WITH bows bent and flint-tipped arrows drawn to their limit, Og and Ru stood poised on a ledge, watching through an opening in the jungle below, a short stretch of well-trodden game trail. Behind them crouched Big Tooth and Tao, tense and eager. They, too, were watching the game trail, for Big Tooth's keen hunting eyes had caught a glimpse of the tapir, one of those ugly-snouted black and white creatures of the dense jungle, trotting down that trail. They knew that the animal, if it kept on its course, would have to pass through that opening, and Og and Ru would get a clean, though rather long, shot at it from the ledge. All were waiting; expectant, anxious, for they were in need of fresh meat, and next to the wild goat and the three-toed horse, the tapir was choice meat.
"Pretty quick him be long now. You watch close," grunted Big Tooth softly.
"It is a long shot, Ru,'" cautioned Og. "Hold high and aim a little ahead Hi-yah! There he is... steady now... Let go!"
The strum of bow strings followed, and two arrows leaped away like flashes of light, to hiss angrily as they sped in a long arc toward the tapir. A single mincing step was all the creature took across the opening in the jungle before both arrows hit him, one piercing his short thick neck, and the other penetrating his stocky body just behind the shoulder. Instantly a squeal of terror that trailed off into a bleat of pain, sounded, as the tapir reared twisted in the air, and made wild, futile running motions with its forefeet. But even as it stood momentarily poised on its hind legs, death overtook it on the trail.
"Hi-yah! Good arrows! There is meat!" exclaimed Og, triumphantly.
"Whoo. Plenty fine meat," grunted Big Tooth in agreement. "Plenty fine meat if we get that tapir."
"Hah. If we get him. Why we have killed him. He is ours," exclaimed Ru. "All we have to do is go down there and butcher him."
"Well, better we be careful when we go down. Not make any noise and keep plenty keen eye on that game trail. Big Tooth think that tapir be followed by something way him come along at quick trot. You see that thing, Og?"
"Aye. I noticed how steady he traveled. Perhaps there are a pair of hunting hyenas on his trail."
"Or a saber-toothed tiger. I thought of that when I first saw him," admitted Tao.
"Well, then, let us go down and claim our meat quickly. I do not fear a pair of hyenas..."
"Nay, but if it is a saber-tooth, we had better have arrows ready and move cautiously. Rather would I lose our meat to a tiger than have him come upon us in the jungle unprepared to meet him. String a stout arrow, Ru. You, too, Big Tooth, and have your stone axe ready."
OG'S followers grunted in agreement and looked to their weapons carefully before they followed him off the ledge and down the slope of the mountain into the jungle below them.
Although that game trail had been within long arrow shot of the ledge on which the Cave Men waited, the distance down the slope and through the jungle was longer and difficult to travel because of the thick growth of trailing vines and dense tropical underbrush. Indeed, to move quietly and stealthily, as they thought it best to do, they dared not do any hacking of vines with their stone axes, and sometimes they were forced to work their way along like snakes to get through. The result was it took much longer than they had anticipated to reach the opening in the game trail where the tapir lay.
But it was fortunate that it did take them a long time, and it was still more fortunate that they traveled cautiously and soundlessly through the jungle, for that young tapir had been followed by an enemy. Indeed, the creature had been silently, but swiftly, running away from a band of pursuers when the arrows of the cave men overtook it and laid it low before the very eyes of these who followed it.
The Cave Men suddenly became aware of the fact that someone else had found their kill and claimed it before they were half way through the jungle, when Big Tooth, with keener ears than the rest, stopped suddenly and grunted a warning. At the same time he cocked his head to listen intently; then all three of his companions froze in their tracks and listened also, to become aware of a sudden babble of voices from the game trail.
"Whoo," grunted Big Tooth, "that voice of Boomerang People."
"They have found our meat!" exclaimed Ru, disappointed and a little angry.
"Aye. And they will find us here in the jungle if we are not very careful," warned Og. "Move without even the crack of a stick now. Come, we will see what happens in the game trail."
The dead creature seemed to puzzle the Boomerang Men a great deal. There was a mystery about the way it had died, for they had seen it go down under two shafts that had apparently come down from the sky. Carefully, almost fearfully, they scrutinized the beast, examining the two arrows, while they muttered among themselves, and looked furtively into the jungle on either side of them and up into the air for evidence of some celestial archer. Only Watusi, the witch doctor, seemed to have an explanation of how this tapir should suddenly drop dead in the trail almost in front of them. He tried to impress his reasoning on several of the hunters.
"It is as I say," he told them. "This is the work of the Sun God. These shafts were hurled down from the heavens to kill the tapir. This is sacred meat now, meant for a feast to the Sun God. The whole village will eat of this meat and be happy. Come, we will take it with us."
"Whoo," grunted Big Tooth, after the Boomerang Men were out of earshot, "Big Tooth have a feeling when we shoot that tapir we not have chance for eat very much of him. No."
"Huh. The thieves. They have stolen our meat. Og, we never should have let them take it. We should have fought for it," growled Ru.
"Hi-yah. Fought for it? Against that party? We would have had our hands full. There were too many, Ru," replied Og.
"But they were afraid of our arrows, Og. You would see that by the way they would not touch the tapir until the medicine man pulled them out. A few arrows into those fellows and they would all have taken to their heels."
"Oh, I am not so sure," said Tao. "'They are savage fighters. But I do hate to think of them feasting on our meat."
"Why not follow them, then, Og?" suggested Ru. "Maybe we will find a chance to get it back again or enough of it to satisfy our pinched bellies."
"Whoo. Not be too hard for follow them fellow, Og. They not watch trail so good. Maybeso when night come on, they hang that tapir in tree. When they all sleep we could get some that meat. Night be here plenty quick. Look there, sun get low now."
"Aye. Let us follow them," urged Ru. And when Tao added his eagerness to try and get back some of that tapir meat, Og agreed, though with some misgivings.
"I like not to go deeper into the country of those Boomerang Men. Rather would I go the other way and never see them again. They are savage fellows. But if you believe we can get back our meat, or even some of it, I will follow them. Come along, but have arrows ready for trouble if they should find us trailing them."
Stealthily as four shadows, they slipped out of the jungle and into the game trail, and one behind the other, moved along in the direction the party of hunters had gone. But it was not until darkness began to close down that they overtook them and trailed along almost within bow shot behind them, waiting for them to make camp.
This, however, was not the plan of tile Boomerang Men. They were so close to their village that they intended to go on even after nightfall, and so they pushed forward steadily until the trail dipped down into a valley and Og and his companions saw through the trees, the flames of the great central fire in the village, and the many hive-like huts clustered in a great circle about the central council grounds. On. the edge of the jungle, Og called a halt, and there, crouching in the shadows, they watched the party enter, and heard the shouts of greetings from the rest of the tribesmen. The dead tapir instantly became the center of interest as it was carried toward the fire, and there hung on a scaffolding quickly erected. And soon thereafter a dance of celebration was in progress, led by the witch doctor and all his medicine men, for if the Sun God had sent them so much good meat, as Watusi explained, then there was indeed cause for celebration.
FOR a time, Og and Ru and their companions were afraid that the feast would begin and that soon they would see their meat vanishing down the throats of the Boomerang Men, for the witch doctor, with the aid of several of his medicine men, attacked the dead beast with flint knives and began to butcher it and peel the hide off. But aside from roasting the heart and liver in the fire, which Watusi and the witch doctors ate with great ceremony, there was no further feasting that night, and soon the dancers began to move toward their huts.
"Whoo. Look like only medicine men feast this night, huh, Og?" said Big Tooth.
"Aye. And like all the witch doctors, they took the best for themselves," muttered Og. Then, after a moment, he added: "But if they leave that meat hanging that way there will be no feasting for this village tomorrow, for we will carry it off while they sleep, unless, of course, they leave a watcher."
"And if they leave a watcher, it will not be hard to finish him with an arrow from the darkness here," muttered Ru savagely.
But it was not in the plan of the Boomerang Men to leave a. watcher. The dance broke up as one after another the men and women grew tired and sought their huts. Soon the medicine men began to disappear, too, even to old Watusi himself, who left with great ceremony, but not without many stealthy backward glances at the tapir's carcass hanging there in the firelight.
"Hah," said Tao, as he watched him go, "that fellow hates to leave that meat. He and his medicine men have had the best of it already, but he wants more."
"And he is probably thinking even now of some trick or some story by which he will get more of it to-morrow, for if he is anything like Pong, and I think he is, he always schemes to get the biggest share and the best of everything," said Og.
"Hah! This is one time his tricks and his scheming will get him nothing," muttered Ru. Then he added, "That meat will not. be hanging there when day comes to-morrow. Look, Og, the place is almost deserted now. Only a few of those Boomerang Men linger outside their huts. Soon we can slip in and carry off that meat."
But Big Tooth grunted caution.
"Whoo. Not too fast, Ru. Better we wait until we sure all asleep. Wait until fire burns out, too, so not too much light," he suggested. And when Og nodded his approval of Big Tooth's wisdom, they all crouched lower and waited. And while they waited, the big fire burned down and the light grew dimmer, so much dimmer in fact, that Og and his friends soon felt it was safe to glide out of the forest and move like so many panthers among the hive-like huts of the Boomerang Men.
Taking advantage of every patch of heavy darkness and the shadow of every hut on their side of the village, slowly, but carefully, they moved forward toward the carcass of the tapir hanging there in the decreasing firelight. But as they moved forward, they little suspected that while they had waited for the fire to grow dimmer and the village to sleep, one other, too, had been waiting for just that reason. He was Watusi, the chief witch doctor. As Tao has suspected, the medicine man was loath to see so much good meat waiting there to be eaten by the tribesmen next morning. He wanted the most and the best of it for himself, and so while the rest of the village slept, he decided to take what he wanted, and if there was any question next morning as to where the meat had gone, he could always explain that some god or some evil spirit that his people feared had taken it away during the night.
So about the time Og and Ru and his companions slipped behind one of the huts, and glided forward to a position where they could scuttle out into the open and get the carcass of the tapir, Watusi also, a flint knife in his hand, glided stealthily out of his but and moved swiftly toward the tapir.
Fortunately, the quick eyes of Big Tooth discovered the medicine man gliding through the darkness and softly grunted a warning even as Og and Ru, just ahead of him, were preparing to make a quick dash out of the deep shadow and seize the meat. His grunt caused them to flatten close to the ground as they, too, caught sight of the moving form on the other side of the council ground. For a moment, none of the four recognized the medicine man, but as he glided into the faint firelight, and began to hack at the meat with his flint knife, Ru, with a snarled expletive, identified him.
"Hah. It is that Slime-of-the-River, Watusi, the medicine man. Og, he comes to get the best of that meat. He shall not have it. I will stop him..."
And suddenly, flinging himself to his feet, before Og or Big Tooth could restrain him, he sped into the opening and launched himself, like a panther, at the back of the crouching witch doctor. And as he leaped, one of his big strong hands reached for the priest's throat.
So swiftly and silently did Ru move, that almost he succeeded in his desire to get a strangle-hold on the witch doctor's throat. His stout fingers did close on the man's scrawny neck and sink deep into his flesh as he bore him to the ground under his own weight. But Watusi was not without a certain amount of savage strength, and after he got over the first surprise of the attack from behind, he began to fight like a tiger. For a moment there was a desperate but silent struggle there in the waning firelight, a struggle in which Og and Big Tooth and Tao realized they must needs take a hand to bring it to a sudden end.
Ru's move to stop Watusi from stealing the best of the meat had been a rash and headlong one. Og would have stopped it if he could. But now that it had been made, he realized it must needs be carried out to its bitter end. Watusi must be made incapable of making an outcry and arousing the village, and so with a quick command he leaped to his feet and dashed toward the struggling figures, while Big Tooth and Tao followed.
But fast as they moved, they did not come to Bit's help quite fast enough. Watusi, desperate in the clutches of the Cave boy, was fighting with the savagery of an animal. He tried to sink his flint knife deep into Ru's ribs, and Ru, to prevent this from happening, was forced to loosen his grip on Watusi's throat. The result was that the witch doctor was able to struggle to his knees and give one cry of terror, before Og and Big Tooth and the smaller Tao, descended upon him, bore him to the ground and throttled him once more.
That single cry, however, was sufficient to awaken the entire village. While still they struggled with the desperate witch doctor, suddenly from every hut, little brown men began to appear, all carrying their ugly curved throwing sticks, and all yelling savagely.
"Hi-yi-yi!" panted Big Tooth, holding down the fighting medicine man's head. "This be bad, Og! Pretty quick we have for fight this whole village. Better we get out of here!"
"Hah. Not before we kill this witch doctor! Wait! I have his flint knife! I will fix this fellow!" cried Ru, rising to his knees with the doctor's knife in his hand.
But with a yell of warning, Og seized his wrist.
"Nay! Do not kill this fellow! Wait a little! We will use him as a shield! Drag him to his feet, Big Tooth! Up with him! There! Good! Hold him thus! Now have your stone axe read, to split his skull. If these Boomerang Men think anything of their medicine man, no harm will come to us. Listen! I will talk to them!"
And while Watusi stood trembling in the grip of Ru and Tao with Big Tooth's stone hammer poised almost over his head, Og turned and shouted:
"Ho! Men of the Boomerang People! If you would spare the life of your witch doctor, do not attack. If but one of your throw sticks is hurled, we will dash out this man's brains. We have come to get back our meat yonder tapir. We want it. It belongs to us. Our arrows slew it!"
Og's words had a startling effect on the crowd of little brown men. His last two sentences made them stop in their tracks and stare in terror. Some of them shrank back. Others dropped flat on their faces on the ground. Even the witch doctor, rolled his eyes and stared.
"Ho!" he cried in a quavering voice, "if that tapir is your meat; if it was your shafts from the heavens that slew it, then you are children of the Sun God. You are holy! I should have known it! We all should have known it. Your white skin should have told us...!"
Then, raising his voice higher, he called to the cringing people.
"Fall down in fear! These are children of the Sun God! Make them welcome! Give them all that they ask for ere they blast our village to nothing with a bolt of lightning. Fall down before them, I tell you!" and to the utter amazement of Og and Ru and Big Tooth, and the even more astounded Tao, the little brown men began to grovel on the ground and raise shouts of fear and welcome.