The Lad and the Lion

Chapter Twenty-Two

Edgar Rice Burroughs

AFTER AZÎZ had left them in the canyon of their lair, the lion and the lioness roamed restless about for an hour or two, returning about dawn to the carcass of a buck they had killed the previous day, where they ate for a while. Then they went down to the river and drank, splashing the cool water noisily. For a few minutes they stood looking up and down the canyon; then the lion turned up toward their den, and followed by his savage mate crept in and lay down.

It was dusk again before either stirred. The lioness rose first and yawned, stretching her great length. The lion, aroused, opened his yellow eyes and stared up at his mate. She purred down upon him. Slowly and majestically the king of beasts came to his feet. As he passed his lioness his rough tongue stroked her muzzle in a gentle caress, and a moment later his massive head and great black mane were framed in the entrance of the cave.

With slow, ponderous dignity the huge beast strode out into the growing night. He moved noisily down the narrow trail toward the canyon’s bottom, at his heels his fond companion. Occasionally the great head turned toward the right or toward the left, but there was no stealth in his movements, and no sign of that nervous trepidation which marks the waking life of the lesser beasts of the wilderness. What need of caution upon the part of the lord of the desert! Only when he would hunt did he send his great, sinuous frame through tangled grasses or dense brush in utter noiselessness.

At the river the two drank. Then they turned their footsteps toward the remains of their kill. They were traveling upwind, when to their sensitive nostrils came the scent of flesh. It was an unwary antelope drinking fifty yards above them.

As by magic the two great cats became silent spectres moving through the gloomy shadows of the canyon. The lion was in advance. As he crept forward his huge padded feet gave no slightest warning of his coming. Not a grass blade rustled. Not a twig snapped beneath his noiseless tread. Eight hundred pounds, perhaps, the great beast weighed, yet no tit-mouse could have moved in silence more complete.

Almost to the drinking antelope he came before that nervous, fearful creature sensed anything amiss, even then it heard no noise. Some subtle sense of peril brought its horned head aloft and alert, but too late.

With a blood-curdling roar el adrea hurtled from the bush at its side. With a frantic snort the creature wheeled to fly, but a mighty taloned forepaw, swinging with all the terrific force of a steam hammer fell upon its shoulder. The bone shattered beneath that awful blow, and then gleaming fangs were buried in the soft throat. There was scarce a struggle after that.

Neatly the lion tore open the body of his kill and disemboweled it. The entrails he buried on the spot, amidst much roaring and growling. Then he grasped the carcass by the face and dragged it fifty or sixty yards to a little clump of bushes, where, purring and grunting, he and his lioness filled their bellies.

As they ate, the clatter of hoofs fell upon their ears from down the canyon. The two waited, crouching behind their kill, their heads flattened and their eyes gleaming like coals of fire. Presently there came within their view a party of horseman—fifty perhaps. They wore the khaki of European soldiery—all but one, and he rode, white burnoosed, at the head of the column beside the leader of the troop. He was Ali-Es-Hadji’s messenger bringing Colonel Vivier and a detail of troopers to assist the Arab in the recovery of his daughter.

The party rode by within fifty yards of the two lions without seeing them. When they had passed, the male rose and looked after them. Then he commenced pacing restlessly about sniffing the ground. It was here that they had pounced upon their brother last night. It was here that he had bid them goodbye and gone away in the direction in which all these men were now riding.

What passed within the fierce, tawny head? Who may guess? He came close to the side of his lioness, sniffing and whining. At last she, too, came to her feet, and then commenced a restless pacing such as one sees within the barred prison cages of the zoo. Back and forth the mighty beasts of prey strode, until at the last the lion, raising his huge head, gave voice to an angry challenging roar, and with tail up set out at a rapid trot upon the trail of the horsemen, and at his heels followed his lioness.

Before they had emerged from the canyon the trot had slackened to a walk, and after that they moved easily, with great strides, over the hills and out into the desert—two mighty creatures of destruction, upon what errand? moved by what promptings?

All that night they traveled, lying up for a few hours during the heat of the following day, for lions, though they can cover great distances without fatigue in the cool of the darkness suffer greatly under a scorching sun.

During the second night they passed through a narrow rocky gorge, and out of it up a steep cliff side that must have taxed the endurance of the horses that preceded them.

Close to dawn they came upon a camp in which were many men sleeping. Great fires burned, and all about stood a thin line of watchful humans, leaning upon their long black guns.

The lion skulked through the surrounding darkness, circling the camp a dozen times, and making a night hideous for the sentries with their uncanny “Aa—ows,” and deep, solemn “Goom! Goom!”

Whatever they searched for they did not find; and before the camp, which consisted of Colonel Vivier’s men and Ali-Es-Hadji’s warriors, broke in the early morning the lions were far in advance of them upon another spoor. This time it was a definite spoor which they had recognized and could follow.

.     .     .     .     .

When Azîz regained consciousness he was aware principally of a severe ache in his head. As he opened his eyes, Nakhla ceased to bathe his forehead. He looked up at her and smiled—it was a smile that reminded her of the smile that he had turned upon the white Nasrâny girl. With the memory came flooding back all the embittered, jealous anguish that she had suffered because of it, and which had been almost forgotten during the vigil at the side of the wounded man.

She turned her eyes haughtily away, and then rising walked to a little distance and stood with her back toward him. For a long time his gaze remained fixed upon her unbending and relentless figure.

“Nasrâny,” he thought. “Pig. Dog.” No wonder that she did not care to look at him, and then he sighed and turned upon his face, burying his hurting head in his arms.

At dawn the marauders were ready to break camp. Several of them were for making short work of the brother of el adrea; but for some reason of his own, Sidi-El-Seghir preferred to spare the prisoner’s life for a while. Perchance he anticipated a price for so powerfully built a slave at the court of the lazy black sultan to the south.

The day was yet in its infancy when the Arabs took up their march. It was not yet precisely flight, for they did not guess that so large a force was upon their trail, but Sidi-El-Seghir was endowed with sufficient wisdom to guess that Ali-Es-Hadji would not permit his daughter to be thus boldly stolen and make no strenuous effort to succor her; so he pushed on at as good a pace as the rough country permitted.

Nakhla rode upon the rump of Mohammed’s mount; but Azîz, a stout camel hair rope about his neck, was tethered to the saddle of Sidi-El-Seghir. There was little ground across which the horses could move faster than a walk; but even where they went at a trot or a canter for short distances the lion-man found less difficulty in keeping the pace than did the wiry beasts the Arabs rode.

The prisoner’s agility and endurance so greatly interested Sidi-El-Seghir that he became more than ever determined to carry the captive with him—the price that he had placed upon him growing steadily with the rough miles the almost naked white man covered without apparent exertion or fatigue.

During the long, hot day Azîz was aware of but two things—the terrible hurting in his head and the cold, disdainful glances of the girl whom the accidents of the march occasionally brought close to him. It was difficult to say which caused the keenest anguish.

Night found them far to the south, yet still clinging to the eastern side of the foothills; though the traveling was difficult there was more cover, and water permitted of easier marches. Here, in a hollow, they halted for the night.

Azîz hoped for a word with Nakhla then, that he might learn for truth if it were his low estate that lay at the bottom of her aloofness; but try as he would he could get no speech with her, and at last when he saw that she had rolled herself up in her rug for the night he lay down beside the guard to whom he was tied, and tried to efface his suffering in sleep.

For half the night he tossed and turned upon the hard ground. His captors had given him no covering, but he did not suffer much on this account though he would have been glad of the soft, hot body of el adrea against which he had snuggled on so many countless nights.

Even as he thought of the great beast there came faintly to him the distant “Goom! Goom!” of a lion. Ah, if it were but his own loved companion! But there could be no hope of that—too far from the haunts of his savage chum had the Arabs dragged him.

As he lay listening to the sound that fell so sweetly upon his ears, another impinged upon his sensitive perceptions—the muffled fall of iron-shod hoofs upon the rock trail along which they had come that day. All his faculties were awake now. The awful torture of his wounded skull was all but forgotten. Motionless as death he listened intently, for he knew that the iron shoes meant the soldiery of France. What could they be doing upon this trail? Yet it must be they, and with them would come rescue for his Nakhla. He did not think of himself. He did not care other than for the welfare of her around whom the mantle of his love would drape its protecting folds.

Closer and closer came the sound of the approaching horsemen, until he wondered at the deafness of the sentries who showed no sign of having heard the noise which fell upon his sensitive ears with such distinctness.

Presently the sound ceased, to be followed by that of the stealthy creeping of an individual toward the camp. Nearer and nearer it came. At last the sentries awoke to the nearness of an enemy. A musket flashed and roared, to be answered from the stunted bush beyond the camp by another.

Instantly the bivouac was astir. Arabs sprang armed and ready to repel the attack they had known must come sooner or later. Matchlocks bellowed and spit great sheets of fire into the dark belly of the night.

Sidi-El-Seghir dragged Nakhla to the shelter of a large boulder. Then he summoned Mohammed to fetch Azîz to the same point and watch over them.

“Should they attempt to escape, shoot them,” commanded the marauder, and ran forward to take his place upon the firing line, prone behind a rocky shelter.

Now there came the sharp, clear-cut ping of the white man’s rifle. It was followed by a volley, perfectly delivered, that revealed to Sidi-El-Seghir the straits into which he had blundered. It was bad enough to have Ali-Es-Hadji hunting him down, but with the force of the white man’s arm beside him the marauder’s position was far from enviable. The night was yet very dark. The moon had not risen.

Stealthily Sidi-El-Seghir slunk back to the boulder which sheltered Mohammed and the two prisoners. He found another Arab there who evidently had no stomach for the bullets of the white man.

“Come!” whispered Sidi-El-Seghir. “The others will hold off the foe while we carry the prisoners to safety.” He did not mention that the others knew nothing of his plan.

Behind the camp were the horses. Their guard had run forward to join the fighting at the front. Quickly the three Arabs saddled their beasts, and with Azîz walking and strapped to Sidi-El-Seghir’s saddle bow and Nakhla mounted behind Mohammed, the fugitives broke straight up into the wild, rough going of the hills. Here, surely, thought Sidi-El-Seghir, he should lose the white man and possibly obtain sufficient start of Ali-Es-Hadji to make good his escape to the wild country through which no man could trail him.

Below them they heard the rattle of the musketry, the cries and cursings of the wounded, and the occasional shriek of a mortally hit horse. It was a hot battle, hotly waged. Sidi-El-Seghir was not sorry that he had escaped it. Ambush and murder were more in his line than open fighting, man to man.

As they reached a little tableland Azîz heard again the roaring of a lion, but this time it was much closer—coming apparently from directly behind them out of the black abyss through which they had climbed to the moonlight mesa. He thrilled to the savage notes.

The Arabs heard them, too, and pressed forward as rapidly as possible. At times the gait taxed even the magnificent speed of the lion-man, but he was buoyed by a strange hope that filled his breast. Could it be that he had recognized the fierce notes of his brother in the voice of the beast upon their trail?”

His keen ears detected the closer grunting of the beast as it approached and finally paralleled them. Presently he was aware that there were two of them, and once he caught the sheen of their tawny hides as they passed from cover to cover a hundred yards to the right. No, there could be no mistake. How his heart leaped as hope grew almost to certainty.

The Arabs were now aware of the presence of the lions. Constantly their eyes were turned fearfully toward those two grim shadows that loped so silently upon their flank.

“Hasten!” muttered Sidi-El-Seghir. “The brutes will be upon us if we do not distance them soon.” But the way was too rough for the jaded horses to better their speed.

Presently the party broke out upon a smooth and open, park-like space. The brilliant moon flooded the scene with light. Sidi-El-Seghir looked fearfully toward the huge beasts that seemed so horribly close.

He could see their jaws drooping open and the light flashing upon their white fangs. The Arab shuddered. Mohammed breathed a little prayer to Allah and drove his spurs into his horse’s sides. Nakhla looked apprehensively toward the lions and then at Azîz. Could these be his beasts? And if they were, could they know him and her so far from their own environment?

The lion and his mate were drawing imperceptibly closer with each stride—edging in toward the little party of horsemen. Sidi-El-Seghir raised his ancient matchlock to fire from the back of his galloping horse. But even as his finger tightened upon the trigger a sudden stirring growl broke from the lips of a beast at his side.

Startled, the Arab glanced down to see the tethered white man leaping upward toward him with outstretched hands. Could that bestial sound have risen from a human throat? For answer he saw the lips part to a hideous roar, and even as he clubbed his rifle to beat off the creature threatening him he felt the sinewy fingers at his shoulder. The man had leaped to his side and was dragging him down even as a beast of prey drags down its quarry.

As he fell he heard the horrid roaring of the two lions mingling with the snarls of his own antagonist, and caught a fleeting glimpse of the tawny bodies charging down upon the party.

Then the teeth of the lion-man found his throat and Sidi-El-Seghir’s ghost glided fearfully out of the wilderness of Africa into the unknown.

The Lad and the Lion - Contents    |     Chapter Twenty-Three

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