Copyright
Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The People That Time Forgot online

. (page 3 of 9)
Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsThe People That Time Forgot → online text (page 3 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


I therefore repeated the word after her; but when I saw the expression
in her eyes as they were directed past me and saw her point toward the
entrance to the cave, I turned quickly - to see a hideous face at the
small aperture leading out into the night. It was the fierce and
snarling countenance of a gigantic bear. I have hunted silvertips in
the White Mountains of Arizona and thought them quite the largest and
most formidable of big game; but from the appearance of the head of
this awful creature I judged that the largest grizzly I had ever seen
would shrink by comparison to the dimensions of a Newfoundland dog.

Our fire was just within the cave, the smoke rising through the
apertures between the rocks that I had piled in such a way that they
arched inward toward the cliff at the top. The opening by means of
which we were to reach the outside was barricaded with a few large
fragments which did not by any means close it entirely; but through the
apertures thus left no large animal could gain ingress. I had depended
most, however, upon our fire, feeling that none of the dangerous
nocturnal beasts of prey would venture close to the flames. In this,
however, I was quite evidently in error, for the great bear stood with
his nose not a foot from the blaze, which was now low, owing to the
fact that I had been so occupied with my lesson and my teacher that I
had neglected to replenish it.

Ajor whipped out her futile little knife and pointed to my rifle. At
the same time she spoke in a quite level voice entirely devoid of
nervousness or any evidence of fear or panic. I knew she was exhorting
me to fire upon the beast; but this I did not wish to do other than as
a last resort, for I was quite sure that even my heavy bullets would
not more than further enrage him - in which case he might easily force
an entrance to our cave.

Instead of firing, I piled some more wood upon the fire, and as the
smoke and blaze arose in the beast's face, it backed away, growling
most frightfully; but I still could see two ugly points of light
blazing in the outer darkness and hear its growls rumbling terrifically
without. For some time the creature stood there watching the entrance
to our frail sanctuary while I racked my brains in futile endeavor to
plan some method of defense or escape. I knew full well that should
the bear make a determined effort to get at us, the rocks I had piled
as a barrier would come tumbling down about his giant shoulders like a
house of cards, and that he would walk directly in upon us.

Ajor, having less knowledge of the effectiveness of firearms than I,
and therefore greater confidence in them, entreated me to shoot the
beast; but I knew that the chance that I could stop it with a single
shot was most remote, while that I should but infuriate it was real and
present; and so I waited for what seemed an eternity, watching those
devilish points of fire glaring balefully at us, and listening to the
ever-increasing volume of those seismic growls which seemed to rumble
upward from the bowels of the earth, shaking the very cliffs beneath
which we cowered, until at last I saw that the brute was again
approaching the aperture. It availed me nothing that I piled the blaze
high with firewood, until Ajor and I were near to roasting; on came
that mighty engine of destruction until once again the hideous face
yawned its fanged yawn directly within the barrier's opening. It stood
thus a moment, and then the head was withdrawn. I breathed a sigh of
relief, the thing had altered its intention and was going on in search
of other and more easily procurable prey; the fire had been too much
for it.

But my joy was short-lived, and my heart sank once again as a moment
later I saw a mighty paw insinuated into the opening - a paw as large
around as a large dishpan. Very gently the paw toyed with the great
rock that partly closed the entrance, pushed and pulled upon it and
then very deliberately drew it outward and to one side. Again came the
head, and this time much farther into the cavern; but still the great
shoulders would not pass through the opening. Ajor moved closer to me
until her shoulder touched my side, and I thought I felt a slight
tremor run through her body, but otherwise she gave no indication of
fear. Involuntarily I threw my left arm about her and drew her to me
for an instant. It was an act of reassurance rather than a caress,
though I must admit that again and even in the face of death I thrilled
at the contact with her; and then I released her and threw my rifle to
my shoulder, for at last I had reached the conclusion that nothing more
could be gained by waiting. My only hope was to get as many shots into
the creature as I could before it was upon me. Already it had torn
away a second rock and was in the very act of forcing its huge bulk
through the opening it had now made.

So now I took careful aim between its eyes; my right fingers closed
firmly and evenly upon the small of the stock, drawing back my
trigger-finger by the muscular action of the hand. The bullet could
not fail to hit its mark! I held my breath lest I swerve the muzzle a
hair by my breathing. I was as steady and cool as I ever had been upon
a target-range, and I had the full consciousness of a perfect hit in
anticipation; I knew that I could not miss. And then, as the bear
surged forward toward me, the hammer fell - futilely, upon an imperfect
cartridge.

Almost simultaneously I heard from without a perfectly hellish roar;
the bear gave voice to a series of growls far transcending in volume
and ferocity anything that he had yet essayed and at the same time
backed quickly from the cave. For an instant I couldn't understand
what had happened to cause this sudden retreat when his prey was
practically within his clutches. The idea that the harmless clicking
of the hammer had frightened him was too ridiculous to entertain.
However, we had not long to wait before we could at least guess at the
cause of the diversion, for from without came mingled growls and roars
and the sound of great bodies thrashing about until the earth shook.
The bear had been attacked in the rear by some other mighty beast, and
the two were now locked in a titanic struggle for supremacy. With
brief respites, during which we could hear the labored breathing of the
contestants, the battle continued for the better part of an hour until
the sounds of combat grew gradually less and finally ceased entirely.

At Ajor's suggestion, made by signs and a few of the words we knew in
common, I moved the fire directly to the entrance to the cave so that a
beast would have to pass directly through the flames to reach us, and
then we sat and waited for the victor of the battle to come and claim
his reward; but though we sat for a long time with our eyes glued to
the opening, we saw no sign of any beast.

At last I signed to Ajor to lie down, for I knew that she must have
sleep, and I sat on guard until nearly morning, when the girl awoke and
insisted that I take some rest; nor would she be denied, but dragged me
down as she laughingly menaced me with her knife.



Chapter 3

When I awoke, it was daylight, and I found Ajor squatting before a fine
bed of coals roasting a large piece of antelope-meat. Believe me, the
sight of the new day and the delicious odor of the cooking meat filled
me with renewed happiness and hope that had been all but expunged by
the experience of the previous night; and perhaps the slender figure of
the bright-faced girl proved also a potent restorative. She looked up
and smiled at me, showing those perfect teeth, and dimpling with
evident happiness - the most adorable picture that I had ever seen. I
recall that it was then I first regretted that she was only a little
untutored savage and so far beneath me in the scale of evolution.

Her first act was to beckon me to follow her outside, and there she
pointed to the explanation of our rescue from the bear - a huge
saber-tooth tiger, its fine coat and its flesh torn to ribbons, lying
dead a few paces from our cave, and beside it, equally mangled, and
disemboweled, was the carcass of a huge cave-bear. To have had one's
life saved by a saber-tooth tiger, and in the twentieth century into
the bargain, was an experience that was to say the least unique; but it
had happened - I had the proof of it before my eyes.

So enormous are the great carnivora of Caspak that they must feed
perpetually to support their giant thews, and the result is that they
will eat the meat of any other creature and will attack anything that
comes within their ken, no matter how formidable the quarry. From
later observation - I mention this as worthy the attention of
paleontologists and naturalists - I came to the conclusion that such
creatures as the cave-bear, the cave-lion and the saber-tooth tiger, as
well as the larger carnivorous reptiles make, ordinarily, two kills a
day - one in the morning and one after night. They immediately devour
the entire carcass, after which they lie up and sleep for a few hours.
Fortunately their numbers are comparatively few; otherwise there would
be no other life within Caspak. It is their very voracity that keeps
their numbers down to a point which permits other forms of life to
persist, for even in the season of love the great males often turn upon
their own mates and devour them, while both males and females
occasionally devour their young. How the human and semihuman races
have managed to survive during all the countless ages that these
conditions must have existed here is quite beyond me.

After breakfast Ajor and I set out once more upon our northward
journey. We had gone but a little distance when we were attacked by a
number of apelike creatures armed with clubs. They seemed a little
higher in the scale than the Alus. Ajor told me they were Bo-lu, or
clubmen. A revolver-shot killed one and scattered the others; but
several times later during the day we were menaced by them, until we
had left their country and entered that of the Sto-lu, or hatchet-men.
These people were less hairy and more man-like; nor did they appear so
anxious to destroy us. Rather they were curious, and followed us for
some distance examining us most closely. They called out to us, and
Ajor answered them; but her replies did not seem to satisfy them, for
they gradually became threatening, and I think they were preparing to
attack us when a small deer that had been hiding in some low brush
suddenly broke cover and dashed across our front. We needed meat, for
it was near one o'clock and I was getting hungry; so I drew my pistol
and with a single shot dropped the creature in its tracks. The effect
upon the Bo-lu was electrical. Immediately they abandoned all thoughts
of war, and turning, scampered for the forest which fringed our path.

That night we spent beside a little stream in the Sto-lu country. We
found a tiny cave in the rock bank, so hidden away that only chance
could direct a beast of prey to it, and after we had eaten of the
deer-meat and some fruit which Ajor gathered, we crawled into the
little hole, and with sticks and stones which I had gathered for the
purpose I erected a strong barricade inside the entrance. Nothing
could reach us without swimming and wading through the stream, and I
felt quite secure from attack. Our quarters were rather cramped. The
ceiling was so low that we could not stand up, and the floor so narrow
that it was with difficulty that we both wedged into it together; but
we were very tired, and so we made the most of it; and so great was the
feeling of security that I am sure I fell asleep as soon as I had
stretched myself beside Ajor.

During the three days which followed, our progress was exasperatingly
slow. I doubt if we made ten miles in the entire three days. The
country was hideously savage, so that we were forced to spend hours at
a time in hiding from one or another of the great beasts which menaced
us continually. There were fewer reptiles; but the quantity of
carnivora seemed to have increased, and the reptiles that we did see
were perfectly gigantic. I shall never forget one enormous specimen
which we came upon browsing upon water-reeds at the edge of the great
sea. It stood well over twelve feet high at the rump, its highest
point, and with its enormously long tail and neck it was somewhere
between seventy-five and a hundred feet in length. Its head was
ridiculously small; its body was unarmored, but its great bulk gave it
a most formidable appearance. My experience of Caspakian life led me
to believe that the gigantic creature would but have to see us to
attack us, and so I raised my rifle and at the same time drew away
toward some brush which offered concealment; but Ajor only laughed, and
picking up a stick, ran toward the great thing, shouting. The little
head was raised high upon the long neck as the animal stupidly looked
here and there in search of the author of the disturbance. At last its
eyes discovered tiny little Ajor, and then she hurled the stick at the
diminutive head. With a cry that sounded not unlike the bleat of a
sheep, the colossal creature shuffled into the water and was soon
submerged.

As I slowly recalled my collegiate studies and paleontological readings
in Bowen's textbooks, I realized that I had looked upon nothing less
than a diplodocus of the Upper Jurassic; but how infinitely different
was the true, live thing from the crude restorations of Hatcher and
Holland! I had had the idea that the diplodocus was a land-animal, but
evidently it is partially amphibious. I have seen several since my
first encounter, and in each case the creature took to the sea for
concealment as soon as it was disturbed. With the exception of its
gigantic tail, it has no weapon of defense; but with this appendage it
can lash so terrific a blow as to lay low even a giant cave-bear,
stunned and broken. It is a stupid, simple, gentle beast - one of the
few within Caspak which such a description might even remotely fit.

For three nights we slept in trees, finding no caves or other places of
concealment. Here we were free from the attacks of the large land
carnivora; but the smaller flying reptiles, the snakes, leopards, and
panthers were a constant menace, though by no means as much to be
feared as the huge beasts that roamed the surface of the earth.

At the close of the third day Ajor and I were able to converse with
considerable fluency, and it was a great relief to both of us,
especially to Ajor. She now did nothing but ask questions whenever I
would let her, which could not be all the time, as our preservation
depended largely upon the rapidity with which I could gain knowledge of
the geography and customs of Caspak, and accordingly I had to ask
numerous questions myself.

I enjoyed immensely hearing and answering her, so naive were many of
her queries and so filled with wonder was she at the things I told her
of the world beyond the lofty barriers of Caspak; not once did she seem
to doubt me, however marvelous my statements must have seemed; and
doubtless they were the cause of marvel to Ajor, who before had never
dreamed that any life existed beyond Caspak and the life she knew.

Artless though many of her questions were, they evidenced a keen
intellect and a shrewdness which seemed far beyond her years or her
experience. Altogether I was finding my little savage a mighty
interesting and companionable person, and I often thanked the kind fate
that directed the crossing of our paths. From her I learned much of
Caspak, but there still remained the mystery that had proved so
baffling to Bowen Tyler - the total absence of young among the ape, the
semihuman and the human races with which both he and I had come in
contact upon opposite shores of the inland sea. Ajor tried to explain
the matter to me, though it was apparent that she could not conceive
how so natural a condition should demand explanation. She told me that
among the Galus there were a few babies, that she had once been a baby
but that most of her people "came up," as he put it, "_cor sva jo_," or
literally, "from the beginning"; and as they all did when they used
that phrase, she would wave a broad gesture toward the south.

"For long," she explained, leaning very close to me and whispering the
words into my ear while she cast apprehensive glances about and mostly
skyward, "for long my mother kept me hidden lest the Wieroo, passing
through the air by night, should come and take me away to Oo-oh." And
the child shuddered as she voiced the word. I tried to get her to tell
me more; but her terror was so real when she spoke of the Wieroo and
the land of Oo-oh where they dwell that I at last desisted, though I
did learn that the Wieroo carried off only female babes and
occasionally women of the Galus who had "come up from the beginning."
It was all very mysterious and unfathomable, but I got the idea that
the Wieroo were creatures of imagination - the demons or gods of her
race, omniscient and omnipresent. This led me to assume that the Galus
had a religious sense, and further questioning brought out the fact
that such was the case. Ajor spoke in tones of reverence of Luata, the
god of heat and life. The word is derived from two others: _Lua_,
meaning sun, and _ata_, meaning variously _eggs_, _life_, _young_, and
_reproduction_. She told me that they worshiped Luata in several forms,
as fire, the sun, eggs and other material objects which suggested heat
and reproduction.

I had noticed that whenever I built a fire, Ajor outlined in the air
before her with a forefinger an isosceles triangle, and that she did
the same in the morning when she first viewed the sun. At first I had
not connected her act with anything in particular, but after we learned
to converse and she had explained a little of her religious
superstitions, I realized that she was making the sign of the triangle
as a Roman Catholic makes the sign of the cross. Always the short side
of the triangle was uppermost. As she explained all this to me, she
pointed to the decorations on her golden armlets, upon the knob of her
dagger-hilt and upon the band which encircled her right leg above the
knee - always was the design partly made up of isosceles triangles, and
when she explained the significance of this particular geometric
figure, I at once grasped its appropriateness.

We were now in the country of the Band-lu, the spearmen of Caspak.
Bowen had remarked in his narrative that these people were analogous to
the so-called Cro-Magnon race of the Upper Paleolithic, and I was
therefore very anxious to see them. Nor was I to be disappointed; I
saw them, all right! We had left the Sto-lu country and literally
fought our way through cordons of wild beasts for two days when we
decided to make camp a little earlier than usual, owing to the fact
that we had reached a line of cliffs running east and west in which
were numerous likely cave-lodgings. We were both very tired, and the
sight of these caverns, several of which could be easily barricaded,
decided us to halt until the following morning. It took but a few
minutes' exploration to discover one particular cavern high up the face
of the cliff which seemed ideal for our purpose. It opened upon a
narrow ledge where we could build our cook-fire; the opening was so
small that we had to lie flat and wriggle through it to gain ingress,
while the interior was high-ceiled and spacious. I lighted a faggot
and looked about; but as far as I could see, the chamber ran back into
the cliff.

Laying aside my rifle, pistol and heavy ammunition-belt, I left Ajor in
the cave while I went down to gather firewood. We already had meat and
fruits which we had gathered just before reaching the cliffs, and my
canteen was filled with fresh water. Therefore, all we required was
fuel, and as I always saved Ajor's strength when I could, I would not
permit her to accompany me. The poor girl was very tired; but she
would have gone with me until she dropped, I know, so loyal was she.
She was the best comrade in the world, and sometimes I regretted and
sometimes I was glad that she was not of my own caste, for had she
been, I should unquestionably have fallen in love with her. As it was,
we traveled together like two boys, with huge respect for each other
but no softer sentiment.

There was little timber close to the base of the cliffs, and so I was
forced to enter the wood some two hundred yards distant. I realize now
how foolhardy was my act in such a land as Caspak, teeming with danger
and with death; but there is a certain amount of fool in every man; and
whatever proportion of it I own must have been in the ascendant that
day, for the truth of the matter is that I went down into those woods
absolutely defenseless; and I paid the price, as people usually do for
their indiscretions. As I searched around in the brush for likely
pieces of firewood, my head bowed and my eyes upon the ground, I
suddenly felt a great weight hurl itself upon me. I struggled to my
knees and seized my assailant, a huge, naked man - naked except for a
breechcloth of snakeskin, the head hanging down to the knees. The
fellow was armed with a stone-shod spear, a stone knife and a hatchet.
In his black hair were several gay-colored feathers. As we struggled
to and fro, I was slowly gaining advantage of him, when a score of his
fellows came running up and overpowered me.

They bound my hands behind me with long rawhide thongs and then
surveyed me critically. I found them fine-looking specimens of
manhood, for the most part. There were some among them who bore a
resemblance to the Sto-lu and were hairy; but the majority had massive
heads and not unlovely features. There was little about them to
suggest the ape, as in the Sto-lu, Bo-lu and Alus. I expected them to
kill me at once, but they did not. Instead they questioned me; but it
was evident that they did not believe my story, for they scoffed and
laughed.

"The Galus have turned you out," they cried. "If you go back to them,
you will die. If you remain here, you will die. We shall kill you;
but first we shall have a dance and you shall dance with us - the dance
of death."

It sounded quite reassuring! But I knew that I was not to be killed
immediately, and so I took heart. They led me toward the cliffs, and
as we approached them, I glanced up and was sure that I saw Ajor's
bright eyes peering down upon us from our lofty cave; but she gave no
sign if she saw me; and we passed on, rounded the end of the cliffs and
proceeded along the opposite face of them until we came to a section
literally honeycombed with caves. All about, upon the ground and
swarming the ledges before the entrances, were hundreds of members of
the tribe. There were many women but no babes or children, though I
noticed that the females had better developed breasts than any that I
had seen among the hatchet-men, the club-men, the Alus or the apes. In
fact, among the lower orders of Caspakian man the female breast is but
a rudimentary organ, barely suggested in the apes and Alus, and only a
little more defined in the Bo-lu and Sto-lu, though always increasingly
so until it is found about half developed in the females of the
spear-men; yet never was there an indication that the females had
suckled young; nor were there any young among them. Some of the
Band-lu women were quite comely. The figures of all, both men and
women, were symmetrical though heavy, and though there were some who
verged strongly upon the Sto-lu type, there were others who were
positively handsome and whose bodies were quite hairless. The Alus are
all bearded, but among the Bo-lu the beard disappears in the women.
The Sto-lu men show a sparse beard, the Band-lu none; and there is
little hair upon the bodies of their women.

The members of the tribe showed great interest in me, especially in my
clothing, the like of which, of course, they never had seen. They
pulled and hauled upon me, and some of them struck me; but for the most
part they were not inclined to brutality. It was only the hairier
ones, who most closely resembled the Sto-lu, who maltreated me. At
last my captors led me into a great cave in the mouth of which a fire
was burning. The floor was littered with filth, including the bones of
many animals, and the atmosphere reeked with the stench of human bodies
and putrefying flesh. Here they fed me, releasing my arms, and I ate
of half-cooked aurochs steak and a stew which may have been made of
snakes, for many of the long, round pieces of meat suggested them most


1 3 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsThe People That Time Forgot → online text (page 3 of 9)