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ERB’S GREAT IMPOSTERS:
FLORA HAWKES AND ESTEBAN MIRANDA IN
TARZAN AND THE GOLDEN LION
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Welcome back to the European campfire. It’s too bad that we have to leave Tarzan and La and the Planet of the Apes for now, but that is ERB’s proven method of writing. Anyway, things are not going very well for our hapless friends, so let’s sit down and warm ourselves while we catch up with the adventure.
Chapter Ten: Mad Treachery
To the northwest of the valley of Opar the smoke rose from the cook fires of a camp in which some hundred blacks and six whites were eating their evening meal. The blacks squatted sullen and morose, mumbling together in low tones over their meager fare, the whites, scowling and apprehensive, kept their firearms close at hand. One of them, a girl, and the only member of her sex in the party, was addressing her fellows:
“We have Adolph’s stinginess and Esteban’s braggadocio to thank for the condition in which we are,” she said.
The fat Bluber shrugged his shoulder, the big Spaniard scowled.
“For vy,” asked Adolph, “am I to blame.”
“You were too stingy to employ enough carriers. I told you at the time that we ought to have had two hundred porters in our party, but you wanted to save a little money, and now what is the result? Fifty men carrying eighty pounds of gold apiece and the other carriers are overburdened with camp equipment, while there are scarce enough left for askari to guard us properly. We have to drive them like beasts to make any progress and to keep them from throwing away their loads, and they are fagged out and angry. They don’t require much of an excuse to kill us all on the spot. On top of all this they are underfed. If we could keep their bellies filled we could probably keep them happy and reasonably contented, but I have learned enough about natives to know that if they are hungry they are neither happy nor contented, even in idleness. If Esteban had not bragged so much about his prowess as a hunter we should have brought enough provisions to last us through, but now, though we are barely started upon our return journey, we are upon less than half rations.”
“I can’t kill game when there isn’t any game,” growled the Spaniard.
“There is plenty of game,” said Kraski, the Russian. “We see the tracks of it every day.”
The Spaniard eyed him venomously. “If there is so much game,” he said, “go out and get it yourself.”
“I never claimed to be a hunter,” replied Kraski, “though I could go out with a slingshot and peashooter and do as well as you have.”
The Spaniard leaped to his feet menacingly, and instantly the Russian covered him with a heavy service revolver.
“Cut that business,” cried the girl, sharply, leaping between them.
“Let the blighters fight,” growled John Peebles. “If one of ‘em kills the hother there’ll be fewer to split the swag, and ‘ere we are ‘n that’s that.’
“For vy should ve quarrel?” demanded Bluber. “Dere is enough for all – over forty tree t’ousand pounds apiece. Ven you get mad at me you call me names and say dat I am stingy, but Mein Gott! you English are vorser. You vould kill vun of your friends to get more money. Ja wohl, tank Gott dat I am not an Englisher.”
“Shut up,” growled Throck, “or we’ll have forty-three thousand pounds more to divide.”
Bluber eyed the big Englishman fearfully. “Come, come, Dick,” he oozed, in his oiliest tones, “you vouldn’t get mad at a little choke vould you, und me your best friend?”
“I’m sick of all this grousin’,” said Throck. “I h’ain’t no high-brow, I h’ain’t nothin’ but a pug. But I got sense enough to know that Flora’s the only one in the bloomin’ bunch whose brains wouldn’t rattle around in a peanut shell. John, Bluber, Kraski and me, we’re here because we could raise the money to carry out Flora’s plan. The actor there” – and he indicated Esteban –
“because his face and his figure filled the bill. There don’t any of us need no brains for this work, and there ain’t any of us got any more brains than we need. Flora’s the brains of this outfit, and the sooner everyone understands that and takes orders from her, the better off we’ll all be. She’s been to Africa with this Lord Greystoke feller before – you wuz his wife’s maid, wasn’t you, Flora? And she knows somethin’ about the country and the natives and the animals, and there don’t none of us know nuttin’.”
“Throck is right,” said Kraski, quickly, “we’ve been muddling long enough. We haven’t had a boss, and the thing to do is to make Flora boss from now on. If anyone can get us out of this, she can, and from the way those fellows over there are acting,” and he nodded toward the blacks, “ we’ll be lucky if we ever get out with our skins, let alone taking any of the gold with us.”
“Ach, nein! You don’t mean to leave der gold?” almost shrieked Bluber.
“I mean that we do whatever Flora thinks best,” replied Kraski. “If she says to leave the gold, we’ll leave it.”
“That we do,” seconded Throck.
“I’m for it,” said Peebles. “Whatever Flora says goes.”
The Spaniard nodded his assent sullenly.
“The rest of us are all for it, Bluber. How about you?” asked Kraski.
“O vell – sure – if you say so,” said Bluber, “und as John says ‘und here ve ain’t and vat’s dat.”
“And now, Flora,” said Peebles, “you’re the big ‘un. What you say goes. What’ll we do next?”
“Very well,” said the girl, “we shall camp here until these men are rested, and early tomorrow we’ll start out intelligently and systematically, and get meat for them. With their help we can do it. When they are rested and well-fed we will start on again for the coast, moving very slowly, so as not to tire them too much. This is my first plan, but it hinges upon our ability to get meat. If we do not find it I shall bury the gold here, and we will do our best to reach the coast as quickly as possible. There shall we recruit new porters – twice as many as we have now – and purchase enough provisions to carry us in and out again. As we come back in, we will cache provisions at every camping place for our return trip, thus saving the necessity of carrying heavy loads all the way in and out again. In this way we can come out light, with twice as many porters as we actually need. And by working them in shifts we will travel much faster and there will be no grumbling. These are my two plans. I am not asking you what you think of them, because I do not care. You have made me chief, and I am going to run this from now on as I think best.”
One needs to remember that it was practically unknown at the time for a group of alpha males to surrender their leadership to a woman. Only absolute necessity would have caused such an event to occur, even in the real world. Immediately, however, we see the wisdom behind it. ERB was way ahead of his time in understanding and appreciating a woman’s point of view.
“Bully for you,” roared Peebles; “that’s the kind of talk I likes to hear.”
“Tell the head man I want to see him, Carl,” said the girl turning to Kraski, and a moment later the Rusian returned with a burly native.
“Owaza,” said the girl, as the black halted before her, “we are short of food and the men are burdened with loads twice as heavy as they should carry. Tell them that we shall wait here until they are rested and that tomorrow we shall all go out and hunt for meat. You will send your boys out under three good men, and they will act as beaters and drive the game in to us. In this way we should get plenty of meat, and when the men are rested and well fed we will move on slowly. Where game is plentiful we will hunt and rest. Tell them if they do this and we reach the coast in safety and with all our loads, I shall pay them twice what they agreed to come for.”
“Himmel!” exclaimed Bluber. “Twice vot dey agreed to come for! Oh, Flora, vy not offer dem ten percent? Dat would be fine interest on their money.”
“Shut up, you fool,” snapped Kraski, and Bluber subsided, though he rocked back and forth, shaking his head in disapproval.
The headman, who had presented himself with the interview with sullen and scowling demeanor, brightened visibly now. “I will tell them,” he said, “and I think that you will have no more trouble.”
“Good,” said Flora, “go and tell them now,” and Owaza turned and left.
“There,” said the girl, with a sigh of relief, “I believe that we can see light ahead at last.”
“Twice vot ve promised to pay them!” bawled Bluber.
Early the following morning they prepared to set out upon the hunt. The blacks were now smiling and happy in anticipation of plenty of meat, and as they tramped off into the jungle they were singing gayly. Flora had divided them into three parties, each under a headman, with explicit directions for the position each party was to take in the line of beaters. Others had been detailed to the whites as gun-bearers, while a small party of the askari were left behind to guard the camp. The foreigners, with the exception of Esteban, were armed with rifles. He alone seemed inclined to question Flora’s authority, insisting that he preferred to hunt with spear and arrows in keeping with the part he was playing. The fact that, though he had hunted assiduously for weeks, yet had never brought in a single kill, was not sufficient to dampen his egotism. So genuinely had he entered his part that he really thought he was Tarzan of the Apes, and with such fidelity had he equipped himself in every detail, and such a master of the art of makeup was he, that, in conjunction with his splendid figure and his handsome face that were almost a counterpart of Tarzan’s, it was scarcely to be wondered at that he almost fooled himself as successfully as he had fooled others, for there were men among the carriers who had known the great ape-man, and even these were deceived, though they wondered at the change in him, since in little things he did not deport himself as Tarzan, and in the matter of kills he was disappointing.
This is not so much of a surprise in light of recent actors that have gotten way into the part they are to play, like Joaquin Phoenix for example. No one was ever quite sure if he really wasn’t acting at all, but believed he was really the character he was playing, or even this was just another personal play he was acting. Perhaps being so close to Hollywood ERB had experienced this quirk in the acting community.
Flora Hawkes, who was endowed with more than a fair share of intelligence, realized that it would not be well to cross any of her companions unnecessarily, and so she permitted Esteban to hunt that morning in his own way, though some of the others grumbled a little at her decision.
“What is the difference?” she asked them, after the Spaniard had set off alone. “The chances are that he could use a rifle no better than he uses his spears and arrows. Carl and Dick are really the only shots among us, and it is upon them we depend principally for the success of our hunt today. Esteban’s egotism has been so badly bumped that it is possible that he will go to the last extremity to make a kill today – let us hope that he is successful.”
Too successful and in ways she never imagined. Things are about to get very hairy, and in a way, very hilarious.
“I hope he breaks his fool neck,” said Kraski. “He has served our purpose and we would be better off if we were rid of him.”
The girl shook her head negatively. “No,” she said, “we must not think or speak of anything of that kind. We went into this thing together, let us stick together until the end. If you are wishing that one of us is dead, how do you know that others are not wishing that you were dead?”
“I haven’t any doubt but that Miranda wishes I were dead,” replied Kraski. “I never go to bed at night without thinking that the damned greaser may try to stick a knife into me before morning. And it don’t make me feel any kinder toward him to hear you defending him, Flora. You’ve been a bit soft on him from the start.”
“If I have, it’s none of your business,” retorted the girl.
And so they started out upon their hunt, the Russian scowling and angry, harboring thoughts of vengeance or worse against Esteban, and Esteban, hunting through the jungle, was occupied with his hatred and his jealousy. His dark mind was open to every chance suggestion of a means for putting the other men of the party out of the way, and taking the woman and the gold for himself. He hated them all; in each he saw a possible rival for the affections of Flora, and in the death of each he saw not only one less suitor for the girl’s affections, but forty-three thousand additional pounds to be divided among fewer people. His mind was thus occupied to the exclusion of the businesss of hunting, which should have occupied him solely, when he came through a patch of heavy underbrush, and stepped into the glaring sunlight of a large clearing, face to face with a party of some fifty magnificent ebon warriors. For just an instance Esteban stood frozen in a paralysis of terror, forgetting momentarily the part he was playing – thinking of himself only as a lone white man in the heart of a savage Africa facing a large band of warlike natives – cannibals, perhaps. It was that moment of utter silence and inaction that saved him, for as he stood there before them, the Waziri saw in the silent, majestic figure their beloved lord in a characteristic pose.
“O Bwana, Bwana,” cried one of the warriors, rushing forward, “it is indeed you, Tarzan of the Apes, Lord of the Jungle, whom we had given up as lost. We, your faithful Waziri, have been searching for you, and even now we were about to dare the dangers of Opar, fearing that you might have ventured there without us and had been captured.”
The man, who had one time accompanied Tarzan to London as a body servant, spoke broken English, an accomplishment of which he was inordinately proud, losing no opportunity to air his attainment before his less fortunate fellows. The fact that it had been he whom fate had chosen to act as spokesman was indeed a fortunate circumstance to Miranda. Although the latter had applied himself assiduously to mastering the dialect of the west coast carriers, he would have been hard put to it to carry on a conversation with one of them, while he understood nothing of the Waziri tongue. Flora had schooled him carefully and well in the lore of Tarzan, so that he realized now that he was in the presence of a band of the ape-man’s faithful Waziri. Never before had he seen such magnificent warriors – clean-cut, powerful men, with intelligent faces and well-molded features. Lucky indeed was Esteban Miranda that he was quick-witted and a consummate actor. Otherwise must he have betrayed his terror and his chagrin upon learning that this band of Tarzan’s fierce and faithful followers was in this part of the country. For a moment he stood in silence before them, gathering his wits, and then he spoke, realizing that his very life depended upon his plausibility. And as he thought a great light broke upon the shrewd brain of the unscrupulous Spaniard.
“Since I last saw you,” he said, “I discovered that a party of white men had entered the country for the purpose of robbing the treasure vaults of Opar. I followed them until I found their camp, and then I came in search of you, for there are many of them and they have many ingots of gold, for they have already been to Opar. Follow me, and we will raid their camp and take the gold from them. Come! and he turned back toward the camp that he had just quitted.
As they made their way along the jungle trail, Usula, the Waziri who had spoken English to him, walked at Esteban’s side. Behind them the Spaniard could hear the other warriors speaking in their native tongue, no word of which he understood, and it occurred to him that his position be most embarrassing should he be addressed in the Waziri language, which, of course, Tarzan must have understood perfectly.
Now we see why it was so important that Usula chose to show off in front of the others because otherwise they would have addressed Esteban in Waziri and thus they would have become suspicious of him right away.
As he listened to the chatter of Usula his mind was working rapidly, and presently, as though it were an inspiration, there recurred to him the memory of an accident that befallen Tarzan, which had been narrated to him by Flora – the story of the injury he had received in the treasure vaults of Opar upon the occasion that he had lost his memory because of a blow upon his head. Esteban wondered if he had committed himself too deeply at first to attribute to amnesia any shortcomings in the portrayal of the role he was acting. At its worst, however, it seemed to him the best that he could do. He turned suddenly upon Usula.
“Do you remember,” he asked, “the accident that befell me in the treasure vaults of Opar, depriving me of my memory?”
“Yes, Bwana, I remember it well,” replied the black.
“A similar accident has befallen me,” said Esteban. “A great tree fell in my path, and in falling a branch struck me upon the head. It has not caused me to lose my memory entirely, but since then it is with difficulty that I recall many things, and there are others which I must have forgotten entirely, for I do not know your name, nor do I understand the words that my other Waziri are speaking about me.”
Usula looked at him compassionately. “Ah, Bwana, sad indeed is the heart of Usula to hear that this accident has befallen you. Doubtless it will soon pass away as did the other, and in the meantime I, Usula, will be your memory for you.”
“Good,” said Esteban, “tell the others that they may understand, and tell them also that I have lost the memory of other things besides. I could not now find my way home without you, and my other senses are dull as well. But as you say, Usula, it will soon pass off, and I shall be myself again.”
“Your faithful Waziri will rejoice indeed with the coming of that moment,” said Usula.
As they approached the camp, Miranda cautioned Usula to warn his followers to silence, and presently he halted them at the outskirts of the clearing where they could attain a view of the boma and the tents, guarding which was a little band of a half-dozen askari.
“When they see our greater numbers they will make no resistance,” said Esteban. “Let us surround the camp, therefore, and at a signal from me we will advance together, when you shall address them, saying that Tarzan of the Apes comes with his Waziri for the gold they have stolen, but that he will spare them if they will leave the country at once and never return.”
Had it fulfilled his purpose as well, the Spaniard would have willingly ordered his Waziri to fall upon the men guarding the camp and destroy them all, but to his cunning brain had been born a clever scheme. He wanted these men to see him with the Waziri and live to tell the others that they had seen him, and to repeat to Flora and her followers the thing that Esteban had in his mind to tell one of the askari, while the Waziri were gathering up the gold ingots from the camp.
In directing Usula to station his men about the camp, Esteban had to warn them that they were not to show themselves until he had crept out into the clearing and attracted the attention of the askari on guard. Fifteen minutes, perhaps, were consumed in stationing his men, and then Usula returned to Esteban to report that all was ready.
“When I raise my hand then you will know that they have recognized me and that you are to advance,” Esteban cautioned him, and stepped forward slowly into the clearing. One of the askare saw him and recognized him as Esteban. The Spaniard took a few steps closer to the boma and then halted.
‘I am Tarzan of the Apes,” he said; “your camp is entirely surrounded by my warriors. Make no move against us and we shall not hurt you.”
He waved his hand. Fifty stalwart Waziri stepped into view from the concealing verdure of the surrounding jungle. The askari eyed them in ill-concealed terror, fingering their rifles nervously.
“Do not shoot,” cautioned Esteban, “or we shall slay you all.” He approached more closely and his Waziri closed in about him, entirely surrounding the boma.
“Speak to them, Usula,” said Esteban. The black stepped forward.
“We are the Waziri,” he cried, “and this is Tarzan of the Apes, Lord of the Jungle, our master. We have come to recover the gold of Tarzan that you have stolen from the treasure vaults of Opar. This time we shall spare you on condition that you leave the country and never return. Tell this word to your masters; tell them that Tarzan watches, and that his Waziri watch with him. Lay down your rifles.”
The askari, glad to escape so easily, complied with the demands of Usula, and a moment later the Waziri had entered the boma, and at Esteban’s direction were gathering up the golden ingots. As they worked, Esteban approached one of the askari, whom he knew spoke broken English,
“Tell your master,” he said, “to give thanks for the mercy of Tarzan who has exacted a toll of but one life for this invasion of his country and theft of his treasure. The creature who presumes to pose as Tarzan I have slain, and his body I shall take away with me and feed to the lions. Tell them that Tarzan forgives even their attempt to poison him upon the occasion that he visited their camp, but only upon the condition that they never return to Africa, and that they divulge the secret of Opar to no others. Tarzan watches and his Waziri watch, and no man may enter Africa without Tarzan’s knowledge. Even before they left London I knew that they were coming. Tell them that.”
It took but a few minutes for the Waziri to gather up the golden ingots, and before the askari had recovered from the surprise of their appearance, they had gone again into the jungle, with Tarzan, their master.
It was late in the afternoon before Flora and the four white men returned from their hunt, surrounded by happy, laughing blacks, bearing the fruits of a successful chase.
“Now that you are in charge, Flora,” Kraski was saying, “fortune is smiling upon us indeed. We have enough meat here for several days, and with plenty of meat in their bellies they ought to make good progress.”
“I vill say it myself dat tings look brighter,” said Bluber.
“Blime, they do that,” said Throck. “I’m tellin’ you Flora’s a bright one.”
“What the devil is this?” demanded Peebles, “what’s wrong with them beggars?” And he pointed toward the boma which was now in sight, and from which the askari were issuing at a run, jabbering excitingly as they raced toward them.
“Tarzan of the Apes has been here,” they cried excitedly. “He has been here with all his Waziri – a thousand great warriors – and though we fought, they overcame us, and taking the gold they went away. Tarzan of the Apes spoke strange words to me before they left. He said that he had killed one of your number who had dared to call himself Tarzan of the Apes. We do not understand it. He went away alone to hunt when you went in the morning, and he came back shortly with a thousand warriors, and he took all the gold and he threatened to kill us and you if you ever return to this country again.”
“Vot, vot?” cried Bluber, “der gold iss gone? Ach! Ach!” And then they all commenced to ask questions at once until Flora silenced them.
“Come,” she said to the leader of the askari, “we will return to the boma and then you shall tell me slowly and carefully all that has happened since we left.”
She listened intently to his narrative, and then questioned him carefully upon various points several times. At last she dismissed him. Then she turned to her confederates.
“It is all clear to me,” she said. “Tarzan recovered from the effects of the drug we administered. Then he followed us with his Waziri, caught Esteban and killed him and, finding the camp, has taken the gold away. We shall be fortunate indeed if we escape from Africa with our lives.”
“Ach, weh!” almost shrieked Bluber, “der dirty crook. He steals all our gold, und ve lose our two t’ousand pounds into the bargain.”
“Shut up, you coward,” growled Throck. “If it hadn’t been for you and the actor this ‘ere thing would never ‘a’ ‘appened. With ‘im abraggin’ about ‘is ‘unting and not bein’ able to kill anything, and you a-queezin’ every bloomin’ hapenney, we’re in a rotten mess – that we are. This ‘ere Tarzan bounder he bumped off Esteban, which is the best work what’e ever done. Too bloody bad you weren’t ‘ere to get it too, and what I got a good mind to do is to slit your throat myself.”
“Stow the guff, Dick,” roared Peebles, “it wasn’t nobody’s fault, as far as I can see. Instead of talkin’ what we oughter do is to go after this ‘ere Tarzan feller and take the bloomin’ gold away from ‘im.”
Flora Hawkes laughed. “We haven’t a chance in the world,” she said. “I know this Tarzan bloke. If he was all alone we wouldn’t be a match for him, but he’s got a bunch of his Waziri with him, and there are no finer warriors in Africa than they. And they’d fight for him to the last man. You just tell Owaza that your thinking of going after Tarzan of the Apes and his Waziri to take the gold away from them, and see how long it’d be before we wouldn’t have a single porter with us. The very name of Tarzan scares these west coast blacks out of a year’s growth. They would sooner face the devil. No, sir, we’ve lost, and all we can do is to get out of the country, and thank our lucky stars if we manage to get out alive. The ape-man will watch us. I should not be surprised if he were watching us this minute.” Her companions looked around apprehensively at this, casting nervous glances toward the jungle. “And he’d never let us back to Opar for another load, even if we would prevail over our porters to return there.”
“Two t’ousand pounds, two t’ousand pounds!” wailed Bluber. “Und all dis suit, vot it cost me twenty guineas vot I can’t vear it again in England unless I go to a fancy dress ball, vich I never do.”
Kraski had not spoken, but had sat with eyes upon the ground, listening to the others. Now he raised his head. “We have lost our gold,” he said, “and before we get back to England we stand to spend the balance of our two thousand pounds – in other words our expedition is a total loss. The rest of you may be satisfied to go back broke, but I am not. There are other things in Africa besides the gold of Opar, and when we leave the country there is no reason why we shouldn’t take something with us that will repay us for our time and investment.”
“What do you mean?” asked Peebles.
“I have spent a lot of time talking to Owaza,” replied Kraski, “trying to learn their crazy language, and I have come to find out about the old villain. He’s as crooked as they make ‘em, and if her were to be hanged for all his murders, he’d have to have more lives than a cat, but notwithstanding all that, he’s a shrewd old fellow, and I’ve learned a lot more from him than just monkey talk – I have learned enough, in fact, so that I feel safe in saying that if we stick together we can go out of Africa with a pretty good-sized stake. Personally, I haven’t given up the gold of Opar yet. What we’ve lost, we’ve lost, but there’s plenty left where that came from, and some day after this blows out, I’m coming back to get my share.”
“But how about this other thing?” asked Flora. “How can Owasa help us?”
“There’s a bunch of Arabs down here,” explained Kraski, “stealing slaves and ivory. Owasa knows when they are working and where their main camp is. There are only a few of them, and their blacks are nearly all slaves who would turn on them in a minute. Now the idea is this: we have a big enough party to overpower them and take their ivory away from them if we can get their slaves to take our side. We don’t want the slaves; we couldn’t do anything with them if we had them, so we can promise them their freedom for their help, and give Owaza and his gang a share of the ivory.”
“How do you know Owaza will help us?” asked Flora.
“The idea is his; that’s the reason I know,” replied Kraski.
“It sounds good to me,” said Peebles; “I ain’t fer goin’ ‘ome empty ‘anded.” And in turn the others signified their approval of the scheme.
Yeah, sounds like a really good idea – or not! Hmmm, stealing from a bunch of Arab cut-throats, I mean, what could possibly go wrong? And let’s be honest: don’t you wish Throck would have gone ahead and slit Bluber’s throat? So ends Chapter Ten. Stay tuned for Chapter Eleven, because there is more treachery in the pages to come.
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