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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.
Chapter Eighteen’s title sums up the events to come: “The Spoor of Revenge.” In the scenes to come many of the Europeans get what they deserve, but not in ways you have likely imagined, because after all ERB is the author of the events to come. So let’s not waste any more time!
Chapter Eighteen: The Spoor of Revenge
As Tarzan of the Apes, adapting his speed to that of Jad-bal-ja, made his comparatively slow way toward home, he reviewed with varying emotions the experiences of the past week. While he had been unsuccessful in raiding the treasure vaults of Opar, the sack of diamonds which he carried compensated several-fold for the miscarriage of his plans. His only concern now was for the safety of his Waziri, and, perhaps, a troublesome desire to seek out the whites who had drugged him and mete out to them the punishment they deserved. In view, however, of his greater desire to return home he decided to make no effort at apprehending them for the time being at least.
Hunting together, feeding together, and sleeping together, the man and the great lion trod the savage jungle trails toward home. Yesterday they had shared the meat of Bara, the deer, today they feasted upon the carcass of Horta, the boar, and between them there was little chance that either would go hungry.
They had come within a day’s march of the bungalow when Tarzan discovered the spoor of a considerable body of warriors. As some men devour the latest stock-market quotations as though their very existence depended upon an accurate knowledge of them, so Tarzan of the Apes devoured every scrap of information that the jungle held for him, for, in truth, an accurate knowledge of all that this information could impart to him had been during his lifetime a sine qua non to his existence. So now he carefully examined the spoor that lay before him, several days old though it was and partially obliterated by the passage of beasts since it had been made, but yet legible enough to the keen eyes and nostrils of the ape-man. His partial indifference suddenly gave way to keen interest, for among the footprints of the great warriors he saw now and again the smaller one of a white woman – a loved footprint that he knew as well as you know your mother’s face.
“The Waziri returned and told her I was missing,” he soliloquized, “and now she has set out with them to search for me.” He turned to the lion. “Well, Jad-bal-ja, once again we turn away from home – but no, where she is is home.”
The direction that the trail led rather mystified Tarzan of the Apes, as it was not along the direct route toward Opar, but in a rather more southerly direction. On the sixth day his keen ears caught the sound of approaching men, and presently there was wafted to his nostrils the spoor of natives. Sending Jad-bal-ja into a thicket to hide, Tarzan took to the trees and moved rapidly in the direction of the approaching party. As the distance between them lessened the scent became stronger, until, ever before he saw them, Tarzan knew that they were Waziri, but the one effluvium that would have filled his soul with happiness was lacking.
It was a surprised Usula who, at the head of the sad and dejected Waziri, came at the turning of the trail suddenly face to face with his master.
“Tarzan of the Apes!” cried Usula. “It is indeed you?”
“It is none other,” replied the ape-man, “but where is Lady Greystoke?”
“Ah, master, how can we tell you!” cried Usula.
“You do not mean –” cried Tarzan. “It cannot be. Nothing could happen to her while she was guarded by my Waziri!”
The warriors hung their heads in shame and sorrow. “We offer our lives for hers,” said Usula, simply. He threw down his spear and shield and, stretching his arms wide apart, bared his great breast to Tarzan. “Strike, Bwana,” he said.
The ape-man turned away with bowed head. Presently he looked at Usula again. “Tell me how it happened,” he said, “and forget your foolish speech as I have forgotten the suggestion that prompted it.”
Briefly Usula narrated the events which had led up to the death of Jane, and when he was done Tarzan of the Apes spoke but three words, voicing a question which was typical of him.
“Where is Luvini?” he asked.
“Ah, that we do not know,” replied Usula.
“But I shall know,” said Tarzan of the Apes. “Go upon your way, my children, back to your huts, and your women and your children, and when next you see Tarzan of the Apes you will know that Luvini is dead.”
They begged permission to accompany him, but he would not listen to them.
“You are needed at home at this time of the year,” he said. “Already have you been gone too long from the herds and fields. Return, then, and carry word to Korak, but tell him it is my wish that he, too, remain at home – if I fail, then may he come and take up my unfinished work if he wishes to do so.” As he ceased speaking he turned back in the direction from which he had come, and whistled once a single, low, long-drawn note, and a moment later Jad-bal-ja, the golden lion, bounded into view along the jungle trail.
“The golden lion!” cried Usula. “When he escaped from Keewazi it was to search for his beloved Bwana.”
Tarzan nodded. “He followed many marches to a strange country until he found me,” he said, and then he bid the Waziri good-bye and bent his steps once more away from home in search of Luvini and revenge.
Boy, when Tarzan believes someone needs to be punished he doesn’t fool around. I guess we would call this Jungle Justice. I don’t think Luvini has long to live, don’t you? Well, it’s time to get back to the sad case of our European hoodlums, and, of course, a little comic relief.
John Peebles, wedged in the crotch of a large tree, greeted the coming dawn with weary eyes. Near him was Dick Throck, similarly braced in another crotch, while Kraski, more intelligent and therefore possessing more inventive genius, had rigged a small platform of branches across two parallel boughs, upon which he lay in comparative comfort. Ten feet above him Bluber swung, half exhausted and wholly terrified, to a smaller branch, supported in something that approximated safety by a fork of the branch to which he clung.
“Gord,” groaned Peebles, “hi’ll let the bloody lions ‘ave me before h’ll spend another such a night as this, an’ ‘ere we are, ‘n that’s that!”
“And blime, too,” said Throck, “hi sleeps on the ground hafter this, lions or no lions.”
“If the combined intelligence of the three of you was equal to that of a walrus,” remarked Kraski, “we might have slept in comparative safety and comfort last night on the ground.”
“Hey, there, Bluber, Mister Kraski is spiken’ to yer,” called Peebles in fine sarcasm, accenting the Mister.
“Ach, weh! I don’t care vot nobody says,” moaned Bluber.
“‘E wants us to build a ‘ouse for ‘im hevery night,” continued Peebles, “while ‘e stands abaht and tells us bloomin’ well ‘ow to do it, and ‘im, bein’ a fine gentleman, don’t do no work.”
“Why should I do any work with my hands when you two big beasts haven’t got anything else to work with?” asked Kraski. “You would all have starved by this time if I hadn’t found food for you. And you’ll be lion meat in the end, or die of exhaustion if you don’t listen to me - not that it would be much loss.”
The others paid no attention to his last sally. As a matter of fact they had all been quarreling so much for such a long period of time that they really paid little attention to one another. With the exception of Peebles and Throck they all hated one another cordially, and only clung together because they were afraid to separate. Slowly Peebles lowered his bulk to the ground. Throck followed him, and then came Kraski, and then, finally, Bluber, who stood for a moment in silence, looking down at his disreputable clothing.
“Mein Gott!” he exclaimed at last, “Look at me! Dis suit, vot it cost me twenty guineas, look at it. Ruined. Ruined. It vouldn’t bring vun penny in der pound.”
“The hell with your clothes!” exclaimed Kraski. “Here we are, lost, half-starved, constantly menaced by wild animals, and maybe, for all we know, by cannibals, with Flora missing in the jungle, and you can stand there and talk about your ‘tventy guinea’ suit. You make me tired, Bluber. But come on, we might as well be moving.”
“Which way?” asked Throck.
“Why, to the west, of course,” replied Kraski. “The coast is there, and there is nothing else for us to do but try to reach it.”
“We can’t reach it by goin’ east,” roared Peebles, “an’ ‘ere we are, ‘n that’s that.”
“Who said we could?” demaned Kraski.
“Well, we was travelin’ east all day yesterday,” said Peebles. “I knew all the time that there was somthin’ wrong, and I just got it figured out.”
Throck looked at his partner in stupid surprise. “What do you mean?” he growled. “What makes you think we was travelin’ east?”
“It’s easy enough,” replied Peebles, “and I can prove it to you. Because this party here knows so much more than the rest of us we’ve been travelin’ straight toward the interior ever since the natives deserted us.” He nodded toward the Russian, who stood with his hands on his hips, eyeing the other quizzically.
“If you think I’m taking you in the wrong direction, Peebles,” said Kraski, “you just turn around and go the other way; but I’m going to keep on the way we’ve been going, which is the right way.”
“It ain’t the right way,” retorted Peebles, “and I’ll show yer. Listen here. When you travel west the sun is at your left side, isn’t it – that is, all durin’ the middle of the day. Well, ever since we’ve been travelin’ without the natives the sun has been on our right. I thought all the time there was somethin’ wrong, but I could never figure it out until just now. It’s plain as the face on your nose. We’ve been travelin’ due east right along.”
“Blime,” cried Throck, “that we have, due east, and this blighter thinks as ‘ow ‘e knows it all.”
“Ach!” groaned Bluber, “und ve we got to valk it all back again yet, once more?”
Kraski laughed and turned away to resume the march in the direction he had chosen. “You fellows go on your way if you want to,” he said, “and while you’re traveling, just ponder the fact that you’re south of the equator and that therefore the sun is always in the north, which, however, doesn’t change its old-fashioned habit of setting in the west.”
Bluber was the first to grasp the truth of Kraski’s statement. “Come on, boys,” he said, “Carl vas right,” and he turned and followed the Russian.
Peebles stood scratching his head, entirely baffled by the puzzling problem, which Throck, also, was pondering deeply. Presently the latter turned after Bluber and Kraski. “Come on, John,” he said to Peebles, “hi don’t hunderstand it, but hi guess they’re right. They are headin’ right toward where the sun set last night, and that sure must be west.”
His theory tottering, Peebles followed Throck, though he remained unconvinced.
The four men, hungry and footsore, had dragged their weary way along the jungle trail toward the west for several hours in vain search for game. Unschooled in jungle craft they blundered on. There might have been on every hand fierce carnivore or savage warriors, but so dull are the perceptive faculties of civilized man, the most blatant foe might have stalked them unperceived.
And so it was that shortly after noon, as they were crossing a small clearing, the zip of an arrow that barely missed Bluber’s head brought them to a sudden, terrified halt. With a shrill scream of terror Adolph crumpled to the ground. Kraski threw his rifle to his shoulder and fired.
“There!” he cried, “behind those bushes,” and then another arrow, from another direction, pierced his forearm. Peebles and Throck, beefy and cumbersome, got into action with less celerity than the Russian, but, like him, they showed no indication of fear.
“Down,” cried Kraski, suiting the action to the word. “Lie down and let them have it.”
Scarcely had the three men dropped among the long grass when a score of pygmy hunters came into the open, and a volley of arrows whizzed above the prone men, while from a nearby tree two steel-gray eyes looked down upon the ambush.
Bluber lay upon his belly with his face buried in his arms, his useless rifle lying at his side, but Kraski, Peebles, and Throck, fighting for their lives, pumped lead into the band of yelling pygmies.
Kraski and Peebles each dropped a native with his rifle and then the foe withdrew into the concealing safety of the surrounding jungle. For a moment there was a cessation of hostilities. Utter silence reigned, and then a voice broke the quiet from the verdure of a nearby forest giant.
“Do not fire until I tell you to,” it said, in English, “and I will save you.”
Bluber raised his head. “Come qvick! Come qvick!” he cried. “Ve vill not shoot. Safe me, safe me, und I giff you five pounds.”
From the tree from which the voice had issued there came a single, low, long-drawn, whistled note, and then silence for a time.
The pygmies, momentarily surprised by the mysterious voice emanating from the foliage of a tree, ceased their activities, but presently, hearing nothing to arouse their fear, they emerged from the cover of the bushes and launched another volley of arrows toward the four men lying among the grasses in the clearing. Simultaneously the figure of a giant white leaped from the lower branches of a patriarch of the jungle, as a great black-maned lion sprang from the thicket below.
“Ach!” shrieked Bluber, and again buried his face in his arms.
For an instant the pygmies stood terrified, and then their leader cried, “It is Tarzan!” and turned and fled into the jungle.
“Yes, it is Tarzan – Tarzan of the Apes,” cried Lord Greystoke. “It is Tarzan and the golden lion,” but he spoke in the dialect of the pygmies, and the whites understood no word of what he said. Then he turned to them. “The Gomangani have gone,” he said, “get up.”
The music in the background, dum, de, dum, dum! underscores the judgment that is about to be meted out to these foul fiends who drugged the ape-man – Jungle Justice!
The four men crawled to their feet. “Who are you, and what are you doing here?” demanded Tarzan of the Apes. “But I do not need to ask who you are. You are the men who drugged me, and left me helpless in your camp, a prey to the first passing lion or savage native.”
Bluber stumbled forward, rubbing his palms together and cringing and smiling. “Ach, nein! Mr. Tarzan, ve did not know you. Neffer vould ve did vot ve done, had ve known it was Tarzan of der Apes. Safe me! Ten pounds – tventy pounds – anyt’ing. Name your own price. Safe me, und it is yours.”
Tarzan ignored Bluber and turned toward the others. “I am looking for one of your men,” he said, “a black named Luvini. He killed my wife. Where is he?”
“We know nothing of that,” said Kraski. “Luvini betrayed us and deserted us. Your wife and another white woman were in our camp at the time. None of us knows what became of them. They were behind us when we took our post to defend the camp from our men and the slaves of the Arabs. Your Waziri were there. After the enemy had withdrawn we found that the two women had disappeared. We are looking for them now.”
“My Waziri told me as much,” said Tarzan, “but have you seen aught of Luvini since?”
“No, we have not,” replied Kraski.
“What are you doing here?” demanded Tarzan.
“We came with Mr. Bluber on a scientific expedition,” replied the Russian. “We have had a great deal of trouble. Our headmen, askari, and porters have mutinied and deserted. We are absolutely alone and helpless.”
“Ja, Ja!” cried Bluber. “Safe us! Safe us! But keep dat lion avay. He makes me nervous.”
“He will not hurt you – unless I tell him to,” said Tarzan.
“Den please don’t tell him to,” cried Bluber.
“Where do you want to go?” asked Tarzan.
“We are trying to get back to the coast,” replied Kraski, “and from there to London.”
“Come with me,” said Tarzan, “possibly I can help you. You do not deserve it, but I cannot see you perish here in the jungle.”
They followed him toward the west, and that night they made camp beside a small jungle stream.
Wow, Tarzan let them off easy. I wasn’t expecting that. Perhaps Jungle Justice operates on other principles. Sometimes it’s best to have faith in the system.
It was difficult for the four Londoners to accustom themselves to the presence of the great lion, and Bluber was in a state palpable terror.
As they squatted around the fire after the evening meal, which Tarzan had provided, Kraski suggested that they set to and build some sort of shelter against the wild beasts.
“It will not be necessary,” said Tarzan. “Jad-bal-ja will guard you. He will sleep here beside Tarzan of the Apes, and what one of us does not hear the other will.”
Bluber sighed. “Mein Gott!” he cried. “I should giff ten pounds for vun nights’ sleep.”
“You may have it tonight for less than that,” replied Tarzan, “for nothing shall befall you while Jad-bal-ja and I are here.”
“Vell, den I t’ink I say good night,” said Bluber, and moving a few paces away from the fire he curled up and was soon asleep. Throck and Peebles followed suit, and shortly after, Kraski, too.
As the Russian lay, half dozing, his eyes partially open, he saw the ape-man rise from the squatting position he had maintained before the fire, and turn toward a nearby tree. As he did so, something fell from beneath his loincloth – a little sack made of hides – a little sack, bulging with its contents.
Kraski, thoroughly awakened now, watched it as the ape-man moved off a short distance, accompanied by Jad-bal-ja, and lay down to sleep.
The great lion curled beside the prostrate man, and presently the Russian was assured that both slept. Immediately he commenced crawling, stealthily and slowly toward the little package lying beside the fire. With each forward move that he made he paused and looked at the recumbent figures of the two ferocious beasts before him, but both slept on peacefully. At last the Russian could reach out and grasp the sack, and drawing it toward him he stuffed it quickly inside his shirt. Then he turned and crawled slowly and carefully back to his place beyond the fire. There, lying with his head upon one arm as though in profound slumber, he felt carefully of the sack with the fingers of his left hand.
“They feel like pebbles,” he muttered to himself, “and doubtless that is what they are, for the barbaric ornamentation of this savage barbarian who is a peer in England. It does not seem possible that this wild beast has sat in the House of Lords.”
Noiselessly Kraski undid the knot which held the mouth of the sack closed, and a moment later he let a portion of the contents trickle forth into his open palm.
“My God!” he cried, “diamonds!”
Greedily he poured them all out and gloated over them – five pounds of pure, white diamonds, representing so fabulous a fortune that the very contemplation of it staggered the Russian.
“My God!” he repeated, “the wealth of Croesus in my own hand.”
Quickly he gathered up the stones and replaced them in the sack, always with one eye upon Tarzan and Jad-bal-ja; but neither stirred, and presently he had returned them all to the pouch and slipped the package inside his shirt.
“Tomorrow,” he muttered, “tomorrow – would to God that I had the nerve to attempt it tonight.”
In the middle of the following morning Tarzan, with the four Londoners, approached a good-sized, stockaded village, containing many huts. He was received not only graciously, but with the deference due an emperor.
The whites were awed by the attitude of the black chief and his warriors as Tarzan was conducted into their presence.
After the usual ceremony had been gone through, Tarzan turned and waved his hand toward the four Europeans. “These are my friends,” he said to the black chief, “and they wish to reach the coast in safety. Send with them, then, sufficient warriors to feed and guard them during the journey. It is I, Tarzan of the Apes, who requests this favor.”
“Tarzan of the Apes, the great chief, Lord of the Jungle, has but to command,” replied the black.
“Good!” exclaimed Tarzan, “feed them well and treat them well, for I have other business to attend to and may not remain.”
“There bellies shall be filled, and they shall reach the coast unscathed,” replied the chief.
Without a word of farewell, without even a sign that he realized their existence, Tarzan of the Apes passed from the sight of the Europeans, while at his heels paced Jad-bal-ja, the golden lion.
Boy, talk about gratitude! Kraski stole those diamonds without even a trace of guilt. It doesn’t seem right that Tarzan let him off the hook so easily. And, when you think about it, the diamonds are like the Jewels of Opar in their temptation for evil doing. Will they get to the coast unscathed? Or will they still get what’s coming to them because Jungle Justice will not be denied? See you in Chapter Nineteen.
Tarzan and the Golden Lion: ERB C.H.A.S.E.R. Bibliography
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