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We’ve finished The Return of Tarzan, the first book in our examination of ERB’s Heart of Darkness. The second and conclusive book is The Beasts of Tarzan. If you began to suspect the dark evil suggested by Rokoff’s character and behavior in the first book, you will by the end of this next book be exposed to the worst of the worst in human nature. This is personally my favorite ERB novel; I feel that the pure genius of ERB as the King of Pulp Fiction reached its zenith in this story, only coming close to it in his subsequent writings.
ERB wrote this next installment in the Tarzan saga a little over a year since he wrote The Return of Tarzan, between January and February 1914. I imagine that he intended the story to pick up a little over a year after the last one ended. That would give Tarzan and Jane time to have a baby and purchase their great estate in Africa. I imagine London banks were only too eager to deposit two American tons of virgin gold in their vaults.
As the story progresses, we are filled in on certain facts necessary to figure out Tarzan’s status. Since Paulvitch was not listed as a passenger aboard the Lady Alice, we must imagine him being left behind in Cape Town, enabling him to arrange for Rokoff’s escape from military prison in France. If anyone was made for Devil’s Island, it is Rokoff, but, unfortunately, he was spared that fate, thus allowing him the opportunity for Paulvitch to somehow break him out. We are never told how Paulvitch managed this, other than the French police were stupid. So let us join Tarzan during his visit with D’Arnot in Paris.
II. THE BEASTS OF TARZANEvil people have what I call the Devil’s Luck. It is as if God has a grand plan for the evil ones, and he lets them get away with incredible feats that no one else could escape. And then, when God is done with them their luck runs out and horrible things generally happen to them. But there are exceptions, where some of the most evil people that ever lived have lived to ripe old ages and continued to do evil until their last breath. I let the Great Architect of the Universe worry about these kinds of things since I have little control over them.
“The entire affair is shrouded in mystery,” said D’Arnot. “I have it on the best of authority that neither the police nor the special agents of the general staff have the faintest conception of how it was accomplished. All they know, all that anyone knows, is that Nikolas Rokoff has escaped.”
What I have observed is not really any different than what the average person could have observed if they were paying attention. ERB was very aware of this observation and used it to its fullest limits with Rokoff. No one knows how he escaped, and he will keep that secret to the grave.John Clayton, Lord Greystoke – he who had been “Tarzan of the Apes” – sat in silence in the apartments of his friend, Lieutenant Paul D’Arnot, in Paris, gazing meditatively at the top of his immaculate boot.It thus appears as if Tarzan’s son, Jack, was born in Africa, since he and Jane bring Jack with them when they return to London for the rainy season in Uzuri. Having a baby really changes the lives of a newly-wed couple, the child becoming the focus of all of their hopes and dreams for the future. The famous kidnapping of Charles Lindberg’s baby in 1932 was still almost two decades away, but its horror made an international sensation out of it. The public was stunned by cruelty of it. We must imagine this kind of public sentiment in the story to come.
His mind revolved many memories, recalled by the escape of his arch-enemy from the French military prison to which he had been sentenced for life upon the testimony of the ape-man.
He thought of the lengths to which Rokoff had once gone to compass his death, and he realized that what the man had already done would as doubtless be as nothing by comparison with what he would wish and plot to do now that he was again free.
Tarzan had recently brought his wife and infant son to London to escape the discomforts and dangers of the rainy season upon their vast estate in Uziri – the land of the savage Waziri warriors whose broad African domains the ape-man had once ruled.He had run across the Channel for a brief visit with his old friend, but the news of the Russian’s escape had already cast a shadow upon his outing, so that though he had but just arrived he was already contemplating an immediate return to London.
“It is not that I fear for myself, Paul,” he said at last. “Many times in the past have I thwarted Rokoff’s designs upon my life; but now there are others to consider. Unless I misjudge the man, he would more quickly strike at me through my wife or son than directly at me, for he doubtless realizes that in no other way could he inflict greater anguish upon me. I must go back to them at once, and remain with them until Rokoff is recaptured – or dead.”
As these two talked in Paris, two other men were talking together in a little cottage upon the outskirts of London. Both were dark, sinister-looking men.
One was bearded, but the other, whose face wore the pallor of long confinement within doors, had but a few days’ growth of black beard upon his face. It was he who was speaking.
“You must needs shave off that beard of yours, Alexis,” he said to his companion. “With it he would recognize you on the instant. We must separate here in the hour, and when we meet again upon the deck of the Kincaid, let us hope that we shall have with us two honored guests who little anticipate the pleasant voyage we have planned for them.
“In two hours I should be upon my way to Dover with one of them, and by tomorrow night, if you follow my instructions carefully, you should arrive with the other, provided, of course, that he returns to London as quickly as I presume he will.
“There should be both profit and pleasure as well as other good things to reward our efforts, my dear Alexis. Thanks to the stupidity of the French, they have gone to such lengths to conceal the fact of my escape for these many days that I have had ample opportunity to work out every detail of our little adventure so carefully that there is little chance of the slightest hitch occurring to mar our prospects. And now goodbye, and good luck!”
Three hours later a messenger mounted the steps of the apartment of Lieutenant Paul D’Arnot.
“A telegram for Lord Greystoke,” he said to the servant who answered his summons. “Is he here?”
The man answered in the affirmative, and, signing for the message, carried it within to Tarzan, who was already preparing to depart for London.
Tarzan tore open the envelope, and as he read his face went white.
“Read it, Paul,” he said, handing the slip of paper to D’Arnot. “It has come already.”
The Frenchman took the telegraph and read:
“Jack stolen from garden through complicity of new servant. Come at once.
As Tarzan leaped from the roadster that had met him at the station and ran up the steps to his London town house he was met at the door by a dry-eyed but almost frantic woman.
Quickly Jane Porter Clayton narrated all that she had been able to learn of the theft of the boy.
The baby’s nurse had been wheeling him in the sunshine on the walk before the house when a closed taxicab drew up at the corner of the street. The woman had paid but passing attention to the vehicle, merely noting that it discharged no passenger, but stood at the curb with the motor running as though waiting for a fare from the residence before which it had stopped.
Almost immediately the new houseman, Carl, had come running from the Greystoke house, saying that the girl’s mistress wished to speak with her for a moment, and that she was to leave little Jack in his care until she returned.
The woman said that she entertained not the slightest suspicion of the man’s motives until she had reached the doorway of the house, when it occurred to her to warn him not to turn the carriage so as to permit the sun to shine in the baby’s eyes.
As she turned about to call to him she was somewhat surprised to see that he was wheeling the carriage rapidly toward the corner, and at the same time she saw the door of the taxicab open and a swarthy face framed for a moment in the aperture.
Intuitively, the danger to the child flashed upon her, and with a shriek she dashed down the steps and up the walk toward the taxicab, into which Carl was now handing the baby to the swarthy one within.
Just before she reached the vehicle, Carl leaped in beside his confederate, slamming the door to behind him. At the same time the chauffeur attempted to start his machine, but it was evident that something had gone wrong, as though the gears refused to mesh, and the delay caused by this, while he pushed the lever into reverse and backed the car for a few inches before again attempting to go ahead, gave the nurse time to reach the side of the taxicab.
Leaping to the running-board, she had attempted to snatch the baby from the arms of the stranger, and here, screaming and fighting, she had clung to her position even after the taxicab had got under way; nor was it until the machine had passed the Greystoke residence at good speed that Carl, with a heavy blow to her face, had succeeded in knocking her to the pavement.
Her screams had attracted servants and members of the families from residences near by, as well as from the Greystoke home. Lady Greystoke had witnessed the girl’s brave battle, and had herself tried to reach the rapidly passing vehicle, but had been too late.
That was all that anyone knew, nor did Lady Greystoke dream of the possible identity of the man at the bottom of the plot until her husband told her of the escape of Nikolas Rokoff from the French prison where they had hoped he was permanently confined.
As Tarzan and his wife stood planning the wisest course to pursue, the telephone bell rang in the library at their right. Tarzan quickly answered the call in person.
“Lord Greystoke?” asked a man’s voice at the other end of the line.
“Your son has been stolen,” continued the voice, “and I alone may help you to recover him. I am conversant with the plot of those who took him. In fact, I was a party to it, and was to share in the reward, but now they are trying to ditch me, and to be quits with them I will aid you to recover him on condition that you will not prosecute me for my part in the crime. What do you say?”
Do you sense a trap? You’ve been watching way too much television, but that doesn’t mean you are wrong.“If you lead me to where my son is hidden,” replied the ape-man, “you need fear nothing from me.”You know, when you think about it, Tarzan is still naive in the methods of the criminal mad man who can conceive the most diabolical plots. The man sounds genuine, setting up the story with criminal complicity and seeking only nonprosecution – sure it sounds authentic, but most of us are so sophisticated today with the myriad plots in entertainment media wwe automatically tend to doubt the authenticity of the informant from the get go. Unfortunately for the ape-man, he must still live and learn.
“Good,” replied the other. “But you must come alone to meet me, for it is enough that I must trust you. I cannot take the chance of permitting others to learn my identity.”
“Where and when may I meet you?” asked Tarzan.
The other gave the name and location of a public-house on the water-front at Dover – a place frequented by sailors.
“Come,” he concluded, “about ten o’clock tonight. It would do no good to arrive earlier. Your son will be safe enough in the meantime, and I can then lead you secretly to where he is hidden. But be sure to come alone, and under no circumstances notify Scotland Yard, for I know you well and shall be watching for you.”
“Should any other accompany you, or should I see suspicious characters who might be agents of the police, I shall not meet you, and your last chance of recovering your son will be gone.”
Without more words the man rang off.
Tarzan repeated the gist of the conversation to his wife. She begged to be allowed to accompany him, but he insisted that it might result in the man’s carrying out his threat of refusing to aid them if Tarzan did not come alone, and so they parted, he to hasten to Dover, and she, ostensibly, to wait at home until he should notify her of the outcome of his mission.Little did either dream of what both were destined to pass through before they should meet again, or the far-distant – but why anticipate?ERB wastes no time setting the stage for our adventure. There is seldom a boring moment in a Tarzan story, for ERB provided the same kind of entertainment in his day as found in a modern George Lucas or Stephen Spielberg movie. So stay tuned for Chapter Two. Don’t worry, we have only just begun to plumb the evil of Rokoff.
For ten minutes after the ape-man had left her Jane Clayton walked restlessly back and forth across the silken rugs of the library. Her mother heart ached, bereft of its firstborn. Her mind was in anguish of hopes and fears.
Though her judgment told her that all would be well were her Tarzan to go alone in accordance with the mysterious stranger’s summons, her intuition would not permit her to lay aside suspicion of the gravest dangers to both her husband and her son.
The more she thought of the matter, the more convinced she became that the recent telephone message might be but a ruse to keep them inactive until the boy was safely hidden away or spirited out of England. Or it might be that it had been simply a bait to lure Tarzan into the hands of the implacable Rokoff.
With the lodgment of this thought she stopped in wide-eyed terror. Instantly it became a conviction. She glanced at the great clock ticking the minutes in the corner of the library.
It was too late the catch the Dover train that Tarzan was to take. There was another, later, however, that would bring her to the Channel port in time to reach the address the stranger had given her husband before the appointed hour.
Summoning her maid and chauffeur, she issued instructions rapidly. Ten minutes later she was being whisked through the crowded streets toward the railway station.
It was nine-forty-five that night that Tarzan entered the squalid “pub” on the water-front in Dover. As he passed into the evil-smelling room a muffled figure brushed past him toward the street.
“Come, my lord!” whispered the stranger.
The ape-man wheeled about and followed the other into the ill-lit alley, which custom had dignified with the title of thoroughfare. Once outside, the fellow led the way into the darkness, nearer a wharf, where high-piled bales, boxes, and casks cast dense shadows. Here he halted.
“Where is the boy?” asked Greystoke.
“On that small steamer whose lights you can just see yonder,” replied the other.
In the gloom Tarzan was trying to peer into the features of his companion, but he did not recognize the man as one whom he had ever before seen. Had he guessed that the guide was Alexis Paulvitch he would have realized that naught but treachery lay in the man’s heart, and that danger lurked in the path of every move.
“He is unguarded now,” continued the Russian. “Those who took him feel perfectly safe from detection, and with the exception of a couple of members of the crew, whom I have furnished with enough gin to silence them effectually for hours, there is none aboard the Kincaid. We can go aboard, get the child, and return without the slightest fear”
“Let be about it, then,” he said.
His guide led him to a small boat moored alongside the wharf. The two men entered, and Paulvitch pulled rapidly toward the steamer. The black smoke issuing from her funnel did not at the time make any suggestion to Tarzan’s mind. All his thoughts were occupied with the hope that in a few moments he would again have his little son in his arms.
At the steamer’s side they found a monkey-ladder dangling close above them, and up this the two men crept stealthily. Once on deck they hastened aft to where the Russian pointed to a hatch.
“The boy is hidden there,” he said. “You had better go down after him, as there is less chance that he will cry in fright than should he find himself in the arms of a stranger. I will stand on guard here.”
So anxious was Tarzan to rescue the child that he gave not the slightest thought to the strangeness of all the conditions surrounding the Kincaid. That her deck was deserted, though she had steam up, and from the volume of smoke pouring from her funnel was all ready to get under way made no impression upon him.
With the thought that in another instant he would fold that precious little bundle of humanity in his arms, the ape-man swung down into the darkness below. Scarcely had he released the hold upon the edge of the hatch than the heavy covering fell clattering above him.
Instantly he knew that he was the victim of a plot, and that far from rescuing his son he had himself fallen into the hands of his enemies. Though he immediately endeavored to reach the hatch and lift the cover, he was unable to do so.
Striking a match, he explored his surroundings, finding that a little compartment had been partitioned off from the main hold, with the hatch above his head the only means of ingress and egress. It was evident that the room had been prepared for the very purpose of serving as a cell for himself.
There was nothing in the compartment, and no other occupant. If the child was on board the Kincaid he was confined elsewhere.
For over twenty years, from infancy to manhood, the ape-man had roamed his savage jungle haunts without human companionship of any nature. He had learned at the most impressionable period of his life to take his pleasures and his sorrows as the beasts take theirs.
So it was that he neither raved nor stormed against fate, but instead waited patiently for what might next befall him, though not by any means without an eye to doing the utmost to succour himself. To this end he examined his prison carefully, tested the heavy planking that formed its walls, and measured the distance of the hatch above him.
And while he was thus occupied there came suddenly to him the vibration of machinery and the throbbing of the propeller.
The ship was moving! Where to and to what fate was it carrying him?
And even as these thoughts passed through his mind there came to his ears above the din of the engines that which caused him to go cold in apprehension.
Clear and shrill from the deck above him rang the scream of a frightened woman.