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ERB’S APOCALYPSE NOW:
TARZAN AND "THE FOREIGN LEGION"
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
ERB has waited through six chapters without revealing the true identity of Colonel John Clayton, but that omission is about to come to a close. And wouldn’t you know it, he gives himself away by killing a tiger. How? Let’s see.
From the branches of a tree that overhung the trail, the survivors of Lovely Lady waited for the tiger to pass and permit them to descend. They had no intention of interfering with his passage. The Americans assured one another that they had not lost a tiger, and grinned as though the remark was original.
This is another one of those insider jokes in this novel. Perhaps if we would have been alive in 1944, we might have got it, but who knows? Maybe it dealt with catching a tiger by its tail?
They had accompanied Clayton into trees so many times that Shrimp said he expected to sprout a tail most any time. “That’s all you need, “Bubonovitch assured him.
Around them were the ordinary daylight sounds of the forest, to which they were now so accustomed – the raucous cries of birds, the terrific booming of siamang gibbons, the chattering of the lesser simians – but no sound came from the tiger. Shrimp decided that it was a false alarm.
Below them, not more than a hundred feet of the trail was visible between two turnings – about fifty feet in each direction. Suddenly the tiger appeared, slouching along loose-jointed and slab-sided, noiseless on his cushioned pads. Simultaneously a slender figure came into view around the opposite turning. It was Corrie. Both the tiger and the girl stopped, facing one another less than a hundred feet apart. The tiger voiced a low growl and started forward at a trot. Corrie seemed frozen in horror. For an instant she did not move. And in that instant she saw an almost naked man drop from above onto the back of the carnivore. And following him instantly, three other men dropped to the trail, jerking knives from their sheaths as they ran toward the man battling with the great cat. And first among them was S/Sgt. Rosetti, the British hater.
A steel thewed arm encircled the tiger’s neck, mightily muscled legs were locked around its groin, and the man’s free arm was driving a keen blade deep into the beast’s left side. Growls of fury rumbled from the savage throat of the great cat as it threw itself about in agony and rage. And, to Corrie’s horror, mingled with them were equally savage growls that rumbled from the throat of the man. Incredulous, the three Americans watched the brief battle between the two – two jungle beasts – powerless to strike a blow for the man because of the wild leapings and turnings of the stricken tiger.
But what seemed a long time to them was a matter of seconds only. The tiger’s great frame went limp and sank to the ground. And the man rose and put a foot upon it and, raising his face to the heavens, voiced a horrid cry – the victory cry of the bull ape. Corrie was suddenly terrified of this man who had always seemed so civilized and cultured. Even the men were shocked.
Suddenly recognition lighted the eyes of Jerry Lucas. “John Clayton,” he said, “Lord Greystoke – Tarzan of the Apes!”
Shrimp’s jaw dropped. “Is dat Johnny Weismuller?” he demanded.
Tarzan shook his head as though to clear his brain of an obsession. His thin veneer of civilization had been consumed by the fires of battle. For the moment he had reverted to the savage primordial beasts that he had been raised. But he was almost instantly his second self again.
He welcomed Corrie with a smile. “So you got away from them,” he said.
Corrie nodded. She was still shaken and trembling, and almost on the verge of tears – tears of relief and thanksgiving. “Yes, I got away from them last night; but if it hadn’t been for you, it wouldn’t have done me much good, would it?”
“It is fortunate that we happened to be at the right place at the right time. You had better sit down for a while. You look all in.”
“I am.” She sat down at the edge of the trail, and the four men gathered around her. Jerry Lucas beamed with pleasure and relief. Even Shrimp was happy about it all.
“I’m sure glad you’re back, Miss,” he said. Then, when he realized what he had said, he turned red. Shrimp’s psyche had recently received terrific jolts. A couple of lifelong phobias were being knocked into a cocked hat. He had come to admire an Englishman and to like a dame.
Corrie told them of her capture and escape, and she and the Americans discussed the killing of the tiger. “Weren’t you afraid?” she asked Tarzan.
Tarzan, who had never been afraid in his life, only cautious, was always at a loss to answer this question, which had been put to him many times before. He simply did not know what fear was.
“I knew I could kill the beast,” he said.
“I thought you were crazy when I saw you drop on it,” said Bubonovitch. “I was sure scared.”
“But you came down just the same to help me, all of you. If you thought you might be killed doing it, that was true bravery.”
“Why haven’t you told us you were Tarzan,” asked Jerry.
“What difference could it have made?”
“We were sure dumb not to have recognized you long ago,” said Bubonovitch.
Corrie said that she could go on. The men gathered the bows they had flung aside when they dropped to the ground, and they started back toward their camp. “Funny none of us thought to shoot it wit arrows,” said Shrimp.
“They would only have infuriated it,” said Tarzan. “Of course, if you got one through his heart that would kill a tiger; but he would live long enough to do a terrible lot of damage. Many a hunter has been mauled by lions after sending a large caliber bullet through its heart. These great cats are amazingly tenacious of life.”
“To be mauled by a lion or tiger must be a terrible way to die,” said Corrie, shuddering.
“On the contrary, it would seem to be a rather nice way to die – if one had to die,” said Tarzan. “A number of men who had been mauled by lions and lived have recorded their sensations. They were unanimous in declaring that they felt neither pain nor fear.”
“Dey can have it,” said Shrimp. “I’ll take a tommy gun for mine.”
Tarzan brought up the rear of the little column on the way back to camp, that Usha the Wind might bring to his nostrils warning of the approach of the Sumatrans, if they were pursuing Corrie, before they came too close.
Shrimp walked beside him, watching his every move with admiring eyes. To think, he said to himself, that I’d ever be runnin’ around in a jungle with Tarzan of the Apes. Bubonovitch had convinced him that it was not Johnny Weismuller. Jerry and Corrie led the way. He walked just behind one of her shoulders. He could watch her profile from that position. He found it a very nice profile to watch. So nice that, though he tried, he couldn’t conjure up the likeness of the girl in Oklahoma City for any length of time. His thoughts kept coming back to the profile.
“You must be very tired,” he said. He was thinking that she had walked this trail all the day before and all this day, with practically no sleep.
“A little,” she replied. “But I am used to walking. I am very tough.”
“We were frightened when we found you gone and Tarzan discovered that you had been abducted.”
She threw him a quick, quizzical glance. “And you a misogynist!” she chided.
“Who said I was a misogynist?”
“Both you and the little sergeant.”
“I didn’t tell you that, and Shrimp doesn’t know what a misogynist is.”
“I didn’t mean that. I meant that you are both misogynists. No one told me. It was quite obvious.”
“Maybe I thought I was,” he said. Then he told her about the girl in Oklahoma City.
“And you love her so much?”
“I do not. I guess my pride was hurt. A man hates to be brushed off.”
“Brushed off? What is that?”
“Jilted – and for a Republican 4-F.”
“Is that such a terrible person? I never heard of one before.”
Jerry laughed. “Really, no. But when you’re mad you like to call names, and I couldn’t think of anything else. The fellow is really all right. As a matter of fact I am commencing to love him.”
“You mean that it is better to discover, before marriage, that she is fickle rather than after?”
“We’ll settle for that – for the time being. I just know that I would not want her to be in love with me now.”
Corrie thought that over. Whatever she deduced from it, she kept to herself. When they reached camp a few minutes later, she was humming a gay little tune.
After she had gone into the cave, Bubonovitch said to Jerry, “How’s the misogynist this afternoon?”
“Shut your trap,” said Jerry.
Tarzan, in questioning Corrie about her abductors, had ascertained that there had been ten of them and that they were armed with kris and parang. They carried no firearms, the Japs having confiscating all such weapons as they could find.
The five were gathered at the mouth of the cave discussing plans for the future, which included tactics in the event the tribesmen returned and proved belligerent. Those who wished always had an equal voice in these discussions; but since they had left the ship, where Jerry’s authority had been supreme, there had been a tacit acknowledgment of Tarzan’s position as leader. Jerry realized the fitness of this. There had never been any question in his mind, nor in the minds of the others, that the Englishman was better equipped by knowledge and experience of the jungle, acute sense perceptivity, and physical prowess to guide and protect them than were any of the others. Even Shrimp had had to acknowledge this, and at first that had been hard. Now he would have been one of the Britisher’s most ardent supporters had there been any dissidents.
“Corrie tells me,” said Tarzan, “that there are ten men in the party that took her. Most of them, she says, are armed with a long straight kris, not the wavy bladed type with which most of us are familiar. They all carry parangs, a heavy knife designed more for use as a tool than a weapon. They have no firearms.
“If they come, we shall have to stop them before they get to close quarters. Corrie will act as interpreter. While they outnumber us more than two to one, we should have no difficulty in holding our own. We are four bows –”
“Five,” corrected Corrie.
Tarzan smiled. “We are five bows, and we are all good shots. We shall try to convince them that they had better go away and leave us alone. We shall not shoot until it is absolutely necessary.”
“Nuts,” said Shrimp. “We’d ought to let ‘em have it for stealin’ de kid.” Corrie gave him a look of surprise and incredulity. Jerry and Bubonovitch grinned. Shrimp turned red.
“There goes another misogynist,” Bubonovitch whispered to Jerry.
“I know how you feel, Rosetti,” said Tarzan. “I think we all feel the same way. But years ago I learned to kill only for food and defense. I learned it from what you call the beasts. I think it is a good rule. Those who kill for any other reason, such as for pleasure or revenge, debase themselves. They make savages of themselves. I will tell you when to fire.”
“Perhaps they won’t come after all,” said Corrie.
Tarzan shook his head. “They will come. They are almost here.”
And so the curtain closes on this chapter. I googled “kris” and discovered it is a long bladed knife, with curvy edges, used for thrusting. A “parang” is long bladed knife like a machete, sometimes mistaken for a sword. These are serious weapons in the hands of skilled killers. Will they come in peace? See you next time.
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. 20
Ch. 21_Ch. 22_Ch. 23_Ch. 24_Ch. 25
Ch. 26_Ch. 27_Ch. 28_Ch. 29_Ch. 30
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