The Cave Girl/Chapter IX

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The Cave Girl by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Chapter IX: The Seeker

WHEN the old man saw what had happened he ran forward and grasped Nadara by the wrist.

“Quick!” he cried — ” quick, my daughter! You have killed him who would have saved you, and now nothing but flight may keep Korth from having his way with you.” As in a trance the girl turned and departed with him.

They had scarcely disappeared within the underbrush when Waldo returned to consciousness, so slight had been the effect of the blow upon his head.

To his surprise he found the cave man lying very still beside him, but an instant later he read the reason for it in the little projecting ridge of rock upon which lay his foe’s forehead — in falling the savage man had struck thus and lost consciousness.

Almost immediately the hairy one opened his eyes, but before he could gather his scattered senses sinewy fingers found his throat, and he lapsed once more into oblivion — from which there was no awakening.

As Waldo staggered to his feet he saw that the girl had vanished, and there swept back into his mind the memory of the hate that had been in her face as she struck him down.

It seemed incredible that she should have turned against him so, and at the very moment, too, when he had risked his life in her service; but that she had there could be no doubt, for he had seen her cast the stone — with his own eyes he had seen her, and, too, he had seen the hatred and loathing in her face as she looked straight into his. But what he had not seen was the look of horror that followed as the missile struck him instead of Korth, sending him crumpling to earth.

Slowly Waldo turned away from the scene of battle, and without even a second look at his vanquished enemy limped painfully into the brush. His heart was very heavy and he was weak from exhaustion and loss of blood, but he staggered on, back toward his mountain lair, as he thought, until unable to go further he sank down upon a little grassy knoll and slept.

When Nadara recovered from the shock of the thing she had done sufficiently to reason for herself she realized that after all Thandar might not be dead, and though the old man protested long and loudly against it, she insisted upon retracing her steps toward the spot where they had left the yellow giant in the clutches of Korth.

Very cautiously the girl threaded her way through the maze of shrubbery and creepers that filled the intervening space between the forest trees, until she came silently to the edge of the clearing in which the two had fought.

As she peered anxiously through the last curtain of foliage she saw a single body lying quiet and still upon the sward, and an instant later recognized it as Korth’s. For several minutes she watched it before she became convinced that the man who had so terrorized her whole childish life could never again offer her harm.

She looked about for Thandar, but he was nowhere to be seen. Nadara could scarcely believe that her eyes were not deceiving her.

It was incredible that the yellow one could have gone down to unconsciousness before her unintentional blow and yet have mastered the mighty Korth; but how else could Korth have met his death and Thandar be gone?

She approached quite close to the dead man, turning the body over with her foot until the throat was visible. There she saw the finger-marks that had done the work, and with a little thrill of pride she turned back into the forest, calling Thandar’s name aloud.

But Thandar did not hear. Half a mile away he lay weak and unconscious from loss of blood.

Morning found Nadara sleeping in a sturdy tree upon the trail along which Waldo had followed Korth. She had discovered the footprints of the two men the evening before while she had been searching unsuccessfully for the trail which Waldo had followed after the battle. She hoped now that the spoor might lead her to Thandar’s cave, to which she felt it quite possible he might have returned by another way.

When the girl awoke she again took up her journey, following the tracks as unerringly as a hound up through the hilly country, across the divide and down into the jungle to the very watering place at which her tribe had drank a few days earlier.

Here she made a brief stay.

Then on again down the river, back through the jungle and onto the divide once more. She was much mystified by the windings of the trail, but for days she followed the fading spoor until, becoming fainter and fainter as, it grew older, she lost it entirely at last.

She was quite sure by now, however, that it led from her tribe’s former territory, and so she kept on, hoping against hope, that soon she would come across the fresh track of Thandar where he had passed her on his return journey to his home.

Nadara had eluded the old man when she started upon her search for Thandar, so it was that the old fellow returned to the dwellings of his people alone the following day.

Flatfoot was the first to greet him.

“Where is the girl?” he growled. “And where is Korth? Has he taken her? Answer me the truth or I will break every bone in your carcass.” “I do not know where the girl is,” answered the old man truthfully enough, “but Korth lies dead in the little glade beyond the three great trees. A mighty man killed him as he was dragging Nadara off into the thicket —” “And the man has taken the girl for himself?” yelled Flatfoot. “You old thief you. This is some of your work. Always have you tried to cheat me of this girl since first you knew that I desired her. Whither went they? Quick! before I kill you.” “I do not know,” replied the old man. “For hours I searched, until darkness came, but neither of them could I find, and my old eyes are no longer keen for trailing, so I was forced to abandon my hunt and return here when morning came.” “By the three trees the trail starts, you say?” cried Flatfoot.

“That is enough — I shall find them. And when I return with the girl it will be time enough to kill you; now it would delay me too much,” and with that the cave man hurried away into the forest.

It took him half a day to find Nadara’s trail, but at last his search was rewarded, and as she had made no effort to hide it he moved rapidly along in the wake of the unsuspecting girl; but he was not as swift as she, and the chase bid fair to be a long one.

When Waldo woke he found the sun beating down upon his face, and though he was lame and sore he felt quite strong enough to continue his journey; but whither he should go he did not know.

Now that Nadara had turned against him the island held nothing for him, and he was on the point of starting back toward his far distant lair from where he might visit the ocean often to watch for a passing ship, when the sudden decision came to him to see the girl again, regardless of her evident hostility, and learn from her own lips the exact reason of her hatred for him.

He had had no idea that the loss of her friendship would prove such a blow to him, so that his pride suffered as well as his heart as he contemplated his harrowed emotions.

Of course he was reasonably sure that Nadara’s attitude was due to his ungallant desertion, for which act he had long suffered the most acute pangs of remorse and contrition. Yet he felt that her apparent vindictiveness was not warranted by even the grave offense against chivalry and gratitude of which he had been guilty.

It presently occurred to him that by the traitorous attack which he believed that she had made upon him while he was acting in her defense she had forfeited every claim which her former kindness might have given her upon him, but with this realization came another — a humiliating thought — he still wished to see her!

He, Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones, had become so devoid of pride that he would voluntarily search out one who had wronged and outraged his friendship, with the avowed determination of seeking a reconciliation. It was unthinkable, and yet, as he admitted the impossibility of it, he set forth in search of her.

Waldo wondered not a little at the strange emotion — inherent gregarious instinct, he thought it — which drew him toward Nadara.

It did not occur to him that during all the past solitary months he had scarcely missed the old companionship of his Back Bay friends; that for once that they had been the subject of his reveries the cave girl had held the center of that mental stage a thousand times.

He failed to realize that it was not the companionship of the many that he craved; that it was not the community instinct, or that his strange longing could be satisfied by but a single individual. No, Waldo Emerson did not know what was the matter with him, nor was it likely that he ever would find out before it was too late.

The young man attempted to retrace his steps to the battle-ground of the previous day, but he had been so dazed after the encounter that he had no clear recollection of the direction he had taken after he quitted the glade.

So it was that he stumbled in precisely the opposite direction, presently emerging from the underbrush almost at the foot of a low cliff tunneled with many caves. All about were the morose, unhappy community whose savage lives were spent in almost continual wandering from one filthy, comfortless warren to another equally foul and wretched.

At sight of them Waldo did not flee in dismay, as most certainly would have been the case a few months earlier. Instead, he walked confidently toward them.

As he approached they ceased whatever work they were engaged upon and eyed him suspiciously. Then several burly males approached him warily.

At a hundred yards they halted.

“What do you want?” they cried. “If you come to our village we can kill you.” Before Waldo could reply an old man crawled from a cave near the base of the cliff, and as his eyes fell upon the stranger he hurried as rapidly as his ancient limbs would carry him to the little knot of ruffians who composed the reception committee.

He spoke to them for a moment in a low tone, and as he was talking Waldo recognized him as the old man who had accompanied Nadara on the previous day at the battle in the glade.

When he had finished speaking one of the cave men assented to whatever proposal the decrepit one had made, and Waldo saw that each of the others nodded his head in approval.

Then the old man advanced slowly toward Waldo. When he had come quite close he spoke.

“I am an old man,” he said. “Thandar would not kill an old man?” “Of course not; but how know you that my name is Thandar?” replied Waldo.

“Nadara, she who is my daughter, has spoken of you often.

Yesterday we saw you as you battled with that son of Nagoola — Nadara told me then that it was you. What would Thandar among the people of Flatfoot?” “I come as a friend,” replied Waldo, “among the friends of Nadara. For Flatfoot I care nothing. He is no friend of Nadara, whose friends are Thandar’s friends, and whose enemies are Thandar’s enemies. Where is Nadara — but first, where is Flatfoot? I have come to kill him.” The words and the savage challenge slipped as easily from the cultured tongue of Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones as though he had been born and reared in the most rocky and barren cave of this savage island, nor did they sound strange or unusual to him. It seemed that he had said the most natural and proper thing under the circumstances that there was to say.

“Flatfoot is not here,” said the old man, “nor is Nadara. She — ” but here Waldo interrupted him.

“Korth, then,” he demanded. “Where is Korth? I can kill him first and Flatfoot when he returns.” The old man looked at the speaker in unfeigned surprise.

“Korth!” he exclaimed. “Korth is dead. Can it be that you do not know that he, whom you killed yesterday, was Korth?” Waldo’s eyes opened as wide in surprise as had the old man’s.

Korth! He had killed the redoubtable Korth with his bare hands — Korth, who could crush the skull of a full-grown man with a single blow from his open palm.

Clearly he recollected the very words in which Nadara had described this horrible brute that time she had harrowed his poor, coward nerves, as they approached the village of Flatfoot. And now he, Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones, had met and killed the creature from whom he had so fearfully fled a few months ago!

And, wonder of wonders, he had not even thought to use the weapons upon which he had spent so many hours of handicraft and months of practise in preparation for just this occasion. Of a sudden he recalled the old man’s statement that Nadara was not there.

“Where is she — Nadara?” he cried, turning so suddenly upon the ancient one that the old fellow drew back in alarm.

“I have done nothing to harm her,” he cried. “I followed and would have brought her back, but I am old and could not find her.

Once, when I was young, there was no better trailer or mighty warrior among my people than I, but — ” “Yes, yes,” exclaimed Waldo impatiently; “but Nadara!

Where is she?” “I do not know,” replied the old man. “She has gone, and I could not find her. Well do I remember how, years ago, when the trail of an enemy was faint or the signs of game hard to find, men would come to ask me to help them, but now — ” “Of course,” interrupted Waldo; “but Nadara. Do you not even know in what direction she has gone?” “No; but since Flatfoot has set forth upon her trail it should be easy to track the two of them.” “Flatfoot set out after Nadara!” cried Waldo. “Why?” “For many moons he has craved her for his mate, as has Korth,” explained Nadara’s father; “but I think that each feared the other, and because of that fact Nadara was saved from both; but at last Korth came upon us alone and away from the village, and then he grasped Nadara and would have taken her away, for Flatfoot was not about to prevent.

“You came then, and the rest you know. If I had been younger neither Flatfoot nor Korth would have dared menace Nadara, for when I was a young man I was very terrible and the record of my kills was a —” “How long since did Flatfoot set out after Nadara?” Waldo broke in.

“But a few hours since,” replied the old man. “It would be an easy thing for me to overtake him by night had I the speed of my youth, for I well remember —” “From where did Flatfoot start upon the trail?” cried the young man. “Lead me to the place.” “This way then, Thandar,” said the other, starting off toward the forest. “I will show you if you will save Nadara from Flatfoot. I love her. She has been very kind and good to me. She is unlike the rest of our people.

“I should die happy if I knew that you have saved her from Flatfoot, but I am an old man and may not live until Nadara returns. Ah, that reminds me; there is that in my cave which belongs to Nadara, and were I to die there would be none to protect it for her.

“Will you wait for the moment that it will take me to run and fetch it, that you may carry it to her, for I am sure that you will find her; though I am not as sure that you will overcome Flatfoot if you meet him. He is a very terrible man.” Waldo hated to waste a minute of the precious time that was allowing Flatfoot to win nearer and nearer Nadara; but if it were in a service for the girl who had been so kind to him and for the happiness of her old father he could not refuse, so he waited impatiently while the old fellow tottered off toward the caves.

Those who had come half-way to meet Waldo had hovered at a safe distance while he had been speaking to Nadara’s father, and when the two turned toward the forest all had returned to their work in evident relief; for the old man had told them that the stranger was the mighty warrior who had killed the terrible Korth with his bare hands, nor had the story lost anything in the telling.

After what seemed hours to the waiting Waldo the old man returned with a little package carefully wrapped in the skin of a small rodent, the seams laboriously sewed in a manner of lacing with pieces of gut.

“This is Nadara’s,” he said as they continued their way toward the forest. “It contains many strange things of which I know not the meaning or purpose. They all were taken from the body of her mother when the woman died. You will give them to her?” “Yes,” said Waldo. “I will give them to Nadara, or die in the trying of it.”