TIRED, hungry, worried, Og opened his eyes just as dawn was beginning to redden the eastern skies, and peered out through the tangle of leaves of the banyan tree in which he, with Ru and Tao and Big Tooth, had slept huddled in a great fork of several branches. Brows squinted, he strained his eyes to look across the tall waving tops of grass of a great jungle meadow that reached away toward mountains in the distance. And as he stared a look of hope came into his eyes. A moment longer he squinted, then he touched the sleeping Big Tooth, huddled beside him.
"Big Tooth," he exclaimed in a half whisper, "they have gone. I do not see that old mammoth and her young calf in the meadow."
With a grunt Big Tooth opened his eyes and sat up.
"Whoo. Big Tooth sleep plenty sound this night. What Og say, huh?" he asked, stretching and yawning softly.
"I said I do not see the old mammoth and her calf in the meadow," repeated Og. "The way is clear for us to cross to yonder mountains and shake off those little brown Boomerang men and their witch doctors."
"Hi-yi-yi. That be good news if it be so, Og. Where you look for that ol' woman mammoth an' her young one?"
"Yonder where she was yesterday. See the place all beaten down in the grass where she and her baby were? There are no signs of her now."
"Whoo. Big Tooth not see'um there. Better we wake Ru and Tao and go across that meadow before she come back. She move some time in night. Og not think so?"
"Aye. I believe so. But she might come back," said Og.
Og did not need to call his two companions for the muttering he and Big Tooth had done had penetrated their consciousness and both had silently awakened to stretch and yawn as Big Tooth had done.
"Hah. Trees are not easy beds," muttered Tao. "A knot has worn a hole in my back. I hope this day we can reach yon mountains and by dark time find a cave to sleep in, where one can stretch out flat."
"Aye. Such sleeping is hard," admitted Ru, "but it is my empty belly that bothers me. Og, when do you think we can build a fire and cook some meat?"
"When we reach yon mountains I hope. By that time that witch doctor Watusi and his little brown men will be tired of hunting us."
"Or we shake'um off our trail by then, huh, Og'" suggested Big Tooth.
"Aye. Either way will please me," agreed Og. "But come, I believe we have a chance to cross yon meadow now. The old mammoth and her young one are not in sight. I hope she and her calf have gone into the jungle."
"But she might come back. Better we hurry, huh, Og? Better we climb down from tree and cross over meadow now. Come on we go if Hi-yi-yi!"
BIG TOOTH stopped talking and listened and a moment later all four faces clouded and the troubled look came back into their eyes for, interrupting Big Tooth, came the far off howl of a hyena, to be followed instantly by a blowing snort closer at hand, and a great heaving sound, and the next instant they beheld, rolling cumbrously to her feet out there in the long grass of the meadow, the huge hairy mammoth, and beside her rose up her young one, too. Both had been lying in the deepest of the long grass and just out of sight of the Cave Men in the tree.
"Whoo! Whoo! Ol' woman not gone after all," said Big Tooth in disgust. "When she hear'um that ol' hyena call she wake up and look around. This be too bad. Maybe so we not get cross that meadow too quick now, huh, Og?"
"Hi-yah. It looks that way, Big Tooth. She was hiding there in the tallest grass where we could not see her, but when she heard that hyena call she got up. She does not mean to have the hyena pack get her new calf," said Og, a little discouraged.
"Hah. I wish the hyenas had got her and her calf long ago," muttered Ru. "I do not want to crouch in this tree for another sun. I want to get down onto the ground and go to a place where we can start a fire and eat some meat. Can we not go around this meadow, Og?"
"That would take a whole day, maybe more, Ru," said Tao. "One way we would have to scale rock ridges that would take a long time"
"Aye, and would cause us to show ourselves where those who follow us could see us," added Og. Then he continued, "And below us there you can see a great swamp which we could never cross without much trouble. Nay. This is the shortest and quickest way to yonder mountains; across this meadow here, and if that mammoth would only move out we could be in the mountains before the sun is in mid-sky."
"Whoo. Big Tooth fraid ol' woman mammoth not move out that meadow so soon now, Og. Maybeso she might stay there plenty suns with them hyenas howling off there"
"Aye, until her foolish little one grows up she will stay maybe," said Ru disgustedly. "And by that time we will either be starved to death or Watusi and his Boomerang Men will have us."
"Fie, Ru. Do not get too downcast," said Og trying to give Ru courage. "We may yet get across that meadow before the day is very old, and while we wait there is still a little of the dried tapir meat in my bag. See, there is enough for a scant meal anyway. Tao, cut it in equal pieces, one for each of us."
And Tao, always obedient to Og's commands, took the smoke-cured meat and began to hack at it with his flint knife while the others watched him with increasing hunger.
WHILE the Cave People in the tree munched their small, dry strips of smoked tapir, brought from the village of the Boomerang Men, the old mastodon, who was one of the largest they had ever seen and had surprisingly long tusks for a female, began to feed on the lush grass while the little one, not yet steady on its young legs, stayed close beside her protecting bulk. And each time a hyena called in the distant jungle the old one raised her ponderous head with long trunk upcurling and snorted belligerently.
"That ol' woman be plenty 'fraid for them hyenas get her young one," said Big Tooth after he had been watching the cow for some time.
"Aye, she is," admitted Og, with an annoyed frown.
"She put up plenty bad fight if some them hunch-back fellow come this way, I think," Big Tooth decided.
"Aye. To her death she would fight," agreed Og as he chewed on a tough piece of meat.
"Big Tooth think she not stay in meadow too long, Og. Can see now she work this way while she feed. Pretty soon maybeso she get thirsty. Then she leave meadow and go find place for take drink. That be time we wait for, huh, Og?"
"Aye, Big Tooth. And we are in no hurry. Not a sign have we seen of Watusi and his Boomerang Men for more than one sun. I think he has given up the chase."
"Hah, I hope so," muttered Ru, "but just the same I am in a hurry. I would like to get where I could drive an arrow through a good goat and then build a fire. What a feast we would have then." Ru rubbed his stomach in anticipation and sighed deeply at thoughts of how much he would eat when such dreams would come true. But his sigh ended abruptly in a grunt of surprise, for suddenly a movement in the jungle not far from the banyan tree in which he crouched made him sit up and clutch Og's arm.
"Og," he whispered. "Look yonder. See them coming down the game trail toward the meadow"
"Hi-yah!" hissed Og softly. "Big Tooth! Look you! Yonder come Watusi and the Boomerang Men. Still they follow us."
"Hi-yi-yi," muttered Big Tooth. "Them fellow catch up with us, too. Better we be plenty quiet in this tree or they see us for sure. This be bad, Og."
"Aye. Very bad," hissed Og. "If they see us we are lost. Be very quiet."
BUT Og did not need to warn his companions to be quiet. Instinctively they all froze close to the great trunk of the tree in which they crouched and watched with the furtiveness of animals the slow approach of Watusi, the witch doctor, at the head of a big band of Boomerang Men. The trailers were moving through the jungle as softly as shadows, making no sound whatever but traveling fast. They were coming up the game trail Og and his companions had taken and reading every sign carefully. They knew that they were not far behind their quarry and they were determined apparently to run them down as fast as possible.
Along the trail they came, Watusi leading. They passed within a stone's toss of the tree in which Og and his companions sat motionless and approached the edge of the meadow with its tall grass. There they paused, baffled for a moment apparently, for while the game trail led into the meadow, they did not find any signs that their quarry had gone that way. Several of them scanned the ground closely, moving in widening circles. Others ventured further along the game trail into the tall grass of the meadow, and so intent were all on their quest that they never suspected that four pairs of watching eyes were on them. Nor did they suspect that far off, out there in the meadow, hidden from them by the tall grass, was an anxious mother mammoth whose quick ear had caught some suggestion of their presence.
Og looking out across the meadow saw the nervousness of the old mother mammoth. He saw her raise her ponderous head inquiringly and he saw her great trunk come up. He knew that she was aware of intruders on the edge of her meadow though she was not sure who they were or what they had come for. Gently Og nudged Big Tooth and nodded.
"Look you, Big Tooth," he whispered. "The old mammoth is worried. She has heard a movement over this way. See how she looks."
Big Tooth nodded and grunted. Then a slow smile crossed his face.
"Be trouble for them Boomerang Men if they try for cross that meadow, Og. She might think them be hyenas."
"Hi-yah! There is a good thought, Big Tooth. If we could make her think they were hyenas"
"Whoo! She come over this way plenty fast then, huh, Og?"
"Aye. So fast that some of those Boomerang Men would not get away."
"Could make her think maybeso hyenas over here if give pretty good hyena howl, Og," suggested Big Tooth grinning more broadly.
"Aye. There is a good thought. Howl, Big Tooth, howl loud and angry. We will see what happens."
And Big Tooth cupping his hands about his mouth raised his head and emitted the long drawn out hyena call, sending it rolling across the meadow.
The effect was instantaneous. The Boomerang Men hearing that call from so close at hand and so high up from the ground, turned together and looked up suspiciously among the branches overhead. It took them but an instant to locate Og and his companions and set up a yell of triumph. But that yell was shortlived for even as they voiced it Big Tooth's hyena call rolled across the meadow again, to be followed immediately by a loud trumpeting bellow and a moment later the earth fairly shook as the great bulk of the mother mammoth lurched into motion and came charging across the meadow directly for Watusi and the Boomerang Men.
That bellowing blast coming from behind them seemed to petrify Watusi and his men for a moment. But, as the thunder of the heavy footsteps rolled toward them and they beheld the great bulk of the mammoth charging through the tall grass, with one accord they broke into panic, and, forgetting Og and his companions, with wild yells rushed madly down the game trail. And hard on their feels, so close to them that none had chance to leap for a low hanging tree limb, came the infuriated mammoth, with her trumpeting bellow, and reaching out with her great trunk to seize one of the brown men.
In that way she thundered past the tree in which Og and his companions crouched and charged on down the game trail out of sight in the jungle. And when she had gone Og issued swift orders.
"Quick. Drop down to the ground all of you and start across. We can get to the other side before she comes back if we are lucky. Hurry now! Hurry!"
And swiftly but soundlessly all four of them swung toward the ground and in single file raced madly down the game trail that crossed the meadow, gaining the safety of the jungle where it skirted the foot of the mountains on the other side, before the mother mammoth came puffing and blowing back to find how her baby had fared after she had dispersed the Boomerang Men and killed more than a few of them.