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

CHAPTER XV

SMOTHERING DARKNESS

 
HIS bravery giving way to wild panic, the hairy boy dashed down the narrow cavern at top speed, dodging in and out among the stalactites but never once stopping until thoroughly exhausted. Then, panting, he came to rest and sat on the cave floor, while the wolf dogs lay down beside him.

They were very quiet for a long time and Og tested the air with his keen nose and listened for the slightest sound coming down the cave, for he was afraid that he might hear the scraping of the big snake pursuing him. All was quiet, and after a time in which he made certain that the reptile was not following him, Og breathed a sigh of relief and rested more comfortably.

The cave into which he had plunged went in an entirely different direction from the one into which the tree folk had disappeared and Og regretted this. Once again he felt that dreadful loneliness stealing upon him. The companionship of the tree folk, even though it had not been as intimate or as congenial as would have been the company of his own kind, had meant a great deal to the hairy boy and he was sorry that they had been separated. In a vague way he wondered what was happening to them. He doubtless would have felt lonelier if not envious had he known that, even as he rested there, the ape men were swarming out of the cavern into which they had plunged and, their recent terrifying experience forgotten, were romping on the side of another mountain that looked out on a new palm-grown valley reaching southward.

Og wondered where the cave he had entered led to, if indeed it led anywhere save into the bowels of the mountain. With his loneliness, a sudden indescribable fear of the dark, damp passage settled down on him. He began to feel as if he were a prisoner doomed to stay there underground with the bats and other loathsome denizens of the caves.

This fear spurred him into action, and although he was still panting with the exertion of the chase, he began a feverish, almost panic-stricken search for a way out of the cave. The darkness was dense and heavy; almost oppressive. To be sure, he still had his flickering torch, but the feeble rays of this only served to make the blackness of the cave seem heavier. He began to feel as if this darkness was pressing in upon him, trying to smother him, to bury him alive there under the great mountain that he knew was above him.

He started forward again, hurrying down the cave as fast as he could. Sometimes it narrowed down to openings so small that Og was almost afraid to try to crawl through them, and each time the boy wondered whether he had come to a blind end of the labyrinth of underground passages. But always these narrow passages widened out again, though some of them were at times so narrow that he could hardly force his body through them without scraping hair, and even skin, from hips and shoulders.

On and on he traveled. Time seemed long to Og down there in the blackness and now and then he despaired at ever getting out again. Yet he kept on courageously. He must find a way out. He must get into the sunshine once more. He could not go on forever wandering about down there in the blackness.

Vague fears began to obsess him; needless fears brought on by the oppressiveness of the blackness. What if another earthquake should occur? What if the cave walls should give way and the great mountain above him should sag downward? What if one of these huge pendant stalactites should drop upon him and pin him down to hold him a prisoner there in the cave until he died of hunger or thirst? Thoughts of hunger and thirst made him both hungry and thirsty. Og's nerves were fast going to pieces under the strain. He plunged madly on, half frantic now in an insane desire to find the exit to the cave, and he worked himself into a state of almost complete collapse.

But just when he had reached utter despair, something happened that helped him to master himself and find his poise and lost courage once more. The narrow cave suddenly widened out a little more than usual and as Og stepped into the small room-like vault in the rocks, an odor that was most disgusting assailed his nostrils. By the light of the torch he beheld bones scattered about the floor of the cavern, bones of all shapes and sizes, some partly gnawed and some with shreds of decomposed meat still clinging to them. It was the den of some animal that Og had blundered into, and his nose told him that it was the den of a great cave tiger.

For a moment Og was petrified with fear. But presently he beheld huddled in a far corner the shapes of two cub tigers, dead now and rotting.

Og could see that they had been dead for some time and his brain quickened by fear and all that he had recently gone through told him that these were cubs of the female tiger he had slain weeks before. They had starved to death there in the cave when their mother did not return.

Og smiled grimly, for he was glad to rid the world of the whelp of this ferocious cat. But he smiled, too, because he realized that all his recent panic had been groundless. From the den he could look down along the passageway ahead of him and see, not far off, a shaft of soft, warm light that he knew was sunlight. The exit to the cave was close at hand.

The hairy boy did not linger. He made for the entrance and presently he and the wolf dogs found themselves on a ledge overlooking a valley that extended away northward. And as he stood there, below him Og beheld a figure moving; a man, and one of his own kind.

Og gave a loud halloo, and waved his smoking fire torch toward him. The hairy man in the valley looked up at him thoroughly startled, then as he saw Og move to climb down from the shelf into the valley, he gave a cry of fear and dashed off toward some cliffs on the other side of the valley. Og paused and with disappointment on his face, watched him go. Then the hairy boy beheld the cliffs toward which the man was running and his heart gave a great bound. The cliffs were pockmarked with holes that Og knew were the cave dwellings of the hairy men. And at the alarm cry of the running hairy man, heads appeared at many of these holes and looked out across the valley, while from various points in the woods, other hairy men and women appeared and ran scrambling up the cliff to dodge into their home caves for protection.

Og descended into the valley as swiftly as he could. The tiger had worn a narrow, but well defined trail from his den into the forest on the valley bottom, and Og had little difficulty in following it. Presently he was running through the forest, with the wolf dogs romping after him. It was a long way across the valley but the hairy boy was so eager to reach the colony of hairy men that he never noticed the distance. He plunged forward recklessly, making a great noise, and occasionally shouting in pure joy at having found his own people once more.

After a time he arrived at the foot of the cliff. Here, at the base of the almost perpendicular wall, was a great rock-strewn flat, where the hairy folk doubtless worked and played. Above in the cliffs were a number of holes and crevices, from which looked many curious faces. Og stood below and shouted upward:

"Hallo. I am returned. The son of Wab has come back. I am Og now. I have won my name." But in answer came a chorus of shouts of derision, and from several doorways stones came pelting down, and Og was forced to duck and dodge as the ugly missiles whizzed by.

"Stop, stop. You are my people. I am the son oŁ Wab. Wab, the mighty hunter. Where is he?" cried Og, from behind a boulder whence he had dodged to avoid further stones that were hurled at him.

The hairy boy was startled to receive an answer from close at hand.

"I am here, O stranger. I, Wab, once the mighty hunter. I am here ready and waiting for you, O, stranger. If you are death come take me. I am no longer of use to any one. I, the mighty hunter, am blind and an outcast." The voice came from behind a nearby boulder and, looking, Og beheld the crouching form of a powerful man across whose face were many scars, one of which had wiped out both of his eyes. It was as if a great claw-armored paw had at some time raked him and all but torn his face away. Yet despite this disfigurement Og recognized him as Wab, the mighty hunter, and his father. "Father, I have returned. It is your son," cried the hairy boy, running to his side.

"No. Not my son. My son perished in the great fire that drove us from our homes many moons ago. You are Death. I know. I heard the others shouting that you were coming from the den of the tiger, with a tiger skin over your shoulders, and a wand of mysterious power in your hand; a wand from which fire and smoke flashed. I know you. You are Death. Not my kin but kin of the cave tiger, whose claw marks I bear on my face. The tiger sent you to avenge the blows of my stone hammer. She feared to come back herself even though she knew I was blind. She feared me and she sent you instead. But I am ready to go with you, Death. I am an outcast among my people. I am blind and helpless and therefore useless. I cannot get my own food and no one has time to get it for me. They throw me scraps and bones to gnaw upon sometimes. They help me up to my miserable little cave sometimes. But when they are in a hurry and run to save their own precious lives, they forget me and leave me here, a blind man, to scramble up the cliffs as best I can or to remain here and be killed.

"They left me today when they ran from you in dread. They left me here. I sought to hide myself behind this stone. But when you called Wab I knew that you were Death and I knew you had come for me. So I am ready to go. Take me."

Og was kneeling beside the man now. "No, no," he cried, "I am Life, not Death, for you, my father. I have slain the tiger that has crippled you so. I come with a mysterious wand, true. It is a wand of fire. I have conquered the Fire Demon. I can make him come from stone and do my bidding. He guards me against the chill of night. He dispels the blackness. He keeps me safe from the sabre-toothed one and all other animals. I have tamed the wolf dog too. They are my companions now. I have won me a name. I am Og, your son Og, and I have come back to protect you, to care for you, to hunt for you, and to fight for a place in the sun for you. It is well."

"It is well. If this be true then I am happy. If you are my son, you have been reborn to me. You have been reborn from the fire. Og, Son of Fire, are you, and my son, too. And now if this be true help me, my son, up the cliff to my miserable cave, where we may talk together."

And Og reached a strong arm under that of his father, once the mighty hunter, Wab, and together they climbed the narrow trail up the cliff. And the wolf dogs followed slowly after.


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