The Eternal Lover

Part I

Chapter IX

Nu Goes to Find Nat-ul

Edgar Rice Burroughs

NU, weak and sick, was indifferent to his fate. If he had been captured by enemies, well and good. He knew what to expect—either slavery or death, for that was the way of men as Nu knew them. If slavery, there was always the chance to escape. If death, he would at least no longer suffer from loneliness in a strange world far from his own people and his matchless Nat-ul; whom he only saw now in his dreams.

He wondered what this strangely garbed stranger knew of Nat-ul. The man had most certainly spoken her name. Could it be possible that she, too, was a prisoner among these people? He had most certainly seen her in the garden before the strange cave where he had slain the diminutive Zor that had been about to devour her. That was no dream, he was positive, and so she must indeed be a prisoner.

As he recalled the lion he half smiled. What a runt of a beast it had been indeed! Why old Zor who hunted in the forest of the ape-people and dwelt in the caves upon the hither slopes of the Barren Hills would have snapped that fellow up in two bites. And Oo! A sneeze from Oo would have sent him scurrying into the Dark Swamp where Oo could not venture because of his great weight. It was an odd world in which Nu found himself. The country seemed almost barren to him, and yet he was in the heart of tropical Africa. The creatures seemed small and insignificant—yet the lion he had killed was one of the largest that Brown or Greystoke had ever seen—and he shivered, even in the heat of the equatorial sun.

How he longed for the world of his birth, with its mighty beasts, its gigantic vegetation, and its hot, humid atmosphere through which its great, blurred sun appeared grotesquely large and close at hand!

For a week they doctored Nu at the bungalow of the Greystokes. There were times when they despaired of his life, for the bullet wound that creased his temple clear to the skull had become infected; but at last he commenced to mend, and after that his recovery was rapid, for his constitution was that of untainted physical perfection.

The several searching parties returned one by one without a clue to the whereabouts of Victoria Custer. Barney knew that all was being done that could be done by his friends; but he clung tenaciously to the belief that the solution to the baffling mystery lay locked in the breast of the strange giant who was convalescing upon the cot that had been set up for him in Barney’s own room, for such had been the young American’s wish. Curtiss had been relegated to other apartments, and Barney stuck close to the bedside of his patient day and night.

His principal reasons for so doing were his wish to prevent the man’s escape, and his desire to open some method of communication with the stranger as rapidly as possible. Already the wounded man had learned to make known his simpler wants in English, and the ease with which he mastered whatever Barney attempted to teach him assured the American of the early success of his venture in this direction.

Curtiss continued to view the stranger with suspicion and ill disguised hostility. He was positive that the man had murdered Victoria Custer, and failing to persuade the others that they should take justice into their own hands and execute the prisoner forthwith, he now insisted that he be taken to the nearest point at which civilization had established the machinery of law and turned over to the authorities.

Barney, on the other hand, was just as firm in his determination to wait until the man had gained a sufficient command of English to enable them to give him a fair hearing, and then be governed accordingly. He could not forget that there had existed some strange and inexplicable bond between this handsome giant and his sister, nor that unquestionably the man had saved her life when “old Raffles” had sprung upon her. Barney had loved, and lost because he had loved a girl beyond his reach and so his sympathies went out to this man who, he was confident, loved his sister. Uncanny as her dreams had been, Barney was forced to admit that there had been more to them than either Victoria or he had imagined, and now he felt that for Victoria’s sake he should champion her dream-man in her absence.

One of the first things that Barney tried to impress upon the man was that he was a prisoner, and lest he should escape by night when Barney slept Greystoke set Terkoz to watch over him. But Nu did not seem inclined to wish to escape. His one desire apparently was to master the strange tongue of his captors. For two weeks after he was able to quit his bed he devoted his time to learning English. He had the freedom of the ranch, coming and going as he pleased, but his weapons were kept from him, hidden in Lord Greystoke’s study, and Barney, sometimes with others of the household, always accompanied him.

Nu was waiting for Nat-ul. He was sure that she would come back again to this cave that his new acquaintances called a bungalow. Barney was waiting for the man to mention his sister. One day Curtiss came upon Nu sitting upon the veranda. Terkoz lay at his feet. Nu was clothed in khaki—an old suit of Greystoke’s being the largest that could be found upon the place, and that was none too large. As Curtiss approached, the wolfhound turned his wicked little eyes upon him, without moving his head from where it lay stretched upon his forepaws, and growled. Nu extended a booted foot across the beast’s neck to hold him in check.

The hound’s show of hostility angered Curtiss. He hated the brute, and he hated Nu as cordially—just why, he did not know, for it seemed that his hatred of the stranger was a thing apart from his righteous anger in his belief that the man had guilty knowledge of the fate of Victoria Custer. He halted in front of the caveman.

“I want to ask you a question,” he said coldly. “I have been wanting to do so for a long time; but there has always been someone else around.”

Nu nodded. “What can Nu tell you?” he asked.

“You can tell me where Miss Custer is,” replied Curtiss.

“Miss Custer? I do not know what you mean. I never heard of Miss Custer.”

“You lie!” cried Curtiss, losing control of himself. “Her jacket was found beneath your head in that foul den of yours.”

Nu came slowly to his feet.

“What does ‘lie’ mean?” he asked. “I do not understand all that people say to me, yet; but I can translate much from the manner and tone of the saying, and I do not like your tone, Curtiss.”

“Answer my question,” cried Curtiss. “Where is Victoria Custer? And when you speak to me remember that I’m Mr. Curtiss—you damned white nigger.”

“What does ‘lie’ mean?” persisted Nu. “And what is a ‘nigger’? And why should I call you mister? I do not like the sound of your voice, Curtiss.”

It was at this moment that Barney appeared. A single glance at the attitude of the two men warned him that he was barely in time to avert a tragedy. The black haired giant stood with the bristling wolfhound at his side. The attitude of the man resembled nothing more closely than that of a big, black panther tensed for a spring. Curtiss’s hand was reaching for the butt of the gun at his hip. Barney stepped between them.

“What is the meaning of this, Curtiss?” he asked sharply. Curtiss had been a warm friend for years—a friend of civilization, and luxury and ease. He had known Curtiss under conditions which gave Curtiss everything that Curtiss wished, and Curtiss had seemed a fine fellow, but lately, since Curtiss had been crossed and disappointed, he had found sides to the man’s character that had never before presented themselves. His narrow and unreasoning hatred for the half savage white man had caused the first doubts in Barney’s mind as to the breadth of his friend’s character. And then—most unpardonable of sins—Curtiss had grumbled at the hardships of the field while the searching parties had been out. Butzow had told Barney of it, and of how Curtiss had shirked much of the work which the other white men had assumed when there had been a dearth of competent servants in the camp.

Curtiss made no reply to Barney’s question. Instead he turned on his heel and walked away. Nu laid a hand upon the American’s shoulder.

“What does ‘lie’ mean, Custer?” he asked.

Barney tried to explain.

“I see,” said Nu. “And what is a ‘nigger’ and a ‘mister’?”

Again Barney did his best to explain.

“Who is Miss Custer?” Nu asked.

Barney looked at the man in surprise.

“Do you not know?” he asked.

“Why should I?”

“She is my sister,” said Barney, looking closely at the man.

“Your sister?” questioned Nu. “I did not know you had a sister, Custer.”

“You did not know my sister, Nat-ul?” cried Barney.

“Nat-ul!” exclaimed the man. “Nat-ul your sister?”

“Yes. I supposed that you knew it.

“But you are not Aht, son of Tha,” said Nu, “and Nat-ul had no other brother.”

“I am brother of the girl you saved from the lion in the garden yonder,” said Barney. “Is it she you know as Nat-ul?”

“She was Nat-ul.”

“Where is she?” cried Barney.

“I do not know,” replied Nu. “I thought that she was a prisoner among you and I have been waiting here quietly for her to be brought back.”

“You saw her last,” said Barney. The time had come to have it out with this man. “You saw her last. She was in your cave in the mountain. We found her jacket there, and beside the spring this dog lay senseless. What became of her?”

Nu stood with an expression of dull incomprehension upon his fine features. It was as though he had received a stunning blow.

“She was there?” he said at last in a low voice. “She was there in my cave and I thought it was but a dream. She has gone away, and for many days I have remained here doing nothing while she roams amidst the dangers of the forest alone and unprotected. Unless,” his tone became more hopeful, “she has found her way back to our own people among the caves beside the Restless Sea. But how could she? Not even I, a man and a great hunter, can even guess in what direction lies the country of my father, Nu. Perhaps you can tell me?”

Barney shook his head. His disappointment was great. He had been sure that Nu could cast some light upon the whereabouts of Victoria. He wondered if the man was telling him the truth. Doubts began to assail him. It seemed scarce credible that Victoria could have been in the fellow’s lair without his knowing of her presence. That she had been there there seemed little or no doubt. The only other explanation was that Nu had, as Curtiss had suggested, stolen her from the vicinity of the bungalow, killed her, and taken his spear and her coat back to his cave with him; but that did not account for the presence of the hound or the beast’s evident loyalty to the man.

Nu had turned from the veranda and entered the bungalow. Barney followed him. The cave man was hunting about the house for something.

“What are you looking for?” asked the American.

“My spear,” replied Nu.

“What do you want of it?”

“I’m going to find Nat-ul.”

Barney laid a hand upon the other’s arm.

“No,” he said, “you are not going away from here until we find my sister—you are a prisoner. Do you understand?”

The cave man drew himself to his full height. There was a sneer upon his lip. “Who can prevent me?”

Barney drew his revolver. “This,” he said.

For a moment the man seemed plunged in thought. He looked at the menacing gun, and then off through the open windows toward the distant hills.

“I can wait, for her sake,” he said.

“Don’t make any attempt to escape,” warned Barney. “You will be watched carefully. Terkoz will give the alarm even if he should be unable to stop you, though as a matter of fact he can stop you easily enough. Were I you I should hate to be stopped by Terkoz—he is as savage as a lion when aroused, and almost as formidable.”

Barney did not see the smile that touched the cave man’s lips at this for he had turned away to resume his chair upon the veranda. Later Barney told the others that Nu seemed to realize the futility of attempting to get away, but that night he locked their door securely, placed the key under his pillow and drew his cot beneath the double windows of their room. It would take a mighty stealthy cat, thought he, to leave the apartment without arousing him, even were Terkoz not stretched beside the prisoner’s cot.

About midnight the cave man opened his eyes. The regular breathing of the American attested the soundness of his slumber. Nu extended a hand toward the sleeping Terkoz, at the same time making a low, purring sound with his lips. The beast raised his head.

“Sh-h!” whispered Nu. Then he rose to a sitting posture, and very carefully put his feet to the floor. Stooping he lifted the heavy wolfhound in his arms. The only sign the animal made was to raise his muzzle to the man’s face and lick his cheek. Nu smiled. He recalled Custer’s words: “Terkoz will give the alarm even if he should be unable to stop you.”

The troglodyte approached the cot on which Barney lay in peaceful slumber. He rested one hand upon the sill of the open window, leaning across the sleeper. The hound was tucked under his other arm. Without a sound he vaulted over the cot, through the window and alighted noiselessly upon the veranda without. In the garden he deposited Terkoz, telling him to wait there, then he returned to the living room of the bungalow to fetch his spear, his hatchet and his knife. A moment later the figures of a naked man and a gaunt wolfhound swung away beneath the tropic moon across the rolling plain toward the mountains to the south.

The Eternal Lover - Contents    |     Part I - Chapter X - On the Trail

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