Chapter Four - The Ways of the Valley.
GONCH or the Muskman, as some of the Mousterians called him, acquired more experience of the Mammoth Man's peculiar whims, other than his friendship for the Hairy Mammoth and Woolly Rhinoceros. He gained this when he and Kutnar went down into the valley together and mingled with the Mousterian cave men. The game laws or ban on needless slaughter of which Pic had spoken Gonch had hitherto considered as the fancy of a disordered mind. Now to his astonishment, he found them not only a reality but scrupulously observed by one and all, although he saw no sign of the authority that enforced them. The Mousterians killed no more than sufficient for their wants and what they did kill was used to the best advantage. Nothing was wasted. The flesh served as food and the hides were set aside to be used as clothing during the cold season.
Gonch learned something more that surprised him and this concerned Kutnar. The latter spent most of his time with the men, an unusual proceeding, for boys were usually left with the women when the men went forth on hunting or other expeditions. Kutnar, however, seemed to enjoy special privileges. He was a strong, active lad, but a boy nevertheless and Gonch marveled that men would tolerate his taking part in their affairs. It must be that as son of the master flint worker, he was an extraordinarily privileged youth. Then, too, he went about unarmed ; so it appeared, for he bore nothing but his pouch of pebbles and the rawhide thong about his waist. The hunters were walking across the meadow when a hare sprang up beneath their feet, bounded away several rods and then sat bolt upright. At a signal from the leader of the band, all stopped. The man beckoned to Kutnar. "Your turn now," and then as the boy came forward, all stood at attention, apparently much interested in what was about to happen.
While Gonch looked curiously on, wondering what new and strange spectacle was to be presented, Kutnar unwound the thong from his waist and held it dangling with the two ends in his right hand. Taking a pebble from his pouch he set it in the rawhide's hanging fold; then with a whispered "Stand clear," he whirled thong and pebble several times about his shoulders and let fly. So swiftly sped the stone that no eye could follow it. Gonch could not observe that anything in particular had happened until one of the hunters ran forward and picked up the hare, no longer sitting upright but kicking its last upon the green meadow grass.
"A chance shot," thought Gonch who by this time had arrived at some understanding of this new method of stone throwing. Nevertheless the sling was a novelty and the lad had displayed much skill in its use. Gonch went closer to examine it. Stones were usually hurled from the hand or by throwing-stick
"Fling string," he muttered scornfully. "It was a lucky cast."
But Gonch was mistaken. What Kutnar had done, he could do again, not once but many times. Half a dozen hares and several rabbits fell before his unerring aim and then the hunters returned homeward with their bag, for the game laws applied to all animals, small as well as large, and what they or rather Kutnar had killed was sufficient for their immediate needs. On the way back, Gonch's opinion of Kutnar and his sling had undergone a profound change. It was a boy's weapon but one which a grown man could respect. The youth's skill with it was beyond the stretch of one's imagination. "The lad is a marvel," thought Gonch. "He has killed enough food for a dozen men," and he had a wholesome respect after that, not only for the fling string as he called it, but the arm and eye that could send the pebble so straight and swift to its mark. But the most amazing thing of all he was to discover yet, when he found how intimate Kutnar was with the friendly Mammoth and Rhinoceros. Gonch heard Kutnar one day jabbering away to the two, apparently in response to squeals and grunts.
"Why do you make those noises?" asked Gonch.
"Wulli and Hairi don't know the man language but I know theirs. My father taught it to me and we can understand each other," explained the boy.
The two animals animals made themselves quite at home in the valley, for the Mousterian hunters let them severely alone. It was evident that men and beasts had arrived at some understanding. They were a strange pair. The Mammoth was a giant nearly ten feet tall from sole to shoulder hump. He wore a long-haired overcoat underlain by closely packed wool. The Rhinoceros was similarly clad. Both of them were arctic animals, sometimes called Tundr-folk because of their homes in the bleak, unforested tundras of Northern Russia and Siberia.
Gonch continued to show interest in the weapon making but he could never catch Pic working with that little tool he had partially observed when lying by the fire during his first visit to Moustier. Whenever his guest appeared, Pic put away this tool and worked entirely with the hammer stone, changing to one of smaller size and less weight during the progress of the work from the hewn blank to the semifinished flake. His skill with the stone maul was uncanny. Gonch marveled at the deft strokes, forever varying in force and direction but each one striking just right to remove each chip from its place and properly shape the blade. But none of the weapons he saw made, ever quite reached the completed stage.
Gonch flattered his host, joked with him and painted pictures of Castillo, his south-land home country, in glowing colors; to all of which Pic would say: "If these things are so, why do you, a southron, leave them and come here?" or else he would hold his peace and appear more interested in his flint hammering than in Gonch's efforts at sociability ; and finally when he scowled and glared at his guest, Gonch knew it was time to take himself off.
Kutnar one day watched two animals plodding along at the foot of the cliffs. He had recognized them at a glance - the Mammoth and Woolly Rhinoceros. Soon they would pass directly beneath the Tilting Stone. The Tilting Stone was a huge bowlder many tons in weight which was balanced at the very edge of the cliff. Some said that a giant flesh-eating beast had long been sealed within it and that it struggled to escape when the wind blew. It had been long since any man had dared to go near the eerie bowlder which rocked with the wind. This time Kutnar looked intently at the stone for it seemed to move although he felt no breeze in the mild air. Then he gave a startled cry of horror, waved and yelled to the two animals in a frenzy of excitement and fear. It all happened in a moment - the stone lost its balance, slowly gathered momentum and tumbled over the cliff. For an instant the figure of a man on the cliff stood outlined against the sky, then disappeared.
After Kutnar's first startled cry, there were squeals and bellowings and the clatter of ponderous feet as the Mammoth and Rhinoceros galloped away in a great fright because of the falling stone that had crashed to the ground so closely behind them. They heard someone shouting and recognized Kutnar's voice, so they slowed up and looked back. All was now quiet and finally by much arm-waving, the lad induced his two friends to return. This they did very slowly and carefully, not feeling entirely convinced that all danger had passed. Kutnar was perched astride of the great bowlder that had so nearly destroyed them and addressed them in the strange tongue that Hairi and Wulli knew.
"I saw it falling," he said as he came up to them. "I shouted to warn you." The animals, who were trembling from head to foot, answered in grunts and squeals.
Kutnar laughed. "Yes, you both jumped like rabbits;" then he looked up at the cliffs and his face became serious. "The stone did not fall of itself," he said half to himself. "Someone pushed it over, I saw ...
The Mammoth looked thoughtfully at the great bowlder and shivered. It had been a nerve-racking experience.
"Yes, someone pushed it," Kutnar repeated. He watched the Rhinoceros who was now sniffing the stone vigorously. Finally Wulli's nose settled on one spot and here he made a most thorough investigation. When this was concluded to his satisfaction, he raised his head and squealed triumphantly.
"I suppose you mean you know the hyena smell," answered Kutnar. "It is like the smell of him who eats men and bad meat. But it can't be a hyena, for I saw a man." Just then a laugh sounded from overhead. The three friends looked hastily upward and saw a hideous face leering down upon them. Quick as lightning, Kutnar made ready his sling and hurled a pebble. A loud yelp and the face disappeared. "Hyena it was," said the lad. "Wulli is right; his nose never lies, but had I not seen the beast a second time, I would have sworn that he who pushed the rock down upon us, was a man."
Meanwhile the creature who had pushed the rock was in rapid flight. The cruel face that had looked on Kutnar and his animal friends was not a hyena's. It was Gonch the Muskman.