THE GREAT NAGOOLA
WALDO EMERSON SMITH-JONES had gladly embraced the opportunity which chance had offered him to assume the kingship of the little tribe of troglodytes. First, because his position would assure Nadara greater safety, and, second, because of the opening it would give him for the exercise of his new-found initiative.
Where before he had shrunk from responsibility he now found himself anxious to assume it. He longed to do, where formerly he had been content to but read of the accomplishments of others.
To his chagrin, however, he soon discovered that the classical education to which his earlier life had been devoted under the guidance of a fond and ultra-cultured mother was to prove a most inadequate foundation upon which to build a practical scheme of life for himself and his people.
He wished to teach his tribe to construct permanent and comfortable houses, but he could not recollect any practical hints on carpentry that he had obtained from Ovid.
His people lived by hunting small rodents, robbing birds' nets, and gathering wild fruit and vegetables. Thandar desired to institute a scheme of community farming, but the works of the Cyclic Poets, with which he was quite familiar, seemed to offer little of value along agricultural lines. He regretted that he had not matriculated at an agricultural college west of the Alleghenies rather than at Harvard.
However, he determined to do the best he could with the meager knowledge he possessed of things practical--a knowledge so meager that it consisted almost entirely of the bare definition of the word agriculture.
It was a germ, however, for it presupposed a knowledge of the results that might be obtained through agriculture.
So Thandar found himself a step ahead of the earliest of his progenitors who had through to plant purposely the seeds that nature heretofore had distributed haphazard through the agencies of wind and bird and beast; but only a step ahead.
He realized that he occupied a very remarkable position in the march of ages. He had known and seen and benefitted by all the accumulated knowledge of ages of progression from the stone age to the twentieth century, and now, suddenly, fate had snatched him back into the stone age, or possibly a few eons farther back, only to show him that all that he had from a knowledge of other men's knowledge was keen dissatisfaction with the stone age.
He had lived in houses of wood and brick and looked through windows of glass. He had read in the light of gas and electricity, and he even knew of candles; but he could not fashion the tools to build a house, he could not have made a brick to have saved his life, glass had suddenly become one of the wonders of the world to him, and as for gas and electricity and candles they had become one with the mystery of the Sphinx.
He could write verse in excellent Greek, but he was no longer proud of that fact. He would much rather that he had been able to tan a hide, or make fire without matches. Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones had a year ago been exceedingly proud of his intellect and his learning, but for a year his ego had been shrinking until now he felt himself the most pitiful ignoramus on earth. "Criminally ignorant," he said to Nadara, "for I have thrown away the opportunities of a lifetime devoted to the accumulation of useless erudition when I might have been profiting by the practical knowledge which has dragged the world from the black pit of barbarism to the light of modern achievement--I might not only have done this but, myself, added something to the glory and welfare of mankind. I am no good, Nadara--worse than useless."
The girl touched his strong brown hand caressingly, looking proudly into his eyes.
"To me you are very wonderful, Thandar," she said. "With your own hands you slew Nagoola, the most terrible beast in the world, and Korth, and Flatfoot, and Big Fist lie dead beneath the vultures because of your might--single-handed you killed them all; three awesome men. No, my Thandar is greater than all other men."
Nor could Waldo Emerson repress the swelling tide of pride that surged through him as the girl he loved recounted his exploits. No longer did he think of his achievements as "vulgar physical prowess." The old Waldo Emerson, whose temperature had risen regularly at three o'clock each afternoon, whose pitifully skinny body had been racked by coughing continually, whose eyes had been terror filled by day and night at the rustling of dry leaves, was dead.
In his place stood a great, full-blooded man, brown skinned and steel thewed; fearless, self-reliant, almost brutal in his pride of power--Thandar, the cave man.
The months that passed as Thandar led his people from one honey combed cliff to another as he sought a fitting place for a permanent village were filled with happiness for Nadara and the king.
The girl's happiness was slightly alloyed by the fact that Thandar failed to claim her as his own. She could not yet quite understand the ethics which separated them. Thandar tried repeatedly to explain to her that some day they were to return to his own world, and that that world would not accept her unless she had been joined to him according to the rites and ceremonies which it had originated.
"Will this marriage ceremony of which you tell me make you love me more?" asked Nadara.
Thandar laughed and took her in his arms.
"I could not love you more," he replied.
"Then of what good is it?"
Thandar shook his head.
"It is difficult to explain," he said, "especially to such a lovable little pagan as my Nadara. You must be satisfied to know--accept my word for it--that it is because I love you that we must wait."
Now it was the girl's turn to shake her head.
"I cannot understand," she said. "My people take their mates as they will and they are satisfied and everybody is satisfied and all is well; but their king, who may mate as he chooses, waits until a man whom he does not know and who lives across the great water where we may never go, gives him permission to mate with one who loves him--with one whom he SAYS he loves."
Thandar noticed the emphasis which Nadara put upon the word "says."
"Some day," he said, "when we have reached my world you will know that I was right, and you will thank me. Until then, Nadara, you must trust me, and," he added half to himself, "God knows I have earned your trust even if you do not know it."
And so Nadara made believe that she was satisfied but in her heart of hearts she still feared that Thandar did not really love her, nor did the half-veiled comments of the women add at all to her peace of mind.
During all the time that Thandar was with her he had been teaching her his language for he had set his heart upon taking her home, and he wished her to be as well prepared for her introduction to Boston and civilization as he could make her.
Thandar's plan was to find a suitable location within sight of the sea that he might always be upon the lookout for a ship. At last he found such a place--a level meadow land upon a low plateau overlooking the ocean.
He had come upon it while he wandered alone several miles from the temporary cliff dwellings the tribe was occupying. The soil, when he dug into it, he found to be rich and black. There was timber upon once side and upon the other overhanging cliffs of soft limestone.
It was Thandar's plan to build a village partly of logs against the face of the cliff, burrowing inward behind the dwellings for such additional apartments as each family might require.
The caves alone would have proved sufficient shelter, but the man hoped by compelling his people to construct a portion of each dwelling of logs to engender within each family a certain feeling of ownership and pride in personal possession as would make it less easy for them to give up their abodes than in the past, when it had been necessary but to move to another cliff to find caves equally as comfortable as those which they had so easily abandoned.
In other words he hoped to give them a word which their vocabulary had never held--home.
Whether or not he would have succeeded we may never know, for fate stepped in at the last moment to alter with a single stroke his every plan and aspiration.
As he returned to his people that afternoon filled with the enthusiasm of his hopes a burly, hairy figure crept warily close to him. As Thandar emerged from the brush which reaches close to the cliffs where the temporary encampment had been made Nadara, watching for him, ran forward to meet him.
The creature upon Thandar's trail halted at the edge of the bush. As he close-set eyes fell upon the girl his flabby lips vibrated to the quick intaking of his breath and his red lids half closed in cunning and desire.
For a few moments he watched the man and the maid as they turned and walked slowly toward the cliffs, the arm of the former about the brown shoulders of the latter. Then he too turned and melted into the tangled branches behind him.
That evening Thandar gathered the members of the tribe about him at the foot of the cliff. They sat around a great fire while Thandar, their king, explained to them in minutest detail the future that he had mapped out for them.
Some of the old men shook their heads, for here was an unheard of thing--a change from the accustomed ordering of their lives--and they were loath to change regardless of the benefits which might accrue.
But for the most part the people welcomed the idea of comfortable and permanent habitations, though their anticipatory joy, Thandar reasoned, was due largely to a childish eagerness for something new and different--whether their enthusiasm would survive the additional labors which the new life was sure to entail was another question.
So Thandar laid down the new laws that were to guide his people thereafter. The men were to make all implements and weapons, for he had already taught them to use arrows and spears. The women were to keep all edged tools sharp. The men were to hew the logs and build the houses--the women make garments, cook and keep the houses in order.
The men were to turn up the soil, the women were to sow the seeds, and cultivate the growing crops, which later, all hands must turn to and harvest.
The hunting and fighting devolved upon the men, but the fighting must be confined to enemies of the tribe. A man who killed another member of the tribe except in defense of his home or his own person was to suffer death.
Other laws he made--good laws--which even these primitive people could see where good. It was quite late when the last of them crawled into his comfortless cave to dream of large airy rooms built of the trees of the forest; of good food in plenty just before the rains as well as after; of security from the periodic raids of the "bad men."
Thandar and Nadara were the last to go. Together they sat upon a narrow ledge before Nadara's cave, the moonlight falling upon their glistening, naked shoulders, while they talked and dreamed together of the future.
Thandar had been talking of the wonderful plans which seemed to fill his whole mind--of the future of the tribe--of the great strides toward civilization they could make in a few brief years if they could but be made to follow the simple plans he had in mind.
"Why," he said, "in ten years they should have bridged a gulf that it must have required ages for our ancestors to span."
"And you are planning ten years ahead, Thandar," she asked, "when only yesterday you were saying that once beside the sea you hoped it would be but a short time before we might sight a passing vessel that would bear us away to your civilization? Must we wait ten years, Thandar?"
"I am planning for them," he replied. "We may not be here to witness the changes; but I wish to start them upon the road and when we go I shall see to it that a king is chosen in my place who has the courage and the desire to carry out my plans.
"Yet," he added, musingly, "it would be splendid could we but return to complete our work. Never, Nadara, have I performed a single constructive act for the benefit of my fellow man, but now I see an opportunity to do something, however small it may see, to--what was that?"
A low rumbling muttered threateningly out of the west. Deep and ominous it sounded, yet so low that it failed to awaken any member of the sleeping tribe.
Before either could again speak there came a slight trembling of the earth beneath them, scarcely sufficient to have been noticeable had it not been preceded by the distant grumbling in the earth's bowels.
The two upon the moonlit ledge came to their feet, and Nadara drew close to Thandar, the man's arm encircling her shoulders protectingly.
"The Great Nagoola," she whispered. "Again he seeks to escape."
"What do you mean?" asked Thandar. "It is an earthquake--distant and quite harmless to us."
"No, it is The Great Nagoola," insisted Nadara. "Long time ago, when our fathers' fathers were yet unborn, The Great Nagoola roamed the land devouring all that chanced to come in his way--men, beasts, birds, everything
"One day my people came upon his sleeping in a deep gorge between two mountains. They were mighty men in those days, and when they saw their great enemy asleep there in the gorge half of them went upon one side and half upon the other, and they pushed the two mountains over into the gorge upon the sleeping beast, imprisoning him there.
"It is all true, for my mother had it from her mother, who in turn was told it by her mother--thus has it been handed down truthfully since it happened long time ago.
"And even in this day is occasionally heard the growling of The Great Nagoola in his anger, and the earth shakes a trembles as he strives, far, far beneath to shake the mountains from him and escape. Did you not hear his voice and feel the ground rock?"
"Well, we're quite safe then," he cried, "for with two mountains piled upon him he cannot escape."
"Who knows?" asked Nadara. "He is huge—as huge, himself, as a small mountain. Some day, they say, he will escape, and then naught will pacify his rage until he has destroyed every living creature upon the land."
"Do not worry, little one," said Thandar. "The Great Nagoola will have to grumble louder and struggle more fiercely before ever he may dislodge the two mountains. Even now he is quiet again, so run to your cave, sweetheart, nor bother your pretty head with useless worries--it is time that all good people were asleep," and he stooped and kissed her as she turned to go.
For a moment she clung to him.
"I am afraid, Thandar," she whispered. "Why, I do not know. I only know that I am afraid, with a great fear that will not be quiet."