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

CHAPTER XIX

THE GREAT WOLF PACK

 
SEVERAL days more they rested in their camp under the face of the quartz cliff before they started onward through the foothills making toward the Mountains of the White-Haired Old Men that reared aloft toward the sky to the westward. And while they rested they cured the leopard skin and each made a pack sack for himself into which he carried his accumulation of fire stones and sharp shells, their extra arrows and their reserve supply of arrow heads. With their new weapons came greater confidence and they journeyed through the woods fearing nothing. Indeed their boldness sometime amounted to foolhardiness, Ru thought for when during their journey toward the mountains they stumbled across the trail to a wolf den among the rocks, Og boldly followed it to the very door.

Ru felt it was fortunate that the mother wolf was hunting, for Og when he saw by the evidence of many bones gnawed by puppy teeth in front of the den, that there were wolf cubs inside, entered boldly. Long ago Og had possessed two wolf cubs and trained them until they became his constant companions. They were the first dogs. But both of them had been killed during a wild boar hunt, and since their death Og had been hoping to stumble upon another den. That was why, despite Ru's protest, he seized the two cubs that he found huddled snapping and snarling in the far end of the tunnel in the rocks and dragged them forth to carry them away with him. He was determined to again have two dogs for his constant companions.

Stealing the wolf cubs worried Ru. All that day he kept watching the back trail for somehow he knew that trouble would come of Og's exploit. And his fears were well grounded. Late in the day, the mother wolf, returning found her den plundered and her cubs gone. With hair bristling and an ugly growl rumbling in her throat she picked up the trail of the Hairy Boys and followed them. Her howls of bereavement called other wolves and still others until soon the whole great pack assembled, gathered in a great menacing ring about the Hairy Boys' camp, and began slowly to close in about them. Ru was thoroughly frightened. He was for casting out the wolf cubs; giving them back to the mother. But Og refused. Already he had fed them cooked meat and made them his friends. He knew that soon they would be as faithful as the others were. He gave one to Ru and kept the other, and because they were not yet strong enough for the hardships of the trail they carried them crouched in the hollows of their shields against their shoulders.

They tried to drive off the wolf pack by threatening them with fire brands and by killing them with their hissing arrows. But the more they killed the more seemed to be drawn by the blood-chilling pack call. At night the tawny savages would press about the Hairy Boys so close that only the whirling fire brands they threw among them kept them at a safe distance. In the daylight they were not so bold. They kept beyond the menace of an occasional arrow that Og or Ru sent hissing at them when any of their number ventured too close.

But still they clung to the Hairy Boys' trail, for they seemed to know that if they pursued their quarry long enough they would tire them out and starve them until they could be easily pulled down and devoured. The great marching pack drove all the small game before it. Og and Ru could find nothing to eat. But the wolves ate. Og and Ru could hear the outrunners on the flanks of the pack give the hunting call. They could hear them pull down their game; hear them quarreling savagely over it as they ate. Then they would see them come swinging back onto the trail again licking the blood from their chops. Og and Ru were growing tired; haggard; starved. For nourishment they chewed on the skin thongs that bound their shields and packs to their backs, and on the leopard skins slung about their shoulders. Ru was for killing the wolf cubs and eating them. But Og would not let him.

"Wait," he would always say, "Wait a little longer. They are tiring. We will throw them off. We will win. They are animals. We are men. We are greater than the greatest wolf pack."

They were making for the rocky heights above the timberline on the slopes of the White-Haired Old Men, the snow-capped mountains that had for days been in the background of the strange land through which they were wandering in search of a new home for the Hairy People. They were toiling up the slope because when the wolf pack first beset them Og instinctively felt that safety for them lay in that direction. Then too, the wolves had come swarming up from the forests of the foothills and the only way open for the Hairy Boys was upward toward the heights.

There was a tired droop to Og's powerful sloping shoulders as they toiled upward. His long arms hung limp and heavy at his side as though even the light bow and ready arrow that he clutched in his fingers were too much for him to carry. There was a haggard, drawn look on his face and his feet dragged. Ru, just behind him, appeared equally as worn out.

But despite their apparent exhaustion the eyes of the Hairy Boys were ever alert, watchful. Every movement, every shadow caught and held their attention, and now and then they glanced furtively over their shoulders, behind them. At such times Og would grunt in anger.

The forest was alive with slinking forms. Og and Ru could see them slipping from the shelter of one tree to another, could see them stealing through the undergrowth swiftly, silently, as furtively as shadows. There were scores of them, hundreds of them. The Hairy Boys could hear the soft, pad-pad of their feet on the forest floor. They could see the wicked gleam of green eyes from the darker shadows.

They were reaching a new and strange country with everyday's journey. The jungle thinned. The plumlike palms and spreading banyans, the drooping ferns and the creeping lianas were disappearing behind them. Instead towering sequoias clothed the slopes; sequoias as great in girth as the circle that would be formed if all the men and women and children of the Hairy People joined hands in a circle. For two days they traveled this forest of giant trees through which the wolves prowled after them. Then the sequoias began to grow shorter, stunted. Other stunted evergreens took their place. The forest thinned out too. The air was colder, so cold that Og and Ru could not keep their teeth from chattering. The fires they built at night were bigger, hotter. The Hairy Boys did not know it, but they were getting above timberline; into snow country. They did not know that the winds that swept down from the heights were cold and bleak and cutting.

The trees were getting fewer all the time. Great rocky patches appeared like islands in the forest. The wolves drew further from them, for in the open rocky spaces the Hairy Boys could speed their arrows with more deadly effect. The wolves had less covert in which to slink. Og began to feel too that the pack was growing smaller. Some of the less persistent were dropping out of the hunt. Were they losing heart or were they afraid of the new country they were venturing into? Og suspected the latter. Very well they would climb higher up the slopes. They would go deeper into this uninviting land fast growing naked of vegetation and thus shake off the last of the pack.

But as they climbed higher the chill in the air became more unbearable. Clouds low hanging and threatening spread across the heavens, enveloping the heights above them. Soon strange fluffy white particles filled the air floating like down from the breast of a marsh bird. Both boys saw these soft white flakes for the first time in their life and they were mystified and not a little frightened. Og caught one in his hands as he would a fly. But when he opened his clenched fingers it was gone. All that he could find was a drop of moisture.

The flakes became thicker. The air was full of them, like a white veil they shrouded everything as they whirled and danced on the wings of the wind. Soon the ground was covered with a carpet of them. They were cold to the Hairy Boys' naked feet; so cold that they seemed to burn as if they were treading on fire. The wind howled fiercer too and bit deeper into their flesh in spite of the coarse hairy covering with which Nature had clothed them.

In the face of the oncoming storm the wolf pack thinned out until soon all that the Hairy Boys could see through the screen of snowflakes were a few stragglers who followed their trail with red tongues hanging and heads bent against the fierce blasts of the wind that whistled down from the heights. And soon these too gave up the hunt and turning tail trotted with the wind down the now snow-covered slopes to the protection of the forest well below them.

And with their going Og and Ru paused and crouching like shivering animals in the lee of a snow covered boulder debated. Should they turn back too and take their chances with the wolf pack if it still lingered in the forest below them, or should they go on higher up the slope deeper into this strange new land into which they had been driven? But while they crouched there a new terror was added to their situation. Suddenly, swiftly like the hand of cold death, a great boiling bank of vapor rolled down upon them, enveloped them, blotted out the landscape entirely, walling them in. The great storm clouds had swept down the slope and engulfed them. It was like smothering, clammy smoke through which the snow turned to cutting particles of ice, whirled and hissed in terrible fierceness lacerating their flesh, and making them grunt in pain and terror. Even the wolf-cubs nestled snugly in the protection of their shields whined and whimpered.

Og realized that they could not stand this long. They were already too weak and too far spent. They must go somewhere. They must do something; he did not know what. He staggered to his feet and stumbled onward, trudging through snow above his ankles. Where he was going he did not know; nor did he care so long as he found some protection against the fiercely raging storm. Ru mustered all the strength that remained and followed Og, keeping close to his heels so as not to lose sight of him in the cloud blanket. On they trudged staggering and sometimes falling, neither knowing where they were going save that they were stumbling down the slope.

Soon they found themselves slipping and sliding down a sharp incline that ended abruptly at the foot of a high smooth-faced, ice-covered cliff. Og plunged down the slope in a whirl of snow, clutching and reaching for something to check his swift descent, and Ru equally unable to keep his footing, followed. They landed together in a drift of snow at the foot of the cliff and for a moment lay there exhausted, scarcely able to rise.

Og was the first to stagger to his knees, then climbed unsteadily to his feet. As he did he noticed a dark opening at the base of the cliff formed between several piled up stones. Drifting snow had partly closed the opening but instinct told Og that it was the entrance to a cave; a cave that would shelter them from the storm and the piercing cold.

Ru still lay in the snow, the look of exhaustion on his face, his eyes closed. Og hooked his hands under his armpits and half lifting half dragging him through the snow, got him to the entrance of the cave and well inside.

By the gray light that came in through the opening Og could see wind blown rubbish littering the floor; leaves, twigs and even fair sized sticks, the latter doubtless carried in by generations of rodents that lived in the cave. Dropping the still exhausted Ru against the walls of the cave, Og found his fire stones and gathering a heap of this litter together made a fire and built it high until it was snapping and cracking and throwing a radiance that was life itself to him and to the spent Ru, and even to the whimpering wolf cubs that crept close to the warm blaze.

The warmth was like a drug to them all. From exhaustion they drifted off into sleep, Og only arousing himself enough occasionally to scrape together more twigs and sticks and replenish the blaze. For hours they slept while the storm raged outside and became a veritable blizzard piling the snow in immense drifts along the craggy mountain tops and closing the entrance to their cave completely.


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