Before the great, hairy men, led by the smooth-skinned Thandar, had reached the foot of the cliff in their rush to the rescue of the women several of the latter appeared at the edge of the forest, running swiftly toward the caves.
Mingled with their screams of terror were cries of: “The bad men! The bad men!” But these were not needed to acquaint the rescuers with the cause of the commotion, for at the heels of the women came Thurg and a score of his vicious brutes. Little better than anthropoid apes were they. Long armed, hairy, skulking monsters, whose close-set eyes and retreating foreheads proclaimed more intimate propinquity to the higher orders of brutes than to civilized man.
Woe betide male or female who fell into their remorseless clutches, since to the base passions, unrestrained, that mark the primordial they were addicted to the foulest forms of cannibalism.
In the past their raids upon their neighbors for meat and women had met with but slight resistance—the terrified cave dwellers scampering to the safety of their dizzy ledges from which they might hurl stones and roll boulders down to the confusion of any foe however ferocious.
Always the bad men caught a few unwary victims before the safety of the ledges could be attained, but this time there was a difference. Thurg was delighted. The men were rushing downward to meet him—great indeed would be the feast which should follow this day’s fighting, for with the men disposed of there would be but little difficulty in storming the cliff and carrying off all the women and children, and as he though upon these things there floated in his little brain the image of the beautiful girl he had watched come down the evening before from the caves to meet the smooth-skinned warrior who trice now had bested Thurg in battle.
That Thandar’s men might turn the tables upon him never for a moment occurred to Thurg. Nor was there little wonder, since, might as were the muscles of the cave men, they were weaklings by comparison with the half-brutes of Thurg—only the smooth-skinned stranger troubled the muddy mind of the near-man.
It puzzled him a little, though, to see the long slim sticks that the enemy carried, and the little slivers of in skin bags upon their backs, and the strange curved branches whose ends were connected by slender bits of gut. What were these things for?
Soon he was to know—this and other things.
Thandar’s warriors did not rush upon Thurg and his brutes in a close packed, yelling mob. Instead they trotted slowly forward in a long thin line that stretched out parallel with the base of the cliff. In the center, directly in front of the charging bad men, was Thandar, calling directions to his people, first upon one hand and then upon the other.
And in accordance with his commands the ends of the line began to quicken the pace, so that quickly Thurg saw that there were men before him, and men upon either hand, and now, at fifty feet, while all were advancing cautiously, crouched for the final hand-to-hand encounter, he saw the enemy slip each sliver into the gut of the bent branches—there was a sudden chorus of twangs and Thurg felt a sharp pain in his neck. Involuntarily he clapped his hand to the spot to find one of the slivers sticking there, scarce an inch from his jugular.
With a howl of rage he snatched the thing from him, and as he leaped to charge to punish these audacious madmen he noted a dozen of his henchmen plucking silvers from various portions of their bodies, while two lay quite still upon the grass with just the end of slivers protruding from their breasts.
The sight brought the beast-man to a momentary halt. He saw his fellows charging in upon the foe—he saw another volley of slivers speed from the bent branches. Down went another of his fighters, and then the enemy cast aside their strange weapons at a shouted command from the smooth-skinned one and grasping their long, slim stick ran forward to meet Thurg’s people.
Thurg smiled. It would soon be over now. He turned toward one who was bearing down upon him—it was Thandar. Thurg crouched to meet the charge. Rage, revenge, the lust for blood fired his bestial brain. With his huge paws he would tear the puny stick from this creature’s grasp, and this time he would gain his hold upon that smooth throat. He licked his lips. And then out of the corner of his eyes he glanced to the right.
What strange sight was this! His people flying? It was incredible! And yet it was true. Growling and raging in pain and anger they were running a gauntlet of fire-sharpened lances. Three lay dead. The others were streaming blood as they fled before the relentless prodding devils at their backs.
It was enough for Thurg. He did not wait to close with Thandar. A single howl of dismay broke from his flabby lips, and then he wheeled and dashed for the wood. He was the last to pass through the rapidly converging ends of Thandar’s primitive battle line. He was running so fast that, afterward, Nadara who was watching the battle from the cliff-side insisted that his feet flew higher than his head at each frantic leap.
Thandar and his victorious army pursued the enemy through the wood for a mile or more, then they returned laughing and shouting, to receive the plaudits of the old men, the women and the children.
It was a happy day. There was feasting. And Thandar, having in mind things he had read of savage races, improvised a dance in honor of the victory.
He knew little more of savage dances than his tribesmen did of the two-step and the waltz; but he knew that dancing and song and play marked in themselves a great step upward in the evolution of man from the lower orders, and so he meant to teach these things to his people.
A red flush spread to his temples as he thought of his dignified father and his stately mother and with what horrified emotions they would view him now could they but see him—naked but for a g-string and a panther skin, moving with leaps and bounds, and not stately waltz steps in a great circle, clapping his hands in time to his movements, while behind him strung a score of lusty, naked warriors, mimicking his every antic with the fidelity of apes.
About them squatted the balance of the tribe more intensely interested in this, the first ceremonial function of their lives, than with any other occurrence that had ever befallen them. They, too, now clapped their hands in time with the dancers.
Nadara stood with parted lips and wide eyes watching the strange scene. Within her it seemed that something was struggling for expression—something that she must have known long, long ago—something that she had forgotten but that she presently must recall. With it came an insistent urge—her feet could scarce remain quietly upon the ground, and great waves of melody and song welled into her heart and throat, though what they were and what they meant she did not know.
She only knew that she was intensely excited and happy and that her whole being seemed as light and airy as the soft wind that blew across the swaying treetops of the forest.
Now the dance was done. Thandar had led the warriors back to the feast. In the center of the circle where the naked bodies of the men had leaped and swirled to the clapping of many hands was an open space, deserted. Into it Nadara ran, drawn by some subtle excitement of the soul which she could not have fathomed had she tried—which she did not try to fathom.
Around her slim, graceful figure was draped the glossy black pelt of Nagoola—another trophy of the prowess of her man. It half concealed but to accentuate the beauties of her form.
With eyes half-closed she took a half dozen graceful, tentative steps. Now the eyes of Thandar and several others were upon her, but she did not see them. Suddenly, with outthrown arms, she commenced to dance, bending her lithe body, swaying from side to side as she fell, with graceful abandon, into steps and poses that seemed as natural to her as repose.
About the little circle she wove her simple yet intricate way, and now every eye was upon her as every savage heart leaped in unison with her shapely feet, rising and falling in harmony with her lithe, brown limbs.
And of all the hearts that leaped, fastest leaped the heart of Thandar, for he saw in the poetry of motion of the untutored girl the proof of her birthright—the truth of all that he had guess of her origin since her foster father had related the story of her birth upon his death bed. None up a child of an age-old culture could posses this inherent talent. Any moment expected her lips to break forth in song, nor was he to be disappointed, for presently, as the circling cave folk commended to clap their palms in time to her steps, Nadara lifted her voice in clear and bird-like notes—a wordless paean of love and life and happiness.
At last, exhausted, she paused, and as her eyes fell upon Thandar they broke into a merry laugh.
“The king is not the only one who can leap and play upon his feet,” she cried.
Thandar came to the center of the circle and kneeling at her fee took one of her hands in his and kissed it.
“The king is only mortal and a man,” he said. “It is no reproach that he cannot equal the divine grace of a goddess. You are very wonderful, my Nadara,” he continued, “from loving you I am coming to worship you.”
And within the deep and silent wood another was stirred with mighty emotions by the sight of the half-naked, graceful girl. It was Thurg, the bad man, who had sneaked back alone to the edge of the forest that he might seek and opportunity to be revenged upon Thandar and his people.
Half formed in his evil brain had been a certain plan, which the sight of Nadara, dancing in the firelight, had turned to concrete resolution.
With the dancing and the feasting over, the tribe of Thandar betook itself by ones and twos to the rocky caves that they expected so soon to desert for the more comfortable village which they were to build under the direction of their king, to the east, beside the great water.
At last all was still—the village slept. No sentry guarded their slumbers, for Thandar, steeped in book learning, must needs add to his stock of practical knowledge by bitter experience, and never yet had the cause arisen for a night guard about his village.
Having defeated Thurg and his people he thought that they would not return again, and certainly not by night for the people of this wild island roamed seldom by night, having too much respect for the teeth and talons of Nagoola to venture forth after darkness had settled upon the grim forests and lonely plains.
But a tempest of uncontrolled emotions surged through the hairy breast of Thurg. He forgot Nagoola. He thought only of revenge—revenge and the black haired beauty who had so many times eluded him.
And as he saw her dancing in the circle of hand-clapping tribesmen, in the light of the brush wood fire, his desire for her became a veritable frenzy.
He could scarce restrain himself from rushing single-handed among his foes and snatching the girl before their faces. However, caution came to his rescue, and so he waited, albeit impatiently, until the last of the cave folk had retired to his cavern.
He had seen into which Nadara had withdrawn—one that lay far up the face of the steep cliff and directly above the cave occupied by Thandar. The moon was overcast, the fire at the foot of the cliff had died to glowing embers, all was wrapped in darkness and in shadow. Far in the depths of the wood Nagoola coughed and cried. The weird sound raised the coarse hair at the nape of Thurg’s bull neck. He case an apprehensive backward glance, then, crouching low, he moved quickly and silently across the clearing toward the base of the cliff.
Flattened against a protruding boulder, there he waited, listening, for a moment. No sound broke the stillness of the sleeping village. None had seen his approach—of that he was convinced.
Carefully he began the ascent of the cliff face, made difficult by the removal of the rough ladders that led from ledge to ledge by day, but which were withdrawn with the retiring of the community to their dark holes.
But Thurg had dragged with him from the forest a slim sapling. This he leaned against the face of the cliff. Its up-tilted end just topped the lowest ledge.
Thurg was almost as large and quite as clumsy in appearance as a gorilla, yet he was not as far removed form his true arboreal ancestors as is the great simian, and so he accomplished in silence and with evident ease what his great bulk might have seemed to have relegated to the impossible.
Like a huge cat he scrambled up the frail pole until his fingers clutched the ledge edge above him. Ape-like he drew himself to a squatting position there. Then he groped for the ladder that the cave folk had drawn up from below.
This he erected to the next ledge above. Thereafter the way was easy, for the balance of the ledges were connected by steeply inclined trails cut into the cliff face. This had been an innovation of Thandar’s who considered the rickety ladders not only a nuisance, but extremely dangerous to life and limb, for scarce a day passed that some child or woman did not receive a bad fall because of them.
So Thurg, with Thandar’s unintentional aid, came easily to the mouth of Nadara’s cave.
Great had been the temptation as he passed the cave below to enter and slay his enemy. Never had Thurg so hated any creature as he hated this smooth-skinned interloper—with all the venom of his mean soul he hated him.
Now he stooped, listening, just inside the entrance of the cave. He could hear the regular breathing of the girl within. The hot blood surged through his brute veins. His huge paws opened and closed spasmodically. His breath sucked hot between his flabby lips.
Just beneath him Thandar lay dreaming. He saw a wonderful vision of a beautiful nymph dancing in the firelight. In a circle about her sat the Smith-Joneses, the Percy Standishes, the Livingston-Browns, the Quincy Adams-Cootses, and a hundred more equally aristocratic families of Boston.
It did not seem strange to Thandar that there was not enough clothing among the entire assemblage to have decently draped the Laocoon. His father wore a becoming loin cloth, while the stately Mrs. John Alden Smith-Jones, his mother, was tastefully arrayed in a scant robe of the skins of small rodents sewn together with bits of gut.
As the nymph danced the audience kept time to her steps with loudly clapping palms, and when she was done they approached her one by one, crawling upon their hands and knees, and kissed her hand.
Suddenly he saw that the nymph was Nadara, and as he sprang forward to claim her a large man with a coarse matted beard, a slanted forehead, and close-set eyes, leaped out from among the others, seized Nadara and fled with her toward a waiting trolley car.
He recognized the man as Thurg, and even in his dream it seemed rather incongruous that he could be clothed in well-fitting evening clothes.
Nadara screamed once, and the scream roused Thandar from his dream. Raising upon one elbow he looked toward the entrance of his cave. The recollection of the dream swept back into his memory. With a little sigh of relief that it had been but a dream, he settled back once more upon his bed of grasses, and soon was wrapped in dreamless slumber.