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

CHAPTER X

IN THE DARK OF THE NIGHT

 
SLOWLY the giant tiger began to flatten itself among the rocks while the heavy head with its glowing eyes moved about trying to locate Og, either by smell or by sight. That the great cat knew he was in the canyon and close at hand was evident from its actions. For a long time it crouched motionless among the rocks, save the slow and subtle movement of its head and the silent waving of its tail. Presently it began to creep forward ever so slowly, moving across the canyon in the direction the soft wind was blowing and heading directly toward the bowlder behind which the hairy boy and his wolf companions crouched.

Og's heart almost stopped beating. Yet, with all his fear, he never moved a muscle, for he realized that the tiger knew he was close at hand, but had not yet been able to locate him, and until it did it would not spring upon him. It must see him first and know for a certainty just where he was before it would risk a charge or any quick movement.

Softly and slowly it slipped forward, from stone to stone and from bowlder to bowlder, taking advantage of every shelter and waiting long and patiently in the deep shadows while its evil eyes searched every possible hiding place to locate its victim. So well hidden were Og and the wolves, and so silent did they keep, that the big cat was completely baffled. But Og knew that the natural determination of the beast would not let it give up the search for him, and it was inevitable that it would find him and pounce upon him, breaking his neck with one sweep of its terrible paw, or cleaving his backbone with its mighty jaws. What was he to do? What chance would he have, even with his stone hammer and the alliance of the wolf cubs, against this monstrous man-eater?

In the desperation of the moment an idea was born. He wondered how solidly this rock that he crouched behind was embedded in the side of the canyon. He remembered that when he had located it during the hours of daylight he had noted that it was none too well fixed in its place. He wondered how great a shove would be needed to send it crashing down the slope to the bottom of the canyon, twenty or thirty feet below. He wondered whether he had the strength to start it on its downward path. It seemed to be his only hope. Softly he put his shoulder against it and tried it. It moved with unexpected ease and made a grating noise, at the same time dislodging loose dirt and pebbles that rolled down the slope, making a surprisingly loud noise in the stillness.

The tiger flattened against the ground with a soft hiss and its ears went back against its head, while its eyes glowed like live coals. Og, frightened by what he had done, loosened his grip upon the wolf cubs and stood up. Instantly the tiger saw him and gave voice to a roar that echoed and reechoed across the narrow canyon, and sent chills racing up and down the back of the hairy boy and the whimpering wolf cubs. Then, like a flash, it charged.

Two great leaps brought it to the foot of the slope, and with swift and powerful strides it began to climb among the rocks directly beneath Og. The hairy boy watched it, over the top of the bowlder, trying to time his attack so that the big beast would be in a position from which it could not escape when he should launch the heavy boulder. He knew that a mistake on his part meant swift and sudden death for him. He knew that unless he could bowl the great cat over and crush it down with the rock his end would follow quickly.

Up mounted the tiger, mouth opened, fangs bared, and eyes glowing. Og could see the beast distinctly now, in spite of the darkness, and he realized what a hideous fate would be his if luck were not with him, or his strength or nerve should fail him. He gritted his teeth and braced both hands against the boulder, at the same time planting his short, crooked legs firmly against the ground.

The tiger came on, but the steep slope retarded its progress. In spite of its great claws its footing on the rocks was not certain and small stones were dislodged and rolled clattering down to the bottom of the canyon as it climbed. It was half way up the slope now, half between the canyon bottom and the terror-stricken hairy boy. Og dared not let it come further, for it might reach firmer footing and with one terrific spring pounce upon him. The hairy boy gave a mighty heave, putting all the strength in his powerful back and legs in the shove. The boulder, with a crunching noise, came out of its insecure resting place, balanced a moment on edge, then in a shower of stones and dust tipped over and crashed down the incline on its journey of destruction.

The tiger saw it coming, and for an instant it paused and flattened itself against the slope, spitting viciously. That pause was fatal. The next instant, realizing its danger, it tried to leap forward and fling itself out of the path of the whirling boulder, but the great stone crashed upon it before it could leave the ground. Momentarily there was a pause in the mad career of the stone, then it sped on, and with it, grinding against other boulders, went the clawing, spitting body of the big tiger.

To the bottom of the slope they rolled together, in a mad whirlwind of flying stones and dust. There they landed with a crash, the heavy stone pinning the great mottled cat against another and larger boulder that stopped the wild plunge. There it lay, scratching and clawing at the huge stone that held it prisoner and making the night hideous with its terrible screams.

Og and the wolf cubs remained on the slope of the canyon wall trembling and wondering what was to happen next. But when the boy discovered the condition of the beast and knew for a certainty that it was held captive by the weight of the stone, he added his voice to the general din and gave the hairy man's hunting call of triumph. Again and again he shouted in wild ecstasy, then, seizing his newly made stone hammer, he scrambled down to the bottom of the canyon, and, swinging his weapon over his head, crashed it down upon the tiger's head. Again and again he beat it until the great head bled from a dozen different wounds, and the animal lay still among the rocks. Then once more Og raised his voice in a triumphant shout that echoed and reechoed up and down the canyon and out into the pleasant valley, where the tree people heard it and wondered.

All night long Og and the wolf cubs paced up and down beside the dead tiger, the hairy boy gloating over his achievement and enjoying his triumph to the fullest. He kicked the limp body, and spat upon it. He called it dreadful names in the tongue of the hairy people, he stood upon it, sat astride it, pulled its tail, and finally sat down and watched it proudly.

And well might the hairy boy be proud of his accomplishment. The great cave tigers had taken a heavy toll of his people for many years, yet never to Og's knowledge had anyone of his tribe, even his father, who was the mightiest hunter of them all, ever slain one of these terrible beasts single-handed. Indeed, Og had only heard of one ever having been killed, and that was one that, wounded and sick from a recent encounter with a hairy rhinoceros, had crawled to the river for water. There the hairy people had found it and cornered it. The whole tribe had joined in the killing of it and they had stoned and clubbed it to death. Og had seen the skin, or that part of it that could be salvaged. Old Gog, the scarred and irritable old war leader of the clan, would bring out the small piece of it that was left and drape it about his loins at feasts and on other state occasions.

Og realized with an overwhelming feeling of importance that he now possessed a whole skin to boast about when he should meet his people. He was wealthier now than any hairy man had ever been, or at least he would be when he had skinned the tiger. He was eager now for dawn to come so that he could begin that important task.

The first gray light of morning found Og searching about among the stones in the canyon for one that would make a satisfactory skinning knife. He searched long and hard, for he was beginning to appreciate the value of good tools, and he meant to have a knife that would do its work well. Again he was fortunate in finding a piece of flint; a large scale this time, that had a sharper edge than any knife that Og had ever possessed. He was elated, and he resolved, as he admired the cutting edge and tried it on the handle of his hammer, that he would not throw it away as most hairy people did the sharp stones they used for the same purpose. Instead, he would keep it, and perhaps, by chipping it as he had done the hammer head, he could make it even more serviceable.

With the coming of the first rays of the sun Og was bending over the prostrate form of the huge tiger. He had rolled the boulder partly away and dragged the carcass out from its death trap. Then he proceeded with his skinning, while the wolf cubs looked silently on or explored among the rocks for small animals on which they might breakfast.

It was at this work that the wondering and thoroughly frightened tree people found him when they began to gather timidly about the entrance of the canyon. And when they saw the sabre-toothed one stretched prone on the ground with the one that they had meant to be his victim bending over him they squealed in amazement and jabbered among themselves, but none of them, not even old Scar Face, had the courage to enter the canyon and come near him.


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