The Eternal Lover

Part I

Chapter XI

The Abduction

Edgar Rice Burroughs

FOR THREE weeks now Victoria Custer had been a prisoner of Sheik Ibn Aswad, but other than the ordinary hardships of African travel she had experienced nothing of which she might complain. She had even been permitted to ride upon one of the few donkeys that still survived, and her food was as good as that of Ibn Aswad himself, for the canny old sheik knew that the better the condition of his prisoner the better the price she would bring at the court of the sultan of Fulad.

Abul Mukarram, Ibn Aswad’s right hand man, a swaggering young Arab from the rim of the Sahara, had cast covetous eyes upon the beautiful prisoner, but the old sheik delivered himself of a peremptory no when his lieutenant broached a proposal to him. Then Abul Mukarram, balked in his passing desire found the thing growing upon him until the idea of possessing the girl became a veritable obsession with him.

Victoria, forced to it by necessity, had picked up enough of the language of the sons of the desert to be able to converse with them, and Abul Mukarram often rode at her side feasting his eyes upon her face and figure the while he attempted to ingratiate himself into her esteem by accounts of his prowess; but when at last he spoke of love the girl turned her flushed and angry face away from him, and reining in her donkey refused to ride further beside him.

Ibn Aswad from afar witnessed the altercation, and when he rode to Victoria’s side and learned the truth of the matter he berated Abul Mukarram roundly, ordered him to the rear of the column and placed another Arab over the prisoner. Thereafter the venomous looks which the discredited Abul cast upon Victoria often-times caused her to shudder inwardly, for she knew that she had made a cruel and implacable enemy of the man.

Ibn Aswad had given her but a hint of the fate which awaited her, yet it had been sufficient to warn her that death were better than the thing she was being dragged through the jungles to suffer. Every waking minute her mind was occupied with plans for escape, yet not one presented itself which did not offer insuperable obstacles.

Even had she been able to leave the camp undetected how long could she hope to survive in the savage jungle? And should, by some miracle, her life be spared even for months, of what avail would that be, for she could no more have retraced her way to Lord Greystoke’s ranch than she could have laid a true course upon the trackless ocean.

The horrors of the march that passed daily in hideous review before her left her sick and disgusted. The cruelly beaten slaves who carried the great burdens of ivory, tents and provisions brought tears to her eyes. The brutal massacres that followed the forcible entrance into each succeeding village wrung her heart and aroused her shame for those beasts in human form who urged on their savage and cowardly Manyuema cannibals to commit nameless excesses against the cowering prisoners that fell into their hands.

But at last they came to a village where victory failed to rush forward and fall into their arms. Instead they were met with sullen resistance. Ferocious, painted devils fought them stubbornly every inch of the way, until Ibn Aswad decided to make a detour and pass around the village rather than sacrifice more of his followers.

In the confusion of the fight, and the near-retreat which followed it, Abul Mukarram found the opportunity he had been awaiting. The prisoners, including the white girl, were being pushed ahead of the retreating raiders, while the Arabs and Manyuema brought up the rear, fighting off the pursuing savages.

Now Abul Mukarram knew a way to the northland that two might traverse with ease, and over which one could fairly fly; but which was impossible for a slave caravan because it passed through the territory of the English. If the girl would accompany him willingly, well and good—if not, then he would go alone but not before he had committed upon her the revenge he had planned. He left the firing line, therefore, and pushed his way through the terror stricken slaves to the side of the Arab who guarded Victoria Custer.

“Go back to Ibn Aswad,” he said to the Arab. “He desires your presence.”

The other looked at him closely for a moment. “You lie, Abul Mukarram,” he said at last. “Ibn Aswad commanded me particularly against permitting you to be alone with the girl. Go to!”

“Fool!” muttered Abul Mukarram, and with the word he pulled the trigger of the long gun that rested across the pommel of his saddle with its muzzle scarce a foot from the stomach of the other Arab. With a single shriek the man lunged from his donkey.

“Come!” cried Abul Mukarram, seizing the bridle of Victoria’s beast and turning into the jungle to the west.

The girl tried to slip from her saddle, but a strong arm went about her waist and held her firm as the two donkeys forged, shoulder to shoulder through the tangled mass of creepers which all but blocked their way. Once Victoria screamed for help, but the savage war cries of the natives drowned her voice. Fifteen minutes later the two came out upon the trail again that they had followed when they approached the village and soon the sounds of the conflict behind them grew fainter and fainter until they were lost entirely in the distance.

Victoria Custer’s mind was working rapidly, casting about for some means of escape from the silent figure at her side. A revolver or even a knife would have solved her difficulty, but she had neither. Had she, the life of Abul Mukarram would have been worth but little, for the girl was beside herself with hopeless horror of the fate that now loomed so close at hand. The thought that she had not even the means to take her own life left her numb and cold. There was but one way; to battle with tooth and nail until, in anger, the man himself should kill her; yet until the last moment she might hope against hope for the succor which she knew in her heart of hearts it was impossible to receive.

For the better part of two hours Abul Mukarram kept on away from the master he had robbed. He spoke but little, and when he did it was in the tone of the master to his slave. Near noon they left the jungle and came out into a higher country where the space between the trees was greater, and there was little or no underbrush. Traveling was much easier here and they made better time. They were still retracing the trail along which the caravan had traveled. It would be some time during the next morning that they would turn north again upon a new trail.

Beside a stream Abul Mukarram halted. He tethered the donkeys, and then turned toward the girl. “Come,” he said, and laid his hand upon her.

The Eternal Lover - Contents    |     Part I - Chapter XII - The Cave Man Finds His Mate

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