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Edgar Rice Burroughs.

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some three hundred miles around the northern end of the sea, through
such hideous dangers as I am perfectly free to admit had me pretty well
buffaloed. I had seen quite enough of Caspak this day to assure me
that Bowen had in no way exaggerated its perils. As a matter of fact,
I am inclined to believe that he had become so accustomed to them
before he started upon his manuscript that he rather slighted them. As
I stood there beneath that tree - a tree which should have been part of
a coal-bed countless ages since - and looked out across a sea teeming
with frightful life - life which should have been fossil before God
conceived of Adam - I would not have given a minim of stale beer for my
chances of ever seeing my friends or the outside world again; yet then
and there I swore to fight my way as far through this hideous land as
circumstances would permit. I had plenty of ammunition, an automatic
pistol and a heavy rifle - the latter one of twenty added to our
equipment on the strength of Bowen's description of the huge beasts of
prey which ravaged Caspak. My greatest danger lay in the hideous
reptilia whose low nervous organizations permitted their carnivorous
instincts to function for several minutes after they had ceased to live.

But to these things I gave less thought than to the sudden frustration
of all our plans. With the bitterest of thoughts I condemned myself
for the foolish weakness that had permitted me to be drawn from the
main object of my flight into premature and useless exploration. It
seemed to me then that I must be totally eliminated from further search
for Bowen, since, as I estimated it, the three hundred miles of
Caspakian territory I must traverse to reach the base of the cliffs
beyond which my party awaited me were practically impassable for a
single individual unaccustomed to Caspakian life and ignorant of all
that lay before him. Yet I could not give up hope entirely. My duty
lay clear before me; I must follow it while life remained to me, and so
I set forth toward the north.

The country through which I took my way was as lovely as it was
unusual - I had almost said unearthly, for the plants, the trees, the
blooms were not of the earth that I knew. They were larger, the colors
more brilliant and the shapes startling, some almost to grotesqueness,
though even such added to the charm and romance of the landscape as the
giant cacti render weirdly beautiful the waste spots of the sad Mohave.
And over all the sun shone huge and round and red, a monster sun above
a monstrous world, its light dispersed by the humid air of Caspak - the
warm, moist air which lies sluggish upon the breast of this great
mother of life, Nature's mightiest incubator.

All about me, in every direction, was life. It moved through the
tree-tops and among the boles; it displayed itself in widening and
intermingling circles upon the bosom of the sea; it leaped from the
depths; I could hear it in a dense wood at my right, the murmur of it
rising and falling in ceaseless volumes of sound, riven at intervals by
a horrid scream or a thunderous roar which shook the earth; and always
I was haunted by that inexplicable sensation that unseen eyes were
watching me, that soundless feet dogged my trail. I am neither nervous
nor highstrung; but the burden of responsibility upon me weighed
heavily, so that I was more cautious than is my wont. I turned often
to right and left and rear lest I be surprised, and I carried my rifle
at the ready in my hand. Once I could have sworn that among the many
creatures dimly perceived amidst the shadows of the wood I saw a human
figure dart from one cover to another, but I could not be sure.

For the most part I skirted the wood, making occasional detours rather
than enter those forbidding depths of gloom, though many times I was
forced to pass through arms of the forest which extended to the very
shore of the inland sea. There was so sinister a suggestion in the
uncouth sounds and the vague glimpses of moving things within the
forest, of the menace of strange beasts and possibly still stranger
men, that I always breathed more freely when I had passed once more
into open country.

I had traveled northward for perhaps an hour, still haunted by the
conviction that I was being stalked by some creature which kept always
hidden among the trees and shrubbery to my right and a little to my
rear, when for the hundredth time I was attracted by a sound from that
direction, and turning, saw some animal running rapidly through the
forest toward me. There was no longer any effort on its part at
concealment; it came on through the underbrush swiftly, and I was
confident that whatever it was, it had finally gathered the courage to
charge me boldly. Before it finally broke into plain view, I became
aware that it was not alone, for a few yards in its rear a second thing
thrashed through the leafy jungle. Evidently I was to be attacked in
force by a pair of hunting beasts or men.

And then through the last clump of waving ferns broke the figure of the
foremost creature, which came leaping toward me on light feet as I
stood with my rifle to my shoulder covering the point at which I had
expected it would emerge. I must have looked foolish indeed if my
surprise and consternation were in any way reflected upon my
countenance as I lowered my rifle and gazed incredulous at the lithe
figure of the girl speeding swiftly in my direction. But I did not
have long to stand thus with lowered weapon, for as she came, I saw her
cast an affrighted glance over her shoulder, and at the same moment
there broke from the jungle at the same spot at which I had seen her,
the hugest cat I had ever looked upon.

At first I took the beast for a saber-tooth tiger, as it was quite the
most fearsome-appearing beast one could imagine; but it was not that
dread monster of the past, though quite formidable enough to satisfy
the most fastidious thrill-hunter. On it came, grim and terrible, its
baleful eyes glaring above its distended jaws, its lips curled in a
frightful snarl which exposed a whole mouthful of formidable teeth. At
sight of me it had abandoned its impetuous rush and was now sneaking
slowly toward us; while the girl, a long knife in her hand, took her
stand bravely at my left and a little to my rear. She had called
something to me in a strange tongue as she raced toward me, and now she
spoke again; but what she said I could not then, of course, know - only
that her tones were sweet, well modulated and free from any suggestion
of panic.

Facing the huge cat, which I now saw was an enormous panther, I waited
until I could place a shot where I felt it would do the most good, for
at best a frontal shot at any of the large carnivora is a ticklish
matter. I had some advantage in that the beast was not charging; its
head was held low and its back exposed; and so at forty yards I took
careful aim at its spine at the junction of neck and shoulders. But at
the same instant, as though sensing my intention, the great creature
lifted its head and leaped forward in full charge. To fire at that
sloping forehead I knew would be worse than useless, and so I quickly
shifted my aim and pulled the trigger, hoping against hope that the
soft-nosed bullet and the heavy charge of powder would have sufficient
stopping effect to give me time to place a second shot.

In answer to the report of the rifle I had the satisfaction of seeing
the brute spring into the air, turning a complete somersault; but it
was up again almost instantly, though in the brief second that it took
it to scramble to its feet and get its bearings, it exposed its left
side fully toward me, and a second bullet went crashing through its
heart. Down it went for the second time - and then up and at me. The
vitality of these creatures of Caspak is one of the marvelous features
of this strange world and bespeaks the low nervous organization of the
old paleolithic life which has been so long extinct in other portions
of the world.

I put a third bullet into the beast at three paces, and then I thought
that I was done for; but it rolled over and stopped at my feet, stone
dead. I found that my second bullet had torn its heart almost
completely away, and yet it had lived to charge ferociously upon me,
and but for my third shot would doubtless have slain me before it
finally expired - or as Bowen Tyler so quaintly puts it, before it knew
that it was dead.

With the panther quite evidently conscious of the fact that dissolution
had overtaken it, I turned toward the girl, who was regarding me with
evident admiration and not a little awe, though I must admit that my
rifle claimed quite as much of her attention as did I. She was quite
the most wonderful animal that I have ever looked upon, and what few of
her charms her apparel hid, it quite effectively succeeded in
accentuating. A bit of soft, undressed leather was caught over her
left shoulder and beneath her right breast, falling upon her left side
to her hip and upon the right to a metal band which encircled her leg
above the knee and to which the lowest point of the hide was attached.
About her waist was a loose leather belt, to the center of which was
attached the scabbard belonging to her knife. There was a single
armlet between her right shoulder and elbow, and a series of them
covered her left forearm from elbow to wrist. These, I learned later,
answered the purpose of a shield against knife attack when the left arm
is raised in guard across the breast or face.

Her masses of heavy hair were held in place by a broad metal band which
bore a large triangular ornament directly in the center of her
forehead. This ornament appeared to be a huge turquoise, while the
metal of all her ornaments was beaten, virgin gold, inlaid in intricate
design with bits of mother-of-pearl and tiny pieces of stone of various
colors. From the left shoulder depended a leopard's tail, while her
feet were shod with sturdy little sandals. The knife was her only
weapon. Its blade was of iron, the grip was wound with hide and
protected by a guard of three out-bowing strips of flat iron, and upon
the top of the hilt was a knob of gold.

I took in much of this in the few seconds during which we stood facing
each other, and I also observed another salient feature of her
appearance: she was frightfully dirty! Her face and limbs and garment
were streaked with mud and perspiration, and yet even so, I felt that I
had never looked upon so perfect and beautiful a creature as she. Her
figure beggars description, and equally so, her face. Were I one of
these writer-fellows, I should probably say that her features were
Grecian, but being neither a writer nor a poet I can do her greater
justice by saying that she combined all of the finest lines that one
sees in the typical American girl's face rather than the pronounced
sheeplike physiognomy of the Greek goddess. No, even the dirt couldn't
hide that fact; she was beautiful beyond compare.

As we stood looking at each other, a slow smile came to her face,
parting her symmetrical lips and disclosing a row of strong white teeth.

"Galu?" she asked with rising inflection.

And remembering that I read in Bowen's manuscript that Galu seemed to
indicate a higher type of man, I answered by pointing to myself and
repeating the word. Then she started off on a regular catechism, if I
could judge by her inflection, for I certainly understood no word of
what she said. All the time the girl kept glancing toward the forest,
and at last she touched my arm and pointed in that direction.

Turning, I saw a hairy figure of a manlike thing standing watching us,
and presently another and another emerged from the jungle and joined
the leader until there must have been at least twenty of them. They
were entirely naked. Their bodies were covered with hair, and though
they stood upon their feet without touching their hands to the ground,
they had a very ape-like appearance, since they stooped forward and had
very long arms and quite apish features. They were not pretty to look
upon with their close-set eyes, flat noses, long upper lips and
protruding yellow fangs.

"_Alus_!" said the girl.

I had reread Bowen's adventures so often that I knew them almost by
heart, and so now I knew that I was looking upon the last remnant of
that ancient man-race - the Alus of a forgotten period - the speechless
man of antiquity.

"_Kazor_!" cried the girl, and at the same moment the Alus came jabbering
toward us. They made strange growling, barking noises, as with much
baring of fangs they advanced upon us. They were armed only with
nature's weapons - powerful muscles and giant fangs; yet I knew that
these were quite sufficient to overcome us had we nothing better to
offer in defense, and so I drew my pistol and fired at the leader. He
dropped like a stone, and the others turned and fled. Once again the
girl smiled her slow smile and stepping closer, caressed the barrel of
my automatic. As she did so, her fingers came in contact with mine,
and a sudden thrill ran through me, which I attributed to the fact that
it had been so long since I had seen a woman of any sort or kind.

She said something to me in her low, liquid tones; but I could not
understand her, and then she pointed toward the north and started away.
I followed her, for my way was north too; but had it been south I still
should have followed, so hungry was I for human companionship in this
world of beasts and reptiles and half-men.

We walked along, the girl talking a great deal and seeming mystified
that I could not understand her. Her silvery laugh rang merrily when I
in turn essayed to speak to her, as though my language was the
quaintest thing she ever had heard. Often after fruitless attempts to
make me understand she would hold her palm toward me, saying, "_Galu_!"
and then touch my breast or arm and cry, "_Alu_, _alu_!" I knew what she
meant, for I had learned from Bowen's narrative the negative gesture
and the two words which she repeated. She meant that I was no Galu, as
I claimed, but an Alu, or speechless one. Yet every time she said this
she laughed again, and so infectious were her tones that I could only
join her. It was only natural, too, that she should be mystified by my
inability to comprehend her or to make her comprehend me, for from the
club-men, the lowest human type in Caspak to have speech, to the golden
race of Galus, the tongues of the various tribes are identical - except
for amplifications in the rising scale of evolution. She, who is a
Galu, can understand one of the Bo-lu and make herself understood to
him, or to a hatchet-man, a spear-man or an archer. The Ho-lus, or
apes, the Alus and myself were the only creatures of human semblance
with which she could hold no converse; yet it was evident that her
intelligence told her that I was neither Ho-lu nor Alu, neither
anthropoid ape nor speechless man.

Yet she did not despair, but set out to teach me her language; and had
it not been that I worried so greatly over the fate of Bowen and my
companions of the _Toreador_, I could have wished the period of
instruction prolonged.

I never have been what one might call a ladies' man, though I like
their company immensely, and during my college days and since have made
various friends among the sex. I think that I rather appeal to a
certain type of girl for the reason that I never make love to them; I
leave that to the numerous others who do it infinitely better than I
could hope to, and take my pleasure out of girls' society in what seem
to be more rational ways - dancing, golfing, boating, riding, tennis,
and the like. Yet in the company of this half-naked little savage I
found a new pleasure that was entirely distinct from any that I ever
had experienced. When she touched me, I thrilled as I had never before
thrilled in contact with another woman. I could not quite understand
it, for I am sufficiently sophisticated to know that this is a symptom
of love and I certainly did not love this filthy little barbarian with
her broken, unkempt nails and her skin so besmeared with mud and the
green of crushed foliage that it was difficult to say what color it
originally had been. But if she was outwardly uncouth, her clear eyes
and strong white, even teeth, her silvery laugh and her queenly
carriage, bespoke an innate fineness which dirt could not quite
successfully conceal.

The sun was low in the heavens when we came upon a little river which
emptied into a large bay at the foot of low cliffs. Our journey so far
had been beset with constant danger, as is every journey in this
frightful land. I have not bored you with a recital of the wearying
successions of attacks by the multitude of creatures which were
constantly crossing our path or deliberately stalking us. We were
always upon the alert; for here, to paraphrase, eternal vigilance is
indeed the price of life.

I had managed to progress a little in the acquisition of a knowledge of
her tongue, so that I knew many of the animals and reptiles by their
Caspakian names, and trees and ferns and grasses. I knew the words for
_sea_ and _river_ and _cliff_, for _sky_ and _sun_ and _cloud_. Yes, I was getting
along finely, and then it occurred to me that I didn't know my
companion's name; so I pointed to myself and said, "Tom," and to her
and raised my eyebrows in interrogation. The girl ran her fingers into
that mass of hair and looked puzzled. I repeated the action a dozen
times.

"Tom," she said finally in that clear, sweet, liquid voice. "Tom!"

I had never thought much of my name before; but when she spoke it, it
sounded to me for the first time in my life like a mighty nice name,
and then she brightened suddenly and tapped her own breast and said:
"Ajor!"

"Ajor!" I repeated, and she laughed and struck her palms together.

Well, we knew each other's names now, and that was some satisfaction.
I rather liked hers - Ajor! And she seemed to like mine, for she
repeated it.

We came to the cliffs beside the little river where it empties into the
bay with the great inland sea beyond. The cliffs were weather-worn and
rotted, and in one place a deep hollow ran back beneath the overhanging
stone for several feet, suggesting shelter for the night. There were
loose rocks strewn all about with which I might build a barricade
across the entrance to the cave, and so I halted there and pointed out
the place to Ajor, trying to make her understand that we would spend
the night there.

As soon as she grasped my meaning, she assented with the Caspakian
equivalent of an affirmative nod, and then touching my rifle, motioned
me to follow her to the river. At the bank she paused, removed her
belt and dagger, dropping them to the ground at her side; then
unfastening the lower edge of her garment from the metal leg-band to
which it was attached, slipped it off her left shoulder and let it drop
to the ground around her feet. It was done so naturally, so simply and
so quickly that it left me gasping like a fish out of water. Turning,
she flashed a smile at me and then dived into the river, and there she
bathed while I stood guard over her. For five or ten minutes she
splashed about, and when she emerged her glistening skin was smooth and
white and beautiful. Without means of drying herself, she simply
ignored what to me would have seemed a necessity, and in a moment was
arrayed in her simple though effective costume.

It was now within an hour of darkness, and as I was nearly famished, I
led the way back about a quarter of a mile to a low meadow where we had
seen antelope and small horses a short time before. Here I brought
down a young buck, the report of my rifle sending the balance of the
herd scampering for the woods, where they were met by a chorus of
hideous roars as the carnivora took advantage of their panic and leaped
among them.

With my hunting-knife I removed a hind-quarter, and then we returned to
camp. Here I gathered a great quantity of wood from fallen trees, Ajor
helping me; but before I built a fire, I also gathered sufficient loose
rock to build my barricade against the frightful terrors of the night
to come.

I shall never forget the expression upon Ajor's face as she saw me
strike a match and light the kindling beneath our camp-fire. It was
such an expression as might transform a mortal face with awe as its
owner beheld the mysterious workings of divinity. It was evident that
Ajor was quite unfamiliar with modern methods of fire-making. She had
thought my rifle and pistol wonderful; but these tiny slivers of wood
which from a magic rub brought flame to the camp hearth were indeed
miracles to her.

As the meat roasted above the fire, Ajor and I tried once again to
talk; but though copiously filled with incentive, gestures and sounds,
the conversation did not flourish notably. And then Ajor took up in
earnest the task of teaching me her language. She commenced, as I
later learned, with the simplest form of speech known to Caspak or for
that matter to the world - that employed by the Bo-lu. I found it far
from difficult, and even though it was a great handicap upon my
instructor that she could not speak my language, she did remarkably
well and demonstrated that she possessed ingenuity and intelligence of
a high order.

After we had eaten, I added to the pile of firewood so that I could
replenish the fire before the entrance to our barricade, believing this
as good a protection against the carnivora as we could have; and then
Ajor and I sat down before it, and the lesson proceeded, while from all
about us came the weird and awesome noises of the Caspakian night - the
moaning and the coughing and roaring of the tigers, the panthers and
the lions, the barking and the dismal howling of a wolf, jackal and
hyaenadon, the shrill shrieks of stricken prey and the hissing of the
great reptiles; the voice of man alone was silent.

But though the voice of this choir-terrible rose and fell from far and
near in all directions, reaching at time such a tremendous volume of
sound that the earth shook to it, yet so engrossed was I in my lesson
and in my teacher that often I was deaf to what at another time would
have filled me with awe. The face and voice of the beautiful girl who
leaned so eagerly toward me as she tried to explain the meaning of some
word or correct my pronunciation of another quite entirely occupied my
every faculty of perception. The firelight shone upon her animated
features and sparkling eyes; it accentuated the graceful motions of her
gesturing arms and hands; it sparkled from her white teeth and from her
golden ornaments, and glistened on the smooth firmness of her perfect
skin. I am afraid that often I was more occupied with admiration of
this beautiful animal than with a desire for knowledge; but be that as
it may, I nevertheless learned much that evening, though part of what I
learned had naught to do with any new language.

Ajor seemed determined that I should speak Caspakian as quickly as
possible, and I thought I saw in her desire a little of that
all-feminine trait which has come down through all the ages from the
first lady of the world - curiosity. Ajor desired that I should speak
her tongue in order that she might satisfy a curiosity concerning me
that was filling her to a point where she was in danger of bursting; of
that I was positive. She was a regular little animated question-mark.
She bubbled over with interrogations which were never to be satisfied
unless I learned to speak her tongue. Her eyes sparkled with
excitement; her hand flew in expressive gestures; her little tongue
raced with time; yet all to no avail. I could say _man_ and _tree_ and
_cliff_ and _lion_ and a number of other words in perfect Caspakian; but
such a vocabulary was only tantalizing; it did not lend itself well to
a very general conversation, and the result was that Ajor would wax so
wroth that she would clench her little fists and beat me on the breast
as hard as ever she could, and then she would sink back laughing as the
humor of the situation captured her.

She was trying to teach me some verbs by going through the actions
herself as she repeated the proper word. We were very much
engrossed - so much so that we were giving no heed to what went on
beyond our cave - when Ajor stopped very suddenly, crying: "_Kazor_!" Now
she had been trying to teach me that _ju_ meant _stop_; so when she cried
_kazor_ and at the same time stopped, I thought for a moment that this
was part of my lesson - for the moment I forgot that _kazor_ means _beware_.


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Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsThe People That Time Forgot → online text (page 2 of 9)