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nauseatingly.

The meal completed, they led me well within the cavern, which they
lighted with torches stuck in various crevices in the light of which I
saw, to my astonishment, that the walls were covered with paintings and
etchings. There were aurochs, red deer, saber-tooth tiger, cave-bear,
hyaenadon and many other examples of the fauna of Caspak done in
colors, usually of four shades of brown, or scratched upon the surface
of the rock. Often they were super-imposed upon each other until it
required careful examination to trace out the various outlines. But
they all showed a rather remarkable aptitude for delineation which
further fortified Bowen's comparisons between these people and the
extinct Cro-Magnons whose ancient art is still preserved in the caverns
of Niaux and Le Portel. The Band-lu, however, did not have the bow and
arrow, and in this respect they differ from their extinct progenitors,
or descendants, of Western Europe.

Should any of my friends chance to read the story of my adventures upon
Caprona, I hope they will not be bored by these diversions, and if they
are, I can only say that I am writing my memoirs for my own edification
and therefore setting down those things which interested me
particularly at the time. I have no desire that the general public
should ever have access to these pages; but it is possible that my
friends may, and also certain savants who are interested; and to them,
while I do not apologize for my philosophizing, I humbly explain that
they are witnessing the gropings of a finite mind after the infinite,
the search for explanations of the inexplicable.

In a far recess of the cavern my captors bade me halt. Again my hands
were secured, and this time my feet as well. During the operation they
questioned me, and I was mighty glad that the marked similarity between
the various tribal tongues of Caspak enabled us to understand each
other perfectly, even though they were unable to believe or even to
comprehend the truth of my origin and the circumstances of my advent in
Caspak; and finally they left me saying that they would come for me
before the dance of death upon the morrow. Before they departed with
their torches, I saw that I had not been conducted to the farthest
extremity of the cavern, for a dark and gloomy corridor led beyond my
prison room into the heart of the cliff.

I could not but marvel at the immensity of this great underground
grotto. Already I had traversed several hundred yards of it, from many
points of which other corridors diverged. The whole cliff must be
honeycombed with apartments and passages of which this community
occupied but a comparatively small part, so that the possibility of the
more remote passages being the lair of savage beasts that have other
means of ingress and egress than that used by the Band-lu filled me
with dire forebodings.

I believe that I am not ordinarily hysterically apprehensive; yet I
must confess that under the conditions with which I was confronted, I
felt my nerves to be somewhat shaken. On the morrow I was to die some
sort of nameless death for the diversion of a savage horde, but the
morrow held fewer terrors for me than the present, and I submit to any
fair-minded man if it is not a terrifying thing to lie bound hand and
foot in the Stygian blackness of an immense cave peopled by unknown
dangers in a land overrun by hideous beasts and reptiles of the
greatest ferocity. At any moment, perhaps at this very moment, some
silent-footed beast of prey might catch my scent where it laired in
some contiguous passage, and might creep stealthily upon me. I craned
my neck about, and stared through the inky darkness for the twin spots
of blazing hate which I knew would herald the coming of my executioner.
So real were the imaginings of my overwrought brain that I broke into a
cold sweat in absolute conviction that some beast was close before me;
yet the hours dragged, and no sound broke the grave-like stillness of
the cavern.

During that period of eternity many events of my life passed before my
mental vision, a vast parade of friends and occurrences which would be
blotted out forever on the morrow. I cursed myself for the foolish act
which had taken me from the search-party that so depended upon me, and
I wondered what progress, if any, they had made. Were they still
beyond the barrier cliffs, awaiting my return? Or had they found a way
into Caspak? I felt that the latter would be the truth, for the party
was not made up of men easily turned from a purpose. Quite probable it
was that they were already searching for me; but that they would ever
find a trace of me I doubted. Long since, had I come to the conclusion
that it was beyond human prowess to circle the shores of the inland sea
of Caspak in the face of the myriad menaces which lurked in every
shadow by day and by night. Long since, had I given up any hope of
reaching the point where I had made my entry into the country, and so I
was now equally convinced that our entire expedition had been worse
than futile before ever it was conceived, since Bowen J. Tyler and his
wife could not by any possibility have survived during all these long
months; no more could Bradley and his party of seamen be yet in
existence. If the superior force and equipment of my party enabled
them to circle the north end of the sea, they might some day come upon
the broken wreck of my plane hanging in the great tree to the south;
but long before that, my bones would be added to the litter upon the
floor of this mighty cavern.

And through all my thoughts, real and fanciful, moved the image of a
perfect girl, clear-eyed and strong and straight and beautiful, with
the carriage of a queen and the supple, undulating grace of a leopard.
Though I loved my friends, their fate seemed of less importance to me
than the fate of this little barbarian stranger for whom, I had
convinced myself many a time, I felt no greater sentiment than passing
friendship for a fellow-wayfarer in this land of horrors. Yet I so
worried and fretted about her and her future that at last I quite
forgot my own predicament, though I still struggled intermittently with
my bonds in vain endeavor to free myself; as much, however, that I might
hasten to her protection as that I might escape the fate which had been
planned for me. And while I was thus engaged and had for the moment
forgotten my apprehensions concerning prowling beasts, I was startled
into tense silence by a distinct and unmistakable sound coming from the
dark corridor farther toward the heart of the cliff - the sound of
padded feet moving stealthily in my direction.

I believe that never before in all my life, even amidst the terrors of
childhood nights, have I suffered such a sensation of extreme horror as
I did that moment in which I realized that I must lie bound and
helpless while some horrid beast of prey crept upon me to devour me in
that utter darkness of the Band-lu pits of Caspak. I reeked with cold
sweat, and my flesh crawled - I could feel it crawl. If ever I came
nearer to abject cowardice, I do not recall the instance; and yet it
was not that I was afraid to die, for I had long since given myself up
as lost - a few days of Caspak must impress anyone with the utter
nothingness of life. The waters, the land, the air teem with it, and
always it is being devoured by some other form of life. Life is the
cheapest thing in Caspak, as it is the cheapest thing on earth and,
doubtless, the cheapest cosmic production. No, I was not afraid to
die; in fact, I prayed for death, that I might be relieved of the
frightfulness of the interval of life which remained to me - the
waiting, the awful waiting, for that fearsome beast to reach me and to
strike.

Presently it was so close that I could hear its breathing, and then it
touched me and leaped quickly back as though it had come upon me
unexpectedly. For long moments no sound broke the sepulchral silence
of the cave. Then I heard a movement on the part of the creature near
me, and again it touched me, and I felt something like a hairless hand
pass over my face and down until it touched the collar of my flannel
shirt. And then, subdued, but filled with pent emotion, a voice cried:
"Tom!"

I think I nearly fainted, so great was the reaction. "Ajor!" I
managed to say. "Ajor, my girl, can it be you?"

"Oh, Tom!" she cried again in a trembly little voice and flung herself
upon me, sobbing softly. I had not known that Ajor could cry.

As she cut away my bonds, she told me that from the entrance to our
cave she had seen the Band-lu coming out of the forest with me, and she
had followed until they took me into the cave, which she had seen was
upon the opposite side of the cliff in which ours was located; and
then, knowing that she could do nothing for me until after the Band-lu
slept, she had hastened to return to our cave. With difficulty she had
reached it, after having been stalked by a cave-lion and almost seized.
I trembled at the risk she had run.

It had been her intention to wait until after midnight, when most of
the carnivora would have made their kills, and then attempt to reach
the cave in which I was imprisoned and rescue me. She explained that
with my rifle and pistol - both of which she assured me she could use,
having watched me so many times - she planned upon frightening the
Band-lu and forcing them to give me up. Brave little girl! She would
have risked her life willingly to save me. But some time after she
reached our cave she heard voices from the far recesses within, and
immediately concluded that we had but found another entrance to the
caves which the Band-lu occupied upon the other face of the cliff.
Then she had set out through those winding passages and in total
darkness had groped her way, guided solely by a marvelous sense of
direction, to where I lay. She had had to proceed with utmost caution
lest she fall into some abyss in the darkness and in truth she had
thrice come upon sheer drops and had been forced to take the most
frightful risks to pass them. I shudder even now as I contemplate what
this girl passed through for my sake and how she enhanced her peril in
loading herself down with the weight of my arms and ammunition and the
awkwardness of the long rifle which she was unaccustomed to bearing.

I could have knelt and kissed her hand in reverence and gratitude; nor
am I ashamed to say that that is precisely what I did after I had been
freed from my bonds and heard the story of her trials. Brave little
Ajor! Wonder-girl out of the dim, unthinkable past! Never before had
she been kissed; but she seemed to sense something of the meaning of
the new caress, for she leaned forward in the dark and pressed her own
lips to my forehead. A sudden urge surged through me to seize her and
strain her to my bosom and cover her hot young lips with the kisses of
a real love, but I did not do so, for I knew that I did not love her;
and to have kissed her thus, with passion, would have been to inflict a
great wrong upon her who had offered her life for mine.

No, Ajor should be as safe with me as with her own mother, if she had
one, which I was inclined to doubt, even though she told me that she
had once been a babe and hidden by her mother. I had come to doubt if
there was such a thing as a mother in Caspak, a mother such as we know.
From the Bo-lu to the Kro-lu there is no word which corresponds with
our word mother. They speak of _ata_ and _cor sva jo:, meaning
_reproduction_ and _from the beginning_, and point toward the south; but no
one has a mother.

After considerable difficulty we gained what we thought was our cave,
only to find that it was not, and then we realized that we were lost in
the labyrinthine mazes of the great cavern. We retraced our steps and
sought the point from which we had started, but only succeeded in
losing ourselves the more. Ajor was aghast - not so much from fear of
our predicament; but that she should have failed in the functioning of
that wonderful sense she possessed in common with most other creatures
Caspakian, which makes it possible for them to move unerringly from
place to place without compass or guide.

Hand in hand we crept along, searching for an opening into the outer
world, yet realizing that at each step we might be burrowing more
deeply into the heart of the great cliff, or circling futilely in the
vague wandering that could end only in death. And the darkness! It
was almost palpable, and utterly depressing. I had matches, and in
some of the more difficult places I struck one; but we couldn't afford
to waste them, and so we groped our way slowly along, doing the best we
could to keep to one general direction in the hope that it would
eventually lead us to an opening into the outer world. When I struck
matches, I noticed that the walls bore no paintings; nor was there
other sign that man had penetrated this far within the cliff, nor any
spoor of animals of other kinds.

It would be difficult to guess at the time we spent wandering through
those black corridors, climbing steep ascents, feeling our way along
the edges of bottomless pits, never knowing at what moment we might be
plunged into some abyss and always haunted by the ever-present terror
of death by starvation and thirst. As difficult as it was, I still
realized that it might have been infinitely worse had I had another
companion than Ajor - courageous, uncomplaining, loyal little Ajor! She
was tired and hungry and thirsty, and she must have been discouraged;
but she never faltered in her cheerfulness. I asked her if she was
afraid, and she replied that here the Wieroo could not get her, and
that if she died of hunger, she would at least die with me and she was
quite content that such should be her end. At the time I attributed
her attitude to something akin to a doglike devotion to a new master
who had been kind to her. I can take oath to the fact that I did not
think it was anything more.

Whether we had been imprisoned in the cliff for a day or a week I could
not say; nor even now do I know. We became very tired and hungry; the
hours dragged; we slept at least twice, and then we rose and stumbled
on, always weaker and weaker. There were ages during which the trend
of the corridors was always upward. It was heartbreaking work for
people in the state of exhaustion in which we then were, but we clung
tenaciously to it. We stumbled and fell; we sank through pure physical
inability to retain our feet; but always we managed to rise at last and
go on. At first, wherever it had been possible, we had walked hand in
hand lest we become separated, and later, when I saw that Ajor was
weakening rapidly, we went side by side, I supporting her with an arm
about her waist. I still retained the heavy burden of my armament; but
with the rifle slung to my back, my hands were free. When I too showed
indisputable evidences of exhaustion, Ajor suggested that I lay aside
my arms and ammunition; but I told her that as it would mean certain
death for me to traverse Caspak without them, I might as well take the
chance of dying here in the cave with them, for there was the other
chance that we might find our way to liberty.

There came a time when Ajor could no longer walk, and then it was that
I picked her up in my arms and carried her. She begged me to leave
her, saying that after I found an exit, I could come back and get her;
but she knew, and she knew that I knew, that if ever I did leave her, I
could never find her again. Yet she insisted. Barely had I sufficient
strength to take a score of steps at a time; then I would have to sink
down and rest for five to ten minutes. I don't know what force urged
me on and kept me going in the face of an absolute conviction that my
efforts were utterly futile. I counted us already as good as dead; but
still I dragged myself along until the time came that I could no longer
rise, but could only crawl along a few inches at a time, dragging Ajor
beside me. Her sweet voice, now almost inaudible from weakness,
implored me to abandon her and save myself - she seemed to think only of
me. Of course I couldn't have left her there alone, no matter how much
I might have desired to do so; but the fact of the matter was that I
didn't desire to leave her. What I said to her then came very simply
and naturally to my lips. It couldn't very well have been otherwise, I
imagine, for with death so close, I doubt if people are much inclined
to heroics. "I would rather not get out at all, Ajor," I said to her,
"than to get out without you." We were resting against a rocky wall,
and Ajor was leaning against me, her head on my breast. I could feel
her press closer to me, and one hand stroked my arm in a weak caress;
but she didn't say anything, nor were words necessary.

After a few minutes' more rest, we started on again upon our utterly
hopeless way; but I soon realized that I was weakening rapidly, and
presently I was forced to admit that I was through. "It's no use,
Ajor," I said, "I've come as far as I can. It may be that if I sleep,
I can go on again after," but I knew that that was not true, and that
the end was near. "Yes, sleep," said Ajor. "We will sleep
together - forever."

She crept close to me as I lay on the hard floor and pillowed her head
upon my arm. With the little strength which remained to me, I drew her
up until our lips touched, and, then I whispered: "Good-bye!" I must
have lost consciousness almost immediately, for I recall nothing more
until I suddenly awoke out of a troubled sleep, during which I dreamed
that I was drowning, to find the cave lighted by what appeared to be
diffused daylight, and a tiny trickle of water running down the
corridor and forming a puddle in the little depression in which it
chanced that Ajor and I lay. I turned my eyes quickly upon Ajor,
fearful for what the light might disclose; but she still breathed,
though very faintly. Then I searched about for an explanation of the
light, and soon discovered that it came from about a bend in the
corridor just ahead of us and at the top of a steep incline; and
instantly I realized that Ajor and I had stumbled by night almost to
the portal of salvation. Had chance taken us a few yards further, up
either of the corridors which diverged from ours just ahead of us, we
might have been irrevocably lost; we might still be lost; but at least
we could die in the light of day, out of the horrid blackness of this
terrible cave.

I tried to rise, and found that sleep had given me back a portion of my
strength; and then I tasted the water and was further refreshed. I
shook Ajor gently by the shoulder; but she did not open her eyes, and
then I gathered a few drops of water in my cupped palm and let them
trickle between her lips. This revived her so that she raised her
lids, and when she saw me, she smiled.

"What happened?" she asked. "Where are we?"

"We are at the end of the corridor," I replied, "and daylight is coming
in from the outside world just ahead. We are saved, Ajor!"

She sat up then and looked about, and then, quite womanlike, she burst
into tears. It was the reaction, of course; and then too, she was very
weak. I took her in my arms and quieted her as best I could, and
finally, with my help, she got to her feet; for she, as well as I, had
found some slight recuperation in sleep. Together we staggered upward
toward the light, and at the first turn we saw an opening a few yards
ahead of us and a leaden sky beyond - a leaden sky from which was
falling a drizzling rain, the author of our little, trickling stream
which had given us drink when we were most in need of it.

The cave had been damp and cold; but as we crawled through the
aperture, the muggy warmth of the Caspakian air caressed and confronted
us; even the rain was warmer than the atmosphere of those dark
corridors. We had water now, and warmth, and I was sure that Caspak
would soon offer us meat or fruit; but as we came to where we could
look about, we saw that we were upon the summit of the cliffs, where
there seemed little reason to expect game. However, there were trees,
and among them we soon descried edible fruits with which we broke our
long fast.



Chapter 4

We spent two days upon the cliff-top, resting and recuperating. There
was some small game which gave us meat, and the little pools of
rainwater were sufficient to quench our thirst. The sun came out a few
hours after we emerged from the cave, and in its warmth we soon cast
off the gloom which our recent experiences had saddled upon us.

Upon the morning of the third day we set out to search for a path down
to the valley. Below us, to the north, we saw a large pool lying at
the foot of the cliffs, and in it we could discern the women of the
Band-lu lying in the shallow waters, while beyond and close to the base
of the mighty barrier-cliffs there was a large party of Band-lu
warriors going north to hunt. We had a splendid view from our lofty
cliff-top. Dimly, to the west, we could see the farther shore of the
inland sea, and southwest the large southern island loomed distinctly
before us. A little east of north was the northern island, which Ajor,
shuddering, whispered was the home of the Wieroo - the land of Oo-oh.
It lay at the far end of the lake and was barely visible to us, being
fully sixty miles away.

From our elevation, and in a clearer atmosphere, it would have stood
out distinctly; but the air of Caspak is heavy with moisture, with the
result that distant objects are blurred and indistinct. Ajor also told
me that the mainland east of Oo-oh was her land - the land of the Galu.
She pointed out the cliffs at its southern boundary, which mark the
frontier, south of which lies the country of Kro-lu - the archers. We
now had but to pass through the balance of the Band-lu territory and
that of the Kro-lu to be within the confines of her own land; but that
meant traversing thirty-five miles of hostile country filled with every
imaginable terror, and possibly many beyond the powers of imagination.
I would certainly have given a lot for my plane at that moment, for
with it, twenty minutes would have landed us within the confines of
Ajor's country.

We finally found a place where we could slip over the edge of the cliff
onto a narrow ledge which seemed to give evidence of being something of
a game-path to the valley, though it apparently had not been used for
some time. I lowered Ajor at the end of my rifle and then slid over
myself, and I am free to admit that my hair stood on end during the
process, for the drop was considerable and the ledge appallingly
narrow, with a frightful drop sheer below down to the rocks at the base
of the cliff; but with Ajor there to catch and steady me, I made it all
right, and then we set off down the trail toward the valley. There
were two or three more bad places, but for the most part it was an easy
descent, and we came to the highest of the Band-lu caves without
further trouble. Here we went more slowly, lest we should be set upon
by some member of the tribe.

We must have passed about half the Band-lu cave-levels before we were
accosted, and then a huge fellow stepped out in front of me, barring
our further progress.

"Who are you?" he asked; and he recognized me and I him, for he had
been one of those who had led me back into the cave and bound me the
night that I had been captured. From me his gaze went to Ajor. He was
a fine-looking man with clear, intelligent eyes, a good forehead and
superb physique - by far the highest type of Caspakian I had yet seen,
barring Ajor, of course.

"You are a true Galu," he said to Ajor, "but this man is of a different
mold. He has the face of a Galu, but his weapons and the strange skins
he wears upon his body are not of the Galus nor of Caspak. Who is he?"

"He is Tom," replied Ajor succinctly.

"There is no such people," asserted the Band-lu quite truthfully,
toying with his spear in a most suggestive manner.

"My name is Tom," I explained, "and I am from a country beyond Caspak."
I thought it best to propitiate him if possible, because of the
necessity of conserving ammunition as well as to avoid the loud alarm
of a shot which might bring other Band-lu warriors upon us. "I am from
America, a land of which you never heard, and I am seeking others of my
countrymen who are in Caspak and from whom I am lost. I have no quarrel
with you or your people. Let us go our way in peace."

"You are going there?" he asked, and pointed toward the north.


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Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsThe People That Time Forgot → online text (page 4 of 9)