Famous Fantastic Mysteries
Vol. 11, No. 2
Dec. 1949, pp 10-81
Ogden's Strange Story
Here's one of the strangest stories ever told the saga of Ogden Rutheford, spoiled child of civilization, and Og, the Dawn Man .... Centuries away, worlds apart, they wove strange, dark tapestries into history's pages, until in a screaming holocaust their paths met and crossed ....
THE SPELL OF THE BIRD-GOD
FRITZ, the Swedish cook of the outfit, started the whole thing. One night when camp was made and the dark lay whispering beyond the fire, he turned to the professor with an odd, puzzled look in his clear blue Northland eyes.
"Professor," he said, out of a clear sky, "what's dis t'eory of evolution I hears so much about?"
Thereupon, the professor began the story. He told it to us off and on for a week. We heard it at our noon rests, in the fire gleam at night, and even in the cold dark, when we lay in a row in our sleeping bags. And because it was an adventure story of the present day, all the men listened to it with apparent pleasure.
But it was something more than an adventure story. Perhaps, in a way, it was the answer to Fritz's question. Therefore, I have tried to write it down, as near as possible to the way that the professor told it.
To those who read it just for the story, I have to apologize for some of the professor's opinions. According to the books on novel writing, personal opinions have no business in fiction. But was the tale fiction? None of us could say we only knew that the professor was a truthful man, that he spoke to us in a singularly intense tone of voice, and that he used language rarely heard in our hunting yarns. Maybe the story is true at least in its larger sense.
So it begins:
Dawn glimmered in the forest. The wild creatures were still abroad, and absorbed in their furtive occupations. The wolf hurried his feast so that he might steal back to his lair before bright day. The bull moose, black, ungainly, still wallowed in the marsh, feeding on lily roots. The woodland stirred and rustled from many little feet; the shadows quivered and crept.
It was the epilogue of the desperate drama of the night, and the actors had not yet left the stage.
Suddenly all this life abruptly ceased. The tiny whispering sounds were chopped off short; the stealthy feet grew still, The moose froze to a form in bronze against the dark water. The wolf lifted her head, her red mouth open, her lean form tense and stark, blending like a shadow into the gray background. The long vale of spruce was like a petrified forest, a desert of black stone from which all living things had departed.
Danger, danger, danger this was the warning. It was not sound, not sight, not even smell, yet it was in the air; it wirelessed into every beast-brain. Run away, Fleetfoot! Slink off, Gray Shadow! Crouch down and be still, little Gray Fur! Growl and raise your hackles in vain, Big-Belly-on-Man's Feet! Peril is on the wing.
There was a new stir in the air. It was wind, but not the dawn wind, calling them from their shadowy pursuits; it had never blown upon this forest since the beginning of the world. They knew the winds of heaven better than a sailor. Their very lives were rhymed with the breathings of the forest. It was the tidings on the breeze that called them to their food and to their matings, that identified their enemies and guided them on their migrations. But this wind they did not know. Accompanying it was a hoarse tattoo that grew to a roar like thunder. No wonder the wild things broke at last in frantic terror. The big moose leaped from his pond and lunged, crashing, through the aspens. The wolf whisked away like so much smoke between the trees.
So it turned out that the lords of the forest the larger beasts that walked boldly in the trails were never to spy the thing that had alarmed them. Yet it did not go by unseen. There were certain little animals that did not flee, that ducked and hid in heavy thickets; and to these came a wonderful sight. Peering up through the brushwood they saw what seemed a gigantic bird. It was flying just above the treetops big as a hundred eagles, gray as a night-hawk, and swift as a falcon.
No wonder that the fool-hen, whose motley is a dash of red over her ear, huddled on her branch! Quaking, she waited for the clutch of mighty talons. Even the more intelligent creatures could not identify this winged thing. Their only memory of such beings was so faint and so far removed that it was only an echo in their strange, animal souls. Yes, long and long ago such giant birds had soared through the heavens; their wings had whipped and whined over the fetid marshes of the earth's dawn. Perhaps these little folk thought the monster was a pterodactyl, risen again after ten thousand centuries of sleep.
But it was not a pterodactyl. The last of these huge flying reptiles had left his tracks in the ancient rock. It was another flying mechanism, hardly less efficient a masterpiece of man rather than of nature. It was an airplane.
There were two men in the plane. One was the pilot, a type to be seen on every flying field. He had keen, bright eyes, a nervous, active body. Three hundred years before he would have been a gentleman-adventurer on the Spanish Main, peering out from the crow's-nest in search of a prize. Fifty years before he would have ridden a lean horse in advance of an emigrant train, and his sharp gaze would have searched for smoke on the sky-line, or a feather in the thicket. Eight years before, as a boy just out of high school, he himself had been a lookout for an army.
His companion, evidently a passenger, seemed an entirely different type. He was ten years older than the pilot and centuries younger. There were no lines about this young mouth, no reckless look at his tight lips. There was no rich, strong taste of raw life in his mouth. One wondered that he should be here, participating in this gallant flight on this humming ship, over these vast, unpeopled wastes.
Certainly he was not an adventurer. He was tall, powerful and fit, but his body had a smooth finish gained in a gymnasium rather than the outdoors. Unlike those who have fought for their lives against wind and wave under adventure's banner, he was smug and complacent, well pleased with himself and all his works. Indeed, he was inclined to look down on all adventurers and such men who let their bold hearts rule their foolish heads with lofty amusement.
In reality, he was amusing himself. He represented a class that had risen to prominence since the war, and in this year, 1926, was quite at its worst a solemn-talking, self-important lot who called themselves "young intellectuals." Like the others, he talked wisely on realism, Freudism, Babbittism, and many other topics which would have bored to curses his companion in the plane. Yet in one way he deserved great credit. Unlike many of his fellow members of the so called intelligence, his talk and beliefs were sincere.
OGDEN RUTHEFORD really believed that he was a superman. His superiority lay, he believed, in a great discerning mind. He was teacher's pet of modern civilization, unshackled by the sentimentalities, conventions, and prejudices of the past.
Up with the times and ahead of them, naturally he employed modern means of travel. Today's circumstances were simple enough. He had been invited to join a party of friends who were touring Alaska and the Yukon. He had been unable to start with the others, business having called him to Edmonton; but by hiring an airplane, he hoped to overtake the party at White Horse. The flight was to require only ten hours, seven of which had already passed.
Of course he did not expect to like the North. He believed that the stirring tales of the Yukon were merely legends which he, an intellectual. could expose. Only because his fiancée. Ruth Prentiss, was to be a member of the party had he consented at last to cone. Of all the girls he knew, Ruth Prentiss was best fitted, he thought, to marry him. She was white-limbed, slim, and ashen-haired; and her fine mind could run along with his.
The airplane trip itself he had found rather pleasant. Although he had been afraid in the sweep and rush of taking-off, he was not without courage, and soon conquered his fears. The woods below were pleasantly green; the air was fresh and cool .... But the size of those woods troubled him a little. It did not fit in with one of his favorite beliefs that the Wild had been tamed, the big game shot out and the land settled by farmers. He had yet to learn that except for little strips and edges, the North was as savage, as primal, as unspoiled as when the mammoths battled in Central Park.
Yet his spirits rose steadily. A queer sort of exultation was sweeping over him. It was good to go hurling through the air, a hundred miles an hour, over the still woods. It was subtly flattering; he was master not only of the plane and the pilot, but of space and time; he could oversee the little round earth. Bending down, he flicked its last smudge of dust from his glossy boot.
His keen eyes brightened, his face flushed. Why, he was Ogden Rutheford, favorite son of civilization, flower of the twentieth century. Exalted, he looked up to the blue dome of the sky, and did not see the fog bank that came drifting in over the hills.
The light suddenly dimmed. Instantly the world dissolved into a gray blur formless as in the unutterable Beginnings, before the stars were lit in the sky. Rutheford was violently startled. His proud thoughts were eclipsed like the light itself, and his mind was a chill, dark void.
Somehow, this mist seemed aimed at him. It closed around him softly, gently, but gray, cold, implacable as death. His will surged in vain. He could not escape. He could not see ....
He had believed solely in intellect and denied all other gods, but now his brain was dulled by a child's terror, and all the gods he had ever dreamed flew in the fog beside him. He looked to the pilot for solace. Plainly the man considered this midday darkness merely part of the day's work. He betrayed no excitement; calmly he was nosing up. The plane began to rise.
But it was not given time. A black shadow, like a bone seen by X-ray, loomed in the mist.
It rushed nearer. It took the outline of a mountain crest. And then blackness seemed to lunge at Ogden Rutheford and overwhelm him. A great crashing sound leaped out into the silent wilds echoed undulated wavered died away.
BESIDE the broken wing of a wrecked airplane lay a man who had once been Ogden Rutheford, His hair was strangely matted; his face was streaked with what looked like red paint. He was not dead, though perhaps he had suffered a change hardly less than death.
He got up presently, reeled, and fell. He was delirious; but what were his dreams neither he, nor any other man, will ever know. Again he rose, crashed through the underbrush for a short distance and fell again. Then there was a long period practically twenty-four hours that he slept and day-dreamed by turns while he lay between life and death.
In this period his brain did its best to straighten him out. Yet there was a blank spot somewhere. It failed to identify him as Ogden Rutheford; and indeed, at first it could not place him at all. It was all a baffling confusion. But as he slept, his dreams ran on, trying to account for him and his presence here. At last, making the most of such ancient writings as they found beneath the dust on his broken tablets of memory, they evolved an individual, a new ego, that could carry on in Ogden Rutheford's body.
His tangled dreams began to make sense. He dreamed that he was a hunter in a new, green, trackless forest. He wore the skins of beasts; he had never seen a house, a fence, or a plowed field. He had lain down and gone to sleep in the open, careless of danger. Even now he was lying in the very heart of a danger-haunted woodland; and at this very moment some white-fanged enemy might be stalking him, to leap upon him in his helplessness and slay him while he slept. There was a noise in the brush At this point in his dream, the man who had once been Ogden Rutheford in an existence so far remote that this wild hunter could not imagine it wakened with a start. And now he was no longer dazed and helpless. That period had passed. Total amnesia had wiped clean the slate of his lifetime memories, but a rich storehouse of experience remained. Some mind infinitely older, in some ways wiser, than the now-darkened mind of Ogden Rutheford, took command of his body.
At once he began to live. Not dully, not stupidly, but with an animal-like precision he began to react to his surroundings. Whoever this wild hunter was, he possessed most of his faculties. He was not just a wounded wreck of Ogden Rutheford, trying to carry out the latter's former habits of thought and action. Ogden Rutheford and all his life's works were utterly forgotten. Straightened out and oriented by his dreams, this wakening wild creature immediately struck out for himself.
He was not surprised to find himself alive. He had been living, cramped, darkened and chained, in the back part of Ogden Rutheford's brain, ever since the latter was born. Before that time, he had been living in the back-brains of Ogden Rutheford's ancestors, long before the first tribes moved westward of Asia. And even before that he had lived, in immemorial centuries which men have no record. He was almost as old as the hills. He was the wild hunter; and his habits, ideas, knowledge and faculties had been handed down, generation by generation, from a beginning so remote that it could hardly be imagined, much less remembered.
Of course he took himself for granted. Any puzzling he might have done had been cleared up by his dreams. He took life and circumstances for granted, too, as any child does. He was rather like a child in many ways, yet he possessed the wisdom of a thousand centuries.
At once this racial wisdom began to guide him, the long coaching of the ages taking the place of such twentieth-century learning as Ogden Rutheford had acquired in his own lifetime. It was all simple, easy and natural.
He merely obeyed his instincts. Indeed, had no other guide.
Waking, he instantly sprang to his feet. He was like a stunned duck that comes to life on the game heap of a hunter. His leg muscles seemed to hurl him upward to a position of sharp and alert guard.
This in itself was enough to show the great change that had overcome Ogden Rutheford. The latter had usually drifted awake, yawning, secure in his civilized surroundings. Only on occasions of violent nightmare had he sprung up with such a glare in his eyes and such a tenseness of his muscles. And there was no nightmare now. His baffling dreams of a few hours before had all been straightened out. He had been sleeping lightly, as such woodsmen and hunters as himself must sleep if they hope to live on. A sound as real as himself had wakened him.
He did not know yet what it was. It sounded like a crash of brush under a heavy body. Anyway, no sound that the forests uttered must be ignored. This was the law, which he knew well. And he must obey it.
He was not rigid or frozen with fear, but efficient as a wakened dog. His eyes roved here and there under his knitted brows and blood-matted hair. His legs were bent a little at the knees. And his arms what is this about his arms? They were raised above his head, his hands open, his fingers spread apart and curled.
There was something significant here, had he the wits to see it. Ogden Rutheford, unkenned and forgotten now, had twice in his lifetime struck this same posture, both times as result of terror. Once he had met a hold-up man on a bridge. Another time a white curtain had fluttered suddenly in a close, dark room, almost frightening him out of his wits. On both of these occasions his hands had groped into the air this same way.
TRUE, the posture had served no purpose then. Rutheford had supposed he had merely lost his head. He had not known that most men, and nearly all women, throw their arms into the air when terror strikes. Now a strange light was thrown upon this queer, human trick. Rutheford had not known what he was doing, but this savage knew. Through instinct or intuition, he was simply trying to grasp a tree limb, where he might swing himself out of danger.
There was blessed refuge, concealment and deliverance, in the green branches! Ancient knowledge returned to him, in great magic-lantern flashes, out, of the murk of the past. He could remember, in some marvelous memory which was just now waking in his soul, a thousand woodland adventures in which the trees had befriended him. He had gone swinging through the branches. He had swept like a huge squirrel from bough to bough. He remembered the rush of air as he leaped, the shock and jar as his hard hand grasped a limb; the leaping earth as he fell and saved himself just in time. Those who were tardy in swinging up did not survive; they died horribly, to the sound of crunching fangs in the red-spattered thicket.
Like memories had visited Ogden Rutheford. but his conscious mind had barred its doors against them, and they had spoken to him only through tangled dreams of endlessly climbing, endlessly falling. But when he fell, he never struck the ground. There was never any memory of striking the ground. His ancestors who had failed to catch themselves in time had not survived to pass it down.
But this brute-man did not swing into the tree. His terror quickly passed. The living thing that had aroused him whose loud step had called him from his dreams was not one of the great beasts of prey, the white-fanged hunters of the greenwood. It was not a tiger, tawny and terrible, not a cave bear, not a wolf. It was only a moose, now dashing off through the aspens.
The man watched the beast curiously.
His red-streaked brow wrinkled and lowered as he peered. Plainly he was puzzled by the animal's behavior. Of course the moose himself he knew well. As a hunter, he had chased Great-Horns more times than he could count.
Of course he did not go back to sleep. He knew perfectly well that to lie in the open, unprotected, was simply death, certain and swift. He could not understand why he had been so reckless before.
Nor could he remember lying down here.
Peering about him in search of other animals, he was not at all surprised to find himself in the deep woods. Indeed, he could remember no other hunting ground. The country looked entirely natural and, familiar the shadows, the fallen logs, the clumps of brushwood, and the ambushes of the hunters were just as they were before he had fallen asleep. But he did not seem to recall this exact spot. He did not believe he had ever been just here before. Of course he wasn't sure; the past was dim as a dream in his mind.
He started up the ridge. He moved lightly and easily. Indeed, there was a curious automatic smoothness about all his acts, unknown to the forgotten creature who had been Ogden Rutheford. When a log crossed his trail, he leaped over it without pausing to speculate about it, or to measure it with his eye. The truth was that the chained hunter who had lived in Rutheford's back brain had a better command over his body than had Rutheford himself. There seemed to be a more direct connection. His impulses did not have to go through a clearing-house of intelligence, but acted on his muscles immediately. He pushed on through the woods, easily but with caution. He searched every thicket for small game that would furnish food; he peered ahead for the sight of lurking enemies. And suddenly a new terror smote him.
This was a different kind of terror than that which had summoned him from sleep. It was not merely the sharp voice of instinct, but a deep, awesome fear of an utterly strange sight. Lying on the hillside was a huge, birdlike thing; its wings were long as a fallen tree. He saw instantly that it had come from the sky. The little saplings had been broken off by its impact. And in the second glance he saw that a manlike creature lay among its tangled and broken bones.
A manlike creature, surely; but not a man! Indeed, he was almost as strange to see as the great bird itself. He had the general form of the men who hunted in the forest, but his face did not look right. It was too white, too naked. His body was covered with queer-looking pelts, and where the pelts were torn, the skin showed white instead of black with hair. The being was sleeping now.
To this strange, wild-eyed ghost of Ogden Rutheford, there was only one explanation for puzzling events. They were all supernatural. What he could not understand he attributed to the unseen powers. Part of his brute heritage was a long-practised ability to create goblins and spirits by which he could interpret life. So his mind worked now: he decided that the sleeping figure was some sort of a demon or god that had come down from the sky, riding his great bird.
No doubt the bird was a god, too, he thought, of a lesser order, but greater than any god he had ever imagined. As a hunter, he could take his chance with moose and caribou, bear and wolf; but he wanted no close dealings with gods. He cried out hoarsely, then whirled and fled.
HE DID not stay to grasp a tree limb. Rationally, he decided that no treetop refuge could save him from a bird-god. Instinct bade him run for his life, and put the high ridges between himself and the danger danger that was ghastly, uncanny and horrible.
He ran with amazing speed. He leaped the fallen logs; with the utmost of his strength, rallied by terror, he crashed through brush thickets. He ran until his breath rushed sobbing to his lungs, until his muscles blackened with congested blood. When he could run no more, he rallied the last of his strength to climb a tree.
Among the swaying limbs of a tall spruce he found a measure of security. Surely the bird-god would not find him here, he thought, behind the heavy screen of boughs. Likewise he was safe from the common dangers. The game trails, where he was in turn the hunter and the hunted, lay far below, and even the cave lions could not leap so high. His hands locked naturally around the small limbs, and grasping and sobbing, he let his outraged body relax.
It might have occurred to him that he was sadly out of condition. The race he had run should not have left a tried hunter and woodsman so spent and shaken. But perhaps terror dulled his mind; and, besides that, neither he nor his kind were very introspective, anyhow.
He began to conjecture about the bird-god and its rider. What portents had this visitation to his woodland home? Bad luck, of course all omens were bad omens; all wonders and miracles prophesied disaster. The gods were ever jealous, malicious and hateful; this he knew well. They laid traps for him in every trail. Many and many a time he had avoided these by a hairbreadth.
Only the sun-god was sometimes merciful, and warmed people while they slept. Half the trine, however, even this god hid behind the mountains, afraid to go abroad in the dark. The darkness itself was death, devils and destruction. Yes, all these things he knew only too well.
Did the coming of the bird-god prophesy his own death? This was a disturbing possibility that now occurred to his slow mind. Would soon the forest cease to know his step?
But in this case, why had the blow been delayed? He had lain helpless, asleep, within a few paces of the god. And what god or devil or beast would spare a man so long?
He pondered a long trine on this matter, and finally thought it out to his satisfaction. He could understand, now, why he had gone to sleep, as sometimes a foolish young caribou slept, in the danger-haunted forest. He could guess why he had no previous memory of the place where he had wakened. Obviously, he had been bewitched! The bird-god had put a spell upon him, as spells are often put upon the poor hunters of the forest. He knew all about spells. He could not remember who had told him, so long ago it was. And now one of them had moved against him! Truly, it was a wonder that he still lived.
Presently he glanced down, over his own body. Except for his instinctive grasp on the limbs, his violent start would have hurled him out of the tree. His appearance had been fearfully and wonderfully changed. His legs were not now black with hair, as he knew they ought to be; they were covered with some strange raiment. Cautiously he felt the covering. Plainly, it was a new kind of an animal skin, even the smell of which was unfamiliar. This also was bewitchment, fearful sorcery, by the bird-gods.
Gasping, he started to tear off the covering; but his hand held. His eyes widened, and he glanced about furtively. Why, such an act might anger the gods. He had heard, many times, that they were as easily angered as a wolverene. These skins had been put upon him while he slept, for some mystic purpose. And where had he seen such garb before? He remembered now: he had seen it on the body of the being who had lain, asleep, in the broken wings of the bird-god.
What else had the forest demons wrought? He was aware of a savage, driving pain in the top of his head. Carefully he felt the place, to find his hair sticky and wet. His hand looked red. Yes, the gods had wounded him. He could think of no other possibility. They had made the red blood flow. But, perhaps, since they had not killed him when they had a chance, they would be lenient and spare him now! Perhaps he would live to see the sun wheel back once more.
Thus moved the thoughts of the man who had been Ogden Rutheford, as he clung in a treetop in the Yukon forests. And now his thoughts reached farther. He began to grope for a clearer sense of self. He wanted to identify himself to distinguish his own being from the beings around him, on the earth and invisible in the air.
His dreams while lying wounded had placed him well enough, had oriented him as far as the ruined compass of his memory could indicate; but they had not named him. Something within him cried the need for a name. So he let his instincts speak.
Of course he could not remember his former name. So cleanly was it erased from his consciousness that he did not even miss it. Even if it had been repeated to him, it would have had little meaning in his brute mind. It was merely part of the language he had lost.
Suddenly his mouth opened, and he grunted a single syllable: "Og!" he said.
SONG OF THE WILD
AS THE afternoon began to wane, Og started down from his tree. He moved with slow motions, like a man who is driven against his will. He hung a long time on each branch before lowering himself; his eyes darted nervously into the thickets below. He was still bitterly terrified, yet within him was an urge that he could not resist.
He made a strange picture, crawling through the branches; not only his mind was changed; there were other changes, remote, hard to identify, in his physical appearance. There was something childlike, yet at once wild and furtive, in his movements. He was clumsy, yet he seemed to know how to hover, dimly visible, in the thicker branches. His eyes were indrawn, nervously bright. His clothes were torn by his exertions; his face, torn and scratched by the boughs, smarted sharply.
He stood at last on the ground. For a long moment he waited, motionless as a snake, with one hand raised to clutch a limb over his head. The forest was without sound. The May sunshine slanted through the spruce boughs, its endless patterns pleasing to his eye. Reassured, he began to search through the shrubbery.
In his vitals was a driving devil that must be satisfied. No wonder his heart leaped, savage and fierce, when the short grass rustled in an open place. A gopherlike rodent, one of the common ground squirrels of the north, peered at him with bright, beady eyes.
The brightness grew in Og's own eyes. He was clutched by an excitement so intense that he gasped. Never in all his days had Ogden Rutheford known such a passion. But Og knew! His eyes glared now.
He bent down, with stealing motions, seized a two-pound stone. Suddenly he hurled it with all his strength.
As the missile sped from his hand, a sound gushed out from his tight-drawn lips. It was half a growl, half a snarl; and Ogden Rutheford would never have deemed that it abided in his throat. It was the outburst of a savagery that lurks in the deepest wells of man's subconscious ordinarily forgotten until, perhaps, the stabbing rush of a bayonet charge over no man's land. And this was no man's land today. Rather, it was the land of beasts, of primal forces over which man has not yet extended his reign.
For Og, the sound was a relief valve for the pressure of ferocity in his heart. And it ended in a savage yelp of anger as the stone missed its intended victim.
The squirrel ducked into a hole. Og ran forward, tearing at the burrow in childish anger. His foot drew back to kick at the misdirected stone, but a sudden chilling awe made him refrain. Perhaps the rock had gone wide of its mark on purpose! Perhaps it contained a spirit that hated him, as most of the woodland spirits did hate him. If he showed it any insult, it might pursue him. It might put a spell upon other rocks that he threw.
He soon saw another gopher. Indeed, the little mound-builders were everywhere. They were afraid of him, at first; but when he remained motionless, they soon emerged from their burrows and went about their scurrying occupations.
To freeze into a lifeless shadow, this was the secret of hunting. Yet he did not have to learn it by bitter experience; it was a clear whisper in his brute brain. Strange how like a brown stump he could appear! And now the rocks fled straighter from his hand. And the range was close. At last he made a direct hit.
The gopher lay stunned in the spruce needles. Og cried out a yell of triumph and, running forward, clutched the warm body in his hands. He knew an exaltation far beyond his childish powers to express. The animal was of a lowly species, and he had killed it at five paces with a stone; yet in his primitive mind it became a splendid trophy.
Was this so strange? No duck hunter would think so. Even so-called civilized man knows an intense, savage thrill when a two-pound pintail falls to his aim. It differs only in degree from the triumph that Og knew now.
He crushed the animal's skull with a stone, and tearing through the fur with his fingers, sank his teeth in the warm flesh. Because the inhibitions of civilization were removed, he knew no horror of the raw meat. If his paralyzed memory had functioned at all, he could have remembered feasts hardly less barbarous: the gorging of a ten-minute duck in a glittering cafe, or a raw-beef sandwich. A carnivorous animal had dwelt in chains within Ogden Rutheford's body. Now it had leaped forth.
Satisfied, he moved into an open space, from which he could see in all directions. He watched for a moment, then sat down in the sunlight. For a time he was aware of a great contentment. His thoughts moved idly, always from primitive premises.
Presently his mood darkened; he did not know why. He glanced about nervously, listening for a suspicious rustle of brush. He heard none. The trees had that curious immobility which comes in late afternoon. Yet he was increasingly uneasy. He got up and stood leaning forward at his hips, peering.
The shadows were moving and growing. This, in itself, was a mystery that he could not solve something to be pondered over hours on end but now the fact seemed to have special significance. He seemed to know that they predicted the coming night, the blackness and the horror of the day's end!
FEAR-STRICKEN, he watched while the sun dropped, down and down, until at last it disappeared behind the hills. Plainly, it, too, was afraid of the coming night. It was hiding. And now he himself must go and hide. The sky changed hue; it was no longer blue, but greenish-gray, like dead grass. The trees were darkening, dimming, their trunks blending into the background. It was an hour of strange metamorphosis, of manifold mysteries, of wicked enchantment.
Og's dismay changed to dread. His dread rose to fear. His fear grew at last to horror dark, awful, almost paralyzing. He struggled up the biggest of the nearby trees.
Then he waited, ghastly pale, hardly breathing.
The tree had promised security, at first. When the sun shone, it was a satisfactory retreat from earthbound enemies in the woods. But how would it save him from spirits that fluttered in the air, from goblins who whistled in the dark, from devils who moved and crept in shadow! He waited for the clutch of their talon hands.
Twilight deepened. At last the heavy dark dropped down. Through it he saw the bright points of the stars, mystic lights that twinkled and almost went out. If they did go out, he would surely die. Only blackness would remain.
He heard the whisper of the wind. He thought it was a great beast, a manhunter, creeping through the treetops. Even when lie felt it against his face he personified it: it was one of the malevolent spirits of the wild, seeking his life.
The minutes crept by. Again and again Terror lifted its head once because of a marten in the branches. Og was afraid to go to sleep, yet exhaustion weighted. his eyelids. Finally he slipped down into a crotch of the branches and dozed off.
Ogden Rutheford, in the same position, would have feared falling. Og, the Dawn Man, had no such fear. Both his hands were back and up, over his head, locked about tree limbs; the fingers were fixed as if by paralysis. No slipping away of his consciousness could relax his grip. Nor was the position strained: it seemed the natural way to sleep
Now one might understand why the sleeping orangutan in the zoo and far from his dusky Sumatran jungles clutches the bars of his cage. One might guess why the tender human infant, sleeping on it back in the cradle, lies with both hands reaching toward the headboard. Later it outgrows this attitude, as conscious intelligence begins to take the place of instinct; but in the first months of its life it still remembers the arboreal habits of the race. Blindly it is reaching for the tree limbs; staunchly its little fists are closed about the invisible boughs.
Og dreamed strangely and vividly. Often he cried out in his deep. At last the faintly dawning light wakened him.
So he was spared another day. Nothingness had menaced him, but had not consumed him. Now the sun was returning, too. It had fled from the dark, afraid; but it had tunneled under the earth to reappear on the opposite skyline. Once more Og could climb down and seek food.
He was not greatly rested. The darkness had only endured an hour or so such is May in southeastern Yukon. Also, he was stiff and lame from muscular strain and the crisp chill of the night. Yet he knew that primal happiness that the dawn brings it is known to every outdoor man, even though night has lost its terror long ago and when the sun shone warm, his hope in life returned. Once more he threw stones at the ground squirrels.
He fed and drank. He ventured timidly into the next glade. His physical needs satisfied, he began to conjecture on some of the mysteries of his surroundings. He did not know it, but this propensity to conjecture, setting him apart from most brutes, was even a nobler thing than killing a ground squirrel with a stone.
One of the most baffling mysteries lay just at his feet. It was his shadow. He feared it bitterly at first. It seemed to make no sense. It followed him everywhere; it mocked him; it grew and receded in size Sometimes it took monstrous shapes. Yet he soon decided that it was a rightful part of him, probably friendly to him. Everything, it seemed, possessed a shadow. Therefore, so he reasoned, everything was double. Life was dual. There were two of everything. There was a real self and a shadow self.
This thought began to work in his unlettered mind. It led to some queer deductions. He noticed, for instance, that even motionless things, like stones, had moving shadows. True, the stone shadows were not active and fluttering like his own, but they moved a little, always keeping opposite from the sun. To Og, movement meant only one thing life.
He could not conceive of movement without life, Such is the natural limitation of a savage. And since the shadow was alive a living spirit plainly its other self, the thing that cast the shadow, must be alive, too. Thus every tree, every dead stump, every mound of earth possessed a living spirit. And since these spirits were probably demons, hating him and wishing to destroy him, he must walk carefully among them. He must always be on guard not to offend them.
The shadow-self was thin and flat and earthbound, yet in some ways it was greater than the thing-self. For instance it could change shape at will. It could grow large or small. If he himself could do the same, what a convenience it would be! No more would he have to fear the white-fanged hunters of the Wild! Obviously, the shadow-self could do magic. It was worth venerating.
OG'S wound throbbed and his head ached, and for a single moment he glanced back darkly into another clime and time. It seemed to him that in the land of a dream there were men who likewise venerated their shadows. At least they believed in a dual self, and an inner life known as the soul. And did this high-flown belief arise from a caveman's speculations about an image that the sun cast on the ground?
His thought drifted on in the present. He soon found that his shadow-self could run as fast as his own fleet legs. By the most determined effort he could neither run away from or catch it. And this was only the beginning of the shadow's powers.
In the early afternoon a black cloud, menacing and fearful, swept up and covered the sun. Instantly Og was appalled. It was like the twilight descending before its hour. Og loved the sun; it was the only friend he had in this stronghold of the elements, and he could not abide its absence.
Danger seemed to creep close. His vision was restricted; the land looked bleak and unfriendly. And suddenly glancing down, he saw that his shadow had vanished.
He made what seemed to him an entirely reasonable deduction. His shadow had fled to escape the danger. Obviously it had the power to come and go at will. When danger threatened, it would leave him, and find some safe place of refuge. Oh, a mighty spirit was this shadow-self of his!
When the last danger finally overtook him, when the ultimate dark lowered about him, and he died with a yell and a gurgle in some horrible thicket, it might be that his shadow-self would escape then, too. It would flit away to a safe refuge, and in the twilight it might return. Yes, it might be that the shadow was immortal.
Thus thought Og, the Dawn Man. But he did not know that he had worked out the basic principle of almost all great religions. He did not dream that he had stumbled onto the blind beginnings of man's belief in the immortality of his soul.
Even on this second day of his repatriation, Og began to make frequent contacts with animals. Of course the rodents were the most common. The rabbit cycle was near its zenith, so these little gray eavesdroppers swarmed in colonies in every copse. On every hillside were squeaking gophers; and, growing fat upon them, were hundreds of small carnivora.
Og was always meeting these people. He was ever hearing the rustle and swish of the brush as they avoided him in the trail. Running tracks in the dust! Whispering leaves overhead! Fur glinting brown in a thicket!
Even an experienced outdoor man might not have seen so much. Yet this was not due to any miraculous quickening of the gaze of Ogden Rutheforrl. True, his eyes were rapidly adjusting themselves to the light and shadow of the woods; but the larger factor was the constant, razor-edged vigilance of the Dawn Man, Og. Every instant of every waking hour he was on guard. He investigated every suspicious sound. He was abroad every hour of sunlight, and did not, like most frontiersmen, spend a great portion of his time in a cabin or a camp. He was not preoccupied by thoughts of gain, or by the thousands of personal abstractions that go with civilized life.
On a creek bank he met a long-bodied, soft-furred creature about the size of a young cat. He paused, his heart bounding. The animal confronted him with green, glaring eyes. At once it turned and fled, loping with easy bounds.
Og gave chase. His face contorted out of all resemblance to the face of Ogden Rutheford. He was a wild and brutish figure running at top speed, brandishing a flint that had seemed to fit his hand. Of course the mink escaped. It had only contempt for this heavy-footed foe. Yet the tremendous exertion, winding and exhausting him, tended to build up Og's body.
Such trials as these would either kill him or make him a man of steel. Once he was startled by a resounding slap in the center of a woodland pool. It proved to be an otter, one of the finest of small folk.
Toward evening he encountered a small herd of caribou in an upland park. These were splendid beasts. The bull in the lead was truly a monarch of the parks his velvet antlers already well-grown, his mane snow-white, his tawny form aquiver with the unquenchable vitality of the wild. He did not flee at once, as the moose had done. This was a thing to puzzle an outdoor man. Usually the merest wisp of human scent will send any horned game half mad with terror. In spite of the fact that the bull was down wind from Og, he seemed to have difficulty in identifying him.
Was Og a man? The stag seemed to doubt it. He pawed, swinging his handsome head. Og hovered, ready to climb a tree. Meanwhile he was caught between two intense emotions. One was terror: the realization of inferior strength, which could be offset only by superior cunning. The other was an abysmal desire for meat.
The animal was good. His flesh was red, his fat was white, his bones were rich with marrow. If Og could kill him, there would be full feeding for many days.
But now the caribou had identified him. He snorted and raced away. Why had he delayed so long! Was Og losing the man-smell that all animals so frantically fear? Was the scent of smoke and fire which in a wild animal's nostrils must be the horror of the unknown passing from his garments, and the reek of raw meat taking its place? The answer to this question might profoundly affect Og's life.
AS THE shadows grew long, Og made a lucky find. A queer-looking, slow-legged animal descended a tree in the trail ahead. It wore quills the pain of which Og seemed to remember from long ago and it did not attempt to flee.
The animal almost doubled in size. He swelled until he looked as large as a young wolf. No wonder a cold chill of superstition blew over Og's soul!
Yet he soon remembered the truth. For once, he did not have to call on the demons of the air for an explanation. The porcupine had simply erected its close-lying quills. Og could hear the crinkling swish of the spines.
No doubt this trick was a valuable one. The survival of the porcupines, in forests full of enemies, was no doubt partially due to this simple stratagem. Many little white-fanged hunters were probably frightened away by this show of force. This protection was in addition to the barbed spines themselves; deadly points which had brought many a wolf or wolverene to a slow unhappy death.
Yet the trick of bluffing was not confined to porcupines. It is one of nature's most common devices. The presence of danger will raise the hair on a dog's neck; the grizzly bear himself, brought to bay in some rocky pass, will seem to increase in size and power by the same reflex, touched off by blind emotion.
And now for a moment Og's headache made his mind wander. He seemed to remember, as in a dream, white men of civilization who still, in moments of danger, complained of a creeping and stirring of hair, and a cold chill down the back. Plainly they were brothers to the porcupine and the angry grizzly. With them, of course, the trick of hair-lifting was no longer effective. Their skins were too bare; and, besides, they had no wild-beast enemies to frighten away by a show of force. It was only an outworn reflex. remaining to remind those haughty men of their lowly origin.
The vision past, Og killed the porcupine with a stone. By attacking it from beneath, he was able to gorge himself on its rich, strong meat. He carried the remainder of the carcass with him.
At the base of a distant cliff, he saw a round black spot. He guessed what it was the mouth of a cavern; but at first he dared not approach it. It might be the lair of some of the evil spirits that moved everywhere about him. At least it was the den of a wild beast. Yet he kept peering at it, and he could not turn away. Some home-seeking impulse in the nether regions of his brain held him entranced.
At last he worked his way slowly toward it. His hands were open, ready at any instant to grasp a tree limb. When he had approached within forty feet, he waited and listened. At last he picked up a rock and timidly threw it into the cave.
It would have been a strange sight, grimly ludicrous, to see him waiting for the response. His eyes were peering, his mouth hung open, his hand had reached up to a comforting bough. But no enemy rushed forth. No demon, imagined so vividly in his semi-human mind, came sweeping out on bat-like wings. There was no cave bear's raving rush. After throwing a rock or two more, Og pushed on clear to the black maw. The cave proved to be small. Og could see its farther walls. And suddenly his wild heart bounded with unutterable joy.
Why, this was home! It was shelter from the horrors of the night! Nearby was a large stone that he could roll in front of the maw, forming a barricade that even Running-Feet could not pass! He had cheated the gods that plotted his death.
But how did this brute-man know a home when he saw it? By what bold leap of his intelligence had he seen the advantages of a lair like this? The answer goes to instinct. The jungle mind that had survived Ogden Rutheford's airplane accident was not purely that of an arboreal ape. True, it knew the thrill of aerial leaps, of swinging from limb to limb above the danger-haunted trails below; but also it recalled five hundred centuries of cave dwellers. Og was haunted by dim, thrilling pictures. He saw the first timid venturings down from the trees, at the beginning of man's reign. His heart glowed, and his fierce eyes flamed, and his lips drew back in a snarl, as he visioned the wars that followed.
The caves had been inhabited by wild beasts. There were savage bears, and demon wolverenes, and far-leaping lions, and terrible, yellow-eyed Running-Feet, the wolves. Blood upon the stone! Yelpings in the dark! Death upon the threshold! The thwacking of clubs, and the cracking of skulls, and the tearing of flesh, Og had heard them all.
But the tree men had conquered. Glory to the flints in men's hands, and the cunning in man's heads! Soon they lay secure, with stones blocking the cavern mouths. Og could see them: their fierce eyes glaring under heavy brows, their mighty, hairy bodies crouched and warlike. Now the same security was his. He rolled the stone near by, then, crawling inside, worked it forward with his hands until it practically blocked the entrance. At once he turned and looked about for some way to celebrate his fortune.
He could not dance. Dancing is not a solitary act. It must come later; it must be developed by the tribe. Neither could he sing But there was one triumphant rite which he was not denied. His eyes roved toward the carcass of the porcupine.
He was not especially hungry. He had eaten only three hours before. Even his great toilings, and the change of tissue that was occurring in him every day, had not yet reawakened his appetite. Yet his very feeling of security stirred his hunger again.
He was hardly aware that his head had begun to ache a little, and that a vision was flitting before his eyes. And this was no dream of the long past, of the cave and the hairy men. Rather it was a television of a clean-cut, immaculate man at a civic banquet, celebrating a political victory.
What had this to do with him? Could it be that these lofty people, and this cave man, gnawing his reeking shank of porcupine, were acting upon the same impulse? Yes, they were obeying an instinct inconceivably old, passed down from the lower vertebrates. They were expressing a new-won sense of security in the most natural way eat while the chance offers, before ye are thrust forth into danger again!
Og gorged, and presently he slept.
WHEN Og emerged in the late morning, he stood a long time at the cavern mouth. He was not particularly afraid. The ground was bare within fifty feet of his refuge, and if an enemy appeared, he could doubtless roll up his barricade in time. He was merely enjoying the wonderland spread out before him.
The view was magnificent. There were open meadows, shimmering green, in which clear streams traced a silver network. There were isolated groves of spruce, black as the blackest pit of Og's nightmares. There were long, fair glades, and mysterious thickets, and deepset little lakes full of melted sky. Farther off were the ranges, green, at first, with timber; gray beyond, with slide rock, and glittering white, at last, with snow. Og's heart thrilled.
Had he found a love of beauty? Far from it. Beauty, of itself, was utterly beyond his ken. In this, he was like all low savages. Things were pleasing to him, or displeasing, for definite and material reasons. He know nothing of line, of color harmony.
The open meadows were the feeding grounds of the caribou. This is why he loved them, If he were a great enough hunter, and the gods sufficiently blessed him, he himself might kill one of the antlered monsters. The very thought was ecstasy.
Oh, the red fountain of wounds! The bowing head, with its crown of horns! The white fat, and the red meat, and the big bones rich with marrow! The full feeding, and the security against the devils of famine for days and weeks to come!
Hanging like burs in the spruce were porcupines. Lurking in the thickets were smaller game, and perhaps a bear, that some time, if the gods favored him, he might slay. In the streams and lakes were darting shadows that, by godlike cunning, he might snare into his hands.
The peaks beyond were not merely desolate wastes of slide rock and weary snow. Og knew, with some clear inner knowledge, that they were peopled by big game. There were splendid, cloven-hoofed beasts with curling horns, and invisible wings whereby they might fairly fly up and down the cliffs.
To Og, this glorious mountain realm was only a hunting ground. His love for it was a belly love. Arid why should his head ache again, ushering in visions that he could not understand? Was the long past casting another shadow?
When the tourist stands on the car platform and thrills at the wild, rough grandeur of the Rockies, is he so far removed from Og? Perhaps he, too, sees, in his secret soul, the happy hunting ground of his desire! He beholds his ancestral home; he skulks again through the thickets, the hunter and the hunted. In him, the more direct impulse is lost; meat hunger and blood lust have become transfigured to the high-flown sentiment of nature love. And how many other of Ogden Rutheford's past exalted emotions had arisen from just as lowly and as savage an origin!
Presently Og went venturing forth. Although there was still plenty of meat in his cave, he crept forward to brave the dangers of the forest. He did not know that this was a notable act. It indicated the beginning of a love of adventure which, come to fruit, has peopled the farthest islands of the sea.
Og loved hunting for its own sake. He loved to kill even when he was not hungry: a fact that showed a great growth over the mild-natured, lazy animals of the forest. Man is the bloodiest and cruelest killer on earth; and Og was a man. In evolution he was only a little below those rich, full-fed city dwellers whom Ogden Rutheford had seen swarming into the duck blinds at dawn. If he were only a little farther along he would even love that greatest sport of civilization war.
True, Og was beastlike in many ways. He was a brute, and a very terrible brute; the reek of raw meat was upon his hands and his jaws; and like the bear and the wolf he would, of course, be overwhelmed and cowed by such wholesale killings as occur in civilized countries. Yet he was not a beast, but a man. He had passed the border line. In his normal dreams not those queer visions that haunted him when he had the headache he could look back upon uncounted centuries of cave dwellers. And his man's estate was never more clearly shown than in his growing love of killing, and in his venturing forth to hunt when he was full fed.
No grizzly bear would do this. What outdoor man has ever heard of Brush-Devil leaving a fat and ripened carcass? Rather he would stay by it, gorging daily, until the meat was stripped from the bone. Plainly, the grizzly is the lower animal. He is lazy; he does not care to take life except for meat. His brain is not fine enough; he is not yet far enough along on the road of evolution, to act any way but directly from primal motives. He has yet to know blood lust.
But Og did little killing today. He passed by the gophers with lordly contempt. The time would come when he might chase them again, driven by his fierce hunger; but now he was full-fed, hunting for sport rather than for meat, and he desired bigger game. And again he showed himself a man, rather than a beast. Beasts know pride of a sort, but one kind of game is as acceptable to them as any other kind.
AGAIN he met the wild folk in the trails. Everywhere he ventured he hard rustling leaves and pattering feet. Mostly these were little people, rodents and small carnivora, but finally he encountered one of the woodland barons.
On a rocky hillside, scantily grown to trees, a gray, shadowy figure silently appeared. It loomed up suddenly, out of a strip of low grass which Og's eyes had searched in vain only a second before. No wonder the man thought this was a supernatural being, a demon, perhaps, such as haunted his dreams. Only demons and shadows and other fearful spirits of the dark could materialize out of the air at will!
The brute's appearance seemed to bear out this idea. It was lean and gray; its red mouth was barbed by glittering fangs. Its eyes were yellow, glowing, terrible. Yet for all this, it was no stranger to Og. A violent leap of his heart told him that this was an old familiar thing this meeting on the hill. Long and long had he waged war with the gray devil of the woods. They had fought for the supremacy of the wilderness. Flint against fang, man cunning against beast cunning; the struggle had gone down the ages. The darkness of Og's nightmares, which had nothing to do with his crazy headache dreams that flashed and passed, were haunted by such gleaming, sinister, yellow eyes.
This was Running-Feet. This was Killer-in-the-Dark. This was Red-Mouth, the demon. English-speaking people called him a wolf, imitating the sound of his short, growling bark; but in many languages his name was synonymous with "devil." This particular specimen was a gaunt female, hunting meat for her cubs.
Og's hair stood on end. Ancient terror, almost forgotten by man in fifty centuries of civilization, gripped him like a hairy hand. Yet he held his ground. Clear-voiced instinct warned him: "Hold! Hold! Hold!" To turn and flee would only invite a charge. The brute would be on his shoulders, hurling him down and slashing at his throat before he could reach a tree. On the other hand, a bold front might scare the beast and hold her at bay.
Yes, she seemed afraid, now. She snarled and crouched, menacingly, but her lean body was still held in leash. The truth was that the white-hot spark of the desire to kill had not yet flamed in her brute brain.
Was this so strange? An outdoor man would not have thought so. His only surprise would be that the beast had not fled in terror at the first glimpse of man's form. And it is true that no lone wolf will show fight to its mighty and all-powerful enemy. But Og did not know this. He was not aware that knives and guns had crushed Running-Feet's fighting spirit centuries ago. Instead, his jungle brain was burdened with memories of how wolves had attacked men ages agone, and killed them, too, and left their naked bones to the scouring of hateful winds. He had no knife or gun; he was only Og, the Dawn Man, standing here with a flint in his hand, and in his heart an infinite longing for the security of a treetop.
Presently the wolf threw up her head. She seemed to catch a message that had eluded her until now. It was faint almost hidden by other messages that had at first deceived her and it was terror beyond imagination. This foe before her was man! She knew him now. He was Fire-Maker, Killer-at-a-Distance, God-of-the-Cold-Iron.
How she identified him is almost beyond human understanding. He was brutish, smelling of the forest; yet perhaps his body still carried a taint of smoke the token of fire which is the symbol of the Great God Man, and which no wild beast can bear. Perhaps and stranger things are believed in the North Woods she smelled cold steel, the blade of a knife which Ogden Rutheford had carried in his pocket and which Og, the Dawn Man, had not yet discovered.
Suddenly she disappeared. She vanished like a puff of gray smoke. Og stared; then he caught brief glimpse of her long body as she raced away through the timber. He himself turned and fled up the nearest tree. He had no sense of triumph. He was only thankful to his shadow-self or to whatever spirit it was that had protected him that he had escaped. And certainly it was a close call. The man-smell that had saved him seemed to be passing from his body. He might lose this safeguard soon, and then he would have to depend on his own prowess the fleetness of his legs and the strength of his arms.
When at last he descended the tree, he traveled straight toward his cave. He hurried into the rocky crypt and rolled the door stone up behind him. Only then did his leaping heart subside to its usual measured beat. Only then did he remember hunger, the first and last passion of his being.
He consumed the remainder of the porcupine flesh; and then, peering through a crack in his barricade, he watched the twilight descend. For a while he felt deeply at peace. He was secure from the prowling beasts of the night, from Yellow-Eyes, who haunted the dusk. He had come through a great peril and so had reason to believe that some god or spirit was friendly to him. So he gnawed porcupine bones and planned great killings for the future.
He did not laugh. Laughter was a thing he had yet to learn. He knew joy, but not mirth. When there were no bones left to gnaw he expressed his pent-up happiness by beating with an old, dry thigh bone the last remains of a bear who had wintered and died here, in some deep snow of a bygone decade on the rock wall of the cave. He kept time to his heart: boom-lay boom-lay boom-lay boom! at regular spaced intervals.
The sound excited him. It was like the very loud, strong heartbeat that man experiences in moments of keenest living. Perhaps there was a reverse action of some kind here. The body and the mind are strangely attuned; they are mutually stimulating. For instance, a bull's anger is accompanied by an increased flow of blood in the little vessels of the eyes, making him literally "see red." Because he "sees red" when a red flag is held before his gaze, he become automatically angry. He is not intelligent enough to tell the difference between a simple reflex and an emotion aroused by the presence of actual enemies. Og's brute-mind worked somewhat the same. In the moments of intense, pleasurable excitement his heart always beat loud. Therefore, a loud, artificial heartbeat, tuned with his own, tended to excite him.
In any event, the regular rhythm recalled the most intense moments of man's history. It was like the strong beat of his pulses in his eardrums. Perhaps it also had some poetical association with the rhythms of nature: the day and the night, the winter and the summer, the cycles of the moon.
OF COURSE Og was not aware of these things. He only knew that he liked the noise. Boom-lay boom-lay boom-lay boom! His head did not ache tonight, his crazed visions were passing; so he did not know that in a thousand distant cities men were likewise enjoying themselves. They were thrilling to the rhythm of music, the boom lay boom of jazz never knowing that their joy in it might be rooted in the wild beat of a cave man's heart, in the wars and the victories and the bloody triumphs of long ago.
Boom lay boom-lay boom-lay boom! Presently his hand held. His breath held, too. He lay motionless as a heathen idol in its crypt of stone. Stealing from the dark was a thin thread of sound. It was not a joy sound. Rather it was a wail of sorrow. It rose high and higher, and broke at last in an eerie sob. At once another voice joined in; and then a third; and finally still other voices that were lost in a strange harmony. The chorus gathered in volume until it filled the cavern and all the space under the moon.
There were long-drawn howls, shrill barks, and, at intervals, another dismal sob. The chant rose and fell, almost died away; only to ring forth again, finally rising to a crescendo. At last it broke suddenly in a wild laugh a laugh of mania, of black despair a laugh that chilled the blood in Og's veins.
The sound shuddered through the night and slowly died away. The utter silence closed down.
Og's exalted mood had passed off at the first note of the chorus. Now the heavy darkness lowered upon him. And this was no mere physical fear. He was not afraid that these singers-in-the-dark would storm his stronghold. He had forgotten, in this hour, the terror that had pursued him every hour of his woodland wanderings.
This was a higher emotion. It was despair, the antithesis of hope. Yet it differed from the black dread that assailed him when the wind raved, or when the other forest demons spoke aloud in the dark. This chant in the dusk was not the voice of spirits, but of some of his wild neighbors. He knew it well; it had rung down the ages and had frequently echoed in his dreams. It was the night song of the wolves.
They were chanting one of the basic songs of life. It bespoke the travail of existence, the pain and sorrow that is the portion of every living thing.; the struggle to survive; the fight against overwhelming odds; the long war that begins at birth; the cruel might of the elements maiming, killing, crushing, striving ever to sweep away all life, so that once more they may reign supreme, and the wind may howl over an unpeopled waste!
Famine. Cold. Storm. Lightning. Mystery. Of all of these the song told; of the weary wastes of snow that would follow this glad spring; of avalanche, and flooding waters, and trees snapped off in the gale: of hopeless death at last in some dark thicket.
This was life! Og knew it now. The song expressed what his own heart knew, deep below its surface exaltation; that for which he had found no utterance.
He was helpless and alone. The gods of the earth and of the waters and of the air, all were his foes. Every stone hated him; every wind clamored with malice in his ears. And his only companions in this misery were enemies, too such beasts as now gathered under the moon, and raised their muzzles in eerie song.
Gods of the forest, how he longed for a companion! It was a need only second to hunger itself. If he had just one friend, one warm body to lie close to when the cold dropped down, one valiant comrade at his side when he went abroad into the hateful wilds, then some other song might rise in his heart. Some other sound not a wail, but a laugh, such as he had dreamed might flow from his lips.
The wolves had expressed what he himself had felt. Plainly they had more in common with him than the lesser beasts.
It seemed to him that they were his own kin. True, they would eat him if they had a chance, and he would like to eat them; yet they were his fellow victims of the elements. They were not demons, as they seemed, but creatures of flesh and blood, like himself. Perhaps he should try to make friends with them, so that they could face their mutual enemies together.
He would rise up, when sufficient boldness grew upon him, and find a wolf's lair and kill the mother. Then he would take its toothless cub, and' bring it to his cave. Perhaps it would live, grow and, eating from the same carcass, remain his companion. It would be man's first friend.
And was this a vain dream, too? Would the men who came after him, when the world was old those to whom, in his destined hour, he would give life would they ever achieve it? It seemed too much to hope for.
Tonight there was only the cold, bare cave, and the solitude, and the haunted night beyond. He was alone, and the darkness appalled him, So when the wolves raised their voices again, he cried out, too. His voice rose in a wail that broke at last in a deep sob.
TWO days passed in comparative quiet. Og roamed abroad, ate squirrels, peered and listened and crept, and dreamed darkly in his cavern at night. Then, in a hushed midday, danger overtook him again.
He was following a deeply worn trail. It led him up through dense thickets, then over a rocky hill. At a bend in the trail he came face to face with a traveler from up-country, one of the most fearsome creatures that Og's beast-haunted mind could imagine. No doubt this was the woodland monarch.
He was a huge creature, sturdy, muscular, and weighing as much as a cow moose. And his very gait was terrifying. He moved with a curious swaying roll, his huge front paws swinging out and down, his vast shoulders rocking. Fierce little eyes gleamed out of his burly head. White fangs the bone-breaking, meat-tearing tools of a carnivorous animal flashed in his red mouth. Compared to him, the biggest wolf in the pack would have looked like a cub. It was a full-grown male grizzly, newly out of his cavern in the high mountains, and ravenously hungry.
Og identified him at once. Of course, the brute-man had no name for him; yet he knew him intimately. Desperately and terribly intimate had been their acquaintance, since the dawn of Og's race.
This was almost his first enemy. When the glacial cold had driven the tree people from their bowers, and they had sought refuge in eaves, they had found this beast already in possession. Savage and red were the wars that followed. Og's dreams were haunted by the roars, the growls, the frightful death-dealing charges, the maiming and the sudden death of these long-ago forays, at the base of the ancient cliffs.
Did he not know those jaws? Did anyone have to tell him of the avalanche power of the cave bear's attack? Had he forgotten the thunderbolt blow of his mighty arm? No wonder Og's hair stood on end, and he yearned for the nearest tree.
For one breathless second, the two brutes confronted each other. Then the grizzly seemed to double in size. His hair stood erect; his great throat swelled as he growled. Then, with a deep, lion-like roar, he charged.
Og ducked to one side. Mere flight could not save him; the bear was swift as a run-ning horse. But even the brute-man's marvelous agility, leaping full-fledged into his body, seemed useless now. The beast was almost upon him, and he felt the wind of his foe's sweeping paw.
The first blow missed; the horned maul whizzed past Og's head. Otherwise it might have decapitated him like an ax blade. Screaming, Og dived into a thicket. And then, for interminable long seconds, there was a ducking, running, dodging game among the trees, breathtaking to see and shocking to hear.
Og was shrieking at the top of his voice. He was uttering shapeless sounds, like the cries of a beast in mortal pain. He was no more conscious of them than of the physiological purpose they served. How was he to know that, long before the human voice learned to shape itself in words, it was a relief valve for overtaxed lungs? The discharge of air through his vocal cords permitted increased respiration, which, in turn, sustained him through his final climax of human effort. Meanwhile, the bear was roaring like a storm.
Presently Og caught a gleam of hope. Fifteen feet distant was a strong tree, with a bough extending some eight feet from the ground. Og did not know that he could reach it. He had no reason to believe that he could run this distance without being struck down. But a voice that was half instinct, half intelligence, told him it was the only chance he had.
He darted forward. He felt the earth shake at his feet as the bear bounded after him. He leaped with all his power, hands grasping. As his fingers gripped, he swung himself forward.
The grizzly passed under him. Og heard the mighty jaws ring shut. And an instant later he was scurrying up through the branches, spared for one adventure, more.
The grizzly could not follow him here. A black bear can climb, but it is nature's wise provision that this grizzled monarch of the forest must hunt on the ground. Presently he journeyed on, searching for less agile game...
Since he came off scot-free. Og was glad of the experience. His terror passed away, leaving the pleasurable aftermath of intense excitement. For one moment he had lived to the full.
Og could well feel triumphant. He had dodged like a mink; he had leaped like a wolf; he had swung into the branches like an ape. Fast on his feet was Og, the Dawn Man! Strong were his arms, quick his eye! In his joy of escape, he gave no thought to the menace of the future. He did not see, in the bear's behavior, a new, greater era of danger than he had yet faced.
Why had the animal charged him at all? This was far from typical grizzly behavior. As a rule, the big bears will flee in terror from man's smell. Even when wounded, they rarely attack the hunter. And this fact applied not only to old trapping countries, but to the uttermost wilds, even to such vast back regions as this in which Og found himself: the region of the Pelley Range, where man almost never came. Yet in defiance to this fact in the face of the wind that blew Og's smell directly toward him the savage brute had attacked like the game killer it was.
There could be but one explanation. The man smell had passed from Og's body. At least, the smell of civilized man had so passed, and all that remained was the basic essence of the human animal, no more to be feared than any other animal odor. Young caribou might avoid him yet, because he carried the reek of a meat-eating beast such as habitually preyed upon them, but they would not go mad with horror, as when civilized man crosses the wind track. They would regard him as they might regard a wolf or a bear, a dangerous and cruel foe, but not as a god. The smell of smoke, of cooked meat, was no longer on his clothes and skin.
HEREAFTER Og must walk with even greater care. He was fair prey, now, for any beast that could master him. And as the days glided one into another this fact became more and more plain. No more was he the invincible hunter; he was also the hunted fleeing for his life from the woodland lords.
He was menaced not only by the big carnivora, the wolves and the bears. but by the horned game. No more did the bull moose break frantically from his trail. Indeed, the vast creature stood his ground and bawled a challenge. With his razor-edged front hoofs, he could make short work of a fragile animal like Og. The bull caribou menaced him, too, and even the little lynx snarled at him when they met in the trail. The cow caribou hissed and coughed when he came too near her calf, meanwhile backing away.
Og no longer moved awkwardly up and down the tree trunks.
Practice was making him agile as an ape. Meanwhile, other changes came upon him. His eyes were more keen. They had become adjusted to the uncertain light of the woods; they could detect a shadow among the shadows that showed a beast in ambush. Indeed, he found that his vision was the best in the forest. He could distinguish an animal by its outline, while the beasts could only interpret motion. If Og stood still, his foes usually passed him by, unseen. To them an immovable object was only a stump or a stone. But their silent waitings by the trail rarely deceived him.
His hearing was sharpening, too. He not only could hear, but he could interpret hushed sounds which until now had meant nothing to him. He could distinguish a wind rustle from the whispering step of a hunter.
He was acquiring a magnificent strength. Ogden Rutheford had had a sound body to start with, kept fit in a gymnasium, and Og was building it up by prolonged and exhaustive exercise. His diet of raw meat did not hurt him; indeed, he thrived upon it. Due to his warm airman's suit, he had not suffered from the cold of the May nights.
These garments were now wearing off. Also, the soles of his shoes were almost worn through. Still, nature did not let him suffer on these accounts. His body developed resistance to cold, and the waxing summer made garments unnecessary. As his shoes wore out, his feet toughened; by the time he kicked them off for good, the horny skin of his feet was like sole leather.
As his muscles were building, his child mind was growing. Every day the wilderness taught him new lore. Mostly he gathered concrete facts that helped him in his struggle for existence, but occasionally he picked up moral ideas.
One such idea developed from a commonplace incident of cave life. Og had killed a porcupine and dragged it to his lair. Two meals evening and morning had not stripped its bones, and when he went forth to hunt again, some rich shanks yet remained. So he had hunted half-heartedly, passing by a digger squirrel that squeaked in the grass fairly at his feet. What did he want of this hawk's meat when his lair still reeked with the strong flesh of bigger game?
But he had a rude wakening. When he returned to the cabin, he found that a lynx or a fisher had been ahead of him. The little hunter had crept in through a crack in the barricaded maw and had robbed his store.
Not a scrap remained for hungry Og. No wonder he snarled in rage, and prayed for Heaven's wrath upon the thieves!
The meat was his own. He had won it fairly. Yet creeping feet had robbed him. Thieving fangs had stripped the bones clean.
In the long, hungry hours that followed, he decided that such thieving was the worst of sins. The thief that had made so free with his property surely deserved death. However, Og was not yet able to draw a moral. The faculty of putting oneself in another's shoes of obeying the Golden Rule is found only in an advanced stage of civilization. Yet no less a teacher than painful experience at last taught Og a code of ethics. He discovered that, just as he had judged the meat thief, there were gods of right and wrong who would judge him.
In his wanderings, he encountered an old grizzly, feeding on the carcass of a moose. Whether the bear had ambushed the stag, or whether he was simply playing the buzzard's part on a dead body, Og did not know. He only knew that one of his fellow brutes was richly feeding while he himself stood by with gnawing stomach. Presently the bear discovered him, snarled, chased him into a tree, and went back to his gorging.
When his paunch was full, the,bear covered the carcass with a great pile of dirt, leaves, and spruce needles. This was not, as it might seem, to prevent decomposition. None of the larger beasts of prey object to well-ripened meat; and, indeed, the moose had already lain a week under the May sun. Rather it was the bear's way of showing ownership. He meant to come back to that feast, when hunger assailed him again. This point Og understood.
The bear waddled away. Og descended the tree. He waited until the brush rattled far off; then he stole up to the carcass. Keeping a close guard, he dug out one flank of the animal, made a hasty and hearty meal, and stole away triumphant.
He had outwitted Brush-Devil. Cunning and crafty was Og, the Dawn Man! And then, in the height of his triumph, retribution smote him.
It was not an attack by the bear. This would have been no retribution, but merely the give and take of the wilderness. It would have had no effect on Og's moral ideals. If he survived at all, he would simply learn to take no more liberties with grizzlies. Instead, the blow fell from the skies. On the night following the meal, Og wakened with a howl. Twenty devils were clawing at his insides.
When at last the sickness passed when, so weak that he could not walk, he lay helpless and groaning on the floor of his cave, he came to an important decision. Surely, he thought, the gods had deliberately afflicted him. They had punished him for stealing another's meat!
Not soon would he go thieving again! And if Ogden Rutheford could have stood by and seen, he might have smiled his thin-lipped, knowing smile. He might have understood, now, a possible beginning for one of the oldest laws in existence and the basic premise of modern capitalistic civilization. The law was? "Thou shalt not steal."
OG HAD become expert at throwing stones. At the same time he was learning the value of tools in general. One day he picked up a sharp flint. It attracted him because it was almost the shape of a bear's canine tooth. It might be that it was toothlike in other ways that it would tear flesh and crack bones. The deadly and destructive spirit that lived in the bear's fangs might have passed into it, cheated by its resemblance in form, and would lend it added power.
He carried the stone with him. He found it not only useful for cracking bones, but also for quickly cutting through the tough hide of a porcupine. And this fang idea led him to an even greater discovery.
One day his aimless hands discovered a pocket in his ragged airman's coat. In it was a small object that looked like bone. He could not remember how he had come by it; it must be a gift from the bird god, that puzzling, day he had been bewitched. It troubled him so deeply that his head ached. He kept trying to recall a dream of long ago a most strange vision that made no sense but yet, somehow, seemed of vast importance to him. But he could not grasp it.
Anyhow, the piece of bone was an interesting plaything. He liked the feel of it in his hand. Presently an inquiring finger nail pried at a little groove at one side. Something like a sharp fang emerged from a hidden mouth.
It was only a knife blade. Og had discovered, at last, Ogden Rutheford's heavy clasp knife.
But to Og it was surely magic of a most terrifying kind.
He dropped the knife and backed away, eyes staring, but soon his hand crept forward again. Some wisp of memory from some far-off land told him it was not really to be feared, but was a token worth keeping. He picked up the knife, and took childish pleasure in opening and shutting it.
Still he was held by its resemblance to an animal fang. Indeed, it was sharper even than a wolf fang, which could slash a man's leg from thigh to knee. Playing with it in his cavern, he found that it cut meat ever so much better than his sharp flint. So, thereafter, when he wandered abroad, he often carried it open in his hand.
He still did not use it as a weapon; his mind was unable to conceive of projecting it, like a stone, and since his killings were all at considerable distance, he could not slash with it. To put it on a stick and use it as a spear was a mental leap which he seemed unable to make. However, he used it to dispatch small animals that he had stunned, and to quarter them for food. It occurred to him, also, that if he were able to kill a large animal a moose calf, say, or a young caribou he need not wait till it had ripened before he consumed it. This new fang was sharp enough to cut even fresh meat.
He still killed his game with stones. Indeed, he could conceive of no other weapon. Bows and spears were not for him; they belonged to a far higher stage of culture. Mankind has used such ingenious arms only since yesterday for fifty thousand years at the most and they cast no shadows on Og's brute memory. Knowledge of them was not yet written in man's jungle brain; so Og could not imagine them.
To the contrary, a stone was the most primitive weapon known to Og's race. It seemed to fit his hand; it thrilled him as it went hurtling through the air. And now one might understand why incorrigible boys are almost invariably stone throwers. Yet Og was no reactionary. He progressed; he developed the art of stone throwing to a fine point. He learned that some stones flew straighter than others. Some were too light to kill game; others too heavy to carry far. And the time came soon that he conceived of a far broader use of his weapon, a use that might make him master of the wilderness.
The idea was not purely original. Indeed, it was too novel, too greatly an innovation, for man's brute brain to conceive of it unaided. As always, Og copied from nature, the source of all ideas. Yet in adopting nature's ways, and putting them into practise, and adjusting them to the conditions of his life, he displayed intelligence of a high order.
One day, as he was emerging from his cave, a loud rattle overhead made him look up. And he was none too soon; a fifty-pound boulder was bounding down the cliff directly toward him. He dodged to one side; the rock struck with a crash.
Of course, his first sensation was fear. Always, it seemed, fear reached him first. And this is why, perhaps, infants awake screaming in their cradles infants too young to have known anything but love and tenderness and security. Terror is the very title-page of life. But on this occasion. Og's simple fear changed quickly to a more complex emotion. This was dread, a deep-seated horror that dilated his pupils and brought crawling sensations to his back and scalp.
He knew, now, whence this stone had come! It had been hurled down at him from some hateful god who lived on the slope above. Some cunning and patient demon had taken this diabolical way to end him!
A most crafty devil must this be. If Og had not been on guard, he would now lie shapeless, his body crushed by the far-falling missile. And it would have killed a bull moose just as easily. It would have slain a grizzly bear.
Yes, even Brush-Devil, the forest monarch, would lie here, silent, under the earth-cracking impact. His bones would be broken, and no blows from puny flints would be needed to extract the marrow. His blood would deluge the cave mouth.
Og's face suddenly changed expression. The last of his horror passed away; under his matted beard his lips drew in a snarl. It would have been hard to recognize this creature as bearing the remotest relation to Ogden Rutheford. His eyes grew luminous with that strange, lurid gleam that marks the killer, the beast of prey. He hurried away into the fastnesses.
PRESENTLY he found a well-worn game trail. This he began to follow, cautiously as ever, and with a curious deliberation. He not only scanned the thickets at each side, usually the ambush of his enemies, but also the tree branches overhead. Because he was going about this enterprise as a reasoning creature,"he did not waste time in vain experiments. With an admirable patience, he delayed the practise of his plan until he found conditions right.
Presently he paused, grunting. Just beside the trail grew a big cottonwood. Its wide limbs branched off close to the ground and overspread the path. Eagerly, Og went in search of stones. And what kind of stones were these? He passed by the two-pound chunks that had been his joy before, and selected a round boulder that weighed fully seventy-five pounds. This he carried back and placed in the first crotch of the tree.
He climbed up and began to work the big stone higher into the tree. It was prodigious work; but this was a prodigious game. Finally he lay directly above the trail, the boulder resting in a crotch in the branch.
A long wait began. Og's fierce eyes lost their fire. Still he lay almost without motion, bearing the strain of his awkward position with brute-like patience. Two tedious hours dragged away.
Suddenly a faint sound blew down the trail. Ogden Rutheford would not have heard it at all, but Og, the Dawn Man, caught its every tone. It was a faint thump; and it sent the bright blood spurting through Og's veins.
It was not the wind. It was not the spirits of the air. It was not a rock, settling against its fellow. Instead it was the soft-falling foot of a beast. One of the forest people was advancing into Og's ambush. The sound came nearer. Sometimes it died utterly away, and the silence would close in for long, heart-rending moments, and Og would almost faint with suspense; but always it commenced again. Finally a bull caribou pushed his way round a bend in the trail.
This was a splendid animal. His sides were tawny, his mane snow white, his summer horn growth was already large. Of the big woodland variety of caribou, he was veritably one of the wilderness barons; and he took the middle of the trail. No lone wolf would dare attack him. A lynx would only snarl at him in impotent desire. Of all the animals native to the woods, the grizzly was the only one that he need fear. Inasmuch as Brush-Devil was now off the range fishing for salmon in the lower waters and as he was an awkward and noisy hunter at best, the big bull felt secure. He walked the trail with majesty and grace. True, he scanned the thickets carefully, by instinct, but he pushed boldly into the face of the wind and did not look up at all.
When he strode under the cottonwood, his ears suddenly pricked forward. He had heard no sound, yet plainly he sensed an enemy presence. There was a faint taint on the hard, packed earth of the trail.
Quickly he dropped his head to investigate it. But it was only the track of one of the meat eaters. There was no horrifying smell of fire and iron.
Pausing, he stood directly under Og's ambush. This was a piece of luck that the hunter had not even hoped for, and which plainly showed the favor of the gods. Either a good spirit was working in his behalf, or else a demon was bent on the destruction of the caribou. Og moved stealthily as a snake, aimed his rock with care, and let it fall.
Surely the gods were with him. They did not deflect a stone. Usually they made his victories as hard as possible, first tantalizing him with many failures; but today his first effort was crowned by magnificent success. The boulder smote the animal in the middle of the back. Og could hear not only the heavy impact, but the crash of shattered vertebrae. The bull was smashed to the earth.
To Og there came the keenest rapture he had ever known. It pervaded him like a flame; it ran like fire in his veins. This was his great moment. He struggled for utterance. His chest expanded. Strange sounds, to express all the glory that was his, seemed about to be born in his throat. Yet these sounds would not quite shape themselves. When his mouth opened, only a yell came out, only a beast-like scream rang forth and echoed among the trees.
Even this was better than choked silence. It relieved the unbearable tension of his heart. Far off, the wild things heard it faint and clear on the wind and for a moment they were darkly appalled. A cow caribou raised her head from her feeding, and her calf ran to her side. A wolf stirred in his sleep in his shadowy cavern. Perhaps they kenned the meaning of this wild cry. Perhaps they guessed its menace. It told them that a new king had arisen among them. He had just slain one of the woodland lords. Although not nearly as large nor as strong as a grizzly bear, not as fleet as a wolf, yet he possessed that which is mightier than either strength or fleetness. This was cunning. By cunning by the schemes of his cruel brain he and his descendants might kill them all. The forest might be stripped of all life but his own.
And this same wild cry rings down the ages. It harks back to man's remote progenitors, to whom it was the climax of sensation, and it lingers still, ever ready for utterance, in human vocal cords. Indeed, it is often heard in cities. It must have been familiar even to Ogden Rutheford, for otherwise his paralyzed memorywould not have stirred in Og's brain. A vision of a lost world passed before Og's unknowing eyes. It came with a burst of pain in the top of his head, and quickly vanished. In this lost world, the kill cry which he had just uttered rings daily in the street. True, it has become modified a little, in the ages, to a loud, harsh laugh. Yet no one could fail to identify it. It does not arise from humor, but from the cruel instincts of the hunter. It is still the triumphant cry of the killer who sees, in the mirrors of the past, his trophy go down in death before the impact of his stone. Og climbed down from the tree. His knife flashed, and savagely he slashed at the prey's throat to dispatch what life remained. No more would this great stag walk so proudly down the trails! No more must Og step fearfully out of his way. This beast was vast three times the weight of his killer and his flint-edged hoofs were death, and his horns could toss a wolf. Yet Og had laid him low.
Great was Og!
THE stag had challenged him when they met on the trail, but now he kept silence. He had bellowed in his triumph, but now he lay without sound. He had run boldly through the uplands, but now he did not move at all!
Greatest in all the forest was Og, the man!
No more would the stag flaunt his snowy mane. It was no longer white, but red as the red dawn. The eyes that had flashed fire were peaceful and filming.
Great was Og, the killer!
Great was his cunning! By himself he had thought of a crafty plan. He had looked afar for a place of ambush. He had found a stone! And this was no pebble, but a mighty boulder that could break a bull's back like a falling tree. Indeed it was the weapon of a god, not a man. He had lifted it up the tree; by his own strength had he lifted it; and with deadly aim had he let it fall.
As he exulted, his knife blade ran down the white belly. He cut out the heart, intending to eat it while it was still warm. Thus, perhaps, he would gain some of the caribou's notable endurance. Yet before his bared teeth sank home a startling thought flashed to his mind.
It was true that the gods had been good to him. They had granted him great fortune. But they might be turning envious now. They might be angered by his exaltation and his pride, just as the stag's pride had often angered Og himself. It would not do to offend the spirits of the air! Og was a great man, surely; but the gods are greater still. He must strive to keep them on his side, so they would favor him again.
So he took the stag's heart in his red hand and stole off through the forest. Nor did he turn toward his lair, to enjoy a solitary feast. Instead, he trudged over the ridges on an almost-forgotten trail. He soon reached familiar country. This was where a bear had treed him, and where a wolf had fled from his presence. This was where he had killed his first porcupine; and here, on the rock, was a stain of blood from a gopher's body. And at last he was in the taboo land, the country of the bird god.
Fear oppressed him now; he walked with awed steps. Fondly he wanted to turn back to gain the beloved shelter of the cavern; but an inner urge drove him on. He must make amends for his pride. He must propitiate the demons whom, in his moment of glory, he might have offended. He must go and make his peace and bow his head, do his service to the vast and awful powers that ruled his life. This was a need that he could not put by.
He halted at last in the thickets. Just beyond lay the bird god, prone on the ground as he had left it two long moons before. His eyes were round and staring as he peered through the branches.
He hoped with all his heart that the god would not deign to notice him. To have it rise up and beat its wings over his head, or even to show that it favored him, would be horror past bearing. Still it gave no sign. Forcing his courage to the utmost, Og crept through the thicket clear to the side of the god. He was shaking all over. There was only one consolation: the man god who had lain asleep in the thing's arms had now vanished. Og tiptoed forword and laid the caribou heart immediately in front of the god's head.
How could he know that this was only a man-made machine a wrecked airplane forsaken by its pilot and by a passenger who had suffered a head injury? To Og it was a being utterly beyond his wild-brute imaginings.
Og had already found religion. In his speculations regarding his shadow he had hit upon the basic principle of most creeds. Now, as he laid the still-warm heart on a stone in front of the airplane, he was reenacting the beginnings of religious form. The stone was his sacrificial altar.
LORD OF THE WILDERNESS
IN THE weeks that followed, Og's knife became his fetish. It seemed to represent something bigger than himself: far-off powers that he knew vaguely in dreams. Also, it set him apart from the other animals in the forest; none of these had fangs so sharp and bright! Their jaw-set weapons were strong and terrible, but they could not quarter meat like his, and they could not glitter so brightly in the sun.
The day came that the knife evinced even greater power. The occasion was one of the most deperate of Og's life. Hunting in a new valley to the east, he was charged suddenly by a she-wolf. The animal came leaping out of her ambush like a demon, a snarling streak of death. And Og seized the branch of a tree just in time.
He was just swinging up, a mocking cry already at his lips, when a most disastrous thing happened. The limb broke with a crack. Og's gibe changed to a yell of horror as he shot to the ground.
It was only a short fall, about seven feet in all; yet to Og it held a lifetime's despair. Nor was it a new experience; often, in his most terrible nightmares, he had felt the rush of air, and seen the leaping earth, and screamed at the danger that lay below, just as now. He landed on his back and was stunned.
The wolf, which had leaped past him, whirled to strike again. She aimed for his throat and she need strike but once. Those slashing, ripping fangs could open Og's jugular from his collar bone to his jaw. Nor would there be another dodging game, as when the grizzly had slavered at his heels. Hardly the little mink itself can outdodge a wolf, so swift is her leap and so agile her long, lean form. And, besides, Og was too shaken by his fall even to climb to his feet. The only motion he had time for, or strength to make, was a quick turn of his head, thus to behold a vision that would haunt his shadow self forever to the next world.
The she-wolf flying toward him. Her gray hair was erect, her front paws outstretched, her long form like a living javelin. Her eyes were fiery; her lips were wrinkled back, revealing her white fangs. As she leaped, she snarled, a sound as violent as her own attack, ripping the silence as her own body ripped the air. And then an utterly incredible thing happened. The wolf checked her spring in mid-air. She deliberately missed the prone prey and, falling, flinched to one side.
Plainly she had had a warning. Something she had glimpsed out of the corner of her eye-perhaps something she had smelled or perceived by means of some other stranger, less-known sense had frightened her and put her on guard.
And now she seemed to have forgotten Og. She stood braced, her front feet far apart, her head lowered and pointing toward some object that lay on the ground. At first Og did not know what this object was. His terror blinded many of his perceptions and almost paralyzed his mind. Nor did he notice the scars of an old injury that the beast carried. Her foot had undergone a peculiar disfigurement the toes had been gnawed or broken off, leaving blunt stumps.
An experienced woodsman would have understood at once. In her proud youth the beast had been caught in a trap, and had freed herself only by loss of her toes. And now, studying her strange behavior, he would have known the kind of snare into which she had fallen on that occasion. It had not been one of the crude Indian affairs, but the modern steel trap.
The thing that now gleamed in the spruce needles and frightened her so was Og's knife; its blade was also of steel. Any uninitiated wolf would have feared the blade the dread of cold metal goes deep in the animal soul but not likely would it have spared its fallen prey. Probably it would have tended to its killing first, and investigated the glittering article afterward. This wolf, however, had more than a mere instinctive fear of steel. In her own lifetime she had learned its power to harm. Once before she had sensed the presence of man-made voodoo, in a far-off forest beyond the Pelly River; but her desire for a morsel of meat that lay thereby had overcome her fears, and she had made an almost fatal mistake. She had no intention of making the same mistake again.
She turned, made one leap, and faded grayly into the thickets.
Og treasured his knife even more highly after this. So that he need not drop it when he swung into the tree limbs he contrived to hang it, with a strip of leather, under his arm. He tried in every way to propitiate the spirit that lived in it.
Once, when he was running at top speed, the knife caught in the brush, and, flying back, cut his arm to the bone. Og did not mind the wound, it was only a passing pain at the worst, but he was deeply distressed at the behavior of the knife. Of course, he thought that the knife god was angry at him.
What had he done that was wrong? He tried in vain to remember. What had he been doing at the moment of the cutting? He had been chasing a crippled owl. And now he saw the light. Obviously, he decided, the owls were under the particular favor of the powers, and he must leave them alone in the future. And thus one might behold the beginning of taboo. If this superstition were passed down from father to son it might in time become part of the racial consciousness. Many such taboos might account for the thousands of stupid conventions, inhibitions, and illogical ideas at which Ogden Rutheford used to cavil in the days when he walked with men.
To protect himself against further attacks, he made a crude covering for the knife blade. It was a bold thing to do thus to hide the glitter of the steel but since the knife itself dispatched the caribou that had furnished the sheath leather, Og argued that it was in no way a defilement. The skin rotted in time, letting the knife fall out, and, in the excitement of hunting, Og did not miss it for a half hour. When his hand groped at last for the hilt, to find it gone, he was utterly heartbroken.
He went running back and forth, frantically seeking his lost treasure. He made mewing, moaning noises which civilized people today hear only from grief-stricken children. But surely his jungle gods were with him. They sent a Canada jay, the camp robber of the North, to scold at the shining thing and thus show Og where it lay in the spruce needles. Thereafter the jay was Og's friend; no more would he throw stones at it and seek its life.
Slowly he learned to use the knife as a hunting arm. He caught and killed a fawn with it once, and once he slashed an ermine that ran under his feet. But another moon waxed and waned before he began to grasp its real possibilities.
On this occasion he had seen a porcupine crawling along a fallen log. He had given it chase, yelling, his knife brandished in his hand. The quarry vanished on the opposite side of the log, and Og sprang over in pursuit. In his fury and blood lust and hunger he forgot to look before he leaped.
Thereby he violated one of the oldest of the wilderness laws. To peer, to listen, to be on guard; these are the primary rules for any creature or breed of creatures that hopes to survive. Og charged blindly, like a mad bull; and the law took its fleet-winged course.
Og lighted awkwardly in the brush, tripped and fell to his knees. And out from under the log leaped the arch-demon of the North, the devil incarnate that Og had seen in his darkest dreams.
This was not a large animal. Although an old male, he weighed scarcely fifty pounds apparently the maximum weight of his species. Yet he was one of the lords of the forest. In a fair fight at close quarters with a man of ordinary strength, he would not only scratch and bite and lacerate his victim; he would actually kill him and dissect him, almost in less time than it takes to tell it. Probably he was the strongest animal for his size in the whole world. In ferocity he could give points even to that red-eyed little cutthroat, the mink. Once his awful battle fury was upon him, he seemed absolutely fearless and no unarmed man would dare to crawl into his cave. He was the epitome of all that is most terrible in the wilderness: cruelty, savagery and blood lust.
White men knew him as the wolverene. But Og, to whom he was nameless, now knew him as terror itself wrapped in a furry hide. He was taloned hate; he was fanged death.
No use to attempt flight! No use to snatch for a tree limb. This foe could follow anywhere Og might lead. Anyway, the battle began before he could get to his feet. The issue could not be avoided or delayed. Either he must kill this beast, here in the low brush and the spruce needles, or be killed by him.
The animal struck with prodigious power. Fangs slashed, claws sunk deep. And now Og did a strange thing. He did not merely claw at the beast with his hands, nor did he yearn for a stone. He struck back with the weapon he had bared for a harmless porcupine the charm knife.
There began a mighty fray. The wolverene attacked Og's abdomen, apparently trying to disembowel him. There was no holding those short, iron-muscled legs; the claws ripped Og's worn garments like paper, slashed through his skin, and would have pulled forth and broken his bones had the fight been at closer quarters. His jaws were operated by terrifically strong muscles, whereby he might crush the thigh bone of a moose. His fangs snapped wickedly, again and again.
Yet the odds were not all on the wolverene's side. This was no easy prey that had crossed his trail of death. This was no fawn, to die with a whispered bleat from a torn throat; nor porcupine, to exact his vengeance only in after days. The beast soon found that he, also, was fighting for his life. This man-thing smote like a bear.
The wolverene's smaller size seemed an advantage rather than otherwise. It permitted freer movement to the cramped space. His heavy fur was like armor. So far Og had hardly been able to slash through to his foe's tough hide.
Yet he was striving mightily. He was hacking, stabbing, slashing, and meanwhile clawing with his left hand to keep the beast out of his vitals. The remnant of his clothes were in rags; he was bleeding from a dozen deep wounds. Yet his courage was gaining with every moment that the fight lasted, and he was tasting power as never before. His heart beat strongly. His lungs sucked in deep drafts of air and let them out with a howl. He was utterly unaware of pain.
THE fight rose to a terrific climax. The forest rang with his shouts and with his enemy's frantic snarls, and far away a wolf left her lair and came creeping nigh to see what advantage might be taken. There might be wounded, to fall easy victims to her fangs. Or there might be carrion from which she could drive the rightful owner.
Og's knife no longer flashed blue-white, but was red as the smoky dawn. Suddenly a great light burst upon him. A glory wholly beyond his childish power to express lifted him up. He knew the outcome of this fight, now. He would not be left, a ragged, dismembered thing, in the blood-soaked spruce needles. He would not go down to death, and leave only his lonely shadow to revisit this gruesome place. He was winning! The charm knife was seeking his foe's heart! The wolverene was slowly, steadily wilting under the deep-plunged blade.
He was already doomed. His attacks were ever less formidable. Og, on the other hand, gained in might. The truth was that he was just now finding himself. For weeks and months he had been developing strength, the shattering fury of which he was just now realizing. His fingers, by which he had clung for life to the tree limbs, were steely hooks of machinelike power. Iron-hard muscles ran and rippled under the skin of his free-swinging arms. His body was assurge with vitality.
In this fight he was proving an opinion long held by anthropologists; that primitive man was not only a cunning animal, but also the wielder of frightful physical might. They have argued that only a superb fighter could have possibly survived long enough to put his slowly developing intelligence into practise. He had high courage in spite of the horrors thathaunted his wakening imagination and his erect position gave him an agility, a freedom to turn quickly and to strike from all angles, possessed by no other beasts. Finally, he had the supreme advantage of deadly, gripping hands. No doubt he shared a little of the prowess of his close relative, the chimpanzee an animal that can actually tear a leopard in two with his hands.
And Og did not fight empty-handed. He possessed a deadly weapon that made him doubly strong. His knife was like a red flame in the air. He had been handy with it to start with a habit so deeply fixed in his motor centers that his head injury had not erased It and his months in the wild had greatly added to his skill.
The sharp blade would have finished the wolverene long since if Og had given it free play. Instead, he fought close to his breast, wielding the weapon as a shield. He had been afraid to strike too far, to put the reach and power of his upper arm into the blow, lest the beast break through and reach his throat; and his quick, slashing stabs had lacked the force to pierce his foe's vitals. But now his courage flamed up. With red eyes narrowing, he waited his chance. Once more the wolverene rushed in.
The knife cut a wide arc. It flamed like a shooting star. And as the beast was leaping for its prey's throat, Og struck home. Sweetly the blade slipped in. It pierced the strong hide, the iron muscles beneath, and vanished to the hilt. Og's arm was almost broken by the shock and jar. But this was a cheap price; the wolverene did not strike again. It lay quivering in the red spruce needles. Its hateful life was at an end. Dazed, shaken, but exalted beyond any power of his to express, Og drew forth his knife. When he tried to shout his triumph his breath failed.
He had just lived the most intense five minutes of his life. He had been awake, conscious of existence, aware of the beat of his heart and the leap of his blood and the white-hot flame of his being, as never before. He had known a degree of sensation and excitement compared to which his interesting daily routine was tame as death. No wonder such experiences become imprinted in the racial memory. No wonder, considering that such battles were a daily occurrence in the "dim red dawn of man," that children's dreams are still haunted by flashing fangs, and streaming wounds, and savage conflicts which their own immediate lives have never known.
In Ogden Rutheford's previous existence he had been keenly interested in the causes of wars. Often he had said like many so-called intellectuals of his class that they are engineered by money powers and by diplomats and officials greedy for glory. Now he might have another idea. He might understand how the love of battle is inborn in his race. When at war's call the workman leaves his tools and the farmer his plow, and their womenfolk stand weeping in the doorways, are they simply fools, led to the slaughter? Ogden Rutheford used to think so, but now he would not have been so sure. It might be that they were simply seeking an ancient rapture, such moments as these that Og had just experienced, and which recalled a thousand generations agone. They were driven not by scheming money barons, but by their own instincts. And this was apart from motives of patriotism, tribe love, which actuated so many soldiers.
Sometimes Ogden Rutheford had gone to prize fights. He had told himself that the muscular play of two half-naked bodies had gratified his sense of the aesthetic. Less sophisticated men had even a better excuse; they "liked athletics," or, perhaps, they were interested in the career of one or other of the fighters. Yet he had been no less deceived than they. The thing that had brought them to the ringside was, in both cases, an inborn love for brutality, violence, and blood. They were white-collared cave men.
Thus it seemed that Og, child of nature though he was, knew the naked soul of Ogden Rutheford better than that young sophisticate knew it himself. Losing his civilized behavior, he had also lost his inhibitions, his sentimentalities, his self-deceits. Og, on the other hand, looked life in the face. He took his cup of glory where he found it, simply and naturally, and, therefore, he could drain it to the dregs.
He stood a long time, holding the red knife in his hand. The she-wolf that had crept nigh, looking for easy prey to take home to her cubs, crouched, peering through the brushwood. She saw strange sights; she perceived significant smells. She took her time, and read the situation just as exhaustively and as carefully as her brute senses would permit. At last she came to an interesting conclusion.
No man will ever know exactly what this conclusion was. It remained behind the veil of silence. But the little folk in the neighborhood the hovering, hunted things watching bright-eyed from their coverts judged her by her acts. She peered hungrily, snarled softly, and turned and crept away.
A new king had risen in the wilderness.
OG WAS a child of Nature. His mother was harsh and cruel at times; yet, somehow, some way, she took very good care of him.
Only rarely did she operate in Og's sight. Usually she was an anonymous benefactor. For instance, when Og went to the berry patches and gorged himself with fruit, he did not know that Mother Nature had gone to a great deal of trouble, and used a great deal of ingenuity, to make him do this very thing.
When the lower forms of life were developing, millions of years ago, Mother Nature knew that they needed plenty of carbohydrates to furnish fuel and energy for their bodies. These were abundant, in their purest and most easily digested form, in the fruit sugars of the wild berries. Of course, these creatures did not know that sugar was good for them, so Mother Nature had to find some way to make them like it. So in the brains of certain animals she contrived a very delicate apparatus. Just as a spark will set off powder, the chemical properties of sugar would set this delicate mental apparatus into motion. And when it was in motion it delivered as a charged wire delivers electricity a very pleasant sensation to the animals in question.
Of course, she could have made the sensation unpleasant, had she so desired, simply by furnishing a different kind of apparatus in the animals' brains. It all rested with her; there was nothing in sugar itself that was either sour or sweet. If sugar had been bad for Og like nightshade berries, for instance she would have constructed his brain so that it would taste very bitter. As it was, he liked it well, gobbled all he could of it, and, as Nature had intended, thrived exceedingly.
Instinct guided Og in a thousand daily actions. It directed him to a dozen different plant foods. It took him to the creek banks after fish, the catching of which taxed not only his instincts but his intelligence. Sometimes he found salmon half stranded in shallow riffles, and these he killed with clubs and stones. Trout he caught in crude pens of rock. He would chase the fish into a small slough and patiently dam off its mouth with stones and brush. Other dams would restrict the space still more, until he could stab the fish with his knife.
Instinct was Og's master as it is all men's yet his higher faculties served him in many ways. Only by his intelligence was he able to establish some sort of a crude philosophy of life. And this was a thing that no beast would have even attempted. What did the wolf care who made the moon, as long as it lighted his hunting trails?
Og liked to whisper his own name, and think about it. "Og!" But what was Og, and where had he come from, and where was he bound? Where did everything come from? What was the idea of it all?
He scratched his head in vain. Yet he evolved a few theories, commensurate with his experience and intelligence. The sun, for instance, was no doubt a god of the most powerful order. It was not a dead god, as some of the far-off mountains that had no moving shadows seemed to be, but a living being who cast an image on the water, and moved from one horizon to the other. Moreover, he seemed friendly toward Og. He made Og's skin feel pleasant, and cheered him in ways that he could not analyze.
HE DECIDED that the sun must be the author of his being. It seemed to take care of him and love him, as a mother bear loves her cubs. Yet he did not feel particularly grateful. He was yet to regard life as a precious gift; usually it was a bitter burden, a succession of woes, disappointments, and terrors. It was significant that he made no sacrifices to the sun. He seemed to take the yellow god's care and friendship for granted, as something due a child from its parent. Instead, he made his offering to the fear gods the spirits who hated him and wanted to hurt him in an effort to propitiate them. When he bowed before his bird god it was in fear as much as gratitude, lest the spirit should feel offended and take away such favors as had been given him.
Such religion as he had was not impelled by love, but by hate and fear. He walked with care, zealous of taboo, not to give thanks to the love gods, but to curry the favor and turn the wrath of demons. And when Og's head ached, and he peered blindly and hazily into civilized times, it seemed that he had heard of such things before.
Civilized men, also, prayed to demons. Like Og, they performed a hundred services of superstition to one service of thankfulness to the Lord. When they did kneel, it was not in gratitude to a loving god, rather it was a cave-man's entreaty for added favors and for protection against disaster.
Og's love god, the sun, was not all-powerful. It hid away, at times, and it fled behind the mountains when the dark came down. Og saw the dawn break and the light spread before the sun came in sight above the horizon. Therefore, he could not guess that the rising sun actually caused the day. In his mind, the day and the night were natural divisions of time over which the sun had no sway. And this conception is common to almost all primitive people. Even in the written history of the Old Testament, the light was divided from the darkness on the first day of creation; although the sun was not created, "to rule the day," until the fourth day of creation. To Og, the sun was simply the day god, who fled in terror just before the night dropped down.
The day was life; the night, death. The moon was a cold god that ruled over death. Just as the sun was friendly to Og, the moon favored the wild beasts of the forest. She lighted their trails and assisted them in their hunting. When she went peering into the black thickets, Og thought she was a hunter herself. And thus Ogden Rutheford might have traced, rightly or wrongly, the beginnings of the idea of Diana, the huntress.
A man must not sleep with the moonlight upon him. It would reveal him to the eyes of the wild hunters. In time this would come to be taboo, bad luck. That she was their particular god was further evidenced by the songs of woe that the wolves sang to her on the rocky hills. Plainly they were appealing to their god for help.
The stars were eyes. Probably they were the eyes of demons, searching for Og in the darkness. If they found him, they would heap woe upon him.
Back of all the gods and all the demons Og conceived of a greater god the first of them all. But he was too remote, too vague, to trouble Og much. Og's thought was kept busy with more immediate terrors. Og's universe was a great battlefield. All the powers were at war; some among themselves, some of them leagued against men. Death fought life. The day fought the night. The raw forces of nature fought the visible creatures of the forest. He and the other animals fought each other.
What were they fighting for? For food, perhaps; at least, his own wars were largely to get food for his mouth. Hunger was passion; in gratifying it, he found fear. Fear and hunger were the two greatest forces in his life.
Fear pursued him ever. Even in his cavern he could not wholly shut it out. Outside the rock walls he heard the wind, creeping through the coverts, seeking him. It was a spirit terrible and menacing past thought. Sometimes the lightning flashed; a dreadful radiance to reveal his hiding place and expose him to the attack of unseen enemies who live on the high peaks. Apparently these enemies were throwing great stones at him; he could hear the missiles rearing and rumbling down the slopes. True, he never saw the stones, but their noise always accompanied the lightning; and once he saw where a great tree, near his cavern entrance, had been knocked to splinters by some invisible force.
He tried ceaselessly to placate the powers. If ever a triumphant shout came to his lips, he was immediately afraid that some of the spirits that lived in the tree trunks would hear him and turn his fortune to evil. Centuries before, the druid worshipers had felt the same.
They had appeased the gods of the trees by rapping humbly on the bark. And still when a man boasts of his fortune, he feels safer if he "knocks on wood."
Og's greatest security was, of course, his cave. It was not danger-proof likely the fiends of the air could follow him even here yet when he crawled into its dark maw and roiled up his boulder as a barricade, a sweet peace lowered upon him. He dared to cry aloud. He could take time to chew his meat and not bolt it whole. He could sleep soundly, knowing that the baneful forest was shut out. So he developed a profound affection for his little home; an emotion that in far-off cities in these modern times had become complicated with many a strange fetish.
STRANGE were the thoughts that visited him here in his cave. Queer, unfathomable, some of the visions that moved before his eyes. It seemed to him that somewhere, some time, he had known a cavern that was not dark a retreat that not only shut out the forest, but the night as well a place where light lingered, conjured up by some mighty magic.
And this weird light was not steady and clear, like the light of day, but flickering and leaping. It was not white, but red as blood. It leaped high and died down, and it was fed with sticks.
This was the most wonderful thing of all. It was a god, perhaps, yet it was of man's making and was under man's control. And no beast could share it. None of them dared sit around it, basking in its glow. Instead, they fled from it and sought refuge in distant coverts, from which they watched with yellow eyes. A man was safe when he sat beside it; the horrors of the night did not dare come in. When man possessed this blessing, he ceased to be a brute of the forest, and became almost a god himself. From hence forth he was the ruler of the wild.
Such were Og's visions. And where did they come from? Not likely were they a groping back to the intelligent life of Ogden Rutheford. He felt no headache, as when the latter's memory stirred in its sleep. Probably a vague fire knowledge was innate in Og, handed down by comparatively recent progenitors. True, man has possessed the flame for only a few hundred thousand years, yet even this brief time might easily have traced faint records on the racial mind. Although Og had no clear-speaking instinct to seek fire flame not yet being an instinctive need he could dream of it faintly in moments of abstraction.
There came sometimes another vision even more significant. As he lay on the floor of his cave he sometimes dreamed that he was not alone. And his companion was not merely a tame wolf. It was no barking "first friend," but some one closer to him than even a friend might be. With this vision came a dream of warmth, of added security, of strange happiness.
The very air was a thrill. The forest he knew so well was enthralled with some new feeling new but unfathomably old. The animals were behaving strangely. Their daily habits of sleep and feeding were disrupted. They no longer moved leisurely from place to place, but hurried by as if driven by some terrific inner urge. Night would find them on another range from where their shadow fell at dawn.
The moose and caribou bulls seemed oddly belligerent. They ran about simply spoiling for a fight, and when a big-horned male met another of his own kind, they charged in fury. And these were not such little pushing fights as Og had seen all summer. Not now were they contesting the right of way on the narrow forest trails, nor were they striving for first choice of feeding grounds. Many of their battles were to the death. Their soft horns had now grown out and had hardened like fangs, and the deep-plunged points were often red with a rival's blood. They pawed the ground and bawled; their antlers clicked and clashed as they fought for supremacy.
Even their calls had changed. The wind carried the sound of challenges and roarings and entreaties that Og had never heard before. The moose kept up a continual honking grunt, synchronized with his stride; and sometimes he blared like the thunder god across the water.
The wolves, lean hunters and gray, had joined into packs. No longer Og met them alone on the rocky hills, and no more did they remain in little family groups. As Og heard them running along the ridge, singing Heaven knows what of fierce emotions, his own heart seemed to swell.
All these voices found their echo in Og's longing. They seemed to express his own need. Yet what this need was he did not know.
The dream of a companion by his side increased in vividness. Yet when he began to wander farther and farther every day from his cave, it was with no conscious thought of making that dream come true. He seemed to be driven by an urge within himself.
One day he roamed far southward. He did not pause to notice that he was following up a warm south wind. On this wind were scents that he could not identify, yet which called up vague exciting, memories from the deepest wells of his mind. The strange hunger gnawed ever more fiercely. It even shut out food hunger, and he scarcely glanced at the game that crossed his trail.
Beguiling scents! They drew him twenty miles from home before the lengthening shadows startled him, and bade him remember fear. At once he turned and started back, running. The dark closed in behind him, far faster than in mid-summer, and the wolves began to sing on his trail.
At last fear drove him into a tree, there to spend the night amid the branches.
WHEN dawn returned, Og did not go back to his cave, but continued on south. The scents became stronger, and somehow they recalled those curious fire dreams he had experienced in his cavern. The shrubbery along the trail, usually so fresh and sweet, had an acrid taint that mystified him utterly.
He began to feel vaguely afraid. This fear was heightened when he began to notice an increasing scarcity of fresh animal tracks. No more did the bull moose bawl at him from some reedy river margin. Plainly the larger, more intelligent beasts had forsaken this immediate vicinity. No more did the herds of caribou file through the highland parks.
Suddenly he came to an imprint of a new kind. He stopped, round-eyed; his hand crept toward his knife. This was no track of hoof or paw; rather it suggested his own old tracks that he sometimes found, made before the strange foot-covering that the bird god had put upon him had sloughed off. Yet on closer examination he knew it had some more mysterious, more fearful origin.
He crouched down, peering in all directions. For five minutes he made no visible motion, and the leaves of the shrubbery above him hung in silence. Then he crept slowly forward.
In his half million years as a hunter, primitive man learned how to stalk. Og's four months in the wilds of the Yukon had called forth that knowlege and had put it into operation in his body. It was no wonder, then, that he moved like gray smoke through the underbrush. No stone rattled under his feet, no branch slid scraping from his side. All but naked, blackened by sun, wind, and earth, furtive of step and movement, his form was hard to see against the dappled background of brushwood. Bearded of face, long of hair, and wild and fierce of eye, he would be hard to identify as the one-time sophisticate and child of civilization, Ogden Rutheford.
This was no longer Ogden Rutheford; it was Og, the Dawn Man. And when he met a tall form in the trail, only a ghost-ridden, brute mind made response.
Terror seized him in its icy grip. As far as he could tell, this was another white skinned, barefaced deity such as he had seen asleep in the arms of the bird god. Yet it was not the same being. Its body had different covering. Also, it carried a long implement of steel and wood.
So intense was Og's fear that it drowned out certain other obscure emotions perhaps a vague feeling of relationship, such as a wolf might feel for a coyote, or the belled moose for a white-maned caribou. Such points of resemblance to himself as Og might have seen in the stranger were offset by the weird and awful difference between them: the absence of hair on his face, the fearful pallor of his skin, his strange raiment, and the smell of smoke on his body. Og's only operating impulse was to flee.
The stranger had not seen him yet. It happened that he was an experienced outdoor man hired for certain work in which superior woodcraft was essential but he did not know the lights and shadows as Og knew them. But as Og turned to steal away, the light glimmered on his knife, and his dim, dark form suddenly projected vividly out of its brushy background.
The stranger cried out sharply. The sound was not a snarl of fury, as Og had expected, but rather an exclamation of intense excitement. Then, as the Dawn Man fled away; the stranger ran after him, calling on Og to stop.
A tree limb was handy for Og, but he did not reach for it. The branches seemed to offer no refuge. Only flight, heartrending and desperate, could save him from this supernatural being who ran and shouted on his trail. And in his terror he could not realize that the shouts were neither angry nor fierce, but were imploring.
They frightened him hardly less than the pursuing hunter himself. The wind hurled them into his ears, and he knew that they were the blackest voodoo that the wind had ever echoed in his cave. It was not the strangeness of the sounds that so appalled him with thoughts beyond the dim reach of his soul but their familiarity. They called up visions, clearer than ever before, of what must be the world of gods: a land of miracles, of enchantment, of things that made no sense. They stirred him as he had never known he could be starred.
The truth was that the sounds were arousing an amnesic from his forgetfulness. It was only a slight rift in the darkness of oblivion only a passing gleam of a previous existence, mingled and confused with brute conceptions that were Og's; yet it showed that he could be cured. He was simply responding in a minor degree, to certain stimuli which had never come so clear before.
"Ogden Rutheford!" the stranger was shouting. No wonder the name seemed to have supernatural significance in Og's brute mind! "Rutheford, come back! We're your friends, Rutheford; don't run away from us. Rutheford, Rutheford, come back!"
Thus the cries rang out, fainter and more faint as Og raced away. Who could catch. this wolf-man on such trails as these? His fellow wolves, perhaps, and the fleet shadows of the clouds, but no ordinary search party of two-legged beings. The guide that Ogden Rutheford's friends had hired returned to camp with an almost incredible story of a half-naked wild man he had seen in the woods, who had vanished like a puff of smoke in the thick brush, and who, as far as the guide knew, was still at large.
OG RAN until the blue ridges lay between him and danger. He ran until the last taint of wood smoke had vanished from the shrubbery, leaving it fresh and sweet. He ran until the trail was beaten down and criss-crossed with the fresh tracks of his familiar animal neighbors, moose and caribou, wolf and bear. He ran until he drew his breath in sobs and so could run no more.
At length he crawled up a tree to rest. Here he hung for a long time, his mind in a turmoil. But at last his strange visions began to pass off. The mountainlike towers, the crowds, the thronging streets, and such other seeming figments of enchantment which the stranger's cries had conjured up faded into mist and disappeared. No longer did he grope into the past. The forest world resumed its familiar aspect. Once more he felt at home.
A creature of mixed identify had climbed the tree. The person of Ogden Rutheford had stirred in his sleep and, for a brief instant, all but wakened in Og's consciousness. But now he had gone to sleep again. The man who climbed down the tree was wholly the Dawn Man, brutish, instinct driven, simply the basic human species with civilization left off.
He did not go back to his cave. The heart-hunger that had driven him from home had been but briefly forgotten, silenced by the voices of his terror, and now it clamored in his breast again. He could not stay here. He could not again endure the lonely darkness of his lair. Where could he find the cure to that loneliness? The guiding breath from the south had only led him into danger. No doubt he would find danger wherever he went; but he could not stay. He stood listening for a moment, then struck off eastward. He would search the hills where the sun god made his lair.
Once more he traveled fast. He even resented the time spent in hunting meat. He bolted the raw flesh and hastened on.
That night he spent in a tree beside an unknown lake. Fully launched forth upon his journey, he wasted no yearnings for the security of his cave. Another night found him almost thirty miles beyond, in a strange, lost land of stunted trees and windy plateaus and barren crags. Even here he did not find what he desired. The nearing peaks thrilled him, and the round hills gave him queer, dreamy thoughts; but his loneliness remained a gnawing devil in his vitals. He could not rest. He could not stay. Even when the trees gave way to shrubs, and the shrubs to gray barrens dotted with old snowbanks, he could not turn back.
There was no safety for him here. If the wolves took his trail, there was no tree to shelter him. If he met a grizzly in the pass, there was no hope but flight. Besides these dangers, there was hardly any meat to sustain his strength. In the whole of a long day he killed only a single rock rabbit, hardly big enough to fill his hand.
He found a pass where the wind shrieked like a demon. Below him lay the gray slide rock, and farther down, the deep-blue sweep of wooded hills. Here were new lakes, new rivers, new hunting country. Here he might find his heart's desire.
Yet it remained a long search. Before it was over, he found many things that he was not looking for. One of these was a new fear in some ways the darkest, most creepy fear that his ghost-ridden soul had known. A new spirit was abroad in the land. It was a threat that every wind carried to his ears. It was a prophecy written large on every hillside. The forest seemed to crouch, shivering, in dread of some impending attack.
The first sign was the death of the summer flowers. For no apparent reason, they were drooping and dying, and wild bees hummed about them no more, and no more they filled the air with their faint, sweet perfume. Soon not even their shadows remained, dancing on the ground.
Presently the leaves of the deciduous trees began to change color. No more were they shimmering green, but were yellow as marsh grass. This was bad enough; but soon they underwent an even more ominous change.
It began with a cold dawn in late September. Og shivered in his tree, and when he climbed down, his legs were stiff and lame. There was a curious sparkle, darkly ominous, on the grass. When he touched it, it tinkled musically, and it was cold on his fingertips. On the still pools there was a thin, transparent crust.
No wonder Og was appalled. The raw forces with which he strove were revealing themselves in a new and terrible light. They were the masters of his life, these powers, and though they had spared him so far, now they meant to crush him utterly. He sensed their hatred, their menace, their cruel might, as never before.
The leaves changed from yellow to red. It was as if they were bleeding from death wounds that the frost had inflicted. A sign even more ominous was the waning sun. No more did it rise up long before he wakened and sink long before he slept. Indeed, the night was now the same length as the day. And it seemed to Og that the god's rays were ever less ardent. No more did they glow upon his skin. He felt chilly even at midday.
The winds blew colder, brisker. The red leaves began to flutter from their boughs. The little evergreen trees seemed to huddle together, and they whispered and shivered the whole night long. Worst of all the signs was the departure of many of his wild neighbors. The birds, particularly, were forsaking the bare limbs and vanishing in the night. Where they went Og could not guess; he only knew that they were seeking a refuge from some imminent peril. He wished that he could follow them away.
The wolves still chorused on the ridges, but now they sang a different tune. No more was it a mating song; rather it was the dirge of the dying summer. They sang of the pain of life; of hunger to come, They wailed of the cold scourge that would soon be lashing at their flanks; of the whirling, blinding blizzards that were lurking, ready to swoop down, beyond the northern hills; and of the weary wastes of white that would soon sweep forest and plain.
The kindly Yukon summer was all but done. The terrible Yukon winter was poising to attack. In the meantime sped the wild pageant of the autumn, gold haze and blood-red leaves and wailing flocks of wild fowl in the darkening sky. No wonder Og glanced fearfully toward the north. No wonder he hurried his search to the very limit of his endurance!
NEVER did it occur to him to turn back and seek the lonely refuge of his cave. The dominant instinct that drove him on shut out such a thought. He would die, perhaps, but he could not turn back. Always he must hasten on as a lone gray wolf had hastened some weeks before to find his goal while there was yet time. Soon the snow would close the passes. The land would be barricaded like a fortress.
Fear could not dim his inner unrest. It ravaged him all the more. It might be that he had only a few weeks to live, the lowering clouds and the waning sun seemed to prophesy darkly. And he must not die; he must answer the call before the day's end, before the deep dusk covered him.
This was more than a personal instinct. It was almost inspiration. Also, it was a strange thing, grimly and startlingly significant. Is man but a toy of Nature? Has she no care for the individual, other than for the reproduction of his kind? It seemed so, in Og's case. He was driven on like thistledown before the wind, and for the same biological purpose. He was proving his kinship to the lower forms of life as never before, kinship not merely with the wolf and the bear, but with the salmon, the lowly moth, the summer flowers. These also lived only that they might procreate. The salmon made haste up his riffles, not to preserve his own life already doomed when he left the sea but only that his spawn might fill the river again. Often he battered himself to death in his blind effort to reach the spawning waters where he was born.
The moth, dropping its eggs in the calyx of the flower, was already ripe for death. The flower itself waned, withered, and perished as soon as it cast its seed. Thus it was with Og; Nature had no care for his life, provided it might appear in another generation. When, for his own sake, he should have been storing meat and furs for winter, she drove him on in a remorseless quest.
But perhaps his purpose was an exalted one, after all. Perhaps, in his blind, dark way, he was seeking immortality. It might be that the threat of winter, its darkness prophetic of his own decline, warned him that he must reproduce himself while there was yet time. Otherwise the world might whirl on without him. His shadow self might go to dwell in some far country, and unless he bore fruit there would be no echo of him remaining on the earth's face. No face that was once part of his life would taste meat, smell flowers, behold the glory of the sunset, hear the night songs of the forest.
There was still another factor in this love hunt. Og's quest was not merely brutish; it was bound up with a longing for human companionship. Man has always been a gregarious species. Moreover, he has lived in family groups for so many centuries that he has a clear-cut antipathy against living alone. It might be that Og was building better than he knew. Perhaps he subconsciously realized that he could not face the winter alone; that only by cooperation with others could he hope to survive. Perhaps this reckless quest at the dawn of winter was not self-destruction, but really self-preservation. Instead of cruelty on Nature's part a remorseless sacrifice of the individual for the sake of the species it might be loving kindness.
In his dreams Og had found a lifelong companion, someone to hearten him in his fight against the raw powers of the wild. Blindly, brutishly, he was striving to make those dreams come true.
On a late September day Og descended a long ridge on the banks of an uncharted river. As he started to work his way down this stream, searching for a ford where he might cross, he came to a curious mark on a tree. A bit of bark had been removed, leaving a white sear that caught the eye. A short distance down the river was a similar mark.
At first he thought that this was the work of porcupines. Often the gnawing teeth of Thornback made marks like these in the cottonwoods. But presently he came to another opinion. The trees were too regularly spaced, too similarly marked. And now the short hairs were creeping on his neck, and his pulse was booming like a war drum in his ears.
These marks had been cut with metal! No animal fang could have made such a clean wound. Somewhere in this valley lived beings like himself, masters of the blade! Fearfully, but with quivering eagerness, he began to follow the blazed trail.
He must find these beings! Even if they turned out to be gods, not men, he must peer at them from the thicket before he resumed his journey. This was a need he could not put by.
The trail led away from the river, around impassable bluffs, and back to the bank again. At every turn of it, Og's excitement increased. Almost at every step he found fresh evidence of some god-like presence occupying the valley. And now only his deep fear kept him from hurrying forward at a run.
This fear did not concern his old animal neighbors. These had been driven from the valley. Such beasts as remained skulked only in the deep woods, and never walked boldly on this trail of the gods. He saw neither their tracks, nor their rubbing places, nor their claw marks on the tree bark. Indeed, the scarcity of animal life increased his fear, rather than lessened it. What beings were these that could intimidate even the wolves? Meanwhile, he himself suffered from a deep-seated, superstitious dread.
THE AIR began to be tainted. A curious acrid smell hung on the shrubbery. Og did not know what it was, and he feared it poignantly. But far away and long ago it had had some momentous meaning for him.
Even now it was vaguely familiar, in some faint inner consciousness. ire had loved it once, perhaps; and if some of the Dawn Man's more deeply ingrained instincts could be overcome, he might learn to love it again.
He began to detect other smells, all of which had dim associations for him. One smell seemed to be of fish, combined with smoke. Another was of wild-animal pelts, on which rain had long beaten. The third was an animal smell somehow like that of a wolf, yet vastly different. And all these scents raised the pitch of his excitement.
His eyes were narrow and glittering in their deep sockets.
Suddenly he paused. In the trail were fresh tracks. No animal that he knew had left them here; they were neither round like a wolf's nor triangular like a bear's. In outline they were like his own imprints, but they showed no toe marks. Yet they were different in many respects from the tracks of the god than, seen on his southward jaunt. There was no distinct mark of the heel, and no little holes made by tiny fangs growing in the soles of the god man's foot.
He followed the tracks, and soon they were joined by others. Presently they became so numerous that he could no longer tell the stale from the fresh. Other even more ominous signs became frequent. One of these was the trunk of a tree, cut evenly off some three feet from the ground.
No knife had done this. No thin blade of steel could have slashed through that body-breadth of spruce wood. Plainly these river dwellers had magic greater than his own. Not even the beaver's fangs could have made such a clean cut. And on the ground were chips,, indicating the use of a heavier, more powerful weapon than his.
Beside the river he found an animal trap of devilish ingenuity. A mink had sprung it, trying to reach a bait. and a weight had fallen. Now the mink lay dead.
Og was hungry, and he might have eaten even this rank flesh, except for his fear of the trap. As it was he backed away, shivering in awe. Surely some god-like being had contrived the instrument. No mere man, like himself, could even conceive of it.
He crept on with utmost caution. It might be that other such traps lay in the trail, big enough to catch unwelcome visitors like himself. He was pale, trembling, shaken to the core. He walked with the silence of a, cat, peering into every thicket. His eyes were no longer narrow, but round. Only the urge and lash of overpowering instinct kept him from turning about and fleeing in panic.
And now he was close to the god men's lair. He knew this fact from the pungency of the air taints. And suddenly a loud sound froze him in the brush with terror.
It was a beast noise, surely. It sounded remotely like the howl of wolves. Yet even Devil-in-the-Twilight would never dare to bespeak himself so close to the giants' lairs; and Og instantly knew that the sound had some other source. What it was he could not imagine, but his hair crept on his head.
Instantly he turned off the trail and vanished in the thickets. Yet even now he did not retreat. Testing the air currents, he worked about until he was straight downwind from the strangers' lairs. The god men could not smell him now. Even if they had powers of scent to match their wolf-like voices, they could not take him in downwind.
Once more he crept forward. The brushwood opened and shut to let him through, silent as swinging doors. So perfect was his stalk that he almost stepped on a ground squirrel before the little furry brother scampered from his path.
The wolf-like noises were ever louder. And now they mingled with other sounds: cries and shouts and long-drawn, guttural mutterings that hurled Og's thumping heart into his throat. Uncouth, harsh though these sounds were, they thrilled the Dawn Man to the marrow of his bones.
Presently he reached the last cover. He parted the branches with his arms and peered through. The sight that met his eyes surpassed his wildest expectations.
There was a cleared space by the river. In this space were a dozen of the strangest-looking lairs that Og could imagine. They were conical in shape, twice as tall as a man, and made of the skins of animals.
These skin houses alone were enough to convince Og that he had found the god men. What mighty killings were here shown! What hunters were these, to have taken so many pelts! And there were no stones to barricade the doors. The houses could hardly keep out the wind, much less a charging bear. Thus it was plain that the demigods who lived therein had no fear of animals. They slept unguarded. They were assured that even the wolf pack, the most powerful hunting unit in the forest, would never dare to stalk and snarl about these lairs!
But what of these shaggy beasts that howled at the doorways? How had these found courage to come here? Apparently they were of the wolf breed-they were of the same size, and had the long, gaunt outline of the Devil-of-the-Twilight and surely they made bold at the very threshold of the gods. But Og soon hit upon the explanation. He remembered that he himself had dreamed of killing a mother wolf, stealing her cubs, and taking them to his lair to raise. These superhuman beings living in the skin lairs had not only dreamed that same dream, but had made it come true. Thus they had companions to share their lonely nights.
And the wolfish brutes were not only friends and comrades; they were also slaves. This fact became plain as Og watched the village activities. So mighty were these tent dwellers that they could not only tame the savage beasts of the forest, but also make them bend their strong backs in toil.
THERE were scores of other proofs of the villagers' might. Around the doors were voodoo tools without number. There were racks on which fish hung drying. There were long sticks, tipped with fanlike points of some reddish metal. There were meshes made of finely cut caribou leather, the purpose of which Og could not guess. There were stone bowls full of meat, and sticking in a near-by log was a demon tool for cutting wood. Og could account, now, for the smoothly chopped stump he had seen. This tool had a wooden handle, and a head of reddish metal with a broad cutting edge. Not even the beaver wore such a fang.
The greatest of all the wonders was fire. Og froze with awe as he looked at...