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

CHAPTER IX

SACRIFICED TO SABRE TOOTH

 
WHY had they not killed him?

This question puzzled Og more than any other. Certainly they had had ample opportunity. That night, there in the sequoia forest, they could have strangled him and left his body for the wolves. Or at any time during their long tree top journey they needed but to drop him from the branches of one of the high palms and the crash to the ground would have broken every bone in his body. And again, when they attacked him, Scar Face could have broken his back, but refrained, or the group of warriors together could have literally torn him limb from limb, yet they had not done so. Surely it could not have been cowardice that had stayed them, nor yet mercy, for mercy was a quality that Og knew but little about and the tree men nothing at all. Why then had he been spared?

Og puzzled with this question many times in the days that followed, and tired his slowly developing brain to absolute fatigue more than once in pondering for a reason.

It was strange position he found himself in. He was a prisoner. He knew this only too well, for during the hours of daylight Scar Face and some of his stalwart fighters crouched at points of vantage and Og knew by their demeanor that he could not pass them and go where he pleased. But his was a strange sort of prison. They had hurled him into a veritable blind canyon carved by nature in the rocky side of a mountain, whose high walls tapered from their broad opening into the pleasant valley, to a narrow declivity behind him that ended in the black and foreboding entrance of a great and deep cavern.

Og feared this cave, as did the wolf cubs. They kept as far away from the black entrance as they could, and always they watched it with signs of terror in their eyes. Og could read their fear in their growls and bristling hair, and instinct told him, too, that death lurked there in some terrible form. Just what it was he could not understand, for his sensitive nose, or delicate ears, or yet that strange protective instinct that was his, did not give him any definite indication of what the danger might be. Still danger, he knew, was there and he too kept as far away from the cave's entrance as possible.

He and the wolf cubs were allowed to roam at will up and down the canyon, from the cave to its very mouth, where it looked out upon the broad and sunlit valley, but beyond this point they could not go for always Scar Face and his tree people were on guard to prevent him. It was at the mouth of the canyon, that, once a day, he found food. The tree people always at midday left a pile of strange fruits and stranger nuts for him to eat. There on a flat rock they laid them and Og knew by this that they were afraid to come further inside the canyon in which they had made him prisoner.

The strange diet of fruit and nuts was at first distasteful to Og. The hairy people were meat eaters and fruit formed a very small part of their diet, save berries and certain roots and barks, which his people had learned to use. But the tree folk were not flesh eaters, and they gave him only what they ate themselves, but they gave in abundance, and Og, after a day oŁ fasting, found that he could eat this new food with a certain degree of relish.

This being a prisoner was strange and unpleasant to the hairy boy and for a time he did little but sit among the jagged rocks, with the wolf cubs beside him, and wonder what it was all about. But on the second day, as his numerous cuts and bruises began to heal, his spirits lifted and presently he began seeking about for ways out of his difficulty. The discovery that the tree folk were prevented by fear from entering the canyon, although it aggravated his fear of the lurking menace of the cave, also made him realize that in his prison he could do about as he chose without any interference from them. This fact discovered, Og forthwith set about making himself weapons, for he felt that he might need them sooner than he anticipated.

A stone hammer was his first thought, and as he cast about among the rocks for desirable material, he could but think of the valuable weapons he had once possessed in the fire brands. How he regretted the over-confidence and the lack of vigilance that had made him let that precious fire burn out. Oh, if he only knew of some way of rekindling the flame; of calling back the Fire Demon.

Although there were rocks in profusion scattered about the canyon, Og was surprised to find that there was really a dearth of good material for a stone hammer. The rocks were all too large or of the wrong shape, and he spent a great deal of time searching and wandered all too close to the foreboding cave, before he recalled quite suddenly, and with a great deal of interest, the methods he had employed in getting the stone knife with which he skinned the wolves that day in the sequoia forest. He remembered suddenly that, not finding satisfactory material, he had broken a sharp scale from the large rock, by pounding it with another stone. Why not do the same thing to shape a hammer head?

Og sat down and thought the idea over. Then he found the best shaped stone he could and puzzled over it for some time before he proceeded with his first effort at craftsmanship. The stone was too heavy and too long. Og realized that if he could break off one end it would be nearer what he wanted. He proceeded to beat it against a bowlder and presently he was rewarded by having part of it break off, leaving in his hand a rather good hammer head. But, this achieved, Og was not satisfied. He surveyed the product and realized that it was not as satisfactory as the last one he had possessed. It was too irregular and misshapen. The question then took form in his mind, why not reshape it with the aid of other stones?

Elated with the idea, Og proceeded to find another stone that he could handle, and after a search he picked up one about the size of his fist that was black and extremely hard. Og did not know that he had fortunately found a piece of flint. With this and the rude hammerhead in his hands he sought out a flat rock, and sitting down with the hammer head between his knees, proceeded with his task of shaping it, while the guards of the tree people looked on from the mouth of the canyon with apish inquisitiveness.

But Og had not chipped more than a half dozen strokes when he made a startling discovery, one that made him experience a strange mixture of fear and elation. He proceeded first to chip away a jagged corner of the hammer head with his piece of flint, when suddenly, and much to his astonishment, the flint gave off a series of fire sparks. So startled was Og that he dropped the black stone and sat staring at it in amazement. He had discovered fire again.

After a time he picked up the flint and felt it carefully. It was not hot, yet it contained fire. That was strange. It was black. The cooling volcanic rock from which he had lighted his resinous torch first was also black. Was this, then, the same kind of fire rock? Og searched about and found a stick. He touched it to the flint; held it there a long time yet no tiny spirals of smoke rewarded him as he expected. Still he knew the fire was in the rock. It leapt out when he struck it against another rock. He tried it, and with the second tap more sparks flew.

Og examined the flint carefully; turned it over and over, felt it again, tried once more to light the stick, then, still holding it in his hand, he sat and thought and thought and thought, until his brain grew tired. The fire was in the rock, of that he was certain, but how to get it out and in his possession, under his control, was a vexing question.

Ere long the hammer head was shaped to his satisfaction. To secure a handle and tough bark with which to lash both stone and stick together was not difficult, for among the rocks was scrubby vegetation that yielded him both of these necessities. Og put his now valuable chipping flint in a safe place, while he worked diligently but carefully at making the rest of his hammer.

The corning of night was fraught with unpleasantness for Og. A prisoner there in the canyon, with the menacing entrance of that mysterious black cave behind him, and the guards of the tree people on the alert and closing his only way of escape, made more acute his inherent fear of the hours of darkness. How glad he was to have the company of the faithful wolf cubs then.

Before night was well upon him, Og and the wolf cubs climbed as high as they could on the sides of the canyon and, huddled behind a huge bowlder, with their faces turned toward the rear of the canyon and the entrance of the cave.

And it was well for Og that he decided to climb part way up the canyon wall and take shelter behind the bowlder, for hardly had he become comfortably huddled down with the wolf cubs nestled close to him, when the narrow confines of the canyon echoed with a wild blood-chilling roar and, through the blackness of the canyon, Og could see in the entrance of the cave two glowing eyes and the outline of a huge sabre-toothed tiger.

Softly, yet swiftly, Og reached out and covered the mouths of the wolf cubs, for he knew that a whimper or growl from them would bring the great beast down upon them in an instant. Then like statues, without the movement of a muscle, they sat there and watched the great beast come slowly forth from the cave, stretch itself and yawn, then test the wind by throwing up its massive, ugly head. And as Og watched just a glimmer of the real idea for his imprisonment in the canyon took shape in his brain. Had they left him there as a sacrifice to this beast?

Og was close to the truth of the matter, though, of course, he could not know all of the details of how the great, sabre-toothed one, at times, made life miserable for the people of the tribe of Scar Face, appearing suddenly and collecting toll from their numbers, only to disappear just as suddenly and leave the pleasant valley quiet and unmolested for weeks. To the tree people the great tiger was a terrible monster and a mysterious one. They knew that it came from the cave and returned to it. They thought that it slumbered there and came out only occasionally, when extremely hungry. They did not know that this cave ran clear through the base of the mountain, and was really a backdoor to the great beast's real den, which opened into another valley beyond the mountains, a far more desirable valley from the tiger's point of view than that of the tree people, for hunting was better there with beavers, and sloths, oxen, deer, and wild horses in abundance, any one of which made a better meal for him than did the thin and wiry tree people. That was why the great sabre-toothed one left the den only occasionally by the back door to hunt in the valley of the tree people. Her periodical visits, however, were terrifying to the ape men, for always the great cat caught one of their number out in the open, or, failing this, climbed one of the tall palms, in which the tree people made their rude homes, and tore down the rough and flimsy platforms they had learned to build, and wiped out a whole family in its ferocious effort to get at least one victim to take back to the den. That was why Scar Face and his people had carried Og all the way back to the valley, and that was why the whole tribe rejoiced when he was brought in a prisoner. For weeks they had been dreading another visit from Sabre Tooth, and they felt that if they could furnish a victim she would leave them unmolested for a time at least.

Og sensed a great deal of this as he and the wolf cubs crouched trembling behind the big bowlder part way up the canyon wall and he watched the great beast pick its way slowly and deliberately among the rocks while fear gripped his heart.

Suddenly the tiger stopped and lifted its nose toward the sky, at the same time moving its head and thick muscular neck slowly from side to side. It was trying to trace the direction of an odor that came down on the night wind, and Og instinctively knew that the odor was his odor and that the sinister beast had detected his presence in the canyon.


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