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ERB’S APOCALYPSE NOW:
TARZAN AND "THE FOREIGN LEGION"
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Well, we’re on the home stretch. Will The Foreign Legion ever reach the coast? You know they will, but let’s see how.
Six weeks later The Foreign Legion came down to the coast below Moekemoeko. It had been a strenuous six weeks by many hazards. Jap positions in increasing numbers had necessitated many long detours. Only the keen sensibilities of the Lord of the Jungle, ranging well ahead of the little company, had saved them from disaster on numerous occasions.
There was a Jap anti-aircraft battery about a kilometer up the coast from where they lay concealed. Between them and the battery was a native village. It was in this village that Sarina expected to find friends who could furnish them a boat and provisions.
“If I had a sarong,” she said, “I could walk right into the village in daytime, even if the Japs were there; but this outfit might arouse suspicion. I’ll have to take a chance, and sneak in after dark.”
“Perhaps I can get you a sarong,” said Tarzan.
“You will go into the village?” asked Sarina.
“Tonight,” said Tarzan.
“You will probably find sarongs that were washed today and hung out to dry.”
After dark Tarzan left them. He moved silently through the stagnant air of the humid, equatorial night, in the camp that he had left that was not a camp but a hiding place, the others spoke in whispers. They were oppressed by the heat and the humidity and the constant sense of lurking danger. When they had been in the mountains they had thought their lot rather miserable. Now they recalled with regret the relative coolness of the higher altitudes.
“I have been in the hills for so long,” said Corrie, “that I had almost forgotten how frightful the coast climate can be.”
“It is rather rotten,” agreed van der Bos.
“Dutchmen must be gluttons for punishment,” said Bubonovitch, “to colonize a Turkish bath.”
“No,” said van der Bos, “we are gluttons for profit. This is a very rich part of the world.”
“You can have it,” said Rosetti. “I don’t want no part of it.”
“We wish that the rest of the world felt the same way,” said van der Bos.
Tarzan swung into a tree that overlooked the village. A full moon lighted the open spaces. The ornate, native houses cast dense shadows. Natives squatted in the moonlight, smoking and gossiping. Three sarongs hung limp in the dead air from a pole across which they had been thrown to dry. Tarzan settled himself to wait until the people had gone into their houses for the night.
After a while a man entered the kampong from the west. In the bright moonlight, Tarzan could see him plainly. He was a Jap officer, the commanding officer of the anti-aircraft battery a short distance away. When the natives saw him they arose and bowed. He approached them with an arrogant swagger, speaking a few words to a young woman. She arose quickly and followed him into the house that he had commandeered for his own use.
When his back was turned the natives made faces at him, and obscene gestures. Tarzan was content. What he had seen assured him that the natives would be friendly to any enemy of the Japs. After a while the natives went into their houses and silence descended upon the kampong.
Tarzan dropped to the ground and moved into the shadow of a building. He stole silently to a point as near to the sarongs as he could get without coming out into the moonlight. He stood there for a moment listening; then he stepped quickly across the moon drenched space and seized a sarong.
Returning, he had almost reached the shadow when a woman stepped from behind the corner of a building. They met face to face in the moonlight. The woman, startled, opened her mouth to scream. Tarzan seized her and clapped a hand over her parted lips. Then he dragged her into the shadow.
“”Quiet!” he commanded in Dutch, “and I will not harm you.” He hoped that she understood Dutch. She did.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“A friend,” he replied.
“Friends do not steal from us,” she said.
“I am only borrowing this sarong. It will be returned. You will not tell the Jap about this? He is my enemy, too.”
“I will not tell him. We tell them nothing.”
“Good,” said Tarzan. “The sarong will be returned tomorrow.”
He wheeled and was lost in the shadows. The woman shook her head, and climbed the ladder that gave entrance to her house. She told her family of the adventure that had befallen her.
“You will never see the sarong again,” said one.
“For the sarong, I do not care,” she replied. “It did not belong to me. But I should like to see the wild man again. He was very beautiful.”
The following morning, Sarina entered the village. The first woman she met recognized her, and soon she was surrounded by old friends. She warned them away for fear that there might be Japs in the village who would recognize from their greetings that she must be a newcomer and therefore someone to be investigated. Sarina did not wish to be investigated by any Japs. The villagers understood, and returned to their normal activities. Then Sarina sought out Alaudddin Shah, the village chief. He seemed glad to see her, and asked her many questions, most of which she avoided answering until she could determine what his relations were with the Japs.
She soon learned that he hated them. Alauddin Shah was a proud old man, a hereditary chief. The Japs had slapped and kicked him and forced him to bow low even to their enlisted men. Satisfied, Sarina told her story, explained what she and her companions needed, and solicited his aid.
“It will be a hazardous journey,” he said. “There are many enemy ships in those waters, and it is a long way to Australia. But if you and your friends wish to risk it, I will help you. There is a large proa hidden in the river a few kilometers down the coast from the village. We will provision it for you, but it will take time. We are not regularly watched; because we have given the Japs no trouble, but they are in and out of the kampong almost every day. One officer sleeps here every night. Everything we do must be done with the utmost caution.”
“If you will leave provisions every day in a house near the edge of the kampong, we will come at night and take them to the proa,” Sarina told him. “Thus you can escape blame if we are discovered. You can be very much surprised when you discover that some one has come into to the village at night and stolen food.”
Alauddin Shah smiled. “You are a true daughter of Big Jon,” he said.
A proa is a various type of multi-hulled outrigger sail boat, very common to the Austronesian people.
* * * * * * *
A month passed, a month of narrow escapes from detection, a month of harrowed nerves; but at last the proa was provisioned. And now they waited for a moonless night and a favorable wind. Barbed wire and obstructions at the mouth of the stream had been in place until the proa was ready. Now they had to be removed – a dangerous job in waters infested with crocodiles. But at last even that was accomplished.
At last it came – N-Night they called it. The tide was right. There was no moon. There was a brisk off-shore wind. Slowly they poled the proa down to the sea. The great lanteen sail was hoisted. Close in the lee of the shore it caught little wind, but farther out it bellied to a strong breeze, and the proa gained speed.
While moonless, the night was clear. They set a course due south, the Southern Cross their lodestar. They had fashioned a crude log and log line, and while the knots were running they tried to estimate their speed. Sarina guessed twelve knots. She was not far off.
“If this wind holds,” she said, “we’ll be well off the southern tip of Nassau Island before 2:00 o’clock tomorrow morning. Then we’ll take a southwesterly course. I want to get out of the coastal waters of Sumatra and Java before we swing to the southeast toward Australia. This way we’ll give Engano a wide berth. Then there’ll be only the Cocos Islands to worry about, as far as land is concerned. I don’t know if the Japs have anything on Cocos.”
“Are they the same as the Keeling Islands?” asked Jerry.
“Yes, but my father always called them the Cocos Islands because he said Keeling was ‘a damned Englishman.’” She laughed, and so did Tarzan.
“Nobody loves an Englishman,” he said. “But I’m not sure Keeling was an Englishman.”
“There’s a light at 2:00 o’clock,” said Davis.
“Probably on Nassau,” said Sarina. “Let’s hope so, for if it isn’t, it’s a ship’s light; and we don’t want any business with ships.”
“I don’t think their ships would be showing any lights,” said Jerry. “There are too many Allied subs in these waters.”
Morning found them in an empty ocean – just a vast, round cauldron of tumbling gray water. The wind had freshened, and great seas were running. S/Sgt. Rosetti was sick. Between spasms he remarked, “I got a half-wit cousin. He joined the Navy.” After a while he said, “It won’t be long now. This crate won’t stand much more, and it can’t come too soon to suit me. This is the first time in my life I ever wanted to die.” Then he leaned over the rail and heaved again.
“Cheer up, Shrimp,” said Bubonovitch. “It won’t be long now before we go ashore on Australia – maybe only a month or so.”
“Geeze!” groaned Rosetti.
“You will get over being sick pretty soon, Tony,” said Sarina.
“Some admirals always get sick when they first go to sea after shore duty,” said Tarzan.
“I don’t want to be an admiral. I joins up for air, and what do I get? For couple or three months I been a doughboy; now I’m a gob. Geeze!” He leaned over the rail again.
“Poor Tony,” said Sarina.
The long days passed. The wind veered into the southeast. The southeast trade wind that would blow for ten months had started. Sarina took long tacks, first to starboard and then to port. It was slow going, but their luck had held. They were well passed the Keeling Islands now, and no sign of enemy shipping.
Douglas, who had been standing his trick as lookout, had come aft. “It’s an awful lot of water,” he said. “Flying it, it seems terribly big – the Pacific, I mean; but down here on the surface it seems like there isn’t anything in the world but water; and this is only the Indian Ocean, which ain’t a drop in the bucket alongside the Pacific. It makes you feel pretty small and insignificant.”
“There’s sure a lot of water in the world,” agree van der Bos.
“Three quarters of the whole surface of the Earth is water,” said Corrie.
“And the Pacific has a greater area than all the land surfaces of Earth combined,” said Jerry.
“If I owned it, “ said Rosetti, “I’d trade the whole damn works for any old street corner in Chi.”
“What I don’t like about it,” said Douglas, “is the total absence of scenery. Now, in California –”
“He’s off again,” said Bubonovitch.
“But he’s got something just the same,” said Davis. “Gawd! how I’d like to see a cow – just one measly little cow deep in the heart of Texas.”
“I’ll settle for land, any old land, right now,” said Rosetti. “Even Brooklyn would look good. I might even settle down there. I’m fed up on travelin’.”
“Travel is broadening, Shrimp,” said Bubonovitch. “Just look what it’s done for you. You like a Britisher, you love a dame, and you have learned to speak fairly intelligible English, thanks to Sarina.”
“I ain’t getting broadened much lately.” objected Rosetti. “We ain’t seen nothing but water for weeks. I’d like to see something else.”
“Smoke at eleven o’clock!” called Jerry, who had gone forward as lookout. Sarina smiled. The airman’s method of indicating direction always amused her, but she had to admit that it was practical.
Everybody looked in the direction indicated where a black smudge was showing just above the horizon.
“Maybe you’re going to see something beside water now, Shrimp,” said Davis. “Your wish was granted in a hurry.”
“That must be a ship,” called Jerry, “and I think we’d better high tail it out of here.”
“Toward five o’clock?” asked Sarina.
“Keerect,” said Jerry, “and pronto.”
They came about and sailed before the wind in a northwesterly direction, every eye on that ominous black smudge. “It might be British,” said Corrie, hopefully.
“It might be,” agreed Tak, “but we can’t take any chances. It might just as well be Jap.”
For what seemed a long time there was no noticeable change in the appearance of the thing they watched so fearfully; then Tarzan’s keen eyes discerned the superstructure of a ship rising above the horizon. He watched closely for a few minutes. “It is going to cut right across our course,” he said. “It will pass astern, but they’re bound to sight us.”
“If it’s Jap,” said Sarina, “it’s bound for Sumatra or Java. Our only chance is to hold this course and pray – pray for wind and more wind. If it’s one of those little Jap merchant ships, we may outrun it if the wind picks up. Or if we can just hold our lead until after dark, we can get away.”
The proa seemed never to have moved more slowly. Straining eyes watched the menace grow larger, as the hull of a ship climbed over the rim of the world. “It’s like a bad dream,” said Corrie, “where something horrible is chasing you, and you can’t move. And the wind is dying.”
“You guys ain’t prayin’ hard enough,” said Rosetti.
“All I can remember,” said Davis, “is ‘now I lay me down to sleep,’ and I can’t remember all of that.”
A sudden gust of wind bellied the great sail, and the speed of the proa increased noticeably. “Somebody hit the jackpot,” said Douglas.
But the strange ship continued to gain on them. “She’s changed course,” said Tarzan. “She’s heading for us.” A moment later he said, “I can see her colors now. She’s a Jap all right.”
“I should have gone to church like Mom always wanted me to,” said Davis. “I might have learned some good prayers. But if I can’t pray so good,” he said a moment later, “I sure can shoot good.” He picked up his rifle and slipped a clip into the magazine.
“We can all shoot good,” said Jerry, “but we can’t sink a ship with what we got to shoot with.”
“That’s a small, armed merchantman,” said Tarzan. “She probably carries 20 mm anti-aircraft guns and .30 caliber machine guns.”
“I guess we’re outgunned,” said Bubonovitch, with a wry grin.
“The effective range of the 20s is only about 1200 yards,” said Jerry. “These pop guns will do better than that. We ought to be able to get a few Nips before they finish us off – that is if you folks want to fight.” He looked around at them. “We can surrender, or we can fight. What do you say?”
“I say fight,” said Rosetti.
“Think it over carefully,” admonished Jerry. “If we put up a fight, we shall all be killed.”
“I don’t intend to let those yellow sonsabitches knock me around again,” said Bubonovitch. “If the rest of you don’t want to fight, I won’t either; but I won’t be taken alive.”
“Neither shall I,” said Corrie. “How do you feel about it, Jerry?”
“Fight, of course.” He looked at Tarzan. “And you, Colonel?”
Tarzan smiled at him. “What do you think, Captain?”
“Does anyone object to fighting rather than surrendering?” No one did. “Then we’d better check our rifles amd load ‘em. And may I say in conclusion, it’s been nice knowing you.”
“That sounds terribly final,” said Corrie, “even if you did mean it for a joke.”
“I’m afraid it is – final and no joke.”
The merchantman was closing up on them rapidly now, for after that one fitful gust the wind had slackened to a breeze that didn’t even fill the great triangular sail of the proa.
“We’ve been mighty lucky for a long time,” said Tak. “According to the law of chance, it should be about time for our luck to run out.”
There was a red flash aboard the Jap, followed by a puff of smoke. A moment later a shell burst far short of them.
“Lady Luck is getting ready to hit the breeze,” said Rosetti.
Well, there’s one chapter left, fellow sailors. Let’s just get to it, wouldn’t you say?
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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