Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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Rev Sangamon Morton
Ruth Morton Scott
Jefferson Scott Jr
Lieutenant De Boes
Ben, King of Beasts
EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS'
David A. Adams
Copyright © 2000
The Man-Eater was first published in "The New York Evening World" newspaper, November 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 in 1915. It was written in between The Son of Tarzan and Beyond Thirty and is also known among ERB collectors as Ben, King of Beasts.
Reverend Sangamon Morton, an American Methodist missionary to the Belgian Congo, hears a native woman scream. He thinks they have been attacked by The Wakandas. Armed with a rifle, he runs with his wife Mary, and daughter Ruth, into the compound. The alarm is only for two white men: Jefferson Scott Jr., an American big-game hunter and his companion, Robert Gordon. Scott becomes Ruth’s husband. Morton entrusts Gordon with stock certificates to take back to America to be held by Jefferson’s father. A year later, Ruth and Jefferson have a daughter, Virginia. The Wakandas attack. Morton, Mary, and Jefferson are killed. Ruth, relieved by Belgian Lieutenant De Boes, goes back to Virginia with her daughter Virginia. The elder Scott takes cares for his daughter-in-law and grandchild for 19 years. The “stocks” prove to be but a single sheet of paper. He puts it in a wall cupboard instead of his safe.
Old Jefferson Scott dies. Virginia meets Scott Taylor, Scott’s nephew. He is a dissipated collegian looking for a legacy. Judge Sperry reveals he is not in the will and should return to N.Y. Since the will cannot be found Taylor stands to inherit half the estate, though Virginia is meant to have it all. Taylor, drunk, proposes to Virginia, who pushes him to the floor. Taylor is miffed and demands the whole estate as there is no will and he claims that Virginia’s birth is illegitimate. Mrs. Scott writes to Gordon, who witnessed the marriage, but he has died two years previously. A Mrs. Clayton and Charlotte come to visit. (This Mrs. Clayton may or may not be related to John Clayton, Lord Greystoke.)
Dick Gordon of New York is the son of the deceased Robert. He is rich and indolent and wonders what to do with his life. He is attended by an elderly, long-suffering man servant, Murphy. Dick gets Ruth’s letter. Thinking the marriage certificate might be in the ruins of the mission, he implusively books passage to Mombasa to look for it. Taylor intercepts Dick’s reply to Ruth. He follows him to Africa, planning a murder with the help of two friends, Jim Kelley and Bill Gootch. Blanche Kelley is present and knows their nefarious plans. They sail on the same ship. Taylor makes Gordon’s acquaintance and discovers he is heading to Albert Edward Nyanza. Gootch and Kelley cheat Gordon at cards, and so loose any advantage they once had.
Ruth and Virginia discover Taylor’s perfidy. Virginia goes to N.Y. to warn Dick Gordon. She meets Blanche and learns that Dick is in mortal danger. Virginia follows them to Africa, writing of her plans to her mother before departure. When she arrives in Mombasa she is a month behind Gordon’s safari and a week behind Taylor’s. When her safari attempts mutiny she shoots the leader and becomes her own headman.
Dick finds a manila envelope at the old mission and heads back to the coast. Meanwhile, three American crooks wait for him to pass through a native village. A woman is taken by a man-eating lion from the village where the crooks wait. The white men kill a lioness. The natives capture her mate in a pit. Virginia arrives at the same village and is tied up by the villains, who get drunk on native beer. She fears what they will do to her when they get back to the hut.
Dick Gordon’s safari comes upon the lion in the pit before the natives find him. He frees the beast, but is attacked by the lion in the process. However, for some reason the lion does not harm him even when Dick is at his mercy. (The lion knows which white men are guilty of killing his mate.) The smart lion goes to the native village in search of the real killers. Taylor, inebriated, returns to the hut and kisses Virginia, his cousin. He cuts her ropes. She grabs his pistol--but is grabbed from behind as she backs out of the hut.
Virginia is recaptured by Kelley and Gootch. She struggles to no avail. They decide to rape and kill her, but just as they pin her to the ground the lion arrives. Gootch is killed, but Virginia and the other two men escape through the back wall of the hut. They run separate ways. Virginia runs into the jungle, escaping some night prowling beasts by climbing a tree. In the morning she climbs down and heads west. She is followed by a hyena, and when she climbs a tree again she is met by a great snake.
Taylor and Kelley bury Gootch and follow Virginia. Gordon hears Virginia’s scream and arrives in time to shoot the hyena. She explains why she has come to Africa -- to warn him about Taylor. Taylor comes upon Dick and Virginia, and before he can shoot them, Virginia grabs Dick’s pistol and wounds Taylor in the forearm. Taylor and Kelley get away, but plan to get even in America. Gordon and Virginia tell a party of big game hunters about the lion. They plan to capture him.
Dick Gordon is in love with Virginia. She likes him, but they do not speak of these things. While they wait on the coast for their steamer, the big game hunters bring in the caged lion. The lion remembers Gordon and growls a friendly greeting. Dick and Virginia sail to America. Taylor and Kelley follow on the next ship. Dick befriends the lion during the voyage. The lion becomes “Ben, King of Beasts, the Man-Eating Lion” in a traveling American circus.
When Dick and Virginia arrive in the USA, Virginia goes home with her mother. Dick takes a fishing vacation in Canada with a school buddy. Virginia wonders about the manila envelope (undelivered and unopened as yet!) so she writes to Dick about it. Kelley intercepts her letter. He realizes she does not have the marriage certificate. When Gordon returns from his vacation he decides to deliver the envelope in person. Though Virginia and her mother are gone for the evening, Dick arrives in Scottsville, Virginia and stays overnight at their home, The Oaks. He spends his time listening to the Negro servants playing banjos and singing. There is a train wreck nearby. Taylor and Kelley wait for Gordon to go to bed so they can murder him. Virginia and her mother telephone that they are returning that evening but have been delayed by a train wreck. Jackson, a servant, is sent to retrieve them by automobile.
The villains enter the house leaving the French doors open. Ben, King of Beasts, is aboard the wrecked train. Free, he walks to Virginia’s home and picks up the scent of his friend Gordon. The lion enters the house, picking up the scent of Kelly and Taylor. Ben kills Kelley and chases Taylor upstairs to Gordon’s room.
Washington Scott, servant, investigates and escapes Ben by leaping into a closet. (He breaks a hole in the floor in his hurry.) Taylor shoots at Gordon and misses. Gun jammed, they struggle. Gordon is knocked unconscious. Ben claws his way through the door to Gordon’s room. Taylor finds the envelope and escapes through the window. Gordon revives and discovers the envelope missing. He gets an old muzzle loader and follows Taylor. Jackson’s car breaks down as he brings Virginia and her mother home. Ben catches up with Taylor and kills him in the headlights of the stalled car. Ben walks over to Virginia. Her mother faints.
Gordon follows Taylor (and Ben). When he arrives at the car he tells Virginia to drive away. Gordon raises his rifle then, hoping it is Ben, he drops the gun and runs toward the lion. Gordon recognizes “his” lion just as three armed men arrive. Gordon shields the lion with his body and cries, “Don’t Shoot!” Gordon buys Ben, saying he will send him to the N.Y. zoo. Ben is led to the house tied to a tree. The envelope reveals valuable stock certificates but no marriage certificate. The will and marriage certificate are finally found in a hole in the cupboard where Washington hid from Ben. Virginia and Gordon go outside and kiss above the fierce and loyal head of Ben, King of Beasts.