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Og — Son of Fire
Irving Crump
Dodd, Mead & Co.
1922

CHAPTER V

IN WHICH THE WOLF BECOMES DOG

 
ALL through the night Og cared for his fire. It was to him a new kind of animal; a strange pet that he must needs feed at intervals else it would disappear. Og was afraid that it would eat up all its food and go out. This he did not want to happen for he dared not go back into the valley for more flame because of the danger lurking there. If the fire should burn out he did not know how to get more of it. For that reason he watched over it as a mother wolf over a cub. At regular periods he awoke and got up from his cramped and huddled sleeping position and searched around in the dark for more wood to feed it.

During this very first night at fire guarding the hairy boy learned a lesson that has been carried down through thousands of generations of camp fire watchers ever since. About the fifth or sixth time he had aroused himself and searched about for wood he got an idea. Forthwith he squatted down and started thinking again. The result was that he did not stop in his wood gathering when he had enough to replenish the flame. Instead, he kept on gathering wood which he piled up on the shelf of rock. After that each time he awoke he had only to reach over and take a few sticks from the pile, replenish the fire and fall off to sleep again. His wood pile lasted him until morning.

With the coming of dawn Og began preparation for his search for the colony of hairy men and women who had fled the valley at the first signs of eruption. First of all he made certain of his fire. His original fire stick had long since burned, so he gathered together a bundle of fagots of the hardest and most knotted and pitchy sticks he could find. These he bound round with bark, and lighted from the fire. Thus he purposed carrying his new found treasure, determined to guard it with his life, for he knew full well if the flames went out he could never replenish them again.

This done, he squatted down to think. First he would need a stone hammer; the first and only implement the hairy men had invented. He searched up and down the shelf and scrambled over the cliffs and hillside until he found a stone of the proper shape, round and smooth and water worn, yet rough enough to permit a grip for the lashings of bark that would bind it to the haft. Several times Og found stones that would almost do, and each time he squatted down and examined them. In the back of his brain he felt that he could make them satisfactory if he only knew how, yet his brain was not developed enough to invent the simple method of chipping them into the proper shape. The hairy folk had not yet progressed so far that they could with their own handicraft make things to serve them. They must needs find the stones ready to be tied into war hammers else they went without or used clubs instead.

Og was particular. Half the morning he searched until he found what he wanted. Then taking it back to the ledge, he selected a tough stick for the haft and with bark lashed the two together. When he had finished it he surveyed it with pride. Crude though it was, it was far better than any he had ever seen, even better than the one his father took so much pride in, and that was the best hammer among the hairy men.

This done Og sat and thought longer. He would need throwing stones; five round ones that his long sinewy arms could snap out with deadly speed and accuracy. Some of the hairy folk had learned to be expert at throwing stones. Og was among the best of them.

Several good stones he piled up with his fagots and his stone hammer. Then he spent more time in thinking. Gradually he worked out the idea that it would be a good thing if he could carry some provisions with him. This was an entirely new thought for a hairy man; never before had one of the race ever had intelligence enough to think ahead to the extent of providing for the future. They lived from day to day, feasting while food was before them and hunting only when they grew hungry again. With watering mouth Og thought of his feast of the day before; of the abundance of roast horse meat down in the valley of steam, traces of which were still wafted to his sensitive nostrils. But he dared not go back into the valley again. The presence of the Mountain That Walked and Sabre Tooth forbade this.

Og's eyes brightened as he saw the wolf cubs still sprawled beside the fire. But as he looked at them: they looked up at him and their tails wagged with pleasure. Og could not understand the strange feeling that swept over him, but he knew then that he could never bring himself to kill them. He would go hungry rather than slay them and cheat himself of their companionship. Og's sense of loyalty had grown out of all proportion to anything of the sort that had ever been possessed by a hairy man before. And so he gave up the idea of carrying food with him, but he stored the thought away in his brain for future use.

Although Og had been out hunting when the hairy folk had fled the valley at the first rumble of the volcano he knew well which way they had traveled. No hairy man of late years ever journeyed north. Always there was a cold, ominous spirit in the Northland who killed with icy breath and numbing pain and left his victims stark and stone-like; at least, that is the story that a hairy man had brought to the tribe years ago when he staggered among the cave dwellers and besought some to take him into their cave and wrap their arms around him and draw him close to their bodies as the hairy folk did to keep each other warm. He was the last of as many men as he had fingers who had traveled into the Northland. The rest, he said, were dead and turned to stone.

So Og knew that the hairy folk had not gone north. Nor had they gone east, for that was where night came from. Hairy men feared the hours of night for it was then that Sabre Tooth and the Stalking Death hunted. The volcano was in the west, so the only road that lay open was southward. Og knew the tribe had gone southward. He knew it because of his crude reasoning as well as by a pack instinct fully developed in him.

And so Og faced southward, and as he picked his way up the cliff and along the face of the rugged, rock strewn and partially wooded hillside he was indeed a strange sight, one big hand clutching his stone hammer and the other carrying his flaming fagots and his supply of throwing stones, while the two wolf cubs romped ahead and in front of him. The crest of the hill finally gained Og found that his way lay in a deep forest, a forest of such tremendous trees that Og looked like a dwarf among them. They were the giant sequoia, the ancestors of the few remaining big trees still left, and in Og's day they clothed a greater part of the entire earth. They were so tall that their tops were brushed by low hanging clouds, and so big at the base that Og knew that every man, woman and child in his colony, by joining hands, could not encircle them and Og's tribe was a big tribe composed of almost a hundred people. Og had seen the trees before and did not stand in awe of them.

For hours he swung along among the big trees, his eyes, ears and nose alert as always. Once the wolf cubs started two rabbit-like animals from their cover. Og saw them as quickly as the wolf cubs and as they whisked across an open space he dropped his hammer, shifted a throwing stone to his right hand and whipped it after one of the scurrying beasts with the speed of a bullet. Og heard with satisfaction the thump as it thudded against the rabbit's ribs. Then, as the animal leaped into the air, and fell to the ground kicking. Og gave voice to a hunting yell of triumph. He was about to rush forward and seize his kill when he noticed the wolf cubs. Both had given chase to the other rabbit, and so close had they been to that animal when they started it that it had to take to another cover immediately, which it did by dodging into a hollow under some rocks. The wolf cubs were working frantically to dig it out when Og caught sight of them. He watched them with interest for a moment. Then his eyes brightened with a new thought. Hastily he secured his own prize, then hurried over to where the wolf cubs were digging, throwing a veritable shower of earth between their legs as they dug their way deeper and deeper under the rocks. Og squatted down close at hand and watched them. Soon they had dug a hole deep enough for one cub to squeeze into. The more active of the two shouldered his companion out of the way and wriggled in. Deeper and deeper he went until just the tip of his tail showed. Then Og heard a growl, a shrill frightened squeak that was cut short by the crunching of breaking bones.

Presently the wolf cub began backing out. Og watched his progress and as his head came to view with the limp form of the rabbit dangling from his jaws Og seized him by the scruff of the neck and wrenched the rabbit from his mouth. With a growl the wolf cub sprang at him. But Og was waiting for just this and as he leaped Og's hand shot out and cuffed him so hard that he was knocked heels over head and sent sprawling into the rock pile. Og looked at him and smiled. Then as he came whimpering back toward him, Og tore off a leg of the rabbit and tossed it to him. He did likewise for the other cub. Then he squatted down and tearing the rest of the animal to pieces he ate the choicest parts and tossed the scraps to the wolf cubs. And as he crouched there eating the raw flesh of the rabbit his brain was still very busy (as the brightness of his eyes attested) with the discovery that the wolf cubs could be made capital hunting companions. He reasoned that he could teach them to hunt and give over their kill to him if he went about it properly and once trained they would be invaluable, for they were swifter of foot and keener of eye and of nose than he was.

Just how he was to go about this work of making them understand that he was their master and that they must do as he willed, Og was not sure. Being primitive, as they were, Og and the cubs were closer to a common ground of understanding than are humans and animals to-day. Og could read a great deal from their attitude and demeanor and he could see that already he had impressed upon them that he was wiser and stronger than they were, and thus their master. He realized that this was the first step in their training. He had a vague feeling, too, that the next step was the development of a spirit of camaraderie; a friendly sharing of everything, food, hardships and troubles. In that way he could help them and they would not get discontented and run away. He looked back to the occurrence of the day before when he had rescued the one cub from death in the crack in the earth, and he realized that already this spirit had begun to develop, and he marveled that these things could come about.

So interested was he with his thoughts that he had consumed the rabbit and was licking the blood from his fingers when he thought of his fire, and of the miracle that fire worked with food. He experienced a sense of disappointment that he had not thought of this sooner and tried to cook the rabbit. But he realized that he had still another left and he decided to experiment with that.

All eagerness and enthusiasm, he began to gather great armfuls of wood until he had a huge pile stacked up in front of a towering bowlder that had a sheltering overhang, which Og, wise woodsman that he was, recognized as a capital place for a night's camp. With his back to this he began to build his fire, lighting it from his still flaming bundle of fagots.

After he had a scorching blaze well under way, Og took the remaining rabbit, which he had slung over his shoulder by a bark sling, and with the dangling form in his hands crouched before the fire and studied the situation for a long time, while the wolf cubs sat and looked on expectantly. Truly he was at a loss to know just how to proceed with what was to be the first meal ever cooked by a human being. Finally the obvious and most simple method seemed to appeal to him and he dropped the rabbit into the flames and watched it eagerly. He crouched as close to the fire as he dared to watch the transformation oŁ the rabbit into cooked food. But presently he began to cough and spit, and hold his sensitive nose with his fingers. The odor of burning fur was nauseating and for a moment discouraging. Og could not understand it. He hauled the blackened animal from the fire and held it at arm's length, while with his fingers still on his nose he looked at it ruefully. Then his eyes brightened with a new thought. It was the hair that caused the stench; the fur. Then why not take it off? He never ate the skin and fur of animals anyway.

With his fingers and sharp sticks (the hairy men had not yet discovered the use of flint knives) he began skinning the rabbit, until presently he held in his hand a tempting chunk of raw meat. Og was of a mind to forego the cooking of it and eat it as it was, as he had always eaten rabbit. Yet the memory of the savory odor and flavor of the cooked horse remained with him and he put the rabbit again in the fire. Forthwith a most delightful odor began to assail his nostrils, and the wolf cubs began to get uneasy and crowd forward, their mouths dripping saliva.

So tempting and insistent was the odor that long before the rabbit was properly cooked Og dragged it from the fire to eat it. But when he tried to break the tender steaming flesh apart he grunted with irritation. It was so hot it burned. He laid it on a cool stone and waited impatiently for he knew now that things cooled off and lost heat when no flame showed.

What a feast that was. Og tore the flesh from the bones and ate with great gusto, making a loud smacking sound. But he did not feast without sharing with the wolf cubs. Many a savory lump went to them and all the bones that Og's strong teeth could not crack were theirs also. And as Og ate, his fast developing brain made note of the fact that wherever the flames had touched the rabbit it was blackened and burned. This meat did not taste as good as the meat that had laid on the coals and was cooked to a rich brown. Og decided that he would lay his meat on the coals after the flame had burned out thereafter.

So intent was the hairy boy at his feast that for a time he forgot to be alert. Indeed the need for caution was only recalled to him by a growl of one of the wolf cubs, as both of them got up and came around to his side of the fire, the hair on their backs bristling. Og, startled, looked up inquiringly. He neither saw, smelled nor heard any real reasons for fear, yet he sensed from the wolf cubs that something ill was in the wind.

While they were feasting twilight had come on. The sun had gone down and a blue half light of evening overcast the sky save in the west where great crimson and orange streaks were splashed across the horizon. But there among the giant trees where Og and the wolf cubs were, a really heavy darkness had settled down; a darkness that was thick and ominous to Og as night always was. Instinctively the hairy boy crept nearer the fire and moved his stone hammer closer to him as he peered with anxious eyes among the giant tree trunks any one of which he knew was big enough to hide the slinking form of Sabre Tooth the tiger, or the big cave leopard, or any other of the many evil monsters of the forest.

Suddenly Og knew the danger that threatened him and he grew cold. From far down the night came a weird blood chilling call, that grew and grew in intensity until it seemed as if a thousand voices were howling in the dark. It was the pack call of the wolves and Og knew that this was the great pack, the pack of a thousand fanged jaws and sinister gleaming eyes. And they were coming in his direction.


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