The Eternal Lover

Part I

Chapter III

Nu, the Sleeper Awakes

Edgar Rice Burroughs

THE SHOCK that had been felt so plainly in the valley had been much more severe in the mountains to the south. In one place an overhanging cliff had split and fallen away from the face of the mountain, tumbling with a mighty roar into the valley below. As it hurtled down the mountain side the moonlight shining upon the fresh scar that it had left behind it upon the hill’s face revealed the mouth of a gloomy cave from which there tumbled the inert figure of an animal which rolled down the steep declivity in the wake of the mass of rock that had preceded it—the tearing away of which had opened up the cavern in which it had lain.

For a hundred feet perhaps the body rolled, coming to a stop upon a broad ledge. For some time it lay perfectly motionless, but at last a feeble movement of the limbs was discernible. Then for another long period it was quiet. Minutes dragged into hours and still the lonely thing lay upon the mountain side, while upon the plain below it hungry lions moaned and roared, and all the teeming life of the savage wilds took up their search for food, their sleeping and their love-making where they had dropped them in the fright of the earthquake.

At last the stars paled and the eastern horizon glowed to a new day, and then the thing upon the ledge sat up. It was a man. Still partially dazed he drew his hand across his eyes and looked about him in bewilderment. Then, staggering a little, he rose to his feet, and as he came erect, the new sun shining on his bronzed limbs and his shock of black hair, roughly cropped between sharpened stones, his youth and beauty became startlingly apparent.

He looked about him upon the ground, and not finding that which he sought turned his eyes upward toward the mountain until they fell upon the cave mouth he had just quitted so precipitately. Quickly he clambered back to the cavern, his stone hatchet and knife beating against his bare hips as he climbed. For a moment he was lost to view within the cave, but presently he emerged, in one hand a stone-tipped spear, which seemed recently to have been broken and roughly spliced with raw tendons, and in the other the severed head of an enormous beast, which more nearly resembled the royal tiger of Asia than it did any other beast, though that resemblance was little closer than is the resemblance of the Royal Bengal to a house kitten.

The young man was Nu, the son of Nu. For a hundred thousand years he had lain hermetically sealed in his rocky tomb, as toads remain in suspended animation for similar periods of time. The earthquake had unsealed his sepulcher, and the rough tumble down the mountainside had induced respiration. His heart had responded to the pumping of his lungs, and simultaneously the other organs of his body had taken up their various functions as though they had never ceased functioning.

As he stood upon the threshold of the cave of Oo, the man hunter, the look of bewilderment grew upon his features as his eyes roved over the panorama of the unfamiliar world which lay spread below him. There was scarce an object to remind him of the world that had been but a brief instant before, for Nu could not know that ages had rolled by since he took hasty refuge in the lair of the great beast he had slain.

He thought that he might be dreaming, and so he rubbed his eyes and looked again; but still he saw the unfamiliar trees and bushes about him and further down in the valley the odd appearing vegetation of the jungle. Nu could not fathom the mystery of it. Slowly he stepped from the cave and began the descent toward the valley, for he was very thirsty and very hungry. Below him he saw animals grazing upon the broad plain, but even at that distance he realized that they were such as no mortal eye had ever before rested upon.

Warily he advanced, every sense alert against whatever new form of danger might lurk in this strange, new world. Had he had any conception of a life after death he would doubtless have felt assured that the earthquake had killed him and that he was now wandering through the heavenly vale; but the men of Nu’s age had not yet conceived any sort of religion, other than a vague fear of certain natural phenomena such as storms and earthquakes, the movements of the sun and moon, and those familiar happenings which first awake the questionings of the primitive.

He saw the sun; but to him it was a different sun from the great, swollen orb that had shone through the thick, humid atmosphere of the Niocene. From Oo’s lair only the day before he had been able to see in the distance the shimmering surface of the restless sea; but now as far as eye could reach there stretched an interminable jungle of gently waving tree tops, except for the rolling plain at his feet where yesterday the black jungle of the ape-people had reared its lofty fronds.

Nu shook his head. It was all quite beyond him; but there were certain things which he could comprehend, and so, after the manner of the self-reliant, he set about to wrest his livelihood from nature under the new conditions which had been imposed upon him while he slept.

First of all his spear must be attended to. It would never do to trust to that crude patch longer than it would take him to find and fit a new haft. His meat must wait until that thing was accomplished. In the meantime he might pick up what fruit was available in the forest toward which he was bending his steps in search of a long, straight shoot of the hard wood which alone would meet his requirements. In the days that had been Nu’s there had grown in isolated patches a few lone clumps of very straight, hard-wood trees. The smaller of these the men of the tribe would cut down and split lengthways with stone wedges until from a single tree they might have produced material for a score or more spear shafts; but now Nu must see the very smallest of saplings, for he had no time to waste in splitting a larger tree, even had he had the necessary wedges and hammers.

Into the forest the youth crept, for though a hundred thousand years had elapsed since his birth he was still to all intent and purpose a youth. Upon all sides he saw strange and wonderful trees, the likes of which had never been in the forests of yesterday. The growths were not so luxuriant or prodigious, but for the most part the trees offered suggestions of alluring possibilities to the semiarboreal Nu, for the branches were much heavier and more solid than those of the great tree-ferns of his own epoch, and commenced much nearer the ground. Cat-like he leaped into the lower branches of them, reveling in the ease with which he could travel from tree to tree.

Gay colored birds of strange appearance screamed and scolded at him. Little monkeys hurried, chattering, from his path. Nu laughed. What a quaint, diminutive world it was indeed! Nowhere had he yet seen a tree or creature that might compare in size to the monsters among which he had traveled the preceding day.

The fruits, too, were small and strange. He scarcely dared venture to eat of them lest they be poisonous. If the lesser ape folk would only let him come close enough to speak with them he might ascertain from them which were safe, but for some unaccountable reason they seemed to fear and mistrust him. This above all other considerations argued to Nu that he had come in some mysterious way into another world.

Presently the troglodyte discovered a slender, straight young sapling. He came to the ground and tested its strength by bending it back and forth. Apparently it met the requirements of a new shaft. With his stone hatchet he hewed it off close to the ground, stripped it of branches, and climbing to the safety of the trees again, where he need fear no interruption from the huge monsters of the world he knew, set to work with his stone knife to remove the bark and shape the end to receive his spear head. First he split it down the center for four or five inches, and then he cut notches in the surface upon either side of the split portion. Now he carefully unwraps the rawhide that binds the spear head into his old haft, and for want of water to moisten it, crams the whole unfragrant mass into his mouth that it may be softened by warmth and saliva. For several minutes he busies himself in shaping the point of the new shaft that it may exactly fit the inequalities in the shank of the spear head. By the time this is done the rawhide has been sufficiently moistened to permit him to wind it tightly about the new haft into which he has set the spear head.

As he works he hears the noises of the jungle about him. There are many familiar voices, but more strange ones. Not once has the cave bear spoken; nor Zor, the mighty lion of the Niocene; nor Oo, the saber-toothed tiger. He misses the bellowing of the bull bos, and the hissing and whistling of monster saurian and amphibian. To Nu it seems a silent world. Propped against the bole of the tree before him grins the hideous head of Oo, the man hunter, the only familiar object in all this strange, curiously changed world about him.

Presently he becomes aware that the lesser apes are creeping warily closer to have a better look at him. He waits silently until from the tail of his eye he glimpses one quite near, and then in a low voice he speaks in the language that his allies of yesterday understood, and though ages had elapsed since that long gone day the little monkey above him understood, for the language of the apes can never change.

“Why do you fear Nu, the son of Nu?” asked the man. “When has he ever harmed the ape-people?”

“The hairless ones kill us with sharp sticks that fly through the air,” replied the monkey; “or with little sticks that make a great noise and kill us from afar; but you seem not to be of these. We have never seen one like you until now. Do you not wish to kill us?”

“Why should I?” replied Nu. “It is better that we be friends. All that I wish of you is that you tell me which of the fruits that grow here be safe for me to eat, and then direct me to the sea beside which dwell the tribe of Nu, my father.”

The monkeys had gathered in force by this time, seeing that the strange white ape offered no harm to their fellows and when they learned his wants they scampered about in all directions to gather nuts and fruits and berries for him. It is true that some of them forgot what they had intended doing before the task was half completed, and ended by pulling one another’s tails and frolicking among the higher branches, or else ate the fruit they had gone to gather for their new friend; but a few there were with greater powers of concentration than their fellows who returned with fruit and berries and caterpillars, all of which Nu devoured with the avidity of the half-famished.

Of the whereabouts of the tribe of his father they could tell him nothing, for they had never heard of such a people, or of the great sea beside which he told them that his people dwelt.

His breakfast finished, and his spear repaired Nu set out toward the plain to bring down one of the beasts he had seen grazing there, for his stomach called aloud for flesh. Fruit and bugs might be all right for children and ape-people; but a full grown man must have meat, warm and red and dripping.

Closest to him as he emerged from the jungle browsed a small herd of zebra. They were directly up wind, and between him and them were patches of tall grass and clumps of trees scattered about the surface of the plain. Nu wondered at the strange beasts, admiring their gaudy markings as he came closer to them. Upon the edge of the herd nearest him a plump stallion stood switching his tail against the annoying flies, occasionally raising his head from his feeding to search the horizon for signs of danger, sniffing the air for the tell-tale scent of an enemy. It was he that Nu selected for his prey.

Stealthily the cave man crept through the tall grass, scarce a blade moving to the sinuous advance of his sleek body. Within fifty feet of the zebra Nu stopped, for the stallion was giving evidence of restlessness, as though sensing intuitively the near approach of a foe he could neither see, nor hear, nor smell.

The man, still prone upon his belly, drew his spear into the throwing grasp. With utmost caution he wormed his legs beneath him, and then, like lightning and all with a single movement, he leaped to his feet and cast the stone-tipped weapon at his quarry.

With a snort of terror the stallion reared to plunge away, but the spear had found the point behind his shoulder even as he saw the figure of the man arise from the tall grasses, and as the balance of the herd galloped madly off, their leader pitched headlong to the earth.

Nu ran forward with ready knife, but the animal was dead before he reached its side—the great spear had passed through its heart and was protruding upon the opposite side of the body. The man removed the weapon, and with his knife cut several long strips of meat from the plump haunches.

Ever and anon he raised his head to scan the plain and jungle for evidences of danger, sniffing the breeze just as had the stallion he had killed. His work was but partially completed when he caught the scent of man yet a long way off. He knew that he could not be mistaken, yet never had he sensed so strange an odor. There were men coming, he knew, but of the other odors that accompanied them he could make nothing, for khaki and guns and sweaty saddle blankets and the stench of tanned leather were to Nu’s nostrils as Greek would have been to his ears.

It would be best thought Nu to retreat to the safety of the forest until he could ascertain the number and kind of beings that were approaching, and so, taking but careless advantage of the handier shelter, the cave man sauntered toward the forest, for now he was not stalking game, and never yet had he shown fear in the presence of an enemy. If their numbers were too great for him to cope with single handed he would not show himself; but none might ever say that he had seen Nu, the son of Nu, run away from danger.

In his hand still swung the head of Oo, and as the man leaped to the low branches of a tree at the jungle’s edge to spy upon the men he knew to be advancing from the far side of the plain, he fell to wondering how he was to find his way back to Nat-ul that he might place the trophy at her feet and claim her as his mate.

Only the previous evening they had walked together hand in hand along the beach, and now he had not the remotest conception of where that beach lay. Straight across the plain should be the direction of it, for from that direction had he come to find the lair of Oo! But now all was changed. There was no single familiar landmark to guide him, not even the ape-people knew of any sea nearby, and he himself had no conception as to whether he was in the same world that he had traversed when last the sun shone upon him.

The Eternal Lover - Contents    |     Part I - Chapter IV - The Mysterious Hunter

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