The Eternal Lover

Part II

Chapter V

Nu’s First Voyage

Edgar Rice Burroughs

PRESENTLY all the boats were completed, and the men dragged them one by one down close to the water. In them they placed their paddles, their axes and their harpoons, just as Tur had before he departed. Nu watched them with feverish interest. At last all have been launched, and are being paddled vigorously beyond the surf. In the comparatively smoother water the boats turn toward the north and south, scattering. Evidently they are not bound for the distant islands. Nu sees a warrior rise suddenly in the bow of one of the boats and hurl his spear quickly into the water. Immediately there is a great commotion in the boat and in the water beside it. There are three men in each boat. Two in the boat Nu is watching, paddle frantically away from the thing that lashes the sea beside them. Nu guessed what had occurred.

The spearman had buried his weapon in some huge creature of the deep, and the battle was on. They were too far out for Nu to see the details of the conflict, but he saw the boat towed swiftly by the wounded creature as it raced toward the open sea. He saw the boat pulled closer along-side and another spear hurled into the fleeing thing. He understood now why these men tied their spear-heads to long ropes. He saw the sudden commotion in the dug-out as the hunted turned upon the hunters. He saw the swift stroke of a mighty flipper as it rose from the water and fell with awful fury across the boat. He saw the other boats hurrying toward the scene of battle; but before they reached the spot all was quiet save for two pieces of bobbing tree trunk and the head and shoulders of a single man who clung to one of them. A few minutes later he was dragged into another boat and the fleet dispersed again to search out other prey.

Soon all were out of sight beyond a promontory except a single craft which fished before the village. These men evidently sought less formidable game, and Nu could see that from the teeming sea they were dragging in great fish almost as rapidly as they could hurl their weapons. Soon the boat was completely filled, and with their great load the men paddled slowly inshore.

As they came a sudden resolution formed in Nu’s mind. The sight of the dangerous sport upon the waters had filled him with a strong desire to emulate these strangers, but greater than that was the power of another suggestion which the idea held forth.

As the men dragged the boat upon the beach the women came down to meet them, carrying great bags of bull hide sewn with bullock sinew. Into these they gathered the fish and dragged their loads over the ground toward their camp.

The men, their day’s work evidently finished, stretched out beneath the shade of trees to sleep. This was the time! Nu moved stealthily to his hands and knees. He grasped his long spear and his stone ax tightly in his hands. The boat lay upon the open beach. There was no near point where he might reach it undetected by the women. The alternative rather appealed to Nu’s warlike nature. It was nothing less than rushing directly through the village.

He came to his feet and advanced lightly among the shelters. No need to give the alarm before he was detected. He was directly behind the young woman who scraped the aurochs’ skin. She did not hear his light footfall. The baby, now sitting by her side playing with the aurochs’ tail, looked up to see the stranger close upon him. He lunged toward his mother with a lusty shriek. Instantly the camp was in commotion. No need now for stealth. With a war whoop that might have sprung from a score of lusty lungs Nu leaped through the village among the frightened women and the startled men, awakened rudely from their sleep.

Straight toward the boat ran Nu, and upon his heels raced the three warriors. One was coming toward him from the side. He was quite close, so close that he came upon Nu at the same instant that the latter reached the boat. The two fell upon one another with their great axes, but Nu, the son of Nu, was a mighty warrior. He dodged the blow of the other’s ax, and before his adversary could recover himself to deliver a second Nu’s weapon fell upon his skull, crushing it as if it had been an egg shell.

Now Nu seized the boat and dragged it toward the water as he had seen the strangers do. But he had taken but a half dozen steps when he was forced to turn and defend himself against the remaining warriors. With savage howls they were upon him, their women huddled upon the beach behind them shouting wild cries of encouragement to their men and defiance to the enemy. Nu abandoned the boat and rushed to meet his antagonists. His long spear, thrown with the power of his mighty muscles, passed through the body of the foremost Boat Builder, who was upon the point of hurling his stout harpoon at Nu. Down went the harpooner. Up rose a chorus of howls and lamentations from the women. Now the third warrior closed upon the troglodyte. It was too close for spear work, and so the fellow dropped his heavy weapon and leaped to close quarters with his knife. Down the two men went into the knee deep water, striking at one another with their knives as they sought death holds with their free hands. A great roller rumbled in upon them, turning them over and over as it carried them up the beach. Still they fought, sputtering and choking in the salty brine, but when the wave receded it left a corpse behind it upon the beach, stabbed through and through the great hairy chest by the long, keen knife of Nu, the son of Nu.

The cave man rose, dripping, to his feet and turned back toward the sea. The roller had carried the boat out with it. The women, furious now at the death of their three men, rushed forward to drag down the victor. Savage creatures they were, but little less sinister than their males. Their long hair streamed in the wind. Their faces were distorted by rage and hatred. They screamed aloud their taunts and insults and challenges; but Nu did not wait to battle with them. Instead he dove into the surf and struck out for the drifting boat. His spear was lost, but he clung to his ax. His knife he had returned to his gee-string.

They ran into the water to their waists, but Nu was beyond their reach. In a moment more he had come to the side of the boat. Tossing in his ax he clambered over the side, scarce escaping overturning the hollowed log. Once safely within he took up the paddle, an unaccustomed implement, and, fashioning his strokes after those of the men he had watched, he made headway from the shore.

The tide and the wind helped him, but he found, too, that he quickly mastered the art of paddling. First he discovered that when he paddled exclusively upon the side of his spear hand the boat turned in the opposite direction, and so he understood why the boatmen had paddled alternately upon one side and the other. When he did this the craft kept a straighter course in the direction he wished to go—the distant land of mystery.

Half way across the water that spread between the main land and the nearest island a monstrous shape loomed suddenly close to the boat’s side. A long neck surmounted by a huge reptilian head shot above the surface, and wide gaping jaws opened to seize the paddler. Protruding eyes glared down upon him, and then the thing struck. Nu dodged to one side and struck back with his knife. With a hiss and scream the creature dove beneath the surface only to reappear a moment later upon the opposite side of the boat. Blood flowed from the knife wound in its neck. Again it snapped at the man, again the knife found its neck as Nu crouched to one side to elude the gaping jaws. Once more the thing dove, and almost simultaneously a mighty tail rose high out of the water above the man’s head. Nu seized the paddle and drove the boat forward just as that terrific engine of destruction fell with a mighty whack upon the very spot the boat had quit. The blow, had it touched the craft, would have splintered it into firewood. For a few minutes the sea was churned to white, crimson stained by the creature’s blood, as it thrashed about in impotent fury. Then, as Nu paddled away, the raging ceased and the great carcass floated upon its side.

On went Nu, paddling with redoubled energy toward the distant goal. What he expected to find at his journey’s end he could scarce have told. That Nat-ul was there he could not believe, yet what else was drawing him through countless dangers across the face of the terrible waters? The man, Tur, had come hither. He it was who had pursued Nat-ul. Was he still pursuing her? That he was following some woman Nu was positive from the fragments of conversation he had overheard, and yet though try as he would to believe it he could not make his judgment accept as a possibility the chance that it was really Nat-ul whom the man expected to find upon this distant land.

The wind had risen considerably since Nu set out upon his perilous journey. Already the waves were running high, tipped with white. That the island lay straight before the wind was all that saved the rude craft from instant annihilation. All about him the sea was alive with preying monsters. Titanic duels were in progress upon every hand, as the ferocious reptilia battled over their kills, or, turning from the chase, fell upon one another in frenzied joy of battle while their fortunate quarry swam rapidly away.

Through innumerable dangers swept the little tree-trunk skiff to be deposited at last upon the surf beaten beach of the nearest island. Scarce had Nu landed and dragged his boat above the rollers when he descried another boat a short distance from his own. That this belonged to the man, Tur, he had no doubt, and seizing his ax he hastened to it to pick up and follow the other’s spoor wherever it might lead.

Clean cut and distinct in the sand Nu found the impress of Tur’s sandals, nor did it require a second glance at them to convince the troglodyte that they had been made by the same feet that had pursued Nat-ul upon the mainland beach.

The trail led around a rocky promontory into a deep and somber gorge. Up the center of this it followed the course of a rapid brook, leaping downward toward the sea. From time to time the man had evidently essayed to scale the cliffs, first upon one side and then upon the other, but each time he had abandoned the attempt before the difficulties and dangers of the precipitous crags.

To Nu the ascent would have proved a simple matter, and so he wondered why the man had turned back each time after clambering but a short distance from the base of the cliffs; but Tur was not a cliff dweller. His peoples had come from a great, level river valley beside the sea—from a country where cliffs and natural caves were the exception rather than the rule, so he had had but little practice in climbing of that sort.

Finally, at the head of the ravine, he had been forced to climb or retrace his steps, and here, at last, he had managed to clamber out upon the table land that stretched beyond the summit. Across this the trail led, turning suddenly toward the west at the edge of another ravine. The abruptness with which the spoor wheeled to the right indicated to Nu that something had suddenly attracted the man’s attention toward the new direction and that he had proceeded at a rapid run to investigate. Could he here have discovered the woman he sought? Was he already in pursuit of Nat-ul?—if it was, indeed, she. Was he even now in possession of her?

Nu, too, wheeled to the west and raced rapidly along the well-marked trail. Since he had come upon the signs of Tur, Nu’s speed had been infinitely greater than that of the Boat Builder.

This his woodcraft told him, so he knew that he was constantly gaining upon the man who was still unconscious of the fact that he was being pursued.

Down the steep side of the ravine Tur must have slid and rolled in a most reckless fashion. At the bottom was a dense forest through which the trail led back toward the sea, after the man had made a series of frantic but futile attempts to scale the opposite heights.

What had he seen or heard or followed that had led him to make such desperate attempts to gain the opposite summit? Should Nu follow him down the ravine, or clamber to the vantage point the other had been unable to reach?

For an instant the troglodyte hesitated. Then he wheeled toward the cliff, and with the agility of long practice backed by ages of cliff dwelling forebears he clambered rapidly upward. At times he was forced to leap for a projecting rock above his head, dangling out over space as he drew himself, by mighty biceps and forearm, to the tiny foothold it afforded. Again, a gnarled root or a small crevice aided him in his ascent, until presently he crawled over the brow and stood erect once more on level ground.

Nu looked about, warily—there was no sign of the man or the woman. Then he examined the ground in ever enlarging circles, but no spoor such as he sought rewarded his eager eyes.

He had about decided to return to the bottom of the ravine and follow Tur’s spoor when, clear and shrill from the west, there came to his ears the scream of a woman in distress.

And scarce had its first note risen upon the air than Nu, the son of Nu, was dashing madly in the direction of the sound.

The Eternal Lover - Contents    |     Part II - Chapter VI - The Anthropoid Apes

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