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

CHAPTER XVI

CHEATED BY THE CAVE LEOPARD

 
THOUGH they possessed their stone hammers and the turtle shell shields the two Hairy Boys possessed little else in the way of weapons, for they had lost practically everything when they were hurled from their log canoe by the ocean waves and driven ashore on the sandy strip of beach where the turtles came to leave their eggs.

The loss of their spears did not mean so much to them for they quickly fashioned new ones using sharp splinters of the shells they found on the beach for tips. But the loss of Og's tiger skin pouch which contained his fire stones was nothing short of disastrous. It meant that they had no way to make fire at night, and without fire they were without their greatest protector. And Og and Ru well knew that they needed all the protection they could possibly have in this new and strange land into which they had ventured, for they had seen enough as they crouched in the trees on the edge of the beach the night before to warn them that some of the fiercest and most ruthless animals of the forest were close at hand.

To secure new pieces of flint — new fire stone was imperative. Both boys realized this. Also they realized that flint was not found in the jungle lowlands through which they were traveling then. Flint could only be found in the highlands; in the foothills of the Mountains of White-Haired Old Men as Og had named the ridges they could faintly make out far up-country.

It was toward these ridges they made all haste after quitting the beach. Even the foothills were far distant and both boys realized they would have to spend many days in long hard journeys and many nights crouched among the limbs of trees before they reached them. But they pressed on, sometimes making their way through the thick jungle growth and sometimes swinging along through the trees where progress was easier that way. On and on they pushed, and the fourth day after leaving the beach they found that they were traveling country that was gradually rising. Hills were more frequent, and ere long they began to find outcroppings of all forms of rocks.

Another day of traveling and they were well in the rocky foothills. Here they found flint to satisfy them. They found obsidian too, that strange hard volcanic glass that splintered into sharp points and made capital knives and spear heads. They found veins of a soft yellow metal too that interested them because of its brilliance. They found globules of this, some big and some tiny. Og gathered and saved some of the nuggets because they were heavy and round and smooth and made capital throwing stones. He and Ru little realized that one day men would risk their lives to obtain as much of that yellow metal as was showing in the face of the cliff against which they had built their camp.

Somehow both Og and Ru liked the foothills and the mountains far better than they did the damp, hot, humid jungle-covered lowlands. The air was colder, clearer, brisker in the hills. The vegetation was not so thick. Hunting was better. For one thing there were goats up there among the hills, and except for the meat of the mild boar and of the three-toed horse the Hairy Men liked goat meat better than anything else. Indeed, even while Og and Ru were searching for satisfactory fire stones and while they were making their temporary camp under the shelter of the quartz cliff, they saw little bands of goats roaming the rocky sides of the hill above them. Especially did they notice one old mother goat with two kids wandering leisurely about on the slopes apparently unmindful of their presence. That she could be easily stalked down and killed both boys felt certain. And finally because they could resist the temptations of a hunt no longer and because they were hungry for cooked goat meat they took their spears and started out.

But the old goat was not as easily run down as they first thought. Half the morning they stalked her.

Like shadows they slipped from rock to rock and from one covert of shrubs to another. They moved noiselessly, carefully, sometimes freezing motionless to one spot until their muscles grew cramped from their tenseness. Foot by foot with painful slowness they drew nearer to her. Sometimes they were almost within striking distance when she would suddenly lift her head, and stamp her sharp pointed hoof impatiently, then with a sniff of suspicion and a snort of warning to her young ones gallop higher up the slope. Then Og and Ru 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 discouragingly close to their wary quarry before they were within killing distance or before they reached a position where they could suddenly leap out from their hiding place and hurl their spears with any hope of having them hit the mark with sufficient force to kill. To be sure they could throw stones with stunning force and deadly accuracy but stones were nowhere near as effective as spears. If there were only some way; if 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. If only their spears had wings like a bird so that they would fly straight and far and true. Back in his head that problem had been stirring his imagination and inventive powers for many days now. Somehow he felt that there must be a way of doing it.

They would have killed the old mother goat long ago and would now be assured of a generous and savory meal if they only had such a weapon. Lacking it they had to spend almost half of a day laboriously creeping from one shelter to another and in the end they were far from certain of their quarry. It was painful work too. Soon their knees and elbows, unused to contact with sharp rocks were skinned and bruised and bleeding. And they might have to spend hours more stalking the wily old goat before they could bring her down. They had drawn nearer to her on this attempt than they had at any time during the morning, but still they were not certain of their kill. A hundred feet separated them, and the old goat with 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 firmer and shifted their heavy turtle shell shields across their back so that they would not be in the way when they made their final dash. There was a ragged 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 and a shake of its head 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 on uncertain legs up the rocky hillside 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 tawny cat began to devour the kids crunching their tender bones with savage gusto as it glared about with its wicked yellow eyes, its sleek snaky tail weaving slowly back and forth the while.

Og and Ru crouched there behind the rock watched the tawny animal, but not with the fear that such a beast generally inspired in the Hairy People. They were angry and resentful instead, and it would have taken little to cause Og to dash out and hurl his spear at the huge cat. 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. He would. If it took him the space between full moons he would scheme some way or some means to make the leopard pay a penalty. He would kill him. He and Ru would wear his skin across their shoulders as a warning to all other cave leopards that they must respect him and the people of his race, and give way when they hunted in the forest. Those were Og's thoughts and resolutions as he crouched there 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 with its long rough tongue. Og and Ru could hear the rasp of the tongue as it scrapped across the flesh. They could hear the soft rumbling growl that sounded in its throat too. And in some strange way all this made Og still more resentful; more angry. The leopard had killed, not because of hunger or the urge to carry food to its young. It had killed wantonly, lustfully, merely for the sake of killing. It tore another chunk of flesh from the goat and dropped it without devouring it. Instead it licked the blood that trickled from the new wound. It was not eating. It was spoiling, defiling good food. Like the weasel it was merely lapping the blood and wasting good meat in doing it. The leopard would pay for this, Og resolved.

The tawny cat kept at its desultory meal for some time before it finally lost interest entirely and getting to its feet it stretched its sleek powerful body, yawned, and licked its lips with long red tongue. Then with the smooth movements 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 for some time until they felt certain that the leopard had disappeared, and then still muttering imprecations of the great cat 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 for food. Og did break off the two spike-like horns with his stone hammer for goats horns always came in handy 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 he cut several strips of the animal's tough hide from places that had not been mutilated by the leopard. And then because they were very hungry they started down the mountainside into the forest where they hoped to find some likely looking bird's nest to rob or some smaller animal too that could be brought down by a stone. And luck was with them for scarcely had they entered the shelter of the forest again when Ru with a motion as swift as a striking snake flung his spear into a clumb of underbrush and with a shout of triumph retrieved it with a kicking, and struggling rabbit-like creature impaled on its point.


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