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ERB’S RABBIT HOLE:
TARZAN AND THE ANT MEN
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Let’s get one thing out of the way before we proceed. I do not believe there is enough evidence in the text or insinuation that Esteban Miranda has been raping little Uhha, since she is not old enough to give legal consent. In the case with Flora Hawkes in Golden Lion, there was strong evidence, namely that she stated that he had made her do things against her will of which she was ashamed, as well as the statements in anger that Esteban hurled at her, that she was just a used glove. Okay, with that out of the way, let us proceed.
Chapter Eight: Uhha’s Revenge
Ska, perched upon the head of a dead Gorgo, became suddenly aware of a movement in a nearby thicket. He turned his head in the direction of the sound and saw Sabor the lioness emerge from the foliage and walk slowly toward him. Ska was not terrified. He would leave, but he would leave with dignity. He crouched to spring upward and extended his great wings to aid him in taking off. But Ska, the vulture, never rose. As he essayed to do so, something pulled suddenly upon his neck and held him down. He scrambled to his feet and, violently this time, strove to fly away. Again, he was dragged back. Now Ska was terrified. The hateful thing that had been dangling about his neck for so long was holding him to earth – the swinging loop of the golden chain had caught around the horn of Gorgo, the buffalo. Ska was trapped.
He struggled, beating his wings. Sabor stopped to regard him and his wild antics. Ska was flopping around in a most surprising manner. Sabor had never seen Ska behave thus before, and lions are sensitive, temperamental animals; so Sabor was not surprised only, she was inclined to be frightened. For another moment she watched the unaccountable antics of Ska and then she turned tail and slunk back into the undergrowth, turning an occasional growling countenance back upon the vulture, as much as to say: “Pursue me at your peril!” But Ska had no thought of pursuing Sabor. Never again would Ska, the vulture, pursue aught.
I know, it’s hard to feel sorry for a vulture, but I was kind of liking his role in this story. Okay, the locket has passed from Tarzan, to one of the sons of The First Woman, then to Ska, the vulture, and now to a dead buffalo. Quite a journey.
“They are coming,” announced Komodoflorensal, prince of Trohanadalmakus.
As Tarzan looked out across the rolling country in the direction of the enemy, he presently saw, from his greater height, the advance of the Veltopismakusians.
“Our scouts are falling back,” he announced to Komodoflorensal.
“You can see the enemy?” demanded the prince.
“Keep me advised as to their movements.”
“They are advancing in several long lines, deployed over a considerable front,” reported the ape-man. “The scouts are falling back upon the outpost which seems to be standing its ground to receive them. It will be overwhelmed – if not by the first line then by those that succeed it.”
Komodoflorensal gave a short command. A thousand mounted men leaped forward, urging their diadets into bounding leaps that cleared five, six and even seven feet at a time. Straight for the outpost ahead of them they raced, deploying as the went.
Another thousand moved quickly toward the right and a third toward the left of the advance cavalry’s position following Tarzan’s announcement that the enemy had divided into two bodies just before it engaged the outpost, and that one of these was moving as though with the intention of turning the right flank of the entire cavalry of Trohanadalmakus, while the other circled in the direction of the left flank.
“They are striking boldly and quickly for prisoners,” said the prince to Tarzan.
“Their second and third lines are ploying upon the center and moving straight for us,” said Tarzan. “They have reached the outpost, which is racing forward with them, giving battle vigorously with rapiers.”
Komodoflorensal was dispatching messengers toward the rear. “It is thus that we fight,” he said, evidently in explanation of the action of the outpost. “It is time that you returned to the rear, for in another few moments you will be surrounded by the enemy if you remain. When they reach us we, too, will turn and fight them hand-to-hand back toward the city. If it is still their intention to enter the city the battle will resemble more a race than aught else, for the speed will be too great for effective fighting; but if they have abandoned that idea and intend contenting themselves with prisoners there will be plenty of fighting before we reach the infantry, past which I doubt if they will advance.
“With their greatly superior numbers they will take some prisoners, and we shall take some – but, quick! you must get back to the city, if already it is not too late.”
“I think I shall remain here,” replied the ape-man.
“But they will take you prisoner, or kill you.”
Tarzan of the Apes smiled and shook his leafy branch. “I do not fear them,” he said, simply.
“That is because you do not know them,” replied the prince. “Your great size makes you overconfident, but remember that you are only four times the size of a Minunian and there may be thirty thousand seeking to overthrow you.”
The Veltopismakusians were driving swiftly forward. The prince could give no more time to what he saw was but a futile attempt to persuade Tarzan to retreat, and while he admired the strange giant’s courage he likewise deplored his ignorance. Komodoflorensal had grown fond of their strange guest and he would have saved him had it been possible, but now he must turn to the command of his troops, since the enemy was almost upon them.
Tarzan watched the coming of the little men on their agile, wiry mounts. Line after line poured across the rolling country toward him, carrying to his mind a suggestion of the similarity to the incoming rollers of the ocean’s surf, each drop of which was soft and harmless, but in their countless numbers combined into a relentless and terrifying force of destruction, and the ape-man glanced at his leafy bough and smiled albeit a trifle ruefully.
But now his whole attention was riveted by the fighting in the first two lines of the advancing horde. Racing neck and neck with the Veltopismakusian warriors were the men of Adendrohahkis’ outpost and the thousands who had reinforced them. Each had selected an enemy rider whom he sought to strike from his saddle, and at top speed each duel was carried on with keen rapiers, though here and there was a man wielding his spear, and sometimes to good efffect. A few riderless diadets leaped forward with the vanguard, while others, seeking to break back or to the flanks, fouled the racing ranks, often throwing beasts and riders to the ground; but more frequently the warriors leaped their mounts entirely over these terrified beasts. The riding of the Minunians was superb, and their apparent effortless control of their swift and nervous steeds bordered upon the miraculous. Now a warrior, lifting his mount high into the air, cleared an adversary and as he rose above him cut down viciously with his rapier at his foeman’s head, striking him from the saddle; but there was scarce time to catch more than a fleeting kalelidoscopic impression of the swift moving spectacle before the great horde swarmed down upon him.
With his leafy bough, Tarzan had thought to sweep the little men from his path, but now friend and foe were so intermingled that he dared not attempt it for fear of unseating and injuring some of the warriors of his hosts. He raised the bough above their heads and waited until the first lines should have passed him, and then, with only the enemies of Adendrohahkis about him, he would brush them aside and break the center of their charge.
He saw the surprised expressions upon the faces of the men of Veltopismakus as they passed near him – surprise, but no fear – and he heard their shouts as one more fortunate than his fellows was able to rein closer to him and cut viciously at his legs as he sped past. Then indeed it became naught other than a matter of self-preservation to attempt to fend off with his bough, nor was this impossible, as the first lines moved past in loose ranks; but presently the solid mass of the Veltopismakusian cavalry was upon him. There was no veering aside to avoid him. In unbroken ranks, file afer file, they bore down upon him. He threw his useless bough before him to impede their progress and grappled them with his fingers, tearing the riders from their mounts and hurling them back upon their onrushing fellows; but still they came.
They jumped their diadets over every obstruction. One rider, leaping straight for him, struck him head on in the pit of the stomach, half winding him and sending him back a step. Another and another struck his legs and sides. Again and again the needlelike points of their rapiers pierced his brown hide until from hips to feet he was red from his own blood, and always there were more thousands bearing down upon him. His weapons, useless against them, he made no attempt to use and though he wrought havoc among them with his bare hands there were always a hundred to take the place of each that he disposed of.
He smiled grimly as he realized that in these little people, scarce one-fourth his size, he, the imcomparable Tarzan, the Lord of the Jungle, had met his Wellington. He realized that he was entirely surrounded by the Veltopismakusians now, the warriors of Trohanadalmakus having engaged the advancing enemy were racing onward with them toward the seven thousand dismounted men who were to receive the brunt of the terrific charge. Tarzan wished that he might have witnessed this phase of the battle, but he had fighting enough and to spare to engage all his attention where he was.
Again he was struck in the stomach by a charging rider and again the blow staggered him. Before he could recover himself another struck him in the same place and this time he went down, and instantly he was covered, buried by warriors and diadets, swarming over him, like ants in countless numbers. He tried to rise and that was the last he remembered before he sank into unconsciousness.
Artists over time have loved to depict that final scene. In fact, Joe Jusko chose it for his cover painting of the recently published Authorized Edition. It reminds me of a similar scene in the John Carter series where John Carter is swarmed by a horde of Warhoons, green giant men of Mars. Leaving us hanging, as usual, we return now Uhha’s revenge.
Uhha, daughter of Khamis the witch doctor of the tribe of Obebe the cannibal, lay huddled upon a little pile of grasses in a rude thorn shelter in an open jungle. It was night but she was not asleep. Through narrow lids she watched a giant white man who squatted just outside the shelter before a tiny fire. The girl’s lids were narrowed in hate as her smoldering eyes rested upon the man. There was no fear of the supernatural in her expression – just hate, undying hate.
Long since had Uhha ceased to think of Esteban Miranda as the River Devil. His obvious fear of the greater beasts of the jungle and of the black men-beasts had at first puzzled and later assured her that her companion was an imposter; River Devils do not fear anything. She was even commencing to doubt that the fellow was Tarzan, of whom she had heard so many fabulous stories during her childhood that she had come to look upon him as almost a devil himself – her people had no gods, only devils – which answer just as good a purpose among the ignorant and superstitious as do gods among the educated and superstitious.
And when Esteban Miranda quite conclusively proved by his actions that he feared lions and that he was lost in the jungle these things did not square at all with her preconceived estimate of the powers and attributes of the famous Tarzan.
With the loss of her respect for him she lost, also, nearly all her fear. He was stronger than she and brutal. He could and would hurt her if she angered him, but he could not harm her in any other way than physically and not at all if she could keep out of his clutches. Many times had she rehearsed plans for escape, but always she had hesitated because of the terrible fear she had of being alone in the jungle. Recently, however, she had been coming to realize more and more clearly that the white man was little or no protection to her. In fact, she might be better off without him, for at the first hint of danger it has been Miranda’s habit to bolt for the nearest tree, and where trees were not numerous this habit of his had always placed Uhha under a handicap in the race for self-preservation, since Esteban, being stronger, could push her aside if she impeded his progress.
Yes, she would be as well off alone in the jungle as in the company of this man whom she thoroughly despised and hated, but before she left him she must revenge herself upon him for having tricked her into aiding him in his escape from the village of Obebe the chief as well as for having forced her to accompany him.
Uhha was sure that she could find her way to the village, albeit they had traveled long and far, and she was sure too that she could find the means for subsistence along the way and elude the fiercer beasts of prey that might beset the way. Only man she feared; but in this she was not unlike all other created things. Man alone of all the creations of God is universally hated and feared and not only by the lower orders but by his own kind, for of them all man alone joys in the death of others – the great coward who, of all creation, fears death the most.
And so the little girl lay watching the Spaniard and her eyes glittered, for in his occupation she saw a means to her revenge. Squatting before his fire, leaning far forward, Esteban Miranda, gloated over the contents of a small buckskin bag which he had partially emptied into the palm of one of his hands. Little Uhha knew how highly the white man prized these glittering stones, though she was entirely ignorant of their intrinsic worth. She did not even know them for diamonds. All she knew was that the white man loved them, that he valued them more highly than his other possessions and that he had repeatedly told her that he would die sooner than he would part with them.
For a long time Miranda played with the diamonds and for a long time Uhha watched him; but at last he returned them to their bag, which he fastened securely inside his loincloth. Then he crawled beneath the thorn shelter, dragged a pile of thorns into the entrance to close it against the inroads of prowling beasts, and lay down upon the grasses beside Uhha.
How was this little girl going to accomplish the theft of the diamonds from the huge, Tarzanian Spaniard? She could not filch them by stealth for the bag that contained them was so fastened inside his loincloth that it would be impossible to remove it without awakening him; and certainly this frail child could never wrest the jewels from Esteban by physical prowess. No, the whole scheme must die where it was born – inside Uhha’s thick little skull.
Outside the shelter the fire flickered, lighting the jungle grasses about it and casting weird, fantastic shadows that leaped and danced in the jungle night. Something moved stealthily among the lush vegetation a score of paces from the tiny camp. It was something large, for the taller grasses spread to its advance. They parted and a lion’s head appeared. The yellow-green eyes gazed uneasily at the fire. From beyond came the odor of man and Numa was hungry; too, upon occasion he had eaten of man and found him good – also of all his prey the slowest and least able to protect himself; but Numa did not like the looks of things here and so he turned and disappeared from whence he had come. He was not afraid of the fire. Had he been he would have been afraid of the sun by day, for the sun he could not even look at without discomfort, and to Numa the fire and the sun might have been one, for he had no way of knowing which was sixty feet away and which ninety-three million miles. It was the dancing shadows that caused his nervous apprehensions. Huge, grotesque creatures of which he had had no experience seemed to be leaping all about him, threatening him from every side.
But Uhha paid no attention to the dancing shadows and she had not seen Numa the lion. She lay very still now, listening. The fire flared less high as the slow minutes dragged their leaden feet along. It was not so very long that she lay thus, but it seemed long to Uhha, for she had her plan all matured and ready for execution. A civilized girl of twelve might have conceived it, but is doubtful that she would have carried it to its conclusion. Uhha, however, was not civilized and being what she was she was not hampered by any qualms of conscience.
Presently the Spaniard’s breathing indicated that he was asleep. Uhha waited a little longer to make assurance doubly sure, then she reached beneath the grasses just beside her and when she withdrew her hand again she brought forth a short, stout cudgel. Slowly and cautiously she rose until she kneeled beside the recumbent form of the sleeping Spaniard. Then she raised her weapon above her head and brought it down once, heavily, upon Esteban’s skull. She did not continue to beat him – the one blow was enough. She hoped that she had not killed him, for he must live if her scheme of revenge was to be realized; he must live and know that Uhha had stolen the bag of pebbles that he so worshiped. Uhha appropriated the knife that swung at Miranda’s hip and with it she cut away his loincloth and took possession of the buck-skin bag and its contents. Then she removed the thorns from the entrance to the shelter, slipped out into the night and vanished into the jungle.
R.E Pringle, in one of his appraisals of this story, states in ERBzine #1660b:
“Miranda keeps his bag of jewels under his loin cloth so sly old Burroughs had the jewels next to the family jewels...Zips right by you the way it is written but Miranda is actually sleeping with the girl.”
As I stated earlier there is nothing in the text that insinuates a sexual relation. Yes, we were aware where the jewels were located; that’s how we knew what Uhha meant that she couldn’t go for them without waking up Esteban. But it seems that she never aroused Esteban’s horns, likely because she was still a child, and he wasn’t into it. Yes, he was sleeping right next to her, but that was all.
During all her wanderings with the Spaniard she had not once lost her sense of the direction which pointed her home, and now, free, she set her face resolutely toward the southwest and the village Obebe the cannibal. An elephant trail formed a jungle highway along which she moved at a swinging walk, her way lighted by the rays of a full moon that filtered through the foliage of a sparse forest. She feared the jungle night and the nocturnal beasts of prey, but she knew that she must take this chance that she might put as great a distance as possible between herself and the white man before he regained consciousness and started in pursuit.
A hundred yards ahead of her, in the dense thicket that bordered the trail, Numa the lion sniffed, and listened with uppricked ears bent in her direction. No dancing shadows here to suggest menacing forms to Numa’s high-strung nervous system – only the scent of man coming, closer and and closer – a young she-man, most tender of its kind. Numa licked slavering jowels and waited.
The girl came rapidly along the trail. Now she was abreast the lion, but the king of beasts did not spring. There is something in the scent of a man-thing and the sight of the man-thing that awakens strange terrors in the breast of Numa. When he stalks Horta the boar or Bara the deer there is nothing in the near presence of either that arouses a similar sensation in the savage carnivore; then he knows no hesitancy when the instant comes to spring upon his prey. It is only the man-thing, helpless and leaden-footed, that causes him to pause in indecision at the crucial moment.
Uhha passed, ignorant of the fact that a great lion, hunting and hungry, stood within two paces of her. When she had passed Numa slunk into the trail behind her, and there he followed, stalking his tender quarry until the moment should come when the mists of the indecision should be dispelled. And so they went through the jungle night – the great lion, creeping on stealthy, noiseless pads, and just ahead of him the little black girl, unconscious of the grim death stalking her through the dappled moonlight.
Gee, I wonder how this is going to end? No, I’m not. We all know how it will end, Jungle Justice will take its toll. See you in Chapter Nine for the Big Shrink.
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