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ERB’S BIBLE BLUES:
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
ERB is slowly bringing our safari to a close. There are only four short chapters left so we can see the light at the end of the barrel when we squeeze the trigger. Bang! Tarzan caught up with Stabutch before Danny could rescue Jezebel from him, and now Jezebel has fled the scene in blind panic after she heard the victory cry of a bull ape, in other words Tarzan bragging about his kill. Let’s hope Danny finds her before a lion does.
Chapter Twenty-Three: Captured
With the coming of the day the “Gunner” found himself near a forest. He had heard no sound of horses all during the night; and now that day had come, and he could see at a distance, he scanned the landscape for some sign of Stabutch and Jezebel but without success.
“Geeze,” he muttered, “there ain’t no use, I gotta rest. The poor little kid! If only I knew where the rat took her, but I don’t, and I gotta rest.” He surveyed the forest. “That looks like a swell hideout. I’ll lay up there and grab off a little sleep. Geeze, I’m all in.”
As he walked toward the forest his attention was attracted to something moving a couple of miles to the north of him. He stopped short, and looked more closely as two horses, racing from the forest, dashed madly toward the foothills, pursued by a lion.
“Geeze!” exclaimed the “Gunner,” “those must be their horses. What if the lion got her!”
Instantly the fatigue was forgotten; and he started at a run toward the north; but he could not keep the pace up for long; and soon he was walking again, his brain a turmoil of conjecture and apprehension.
He saw the lion give up the chase and turn away almost immediately, cutting up the slope in a northeasterly direction. The “Gunner” was glad to see him go, not for his own sake so much as for Jezebel, whom, he reasoned, the lion might not have killed after all. There was a possibility, he thought, that she might have had time to climb a tree. Otherwise, he was positive, the lion must have killed her.
His knowledge of lions was slight, in common with most people, he believed that lions wandered about killing everything so unfortunate as to fall into their pathways – unless they were bluffed out as he had bluffed the panther the day before. But of course, he reasoned, Jezebel wouldn’t have been able to bluff a lion.
He was walking close to the edge of the forest, making the best time that he could, when he heard a shot in the distance. It was the report of Stabutch’s rifle as he fired at Tarzan. The “Gunner” tried to increase his speed. There was too much doing there, where he thought Jezebel might be, to permit of loafing; but he was too exhausted to move rapidly.
Then, a few minutes later, the Russian’s scream of agony was wafted to his ears and again he was goaded on. The was followed by the uncanny cry of the ape-man, which for some reason, Danny did not recognize, though he has heard it twice before. Perhaps the distance and the intervening trees muffled and changed it.
On he plodded, trying occasionally to run; but his overtaxed muscles had reached their limit; and he had to give up the attempt, for already he was staggering and stumbling even at a walk.
“I ain’t no good,” he muttered; “nothing but a lousy punk. Here’s a guy beatin’ it with by girl, and I ain’t even got the guts to work my dogs. Geeze, I’m a flop.”
A little farther on he entered the forest so that he could approach the spot, where he had seen the horses emerge, without being seen, if Stabutch were still there.
Suddenly he stopped. Something was crashing through the brush toward him. He recalled the lion and drew his pocket knife. Then he hid behind a bush and waited, nor did he have long to wait before the author of the disturbance broke into view.
“Jezebel!” he cried, stepping into her path. His voice trembled with emotion.
With a startled scream the girl halted, and then she recognized him. “Danny!” It was the last straw – her over-wrought nerves went to pieces; and she sank to the ground, sobbing hysterically.
The “Gunner” took a step or two toward her. He staggered, his knees gave beneath him, and he sat down heavily a few yards from her; and then a strange thing happened. Tears welled to the eyes of Danny “Gunner” Patrick; he threw himself face down on the ground; and he, too, sobbed.
For several minutes they lay there, and then Jezebel gained control of herself and sat up. “Oh, Danny,” she cried. “Are you hurt? Oh, your head! Don’t die, Danny.”
He had quelled his emotion and was roughly wiping his eyes on his shirt sleeve. “I ain’t dyin’,” he said; “but I oughta. Some one oughta bump me off – a great big stiff like me, cryin’!”
“It’s because you’ve been hurt, Danny,” said Jezebel.
“Naw, it ain’t that. I been hurt before, but I ain’t bawled since I was a little kid – when my mother died. It was something else. I just blew up when I seen you, and knew that you was O.K. My nerves went blooey – just like that!” he snapped his fingers. “You see,” he added, hesitantly, “I guess I like you an awful lot, Kid.”
“I like you, Danny,” she told him. “You’re top hole.”
“I’m what? What does that mean?”
“I don’t know,” Jezebel admitted. “It’s English, and you don’t understand English, do you?”
He crawled over closer to her and took her hand in his. “Geeze,” he said, “I though I wasn’t never goin’ to see you again. Say,” he burst out violently, “did that bum hurt you any, Kid?”
“The man who took me away from the black men in the village, you mean?”
“No, Danny. After he killed his friend we rode all night. He was afraid the black men would catch him.”
“What became of the rat? How did you make your getaway?”
She told him all that she knew, but they were unable to account for the sounds both had heard or to guess whether or not they had portended the death of Stabutch.
“I wouldn’t be much good, if he showed up again,” said Danny. “I gotta get my strength back some way.”
“You must rest,” she told him.
“I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” he said. “We’ll lay around here until we are rested up a bit; then we’ll beat it back up toward the hills where I know where they’s water and something to eat. It ain’t very good food,” he added, “but it’s better than none. Say, I got some of it in my pocket. We’ll just have a feed now.” He extracted some dirty scraps of half burned pork from one of his pockets and surveyed them ruefully.
“What is it?” asked Jezebel.
“It’s pig, Kid,” he explained. “It don’t look so hot, does it? Well, it don’t taste no better than it looks; but it’s food, and that’s what we are needin’ bad right now. Here, hop to it.” He extended a handful of the scraps toward her. “Shut your eyes and hold your nose, and it ain’t so bad,” he assured her. “Just imagine you’re in the old College Inn.”
Good grief! Did ERB forget that Danny and Jezebel had already gone through the routine about the scraps of pork a day or so before after they escaped from the valley of Midian – the pork they were grilling when the shiftas interrupted their feast back in Chapter 18? Oh, well, I guess it doesn’t matter that much.
Jezebel smiled and took a piece of the meat. “United States is a funny language, isn’t it, Danny?”
“Why, I don’t know – is it?”
“Yes, I think so. Sometimes it sounds just like English and yet I can’t understand it at all.”
“That’s because you ain’t used to it,” he told her; “but I’ll learn you if you want me to. Do you?”
“Oke, Kid,” replied Jezebel.
“You’re learnin’ all right,” said Danny, admiringly.
They lay in the growing heat of the new day and talked together of many things, as they rested. Jezebel told him the story of the land of Midian, of her childhood, of the eventual coming of Lady Barbara and its strange effect upon her life; and Danny told her of Chicago, but there were many things in his own life that he did not tell her – things that, for the first time, he was ashamed of. And he wondered why he was ashamed.
As they talked, Tarzan of the Apes quitted the forest and set out upon his search for them, going upward toward the hills, intending to start his search for their spoor at the mouth of the fissure. If he did not find it there he would know that they were still in the valley; if he did find it, he would follow it until he located them.
At break of day a hundred shiftas rode out of their village. They had discovered the body of Capietro, and now they knew that the Russian had tricked them and fled, after killing their chief. They wanted the girl for ransom, and they wanted the life of Stabutch.
They had not ridden far when they met two riderless horses galloping back toward the village. The shiftas recognized them at once, and knowing that Stabutch and the girl were now afoot they anticipated little difficulty in overhauling them.
The rolling foothills were cut by swales and canyons; so at times the vision of the riders was limited. They had been following downward along the bottom of a shallow canyon for some time, where they could neither see to a great distance nor be seen; and then their leader turned his mount toward higher ground, and as he topped the summit of a low ridge he saw a man approaching from the direction of the forest.
Tarzan saw the shiftas simultaneously and changed his direction obliquely to the left, breaking into a trot. He knew that if that lone rider signified a force of mounted shifta he would be no match for them; and, guided by the instinct of the wild beast, he sought ground where the advantage would be with him – the rough, rocky ground leading to the cliffs, where no horse could follow him.
With a yell to his followers, the shifta chieftan put spurs to his horse and rode at top speed to intercept the ape-man; and close behind him came his yelling, savage horde.
Tarzan quickly saw that he could not reach the cliffs ahead of them; but he maintained his steady, tireless trot that he might be that much nearer the goal when the attack came. Perhaps he could hold them off until he reached the sanctuary of the cliffs, but certainly he had no intention of giving up without exerting every effort to escape the unequal battle that must follow if they overtook him.
With savage yells the shiftas approached, their loose cotton garments fluttering in the wind, their rifles waving above their heads. The chief rode in the lead, and when he was near enough, the ape-man, who had been casting occasional glances rearward across a brown shoulder, stopped, wheeled and let an arrow drive at his foe; then he was away again as the shaft sank into the breast of the shifta chieftan.
With a scream, the fellow rolled from his saddle; and for a moment the others drew rein, but only for a moment. Here was but a single enemy, poorly armed with primitive weapons – he was no real menace to mounted rifle men.
Shouting their anger and their threats of vengeance, they spurred forward again in pursuit; but Tarzan had gained and the rocky ground was not far away.
Spreading in a great half circle, the shiftas sought to surround and head off their quarry, whose strategy they had guessed the moment that they had seen the course of his flight. Now another rider ventured too near, and for a brief instant Tarzan paused to loose another arrow. As this second enemy fell, mortally wounded, the ape-man continued his flight to the accompaniment of a rattle of musketry fire; but soon he was forced to halt again as several of the horsemen passed him and cut off his line of retreat.
The hail of slugs screaming past him or kicking up the dirt around him gave him slight concern, so traditionally poor was the marksmanship of these roving bands of robbers, illy equipped with ancient firearms with which, because of habitual shortage of ammunition, they had little opportunity to practice.
Now they pressed closer, in a rough circle of which he was the center; and, firing across him from all sides, it seemed impossible that they should miss him; but miss him they did, though their bullets found targets among their own men and horses, until one, who had supplanted the slain chief, took command and ordered them to cease firing.
Turning again in the direction of his flight, Tarzan tried to shoot his way through the cordon of horsemen shutting off his retreat; but, though each arrow sped true to its mark, the yelling horde closed in on him until, his last shaft spent, he was the center of a closely milling mass of shrieking enemies.
Shrilly above the pandemonium of battle rose the cries of the new leader. “Do not kill! Do not kill!” he screamed. “It is Tarzan of the Apes, and he is worth the ransom of a ras!”
Suddenly a giant black threw himself from his horse full upon the Lord of the Jungle, but Tarzan seized the fellow and hurled him back among the horsemen. Yet closer and closer they pressed; and now several fell upon him from their saddles, bearing him down beneath the feet of the now frantic horses.
Battling for life and liberty, the ape-man struggled against the over-powering odds that were being constantly augmented by new recruits who hurled themselves from their mounts upon the growing pile that overwhelmed him. Once he managed to struggle to his feet, shaking most of his opponents from him; but they seized him about the legs and dragged him down again; and presently succeeded in slipping nooses about his wrists and ankles, thus, effectually subduing him.
Now that he was harmless many of them reviled and struck him, but there were many others who lay upon the ground, some never to rise again. The shiftas had captured the great Tarzan, but it had cost them dear.
Now some of them rounded up the riderless horses, while others stripped the dead of their weapons, ammunition, and any other valuables the living coveted. Tarzan was raised to an empty saddle, where he was securely bound; and four men were detailed to conduct him and the horses of the dead to the village, the wounded accompanying them, while the main body of the blacks continued the search for Stabutch and Jezebel.
One can’t help but anticipate the gore to come, for when you capture the ape-man, it usually doesn’t last that long. So, we’ll leave the ape-man to his own devices while in next chapter we return to the Lady Barbara and her low self-esteem friend, Lafayette Smith.
ALL THE WOODROW NICHOLS FEATURES IN ERBzine
COMMENTARY by WOODROW NICHOLS
ERB'S BIBLE BLUES :: TARZAN TRIUMPHANT
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