The Eternal Lover

Part II

Chapter XIII

Nat-ul is Heart-Broken

Edgar Rice Burroughs

IT WAS late in the morning when Nat-ul awoke. She peered through the foliage in every direction but could see no sign of Tur. Cautiously she descended to the ground. Upon the beach, not far separated, she saw two boats. To whom could the other belong? Naturally, to some of the Boat Builders. Then there were other enemies upon the island beside Tur. She looked up and down the beach. There was no sign of man or beast. If she could but reach the boats she could push them both through the surf, and, someway, dragging one, paddle the other away from the island. This would leave no means of pursuit to her enemies. That she could reach the mainland she had not the slightest doubt, so self-reliant had heredity and environment made her.

Again she glanced up and down the beach. Then she raced swiftly toward the nearest boat. She tugged and pushed upon the heavy thing, until at last, after what seemed to her anxious mind many minutes she felt it slipping loose from its moorings of sand. Slowly, inch by inch, she was forcing it toward the point where the rollers would at last reach and float it. She had almost gained success with this first boat when something impelled her to glance up. Instantly her dream of escape faded, for from up the beach she saw Tur running swiftly toward her. Even could she have managed to launch this one boat and enter it, Tur easily could overtake her in the other. The water was his element—hers was the land, the caves and the jungles.

Abandoning her efforts with the boat she turned and fled back toward the jungle. A couple of hundred yards behind her raced Tur, but the girl knew that once she reached the tangled vegetation of the forest it would take a better man than Tur to catch her. Straight into the mazes of the wood she plunged, sometimes keeping to the ground and again running through the lower branches of the trees.

All day she fled scarce halting for food or drink, for several times from the elevation of the foot hills and the mountains that she traversed after leaving the jungle she saw the man sticking to her trail. It was dark when she came at last to a precipitous gulf, dropping how far she could not guess. Below and as far as her eyes could reach all was impenetrable darkness. About her, beasts wandered restlessly in search of prey. She caught their scent and heard their dismal moaning, or the thunder of their titanic roaring.

That the cliff upon the verge of which she had halted just in time to avert a plunge into its unknown depths was a high one she was sure from the volume of night noises that came up to her from below, mellowed by distance. What should she do? The summit of the escarpment was nude of trees insofar as she could judge in the darkness, at least she had not recently passed through any sort of forest.

To sleep in the open would be dangerous in the extreme, probably fatal. To risk the descent of an unknown precipice at night might prove equally as calamitous. Nat-ul crouched upon the brink of the abyss at a loss as to her future steps. She was alone, a woman, practically unarmed, in a strange and savage land. Hope that she might ever return to her own people seemed futile. How, indeed, could she accomplish it, followed by enemies and surrounded by unknown dangers.

She was very hungry and thirsty and sleepy. She would have given almost her last chance for succor to have lain down and slept. She would risk it. Drawing her shaggy robe about her, Nat-ul stretched herself upon the hard earth at the top of the precipice. She closed her eyes, and sleep would have instantly claimed her had not a stealthy noise not a dozen yards behind her caused her to come to startled wakefulness. Something was creeping upon her—death, in some form, she was positive. Even now she heard the heavy breathing of a large animal, and although the wind was blowing between them she caught the pungent odor of a great cat.

There was but a single alternative to remaining and surrendering herself to the claws and fangs of the carnivore, nor did Nat-ul hesitate in accepting it. With the speed of a swift she lowered herself over the edge of the cliff, her feet dangling in space. Rapidly, and yet without panic, she groped with her feet for a hold upon the rocky surface below her.

There seemed nothing, not the slightest protuberance that would give her a chance to lower herself from the clutches of the beast that she knew must be sneaking cautiously toward her from above. A sudden chill of horror swept over her as she felt hot breath and the drip of saliva upon her hands where they clung to the edge of the cliff above.

A low growl came from above. Evidently the beast was puzzled by the strange position of its quarry, but in another moment it would seize her wrists or, reaching down, bury its talons in her head or back. And just then her fingers slipped from their hold and Nat-ul dropped into the darkness.

That she fell but a couple of feet did not detract an iota from the fright she endured in the instant that her hand hold gave way, but the relief of feeling a narrow ledge beneath her feet quickly overcame her terror. That the beast might follow her she had little fear. There might be a ledge running down to this point, and then again there might not. All she could do was stay where she was and hope for the best, and so she settled herself as securely as she might to await what the immediate future might hold for her. She heard the beast growling angrily as it paced along the brow of the cliff above her, now stopping occasionally to lower its nose over the edge and sniff at her, and again reaching down a mighty paw whose great talons clawed desperately to seize her, sweeping but a few inches above her head.

For an hour or more this lasted until the hungry cat, baffled and disgruntled, wandered away into the jungle in search of other prey, voicing his anger as he went in deep throated roars.

Nat-ul felt along the ledge to right and left with her fingers. The surface of the rock was weatherworn but not polished as would have been true were the ledge the accustomed pathway of padded feet. The girl felt a sense of relief in this discovery—at least she was not upon the well beaten trail leading to the lair of some wild beast, or connecting the cliff top with the valley below.

Slowly and cautiously she wormed her way along the ledge, searching for a wider and more comfortable projection, but the ledge only narrowed as she proceeded. Having ventured thus far the girl decided to prosecute her search until she discovered a spot where she might sleep in comparative safety and comfort. As no such place seemed to exist at the level at which she was, she determined to descend a way. She lowered her feet over the ledge, groping with her sandaled toes along the rough surface below her. Finally she found a safe projection to which she descended. For half an hour Nat-ul searched through the pitch black night upon the steep cliff face until accident led her groping feet to the mouth of a cave—a darker blot upon the darkness of the cliff. For a moment she listened attentively at the somber opening. No sound of breathing within came to her keen ears. Satisfied that the cave was untenanted Nat-ul crawled boldly in and lay down to sleep—exhausted by her long day of flight.

A scraping sound upon the cliff face awakened Nat-ul. She raised herself upon an elbow and listened attentively. What was it that could make that particular noise? It did not require but an instant for her to recognize it—a sound familiar since infancy to the cliff dweller. It was the trailing of the butt of a spear as it dangled from its rawhide thong down the back of a climbing warrior. Now it scraped along a comparatively smooth surface, now it bumped and pounded over a series of projections. What new menace did it spell?

Nat-ul crawled cautiously to the opening of the cave. Here she could obtain a view of the cliff to the right, but the climber she could not see—he was below the projecting ledge that ran before the threshold of her cavern. As she looked Nat-ul was startled to see a woman emerge from a cave a trifle above her and fifty feet, perhaps, to her right. The watcher drew back, lest she be discovered. She heard the stranger’s cry of delight as she sighted the climber below. She saw her clamber down to meet the new comer. She saw the man an instant later as he clambered to the level of her ledge. Her heart gave a throb of happiness—her lips formed a beloved name; but her happiness was short lived, the name died ere ever it was uttered. The man was Nu, the son of Nu, and the woman who met him threw her arms about his neck and covered his lips with kisses. It was Gron. Nat-ul recognized her now. Then she shrank back from the sight, covering her eyes with her hands, while hot tears trickled between her slim, brown fingers. She did not see Nu’s easy and indifferent laugh as he slipped Gron’s arms from about his neck. Fate was unkind, hiding this and unsealing Nat-ul’s eyes again only in time to show the distracted girl a momentary glance of her lover disappearing into Gron’s cave with an arm about the woman’s waist.

Nat-ul sprang to her feet. Tears of rage, jealousy and mortification blinded her eyes. She seized the knife that lay in her girdle. Murder flamed hot in her wild, young heart as she stepped boldly out upon the ledge. She took a few hurried steps in the direction of the cave which held Nu and Gron. To the very threshold she went, and then, of a sudden, she paused. Some new emotion seized her. A flood of hot tears welled once more to her eyes—tears of anguish and hurt love this time.

She tried to force herself within the cave, but pride held her back. Then sorrowfully she turned away and descended the cliff face. As she went her speed increased until by the time she reached the level before the forest she was flying like a deer from the scene of her greatest sorrow. On through the woods she ran, heedless of every menace that might lurk within its wild shadows. Beyond the wood she came upon a little plain that seemed to end at the edge of a declivity some distance ahead of her. Beyond, in the far distance she could see the tops of mountains rising through a mist that floated over an intervening valley.

She would keep on. She cared not what lay ahead, only that at each step she was putting a greater distance between herself and the faithless Nu, the hateful Gron. That was all that counted—to get away where none might ever find her—to court death—to welcome the end that one need never seek for long in that savage, primeval world.

She had crossed half the clearing, perhaps, when the head of a bull aurochs appeared topping the crest of the gulf ahead. The brute paused to look at the woman. He lowered his head and bellowed. Directly behind him appeared another and another. Ordinarily the aurochs was a harmless beast, fighting only when forced to it in self-defense; but an occasional bull there was that developed bellicose tendencies that made discretion upon the side of an unarmed human the better part of valor. Nat-ul paused, measuring the distance between herself and the bull and herself and the nearest tree.

While Nat-ul, torn by anguish, fled the cliff that sheltered Nu, the man, within the cave with Gron, again disengaged the fingers of the woman from about his neck.

“Cease thy love-making, Gron,” he said. “There may be no love between us. In the tribe of Nu, my father, a man takes but one mate. I would take Nat-ul, the daughter of Tha. You are already mated to Tur. You have told me this, and I have seen his child suckling your breast. I love only Nat-ul—you should love only Tur.”

The woman interrupted him with an angry stamp of her sandaled foot.

“I hate him,” she cried. “I hate him. I love only Nu, the son of Nu.”

The man shook his head, and when he spoke it was still in a kindly voice, for he felt only sorrow for the unhappy woman.

“It is useless, Gron,” he said, “for us to speak further upon this matter. Together we must remain until we have come back to our own countries. But there must be no love, nor more words of love between us. Do you understand?”

The woman looked at him for a moment. What the emotion that stirred her heart her face did not betray. It might have been the anger of a woman scorned, or the sorrow of a breaking heart. She took a step toward him, paused, and then throwing her arms before her face, turned and sank to the floor of the cave, sobbing.

Nu turned away and stepped out upon the ledge before the cave. His quick eyes scanned the panorama spread out before him in a single glance. They stopped instantly upon a tiny figure showing across the forest in the little plain that ran to the edge of the plateau before it dove into the valley beside the inland sea. It was the figure of a woman. She was running swiftly toward the declivity. Nu puckered his brows. There was something familiar about the graceful swing of the tiny figure, the twinkling of the little feet as they raced across the grassy plain. Who could it be? What member of his tribe could have come to this distant island? It was but an accidental similarity, of course; but yet how wildly his heart beat at the sight of that distant figure! Could it be? By any remote possibility could Nat-ul have reached this strange country?

Coming over the edge of the plateau from the valley beyond, Nu saw the leaders of a herd of aurochs. Behind these must be the herders. Will the girl be able to escape them? Ah, she has seen the beasts—she has stopped and is looking about for a tree, Nu reasoned, for women are ofttimes afraid of these shaggy bulls. He remembered, with pride, that his Nat-ul feared little or nothing upon the face of the earth. She was cautious, of course, else she would not have survived a fortnight. Feared nothing! Nu smiled. There were two things that filled Nat-ul with terror—mice and earthquakes.

Now Nu sees the first of the herders upon the flanks of the herd. They are hurrying forward, spears ready, to ascertain what it is that has brought the leaders to a halt—what is causing the old king-bull to bellow and paw the earth. Will the girl see them? Can she escape them? They see her now, and at the same instant it is evident that she sees them. Is she of their people? If so, she will hasten toward them. No! She has turned and is running swiftly back toward the forest. The herders spring into swift pursuit. Nu trembled in excitement. If he only knew. If he only knew!

At his shoulder stood Gron. He had not been aware of her presence. The woman’s eyes strained across the distance to the little figure racing over the clearing toward the forest. Her hands were tightly clenched against her breast. She too, had been struck with the same fear that haunted Nu. Perhaps she had received the idea telepathically from the man.

The watchers saw the herders overtake the fugitive, seize her and drag her back toward the edge of the plateau. The herd was turned back and a moment later all disappeared over the brink. Nu wavered in indecision. He knew that the captive could not be Nat-ul, and yet something urged him on to her succor. They were taking her back to the Lake Dwellings! Should he follow? It would be foolish—and yet suppose that it should be Nat-ul. Without a backward glance the man started down the cliff-face. The woman behind him, reading his intention plainly, took a step after him, her arms outstretched toward him.

“Nu!” she cried. Her voice was low and pleading. The man did not turn. He had no ears, no thoughts beyond the fear and hope that followed the lithe figure of the captive girl into the hidden valley toward the distant lake.

Gron threw out her arms toward him in a gesture of supplication. For a moment she stood thus, motionless. Nu continued his descent of the cliff. He reached the bottom and started off at a rapid trot toward the forest. Gron clapped her open palm across her eyes, and, turning, staggered back to the ledge before the cave, where, with a stifled moan she sank to her knees and slipped prone upon the narrow platform.

The Eternal Lover - Contents    |     Part II - Chapter XIV - “I Have Come to Save You”

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