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ERB’S RABBIT HOLE:
TARZAN AND THE ANT MEN
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
“The great question certainly was, what? Alice looked all round her at the flowers and the blades of grass, but she could not see anything that looked like the right thing to eat or drink under the circumstances. There was a large mushroom growing near her, about the same height as herself; and when she had looked under it, and on both sides of it, and behind it, it occurred to her that she might as well look and see what was on top of it.
She stretched herself up on tiptoe, and peeped over the edge of the mushroom, and her eyes immediately met those of a large blue caterpillar, that was sitting on the top with its arms folded, quietly smoking a long hookah, and taking not the smallest notice of her or of anything else.
The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of his mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.
‘Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I-I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.’
‘What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. ‘Explain yourself!’
‘I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir,’ said Alice, ‘because I’m not myself, you see.’
‘I don’t see,’ said the Caterpillar.
‘I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly,’ Alice replied very politely, ‘for I can’t understand it myself to begin with, and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.’
‘It isn’t,’ said the Caterpillar.
‘Well, perhaps you haven’t found it as yet,’ said Alice; ‘but when you have to turn into a chrysalis – you will someday, you know – and after that into a butterfly, I should think you’ll feel it a little queer, won’t you?’
‘Not a bit,” said the Caterpillar.
‘Well, perhaps your feelings may be different,’ said Alice; ‘all I know is, it would feel very queer to me.’
‘You!’ said the Caterpillar contemptuously. ‘Who are you?’
Alice said nothing; she had never been so much contradicted in all her life before, and she felt that she was losing her temper.
‘Are you content now?’ said the Caterpillar.
‘Well, I should like to be a little larger, sir, if you wouldn’t mind,’ said Alice: ‘three inches is such a wretched height to be.’
‘It is a very good height indeed!’ said the Caterpillar angrily, rearing itself upright as it spoke (it was exactly three inches high).
‘But I’m not used to it!’ pleaded poor Alice in a piteous tone. And she thought to herself, ‘I wish the creatures wouldn’t be so easily offended!’
‘You’ll get used to it in time,’ said the Caterpillar; and it put the hookah in its mouth and began smoking again.
This time Alice waited patiently until it chose to speak again. In a minute or two the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth and yawned once or twice, and shook itself. Then it got down off the mushroom, and crawled away into the grass, merely remarking as it went, ‘One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter.’
‘One side of what? The other side of what?’
‘Of the mushroom,’ said the Caterpillar, just as if she had asked it aloud; and another moment it was out of sight.– Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.I’m not quite sure why I included that passage from the old classic, but I believe it somehow relates to Tarzan’s condition as he grew to his full height while he was unconscious. But first we return to the village of Obebe, the cannibal.
Chapter Twenty-Two: "He Lies!"
A Waziri, returning from the village of Obebe the cannibal, saw a bone lying beside the trail. This, in itself, was nothing remarkable. Many bones lie along savage trails in Africa. But this bone caused him to pause. It was the bone of a child. Nor was that alone enough to give pause to a warrior hastening through an unfriendly country back toward his own people.
But Usula had heard strange tales in the village of Obebe the cannibal where rumor had brought him in search of his beloved master, the Big Bwana. Obebe had seen nor heard nothing of Tarzan of the Apes. Not for years had he seen the giant white. He assured Usula of this fact many times; but from other members of the tribe the Waziri learned that a white man had been kept a prisoner by Obebe for a year or more and that some time since he had escaped. At first Usula thought this white man might have been Tarzan but when he verified the statement of the time that had elapsed since the man was captured he knew that it could not have been his master, and so he turned back along the trail toward home; but when he saw the child’s bone along the trail several days out he recalled the story of the missing Uhha and he paused, just for a moment, to look at the bone. As he looked he saw something else – a small skin bag, lying among some more bones a few feet off the trail. He opened it and poured some of the contents into his palm. He knew what the things were and he knew that they had belonged to his master, for Usula was a headman who knew much about his master’s affairs. These were the diamonds that had been stolen from the Big Bwana many moons before by the white man who had found Opar. He would take them to the Big Bwana’s lady.
What goes around comes around, or something like that. Twice, precious jewels were stolen from Tarzan, but like a boomerang, they always came back.
Three days later as he moved silently along the trail close to the Great Thorn Forest he came suddenly to a halt, the hand grasping his heavy spear tensing in readiness. In a little open place he saw a man, an almost naked man, lying upon the ground. The man was alive – he saw him move – but what was he doing? Usula crept closer, making no noise. He moved around until he could observe the man from another angle and then he saw a horrid sight. The man was white and he lay beside the carcass of a long-dead buffalo, greedily devouring the remnants of hide that clung to the bleaching bones.
The man raised his head a little and Usula, catching a better view of his face, gave a cry of horror. Then the man looked up and grinned. It was the Big Bwana!
Usula ran to him and raised him upon his knees, but the man only laughed and babbled like a child. At his side, caught over one of the horns of the buffalo, was the Big Bwana’s golden locket with the great diamonds set in it. Usula replaced it around the man’s neck. He built a strong shelter for him nearby and hunted food, and for many days he remained until the man’s strength came back; but his mind did not come back. And thus, in this condition, the faithful Usula led home his master.
There was no mention of Ska’s bones, but the golden locket had been wrapped double around its neck, so some animal likely got to eat him. So, R.I.P. Ska, the vulture.
They found many wounds and bruises upon his body and his head, some old, some new, some trivial, some serious; and they sent to England for a great surgeon to come out to Africa and seek to mend the poor thing that once had been Tarzan of the Apes.
The dogs that had once loved Lord Greystoke slunk from this brainless creature. Jad-bal-ja, the Golden Lion, growled when the man was wheeled near his cage.
Korak, the killer, paced the floor in dumb despair, for his mother was on her way from England, and what would be the effect upon her of this awful blow? He hesitated even to contemplate it.
Khamis, the witch doctor, had searched untiringly for Uhha, his daughter, since the River Devil had stolen her from the village of Obebe the cannibal. He had made pilgramages to other villages, some of them remote from his own country, but he had found no trace of her or her abductor.
He was returning from another fruitless search that had extended far to the east of the village of Obebe, skirting the Great Thorn Forest a few miles north of the Ugogo. It was early morning. He had but just broken his lonely camp and set out upon the last leg of his homeward journey when his keen old eyes discovered something lying at the edge of a small open space a hundred yards to his right. He had just a glimpse of something that was not of the surrounding vegetation. He did not know what it was; but instinct bade him investigate. Moving cautiously nearer he presently identified the thing as a human knee just showing above the low grass that covered the clearing. He crept closer and suddenly his eyes narrowed and his breath made a single, odd little sound as it sucked rapidly between his lips in mechanical reaction to surprise, for what he saw was the body of the River Devil lying upon its back, one knee flexed – the knee that he had seen above the grasses.
His spear advanced and ready he approached until he stood above the motionless body. Was the River Devil dead, or was he asleep? Placing the point of his spear against the brown breast Khamis prodded. The Devil did not waken. He was not asleep, then! Nor did he appear to be dead. Khamis knelt and placed an ear above the other’s heart. He was not dead!
Don’t you just love the way ERB sows confusion and mistaken identity in his stories? Esteban Miranda, the Great Imposter and Method Actor, is being used again for really nothing more than to introduce some humor and irony into the adventure. Fortunately for Tarzan he regrew outside of the Great Thorn Forest, for otherwise he would have become a pin cushion if it occurred inside. And what happened to that growling creature we heard in the background as Tarzan lost consciousness?
The witch doctor thought quickly. In his heart he did not believe in River Devils, yet there was a chance that there might be such things and perhaps this one was shamming unconciousnes, or temporarily absent from flesh it assumed as a disguise that it may go among men without arousing suspicion. But, too, it was the abductor of his daughter. That thought filled him with rage and with courage. He must force the truth from those lips even though the creature were a Devil.
He unwound a bit of fiber rope from about his waist and, turning the body over upon its back, quickly bound the wrists behind it. Then he sat down beside it to wait. It was an hour before signs of returning consciousness appeared, then the River Devil opened his eyes.
“Where is Uhha, my daughter?” demanded the witch doctor.
The River Devil tried to free his arms, but they were too tightly bound. He made no reply to Khamis’ question. It was as though he had not heard it. He ceased struggling and lay back again, resting. After a while he opened his eyes once more and lay looking at Khamis, but he did not speak.
“Get up!” commanded the witch doctor and prodded him with a spear.
The River Devil rolled over on his side, flexed his tight knee, raised on one elbow and finally got to his feet. Khamis prodded him in the direction of the trail. Toward dusk they arrived at the village of Obebe.
When the warriors and the women and children saw who it was that Khamis was bringing to the village they became very much excited, and had it not been for the witch doctor, of whom they were afraid, they would have knifed and stoned the prisoner to death before he was fairly inside the village gates; but Khamis did not want the River Devil killed – not yet. He wanted first to force from him the truth concerning Uhha. So far he had been unable to get a word out of his prisoner. Incessant questioning, emphasized by many prods of the spear point, had elicited nothing.
Khamis threw his prisoner into the same hut from which the River Devil had escaped; but he bound him securely and placed two warriors on guard. He had no mind to lose him again. Obebe came to see him. He, too, questioned him; but the River Devil only looked blankly in the face of the chief.
“I will make him speak,” said Obebe. “After we have finished eating we will have him out and make him speak. I know many ways.”
“You must not kill him,” said the witch doctor. “He knows what happened to Uhha, and until he tells me no one shall kill him.”
“He will speak before he dies,” said Obebe.
“He is a river devil and will never die,” said Khamis, reverting to the old controversy.
“He is Tarzan,” cried Obebe, and the two were still arguing after they had passed out of hearing of the prisoner lying in the filth of the hut.
After they had eaten he saw them heating irons in a fire near the hut of the witch doctor, who was squatting before the entrance working rapidly with numerous charms – bits of wood wrapped in leaves, pieces of stone, some pebbles, a Zebra’s tail.
Villagers were congregating about Khamis until presently the prisoner could no longer see him. A little later a black boy came and spoke to his guards, and he was taken out and pushed roughly toward the hut of the witch doctor.
Obebe was there, as he saw after the guards had opened a way through the throng and he stood beside the fire in the center of the circle. It was only a small fire, just enough to keep a couple of irons hot.
“Where is Uhha, my daughter?” demanded Khamis.
The River Devil did not answer. Not once had he spoken since Khamis had captured him.
“Burn out one of his eyes,” said Obebe. “That will make him speak.”
“Cut out his tongue!” screamed a woman. “Cut out his tongue!”
“Then he cannot speak at all, you fool,” cried Khamis.
I know this is a scary torture scene, but I find it hard to take seriously when ERB adds all of these comic elements.
The witch doctor arose and put the question again, but received no reply. Then he struck the River Devil a heavy blow in the face. Khamis had lost his temper, so that he did not fear even a river devil.
“You will never answer me now!” he screamed, and stooping he seized a red-hot iron.
“The right eye first,” shrilled Obebe.
The doctor came to the bungalow of the ape-man – Lady Greystoke brought him with her. They were three tired and dusty travelers as they dismounted at last before the rose-embowered entrance – the famous London surgeon, Lady Greystoke, and Flora Hawkes, her maid. The surgeon and Lady Greystoke went immediately to the room where Tarzan sat in an improvised wheelchair. He looked up at them blankly as they entered.
“Don’t you know me, John?” asked the woman.
Her son took her by the shoulders and led her away, weeping.
“He does not know any of us,” he said. “Wait until after the operation, mother, before you see him again. You can do him no good and to see him this way is too hard upon you.”
The great surgeon made his examination. There was pressure on the brain from a recent fracture of the skull. An operation would relieve the pressure and might restore the patient’s mind and memory. It was worth attempting.
Nurses and two doctors from Nairobi, engaged the day they arrived there, followed Lady Greystoke and the London surgeon, reaching the bungalow the day after their arrival. The operation took place the following morning.
Lady Greystoke, Korak and Meriem were awaiting, in an adjoining room, the verdict of the surgeon. Was the operation a failure or a success? They sat mutely staring at the door leading into the improvised operating room. At last it opened, after what seemed ages, but was only perhaps an hour. The surgeon entered the room where they sat. Their eyes, dumbly pleading, asked him the question that their lips dare not voice.
“I cannot tell you anything as yet,” he said, “other than that the operation, as an operation, was successful. What the result of it will be only time will tell. I have given orders that no one is to enter the room, other than the nurses, for ten days. They are instructed not to speak to him or allow him to speak for the same length of time; but he will not wish to speak, for I shall keep him in a semiconscious condition, by means of drugs, until the ten days have elapsed. Until then, Lady Greystoke, we may only hope for the best; but I can assure you that your husband has every chance for complete recovery. I think you may safely hope for the best.
The witch doctor had his left hand upon the shoulder of the River Devil; in his right hand clutched a red-hot iron.
“The right eye first,” shrilled Obebe.
Suddenly the muscles upon the back and shoulders of the prisoner leaped into action, rolling beneath his brown hide. For just an instant he appeared to exert terrific physical force, there was a snapping sound at his back as the strands about his wrists parted, and an instant later steel-thewed fingers fell upon the right wrist of the witch doctor. Blazing eyes burned into his. He dropped the red-hot rod, his fingers paralyzed by the pressure upon his wrist, and he screamed, for he saw death in the angry face of the god.
Obebe leaped to his feet. Warriors pressed forward, but not near enough to be within reach of the River Devil. They had never been certain of the safety of tempting providence in any such manner as Khamis and Obebe had been about to do. Now here was the result. The wrath of the River Devil would fall upon them all. They fell back, some of them, and that was a cue for others to fall back. In the minds of all was the same thought – if I have no hand in this the River Devil will not be angry with me. Then they turned and fled to their huts, stumbling over their women and their children who were trying to outdistance their lords and masters.
Obebe turned now to flee also, and the River Devil picked Khamis up, and held him in two hands high above his head, and ran after Obebe the chief. The latter dodged into his own hut. He had scarce reached the center of it when there came a terrific crash upon the light, thatched roof, which gave way beneath a heavy weight. A body descending upon the chief filled him with terror. The River Devil had leaped in through the roof of his hut to destroy him! The instinct of self-preservation rose momentarily above his fear of the supernatural, for now he was convinced that Khamis had been right and the creature they had so long held prisoner was indeed the River Devil. And Obebe drew the knife at his side and lunged it again and again into the body of the creature that had leaped upon him, and when he knew that life was extinct he rose and dragging the body after him stepped out of his hut into the light of the moon and the fires.
“Come, my people!” he cried. “You have nothing to fear, for I, Obebe, your chief, have slain the River Devil with my own hands,” and then he looked down at the thing trailing behind him, and gave a gasp, and sat down suddenly in the dirt of the village street, for the body at his heels was that of Khamis, the witch doctor.
His people came and when they saw what had happened they said nothing, but looked terrified. Obebe examined his hut and the ground around it. He took several warriors and searched the village. The stranger had departed. He went to the gates. They were closed; but in the dust before him was the imprint of naked feet – the naked feet of a white man. Then he came back to his hut, where his frightened people stood waiting him.
“Obebe was right,” he said. “The creature was not the River Devil – it was Tarzan of the Apes, for only he could hurl Khamis so high above his head that he would fall through the roof of a hut, and only he could pass unaided over our gates.”
R.I.P. Khamis, the witch doctor. Well, I for one hated to see Obebe get away with it. I doubt very much that he will suffer any injury from conscience because I doubt if he has one.
The tenth day had come. The great surgeon was still at the Greystoke bungalow awaiting the outcome of the operation. The patient was slowly emerging from under the influence of the last dose of drugs that had been given him during the preceding night, but he was regaining his consciousness more slowly than the surgeon had hoped. The long hours dragged by, morning ran into afternoon, and evening came, and still there was no word from the sickroom.
It was dark. The lamps were lighted. The family were congregated in the big living room. Suddenly the door opened and a nurse appeared. Behind her was the patient. There was a puzzled look upon his face; but the face of the nurse was wreathed in smiles. The surgeon came behind, assisting the man, who was weak from long inactivity.
“I think Lord Greystoke will recover rapidly now,” he said. “There are many things that you may have to tell him. He did not know who he was, when he regained consciousness; but that is not unusual in such cases.”
The patient took a few steps into the room, looking wonderingly about.
“There is your wife, Greystoke,” said the surgeon, kindly.
Lady Greystoke rose and crossed the room toward her husband, her arms outstretched. A smile crossed the face of the invalid, as he stepped forward to meet her and take her in his arms; but suddenly someone was between them, holding them apart. It was Flora Hawkes.
“My Gawd, Lady Greystoke!” she cried. “He ain’t your husband. It’s Miranda, Esteban Miranda! Don’t you suppose I’d know him in a million? I ain’t seen him since we came back, never havin’ been in the sick chamber, but I suspicioned something the minute he stepped into this room and when he smiled, I knew.”
“Flora!” cried the distracted wife. “Are you sure? No! No! You must be wrong! God had not given me back my husband only to steal him away again. John! Tell me, is it you? You would not lie to me?”
For a moment the man before them was silent. He swayed to and fro, as in weakness. The surgeon stepped forward and supported him.
“I have been very sick,” he said. “Possibly I have changed; but I am Lord Greystoke. I do not remember this woman,” and he indicated Flora Hawkes.
“He lies!” cried the girl.
“Yes, he lies,” said a quiet voice behind them, and they all turned to see the figure of a giant white standing in the open French windows leading to the veranda.
“John!” cried Lady Greystoke, running toward him. “How could I have been mistaken” I –” but the rest of the sentence was lost as Tarzan of the Apes sprang into the room and taking his mate in his arms covered her lips with kisses.
Yep, that’s all folks! I was a little disappointed that there was no justice for Miranda, since he murdered Carl Kraski, the Russian. But Flora Hawkes witnessed that murder, and since Miranda now has some kind of consciousness not even a great lawyer could convince the trier of fact that he was insane at the time, and thus the verdict would be death, especially since Tarzan dispenses justice on his own estate.
And what’s with Flora Hawkes and her cockney accent? Neither she nor Kraski spoke with a literary accent in Golden Lion. I should know, for I had to type out those deplorable accents, and ‘ere we are, and that’s that.
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