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

CHAPTER XVII

THE FIRE LIGHTER

 
TRUE to his word Og found a cave that was big and roomy. It was not an easy task, for most of the pleasant caves had been taken. So too had all the caves that were deemed safe, for the hairy men liked caves that were well up from the valley bottom so that prowling beasts could not enter unawares. Traditional caution made Og realize that this was the best kind of abode, too, and he was sorely tempted to use the awe in which he was held to good advantage and crowd out some family that had an unusually desirable cave. That was how it was done among hairy folk. The strongest and most ferocious men occupied the best caves. Og particularly liked the fine, big, roomy cave that Gog possessed, and he was of a mind to walk into it with a fire brand in either hand and demand it.

But with all his confidence there was something that made him hesitate. Perhaps it was the vivid recollections that he retained of the old leader at his best, or worst. He was a savage old brute, strong, ugly, treacherous and merciless, yet withal brave as a tiger. Og knew that although Gog stood in awe of his fire weapons the old warrior would fight for his cave home until he no longer had strength to lift his bone-crushing stone hammer. And Og, as courageous as he was, had no stomach for a fight of that sort, especially one of his own provoking, for instinctively he knew that right was on the side of the defender; and Og had somehow sensed that without right to fortify courage he could not fight with valiance.

And so he put aside his covetous desires and searched longer for a home cave. There were several spacious holes in the cliff down near the valley floor. All were big and roomy, yet not too big for comfort; but all had broad doorways, which Og knew was not desirable, for the bigger the doorway the larger the prowler that could enter.

But he found one that was so desirable; so handy to the spring of water from which the hairy men drank, so near the swiftly flowing mountain torrent that ran through the valley, and so near the council rock and the flat, well-tramped stretch of earth where the hairy people's children played when danger was not near, that he felt a desire to take possession of it despite the fact that it had a huge doorway through which even a hairy mammoth could conveniently enter. That was the reason why it was not already occupied.

Finally, after much hard thinking which gave him a headache, he decided; and, carrying his stone hammers, his knife and his tiger skin down to it, he spread the great skin on the floor and returned to the cave higher up the cliff to help Wab down.

When he led the blind man into the cave and explained to him what cave it was and where it was located, Wab shook his head and smiled sadly.

"Og, where is your caution? This is the great cave, shunned by all the hairy people. No one would think to try to live here. When we came here first it was used as a council cave. We gathered here for council sometimes, but the great cave tiger crept up the valley one day, saw us all inside, and rushed in among us. He killed two and dragged them away before we could climb the cliffs to safety. And so we never even used it for a council cave again. It has a doorway so big that it will let all the night monsters in."

"I have thought of that," said Og; "but we have a door guard that they cannot pass. See, I will build a big fire here. That is protection. No one will dare pass it, not even Sabre Tooth were he still hunting the valley."

"Ah, perhaps," said the hunter doubtfully, but he sat down on the tiger skin and watched Og build his fire.

Others watched him, too. The whole tribe was amazed at Og's daring. Tbey chattered and shook their heads and made humorous faces at each other which was their way of saying that Og was either a fool or more powerful than any among them.

But they soon found that the last was the truth, for Og made his home in the big cave and burned his fire steadily night and day, Wab heaping wood upon it while his son was off in the forest hunting by himself or with the others, for the hairy men hunted in gangs more often than they wandered into the forest alone. And while he lived therein the old council cave, three times a great leopard visited the cliffs and stole women and children from the caves, yet though his cave was the easiest to approach, it was never visited, and the hairy folk knew that it was all because of Og's fire.

Once too, Og, busy among the rocks, as he forever seemed to be when not off hunting, was surprised by the appearance of a woolly rhinoceros, a great, shaggy monster with tiny, wicked, bloodshot eyes and two great horns that grew out of his nose. The beast came upon Og quite unexpectedly while he was chipping away at a stone with another stone, in full sight of all the cliff dwellers. The first that he knew of the beast's presence was when he was startled by a harsh, grunting snort and a thunderous stamping of feet. Og looked up to see the great animal staring at him and shaking his head menacingly.

With a cry of warning that sent the cliff people scattering and scrambling up toward their caves, Og dropped his stones and turned and fled as swiftly as his legs could carry him. The rhinoceros with a snort of rage charged after him, galloping over the ground with such heavy strides that Og could almost feel the earth tremble.

Og, the fear of death on his face, raced headlong toward his big cave, and the woolly one came after him so swiftly that it seemed as if it were only a matter of a few more steps before he would hook that vicious double horn into Og's back and toss him skyward and trample his remains among the rocks when he fell.

But Og reached his cave first and with a yell of triumph leaped over the fire that was blazing in the doorway, then, turning, he hurled defiance at the woolly one. The rhinoceros plunged on until he saw the fire; then, with a frightened snort and much sliding and scrambling, he stopped short not more than his own length away from the blazing fagots. For a moment he stood there irresolute, red-eyed with rage, yet not daring to advance a step farther. And as he stood there Og seized one burning stick after another and hurled them against his bulging flanks until he turned tail and went squealing away, very much like an overgrown pig.

Then it was that the hairy folk knew the power of Og's weapons. They understood too why he and his father were not afraid to live in the big cave with the wide doorway. And they were all properly impressed. They could see that he had a powerful ally in the Fire Demon, and many of them feared him more and avoided him all they could.

But there were others — thinkers, perhaps — who did not avoid him. Instead they curried friendship with him by bringing him meat and pretty stones. They sought every opportunity to visit his cave if only to chatter with him or with his father, Wab. And always they sat within the circle of heat cast by the fire and reveled in its warmth. They enjoyed this basking, and they enjoyed watching the flickering tongues of flames — at a safe distance, of course. They delighted, too, in watching Og or Wab as they worked about the fire, feeding it or cooking their meat over it.

Perhaps this last operation interested them the most, for always while Og was cooking a delicious, appetizing odor that made one's mouth water emanated from the big doorway. And the visitor could not help but think that Og feasted on food of the gods. Many of them brought fresh meat and gave it to him just to be able to smell the appetizing aroma that it gave off as he cooked it. And Wab, as he witnessed this and ate of the choice gifts to his son, could not help but think back on former days when they had cast him out and thrown him polished bones and decayed scraps. And as he thought he could not help but marvel at the greatness of his son.

There were some among these visitors who became really friendly with Og. He liked them and encouraged their friendship and gave them scraps of cooked meat so that they could enjoy his feasting with him. For some reason Og found a keen delight in doing this and he always watched the expressions with interest when they pulled apart the steaming morsels with their fingers and teeth and tasted the flavor that the fire had given the meat. Every one of his visitors enjoyed the taste of cooked meat and they all told of the delight among their friends until it was not long before Og was besought by scores to cook meat for them so that they too could try the pleasure of this newfound delight.

Their number grew and grew and Og did the best that he could to favor all of them, but he noticed with interest that never once did Gog appear at the fire. The old leader was often to be seen stalking by when others were gathered about his cave door, but he pretended not to take notice of Og and his fire.

The hairy boy soon guessed that the old savage was jealous of his power and his popularity and it was not long before he knew that he had guessed right, for through his friends Og heard of the talk that Gog was making among the hairy people. It was talk that even worried Og a little for the old leader whispered that Og was in league with evil monsters and the dead. Og did not know just what he meant but the suggestion had a sinister sound. So far the hairy folk had not progressed far enough up the scale of intelligence to even think of witchcraft and secret alliances with the spirit world. But they did know that death was a sinister thing and that one who had died passed through an experience that was beyond their comprehension and very uncanny. For a living being to be allied with those who were dead was a fearsome thing even to think about. And most of the hairy people remembered that he had been left behind when the tribe had fled from the wrath of the volcano. Perhaps he had been dead and had come back from the dead world again.

Some of Og's friends dropped away from him when Gog began to make such talk. But others of stouter heart, who had eaten much of Og's cooked meat and had been closer to him, remained loyal and denied Og's fellowship with the dead. And they were the stronger and more intelligent men of the tribe. Indeed they perceived that Og had a great deal that was good about him and they understood too that his control over the Fire Monster could bring much good to the clan if only Og could be persuaded to be even more generous than he had been.

They talked thus among themselves, and they talked so much that soon their talk took on the nature of a clan council and they gathered about the council rock, squatted in a big circle while first one and then another stood upon the rock and talked to the rest; talked and told them how good Og was and what a great benefit to the tribe he possessed in his control of fire. They told of the cooked meat over and over again, and they told of how the great leopard had left Og's cave unmolested, and how Og with his fire brands had driven off the woolly rhinoceros. Again and again they told these things for that was the only way they knew of arguing their case and carrying home their point to the listeners squatted in a circle about the great rock.

Og did not gather at the council. He noted too that Gog was not there either. But both watched the proceedings from their cave doorways; Gog with much jealous grunting and angry, guttural sounds to his wife; Og with a strange mixture of pride and selfishness; pride that he should be so great as to have the clan assemble in council about him, yet selfish, for he knew that the speakers of the clan were trying to work up the people to the point where they would come to him and ask him to give to them the most precious thing he possessed: the fire secret.

The hairy boy knew full well why the council was being held, and as he watched he wondered just what he should do when the speakers came to him with gifts of meat and stone hammers and asked him to share his fire secret with the tribe. The secret meant much to him, for it made of him one apart from the rest. It meant that he possessed the strongest weapon that a hairy man could have. It meant that he had warmth and comfort greater than any others. Why should he share it? It was in the hairy boy to think of himself first.

Yet somehow this, though, did not seem comforting. There was the council gathered. He had made a discovery that would benefit all of them. They realized it. Soon they would come and ask him for his help. All this was flattering. They thought well of him. They would still think well of him if he gave them what they asked. But they would not think well of him — he would not be so great — if he refused. They would say evil things of him as Gog had done. They would believe the old leader's suggestions. They would avoid him. He would have no friends to gather about his fire so they could all make full belly talk together and feel lazy and drowsy in the warmth of his fire.

Even to think of the hairy people feeling ill disposed toward him hurt Og's pride. He did not want them to think him selfish and mean. It would make him feel better to have them say among themselves, "Og is kind. Og is good. Og is a great man."

This was the elemental problem that tumbled about in Og's brain and soon made his head ache until he felt as though it would split. Time and again he dismissed it with a grunt of disgust and decided as he watched the council that when the talkers came with their gifts he would say no and act ugly. But each time he came to that decision back trooped unpleasant suggestions that made him think and think again. Sometimes he wished that he never had learned to think at all. He looked at the wolf cubs stretched out beside the fire and wished that he had the mental comfort that was theirs.

But still he continued to ponder as he watched the council. And then, just as the circle was breaking up and the talkers formed in a group with their gifts in hand ready to come to his cave, Og solved the whole situation with a pleasant grunt.

He watched the five big hairy men, all his friends, come toward him. As they approached he stood up, and taking the tiger skin from the floor, threw it about his shoulders. Why he did this he was not certain. It gave him a feeling of being bigger, greater of stature and stronger. And so he stood there until the speakers had approached to the other side of his fire and had laid down their chunks of dripping meat, their stone hammers, and their polished bones and pretty stones.

Then one spoke.

"O Og, the Hairy People ask it. They say 'Og is great. Og is good. He has a friend in the Fire Monster. He knows the secret.' They ask 'Will you, O great Og, give all of us the fire so that we can protect our caves, cook our food and be as comfortable as you are?' O Og, I ask for them. Will you give us fires of our own?"

Og stretched himself to his full height and looked at them very solemnly for a long time, as if he were thinking. But he was not thinking of whether he would give them the fire or not. He was thinking of how pleasant it was that he should have all the strong men of the tribe asking a favor of him. It was pleasant, indeed.

Presently he spoke.

"My friend the fire I will give to my friends the hairy people. They shall have fires of their own. From this fire in front of my home cave I will build other fires. Tell the hairy people each to go to their home cave. Build many sticks in the doorway as you have seen me build mine. Then will Og come with fire from this fire and light each of them. All the hairy people who wish it shall have a fire of their own. Tell them to feed it well with sticks through daylight and darkness, for if it goes out and I have to bring fire again I will take away with me pay, meat perhaps or a stone hammer or something I desire. It is well. Go. Tell the people." And Og dismissed them with a wave of his hand for he was indeed feeling big and pompous and very important.

The speakers left with much grinning and grunting among themselves.

"Og is great. Og is good. Og is kind," they said, and Og, hearing them, felt a warm glow surge over him. They thought well of him. He was proud. He was happy. So too was Wab, his father, who sat a little way off and listened with many a proud grunt of satisfaction.

And so the hairy people at the council rock heard Og's message from the speakers. They scattered from the council grounds and each began to gather great bundles of sticks which they carried up the face of the cliff to the doorway of each dwelling.

And when evening came on, Og, with great dignity, and with the tiger skin across his shoulders, set forth from his cave with a torch in each hand. And when the hairy folk saw him coming they raised a great shout, and watched him as he went from doorway to doorway and ignited each pile of sticks. Og was The Fire Lighter to the tribe then. A personage, indeed, something between chief and priest he seemed to the hairy folk, who greeted him with loud acclaim.

And as nightfall settled over the valley of the hairy folk the cliff side sparkled with many lights, for before each cave burned a cheery fire; before each cave save that of Gog, the chief. He, stubbornly jealous, had not built a pile of sticks before his door, and when Og saw this he passed by.

Thus did Og give fire to the race of hairy men, giving it generously, but saving for himself the secret he had discovered: the secret of the fire stones.


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