The Eternal Lover

Part I

Chapter VIII

Captured by Arabs

Edgar Rice Burroughs

AFTER a time the girl awoke. For a few minutes she could not assure herself of the reality of her surroundings. She thought that this was but another of her dreams. Gently she put out her hand and touched the face of the sleeper. It was very real. Also she noted that the fever had left. She sat in silence for a few minutes attempting to adjust herself to the new and strange conditions which surrounded her. She seemed to be two people—the American girl, Victoria Custer, and Nat-ul; but who or from where was Nat-ul she could not fathom, other than that she was beloved by Nu and that she returned his love.

She wondered that she did not regret the life of ease she had abandoned, and which she knew that she could never again return to. She was still sufficiently of the twentieth century to realize that the step she had taken must cut her off forever from her past life—yet she was very happy. Bending low over the man she kissed his lips, and then rising went outside, and calling Terkoz with her descended to the spring, for she was thirsty.

Neither the girl nor the hound saw the white robed figures that withdrew suddenly behind a huge boulder as the two emerged from the cave’s mouth. Nor did they see him signal to others behind him who had not yet rounded the shoulder of the cliff at the base of which they had been marching.

Victoria stooped to fill her hat at the spring. First she leaned far down to quench her own thirst. A sudden, warning growl from Terkoz brought her head up, and there, not ten paces from her, she saw a dozen white robed Arabs, and behind them half a hundred blacks. All were armed—evil looking fellows they were, and one of the Arabs had covered her with his long gun.

Now he spoke to her, but in a tongue she did not understand, though she knew that his message was unfriendly, and imagined that it warned her not to attempt to use her own rifle which lay beside her. Next he spoke to those behind him and two of them approached the girl, one from either side, while the leader continued to keep his piece leveled at her.

As the two came toward her she heard a menacing growl from the wolfhound, and then saw him leap for the nearest Arab. The fellow clubbed his gun and swung it full upon Terkoz’s skull, so that the faithful hound collapsed in a silent heap at their feet. Then the two rushed in and seized Victoria’s rifle, and a moment later she was roughly dragged toward the leader of the ill-favored gang.

Through one of the blacks, a West Coast negro who had picked up a smattering of pidgin English, the leader questioned the girl, and when he found that she was a guest of Lord Greystoke an ugly grin crossed his evil face, for the fellow recalled what had befallen another Arab slave and ivory caravan at the hands of the Englishman and his Waziri warriors. Here was an opportunity for partial revenge. He motioned for his followers to bring her along—there was no time to tarry in this country of their enemies into which they had accidentally stumbled after being lost in the jungle for the better part of a month.

Victoria asked what their intentions toward her were; but all that she could learn was that they would take her north with them. She offered to arrange the payment of a suitable ransom if they would return her to her friends unharmed, but the Arab only laughed at her.

“You will bring a good price,” he said, “at the court of the sultan of Fulad, north of Tagwara, and for the rest I shall have partly settled the score which I have against the Englishman,” and so Victoria Custer disappeared from the sight of men at the border of the savage land of the Waziri nor was there any other than her captors to know the devious route that they followed to gain the country north of Waziri.


When at last Nu, the son of Nu, opened his eyes from the deep slumber that had refreshed and invigorated him, he looked up expectantly for the sweet face that had been hovering above his, and as he realized that the cave was tenantless except for himself a sigh that was half a sob broke from the depth of his lonely heart, for he knew that Nat-ul had been with him only in his dreams.

Yet it had been so real! Even now he could feel the touch of her cool hand upon his forehead, and her slim fingers running through his hair. His cheek glowed to her hot kisses, and in his nostrils was the sweet aroma of her dear presence. The disillusionment of his waking brought with it bitter disappointment, and a return of the fever. Again Nu lapsed into semi-consciousness and delirium, so that he was not aware of the figure of the khaki clad white man that crept warily into the half-darkness of his lair shortly after noon.

It was Barney Custer, and behind him came Curtiss, Butzow and a half dozen others of the searching party. They had stumbled upon the half dead Terkoz beside the spring, and there also they had found Victoria Custer’s hat, and plainly in the soft earth between the bowlders of the hillside they had seen the new made path to the cave higher up.

When Barney saw that the prostrate figure within the cavern did not stir at his entrance a stifling fear rose in his throat, for he was sure that he had found the dead body of his sister; but as his eyes became more accustomed to the dim light of the interior he realized his mistake—at first with a sense of infinite relief and later with misgivings that amounted almost to a wish that it had been Victoria, safe in death; for among the savage men of savage Africa there are fates worse than death for women.

The others had crowded in beside him, and one had lighted a torch of dry twigs which illuminated the interior of the cave brightly for a few seconds. In that time they saw that the man was the only occupant and that he was helpless from fever. Beside him lay the stone spear that had slain “old Raffles”—each of them recognized it. How could it have been brought to him?

“The zebra killer,” said Brown. “What’s that beneath his head? Looks like a khaki coat.”

Barney drew it out and held it up.

“God!” muttered Curtiss. “It’s hers.”

“He must ’ave come down there after we left, an’ got his spear an’ stole your sister,” said Brown.

Curtiss drew his revolver and pushed closer toward the unconscious Nu.

“The beast,” he growled; “shootin’s too damned good for him. Get out of the way, Barney, I’m going to give him all six chambers.”

“No,” said Barney quietly.

“Why?” demanded Curtiss, trying to push past Custer.

“Because I don’t believe that he harmed Victoria,” replied Barney. “That’s sufficient reason for waiting until we know the truth. Then I won’t stand for the killing of an unconscious man anyway.”

“He’s nothing but a beast—a mad dog,” insisted Curtiss. “He should be killed for what he is. I’d never have thought to see you defending the man who killed your sister—God alone knows what worse crime he committed before he killed her.”

“Don’t be a fool, Curtiss,” snapped Barney. “We don’t even know that Victoria’s dead. The chances are that this man has been helpless from fever for a long time. There’s a wound in his head that was probably made by your shot last night. If he recovers from that he may be able to throw some light on Victoria’s disappearance. If it develops that he has harmed her I’m the one to demand an accounting—not you; but as I said before I do not believe that this man would have harmed a hair of my sister’s head.”

“What do you know about him?” demanded Curtiss.

“I never saw him before,” replied Barney. “I don’t know who he is or where he came from; but I know—well, never mind what I know, except that there isn’t anybody going to kill him, other than Barney Custer.”

“Custer’s right,” broke in Brown. “It would be murder to kill this fellow in cold blood. You have jumped to the conclusion, Curtiss, that Miss Custer is dead. If we let you kill this man we might be destroying our best chance to locate and rescue her.”

As they talked the gaunt figure of the wolfhound, Terkoz, crept into the cave. He had not been killed by the Arab’s blow, and a liberal dose of cold water poured over his head had helped to hasten returning consciousness. He nosed, whining, about the cavern as though in search of Victoria. The men watched him in silence after Brown had said: “If this man harmed Miss Custer and laid out Terkoz the beast’ll be keen for revenge. Watch him, and if Curtiss is right there won’t any of us have to avenge your sister—Terkoz’ll take care of that. I know him.”

“We’ll leave it to Terkoz,” said Barney confidently.

After the animal had made the complete rounds of the cave, sniffing at every crack and crevice, he came to each of the watching men, nosing them carefully. Then he walked directly to the side of the unconscious Nu, licked his cheek, and lying down beside him rested his head upon the man’s breast so that his fierce, wolfish eyes were pointed straight and watchful at the group of men opposite him.

“There,” said Barney, leaning down and stroking the beast’s head.

The hound whined up into his face; but when Curtiss approached he rose, bristling, and standing across the body of Nu growled ominously at him.

“You’d better keep away from him, Curtiss,” warned Brown. “He always has had a strange way with him in his likes and dislikes, and he’s a mighty ugly customer to deal with when he’s crossed. He’s killed one man already—a big Wamboli spearman who was stalking Greystoke up in the north country last fall. Let’s see if he’s got it in for the rest of us;” but one by one Terkoz suffered the others to approach Nu—only Curtiss seemed to rouse his savage, protective instinct.

As they discussed their plans for the immediate future Nu opened his eyes with a return of consciousness. At sight of the strange figures about him he sat up and reached for his spear; but Barney had had the foresight to remove this weapon as well as the man’s knife and hatchet from his reach.

As the cave man came to a sitting posture Barney laid a hand upon his shoulder. “We shall not harm you,” he said; “if you will tell us what has become of my sister,” and then placing his lips close to the other’s ear he whispered: “Where is Nat-ul?”

Nu understood but the single word, Nat-ul; but the friendly tone and the hand upon his shoulder convinced him that this man was no enemy. He shook his head negatively. “Nu does not understand the stranger’s tongue,” he said. And then he asked the same question as had Barney: “Where is Nat-ul?” But the American could translate only the name, yet it told him that here indeed was the dream-man of his sister.

When it became quite evident that the man could not understand anything that they said to him, and that he was in no condition to march, it was decided to send him back to the ranch by some of the native carriers that accompanied the searching party, while the others continued the search for the missing girl.

Terkoz suffered them to lift Nu in their arms and carry him outside where he was transferred to a rude litter constructed with a saddle blanket and two spears belonging to the Waziri hunters who had accompanied them.

Barney felt that this man might prove the key to the solution of Victoria’s whereabouts, and so for fear that he might attempt to escape he decided to accompany him personally, knowing that the search for his sister would proceed as thoroughly without him as with. In the meantime he might be working out some plan whereby he could communicate with the stranger.

And so they set out for the ranch. Four half-naked blacks bore the rude stretcher. Upon one side walked Terkoz, the wolfhound, and upon the other, Barney Custer. Four Waziri warriors accompanied them.

The Eternal Lover - Contents    |     Part I - Chapter IX - Nu Goes to Find Nat-Ul

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