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Title: In the Morning of Time
Author: Roberts, Charles George Douglas, Sir, 1860-1943
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In the Morning of Time" ***

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IN THE MORNING OF TIME



IN THE MORNING OF TIME

BY

CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS

Author of "The Kindred of the Wild," etc.

[Illustration]

NEW YORK

FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY

PUBLISHERS



Copyright, 1922, by

Frederick A. Stokes Company

All rights reserved

Printed in the United States of America



CONTENTS

 CHAPTER                                                          PAGE
       I The World Without Man                                       1
      II The King of the Triple Horn                                20
     III The Finding of Fire                                        41
      IV The Children of the Shining One                            70
       V The Puller-Down of Trees                                   97
      VI The Battle of the Brands                                  123
     VII The Rescue of A-ya                                        149
    VIII The Bending of the Bow                                    174
      IX The Destroying Splendor                                   198
       X The Terrors of the Dark                                   219
      XI The Feasting of the Cave Folk                             243
     XII On the Face of the Waters                                 259
    XIII The Fear                                                  278
     XIV The Lake of Long Sleep                                    295



IN THE MORNING OF TIME



IN THE MORNING OF TIME

CHAPTER I

THE WORLD WITHOUT MAN


It lay apparently afloat on the sluggish, faintly discolored tide--a
placid, horse-faced, shovel-nosed head, with bumpy holes for ears and
immense round eyes of a somewhat anxious mildness.

The anxiety in the great eyes was not without reason, for their owner
had just arrived in the tepid and teeming waters of this estuary, and
the creatures which he had already seen about him were both unknown
and menacing. But the inshore shallows were full of water-weeds of a
rankness and succulence far beyond anything he had enjoyed in his old
habitat, and he was determined to secure himself a place here.

From time to time, as some new monster came in sight, the ungainly
head would shoot up amazingly to a distance of five or ten, or even
fifteen feet, on a swaying pillar of a neck, in order to get a better
view of the stranger. Then it would slowly sink back again to its
repose on the water.

The water at this point was almost fresh, because the estuary, though
fully two miles wide, was filled with the tide of the great river
rolling slowly down from the heart of the continent. The further shore
was so flat that nothing could be seen of it but an endless, pale
green forest of giant reeds. But the nearer shore was skirted, at a
distance of perhaps half a mile from the water, by a rampart of
abrupt, bright, rust-red cliffs. The flat land between the waterside
and the cliffs, except for the wide strip of beach, was clothed with
an enormous and riotous growth of calamaries, tree-ferns, cane and
palm, which rocked and crashed in places as if some colossal wayfarers
were pushing through them. Here and there along the edge of the cliffs
sat tall beings with prodigious, saw-toothed beaks, like some species
of bird conceived in a nightmare.

Far out across the water one of these creatures was flapping slowly in
from the sea. Its wings--eighteen feet across from tip to tip--were
not the wings of a bird, but of a bat or a hobgoblin. It had dreadful,
hand-like claws on its wing-elbows; and its feet were those of a
lizard.

As this startling shape came flapping shoreward, the head afloat upon
the water eyed it with interest, but not, as it seemed, with any great
apprehension. Yet it certainly looked formidable enough to excite
misgivings in most creatures. Its flight was not the steady, even
winging of a bird, but spasmodic and violent. It came on at a height
of perhaps twenty feet above the sluggish tide, and its immense,
circular eyes appeared to take no notice of the strange head that
watched it from the water's surface. It seemed about to pass a little
to one side, when suddenly, with a hoarse, hooting cry, it swerved and
swooped, and struck at the floating head with open jaws.

Swift as was that unexpected attack, the assailant struck nothing but
a spot of foam where the head had disappeared. Simultaneously with the
lightning disappearance, there was a sudden boiling of the water some
eighty-odd feet away. But the great bird-lizard was either too furious
to notice this phenomenon or not sagacious enough to interpret it.
Flopping into the air again, and gnashing his beak-like jaws with
rage, he kept circling about the spot in heavy zigzags, expecting the
harmless looking head to reappear.

All at once his expectations were more than realized. The head not
only reappeared, but on a towering leather-colored column of a neck it
shot straight into the air to a height of twenty feet. The big, placid
eyes were now sparkling with anger. The flat, shovel jaws were gaping
open. They seized the swooping foe by the root of the tail, and, in
spite of screeches and wild flappings, plucked him down backwards. At
the surface of the water there was a convulsive struggle, and the wide
wings were drawn clean under.

For several minutes the water seethed and foamed, and little waves ran
clattering up the beach, while the owner of the harmless-looking head
trod his assailant down and crushed him among the weeds of the bottom.
Then the foam slowly crimsoned, and the mauled, battered body of the
great bird-lizard came up again; for the owner of the mysterious head
was a feeder on delicate weeds and succulent green-stuff only, and
would eat no blood-bearing food. The body was still struggling, and
the vast, dark, broken wings spread themselves in feeble spasms on the
surface. But they were not left to struggle long.

The water, in the distance, had been full of eager spectators of
the fight, and now it boiled as they rushed in upon the disabled
prey. Ravenous, cavern-jawed, fishlike beasts, half-porpoise,
half-alligator, swarmed upon the victim, tearing at it and at each
other. Some bore off trailing mouthfuls of dark wing-membrane,
others more substantial booty, while the rest fought madly in the
vortex of discolored foam.

At the beginning of the fray the grim figures perched along the red
ramparts of the cliff had shown signs of excitement, lifting their
high shoulders and half unfolding the stiff drapery of their wings. As
they saw their fellow overwhelmed they launched themselves from their
perch and came hooting hoarsely over the rank, green tops of the palms
and feathery calamaries. Swooping and circling they gathered over the
hideous final struggle, and from time to time one or another would
drop perpendicularly downward to stab the crown or the face of one of
the preoccupied fish-beasts with his trenchant beak. Such of the
fish-beasts as were thus disabled were promptly torn to pieces and
devoured by their companions.

Some fifty feet away, nearer shore, the harmless-looking head which
had been the source and inspirer of all this bloody turmoil lay
watching the scene with discontent in its round, wondering eyes.
Slowly it reared itself once more to a height of eight or ten feet
above the water, as if for better inspection of the combat. Then, as
if not relishing the neighborhood of the fish-beasts, it slowly sank
again and disappeared.

Immediately a heavy swirling, a disturbance that stretched over a
distance of nearly a hundred feet, began to travel shoreward. It
grew heavier and heavier as the water grew shallower. Then a
leather-colored mountain of a back heaved itself up through the
smother and a colossal form, that would make the hugest elephant a
pigmy, came ponderously forth upon the beach.

The body of this amazing being was thrice or four times the bulk of
the mightiest elephant. It stood highest--a good thirteen feet--over
the haunches (which were supported on legs like columns), and sloped
abruptly to the lower and lighter-built fore-shoulders. The neck was
like a giraffe's, but over twenty feet in length to its juncture with
the mild little head, which looked as if Nature had set it there as a
pleasantry at the expense of the titanic body. The tail, enormous at
the base and tapering gradually to a whip-lash, trailed out to a
distance of nearly fifty feet. As its owner came ashore, this
tremendous tail was gathered and curled in a semi-circle at his
side--perhaps lest the delicate tip, if left too distant, might fall a
prey to some significant but agile marauder.

For some minutes the colossus (he was one of the Dinosaurs, or
Terrible Lizards, and known as a Diplodocus) remained on all-fours,
darting his sinuous neck inquiringly in all directions, and
snatching here and there a mouthful of the rank tender herbage which
grew among the trunks of fern and palm. Apparently the spot was to
his liking. Here was a wide beach, sunlit and ample, whereon to bask
at leisure. There were the warm and weed-choked shallows wherein to
pasture, to wallow at will, to hide his giant bulk from his enemies if
there should be found any formidable enough to make hiding advisable.
Swarms of savage insects, to be sure, were giving him a hot
reception--mosquitoes of unimaginable size, and enormous stinging
flies which sought to deposit their eggs in his smooth hide, but with
his giraffe-like neck he could bite himself where he would, and the
lithe lash of his tail could flick off tormentors from any corner
of his anatomy.

Meanwhile, the excitement off-shore had died down. The harsh hootings
of the bird-lizards had ceased to rend the air as the dark wings
hurtled away to seek some remoter or less disturbed hunting-ground.
Then across the silence came suddenly a terrific crashing of branches,
mixed with gasping cries. Startled, the diplodocus hoisted himself
upon his hind-quarters, till he sat up like a kangaroo, supported and
steadied by the base of his huge tail. In this position his head,
forty feet above the earth, overlooked the tops of all but the tallest
trees. And what he saw brought the look of anxiety once more into his
round, saucer-eyes.

Hurling itself with desperate, plunging leaps through the rank
growths, and snapping the trunks of the brittle tree-ferns in its path
as if they had been cauliflowers, came a creature not unlike himself,
but of less than half the size, and with neck and tail of only
moderate length. This creature was fleeing in frantic terror from
another and much smaller being, which came leaping after it like a
giant kangaroo. Both were plainly dinosaurs, with the lizard tail and
hind-legs; but the lesser of the two, with its square, powerful head
and tiger-fanged jaws, and the tremendous, rending claws on its short
forearms, was plainly of a different species from the great
herb-eaters of the dinosaurian family. It was one of the smaller
members of that terrible family of carnivorous dinosaurians which
ruled the ancient cycad forests as the black-maned lion rules the
Rhodesian jungles to-day. The massive iguanodon which fled before it
so madly, though of fully thrice its bulk, had reason to fear it as
the fat cow fears a wolf.

A moment more, and the dreadful chase, with a noise of raucous groans
and pantings, burst forth into the open, not fifty feet from where the
colossus stood watching. Almost at the watcher's feet the fugitive was
overtaken. With a horrid leap and a hoot of triumph, the pursuer
sprang upon its neck and bore it to the ground, where it lay bellowing
hoarsely and striking out blunderingly with the massive, horn-tipped
spur which armed its clumsy wrist. The victor tore madly at its throat
with tooth and claw, and presently its bellowing subsided to a
hideous, sobbing gurgle.

The diplodocus, meanwhile, had been looking down upon the scene with
half-bewildered apprehension. These creatures were insignificant in
size, to be sure, as compared with his own colossal stature, but the
smaller one had a swift ferocity which struck terror to his dull
heart.

Suddenly a red wrath mounted to his small and sluggish brain. His
tail, as we have seen, was curled in a half-circle at his side. Now he
bent his body with it. For an instant his whole bulk quivered with the
extraordinary tension. Then, like a bow released, the bent body sprang
back. The tail (and it weighed at least a ton) struck the victor and
the victim together with an annihilating shock, and swept them clean
around beneath the visitor's feet.

Down he came upon them at once, with the crushing effect of a hundred
steam pile-drivers; and for the next few minutes his panicky rage
expended itself in treading the two bodies into a shapeless mass. Then
he slowly backed off down into the water where the weedy growths were
thickest, till once more his whole form was concealed except the
insignificant head. This he reared among the swaying tufts of the
"mares' tails," and waited to see what strange thing would happen
next.

He had not long to wait. That hideous, mangled heap there, sweating
blood in the noon sun, seemed to have some way of making its presence
known. Crashing sounds arose in different parts of the forest, and
presently some half-dozen of the leaping, kangaroo-like flesh-eaters
appeared.

They were of varying sizes, from ten or twelve feet in length to
eighteen or twenty, and they eyed each other with jealous hostility.
But one glance at the weltering heap showed them that here was
feasting abundant for them all. With a chorus of hoarse cries they
came hopping forward and fell upon it.

Presently two vast shadows came overhead, hovering a moment, and a
pair of the great bird-lizards dropped upon the middle of the heap.
Hooting savagely, with wings half uplifted, they struck about them
with their terrible beaks till they had secured room for themselves at
the banquet. Other unbidden guests came leaping from among the
thickets; and in a short time there was nothing left of the carcasses
except two naked skeletons, dragged apart and half dismembered by
mighty teeth. In the final mêlée one of the smaller revellers was
himself pounced upon and devoured.

Then, as if by consent of a mutual distrust, the throng drew quickly
apart, each eyeing his neighbor warily, and scattered into the woods.
Only the two grim bird-lizards remained, seeming to have a sort of
understanding or partnership, or possibly being a mated pair. They
pried into the cartilages and between the joints of the skeletons with
the iron wedges of their beaks, till there was not another tit-bit to
be enjoyed. Then, hooting once more with satisfaction, they spread
their batlike vanes and flapped darkly off again to their red
watch-tower on the cliff.

When all was once more quiet the giant visitor fell to pasturing among
the crisp and tender water-weeds. It took a long time to fill his
cavernous paunch by way of that slender neck of his, and when he was
satisfied he went composedly to sleep, his body perfectly concealed
under the water, his head resting on a little islet of matted reeds in
a thicket of "mares' tails." When he woke up again the sun was
half-way down to the west, and the beach glowed hotly in the afternoon
light. Everything was drenched in heavy stillness. The visitor made up
his drowsy mind that he must leave his hiding-place and go and bask in
that delicious warmth.

He was just bestirring himself to carry out his purpose, when once
more a swaying in the rank foliage of the cycads caught his vigilant
eye. Discreetly he drew back into hiding, the place being, as he had
found it, so full of violent surprises.

Suddenly there emerged upon the beach a monster even more extraordinary
in appearance than himself. It was about thirty-five feet in length,
and its ponderous bulk was supported on legs so short and bowed that
it crawled with its belly almost dragging the ground. Its small head,
which it carried close to the earth, was lizard-like, shallow-skulled,
feeble-looking, and its jaws cleft back past the stupid eyes. In
fact, it was an inoffensive-looking head for such an imposing body.
At the base of the head began a system of defensive armor that
looked as if it might be proof against artillery. Up over the
shoulders, over the mighty arch of the back, and down over the haunches
as far as the middle of the ponderous tail, ran a series of immense flat
plates of horn, with pointed tips and sharpened edges. The largest of
these plates, those that covered the center of the back, were each
three feet in height, and almost of an equal breadth. Where the
diminished plates came to an end at the middle of the tail, their
place was taken by eight immense, needle-pointed spines, set in pairs,
of which the chief pair had a length of over two feet. The monster's
hide was set thick with scales and knobs of horn, brilliantly
colored in black, yellow, and green, that his grotesque bulk might
be less noticeable to his foes among the sharp shadows and patchy lights
of the fern jungles where he fed.

The sluggish giant moved nervously, glancing backwards as he came, and
seemed intent upon reaching the water. In a few moments his anxiety
was explained. Leaping in splendid bounds along his broad trail came
two of those same ferocious flesh-eaters whom the great watcher among
the reeds so disliked. They ranged up one on each side of the
stegosaur, who had halted at their approach, stiffened himself, and
drawn his head so far back into the loose skin of his neck that only
the sharp, chopping beak projected from under the first armor-plate.
One of the pair threatened him from the front, as if to engross his
attention, while the other pounced upon one of his massive, bowed
hind-legs, as if seeking to drag it from beneath him and roll him over
on his side.

But at this instant there was a clattering of the plated hide, and
that armed tail lashed out with lightning swiftness, like a
porcupine's. There was a tearing screech from the rash flesh-eater,
and he was plucked back sidewise, all four feet in air, deeply impaled
on three of those gigantic spines. While he clawed and writhed,
struggling to twist himself free, his companion sprang hardily to the
rescue. She hurled herself with all her weight and strength full upon
the stegosaur's now unprotected flank. So tremendous was the impact
that, with a frightened grunt, he was rolled clean over on his side.
But at the same time his sturdy forearms clutched his assailant, and
so crushed, mauled and tore her that she was glad to wrench herself
away.

Coughing and gasping, she bounded backwards out of reach; and then she
saw that her mate, having wriggled off the spines, was dragging
himself up the beach toward the forest, leaving a trail of blood
behind him. She followed sullenly, having had more than enough of the
venture. The triumphant stegosaur rolled himself heavily back upon his
feet, grunted angrily, clattered his armored plates, jerked his
terrible tail from side to side as if to see that it was still in
working order, and went lumbering off to another portion of the wood,
having apparently forgotten his purpose of taking to the water. As he
went, one of the grim bird-lizards from the cliff swooped down and
hovered, hooting over his path, apparently disappointed at his
triumph.

The watcher in the reeds, on the other hand, was encouraged by the
result of the combat. He began to feel a certain dangerous contempt
for those leaping flesh-eaters, in spite of their swiftness and
ferocity. He himself, though but an eater of weeds, had trodden one
into nothingness, and now he had seen two together overthrown and put
to flight. With growing confidence he came forth from his hiding,
stalked up the beach, coiled his interminable tail beside him, and lay
down to bask his dripping sides in the full blaze of the sun.

The colossus was at last beginning to feel at home in his new
surroundings. In spite of the fact that this bit of open beach,
overlooked by the deep green belt of jungle and the rampart of red
cliffs, appeared to be a sort of arena for titanic combats, he began
to have confidence in his own astounding bulk as a defense against all
foes. What matter his slim neck, small head and feeble teeth, when
that awful engine of his tail could sweep his enemies off their feet,
and he could crush them by falling upon them like a mountain! A pair
of the great bird-lizards flapped over him, hooting malignantly and
staring down upon him with their immense, cold eyes, but he hardly
took the trouble to look up at them.

Warmed and well fed, his eyes half-sheathed in their membraneous lids,
he gazed out vacantly across the waving herbage of the shallows,
across the slow, pale tides whose surface boiled from time to time
above the rush of some unseen giant of a shark or ichthyosaur.

In the heavy heat of the afternoon the young world had become very
still. The bird-lizards, all folded in their wings, sat stiff and
motionless along the ramparts of red cliff. The only sounds were the
hiss of those seething rushes far out on the tide, the sudden droning
hum of some great insect darting overhead, or the occasional soft
clatter of the long, crisp cycad leaves as a faint puff of hot air
lifted them.

At the back of the beach, where the tree-ferns and the calamaries grew
rankest, the foliage parted noiselessly at a height of perhaps twenty
feet from the ground, and a dreadful head looked forth. Its jaws were
both long and massive, and armed with immense, curved teeth like
scimitars. Its glaring eyes were overhung by eaves of bony plate, and
from the front of its broad snout rose a single horn, long and sharp.
For some minutes this hideous apparition eyed the unconscious colossus
by the waterside. Then it came forth from the foliage and crept
noiselessly down the beach.

Except for its horned snout and armored eyes, this monster was not
unlike in general type to those other predatory dinosaurs which had
already appeared upon the scene. But it was far larger, approaching
thirty-five feet in length, and more powerfully built in proportion to
its size; and the armory of its jaws was more appalling. With a
stealthy but clumsy-looking waddle, which was nevertheless soundless
as a shadow, and his huge tail curled upwards that it might not drag
and rattle the stones, he crept down until he was within some fifty
feet or more of the drowsing colossus.

Some premonition of peril, at this moment, began to stir in the heavy
brain of the colossus, and he lifted his head apprehensively. In the
same instant the horned giant gathered himself, and hurled himself
forward. In two prodigious leaps he covered the distance that
separated him from his intended prey. The coiled tail of the colossus
lashed out irresistibly, but the assailant cleared it in his spring,
fell upon the victim's shoulders, and buried his fangs in the base of
that columnar neck.

The colossus, for the first time, was overwhelmed with terror. He gave
vent to a shrill, bleating bellow--an absurdly inadequate utterance to
issue from this mountainous frame--writhed his neck in snaky folds,
and lashed out convulsively with the stupendous coils of his tail. But
he could not loosen that deep grip, or the clutch of those iron
claws.

In spite of the many tons weight throttling his neck, he reared
himself aloft, and strove to throw himself over upon his assailant.
But the marauder was agile, and eluded the crushing fall without
loosing his grip. Then, bleating frightfully, till the sounds
re-ëchoed from the red cliffs and set all the drowsing bird-lizards
lifting their wings, he plunged down into the tide and bore his
dreadful adversary out of sight beneath a smother of ensanguined
foam.

Now, the horned giant was himself a powerful swimmer and quite at home
in the water, but in this respect he was no match for his quarry.
Refusing to relinquish his hold, he was borne out into deep water; and
there the colossus, becoming all at once agile and swift, succeeded in
rolling over upon him. Forced thus to loose his grip, he gave one
long, ripping lunge with his horn, deep into the victim's flank, and
then writhed himself from under. The breath quite crushed out of him,
he was forced to rise to the surface for air. There he rested,
recovering his self-possession, reluctant to give up the combat, but
even more reluctant to expose himself to another such mauling in the
depths. As he hesitated, about a hundred feet away he saw the mild
little head of the colossus, apparently floating on the tide, and
regarding him anxiously. That decided him. With a crashing bellow of
rage and a sweep of his powerful tail he darted at the inoffensive
head. But it vanished instantly, and a sudden tremendous turmoil,
developing into a wake that lengthened out with the speed of a
torpedo-boat, showed him the hopelessness of pursuit. Turning
abruptly, he swam back to the shore and sulkily withdrew into the
thickets to seek some less unmanageable quarry.

The colossus, so deeply wounded that his trail threw up great clots
and bubbles of red foam, swam onward several miles up the estuary. He
realized now that that patch of sunny beach was just a death-trap. But
in the middle of the estuary, far out from either shore, far removed
from the unseen, lurking horrors of the fern forests, spread acre upon
acre of drowned marsh, overgrown with tall green reeds and feathery
"mares' tails." Through these stretches of marsh he ploughed his way,
half-swimming, half-wading, and felt that here he might find a safe
refuge as well as an unfailing pasturage. But the anguish of his
wounds urged him still onwards.

Beyond the reed-beds he came to a long, narrow islet of wet sand,
naked to the sun. This appeared to him the very refuge he was craving,
a spot where he could lie secure and lick his hurts. He dragged
himself out upon it eagerly. Not until he had gained the very center
of it did he notice how his ponderous feet sank in it at every stride.
As soon as he halted he felt the treacherous sands sucking him down.
In terror he struggled to free himself, to regain the water. But now
the sands had a grip upon him, and his efforts only engulfed him the
more swiftly. He reared upon his hind legs, and immediately found
himself swallowed to the haunches. He fell forward again, and sank to
his shoulder-blades. And then, the convulsive thrashings of his tail
hurling the sands in every direction, he lifted his head and bleated
piteously.

The struggle had already drawn the dreadful eyes of those grim, folded
figures perched along the cliff-tops miles away; and now, as if in
answer to his cry they came fluttering darkly over him. Seeing his
helplessness, they flapped down upon him with hoots of exultation.
Their vast beaks tore at his helpless back, and stabbed at the swiftly
writhing convolutions of his neck. One, more heedless than his
fellows, came within reach of the thrashing tail, and was dashed, half
stunned, to earth, where the sands got him in their hold before he
could recover himself. With dreadful screeches, he was sucked down,
but his fellows paid no attention to his fate. And meanwhile, in a
ring about the islet, not daring to come near for terror of the
quicksand, crocodiles and alligators and ichthyosaurs, with upturned,
gaping snouts, watched the struggle greedily.

As the lower part of his neck was drawn down into the quicksand, the
colossus lost the power to move his head quickly enough to evade the
attacks of his horrid assailants. A moment more, and he was blinded.
Then he felt his head enfolded in the strangling membranes of wings
and borne downwards. Once or twice the convulsions of his neck threw
his enemies off, and the bleeding, sightless head reëmerged to view.

But not only his force, but his will to struggle, was fast ebbing
away. Presently, with a thunderous, gasping sob, the last breath left
his mighty lungs, and his head dropped on the sand. It was trodden
under in an instant; and then, afraid of being engulfed themselves,
the hooting revellers abandoned it, to crowd struggling upon the
arched hump of the back. Here they tore and gorged and quarreled till,
some fifteen minutes later, their last foothold sank beneath them.
Then, with dripping beaks and talons, they all flapped back to their
cliffs; and slowly the fluent sand smoothed itself to shining
complacency over the tomb of the diplodocus, hiding and sealing away
the stupendous skeleton for half a million years.



CHAPTER II

THE KING OF THE TRIPLE HORN


It was a little later in the Morning of Time--later by perhaps some
two or three hundred thousand years. Monstrous mammals now held sway
over the fresh, green round of the young earth, so exuberant in her
youthful vigor that she could not refrain from flooding the Poles
themselves with a tropical luxuriance of flower and tree. The
supremacy of the Giant Reptiles had passed.

A few representatives of their most colossal and highly-specialized
forms still survived, still terrible and supreme in those vast,
steaming, cane-clothed savannahs which most closely repeated the
conditions of an earlier age. But Nature, pleased with her experiments
in the more promising mammalian type, had turned her back upon them
after her fashion, and was coldly letting them die out. Her failures,
however splendid, have always found small mercy at her hands.

But it was little like a failure he looked, the giant who now heaved
his terrible, three-horned front from the lilied surface of the lagoon
wherein he had been wallowing, and came ponderously ploughing his way
ashore. As he emerged upon dry ground, he halted--with the tip of his
massive, lizard-like tail still in the water--and shook a shower from
the hollows of his vast and strangely armored head.

His eyes, coldly furious, and set in a pair of goggle-like projections
of horn, peered this way and that, as if suspecting the neighborhood
of a foe. His gigantic snout--horned, cased in horn, and hooked like
the beak of a parrot--he lifted high, sniffing the heavy air. Then, as
if to end his doubts by either drawing or daunting off the unknown
enemy, he opened his grotesquely awful mouth and roared. The huge
sound that exploded from his throat was something between the bellow
of an alligator and the coughing roar of a tiger, but of infinitely
vaster volume.

The next moment, as if in deliberate reply to the challenge, an
immense black beast stepped from behind a thicket of pea-green bamboo,
and stood scrutinizing him with wicked little pig-like eyes.

It was the old order confronted by the new, the latest most terrible
and perhaps most efficient of the titanic but vanishing race of the
Dinosaurs, face to face with one of those monstrous mammalian forms
upon which Nature was now trying her experiments.

And the place of this meeting was not unfitted to such a portentous
encounter. The further shore of the lagoon was partly a swamp of
rankest growth, partly a stretch of savannah clothed with rich
cane-brake and flowering grasses that towered fifteen or twenty feet
into the air. But the hither shore was of a hard soil mixed with sand,
carpeted with a short, golden-green herbage, and studded with clumps
of bamboo, jobo, mango and mahogany, with here and there a thicket of
canary-flowered acacia, bristling with the most formidable of thorns.

They were not altogether ill-matched, these two colossal protagonists
of the Saurian and the Mammal. The advantage of bulk lay altogether
with the Dinosaur, the three-horned King of all the Lizard kind. His
armament, too, whether for offense or for defense, was distinctly the
more formidable. Fully twenty feet in length, and perhaps eight feet
high at the crest of the massively-rounded back, he was of ponderous
breadth, and moved ponderously on legs like columns.

His splotched brown and yellow hide was studded along the neck and
shoulders with pointed knobs of horn. His enormous, fleshy tail, some
seven feet long and nearly two feet thick at the base, tapered very
gradually to a thick tip, and dragged on the ground behind him. But
the most amazing thing about this King of the Lizards was his
monstrous and awe-inspiring head.

Wedge-shaped from the tip of its cruel parrot-beak to its spreading,
five-foot-wide base, its total length was well over seven feet. Its
three horns, one on the snout and two standing out straight forward
from the forehead just above the eyes, were immensely thick at the
base and fined down smoothly to points of terrible keenness. The one
on the snout was something over a foot in length, while the brow pair
were nearly three feet long.

Almost from the roots of these two terrific weapons protruded the huge
horn goggles which served as sockets for the great, cold, implacable
lizard-eyes. Behind the horns, outspreading like a vast ruff from
three to four feet wide upwards and laterally, slanted a smooth,
polished shield of massive shell like the carapace of a giant turtle,
protecting the neck and shoulders from any imaginable attack.

The antagonist who had come in answer to the giant's challenge was
less extravagant in appearance and more compact in form. He was not
much over a dozen feet in length, but this length owed nothing to the
tail, which was a mere wriggling pendant. He was, perhaps, seven feet
high, very sturdy in build, but not mountainous like his terrible
challenger. His legs and feet were something like those of an
elephant, and he looked capable of a deadly alertness in action. But,
as in the case of the King Dinosaur, it was his head that gave him his
chief distinction. Long, massive and blunt-nosed, it was armed not
only with six horns, set in pairs, but also with a pair of deadly,
downward-pointing tusks--like those of a walrus, but much shorter,
sharper and more effective.

Of the six horns, the first pair, set on the tip of the broad snout,
were mere bony points, of no use as weapons, and employed by their
owner for rooting in the turf after the fashion of a tuber-hunting
pig. The second pair, set about the middle of the long face, just over
the eyes, were about eighteen inches in length, and redoubtable enough
to make other weapons seem superfluous.

The third pair, however, were equally formidable, and set far back at
the very base of the skull, like those of an antelope. The eyes, as
has been already stated, were small, deep-set and vindictive. The
sullen black of his coloring added to the portentousness of his swift
appearance around the clump of pea-green bamboo.

For several minutes the two monsters stood eyeing each other, while
the rage of an instinctive hatred mounted slowly in their sluggish
brains. To the King Dinosaur, this stranger was a trespasser on his
domain, where no other creatures, unless of his own kind, had ever
before had the presumption to confront him. The suddenness of the
black apparition, also, exasperated him; and he loathed at once the
sickly sour smell, so unlike the pungent muskiness of his own kindred,
which now for the first time met his sensitive nostrils.

The Dinoceras, on his part, was in a chronic state of rage. He was a
solitary old bull, driven out, for his bad temper, from the
comfortable herd of his fellows, and burning to find vent for his
bottled spleen. The herd, in one of its migrations, had just arrived
in the neighborhood of the great lagoons, and he, in his furious
restlessness, was unconsciously playing the part of vanguard to it.

He had never, of course, conceived of so terrible an adversary as this
splotched brown and yellow monster before him. But he was in no mood
to calculate odds. For all his blind rage, however, he was a crafty
fighter, always. Seeing that the challenger made no move, he gave
voice to a huge, squealing grunt, like the noise of a herd of raging
pigs. Then he dug his armed snout into the turf and hurled a shower of
sod into the air.

In the eyes of the King Dinosaur this was apparently an intolerable
insult. With a roar he came lumbering forward, at a slow, rolling run
which seemed to jar the earth. Grunting again, and moving at thrice
his speed, the black beast rushed to meet him, head down, like a
charging bison.

They met under the spreading branches of an immense hoya-tree. But
they did not meet fairly, head to head, as the Dinosaur intended. Had
they done so the battle would have been decided then and there, for
the black beast's horns and unprotected front were no match for the
impenetrable armor and leveled lances of the King's colossal head. But
they did not meet fairly. The black stranger was much too crafty for
that. At the last moment he swerved nimbly aside, wheeled with an
agility that was marvelous for a creature of his bulk, and thrust at
the shoulders of the colossus with a fierce, rooting movement like the
stroke of the wild boar.

But he struck the rim of that impenetrable defense, the spreading ruff
of horn. And he might as well have struck a mountain-side. That
enormous bulk, firm-based on the wide-set columns which formed its
legs, merely staggered an instant, coughed from the jarring of the
blow, and swung about to present his terrific horns against another
such attack. The black stranger, meanwhile, as if disappointed at the
meager result of his tactics, had drawn back out of reach. He stood
rooting the turf and squealing defiance, in the hope of luring the
giant into a second charge.

The stupendous duel had two interested spectators. On the top of the
next tree sat an extraordinary-looking bird, about the size of a
pheasant, colored blue and rose like a macaw. Its tail was like a
lizard's, long and fully-vertebrated, with a pair of flat feathers
standing out opposite each other at right angles from each joint, for
all the world like an immense acacia-frond done in red. At the tips of
its wing-elbows it carried clutching, hand-like claws, resembling
those of the flying reptiles; and its straight, strong beak was armed
with pointed teeth. It kept opening and shutting its beak excitedly
and uttering sharp cries, as if calling everyone to come and see the
fight.

The other spectator was not excited at all. He was a large, ape-like
man--one would have said, rather, a manlike ape, had it not been for
the look in his eyes.

This enigmatic figure sat on a branch immediately over the combatants,
and held on with one powerful, hairy hand to the branch just above
him. He was covered with thick, brown hair, like fur, from head to
foot, but that on his head was true hair, long and waving. His
shoulders were massive, his chest of great depth, his arms so long
that if he had been standing erect they would have hung to his knees,
his legs short, massive and much bowed. His hands were furred to the
second joint of the fingers, but they were the hands of a man, not
those of an ape, for the huge thumb was opposed to the fingers instead
of being set parallel with them like another finger. His head was low
in the arch of the skull, low and narrow in the forehead, with a small
facial angle and hardly any bridge to the broad, flat, wide-nostriled
nose; and the jaws were heavy and thrust forward brutishly. But the
eyes, under the roof of the heavy, bony brows, held an expression
profoundly unlike the cold, mechanical stare of the giant Dinosaur or
the twinkling, vindictive glare of the black stranger. They gazed down
at the battle with a sort of superiority, considerate, a little
scornful, in spite of the obvious fact that either of the two, as far
as mere physical bulk and prowess were concerned, could have
obliterated him by simply setting foot upon him. In his free hand he
grasped a branch of acacia set with immense thorns, the needle-like
points of which he touched contemplatively from time to time, as if
pondering what use he could put them to. He had no marked prejudice,
for the moment, in favor of either side in the battle below him. Both
monsters were his foes, and the ideal result, in his eyes, would have
been for the two to destroy each other. But if he had any preference,
it was for the black mammalian beast, the lizard monster appearing to
him the more alien, the more incomprehensible and the more impregnable
to any strategy that he might devise.

For perhaps a couple of minutes, now, the King kept his place,
wheeling ponderously to face his agile opponent, who circled about him
at a distance of ten to twelve yards, seeking an opportunity to get in
a rush upon his open flank. This wheeling and circling made the cool
watcher in the tree impatient. Wrenching off a heavy branch, he hurled
it down with all his force upon the King's face. To the King this
seemed but another insult from his black antagonist, and his rage
exploded once more. With a roar he wallowed forward, thinking to pin
the elusive foe to earth and tread the life out of him.

This gave the black beast his opportunity. Doubling nimbly like a wild
boar, he dashed in and caught his colossal opponent fairly on the
side, midway between the shoulder and the haunch. The impact shocked
the breath from the monster's lungs, with a huge, explosive cough, and
brought him to a bewildered standstill, though it could not throw him
from his feet. But the armored hide proved too tough for the black
beast's horns to penetrate. Perceiving this on the instant, the latter
reared, and brought down the two awful daggers of his tusks upon the
monster's ribs. They penetrated, but they failed to rip as far and as
conclusively as their owner intended. And while he struggled to free
himself for another attack, the monster recovered from his daze.

Now the stranger had taken count only of those weapons which the King
Dinosaur bore on his terrible front; and these for the moment were out
of reach. But he had forgotten the massive and tremendous tail.
Suddenly it lashed out, nearly half a ton in weight, and with the
force of a pile-driver. It struck the black beast on the legs, and
swept them clean from under him.

Before he could pick himself up the Dinosaur had swung about and
buried all three horns, to the sockets, in his throat and chest. His
life went out in one ear-splitting squeal of rage and anguish. The red
blood streaming from horns and ruff, the monster wrenched himself
free, and then moved irresistibly over his victim, like a rolling
mountain.

When satisfied that his triumph was complete, the King drew back a
pace or two, and examined the mangled heap with his cold, unchanging
stare. Then he sniffed at it contemptuously, and prodded it with his
nose-horn, and tore it with his extravagant parrot-beak. But, being a
feeder on herbage only, he had not thought of tasting the red flesh.
The smell of it was abominable to him; and presently he moved closer
under the trees to wipe his beak, as a bird might, on a clump of
coarse grasses.

As he did so, the lowering of his head threw his horny ruff far
forward, exposing the folds of naked hide on the back of his neck. The
silent man-creature on the branch above was quick to note the
opportunity. He was displeased at the monster's triumph. He was also
interested to see if he had any power to hurt so colossal and well
protected a foe. Swinging down by his legs and one hand, he thrust the
thorned branch of acacia deep in under the ruff. The monster, jerking
his head up sharply at this unexpected assault, drove the long thorns
well home.

In an instant he was beside himself with rage and pain. Roaring till
the blue-and-crimson bird on the tree-top flew off in a panic, he
shook his head desperately, and then almost tried to stand upon it. He
started to roll over on his back, hoping thus to dislodge the galling
thing beneath the carapace, but thought better of it at the first
added pressure. His contortions were so vehement that the man
discreetly drew himself up to a higher branch, a slow grin widening
his heavy mouth, as he marked his power to inflict injury on even such
an adversary as the King Dinosaur. The experiment had been successful
beyond his utmost anticipations. Like Nature herself, he was
continually experimenting, but by no means always with satisfactory
results.

Suddenly the monster made off, with head held as low as possible, for
the edge of the lagoon. Ploughing his way in with a huge splashing, he
disappeared beneath the water. A minute later he returned to the
surface and swam rapidly towards the jungle on the opposite shore,
probably intending to find some projecting stump of a dead limb on
which he could scratch the torment from under his ruff. At the edge of
the jungle he was joined by another monster, like himself, but
smaller--probably one of his mates--and together they disappeared,
with heavy crashings, in the rank tangle of the swamp-growths.

The man-creature descended from his refuge, carrying in one hand a
heavy fragment of branch, which he held awkwardly, as if not
over-familiar with the idea of an artificial weapon. He seemed to be
groping his way towards some use of it, either as a club or as a
stabbing instrument. During the fight, while he was experimenting with
the thorn branch, he had evidently had this weapon lodged in some safe
crotch. And now he kept handling it with a curious interest.

Standing erect, he might easily have been mistaken for a slightly
built and shapelier variety of the gorilla but for the true man-hands
and the steady, contemplative, foreseeing look in the eyes. He came
and examined the mangled bulk of the Dinoceras, scrutinized the horns
and tusks minutely, and strove with all his force to wrench one of the
latter from its socket, as if hoping to make some use of it. Then,
fastidiously selecting a shred of the victim's torn flesh, he sniffed
and nibbled at it, and then threw it aside. He could eat and enjoy
flesh-food at a pinch. But just now fruit was abundant; and fruit,
with eggs and honey, formed the diet he preferred. As he stood
pondering the lifeless mass before him, a shrill call came to his
ears, and, turning sharply, he saw his mate, with her baby in the
crook of her hairy arm, standing at the foot of a tree, and signaling
him to come to her. As soon as she saw that he understood, and was
coming, she swung herself lightly up into the branches. He ran to the
tree, climbed after her, and followed her to the very top, where she
awaited him. The tree was taller than any of its neighbors, and
commanded a clear view of the meadow-lands that lay a half mile back
from the lagoon. His mate was pointing eagerly to these meadows. He
saw that they were dotted and spotted with groups of great black,
horned and tusked beasts like the one whose destruction he had just
witnessed. These were the migrant herds of the Dinoceras, just arrived
at their new pasturage. The man eyed them with discontent. He had seen
a specimen of their temper; and he congratulated himself that he and
his mate knew how to live in trees.

The man-creature himself was a new-comer to the shores of the great
lagoon. The place suited him admirably by reason of the abundance of
its fruits. Along the banks of the lagoon were innumerable little
groves of plantain, the rich sustaining fruit of which was of all
foods his favorite. And he had found no trace whatever of his most
dangerous enemies, the gigantic and implacable black lion of the
caves, the red bear and the saber-tooth.

Such an irresistible giant as the King of the Triple Horn he might
wonder at, and hate, but he thought he had little cause to fear him.
It is easy enough, if one is prudent, to avoid a mountain.

Having found the place good, and resolved to stay, the man had built a
refuge for himself and his family in this tall watch-tower of a tree.
With interwoven branches he had made a rude but substantial platform,
and carpeted it to something like softness with smaller branches and
twigs. A similar but lighter platform overhead made him a roof that
was anything but waterproof, and a few bushy branches served for
walls. Such as it was, it was at least the beginning of a home. He
loved it; and in defense of the little hairy brown mate and downy
brown baby who shared it with him he would have fought both Dinosaur
and Dinoceras with his naked hands.

For some days nothing more was seen of the two Dinosaurs, the King
being probably occupied, in the depths of the jungle, with the nursing
of his wrath and his hurts. The herds of the Dinoceras, meanwhile,
kept to their meadows, having better drinking-water in a slow stream
which traversed the pastures than in the brackish tide of the lagoon.

Then came a morning when the brown mother, babe on arm, was gathering
plantains not far from the waterside, while the man chanced to be away
exploring the limits of his new domain. The woman looked up suddenly;
and there, almost upon her, was the giant horror of the Dinosaur, his
cold, expressionless eyes gaping at her immovably from their goggling
sockets. She turned to flee; and there was the monster's mate, not
quite so huge, but equally appalling. Behind her was an impenetrable
wall of thorn-acacia. There was only one refuge--a tree, all too
small, but lofty enough to take her beyond the reach of those
horrifying horned and immobile masks. Up the little tree she went,
nimbly as a monkey, and crouched shivering in a crotch. The slender
trunk swayed beneath her weight. She clutched the brown baby to her
heart, and sent shriek after shriek through the glades.

A mile away the man heard it. He gave one deep-chested shout in
answer, and then came running in silence, saving his breath.

But it was a mile he had to come. The female Dinosaur, the more
instantly malignant of the two, hurled herself upon the trunk of the
tree. It swayed horribly, but did not yield at once. Thereupon the two
began to root beneath it with their horns, having often used this
method to obtain fruits which were above their reach. The tree leaned
far over. The giant straddled it as a moose straddles a poplar
sapling, and bore it down irresistibly. Its top touched earth.

The brown mother sprang forth with a tremendous leap, clearing the
horns with a twist which nearly broke her back. She thought herself
free. And then a gigantic tail struck her and felled her senseless. A
second more, and the female Dinosaur's great foot crushed her and the
wailing babe out of existence together.

The swift end of the tragedy the man had seen as he came racing down a
stretch of open glade. He did not need to look at the awful thing
beneath the monster's foot to know that all was over. Beyond one
hoarse groan he uttered not a sound. But blindly--for he had never yet
practised such an art--he hurled his ragged club at the nearest
monster. It rebounded like a baby's rattle from the vast horn-armored
head. But a lucky chance had guided it. One of its sharp, splintered
knots struck fairly in the Dinosaur's eye, and smashed it in the
socket. She roared with agony; and the two, side by side, came lunging
towards him.

The man ran back slowly. His despairing grief had changed suddenly
into a cold hate and a resolve for vengeance. It was so easy for him
to outstrip these lumbering monsters who were spouting their fetid,
musky breath close upon his heels. He stumbled carefully at every
other step. He let them feel that at the next stride they would
transfix him. He led them on, the earth shaking beneath their tread,
till another fifty feet would have brought them out upon the skirts of
the meadow. But at this point, wearied by such an unwonted burst of
effort, the King halted sulkily. He had not had an eye put out. He
wanted to give it up. But his mate came right on, thirsting for her
revenge.

The man was not content with her pursuit alone. Spurting ahead, he
gathered up two handfuls of sand and gravel, whirled about, and drove
them with all his strength into the King's cold eyes. It worked.
Smarting and half blinded, the monster forgot his weariness, and came
charging along furiously in the trail of his mate.

They were stupid, these Lizard Kings, with more brains in their pelvic
arches than in their giant skulls. Because the puny man-creature went
stumbling almost within reach of their beaks, they imagined they were
going to catch him. That he would go dodging around thickets which
they crashed over blindly, and would then return to present himself
again deliberately before them, did not strike them as at all
suspicious. Their dull but relentless hate once thoroughly aroused, as
long as he was in sight and they could move the mighty columns of
their legs, they would pursue him.

Through the last heavy fringe of bush and leafage they pursued him,
and with a great crashing of branches came out upon the open,
short-grass meadow. Still the man-creature stumbled on, straight out
into the open, and still they followed, raging silently.

The black herds of the Dinoceras stopped feeding all at once, and
raised their vicious heads and stared.

There were countless cows in the herd, horned like the bulls, but
smaller, and without the rending tusks. The cows, at this season, all
had young. After one long, comprehending stare at the two gigantic
mottled shapes bearing down upon them, the herd put itself in motion.
The man-creature they hardly noticed, he seemed so insignificant.

With eyes that took in everything, coolly and sagaciously, the man
observed that the motion of the herd was an ordered one. The black
beasts were deftly sorting themselves out to meet the danger. The
bulls came thrusting themselves to the front--a terrific array which
might have struck panic to the hearts of even the colossal Dinosaurs
had they not been too stupid with rage for any new impression to
pierce their brains. The cows, meanwhile, pushing their calves into a
huddled mass behind them, formed themselves into a second array, a
reserve of less mass and strength than the ranks of the bulls, but of
an invincible mother-fury.

The man, with a wise fearlessness, ran on straight through the
gathering line of bulls, the nearest of whom thrust at him carelessly
and then paid him no more heed. Behind their ranks, hidden now from
the sight of his pursuers, he swerved, avoiding the line of cows, ran
sharply to the right, and came back around the end of the line to see
what was going to happen. For all his grief, his heart was thumping
almost to suffocation as his titanic vengeance moved to its end.

When the two raging Dinosaurs lost sight of their prey they stopped
short, stupidly bewildered. Then they noticed the array of black
beasts charging upon them. This, in their mad mood, afforded a new
object to their rage. They plunged wallowing forward to meet the new
foe. And at that moment the man, appearing round the wing of the black
ranks, halted abruptly, and laughed.

It was a strange, disconcerting sound, that laughter, and the nearest
Dinoceras, disturbed by it, edged away and crowded against his
neighbor's flank in an inexplicable apprehension.

The next moment the stupendous opposing forces met with a shock that,
to the man's overstrung senses, seemed to make the very daylight reel.
There was no space for evasion or manoeuver. The two ponderous bulks
went straight through the ranks of the black bulls, ripping them with
beak and horn from shoulder to rump, treading them down like corn, and
trampling them under foot as they rolled on. The bulls on either side
charged on their flanks, rearing, grunting, squealing insanely and
ripping with the massive daggers of their tusks. But as this terrific
assault came from both sides at once, the two monsters were in reality
supported by it, so that they were not swept off their feet. Almost
without a check, as it seemed, they ploughed straight on, lashing with
their mighty tails, and leaving a trail of disabled victims behind
them, and so wore their way right up to the line of the cows.

But here they were stopped. The calves were behind that line.

The black mothers simply heaped themselves upon those impaling horns
and armored fronts, bearing them down, smothering, engulfing them in
an avalanche of screaming and monstrous bulks. The bulls, meanwhile,
were rending, tearing, stabbing, on flank and rear. The two Dinosaurs
disappeared from view. The dreadful mountain of writhing, gigantic
shapes heaved convulsively for some minutes. Then the great columns
that were the Dinosaurs' legs seemed to crumble beneath the weight.
The awful, battling heap sagged, fell apart, and let in the glare of
the sunlight upon what had been the two colossal monarchs of the early
world. The dreadful, unrecognizable things still moved, still heaved
and twisted ponderously among the bodies of their slain, but it was
mere aimless paroxysm, the blind life struggling to resist its final
expulsion and dissipation. The wounded Dinoceras drew away, to die or
recover as curious Nature might decree. The surviving cows returned to
assure themselves that their young had come to no hurt. And the great
black bulls who had escaped serious injury in the struggle stood about
in a ring, thrusting and ripping at the unresponsive mountains of
flesh. As they satisfied themselves, one after another, that the
victory was complete, and that there was nothing more to battle
against, they fell to devouring their prey. Ordinarily feeders on
herbage and roots, they were like pigs and rats and men, more or less
without prejudice in their diet, and they seemed to think that
dinosaur went very well with grass.

At a distance of not more than fifty paces from these destroying
hosts, the man-creature stood carelessly, and stared and considered.
He had no fear of them. He knew he could avoid them with ease. So
insignificant that in their excitement they hardly noticed him, so
small that in bulk he was no greater than the least of their calves,
he nevertheless despised the gigantic beasts and felt himself their
lord. He had played with the two monarchs of all the early world, led
them into his trap, and taken such dreadful vengeance upon them that
his grief was almost assuaged by the fullness of it. The black herds
of the Dinoceras he had used as the tools of his vengeance. No doubt,
if necessary, he could use them again in some such fashion.

He turned his back upon them, knowing that his fine ear would inform
him at once if any should take it into their heads to pursue him, and
stalked away with deliberation towards the wooded ground. But he
avoided his tree. He would never more go near that empty home. He
would return to the regions beyond the head of the lagoon, where he
would find scattered members of his kindred. He would find another
mate; and in a dim, groping way he harbored a desire for new
offspring, for sons, in particular, who should be inquiring and full
of resource, like himself. At the edge of the wood he turned, and gave
one more long, musing look at the invincible black herds whom he had
used. The idea of sons came back upon him insistently. A faint sense
of the immeasurable vastness of what was to be done swept over his
soul. But he was not daunted. He would at least do something. And he
would teach his children, till they should learn, perhaps, by taking
thought, even to overcome the ferocity of the saber-tooth and foil the
malice of the great red bear.



CHAPTER III

THE FINDING OF FIRE


I

The people of the Little Hills were in extremity. Trouble after
trouble had come upon them, blow after blow had stricken them, till
now there were but three score fighting-men, with perhaps twice that
number of women able to bear children, left to the tribe. It looked as
if but one more stroke such as that which had just befallen them must
wipe them out of existence. And that, had ruthless Nature suffered it,
would have been a damage she might have taken some thousands of years
to repair. For the People of the Little Hills had climbed higher from
the pregnant ooze than any other of the man or half-man tribes at that
time struggling into being on the youthful Earth.

First and not least formidable to the tribe had been an incursion from
the east of beings who were plainly men, in a way, but still more
plainly beasts. Had the tribe of the Little Hills but known it, these
Ape-men were much like their own ancestors except for the blackness of
their skins beneath the coarse fur, the narrow angle of their skulls
and the heavy forward thrust of their lower jaws.

Soon afterwards, appearing from no man could say just where, came
a scattered incursion of mammoth cave-bears, saber-toothed tigers and
a few gigantic cave-lions. These ravenous monsters not only
slaughtered wholesale the game on which the Hillmen most depended,
but strove--each for himself, fortunately--to seize the caves. As
they raged against each other no less desperately than against
their human adversaries, the issue of the war was never in doubt.
The Hillmen stood together solidly, fought with all their cunning
of pitfall and ambuscade, and overwhelmed the mightiest by sheer
weight of numbers. But again the victory was dearly bought. When the
last of the monsters, sullen and amazed, withdrew to seek less
difficult encounters, he left mourning and lamentation in the caves.

This war had been a matter of some seasons. Then had followed a summer
of peace and good hunting, which had given wounds time to heal. But
with winter had swept down another dreadful invasion again from the
unfriendly east--wolves, wolves of gigantic stature, and hunting in
such huge packs that many outlying sections of the tribe were cut off
and devoured before the Hillmen could combine to withstand them.
Fortunately, the different packs had no combined action, so after the
first shock the sagacious warrior who ruled the men of the Little
Hills was able to get his diminished followers together, along with
most of their stored supplies, and mass them in the amphitheater of
the central caves.

So dragged by half the desperate winter. Then suddenly the wolves,
having exterminated or driven off all the game among the Little Hills,
once more took the trail, though with diminished ranks, and swept off
ravaging to the south-westward. The People of the Little Hills were
free once more to come out into the sun. But there was no more game to
hunt, neither in the forest, nor on the upland slopes, nor in the
reeking marshes by the estuary. The tribe was driven to fumbling in
the pools at low tide for scallops and clams and mussels, a diet which
their souls despised and their bodies resented.

The fact that the invasion of the wolves had forced the tribe to
concentrate, however, presently proved to have been a painfully
disguised blessing. Had they remained as before, scattered all over
their domain for the convenience of the chase, their next and hardest
trial would surely have annihilated them.

It was once more out of the east that it came upon them, by the trail
of the vanished Ape-men and the ravaging wolves. About sunrise of a
summer's day a woman of the tribe was grubbing for roots with a
pointed stick by the banks of a brook when she was pounced upon by a
pair of squat, yellow-brown, filthy men with enormous shoulders, short
bow-legs and flat faces with gaping, upturned nostrils. Young and
vigorous, she fought like a tigress till stunned by a blow on the
head, which was not before both her assailants were streaming with
blood from the jabs of her sharp digging-stick. Her cries had aroused
the tribe, however, and her captors, appreciating in her a shapeliness
and fairness beyond anything they had ever seen in their own females,
hastened to make sure of their prize by dragging her off into the
woods. Three of the Hillmen, raging in pursuit, were intercepted by a
horde of the squat strangers suddenly leaping from the thickets,
surrounded, pulled down after a heaving convulsion of struggle, torn
to pieces and trodden into the earth.

The Chief of the tribe, from his vantage at the top of the slope which
led up to the little amphitheater of caves wherein he had gathered his
people, saw and understood. The perils of the past two years had made
him cool and provident. One look at those foul and shaggy hordes,
leaping like beasts, had told him that this was to be a battle to the
death. Angrily beating back the hotheads who would have rushed down to
avenge their kin and inevitably to share their fate, his shouts,
bellowed sonorously from his deep and hairy chest, called up the whole
tribe to the defense of the bottle-neck pass which led into the
amphitheater. At a word, passed on breathlessly from mouth to mouth,
the old men and the old women, with some of the bigger children,
swarmed up among the rocks and ledges which formed the two walls of
the pass, while others raced about collecting stones to hand up to
them. The younger women and grown girls, armed, like the men, with
stone-headed clubs and flint-tipped spears, took their places in the
hinder ranks at the mouth of the pass.

The Bow-legs, their yellow skin showing through the clotted tufts of
coarse, clay-colored hair which unevenly clothed their bodies, came
plunging irregularly through the brook and gathered in confused masses
along the foot of the slope, jabbering shrilly to each other and
making insolent gestures toward the silent company at the top. The
hair of their heads was stringy, coarse and scant, and of an inky
blackness, in contrast to the abundant locks of the Hillmen, which
were for the most part of a dark brown or ruddy hue.

In other respects the contrast was still more striking, the Hillmen,
erect and straight, were taller than their bestial-looking opponents
by a foot or fifteen inches. With less breadth of shoulder and
heaviness of trunk, they had great depth of chest, great muscular
development in arm and leg, and a leanness of flank that gave them a
look of breed. Their skins, very hairy in the case of the mature men,
were of a reddish-tan color, paling to pink and cream in the children
and younger women. They had ample foreheads under the wild thatch of
their hair, and high, well-bridged noses, and fierce, steady eyes of
green, blue or brown-gray. Outnumbered nearly ten to one, and shrewd
enough to see at a glance what ferocious power lurked in those
misshapen frames at the foot of the slope, they stood staring down
upon them in silence, with an undaunted loathing.

For some minutes the hordes of the Bow-legs clustered together,
jabbering and waving their crude but massive clubs excitedly. They
seemed to have no chief, no plan of attack, no discipline of any sort.
Some of them even squatted down on the turf and scratched themselves
like monkeys, glaring malignantly but stupidly at the little array of
their opponents, and snorting through their hideous upturned nostrils,
which were little more than wide, red pits in their faces. Then some
of those who were squatting on the ground began to play with a
dreadful red ball which had some wisps of hair yet clinging to it.

A snarling roar went up from the ranks of the Hillmen, and some of
them would have rushed to accept the ghastly challenge. But the
Chief held them back sternly. Then he himself, half a head taller
than all but one or two of his followers, with magnificent chest and
shoulders, and a dark, lionlike mane thick-streaked with grey,
strode out three or four paces to the front and stood leaning on his
huge, porphyry-headed club while he glared down contemptuously over
the gesticulating horde.

The Bow-legs stilled their jabbering for a moment to stare with
interest at this imposing figure. Then one of those who were seated on
the ground seized the ghastly ball that they were playing with,
whirled it by the hair and hurled it two-thirds of the way up the
slope. As it fell and rebounded, two young women sprang from the
ranks, their thick locks streaming like a cloud behind them, and
dashed down the hill to meet it. The foremost caught it up, clutched
it to her naked breast, and screamed a curse upon the gaping
murderers. Then the two fled back, and were lost in the ranks of the
Hillmen.

The sight of the two women, with their bright skins, their strong,
straight limbs and their rich, floating hair, appeared to give the
Bow-legs just the spur to concerted action that they were needing.
They rightly judged there were more of those desirable beings in the
crowd behind that tall, contemptuous chief. Those on the ground
scrambled eagerly to their feet, and with shrill, bestial yells the
whole horde charged up the slope.

As the leaping and hideous forms approached the top the pent-up fury
of the Hillmen, in spite of all the Chief could do, broke loose, and
with a roar the foremost ranks bounded forth to meet them. At the
first crash of contact the enemy were crushed back, the stone-headed
clubs and flint-tipped spears working havoc in the reeking masses.
But, as the Chief had foreseen it would be, that forward rush was a
mistake, exposing the flanks; and sheer weight of numbers presently
forced the Hillmen back till their front was once more level with the
jaws of the pass. Here, however, with their flanks protected, they
were solid as a wall of granite.

Upon this narrow wall the yelling wave of the attack surged and
recoiled, and surged again, and made no impression. The clumsy weapons
of the enemy were no match for the pounding swing of the stone clubs,
the long, lightning thrust of the flint-headed spears. But the
Bow-legs, their little pig-eyes red with lust for their prey, fought
with a sort of frenzy, diving in headlong and clutching at the legs of
the Hillmen with their ape-like, sinewy arms, dragging them down and
tearing then with crooked, clawlike fingers.

Many of the Hillmen, and some women died in this way. But no woman was
dragged away alive; for if this fate threatened her, and rescue was
impossible, she was instantly speared from her own ranks to save her
from a fate which would have dishonored the tribe. And the women
indeed, in this battle were no less formidable than the men
themselves, for they fought with the swift venom of the she-wolf, the
cunning fury of the mad heifer, intuitive and implacable. Their
instincts of motherhood, the safeguard of the future, made them loathe
with a blind, unspeakable hate these filthy and bestial males who
threatened to father their children.

The center of the Hillmen's front was securely held by the great
Chief, whose massive club, wielded with the art acquired in many
battles, kept a space cleared before him across which no foe could
pass alive. As his followers went down on either side, others from the
ranks behind stepped eagerly into the gaps. At the extreme left, where
the walls of the pass, lower and less abrupt than on the right,
invited an attack as fierce as that upon the center, the defense was
led by a warrior named Grôm, who seemed no less redoubtable than the
Chief himself. He, too, like the Chief, fought in grim silence, saving
his breath, except for an occasional incisive cry of command or
encouragement to those about him. And his club also, like that of the
Chief, kept a zone of death before him.

But his club was much smaller than that shattering mace of porphyry
wielded by the Chief--smaller and lighter, considerably longer in the
handle and quite of another pattern. The head was of flint, a sort of
ragged cone set sideways into the handle, so that one end of the head
was like a sledge-hammer and the other like a pick. Grasping this neat
weapon nearly half-way up the handle, he made miraculous play with it,
now smashing with the hammer front, now tapping with the pick, now
suddenly swinging it out to the full length of the long handle to
reach and drop an elusive adversary. The weapon was both club and
spear to him; and to guard against any possibility of its being
wrenched from him in the mêlée, he held it secured to his wrist by a
thong of hide.

This warrior, though his renown in the tribe, both as hunter and
fighter, was second only to that of the great Chief himself, had never
aroused the Chief's jealousy. This for several reasons. He had always
loyally supported the Chief's authority, instead of scheming to
undermine it, and his influence had always made for tribal discipline.
He was not so tall as the Chief, by perhaps half a handbreadth, and
for all his huge muscles of arm and breast he was altogether of a
slimmer build; wherefore the Chief, while vastly respecting his
counsels, was not suspicious of his rivalry. Moreover, up to the time
of the invasion of the wolves, he had always dwelt in a remote cave,
quite on the outskirts of the tribe, constituting himself a frontier
defense, as it were, and avoiding all the tribal gossip. Slightly
younger than the Chief, and with few gray streaks as yet in the dense,
ruddy-brown masses of his hair and beard, his face nevertheless looked
older, by reason of its deeper lines and the considering gravity of
the eyes.

In his remote cave Grôm had had the companionship of his family,
consisting of his old mother, his two wives, and his four children--three
sons and a daughter. It was while he was absent on a hunting expedition
that the wolves had come. They had surprised the little, isolated
family, and after a terrible struggle wiped it out.

Conspicuous among the fighters at Grôm's back was a young girl, tall,
with a fair skin and masses of long, very dark hair. Armed with a
spear, she fought savagely, but at the same time managed to keep an
eye on all the warrior's movements.

Suddenly from the rocks above came a shrill cry. To Grôm's ears it
seemed like the voice of one of his dead children. At the end of a
long stroke, when his arms and the club were outstretched full length,
he glanced upwards in spite of himself. Instantly the club was
clutched by furious hands. He was pulled forward. At the same time one
of the enemy, ducking under his arms, plunged between his legs. And he
came down upon his face.

With a piercing scream, the tall girl bounded forth and stood across
him; and her spear stabbed his nearest assailant straight through the
flat and grinning face. So lightning swift was the rage of her attack
that for one vital moment it held the whole horde at bay. Then the
Hillmen swarmed forward irresistibly, battered down the foremost of
the foe, and dragged the fallen warrior back behind the lines to
recover. In half a minute he was once more at the front, fighting with
renewed fury, his head and back and shoulders covered with blood. And
close behind him stood the girl, breathless, clutching at her heart
and staring at him with wide eyes, unaware that the blood which
covered him was not his but her own.

Although to the invaders, their every charge broken and hurled back
with terrific slaughter, it must have seemed that their tall opponents
had all the best of the battle, to the wise old men and women up among
the rocks it was clear that their warriors were being rapidly worn
away as a bank is eaten by the waves. But now from a high ledge on the
right, where the wall of the pass was a sheer perpendicular, came two
shrill whistles. It was a signal which the Chief, now bleeding from
many wounds, had been waiting for. He roared a command, and his ranks,
after one surge forward to recover their wounded, gave back sullenly
till their front was more than half-way down the pass. With yells of
triumph the Bow-legs followed, trampling their dead and wounded, till
the bottle-neck was packed so tightly that there was no room to move.

From the left wall a ceaseless shower of stones came down upon their
heads; but from the right, for a few moments, only a rain of pebbles
and dust, which blinded them and choked their hideous, upturned
nostrils.

Above that dust a band of graybeards heaved upon a lever. They grunted
and strained, with eyes staring and the sweat jumping forth on their
foreheads. Then something gave. A great slice of the rock-face began
to slip. Some of the toilers scrambled back to safety, their long,
white hair flying behind them. But others, unable to recover
themselves in time, fell sprawling forward. Then with a thunderous
growl a huge slab of rock and earth and débris crashed down upon the
packed hordes in the neck of the pass. A long shout of triumph went up
from the Hillmen. The outer ranks of the invaders stood for a second
or two petrified with horror. Then they turned and fled, screaming,
down the slope. On their heels the Hillmen pursued, slaughtering, till
the brook-bed was choked with the dead. Of that filthy horde hardly a
score escaped, and these fled back, gibbering, to meet the migrant
hosts of their kin who were following on their trail. The story they
told was of a tribe of tall, fair-skinned demons, invincible in war,
who tore up mountains to hurl them on their adversaries. And
thereafter, for a time, the Bow-legged hosts changed the path of their
migration, sweeping far to the southward to avoid the land of the
Little Hills.


II

A white, high-sailing moon streamed down into the amphitheater, where
the scarred remnant of the tribe of the Little Hills, squatting before
their cave-mouths, took counsel. Their dead had all been reverently
buried, under heaps of stones, on the bare and wind-swept shoulder of
the downs. Outside the pass the giant jackals, cave-hyenas and other
scavengers of the night, howled and scuffled over the carcasses of the
slain invaders.

Endless and tumultuous was the talk, the white-haired, bent old men
and the women who had borne children being listened to as attentively
as the warriors. The Chief, sitting on a rock which raised him above
the rest, spoke only a word now and then, but gave ear to all,
glancing from speaker to speaker with narrowed eyes, weighing all
suggestions. On the outskirts of the circle stood Grôm, leaning on his
club, staring at the moon, apparently lost in dreams.

Suddenly the Chief uttered a sharp word, and the tribe fell silent. He
rose, yet stiff from his wounds, and, towering masterfully over the
council announced his decision.

"I have heard much foolishness," said he, "but also some wisdom. And
the greatest wisdom has come from the lips of my father yonder, Alp
the old." He pointed to a decrepit figure, whose bowed head was hidden
under a mass of white hair. "My father's eyes are blind with age," he
continued, "but behind their darkness they see many things that we
cannot see. They have seen that all these disasters which have lately
come upon us have come out of the east. They see that there must be a
reason. They see that other terrible dangers must also be coming out
of the east, and that we People of the Little Hills lie in their path.
How many more can we withstand, and live? Not one more. Therefore, I
say we will leave this place, this home of our fathers, and we will go
toward the setting sun, and find a new home far from our enemies till
we can grow strong again. I have said it."

As he sat down there was a low murmur, many thinking he was right;
while others, not daring to dissent quite openly, yet were angry and
afraid at the idea of leaving their familiar dwellings. But Grôm, who
had turned on his club and listened to the Chief with shining eyes,
now stepped forward into the circle and spoke.

"Bawr is our Chief," said he, in a clear, calm voice; "not only
because he is our mightiest in war, but because he is also our wisest
in counsel. When do we go?"

The Chief thought for a moment. For the murmurs of the dissidents he
cared nothing, having made up his mind. But he was glad of Grôm's
support.

"Two moons hence," he answered presently. "Our wounded must be healed,
for we must be strong on the journey. And as we go far, and know not
where we go, we must gather much food to carry with us. When the moon
is twice again full, we leave these caves and the Land of the Little
Hills."

"Then," said Grôm, "if Bawr will allow me, I will go and find a place
for us, and come again quickly and lead the tribe thither by the
shortest way."

"It is good!" said Bawr, quick to see what dangerous wanderings might
be spared to the tribe by this plan. "When will you go?"

"In to-morrow's morning-red," answered Grôm.

At Grôm's words, the young girl, A-ya, who had been watching the
warrior where he stood aloof, sprang to her feet in sharp agitation
and clutched her dark hair to her bosom in two great handfuls. At this
a huge youth, who had been squatting as close as possible to the girl,
and eyeing her averted face greedily, jumped up with a jealous scowl.

"Grôm is a traitor!" he cried. "He deserts us in our need. Let him not
go, Chief!"

A growl of protest went up from his hearers. The girl faced round upon
him with blazing eyes. Grôm gave him an indifferent glance, and turned
away, half smiling. The Chief struck the rock with his club, and said
coldly:

"Mawg is young, and his words are foolish. Grôm is a true man. He
shall do as he will."

The youth's heavy features worked angrily for a moment as he sought
words for a further attack. Then his face smoothed into a grin as he
remembered that from so perilous a venture it was most unlikely his
rival would ever return. He gave a crafty side-glance at the girl, and
sat down again, while she turned her back upon him. At a sign from the
Chief the council broke up, and all slipped off, chattering, into
their caves.

                  *       *       *       *       *

As the first pink light crept up the sky, Grôm set forth on his
mysterious venture. It was just such a venture as his sanguine and
inquiring spirit, avid of the unknown, had always dreamed of. But
never before had he had such an object before him as seemed to justify
the long risk. There was all a boy's eagerness in his deep eyes, under
their shaggy brows, as he slipped noiselessly out of the bottle-neck,
picked his way lightly over the well-gnawed bones of the slain
invaders, turned his back on the sunrise, and took his course up the
edge of the stream. The weapons he carried were his war-club, two
light, flint-headed hunting-spears and a flint knife hung from his
wolf-skin girdle.

All that day, till mid-afternoon, he journeyed swiftly, straight
ahead, taking no precaution save to keep always a vigilant watch and
to avoid dark coverts whence tiger or leopard might spring upon him.
He was in a region which he had often hunted over, and where he felt
at home. He traveled very swiftly, at a long, noiseless lope; and when
he wished to rest he climbed into a tree for security.

Several times during the day he had had a sensation of being followed;
and, turning quickly, he had run back, in the hope of detecting his
pursuer. But when he found no one, he concluded that it was merely one
of the ghosts the tribe so feared, but whom he himself rather held in
contempt as futile.

Long before noon he had forsaken the brook, because its course had
ceased to lead him westward. In the afternoon he reached a river which
marked the limit of his former explorations. It was a wide, swift
water, but too shallow and turbulent for swimming, and he forded it
with some difficulty. Once across, he went with more caution,
oppressed with a sense of strangeness, although the landscape as yet
was in no way greatly changed.

As the sun got low, Grôm cast about for a safe tree in whose top to
pass the perilous hours of dark. As he stared around him a cry of fear
came from the bunch of woods which he had just quitted. The voice was
a woman's. He ran back. The next second the trees parted, and a girl
came rushing towards him, her dark hair streaming behind her. Close
after her came three huge cave-wolves.

Grôm shouted, and hurled a spear. It struck one of the wolves full in
the chest, splitting the heart. At this the other two halted
irresolutely. But as Grôm's tall figure came bounding down upon them,
their indecision vanished. They wheeled about, and ran off into the
thickets. The girl came forward timorously, and knelt at Grôm's feet.

At first with wonder and some annoyance, the warrior looked down upon
her. Then recognition came into his eyes. He saw the tip of a deep
wound on her shoulder, and knew that it ran, livid and angry, half-way
down her bosom. It was the young girl A-ya. His eyes softened, for he
had heard how it was she who had saved him in the battle, fighting so
furiously over him when he was down--she in whose blood he had found
his shoulders bathed. Yet up to that time he had never noticed her,
his mind being full of other matters than women. Now he looked at her
and wondered. He was sorely afraid of being hampered in his great
enterprise, but he asked her gently why she had followed him.

"I was afraid for you," she answered, without looking up. "You go to
such great dangers. I could not stay with the tribe, and wait."

"You think I need help?" he asked, with a self-confident look in his
eyes.

"You did need me in the battle!" answered the girl proudly.

"True!" said Grôm. "But for you I should now have been sleeping under
the stones and the wind."

He looked at her with a feeling that surprised himself, a kind of
thrilling tenderness, such as he had never felt toward a woman before.
His wives had been good wives and dutiful, and he had been content
with them. But it occurred to him that neither of them would ever have
thought to come with him on this expedition.

"I could not stay without you," said the girl again. "Also, I was
afraid of Mawg," she added cunningly.

A wave of jealous wrath surged through Grôm's veins.

"If Mawg had troubled you, I would have killed him!" said he fiercely.
And, snatching the girl to her feet, he crushed her for a moment
vehemently to his great breast.

"But why," he went on, "did you follow me so secretly all day?"

"I was afraid you would be angry, and send me back," she answered,
with a sigh of content.

"I could not have sent you back," said Grôm, his indifference quite
forgotten. "But come, we must find a place for the night."

And hand in hand they ran to a great tree which Grôm had already
marked for his retreat. As they climbed to the upper branches, dusk
fell quickly about them, some great beast roared thunderously from the
depths of the forest, and from a near-by jungle came sudden crashings
of the undergrowth.


III

For three weeks Grôm and the girl pressed on eagerly, swinging north
to avoid a vast lake, whose rank and marshy shores were trodden by
monsters such as they had never before set eyes upon. Of nights, no
matter how high or how well hidden their tree-top refuge might be,
they found it necessary to keep vigil turn and turn about, so numerous
and so enterprising were the enemies who sought to investigate the
strange human trail.

Had Grôm been alone he would soon have been worn out for want of
sleep. The girl, however, her eyes ever bright with happiness, seemed
utterly untiring, and Grôm watched her with daily growing delight. He
had never heard or dreamed of a man regarding a woman as he regarded
the lithe, fierce creature who ran beside him. But he had never been
afraid of new things or new ideas, and he was not ashamed of this
sweet ache of tenderness at his astonished heart.

Beyond the lake and the morasses they came to a strange, broken
land, a land of fertile valleys, deep-verdured and teeming with life,
but sown with abrupt, conelike, naked hills. Along the near horizon
ran a chain of those sharp, low summits, irregularly jagged against
the pale blue. From several of the summits rose streamers of murky
vapor; and one of these, darker and more abundant than the others,
spread abroad at the top on the windless air till it took the shape
of a colossal pine-tree. To the girl the sight was portentous. It
filled her with apprehension, and she would have liked to avoid
this unfamiliar-looking region. But, seeing that Grôm was filled
with interest at the novel phenomena before them, she thrust aside
her fears and assumed a like eagerness on the subject.

In the heat of the day they came to a pair of trees, lofty and
spreading, which stood a little apart from the rest of the forest
growth, in a stretch of open meadows. An ice-cold rivulet babbled past
their roots. It was time for the noonday rest, and these trees seemed
to offer a safe retreat. The girl drank, splashed herself with the
delicious coolness, flung back her dripping hair, then swung herself
up lightly into the branches. Grôm lingered a few moments below,
letting the water trickle down and over his great muscles by handfuls.
Then he threw himself down upon his face and drank deep.

While he was in this helpless position--his sleepless vigilance for
the moment at fault--from behind a near-by thicket rushed a gigantic,
shaggy grey form, and hurled itself at him ponderously but with awful
swiftness, like a grey bowlder dashing down a hillside. The girl, from
her perch in the lower branches, gave a shriek of warning. Grôm
bounded to his feet, and darted for the tree. But the monster--a gray
bear, of a bulk beyond that of the hugest grizzly--was almost upon
him, and would have seized him before he could climb out of reach. A
spear hurtled close past his head. It grazed, and laid open, the side
of the beast's snout, and sank deep into its shoulder. With a roar,
the beast halted to claw it forth. And in that moment Grôm swung
himself up into the branches, dropping both his spears as he did so.

The bear, mad with pain and fury, reared himself against the trunk and
began to draw himself up. Grôm struck at him with his club, but from
his difficult position could put no force into his blow and the bear
hardly seemed to notice it.

"We must lead him up, then drop down and run," said Grôm. And the two
mounted nimbly.

The bear followed, till the branches began to yield too perilously
beneath his weight. Then Grôm and the girl slipped over into the next
tree. As they did so another bear even huger than the first, and
apparently her mate, appeared below, glanced up with shrewd,
implacable eyes, and proceeded to climb the second tree.

Grôm looked at the girl with piercing anxiety such as he had never
known before.

"Can you run, very fast?" he demanded.

The girl laughed, her terror almost forgotten in her pride at having
once more saved him.

"I ran from the wolves," she reminded him.

"Then we must run, perhaps very far," answered Grôm, reassured, "till
we find some place of steep rocks where we can fight with some hope.
For these beasts are obstinate, and will never give up from pursuing
us. And, unlike the red cave-bears they seem to know how to climb
trees."

When both bears were high in the two trees, Grôm and the girl slipped
down by the bending tips of the branches, almost as swiftly as
falling. They snatched up Grôm's two spears and A-ya's broken one, and
ran, down along the brook toward the line of the smoking hills. The
bears, descending more slowly, came after them at a terrific,
ponderous gallop.

The girl ran, as she had said, well--so well that Grôm who was famous
in the tribe for his running, did not have greatly to slacken his pace
in her favor. Finding that, at first, they gained slightly on their
pursuers, Grôm bade her slow down a little till they did no more than
hold their own. Fearing lest she should exhaust herself, he ran always
a pace behind her, admonishing her how to save her strength and her
breath, and ever warily casting his eyes about for a possible refuge.
Warily, too, he chose the smoothest ways, sparing her feet. For he
knew that if she gave out and fell he would stop and fight his last
fight over her body.

For an hour or more the girl ran easily. Then she began to show signs
of distress. Her face grew ashen, the breath came harshly from her
open lips, and once or twice she stumbled. With the first pang of fear
at his heart, Grôm closed up beside her, made her lean heavily on his
rigid forearm, and cheered her with words of praise. He pointed to a
spur of broken mountains now close ahead, with a narrow valley
cleaving them midway.

"There will be ledges," he said, "where we can defend ourselves, and
where you can rest."

Skirting a bit of jungle, so dense with massive cane and thorned
creepers that nothing could penetrate it, they came suddenly upon a
space of barren gray plain, and saw, straight ahead, the opening of
the valley. It was not more than a couple of furlongs distant. And its
walls, partly clothed with shrubbery, partly naked, were so seamed and
cleft and creviced that they appeared to promise many convenient
retreats. But across the mouth of the valley extended an appalling
barrier. From an irregular fissure in the parched earth, running on a
slant from one wall to the other, came tongues of red flame, waving
upwards to a height of several feet, sinking back, rising again, and
bowing as if in some enchanted dance.

Grôm's heart stood still in awe and amazement, and for a second he
paused. The girl shut her eyes in unspeakable terror, and her knees
gave way beneath her. As she sank, Grôm's spirit rose to the
emergency. The bears were now almost upon them. He jerked the girl
violently to her feet, and spoke to her in a voice that brought her
back to herself. Dragging her by the wrist, he ran on straight for the
barrier. The girl, obedient to his order, shrank close to his side and
ran on bravely, keeping her eyes upon the ground.

"If they are gods, those bright, dancing things," said Grôm, with a
confidence he was far from feeling, "they will save us. If they are
devils, I will fight them."

A little to the right appeared a gap in the leaping barrier, an
opening some fifty feet across. Grôm made for the center of this
opening. The fissure here was not more than three feet in width. The
runners took it in their stride. But a fierce heat struck up from it.
It filled the girl with such horror that her senses failed her
utterly. She ran on blindly a dozen paces more, then reeled and fell
in a swoon. Before her body touched the ground, Grôm had swung her up
into his arms, but as he did so he looked back.

The bears were no longer pursuing. A spear's-throw back they had
stopped, growling and whining, and swaying their mountainous forms
from side to side in angry irresolution.

"They fear the bright, dancing things," said Grôm to himself; and
added, with a throb of exultation, "which I do not fear."

Noticing for the first time in his excitement that the ground, here
parched and bare, was uncomfortably hot beneath his feet, he carried
his burden a few rods further on, to where the green began again, and
laid her down on the thick herbage. Then he turned to see what the
bears were going to do.

Seeing that their intended prey made no further effort to flee, the
two monsters grew still more excited. For a moment Grôm thought they
would dare the passage of the barrier, but he was reassured to see
that the flames filled them with an insuperable fear. They dared not
come nearer than the thin edges of the verdure. At last, as if the
same notion had struck them both at once, they whirled about
simultaneously, made off among the dense thickets to the right, and
disappeared.

Grôm knew far too well the obstinate vindictiveness of their kind to
think that they had given up the chase; but, feeling safe for the
present, and seeing that the girl, recovered from her swoon, was
sitting up and staring with awed eyes at the line of fire, he turned
all his attention to these mysterious, shining, leaping shapes to
which they owed their escape.

With an attitude of deference, yet carrying both club and spear in
readiness, he slowly approached the barrier, at the point where the
flames were lowest and least imposing. Their heat made him very
uneasy, but under the eyes of the girl he would show no sign of fear.
At a distance of six or eight feet he stopped, studying the thin,
upcurling tongues of brightness. Their heat, at this distance, was
uncomfortable to his naked flesh, but as he stood there wondering and
took no further hurt, his confidence grew. At length he dared to
stretch out his spear-tip and touch the flames, very respectfully. The
green-hide thongs which bound the flint to the wood smoked, shriveled
and hissed. He withdrew the weapon in alarm, and examined the tip. It
was blackened, and hot to the touch. But, seeing that the bright
dancers had taken no notice, he repeated the experiment. Several times
he repeated it, deeply pondering, while the girl, from her place at
the edge of the grass, stared with the wide eyes of a child.

At last, though the green thongs still held, the dry wood burst into
flame. Startled to find that when he drew the point back he brought a
portion of the shining creature with it, Grôm dashed the weapon down
upon the ground. The flame, insufficiently started, flickered and
died. But it left a spark, winking redly on the blackened wood.
Audacious in his consuming curiosity, Grôm touched it with his finger.
It stung smartly, and Grôm snatched back his finger with an
exclamation of alarm. But by that touch the spark itself was
extinguished. That was an amazing thing. Sucking his finger, Grôm
stood gazing down at the spear-tip, which had but now been so bright,
and was now so black. Plainly, it was a victory for him. He did not
understand it. But at least the Mysterious Ones were not invincible,
however much the bears feared them. Well, he did not fear them, he
said proudly in his heart. Aloud he said to A-ya:

"The Shining Dancers are our friends, but they do not like to be
touched. If you touch them, they bite."

His heart swelled with a vast, unformulated hope. Ideas, possibilities
which he could not yet grasp, seethed in his brain. Dimly, but
overpoweringly, he realized that he had passed the threshold of a new
world. He picked up the spear and turned to renew his experiments.

This time he let the fire take well hold upon the spear-tip before he
withdrew it. Then he held it upright, burning like a torch. As he
gazed at it raptly a scream from the girl aroused him. She had sprung
to her feet and stood staring behind her, not knowing which way to run
because of her fear of the fire. And there, not twenty paces from her,
their giant grey bulks half emerging from the thicket, stood the
bears, slavering in their fury but afraid to come nearer the flame.

With a shout, Grôm darted at them, and the wind of his going fanned
his spear-point to a fierce blaze. The girl screamed again at the
sight, but bravely stood her ground. The bears shrank, growled,
then turned and fled. With a dozen leaps Grôm was upon them. The
flame was already licking up the spear-shaft almost to his grip.
With all his force he threw, and the flint tip buried itself in the
nearest monster's haunch. The long fur blazed, and, in a frenzy of
terror, the great beasts went crashing off through the coverts. The
fire was speedily whipped out by the branches, but their panic was
uncontrollable; and long after they had passed out of sight the sounds
of their wild flight could be followed. Grôm's heart came near
bursting with exultation, but he disdained to show it. He turned to
the girl, and said quietly: "They will not come back." And the girl
threw herself at his feet in adoration.

And now for hours Grôm sat motionless, pondering, pondering, and
watching the line of flames with deep eyes. The girl did not dare to
interrupt his thoughts. With the going of the sun came a chill breeze
drawing down from the ridges. Grôm rose, led the girl nearer the
flames, and reseated himself. As the girl realized the kindly and
comforting warmth her fears diminished. She laughed softly, turned her
shapely body round and round in the glow, and then curled herself up
like a cat at Grôm's knees.

At last Grôm arose once more. Picking up his remaining spear, he
approached the fire with decision, and thrust the butt, instead of the
tip, into the flame. When it was well alight, he thrust it down upon a
tuft of withered grass. The stuff caught at once, blazed up and died
out. Then Grôm rolled the burning spear-butt on the earth till it,
too, was quite extinguished. The sparks still winking in the grass he
struck with his palm. They stung him, but they perished. He drew
himself up to his full height, turned to the girl and stretched out
his blackened hand. The girl sprang to her feet, thrilled and
wondering.

"See," said Grôm, "I have made the bright Dancing Ones my servants.
The tribe shall come here. And we shall be the masters of all
things."

Once more the girl threw herself at his feet. He seemed to her a god.
But remembering how she had twice saved his life, she laid her cheek
against his knee. He lifted her into the hollow of his great arm, and
she leaned against him, gazing up into his face, while he stood
staring into the fire, his eyes clouded with visions.



CHAPTER IV

THE CHILDREN OF THE SHINING ONE


I

From the lip of the narrow volcanic fissure, which ran diagonally
two-thirds of the way across the mouth of the valley, the line of fire
waved and flickered against the gathering dark. Sometimes only a few
inches high, sometimes sinking suddenly out of sight, and then again
as suddenly leaping up to a height of five or six feet, the thin,
gaseous flames danced elvishly. Now clear yellow, now fiery orange,
now of an almost invisible violet, they shifted, and bowed their
crests, and thrust out shooting tongues, till Grôm, sitting on his
haunches and staring with fascinated eyes, had no choice but to
believe that they were live things like himself. The girl, curled up
at his side like a cat, paid little attention to the marvel of the
flames. Her big, dark eyes, wild and furtive under the dark, tangled
masses of her hair, kept wandering back and forth between the man's
brooding face and the obscure black thickets which filled the valley
behind him. The dancing flames she did not understand, but she
understood the ponderous crashing, and growls, and savage cries which
came from those black thickets and slopes of tumbled rocks. The man
being absorbed in watching the wonders of the flames, and apparently
all-forgetful of the perils prowling back there in the dark, it was
plainly her duty to keep watch.

From time to time Grôm would drag his eyes away from their contemplation
of the flames to study intently the charred spots on his club and the
burned, blackened end of his spear. He looked down at the lithe figure of
the watching girl, and laid a great, hairy hand on her shoulder in a musing
caress, as if appraising her, and delighting in her, and finding in her
a mate altogether to his desire, although but a child to his inmost
thoughts. But those sounds of menace from the darkness behind him he
affected not to hear at all. He could see from the girl's eyes that the
menace was not yet close at hand; and since he had learned the power of the
fire, and his own mastery over that power, he felt himself suddenly little
less than a god. The fire was surely something of a god; and if he had
any measure of control over the fire, so as to make it serve him surely,
then still more of the god was there in his own intelligence. His heart
swelled with a pride such as he had never before conceived, and his
brain seethed with vague but splendid possibilities. Never before had
he, though at heart the bravest of his brave clan, been able to listen
to the terrible voices of the cave-bear, the cave-hyena, or the
saber-tooth without fear, without the knowledge that his own safety lay in
flight. Now he feared them not at all.

A louder roaring came out of the shadows, closer than before, and he
saw A-ya's eyes dilate as she clutched at his knee. A slow smile
spread across his bony face, and he turned about, rising to his feet
as he did so, and lifting the girl with him.

With a new, strange warmth at his heart he realized how fully the girl
trusted him, how cool and steady was her courage. For there, along the
edge of the lighted space, glaring forth from the fringes of the
thickets, were the monstrous beasts whom man had most cause to dread.
Nearest, his whole tawny length emerging from the brush, crouched a
giant saber-tooth with the daggers of his tusks, ten inches long,
agleam in the light of the dancing flames. He was not more than thirty
or forty paces distant, and his tail twitched heavily from side to
side as if he were trying to nerve himself up to a closer approach to
the fire. Some twenty paces further along the fringe of mingled light
and shadow, their bodies thrust half way forth from the undergrowth,
stood a pair of huge, ruddy cave-bears, their monstrous heads held low
and swaying surlily from side to side as they eyed the prey which they
dared not rush in and seize. The man-animal they had hitherto regarded
as easy prey, and they were filled with rage at the temerity of these
two humans in remaining so near the dreaded flames. Intent upon them,
they paid no heed to their great enemy, the saber-toothed, with whom
they were at endless and deadly feud. Away off to the left, quite
clear of the woods, but safely remote from the fire, a pack of huge
cave-hyenas sat up on their haunches, their long, red tongues hanging
out. With jaws powerful enough to crack the thigh-bones of the urus,
they nevertheless hesitated to obtrude themselves on the notice either
of the crouching saber-tooth or of the two giant bears.

With neither the bears nor the great hyenas did Grôm anticipate any
trouble. But he felt it barely possible that the saber-tooth might
dare a rush in. Snatching up a dry branch, and leading the girl with
him by the wrist, he backed slowly nearer the flames. Terrified at
their dancing and the scorching of their breath, the girl sank down on
her naked knees and covered her face with her hair. Smiling at her
terror, Grôm thrust the branch into the flames. When it was all ablaze
he raised it above his head, and, carrying his spear in his right
hand, he rushed at the saber-tooth. For a few seconds the monster
faced his approach, but Grôm saw the shrinking in his furious eyes,
and came on fearlessly. At last the beast whipped about with a
screeching snarl, and raced back into the woods. Then Grôm turned to
the bears, but they had not stayed to receive his attentions. The
sight of the flames bursting, as it seemed, from the man's shaggy head
as he ran, was too much for them, and they had slunk back discreetly
into the shadows.

Grôm threw the blazing stick on the ground, laid several more branches
upon it, and presently had a fine fire of his own going. He seized a
small branch and hurled it at the hyenas, sending them off with their
tails between their legs to their hiding-places on the ragged slopes.
Then he fed his fire with more dry wood till the fierce heat of it
drove him back. Returning to the side of the wondering girl, he sat
down, and contemplated his handiwork with swelling pride. When the
flames died down he piled on more branches till they blazed again to
the height of the nearest tree-tops. This he repeated, thoughtfully,
several times, till he had assured himself of his power to make this
bright, devouring god great or little at his pleasure.

This stupendous fact established clearly, Grôm brought an armful of
grass and foliage, and made the girl take her sleep. He himself
continued for an hour or two his experiments with the fire, building
small ones in a circle about him, discovering that green branches
would not burn well, and brooding with knit brows over each new center
of light and heat which he created.

Then, seated on his haunches beside the sleeping A-ya, he pondered on
the future of his tribe, on the change in its fortunes which this
mysterious new creature was bound to bring about. At last, when the
night was half worn through, he awakened the girl, bade her keep sharp
watch, and threw himself down to sleep, indifferent to the roars, and
snarls, and dreadful cries which came from the darkness of the upper
valley.

The valley looked straight into the east. When the sun rose, its
unclouded, level rays paled the dancing barrier of flames almost to
invisibility. Refreshed by their few hours' sleep in the vital warmth,
Grôm and the girl stood erect in the flooding light and scanned the
strange landscape. Grôm's sagacious eyes noted the fertility of the
level lands at a distance from the fire, and of the clefts, ledges and
lower slopes of the tumbled volcanic hills. Here and there he made out
the openings of caves, half overgrown with vines and bush. And he was
satisfied that this was the land for his tribe to occupy.

That it was infested with all those monstrous beasts which were Man's
deadliest foes seemed to him no longer a fact worth considering. The
bright god which he had conquered should be made to conquer them. Some
inkling of his purposes he confided to the girl, who stood looking up
at him with eyes of dog-like devotion from under the matted splendor
of her hair. If he was still the man she loved, her mate and lover,
yet was he also now a sort of demi-god, since she had seen him play at
his ease with the flames, and drive the hyena, the saber-tooth and the
terrible red bear before him.

When the two started on their journey back to the Country of the
Little Hills, Grôm carried with him a bundle of blazing brands. He had
conceived the idea of keeping the bright god alive by feeding him
continually as they went, and of renewing his might from time to time
by stopping to build a big fire.

The undertaking proved a troublesome one from the first. The brand
kept the great beasts at a distance, time and again the red coals
almost died out, and Grôm had anxious and laborious moments nursing
them again into activity; and the care of the mysterious things made
progress slow. Grôm learned much, and rapidly, in these anxious
efforts. He discovered once, just at a critical moment, the remarkable
efficacy of dry grass. A bear as big as an ox came rushing upon them,
just when the flames were flickering out along the bundle of brands.
A-ya started to run, but Grôm's nerve was of steel.

Ordering her to stop, he flung the brands to the ground, and snatched
a double handful of grass to feed the dying flame. Luckily, the grass
was dry. It flared up on the sudden. The bear stopped short. Grôm
piled on more grass, shouted arrogantly, and rushed at the beast with
a blazing handful. It was a light and harmless flame, almost instantly
extinguished. But it was too mysterious for the monster to face.

Grôm was wise enough not to follow up his victory. Returning to the
fire he fed it to a safe volume. And the girl, flinging herself down
in a passion of relief and adoration, embraced his knees.

After this they journeyed slowly, Grôm tending the brands with
vigilant care, and striving to break down the girl's terror of
them. That night he built three fires about the base of a huge
tree, gathered a supply of dry wood, taught the girl to feed the
flames--which she did with head bowed in awe--and passed the hours
of darkness, once so dreaded, in proud defiance of the great beasts
which prowled and roared beyond the circle of light. He made the
girl sleep, but he himself was too prudent to sleep, lest these
fires of his own creation should prove false when his eye was not upon
them.

The following day, about midday, when he slept heavily in the heat,
the fire went out. It had got low, and the girl, attempting to revive
it, had smothered it with too much fuel. In an agony of fear and
remorse, she knelt at Grôm's side, awakened him, and showed him what
she had done. She expected a merciless beating, according to the
rough-and-ready customs of her tribe. But Grôm had always been held a
little peculiar, especially in his aversion to the beating of women,
so that certain females of the tribe had even been known to question
his manhood on that account.

Furthermore, he regarded the girl with a tenderness, an admiration, an
appreciation, which he could not but wonder at in himself, seeing that
he had never heard of it as a customary thing that a man should regard
a woman in any such manner. At the same time he was in a state of
exaltation over his strange achievements, and hardly open, at the
moment, to any common or base brutality of rage.

He gave the girl one terrible look, then went and strove silently with
the dead, black embers. The girl crept up to him on her knees,
weeping. For a few seconds he paid her no heed. But when he found that
the flames had fled beyond recovery, he lifted her up, drew her close
to him, and comforted her.

"You have let the Bright One escape," said he. "But do not be afraid.
He lives back there in the valley of the bears, and I will capture him
again."

And when the girl realized that he had no thought of beating her, but
only wished to comfort and shield her, then she felt quite sure he was
a god, and her heart nearly burst with the passion of her love.


II

It galled Grôm's proud heart to find himself now compelled, through
loss of the fire, to go warily, to scan the thicket, to keep hidden,
to hold spear and club always in readiness, and to climb into a tree
at night for safety like the apes. But he let no sign of his chagrin,
or of his anxiety, appear. Like the crafty hunter and wise leader that
he was, he forgot no one of his ancient precautions.

They had by this time passed beyond the special haunts of the red bear
and the saber-tooth. Twice they had to run before the charge of the
great wooly rhinoceros, against whose massive hide Grôm's spear and
club would have been about as effective as a feather duster. But they
had fled mockingly, for the clumsy monster was no match for them in
speed. Once, too, they had been treed by a bull urus, a gigantic white
beast with a seven-foot spread of polished horns.

But his implacable and patient rage they had cunningly evaded by
making off unseen and unheard, through the upper branches. They came
to earth again half a mile away, and ran on gaily, laughing at the
picture of the furious and foolish beast waiting there at the foot of
the tree for them to come down. Once a prowling leopard confronted
them for a moment, only to flee in great leaps before their instant
and unhesitating attack. Once a huge bird, nearly nine feet high, and
with a beak over a foot in length, struck at them savagely, with a
shrill hissing, through a fringe of reeds, because they had
incautiously come too near its nest. But they killed it, and feasted
on its eggs. And so, without further misadventure, they came at last
to the skirts of their own country, and looked once more on the
rounded, familiar, wind-swept tops of the Little Hills, sacred to the
barrows of their dead.

It was toward sunset, and the long, rosy glow was flooding the little
amphitheater wherein the remnants of the tribe were gathered, when
Grôm crossed the brook, and came striding up the slope, with A-ya
close behind him. She had been traveling at his side all through the
journey, but here she respected the etiquette of her tribe, and fell
behind submissively.

Hardly noticing, or not heeding if he noticed that the tribe offered
no vociferous welcome, and seemed sullenly surprised at his
appearance, Grôm strode straight to the Chief, whom he saw sitting on
the judgment stone, and threw down spear and club at his feet in sign
of fealty. But A-ya, following, was keen to note the hostile attitude
of the tribe. Her defiant eyes darted everywhere, and everywhere noted
black looks. She could not understand it, but she divined that there
was some plot afoot against Grôm. Her heart swelled with rage, and her
dark-maned head went up arrogantly, for she felt as if the strongest
and wisest of the tribe were now but children in comparison with her
lord. But, though children, they were many, and she closed up behind
him for a guard, grasping more firmly the shaft of her short,
serviceable spear. She saw the broad, black, scowling visage of young
Mawg, towering over a little group of his kinsfolk, and eyeing her
with mingled greed and rage, and she divined at once that he was at
the back of whatever mischief might be brewing. She answered his look
with one of mocking scorn, and then turned her attention to the Chief,
who was sitting in grim silence, the customary hand of welcome
ominously withheld.

A haughty look came over Grôm's face, his broad shoulders squared
themselves, and he met the Chief's eyes sternly.

"I have done the bidding of Bawr the Chief," he said, in a clear
voice, so that all the tribe might hear. "I have found a place where
the tribe may hold themselves secure against all enemies. And I have
come back, as was agreed, to lead the tribe thither before our enemies
destroy us. I have done great deeds. I have not spared myself. I have
come quickly. I have deserved well of the people. Why has Bawr the
Chief no welcome for me?"

A murmur arose from the corner where Mawg and his friends were
grouped, but a glance from the Chief silenced it. With his piercing
gaze making relentless inquisition of the eyes that answered his so
steadily, he seemed to ponder Grôm's words. Slowly the anger faded
from his scarred and massy face, for he knew men; and this man, though
his most formidable rival in strength and prestige, he instinctively
trusted.

"You have been accused," said he at length, slowly, "of deserting the
tribe in our weakness--"

A puzzled look had come over Grôm's face at the word "accused"; then
his deep eyes blazed, and he broke in upon the Chief's speech without
ceremony.

"Show me my accusers!" he demanded harshly. The Chief waved his hand
for silence.

"In our weakness!" he repeated. "But you have returned to us. So I see
that charge was false. Also, you have been accused of stealing the
girl A-ya. But you have brought her back. I see not what more your
accusers have against you."

Grôm turned, and, with a quick, decisive motion, drew A-ya to his
side.

"Bawr the Chief knows that I am his servant, and a true man!" said he
sternly. "I did not steal the girl. She followed me, and I had no
thought of it."

Angry jeers came from Mawg's corner, but Grôm smiled coldly, and went
on:

"Not till near evening of the second day, when she was chased by
wolves, did she reveal herself to me. And when I understood why she
had come, I looked on her, and I saw that she was very fair and very
brave. And I took her. So that now she is my woman, and I hold to her,
Chief! But I will pay you for her whatsoever is just, for you are the
Chief. And now let Bawr show me my accusers, that I may have done with
them quickly. For I have much to tell."

"Not so, Grôm," said the Chief, stretching out his hand. "I am
satisfied that you are a true man. And for the girl, that will we
arrange between us later. But I will not confront you with your
accusers, for there shall be no fighting between ourselves when our
warriors that are left us are so few. And in this I know that you,
being wise, will agree with me. Come, and we two will talk of what is
to be done."

He got up from his seat, an immense and masterful figure, to lead the
way to his own cave, where they might talk in private. But Grôm
hesitated, fearing lest annoyance should befall A-ya if he left her
alone with his enemies.

"And the girl, Chief?" said he. "I would not have her troubled."

Bawr turned. He swept a comprehensive and significant glance over the
gaping crowd.

"The girl A-ya," said he in his great voice which thundered over the
amphitheater, "is Grôm's woman. I have spoken."

And he strode off toward his cave door. Grôm picked up his club and
spear. And the girl, with a haughty indifference she was far from
feeling, strolled off toward the cave of certain old women, kinsfolk
of the Chief.

But as the meaning of the Chief's words penetrated Mawg's dull wits
he gave vent to a great bellow of rage, and snatched up a spear to
hurl at Grôm. Before he could launch it, however, his kinsmen, who
had no wish to bring down upon themselves both Grôm's wrath and that
of the Chief, fell upon him and bore down his arm. Raging blindly,
Mawg struggled with them, and, having the strength of a bull, he was
near to wrenching himself free. But other men of the tribe, seeing
from the Chief's action that their bitterness against Grôm had
been unjustified, and remembering his past services, ran up and
took a hand in reducing Mawg to submission. For a few seconds Grôm
looked on contemptuously; then he turned on his heel and followed
the Chief, as if he did not hold his rival worth a further thought.
Mawg struggled to his feet. Grôm had disappeared. But his eyes fell
on the figure of A-ya, slim and brown and tall, standing in the
entrance of the near-by cave. He made as if to rush upon her, but a
bunch of men stood in the way, plainly ready to stop him. He looked at
his kinsmen, but they hung their heads sullenly. Blind with fury
though he was, and slow of wit, he could not but see that the tribe
as a whole was now against him. Stuttering with his rage, he shouted
to the girl, "You will see me again!" Snatching up his club and
spears, he rushed forth from the amphitheater, darted down the slope,
and plunged into the thick woods beyond the brook. His kinsmen
withdrew sullenly into their cave, followed by two young women. And
the rest of the people looked at each other doubtfully, troubled at
this sudden schism in the weakened tribe.

"One more good warrior gone!" muttered an old man through his bush of
matted white beard.

That night Grôm was too wary to sleep, suspecting that his enemy might
return and try to snatch the girl from him under the cover of the
dark.

He was not attacked or disturbed, however, but just before dawn,
against the gray pallor beyond the mouth of the pass, he marked four
shapes slinking forth. As they did not return, he did not think it
worth while to raise the alarm. When day came, it was found that two
kinsmen of Mawg, with the two young women who were attached to them,
had fled to join the deserter in the bush. The Chief, indignant at
this further weakening of the tribe, declared them outlaws, and
ordered that all--except the women, who were needed as mothers--should
be killed as tribal traitors, at sight.


III

As was natural since he was trying to present a totally new
conception, with no known analogies save in the lightning and the sun,
Grôm found it impossible to convey to the Chief's mind any real idea
of the nature of his tremendous discovery. He did succeed, however, in
making it clear to Bawr that there was a certain mighty Bright One,
capable of putting even the saber-tooth and the red bear to instant
flight, and that he had somehow managed to subdue this powerful and
mysterious being into the service of the tribe. Bawr had examined with
deep musing the strange black bite of the Bright One on Grôm's club
and spear. And he realized readily enough that with such an ally the
tribe, even in its present state of weakness, would be able to defy
any further invasions of the bow-legged beast-men from the east. There
was a rumor, vague enough but disquieting, of another migration of the
beast-men under way. So there was no time to lose. Bawr gave orders
that the tribe should get together their scanty possessions of food,
skins and weapons, and make a start on the morrow for their new home.

The attempts of the girl, meanwhile, to explain about the fire and
Grôm's miraculous subjugation of it to his will, had only spread
terror in the tribe. The dread of this unknown Bright One, which was
plainly capable of devouring them all if Grôm should lose control of
it, was more nerve-shaking than their dread of the beast-men.
Moreover, there was the natural reluctance to leave the old,
familiar dwellings for an unknown, distrusted land, confessedly
the haunt of those monstrous beasts which they had most cause to fear.
Then, too, there were not a few in the tribe who professed to think
that the hordes of the Bow-legs were never likely to come that way
again. No wonder, therefore, that there was grumbling, and protest,
and shrill lamentation in the caves; but Bawr being in no mood,
since the defection of Mawg and his party, to tolerate any opposition,
and Grôm being now regarded as a dangerous wizard, the preparation
for departure went on as smoothly as if all were of one mind.
Packing was no great matter to the People of the Little Hills, the
richest of whom could transport all his wealth on the back of the
feeblest of his wives. So it came that before the sun marked noon
the whole tribe was on the march, trailing forth from the neck of
the amphitheater at the heels of Grôm and A-ya, and picking their way
over the bones of their slain enemies which the vultures and the
jackals had already polished white. Bawr, the Chief, came last,
seeing to it that there were no laggards; and as the tail of the
straggling procession left the pass he climbed swiftly to the
nearest pinnacle of rock to take observation. He marked Grôm and
the girl, the tribe strung out dejectedly behind them, winding off
to the left along the foot of the bare hills; and a pang of grief,
for an instant, twitched his massive features. Then he turned his eyes
to the right. Very far off, in a space of open ground by the
brookside, he marked the movement of confused, living masses, of a
dull brown on the green. A closer look convinced him that the
moving masses were men--new hordes of the beast-men, the gaping-nosed
Bow-legs.

"Grôm is a true man," he muttered, with satisfaction, and went leaping
like a stag down the slope to rejoin the tribe. When news of what he
had seen was passed from mouth to mouth through the tribe every murmur
was hushed, and the sulkiest laggards pushed on feverishly, as if
dreading a rush of the beast-men from every cleft and glade.

The journey proved, for the most part, uneventful. Traveling in a
compact mass, only by broad day, their numbers and their air of
confidence kept the red bear and the saber-tooth, the black lion and
the wolf-pack, from venturing to molest them. By the Chief's orders
they maintained a noisy chatter, with laughter and shouting, as soon
as they felt themselves safely beyond range of the beast-men's ears.
For Bawr had observed that even the saber-tooth had a certain
uneasiness at the sound of many human voices together. At night--and
it was their rule to make camp while the sun was yet several hours
high--with the aid of their flint spear-heads they would laboriously
cut down the saplings of the long-thorned acacia, and surround the
camp with a barrier which the monsters dared not assail. Even so,
however, the nights were trying enough to the stoutest nerves. Half
the tribe at a time was obliged to stand on guard, and there was
little sleep to refresh the weariest when the shadows beyond the
barriers were alive with mutterings and prowlings, and terrible,
paling, gleaming eyes.

On the fourth day of the journey, however, the tribe met a foe whose
dense brain was quite unimpressed by the menace of the human voice,
and whose rage took no account of their numbers or their confidence.
An enormous bull urus--perhaps the same beast which some days earlier,
had driven Grôm and the girl into the tree-tops--burst up, dripping
and mud-streaked from his wallow in a reedy pool, and came charging
upon the travelers with a roar. No doubt an outcast from the herd, he
was mad with the lust of killing. With shouts of warning and shrieks
of fear the tribe scattered in every direction. The nearest warriors
hurled their spears as they sprang aside, and several of the weapons
went deep into the monster's flanks, but without checking him. He had
fixed his eyes on one victim, an old man with a conspicuous shock of
snow-white hair, and him he followed inexorably. The doomed wretch
screamed with despair when he found himself thus hideously selected,
and ran, doubling like a rabbit. Just as the monster overtook him he
fell, paralyzed with his fright, and one tremendous horn pinned him to
the earth. At this instant the Chief arrived, running up from the rear
of the line, and Grôm, coming from the front. The Chief, closing in
fearlessly, swung his club with all his strength across the beast's
front, blinding one eye, and confusing him for the fraction of a
moment. And in that moment, Grôm, calculating his blow with precision,
drove his spear clean through the massive throat. As he sprang back,
twisting his ragged weapon in the wound and tearing it free, the
monster, with a hoarse cough, staggered forward across his victim,
fell upon his knees, and slowly sank, while the blood emptied itself
in enormous, smoking jets from the wound.

The incident caused a day's delay in the march; for there was the dead
elder to be buried, with heavy stones heaped over his body, according
to the custom of the tribe, and there was also the meat of the slain
bull to be cut up for carrying--a rank food, but sustaining, and not
to be despised when one is on a journey with uncertainties ahead. And
the delay was more than compensated for by the new spirit which now
seized this poor, fugitive remnant of the Tribe of the Little Hills.
The speedy and spectacular triumph over a foe so formidable as the
giant bull urus was unanimously accepted as an omen of good fortune.

As they approached the valley whose mouth was guarded by the line of
volcanic fire, Grôm purposely led the tribe by such a path that they
should get no glimpse of the dancing flames until close upon them.
Down behind a long line of woods he led them, with no warning of what
was to come. Then suddenly around into the open; and there, not a
hundred paces distant, was the valley-mouth, and the long, thin line
of flickering scarlet tongues drawn across it.

As the people came in sight of the incomprehensible phenomenon, they
stared for a moment, gasping, or uttering low cries; then they fell
upon their faces in awe. Grôm remained standing, leaning upon his
spear; and A-ya stood with bowed head close behind him. When the
Chief, shepherding and guarding the rear flanks, emerged around the
elbow of woods and saw his people thus prostrate before the shining
wonder, he too was moved to follow their example, for his heart went
cold within him. But not without reason was he Chief, for he could
control himself as well as others. A pallor spread beneath the smoky
tan of his broad features, but without an instant's hesitation he
strode to the front, and stood like Grôm, with unbowed head, leaning
calmly on his great club. His thought was that the Shining One must be
indeed a god, and might, indeed, slay him from afar, like the
lightning, but it could not make him afraid.

Grôm gave him a quick look of approval. "Tell the people," said he,
"to follow us round through the open space yonder, and into the
valley, that we may make camp, for there are many great beasts here,
and very fierce. And tell them not to approach the Shining One, lest
he smite them, but also not to fear, for he will not come at them."

When the people--trembling, staring with fascinated eyes at the
dancing array, and shrinking nervously from the strange warmth--had
all been gathered into the open space between the fire and the
thickets, Grôm led the Chief up to the flames and hurriedly explained
to him what he had found out as to how they must be managed. Then,
leaving him to ponder the miracle, and to experiment, he took A-ya to
help him build other fires along the edge of the thickets in order to
keep the monsters at bay. And all the while the tribe sat watching,
huddled on their haunches, with mouths agape and eyes rolling in
amazement.

Bawr the Chief, meanwhile, was revolving many things in his sagacious
brain, as he alternately lighted and extinguished the little, eating
flames which fixed themselves upon the dry wood when he held it in the
blaze. His mind was of a very different order from that of Grôm,
though, perhaps, not less capacious and capable. Grôm was the
discoverer, the initiator, while Bawr was essentially the ruler,
concerned to apply all he learned to the extension and securing of his
power. It was his realization of Grôm's transparent honesty and
indifference to power which made him so free from jealousy of Grôm's
prestige. His shrewd perceptions told him that Grôm would far rather
see him rule the tribe, so long as he ruled it effectually, than be
troubled with the task himself. But there were others in the tribe
whom he suspected of being less disinterested--who were capable of
becoming troublesome if ever he should find his strength failing. One
of these, in particular, a gigantic, black-browed fellow by the name
of Ne-boo, remotely akin to the deserter Mawg, was now watching him
with eyes more keen and considerate than those of his companions. As
Bawr became conscious of this inquiring, crafty gaze, he made a slip,
and closed his left hand on a portion of his branch which was still
glowing red. With superb nerve he gave no sign of the hurt. And he
thought quickly: he had taken a liberty with the Bright One, and been
bitten by those mysterious, shining teeth which left a scar of black.
Well, someone else should be bitten, also. Calmly heating the branch
again till it was a live coal for three-quarters of its length, he
called the crafty-eyed warrior to him. The man came, uneasy, but full
of interest.

"Take this, and hold it for me," said Bawr, and tossed him the red
brand. With shrinking hands Ne-boo caught it, to drop it instantly
with a yell of pain and terror. It fell, scraping his leg, and his
foot, and in his fright he threw himself down beside it, begging it
not to smite him again.

"Strange," said Bawr, in a voice for all the tribe to hear, "the
Shining One will not suffer Ne-boo to touch him." With the air of a
high priest he picked the brand up, and held it again into the flames.
And Grôm returning at this moment to his side, he commanded in a low
voice: "Let none but ourselves attend or touch the Bright One."

Grôm, his mind occupied with plans for the settling of the tribe,
agreed without asking the reason for this decree. He was thinking
about getting the tribe housed in the caves which he had noticed in
the steep sides of the valley. He knew well enough that these caves
were the houses of the red bear, the saber-tooth and the bone-crushing
hyenas, but, as he explained to the Chief with thrilling elation, the
Shining One would drive these monsters out, and teach them to keep
their distance. To Bawr, who had had some experience in his day with
the red bear and the saber-tooth, and who had not yet seen all that
these dancing tongues of gold and scarlet could do, the enterprise
seemed a formidable one. But he sagaciously reserved his judgment,
pondering things that he felt sure Grôm would not dream of.

That night, when all was thick darkness beyond the magic circle of the
fires, the People of the Little Hills sat or crouched trembling and
wondering, while monstrous dim shapes of such bears or tigers as they
had never imagined in their worst nightmares prowled roaring all about
them, held off by nothing more substantial than just those thin and
darting tongues of flame. That the little, bright things could bite
terribly they had evidence enough, both in the charred and corroded
wood which the flames had licked, and in the angry wounds of Ne-boo.
At the same time they saw their Chief and Grôm apparently handling the
Terror with impunity, and the girl A-ya approaching it and serving it
freely, though always with bowed head and every mark of awe.

But what made the deepest, the most ineffaceable impression on the
minds of the tribe was to see Grôm and the Chief, each waving a pair
of dead branches all aflame, charge at a pair of giant saber-tooths
who had ventured too near, and drive them scurrying like frightened
sheep into the bush. Repeating the tactics which he had previously
found so effective, Grôm hurled one of his flaming weapons after the
fugitives--an example which the Chief, not to be outshone, followed
instantly. The result was startling. The brands chanced to fall where
there was a great accumulation of dry wood and twigs and leaves. In a
moment, as it seemed, the flames had leapt up into full fury, and were
chasing the fugitives up the valley with a roar. In the sudden great
glare could be seen saber-tooths stretching out in panic-stricken
flight, burly red bear fleeing with their awkward but deadly swift
gallop, huge hyenas scattering to this side and that, and many furtive
unknown creatures driven into a blind and howling rout. Grôm himself
was as thunderstruck as any one at the amazing result of his action,
but his quick wits told him to disguise his astonishment, and bear
himself as if it were exactly what he had planned. The Chief copied
his attitude with scrupulous precision and unfailing nerve, though
quite prepared to see the red whirlwind suddenly turn back and blot
himself, the audacious Grôm, and the whole shuddering tribe from the
face of the outraged earth. But no such thing happened. The torrent of
flame raged straight up the valley, cutting a path some fifty odd
paces in width, and leaving a track of smoldering, winking, red stems
and stumps behind it. And all the beasts hid themselves in their
terror so that not one of them was seen again that night. As for the
People of the Little Hills, they were now ready to fall down and put
dust in their hair in utter abasement, if either Grôm or the Chief so
much as looked at them.

Soon after sunrise the next day, the Chief and Grôm, bearing lighted
brands, and followed close by A-ya with a bundle of dry faggots, twigs
and grass, took possession of two great caves on the southward-facing
slope of the valley. The giant bears which occupied one of them fled
ignominiously at the first threat of the flames, having been scorched
and thoroughly cowed by the conflagration of the previous night. The
other cave had been already vacated by the hyena pack, which had no
stomach to face these throwers of flame. Before the mouth of each
cave, at a safe distance, a fire was lighted--a notice to all the
beasts that their rule was at an end. The whole tribe was set to the
gathering of a great store of fuel, which was heaped about the mouths
of the caves as a shield against the weather. Then the people began to
settle themselves in their new home, secure in the faith that not even
the hordes of the Bow-legs, should they chance that way, would have
the temerity to face their new and terrible protector.

When all was ordered to his satisfaction, the Chief called Grôm to his
side. The two stood apart, and watched the tall figure of A-ya moving
from the one fire to the other, and tending them reverently, as one
performing a rite. Grôm's eyes took on a certain illumination at the
sight of her, a look which the Chief had never observed in any man's
eyes before. But he thought little of it, for his mind was full of
other matters.

"It is well," said he presently, in a low voice, "that the service and
understanding of the Bright One should not be allowed to the people,
but should be kept strictly to ourselves, and to those whom we shall
choose to initiate. I shall appoint the two best men of my own kin,
and two others whom you shall select, as servants of the Bright One.
And I will make a law that the people shall henceforth worship only
the Bright One, instead of, as heretofore, the Thunder, and the Wind,
and the unknown Spirits, which, after all, as far as I can see, have
never been able to do much either for or against us. But this Bright
One is a real god, such as we can be sure of. And you and I shall be
his priests. And only we shall be allowed to understand him."

"That is good," agreed Grôm, whose brain was busy devising other ways
of making the wild flames serviceable to man. "But," he went on,
"there is A-ya. She knows as much about it as you and I."

The Chief pondered a moment.

"Either the girl must die," said he, eyeing Grôm's face, "or she must
be a priest along with us."

"I think she will be a very good priest," said Grôm drily, his eyes
resting upon her.

Then the Chief, ascending a rock between the two fires, spoke to the
people, and decreed as he had said. He told a little about the Shining
One, just so much as he thought it good for his hearers to know. He
declared that the ones he had chosen for the great honor of serving
the fires must tend them by turns, night and day, and guard them with
their lives; for that, if one or the other should be suffered to die
out, some great disaster would assuredly come upon the tribe.

"And henceforth," he concluded, "you shall not be called the People of
the Little Hills; for these ridges, indeed, are not such hills as
those whose bald and windy tops are keeping the bones of our fathers.
But you shall be known and feared greatly by our enemies as 'The
Children of the Shining One,' under whose protection I declare you."



CHAPTER V

THE PULLER-DOWN OF TREES


On the broken hill-slope overlooking the Valley of Fire, in the two
great caves known as the Cave of the Bears and the Cave of the Hyenas,
the tribe of the Children of the Shining One now dwelt secure and
began to recover heart. Before each cave-mouth, tended night and day,
burned the sacred flame, its tongues licked upwards in gold and
scarlet with a radiance from which all the tribe, with the sole
exceptions of Bawr, the Chief, and Grôm, his right hand and councilor,
were wont to avert their eyes in awe whenever they passed it in their
comings and goings. Only from a distance would they presume to look at
the flames directly; and ever as they looked their wonder and their
reverence grew. Their trust in the protection of the Shining One came
to have no bounds, for night after night would the great red bears
return, prowling in the mysterious gloom just beyond the ring of
light, with their dreadful eyes turned fixedly upon their former
habitation, only to be driven off ignominiously when Grôm rushed at
them with a shout and a flaming torch above his head. And night after
night would the troops of the hyenas come back, their monstrous-jowled
heads swinging low from their mighty shoulders, to sit and howl their
devilish laughter above their ancient lair, only to slink off in cowed
silence when the Chief would hurl a blazing brand among them. When the
beasts were thus discomfited and abashed, the boldest of the warriors
would go leaping after them and bring down the hindermost with spears.
So it came about that presently the great animals knew themselves
beaten, and sullenly withdrew to the other side of the hills.

It was just this country at the other side of the hills which most
appealed to the restless imagination of Grôm. Within the valley--which
widened out, as it receded from its fiery gateway, to enclose league
upon league of fertile plain--was good hunting, along with an
abundance of roots, fruits and edible herbs. But in Grôm's heart
burned that spirit of unquenchable expectation which has led the race
of Man upwards through all obstacles--the urge to find out ever what
lies beyond. So the saw-toothed line of these dark, volcanic summits
drew him irresistibly, with the promise of unknown wonders hidden
behind them.

During these few weeks since coming to the Valley of the Fire, Grôm
had been tirelessly experimenting with the bright element, trying this
kind of fuel and that, one after another, in order to learn what food
was most acceptable to it. He learned that certain substances it would
devour in raging haste, only to fail and die soon after; or not truly
to die, he imagined, but to flee back unseen to its dancing,
flickering source at the valley mouth. Other substances he found that
it would consume slowly, but pertinaciously. While into yet others,
such as dry turf and punk, it would eat its way and hide, maintaining
therein for a long time a retired but potent existence, ready to leap
into radiant life under certain provocation. His invention stimulated
by these experiments, he had made himself several hollow tubes of a
thick green bark whipped about with thongs, and had stuffed them with
that mixture of turf and punk which he found best calculated to hold
the furtive seeds of fire alive.

With one of these slow torches alight, and several spare ones slung
over his shoulders, Grôm set out to cross the pointed hills and seek
new wonders in the lands beyond. The tall girl, A-ya, went with him.
This not being customary in the tribe, they gave reasons. Grôm said
that he needed the girl because she alone knew how rightly to serve
and tend the Shining One in combat. It was a good reason, but he was
amazed to find in his heart so deep a desire for her that he was
ill-content whenever his eyes could not rest upon her. There was no
one in the tribe with whom he could discuss this strange emotion, for
no one, not even the wise and subtle-minded Chief, would have
comprehended it--romantic love not yet having come openly to these men
of the Morning of Time. So Grôm gave the lesser reason, which all,
including himself, could understand. As for the girl, she said that
whatever her lord commanded she must needs obey, which she did with a
most seemly readiness. But in her heart she knew that if her man had
commanded her to stay behind, she would have obeyed only so long as he
remained in sight, and would then have followed him.

Like Grôm, the girl carried two flint-headed spears. Both wore clumsy
but effective slivers of flint, for knives, in their girdles of
twisted skin. The girl, besides her weapons, carried a substantial
burden of strips of meat dried hard in the sun, in case game should
prove scarce or elusive in the land beyond the hills. But when they
had got well out of sight of the caves, Grôm turned, relieved her of
her burdens which, according to tribal conventions, it was her duty to
carry for her man, and gave her instead the light but precious tube of
fire.

As they ascended the ragged slopes, vegetation grew sparse, and when
toward nightfall they gained the pass which Grôm was making for--a
deep cleft between two steep red and purple peaks--the rock beneath
their feet was naked but for a low growth of flowering herbs and
thorn. The pass was too high for the aloe and mesembryanthemum to
flourish, and the lava-bed which floored it was yet too new to have
clothed itself in any of the larger mountain-loving trees. Here they
passed the night, in a shallow niche of rock with a fire before it;
and the fire being visible from a long way off, no prowlers cared even
to approach it.

On the following day they traveled swiftly, but the pass was long. It
was near sunset again when at last the rocks fell away to either side,
and they saw spread out below their feet the land which they had come
to explore.

It was a vast, rolling plain, golden-green with rank, cane-like
grasses, dotted with innumerable clumps of trees, and laced with full
watercourses which lay in spacious loops of blue and silver. Here and
there lay broad, irregular patches where the grass did not flourish,
and these were of vivid emerald-green from some unknown growth.

Along the horizon to the north sparkled a great water. And half-way
down the steep, toward the right, smoked and smouldered a shallow,
saucer-shaped crater from whose broken lower rim a purple-brown
serpent of comparatively recent lava descended in sluggish curves
across the intense green.

Somewhat to the girl's apprehension, Grôm seemed anxious to
investigate the smoking crater, but the only practicable path down the
mountain led them away from it, so he was content to leave it for
another time and another, perhaps less repellent, approach.

Descending presently into a region of ledges and ravines clothed with
dense thickets, they found on every hand traces of the giant bears and
the saber-tooth tigers whom they had driven from the caves in the
Valley of Fire. Grôm hurriedly whirled the smoldering torch into a
flame, and from it lighted a couple of resinous brands, one for
himself, and one for A-ya to carry. Thus armed, they fearlessly
followed the broad trail of bears, which led them very conveniently
down the steep. And bear and saber-tooth alike, at sight of the flame
thus apparently seeking them out, remembered their recent scorching
discomfiture, and slunk off like whipped curs.

Grôm's immediate object was to make his way straight to the shores of
that great water, whose gleaming on the horizon had been like an
invitation to his inquiring spirit. But when early in the forenoon of
the fourth day they reached the lowlands, he found that his way would
be anything but straight. The immense grasses, a species of cane, grew
so tall, so dense and so thick in the stem, that it was impossible to
force a path through them just where he would.

He saw that he must use the trails of the wild beasts, which
intersected it in all directions. There were the tracks of every
animal he knew--the hunters and the hunted alike--and of many more
which he did not know. But one broad trail in particular arrested his
attention. It struck such fear to the heart of the girl, whose eyes
were keen and understanding, that her knees trembled beneath her, and
had she dared she would have begged Grôm to turn back from a land
which held such monsters.

Even Grôm himself felt a thrill of awe as he stared at the trail which
bespoke so mighty a traveler. Wherever it led, the sturdiest growths
were crushed flat as if some huge bowlder from the mountains had been
rolled over them. And the monster footprints, which here and there
stamped themselves clearly in the trail, were thrice the size of those
of the hugest mammoth.

Grôm stooped and studied these footprints, pondering them with knit
brows. What manner of giant it might be which moved on such colossal
and misshapen members it was beyond his wits to guess. But of a surety
it was a fine roadmaker!

With a confident arrogance born of the knowledge that he was the lord
of Fire, he deliberately chose to pursue this dreadful trail. And the
girl, hiding her terror lest it should diminish her credit in his
sight, followed close at his elbow, her bright eyes tirelessly
searching the jungle on either side.

Suddenly behind them came a confused, terrifying noise of panting
breaths and trampling feet. It came sweeping down the broad trail.
There were grunting cries, also; and Grôm understood at once that a
herd of pig-tapirs--heavy-footed, timorous beasts, as tall as
heifers--were sweeping down upon them in mad flight before some
unknown pursuer.

Against that blind panic, that headlong frantic rush, he knew that
blazing brands would avail nothing. He clutched the girl by the hand.
"Come!" he ordered. And they fled side by side down the trail.

It was in their minds to climb the first suitable tree they should
come to, and let the rout go by. In half a minute or so, over the tops
of the giant grasses, they sighted such a tree, only a few hundred
yards ahead. The trail, swerving opportunely, appeared to lead
directly towards its foot, and they raced on, the girl now laughing
softly with excitement, and forgetting her fear of the unknown because
of the known peril behind her. It pleased her curiously to find that
her man had not grown too divine to be ready to run away on fitting
occasion; and she kept glancing at him from under her dark tangle of
hair with eyes of passionate possession.

The wild uproar behind was drawing nearer swiftly, but the refuge was
now not more than fifty paces ahead. All at once the way to it was
barred. Out from a little side-track on the right came lumbering a
gigantic rhinoceros, his creased and folded hide clothed in matted
brown wool and caked with clay. He swung round into the trail, almost
blocking it with his bulk, stared for a couple of seconds with evil
little eyes at the two slim beings before him, then lowered the huge
double horn that armed his snout, and charged at them with a grunt of
fury.

Caught thus fairly between the devil before, and the deep sea of
trampling hoofs behind, Grôm had no choice. A second's waving of the
lighted brands convinced him that the rhinoceros was too dense of
brain to fear the fire, or even to notice it. Once more clutching the
girl's hand, he ran back a little way, seeking to draw the two perils
together, and give them an opportunity to distract each other's
attention.

He ran back till the flying, plunging herd of the pig-tapirs came into
full view around the curve of the trail. Then, with all his strength,
he forced his way into the grass, on the left, shouldering aside the
upright stems to make room for the girl to enter. She hurled her
blazing brand full into the face of the rhinoceros, hoping to confuse
or divert him for an instant, then thrust herself lithely in past
Grôm.

The rhinoceros was diverted for an instant. The smoke and sparks half
blinded him, and in a paroxysm of fury he checked himself to trample
the strange assailant under foot. Then he thundered forward. But the
tough stems of the grass had closed up again. The two fugitives were
hidden. He saw the packed herd of the tapirs bearing down upon him;
and, forgetting the insignificant creatures who had first roused his
anger, he charged forward at full speed to meet this new foe.

Realizing well enough that in three or four seconds more the crash
would come, and that the struggle between the rhinoceros and the
maddened herd would be little short of a cataclysm, Grôm and the girl
struggled breathlessly to force themselves to a safe distance lest
they should be crushed in the mêlée.

The sweat ran down into their eyes, and swarms of tiny insects,
breeding in the giant stems, choked their throats and nostrils; but
they wrestled their way onward blindly, foot by foot. Behind them, out
in the trail, came a ponderous crash, and, then an appalling explosion
of squeals, screams, grunts and roars. The next instant the rigid
stems gave way suddenly before them, and they fell forward, with a
startled cry from the girl, into a deep and sunless water.

They came up, spluttering and choking; but as soon as she could catch
breath the girl laughed, whereupon the grimness of Grôm's face
relaxed. The water was a deep creek, perfectly overshadowed and hidden
by the rank growth along its banks. But just opposite was the tree
whose refuge they had been trying to gain. They swam across in
half-a-dozen strokes, and drew themselves ashore, and shook themselves
like a pair of retrievers. Through all the flight, the fierce effort
among the grass-stems, and the unexpected ducking, they had kept
tenacious hold of every one of their treasures. But--their fire was
out! The brand was black; the precious tube, with the seeds of fire
lurking at its heart, was drenched, saturated and lifeless.

For a moment or two Grôm looked into the girl's eyes steadily,
conveying to her without a word the whole tremendous significance of
their loss. The girl responded, after a second's dismay, with a look
of trust and adoration which brought a rush of warmth to Grôm's heart.
He smiled proudly, and shook his club as if to reassure himself. Then,
climbing hurriedly into the tree, they stared back over the plumed
tops of the grasses.

The sight that met their eyes was not one for weak nerves. The spot in
the grass which they had just escaped from was a shambles. The
foremost of the panic-stricken pig-tapirs, met by the charge of the
rhinoceros, had been ripped and split by the rooting of his double
horn, and hurled to either side as if by some titanic plough. A couple
more had been trampled down and crushed before his charge was stayed
by the irresistible pressure of the surging, squealing mass.

There he had stood fast, like a jagged promontory in the surges,
tossing his mighty head and thrusting hideously, while the rest of the
herd passed on, either scrambling clean over him or breaking down the
canes and pouring around on either side. Of those that passed over him
about one in every three or four got ripped by the tossing horn, and
went staggering forward a few paces, only to fall and be trodden out
by their fellows. Close behind the last of the squealing fugitives
came the cause of their panic--two immense black lions, who had
apparently been playing with their prey like cats.

When they came face to face with the rhinoceros where he stood among
his victims, shaking the blood from horn and head and shoulder, they
stopped abruptly. Together, perhaps, they would have been a match for
him. But theirs was a far higher intelligence than his. They knew the
almost impenetrable toughness of his hide, his Berserk rage, his
imperviousness to reasonable fear; and they had no care to engage
themselves without cause in so uncertain and unprofitable a combat.

With a roar that rolled in thunder over the plain and seemed to set
the very tree-tops quivering, they leaped lazily aside and went off in
enormous bounds through the grass, circling about as if to intercept,
in sheer wantonness of slaughter, the remnants of the fleeing herd. At
the sight Grôm frowned anxiously, thinking how helpless he and the
girl would be against such foes, now that they no longer had the
Shining One to protect them.

Squealing to split the ears, the pig-tapirs came galloping past the
tree, making for a piece of water some furlongs further on, where
doubtless they hoped to evade both the lion and the rhinoceros. But
they had yet another adversary to reckon with.

Just past the tree, at a thicket of immense scarlet poinsettias, the
trail curved sharply. From behind the poinsettias arose a gigantic
shape unlike anything that Grôm had ever dreamed of. And he knew that
the maker of the mysterious trail and those tremendous footprints was
before him.

With a trumpeting bray of indignation the monster sat upright on
hind-quarters far more ponderous than those of a mammoth. Its tail, as
thick at the base as the body of a bear, helped to support it, while
its clumsy frame towered to a height of eighteen or twenty feet. Its
hind legs were very short, thick like tree-trunks, grotesquely bowed;
and its thighs like buttresses. Its fore legs were more arms than
legs, of startling length and massive strength, draped in long, stiff
hair, and terminated by colossal hands with immense hooked claws for
fingers. The whole body was clothed with rusty hair of an amazing
coarseness, like matting fiber. The vast head, flat on top and
prolonged to a snout that was almost a proboscis, had the look of
being deformed by reason of its fantastically exaggerated jowl, or
lower jaw. This terrifying monster thrust out a narrow pink tongue,
some three or four feet in length, stooped and turned, and gave a
hurried look at something crouching behind its mighty thighs.

"Its baby!" muttered the girl, with a little indrawn breath of
sympathy.

Then the strange being sat up again to meet and ward off the rush of
the maddened pig-tapirs.

For a moment it beat off the assault, seizing the frantic beasts and
hurling them this way and that as if they had been so many rabbits.
Then it was completely surrounded by the reeking squealing bleeding
horde, which paid no more personal attention to it than if it had been
a mass of rock. They rolled over the little one, unheeding, and trod
it flat. Its death cry split the air; and at that sound the mother
seemed to sink down into her haunches. In her agony of rage and grief
she literally tore some of her assailants in halves, throwing the
awful fragments impatiently from her in order to lose no time in
seizing a new victim. A few seconds more and the rush was past; and
presently the mad rout was hurling itself with a tremendous splashing
into the water. The monster looked around for more victims--and was
just in time to see the hideous vision of the rhinoceros charging down
upon her. Triumphant from the encounter with the lions, he rushed back
to slake his still unsatisfied fury on the pig-tapirs. At any other
time he would have given such an antagonist as the colossal
megatherium a wide berth; but just now he was in one of his madnesses.
His furious little swinish eyes blinking through the blood which
dripped over them, he hurled himself straight onward. His horn was
plunged into the monster's paunch; but at the same time one of those
gigantic armed hands fell irresistibly on his neck, shattering the
vertebræ through all their deep protection of hide and muscle. He
collapsed with an explosive grunt; and the giant hands tossed him
aside.

It was a frightful wound which the monster had received, but for a few
moments she paid no attention to it, being occupied in licking the
trampled body of her young one with that amazing tongue of hers. At
length, apparently convinced that the little one was quite dead, she
brayed again piteously, dropping forward upon all fours, and made off
slowly down the trail, walking with grotesque awkwardness on the sides
of her feet. For two or three hundred yards she kept on, drawing a
wake of crimson behind her; and then, apparently exhausted by her
wound, she turned off among the canes, and lay down, close beside the
trail, but effectively screened from it.

From their place in the tree Grôm and the girl had followed
breathlessly these astounding encounters. At last Grôm spoke:

"This is a country of very great beasts," he remarked, with the air of
one announcing a discovery. As A-ya showed no inclination whatever to
dissent from this statement, he presently went on to his conclusion,
leaving her to infer his minor premise.

"We must go back and recover the Shining One. It is not well for us to
go on without him."

"Yes," agreed the girl eagerly. For all her courage and passionate
trust in her man, the sight of those black lions bounding over the
tops of the towering grasses had somewhat shaken her nerve. She feared
no beasts but the swiftest, and those which might leap into the lower
branches of the trees. "Yes!" she repeated. "Let us go back for the
Shining One, lest he be angry at us for having put him in the water."

"But for yet a day more we will stay here in this tree, and rest and
sleep in safety," continued Grôm, "that we may travel the more
swiftly, till we get beyond the grasses."

Then, climbing higher into the tree, he proceeded to build a platform
and roof of interlaced branches for their temporary home. In this task
the girl did not help him, because of the great muscular strength
which it required. She lay in a crotch, her hairy but long and shapely
legs coiled under her like a leopard's, now gazing at her man with
ardent eyes, now staring out apprehensively across the sun-drenched,
perilous landscape.

Suddenly she gave a cry of amazement, and pointed excitedly down the
trail. Beyond the water wherein the pig-tapirs had found refuge,
beyond the lurking-place of the wounded megatherium, came three men,
running desperately. Shading his eyes, Grôm made out that they were
nearly exhausted. They were clearly men of the type of his own tribe,
light-skinned and well shaped; and the leader, who carried a long
club, was a man of stature equal to his own. Grôm's sympathies went
out to them, and his impulse was to hasten to their assistance.
Glancing further along the trail to learn the cause of their headlong
flight, he saw two black lions in pursuit, probably the same two which
had been driving the pig-tapirs a couple of hours earlier. They were
coming on at such a pace that Grôm feared the weary fugitives would be
overtaken before they could reach the tree of refuge. Instinctively he
started to climb down. But, his eyes falling upon the girl, he
remembered that he had no right to enter upon a venture so utterly
hopeless while he had her to take care of. His eager clutch upon his
spear relaxed.

"They are spent. They'll never get here!" he muttered anxiously.

"No!" said A-ya, with blank unconcern. "The lions will get them. It's
Mawg, and his two cousins."

Grôm growled an exclamation of astonishment. The girl's eyes--or her
intuitions--were keener than his. But he saw at a second glance that
she was right.

At this moment Mawg, running a few paces in advance by reason of his
superior speed and stamina, passed the spot where the wounded
megatherium lay hidden. The monster lifted her dreadful head. The next
second the other two arrived, running elbow to elbow, with drooped
shoulders of exhaustion. Through the screen of canes a gigantic hand
shot out above their heads and came down upon them, crushing the two
together. They had not time for outcry; but it was clear that some
sound caught the leader's ears, for he glanced back over his shoulder.
He was near enough now for the keen-eyed watchers in the tree to see
his face change with horror. He ran on without a pause, but now with
fresh speed, as if the sight had shocked him into new vigor. Seeing
that there was, after all, a good prospect of his reaching the tree in
time, Grôm swung down to be ready to help him up. As he did so he saw
the two lions approach the hiding-place of the monster.

The vast, clawed hand still lay there on the two crushed bodies in the
middle of the trail. The lions saw it, and they checked themselves at
a safe distance. They knew that just behind the grass-screen lurked
another such shaggy and monstrous member, waiting to rend them as they
would rend an antelope. They shrank, and drew back, snarling angrily.
It is possible they feared lest the screen on either side of the trail
might conceal more than one of the monsters; for they sprang far aside
as if to make a wide circuit of the perilous spot.

"There's plenty of time!" muttered Grôm, and dropped upon his feet in
the middle of the trail. The girl came in mad haste after him, but at
his sharp command "Stay there!" she contented herself with slipping
out upon the lowest branch, just over his head, and holding her spear
ready.

"Kill him!" she cried. But Grôm seemed not to hear.

Staggering, and half blind with exhaustion Mawg was within twenty
paces before he noticed who was confronting him. Then his dull eyes
blazed. With a snarl of fury he hurled his club straight at Grôm's
face, missing him only by a hand's-breadth. But the effort, and the
disappointment at finding himself thus balked, as he imagined, on the
very threshold of escape, seemed to finish him. He stumbled on with
groping hands outstretched, and fell just at Grôm's feet.

Grôm hesitated, wondering how he could get this inert weight up into
the tree. The girl did not understand his hesitation.

"Kill him!" she hissed, leaning down eagerly from her branch
overhead.

"No, he's a great warrior, and the tribe needs him," answered Grôm,
stooping to shake the prostrate form.

Mawg stirred, beginning to recover. Grôm shook him again.

"Up into the tree, quick!" he ordered in a loud, sharp voice. "The
lions are coming."

Mawg roused himself, sat up, and stared with a look of bewilderment
changing swiftly into hate.

"Up!" shouted Grôm again. "The tree. They're coming!"

At this the fellow growled, but sprang up as if he had been jabbed
with a spear, and clambered into the tree as nimbly as a monkey. Grôm
followed, quickly but coolly. A-ya, who had waited with her eyes
watchfully on Mawg, stepped close to Grôm's side; and all three swung
upwards into the higher branches as the two lions arrived beneath.

Glaring up into the tree with shrewd, malevolent eyes, the great
beasts realized that, for the present at least, the tree man-creatures
were quite out of reach. Lashing their tufted tails in disappointment,
they turned aside to sniff, in surly scorn, at the dead, mountainous
hulk of the rhinoceros, which lay with one ponderous foot stuck up in
the air as if in clumsy protest at Fate. Comprehending readily the
manner of its death, they came back and lay down under the tree, and
fell to gnawing lazily at the body of one of the pig-tapirs which the
megatherium had torn in two. They had the air of intending to stay
some time, so Grôm presently turned his attention to his rescued
rival.

Mawg was sitting on the next branch, a good spear's length distant,
and glowering at A-ya's lithe shapeliness with eyes of savage greed.
Grôm knit his brows, and significantly passed an arm about the girl's
shoulders. Mawg shifted his attention to him.

"What do you want of me?" he demanded, in a thick, guttural voice.

"I thought you ran as if you did not want the lions to eat you,"
answered Grôm.

Mawg stared with a stupid brutality and incomprehension; and the eyes
of the two men, meeting fairly, seemed to lock in a duel of
personalities.

They presented a significant contrast. Both, physically, superb
specimens of their race--the highest then evolved upon the youthful
earth--the elder man, in his ample forehead and calm, reasoning eyes,
displayed all the promise of the future; while the youth, low skulled
and with his dull but pugnacious eyes set under enormous bony brows,
suggested the mere brute from which the race had mounted. His hair was
shorter and coarser than Grôm's, and foully matted; and his neck was
set very far forward between his powerful but lumpy shoulders. The
color of his coarse and furrowed skin was so dark as to make the
weathered tan of Grôm and A-ya look white by contrast.

In no way lacking courage, but failing in will and steadiness, in a
dozen seconds Mawg involuntarily shifted his gaze, and looked down at
the lions.

"What do you want of me?" he demanded again, as if he had had no
answer before.

"The tribe has too few warriors left. I will take you back to the
tribe!" replied Grôm with authority.

Mawg curled back his thick lips from his great yellow dog-teeth in a
snarling laugh of incredulity.

"You want to kill me!" said he, nodding his head.

Grôm stared at him for a moment or two with a look of fatigued
contempt, then tore off a substantial strip of dried flesh from the
bundle hanging on the branch, and tossed it to him. The fellow
snatched it, and hid it behind him, being too hungry to refuse it,
but too savage to eat it under his captor's eye. Grôm smiled
slowly, and fell to playing with a heavy strand of A-ya's hair
which had fallen over his arm. But to this caress the girl paid no
attention. She was puzzled and outraged at Grôm's action in protecting
his rival. Her nostrils dilated, and a red spot glowed angrily under
each cheek-bone.

Suddenly from down the trail came a noise of cracking grass-stems. The
two lions got up from their meal, and turned their heads inquiringly
toward the sound. The next moment they went stalking off the opposite
way with an air of haughty indignation, ignoring all the bodies of the
slain pig-tapirs. When they had rounded the first turn in the trail
they leaped into the grass, and went bounding off in a straight line
toward a large patch of wood some miles distant. The wounded
megatherium was returning.

Perhaps stung into restlessness by the anguish of that rending thrust,
the monster came dragging herself back toward the tree, crawling on
the sides of her feet. Arriving at the scene of battle, she sniffed
once more at her mangled young one, and brayed piteously over it. Then
turning in an explosive fury upon the body of the rhinoceros, began to
tear it limb from limb as one might pull apart a roast pigeon. While
thus occupied, she chanced to turn her eyes upon the tree, and caught
sight of the three figures looking down upon her.

On the instant her rage was diverted to them. Braying like a steam
siren, she came under the tree, reared herself against it, flung her
giant arms about it, and strove to pull it down. The tree rocked as if
struck by a tornado; and Mawg, who had been too slow to notice what
was about to happen, gave a yell of horror as he barely saved himself
from falling. The girl laughed, whereupon he shot her a menacing look
which so enraged her that she raised her spear as if to transfix him.

But there was too much happening below for her attention to remain on
Mawg. Finding the tree quite too sturdy to be pulled down off-hand,
the monster gripped the lowest main branch, a limb eight or ten inches
through, and with one wrench peeled it down like a stalk of celery.
Her first effort, upon the main trunk, had set the blood once more
pumping from her wound, but she paid no attention to it. Reaching to
the next great branch, she ripped that one down also, taking another
great strip from the main trunk. Grôm saw that her purpose obviously
was to pull the tree to pieces bit by bit, in order to get at her
intended victims. Mawg apparently saw this also, and it was too much
for him. Gripping his strip of dried meat between his teeth, he
slipped around the trunk till he was sheltered from the monster's
sight, dropped to a branch which stretched far over the water, ran out
along it nimbly as an ape, and dived. The monster, her eyes fixed upon
the two remaining in the tree, never noticed his escape. Mawg swam the
creek, thrust his way through the grass-stems, darted back to snatch
up his club, shook it at Grôm, and, yelling an obscene taunt, raced
off to seek himself another retreat before nightfall.

Neither Grôm nor A-ya had any heed to spare him at that moment. The
monster had just torn down a limb so huge that the main trunk was
almost split in half by its loss. Grôm saw that unless he could stop
this process of destruction, in a few moments more the tree would be
overthrown. The monster was just rearing herself to clutch the next
great bough. Spear in hand, Grôm slipped down to meet her, and halted
on a branch just out of reach. The monster brayed vindictively,
stretched to her full height, and then shot forth her tremendous
muscular red coil of tongue, thinking evidently to lick down her
insignificant adversary from his perch. She was within an inch of
succeeding. Grôm just eluded the strange attack by stepping aside
nimbly; and quick as thought A-ya's spear slashed the dreadful red
tongue as it reached flickering after her lord's ankles. The next
moment, seeing the monster's throat upstretched and unguarded, Grôm
drove his spear full force, straight into the soft hollow of it. The
weapon sank into a depth of perhaps three feet, till the ragged flint
lodged in the vertebræ of the monster's neck. Then the shaft was
wrenched violently from his hand; and the monster, blowing blood and
foam from mouth and nostrils, fell with a crash among the litter of
great branches which she had pulled down.

Grôm drew a deep breath of relief, and commended the girl for her
timely and effective stroke at that terrible tongue. Then he set
himself coolly to the task of completing their shelter for the night.
As he wove leafy branches into the floor of the platform to make it
soft, she contemplated his work with satisfaction. Presently he
remarked:

"I'm glad we are rid of that Mawg."

"You should have killed him!" said the girl curtly.

"But why?" demanded Grôm, in some surprise. In his eyes the fellow was
a valuable piece of property belonging to the tribe, a fighting
asset.

"He wants _me_!" answered the girl, meeting his eyes resentfully.

Grôm let his eyes roam all over her--face, hair and form--and such a
look of passionate admiration glowed in their steady depths that her
anger faded, her own eyes dropped, and her breast gave a happy,
incomprehensible flutter. She had never seen such a look in any man's
face before, or even dreamed of such a look as possible.

"Of course, he wants you," said Grôm, wondering, as he spoke, at the
ring of his own voice. "You are the fairest thing, and the most
desirable, on earth. All men whose eyes come to rest on you must want
you. But none shall have you, ever, for you are mine, and none shall
tear you from me."

And at that the girl forgot her anger, and forgave him for having
neglected to kill Mawg.

That night sleep was impossible for them, though their lofty shelter
was comfortable and secure. A vast orange moon, near the full,
illuminated the spacious landscape; and beneath the tree came all the
giant night-prowlers, gathering to the unparallelled banquet which the
day had spread for them. Only the two black lions, perhaps already
glutted, did not come. Wolves, a small pack of self-disciplined wild
dogs, a troop of hyenas, and several enormous leopards, howled,
snarled and wrangled in knots over the widely scattered carcases, each
group watching its neighbors with suspicion and deadly animosity.

A gigantic red bear came lumbering up, and all the lesser prowlers
scattered discreetly but resentfully before him. He strode straight to
the chief place, under the rent, dishevelled tree, and fell to tearing
at the mountainous corpse of the megatherium. He was undisturbed till
two saber-tooths arrived, their tawny coats spectral in the moonlight,
their foot-long tusks giving their broad masks a dreadful grin.

Before one saber-tooth the bear would have stood his ground
scornfully; but before the two he thought it best to defer. Slowly,
and with a thunderous grumbling, he moved over to the body of the
rhinoceros, pretending that he preferred it. The air was split and
battered with the clamor of raving voices. Other saber-tooths came,
and then another bear.

There were swift, sudden battles, as swiftly dropped because
neither combatant wished to fight to a finish when there was
feasting so abundant for all. And once a leopard, dodging the paw
of a saber-tooth, sprang into the tree, only to fall back howling
from the spears thrust at him through the floor of Grôm's platform.

Just before dawn the girl slept, while Grôm kept watch beside her lest
another leopard should fancy to explore their refuge. An hour later,
when the first pallor was spreading, she awoke with a cry of fear, and
clung to Grôm's arm, shuddering strongly.

"But--what is it?" he asked, in a tender voice, stroking her heavy
mane.

"I was afraid!" she answered, like a child.

"What were you afraid of?" asked Grôm.

"I was afraid of Mawg. I _am_ afraid of him!" she answered, sitting up
and shaking the hair from her eyes, and staring out fearfully over the
gray transparent plains.

"Why should you fear Mawg?" demanded Grôm proudly. "Am not I your man?
And am not I always with you? Many such mad brutes as Mawg could not
take you from me."

"I know," answered the girl, "that he and such as he would be as
straws in my lord's hands. But--even Grôm must sometimes sleep!"

Grôm laughed gently at her forebodings.

"He must sleep now, indeed, for we have a long and perilous journey
before us," said he. Laying his great shaggy head in her lap, and
stretching his limbs as far as the tiny platform would allow he was
asleep in two seconds. The girl, stooping forward till her rich hair
shadowed the rugged, sleeping face, with its calm brows, pondered
deeply over his inexplicable forbearance toward his rival. Her
instincts all assured her that it was dangerous; but something else
within her, something which she strove in vain to grasp, suggested to
her that in some way it was noble, and made her glad of it. Then, all
at once, the first of the sunrise, flooding into the tree-top, bathed
her face with a rosy glow, and wonderfully transfigured it.



CHAPTER VI

THE BATTLE OF THE BRANDS


I

Now for two years had the remnants of the tribe been settled in the
Valley of Fire. They had prospered exceedingly. The caves were
swarming with strong children; for at the Chief's orders every warrior
had taken to himself either two or three wives, so that none of the
widows had been left unmated. Grôm alone remained with but one wife,
although his position in the tribe, second only to that of Bawr
himself, would have entitled him to as many as he might choose.

Singularly happy with the girl A-ya, Grôm had been unwilling to
receive other women into their little grotto, which branched off from
the high arched entrance of the main cave. He might, however, have
yielded, from policy and for the sake of the tribe, to pressure from
the Chief, but for a look of startled anguish which he had seen leap
into A-ya's eyes when he mentioned the matter to her. This had
surprised him at the moment, but it had also thrilled him curiously.
And as the girl made no objection to a step so absolutely in
accordance with the tribal customs, Grôm thought about it a good deal.
A few days later he excused himself to the Chief, saying that other
women in his cave would be a nuisance, and would interfere with those
studies of the Shining One which had proved so beneficial to the
tribe. Bawr had accepted the excuse, though somewhat perplexed by it,
and had accommodatingly taken the extra wives himself--a solution
which had seemed to meet with the unqualified approval of A-ya.

The first winter in the Valley of Fire had been a wonderful one to the
tribe, thanks to the fierce but beneficent element ever shining,
dancing and whispering in its mysterious tongue before the cave doors.
Bleak winds and driving, icy rains out of the north had no longer any
power to distress them.

But when the storm was violent, with drenching and persistent rain,
then it was found necessary to feed the fires before the cave-mouths
lavishly with dry fuel from the stores which Grôm's forethought had
caused to be accumulated under shelter. These contests between fire
and rain were sagaciously represented by Bawr (who had by now to his
authority as Chief added the subtle sanctions of High Priest) as the
fight of the Shining One in protection of the tribe, his children.

On more than one occasion of torrential downpour the struggle had
almost seemed to hang for a while in doubt. But the Shining One lost
no prestige, thereby, for always, down there across the valley-mouth,
kept leaping and dancing those unquenchable flames of scarlet, amber
and violet, fed by the volcanic gases from within the crevice, and
utterly regardless of whatever floods the sky might loose upon them.
This was evidence conclusive that the Shining One was master of the
storm, no less than of the monsters which fled so terror-stricken
before him.

In the early spring, the girl A-ya bore a child to Grôm; a big-limbed,
vigorous boy, with shapely head and spacious brow. In this event, and
in the mother's happiness about it (a happiness that seemed to the
rest of the women to savor of foolish extravagance), Grôm felt a
gladness which dignity forbade him to betray.

But pondering over the little one with bent brows, and with deep eyes
full of visions, he conceived such an ambition as had perhaps never
before entered into the heart of man. It was that this child might
grow up to achieve some wonderful thing, as he himself had done, for
the advancement of his people. Of this baby, child of the woman toward
whom he felt emotions so new and so profound, he had a premonition
that new and incalculable things would come.

One day Grôm was following the trail of a deer some distance up the
valley. Skilled hunter that he was, he could read in the trail that
his quarry was not far ahead, and also that it had not yet taken
alarm. He followed cautiously, up the wind, noiseless as a leopard,
his sagacious eyes taking note of every detail about him.

Presently he came to a spot where the trail was broken. There was a
twenty-foot gap to the next hoofprints, and these went off at right
angles to the direction which the quarry had hitherto been pursuing.
Grôm halted abruptly, slipped behind a tree, crouched, and peered
about him with the tense vigilance of a startled fox. He knew that
something had frightened the deer, and frightened it badly. It
behooved him to find out what that something was.

For some minutes he stood motionless as the trunk against which he
leant, searching every bush and thicket with his keen gaze, and
sniffing the air with expert nostrils. There was nothing perceptible
to explain that sudden fright of the deer. He was on the point of
slipping around the trunk to investigate from another angle. But stop!
There on a patch of soil where some bear had been grubbing for tubers
he detected a strange footprint. Instantly, he sank to the ground, and
wormed his way over, silently as a snake, to examine it.

It was a human footprint, but much larger than his own, or those of
his tribe; and Grôm's beard, and the stiff hairs on the nape of his
corded neck, bristled with hostility at the sight of it.

The toes of this portentous print were immensely long and muscular,
the heel protruded grotesquely far behind the arch of the foot, which
was low and flat. The pressure was very marked along all the outer
edge, as if the author of the print had walked on the outer sides of
his feet. To Grôm, who was an adept in the signs of the trail, it
needed no second look to be informed that one of the Bow-legs had been
here. And the trail was not five minutes old.

Grôm slipped under the nearest bushes, and writhed forward with
amazing speed in the direction indicated by the strange footprint,
pausing every other second to look, sniff the air, and listen. The
trail was as clear as daylight to him. Suddenly he heard voices,
several of them, guttural and squealing, and stopped again as if
turned to stone. Then another voice, at which he started in amazement.
It was Mawg's, speaking quietly and confidentially. Mawg, then, had
gone over to the Bow-legs! Grôm's forehead wrinkled. A-ya had been
right. He ought to have killed the traitor. He writhed himself into a
dense covert, and presently, over the broken brink of a vine-draped
ledge, was able to command a view of the speakers.

They were five in number, and grouped almost immediately below him.
Four were of the Bow-legs, squat, huge in the shoulder, long-armed,
flat-skulled, of a yellowish clay color, with protruding jaws, and
gaping, pit-like, upturned nostrils to their wide, bridgeless noses.
Grôm's own nose wrinkled in disgust as the sour taint of them breathed
up to him.

They were all armed with spears and stone-headed clubs, such as their
people had been unacquainted with up to the time of their attack upon
the Tribe of the Little Hills. It was apparent to Grôm that the
renegade Mawg, who towered among them arrogantly, had been teaching
them what he knew of effective weapons.

Having no remotest comprehension of the language of the Bow-legs--which
Mawg was speaking with them--Grôm could get little clue to the drift of
their talk. They gesticulated frequently toward the east, and then
again toward the caves at the valley-mouth, so Grôm guessed readily
enough that they were planning something against his people.

It was clear, also, that this was but a little scouting party which
the renegade had led in to spy upon the weakness of the tribe. This
was as far as he could premise with any certainty. The obvious
conclusion was that these spies would return to their own country, to
lead back such an invasion as should blot the Children of the Shining
One out of existence.

Grôm was quick to realize that to listen any longer was to waste
invaluable time. All that it was possible for him to learn, he had
learned. Writhing softly back till he had gained what he considered a
safe distance from the spies, he rose to his feet and ran, at first
noiselessly, and crouching as he went, then at the top of that speed
for which he was famous in the tribe. Reaching the Caves, he laid the
matter hurriedly before the Chief, and within five minutes they were
leading a dozen warriors up the trail.

Besides their customary weapons, both Grôm and the Chief carried
fire-sticks, tubes of thick, green bark, tied round with a raw hide,
filled with smouldering punk, and perforated with a number of holes
toward the upper end. This was one of Grôm's inventions, of proved
efficacy against saber-tooth and bear. By cramming a handful of dry
fiber and twigs into the mouth of the tube, and then whirling it
around his head, he was able to obtain a sudden and most unexpected
burst of flame which no beast ever dared to face, and which never
failed to compel the awe and wonder of his followers.

Like shadows the little band went gliding in single file through the
thickets and under the drooping branches, their passage marked only by
the occasional upspringing of a startled bird or the frightened
crashing flight of some timorous beast surprised by their swift and
noiseless approach. Arriving near the hollow under the ledge, they
sank flat and wormed their way forward like weasels till they had
gained the post of observation behind the vine-clad rock.

But the strangers had vanished. An examination of their footprints
showed that they had fled in haste; and to Grôm's chagrin it looked as
if he had himself given them the alarm. The problem was solved in a
few minutes by the discovery that Mawg--easily detected by his finer
footprints--had scaled the ledge and come upon the place where Grôm
had lain hidden to watch them. Seeing that they were discovered, and
that their discoverer had evidently gone to arouse the tribe, they had
realized that, the Bow-legs being slow runners, their only hope lay in
instant flight. From the direction which they had taken it was evident
that they were fleeing back to their own country.

The Chief ordered instant pursuit. To this Grôm demurred, not only
because the fugitives had obtained such a start--as was shown by the
state of the trail--but because he dreaded to leave the Caves so long
unguarded. He foresaw the possibility of another band of invaders
surprising the Caves during the absence of this most efficient
fighting force. But the Chief overruled him.

For several hours was the pursuit kept up; and from the trail it
appeared, not only that Mawg was leading his followers cleverly, but
also that the Bow-legs were making no mean speed. The pursuers were
come by now to near the head of the valley, a region with which they
were little familiar. It was a broken country and well fitted for
ambuscade, where a lesser force, well posted and driven to bay, might
well secure a deadly advantage. The tribe was too weak to risk its few
fighting men in any uncertain contest; and the Chief, yielding slowly
to Grôm's arguments, was on the point of giving the order to turn
back, when a harsh scream of terror from just ahead, beyond a shoulder
of rock, brought the line to a halt.

Waving their followers into concealment on either side of the trail,
the Chief and Grôm stole forward and peered cautiously around the
turn.

Straight before them fell away a steep and rugged slope. Midway of the
descent, with his back to a rock, crouched one of the Bow-legs,
battling frantically with his club to keep off the attack of a pair of
leopards. The man was kneeling upon one knee, with the other leg
trailed awkwardly behind him. It seemed an altogether difficult and
disadvantageous position in which to do battle.

"The fool!" said Bawr. "He doesn't know how to fight a leopard."

"He's hurt. His leg is broken!" said Grôm. And straightway, a novel
purpose flashing into his far-seeing brain, he ran leaping down the
slope to the rescue, waving his fire-stick to a blaze as he went.

The Chief looked puzzled for a moment, wondering why the deliberate
Grôm should trouble to do what it was plain the leopards would do for
him most effectually. But he dreaded the chance of an ambuscade.
Shouting to the men behind to come on, he waved his own fire-stick to
a blaze, and followed Grôm.

One of the leopards had already succeeded in closing in upon the
wounded Bow-leg; but at the sight of Grôm and the Chief leaping down
upon them they sprang back snarling and scurried off among the
thickets like frightened cats. The Bow-leg lifted wild eyes to learn
the meaning of his deliverance. But when he saw those two tall forms
rushing at him with flame and smoke circling about their heads, he
gave a groan and fell forward upon his face.

Grôm stood over him, staring down upon the misshapen and bleeding form
with thoughtful eyes; while the Chief looked on, striving to fathom
his purpose. The warriors came up, shouting savage delight at having
at last got one of their dreaded enemies into their hands alive. They
would have fallen upon him at once and torn him to pieces. But Grôm
waved them back sternly. They growled with indignation, and one,
sufficiently prominent in the tribal counsels to dare Grôm's
displeasure, protested hotly against this favor to so venomous a foe.

"I demand this fellow, Bawr, as my captive!" said Grôm.

"It was you who took him," answered the Chief. "He is yours." He was
about to add, "though I can't see what you want of him"; but it was a
part of his policy never to seem in doubt or ignorance about anything
that another might perhaps know. So, instead, he sternly told his
followers to obey the law of the tribe and respect Grôm's capture.
Then Grôm stepped close beside him and said at his ear: "Many things
which we need to know will Bawr learn from this fellow presently, as
to the dangers which are like to come upon us."

At this the Chief, being ready of wit, comprehended Grôm's purpose;
and, to the amazement of his followers, he looked down upon the
hideous prisoner with a smile of satisfaction.

"Well have I called you the Chief's Right Hand," he answered. "I shall
also have to call you the Chief's Wisdom, for in saving this fellow's
life you have shown more forethought than I."

The captive's wounds having been dressed with astringent herbs, and
his broken leg put into splints in accordance with the rude but not
ineffective surgery of the time, he was placed on a rough litter of
interlaced branches and carried back by the reluctant warriors to the
Caves.

None of the warriors were advanced enough to have understood the
policy of their leaders, so no effort was made by either the Chief or
Grôm to explain it. The Chief, doubly secure in his dominance by
reason of Grôm's loyal support, cared little whether his followers
were content or not, and he took no heed of their ill-humor so long as
they did not allow it to become articulate.

But when, after an hour's sullen tramping, they suddenly grew merry at
their task, and fell to marching with a child-like cheer under their
repulsive and groaning burden, he was surprised, and made inquiry as
to the reason for this sudden complaisance. It turned out that one of
the warriors, accounted more discerning than his fellows, had
suggested that the captive was to be nursed back to health in order
that he might be made an acceptable sacrifice to the Shining One. As
this notion seemed to meet with such hearty approval, the wise Chief
did not think it worth while to cast any doubt upon it. In fact, as he
thought, such a solution might very well arrive, in the end, in case
Grôm's design should fail to come up to his expectations.

To the presence of the hideous and repulsive stranger in her dwelling,
A-ya, as was natural, raised warm objection. But when Grôm had
explained his purpose to her, and the imminence of the peril that
threatened, she yielded readily enough, the dread of Mawg being yet
vivid in her imagination. She lent herself cheerfully to the duty of
caring for the captive's wounds and of helping Grôm to teach him the
simple speech of the tribe.

As for the captive, for some days he was possessed by a morose
anticipation of being brained at any moment--an anticipation, however,
which did not seem to interfere with his appetite. He would clutch
eagerly all the food offered him, and crouch, huddled over it, with
his face to the rock-wall, while he devoured it with frantic haste and
bestial noises. But as he found himself treated with invariable
kindness, he began to develop an anxious gratitude and docility. On
A-ya's tall form his little round eyes, shy and fierce at the same
time, came to rest with an adoring awe. The smell of him being
extremely offensive to all this cleanly tribe, and especially to A-ya
and Grôm, who were more fastidious than their fellows, A-ya had taken
advantage of her office as priestess of the Shining One to establish a
little fire within the precincts of her own dwelling, and by the
judicious use of aromatic barks upon the blaze she was able to scent
the place to her taste. And the Bow-leg, seeing her mastery of the
mysterious and dreadful scarlet tongues which licked upwards from the
hollow on their rocky pedestal, regarded her less as a woman than as a
goddess--a being who, for her own unknown reasons, chose to be
beneficent toward him, but who plainly could become destructive if he
should in any way transgress. Toward Grôm--who regarded him altogether
impersonally as a means to an end, a pawn to be played prudently in a
game of vast import--his attitude was that of the submitted slave, his
fate lying in the hollow of his master's hand. Toward the rest of the
tribe--who, till their curiosity was sated, kept crowding in to stare
and jeer and curse--he displayed the savage fear and hate of a lynx at
bay.

But the babe on A-ya's arm seemed to him something peculiarly
precious. It was not only the son of Grôm, his grave and distant
master, but also of that wonderful, beautiful, enigmatic deity, his
mistress, the fashioner and controller of the flames. The adoration
which soon grew up in his heart for A-ya's beauty, but which his awe
of her did not suffer him even to realize to himself, was turned upon
the babe, and speedily took the form of a passionate and dog-like
devotion. A-ya, with her mother instinct, was quick to understand
this, and also to realize the possible value to her child of such a
devotion, in some future emergency. Moreover, it softened her heart
toward the hideous captive, so that she busied herself not only to
help Grôm teach him their language, but also to reform his manners and
make him somewhat less unpleasant an associate. His wounds soon
healed, thanks to the vitality of his youthful stock; and the bones of
the broken leg soon knit themselves securely. But Grôm's surgery
having been hasty and something less than exact, the leg remained so
crooked that its owner could do no more than hobble about with a
laborious, dragging gait. It being obvious that he could not run away,
there was no guard set upon him.

But it soon became equally obvious that nothing would induce him to
remove himself from the neighborhood of A-ya's baby. He was like a
gigantic watchdog squatting at Grôm's doorway, chained to it by links
stronger than any that hands could fashion. And those of the tribe who
had been hoping to do honor to the Shining One, as well as to the
spirits of their slain kinsmen back in the barrow on the windy hills,
by a great and bloody sacrifice, began to realize with discontent that
their hopes were like enough to be disappointed.


II

The captive said his name was Ook-ootsk--a clicking guttural which
none but A-ya was able to master. When he had learned to make himself
understood, he proved eager to repay Grôm's protection by giving all
the information that he possessed. Simple-minded, but with much of a
child's shrewdness, he quickly came to regard himself as of some
importance when both the Chief and Grôm would spend hours in
interrogating him. His own people he repudiated with bitterness,
because, when he had fallen among the rocks and shattered his leg, his
party had refused to burden their flight by helping him. It became his
pride to identify himself with the interests of his master, and to
call himself the slave of his master's baby.

The information which he was able to give was such as to cause the
Chief and Grôm the most profound disquietude. It appeared that the
Bow-legs, having gradually recovered from the panic of their appalling
defeat in the Pass of the Little Hills, had made up their minds that
the disaster must be avenged. But no longer did they hold their
opponents cheap on account of their scanty numbers. They realized that
if they would hope to succeed in their next attack they must organize,
and prepare themselves by learning how to employ their forces better.
To this end, therefore, when Mawg and his fellow-renegades fell into
their hands, instead of tearing them to pieces in bestial sport, they
had spared them, and made much of them, and set themselves diligently
to learn all that the strangers could teach. And Mawg, seeing here his
opportunity both for vengeance on Grôm and for the gratification of
that mad passion for A-ya which had so long obsessed him, had gone
about the business with shrewd foresight and a convincing zeal.

It was apparent from the accounts which Ook-ootsk was able to give
that the invasion would take place as soon as possible after their
hordes were adequately armed with the new weapons. This, said
Ook-ootsk, would be soon after the dry season had set in. In any case,
he said, the hordes were bound to wait for the dry season, because the
way from their country to the Valley of Fire lay through a region of
swamps which became impassable for any large body of migrants during
the month of rains.

As the dry season was already close upon them, Bawr and Grôm now set
themselves feverishly to the arrangement of their defenses. Counting
the older boys who had grown into sizable youths since the last great
battle and all the able-bodied women and girls, they could muster no
more than about six score of actual combatants. They knew that defeat
would mean nothing less than instant annihilation for the tribe, and
for the women a foul captivity and a loathsome mating. But they knew
also that a mere successful defense would avail them only for the
moment. Unless they could inflict upon the invaders such a defeat as
would amount to a paralyzing catastrophe, they would soon be worn down
by mere force of numbers, or starved to death in their caves. It was
not only for defense, therefore, but for wholesale attack--the attack
of six score upon as many thousand--that Bawr planned his strategy and
Grôm wove unheard-of devices.

Of the two great caves occupied by the tribe one was now abandoned, as
not lending itself easily to defense. To Bawr's battle-trained eyes it
revealed itself as rather a trap than a refuge, because from the
heights behind it an enemy could roll down rocks enough to effectively
block its mouth. But the cliff in which the other cave was hollowed
was practically inaccessible, and hung beetling far over the
entrance.

Into this natural fortress the tribe--with an infinite deal of
grumbling--was removed. Store of roots and dried flesh was gathered
within; and every one was set to the collection of dry and half-dry fuel.
The light stuff, with an immense number of short, highly-inflammable
faggots, was piled inside the doorway where no rain could reach it. And
the heavy wood was stacked outside, to right and left, in such a fashion
as to form practical ramparts for the innermost line of defense.

Directly in front of the cave spread a small fan-shaped plateau
several hundred square yards in area. On the right a narrow path, wide
enough for but one wayfarer at a time, descended between perpendicular
boulders to the second cave. On the left the plateau was bordered by
broken ground, a jumble of serrated rocks, to be traversed only with
difficulty. In front there was a steep but shallow dip, from which the
land sloped gently up the valley, clothed with high bush and deep
thickets intersected with innumerable narrow trails.

Directly in front of the cave, and about the center of the plateau,
burned always, night and day, the sacred fire, tended in turn by the
members of the little band appointed to this distinguished service by
the Chief. Under the Chief's direction the whole of the plateau was
now cleared of underbrush and grass, and then along its brink was laid
a chain of small fires, some ten or twelve feet apart, and all ready
for lighting.

Meanwhile, Grôm was busy preparing the device on which, according to
his plan of campaign, the ultimate issue was to hang. For days the
tribe was kept on the stretch collecting dry and leafy brushwood from
the other side of the valley, and bundles of dead grass from the rich
savannahs beyond the valley-mouth, on the other side of the dancing
flames. All this inflammable stuff Grôm distributed lavishly through
the thickets before the plateau, to a distance of nearly a mile up the
slope, till the whole space was in reality one vast bonfire laid ready
for the torch.

While these preparations were being rushed--somewhat to the perplexity
of the tribe, who could not fathom the tactics of stuffing the
landscape with rubbish--Bawr was keeping a little band of scouts on
guard at the far-off head of the valley. They were chosen from the
swift runners of the tribe; and Bawr, who was a far-seeing general,
had them relieved twice in twenty-four hours, that they might not grow
weary and fail in vigilance.

When all was ready came a time of trying suspense. As day after day
rolled by without event, cloudless and hot, the country became as dry
as tinder; and the tribe, seeing that nothing unusual happened, began
to doubt or to forget the danger that hung over them. There were
murmurs over the strain of ceaseless watching, murmurs which Bawr
suppressed with small ceremony. But the lame Ook-ootsk, squatting
misshapen in Grôm's doorway with A-ya's baby in his ape-like arms grew
more and more anxious. As he conveyed to Grôm, the longer the delay
the greater the force which was being gathered for the assault.

Having no inkling of Grôm's larger designs, he looked with distrust on
the little heaps of wood that were to be fires along the edge of the
plateau, and wished them to be piled much bigger, intimating that his
people, though they would be terribly afraid of the Shining One, would
be forced on from behind by sheer numbers and would trample the small
fires out. The confidence of the Chief and Grôm, and of A-ya as well,
in the face of the awful peril which hung over them, filled him with
amazement.

Then, at last, one evening just in the dying flush of the sunset, came
the scouts, running breathlessly, and one with a ragged spear-wound in
his shoulder. Their eyes were wide as they told of the countless
myriads of the Bow-legs who were pouring into the head of the valley,
led by Mawg and a gigantic black-faced chief as tall as Bawr himself.

"Are they as many," asked Grôm, "as they who came against us in the
Little Hills?"

But the panting men threw up their hands.

"As a swarm of locusts to a flock of starlings," they replied.

To their astonishment the Chief smiled with grim satisfaction at this
appalling news.

"It is well," said he. Mounting a rock by the cave-door, he gazed up
the valley, striving to make out the vanguard of the approaching
hordes; while Grôm, marshalling the servitors of the fire, stationed
them by the range of piles, ready to set light to them on the given
word.

It was nearly an hour--so swift had been the terror of the scouts--before
a low, terrible sound of crashings and mutterings announced that the hordes
were drawing near. It was now twilight, with the first stars appearing in
a pallid violet sky; and up the valley could be discerned an obscurely
rolling confusion among the thickets. Bawr gave orders, rapid and concise;
and the combatants lined out in a double rank along the front of the
plateau some three or four paces behind the piles of wood.

They were armed with stone-headed clubs, large or small, according to
personal taste, and each carried at least three flint-tipped spears.
At the head of the narrow path leading up from the lower cave were
stationed half a dozen women, similarly armed. Bawr had chosen these
women because each of them had one or more young children in the cave
behind her; and he knew that no adventurous foe would get up that path
alive. But A-ya was not among these six wild mothers, for her place
was at the service of the fires.

The ominous roar and that obscure confusion rolled swiftly nearer, and
Bawr, with a swing of his huge club, sprang down from his post of
observation and strode to the front. Grôm shouted an order, and light
was set to all the crescent of fires. They flared up briskly; and at
the same time the big central fire, which had been allowed to sink to
a heap of glowing coals, was heaped with dry stuff which sent up an
instant column of flame. The sudden wide illumination, shed some
hundreds of yards up the valley, revealed the front ranks of the
Bow-legs swarming in the brush, their hideous yellow faces, gaping
nostrils and pig-like eyes all turned up in awe towards the glare.

The advance of the front ranks came to an instant halt, and the low
muttering rose to a chorus of harsh cries. Then the tall figure of
Mawg sprang to the front, followed, after a moment of wondering
hesitation, by that of the head chief of the hordes, a massive
creature of the true Bow-leg type, but as tall as Bawr himself, and in
color almost black. This giant and Mawg, refusing to be awed by the
tremendous phenomenon of the fire, went leaping along the lines of
their followers, urging them forward, and pointing out that their
enemies stood close beside the flames and took no hurt.

On the front ranks themselves this reasoning seemed, at first, to
produce little effect. But to those just behind it appeared more
cogent, seconded as it was by a consuming curiosity. Moreover, the
masses in the rear were rolling down, and their pressure presently
became irresistible. All at once the front ranks realized that they
had no choice in the matter. They sagged forward, surged obstinately
back again, then gave like a bursting dam and poured, yelling and
leaping, straight onward toward the crescent of fires.

As soon as the rush was fairly begun, both Mawg and the Black Chief
cleverly extricated themselves from it, running aside to the higher,
broken ground at the left of the plateau whence they could see and
direct the attack. It was plain enough that they accounted the front
ranks doomed, and were depending on sheer weight of numbers for the
inevitable victory.

Standing grim, silent, immovable between their fires, the Chief and
Grôm awaited the dreadful onset. In all the tribe not a voice was
raised, not a fighter, man or woman, quailed. But many hearts stood
still, for it looked as if that living flood could never be stayed.
Presently from all along its front came a cloud of spears. But they
fell short, not more than half a dozen reaching the edge of the
plateau. In instant response came a deep-chested shout from Bawr,
followed by a discharge of spears from behind the line of fire.

These spears, driven with free arm and practised skill, went clean
home in the packed ranks of the foe, but they caused no more than a
second's wavering, as the dead went down and their fellows crowded on
straight over them. A second volley from the grimly silent fighters on
the plateau had somewhat more effect. Driven low, and at shorter
range, every jagged flint-point found its mark, and the screaming
victims hampered those behind. But after a moment the mad flood came
on again, till it was within some thirty paces of the edge of the
plateau.

Then came a long shout from Grôm, a signal which had been anxiously
awaited by the front line of his fighters. Each fire had been laid, on
the inner side, with dry faggots of a resinous wood which not only
blazed freely but held the flame tenaciously. These faggots had been
placed with only their tips in the fire. Seizing them by their
unlighted ends, the warriors hurled them, blazing, full into the
gaping faces before them.

The brutal, gaping faces screeched with pain and terror, and the whole
front rank, beating frantically at the strange missiles, wheeled about
and clawed at the rank behind, battling to force its way through. But
the rolling masses were not to be denied. After a brief, terrible
struggle, the would-be fugitives were borne down and trodden
underfoot. The new-comers were greeted with a second discharge of the
blazing brands, and the dreadful scene repeated itself. But now there
was a difference. For many of the assailants, realizing that there was
no chance of retreat, came straight on, heedless of brand or spear,
with the deadly, uncalculating fury of a beast at bay.

For some seconds, under the specific directions of the Chief on the
right center and of Grôm far to the left, many of the blazing brands
had been thrown, not into the faces of the front rank, but far over
their heads, to fall among the tinder-dry brushwood. Long tongues of
flame leaped up at once, here, there, everywhere, curling and licking
savagely. Screeches of horror arose, which brought all the hordes to a
halt as far back as they could be heard. A light wind was blowing up
the valley, and almost at once the scattered flames, gathering volume,
came together with a roar. The hordes, smitten with the blindest
madness of panic, turned to flee, springing upon and tearing at each
other in the desperate struggle to escape.

Shouting triumph and derision, the defenders bounded forward, down
over the edge of the plateau, and fell upon the huddled ranks before
them. But these, with all escape cut off, and far outnumbering their
exultant adversaries, now fought like rats in a pit. And the men of
the caves found themselves locked in a struggle to the death just when
they had thought the fight was done.

A-ya, no longer needed at the fires, was just about to follow Grôm
down into the thick of the reeking battle, when a scream from the
cave-mouth made her whip round. She was just in time to see Ook-ootsk
hurl his spear at the tall figure of Mawg, leaping down upon him from
the broken slope on the left. A half score of the Bow-legs were
following hard upon Mawg's heels. With a scream of warning to Grôm she
rushed back to the cave. But Grôm did not hear her. He had been pulled
down, struck senseless and buried under a writhing heap of foes.

Her long hair streaming behind her, her eyes like those of a tigress
protecting her cubs, A-ya darted to the cave-door. But she did not
reach it. Just outside the threshold a club descended upon her head,
and she dropped. Instantly she was pounced upon, and bound. A moment
later three Bow-legs, followed by Mawg, streaming with blood, came
running out of the cave. Mawg swung the limp form across his shoulder
with a grin of satisfaction, and the party beat a hurried retreat up
the slopes.

In a few minutes that last death-grapple along the front of the
plateau came to an end, and Bawr, leaving nearly a third of his
followers slain with the slain Bow-legs, led the exultant survivors
back to the cave. It had been a costly victory for the Children of
the Shining One; but for the invaders it was little less than
annihilation. The flames were raging for a mile up the valley,
wherever they were not choked by the piles and windrows of the dead
or dying Bow-legs. The lurid night was shaken with the incessant
rising and falling chorus of shrieks, and far off under the glare
rolled that awful receding wave of fugitives, with the flames
leaping upon them and slaying them as they fled. Leaning upon his
club and gazing thoughtfully across the scene of incredible
destruction, Bawr told himself that never again, so long as the
memory of this night survived, would the Bow-legs dare to come
against his people.

Then wild lamentation from the women drew the Chief into the cave.
Here he found that half the little ones had been killed in that swift
incursion of Mawg, and that nearly all the old men and women had been
slaughtered in defending their charges. Across Grôm's doorway,
crouching on his face and with his great teeth buried in the throat of
a dead Bow-leg, lay the lame captive, Ook-ootsk. Seeing that he still
breathed, and marking the fury with which he had fought in defense of
their little ones, the warriors lifted him aside gently. Beneath him,
and safely guarded in the crook of his shaggy arm, they found Grôm's
baby, without a hurt. The women defending the head of the path on the
right having seen the rape of A-ya, Bawr handed the babe to one of his
own wives to cherish.

Then search was made for Grôm. At first the Chief imagined that he had
followed the captors of A-ya, in a desperate hope of effecting her
rescue alone. But they found him under a heap of dead, so nearly dead
himself that they despaired of him. Realizing that it was he who had
saved the tribe, they began over him that great keening lamentation
hitherto reserved strictly for the funeral of the supreme Chief
himself. But Bawr, his massive features furrowed with solicitude,
stopped them, vowing that Grôm should not die. And lifting the hero in
his arms he bore him into the cave.

Grôm's wounds proved to be deep, but not fatal to one of these
clean-blooded sons of the open and the wind. It was some days before
it was clearly borne in upon him that A-ya had been carried off alive
by the Bow-legs. Then, with a great cry, he sprang to his feet. The
blood spouted afresh from his wounds, and he fell back in a swoon.
When he came to himself again, for days he would speak to no one, and
it looked as if he would die, not of his wounds so much as of the
insufficient will to live. But a chance word of the captive Ook-ootsk,
who was being nursed back to life beside him, reminded him that there
was vengeance to be lived for, and he roused himself a little. Then
Bawr, ever subtle in the reading of his people's hearts, suggested to
him that even such a feat as the rescue of the girl A-ya might not be
impossible to the subjugator of the fire and the slayer of a whole
people.

And from that moment Grôm began climbing steadily back to life.



CHAPTER VII

THE RESCUE OF A-YA


The clay-colored, ape-like, bow-legged men squatted in council.

It was not long, as time went in the long, slow morning of the
world--perhaps a half-score thousand years or so--since their
ancestors, in the pride of their dawning intelligence, had swung down
from their tree-tops, to walk upright on the solid earth and challenge
the supremacy of the hunting beasts. Their arms were still of an
unhuman and ungainly length, their short powerful legs were still so
heavily bowed that they had no great speed in running; and they still
had their homes high among the branches, where they could sleep secure
from surprise. They were still tree dwellers; but they were men,
intent upon asserting their lordship over all the other dwellers upon
earth's surface.

They were not beautiful to look upon. Their squat, powerful forms,
varying in color from a dingy yellow-brown to blackish mud-color, were
covered unevenly with a thin growth of dark hairs. On thigh and
shoulder, down the backbone, and on the outer side of the long
forearm, this growth was heavier and longer, forming a sort of
irregular thatch; while the hair of their heads was jet black, and
matted into a filthy tangle with grease and clay. Their faces were
broad and flat, with powerful protruding jaws, low and very receding
foreheads, and wide noses which seemed to have been punched in at the
bridge so that the flaring red nostrils turned upwards hideously.

It was but a battered and crestfallen remnant of the tribe which now
took counsel over their diminished fortunes. In an irregular
half-circle they squatted, pawing gingerly at their wounds or
scratching themselves uncouthly, while their apish women loitered in
chattering groups outside the circle, or crouched in the branches of
the neighboring trees. Those who were perched in the trees mostly held
babies at their breasts, and were therefore instinctively distrustful
of the dangerous ground-levels. Here and there on the outskirts of the
crowd, either squatting on hillocks or clinging in a tree-top,
wary-eyed old women kept watch against surprise; though there were few
among either beasts or men who would be likely to venture an attack
upon the ferocious tribe of the Bow-legs.

On a low, flat-topped bowlder, which served the purpose of a throne,
sat the Chief of the Bow-legs, playing with his unwieldy club (which
was merely the root end of a sapling hacked into shape with sharp
stones), as if it had been a bulrush. In height and bulk he was far
above his fellows, though similar to them in general type except for
the matter of color, which was dark almost to blackness. His jaws were
those of a beast, and his whole appearance was bestial beyond that of
any other in the whole hideous throng--except for his eyes. These,
though small and deep-set, blazed with fierce intelligence, and swept
his audience with an air of assured mastery which made plain why he
was chief. He was talking rapidly, with broad gestures, and in a
barking, clicking speech which sounded little more than half
articulate. He was working himself up into a rage; and the squatting
listeners wriggled apprehensively, while they applauded from time to
time with grunts and growls.

Near the end of the foremost rank of the semi-circle, very close to
the haranguing Chief, sat one who was plainly of superior race to his
companions. Something in the harangue seemed to concern him
particularly, for he sprang to his feet and stood leaning on his
club--which was longer and more symmetrically fashioned than that of
the chief. In color he was manifestly white, for all that dirt and
the weather could do to disguise it. He was taller even than the great
Black Chief himself--but shorter in the body, and achieving his
height through length and straightness of leg. He had chest and
shoulders of enormous power; but, unlike the barrel-shaped Bow-legs
he was comparatively slim of waist and hips. He had less hair on
the body--except on the chest and forearm--than his companions;
but far more on the head, where it stood out all around like an
immense black-tawny mane. His face, though heavy and lowering, _was_
a face--with square, resolute jaws, a modelled mouth, a big,
fully-bridged nose, and a spacious forehead. His eyes were blue, and
now, deep under their shaggy brows, glared upon the Chief with
desperate defiance. Close behind his heels crouched a girl,
obviously of his own race--a tall, strong, shapely figure of a
woman, as could well be seen, though her attitude was one of utter
dejection, her face sunk upon her knees, and half her body hidden
in the tangled torrent of her dull chestnut hair.

The tall alien, so dauntlessly eyeing the Chief, was Mawg the
renegade. Arrogant in his folly, he had not realized that the Tree Men
would hold him to account for the calamity which he had brought upon
them. He had not realized that the girl A-ya, with her straight limbs
and her strong comeliness, might stir the craving of others besides
himself. Now, as he listened to the fierce harangue of the Chief, as
his alert ears caught the mutterings behind and about him, he saw the
pit yawn suddenly at his feet. But though a brute and a traitor, he
was no coward. His veins began to run hot, his sinews to stretch for
the death struggle which would presently be upon him.

As for the girl, unseeing, unhearing, her head bowed between her naked
knees, she cared nothing. She loathed life, and all about her,
equally. Her baby and her lord, if they yet lived, were far away
beyond the mountains and the swamps, in the caverned hillside behind
the smoke of the fires. Her captor, Mawg, she loathed above all; but
she was here behind him because he held her always within reach lest
the filthy women of the Bow-legs should tear her to pieces.

Suddenly, without looking around, Mawg spoke to her, in their own
tongue, which the Bow-legs could not understand. "Be ready, girl. They
are going to kill me now. The Black Chief wants you. But I kill him
and we run. They are all dirt. _Come!_"

On the word, he sprang straight at the great Black Chief, where he
towered upon his rock. But the girl, though she heard every syllable,
never stirred.

The spring of Mawg was like a leopard's; but the Black Chief, though
slow of foot, was not slow of hand or wits. Though taken by surprise,
he swung up his club in time to partly parry Mawg's lightning stroke,
which would otherwise have broken his bull neck. As it was, the club
was almost beaten from his grasp. He dropped it with a snarl and
leaped at his assailant's throat with clutching hands.

Had it been possible to fight it out man to man, Mawg would have liked
nothing better, though the issue would have been a doubtful one. But
he had no mind to face the whole tribe, which was now surging forward
like a pack of wolves. He had no time to repeat his blow fairly; but
as he eluded the gigantic, clutching fingers he got in a light
glancing stroke with the butt which laid open his adversary's cheek
and closed one furious little eye. At the same instant he whirled away
lithely, sprang from the rock on the further side, and ran off like a
deer through the trees, cursing the girl because she had not followed
him. About half the tribe went trailing after him, yelling hoarsely,
while the rest drew back and waited uneasily to see what their Chief
would do.

The Chief, clapping one hairy hand over his wounded eye, glared after
the fugitive with the other. But he knew the folly of trying to catch
his fleet-footed adversary, and after a moment he dismissed him from
his mind. With a grunt he stepped down from his rock, and heedless of
his wound, strode over to the girl. Through all the tumult she had
never lifted her head from between her knees, or shown the least sign
of concern. The Chief seized her by the shoulder and shook her
roughly, ordering her to come with him. She did not understand his
language, but his meaning was obvious. She looked up and stared
straight into his one open eye. In her own eyes shifted the dangerous,
lambent flame of a beast at bay, and for a moment she was on the point
of darting at his throat.

But not without reason was the Black Chief dictator of the Bow-legs.
Brutal and filthy though he was, and hideous beyond description, and
horrible with his gashed face and the blood pouring down over his huge
and shaggy chest, he was all a man, and the mastery in him checked
her. She felt the hopelessness of fighting her fate. The flame
flickered out, leaving her eyes dull and leaden. She rose listlessly,
and followed her new lord to the tree in which he had his dwelling of
woven branches.

At the foot of the tree the Black Chief stopped, stood back, and
signed the girl to ascend. A climber as expert as himself, she
clutched the rough trunk with accustomed hands. Then she hesitated,
and shut her eyes. Should she obey, yielding to her fate? Mawg, her
late captor, she had hated with a murderous hate; yet she had
submitted to him, in a dim way biding her time for vengeance. He was
of her own race; and it was in her mind, her spirit--though she
herself could not so analyze the emotion--that she hated him. But this
new master was an alien, and of a lower, beastlier type. Toward him
she felt a sick bodily repulsion. Behind her tight-shut lids the dark
went red. She stood rigid and quivering, stormed through by a raging
impulse to tear out either his throat or her own. She was herself a
more advanced product of her own advanced race, and urged by impulses
still new and imperfectly applied to life. But the countless centuries
of submission were in her blood also; and they whispered to her
insidiously that she was lawful prey. A huge hand fell significantly
upon the back of her neck. She jumped, gave a sobbing cry, and sprang
up into the tree. Who was she to challenge doom for an idea, a hundred
thousand years before her time.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Some days' journey to the westward of the swampy refuge of the
Bow-legs, a tall hunter was making his way warily through the forest.
His color, his build, and his swift grace of movement proclaimed him
of the same race as Mawg and the girl A-ya, acquitting him easily of
any kinship with the People of the Trees. In height and weight he was
much like Mawg, but lighter in complexion, somewhat less hairy, and of
a frank, sagacious countenance. His eyes were of a blue-gray, calm and
piercing, yet with a look in them as of one who broods on mysteries.
He was obviously much older than Mawg, his long, thick hair and short,
close-curling beard being liberally touched with gray. He carried in
one hand a peculiar long-handled club, which he had fashioned by
lashing, with strips of green hide, a split and jagged flint-stone
into the cleft head of a stick. In the other hand he bore two long,
slender spears, their tips hardened and pointed in fire.

On the day, now many weeks back, when Grôm set out from the Caves
behind the Fire to seek for A-ya in the far-off country of the
Bow-legs, he had carried also two hollow tubes of green bark, with the
seeds of fire, kept smouldering in a bed of punk, hidden in the hearts
of them. But the need of stopping frequently to build a fire and renew
the vitality of the secret spark had soon exasperated his impatient
spirit. Intolerant of the hindrance, and confident in his own strength
and craft, he had thrown the fire-tubes away and fallen back upon the
weapons which had sufficed him before his discovery and conquest of
the Shining One.

Engrossed in his purpose, thinking only of regaining possession of the
girl, the mother of his man-child, he shunned all contest with the
great beasts which crossed his path, and fled without shame from those
which undertook to hunt him.

He would risk no doubtful battle. He satisfied his hunger on wild
honey, and the ripe fruits and tubers with which the forest abounded
at this season. At night he made his nest, of hurriedly woven
branches, in the highest swaying of the tree-tops, where not even the
leopard, cunning climber though she was, could come at him without
giving timely warning. And so, doggedly and swiftly making his way due
east, he came at length to the fringes of that vast region of swampy
meres and fruitful, rankly wooded islets which was occupied by the
Bow-legs.

Here he had need of all that wood-craft which had so often enabled him
to stalk even the wary antelope. The light color of his skin being a
betrayal, he rubbed himself with clayey ooze till he was of the same
hue as the Bow-legs. Crawling through the undergrowth at dusk as
soundlessly as a snake, or swinging along smoothly through the
branches like a gray ape in the first confusing glimmer of the dawn,
he made short incursions among the outlying colonies, but could find
no sign of the girl, or Mawg, in whose hands he imagined her still to
be. But working warily around the outskirts of the tribe, to
northward, he came at last upon the stale but unmistakable trail of a
flight and a pursuit. This he followed up till the pursuit came
stragglingly to an end, and the trail of the fugitive stood out alone
and distinct. One clear footprint in the wet earth revealed itself
clearly as Mawg's--for there was no such thing as confounding that
arched and moulded imprint with those left by the apish men.
Feverishly the hunter cast about for another trail, smaller and
slimmer. Forward he searched for it, and then back among the trampings
of the pursuers. But in vain. Clearly Mawg had been the sole
fugitive.

Grôm sat down in sudden despair. If Mawg, who at least was no coward,
had fled alone, then surely the girl was dead. Grôm's club and his
spears dropped from his nerveless hands. His interest in life sank
into a sick indifference, a dull anguish which he did not even try to
understand. It was well for him that no prowling beast came by in that
moment of his unseeing weakness. Then a new thought came to him, and
his despair flamed into rage. He leapt to his feet, clutching at his
shaggy beard. The girl had been seized, without doubt, by the great
Black Chief. The thought of this defilement to his woman, the mother
of his man-child, drove him quite mad for the moment. Snatching up his
weapons, he roared with anguish, and ran blindly forward along the
trampled trail, ready to hurl himself upon the whole loathsome tribe.
A gigantic leopard, crouching in a thicket of scarlet poinsettia
beside the trail, made as if to pounce upon him as he went by--but
shrank back, instead, with flattened ears, daunted by his fury.

But presently the madness burned itself out. As sanity returned he
checked his rush, glanced once more watchfully about him, and at
length stepped furtively into the thick of the jungle. Now more than
ever was his coolest craft demanded, that A-ya might be plucked from
the monster's arms.

Following up the plain clue of that tremendous pursuit, Grôm worked
his way deep into the Bow-legs' country. With all his craft and his
lynx-like stealth, it was at times hair-raising work. Not only the
ground thickets, but the tree-tops as well, were swarming with his
keen-eyed foes. He had to worm his way between swamp-sodden roots, and
sometimes lie moveless as a stone for hours, enduring the stings of a
million insects. Sometimes, not daring to lift his head to look about
him, he had to trust to his ears and his hound-like sense of smell for
information as to what was going on. And sometimes it was only his
tireless immobility that saved him from the stroke of a startled adder
or a questioning and indignant crotalus. After long swaying, poised
for the death-stroke, the serpent would decide that the menacing thing
before it was not alive. It would slowly dissolve its tense coils, and
glide away; and Grôm would resume his shadowy progress.

Then, about sunrise (for the Bow-legs, like the birds, were early
risers) of the second day after the discovery of Mawg's footprints,
the patient hunter's eyes fell upon A-ya. He had crept in to within a
hundred yards or so of the Council Rock, which was surrounded by a
horde of the Bow-legs. Crouching low as he was, in a dense thicket,
Grôm's view was limited; but he could see, over the heads of the
listening mob, the Black Chief seated on the rock, his ragged club in
his hand. He was haranguing his warriors in rapid clicks and
gutturals, which conveyed no meaning to Grôm's ear. The harangue came
soon to an end. The Chief stood up. The bestial crowd parted--and
through the opening Grôm saw A-ya, crouched, with her hair over her
knees, at the Chief's feet. Stepping down from the rock, the Chief
seized her by the wrist and dragged her upright. She took her place at
his heels, dejectedly, like a whipped dog. Grôm, from within his
thicket, ground his teeth, and with difficulty held himself in leash.
Surrounded as A-ya was, at that moment, by the hordes of her captors,
any attempt at her rescue would have been hopeless folly.

There was something going on among the bow-legged mob which Grôm, from
his hiding-place could not at first make out. Then he saw that the
Chief was trying to instruct his powerful but clumsy followers in the
handling of the club and spear. Having been taught by the white
renegade, Mawg, the Chief used his massive club with skill, but he was
still clumsy and absurdly inaccurate in throwing the spear. After he
had split the face of one of his followers by a misdirected cast, he
gave up the spear-throwing, turned to the girl, and ordered her to
teach this art of her people. It was obvious that the mob had vast
confidence in her powers, as one of superior race, although a mere
woman, for they opened out at once on two sides to leave room for the
expected display. The heart of the watcher in the thicket began to
thump as he saw a way clearing itself between his hiding-place and the
wild-haired woman he loved.

A-ya affected to misunderstand the Chief's orders. She took the spear,
but stood holding it in stupid dejection. The Chief threatened her
angrily, but she paid no attention. At this moment the whistling cry
of a plover sounded from the thicket. The girl straightened herself
and every muscle grew tense. The melancholy cry came again. It was a
strange place for a plover to lurk in, that rank thicket of jungle;
but the Bow-legs took no notice of the incongruity. Upon the girl,
however, the effect of the cry was magical. She gave no glance toward
the thicket, but suddenly, smilingly, she seemed to understand the
orders of the Chief. Poising the rude spear at the height of her
shoulder, she pointed to a huge, whitish fungus which grew upon a
tree-root some sixty or seventy feet away. With a flexing of her whole
lithe body--as Grôm had taught her--she made her throw. The white
fungus was split in halves.

With a hoarse clamor of admiration, the mob surged forward to examine
the fragments. Even the Chief, though disdaining to show the interest
of his followers, took a stride or two in the same direction. For a
second his back was turned. In that second, the girl fled, light and
swift as a deer, speeding toward the thicket whence the cry of the
plover had sounded. Her long bushy hair streamed out behind her as she
ran.

With a bellow of wrath, the Black Chief, the whole mob at his heels,
came pounding after her. The next instant, out from the thicket leapt
Grôm, a towering figure, and stood with spear uplifted. Like a lion at
bay, he glanced swiftly this way and that, balancing the chances of
battle and escape, while he menaced the foes immediately confronting
him.

At this amazing apparition, the mob paused irresolute; but the Black
Chief came on like a mad buffalo. Grôm hurled one of his two spears.
He hurled it with a loathing fury; but he was compelled to throw high,
to clear A-ya's head. The Chief saw it coming, and cunningly flung
himself forward on his face. The weapon hurtled on viciously, and
pierced the squat body of one of the waverers a dozen paces behind. At
his yell of agony the mob woke up, and came on again with guttural,
barking cries. But already Grôm and the girl, side by side, were
fleeing down an open glade to the left, toward a breadth of still
water which they saw gleaming through the trunks. Grôm knew that the
way behind him was swarming with the enemy. He had seen that there was
no chance of getting through the hordes in front and to the right. But
in this direction there were only a few knots of shaggy women, who
shrank in terror at his approach; and he gambled on the chance of the
bow-legged men having no great skill in the water.

All the Folk of the Caves could swim like otters, and both Grôm and
the girl were expert beyond their fellows. The water before them was
some three or four hundred yards in width. They did not know whether
it was a sluggish fenland river, or the arm of a lake; but, heedless
of the peril of crocodiles and water-snakes they plunged in, and with
long powerful side-strokes went surging across toward the opposite
shore. They had a clear start of thirty or forty yards, and their pace
in the water was tremendous. Some heavy splashes in the water behind
them showed how the clumsy missiles of their foes--ragged clubs and
fragments of broken branches--were falling short; and they looked back
derisively.

The bow-legged, shaggy men with their wide, red, skyward nostrils were
ranged along the shore, and the Chief was fiercely urging them into
the water. They shrank back in horror at the prospect--which, indeed,
seemed little to the taste of the Chief himself. Presently he seized
the two nearest by their matted manes, and flung them headlong in.
With yells of terror they scrambled out again, and scurried off to the
rear like half-drowned hens.

The Chief screeched an order. Straightway the mob divided. One part
went racing clumsily up the shore to the left, the other followed the
Chief along through the rank sedge-growth to the right--the Chief, by
reason of his superior stature and length of leg, rapidly opening up
his lead.

"It's nothing but a pond," said Grôm, in disgust, "and they're coming
round the shore to head us off."

But the girl, her hair trailing darkly on the water behind her, only
laughed. She was free at last. And she was with her man.

Suddenly Grôm felt a sharp, stabbing pain in the calf of his leg. With
a cry, he looked back, expecting to see a water-snake gliding off. He
saw nothing. But in the next instant another stab came in the other
leg. Then A-ya screamed: "They're biting me all over." A dozen
stinging punctures distributed themselves all at once over Grôm's
body. Then he understood that their assailants were not water-snakes.

"Quick! To shore!" he ordered. Throwing all their strength into a
breath-sapping, over-hand roll, they shot forward, gained the weedy
shallows, and scrambled ashore. Their bodies were hung thickly with
gigantic leeches.

Heedless of the wounds and the drench of blood, they tore off their
loathsome assailants. Then, after a few seconds' halt to regain breath
and decide on their direction, they started northwestward at a rapid,
swinging lope, through a region of open, grassy glades set with
thickets of giant fern and mimosa.

They had run on at this free pace for a matter of half-an-hour or
more, and were beginning to flatter themselves that they had shaken
off their pursuers, when almost directly ahead of them, to the right,
appeared the Black Chief, lumbering down upon them. Nearly half-a-mile
behind, between the mimosa clumps, could be seen the mob of his
followers straggling up to his support. He yelled a furious challenge,
swung up his great club, and charged upon Grôm. Waving A-ya behind
him, Grôm strode forward, accepting the challenge.

As man to man, the rivals looked not unfairly matched. The fair-skinned
Man of the Caves was the taller by half a head, but obviously the
lighter in weight by a full stone, if not more. His long, straight,
powerfully muscled legs had not the massive strength of his bow-legged
adversary's. He was even slim, by comparison, in hip and waist. But
in chest, arms and shoulders his development was finer. Physically,
it seemed a matter of the lion against the bear.

To Grôm there was one thing almost as vital, in that moment, as the
rescue of his woman. This was the slaking of his lust of hate against
the filthy beast-man who had held that woman captive. Fading ancestral
instincts flamed into new life within him. His impulse was to fling
down spear and club, to fall upon his rival with bare, throttling
hands and rending teeth. But his will, and his realization of all that
hung upon the outcome, held this madness in check.

Silent and motionless, poised lightly and gathered as if for a spring,
Grôm waited till his adversary was within some thirty paces of him.
Then, with deadly force and sure aim, he hurled his one remaining
spear. But he had not counted on the lightning accuracy, swifter than
thought itself, with which the men of the trees used their huge hands.
The Black Chief caught the spear-head within a few inches of his body.
With a roar of rage he snapped the tough shaft like a parsnip stalk,
and threw the pieces aside. Even as he did so, Grôm, still voiceless
and noiseless, was upon him.

Had the vicious swing of Grôm's flint-headed club found its mark, the
battle would have been over. But the Black Chief, for all his bulk,
was quick as an eel. He bowed himself to the earth, so that the stroke
whistled idly over him, and in the next second he swung a vicious,
short blow upwards. It was well-aimed, at the small of Grôm's back.
But the latter, feeling himself over-balanced by his own ineffective
violence, leapt far out of reach before turning to see what had
happened. The Chief recovered himself, and the two lashed out at each
other so exactly together that the great clubs met in mid-air. So
shattering was the force of the impact, so numbing the shock to the
hairy wrists behind it, that both weapons dropped to the ground.

Neither antagonist dared stoop to snatch them up. For several seconds
they stood glaring at each other, their breath hissing through
clenched teeth, their knotted fingers opening and shutting. Then they
sprang at each other's throats--Grôm in silence, the Black Chief
snarling hoarsely. Neither, however, gained the fatal grip at which he
aimed. They found themselves in a fair clinch, and stood swaying,
straining, sweating, and grunting, so equally matched in sheer
strength that to A-ya, standing breathless with suspense, the dreadful
seconds seemed to drag themselves out to hours. Then Grôm, amazed to
find that in brute force he had met his match, feigned to give way.
Loosing the clutch of one arm, he dropped upon his knees. With a grunt
of triumph the Black Chief crashed down upon him, only to find himself
clutched by the legs and hurled clean over his wily adversary's head.
Before he could recover himself, Grôm was upon him, pinning him to the
earth and reaching for his throat. In desperation he set his huge ape
teeth, with the grip of a bull-dog, deep into the muscular base of
Grôm's neck, and began working his way in toward the artery.

At this moment A-ya glanced about her. She saw two bodies of the
Bow-legs closing in upon them from either side--the nearest not much
more than a couple of hundred yards distant. Her lord had plainly
ordered her to stand aside from this combat, but this was no time for
obedience. She snatched up the sharpened fragment of the broken spear.
Gripping it with both hands she drove it with all her force into the
side of the Black Chief's throat, and left it there. With a hideous
cough his grip relaxed. His limbs straightened out stiffly, and he lay
quivering.

Covered with blood, Grôm sprang to his feet, and turned angrily upon
A-ya. "_I_ would have killed him," he said, coldly.

"There was no time," answered the girl, and pointed to the advancing
hordes.

Without a word Grôm snatched up his club, wrenched the broken spear
from his dead rival's neck, thrust it into the girl's hands, and
darted for the narrowing space of open between the two converging
mobs.

With their greatly superior speed it was obvious that the two
fugitives might reasonably expect to win through. They were surprised,
therefore, at the note of triumph in the furious cries of the
Bow-legs. A few hundred yards ahead the comparatively open country
came to an end, and its place was taken by a belt of splendid crimson
bloom, extending to right and left as far as the eye could see. It was
a jungle of shrubs some twenty feet high, with scanty, pale-green
leaves almost hidden by their exuberance of blossom. But jungle though
it was, Grôm's sagacious eyes decided that it was by no means dense
enough to seriously hinder their flight. When they reached it, the
jabbering hordes were almost upon them. But, with mocking laughter,
they slipped through, and plunged in among the gray stems, beneath the
overshadowed rosy glow. Their pursuers yelled wildly--it seemed to
Grôm a yell of exultation--but they halted abruptly at the edge of the
rosy barrier and made no attempt to follow.

"They know they can't catch us," said Grôm, slackening his pace. But
the girl, puzzled by this sudden stopping of the pursuit, felt uneasy
and made no reply.

Loping onward at moderate pace through the enchanting pink light,
which filtered down about them through the massed bloom overhead, they
presently became conscious of an oppressive silence. The cries of
their pursuers having died away behind them, there was now nothing but
the soft thud of their own footfalls to relieve the anxious intentness
of their ears. Not a bird-note, not the flutter of a wing, not the hum
or the darting of a single insect, disturbed the strangely heavy air.
No snake or lizard or squeaking mouse scurried among the fallen
leaves. They wondered greatly at such stillness. Then they wondered at
the absence of small undergrowth, the lack of other shrubs and trees
such as were wont to grow together in the warm jungle. Nothing
anywhere about them but the endless gray stems and pallid slim leaves
of the oleander, with their rose-red roof of blossom.

Presently they felt a lethargy creeping over their limbs, which began
to grow heavy; and a dull pain came throbbing behind their eyes. Then
understanding of those cries of triumph flashed into Grôm's mind. He
stopped and clutched the girl by the wrist. "It is poison here. It is
death," he muttered. "That's why they shouted."

"Yes, everything is dead but the red flowers," whispered A-ya, and
clung to him, shuddering with awe.

"Courage!" cried Grôm, lifting his head and dashing his great hand
across his eyes. "We _must_ get through. We _must_ find air."

Shaking off the deadly sloth, they ran on again at full speed, peering
through the stems in every direction. The effort made their brains
throb fiercely. And still there was nothing before them and about them
but the endless succession of slender gray stems and the downpour of
that sinister rosy light. At last A-ya's steps began to lag, as if she
were growing sleepy.

"Wake up!" shouted Grôm, and dragged so fiercely at her arm that she
cried out. But the pain aroused her to a new effort. She sprang
forward, sobbing. The next moment, she was jerked violently to the
left. "This way!" panted Grôm, the sweat pouring down his livid face;
and there, through the stems to the left, her dazed eyes perceived
that the hated rosy glow was paling into the whiteness of the natural
day.

It was a big white rock, an island thrust up through the sea of
treacherous bloom. With fumbling, nerveless fingers they scaled its
bare sides, flung themselves down among the scant but wholesome
herbage, which clothed its top, and filled their lungs with the clean,
reviving air. Dimly they heard a blessed buzzing of insects, and
several great flies, with barred wings, lit upon them and bit them
sharply. They lay with closed eyes, while slowly the throbbing in
their brains died away and strength flowed back into their unstrung
limbs.

Then, after perhaps an hour, Grôm sat up and looked about him. On
every side outspread the fatal flood of the rose-red oleanders,
unbroken except toward the north-west. In that quarter, however, a
spur of the giant forest, of growths too mighty to feel the spell of
the envenomed blooms, was thrust deep into the crimson tide. Its tip
came to within a couple of hundred yards of the rock. Having fully
recovered, Grôm and A-ya swung down, with loathing, into the pink
gloom, fled through it almost without drawing breath, and found
themselves once more in the rank green shadows of the jungle. They
went on till they came to a thicket of plantains. Then, loading
themselves with ripe fruit, they climbed high into a tree, and wove
themselves a safe resting-place among the branches.

For the next few days their journey was without adventure, save for
the frequent eluding of the monsters of that teeming world. Grôm had
his club, A-ya her broken spear; but they were avoiding all combats in
their haste to get back to their own country of the homely caves and
the guardian watch-fires. At the approach of the great black lion or
the saber-tooth, or the wantonly malignant rhinoceros, they betook
themselves to the tree-tops, and continued their way by that aërial
path as long as it served them. The most subtle of the beasts they
knew they could outwit, and their own anxiety now was Mawg, whose
craft and courage Grôm could no longer hold in scorn. He was doubtless
at large, and quite possibly on their trail, biding his time to catch
them unawares. They never allowed themselves, therefore, to sleep both
at the same time. One always kept on guard: and hence their progress,
for all their eagerness, was slower than it would otherwise have
been.

On a certain day, after a long unbroken stretch of travel, A-ya rested
and kept watch in a tree-top, while Grôm went to fetch a bunch of
plantains. It was fairly open country, a region of low herbage dotted
with small groves and single trees; and the girl, herself securely
hidden, could see in every direction. She could see Grôm wandering
from plantain clump to plantain clump, seeking fruit ripe enough to be
palatable. And then, with a shiver of hate and dread, she saw the dark
form of Mawg, creeping noiselessly on Grôm's trail, and not more than
a couple of hundred paces behind him. At the very moment when her eyes
fell upon him, he dropped flat upon his face, and began worming his
way soundlessly through the herbage.

Her mouth opened wide to give the alarm. But the cry stopped in her
throat, and a smile of bitter triumph spread over her face.

If Mawg was hunting Grôm, he was at the same time himself being
hunted. And by a dreadful hunter.

Out from behind a thicket of glowing mimosa appeared a monstrous bird,
some ten or twelve feet in height, lifting its feet very high in a
swift but noiseless and curiously delicate stride. Its dark plumage
was more like long, stringy hair than feathers. Its build was
something like that of a gigantic cassowary, but its thighs and long
blue shanks were proportionately more massive. Its neck was long, but
immensely muscular to support the enormous head, which was larger than
that of a horse, and armed with a huge, hooked, rending, vulture's
beak. The apparent length of this terrible head was increased by a
pointed crest of blood-red feathers, projecting straight back in a
line with the fore-part of the skull and the beak.

The crawling figure of Mawg was still a good hundred paces from the
unsuspecting Grôm, when the great bird overtook it. A-ya, watching
from her tree-top, clutched a branch and held her breath. Mawg's ears
caught a sound behind him, and he glanced around sharply. With a
scream, he bounded to his feet. But it was too late. Before he could
either strike or flee, he was beaten down again, with a smash of that
pile-driving beak. The bird planted one huge foot on its victim's
loins, gripped his head in its beak, and neatly snapped his neck. Then
it fell greedily to its hideous meal.

At Mawg's scream of terror, Grôm had turned and rushed to the rescue,
swinging his club. But before he had covered half the distance, he saw
that the monster had done its work; and he hesitated. He was too late
to help the victim. And he knew the mettle of this ferocious bird,
almost as much to be dreaded, in single combat, as the saber-tooth
itself. At his approach, the bird had lifted its dripping beak, half
turned, and stood gripping the prey with one foot, swaying its grim
head slowly and eyeing him with malevolent defiance. Still he
hesitated, fingering his club; for the insolence of that challenging
stare made his blood seethe. Then came A-ya's voice from the tree-top,
calling him. "Come away!" she cried. "It was Mawg."

Whereupon he turned, with the content of one who sees all old scores
cleanly wiped out together, and went back to gather his ripe
plantains.

The peril of Mawg being thus removed from their path, they journeyed
more swiftly; and when the next new moon was a thin white sickle in
the sky, just above the line of saw-toothed hills, they came safely
back to the comfortable caves and the clear-burning watch-fires of
their tribe.



CHAPTER VIII

THE BENDING OF THE BOW


Before the Caves of the Pointed Hills the fires of the tribe burned
brightly. Within the caves reigned plenty and an unheard-of security;
for since the conquest of fire those monstrous beasts and gigantic
carnivorous, running birds, which had been Man's ceaseless menace ever
since he swung down out of the tree-tops to walk the earth erect, had
been held at a distance through awe of the licking flames. Though the
great battle which had hurled back the invading hosts of the Bow-legs
had cost the tribe more than half its warriors, the Caves were
swarming with vigorous children. To Bawr, the Chief, and to Grôm, his
Right Hand and Councilor, the future of the tribe looked secure.

So sharp had been the lessons lately administered to the prowling
beasts--the terrible saber-tooth, the giant red bear of the caves, the
proud black lion, and the bone-crushing cave hyena--that even the
stretch of bumpy plain outside the circle of the fires, to a distance
of several hundred paces, was considered a safe playground for the
children of the tribe. On the outermost skirts of this playground, to
be sure, just where the reedy pools and the dense bamboo thickets
began, there was a fire kept burning. But this was more as a reminder
than as an actual defense. When a bear or a saber-tooth had once had a
blazing brand thrust in his face, he acquired a measure of discretion.
Moreover, the activities of the tribe had driven all the game animals
to some distance up the valley; and it was seldom that anything more
formidable than a jackal or a civet-cat cared to come within a
half-mile of the fires.

It was now two years since the rescue of A-ya from her captivity among
the Bow-legs. Her child by Grôm was a straight-limbed, fair-skinned
lad of somewhere between four and five years. She sat cross-legged
near the sentinel fire, some fifty yards or so from the edge of the
thickets, and played with the lad, whose eyes were alight with eager
intelligence. Behind her sprawled, playing contentedly with its toes
and sucking a banana, a fat brown flat-nosed baby of some fourteen or
fifteen months.

Both A-ya and the boy were interested in a new toy. It was, perhaps,
the first whip. The boy had succeeded in tying a thin strip of green
hide, something over three feet in length, to one end of a stick which
was several inches longer. The uses of a whip came to him by unerring
insight, and he began applying it to his mother's shoulders. The
novelty of it delighted them both. A-ya, moreover, chuckled slyly at
the thought that the procedure might, on some future occasion, be
reversed, not without advantage to the cause of discipline.

At last the lithe lash, so enthusiastically wielded, stung too hard
for even A-ya, with all her stoicism, to find it amusing. She snatched
the toy away and began playing with it herself. The lash, at its free
end, chanced to be slit almost to the tip, forming a loop. The butt of
the handle was formed by a jagged knot, where it had been broken from
the parent stem. Idly but firmly, with her strong hands she bent the
stick, and slipped the loop over the jagged knot, where it held.

Interested, but with no hint of comprehension in her bright eyes, she
looked upon the first bow--the stupendous product of a child and a
woman playing.

The child, displeased at this new, useless thing, and wanting his whip
back, tried to snatch the bow from his mother's hands. But she pushed
him off. She liked this new toy. It looked, somehow, as if it invited
her to do something with it. Presently she pulled the cord, and let it
go again. Tightly strung, it made a pleasant little humming sound.
This she repeated many times, holding it up to her ear and laughing
with pleasure. The boy grew interested thereupon, and wanted to try
the new game for himself. But A-ya was too absorbed. She would not let
him touch it. "Go get another stick," she commanded impatiently; but
quite forgot to see her command obeyed.

As she was twanging the strange implement which had so happily
fashioned itself under her hands, Grôm came up behind her. He stepped
carefully over the sprawling brown baby. He was about to pull her
heavy hair affectionately; but his eyes fell upon the thing in her
hands, and he checked himself.

For minute after minute he stood there motionless, watching and
studying the new toy. His eyes narrowed, his brows drew themselves
down broodingly. The thing seemed to him to suggest dim, cloudy, vast
possibilities; and he groped in his brain for some hint of the nature
of these possibilities. Yet as far as he could see it was good for
nothing but to make a faintly pleasant twang for the amusement of
women and children. At last he could keep his hands off it no longer.
"Give it to me," said he suddenly, laying hold of A-ya's wrist.

But A-ya was not yet done with it. She held it away from him, and
twanged it with redoubled vigor. Without further argument, and without
violence, Grôm reached out a long arm, and found the bow in his grasp.
A-ya was surprised that such a trifle should seem of such importance
in her lord's eyes; but her faith was great. She shook the wild mane
of hair back from her face, silenced the boy's importunings with an
imperative gesture, and gathered herself with her arms about both
knees to watch what Grôm would do with the plaything.

First he examined it minutely, and then he fastened the thong more
securely at either end. He twanged it as A-ya had done. He bent it to
its limit and eased it slowly back again, studying the new force
imprisoned in the changing curve. At last he asked who had made it.

"I did," answered A-ya, very proud of her achievement now that she
found it taken so seriously by one being to whom her adventurous
spirit really deferred.

"No, _I_ did!" piped the boy, with an injured air.

The mother laughed indulgently. "Yes, he tied one end, and beat me
with it," said she. "Then I took it from him, and bent the stick and
tied the other end."

"It is very good!" said Grôm, nodding his approval musingly. He
squatted down a few feet away, and began experimenting.

Picking up a small stone, he held it upon the cord, bent the bow a
little way, and let go. The stone flew up and hit him with amazing
energy in the mouth.

"_Oh!_" murmured A-ya, sympathetically, as the bright blood ran down
his beard. But the child, thinking that his father had done it on
purpose, laughed with hearty appreciation. Somewhat annoyed, Grôm got
up, moved a few paces farther away, and sat down again with his back
to the family circle.

As to the force that lurked in this slender little implement he was
now fully satisfied. But he was not satisfied with the direction in
which it exerted itself. He continued his experiments, but was careful
to draw the bow lightly.

For a long time he found it impossible to guess beforehand the
direction which the pebbles, or the bits of stick or bark, would take
in their surprising leaps from the loosed bow-string. But at length a
dim idea of aim occurred to him. He lifted the bow--his left fist
grasping its middle--to the level of his eyes, at arm's length. He got
the cord accurately in the center of the pebble, and drew toward his
nose. This effort was so successful that the stone went perfectly
straight--and caught him fair on the thumb-knuckle.

The blow was so sharp that he dropped the bow with an angry
exclamation. Glancing quickly over his shoulder to see if A-ya had
noticed the incident, he observed that her face was buried between her
knees and quite hidden by her hair. But her shoulders were heaving
spasmodically. He suspected that she was laughing at him; and for a
moment, as his knuckle was aching fiercely, he considered the
advisability of giving her a beating. He had never done such a thing
to her, however, though all the other Cave Men, including Bawr
himself, were wont to beat their women on occasion. In his heart he
hated the idea of hurting her; and it would hardly be worth while to
beat her without hurting her. The idea, therefore, was promptly
dismissed. He eyed the shaking shoulders gloomily for some seconds;
and then, as the throbbing in the outraged knuckle subsided, a grin of
sympathetic comprehension spread over his own face. He picked up the
bow, sprang to his feet, and strolled over to the edge of a thicket of
young cane.

The girl, lifting her head, peered at him cautiously through her hair.
Her laughter was forgotten on the instant, because she guessed that
his fertile brain was on the trail of some new experiment.

Arriving at the cane-thicket, Grôm broke himself half a dozen
well-hardened, tapering stems, from two to three feet in length, and
about as thick at their smaller ends as A-ya's little finger.

These seemed to suggest to him the possibility of better results than
anything he could get from those erratic pebbles.

By this time quite a number of curious spectators--women and children
mostly, the majority of the men being away hunting, and the rest too
proud to show their curiosity--had gathered to watch Grôm's
experiments. They were puzzled to make out what it was he was busying
himself with. But as he was a great chief, and held in deeper awe than
even Bawr himself, they did not presume to come very near; and they
had therefore not perceived, or at least they had not apprehended,
those two trifling mishaps of his. As for Grôm, he paid his audience
no attention whatever. Now that he had possessed himself of those
slender straight shafts of cane, all else was forgotten. He felt, as
he looked at them and poised them, that in some vital way they
belonged to this fascinating implement which A-ya had invented for
him.

Selecting one of the shafts, he slowly applied the bigger end of it to
the bow-string, and stood for a long time pondering it, drawing it a
little way and easing it back without releasing it. Then he called to
mind that his spears always threw better when they were hurled heavy
end first. So he turned the little shaft and applied the small end to
the bow-string. Then he pulled the string tentatively, and let it go.
The arrow, all unguided, shot straight up into the air, turned over,
fell sharply, and buried its head in a bit of soft ground. Grôm felt
that this was progress. The spectators opened their mouths in wonder,
but durst not venture any comment when Grôm was at his mysteries.

Plucking the shaft from the earth, Grôm once more laid it to the
bow-string. As he pulled the string, the shaft wobbled crazily. With a
growl of impatience, he clapped the fore-finger of his left hand over
it, holding it in place, and pulled it through the guide thus formed.
A light flashed upon his brooding intelligence. Slightly crooking his
finger, so that the shaft could move freely, he drew the string
backward and forward, with deep deliberation, over and over again. To
his delight, he found that the shaft was no longer eccentrically
rebellious, but as docile as he could wish. At last, lifting the bow
above his head, he drew it strongly, and shot the shaft into the air.
He shouted as it slipped smoothly through the guiding crook of his
finger and went soaring skyward as if it would never stop. The eyes of
the spectators followed its flight with awe, and A-ya, suddenly
comprehending, caught her breath and snatched the boy to her heart in
a transport. Her alert mind had grasped, though dimly, the wonder of
her man's achievement.

Now, though Grôm had pointed his shaft skyward, he had taken no
thought whatever as to its direction, or the distance it might travel.
As a matter of fact, he had shot towards the Caves. He had shot
strongly; and that first bow was a stiff one. Most of the folk who
squatted before the Caves were watching; but there were some who were
too indifferent or too stupid to take an interest in anything less
arresting than a thump on the head. Among these was a fat old woman,
who, with her back to all the excitement, was bending herself double
to grub in the litter of sticks and bones for some tit-bit which she
had dropped. Grôm's shaft, turning gracefully against the blue came
darting downward on a long slope, and buried its point in that
upturned fat and grimy thigh. With a yell the old woman whipped round,
tore out the shaft, dashed it upon the ground, stared at it in horror
as if she thought it some kind of snake, and waddled, wildly
jabbering, into the nearest cave.

An outburst of startled cries arose from all the spectators, but it
hushed itself almost in the same breath. It was Grôm who had done this
singular thing, smiting unawares from very far off. The old woman must
have done something to make Grôm angry. They were all afraid; and
several, whose consciences were not quite at ease, followed the old
woman's example and slipped into the Caves.

As for Grôm, his feelings were a mixture of embarrassment and elation.
He was sorry to have hurt the old woman. He had a ridiculous dislike
of hurting any one unnecessarily; and when he looked back and saw A-ya
rocking herself to and fro in heartless mirth, he felt like asking her
how she would have liked it herself, if she had been in the place of
the fat old woman. On the other hand, he knew that he had made a great
discovery, second only to the conquest of the fire. He had found a new
weapon, of unheard-of, unimagined powers, able to kill swiftly and
silently and at a great distance. All he had to do was to perfect the
weapon and learn to control it.

He strode haughtily up to the cave mouth to recover his shaft. The
people, even the mightiest of the warriors, looked anxious and
deprecating at his approach; but he gave them never a glance. It would
not have done to let them think he had wounded the old woman by
accident. He picked up the shaft and examined its bloodstained point,
frowning fiercely. Then he glared into the cave where the unlucky
victim of his experiments had taken refuge. He refitted the shaft to
the bow-string, and made as if to follow up his stroke with further
chastisement. Instantly there came from the dark interior a chorus of
shrill feminine entreaties. He hesitated, seemed to relent, put the
shaft into the bundle under his arm, and strode back to rejoin A-ya.
He had done enough for the moment. His next step required deep thought
and preparation.

An hour or two later, Grôm set out from the Caves alone in spite of
A-ya's pleadings. He wanted complete solitude with his new weapon.
Besides a generous bundle of canes, of varying lengths and sizes, he
carried some strips of raw meat, a bunch of plantains, his spear and
club, and a sort of rude basket, without handle, formed by tying
together the ends of a roll of green bark.

This basket was a device of A-ya's, which had added greatly to her
prestige in the tribe, and caused the women to regard her with
redoubled jealousy. By lining it thickly with wet clay, she was able
to carry fire in it so securely and simply that Grôm had adopted it at
once, throwing away his uncertain and always troublesome fire-tubes of
hollow bamboo.

Mounting the steep hillside behind the Caves, Grôm turned into a
high, winding ravine, and was soon lost to the sight of the tribe.
The ravine, the bed of a long-dry torrent, climbed rapidly,
bearing around to the eastward, and brought him at length to a high
plateau on a shoulder of the mountain. At the back of the plateau the
mountain rose again, abruptly, to one of those saw-tooth pinnacles
which characterized this range. At the base of the steep was a
narrow fissure in the rock-face, leading into a small grotto which
Grôm had discovered on one of his hunting expeditions. He had used
it several times already as a retreat when tired of the hubbub of
the tribe and anxious to ponder in quiet some of the problems which
for ever tormented his fruitful brain.

Absorbed in meditations upon his new weapons, Grôm set himself to
build a small fire before the entrance of the grotto. The red coals
from his fire-basket he surrounded and covered with dry grass, dead
twigs, and small sticks. Then, getting down upon all fours, he blew
long and steadily into the mass till the smoke which curled up from it
was streaked with thin flames. As the flames curled higher, his ears
caught the sound of something stirring within the cave. He looked up,
peering between the little coils of smoke, and saw a pair of eyes,
very close to the ground, glaring forth at him from the darkness.

With one hand, he coolly but swiftly fed the fire to fuller volume,
while with the other he reached for and clutched his club. The eyes
drew back slowly to the depths of the cave. Appearing not to have
observed them, Grôm piled the fire with heavier and heavier fuel, till
it was blazing strongly and full of well-lighted brands. Then he stood
up, seized a brand, and hurled it into the cave. There was a harsh
snarl, and the eyes disappeared, the owner of them having apparently
shrunk off to one side.

A moment or two later the interior was suddenly lighted up with a
smoky glare. The brand had fallen on a heap of withered grass
which had formerly been Grôm's couch. Grôm set his teeth and swung
up his club; and in the same instant there shot forth two immense
cave-hyenas, mad with rage and terror.

The great beasts were more afraid of the sudden flare within than of
the substantial and dangerous fire without. The first swerved just in
time to escape the fire, and went by so swiftly that the stroke of
Grôm's club caught him only a light, glancing blow on the rump. But
the second of the pair, the female, was too close behind to swerve in
time. She dashed straight through the fire, struck Grôm with all her
frantic weight, knocked him flat, and tore off howling down the
valley, leaving a pungent trail of singed fur on the air.

Uninjured save for an ugly scratch, which bled profusely, down one
side of his face, Grôm picked himself up in a rage and started after
the fleeing beasts. But his common sense speedily reasserted itself.
He grunted in disgust, turned back to the fire, and was soon absorbed
in new experiments with the bow. As for the blaze within the cave, he
troubled himself no more about it. He knew it would soon burn out. And
it would leave the cave well cleansed of pestilential insects.

All that afternoon he experimented with his bundle of shafts, to find
what length and what weight would give the best results. One of the
arrows he shattered completely, by driving it, at short range,
straight against the rock-face of the mountain. Two others he lost, by
shooting them, far beyond his expectations, over the edge of the
plateau and down into the dense thickets below him, where he did not
care to search too closely by reason of the peril of snakes. The bow,
as his good luck would have it, though short and clumsy was very
strong, being made of a stick of dry upland hickory. And the cord of
raw hide was well-seasoned, stout and tough; though it had a
troublesome trick of stretching, which forced Grôm to restring it many
times before all the stretch was out of it.

Having satisfied himself as to the power of his bow and the range of
his arrows, Grôm set himself next to the problem of marksmanship.
Selecting a plant of prickly pear, of about the dimensions of a man,
he shot at it, at different ranges, till most of its great fleshy
leaves were shredded and shattered. With his straight eye and his
natural aptitude, he soon grasped the idea of elevation for range, and
made some respectable shooting. He also found that he could guide the
arrow without crooking his finger around it. His elation was so
extreme that he quite forgot to eat, till the closing in of darkness
put an end to his practice. Then, piling high his fire as a warning to
prowlers, he squatted in the mouth of the cave and made his meal. For
water he had to go some little way below the lip of the plateau; but
carrying a blazing balsam-knot he had nothing to fear from the beasts
that lay in ambush about the spring. They slunk away sullenly at the
approach of the waving flame.

That night Grôm slept securely, with three fires before his door.
Every hour or two, vigilant woodsman that he was, he would wake up to
replenish the fires, and be asleep again even in the act of lying
down. And when the dawn came red and amber around the shoulder of the
saw-toothed peak, he was up again and out into the chill, sweet air
with his arrows.

The difficulty which now confronted him was that of giving his shafts
a penetrating point. Being of a very hard-fibered cane, akin to
bamboo, they would take a kind of splintering-point of almost needle
sharpness. But it was fragile; and the cane being hollow, the point
was necessarily on one side, which affected the accuracy of the
flight. There were no flints in the neighborhood, or slaty rocks,
which he could split into edged and pointed fragments. He tried
hardening his points in the fire; but the results were not altogether
satisfactory. He thought of tipping some of the shafts with thorns, or
with the steely points of the old aloe leaves; but he could not, at
the moment, devise such a method of fixing these formidable weapons in
place as would not quite destroy their efficiency. Finally he made up
his mind that the thing to use would be bone, ground into a suitable
shape between two stones. But this was a matter that would have to
await his return to the Caves, and would then call for much careful
devising. For the present he would perforce content himself with such
points as he had fined down and hardened in the fire.

This matter settled in his mind, Grôm burned to put his wonderful new
weapon to practical test. He descended cautiously the steep slope from
the eastern edge of his plateau--a broken region of ledges,
subtropical thickets, and narrow, grassy glades, with here and there
some tree of larger growth rising solitary like a watch-tower. Knowing
this was a favorite feeding-hour for many of the grass-eaters, he hid
himself in the well-screened crotch of a deodar, overlooking a green
glade, and waited.

He had not long to wait, for the region swarmed with game. Out from a
runway some thirty or forty yards up the glade stepped a huge,
dun-colored bull, with horns like scimitars each as long as Grôm's
arm. His flanks were scarred with long wounds but lately healed, and
Grôm realized that he was a solitary, beaten and driven out from his
herd by some mightier rival. The bull glanced warily about him, and
then fell to cropping the grass.

The beast offered an admirable target. Grôm's arrow sped noiselessly
between the curtaining branches, and found its mark high on the bull's
fore-shoulder. It penetrated--but not to a depth of more than two or
three inches. And Grôm, though elated by his good shot, realized that
such a wound would be nothing more than an irritant.

Startled and infuriated, the bull roared and pawed the sod, and glared
about him to locate his unseen assailant. He had not the remotest idea
of the direction from which the strange attack had come. The galling
smart in his shoulder grew momentarily more severe. He lashed back at
it savagely with the side of his horn, but the arrow was just out of
his reach. Then, bewildered and alarmed, he tried to escape from this
new kind of fly with the intolerable sting by galloping furiously up
and down the glade. As he passed the deodar, Grôm let drive another
arrow, at close range. This, too, struck, and stuck. But it did not go
deep enough to produce any serious effect. The animal roared again,
stared about him as if he thought the place was bewitched, and plunged
headlong into the nearest thicket, tearing out both arrows as he went
through the close-set stems. Grôm heard him crashing onward down the
slope, and smiled to think of the surprise in store for any antagonist
that might cross the mad brute's path.

This experiment upon the wild bull had shown Grôm one thing clearly.
He must arm his arrows with a more penetrating point. Until he could
carry out his idea of giving them tips of bones, he must find some
shoots of solid, pithless growth to take the place of his light hollow
canes. For the next hour or two he searched the jungle carefully and
warily, looking for a young growth that might immediately serve his
purpose.

But there in the jungle everything that was hard enough was crooked or
gnarled, everything that was straight enough was soft and sappy. It
was not till the sun was almost over his head, and the heat was urging
him back to the coolness of his grotto, that he came across something
worth making a trial of. On a bleak wind-swept knoll, far out on the
mountain-side, lay the trunk of an old hickory-tree, which had
evidently been shattered by lightning. From the roots, tenacious of
life, had sprung up a throng of saplings, ranging from a foot or two
in height to the level of Grôm's head. They were as straight and slim
as the canes. And their hardness was proved to Grôm's satisfaction
when he tried to break them off. They were tough, too, so that he
almost lost his patience over them, before he learned that the best
way to deal with them was to strip them down, in the direction of the
fiber, where they sprang from the parent trunk or root. Having at
length gathered an armful, he returned to his grotto and proceeded to
shape the refractory butts in the fire. As he squatted between the
cave door and the fire he made his meal of raw flesh and plantains,
and gazed out contemplatively over the vast, rankly-green landscape
below him, musing upon the savage and monstrous strife which went on
beneath that mask of wide-flung calm. And as he pondered, the fire
which he had subjugated was quietly doing his work for him.

The result was beyond his utmost expectations. After judicious
charring, the ends being turned continually in the glowing coals, he
rubbed away the charred portions between two stones, and found that he
could thus work up an evenly-rounded point. The point thus obtained
was keen and hard; and as he balanced this new shaft in his hand he
realized that its weight would add vastly to its power of penetration.
When he tried a shot with it, he found that it flew farther and
straighter. It drove through the tough, fleshy leaf of the prickly
pear as if it hardly noticed the obstruction. He fashioned himself a
half-dozen more of these highly-efficient shafts, and then set out
again--this time down the ravine--to seek a living target for his
practice.

The ravine was winding and of irregular width, terraced here and there
with broken ledges, here and there cut into by steep little narrow
gullies. Its bottom was in part bare rock; but wherever there was an
accumulation of soil, and some tiny spring oozing up through the
fissures, there the vegetation grew rank, starred with vivid blooms of
canna and hibiscus. In many places the ledges were draped with a dense
curtain of the flat-flowered, pink-and-gold mesembryanthemum. It was a
region well adapted to the ambuscading beasts; and Grôm moved
stealthily as a panther, keeping for the most part along the upper
ledges, crouching low to cross the open spots, and slipping into cover
every few minutes to listen and peer and sniff.

Presently he came to a spot which seemed to offer him every advantage
as a place of ambush. It was a ledge some twenty feet above the valley
level, with a sort of natural parapet behind which he could crouch,
and, unseen, keep an eye on all the glades and runways below. Behind
him the rock-face was so nearly perpendicular that no enemy could
steal upon him from the rear. He laid his club and his spear down
beside him, selected one of his best arrows, and hoped that a fat buck
would come by, or one of those little, spotted, two-toed horses whose
flesh was so prized by the people of the Caves. Such a prize would be
a proof to all the tribe of the potency of his new weapon.

For nearly an hour he waited, moveless, save for his ranging eyes, as
the rock on which he leaned. To a hunter like Grôm, schooled to
infinite patience, this was nothing. He knew that, in the woods, if
one waits long enough and keeps still enough, he is bound to see
something interesting. At last it came. It was neither the fat buck
nor the little two-toed horse with dapple hide, but a young
cow-buffalo. Grôm noticed at once that she was nervous and puzzled.
She seemed to suspect that she was being followed and was undecided
what to do. Once she faced about angrily, staring into the coverts
behind her, and made as if to charge. Had she been an old cow, or a
bull, she would have charged; but her inexperience made her
irresolute. She snorted, faced about again, and moved on, ears, eyes
and wide nostrils one note of wrathful interrogation. She was well
within range, and Grôm would have tried a shot at her except for his
seasoned wariness. He would rather see, before revealing himself, what
foe it was that dared to trail so dangerous a quarry. The buffalo
moved on slowly out of range, and vanished down a runway; and
immediately afterwards the stealthy pursuer came in view.

To Grôm's amazement, it was neither a lion nor a bear. It was a man,
of his own tribe. And then he saw it was none other than the great
chief, Bawr himself, hunting alone after his haughty and daring
fashion. Between Grôm and Bawr there was the fullest understanding,
and Grôm would have whistled that plover-cry, his private signal, but
for the risk of interfering with Bawr's chase. Once more, therefore,
he held himself in check; while Bawr, his eyes easily reading the
trail, crept on with the soundless step of a wild cat.

But Grôm was not the only hunter lying in ambush in the sun-drenched
ravine. Out from a bed of giant, red-blooming canna arose the
diabolical, grinning head and monstrous shoulders of a saber-tooth,
and stared after Bawr. Then the whole body emerged with a noiseless
bound. For a second the gigantic beast stood there, with one paw
uplifted, its golden-tawny bulk seeming to quiver in the downpour of
intense sunlight. It was a third as tall again at the shoulders as the
biggest Himalayan tiger, its head was flat-skulled like a tiger's, and
its upper jaw was armed with two long, yellow, saber-like tusks,
projecting downwards below the lower jaw. This appalling monster
started after Bawr with a swift, crouching rush, as silent, for all
its weight, as if its feet were shod with thistledown.

Grôm leapt to his feet with a wild yell of warning, at the same time
letting fly an arrow. In his haste the shaft went wide. Bawr, looking
over his shoulder, saw the giant beast almost upon him. With a
tremendous bound he gained the foot of a tree. Dropping his club and
spear, he sprang desperately, caught a branch, and swung himself
upward.

But the saber-tooth was already at his heels, before he had time to
swing quite out of reach. The gigantic brute gathered itself for a
spring which would have enabled it to pluck Bawr from his refuge like
a ripe fig. But that spring was never delivered. With a roar of rage
the monster turned instead, and bit furiously at the shaft of an arrow
sticking in its flank. Grôm's second shaft had flown true; and Bawr,
greatly marveling, drew up his legs to a place of safety.

With the fire of that deep wound in its entrails the saber-tooth
forgot all about its quarry in the tree. It had caught sight of Grôm
when he uttered his yell of warning, and it knew instantly whence the
strange attack had come. It bit off the protruding shaft; and then,
fixing its dreadful eyes on Grôm, it ceased its snarling and came
charging for the ledge with a rush which seemed likely to carry it
clear up the twenty-foot perpendicular of smooth rock.

Grôm, enamored of the new weapon, forgot the spear which was likely to
be far more efficient at these close quarters. Leaning far out over
the parapet, he drew his arrow to the head and let drive just as the
monster reared itself, open-jawed, at the wall. The pointed hickory
went down into the gaping gullet, and stood out some inches at the
side of the neck. With a horrible coughing screech the monster
recoiled, put its head between its paws, and tried to claw the anguish
from its throat. But after a moment, seeming to realize that this was
impossible, it backed away, gathered itself together, and sprang for
the ledge. It received another of Grôm's shafts deep in the chest,
without seeming to notice the wound; and its impetus was so tremendous
that it succeeded in getting its fore-paws fixed upon the ledge.
Clinging there, its enormous pale-green eyes staring straight into
Grôm's, it struggled to draw itself up all the way--an effort in which
it would doubtless have succeeded at once but for that first arrow in
its entrails. The iron claws of its hinder feet rasped noisily on the
rock-face.

Grôm dropped his bow beside him and reached for the spear. His hand
grasped the club instead; but there was no time to change. Swinging
the stone-head weapon in air, he brought it down, with a grunt of huge
effort, full upon one of those giant paws which clutched the edge of
the parapet. Crushed and numbed, the grip of that paw fell away; but
at the same moment one of the hinder paws got over the edge, and
clung. And there the monster hung, its body bent in a contorted bow.

Bawr, meanwhile, seeing Grôm's peril, had dropped from his tree,
snatched up his spear and club, and rushed in to the rescue. It was
courage, this, of the finest, counting no odds; for down there on the
level he would have stood no ghost of a chance had the beast turned
back upon him. Grôm yelled to him to keep away, and swung up his club
for another shattering blow. But in that same moment the great glaring
eyes filmed and rolled upwards; blood spouted from between the gaping
jaws; and with a spluttering cough the monster lost its hold. It fell,
with a soft but jarring thud, upon its back, and slowly rolled over
upon its side, pawing the air aimlessly. The arrow in the throat had
done its work.

With fine self-restraint Bawr refrained from striking, that he might
seem to usurp no share in Grôm's amazing achievement. He stood leaning
upon his spear, calmly watching the last feeble paroxysm, till Grôm
came scrambling down from the ledge and stood beside him. He took the
bow and arrows, and examined them in silence. Then he turned upon Grôm
with burning eyes.

"You found the Fire for our people. You saved our people from the
hordes of the Bow-legs. You have saved my life now, slaying the
monster from very far off with these little sticks which you have
made. It is you who should be Chief, not I."

Grôm laughed and shook his head. "Bawr is the better man of us two,"
said he positively, "and he is a better chief. He governs the people,
while I go away and think new things. And he is my friend. Look, I
will teach him now this new thing. And we will make another just like
it, that when we return to the Caves Bawr also shall know how to
strike from very far off."

With their rough-edged spear-heads of flint they set themselves to the
skinning of the saber-tooth. Then they went back to the high plateau,
where Bawr was taught to shoot a straight shaft. And on the following
day they returned to the fires of the tribe, carrying between them,
shoulder high, slung upon their two spears, this first trophy of the
bow, the monstrous head and hide of the saber-tooth.



CHAPTER IX

THE DESTROYING SPLENDOR


I

To Grôm, hunting farther to the south of the Tribal Fires than he had
ever ranged before, came suddenly a woman running, mad with fright, a
baby clutched to her bosom. She fell at Grôm's feet, gibbering
breathlessly, and plainly imploring his protection. Both she and the
child were streaming with blood, and covered with strange cup-like
wounds, as if the flesh had been gouged out of them with some
irresistible circular instrument.

Grôm swiftly fitted an arrow to his bow, and peered through the trees
to see what manner of adversary the fugitive was like to bring upon
him. At the same time, he gave a piercing cry, which was answered at
once from some distance behind him.

Having satisfied himself (the country being fairly open) that the
woman's pursuer, whatever it might be, was not close upon her heels,
and that no immediate danger was in view, he turned his attention upon
the woman herself. She was not of his race, and he looked down upon
her with cold aversion. At first glance he thought she was one of the
Bow-legs. But the color of her skin, where it could be seen for the
blood, was different, being rather of a copper-red; and she was
neither so hairy on the body nor of so ape-like proportions. She was
sufficiently hideous, however, and of some race plainly inferior to
the People of the Caves. The natural instinct of a Cave Man would have
been to knock her and her offspring on the head without ceremony--an
effective method of guarding his more highly developed breed from the
mixture of an inferior blood. But Grôm, the Chief and the wise man,
had many vague impulses moving him at times which were novel to the
human play-fellows of Earth's childhood. He disliked hurting a woman
or a child. He might, quite conceivably, have refused to concern
himself with the suppliant before him, and merely left her and her
baby to the chances of the jungle. But the peculiar character of her
wounds interested him. She aroused his curiosity. Here was a new
mystery for him to investigate. The woman was saved.

Knowing a few words of the Bow-legs' tongue, which he had learned from
his lame slave Ook-ootsk, he addressed the crouching woman, telling
her not to fear. The tongue was unintelligible to her, but the tones
of his voice seemed to reassure her. She sat up, revealing again the
form of the little one, which she had been shielding with her hair and
her bosom as if she feared the tall white hunter might dash its brains
out; and Grôm noted with keen interest that the child also had one of
those terrible, cup-shaped wounds, almost obliterating its fat,
copper-colored shoulder. He saw, also, that the woman's face, though
uncomely, was more intelligent and human than the bestial faces of the
Bow-legs' women. It was a broad face, with very small, deep-set eyes,
high cheek bones, a tiny nose, and a very wide mouth, and it looked as
if some one had sat on it hard and pushed it in. The idea made him
smile, and the smile completed the woman's reassurance. She poured a
stream of chatter quite unlike the clicks and barkings of the
Bow-legs. Then she crept closer to Grôm's feet, and proceeded to give
her little one the breast. It was twisting uneasily with the pain of
its dreadful wound, but it nursed hungrily, and with the prudent
stoicism of a wild creature it made no outcry.

As Grôm stood studying the pair, the mother kept throwing glances of
horror over her shoulder, as if expecting her assailants to arrive at
any moment. Grôm followed her eyes, but there was no sign of any
pursuit. Then he observed the fugitives' wounds more closely, and
noted that the blood upon them was already, in most cases, pretty well
coagulated. He noted also certain other wounds, deep, narrow
punctures, like stabs. He guessed that they could not be much less
than an hour old. The Thing, whatever it was, which had inflicted
them--the Thing with so strange a mouth, and so strange a way of using
it--had apparently given up the pursuit. Grôm's curiosity burned
within him, and he was angry at the woman because she could not speak
to him in his own language, or at least in that of the Bow-legs. It
seemed to him willful obstinacy on her part to refuse to understand
the Bow-legs' tongue. He stooped over her, and roughly examined one of
the wounds with his huge fingers. She winced, but made no complaint,
only covering her baby with her hair and her arms in terror lest it
should suffer a like harsh handling.

With a qualm of compunction, which rather puzzled him, Grôm gave over
his investigating, and turned to a tall, slim youth with a great mop
of chestnut hair who at this moment came running up to him. It was
A-ya's young brother, Mô, Grôm's favorite follower and hunting mate;
and he had come at speed, being very swift of foot, in answer to
Grôm's signal. Breathing quickly, he stood at Grôm's side, and looked
down with wonder and dislike upon the crouching woman.

Briefly Grôm explained, and then pointed to the inexplicable wounds.
The youth, unable to believe that any human creature should be unable
to comprehend plain human speech, such as that of the Cave People,
tried his own hand at questioning the woman. He got a flow of chatter
in reply, but, being able to make nothing out of it, he imagined it
was not speech at all, and turned away angrily, thinking that she
mocked him. Grôm, smiling at the mistake, explained that the woman was
talking her own language, which he intended presently to learn as he
had learned that of the Bow-legs.

"But now," said he, "we will go and see what it is that has bitten the
woman. It is surely something with a strange mouth."

Mô, who was not only brave to recklessness, but who would have
followed Grôm through the mouth of hell, sprang forward eagerly. Grôm,
who realized that the mystery before him was a perilous one, and who
loved to do dangerous things in a prudent manner, looked to his
bow-string and saw that his arrows were handy in his girdle, before he
started on the venture. Besides his bow he carried the usual two
spears and his inseparable stone-headed club. Though danger was his
delight, it was not the danger itself but the thrill of overcoming it
that he loved.

The moment he stepped forward, however, the woman divined his purpose
and leapt wildly to her feet. She sprang straight in front of him,
screaming and gesticulating. She was plainly horror-stricken at the
thought that the two men should venture into the perils from which she
had so hardly escaped. To Grôm's keen intelligence her gestures were
eloquent. She managed to convey to him the idea of great numbers, and
the impossibility of his dealing with them. When he attempted to pass
her, she threw herself down and clung to his feet, shaking with her
terror. When she saw that Grôm was at last impressed, she stretched
herself out as if dead, and then, after a few moments of ghastly
rigidity, with fixed, staring eyes, she came to and held up one hand
with the fingers outspread.

This frantic pantomime Grôm could read in no other way than as an
attempt to tell him that the unknown Something had killed five of the
woman's companions. The information gave him pause. Adventurous as he
was, he had small respect for mere pig-headed recklessness. He was
resolved to solve the problem--but after all it could abide his more
thorough preparation.

"Come back," he ordered, turning to the impetuous Mô. "She says they
are too many for us two. They have killed five of her people. We will
go back to the Caves, and after three sleeps for good counsel, we will
return with fire and find the destroying Thing."


II

On their return to the Caves, Grôm gave the strange woman and her baby
to his faithful slave Ook-ootsk, who accepted the gift with enthusiasm
because, being a Bow-leg, he had not been allowed to take any of the
Cave Women to wife. He lavished his attentions upon the unhappy
stranger, but he could make no more of her speech than Grôm had done.
The girl A-ya, however, in a moment of peculiar insight had gathered,
or thought she gathered, from the stranger's signs, that the dreadful
and destroying Thing was something that flew--therefore, a great
flesh-eating bird. But she gathered, also, that it was something which
in some way bore a resemblance to fire--for the woman, after getting
over her first terror of the dancing flames, kept pointing to them and
then to her wounds in a most suggestive way. This, however, as Grôm
rather scornfully pointed out, was too absurd. There was nothing that
could be in the least like fire itself; and the wounds of the
fugitives had no likeness whatever to the corrosive bites of the
flame. A-ya took the correction submissively, but held her own
thought; and when a day or two later, events proved her to have been
right, she discreetly refrained from calling her lord's attention to
the fact--a point upon which Grôm was equally reserved.

With so provocative a mystery waiting to be solved, Grôm could not
long rest idle. Had she not known well it would be a waste of
breath, A-ya would have tried to dissuade him from the perilous, and
to her mind profitless, adventure. It was one she shrank from in
spite of her tried courage and her unwavering trust in Grôm's prowess.
The mystery of it daunted her. She feared it in the same way that
she feared the dark. But she kept her fears to herself, and claimed
her long-established right to go with Grôm on the expedition. Grôm
was willing enough, for there was no one whose readiness and nerve, in
a supreme crisis, he could so depend upon, and he wanted her close at
hand with her fire-basket. There was nothing to keep her at home, as
the children were looked after by Ook-ootsk.

It was a very little party which started southward from the
Caves--simply Grôm, A-ya, young Mô, and a dwarfish kinsman of Grôm's,
named Loob, who was the swiftest runner in the tribe and noted for his
cunning as a scout. He could go through underbrush like a shadow, and
hide where there was apparently no hiding-place, making himself
indistinguishable from the surroundings like a squatting partridge.
Each one carried a bow, two light spears, and a club--except A-ya, who
had no club, and only one spear. The weapon she chiefly relied upon
was the bow, which she loved with passion. She considered herself the
inventor of it; and in the accuracy of her shooting she outdid even
Grôm. In addition to these weapons, each member of the party except
the leader himself carried a fire-basket, in which a mass of red coals
mixed with punk smouldered in a bed of moist clay.

The little expedition traveled Indian file, Grôm leading the way, with
A-ya at his heels, then Loob the Scout, and young Mô bringing up the
rear. They had started about dawn, when the first of the morning rose
was just beginning to pale the cave-mouth fires. They traveled
swiftly, but every two hours or so they would make a brief halt beside
a spring to drink and breathe themselves and to look to the precious
fires in the fire-baskets. When it wanted perhaps an hour of noon,
they came to a little patch of meadow surrounding a solitary
Judas-tree covered with bloom. Here they built a fire, for the
replenishing of the coals in the fire-baskets, and as a menace to
prowling beasts. Then they dined on their sun-dried meat and on ripe
plantains gathered during the journey. Having dined, the three younger
members of the party stretched themselves out in the shade for their
noon sleep, while Grôm, whose restless brain never suffered him to
sleep by day, kept watch, and pondered the adventure which lay before
them.

As Grôm sat there, ten or a dozen paces from the fire, absorbed in thought,
his eyes gradually focussed themselves upon a big purple-and-lemon orchid
bloom, which glowed forth conspicuously from the rank green
jungle-growth fringing the meadow. The gorgeous bloom seemed to rise out of
a black, curiously gnarled elbow of branch or trunk which thrust itself out
through the leafage. Grôm's eyes dwelt for a time, unheeding, upon this
piece of misshapen tree trunk. Suddenly he saw the blackness wink. His
startled vision cleared itself instantly, and revealed to him the hideous,
two-horned mask of a black rhinoceros, peering forth just under the
orchid blossom.

Grôm's first impulse was to wake the sleepers with a yell and shepherd
them to refuge in the tree--for the gigantic woolly rhinoceros, with
his armor of impenetrable hide, was a foe whom Man had not yet learned
to handle with any certainty. But a deeper instinct held Grôm
motionless. He knew that the monster, whose eyesight was always dim
and feeble, could not see him distinctly, and was in all probability
staring in stupid wonder at the dancing flames of the camp-fire. As
long as no smell of man should reach the brute's sensitive nostrils to
rouse its rage, it was not likely to charge. There was no wind, and
the air about him was full of the spicy bitterness of the wood-smoke.
Grôm decided that the safest thing was to keep perfectly still and
wait for the next move in the game to come from the monster. He
devoutly trusted that the sleepers behind him were sleeping soundly,
and that no one would wake and sit up to attract the monster's
attention.

Grôm could now see plainly that it was the fire, and not himself,
which the rhinoceros was staring at. The shifting flames, and the
smell of the smoke, apparently puzzled it. After a moment or two, it
took a step forward, so that half of its huge, black, shaggy bulk
projected from the banked greenery as from a frame. Then it stood
motionless, blinking its little malignant eyes, till the silent
suspense grew to be a strain even upon Grôm's well-seasoned nerves.

At last a large stick, laid across the fire, burned through and fell
apart. The flames leapt upwards with redoubled vigor, preceded by a
volley of crackling sparks. Knowing the temper of the rhinoceros, Grôm
expected it to fly into a fury and charge upon the fire at once. His
mouth opened, indeed, for the yell of warning which should wake the
sleepers and send them leaping into the tree. But he checked himself
in time. The monster, for once in its life, seemed to be abashed. The
curling red flames were too elusive a foe for it. With a grunt of
uneasiness, it drew back into the leafage; and in a moment or two Grôm
heard the giant bulk crashing off through the jungle at a gallop. The
unwonted sensation of alarm, once yielded to, had swollen to a panic,
and the dull-witted brute fled on for a mile or more before it could
forget the cause of its terror.

That afternoon toward sundown the expedition reached the point where
the fugitive had made her appeal to Grôm. For fear of giving
information to the unknown enemy, no fires were lighted. The night was
passed in a dense and lofty tree-top. For Grôm, strung up with
excitement, suspense and curiosity, there was little sleep. For the
most part he perched on his woven platform with his arms about his
knees, listening to the sounds of the night--the occasional sudden
rush of a hunting beast, the agonized scream and scuffle, the
gurglings and noisy slaverings that told of the unseen tragedies
enacted far down in the murderous dark. But there was no sound novel
to his own experience. Once there came a scratching of claws and a
sniffing at the base of the tree.

But Grôm dropped a live coal from his fire-basket, and chanced to make
a lucky shot. With a snarl some heavy body bounced away from the tree.
The coal then fell into a tuft of dry grass, which flared up suddenly.
Grôm had a glimpse of huge shapes and startled, savage eyes backing
away from the circle of light. The blaze died down as quickly as it
had arisen; and thereafter the night prowlers kept at a distance from
the tree. But the sleepers had all been thoroughly aroused and till
dawn they sat discussing, for the hundredth time, the chances of the
morrow's venture.

Before the sun was clear of the horizon, the little party was again
upon the march, but now going with the wariness of a sable. They no
longer went Indian file, but flitting singly from tree to tree, from
covert to covert, Grôm picking up the old trail of the fugitive, the
rest of the party keeping him in view and peering ahead for some sign
of the unknown Terror. The red woman in her flight had left a sharp
trail enough; but in the lapse of three days it had been so
obliterated that all Grôm's wood-craft was needed to decipher it, and
his progress was slow. He began to be puzzled at the absence of any
other trail, of any footsteps of a mysterious, unknown monster. Such
tracks as crossed those of the fugitive, however terrible, were all
familiar to his eye.

Suddenly he almost stumbled over a hideous sight. A low whistle
brought his followers closing in upon him. The skeleton of a
full-grown man lay outstretched in the grass. The bones were
fresh--bloodstained and bright--and a swarm of blood-sucking insects
arose from them. They were picked minutely clean, except for a portion
of the skull, where the long, strong, densely matted hair seemed to
have served as an effective armor. The bones were not pulled about, or
crushed for their marrow, as they would have been if the victim had
been the prey of any of the great carnivorous beasts. And there were
no tracks about it save those of a few small rat-like creatures. It
was clear that the Mystery, whatever it might be, had wings.

"A bird!" whispered A-ya, with a gleam of triumph in her eyes, at the
same time glancing up into the tree-tops apprehensively. But Grôm did
not think so. There were no marks of mighty claws on the turf around
the skeleton.

Grôm cast about him an eager but anxious eye. The country was not
densely wooded at this point, but studded with low thickets, and set
here and there with scattered trees. From a little way ahead came a
gleam of calm water through the greenery. It was a scene of peace, and
security, and summer loveliness. Its very beauty seemed to Grôm an
added menace, as if some peculiar treachery must lurk behind it.

In the center of an open glade, not far from the skeleton, Grôm set
his party to building a circle of fires, as likely to afford the
surest kind of a refuge. A supply of fuel having been gathered, he
directed A-ya and Mô to remain and tend the fires and not to leave the
circle unless he should summon them. Loob, the cunning scout, he sent
off to the left through the underbrush. He himself followed the trail
of the fugitive--now doubled by that of the other fugitive whose
skeleton lay there in the sun--down toward that gleam of water through
the trees. A-ya gazed after him anxiously as he vanished, half minded
to dare his displeasure and follow him.

Grôm was presently able to make out that the water was a wide, reedy
lake or the arm of a shallow river. There was no wind, and the surface
shone like clear glass. But once and again his eyes were dazzled by a
dart of intense radiance, a great flash of rose or violet or
blue-green flame, shooting over the surface of the water. A memory of
what A-ya had professed to gather from the stranger woman rushed into
his mind. Perhaps the Destroying Thing was like a bird, and
nevertheless, at the same time, something like fire. He felt himself
confronted by a mystery which made even his tried nerves creep; and he
hid himself in the densest undergrowth as he stole forward toward the
water. He had forgotten, and forsaken, the trail he was following, in
his haste to solve the problem of those darting splendors.

A few moments more and he gained the edge of an open glade which led
straight to the water. He paused behind the screening leaves. Out over
the water a bar of ruby light, surrounded by a globe of rose-pink
mist, shot by and vanished from his narrow field of vision. He was
just about to thrust out his head and crane his neck to follow the
gorgeous apparition, when a peculiar dry rustling in the air above
checked him. He glanced up cautiously, and saw hovering, not more than
twenty or thirty yards away, a beautiful and dreadful being.

In shape it was exactly like a dragon-fly; but the length of its
flaming violet body was greater than that of Grôm's longest arrow. The
spread of its two pairs of transparent, crystal-shining, colorless
wings was even greater than the length of its body. Its enormous eyes,
wells of purple fire which took up the whole of the top and sides of
its monstrous head, seemed to see everywhere at once; and Grôm
shivered with the feeling that they had spied him out and were peering
into his very soul.

The awful eyes may have seen him, indeed; but at that moment they
spied out something else which apparently concerned them more. With a
pounce like a flash of violet lightning--and, indeed, almost as
swift--the bright shape swooped to the grass. The four shining wings
waved there for a moment, and there seemed to be a mild struggle. Then
the giant fly rose again, lightly, into the air, holding in the clutch
of its six slender, jointed legs the body of one of those black,
rat-like animals which Grôm knew so well as infesting the grass of all
meadows near the water. The captor flew to a naked branch near the
waterside, alighted upon it, and proceeded to make its meal, holding
up the body between the end joints of its front pair of legs and
turning it over and over deftly while its appalling jaws both crushed
and mangled it. The process was amazingly swift. In the space of a
couple of minutes all the blood, flesh, and soft material of the rat
were squeezed out and sucked down. The remnants were rolled into a
hard little ball, perfectly spherical, and scornfully tossed aside.
And the monster, leaping into the air with a rustle of its glittering
wings, flashed off over the water.

Almost in the same moment an amazingly loud rustle, like the sweep of
a fierce gust of rain upon a rank of palmetto leaves, filled the air
above the glade, and Grôm, looking up with a start, saw a great shoal
of the radiant shapes storm by, as if with the rainbow entangled in
their wings. He wondered upon what foray they were bent; and now for
the first time he realized, with a creeping of the flesh, what it was
that had overtaken the man whose skeleton he had found in the grass.
The shoal swept out over the lake a little way, and then down the
shore toward the left; and Grôm drew a long breath as he assured
himself that their course was taking them far from the fires of A-ya
and Mô.

When Grôm lowered his eyes to earth again he started. On the side of
the stump of a fallen tree, out in the glade not more than eight or
ten yards distant, clung one of the monsters, scintillating blue-green
and amethyst in the full blaze of the sun. Its wings, exquisitely
netted and of crystal transparency, were tinged with an ineffable
purple iridescence. Its jointed body, slightly longer than Grôm's arm,
was nearly as thick as his wrist, and ended at the tail with a
formidable double claw. Its six legs, arranged in three pairs under
the thorax, were armed on the inner sides with powerful spines,
needle-pointed and steel hard, with which to grip and hold its
victims. The thorax, from the back of which sprouted the four great
wings, was of the thickness of Grôm's forearm, while its head was as
big as Grôm's two great fists put together. It was this head which
held Grôm's fascinated gaze, giving him more of the sensation of cold
fear than he had ever known before. More than two-thirds of the head
consisted of a pair of huge, globose eyes, without pupil, ethereally
transparent, yet unfathomable. From the depths of them flamed a
ceaselessly changing radiance of blue-green, purple and violet. Grôm
found the stare of those blank, pupilless eyes almost intolerable.

It was plainly straight at him, through the ineffectual screen of the
leafage, that the dreadful insect was staring. At first it stared with
the back of its head. Then, very deliberately, it turned its head
completely around, without moving its body a hair-breadth, till its
mouth was in the same plane with its back. This gave Grôm a sense of
disgust, and his shrinking dread began to give way to a sort of rage.

Then he took note of the monster's mouth--and understood those great
cup-shaped wounds on the woman and the child. The mouth took up the
remaining third of the head, and seemed to consist of globular discs
working one over the other, so as either to cut cleanly or to grind.
They were working, slowly, now--and Grôm felt suddenly that he must
put a stop to it, that he must put out the awful light in those
monstrous devil eyes. Stealthily, almost imperceptibly, he fitted an
arrow to his bow, raised it, drew it, and took a long, steady aim. He
must not miss. The shaft flew--and the great fly was pinned, through
the thorax, to the soft, rotten wood of its perch.

To Grôm's horror that stroke, which to any beast he knew would have at
once been fatal, did not kill the monstrous fly. Its struggles, and
the beating of its four great wings were so violent that the
arrow-head was presently wrenched loose from its hold in the wood, and
the raging splendor, with the shaft half-way through its thorax,
bounded into the air. It darted straight at Grôm, who had prudently
edged in among a tangle of stems. Its fury carried it through the
screen of leafage--but then, its wings impeded by the branches, and
the arrow hampering it, it dashed itself to the earth. Instantly Grôm
was upon it, stamping its slim body, as it lay there blazing and
quivering, into the soil. The violet light in the huge, pupilless eyes
still stared up at him implacable, from a head turned squarely over
the back. But in a cold fury Grôm shattered the gleaming head with his
club. Then he trod the silver wings to dust.

Having slaked his wrath effectually, Grôm turned to stare forth again
at those destroying splendors darting and glittering above the surface
of the lake. To his surprise there were no more of them to be seen.
Then far off down the shore he heard the voice of Loob, shouting for
help. The shouting changed at once to a scream of terror, and Grôm
started to the rescue on the full run--taking care, however, to keep
within cover of the thickets. But before he had gone a quarter of a
mile he heard A-ya's voice calling him, wildly, insistently, mingled
with excited yells from Mô. He shouted in reply and dashed madly for
the fires. The peril of A-ya put all other considerations out of his
mind.

As he burst forth into the glade of refuge, he saw A-ya and young Mô
leaping about frantically among their fires, now trying to stir the
fires to a fiercer blaze, now beating upwards with their spears, while
above them darted and gleamed and swooped and scintillated, with a
horrid dry rustling of their silver wings, shoal upon shoal of the
devouring monsters. As he burst into the open, with a great shout of
encouragement, something dropped upon him. He felt his head instantly
caged by six steel-like legs which gripped like jaws, their spines
sinking deep into the flesh of neck and cheek. He reached up his left
hand, caught his dreadful assailant just where the head and thorax
join, and strove to throttle it. This was impossible, by reason of the
insect's armor, but he succeeded in holding off those horrid jaws from
his face as he dashed for the circle. Another monster swooped and
struck its spines into his back, and bit a great mouthful out of his
shoulder. But he gained the fires, and, holding his breath, sprang
right through the fiercest flame. The wings of his assailants
shrivelled instantly, and the flame, drawn into the mouth of their
breathing tubes, sealed them up. Grôm tore them off, and slammed the
writhing, wingless bodies into the fire.

Inside the circle, now that the fires were burning high, it was
possible to defend oneself effectually, as the bulk of the assailants
seemed to realize that the flames were fatal to their frail wings. But
there were enough so headlong in their ferocity that both Grôm and Mô
were kept busy beating them off with spears, while A-ya fed the fires;
and the ground inside the circle was littered with the radiant bodies
of the dying insects, which, even in dying, bit like bull-dogs if foot
or leg came within reach. Grôm noticed that their supply of fuel was
all but gone, and his heart sank. He measured with his eyes the
distance to the nearest thickets that looked dense enough for a
shelter.

"We'll have to run for those bushes," he said presently. "They can't
fly in where the branches are thick. It breaks their wings."

"Good," said young Mô. But A-ya, whose shapely shoulders and thighs
were already covered with hideous wounds, trembled at the prospect.

At that moment, however an amazing change came over the scene. A black
thunder-cloud passed across the face of the sun. The moment the
sunshine vanished the destroyers seemed to forget their fury. All the
life and energy went out of them. They simply flocked to the nearest
trees and hung themselves up, gigantic, jewelled blooms, upon the
branches. In less than a minute every dreadful wing was stilled.

"Now is our time. Come!" commanded Grôm, leading the way out of the
circle.

"Let's stop and kill them all!" pleaded young Mô, his eyes red with
rage.

But Grôm pointed to the cloud. "It will pass quickly," said he. "We
must be far from here before the sun shows his face again."

He paused, however, to transfix upon his spear-head one of their
wounded but still fluttering foes, that he might be able to show the
tribe what manner of monsters they had had to deal with. Both A-ya and
Mô followed his example; and they all ran off down the glade searching
for Loob, whom they soon found and bearing their strange trophies on
their spear-heads they went on. The monsters, clinging sullenly to
their perches, rolled baleful eyes of emerald and rose and amethyst
upon them as they went, but lifted never a wing to follow them. Ten
minutes later the sun came out again. Then the monsters all sprang
hurtling into the air, and darted hither and thither above the glade
in shoals of iridescent radiance, seeking their prey. But Grôm and
A-ya, Mô and Loob triumphant in spite of their wounds, were by this
time far away among the inland thickets, where those intolerable eyes
could not search them out, nor the clashing wings pursue.



CHAPTER X

THE TERRORS OF THE DARK


I

From the topmost summit of that range of pointed hills which held the
caves and the cave-mouth fires of his people, Grôm stared northward
with keen curiosity. To east and south and west he had explored, ever
seeking to enlarge the knowledge and strengthen the security of his
tribe. But to northward of the pointed hills lay league on league of
profound jungle--grotesque and enormous growths knitted together
impenetrably by a tangle of gigantic, flame-flowered lianas. And in
those rank, green glooms, as Grôm had reason to believe, there lurked
such monsters as even he, with all his resources of fire and novel
weapons, had so far shrunk from challenging.

But beyond the expanse of jungle stretched another line of hills,
their summits not saw-toothed like his own, but low and gently
rounded, and of a smoky purple against the pure turquoise sky. These
hills Grôm was thirsting to explore. They might contain caves more
roomy than those of his own hills--spacious and suitable to give
shelter to his tribe, which was now finding itself somewhat cramped.
Moreover, it had always seemed to Grôm that there might be a mystery
behind those hills, and to his restless imagination a mystery was
always like a stinging goad.

In all this neighborhood the crust of earth was thin as plainly
appeared from the fringe of wavering volcanic flames which, during all
the five years since the coming of the tribe, had been dancing from
the lip of the narrow fissure across the mouth of their valley. Night
and day, now high and vehement, now low and faint, they had danced
there, guarding the valley entrance--until just one moon ago. Then had
come an earthquake, shaking the hearts of all the tribe to water. The
dancing flames had died. The fissure had closed up, and its place had
been taken by a pool of boiling pitch. And one of the caves had fallen
in, burying several members of the tribe, who had been too stupefied
with panic to flee into the open at the first alarm. For some days
after this catastrophe the tribe had camped in the open, huddled about
their great fires. Then, but with deep misgivings, they had all
crowded back into the remaining caves.

But now there was not room enough, and Bawr, the wise Chief, had taken
frequent counsel upon the matter with Grôm, whom, loving him greatly
he called sometimes his Right Hand and sometimes the Eye of the
People. At last, it had been settled that Grôm should lead a party
through the jungle land to those other hills, to spy out the prospect.
And Grôm, like the foresighted leader that he was, had spent many
hours on the mountain-top, planning his route and studying the
luxuriant surface of the jungle outstretched below him, before
plunging into its mysterious depths.

As was his custom when on a perilous venture, Grôm would have few
followers to share the peril with him. He took A-ya, not only because
of her oft-proved courage and resourcefulness, not only because he
wanted her always at his side, but, above all, because he knew he
could not leave her behind. Had he tried to leave her, she would have
disobeyed and followed him by stealth--and perhaps fallen a prey to
prowling beasts. He took also A-ya's young brother, the hot-head Mô;
and Loob, the shaggy, little sharp-faced scout, who could run like a
hare, hide like a fox, and fight like a cornered weasel. This he would
have accounted, ordinarily, a sufficient party. But the present
enterprise being one of peculiar difficulty, he decided at the last
moment to strengthen his following by the addition of a dark-faced,
perpetually-grinning giant named Hobbo, who was slow of wit, but
thewed like a bull, and a mighty fighter with the stone-headed club.

This little but greatly daring band, which Grôm, one flaming sunrise,
led down into the unknown jungle, was well armed. Besides the spear
and the club, each member of the party but Hobbo (who had displayed no
aptitude for its use) carried Grôm's wonderful invention--the bow.
Hobbo, however, because of his immense strength, bore the heavy
fire-basket, wherein the smoldering coals were cherished in a bed of
clay. As a food reserve, everyone carried a few strips of half-dried
meat; but their main dependence, of course, was to be upon the spoils
of their hunting and the fruits that they might gather on their
march.

The forest into whose depths Grôm now led the way was in reality a
survival from a previous age, into which the forms, both vegetable and
animal, of contemporary life had been gradually infiltrating. The
soil, of incredible fertility, still poured forth those gigantic tree
grasses, and colossal, sappy ferns and psuedo-palms, which had
flourished chiefly in the carboniferous period. But here they were
mingled with the more enduring hard-wood growths of the later tropical
forests; and only these were strong enough to support the massive,
strangling coils of the cable-like lianas, which wound their way up
the huge trunks and reached out in aërial, swaying bridges from
tree-top to tree-top. On every side, high or low, the deep-green gloom
was splashed with color from the gorgeous orchids and other epiphytes,
which flowered out into grotesque or monstrous wing-petaled shapes of
vermilion and purple and orange and rose and white, eyed with velvet
black or streaked with iridescent bronze.

To men of to-day this jungle would have been impenetrable, except by
the incessant use of axe or machete. But Grôm and his party were
Cave-Men, and had not yet forgotten all the instincts and capacities
of their tree-dwelling ancestors. Sometimes, where it seemed easiest,
they forced their way along the ground, or followed the trodden trail
of some great jungle beast, so long as it led in the right direction.
But here they had to be ceaselessly on the watch against surprise by
creatures whose monstrous tracks were unlike any that they had ever
seen before. Whenever possible, therefore, they preferred to journey,
after the fashion of their apish ancestors, by way of the high
branches and the liana bridges. Hampered as they were by their
weapons, their progress by this aërial way was slow. But it was
comparatively secure. And it was also comparatively cool; while down
at the ground-level the steaming heat and the stinging insects were
almost beyond endurance.

Yet before the end of that first day's journey they learned that even
in tree-tops it was necessary to be always on the watch. Once the
little hairy scout, Loob, who traveled always on the outskirts of the
party, was struck at suddenly by a huge black leopard, which lay
ambushed in the crotch of a tree. Loob, however, who was so
quick-sighted that he seemed to see things before they actually
happened, leapt to a higher branch in time to escape the deadly
paw. In the next instant he struck down furiously with his spear,
catching his assailant between the shoulder-blades and driving the
stroke home with all his strength. With a screech, the beast stiffened
out, and then, somewhat slowly, collapsed. As Loob wrenched his
weapon free, the great animal slumped limply from its branch. For a
moment or two it hung by the fore-paws, coughing and frothing at
the mouth. Then this last hold relaxed and it fell, bumping with a
curious deliberation from branch to branch. It vanished through a
floor of thick leafage, and struck the ground with a dull crash. It
must have fallen under the very jaws of an unseen waiting monster; for
there arose at once a strange, hooting roar, followed by the sound
of rending flesh and cracking bone. Loob grinned over his feat,
and Grôm, glancing at A-ya, muttered quietly: "It is better to be up
here than down there." As he spoke, and they all peered downwards,
a dreadful head, with the limp body of the leopard gripped like a
rat between its long jaws and dripping yellow fang, thrust itself
up through the floor of leafage and stared at them with round eyes
as cold and black as ice.

Grôm itched to shoot an arrow into one of those unwinking, devilish
eyes. But arrows were too precious to be wasted.

That night they slept profoundly on a platform which they wove of
branches in one of the tallest and most unscalable trees. They kept
watch, of course, turn and turn about; but nothing attempted to
approach them, and they cared little for the sounds of strife, the
crashings of pursuit and desperate flight, which came up to them at
intervals from the blackness far below.

On the morrow, however, as they were pursuing their aërial path along
the borders of a narrow, sluggish bayou, they were suddenly made to
realize that the tree-tops held perils more deadly than that of the
lurking leopards. They were all staring down into the water, which
swarmed with gigantic crocodiles and boiled immediately beneath them
with the turmoil of a life-and-death struggle between two of the
brutes, when harsh jabbering in the branches just across the water
made them look up.

The tree-tops opposite were full of great apes, mowing and gibbering
at them with every sign of hate. The beasts were as big and massive as
Hobbo himself, and covered thickly with long, blackish fur. Their
faces, half human, half dog-like, were hairless and of a bright but
bilious blue, with great livid red circles about the small, furious
eyes. With derisive gestures they swung themselves out upon the
overhanging branches, till it almost seemed as if they would hurl
themselves into the water in their rage against the little knot of
human beings.

The girl A-ya, overcome with loathing horror because the beasts were
so hideous a caricature of man, covered her eyes with one hand. Young
Mô, his fiery temper stung by their challenge, clapped an arrow to his
string and raised his bow to shoot. But Grôm checked him sternly,
dreading to fix any thirst of vengeance in the minds of the terrible
troop.

"They can't come at us here. Let them forget about us," said he.
"Don't take any more notice of them at all."

As he led the way once more through the branches along the edge of the
bayou, the apes kept pace with them on the other side. But presently
the bayou widened, and then swept sharply off to the west. Grôm kept
on straight to the north, by the route which he had planned. And the
mad gibbering died away into the hot, green silence of the tree-tops.

The adventurers now pushed on with redoubled speed, unwilling to pass
another night in the tree-tops when such dangerous antagonists were in
the neighborhood. The hills, however, were still far off when evening
came again. Not knowing that the great apes always slept at night,
Grôm decided to continue the journey in order to lessen the risk of a
surprise. When the moon rose, round and huge and honey-colored, over
the sea of foliage, traveling through the tree-tops was almost as easy
as by day, while the earth below them, with its prowling and battling
monsters, was buried in inky gloom. When day broke, there were the
rounded hills startlingly close ahead, as if they had crept forward to
meet them in the night.

And now the hills looked different. Between the nearest--a long,
rolling, treeless ridge of downland--and the edge of the jungle
lay an expanse of open, grassy savannah, dotted with ponds, and
here and there a curious, solitary, naked tree-trunk, with what
looked like a bunch of grass on its top. They were like gigantic
green paint-brushes, with yellow-gray handles, stuck up at random.
Far off they saw a herd of curious beasts at pasture, and away to
the left a giant bird, as tall as the tree by which it stood, seemed
to keep watch. A little to the right, where the treeless ridge came
abruptly to an end, gleamed a considerable stretch of water. It was
toward this point, where the water washed the steep-shouldered
promontory, that Grôm decided to shape his course across the plain.

By the time the sun was some three hours high they had arrived within
a couple of hundred yards of the open. Sick of the oppressive jungle,
and eager for the change to a type of country with which they were
more familiar, they were swinging on through the tree-tops at a great
pace, when that savage, snarling jabber which they so dreaded was
heard in the branches behind them. Grôm instantly put A-ya in the
lead, while he himself dropped to the rear to meet this deadliest of
perils. There was no need to urge his party to haste; but it seemed to
them all as if they were standing still, so swiftly did the clamor of
the apes come upon them.

"Down to earth," ordered Grôm sharply, seeing that they must be
overtaken before they could reach the open, and realizing that in the
tree-tops they could not hope to match these four-handed dwellers of
the trees.

As they dropped nimbly from branch to branch, the foremost of the apes
arrived in sight, set up a screech of triumph, and came swooping down
after them in vast, swinging leaps. In the hurry Hobbo dropped his
fire-basket, which broke as it fell and scattered the precious coals.
Grôm, guarding the rear of the flight, made the mistake of keeping his
eye too much on the enemy, too little on where he was going. In a
moment or two, he found himself cut off, upon a branch from which
there was no escape without a drop of twenty feet to a most uncertain
foothold. Rather than risk it, he ran in upon his nearest assailant at
the base of the branch, thrusting at the blue-faced beast with his
spear. But his position being so insecure, his thrust lacked force and
precision. The great ape caught it deftly; and Grôm, to preserve his
balance, had to let the spear be wrenched from his hand. At the same
moment another ape dropped on the branch behind him.

For just one second Grôm thought his hour had come. He crouched to
steady himself, then darted forward and hurled his club straight at
his foe's protruding and shaggy paunch. Again the beast caught the
missile in its lightning clutch; but in the next instant it threw up
its long arms, without a sound, and fell backwards out of the tree.
A-ya, who had been the first to reach the ground, had drawn her bow
and shot upwards with sure aim. The shaft had caught the great ape
under the center of the jaw, far back at the throat, and pierced
straight up to the brain.

Surprised at seeing their leader fall with so little apparent reason,
the other apes halted for a moment in their onset, chattering noisily.
In that moment Grôm swung himself to the ground. As he reached it both
Mô and Loob discharged their arrows. Another ape fell from his perch,
but caught himself on a lower branch and hung there writhing; while a
third, with a shaft half buried in his paunch, fled back yelling into
the tree-top. Then the adventurers snatched up their fallen weapons
from the ground and made for the open as fast as they could run. And
the apes, with a hellish uproar of barks and screams, came swarming
after them through the lower branches.

At this point, fortunately for the travelers, the jungle was already
thinning, and they had a chance to show their speed. The raging
blue-faces were speedily distanced, and the fugitives ran out
breathless upon the sunny savannah. Here, feeling themselves safe,
they halted to look back. The lower branches all along the edge of the
grass were thronged with leaping brown forms, and gnashing blue masks,
and red-rimmed, devilish eyes. But not one of the great beasts, for
all their rage, seemed willing to venture forth into the open.

"There must be something out here that they fear greatly," commented
Grôm, peering warily about him. But there was nothing in sight to
suggest any danger, and he led the way onward through the rank grass
at a long, leisurely trot.


II

For the most part the grass grew hardly waist high; but here and there
were patches, perhaps an acre or so in extent, where it was more cane
than grass and rose to a height of twelve or fifteen feet. To such
patches, which might serve as lurking-places to unknown monsters, Grôm
gave a wide berth. He had a vivid remembrance of that colossal head,
with the awful dead eyes, which had reared itself through the leafage
to stare up at him.

In spite of the strange and enormous trails which crossed their path
at times; in spite of occasional massive swayings and crashings in the
deep beds of cane, the adventurous party accomplished the journey
across the savannah without encountering a single foe. The mid-noon
blaze of the sun upon the windless grass, which was almost more than
they could endure, was probably keeping the monsters to their lairs;
and the only living things to be seen, besides the insects and a
high-wheeling vulture or two, were a few shy troops of a kind of small
antelope, incredibly swift of foot.

Grôm drew a breath of relief as they reached the foot of the hills.
But just here it was impossible to climb them. A range of high
limestone downs, they were fringed at this point by an unbroken line
of cliff, perpendicular and at times overhanging, from forty or fifty
to perhaps a couple of hundred feet in height, and so smooth that even
these goat-footed cave-folk could not scale them. The rich plain-land
at their feet had once been a shallow, inland sea, and now its grasses
washed along their base in a gold-green, scented foam.

Turning to the right, Grôm led the way close along the cliff-foot
toward the water, which glowed like brass about a mile ahead. Along
the right of their path the ground sloped off gently to a belt of that
high cane-like growth which Grôm regarded with such suspicion. Before
they had gone many hundred yards his suspicion was more than
justified.

From a little way behind them there arose all at once a chorus of
explosive gruntings, mixed with a huge crashing of the canes. Glancing
over their shoulders, they saw a great rust-red animal, about the size
of a rhinoceros, which burst forth from the canes and stood staring
after them. Its hideous head was larger than that of any rhinoceros
they had ever seen, and armed with a pair of enormous conical horns,
each more than a foot in diameter at the base and tapering to a keen
point. Set side by side, at a moderate angle, upon the bridge of the
snout, they were far more terrible than the horns of any rhinoceros.
Their bearer lowered them menacingly, and charged down upon Grôm's
party with a sound that was something between the grunting of a hog
and the braying of an ass. Immediately upon his massive heels a whole
herd of the red monsters surged forth from the canes, and came
charging after their leader at a ponderous gallop which seemed
literally to shake the earth.

For a moment or two Grôm's party had paused, confident in their own
fleetness of foot, and wondering at that pair of amazing horns on the
monster's snout. But when the rest of the terrific herd came
thundering down upon them, they fled in all haste. To their amazement,
they found that their speed was none too great for their need. The red
monsters, in spite of their bulk, were disconcertingly swift.

As he neared the swift promontory which terminated with the range of
downs, Grôm began to fear that he and his followers would have to take
refuge in the water. This water, as it chanced, was the brackish
estuary of a river which, sweeping down from the east, here made its
way to the sea through a long, slanting break in the limestone hills.
It was now near low tide, and there opened before the hard-pressed
fugitives, as they approached the shore, a strip of damp beach running
around the base of the bluff. As they left the grass and ran out upon
the beach they were astonished to find that the thundering pursuit had
stopped short. Just at the turn of the cliff they halted and stared
back wonderingly. Their pursuers, though swinging their great horns
and braying with rage, were evidently unwilling to venture so near the
waterside. They drew back, indeed, as if they feared it, and at last
went crashing away into the canes. The fugitives, glad of an
opportunity to rest their laboring lungs, squatted down with their
backs against the cliff and congratulated themselves on having got rid
of such perilous attentions. But Grôm's sagacious eyes searched the
cliff face anxiously, without neglecting to watch the unruffled water.
If that water was so dreaded that even the mighty herd of their
pursuers durst not approach it, surely its smiling surface must hide
some peril of surpassing horror.

For the next few hundred yards, till it vanished around the curve, the
strip of naked beach was not more than twenty or thirty feet in width.
Not without some apprehensions, Grôm decided to push forward. There
seemed nothing else to do, indeed, seeing that the cane-beds behind
them were occupied by that irresistible red herd. Somewhere ahead, he
argued, there must be a break in the cliff which would give access to
the rolling downs above, where they might travel in safety.

Disguising his growing uneasiness that he might not discourage his
followers--who were now full of elation at having reached the foot of
the hills--he led on again in haste, though there seemed to be no need
of haste. Both Hobbo and young Mô, indeed, were for staying a while
and sleeping in the shade of an overhanging rock. But A-ya, who sensed
through sympathy her lord's disquietude, and the little scout Loob,
who was always, on principle, ill at ease in any spot where there was
no tree to climb, were as eager as their chief to push ahead; and the
others would never have dared, in any case, to question Grôm's
decision.

As they rounded the next bend of the cliff, however, a clamor of
excited satisfaction arose from all the party. Straight ahead, and not
fifty paces distant, there opened before them a spacious cave-mouth,
with a somewhat wider strip of beach before it. Immediately beyond the
cave the strip of beach came sharply to an end, and the tide lapped
softly against the foot of the cliff.

But just then, in the moment of their elation, a terrifying thing
happened. As if aroused by their voices, the still surface a few yards
from shore boiled up, and was lashed to foam by the strokes of a
gigantic tail.

"Run!" yelled Grôm; and they all dashed forward, there being no chance
to go back. In the same instant, an appalling head--like that of a
thrice magnified and distorted crocodile, with vast, round, painted
eyes--was upthrust from the water and came rushing after them at a
pace which sent up a curving wave before it.

Quick as thought, Grôm drew his bow and shot at the appalling head.
The arrow drove straight into the gaping throat, eliciting a
thunderous bellow of rage, but producing no other effect. Then Grôm
sprang after his fleeing companions, and raced for his life toward the
cave mouth. The cave might be nothing more than a death-trap for them
all; but it seemed to offer the one possibility of escape.

As they dashed into the cave the awful, gaping head was close behind
them. They had a flashing glimpse, through the gloom, of high-arched
distance melting into blackness, of a strip of black water along the
right, and to the left a gentle ascent of smooth white sand, whose end
was out of sight.

Up this slope they raced, with the clashing of monstrous fangs close
behind them. But they had not gone a dozen strides when the slope
quivered, and heaved upwards shudderingly beneath them; and they all
fell forward flat upon their faces. From all but Grôm there went up a
shriek so piercing that in their own ears it disguised the stupendous
rending roar which at that moment seemed to stun the air. The mighty
arch of the cave mouth had slipped and crashed down, completely
jamming the entrance, and opening up a gash of blue heaven above their
heads.

To Grôm's unshaken wits, it was clear on the instant what had
happened. He staggered to his feet and looked back through a rain of
falling rock-splinters. He had a vision of their colossal pursuer, its
jaws stretched to their utmost width, the vast globes of its eyes
protruding from their armored sockets, its ponderous, bowed fore-legs
pawing the air aimlessly in the final convulsion. The falling
rock-mass had caught it on the middle of the back, crushing its mighty
frame like an eggshell.

For a second or two, Grôm stood there rigid, staring, his gnarled
fingers clenched upon his weapons. Then a second earthquake tremor
beneath his feet warned him. With an unerring instinct, he sprang on
up the slope after his companions, who had fled as soon as they could
pick themselves up. And in the next moment the rock above his head,
fissured deep by the rains, slipped again. With a growling screech, as
if torn from the bowels of the mountain, it settled slowly down, and
sealed the mouth of the cave to utter blackness.

Grôm stopped short, having no mind to dash out his brains against the
rock. There was stillness at last, and silence save for the faint,
humming moan of the earthquake which seemed to come from vast depths
beneath his feet. Profoundly awed, but master of his spirit, he stood
leaning upon his spear in the thick dark till the last of that strange
humming note had died away. Then, through a silence so thick it seemed
to choke him, he called aloud:

"A-ya! where are you?"

"_Grôm!_" came the girl's answer, a sobbing cry of relief and joy,
from almost, as it seemed, beneath his outstretched hand.

"We are all here," came the voices of the three men.

They had fallen headlong at the second shock, as at the first; and in
the darkness they had not dared to rise again, but lay waiting for
their leader to tell them what to do. In half a dozen cautious,
groping steps he was among them, and sank down by A-ya's side,
clutching her to him to stop her trembling.

"What are we to do now?" asked the girl, after a long silence. Without
Grôm, they would probably have died where they were, not daring to
stir in the darkness. But their faith in their chief kept them
cheerful even in this desperate plight.

"We must find a way out," answered Grôm, with resolute confidence.

"If Hobbo had not dropped the fire!" said young Mô bitterly.

The giant groaned in self-abasement, and beat his chest with his great
fists. But Grôm, who would allow no dissensions in his following,
answered sternly:

"Be silent. You might have done no better yourself."

Then for a time there was no more said, while Grôm, sitting there
in the dark with the girl's face buried in his great shaggy chest,
thought out his plans. It was plain to him, from what he had seen in
that last instant of daylight, that the entrance was blocked
impregnably. Moreover, he judged that any attempt to work an
opening in that direction would be likely, for the present, to bring
more rocks down upon them. It would be better, first, to feel their
way on into the cave in the hope of finding another exit. He was
not afraid of getting lost, no matter how absolute the dark, because
he possessed that sixth sense, so long ago vanished from modern
man's equipment--the sense of direction. He knew that, as a matter of
course, he could find his way back to this starting-point whenever
he would.

"Come on!" he ordered at last, lifting A-ya and holding her hand in
his grasp. Reaching out with his spear, he kept tapping the ground
before him as he went, and occasionally the wall upon his left.
Sometimes, too, he would reach upwards to assure himself that there
was no lowering of the rocky ceiling. A spear's length to the right,
more or less, he got always a splash of water.

With their fine senses intensely alert, they were able to make fair
progress, even though unaided by their eyes. But Grôm checked his
advance abruptly. He had a perception of some obstacle before him. He
reached out his spear as far as he could. It touched a soft object.
The object, whatever it was, surged violently beneath the touch. His
flesh crept, and the shaggy hair uplifted on his neck. "Back!" he
hissed, thrusting A-ya off to arm's length and bracing his spear point
before him to receive the expected attack. A pair of faintly
phosphorescent eyes, small, but so wide apart as to show that their
owner's head must have been enormous, flashed round upon them. There
was a hoarse squeal of alarm, and a heavy body went floundering off
into the water. They could hear it swimming away in hot haste.

Every one drew a long breath. Then, after a few moments, A-ya laughed
softly:

"It's good to find something at last that runs away from us instead of
after us!" said she.

A little further on the cave wall turned to the left. A few steps, and
their path came to an end. There was water ahead of them, and on both
sides. Grôm's exploring spear assured them that it was deep water.

"We must swim," said he. "Leave your clubs behind." And leading the
way down into the unknown tide, he struck out straight ahead.

It was nerve-testing work swimming thus through that unseen water to
an unguessed goal; but Grôm was unhesitating, and his companions
rested upon his steady will. The water was of a summer warmth, and
slightly salt, which convinced him that it had free communication with
the sunlit tides outside. Several times he came within touch of the
rocky walls of the cavern, and found that they went straight down to a
depth he could not guess. But he kept on with hope and confidence at a
leisurely pace, which, in that bland and windless flood, he knew that
every member of his party could have maintained for half a day.

Suddenly there appeared ahead of them a faint, bluish gleam upon the
water's surface. It was something elusive and unreal, and vaguely
menacing.

"Daylight!" exclaimed young Mô eagerly. But Grôm said nothing. He did
not think it was daylight, and he was apprehensive of some new peril.

The strange light grew and spread. It was evident now that it rose
from the water, and also that it was advancing rapidly to meet the
astonished swimmers. After a few moments it was bright enough in its
blue pallor to show the swimmers that they were traversing a vast hall
of waters, whose roof was lost in darkness. Some fifty yards ahead of
them, and a little to the right, a low spit of rock, half awash for
the greater part of its length, ran out slantingly from the wall of
the stupendous chamber.

Toward this ledge Grôm now led the way, hurling himself through the
water on his side at top speed. He could not fathom this mysterious
phosphorescence, and he wished to get his people out upon dry land
before it reached them. But fast as the adventurers swam, the ghostly
radiance spread faster. Before they got to the ledge, the light was
all about them; but it seemed to be coming from a great depth.

Nervously they all glanced down, and a low cry of horror broke from
their lips. The depths were swarming with monstrous, luminous forms, a
moon-bright, crawling, sliding field of claws and feelers, and broad,
flat backs, and dreadful, protruding eyes.

The eyes all stared straight up at them with a fixed malignancy that
froze even Grôm's blood. They seemed innumerable, and all together
they came suddenly floating upwards.

Already the fugitives were dragging themselves out upon the ledge, in
frantic haste, when the diabolical swarm reached the surface. But
Hobbo, who was the slowest swimmer, was merely clutching at the rock
when the water boiled all about him in a froth of light. A pair of
huge, pincer-like claws seized him by the neck, and another pair by
one arm, plucking him back. His convulsed face stared upward for an
instant, and then, with a choked scream, he was dragged under. He
disappeared in a swirl of pale blue, frantically waving claws, and
eyes, and feelers, and black-fringed, chopping mouths.

Beside himself with rage and horror, Grôm stabbed down wildly into the
whirling struggle, and his example was followed at once by Loob and
young Mô. Some of their random blows went home, and as one or another
of the gigantic crabs turned over in its death-throes, its nearest
fellows seized it, tore it to pieces, and devoured it.

But A-ya, who had taken no part in this vengeance, now snatched Grôm
by the arm, shrieking wildly:

"Look! They are coming out!"

Recovering their senses, the three half-maddened men stared about
them. On every side the gigantic crabs--some with claws eight or ten
feet long, and eyes upon the ends of long waving stalks--were crawling
up upon the ledge.

The ledge, fortunately, was of some width. At its landward end it rose
into a mass of tumbled rocks perhaps twenty or thirty feet above the
water. Toward this post of vantage the adventurers fought their way,
striking and thrusting desperately with their spears as the monsters,
crowding up from the water on either side, snatched at them with their
terrible mailed claws. Over and over again one or another of the party
was seized by the foot or the leg; but his companions would beat the
long, jointed limb to fragments, or drive their spear-points deep into
the awful, drooling mouth, and set him free.

At last, bleeding from many wounds, they reached the end of the ledge
and clambered to the top. Here but three or four of the giant
crustaceans tried to follow them. These were easily speared from
above, and hurled back disabled among their ravening kin. And the
whole swarm, apparently forgetting their intended victims as soon as
they were out of reach, fell to fighting hideously among themselves
over the convulsed bodies of these wounded. The lower portion of the
ledge, and the water all about it, was a crawling mass of horror that
seemed to froth with blue light. And a confused noise of crackling,
snapping and hissing arose from it.

Every eye but Grôm's was glued in fascination to the baleful scene.
But Grôm now thought only of using that pervasive light to best
advantage while it should last. The wall of the cavern at this point
was so broken and fissured that it was not unscalable; and a little
way off to the right he marked, at some height above the water, what
looked like the entrance to a lateral gallery.

"Come! While the light lasts," he ordered, setting off over the rocks.
The others followed close. Now sidling along knife-like ledges, now
clinging by fingers and toes to almost imperceptible projections, they
made their way across the face of the steep, and gained the mouth of
the gallery. It was spacious, and easy to traverse, its floor sloping
upwards somewhat steeply. They plunged into it with confidence. And
the blue light of the Hall of Terrors faded out behind them.

Not many minutes later, another light, as it were a white star,
gleamed ahead of them. It grew as they went, and turned to gold. Then
a patch of turquoise sky, flecked sweetly with small fleeces of cloud,
opened before them, and in a moment more they came out upon a high,
blossoming down, blown over by a breeze that smelt of honey and salt.
Below them was a lovely, land-locked bay, with a herd of deer
pasturing among scattered trees by the shore. Away behind them
undulated the gracious line of the downs, inviting their feet.

"It is a pleasant land," said Grôm, "and we will surely come back to
it. But I think we must find another way than that by which we came."



CHAPTER XI

THE FEASTING OF THE CAVE FOLK


I

At last, and reluctantly, the Folk of the Caves had withdrawn from
their earthquake-harassed valley and betaken themselves to the new
dwelling-place which Grôm had found for them, on the green hill-slope
beside the Bitter Waters. They had lost no time, however, in accepting
the new conditions; for these caves in the limestone were ample and
secure--it was hard for any invader to come at them save by way of the
long, bare ridge of the downs running westward behind the caves; a
sweet-water brook ran almost past their threshold to fall with a
pleasant clamor into the bay,--and the surrounding country was rich in
game. The vast basin of marshy plain and colossal jungle, to be sure,
which stretched and steamed below the downs to southward, was the
habitation of strange monsters; but these, apparently, had no taste
for exploring the high, clean, windy downs.

On a certain golden morning it chanced that the caves were well-nigh
deserted. The men of the tribe, including the chiefs themselves, Bawr
and Grôm, together with most of the women and the half-grown children,
had gone off down the shore to a shallow inlet five or six miles
distant to gather shell-fish--great luscious mussels and peculiarly
plump and savory whelks. The girl A-ya, absorbed in her special
occupation of fashioning bows and arrows for the tribe, had remained,
with a half-score of old men and women and Grôm's giant slave, the
lame Bow-leg, Ook-ootsk, to guard the little children and the tribal
fires. As Grôm's mate, and his confidential associate in all his
greatest ventures, A-ya's prestige in the tribe had come to be only
less than that of Bawr and Grôm themselves.

On the open, grassy level before the cave mouth, the two great fires
burned steadily in the sun. The giant Ook-ootsk, hideous with his
ape-like forehead, his upturned, flaring nostrils, his protruding jaw,
his shaggy, clay-colored torso, and his short, massive, grotesquely
bowed legs--of which one was twisted so that the toes pointed almost
backwards--lay sprawling and chuckling benevolently near the entrance,
while a swarm of little ones, A-ya's two among them, clambered over
him. The old men and the old women most of them dozed in the shade,
save two or three of the most diligent, who occupied their gnarled
fingers in twisting thin strips of hide into bow-strings, or lashing
slivers of stone into the heads of spears. A-ya sat cross-legged a
little apart, beside a tiny fire, laboriously fashioning her bows and
arrows by charring the wood in the embers and then rubbing it between
two rough stones. With her head bent low over her work, the heavy,
tangled masses of her hair fell upon it and got in her way, and from
time to time she shook them aside impatiently. It was a picture of
primeval peace.

But peace, in the days when earth was young, was something more
precarious than a bubble.

From around the green shoulder of the hill came a sound of trampling
hooves and labored breathing. A-ya sprang to her feet, snatching up
her own well-tried bow and fitting an arrow to the string. At the same
time she gave a sharp alarm-cry, at which the lame slave, Ook-ootsk,
arose, shaking off the swarm of children, and came hobbling towards
her with his weapons in both hands. An old woman pounced upon the
startled, wide-eyed children, and in a twinkling had them shepherded
into the cave-mouth, out of sight. The old men, springing from their
sleep, and blinking, hurried forth into the sunlight, with such spears
or clubs as they could lay instant hand upon.

A breathless moment, while all stood waiting for they knew not what.
Then around the corner appeared a tall, wide-antlered elk, its eyes
showing the whites with terror, its dilated nostrils spattering bloody
froth. A long, raking wound ran scarlet down one flank. Staggering
from weariness or loss of blood, it came on straight toward the
cave-mouth, so blinded by its terror that it seemed not to see the
human creatures awaiting it, or even the fires before them.

A-ya fetched a deep breath of relief when she saw that this was no
ravening monster. Her immediate thought was the hunter's thought. She
drew her bow to the full length of her shaft, and as the panting beast
went by she let drive. The arrow pierced to half its span, just behind
the straining fore-shoulder. Blood burst from the animal's nostrils.
It fell on its knees, struggled up again, blundered on for half a
dozen strides, and dropped half-way across the second fire.

There was a chorus of triumphant shouts from the old men and women;
and A-ya started forward with the intention of dragging her prize from
the fire. But a look of apprehension and warning in the keen little
eyes of Ook-ootsk, who had by this time hobbled to her side, checked
her. In a flash the meaning of it came to her.

"What do you suppose was chasing it, Ook-ootsk?" she queried; and
whipped about, without waiting for his answer, to stare anxiously at
the green shoulder of the hillside.

"Black lion, maybe," said Ook-ootsk, in his harsh, clucking voice,
dropping his spear and club beside him and setting a long arrow to the
string of his massive bow.

But the words were hardly out of his throat, when his guess was proved
wrong. Around the turn came lumbering, with huge heads hung low and
slavering, half-open jaws a pair of those colossal red bears of the
caves which had always been A-ya's peculiar terror.

"Hide the children!" she yelled, and then let fly an arrow, almost
without aim, at the foremost of the monsters. She was the best shot in
the tribe, and the shaft sped even too true. It struck the bear full
in the snout, and pierced through the palate and into the throat--a
wound which, though likely to prove mortal after a time, only made the
beast more dangerous for the moment. It paused, coughing, and tried to
paw the torment from its jaws, and then rushed forward, screaming
hideously.

In that pause, however, though it was but for a second or two, the
second bear had forged ahead of its companion. It was greeted
instantly by an arrow from the massive bow of Ook-ootsk, aimed with
cool deliberation. The long shaft of hickory, delivered thus at close
range, caught the enemy in the front of the right shoulder and drove
clean in to the joint, so that the leg gave way and the gigantic brute
almost fell upon its side. With a roar, it bit off the protruding half
of the tough hickory, and then came on again, on three legs. From
A-ya's nimble bow it got another arrow, which went half-way through
its neck; but to this deadly wound, which sent the blood gushing from
its mouth, it seemed to pay no heed whatever. A-ya's next shot missed;
and then, screaming for the old men to come into the fray, she
snatched up her stone-headed spear and ran around behind the nearest
fire, expecting the bears to follow her and be led away from the
hiding-place of the children.

But she had forgotten that the slave, Ook-ootsk, with his twisted and
shrunken leg, could not run. That valiant savage, blinking his little
eyes rapidly and blowing defiantly through his upturned nostrils as he
saw his doom rushing upon him, let drive one more of his long shafts
into the red, towering bulk, then dropped his bow, sank upon one knee,
and held up his spear slantingly before him, with its butt firmly
braced upon the ground. As the monster reared itself and fell upon
him, the jagged point of the spear was forced deep into its belly,
straight up till it reached the backbone. Then the shaft snapped,
Ook-ootsk sprawled forward upon his face, and the monster, in the
paroxysm of its amazement and agony, leapt onward and plunged right
over him, involuntarily hurling him aside and clawing most of the
flesh off his back with a kick of one gigantic hind paw.

He clenched his teeth stoically, shut his eyes, folded his long, hairy
arms about his head, and rolled himself into a ball, confidently
expecting in the next moment to feel the life crunched out of him.

But just as the monster, recovering itself, was turning madly to
finish off its insignificant but torturing opponent, A-ya came leaping
back to the rescue, with a blazing and sparkling faggot in each hand,
and the old men, some with fire-brands, some with spears, clamoring
resolutely behind her. With fearless dexterity, she thrust the fire
straight into the monster's eyeballs, totally blinding him. As he
wheeled to strike her down, she slipped aside with a mocking laugh,
and threw one of the brands between his jaws, where he crunched upon
it savagely before he felt the torment of it and spat it out.

Depending now upon his ears, the monster blundered straight forward in
the direction of the shouting voices. He had quite forgotten
Ook-ootsk. He raged to come at this last intolerable foe, who had
scorched the light from his eyes. He made for her voice straight
enough; but it chanced that exactly in his path lay the second
fire--that into which the body of the elk had fallen. Already too
maddened with the anguish of his wounds to notice the fire at
once, he stumbled upon the body. Here, surely, was one of his foes.
He fell to rending the carcase with his claws, and biting it,
crawling forward upon it to reach its throat with the fire licking up
derisively about his head; till at length the flames were drawn deep
into his laboring lungs, searing them and sealing them so that they
could no more perform their office. With a shallow, screeching gasp he
threw himself backwards out of the fire, rolled upon the turf, and
lay there fighting the air with his paws as he strangled swiftly and
convulsively.

The second bear, meanwhile, wallowing with astonishing nimbleness on
three legs, had charged roaring into the group of old men. In a
twinkling he had three or four spears sticking into him; but the arms
that hurled the spears were weak, and the monster ramped on unheeding.
Several fire-brands fell upon him, scorching his long, red fur, but he
shook them off, too maddened to remember his natural dread of the
flames.

The group scattered in all directions. But one brave old gray-beard,
who had marked A-ya's success, lingered in the path, and tried to
thrust his blazing faggot into the monster's eyes, as she had done. He
was not quick enough. The monster threw up its muzzle, dodging the
stroke, and the next moment it had struck down its feeble adversary
and crushed his head between its tremendous jaws.

In its folly, it now forgot its other enemies, and fell to wreaking
its madness on the lifeless victim. But in another second or two it
was fairly overwhelmed with the red brands descending upon its head.
A-ya, with all the force of her strong young arms, drove her short
spear half-way through its loins. Then, with one eye blinded and its
long fur smouldering, its rage gave way suddenly into panic. Lifting
its giant head high into the air, as if thus to escape its fiery
assailants, it turned and scuttled back the way it had come, while the
old men swarmed after it, belaboring and jabbing its elephantine rump
with their live brands.

A-ya, racing like a deer and screaming with exultation, ran round the
pack of old men and stabbed the frantic brute in the neck, with her
spear held short in both hands. Shrinking abjectly from this attack,
he swerved off toward the left. It was his left eye that was blinded,
and the other was full of smoke and ashes. He missed the path,
therefore, and plunged squalling over the edge of the bluff, which at
this point dropped about a hundred feet, almost perpendicularly, to
the beach. Rolling over and over, and bouncing out into space every
time he struck the cliff face he fell to the bottom amid a shower of
stones and dust, and lay there as shapeless as a fur rug dropped from
an upper window.

The old men, jabbering in triumph, craned their shaggy gray heads out
over the brink to grin down upon him, while A-ya, with a wild light in
her eyes and her strong white teeth gleaming savagely, turned back to
tend the wounds of her slave, Ook-ootsk.


II

Having assured herself that the hurts of Ook-ootsk, dreadful though
they were, were yet not mortal (our sires of Cave and Tree took a lot
of killing!), A-ya stepped over to the further fire to see about
rescuing the carcase of the slain elk before it should be quite burned
up. As a matter of fact, there was little of it actually consumed by
the fire, but it was amazingly shredded by the clawing of the blinded
bear; and an odor of roasted venison steamed up from it, which seemed
rather pleasant to A-ya's nostrils. Under her direction, the old men
hauled the body from the fire by the hind-legs, and dragged it over to
the edge of the bluff before cutting it up, for convenience in getting
rid of the offal. Every one followed, to secure their due share of the
tit-bits, except Ook-ootsk and one old woman. This old woman sat
rocking and keening beside the body of her mate whom the bear had
slain; while Ook-ootsk crawled off into a neighboring hollow to look
for certain healing herbs which should cleanse and astringe his
wounds.

The hide of the elk was too much burnt, too ripped and torn by the
claws of the bear, to be of any use except for thongs; but the old men
skinned it off expertly before dividing the flesh. Though their
gnarled fingers were feeble, they were amazingly clever in the use of
the sharp-edged flakes of stone which served them as knives. A-ya
stood by them, watching closely, to see that none of the specially
dainty cuts were appropriated. These delicacies were reserved for
herself and her two children, and for Grôm when he should return. She
had the right to them, not only because she was the mate of Grôm, but
because the kill was hers.

As she stood over the carcase--the fore-part of which had been
superficially barbecued in the fire--the smell of the roasted flesh
began to appeal to her even more strongly than at first. As she
sniffed it, curiously, it began to entice her appetite as nothing had
ever tempted it before. She touched a well-browned, fatty morsel, and
then put her fingers into her mouth. The flavor seemed to her as
delightful as the smell. She cast about for a suitable morsel on which
to experiment.

Now it chanced that the elk's tongue, having lain in the heart of the
fire, but enclosed within the half-open jaws, had been cooked to a
turn. A-ya possessed herself of this ever-coveted delicacy. It looked
so queer, in its cooked state, charred black along the lower edge,
that she hesitated to taste it. At last, persuaded by its fragrance,
she brought herself to nibble at it.

A moment more and she was devouring it with a gusto which, had manners
been greatly considered in the days when the earth was young, might
have seemed unbecoming in the wife of a great chief. Never before had
she eaten anything that seemed to her half so delicious. It was the
food she had all her life been craving. Her two little boys, pulling
at her, aroused her from her ecstasy. She gave them each a fragment,
which they swallowed greedily, demanding more; and between the three
of them the great lump of roast tongue quickly vanished.

The rest of the crowd meanwhile had been looking on with instinctive
disapproval. The portions of the meat which the fire had cooked, or
partly cooked, seemed to them spoiled. A-ya might, indeed, like the
strange food; but she was different from the rest of them in so many
ways! When, however, they saw her two boys follow her example, and
noted their enthusiasm, several of the old men ventured to try for
themselves. They were instant converts. Last of all, the old women and
the children--always the most conservative in such matters, took the
notion that they were losing something, and dared to essay the novel
diet. One taste, as a rule, proved enough to vanquish their
prejudices. In a very few minutes every shred of the carcase that
could claim acquaintance with the fire had been eaten, and all were
clamoring for more. Fully three-parts of the carcase remained, indeed,
but it was all raw flesh. A-ya looked down upon it with disdain.

"Take it back and throw it on the fire again!" she ordered angrily.
The generous lump of steak, which she had hacked off for herself from
the loin, had proved to be merely scorched on the outside, and she was
disappointed. She stood fingering the raw mass with resentful
aversion, while the old men and women, chattering gleefully and
followed by the horde of children dragged the mangled carcase back to
the fire, lifted it laboriously by all four legs, and managed to
deposit it in the very midst of the flames. A shrill shout of triumph
went up from the withered old throats at this achievement, and they
all drew back to wait for the fire to do its wonderful work.

But A-ya was impatient, and vaguely dissatisfied as she watched that
crude roasting in the process. She stood brooding, eyeing the fire and
turning her lump of raw flesh over and over in her hands. The attitude
of body was one she had caught from Grôm, when he was groping for a
solution to some problem. And now it seemed as if she had caught his
attitude of mind as well. Into her brain, for the moment passive and
receptive, flashed an idea, she knew not whence. It was as if it had
been whispered to her. She picked up a spear, jabbed its stone head
firmly into the lump of meat, and thrust the meat into the edge of the
fire, as far as it could go without burning the wood of the spear
shaft.

It took her a very few minutes to realize that her idea was nothing
less than an inspiration. Moving the morsel backwards and forwards to
keep it from charring, she found that it seemed to do best over a mass
of hot coals rather than in a flame; and being a thin cut, it cooked
quickly. When it was done she burnt her fingers with it, and her big
red mouth as well; and her two boys, for whom she had torn off shreds
too hot for herself to hold, danced up and down and wept loudly with
the smart of it, to be instantly consoled by the savor.

Noting the supreme success of A-ya's experiment, the spectators rushed
in, dragged the carcase once more from the fire, and fell to hacking
off suitable morsels, each for himself. In a few minutes every one who
could get hold of a long arrow, or a spear, or a pointed stick, was
busy learning to cook. Even the wailing old mourner, finding the
excitement irresistible, forsook the body of her slain mate and came
forward to take her share. Only the dead man, lying outstretched in
the sun by the cave-door, and the crippled giant Ook-ootsk, away in
the green hollow nursing his honorable wounds, had no part in the
rejoicing, in this revel of the First Cooked Food. The hot meat
juices, modified by the action of the fire, were almost as stimulating
as alcohol in the veins of these simple livers, and the revel grew to
something like an orgie as the shriveled nerves of the elders began to
thrill with new life. A-ya, seeing the carcase of the elk melt away
like new snow under a spring sun, gave orders to skin and cut up the
body of the first bear.

But the old men were too absorbed in their feasting to pay any
attention to her orders; and she herself was too exhilarated and
content to make any serious effort to enforce them. Every one, old and
young alike, was sucking burnt fingers and radiating greasy, happy
smiles, and she felt dimly that anything like discipline would be
unpopular at such a moment.

During all this excitement the main body of the tribe came straggling
back along the beach from their hunting of whelks and mussels. At the
foot of the bluff below the cave they found the body of the second
bear, and gathered anxiously about it, clamoring over its spear-wounds
and the arrows sticking in it, till Bawr and Grôm, who were in the
rear, came up. It was plain there had been a terrific battle at the
Cave. With most of the warriors the two Chiefs dashed on and up the
path, to find out how things had gone, while a handful remained behind
to skin the bear and cut up the meat.

When the anxious warriors arrived before the cave, they were amazed at
the hilarity which they found there--and inclined, at first, to resent
it, being something to which they had no clue. What were all the old
fools doing, dancing and cackling about the fire, and wasting good
meat by poking it into the fire on the ends of sticks and spears and
arrows?

The younger women, coming up behind the warriors, were derisive. They
were always critical in their attitude towards A-ya--so far as they
dared to be--and now they ran forward to scold and slap their
respective children for putting this disgusting burnt meat into their
mouths.

To Grôm and Bawr, however, A-ya explained the whole situation in a few
pertinent phrases, and followed up her explanation by proffering them
each a well-cooked morsel. They both smelled it doubtfully, tasted it,
broke into smiles, and devoured it, smacking their bearded lips.

"Did _you_ do this, girl?" demanded Grôm, beaming upon her proudly and
holding out his great hairy hand for another sample. But Bawr strode
forward, thrust the old men aside, hacked himself off a generous
collop, stuck it on his spear-head, and thrust it into the fire.

In his impatience, Bawr kept pulling the roast out every minute or
two, to taste it and see if it was done enough. His enthusiasm--and
that of Grôm, who was now following his example--cured the rest of the
warriors of their hesitation, so effectually that in five minutes
there was nothing more left of the great elk's carcase but antlers,
bone and offal. Those who had got nothing fell upon the body of the
bear, skinning it and hacking it in greedy haste. The young women,
having satisfied convention by slapping their bewildered and
protesting brats, soon yielded to curiosity and began surreptitiously
to nibble at the greasy cooked morsels which they had confiscated.
Then they, too, grabbed up spears and sticks for toasting-forks and
came clamoring shrilly for their portions. And A-ya, standing a little
apart with Grôm, smiled with comprehending sarcasm at their
conversion.

For the next few hours the fires were surrounded each by a seething
and squabbling mob, the innermost rings engaged in toasting their
collops with one hand, while with the other they tried to shield their
faces from the heat. As fast as those in the front rank wriggled out
with their browned and juicy tit-bits, others battled in to take their
places; and the Tribe of the Cave Men, mindful of nothing but the
gratification of this new taste, feasted away the afternoon with such
unanimous and improvident rejoicing as they had never known before. At
last, radiant with gravy and repletion, they flung themselves down
where they would and went to sleep, Bawr and Grôm, and two or three
others of the older warriors, who had been wise enough to banquet
without gorging themselves, thought with some misgiving of what might
happen if an enemy should steal upon them at such an hour of torpor.

But no enemy approached. With the fall of the dew the moon arose over
the bay, honey-colored in a violet sky, and played fantastic tricks
with the shifting light of the fires. And from within the cave came
softly the voice of A-ya, soothing a restless child.



CHAPTER XII

ON THE FACE OF THE WATERS


I

The People of the Cave were running short of arrows. The supply of
young hickory sprouts, on which they had depended for their shafts,
was almost exhausted. And within a two days' journey of the Caves
there was nothing to be found that would quite take the place of those
hickory sprouts. Neither Grôm himself nor any other member of his
tribe had as yet succeeded in so fixing a tip of bone or flint to a
shaft of cane as not to interfere with its penetration. Some growth
must be found that was tough, perfectly straight, and tapering, while
at the same time so solid and hard of grain that it would take and
hold a point, and heavy enough for driving power. All this was
difficult to find, and Grôm was convinced that it must be sought for
far afield. Life had been running uneventfully for months at the Great
Caves, and Grôm's restless spirit was craving new knowledge, new
adventure.

On this quest of the arrow Grôm took with him only two companions--his
slim, swift-footed mate, A-ya and that cunning little scout, Loob, the
Hairy One.

For the space of three days they journeyed due west from the Caves.
Then the range of downland which they had been following swept off
sharply to the south.

Being bent upon exploring to the westward--though he was not very
clear as to his reasons for his preference--Grôm led the way down from
the hills into the rankly wooded plain. For two days more they pushed
on through incessant perils, the country swarming with black lions,
saber-tooth, and woolly rhinoceros. As they were not fighting, but
exploring, the price of safety was a vigilance so unremitting that it
soon began to get on their nerves, and they were glad to take a whole
day's rest in the spacious security of a banyan top, where nothing
could come at them but leopards or pythons. Neither leopards nor
pythons gave them any great concern.

On the second day after quitting their refuge in the banyan top, they
emerged from the jungle so suddenly that they nearly fell into a
river, whose whitish, turbid flood ran swirling heavily before their
feet. It was a mighty stream, a good half-mile in width, and at this
point the current was eating away the bank so hungrily that whole
ranks of tree and bush had toppled over into the tide.

The great river barred their way, flowing as it did toward the
north-east, and Grôm reluctantly turned the course of the expedition
southward, following up the shore. Swift as was the current, these
folk of the Caves might have crossed it by swimming; but Grôm knew
that such waters were apt to swarm with giant crocodiles of varying
type and unvarying ferocity, as well as with ferocious flesh-eating
fish that swarmed in wolfish packs, and were able to tear an aurochs
or a mastodon in pieces with their razor-edged teeth. He gazed
desirously at the opposite shore, however--which looked to him much
more beautiful and more interesting than that on which he stood--and
wondered if he should ever be able to devise some way of reaching it
other than by swimming.

Along the river shore the travelers had endless variety to keep them
interested, with a less exhausting imminence of peril than in the
depths of the jungle. Sometimes great branches, draped and festooned
with gorgeous-flowered lianas, thrust themselves far out over the
water, affording easy refuge. Sometimes the river was bordered by a
strip of grassy level, behind which ran the edge of the jungle in the
form of a steep bank of violent green, with here and there a broad
splotch of magenta or violet or orange bloom flung over it like a
curtain. At times, again, it was necessary to plunge back into the
humming and steaming gloom behind this resplendent screen, in order to
make a détour around some swampy cove, whose dense growth of sedge,
fifteen to twenty feet in height, was traversed by wide trails which
showed it to be the abode of unfamiliar monsters. The travelers were
curious as to the makers of such colossal trails, but were not tempted
to gratify this curiosity by invading their lairs.

In all this time, and through all difficulties and dangers, neither
Grôm nor A-ya, nor the unsleeping Loob had lost sight of the object of
their journey. Every straight and slender sapling and seedling of hard
grain they tested, but hitherto they had found nothing that came
within measurable distance of their requirements.

In the customary order of their going, Grôm went first, peering ahead,
ever studying, pondering, observing, with his bow and his club swung
from his shoulder, his heavy, flint-headed spear always in readiness
for use at close quarters. Loob the scout, little and dark and hairy,
with the eyes of a weasel and the heart of a bull buffalo, went
darting and gliding soundlessly through the undergrowth a few paces to
the left, guarding against the approach of any attack from the
jungle-depths. While A-ya, whose quickness and precision with the bow,
her darling weapon, were nothing less than a miracle to all the tribe,
covered the rear, lest any prowling monster should be following on
their trail.

It chanced that A-ya dropped back some paces further, without saying
anything to Grôm. She had marked a slim shaft of a seedling which
looked suitable for an arrow; and in case the discovery should prove a
good one, she wanted the credit of it to herself. She stooped to pull
the seedling up by the roots, since it seemed too tough to break. It
was obstinate. In the effort her naked side and shoulder leaned fully
against the trunk of a small tree of which she had taken no notice. In
a second it seemed to her as if the tree trunk were made of red-hot
coals. The stinging fire of it ran like lightning all over her arms
and body. With a piercing scream she sprang away from the tree, and
began tearing and beating frantically at her body with both hands. She
was covered with furious ants--the great, red, stinging ants whose
venom is like drops of liquid flame.

At the sound of her scream, Grôm was back at her side in two leaps,
his hair and beard bristling stiffly, his eyes blazing with rage. But
there was no assailant in sight on whom to hurl himself. For a second
or two he glared about him wildly, with Loob crouched beside him,
snarling for vengeance. Then, perceiving the woman's plight, he flung
himself upon her, trying to envelop her in one sweeping embrace that
should crush all the virulent pests at once. In this he failed
signally; and in an instant the liquid fire was running over his own
body. The torture of it, however, was a small thing to him compared
with the torture of seeing them sting the woman, and feeling himself
impotent to effect her instant succor. He slapped and beat at her with
his great hands, while she covered her face with her own hands to
protect it from disfigurement.

Loob came to help, but Grôm, his brain keen in every emergency,
stopped him.

"Keep off!" he ordered. "Keep off! and keep watch!"

Then he seized A-ya by one arm, rushed her to the edge of the bank,
and dragged her with him into the water.

At this point the water was not much more than three feet deep. They
crouched down in it, heads under, for nearly a minute; while Loob,
spear in hand, stood over them, his wild little eyes scanning the
water depths in front and the jungle depths behind for the approach of
any foe.

When they could hold their breath no longer, they stood up. Their red
assailants were floating off on the current; but the fiery poison
remained, and they bathed each other's scarlet and scorched shoulders
assiduously, forgetful for the moment of everything besides. At this
moment a gigantic water python reared its head from the leafage close
by, fixed its flat, lidless, glittering eyes upon them, and drew back
to strike. But in the next second Loob's ready spear was thrust clean
through its throat, and his yell of warning tore the air. Grôm and
A-ya whipped up onto the bank like a pair of otters: and the python,
mortally stricken, shot out into the water over their heads, carrying
Loob's spear with it, gripped tight in the constriction of its throat
muscles.

As the lashing body struck the surface the water boiled about it,
suddenly alive with crocodiles. Balked of their human prey, they fell
upon the python. One of the monsters shot straight up, half-way out of
the water, with two convulsive coils of the python's tail wrapped
crushingly about its jaws; but the python, with Loob's spear through
its throat, could only struggle blindly. A moment more and it was
bitten in two, and the crocodiles were fighting monstrously among
themselves for the writhing fragments.

"You got us out of that just in time," said Grôm, grinning upon the
little scout with approval.

A-ya wrung the water out of her heavy hair with both hands, and threw
the masses back with an upward toss of her head.

"I hate ants," she said, shuddering. "Let's get away from here."


II

Some two hours after sunrise of the following day they came to a place
where a belt of woods, perhaps a hundred to two hundred yards in
depth, ran bordering the river, while behind it a broad stretch of
grassy plain thrust back the jungle. Along the edge of the plain,
skirting the belt of woods, the grass was short and the traveling was
easy; but off to the left the growth was ranker, and interspersed with
thickets such as Grôm always regarded with suspicion. He had learned
by experience that these dense thickets in the grass-land were a
favorite lurking-place of the unexpected--and that the unexpected was
almost always perilous.

Suddenly from the deeper grass a couple of hundred yards or so to the
left rose heavily the menacing bulk of a red Siva moose bull, and
stood staring at them with mingled wonder and malevolence in his
cruelly vindictive eyes. In stature surpassing the biggest rhinoceros
that Grôm had ever seen, he gave the impression of combining the
terrific power of the rhinoceros with the agile speed and devilish
cunning of the buffalo. His ponderous head, with its high-arched
eagle-hooked snout, was armed with two pairs of massive, keen-tipped,
broad-bladed horns, that seemed to be a deadly-efficient compromise
between the horns of a buffalo and the palmated antlers of a moose.
This alarming apparition snorted loudly, and at once from behind him
lurched to their feet some two score more of his like, and all stood
with their eyes fixed upon the little group of travelers by the edge
of the wood.

Grôm had heard vague traditions of the implacable ferocity of these
red monsters, but having before never come across them he answered
their stare with keen interest. At the same time, edging in closer to
the wood, he whispered:

"Don't run. But if they come we must go up the first tree. They are
swift as the wind, these great beasts, and more terrible than the
saber-tooth."

"Can't go in _these_ trees!" said Loob, whose piercing eyes had
investigated them minutely at the first glimpse of the monsters in the
grass.

"Why not?" demanded Grôm, his eyes still fixed upon the monsters.

"Oh! The bees! The terrible bees!" whispered A-ya. "Where can we go?"

Grôm turned his head and scanned the belt of woodland, his ears now
suddenly comprehending a deep, humming sound which he had hitherto
referred solely to the winged foragers in the grass-tops. Scattered at
intervals from the branches, in the shadowy green gloom, hung a number
of immense, dark, semi-pear-shaped globes. They looked harmless
enough, but Grôm knew that their inhabitants, the great jungle-bees,
were more to be dreaded than saber-tooth or crocodile. To disturb, or
seem to threaten to disturb, one of their nests, meant sure and
instant doom.

"No, we must trust to our running--and they are very swift," said
Grôm. "But let us go softly now, and perhaps they will not charge upon
us."

The words were hardly out of his mouth when the giant red bull, with a
grunt of wrath, lurched forward and charged down at them. And
instantly the whole herd, with their ridiculous little tails stuck up
stiffly in the air, charged after him. Swift as thought A-ya drew her
bow. The arrow buried itself deep in the red giant's muzzle. With a
bawl of fury, he paused, to try and root the burning torment out of
his nose. The whole herd paused behind him. It was only for a few
seconds, and then he came on again, blowing blood and foam from his
nostrils; but they were precious seconds, and the fugitives, running
lightly, and stooping low for fear of offending the bees, had gained a
start of a hundred yards or more.

The three were among the swiftest runners of the tribe; but Grôm soon
saw that the utmost they could hope was to maintain their distance.
And there was the imminent risk that the bees, disturbed by the noise
of flight and pursuit, might take umbrage. To lessen this frightful
risk, he swerved out till he was some thirty or forty paces distant
from the belt of woods. And he noticed, too, that the pursuing herd
seemed to have no great anxiety to approach the frontiers of the Bee
People. They were following on a slant that gave the woods a wide
berth.

About a mile further on the woods came to an end, and Grôm, though he
feared the pace might be beginning to tell on A-ya, and though there
was no refuge in sight, breathed more freely. He feared the bees more
than the yellow monsters, because they were something he could not
fight. The grass-land now ran clear to the river's edge, and gave firm
footing; and the fugitives raced on, breathing carefully, and trusting
to come to trees again before they should be spent.

At last a curve of the bank showed them the woods sweeping down again
to the water, but three or four miles ahead! Grôm, looking back over
his shoulder, realized that their pursuers were now gaining upon them
appreciably. With an effort he quickened his pace still further. Loob
responded without difficulty. But A-ya's face showed signs of
distress, and at this Grôm's heart sank. He began to scan the water,
weighing the chances of the crocodiles. It looked as if they were
trapped beyond escape.

Perhaps half a mile up the shore a spit of land ran out against the
current, and behind its shelter an eddy had collected a mass of
uprooted trees and other flood refuse, all matted with green from the
growth of wind-borne seeds. It was in reality a great natural raft,
built by the eddy and anchored behind the little point. For this Grôm
headed with new hope. It might be strong enough--parts of it at
least--to bear up the three fugitives. But their furious pursuers
would surely not venture their giant bulks upon it.

Approaching the point he slackened his pace, and steadied A-ya with
one hand. At the edge of the eddy he stopped, casting an appraising
eye over the collection of débris, in order to pick out a stable
retreat and also the most secure path to it. In this pause the
monsters swept up with a thunder of trampling hooves and windy
snortings. They had their victims at last where there was no escape.

The raging brutes were not more than a dozen paces behind, when Grôm
led the way out upon the floating mass, picking his steps warily and
leaping from trunk to trunk. Loob and A-ya followed with like care.
Certain of the trunks gave and sank beneath their feet, but their feet
were already away to surer footing. And at the very outermost point of
that old collection of débris, where the current and the eddy wavered
for mastery, on a toughly interwoven tangle of uprooted trunks and
half-dead vines, they found a refuge which did not yield beneath them.
Here, steadying themselves by upthrust branches, they turned and
looked back, half apprehensive and half defiant, at their mighty
pursuers.

"They'll never dare to try to follow us here," gasped A-ya.

But she was wrong. Quite blind with rage through that galling shaft in
his muzzle, the giant bull came plunging on, and half a dozen of his
closest followers, infected with his madness, came with him. The inner
edge of the mass gave way at once beneath them--and the bank at this
point was straight up and down. The monsters floundered in deep water,
snorting and spluttering, while their fellows on the shore checked
themselves violently and drew back bawling with bewilderment. As the
drowning monsters battled to get their front legs up upon the raft,
the edges gave way continually beneath them, plunging them again and
again beneath the surface, while A-ya stabbed at them vengefully with
her spear, and Loob shot arrows into them till Grôm stopped him,
saying that the arrows were too precious to waste. Thereupon Loob
tripped delicately over the surging trunks and smote at the struggling
monsters' heads with his light club.

The anchorage of this natural raft having been broken, the weight of
the monsters striving to gain a foothold upon it soon thrust its firm
outer portion forth into the grip of the current. In a minute or two
more this solid portion was torn away from the rest, and went sailing
off slowly down stream with its living freight. The incoherent remnant
was left in the eddy, where the snorting monsters struggled and
threshed about amongst it, now climbing half-way out upon some great
trunk, which forthwith reared on end and slid them off, now vanishing
for a moment beneath the beaten stew of leaves and vines.

A couple of the horned giants, being close to the bank, now seemed to
recover their wits sufficiently to turn and clamber ashore. But the
others were mad with terror. And in a moment more the fascinated
watchers on the raft perceived the cause of this madness. All round
the scene of the turmoil the water seethed with lashing tails and
snapping jaws; and then one of the monsters, which had struggled out
into clear water, was dragged down in a boiling vortex of jaws and
bloody foam. A few moments more and the whole eddy became a bubbling
hell of slaughter, and great broad washes of crimson streamed out upon
the current. The monsters, for all their giant strength, and the
pile-driving blows of their huge hoofs, were as helpless as rabbits
against their swarming and ravenous assailants; and the battle--which
indeed was no battle at all--soon was over. The eddy had become but a
writhing nest of crocodiles.

"It was hardly worth while wasting arrows, you see?" said Grôm,
standing erect on the raft and watching the scene with brooding
interest.

"Do you suppose those swimming beasts with the great jaws can get at
us here?" demanded A-ya with a shudder.

"While this thing that carries us holds together, I think we can fight
them off," replied Grôm. And straightway he set himself to examine how
securely the trees were interknit. The trunks had been piled by flood
one upon another, and the structure seemed substantial; but to further
strengthen it he set all to work interweaving the free branches and
such creepers as the mass contained, with the skill that came of much
practice in the weaving of tree-top nests.

When all was done that could be done, the voyagers took time to look
about them. They had by now been swept far out into the river, and the
shores on either side seemed low and remote. A-ya felt oppressed, the
face of the waters seeming to her so vast, inscrutable and menacing.
She stole close up to Grôm and edged herself under his massive arm for
reassurance. The little scout sat like a monkey between two branches,
and scratched his hairy arms, and, with an expression of pleased
interest, scanned the water for the approach of new foes. As for Grôm,
he was entranced. This, at last, was what he had really come in search
of, the stuff for arrows being merely his excuse to himself. This was
the utterly new experience, the new achievement. He was traveling by
water, not in it, but upon it--upborne, dry and without discomfort,
upon its surface.

For a little while he did not ask whither he was being borne. To his
surprise the crocodiles and other formidable water-dwellers, which
were quite unknown to him, paid them no attention whatever; and he
concluded that they looked upon the raft as nothing more than a mass
of floating driftwood containing nothing for them to eat. He could see
them everywhere about, swimming with brute snouts half above water or
basking on sandy spits of shore. Then he observed that the current was
bearing them gradually towards that further shore which he so longed
to visit, and he thrilled with new anticipation. But when, after
perhaps an hour, the capricious tide blew them again to mid-stream, a
new idea took possession of him. He must find some way of influencing
the direction of their voyage. He could not long relinquish himself to
the blind whim and chance of the current.

Just as he was beginning to grapple with this problem, A-ya
anticipated his thought--as he had noticed that she often did. Looking
up at him through her tossed hair, she enquired where they were
going.

"I am just trying to think," he answered, "how to make this thing take
us where we want to go."

"If the water is not too deep, couldn't you push with your long
spear?" suggested the girl.

Acting at once on the suggestion, Grôm leaned over the edge and thrust
the spear straight downwards. But he could find no bottom.

"It is too deep," said he, "but I'll find a way."

As he stood near the forward end of the raft he began sweeping the
spear in a wide arc through the water, as if it were a paddle, but
with the idea merely of testing the resistance of the water. Poor
substitute as the spear was for a paddle or an oar, his great strength
made up for its inefficiency, and after a few sweeps he was astonished
and delighted to notice that the head of the raft had swung away from
him, so that it was heading for the shore from which they had come.

He pondered this in silence for a little, then stepped over to the
other side and repeated the experiment. After several vigorous efforts
the unwieldy craft yielded. Its head swung straight, and then, very
gradually, toward the other side. Yes, there was no doubt about it. He
had found a way of influencing their direction.

"I am going to take you over to the other shore," he announced
proudly.

And now, laboring in a keen excitement, he set himself to carry out
his boast. First he so overdid it that he made the raft turn clean
about and head upstream. He puzzled over this for a time, but at
length got it once more headed in the direction which he wished it to
take. Then he found that he could keep it to this direction--more or
less--by taking a few strokes on one side, then hurriedly crossing to
take a few strokes on the other. And in this way they began once more
to approach the other bank. The process, however, was slow; and Grôm
presently concluded that it was wasteful. He hit upon the idea of
setting A-ya and Loob together to stroking with their spears on one
side, while he, with his great strength, balanced their effort on the
other. Whereupon the sluggish craft woke up a little and began to make
perceptible progress, on a slant across the current toward shore.

"I have found it!" he exclaimed in exultation. "On this thing we can
travel over the water where we will."

"But not against the current," objected A-ya, whose enthusiasm was a
little damped by the fact that she did not like the look of that
further shore.

"That will come in time," declared Grôm confidently.

"Here's something coming now," announced Loob, springing to his feet
and grabbing his bow. At the same moment the flat, villainous head of
a big crocodile shot up over the edge of the raft, and its owner, with
enormous jaws half open, started to scramble aboard.

A-ya's bow was bent as swiftly as Loob's, and the two arrows sped
together, both into the monster's gaping gullet. Amazed at this
reception it shut its jaws with a loud snap, halted and came on again.
Then a stab of Grôm's great spear caught it full in the eye, and this
wound struck fear into its dull mind. It rolled back hastily into the
water and sank, leaving a foamy wake of blood behind it.

By this time they were getting nearer the other shore. But on close
view, Grôm was bound to admit that it was not alluring. It was so low
as to be all awash, and fringed deep with towering reeds, which were
traversed by narrow lanes of water. Of dry land there was none to be
seen.

"Oh, we don't want to go ashore there!" protested A-ya fervently. As
she spoke a hideous head, with immense, round, bulging eyes and long,
beak-like mouth arose over the sedge tops on a long, swaying neck and
stared at them fixedly.

"No, we don't," said Grôm, with decision, making haste to swing the
head of the raft once more out into the channel. They were pursued by
a dense crowd of mosquitoes, voracious and venomous, which followed
them to mid-stream and kept tormenting them till an up-river gust blew
them off.

Grôm made up his mind that the exploration of that unknown shore could
wait a more convenient season. He was now deeply absorbed in the
complex problem of directing and managing his raft. As he pulled his
spear through the water, and noted the additional effect of its flat
head, the conception came to him of something that would get a more
propulsive grip upon the water than was possible to a round pole.
Furthermore, he was quick to realize that the immense, shapeless mass
of débris on which they were traveling might be replaced by something
light and manageable which he would make by lashing some trimmed
trunks together with lengths of bamboo to give additional buoyancy. As
he brooded this in silence, with that deep, inward look in his eyes
which always kept A-ya from breaking in upon his vision, he came to
the idea of a formal raft, and a formal paddle. And to this he added,
with a full sense of its value, A-ya's suggestion that this new
structure might very well be pushed along, in shallow water, with a
pole. Having thought this out, he drew a deep breath, looked up, and
met A-ya's eyes with a smile. His eager desire now was to get back
home and put his new scheme into execution.

"Where are we going now?" asked A-ya.

Grôm looked about him wildly--at the sky, at the far-off hills on
their right, at the course of the stream, which had changed within the
past few miles. His sense of direction was unerring.

"This river," he answered, "flows towards the rising sun, and must
empty into the bitter waters not more than a day or a half day from
the Caves. We are going home. We will come again to look for arrows in
a new raft which I will make."

As he spoke, Loob's spear darted down beside the raft, and came up
with a big, silvery fish writhing upon it. He broke its neck with a
blow and laid the prize at A-ya's feet.

"I wish we had fire with us, to cook it with," said she.

"On the new raft, as I will make it," said Grôm, "that may very well
be. Our journey will be safe and easy, and the good fire we will have
always with us."



CHAPTER XIII

THE FEAR


The People of the Caves were beginning to dread their good fortune.
Plenty was being showered upon them with so lavish and sudden a hand
that they looked at it askance, distrustful of the unsought-for
largess. For a week or more their hunting-grounds had been swarming
with game, in amazing and daily increasing numbers, till there was
little more of chance or of excitement in the hunt than in plucking a
ripe mango from its branch. It was game of the choicest kinds,
too--deer of many varieties, and antelope, and the little wild horse
whose flesh they accounted such a delicacy. They slew, and slew, and
their cooking-fires were busy night and day, and the flesh they could
not devour was dried in the sun in long strips or smoked in the reek
of green-wood fires. They feasted greedily, but there was something
sinister in the whole matter, something ominous; and they would stop
at times to wonder anxiously what stroke of fate could be hanging over
the Caves.

During the past day or two, moreover, there had been a disquieting
influx of those great and fierce beasts which the Cave Men were by no
means anxious to hunt. The giant white and the woolly rhinoceros had
arrived by the score in the dense thickets of the steaming savannah
which unrolled its green-and-yellow breadths along the southward base
of the downs. These half-blind brutes appeared to be waging a dreadful
and doubtful war with the red herds of those monstrous, cone-horned
survivals from an earlier age, the Arsinotheria, who had ruled the
reeking savannah for countless cycles. The roar and trampling of the
struggle came up from time to time to the dwellers in the Caves, when
the hot breeze came up from the southward.

What concerned the Cave Folk far more than any near-sighted and
blundering rhinoceros, however malignant, was the sudden arrival of
the great red bears, the black lions, the grinning and implacable
saber-tooth tigers, and giant black-gray wolves which hunted in small,
handy packs of six or seven in number. All these, the dread foes of
Man for as long as tradition could remember, had been mercifully few
and scattered. Now, in a night, they had become as common as conies;
and not a child could be allowed to play beyond shelter of the
cave-mouth fires, not a woman durst venture to the spring without a
brightly blazing fire-brand in her hand. Yet--and this seemed to the
Tribe the most portentous sign of all--these blood-thirsty beasts
appeared to have lost much of their ancient hostility to Man. They
were all well fed, of course, their accustomed prey being now so
abundant that they had little more to do than put forth an armed paw
and seize it. But they all seemed uneasy and half-cowed, as if weighed
down by a menace which they did not know how to face. When a man
confronted them, the fiercest of them made way with a deprecating air,
as if to say that they had troubles enough on their minds.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Bawr, the Chief, and Grôm, his right hand and his counselor, stood
upon the bare green ridge above the Cave-mouth, and stared down
anxiously upon the sun-drenched plain. Of old it had taken keen eyes
to discern the varied life which populated its bamboo-thickets and
cane-choked marshes. Now it was as thronged as the home pastures of a
cattle-farm. Here and there a battle raged between such small-brained
brutes as the white rhinoceros and the cone-horned monster; but for
the most part there was an apprehensive sort of truce, the different
kinds of beasts keeping as far as possible to themselves.

Further out in the plain pastured a herd of gigantic creatures such as
neither Bawr nor Grôm had ever seen before. A pair of rhinoceros
looked like pygmies beside them. They were both tall and massive, of a
dark mud-color, with colossal heads, no necks whatever, huge ears that
flapped like wings, immensely long, up-curving tusks of gleaming
yellow--mighty enough to carry a bison cradled in their curve--and it
seemed to the astonished watchers on the ridge that from the snout of
each monster grew a great snake, which reared itself into the air, and
waved terribly, and pulled down the tops of trees for the monster's
food.

It was the Cave Man's first view of the Mammoth--which had not yet
developed the shaggy coat it was later to grow on the cold sub-Artic
plains.

Recovering at length from his amazement, Bawr remarked:

"They seem to have two tails, those new beasts--a little tail behind,
in the usual place, and a very big tail in front, which they use as a
hand. They are very many, and very terrible. Do you think it is they
who are driving all these other beasts upon us to overwhelm us?"

Grôm thought long before replying.

"No," said he, "they are not flesh-eaters. See! They do not heed the
other beasts. They eat trees. And they, too, seem restless. I think
they are themselves driven. But what dreadful beings must be they who
can drive them!"

"If they are driven over us," muttered Bawr, "they will grind us and
our fires into the dust."

"It must be men," mused Grôm aloud, "men far mightier than ourselves
and so countless that the hordes of the Tree Men would seem a handful
in comparison. Only men, or gods, and in swarms like locusts, could so
drive all these mighty beasts before them as a child drives rabbits."

"Before they come," said Bawr, dropping his great craggy chin upon his
breast, "the People of the Caves will be trodden out. Whither can we
escape from such foes? We will build great fires before the caves, and
we will go down fighting, as befits men."

He lifted his maned and massive head, and shook his great spear
defiantly at the unknown doom that was coming up from the south. But
Grôm's eyes were sunken deep under his brows in brooding thought.

"There is one way, perhaps," he said at length. "We have learned to
journey on the water. We must build us rafts, many rafts, to carry all
the tribe. And when we can no longer hold our fires and our caves we
will push out upon the water, and perhaps make our way to that blue
shore yonder, where they cannot follow us."

"The waves, and the monsters of the waves, will swallow us up,"
suggested Bawr.

"Some of us, perhaps many of us," agreed Grôm. "But many of us will
escape, to keep the tribe-fires burning, if the gods be kind upon that
day and bind down the winds till we get over. If we stay here we shall
all die."

"It is well," grunted Bawr, turning to hurry down the steep. "We will
build rafts. Let us hasten."

                  *       *       *       *       *

On the beach below the Caves the Men of the Tribe worked furiously,
dragging the trunks of trees together at the water's edge, lashing
them with ropes of vine and cords of hide, and laboriously lopping
some of the more obstructive branches by the combined use of fire and
split stones. The women, and the lame slave Ook-ootsk--with the old
men, who, though their hearts were still high, were too frail of their
hands for such a heavy task as raft-building--remained before the
Caves under the command of A-ya, Grôm's mate. They had enough to do in
feeding the chain of fires, keeping the children out of danger, and
fighting back with spear and arrow the ever-encroaching mob of
wild-eyed beasts. The beasts feared the fires, and feared the human
beings who leaped and screamed and smote from among the fires. But
still more they seemed to fear some unknown thing behind them. For a
time, however, the crackling flames and the biting shafts proved a
sufficient barrier, and the motley but terrifying invaders went
sheering off irresolutely to westward over the downs.

Down by the edge of the tide the raft-builders worked under Grôm's
guidance. The broad water--some four or five miles across--was the
tidal estuary of a great river which flowed out of the north-west. Its
brimming current bore down from the interior jungles the trunks of
many uprooted trees, which the tides of the estuary hurled back and
strewed along the beach. The raft-builders, therefore, had plenty of
material to work with. And the fear that lay chill upon their hearts
urged them to a diligence that was far from their habit.

It was rather like working in a nightmare. From time to time would
come a rush, a stampede, of deer or tapirs, along the strip of beach
between the water and the cliff. The toiling men would draw aside till
the rabble went by, then fall to work again.

Once, however, it was a herd of wild cattle, snorting, and tossing
their wide, keen-pointed horns; and their trampling onrush filled the
whole space so that the men had to plunge out into deep water to
escape. Several, afraid of the big-mouthed, flesh-eating fish which
infested the estuary at high tide, stayed too close in shore, and paid
for their irresolution by being gored savagely.

It was about the full of the moon and the time of the longest days,
and the raft-builders toiled feverishly the whole night through. By
sunrise Bawr and Grôm estimated that there were rafts enough to carry
the whole tribe, provided the present calm held on. They decided,
however, to construct several more, in case some should prove less
buoyant than they hoped.

But for this most wise provision Fate refused to grant the time.

A naked slip of a girl, her one scant garment of leopard skin caught
upon a rock and twitched from off her loins as she ran, came fleeing
down the hill-path, her hair afloat upon the fresh morning air.
Straggling far behind her came a crowd of children, and old women
carrying babies or bundles of dried meat.

"They must not come yet. They'll be in the way!" cried Bawr angrily,
waving them back. But they paid no attention--which showed that there
was something they feared more even than the iron-fisted Chief.

"There are none of the young women or the old men, who can fight,
among them," said Grôm. "A-ya must have sent them, because the time
has come. Let us wait for the young girl, who seems to bring a
message."

Breathless, and clutching at her bosom with one hand, the girl fell at
Bawr's feet.

"A-ya says, 'Come quick!'" she gasped. "They are too many. They run
over the fires and trample us."

Grôm sprang forward with a cry, then stopped and looked at his Chief.

"Go, you," said Bawr, "and bring them to us. I will stay here and look
to the rafts."

Taking a half-score of the strongest warriors with him, Grôm raced up
the steep, torn with anxiety for the fate of A-ya and the children.

It was now about three-quarters tide, and the flood rising strongly.
By way of precaution some of the rafts had been kept afloat, let down
with ropes of vine to follow the last ebb, and guided carefully back
on the returning flood. But most of them were lying where they had
been built, or left by the preceding tide, along high-water mark, as
hopelessly stranded, for the next two hours, as a birch log after a
freshet. As the old women with children arrived, Bawr rushed them down
the wet beach to the rafts which were afloat, appointing to each
clumsy raft four men, with long, rough flattened poles, to manage it.
For the moment, all these men had to do was hold their charges in
place that they might not be swept away by the incoming tide.

When Grôm and his eager handful, passing a stream of trembling
fugitives on the way, reached the level ground before the Caves, the
sight that greeted them was tremendous and appalling. It looked as if
some great country to the southward had gathered together all its
beasts and then vomited them forth in one vast torrent, confused and
irresistible, to the north. It was a wholesale migration, on such a
scale as the modern world has never even dreamed of, but suggested in
a feeble way by the torrential drift of the bison across the North
American plains half a century ago, or the sudden, inexplicable
marches of the lemming myriads out of the Scandinavian barrens that
give them birth.

The shrill cries of the women, fighting like she-wolves in defense of
the children and the home-caves, the hoarse shouts of the old men,
weak but indomitable, were mingled with an indescribable medley of
noises--gruntings, bellowings, howlings, roarings, bleatings and
brayings--from the dreadful mob of beasts which besieged the open
space behind the fires. Some of the beasts were maddened with their
terror, some were in a fighting rage, some only wanted to escape the
throng behind them. But all seemed bent upon passing the fires and
getting into the Caves, as if they thought there to find refuge from
the unknown fear.

At the extreme right of the line the two farthest fires were already
overwhelmed, trodden out by frantic hooves, and three or four old
men, with a couple of desperate young women, behind a barrier of
slain elk and stags were fighting like furies to hold back the
victorious onrush. Two of the old men were down, trodden out between
the fires by blind hooves, and a third, jammed limply against the
rocky wall beside the furthest cave, was being worried by a
bear--hideously but aimlessly, as if the great beast hardly heeded
what it was doing. There was something peculiarly terrifying in the
animal's preoccupation.

At the center of the line, immediately before the main Cave-mouth--whose
yawning entrance seemed to be the objective of the swarming
beasts--A-ya was heading the battle, with the lame slave, Ook-ootsk,
crouched fighting at her side like a colossal frog gone mad. Here the
fires were almost extinguished--but the line of slain beasts formed a
tolerable barricade, upon the top of which the women leapt, stabbing
with their spears and screeching shrill taunts, while the old men
leaned upon the gory pile to save their strength with frugal
precision. Here and there among the carcases was the body of a woman or
an old man, impaled on the horn of a bull or ripped open by the
rending antler of an elk. As Grôm and his men came shouting across the
level a huge woolly rhinoceros plunged over the barrier, his bloody
horn ploughing the carcases, trod down a couple of the defenders without
appearing to see them, dashed through the nearest fire, and charged
blindly into the Cave-mouth with his matted coat all ablaze. The
children and old women who had not already fled down to the beach
shrieked in horror. The frantic monster heeded them not at all, but went
thundering on into the bowels of the cavern.

"Go back, all you women!" yelled Grôm above the tumult, as he and his
men raced to the barrier. "Get down to the beach with the children.
We'll hold the rush back till you get down. Run! Run!"

Sobbing with the fury of the struggle, the women obeyed, darting back
and pouncing upon their own little ones--all but A-ya, who remained
doggedly at Grôm's side.

"Go," ordered Grôm fiercely. "The children need you. Get them all
down."

Sullenly the woman obeyed, seeing he was right, but still lusting for
the fight, though her wearied arm could now do little more than lift
the spear.

Under the shock of these fresh fighters, with lionlike heads,
masterful eyes, and smashing, irresistible weapons, the front ranks of
the animals recoiled, trampling those behind them; and for a few
minutes the pressure was relieved. Grôm turned to the old men.

"You go now," he ordered.

But they refused.

"We stay here," cried one, breathless, but with fire in his ancient
eyes. "None too much room on the rafts." And they fell again grimly to
the fight.

Grôm laughed proudly. With such mettle even in withered veins, the
Tribe, he thought, was destined to great things. He turned to the lame
slave, whom he had ever favored for his faithfulness.

"You go! You are lame and cannot run."

The crouching giant looked up at him with a widemouthed grin.

"I am no woman," said he. "I stay and hold them back when you all go.
I kill, and kill. And then I go very far."

He waved one great gnarled hand, dripping with blood, toward the sun
and the high spaces of air.

Before Grôm could answer, from below the southward edge of the plateau
there came a mad, high trumpeting, so loud that every other voice in
that pandemonium was silenced by it. At that dread sound the rabble of
beasts surged forward again upon the barrier, upon the clubs and
spears of the defenders. Up over the brow of the slope came a forest
of waving trunks, and tossing tusks, and ponderous black foreheads.

"The Two-Tails are upon us!" cried Grôm, in a voice of awe. And his
followers gasped, as the colossal shapes shouldered up into full
view.

Grôm looked behind him, and saw the last of the women and children,
shepherded vehemently by A-ya with the butt of her spear, vanishing
down the steep toward the beach.

"It is time for us to go too," shouted Grôm, clutching the lame slave
by the arm to drag him off. But Ook-ootsk wrenched himself free.

"I'll hold them back till you get away," he growled, and drove his
great spear into the heart of a bull which came over the barrier at
that instant. Grôm saw it would be useless now to try and save him.
With the rest of his band he ran for paths leading down to the beach.
It was well, he thought, that the valiant slave should die for the
Tribe.

The beasts came over the barrier and the fires like a yelling flood.
But now, finding all opposition so suddenly withdrawn, the flood
divided upon the massive, thrusting figure of Ook-ootsk as upon a
black rock in mid-stream. It united again behind him, surging
pell-mell for the Cave-mouths, where in the crush the weaker and
lighter were savagely torn and trampled underfoot.

Then the Mammoths came thundering and trumpeting across the plateau,
going through and over the lesser beasts like a tidal wave. Grôm,
having seen the last of his warriors pass down the beach paths, turned
for one more glimpse of the monstrous and incredible scene. He had a
swift vision of the squatting form of Ook-ootsk thrusting upward with
reddened spear at the breast of a black monster which hung over him
like a mountain. Then the mountain rolled forward upon him, blotting
him out, and Grôm slipped hurriedly over the brink and down the path.

                  *       *       *       *       *

At the rafts it was bedlam. A score or more of the women and children,
as they were crossing to the water's edge, had been wiped out of
existence by the rush of maddened bison along the beach, and the
keenings of their relatives rose above the shouts and cries of
embarkation. Fully half the rafts were afloat, with their loads, by
now, and men grunted heavily in the effort to pry the others free,
while women and children crowded into the water around them, waiting
to struggle aboard as soon as the men would let them.

As Grôm and his panting band, covered with blood from head to foot,
reached the waterside and flung their dripping weapons upon the rafts,
a fringe of animals came over the edge of the steep, crowded aside
from the caves. Some, being sure-footed, like the lions and bears,
made their way with care down the paths. Others, pushed over and
struggling frantically, came rolling downward, bouncing from rock and
ledge, and landing on the beach a mass of broken bones. Then behind
them, along the brink, black and gigantic against the blue sky-line,
appeared a group of the Mammoths. They waved their long trunks, and
trumpeted piercingly, but hesitated to try the descent.

"Hurry! hurry!" thundered Bawr, straining at the stranded timbers till
the great veins stood out on neck and forehead as if they would
burst.

Under the added efforts of Grôm and his band the last of the rafts
floated. The children were thrown aboard, the women clambered after
them, and the men, wading and guiding, lest the rafts should ground
again, began to follow cautiously.

At this moment, along the beach came a new rush of animals--chiefly
buffalo, headed by three huge white rhinoceros. These all seemed quite
blind with panic. They dashed on straight ahead, paying no heed
whatever either to the people on the rafts or to the other beasts
coming down the steep. On their heels thundered a second herd of
Mammoths, their trunks held high in the air, the red caverns of their
mouths wide open.

As these colossal, rolling bulks came abreast of the rafts, a child
shrieked at the terrifying sight. The leader of the herd turned his
malignant little eye upon the rafts, seeming to perceive them for the
first time. Without pausing in his huge stride he reached down his
trunk, whipped it about the waist of Bawr, and swung him aloft,
crushing in his ribs with the terrific pressure, and carried him along
high in the air above the trumpeting ranks.

A howl of rage went up from the rafts; and A-ya, whose bow was quick
as thought, let fly an arrow before Grôm could stay her hand. The
shaft struck deep in the monster's trunk. Dashing down its lifeless
victim among the feet of the herd, the monster tried to turn back to
take vengeance for the strange wound. But unable to stem the avalanche
behind, it was borne up the beach, screaming with rage.

Grôm, who was now sole chief and master of the tribe, signed every
raft to push out into deep water, beyond reach of further attack. With
all responsibility now upon his shoulders, he had little time to
grieve for the death of Bawr, who, after all, had died greatly, as a
Chief should. The rafts were now traveling inland at a fair rate, on
the last half-hour of the flood; and, as the estuary narrowed rapidly
above their starting-place, he hoped to be able, during the slack of
tide, to work the clumsy rafts well over towards the northern shore
before getting caught in the full strength of the ebb. As he studied
out this problem, and urged the warriors to their utmost effort on the
heavy and awkward pole-paddles, he kept puzzling all the time over the
great mystery. What was it that swept even the mighty mammoths before
its face? How should he name the Fear?

Then all at once, when the rafts were about three or four hundred
yards out from shore, he saw. A low cry of wonder broke from his lips,
and was reechoed in chorus from all the burdened rafts.

Down over the heights where the Cave Folk had been dwelling, up along
the beach from which the rafts had just escaped, in countless
ravening, snapping swarms, poured hyenas by the myriad--huge hyenas,
bigger than the mightiest timber wolves, their deep-jowled heads
carried close to the ground. It was clear in a moment that they were
mad with hunger, driven by nothing but their own raging appetites.
They fled from nothing, but some of them stopped, in struggling
masses, to devour the bodies of the beasts which they found slain,
while the rest poured on insatiably, to pull down by sheer weight of
numbers and the might of their bone-crushing jaws the mightiest of the
monsters which fled before them. Here and there a mammoth cow,
maddened by the slaughter of her calf, or an old rhinoceros bull,
indignant at being hunted by such vermin, would turn and run amuck
through the mass, stamping them out by the hundred. But this made no
impression at all, either upon their numbers or the rage of their
hunger, and in a few minutes the colossus, its feet half eaten off,
would come crashing down, to be swarmed over and disappear like a fat
grub in an ant-heap. Here and there, too, a mammoth, more sagacious
than its fellows, would wade out belly deep into the water--upon
finding its escape cut off--and stand there plucking its foes one by
one from the shore to trample them under its feet, screaming shrill
triumph.

Grôm turned with a deep breath from the unspeakable spectacle, looked
across to the green line of the opposite shore, and thanked his
unknown gods that it was so far off. With that great river rolling its
flood between, he thought the Tribe might rest secure from these
fiends and once more build up its fortunes.



CHAPTER XIV

THE LAKE OF LONG SLEEP


Driven from their home beside the Bitter Water by the great
migration of the beasts, the Tribe of the Cave Folk, diminished in
numbers and stricken in spirit, had escaped on rafts across the
broad river-estuary which washed the northern border of their
domain. There they had found a breathing-space, but it had proved a
perilous one. The whole region north of the estuary was little
better than a steaming swamp, infested with poisonous snakes and
insects, and with strange monsters, survivals from a still earlier
age, whose ferocity drove the Cave Folk back to their ancestral life
in the tree-tops. Under these conditions it was all but impossible
to keep alight the sacred fires--as precious to the tribe as life
itself--which they had brought with them in their flight upon the
rafts. And Grôm, the Chief, saw his harassed people in danger of
sinking back into the degradation from which his discovery and
conquest of fire had so wonderfully uplifted them.

From the top of a solitary jobo tree, which towered above the rank
surrounding jungle, Grôm could make out what looked like a low bank of
purple cloud along the western and north-western horizon. As it was
always there, whenever he climbed to look at it, he concluded that it
was not a cloud-bank, but a line of hills. Where there were hills
there might be caves. In any case, the People must have some better
place to inhabit than this region of swamps and monsters. The way to
that blue line of promise lay across what would surely be the path of
the migrating beasts, if they should take it into their heads to swim
across the river. The possibility was one from which even his resolute
spirit shrank. But he felt that he must face any risk in the hope of
winning his way to those cloudy hills. Within an hour of his reaching
this decision the Tribe of the Cave Folk was once more on the march.

The first few days of the march were like a nightmare. Grôm led the
way along the shore of the river, both because that seemed the
shortest way to the hills, and because, in case of emergency, the open
water afforded a door of escape by raft. Had it been possible to make
the journey by raft matters would have been simplified; but Grôm had
already proved by experience that his heavy unwieldy rafts could not
be forced upwards against the mighty current of the river. At the last
point to which the flood-tides would carry them the rafts had been
abandoned--herded together into a quiet cove, and lashed to the shore
by twisted vine-ropes against some possible future need.

At the head of the dismal march went Grôm, with his mate A-ya, and her
two children, and the hairy little scout Loob, whose feet were as
quick as his eyes and ears and nostrils, and whose sinews were as
untiring as those of the gray wolf. Immediately behind these came the
main body of the warriors, on a wide line so as to guard against
surprise on the flank. Then followed the women and children, bunched
as closely as possible behind the center of the line; and a knot of
picked warriors, under young Mô, the brother of A-ya, guarded the
rear. There were no old men and women, all these having gone down in
the last great battle at the Caves, selling their lives as dearly as
possible to cover the retreat. Such of the young women as had no small
children to carry bore the heavy burdens of the fire-baskets, or
bundles of smoke-dried meat, leaving the warriors free to use their
bows and spears.

In traversing the swamp the march was sometimes at ground-level,
sometimes high in the tree-tops. In the tree-tops it was safer, but
the progress was slow and laborious. At ground-level the swarms of
stinging insects were always with them, till Grôm invented the use of
smudges. When every alternate member of the tribe carried a torch of
dry grass and half-green bark, the march was enveloped in a cloud of
acrid smoke, which the insects found more or less disconcerting.

Of the grave perils of this weary march to the hills a single instance
may suffice. The nights, as a rule, were passed by the whole tribe in
the tree-tops, both for the greater security, and because there was
seldom enough dry ground to sleep upon. But one evening, toward
sunset, they came upon a sort of little island in the reeking jungle.
Its surface was four or five feet above the level of the swamp. The
trees which dotted it were smooth, straight, towering shafts with wide
fans of foliage at their far-off tops. And the ground between these
clean, symmetrical trunks was unencumbered, being clothed only with a
rich, soft, spicy-scented herbage, akin to the thymes and mints. Such
an opportunity for rest and refreshment was not to be let slip, and
Grôm ordered an immediate halt.

A fat, pig-like water beast, of the nature of the dugong, had been
speared that day in a bayou beside the line of march, and with great
contentment the tribe settled themselves down to such a comfortable
feasting as they had not known for many days. While the fat dugong was
being hacked to pieces and divided under the astute direction of A-ya,
Grôm made haste to establish the camp-fires in a chain completely
encircling the encampment, as a protection against night-prowlers from
the surrounding jungle. As darkness fell the flames lit up the soaring
trunks, but the roof of the over-arching foliage was so high that the
smoky illumination was lost in it.

While the rest of the tribe gave itself up to the feasting, Grôm and
Loob, and half a dozen of the other warriors, kept vigilant watch
whilst they ate, distrusting the black depths of jungle and the deep,
reed-fringed pools beyond the circle of light. Suddenly, all along one
side of the island there arose a sound of heavy splashing, and out of
the darkness came a row of small, malignant eyes, all fixed upon the
feasters. Then into the circle of light swam the masks of giant
alligators and strange, tusked caymans. Quite unawed by the fires they
came ashore with a clumsy rush, open-mouthed.

While the clamoring women snatched the children away to the other side
of the encampment, Grôm and the other warriors hurled themselves upon
the hideous invaders as they came waddling with amazing nimbleness in
between the fires. But these were no assailants to be met with bow and
spear. At Grôm's sharp orders each warrior snatched a blazing brand
from the fire, and drove it into the gaping throat of his nearest
assailant. In their stupid ferocity the monsters invariably bit upon
the brand before they realized its nature. Then, bellowing with pain,
they wheeled about and scrambled back toward the water, lashing out
with their gigantic tails, so that three of the warriors were knocked
over and half a dozen of the fires were scattered.

The feasters had hardly more than settled down after this startling
visitation, when from the darkness inland came a hoarse, hooting cry,
followed by a succession of crashing thuds, as if a pair of mammoths
were playing leap-frog in the jungle. All the men sprang again to
their weapons, and stood waiting, in a sudden hush, straining their
eyes into the perilous dark. Some of the women herded the children
into the very center of the island, while others fed the fires with
feverish haste. The hooting call, and the heavy, leaping thuds, came
nearer and nearer at a terrifying speed; and suddenly, amid the
far-off, vaguely-lighted tangle of the tree-trunks appeared a giant
form, seven or eight times the height of Grôm himself. Leaping upon
its mighty hind-legs, and holding its mailed fore-paws before its
chest, it came bounding like a colossal kangaroo through the jungle,
smashing down the branches and smaller trees as it came, and balancing
itself at each spring with its massive, reptilian tail. Its vast head,
something like a cross between that of a monstrous horse and that of
an alligator, was upborne upon a long, snaky neck, and its eyes, huge
and round and lidless, were like two discs of shining and enamelled
metal where they caught the flash of the camp-fires.

This appalling shape had apparently no dread whatever of the flames.
When it was within some thirty or forty yards of the line of fire,
Grôm yelled an order and a swarm of arrows darted from the bows to
meet it. But they fell futile from its armored hide, which gleamed
like dull bronze in the fire-light. Grôm shouted again, and this time
the warriors hurled their spears--and they, too, fell harmless from
the monster's armor. Its next crashing bound brought the monster to
the edge of the encampment, where one of its ponderous feet
obliterated a fire. With a lightning swoop of its gigantic head it
seized the nearest warrior in its jaws and swung him, screaming, high
into the air, as a heron might snatch up a sprawling frog. At the same
instant A-ya, who was the one unerring archer in the tribe, let fly an
arrow which pierced full half its length into the center of one of
those horrifying enamelled eyes; while Grôm, who alone, of all the
warriors, had not recoiled in terror, succeeded in driving a spear
deep into the unarmored inner side of the monster's thigh. But both
these wounds, dreadful though they were, failed to make the colossus
drop its prey. With mighty, braying noises through its nostrils it
brushed the spear shaft from its hold like a straw, flopped about, and
with the arrow still sticking in its eye, went leaping off again into
the darkness to devour its victim.

For several hours, with the fires trebled in number and stirred to
fiercer heat, the tribe waited for the monster to return and claim
another victim. But it did not return. At length Grôm concluded that
his spear-head in its groin and A-ya's arrow in its eye had given it
something else to think of. Once more he set the guards, and gradually
the tribe, inured to horrors, settled itself down to sleep. It slept
out the rest of the night without disturbance--but the following
night, and the next two nights thereafter, were spent in the
tree-tops. Then, on the fourth day, the harassed travelers emerged
from the swamp into a pleasant region of grassy, mimosa-dotted,
gently-rolling plain. The hills, now showing green and richly wooded,
were not more than a day's march ahead.

And just here, as the Fates which had of late been pursuing them would
have it, the worn travelers found themselves once more in the line of
the hordes of migrating beasts.

Grôm's heart sank. To reach the refuge of the hills across the march
of those maddened hordes was obviously impossible. Were his people to
be forced back into the swamp, to resume the cramped and ape-like life
among the branches? Having ordered the building of a half-circle of
fire around a spur of the jungle, he climbed a tree to reconnoiter.

The river ran but a mile or two distant upon his left. Immediately
before him the fleeing beasts were not numerous, consisting merely of
small herds and terrified stragglers. Further out, however, toward the
hills, the plain was blackened by the fugitives, who were thrust on by
the myriads swimming the river behind them. Assuredly, it was not to
be thought of that he should attempt to lead his people across the
path of that desperate flight. But a point that Grôm noted with relief
was that only certain kinds of beasts had ventured the crossing of the
river. He saw no bears, lions or saber-tooths among those streaming
hordes. He saw deer of every kind--good swimmers all of them--with
immense, rolling herds of buffalo and aurochs, and scattered companies
of the terrible siva moose, and some bands of the giant elk, their
antlers topping the mimosa thickets. Here and there, lumbering along
sullenly as if reluctant to retreat before any peril, journeyed a huge
rhinoceros, stopping from time to time for a few hurried mouthfuls of
the rich plains grass. But as yet there was not a mammoth in
sight--whereat Grôm wondered, as he thought they would have been among
the first to dare the crossing of the river. Had they kept on up the
other shore, hesitating to trust their colossal bulks to the current,
or had they turned at bay, at last, in uncontrollable indignation, and
gone down before the countless hordes of their ignoble assailants?

The absence of the mammoths, which he dreaded more than all the other
beasts because of the fierce intelligence that gleamed in their eyes,
decided Grôm. He would lead his people along to the right, skirting
the swamp and marching parallel to the flight of the beasts,
calculating thus to have the jungle always for a refuge, though not
for a dwelling, until they should come to a region of hills and caves
too difficult for the migrating beasts to traverse.

For several days this plan answered to a marvel. The fugitives nearest
to the swamp-edge were mostly deer of various species, which swerved
away nervously from the line of march, but at the same time afforded
such good hunting that the travelers revelled in abundance and rapidly
recovered their spirits. Once, when a great wave of maddened buffalo
surged over upon them, the whole tribe fled back into the jungle,
clambering into the trees, and stabbing down, with angry shouts, at
the nearest of their assailants. But the assault was a blind one. The
buffalo, a black mass that seemed to foam with tossing horns and
rolling eyes, soon passed on to their unknown destination. And the
tribe, dropping down from the branches, quite cheerfully resumed its
march.

On the fifth day of the march they saw the jungle on their right come
to an end. It was succeeded by a vast expanse of shallow mere dotted
with half-drowned, rushy islets, and swarming with crocodiles. After
some hesitation, Grôm decided to go on, though he was uneasy about
forsaking the refuge of the trees. Some leagues ahead, however, and a
little toward the left, he could see a low, thick-wooded hill, which
he thought might serve the tribe for a shelter. With many misgivings,
he led the way directly towards it, swerving out across the path of a
vast but straggling horde of sambur deer which seemed almost
exhausted.

To Grôm's surprise these stately and beautiful animals showed neither
hostility nor fear toward human beings. According to all his previous
experience, the attitude of every beast toward man was one of fear or
fierce hate. These sambur, on the contrary, seemed rather to welcome
the companionship of the tribe, as if looking to it for some
protection against the strange pursuing peril. His sleepless sagacity
perceiving the value of this great escort as a buffer against the
contact of less kindly hordes, Grôm gave strict orders that none of
these beasts should be molested. And the Cave Folk, not without
apprehension, found themselves traveling in the vanguard of an army of
tall, high-antlered beasts which stared at them with mild eyes of
inquiry and appeal.

Marching at their best speed, the Tribe kept easily in the van of the
distressed sambur, and more than once in the next few hours, Grôm had
reason to congratulate himself upon his venture into this strange
fellowship. First, for instance, he saw a herd of black buffalo
overtake the sambur host and dash heavily into its rear ranks. The
frightened sambur closed up, instead of scattering, and the impetus of
the buffalo presently spent itself upon the unresisting mass. They
edged their way through to the left leaving swathes of gored and
trodden sambur in their wake, and went thundering off on another line
of retreat, caroming into a herd of aurochs, which fought them off and
punished them murderously. It was obvious to Grôm, as he studied the
dust-clouds of this last encounter, that the buffalo herd, here in the
open, would have rolled over the tribe irresistibly, and trampled it
flat.

Journeying thus at top speed toward that hill of promise before them,
the travelers came at length to a wide space of absolutely level
ground which presented a most curious appearance. It was as level as a
windless lake, and almost without vegetation. The naked surface was of
a sort of indeterminate dust-color, but dotted here and there with
tiny patches of vegetation so stunted that it was little more than
moss. Grôm, with his inquiring mind, would have liked to stop to
investigate this curious surface, unlike anything he had ever seen
before. But the hordes of the sambur were behind, pressing the tribe
onwards, and straight ahead was the wooded hill, dense with foliage,
luring with its promise of safe and convenient shelter. He led the
way, therefore, without hesitation, out across the baked and barren
waste, sniffing curiously, as he went, at a strange smell, pungent but
not unpleasant, which steamed up from the dry, hot surface all about
him.

The first peculiarity that he noticed was a remarkable springiness in
the surface upon which he trod. Then he was struck by the fact that
the dust-brown surface was seamed and criss-crossed in many places by
small cracks--like those in sun-scorched mud, except that the cracks
were almost black in color. These things caused him no misgivings. But
presently, to his consternation, he detected a slight but amazing
undulation, an immensely long, immensely slow wave rolling across the
dry surface before him. He could hardly believe his eyes--for
assuredly nothing could look more like good solid land than that
stretch of barren plain. He stopped short, rubbing his eyes in wonder.
A-ya grabbed him by the arm.

"What is it?" she whispered, staring at the unstable surface in a kind
of horror.

Before he could reply, cries and shouts arose among the tribe behind
him, and they all rushed forward, almost sweeping Grôm and A-ya from
their feet.

The surface of the barren, all along the edge of the grass land,
had given way beneath the weight of the sambur herds, and the front
ranks were being engulfed with frantic snortings and awful groans,
in what looked like a dense, blackish, glistening ooze. The ranks
behind were being forced forward to this awful doom, in spite of
their panic-stricken struggles to hold back; and it was the
pressure of this battling mass that was creating the horrible,
bulging undulation on the plain.

Grôm's quick intelligence took in the situation on the instant.
The naked brown surface beneath the feet of the tribe was nothing
more than a thin crust overlying a lake of some dense, dark,
strange-smelling liquid.

His first impulse, naturally, was to turn back--and A-ya, with wide
eyes of terror, was already dragging fiercely at his elbow. But to
turn back was utterly impossible. That way lay the long strip of
engulfing pitch, swallowing up insatiably the ranks of the groaning
and kicking sambur. There was but one possible way of escape left
open, and that was straight ahead.

But would the crust continue to uphold them? Already, under the weight
of the whole tribe pressing together, it was beginning to sag
hideously. With furious words and blows he tried to make the tribe
scatter to right and left, so as to spread the pressure as widely as
possible. Perceiving his purpose, A-ya and Loob, and several of the
leading warriors, seconded his efforts with frantic vehemence; till in
a few minutes the whole tribe, amazed and quaking with awe, was
extended like a fan over a front of three or four hundred yards.
Seeing that the perilous sagging of the crust was at once relieved,
Grôm then ordered the tribe to advance cautiously, keeping the same
wide-open formation, while he himself brought up the rear.

But in a few minutes every one, from Grôm downwards, came to a halt
irresistibly, in order to watch the monstrous drama unfolding behind
them.

For nearly half a mile to either side of their immediate rear, between
the still unbroken surface of the dust-brown expanse and the edge of
the trampled grassy plain, stretched a sort of canal, perhaps ten
paces wide, of brown-black, glistening pitch, beaten up with thrashing
antlers, and tossing heads that whistled despairingly through wide
nostrils, and heaving, agonizing bulks that went down slowly to their
doom. After several ranks of the herd had been engulfed those next
behind turned about in terror and fought madly to force their way back
from the fatal brink. But the inexorable masses behind them rolled
them on backwards, and slowly they too were thrust down into the
pitch, till the canal was filled to the brink, and writhed horribly
along its whole length. By this time, however, the alarm had spread
through the rest of the sambur ranks. By a desperate effort they got
themselves turned, and went surging off to the left in a direction
parallel to the edge of the plain of death.

Thrilled with the wonder and the horror of it, Grôm drew a deep breath
and relaxed the tension of his watching. He was just about to turn and
order the tribe forward again, when he was arrested by the sight of a
vast cloud of dust rolling up swiftly upon the left flank of the
retreating sambur.

A confused cry of alarm went up from the watching tribe, as they saw a
forest of waving trunks appear in the front of the dust-cloud. A
second or two more and a long array of mammoths emerged along the path
of the cloud. Among the mammoths, here and there, raced a black or a
white rhinoceros, or a towering, spotted giraffe. Behind this front
rank, vague and portentous through the veiling cloud, came further
colossal hordes, filling the distance as far as eye could see.

This advance looked as if nothing on earth, not even the lake of
pitch, could ever stop it, and certain of the tribe started to flee.
But Grôm, after a moment of misgiving and hasty calculation, checked
the flight sternly. He must, at all risks see the incredible thing
that was about to happen. And he felt certain that, at this distance
out upon the crust of the gulf, the tribe would be secure.

The stupendous wave of dust and waving trunks and galloping black
bulks thundered up at a terrific pace, and fell with irresistible
impact upon the flank of the marching sambur. These unhappy beasts
went down like grass before it. They were rolled flat, trodden out
like a fire in thin grass, annihilated. And the screaming, trumpeting
monsters, hardly aware that there had been an obstacle in their path,
arrived at the edge of the canal.

Here and there an old bull, leading, took alarm, trumpeted wildly, and
strove to stop. But the belt of pitch was full to the brink with the
packed bodies of the sambur, and did not look to be a very serious
barrier to the spacious brown levels beyond it. Moreover, the panic of
a long flight was upon them, and the rear ranks were thrusting them
on. The trumpeting leaders were overborne in a twinkling. The
ponderous feet of the front rank sank into the mass of bodies and
horns and pitch, stumbled forward, belly deep, and strove to clamber
out upon the solid-looking further edge. With trunks eagerly
outstretched as if seeking to grip something, the huge, bat-eared
heads heaved themselves up. The next moment the treacherous crust
crumbled away beneath them like an eggshell, and with screams that
tore the heavens they sank into the gulfs of pitch. The next two or
three ranks went over on them, trod them deeper down, heaved and
surged and battled for some moments along the edge of the crumbling
crust. With mad trumpetings, they were themselves swallowed up in that
sluggish, implacable flood. Here and there a black trunk, twisting in
agony, lingered long, awful moments above the pitch. Here and there
the pallid head of a giraffe, tongue protruding and eyes bursting from
their sockets, stood up rigid on its long neck and screamed
hideously.

As the thick tide closed slowly, slowly over its prey, the hosts in
the rear, having taken alarm at the agonized trumpetings, succeeded by
a gigantic effort in checking their career. Those nearest the edge of
doom reared up and fell back upon those next behind, to be ripped with
frantic tusks in the mad confusion. But presently the whole colossal
array brought itself to a halt, got itself turned to the left, and
went thundering off on the trail of the sambur remnants.

Grôm stood staring for a long time, with wide, brooding eyes, at the
still-bubbling and heaving breadths of dark pitch. He was stunned by
the sudden engulfing and utter disappearance of such a monstrous
horde. He seemed to see the countless gigantic shapes heaped one upon
the other, laid to their long sleep there in the deeps of the pitch.
At last he shook himself, passed his shaggy hand over his eyes, and
shouted to the tribe that all was well. Then he set himself once more
at their head, and led them, slowly and cautiously, onward across the
dreadful level, till they gained the shelter of that sweetly wooded
and rivulet-watered hill.

THE END





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