Previous Chapter: 10 The Trail's End
Almost at the moment that Waldo emerged from the jungle Nadara saw him, and with a lunge threw herself from Flatfoot's shoulder.
The man turned with a fierce growl of rage, and his eyes fell upon the giant rushing toward them.
The girl was now struggling madly to escape or delay her captor. There could be but one outcome, as Flatfoot knew. He must fight now, but the girl should never escape him.
Raising the huge fist that had killed many a full-grown man with a single blow he aimed a wicked one at the side of Nadara's head.
The first one she dodged, and as the arm went up to strike again, Thandar threw his spear-arm far back and with a mighty forward surge drove his light weapon across the hundred feet that separated him from Flatfoot
It was an awful risk--there was not a foot to spare between the hairy breast that was his target and the beautiful head of the fair captive. Should either move between the time the spear left his hand and the instant that it found its mark it might pierce the one it had been sped to save.
Flatfoot's fist was crashing down toward that lovely face at the instant that the spear found him; but he had moved--just enough to place his arm before his breast--so that it was the falling arm that received the weapon instead of the heart that it had been intended for.
But it served its purpose. With a howl of pain and rage, Flatfoot, forgetful of the girl in the madness of his anger, dropped her and sprang toward Waldo.
The latter had drawn his sword--naught but a sharpened stick of hard wood--and stood waiting to receive his foe. It was his first attempt to put either sword or shield into practical use, and he was anxious to discover their value.
As Flatfoot came toward his antagonist he pulled the spear from the muscles of his arm, and, stooping, gathered up one of the many rocks that lay scattered about at the base of the cliff.
The cave man was roaring like a mad bull; hate and murder shot from his close-set eyes; his upper lip curled back, showing his fighting fangs, and a light froth flecked his bristling beard.
Waldo was sure there had never existed a more fearsome creature, and he marveled that he was not afraid. The very thought of what the effect of this terrible monster's mad charge would have been upon him a short while ago brought a smile to his lips.
At sight of that taunting smile Flatfoot hurled the rock full at the maddening face. With a quick movement of his left arm Waldo caught the missile on his buckler, from whence it dropped harmlessly to the ground.
Flatfoot did not throw again, and an instant later he was upon the Bostonian--the pride and hope of the cultured and aristocratic Back Bay Smith-Joneses.
When he reached for the agile, blond giant he found a thin sheet of hide-covered twigs in his way, and when he tried to tear down this barrier the point of a sharpened stick was thrust into his abdomen.
This was no way to fight!
Flatfoot was scandalized. He jumped back a few feet and glared at Waldo. Then he lowered his head and came at him once more with the very evident intention of rushing him off his feet by the very weight and impetuosity of his charge.
This time the sharp stick slipped quickly over the top of the hide-covered atrocity and pierced Flatfoot's neck just where it joined his thick skull. Burying a foot of its point beneath the muscles of the shoulder, it brought a scream of pain and rage from the hairy beast.
Before Waldo could withdraw his weapon from the tough sinews, Flatfoot had straightened up with a sudden jerk that snapped the sword short, leaving but a short stub in his antagonist's hand.
Nadara had been watching the battle breathlessly, ready to flee should it turn against her champion, yet at the same time searching for an opportunity to aid him.
Like Flatfoot, the girl had never before seen spear or sword or shield in use, and while she marveled at the advantage which they gave Thandar, she became dubious as to the result of the encounter when she saw the sword broken, for the spear had been snapped into kindling-wood by Flatfoot when he tore it from his arm.
But Waldo still had his cudgel, fastened by a thong to his sword-belt, and as the cave man rushed upon him again he swung a mighty blow to the low, brutal forehead.
Momentarily stunned, the fellow reeled backward for a step, and again Waldo wielded his new weapon.
Flatfoot trembled, his knees smote together, he staggered drunkenly, and then, when Waldo looked to see him go down, the brute power that was in him, responding to nature's first law, sent him hurtling at the Bostonian's throat in the snarling, blind rage of the death-smitten beast.
Catapulted by all the enormous strength of his mighty muscles, the squat, bear-like animal bore Waldo to earth, and at the same instant each found the other's throat with sinewy, viselike fingers.
They lay very still now, choking with firm, relentless clutch. Every ounce of muscle was needed, every grain of endurance. Waldo was suffering agonies after a moment of that awful death-grip. He could feel his gasping, pain-racked lungs struggling for air.
He tried to wriggle free from those horrible fingers, but not once did he loosen his own hold upon the throat of Flatfoot; instead he tried to close a little tighter each second that he felt his own life ebbing. He became weaker and weaker.
The pain was unendurable now. A haze obscured his vision--everything became black--his brain was whizzing about at frightful velocity within the awful darkness of his skull.
The girl was bending close above them now, for both were struggling less violently. She had been minded to come to Thandar's rescue when suddenly she recalled his desertion of her, and all the wild hatred of the primitive mind surged through her.
Let him die, she thought. He had spurned her, cast her off; he looked down upon her. Well, let him take care of himself, then, and she turned deliberately away to leave the two men to decide the outcome of their own battle, and started back upon the trail in the direction of her tribe's village.
But she had taken scarce a score of steps when something flamed up in her heart that withered the last remnant of her malice toward Thandar. As she turned back again toward the combatants she attempted to justify this new weakness by the thought that it was only fair that she should give the yellow one aid in return for the aid that he had rendered her; that done, she could go on her way with a clear conscience.
She wished never to see him again, but she could not have his blood upon her hands. At that thought she gave a little cry and ran to where the men lay.
Both were almost quiet now; their struggles had nearly ceased. Just as she reached them Flatfoot relaxed, his hands slipped from Waldo's throat and he lay entirely motionless.
Then the fair giant struggled convulsively once or twice; he gasped, his eyes rolled up and set, and with a sudden twitching of his muscles he stiffened rigidly and was very still.
Nadara gave one horrified look at the ghastly face of her champion, and fled into the jungle.
She stumbled on for a quarter of a mile as fast as her tired limbs would carry her through the entangling grasses, and then she came to that which she sought--a little stream, winding slowly through the valley down toward the ocean.
Dropping to her knees beside it she filled her mouth with the refreshing water. In an instant she was up again and off in the direction from which she had just come.
Throwing herself at Waldo's side, she wet his face with the water from her mouth. She chafed his hands, shook him, blew upon his face when the water was exhausted, and then, tears streaming from her eyes, she threw herself upon him, covering his face with kisses, and moaning inarticulate words of love and endearment that were half stifled by anguished sobs of grief.
Suddenly her lamentations ceased as quickly as they had begun. She raised her head from where it had been buried beside the man's and looked intently into his face. Then she placed her ear upon his breast; with a delighted cry she resumed chafing his hands, for she had heard the beating of his heart.
Presently Waldo gasped, and for a moment suffered the agonies of returning respiration. When he opened his eyes in consciousness he saw Nadara bending over him--a severely disinterested expression upon her beautiful face. He turned his head to one side; there lay Flatfoot quite dead.
It was several moments before he could speak. Then he rose, very unsteadily, to his feet.
"Nadara," he said, "Korth lies dead beside the three great trees in the glade that is near the village that was Flatfoot's. Here is the dead body of Flatfoot, and about my loins hangs the pelt of Nagoola, taken in fair fight.
"I have done all that you desired of me; I have tried to repay you for your kindness to me when I was a stranger in your land. I do not know why you should have tried to kill me while I battled with Korth.
"No more do I know why you have allowed me to live today when it would have been so easy to have despatched me as I lay unconscious here beside Flatfoot.
"I read dislike upon your face, and I am sorry, for I would have parted with you in friendship, so that when the time comes that I return to my own land I should be able to carry away with me only the pleasant memory of it. When we have rested and are refreshed I shall take you back to your father."
All that had been surging to the girl's lips of love and gratitude from a heart that was filled with both was congealed by the cold tone which marked this dispassionate recital of the discharge of a moral obligation.
Possibly Waldo's tone was colored by the vivid memory of the look of hate that he had seen in the girl's eyes at the instant that he went down before her missile as he battled with Korth, for it was not even tinged with friendliness.
And so the girl's manner was equally distant when she replied; in fact, it was even colder, for it was fraught with bitterness.
"Thandar owed nothing to Nadara," she said, "and though it matters not at all, it is only fair to say that the stone that struck you as you battled in the glade was intended for Korth."
Waldo's face brightened. A load that he had not realized lay there was lifted from his heart.
"You did not want to hurt me, then?" he cried.
"Why should I want to hurt you?" returned the girl.
"I thought"--and here Waldo spoiled the fair start they had made at a reconciliation— "I thought," he said, "that you were angry because I ran away from you after we had come to your village that time, months ago."
Nadara's head went high and she laughed aloud.
"I angry? I was surprised that you did not come to the village, but after an hour I had forgotten the matter--it was with difficulty that I recognized you when I next saw you, so utterly had the occurrence departed from my thoughts."
Waldo wondered why he should feel such humiliation at this frank avowal. Of what moment to him was this girl's estimation of him? Why did he feel a flush suffuse his face at the knowledge that he was of so little moment to her that she had entirely forgotten him within a few months?
Waldo was mortified and angry. He changed the subject brusquely; hereafter he should eschew personalities.
"Let us find a cave at a distance from the dead man," he said, "and there we may rest until you are ready to attempt the return journey."
"I am ready now," replied Nadara; "nor do I need or desire your company. I can return alone, as I came."
"No," remonstrated Waldo doggedly; "I shall go with you whether you wish it or not. I shall see you safely with your father. I promised him."
Nadara had been delighted with the first clause of his reply, but when it became evident that his only desire to return with her was to fulfil a promise made her father she became furious, though she was careful not to let him see it.
"Very well," she replied; "you may come if you wish, though it is neither necessary nor as I would have it. I prefer being alone."
"I shall not force my company upon you," said Waldo haughtily. "I can follow a few paces behind you."
There was an injured air in his last words which did not escape the girl. She wondered if he really deserved the harsh attitude she had maintained.
They found a cave a half-mile down the valley, where they took up their quarters against the time that Waldo should be rested, for the girl insisted that she was fully able to commence the return journey at once.
The man knew better, and so he let her have it that the delay was on his account rather than hers, for he doubted her ability to cope with the hardships of the long journey without an interval for recuperation.
The next morning found them both rested and in better spirits, so that there was no return to their acrimonious encounter of the previous day.
As they walked out toward the forest that lay down the valley in the direction of the ocean Waldo dropped a few paces behind the girl in polite deference to her expressed wish of the day before.
As he walked he watched the graceful movements of her lithe figure and the lines of her clear-cut profile as she turned her head this way and that in search of food.
How beautiful she was! It was incredible that this wild cave girl should have greater beauty and a more regal carriage than the queens and beauties of civilization, and yet Waldo was forced to admit that he had never even dreamed, much less seen, such absolute physical perfection.
He wished that he could say as much for her disposition; that was atrocious. It was unbelievable that such a wondrous exterior could harbor so much ingratitude and coldness.
Presently they came among the trees where the ripe fruit hung, and as Waldo climbed nimbly among the branches and tossed the most luscious down to her, the girl, in her turn, watched him.
She noted more closely the marvelous change that a few months had wrought. She had thought him wonderful before, but now he was a very god. She did not think just this, for she knew nothing of gods--other than the demons that were supposed to enter the bodies of the sick; but she thought of him as some superior creature, and then she ceased to feel aggrieved that he should care so little for her.
He was not a man--he was something more than a man, and she had been very wicked to have treated him so shamefully. She would make amends. So she tried to be more kind thereafter, though there still remained a trace of aloofness.
Together they sat upon the turf and ate their fruit, and as they ate they talked a little, for it is difficult for two young people to harbor animosity for a great time, especially when there is none other for them to talk to.
"When you have returned with me to my father, Thandar," the girl asked, "where shall you go then?"
"I shall return to the sea where I may watch for a ship to take me back to my own land," he replied.
"I have seen but one ship in all my life," said Nadara, "and that was years ago. It was when we lived close by the big water that it stopped a long way from shore and sent many smaller boats to land.
"There were many men in the boats, and when they landed, my father and mother took me far into the forest away from the sea, and there we stayed for many days until the strangers had sailed. They wandered up and down the coast and came back into the forests and the jungles for a few miles.
"My mother said that they were searching for me, and that if they found me they would take me away. I was very much frightened."
At the mention of her mother Waldo recalled the little parcel that Nadara's father had given into his custody for the girl. He unfastened it from the thong that circled his waist, where it had hung beneath his panther-skin garment.
"Here is something your father asked me to bring you," he said, handing the package to Nadara.
The girl took it and examined it as though it was entirely unfamiliar.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Your father did not say, other than that it contained articles that your mother wore when she died," he said tenderly, for a great pity had welled up in his heart for this poor, motherless girl.
"That my mother wore!" Nadara repeated, her brows contracted in a puzzled frown. "When my mother died she wore nothing but a single garment of many small skins--very old and worn--and that was buried with her. I do not understand."
She made no effort to open the package, but sat gazing far off toward the ocean which was just visible through the trees, entirely absorbed in the reverie which Waldo's words had engendered.
"Could the thing that the old woman told me have been true?" the girl mused half aloud. "Could it have been because it was true that my mother fell upon her with tooth and nail until she had nearly killed her? I wonder if --"
But here she stopped, her eyes riveted in sudden fear and hopelessness upon a thing that she had just espied in the distance. A great lump rose in her throat, tears came to her eyes, and with them the full measure of realization of what that thing beyond the forest meant to her.
She turned her eyes toward the man. He was sitting with bowed head, playing idly with a large beetle that he had penned within a tiny palisade of small twigs. At length he made an opening in the barrier.
"Go your way, poor thing," he murmured. "Heaven knows I realize too well the horrors of captivity to keep any other creature from its fellows and its home."
A choking sigh that was almost a sob racked the girl. At the sound Waldo looked up to see her pathetic, unhappy eyes upon him. Of a sudden there enveloped him a great desire to take her in his arms and comfort her. He knew not why she was unhappy, but her sorrow cried aloud to him--as he thought simply to the protective instinct that was merely an attribute of his sex.
Nadara raised her hand slowly and pointed through the trees. It was as though she had torn her heart from her breast, so harrowing she felt the consequences of her act would be, but it was for his sake--for the sake of the man she loved.
As Waldo's eyes followed the direction of her pointing finger he came suddenly to his feet with a wild cry of joy; through the trees, out upon the shimmering surface of the placid sea, there lay a graceful, white yacht.
"Thank God!" cried the man fervently, and sinking to his knees he raised his hands aloft toward the author of joy and sorrow.
A moment later he sprang to his feet.
"Home! Nadara. Home!" he cried. "Can't you realize it? I am going home. I am saved! Oh, Nadara, child, can't you realize what it means to me? Home! Home! Home!"
He had been looking toward the yacht as he spoke, but now he turned toward the girl. She was crouching upon the ground, her face in her hands, her slender figure shaken by convulsive tears.
He came toward her and, kneeling, laid his hand upon her shoulder.
"Nadara!" he said gently. "Why do you cry, child? What is the matter?" But she only shook her head, moaning.
He raised her to her feet, and as he supported her his arm circled her shoulders.
"Tell me, Nadara, why you are unhappy?" he urged.
But still she could not speak for sobbing, and only buried her face upon his breast.
He was holding her very close now, and with the pressure of her body against his a fire that, unknown, had been smoldering in his heart for months burst into sudden flame, and in the heat of it there were consumed the mists that had been be fore the eyes of his heart all that time.
"Nadara," he asked in a very low voice, "is it because I am going that you cry?"
But at that she pulled away from him, and through her tears her eyes blazed.
"No!" she cried. "I shall be glad when you have gone. I wish that you had never come. I--I--hate you!" She turned and fled back up the valley, forgetful of the little packet Thandar had brought her, which lay forgotten upon the ground where she had dropped it.
Without so much as a backward glance toward the yacht Waldo was off in pursuit of her; but Nadara was as fleet as a hare, so that it was a much winded Waldo who finally overhauled her half-way up the face of a cliff two miles from the ocean.
"Go away!" cried the girl. "Go back with your own kind, to your own home!"
Waldo did not answer.
Waldo was no more.
It was Thandar, the cave man, who took Nadara in his strong arms and crushed her to him.
"My girl!" he cried. "My girl! I love you! And because I am a fool I did not learn until it was almost too late."
He did not ask if she loved him, for he was Thandar, the cave man. Nor, a moment later, did he need to ask, since her strong, brown arms crept up about his neck and drew his lips down to hers.
It was quite half an hour later before either thought of the yacht again. From where they stood upon the cliff's face they could see the ocean and the beach.
Several boats were drawn up and a number of men were coming toward the forest. Presently they would discover the two upon the cliff.
"We shall go back together now," said Thandar.
"I am afraid," replied Nadara.
For a time the man stood gazing at the dainty yacht, and far beyond it into the civilization which it represented, and he saw there suave men and sneering women, and among them was a slender brown beauty who shrank from the cruel glances of the women--and Waldo writhed at this and at the greedy eyes of the suave men as they appraised the girl--and he, too, was afraid.
"Come," he said, taking Nadara by the hand, "let us hurry back into the hills before they discover us."
Just as the men from the yacht, which Mr. John Alden Smith-Jones had despatched to the ,South Seas in search of his missing son, emerged from the forest into a view of the valley and the cliffs a cave man and his mate clambered over the brow of the latter and disappeared toward the hills beyond.
It was nearly dusk as the searchers from the yacht were returning toward the beach. They had found no sign of human habitation in the little valley, nor anywhere along the coast that they had so carefully explored.
The commander of the expedition, Captain Cecil Burlinghame, a retired naval officer, was in advance. They had penetrated the woods nearly to the beach when his foot struck against a package wrapped in the skin of a small rodent.
He stooped and picked it up.
"Here is the first evidence that another human being than ourselves has ever set foot upon this island," he said as he cut the gut lacing with his pocket knife. Within the first wrapping he found a chamois-bag such as women sometimes use to carry jewels about their persons. From this he emptied into his palm a dozen priceless rings, a few old-fashioned brooches, bracelets, and lockets. In one of the latter he discovered the ivory miniature of a woman--a very beautiful woman.
In the other side of the locket was engraved: "To Eugénie Marie Céleste de la Valois, Countess of Crecy, from Henri, her husband. I7th January, 18—"
"Gad!" cried the old captain. "Now what do you make of that?
"The Count and Countess of Crecy were returning to Paris from their honeymoon trip round the world in the steam yacht Dolphin nearly twenty years ago, and after they touched at Australia were never heard of again.
"What tragedy, what mystery, what romance might not these sparkling gems disclose had they but tongues!"