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

CHAPTER XII

STOLEN FLAMES

 
OG had learned the secret of fire.

Not content with having kindled flames by accident, the hairy boy continued his experimenting with the black fire stone. True, the accidental lighting of the wood dust litter revealed the secret to him, but even after that it was some time before he really felt that he had mastered the situation to the extent where he could kindle flames whenever he chose, providing he possessed the fire stone.

Again and again he scraped wood dust and tiny splinters from a piece of soft wood with his flint knife, then bent over them with two fire stones, learning the art of striking the sparks so that they would leap from the stones into the powdered wood and immediately start glowing. But finally he achieved what to him was perfection in the art of fire building and he was extremely happy.

The fire, of course, was a mystery to the tree people. That was evident from the way they gathered about the entrance of the canyon and watched it curiously. Some of them even overcame their fear of the canyon and the hairy boy to the extent of coming well inside the rocky declivity and sitting there among the bowlders for long periods, just blinking solemnly at the flames and chattering softly among themselves. Chief among those who mustered courage enough to come close to the flames was old Scar Face. He finally reached the point where he would sit for hours there and stare first at the fire and then at the hairy boy with an expression of profound thought.

Indeed, so often did Scar Face and certain others gather in a circle about Og's fire, that after a time there developed a certain intimacy between the hairy boy and the ape men. They lost their fear of this mighty one who had slain the great cave tiger and who had proved himself master of the Fire Demon, and in its place developed a wholesome respect for him and his ability. Scar Face and all of his lusty fighting men would often gather in a semicircle at a respectful distance from Og, and watch him with a strange expression in their eyes, which Og gradually perceived was admiration, the admiration of loyal subjects to a chieftain, and Og soon realized that, if he cared to, he could be the ruler of the tree people, with Scar Face and his warriors as his devoted henchmen.

But for some strange reason this did not appeal to Og. To be ruler of the tree people was not to his liking. He had watched them closely during the time he had been among them. and he had found them tremendously interesting. So like the hairy men they were in many ways, and yet so different.

Og had always looked upon them as animals, but he perceived now, as a result of his intimacy with Scar Face, that they were not, yet they were not men as he knew them. They had a language that consisted of grunts and querulous chattering but it was so crude that Og could see that they had great difficulty in expressing even the simplest thought. They could think. Og realized this when he analyzed their reasons for bringing him to the canyon a prisoner. Scar Face, who represented the height of development among them, had doubtless thought out the idea of making him a sacrifice to the cave tiger. They built tree top homes for themselves especially in mating time, and though they were crude structures they showed a homing instinct. And some among them, notably Scar Face and his warriors, occasionally carried weapons in the form of clubs, though they often forgot that they possessed them, as they forgot many other things.

Here Og could see was one of two distinct differences between the tree people and his own race. Most hairy men (although there were still many who were not capable) followed an idea or a task to its conclusion. If a hairy man wanted to find a smooth round stone for a new stone hammerhead, he usually set about searching for it and searched until he found it, although there were some even among his people who could be turned aside from such a quest and made to forget all about the object they had started after by a bit of bright quartz, or the discovery of a bird's nest or something else that might amuse them.

This was the way of all the tree people. They no sooner found one thing that interested them, than they dropped it for another. Og perceived, however, that this was not entirely true of some of them, especially old Scar Face, who seemed to have more steadfastness of purpose than most of his kind.

...

Yet Og could see that some of them, especially their leader, were making slow progress. Their interest in his fire and all that he did was evidence of this to him. The fact that Scar Face imitated him in everything he did, to the best of his ability, also helped Og in this conclusion. The scarred one walked more upright than the rest of his kind. He carried a club for a weapon more frequently than the rest and he always watched Og's stone hammers with interest whenever he came close to his fire. Og noted this fact and one day, more out of curiosity than anything else, he gave Scar Face one of his best weapons.

Og needed no interpreter to understand from the grunts and gibberish that Scar Face was grateful. Indeed, he was so delighted that his antics were childish. He paraded before his warriors with the hammer over his shoulder, and smote trees and bushes for no other reason than just to show off his weapon, and his warriors were duly impressed.

Scar Face watched with interest, too, Og's handling of the fire, and often when he sat near it he would toss a stick onto the flames, and chatter excitedly when he saw the flames consume his contribution. The fact that Og always carried a smoking and flaming firebrand about with him wherever he went impressed old Scar Face, too, for he perceived that that was equally as important a weapon as the stone hammer.

First he had a wholesome respect for the fire, although for some reason he did not fear it as many of his people did. This respect for the flames increased when he inadvertently stepped on a hot coal that had popped some distance from Og's stone fireplace. But he could appreciate its virtues, too. Its biggest appeal to him was the fact that it dispelled the darkness of night, the darkness which he and his people feared. It gave light and he knew that monsters like the sabre-toothed tiger, the cave-lion, and other beasts of prey shunned light and hunted only during the hours of darkness.

He appreciated its warmth, too, for it was a delightful sensation to crouch within its circle of radiance and feel the warmth against his hairy coat. The rites that Og performed over the flames each time he killed a rabbit or some other small animal, and the transition of the red and bloody meat to rich savory brown food, was something he could not understand.

He often gnawed at the few bones that the wolf cubs left and found that the taste was pleasing, and several times Og flung him a small piece of cooked meat, which he sampled and ate with great gusto. Scar Face and his people were not meat eaters like the hairy men, for the chief reason that they had never had the ability or the weapons with which to procure this kind of food. They never shunned the contents of birds' nests, however, and small rodents that they were able to catch, they always gobbled down with relish. Scar Face soon perceived that flesh, and especially cooked flesh, was well worth the eating and, as a result of his introduction to this form of food by Og, he was to become the first meat eater among the tree people.

Soon after he had sampled the cooked food that Og gave him, and some time after he had acquired the stone hammer, he took to hunting as diligently as Og did, and the first day he was rewarded by killing one of the many rabbit-like animals that were abundant in the pleasant valley. After surprising it and crushing it with a blow of the stone hammer, he brought the mangled form to Og and told him gruntingly that he'd like to have the hairy boy cook it for him.

Og obligingly skinned it and cooked it, and Scar Face devoured it with much smacking and sucking. The bones he tossed to the wolf cubs as he had seen Og do, and when he finished he licked his fingers in imitation of the boy.

After that Scar Face wanted a fire of his own. For some time he tried to make Og understand his desires and finally, when the hairy boy did comprehend him, he flatly refused by a vigorous shaking of his head. The disappointment of Scar Face was very evident. He sulked and grew ugly. He showed his teeth at Og and even clutched the handle oŁ his stone hammer menacingly. It was a show of belligerence that the hairy boy could not tolerate for a moment, and angrily Og snatched up a burning fire brand and hurled it at the ape man with such accuracy that it hit him in the pit of the stomach and singed the hair and burned the flesh until old Scar Face shrieked with pain and ran away clutching at his paunch and squealing.

Og sat by his fire and grinned at the tree man's discomfort, for although he was perfectly willing to have old Scar Face possess a stone hammer he was not at all inclined to share with him his most valuable of all weapons, the fire brands. Og knew now that he could drive off the fiercest of the hunting animals, even the cave tiger, with the fire brands, and he knew, too, that if it ever became necessary he could hold Scar Face and his whole clan at bay. Under those circumstances he was not willing to put any of the tree people in possession of the weapon he depended upon most.

Scar Face, off in the bush, nursed his burns, and later he tried as best he knew how to make a fire for himself. He got stones and a litter of wood, as he had watched Og do, and he clashed the stones together until they broke in fragments, but not a single spark of fire did he ever produce. Yet the desire to have a fire of his own still persisted, and although the leader of the tree folk never came near Og's fire again while the hairy boy was present, he watched the actions of Og from a hiding place at the mouth of the canyon. For several days he lurked there, hidden even from his own people, and finally the opportunity that he was hoping for arrived.

Og, as was his custom, lighted a fire brand from the flames, and with his stone hammer and some throwing stones in his hands, and the wolf dogs at his heels, started out across the pleasant valley on a hunting trip to replenish his larder, Scar Face, from his hiding place, watched him until he was well out of sight. Then, marking that none of his own people were watching his actions either, he made his way craftily into the canyon and, slipping from rock to rock, reached the place where Og's fire still burned in the rude stone fireplace. From wood that he found there he made himself a torch as he had often seen the hairy boy do, and dipped it into the still smoldering ashes, he breathed upon it after the fashion of Og and presently tiny flames appeared at the end of his torch. He had a fire brand, too!

He held it up and watched it with eager, yet fearful eyes. Then he did a curious little dance of elation, as if he sought to tell himself in that way that he was as great a man as Og. But quite suddenly he stopped dancing, for he realized that the owner of the fire might presently appear again. Then, too, for some curious reason, he did not want even his own people to know that he possessed this fire torch. He glanced about cautiously, and stealthily made his way out of the canyon. Then, holding the burning torch at arm's length as he had seen the hairy boy do, he slipped into the forests and disappeared.


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