Og, Boy of Battle
Chapter 10, "Captured by Gorillas" 89-97
illustrated by Charles Livingston Bull
HE HAD not been asleep long before the heavy shadows about the beach became alive with stealthily moving figures, and soon, one by one the biggest, most grotesque and most ugly looking creatures that even Og's grim imagination could conceive began to creep stealthily out onto the beach in the ghostly flicker of the dying firelight. They were not unlike Og and Ru in proportions, for they were short of legs and had tremendously long arms. They were covered, too, with a mass of heavy coarse hair, but they were such tremendous beasts that the smallest among them was twice as big as Og, and the largest, who appeared to be their leader, was a veritable giant with a great bulging chest and arms and hands so well-muscled and so strong that he could have throttled a cave bear with ease. All of them had big, queerly shaped heads, and ugly, grimacing faces, with shaggy eyebrows, wicked black eyes, broad, flat noses, and strong powerful jaws, with long canine teeth protruding tusklike over their lower lips.
How long Og and Ru had slept they never knew. They were awakened at the same instant when they felt themselves suddenly seized by the powerful hands that gripped them with deadly fierceness. They cried out in terror and struggled their utmost, but terrible strangling arms were wrapped about them and great gripping hands seized their wrists and ankles. They struggled, fiercely, madly in sheer panic, biting, clawing, kicking, scratching until suddenly Og felt a great hand close about his throat. In steer terror he screamed then, but his scream was cut off to a gurgling sob as the strong fingers gripped tighter and tighter. Under the terrible pressure Og's eyes bulged and strange noises rang in his ears, his lungs felt as if they would burst with the air pent up in them and his head seemed to be splitting. Slowly a great heavy blackness began to engulf him. He struggled against it, struggled to retain consciousness, but despite his strong will he realized that he was sinking deeper and deeper into oblivion, until presently he knew no more.
It was daylight when next Og became conscious of things going on about him. He opened his eyes to find himself surrounded by a group of his captors. And not ten long paces away he saw Ru similarly surrounded and crouching on the ground and looking about. The earth in a wide circle before them was trampled hard and smooth of vegetation, and he could see curious, big nests on every hand. They were strange nests, more after the order of those the ape people built for themselves in the tree-tops, except that these were on the ground. They were all just rude collections of sticks and bark thrown together in a haphazard fashion. He could see the huge ugly creatures who inhabited them shambling along across the ground or swinging up into the trees and moving about from branch to branch with startling swiftness.
Og watched them for a time with interest. They seemed so utterly foolish and purposeless in all that they did. They never seemed to think, to plan or to do anything of any consequence. And suddenly it dawned upon Og that he had hit upon the real reason why these great beasts, although they looked and often acted human, were still brutes. They never used their brains to think. Og could not know that the gorillas were without thinking brains and that while the Hairy men would go on through the ages developing their ability to think these animals would never progress beyond the state in which he saw them.
And as Og watched them he was conscious of a terrible feeling of revulsion combined with a vague horror that crept over him. What was there about these creatures that made them seem so hideous; so revolting? Og puzzled over it, and wondered as he called upon every keen sense he possessed to fathom the riddle. And then his nose told him, and with a feeling of sickness he realized the fate that was probably in store for them. The soft breezes that swept across the village was laden with a nauseating odor. Og identified it as the stench of dead flesh; and like a bolt of lightning out of the blue came the consciousness that these creatures were great meat-eating gorillas--cannibals! And he and Ru were their captives and were doubtless being held against the time when they should have one of their cannibal feasts when he and Ru would be killed and eaten. Og could not repress a shudder as he discovered scattered about some of the rude nests, skulls and other bones--remnants, probably, of bygone hideous feasts of these repulsive people.
Og could not know that he and Ru had been captured by a band of a strange race of flesh-eating gorillas of which there were several herds in that vast country beyond the great swamp. Nor could he know that these repulsive creatures fought each other constantly with the sole object of capturing some of their own kind to be eaten at their cannibalistic feasts, and that by this very repulsive custom they were happily fast exterminating themselves.
He did know, however, that these hideous giants had taken great pains to surround them and he was quite certain that they had captured them alive for the main reason that they wanted to keep them until they were ready to kill them and eat them. When Og told this to Ru, that poor fellow went limp with fear and presently began to whimper piteously until Og silenced him with an angry command. An idea had come to him.
The nests were great collections of branches and bark, with dried grasses scattered over the heavier objects. What a fire one of them would make! Og told his plan to Ru, and slowly they edged their way toward a nest that lay between them. The gorillas, seeing no sign of an attempt to escape, permitted them to move, and when the edge of the nest was reached Og drew from his tiger-skin pouch his flints.
While he was working, his brain was busy. Among the material forming the nest he found two long, straight shafts, saplings that had been broken down by these tremendously strong creatures, and these he moved close together so that he could seize them readily. Then he gathered some dry bark for his tinder and began to strike his sparks while the gorillas squatted about him and almost made him sick with the horrible odor of tainted meal that they seemed to exude. With Ru helping him and breathing softly on the sparks that fell among the fibers of dried bark, presently, to the great amazement of his giant spectators he got a tiny flicker which he nursed carefully as he piled chips and splinters about it. Then as it grew and grew and gradually flared into substantial flames that darted snakelike into the pile of wood and grass and licked hungrily at the dry fuel, their big captors fell back a little way and watched with wide-eyed interest.
But there seemed to be something stimulating, almost intoxicating, about the fire to these big creatures, and as the flames mounted and grew fiercer the gorillas seemed to grow more excited. It was as if they were hypnotized by the dancing light, and the curling smoke that ballooned upward through the trees overhead, and presently, led by the biggest of them all, they began a strange circling dance about the flames, shambling, scrambling, scuffling awkwardly about on their short legs, while some of them sat still waving their long arms in the air, and swaying their huge bodies from side to side.
While the dance, if dance it could be called, was in progress, Og took the two green saplings that he had set aside, and by holding them carefully in the fire gradually charred one end of each of them. Then, when they were kindled into glowing coals, he withdrew them from the flames and rubbed them on the ground, working them round and round, and shaping their ends into sharp points. Again and again he charred them and then rubbed the charred surface off until ere long he had fashioned two rude but sharply pointed spears, one of which he passed surreptitiously to Ru.
Meanwhile the great creatures had worked themselves into a fanatic frenzy. They varied their monotonous chatter with loud ear-piercing shrieks, or deep-toned booms. They beat their chests too, gorilla fashion, and they broke off low hanging branches above their heads and waved them about fiercely. In the din of voices and the noise of the scuffling movement, Og called to Ru to watch him and be ready. Then, clutching his rude spear, Og watched the dizzy circle.
Round and round the great creatures went, scuffling, chattering, and booming. Then presently there came a break in the line when one big fellow squatted down for a moment. Before the dancers closed that vacant space Og with a yell, his rude spear leveled, darted for that gap, and Ru followed close beside him.
So unexpected was their movement that the great gorillas were taken unawares, and almost before their slow brains realized what was happening Og and Ru were through the circle and running as fast as their short legs could carry them toward the jungle. But in an instant the whole band was in full cry, and now all the frenzy that they had worked up was directed toward the two Hairy boys who were running wildly for shelter.
Presently they gained the edge of the clearing and there they discovered that a rude trail lead down a slope toward the river below. There was some hope of refuge in that direction and with Og in the lead they plunged down the narrow overgrown path. On and on they sped, the fierce booming noises of the great creatures echoing close behind them. Once Og looked over his shoulder to discover that while some of the creatures were running down the path and were well behind them, others had taken to the trees. In truth most of the band had gone up among the branches for they could make swifter progress swinging from one branch to another than they could with their short legs on the ground.
From above Og and Ru were hard pressed. Some of the huge creatures were not far behind them, and one great fellow was swinging along almost even with them, and roaring at them in a terrible voice as he gnashed his ugly teeth. On and on they fled. They were panting from their exertion now and they were speeding with the speed their panic lent them. But still they could not shake that persistent big fellow swinging through the trees. Indeed, he even drew a little ahead of them. Suddenly, with a mighty, swing, he shot forward and downward and landed with a snarling roar right in their path and not fifteen feet in front of Og where for a moment he crouched, long arms extended and great hands clutching ready to seize the Hairy boys as they plunged to ward him. With a cry half of fear and half of anger, Og leaped sideways into the underbrush and at the same moment he drew back his improvised spear and with all the strength of his powerful arm and shoulders he hurled it full at the crouching monster. Like a flash of lightning it darted through the air and with an ugly thump it caught the surprised animal full in his breast. Og saw the look of consternation and fear that spread over his ugly features as he seized the shaft and tried to pull it out of his flesh. But before he had wrenched it free Ru hurled his own shaft which struck between two of the creature's ponderous ribs and the huge gorilla went down in a heap.
With wild leaps, Og and Ru jumped over his prostrate form and streaked on toward the river. Down the slope they sped, to emerge suddenly on the very beach where they had been captured the night before, and then Og realized that they had piloted their log ashore almost at the very doorway of this village of cannibal gorillas.
Eagerly Og looked about. There was their log still drawn up on the sand. And the sticks that they had used for paddles were close beside it. Frantically he and Ru laid hands to the craft and straining every muscle launched it out into the cove, then scrambling into the water they climbed astride it and paddled madly toward mid-stream.
And they were only just in time, for they had scarcely gained deep water when scores of the great creatures swarmed down upon the beach, roaring and booming, and Og and Ru looked back at them and trembled as they realized the horrible fate from which they had been delivered.
Then, heading their cumbersome craft upstream and taking advantage of every cove and backwater they began to make their way slowly back toward their cliff village, happy indeed to be free from their horrible captors.
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