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Part II: TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT
Continued from Part I: TARZAN AND THE CITY OF GOLD
Chapter Twenty-Four: Death
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Well, we’ve come to that special Tarzan moment: the ape-man in the arena with Valthor versus a rogue elephant. If the ape-man makes it, will Valthor too. After all this chapter is titled “Death.” Does that mean someone will die? Let’s see.
Chapter Twenty-Four: Death
The other slaves were furious because of the sentence imposed upon Valthor, who was to die, the officer had told him before he left, in punishment for the outbreak that had resulted in the death of an Erythros warrior and the escape of three slaves and as a warning to the others. Valthor had been chosen ostensibly not because he had been charged with fomenting rebellion among the slaves, but really because he was popular among them and an aristocrat.
Note the silence as to the identities of the three escaped slaves. Could one of them be Gemba? I wouldn’t be surprised.
Wood was horrified by the knowledge that Tarzan was to die. Tarzan and Valthor, both of whom were his friends. It seemed to him absolutely inconceivable that the mighty heart of the Lord of the Jungle should be stilled forever, that that perfect body should be broken and trampled in the dust of an arena to satisfy the blood lust of ignorant barbarians.
“There must be something that we can do,” he said; “there’s got to be. Couldn’t we break those chains?”
Tarzan shook his head. “I have examined mine carefully,” he said, “and tested it. If it were cast iron, we might break a link; but it is malleable and would only bend. If we had a chisel – but we haven’t. No, there is nothing to do but wait.”
“But they are going to kill you, Tarzan! Don’t you understand? They are going to kill you.”
The ape-man permitted himself the shadow of a smile. “There is nothing unique in that,” he said. “Many people have died; many people are dying; many people will die – even you, my friend.”
“Tarzan is right,” said Valthor. “We must all die; what matters is how we die. If we meet death courageously, as befits warriors, there will be no regrets. For myself, I am glad that an elephant is going to kill me; for I am an elephant-man. You know what that means, Tarzan; for you have to been to Cathne where the lion-men are the nobles; and you know with what pride they bear the title. It is the same here, except that the nobles are elephant-men. As they breed lions, we breed elephants; their god, Thoos, is a lion; our Dyaus is an elephant. The nobles who escaped the Erythros revolution took him into the mountains with them, for the Erythra, who have no god, would have killed him.”
It sounds like ERB is commenting on the Bolshevic Revolution in Russia, where the aristocracy and belief in God were replaced by atheistic gangsters calling themselves Communists, where everyone is equal except the leaders, who are more equal than the masses. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat is just another name for gangster tyranny.
“If I were to have any choice in the manner of which I am to die,” said Tarzan, “I should prefer the lion to the elephant. For one thing, the lion kills quickly; but my real reason is that the elephant has always been my friend; my very best friend, perhaps; and I do not like to think that a friend must kill me.”
“This will not be your friend, Tarzan,” Valthor reminded him.
“No, I know it; but I was not thinking of him as an individual,” explained Tarzan. “And now, as with all our talk, we have arrived nowhere. I am going to sleep.”
The morning of their death dawned like any other morning. Neither spoke of what was impending. With Wood they cooked their breakfasts, and as they talked, and Valthor laughed, and occasionally Tarzan smiled one of his rare smiles. Wood was the most nervous. When the time came for the slaves to be taken to their work he came to say good-bye to the ape-man.
Tarzan laid a hand on his shoulder. “I do not like to say good-bye, my friend,” he said.
If Wood had known how rare was the use by Tarzan of that term “my friend” he would have been honored. He thought of may animals as friends, but few men. He liked Wood, his intelligence, his courage, his cleanness.
“Have you no message you would like to send to – to –” Wood hesitated.
Tarzan shook his head. “Thank you, no,” he said. “She will know, as she always has.”
Wood turned and walked away, following the other slaves out of the stockade. He stumbled over the threshold, and swore under his breath as he drew a palm across his eyes.
It was afternoon before they came for Tarzan and Valthor, half a hundred warriors and several officers, all in their best trappings, their freshly furnished arms shining in the sun.
In front of the palace a procession was forming. There were many elephants richly comparisoned and bearing howdahs in which rode the new-made nobility of Athne. All the howdahs were open except one elaborate pavilion. In this sat Menofra alone. When Valthor saw her he laughed aloud. Tarzan turned and looked at him questioningly.
“Look at her!” exclaimed the noble. “She could not be more self-conscious if she were naked. In fact that would not bother her so much. The poor thing is trying to look the queen. Note the haughty mien, and the crown! Dyaus! she is wearing the crown to the arena – and wearing it backwards. It is worth dying to see.”
Valthor had not attempted to lower his voice. In fact it seemed that he raised it a little. His laughter had attracted attention to him, so that many listened and heard his words. They even reached the ears of Menofra. That was apparent to all who could see her, for her face turned fiery red; and she took the crown off and placed it on the seat beside her. She was so furious that she trembled; and when she gave the command to march, as she immediately did, her voice shook with rage.
With the hundred elephants in single file, the many warriors on foot, the banners and pennons, the procession was colorful; but it lacked that something that would have made its magnificence impressive. There was nothing real about its assumed majesty, and the entire pageant was colored by the spuriosity of its principal actors. This was the impression that it made upon the Lord of the Jungle walking in chains behind the elephant of Menofra.
The procession followed the main avenue to the south gate through lines of silent citizens. There was no cheering, no applause. There were whispered comments as Valthor and Tarzan passed; and it was plain to see that the sympathies of the people were with Valthor, though they dared not express them openly. Tarzan was a stranger to them; their only interest in him lay in the fact that he might serve to give them a few minutes of thrills and entertainment in the arena.
Passing through the gate, the column turned toward the east, coming at last to the arena, which lay directly east of the city. Just outside the main gate, through which the procession entered the arena, Tarzan and Valthor were led from the line of march and taken to a smaller gate which led through a high palisade of small logs into a paddock between two sections of a grandstand. The inner end of the paddock was formed by a palisade of small logs; and was similar to the outer end, having a small gate opening on to the arena. The ape-man could not but notice the flimsy construction of the two palisades, and idly wondered if the entire arena were as poorly built.
In the compound there were a number of armed guards; and presently other prisoners were brought, men whom Tarzan had never seen before. They had been brought from the city behind the elephants of lesser dignitaries who had ridden in the rear of Menofra. Several of these prisoners, who spoke to Valthor, were evidently men of distinction.
“We are about the last of the aristocracy who did not escape or go over to the Erythra,” Valthor explained to Tarzan. “Phoros and Menofra think that by killing off all their enemies they will have no opposition and nothing more to fear; but as a matter of fact they are only making more enemies, for the middle classes were naturally more in sympathy with the aristocracy than with the scum which constitutes the Erythra.”
About four feet from the top of the inner palisade was a horizontal beam supporting the ends of braces that held the palisade upright, and upon this beam the prisoners were allowed to stand and witness what took place in the arena until it was their turn to enter. When Tarzan and Valthor took their places on the beam the royal pageant had just completed a circuit of the arena, and Menofra was clumsily descending from the howdah of her elephant to enter the royal loge. The grandstands were about half filled, and crowds were still pouring through the tunnels. There was little noise other than the shuffling of sandaled feet and the occasional trumpeting of an elephant. It did not seem to Tarzan a happy, carefree throng out to enjoy a holiday; but rather a sullen mob suppressed by fear. A laugh would have been as startling as a scream.
The first encounter was between two men; one a huge Erythros warrior armed with sword and spear; the other a former noble whose only weapon was a dagger. It was an execution, not a duel – an execution preceded by torture. The audience watched it, for the most part, in silence. There were a few shouts of encouragement from the loges of the officials and the new nobility.
Valthor and Tarzan watched with disgust. “I think he could have killed that big fellow,” said the ape-man. “I saw how he might be easily handled. It is too bad the other did not think of it.”
“You think you could kill Hyark?” demanded a guard standing next to Tarzan.
“Why not?” asked the ape-man. “He is clumsy and stupid; most of all he is a coward.”
“Hyark a coward? That is a good one. There are few braver among the Erythra.”
“I can believe that,” said Tarzan, and Valthor laughed.
Hyark was strutting to and fro before the royal box receiving the applause of Menofra and her entourage, slaves were dragging out the mutilated corpse of his victim, and an officer was approaching the paddock to summon forth the next combatants.
The guard called to him. “Here is one who thinks he can kill Hyark.”
The officer looked up. “Which one thinks that?” he demanded.
The guard jerked a thumb toward Tarzan. “This wild-man here. Perhaps Menofra would like to see such an encounter. It should prove amusing.”
“Yes,” said the officer. “I should like to see it myself. Maybe after the next combat, I’ll ask her.”
The next prisoner to be taken into the arena was an old man. He was given a dagger to defend himself; then a lion was loosed upon him.
“That is a very old lion,” said Tarzan to Valthor. “Most of his teeth are gone. He is weak from mange and hunger.”
“But he will kill the man,” said Valthor.
“Yes, he will kill the man; he is still a powerful brute.”
“I suppose you think you could kill him, too,” jeered the guard.
“Probably,” assented the ape-man.
The guard thought this very funny and laughed uproariously.
The lion made short work of the old man, giving him, at least, a merciful death; then the officer came, after they had driven the lion back into his cage with many spears, and said that Menofra had given assent to the fight between Hyark and the wild-man.
“She has promised to make Hyark a captain for killing two men in one afternoon,” said the officer.
“This one says he can kill the lion, too,” screamed the guard, rocking with laughter.
“But Hyark is going to kill your wild-man now; so we will never know if he could kill the lion,” said the officer, pretending to be deeply grieved.
“I will fight them both at once,” said Tarzan; “that is if Hyark is not afraid to go into the arena with a lion.”
“That would be something to see,” said the officer. “I will go at once and speak to Menofra.”
“Why did you say that, Tarzan?” asked Valthor.
“Didn’t I tell you that I’d rather be killed by a lion than an elephant?”
Valthor shook his head. “Perhaps you are right. At least it will be over sooner. This waiting is getting on my nerves.”
Very soon the officer returned. “It is arranged,” he said.
“What did Hyark think of it?” asked Valthor.
“I think he did not like the idea at all. He said he just recalled that his wife was very ill, and asked Menofra to give someone else the honor of killing the ape-man.”
“And what did Menofra say?”
“She said if Hyark didn’t get into the arena and kill the wild-man she would kill Hyark.”
“Menofra has a grand sense of humor,” remarked Valthor.
Tarzan dropped to the ground and was taken into the arena, where the iron collar was removed from about his neck and he was handed a dagger. He walked toward the royal box below which Hyark was standing. Hyark came running to meet him, hoping to dispatch him quickly and get out of the arena before the lion could be loosed. The men at the lion’s cage were having some difficulty in raising the door. The lion, nervous and excited from his last encounter, was roaring and growling as he struck at the bars trying to reach the men working about him.
Hyark held his spear in front of him. He hoped to thrust it through Tarzan the moment that he came within reach of him. There would be no playing with his victim in this encounter, his sole idea being to get it over and get out of the arena.
Tarzan advanced slighty crouched. He had stuck the dagger into the cord that supported his loin cloth. The fact that he came up with bare hands puzzled the crowd and confused Hyark, who had long since regretted that he had accepted the challenge so boastfully. He was not afraid of the man, of course, but the two of them! What if the man avoided being killed until the lion was upon them? The lion might as readily leap upon Hyark as upon the other. It was this that added to Hyark’s confusion.
They were close now. With an oath, Hyark lunged his spear point at the naked breast of his antagonist; then Tarzan did just what he had planned to do, knowing as he did his own agility and strength. He seized the haft of the spear and wrenched the weapon from Hyark’s grasp, hurling it to the ground behind him; then Hyark reached for his sword; but he was too slow. The ape-man was upon him; steel thewed fingers seized him and swung him around.
A great shout went up from the crowd – the lion was loosed.
Grasping Hyark by the collar of his jerkin and his sword belt, the ape-man held him helpless despite his struggles. For the first time the crowd became really vocal. They laughed, jeering at Hyark; they screamed warnings at the wild-man, shouting that the lion was coming; but Tarzan knew that already. From the corner of an eye he was watching the carnivore as it came down the length of the arena at a trot. He could get a better estimate of the beast now as it came closer. It was a small lion, old and pitifully emaciated. Evidently it had been starved a long time to make it ravenous. Tarzan’s anger rose against those who had been responsible for this cruelty, and because of it there was born in his mind a plan to avenge the lion.
As the lion approached, Tarzan went to meet it, pushing the frantic Hyark ahead of him; and just before the beast launched its lethal charge, the ape-man gave Hyark a tremendous shove directly toward the great cat; and then Hyard did precisely what Tarzan had anticipated he would do – he turned quickly to one side and broke into a run. Tarzan stood still – not a muscle moved. He was directly in the path of the lion, but the latter did not hesitate even an instant; it turned and pursued the fleeing Hyark, the screaming, terrified Hyark.
“The brave Hyark will have to run much faster if he hopes to get his captaincy,” said Valthor to the guard. “He would have been better off had he stood still; the lion was sure to pursue him if he ran. Had he stepped to one side and stood still, the lion might have continued its charge straight for Tarzan. At least he would have had a chance then, but he certainly cannot outrun a lion.”
Just in front of the loge of Menofra the lion overtook Hyark, and the screaming man went down beneath the mangy body to a merciful quick end. Before his final struggles had ended the starving beast commenced to devour him.
Tarzan came up the arena toward the royal loge and the feeding lion. On the way he picked up Hyark’s discarded spear and crept silently onto the lion from the rear; nor did the lion, occupied by his greedy feeding, see the approaching man. The crowd sat tense and silent, marvelling, perhaps, of the courage of this naked wild-man. Closer and closer to the lion crept Tarzan; and still the lion fed upon the carcass of Hyark, unconscious of the ape-man’s presence. Directly behind the carnivore Tarzan laid the spear on the ground. He had brought it only as a measure of safety in the event his plan miscarried. Then, with the swiftness and agility of Sheeta the panther, he leaped astride the feeding cat and grasped it by the mane and the loose hide upon its back, lifting it bodily from its kill and at the same time swinging around and whirling the beast with him, roaring and striking, but futilely. It was the lightning quickness of his act that made it possible – that and his great strength – as, with one superhuman effort, he flung the beast into the royal loge; then, without a single backward glance, he turned and walked back toward the prisoner’s paddock.
The lion’s body struck Menofra and knocked her from her chair; but the lion, frightened now and bewildered, thought for the moment only of escape; and leaped to an adjoining loge. Here he lashed out with his taloned paws to right and left among the screaming nobility. From one loge to another he leaped, leaving a trail of screaming victims, until he chanced upon a tunnel, into which he darted and galloped to freedom beyond the amphitheater.
The stands were in an uproar as the populace cheered Tarzan as he entered the paddock and took his place again beside Valthor on the cross-beam. The guard who had ridiculed him looked at him now in awe, while the other prisoners praised and congratulated him.
“Menofra should give you a wreath and a title,” said Valthor, “for you have given her and the people such entertainment as they have never seen before in this arena.”
Tarzan looked across at the royal loge and saw Menofra standing in it apparently unhurt. “The lion missed a golden opportunity,” he said, “and as for the wreath and the title, I do not deserve them; for it was the lion, not Menofra or the people, that I was trying to entertain.”
When the stands had quieted down and the wounded been removed, the officer in charge returned to the paddock. “You were a fool,” he said to Tarzan, “to throw the lion into Menofra’s loge. If you hadn’t done that, I believe she would have given you your liberty; but now she has ordered that you be destroyed at once. You and Valthor go in next. You will take your places in the center of the arena immediately.”
“I wish,” said Valthor, “that you might have had a better reception in The City of Ivory. I wish you might have known my own people and they you. That you should have come here to die is tragic, but the fates were against you.”
“Well, my friend,” said Tarzan, “at least we have seen one another again; and – we are not dead yet.”
“We shall be presently.”
“I think perhaps that you are right,” agreed the ape-man.
“Well, here we are. Have you any plan?”
“None,” replied Tarzan. “I know that I cannot throw an elephant into Menofra’s loge.”
“Not this one,” said Valthor. “I know him. I helped capture him. He is a devil and huge. He hates men. They have been saving him for this, and they will probably kill him afterword – he is too dangerous.”
“They are opening the elephant paddock,” said Tarzan. “Here he comes!”
A great elephant charged, trumpeting, through the open gate. At first he did not appear to notice the two men in the center of the arena, and trotted around close to the stands as though searching for an avenue of escape; then quite suddenly he wheeled toward the center and trotted toward the two men.
Tarzan had noted his great size and the one tusk darker than the other, and on the screen of memory was pictured another scene and another day – hyenas at the edge of a pit, snapping at a huge elephant with one dark tusk, while above circled Ska the vulture.
The elephant’s trunk was raised, he was trumpeting as he came toward them; and then Tarzan stepped quickly forward and raised a hand with the palm toward the beast.
“Dan-do, Tantor!” he commanded. “Tarzan yo.”
The great beast hesitated; then he stopped. Tarzan walked toward him, motioning Valthor to follow directly behind him, and stopped with one hand upon the trunk that was now lowered and feeling exploratively over the ape-man’s body.
“Nala Tarzan!” commanded the ape-man. “Nala tarmangani!” and he pulled Valthor to his side.
The elephant raised his trunk and trumpeted loudly; then he gathered first one and then the other in its folds and lifted to his head. For a moment he stood swaying to and fro as Tarzan spoke to him in low tones; then, trumpeting again, he started off at a trot around the arena while the spectators sat in stunned amazement. The elephant wheeled sharply to the left and crossed the arena while Tarzan urged him on with words of encouragement in that strange mother of languages that the great apes and the lesser apes and the little monkeys and that is understood in proportion to their intelligence by many another beast of the forest and the plain.
With lowered head the mighty bull crashed into the flimsy palisade at the inner end of the paddock, flattening it to the ground, and then the outer palisade fell before him; and he carried Tarzan and Valthor out on the plain toward freedom.
As they passed the main gate of the amphitheater and headed south they saw the first contingent of their pursuers issuing from the arena and clambering toward the howdahs of the waiting elephants, and before they had covered half a mile the pursuit was in full cry behind them.
While their own mount was making good time some of the pursuing elephants were gaining on him.
“Racing elephants,” commented Valthor.
“They are carrying heavy loads,” observed the ape-man: “five and six warriors beside a heavy howdah.”
“Valthor nodded. “If we can keep ahead of them for half an hour we’ve a good chance to get away.” Then he turned from the pursuers and looked ahead. “Mother of Dyaus!” he exclaimed. “We’re caught between a wild bull and a hundred lions – the Cathneans are coming, and they’re coming for war. This is no ordinary raid. Look at them!”
Tarzan turned and saw a body of men that approximated an army coming across the plain toward them, and in the van were the fierce war lions of Cathne. He looked back. Closing in rapidly upon them were the war elephants of Athne.
Don’t you just like the way ERB sets everything up so there can be a smash-bang ending? So let’s see how he wraps this one up.
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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