WALDO watched him out of sight, half minded to follow, for he was far fro_atisfied that the fellow had been entirely honest with him. Why he shoul_ave been otherwise Waldo could not imagine, but nevertheless there had bee_n indefinable suggestion of duplicity in the man’s behavior that had puzzle_im.
However, Waldo took up his search toward the west, passing down from the hill_nto a deep valley, the bottom of which was overgrown by a thick tangle o_ropical jungle.
He had forced his way through this for nearly half a mile when he came to th_ank of a wide, slow-moving river. Its water was thick with sediment — no_lean, sparkling, and inviting, as were the little mountain streams of th_ills and valleys farther south.
Waldo traveled along the edge of the river in a northwesterly direction,
searching for a ford. The steep, muddy banks offered no foothold, so he dare_ot venture a crossing until he could be sure of a safe landing upon th_pposite shore.
A couple of hundred yards from the point at which he had come upon the strea_e found a broad trail leading down into the water, and on the other side sa_ similar track cutting up through the bank.
This, evidently, was the ford he sought, but as he started toward the river h_oticed the imprints of the feet of many animals — human and brute.
Waldo stooped to examine them minutely. There were the broad pads of Nagoola,
the smaller imprints of countless rodents, but back and forth among them al_ere old and new signs of man.
There were the great, flat-foot prints of huge adult males, the smaller bu_qually flat-footed impresses of the women and children; but one there wa_hat caught his eye particularly.
It was the fine and dainty outline of a perfect foot, with the arch wel_efined. It was new, as were many of the others, and, like the other newe_nes, it led down to the river and then back again, as though she who made i_ad come for water and then returned from whence she had come. Waldo knew tha_he tracks leading away from the river were the newer, because where the tw_rails overlapped those coming up from the ford were always over those whic_ed downward.
The multiplicity of signs indicated a considerable community, and thei_ewness the proximity of the makers.
Waldo hesitated but a moment before he reached a decision, and then he turne_p the trail away from the river, and at a rapid trot followed the spoor alon_ts winding course through the jungle to where it emerged at the base of th_oothills, to wind upward toward their crest.
He found that the trail he was following crossed the hills but a few yard_rom the spot at which he had met the cave man a short time before. Evidentl_he man had been returning from the river when he had espied Waldo.
The young man could see where the fellow’s tracks had left the main trail, an_e followed them to the point where the man had stood during his conversatio_ith Waldo; from there they led toward the east for a short distance, and the_urned suddenly north to reenter the main trail.
Waldo could see that as soon as the man had reached a point from which h_ould be safe from the stranger’s observation he had broken into a rapid trot,
and as he already had two hours’ start Waldo felt that he would have to hurr_ere he to overtake him.
Just why he wished to do so he did not consider, but, intuitively possibly, h_elt that the surly brute could give him much more and accurate informatio_han he had. Nor could Waldo eliminate the memory of those dainty feminin_ootprints.
It was foolish, of course, and he fully realized the fact; but his silly min_ould insist upon attributing them to the cave girl — Nadara.
For two hours he trotted doggedly along the trail, which for the most part wa_ell defined. There were places, of course, which taxed his trailing ability,
but by circling widely from these points he always was able to pick up th_racks again.
He had come down from the hills and entered an open forest, where the trai_as entirely lost in the mossy carpet that lay beneath the trees, when he wa_tartled by a scream — a woman’s scream — and the hoarse gutturals of two men,
deep and angry.
Hastening toward the sound, Waldo came upon the authors of the commotion in _ittle glade half hidden by surrounding bushes.
There were three actors in the hideous tragedy — a hairy brute dragging _rotesting girl by her long, black hair and an old man, who followed,
protesting futilely against the outrage that threatened the young woman.
None of them saw Waldo as he ran toward them until he was almost upon them,
and then the beast who grasped the girl looked up, and Waldo recognized him a_he same who had sent him toward the west earlier in the day.
At the same instant he saw the girl was Nadara.
In the brief interval that the recognition required there sloughed from th_eart and mind and soul of Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones every particle of th_ivilization and culture and refinement that had required countless ages i_he building, stripping him naked, age on age, down to the primordial beas_hat had begot his first human progenitor.
He saw red through blood as he leaped for the throat of the man-beast whos_uthless hands were upon Nadara.
His lip curled in the fighting snarl that exposed his long-unused canin_angs.
He forgot sword and shield and spear.
He was no longer a man, but a terrible beast; and the hairy brute tha_itnessed the metamorphosis blanched and shrank back in fear.
But he could not escape the fury of that mad charge or the raging creatur_hat sought his throat.
For a moment they struggled in a surging, swaying embrace, and then toppled t_he ground — the hairy one beneath.
Rolling, tearing, and biting, they battled — each seeking a death hold upo_he other.
Time and again the gleaming teeth of the once-fastidious Bostonian sank int_he breast and shoulder of his antagonist, but it was the jugular his prima_nstinct sought.
The girl and the old man had drawn away where they could watch the battle i_afety. Nadara’s eyes were wide in fascination.
Her slim, brown hands were tight pressed against her rapidly rising an_alling breasts as she leaned a little forward with parted lips, drinking i_very detail of the conflict between the two beasts.
Ah, but was the yellow-haired giant really fighting for possession of her, o_erely in protection, because she was a woman?
She could readily conceive from her knowledge of him that he :night be actin_ow solely from some peculiar sense of duty which she realized that he migh_ntertain, although she could not herself understand it.
Yes, that was it, and when he had conquered his rival he would run away again,
as he had months before. At the thought Nadara felt herself flush wit_ortification. No, he should never have another opportunity to repeat tha_errible affront.
As she allowed her mind to dwell on the humiliating moment that had witnesse_he discovery that Thandar had fled from her at the very threshold of her hom_adara found herself hating him again as fiercely as she had all these lon_onths — a hatred that had almost dissolved at sight of him as he rushed ou_f the underbrush a moment before to wrest her from the clutches of he_ideous tormentor.
Waldo and his antagonist were still tearing futilely at one another in ma_fforts to maim or kill. The giant muscles of the cave man gave him but littl_f any advantage over his agile, though slightly less-powerful, adversary.
The hairy one used his teeth to better advantage, with the result that Wald_as badly torn and bleeding from a dozen wounds.
Both were weakening now, and it seemed to the girl who watched that th_ounger man would be the first to succumb to the terrific strain under whic_oth had been. She took a step forward and, stooping, picked up a stone.
Her small strength would be ample to turn the scales as she might choose — _harp blow upon the head of either would give his adversary the triflin_dvantage that would spell death for the one she struck.
The two men had struggled to their feet again as she approached with raise_eapon.
At the very moment that it left her hand they swung completely round, so tha_aldo faced her, and in the instant before the missile struck his forehead h_aw Nadara in the very act of throwing — upon her face an expression of hatre_nd loathing.
Then he lost consciousness and went down, dragging with him the cave man, upo_hose throat his fingers had just found their hold.