The Lad and the Lion

Chapter Six

Edgar Rice Burroughs

THE LAD and the lion entered northern Africa at a point where the desert comes closest to the sea. As they wandered away from the ocean, walking side by side, the youth at the lion’s shoulder, they were bent merely upon an expedition of discovery—at least this was true of the boy.

About him were strange and wonderful sights that filled him with amazement and delight. The broad stretches of open, rolling country; the hills in the distance; the trees and bushes—all seemed a veritable fairyland to one who had never before dreamed that anything but a dreary waste of tumbling water lay beyond the narrow confines of the drifting derelict that had been his world.

Far to the right the lad saw the dark green of dense foliage winding toward the hills. It was the jungle which clothed the banks of a little river that wound down to the sea. Beyond the mountains lay the desert, but of that the lad knew nothing. Just now he was engrossed with those things which were already before his wondering eyes.

He bent his steps toward the distant jungle, and beside him paced the great lion, now full-grown and in his prime—a mighty beast of prey, yet still unmindful either of his great strength or of the purpose for which it was intended. The youth, too, had matured. The last few months had witnessed a development in the lad little less marked than that which had taken place in the lion. Each was a splendid specimen of his kind—the two naked beasts who walked side by side and unafraid into the savage wilderness of an unknown world.

They were moving up wind, and presently there was wafted down to the sensitive nostrils of the lion a strange and delightful aroma. Up went his massive head. Straight behind extended his long, supple tail, the bushy tuft twitching nervously at the extremity. He gave a low whine, and at the same instant the boy’s eyes fell upon that which the lion’s scent had first perceived—a little herd of antelope grazing in a hollow just beyond them.

Here was meat. The impatient lion stalked rapidly through the low bushes that extended to within a hundred yards of the quarry. The boy, more in imitation of his companion than because he realized as yet the necessity for stealth, bent low beside his tawny chum, creeping forward with him, and to better hold his crouching position one smooth brown arm lay about the mighty shoulders of the beast of prey.

The two came to the edge of the bush without attracting the attention of the antelope. From here on there was no shelter. With a deafening roar the lion leaped into the clearing, racing toward his prey; but the frightened creatures wheeled and were away before the mighty claws could fasten themselves upon a single one.

The lion’s sudden charge had left the youth behind—his human muscles could not hope to cope with the speed of his companion—but for a few moments the two raced futilely after the fast-disappearing herd.

Twice again that day did they come thus tantalizingly close to luscious repasts only to be robbed of them at the last moment by the superior speed of their intended victims. Then it was that the superior intelligence of the boy commenced to assert itself. He saw that only by accident could they ever capture one of the fleet and wary creatures unless they could come unseen sufficiently close for the lion to spring upon it with a single bound. Without cover there seemed little likelihood that this would happen.

He had noticed how quickly the antelope turned and fled in the opposite direction from that from which he and the lion approached them. This gave him an idea, and as they sighted another small herd just before they came to the jungle he put his plan to the test.

The lion, as before, was creeping stealthily toward the grazing creatures, taking advantage of some bushes that intervened. When he reached the end of the shelter he would have sprung out, roaring, only to frighten away the quarry; but this time the boy clutched the heavy mane, and through the strange speech medium that had been slowly developing between these two during the years of their companionship, he made the lion understand that he was to remain where he was, hidden behind a little clump of bushes some two hundred yards from the herd.

Then the boy, taking advantage of such cover as he could find, circled the antelope until he had come to a point beyond them and directly opposite the lion. Here he was up wind from them with the result that they quickly got his scent. He was surprised to note their sudden alarm before they could by any possibility have seen him. He had not yet learned the wondrous possibilities of the sensitive organs of smell with which the creatures of the wild are endowed. His intention had been to show himself to the antelope—how they knew of his presence before they could see him was a mystery to him, though it was not many days before he guessed the truth and took advantage of it upon every occasion.

Now as the startled herd stood looking in his direction with upcocked ears, he sprang up in full view of them, shouting and waving his arms. Terrified, the animals stampeded straight away from him—directly toward the crouching lion. Behind them raced the lad. He saw a fine buck leaping straight for the very bush that concealed his fierce hunting mate. He heard a sudden, frightful roar, and saw the tawny, black-maned king of beasts spring full upon the breast of the buck.

Great teeth buried themselves in the soft throat, down went the quarry; and the remainder of the herd scattered to right and left to pass out of sight in the distance before ever they diminished their speed. The boy ran up to where the lion was already busy with his feast, growling as he tore the tender flesh and drank the hot, delicious blood.

As the youth approached the lion looked up, his great jaws dripping red with gore. He bared his mighty fangs in instinctive resentment of interference with his feast, but as the lad pounced upon the buck’s haunch, burying his teeth in the flesh and tearing out a great mouthful, the lion made no move to dispossess him. Instead, he but turned again to the filling of his own belly, and so the two feasted upon their kill until both were satisfied.

Thus the two learned, little by little, to hunt together—the brain of the man and the brawn of the beast working together to insure their supremacy in the hills, the jungle and the fringe of forest beyond the bills to which they sometimes extended their activities.

They laired within a dark cave in the hillside near the source of the river they had perceived that first day winding its graceful way down to the sea. The mouth of their den was hidden by a thicket of scrubby bushes, and the way to it led upward along a narrow path and a tiny ledge—it was a most impregnable fortress and had been chosen from several others by the superior mind of the youth.

Thus they lived only to fill their bellies and to sleep; knowing or caring, yet, for no other manner of existence. At times the boy was restless, wandering through hill and jungle by day as the lion slept. They usually hunted toward dusk, and sometimes after dark; but then the man was handicapped by the limitations of his human sight, though for the eyes of the lion there is no night.

As the youth wandered one afternoon in the ravine below the lair where the lion lay sleeping, his now acute perceptive faculties became suddenly aware of the presence of another creature. Instantly he was on the alert, and a moment later he saw the wicked eyes of a lion peering at him from the depth of a thicket.

Between himself and the safety of his den lay the little river and the strange lion. About him was no place of shelter that he could reach in time should the lion charge. He and his companion had killed enough to teach the boy that all within the boundary of their little world were enemies, so he had no doubt but that the stranger was stalking him for food.

Slowly now the enemy was creeping toward him, belly to the earth. He was a terrible, an awe-inspiring creature. The youth had never before realized what a frightful thing a full-grown lion really was, for never before had he had experience of another than his own loved companion.

If he were but there now—this fellow would never dare to threaten the lion’s chum. With the thought came the sudden hope that he might yet summon his friend. Raising his head he gave vent to a high pitched scream, more cat-like than human. The lion paused in startled amazement. Behind him, up the side of the opposite cliff there appeared to the boy’s watching eyes the massive face of his fierce friend, framed in the shaggy blackness of his great mane.

Quickly the eyes of the lion took in the scene below him. The stranger was again approaching the boy when from behind and above him rang out a hideous roar, and as he turned in the direction of this new sound he saw a mighty beast bounding in great leaps down the rocky hillside toward him.

The hunting lion thought that his huge fellow was coming to rob him of his prey, and for a moment he was undecided as to whether he had better secure his meal first and then look to the intruder, or at once turn and do battle with the latter. But whatever his decision it was not given to him to exercise his own volition in the matter, for while he still hesitated the tawny, roaring thing in his rear was upon him.

Then it became evident to him that this creature was bent upon destroying him rather than the luscious meal which still stood within easy reach of either of them. The strange lion was young and strong; but he was no match for the mighty beast that flew at him with wide distended jaws and bared talons.

The fight that followed sent the naked youth dancing with frantic excitement about the contestants. Beside him he discovered a broken branch lying upon the ground. This he seized and with it in his hand danced in and out about the rolling, rending beasts, delivering blows upon any portion of the enemy that gave itself to his view for a sufficient length of time.

He inflicted but little damage upon the object of his attack, for the branch was rotten, and a piece broke off each time it fell upon the foe; but in another way his aid was beneficial, for the effect it had upon the enemy to see his quarry turn upon him and fight side by side with another lion so mystified him that at the first opportunity he disengaged himself from the battle and leaped away as fast as he could go.

The youth, however, thought that he and his stick had defeated the brute; and the idea thus imparted worked within his active brain until he felt the necessity of possessing a long, stout cudgel with which to defend himself against his enemies.

His companion had been rather severely mauled during the fracas, though not nearly so badly as the lion that had fled; but the wounds soon healed and within a short time the two were hunting together as before.

Not long after this; the youth chanced to come upon the same lion that had recently stalked him; but this time the creature fled at sight of him; and little by little, as the two savage hunters came in contact with the other fiercer denizens of their world, their reputations grew until at sight of them, or when their hunting cries broke the stillness of the jungle or the desert, beasts slunk away to hide themselves from the unconquerable two.

Sometimes their quarry led them out into the desert beyond their wild hills; and once they wandered far across the burning sands, the youth leading the way, his growing imagination filled with a haunting desire to fathom what lay behind the broad and endless barrenness of the vast waste.

Topping a sandy hill, the youth descried a lone antelope moving nervously across their path, looking back from time to time as though in expectation of pursuit. As the general direction of the creature’s advance would bring it close to where the two stood, the youth dragged the lion down behind the crest of the sandy hill, himself lying flat beside his companion.

Only the tops of their heads and their savage eyes appeared above the sand, and so motionless were these that they might not be seen by the animal moving quickly in their direction.

The antelope was still a couple of hundred yards from them when the figure of a white robed horseman suddenly topped the summit of another hill behind it. Instantly the antelope broke into a run, but simultaneously the man raised a long black stick to his shoulder—there was a puff of smoke from its tip, followed by a great roaring sound, and as though struck by lightning the fleet animal tumbled headlong to the sand.

Immediately a half dozen other horsemen galloped into view beside him who had made the kill. The boy was filled with wonderment and awe. Never had he seen such strange creatures—he thought the men and their ponies inseparable from one another—parts of one individual. His surprise brought him to his feet in full view of the galloping Arabs. For a moment they paused in wonder at the vision of the naked youth silhouetted against the burning desert sky; then, abandoning their kill for the moment, they spurred their fleet mounts in the lad’s direction.

But at a hundred yards from him they came to a sudden halt, for then from behind the sandy hill upon which the boy stood and directly at his side rose the massive head of a great black-maned lion. For a moment the Arabs paused in breathless excitement, expecting momentarily to see the youth torn to pieces by the mighty beast beside him.

Then the lion, rumbling forth a deep-throated roar, paced majestically toward them; and to their horror and astonishment they saw the youth walk forward by the beast’s side, one hand grasping the shaggy mane.

The lion had his eyes upon the dead quarry of which he thought the men purposed robbing him. One of the Arabs raised his rifle to fire upon the lion. The youth, having seen the effects of this strange weapon upon the antelope, guessed the man’s intention; and springing ahead of his companion, leaped, roaring and growling, toward the astonished Arab.

The sight of the savage, naked beast-man charging down upon him was too much for the son of the desert. With a cry of alarm he wheeled the pony, and followed by his companions galloped rapidly away in the direction from which they had appeared.

Then the lad and the lion settled down to feast upon the carcass of the antelope; but all the while the former’s mind was active with the imaginings the sight of the Arabs had aroused within it. As the men had approached closer to him he had seen that they were not a part of their horses—that they sat astride these beasts, and were themselves the same manner of creature as himself and the old man of the derelict and those whom he had seen upon the deck of the steamer that had once approached so close to the drifting vessel that had been his world for so many years.

Another thing that he thought upon as he feasted upon the kill was the fact that he alone of all the other creatures of his kind that he ever had seen went naked. He recalled that upon the day he had come into the world he had been covered with similar strange, removable hide, and that because it had been wet and uncomfortable he had removed it. Evidently it was intended that those who went upon two legs instead of four should be thus adorned—it was a matter that he should have to look into.

Just now he was anxious to be off upon the trail of the men. He wanted to follow them to their lair and see how they lived—to discover where they obtained the beautiful, gleaming coverings they wore. He was all excitement. It seemed to him that the lion would never be done filling his belly.

But at last he succeeded, much to the lion’s disgust, in dragging his unwilling companion upon the trail of the Arabs. It led across the barren waste of sand straight away from their cool jungle home. The lion followed it by scent, the boy by the prints of the ponies feet—not yet effaced by the shifting sand, for there was little breeze blowing at the time.

At dusk they came in sight of a distant clump of date palms among which were nestled some forty goat-skin tents. The wind blew gently from the direction of the camp, wafting to the nostrils of the carnivore the delicious aroma of horses, camels, men, and goats. He raised his giant muzzle and sniffed in the delicate fragrance.

The lion was for going directly down to the quarry, for he had been torn away from the antelope before he had entirely satisfied his hunger. The result was that he was ill natured and savage; but the youth grasped him by the mane, and though he bared his great fangs and growled ominously, in the end he lay down as the lad directed.

The latter wished to feast his eyes upon the sight below him—the habitation of many men, the first of the kind that he had ever seen. Until darkness blotted out the scene he watched the distant figures of men and women coming and going between the tents. He saw the little parties of horsemen which galloped out of the desert haze to dismount and unsaddle before their tents. He saw the camels driven in and penned within the douar. The sight filled him with a strange and unaccountable longing—vague yearnings, for what he knew not—the first seeds of dissatisfaction and discontent with his present lot.

At last the lion could be restrained no longer. Rising, he paced restlessly back and forth, sniffing the scent laden air as he kept his blazing eyes upon the camp.

At last he halted, and raising his great head, gave mouth at first to a low, uncanny moan which presently rose to the fierce and savage thunder of the roar of the hunting lion.

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