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ERB’S WORKERS’ PARADISE:
TARZAN THE INVINCIBLE
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Well we’ve got a lot of ingredients in the mix and the tension is building as Tarzan continues his quest for La and the commies are still at it in their invasion of Opar. Plus we have La and Zora getting friendly while Abu Batn is determined to sell them both into white slavery. What will happen to all of these loose ends? Let’s find out.
Chapter Eight: The Treachery of Abu Batn
Night was falling when a frightened little monkey took refuge in a tree top. For days he had been wandering through the jungle, seeking in his little mind a solution for his problem during those occasional intervals that he could concentrate his mental forces upon it. But in an instant he might forget it to go swinging and scampering through the trees, or again a sudden terror would drive it from his consciousness, as one or another of the hereditary menaces to his existence appeared within the range of his perceptive faculties.
While his grief lasted, it was real and poignant, and tears welled in the eyes of little Nkima as he thought of his absent master. Lurking always within him upon the borderland of conviction was the thought that he must obtain succor for Tarzan. In some way he must fetch aid to his master. The great black Gomangani warriors, who were also the servants of Tarzan, were many darknesses away, but yet it was in the general direction of the country of the Waziri that he drifted. Time was in no sense the essence of the solution of this or any other problem in the mind of Nkima. He had seen Tarzan enter Opar alive. He had not seen him destroyed, nor had he seen him come out of the city; and, therefore, by the standards of his logic Tarzan must still be alive and in the city, but because this city was filled with enemies Tarzan must be in danger. As conditions were they would remain. He could not readily visualize any change that he did not actually witness, and so, whether he found and fetched the Waziri today or tomorrow would have little effect upon the result. They would go to Opar and kill Tarzan’s enemies, and then little Nkima would have his master once more, and he would not have to be afraid of Sheeta, or Sabor, or Histah.
Night fell, and in the forest Nkima heard a gentle tapping. He aroused himself and listened intently. The tapping grew in volume until it rolled and moved through the jungle. Its source was at no great distance, and as Nkima became aware of this, his excitement grew.
The moon was well up in the heavens, but the shadows of the jungle were dense. Nkima was upon the horns of a dilemma, between his desire to go to the place from which the drumming emanated and his fear of the dangers that might lie along the way; but at length the urge prevailed over his terror, and keeping well up in the relatively greater safety of the tree tops, he swung quickly in the direction from which the sound was coming to halt at last, above a little natural clearing that was roughly circular in shape.
Below him, in the moonlight, he witnessed a scene that he had spied upon before, for here the great apes of To-yat were engaged in the death dance of the Dum-Dum. In the center of the amphitheater was one of those remarkable earthen drums, which from time immemorial primitive man has heard, but which few have seen. Before the drum were seated two old shes, who beat upon its resounding surface with short sticks. There was a rough rhythmic cadence to their beating, and to it, in a savage circle, danced the bulls; while encircling them in a thin outer line, the females and the young squatted upon their haunches, enthralled spectators of the savage scene. Close beside the drum lay the dead body of Sheeta, the leopard, to celebrate whose killing the Dum-Dum had been organized.
Presently the dancing bulls would rush in upon the body and beat it with heavy sticks and, leaping out again, resume their dance. When the hunt, and the attack, and the death had been depicted at length, they would cast away their bludgeons and with bared fangs leap upon the carcass, tearing and rending it as they fought among themselves for large pieces or choice morsels.
Now Nkima and his kind are noted neither for their tact nor judgment. One wiser than little Nkima would have remained silent until the dance and the feast were over and until a new day had come and the great bulls of the tribe of To-yat had recovered from the hysterical frenzy that the drum and the dancing induced within them. But little Nkima was only a monkey. What he wanted, he wanted immediately, not being endowed with that mental poise which results in patience, and so he swung by his tail from an overhanging branch and scolded at the top of his voice in an effort to attract the attention of the great apes below.
“To-yat! Ga-yat! Zu-tho!” he cried. “Tarzan is in danger! Come with Nkima and save Tarzan!”
A great bull stopped in the midst of the dancing and looked up. “Go away, Manu,” he growled. “Go away or we kill!” But little Nkima thought that they could not catch him, and so he continued to swing from the branch and yell and scream at them until finally To-yat sent a young ape, who was not too heavy, to clamber into the upper branches of the tree, to catch little Nkima and kill him.
Here was an emergency which Nkima had not foreseen. Like many people, he had believed that everyone would be as interested in what interested him as he; and when he had first heard the booming of the drums of the Dum-Dum, he thought that the moment the apes learned of Tarzan’s peril they would set out upon the trail to Opar.
Now, however, he knew differently, and as the real menace of his mistake became painfully apparent with the leaping of a young ape into the tree below him, little Nkima emitted a loud shriek of terror and fled through the night; nor did he pause until, panting and exhausted, he had put a good mile between himself and the tribe of To-yat.
When La of Opar awoke in the tent of Zora Drinov she looked about her, taking in the unfamiliar objects that surrounded her, and presently her gaze rested upon the face of her sleeping hostess. These, indeed, she thought, must be the people of Tarzan, for had they not treated her with kindness and courtesy? They had offered her no harm and had fed her and given her shelter. A new thought crossed her mind now and her brows contracted, as did the pupils of her eyes into which there came a sudden, savage light. Perhaps this woman was Tarzan’s mate. La of Opar grasped the hilt of Darus’ knife where it lay ready beside her. But then, as suddenly as it had come, the mood passed, for in her heart she knew that she could not return evil for good, nor could she harm whom Tarzan loved, and when Zora opened her eyes La greeted her with a smile.
If the European girl was a cause for astonishment to La, she herself filled the other with profoundest wonder and mystification. Her scant, yet rich and gorgeous apparel harked back to an ancient age, and the gleaming whiteness of her skin seemed as much out of place in the heart of an African jungle as did her trappings in the twentieth century. Here was a mystery that nothing in the past experience of Zora Drinov could assist in solving. How she wished she could converse with her, but all that she could do was to smile back at the beautiful creature regarding her so intently.
La, accustomed as she had been to being waited upon all her life by the lesser priestesses of Opar, was surprised by the facility with which Zora Drinov attended to her own needs as she rose to bathe and dress, the only service she received being in the form of a pail of hot water that Wamala fetched and poured into her folding tub; yet though La had never before been expected to lift a hand in the making of her toilet, she was far from helpless, and perhaps she found pleasure in the new experience of doing for herself.
Unlike the customs of the men of Opar, those of its women required scrupulous bodily cleanliness, so that in the past much of La’s time had been devoted to her toilet, to the care of her nails, and her teeth, and her hair, and to the massaging of her body with aromatic unguents – customs handed down from a cultured civilization of antiquity, to take on in ruined Opar the significance of religious rites.
Hmm, did you enjoy watching the women bathing and grooming together? I also enjoyed the flashback where La was being massaged by the other priestesses. I had to google what a folding tub was; at the time of story, it likely consisted of a canvas body in a wooden folding frame. There are several plastic ones that you can buy today.
By the time the two girls were ready for breakfast, Wamala was prepared to serve it; and as they sat outside the tent beneath the shade of a tree, eating the coarse fare of the camp, Zora noted unwonted activity about the beyts of the Aarabs, but she gave the matter little thought, as they had upon other occasions moved their tents from one part of the camp to another.
Breakfast over, Zora took down her rifle, wiped out the bore and oiled the breach mechanism, for today she was going out after fresh meat, the Aarabs having refused to hunt. La watched her with evident interest and later saw her depart with Wamala and two of the black porters; but she did not attempt to accompany her since, although she had looked for it, she had received no sign to do so.
Ibn Dammuk was the son of a sheykh of the same tribe as Abu Batn, and upon this expedition, he was the latter’s right-hand man. With the fold his thob drawn across the lower part of his face, leaving only his eyes exposed, he had been watching the two girls from a distance. He saw Zora Drinov quit the camp with a gun-bearer and two porters and knew that she had gone to hunt.
For some time after she had departed he sat in silence with two companions. Then he arose and sauntered across the camp toward La of Opar, where she sat buried in reverie in a camp chair before Zora’s tent. As the three men approached, La eyed them with level gaze, her natural suspicion of strangers aroused in her breast. As they came closer and their features became distinct, she felt a sudden distrust of them. They were crafty, malign looking men, not at all like Tarzan, and instinctively she distrusted them.
They halted before her and Ibn Dammuk, the son of a sheykh, addressed her. His voice was soft and oily, but it did not deceive her.
La eyed him haughtily. She did not understand him and she did not wish to, for the message that she read in his eyes disgusted her. She shook her head to signify that she did not understand and turned away to indicate that the interview was terminated, but Ibn Dammuk stepped closer and laid a hand familiarly upon her naked shoulder.
Her eyes flaming with anger, La leaped to her feet, one hand moving swiftly to the hilt of her dagger. Ibn Dammuk stepped back, but one of his men leaped forward to seize her.
Misguided fool! Like a tigress she was upon him; and before his friends could intervene, the sharp blade of the knife of Darus, the priest of the Flaming God, had sunk thrice into his breast, and with a gasping scream he had slumped to the ground dead.
With flaming eyes and bloody knife, the high priestess of Opar stood above her kill, while Abu Batn and the other Aarabs, attracted by the death cry of the stricken man, ran hurriedly toward the little group.
“Stand back!” cried La. “Lay no profaning hand upon the person of the high priestess of the Flaming God.”
They did not understand her words, but they understood her flashing eyes and her dripping blade. Jabbering volubly, they gathered around her, but at a safe distance. “What means this, Ibn Dammuk?” demanded Abu Batn.
“Dogman did but touch her, and she flew at him like el adrea, lord of the broad head.”
“A lioness she may be,” said Abu Batn, “but she must not be harmed.”
“Wullah!” exclaimed Ibn Dammuk, “but she must be tamed.”
“Her taming we may leave to him who will pay many pieces of gold for her,” replied the sheykh. “It is necessary only for us to cage her. Surround her, my children, and take the knife from her. Make her wrists secure behind her back, and by the time the others returns we shall have struck camp and be ready to depart.”
A dozen brawny men leaped upon La simultaneously. “Do not harm her! Do not harm her!” screamed Abu Batn, as, fighting like a lioness indeed, La sought to defend herself. Slashing right and left with her dagger, she drew blood more than once before they overpowered her; nor did they accomplish it before another Aarab fell with a pierced heart, but at length they succeeded in wrenching the blade from her and securing her wrists.
Leaving two warriors to guard her, Abu Batn turned his attention to gathering up the few black servants that remained in the camp. These he forced to prepare loads of such of the camp equipment and provisions as he required. While this word was going on under Ibn Dammuk’s supervision, the sheykh ransacked the tents of the Europeans, giving special attention to those of Zora Drinov and Zveri, where he expected to find the gold that the leader of the expedition was reputed to have in large quantities; nor was he entirely disappointed since he found in Zora’s tent a box containing a considerable amount of money, though by no means the great quantity that he had expected, a fact which was due to the foresight of Zveri, who had personally buried the bulk of his funds beneath the floor of his tent.
Zora met with unexpected success in her hunting, for within a little more than an hour of her departure from the camp she had come upon antelope, and two quick shots had dropped as many members of the herd. She waited while the porters skinned and dressed them and then returned leisurely toward camp. Her mind was occupied to some extent with the disquieting attitude of the Aarabs, but she was not at all prepared for the reception that she met when she approached camp about noon.
She was walking in advance, immediately followed by Wamala, who was carrying both of her rifles, while behind them were the porters, staggering under their heavy loads. Just as she was about to enter the clearing, Aarabs leaped from the underbrush on either side of the trail. Two of them seized Wamala and wrenched the rifles from his grasp, while others laid heavy hands upon Zora. She tried to free herself from them and draw her revolver, but the attack had taken her so by surprise that before she could accomplish anything in defense, she was overpowered and her hands bound at her back.
“What is the meaning of this?” she demanded. “Where is Abu Batn, the sheykh?”
The men laughed at her. “You shall see him presently,” said one. “He has another guest whom he is entertaining, so he could not come to meet you,” at which they all laughed again.
As she stepped into the clearing where she could obtain an unobstructed view of the camp, she was astounded by what she saw. Every tent had been struck. The Aarabs were leaning on their rifles ready to march, each of them burdened with a small pack, while the few black men, who had been left in camp, were lined up before heavy loads. All the rest of the paraphernalia of the camp, which Abu Batn had not men enough to transport, was heaped in a pile in the center of the clearing, and even as she looked she saw men setting torches to it.
As she was led across the clearing toward the waiting Aarabs, she saw her erstwhile guest between two warriors, her wrists confined by thongs even as her own. Near her, scowling malevolently, was Abu Batn.
“Why have you done this thing, Abu Batn?” demanded Zora.
“Allah was wroth that we should betray our land to the Nasrany,” said the sheykh. “We have seen the light, and we are going back to our own people.”
“What do you intend to do with this woman and with me?” asked Zora.
“We shall take you with us for a little way,” replied Abu Batn. “I know a kind man who is very rich, who will give you both a good home.”
“You mean that you are going to sell us to some black sultan?” demanded the girl.
The sheykh shrugged. “I would not put it that way,” he said. “Rather let us say that I am making a present to a great and good friend and saving you and this other woman from certain death in the jungle should we depart without you.”
“Abu Batn, you are a hypocrite and a traitor,” cried Zora, her voice vibrant with contempt.
“The Nasrany like to call names,” said the sheykh with a sneer. “Perhaps if the pig, Zveri, had not called us names, this would not have happened.”
“So this is your revenge,” asked Zora, “because he reproached you for your cowardice at Opar?”
“Enough!” snapped Abu Batn. “Come, my children, let us be gone.”
As the flames licked at the edges of the great pile of provisions and equipment that the Aarabs were forced to leave behind, the deserters started upon their march toward the West.
The girls marched near the head of the column, the feet of the Aarabs and the carriers behind them totally obliterating their spoor from the motley record of the trail. They might have comfort in their straits had they been able to converse with one another; but La could only understand no one and Zora found no pleasure in speaking to the Aarabs, while Wamala and the other blacks were so far toward the rear of the column that she could not have communicated with them had she cared to.
To pass the time away, Zora conceived the idea of teaching her companion in misery some European language, and because in the original party there had been more who were familiar with English than any other tongue, she selected that language for her experiment.
She began by pointing to herself and saying “woman” and then to La and repeating the same word, after which she pointed to several of the Aarabs in succession and said “man” in each instance. It was evident that La understood her purpose immediately, for she entered into the spirit of it with eagerness and alacrity, repeating the two words again and again, each time indicating either a man or a woman.
Next the European girl again pointed to herself and said “Zora.” For a moment La was perplexed and then she smiled and nodded.
“Zora,” she said, pointing to her companion, and then, swiftly, she touched her own breast with a slender forefinger and said, “La.”
And this was the beginnng. Each hour La learned new words, all nouns at first, then described each familiar object that appeared oftenest to their view. She learned with remarkable celerity, evidencing an alert and intelligent mind and a retentive memory, for once she learned a word she never forgot it. Her pronunciation was not always perfect, for she had a decidedly foreign accent that was like nothing Zora Drinov ever had heard before, and so altogether captivating that the teacher never tired of hearing her pupil recite.
As the march progressed, Zora realized that there was little likelihood that they would be mistreated by their captors, it being evident to her that the sheykh was impressed with the belief that the better the condition in which they could be presented to their prospective purchaser the more handsome the return that Abu Batn might hope to receive.
Their route lay to the northwest through a section of the Galla country of Abyssinia, and from the scraps of conversation Zora overheard that Abu Batn and his followers were apprehensive of danger during this portion of the journey. And well they might have been, since for ages the Arabs have conducted raids in the Galla territory for the purpose of capturing slaves, and among the Negroes with them was a Galla slave that Abu Batn had brought with him from his desert home.
After the first day the prisoners had been allowed the freedom of their hands, but always Aarab guards surrounded them, though there seemed little likelihood that an unarmed girl would take the risk of escaping into the jungle, where she would be surrounded by the dangers of wild beasts or almost certain starvation. However, could Abu Batn have read their thoughts, he might have been astonished to learn that in the mind of each was a determination to escape to any fate rather than to march docilely on to an end that the European girl was fully conscious of and which La of Opar unquestioningly surmised in part.
La’s education was progressing nicely by the time the party approached the border of the Galla country, but in the meantime both girls had become aware of a new menace threatening La of Opar. Ibn Dammuk marched often beside her, and in his eyes, when he looked at her, was a message that needed no words to convey. But when Abu Batn was near, Ibn Dammuk ignored the fair prisoner, and this caused Zora the most apprehension, for it convinced her that the wily Ibn was but biding his time until he might find conditions favorable to the carrying out of some scheme that he already had decided upon, nor did Zora harbor any doubts as to the general purpose of his plan.
At the edge of the Galla country they were halted by a river in flood. They could not go north into Abyssinia proper, and they dared not go south, where they might naturally have expected pursuit to follow. So perforce they were compelled to wait where they were.
And while they waited Ibn Dammuk struck.
Damn! What a place to end after building us up – well that’s his style, that’s for sure. We’ve already had one R.I.P of a main character with Tarzan killing Raghunath Jafar, who attempted to rape Zora and take a sniper shot at Colt. Does Ibn Dammuk really think he can succeed? Only Allah knows.
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