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

CHAPTER XI

FIRE

 
OG paid small heed to the tree people who gathered at a safe distance to watch him. This task of skinning the great cave tiger was too absorbing and too important. He worked diligently until the sun was overhead before he had the huge pelt removed and spread out on the surface of a sun-warmed rock to dry. But he did not stop there. He fancied the long knife-like claws of the great cat, and with his stone hammer he broke all of these off. He wanted the sabres, too; the long tusks that protruded from the upper jaw and were almost as long as his forearm. With his stone hammer he broke these off and laid them aside with his other trophies.

All this accomplished, he sat down to rest and suck the blood from his messy fingers. It was then that he realized for the first time that he was hungry. But the strong, unsavory cat flesh did not appeal to him, despite the fact that he had not tasted meat for several days. With his flint knife he hacked a muscle from the carcass and tried it. It was not pleasant and he flung it to the wolf cubs.

They devoured it greedily and turned to the carcass for more, and Og knew that with the help of the vultures that already circled overhead or sat hunched on nearby rocks, they would soon leave nothing but gnawed bones to remind the tree people of the terrible cave-dwelling tiger.

His hunger recalled to Og that the tree people had provided him with food. He looked out toward the mouth of the canyon, where a number of them were gathered in little groups in trees and on the tops of rocks, watching him curiously, and he noted with a sense of satisfaction that as he watched them they became uneasy, and chattered among themselves, and some that had ventured a little too far from the security of the trees scrambled back and took refuge among the palm tops, nor did they jabber at him derisively as ape people did at hairy folk when they felt safely out of reach. They held him in awe and Og knew that his triumph over Sabre-Tooth was accountable for it. Even the powerful Scar Face and his band of warriors moved to a distance with the others.

Og was elated, nor was be slow to take advantage of this new situation. With a rolling walk that had about it a faint suggestion of swagger, be walked to the mouth of the canyon and looked at the flat rock on which the tree people had each day placed the fruit and nuts that were his food. It was bare. He looked at it in silence for a moment then up among the palms at the peering, chattering tree people. In the fiercest voice he could muster he began shouting for food, at the same time brandishing his stone hammer.

Much to his satisfaction his easily interpreted actions caused a commotion among the ape men and forthwith Scar Face and a number of others began chattering loudly, and presently the whole horde was scurrying about among the tree tops. Og, with the demeanor of a tyrant, which he already felt himself to be, walked back to his tiger skin and sat there watching, and before long he was gratified to sec timid tree folk hurrying toward the food rock with armfuls of fruit, and it was not long before they had deposited there a pile of food that was staggering in its proportions. It contained more than Og could eat in many days, all of which gave the primitive boy grim satisfaction. He was fast beginning to feel his importance as the slayer of the cave tiger and it delighted him to see that the tree people were awed to fear by his prowess.

Still, his fast developing egotism did not overbalance his discretion, for that night and many nights thereafter he and the wolf cubs sought out protecting rocks on the sloping sides of the canyon, behind which to crouch and slumber.

Nor did the fact that he was held in awe and feared by the tree people incline him toward being a bully and a despot. Og was developing too swiftly for that. There were too many things he wanted to do and he did not want to spare time to make life miserable for Scar Face and his people through their fear of him. True, he did demand that they bring him food, but that was no hardship. Indeed, it soon became apparent that this was in the nature of a pleasure for the ape people, for daily scores of the food carriers gathered among the rocks and trees at the mouth of the carryon and watched him as he went about accomplishing the things that he had set out to do. They watched him with the curiosity that only ape folk can display, and many of them tried to imitate him in some of the things he did. Especially was this true of Scar Face, the leader of the tree folk. When Og chipped stone diligently for half a day, Scar Face and several of the other tree men, after watching him in silence for a time, would get two stones and knock them together too and watch the result curiously. But, of course, they never achieved anything from their effort for they had no object in knocking the stones together in the first place, save that of imitating the hairy boy.

Og spent a great deal of time in knocking stones together, for he had a real object. He was determined to find out how to get the fire from the black rock in a form that would make it of service to him as a protector and to furnish him light and heat and cook his food. Og thought longingly of the fire-scorched horse that he had first eaten and he was determined, if it were possible, to once again eat cooked meat.

For that reason he spent days at a time working with the piece of flint rock that gave off the sparks each time he struck it against another stone. He tried every way he could think of to catch the fire, but not once was his patient effort rewarded with even the tiniest spiral of smoke. Still he kept at his work with determination. Time and again he held sticks against the black stone and watched the results eagerly. He struck the stone against the stick for hours at a time until he wore out the stick, yet; the result was always the same. When he struck stone against stone he always got sparks, yet neither stone would catch fire. Og worked and worried and fretted and tired his brain out trying to accomplish the thing he desired.

He had set himself up a veritable workshop there in the canyon, under the shelter of some big bowlders. There he kept his precious tiger skin, and the claws and teeth, and there he kept choice pieces of wood that he hoped some day to make into torches, his hammers — for he had made several now that he had found an interest in making things — his stone knives, for he had wrought several of these with patient chipping, and numerous pieces of flint that he had gathered up about the canyon. Always he sat on a smooth flat rock to work at his stone chipping, and beneath this rock was a litter of stone chips and, most conspicuous of all, a pile of splintered wood, some of it ground almost to powder as a result of his almost incessant beating of flint against wood and wood against flint in his vain hope of transferring the sparks from the stone to a torch.

Of course Og did not realize it, but this litter of powdery splinters of wood was the key to the solution of his problem, and doubtless he would have gone on with his patient experimenting for days, with his fire material close at hand, had it not been for a fortunate accident. The hairy boy found a new piece of the black fire rock, a large piece, twice as big as his head, and he had carried it, from a remote corner of the canyon back to his workshop beside the flat stone. Here he dropped it on the ground and surveyed it reflectively. It was much too large to do anything with and he realized that pieces of it could be more easily handled. He decided to break it into fragments and forthwith he smote it a terrific blow with his stone hammer.

A perfect shower of sparks and a ruined stone hammer rewarded him, for the flint was a terrifically hard smooth-grained piece and not easily broken. Og looked at the shattered hammer-head ruefully, and then at the flint. Then he gave a sharp cry of astonishment, for, behold, from the pile of litter, from the powdered wood splinters, a tiny spiral of smoke curled up, while a spark glowed before his eyes.

For a moment Og did not know just what to do. Suddenly he recalled that this fire thing was a peculiar animal that could he both killed and brought to life by breathing on it. But before he could put this thought into action the wisp of smoke went out, and the glowing spark became black. In vain did he try to nurse it back to life. It was gone.

Og's disappointment was overwhelming for a little while. He just crouched there in dejection, looking at the pile of splinters and wood dust. But presently he aroused himself and began to ponder the matter. He ran his fingers through the wood dust and realized that it was soft and pulpy. He remembered, too, how much more readily soft wood had burned in his first fire, and he wondered whether that was not the solution of the whole problem.

He let the great piece of flint lie where it was and, finding a heavy stone that he could conveniently handle, he crashed it down upon the fire rock with as much force as he had used when he had shattered his stone hammer. Once more there was a shower of sparks and once more a tiny spiral of smoke began to rise from the litter of wood dust. Og was quickly on his knees this time breathing on the glowing spark. And, as he blew against it softly, he saw it increase in size and grow brighter and the smoke wisp grow larger and larger.

Suddenly, with a tiny explosive sound, the live coal leaped into a flame and Og, with a cry of elation, hastily began to feed it wood splinters until presently his whole heap of litter was alive and burning and a smoke column was rising skyward. That night was the first since the beginning of time that a camp fire glowed in the canyon, and the tree people from the safety of the tall palm trees watched it with a sense of fear, for to them it seemed like the eye of another giant, more formidable even than the cave tiger, looking at them through the blackness.


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