Og, Boy of Battle
Chapter 9, "Down the Great River" 68-87
At a command from Og, they all hurled their spears with terrific force. The weapons hissed through the air, and bit deep into the tough skin and heavy muscles of the tapir. (click to enlarge)
illustrated by Charles Livingston Bull
[Chapter 9, "Down the Great River"]
It was Ric who wounded the huge tapir. He discovered it on the banks of the river underneath an overhanging cliff, and he shoved a ponderous boulder over the edge and made it crash down upon the great animal. The rock struck it full upon the rump, pinning it to the ground. Ric, with fear in his eyes and all a-tremble with nervous excitement, crept to the edge of the cliff and looked over. Below he could see the tapir struggling in its efforts to get free. It squealed and snorted wickedly and thrashed about with its ponderous forelegs and massive shoulders. Ric watched it all with mounting exultation. He had wounded one of the great beasts of the forest. Should he go down the cliff-side and finish the animal with his long snake-stick, that curious new weapon that Og and Ru had introduced to the tribe? He debated there for some time as he watched the monster struggling, but he was afraid to venture near the enraged beast alone. Killing a tapir was work for the whole tribe. He would go and call them; he would call Og and Ru who had killed a mammoth, and Kug and Re and Abe and Rul, all the great hunters. Then together they would put an end to the beast. Already the great animal was working his hindquarters free from the heavy boulder. In a little while he would have hard work to find him. Ric scrambled eagerly to his feet, and making his short hairy legs fairly twinkle, he ran excitedly toward the cliff village.
Sounding their hunting calls, like wolves on a hot trail, they came. They were an ugly-looking crew, these mighty hunters of the Hairy people. They were all thick-set, hairy men with short legs and long and terribly strong arms, that easily reached the ground when they bent over in a crouching position.
Some of them wore skins of beasts about their shoulders and loins, after the fashion of Og, who used his sabre tooth tiger skin more as an adornment than for warmth and protection. They all carried heavy, ugly-looking stone hammers too, and Og and Ru and several others, who had been quick to see the value of the snake-knife, or spear, that Og and Ru had invented, brandished long-shafted flint-pointed weapons, as they ran towards the cliff's edge.
Before they reached a position from which they could see the wounded tapir they could hear its ugly snarls and squeals of anger, and this stirred them to shout louder and more viciously, for they knew that the big animal was at bay. Down the face of the cliff they swarmed and the tapir below looked up at them with its ugly misshapen head and blood-shot eyes, and its wrath was terrible to behold. Indeed, the Hairy Men left off their shouts when they reached the base of the cliff and found themselves on the narrow strip of land between the sheer rock wall and the river's brink with the wounded tapir before them. The great animal had worked its hindquarters out from under the stone, and while it had lost the use of its hind legs and its body dragged on the ground, yet it was formidable enough as it stood there with its fore feet braced, and its terrible anger and hatred reflected in its hideous face.
Og and Ru surveyed the situation with the other hunters, and they realized quickly enough that slaying the big tapir was not going to be as easy as they had expected. At bay, with its back against the cliff and the river on one side, it left little room for the Hairy men to attack. And the beast was so enraged and so vicious that it was almost impossible for a Hairy man to rush in and deal an effective blow with his stone hammer. Before he could crash the weapon against the tapir's head he would be pulled down and trampled on by those ponderous forelegs. It was only the men with spears who could deal effective blows, and Og was not so sure that they could make any great impression through the tough, thick hide of the animal. Ric and Kug were for going back up to the top of the cliff again and dropping more stones on top of the beast until they finally crushed it to death, and this seemed to appeal to most of the Hairy men whose courage fast ebbed away when they found themselves facing the enraged and far from helpless beast.
But Og and Ru and several others, who were enthusiastic about their spears, wanted first to try their weapons. Cautiously, with shafts poised ready to be thrown, they advanced on the beast who watched them from blood-shot eyes and with ugly head heaving from side to side in his extreme anger. As they approached nearer and nearer to the terrible beast even the ever-valiant Og and Ru felt their courage slipping and fear-inspired panic rising within them. They wanted to bolt and run to safety more than they wanted to draw any closer to the ugly brute. But the fear of being thought cowards by their comrades made them go on. Slowly, cautiously they advanced until they were within striking distance, then, at a command from Og, they all hurled their spears with every ounce of their terrific strength behind each shaft. The weapons hissed through the air, and thudded against the great tapir's shoulders and chest, the flint points biting deep into the tough skin and heavy muscles.
The tapir lurched backward for an instant under the impact of the shafts, then with a hideous scream of rage, and with the spears bristling from its flesh, it hurled itself cumberously forward, and with ugly lips twisted in a snarl and yellow teeth bared, it plunged straight at Og and Ru, the closest of its assailants. With surprising agility, despite the fact that it was dragging its maimed hind part along the ground, it came at them. So swiftly did it advance and with such deadly intent that Og and Ru were panic-stricken for the moment and almost fell over each other in their frantic effort to get out of its reach. But they scuttled until presently and to their great consternation they found themselves on the very brink of the river, with the wounded tapir so close upon them that they could not dodge either up or down the bank.
Og and Ru, like all the other Hairy people, feared the river. Indeed they feared it almost as much as they feared the great tapir, for the swirling current contained mysteries that were terrifying to the last degree. What were they to do? They dared not plunge into the water and yet they could not flee up or down the bank. The huge beast was almost upon them. In another instant he would crash them down and trample them under his ponderous feet. They could feel its hot, fetid breath, with each coughing gasp, so close was he, and the bloody foam from his slobbering jaws splashed in their faces. Og felt that for him the end of things had come. He lashed out with his stone hammer, seeking to crash the weapon into the ugly, rage-distorted face of the monster. But ere he struck a second time Ru cried out to him and Og saw that his companion had bolted out onto a long log a fallen tree that extended into the current. Out to the very end of the treacherous refuge Ru scrambled, and Og twisting and darting just as the tapir made a final lunge at him, f followed and jumped onto the log and scurried to its fartherest end, to crouch trembling beside his companion.
With a bellow of rage the tapir halted in its mad plunge at the short end of the log, and with feet braced and ugly lips twisted in a horrible snarl it stood there swaying from side to side groggily, its blood-shot eyes fastened onto the two Hairy boys so close and yet so well out of reach. For several seconds it stood thus, then Og and Ru saw it lurch forward, catch itself, then lurch again, and it fell in a nerve-convulsed heap half into the water and half onto the land. And its massive shoulders crashed down upon the log on which Ru and Og crouched and shook it so violently that the two Hairy boys had to cling on with hands and feet to keep from being tossed off into the water.
The ringing shouts of triumph that the Hairy people gave voice to at the death of the tapir were suddenly hushed and Og and Ru's cries of victory were changed to shrieks of horror as they saw what had happened. The ponderous animal in falling had broken the log, on which the two Hairy boys crouched, loose from its mooring in the mud of the river bank and shoved it out into the current. Already it was so far from shore that Og could not leap the distance between, and the momentum of the shove that the heavy animal had given it caused it to go on further out toward the middle of the broad, swirling, black current.
Frightened, terror-stricken almost in a panic Og and Ru crowded close together on the log and looked wild-eyed toward the shore where their companions, the dead tapir forgotten, stood spellbound and watched them as the sluggish current caught the log and floated it downstream. A few of the hunters followed down the bank a little way until the jungle tangle prevented them from keeping up with the log. Then they gave up the pursuit, and with unhappy shouts of farewell they stood and watched Og and Ru drift out of sight around a bend in the stream.
Not one of Og's many adventures had ever made him as fearful of the end as this one. To be out there on the surface of the broad mysterious river was a terrible experience in itself, but when he thought of all that could happen to him and his companion he felt certain that they were never destined to set foot on firm dry land again. Once before in the history of the Hairy people a man had gone adrift on a log like this and he had tried to scramble back to shore again only to drown in full sight of the cliff village. And now and again in the space of Og's memory men and boys of his tribe had fallen into the river. Some of them had dragged themselves frightened and shivering ashore, but most of them had been sucked down into the dark, swirling, mysterious depths, never to reappear.
OG'S brain teemed with the many stories he had heard among his people of the terrible monsters that dwelt under the water; of the clutching paws and terrible jaws that often reached up out of the current and pulled men and animals down into the black depths. With his own eyes he had seen monstrous alligators with their ugly snouts and huge engulfing mouths rise to the surface and float there, log-like for a while, then quietly disappear into the depths, and he felt certain that if such monsters showed themselves on the surface there must be monsters far more hideous underneath. He had heard strange gurgling noises the river voices at night and he had often seen weird ghostly lights floating across the surface of the swirling, sucking current. Og was willing to take his chances any time with dangers that were material that he could defend himself against with stone hammer or spear, but the mysteries of the river were more than he could cope with.
That similar thoughts were racing through Ru's brain was evident to Og. He clung close to Og, his long arms entwined about his companion's shoulders, and now and then Og saw him, with fear in his eyes, peer down into the water that lapped about the rough sides of the log as if he were looking for some of the dangers that lurked there.
Og peered downward, too, but save for the shifting green-brown light rays that seemed to lose themselves before they pierced very far below the surface, and except for strings of bubbles that gurgled upward, he could see nothing menacing; nothing really sinister. Again and again he looked into the water. And seeing nothing that appeared worth being afraid of, he even found the courage to lean over and plunge his hand deep below the surface and feel about. But he hastily withdrew again as Ru clutched his shoulder and exclaimed as he pointed.
"Look, look! Here it comes to get us; a river monster."
Og looked in the direction Ru pointed to see swimming toward them across the current the long ugly, scaly head of a huge alligator, its two big, baleful green eyes watching them as it came. Ru was trembling and Og, as he saw the menacing reptile approach, grew frightened too. Closer and closer drew the horny head and the wicked eyes, and when it had come within striking distance Og whisked his stone hammer from the snake-skin belt he wore about his waist and, giving voice to piercing yell, he struck at the brute. The hammer caught a glancing blow on its scaly snout and suddenly, silently the great head disappeared below the surface in a swirl of water.
A huge alligator was swimming toward them, its long, ugly, scaly head above the water. As it came within striking distance, Og gave voice to a piercing yell and swinging his stone hammer high in the air struck at the brute.
Og and Ru looked in surprise at the spot where it had been.
They could not understand what had happened and they fully expected the reptile to come to the surface suddenly in a mad frenzy to attack them. Had they killed it with such a feeble blow or had they frightened it; driven it off with their fine show of courage? After they had waited for some time and the head did not appear again, they concluded that this monster of the river, at any rate, was a great coward. And with this realization their courage and confidence grew a great deal. Indeed Og began to forget about the horrors of the river and to become more interested in the novel position they found themselves in, for he realized that never before had any of his race been so far out on the broad river or drifted so far down the big stream. Indeed never before had any human being been so close to all the mysteries and terrors of that strange element, water. And as Og with great mental effort thought and puzzled over it he began to realize that water, like fire, was highly useful and necessary to the comfort and well being of his people, but, again like fire, if it were unleashed, boundless and great in volume as in the river, it was a treacherous menace. And then came another thought hard upon the heels of this. He had conquered fire and made it serve him. Could he not conquer water and make it serve him too? The possibilities were alluring, but how was he to go about it? Og sat and thought and thought and thought, and the expression in his eyes was so far away and remote that Ru after a time became highly worried. What could have happened to Og? Had the river put a spell over him perhaps an evil spell that made him quiet, stupid.
"Why do you sit and look off toward to-morrow," asked Ru in their picture language. "Has the water put a spell upon you?"
Og shook his head and smiled.
No I am going to put a spell on the water make it help me," he said. And then because an idea had taken shape in his head he plunged his long arms into the water and pushed violently backward with his hands. Then he stopped and watched the result. He saw the water swirl backward where he had pushed it and at the same time the log on which they crouched seemed to move forward a little. Again and again he tried, and Ru after watching him with interest for some time exclaimed quite suddenly.
"Look, look. It moves," and then he too began to push the water backward with his hands and under their double effort they both saw that what actually happened was that each time they pushed against the water they moved the log forward a little bit. And Og, all idea of danger forgotten, realized that they had made a great discovery. Og grew quite excited over their discovery, and in grunted sentences he told Ru the thoughts that were taking shape in his brain. And Ru, understanding, became excited, too.
"We can make the water take us wherever we want to go. Now let us make it take us back to our tribe again."
"Good; we will go back and tell our people of how we have mastered the river," said Og confidently. Then instructing Ru to turn around on the log and face upstream, he did likewise, and they began to paddle vigorously with their hands. But here Og's confidence in their discovery received a serious shock. Although they both paddled hard for a long time, still they did not go up-stream. They could not make any headway against the current. True they did not drift down-stream as fast as they had been going, but they did not progress against the natural flow of the water. He gave over paddling and while the log drifted downward with the current again he thought hard and long, occasionally experimenting by dipping his hands into the water and pushing backward, sometimes with fingers closed and sometimes with them spread far apart. And gradually he worked out the principal of the thing and realized that the broader the surface he presented to the water the stronger he could make the push against it. And then the question leaped to his mind, why not use sticks that were broader and larger even than his hand Then, perhaps, they could even force the log against the strength of the river.
Og became excited again, and told Ru of his thoughts. And then for the first time they both thought of paddling the log to the nearest shore where they could find the sticks Og wanted. Together they began dipping their hands on either side of the log again, and were delighted to find that they could make better progress across the current than they could upstream. Hard and long they paddled until they worked the log into a backwater in a large cove that the current had scooped out of the river bank, and here they found that there was no flow or force to the water at all and that they could paddle their craft in any direction they chose to go. They worked their way ashore and Og secured the sticks that he desired, and for the rest of the afternoon they splashed about the cove experimenting with their new discovery, and as they experimented Og's brain was busy; busy conceiving the first canoe; the first water craft that mankind had ever used.
HEAVY purple jungle twilight was coming on when they finally grew tired of their experimenting and worked the log back to shore again. Then dragging it high on a little sandy beach so that it would not float away, they prepared to make their night camp, for they realized that they had drifted many miles from the cliff village. Indeed, the river had carried them through the entire length of the great swamp and beyond into a country that Hairy men had never visited before. And it was a dangerous country as Og and Ru realized, for in the nocturnal chorus that was just commencing in the jungle behind them they could hear the roar of the sabre-tooth tiger, the scream of the cave leopard, and a score of other voices that made the hair on their backs and necks bristle involuntarily, even though they were not aware of being afraid of any of the night prowlers.
While Og made a fire on the sandy beach with his flint fire stones which he always carried with him in his tiger skin pouch, Ru went hunting for food, to soon return with several duck-like birds that he had surprised and captured while they were sleeping. They made short work of these, for they were hungry, and then, well-fed and comfortable, they hollowed a nestlike place in the sand beside the fire and huddled close together with the heavy night-swathed jungle and all its terrible voices behind them and the gurgling, ceaselessly flowing dark and mysterious river before them. And while Ru dropped off to sleep, Og's mind was busy with their adventures of the day, and their craft, and how he could improve it, and make it more useful, for he realized there were many things that could be done to make the log easier for them to handle in the water.
His brain busy thus, he was not aware of the stealthy movement of many figures through the darkness in the jungle behind them. He did not see or even sense the presence of scores of eyes that looked out from the dense growth toward the fire on the beach. Indeed he had been so taken up with the importance of his new discovery that he forgot completely that he and Ru were in a strange land where new and unexpected dangers might lurk, and when his brain grew a-weary of its thinking and his head nodded and dropped down between his knees he went off to sleep without even his usual precautions of peering about in the shadows or testing the wind with his sensitive nose. Had he done either he might have made a discovery that would have chilled his blood and made him tremble with fear.
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