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ERB’S BIBLE BLUES:
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Are you glad that we are no longer in the land of Midian? I sure am. I wouldn’t want to go back there without Tarzan, or at least the “Gunner,” with me. Of course, there were always the two beautiful women that made it worth while for a while. Now Lafayette and the two women are captives of the North Midians, while the “Gunner” is a captive of Capietro and Stabutch, the two commie opportunists. But enough of that – let’s get back to the adventures of our favorite ape-man.
Chapter Sixteen: Trailing
Tarzan of the Apes had made a kill; it was only a small rodent, but it would satisfy his hunger until the morrow. Darkness had fallen shortly after he had discovered the spoor of the missing American, and he was forced to abandon his search until daylight came again. The first sign of the spoor had been very faint – just the slightest imprint of one corner of a boot heel, but that had been enough for the ape-man. Clinging to a bush nearby was the scarcely perceptible scent spoor of a white man, which Tarzan might have followed even after dark; but it would have been a slow and arduous method of tracking which the ape-man did not consider the circumstances warranted. Therefore he made his kill, ate, and curled up in a patch of tall grass to sleep.
Wild beasts may not sleep with one eye open, but often it seems that they sleep with both ears cocked. The ordinary night sounds go unnoticed, while a lesser sound, portending danger or suggesting the unfamiliar, may awaken them on the instant. It was a sound falling into the latter category that awoke Tarzan shortly after midnight.
He raised his head and listened, then he lowered it and placed an ear against the ground. “Horses and men,” he soliloquized as he rose to his feet. Standing erect, his great chest rising and falling to his breathing, he listened intently. His sensitive nostrils, seeking to confirm the testimony of his ears, dilated to receive and classify the messages that Usha, the wind, bore to them. They caught the scent of Tongani, the baboon, so strong as almost to negate the others. Tenuous, from a great distance came the scent spoor of Sabor, the lioness, and the sweet, heavy stench of Tantor, the elephant. One by one the ape-man read these invisible messages brought by Usha, the wind; but only those interested him that spoke of horses and men.
Why did horses and men move through the night? Who and what were the men? He scarcely needed to ask himself that latter question, and only the first one interested him.
It is the business of beasts and of men to know what their enemies do. Tarzan stretched his great muscles lazily and moved down the slope of the foot hills in the direction from which had come the evidence that his enemies were afoot.
The “Gunner” stumbled along in the darkness. Never in his twenty odd years of life had he even approximated such utter physical exhaustion. Each step he was sure must be his last. He had long since become too tired even to curse his captors as he plodded on, now almost numb to any sensation, his mind a chaos of dull misery.
But even endless journeys must ultimately end; and at last the cavalcade turned into the gateway of the village of Dominic Capietro, the raider; and the “Gunner” was escorted to a hut where he slumped to the hard earth floor after his bonds had been removed, positive that he would never rise again.
He was asleep when they brought him food; but aroused himself long enough to eat, for his hunger was fully as great as his fatigue. Then he stretched out again and slept, while a tired and disgusted shifta nodded drowsily on guard outside the entrance to the hut.
Tarzan had come down to the cliff above the village as the raiders were filing through the gateway. A full moon cast her revealing beams upon the scene, lighting the figures of horses and men. The ape-man recognized Capietro and Stabutch, he saw Ogonyo, the headman of the safari of the young American geologist; and he saw the “Gunner” stumbling painfully along in bonds.
The ape-man was an interested spectator of all that transpired in the village below. He noted particularly the location of the hut into which the white prisoner had been thrust. He watched the preparation of food, and he noted the great quantities of liquor that Capietro and Stabutch consumed while waiting for the midnight supper being prepared by slaves. The more they drank the better pleased was Tarzan.
As he watched them, he wondered how supposedly rational creatures could consider the appellation beast a term of reproach and man one of glorification. The beasts, as he knew, held an opposite conception of the relative virtues of these two orders, although they were ignorant of most of man’s assininities and degradations, their minds being far too pure to understand them.
Waiting with the patience of the unspoiled primitive nervous system, Tarzan watched from the cliff top until the village below seemed to have settled down for the night. He saw the sentries in the banquette inside the palisade, but he did not see the guard squatting in the shadow of the hut where the “Gunner” lay in heavy slumber.
Satisfied, the ape-man rose and moved along the cliff until he was beyond the village; and there, where the escarpment was less precipitous, he made his way to its base. Noiselessly and cautiously he crept to the palisade at a point that was hidden from the view of the sentries. The moon shone full upon him, but the opposite of the palisade he knew must be in dense shadow. There he listened for a moment to assure himself that his approach had aroused no suspicion. He wished that he might see the sentries at the gate, for when he topped the palisade he would be in full view for an instant. When last he had seen them they had been squatting upon the banquette, their backs to the palisade, and apparently upon the verge of sleep. Would they remain thus?
Here, however, was a chance he must take, and so he gave the matter little thought and few regrets. What was, was; and if he could not change it he must ignore it; and so, leaping lightly upward, he seized the top of the palisade and drew himself up and over. Only a glance he threw in the direction of the sentries as he topped the barrier, a glance that told him they had not moved since he had last looked.
In the shadow of the palisade he paused to look about. There was nothing to cause him apprehension; and so he moved quickly, keeping ever in the shadows where he could, toward the hut where he expected to find the young white man. It was hidden from his view by another hut which he approached and had circled when he saw the figure of the guard sitting by the doorway, his rifle across his knees.
This was a contingency the ape-man had not anticipated, and it caused a change in his immediate plans. He drew back out of sight behind the hut he had been circling, lay down flat upon the ground, and then crawled forward again until his head protruded beyond the hut far enough to permit one eye to watch the unconscious guard. Here he lay waiting – a human beast watching its quarry.
For a long time he lay thus trusting to his knowledge of men that the moment for which he waited would arrive. Presently the chin of the shifta dropped to his chest; but immediately it snapped back again, erect. Then the fellow changed his position. He sat upon the ground, his legs stretched before him, and leaned his back against the hut. His rifle was still across his knees. It was a dangerous position for a man who would remain awake.
After a while his head rolled to one side. Tarzan watched him closely, as a cat watched a mouse. The head remained in the position to which it had rolled, the chin dropped, and the mouth gaped; the tempo of the breathing changed, denoting sleep.
Tarzan rose silently to his feet and as silently crept across the intervening space to the side of the unconscious man. There must be no outcry, no scuffle.
As strikes Histah, the snake, so struck Tarzan of the Apes. There was only the sound of parting vertebrae as the neck broke in the grip of those thews of steel.
The rifle Tarzan laid upon the ground; then he raised the corpse in his arms and bore it into the darkness of the hut’s interior. Here he groped for a moment until he had located the body of the sleeping white, and knelt beside him. Cautiously he shook him, one hand ready to muffle any outcry the man might make, but the “Gunner” did not awaken. Tarzan shook him again more roughly and yet without results, then he slapped him heavily across the face.
The “Gunner” stirred. “Geeze,” he muttered, “can’t you let a guy sleep? Didn’t I tell you you’d get your ransom?”
Tarzan permitted a faint smile to touch his lips. “Wake up,” he whispered. “Make no noise. I have come to take you away.”
“Who are you?”
“Tarzan of the Apes.”
“Geeze!” the “Gunner” sat up.
“Make no noise,” cautioned that ape-man once more.
“Sure,” whispered Danny as he raised himself stiffly to his feet.
“Follow me,” said Tarzan, “and no matter what happens stay very close to me. I am going to toss you to the top of the palisade. Try not to make any noise as you climb over, and be careful when you drop to the ground on the other side to alight with your feet flexed – it is a long drop.”
“You say you’re going to toss me to the top of the palisade, guy?”
“Do you know what I weigh?”
“No, and I don’t care. Keep still and follow me. Don’t stumble over this body.” Tarzan paused in the entrance and looked about; then he passed out, with the “Gunner” at his heels, and crossed quickly to the palisade. Even if they discovered him now he still had time to accomplish what he had set out to do, before they could interfere, unless the sentries, firing on them, chanced to make a hit; but on that score he felt little apprehension.
As they came to the palisade the “Gunner” glanced up, and his skepticism increased – a fat chance any guy would have to toss his one hundred and eighty pounds to the top of that!
The ape-man seized him by the collar and the seat of his breeches. “Catch the top!” he whispered. Then he swung the “Gunner” backward as though he had been a fifty pound sack of meal, surged forward and upward; and in the same second Danny Patrick’s outstretched fingers clutched the top of the palisade.
“Geeze,” he muttered, “if I’d missed I’d of gone clean over.” Catlike, the ape-man ran up the barrier and dropped to the ground on the outside almost at the instant that the “Gunner” alighted, and without a word started toward the cliff, where once again he had to assist the other to reach the summit.
Danny “Gunner” Patrick was speechless, partly from shortness of breath following his exertions, but more, by far, from astonishment. Here was a guy! In all his experience of brawny men, and it had been considerable, he had never met, nor expected to meet, such a one as this.
“I have located the spoor of your friend,” said Tarzan.
“The what?” asked the “Gunner.”
“His tracks,” explained the ape-man, who was still leading the way up the slope toward the higher mountains.
“I gotcha,” said the “Gunner.” “But you ain’t seen him?”
“No, it was too dark to follow him when I found them. We will do so in the morning.”
“If I can walk,” said the “Gunner.”
“What’s the matter with you?” demanded Tarzan. “Injured?”
“I ain’t got no legs from the knees down,” replied Danny. “I walked my lousy legs off yesterday.”
“I’ll carry you,” suggested Tarzan.
“Nix!” exclaimed Danny. “I can crawl, but I’ll be damned if I’ll let any guy carry me.”
“It will be a hard trip if you’re exhausted now,” the ape-man told him. “I could leave you somewhere near here and pick you up after I find your friend.”
“Nothing doing. I’m going to look for old Smithy if I wear ‘em off to the hips.”
“I could probably travel faster alone,” suggested Tarzan.
“Go ahead,” agreed the “Gunner” cheerfully. “I’ll tail along behind you.”
“And get lost.”
“Let me come along, mister. I’m worried about that crazy nut.”
“All right. It won’t make much difference anyway. He may be a little hungrier when we find him, but he can’t starve to death in a couple of days.”
“Say,” exclaimed Danny, “how come you knew them guys had taken me for a ride?”
“I thought you walked.”
“Well, what’s the difference? How did you know I was in that lousy burgh of theirs?”
“I was on the cliff when they brought you in. I waited until they were asleep. I am not ready to deal with them yet.”
“What you goin’ to do to them?”
Tarzan shrugged but made no reply; and for a long time they walked on in silence through the night, the ape-man timing his speed to the physical condition of his companion, whose nerve he was constrained to admire, though his endurance and knowledge he viewed with contempt.
Far up in the hills, where he had bedded down earlier in the night, Tarzan halted and told the “Gunner” to get what rest he could before dawn.
“Geeze, them’s the pleasantest words I’ve heard for years,” sighed Danny, as he lay down in the high grass. “You may think you’ve seen a guy pound his ear, but you ain’t seen nothin’. Watch me,” and he was asleep almost before the words had left his mouth.
Tarzan lay down at a little distance; and he, too, was soon asleep, but at the first suggestion of dawn he was up. He saw that his companion still slept, and then he slipped silently away toward a water hole he had discovered the previous day in a rocky ravine near the cliff where he had met the tribe Zugash, the tongani.
He kept well down the slope of the foot hills, for with the coming of dawn the wind had changed, and he wished to come up wind toward the water hole. He moved as silently as the disappearing shadows of the retreating night, his nostrils quivering to catch each vagrant scent borne upon the bosom of the early morning breeze.
How many believe this is another one of Tarzan’s stupid mistakes that he is always remorseful about afterwards, but never learns his lesson? He should have at least left Danny a note or some other form of communication. For there is always the question hanging in the wind: What happens if he wakes up and doesn’t know where you are or when you are expected back?
There was deep mud at one edge of the water hole, where the earth had been trampled by the feet of drinking beasts, and near here he found that which he sought, the sticky sweetness of whose scent had been carried to his nostrils by Usha.
Low trees grew in the bottom of the ravine and much underbrush, for here the earth held its moisture longer than on the ridges that were exposed to Kudu’s merciless rays. It was a lovely sylvan glade, nor did its beauties escape the appreciative eyes of the ape-man, though the lure of the glade lay not this morning in its aesthetic charms, but rather in the fact that it harbored Horta, the boar.
Silently to the edge of the underbrush came the ape-man as Horta came down to the pool to drink. Upon the opposite side stood Tarzan, his bows and arrows ready in his hands; but the high brush precluded a fair shot, and so the hunter stepped out in full view of the boar. So quickly he moved that his arrow sped as Horta wheeled to run, catching the boar in the side behind the left shoulder – a vital spot.
With a snort of rage Horta turned back and charged. Straight through the pool he came for Tarzan, and as he came, three more arrows shot with unbelievable accuracy and celerity, buried themselves deep in the breast of the great beast. Bloody foam flecked his jowls and his flashing tusks, fires of hate shot from his wicked little eyes as he sought to reach the author of his hurts and wreak his vengeance before he died.
Discarding his bow the ape-man met the mad charge of Horta with his spear, for there was no chance to elude the swift rush of that great body, hemmed, as he was, by the thick growth of underbrush. His feet braced, he dropped the point of his weapon the instant Horta was within its range, that they might have no opportunity to dodge it or strike it aside with his tusks. Straight through the chest it drove, deep into the savage heart, yet the beast still strove to reach the man-thing that held it off with a strength almost equal to his own.
But already as good as dead on his feet was Horta, the boar. His brief, savage struggles ended; and he dropped in the shallow water at the edge of the pool. Then the ape-man placed a foot upon his vanquished foe and screamed forth the hideous challenge of his tribe.
The “Gunner” sat suddenly erect, awakened out of a sound sleep. “Geeze!” he exclaimed. “What was that?” Receiving no answer he looked about. “Wouldn’t that eat you?” he murmured. “He’s went. I wonder has he run out on me? He didn’t seem like that kind of a guy. But you can’t never tell – I’ve had pals to double-cross me before this.”
In the village of Capietro a dozing sentry snapped suddenly alert, while his companion half rose to his feet. “What was that?” demanded one.
“A hairy one has made a kill,” said the other.
Sheeta, the panther, down wind, stalking both man and boar, stopped in his tracks; then he turned aside and loped away in easy, graceful bounds; but he had not gone far before he stopped again and raised his nose up-wind. Again the scent of man; but this time a different man, nor was there any sign of the feared thunder stick that usually accompanied the scent spoor of the tarmangani. Belly low, Sheeta moved slowly up the slope toward Danny “Gunner” Patrick.
“What to do?” mused the “Gunner.” “Geeze, I’m hungry! Should I wait for him or should I go on? On, where? I sure got myself in a jam all right. Where do I go? How do I eat? Hell!”
He arose and moved about, feeling out his muscles. They were lame and sore, but he realized that he was much rested. Then he scanned the distances for a sight of Tarzan and instead, saw Sheeta, the panther, a few hundred yards away.
Danny Patrick, hoodlum, racketeer, gangster, gunman, killer, trembled in terror. Cold sweat burst from every pore, and he could feel the hair rise on his scalp. He felt a mad impulse to run; but, fortunately for Danny, his legs refused to move. He was literally, in the vernacular, to which he was accustomed, scared stiff. The “Gunner” without a gun, was a very different man.
The panther had stopped and was surveying him. Caution and a hereditary fear of man gave the great cat pause, but he was angry because he had been frightened from his prey after hunting futilely all night, and he was very, very hungry. He growled, his face wrinkled in a hideous snarl; and Danny felt his knees giving beneath him.
Then, beyond the panther, he saw the high grass moving to the approach of another animal, which the “Gunner” promptly assumed was the beast’s mate. There was just a single, narrow strip of this high grass; and when the animal had crossed it he, too, would see Danny, who was confident that this would spell the end. One of them might hesitate to attack a man – he didn’t know – but he was sure that two would not.
He dropped to his knees and did something that he had not done for many years – he prayed. And then the grasses parted; and Tarzan of the Apes stepped into view, the carcass of a boar upon one shoulder. Instantly the ape-man took in the scene that his nostrils had already prepared him for.
Dropping the carcass of Horta he voiced a sudden, ferocious growl that startled Sheeta no more than it did Danny Patrick. The cat wheeled, instantly on the defensive. Tarzan charged, growls rumbling from his throat; and Sheeta did exactly what he had assumed he would do – turned and fled. Then Tarzan picked up the carcass of Horta and came up the slope to Danny, who knelt open-mouthed and petrified.
Ah, that’s better. ERB tricked us again!
“What are you kneeling for?” asked the ape-man.
“I was just tying my boot lace,” explained the “Gunner.”
“Here is breakfast,” said Tarzan, dropping the boar to the ground. “Help yourself.”
“That sure looks good to me,” said Danny. “I could eat it raw.”
“That is fine,” said Tarzan; and, squatting, he cut two strips from one of the hams. “Here,” he said, offering one to the “Gunner.”
“Quit your kidding,” remonstrated the latter.
Tarzan eyed him questioningly, at the same time tearing off a mouthful of the meat with his strong teeth. “Horta is a little bit tough,” he remarked, “but he is the best I could do without losing a great deal of time. Why don’t you eat? I thought you were hungry?”
“I got to cook mine,” said the “Gunner.”
“But you said you could eat it raw,” the ape-man reminded him.
“That’s just a saying,” explained the “Gunner.” “I might at that but I ain’t ever tried it.”
“Make a fire, then; and cook yours,” said Tarzan.
“Say,” remarked Danny a few minutes later as he squatted before his fire grilling his meat, “did you hear that noise a little while ago?”
“What was it like?”
“I never heard nothing like that but once before – say I just took a tumble to myself! That was you killin’ the pig. I heard you yell like that the night you killed the lion in our camp.”
“We will be going as soon as you finish your meat,” said Tarzan. He was hacking off several pieces, half of which he handed to the “Gunner” while he dropped the balance into his quiver. “Take these,” he said. “You may get hungry before we can make another kill.” Then he scraped a hole in the loose earth and buried the remainder of the carcass.
“What you doin’ that for?” asked the “Gunner.” “Afraid it will smell?”
“We may come back this way,” explained Tarzan. “If we do Horta will be less tough.”
The “Gunner” made no comment; but he assured himself, mentally, that he “wasn’t no dog,” to bury his meat and then dig it up again after it had rotted. The idea almost made him sick.
Tarzan quickly picked up the trail of Lafayette Smith and followed it easily, though the “Gunner” saw nothing to indicate that human foot had ever trod these hills.
“I don’t see nothing,” he said.
“I have noticed that,” returned Tarzan.
“That,” thought Danny Patrick, “sounds like a dirty crack;” but he said nothing.
“A lion picked up his trail here,” said the ape-man.
“You ain’t spoofin’ me are you?” demanded Danny. “They’re ain’t no sign of nothin’ on this ground.”
“Nothing that you can see perhaps,” replied Tarzan; “but then, though you may not know it, you so-called civilized men are almost blind and quite stone deaf.”
Soon they came to the fissure, and here Tarzan saw that the man and the lion had both gone in, the lion following the man, and that only the lion had come out.
“That looks tough for old Smithy, doesn’t it?” said the “Gunner.”
“It may,” replied the ape-man. “I’ll go in and look for him. You can wait here or follow. You can’t get lost if you stay inside this crack.”
“Go ahead,” said Danny. “I’ll follow.”
The fissure was much longer than Tarzan had imagined; but some distance from the entrance he discovered that the lion had not attacked Smith, for he could see where Numa had turned about and that the man had continued on. Some recent scars on the sides of the fissure told him the rest of the story quite accurately.
“It’s fortunate he didn’t hit Numa,” soliloquized the ape-man.
At the end of the fissure Tarzan had some difficulty in wriggling through the aperture that opened into the valley of the Land of Midian; but once through he picked up the trail of Smith again and followed it down toward the lake, while Danny, far behind him, stumbled wearily along the rough floor of the fissure.
Tarzan walked rapidly for the spoor was plain. When he came to the shore of Chinnereth he discovered Smith’s tracks intermingled with those of a woman wearing well worn European boots and another shod with sandals.
When he had first entered the valley, he had seen the village of the South Midians in the distance and now he drew the false conclusion that Smith had discovered a friendly people and other whites and that he was in no danger.
His curiosity piqued by the mystery of this hidden valley, the ape-man determined to visit the village before continuing on Smith’s trail. Time had never entered greatly into his calculations, trained, as he had been, by savage apes to whom time meant less than nothing; but to investigate and to know every detail of his wilderness world was as much a part of the man as is his religion to a priest.
And so he continued rapidly on toward the distant village while Danny Patrick still crawled and stumbled slowly along the rocky floor of the fissure.
Danny was tired. Momentarily he expected to meet Tarzan returning either with Smith or with a word of his death; so he stopped often to rest, with the result that when he had reached the end of the fissure and crawled through to behold the mystifying sight of a strange valley spread before him, Tarzan was already out of sight.
“Geeze!” exclaimed the “Gunner.” “Who would have thought that this hole led into a place like this? I wonder which way that Tarzan guy went?”
This thought occupied the “Gunner” for a few minutes. He examined the ground as he had seen Tarzan do, mistook a few spots where some little rodent had scratched up the earth, or taken a dust bath, for the footprints of a man, and set forth in the wrong direction.
Yeah, who could have predicted that, eh? Well, that wraps up this milestone on our safari. See you in Midian.
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COMMENTARY by WOODROW NICHOLS
ERB'S BIBLE BLUES :: TARZAN TRIUMPHANT
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