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ERB’S WORKERS’ PARADISE:
TARZAN THE INVINCIBLE
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Here we are, back in the jungle again. I believe in this chapter ERB begins switching scenes and characters more often, and it is my opinion that the reason for that is that we are three fourths into our adventure and it’s time to start bringing things together. So let’s begin the home stretch with full enthusiasm.
Chapter Fourteen: Shot Down
Tarzan went almost daily to watch the camp of his enemy, moving swiftly through the jungle by trails unknown to man. He saw that preparation for the first bold stroke were almost completed, and finally he saw uniforms being issued to all members of the party – uniforms which he recognized as those of French Colonial Troops – and he realized that the time had come when he must move. He hoped that little Nkima had carried his message safely, but if not, Tarzan would find some other way.
Zora Drinov’s strength was slowly returning. Today she had arisen and taken a few steps out into the sunlit clearing. The great elephant regarded her. She had long since ceased to fear him, as she had ceased to fear the strange white man who had befriended her. Slowly the girl approached the great bull, and Tantor regarded her out of his little eyes as he waved his trunk to and fro.
I love these kinds of scenes. They are precious to me because of the affection that ERB had for his characters, animal or human. Zora and Tantor, La and Jad-bal-ja. That’s how I always remember ERB.
He had been so docile and harmless all the days that he had guarded her that it had grown to be difficult for Zora to conceive him capable of inflicting injury upon her. But as she looked into his little eyes now, there was an expression there that brought her to a sudden halt; and as she realized that after all he was only a bull elephant, she suddenly appreciated the rashness of her act. She was already so close to him that she could have reached out and touched him, as had been her intention, having thought that she would thus make friends with him.
It was in her mind to fall back with dignity, when the waving trunk shot suddenly out and encircled her body. Zora Drinov did not scream. She only closed her eyes and waited. She felt herself lifted from the ground, and a moment later the elephant had crossed the little clearing and deposited her in her shelter. Then he backed off slowly and resumed his post of duty.
He had not hurt her. A mother could not have lifted her baby more gently, but he had impressed upon Zora Drinov that she was a prisoner and that he was her keeper. As a matter of fact, Tantor was only carrying out Tarzan’s instructions, which had nothing to do with the forcible restraint of the girl, but were only a measure of precaution to prevent her wandering into the jungle where other dangers might overtake her.
Zora had not fully regained her strength, and the experience left her trembling. Though she now realized that her sudden fears for her safety had been groundless, she decided that she would take no more liberties with her mighty warden.
It was not long after, that Tarzan returned, much earlier in the day than was his custom. He spoke only to Tantor; and the great beast, touching him almost caressingly with his trunk, turned and lumbered off into the forest. Then Tarzan advanced to where Zora sat in the opening of her shelter. Lightly he lifted her from the grounds and tossed her to his shoulder; and then, to her infinite surprise at the strength and agility of the man, he swung into a tree and was off through the jungle in the wake of the pachyderm.
At the edge of the river that they had crossed before, Tantor was awaiting them, and once more he carried Zora and Tarzan safely to the other bank.
Tarzan had himself crossed the river twice a day since he had made the camp for Zora; but when he went alone he needed no help from Tantor or any other, for he swam the swift stream, he eyes alert and keen knife ready should Gimla, the crocodile, attack him. But for the crossing of the woman, he had enlisted the services of Tantor that she might not be subjected to the danger and hardship of the only other means of crossing that was possible.
As Tantor clambered up the muddy bank, Tarzan dismissed him with a word, and with the girl in his arms he leaped into a nearby tree.
That flight through the jungle was an experience that might long stand vividly in the memory of Zora Drinov. That a human being could possess the strength and agility of the creature that carried her seemed unbelievable, and she might easily have attributed a supernatural origin to him had she not felt the life in the warm flesh that was pressed against hers.
We must not forget that her clothes had been reduced to rags and there was plenty of her flesh that could have pressed against his.
Leaping from branch to branch, swinging across the breathless voids, she was borne swiftly through the middle terrace of the forest. At first she had been terrified, but gradually fear left her, to be replaced by that utter confidence which Tarzan of the Apes has inspired in many a breast. At last he stopped and, lowering her to the branch upon which he stood, pointed through the surrounding foliage ahead of them. Zora looked and to her astonishment saw the camp of her companions lying ahead and below her. Once more the ape-man took her in his arms and dropped lightly to the ground into a wide trail that swept past the base of the tree in which he had halted. With a wave of his hand he indicated that she was free to go to the camp.
“Oh, how can I thank you!” exclaimed the girl. “How can I make you understand how splendid you have been and how I appreciate all that you have done for me?” But his only reply was to turn and swing lightly into the tree that had spread its green foliage above them.
With a rueful shake of her head, Zora Drinov started along the trail toward camp, while above her Tarzan followed through the trees to make certain she arrived in safety.
Paul Ivitch had been hunting, and he was just returning to camp when he saw something move in a tree at the edge of the clearing. He saw the spots of a leopard, and raising his rifle, he fired; so that at the moment Zora entered the camp, the body of Tarzan of the Apes lunged from a tree almost at her side, blood trickling from a bullet wound in his head as the sunshine played upon the leopard spots of his loin cloth.
The sight of the lion growling above him might have shaken the nerves of a man in better physical condition than was Wayne Colt, but the vision of a beautiful girl running quickly toward the savage beast from the rear was the final stroke that almost overwhelmed him.
Through his brain ran a medley of recollection and conjecture. In a brief instant he recalled that men had borne witness to the fact that they had felt no pain while being mauled by a lion – neither pain nor fear – and he also recalled that men went mad from thirst and hunger. If he were to die, then, it would not be painful, and of that he was glad; but if he were not to die, then surely he was mad, for the lion and the girl must be the hallucination of a crazed mind.
Fascination held his eyes fixed upon the two. How real they were! He heard the girl speak to the lion, and then he saw her brush past the great savage beast and come and bend over him where he lay helpless in the trail. She touched him, and then he knew that she was real.
“Who are you?” she asked, in limping English that was beautiful with a strange accent. “What has happened to you?”
“I have been lost,” he said, “and I am about done up. I have not eaten for a long while,” and then he fainted.
Jad-bal-ja, the golden lion, had conceived a strange affection for La of Opar. Perhaps it was the call of one kindred savage spirit to another. Perhaps it was merely the recollection that she was Tarzan’s friend. But be that as it may, he seemed to find the same pleasure in her company that a faithful dog finds in the company of his master. He had protected her with fierce loyalty, and when he made his kill he shared the flesh with her. She, however, after cutting off a portion that she wanted, had always gone away a little distance to build her primitive fire and cook the flesh; nor ever she ventured back to the kill after Jad-bal-ja had commenced to feed, for a lion is yet a lion, and the grim and ferocious growls that accompanied his feeding warned the girl against presuming too far upon the new found generosity of the carnivore.
They had been feeding, when the approach of Colt had attracted Numa’s attention, and brought him into the trail from his kill. For a moment La had feared that she might not be able to keep the lion from the man, as she had wanted to do so; for something in the stranger’s appearance reminded her of Tarzan, whom he more nearly resembled than he did the grotesque priests of Opar. Because of this fact she thought that possibly he might be from Tarzan’s country. Perhaps he was one of Tarzan’s friends and if so, she must protect him. To her relief, the lion had obeyed her when she had called upon him to halt, and now he evinced no further desire to attack the man.
When Colt regained consciousness, La tried to raise him to his feet; and, with considerable difficulty and some slight assistance from the man, she succeeded in doing so. She put one of his arms across her shoulders and, supporting him thus, guided him back along the trail, where Jad-bal-ja’s kill lay and her little fire was burning a short distance away. But at last she succeeded and when they had come close to her fire, she lowered the man to the ground, while Jad-bal-ja turned once more to his feeding and growling.
La fed the man tiny pieces of meat that she had cooked, and he ate ravenously all that she would give him. A short distance away ran the river, where La and the lion would have gone to drink after they had fed; but doubting whether she could get the man so great a distance through the jungle, she left him there with the lion and went down to the river; but first she told Jad-bal-ja to guard him, speaking in the language of the first men, the language of the Mangani, that all creatures of the jungle understand to a greater or lesser extent. Near the river La found what she sought – a fruit with a hard rind. With her knife she cut an end from one of these fruits and scooped out the pulpy interior, producing a primitive but entirely practical cup, which she filled with water from the river.
The water, as much as the food, refreshed and strengthened Colt: and though he lay but a few yards from a feeding lion, it seemed an eternity since he had experienced such a feeling of contentment and security, clouded only by his anxiety concerning Zora.
“You feel stronger now?” asked La, her voice tinged with concern.
“Very much,” he replied.
“Then tell me who you are and if this is your country.”
“This is not my country,” repled Colt. “I am an American. My name is Wayne Colt.”
“You are perhaps a friend of Tarzan of the Apes?” she asked.
He shook his head. “No,” he said. “I have heard of him, but I do not know him.”
La frowned. “You are his enemy, then?” she demanded.
“Of course not,” replied Colt. “I do not even know him.”
A sudden light flashed in La’s eyes. “Do you know Zora?” she asked.
Colt came to his elbow with sudden start. “Zora Drinov?” he demanded. “What do you know of her?”
“She is my friend,” said La.
“She is my friend, also,” said Colt.
“She is in trouble,” said La.
“Yes, I know it; but how did you know?”
“I was with her when she was taken prisoner by the men of the desert. They took me also, but I escaped.”
“How long ago was that?”
“The Flaming God has gone to rest many times since I saw Zora,” replied the girl.
“Then I have seen her since.”
“Where is she?”
“I do not know. She was with the Aarabs when I found her. We escaped from them; and then, while I was hunting in the jungle something came and carried her away. I do not know whether it was a man or a gorilla; for though I saw its footprints, I could not be sure. I have been searching for her for a long time; but I could not find food, and it had been some time since I have had water; so I lost my strength, and you found me as I am.”
“You shall not want for food nor water now,” said La, “for Numa, the lion, will hunt for us; and if we can find the camp of Zora’s friends, perhaps they will go out and search for her.”
“You know where the camp is?” he asked. “Is it near?”
“I do not know where it is. I have been searching for it to lead her friends after the men of the desert.”
Colt had been studying the girl as they talked. He had noted her strange, barbaric apparel and the staggering beauty of her face and figure. He knew almost intuitively that she was not of the world he knew, and his mind was filled with curiosity concerning her.
No to mention that she is nearly naked! I tell you, ERB was really at the top of his art in this story. La, la, la, la.
“You have not told me who you are,” he said.
“I am La of Opar,” she replied, “high priestess of the Flaming God.”
Opar! Now indeed he knew that she was not of his world. Opar, the city of mystery, the city of fabulous treasures. Could it be the same city that housed the grotesque warriors with whom he and Romero had fought produced also such beautiful creatures as Nao and La, and only these? He wondered why he had not connected her with Opar at once, for now he saw that her stomacher was similar to that of Nao and of the priestess that he had seen upon the throne in the great chamber of the ruined temple. Recalling his attempt to enter Opar and loot it of its treasures, he deemed it expedient to make no mention of any familiarity with the city of the girl’s birth, for he guessed that Opar’s women might be as primitively fierce in their vengeance as he had found Nao in her love.
The lion, and the girl, and the man lay up that night beside Jad-bal-ja’s kill, and in the morning Colt found that his strength had partially returned. During the night Numa had finished his kill; and after the sun had risen, La found fruits which she and Colt ate, while the lion strolled to the river to drink, pausing once to roar, that the world might know the king was there.
“Numa will not kill again until tomorrow,” she said, “so we shall have no meat until then, unless we are fortunate enough to kill something ourselves.”
Colt had long since abandoned the heavy rifle of the Aarabs, to the burden of which his growing weakness had left his muscles inadequate; so he had nothing but his bare hands and La only a knife with which they might make a kill.
“Then I guess we shall eat fruit until the lion kills again,” he said. “In the meantime we might as well be trying to find the camp.”
She shook her head. “No,” she said, “you must rest. You were very weak when I found you, and it is not well that you should exert yourself until you are strong again. Numa will sleep all day. You and I will cut some sticks and lie beside a little trail, where the small things go. Perhaps we shall have luck; but if we do not, Numa will kill again tomorrow, and this time I shall take a whole hind quarter.”
“I cannot believe a lion would let you do that,” said the man.
“At first I did not understand it myself,” said La, “but after a while I remembered. It is because I am Tarzan’s friend that he does not harm me.”
When Zora Drinov saw her lion-man lying lifeless on the ground, she ran quickly to him and knelt at his side. She had heard the shot, and now seeing the blood running from a wound upon his head, she thought that someone had killed him intentionally and when Ivitch came running out, his rifle in his hand, she turned upon him like a tigress.
“You have killed him,” she cried. “You beast! He was worth more than a dozen such as you.”
The sound of the shot and the crashing of the body to the ground had brought men running from all parts of the camp; so that Tarzan and the girl were soon surrounded by a curious and excited throng of blacks, among whom the remaining whites were pushing their way.
Ivitch was stunned, not only by the sight of the giant white man lying apparently dead before him, but also by the presence of Zora Drinov, whom all within the camp had given up as irretrievably lost. “I had no idea, Comrade Drinov,” he explained, “that I was shooting at a man. I see now what caused my mistake. I saw something moving in a tree and thought that it was a leopard, but instead it was the leopard skin that he wears about his loins.”
By this time Zveri had elbowed his way to the center of the group. “Zora!” he cried in astonishment as he saw the girl. “Where did you come from? What has happened? What is the meaning of this?”
“It means that this fool, Ivitch, has killed the man who saved my life,” cried Zora.
“Who is he?” asked Zveri.
“I do not know,” replied Zora. “He has never spoken to me. He does not seem to understand any language with which I am familiar.”
“He is not dead,” cried Ivitch. “See, he moved.”
Romero knelt and examined the wound in Tarzan’s head. “He is only stunned,” he said. “The bullet struck him a glancing blow. There are no indications of a fracture of the skull. I have seen men hit thus before. He may be unconscious for a long time, or he may not, but I am sure that he will not die.”
“Who the devil do you suppose he is?” asked Zveri.
Zora shook her head. “I have no idea,” she said. “I only know that he is as splendid as he is mysterious.”
“I know who he is,” said a black, who had pushed forward to where he could see the figure of the prostrate man, “and if he is not already dead, you had better kill him, for he will be your worst enemy.”
“What do you mean?” demanded Zveri. “Who is he?”
“He is Tarzan of the Apes.”
“You are certain?” snapped Zveri.
“Yes, Bwana,” replied the black. “I saw him once before, and one never forgets Tarzan of the Apes.”
“Yours was a lucky shot, Ivitch,” said the leader, “and now you may as well finish what you started.”
“Kill him, you mean?” demanded Ivitch.
“Our cause is lost and our lives with it, if he lives,” replied Zveri. “I thought that he was dead, or I would never have come here, and now that Fate had thrown him into our hands we would be fools to let him escape, for we could not have a worse enemy than he.”
“I cannot kill him in cold blood,” said Ivitch.
“You always were a weak minded fool,” said Zveri, “but I am not. Stand aside, Zora,” and as he spoke he drew his revolver and advanced toward Tarzan.
The girl threw herself across the ape-man, shielding his body with hers. “You cannot kill him,” she cried. “You must not.”
“Don’t be a fool, Zora,” snapped Zveri.
“He saved my life and brought me back here to camp. Do you think I am going to let you murder him?” she demanded.
“I am afraid you can’t help yourself, Zora,” replied the man. “I do not like to do it, but it is his life or the cause. If he lives, we fail.”
The girl leaped to her feet and faced Zveri. “If you kill him, Peter, I shall kill you – I swear it by everything that I hold most dear. Hold him prisoner if you will, but as you value your life, do not kill him.”
Zveri went pale with anger. “Your words are treason,” he said. “Traitors to the cause have died for less than what you have said.”
Zora Drinov realized that the situation was extremely dangerous. She had little reason to believe that Zveri would make good his threat toward her, but she saw that if she would save Tarzan she must act quickly. “Send the others away,” she said to Zveri. “I have something to tell you before you kill this man.”
For a moment the leader hesitated. Then he turned to Dorsky, who stood at his side. “Have the fellow securely bound and taken to one of the tents,” he commanded. “We shall give him a fair trial after he has regained consciousness and then place him before a firing squad,” and then to the girl, “Come with me, Zora, and I will listen to what you have to say.”
In silence the two walked to Zveri’s tent. “Well?” inquired Zveri, as the girl halted before the entrance. “What have you to say to me that you think will change my plans relative to your lover?”
Zora looked at him for a long minute, a faint sneer of contempt curling her lips. “You would think such a thing,” she said, “but you are wrong. However you may think, though, you shall not kill him.”
“And why not?” demanded Zveri.
“Because if you do I shall tell them all what your plans are; that you yourself are a traitor to the cause, and that you have been using them all to advance your own selfish ambition to make yourself Emperor of Africa.”
“You would not dare,” cried Zveri; “nor would I let you; for as much as I love you, I shall kill you here on the spot, unless you promise not to interfere in any way with my plans.”
“You dare not kill me,” taunted the girl. “You have antagonized every man in the camp, Peter, and they all like me. Some of them, perhaps, love me a little. Do you think that I should not be avenged within five minutes after you had killed me? You will have to think of something else, my friend; and the best thing that you can do is to take my advice. Keep Tarzan of the Apes a prisoner if you will, but on your life do not kill him or permit anyone else to do so.”
Zveri sank into a camp chair. “Everyone is against me,” he said. “Even you the woman I love, turn against me.”
“I have not changed toward you in any respect, Peter,” said the girl.
“You mean that?” he asked, looking up.
“Absolutely,” she replied.
“How long were you alone in the jungle with that man?” he demanded.
“Don’t start that, Peter,” she said. “He could not have treated me differently if he had been my own brother; and certainly, all other considerations aside, you should know me well enough to know that I have no such weakness in the direction that your tone implied.”
“You have never loved me – that is the reason,” he declared. “But I would not trust you or any other woman with a man she loves or with whom she was temporarily infatuated.”
“That,” she said, “has nothing to do with what we are discussing. Are you going to kill Tarzan of the Apes, or are you not?”
“For your sake, I shall let him live,” replied the man, “even though I do not trust you,” he added. “I trust no one. How can I? Look at this,” and he took a code message from his pocket and handed it to her. “This came a few days ago – the damn traitor. I wish I could get my hands on him. I should like to have killed him myself, but I suppose I shall have no such luck, as he is probably already dead.”
Zora took the paper. Below the message, in Zveri’s hand, it had been decoded in Russian script. As she read it, her eyes grew large in astonishment. “It is incredible,” she cried.
“It is the truth, though,” said Zveri. “I always suspected the dirty hound,” and he added with an oath. “I think that damn Mexican is just as bad.”
“At least,” said Zora, “his plan has been thwarted, for I take it that his message did not get through.”
“No,” said Zveri. “By error it was delivered to our agents instead of his.”
“Then no harm has been done.”
“Fortunately, no; but it has made me suspicious of everyone, and I am going to push the expedition through at once before anything further can occur to interfere with my plans.”
“Everything is ready, then?” she asked.
“Everything is ready,” he replied. “We march tomorrow morning. And now tell me what happened while I was at Opar. Why did the Aarabs desert, and why did you go with them?”
“Abu Batn was angry and resentful because you left him to guard the camp. The Aarabs felt that it was a reflection upon their courage, and I think that they would have deserted you anyway, regardless of me. Then, the day after you left, a strange woman wandered into camp. She was a very beautiful white woman from Opar; and Abu Batn, conceiving the idea of profiting through the chance that Fate had sent him, took us with him with the intention of selling us into captivity on his return march to his own country.”
“Are there no honest men in the world?” demanded Zveri.
“I am afraid not,” replied the girl; but as he was staring moodily at the ground, he did not see the contemptuous curl of her lip that accompanied her reply.
She described the luring of La from Abu Batn’s camp and of the sheykh’s anger at the treachery of Ibn Dammuk; and then told him of her own escape, but she did not mention Wayne Colt’s connection with it and led him to believe that she wandered alone in the jungle until the great ape had captured her. She dwelt at length upon Tarzan’s kindness and consideration and told of the great elephant who had guarded her by day.
“Sounds like a fairy story,” said Zveri, “but I have heard enough about this ape-man to believe almost anything concerning him, which is one reason why I believe we shall never be safe while he lives.”
“He cannot harm us while he is our prisoner; and certainly, if you love me as you say you do, the man who saved my life deserves better from you that ignominous death.”
“Speak no more of it,” said Zveri. “I have already told you that I would not kill him,” but in his treacherous mind he was formulating a plan whereby Tarzan might be destroyed while still he adhered to the letter of his promise to Zora.
What a great bunch of guys these commies are. Tarzan is learning that no good deed goes unpunished in this world – then again, perhaps he already knew that. I have a sneaky feeling though that Tarzan will not be a prisoner for long. Happy trails till then.
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