Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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This story originally appeared in The Collector, May 1998. Reprinted by permission of the author.
CAPTURED BY UNCLE JACK
BY ANDY NUNEZ
Copyright © 1998, All Rights Reserved.
Editor's note: during the disastrous fire in the warehouse of Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. that occurred in 1958, a number of unusual items of interest were lost to the body of Burroughs fandom. It was not until recently that I chanced upon an item that was rescued from that tragic event. With a family to support, my ERB collecting had been limited to occasional trips to local bookstores and flea markets. However, I chanced upon one particular table at a market in Laurel Delaware that would considerably change my view of ERB's use of the word "fiction."
The vendor was an aged man, probably seventy years old. He appeared to have been robust in his youth, but the ravages of time had bent his once lank frame, stooping his formerly broad shoulders. Among the usual flea market clutter were some jacket-less hardbacks from the war years, and a document wrapped in plastic. There was a note stuck in with the document, and my once casual glance turned into an ill-concealed double-take. The signature on the note was unmistakably that of Ed Burroughs himself!
"This document seems out of place," I said to the wizened vendor. "What can you tell me about it."
"Truth is, I stole it," the man replied, running a gnarled hand through his white hair. "You see, I was a fire-fighter in Encino during the fifties, and we got an alarm to go out to Tarzana. I guess you know that's named after Tarzan."
I suppressed a smile and played along. "I have heard that, yes."
"Well, the fire was at the Tarzan warehouse, or the Burroughs office, I guess you'd say. The Burroughs guy that wrote Tarzan was dead, but they still sold his books there. We managed to get the fire under control, but the place was a mess. A stack of books had fallen over and busted up a bench. In the bench was a tin box. Well, the box was twisted open, and these papers were inside. I figured the Burroughs people would get sore if they saw me pocket a book, but just some odd papers, well, I could've said they were burnt and I was tossing them out. I don't know why I held on to them. It was just some junk about the Civil War. I'm living here with my daughter, now, and I'm getting rid of all my stuff."
"How much do you want for it?" I knew he was going to soak me.
"I really don't know," the old man said, looking uncertain. Age had dried up his thinking processes. "I guess the Civil War stuff might be valuable. Let's say five bucks."
"Ok, I won't argue," I agreed, and placed a fiver in his hand as rapidly as I could withdraw it from my wallet. He stashed the bill and handed me the document.
"Here you go. Hope you enjoy it."
I turned away and went back to my car in a daze. I sat down and read the note in the Master's own hand, unable to believe my luck:
"I wanted to include this is my mother's reminisces (Here he was obviously talking about Memoirs of a War Bride by Mary Evaline Burroughs), but in doing so would compromise the carefully wrought deception about my romances. I am putting this in a bench in the workshop so that it might not be found until long after the fact, when people will understand."
"Edgar Rice Burroughs"
I barely avoided a ticket driving home, and when you read this memoir by ERB's father, Major George Burroughs, you will understand why. It would probably fit in just after his first memoir in the back of his wife's book. I present it to you as I found it:
A FAMILIAR CAPTOR
As you know, this conflict divided families as well as the nation. I am reluctant to put this incident to paper, but the family must know of it, and must understand its heritage, so I will write it down in the hopes future generations will be enlightened. There is no record of my being captured, and with good reason. After my escape from Colonel Moseby, which I related earlier, I never went without my side-arm, quite prepared to sell my life dearly in the event I would encounter any guerillas, so as not to share the fate of Colonel Ohlenslager and Dr. Cook, who were shot by Moseby's men during the raid on our supply wagon.
Hating to be alone, I was again in the company of the redoubtable Captain Masters, never one to be in a hurry. I was at that time returning from the supply depot after having secured the necessary supplies for our regiment. The day was waning, and Masters requested we stop at a nearby inn for dinner. He claimed that he had been treated well there, and it would be a good resting spot for the horses.
The fall of night found us within sight of this rustic edifice, but I could perceive no light from its windows. Indeed, had its black rectangle not presented a clearly man-made silhouette against the twilight, I would have thought the road empty of human habitation. We drew reign in a grove of trees within sight of the inn to discuss the situation.
"I have a bad feeling about this," I said to Masters.
"Pshaw, George, this place is safe," he admonished. "I have eaten here numerous times."
"I think we should ride around back first, in case its an ambush," I cautioned.
"Too late, gentlemen," came a commanding voice from the trees around us. "We anticipated hesitancy upon the part of anyone approaching a dark inn, and hid in the trees instead. I would ask you to raise you hands."
We did as we were bade. I found the voice to be familiar in some way. While we were thus covered, a small party of men emerge from the black boles. They were dressed in the medium gray of Confederate cavalry, uniforms fairly intact, including the yellow piping on their pants. There were no more than six of these fellows, and I was glad to see that they comported themselves with a semblance of order instead of the brigandage that we had experienced earlier by some of Moseby's men.
Their leader was a tall man with steady gray eyes half-hidden by the brim of his hat. His men disarmed us of pistol and saber. We were then given leave to dismount. Though covered, we were treated with a certain respect by the rebels. Their leader came forward and touched the gold acorns that hung from the cords binding the crown of his hat in a mock salute. He spoke, and I recognized his voice as that of the one who had stopped us.
"In accordance with the honors of war, I declare you gentlemen my prisoners," said the man, by rank a captain. His face, like his voice seemed familiar.
"I place myself in your charge then, captain," I replied. "Might I know the name of my captor?"
"I am Captain John Carter of the First Virginia Cavalry," he said.
"Of the Virginia Carters of Hardy County?" I demanded.
"Correct, sir," He admitted. "You have the advantage of me."
"By coincidence, I am your distant nephew," I told him. "You are related by marriage to James Inskeep, son of Judge John Inskeep. My wife and I have been working on the genealogy of our family in spare moments. I believe that you and I met at a party before the war, in Chicago at a relative's marriage."
"I remember the marriage. You are Abner Burroughs' son."
"That's right," I agreed.
"Lieutenant Powell," Carter said to one of his men, "Entertain this other Yankee while I have a chat with my nephew."
He drew me off to one side, under a grove of trees. "I scarce can believe you to be my uncle," I told him. "You appear actually slightly younger than I, and I am 32."
His smile was engaging, and he doffed his hat to scratch at his short-cropped black hair before replacing it and speaking.
"There is something in that," he related, glancing sideways at his men, who were making sport of the unfortunate Masters. "It's something that gets noticed from time to time, no matter how hard I try. I can't explain it to you George, it's some trick of nature. I've always looked this way, no matter how old I get, and I am pretty old. I've stopped counting the years, and barely can keep track of all the wars I've fought in, both here and abroad. I'm telling you this because I feel a pulling, a yearning to be away from here."
"You mean leave the country?" I asked.
"Leave the country—leave the whole planet, if I could," he said sadly. Above us, the stars twinkled, among them the red eye of Mars. Carter seemed to focus on the planet of war for a moment, and I saw emotions ebb and flow through his rugged face as he gazed upon the crimson orb.
"You can't travel through the ether, Uncle Jack," I said, using the name I recalled from our introduction in Chicago. "It's impossible."
"One thing I have learned is that nothing is impossible, nephew," he said sadly. "There is nothing for me here. The war is nearly over. I amassed a fortune, but turned it all in for scrip, which will be worthless here shortly. There's gold to be found out West, so I may have to go there and start fresh. Time isn't my enemy, but there is a certain melancholy that is creeping on me. I feel this world to be a prison, and that my true destiny lies elsewhere, among the planets, and more than destiny, love. Well, I've rambled on long enough. I can't hold my own relative a prisoner, so I will let you and your man go on your own good conduct. Your equipment, of course, will be considered spoils of war, including your horses. No hard feelings, I hope."
"None, Uncle Jack," I said, smiling in respect for this man of honor.
"Good, then, let's go back. Oh, by the way, I am sure that I don't have to ask you on your word as an officer not to reveal what I have said to you. You will carry my secret to the next generation, revealing it only if I have been missing or found dead."
We returned to the rest. Uncle Jack's news that he was releasing us did not set well with his men, but their love for their leader overcame their truculence toward us, and we were given leave to go to the inn and from there get assistance. I have written this tale down exactly as it transpired, and have given my son Edgar Rice leave to add it to the memoirs compiled by my wife. After all, Captain Carter's body was found in the snow on a bluff overlooking the Hudson less than a decade after the war.
I still find it hard to believe that he passed to the next world so mundanely, though I often wonder as I stare at the unwinking eye of Mars, as to which world he actually passed to.