The Eternal Lover

Part I

Chapter IV

The Mysterious Hunter

Edgar Rice Burroughs

THE MORNING following the earthquake found Victoria Custer still confined to her bed. She told Lady Greystoke that she felt weak from the effects of the nervous shock; but the truth of the matter was that she dreaded to meet Curtiss and undergo the ordeal which she knew confronted her.

How was she to explain to him the effect that the subterranean rumblings and the shaking of the outer crust had had upon her and her sentiments toward him? When her brother came in to see her she drew his head down upon the pillow beside hers and whispered something of the terrible hallucinations that had haunted her since the previous evening.

“Oh, Barney,” she cried, “what can it be? What can it be? The first deep grumblings that preceded the shock seemed to awake me as from a lethargy, and as plainly as I see you beside me now, I saw the half naked creature of my dreams, and when I saw him I knew that I could never wed Mr. Curtiss or any other—it is awful to have to admit it even to you, Barney, but I—I knew when I saw him that I loved him—that I was his. Not his wife, Barney, but his woman—his mate, and I had to fight with myself to keep from rushing out into the terrible blackness of the night to throw myself into his arms. It was then that I managed to control myself long enough to run to you, where I fainted. And last night, in my dreams, I saw him again,—alone and lonely, searching through a strange and hostile world to find and claim me.

“You cannot know, Barney, how real he is to me. It is not as other dreams, but instead I really see him—the satin texture of his smooth, bronzed skin; the lordly poise of his perfect head; the tousled shock of coal black hair that I have learned to love and through which I know I have run my fingers as he stooped to kiss me.

“He carries a great spear, stone-tipped—I should know it the moment that I saw it—and a knife and hatchet of the same flinty material, and in his left hand he bears the severed head of a mighty beast.

“He is a noble figure, but of another world or of another age; and somewhere he wanders so lonely and alone that my heart weeps at the thought of him. Oh, Barney, either he is true and I shall find him, or I am gone mad. Tell me Barney, for the love of heaven you believe that I am sane.”

Barney Custer drew his sister’s face close to his and kissed her tenderly.

“Of course you’re sane, Vic,” he reassured her. “You’ve just allowed that old dream of yours to become a sort of obsession with you, and now it’s gotten on your nerves until you are commencing to believe it even against your better judgment. Take a good grip on yourself, get up and join Curtiss in a long ride. Have it out with him. Tell him just what you have told me, and then tell him you’ll marry him, and I’ll warrant that you’ll be dreaming about him instead of that young giant that you have stolen out of some fairy tale.”

“I’ll get up and take a ride, Barney,” replied the girl; “but as for marrying Mr. Curtiss—well, I’ll have to think it over.”

But after all she did not join the party that was riding toward the hills that morning, for the thought of seeing the torn and twisted strata of a bygone age that lifted its scarred head above the surface of the plain at the base of the mountains was more than she felt equal to. They did not urge her, and as she insisted that Mr. Curtiss accompany the other men she was left alone at the bungalow with Lady Greystoke, the baby and the servants.

As the party trotted across the rolling land that stretched before them to the foothills they sighted a herd of zebras coming toward them in mad stampede.

“Something is hunting ahead of us,” remarked one of the men.

“We may get a shot at a lion from the looks of it,” replied another.

A short distance further on they came upon the carcass of a zebra stallion. Barney and Butzow dismounted to examine it in an effort to determine the nature of the enemy that had dispatched it. At the first glance Barney called to one of the other members of the party, an experienced big game hunter.

“What do you make of this, Brown,” he asked, pointing to the exposed haunch.

“It is a man’s kill,” replied the other. “Look at that gaping hole over the heart, that would tell the story were it not for the evidence of the knife that cut away these strips from the rump. The carcass is still warm—the kill must have been made within the past few minutes.

“Then it couldn’t have been a man,” spoke up another, “or we should have heard the shot. Wait, here’s Greystoke, let’s see what he thinks of it”

The ape man, who had been riding a couple hundred yards in rear of the others with one of the older men, now reined in close to the dead zebra.

“What have we here?” he asked, swinging from his saddle.

“Brown says this looks like the kill of a man,” said Barney; “but none of us heard any shot.”

Tarzan grasped the zebra by a front and hind pastern and rolled him over upon his other side.

“It went way through, whatever it was,” said Butzow, as the hole behind this shoulder was exposed to view. “Must have been a bullet even if we didn’t hear the report of the gun.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” said Tarzan, and then he glanced casually at the ground about the carcass, and bending lower brought his sensitive nostrils close to the mutilated haunch and then to the tramped grasses at the zebra’s side. When he straightened up the others looked at him questioningly.

“A man,” he said—“a white man, has been here since the zebra died. He cut these steaks from the haunches. There is not the slightest odor of gun powder about the wound—it was not made by a powder-sped projectile. It is too large and too deep for an arrow wound. The only other weapon that could have inflicted it is a spear; but to cast a spear entirely through the carcass of a zebra at the distance to which a man could approach one in the open presupposes a mightiness of muscle and an accuracy of aim little short of superhuman.”

“And you think——?” commenced Brown.

“I think nothing,” interrupted Tarzan, “except that my judgment tells me that my senses are in error—there is no naked, white giant hunting through the country of the Waziri. Come, let’s ride on to the hills and see if we can’t locate the old villain who has been stealing my sheep. From his spoor I’ll venture to say that when we bring him down we shall see the largest lion that any of us has ever seen.”

The Eternal Lover - Contents    |     Part I - Chapter V - The Watcher

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