The Eternal Lover

Part I

Chapter V

The Watcher

Edgar Rice Burroughs

AS THE PARTY remounted and rode away toward the foothills two wondering black eyes watched them from the safety of the jungle. Nu was utterly non-plussed. What sort of men were these who rode upon beasts the like of which Nu had never dreamed? At first he thought their pith helmets and khaki clothing a part of them; but when one of them removed his helmet and another unbuttoned his jacket Nu saw that they were merely coverings for the head and body, though why men should wish to hamper themselves with such foolish and cumbersome contraptions the troglodyte could not imagine.

As the party rode toward the foothills Nu paralleled them, keeping always down wind from them. He followed them all day during their fruitless search for the lion that had been entering Greystoke’s compound and stealing his sheep, and as they retraced their way toward the bungalow late in the afternoon Nu followed after them.

Never in his life had he been so deeply interested in anything as he was in these strange creatures, and when, half way across the plain, the party came unexpectedly upon a band of antelope grazing in a little hollow and Nu heard the voice of one of the little black sticks the men carried and saw a buck leap into the air and then come heavily to the ground quite dead, deep respect was added to his interest, and possibly a trace of awe as well—fear he knew not.

In a clump of bushes a quarter of a mile from the bungalow Nu came to a halt. The strange odors that assailed his nostrils as he approached the ranch warned him to caution. The black servants and the Waziri warriors, some of whom were always visiting their former chief, presented to Nu’s nostrils an unfamiliar scent—one which made the black shock upon his head stiffen as you have seen the hair upon the neck of a white man’s hound stiffen when for the first time his nose detects the odor of an Indian. And, half smothered in the riot of more powerful odors, there came to Nu’s nostrils now and then a tantalizing suggestion of a faint aroma that set his heart to pounding and the red blood coursing through his veins.

Never did it abide for a sufficient time to make Nu quite sure that it was more than a wanton trick of his senses—the result of the great longing that was in his lonely heart for her whom this ephemeral and elusive effluvium proclaimed. As darkness came he approached closer to the bungalow, always careful, however, to keep down wind from it.

Through the windows he could see people moving about within the lighted interior, but he was not close enough to distinguish features. He saw men and women sitting about a long table, eating with strange weapons upon which they impaled tiny morsels of food which lay upon round, flat stones before them.

There was much laughter and talking, which floated through the open windows to the cave man’s eager ears; but throughout it all there came to him no single word which he could interpret. After these men and women had eaten they came out and sat in the shadows before the entrance to their strange cave, and here again they laughed and chattered, for all the world, thought Nu, like the ape-people; and yet, though it was different from the ways of his own people the troglodyte could not help but note within his own breast a strange yearning to take part in it—a longing for the company of these strange, new people.

He had crept quite close to the veranda now, and presently there floated down to him upon the almost stagnant air a subtle exhalation that is not precisely scent, and for which the languages of modern men have no expression since men themselves have no powers of perception which may grasp it; but to Nu of the Niocene it carried as clear and unmistakable a message as could word of mouth, and it told him that Nat-ul, the daughter of Tha, sat among these strange people before the entrance to their wonderful cave.

And yet Nu could not believe the evidence of his own senses. What could Nat-ul be doing among such as these? How, between two suns, could she have learned the language and the ways of these strangers? It was impossible; and then a man upon the veranda, who sat close beside Victoria Custer, struck a match to light a cigarette, and the flare of the blaze lit up the girl’s features. At the sight of them the cave man involuntarily sprang to his feet. A half smothered exclamation broke from his lips: “Nat-ul!”

“What was that?” exclaimed Barney Custer. “I thought I heard some one speak out there near the rose bushes.”

He rose as though to investigate, but his sister laid her hand upon his arm.

“Don’t go, Barney,” she whispered.

He turned toward her with a questioning look.

“Why?” he asked. “There is no danger. Did you not hear it, too?”

“Yes,” she answered in a low voice, “I heard it, Barney—please don’t leave me.”

He felt the trembling of her hand where it rested upon his sleeve. One of the other men heard the conversation, but of course he could not guess that it carried any peculiar significance—it was merely an expression of the natural timidity of the civilized white woman in the midst of the savage African night.

“It’s nothing, Miss Custer,” he said. “I’ll just walk down there to reassure you—a prowling hyena, perhaps, but nothing more.”

The girl would have been glad to deter him, but she felt that she had already evinced more perturbation than the occasion warranted, and so she but forced a laugh, remarking that it was not at all worth while, yet in her ears rang the familiar name that had so often fallen from the lips of her dream man.

When one of the others suggested that the investigator had better take an express rifle with him on the chance that the intruder might be “old Raffles,” the sheep thief, the girl started up as though to object but realizing how ridiculous such an attitude would be, and how impossible to explain, she turned instead and entered the house.

Several of the men walked down into the garden, but though they searched for the better part of half an hour they came upon no indication that any savage beast was nearby. Always in front of them a silent figure moved just outside the range of their vision, and when they returned again to the veranda it took up its position once more behind the rose bushes, nor until all had entered the bungalow and sought their beds did the figure stir.

Nu was hungry again, and knowing no law of property rights he found the odor of the Greystoke sheep as appetizing as that of any other of the numerous creatures that were penned within their compounds for the night. Like a supple panther the man scaled the high fence that guarded the imported, pedigreed stock in which Lord Greystoke took such just pride. A moment later there was the frightened rush of animals to the far side of the enclosure, where they halted to turn fear filled eyes back toward the silent beast of prey that crouched over the carcass of a plump ewe. Within the pen Nu ate his fill, and then, cat-like as he had come, he glided back stealthily toward the garden before the darkened bungalow.

Out across the plain, down wind from Nu, another silent figure moved stealthily toward the ranch. It was a huge, maned lion. Every now and then he would halt and lift his sniffing nose to the gentle breeze, and his lips would lift baring the mighty fangs beneath, but no sound came from his deep throat, for he was old, and his wisdom was as the wisdom of the fox.

Once upon a time he would have coughed and moaned and roared after the manner of his hungry brethren, but much experience with men-people and their deafening thunder sticks had taught him that he hunted longest who hunted in silence.

The Eternal Lover - Contents    |     Part I - Chapter VI - Nu and the Lion

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