The Lad and the Lion

Chapter Fourteen

Edgar Rice Burroughs

THE GROWLING of the lioness brought the youth to a sudden halt, and it also brought another actor into the little drama—the black-maned beauty, who after his savage fashion loved them both.

As the Lioness rose to charge the youth the lion leaped quickly in front of her, and approaching his human friend rubbed his muzzle against him, purring an affectionate greeting. Then he turned back toward the lioness as though to say: “You see, do you not, that this is my friend? I do not harm him, nor must you.”

The lioness looked her puzzlement, and with much grumbling resumed her repast; but the youth was hungry, and though he knew that he took his life in his hands he pushed forward to the kill. Again the lioness came to her feet, mouthing her hideous warning with upcurled lips and bared fangs. The youth ignored her. The lion stood almost between them. The man drew his knife and cut a strip from the kill. The lioness took a step toward him, but her mate shoved his mighty shoulder between them. Then the lioness turned away and fell to eating, while the youth squatted upon his haunches at the opposite end of the carcass and filled his belly.

When the meal was done he crawled into the den, and a moment later the two great beasts crawled in beside him and lay down. It was very dark within the den. The youth could not see the forms of his companions; but he heard their breathing, and his last waking memory was of the two blazing eyes of the lioness glaring at him through the darkness. Then he slept.

The next morning the lioness seemed to accept the presence of the youth as a matter of no moment. He moved about with the two as though he had been a third lion, and when he brushed against the great female she paid no more attention to him than she did to her savage mate.

But with all that he was in no danger from the great beasts he no longer felt as he had when he and the lion had been the sole possessors of each other’s friendship. Now he was an outsider, and the longer he thought upon it the more he craved the companionship of the girl of the tented village.

He went, now, daily down into the desert; and Nakhla came daily to meet him. His education proceeded rapidly, for he was as anxious to learn as she was to teach; and as he grasped sufficient of the rudiments of her language to enable him to ask questions he made progress that was astonishing.

Thus a month passed, the youth lairing with the two lions, feeding upon their kills and assisting them in their hunting. The lioness had grown attached to him, coming to his side for caresses as did the great lion; so that it was no uncommon sight for the beasts of the hills to see the three basking in the sun by the riverside; the youth lying with an arm about the neck of the great 1ion, while the lioness lay with her chin across the man’s breast or rubbed her cool muzzle against his bronzed neck and cheek.

Yet always was the youth impatient for the time that he might live within the tents of the Sheik Ali-Es-Hadji, for Nakhla had promised that one day, when he spoke the language of her people fluently, she should take him to her father and ask that he be accepted as one of the tribe. It was Nakhla who taught him to ride and to shoot, for the girl realized that his position would be sufficiently difficult among her savage tribesmen without the handicap of unfamiliarity with the accomplishments they held most dear.

Now Ben Saada during all this time had not remained inactive. He was not long in comprehending that the girl’s affections were not for him, and jealousy prompted him to suspect that they were directed toward another. So he watched Nakhla surreptitiously, and once he followed her during one of her daily solitary rides which had finally confirmed his suspicion that the sheik’s daughter had found a lover outside of the douar of her father.

He saw Nakhla meet a white-robed figure far out upon the desert and the two sit together for hours laughing and talking; and though he witnessed no outward manifestations of love between them, yet he knew that only love could draw the daughter of the sheik daily to meet this stranger.

Upon his return to camp he lost no time in warning Ali-Es-Hadji, and when the latter seemed inclined to doubt his story he promised to take him the following day to the trysting place of the lovers.

And thus it came about that upon the day following Sheik Ali-Es-Hadji’s trip into the desert with Ben Saada, Azîz found no Nakhla at the meeting place, nor on the next day nor the next; and though he went each evening close to the tents of her people he saw nothing of her.

Upon the fourth day as he approached the place where they had been accustomed to meet he saw a solitary white-robbed horseman where he had hoped to find Nakhla. At sight of Azîz the Arab made the sign of peace, and when the youth was close to him addressed him.

“I come from Nakhla, daughter of Sheik Ali-Es-Hadji,” said the horseman. “She wished me to find you and tell you that she may come no more into the desert, for yesterday she was married to a man of her own tribe; and she warns you that if you remain longer in the vicinity she cannot prevent her husband and her father from discovering and slaying you.”

For a moment Azîz was silent, scarce comprehending the full weight of the blow that had been delivered him. He knew little of man-made marriage bonds—only what he had learned from Nakhla when she told him of the customs of her people. The marriage ceremony her maiden shyness had prevented her from elaborating upon. Only in a general way did Azîz know that certain formalities were observed when a human male took to himself a mate—as to the importance of this custom he had I not the slightest conception, as he had no true conception of the significance of any man-made law.

To him there was but one essential to the mating of the sexes—the willingness of both parties. As a child learns, so Azîz had learned largely through the example of others. Aside from Nakhla his sole companions were the savage beasts of the wilderness—when they mated there was no priest—no vows—no ceremonies. Each was content with the other—that alone seemed necessary.

Hence his next question.

“And did Nakhla wish to marry this man?” he asked.

“Yes,” replied Ben Saada.

Without a word, Azîz turned about and trotted back toward the hills and the beasts. In his throat there was a strange, choking sensation. It was quite new to him, and he was very unhappy. Never had he guessed that such misery existed in all the world as that which he suffered. Physical pain, and he had had his full share of that during the course of his short, brutal life, was as nothing by comparison with this horrible, gnawing, numbing misery for which there could be no healing.

He wanted to be alone. He did not wish to see even his dumb friends; and so he passed north of the canyon where his lair lay and on across the wide strip toward the restless, dismal sea. Only memories of suffering and monotony and hate it aroused within his breast, and so it fitted today so perfectly with his mood that he longed to sit upon its lonely shore mingling his misery with misery of the grey, tumbling waste.

As he walked he removed his burnoose and threw it away. Only Nakhla had bound him to the ways of man. Now that he knew that Nakhla was not for him he was glad to go back to the beasts definitely and forever. The burnoose had always seemed to him rather an aggravation. It wrapped about his legs when he ran, impeding his progress. The under garments he had long since discarded, wearing beneath the burnoose only a loin cloth. This he retained.

Thus unencumbered he moved rapidly toward the sea. He had just topped the last rise that had hid the broad Atlantic from him when he saw that which brought him, beast-like, crouching back in hiding behind a bush. It was a girl and two men. The former was riding slowly along the age-old caravan trail that skirts the coast, her mount stepping daintily, arching his sleek neck and tossing his head. Azîz could hear the jingle of the curb chain.

Behind the girl rode two burnoosed Arabs; but that the girl was of a different race the youth could see even from a distance.

Her clothing was light brown and tight fitting. Her headdress was unlike anything that he had before seen, and her skin was white. The little party was moving north along the trail. They had passed Azîz when the girl reined in and turning her horse started back toward the south. Then it was that the youth’s indifferent interest in the three was suddenly transformed to keen excitement.

As the girl approached the two Arabs, whom she had evidently expected would turn and take their places behind her again, one of them rode close in upon either side and seizing her bridle reins held her mount. There ensued a heated discussion. Azîz guessed that the girl first threatened and then pleaded, though he could not hear her words; but the men were obdurate, and finally they turned and rode into the hills a little distance south of the youth.

Now Azîz’ knowledge of matters human was extremely limited. What innate chivalry he possessed required something more strenuous than had so far occurred to awaken it. He only guessed that the girl accompanied the Arabs against her will, and even had they taken her by an actual demonstration of brute force it might then have been still a question as to what effect the sight of such a thing would have had upon the lad.

The girl was nothing to him. He had never seen either her or the men before. If he had seen two lions attacking a strange lioness would he have felt it incumbent upon himself to rush forward to the she-cat’s rescue? However, he determined to follow the three, as here at least seemed a diversion for his distracted mind.

After half an hour he became convinced that the route they were following would lead them straight to the canyon where his den was situated. He smiled as he thought of the reception that would be for them should the lion and his mate be at home—and hungry.

After they had entered the canyon, Azîz was able to approach closer to the trio because of the abundant shelter afforded by the trees and rocks that abounded along the course of the little river. Then it was that he became convinced that the men were taking the girl by force, for twice he saw her attempt to snatch her bridle rein from the hand of him who held it and wheel her horse back down the ravine; but each time the men thwarted her design, scowling fiercely at her and making threatening gestures as they growled in menacing tones at their prisoner.

Near the lion’s den were many natural caves upon either side of the ravine. When the three reached this part of the canyon the men drew rein and dismounted. One of them held the horses while the other ascended to a large cave almost directly opposite that which was Azîz’ home.

The man entered with his long matchlock at the ready. After a moment he emerged and called down to his companion. Azîz could hear his words distinctly.

“This will do nicely,” he said. “It is close to the river, and there are no indications that el adrea frequents it. Bring the girl.”

The other man had by this time dismounted and compelled the girl to do likewise. Now he tethered the horses securely to a large tree; but when he attempted to take the girl upward toward the cave she rebelled, fighting him with all the strength of her frail body.

The youth had crept quite close to these two before the struggle commenced, and now at sight of the helpless girl in the power of the brutal Arab a fierce anger rose within his breast. That the girl was of his own race may have exerted some influence upon his sleeping racial instincts—who may guess?

The first that the two knew that there was another near them was the sound upon their ears of a low, beastlike growl; and then from the brush close at hand leaped an almost naked white man straight for the throat of the Arab. About the stranger’s loin cloth was a bandoleer of cartridges, a knife and a pistol; but he seemed to have forgotten these as he went at the son of the desert with naked hands and bared teeth.

The girl looked on in horror at the battle which ensued. The Arab drew his own pistol, but the beast-man wrenched it from his grasp and hurled it to one side, though not before his foeman’s fingers had pressed the trigger. Following the report of the firearm there was a sudden movement in a dense thicket upon the hillside opposite the cave to which the Arab had intended dragging his captive, but the actors in the little drama in the canyon’s bottom were too engrossed in their own affairs to note what took place above them.

The Arab who had remained with the girl was now down upon his back with Azîz upon him, the teeth of the lion-man buried in his throat. The other Arab was leaping downward to his friend’s assistance; and the girl, freed for the moment, had run to her mount to make good the escape which the interference of the stranger had made possible.

She had taken but a half dozen steps toward the tethered animals when a series of frightful roars broke upon her terrified ears, and a glance in the direction of the fearsome sounds revealed two great lions leaping nimbly down the canyon-side toward her. They were much too close for her to hope to reach and mount her horse before they should be upon her; and so, with a scream of terror, she turned and raced back toward the battling men.

The roars of the lions and the scream of the girl brought the two Arabs and Azîz from the engrossing occupation of their strife. The youth was not surprised at the presence of the carnivores, and his only fear was for the safety of the girl. The Arabs realizing only the menace to themselves in the charge of the great beasts turned and fled, for Azîz had released his antagonist that he might reach the girl before the lions seized her.

They were almost upon her even now, the huge male in advance of his mate. Azîz leaped toward the frightened creature, roaring out a savage warning to the great beasts behind her. The girl had turned to meet her fate at the same instant, when, to her surprise, both lions turned aside and passed her, so close that the great male brushed her riding breeches.

To her amazement, she saw the huge beasts leap to the side of the stranger. She looked to see him rent to shreds; but instead the lions licked his hands; and the lioness, rearing upon her hind feet, placed her forepaws upon his shoulders and rubbed her tawny cheek against his.

The Arabs were by this time making a hasty retreat down the canyon. The youth turned to look for them, and seeing them escaping he waved his hand in their direction, speaking to the two great beasts in a low tone. Like lightning they wheeled, and with mighty bounds, the great muscles rolling beneath their pliant hides and tails straight extended behind them, they raced after the fleeing men.

The girl, her eyes wide in wonderment, watched the death race. There could be but a single outcome, and as the lions came within the last leap of the shrieking men she hid her face in her hands that she might not see the horror of those last moments.

When she looked up once more it was to find the savage white man gazing at her and down the canyon the two lions standing over their kills, looking back toward their master as though awaiting his pleasure. Dumbly she pointed toward them, and Azîz, turning, called softly to his friends.

The girl had meant to point out the menace to themselves of the presence of the two lions. She could not even yet realize that this man was immune from their attack, or that by any possible, human agency could she be protected from them.

At his call they came trotting slowly back, and at the new nearness of them, the girl trembled in terror, stepping involuntarily closer to the half-naked man of whom she would have been almost as terrified as of the lions had she given thought to the matter; but now instinct guided her, and so she turned for protection toward the male of her own species.

“Quick!” she whispered. “Let us escape. They will tear us to pieces.”

Azîz turned toward her with a smile.

“Do not fear them,” he said. “They are my friends,” and then, after a pause —“my only friends.”

She clung to his arm in terror as the great beasts approached. They sniffed about her riding boots, and their cold muzzles touched her bare hand where it hung paralyzed at her side.

She saw the man caress them, running his fingers through the great, black mane of the lion and scratching the head of the green-eyed lioness. Even as she saw she could not believe the testimony of her eyes. It was incredible!

She had spoken to him in the tongue of the desert Arabs, for such she supposed him to be, until later she saw that his brown skin was really that of a white man tanned to its present hue by the sun and the winds of the desert and the sea.

“Who are you?” asked Azîz.

She told him that she was the daughter of a French colonel whose detachment was stationed at a post a few miles south—a new post that the French government had just established upon the old caravan trail. With great misgivings she asked him if he would accompany her in safety to the camp. To her surprise he assented immediately.

Two of the tethered horses, trembling and terrified in the presence of the lions, had been unable to break their tie-ropes. These the youth brought after sending the lions away, for he saw that it would be impossible for the girl to mount her snorting, plunging beast, or that he could quiet the animal while the great cats were in such close proximity.

At last they succeeded in mounting, after Azîz, knowing that he was going into the presence of white men, had donned one of the Arab’s robes. He likewise appropriated one of the long matchlocks which Nakhla had taught him to use. Then he hid the balance of their arms and ammunition in a small cave, against the time that he might find need for them.

Together the two rode down the canyon and across the plain toward the caravan trail—the girl still half afraid of the savage man—the man wondering at the strange beauty of his companion, so different from the beauty of Nakhla.

And thus they came at last to the tents of the French where they were encamped by a river, close to the caravan route, beside which they were to erect a fort, and Azîz saw at close quarters for the first time many men of his own race.

The Lad and the Lion - Contents    |     Chapter Fifteen

Back    |    Words Home    |    Edgar Rice Burroughs Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback