The Eternal Lover

Part I

Chapter VI

Nu and the Lion

Edgar Rice Burroughs

VICTORIA CUSTER had gone to her room much earlier in the evening than was her custom, but not to sleep. She did not even disrobe, but sat instead in the darkness beside her window looking out toward the black and mysterious jungle in the distance, and the shadowy outlines of the southern hills.

She was trying to fight down forever the foolish obsession that had been growing upon her slowly and insidiously for years. Since the first awakening of developing womanhood within her she had been subject to the strange dream that was now becoming an almost nightly occurrence. At first she had thought nothing of it, other than it was odd that she should continue to dream the same thing so many times; but of late these nightly visions had seemed to hold more of reality than formerly, and to presage some eventful happening in her career—some crisis that was to alter the course of her life. Even by day she could not rid herself of the vision of the black haired young giant, and tonight the culmination had come when she had heard his voice calling her from the rose thicket. She knew that he was but a creature of her dreams, and it was this knowledge which frightened her so—for it meant but one thing; her mind was tottering beneath the burden of the nervous strain these hallucinations had imposed upon it.

She must gather all the resources of her nervous energy and throw off this terrible obsession forever. She must! She must! Rising, the girl paced back and forth the length of her room. She felt stifled and confined within its narrow limits. Outside, beneath the open sky, with no boundaries save the distant horizon was the place best fitted for such a battle as was raging within her. Snatching up a silken scarf she threw it about her shoulders—a concession to habit, for the night was hot—and stepping through her window to the porch that encircled the bungalow she passed on into the garden.

Just around the nearest angle of the house her brother and Billy Curtiss sat smoking before the window of their bedroom, clad in pajamas and slippers. Curtiss was cleaning the rifle he had used that day—the same that he had carried into the rose garden earlier in the evening. Neither heard the girl’s light footsteps upon the sward, and the corner of the building hid her from their view.

In the open moonlight beside the rose thicket Victoria Custer paced back and forth. A dozen times she reached a determination to seek the first opportunity upon the morrow to give Billy Curtiss an affirmative answer to the question he had asked her the night before—the night of the earthquake; but each time that she thought she had disposed of the matter definitely she found herself involuntarily comparing him with the heroic figure of her dream-man, and again she must need rewage her battle.

As she walked in the moonlight two pair of eyes watched her every movement—one pair, clear, black eyes, from the rose thicket—the other flaming yellow-green orbs hidden in a little clump of bushes at the point where she turned in her passing to retrace her steps—at the point farthest from the watcher among the roses.

Twenty times Nu was on the point of leaping from his concealment and taking the girl in his arms, for to him she was Nat-ul, daughter of Tha, and it had not been a hundred thousand years, but only since the day before yesterday that he had last seen her. Yet each time something deterred him—a strange, vague, indefinable fear of this wondrous creature who was Nat-ul, and yet who was not Nat-ul, but another made in Nat-ul’s image.

The strange things that covered her fair form seemed to have raised a barrier between them—the last time that he had walked hand in hand with her upon the beach naught but a soft strip of the skin of a red doe’s calf had circled her gracefully undulating hips. Her familiar association, too, with these strange people, coupled with the fact that she spoke and understood their language only tended to remove her further from him. Nu was very sad, and very lonely; and the sight of Nat-ul seemed to accentuate rather than relieve his depression. Slowly there was born within him the conviction that Nat-ul was no longer for Nu, the son of Nu. Why, he could not guess; but the bitter fact seemed irrevocable.

The girl had turned quite close to him now, and was retracing her steps toward the bushes twenty yards away. Behind their screening verdure “old Raffles” twitched his tufted tail and drew his steel thewed legs beneath him for the spring, and as he waited just the faintest of purrs escaped his slavering jowls. Too faint the sound to pierce the dulled senses of the twentieth century maiden; but to the man hiding in the rose thicket twenty paces further from the lion than she it fell deep and sinister upon his unspoiled ear.

Like a bolt of lightning—so quickly his muscles responded to his will—the cave man hurtled the intervening rose bushes with a single bound, and, raised spear in hand, bounded after the unconscious girl. The great lion saw him coming, and lest he be cheated of his prey leaped into the moonlight before his intended victim was quite within the radius of his spring.

The beast emitted a horrid roar that froze the girl with terror, and then in the face of his terrific charge the figure of a naked giant leaped past her. She saw a great arm, wielding a mighty spear, hurl the weapon at the infuriated beast—and then she swooned.

As the savage note of the lion’s roar broke the stillness of the quiet night Curtiss and Barney Custer sprang to their feet, running toward the side of the bungalow from which the sound had come. Curtiss grasped the rifle he had but just reloaded, and as he turned the corner of the building he caught one fleeting glimpse of something moving near the bushes fifty yards away. Raising his weapon he fired.

The whole household had been aroused by the lion’s deep voice and the answering boom of the big rifle, so that scarcely a minute after Barney and Curtiss reached the side of the prostrate girl a score of white men and black were gathered about them.

The dead body of a huge lion lay scarce twenty feet from Victoria Custer, but a hurried examination of the girl brought unutterable relief to them all, for she was uninjured. Barney lifted her in his arms and carried her to her room while the others examined the dead beast. From the center of the breast a wooden shaft protruded, and when they had drawn this out, and it required the united efforts of four strong men to do it, they found that a stone-tipped spear had passed straight through the savage heart almost the full length of the brute’s body.

“The zebra killer,” said Brown to Greystoke. The latter nodded his head.

“We must find him,” he said. “He has rendered us a great service. But for him Miss Custer would not be alive now;” but though twenty men scouted the grounds and the plain beyond for several hours no trace of the killer of “old Raffles” could be found, and the reason that they did not find him abroad was because he lay directly beneath their noses in a little clump of low, flowering shrubs, with a bullet wound in his head.

The Eternal Lover - Contents    |     Part I - Chapter VII - Victoria Obeys the Call

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