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ERB’S APOCALYPSE NOW:
TARZAN AND "THE FOREIGN LEGION"
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
We are about to discover what Tarzan was reconnoitering when he abandoned his companions on the eve of a confrontation with a Japanese relief force. At least we learn that he had something in mind prior to this act.
Tarzan had not been able to gather much information about the guerrillas from the natives. They had heard it rumored that there was one band near a certain volcano about sixty-five kilometers to the southeast. They were able to describe the appearance of this volcano and various landmarks that might help to guide Tarzan to it, and with this meager information he had set out.
This area is covered with volcanoes, the most famous being Krakatoa, which had been an island in the Sunda Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra. It’s eruption on May 20, 1883 until August 27, 1883, was one of the largest in history, destroying 70% of the island and its surrounding archipelago and killing over 36,000 people. In the end, it collapsed into a caldera, like the Diamond Head crater in Hawaii. This is why the natives had to give specific information to help Tarzan so that he didn’t get mixed up.
He travelled until night fell, and then lay up until morning in a tree. His only weapons were his bow and arrows and his knife. He had not wished to be burdened with the Jap rifle and ammunition. In the morning he gathered some fruit and shot a hare for breakfast.
The country through which he passed was extremely wild and destitute of any signs of man. Nothing could have suited Tarzan better. He liked the companions whom he had left behind; but notwithstanding all his contacts with men, he had never become wholly gregarious. His people were the wild things of the forest and jungle and plain. With them, he was always at home. He liked to watch them and study them. He often knew them better than they knew themselves.
He passed many monkeys. They scolded him until he spoke to them in their own language. They knew their world, and through them he kept upon the right route to the volcano. They told him in what direction to go to reach the next landmark of which the natives had spoken – a little lake, a mountain meadow, the crater of an extinct volcano.
When he thought he should be approaching his destination, he asked some monkeys if there were white men near a volcano. He called it argo ved – fire mountain. They said there were, and told him how to reach their camp. One old monkey said, “Kreegah! Tarmangani sord. Tarmangani bundolo,” and he mimicked the aiming of a rifle, and said, “Boo! Boo!” Beware! White men bad. White men kill.”
He found the camp in a little gorge, but before he came to it he saw a sentry guarding the only approach. Tarzan came out into the open and walked toward the man, a bearded Dutchman. The fellow cocked his rifle and waited until Tarzan came within twenty-five or thirty yards of him; then he halted him.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” he demanded.
“I am an Englishman. I should like to talk with your chief.”
The man had been appraising Tarzan with some show of astonishment. “Stay where you are,” he ordered. “Don’t come any closer;” then he called down into the gorge: “de Lettenhove! There’s a wild man up here wants to talk with you.”
Tarzan repressed a smile. He had heard this description of himself many times before, but never with quite such blatant disregard of his feelings. Then he recalled that he had spoken to the man in English, and said that he was an Englishman, while the fellow had called to de Lettenhove in Dutch, doubtless believing that the “wild man” did not understand that language. He would continue to let them believe so.
Presently, three men came up out of the valley. All were heavily armed. They were bearded, tough looking men. They wore patched, tattered, nondescript clothing, partly civilian, partly military, partly crudely fashioned from the skins of animals. One of them were a disreputable tunic with the two stars of a first lieutenant on the shoulder tabs. This was de Lettenhove. He spoke to the sentry in Dutch.
“What was this man doing?”
“He just walked up to me. He made no effort to avoid me or hide from me. He is probably a harmless half-wit, but what the devil he’s doing here gets me. He says he is English. He spoke to me in that language.”
De Lettenhove turned to Tarzan. “Who are you? What are you doing here?” he asked in English.
“My name is Clayton. I am a colonel in the RAF. I understood that a company of Dutch guerrillas was camped here. I wanted to talk with their commanding officer. Are you he? I know that there are also bands of outlaws in the mountains, but the only way I could find out which you are was to come and talk with you. I had to take that chance.”
“I am not the commanding officer,” said de Lettenhove. “Capt. van Prins is in command, but he is not here today. We expect him back tomorrow. Just what do you want to see him about? I can assure you,” he added with a smile, “that we are outlaws only in the eyes of the Japs and native collaborationists.”
“I came because I wanted to make contact with people I could trust, who could give me information as to the locations of Jap outposts and native villages whose people are friendly to the Dutch. I wish to avoid the former and, perhaps, obtain help from the latter. I am trying to reach the coast, where I shall try to obtain a boat and escape from the island.”
De Lettenhove turned to one of the men who had accompanied him from the camp in the valley. “I was commencing to believe him,” he said in Dutch, “until he sprung that one about getting a boat and escaping from the island. He must think we’re damn fools to fall from any such silly explanation of his presence here. He’s probably a damn German spy. We’ll just hang on to him until van Prins gets back.” Then, to Tarzan in English: “You say you are an English officer. Of course you have some means of identification?”
“None,” said Tarzan.
“May I ask why an English officer is running around in the mountains of Sumatra naked and armed with bow and arrows and a knife?” His tone was ironical. “My friend, you certainly can’t expect us to believe you. You will remain here until Capt. van Prins returns.”
“As a prisoner?” asked Tarzan.
“As a prisoner. Come, we will take you down to camp.”
The camp was neat and well policed. There were no women. There was a row of thatched huts laid out with military precision. The red, white, and blue flag of the Netherlands flew from a staff in front of one of the huts. Twenty or thirty men were variously occupied about the camp, most of them cleaning rifles or pistols. Tattered and torn and shabby were their clothes, but their weapons were immaculate. That this was a well disciplined military camp Tarzan was now convinced. These were no outlaws. He knew that he could trust these men.
His entrance into the camp caused a mild sensation. The men stopped their work to stare at him. Some came and questioned those who accompanied him.
“What you got there?” asked one.
“He says he’s and RAF colonel, but I’ve got two guesses. He’s either a harmless half-wit or a German spy. I’m inclined to believe the latter. He doesn’t talk like a half-wit.”
“Does he speak German?”
“I’ll try him.” He spoke to Tarzan in German and the latter, impelled by the ridiculousness of the situation, rattled off a reply in impeccable German.
“I told you so,” said the two-guesser.
Then Tarzan turned to de Lettenhove. “I told you I had no means of identification,” he said. “I haven’t any with me but I have friends who can identify me – three Americans and two Dutch. You may know the latter.”
“Who are they?”
“Corrie van der Meer and Tak van der Bos. Do you know them?”
“I knew them very well, but they have both been reported dead.”
“They were not dead yesterday,” said Tarzan.
“Tell me,” said de Lettenhove. “How do you happen to be in Sumatra anyway? How could an English colonel get to Sumatra in wartime? And what are Americans doing here?”
“An American bomber was supposed to have crashed here some time ago,” one of the men reminded de Lettenhove in Dutch. “This fellow, if he is working with the Japs, would have known this. He would also have been able to get the names of Miss van der Meer and Tak. Let the damn fool go on. He’s digging his own grave.”
“Ask him how he knew our camp was here,” suggested another.
“How did you know where to find us?” demanded de Lettenhove.
Heheh, I imagine how Tarzan could have convinced these guerrillas that most of his information came from monkeys.
“I’ll answer all your questions,” said Tarzan. “I was aboard the bomber that was shot down. That’s how I happen to be here. The three Americans I have mentioned were also survivors from that plane. I learned in a native village yesterday about the general location of your camp. These villagers have been collaborating with the Japs. There was a Jap outpost garrisoned there. We had an engagement with them yesterday, and wiped out the entire garrison.”
“You speak excellent German,” said one of the men accusingly.
“I speak several languages,” said Tarzan, “including Dutch.” He smiled.
De Lettenhove flushed. “Why didn’t you tell me all these things in the first place?” he demanded.
“I wished first to assure myself that I was among potential friends. You might have been collaborationists. I just had an experience with a band of armed Dutchmen who work with the Japs.”
“What decided you that we were all right?”
“The appearance of this camp. It is not the camp of a band of undisciplined outlaws. Then, too, I understood all that you said in Dutch. You would not have feared that I might be a spy had you been on friendly terms with the Japs. I am convinced that I can trust you. I am sorry that you don’t trust me. You probably could have been of great assistance to me and my friends.”
“I should like to believe you,” said de Lettenhove. “We’ll let the matter rest until Capt. van Prins returns.”
“If he can describe Corrie van der Meer and Tak van der Bos, I’ll believe him,” said one of the men. “If they’re dead, as we’ve heard, he can’t ever have seen them, for Corrie was killed with her father and mother over two years ago way up in the mountains, and Tak was captured and killed by the Japs after he escaped from the concentration camp. They couldn’t possibly have been seen by this man unless they are still alive and together.”
Tarzan described them both minutely, and told much of what had befallen them during the past two years.
De Lettenhove offered Tarzan his hand. “I believe you now,” he said, “but you must understand that we have to be suspicious of everyone.”
“So am I,” said the Englishman.
“Forgive me if I appear to be rude,” said the Dutchman, “but I’d really like to know why you go about nearly naked like a regular Tarzan?”
“Because I am Tarzan.” He saw incredulity and returning suspicion in de Lettenhove’s face. “Possibly some of you may recall that Tarzan is an Englishman and that his name is Clayton. That is the name I gave you, you will recall.”
“That’s right!” exclaimed one of the men. “John Clayton, Lord Greystoke.”
“And there’s the scar on his forehead that he got in his fight with the gorilla when he was a boy,” exclaimed another.
“I guess that settles it,” said de Lettenhove.
The men crowded around, asking Tarzan innumerable questions. They were more than friendly now, trying to make amends for their former suspicions.
“Am I still a prisoner?” he asked de Lettenhove.
“No, but I wish you would remain until the captain gets back. I know that he’ll be more than anxious to be of assistance to you.”
Well, that little amusing sidetrack worked out just fine. But what about the foolish Corrie, who on a traitor’s word, went out into the forest alone? Surprise, surprise! We’ll see more of her 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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