The Mysterious Valley
Og again proves himself able
illustrated by Charles Livingston Bull
OG GRIPPED Ru's arm and with a grunt of warning pulled him down behind a boulder where they both crouched tense and silent while they listened to a weird and blood-chilling noise that sounded down the valley and reechoed against the craggy sides of the extinct volcano where they had been hunting. It was the terrible cry of the hyena; shrill, wild and horrible to listen to. Again and again it sounded and the two Hairy boys hiding there on the stony mountain side realized that it was swiftly drawing nearer to them, and they peered down the slope toward the entrance of the valley in fear and trembling, for there was no more terrible creature roamed the forest than the hyena.
Closer and closer it echoed, and presently they heard the pounding of ponderous feet and the crashing of underbrush, and just below them where the forest left off abruptly at the foot of the mountain at the edge of great folds of cold and hardened lava that had at sometime flowed out of the crater of the volcano, plunged a woolly rhinoceros and close upon its heels followed two huge bloodthirsty hyenas that looked like hump-backed, bristling fiends as they kept leaping at the rhino's flanks, tearing great bloody wounds into its thick hide with their gnashing, fang-like teeth.
From where they crouched Og and Ru could see what vicious creatures these hyenas were. Indeed, they knew well that they must be formidable beasts when two of them could put a woolly rhinoceros to flight, for the rhinoceros was not a beast to retreat from most dangers. Indeed, its temper was such that usually it was the aggressor, charging first, and fighting to the death. Og could see that this one had probably fought both of its pursuers until it could stand the pain of the slashing wounds they inflicted no longer, and had bolted panic-stricken, hoping to rid itself of the ferocious tormentors by running away from them. But the hyenas were swifter of foot than the rhinoceros, had clung to its flanks like savage, snarling fiends, punishing the great beast with every leap, sometimes burying their fangs so deep into its shoulders, or rump, that they clung on until the rhinoceros, whirling, would throw them off and charge them with a snort and a toss of its ugly horned head. But those long horns never found their mark, for the hyenas were too swift and capable at the art of dodging to be caught even by a woolly rhinoceros who could move like a flash when it had to.
Breaking into the open, the rhinoceros turned and stood its ground once more, lunging viciously at the nearest hyena with a savage toss of its horned head, and Og and Ru realized that if that keenly polished weapon had found its mark one of the hyenas would have been tossed high in the air, and killed instantly. But the slashing horn did not find its mark, for as swiftly as the rhinoceros lunged, the huge, ugly, dog-like creatures leaped away even more swiftly, and as one dodged, its mate charged the other side of the animal and ripped a great gash in the beast's shoulder from which Og and Ru could see the blood gush.
WITH a squeal of pain the rhinoceros turned to slash at its other tormentor, and missing its mark there too, it whirled on its stubby legs and started again to run, madly scrambling over the folds of lava with surprising agility.
It was headed for a huge pocket-shaped valley at the foot of the mountain and just below Og and Ru. That pocket was a strange freak of nature. The two Hairy boys had observed it when they had come out of the forest and there was something about it that had held their interest and curiosity. In truth, they had been on the point of entering it when their attention had been arrested by the hunting cries of the hyenas. It was a long bowl-shaped valley a half a mile or more across and perhaps a little longer and although it was denuded of vegetation, as were all the sloping sided of the volcanic mountain, in the very center of the pocket was a long glistening pool of apparently clear water; a rock rimmed, rock-bound pool that looked invitingly cool and tempting. Indeed, Og and Ru, feeling thirsty, had decided to go into the packet and rest beside the pool, for although they were not a long way from the village of the Hairy people in the cliffs beside the river, they had been hunting hard for some of the little goats that were known to roam the rocky sides of the mountains in that region.
But they were glad now that they had not entered the pocket, for to be caught in there with the rhinoceros, and the two hyenas charging down upon them, would have been a very disagreeable situation. So they crouched there behind their sheltering boulder and watched the rhinoceros, with the two savage beasts bounding beside it, rush past them, within a short spear's throw, and plunge into the pocket. The rhinoceros, staggering now, crashed onward, the hyenas snapping and snarling and tearing at its flanks, and their ugly cries grew more eager; more triumphant it seemed, for they sensed that the rhinoceros was nearly spent. Indeed, Og could see how unsteady it was on its short legs, and how it swayed once or twice as if it were about to fall, and they knew that at almost any moment one of the hyenas would sink its fangs deep into the great thick, bulging neck and pull it down.
But the Hairy boys, and the hyenas as well, reasoned without the great courage and fighting ability of the rhinoceros. Deep into the pocket it staggered, then whirling. and with its rump to a sheer wall of rock that enclosed one side, it stood at bay, and the hyenas, sensing that their quarry was far from ready to give up, backed off discreetly, and with hideous snarls, their ugly lips drawn back bearing their great fangs, they stood alert and ready to plunge in and deliver a telling stroke. For the span of several minutes they stood thus, then like a lightning flash one of the hyenas leaped in and struck. But as swiftly as it moved the rhinoceros moved just a little swifter, and with a lunge so quick that Og's eyes could scarcely, follow it, the big beast hooked its huge horn into the flanks of the leaping animal and with a toss of its head whirled it upward and backward until it crashed with a bone-crushing thud against the sheer wall of rocks behind the rhinoceros and fell to the ground in a Iimp, nerve-convulsed heap. And Og and Ru, highly excited by the conflict, could scarcely repress a cheer for the valiant old woolly creature.
WITH its tiny pig like eyes flashing fire the rhino turned its attention to the remaining hyena that crouched snarling a few feet in front of it It seemed on the point of charging headlong at the repulsive beast. Indeed, Og and Rut saw it start, and sway forward, and then a strange thing happened. The rhino tossed up its head, exposing its great throat while it seemed to struggle for a breath of air, then it swayed, strove a moment to keep its feet, then collapsed in a heap. A great sympathy for the old beast swept Og and Ru, for they had for some reason wanted it to win out in the unequal battle. They knew now that the hyena would rush in and make certain of the big beast's death and begin its feast. But again they were mistaken. They watched the hyena expectantly, but when the rhinoceros fell, it seemed to pay no attention to it. Indeed it was acting queerly too. It had ceased its snarling now and was holding its head high with mouth open and tongue hanging while it staggered about on legs that threatened to collapse at any moment. And suddenly it did collapse and after a few convulsive kicks lay still.
Og and Ru looked at each other questioningly. Here was a mystery indeed. What could have happened? That the rhinoceros was sorely wounded they could see. Its wounds and loss of blood could have caused it death, but they doubted that it would have collapsed as suddenly as it did. As for the hyena, as far as they could see it was practically uninjured and yet it too had collapsed as suddenly as if it had been hit in the head with a stone hammer. It was more than Og could understand and because he was always curious to know the cause and effect of things he exclaimed:
"Come, we will go and see for ourselves. There is good meat there and the skin of the hump-backed one will be worth carrying to our people to bear witness to our strange tale."
Ru assented and together they came out from behind their hiding place and started toward the entrance of the pocket. Swinging along, spears in hand and ready, for they did not know for certain that the hyena was dead, they hurried forward eager to get near the woolly rhinoceros; a beast that the Hairy people always feared because of its great courage and its irritable temper. Og was the first to reach the huge animal, and when he was beside the lifeless carcass he could not help but marvel at the ponderous bulk of the beast, and the massiveness of the great head with its polished horn. But just as he and Ru began to climb to examine it a strange premonition of danger swept over Og. Something was wrong. Something very strange was happening. He was having a hard time getting his breath. He was choking. Frightened he looked at Ru, and he saw that he too was clutching al his throat as if trying to rid himself of something that was strangling him. What was this mysterious danger that threatened them?
Og began to get dizzy. His head whirled, and he had to breathe deep and long in an effort to satisfy his craving for air. And as he inhaled in great gasps he was conscious of just the suggestion of a strange sweetish flavor to the air. And in an instant he knew what the trouble was. The air in that pocket was poison. He remembered back to the days when the Hairy people had been driven out of a valley far to the north by the eruption of a volcano. He had tasted that same sweetish flavor in the air then. He did not know that in this pocket were several gas vents from the volcano and that they kept the pocket filled with a heavy colorless, odorless, and almost tasteless gas that was very insidious and very deadly. But instinct told him that he and Ru must get out of that pocket at the foot of the old volcano immediately or they would perish as the rhinoceros and the hyena had. Even as he seized Ru's arm and started running toward the entrance to the pocket his eyes swept the shores of the glistening pool in the centre of the basin and there he made out white sun-bleached bones of animals that had doubtless been lured there by the prospect of drinking at the pool and fallen victims to that mysterious death.
Ru, gasping for breath and clutching at his throat, could not understand it at all. To him the sweetness of the air was so faint as to be unperceptible, and all that he knew was that he was slowly strangling to death. But he followed Og as unsteadily he ran toward the entrance of the terrible little valley of death. On they pressed. Ru observing Og's warning to refrain from breathing as much as possible. They held their breath until their lungs ached and their hearts pounded as stabbing pains shot through their chests. Their eyes bulged with their effort, and their heads whirled dizzily. On they struggled. Og could feel himself weakening, his legs sagging under him. With the utmost exertion of his will power he drove himself to keep going; to struggle onward. How soon he would reach fresh air be did not know. He wanted so much to rest. It would be easier to crouch there and close his eyes. Then he would drift off into sleep, oblivion, death. He struggled against the desire to stop; to give up and rest. Forward he pushed. It seemed to him the air was growing purer now. Only a little further and he would be able to fill his lungs with good, wholesome life-giving air. Only
A CRY of anguish sounded behind him and Og turned to see Ru staggering and groping blindly, madly about. Then, uttering another cry, he sank to the ground. Og, nearly spent himself, looked at Ru stupidly for a moment and there swept over him a desire to leave him there; to abandon him; to go on and save himself. He did not want to go back even those few steps. The thought of having to struggle even that short distance again under the burden of the unconscious Ru awakened all the selfishness in him. It was the survival of the fittest, and Ru had fallen. Let him stay. He must save himself. In effect those were the thoughts that crowded into Og's terrorized brain, and he was on the point of turning as other Hairy men might have done and bolting to save himself. But the appealing look on Ru's pain distorted face and Og's realization of how helpless he was, coupled with the consciousness that Ru in his place would be big enough to forget himself and come to his aid, made Og turn back and hurry toward the unconscious one and, gathering the limp form of his companion in his arms, he began once more to struggle toward the entrance to the pocket. Grimly, doggedly, he went on with the realization back in his befogged and half-numbed brain that he must make fresh air, for now the lives of two instead of one depended upon his efforts. Staggering, stumbling, sometimes half crawling, he fought his way forward and only his will power served to keep him going, for he had long since passed the state where he was fully conscious of his acts. Yet he kept on, step after dragging step, until presently he went down and he could not find the strength to rise again. Nor did he want to. He found relief in lying there prone on the ground. He could breathe deeply now and he cared not whether it was poisoned air or pure air he inhaled. All that he knew was that for him the struggle was over. He relaxed and the last suggestion of consciousness passed from him.
Kug, the short one, with Rab the Hairy one and Ack the strong one were hunting on the very edge of the great swamp. It was a. dangerous place for them to be, but since Og and Ru had ventured into the very heart of that great expanse of bog and gloomy forests and had killed the great snake, the other hunters of the hairy people felt braver about venturing in that direction. Kug and Rab and Ack had gone there in the hope of spearing one of the big bebristled and vicious hogs that roamed the swamp. They had been hunting since dawn and they had surprised an old pig with six young ones and had killed them all. Joyous now, and laden down with meat, they started back out of the swamp toward the open meadow that reached away toward the river bank and the cliffs in the caves of which their people dwelt, when suddenly the gloom of the forest on the edge of the great swamp resounded with the most blood-chilling noise they had ever heard. It was a resonant, booming sound, like the beating of many unearthly drums, and the three hunters went cold with fear as they sensed the menace in that horrible chorus.
In an instant the trees seemed to swarm with a horde of horrible creatures. Kug and Rab and Ack saw them everywhere, huge, monstrous gorillas that swung from branch to branch with the agility of the apes. But they were all twice as large as the largest of the apes and many times more vicious both in demeanor and appearance. The three hunters recognized them at once as the great flesh-eating gorillas that Og and Ru had told them of when they had returned from their adventure down the great river, and they wondered what they were doing there on the edge of the great swamp. They did not know, of course, that a terrific forest fire that had swept the country beyond the swamp had driven these huge creatures out, and that in their wandering to find a new home they had crossed the vast marsh, and stumbled to the abode of the Hairy Men.
With wild yells of fear and consternation the hunters dropped their burdens of meat and run madly toward the open meadow. But Ack did not run quite fast enough, for three of the huge creatures, swinging through the trees as swiftly as he could cover ground on foot, dropped upon him from a great height and bore him kicking and struggling to the ground. And although Ack was the strongest man of the tribe, big and powerful of shoulders, the giant gorillas handled him as if he were a baby. Keg and Rab saw with horror how, with savage snarls of anger, they strangled him and broke his neck and back and finally tore him to pieces in their great rage. Kug and Rab lingered long enough to hurl their spears and they had the satisfaction of seeing them buried deep in the back of one of the three who had attacked Ack, then they turned and fled with hundreds of the great creatures following them in the tree tops.
Kug and Rab had seen at a glance that the gorillas could travel swifter through the trees than they could run on the ground and they realized that their only salvation was to gain the open meadow where there were no trees for the huge beasts to swing through. On foot Kug felt they would be able to outdistance them, for he had noted how short and under-developed their legs and feet were.
Madly they sped forward, running harder and swifter than they had ever run before and the ugly creatures in the trees, realizing that they were going to escape them, redoubled their efforts to overtake them and their booming noise and wild, mad shouts echoed and re-echoed through the trees.
Kug and Rab gained the meadow and sped out into the open, just as two of the gorillas swung out of a tree and dropped so close behind them that their arms and ugly hands scraped Kug's back. With a cry of terror they both leaped forward and, because the meadow was free from undergrowth and because fear lent speed to their flying feet, they moved across the open piece like three-toed horses. On they rushed, nor did they look behind them to see whether they were being pursued until they had gained the rock-strewn council grounds, below the cliff village, where a horde of Hairy people had gathered, because lookouts on the cliff top had seen them in their mad flight and had called the tribe.
Ric and Tug and Fu and all the strong warriors and great hunters had gathered at the council rock to await their coming, for they knew by their mad flight that some terrible danger had threatened them, and when Kug and Rab came panting up they read the terror in their eyes and demanded to know what the danger was.
"The gorillas! The gorillas! The cannibals who captured Og and Ru! They are coming! They have killed Ack! They are upon us! Look, look !"
Kug pointed off toward the edge of the forest of the great swamp and there they beheld in the trees and on the ground hundreds of the most hideous creatures they hard ever seen.
It was evident to keg and Rab and all the rest of the Hairy men that they meant to attack the village, for even as they watched they saw them gather in a dreadful company and start on their short legs across the wide meadow toward the village.
Calls of warming were shouted then, and the Hairy men, under the leadership of Kug and Rab and Ric and Tug and other brave warriors, began to prepare the defense of the village. Women and children were sent scrambling up to the cliff-top first and then the warriors followed, taking with them all the stones and spears and stone hammers they could carry, while the women and children at the top busied themselves gathering together huge quantities of stones, piling them up in mounds so that they would be convenient for the defenders.
On came the gorillas, waddling and scrambling across the meadows on their short legs. They were beating their huge chests with their fists and sounding their hideous, booming battle-cry. They were gnashing their teeth and snarling and making hideous faces and, as the Hairy men looked down at them from their refuge on the cliff-top, they realized that they were beset by a ruthless, terrible enemy and that if any of their number fell into the hands of these ugly giants they would suffer an awful death.
Their advance was slow at best and when they left the meadow and started across the rock-strewn council ground below the cliff, they became more cautious, and scattered instead of remaining in a compact mass. One big. powerful fellow, the largest among them and apparently their leader, was the first to start up from the base of the cliff. But he had scarcely begun his climb when at a grunt from Tug a. half dozen warriors on the cliff edge let fly a volley of stones flung with stunning force. And most of them found their mark, for with a scream of rage the huge gorilla staggered backward and went down, and the warriors shouted in triumph as they saw him scramble dizzily to his feet and stumble back to his comrades with blood flowing from a great wound in his head, and one of his long arms hanging limp because a stone had broken it at the elbow.
But this only served to infuriate the others and presently they began to rush forward in little groups to storm the cliff. Then the battle was on.