Land of Terror

Chapter Sixteen

Edgar Rice Burroughs

IT IS remarkable how life adapts itself to its environment, and, I may say, especially man, who is entirely hairless and unprotected from the elements and comparatively slow and weak. Here was I, a man of the Twentieth Century, with perhaps a thousand years of civilization as my background, trekking through the wildernesses of a savage world with a man and a girl of the Old Stone Age, and quite as self-reliant and as much at home as they. I, who would not have ventured upon the streets of my native city in my shirt-sleeves, was perfectly comfortable, and not at all self-conscious, in a G-string and a pair of sandals. It has often made me smile to contemplate what my strait-laced New England friends would have thought, could they have seen me; and I know that they would have considered Kleeto an abandoned wench, yet, like practically every girl I have ever known here in Pellucidar, she was fine and clean; and virtuous almost to prudery; but she did have a failing; a failing that is not uncommon to all girls on the outer crust—she talked too much. Yet her naïve and usually happy prattle often distracted my mind from the sorrow which weighed it down.

Having found that I was from another world, Kleeto must know all about it; and she asked a million questions. She was a very different Kleeto from the Kleeto I had known in the palace of Meeza, the king, for then she was suppressed by the seeming hopelessness of her position and her fear of the maniacs among whom she lived; but now that she was free and safe, the natural buoyancy of her spirits reasserted itself and the real Kleeto bloomed again.

It was quite evident to me that Zor had fallen in love with Kleeto, and there is no doubt but what the little rascal led him on—there are coquettes wherever there are women. It was impossible to tell if she were in love with him; but I think she was because she treated him so badly. Anyway, I know it was she who suggested that he go to Suvi.

“Why did you leave Suvi, Kleeto?” I once asked her.

“I ran away,” she said, with a shrug. “I wanted to go to Kali; but I got lost; and so I wandered around until I was finally captured by the Jukans.”

“If you were lost,” said Zor, “why didn’t you go back to Suvi?”

“I was afraid,” replied Kleeto.

“Afraid of what?” I asked.

“There was a man there that wished to take me as his mate, but I did not want him; but he was a big strong man, and his uncle was King of Suvi. It was because of him that I ran away, and because of him that I dared not go back.”

“But now you are not afraid to return?” I asked.

“I shall have you and Zor with me,” she said; “and so I shall not be afraid.”

“Is this man, by any chance; named Do-gad?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “Do you know him?” “No,” I said; “but some day I am going to meet him.” It was a strange coincidence that both Dian and Kleeto had been captured by the Jukans while they were trying to escape from Do-gad. The fellow would have plenty to account for to Zor and me.

Once again it was, to me, new country that we were passing through. In fact, so enormous is the land area of Pellucidar, so sparsely peopled is it, and so little explored, that almost all of it is new country practically untouched by man. It is, however, a vast melting pot of life where animals of nearly all the geological periods of the outer crust exist contemporaneously. I have been told that there are considerable areas entirely destitute of animal life; and I know that there are others where the reptilia of the Triassic and Jurassic Ages of the outer crust reign in undisputed possession because no other creature dare enter their domain. Other areas are peopled solely by the birds and mammals that flourished on the outer crust from the Cretaceous to the Pliocene; but by far the larger part of the Pellucidar known to me from my own exploration and from hearsay is inhabited by all these forms of life, with here and there an isolated community of men living mostly in caves. Only since the founding of the Empire had there been anything approaching a city built in Pellucidar, unless one might call the underground caverns of the Mahars cities, or apply the same name to the crazy conglomeration of huts occupied by the Jukans.

One city only must always be excepted from this very general statement. That is the City of Korsar, near the north polar opening, which I believe to have been originally founded by the crew of a pirate ship which, by some miracle, found its way through the polar opening from the Arctic Ocean into Pellucidar.

The civilization of these people, however, has never spread toward the South. They are, by nature, a maritime people; but having no sun, or moon, or stars to guide them, they do not dare venture out of sight of land on the great ocean that lies at their very door, the Korsar Az.

We had slept many times, and were still moving along the shore of the sea, when we came suddenly upon a group of enormous mastodons in a little, flat-floored valley through which a river ran. There were three mastodons in the group, a bull, a cow, and a calf; and we could see by the actions of the adults that something was amiss, for they kept running back and forth, trumpeting loudly.

We were about give them a wide berth, when I discovered the cause of their excitement. The calf had wandered into a slough near the edge of the river and had become mired down. It would have been suicide for either the cow or the bull, with their tremendous weight, to have ventured into the soft ground in an effort to save the calf.

Like most people, I am sentimental about young animals; and when I heard that poor little fellow bawling, my heart went out to him.

“Let’s see if we can get him out of there,” I said to Zor.

“And get killed for our pains,’” replied the man from Zoram.

“Old Maj is pretty intelligent,” I said. “I think he would know that we were trying to help.”

Zor shrugged. “Sometimes I think that you are really a Jukan,” he said, laughing. “You have some of the craziest ideas.”

“Oh, well,” I said, “if you’re afraid, of course—” “Who said I was afraid?” demanded Zor.

That was enough. I knew that he would come with me now, if he died for it, for the men of Zoram are especially jealous of their reputation for bravery; so I started down toward the mastodons, and both Zor and Kleeto came with me. I didn’t go very close to them at first but down to the edge of the marsh about a hundred yards from them where I could look over the ground and ascertain if there were any possibilities of helping the calf. At this point there was only about twenty feet of marsh between solid ground and the river, and it was covered with driftwood that had been deposited there during high water. The surface of the marsh had dried out under the hot sun, and after testing this crust I found that it would support our weight; so the only feasible plan whereby we might get the calf out was obvious. I explained it to Zor and Kleeto, and then the three of us set about gathering larger pieces of driftwood which we placed in front of the calf to form something of a corduroy road from it to the solid ground. At first, the little fellow was frightened and started plunging when we approached him; but presently he seemed to sense that we were not going to harm him, and quieted down. The bull and cow were also very much excited at first; but after awhile they stopped their trumpeting and stood watching us. I think they realized what we were trying to do. The last few feet of our improvised road had to be laid down within a few feet of them, and was in easy reach of their trunks; but they did not offer to molest us.

With the road completed came the job of trying to get the calf onto it. He probably weighed at least a ton; so lifting him was out of the question.

Zor and I found a large log and laid it parallel and close to him; then we got a long piece of driftwood that was staunch and strong—the bole of a small tree—placed one end across the log, and slowly worked it under one of his forelegs. In the meantime, Kleeto, following my instructions, was ready with the largest piece of driftwood she could lift. Zor and I got on the outer end of our lever and threw all our weight onto it. Time and again we repeated this, until finally the leg commenced to pull out of the muck; and, as soon as it was free, Kleeto shoved the piece of driftwood beneath it.

The calf then tried to scramble out on the roadway; but he couldn’t quite make it, and so we went around to the other side and repeated the operation on his other foreleg. This was easier because he could help himself a little now with his free leg; and as soon as he had both of them on solid footing he wallowed around for a moment and finally dragged himself out.

I had never seen anything so touching as the solicitude of the bull and cow when the little fellow finally stood beside them on solid ground. They felt him all over for a moment or two to see that he was all right and then dragged him away from the edge of the marsh.

Kleeto, Zor, and I sat down on the big log to rest, for it had been fatiguing work. We expected the mammoths to go away; but they didn’t. They stopped a couple of hundred feet from us and watched us.

After we had rested; we started on again, looking for a place to cross the river; and as soon as we did the bull started toward us, followed by the cow and the calf. That didn’t look so good, and we kept close to the edge of the marsh so that we could escape them if they showed any disposition to be nasty. We kept glancing back over our shoulders, and presently I noticed that the mastodons were not gaining on us. Apparently it was merely a coincidence that they were going in the same direction that we were.

We had to go quite a little distance up river before we found a place where we could make a safe crossing. It was not a very large river; and the bottom where we crossed was gravelly. When we reached the opposite bank we saw that the mastodons were entering the river behind us.

Well, they tagged along after us until we found a safe place to camp. They didn’t approach very close to us at any time; and when we stopped they stopped.

“If looks as though they were just following us,” said Kleeto.

“It certainly does,” agreed Zor; “but I wonder why?”

“You’ve got me,” I said. “I don’t think they intend to harm us. They don’t show any signs of nervousness or excitement, such as they would if they were angry or afraid of us.”

“Old Maj isn’t afraid of anything,” said Zor. Maj is the Pellucidarian name for the mastodon.

“I’m going to see if they’re friendly,” I said.

“You better locate a nice tree before you try anything,” said Zor; “and be sure it’s a big one. That old bull could uproot almost anything around here.”

We had halted near some caves, where we intended to camp, and I figured that if the mastodons were inclined to be unfriendly I could beat them to the cave we had selected before they could overhaul me; at least I hoped so.

I walked slowly toward them, and they just stood there looking at me without showing any signs of nervousness. When I was about a hundred feet from them, the calf started to come toward me; then the cow moved a little restlessly and made a funny little noise. I guess she was trying to call him back, but he came on; and I stood still and waited. He stopped two or three times and looked back at the cow and the bull; but each time he came on again and, finally, he stopped a few feet from me. He stuck his trunk way out in front of him, and I reached out my hand very slowly and touched it. I scratched it a little bit; and he came a step or two closer. I put my hand on his head then and scratched his forehead. He seemed to like it; but presently he started winding his trunk around me, and I did not like that; so I took it and unwound it forcibly.

The bull and the cow hadn’t moved; but, believe me, they were watching us. All of a sudden the cow raised her trunk and trumpeted; and the little fellow wheeled around and went lumbering back to her as fast as he could go, while I walked back and joined Zor and Kleeto.

That was the beginning of a very strange friendship, for when we awoke after our sleep the mastodons were still hanging around; and they tagged along behind us for every march after that for a long time.

I used to talk to them a lot and call them Maj; and once when they were not near camp when we awoke after a sleep I shouted the name several times; and presently the three of them came out of the nearby forest, where they had evidently been feeding. We had become quite accustomed to them, and they to us, with the result that they often came quite close to us. In fact, I often stroked their trunks, which, for some reason, they seemed to enjoy; but why they were following us we could not guess, nor did we ever know. The closest conjecture that I could arrive at was that they were grateful to us for having saved the calf from the marsh in which he would surely have died had we not come along. Their presence with us more than repaid us for our efforts in behalf of the calf, for while they were with us we were never once menaced by any of the many predatory animals which abound in the country through which we passed, as even the most savage of them respect the strength of Maj.

We had slept many times since leaving the Valley of the Jukans; so that I knew that we had traveled a considerable distance, when we prepared to make camp after a long march at the foot of a cliff in which there was a cave where we might find security while we slept. The remains of a campfire in front of the cave indicated that it had been used comparatively recent1y; and the face of the cliff beside the mouth of the cave bore evidence that a number of wayfarers had found shelter there in times past, for many of them had scratched their marks in the limestone, a custom which is quite prevalent among the more intelligent tribes of Pellucidar, where each individual has his own personal mark which answers the purpose of a signature.

As I glanced at them casually, my attention was suddenly riveted upon one evidently made quite recently. It was an equilateral triangle with a dot in the center. It was Dian’s mark. I called the attention of Kleeto and Zor to it; and they became quite as excited as I.

“She has been here quite recently and alone,” said Zor.

“What makes you think she was alone?” I demanded.

“If there had been another with her, he also would have made his mark,” replied Zor; “but hers is the only one freshly made.”

Could it have been that Dian had deliberately deserted me? I could not believe it, and yet I knew that the evidence must seem conclusive to anyone who did not know Dian the Beautiful as well as I.

Land of Terror - Contents    |     Chapter Seventeen

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