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

CHAPTER XXIII

CROSSING THE BIG LAKE

 
WITH Da and his hunters and his horde of Fish People waving them farewell from the beach they started the raft that Da gave them down the lake early one morning keeping close to the shore as all the Fish People did whenever they ventured beyond the fishing grounds just in front of the village. Og was pleased with this new craft. It was far better than the log he and Ru had partly shaped into a rude canoe. Made of many logs lashed together it was broad and flat. It could carry all three of them, as well as their leopard-skin packs, and their weapons and turtle-shell shields. The wolf cub now well grown was also safe on board this craft and there was room enough for the three of them to stand or crouch as they chose, nor did they have to dangle their feet in the water as they did when they sat astride their log.

The raft was heavier than the log to be sure and it required far more effort to urge it through the water. Og's method of propelling the log by means of flat sticks for paddles was not satisfactory with this craft but the Fish People had devised a method of shoving the raft through the water by means of long poles pushed against the bottom of the high banks of the lake and Og found that when all three of them used poles to push with the heavy raft moved through the water almost as swiftly as his single log did.

All went well on their cruise down the lake shore until the sun had climbed high and hunger told them that it was time to rest from their labors of poling the raft and eat some of the generous pile of food that Da and his people heaped onto the raft in gratitude for killing the Thunder Bird. Together they crouched in the center of the raft and began to tear apart a big fish that Og had roasted over a general cooking fire that he had built in the center of the village of the Fish People. The meal claimed all their attention, nor did they notice that while they ate, the raft, unguided drifted out from the shore. Slowly turning round and round it made for deeper water. A strong wind began to sweep down from the Mountains of the White-Haired Old Men too, and presently short, choppy waves began to dance on the surface of the lake.

It was the motion of the raft riding these waves that aroused Og's attention first and when he looked up and discovered how far away from shore they had drifted he uttered an exclamation of surprise and seizing a pole stood up and tried to push against the bottom to shove the raft back. But there was no bottom to push against. The water was far too deep. Og was a little startled. But he was more disturbed when he discovered that the raft was moving away from the shore faster than the three of them had been able to pole it along. What mysterious force was urging it on and where was it carrying them? Og and his two companions stood up and while the wind whipped their goatskin jackets about them they studied this perplexing problem. Dab told them that this same strange force had laid hold of craft of the Fish People in times past and in spite of the best efforts of the raftsmen they had been carried on down the lake until frightened they plunged overboard and tried to swim ashore. But only a few had ever reached safety again and none could tell what strange force had carried their raft onward.

It seemed as if a mysterious hand had laid hold of the raft; had clutched it with invisible fingers and was slowly but irresistibly drawing it out into the center of the big lake; out beyond the farthest point that the Fish People had ever dared venture on their craft of logs. Og felt that they had every reason to be terrified. The wolf cub lay whining on top of Og's leopard skin pack in the center of the raft watching with frightened eyes the wooded shore fast being left behind. Whither were they bound? What would be the end to this strange cruise they had embarked upon? Og and his companions wondered, as they tried to puzzle out what the mysterious force was that moved them forward in spite of their best efforts to hold the raft back; to work it in toward shore again. Had some strange creature out of the depths of the lake seized them intending to carry them on to their doom?

Was it some strange force under the water, or was it these constantly tossing choppy little waves? What made the water dance so anyway? Og, as he tried to think of answers to these questions that leaped into his mind, leaned against the wind and tried to gather his flapping goatskin jacket about him for there was a chill in the air. But he found it hard to catch the flapping ends of the skin garment and harder still to pull them about him. The wind got into their slack folds and bellied them out. The force of it resisted his efforts; made him a little angry. Og crouched down to avoid the force of the wind and pulled his jacket snugly about him and the others followed his example.

And immediately they did this Og discovered that the raft's motion forward slacked perceptibly. It did not go so fast. Could their standing up have anything to do with the movement of the craft? He stood up again and once more his goatskin jacket bellied in the wind and the raft moved faster. Here was something strange. He told the others to stand up and when the wind got into their garments, too, the raft sailed faster still. Several times Og made them crouch and gather their garments about them, then stand and spread them to the wind. Then he understood and laughed. The wind was the invisible hand that moved them forward. When they spread their goatskin jackets the wind pushed them along faster. When they gathered their jackets about them and crouched down the wind did not have so much to push against and the raft lagged. This was a highly interesting discovery to Og. He explained it to Ru and Dab and when they understood they laughed at their fears and spread their goatskin jackets wide.

But Og was not content with this. Here was another force that he could make serve him, as he had made fire, and the power in the bent sapling serve him. From the clutter of things in the center of the raft he took a big section of skin they had taken from the big bear they had killed in the cave of the goats. He tried first to spread this to the wind alone but he found that it was too much for him to handle. Then he called to Ru to take one end. Between them they spread it half way across the raft and the wind filling it urged the heavy raft along faster than any raft had ever traveled before. But this was tiresome. Holding the bear skin against the wind required lot of strength. Og wondered why it could not be done much easier.

He gave his end to Dab while he experimented with the long poles they had used to push with. It took him some time to work out the problem but he finally devised a plan of lashing the bear skin to a cross piece and lashing the cross piece to a pole jammed upright between the logs of the raft. Then while he sat down and braced the mast between his knees, Ru and Dab each held onto the lower corner of the bear skin, and thus did Og conceive the first sail and make of the raft the first craft to be carried through the water by the power of the wind.

It was exhilarating to the three boys to go sailing across the lake almost as fast as one could walk on dry land. To be sure they had long since been carried out into water that was appallingly deep and the shore they had left behind seemed so far distant that even the tall sequoias had melted into a heavy blue-green mass without detail. But the further they sailed from one shore the closer they approached to the other for the wind was carrying them diagonally across the lake. They had no means by which to steer and no knowledge of how to direct the course of their craft but the fact that they could make out a forest clad shore ahead of them, and fast growing nearer was sufficient. They were thoroughly happy.

It was mid-afternoon before they reached the opposite shore. The wind carried them in the lee of a long, high rocky promontory that jutted out into the lake and was crowned with towering sequoias. Og unstrapped the mast then and they used the poles to work the raft toward a strip of sandy beach that had formed in the cove behind the promontory and dragging their craft a little way up the sand as the Fish People did to keep it from floating away they scrambled ashore.

And in some strange way as they set foot on the beach and looked about Og knew that they had found the place they were in search of; the location for the new home of the Hairy People. Vaguely the place appealed to him. In the sheltered cove the water of the lake was smooth and still — a cool, transparent, deep green, reflecting the color of the towering sequoias on the shore behind them. From the little strip of beach they could look across the lake back along the way they had come, and though the shore where the village of the Fish People was located looked vague and far off yet beyond they could see rising toward the clouds the Mountains of the White-Haired Old Men. From the beach Og looked upward toward the top of the rocky promontory that sheltered the cove and rose in gradual shelving steps from the surface of the lake to the point where the sequoias began on top, and he could see that there were caves and crevices and overhanging boulders that would afford dwelling places for a colony twice the size of the Hairy People. A little way down the lake the forest gave way to a broad grassy plain that ended in a big boggy cove which marked the farthest limits of the lake.

It was a land of plenty, too. He could see tracks of goats and three-toed horses that had come up from the plain below, and strange cloven tracks of a creature he did not know but guessed to be much like a goat only many times larger. The beach was the place they came to drink. There was the lake with all its fishes and with Dab to teach his people the art of catching these big scaly things of the water, famine could never visit the caves of his people. Assuredly this was the land he and Ru had been searching for.

But it was a land not without its dangers. Og could see that, too. In the tracks on the beach he made out the prints of great padded feet and at the foot of the promontory he saw blood and hair on the sand and signs of a struggle. A sabre-tooth tiger had made its kill there the night before. With droves of animals coming to the beach to drink this would be the natural hunting grounds of one of the big cats, and Og could not help but search the deep sequoia forest behind them and the rocky face of the promontory with furtive eyes as they explored the beach.

Dab was especially delighted with the place. Of the Fish People, who had long ago conquered their instinctive fear of water, he knew how to swim well and after the three boys had explored until they were tired he stripped his goatskin jacket off and the skins that bound his feet (which they all continued to wear because they liked the warmth and protection the rude garments gave them) and plunged into the water. Swimming out a short distance, like a young otter he dove beneath the surface, to reappear presently shouting and holding a big fresh water clam in either hand. These he threw ashore to Og and Ru and dove for more until he had brought up all the three of them could eat.

Sitting on the sand the boys cracked the shells of these luscious morsels and ate until they could hold no more. And while they ate the sun dropped down behind the sequoia forest and evening came on. Then it was that Og, his eyes searching always, discovered strange forms among the trees that fringed the beach behind them. And looking up the rocky sides of the promontory he saw little bands of goats; not the big shaggy creatures of the mountain tops, but smoother, short-haired goats of the lowlands, making their way from shelf to shelf down toward the water. The animals were coming to the beach for their evening drink, and Og knew that with their coming the great sabre-tooth tiger, who doubtless nightly claimed his toll from the herds, would soon be abroad.

With the great cat lurking in the vicinity Og knew that it would be dangerous for them to spend the night in the open. It would be better if they climbed into one of the tall sequoias or crawled into one of the caves in the face of the promontory. He suggested this to Ru and Dab, and Ru agreed with him; but Dab told them of how the Fish People always took to their rafts when a tiger lurked near the village for the great cats did not like the water and with the raft well out from shore they were always safe.

Og liked this idea better than sleeping in a tree or cave, for they had accumulated so much in the way of weapons and provisions and skins that with these and the wolf cub, they were very much encumbered. Spending the night aboard the raft would be far easier than anything else. But Og had become so used to his watchfire at night that he was loathed to sleep anywhere where he could not have the protection and warmth of at least a tiny blaze. He was troubled. He thought hard of how to build a fire on the raft without burning the logs or the lashings that held them together. Suddenly his eyes fell upon several flat stones at the base of the promontory, and he gave a grunt of satisfaction. He would take these on the raft and lay them together as a place on which to build his fire-a fireplace. A moment he took to tell Ru and Dab his plan. Then instructing them to gather together all the drift wood they could find on the beach and carry it on board the raft, he busied himself with the stones and soon had them arranged in the center of their floating home to his satisfaction.


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