(Note: Originally appeared in magazine serial under the title THE CAVE MAN)
KING BIG FIST
Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones, scion of the aristocratic house of the John Alden Smith-Jones of Boston, clambered up the rocky face of the precipitous cliff with the agility of a monkey.
His right hand clasped the slim fingers of his half-naked mate, assisting her over the more dangerous or difficult stretches.
At the summit the two turned their faces back toward the sea. Beyond the gently waving forest trees stretched the broad expanse of the shimmering ocean. In the foreground, upon the bosom of a tiny harbor, lay a graceful yacht--a beautiful toy it looked from the distance of the cliff top.
For the first time the man obtained an unobstructed view of the craft. Before, when they first had discovered it, the boles of the trees had revealed it but in part.
Now he saw it fully from stem to stern with all its well-known graceful lines standing out distinctly against the deep blue of the water.
The shock of recognition brought and involuntary exclamation from his lips. The girl looked quickly up into his face.
"What is it, Thandar?" she asked. "What do you see?"
"The yacht!" he whispered. "It is the Priscilla--my father's. He is searching for me."
"And you wish to go?"
For some time he did not speak—only stood there gazing at the distant yacht. And the young girl at his side remained quite motionless and silent, too, looking upon his face with a look of dumb misery upon her own.
Quickly through the man's mind was running the gamut of his past. He recalled his careful and tender upbringing--the time, the money, the fond pride that had been expended upon his education. He thought of the result--the narrow-minded weakling egoist; the pusillanimous coward that had been washed from the deck of a passing steamer upon the sandy beach of this savage, forgotten shore.
And yet it had been love, solicitous and tender, that had prompted his parents to their misguided efforts. He was there only son. They were doubtless grieving for him. They were no longer young, and in their declining years it appeared to him a pathetic they that they should be robbed of the happiness which he might being them by returning to the old life.
But could he ever return to the bookish existence that once had seemed so pleasant?
Had not this brief years into which had been crowded so much of while, primitive life made impossible a return to the narrow, self-centered existence? Had it not taught him that there was infinitely more in life than ever had been written into the dry and musty pages of books?
It had taught him to want life at first hand--no through the proxy of the printed page. It and--Nadara. He glanced toward the girl.
Could he give her up? No! A thousand times no!
He read in her face the fear that lurked in her heart. No, he could not give her up. He owed to her all that he possessed of which he was most proud--his mighty physique, his new found courage, his woodcraft, his ability to cope, primitively, with the primitive world, her savage world which he had learned to love.
No, he could not give her up; but--what? His gaze lingered upon her sweet face. Slowly there sank into his understanding something of the reason for his love of this wild, half-savage cave girl other than the primitive passion of the sexes.
He saw now not only the physical beauty of her face and figure, but the sweet, pure innocence of her girlishness, and most of all, all the wondrous tenderness of her love of him that was mirrored in her eyes.
To remain and take her as his mate after manner and customs of her own people would reflect no shame upon himself or her; but was she not deserving of the highest honor that it lay within his power to offer at the altar of her love?
She--his wonderful Nadara--must become his through the most solemn and dignified ceremony that civilized man had devised. What the young woman of his past life demanded was none too good for her.
Again the girl voiced her question.
"You wish to go?"
"Yes, Nadara," he replied, "I must go back to my own people--and you must go with me."
Her faced lighted with pleasure and happiness as she heard his last words; but the expression was quickly followed by one of doubt and fear.
"I am afraid," she said; "but if you wish it I will go."
"You need no fear, Nadara. None will harm you by word or deed will Thandar is with you. Come, let us return to the sea and the yacht before she sails."
Hand in hand they retraced their steps down the steep cliff, across the little valley toward the forest and the sea.
Nadara walked very close to Thandar, her hand snuggled in his and her shoulder pressed tightly against his side, for she was afraid of the new life among the strange creatures of civilization.
At the far side of the valley, just before one enters the forest, there grows a thick jungle of bamboo--really but a narrow strip, not more than a hundred feet through at its greatest width; but so dense as to quite shut out from any view any creature even a few feet within its narrow; gloomy avenues.
Into this the two plunged, Thandar in the lead, Nadara close behind him, stepping exactly in his footprints--an involuntary concession to training, for there was no need here either of deceiving a pursuer, or taking advantage of easier going. The trail was well-marked and smooth-beaten by many a padded pad.
It wound erratically, following the line of least resistance--it forked, and there were other trails which entered it from time to time, or crossed it. The hundred feet it traversed seemed so much more when measured by the trail.
The two had come almost to the forest side of the jungle when a sharp turn in the path brought Thandar face to face with a huge bear-like man.
The fellow wore a g-string of soft hide, and over one shoulder dangled an old and filthy leopard skin--otherwise, he was naked. His thick, coarse hair was matted low over his forehead. The balance of his face was covered by a bushy red beard.
At sight of Thandar his close set, little eyes burned with sullen rage and cunning. From his thick lips burst a savage yell--it was the preliminary challenge.
Ordinarily a certain amount of vituperation and coarse insults must pass between strangers meeting upon this inhospitable isle before they fly at one another's throat.
"I am Thurg," bellowed the brute. "I can kill you," and then followed a volley of vulgar allusions to Thandar's possible origin and the origin of his ancestors.
"The bad men," whispered Nadara.
With her words there swept into the man's memory the scene upon the face of the cliff that night a year before when, even in the throes of cowardly terror, he had turned to do battle with a huge cave man that the fellow might not prevent the escape of Nadara.
He glanced at the right forearm of the creature who faced him. A smile touched Thandar's lips--the arm was crooked as from the knitting of a broken bone, poorly set.
"You would kill Thandar--again?" he asked tauntingly, pointing toward the deformed member.
Then came recognition to the red-rimmed eyes of Thurg, as, with another ferocious bellow, he launched himself toward the author of his old hurt.
Thandar met the charge with his short stick of pointed hard wood--his "sword" he called it. It entered the fleshy part of Thurg's breast, calling forth a howl of pain and a trickling stream of crimson.
Thurg retreated. This was no way to fight. He was scandalized.
For several minutes he stood glaring at his foe, screaming hideous threats and insults at him. Then once more he charged.
Again the painful point entered his body, but this time he pressed in clutching madly at the goad and for a hold upon Thandar's body.
The latter held Thurg at arm's length, prodding him with the fire-hardened point of his wooden sword.
The cave man's little brain wondered at the skill and prowess of this stranger who had struck him a single blow with a cudgel many moons before and then run like a rabbit to escape his wrath.
Why was it that he did not run now? What strange change had taken place in him? He had expected an easy victim when he finally had recognized his foe; but instead he had met with brawn and ferocity equal to his won and with a strange weapon, the like of which he had never before had seen.
Thandar was puncturing him rapidly now, and Thurg was screaming in rage and suffering. Presently he could endure it no longer. With a sudden wrench he tore himself loose and ran, bellowing, through the jungle.
Thandar did not pursue. It was enough that he had rid himself of his enemy. He turned toward Nadara, smiling.
"It will seem very tame in Boston," he said; but though she gave him an answering smile, she did not understand, for to her Boston was but another land of primeval forests, and dense jungles; of hairy, battling men, and fierce beasts.
At the edge of the forest they came again upon Thurg, but this time he was surrounded by a score of his burly tribesmen. Thandar knew better than to pit himself against so man.
Thurg came rushing down upon them, his fellows at his heels. In loud tones he screamed anew his challenge, and the beasts behind him took it up until the forest echoed to their hideous bellowing.
He had seen Nadara as he had battled with Thandar, and recognized her as the girl he had desired a year before--the girl whom this stranger had robbed him of.
Now he was determined to wreak vengeance on the man and at the same time recapture the girl.
Thandar and Nadara turned back into the jungle where but a single enemy could attack them at a time in the narrow trails. Here they managed to elude pursuit for several hours, coming again into the forest nearly a mile below the beach where the Priscilla had lain at anchor.
Thurg and his fellow had apparently given up the chase--they had neither seen no heard aught of them for some time. Now the tow hastened back through the wood to reach a point on the shore opposite the yacht.
At last they came in sight of the harbor. Thandar halted. A look of horror and disappointment supplanted the expression of pleasurable anticipation that had lighted his countenance--the yacht was not there.
A mile out they discerned her, steaming rapidly north.
Thandar ran to the beach. He tore the black panther's hide from his shoulders, waving it frantically above his head, the while he shouted in futile endeavor to attract attention from the dwindling craft.
Then, quite suddenly, he collapsed upon the beach, burying his face in his hands.
Presently Nadara crept close to his side. Her soft arms encircled his shoulders as she drew his cheek close to hers in an attempt to comfort him.
"Is it so terrible," she asked, "to be left here alone with your Nadara?"
"It is not that," he answered. "If you were mine I should not care so much, but you cannot be mine until we have reached civilization and you have been made mine in accordance wit the laws and customs of civilized men. And now who knows when another ship may come--if ever another will come?"
"But I am yours, Thandar," insisted the girl. "You are my man--you have told me that you love me, and I have replied that I would be your mate--who can give us to each other better than we can give ourselves?"
He tried, as best he could, to explain to her the marriage customs and ceremonies of his own world, but she found it difficult to understand how it might be that a stranger whom neither might possibly ever have seen before could make it right for her to love her Thandar, or that it would be wrong for her to love him without the stranger's permission.
To Thandar the future looked most black and hopeless. With his sudden determination to take Nadara back to his own people he had been overwhelmed with a mad yearning for home.
He realized that his past apathy to the idea of returning to Boston had been due solely to recollection of Boston as he had known it--Boston without Nadara; but not that she was to have gone back with him Boston seemed the most desirable spot in the world.
As he sat pondering the unfortunate happenings that had so delayed them that the yacht had sailed before they reached the shore, he also cast about for some plan to mitigate their disappointment.
To live forever on this savage island did not seem such an appalling thing as it had a year before--but then he had not realized his love for the wild young creature at his side. Ah, if she could but e made his wife then his exile here would be a happy rather than a doleful lot.
What if he had been born here too? With the thought came a new idea that seemed to offer an avenue from his dilemma. Had he, too, been native born how would he have wed Nadara?
Why through the ceremony of their own people, of course. And if men and women were thus wed here, living together in faithfulness throughout their lives, what more sacred a union could civilization offer?
He sprang to his feet.
"Come, Nadara!" he cried. "We shall return to your people, and there you shall become my wife."
Nadara was puzzled, but she made no comment; content simply to leave the future to her lord and master; to do whatever would bring Thandar the greatest happiness.
The return to the dwellings of Nadara's people occupied three never-to-be-forgotten days.
How different this journey by comparison with that of a year since, when the cave girl had been leading the terror-stricken Waldo Emerson in flight from the bad men toward, to him, an equally horrible fate at the hands of Korth and Flatfoot!
Then the forest glades echoed to the pads of fierce beasts and the stealthy passage of naked, human horrors. No twig snapped that did not portend instant and terrifying death.
Now Korth and Flatfoot were dead at the hands of the metamorphosed Waldo. The racking cough was gone. He had encountered the bad men and others like them and come away with honors. Even Nagoola, the sleek, black devil-cat of the hideous nights, no longer sent the slightest tremor though the rehabilitated nerves.
Did not Thandar wear Nagoola's pelt about his shoulder and loins--a pelt that he had taken in hand to hand encounter with the dread beast?
Slowly they walked beneath the shade of giant trees, beside pleasant streams, or, again, across open valleys were the grass grew knee high and countless, perfumed wild flowers opened a pathway before their naked feet.
At night they slept where night found them. Sometimes in the deserted lair of a wild beast, or again perched among the branches of a spreading tree where parallel branches permitted the construction of rude platforms.
And Thandar was always most solicitous to see that Nadara's couch was of the softest grasses and that his own lay at a little distance from hers and in a position where he might best protect her from prowling beasts.
Again was Nadara puzzled, but still she made no comment.
Finally they came to her village.
Several of the younger men came forth to meet them; but when they saw that the man was he who had slain Korth they bridled their truculence, all but one, Big Fist, who had assumed the role of king since Flatfoot had left.
"I can kill you," he announced by way of greeting, "for I am Big Fist, and until Flatfoot returns I am king--and maybe afterward, for some day I shall kill Flatfoot."
"I do not wish to fight you," replied Thandar. "Already have I killed Korth, and Flatfoot will return no more, for Flatfoot I have killed also. And I can kill Big Fist, but what is the use? Why should we fight? Let us be friends, for we must live together, and if we do not kill one another there will be more of us to meet the bad men, should they come, and kill them."
When Big Fist heard that Flatfoot was dead and by the hand of this stranger he pined less to measure his strength with that of the newcomer. He saw the knothole that the other offered, and promptly he sought to crawl through it, but with honor.
"Very well," he said, "I shall not kill you--you need not be afraid. But you must know that I am king, and do as I say that you shall do."
"'Afraid,'" Thandar laughed. "You may be king," he said, "but as for doing what you say--" and again he laughed.
It was a very different Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones from the thing that the sea had spewed up twelve months before.