Back to the Stone Age

Chapter XXI


Edgar Rice Burroughs

“HE WON’T hurt us,” von Horst assured her.

“How do you know he won’t?” she demanded. “You saw what he did to the Ganaks.” .

“We are friends, Old White and I.” “This is no time to laugh with words,” she said. “It is very brave but it isn’t good sense.” The mammoth was nearing them. La-ja involuntarily pressed close to von Horst. He threw a protective arm about her and held her still closer. He was aware that her attitude seemingly belied her repeated assurances of dislike and wondered if fear could so quickly overcome her pride. That did not seem at all like La-ja. He was puzzled, but he was not too insistent upon questioning any circumstance that brought her into his arms. The fact was enough. All that he could do was acknowledge another debt of gratitude to Old White.

The mammoth stopped in front of them. He seemed to be questioning the presence of the girl. Von Horst’s only fear was that the great, savage beast might not accept her. He had known but one human friend. All others had been enemies to be killed. The man spoke to him and stroked the trunk that was reaching tentatively toward the girl. Then he gave the command to lift them to his back. There was a moment’s hesitation as the sensitive tip moved slowly over La-ja. The girl did not shrink. For that von Horst was thankful. How very brave she was! The trunk encircled them, and again the girl’s arms went around the mans neck. Old White tightened his grip. Von Horst repeated the command to lift them, and they were swung from the ground and deposited just behind the great head. At the man’s signal, the mammoth moved off in the direction of Lo-har.

La-ja breathed a little sigh that was half gasp. “I do not understand,” she said. “How can you make a wild tandor do what you tell him to do?”

Von Horst told her then of his first encounter with Old White and of all that had occurred since—his captivity among the mammoth-men, of the little canyon, and of his eventual escape.

“I saw you attack Frug,” she said; “and then Skruf dragged me across the river, and I never knew whether you were killed by Frug or by the mammoth-men, or if they captured you.

“Skruf hid with me in a cave beside the river. He put a gag in my mouth so that I couldn’t cry out and attract the attention of the mammoth-men. We heard them hunting us. I would rather have been captured by them than taken back to Basti, and Skruf knew it. I thought you might be a prisoner among them, too.”

She caught herself quickly, as though she had spoken without thought. “Of course I didn’t care. It was only that the country of the mammoth-men is much nearer Lo-har than Basti is. I did not want to be taken all the way back to Basti.

“We hid for a long time; then we started out again, but at the first sleep I escaped. The thongs he tied me with were so loose that I slipped my hands from them.

“I ran away toward Lo-har. I went a long way and thought that I was safe. I slept many times; so I know I must have come far. I was very lucky. I met only a few of the flesh-eaters and these always when there was a place to hide—a tree or a cave with a very small entrance. I saw no man until once I looked behind me from the top of a low hill and saw Skruf following me. He was a long way off, but I knew him at once. He saw me. It was very plain that he saw me, for he stopped suddenly and stood still for a moment; then he started after me at a trot. I turned and ran. I tried every way that I knew to throw him off my track, and after a long time I thought that I had succeeded. But I had not. He came upon me while I was sleeping, and started to drag me back to Basti. It was then that the bison-men discovered us. You know the rest.”

“You have had a hard time of it, La-ja,” said von Horst. “I can’t understand how you have come through alive.”

“I think I have had a very easy time of it,” she replied. “Very few girls who are stolen from the tribe ever escape their captors. Many of them are killed; the others have to mate with men they do not like. That I would not do. I would kill myself first. I think I am a very lucky girl.”

“But think of all the dangers and hardships you have had to face,” he insisted.

“Oh, yes,” she admitted, “it is not easy to be alone always with enemies. It is not pleasant, but I have not had so many dangers. The Gorbuses were the worst. I did not like them.”

Von Horst was amazed. It seemed incredible that a girl could pass through what she had without being a nervous wreck, yet La-ja appeared to take it all as a matter of course. It was difficult for him not to compare her with girls of his own world and forget how different her environment had been. Where they walked with assurance, she might be as terrified as would they in Pellucidar—though it was not easy to visualize La-ja as terrified under any circumstances.

It often pleased him to dream of taking her back to the outer world with him. There were so many things, commonplace to him, that would astonish her—her first ride on a train, in an automobile, in an airplane; the sight of the great buildings, the giant liners, huge cities. He tried to imagine what the reaction would be of one who had never seen any of these things, nor dreamed of their existence, nor of the civilization that had produced them.

She would find many things foolish and impractical—the wearing of high-heeled shoes that pinched her feet; she would think it foolish to wear furs when it was not cold, to dress warmly in the daytime and go half naked at night. All clothes would hamper her; she would not like them. But with the beauty of her face and figure, her pride, and her femininity she would soon learn to like them, of that he was quite certain.

Poor little La-ja! What a crime it would be to let civilization spoil her. However, that was nothing for him to worry about. She would not have him even in Pellucidar, nor was there much likelihood that he would ever himself see the outer world again, much less take her or anyone else back with him.

With reveries such as these and desultory conversation with La-ja he whiled the time while Old White bore them in the direction of Lo-har. Even the larger beasts of prey they encountered on the way turned aside from the path of the great bull mammoth, so that their journey was one of ease, free from the constant menace of these fierce flesh-eaters which would have constantly harassed them had they been on foot.

They had slept three times and eaten not a few when La-ja announced that they were approaching La-har; They had halted to rest and sleep—it would be the last sleep before they reached Lo-har, and La-ja seemed preoccupied and dejected. During this last journey together she had been friendly and companionable, so that von Horst’s hopes had risen; though he had had to admit to himself that she still gave him no reason to believe that side which they were camped and upon which great very happy—happier than he had been since he had entered this strange world; perhaps happier than he had ever been, for he had never been in love before.

They had made camp and he had gone out on the plain and brought down a small antelope with an arrow from his bow. Now they were grilling cuts over a small fire. Old White had moved ponderously to a clump of young trees which he was rapidly denuding of foliage. The noon-day sun beat down upon the open plain beside which they were camped and upon which great herds grazed peacefully, for the moment undisturbed by any prowling carnivore.

Von Horst felt the peace and contentment that hung over the scene like a white cloud above a summer sea, and his mood was in harmony with his environment. His eyes rested upon La-ja, devouring her; and almost upon his lips was an avowal of the passion that filled his whole being.

She chanced to turn and catch his eyes upon her; for a moment they held; then she looked off across the plain. She pointed.

“When we set out again,” she said, “I go in that direction—alone. “

“What do you mean?” he demanded. “That is not the direction of Lo-har—it is straight ahead, in the direction we have been traveling.”

“A great lake lies to our left, “ she explained. “We have had to make a detour to pass around it. You cannot see it from here because it lies in a deep basin rimmed by cliffs.”

“You are not going alone,” he said. “I am going with you.”

“Haven’t I made it clear to you many times that I do not want you to come with me? How many times must I tell you that I do not like you? Go away and leave me. Let me go back to my own people in peace.”

Von Horst flushed. Bitter words were in his throat, but he choked them. All he said was, “I am going with you, because I—because—well, because you can’t go on alone.”

She rose. “I do not need you, and I do not want you,” she said; then she went and lay down in the shade of a tree to sleep.

Von Horst sat brooding disconsolately. Old White, his meal finished, drank from the stream beside the camp and came and stood beneath a nearby tree, dozing. Von Horst knew that he would remain there and constitute a better guard than any man; so he stretched himself upon the ground and was soon asleep.

When he awoke, Old White was still standing in the shade, his great shaggy body rocking gently to and fro; the herds still grazed over the broad plain; the eternal noon-day sun still shone down serenely upon the peaceful scene. He might have slept for no more than a minute; or, he realized, he might have been sleeping for a week of outer-earthly time. He looked for La-ja. She was not where he had last seen her. A sudden presentiment of evil brought him to his feet. He looked quickly in all directions. The girl was nowhere in sight. He called her name aloud again and again, but there was no response.

Then he went quickly to where she had been sleeping and searched the ground in the vicinity of the camp. There was no sign that either man or beast had been there other than themselves; but this was not entirely strange, as the grass, close cropped by the grazing herds, would have registered no sign of an ordinary passing.

Presently he dismissed the possibility that La-ja had been taken forcibly by either beast or man. Had such an attempt been made she would have called to him for help, and surely Old White would have protected the camp from any intruder. There was but one explanation—La-ja had gone on alone, eluding him. She had told him that she did not want him to come with her. His insistence that he would come anyway had left her no alternative other than the thing she had done—she had simply run away from him.

His pride was hurt, but that hurt was as nothing to the ache in his heart. The bottom had dropped out of his world. There seemed nothing in life to look forward to. What was he to do? Where might he go? He had no idea where Sari lay, and only in Sari might he hope to find a friend in all this vast, savage world. But only for a moment was he undecided; then he called to Old White, and at his command the beast swung him to its back. As the mammoth moved off, von Horst guided it in the new direction La-ja had pointed out before they had slept. His mind was made up. He was going to Lo-har. While life remained in him he would not give up hope of winning the girl he loved.

He urged Old White on in the hope of overtaking the girl. Not knowing how long he had slept he had no idea how far ahead of him she might be. She had told him that Lo-bar lay but a single march from their last camp site, yet on and on they went until he was half dead with fatigue; and at last Old White refused to go farther without rest, yet there was neither sign of La-ja nor of any village nor even of the great lake that she had told him they must skirt.

He wondered if he were searching in the right direction, for it was easily possible that the village might lie either to the right or left of his line of march; but it seemed strange that he should have passed close to any village without seeing some sign of man. Hunting parties were always abroad, and the sight of a stranger would have brought them to investigate and probably to have killed. He banked on his acquaintance with La-ja, however, to get him a peaceable hearing from her father, Brun, the chief, when it was his intention to ask to be taken into the tribe.

At last he was forced to halt that Old White might feed and rest; but it was not until they finally did so beside a stream that he realized how much he, too, was in need of both food and sleep. He had brought with him, wrapped in its own hide, some of the antelope he had killed at his last camp; and upon this and some fruit he broke his long fast; then he slept.

He must have slept for a long time, for he was very tired; but with his safety assured by the watchful presence of Old White he slept soundly. When he awoke, something was touching his breast. He did not immediately open his eyes, for he recognized the feel of the moist tip of Old White’s trunk upon his naked flesh. He just lay there luxuriating in the sensuous delight of the brief, lazy moments that lie between awakening and full consciousness. But as consciousness returned, bringing command of all the senses, he gradually became aware of an odor that was not the odor of Old White. It was a strong, acrid scent; and slowly he raised his lids.

A sudden numbness seized him as he recognized the creature that stood over him sniffing at his body with its moist muzzle moving over his bare flesh. It was that most gigantic and feared of all Pellucidarian beasts of prey, the ryth, a colossal cave bear long extinct upon the outer crust.

He closed his eyes again and feigned death, for he had heard that a bear will not maul a dead body unless it is its own kill. He had little belief in the truth of the statement, but it was the proverbial straw and the only one. All that he could do was lie still and hope for the best.

The nose left his body. There was no sound but the breathing of the beast. What was it doing? The suspense was maddening, and at last he could endure it no longer. The bear was standing over him with its head turned to one side, looking away, sniffing, listening. Von Horst lay in a gentle depression beneath a wide-spreading tree. He could see but a short distance in the direction the bear was looking. Nor could the bear see farther than the summit of the gentle slope that ran down to the bank of the stream beside which von Horst lay, but it must have scented or heard something approaching.

Von Horst thought that it must be Old White returning. He must have wandered much farther from camp than usual. There would be a battle royal when he returned and saw the ryth menacing his friend. The man knew that Old White was afraid of nothing, and he knew the reputation of the mighty cave bear for fearlessness and bellicosity. He had been told that one of these great beasts could kill a mammoth with a single blow of its mighty paw; but Old White was not just a mammoth; he was the mammoth. The mammoth-men had said there was never one like him for size and ferocity and cunning. And then a man topped the rise and walked in full view of the bear and von Horst. He was quartering down the slope so that he was not facing them directly; and he had not yet seen them, for they were in the dense shade of the tree.

He was half way down the slope, and von Horst thought the bear was going to let him pass, when he saw them. Simultaneously von Horst recognized him.. It was Daj, the young warrior from La-har whom he had met in the little canyon in Ja-ru, the land of the mammoth-men.

When Daj saw the bear he looked for the nearest tree. It was man’s only defense against such a creature. As he started to run, the bear voiced a deafening roar and started for him. Von Horst sprang to his feet. He was saved, for he could clamber into the tree above now before the bear could turn and reach him. But what of Daj? The tree nearest him was evidently a little too far away to be reached before the bear overtook him, yet Daj was straining very muscle to reach it.

As von Horst had risen he had gathered up his bow and arrows that had lain on the ground beside him. In them he saw a possibility of saving Daj. Fitting an arrow to his bow he took aim and let drive. The missile sank deep in the bear’s rump eliciting a roar of rage and pain and bringing it around with an alacrity and agility that belied its great bulk as it sought the temerarious creature that dared assault it; and upon the instant, without a pause, it charged von Horst.

He had saved Daj; but perhaps he had underestimated the safety of his own position, for he had not reckoned with the surprising agility and speed of the enormous ryth.

The instant that he had loosed the first arrow he had fitted another to his bow which he bent now until the point of the arrow rested upon his thumb, and when he loosed it he drooped his weapon and sprang for a tree branch directly above him.

He did not know if he had scored a hit or not. The bear did not pause, but came thundering down upon him. He felt the wind of its raking talons against his legs as he drew them to the safety of the tree. A deep sigh of relief registered acknowledgement of his escape from a seemingly hopeless situation.

When he looked down he saw the bear standing beneath him pawing at the feathered shaft that protruded from the left side of its chest. It was roaring, but not so strongly now; and blood was flowing from its mouth. Von Horst saw that his last shot had delivered a serious wound, though perhaps not fatal. Those mighty, prehistoric creatures were most tenacious of life.

The bear pawed viciously at the shaft and then sprawled forward, struggled spasmodically, and lay still. Von Horst guessed that it had driven or twisted the arrow into its own heart, but he did not venture down at once. He looked for Daj but could not see him, as much foliage intervened; then he called his name aloud.

“Who are you?” came the answer.

“The mammoth-men called me Von; we met in the little canyon. Now do you recall me?”

“Yes. Because of you I escaped death that day. I could not very well forget you. What has happened to the bear? It is lying down. It looks as though it were dead, but what could have killed it?”

“Wait until I make sure that it’s dead,” cautioned von Horst. “If it is, we’ll come down.”

With his stone knife he hacked a branch from the tree and threw it down upon the bear. As the beast gave no sign that it had felt it, von Horst was satisfied that it was dead, and slipped down to the ground.”

As he was retrieving his weapons Daj approached him, a friendly smile upon his face. “Now you have saved my life again,” he said. “I do not know why, because we are not of the same tribe.”

“We are of the same race,” said von Horst; “we are both gilaks.”

The Pellucidarian shrugged. “If everyone felt that way there would be too many gilaks in Pellucidar and all the game would soon be killed off.”

Von Horst smiled as he thought of the vast area of the inner world with its handful of inhabitants and of the teeming city slums of the outer crust.

“For the good of the gilaks of Pellucidar,” he said, “may you never be persuaded to the brotherhood of man.”

“I do not know what you are talking about,” admitted Daj; “but what I would like to know is what made the ryth die.”

Von Horst showed him the bloody arrows that he had withdrawn from the carcass. “The one in his chest killed him,” he said. “It punctured his heart.”

“Those little slivers of wood killed a ryth!” exclaimed Daj.

“There was a lot of luck mixed in with them,” admitted von Horst; “but if you get one of them into the heart of anything, it will kill.”

“Yes, but how did you get it in? You couldn’t go close enough to a ryth to stick it in without being killed, and they’re too light to throw in as you might a spear.”

Von Horst showed Daj his bow and explained its use, and the Pellucidarian was much interested. After he had examined it for a moment he handed it back.

“We’d better move away from here,” he said. “That ryth was down here on the plain hunting. His mate may be around somewhere. If he doesn’t show up she’ll follow his scent until she finds him. This will not be a good place to be.”

“Where are you going?” asked von Horst.

“To Lo-har,” replied Daj. “I have been many sleeps on the way from Ja-ru, but now I shall be there in three or four more sleeps.”

“Three or four?” demanded von Horst. “I thought I was very close to Lo-har.”

“No,” said Daj, “but where are you going?”

“To Lo-har,” replied von Horst.


“I have no other place to go. I am from another world to which I cannot possibly return. I know one person in Sari who would be my friend, but I cannot find my way to Sari. In Lo-har I know two people who should not dislike me. I am going there to ask Brun to make me a member of the tribe.”

“Whom do you know in Lo-har?” asked Daj.

“You and La-ja,” replied von Horst.

Daj scratched his head. “Brun will probably have you killed,” he said. “If he doesn’t, Gaz will kill you; but if I you want to go to La-har, I will take you. You might as well die there as anywhere.”

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