Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS'
David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 2000
Queen of Diamonds (Jukes)
This 1932 work was found among several unpublished manuscripts in the company safe by the author's estate. Pirate Blood feels like a first draft, particularly the second half which reads like an action-packed outline (ie. Chapters 1-6=40 pages, logical and leisurely paced, Chapters 7-13=60 pages, just short of incoherent and furiously paced). The "hero" of Pirate Blood is descended from Jean LaFitte, the corsair of the Gulf of Mexico. Johnny LaFitte of Glenora, California is offered by the author as an example of heredity vs. environment–and that "bad genes" will ultimately prevail lacking a proper environment.
Burroughs wrote about seamy characters in semi-heroic molds rather infrequently. The Efficiency Expert, The Girl From Hollywood and Pirate Blood fall into this category. Of note in Pirate Blood is the large number of cold-blooded murders, rape and enforced female sexual slavery, suicide, an illegitimate pregnancy between the "hero" and "heroine," and a total lack of regret or remorse by all of the characters.
That Ed Burroughs allowed an high action novella with few redeeming characteristics to languish from 1932 until his death in 1950 is not surprising. The premise of heredity vs. environment was valid as a plot device even as recently as the late 1960's, but the sketchy and bare-bones presentation as found in the manuscript offers little to no exploration of the theme. I imagine that Pirate Blood was written in a rush of passion and Burroughs intended to revise and expand entire sections, most especially Johnny LaFitte's second year on the Vulture's island. It is during this period that LaFitte and La Diablesa, the Vulture's unwilling mistress, embark upon their secret love affair. The "romance" of need and carnal desire between these characters would have been the heart and soul this novella-length outline of deeds and derring-do desperately needed to endear us to our man with "Pirate Blood" and his ruined woman.
I also suspect that Burroughs realized the near impossibility of setting down the details of that romance without requiring exposition filled with more sexuality than he or his audience–or the censors–might bear. Revision and expansion may have been intended; yet, I feel Ed Burroughs had no heart for the project knowing that few, if any, publishers would be willing to accept such a cold-blooded tale of illicit love. The world that Edgar Rice Burroughs knew was not yet ready for such torrid and steamy tales–it was more than twenty years after his death before main stream fiction embraced such literature. Yet, even in this abbreviated tale locked away for thirty-two years in the company safe, Ed Burroughs again showed that he was writing ahead of his time; if Pirate Blood had been published in the 1930s this tale would have paved the way for future torrid romance authors by showing a direction and writing style that would eventually be imitated by many.
NOTE: In 2002 I submitted an epanded version of the above comments to the Burroughs Bulletin, #53. An even more expanded version of that article can be found here.
INTRODUCTION (in Pirate Blood)
Open with Johnny LaFitte's last year as high school quarterback; last game of the year; pass intercepted. Sits out rest of the game. Four years later at university LaFitte is again second string, academically and athletically. Johnny and friendly rival Frank Adams discuss heredity, including the skeletons in lovely Daisy Jukes' family closet.
Chapter One -- SPEED COP
LaFitte explains that Mr. McCulloch has persuaded him to write an autobiography in Singapore. He begins with a bucolic home life, extending back to his great-great-great grandfather Jean LaFitte. Johnny recalls the Glenora oil strikes which benefit the families of his university chums, though his family fared not so well. LaFitte works as a motorcycle cop while studying law. Bill Perry, childhood friend, pours money and effort into a start up dirigible company. LaFitte fails the bar exam two years later. On a Saturday afternoon Johnny pursues a speeder, Daisy Jukes, a girl he has loved since grade school. She disappoints him because she's been drinking–and she announces her upcoming marriage to Frank Adams.
Chapter Two -- A MILLION IN LOOT
Next morning the bank reports a million in gold and securities missing; Bill Perry, a teller, is suspect. LaFitte is sent to prevent Perry's escape by dirigible. Johnny enters the airship to arrest Perry. Perry releases the mooring lines and battles with Johnny, who prevails and dumps over all the luggage, including the stolen items. When Perry revives and learns the loot is gone he powers the airship over the Pacific Ocean. LaFitte, unfamiliar with airships, is helpless to prevent Perry's pre-determined escape to the islands of the South Pacific, New Guinea, or the Philippines. That night Johnny wakes to find Perry standing over him.
Chapter Three -- ABOVE THE PACIFIC
Perry backs off. Johnny notices the airship is too close to the surface because of nighttime cooling. LaFitte makes a promise to continue west on nighttime watches–an alliance based on mutual survival. Over the next few days Perry explains navigation. During the flight Johnny reads or ponders genetics. The motor freezes on the sixth day. Perry attacks LaFitte, who knocks him out.
Chapter Four -- BATTLING A MANIAC
Johnny releases water ballast, stopping the blimp's descent. Perry revives, surly. The blimp gains altitude during the day but begins to descend after sundown. At midnight Perry wakes Johnny for his watch. Sometime later LaFitte sees they are only yards from the surface. While pitching items over the side, Perry shoves LaFitte out the door. Johnny saves himself and chokes Perry into submission, handcuffing the man. Fatigued, LaFitte sleeps until Perry attempts to kill him by biting through the jugular. Johnny defends himself, eventually binding the madman. Moments later Perry commits suicide, leaping through a window.
Chapter Five -- DERELICT OF THE AIR
Alone, and relived to be free of the murderous Perry, LaFitte thinks of Daisy Jukes and how cruel fate has played. The blimp rises, catches a southwesterly wind. LaFitte estimates 5,000 to 6,000 miles traveled. That night the blimp loses altitude as a gale begins. Desperate for altitude the young man jettisons the motor after arduous labor. In the morning he ditches the spent batteries and dumps accumulated water. Three days of violent winds transport the dirigible. Johnny sees a freighter below. He dons a parachute, waiting for the best time to jump.
Chapter Six -- INTO THE SEA
Before LaFitte jumps a huge wave sinks the freighter. Later, the storm passed, Johnny dismantles the gondola, jettisoning weight. The next morning the gondola floats on the surface, beginning to take on water. The young man severs the gondola ropes, releasing the gas bag and the tiny platform constructed the day before. The balloon ascends to a terrific height. LaFitte is chilled by low temperatures for two days and nights. The following day he sees an island. Putting the parachute on, he leaps, only to dangle at the end of a 10 foot lifeline he forgot to detach.
Chapter Seven -- THE VULTURE
Cutting the line, the parachute opens for the descent. The island is large and a vessel is anchored off shore. Men are seen, and they are discharging firearms at each other. The shore party is in retreat from the landing party. LaFitte is discovered, the fighting ceases; LaFitte lands between the two groups. Johnny shoots two of the landing party who attack him. The landing party retreats and rows out to the ship. LaFitte is questioned by a wounded white man and is taken to their "fortress." In the courtyard is a young woman who directs Johnny to tend the Spaniard's wounds–-the pirate chief known as the Vulture.
Chapter Eight -- LA DIABLESA
The Vulture, not sure how to take the American but fascinated by LaFitte nonetheless, orders Johnny to fetch La Diablesa, the French girl in the courtyard. She is to see LaFitte is quartered and fed, but before he leaves, Johnny declares he is going to join forces with the Vulture. Later, after a bath and shave, Johnny has lunch with La Diablesa, served by the Chinese cook Kao. LaFitte learns the woman is the unwilling mistress of the Vulture. She reveals the Vulture's sordid past and explains the bad blood between the Vulture and the Portugese–the leader of the landing party. La Diablesa responds to Johnny's inquiries: she had endured an arranged marriage, taken a voyage with her doddering old husband, and watched him murdered when the Vulture sacked the small yacht. Lunch continues.
Chapter Nine -- SECOND IN COMMAND
A month passes, the Vulture remains bed-ridden. LaFitte tends the pirate and acts as go-between with lieutenants Ludang and Sato. The Vulture likes LaFitte and so has let him live--then, too, he is reluctant to kill him "to keep the fallacy of white superiority clearly in their minds." Laving the Vulture, Johnny meets La Diablesa. She briefly flirts with him. Johnny intercepts Ludang, who is about to wake the Vulture. Ludang reports an English yacht in the harbor. LaFitte orders the Ludang to gather the men–the Eurasian gives in. LaFitte goes for his weapons, La Diablesa follows and demands a kiss, which is given. LaFitte meets the gathered pirates; Ludang and Sato are disinclined to take orders from the American. LaFitte replies by knocking Ludang down and enforcing his orders at gunpoint. Rowing out to the yacht with five men in a small boat, a man on the yacht fires and is killed by LaFitte. A short, bloody battle is fought–all aboard the ship are murdered. LaFitte brings the ship into the harbor, leaves it under guard and, followed by an admiring crowd of cutthroats, returns to the mansion. La Diablesa warns Johnny the Vulture is furious; LaFitte grins and goes to see the Spaniard.
Chapter Ten -- BETRAYED
The Vulture, though angry, accepts the fact that LaFitte is indeed second in command and appreciates having a ship once again. Nearly a year passes, the Vulture having many relapses. LaFitte captains the Senorita, the captured ship, and takes several rich prizes. LaFitte, though not thrilled with the necessary murders, leaves no witnesses. He does not kill women and children–the children are taken to the island and raised to be pirates and the women are used to breed more pirates. LaFitte causes more land to be cleared and farmed. The Vulture is not happy, but is not well enough to leave his bed. Meanwhile, LaFitte and La Diablesa carry on a clandestine romance, which could get both of them killed if the Vulture found out. Among the survivors are rumors of a white courtesan in Singapore, comments of which excite the Vulture. During the second year the Vulture prepares to leave the island with LaFitte in charge. La Diablesa begs LaFitte to kill the Vulture. If he steals the white woman and likes her better, he will kill La Diablesa. In any event, in a few months he will know she is pregnant with LaFitte's child and kill her anyway. Johnny comforts the girl in her room. They are observed by the Vulture and Ludang. La Diablesa screams for help, disarms LaFitte and knocks him out.
Chapter Eleven -- OVERBOARD
The Vulture has not killed LaFitte–-La Diablesa says she wants to be the one to kill him. The pirate believes La Diablesa has been true to him. He takes LaFitte on the Senorita to Singapore. Johnny finds a friend in Kao, the cook. In Singapore LaFitte is closely watched on board while the Vulture goes into the city. The Vulture returns and sets sail, angry that the Portugese has taken the woman he desired. Arriving at the Portugese's island, the Vulture plans a night attack. Kao warns Johnny the Vulture has ordered his murder. Barely escaping death, the American dives overboard.
Chapter Twelve -- THE QUEEN OF DIAMONDS
Swimming toward the island, LaFitte finds the Portugese's ship and hails it. He warns the pirate of the impending attack. Locked in the brig until the warning is proved, LaFitte is brought to the Portugese after the Vulture's men have been turned back with heavy losses. LaFitte offers his services to the pirate. Lil, a fat woman belonging to Pedro, shows interest in LaFitte. Pedro and Lil quarrel. The Portugese has Pedro take LaFitte to his quarters. The next morning Johnny learns the identity of "The Queen of Diamonds," the Portugese's woman–-Daisy Jukes, the girl Johnny had loved in Glenora–-now famous in the brothels of Singapore. Daisy reveals her fall from grace, that it must have been the genes of her ancestors, and that she had long loved him. Daisy then goes below and commits suicide.
Chapter Thirteen -- TO THE VICTOR
Bitter over Daisy's death, Johnny ponders the effects of heredity that had destroyed the woman and turned him to piracy. He also keenly remembers La Diablesa's betrayal. LaFitte plots his revenge against the French woman and the Vulture; yet, he still feels love for La Diablesa. Johnny convinces the Portugese to sail immediately to vanquish the weakened Vulture–-making himself first mate in process. LaFitte cleans up the ship, killing one man and crippling two others. Pedro, now a common sailor, is under mortal enemy Nigger Joe's watch. One night LaFitte saves Pedro from Nigger Joe's knife. LaFitte suggests Pedro be made second mate of the Coruña. Johnny leads the Coruña to a hidden cove on the Vulture's island. Splitting forces, the Portugese attacks the main barracks while Johnny, Pedro, and a handful of men enter the mansion. The Vulture's room is empty, La Diablesa is alone in her; LaFitte reviles her then leaves to find the Vulture. Waiting without, the Vulture knocks Johnny nearly senseless and takes him back to La Diablesa's room, binds him, and draws a knife to cut the woman's lover's heart out before her eyes. La Diablesa shoots the Vulture but cannot bring herself to kill LaFitte. She frees him and sends Johnny away. Later, victorious, LaFitte locates Kao, who reveals that La Diablesa loves LaFitte and the "betrayal" was a ruse meant to save the American's life. Hurrying back to the girl, he finds her in the Portugese's repulsive embrace. Johnny smashes the pirate. He goes to the girl, who declares her love. A sudden pistol shot startles both-–Pedro has killed the Portugese who was about to murder LaFitte. The autobiography ends two years later, the lovers living respectfully in Paris–-and Pedro, if not dead, in command of two ships and a company of cutthroats.