9. NU GOES TO FIND NAT-UL
NU, WEAK and sick, was indifferent to his fate. If he had been captured by enemies, well and good. He knew what to expect either slavery or death, for that was the way of men as Nu knew them. If slavery, there was always the chance to escape. If death, he would at least no longer suffer from loneliness in a strange world far from his own people and his matchless Nat-ul; whom he only saw now in his dreams.
He wondered what this strangely garbed stranger knew of Nat-ul. The man had most certainly spoken her name. Could it be possible that she, too, was a prisoner among these people? He had most certainly seen her in the garden before the strange cave where he had slain the diminutive Zor that had been about to devour her. That was no dream, he was positive, and so she must indeed be a prisoner.
As he recalled the lion he half smiled. What a runt of a beast it had been indeed! Why old Zor who hunted in the forest of the ape-people and dwelt in the caves upon the hither slopes of the Barren Hills would have snapped that fellow up in two bits. And Oo! A sneeze from Oo would have sent him scurrying into the Dark Swamp where Oo could not venture because of his great weight. It was an odd world in which Nu found himself. The country seemed almost barren to him, and yet he was in the heart of tropical Africa. The creatures seemed small and insignificant yet the lion he had killed was one of the largest that Brown or Greystoke had ever seen and he shivered, even in the heat of the equatorial sun.
How he longed for the world of his birth, with its mighty beasts, its gigantic vegetation, and its hot, humid atmosphere through which its great, blurred sun appeared grotesquely large and close at hand!
For a week they doctored Nu at the bungalow of the Greystokes. There were times when they despaired of his life, for the bullet wound that creased his temple clear to the skull had become infected; but at last he commenced to mend, and after that his recovery was rapid, for his constitution was that of untainted physical perfection.
The several searching parties returned one by one without a clue to the whereabouts of Victoria Custer. Barney knew that all was being done that could be done by his friends; but he clung tenaciously to the belief that the solution to the baffling mystery lay locked in the breast of the strange giant who was convalescing upon the cot that had been set up for him in Barney's own room, for such had been the young American's wish. Curtiss had been relegated to other apartments, and Barney stuck close to the bedside of his patient day and night.
His principal reasons for so doing were his wish to prevent the man's escape, and his desire to open some method of communication with the stranger as rapidly as possible. Already the wounded man had learned to make known his simpler wants in English, and the ease with which he mastered whatever Barney attempted to teach him assured the American of the early success of his venture in this direction.
Curtiss continued to view the stranger with suspicion and ill disguised hostility. He was positive that the man had murdered Victoria Custer, and failing to persuade the others that they should take justice into their own hands and execute the prisoner forthwith, be now insisted that he be taken to the nearest point at which civilization had established the machinery of law and turned over to the authorities.
Barney, on the other hand, was just as firm in his determination to wait until the man had gained a sufficient command of English to enable them to give him a fair hearing, and then be governed accordingly. He could not forget that there had existed some strange and inexplicable bond between this handsome giant and his sister, nor that unquestionably the man had saved her life when "old Raffles" had sprung upon her. Barney had loved, and lost because he had loved a girl beyond his reach and so his sympathies went out to this man who, he was confident, loved his sister. Uncanny as her dreams had been, Barney was forced to admit that there had been more to them than either Victoria or he had imagined, and now he felt that for Victoria's sake he should champion her dream-man in her absence.
One of the first things that Barney tried to impress upon the man was that he was a prisoner, and lest he should escape by night when Barney slept Greystoke set Terkoz to watch over him. But Nu did not seem inclined to wish to escape. His one desire apparently was to master the strange tongue of his captors. For two weeks after he was able to quit his bed he devoted his time to learning English. He had the freedom of the ranch, coming and going as he pleased, but his weapons were kept from him, hidden in Lord Greystoke's study, and Barney, sometimes with others of the household, always accompanied him.
Nu was waiting for Nat-ul. He was sure that she would come back again to this cave that his new acquaintances called a bungalow. Barney was waiting for the man to mention his sister. One day Curtiss came upon Nu sitting upon the veranda. Terkoz lay at his feet. Nu was clothed in khaki an old suit of Greystoke's being the largest that could be found upon the place, and that was none too large. As Curtiss approached, the wolfhound turned his wicked little eyes upon him, without moving his head from where it lay stretched upon his forepaws, and growled. Nu extended a booted foot across the beast's neck to hold him in check.
The hound's show of hostility angered Curtiss. He hated the brute, and he hated Nu as cordially just why, he did not know, for it seemed that his hatred of the stranger was a thing apart from his righteous anger in his belief that the man had guilty knowledge of the fate of Victoria Custer. He halted in front of the caveman.
"I want to ask you a question," he said coldly. "I have been wanting to do so for a long time; but there has always been someone else around."
Nu nodded. "What can Nu tell you?" he asked.
"You can tell me where Miss Custer is," replied Curtiss.
"Miss Custer? I do not know what you mean. I never heard of Miss Custer."
"You lie!" cried Curtiss, losing control of himself. "Her jacket was found beneath your head in that foul den of yours."
Nu came slowly to his feet.
"What does 'lie' mean?" he asked. "I do not understand all that people say to me, yet; but I can translate much from the manner and tone of the saying, and I do not like your tone, Curtiss."
"Answer my question," cried Curtiss. "Where is Victoria Custer? And when you speak to me remember that I'm Mr. Curtiss you damned white nigger."
"What does 'lie' mean?" persisted Nu. "And what is a 'nigger'? And why should I call you mister? I do not like the sound of your voice, Curtiss."
It was at this moment that Barney appeared. A single glance at the attitude of the two men warned him that he was barely in time to avert a tragedy. The black haired giant stood with the bristling wolfhound at his side. The attitude of the man resembled nothing more closely than that of a big, black panther tensed for a spring. Curtiss's hand was reaching for the butt of the gun at his hip. Barney stepped between them.
"What is the meaning of this, Curtiss?" he asked sharply. Curtiss had been a warm friend for years a friend of civilization, and luxury and ease. He had known Curtiss under conditions which gave Curtiss everything that Curtiss wished, and Curtiss had seemed a fine fellow, but lately, since Curtiss had been crossed and disappointed, he had found sides to the man's character that had never before presented themselves. His narrow and unreasoning hatred for the half savage white man had caused the first doubts in Barney's mind as to the breadth of his friend's character. And then most unpardonable of sins Curtiss had grumbled at the hardships of the field while the searching parties had been out. Butzow had told Barney of it, and of how Curtiss had shirked much of the work which the other white men had assumed when there had been a dearth of competent servants in the camp.
Curtiss made no reply to Barney's question. Instead he turned on his heel and walked away. Nu laid a hand upon the American's shoulder.
"What does 'lie' mean, Custer?" he asked.
Barney tried to explain.
"I see," said Nu. "And what is a 'nigger' and a 'mister'?"
Again Barney did his best to explain.
"Who is Miss Custer?" Nu asked.
Barney looked at the man in surprise.
"Do you not know?" he asked.
"Why should I?"
"She is my sister," said Barney, looking closely at the man.
"Your sister?" questioned Nu. "I did not know you had a sister, Custer."
"You did not know my sister, Nat-ul?" cried Barney.
"Nat-ul!" exclaimed the man. "Nat-ul your sister?"
"Yes. I supposed that you knew it."
"But you are not Aht, son of Tha," said Nu, "and Nat-ul had no other brother."
"I am brother of the girl you saved from the lion in the garden yonder," said Barney. "Is it she you know as Nat-ul?"
"She was Nat-ul."
"Where is she?" cried Barney.
"I do not know," replied Nu. "I thought that she was a prisoner among you and I have been waiting here quietly for her to be brought back."
"You saw her last," said Barney. The time had come to have it out with this man. "You saw her last. She was in your cave in the mountain. We found her jacket there, and beside the spring this dog lay senseless. What became of her?"
Nu stood with an expression of dull incomprehension upon his fine features. It was as though he had received a stunning blow.
"She was there?" he said at last in a low voice. "She was there in my cave and I thought it was but a dream. She has gone away, and for many days I have remained here doing nothing while she roams amidst the dangers of the forest alone and unprotected. Unless," his tone became more hopeful, "she has found her way back to our own people among the caves beside the Restless Sea. But how could she? Not even I, a man and a great hunter, can even guess in what direction lies the country of my father, Nu. Perhaps you can tell me?"
Barney shook his head. His disappointment was great. He had been sure that Nu could cast some light upon the whereabouts of Victoria. He wondered if the man was telling him the truth. Doubts began to assail him. It seemed scarce credible that Victoria could have been in the fellow's lair without his knowing of her presence. That she had been there there seemed little or no doubt. The only other explanation was that Nu had, as Curtiss had suggested, stolen her from the vicinity of the bungalow, killed her, and taken his spear and her coat back to his cave with him; but that did not account for the presence of the hound or the beast's evident loyalty to the man.
Nu had turned from the veranda and entered the bungalow. Barney followed him. The cave man was hunting about the house for something.
"What are you looking for?" asked the American.
"My spear," replied Nu.
"What do you want of it?"
"I'm going to find Nat-ul."
Barney laid a hand upon the other's arm.
"No," he said, "you are not going away from here until we find my sister you are a prisoner. Do you understand?"
The cave man drew himself to his full height. There was a sneer upon his lip. "Who can prevent me?"
Barney drew his revolver. "This," he said,
For a moment the man seemed plunged in thought. He looked at the menacing gun, and then off through the open windows toward the distant hills.
"I can wait, for her sake," he said.
"Don't make any attempt to escape," warned Barney. "You will be watched carefully. Terkoz will give the alarm even if he should be unable to stop you, though as a matter of fact he can stop you easily enough. Were I you I should hate to be stopped by Terkoz he is as savage as a lion when aroused, and almost as formidable."
Barney did not see the smile that touched the cave man's lips at this for he had turned away to resume his chair upon the veranda. Later Barney told the others that Nu seemed to realize the futility of attempting to get away, but that night he locked their door securely, placed the key under his pillow and drew his cot beneath the double windows of their room. It would take a mighty stealthy cat, thought he, to leave the apartment without arousing him, even were Terkoz not stretched beside the prisoner's cot.
About midnight the cave man opened his eyes. The regular breathing of the American attested the soundness of his slumber. Nu extended a hand toward the sleeping Terkoz, at the same time making a low, purring sound with his lips. The beast raised his head.
"Sh-h!" whispered Nu. Then he rose to a sitting posture, and very carefully put his feet to the floor. Stooping he lifted the heavy wolfhound in his arms. The only sign the animal made was to raise his muzzle to the man's face and lick his cheek. Nu smiled. He recalled Custer's words: "Terkoz will give the alarm even if he should be unable to stop you."
The troglodyte approached the cot on which Barney lay in peaceful slumber. He rested one hand upon the sill of the open window, leaning across the sleeper. Without a sound he vaulted over the cot, through the window and alighted noiselessly upon the veranda without. In the garden he deposited Terkoz, telling him to wait there, then he returned to the living room of the bungalow to fetch his spear, his hatchet and his knife. A moment later the figures of a naked man and a gaunt wolfhound swung away beneath the tropic moon across the rolling plain toward the mountains to the south.
IT WAS daylight when Barney Custer awoke. His first thought was for his prisoner, and when his eyes fell upon the empty cot across the room the American came to the center of the floor with a single bound. Clad in his pajamas he ran out into the living room and gave the alarm. In another moment the search was on, but no sign of the caveman was to be found, nor of the guardian Terkoz.
"He must have killed the dog," insisted Greystoke; but they failed to find the beast's body, for the excellent reason that at that very moment Terkoz, bristling with anger, was nosing about the spot where, nearly a month before, he had been struck down by the Arab, as he had sought to protect the girl to whom he had attached himself.
As he searched the spot his equally savage companion hastened to the cave further up the mountainside, and with his knife unearthed the head of Oo which he had buried there in the soft earth of a crevice within the lair. The trophy was now in a rather sad state of putrefaction, and Nu felt that he must forego the pleasure of laying it intact at the feet of his future mate; but the great saber-teeth were there and the skull. He removed the former, fastening them to his gee-string and laid the balance of the head outside the cave where vultures might strip it clean of flesh against Nu's return, for he did not wish to be burdened with it during his search for Nat-ul.
A deep bay from Terkoz presently announced the finding of the trail and at the signal Nu leaped down the mountainside where the impatient beast awaited him. A moment later the two savage trailers were speeding away upon the spoor of the Arab slave and ivory raiders. Though the trail was old it still was sufficiently plain for these two. The hound's scent was but a trifle more acute than his human companion's, but the man depended almost solely upon the tell-tale evidences which his eyes could apprehend, leaving the scent-spoor to the beast, for thus it had been his custom to hunt with the savage wolfish progenitors of Terkoz a hundred thousand years before.
They moved silently and swiftly through the jungle, across valleys, over winding hill-trails, wherever the broad path of the caravan led. In a day they covered as much ground as the caravan had covered in a week. By night they slept at the foot of some great tree, the man and beast curled up together; or crawled within dark caves when the way led through the mountains; or, when Zor, the lion, was abroad the man would build a rude platform high among the branches of a tree that he and the hound might sleep in peace throughout the night.
Nu saw strange sights that filled him with wonder and sealed his belief that he had been miraculously transferred to another world. There were villages of black men, some of which gave evidence of recent conflict. Burned huts, and mutilated corpses were all that remained of many, and in others only a few old men and women were to be seen.
He also passed herds of giraffe a beast that had been unknown in his own world, and many elephant which reminded him of Gluh, the mammoth. But all these beasts were smaller than those he had known in his other life, nor nearly so ferocious. Why, he could scarce recall a beast of any description that did not rush into a death struggle with the first member of another species which it came upon provided, of course, that it stood the slightest show of dispatching its antagonist. Of course there had been the smaller and more timid animals whose entire existence had consisted in snatching what food they could as they fled through the savage days and awful nights of that fierce age in the perpetual effort to escape or elude the countless myriads of huge carnivora and bellicose ruminants whose trails formed a mighty network from pole to pole.
So to Nu the jungles of Africa seemed silent and deserted places. The beasts, even the more savage of them, seldom attacked except in hunger or the protection of their young. Why, he had passed within a dozen paces of a great herd of these diminutive, hairless mammoths and they had but raised their little, pig eyes and glanced at him, as they flapped their great ears back and forth against the annoying flies and browsed upon the branches of young trees.
The ape-people seemed frightened out of their wits at his approach, and he had even seen the tawny bodies of lions pass within a stone's throw of him without charging. It was amazing. Life in such a world would scarce be worth the living. It made him lonelier than ever to feel that he could travel for miles without encountering a single danger.
Far behind him along the trail of the Arabs came a dozen white men and half a hundred savage Waziri warriors. Not an hour after Barney Custer discovered Nu's absence a native runner had come hurrying in from the north to beg Lord Greystoke's help in pursuing and punishing a band of Arab slave and ivory raiders who were laying waste the villages, murdering the old men and the children and carrying the young men and women into slavery.
While Greystoke was questioning the fellow he let drop the fact that among the other prisoners of the Arabs was a young white woman. Instantly commotion reigned upon the Greystoke ranch. White men were jumping into field khaki, looking to firearms and ammunition lest their black body servants should have neglected some essential. Stable boys were saddling the horses, and the sleek, ebon warriors of Uziri were greasing their black hides, adjusting barbaric war bonnets, streaking faces, breasts, limbs and bellies with ocher, vermillion or ghastly bluish white, and looking to slim shield, poisoned arrow and formidable war spear.
For a time the fugitive was forgotten, but as the march proceeded they came upon certain reminders that recalled him to their thoughts and indicated that he was far in advance of them upon the trail of the Arabs. The first sign of him was the carcass of a bull buffalo. Straight through the heart was the great hole that they now knew was made by the passage of the ancient, stone tipped spear. Strips had been knife cut from the sides, and the belly was torn as though by a wild beast. Brown stooped to examine the ground about the bull. When he straightened up he looked at Greystoke and laughed.
"Didn't I understand you to say that he must have killed the dog?" he asked. "Look here they ate side by side from the body of their kill."
FOR THREE WEEKS now Victoria Custer had been a prisoner of Sheik Ibn Aswad, but other than the ordinary hardships of African travel she had experienced nothing of which she might complain. She had even been permitted to ride upon one of the few donkeys that still survived, and her food was as good as that of Ibn Aswad himself, for the canny old sheik knew that the better the condition of his prisoner the better the price she would bring at the court of the sultan of Fulad.
Abul Mukarram, Ibn Aswad's right hand man, a swaggering young Arab from the rim of the Sahara, had cast covetous eyes upon the beautiful prisoner, but the old sheik delivered himself of a peremptory no when his lieutenant broached a proposal to him. Then Abul Mukarram, balked in his passing desire found the thing growing upon him until the idea of possessing the girl became a veritable obsession with him.
Victoria, forced to it by necessity, had picked up enough of the language of the sons of the desert to be able to converse with them, and Abul Mukarram often rode at her side feasting his eyes upon her face and figure the while he attempted to ingratiate himself into her esteem by accounts of his prowess; but when at last he spoke of love the girl turned her flushed and angry face away from him, and reining in her donkey refused to ride further beside him.
Ibn Aswad from afar witnessed the altercation, and when he rode to Victoria's side and learned the truth of the matter he berated Abul Mukarram roundly, ordered him to the rear of the column and placed another Arab over the prisoner. Thereafter the venomous looks which the discredited Abul cast upon Victoria oftentimes caused her to shudder inwardly, for she knew that she had made a cruel and implacable enemy of the man.
Ibn Aswad had given her but a hint of the fate which awaited her, yet it had been sufficient to warn her that death were better than the thing she was being dragged through the jungles to suffer. Every waking minute her mind was occupied with plans for escape, yet not one presented itself which did not offer insuperable obstacles.
Even had she been able to leave the camp undetected how long could she hope to survive in the savage jungle? And should, by some miracle, her life be spared even for months, of what avail would that be, for she could no more have retraced her way to Lord Greystoke's ranch than she could have laid a true course upon the trackless ocean.
The horrors of the march that passed daily in hideous review before her left her sick and disgusted. The cruelly beaten slaves who carried the great burdens of ivory, tents and provisions brought tears to her eyes. The brutal massacres that followed the forcible entrance into each succeeding village wrung her heart and aroused her shame for those beasts in human form who urged on their savage and cowardly Manyuema cannibals to commit nameless excesses against the cowering prisoners that fell into their hands.
But at last they came to a village where victory failed to rush forward and fall into their arms. Instead they were met with sullen resistance. Ferocious, painted devils fought them stubbornly every inch of the way, until Ibn Aswad decided to make a detour and pass around the village rather than sacrifice more of his followers.
In the confusion of the fight, and the near-retreat which followed it, Abul Mukarram found the opportunity he had been awaiting. The prisoners, including the white girl, were being pushed ahead of the retreating raiders, while the Arabs and Manyuema brought up the rear, fighting off the pursuing savages.
Now Abul Mukarram knew a way to the northland that two might traverse with ease, and over which one could fairly fly; but which was impossible for a slave caravan because it passed through the territory of the English. If the girl would accompany him willingly, well and good if not, then he would go alone but not before he had committed upon her the revenge he had planned. He left the firing line, therefore, and pushed his way through the terror stricken slaves to the side of the Arab who guarded Victoria Custer.
"Go back to Ibn Aswad," he said to the Arab. "He desires your presence."
The other looked at him closely for a moment. "You lie, Abul Mukarram," he said at last. "Ibn Aswad commanded me particularly against permitting you to be alone with the girl. Go to!"
"Fool!" muttered Abul Mukarram, and with the word he pulled the trigger of the long gun that rested across the pummel of his saddle with its muzzle scarce a foot from the stomach of the other Arab. With a single shriek the man lunged from his donkey.
"Come!" cried Abul Mukarram, seizing the bridle of Victoria's beast and turning into the jungle to the west.
The girl tried to slip from her saddle, but a strong arm went about her waist and held her firm as the two donkeys forged, shoulder to shoulder through the tangled mass of creepers which all but blocked their way. Once Victoria screamed for help, but the savage war cries of the natives drowned her voice. Fifteen minutes later the two came out upon the trail again that they had followed when they approached the village and soon the sounds of the conflict behind them grew fainter and fainter until they were lost entirely in the distance.
Victoria Custer's mind was working rapidly, casting about for some means of escape from the silent figure at her side. A revolver or even a knife would have solved her difficulty, but she had neither. Had she, the life of Abul Mukarram would have been worth but little, for the girl was beside herself with hopeless horror of the fate that now loomed so close at hand. The thought that she had not even the means to take her own life left her numb and cold. There was but one way; to battle with tooth and nail until, in anger, the man himself should kill her; yet until the last moment she might hope against hope for the succor which she knew in her heart of hearts it was impossible to receive.
For the better part of two hours Abul Mukarram kept on away from the master he had robbed. He spoke but little, and when he did it was in the tone of the master to his slave. Near noon they left the jungle and came out into a higher country where the space between the trees was greater, and there was little or no underbrush. Traveling was much easier here and they made better time. They were still retracing the trail along which the caravan had traveled. It would be some time during the next morning that they would turn north again upon a new trail.
Beside a stream Abul Mukarram halted. He tethered the donkeys, and then turned toward the girl. "Come," he said, and laid his hand upon her.
EACH DAY Nu realized that he was gaining rapidly upon those with whom Nat-ul traveled. The experiences of his other life assured him that she must be a prisoner, yet at the same time he realized that such might not be the case at all, for had he not thought her a prisoner among the others who had held him prisoner, only to learn that one of them claimed her as a sister. It all seemed very strange to Nu. It was quite beyond him. Nat-ul could not be the sister of Custer, and yet he had seen her apparently happy and contented in the society of these strangers, and Custer unquestionably appeared to feel for her the solicitude of a brother. Curtiss, it was evident, loved Nat-ul that much he had gleaned from conversations he had overheard between him and Custer. How the man could have become so well acquainted with Nat-ul between the two days that had elapsed since Nu had set forth from the caves beside the Restless Sea to hunt down Oo and the morning that he had awakened following the mighty shaking of the world was quite as much a mystery as was the remarkable changes that had taken place in the aspect of the world during the same brief period. Nu had given much thought to those miraculous happenings, with the result that he had about convinced himself that he must have slept much longer than he had believed; but that a hundred thousand years had rolled their slow and weary progress above his unconscious head could not, of course, have occurred to him even as the remotest of possibilities.
He had also weighed the sneering words of Curtiss and with them the attitude of the strangers with whom he had been thrown. He had quickly appreciated the fact that their manners and customs were as far removed from his as they were from those of the beasts of the jungle. He had seen that his own ways were more in accordance with the ways of the black and half naked natives whom the whites looked upon as so much their inferiors that they would not even eat at the same table with them.
He had noted the fact that the blacks treated the other whites with a marked respect which they did not extend to Nu, and being no fool Nu had come to the conclusion that the whites themselves looked upon him as an inferior, even before Curtiss's words convinced him of the truth of his suspicions. Evidently, though his skin was white, he was in some subtile way different from the other whites. Possibly it was in the matter of raiment. He had tried to wear the strange body coverings they had given him, but they were cumbersome and uncomfortable and though he was seldom warm enough now he had nevertheless been glad when the opportunity came to discard the hampering and unaccustomed clothing.
These thoughts suggested the possibility that if Nat-ul had found recognition among the strangers upon an equal footing with them that she, too, might have those attributes of superiority which the strangers claimed, and if such was the fact it became evident that she would consider Nu from the viewpoint of her new friends as an inferior.
Such reveries made Nu very sad, for he loved Nat-ul just as you or I would love just as normal white men have always loved with a devotion that placed the object of his affection upon a pedestal before which he was happy to bow down and worship. His passion was not of the brute type of the inferior races which oftentimes solemnizes the marriage ceremony with a cudgel and ever places the woman in the position of an inferior and a chattel.
Even as Nu pondered the puzzling questions which confronted him his eyes and ears were alert as he sped along the now fresh trail of the caravan. Every indication pointed the recent passing of many men, and the troglodyte was positive that he could be but a few hours behind his quarry.
A few miles east of him the rescue party from the Greystoke ranch were pushing rapidly ahead upon a different trail with a view to heading off the Arabs. Ibn Aswad had taken a circuitous route in order that he might pass around the country of the Waziri, and with his slow moving slave caravan he had now reached a point but a few days' journey in a direct line from the ranch. The lightly equipped pursuers having knowledge of the route taken by the Arabs from the messenger who had come to seek their assistance had not been compelled to follow the spoor of their quarry but instead had marched straight across country in a direct line for a point which they believed would bring them ahead of the caravan.
Thus it was that Nu and Terkoz, and the party of whites and Waziri from the ranch were closing in upon Ibn Aswad from opposite directions simultaneously; but Nu was not destined to follow the trail of the raiders to where they were still engaged in repelling the savage attacks of the fierce Wamboli, for as he trotted along with the dog at his side his quick eyes detected that which the hound, with all his wondrous instinctive powers, would have passed by, unnoticing the well-marked prints of the hoofs of two donkeys that had come back along the trail since the caravan had passed.
That they were donkeys belonging to the Arabs was evident to Nu through his familiarity with the distinctive hoof prints of each, which during the past three days had become as well known to him as his mother's face had been. But what were they doing retracing the way they had but just covered! Nu halted and raised his head to sniff the air and listen intently for the faintest sound from the direction in which the beasts had gone when they left the old trail at the point where he had discovered their spoor.
But the wind was blowing from the opposite direction, so there was no chance that Nu could scent them. He was in doubt as to whether he should leave the trail of the main body and follow these two, or continue on his way. From the manner of their passing side by side he was convinced that each carried a rider, since otherwise they would have gone in single file after the manner of beasts moving along a none too wide trail; but there was nothing to indicate that either rider was Nat-ul.
For an instant he hesitated, and then his judgment told him to keep on after the main body, for if Nat-ul was a prisoner she would be with the larger force not riding in the opposite direction with a single guard. Even as he turned to take up the pursuit again there came faintly to his ears from the jungle at his left the sound of a human voice it was a woman's, raised in frightened protest.
Like a deer Nu turned and leaped in the direction of that familiar voice. The fleet wolfhound was put to it to keep pace with the agile caveman, for Nu had left the earth and taken to the branches of the trees where no underbrush retarded his swift flight. From tree to tree he leaped or swung, sometimes hurling his body twenty feet through the air from one jungle giant to another. Below him raced the panting Terkoz, red tongue lolling from his foam flecked mouth; but with all their speed the two moved with the noiselessness of shadowy ghosts.
At the edge of the jungle Nu came upon a parklike forest, and well into this he saw a white robed Arab forcing a woman slowly backward across his knee. One sinewy, brown hand clutched her throat, the other was raised to strike her in the face.
Nu saw that he could not reach the man in time to prevent the blow, but he might distract his attention for the moment that would be required for him to reach his side. From his throat there rose the savage war cry of his long dead people a cry that brought a hundred jungle creatures to their feet trembling in fear or in rage according to their kind. And it brought Abul Mukarram upstanding too, for in all his life he had never heard the like of that blood-freezing challenge.
At the sight which met his eyes he dropped the girl and darted toward his donkey where hung his long barreled rifle in its boot. Victoria Custer looked, too, and what she saw brought unutterable relief and happiness to her. Then the Arab had turned with levelled gun just as the caveman leaped upon him. There was the report of the firearm ere it was wrenched from Abul Mukarram's grasp and hurled to one side, but the bullet went wide of its mark and the next instant the girl saw the two men locked in what she knew was a death struggle. The Arab struck mighty blows at the head and face of his antagonist, while the caveman, the great muscles rolling beneath his smooth hide, sought for a hold upon the other's throat.
About the two the vicious wolfhound slunk growling with bristling hair, waiting for an opportunity to rush in upon the white robed antagonist of his master. Victoria Custer, her clenched fists tight pressed against her bosom, watched the two men who battled for her. She saw the handsome black head of her savage man bend lower and lower toward the throat of his foeman, and when the strong, white teeth buried themselves in the jugular of the other it was with no sickening qualm of nausea that the girl witnessed the bestial act.
She heard the half wolfish growl of Nu as he tasted the hot, red blood of his enemy. She saw the strong jaws tear and rend the soft flesh of the Arab's throat. She saw the powerful hands bend back the head of the doomed Abul Mukarram. She saw her ferocious mate shake the man as a terrier shakes a rat, and her heart swelled in fierce primitive pride at the prowess of her man.
No longer did Victoria Custer exist. It was Nat-ul, the savage maiden of the Niocene who, as Nu threw the lifeless corpse of his kill to one side, and opened his arms, flung herself into his embrace. It was Nat-ul, daughter of Tha Nat-ul of the tribe of Nu that dwelt beyond the Barren Cliffs beside the Restless Sea who threw her arms about her lord and master's neck and drew his mouth down to her hot lips.
It was Nat-ul of the first born who watched Nu and the fierce wolfhound circle about the corpse of the dead Arab. The caveman, moving in the graceful, savage steps of the death dance of his tribe, now bent half over, now leaping high in air, throwing his stone-tipped spear aloft, chanting the weird victory song of a dead and buried age, and beside him his equally savage mate squatted upon her haunches beating time with her slim, white hands.
When the dance was done Nu halted before Nat-ul. The girl rose, facing him and for a long minute the two stood in silence looking at one another. It was the first opportunity that either had had to study the features of the other since the strange miracle that had separated them. Nu found that some subtle change had taken place in his Nat-ul. It was she of that there could be no doubt; but yet there was that about her which cast a spell of awe over him she was infinitely finer and more wonderful than he ever had realized.
With the passing of the excitement of the battle and the dance the strange ecstasy which had held the girl in thrall passed slowly away. The rhythm of the dancing of the savage, black haired giant had touched some chord within her which awoke the long dormant instinct of the primordial. For the time she had been carried back a hundred thousand years to the childhood of the human race she had not known for those brief instants Victoria Custer, or the twentieth century, or its civilization, for they were yet a thousand centuries in the future.
But now she commenced once more to look through the eyes of generations of culture and refinement. Before her she saw a savage, primitive man. In his eyes was the fire of a great love that would not for long be denied. About her she saw the wild, fierce forest and the cruel jungle, and behind all this, and beyond, her vision wandered to the world she had always known the world of cities and homes and gentle-folk. She saw her father and her mother and her friends. What would they say?
Again she let her eyes rest upon the man. It was with difficulty that she restrained a mad desire to throw herself upon his broad breast and weep out her doubts and fears close to the beating of his great heart and in the safety of those mighty, protecting arms. But with the wish there arose again the question what would they say? held her trembling and frightened from him.
The man saw something of the girl's trouble in her eyes, but he partially misinterpreted it, for he read fear of himself where there was principally self-fear, and because of what he had heard Curtiss say he thought that he saw contempt too, for primitive people are infinitely more sensitive than their more sophisticated brothers.
"You do not love me, Nat-ul?" he asked. "Have the strangers turned you against me? What one of them could have fetched you the head of Oo, the man hunter? See!" He tapped the two great tusks that hung from his loin cloth. "Nu slew the mightiest of beasts for his Nat-ul the head is buried in the cave of Oo yet now that I come to take you as my mate I see fear in your eyes and something else which never was there before. What is it, Nat-ul have the strangers stolen your love from Nu?"
The man spoke in a tongue so ancient that in all the world there lived no man who spoke or knew a word of it, yet to Victoria Custer it was as intelligible as her own English, nor did it seem strange to her that she answered Nu in his own language.
"My heart tells me that I am yours, Nu," she said, "but my judgment and my training warn me against the step that my heart prompts. I love you; but I could not be happy to wander, half naked, through the jungle for the balance of my life, and if I go with you now, even for a day, I may never return to my people. Nor would you be happy in the life that I lead it would stifle and kill you. I think I see now something of the miracle that has overwhelmed us. To you it has been but a few days since you left your Nat-ul to hunt down the ferocious Oo; but in reality countless ages have rolled by. By some strange freak of fate you have remained unchanged during all these ages until now you step forth from your long sleep an unspoiled cave man of the stone age into the midst of the twentieth century, while I, doubtless, have been born and reborn a thousand times, merging from one incarnation to another until in this we are again united. Had you, too, died and been born again during all these weary years no gap of ages would intervene between us now and we should meet again upon a common footing as do other souls, and mate and die to be born again to a new mating and a new life with its inevitable death. But you have defied the laws of life and death you have refused to die and now that we meet again at last a hundred thousand years lie between us an unbridgable gulf across which I may not return and over which you may not come other than by the same route which I have followed through death and a new life thereafter."
Much that the girl said was beyond Nu's comprehension, and the most of it without the scope of his primitive language so that she had been forced to draw liberally upon her twentieth century English to fill in the gaps, yet Nu had caught the idea in a vague sort of way at least that his Nat-ul was far removed from him because of a great lapse of time that had occurred while he slept in the cave of Oo, and that through his own death alone could he span the gulf between them and claim her as his mate.
He placed the butt of his spear upon the ground, resting the stone tip against his heart. "I go, Nat-ul," he said simply, "that I may return again as you would have me no longer the 'white nigger' that Curtiss says I am."
The girl and the man were so occupied and engrossed with their own tragedy that they did not note the restless pacing of Terkoz, the wolfhound, or hear the ominous growls that rumbled from his savage throat as he looked toward the jungle behind them.
THE SEARCHING party from the Greystoke ranch had come upon Ibn Aswad so unexpectedly that not a shot had been exchanged between the two parties. The Arabs pressed from behind by the savage Wamboli warriors had literally run into the arms of the whites and the Waziri.
When Greystoke demanded that the white girl be turned over to him at once Ibn Aswad smote his breast and swore that there had been no white girl with them, but one of the slaves told a different story to a Waziri, and when the whites found that Victoria had been stolen from Ibn Aswad by one of the sheik's lieutenants only a few hours before they hastened to scour the jungle in search of her.
To facilitate their movements and insure covering as wide a territory as possible each of the whites took a few Waziri and spreading out in a far flung skirmish line beat the jungle in the direction toward which the slave had told them Abul Mukarram had ridden.
To comb the jungle finely each white spread his Waziri upon either side of him and thus they advanced, seldom in sight of one another; but always within hailing distance. And so it happened that chance brought William Curtiss, unseen, to the edge of the jungle beside the park-like forest beneath the giant trees of which he saw a tableau that brought him to a sudden halt.
There was the girl he loved and sought, apparently unharmed; and two donkeys; and the dead body of an Arab; and the great wolfhound, looking toward his hiding place and growling menacingly; and before the girl the savage white man stood. Curtiss was about to spring forward when he saw the man place the butt of his spear upon the ground and the point against his heart. The act and the expression upon the man's face proclaimed his intention, and so Curtiss drew back again waiting for the perpetration of the deed that he knew was coming. A smile of anticipation played about the American's lips.
Victoria Custer, too, guessed the thing that Nu contemplated. It was, in accordance with her own reasoning, the only logical thing for the man to do; but love is not logical, and when love saw and realized the imminence of its bereavement it cast logic to the winds, and with a little scream of terror the girl threw herself upon Nu of the Niocene, striking the spear from its goal.
"No! No!" she cried. "You must not do it. I cannot let you go. I love you, Nu; oh, how I love you," and as the strong arms infolded her once more she gave a happy sigh of content and let her head drop again upon the breast of him who had come back out of the ages to claim her.
The man put an arm about her waist, and together the two turned toward the west in the direction that Abul Mukarram had been fleeing; nor did either see the white faced, scowling man who leaped from the jungle behind them, and with leveled rifle took deliberate aim at the back of the black haired giant.
Nor did they see the swift spring of the wolfhound, nor the thing that followed there beneath the brooding silence of the savage jungle.
Ten minutes later Barney Custer broke through the tangled wall of verdure upon a sight that took his breath away there stood the two patient donkeys, switching their tails and flapping their long ears; beside them lay the corpse of Abul Mukarram, and upon the edge of the jungle, at his feet, was stretched the dead body of William Curtiss, his breast and throat torn by savage fangs. Across the clearing a great, gaunt wolfhound halted in its retreat at the sound of Barney's approach. It bared its bloody fangs in an ominous growl of warning, and then turned and disappeared into the jungle.
Barney advanced and examined the soft ground about the donkeys and the body of the Arab. He saw the imprints of a man's naked feet, and the smaller impress of a woman's riding boot. He looked toward the jungle where Terkoz had disappeared.
What had his sister gone to within the somber, savage depths beyond? What would he bring her back to were he to follow after? He doubted that she would come without her dream-man. Where would she be happier with him in the pitiless jungle which was the only world he knew, or in the still more pitiless haunts of civilized men?
VICTORIA CUSTER was aware that Barney Custer, her brother, was forcing his way through the jungle behind them that he was coming to take her away from Nu.
Many lifetimes of culture and refinement plead with her to relinquish her mad, idyllic purpose to give up her savage man and return to the protection and comforts that her brother and civilization represented. But there was still another force at work, older by far than the brief span of cultivation that had marked the advancement of her more recent forebears the countless ages of prehistoric savagery in which the mind and heart and soul of man were born the countless awful ages that have left upon the soul and heart and mind of man an impress that will endure so long as man endures. From out of that black abyss before man had either mind or soul there still emanates the same mighty power that was his sole master then instinct.
And it was instinct that drove Victoria Custer deeper into the jungle with her savage lover as she sensed the nearer approach of her brother one of the two master instincts that have dominated and preserved life upon the face of the earth. Yet it was not without a struggle. She hesitated, half turning backward. Nu cast a questioning look upon her.
"They are coming, Nat-ul," he said. "Nu cannot fight these strange men who hurl lead with the thunders they have stolen from the skies. Come! We must hurry back to the cave of Oo, and on the morrow we shall go forth and search for the tribe of Nu, my father, that dwells beyond the Barren Cliffs beside the Restless Sea. There, in our own world, we shall be happy."
And yet the girl held back, afraid. Then the man gathered her in his mighty arms and ran on in the direction of the cave of Oo, the saber-toothed tiger. The girl did not even struggle to escape, instead she lay quietly, as over her fell a sensation of peace and happiness, as though, after a long absence, she was being borne home. And at their heels trotted Terkoz, the wolfhound.
Sometimes Nu took to the lower branches of the trees, for in her own age his race had been semiarboreal. Here he traveled with the ease and agility of a squirrel, though oftentimes the modern woman that still lived in the breast of Victoria Custer quailed at the dizzy leaps, and the swaying, perilous trail. Yet, as they fled, her fears were greatest now that they might be overtaken, and herself snatched back into the world of civilization where her Nu could never follow.
It was dusk of the third evening when they came again to the cave of Oo. Up the steep cliff side they clambered, hand in hand. Together they entered the dark and forbidding hole.
"Tomorrow," said Nu, "we will search for the caves of our people, and we shall find them."
Darkness settled upon the jungle, the plain and the mountains. Nu and Nat-ul slept, for both were exhausted from the long days of flight.
And then there came, out of the bowels of the earth, a deep and ominous rumbling. The earth shook. The cliff rocked. Great masses of shattered rock shaken from its summit roared and tumbled down its face.
Nu sprang to his feet, only to be hurled immediately to the floor of the cave stunned and senseless. Within all was darkness. No light filtered through the opening. For minutes the frightful din endured, and with it the sickening tossing of the earth; but, at last, the rumblings ceased, the world sank back to rest, exhausted.
And Nu lay unconscious where he had fallen.
IT WAS morning when Nat-ul awoke. The sun was streaming in across a wide sea to illumine the interior of the cave where she lay huddled in a great pile of soft, furry pelts. Near her lay a woman, older than herself, but still beautiful. In front of them, nearer the mouth of the cave, two men slept. One was Tha, her father, and the other her brother, Aht. The woman was Nat-ul's mother, Lu-tan. Now she, too, opened her eyes. She stretched, raising her bare, brown arms above her head, and half turning on her side toward Nat-ul it was the luxurious movement of the she-tiger the embodiment of perfect health and grace. Lu-tan smiled at her daughter, exposing a row of strong, white, even teeth. Nat-ul returned the smile.
"I am glad that it is light again," said the girl. "The shaking of the ground, yesterday, frightened me, so that I had the most terrible dreams all during the darkness ugh!" and Nat-ul shuddered.
Tha opened his eyes and looked at the two women.
"I, too, dreamed," he said. "I dreamed that the earth shook again; the cliffs sank; and the Restless Sea rolled in upon them, drowning us all. This is no longer a good place to live. After we have eaten I shall go speak to Nu, telling him that we should seek other caves in a new country."
Nat-ul rose and stepping between the two men came to the ledge before the entrance to the cave. Before her stretched a scene that was perfectly familiar and yet strangely new. Below her was an open patch at the foot of the cliff, all barren and boulder strewn except for a rude rectangle that had been cleared of rock and debris. Beyond lay a narrow strip of tangled tropical jungle. Enormous fern-like trees lifted their huge fronds a hundred feet into the air. The sun was topping the horizon, coming out of a great sea that lay just beyond the jungle. And such a sun! It was dull red and swollen to an enormous size. The atmosphere was thick and hot almost sticky. And the life! Such countless myriads of creatures teeming through the jungle, winging their way through the air, and blackening the surface of the sea!
Nat-ul knit her brows. She was trying to think trying to recall something. Was it her dream that she attempted to visualize, or was this the dream? She shook herself. Then she glanced quickly down at her apparel. For an instant she seemed not to comprehend the meaning of her garmenture the single red-doe skin, or the sandals of the thick hide of Ta, the woolly rhinoceros, held to her shapely feet by thin lacings of the rawhide of the great Bos. And yet, she quickly realized, she had always been clothed just thus but, had she? The question puzzled her.
Mechanically her hand slipped to the back of her head above the nape of her neck. A look of puzzlement entered her eyes as her fingers fell upon the loose strands of her long hair that tumbled to her waist in the riotous and lovely confusion of early morning. What was it that her light touch missed? A barette? What could Nat-ul, child of the stone age, know of barettes?
Slowly her fingers felt about her head. When they came in contact with the broad fillet that bound her hair back from her forehead she smiled. This was the fillet that Nu, the son of Nu, had fashioned for her from a single gorgeous snake skin of black and red and yellow, split lengthwise and dried. It awoke her to a more vivid realization of the present. She turned and re-entered the cave. From a wooden peg driven into a hole in the wall she took a handful of brilliant feathers. These she stuck in the front of the fillet, where they nodded in a gay plume above her sweet face.
By this time Lu-tan, Tha, and Aht had risen. The older woman was busying herself with some dry tinder and a fire stick, just inside the entrance to the cave. Tha and Aht had stepped out upon the ledge, filling their lungs with the morning air. Nat-ul joined them. In her hand was a bladder. The three clambered down the face of the cliff.
Other men and women were emerging from other caves that pitted the rocky escarpment. They greeted the three with smiles and pleasant words, and upon every tongue was some comment upon the earthquake of the preceding night.
Tha and Aht went into the jungle toward the sea. Nat-ul stopped beside a little spring, that bubbled, clear and cold, at the foot of the cliff. Here were other girls with bladders which they were filling with water. There was Ra-el, daughter of Kor, who made the keenest spear tips and the best balanced. And there was Una, daughter of Nu, the chief, and sister of Nu, the son of Nu. And beside these were half a dozen others all clean limbed, fine featured girls, straight as arrows, supple as panthers. They laughed and talked as they filled their bladders at the spring.
"Were you not frightened when the earth shook, Nat-ul?" asked Una.
"I was frightened," replied Nat-ul "yes; but I was more frightened by the dream I had after the shaking had stopped."
"What did you dream?" cried Ra-el, daughter of Kor Kor who made the truest spear heads, with which a strong man could strike a flying reptile in mid-air.
"I dreamed that I was not Nat-ul," replied the girl. "I dreamed of a strange world and strange people. I was one of them. I was clothed in many garments that were not skin at all. I lived in a cave that was not a cave it was built upon the ground of the stuff of which trees are made, only cut into thin slabs and fastened together. There were many caves in the one cave.
"There were men and women, and some of the men were black."
"Black!" echoed the other girls.
"Yes, black," insisted Nat-ul. "And they alone were garbed something as are our men. The white men wore strange garments and things upon their heads, and had no beards. They carried short spears that spit smoke and great noise out upon their enemies and the wild beasts, and slew them at a great distance."
"And was Nu, the son of Nu, there?" asked Ra-el, tittering behind her hand.
"He came and took me away," replied Nat-ul, gravely. "And at night the earth shook as we slept in the cave of Oo. And when I awoke I was here in the cave of Tha, my father."
"Nu has not returned," said Una.
Nat-ul looked at her inquiringly.
"Where did Nu, the son of Nu, go?" she asked.
"Who should know better than Nat-ul, daughter of Tha, that Nu, the son of Nu, went forth to slay Oo, the killer of men and mammoths, that he might lay Oo's head before the cave of Nat-ul?" she asked, in reply.
"He has not returned?" asked Nat-ul. "He said that he would go but I thought that he joked, for one man alone may not slay Oo, the killer of men and of mammoths." But she did not use the word "mammoth," nor the word "man." Instead she spoke in a language that survives only among the apes of our day, if it survives at all, and among them only in crude and disjointed monosyllables. When she spoke of the mammoth she called him Gluh, and man was Pah. The tongue was low and liquid and entirely beautiful and enchanting, and she spoke, too, much with her eyes and with her graceful hands, as did her companions, for the tribe of Nu was not far removed from those earlier peoples, descended from the alalus who were speechless, and who preceded those who spoke, by signs.
The girls, having filled the bladders with water, now returned to their respective caves. Nat-ul had scarce entered and hung up the bladder ere Tha and Aht returned one with the carcass of an antelope, the other with an armful of fruits.
In the floor of the cave beside the fire a little hollow had been chipped from the living rock. Into this Nat-ul poured some water, while Lu-tan cut pieces of the antelope's flesh into small bits, dropping them into the water. Then she scooped a large pebble from the fire where it had been raised to a high temperature. This she dropped into the water with the meat. There was a great bubbling and sputtering, which was repeated as Lu-tan dropped one super-heated pebble after another into the water until the whole became a boiling cauldron. When the water continued to boil for a few moments after a pebble was thrown in Lu-tan ceased her operation, sitting quietly with her family about the primitive stew for several minutes. Occasionally she would stick a finger into the water to test its temperature, and when at last she seemed satisfied she signalled Tha to eat.
The man plunged his stone knife into a piece of the halfcooked meat, withdrew it from the cauldron and tossed it upon the floor beside Lu-tan. A second piece was given to Nat-ul, a third to Aht, and the fourth Tha kept to himself. The four ate with a certain dignity. There was nothing bestial nor repulsive in their manners, and as they ate they talked and laughed among themselves there seemed great good-fellowship in the cavehold of Tha.
Aht joked with Nat-ul about Nu, the son of Nu, telling her that doubtless a hyena had devoured the mighty hunter before ever he had had a chance to slay Oo. But Lu-tan came to her daughter's rescue, saving that it was more likely that Nu, the son of Nu, had discovered Oo and all his family and had remained to kill them all.
"I do not fear for Nu, because of Oo," said Tha, presently. "For Nu, the son of Nu, is as great a hunter as his father; but I shall be glad to see him safe again from all that might have befallen him when the earth rocked and the thunder came from below instead of from above. I shall be glad to have him return and take my daughter as his mate, whether he brings back the head of Oo or not."
Nat-ul was silent, but she was worried, for all feared the power of the elements against which no man might survive in battle, no matter how brave he might be.
After breakfast Tha went, as he had said that he should, to the cave of Nu, the chief. There he found many of the older warriors and the young men. There were so many of them that there was not room within the cave and upon the narrow ledge without, so, at a word from Nu, they all descended to the little, roughly cleared rectangle at the base of the cliff. This place was where their councils were held and where the tribe congregated for feasts, or other purposes that called many together.
Nu sat at one end of the clearing upon a flat rock. About his shoulders fell the shaggy haired skin of a huge cave-bear. In the string that supported his loin cloth reposed a wooden handled stone axe and a stone knife. Upright in his hand, its butt between his feet, rose a tall, slim spear, stone tipped. His black hair was rudely cut into a shock. A fillet of tiger hide encircled his head, supporting a single long, straight feather. About his neck depended a string of long, sharp fangs and talons, and from cheek to heel his smooth, bronzed hide was marked with many scars inflicted by these same mementos when they had armed the mighty paws and jaws of the fierce denizens of that primeval world. He let the skin that covered him slip from his shoulders, for the morning was warm. In that hot and humid atmosphere there was seldom need for covering, but even then men were slaves to fashion. They wore the trophies of their prowess, and bedecked their women similarly.
Tha, being second only to Nu, was the first among the warriors to speak. As speech was young and words comparatively few they must needs be supplemented with many signs and gestures. Oratory was, therefore, a strenuous business, and one which required a keen imagination, more than ordinary intelligence, and considerable histrionic ability. Because it was so difficult to convey one's ideas to one's fellowmen the art of speech, in its infancy, was of infinitely more value to the human race than it is today. Now, we converse mechanically the more one listens to ordinary conversations the more apparent it becomes that the reasoning faculties of the brain take little part in the direction of the vocal organs. When Tha spoke to Nu and the warriors of his tribe he was constantly required to invent signs and words to carry varying shades of meaning to his listeners. It was great mental exercise for Tha and for his audience as well men were good listeners in those days; they had to be and they advanced more rapidly in proportion to our advancement, because what little speech they heard meant something it was too precious to waste, nor could men afford to attend to foolish matters where it required all their eyes as well as their ears and the concentration of the best of their mental faculties to follow the thread of an argument.
Tha stepped to the center of the group of warriors. There was a little open space left there for the speaker. About it squatted the older men. Behind them knelt others, and behind these stood the young men of the tribe of Nu.
Tha uttered a deep rumbling from his chest cavity. He shook his giant frame.
"The ground roars and trembles where we live," he said. "The cliffs will fall." He pointed toward their dwellings, making a gesture with his open palms toward the ground. "We shall all be killed. Let us go. Let us seek a new place where the ground does not tremble. The beasts are everywhere. Fruit is everywhere. Grain grows in the valley of every river. We may hunt elsewhere as well as here. We shall find plenty to eat. Let us take our women and our children and go out of this place."
As he spoke he mimicked the hunting of game, the gathering of fruit and grain, the marching and the search for a new home. His motions were both dignified and graceful. His listeners sat in rapt attention. When he had done he squatted down among the older warriors. Then another rose a very old man. He came to the center of the open space, and told, by word and pantomime, the dangers of migration. He recalled the numerous instances when strangers, in small parties and in great numbers had come too close to the country of Nu, and how they, Nu's warriors, had rushed upon them, slaying all who could not escape.
"Others will do the same to us," he said, "if we approach their dwellings."
When he had sat down Hud pushed through to the center from the ring of younger warriors. Hud desired Nat-ul, the daughter of Tha. Therefore he had two good reasons for espousing the cause of her father. One was that he might ingratiate himself with the older man, and the other was the hope that the tribe might migrate at once while Nu, the son of Nu, was absent, thus giving Hud uninterrupted opportunity to push his suit for the girl.
"Tha has spoken wisely," he said. "This land is no longer safe for man or beast. Scarce a moon passes that does not see the ground tremble and crack, and in places have faces of the mountains tumbled away. Any time it may be the turn of our cliff to fall. Let us go to a land where the ground does not tremble. We need not fear the strangers. That is the talk of old men, and women who are big with child. The tribe of Nu is mighty. It can go where it pleases, and slay those who would block its way. Let us do as Tha says, and go away from here at once-another great trembling may come at any moment. Let us leave now, for we have eaten."
Others spoke, and so great was the fear of the earthquakes among them that there was scarce a dissenting voice nearly all wished to go. Nu listened with grave dignity. When all had spoken who wished to speak he arose.
"It is best," he said. "We will go away " Hud could scarce repress a smile of elation "so soon as Nu, my son, returns." Hud scowled. "I go to seek him," concluded Nu.
The council was over. The men dispersed to their various duties. Tha accompanied Nu in search of the latter's son. A party of hunters went north toward the Barren Cliffs, at the foot of which, not far from the sea, one of the tribe had seen a bull mammoth the previous day.
Hud went to his cave and watched his opportunity to see Nat-ul alone. At last his patience was rewarded by sight of her going down toward the spring, which was now deserted. Hud ran after her. He overtook her as she stooped to fill the bladder.
"I want you," said Hud, coming directly to the point in most primitive fashion, "to be my mate."
Nat-ul looked at him for a moment and then laughed full in his face.
"Go fetch the head of Oo and lay it before my father's cave," she answered, "and then, maybe, Nat-ul will think about becoming the mate of Hud. But I forgot," she suddenly cried, "Hud does not hunt he prefers to remain at home with the old men and the women and the children while the men go forth in search of Gluh." She emphasized the word men.
The man colored. He was far from being a physical coward cowards were not bred until a later age. He seized her roughly by the arm.
"Hud will show you that he is no coward," he cried, "for he will take you away to be his mate, defying Nu and Tha and Nu, the son of Nu. If they come to take you from him, Hud will slay them all."
As he spoke he dragged her toward the jungle beyond the spring the jungle that lay between the cliff and the sea. Nat-ul struggled, fighting to be free; but Hud, a great hand across her mouth and an arm about her body, forged silently ahead with his captive. Beyond the jungle the man turned north along the beach. Now he relaxed his hold upon the girl's mouth.
"Will you come with me?" he asked, "or must I drag you thus all day?"
"I shall not come willingly," she replied, "for otherwise Nu, the son of Nu, nor my father, nor my brother might have the right to kill you for what you have done; but now they may, for you are taking me by force as did the hairy people who lived long time ago take their mates. You are a beast, Hud, and when my men come upon you they will slay you for the beast you are."
"You will suffer most," retorted Hud, "for if you do not come willingly with me the tribe will kill the child."
"There will be no child," replied Nat-ul, and beneath her red-doe skin she hugged the stag handle of a stone knife.
Hud kept to the beach to escape detection by the mammoth hunters upon their return from the chase, for they, too, had gone northward; but along the base of the cliffs upon the opposite side of the strip of jungle that extended parallel with the beach to the very foot of the Barren Cliffs, where they jutted boldly out into the Restless Sea half a day's journey northward.
The sun was directly above the two when Hud dragged his unwilling companion up the steep face of the Barren Cliffs which he had determined to cross in search of a secure hiding place, for he knew that he might not return to the tribe for a full moon after the thing that he had done. Even then it might not be safe, for the men of the tribe of Nu had not taken their mates by force for many generations. There was a strong belief among them that the children of women who mated through their own choice were more beautiful, better natured and braver than those whose mothers were little better than prisoners and slaves. Hud hoped, however, to persuade Nat-ul to say that she had run away with him voluntarily, to which there could be no objection. But that might require many days.
From the top of the Barren Cliffs there stretched away toward the north an entirely different landscape than that upon the southern side. Here was a great level plain, dotted with occasional clumps of trees. At a little distance a broad river ran down to the sea, its banks clothed in jungle. Upon the plain, herds of antelope, bison and bos browsed in tall grasses and wild grains. Sheep, too, were there, and rooting just within the jungle were great droves of wild hog. Now and then there would be a sudden stampede among the feeding herbivora as some beast of prey dashed among them. Bleating, bellowing, squealing or grunting they would race off madly for a short distance only to resume their feeding and love-making when assured that they were not pursued, though the great carnivore might be standing in full sight of them above the carcass of its kill. But why run further? All about them, in every direction, were other savage, bloodthirsty beasts. It was but a part of their terror stricken lives fleeing hither and thither as they snatched sustenance, and only surviving because they bred more surely than the beasts that preyed upon them and could live further from water.
Hud led Nat-ul down the northern face of the Barren Cliffs, searching for a cavern in which they might make their temporary home. Half way between the summit and the base he came upon a cave. Before it were strewn gnawed bones of antelope, buffalo and even mammoth. Hud grasped his spear more firmly as he peered into the dark interior. Here was the cave of Ur, the cave-bear. Hud picked up a bone and threw it within. There was no remonstrative growl Ur was not at home.
Hud pushed Nat-ul within, then he rolled a few large boulders before the cave's mouth enough to bar the entrance of the gigantic bear upon his return. After, he crawled through the small opening that he had left. In the dim light of the interior he saw Nat-ul flattened against the further side of the cave. He crossed toward her to take her in his arms.
WHEN NU, the son of Nu, regained consciousness daylight was filtering through several tiny crevices in the debris that blocked the entrance to the cave in which the earthquake had found and imprisoned him. As he sat up, half bewildered, he cast his eyes about the dim interior in search of Nat-ul. Not seeing her he sprang to his feet and searched each corner of the cavern minutely. She was not there! Nu stood for a moment with one hand pressed to his forehead, deep in thought. He was trying to marshal from the recesses of his memory the occurrences of his immediate past.
Finally he recalled that he had set forth from the village of his people in search of Oo, as he had been wont to do often in the past, that he might bring the head of the fierce monster and lay it before the cave of Nat-ul, daughter of Tha. But what had led him to believe that Nat-ul should be there now in the cave beside him? He passed his hand across his eyes, yet the same memory-vision persisted a confused and chaotic muddle of strange beasts and stranger men, among which he and Nat-ul fled through an unknown world.
Nu shook his head and stamped his foot it was all a ridiculous dream. The shaking of the earth the previous night, however, had been no dream this and the fact that he was buried alive were all too self-evident. He remembered that he had not found Oo at home, and when the quake had come he had run into the cave of the great beast to hide from the wrath of the elements.
Now he turned his attention to the broken rock piled before the mouth of the cave. To his immense relief he discovered that it was composed largely of small fragments. These he loosened and removed one by one, and though others continued to roll down from above and take their places for a while, until the cave behind him was half filled with the debris, he eventually succeeded in making an opening of sufficient size to pass his body through into the outer air.
Looking about him he discovered that the quake seemed to have done but little damage other than to the top of the cliff which had overhung before and now had fallen from above, scattering its fragments upon the ledges and at the foot of the escarpment.
For years Oo had laired here. It was here that Nu had sought him since he had determined to win his mate with the greatest of all trophies, but now that his cave was choked with the debris of the cliff top Oo would have to seek elsewhere for a den, and that might carry him far from the haunts of Nu. That would never do at all Oo must be kept within striking distance until his head had served the purpose for which the troglodyte intended it.
So for several hours Nu labored industriously to remove the rocks from the cave and from the ledge immediately before it, as well as from the rough trail that led up from the foot of the cliff. All the time be kept his spear close to his hand, and his stone ax and knife ready in his gee-string, for at any moment Oo might return. As the great cat had a way of appearing with most uncanny silence and unexpectedness it behooved one to be ever on the alert. But at last the work was completed and Nu set forth to search for a breakfast.
He had determined to await the return of the sabertoothed tiger and have the encounter over for good and all. Had not the voting men and women of the tribe begun to smile of late each time that he returned empty handed from the hunt for Oo? None had doubted the sincerity of his desire to meet the formidable beast from which it was no disgrace to fly, for none doubted the courage of Nu; but nevertheless it was humiliating to return always with excuses instead of the head of his quarry.
Nu had scarce settled himself comfortably upon the branch of a tree where he could command the various approaches to the tiger's lair when his keen ear caught the sound of movement in the jungle at his back. The noise was up wind from him and presently the scent of man came down the breeze to the sensitive nostrils of the watcher. Now he was alert in this new direction, every faculty bent to discovering the identity of the newcomers before they sensed his presence.
Soon they came in view two men, Nu and Tha searching for the former's son. At sight of them, Nu, the son of Nu, called out a greeting.
"Where go Nu and Tha?" he asked, as the two came to a halt beneath his perch.
"They sought Nu, the son of Nu," replied the young man's father, "and having found him they return to the dwellings of Nu's people, and Nu, the son of Nu, returns with them."
The young man shrugged his broad shoulders.
"Nu, the son of Nu, would remain and slay Oo," he replied.
"Come down and accompany your father," returned the older man, "for the people of Nu start today in search of other dwelling where the earth does not shake, or the cliffs crumble and fall."
Nu slid nimbly to the ground.
"Tell me which way the tribe travels," said Nu, the son of Nu, "that I may find them after I have slain Oo, if he returns today. If he does not return today, then will I set out tomorrow after the tribe."
The young man's father thought in silence for a moment. He was very proud of the prowess of his son. He should be as elated as the young man himself when he returned with the head of the hunter of men and of mammoths. Then, too, he realized the humiliation which his son might feel on being forced to return again without the trophy. He laid his hand upon the young man's shoulder.
"Remain, my son," he said, "until the next light. The tribe will travel north beside the Restless Sea beyond the Barren Cliffs. Because of the old and the babes we shall move slowly. It will be easy for you to overtake us. If you do not come we shall know that Oo was mightier than the son of Nu."
Without other words the two older men turned and retraced their steps toward the village, while Nu, the son of Nu, climbed again to his perch within the tree.
All day he watched for the return of Oo. The great apes and the lesser apes passed below and above and around him. Sometimes they threw him a word in passing. Below, the woolly rhinoceros browsed and lay down to sleep. A pack of hyenas slunk down from the plateau above the cliffs. They circled the sleeping perissodactyl. The great beast opened its little eyes. Lumberingly it came to its feet, wheeling about until it faced up wind, then, like a mountain run amuck, it charged straight for the line of now growling hyenas. The cowardly brutes leaped aside, and the whole pack closed upon the rear of the rhinoceros. The big beast turned, quick as a cat. Down went his armed snout and one of his tormentors was hurled far aloft, torn by the mighty horn that had pierced him through. Again the rhinoceros wheeled and ran, and again the pack closed in upon him. The jungle swallowed them, but for a long time Nu could hear the savage growls of the pursuing beasts, and the yells of pain as from time to time the rhinoceros turned upon his tormentors.
Then came a cave-bear, lumbering down the face of the cliff. At the mouth of the cave of Oo he halted sniffing about warily, and uttering deep throated growls of rage and hate. Nu listened for the answering challenge of the ancient enemy of Ur, but no sound came. Nu shrugged his shoulders. It was evident that Oo was far away, otherwise he would never have let Ur's challenge go unanswered.
Now the bear had continued his way to the foot of the cliff. He was advancing toward the tree in which Nu sat. At the edge of the jungle the beast halted and commenced to nose in the soft earth for roots. Nu watched him. If not the head of Oo, why not the head of Ur? Oo would not return that day, of that Nu was positive, for it was already late in the afternoon and if the great tiger had been near he would have heard and answered the challenge of the cave-bear.
Nu dropped lightly to the ground upon the opposite side of the tree from Ur. In his right hand he grasped his long, heavy spear. In his left was his stone ax. He approached the huge beast from the rear, coming within a few paces of it before the animal was aware of his presence, for none of the jungle folk moved more noiselessly than primeval man.
But at last Ur looked up, and at the same instant Nu's mighty muscles launched the stone tipped spear. Straight as a bullet it sped toward the breast of the hairy monster, burying itself deep in his body as he lunged forward to seize the rash creature that dared attack him.
Nu held his ground, standing with feet apart and swinging his heavy stone ax to and fro in both hands. The cavebear rose upon his hind feet as he neared the man, towering high above his enemy's head. With gaping jaws and outstretched paws the terrible beast advanced, now and then tearing at the stout haft of the spear protruding from its breast, and giving tongue to roars of rage and pain that shook the earth.
As the mighty forearms reached for him, Nu dodged beneath them, swinging his ax to the side of the bear's head as he passed. With a howl the beast wheeled and charged in the new direction, but again Nu followed his previous tactics, and again a crushing blow fell upon the side of the cave-bear's jaw.
Blood spurted from the creature's mouth and nostrils, for not only had the stone ax brought blood, but the stone spear had penetrated the savage lungs. And now Ur did what Nu had been waiting for him to do. He dropped upon all fours and raced madly toward his tormentor. The changed position brought the top of the skull within reach of the man's weapon, and this time, as he sidestepped the charge, he brought the ax down full upon the bear's forehead, between his eyes.
Stunned, the beast staggered and stumbled, his nose buried in the trampled mud and grass of the battlefield. Only for an instant would he be thus, and in that instant must Nu leap in and finish him. Nor did he hesitate. Dropping his ax he sprang upon Ur with his stone knife, and again and again sent the blade into the wild heart. Before the cave-bear regained full consciousness he rolled over upon his side, dead.
For half an hour Nu was busy removing the head, and then he set himself to the task of skinning the beast. His methods were crude, but he worked much faster with his primitive implements than modern man with keen knives. Before another hour had passed he had the skin off and rolled into a bundle, and had cut a great steak from Ur's loin. Now he gathered some dry leaves and tinder and with a sharpened bit of hardwood produced fire by twirling the point vigorously in a tiny hollow scooped from another piece of hard wood. When the blaze had been nursed to a fire of respectable dimensions, Nu impaled the steak upon a small branch and squatting before the blaze grilled his supper. It was half burned and half raw and partially smoked, but that he enjoyed it was evidenced by the fact that he devoured it all.
Afterward he placed the pelt upon his shoulder and set forth upon his return to his people. He returned directly to the cliffs by the Restless Sea, for he did not know whether the tribe had yet left in search of the new camping ground or not. It was night by the time he emerged from the jungle at the foot of the cliff. A cursory exploration showed him that the tribe had gone, and so he crawled into his own cave for the night. In the morning he easily could overtake them.
When Hud crossed the cave toward Nat-ul he had expected to encounter physical resistance, and so he came half crouched and with hands outstretched to seize and subdue her.
"Hud," said the girl, "if I come to you willingly will you treat me kindly always?"
The man came to a stop a few feet from his victim. Evidently it was going to be more easy than he had anticipated. He did not relish the idea of taking a she-tiger for mate, and so he was glad to make whatever promises the girl required. Afterward he could keep such as were easiest to keep.
"Hud will be a kind mate," he answered.
The girl stepped toward him, and Hud met her with encircling arms; but as hers went around him he failed to see the sharp stone knife in Nat-ul's right hand. The first he knew of it was when it was plunged remorselessly into his back beneath his left shoulder blade. Then Hud tried to disengage himself from the girl's embrace, but struggle as he would, she clung to him tenaciously, plunging the weapon time and time again into his back.
He tried to reach her throat with his fingers, but her sharp teeth fastened upon his hand, and then, with his free hand, he beat upon her face, but only for an instant, as the knife found his heart, and with a groan he sank to the rocky floor of the cave.
Without waiting to know that he was dead Nat-ul rushed from the dark interior. Swiftly she scaled the Barren Cliffs and dropped once more into her own valley upon the other side. Along the beach she raced back toward the dwellings of her people, not knowing that at that very moment they were setting out in search of a new home. At midafternoon she passed them scarce half a mile away, for they had taken the way that led upon the far side of the jungle that they might meet the returning mammoth hunters, and so Nat-ul came to the deserted caves of her tribe at night-fall only to find that her people had departed.
Supperless, she crawled into one of the smaller and higher caves, for it would be futile to attempt to discover the trail of the departed tribe while night with its darkness and its innumerable horrors enveloped the earth. She had dozed once when she was awakened by the sound of movement upon the face of the cliff. Scarce breathing, she lay listening. Was it man or beast that roamed through the deserted haunts of her tribe? Higher and higher up the face of the cliff came the sound of the midnight prowler. That the creature, whatever it was, was making a systematic search of the caves seemed all too apparent. It would be but a question of minutes before it would reach her hiding place.
Nat-ul grasped her knife more firmly. The sounds ceased upon the ledge directly beneath her. Then, after a few moments they were resumed, but to the girl's relief they now retreated down the steep bluff. Presently they ceased entirely, and though it was hours before she could quiet her fears she at last fell into a deep slumber.
At dawn Nu, the son of Nu, awoke. He rose and stretched himself, standing in the glare of the new sun upon the ledge before his cave. Fifty feet above him slept the girl he loved. Nu gathered up his weapons and his bear skin, and moved silently down to the spring where he quenched his thirst. Then he passed through the jungle to the sea. Here he removed his loincloth and the skin that covered his shoulders and waded into the surf. In his right hand he held his knife, for great reptiles inhabited the Restless Sea. Carefully he bathed, keeping a wary watch for enemies in the water or upon the land behind. In him was no fear, for he knew no other existence than that which might present at any moment the necessity of battling for his life with some slimy creature of the deep, or equally ferocious denizen of the jungle or the hills. To Nu it was but a part of the day's work. You or I might survive a single day were we suddenly cast back into the primeval savagery of Nu's long dead age, and Nu, if as suddenly transplanted to the corner of Fifth Avenue and Twenty-third Street might escape destruction for a few hours, but sooner or later a trolley car or a taxi would pounce upon him.
His ablutions completed, the troglodyte replaced his loin cloth and his shaggy fur, took up his weapons and his burden and set forth upon the trail of his father's people. And above him, as he passed again along the foot of the cliff, the woman that he loved slept in ignorance of his presence.
When, at last, Nat-ul awoke the sun was high in the heavens. The girl came cautiously down the cliff face, looking first in one direction and then another. Often pausing for several minutes at a time to listen. All about her were the noises of the jungle and the sea and the air, for great birds and horrid winged reptiles threatened primeval men as sorely from above as did the carnivora of the land from his own plane.
She came to the spring in safety, and passed on into the jungle in search of food, for she was half famished. Fruits and vegetables, with grasshoppers, caterpillars and small rodents, and the eggs of birds and reptiles were what she sought, nor was she long in satisfying the cravings of her appetite. Nature was infinitely more bountiful in those days than at the present, for she had infinitely more numerous and often far greater stomachs to satisfy then than now.
Nat-ul passed through the jungle to the beach. She had wanted to bathe, but, alone, she dared not. Now she stood wondering in which direction the tribe had gone. She knew that ordinarily if they had been traveling either north or south they would follow the hard-packed sand of the beach, for there the traveling was easiest, but the tide would have washed away their spoor long before this. She had seen signs of their passage north beside the jungle, but the trail was an old, well worn one traversed daily by many feet, so she had not been able to guess from it that it contained the guide to the direction her people had taken.
As she stood upon the beach trying to reason out her future plans, it became apparent that if the tribe had gone north she would have met them on her return from the Barren Cliffs yesterday, and so, as she had not met them, they must have gone south.
And so she turned her own footsteps south away from her people and from Nu.
NAT-UL KEPT to the beach as she tramped southward. Upon her right was the jungle, upon her left the great sea, stretching away she knew not whither. To her it represented the boundary of the world all beyond was an appalling waste of water. To the south-east she could see the outlines of islands. They were familiar objects, yet shrouded in mystery. Often they formed the topic of conversation among her people. What was there upon them? Were they inhabited? And if so, were the creatures men and women like themselves? To Nat-ul they were as full of romantic mystery as are the stars and planets to us, but she knew less of them than we do of the countless brilliant islands that dot the silent sea of space they were further from Nat-ul and her people than is Mars from us. A boat was as utterly unknown to Nat-ul as was a telescope.
Just beyond a rise of ground ahead of Nat-ul fifty or sixty men, women and children were busy beside a little stream that flowed into the sea. When Nat-ul topped the rise and her eyes fell upon these strangers she dropped suddenly flat upon her belly behind a bush. There she watched the peculiar actions of these people. It was evident that they had but just arrived after a long march. They differed in many ways from any people she had ever seen. Their skins were of the less dangerous animals those which fed upon grasses. Their head-dresses bore the horns of bulls and antelope, giving them, altogether, a most fearsome aspect.
But it was their habitations and the work upon which they were engaged which caused Nat-ul the greatest wonderment. Their caves were not caves at all. They were constructed of a number of long saplings leaned inward against one another in a circle, and covered with skins and brush, or the great fronds of giant palms as well as those of the plant which is known today as it was in Nat-ul's time as elephant's ear, because of its resemblance to that portion of the great pachyderm.
The weapons of these peoples were unlike those with which Nat-ul was familiar. The stone ax was of a different shape, and the spear was much shorter and stouter, its point being barbed, and having one end of a long, plaited sinew rope tied to it, while the balance of the rope was fastened in a coil at the warrior's side. Nat-ul knew nothing of fisher folk. Her own people often caught fish. Sometimes they speared them with their light spears, but they did not make a business of fishing. So she did not know that the spears of these strangers answered the double purpose of weapons of warfare and harpoons.
What interested her most, however, was the strange work upon which many of the people were engaged. They had cut down a number of large trees, which they had chopped and burned into different lengths, from fifteen to twenty feet. With their stone axes they had hewn away the bark and heavier growth along the upper surfaces of the logs. The softer, pithy centers had been scooped out and fires built within.
Nat-ul could not but wonder at the purpose of all this labor. She saw the men and women tending the fires carefully, extinguishing with water any blaze that seemed threatening to pierce too far from the center of a tree. Deeper and deeper the flames ate until there remained but a thin outer husk of firehardened wood.
So intent was the girl upon the strange sights before her that she did not note the approach of a tall, young warrior from the jungle at her right and a little behind her. The man was tall and straight. A shaggy bison hide fell from his shoulders, the tail dragging upon the ground behind him. Upon his head the skull of the bull fitted firmly a primitive helmet clothed in its dried skin and with the short, stout horns protruding at right angles from his temples.
In his right hand was the stout harpoon and at his waist the coil of sinew rope. The robe, falling away in front, disclosed a well knit, muscular figure, naked but for a loin cloth of doe skin in which was stuck his stone knife and ax.
For several minutes he stood watching the girl, his eyes glowing at the beauties of her profile and lithe, graceful figure. Then, very cautiously, he crept toward her. It was Tur of the Boat Builders. Never in his life had Tur looked upon a more beautiful woman. To see her was to want her. Tur must own her. He was almost upon her when a dried twig snapped beneath his tread.
Like a startled antelope Nat-ul was upon her feet. At the same instant Tur leaped forward to seize her. She was between him and the camp she had been watching. To run toward them would have meant certain capture. Like a shot she wheeled right into Tur's outstretched arms, but as they closed to grasp her they encircled but empty air. Nat-ul had ducked beneath the young warrior's eager embrace and was fleeing north along the beach, like a frightened deer.
After her sprang Tur, calling upon her to stop; but with terror goaded speed the fleet footed Nat-ul raced on. A hundred paces behind her came Tur. For a short distance she might outstrip him, he knew, but in the end his mightier muscles would prevail. Already she was lagging. No longer was the distance between them growing. Soon it would lessen. He would close upon her and then!
To the north of the Barren Cliffs Nu overtook the tribe of Nu, his father. He came upon them during a period of rest, and as he approached he noted the constraint of their manners as they greeted him. The young women looked at him with sorrowing eyes. His young warrior friends did not smile as he called their names in passing.
Straight to Nu, his father, he went, as became a returning warrior. He found the chief sitting with Tha before a small fire where a ptarmigan, clay wrapped, was roasting.
His father rose and greeted him. There was pleasure in the older man's eyes at sight of his son, but no smile upon his lips. He glanced at the head and pelt of Ur.
"Oo did not return?" he asked.
"Oo did not return," replied the son.
Nu, the son of Nu, looked about among the women and children and the uneasy warriors. She he sought was not there. His mother came and kissed him as did Una his sister.
"Where is Nat-ul?" asked Nu.
His mother and his sister looked at one another and then at his father. Nu, the chief, looked at Tha. Tha rose and came before the young man. He laid his hand upon the other's shoulder.
"Since your mother bore you," he said, "always have I love you loved you second only to Aht, my own son. Some day I hoped that you would become my son, for I saw that you loved Nat-ul, my daughter. But now Nat-ul has gone away with Hud. We know not how it happened, but Ra-el, the daughter of Kor, says that she went willingly."
He got no further.
"It is a lie!" cried Nu, the son of Nu. "Nat-ul never went willingly with Hud or any other. When did they go? Whither went they? Tell me, and I will follow and bring back Nat-ul, and with her own lips she will give Ra-el the lie. I will bring her back if she still lives, but unless she escaped Hud she is dead, for she would have died rather than mate with another than Nu, the son of Nu. I have spoken. Which way went they?"
No one could tell him. All that they knew was that when the tribe set out from their old dwellings Hud and Nat-ul could not be found, and then Ra-el had come forward and said that the two had fled together. When he questioned Ra-el he could glean nothing more from her, but she stuck obstinately to her assertion that Nat-ul had gone willingly.
"And will Nu, the son of Nu, be such a fool as to follow after a woman who has chosen another mate when there are those as beautiful whom Nu, the son of Nu, could have for the asking?" she said.
At her words the young man saw the motive behind her statement that Nat-ul had run away voluntarily with Hud, and now he was more positive than ever that the girl did not speak the truth. Her words recalled many little occurrences in the past that had slipped by unnoticed at a time when all his thoughts were of the splendid Nat-ul. It was evident that Ra-el would have liked Nu for herself.
The young man returned to his father's side.
"I go," he said, "nor shall I return until I know the truth."
The older man laid his hand upon the shoulder of the younger.
"Go, my son," he said; "your father's heart goes with you."
In silence Nu, the son of Nu, retraced his steps southward toward the Barren Cliffs. It was his intention to return directly to the former dwellings of his people and there search out the spoor of Hud and Nat-ul. A great rage burned in his heart as he thought of the foul deed that Hud had done. The tribe of Nu had progressed far beyond the status of the beasts. They acknowledged certain property rights, among them the inalienable right of the man to his mate, and, going a step further, the right of the woman to mate as she chose. That Nat-ul had chosen to mate with Hud, Nu could not for a moment admit. He knew the courageous nature of the girl, and, knowing it, knew that had she preferred Hud to him she would have mated with the man of her choice openly after the manner of the tribe. No, Nat-ul would never have run off with any man not even himself.
Half way up the face of the Barren Cliffs Nu was arrested by a faint moan, coming apparently from a cave at his right. He had no time to devote to the pleasures of the chase, but there was a human note in the sound that he had heard that brought him up all suddenly alert and listening. After a moment it was repeated. No, there could be no doubt of it that sound came only from a human throat. Cautiously Nu crept toward the mouth of the cave from which the moaning seemed to issue. At the entrance he came to a sudden halt, at the sight that met his eyes.
There, in the half light of the entrance, lay Hud in a pool of blood. The man was breathing feebly. Nu called him by name. Hud opened his eyes. When he saw who stood over him he shrugged his shoulders and lay still, as though to say, the worst has already been done to me you can do no more.
"Where is Nat-ul?" asked Nu.
Hud shook his head. Nu knelt beside him raising his head in his arms.
"Where is Nat-ul, man?" he cried, shaking the dying warrior. "Tell me before you die. I do not ask if she went with you willingly, for I know that she did not all I ask is what have you done with her? Does she live? And if she lives, where is she?"
Hud tried to speak. The effort cost him dear. But at last he managed to whisper a few words.
"She did this," he panted. "Then she went away. I don't know " he gasped, and died.
Nu dropped him back upon the stone floor of the cave and ran out upon the ledge. He searched about the face of the cliff, even going down upon all fours and creeping from ledge to ledge, oftentimes with his nose close to the trail sniffing.
After half an hour of going back and forth over the same ground and following a rocky ascent upward toward the summit of the cliff a dozen times, as though proving and reproving the correctness of his deductions, Nu at last set forth across the Barren Cliffs and down onto the beach beside the Restless Sea.
Here he found the spoor more plainly marked in many places above high tide where Nat-ul's little sandals had left their legible record in the soft loam or upon the higher sand that the water had not reached. The way led southward, and southward hurried Nu, the son of Nu. Straight to the old dwellings led the trail. There Nu found evidence that Nat-ul had spent the night in a cave above the one in which he had slept. There was the bed of grasses and a trace of the delicate aroma that our blunted sense of smell could never have detected, but which was plain to Nu, and deliciously familiar.
A pang of regret seized him as he realized that his Nat-ul had been so close to him, and that he had unwittingly permitted her to remain alone and unprotected amidst the countless dangers of their savage world, and to go forth, none knew where, into other myriad dangers.
Returning to the foot of the cliff he once more came upon the girl's spoor. Again it led south along the beach. Swiftly he followed it until it stopped behind a little clump of bushes at the top of a rise in the ground. Before Nu realized that this was the southern limit of the trail he had seen the village beyond and the people engaged in what to him seemed a strange occupation. He knew that the same sight had brought Nat-ul to a halt a few hours before, and now he saw where she had lain upon her belly watching, just as he was watching. For a few minutes he lay watching the workers and seeking through the little cluster of skin and thatch shelters for some sign that Nat-ul was a prisoner there.
Nu had never seen a boat or guessed that such a thing might be. His people had been hunters from time immemorial. They had come down from the great plateaus far inland but a few generations since. Then, for the first time, had his forefathers seen the ocean. As yet they had not met with any need that required them to navigate its waters, nor had they come in contact with the Boat Builders who dwelt far south at the mouth of a great river that emptied into the Restless Sea.
Now, for the first time, Nu saw both the boats and the Boat Builders. For the first time he saw artificial shelters, and to Nu they seemed frail and uncomfortable things by comparison with his eternal caves. The Boat Builders had been several days in this new camp. What had driven them so far north of their ancestral home, who may guess? A tribal feud, perhaps; or the birth of a new force that was to drive them and their progeny across the face of the world in restless wanderings to the end of time the primitive wanderlust from which so many of us suffer, and yet would not forego.
Nu saw that of all the workers one tall young giant labored most rapidly. His haste seemed almost verging upon frenzy. Nu wondered what he could be about upon the felled tree trunk that required so much exertion. Nu did not like work of that nature. It is true that he had never done any manual labor outside the needs of the chase, but intuitively he knew that he disliked it. He was a hunter, a warrior, and even then, in his primitive and untutored mind, there arose a species of contempt for the drudge. At last, tiring of watching, he turned his attention again to the spoor he had been following. Where had Nat-ul gone after lying here behind these bushes?
Nu crawled about until he saw evidences of the girl's quick leap to her feet and her rapid flight. Then it was he came upon the footprints of Tur. Now Nu's blood ran hot. It surged through his heart and pounded against his temples Nat-ul, his Nat-ul, was in danger!
He saw where the girl had dodged past the man. He saw, distinctly in the sand, the marks of Tur's quickly turning footsteps as he wheeled in pursuit. He saw that the two had been running rapidly along the beach toward the north the man following the girl, and then, to his surprise, he saw that the man had come to a sudden stop, had taken a few steps forward, stood for some time looking seaward and then turned and raced back toward the strange camp at breakneck speed.
And the girl's trail had continued toward the north for perhaps a hundred paces beyond the point at which the man had halted. Nu followed it easily they were fresh signs since the last high tide, alone and uncrossed upon a wide stretch of smooth, white sand.
Nu followed the dainty imprints of Nat-ul's swiftly flying little feet for a hundred paces beyond the end of the man's pursuit and came to a dead, bewildered halt. The footprints ended abruptly upon the beach midway between the ocean and the jungle. About them was only an expanse of unbroken sand. They simply ceased, that was all. They did not double back upon themselves. They did not enter the ocean. They did not approach the jungle. They stopped as though Nat-ul had suddenly been swallowed by a great hole in the beach. But there was no hole. Nu halted and looked about in every direction. There was no trace of any living thing about. Where had Nat-ul gone? What had become of her? Had the footprints of the man who pursued her reached the point upon the sand where hers ended, Nu would have concluded that he had picked her up and carried her back to his village; but the man had been a hundred paces behind Nat-ul when her trail ceased, nor had he approached closer to the spot at any time. And when he had returned to his village he had done so at a rapid run, and the lightness of his spoor indicated that he had not been burdened with a heavy load.
For some time Nu stood in bewildered thought, but at last he turned back toward the village of the Boat Builders. Nu knew little of the super-natural, and so he turned first to the nearest material and natural cause of Nat-ul's disappearance that he could conceive the man who had pursued her. And that man had returned to the village of the strangers who were diligently burning and scooping the hearts out of felled trees.
Nu returned to the vantage of the bush before the village. Here he lay down again to watch he was positive that in some way these people were responsible for the disappearance of Nat-ul. They knew where she was, and, judging by his own estimate of the girl, he knew that the man who had seen her and pursued her would not lightly relinquish his attempts to obtain her. Nu had seen the women of the strangers beside his Nat-ul they looked like the shes of the ape-folk. No, the man would seek to follow and capture the radiant stranger. Nu wished that he could guess which of the men it was who had chased Nat-ul. Something told him that it was the young giant who worked with such feverish haste, so Nu watched him most closely.
At last Tur's boat was completed. The centers of the trees the Boat Builders selected for their craft is soft, and easily burned and scooped. The fires kindled in the hollowed trunk served a double purpose they ate away the harder portions nearer the outside and at the same time tended to harden what remained. The result was a fairly light and staunch dug-out.
When Tur's boat was finished he called to several of the other workers. These came, and, lending a hand with Tur, dragged the hollowed log down to the water. One of the women came with a long stick, larger at one end than the other, and with the large end flattened upon both sides. It was a paddle. Tur tossed this into the boat and then running through the surf he launched his primitive craft upon the crest of a receding roller, leaped in, and seizing the paddle struck out vigorously against the next incoming wave.
Nu watched him with wide eyes. His estimate of the man rose in leaps and bounds. Here was sport! And Nu did not have to attempt the feat he had witnessed to know that it required skill and courage. Only a brave man would venture the perils of the awful waters. Where was he going? Nu saw that he paddled straight out into the sea. In the distance were the islands. Could he be going to these? Nu, from childhood, had always longed to explore those distant lands of mystery. These people had found a way. Nu had learned something an aeroplane could not have presented greater wonders to him than did this crude dug-out.
For a while he watched the man in the little boat. They grew smaller and smaller as wind, tide and the sturdy strokes of the paddler carried the hollowed log farther out to sea. Then Nu turned his attention once more to the other workers. He saw that they, too, were rapidly completing their boats. They were talking back and forth among themselves, raising their voices, as they were scattered over a considerable distance about the village. Nu caught a word now and then. The language was similar to his own. He discovered that they were talking about the man who had just departed, and about his venture. Nu wanted to hear more. He crept cautiously through the dense vegetation to the little clearing the strangers had made about their shelters. As he peered through the curtain of tangled creepers that hid him from their view, he saw the camp more closely. He saw the ring of ashes that surrounded it the remains of the nocturnal fires that kept off the beasts of prey by night. He saw the cooking fire before each rude shelter. He saw pots of clay something new to him. He saw the women and the children and the men. They did not differ greatly from his own people, though their garments and weapons were dissimilar. And now he could hear all their conversation.
"She must be beautiful," a man was saying, "or Tur would not venture across this strange water to those unknown lands in search of her," and he grinned broadly, casting a knowing glance at a young woman who suckled a babe, as she sat scraping, scraping, scraping with a bit of sharpened flint upon the hide of an aurochs, pegged out upon the ground before her.
The young woman looked up with an ugly scowl.
"Let him bring her back," she cried, "and she will no longer be beautiful. This will I do to her face," and she fell to scraping viciously upon the skin.
"Tur was very angry when she escaped him," continued the man. "He almost had his hands upon her; but he will find her, though whether there will be enough left of her to bring back is hard to say I, myself, rather doubt it and think that it is a foolish thing for Tur to waste his time thus."
Nu was nonplused. Could it be possible that the man they called Tur was pursuing Nat-ul to those distant islands? How could Nat-ul be there? It was impossible. And yet there seemed little doubt from the conversation he had overheard that the man was following some woman across the water to the mysterious lands a woman he had just surprised and chased that very day, and who had eluded him. Who else could it be but Nat-ul?