Raztan of the Grapes. (A parody.)
Raztan of the Grapes.
By L. Roger Quilter
Source: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes
I heard this story quaffing wine in a Casablanca bar last summer. The vintage of the brew was from the previous Friday and the hangover that resulted caused me to doubt the veracity of the tale.
My companion flew into a ferocious rage, seeing that I stared sightlessly at her. She thought it passing strange her story had not captivated me. We almost came to blows, but our inebriation was such that we failed to rise from our somnolent state to inflict any mayhem.
I will give you my version of the incoherent ravings she passed on to me. Perhaps you may discover some entertaining value in the words: who knows, there may be some vestige of truth to the saga. You may feel the tale is not credible, but, bear with me as I unfold the unlikely events and you may find it is not unique, not remarkable and quite uninteresting.
The story begins in London in 1888 when the Foreign Office dispatched Jack Sandman, Lord Blackstake, on a mission to observe what the Prussians were trying to achieve in British West Africa. The utmost secrecy was to be observed regarding this delicate matter.
Sandman felt compromised at Charing Cross station when a porter yelled, “Maken zie vay fur Lord and Lady Blackstake, secret service agent, off to observe Prussian infiltration in British Vest Africa.”
“Hush, my fine fellow,” Sandman whispered, “I am on a journey of the utmost secrecy.”
“Sorry sir. I’ll hand you over to mein freund. He’ll show you to your carriage.” With a sharp click of his heels the porter turned and yelled, “Hans, der schpy avaits.”
Hans led them to a Pullman carriage where a compartment had been reserved for them. Sandman noticed a reservation stuck on the carriage window that stated,
LORD AND LADY BLACKSTAKE
TO DOVER WITH LOVE.
(signed) JAMES BOND
FOREIGN OFFICE BOOKING AGENT
(WE DESPISE SPIES)
As the train departed they settled comfortably in the first class carriage for the short journey to the south coast. Jack Sandman and his lovely, heavily-pregnant wife, the former Honourable Alice Von Bahnhof-Schaffner of Camden Town, had no further incidents to alarm them until they reached Dover where an ill-rigged sloop, the Desdemona, manned by a couple of dozen ragged ruffians awaited their arrival.
Alice became alarmed when the crew members ogled her as she and Jack walked to their cabin.
“Admiring the forthcoming baby, I shouldn’t wonder.” Jack sought to allay his trembling companion’s fears.
“Ja, ja, I suppose so.” Alice was not convinced.
The ship sailed placidly on smooth seas, but the very calm elicited feelings of fear in Jack’s heart. His suspicions were aroused when he discovered the crew spoke only German and kept the Sandmans under constant observation. Jack kept his pistol under his pillow and chewed garlic constantly to deter conversation.
The ship entered Freetown and Jack noticed several Royal Navy warships at anchor. He argued to himself about seeking safety by signaling for assistance, but decided the old school tie would be ashamed at his cowardice. So the Desdemona sailed with Jack’s last hope for help gone by the wayside.
One day out of Freetown saw violence erupt on the upper deck as two seamen were attacked by one of the officers with a belaying pin.
The older of the pair charged at the officer, knocking him to the ground. Black John, the larger of the ragged twosome pulled his companion away, but the fallen officer pulled out his pistol and aimed with murderous intent. Alice thrust the point of her parasol at the enraged man who consequently fired wide of its mark, wounding Black John in the thigh. This act eventually aided the Sandmans to be set free later.
Alice helped her sobbing husband to their cabin. The incident had unnerved Jack. His childhood made him very sensitive to unpleasant scenes.
The crisis came to a head the next day. Returning to their cabin after breakfast, Jack discovered two pistols and a box of ammunition were gone. Whoever robbed them left the cabin in a mess with clothing and bedding strewn around. Jack broke down and cried copious amounts of tears and it took Alice some time to steady her man.
Black John approached Alice as she walked on deck and whispered, “Ye saved me Miss, take care as we mutiny today. Stay in yer cabin and we’ll spare you.”
On hearing this news, Jack burst into tears of relief.
“You must tellen zie Captain, mein dear,” Alice stared at the yellow in Jack’s eyes, “Tell him, verdammt, about this mutiny.”
“At once,” Jack cried and left the cabin
When he saw a group of seaman armed with clubs and his two revolvers, Jack changed his mind and ran back towards his cabin.
Convinced that he had made the right decision, he descended to the deck below. He knew no more until he awoke lying on a sandy beach next to his loving wife who appeared disheveled and uncomfortable. His head ached and he felt a bandage covering his entire skull.
His sprits fell when he saw the Desdemona sailing out of sight.
Sandman was surprised that the mutinous dogs had provided them with tools, sails, arms and provisions piled haphazardly on the smooth sands.
“They are cads, Alice, utter bounders; deserting us: alone in Africa; far from civilization.” He sobbed in self-pity and added, “At least they left us something to save ourselves.”
“Ja, they left it alright. You don’t know how hard I had to perform to satisfy them ven I asked them for these goods.” Alice fanned her sweaty brow with a pair of filthy, ragged seaman’s shorts.
“Never mind Alice, we’ll survive, but first we need firewood, branches to build a boma, a fully-cooked meal and a start on a permanent shelter. When you have finished that you may wake me for dinner.”
That night the roars and screams of wild animals emanating from the impenetrable depths of the savage jungle had Sandman trembling in his wife’s arms. As dawn approached the firelight dwindled and Jack casually replenished the fire with his old school tie.
* * *
Two months later the pair found themselves well-adjusted to their new life. Food and firewood in abundance lay close at hand and the weather kept fine. No sign of human habitants were found on their short safaris and there was fine shooting available to replenish their larder. Alice seemed to tire a lot as her childbirth drew near. It was alright shooting game, but then she had to drag it back to camp, skin, butcher and cook before serving it to His Lordship.
There came a day Jack would never forget. Leaden skies over a smooth grey sea belied the approach of a storm so severe it was unbelievable. Fully-grown trees were uplifted and whipped inland by the gusts. Torrential rain, driven horizontally, soaked them and all their possessions. When the storm abated, the shattering screams of a new-born infant disturbed the peace of the primeval forest.
Alice’s breathing grew laboured and she shrieked as Lord Blackstake cut the umbilical cord joining mother to son.
Gazing at his son in the dim light, Jack exclaimed, “For a seven-month pregnancy he is huge. He appears to be almost black.”
“Our name is Blackstake, Dear.”
“Yes, of course. But his nose is wide and flat, almost Negroid in appearance. His palms and the soles of his feet are the only white parts.”
Alice smiled a coquettish smile and fell asleep.
* * *
A year passed and the Sandman family managed to survive. However, Alice had never fully recovered from the birth of their son, staring into space full of melancholy and uttering short phrases, such as, “Mein Gott,” “Danke,” “Bitte,” and “Schweinhund.” She named her son, Raztan, though she knew not why.
By this time Raztan also spoke a few phrases like, “Goo goo, good wine, Papa,” “Hic, more wine, Raztan thirsty.” Jack knew only English and became disturbed by the raving lunatics he lived with. It was true about the wine. Several vines grew close to their abode and Jack fermented as many of the grapes as he could. With no milk on hand and clean water at a premium his son was forced to subsist on what his father produced from the vineyard. Thus Raztan became the youngest lush in the lush, verdant jungle of West Africa
* * *
“Auf Wiedersehen, mein Lieber.” One sunny afternoon, a few weeks following Raztan’s first birthday, Alice’s body contorted in a final spasm as life left her. Sandman could scarce believe his eyes. He felt her words meant, “I careth not what happeneth to thee, Jack, I’m alright.” It was deucedly awkward to be left alone with a year-old nincompoop who screamed constantly for his wineskin.
A few hours later Alice’s body emitted a strong odour, so Jack opened the door of the cabin his wife had erected with his encouragement. As it turned out it was a fatal mistake.
Jack raised a blackened stick to write in his journal. Charcoal sufficed for written entries. The last of the ink had gone months before.
He wrote, ‘My son is crawling over my diary. He has left footprints from some hyena dung he stepped in and I am about to vomit.’ He placed his head on the table and fell asleep.
* * *
Close by, a tribe of great apes huddled in the trees sheltering from the blasts of a fierce storm. Wet and bedraggled the small group shivered in the last of the dying winds.
A huge male ape, known as Turdy, lost his temper and went on a rampage, scattering the tribe which fled at the first signs of Turdy’s impending anger.
Thus disturbed, some sought shelter avoiding the great ape’s madness. Several entered the small cabin and when Jack looked around he was set upon and slaughtered swiftly.
Carlotta, a female ape, recently released from a Prussian zoo, took to the trees. Her small infant was jogged loose and fell to the ground. Carlotta knew it was no use trying to retrieve the body; it was too late for that.
Several apes moved around in the lonely cabin. Two of them sniffed at the dead bodies, Jack’s smelled of sweat and Alice’s stunk of sauerkraut, a food that even Carlotta detested, though she had been fed that at the zoo. With quick hands she seized the small toddler happily guzzling his wine and fled into the jungle.
Carlotta raised Raztan as her own, showering love upon him and shielding him from the other apes who thought Raztan had a disease because the only hair he had grew in tight, black curls on his head. Also, his screaming disturbed the peace. They were unaware of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
When he started to walk and swing through the jungle, Carlotta knew her son would not get lost when he left the amphitheater where they lived. Carlotta merely wandered back to the cabin to find Raztan red-eyed and staggering in an alcoholic daze.
* * *
The years passed and Raztan became strong and swift, His intelligence almost matched the other apes, but not quite.
Several incidents caused his fellow apes to stare in awe at the diminutive figure that was Raztan. Most of these incidents were the result of providence.
Visiting the cabin Raztan found books that took him years to decipher. Many other things he found in the cabin amused him.
Of special interest was a box of matches that created fire. One day Raztan found himself on a tree branch with Turdy on a limb below him. Raztan hated Turdy and flicked a lighted match in the ape’s direction. As luck would have it the match struck the back of Turdy’s hand and set fire to the fur. The huge ape let go of the branch and crashed, screaming in agony, to the forest floor. His death came as a great shock to the tribe and Raztan achieved godlike fame.
Bulgy, a mad gorilla, attacked and managed to entrap Carlotta and killed her with one blow of his massive paw.
Enraged, Raztan dropped from the tree and rushed at Bulgy. A wicked look appeared on the countenance of the gorilla as it charged, tripped over a root and smashed his skull on the trunk of a tree. Of course Raztan took credit for this deed and rose to be king of the apes.
* * *
To be contined.
Parts I am working on. Please critique. Espescially the last line!
The rest of Raztan’s story involves a cousin and an American girl and is the love affair that I dread to relate.
Suffice to say that Raztan fell in love and was rejected and later rescued a French officer from certain death by cannibals. Lieutenant Darned-Deux taught him how to read and write and sent off the Blackstake diary containing Raztan’s footprints proving him to be Lord Blackstake.
Jack’s cousin, Clayton Sandman, now recognized as Lord Blackstake, also loved the girl, June Portlyass, contacted the French officer and simply said. “Keep quiet about Raztan’s inheritance and I’ll split the money with you. Open your mouth and I will split your skull.”
Darned-Deux was a man of honour, but changed when he discovered the amount of money involved.
“Raztan, my saviour, my friend, vous êtes un ape. Go home to Africa and swing in the trees to your heart’s content. I give you these grape stones to plant as a parting gift.” With that the Frenchman left to pick up his fortune and Raztan returned to the cabin he knew so well.
He planted the grape stones and lived in contentment as an alcoholic. The vines flourished and Raztan was happy.
On one windy day, the naked Raztan climbed to the top of the tallest vine and settled to watch the waves crashing on the beach. His naked body swaying in the breeze felt only peace and harmony.
Down below him a human skeleton seemed to stir in its grave and one could almost hear a female voice utter, “Mein Gott! Vot a vopper!”