illustrated by Jack Murray
BIG TOOTH stopped wriggling forward on his stomach and, grunting a warning, reached for Og's arm.
"Look there, Og. You see that place?" he demanded.
Og moved forward a little so that he could look over the edge of the ledge on the mountain-side on which he and Big Tooth lay, and get a clear view of the big, bowl-shaped valley below them.
"Hi-yah. A village a big village, Big Tooth," be exclaimed softly.
"Whoo! Village of little brown men, huh, Og?" grunted Big Tooth.
"Aye! The throw-stick men. I knew we would come upon this place somewhere beyond these mountains, Big Tooth. This is where I believe we will find Ru and Tao. Prisoners there in that village."
"Big Tooth no see signs for them," said the Flat Head as he squinted at some of the hive-like huts he could see among the trees down in the valley.
"Nay. Nor do I, Big Tooth. But we cannot see all the village from here, and if Ru and Tao are here they are probably inside one of those huts. I am sure they are there if if" Og stopped talking and lapsed into a heavy thoughtful silence. Big Tooth grunted.
"Whoo! If they not be dead already. That what Og mean, huh?" he suggested softly.
"Aye," replied Og, "Those little brown men are fierce fighters and those curved sticks they throw are deadly. Maybe Ru and Tao tried to fight them off. If they did they were surely killed."
"But we not find 'um where they be killed, Og," insisted Big Tooth.
"That is what gives me hope. They may be alive. But I still think both were hurt perhaps knocked unconscious or else they would have left some message; some trail sign. Tao is smart that way. He would leave a trail sign for us to follow. But we found none."
"Whoo! We find little brown man's village just the same, Og, and Big Tooth think we find Tao and Ru down there. We sneak down there, huh, Og?"
"Not now. It is yet too light. Let us wait here on these ledges until night comes on. Then we can slip down and perhaps find Ru and Tao. Come, crawl back here away from the edge of the Ledge and among these boulders where we can hide and make our plans," said Og as he stealthily crept toward some rocks on the mountainside while Big Tooth followed him.
OG AND Big Tooth were sorely troubled about their two companions, Ru and Tao. They had mysteriously disappeared in this land in which all of the Cave People, and Big Tooth, the Flat Head, were strangers. As many suns ago as Og had fingers on both his hands the four adventurers had left the Flat Head village in a dug-out canoe that Tao had learned how to fashion, and paddled down the river to the sea hoping to land on the turtle beach and solve a mystery.
Fate, and a strange, tenacious sea current had solved the mystery for them, and at the same time precipitated them into a lot of danger. Their canoe was caught in a storm at the mouth of the river, and in spite of their best efforts, swept out to sea, there to be seized in the grip of an ugly current and carried finally to the lowering, cliff-lined shores of a strange land. Here their craft was hurled ashore among the rocks and here they found grim evidence that the missing Flat Head turtle hunters had been brought to this strange shore and had fallen victims to a giant octopus that waited there for the sea to bring it food. There were bleached bones of the huge creature's victims among the rocks and as further evidence of the fate of their friends, the giant octopus rose out of the sea while they lingered there and flung its ugly feelers about Ru. Only after a savage battle were Og and Big Tooth, with the help of Tao, able to kill the monster.
But with their canoe wrecked, the adventurers were unable to leave this grim shore and were forced to start inland in the hope of finding a way back toward the village of the Flat Heads.
For a time they scaled the heights and followed game trails in the valleys, knowing only the direction they traveled by watching the sun where it rose and set, At first they thought this new land was uninhabited, but one day in the jungle they blundered into a party of short, dark, straight-haired little brown men who were savage fellows, armed with queer club-like curved sticks, throw-sticks, Og called them, for these brown men could hurl them with telling accuracy, and make them twist so queerly that if by chance they did miss their mark, the stick mysteriously came back to the thrower.
There was a sharp fight at this very first meeting, during which Ru got a crack with one of those sticks that broke the bones in his shoulder, and the four were able to escape the brown men only by hurling themselves into a river and braving the crocodiles as they swam across, while curved sticks hummed and snarled about their heads. The little brown men seemed afraid of the river and did not venture to follow them, but thereafter Og and his companions never felt entirely safe in the jungle. They stayed in the high country as much as possible and when they separated two always traveled together.
Ru, because of his injured shoulder, which hurt him a great deal, could not travel as fast as the rest and so he and Tao, the youngest, were often left by campfire while Og and Big Tooth hunted the mountains to bring down a goat.
But as it proved, leaving Ru and Tao at camp was not a safe procedure, for one evening Og and Big Tooth returned to their fireplace before a cave in the mountain-side only to find the place deserted and the fire gone out. Ru and Tao had disappeared, but there was plenty of evidence in the prints of naked feet in the dust before the cave to indicate what had happened. Some of the little brown men who hurled throw sticks had found the camp and swooped down upon the two Cave boys, taking them prisoners, or perhaps even killing them and carrying them off for Og was afraid to think of it some cannibalistic orgy, for long ago he had heard from Ak the Old One; and from Ab, and even old Sud the Hunter, that there were men who ate the flesh of human beings.
OG SAID very little about this to Big Tooth, however, keeping his fears to himself, as he and the Flat Head started out to follow as best they could the trail of the band who had taken their friends prisoners. It was a long trail that led them well inland through jungle country and over mountains to the village of the brown men.
These people lived in huts instead of caves. They were not such crude huts either, which surprised Og and Big Tooth and made them realize that the brown men were intelligent people. This gave Og some comfort as he crouched with Big Tooth between the boulders on the mountain-side and waited for darkness to come on, for if they were intelligent then perhaps they were not cannibals.
He and Big Tooth made other discoveries as twilight began to gather in the valley down there, that made Og feel that these little brown men were even above the Flat Heads in intelligence and almost equal to his own Cave People. They had discovered the use of fire, as he and his people had, for with the gathering darkness Og saw the sudden ignition of a big fire in the center of the village that grew and grew in intensity until the flames pushed back the growing darkness on all sides and illuminated all the huts. But the firelight illuminated several figures grotesquely masked and clad in strange skin garments that caused Og certain consternation, before he realized that they were medicine men and high priests of the tribe. There were as many of them as there were fingers on one of Og's hands, and they were the fire tenders. From the ledge Og and Big Tooth could see all but one of their number heaping wood on the fire and building it higher. The single priest, who did little but stand in the firelight and wave his arms, while he chanted in an eerie voice, seemed to be the chief high priest of the village.
When Big Tooth saw this man performing his strange motions and finally break into a cavorting dance about the fire while he raised his voice in a series of eerie shouts, he grunted in wonder.
"Whoo! Og think that fellow mean down there, anyhow. Big Tooth not like all that mumbo-jumbo stuff him do. Big Tooth not like that," he muttered to Og.
"Hah. I do not like it either, Big Tooth. That fellow is the head witch doctor of the tribe like Pong tried to be among the Flat Heads," said Og.
"Whoo! Big Tooth hope him not have crooked mind of Pong. Maybe so him be big Witch Doctor. Other fellows be small Witch Doctors. Og think that?"
"Aye. I do, Big Tooth. I think he is the head Witch Doctor and they are his helpers. But why all these motions and this dancing about the fire. It worries me Big Tooth. I fear it may have something to do with Ru and Tao. Maybe" Og stopped short for he found that he was about to voice his deepest fear; that these brown men were cannibals after all and that they meant to burn their captives to death and then perhaps hold a gruesome feast.
Big Tooth divined a part of what Og left unsaid. He grunted quickly then spoke in a hushed half whisper.
"Whoo! Og not think maybe so that fire be for Ru and Tao?" he exclaimed quickly.
"Hah. I do not know, Big Tooth," said Og heavily, "I do not know but I cannot help but think that"
"Whoo! Look there. Og," grunted Big Tooth cutting short the words of the Cave Man. "There be Ru. Tao too. Look there."
"Hi-yah! There they are," exclaimed Og, his body tensing while instinctively he clutched his stone axe tighter. As Big Tooth spoke, from one of the huts emerged several more figures masked and clad as the other medicine men were and with them came their friends Ru and Tao, their white bodies gleaming in the firelight.
They were a dispirited pair, Og and Big Tooth could see that from where they crouched on the ledge. Their heads hung down and they walked with dragging steps. Their hands were tied behind them and their feet were fettered with twisted vines that allowed them to take only short, slow steps.
The priests halted, and dropping back, formed a half circle while they left Ru and Tao standing alone before the head priest. Meanwhile the village, with much chanting and drumming gathered in a mass around them. Then suddenly, the chief priest seized a burning brand from the fire and held it aloft above the heads of Ru and and Tao, at the same time emitting a loud, blood-chilling scream, and as he did so, suddenly, to the amazement of Og and Big Tooth, the whole night seemed to become alight with a strange, eerie light. For a moment Og was startled, for he knew that this single brand plucked from the fire could not illuminate the darkness this way. But with the next thought he was quite aware of what had happened. Almost at the very instant that the head priest had seized the torch and raised it aloft a great yellow disc of a moon had appeared above the mountain tops behind him, and had flooded the night with cold light.
The rise of the moon seemed to bring a sudden hush on all the little brown men and women. Their chanting stopped and their drums ceased to beat and only the eerie screaming chant of the high priest sounded as he stood and faced the moon with his torch held aloft toward it. It was plain to Og and Big Tooth that he was addressing his chant to the moon; invoking it as he would a god, and suddenly it dawned upon Og that the moon was one of their gods.
BUT the end was not to be by fire. Og and Big Tooth perceived that quickly as the head priest bearing the torch moved away from the great fire, while the other priests, also carrying torches, gathered about Ru and Tao and forced them into a halting walk following the leader while the procession of villagers formed behind them.
Og and Big Tooth, still watching, were mystified at this manoeuver until they discovered that the priest was leading the prisoners and the throng toward a wide, rock-walled canyon to their left between the mountain they were on and one of its towering neighbors.
Softly Og began to climb down to the next ledge with Big Tooth following close, and presently they were hurrying along a series of ledges until they reached a fine vantage point where they could see the length of the canyon, which was not long.
For some time both Og and Big Tooth were puzzled as to why the priests and the prisoners were moving into the canyon until the moon, rising higher, flooded the place with light to reveal not far from the ledge on which Og and Big Tooth crouched, but some distance below them, two pinnacles of rock, taller by twice than Big Tooth was, and carved rudely in the shape of human figures. Then it dawned upon Og suddenly that these stone figures were idols, stone gods, and that Bu and Tao were being brought in there for some sinister purpose that had to do with them.
He and Big Tooth were not to be long in ignorance of what part these two stone gods were to play in the fate of the two Cave boys, for as the priests with their torches got deeper into the canyon they moved with greater speed and less dignity, and there was about them an evidence of fear and a desire to have done with this place and out of it as soon as possible. As fast as they could hobble Ru and Tao were forced toward the stone figures by several priests while the others held their torches high. Then swiftly the two boys were tied fast to these crudely carved rocks with vines and creepers until the priests felt sure of their security. Then for a moment all the witch doctors paused while the chief priest stepped forward and raising his torch in both hands held it up toward the moon. And as be stood there he began intoning:
"Oh Moon God! This night, at the full, we bring you two prisoners to feed your sacred cats, so that once more their hunger will be satisfied and they will not prey on the women and children of our village. Moon God, be kind to our people. I, Watusi, the Witch Doctor of the Moon People, ask your mercy for all of us."
AS HE finished all the priests began chanting and broke into a dance about the stone images to which Ru and Tao were bound, waving their torches on high. But their dancing and chanting were short lived for suddenly from a dark corner of the canyon came a high pitched, snarling wail that caused them to stop dead in their tracks. Then suddenly the high priest shouted
"The Moon God's Cats! They come to feast! They are hungry! Flee! Flee from here!" And with a yell of fear he turned and bolted down the canyon with the other priests running after him and holding their torches high.
"Hi-yi-yi!" exclaimed Big Tooth. "That be voice of big black panther plenty big black panther."
For answer Og groaned for indeed he did see them. Dark shapes began to materialize from the blackness of rocky pockets in the canyon and to emerge into the moonlight. Great black panthers they were, sinister, stalking creatures, that snarled softly as they began to slink slowly and stealthily toward the two helpless figures bound to the stone gods at the upper end of the canyon.
"Poor Ru and Tao," exclaimed Og. "Wait, I will give them courage. I will let them know we are here." And cupping his hands about his mouth he shouted:
"Hi-i-i-i-i-i-yah! Ru! Tao! Have courage! Big Tooth and I are up here on the ledge above you! We will do something to help you! Have courage!"
Instantly both the prisoners raised their heads and looked up to where they could see Og and Big Tooth on the ledge and there was joy on their faces.
BUT both the Cave man and the Flat Head up on the ledge realized that they had a difficult job to rescue their two friends from those black brutes that stalked in the moonlight below. True enough, those black panthers were great cowards. The shouts of Og and the calls of Ru had frightened them and caused them to stop their slithering forward movement while they raised their heads and snarled at the intruders. But it was not the black panthers, so much as it was the difficulty of their position that bothered Og. They were on a ledge many times higher than a tall man, above the place where Ru and Tao were bound. It was a sheer ledge down which neither of them could climb in safety. It was too high to jump or drop from and moreover if they could negotiate that drop both Big Tooth and Og realized that they would be trapped down there in the canyon with Ru and Tao and ultimately torn to pieces by the killer cats, for they had not arrows enough to fight off all the panthers that were gathering in that rocky pocket. For a moment both were in a quandary as to how to help their friends. But presently Og solved the problem.
"Big Tooth! Listen! I have a good thought! You go into the forest yonder with your stone axe. Cut a great length of grape vine and bring it out.
Big Tooth obeyed him with alacrity, disappearing swiftly, as Og, taking careful aim, sent an arrow hissing down into the canyon to skewer one of the great black cats between the shoulders. As the arrow tore through its vitals the beast bounded high in the air, snarling and shrieking in pain as it tried frantically to claw the shaft out. But death claimed it quickly, and as it lay there in the moonlight kicking its last, all the rest of the black beasts leaped backwards and flashed out of the moonlight, to hide in the darkness among the rocks, where only the cold fire of their eyes betrayed them.
Big Tooth swiftly cut the necessary length of vine and returned to Og's side where he looped part of it about a boulder and dangled the rest down into the canyon.
"Good. Now is your chance, Big Tooth." cried Og. "Slide down the vine into the canyon. Take your stand down there with bow and arrow. I will follow. Then while one holds off those black savages the other can cut Ru and Tao free. Hurry!"
The appearance of two more human beings down there in the canyon bothered the black cats of the Moon God a little. Og could see the dark shapes flatten to the rocks while ugly snarls sounded on the night, and seeking to take advantage of their fear he sent two arrows hissing at the savage eyes that he saw in the darkness. Both took effect, too, as snarling wails informed him, and while the wounded creatures writhed and fought the arrows that had pierced them Og hissed instructions to Big Tooth.
"Quick now," he cried, "Cut them loose. Cut Tao's bonds. I will free Ru," and yanking his stone axe from his girdle he leaped toward the nearest of the two prisoners, while Big Tooth followed his example. But with only crude stone axes to help them, liberating the prisoners was not an easy job. Both had to hack hard and overlong at the vines the priests had used to bind them to the rock, and meanwhile the black panthers found a sudden inspiration for courage. Both Og and Big Tooth saw them coming and both worked faster, with a fierce, desperate energy, and the result was that soon their stone axes bit through first the bindings that held Ru, and then those that held Tao.
"Quick now," cried Og as they shook off their fetters and leaped away from the stone gods. "Up the vine to the ledges. Tao first. Ru next. Hurry. Big Tooth and I will stand off these beasts if we can."
But neither Tao nor Ru needed to be urged to hurry. Up the dangling vine they climbed, hand over hand while Og and Big Tooth nocked arrows once more and together sent shafts at the big panther that led the horde. Both were nervous, however, and they hurried their shots with the result that Big Tooth's arrow went wild, and Og's only imbedded itself in the beast's shoulder, the shock of the shaft staggering it and knocking it down. This gave Og the interval of time he hoped for, however, and he shouted to Big Tooth:
"Up. Up the vine quick! Get up to the ledge with Ru and Tao"
"Whoo! Big Tooth stand by Og!" protested Big Tooth.
"Nay! Nay! Get out of here! Up the vine quickly, so it will be cleared for me! I will come after my next arrow! I will try to stop that black leader with my next shot," cried Og as he yanked another flint-tipped arrow from the quiver he carried tied across his shoulders. And Big Tooth, because he was accustomed to obeying Og's orders, leaped for the vine and pulled himself up hand over hand.
That arrow in its shoulder only stopped the big black panther momentarily, Og could see that as he tried desperately to nock his next shaft. With a shrieking snarl the beast scrambled to its feet, snapped savagely at the shaft that protruded from its flesh, grinding it into bits in its ugly teeth. Then with a horrible roar it turned, faced Og and suddenly hurled itself into a swift savage charge full at him.
OG SAW the black beast coming with murder in its cold eyes, and for a moment even his stout heart stood still. He knew he would have to stop the beast with his next arrow or he would never live to tell this adventure about the campfire of the Cave People. Fiercely, with fingers that fumbled a little, he tried to fit the arrow to his bow string. But Fate was against him. He dropped the shaft and as it clattered on the stones he knew that death was almost upon him. He could never recover it or even yank another one from his quiver before the panther would strike him down and break his neck with one crushing blow of its paw.
With a yell of fear he dropped his bow and leaped for the dangling vine that Big Tooth was just quitting for the ledge above and with desperate overhand grabs began to pull himself upward, just as the panther in one long bound tried to pounce upon him. Og's quick move spoiled the black panther's aim. The beast missed him by the smallest margin, and before it could twist and leap upward to drag the Cave Man down from the vine, Og was out of reach and climbing swiftly higher, while the panther snarled and clawed frantically at the dangling thing that had provided his prey with a means of escape. But the black beast did not remain under the vine long, for presently rocks began to hurtle down on him from above as Ru and Tao and Big Tooth began to hurl small boulders at him. And presently Og joined his friends on the ledge where he too began to throw stones, until they had driven all the savage black cats of the Moon God well out of range and into the darkness of the rocky pockets.