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

CHAPTER XX

IN THE DEPTHS OF THE CAVE

 
WHEN Og finally awoke it was pitch blackness within the cave save for the glowing embers of their dying fire. He piled more twigs and sticks on the live coals and it blazed up again, its fitful light revealing the rocky walls on either side and piercing the gloom for some distance into the depths of the cave. While Og was replenishing the fire Ru awoke, and only half aware of how he had reached this strange place of refuge, looked about. With a cry of alarm he clutched Og's arm, and pointed.

"Look, look, Og! The wolf pack! They are here, waiting, watching!"

Startled, Og leaped to his feet and looked behind him into the dark depth of the cave. There in the blackness beyond the radiance of the fire he beheld eyes — great green luminous eyes — scores of them. Assuredly the cave held others besides themselves. Was it the wolf pack? Had the stragglers of that savage band that had hunted them for so many days found the cave first and crept inside to avoid the storm? Were they there alone in that dark passage underground with those hungry fiends for companions? A terrible fear gripped Og and he clenched his stone hammer fiercely and stood at bay.

He could see the eyes moving restlessly about in the blackness. He could see strange forms shifting here and there. They were vague, ghostly. Were they wolves, or were they some other strange and fierce creatures of this high region? Og was very frightened. He knew that he and Ru weak and spent as they were from their long ordeal and the lack of food were in no condition to take care of themselves in the face of a new enemy. What were they to do?

Og seized a flaming stick from the fire and held it above his head so that he could see deeper in the gloom. The strange beasts were becoming restless. He could see them moving about in the blackness. Were they—?

Suddenly Og's tenseness left him. He relaxed and laughed. Then he shouted in sheer joy and relief. Wolves? No these creatures of the darkness were not wolves. They were goats. He could see their white long haired coats. He could make out vaguely their grotesque faces looking like bearded old men. He could hear the click of their hoofs on the stone floor and the clash and scraping of their horns. And now that he had relaxed, his nose told him plainer than his eyes what these queer creatures were.

Oh Ru, here is great luck. Greater luck than I expected. They are goats! Goats! They mean food. Food! " exclaimed Og joyously.

"Food!" cried Ru, "Come then let us kill one. I am weak for the want of meat."

Nearly twenty goats of the mountains, shaggy long haired creatures that roamed the craggy heights had taken refuge in the cave as goats do when the peaks are swept by fierce storms. There they had been resting and waiting until the fury of the storm outside abated. But the coming of the Hairy Boys and the fire they built in the passage of the cave had driven them deeper into the darkness where in a huddled mass they stood watching with fearful eyes these strange intruders.

The discovery of the goats and the knowledge that food was so close at hand gave Og and Ru new courage. It seemed to inspire even the wolf cubs too, and they were the first to advance yapping and snarling down the passage of the cave toward the phantomlike band half hidden in the darkness. Og and Ru, with stone hammers ready and each with a firebrand above his head followed close behind them.

But as they advanced the goats in confusion began to withdraw deeper into the cave until soon they broke into a veritable stampede pushing and crowding, snorting and bleating as they struggled down the narrow gallery trying to get out of the way of these mysterious creatures. Og and Ru broke into a shambling run despite their weakness, but before they could catch up with the stragglers, the little band of goats had crowded through the narrowest part of the passage and had burst out into a great round high ceiled room-like portion of the cave.

Close behind them, their torches throwing a weird light on the walls and domed ceiling and on the glistening cone and pendant-like stalagmites and stalactites, Og and Ru came out into the central cave and saw the little band rush madly round and round seeking an exit. But there was no other passage save the one by which they had entered and the two Hairy Boys blocked this. The goats were in a panic. Their frenzied bleating echoed and reechoed along the domed ceiling and aroused great black winged bats that were hibernating there. Like the somber-robed spirits of the night that they were, these huge creatures began to sail about among the stalactites making loud squeaking noises and clicking their ugly teeth. They swooped down at the noisy goats and some of them attracted by the torches that Og and Ru held dived at the Hairy Boys, too. But Og had encountered bats before and did not fear them. With a quick sweeping swing of his hammer he knocked one out of the air and crushed it against the stone floor. The others circled at a safer distance then.

While they stood at the entrance to the central cave Og had been thinking.

"Ru, you stand here and do not let them get out. I will go with the wolf cubs and drive the goats toward you." he told his companion.

Ru nodded his understanding. But just as Og took a step forward Ru uttered a grunt of warning and seized him by the shoulder. Og stopped. Suddenly the goats had become quiet. They huddled in a frightened mass in a far corner of the cave. The bats ceased their swooping and flew to the walls of the cave where they draped themselves from the crevices still clicking their teeth. The wolf cubs that had been snapping and snarling and nipping at the legs of the goats came slinking back, their tails between their legs and the hair on their backs bristling. For a moment the two Hairy Boys were mystified. They could not understand what was happening. Then suddenly they heard an ugly grunt and out from the darkest recesses of the central cave, from behind a series of stalagmites, into the fitful flicker of the torches appeared a tremendous, shaggy creature with tiny ears surmounting a huge head, piggish little eyes, great yellow fanged jaws, and huge claw-armed paws. It was a great cave bear, aroused from its slumbers by the noise the frightened goats had made.

The goats held its attention. Coming into full view it paused and sat up on its haunches while it looked at the goats speculatively. Then with a surly grunt it dropped on all four feet and shambled toward the huddled, shrinking herd. But it had taken scarcely a half dozen scuffling steps, when the wolf cubs, made brave because they were close to the Hairy Boys, turned, and with snarling barks pretended to make a brave dash in its direction.

At the sound of their voices the cave bear whirled in its tracks and looked at them and at the Hairy Boys with their glowing torches. For a moment it stood there as if summing up the situation. And in that moment, a big bewhiskered old goat, the leader of the flock, who had stood legs braced and head lowered eyeing the bear angrily, suddenly found the courage to charge. With a patter of horny feet it flashed across the floor of the cave like a bewhiskered comet and literally hurled itself through the air at the bear planting its broad head with terrific force against the animal's flanks and ripping upward with its black spike-like horns, laid open a big wound in its stomach.

With a growl of rage and pain the bear spun around and aimed a crushing blow at the goat with one of its terrible paws. But the goat was not there. It had literally bounced back out of danger and stood at a safe distance shaking its head angrily, and pawing the ground and snorting. Enraged, the bear charged. But the goat dodged out of danger with ease. And at the same moment another goat from the huddled herd, and the two wolf cubs found the courage to attack the bear at the same time

Growling the wolf cubs leaped in behind and began snapping at the bear's hams, and when he turned to strike at them with one of his heavy fore-paws, the second goat crashed into his flanks, and the first goat followed from the other side.

The huge beast became furious. Beset on every hand by enemies that he held in contempt because they were weaklings his surly temper flamed in terrible wrath. A moment he sat up on his haunches and glared about him, first at one goat and then at the other, then behind him to the bristling, snapping wolf cubs. Suddenly with a growl that echoed and reechoed through the cavern he charged madly, blindly at the second goat. And so swift were the movements of his apparently clumsy bulk that the nimble goat could not elude him. One of his great club-like paws with its raking nails crashed down upon the goat's back. There was the dull crunch of bones breaking and the goat was crushed to the stone floor. But the bear did not pause in its charge. It hurled itself forward at the mass of goats huddled against the cave wall and with flailing paws bowled them over, crushed some of them and scattered the rest like leaves in a blast of wind. Here and there he darted smashing, ripping, crashing, gone mad for the moment with the lust of killing. Some of the goats scampered bleating across the cave but others more valiant or more desperate than the rest, turned and charged at the enraged bear. And though he bowled some of them over, others did get past his terrible paws to hook him with their vicious horns and batter him so hard that he soon became confused and bewildered. The wolf cubs were in a frenzy too. At the danger of being trampled under the sharp hoofs of the goats they were in the thickest of the melee, snarling and slashing with their puppy teeth and doing their best to worry the old bear.

From the entrance to the cave Og and Ru looked on, their excitement mounting. To see the great bear beset on every side by the angry goats pleased them immensely. The courage and daring of the wolf cubs delighted them. They laughed and urged them on. But suddenly Og gave voice to a cry half of anger, and half of fear, for the bear, on its haunches again, at bay, and bleeding from a dozen ugly wounds in its paunch and flanks suddenly made a lunge for one of the cubs, and catching it before it could scamper away on its puppy legs, swept it up in one of its great arm-like paws, and held it kicking, squirming and snapping against its shaggy breast; held it there with crushing pressure, until its snarls became yelps of pain.

Og's excitement turned to anger and resentment. The wolf cub belonged to them. For days they had braved the dangers of the wolf pack because they wanted the animal alive. Now it was being crushed to death by the bear. Scarcely realizing what he was doing he rushed madly across the cave, Ru following. But at a safe distance he stopped, and passing his torch to Ru, with the command to hold both flaming brands high above his head so that he could see, Og fitted an arrow to his bow and sent it hissing at the big bear. Another and another he shot in quick succession, the last catching the beast high up in its unprotected throat bit deep into its flesh severing arteries as it cut through the heavy muscles until its flinty point lodged in its brain.

The great shaggy form of the big bear crumpled then, and fell in a kicking, nerve-convulsed heap to the stone floor. But in its death struggles it did not loosen its grip on the wolf cub, and Og could see, even as the bear collapsed that the cub was dead too.

Snorting, and shaking their heads angrily, the goats withdrew before these two mysterious creatures who had slain the bear and who carried the flaming torches. One, the leader, found the entrance to the cave and the rest followed him. And Og and Ru watched them go with a feeling of gladness for they realized that the little band had put up a valiant fight against the big bear.

Their hunger claimed their attention first, and while Ru found leaves and sticks and other materials that had been dragged into the cave by countless generations of animals that had built their homes there, Og by the fitful light of a firebrand stuck in a crevasse in the rocks carved generous chunks of flesh from one of the several goats that the bear had killed.

And while they cooked and ate this food and threw generous portions to the surviving wolf cub, Og's mind was busy; busy with thoughts of their hardships of the past few days, of the strange land they had ventured into, of the storm and the mysterious white and painfully cold substance that covered the ground outside the cave. How cold it had been to their feet. How it had cut deep into their flesh and numbed them and made them shiver. They would have to venture out into it soon again. They would have to climb down from the heights to the warmer lands below. They would have to fight this white death again. Og had been looking at the shaggy coats of the goats and the big cave bear, creatures who inhabited this land of mountain tops. They were well protected against the bitter cold.

Suddenly Og's brain found the thought it had been groping for. Why not take the hairy coats of these creatures for warmth? Why not wrap themselves in the skins of these animals? Og told Ru his new idea and Ru was quick to see the value of the suggestion. Together they began to strip the hides from the goats and the big bear, and scrape them clean, and dry them by the heat of the fire. And when they were ready they tried various ways of wrapping themselves in them. After many attempts Og conceived the idea of cutting holes in one of the hides through which to put his arms. He found then that he could draw it snugger about his body and tie himself up in a veritable bundle with strips of skin for lashings. It was Og, too, who conceived the idea of tying their feet and lower legs up in skins to protect their feet from contact with the cold snow. For two days they remained inside the big cave working out the problems of their first garments and when they finally emerged in the snow covered mountain top world to wade through the drifts that the storm had left, each was snugly clad in crude but highly serviceable skin clothing.


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