Chapter Three - Pic the Flint-Knapper.
PIC had become engrossed in his flint lumps, so Gonch stretched himself out by the fire and gazed dreamily at the smoke wreaths. Gradually his eyes closed, his head pillowed itself upon his arm and he passed away into dreamland.
Gonch was sound asleep; but a hot coal falling uncomfortably close to his foot, awakened him. As he opened his eyes the first thing they met was the broad back of his host squatting by the fire. Kutnar had disappeared.
Pic sat with back slightly turned so that Gonch could see most of his left arm but not his right. Several large flint flakes lay on the rock at his feet. Now he paused in his work to examine it, raising the object he held in his left hand. It was a flint flake similar to those lying upon the rock.
Gonch raised himself upon one elbow and craned his neck to secure a better view. At the almost imperceptible sound he made, Pic turned his head, whereupon Gonch settled hack quickly and closed his eyes. Pic looked at him sharply for an instant, then resumed his work and again Gonch was straining to catch a glimpse of what the other was doing.
The big flint worker held a small tool in his right hand. With this he was picking at the flake held in his left. His arms were rigid; his hands barely moved ; but the tiny flint chips flew like flakes of snow beneath the pressure of the retouching tool. Still supporting himself by one elbow, Gonch dragged himself closer. He was intent upon catching a glimpse of that which Pic held in his right hand, otherwise he would have noticed a change in the flint worker's left eye. Pic coughed audibly and made much ado about rising to his feet whereupon the eavesdropper settled back quickly to his former recumbent position and breathed noisily like one sound asleep.
The giant flint worker turned and stood over the sleeping man. His right hand was tightly clenched, concealing what might be within it. Gonch neither moved nor opened his eyes. Had he been—or rather appeared —wide awake, doubtless Pic would have greeted him with a smile. Mere curiosity is not an evil trait nor does it arouse mistrust. But this curiosity which dissembled, aroused Pic's misgivings. "Why—why did this man come here?" he asked himself as he gazed down upon him whose sleep he knew was but a sham. His nostrils twitched as they caught the man's scent—the scent of a man-eating animal. His eyes stared at the recumbent figure. "Ugh ! Muskman ! Why did he come? Who knows? But we mistrust this trickster who so reeks with carrion. He will bear watching."
Pic turned away, whereupon Gonch yawned loudly, stretched his limbs and sat up, chuckling at his own cleverness. He was about to engage his host in renewed conversation when there sounded the scuffle of feet and the boy Kutnar came running up the causeway to the ledge. "Look below ; they are coming," he shouted gleefully. He seized his father's hand and both hurried to the northern side of the rock.
Far beneath them, scattered groups of animals were moving down the valley from the northeast. At sight of them, man and boy became greatly excited. They behaved like two children on circus day, watching the procession and commenting on the various animals as they filed slowly past.
"The Moose ; he is early," muttered Pic. "That means a long cold winter. The Lynx; Agh, my good Stag and Roebuck, you must look to your fawns from now on."
A group of long-horned oxen, then a herd of bison followed with a pack of wolves skulking after them. A herd of horses passed and several hundred yards behind them, strode a gigantic deer, holding his head proudly erect beneath a ten-foot spread of palmated antlers. It was the Irish Elk.
"A noble beast the Skelg," said Pic. "Would that the valley could have more like him."
More animals paraded by, many of them grazing as they went. A herd of reindeer appeared, walking briskly and tossing their scraggly antlers. At sight of them, the excitement of the two observers increased. Kutnar nudged his father and whispered, "See, the first of the Tundrfolk. The others will soon be here."
Pic made no answer; but his whole body trembled and his eyes were straining for a better view of two far-off moving specks. Gradually these latter resolved themselves into two animals, coming rapidly down the valley. No longer could father and son restrain themselves. They leaped and danced about the ledge like two lunatics, laughing and shouting: "Here they come ; here they come !" clapping their hands and yelling themselves hoarse.
While all this commotion was going on, Gonch sat an amazed spectator, too bewildered to move. Father and son had forgotten him entirely. He was glad of that, for two madmen were more than he cared to manage. He was collecting his wits together and preparing for a hasty retreat down the causeway when he saw Pic put both hands to his mouth like a funnel and heard him call at the top of his lungs : "Hairi ! Wulli !"
Gonch sprang to his feet and peered down into the valley. He saw two animals standing there with heads raised towards the two men high above them upon the ledge. The larger beast, an elephant, raised its trunk. A shrill trumpet squeal floated faintly to the Muskman's ears. Then followed another squeal of a different sort, probably uttered by the second and smaller animal, a rhinoceros.
At the sounds, Pic and Kutnar scrambled downward and disappeared. Gonch ran across the ledge and looked over. The two human figures were rapidly descending the cliffs, lowering their bodies from rock to rock by the combined use of their supple hands and feet. Kutnar was as agile and sure-footed as a chamois and Pic was not far behind him. So swift was their descent, that it seemed only a moment before they had reached the bottom and were dashing up the valley.
Gonch suddenly uttered an astonished yell. He rubbed the moisture from his eyes to make sure he saw what he thought he saw. Man and boy were charging upon the beasts at top speed. The latter sprang forward in their turn and bore down upon their unarmed assailants. This was indeed madness. In a moment, man and boy would be annihilated.
Agh-h !" he croaked delightedly as the four figures united in one mass. He heard squeals, bellows and much shouting, which from where he stood, sounded like the noise of battle. Finally the mass disintegrated into two parts ; man and Mammoth composed one, boy and rhinoceros the other and each couple was standing peaceably side by side.