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ERB’S BIBLE BLUES:
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Chapter Two is titled: “The Land of Midian,” the area in which Lady Barbara is about to parachute into. There is a land of Midian in the Bible: it’s where Moses fled after he murdered the Egyptian taskmaster and met Jethro, a descendant of Cain and the Priest of YHWH, and married his daughter; it’s in modern day Jordan. It’s where Mount Horeb/Sinai is located. The land of Midian in our story, however, is not related to the Bible version, unless you associate the flight of Augustus the Ephesian with the flight of Moses, which I do not believe was ERB’s intent.
I’ve always been amazed that the Hebrew name for the Most High God is YHWH, which means “I Am.” I mean, who names their god “I Am?” There is some deep thought there. The link between God and humans can be found in Rene Descartes’ “Cogito Ergo Sum” – I think therefore I am. God and consciousness are so linked in my mind that they are virtually one and the same. Okay, let’s get back to our story.
Chapter Two: The Land of Midian
Abraham, the son of Abraham, stood at the foot of the towering cliff that is the wall of the mighty crater of a long extinct volcano. Behind and above him were the dwellings of his people, carved from the soft volcanic ash that rose from the bottom of the crater part way up the encircling cliffs, and clustered about him were the men and women and children of his tribe.
Abraham in the Bible is the father of three world religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which is why the recent peace treaties between Israel and Islamic states is called the Abraham Accords. However, in our story Abraham is only the name of the leader of the cult.
One and all, they stood with faces raised toward the heavens, upon each countenance reflected the particular emotion that the occasion evoked – wonder, questioning, fear, and always rapt, tense listening, for from the low clouds hanging but a few hundred feet above the rim of the great crater, the floor of which stretched away for fully five miles to its opposite side, came a strange, ominous droning sound, the like of which not one of them had ever heard before.
The sound grew in volume until it seemed to hover just above them, filling all the heavens with its terrifying threat; and then it diminished gradually until it was only a suggestion of a sound that might have been no more than a persistent memory rumbling in their heads; and when they thought that it had gone it grew again in volume until once more it thundered down upon them where they stood in terror or in ecstasy, as each interpreted the significance of the phenomenon.
And upon the opposite side of the crater a similar group, actuated by identical fears and questionings, clustered about Elija, the son of Noab.
Elijah was a bloody prophet and was an infamous opponent of King Ahab of Israel and his wife, Jezebel. After crossing the River Jordan, he ascended into heaven on a chariot of fire. Here, however, Elija is the name of the opposite religious cult leader. I have no idea of who Noab was. His name does not appear in the Bible.
In the first group a woman turned to Abraham, the son of Abraham. “What is it, Father?” she asked. “I am afraid.”
“Those who trust in the Lord,” replied the man, “know no fear. You have revealed the wickedness of your heresy, woman.”
The face of the questioner blenched and now, indeed, did she tremble. “Oh, Father, you know that I am no heretic!” she cried piteously.
“Silence, Martha!” commanded Abraham. “Perhaps this is the Lord Himself, come again to earth as was prophesied in the days of Paul, to judge us all.” His voice was high and shrill, and he trembled as he spoke.
This is one of the most obvious traits of a Christian religious cult: the fear of death, fear of the leader, the constant judgment of each other over trivial things, and some understanding of the writings of Paul, including radical fear of the end of the world and the judgment to come.
A half grown child, upon the outskirts of the assemblage, fell to the ground, where he writhed, foaming at the mouth. A woman screamed and fainted.
“Oh, Lord, if it is indeed Thee, Thy chosen people await to receive Thy blessing and Thy commands,” prayed Abraham; “but,” he added, “ if it is not Thee, we beseech that Thou savest us whole from harm.”
“Perhaps it is Gabriel!” suggested another of the long bearded men.
“And the sound of his trump,” wailed a woman – “the trump of doom!”
Gabriel was, of course, the Angel of God who prophesied the Seventy Weeks of the Book of Daniel, and announced the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. It was believed that he would blow the trumpet signifying the end of the world.
“Silence!” shrilled Abraham, and the woman shrank back in fear.
Unnoticed, the youth floundered and gasped for breath as, with eyes set as in death, he struggled in the throes of agony, and then another lurched and fell and he, too, writhed and foamed.
And now they were dropping on all sides – some in convulsions and others in deathlike faints – until a dozen or more sprawled upon the ground, where their pitiable condition elicited no attention from their fellows unless a stricken one chanced to fall against a neighbor or upon his feet, in which case the latter merely stepped aside without vouchsafing so much as a glance at the poor unfortunate.
With few exceptions those who suffered the violent strokes were men and boys, while it was the women who merely fainted; but whether man, woman or child, whether writhing in convulsions or lying quietly in coma, no one paid the slightest attention to any of them.
I believe ERB is mocking charismatics who believe and practice being slain the spirit, known as holy rolling, which sometimes mimics an epileptic seizure or coma.
As to whether this seeming indifference was customary, or merely induced by the excitement and apprehension of the moment, as they stood with eyes, ears, and minds focused on the clouds above them, only a closer acquaintance with these strange people may enlighten us.
Once more the terrifying sound, swollen to hideous proportions, swept toward them, it seemed to stop above them for a moment and then –
Out of the clouds floated a strange apparition – a terrifying thing – a great, white thing above, below which there swung to and fro a tiny figure. At sight of it, dropping gently toward them, a dozen of the watchers collapsed, frothing, in convulsions.
Abraham, the son of Abraham, dropped to his knees, raising his hands in supplication toward the heavens. His people, those of them who were still upon their feet, followed his example. From his lips issued a torrent of strange sounds – a prayer perhaps, but if so not in the same language as that in which he had previously spoken to his people nor in any language known to man, and as he prayed his followers knelt in terrified silence.
Again I believe ERB is mocking charismatics who speak in the tongues of angels, otherwise known as glossolalia, defined as “fabricated and meaningless speech, especially when associated with a trance state or certain schizophrenic syndromes.”
Closer and closer floated the mysterious apparition until, at length, expectant eyes recognized in the figure floating beneath the small, white cloud the outlines of a human form.
A great cry arose as recognition spread – a cry that was a mingling of terror born wail and ecstatic hosanna. Abraham was among the last to recognize the form of the dangling figure for what it was, or, perhaps, among the last to admit the testimony of his eyes. When he did he toppled to the ground, his muscles twitching and jerking his whole body into horrid contortions, his eyes rolled upward and set as in death, his breath expelled in painful gasps between lips flecked with foam.
Abraham, the son of Abraham, never an Adonis, was at this moment anything but a pretty sight; but no one seemed to notice him any more than they had the score or more or lesser creatures who had succumbed to the nervous excitation of the experiences of the past half hour.
Some five hundred people, men, women and children, of which thirty, perhaps, lay quietly or writhed in convulsions upon the ground, formed the group of watchers toward which Lady Barbara Collis gently floated. As she landed in, if the truth must be told (and we historians are proverbially truthful, except when we are chronicling the lives of our national heroes, or living rulers within whose grasp we may be, or of enemy peoples with whom our country has been at war, and upon other occasions) – but, as I was recording, as Lady Barbara landed in an awkward sprawl within a hundred yards of the assemblage all those who had remained standing up to this time went down upon their knees.
The nature of Soviet propaganda made those who had open minds realize how much propaganda their own nation had generated during the War to End All Wars. ERB had himself participated in this kind of propaganda in 1918 with Tarzan the Untamed, where he had the Germans bump off Jane, only to resurrect her again because his editors and fans demanded it. The Germans never forgave him for that, burning his books when Hitler took over.
Hastily scrambling to her feet, the girl disengaged the harness of her parachute and stood gazing in perplexity upon the scene about her. A quick glance had revealed the towering cliffs that formed the encircling walls of the gigantic crater, though at the time she did not suspect the true nature of the valley spreading before her. It was the people who claimed her surprised attention.
They were white! In the heart of Africa she had landed in the midst of a settlement of whites. But this thought did not wholly reassure her. There was something strange and unreal about these prone and kneeling figures; but at least they did not appear ferocious or unfriendly – their attitudes, in fact, were quite the opposite, and she saw no evidence of weapons among them.
She approached them, and, as she did so, many of them began to wail and press their faces against the ground, while others raised their hands in supplication – some toward the heavens, and others toward her.
She was close enough now to see their features and her heart sank within her, for she had never conceived the existence of an entire village of people of such unprepossessing appearance, and Lady Barbara was one of those who are strongly impressed by externals.
The men were particularly repulsive. Their long hair and beards seemed as little acquainted with soap, water and combs as with shears and razors.
There were two features that impressed her most strongly and unfavorably – the huge noses and receding chins of practically the entire company. The noses were so large as to constitute a deformity, while in many of those before her, chins were almost nonexistent.
And then she saw two things, that had diametrically opposite effects upon her – the score of epileptics writhing upon the ground and a singularly beautiful, golden haired girl who had risen from the prostrate herd and was slowly approaching her, a questioning look in her large gray eyes.
Lady Barbara Collis looked the girl full in the eyes and smiled, and when Lady Barbara smiled stone crumbled before the radiant vision of her face – or so a poetic and enthralled admirer had once stated in her hearing. The fact that he lisped, however, had prejudiced her against his testimony.
The girl returned the smile with one almost as gorgeous, but quickly she erased it from her features, at the same time glancing furtively about her as though fearful that some one had detected her in the commission of a crime; but when Lady Barbara extended both her hands toward her, she came forward and placed her own within the grasp of the English girl’s.
“Where am I?” asked Lady Barbara. “What country is this? Who are these people?”
The girl shook her head. “Who are you?” she asked. “Are you an angel that the Lord God of Hosts has sent to His chosen people?”
At this time in publishing history that ERB wrote, it was common for editors to make sure the Almighty’s pronouns were capitalized, so it is of no significance to find them capitalized in any work of fiction. This rule, of course, no longer applies, and only in some Christian literature is this style still followed.
It was now the turn of Lady Barbara to shake her head to evidence her inability to understand the language of the other.
An old man with a long white beard arose and came toward them, having seen the apparition from Heaven had not struck the girl dead for her temerity.
“Get thee gone, Jezebel!” cried the old man to the girl. “How durst thou address this Heavenly visitor?”
The girl stepped back, dropping her head, and though Lady Barbara had understood no word that the man spoke, his tone and gesture, together with the action of the girl, told her what had transpired between them.
She thought quickly. She had realized the impression that her miraculous appearance had made upon these seemingly ignorant people, and she guessed that their subsequent attitude toward her would be governed largely by the impression of her first acts; and being English, she held to the English tradition of impressing upon lesser people the authority of her breed. It would never do, therefore, to let this unkempt patriarch order the girl from her if Lady Barbara chose to retain her; and, after glancing at the faces about her, she was quite sure that if she must choose a companion from among them the fair haired beauty would be her nominee.
With an imperious gesture, and a sinking heart, she stepped forward and took the girl by the arm, and, as the latter turned a surprised glance upon her, drew her to her side.
“Remain with me,” she said, although she knew her words were unintelligible to the girl.
“What did she say, Jezebel?” demanded the old man.
The girl was about to reply that she did not know, but something stopped her. Perhaps the very strangeness of the question gave her pause, for it must have been obvious to the old man that the stranger spoke in a tongue unknown to him and, therefore, unknown to any of them.
She thought quickly, now. Why should he ask such a question unless he might entertain a belief that she might have understood? She recalled the smile that the stranger had brought to her lips without her volition, and she recalled, too, that the old man had noted it.
The girl called Jezebel knew the price of a smile in the land of Midian, where any expression of happiness is an acknowledgment of sin; and so, being a bright girl among a people who were almost uniformly stupid, she evolved a ready answer in the hope that it might save her from punishment.
She looked the ancient one straight in the eye. “She said, Jobab,” she replied, “that she cometh from Heaven with a message for the chosen people and that she will deliver the message through no other.”
Now much of this statement had been suggested to Jezebel by the remarks of the elders and the apostles as they had watched the strange apparition descending from the clouds and had sought to find some explanation for the phenomenon. In fact, Jobab himself had volunteered the very essence of this theory and was, therefore, the more ready to acknowledge belief in the girl’s statement.
Jobab is a biblical name for a son of Joktan, one of the 70 nations of the Gentiles (see Genesis chapter 10); a king of Edom; a Canaanite king; a son of Shaharaim, whoever he was; and finally a son of Elpaal, another unknown. You can thank Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance for that information.
Lady Barbara stood with an arm about the slim shoulders of the golden haired Jezebel, her shocked gaze encompassing the scene before her – the degraded, unkempt people huddled stupidly before her, the inert forms of those who had fainted, the writhing contortions of the epileptics. With aversion she appraised the countenance of Jobab, noting the watery eyes, the huge monstrosity of his nose, the long, filthy beard that but half concealed his weak chin. With difficulty she stemmed the involuntary shudder that was her natural nervous reaction to the sight before her.
Jobab stood staring at her, an expression of awe on his stupid, almost imbecile face. From the crowd behind him several other old men approached, almost fearfully, halting just behind him. Jobab looked back over his shoulder. “Where is Abraham, the son of Abraham?” he demanded.
“He still communeth with Jehovah,” replied one of the ancients.
No one is sure how the name of God was pronounced. The name “Jehovah” was attained by adding vowels in the otherwise tetragrammaton, the four letters of the name, YHWH. Modern scholars, however, prefer “Yahweh” over Jehovah, and some, including myself, are satisfied with the four letters alone, since the meaning in English is always the same: “I Am.”
“Perhaps even now Jehovah revealeth to him the purpose of this visitation,” suggested another hopefully.
“She hath brought a message,” said Jobab, “and she will deliver it only through the girl called Jezebel. I wish Abraham, the son of Abraham, was through communing with Jehovah,” he added; but Abraham, the son of Abraham, still writhed upon the ground, foaming at the mouth.
“Verily,” said another old man, “if this be indeed a messenger from Jehovah let us not stand thus idly staring, lest we arouse the anger of Jehovah, that He bring a plague upon us, even of flies or of lice.”
This last statement is another indication that they were familiar with Bible stories, especially those of the Exodus and the Ten Plagues on Egypt.
“Thou speakest true words, Timothy,” agreed Jobab, and, turning to the crowd behind them; “Get thee hence quickly and fetch offerings that may be good in the sight of Jehovah, each in accordance with his ability.”
Timothy was an early convert of Paul from a Greek father and a Jewish mother, and was Paul’s helper during his missions. He likely inherited some of the churches of Paul after he was killed, and likely was involved in the collection of his letters that are in the New Testament today. His pseudo history can be found in the Book of Acts, starting at chapter 16. I say pseudo because the Book of Acts, written by an unknown Gentile, contradicts the letters of Paul as to its chronology, not mentioning key people or missions, and not giving Paul full credit as an equal apostle with the original 12, although he gives James the Just, the brother of Jesus, equal credit. The last line comes from not only Karl Marx, but also the Book of Acts, chapter 4, where the 12 apostles create a communist soviet in Jerusalem, murdering certain believers – Ananias and his wife Sapphira to accumulate their property, as well as a leader of the Greek speaking Jews, Stephen – who preferred liberty over having all things in common. They eventually became another Christian cult known as the Ebionites, meaning “the Poor,” an apt name for communists.
Suddenly the assemblage turned away toward the caves and hovels that constituted the village, leaving the small knot of ancients facing Lady Barbara and the golden Jezebel and, upon the ground, the stricken ones, some of whom were evidencing symptoms of recovery from their seizures.
Once again a feeling of revulsion gripped the English girl as she noted the features and carriages of the village. Almost without exception they were disfigured by enormous noses and chins so small and receding that in many instances the chin seemed to be lacking entirely. When they walked they ordinarily leaned forward, giving the impression that they were upon the verge of pitching headlong upon their faces.
Occasionally among them appeared an individual whose countenance suggested a much higher mentality than that possessed by the general run of the villagers, and without exception these had blond hair, while the hair of all the others was black.
So striking was this phenomenon that Lady Barbara could not but note it almost in her first brief survey of these strange creatures, yet she was never to discover an indisputable explanation, for there was none to tell her of Augustus and the fair haired slave girl from some barbarian horde of the north, none who knew that Augustus had a large nose, a weak chin and epilepsy, none to guess the splendid mind and the radiant health of that little slave girl, dead now for almost nineteen centuries, whose blood, even now, arose occasionally above the horrid decadence of all those long years of enforced inbreeding to produce such a creature as Jezebel in an effort, however futile, to stem the tide of degeneracy.
Lady Barbara wondered now why the people had gone to their dwellings – what did it portend? She looked at the old men who had remained behind, but their stupid, almost imbecile faces revealed nothing. Then she turned to the girl. How she wished that they might understand one another. She was positive that the girl was actively friendly, but she could not be so sure of these others. Everything about them repelled her, and she found it impossible to have confidence in their intentions toward her.
But how different was the girl! She, too, doubtless, was an alien among them; and that fact gave the English girl hope, for she had seen nothing to indicate that the golden haired one was being threatened or mistreated; and at last she was alive and uninjured. Yet, she must be of another breed. Her simple, and scant, apparel, fabricated apparently from vegetable fiber, was clean, as were those parts of her body exposed to view, while the garments of all the others, especially the old men, were filthy beyond words, as were their hair and beards and every portion of their bodies not concealed by the mean garments that scarce half covered their nakedness.
As the old men whispered among themselves, Lady Barbara turned slowly to look about her in all directions. She saw precipitous cliffs completely hemming a small circular valley, near the center of which was a lake. Nowhere could she see any indication of a break in the encircling walls that rose hundreds of feet above the floor of the valley; and yet she felt that there must be an entrance from the outer world, else how had these people gained entrance?
Her survey suggested that the valley lay at the bottom of the crater of a great volcano, long extinct, and if that were true the path to the outer world must cross the summit of those lofty walls; yet these appeared, insofar as she could see, utterly unscalable. But how account for the presence of these people? The problem vexed her, but she knew that it must remain unsolved until she had determined the attitude of the villagers and discovered whether she were to be a guest or a prisoner.
Now the villagers were returning, and she saw that many of them carried articles in their hands. They came slowly, timidly nearer her, exhorted by the ancients, until at her feet they deposited the burdens they had carried – bowls of cooked food, and pieces of the fiber cloth such as that from which their crude garments were fabricated, the homely offerings of a simple people.
As they approached her many of them displayed symptoms of great nervousness and several sank to the ground, victims of the convulsive paroxysms that marked the seizures to which so many of them appeared to be subject.
To Lady Barbara it appeared that these simple folk were either bringing gifts attesting their hospitality or were offering their wares, in barter, to the stranger within their gates; nor did the truth once occur to her at the moment – that the villagers were, in fact, making votive offerings to one they believed the messenger of God, or even, perhaps, a goddess in her own right. When, after depositing their offerings, at her feet, they turned and hastened away, the simple faces of some evidencing fear caused her to abandon the idea that the goods were offered for sale; and she determined that, if not gifts of hospitality, they might easily be considered as tribute to appease the wrath of a potential enemy.
Abraham, the son of Abraham, had regained consciousness. Slowly he raised himself to a sitting position and looked about him. He was very weak. He always was after these seizures. It required a minute or two before he could collect his wits and recall the events immediately preceding the attack. He saw the last of those bringing offerings to Lady Barbara deposit them at her feet. He saw the stranger. And then he recalled the strange droning that had come out of the heavens and the apparition that he had seen floating down toward them.
Abraham, the son of Abraham, arose. It was Jobab, among the ancients, who saw him first. “Hallelujah!” he exclaimed. “Abraham, the son of Abraham, walketh no longer with Jehovah. He hath returned to our midst. Let us pray!” Whereupon the entire assemblage, with the exception of Lady Barbara and the girl called Jezebel, dropped to its knees. Among them, Abraham, the son of Abraham, moved slowly, as though in a trance, toward the stranger, his mind still lethargic from the effects of his seizure. About him arose a strange, weird babel as the ancients prayed aloud without concord or harmony, interrupted by occasional cries of “Hallelujah” and “Amen.”
Tall and thin, with a long gray beard still flecked with foam and saliva, his scant robe ragged and filthy, Abraham, the son of Abraham, presented a most repulsive appearance to the eyes of the English girl as, at last, he stopped before her.
Now his mind was clearing rapidly, and as he halted he seemed to note the presence of the girl, Jezebel, for the first time. “What doest thou here, wanton?” he demanded. “Why art thou not upon thy knees praying with the others?”
Lady Barbara was watching the two closely. She noted the stern and accusing attitude and tones of the man, and she saw the appealing glance that the girl cast toward her. Instantly she threw an arm about the latter’s shoulders. “Remain here!” she said, for she feared that the man was ordering the girl to leave her.
If Jezebel did not understand the words of the strange, heavenly visitor, she could not mistake the detaining gesture, and, anyway, she did not wish to join the others in prayer. Perhaps it was only that she might cling a few brief minutes longer to the position of importance to which the incident had elevated her out of a lifetime of degradation and contempt to which her strange inheritance of beauty had condemned her.
And so, nerved by the pressure of the arm about her, she faced Abraham, the son of Abraham, resolutely, although, withal, a trifle fearfully, since who knew better than she what a terrible man Abraham, the son of Abraham, might become when crossed by anyone.
“Answer me, thou, thou –” Abraham, the son of Abraham, could not find an epithet sufficiently excoriating to meet the emergency.
“Let not thy anger blind thee to the will of Jehovah,” warned the girl.
“What meanest thou?” he demanded.
“Canst thou not see that His messenger hath chosen me to be her mouthpiece?”
“What sacrilege is this, woman?”
“It is no sacrilege,” she replied sturdily. “It is the will of Jehovah, and if thou believest me not, ask Jobab, the apostle.”
Abraham, the son of Abraham, turned to where the ancients prayed. “Jobab!” he cried in a voice that arose above the din of prayer.
Instantly the devotions ceased with a lout “Amen!” from Jobab. The old men arose, their example being followed by those others of the villagers who were not held earth-bound by epilepsy; and Jobab, the apostle, approached the three who were now the goal of every eye.
“What transpired while I walked with Jehovah?” demanded Abraham, the son of Abraham.
“There came this messenger from heaven,” replied Jobab, “and we did her honor, and the people brought offerings, each according to his ability, and laid them at her feet, and she did not seem displeased – nor either did she seem pleased,” he added. “And more than this we knew not what to do.”
“But this daughter of Satan!” cried Abraham, the son of Abraham. “What of her?”
“Verily I say unto you that she speaks with the tongue of Jehovah,” replied Jobab, “for He hath chosen her to be the mouthpiece of His messenger.”
“Jehovah be praised,” said Abraham, the son of Abraham; “the ways of the Almighty passeth understanding.” He turned now to Jezebel, but when he spoke there was a new note in his tones – a conciliatory note – and, perhaps, not a little of fear in his eyes. “Beseech the messenger to look upon us poor servants of Jehovah with mercy and forgiveness; beg of her that she open her mouth to us poor sinners and divulge her wishes. We await her message, trembling and fearful in the knowledge of our unworthiness.”
Jezebel turned to Lady Barbara.
“But wait!” cried Abraham, the son of Abraham, as a sudden questioning doubt assailed his weak mind. “How can you converse with her? You speak only the language of the land of Midian. Verily, if thou canst speak with her, why may not I, the Prophet of Paul, the son of Jehovah?”
Jezebel had a brain worth fifty such brains as that possessed by the Prophet of Paul; and now she used it to advantage, though, if the truth were known, not without some misgivings as to the outcome of her rash proposal, for, although she had a bright and resourceful mind, she was none the less the ignorant child of an ignorant and superstitious people.
“Thou hast a tongue, Prophet,” she said. “Speak thou then to the messenger of Jehovah, and if she answers thee in the language of the land of Midian thou canst understand her as well as I.”
“That,” said Abraham, the son of Abraham, “is scarce less than an inspiration.”
“A miracle!” exclaimed Jobab. “Jehovah must have put the words in her mouth.”
“I shall address the messenger,” said the Prophet. “O angel of light!” he cried, turning to Lady Barbara, “look with compassion upon an old man, upon Abraham, the son of Abraham, the Prophet of Paul, the son of Jehovah, and deign to make known to him to wishes of Him who sent you to us.”
Lady Barbara shook her head. “There is something that one does when one is embarrassed,” she said. “I have read it repeatedly in the advertising sections of American periodicals, but I haven’t that brand. However, any port in a storm,” and she extracted a gold cigarette case from a pocket of her jacket and lighted one of the cigarettes.
“What didst she say, Jezebel?” demanded the Prophet – “and, in the name of Paul, what miracle is this? ‘Out of his nostrils goeth smoke’ is said of the behemoth of holy writ. What can be the meaning of this?”
The quote is from Job, chapter 41, verse 20, but it describes Leviathan rather than Behemoth. Thus it is possible that someone in the land of Midian possessed an Old Testament or a Hebrew Bible, but gets things mixed up when quoting from it. Moreover, I have no idea what American brand of cigarettes ERB was hinting about, but it was likely an ad that offered the brand for soothing the nerves when one is embarrassed, probably being offered by a doctor in a white suit.
“It is a warning,” said Jezebel, “because thou didst doubt my words.”
“Nay, nay,” exclaimed Abraham, the son of Abraham, “I doubted thee not. Tell her that I did not doubt thee, and then tell me what she said.”
“She said,” replied Jezebel, “that Jehovah is not pleased with thee or thy people. He is angry because thou so mistreat Jezebel. His anger is terrible because thou dost make her work beyond her strength, nor give her the best food, and that thou dost punish her when she would laugh and be happy.”
“Tell her,” said the Prophet, “that we knew not that thou wert overworked and that we shall make amends. Tell her that we lovest thee and thou shalt have the best of food. Speak to her, O Jezebel, and ask if she has further commands for her poor servants.”
Jezebel looked into the eyes of the English girl, and upon her countenance rested an expression of angelic guilelessness, while from her lips issued a stream of meaningless jargon which was as unintelligible to Jezebel as to Lady Barbara or the listening villagers of the land of Midian.
“My dear child,” said Lady Barbara, when Jezebel eventually achieved a period, “what you say is as Greek to me, but you are very beautiful and your voice is musical. I am sorry that you can understand me no better than I understand you.”
“What saith she?” demanded Abraham, the son of Abraham.
“She says that she is tired and hungry, and she wishes the offerings brought by the people to be taken to a cave – a clean cave – and that I accompany her and that she be left in peace, as she is tired and would rest; and she wishes no one but Jezebel to be with her.”
Abraham, the son of Abraham, turned to Jobab. “Send women to make clean the cave next to mine,” he commanded, “and have others carry the offerings to the cave, as well as clean grasses for a bed.”
“For two beds,” Jezebel corrected him.
“Yea, for two beds,” agreed the Prophet, hastily.
And so Lady Barbara and Jezebel were instaled in a well renovated cave near the bottom of the cliff, with food enough to feed a numerous company. The English girl stood at the entrance to her strange, new abode looking out across the valley as she sought to evolve some plan whereby she might get word of her predicament and her whereabouts to the outside world. In another twenty-four hours she knew the apprehension of her friends and of her family would be aroused and soon many an English plane would be roaring over the Cape to Cairo route in search of her, and, as she pondered her unfortunate situation, the girl called Jezebel lay in luxurious idleness upon her bed of fresh grasses and ate from a pile of fruit near her head, the while a happy smile of contentment illumed her lovely countenance.
The shadows of night were already falling, and Lady Barbara turned back into the cave with but a single practical idea evolved from all her thinking – that she must find the means to communicate with these people, nor could she escape the conviction that only by learning their language might this be accomplished.
As darkness came and chill night air replaced the heat of day, Jezebel kindled a fire at the mouth of the cave. Near it the two girls sat upon a soft cushion of grass, the firelight playing upon their faces, and there the Lady Barbara commenced the long and tedious task of mastering a new language. The first step consisted of making Jezebel understand what she desired to accomplish, but she was agreeably astonished at the celerity with which the girl grasped the idea. Soon she was pointing to various objects, calling them by the English names and Jezebel was naming them in the language of the land of Midian.
Lady Barbara would repeat the word in the Midian language several times until she had mastered the pronunciation, and she noticed that, similarly, Jezebel was repeating its English equivalent. Thus was Jezebel acquiring an English vocabulary while she taught the Midian to her guest.
An hour passed while they occupied their time with their task. The village lay quiet about them. Faintly, from the distant lake, came the subdued chorus of the frogs. Occasionally a goat bleated somewhere out in the darkness. Far away, upon the opposite side of the valley, shone tiny, flickering lights – the cooking fires of another village, thought Lady Barbara.
A man, bearing a lighted torch, appeared suddenly, coming from a nearby cave. In low, monotonous tones he voiced a chant. Another man, another torch, another voice joined him. And then came others until a procession wound down to the level ground below the caves.
When I was serving my nine weeks after a General Court Martial at the Military Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in the summer of 1973 – for going AWOL for three years in Canada – whenever “Lights Out” was called at 11 p.m., a black several tiers below me (there were eight tiers in the prison wing in which I was incarcerated; I was on the sixth tier; and 80% of the inmates were black), would start singing the song “Duke of Earl”: “Duke, Duke, Duke....” and then afterwards another black would join in until many others joined in the song. The space between the tiers and the wall with the gigantic windows would amplify the sound. They sang it perfectly, and they sang it every night that I was there. My thoughts at the time were that the song soothed them in a way – with delusions of grandeur – that a mother soothes a child by singing it to sleep.
Gradually the voices rose. A child screamed. Lady Barbara saw it now – a small child being dragged along by an old man.
Now the procession encircled a large boulder and halted, but the chanting did not cease, nor did the screaming of the child. Tall among the others Lady Barbara recognized the figure of the man who had last interrogated her. Abraham, the son of Abraham, the Prophet, stood behind the boulder that rose waist high in front of him. He raised his open palm and the chanting ceased. The child had ceased to scream, but its broken sobs came clearly to the ears of the two girls.
Abraham, the son of Abraham, commenced to speak, his eyes raised toward the heavens. His voice came monotonously across the little span of darkness. His grotesque features were lighted by the flickering torches that played as well upon the equally repulsive faces of his congregation.
Unaccountably, the entire scene assumed an aspect of menace in the eyes of the English girl. Apparently it was only the simple religious service of a simple people and yet, to Barbara Collis, there was something terrible about it, something that seemed fraught with horror.
She glanced at Jezebel. The girl was sitting cross legged, her elbows on her knees, her chin supported in the palms of her hands, staring straight ahead. There was no smile now upon her lips.
Suddenly the air was rent by a childish scream of fear and horror that brought the Lady Barbara’s gaze back to the scene below. She saw the child, struggling and fighting, dragged to the top of the boulder; she saw Abraham, the son of Abraham, raise a hand above his head; she saw the torchlight play upon a knife; and then she turned away and hid her face in her hands.
The actual description of the sacrifice is left to the reader’s imagination because I doubt very much if the censors would have allowed it because it was that of a child. In the next chapter we will encounter a character who I swear was patterned after James Cagney, called “The Gunner.” After all, Cagney had already starred in several gangster roles at the time ERB wrote this story: starting in 1930's Sinners Holiday, where he began the development of “the sympathetic bad guy”; following up with roles in The Doorway to Hell, and, especially, for his role in 1931's The Public Enemy, containing that iconic movie scene of Cagney squashing a grapefruit into Mae Clark’s face.
Well, that’s the end of this chapter. See you in the next.
ALL THE WOODROW NICHOLS FEATURES IN ERBzine
COMMENTARY by WOODROW NICHOLS
ERB'S BIBLE BLUES :: TARZAN TRIUMPHANT
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