Kopjies, basilisks and klipspringers — oh my! Despite the presence of this impenetrable vocabulary on just the first page, this one goes down easy even being the longest story in the collection so far.
It is told in the same stripped-down style as the adventure stories of Arthur Conan Doyle or Edgar Rice Burroughs which were written less than 20 years earlier. White explorers, black natives, dubious tale of a lost treasure; really, all that is missing is the old solar eclipse gag.
A hunter has his site trained on an antelope by the river. His attention is diverted by another animal — a man — who approaches the river for a drink. With Oswaldian efficiency, he puts a bullet in the antelope; then, before the man can take cover, he gets off another shot which fells the man whose body is then carried off by the river.
The hunter, Burgess, strolls back to camp, “whistling a cheerful tune” with the antelope slung over his shoulder. The sickly Professor Compton and his hot daughter Dorothy are happy to have some food to speed his recovery.
The party is in Africa seeking a lost valley said to be teeming with riches. Most of their native carriers have fled taking their provisions with them. Only the giant Jan has remained. Rounding out the group is the absent Dick Harding who is vying with Burgess for Dorothy’s affections. Say, you don’t think . . .
It is noted that Burgess, the backer of this expedition, is rich. This pleases her father who is worried for her security. On the other hand, his competition is named Dick Harding, which pleases Dorothy.
When he does not return, Dorothy says, “I’m anxious abut Dick.” She and Jan go searching for him. Down by the river, Jan determines from his spoor that he entered the river but did not make it to the other side. He must have been washed away with the current and drowned.
They discover Harding’s pith helmet with 2 bullet holes — wow, Burgess is Oswaldian. Because Dorothy heard two shots and Burgess slyly claimed he did not miss, she accuses him of killing Harding.
Like Pete Meadows in Satan Drives the Bus, Burgess illustrates why your first call should always be to a lawyer. He says, “Yes, I shot him and now there’s nothing stands between us. You can’t prove anything.” Well, the two witnesses you just confessed to might disagree.
Jan is ready to toss him off a cliff, but Dorothy convinces him to just tie Burgess up instead. Just as Burgess is restrained, Harding reappears, the bullet having only grazed his noggin. Fortuitously, after he was almost killed, he was washed downstream where he found a Shangri-la-esque tunnel leading to the fabled valley.
All members of the group are soon abducted and split up. Harding and Burgess end up together in a cavern. They are able to put that petty MURDER attempt behind them and work together. They are soon reunited with Dorothy and Professor Compton. Although alive, none have made out as well as Jan who has been made king of the tribe and given quite the fly ensemble with ostrich feathers, a kilt and a gold headband.
With Jan as their protector, the group is fine until Jan and Harding save a native girl from being sacrificed to a leopard. Burgess allies with the Sherry Palmer of the tribe, but things don’t work out for them.
All the others come out winners. Harding gets Dorothy, Dorothy gets Dick, and the happy couple & Professor Compton get the diamonds and will wallow in fabulous wealth for the rest of their lives. Jan remains as king of the tribe to live in a mud hut and sleep on the dirt.
- First published in Action Novels, April 1930
- Also that month: Hostess Twinkies invented. Yada yada . . . still edible.
- The word spoor is used 20 times in this story. As I had originally confused this word with scat, I was baffled why everyone was leaving a trail of shit.
- Jan calls all the white folks Baas which I assume is meant to be boss. But why the strange spelling? Surely it is not his native tongue. Is it dialect? It really looks pretty much like it would be pronounced just like boss.