The Eternal Lover

Part II

Chapter III

The Great Cave-Bear

Edgar Rice Burroughs

WHEN NU, the son of Nu, regained consciousness daylight was filtering through several tiny crevices in the debris that blocked the entrance to the cave in which the earthquake had found and imprisoned him. As he sat up, half bewildered, he cast his eyes about the dim interior in search of Nat-ul. Not seeing her he sprang to his feet and searched each corner of the cavern minutely. She was not there! Nu stood for a moment with one hand pressed to his forehead, deep in thought. He was trying to marshal from the recesses of his memory the occurrences of his immediate past.

Finally he recalled that he had set forth from the village of his people in search of Oo, as he had been wont to do often in the past, that he might bring the head of the fierce monster and lay it before the cave of Nat-ul, daughter of Tha. But what had led him to believe that Nat-ul should be there now in the cave beside him? He passed his hand across his eyes, yet the same memory-vision persisted—a confused and chaotic muddle of strange beasts and stranger men, among which he and Nat-ul fled through an unknown world.

Nu shook his head and stamped his foot—it was all a ridiculous dream. The shaking of the earth the previous night, however, had been no dream—this and the fact that he was buried alive were all too self-evident. He remembered that he had not found Oo at home, and when the quake had come he had run into the cave of the great beast to hide from the wrath of the elements.

Now he turned his attention to the broken rock piled before the mouth of the cave. To his immense relief he discovered that it was composed largely of small fragments. These he loosened and removed one by one, and though others continued to roll down from above and take their places for a while, until the cave behind him was half filled with the debris, he eventually succeeded in making an opening of sufficient size to pass his body through into the outer air.

Looking about him he discovered that the quake seemed to have done but little damage other than to the top of the cliff which had overhung before and now had fallen from above, scattering its fragments upon the ledges and at the foot of the escarpment.

For years Oo had laired here. It was here that Nu had sought him since he had determined to win his mate with the greatest of all trophies, but now that his cave was choked with the debris of the cliff top Oo would have to seek elsewhere for a den, and that might carry him far from the haunts of Nu. That would never do at all—Oo must be kept within striking distance until his head had served the purpose for which the troglodyte intended it.

So for several hours Nu labored industriously to remove the rocks from the cave and from the ledge immediately before it, as well as from the rough trail that led up from the foot of the cliff. All the time he kept his spear close to his hand, and his stone ax and knife ready in his gee-string, for at any moment Oo might return. As the great cat had a way of appearing with most uncanny silence and unexpectedness it behooved one to be ever on the alert. But at last the work was completed and Nu set forth to search for a breakfast.

He had determined to await the return of the saber-toothed tiger and have the encounter over for good and all. Had not the young men and women of the tribe begun to smile of late each time that he returned empty handed from the hunt for Oo? None had doubted the sincerity of his desire to meet the formidable beast from which it was no disgrace to fly, for none doubted the courage of Nu; but nevertheless it was humiliating to return always with excuses instead of the head of his quarry.

Nu had scarce settled himself comfortably upon the branch of a tree where he could command the various approaches to the tiger’s lair when his keen ear caught the sound of movement in the jungle at his back. The noise was up wind from him and presently the scent of man came down the breeze to the sensitive nostrils of the watcher. Now he was alert in this new direction, every faculty bent to discovering the identity of the newcomers before they sensed his presence.

Soon they came in view—two men, Nu and Tha searching for the former’s son. At sight of them Nu, the son of Nu, called out a greeting.

“Where go Nu and Tha?” he asked, as the two came to a halt beneath his perch.

“They sought Nu, the son of Nu,” replied the young man’s father, “and having found him they return to the dwellings of Nu’s people, and Nu, the son of Nu, returns with them.”

The young man shrugged his broad shoulders.

“Nu, the son of Nu, would remain and slay Oo,” he replied.

“Come down and accompany your father,” returned the older man, “for the people of Nu start today in search of other dwelling where the earth does not shake, or the cliffs crumble and fall.”

Nu slid nimbly to the ground.

“Tell me which way the tribe travels,” said Nu, the son of Nu, “that I may find them after I have slain Oo, if he returns today. If he does not return today, then will I set out tomorrow after the tribe.”

The young man’s father thought in silence for a moment. He was very proud of the prowess of his son. He should be as elated as the young man himself when he returned with the head of the hunter of men and of mammoths. Then, too, he realized the humiliation which his son might feel on being forced to return again without the trophy. He laid his hand upon the young man’s shoulder.

“Remain, my son,” he said, “until the next light. The tribe will travel north beside the Restless Sea beyond the Barren Cliffs. Because of the old and the babes we shall move slowly. It will be easy for you to overtake us. If you do not come we shall know that Oo was mightier than the son of Nu.”

Without other words the two older men turned and retraced their steps toward the village, while Nu, the son of Nu, climbed again to his perch within the tree.

All day he watched for the return of Oo. The great apes and the lesser apes passed below and above and around him. Sometimes they threw him a word in passing. Below, the woolly rhinoceros browsed and lay down to sleep. A pack of hyenas slunk down from the plateau above the cliffs. They circled the sleeping perissodactyl. The great beast opened its little eyes. Lumberingly it came to its feet, wheeling about until it faced up wind, then, like a mountain run amuck, it charged straight for the line of now growling hyenas. The cowardly brutes leaped aside, and the whole pack closed upon the rear of the rhinoceros. The big beast turned, quick as a cat. Down went his armed snout and one of his tormentors was hurled far aloft, torn by the mighty horn that had pierced him through. Again the rhinoceros wheeled and ran, and again the pack closed in upon him. The jungle swallowed them, but for a long time Nu could hear the savage growls of the pursuing beasts, and the yells of pain as from time to time the rhinoceros turned upon his tormentors.

Then came a cave bear, lumbering down the face of the cliff. At the mouth of the cave of Oo he halted sniffing about warily, and uttering deep throated growls of rage and hate. Nu listened for the answering challenge of the ancient enemy of Ur, but no sound came. Nu shrugged his shoulders. It was evident that Oo was far away, otherwise he would never have let Ur’s challenge go unanswered.

Now the bear had continued his way to the foot of the cliff. He was advancing toward the tree in which Nu sat. At the edge of the jungle the beast halted and commenced to nose in the soft earth for roots. Nu watched him. If not the head of Oo, why not the head of Ur? Oo would not return that day, of that Nu was positive, for it was already late in the afternoon and if the great tiger had been near he would have heard and answered the challenge of the cave bear.

Nu dropped lightly to the ground upon the opposite side of the tree from Ur. In his right hand he grasped his long, heavy spear. In his left was his stone ax. He approached the huge beast from the rear, coming within a few paces of it before the animal was aware of his presence, for none of the jungle folk moved more noiselessly than primeval man.

But at last Ur looked up, and at the same instant Nu’s mighty muscles launched the stone tipped spear. Straight as a bullet it sped toward the breast of the hairy monster, burying itself deep in his body as he lunged forward to seize the rash creature that dared attack him.

Nu held his ground, standing with feet apart and swinging his heavy stone ax to and fro in both hands. The cave bear rose upon his hind feet as he neared the man, towering high above his enemy’s head. With gaping jaws and outstretched paws the terrible beast advanced, now and then tearing at the stout haft of the spear protruding from its breast, and giving tongue to roars of rage and pain that shook the earth.

As the mighty forearms reached for him, Nu dodged beneath them, swinging his ax to the side of the bear’s head as he passed. With a howl the beast wheeled and charged in the new direction, but again Nu followed his previous tactics, and again a crushing blow fell upon the side of the cave bear’s jaw.

Blood spurted from the creature’s mouth and nostrils, for not only had the Stone ax brought blood, but the stone spear had penetrated the savage lungs. And now Ur did what Nu had been waiting for him to do. He dropped upon all fours and raced madly toward his tormentor. The changed position brought the top of the skull within reach of the man’s weapon, and this time, as he sidestepped the charge, he brought the ax down full upon the bear’s forehead, between his eyes.

Stunned, the beast staggered and stumbled, his nose buried in the trampled mud and grass of the battlefield. Only for an instant would he be thus, and in that instant must Nu leap in and finish him. Nor did he hesitate. Dropping his ax he sprang upon Ur with his stone knife, and again and again sent the blade into the wild heart. Before the cave bear regained full consciousness he rolled over upon his side, dead.

For half an hour Nu was busy removing the head, and then he set himself to the task of skinning the beast. His methods were crude, but he worked much faster with his primitive implements than modern man with keen knives. Before another hour had passed he had the skin off and rolled into a bundle, and had cut a great steak from Ur’s loin. Now he gathered some dry leaves and tinder and with a sharpened bit of hardwood produced fire by twirling the point vigorously in a tiny hollow scooped from another piece of hard wood. When the blaze had been nursed to a fire of respectable dimensions, Nu impaled the steak upon a small branch and squatting before the blaze grilled his supper. It was half burned and half raw and partially smoked, but that he enjoyed it was evidenced by the fact that he devoured it all.

Afterward he placed the pelt upon his shoulder and set forth upon his return to his people. He returned directly to the cliffs by the Restless Sea, for he did not know whether the tribe had yet left in search of the new camping ground or not. It was night by the time he emerged from the jungle at the foot of the cliff. A cursory exploration showed him that the tribe had gone, and so he crawled into his own cave for the night. In the morning he easily could overtake them.


When Hud crossed the cave toward Nat-ul he had expected to encounter physical resistance, and so he came half crouched and with hands outstretched to seize and subdue her.

“Hud,” said the girl, “if I come to you willingly will you treat me kindly always?”

The man came to a stop a few feet from his victim. Evidently it was going to be more easy than he had anticipated. He did not relish the idea of taking a she-tiger for mate, and so he was glad to make whatever promises the girl required. Afterward he could keep such as were easiest to keep.

“Hud will be a kind mate,” he answered.

The girl stepped toward him, and Hud met her with encircling arms; but as hers went around him he failed to see the sharp stone knife in Nat-ul’s right hand. The first he knew of it was when it was plunged remorselessly into his back beneath his left shoulder blade. Then Hud tried to disengage himself from the girl’s embrace, but struggle as he would, she clung to him tenaciously, plunging the weapon time and time again into his back.

He tried to reach her throat with his fingers, but her sharp teeth fastened upon his hand, and then, with his free hand, he beat upon her face, but only for an instant, as the knife found his heart, and with a groan he sank to the rocky floor of the cave.

Without waiting to know that he was dead Nat-ul rushed from the dark interior. Swiftly she scaled the Barren Cliffs and dropped once more into her own valley upon the other side. Along the beach she raced back toward the dwellings of her people, not knowing that at that very moment they were setting out in search of a new home. At mid-afternoon she passed them scarce half a mile away, for they had taken the way that led upon the far side of the jungle that they might meet the returning mammoth hunters, and so Nat-ul came to the deserted caves of her tribe at night-fall only to find that her people had departed.

Supperless, she crawled into one of the smaller and higher caves, for it would be futile to attempt to discover the trail of the departed tribe while night with its darkness and its innumerable horrors enveloped the earth. She had dozed once when she was awakened by the sound of movement upon the face of the cliff. Scarce breathing, she lay listening. Was it man or beast that roamed through the deserted haunts of her tribe? Higher and higher up the face of the cliff came the sound of the midnight prowler. That the creature, whatever it was, was making a systematic search of the caves seemed all too apparent. It would be but a question of minutes before it would reach her hiding place.

Nat-ul grasped her knife more firmly. The sounds ceased upon the ledge directly beneath her. Then, after a few moments they were resumed, but to the girl’s relief they now retreated down the steep bluff. Presently they ceased entirely, and though it was hours before she could quiet her fears she at last fell into a deep slumber.

.     .     .     .     .

At dawn Nu, the son of Nu, awoke. He rose and stretched himself, standing in the glare of the new sun upon the ledge before his cave. Fifty feet above him slept the girl he loved. Nu gathered up his weapons and his bear skin, and moved silently down to the spring where he quenched his thirst. Then he passed through the jungle to the sea. Here he removed his loincloth and the skin that covered his shoulders and waded into the surf. In his right hand he held his knife, for great reptiles inhabited the Restless Sea. Carefully he bathed, keeping a wary watch for enemies in the water or upon the land behind. In him was no fear, for he knew no other existence than that which might present at any moment the necessity of battling for his life with some slimy creature of the deep, or equally ferocious denizen of the jungle or the hills. To Nu it was but a part of the day’s work. You or I might survive a single day were we suddenly cast back into the primeval savagery of Nu’s long dead age, and Nu, if as suddenly transplanted to the corner of Fifth Avenue and Twenty-third Street might escape destruction for a few hours, but sooner or later a trolley car or a taxi would pounce upon him.

His ablutions completed, the troglodyte replaced his loincloth and his shaggy fur, took up his weapons and his burden and set forth upon the trail of his father’s people. And above him, as he passed again along the foot of the cliff, the woman that he loved slept in ignorance of his presence.

When, at last, Nat-ul awoke the sun was high in the heavens. The girl came cautiously down the cliff face, looking first in one direction and then another. Often pausing for several minutes at a time to listen. All about her were the noises of the jungle and the sea and the air, for great birds and horrid winged reptiles threatened primeval men as sorely from above as did the carnivora of the land from his own plane.

She came to the spring in safety, and passed on into the jungle in search of food, for she was half famished. Fruits and vegetables, with grasshoppers, caterpillars and small rodents, and the eggs of birds and reptiles were what she sought, nor was she long in satisfying the cravings of her appetite. Nature was infinitely more bountiful in those days than at the present, for she had infinitely more numerous and often far greater stomachs to satisfy then than now.

Nat-ul passed through the jungle to the beach. She had wanted to bathe, but, alone, she dared not. Now she stood wondering in which direction the tribe had gone. She knew that ordinarily if they had been traveling either north or south they would follow the hard-packed sand of the beach, for there the traveling was easiest, but the tide would have washed away their spoor long before this. She had seen signs of their passage north beside the jungle, but the trail was an old, well worn one traversed daily by many feet, so she had not been able to guess from it that it contained the guide to the direction her people had taken.

As she stood upon the beach trying to reason out her future plans, it became apparent that if the tribe had gone north she would have met them on her return from the Barren Cliffs yesterday, and so, as she had not met them, they must have gone south.

And so she turned her own footsteps south away from her people and from Nu.

The Eternal Lover - Contents    |     Part II - Chapter IV - The Boat Builders

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