The Eternal Lover

Part I

Chapter I

Nu of the Niocene

Edgar Rice Burroughs

NU the son of Nu, his mighty muscles rolling beneath his smooth bronzed skin, moved silently through the jungle primeval. His handsome head with its shock of black hair, roughly cropped between sharpened stones, was high held, the delicate nostrils questioning each vagrant breeze for word of Oo, hunter of men.

Now his trained senses catch the familiar odor of Ta, the great woolly rhinoceros, directly in his path, but Nu, the son of Nu, does not hunt Ta this day. Does not the hide of Ta’s brother already hang before the entrance of Nu’s cave? No, today Nu hunts the gigantic cat, the fierce saber-toothed tiger, Oo, for Nat-ul, wondrous daughter of old Tha, will mate with none but the mightiest of hunters.

Only so recently as the last darkness, as, beneath the great, equatorial moon, the two had walked hand in hand beside the restless sea she had made it quite plain to Nu, the son of Nu, that not even he, son of the chief of chiefs, could claim her unless there hung at the thong of his loin cloth the fangs of Oo.

“Nat-ul,” she had said to him, “wishes her man to be greater than other men. She loves Nu now better than her very life, but if Love is to walk at her side during a long life Pride and Respect must walk with it.” Her slender hand reached up to stroke the young giant’s black hair. “I am very proud of my Nu even now,” she continued, “for among all the young men of the tribe there is no greater hunter, or no mightier fighter than Nu, the son of Nu. Should you, single-handed, slay Oo before a grown man’s beard has darkened your cheek there will be none greater in all the world than Nat-ul’s mate, Nu, the son of Nu.”

The young man was still sensible to the sound of her soft voice and the caress of her gentle touch upon his brow. As these things had sent him speeding forth into the savage jungle in search of Oo while the day was still so young that the night-prowling beasts of prey were yet abroad, so they urged him forward deeper and deeper into the dark and trackless mazes of the tangled forest.

As he forged on the scent of Ta became stronger, until at last the huge, ungainly beast loomed large before Nu’s eyes. He was standing in a little clearing, in deep, rank jungle grasses and had he not been head on toward Nu he would not have seen him, since even his acute hearing was far too dull to apprehend the noiseless tread of the cave man, moving lightly up wind.

As the tiny, blood-shot eyes of the primordial beast discovered the man the great head went down, and Ta, ill natured and bellicose progenitor of the equally ill natured and bellicose rhino of the twentieth century, charged the lithe giant who had disturbed his antediluvian meditation.

The creature’s great bulk and awkward, uncouth lines belied his speed, for he tore down upon Nu with all the swiftness of a thoroughbred and had not the brain and muscle of the troglodyte been fitted by heritage and training to the successful meeting of such emergencies there would be no tale to tell today of Nu of the Niocene.

But the young man was prepared, and turning he ran with the swiftness of a hare toward the nearest tree, a huge, arboraceous fern towering upon the verge of the little clearing. Like a cat the man ran up the perpendicular bole, his hands and feet seeming barely to touch the projecting knobs marking the remains of former fronds which converted the towering stem into an easy stairway for such as he.

About Nu’s neck his stone-tipped spear hung by its rawhide thong down his back, while stone hatchet and stone knife dangled from his geestring, giving him free use of his hands for climbing. You or I, having once gained the seeming safety of the lowest fronds of the great tree, fifty feet above the ground, might have heaved a great sigh of relief that we had thus easily escaped the hideous monster beneath; but not so Nu, who was wise to the ways of the creatures of his remote age.

Not one whit did he abate his speed as he neared the lowest branch, nor did he even waste a precious second in a downward glance at his enemy. What need, indeed? Did he not know precisely what Ta would do? Instead he swung, monkey like, to the broad leaf, and though the chances he took would have paled the face of a brave man today they did not cause Nu even to hesitate, as he ran lightly and swiftly along the bending, swaying frond, leaping just at the right instant toward the bole of a nearby jungle giant.

Nor was he an instant too soon. The frond from which he had sprung had scarce whipped up from beneath his weight when Ta, with all the force and momentum of a runaway locomotive, struck the base of the tree head on. The jar of that terrific collision shook the earth, there was the sound of the splintering of wood, and the mighty tree toppled to the ground with a deafening crash.

Nu, from an adjoining tree, looked down and grinned. He was not hunting Ta that day, and so he sprang from tree to tree until he had passed around the clearing, and then, coming to the surface once more, continued his way toward the distant lava cliffs where Oo, the man hunter, made his grim lair.

From among the tangled creepers through which the man wormed his sinuous way ugly little eyes peered down upon him from beneath shaggy, beetling brows, and great fighting tusks were bared, as the hairy ones growled and threatened from above; but Nu paid not the slightest attention to the huge, ferocious creatures that menaced him upon every hand. From earliest childhood he had been accustomed to the jabberings and scoldings of the ape-people, and so he knew that if he went his way in peace, harming them not, they would offer him no harm. One of lesser experience might have attempted to drive them away with menacing spear, or well-aimed hatchet, and thus have drawn down upon him a half dozen or more ferocious bulls against which no single warrior, however doughty, might have lived long enough to count his antagonists.

Threatening and unfriendly as the apes seemed the cave man really looked upon them as friends and allies, since between them and his own people there existed a species of friendly alliance, due no doubt to the similarity of their form and structure. In that long gone age when the world was young and its broad bosom teemed with countless thousands of carnivorous beasts and reptiles, and other myriads blackened the bosoms of its inland seas, and filled its warm, moist air with the flutter of their mighty, bat-like wings, man’s battle for survival stretched from sun to sun—there was no respite. His semi-arboreal habits took him often into the domains of the great and lesser apes, and from this contact had arisen what might best be termed an armed truce, for they alone of all the other inhabitants of the earth had spoken languages, both meager it is true, yet sufficient to their primitive wants, and as both languages had been born of the same needs to deal with identical conditions there were many words and phrases identical to both. Thus the troglodyte and the primordial ape could converse when necessity demanded, and as Nu traversed their country he understood their grumbling and chattering merely as warnings to him against the performance of any overt act. Had danger lurked in his path the hairy ones would have warned him of that too, for of such was their service to man who in return often hunted the more remorseless of their enemies, driving them from the land of the anthropoids.

On and on went Nu occasionally questioning the hairy ones he encountered for word of Oo, and always the replies confirmed him in his belief that he should come upon the man eater before the sun crawled into its dark cave for the night.

And so he did. He had passed out of the heavier vegetation, and was ascending a gentle rise that terminated in low volcanic cliffs when there came down upon the breeze to his alert nostrils the strong scent of Oo. There was little or no cover now, other than the rank jungle grass that overgrew the slope, and an occasional lofty fern rearing its tufted pinnacle a hundred feet above the ground; but Nu was in no way desirous of cover. Cover that would protect him from the view of Oo would hide Oo from him. He was not afraid that the saber-toothed tiger would run away from him—that was not Oo’s way—but he did not wish to come unexpectedly upon the animal in the thick grass.

He had approached to within a hundred yards of the cliffs now, and the scent of Oo had become as a stench in the sensitive nostrils of the cave man. Just ahead he could see the openings to several caves in the face of the rocky barrier, and in one of these he knew must lie the lair of his quarry.

Fifty yards from the cliff the grasses ceased except for scattered tufts that had found foothold among the broken rocks that strewed the ground, and as Nu emerged into this clear space he breathed a sigh of relief for during the past fifty yards a considerable portion of the way had been through a matted jungle that rose above his head. To have met Oo there would have spelled almost certain death for the cave man.

Now, as he bent his eyes toward the nearby cave mouths he discovered one before which was strewn such an array of gigantic bones that he needed no other evidence as to the identity of its occupant. Here, indeed, laired no lesser creature than the awesome Oo, the gigantic, saber-toothed tiger of antiquity. Even as Nu looked there came a low and ominous growl from the dark mouth of the foul cavern, and then in the blackness beyond the entrance Nu saw two flaming blotches of yellow glaring out upon him.

A moment later the mighty beast itself sauntered majestically into the sunlight. There it stood lashing its long tail from side to side, glaring with unblinking eyes straight at the rash man-thing who dared venture thus near its abode of death. The huge body, fully as large as that of a full grown bull, was beautifully marked with black stripes upon a vivid yellow ground, while the belly and breast were of the purest white.

As Nu advanced the great upper lip curled back revealing in all their terrible ferocity the eighteen inch curved fangs that armed either side of the upper jaw, and from the cavernous throat came a fearsome scream of rage that brought frightened silence upon the jungle for miles around.

The hunter loosened the stone knife at his gee string and transferred it to his mouth where he held it firmly, ready for instant use, between his strong, white teeth. In his left hand he carried his stone-tipped spear, and in his right the heavy stone hatchet that was so effective both at a distance and at close range.

Oo is creeping upon him now. The grinning jaws drip saliva. The yellow-green eyes gleam bloodthirstily. Can it be possible that this fragile pygmy dreams of meeting in hand-to-hand combat the terror of a world, the scourge of the jungle, the hunter of men and of mammoths?

“For Nat-ul,” murmured Nu, for Oo was about to spring.

As the mighty hurtling mass of bone and muscle, claws and fangs, shot through the air toward him the man swung his tiny stone hatchet with all the power behind his giant muscles, timing its release so nicely that it caught Oo in mid leap squarely between the eyes with the terrific force of a powder sped projectile. Then Nu, cat-like as Oo himself, leaped agilely to one side as the huge bulk of the beast dashed, sprawling to the ground at the spot where the man had stood.

Scarce had the beast struck the earth than the cave man, knowing that his puny weapon could at best but momentarily stun the monster, drove his heavy spear deep into the glossy side just behind the giant shoulder.

Already Oo has regained his feet, roaring and screaming in pain and rage. The air vibrates and the earth trembles to his hideous shrieks. For miles around the savage denizens of the savage jungle bristle in terror, slinking further into the depths of their dank and gloomy haunts, casting the while affrighted glances rearward in the direction of that awesome sound.

With gaping jaws and wide spread talons the tiger lunges toward its rash tormentor who still stands gripping the haft of his primitive weapon. As the beast turns the spear turns also, and Nu is whipped about as a leaf at the extremity of a gale-tossed branch.

Striking and cavorting futilely the colossal feline leaps hither and thither in prodigious bounds as he strives to reach the taunting figure that remains ever just beyond the zone of those destroying talons. But presently Oo goes more slowly, and now he stops and crouches flat upon his belly. Slowly and cautiously he reaches out-ward and backward with one huge paw until the torturing spear is within his grasp.

Meanwhile the man screams taunts and insults into the face of his enemy, at the same time forcing the spear further and further into the vitals of the tiger, for he knows that once that paw encircles the spear’s haft his chances for survival will be of the slenderest. He has seen that Oo is weakening from loss of blood, but there are many fighting minutes left in the big carcass unless a happy twist of the spear sends its point through the wall of the great heart.

But at length the beast succeeds. The paw closes upon the spear. The tough wood bends beneath the weight of those steel thews, then snaps short a foot from the tiger’s body, and at the same instant Oo rears and throws himself upon the youth, who has snatched his stone hunting knife from between his teeth and crouches, ready for the impact.

Down they go, the man entirely buried beneath the great body of his antagonist. Again and again the crude knife is buried in the snowy breast of the tiger even while Nu is falling beneath the screaming, tearing incarnation of bestial rage.

At the instant it strikes the man as strange that not once have the snapping jaws or frightful talons touched him, and then he is crushed to earth beneath the dead weight of Oo. The beast gives one last, Titanic struggle, and is still.

With difficulty Nu wriggles from beneath the carcass of his kill. At the last moment the tiger itself had forced the spear’s point into its own heart as it bent and broke the haft. The man leaps to his feet and cuts the great throat. Then, as the blood flows, he dances about the dead body of his vanquished foe, brandishing his knife and recovered hatchet, and emitting now shrill shrieks in mimicry of Oo, and now deep toned roars—the call of the victorious cave man.

From the surrounding cliffs and jungle came answering challenges from a hundred savage throats—the rumbling thunder of the cave bear’s growl; the roar of Zor, the lion; the wail of the hyena; the trumpeting of the mammoth; the deep toned bellowing of the bull bos, and from distant swamp and sea came the hissing and whistling of saurians and amphibians.

His victory dance completed, Nu busied himself in the removal of the broken spear from the carcass of his kill. At the same time he removed several strong tendons from Oo’s fore arm, with which he roughly spliced the broken haft, for there was never an instant in the danger fraught existence of his kind when it was well to be without the service of a stone-tipped spear.

This precaution taken, the man busied himself with the task of cutting off Oo’s head, that he might bear it in triumph to the cave of his love. With stone hatchet and knife he hacked and hewed for the better part of a half hour, until at last he raised the dripping trophy above his head, as, leaping high in air, he screamed once more the gloating challenge of the victor, that all the world might know that there was no greater hunter than Nu, the son of Nu.

Even as the last note of his fierce cry rolled through the heavy, humid, super-heated air of the Niocene there came a sudden hush upon the face of the world. A strange darkness obscured the swollen sun. The ground trembled and shook. Deep rumblings muttered upward from the bowels of the young earth, and answering grumblings thundered down from the firmament above.

The startled troglodyte looked quickly in every direction, searching for the great beast who could thus cause the whole land to tremble and cry out in fear, and the heavens above to moan, and the sun to hide itself in terror.

In every direction he saw frightened beasts and birds and flying reptiles scurrying in panic stricken terror in search of hiding places, and moved by the same primitive instinct the young giant grabbed up his weapons and his trophy, and ran like an antelope for the sheltering darkness of the cave of Oo.

Scarcely had he reached the fancied safety of the interior when the earth’s crust crumpled and rocked—there was a sickening sensation of sudden sinking, and amidst the awful roar and thunder of rending rock, the cave mouth closed, and in the impenetrable darkness of his living tomb Nu, the son of Nu, Nu of the Niocene, lost consciousness.

That was a hundred thousand years ago.

The Eternal Lover - Contents    |     Part I - Chapter II - The Earthquake

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