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ERB’S APOCALYPSE NOW:
TARZAN AND "THE FOREIGN LEGION"
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Are you ready to march with The Foreign Legion? You better be, because they’re going on a fool’s journey, according to Captain van Prins. But who cares, as long as Tarzan is with them?
Two days later, The Foreign Legion, now numbering ten, said goodby to the guerrillas and started on their long march to a hazy destination. Douglas and Davis took their places in the little company with the easy adaptability of the American soldier. Douglas called it the League of Nations.
At first the two newcomers had been skeptical of the ability of the two women to endure the hardships and the dangers of the almost trackless mountain wilderness that the necessity of avoiding contact with the enemy forced them to traverse. But they soon discovered that they were doing pretty well themselves if they kept up with Corrie and Sarina. There were other surprises, too.
“What’s happened to Shrimp?” Davis asked Bubonovitch. “I thought he didn’t have time for any fem, but he’s always hangin’ around that brown gal. Not that I blame him any. She could park her shoes in my locker any time.”
“I fear,” said Bubonovitch, “that Staff Sergeant Rosetti has fallen with a dull and sickening thud. At first he was coy about it, but now he is absolutely without shame. He drools.”
“And the old man,” said Davis. “He used to be what you call a misnogomist.”
“That isn’t exactly what I called it,” said Bubonovitch, “but you have the general idea. Maybe he used to be, but he isn’t any more.”
“Sort of silly,” remarked Carter Davis. “What do old men know about love?”
“You’d be surprised, little one,” said Bubonovitch.
The going was cruel. With parangs they hacked their way through virgin jungle. Deep gorges and mountain torrents blocked their advance with discouraging frequency. Often, the walls of the former dropped sheer for hundreds of feet, offering no hand nor toe hold, necessitating long detours. Scarcely a day passed without rain, blinding, torrential downpours. They marched and slept in wet, soggy clothing. Their shoes and sandals rotted.
Tarzan hunted for them, and those who had not already done so learned to eat their meat raw. He scouted ahead, picking the best routes, alert for enemy outposts or patrols. By night, they slept very close together, a guard constantly posted against the sudden, stealthy attack of tigers. Sometimes muscles flagged, but morale never.
Little Keta did all the scolding and complaining. When Tarzan had gone to the rescue of Davis and Douglas, Keta had been left behind tied to a tree. He had very indignant about this and had bitten three Dutchmen who had tried to make friends with him. Since then he had usually been left severely alone, consorting only with Tarzan. The only exception was Rosetti. He voluntarily made friends with the little sergeant, often curling up in his arms when the company was not on the march.
“He probably recognizes Shrimp as a kindred spirit,” said Bubonovitch, “if not a near relative.”
“He t’inks you’re one of dem big apes we seen that he’s a-scairt of.”
“You refer, I presume, to Pongo pygmaeus,” said Bubonovitch.
Shrimp registered disgust. “I wisht I was a poet. I’d write a pome.”
“About me, darling?”
“You said a mouthful. I got a word wot you rhyme with.”
I believe that word would have been “sonofabitch.” He used it earlier and perhaps he thought one more time would excite the censors.
They had stopped for the night earlier than usual because Tarzan had found a large dry cave that would accommodate them all. It had probably been occupied many times before, as there were charred pieces of wood near the entrance and a supply of dry wood stored within it. They had a fire, and they were sitting close to it, absorbing its welcome warmth and drying as much of their clothing as the presence of mixed company permitted them to remove. Which was considerable, as the silly interdictions of false modesty had largely been scrapped long since. They were a company of “fighting men.”
Jerry, Bubonovith, and Rosetti were looking at the rough map that van Prins had drawn for them. “Here’s where we crossed over to the east side of the range,” said Jerry, pointing, “– just below Alahanpandjang.”
“Geeze, wot a moniker fer a burg! Or is it a burg?”
“It’s just a dot on a may to me,” admitted Jerry.
“Lookit,” continued Rossi. “Here it says dat where we cross back again to de utter side it is 170 kilometers. Wot’s dat in United States?”
“Oh-h, about one hundred and five or six miles. That’s an air line.”
“What do you think we’re averaging, Jerry?” asked Bubonovitch.
“I doubt if we’re making five miles a day in an air line.”
“Today,” said Bubonovitch, “I doubt that we made five miles on any kind of a line – unless it was up and down.”
“”Geeze!” said Rosetti. “De Lovely Lady would have got us dere in maybe twenty-five minutes. Sloggin’ along like dog-faces it probably takes us a mont’.”
“Maybe more,” said Jerry.
“Wot t’ell!” said Rosetti. “We’re lucky to be alive.”
“And the scenery is magnificent,” said Bubonovitch. “When we can see through this soup, it looks mighty nice and peaceful down there.”
“It sure does,” agreed Rosetti. “It doesn’t seem like dere could be a war in pretty country like dat. I don’t suppose dey ever had no wars here before.”
“That’s about all they ever did until within the last hundred years,” said Tak van der Bos. “During all historic times, and probably during all pre-historic times back to the days of Pithecanthropis erectus and Homo Modjokertensis, all the islands of the East Indies have been almost constantly overrun by warring men – the tribal chiefs, the petty princes, the little kings, the sultans. The Hindus came from India, the Chinese came, the Portugese, the Spaniards from the Philippines, the English, the Dutch, and now the Japs. They all brought fleets and soldiers and war. In the thirteenth century, Kubla Khan sent a fleet of a thousand ships bearing 200,000 soldiers to punish a king of Java who had arrested the ambassadors of the Great Khan and sent them back to China with mutilated faces.
“We Dutch were often guilty of perpetrating cruelties and atrocities upon the Indonesians; but neither we, nor all the others who came before us, devastated the land and enslaved and massacred its people with the cruel ruthlessness of their own sultans. These drunken, rapacious, licentious creatures massacred their own subjects if it satisfied some capricious whim. They took to themselves the loveliest women, the fairest virgins. One of them had fourteen thousand women in his harem.”
“Geeze!” exclaimed Rosetti.
Tak grinned and continued. “And if they were still in power, they would still be doing the same things. Under us Dutch, the Indonesians have known the first freedom from slavery, the first peace, the first prosperity that they have ever known. Give them independence after the Japs are thrown out and in another generation they’ll back where we found them.”
“Haven’t all peoples a right to independence?” asked Bubonovitch.
“Get a soap box, communist,” jeered Rosetti.
“Only those people who have won the right of independence deserve it,” said van der Bos. “The first recorded contact with Sumatra was during the reign of Wang Mang, a Chinese emperor of the Han dynasty, just prior to A.D. 23. Indonesian civilization was ancient them. If, with all that background of ancient culture plus the nearly two thousand years before the Dutch completed the conquest of the islands, the people were still held in slavery by tyrant rulers; then they do not deserve what you call independence. Under the Dutch they have every liberty. What more can they ask?”
“Just to keep the record straight,” said Bubonovitch, with a grin, “I’d like to state that I am not a Communist. I am a good anti-New Deal Republican. But here is my point: I thought that freedom was one of the things we were fighting for.”
“Hell,” said Jerry. “I don’t think any of us know what we are fighting for except to kill Japs, get the war over, and get home. After we have done that, the goddam politicians will mess things all up again.”
“And the saber rattlers will start preparing for World War III,” said van der Bos.
“I don’t think they will rattle their sabers very loudly for a while,” said Corrie.
“Just about in time to catch our children in the next war,” said Jerry.
There was an embarrassed silence. Jerry suddenly realized the interpretation that might be placed on his innocent remark, and flushed. So did Corrie. Everybody was looking at them, which made it worse.
Finally, van der Bos could no longer restrain his laughter; and they all joined him – even Corrie and Jerry.
No, the joke is on us! because the war they sent their kids to for ten years was called Viet Nam!
Sing Tai, who had been busy over a cooking fire, further relieved the tension by repeating a time honored phrase that he had been taught by Rosetti: “Come and get it!”
Wild pig, grouse, fruits, and nuts formed the menu for the meal.
“We sure live high,” said Davis.
“De Drake Hotel ain’t got nuttin’ on us,” agreed Rosetti.
“We have the choice of an enormous market, and without ration coupons,” said Tarzan.
“And no coin on de line,” said Rosetti. “Geeze! dis is de life.”
“You gone batty?” inquired Bubonovitch.
“Come back here after the war, Sergeant,” said van der Bos, “and I’ll show you a very different Sumatra.”
Bubonovitch shook his head. “If I ever get back to Brooklyn,” he said, “I’m going to stay there.”
“And me for Texas,” said Davis.
“Is Texas a nice state?” asked Corrie.
“Finest state in the Union,” Davis assured her.
“But Jerry told me that Oklahoma was the finest state.”
“That little Indian reservation?” demanded Davis. “Say! Texas is almost four times as big. She grows more cotton than any other state in the Union. She’s first in cattle, sheep, mules. She’s got the biggest ranch in the world.”
“And the biggest liars,” said Douglas. “Now if you really want to know which is the finest state in the Union, I’ll tell you. It’s California. You just come to the good old San Fernando Valley after the war and you’ll never want to live anywhere else.”
“We haven’t heard from New York State,” said Jerry, grinning.
“New Yorkers don’t have to boast,” said Bubonovitch. “They are not plagued by any inferiority feeling.”
“That’s going to be a hard one to top,” said van der Bos.
“How about your state, Tony?” asked Sarina.
Rosetti thought for a moment. “Well,” he said, “Illinois had Public Enemy Number One.”
“Every American,” said Tarzan, “lives in the finest town in the finest county in the finest state in the finest country in the world – and each one of them believes it. And that is what makes America a great country and is going to keep her so.”
“You can say that again,” said Davis.
“I have noticed the same thing in your Army,” continued the Englishman. “Every soldier is serving in ‘the best damn outfit in this man’s Army,’ and he’s willing to fight you about it. That feeling makes for a great Army.”
“Well,” said Jerry, “we haven’t done so bad for a nation of jitterbugging playboys. I guess we surprised the world.”
“You certainly have surprised Hitler and Tojo. If you hadn’t come in, first with material and then with men, the war would be over by now, and Hitler and Tojo would have won it. The World owes you an enormous debt.”
“I wonder if it will pay it,” said Jerry.
“Probably not,” said Tarzan.
Yep, another fireside chat about what a lot of Americans at the time were thinking. I don’t think that anyone anticipated the Cold War, though. Only three more chapters. Will they make it to the coast at this snail’s pace? Let’s hope so.
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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