Og, Boy of Battle
Chapter 16, "Cheated by the Cave Leopard" 164-174
Chapter 17, "The Winged Death" 175-181
Chapter 18, "Death to the Cave Leopard" 182-191
illustrated by Charles Livingston Bull
HALF the morning they had been stalking the mother goat with her two young ones. Like shadows they slipped from rock to rock and from one cover of shrubs to another on the stony mountainside. Foot by foot with painful slowness they drew nearer. Sometimes they were almost within striking distance when suddenly the goat would lift her head, stamp her sharp pointed hoof impatiently, then with a snort of suspicion and a bleat to her kids gallop higher up the slope, and they would have to begin their stalking all over again.
And as they worked their way up the mountainside after her, Og's busy brain kept puzzling with a problem; playing with a desire. Hunting as they did with no better weapons than their stone hammers and their long spears they had to creep close to their quarry before they could leap from hiding and hurl their spears with sufficient force to kill.
To be sure they could throw stones with stunning force and deadly accuracy, but stones were nowhere near so effective as spears. If only he could only think of some contrivance that would lend power to their spears; that would send them further and with greater force; something that would let them kill from a distance. Back in his head that problem had been stirring his imagination and inventive powers for days.
They would have killed the goat long ago and been assured of a generous and savory meal if they had had such a weapon. They had drawn nearer to her on this attempt than they had at any time during the morning, but still a hundred feet separated them, and the old goat and her two kids were grazing on a tiny green patch of mountain grass that grew at the foot of a ledge. She had been intent on her feeding for many minutes now, and Og and Ru had been able to slip from one boulder to another a little swifter than before. They grew tense and eager. They gripped their spears a little more firmly and shifted their heavy turtle-shell shields across their backs so that they would not be in the way when they made their final dash. There was a ragged out-cropping of stone just ahead of them. It was large enough to hide both. Og told Ru that once they had gained this they would be ready for their final rush and the lunge of their shell-tipped spears. Softly, like shadows cast by a cloud crossing the sun, they slipped toward the hiding place. They gained it and crouched there alert, ready.
But an instant before they leaped to action came a sudden movement on the edge of the cliff above the mother goat and a powerful, tawny body came hurtling through the air. With a shrill bleat of fear and consternation the mother goat threw up her head with its spike-like horns and leaped forward. In mid-air doom struck her. She was borne to the ground under a crushing weight as the great body of a cave leopard crashed upon her, pinning her down with terrible claw-armed paws that bit deep into her flanks.
For an instant the great cat held her thus, as she kicked and struggled and bleated in her terror. Then, with a snarl, it buried its long yellow fang-like teeth into her neck and with a savage crunch broke the vertebra, and the goat, with a convulsive kick, went limp. Snarling still, the leopard glared about viciously. The two kids, crazed with fear and bleating pitifully, were staggering up the rocky mountainside, trying to find a hiding-place. With a swift, soundless dash the leopard caught them and killed them both and brought them back to where their slain mother lay. Then with one of its huge paws across the body of the old goat the great cat began to devour the kids.
Og and Ru crouching behind the rock watched. They were angry and resentful for the beast had robbed them of their kill just when they felt that it was within their grasp; had robbed them of their meal and put to naught their morning's efforts. Og was furious. Oh, for a weapon powerful enough to make him equal to such a monster! Why should he, a Hairy boy be at the mercy of this beast? He had killed the great cave tiger and the hairy mammoth. By using his wits, why shouldn't he be able to think of some way of making the cave leopard pay the penalty of robbing him? These were Og's thoughts and resolutions as he crouched behind the boulder and watched the great cat snarlingly finish the two young goats and begin to tear to pieces the carcass of the mother.
It was with less eagerness that it attacked the tougher flesh of the mother. The two young goats had nearly satisfied its hunger and after it tore a huge chunk from the shaggy creature's neck it lay there with its paw across the carcass and licked the blood that dripped from the wound.
The leopard kept at its desultory meal for some time before it finally lost interest entirely, and getting to its feet stretched its sleek, powerful body, yawned, and licked its lips with its long red tongue. Then with the smooth movement of its kind, it bounded up the side of the overhanging cliff and disappeared beyond the shelf above.
Og and Ru crouched in their hiding place until they felt certain that the leopard had disappeared, and then they walked over to the spoiled carcass of the mother goat and examined it. There was something repulsive to both of them in the thought of eating anything that the cat had left, and so they did not take any of the goat's flesh. Og did break off the two spike-like horns with his stone hammer, for goats horns were always desirable because they could be so easily sharpened to a keen point. And because he needed some strips of skin to replace a broken lashing for his turtle-shell shield he turned the carcass over and cut several strips of the animal's tough hide. And then they started down the mountainside into the forest where Ru with a motion as swift as a striking snake, flung his spear into a clump of underbrush and with a shout of triumph retrieved it, with a kicking and struggling rabbit-like creature impaled on its point.
SINCE they had left the beach upon which they and their log canoe had been washed, they had established a temporary camp while they rested from the hard travel and re-equipped themselves. When their log had been caught in the great waves of the ocean and they had suffered shipwreck, so to speak, they had lost everything they possessed save their stone hammers. And the hardest blow of all had been the loss of Og's tiger-skin pack-sack that held his precious flint fire stones.
They had found shells on the beach from which to make spear tips, serviceable knives and even keen cutting shell hatchets. They had devised shields out of the shells of giant sea turtles, too, but nowhere had they been able to find flint. And since Og knew of no other method by which to produce fire their first mission after they left the beach was to strike inland toward the mountains where Og knew they would find flint and all the other hard stones. Nor did they rest in their travels until they came to the highlands what Og named the Mountains-of-White-Headed-Old-Men, for beyond the foothills that rose as high as ordinary mountains they could see still more mountains that reached skyward until their tops seemed to be in the clouds. And the peaks of many of them were crowned with white. Og did not know what this could be, but the mountains reminded him very much of old Rab, and of Gog his father, whose heads were gray with age. Here they found flint and obsidian, that strange hard volcanic glass, and a host of other stones.
BACK toward their camp against the quartz cliff they hurried after Ru had killed the rabbit, for both were famished after their hard morning's hunt. While Og kindled the fire Ru skinned the rabbit. Then he proceeded to cook it, and while it was sizzling above the flames Og busied himself with the strips of goat skin from which he scraped all the hair and particles of flesh that still clung to it. This done he took his shell hatchet and cut a tough green sapling and stretched the strips of skin from one end of the sapling to the other, to keep them from shrinking as they dried. He stretched them taut and then to make them still tighter he wedged a long, strong stick endways between them and the sapling, propping one end against the strips of hide and bracing the other against the sapling, bowing it out until it became a tight strumming thing.
This he set beside the cliff in the full glow of the fire, for he wanted the skin to dry out as quickly as possible. He needed some of the strips to replace the lashing on his shield, and others to tie up bundles of flint and shells and horns and other things that he would normally have carried in his tiger-skin pack sack.
THEIR meal was ready by the time he had finished this work, and with the smoking carcass of the rabbit on a flat stone between them, he and Ru crouched on the ground and began to tear chunks of steaming flesh from it, eating with much noisy smacking and grunting and sucking of fingers.
They lingered over this a long time, and then, because the fire was warm and they were tired after their hard hunt of the morning, they relaxed against the quartz cliff and rested while Og thought with growing rancor of the great cave leopard and how it had cheated them of their just quarry. As he thought he began to devise ways of getting even with the leopard, for there was developing within him a sense of superiority over all things animal. They must fear him, they must respect him. He was greater than they. He had killed the biggest of them, the mammoth. He had killed the fiercest of them, the sabre-toothed tiger. He was greater than any of them because he could think. They must respect his greatness.
Thus did Og's mind work while the fire died to ashes, while Ru, untroubled with thoughts, dozed off to sleep, and the sun started downward behind the line of White-Haired-Old-Men. Then, because Og realized that he had been wasting his time in dreaming, bestirred himself, and taking his turtle-shell shield in one hand reached for the sapling on which the strips of goat skin were drying in the heat of the fire. He wanted to repair the lashings by which he held the shield on his arm or across his back when he chose to carry it there.
But as he picked up the sapling a strange accident happened. The strips of skin in drying had shrunken, bowing the sapling even more than it had been and forcing the cross piece hard against the upright stick. Og did not notice this particularly, but as he laid the thing across his lap one knee knocked against the crosspiece. Instantly the bowed sapling snapped straight with a sharp strumming sound that made Og jump. At the same time the crosspiece, impelled forward by the snap of the bow, whizzed through the air. There was a thump and a piercing howl and Ru who had been sleeping soundly suddenly leaped into the air, then whirled round and round clutching at the thick part of his leg.
Og looked at him in amazement. At first he thought his companion had been stung by a bee. But as he looked closer he discovered to his astonishment that the crosspiece that had been braced against the sapling and the strips of hide was sticking in the flesh of Ru's leg. It had been shot forward with such force by the bend of the bow that sharp-pointed as it was it had pierced the tough skin and heavy muscle of Ru's leg.
Ru pulled this chance arrow out, and thoroughly angry turned on Og who was grinning and chuckling.
"Is this a way to treat a friend?" he screamed, reaching for his stone hammer.
But he stopped as he saw the look of startled surprise that crossed Og's face.
"Ru, look! This is give me that stick!"
Ru hesitated. He thought Og was going to hurt him again. But Og, impatient and angry because a new thought was beating home in his brain, seized the stick and wrenched it from his hands. Then bracing it crossways in the bow as it had be he knocked it loose, and he and Ru saw it go flying off among the trees with a vicious humming sound.
With puckered brow Og examined the bow as he held it in his hand, twanged the string again and again, pulled and listened to it as it snapped taut. Here was a strange contrivance. It had life, force, power. Could this thing lend the wings to his spear that he had longed for this morning? He found another stick and fitted it to the strings and drew it back to brace the end of it against the bow again so that he might knock it off and watch it go flying through space. But before he had pulled it all the way back his fingers slipped and he let go of it. With a hiss it too whizzed through the air hitting a tree-trunk near by and knocking off a piece of bark.
Then suddenly it dawned upon Og that had a new and wonderful weapon. He picked up his spear and fitting it to the bow string pulled it back. But it did not shoot far. It was too heavy. The lighter sticks had gone a greater distance and with more force. He tried Ru's spear which was lighter. It went swifter. Then he tried another still lighter stick and that whizzed out of sight beyond the tree-tops.
Og yelled in triumph then. He turned to Ru and thumped him on the back with enthusiasm. Then he bent low and examined the wound in Ru's leg from which the blood was trickling and pointing exclaimed:
"Behold! The work of the winged death. Now let the cave-cat-with-spots hide. We will send our spear fling after him faster than he can run."
Ru was beginning to comprehend now. He became excited. He wanted to try the bow, too. Og gave it to him and he sent a stick flying high about the tree-tops. Then he shot another and another. And while he amused himself Og was busy with his flint and shell knives, working down and sharpening a shaft after the pattern of his bigger spear. Soon he had it finished. Then taking the bow from Ru he strung it and shot the arrow into a near-by tree-trunk. It struck the bark with a thump and stuck there quivering, the point imbedded in the wood. And Og and Ru knew then that they had a new weapon more deadly than their spears. So the rest of that day they worked, and by firelight, until well into the night, and all the next day they worked too, sparing only a little time to hunt for food. By the following afternoon both of them had stout bows and a half dozen flint and obsidian-tipped arrows to their credit and were fast learning how to use them with force and accuracy.
"We are masters of everything now. Masters of every beast that walks," said Og. "Tomorrow we will make the leopard the first to know. We will show him the first of all how great we are. Tomorrow."
THE violet half-light of dawn filled the forest, and far up toward the azure heavens behind them where the White-Haired-Old-Men reared their peaks into the clouds, the first rays of the rising sun washed their snow-capped crowns in a bath of gold as Og and Ru awoke, stood up and stretched themselves.
A few minutes they spent in practice with their bows and arrows, for the new weapon still fascinated them with its swift, silent power. Then, attending well to the tips of their arrows and lashing their heavy shields to their left arms, they started out through the forest. They did not take their way toward the rocky summit where they had stalked the goat. Instead they went deeper into the jungle-like forest, following a strange hunting instinct they possessed that seemed to tell them the direction in which the cave leopard had its lair.
An hour or more they traveled through a forest so thickly grown that it was hard for them to make their way. Then they dipped down into a long dark and heavily grown ravine that reached back between two foothills, narrowing at its upper end until it became a veritable canyon, the forest growth giving way to rock shelves and steep-sided cliffs.
At the entrance to the ravine the two Hairy boys crouched in the shelter of a fallen tree and looked cautiously about. They listened, too, and tested the air, and borne to them on the draught that swept down the ravine came faintly the musky cat-like odor that told of the dwelling place of the leopard. Somewhere up there among the rocks the great cat had its cave. Should they venture in to try and locate it?
Og felt his courage slipping in spite of the confidence that his new weapon gave him, but even with the fear that instinctively made him want to turn back and give up the task of chasing the leopard, came a feeling of superiority, a desire to dominate, to conquer, and he knew that if he should turn back now he would lose some of his self-respect. He would feel that he was a coward. And so with a word of encouragement to Ru, Og took the leadership, as always, and started stealthily through the ravine.
But they had scarcely traversed a quarter of the distance up the valley when out of the thick jungle-like forest at the entrance slipped a sleek, tawny, black-spotted form. Like a sinister shadow, its markings blending with the play of sunlight and shadows in the undergrowth it loped forward. Soundlessly, with the movement of grace and strength that belongs to the cat family alone, it leaped on the fallen tree behind which Og and Ru had crouched and ran noiselessly along this until it reached the center. Then suddenly with a soft hiss, it dropped to its belly on the log. Its green eyes grew to slits and glared about, and its small ears lay back against its head as it cautiously tested the air and peered suspiciously into every shadow and clump of undergrowth.
For some time it crouched thus, then slowly, stealthily it got up and dropped from the log to the ground where it nosed about in the spot where Og and Ru had been. Then, picking up the trail they had left, it loped silently up the valley a score of paces before it stopped and dropped to its belly again and peered toward the far end of the ravine.
Presently it began to slink forward again cautiously, craftily, a sinister fire glowing in its wicked eyes as it watched the undergrowth on every side.
More than half-way up the narrow valley, Og and Ru suddenly found themselves following a narrow trail that would scarcely have been perceptible to any but the woods-trained eyes of the Hairy boys. It was made by the coming and going of soft padded feet, and was so faint that at times Og could not follow it save by the musky odor that clung to the undergrowth. It was the trail that lead directly to the leopard's den in the rock a hundred paces further up the valley. Og gave a grunt of warning then, and despite the fact that they had been moving soundlessly and carefully through the forest, their advance became even more cautious. Og in the lead had shifted his shield to his back and had strung his bow with an arrow, for some strange sixth sense within him made him realize that danger lurked very near.
As they came under the shadow of a rock around the base of which the leopard's trail ran, Og paused a moment and looked upward. But as he did so Ru gave a startled cry and clutched his arm. Turning, Og saw crouched in the trail behind them, ears back, tail lashing, green eyes glowing fiercely and great jaws open, exposing murderous fangs, the leopard they were hunting. Instead of being the hunters Og realized that they were the hunted. Even as they looked like a tawny thunderbolt it leaped and came hurtling through the air.
With a cry of horror Ru who was nearest to the beast because he had been following behind Og, staggered backward and threw up his turtle shell shield for protection. The next instant his heel caught in a root and he crashed to the ground. And as Ru fell Og leaped sideways up the slope and loosed the arrow that he held strung in his bow. But to his horror he saw the crude missive go hissing past the tawny form as the leopard seemed to hang in mid-air for the hundredth part of a second before it dropped clawing and snarling full on the prostrate form of Ru.
In utter panic for a moment Og scrambled still further up the sloping side of the valley and scrambled out upon the rock that overhung the leopard's trail. There he paused and turning swiftly fitted another arrow to his bow, fully confident that by this time the leopard had torn Ru to shreds, and would any moment charge at him.
But when Og turned he beheld with joy a strange sight. In the trail below crouched the leopard, furiously clawing and biting with futile anger at a big turtle shell that it held to the ground with one of its paws, for Ru, when he fell, had held his shield close to him and, like the turtle the shell had once adorned, had drawn head and legs and arms under it. Thus he lay there hugging the ground while the leopard tried its best to rip open the stony surface of the shell.
Og took careful aim and sent his second arrow hissing downward. With an ugly thump it buried itself into the leopard's flanks.
The wounded leopard twisted to its feet then; for the fraction of a second it stood and glared upward. Then with a scream that was the scream of a fiend it bolted forward.
Drawing another arrow he leaned over the edge of the rock and took deliberate aim at the leopard's chest not six feet below him. But in the excitement of the moment the crude arrow did not fly straight and instead of striking the animal's chest it buried itself in the shoulder and the shaft snapped off.
The pain of the wound made the leopard still more furious and Og saw with consternation that in an instant it would gain the top; gain the top and tear him to pieces.
With a cry Og cast aside his bow then and drawing another arrow from his belt made a short spear of it. And even as the leopard's head, with blazing eyes and slavering jaws, came up over the edge of the rock he lunged; lunged and drove the short spear full into the opened mouth of the animal and with all his strength forced its keen flint tip down the animal's throat until the shaft with all the strength he put behind it snapped in his hand.
And the force of his attack threw the animal backward; coughing and spitting blood it went hurtling through the air to fall with a thud not ten feet from where Ru lay in the trail looking cautiously out from under his turtle-shell shield. And when Ru saw the tawny creature half-stunned and twisting convulsively at the foot of the rock, he leaped to his feet and fitting an arrow to his bow sent it deep into the animal's body. Then another and another he shot at short range until the tawny form fairly bristled with shafts as it lay there struggling in the throes of death.
Og climbed down from the top of the boulder then and cautiously advanced toward the great cat. And when he saw that the creature was helpless and all but dead he gave a mad yell of triumph as he drove his shell knife deep between the leopard's ribs into the heart.
Then because both Hairy boys wanted the brilliantly spotted leopard skin as a trophy they set to work taking the hide from the animal while the body was still warm, and when they had finished, they divided it in half.
Og, because he had killed the animal, took the half of the skin that had covered the leopard's head and shoulders, while Ru took the other half, and with the bloody skin thrown across their shoulders the Hairy boys went happily back toward their camp.