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Og — Boy of Battle
Irving Crump
Dodd, Mead & Co.
1925

CHAPTER II

INTO THE GREAT SWAMP

 
WHEN by word of mouth, the intentions of Og, and Ru were made known to the women and children and the old men and the boys of the village, a strange transformation took place. It seemed as if the bravery of the two men swept away a certain amount of fear and terror that had been hanging over the Hairy People and they began to climb out of their cave abodes and swarm down to the foot of the cliff gathering about the council rock where Og and Ru crouched and talked together.

They gathered at a respectful distance however and looked at the two figures who had the courage to venture on such a perilous mission. And one by one the men who had slunk away when Og had approached them, came stalking back, very pompous and dignified now, and because they were strong men and big men they shoved and elbowed their way through the gaping crowd and formed an inner circle. Then one by one they began to talk, each trying to outdo the other in his complimentary remarks about the bravery, strength and courage of Og and Ru, and each after he had finished his speech stepped out and gave one or the other a present, a stone hammer, or a sharp-edged piece of flint, or a gift of meat, or a sharpened goat's horn. A finally old Gnu, one of the best hunters of the tribe, dragged from out his cave the hind quarter of a wild horse that he had slain the day before. Then a fire was built beside the council rock and the meat was cooked. And while it sizzled and sputtered over the flames and was yet quite raw the strong men gathered about on their haunches and tore off pieces of the half-done flesh with their fingers and ate with much grunting and smacking of lips.

But none of them ate before Og and Ru had torn off a strip from the smoking horse haunch first. That was as much of a farewell ceremony as the Hairy People had ingenuity to carry out. It was the custom that had gradually developed over the years when hunting parties fared forth from the village to hunt wild horses or goats, and Og and Ru were rather proud of the tribute that was paid to their bravery.

The feasting and talking lasted as long as the haunch of horse held out, which was not long, Then Ru and Og gathered together the many gifts that had been showered upon them, and went to Og's cave where they began to make themselves ready for their journey. Their preparations did not amount to very much. Both selected the best and most serviceable of the stone hammers, and their longest and sharpest pieces of flint. In his sabre-tooth tiger skin, which Og had now come to wear as part garment and part pack sack, Og wrapped several strips of meat, his flint, fire stones, some thongs and a sharpened goat's horn, which had been given to him by Kow, a strong hunter and one of the men Og had hoped to take with him. The tiger skin, thus made ready, he swung it over his shoulders, tying it securely across his back and under his chin with thongs of skin. When the sun had crossed the middle heavens and was dropping downward they fared forth, and with the farewell shouts and jabberings of the Hairy People sounding they crossed over in front of the council rock and moved down the meadowy river bank toward the dismal expanse that marked the beginning of the terrible swamp in the Valley of Fear.

The hearts of Og and Ru were stout so long as they could hear the noise of the cliff village behind them and see the figures of their people in the distance. But soon the tall waving grass of the meadow and a bend in the river bank shut the cliff village from view, and before them they could see nothing but the cane thickets and looming mass of trees and vegetation that marked the beginning of the dreadful swamp. Then their sensitive nostrils caught lingering traces of the terrible musty odors of the great snake when he had. slipped through the long grass that morning and the old gripping, clutching fear assailed both of them. Og thought again of the horrors of the great cave when the huge serpent had flung itself among the Tree People and he grew sick and weak at the knees. Ru, too, looked frightened and worried and he kept watching the edge of the great swamp with searching, troubled eyes. It was in the hearts of both of them to turn back and seek the shelter of the village once more, but a growing pride and developing will prevented them from being cowards and with grunts to inspire each other they went doggedly on.

Soon they began to tread the murky fringes of the swamp; boggy expanses of gurgling mud in which lizards and smaller reptiles crawled and wriggled. The quagmire was dotted thickly with hummocks of tall grass in reedy clusters in which huge cattails towered above their heads. Progress here was treacherous and Og and Ru often had to wade hip deep in slimy ooze that threatened at any moment to give way under them and let them sink from sight into the stinking reek. But drippingly they made their way from one hummock to another their hair-covered skin literally plastered with mud before they reached their first real objective which was the nearest of the huge spreading and interlacing banyan trees.

Panting like animals after a long chase they finally reached a little island formed by the snakelike spreading roots of one of these trees and as they climbed up onto the gnarled tentacles that reached out almost as far as the spreading branches overhead, turtles and lizards and snakes that had been warming themselves in vagrant patches of late afternoon sunlight that filtered through the gloom, dropped back into the mud about them.

On a moss-covered root that looked for all the world like the knees of a giant poking above the mud the two Hairy Boys paused a moment to rest and breath more freely. Together they crouched there and brushed the slime and mud from their hairy legs and thighs while they looked backward almost longingly in the direction of their cliff village. And as they crouched there they felt so utterly lonely and deserted, and so overawed with the gloom of the dismal swamp that was before them, that they instinctively crowded close to each other for comfort, while they watched turtles and snakes in the mud on either hand poke inquiring heads above the slime.


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