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Chapter 10 The Trail's End

  • SOON they came upon the trail of Flatfoot in the glade by the three grea_rees; they had not searched for it sooner, for the old man knew that it woul_tart from that point upon its quest for the girl.
  • The tracks circled the glade a dozen times in widening laps until at last, a_he point where Flatfoot must have picked up the spoor of Nadara, they brok_uddenly away into the underbrush.
  • Once the way was plain Waldo bid the old man be of good heart, for he woul_urely bring his daughter back to him unharmed if the thing lay in the powe_f man.
  • Then he hurried off upon the new-made trail that lay as plain and readabl_efore him as had the printed page of his former life; but never had he ben_ith such keen interest to the reading of his favorite author as he did t_his absorbing drama written in the turned leaves, the scattered twigs, an_he soft mud of a primeval forest by the feet of a savage man and a savag_aid.
  • Toward mid-afternoon Waldo became aware that he was much weaker from th_ffects of his battle with Korth than he had supposed. He had lost much bloo_rom his wounds, and the exertion of following the trail at a swift pace ha_eopened some of the worse ones, so that now, as he ran, he was leaving _ittle trail of blood behind him.
  • The discovery made him almost frantic, for it seemed to presage failure. Hi_ondition would handicap him in the race after the two along whose track h_ursued so that it would be a miracle were he to reach Flatfoot before th_rute overtook Nadara.
  • And if he did overtake him in time — what then? Would he be physically able t_ope with the brawny monster? He feared that he would not, but that he kep_oggedly to the grueling chase augured well for the new manhood that had bee_o recently born within him.
  • On and on he stumbled, until at dusk he slipped and fell exhausted to th_arth. Twice he struggled to his feet in an attempt to go on, but he wa_orced to give in, lying where he was until morning.
  • Slightly refreshed, he ate of the roots and fruit which abounded in th_orest, taking up the chase again, but this time more slowly.
  • He was now convinced that the way led back along the same trail which he ha_ollowed into the country, and when he reached the point at which he had firs_et Korth on the previous day he cut across the little space which intervene_etween the cave man’s tracks and the point at which he had stood before h_ent down over the divide into the jungle toward the river and the ford.
  • A moment later he was rewarded by the sight of Nadara’s dainty footprints a_ell as those of Flatfoot leading away along his old trail. The act had save_im several miles of needless tracking.
  • All that day he followed as rapidly as his weakened condition weald permit, but his best efforts seemed dismally snail-like.
  • Along the way he bowled over a couple of large rodents, which he ate raw, fo_e had long since learned the desirability of a meat diet for one undergoin_evere physical exertion, and had conquered his natural aversion for th_ncooked flesh. He even had come to relish it, though often as he dined thu_pon meat a broad grin illumined his countenance at the thought of the horro_ith which his mother and his Boston friends would view such a hideou_erformance.
  • As he continued trailing the two he was at first surprised to discover th_idelity with which Nadara had clung to his old trail, and because of thi_act he often was able to save miles at a time by taking cross-cuts where, o_is way in, he had made wide detours.
  • But at last, on the third day, when he attempted this at a place which woul_ave saved him fully ten miles, he was dismayed by the discovery that he coul_ot again pick up either Nadara’s trail or that of the cave man. Even his ow_ld trail was entirely obliterated.
  • It was this fact which caused him the greatest concern, for it meant that i_adara really had been following it she must now be wandering rathe_imlessly, possibly in an attempt to again locate it. In which event her spee_ould be materially reduced, and the probability of her capture by Flatfoo_uch enhanced.
  • It was possible, too, that the beast already had overtaken her — this, i_act, might be the true cause of the cessation of the pursuit along the wa_hich it had proceeded up to this point.
  • The thought sent Waldo back along his former route, which he was able t_ollow by recollection, though the spoor was seldom visible.
  • He came upon no sign of those he sought that day, but the next morning h_ound the point at which Nadara had lost his old trail upon a rocky ridge. Th_irl evidently assumed that it would lead into the valley below where sh_ight pick it up again in the soft earth, and so her footprints led down _helving bluff, while plain above them showed the huge imprints of Flatfoot.
  • Up to this point at least he had not caught up with her.
  • Waldo breathed a sigh of relief at the discovery. The trail was at least tw_ays old, for Nadara and Flatfoot had traveled much more rapidly than th_ounded man who haunted their footsteps like a grim shadow.
  • About noon Waldo came to a little stream at which both those who preceded hi_ad evidently stopped to drink — he could see where they had knelt in the sof_rass at the water’s edge.
  • As Waldo stopped to quench his own thirst his eyes rested for an instant upo_he farther bank, which at that point was little more than ten feet from him.
  • He saw that the opposite shore was less grassy, and that it sloped down to th_ater, forming a muddy beach partially submerged.
  • But what riveted his attention were several deep imprints in the mud.
  • He could not be certain, of course, at that distance, but he was sure enoug_hat he had recognized them to cause him to leap to his feet, forgetful of hi_hirst, and plunge through the stream for a closer inspection.
  • As he bent to examine the spoor at close range he could scarce repress a cr_f exultation — they had been made by the hands and knees of Nadara as she ha_tooped to drink at the very spot not twenty-four hours before.
  • She .must have circled back toward the brook for some reason; but by far th_reatest cause for rejoicing was the fact that Nadara’s trail alone was there.
  • Flatfoot had not yet come upon her, and Waldo now was between them.
  • The knowledge that he might yet be in time, and that he was gainin_ufficiently in strength to make it reasonably certain that he could overhau_he girl eventually, filled Waldo with renewed vigor. He hastened alon_adara’s trail now with something of the energy that had been his directl_efore his battle with Korth.
  • His wounds had ceased bleeding, and for several days he had eaten well, and b_ight slept soundly, for he had reasoned that only by conserving his energ_nd fortifying himself in every way possible could he succor the girl.
  • That night he slept in a little thicket which had evidently harbored Nadar_he night before.
  • The following day the way lay across a rolling country, cut by numerous dee_avines and lofty divides. That the pace was telling on the girl Waldo coul_ead in the telltale spoor that revealed her lagging footsteps. Upon eac_minence the man halted to strain his eyes ahead for a sight of her.
  • About noon he discerned far ahead a shimmering line which he knew must be th_ea. Surely his long pursuit must end there.
  • As he was about to plunge on again along Nadara’s trail something drew hi_yes toward the rear, and there upon another hilltop a mile or two behind h_aw the stocky figure of a half-naked man — it was Flatfoot.
  • The cave man must have seen Waldo at the same instant, for, with a menacin_ave of his huge fist, he increased his gait to a run, an instant late_isappearing into the ravine which lay at the bottom of the hill upon which h_ad come into view.
  • Waldo was undecided whether to wait for the encounter where he was or haste_n in an effort to overtake Nadara, that she might not escape him entirely. H_new that he stood a good chance of being killed in the conflict, and he als_new that were he victorious it might easily be at such a terrible price tha_e would be physically incapable of continuing his search for the girl fo_any days.
  • As he meditated his eyes wandered back and forth across the landscape befor_im searching for Nadara.
  • To his right lay, at a little distance, a level plain which stretched to th_oot of low-lying cliffs at the valley’s southern rim, some three or fou_iles distant. In this direction his view was almost unobstructed, but it wa_ot in the direction of the girl’s flight, so that it was but by accident tha_aldo’s eyes swept casually across the peaceful scene which would, at anothe_ime, have chained his attention with its quiet and alluring beauty.
  • It was as he swept a backward glance in the direction of Flatfoot that his ey_as arrested by the hint of something far out across the valley, a littl_ehind his own position.
  • To the Waldo of a few months previous it would not have been visible, but th_ew woodcraft of the man scented the abnormal in the vague suggestion o_ovement out among the long-waving grasses of the plain.
  • And now, with every sense alert and riveted upon the spot, he was quick t_erceive that it was an animal moving slowly toward the cliffs at the uppe_nd of the valley. Presently a little rise of ground, less thickly grassed, brought the creature into full view for an instant; but in that instant Wald_aw that the thing he watched was a woman.
  • As he turned to hurry after her he saw Flatfoot top another hill a half mil_earer than he had before been, and as the cave man came into view he turne_is eyes in the direction that Waldo had been looking. A second later and h_ad abandoned the pursuit of Waldo and was running rapidly toward the woman.
  • Nadara had apparently circled back once more, this time from the sea, an_oming up the valley had passed Waldo and come opposite Flatfoot before eithe_f them had discovered her.
  • The young man gave a little cry of alarm as he realized that the cave man wa_earer to the girl than he — by a good half mile, he judged, and so he pu_very ounce of his speed into the wild dash he made down the hill into a gull_hich led out upon the valley.
  • On and on he raced unable to see either Flatfoot or Nadara; hoping, eve_oping, that he would be the first to win to her side; for Nadara had told hi_f the atrocities that such a creature as Flatfoot might perpetrate upon _oman rather than permit her to escape him or fall into the hands of another.
  • Nadara, being up wind, caught neither the scent nor noise of the two who wer_acing madly toward her. The first knowledge she had that she was not alone i_he valley was the sight of Flatfoot as he broke suddenly through a clump o_all grass not fifty paces from her.
  • She gave a little scream and started to run; but she was very tired from th_ays of unremitting flight which had so sorely taxed her endurance, and thu_t was no wonder that she slipped and fell before she had taken a dozen steps.
  • Scarcely had she gained her feet when Flatfoot was upon her, one hand graspin_er by the arm.
  • “Come with me in peace or I will kill you!” he cried.
  • “Kill me, then,” retorted the despairing girl, “for I shall never come wit_ou; first will I kill myself.” Flatfoot did not wish to kill her, nor did h_ish her to escape, as she would be very likely to do should he be interrupte_y the fellow who must even now be quite close to them.
  • Possibly if he could keep the girl quiet they might hide in the grass unti_heir pursuer had gone by, and so Flatfoot, acting upon the idea, clapped _ough hand over Nadara’s mouth and dragged her back along the trail he ha_ust made.
  • The girl struggled — striking and clawing at the hairy brute that pulled he_long at his side — but she was as helpless in his clutches as if she had bee_ day-old babe.
  • She did not know that help was so close at hand, or she would have found th_eans to free her mouth and cry out once at least. As it was, she wondere_hat Flatfoot should attempt to silence her in this way if there were none t_ear her screams.
  • For days she had known that the cave man was on her trail, for once i_oubling back upon herself she had passed but a short distance from a ridg_he had traversed the preceding day, and had seen the man’s squat figure an_ecognized his awkward, shuffling trot.
  • It was this knowledge that had turned her away from the old village towar_hich she had been traveling since she lost Thandar’s trail, and sent her i_earch of a new country, in which she might lose herself from Flatfoot.
  • As the man dragged her roughly on through the grass Nadara racked her brai_or some means of escape, or a way to end her misery before the beast coul_ave his way with her. But there came no ray of hope to her poor, unhapp_eart.
  • If Thandar were but there! He would save her, even if it were but to deser_er the next instant.
  • But did she wish to be saved again by him? Now that she pondered the idea sh_as quite sure that she would rather die than see him again, for had he no_wice run away from her?
  • In her misery she put this interpretation upon the remarkable disappearance o_handar after his battle with Korth — he had waited until she was out of sigh_nd then he had risen and fled for fear she might return and discover him. Sh_ondered why he should dislike her so much.
  • She was quite sure that she had been very good to him, and had tried not t_nnoy him while they were together. Maybe he looked down upon her, for surel_e was of a superior race; of that she was quite positive.
  • And so Nadara was very miserable and unhappy and hopeless as the bruta_latfoot dragged her far into the tall jungle-grass.
  • Presently she noticed that the cave man repeatedly cast glances toward th_ear.
  • What could he expect from that direction, or from any direction whatever, s_ar as that was concerned? Were they not days and days from their own people, in a land where there seemed no men at all?
  • Flatfoot heard no sign of pursuit. He was growing more confident. The strange_ad lost their trail. The cave man moved less rapidly, and as he went h_ooked now for a burrow into which he might crawl with the maiden. Then ther_ould be no further danger whatever.
  • Tomorrow Flatfoot would come out and find the fellow and kill him, but now h_ad pleasanter work in view, nor did he wish to be disturbed.
  • And at that very moment he caught a stealthy movement in the grasses a fe_ards to his right. Waldo had come upon the spot at which Flatfoot ha_vertaken Nadara but a few moments after the brute had dragged her away, an_n the instant had sought a higher piece of ground from which he coul_verlook the tall grass.
  • Nor had he been long in finding a spot that, coupled with his six feet two, brought his eyes above the level of the surrounding jungle.
  • There he watched for a little until he discerned a movement of the grasstop_t a little distance from him. After that it was but a matter of trailing.
  • When Flatfoot saw what he took to be his enemy he threw Nadara across hi_houlder and started on a run in the opposite direction — at right angles t_he way he had been going.
  • The ruse proved good, for when Waldo came to the point at which he had figure_is path would cross the cave man’s he found no sign of the latter, and i_earching about to locate the trail lost many minutes of valuable time. But a_ast he came upon that which he sought, and with redoubled speed set out at _apid run through the tall grasses.
  • He had proceeded but a short distance when the trail broke suddenly into th_pen, close by the base of the cliffs that he had seen from the hill that ha_iven him his fleeting glimpse of Nadara.
  • Ahead of him he saw the two he sought — Nadara across the burly shoulders o_latfoot — and the cave man was making for the caves that dotted the face o_he cliff. Were he to reach these he might defend one of them against a singl_ntagonist indefinitely.