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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.
We’ve come to the end of our jungle trail in pursuit of the Great Imposter, Esteban Miranda, who has come to believe he really is the person whom he is impersonating. So far the story has been far from boring and ERB has kept us guessing all the way, and ‘ere we are, ‘n that’s that.
Chapter Twenty-One: An Escape and a Capture
At sight of the real Tarzan, Esteban Miranda turned and fled blindly into the jungle. His heart was cold with terror as he rushed on in blind fear. He had no objective in mind. He did not know in what direction he was going. His only thought – the thought that dominated him – was based solely upon a desire to put as much distance as possible between himself and the ape-man, and so he blundered on, forcing his way through dense thickets of thorns that tore and lacerated his flesh until at every step he left a trail of blood behind him.
At the river’s edge the thorns reached out and seized again, as they had several times before, the precious leopard skin to which he clung with almost the same tenacity as he clung to life itself. But this time the thorns would not leave go their hold, and as he struggled to tear it away from them, his eyes turned back in the direction from which he had come. He heard the sound of a great body moving rapidly through the thicket toward him, and an instant later saw the baleful glare of two gleaming, yellow-green spots of flame. With a stifled cry of terror the Spaniard relinquished his hold upon the leopard skin and, wheeling, dived into the river.
As the black waters closed above his head Jad-bal-ja came to the edge of the bank and looked down upon the widening circles which marked the spot of his quarry’s disappearance, for Esteban, who was a strong swimmer, struck boldly for the opposite side of the stream, keeping himself well submerged.
For a moment the golden lion scanned the surface of the river, and then he turned and sniffed at the hide the Spaniard had been forced to leave behind, and grasping it in his jaws tore it from the thorns that held it and carried it back to lay it at the feet of his master.
Forced at last to come to the surface for air the Spaniard arose amid a mass of tangled foliage and branches. For a moment he thought that he was lost, so tightly held was he by the entangling boughs, but presently he forced his way upward, and as his head appeared above the surface of the water amidst the foliage he discovered that he had arisen directly beneath a fallen tree that was floating down the center of the stream. After considerable effort he managed to draw himself up to the boughs and find a place astride the great bole, and thus he floated downstream in comparative safety.
He breathed a deep sigh of relief as he realized with what comparative ease he had escaped the just vengeance of the ape-man. It is true that he bemoaned the loss of the hide which carried the map to the location of the hidden gold, but he still retained in his possession a far greater treasure, and as he thought of it his hands gloatingly fondled the bag of diamonds fastened to his loincloth. Yet, even though he possessed this great fortune in diamonds, his avaricious mind constantly returned to the golden ingots by the waterfall.
“Owaza will get it,” he muttered to himself. “I never trusted the craven dog, and when he deserted me I knew well enough what his plans were.”
All night long Esteban Miranda floated downstream upon the fallen tree, seeing no sign of life, until shortly after daybreak he passed a native village upon the shore.
It was the village of Obebe, the cannibal, and at sight of the strange figure of the white giant floating down the stream upon the bole of a tree, the young woman who espied him raised a great hue and cry until the population of the village lined the shore watching him pass.
“It is a strange god,” cried one.
“It is the River Devil,” said the witch doctor. “He is a friend of mine. Now, indeed, shall we catch many fish if for each ten that you catch you give one to me.”
“It’s not the River Devil,” rumbled the deep voice of Obebe, the cannibal. “You are getting old,” he said to the witch doctor, “and of late your medicine has been poor medicine, and now you tell me that Obebe’s greatest enemy is the River Devil. That is Tarzan of the Apes. Obebe knows him well.” And in truth every cannibal chief in the vicinity knew Tarzan of the Apes well and feared and hated him, for relentless had been the ape-man’s war against them.
“It is Tarzan of the Apes,” repeated Obebe, “and he is in trouble. Perhaps it is our chance to capture him.”
He called his warriors about him, and presently half a hundred brawny young bucks started at a dog trot down the trail that paralleled the river. For miles they followed the slowly moving tree which carried Esteban Miranda until at last at a bend in the river the tree was caught in the outer circle of a slow-moving eddy, which carried it beneath the overhanging limbs of the trees growing close to the river’s edge.
Cramped and chilled and hungry as he was, Esteban was glad of the opportunity to desert his craft and gain the shore. And so, laboriously, he drew himself up among the branches of the tree that momentarily offered him a haven of retreat from the river, and crawling to its stem lowered himself to the ground beneath, unconscious of the fact that in the grasses around him squatted half a hundred cannibal warriors.
Leaning against the bole of the tree the Spaniard rested for a moment. He felt for the diamonds and found that they were safe.
“I am a lucky devil, after all,” he said aloud, and almost simultaneously the fifty blacks arose about him and leaped upon him. So sudden was the attack, so overwhelming the force, that the Spaniard had no opportunity to defend himself against them, with the result that he was down and securely bound almost before he could realize what was happening to him.
“Ah, Tarzan of the Apes, I have you at last,” gloated Obebe, the cannibal, but Esteban did not understand a word the man said, and so he could make no reply. He talked to Obebe in English, but that language the latter did not understand.
Of only one thing was Esteban certain, that he was a prisoner and that he was being taken back toward the interior. When they reached Obebe’s village there was great rejoicing on the part of the women and the children and the warriors who had remained behind. But the witch doctor shook his head and made wry faces and dire prophecies.
“You have seized the River Devil,” he said. “We shall catch no more fish, and presently a great sickness will fall upon Obebe’s people and they will all die like flies.” But Obebe only laughed at the witch doctor for, being an old man and a great king, he had accumulated much wisdom and, with the acquisition of wisdom, man is more inclined to be skeptical in matters of religion.
“You may laugh now, Obebe,” said the witch doctor, “but later you will not laugh. Wait and see.”
“When, with my own hands, I kill Tarzan of the Apes, then indeed shall I laugh,” replied the chief, “and when I and my warriors have eaten his heart and his flesh, then, indeed, shall we no longer fear any of your devils.”
“Wait,” cried the witch doctor angrily, “and you shall see.”
They took the Spaniard, securely bound, and threw him into a filthy hut, through the doorway of which he could see the women of the village preparing cooking fires and pots for the feast of the coming night. A cold sweat stood out upon the brow of Esteban Miranda as he watched these grotesque preparations, the significance of which he could not misinterpret, when coupled with the gestures and the glances that were directed toward the hut where he lay, by the inhabitants of the village.
According to Garry Hogg, in Cannibalism and Human Sacrifice (London: Robert Hale, 1958), human beings are known as “long pig” among the cannibal tribes because of the similarity of the taste of human flesh and pork. Also, the best parts for a lot of them were the knuckles and fingers. Many also believed that by eating a person all of their qualities of courage and virility would be transferred to them. They also were almost blind to compassion and it was not uncommon for a man angry at his wife, to kill and eat her.
Human flesh is also very addicting according to the experts. Most of the information came from early missionaries, the descriptions of which are quite gruesome. Not for the squeamish, that’s for sure.
Moreover, modern tastes may have improved, because when Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, asked an expert on the subject what is the best part of the human body to eat, the survivalist answered, “The cut under the ribs.” Calling them Baby Back Ribs may be more true than one would think.
The afternoon was almost spent and the Spaniard felt that he could count the hours of life remaining to him upon possibly two fingers of one hand, when there came from the direction of the river a series of piercing screams which shattered the quiet of the jungle, and brought the inhabitants of the village to startled attention, and an instant later sent them in a mad rush in the direction of the fear-laden shrieks. But they were too late and reached the river only just in time to see a woman dragged beneath the surface by a huge crocodile.
“Ah, Obebe, what did I tell you?” demanded the witch doctor exultantly. “Already the devil god commenced his revenge upon your people.”
The ignorant villagers, steeped in superstition, looked fearfully from the witch doctor to their chief. Obebe scowled. “He is Tarzan of the Apes,” he insisted.
“He is the River Devil who has taken the shape of Tarzan of the Apes,” insisted the witch doctor.
“We shall see,” replied Obebe. “If he is the River Devil he can escape our bonds. If he is Tarzan of the Apes he cannot. If he is the River Devil he will not die a natural death, like men die, but will live on forever. If he is Tarzan of the Apes some day he will die. We will keep him, then, and see, and that will prove whether or not he is Tarzan of the Apes or the River Devil.”
“How?” asked the witch doctor.
“It is very simple,” replied Obebe. “If some morning we find that he has escaped we will know that he is the River Devil, and because we have not harmed him but have fed him well while he has been here in our village, he will befriend us and no harm will come of it. But if he does not escape we will know that he is Tarzan of the Apes, provided he dies a natural death. And so, if he does not escape, we shall keep him until he dies and then we shall know that he was, indeed, Tarzan of the Apes.”
“But suppose he does not die?” asked the witch doctor, scratching his wooly head.
“Then,” exclaimed Obebe triumphantly, “we will know that you are right, and that he was, indeed, the River Devil.”
Wow, a cannibal chief using the powers of deduction, even though he’s no rocket scientist, that’s for sure. Either way, Esteban Miranda is doomed to a life time of being a guinea pig. Or would it be more accurate to say of being a “long pig”?
Obebe went out and ordered women to take food to the Spaniard while the witch doctor stood, where Obebe had left him, in the middle of the street, still scratching his head in thought.
And thus was Esteban Miranda, possessor of the most fabulous fortune in diamonds that the world had ever known, condemned to life imprisonment in the village of Obebe, the cannibal.
While he had been lying in the hut his traitorous confederate, Owaza, from the opposite side of the bank of the river from the spot where he and Esteban had hidden the golden ingots, saw Tarzan and his Waziri come and search for the gold and go away again, and the following morning Owaza came with fifty men whom he had recruited from a neighboring village and dug up the gold and started with it toward the coast.
That night Owaza made camp just outside a tiny village of a minor chief, who was weak in warriors. The old fellow invited Owaza into his compound, and there he fed him and gave him native beer, while the chief’s people circulated among Owaza’s men plying them with innumerable questions until at last the truth leaked out and the chief knew that Owaza’s porters were carrying a great store of yellow gold.
When the chief learned this for certain he was much perturbed, but finally a smile crossed his face as he talked with the half-drunken Owaza.
“You have much gold with you,” said the old chief, “and it is very heavy. It will be hard to get your men to carry it all the way back to the coast.”
“Yes,” said Owaza, “I shall pay them well.”
“If they did not have to carry it so far from home you would not have to pay them so much, would you?” asked the chief.
“No,” said Owaza, “but I cannot dispose of it this side of the coast.”
“I know where you can dispose of it within two days’ march,” replied the old chief.
“Where?” demanded Owaza. “And who here in the interior will buy it?”
“There is a white man who will give you a little piece of paper for it and you can take that paper to the coast and get the full value of your gold.”
“Who is this white man?” demanded Owaza.
“He is a friend of mine,” said the chief, “and if you wish I will take you to him on the morrow, and you can bring with you all your gold and get the little piece of paper.”
“Good,” said Owaza, “and then I shall not have to pay the carriers but a very small amount.”
The carriers were glad, indeed, to learn the next day that they were not to go all the way to the coast, for even the lure of payment was not sufficient to overcome their dislike to so long a journey, and their fear of being at so great a distance from home. They were very happy, therefore, as they set forth on a two days’ march toward the northeast. And Owaza was happy and so was the old chief, who accompanied them himself, though why he was happy about it Owaza could not guess.
They had marched for almost two days when the chief sent one of his own men forward with a message.
“It is to my friend,” he said, “to tell him to come and meet us and lead us to the village.” And a few hours later, as the little caravan emerged from the jungle onto a broad, grassy plain, they saw not far from them, and approaching rapidly, a large band of warriors. Owaza halted.
“Whose are those?” he demanded.
“Those are the warriors of my friend,” replied the chief, “and he is with them. See?” and he pointed toward a figure at the head of the blacks, who were approaching at a trot, their spears and white plumes gleaming in the sunshine.
“They come for war and not for peace,” said Owaza fearfully.
“That depends upon you, Owaza,” replied the chief.
“I do not understand you,” said Owaza.
“But you will in a few minutes after my friend has come.”
As the advancing warriors approached more closely Owaza saw a giant white at their head – a white whom he mistook for Esteban – the confederate he had so traitorously deserted. He turned upon the chief. “You have betrayed me,” he cried.
“Wait,” said the old chief; “nothing that belongs to you shall be taken from you.”
“The gold is not his,” cried Owaza. “He stole it,” and he pointed at Tarzan who had approached and halted before him, but who ignored him entirely and turned to the chief.
“Your runner came,” he said to the old man, “and brought your message, and Tarzan and his Waziri have come to see what they could do for their old friend.”
The chief smiled. “Your runner came to me, O Tarzan, four days since, and two days later came this man with his carriers, bearing golden ingots toward the coast. I told him that I had a friend who would buy them, giving him a little piece of paper for them, but that, of course, only in case the gold belonged to Owaza.
The ape-man smiled. “You have done well, my friend,” he said. “The gold does not belong to Owaza.”
“It does not belong to you, either,” cried Owaza. “You are not Tarzan of the Apes. I know you. You came with the four white men and the white woman to steal the gold from Tarzan’s country, and then you stole it from your own friends.”
The chief and the Waziri laughed. The ape-man smiled one of his slow smiles.
“The other was an imposter, Owaza,” he said, “but I am Tarzan of the Apes, and I thank you for bringing my gold to me. Come,” he said, “it is but a few more miles to my home,” and the ape-man compelled Owaza to direct his carriers to bear the golden ingots to the Greystoke bungalow. There Tarzan fed the carriers and paid them, and the next morning sent them back to their own country. He sent Owaza with them, but not without a gift of value, accompanied with an admonition that the black never again return to Tarzan’s country.
When they had departed, and Tarzan, Jane, and Korak were standing upon the veranda of the bungalow with Jad-bal-ja at their feet, the ape-man threw an arm about his mate’s shoulders.
“I shall have to retract what I said about the gold of Opar not being for me, for you see before you a new fortune that has come all of the way from the treasure vaults of Opar without any effort on my part.”
“Now, if someone would only bring your diamonds back,” laughed Jane.
“No chance of that,” said Tarzan. “They are unquestionably at the bottom of the Ugogo River,” and far away upon the banks of the Ugogo, in the village of Obebe, the cannibal, Esteban Miranda lay in the filth of the hut that had been assigned to him, gloating over the fortune that he could never utilize as he entered upon a life of captivity that the stubbornness and superstition of Obebe had doomed him to undergo.
R.I.P. Esteban Miranda! Yeah, I know he’s not dead yet, but his fate is worse than death, as most convicted first degree murderers who are sentenced to LWOP, life in prison without the possiblity of parole, where you will surely die in prison, are aware of it. And there you have it, another rousing adventure with the ape-man.
But as for my theory that Esteban was one of three characters ERB wrote about in the early 1920's who were based on his friend, Ashton Dearholt. First there was Gahan of Gathol, displaying the glamor of being a Hollywood actor, producer, and director. Second the sleazy Wilson Crumb, who displays the dark side of Hollywood. And finally, Esteban Miranda, the Great Imposter, an actor who believes he is the part he is playing.
And again I would like to express my gratitude to ERB Inc. for producing and publishing this fine edition of Tarzan and the Golden Lion, one of ERB’s greatest works.
Tarzan and the Golden Lion: ERB C.H.A.S.E.R. Bibliography
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