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

CHAPTER IX

DOWN THE GREAT RIVER

 
LADEN down with the broken tusks of the hairy mammoth, their spears and strips of snakeskin to show the Hairy People how successful they had been in their quest to rid their little world of the great monster, Og and Ru came trudging back along the banks of the river toward the cliff village of the Hairy People when the sun was in mid heaven next day.

But while they were still a great way off they could see that the village was in a turmoil. Something had happened to excite all the people of the tribe for they could see them climbing down from their caves in the cliff and gathering at the council rock. All the strong hunters were gathered in a group, their stone hammers clenched in their great hairy hands. Ric, one of their number, was standing on the council rock talking and gesticulating.

Og and Ru looked questionably at each other. "What has happened?" exclaimed Ru. "Perhaps they have found a bank of wild boars and are getting ready for a hunt. We must hurry," answered Og, breaking into the run. The Hairy People saw them as they hurried across the open space from the river to the council grounds, and with one accord they burst into cries of welcome.

"They have returned. The great Og is back. The great Ru has come. They have slain the great snake. Look! They carry tusks of the mammoth. They are mighty hunters. They will help us slay the tapir."

Those were the shouts that went up as Og and Ru stalked among the Hairy People and proudly threw their trophies down at the council rock. And while the great hunters gathered about them and examined the broken tusks and the snake skin and asked curious questions about the strange long-handled knives they carried Ric, all excitement climbed down from the council rock and sought their attention, and told them of a great hunt they were planning to hold.

Ric that very morning had wounded a great tapir. He had discovered it on the banks of the river underneath an overhanging cliff and had shoved a ponderous boulder over the edge that had crashed down upon the great animal. It was there now pinned down squealing and snorting and struggling to get free. He had come to call the hunters together to follow him and kill the great animal. Killing a tapir was work for the whole tribe.

This was good news to Og and Ru. It would give them a chance to show the Hairy People what wonderful weapons their snake-knives were. Og and Ru raised the hunting call. The other hunters took it up and it echoed and reechoed against the cliffs and across the valley.

Like wolves on a hot trail they started for the river. 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. They all carried heavy, ugly looking stone hammers but Og and Ru running in front with Ric brandished their long-shafted flint-pointed snake-knives.

Before they reached a position from which they could see the wounded tapir they could hear its ugly snarls and squeals of pain and anger, and this stirred them to shout louder and more viciously for they knew that the big animal was at bay and sore wounded. 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 crushed and mangled hind quarters out from under the stone, and while it had lost the use of its hind legs entirely and its body dragged on the ground, yet it was formidable enough as it stood there with its fore feet braced, 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 with the river on one side little room was left for the Hairy Men to attack. 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 fore legs. Og could see that he and Ru with their spears were the only ones who could deal a telling blow and Og was not so sure that they could make any great impression through the tough, thick hide of the animal. Ric and Hol were for going back up to the top of the cliff again and dropping more stones on 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 wanted first to try their weapons. Cautiously, with shafts poised ready to be thrown they advanced on the beast. The tapir watched them from blood-shot eyes and with ugly head weaving from side to side in his extreme anger. As they approached nearer and nearer even 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 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 heavily forward and with ugly upper lip twisted in a snarl and yellow teeth bared it plunged straight at Og and Ru.

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.

Like all the other Hairy People Og and Ru feared the river. Indeed they feared it almost as much as they feared the enraged 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 it would crush them down and trample them into a bloody pulp under its ponderous feet. They could feel its hot, fetid breath, with each coughing gasp, so close was it. 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, followed and jumped onto the log and scurrying to its farthest end crouched 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 on 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 with blood spurting from its nostrils and mouth it fell in a nerve-convulsed heap half into the water and half onto the land. And its massive shoulder 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 sluggishly moving current caught the log and moved it down stream. A few of the hunters followed down the bank a little way until the jungle tangle prevented them from keeping up with it. Then they gave up the pursuit, and with unhappy shouts of farewell 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 destined never 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 fearful 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, 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 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, now and then, he could see nothing menacing; nothing really sinister. Again and again he looked into the water. And seeing nothing that appeared worth while 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 a piercing yell, 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.

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 in which they found themselves, 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 of his tribe 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. To be able to move the log through the water at will meant that they could go anywhere across the treacherous depths; that they could make the water serve them as a pathway to travel by, and although it might be a treacherous pathway it was a far easier one than any of the thickly grown forest trails where dangers might be lurking in every shadow and behind every tree and heavy undergrowth. All one needed was a log and the courage to venture out over the depths of that unfamiliar element and one could go wherever his fancies led him. 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 up stream, 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 soon 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 then 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. Og could hear him scrambling about among the limbs of the trees that fringed the river and now and then he heard the frightened squawk of a bird disturbed from its night's rest by Ru, and he was not surprised when his companion appeared in the glow of the warm firelight with four big, ducklike birds dangling from his hands. They made quick work of preparing these to be eaten for they were very hungry, and it made little difference to them that the meat was scarcely more than scorched over the flames for it was tender, rich and oily and they were so terrifically hungry that they picked every carcass clean and even broke some of the bones with their strong teeth, and sucked the marrow and oil from them by way of dessert.

Well fed and comfortable they hollowed a nest-like place in the sand beside the fire and crouching 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 they crouched silently gazing into the fire. 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 aweary 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.

He had not been asleep long before the heavy shadows about the beach became alive with stealthily moving figures, and soon, one by one the biggest, most grotesque and most ugly looking individuals that even Og's grim imagination could conceive began to creep stealthily out onto the beach in the ghostly flicker of the dying fire light. They were not unlike Og and Ru in proportions for they were short of legs and had tremendously long arms. They were covered, too, with a mass of heavy course hair and they were such tremendous creatures that the smallest among them was twice as big as Og, and the largest, who appeared to be their leader was a veritable giant with a great bulging chest, and arms and hands so well muscled and so strong that he could have throttled a cave bear with ease. All of them had big queerly shaped heads, and ugly grimacing faces, with shaggy eye brows, wicked black eyes, broad flat noses and strong powerful jaws with long canine teeth protruding tusk-like over their lower lips.

How long Og and Ru had slept they never knew. They were both awakened at the same instant when they felt themselves suddenly seized by the powerful hands that gripped them with deadly fierceness. They cried out in terror and struggled their utmost but terrible strangling arms were wrapped about them and great gripping hands seized their wrists and ankles. They struggled fiercely in a mad panic, biting, clawing, kicking, scratching until suddenly Og felt a great hand close about his throat. In sheer terror he screamed then but his scream was cut off to a gurgling sob as the strong fingers gripped tighter and tighter. Under the terrible pressure Og's eyes bulged and strange noises rang in his ears, his lungs felt as if they would burst with the air pent up in them and his head seemed to be splitting. Slowly a great heavy blackness began to engulf him. He struggled against it, struggled to retain consciousness, but despite his strong will he realized that he was sinking deeper and deeper into oblivion until presently he knew no more.


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