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Part II: TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT
Continued from Part I: TARZAN AND THE CITY OF GOLD
The End of the Corridor
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Well, if anyone had any doubts about Tarzan’s natural cunning, one only has to look at how he solved the mystery of the false fireplaces. That was some feat, and now he’s in Gonfala’s bedchamber, and of course we wonder what she is wearing.
Chapter Nine: The End of the Corridor
Noiselessly he stepped into the chamber and moved toward the end of the room, nearer to the doorway. He sought to reach the door before she discovered him. He would rather that she did not know how he gained entrance to the room. A heavy wooden bolt fastened the door from the inside. He reached the door without attracting the girl’s attention and laid a hand upon the bolt.
He slipped it back quietly; then he moved away from the door toward the window where the girl still stood absorbed in her daydream. He could see her profile. She no longer looked sullen but, rather, ineffably sad.
The man was quite close to her before she became aware of his presence. She had not heard him. She was just conscious, suddenly, that she was not alone; and she turned slowly from the window. Only a slight widening of the eyes and a little intake of her breath revealed her surprise. She did not scream; she did not exclaim.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said; ‘I’m not here to harm you.”
“I am not afraid,” she replied; “I have many warriors within call. But how did you get here?” She glanced at the door and saw the bolt was not shot. “I must have forgotten to bolt the door, but I can’t understand how you got by the guard. It is still there, isn’t it?”
Tarzan did not answer. He stood looking at her, marvelling at the subtle change that had taken place in her since he had seen her in the throne-room just a short time before. She was no longer the queen, but a girl, soft and sweet, appealing.
“Where is Stanley Wood?” he asked.
“What do you know of Stanley Wood?” she demanded.
“I am his friend. Where is he? What are they going to do with him?”
“You are his friend?” she asked, wonderlingly, her eyes wide. “But no, it can make no difference – no matter how many friends he has, nothing can save him.”
“You would like to see him saved?”
“Then why don’t you help me? You have the power.”
“No, I can’t. You don’t understand. I am queen. It is I who must sentence him to death.”
“You helped him to escape once,” Tarzan reminded her.
“Hush! Not so loud,” she cautioned. “Mafka suspects that already. If he knew, I don’t know what he would do to him and to me. But I know that he suspects. That is the reason I am kept in this room with a heavy guard. He says it is for my protection, but I know better.”
“Where is this Mafka? I’d like to see him.”
“You have seen him. You were just brought before him in the throne room.”
“That was Woora,” objected Tarzan.
ERB loved mistaken identities and great imposters; he used them so often in his fiction, his fans nearly expected them. That, and dialogue in different tongues and dialects, and loss of memory – all in his magic bag of tricks.
She shook her head. “No. What put that idea in your head? Woora is with the Zuli.”
“So that was Mafka!” said the ape-man, and then he recalled Lord’s theory that Mafka and Woora were identical twins. “But I thought no one was allowed to see Mafka.”
“Stanley Wood told you that,” she said. “That is what he thought; that is what he was told. Mafka was very ill for a long time. He dared not let it be known. He was afraid some one would take advantage of it to kill him. But he wanted to see you. He wished to see a man who could get into our country and so close to the city as you did without his knowing it. I do not understand it myself, and I could see that he was disturbed when he talked with you. Who are you? What are you? How did you get into my apartment? Have you such powers as Mafka has?”
“Perhaps,” he said. It would do no harm if she thought he possessed such powers. He spoke in a low tone now and watched her closely. “You’d like to see Stanley Wood escape; you’d like to go with him. Why don’t you help me?”
She looked at him eagerly. He could read the longing in her eyes. “How can I help you?” she asked.
“Help me to see Mafka – alone. Tell me where I can find him.”
She trembled, and the fear that was in her was reflected in her expression.
“Yes,” she said. “I can tell you. If you –” She paused. Her expression changed; her body stiffened. Her eyes became hard and cold – cruel. Her mouth sagged into the sullen expression it had worn when he had first seen her in the throne room. He recalled Wood’s statement that she was sometimes an angel, some times a she-devil. The metamorphosis had occurred before his eyes. But what caused it? It was possible, of course, that she suffered from some sort of insanity; yet he doubted it. He believed there was some other explanation.
“Well?” he queried. “You were saying –”
“The guard! The guard!” she cried. “Help!”
Tarzan sprang to the door and shot the bolt. Gonfala whipped a dagger from her girdle and leaped toward him. Before she could strike, the ape-man seized her wrist and wrenched the weapon from her.
At least we know that Gonfala was wearing a girdle. But what else? She does not seem to be falling in love with Tarzan, but holds a flame for Stanley Wood. At least she wished to help until she felt fear.
The guards were pounding upon the door and shouting for admittance. The ape-man seized Gonfala by the arm; he held her dagger ready to strike. “Tell them you are all right,” he whispered. “Tell them to go away.”
She snarled and tried to bite his hand. Then she screamed louder than ever for help.
On the opposite side of the room from the door where the guard sought entrance was a second door, bolted upon the inside like the other. Toward this the ape-man dragged the screaming Gonfala. Slipping the bolt, he pushed the door open. Beyond it was another chamber upon the opposite side of which he saw a third door. Here was a series of chambers that it might be well to remember.
He pushed Gonfala into the first chamber and closed and bolted the door. The warriors of the guard were battering now in earnest. It was evident that they would soon have the door down and gain entrance to the apartment.
Tarzan crossed to the fireplace and leaped to the mouth of the secret passage just as the door crashed in and the warriors of the guard entered the room. He waited where he was – listening. He could hear Gonfala screaming in the adjoining room and pounding on the door, which was now quickly opened.
“Where is he?” she demanded. “Have you got him?”
“Who? There is no one here,” replied a member of the guard.
“The man – the prisoner that was brought today.”
“There was no one here,” insisted a warrior.
“Go at once and notify Mafka that he has escaped,” she commanded. “Some of you go to the room in which he was imprisoned and find out how he got out. Hurry! Don’t stand there like idiots. Don’t you suppose I know what I saw? I tell you he was here. He took my dagger from me and shoved me into that room. Now go! But some of you stay here. He may come back.”
Tarzan waited to hear no more, but retraced his steps through the passage to the room into which he had been imprisoned. He left Gonfala’s dagger on the high ledge inside the fireplace, and had barely seated himself on one of the benches in the room when he heard footsteps in the corridor outside; then the door was swung open and half a dozen woman warriors pushed their way in.
They showed their surprise when they saw him sitting quietly in his cell.
“Where have you been?” demanded one.
“Where could I go?” countered the ape-man.
“You were in the apartment of Gonfala, the Queen.”
“But how could I have been?” demanded Tarzan.
“That is what we want to know.”
Tarzan shrugged. “Some one is crazy,” he said, “but it is not I. If you think that I was there why don’t you go ask the queen.”
The warriors shook their heads. “What is the use?” demanded one. “He is here; that is all we have to know. Let Mafka solve the riddle.” Then they left the room.
An hour passed during which Tarzan heard nothing; then the door was opened and a warrior woman ordered him to come out. Escorted by a dozen warriors, he was taken through a long corridor to an apartment on the same floor of the palace. His sense of direction told him that the room was one of the suite which adjoined the Queen’s.
Mafka was there. He stood behind a table which rested something covered with a cloth. Also on the table was the great diamond of Kaji, the Gonfal. Mafka’s left hand rested upon it.
The ape-man’s keen nostrils scented blood. Whose blood? Something told him that whatever was beneath the blood-stained cloth he had been brought to see.
He stood before the magician, his arms folded across his deep chest, his level, unwavering gaze upon the grotesque figure facing him. For minutes the two stood there in silence, waging a strange battle of minds. Mafka was attempting to plumb that of his prisoner; and Tarzan knew it, but his defense was passive. He was sure that the other could not control him.
Mafka was annoyed. To be frustrated was a new experience. The mind of the man before him was a sealed book. He felt a bit afraid of him, but curiosity compelled him to see him. It kept him from ordering his destruction. He wished to fathom him; he wished to break the seal. Inside that book was something strange and new. Mafka was determined to learn what it was.
“How did you get to the apartment of the queen?” he demanded suddenly.
“If I were in the apartment of the queen, who should know it better than Mafka?” demanded Tarzan. “If I were there, who should know better than Mafka how I got there?”
The magician appeared discomfitted. He shook his head angrily. “How did you get there?”
“How do you know that I was there?” countered the ape-man.
“Gonfala saw you.”
“Was she sure that it was I in person, or only a figment of her imagination? Would it not have been possible for the great Mafka to make her think that I was there when I was not?”
“But I didn’t,” growled the magician.
“Perhaps someone else did,” suggested Tarzan. He was positive now that Mafka was ignorant of the existence of the secret passage through which he had gained entrance to the apartment of Gonfala. Possibly this part of the palace belonged in a period that antedated Mafka, but why had no one investigated the fireplaces that were obviously not intended to hold fires? There was one in this very room where Mafka was and doubtless had been there many times before. Tarzan wondered if it, too, opened in a corridor and where the corridor led, but he had little time for conjecture, as Mafka shot another question at him.
There is something subtly amusing about Tarzan’s ruminations. We saw how clever he was earlier as he deduced the purpose the fireplaces, but now ERB is suggesting that it was really a no brainer since someone else should have figured it out long ago.
“Who has that power but Mafka?” demanded the magician superciliously, but there was a suggestion of incertitude in his manner. It was more a challenge to uncertainty than a declaration of fact.
Tarzan did not reply; and Mafka seemed to have forgotten that he had put a question, as he continued to study the ape-man intently. The latter, indifferent, swept the interior of the room with a leisurely sweeping glance that missed nothing. Through open doors leading to other apartments he saw a bedchamber and a workshop. The latter was similar to that which he had seen in the palace of Woora. It was obvious that this was the private suite of Mafka.
Suddenly the magician shot another question. “How did you get to the Zuli without my sentries seeing you?”
“Who said I had been in Zuli?” demanded Tarzan.
“You killed my brother. You stole the great emerald of the Zuli. You were coming here to kill me. You ask who had seen you in Zuli. The same man who told me these other things. This man!” And he snatched the cloth from the thing on the table.
Glaring at the ape-man with staring eyes was the bloody head of the Enlishman, Lord. And beside it was the great emerald of the Zuli.
Mafka watched his prisoner intently to note the reaction to this startling and dramatic climax to the interview, but he reaped scant satisfaction. The expression on Tarzan’s face underwent no change.
One wonders what the situation was between Lord, with the emerald, and Mafka, with the diamond. Remember, he had avoided the Kaji guards and was on his way to the Neubari – at least that was the last time Tarzan saw the green glow from the emerald before he fell into the leopard pit. Had Mafka seen Lord in the crystal ball and willed him back to Kaji?
Since Lord was aware of the emerald’s power did he have a sorcerer’s duel with the magician, or was Mafka so much superior in the use of the diamond that it was really no contest? We only know that somehow Lord fell into Mafka’s hands. The only question I have is: Did Mafka already know that Tarzan was coming because of Lord, or was Lord killed after the first interview with the ape-man? The blood appeared to be fresh.
For a moment there was silence; then Mafka spoke. “Thus die the enemies of Mafka,” he said. “Thus will you die and the others who have brought intrigue and discontent to Kaji.” He turned to the captain of the guard. “Take him away. Place him again in the south chamber with the other troublemakers who are to die with him. It was an evil day that brought them to Kaji.”
Heavily guarded, Tarzan was returned to the room in which he had been confined. From Mafka’s instructions to the captain of the guard, he had expected to find other prisoners here on his return; but he was alone. He wondered idly who his future companions could be, and then he crossed to one of the windows and looked out across the city and the broad valley of the Kaji.
He stood there for a long time trying to formulate some plan by which he might contact Wood and discuss means by which the escape of the American could be assured. He had a plan of his own, but he needed the greater knowledge that Wood possessed of certain matters connected with Mafka and the Kaji before he could feel reasonably certain of its success.
As he stood there pondering the advisability of returning to Gonfala’s apartment and seeking again the cooperation that he knew that she had been on the point of according him when the sudden Jekyll and Hyde transformation had wrought the amazing change in her, he heard footsteps outside the door of his prison; then the bolt was drawn and the door swung open, and four men were pushed roughly in. Behind them the door was slammed and bolted.
One of the four men was Stanley Wood. At sight of Tarzan he voiced an exclamation of astonishment. “Clayton!” he cried. “Where did you come from? What in the world are you doing here?”
“The same thing that you are – waiting to be killed.”
“How did he get you? I thought you were immune – that he couldn’t control you.”
Tarzan explained about the misadventures of the leopard pit; then Wood introduced the other three to him. They were Robert van Eyk, Wood’s associate, and Troll and Spike, the two white hunters who had accompanied their safari. Troll he had already met.
“I ain’t had a chance to tell Wood about seeing you,” explained Troll. “This is the first time I’ve seen him. He was in the cooler, and I was just arrested. I don’t even know what for, or what they’re goin’ to do to me.”
“I can tell you what they plan on doing to you,” said Tarzan. “We’re all to be killed. Mafka just told me. He says that you are all troublemakers.”
“He wouldn’t have to be a psychoanalyst to figure that out,” remarked van Eyk. “If we’d had half a break we’d ’ve showed him something in the trouble line but what you going to do up against a bird like that? He knows what you’re thinking before you think it.”
“We wouldn’t have been in this mess if it hadn’t been for Wood messin’ around with the Gonfala dame,” growled Spike. “I never knew it to fail that you didn’t get into trouble with any bunch of heathen if you started mixin’ up with their women folk – especially niggers. But a guy’s got it comin’ to him that plays around with a nigger wench.”
“Shut that dirty trap of yours,” snapped Wood, “or I’ll shut it for you.” He took a quick step toward Spike and swung a vicious right for the other man’s jaw. Spike stepped back and van Eyk stepped between them.
“Cut it!” he ordered. “We got enough grief without fighting among ourselves.”
“You’re dead right,” agreed Troll. “We’ll pinch the head of the next guy that starts anything like that again.”
“That’s all right, too,” said Wood; “but Spike’s got to apologize or I’ll kill him for that the first chance I get. He’s got to take it back.”
“You’d better apologize, Spike,” advised van Eyk.
The hunter looked sullenly from beneath lowering brows. Troll went over and whispered to him. “All right,” said Spike, finally; “I take it back. I didn’t mean nothin’.”
Wood nodded. “Very well,” he said; “I accept your apology,” and turned and joined Tarzan, who had been standing by a window, a silent spectator of what had traspired.
He stood for a time in silence; then he shook his head dejectedly. “The trouble is,” he said in low tones, “I know Spike is right. She must have Negro blood in her – they all have, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference to me – I’m just plain crazy about her, and that’s all there is too it. If you could only see her, you’d understand.”
The fear of Negro blood among white folks was a real one at the turn of the 20th century and for three quarters of a century afterwards. Some of it remains today. ERB loved playing with this fact, exposing it as stupid, for he was a “woke” white man for his time. I mean, the fallacy of modern wokeness is that this kind of racism is accounted solely to the white race, when it is a fact among all races. From my experience as a trial attorney, I have found that most Hispanics don’t like black people, while most black peaple don’t like Asians, and Asians think all other races are barbarians. Go figure!
But I have a funny feeling about Gonfala, don’t you?
“I have seen her,” said the ape-man.
“What!” exclaimed Wood. “You’ve seen her? When?”
“Shortly after I was brought here,” said Tarzan.
“You mean she came here to see you?”
“She was on the throne with Mafka when I was taken before him,” explained Tarzan.
“Oh, yes; I see. I thought maybe you’d talked with her.”
“I did – afterward, in her apartment. I found a way to get there.”
“What did she say? How was she? I haven’t seen her since I got back. I was afraid something had happened to her.”
“Mafka suspects her of helping you escape. He keeps her locked up under guard.”
“Did she say anything about me?” demanded Wood, eagerly.
“Yes; she wants to help you. At first she was eager and friendly; then, quite abruptly and seemingly with no reason, she became sullen and dangerous, screaming for her guard.”
“Yes, she was like that – sweet and lovely one moment; and the next, a regular she-devil. I never could understand it. Do you suppose she’s – well, not quite right mentally?”
The ape-man shook his head. “No,” he said. “I don’t think that. I believe there is another explanation. But that is neither here nor there now. There is just one matter that should concern us – getting out of here. We don’t know when Mafka plans on putting us out of the way or how. Whatever we are going to do we should do immediately – take him by surprise.”
“How are we going to surprise him – locked up here in a room, under guard?”
“You’d be surprised,” replied Tarzan, smiling faintly; “so will Mafka. Tell me, can we count on any help beyond what we can do ourselves – the five of us? How about the other prisoners? Will they join with us?”
“Yes, practically all of them – if they can. But what can any of us do against Mafka? We’re beaten before we start. If we could only get hold of the Gonfal! I think that’s the source of all his power over us.”
“We might do that, too,” said Tarzan.
“Impossible,” said Wood. “What do you think, Bob?” he asked van Eyk, who had just joined him.
“Not a chance in a million,” replied van Eyk. “He keeps the old rock in his own apartment at night, or in fact wherever he is the Gonfal is with him. His apartment is always locked and guarded – warriors at the door all the time. No, we never could get it.”
Tarzan turned to Wood. “I thought you told me once that they seemed very careless of the Gonfal – that you had handled it.”
Wood grinned. “I thought I had, but since I came back I learned differently. One of the women told me. It seems that Mafka is something of a chemist. He has a regular lab and plays around in it a lot – ordinary chemistry as well as his main line of black magic. Well, he learned how to make phony diamonds; so he makes an imitation of the Gonfal, and that’s what I handled. They say he leaves the phony out where it can be seen and hides the real Gonfal at night when he goes to bed; so that if, by any chance, someone was able to get into room to steal it they’d get the wrong stone. But he has to keep the Gonfal near him just the same, or he’d be more or less helpless against an enemy.”
“The only chance to get it would be to get into Mafka’s apartment at night,” said van Eyk, “and that just can’t be done.”
“Do his apartments connect with Gonfala’s?” asked Tarzan.
“Yes, but the old boy keeps the door between them locked at night. He isn’t taking any chances with Gonfala.”
“I think we can get into Mafka’s apartment,” said the ape-man. “I’m going now to find out.”
“Going!” exclaimed Wood. “I’d like to know how.”
“Don’t let anyone follow me,” cautioned the ape-man. “I’ll be back.”
The two Americans shook their heads skeptically as Tarzan turned away and crossed the room; and they saw him enter the fireplace and disappear.
“Well I’ll be damned!” exclaimed van Eyk. “Who is that guy, anyway?”
“An Englishman named Clayton,” replied Wood. “At least that’s all I know about him, and that came direct from him.”
“If there were such a bird as Tarzan of the Apes, I’d say this was he,” said van Eyk.
“That’s what I thought when I first met him. Say, he flits through the trees like a regular Tarzan, kills his meat with a bow and arrow, and packs it back to camp on his shoulder through the trees.”
“And now look what he’s done! Up the flue like a – a – well, like something, whatever it is goes up a flue.”
“Smoke,” suggested Wood; “only he’s coming back, and smoke doesn’t – except occasionally.
ERB couldn’t resist a little side humor about the legendary quality of the character he had created one day for the hell of it in his brother’s office.
Tarzan followed the corridor as he had before until he came to the opening into Gonfala’s chamber; then he retraced his steps a few paces and felt his way back again with his right hand touching the side of the passageway instead of his left as before; nor was he surprised to discover that the tunnel ran on past the apartment of Gonfala. It is what he had expected – what he had been banking his hopes upon.
Now, past the opening that led to Gonfala’s room, he touched the left hand wall again, and pacing off the distance roughly, came to another opening that he judged would be about opposite the center of the next apartment, which was one of Mafka’s suite. He did not stop here, but went on until he had located three more openings. Here the corridor ended.
He stepped to the edge of the flue and looked down into the fireplace. It was night now, but a faint illumination came from the opening before him. It was a greenish glow, now all too familiar.
He listened. He heard the snores of a heavy sleeper. Was there another in the apartment below, or was the sleeper alone? His sensitive nostrils sought an answer.
With the dagger of Gonfala in one hand, Tarzan dropped lightly to the floor of the fireplace that opened into the room where the sleeper lay.
Damn, just when it was getting good! Is this going to be a quick in-and-out? Or is it going to be another obstacle in the way of Tarzan’s success? Good question. See you next time.
ERB’S ELDORADO: TARZAN AND THE CITY OF GOLD
COMMENTARY by WOODROW NICHOLS
CH. 1_CH. 2_CH. 3_CH. 4_CH. 5
CH. 6_CH. 7_CH. 8_CH. 9_CH. 10
CH. 11_CH. 12_CH. 13_CH. 14_CH. 15
CH. 16_CH. 17_CH. 18_CH. 19
||CH. 16_CH. 17_CH. 18_CH. 19_CH. 20||CH. 21_ CH. 22_CH. 23_CH. 24_CH. 25|
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