The Cave Girl

by Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Chapter V: Awakening

“COME,” said the girl, “let us make haste. I cannot wait to be home again! How good it looks!” Waldo gazed at her in horror. It did not seem credible that this beautiful young creature could be of such clay as that he looked upon. It was revolting to believe that she had sprung from the loins of one of those half-brutes, or that a woman as fierce, repulsive, such as those he saw before him, could have borne her.

It made him sick with disgust.

He turned from her.

“Go to your people, Nadara,” he said, for an idea had come to him.

He had evolved a scheme for escaping a meeting with Flatfoot and Korth, and the sudden disgust which he felt for the girl made it easier for him to carry out his design.

“Are you not coming with me?” she cried.

“Not at once,” replied Waldo, quite truthfully. “I wish you to go first. Were we to go together they might harm you when they rushed out to attack me.” The girl had no fear of this, but she felt that it was very thoughtful of the man to consider her welfare so tenderly. To humor him, she acceded to his request “As you wish, Thandar,” she answered, smiling.

Thandar was a name of her own choosing, after Waldo had informed her in answer to a request for his name, that she might call him Mr. Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones. “I shall call you Thandar,” she had replied; “it is shorter, more easily remembered, and describes you. It means the Brave One.” And so Thandar he had become.

The girl had scarcely emerged from the forest on her way toward the cliffs when Thandar the Brave One, turned and ran at top speed in the opposite direction. When he came to the river he gave immediate evidence of the strides he had taken in woodcraft during the brief weeks that he had been under the girl’s tutorage, for he plunged immediately into the water, setting out up-stream upon the gravelly bottom where he would leave no spoor to be tracked down by the eagle eyes of these primitive men.

He supposed that the girl would search for him; but he felt no compunction at having deserted her so scurvily. Of course, he had no suspicion of her real sentiments toward him — it would have shocked him to have imagined that a low-born person, such as she, had become infatuated with him.

It would have been embarrassing and unfortunate, but, of course, quite impossible — since Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones could never form an alliance beneath him. As for the girl herself, he might as readily have considered the possibility of marrying a cow, so far from any such thoughts of her had he been.

On and on he stumbled through the cold water. Sometimes it was above his head, but Waldo had learned to swim — the girl had made him, partly by pleas, but largely by the fear that she would ridicule him.

As night came on he commenced to become afraid, but his fear now was not such a horribly prostrating thing as it had been a few weeks before. Without being aware of the fact, Waldo had grown a trifle less timid, though he was still far from lion-like.

That night he slept in the crotch of a tree. He selected a small one, which, though less comfortable, was safer from the approach of Nagoola than a larger tree would have been. This also had he learned from Nadara.

Had he paused to consider, he would have discovered that all he knew that was worth while he had had from the savage little girl whom he, from the high pinnacle of his erudition, regarded with such pity. But Waldo had not as yet learned enough to realize how very little he knew.

In the morning he continued his flight, gathering his breakfast from tree and shrub as he fled. Here again was he wholly indebted to Nadara, for without her training he would have been restricted to a couple of fruits, whereas now he had a great variety of fruits, roots, berries, and nuts to choose from in safety.

The stream that he had been following had now become a narrow, rushing, mountain torrent. It leaped suddenly over little precipices in wild and picturesque waterfalls; it rioted in foaming cascades; and ever it led Waldo farther into high and rugged country.

The climbing was difficult and oftentimes dangerous. Waldo was surprised at the steeps he negotiated — perilous ascents from which he would have shrunk in palsied fear a few weeks earlier.

Waldo was coming on.

Another fact which struck him with amazement at the same time that it filled him with rejoicing, was that he no longer coughed. It was quite beyond belief, too, since never in his life had he been so exposed to cold and wet and discomfort.

At home, he realized, he would long since have curled up and died had he been subjected to one-tenth the exposure that he had undergone since the great wave had lifted him bodily from the deck of the steamer to land him unceremoniously in the midst of this new life of hardships and terrors.

Toward noon Waldo began to travel with less haste. He had seen or heard no evidence of pursuit. At times he stopped to look back along the trail he had passed, but though he could see the little valley below him for a considerable distance he discovered nothing to arouse alarm.

Presently he realized that he was very lonely. A dozen times in as many minutes he thought of observations he would have been glad to make had there been some one with him to hear. There were queries, too, relative to this new country that he should have liked very much to propound, and it flashed upon him that in all the world there was only one whom he knew who could give him correct answers to these queries.

He wondered what the girl had thought when he did not follow her into the village, and set upon Flatfoot and Korth. At the thought he found himself flushing in a most unaccountable manner.

What would the girl think! Would she guess the truth?

Well, what difference if she did? What was her opinion to a cultured gentleman such as Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones? But yet he found his mind constantly reverting to this unhappy speculation; it was most annoying.

As he thought of her he discovered with what distinctness he recalled every feature of her piquant little face, her olive skin tinged beautifully by the ruddy glow of health; her fine, straight nose and delicate nostrils, her perfect eyes, soft, yet filled with the fire of courage and intelligence. Waldo wondered why it was that he recalled these things now, and dwelt upon them; he had been with her for weeks without realizing that he had particularly noticed them.

But most vividly he conjured again the memory of her soft, liquid speech, her ready retorts, her bright, interesting observations on the little happenings of their daily life; her thoughtful kindliness to him, a stranger within her gates, and — again he flushed hotly — her sincere, though remarkable, belief in his prowess.

It took Waldo a long time to admit to himself that he missed the girl; it must have been weeks before he finally did so unreservedly. Simultaneously he determined to return to her village and find her. He had even gone so far as to start the return journey when the memory of her description of Flatfoot and Korth brought him to a sudden halt — a most humiliating halt.

The blood surged to his face — he could feel it burning there. And then Waldo did two things which he had never done before: he looked at his soul and saw himself as he was, and — he swore.

“Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones,” he said aloud, “you’re a darned coward! Worse than that, you’re an unthinkable cad. That girl was kind to you. She treated you with the tender solicitude of a mother. And how have you returned her kindness? By looking down upon her with arrogant condescension. By pitying her.

“Pitying her! You — you miserable weakling — ingrate, pitying that fine, intelligent, generous girl. You, with your pitiful little store of secondhand knowledge, pitying that girl’s ignorance.

Why, she’s forgotten more real things than you ever heard of, you — you — ” Words utterly failed him.

Waldo’s awakening was thorough — painfully thorough. It left no tiny hidden recess of his contemptible little soul unrevealed from his searching self-analysis. Looking back over the twenty-one years of his uneventful life, he failed to resurrect but a single act of which he might now be proud, and that, strange to say, in the light of his past training, had to do neither with culture, intellect, birth, breeding, nor knowledge.

It was a purely gross, physical act. It was hideously, violently, repulsively animal — it was no other than the instant of heroism in which he had turned back upon the cliff’s face to battle with the horrible, hairy man who had threatened to prevent Nadara’s escape.

Even now Waldo could not realize that it had been he who ventured so foolhardy an act; but none the less his breast swelled with pride as he recalled it. It put into the heart of the man a new hope and into his head a new purpose — a purpose that would have caused his Back Bay mother to seek an early grave could she have known of it.

Nor did Waldo Emerson lose any time in initiating the new regime which was eventually to fit him for the consummation of his splendid purpose. He thought of it as splendid now, though a few weeks before the vulgar atrocity of it would have nauseated him.

Far up in the hills, near the source of the little river, Waldo had found a rocky cave. This he had chosen as his new home. He cleaned it out with scrupulous care, littering the floor with leaves and grasses.

Before the entrance he piled a dozen large boulders, so arranged that three of them could be removed or replaced either from within or without, thus forming a means of egress and ingress which could be effectually closed against intruders.

From the top of a high promontory, a half mile beyond his cave, Waldo could obtain a view of the ocean, some eight or ten miles distant. It was always in his mind that some day a ship would come, and Waldo longed to return to the haunts of civilization, but he did not expect the ship before his plans had properly matured and been put into execution. He argued that he could not sail away from this shore forever without first seeing Nadara, and restoring the confidence in him which he felt his recent desertion had unquestionably shaken to its foundations.

As a part of his new regime, Waldo required exercise, and to this end he set about making a trip to the ocean at least once each week. The way was rough and hazardous, and the first few times Waldo found it almost beyond his strength to make even one leg of the journey between sunrise and dark.

This necessitated sleeping out over night; but this, too, accorded with the details of the task he had set himself, and so he did it quite cheerfully and with a sense of martyrdom that he found effectually stilled his most poignant fits of cowardice.

As time went on he was able to cover the whole distance to the ocean and return in a single day. He never coughed now, nor did he glance fearfully from side to side as he strode through the woods and open places of his wild domain.

His eyes were bright and clear, his head and shoulders were thrown well back, and the mountain climbing had expanded his chest to a degree that appalled him — the while it gave him much secret satisfaction. It was a very different Waldo from the miserable creature which had been vomited up by the ocean upon the sand of that distant beach.

The days that Waldo did not make a trip to the ocean he spent in rambling about the hills in the vicinity of his cave. He knew every rock and tree within five miles of his lair.

He knew where Nagoola hid by day, and the path that he took down to the valley by night. Nor did he longer tremble at sight of the great, black cat.

True, Waldo avoided him, but it was through cool and deliberate caution, which is quite another thing from the senseless panic of fear. Waldo was biding his time.

He would not always avoid Nagoola. Nagoola was a part of Waldo’s great plan, but Waldo was not ready for him yet.

The young man still bore his cudgel, and in addition he had practised throwing rocks until he could almost have hit a near-by bird upon the wing. Besides these weapons Waldo was working upon a spear. It had occurred to him that a spear would be a mighty handy weapon against either man or beast, and so he had set to work to fashion one.

He found a very straight young sapling, a little over an inch in diameter and ten feet long. By means of a piece of edged flint he succeeded in tapering it to a sharp point. A rawhide thong, plaited from many pieces of small bits of hide taken from the little animals that had fallen before his missiles, served to sling the crude weapon across his shoulders when he walked.

With his spear he practised hour upon hour each day, until he could transfix a fruit the size of an apple three times out of five, at a distance of fifty feet, and at a hundred hit a target the size of a man almost without a miss.

Six months had passed since he had fled from an encounter with Flatfoot and Korth.

Then Waldo had been a skinny, cowardly weakling; now his great frame had filled out with healthy flesh, while beneath his skin hard muscles rolled as he bent to one of the many Herculean tasks he had set for himself.

For six months he had worked with a single purpose in view, but still he felt that the day was not yet come when he might safely venture to put his newfound manhood to the test.

Down, far down, in the depth of his soul he feared that he was yet a coward at heart — and he dared not take the risk. It was too much to expect, he told himself, that a man should be entirely metamorphosed in a brief half year. He would wait a little longer.

It was about this time that Waldo first saw a human being after his last sight of Nadara.

It was while he was on his way to the ocean, on one of the trips that had by this time become thrice weekly affairs, that he suddenly came face to face with a skulking, hairy brute.

Waldo halted to see what would happen.

The man eyed him with those small, cunning, red-rimmed eyes that reminded Waldo of the eyes of a pig.

Finally Waldo spoke in the language of Nadara.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Sag the Killer,” replied the man. “Who are you?” “Thandar,” answered Waldo.

“I do not know you,” said Sag; “but I can kill you.” He lowered his bull head and came for Waldo like a battering ram.

The young man dropped the point of his ready spear, bracing his feet. The point entered Sag’s breast below the collar-bone, stopping only after it had passed entirely through the savage heart. Waldo had not moved; the momentum of the man’s body had been sufficient to impale him.

As the body rolled over, stiffening after a few convulsive kicks, Waldo withdrew his spear from it. Blood smeared its point for a distance of a foot, but Waldo showed no sign of loathing or disgust.

Instead he smiled. It had been so much easier than he had anticipated.

Leaving Sag where he had fallen he continued toward the ocean. An hour later he heard unusual noises behind him.

He stopped to listen. He was being pursued. From the sounds he estimated that there must be several in the party, and a moment later, as he was crossing a clearing, he got his first view of them as they emerged from the forest he had just quitted.

There were at least twenty powerfully muscled brutes. In skin bags thrown across their shoulders each carried a supply of stones, and these they began to hurl at Waldo as they raced toward him. For a moment the man held his ground, but he quickly realized the futility of pitting himself against such odds.

Turning, he ran toward the forest upon the other side of the clearing while a shower of rocks whizzed about him.

Once within the shelter of the trees there was less likelihood of his being hit by one of the missiles, but occasionally a well-aimed rock would strike him a glancing blow. Waldo hoped that they would tire of the chase before the beach was reached, for he knew that there could be but one outcome of a battle in which one man faced twenty.

As the pursued and the pursuers raced on through the forest one of the latter, fleeter than his companions, commenced to close up the gap which had existed between Waldo and the twenty. On and on he came, until a backward glance showed Waldo that in another moment this swift foeman would be upon him. He was younger than his fellows and more active, and, having thrown all his stones, was free from any burden of weight other than the single garment about his hips.

Waldo still clung to his tattered ducks, which from lack of support and more or less rapid disintegration were continually slipping down from his hips, so that they tended to hinder his movements and reduce his speed.

Had he been as naked as his pursuer he would doubtless have distanced him; but he was not, and it was evident that because of this fact he must take a chance in a hand-to-hand encounter that might delay him sufficiently to permit the balance of the horde to reach him — that would be the end of everything.

But Waldo Emerson neither screamed in terror nor trembled. When he wheeled to meet the now close savage there was a smile upon his lips, for Waldo Emerson had “killed his man,” and there was no longer the haunting fear within his soul that at heart he was a coward.

As he turned with couched spear the cave man came to a sudden stop.

This was not what Waldo had anticipated. The other savages were running rapidly toward him, but the fellow who had first overhauled him remained at a safe twenty feet from the point of his weapon.

Waldo was being cleverly held until the remainder of the enemy could arrive and overwhelm him. He knew that if he turned to run the fellow who danced and yelled just beyond his reach would plunge forward and be upon his back in an instant.

He tried rushing the man, but the other retreated nimbly, drawing Waldo still closer to those who were coming on.

There was no time to be lost. A moment more and the entire twenty would be upon him; but there were possibilities in a spear that the cave man in his ignorance dreamed not of. There was a lightninglike movement of Waldo’s arm, and the aborigine saw the spear darting swiftly through space toward his breast. He tried to dodge, but was too late. Down he went, clutching madly at the slender thing which protruded from his heart.

Although one of the dead man’s companions was now quite close, Waldo could not relinquish his weapon without an effort — it had cost him considerable time to make, and twice today it had saved his life. Forgetful that he had ever been a coward he leaped toward the fallen man, reaching his side at the same instant as his foremost pursuer.

The two came together like mad bulls — the savage reaching for Waldo’s throat, Waldo wielding his light cudgel. For a moment they struggled backward and forward, turning and twisting, the cave man in an effort to close upon Waldo’s wind, Waldo to hold the other at arm’s length for the brief instant that would be necessary for one sudden, effective blow from the cudgel.

The other savages were almost upon them when the young man found his antagonist’s throat. Throwing all his weight and strength into the effort, Waldo forced the cave man back until there was room between them for the play of the stick. A single blow was sufficient.

As the limp body of his foeman slipped from his grasp, Waldo snatched his precious spear from the heart of its victim, and with the hands of the infuriated pack almost upon him, turned once more into his flight toward the ocean.

The howling band was close upon his heels now, nor could he greatly increase the distance that separated him from them. He wondered what the outcome of the matter was to be; he did not wish to die. His thoughts kept reverting to his boyhood home, to his indulgent mother, to the friends that had been his. He felt that at the last moment he was about to lose his nerve — that, after all, his hard earned manliness was counterfeit.

Then there came to him a vision of an oval, olive face framed by a mass of soft, black hair; and before it the fear of death dissolved into a grim smile. He did not pause to analyze the reason for it — nor could he have done so then had he tried. He only knew that with those eyes upon him he could not be aught else than courageous.

A moment later he burst through the last fringe of underbrush to emerge upon the clearing that faced the sea.

There by a tiny rivulet he saw a sight that filled him with thanksgiving, and farther out upon the ocean that which he had been waiting and hoping for for all these long, hard months — a ship.

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