The Eternal Lover

Part I

Chapter X

On the Trail

Edgar Rice Burroughs

IT WAS daylight when Barney Custer awoke. His first thought was for his prisoner, and when his eyes fell upon the empty cot across the room the American came to the center of the floor with a single bound. Clad in his pajamas he ran out into the living room and gave the alarm. In another moment the search was on, but no sign of the caveman was to be found, nor of the guardian Terkoz.

“He must have killed the dog,” insisted Greystoke; but they failed to find the beast’s body, for the excellent reason that at that very moment Terkoz, bristling with anger, was nosing about the spot where, nearly a month before, he had been struck down by the Arab, as he had sought to protect the girl to whom he had attached himself.

As he searched the spot his equally savage companion hastened to the cave further up the mountainside, and with his knife unearthed the head of Oo which he had buried there in the soft earth of a crevice within the lair. The trophy was now in a rather sad state of putrefaction, and Nu felt that he must forego the pleasure of laying it intact at the feet of his future mate; but the great saber-teeth were there and the skull. He removed the former, fastening them to his gee string and laid the balance of the head outside the cave where vultures might strip it clean of flesh against Nu’s return, for he did not wish to be burdened with it during his search for Nat-ul.

A deep bay from Terkoz presently announced the finding of the trail and at the signal Nu leaped down the mountainside where the impatient beast awaited him. A moment later the two savage trailers were speeding away upon the spoor of the Arab slave and ivory raiders. Though the trail was old it still was sufficiently plain for these two. The hound’s scent was but a trifle more acute than his human companion’s, but the man depended almost solely upon the tell-tale evidences which his eyes could apprehend, leaving the scent-spoor to the beast, for thus it had been his custom to hunt with the savage wolfish progenitors of Terkoz a hundred thousand years before.

They moved silently and swiftly through the jungle, across valleys, over winding hill-trails, wherever the broad path of the caravan led. In a day they covered as much ground as the caravan had covered in a week. By night they slept at the foot of some great tree, the man and beast curled up together; or crawled within dark caves when the way led through the mountains; or, when Zor, the lion, was abroad the man would build a rude platform high among the branches of a tree that he and the hound might sleep in peace throughout the night.

Nu saw strange sights that filled him with wonder and sealed his belief that he had been miraculously transferred to another world. There were villages of black men, some of which gave evidence of recent conflict. Burned huts, and mutilated corpses were all that remained of many, and in others only a few old men and women were to be seen.

He also passed herds of giraffe—a beast that had been unknown in his own world, and many elephant which reminded him of Gluh, the mammoth. But all these beasts were smaller than those he had known in his other life, nor nearly so ferocious. Why, he could scarce recall a beast of any description that did not rush into a death-struggle with the first member of another species which it came upon—provided, of course, that it stood the slightest show of dispatching its antagonist. Of course there had been the smaller and more timid animals whose entire existence had consisted in snatching what food they could as they fled through the savage days and awful nights of that fierce age in the perpetual effort to escape or elude the countless myriads of huge carnivora and bellicose ruminants whose trails formed a mighty network from pole to pole.

So to Nu the jungles of Africa seemed silent and deserted places. The beasts, even the more savage of them, seldom attacked except in hunger or the protection of their young. Why, he had passed within a dozen paces of a great herd of these diminutive, hairless mammoths and they had but raised their little, pig eyes and glanced at him, as they flapped their great ears back and forth against the annoying flies and browsed upon the branches of young trees.

The ape-people seemed frightened out of their wits at his approach, and he had even seen the tawny bodies of lions pass within a stone’s throw of him without charging. It was amazing. Life in such a world would scarce be worth the living. It made him lonelier than ever to feel that he could travel for miles without encountering a single danger.

Far behind him along the trail of the Arabs came a dozen white men and half a hundred savage Waziri warriors. Not an hour after Barney Custer discovered Nu’s absence a native runner had come hurrying in from the north to beg Lord Greystoke’s help in pursuing and punishing a band of Arab slave and ivory raiders who were laying waste the villages, murdering the old men and the children and carrying the young men and women into slavery.

While Greystoke was questioning the fellow he let drop the fact that among the other prisoners of the Arabs was a young white woman. Instantly commotion reigned upon the Greystoke ranch. White men were jumping into field khaki, looking to firearms and ammunition lest their black body servants should have neglected some essential. Stable boys were saddling the horses, and the sleek, ebon warriors of Uziri were greasing their black hides, adjusting barbaric war bonnets, streaking faces, breasts, limbs and bellies with ocher, vermillion or ghastly bluish white, and looking to slim shield, poisoned arrow and formidable war spear.

For a time the fugitive was forgotten, but as the march proceeded they came upon certain reminders that recalled him to their thoughts and indicated that he was far in advance of them upon the trail of the Arabs. The first sign of him was the carcass of a bull buffalo. Straight through the heart was the great hole that they now knew was made by the passage of the ancient, stone tipped spear. Strips had been knife cut from the sides, and the belly was torn as though by a wild beast. Brown stooped to examine the ground about the bull. When he straightened up he looked at Greystoke and laughed.

“Didn’t I understand you to say that he must have killed the dog?” he asked. “Look here—they ate side by side from the body of their kill.”

The Eternal Lover - Contents    |     Part I - Chapter XI - The Abduction

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