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ERB’S APOCALYPSE NOW:
TARZAN AND "THE FOREIGN LEGION"
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Are the Sumatran natives who Tarzan let go going to be a future problem? Tarzan seems to think so. So maybe we are not done with them yet. Let’s see.
Before supper, Tarzan had cut two large slabs of bark from a huge tree in the forest. The slabs were fully an inch thick, tough and strong. From them he cut two disks, as nearly sixteen and half inches in diameter as he could calculate. In about one half of the periphery of each disk he cut six deep notches, leaving five protruberances between them.
After supper, Jerry and the others, sitting around the fire, watched him. “Now what the heck are those for?” asked the pilot. “They looked like round, flat feet with five toes.”
“Thank you,” said Tarzan. “I didn’t realize that I was such a good sculptor. These are to deceive the enemy. I have no doubt but that the old villain will return with Japs as quickly as he can. Now those natives must be good trackers, and they must be very familiar with our spoor, for they followed it here. Our homemade sandals would identify our spoor to even the stupidest tracker. So we must obliterate it.
“First we will go into the forest in a direction different from the one we intend taking, and we will leave spoor that will immediately identify our party. Then we will cut back to camp through the undergrowth where we can walk without leaving footprints, and start out on the trail we intend taking. Three of us will walk in single file, each stepping exactly in the footprints of the men ahead of him. I will carry Corrie. It would tire her to take a man’s stride. Bubonovitch will bring up the rear, wearing one of these strapped to each foot. With one of them he will step on each and every footprint that we have made. He will have to do a considerable split to walk with these on, but he is a big man with long legs. These will make the footprints of an elephant and obliterate ours.”
“Geeze!” exclaimed Rosetti. “A elephant’s feet ain’t that big!”
“I’m not so sure myself about these Indian elephants,” admitted Tarzan. “But the circumference of an African elephant’s front foot is half the animal’s height at the shoulder. So these will indicate an elephant approximately nine feet in height. Unfortunately, Bubonovitch doesn’t weigh as much as an elephant so the spoor won’t be as lifelike as I’d like. But I’m banking on the likelihood that they won’t pay that much attention to elephant spoor while they are looking for ours. If they do, they are going to be terribly surprised to discover the trail of a two-legged elephant.
“Had we been in Africa the problem would have been complicated by the fact that the African elephant has five toes in front and three behind. That would have necessitated another set of these, and Jerry would have had to be the hind legs.”
“De sout’ end of a elephant goin’ nort’, Cap,” said Shrimp.
“I’m not selfish,” said Jerry. “Bubonovitch can be the whole elephant.”
“You’d better put Shrimp at the head of the column,” said Bubonovitch, “I might step on him.”
“I think we’d better turn in now,” said Tarzan. “What time have you, Jerry?”
“You have the first watch tonight – two and half hours on. That will bring it just right. Shrimp draws the last – 3:30 to 6:00. Good night.”
They started early the following morning after a cold breakfast. First they made the false trail. Then they started off in the direction they intended taking. Bubonovitch bringing up the rear, stamping down hard on the footprints of those who preceded him. At the end of a mile, which was as far as Tarzan thought necessary to camouflage their trail, he was a pretty tired elephant. He sat down beside the trail and took off his cumbersome feet. “Migawd!” he said. “I’m just about split to the chin. Whoever wants to play elephas maximus of the order Proboscidea can have these goddam things.” He tossed them into the trail.
Tarzan picked them up and threw them out into the underbrush. “It was a tough assignment, Sergeant; but you were the best man for it.”
“I could have carried Corrie.”
“An’ you wit a wife an’ kid,” chided Shrimp.
“I think the colonel pulled rank on you,” said Jerry.
“Oh, no,” said Tarzan; “it was just that I couldn’t think of throwing Corrie to the wolves.’
“I guess dat will hold you,” observed Shrimp.
Corrie was laughing, her eyes shining. She liked these Americans with their strange humor, their disregard for conventions. And the Englishman, though a little more restrained, was much like them. Jerry had told her that he was a viscount, but his personality impressed her more than his title.
Suddenly Tarzan raised his head and tested the air with his nostrils. “Take to the trees,” he said.
“Is something coming?” asked Corrie.
“Yes. One of the sergeant’s relatives – with both ends. It is a lone bull, and sometimes they are mean.”
He swung Corrie to an overhead branch, as the others scrambled up the nearest trees. Tarzan smiled. They were becoming proficient. He remained standing in the trail.
“You’re not going to stay there?” demanded Jerry.
“For a while. I like elephants. They are my friends. Most of them like me. I shall know in plenty of time if he is going to charge.”
“But this is not an African elephant,” insisted Jerry.
“Maybe he never heard of Tarzan,” suggested Shrimp.
“The Indian elephant is not so savage as the African, and I want to try an experiment. I have a theory. If it proves incorrect, I shall take to the trees. He will warn me, for if he is going to charge, he will raise his ears, curl up his trunk, and trumpet. Now, please don’t talk or make any noise. He is getting close.”
The four in the trees waited expectantly. Corrie was frightened – frightened for Tarzan. Jerry thought it foolish for the man to take such chances. Shrimp wished that he had a tommy gun – just in case. Every eye was glued on the turn in the trail, at the point where the elephant would first appear.
Suddenly the great bulk of the beast came into view. It dwarfed Tarzan. When the little eyes saw Tarzan, the animal stopped. Instantly the ears were spread and the trunk curled up. It is going to charge was the thought of those in the trees.
Corrie’s lips moved. Silently they formed the plea, “Quick, Tarzan! Quick!”
And then Tarzan spoke. He spoke to the elephant in the language that he believed was common to most beasts – the mother tongue of the great apes. Few could speak it, but he knew that many understood it. “Yo, Tantor, yo!” he said.
The elephant was weaving from side to side. It did not trumpet. Slowly the ears dropped and the trunk uncurled. “Yud!” said Tarzan.
The beast hesitated a moment, and then came slowly toward the man. It stopped in front of him and the trunk reached out and moved over his body. Corrie clutched the tree branch to keep from falling. She could understand how, involuntarily, some women scream or faint in moments of high excitement
Tarzan stroked the trunk for a moment, whispering quietly to the huge mass towering above him. “Abdu tand-nala!” he said presently. Slowly, the elephant knelt. Tarzan wrapped the trunk about his body and said, “Nala b’yat!” and Tantor lifted him and placed him upon his head.
“Unk!” commanded Tarzan. The elephant moved off down the trail, passing beneath the trees where the astonished four sat, scarcely breathing.
Shrimp was the first to break the long silence. “I’ve saw everyt’ing now. Geeze! wot a guy!”
“Are you forgetting Goige de Toid?” demanded Bubonovitch.
Shrimp muttered something under his breath that was not fit for Corrie’s ears.
Presently Tarzan returned and on foot and alone. “We’d better be moving along,” he said, and the others dropped down from the trees.
Jerry was not a little irritated by what he thought had been an egotistical display of courage and prowess, and his voice revealed his irritation when he asked, “What was the use of taking such a risk, Colonel?”
“In the haunts of wild beasts one must know many things if one is to survive,” Tarzan explained. “This is strange country to me. In my country the elephants are my friends. On more than one occasion they have saved my life. I wanted to know the temper of the elephants here and if I could impose my will on them as I do at home. It is possible that some day you may be glad that I did so. The chances are that I shall never see that bull again; but if we should meet, he will know me and I shall know him. Tantor and I have long memories both for friends and enemies.”
“Sorry I spoke as I did,” said Jerry; “but we were all frightened to see you take such a risk.”
“I took no risk,” said Tarzan; “but don’t you do it.”
“What would he have done to one of us?” asked Bubonovitch.
“Gored you probably, knelt on you, and then tossed the pulp that had been you high into the forest.”
Corrie shuddered. Shrimp shook his head. “An’ I uset to feed ‘em peanuts at de coicus.”
“The wild beasts I’ve seen here in the open look larger and more menacing than those I used to see in menageries and zoos,” said Bubonovitch.
“Or in a museum, stuffed,” said Jerry.
“Mounted,” corrected Bubonovitch.
“Purist,” said Jerry.
Presently they entered a forest of enormous straight trunked trees, enveloped by giant creepers, vines, and huge air plants that formed a thick canopy overhead. The dim light, the cathedral vistas, the sounds of unseen things depressed the spirits of all but Tarzan. They plodded on in silence, longing for the light of the sun. And then, at a turning in the trail, they came suddenly into its full glare as the forest ended abruptly at the edge of a gorge.
Below them lay a narrow valley cut through the ages into the tuff and limestone formation of the terrain by the little river that raced riotously along its bottom. It was a pleasant valley, green and tree dotted.
Tarzan scrutinized its face carefully. There was no sign of human life; but some deer fed there, and his keen eyes recognized a black blob, almost indistinguishable in the dense shade of a tree. He pointed it out to the others. “Beware of him,” he cautioned. “He is infinitely more dangerous than Tantor, and sometimes even than Stripes.”
“What is it, a water buffalo?” asked Jerry.
“No. It is Buto the rhinoceros. His sight is very poor, but its hearing and scent are extremely acute. He has an ugly and unpredictable disposition. Ordinarily, he will run away from you. But you never can tell. Without any provocation he may come thundering down on you as fast as a good horse; and if he gets you, he’ll gore and toss you.”
I was surprised to learn that there were rhinoceros’s in Sumatra. Googling the words, I discovered that there are three different kinds of them on the island. There’s always something to learn reading a book by ERB.
“Not ours,” said Corrie. “They have lower tusks, and they use those instead of their horns.”
“I remember now,” said Tarzan, “hearing that. I was thinking of the African rhino.”
The trail turned abruptly to the right at the edge of the escarpment and hurled itself over the rim, angling steeply downward, narrow and precarious. They were all glad when they reached the bottom.
“Stay here,” said Tarzan, “and don’t make any noise. I am going to try to get one of those deer. Buto won’t get your scent from here; and if you don’t make any noise, he won’t hear you. I’ll circle around to the left. Those bushes there will hide me until I get within range of the deer. If I get one, I’ll go right on down to the river where the trail crossed it. You can come on then and meet me there. The trail passes Buto at about a hundred yards. If he gets your scent, or hears you, and stands up, don’t move unless he starts toward you; then find a tree.”
Tarzan crouched and moved silently among the tall grasses. The wind, blowing from the direction of the deer toward the rhinoceros, carried no scent of the intruders to either. It would to the latter when Tarzan reached the deer and when the others crossed the wind to reach the river.
Tarzan disappeared from sight of those who waited at the foot of the cliff. They wondered how he could find cover where there seemed to be none. Everything seemed to be moving according to plan when there was a sudden interruption. They saw a deer suddenly raise its head and look back; then it and the little herd of which it was a part were off like a flash, coming almost directly toward them.
They saw Tarzan rise from the grasses and leap upon a young buck. His knife flashed in the sun, and both fell, disappearing in the grass. The four watchers were engrossed by this primitive drama – the primordial hunter stalking and killing his quarry. Thus is must have been ages and ages ago.
Finally Jerry said, “Well, let’s get going.”
“Geeze!” Shrimp exclaimed, pointing. “Lookut!”
They looked. Buto had arisen and was peering this way and that with his dull little eyes. But he was listening and scenting the wind, too.
“Don’t move,” whispered Jerry.
“An’ they ain’t no trees,” breathed Shrimp. He was right. In their immediate vicinity there were no trees.
“Don’t move,” cautioned Jerry again. “If he’s going to charge, he’ll charge anything that moves.”
“Here he comes,” said Bubonovitch. The rhino was walking toward them. He seemed more puzzled than angry. His dim vision had, perhaps, discovered something foreign to the scene. Something he could neither hear nor smell. And curiosity prompted him to investigate.
Do any of you really think that if ERB placed a potential dangerous rhino into the plot, he wasn’t going to do anything with it? All of the cautionary language should have tipped you off.
The three men, by one accord, moved cautiously between Corrie and the slowly oncoming beast. It was a tense moment. If Buto charged, someone would be hurt, probably killed. They watched the creature with straining eyes. They saw the little tail go up and the head down as the rhino broke into a trot. He had seen them and was coming straight for them. Suddenly he was galloping. “This is it,” said Jerry.
At the same instant, Shrimp leaped away from them and ran diagonally across the path of the charging brute. And the rhino swerved and went for him. Shrimp ran as he had never run before; but he couldn’t run as fast as a horse, and the rhino could.
Horror-stricken, the others watched. Horror-stricken and helpless. Then they saw Tarzan. He was running to meet the man and the beast, who were headed directly toward him. But what could he do? the watchers asked themselves. What could two relatively puny men do against those tons of savage flesh and bone.
The beast was close behind Shrimp now and Tarzan was only a few yards away. Then Shrimp stumbled and fell. Corrie covered her eyes with her hands. Jerry and Bubonovitch, released as though from a momentary paralysis, started running toward the scene of certain tragedy.
Corrie, impelled against her will, removed her hand from her eyes. She saw the rhino’s head go down as though to gore the prostrate man now practically beneath its front feet.
Then Tarzan leaped, turning in air, and alighted astride the beast’s shoulders. The diversion was enough to distract the animal’s attention from Shrimp. It galloped over him, bucking to dislodge the man-thing on its back.
Tarzan held his seat long enough to plunge his knife through the thick hide directly behind the head and sever the brute’s spinal cord. Paralyzed, it stumbled to the ground. A moment later it was dead.
Soon the entire party was gathered around the kill. A relieved and, perhaps, a slightly trembling party. Tarzan turned to Shrimp. “That was one of the bravest things I ever saw done, Sergeant,” he said.
“Shrimp didn’t rate medals for nothing, Colonel,” said Bubonovitch.
For once a chapter ends on a positive note. The rhino is dead, but did Tarzan get the deer as well? I hope so. See you in the next chapter.
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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