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ERB’S WORKERS’ PARADISE:
TARZAN THE INVINCIBLE
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Well, what about that opening scene in the camp with the Hindu staring at Zora’s tent until she popped out? Remember, this is ERB, so it must portend something. And what a conglomerate of international communists. We have Russians in charge, with Arabs and Hindus and various African tribes, not all believers, that’s for sure. And an American and Filipino are waiting in the wings to propel the proletarian revolution onward. And the gold of Opar has something to do with their plotting and scheming. Well, enough said.
Chapter Two: The Hindu
With the coming of a new day came a new activity to the camp of the conspirators. Now were the Bedauwy drinking no coffee in the mak’aad; the cards of the whites were put away and the Galla warriors played no longer at minkala.
Zveri sat behind his folding camp table directing his aides and with the assistance of Zora and Raghunath Jafar issued ammunition to the file of armed men marching past them. Miguel Romero and the two remaining whites were supervising the distribution of loads among the porters. Savage black Kitembo moved constantly among his men, hastening laggards from belated breakfast fires and forming those who had received their ammunition into companies. Abu Batn, the sheykh, squatted aloof with his sun-bitten warriors. They, always ready, watched with contempt the disorderly preparations of their companions.
“How many are you leaving to guard the camp?” asked Zora.
“You and Comrade Jafar will remain in charge here,” replied Zveri. “Your boys and ten askari also will remain as camp guard.”
“That will be plenty,” replied the girl. “There is no danger.”
“No,” agreed Zveri, “not now, but if that Tarzan were here it would be different. I took pains to assure myself as to that before I chose this region for our base camp, and I have learned that he has been absent for a great while – went on some fool dirigible expedition that has never been heard from. It is almost certain that he is dead.”
When the last of the blacks had received his issue of ammunition, Kitembo assembled his tribesmen at a little distance from the rest of the expedition and harangued them in a low voice. They were Basembos, and Kitembo, their chief, spoke to them in the dialect of their people.
Kitembo hated all whites. The British had occupied the land that had been the home of his people since before the memory of man, and because Kitembo, hereditary chief, had been irreconcilable to the domination of the invaders they had deposed him, elevating a puppet to the chieftaincy.
To Kitembo, the chief – savage, cruel and treacherous – all whites were anathema, but he saw in his connection with Zveri an opportunity to be avenged upon the British; and so he had gathered about him many of his tribesmen and enlisted in the expedition that Zveri promised him would rid the land forever of the British and restore Kitembo to even greater power and glory than had formerly been the lot of Basembo chiefs. It was not, however, always easy for Kitembo to hold the interest of his people in this undertaking. The British had greatly underestimated his power and influence, so that warriors, who formerly might have been as subservient to his will as slaves, now dared openly to question his authority. There had been no demur so long as the expedition entailed no greater hardships than short marches, pleasant camps, and plenty of food, with West Coast blacks, and members of other tribes less warlike than the Basembos, to act as porters, carry the loads, and do all of the heavy work; but now, with fighting looming ahead, some of his people had desired to know just what they were going to get out of it, having, apparently, little stomach for risking their hides for the gratification of the ambitions or hatreds of either the white Zveri or the black Kitembo.
It was for the purpose of mollifying these malcontents that Kitembo was now haranguing his warriors, promising them loot on the one hand and ruthless punishment on the other as a choice between obedience and mutiny. Some of the rewards he dangled before their imaginations might have caused Zveri and the other white members of the expedition considerable perturbation could they have understood the Basembo dialect; but perhaps a greater argument for obedience to his command was the genuine fear that most of his followers still entertained for their pitiless chieftain.
Among the other blacks of the expedition were outlaw members of several tribes and a considerable number of porters hired in the ordinary manner to accompany what was officially described as a scientific expedition.
Abu Batn and his warriors were animated to temporary loyalty to Zveri by two motives – a lust for loot and hatred for all Nasrany as represented by the British influence in Egypt and out into the desert, which they considered their hereditary domain.
The members of other races accompanying Zveri were assumed to be motivated by noble, humanitarian aspirations: but it was, nevertheless, true that their leader spoke to them more often of the acquisition of personal riches and power than of the advancement of the brotherhood of man or the rights of the proletariat.
It was, then, such a loosely knit, but none the less formidable expedition, that set forth this lovely morning upon the sack of the treasure vaults of mysterious Opar.
As Zora Drinov watched them depart, her beautiful, inscrutable eyes remained fixed steadfastly upon the person of Peter Zveri until he had disappeared from view along the river trail that led into the dark forest.
Was it a maid watching in trepidation the departure of her lover upon a mission fraught with danger, or
“Perhaps he will not return,” said an oily voice at her shoulder.
The girl turned her head to look into the half-closed eyes of Raghunath Jafar. “He will return, Comrade,” she said. “Peter Zveri always returns to me.”
“You are very sure of him,” said the man, with a leer.
“It is written,” replied the girl as she started to move toward her tent.
“Wait,” said Jafar.
She stopped and turned toward him. “What do you want?” she asked.
“You,” he replied. “What do you see in that uncouth swine, Zora? What does he know of love or beauty? I can appreciate you, beautiful flower of the morning. With me you may attain the transcendent bliss of perfect love, for I am an adept in the cult of love. A beast like Zveri would only degrade you.”
I am assuming this cult is one that uses the Kama Sutra, the Hindu sex guide of many positions and pleasures. That’s old ERB for you, always on his toes for sexual references which have to be subtle since this is 1930, not only the beginning of the Great Depression but also the beginning of a great trend in censorship.
I remember at the 2012 Centennial when Lee Chase, the son of Ashton Dearholt and Florence Gilbert, and adopted son of ERB, said when asked how he made it through the Great Depression, he smiled and said that they lived in Beverly Hills and had a butler, thus instantly bringing that question to a swift conclusion. When I asked him how he felt about his father, he looked at me funny and said, “You mean Ed?” “No,” I replied, “I mean your real father, Ashton.” Immediately he grew silent in reflection but before he could answer his wife spoke up, asking him to relate a favorite story of theirs. I turned in my seat and gave her an angry look, but that ended my session with him. Good grief, what possible harm was she protecting him from?
The sickening disgust that the girl felt she hid from the eyes of the man, for she realized the expedition might be gone for days and that during that time she and Jafar would be practically alone together, except for a handful of savage black warriors whose attitude toward a matter of this nature between an alien woman and an alien man she could not anticipate, but she was none the less determined to put a definite end to his advances.
“You are playing with death, Jafar,” she said quietly. “I am here upon no mission of love, and if Zveri should learn of what you have said to me he would kill you. Do not speak to me again on this subject.”
Since, to our great sorrow, Jane Clayton, the most beautiful woman in the world, is not in this story, we will just have to settle for other women’s near rape experiences. So, get ready, but first note the mystical telepathic hypnotism that the Hindu utilizes to weaken Zora’s will.
“It will not be necessary,” replied the Hindu, enigmatically. His half-closed eyes were fixed steadily upon those of the girl. For perhaps less than a minute the two stood thus, while there crept through Zora Drinov a sense of growing weakness, a realization of approaching capitulation. She fought against it, pitting her will against that of the man. Suddenly she tore her eyes from his. She had won, but victory left her weak and trembling as might be one who had just experienced a stubbornly contested physical encounter. Turning quickly away, she moved swiftly toward her tent, not daring to look back for fear that she might again encounter those twin pools of vicious and malignant power that were the eyes of Raghunath Jafar; so she did not see the oily smile of satisfaction that twisted the sensuous lips of the Hindu, nor did she hear his whispered repetition – “It will not be necessary.”
As the expedition wound along the trail that leads to the foot of the barrier cliffs that hem the lower frontier of the arid plateau beyond which stand the ancient ruins that are Opar, Wayne Colt, far to the west, pushed on toward the base camp of the conspirators. To the south, a little monkey rode upon the back of a great lion, shrilling insults now with perfect impunity at every jungle creature that crossed their path; while, with equal contempt for all lesser creatures, the mighty carnivore strode haughtily down wind, secure in the knowledge of his unquestioned might. A herd of antelope, grazing in his path, caught the acrid scent of the cat and moved nervously about; but when he came within sight of them they trotted only a short distance to one side, making a path for him; and, while he was still in sight, they resumed their feeding, for Numa, the lion, had fed well and the herbivores knew, as creatures of the wild know many things that are beyond the dull sensibilities of man, and felt no fear of Numa with a full belly.
To others, yet far off, came the scent of the lion; and they, too, moved nervously, though their fear was less than had been the first fear of the antelope. These others were the great apes of the tribe of To-yat, the king ape, whose mighty bulls had little cause to fear even Numa himself, though their shes and their balus might well tremble.
As the cat approached, the Mangani became more restless and more irritable. To-yat, the king ape, beat his breast and bared his great fighting fangs. Ga-yat, his powerful shoulders hunched, moved to the edge of the herd nearest the approaching danger. Zu-tho thumped a warning menace with his calloused feet. The shes called their balus to them, and many took to the lower branches of the larger trees or sought positions close to an arboreal avenue of escape.
It was at this moment that an almost naked white man dropped from the dense foliage of a tree and alighted in their midst. Taut nerves and short tempers snapped. Roaring and snarling, the herd rushed upon the rash and hated manthing. The king ape was in the lead.
“To-yat has a short memory,” said the man in the tongue of the Mangani.
For an instant the ape paused, surprised perhaps to hear the language of his kind issuing from the lips of a manthing. “I am To-yat!” he growled. “I kill.”
“I am Tarzan,” replied the man, “mighty hunter, mighty fighter. I come in peace.”
“Kill! Kill!” roared To-yat, and the other great bulls advanced, bare-fanged, menacingly.
“Zu-tho! Ga-yat!” snapped the man, “it is I, Tarzan of the Apes”; but the bulls were nervous and frightened now, for the scent of Numa was strong in their nostrils, and the shock of Tarzan’s sudden appearance had plunged them into a panic.
“Kill! Kill!” they bellowed, though as yet they did not charge, but advanced slowly, working themselves into the necessary frenzy of rage that would terminate in a sudden, blood-mad rush that no living creature might withstand and which would leave naught but torn and bloody fragments of the object of their wrath.
“Tell the Mangani that Tarzan is the friend of little Nkima,” shrilled the monkey. “He must not harm little Nkima.”
“It is as Nkima has said,” the ape-man assured Ga-yat.
“The friends of Tarzan are friends of Ga-yat,” replied the great ape.
“It is well,” said Tarzan, “and now I go. Tell To-yat and the others what we have said and tell them also that there are strange men in this country which is Tarzan’s. Let them watch them, but do not let the men see them, for these are bad men, perhaps, who carry the thunder sticks that hurl death with smoke and fire and a great noise. Tarzan goes now to see why these men are in his country.”
Zora Drinov had avoided Jafar since the departure of the expedition to Opar. Scarcely had she left her tent, feigning a headache as an excuse, nor had the Hindu made any attempt to invade her privacy. Thus passed the first day. Upon the morning of the second Jafar summoned the head man of the askaris that had been left to guard them and to procure meat.
“Today,” said Raghunath Jafar, “would be a good day to hunt. The signs are propitious. Go, therefore, into the forest, taking all your men, and do not return until the sun is low in the west. If you do this there will be presents for you, besides all the meat you can eat from the carcasses of your kills. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Bwana,” replied the black.
“Take with you the boy of the woman. He will not be needed here. My boy will remain to cook for us.”
“Perhaps he will not come,” suggested the Negro.
“You are many, he is only one; but do not let the woman know that you are taking him.”
“What are the presents?” demanded the head man.
“A piece of cloth and cartridges,” replied Jafar.
“And the curved sword that you carry when we are on the march.”
“No,” said Jafar.
“This is not a good day to hunt,” replied the black, turning away.
“Two pieces of cloth and fifty cartridges,” suggested Jafar.
“And the curved sword,” and thus, after much haggling, the bargain was made.
The head man gathered his askaris and bade them prepare for the hunt, saying that the brown bwana had so ordered, but he said nothing about any presents. When they were ready, he dispatched one to summon the white woman’s servant.
“You are to accompany us on the hunt,” he said to the boy.
“Who said so?” demanded Wamala.
“The brown bwana,” replied Kahiya, the head man.
Wamala laughed. “I take my orders from my mistress and from the brown bwana.”
Kahiya leaped upon him and clapped a rough palm across his mouth as two of his men seized Wamala upon either side. “You take your orders from Kahiya,” he said. Hunting spears were pressed against the boy’s trembling body. “Will you go upon the hunt with us?” demanded Kahiya.
“I go,” replied Wamala. “I did but joke.”
As Zveri led his expedition toward Opar, Wayne Colt, impatient to join the main body of the conspirators, urged his men to greater speed in their search for the camp. The principal conspirators had entered Africa at different points that they might not arouse too much attention by their numbers. Pursuant to this plan Colt had landed on the west coast and had traveled inland a short distance by train to railhead, from which point he had had a long and arduous journey on foot; so that now, with his destination almost in sight, he was anxious to put a period to this part of his adventure. Then, too, he was curious to meet the other principals in this hazardous undertaking, Peter Zveri being the only one with whom he was acquainted.
The young American was not unmindful of the great risks he was inviting in affilliating himself with an expedition which aimed at the peace of Europe and at the ultimate control of a large section of Northeastern Africa through the disaffection by propaganda of large and warlike tribes, especially in view of the fact that much of their operation must be carried on within British territory, where British power was considerably more than a mere gesture. But, being young and enthusiastic, however misguided, these contingencies did not weigh heavily upon his spirits, which, far from being depressed, were upon the contrary eager and restless for action.
The tedium of the journey from the coast had been unrelieved by pleasurable or adequate companionship, since the childish mentality of Tony could not rise above a muddy conception of Philippine independence and a consideration of the fine clothes he was going to buy when, by some vaguely visualized economic process, he was to obtain his share of the Ford and Rockefeller fortunes.
However, notwithstanding Tony’s mental shortcomings, Colt was genuinely fond of the youth and as between the companionship of the Filipino or Zveri, he would have chosen the former, his brief acquaintance with the Russian in New York and San Francisco having convinced him that as a playfellow he left everything to be desired; nor had he any reason to anticipate that he would find any more congenial associates among the conspirators.
Plodding doggedly onward, Colt was only vaguely aware of the now familiar sights and sounds of the jungle, both of which by this time, it must be admitted, had considerably palled upon him. Even had he taken particular note of the latter, it is to be doubted that his untrained ear would have caught the persistent chatter of a little monkey that followed in the trees behind him; nor would this have particularly impressed him, unless he had been able to know that this particular little monkey rode upon the shoulder of a bronzed Apollo of the forest, who moved silently in his wake along a leafy highway of the lower terraces.
Tarzan had guessed that perhaps this white man, upon whose trail he had come unexpectedly, was making his way toward the main camp of the party of strangers for which the Lord of the Jungle was searching; and so, with the persistence and patience of the savage stalker of the jungle, he followed Wayne Colt; while little Nkima, riding upon his shoulder, berated his master for not immediately destroying the Tarmangani and all his party, for little Nkima was a bloodthirsty soul when the spilling of blood was to be accomplished by someone else.
And while Colt impatiently urged his men to greater speed and Tarzan followed and Nkima scolded, Raghunath Jafar approached the tent of Zora Drinov. As his figure darkened the entrance, casting a shadow across the book she was reading, the girl looked up from the cot upon which she was lying.
The Hindu smiled his oily, ingratiating smile. “I came to see if your headache was better,” he said.
“Thank you, no,” said the girl coldly; “but perhaps with undisturbed rest I may be better soon.”
Ignoring the suggestion, Jafar entered the tent and seated himself in a camp chair. “I find it lonely,” he said, “since the others have gone. Do you not also?”
“No,” replied Zora. “I am quite content to be alone and resting.”
“Your headache developed very suddenly,” said Jafar. “A short time ago you seemed quite well and animated.”
The girl made no reply. She was wondering what had become of her boy, Wamala, and why he had disregarded her explicit instructions to permit no one to disturb her.
Perhaps Raghunath Jafar read her thoughts, for to East Indians are often attributed uncanny powers, however little warranted such a belief may be. However that may be, his next words suggested the possibility.
“Wamala has gone hunting with the askari,” he said.
“I gave him no such permission,” said Zora.
“I took the liberty of doing so,” said Jafar.
“You had no right,” said the girl angrily, sitting up upon the edge of her cot. “You have presumed altogether too far, Comrade Jafar.”
“Wait a moment, my dear,” said the Hindu soothingly. “Let us not quarrel. As you know, I love you and love does not find confirmation in crowds. Perhaps I have presumed, but it was only for the purpose of giving me an opportunity to plead my cause without interruption; and then, too, as you know, all is fair in love and war.”
“Then we may consider this as war,” said the girl, “for it certainly is not love, either upon your side or upon mine. There is another word to describe what animates you, Comrade Jafar, and that which animates me now is loathing. I could not abide you if you were the last man on earth, and when Zveri returns, I promise you that there shall be an accounting.”
“Long before Zveri returns I shall have taught you to love me,” said the Hindu, passionately. He arose and came toward her. The girl leaped to her feet, looking about quickly for a weapon of defense. Her cartridge belt and revolver hung over the chair in which Jafar had been sitting, and her rifle was upon the opposite side of the tent.
“You are quite unarmed,” said the Hindu. “I took particular note of that when I entered the tent. Nor will it do you any good to call for help; for there is no one in camp but you, and me, and my boy and he knows that, if he values his life, he is not to come here unless I call him.”
“You are a beast,” said the girl.
“Why not be reasonable, Zora?” demanded Jafar. “It would not harm you any to be kind to me, and it will make it very much easier for you. Zveri need know nothing of it, and once we are back in civilization again, if you still feel that you do not wish to remain with me I shall not try to hold you; but I am sure that I can teach you to love me and that we shall be very happy together.”
“Get out!” ordered the girl. There was neither fear nor hysteria in her voice. It was very calm and level and controlled.
To a man not entirely blinded by passion, that might have meant something – it might have meant a grim determination to carry self-defense to the very length of death – but Raghunath Jafar saw only the woman of his desire, and stepping quickly forward he seized her.
Zora Drinov was young and lithe and strong, yet she was no match for the burly Hindu, whose layers of greasy fat belied the great physical strength beneath them. She tried to wrench herself free and escape from the tent, but he held her and dragged her back. Then she turned upon him in a fury and struck him repeatedly in the face, but he only enveloped her more closely in his embrace and bore her backward upon the cot.
Gee, I wonder what he has in mind? Yep, another near rape left hanging in thin air. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens. Are you guessing that there will be an intervening force? After all, this is ERB we are talking about. And I wonder what book she was reading in her tent? See you next chapter.
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