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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.
The cheap glue holding the European conspirators together is slowly but surely reaching its breaking point. Esteban has all but abandoned them after stealing all of the gold for himself. Flora Hawkes’ group is also in for a surprise as Jane reenters the story.
Chapter Seventeen: The Torture of Fire
Flora Hawkes and her four confederates, pursued by Luvini and his two hundred warriors, stumbled through the darkness of the jungle night. They had no objective, for, guided entirely as they had been by the blacks, they knew not where they were, and were completely lost. The sole idea dominating the mind of each was to put as much distance between themselves and the camp of the ivory raiders as possible, for no matter what the outcome of the battle might have been, their fate would be the same should the victorious party capture them. They had stumbled on for perhaps half an hour when, during a momentary rest, they heard plainly behind them the sound of pursuit, and again they plunged on in their aimless flight of terror.
Presently, to their surprise, they discerned the glow of a light ahead. What could it be? Had they made a complete circle, and was this again the camp they had been fleeing? They pushed on to reconnoiter, until at last they saw before them the outlines of a camp surrounded by a thorn boma, in the center of which was burning a small campfire. About the fire were congregated half-a-hundred black warriors, and as the fugitives crept closer they saw among the blacks a figure standing out clearly in the light of the campfire – a white woman – and behind them rose louder and louder the sound of pursuit.
From the gestures and gesticulations of the blacks around the campfire it was evident that they were discussing the sounds of the battle they had recently heard in the direction of the raiders’ camp, for they often pointed in that direction, and now the woman raised her hand for silence and they all listened, and it was evident that they, too, heard the coming of the warriors who were pursuing Flora Hawkes and her confederates.
“There is a white woman there,” said Flora to the others.
“We do not know who she is, but she is our only hope, for those who are pursuing us will overtake us quickly. Perhaps this woman will protect us. Come, I am going to find out,” and without waiting for an answer she walked boldly toward the boma.
They had come but a short distance when the keen eyes of the Waziri discovered them, and instantly the boma wall was ringed with bristling spears.
“Stop!” cried one of the warriors. “We are the Waziri of Tarzan. Who are you?”
“I am an Englishwoman,” called Flora in reply. “I and my companions are lost in the jungle. We have been betrayed by our safari – our headman is pursuing us now with warriors. There are but five of us and we ask your protection.”
“Let them come,” said Jane to the Waziri.
As Flora Hawkes and the four men entered the boma beneath the scrutiny of Jane Clayton and the Waziri, another pair of eyes watched from the foliage of the great tree that overhung the camp upon the opposite side – gray eyes to which a strange light came as they recognized the girl and her companions.
As the newcomers approached Lady Greystoke the latter gave an exclamation of surprise. “Flora!” she exclaimed, in astonishment. “Flora Hawkes, what in the world are you doing here?”
The girl, startled too, came to a full stop. “Lady Greystoke!” she ejaculated.
“I do not understand,” continued Lady Greystoke. “I did not know that you were in Africa.”
For a moment the glib Flora was overcome by consternation, but presently her native wit came to her assistance. “I an here with Mr. Bluber and his friends,” she said, “who came to make scientific researches, and brought me along because I had been to Africa with you and Lord Greystoke, and knew something of the manners and customs of the country, and now our men have turned against us and unless you can help us we are lost.”
“Are they west coast natives?” asked Jane.
“Yes,” replied Flora.
“I think my Waziri can handle them. How many of them are here?”
“About two hundred,” said Kraski.
Lady Greystoke shook her head. “The odds are pretty heavy,” she commented, and then she called to Usula, who was in charge. “There are two hundred west coast natives coming after these people,” she said; “we shall have to fight to defend them.”
“We are Waziri,” replied Usula, simply, and a moment later the van of Luvini’s forces broke into view at the outer rim of the campfire’s reach.
At sight of the glistening warriors ready to receive them the west coast blacks halted. Luvini, taking in the inferior numbers of the enemy at a glance, stepped forward a few paces ahead of his men and commenced to shout taunts and insults, demanding the return of the whites to him. He accompanied his words with fantastic and grotesque steps, at the same time waving his rifle and shaking his fist. Presently his followers took up the refrain until the whole band of two hundred was shrieking and yelling and threatening, the while they leaped up and down as they worked themselves into a frenzy of excitement that would impart to them the courage necessary for the initiating of a charge.
The Waziri, behind the boma wall, schooled and disciplined by Tarzan of the Apes, had long since discarded the fantastic overture to battle so dear to the hearts of other warlike tribes and, instead, stood stolid and grim awaiting to coming of the foe.
“They have a number of rifles,” commented Lady Greystoke; “that looks rather bad for us.”
“There are not over half a dozen who can hit anything with their rifles,” said Kraski.
“You men are all armed. Take your places among my Waziri. Warn your men to go away and leave us alone. Do not fire until they attack, but at the first overt act, commence firing, and keep it up – there is nothing that so discourages a west coast black as the rifle fire of white men. Flora and I will remain at the back of the camp, near that large tree.” She spoke authoritatively, as one who is accustomed to command and knows whereof she speaks. The men obeyed her; even Bluber, though he trembled pitiably as he moved forward to take his place in the front ranks among the Waziri.
Their movements, in the light of the campfire, were all plainly discernable to Luvini, and also to that other who watched from the foliage of the tree beneath which Jane Clayton and Flora Hawkes took refuge. He turned to his men. “There are only fifty of them,” he said. “We can kill them easily, but we did not come to make war. We came to get the white girl back again. Stay here and make a great show against those sons of jackals. Keep them always looking at you. Advance a little and then fall back again, and while you are thus keeping their attention attracted in this direction I will take fifty men and go to the rear of their camp and get the white girl, and when I have her I shall send word to you and immediately you can return to the village, where, behind the palisade, we shall be safe against attack.”
Now this plan well suited the west coast blacks, who had no stomach for the battle looming so imminent, and so they danced and yelled and menaced more vociferously than before, for they felt they were doing it all with perfect impunity, since presently they should retire, after a bloodless victory, to the safety of their palisade.
As Luvini, making a detour, crept through the concealment of the dense jungle to the rear of the camp while the din of the west coast blacks arose to almost deafening proportions, there dropped suddenly to the ground before the two women from tree above them, the figure of a white giant, naked except for loincloth and leopard skin – his godlike contour picked out by the flickering light of the beast fire.
“John!” exclaimed Lady Greystoke. “Thank God it is you.”
“S-s-sh!” cautioned the white giant, placing a forefinger to his lips, and then suddenly he wheeled upon Flora Hawkes. “It is you I want,” he cried, and seizing the girl he threw her lightly over his shoulders, and before Lady Greystoke could interfere – before she half-realized what had occurred – he had lightly leaped the protecting boma in the rear of the camp and disappeared into the jungle beyond.
For a moment Jane Clayton stood reeling as one stunned by an unexpected blow, and then, with a stifled moan, she sank sobbing to the ground, her face buried in her arms.
It was thus that Luvini and his warriors found her as they crept stealthily over the boma and into the camp in the rear of the defenders upon the opposite side of the beast fire. They had come for a white woman and they had found one, and roughly dragging her to her feet, smothering her cries with rough and filthy palms, they bore her out into the jungle toward the palisaded village of the ivory raiders.
It is interesting to see how ERB utilizes misunderstandings in his stories. I mean, was that gray eyed white giant really Tarzan, or was he the Great Imposter? Luvini believes he has captured Flora Hawkes, but he has captured Jane instead. Thus we know that irony will play a great role in this story.
Ten minutes later the white men and the Waziri saw the west coast blacks retire slowly into the jungle, still yelling and threatening, as though bent on the total annihilation of their enemies – the battle was over without a shot fired or a spear hurled.
“Blime,” said Throck, “what was all the bloomin’ fuss about anyhow? I thought that they was goin’ to eat us up, an’ the blighters never done nothin’ but yell, an’ ‘ere we are, ‘n that’s that.”
Bluber swelled out his chest. “It takes more as a bunch of natives to bluff Adolph Bluber,” he said pompously.
Kraski looked after the departing blacks, and then, scratching his head, turned back toward the camp fire. “I can’t understand it,” he said, and then, suddenly, “Where are Flora and Lady Greystoke?”
It was then that they discovered that the two women were missing.
The Waziri were frantic. They called Lady Jane’s name aloud, but there was no reply. “Come!” cried Usula, “we, the Waziri, shall fight, after all,” and running to the boma he leaped it, and, followed by his fifty warriors, set out in pursuit of the west coast blacks.
It was but a moment or two before they overtook them, and that which ensued resembled more a rout than a battle. Fleeing in terror toward their palisade with the Waziri at their heels the west coast blacks threw away their rifles that they may run the faster, but Luvini and his party had had sufficient start so that they were able to reach the village and gain the safety of the palisade before pursued and pursuer reached it. Once inside the gate the defenders made a stand, for they realized that if the Waziri entered they should all be massacred, and so they fought as a cornered rat will fight, with the result that they managed to hold off the attackers until they could close and bar the gate. Built as it had been as a defense against far greater numbers the village was easy to defend, for there were less that fifty Waziri now, and nearly two hundred fighting men within the village to defend it against them.
Realizing the futility of a blind attack Usula withdrew his forces a short distance from the palisade, and there they squatted, their fierce, scowling faces glaring at the gateway while Usula pondered schemes for outwitting the enemy, which he realized he could not overcome by force alone.
“It is only Lady Greystoke that we want,” he said; “vengeance can wait until another day.”
“But we do not even know that she is within the village,” reminded one of his men.
“Where else could she be, then,” asked Usula. “It is true that you may be right – she may not be within the village, but that I intend to find out. I have a plan. See, the wind is from the opposite side of the village. Ten of you will accompany me, the others will advance again before the gate and make much noise, and pretend that you are about to attack. After awhile the gate will open and they will come out. That I promise you. I will try to be here before that happens, but if I am not, divide into two parties and stand upon either side of the gateway and let the west coast blacks escape; we do not care for them. Watch only for Lady Greystoke, and when you see her take her away from those who guard her. Do you understand?” His companions nodded. “Then come,” he said, and selecting ten men disappeared into the jungle.
Hey, isn’t that same plan Luvini used to get a white woman? It was successful that time, but will it be this time? Let’s see.
Luvini had carried Jane Clayton to a hut not far from the gateway to the village. Here he had bound her securely and tied her to a stake, still believing that she was Flora Hawkes, and then he had left her to hurry back toward the gate that he might take command of his forces in defense of the village.
So rapidly had the events of the past hour transpired that Jane Clayton was still half-dazed from the series of shocks that she had been called upon to endure. Dwarfing to nothingness the menace of her present condition was the remembrance that her Tarzan had deserted her in her hour of need, and carried off into the jungle another woman. Not even the remembrance of what Usula had told her concerning the accident that Tarzan had sustained, and which had supposedly again affected his memory, could reconcile her to the brutality of his desertion, and now she lay, face down, in the filth of the Arab hut, sobbing as she had not for many years.
As she lay there torn by grief, Usula and his ten crept stealthily and silently around the outside of the palisade to the rear of the village. Here they found great quantities of dead brush left from the clearing which the Arabs had made when constructing their village. This they brought and piled along the palisade, close against it, until nearly three-quarters of the palisade upon that side of the village was banked high with it. Finding that it was difficult to prosecute their work in silence, Usula despatched one of his men to the main body upon the opposite side of the village, with instructions that they were to keep up a continuous din of shouting to drown the sound of the operations of their fellows. The plan worked to perfection, yet even though it permitted Usula and his companions to labor with redoubled efforts, it was more than an hour before the brush pile was disposed to his satisfaction.
Luvini, from an aperture in the palisade, watched the main body of the Waziri who were now revealed by the rising of the moon, and finally he came to the conclusion that they did not intend to attack that night, and therefore he might relax his watchfulness and utilize the time in another and more agreeable manner. Instructing the bulk of his warriors to remain near the gate and ever upon the alert, with orders that he be summoned the moment that the Waziri showed any change in attitude, Luvini repaired to the hut in which he had left Lady Greystoke.
Ahh, a little relaxation with the most beautiful woman in the world. Yep, we can all see where this is going. Remember she is bound and tied to a stake. Let’s enjoy this together.
Luvini was a huge fellow, with low, receding forehead and prognathous jaw. As he entered the hut with a lighted torch which he stuck in the floor, his bloodshot eyes gazed greedily at the still form of the woman lying prone before him. He licked his lips and, coming closer, reached out and touched her. Jane Clayton looked up, and recoiling in revulsion shrunk away. At sight of the woman’s face Luvini looked his surprise.
“Who are you?” he demanded in the pidgin English of the coast.
“I am Lady Greystoke, wife of Tarzan of the Apes,” replied Jane Clayton. “If you are wise you will release me at once.’
Surprise and terror showed in the eyes of Luvini, and another emotion as well, but which would dominate the muddy brain it was difficult, then, to tell. For a long time he sat gazing at her, and slowly the greedy, gloating expression upon his face dominated and expunged the fear that had at first been written there, and in the change Jane Clayton read her doom.
We must remember that one of the greatest fears that white women had at that time was the fear of being raped by a black man. That factor looms largely over this near-rape and bondage story, besides the fear of being raped at all. Oh yeah, Luvini is nearly bare naked.
With fumbling fingers Luvini untied the knots of the bonds that held Jane Clayton’s wrists and ankles. She felt his hot breath upon her and saw his bloodshot eyes and the red tongue that momentarily licked the thick lips. The instant that she felt the last thong with which she was tied fall away she leaped to her feet and sprang for the entrance to the hut, but a great hand reached forth and seized her, and as Luvini dragged her back toward him, she wheeled like a mad tigress and struck repeatedly at his grinning, ugly face. By brute force, ruthless and indomitable, he beat down her weak resistance and slowly and surely dragged her closer to him. Oblivious to aught else, deaf to the cries of the Waziri before the gate and to the sudden new commotion that arose in the village, the two struggled on, the woman, from the first, foredoomed to defeat.
Against the rear palisade Usula had already put burning torches to his brush pile at half-dozen different places. The flames, fanned by a gentle jungle breeze, had leaped almost immediately into a roaring conflagration, before which the dry wood of the palisade crumbled in a shower of ruddy sparks which the wind carried to the thatched roofs of the huts beyond, until in an incredibly short period of time the village was a roaring inferno of flames. And even as Usula had predicted the gate swung open and the west coast blacks swarmed forth in terror toward the jungle. Upon either side of the gateway the Waziri stood, and until the interior of the palisade was a seething hell of fire, they saw nothing of her.
Long after they were convinced that no human being could remain alive in the village they still waited and hoped; but at last Usula gave up the useless vigil.
“She was never there,” he said, “and now we must pursue the blacks and capture some of them, from whom we may learn the whereabouts of Lady Greystoke.”
It was daylight before they came across a small band of stragglers, who were in camp a few miles toward the west. These they quickly surrounded, winning their immediate surrender by promises of immunity in the event that they would answer truthfully the questions that Usula should propound.
“Where is Luvini?” demanded Usula, who had learned the name of the leader of the west coast blacks from the Europeans the evening before.
“We do not know; we have not seen him since we left the village,”replied one of the blacks. “We were some of the slaves of the Arabs, and when we escaped the palisade last night we ran away from the others, for we thought that we should be safer alone than with Luvini, who is even crueler than the Arabs.”
“Did you see the white women that he brought to the camp last night?” demanded Usula.
“He brought but one white woman,” replied the other.
“What did he do with her? Where is she now?” asked Usula.
“I do not know. When he brought her he bound her hand and foot and put her in the hut which he occupied near the village gate. We have not seen her since.”
Usula turned and looked at his companions. A great fear was in his eyes, a fear that was reflected in the countenances of the others.
“Come!” he said, “we shall return to the village. And you will go with us,” he added, addressing the west coast blacks, “and if you have lied to us –” he made a significan movement with his forefinger across his throat.
“We have not lied to you,” replied the other.
Quickly they retraced steps toward the ruins of the Arab village, nothing of which was left save a few piles of smoldering embers.
“Where was the hut in which the white woman was confined?” demanded Usula, as they entered the smoking ruins.
“Here,” said one of the blacks, and walked quickly a few paces beyond what had been the village gateway. Suddenly he halted and pointed at something which lay upon the ground.
“There,” he said, “is the white woman you seek?”
Usula and the others pressed forward. Rage and grief contended for mastery of them as they beheld, lying before them, the charred remnants of a human body.
“It is she,” said Usula, turning away to hide his grief as the tears rolled down his ebon cheeks. The other Waziri were equally affected, for they all had loved the mate of the Big Bwana.
“Perhaps it is not she,” suggested one of them; “perhaps it is another.”
“We can tell quickly,” cried a third. “If her rings are among the ashes it is indeed she,” and he knelt and searched for the rings which Lady Greystoke habitually wore.
Usula shook his head despairingly. “It is she,” he said, “there is the very stake to which she was fastened” – he pointed to the blackened stub of a stake close beside the body – “and as for the rings, even if they are not there it will mean nothing, for Luvini would have taken them away from her as soon as he captured her. There was time for everyone else to leave the village except she, who was bound and could not leave – no, it cannot be another.
The Waziri scooped a shallow grave and reverently deposited the ashes there, marking the spot with a little cairn of stones.
And that is the sad ending of Chapter Seventeen, and we’re just going to have to tough it out until Chapter Twenty to find out what really happened. So until next time, adios.
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