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Volume 3973

Part Twelve
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
(Dedicated to George McWhorter)

(Chapter Three concluded)

F. Tom Billings (continued):
We left our gallant first person narrator, Tom Billings, being led by his Band-lu captors way back deep inside a cave where they intend to keep him until they can conveniently kill him the next day. His frame of mind is not that optimistic under the circumstances, and perhaps he feels some need to justify his writing a memoir when absolutely no one is ever likely to read it:
“Should any of my friends chance to read the story of my adventures upon Caprona, I hope they will not be bored by these diversions, and if they are, I can only say that I am writing my memoirs for my own edification and therefore setting down those things which interested me particularly at the time. I have no desire that the general public should ever have access to these pages; but it is possible that my friends may, and also certain savants who are interested; and to them, while I do not apologize for my philosophizing, I humbly explain that they are witnessing the gropings of a finite mind after the infinite, the search for explanations of the inexplicable.” (PTF/3.)
A reader can get so into the flow of a first person narration that the subtle differences in the first person narrators of the Caspakian Trilogy can pass without notice. In the above reflection, the genius of ERB can be detected, since Billings acts differently to the situation than Bowen Tyler did. ERB totally imagined himself as each narrator, depicting himself a little different in each one. Personally, I think his experiment in first person narration worked out quite well. But poor Tom! How is he going to get himself out of this one?
“In a far recess of the cavern my captors bade me halt. Again my hands were secured, and this time my feet as well. During the operation they questioned me, and I was mighty glad that the marked similarity between the various tribal
tongues of Caspak enabled us to understand each other perfectly, even though they were unable to believe or even to comprehend the truth of my origin and the circumstances of my advent in Caspak; and finally they left me saying that they
would come for me before the dance of death upon the morrow. Before they departed with their torches, I saw that I had not been conducted to the farthest extremity of the cavern, for a dark and gloomy corridor led beyond my prison room into the heart of the cliff.
“I could not but marvel at the immensity of this great underground grotto. Already I had traversed several hundred hards of it, from many points of which other corridors diverged. The whole cliff must be honeycombed with apartments and passages of which this community occupied but a comparatively small part, so that the possibility of the more remote passages being the lair of savage beasts that had other means of ingress and egress than that used by the Band-lu filled me with dire forebodings.
“I believe that I am not ordinarily hysterically apprehensive; yet I must confess that under the conditions with which I was confronted, I felt my nerves to be somewhat shaken. On the morrow I was to die some sort of nameless death for the diversion of a savage horde, but the morrow held fewer terrors for me than the present, and I submit to any fair-minded man if it is not a terrifying thing to lie bound hand and foot in the Stygian blackness of an immense cave peopled by unknown dangers in a land overrun by hideous beasts and reptiles of the greatest ferocity. At any moment, perhaps at this very moment, some silent-footed beast of prey might catch my scent where it laired in some continuous passage, and might creep stealthily upon me. I craned my neck about, and stared through the inky darkness for the twin spots of blazing hate which I knew would herald the coming of my executioner. So real were the imaginings of my overwrought brain that I broke into a cold sweat in absolute conviction that some beast was close before me; yet the hours dragged, and no sound broke the grave-like stillness of the cavern.” (PTF/3.)
Ah, yes, the pure terror of pitch black darkness and the strong possibility of being attacked in the dark by a wild animal. Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft were masters of this kind of horror, but ERB was a main contributor. He loved to put his heroes into impossible situations, and being totally blind in the utter blackness was one of them, especially when one is cursed with a vivid imagination. I recall a story in the British super-spy William Stevenson’s book he wrote documenting his role in the secret war he fought in WWII titled A Man Called Intrepid, where he was entertaining Ian Fleming, the Number Two man in British Naval Intelligence during WWII, at a secret location in Canada. He took Fleming on an underwater navy commando scuba maneuver where he got Fleming to plant a limpet mine on the hull of a ship. Fleming later described his experience in the guise of his famous spy character, James Bond, in one of the early novels. But to get to the point, after the mission Stevenson critiqued Fleming, telling him that he could never be a really good commando because he had too much imagination. Thinking about all of the things that could go wrong, especially all of the ways one can be killed, during the mission only hinders one’s performance.

That always amused me. By the way, Fleming and Stevenson were major ghost writers of America’s CIA charter after the war. They were two of the most experienced Brits in the intelligence game at the time. In fact, Fleming ran a secret army of commandos during and after the Normandy invasion. His unit would be with the front line troops and their main mission was to capture enemy documents and forward them as quickly as possible back to London.

One more amusing story about Fleming. When interviewing a survival expert for background information, he asked the expert if one were going to eat a human being, what would be the best cut of meat. “Under the ribs,” the expert answered. Fortunately, such a situation never came up in a James Bond novel.

Well, to get back to our story, Billings has way too much imagination as he frets in the darkness:

“During that period of eternity many events of my life passed before my mental vision, a vast parade of friends and occurrences which would be blotted out forever on the morrow. I cursed myself for the foolish act which had taken me from the search-party that so depended upon me, and I wondered what progress, if any, they had made. Were they still beyond the barrier cliffs, awaiting my return? Or had they found a way into Caspak. I felt that the latter would be the truth, for the party was not made of men easily turned from a purpose. Quite probable it was that they were already searching for me; but that they would ever find a trace of me I doubted. Long since, had I come to the conclusion that it was beyond human prowess to circle the shores of the inland sea of Caspak in the face of the myriad menaces which lurked in every shadow by day and by night. Long since, had I given up any hope of reaching the point where I had made my entry into the country, and so I was now equally convinced that our entire expedition had been worse than futile before ever it was conceived, since Bowen J. Tyler and his wife could not by any possibility have survived during all these long months; no more could Bradley and his party of seamen be yet in existence. If the superior force and equipment of my party enabled them to circle the north end of the sea, they might some day come upon the broken wreck of my plane hanging in the great tree to the south; but long before that, my bones would be added to the litter upon the floor of this mighty cavern.” (PTF/3.)
I like the fact that Billings has accepted the “marriage” of Bowen and Lys. If it is good enough in God’s eyes, it’s good enough for Tom Billings. Might he be thinking the same thing about Ajor, the beautiful womb-born savage woman? Let’s see.
“And through all my thoughts, real and fanciful, moved the image of a perfect girl, clear-eyed and strong and straight and beautiful, with the carriage of a queen and the supple, undulating grace of a leopard. Though I loved my friends, their fate seemed of less importance to me than the fate of this little barbarian stranger for whom, I had convinced myself many a time, I felt no greater sentiment than passing friendship for a fellow-wayfarer in this land of horrors. Yet I so worried and fretted about her and her future that at last I quite forgot my own predicament, though I still struggled intermittently with my bonds in vain endeavor to free myself; as much, however, that I might hasten to her protection as that I might escape the fate which had been planned for me. And while I was thus engaged and had for the moment forgotten my apprehensions concerning prowling beasts, I was startled into tense silence by a distinct and unmistakable sound coming from the dark corridor farther toward the heart of the cliff – the sound of padded feet moving stealthily in my direction.
“I believe that never before in all my life, even amidst the terrors of childhood nights, have I suffered such a sensation of extreme horror as I did that moment in which I realized that I must lie bound and helpless while some horrid beast of prey crept upon me to devour me in that utter darkness of the Band-lu pits of Caspak. I reeked with cold sweat, and my flesh crawled – I could feel it crawl. If ever I came nearer to abject cowardice, I do not recall the instance; and yet it was not that I was afraid to die, for I had long since given myself up as lost – a few days of Caspak must impress anyone with the utter nothingness of life. The waters, the land, the air teem with it, and always it is being devoured by some other form of life. Life is the cheapest think in Caspak, as it is the cheapest thing on earth and, doubtless, the cheapest cosmic production. No, I was not afraid to die; in fact, I prayed for death, that I might be relieved of the frightfulness of the interval of life which remained to me – the waiting, the awful waiting, for that fearsome beast to reach me and to strike.” (PTF/3.)
If you detected a bit of that old Bowen-Lys gloom and doom philosophy, you are absolutely correct. That ERB didn’t really believe in a “random chance- no meaning” universe is borne out in that he, as “The Author-Creator God,” always rescues his heroes, seemingly proving that there is hope and love in the universe in spite of all the gruesome evidence to the contrary. 
“Presently it was so close that I could hear its breathing, and then it touched me and leaped quickly back as though it had come upon me unexpectedly. For long moments no sound broke the sepulchral silence of the cave. Then I heard movement on the part of the creature near me, and again it touched me, and I felt something like a hairless hand pass over my face and down until it touched the collar of my flannel shirt. And then, subdued, but filled with pent emotion, a voice cried: ‘Tom!’
“I think I nearly fainted, so great was the reaction. ‘Ajor!’ I managed to say. ‘Ajor, my girl, can it be you?’
“‘Oh, Tom!’ she cried again in a trembly little voice and flung herself upon me, sobbing softly. I had not known that Ajor could cry.
“As she cut away my bonds, she told me that from the entrance to our cave she had seen the Band-lu coming out of the forest with me, and she had followed until they took me into the cave, which she had seen was upon the opposite side of the cliff in which ours was located; and then, knowing that she could do nothing for me until after the Band-lu slept, she had hastened to return to our cave. With difficulty she had reached it, after having been stalked by a cave-lion and almost seized. I trembled at the risk she had run.
“It had been her intention to wait until after midnight, when most of the carnivora would have made their kills, and then attempt to reach the cave in which I was imprisoned and rescue me. She explained that with my rifle and pistol – both of which she assured me she could use, having watched me so many times – she planned upon frightening the Band-lu and forcing them to give me up. Brave little girl! She would have risked her life willingly to save me. But some time after she reached our cave she heard voices from the far recesses within, and immediately concluded that we had but found another entrance to the caves which the Band-lu occupied upon the other face of the cliff. Then she had set out through those winding passages and in total darkness had groped her way, guided only by a marvelous sense of direction, to where I lay. She had had to proceed with utmost caution lest she fall into some abyss in the darkness, and in truth she had thrice come upon sheer drops and had been forced to take the most frightful risks to pass them. I shudder even now as I contemplate what this girl passed through for my sake and how she enhanced her peril in loading herself down with the weight of my arms and ammunition and the awkwardness of the long rifle which she was unaccustomed to bearing.” (PTF/3.)
What a difference between Lys and Ajor. Lys began as an almost helpless female, at least that’s how Bowen perceived her. She was actually quite perceptive and brave but never really came into her own until she was abandoned by Bowen with the savages, where she learned to adapt very quickly. Ajor, however, had been adapting since the moment she was born to a Galu mother – an extreme rare occasion in Caspak – and proved to be actually more resourceful in a sticky situation than Tom Billings It’s also amusing how ERB builds up the realization in Tom that he is in love with Ajor, a cultural impossibility to him in his Victorian-era warped mind. ERB portrays his denial in such a way that even young people reading this book would know what he fool he is being.
“I could have knelt and kissed her hand in reverence and gratitude; nor am I ashamed to say that that is precisely what I did after I had been freed from my bonds and heard the story of her trials. Brave little Ajor! Wonder-girl out of the dim, unthinkable past! Never before had she been kissed; but she seemed to sense something of the meaning of the new caress, for she leaned forward in the dark and pressed her own lips to my forehead. A sudden urge surged through me to seize her and strain her to my bosom and cover her hot young lips with the kisses of a real love, but I did not do so, for I knew that I did not love her; and to have kissed her thus, with passion, would have been to inflict a great wrong upon her who had offered her life for mine.” (PTF/3.)
In the sexual morality of the time, Billings is spouting what was the public position of any noble male gentleman. Of course, as we well know, in private it was a very different story. 

Thus, it may have been a gallant attitude, but who knows if it wasn’t totally lost on Ajor, who was used to the Caspakian way of almost everyone else who had “come up from the beginning,” mating with who-knows how many multiple male partners along the way. Thus, since the rules for mating were very simple and tribal, and since there is no normal child birth or upbringing among the tribes lesser than the Galu to muck up the issue, sexual intercourse would have been purely for pleasure and dominance. Quite clearly, the Ten Commandments simply do not exist on Caprona, and in my opinion, that is why most of our characters choose to stay at the end.

In my opinion, this is just more chum tossed to the sharks of censorship, and we can just as likely and legitimately imagine Billings doing exactly what he says he didn’t. Remember, real people lie about sex all of the time, a fact that ERB knew all to well. Back to the drama.

“No, Ajor would be safe with me as with her own mother, if she had one, which I was inclined to doubt, even though she told me she had once been a babe and hidden by her mother. I had come to doubt if there was such a thing as a mother in Caspak, a mother such as we know. From the Bo-lu to the Kro-lu there is no word which corresponds with our word mother. They speak of ata and corsva-jo, meaning reproduction and from the beginning, and point toward the south; but no one has a mother.” (PTF/3.)
To Ajor’s consternation, they become lost in a labryinth of caves, and even Ajor’s uncanny sense of direction can’t lead them out. Whenever Tom strikes a match, they discover there are no wall paintings or animal spoor. They are lost in an unexplored area of the caves, causing many new horrors in the darkness.
“It would be difficult to guess at the time we spent wandering through those black corridors, climbing steep ascents, feeling our way along the edges of bottomless pits, never knowing at what moment we might be plunged into some abyss and always haunted by the ever-present terror of death by starvation and thirst. As difficult as it was, I still realized that it might have been infinitely worse had I had another companion than Ajor – courageous, uncomplaining, loyal little Ajor! She was tired and hungry and thirsty, and she must have been discouraged; but she never faltered in her cheerfulness. I asked her if she was afraid, and she replied that here the Wieroo could not get her, and that if she died of hunger, she would at least die with me, and she was quite content that such should be her end. At the time I attributed her attitude to something akin to a dog-like devotion to a new master who had been kind to her. I can take oath to the fact that I did not think it was anything more.” (PTF/3.)
Yes, and “de Nile” is the longest river in the world. Billings is starting to crack me up as much as that poor bonehead Bowen Tyler. Anyway, one thing that helps me imagine the absolute feeling of claustrophobia and terror that cave explorers can experience is poignantly portrayed in Neil Marshall’s creepfest, The Descent, and its sequel. The caves on Tom’s Sawyer’s Island in Disneyland were always a lot of fun to explore when I was a kid, but the caverns in The Descent, as well as the flesh-eating mutants, combined to create one of the most terrifying films I’ve ever seen. I was totally creeped-out at the ending, which was different for different countries.

Neil Marshall also directed the recent episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones that depicted the battle of King’s Landing, one of the best hours of television I’ve ever seen since I began watching the boob tube in 1952. The green fire explosion was one of the greatest special effects I’ve ever seen. G.R.R. Martin also wrote the script, which was just perfect and even included lusty songs and haunting ballads. I sure hope he can be as succinct in the next sequel to The Song of Ice and Fire series.

“Whether we had been imprisoned in the cliff for a day or a week I could not say; nor even now do I know. We became very tired and hungry; the hours dragged; we slept at least twice, and then we rose and stumbled on, always weaker and weaker. There were ages during which the trend of the corridors was always upward. It was heartbreaking work for people in the state of exhaustion in which we then were, but we clung tenaciously to it. We stumbled and fell; we sank through pure physical inability to retain our feet; but always we managed to rise at last and go on. At first, whenever it had been possible, we had walked hand in hand lest we beome separated, and later, when I saw that Ajor was weakening rapidly, we went side by side, I supporting her with an arm about her waist. I still retained the heavy burden of my armament; but with the rifle slung to my back, my hands were free. When I too showed indisputable evidences of exhaustion, Ajor suggested that I lay aside my arms and ammunition; but I told her that as it would mean certain death for me to traverse Caspak without them, I might as well take the chance of dying here in the cave with them, for there was the other chance that we might find our way to liberty.
“There came a time when Ajor could no longer walk, and then it was that I picked her up in my arms and carried her. She begged me to leave her, but she knew, and she knew that I knew, that if ever I did leave her, I could never find her again. Yet she insisted. I barely had sufficient strength to take a score of steps at a time; then I would have to sink down and rest for five to ten minutes. I don’t know what force urged me on and kept me going in the face of an absolute conviction that my efforts were totally futile. I counted us already as good as dead; but still I dragged myself along until the time came that I could no longer rise, but could only crawl along a few inches at at time, dragging Ajor beside me. Her sweet voice, now almost inaudible from weakness, implored me to abandon her and save myself – she seemed to think only of me. Of course I couldn’t have left her there alone, no matter how much I might have desired to do so; but the fact of the matter was that I didn’t desire to leave her. What I said to her then came very simply and naturally to my lips. It couldn’t very well have been otherwise, I imagine, for with death so close, I doubt if people are much inclined to heroics. ‘I would rather not get out of this at all, Ajor,’ I said to her, ‘than to get out without you.’ We were resting against a rocky wall, and Ajor was leaning against me, her head on my breast. I could feel her press closer to me, and one hand stroked my arm in a weak caress; but she didn’t say anything, nor were words necessary.” (PTF/3,)
As you must know by now, I have a very dirty mind. Yet I can find absolutely nothing sexual about this scene. It’s just very touching, that’s all.
“After a few minutes’ more rest, we started on again upon our utterly hopeless way; but I soon realized that I was weakening rapidly, and presently I was forced to admit that I was through. ‘It’s no use, Ajor,’ I said, ‘I’ve come as far as I can. It may be that if I sleep, I can go on again after,’ but I knew that that was not true, and that the end was near. ‘Yes, sleep,’ said Ajor. ‘We will sleep together – forever.’
“She crept close to me as I lay on the hard floor and pillowed her head upon my arm. With the little strength which remained to me, I drew her up until our lips touched, and then I whispered: ‘Good-bye!’ I must have lost consciousness almost immediately, for I recall nothing more until I suddenly awoke out of a troubled sleep, during which I dreamed that I was drowning, to find the cave lighted by what appeared to be diffused daylight, and a tiny trickle of water running down the corridor and forming a puddle in the little depression in which it chanced that Ajor and I lay. I turned my eyes quickly upon Ajor, fearful for what the light might disclose; but she still breathed, though very faintly. Then I searched about for an explanation of the light, and soon discovered that it came from about a bend in the corridor just ahead of us and at the top of a steep incline; and instantly I realized that Ajor and I had stumbled by night almost to the portal of salvation. Had chance taken us a few yards further, up either of the corridors which diverged from ours just ahead of us, we might have been irrevocably lost; we might still be lost; but at least we could die in the light of day, out of the horrid blackness of this terrible cave.
“I tried to rise, and found that sleep had given me back a portion of my strength; and then I tasted the water and was further refreshed. I shook Ajor gently by the shoulder; but she did not open her eyes, and then I gathered a few drops of water in my cupped palm and let them trickled between her lips. This revived her so that she raised her lids, and when she saw me, she smiled.
“‘What happened?’ she asked. ‘Where are we?’
“‘We are at the end of the corridor,’ I replied, ‘and daylight is coming in from the outside world just ahead. We are saved, Ajor!’
“She sat up and looked about, and then, quite womanlike, she burst into tears. It was the reaction, of course; and then too, she was very weak. I took her in my arms and quieted her as best I could, and finally, with my help, she got to her feet; for she, as well as I, had found some light recuperation in sleep. Together we staggered upward toward the light, and at the first turn we saw an opening a few yards ahead of us and a leaden sky beyond – a leaden sky from which was falling a drizzling rain, the author of our little, trickling stream which had given us drink when we were most in need of it.
“The cave had been damp and cold; but as we crawled through the aperture, the muggy warmth of the Caspakian air caressed and confronted us; even the rain was warmer than the atmosphere of those dark corridors. We had water now, and warmth, and I was sure that Caspak would soon offer us meat or fruit; but as we came to where we could look about, we saw that we were upon the summit of the cliffs, where there seemed little reason to expect game. However, there were trees, and among them we soon descried edible fruits with which we broke our long fast.” (PTF/3.)
Thus concludes Chapter 3. I really liked how ERB helps the reader feel the difference in climate as soon as they leave the caves. We can all relate to muggy humidity. It’s supposed to be 110 degrees in Fresno today, this 11th day of August, 2012. That would be unbearable if it weren’t for the fact of the low humidity in this desert climate. But I recall a hot summer day in Vancouver where it was over 90 degrees with 95 percent humidity and I almost literally swam
home from downtown with the rest of the pedestrians on the street. By the time I got home I was soaking wet just from sweating. The only remedy: ice cold beer.

We will pick up our narrative in Part Thirteen as we examine Chapter 4.

(Continued in Part Thirteen)
(For any comments, contact

Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
(Dedicated to George McWhorter)
ERBzine Refs
The Land that Time Forgot - eText edition

CASPAK IN REVIEW by Steve Servello
Caspak Dictionary by Banks Miller
Wieroo of Caprona by Den Valdron
The Mystery of Caprona by Den Valdron
Caspak Maps
Caspakian Demography
Caspakian Fauna
Caspak Art by Mahlon Blaine
Sociology of the Wieroo by Rick Johnson
Popular Science and the Land That Time Forgot by Phil Burger
LOOSE STRING ~ COS-ATA-LO by Sailor Barsoom
The Land That Time Forgot - Film Version
The Land That Time Forgot - ERB C.H.A.S.E.R.

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