Og of the Cave People
Dodd, Mead & Co. 1935
Chapter IX Og Goes for Goats pp 113-125
Chapter X Og's Signal Fire pp 126-138
WITH the stealth of a hunting saber-tooth Og moved toward the edge of the ledge, flint-tipped arrow nocked and powerful bow held ready. His heavy brows were beetled, and his eyes were narrowed to slits with intense concentration. Every muscle in his hair-covered arms and thighs and shoulders was tensed like the muscles of a tiger about to spring. His dark brown eyes watched with the look of a stalking wolf the movements of an unsuspecting mother goat and two kids that had strayed a little way from the herd to nibble grass that grew between the rocks on the broad ledge just below him.
Og had been watching that mother goat for some time. She, but more particularly the two kids at her side, meant a great deal more to him than just so much meat for himself and Ru and Tao and, of course, Big Tooth, who lived in the cave with them. They were the subject of a lot of long, hard thinking on Og's part, and their acquisition was important to him to carry out an experiment he had planned with much brow puckering study, for though Og was the best thinker of his time, the development of new thoughts was still a mental labor to him.
He intended to kill the mother goat, and use her for food. That was why his arrow was nocked. But he did not intend to kill the two kids. He wanted to capture them alive, as he was sure he could once he had killed the old goat. He had studied goats long enough to know that the young were stupid creatures. The kids, unless greatly alarmed, world stay close to their mother, alive or dead, confident in her ability to protect them, and Og knew that if he could put an arrow through the old goat, he would be able to approach the kids and take them both. He had caught many of them before in this way and he was determined now to get this pair for a very important purpose.
Og had an idea of domesticating them, though he did not think of taming them and having them live with man in just that way. Indeed, taming them did not occur to him. He saw in them a food supply that could be kept for an indefinite period if the creatures were captured and kept alive, and Og wanted particularly to have a reserve food supply for himself and his friends in case of an unexpected emergency. Such an emergency might arise at any time within the next few suns, or within the next moon or two, or even later, but eventually it would arise, of that Og was certain.
FOR several moons now Og and Big Tooth and others of the Flat Head nation had been aware of the fact that some of the big, burly, coarse-haired people of the far north were invading the tropical jungles in the vicinity of the warm valley where the Flat Heads had made their new home. These people were distinguished from the Cave People and from the Flat Heads by the fact that their bodies were covered with a coarser, though lighter colored hair, and their heads were crowned with a mass of hair that even grew down about their throats and chins in what amounted to heavy, almost copper-red, beards. Og and the Flat Heads called them the Red Beards from the north, and though they did not know that a new glacial age was forcing the polar ice cap southward and driving all animal life before it, they did know that the Red Beards were migrating into the jungles and mountain area behind the Flat Head's Cave Village.
THESE Red Beards were a belligerent, aggressive people. They were clad in wolf skins, and they carried rude stone axes. They did not possess bows and arrows, nor apparently did they have any knowledge of fire. But they were savage, ugly fighters, and they could hurl stones harder and even more accurately than had the Cave People been able to until after Og and Ru introduced the bow and arrow, for they used a strange contrivance of wolf skin called a sling. They were formidable enemies, as several Flat Head hunter had discovered when they encountered them in the jungle. But there were good many hunters who went into the jungle never to return to report anything, which was all even grimmer testimony to the ruthlessness of these invaders. Og and Big Tooth and all the Flat Heads knew that these missing hunters had fallen victims to stones from the Red Beards' slings.
More than one council was held in the Flat Head village to decide what to do in case of an invasion of the valley by these marauders from the north. Pong, the Flat Head devil doctor, with his usual effort to dominate the situation, had offered charms to keep this new enemy at bay, but Pong by now had been pretty thoroughly discredited even among the Flat Heads. In their inability to think well for themselves, Big Tooth and the Flat Heads had turned to Og and Ru and Tao for advice, and Og, after much pondering, that frequently gave him an aching head, propounded some sound council.
He advised first that more and more men and boys become expert with the bows and arrows he and Ru had introduced among them, in order to defend themselves and the village against the stones from the slings of the Red Beards. Then he advised that the people establish a lasting food supply within their valley, for it was becoming increasingly dangerous for the Flat Heads to go outside the valley to find food.
Og, with the help of Ru and Tao, made a survey of the food situation, and found that the Flat Heads were surprisingly well off. Thanks to the river in the valley and Tao's care the people knew how to catch fish and dig for mussels, of which there was a good supply; wild fruit grew in abundance and sweet cane had been planted in the soft earth of the marsh. For the Flat Heads, who were not essentially meat eaters, all this constituted a good food supply.
But for Og and Ru and Tao, and even Big Tooth and a few of the Flat Heads who had learned to like cooked red meat, it was not enough. Og felt that the flesh of animals, particularly the flesh of the three-toed horse or the mountain goat was highly desirable if not necessary as food. But warm-blooded game animals were scarce in the Flat Head valley, and so Og had put himself to the task of thinking out means of having meat at hand in case the Red Beards should attack and possibly besiege the Flat Heads' stronghold.
In his day, Og had captured young goats and brought them back to the Cave Village, but they had always been killed and eaten at once, or, at best, kept alive only a few days. But if young goats could be kept alive for a few days, he slowly reasoned, they could be kept alive for an indefinite period; made to lire in an enclosure in the Flat Head valley for days, or moons, perhaps, until they were needed.
He confided the idea to his friends and they agreed it was good thinking, but they felt that to try and capture the young goats would be a risky venture with the jungle infested with Red Beards. Og decided, however, to run the risk of being captured by the invaders and make a journey alone through the jungle toward the mountains well to the north of the village, where he had hunted goats before.
So, in the darkness, before dawn one morning, without telling his friends, he slipped out of the Flat Head village, and following old game trails and goat trails finally reached a rocky pocket on the top of one of the mountains, where he could lie in wait for the goat herd. With the rising of the sun above the edge of the world Og saw the goat herd in its bedding ground far to the eastward of him. He saw them leave their night shelter as day dawned and with satisfaction he noted that, true to their goat instinct, they began to feed up wind and toward him. Og was high above them, however, and his scent did not carry down to them, so they fed unsuspectingly in his direction until they reached the ledge just below his hiding place. And as they slowly approached Og marked twins following a mother goat that seemed to be more venturesome than the others, for she frequently fed well away from the herd. This goat he marked for his arrow and kept his eyes on her until she reached a position where she offered a certain mark for his shaft.
She was well within range now, and Og, as he crouched behind the boulder, measured the distance, and the line of flight of an arrow that would pierce her heart and bring her down instantly, for he realized that he dared not miss nor only wound her, or she would go staggering off, alarming the herd and frightening her young ones.
With every muscle and nerve under full control, he rose to one knee, and slowly pulled his rude but powerful bow back in a stubborn arc. To the head of the flint-tipped arrow he drew it with just an instant pause to make certain of his aim. But in that instant something happened that caused him to grunt in surprise and hold the arrow unreleased while he stared in amazement, for even as he was taking aim at the she goat, suddenly, from below him and to the east of the goat, a burly, red-bearded figure dressed in wolf skin stepped out from behind a pinnacle of rock. There was a quick, whirring sound, as the man twisted a sling above his head, then an ugly czi-p-p-p as the stone was released. A dull thunk sounded instantly and the mother goat staggered, ambled, then fell headlong, her skull crushed in by a stone that had hit her full in the forehead.
AS SHE fell the man who threw the stone loosed a guttural yell of triumph and started running forward. At the same time two other Red Beards, carrying ponderous stone axes, came out from behind the pinnacle rock, and, with weapons upraised, started after the two young goats. And so fast did they move, despite their ponderous limbs, that almost before the two startled kids realized what had happened to their mother the Red Beards had got between them and the rest of the goat herd, that by this time, with much clattering of loose stone and alarmed bleating had gone scampering up the mountain and on down the ridge.
The Red Beards were not interested in the departing herd. With loud yells they plunged after the two frightened kids. As Og watched their pursuit he realized that others besides himself had crouched hidden among the rocks on the mountain that morning and had been watching the goat herd slowly working within killing range. He was glad now that he had not loosed his arrow, for if he had killed that goat the Red Beards would have known of his presence. As it was they did not know that he was hiding among rocks on top of the mountain, and he settled down behind a protecting boulder and grimly followed the operations of the invader.
While the first killer fell upon the she goat he had knocked down and with a rude flint knife began to butcher it, the other two pursued the weak, frightened wabble-legged kids. The young goats were in utter panic, and, bleating, darted here and there and tried to double back toward their dead mother, only to discover that danger lurked in that direction, too. And all the time, as they twisted and turned, the Red Beards got closer to them, so close, in fact, that one, with a swishing stroke of his stone axe, all but killed the larger of the two. Indeed the blow grazed its flanks and with a startled bleat that was almost a scream it twisted and bolted up the mountain, heading blindly up the sharp slope that led to Og's hiding place. The second goat, seeing the course its companion was taking, fled up the slope, too, fear lending strength and speed to its young legs.
WITH shouts of anger the pursuing Red Beards took after them, but the young goats had managed to get a swift start, and they could run faster up the steep slope than the men could. Indeed they were soon out of reach of their pursuers and climbing higher, and Og, crouching up there in the rocky pocket, suddenly saw that the goats were making for his hiding place and were going to reach it. In fact almost before he realized it first one young goat and then the other clattered up over the edge of the shelf, and in among the boulders behind which he crouched, stopping within arms' length of him, and staring at him in wild alarm.
Og made no menacing move toward them, however. Instead he stared at them in silence for a moment while a strange feeling of sympathy which was entirely new to him, welled up within him and brought to the fore a protective instinct. Those young goats were helpless. They had blundered into his hiding place. They were at his mercy for they could not get out. The walls of the pocket were steep and unscalable even for goats. The only way of retreat for them was back down the slope, and they dared not go that way. For a moment they cowered before Og, and stared at him with fearful yellow eyes, and as Og read their fear he was impelled to defend them against the Red Beards. After all, they were in a sense his goats, for he had marked them for capture, and if all had gone well they would have been in his possession even as they were at the moment.
Suddenly a feeling of deep anger overwhelmed him, anger at these Red Beards who had spoiled his plans in the first place. With a grunt he rose up behind the boulder that hid him, and with arrow leveled and bow ready looked down the slope. The two Red Beards were climbing toward him; indeed one was well up the slope in advance of the other and looking in his direction when Og stepped into view. In utter surprise the man stopped and stared at the boy from the Cave People, and as he stood there uncertainly Og shouted at him.
"Hi-i-i-i-i-i-yah! Do not come up here after the young goats, Red Beard. They are mine. Go back to the old goat. She is yours. Go back or you will get an arrow through you."
The red-bearded one could not understand all that Og said, but he could see from his defensive attitude that he was forbidding him to advance further, and that angered the man from the north. It angered his companion, too, when they saw Og, for they had as deep a feeling of possession in relation to those young goats as the cave boy did. The kids were their meat, and Og was claiming them, and if it was one thing that stirred up the savagery in these primitive people it was the ownership of food. The result was that suddenly the man farthest up the slope started forward with a guttural yell, swinging his stone axe as he climbed upward. And with a similar display of anger his companion followed.
Og knew they meant to invade his hiding place and split his skull. His heavy features set in tense lines and his dark eyes flashed as his arm drew back. Just an instant he paused to take certain aim, a pause during which the first Red Beard was able to take two or three laborious steps upward. But the man got no further, for as he climbed Og suddenly loosed the string. There was a sharp strumming and a hiss as the arrow flashed and the next instant, with a. yell of pain, the leading Red Beard fell backward and rolled down the slope with a shaft through his neck.
The suddenness of the shot, and its disastrous result caused the second Red Beard to stop in his tracks and stare in amazement for a moment. But when he realized fully what had happened to his companion, he turned with a yell of alarm and ran wildly down the slope to drop flat behind a boulder. The wounded one was on his feet by this time,and tugging at the arrow which protruded from his thick red beard. With a savage yank he pulled it out of his flesh, then staggered to cover, while the man who had killed the she goat also dodged behind a boulder out of sight.
[end of Chapter IX, beginning of Chapter X in the book version]
But Og knew that he was not through with these Red Beards. Indeed, even as he stood there on the shelf in front of the pocket in the rocks his quick eye caught the whirling motion of a brawny arm and a long sling, and even as he dodged down behind a protecting boulder a stone came humming as swiftly as an arrow toward him, and cracked with a vicious sound against the rock wall behind him. Other stones followed to rattle into the pocket and scare the two young goats who crawled to the farthest corner of the rock retreat and lay there trembling.
After a time, however, the fusillade from the Red Beards' slings subsided, and Og saw one of the men dodge out from behind the boulder that hid him, and go scuttling off among the ledges to the eastward. Instinct told the cave boy, then, that this man had gone for help and he realized that in a little while he would bring more Red Beards from the jungle and they would storm the slope of his rock retreat and by sheer numbers overwhelm and kill him. Also they would get his young goats, which thought annoyed him more than the prospect of being attacked by the Red Beards.
Og began to consider ways of extricating himself from this unpleasant situation. He could not try to escape out of the pocket and back to the Flat Head village, for there were still two men down the slope watching for him, and, though one was wounded, he realized he was not hampered in operating his deadly sling. To be sure, he might get one of the two with an arrow, but he knew that while he was doing this the other would probably crack him in the head with a stone that would fell him as easily as the she goat had been brought down. No, it would be folly to try and make a dash for liberty. And besides if he did try to get out of the pocket he would have to leave the precious young goats, and that he was stubbornly determined not to do.
The Red Beard had gone for help. If he could only get help himself; if he could summon Ru and Tao and Big Tooth and perhaps a few of the other young men of the Flat Head village who were fast learning to be good bowmen to help him; with their arrows they might drive off the Red Beards. He was certain their arrows were better than the stones of these invaders from the north, and in a pitched battle he was sure his friends could conquer the Red Beards. But how was he to summon them? The Flat Head village was too far off for anyone there to hear even his loudest call. Nor could they see him on the mountain top, even from the valley.
For a time it seemed hopeless. But gradually he worked out what seemed to him to be a solution of the problem. He remembered Tao's first written message in the sand; how the boy had informed him and Ru of his capture by five Flat Heads. Could he send a message to Ru and Tao and Big Tooth; a signal perhaps. But with what? If they could see him from the valley he might signal with his arms by making motions that would mean danger. But he knew he was not discernible at such a great distance.
Suddenly the idea of smoke came to him. It ascended high in the air and could be seen a long way. Perhaps if he built a fire on the mountain side Ru or Tao or Big Tooth might see it and wonder why there was a fire on the mountain. The idea pleased him. He had his flint stones and some dried grass for tinder tied up in his tiger-skin shirt. He looked around the rocky pocket for wood. It was scarce enough up there, but he found part of an old storm-battered tree that had grown in a cleft in the rocks and swiftly pulled it down and with his stone axe broke it up. Some of it was moist and he observed that it would make a good smoke, once the fire was started. Eagerly and swiftly he worked with flint and tinder to kindle a flame and presently he had a fire burning on the rock shelf on which he piled enough moist wood to send a column of smoke rolling upward.
Og stood back then and observed it with thoughtfully puckered brow. That smoke could be seen at a great distance he was sure. It climbed high in the heavens. But would it mean anything to Ru and Tao and Big Tooth if they saw it? They might realize it was he who made it; missing him from the village as probably they already had. But they might think it was his cooking fire; but then Ru and Tao should know that he would not cook with so much smoke.
He was not satisfied. He must convey a message of danger more clearly. He must make them understand that something was the matter; that he was in trouble. Just smoke might not carry that meaning. Would they understand if he broke that column that reached skyward in the still air and sent the smoke upward in quick little puffs, each puff telling them to hurry-hurry-hurry. The idea of sending a smoke message pleased him. He thought for some time how to do it. He passed his arm through the smoke column but that did not break it sufficiently. If he could only hold back the smoke for a little, then release it, that would be better. Suppose he covered the fire with his tiger-skin shirt for a moment, then raised it again. The smoke would leap upward in startling fashion. That might convey his meaning of danger.
The thought almost made him forget the Red Beards as he stripped off his tiger skin and blanketed the fire with it, holding it there for a moment, then whisking it aside. Instantly as it was released smoke that had been restrained by the shirt rolled upward in a round boiling ball that ballooned skyward, and as he blanketed the fire again it became a detached mass climbing skyward. Again and again and again Og tried the trick until he had as many as five smoke puffs in the sky at once, and as he watched them he felt certain that these puffs. if seen from the Flat Head valley as they undoubtedly would be, must convey the message to Ru and Tao and his friends that he needed help.
So engrossed in this smoke signaling had he become that for a time he forgot the real reason for doing it: forgot the Red Beards and the fact that one of them had gone for help until, unexpectedly, with a snarling hum and a savage crack, a stone whirled past his head and broke in splinters against the rock wall behind him.
With a grunt of surprise Og dropped his skin shirt, and, grabbing up bow and arrow, flung himself down behind a boulder, just as three more stones hummed over his head and rattled into the pocket. Og did not have to peer out from behind his boulder to know that the Red Beard who had gone for help had returned with more of their number. He wondered how many. Cautiously he peered down the slope to behold as many Red Beards as he had fingers on one hand. They were crouched among the boulders on the slope holding council and watching for a chance to sling a stone at him.
There were enough of them down there now, Og knew, to win their way up the slope and into his pocket, overpowering him, and seize the young goats if they should make a concentrated rush on his stronghold. But they seemed reluctant for the moment to do this. They seemed to be waiting for others. Also they appeared to fear his arrows. Og saw them passing the shaft that he had shot through the first fellow's neck from hand to hand as they examined it carefully, and he grinned to himself. The Red Beards did not know this weapon he had invented and feared its power. He would make them fear it more. Standing, he drew his bow and sent a shaft at them that made one of them duck for cover with a yell of fear. But that shot drew a fusillade of stones that made Og, too, leap for protection.
The battle became more or less of a siege then, with Og sending an arrow snarling down the slope every now and then and getting in exchange a veritable shower of stones, any one of which would have opened up his skull had it hit him. And meanwhile more and more Red Beards were arriving, until soon there were as many down there hiding among the boulders as Og had fingers on both his hands. He began to be worried, then, for he could see that with so many their courage was mounting. Their stones flew thicker and they became less afraid of his arrows and he knew that very soon they were likely to start a rush up the slope. He realized with sinking heart that when this happened he would be almost powerless to stop it. With his arrows he might get one or two, and he might injure others with boulders that he could shove down the slope on top of them. But there were too many of them now for him, and some would be almost certain to reach that rocky pocket and overpower him or dash his brains out with their axes.
Eagerly he looked off toward the valley of the Flat Heads and scanned the edge of the jungle where it fringed out down on the mountainside. But he saw no evidence of a rescue party and even as he peered toward the jungle suddenly the Red Beards who had spread out across the slope below him began a chorus of guttural yells and grunts as they leaped out from behind various rocks and boulders and started up the incline toward him.
Og knew the attack was on, and leaping to his feet behind the boulder that protected him he sent arrow after arrow among them. Some sped with telling effect, too. He saw a shaft pierce the thick arm of one man, just as he was whirling his sling to hurl a stone at him. He shot another shaft through the calf of a second man's leg and sent him rolling backward down the slope howling in pain.
But these casualties did not deter the others. In fact the howls of the wounded ones seemed to make the rest more desperately angry, and on up the slope they came, their slings whirring and their blood-chilling yells echoing across the mountain.
Desperately Og worked his bow to repel them, whipping arrows at them as fast as he could nock them on the strumming string. But as fast and as furiously as he sped those shafts from his bow he could not shoot them fast enough to slow up that onward rush of infuriated Red Beards. And then suddenly, to make his situation far more desperate, even as he was pulling the bow for what would have been a deadly shot for the biggest and burliest of his antagonists, with a startling crack a chance stone hurled from one of the Red Beards' slings cracked against the bow stave with such force that, combined with the pull of the string, the bow broke. Og, to his horror, found himself robbed of his most telling weapon, and when the Red Beards saw what had happened they yelled louder and climbed the slope faster for they realized now that they had him at their mercy.
Og, with a grunt of anger flung the broken bow from him, and leaped to the edge of the shelf where there were many loose boulders. Throwing his weight behind the heaviest of these, he rolled it over the edge and sent it crashing down the slope toward the invaders. Another, and still another, boulder followed, setting up a rumbling roar and a cloud of dust that drowned out the voices of the Red Beards. and obscured many of them to Og's vision.
Those boulders accounted for several more of the invaders. But they did not stop all of them. On came the others, brandishing their stone axes now and climbing to the very edge of the ledge where they began to drag themselves over and onto the shelf to come to hand-to-hand encounter with the Cave boy.
Og was at bay now. He yanked his stone axe from his girdle and with a yell of defiance braced himself on sturdy legs prepared to defend himself until these red-bearded ones laid him low. That they would get him he was certain. But before they did he was determined to split a few heads and rid the jungle of as many of them as he could. Indeed, his axe was upraised and he was on the point of delivering a crushing blow at the first of the men who was climbing over the edge of the ledge when suddenly from down the slope came yells in voices that he recognized.
"Hi-i-i-i-i-yah! Hi-i-i-i-i-i-yah!" they sounded. "Stand them off, Og! Split their skulls! We come to help you!"
So the voices of Ru and Tao and Big Tooth echoed up to him, and even as they sounded Og saw his three friends and a horde of Flat Heads coming out of the jungle below and up the slope as fast as they could run to attack the Red Beards from the rear. As Og beheld them his heart beat fast. with gratitude and the satisfaction of knowing that his smoke signal had been seen and read in the far-off Flat Head village.
With a wild yell he threw himself into the battle then to lay about with his stone axe at the men who were trying to swarm over the edge of the ledge, and as he fought them off arrows from Flat Head bows showered on the marauders until they began to break and scatter in all directions, darting here and there behind boulders as they tried to get out of the path of Og's rescuers.
Some of the Flat Heads pursued the Red Beards across the rock-strewn slope of the mountain, but not Ru and Tao and Big Tooth. They were too interested in Og's welfare, and as they climbed up over the ledge into the rock pocket they grinned and shouted and slapped him on his bare shoulders to show that they were glad he was still alive and uninjured.
"Hi-yah! We saw your smoke!" grinned Ru.
"Aye. It was a good thought. We saw trouble in those puffs that rolled toward the sky," cried Tao.
"And we came to help you," exclaimed Big Tooth.
"It was well you got here," said Og, also grinning. "Almost they had me. In but another wink of the eye my skull would have been laid open, for they are savage fellows. They were after my young goats. Look. I have caught two of them. We will capture more. We will take them down into the valley and keep them in a pen, so that we will have meat when the Red Beards grow too many for us to come up here to the mountain and hunt them."
"Aye. That is a good thought, too," said Tao, impressed by Og's reasoning. And as for Ru and Big Tooth. they nodded their approval, too, but of course none of them, not even Og himself, could realize that actually this was the first step in a closer relation of men and animals and the beginning of a little flock that throughout the ages was to develop into vast herds of domestic creatures.