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TARZAN AT THE EARTH’S CORE
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
As I mentioned before, I am using the April 1988 12th U.S. printing of the March 1964 first edition of the Ballantine paperback as my text. Chapter 15 begins on page 162 and the last page of the novel is 191, so you can see that there is less than thirty pages left. There are a lot of loose ends ERB needs to address, and you will find in this chapter that he begins to pick up the pace in the slow weave that leads to the conclusion. Hold on.
XV: PRISONERSStanding upon the edge of the great Gyor plains surrounded by armed creatures, who had but just demonstrated their ability to destroy one of the most powerful and ferocious creatures that evolution has ever succeeded in producing, Tarzan of the Apes was yet loathe to lay down his weapons as he had been instructed and surrender, without resistance, to an unknown fate.Oh, you are thinking, come on, now, that is too much of a coincidence, isn’t it? No, not by far as far as ERB is concerned. He was much criticized for the amount of coincidences in his plots, some more unbelievable than others. But how many times have you seen or heard about something in real life that afterwards you said, wow, that was so incredible that no writer would write about it because no one would be able to suspend their belief?
“What do you intend to do with us?” he demanded of the Horib, who had ordered him to lay down his weapons.
“We shall take you to our village where you will be well fed,” replied the creature. “You cannot escape us; no one escapes the Horibs.”
The ape-man hesitated. The Red Flower of Zoram moved close to his side. “Let us go with them,” she whispered. “We cannot escape them now; there are too many of them. Possibly if we go with them we shall find an opportunity later.”
Tarzan nodded and then he turned to the Horib. “We are ready,” he said.
Mounted upon the necks of Gorobors, each in front of a Horib warrior, they were carried across a corner of the Gyor Cors to the same gloomy forest through which Jason and Thoar had been taken, though they entered it from a different direction.
Rising at the east end of the Mountains of the Thipdars, a river flows in a southeasterly direction entering upon its course the gloomy forest of the Horibs, through which it runs down to the Rela Am, or River of Darkness. It was near the confluence of these two rivers that the Korsars had been attacked by the Horibs and it was along the upper reaches of the same river that Tarzan and Jana were being conducted down stream toward the village of the lizard-men.
The lake of the Horibs lies at a considerable distance from the eastern end of the Mountains of the Thipdars, perhaps five hundred miles, and where there is no time and distances are measured by food and sleep it makes little difference whether places are separated five miles or five hundred. One man might travel a thousand miles without mishap, while another, in attempting to get one mile, might be killed, in which even the one mile would be much further than the thousand miles, for, in fact, it would have proved an interminable distance to him who had essayed it in this instance.
As Tarzan and Jana rode through the dismal forest, hundreds of miles away, Jason Gridley drew himself to a sitting position in such utter darkness that he could almost feel it. “God!” he exclaimed.
“Who spoke?” asked a voice out of the darkness, and Jason recognized the voice as Thoar’s.
“It is I, Jason,” replied Gridley.
“Where are we?” demanded another voice. It was Lajo.
“It is dark. I wish they had killed us,” said a fourth voice.
“Don’t worry,” said a fifth, “we shall be killed soon enough.”
“We are all here,” said Jason. “I thought we were all done for when I saw them drag you into the water one by one.”
“Where are we?” demanded one of the Korsars. “What sort of hole is this into which they have put us?”
“In the world from which I come,” said Jason, “there are huge reptiles, called crocodiles, who build such nests or retreats in the banks of rivers, just above the water line, but the only entrance leads down below the waters of the river. It is such a hole as that into which we have been dragged.”
“Why can’t we swim out again?” asked Thoar.
“Perhaps we could,” replied Jason, “but they would see us and bring us back again.”
“Are we going to lie here in the mud and wait to be slaughtered?” demanded Lajo.
“No,” said Jason; “but let us work out a reasonable plan of escape. It will gain us nothing to act rashly.”
For some time the men sat in silence, which was finally broken by the American. “Do you think we are alone here?” he asked in a low tone. “I have listened carefully, but I have heard no sound other than our own breathing.”
“Nor I,” said Thoar.
“Come closer then,” said Jason, and the five men groped through the darkness and arranged themselves in a circle, where they squatted, leaning forward till their hands touched. “I have a plan,” continued Jason. “When they were bringing us here I noticed that the forest grew close to the lake at this point. If we can make a tunnel into the forest, we may be able to escape.”
“Which way is the forest?” asked Lajo.
“That is something that we can only guess at,” replied Jason. “We may guess wrong, but we must take the chance. But I think that the direction of the forest is directly opposite the entrance through which we were carried into this hole.”
“Let us start digging at once,” exclaimed one of the Korsars.
“Wait until I locate the entrance,” said Thoar.
He crawled away upon his hands and knees, groping through the darkness and the mud. Presently he announced that he had found the opening, and from the direction of his voice the others knew where to start digging.
All were filled with enthusiasm, for success seemed almost within the range of possibility, but now they were confronted with the problem of the disposal of the dirt which they excavated from their tunnel. Jason instructed Lajo to remain at the point where they intended excavating and then had the others crawl in different directions in an effort to estimate the size of the chamber in which they were confined. Each man was to crawl in a straight line in the direction assigned him and count the number of times that his knees touched the ground before he came to the end of the cavern.
By this means they discovered that the cave was long and narrow and, if they were correct in the directions they had assumed, it ran parallel to the lake shore. For twenty feet it extended in one direction and for over fifty in the other.
It was finally decided that they should distribute the earth equally over the floor of the chamber for a while and then carry it to the further end piling it against the further wall uniformly so as not to attract unnecessary attention in the event that any of the Horibs visited them.
Digging with their fingers was slow and laborious work, but they kept steadily at it, taking turns about. The man at work would push the dirt behind him and the others would gather it up and distribute it, so that at no time was there a fresh pile of earth upon the ground to attract attention should a Horib come. Horibs did come; they brought food, but the men could hear the splash of their bodies in the water as they dove into the lake to reach the tunnel leading to the cave and being thus warned they grouped themselves in front of the entrance to their tunnel effectually hiding it from view. The Horibs who came into the chamber at no time gave any suggestion of suspicion that all was not right. While it was apparent that they could see in the dark it was also quite evident that they could not discern things clearly and thus the greatest fear that their plot might be discovered was at least partially removed.
After considerable effort they had succeeded in excavating a tunnel some three feet in diameter and about ten feet long when Jason, who was excavating at the time, unearthed a large shell, which greatly facilitated the process of excavation. From then on their advance was more rapid, yet it seemed to them all that it was an endless job; nor was there any telling at what moment the Horibs would come to take them for the feast.
It was Jason’s wish to get well within the forest before turning their course upward toward the surface, but to be certain of this he knew that they must first encounter roots of trees and pass beyond them, which might necessitate a detour and delay; yet to come up prematurely would be to nullify all that they had accomplished so far and to put a definite end to all hope of escape.
And while the five men dug beneath the ground in the dark hole that was stretching slowly out beneath the dismal forest of the Horibs a great ship rode majestically high in the air above the northern slopes of the Mountains of the Thipdars.
“They never passed this way,” said Zuppner. “Nothing short of a mountain goat could cross this range.”
“I quite agree with you, sir,” said Hines. “We might as well search in some other direction now.”
“God!” exclaimed Zuppner, “if I only knew in what direction to search.”
Hines shook his head. “One direction is as good as another, sir,” he said.
“I suppose so,” said Zuppner, and, obeying his light touch upon the helm, the nose of the great dirigible swung to port. Following an easterly course she paralleled the Mountains of the Thipdars and sailed out over the Gyor Cors. A slight turn of the wheel would have carried her to the south-east, across the dismal forest through whose gloomy corridors Tarzan and Jana were being borne to a horrible fate. But Captain Zuppner did not know and so the 0-220 continued on toward the east, while the Lord of the Jungle and The Red Flower of Zoram rode silently toward their doom.
From almost the moment that they had entered the forest Tarzan had known that he might escape. It would have been the work of but an instant to have leaped from the back of the Gorobor upon which he was riding to one of the lower branches of the forest, some of which barely grazed their heads as they passed beneath, and once in the trees he knew that no Horib or any Gorobor could catch him, but he could not desert Jana; nor could he acquaint her with his plans for they were never sufficiently close together for him to whisper to her unheard by the Horibs. But even had he been able to lay the whole thing before her, he doubted her ability to reach the safety the trees before the Horibs recaptured her.
If he could but get near enough to take hold of her, he was confident that he could effect a safe escape for both of them and so he rode on in silence, hoping against hope that the opportunity he so desired would eventually develop.
They had reached the upper end of the lake and were skirting its western shore and, from remarks dropped by the Horibs in their conversations, which were far from numerous, the ape-man guessed that they were almost at their destination, and still escape seemed as remote as ever.
Chafing with impatience Tarzan was at the point of making a sudden break for liberty, trusting that the unexpectedness of his act would confuse the lizard-men for just the few seconds that would be necessary for him to throw Jana to his shoulder and swing to the lower terrace that beckoned invitingly from above.
The nerves and muscles of Tarzan of the Apes are trained to absolute obedience to his will; they are never surprised into any revelation of emotion, nor are they often permitted to reveal what is passing in the mind of the ape-man when he is in the presence of strangers or enemies, but now, for once, they were almost shocked into revealing the astonishment that filled him as a vagrant breeze carried to his nostrils a scent spoor that he had never thought to know again.
The Horibs were moving almost directly up wind so that Tarzan knew that the authors of the familiar odors that he had sensed were somehow ahead of them. He thought quickly now, but not without weighing carefully the plan that had leaped to his mind the instant that that familiar scent spoor had impinged upon his nostrils. His major consideration was for the safety of the girl, but in order to rescue her he must protect himself. He felt that it would be impossible for them both to escape simultaneously, but there was another way now – a way that seemed to offer excellent possibilities for success. Behind him, upon the Gorobor, and so close that their bodies touched, sat a huge Horib. In one hand he carried a lance, but the other hand was free. Tarzan must move so quickly that the fellow could not touch him with his free hand before he was out of reach. To do this would require agility of an almost superhuman nature, but there are few creatures who can compare in this respect to the ape-man. Low above them swung the branches of the dismal forest; Tarzan waited, watching for the opportunity he sought. Presently he saw it – a sturdy branch with ample head room above it – a doorway in the ceiling of somber foliage. He leaned forward, his hands resting lightly upon the neck of the Gorobor. They were almost beneath the branch he had selected when he sprang upward into the tree. So quickly had he accomplished the feat that he was gone before the Horib that had been guarding him realized it. When he did it was too late – the prisoner had gone. With others, who had seen the escape, he raised a cry of warning to those ahead, but neither by sight nor sound could they locate the fugitive, for Tarzan travelled through the upper terrace and all the foliage beneath hid him from the eyes of his enemies.
Jana, who had been riding a little in the rear of Tarzan, saw his escape and her heart sank for in the presence of the Horibs The Red Flower of Zoram had come as near to experiencing fear as she ever had in her life. She had derived a certain sense of comfort from the presence of Tarzan and now that he was gone she felt very much alone. She did not blame him for escaping when he had the opportunity, but she was sure in her own heart that Jason would not thus have deserted her.
Following the scent spoor that was his only guide, Tarzan of the Apes moved rapidly through the trees. At first he climbed high to the upper terraces and here he found a new world – a world of sunlight and luxuriant foliage, peopled by strange birds of gorgeous plumage which darted swiftly hither and thither. There were flying reptiles, too, and great gaudy moths. Snakes coiled upon many a branch and because they were of varieties unknown to him, he did not know whether they constituted a real menace or not. It was at once a beautiful and repulsive world, but the feature of it which attracted him most was its silence, for its denizens seemed to be voiceless. The presence of the snakes and the dense foliage rendered it an unsatisfactory world for one who wished to travel swiftly and so the ape-man dropped to a lower level, and here he found the forest more open and the scent spoor clearer in his nostrils.
Not once had he doubted the origin of that scent, although it seemed preposterously unbelievable that he should discover it here in this gloomy wood in vast Pellucidar.
He was moving very rapidly for he wished, if possible, to reach his destination ahead of the Horibs. He hoped that his escape might delay the lizard-men and this was, in fact, the case, for they had halted immediately while a number of them had climbed into the trees searching for Tarzan. There was little in their almost expressionless faces to denote their anger, but the sickly bluish cast which overspread their scales denoted their mounting rage at the ease with which this gilak prisoner had escaped them, and when, finally, thwarted in their search, they resumed their interrupted march, they were in a particularly ugly mood.
Far ahead of them now Tarzan of the Apes dropped to the lower terraces. Strong in his nostrils was the scent spoor he had been following, telling him in a language more dependable than words that he had but little farther to go to find those he sought, and a moment later he dropped down into one of the gloomy aisles of the forest, dropping as from heaven into the astonished view of ten stalwart warriors.
Perhaps the most famous of his coincidences was a Barsoomian adventure where the hero and his girl are surrounded by a force of zombie-like creatures, and taking a last stand on the top of a hill, they are rescued at the last minute by an invisible spaceship that they had forgotten all about that just happened to be hovering overhead on automatic pilot. That one is almost matched by the one that is coming. All I can say at this point is, “Just wait!”For an instant they stood looking at him in wide-eyed amazement and then they ran forward and threw themselves upon their knees about him, kissing his hands as they shed tears of happiness. “Oh, Bwana, Bwana,” they cried: “It is indeed you! Mulungu has been good to his children; he has given their Big Bwana back to them alive.”This answers a question that I had when, in the third chapter, when they were attacked by hundreds of saber-tooth tigers, the Waziri, after firing a last volley, “threw away their rifles as useless encumbrances to flight.” I wondered if they ever recovered the rifles and with the knowledge that they possessed them when Tarzan finally came upon them answers that question in the positive. I am sure that was a burning question in every reader’s mind.
"Now I have work for you, my children,” said Tarzan; “the snake people are coming and with them is a girl whom they have captured. I thank God that you are armed with rifles and I hope that you carry plenty of ammunition.”“We have saved it, Bwana, using our spears and our arrows whenever we could.”Don’t you just love a good chase? I really enjoyed it when Tarzan leaped upon the Gorobor in order to rescue Jana, but did he?
“Good,” said Tarzan; “we shall need it now. How far are we from the ship?”
“I do not know,” said Muviro.
“You do not know?” repeated Tarzan.
“No, Bwana, we are lost. We have been lost for a long while,” replied the chief of the Waziri.
“What were you doing away from the ship alone?” demanded Tarzan.
“We were sent out with Gridley and Von Horst to search for you, Bwana.”
“Where are they?” asked Tarzan.
“A long time ago, I do not know how long, we became separated from Gridley and never saw him again. At that time it was savage beasts that separated us, but how Von Horst became separated from us we do not know. We had found a cave and had gone into it to sleep; when we awoke Von Horst was gone; we never saw him again.”
“They are coming!” warned Tarzan.
“I hear them, Bwana,” replied Muviro.
“Have you seen them – the snake people?” asked Tarzan.
“No, Bwana, we have seen no people for a long time; only beasts – terrible beasts.”
“You are going to see some terrible men now,” Tarzan warned them; “but do not be frightened by their appearance. Your bullets will bring them down.”
“When, Bwana, have you seen a Waziri frightened?” asked Muviro proudly.
The ape-man smiled. “One of you let me take his rifle,” he said, “and then spread out through the forest. I do not know exactly where they will pass, but the moment that any of you makes contact with them commence shooting and shoot to kill, remembering, however, that the girl rides in front of one of them. Be careful that you do not harm her.”
He had scarcely ceased speaking when the first of the Horibs rode into view. Tarzan and the Waziri made no effort to seek concealment and at sight of them the leading Horib gave voice to a shrill cry of pleasure. Then a rifle spoke and the leading Horib writhed convulsively and toppled sideways to the ground. The others in the lead, depending upon the swiftness of their mounts, darted quickly toward the Waziri and the tall, white giant who led them, but swifter than the Gorobors were the bullets of the outer world. As fast as Tarzan and the Waziri could fire the Horibs fell. Never before had they known defeat. They blazed blue with rage, which faded to a muddy gray when the bullets found their hearts and they rolled dead upon the ground.
So swiftly did the Gorobors move and so rapidly did Tarzan and the Waziri fire that the engagement was decided within a few minutes of its inception, and now the remaining Horibs, discovering that they could not hope to overcome and capture gilaks armed with these strange weapons that hit them more swiftly than they could hurl their lances, turned and scattered in an effort to pass around the enemy and continue on their way.
As yet Tarzan had not caught a glimpse of Jana, though he knew that she must be there somewhere in the rear of the remaining Horibs, and then he saw her as she flashed by in the distance, borne swiftly upon the back of a fleet Gorobor. What appeared to be the only chance to save her now was to shoot down the swift beast upon which she was being borne away. Tarzan swung his rifle to his shoulder and at the same instant a riderless Gorobor struck him in the back and sent him sprawling upon the ground. By the time he had regained his feet, Jana and her captor were out of sight, hidden by the boles of intervening trees.
Milling near the Waziri were a number of terrified, riderless Gorobors. It was from this number that the fellow had broken who had knocked Tarzan down. The beasts seemed to be lost without the guidance of their masters, but when they saw one of their number start in pursuit of the Horibs who had ridden away, the others followed and in their mad rush these savage beasts constituted as great a menace as the Horibs themselves.
Muviro and his warriors leaped nimbly behind the boles of large trees to escape them, but to the mind of the ape-man they carried a new hope, offering as they did the only means whereby he might overtake the Horib who was bearing away The Red Flower of Zoram, and then, to the horror and astonishment of the Waziri, Tarzan leaped to the back of one of the great lizards as it scuttled abreast of him. Locking his toes beneath its elbows, as he had seen the Horibs do, he was carried swiftly in the mad rush of the creature to overtake its fellows and its masters. No need to urge it on, if he had known what means to employ to do so, for probably still terrified and excited by the battle it darted with incredible swiftness among the boles of the gray trees, outstripping its fellows and leaving them behind.
Presently, just ahead of him, Tarzan saw the Horib who was bearing Jana away and he saw, too, that he would soon overtake him, but so swiftly was his own mount running that it seemed quite likely that he would be carried past Jana without being able to accomplish anything toward her rescue, and with this thought came the realization that he must stop the Horib’s mount.
There was just an instant in which to decide and act, but in that instant he raised his rifle and fired. Perhaps it was a wonderful bit of marksmanship, or perhaps it was just luck, but the bullet struck the Gorobor in the spine and a moment later its hind legs collapsed and it rolled over on its side, pitching Jana and the Horib heavily to the ground. Simultaneously Tarzan’s mount swept by and the ape-man, risking a bad fall, slipped from its back to go tumbling head over heels against the carcass of the Horib’s mount.
Leaping to his feet, he faced the lizard-man and as he did so the ground gave way beneath him and he dropped suddenly into a hole, almost to his armpits. As he was struggling to extricate himself something seized him by the ankles and dragged him downward – cold fingers that clung relentlessly to him dragging him into a dark, subterranean hole.
We will have to wait to find out.
TARZAN AT THE EARTH'S CORE IN ERBzine C.H.A.S.E.R.
Tarzan at the Earth's Core :: TEXT
INTRODUCTORY AND CONTENTS PAGE FOR
THE EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS SERIES OF ARTICLES
BY WOODROW EDGAR NICHOLS, JR.
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