pocket, I came upon another banana and , sitting down on a boulder, started to eat it.
Raised the whip and gave me a vicious cut.
He clapped the helmet on his head.
The chimpanzee seized the donkey's ears.
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