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

CHAPTER XIV

TRACKS IN THE SAND

 
T0 BE entrusted with the mission of finding a new home for the tribe was an honor that Og and Ru did not accept lightly. They realized that when the older men like Rab the hairy one, and Throg the lame one, and Hol the great hunter, and Ag of the gray beard, and Kow and Mu and Do and Ab and Jug and all the other brave and strong and wise men who composed the council of the tribe turned to them for assistance a great responsibility rested upon them. And so they held many counsels with the hunters and the wise men and with each other.

With the great band of gorillas exterminated the two boys did not know of any other grave danger that lurked down the river, and since that was the direction in which they could travel easiest and since both Og and Ru had been pleased with the country they had passed through during their first adventure on the water, they finally decided that they would journey down the stream again.

Several days they spent on the river bank fashioning a log into the semblance of a canoe. Then after a great feast had been held in the central cave and many speeches had been made concerning their bravery, and many gifts presented to them Og and Ru fared forth on what was to prove a long and perilous quest.

For several suns and several star-lights all went well. They paddled or floated serenely down the broad river through the big swamp in which they had killed the great snake, and on past the great blackened stretch where the fire that had started when Og kindled one of the gorillas nest-like houses had burned off a great expanse of forest.

Beyond this point they floated through great stretches of tropical jungle-covered lowlands, where the river broadened out and ran slowly and sluggishly, and where great crocodiles came to the surface and watched them from ugly bulging green eyes. But Og and Ru paid small heed to these monsters for they had learned that they were great cowards to be frightened away with loud shouts, or a thump on the snout with their stone hammers. This vast jungle lowland seemed inviting enough to Ru and they stepped ashore several times and made short trips inland to explore the country. But always Og shook his head when Ru proposed that they go back and bring the Hairy People there to settle, for in the back of Og's mind was a vague idea of the sort of a place that would suit his people best.

Then one day they made out far, far in the distance, away beyond the jungle clad lowlands a series of mountain peaks almost hidden in the blue-hazed distance. These peaks were crowned in white. They looked like so many wise white-haired old men sitting on the horizon, and Og felt that toward them they would find the place for which they were looking. The river seemed to be carrying them in that direction too, and Og told Ru that they would journey on yet a while until they were closer to the mountain peaks.

That night they slept on their log as they had done many nights before; slept on calmly while their queer craft floated on down the current. And they little guessed that while they slept the river, swinging around in a broad curve was taking them away from the white topped mountains instead of toward them, and carrying them out into the savannas: into great stretches of land under water above which tall swamp grasses grew with here and there a gnarled and twisted and water-killed tree, the resting place of great gangling-legged birds.

Og could not believe his eyes when he opened them. Nowhere could they find good firm land to set foot upon; nowhere was there a big tree to climb into and hide themselves at night. Everywhere was waving grass and water and worst of all the river had split up into many rivers. There were channels everywhere. No matter which way they paddled they could not get out of the savannas.

For three suns and three star-lights they floated through this strange land never able to find a shore, never able to get food. And then on the last day the worst of all calamities befell them, for Og discovered that even fresh water to drink was denied them. Thirsty, he scooped some of the water up in his hands and sipped it as they had done each time they wanted to drink. But hastily he spat it out again and grunted his disgust. It was bitter and salty. And since Og knew nothing of sea water he became greatly alarmed.

It was indeed a strange new world that they had drifted into and as the third night came on he and Ru huddled together on the log hungry, thirsty, and sick a great fear crept over them. They wondered whether perhaps they were drifting on toward death.

And with the dawn they were certain of it, for they were aroused from their sleep by the strangely uncomfortable movement of their log. It began to pitch and toss and roll in a manner that frightened them and the two Hairy Boys opened their eyes to look out upon a great stretch of rolling blue water that reached into nothingness.

The world had turned to water. Moreover this world of water was trying to turn upside down. At least that is the way it seemed to Og and Ru. The log on which they crouched and clung fast with hands and feet was pitching and tossing and rolling heavily from side to side threatening at any moment to throw them into the water. The eyes of the two Hairy Boys were big with fear. They both were cold and wet and worried. They shivered and their teeth chattered together, and Ru made a strange whining sound in his throat that annoyed Og. Yet he could not blame Ru for whimpering. He wanted to do the same thing himself but somehow he sensed that if he should give way to his fears Ru would become even more terror-stricken. Their fear would weaken them, and he knew that they needed all the strength they possessed of both body and mind to come through this new and terrible danger that threatened them.

Og could see that they were approaching the end of the world. There was the rim out there where the sky joined the water and if they drifted out that far they would certainly fall off into space; into eternity. Behind them were the broad stretches of savannas they had come through. To their left and right reaching out like arms into the water were long low-lying strips of sandy beach crowned with palm trees. But ahead of them was an appallingly vast and terrible stretch of water; water that rolled and heaved and splashed; angry water. And as Og clung fast to the log he wondered whether perhaps the water was not angry at them for venturing onto it. Perhaps it was trying to tear them off from the log, suck them down; swallow them up in its anger.

As they drifted on out of the mouth of the river into the ocean the swells became stronger and more violent and the log pitched and tossed in terrible fashion sometimes rolling completely over making the Hairy Boys scramble hard to keep on the top side of it. It became a terrible ordeal for them. Always they had to scramble and cling fast. More than once they were rolled entirely under and came up terrified and puffing and blowing like porpoises as they scrambled back onto the rolling log again. These duckings were awful ordeals for despite the fact that Og and Ru had become more familiar with water than any of their race still they retained the instinctive terror of their kind for the horrors that the depths might hide.

But soon the waves became bigger and stronger and their duckings were more frequent. They lost their spears and paddles. Once Og, when the log rolled more violently than usually was thrown clear of it and went sprawling into the water to sink down deep into the dark green swirling depths. He was frightened when he saw bubbles rushing upward past his eyes. Instinct told him to hold his breath, and self preservation made him kick and strike out and fight his way back to the surface again. The log with Ru on it watching for him with frightened face had drifted some distance away and Og hardly knowing what he did struck out and thrashing the water blindly, madly forced himself toward it. And in his frantic fear he discovered that he swam, swam as he had seen water animals swim. And as he scrambled back upon the log again he could not help but exclaim at his own achievement. Indeed he was as surprised as Ru was when he realized what he had done.

A lot of his fear of water slowly disappeared then, and he did not mind so much when the log rolled him off again. He talked encouragingly to Ru too and told him how easy it was to stay on top of the water, and finally when the log got so unmanageable that neither of them could stay on it both Hairy Boys let themselves down into the water and with an arm around the log kicked and kept themselves afloat. And after that, they were not long in discovering that if they both kicked in the same direction they could move the log along even though the rough water did make it roll and toss madly.

The waves were moving them toward one of the strips of sandy beach, and weak and tired and hungry though they were the two boys knowing that they had a fighting chance kicked vigorously and urged the log forward. Slowly they made progress toward one of the long palm-clad sand strips until before long they felt firm ground under their feet and letting go their log canoe they staggered ashore and sank down upon the warm sand exhausted but happy.

Og was the first to revive himself sufficiently to sit up and look about. And as he looked closely at the trees that fringed the wide beach he gave a glad cry and staggered to his feet, calling Ru to follow him. Up the beach they scrambled and Og reaching the nearest tall palm paused under it and looked longingly upward. In the foliage he saw a cluster of green fruit which he at once recognized as a strange hollow nutlike fruit that he had eaten when he was a captive of the Tree People, — the apes, — a long time ago before he had killed the sabre-tooth tiger. He remembered, too, that this fruit had a strange liquid inside; a sweetish liquid that would quench the burning thirst that made their lips crack and tongue feel thick.

On the ground under one of the trees he found several windfalls, and pouncing upon these, he eagerly broke the husk away with his stone hammer which still fortunately hung to his belt. And then while Ru watched him curiously he broke the fnut from the. shuck and cracked the hard shell. Then putting the crack to his lips he sucked at it eagerly and the thirsty Ru saw him swallow the liquid that drained from it. Ru needed no further encouragement to follow his example and soon they were both sucking at cocoanuts until their thirst was entirely slacked. Then Og broke open one of the nuts and by devouring great mouthfuls of it showed Ru that the white inside meat was good to eat.

And when they were no longer hungry and thirsty, and when the sun had dried their hairy coats and made them feel very comfortable they set out to explore the beach. In their experience in the water both of them had lost their spears and Og's precious tiger skin with his fire stones and dint knife had come undone from about his neck and disappeared. All that they had left to them in the form of weapons were their stone hammers which had been securely held in their belts. But they had not gone far up the beach when they both wished that they had more in the way of weapons for in the soft sand above the driftwood that marked the tide line they discovered footprints that startled them and made them draw closer together and look furtively about.

In the sand they saw the great round footmarks of a huge sabre-tooth tiger. But that was not all. There were other footprints there. Og made out the trail of a hyena and the great flat prints of the monster cave bear. There were the trails of smaller animals too and the hoof-marks of a band of three-toed horses that must have romped along the beach not long since. And then they came across a trail that puzzled them tremendously. It was the strangest trail they had ever seen made by queerly shaped feet set far apart while between the footprints were signs of a heavy body having been dragged laboriously across the sand. Og and Ru studied these trails very hard for there were several of them on the beach. And as they studied them they found to their amazement that each trail began and ended at the tidemark showing plainly that the strange animal, whatever it was, had come out of the water and returned to it again. Could this be some terrible water monster? One of the trails they followed well up the beach and there they found unmistakable signs that the animal, whatever it was had dug a hole in the sand and covered it again. Curious, Og and Ru dug into the sand too to see if perhaps this strange creature had not come ashore to bury something. And as they scooped out the sand with their hand they suddenly discovered scores of strange looking eggs. Both. Og and Ru knew what eggs were. They had foraged from many a bird's nest in their day and the discovery of these eggs caused them to forget for a moment the strange creature that had left them there as they eagerly snatched them out of the sand and begun to feed upon them.

But before they had eaten very many it suddenly dawned upon Og that the owner of the nest, might like a mother bird, return at any moment to care for the eggs and since they did not know what sort of a creature it could be he warned Ru of the danger and they discreetly withdrew from the vicinity of the nest they had partly plundered.

Up the beach they wandered finding strange sun-whitened shells and other curious objects that attracted their attention. Down near the water line Og found several huge clams and since in a way they resembled cocoanuts he cracked one of them open and tasted the meat inside. And it was so delicious and appetizing that they feasted on all they could find of these too, and thereafter every shell they came across they cracked open, sampling the contents. By mid-day they had gorged themselves to satiety and the skin felt so tight across their hitherto lean paunches that they need must sit down in the warm sun and rest. And they were so comfortably happy that Ru sprawled at full length on his back on the white sand and promptly fell asleep.

But Og's mind was too busy and too full of interesting thoughts and speculations on this new and strange land they had blundered into to sleep just then. Here was a land with meat and drink aplenty. One could live here until the end of time and feast on the food that lay strewn along the beach. The sun was warm here too. Life would be a pleasure, a comfort. No hard work and plenty of ease and leisure. This would be a capital place for Bun, the fat one, the fattest and laziest man in the whole colony of Hairy People. He was too fat and lazy to hunt. He was too fat to even find a mate for himself or a cave in which to live. Instead he would stray from cave to cave and tell stories to the other Hairy People until he was invited to come in and share their fire and the food they had.

Og wondered whether perhaps if he thought his people to this strange land they would not all get like Bun, fat and lazy and good-for-nothing. Such a thing would be bad. They would lose their strength and quickness of eye and hand. They might even get sick as Bun often did.

Such a thing would be very bad indeed, for this land was not without its dangers. They would not be able to stand off the hyenas, or the cave bear or the sabre-tooth tiger, who doubtless haunted the beach because it did afford such good forage.

And then there was this other strange beast that came up out of the water. What could it be? It was strong and big he could tell from the trail it left. Was it as hideous and ruthless as the crocodile? Was it quick and fast and stealthy as the great tiger? Og wondered and tried to form a mental picture of it. But this was hard work. He needs must lie down as Ru had done while he thought. The warm sand felt good to his back. It was hard work to think anyway. Why trouble just now when he was so comfortable. Og closed his eyes and presently he was asleep too.


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