|Cave-Boy Erek, pp 366-368
The Triumph, The Boys' Best Story Paper
No. 453, Vol. 18, 365-388 (price 2d)
Week Ending July 29, 1933.
AT BAY ON THE MOUNTAIN
"DEATH to the hairy ones!"
Cave-boy Erek shouted the words furiously as he raised his club and charged at the screaming ape-men who had attacked him in his mountain retreat.
Erek, castaway in the Land of Many Trees after the earthquake and floods, which had destroyed the northern valleys where his prehistoric people had had their homes, was out to avenge Red Fang, the wild jungle dog, whom he had made his pet.
The red dog had been k.o.'d by one of the hideous monkey-men, and, believing his four-legged comrade to have been killed, the cave-boy hurled himself at his attackers.
Right and left his club lunged and smote. Before the fury of Erek's attack the ape-men fell back. But the respite was only temporary. More and more hairy attackers came swarming up the narrow path that led to Erek's cave.
It was a hopeless battle Erek was fighting, and he knew it. Suddenly, as he drove his big club at one of the snarling creatures, the ape-man ducked, and Erek's weapon struck a jagged piece of the rocky mountain wall.
The shout left Erek's throat in a sort of wail of dismay.
The ape-men, seeing their antagonist disarmed, let out a shrill chorus of triumph and came leaping in. To Erek it seemed as if the end was near, and suddenly he saw one of the ape-men brutally kick the limp body of Red Fang over the edge of the precipice. As he saw his dog go whirling down into space, Erek roared angrily, hurled the shattered stump in the face of his nearest foe, and then gripped a second ape-man in his strong arms.
In a trice he had the squat, hairy giant held in a vice-like grip, and was leaping for the edge of the precipice.
Erek had decided it was better to jump over the cliff and die like Red Fang than to become the prey of his half-brute foes. But with him the cave-boy meant to take at least one of his attackers.
Another leap would have taken him over into the abyss, had not one of the quicker-witted of his foes intervened.
Springing forward, the ape-man dropped flat and clutched at Erek's ankle. Instantly the cave-boy lost his balance and crashed down on the ground, chin and shoulders slithering over the edge of the precipice.
"Wai! Wai!" screamed the ape-men.
They had got Erek at last, and they sprang in dozens for his prostrate body. Madly the cave-boy struggled, but suddenly a club came crashing down on his head and blackness engulfed him.
EREK'S LIFE SPARED, BUT
NO sooner had Erek ceased to move than half a dozen of the hideous ape-men fell upon him, eager to tear him to pieces. But this was not allowed.
A broad-shouldered brute came striding forward. He knocked two of his companions flying with his club, and placed a hairy foot upon Erek's back.
He was the leader of the tribe of man-apes, and from his thick lips there came pouring a torrent of sounds in the queer clucking language of the prehistoric forests.
Instantly the rest of the tribe fell back, to form a circle, their eyes glowing savagely as the chief commenced to examine his captive.
Turning Erek over, the chief snatched at the pouch which was attached to Erek's waist, the pouch which the cave-boy had made from an animal skin.
Squatting down on his haunches, the apeman turned the pouch over and over. He had never seen such a thing before, and his limited intelligence did not aid him to find the way to open it quickly.
But the sense of touch in his crooked fingers told him there was something inside. Becoming impatient, the ape-man chief hurled the pouch on the ground with a grunt of disgust.
As he did so the flap became detached, and out of the pouch rolled the polished, round crystal by means of which Erek had learned the secret of producing fire.
The glint of the moonlight on the strange bright stone caused the ape-men gathered round to cluck in surprise and envy.
A bound, and the chief had the stone in his fingers, holding it up to the light. He did not know what use it had, but even his small brain was able to appreciate its beauty. The white boy had carried it, therefore it had some value.
Having played with the stone for a few minutes, the ape-man restored the stone to the pouch and slipped the cords of the pouch round his neck, knotting them securely.
Then he rose to his feet and raised his monster club, which was nothing better than a length of shattered timber, hammered into a crude shape by constant battering against a rock.
The ape-men chattered and went still. In accordance with custom, their leader was about to smash to pulp the body of their captive!
Up swung the terrible club, but suddenly the chief changed his mind. Lowering the club, he turned on the rest of the ape-men and snarled out a harsh command.
Instantly the ring of watchers dissolved and vanished into the darkness. Only the king remained beside the body of Erek. But the ape-men were not long gone. They returned, dragging long lengths of mountain vines.
Sitting down, they commenced weaving a crude kind of net. It was strong and securely knotted, and when finished had traces, by means of which it could be carried by half a dozen of the tribe.
The chief, having inspected the finished article, now signed towards Erek's body. Instantly the unconscious cave-boy was raised, slung into the net, and raised from the ground.
Another staccato grunt from the king, and the ape-men formed into a line and started to move off down the mountain trail, bearing Erek with them.
A long procession of squat, hairy figures, they descended quickly to the jungle levels and started on the homeward trail, their captive swinging to and fro in the crude net in the centre.
IT was the early morning sun beating on his brow that brought Erek back to consciousness.
"Where am I?" was his first dazed thought, as he opened his eyes and ground his teeth together at the pain which shot through his head.
Erek had had a narrow escape from a cracked skull. Only his thick head of hair had saved him.
Gradually Erek became aware of the strange, swaying notion of the net, and on looking around he realised his plight. The ape-men were bearing him along at a great rate through the long grasses of a swampy part of the prehistoric forest.
Erek stared round him in dismay. Even if he could have escaped from the net he had no weapons with which to deal with his captors. They were forty to fifty in number.
What was their object in taking him captive instead of killing him outright? The cave-boy puzzled the question over. His gaze, lighting on the squat, powerful figure of the chief, instantly noted the pouch slung about the ape-man's neck.
The king of the hairy monkey-men had taken possession of the wonderful firestone.
"If I had only thought of it in time," mused the cave-boy bitterly. "All wild beasts fear fire, and the monkey-faces must fear it, too. If I had lit a fire outside the sabre-tooth's cave, they would not have dared to approach me!"
He stirred in the net, causing two of the bearers to look up and snarl savagely. One, in fact, lifted his club as if to strike the cave-boy a blow, but a cry from the leaders of the procession made him turn.
The cry was one of alarm and warning, which instantly brought the band to a halt. Two of the ape-men and their king bent down and examined giant tracks in a muddy part of the trail. A mutter of fear ran down the ranks, and at a sharp command from the king the whole party started moving for the shelter of the denser forest at an increased pace.
It was evident to Erek that his captors feared some unknown and terrible danger.
The ape-men were not destined, however, to gain the shelter of the forest. The very thing they feared burst upon them with a suddenness that took them completely by surprise.
A loud, bellowing roar, and the smashing of heavy hoofs in the thickets on their right, then there crashed out upon the trail a monster the sight of whom brought shrieks of terror from the throats of the hideous ape-men.
It was nothing less than a great prehistoric rhinoceros, a specimen of a race fast dying out in the changing climatic conditions of the world. Twice as big as the modern rhino, armed with two enormous horns, and covered with long, woolly hair, the animal had as much of the savagery and violence of its modern descendant.
Travelling at a terrific pace on its short, thick legs, it struck the procession of ape-men like a thunderbolt.
Three of the procession went down beneath the pounding feet; two others were tossed into the air on the tip of the giant horn.
Instantly the bearers of the net in which Erek was captive, dropped it, and turned to flee. Their clubs were useless against the monster rhino, and in the more or less open country where they were travelling the animal had them completely at his mercy.
Erek, his heart pounding against his ribs, had started wriggling from the net, when the woolly rhino turned and saw the slight movement of the thing the ape-men had dropped.
Lowering its head, it let out another bellow, and charged.
One jerk of the mighty horned head, and both net and Erek were sailing through the air.
To the cave-boy it seemed as if the end had come. The rhino was following up the flying net and human captive in it, ready to toss it again, or impale Erek on the curving, pointed horn.
But the terror of the prehistoric plains was doomed to disappointment. The net, sailing through the air, caught in the branch of a big, hardwood tree, and Erek found himself a few feet above the rhino's head, bobbing up and down inside the net.
Simultaneously there came a loud barking sound from close at hand, and a red shape came leaping from out of the long grasses, to speed straight for the flank of the woolly rhino, fangs bared for the attack.
Erek stared as if he could scarcely believe his eyes.
"Red Fang!" he yelled. "Red Fang my comrade!"
There was no doubt of it. The newcomer was Red Fang, the big, red jungle dog whom Erek had trained.
By some miracle the red dog had escaped death on being knocked over the precipice the night before, and, picking up the trail of his master, he had followed in time to arrive and see Erek attacked by the rhino.
Now, with the loyalty and fury of a faithful servant, the red dog was leaping to the attack. But what could he do against the woolly monster?
He was just asking to be killed, thought Erek, and, even as the thought flashed through the cave-boy's head, the rhino turned. It saw Red Fang, and, uttering a furious bellow, lowered the massive horned head, and charged!
THE FOOTPRINT IN THE MUD
EREK, struggling inside the net, let out a cry of dismay.
Joy at seeing Red Fang again was turned into horror at the thought of once more losing him. Gripping the vine-net in his hands, Erek tore a monster hole in it, and dropped to the ground.
Not an ape-man was to be seen now. All, save those who had fallen victim to the monster rhino, had taken to flight, and found refuge in the distant forest. But there were plenty of clubs left behind by the monkey-men.
Hurriedly picking one up, Erek stared towards the spot where Red Fang dodged in and out of the rhino's plunging hoofs. The red dog of the jungle was marvellously quick, but there was always a chance that the rhino might catch it off its guard, and one sweep of the curved horn would mean the finish for Red Fang.
Erek's sharp eyes, surveying the immediate neighbourhood, had spotted a means of trapping the rhino. Fleet as he was of foot, if the cave-boy drew the rhino's attention, the chances were that he would be caught and killed, as had been several of the ape-men.
He would have to use strategy and his superior human brain to trick the terror of the prehistoric plains.
Stopping short, Erek pursed his lips and whistled sharply.
It was a signal that Red Fang instantly recognised. Backing from the rhino, the dog turned tail and raced off in a circle. The rhino turned also, and spotted the stalwart figure of the cave-boy,
It was the moment Erek had waited for.
Up swung one powerful arm, to send the ape-man's club humming through the air. It struck the woolly rhinoceros right on the nose, causing it to pull up with a bellow of surprise.
Then, with shrill screams of fury, it lowered its head and came pounding straight for the cave-boy.
"Away, comrade!" shouted Erek to the jungle dog. "Away! Leave him to me!"
Red Fang dashed obediently off, while the rhino charged after Erek, who had now taken flight and was racing off to the left, where the ground was open and grass grew green and plentiful even in this exposed part of the plains.
The cave-boy picked his way carefully, but the big rhino just went on at a blind gallop. Every now and then Erek stood still and looked back, shouting and waving his hands.
This only enraged the monster more than ever. Bellowing with savage fury, it charged on at renewed speed. Bit by bit it decreased the distance between it and the cave-boy To an onlooker it would have seemed as it Erek was doomed.
But suddenly, when the rhino was only a hundred yards behind him, Erek stopped short and whirled round to face his pursuer.
"Bah!" he roared mockingly. "I fear you not, Big Horn. Catch me if you can!"
The rhino halted for a second in sheer surprise, then, with another furious bellow, it charged for the daring youth. Never for a second did it suspect the trap that Erek had laid for it.
Even as the head and murderous horn swept forward to impale him and send him hurtling through the air, Erek braced his limbs and jumped clean off the ground, his arms outstretched to grasp the branch of the tree under which he had taken his stance.
The rhino's horn hit only empty air, and the heavy beast could not immediately stop its terrible rush. Four tons of fighting fury, it crashed past the spot where Erek had stood to go on splashing and wallowing into the trap the cave-boy had laid for it.
The firm ground ended where Erek had taken his stance, and the prehistoric monster had gone pounding into a treacherous bog into which its heavy body quickly sank.
Twisting, turning, and bellowing, the woolly rhino sank deeper and deeper in the mire.
"Ha, ha, Big Horn!" mocked Erek, dropping from the tree and racing to the edge of the bog. "Now you will die. You are the most powerful of all animals, yet I trapped you as easily as a frog traps a fly."
Red Fang had now joined his master, and was barking in triumph at his side. The rhino sank deeper and deeper till its feet found the bottom. It would remain there, to die a lingering death.
Erek flung back his head triumphantly.
"I have conquered!" he yelled. "I will yet become king of the Land of Many Trees! I will master even greater than thee, and the ape-men shall bow the knee to me and become my servants!"
"DOWN, comrade!" hissed Erek.
Red Fang sank flat into the cover of the grasses beside his master and waited there, his muzzle flat on his paws, his eyes peering towards the clearing opposite.
Erek was on the vengeance trail.
No sooner had he escaped from the rhino than he had made up his mind to trail down the ape-men who had so recently been his captors.
The chief of the hideous hairy men had stolen the magic firestone that Erek prized more than anything in the world. But the cave-boy meant to get it back, and now he and Red Fang were hidden in a clump of grasses on the outskirts of the ape-men's village, if the collection of rude structures erected beneath the spreading cedars could be called a village.
They were simply piles of branches torn from trees and laid against convenient trunks. While their young sheltered within, the apemen lolled about in the broiling sunshine, or lay dozing in the shade of the giant trees.
Erek, however, had only eyes for one of the tribe, and that was the squat, powerful brute who acted as king.
He was reposing in solitary splendour beneath a huge tree, his back propped against the trunk. Slung on the cord round his neck, Erek recognised his pouch, which contained the all-important firestone.
"I will recover it somehow," the cave-boy muttered. "But how?"
He lay thinking for a moment or two. If he roused the whole camp, even though he escaped with the firestone, he would soon be trailed down and caught.
In this part of the forest the ape-men were perfectly at home. If he was to recover the stone he must do so by trickery. Suddenly the cave-boy's eyes gleamed. Patting Red Fang, he bade the red dog lie still, while he himself crept off, circling round behind the tree where the king of the ape-men slept.
Before he reached the tree he stepped back into a thicket and searched for a long, thin branch, which he carefully stripped of its leaves and twigs, leaving only a broken twig-end at the foot which formed a kind of hook.
With this in his hand, Erek gained the rear of the cedar and quickly swung himself up into the branches. Slowly and carefully he worked among them towards the front, till he was just above the sleeping ape-man.
By careful fishing with his hooked branch the cave-boy hoped to be able to jerk the pouch right over the sleeping brute-man's head. Slowly he commenced lowering the branch and tried to hook the thong of vines that formed the cord.
The king of the ape-men let out a low growl as the hooked end of the branch tickled the back of his neck, and Erek immediately went still. Then he caught the hook under the loop of the thong.
One swift jerk, and pouch and cord were whipped right off the ape-man's neck, to be pulled up into the tree. But skilfully as Erek had done his job, he had not prevented the ape-man from waking up.
Opening his eyes, the king clutched at his throat and let out a bellow when he found that the pouch had gone. Like a shot he was on his feet, while the whole tribe came racing to see what was wrong.
Up in the tree above Erek had quietly opened the pouch, extracted the precious stone, and slipped it into his mouth. Then he closed the pouch and, attaching it to the hooked end of his stick, peered down at the squabbling, gibbering crowd below him.
The ape-men were all pressing round their king, listening to his complaint. Erek chuckled and quietly lowered his stick.
One quick jerk and the empty pouch dropped over the head and round the neck of an apeman near the bellowing chief. The creature instantly shouted in surprise, and clutched at the thing which had dropped, as it were, from the skies.
Instantly the chief turned and saw the pouch.
The big brute did not stop to reason. All he saw was one of his tribe in possession of the object of which he had been robbed.
With a bellow of fury he leaped for the apeman, clutching with his hands at the creature's throat.
One tug was more than enough to break the cord, and as the pouch came away in his fingers the king of the ape-men saw at once that it was empty.
"Wai!" he screamed in fury, throwing aside the pouch. "We have been tricked!"
A shrill chattering rose from the throats of the tribe, and then the man who had been the recipient of the empty pouch pointed up into the tree where Erek had been hidden.
It was just at this moment that Erek was speeding off into the cover of the forest a few yards behind the giant cedar. Looking back to see the reason of the sudden clamour, he missed his footing and went headlong.
Instantly an ape-man spied him and gave the alarm. Erek, scrambling to his feet, saw that he was discovered and that he would have to be quick if he was to save himself.
Whistling to Red Fang, he bounded off into the forest, while behind him the whole tribe of ape-men took up the trail.
"I have the stone I have the stone!" thought the cave-boy desperately. "If only I can get away with it."
Fear lent double power to his splendidly muscled legs. But fast as he fled Erek knew he could not long outrun the ape-men.
As he burst out from the trees into a wide tract of swampy ground, Erek groaned in dismay The ape-men were close behind, and neither he nor Red Fang could get across the boggy ground in time to escape. Before they were half-way across their pursuers would have circled roundd on either side and cut off all hope of escape.
Erek pulled up, breathing hard.
He would not admit defeat till the last moment. Suddenly his eyes lit upon the long banks of sun-dried, man-high reeds that skirted all the length of the swamp. In there one could hide, one could
The glint of the sun on the firestone in his hand inspired him suddenly.
"I know!" cried the cave-boy. "I will hold them back with fire! I will show them my power!"
He raced for the reeds, plunged through them, and covered a hundred yards before halting. Then, kneeling down, he broke off sheaf after sheaf of the reeds, and piled them up in a heap. That done, he took the crystal and commenced focusing the sunrays on the pile.
Slowly but surely the crystal did its work. A tiny feather of smoke rose from the pile of reeds, and the top of the bundle burst suddenly into flames.
"Now, red one, we are safe!" yelled Erek, plunging off into reeds to the left. "Look, they take fire and the wind is blowing the fire right down on the hairy ones."
The pursuing ape-men, racing down towards the swamp, suddenly came to a halt, crying out in surprise and alarm. Sweeping towards them through the reeds into which their quarry had vanished came a great roaring wall of flame and smoke.
It was more than enough for the primitive monkey-men of the steaming forests. They gave one united shout of terror and ran for safety in the woods.
Erek, mounting a tree, saw them vanish, and heard their shrill chorus die away in the forest.. He had once again proved the master.
Chuckling,he dropped to the ground, and, with Red Fang at his side, started marching through the reeds for the southern end of the swamp.
"You and I must find a new retreat, comrade," he muttered. "And one where the apemen cannot touch us."
Red Fang wagged his tail, raced on a few yards, and then pulled up with a sudden growl of alarm as a strange booming cry came from down the swamp.
Erek pulled up short. There was something in the sound that made the blood curdle in his veins. It was the cry of a hungry beast, but, of a beast such as he had never seen or heard before.
Wondering, he peered in the direction of the sound, while Red Fang retreated and rubbed his nose in scared fashion against the cave-boy's legs. The cry sounded again, while crashing noises sounded from down the swamp, only to gradually die away in the distance.
Erek frowned. The noises must have been made by some monstrous beast, such as he had never seen before. For a little while the caveboy hesitated, then he and Red Fang moved on.
When they came to a spot where he could overlook the south end of the great lake and swamps around it, Erek peered hard for a sight of the mysterious monster. But there was no animal in sight save for a few giant alligators that swam sluggishly in the lake itself.
"Strange!" muttered the cave-boy. "With such creatures about I must be careful."
He moved up through the reeds, and at last came to a point where a crystal clear rivulet ran down out of the woods into the lake. The sight of its cool waters made Erek realise how thirsty he was. Instantly he sped forward to drink, dropping on hands and knees beside the bank.
As he did so something caught his eye; a clear imprint in the soft muddy earth of the river bank. At first Erek thought it was his own foot that had made the mark, but closer inspection proved that it was much smaller, and that the toes were much farther apart.
It was a print that had been made by a human foot like his own, a print that could not have been made by an ape-man.
The cave-boy stiffened in surprise, while every nerve in his body tingled in excitement. So he was not alone in the Land of Many Trees! There were other beings, human, like himself.
He rose on one knee, tensing his muscles as there came a rustling in the thicket on the opposite side of the rivulet, while Red Fang gave a low, warning growl.
Was it the owner of the foot that had made the print who was approaching? Who was he, and what was he like?
Erek turned, gave a low hiss that sent Red Fang scattering for cover, and himself reached up for the branch of an overhanging tree, swinging himself up into the foliage.
Whoever came Erek had made up his mind to see first without being seen!