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

CHAPTER VII

A CAPTIVE OF THE TREE PEOPLE

 
THE hairy people had not yet developed to the state where they possessed knives. True they had learned the use of sharp stones for cutting purposes. Their method was to take a jagged piece of rock and with the object to be cut laid upon another rock, beat it until it was worn or chewed into the required pieces. Then the rocks were cast aside. None had yet had the forethought to keep a sharp stone in his possession to be used as a knife. They had not progressed far enough up the scale to be able to think ahead. Meeting the future was not to be considered.

Og suddenly found himself greatly handicapped because of this trait of his people. He wanted to skin the two wolves that had been killed the night before; the grizzled old leader of the pack and the one he had dispatched with a thrown stone. The hairy men used teeth, fingers, sharp sticks and stones in their skinning. They did not remove the skin to preserve it. They pulled it off in strips and threw it away. Their chief desire was to get at the meat. They had not the ingenuity to make use of the hairy coat. They had not yet thought of wearing clothing for warmth.

Og did not at first have any other idea than that of tearing the skins from the wolves, so that he could eat them. But the skins were tough and his teeth and fingers were inadequate. He needed a sharp stone. But there were no sharp stones to be had. Here in the forest there were few stones, and those that he did find were worn smooth and round by weather and water. Og searched and searched till the sun had climbed high in the sky and still he was unrewarded. And as he searched he perforce thought of many another good sharp stone he had used in the past and had thrown away. He wished now that he had one at hand.

This wish made an impression on him. Indeed, he stopped short in his searching and turned the idea over in his mind. Why had he not saved one of those sharp stones; carried it with him as he did his stone hammer? It would be available now and worth a great deal to him. He stored this thought in a recess of his brain where was slumbering the idea he had had when he first started this journey; the idea that it would be a good thing to carry food or provisions with him.

This thought had come to his mind as he surveyed the two dead wolves that morning. Here was more than enough food for him and the wolf cubs. Any other hairy man would have stayed and camped there until the food was all eaten. But Og did not intend to do this, He was travelling. He meant to go on in search of his people as soon as he could start, but he hated the thought of leaving so much good food behind. Then out of the corner of his brain had come the suggestion: why not carry it along? Og had pondered over this idea for a long time. It was a good thought, he could see. But to carry the two wolves as they were would weigh him down. There was a great deal on each wolf that he could not eat, the head, the feet, the heavy bones, the skin. Why not remove them and take only the meat? That he would do, but first he must needs find a sharp stone with which to skin the beasts.

The hairy boy searched for that stone and wandered far away from the big bowlder beside which his camp fire burned. Each time he found a stone, he examined it carefully for a sharp edge. He would sit on his haunches and turn it over and over, while back in his brain was the same thought that he had had when he was searching for hammer stones and that was that if he only knew just how he was certain that he could put a sharp edge on to it. Presently he got the idea that perhaps the sharp edge was inside the stone. He would break it open and see. He had broken stones before by hitting them against other stones. He would try to break this one open.

With all the force of his long strong arm and heavy shoulders he hurled the stone against a boulder. It rebounded with a sharp crack and Og hastily retrieved it. It had not smashed, but its force had broken loose from the boulder a big scale of stone with a capital cutting edge on it. Og picked up the scale and examined it. It was just what he needed. He gave a grunt of triumph as he felt of the edge. Then he went over and looked at the scar it had left on the boulder. And as he examined this scar a crude thought took shape. Why could he not make a stone knife by breaking round stones with other stones until they were the shape he wanted them to be? Indeed, why could he not break stone with other stones into hammer heads or throwing stones or anything else that he wanted? The suggestion was fascinating. The idea of making anything to suit a given purpose was born in Og. He was the first of the hairy people to conceive this possibility and it stirred in him almost as much interest as had his discovery of fire. He was inspired by a new desire. He would try to make a knife out of a round stone, some day. It would be an achievement to make a stone, the hardest substance he knew, into any shape he wanted it just by chipping it with other stones. He would——

Og's thought was not completed. As he stood there by the big rock a heavy club whizzed through the air, crashed against the boulder just over his head and rebounded with a sharp crack. Instinctively Og ducked and scuttled behind the stone, looking up with startled eyes into the direction whence the club had come.

A loud chattering gibberish of sounds greeted his curiosity and at the same time Og beheld in the lower branches of the tree over his head three big forms, that stormed at him a perfect tirade. They were the tree people.

Og looked at them and uttered a grunt of contempt. Then he came out from behind the boulder, and searching out a throwing stone he hurled it up at them with whistling swiftness. It hit the biggest of the apes a resounding thump in the chest and with a squeal of rage and pain the big form, followed by his companions, scrambled up the tree, and made off through the forest, swinging from limb to limb but making a terrible din at their going. Og heard their cries and vaguely understood them. They were showering imprecations upon him and threatening dire things in tree folk talk. Og cried his defiance back at them for he held them in contempt, as cowards. They were the tree people; the tribes of the woods whom his people centuries before had vanquished and driven out wherever they came in contact with them.

Og looked upon them as beneath the hairy people in every way. True, they were strong, but they did not know their strength. They were not flesh eaters and so they were not really dangerous. And they were great cowards too, except when they traveled in hordes.

Og chuckled softly to himself as he thought of how he had served these three and driven them away, and after he had seen them out of sight he turned back toward the boulder where he had left the wolf cubs and his fire, dismissing them from his mind entirely.

But hardly had he come within sight of his campfire again, when he heard far off a hollow booming as of many sticks being beaten on hollow logs. Og stopped and listened and understood. It was the war noise of the tree people and he smiled grimly. He knew what had happened. Somewhere there was a tribe of tree people. Why they were so far north he could not understand for their dwelling place was south of the domains of the hairy people. They were somewhere in the great sequoia forest now, however, and the three he had seen and beaten off with stones had probably been detached from the drove. Doubtless they had hurried back to the main group and communicated the fact to all that one of their number had been injured by a hairy boy. That had made them all angry. So angry that they beat their chests in rage That was the hollow booming sound. Og knew that they were beating their chests to try and work up their courage to the point of attacking him. He knew that this was the way of the tree people. They always grew terribly enraged but they were such great cowards that they dared not attack even one single hairy man, though they always tried to work up their own courage by beating their chests and making terrible faces and raising hideous yells. But nothing usually came of their effort.

Og went on to his camp fire, the booming noise still sounding through the forest. It lasted much longer than the hairy boy had expected and after a time he gave ear to it again and a slightly worried look came into his brown eyes. Was the sound drawing nearer? The hairy boy peered off among the giant trees. He could see forms moving among them. He could hear branches swishing and leaves rustling and always the booming sound persisted. Was the ape horde coming to attack him? For a moment Og was troubled. But the traditions of his people soon banished this. Never had the tree people had the courage to attack even a single hairy man. They raved and shrieked frightful names and made hideous faces and a great pretense at war, yet one hairy man, with a stone hammer or a handful of throwing stones, could drive them off.

Og smiled. Here was he not only armed with stone hammer and backed by two valiant allies in the form of wolf cubs, but he had at his command a great new powerful wenpon — fire; a weapon that had driven off The Mountain That Walked and held the wolf pack at bay. Why should he fear the tree people though the forest was full of them? He grunted contemptuously and set about skinning the dead wolves, heedless of the forms in the trees all about him — great sinister forms that swung from branch to branch or leaped from tree to tree, watching him the while and making hideous grinning faces at him. But there was one among them — one huge ponderous beast with tremendously long arms and a deep chest and a face that was well nigh hideous with battle scars — who swung closer to the lonesome camp beside the boulder than any other. He was the leader of the horde and a brute to he reckoned with. His great strength alone gave him more courage than any of the others. Indeed, he had more courage than any other tree man had ever had, and he somehow imparted his courage to others of his clan. This tree tribe was different in spirit from the horde that the hairy men had coped with in the past and doubtless they would have attacked Og on sight had their big leader led them. But he hesitated, not because of the boy or his hammer or the wolf cubs that snarled up at him, but because of a strange thing with red and orange tongues that snapped and crackled beside the boy and sent wisps of blue fog up into the trees that got into his nose and made him cough and gag. The fire was the thing that held him back. It struck fear to his usually strong heart and made him hesitate. So long as the fire burned there he had not the courage to lead his band to attack.

Secure in his belief that all tree people were cowards and dare not attack him, and this security made doubly certain by the fact that the horde swarmed about in the trees above him, yet not one dared to come down to the ground, Og worked on skinning and tearing the meat from the dead wolves. He was longer at his task than he had thought he would be. Twilight came on ere he finished. And by that time he was very hungry despite the fact that all during the time he was skinning and cutting up the wolves he had been licking the blood from his fingers or dividing with the wolf cubs succulent scraps of flesh that appealed to him. From the pile of meat he had wrapped in one of the wolf skins he selected a choice chunk or two, and scraping live coals from the fire he put them over the heat to broil.

Darkness had settled down in the sequoia forest by the time he had eaten; the heavy ominous darkness of a starless and moonless night that always struck terror to the hearts of the hairy men. Despite the comfort and cheer of the fire and the companionship of the wolf cubs Og felt the vague mysteries of the blackness that caused his people to huddle into the farthest corners of their caves and wait for the coming of dawn. He felt uneasy and dreadfully lonely and the vague forms that he could see swinging about in the trees above him, chattering or beating their chests or glaring down at him, did not add to his comfort at all.

Yet Og was courageous. He would not let his fears master him. He watched the swinging chattering forms above him for a long time. He even shouted names at them, sent stones hissing among them, and cried out derisively that they had not the courage to come down and attack him. Indeed Og's procedure was not unlike that of the tree people in a sense. He reviled and insulted them and depreciated their courage to such an extent that he succeeded in instilling in himself an overbalanced sense of confidence which permitted him in the end to heap a few sticks into the fire, move his stone hammer within easy reach, then huddle up in a ball and fall asleep.

How long he slept Og never knew. He was aroused by a strange uncanny sense of imminent danger. But while he was still coming out of the stupor of sleep the sharp yelps of the wolf cubs brought him to his feet like a flash. The first thing that he realized, and this was impressed upon him with a shock, was that the fire was out. Only one dully glowing coal remained to pierce the terrible, oppressive, horror-laden darkness about him. But other impressions followed swiftly. He knew he was not alone. Other forms, scores of them, swarmed about him in the blackness. He could see their eyes; he could hear the sobbing of their breath: their gibberish, and a hollow beating sound seemed to come from every quarter. He could feel them moving swiftly about him. Their hands reached out towards him and tried to clutch him. He could hear the clicking of their teeth.

For a moment Og was paralyzed with fear. Then the skin between his shoulders tightened and his hair began to bristle. With this his courage came back to him swiftly, and with a wild, almost fiendish yell he began to lay about him with his stone hammer. But despite his valiant efforts the forms in the dark were too many for him. They pressed in about him so close that he could scarcely swing his hammer. They clutched at him on all sides. Big powerful hands gripped his wrists. Sinuous arms were entwined about his body. Sharp teeth were imbedded in his flesh.

Still he fought — fought like a mad man. He threw them off, beat them back, trampled them down, wrestled, struggled, struck, kicked and bit. But to no avail. The clutches tightened on his wrists and arms. His legs and body were made helpless and then, spelling the end, a pair of huge, powerful paw-like hands closed slowly but irresistibly about his throat and choked him — choked him until his tongue hung out, until his eyes bulged from their sockets, until his lungs pained for want of air and his head throbbed with the pent-up blood in the arteries there. Og knew it was the end, yet he kicked and fought, though his efforts grew very feeble. Slowly he became unconscious. A blackness not of night was upon him. Yet before all his senses left him he could feel that many hands had lifted him from the ground and he was being carried upward in a halting, jerky fashion. He knew he was in the trees because of the swishing of bending branches. After that he heard no more.


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