Chapter Five - The Arm of the Mammoth Man.
THE GIANT FLINT WORKER squatted motionless beside the fire at his cave threshold but his ears were straining, his brain working rapidly as he sought the meaning of some dust and limestone chips which had mysteriously descended upon him from above. The sun was warm. It was quite a natural gesture for him to turn his head askew, and downward at the same time, and wipe the perspiration from it with his arm; also it enabled him to catch a glimpse of a man's head peering down upon him from the cliff.
Pic resumed his former position, but now he was staring at his feet, his brows contracted in deep thought. For several minutes he maintained this attitude, then his brows lifted and he glanced at what he held in his hand. It was a ridiculously simple affair - a piece of bone not much larger than his forefinger, smooth, straight and notched at one end.
"Men have died for even less," he soliloquized. "I roamed the world over to find this piece of bone - the Terrace Man's finishing tool. Others may be doing the same. Yes, that's it; I am sure of it now," and he scowled and gnashed his teeth in a way that would have horrified Gonch, had be been there to see.
For a time, Pic remained squatting motionless; finally he rose to his feet, piled more wood upon the fire and made other elaborate preparations as if for departure, shouldering his ax and gazing long and earnestly down the valley as though something there required his attention. He gathered up his flint-flakes and took them to the Cave and last of all, secreted the bone tool near the cliff wall beneath a flat stone. This latter maneuver was conducted mysteriously and with much deliberation. When all was arranged to his satisfaction, he swung his ax over his right shoulder and descended the causeway to the valley below.
After Pic had vanished a man crept cautiously towards the flat stone lying at the foot of the cliff wall, near the mouth of the cave.
His hand was now clutching the stone. Another second and the latter would have been raised disclosing what lay beneath, when a rustling sounded at the cave mouth. Gonch turned quickly, then sank down upon the threshold in an agony of dread, for there stood Pic, filling the cave mouth with his great bulk and gazing upon the spy with a look of withering scorn.
"I lost something, I . . ." stammered Gonch but the other cut him short.
"You lie," roared Pic, his face becoming rapidly convulsed with rage. "You lie and you have lied ever since you came here. I know you now and why you came. You have come to steal the secret of our weapons and anything else you can lay your hands on. Your friendliness is just a pretense, to give you a chance to spy and steal. Your whole body reeks with carrion. You Muskman ! Your welcome is at an end, imposter. Be gone."
Gonch crawled away along the ledge and down the causeway like a beaten hound.
Pic was a friend of animals and a lover of peace but the prosperity and power that he had brought upon the cave men of the Vezere was not to be denied. They were the strongest men, the most successful hunters in all the world and all because of Pic, the genius that ruled over them. No one had said that the master flint worker was hetman of the Mousterians, but Gonch knew it now and he knew it without being told. Pic the Lion had snared Gonch the Fox with scarce an effort.
It was all just as had first been told to him in the southland. Gonch bit his lips until the blood came. Now he saw the truth of what he did not then believe from the lips of a man he himself had slain near the northern Cantabrian slopes. The man was a Mousterian who had been driven out from the tribe for transgressing one of their hunting rules. Then had Gonch been told what he knew now to be true. The Mousterian domain was the most powerful in all the world and the arm that ruled over it, the mind that guided its destinies, were those of a simple recluse and weapon maker - Pic, the Mammoth Man.
The Mammoth, lumbering peacefully along, suddenly gave a shrill snort of dismay followed by piercing trumpet calls. The hugh beast had unwittingly trod upon the soft ground and was caught fast in a slough. T his was one enemy that sapped his courage of its last drop and now it held him in its death grip. With vain struggles, he worked himself into a state of insane terror; squealing, bellowing and thrashing his trunk about like a great flail.
It was a small slough and the terrified Mammoth stood so near firm ground that only a few steps were needed to bring him safely clear. He seemed to realize this, for he strained and tugged mightily to escape the mire that sucked him down, directing his efforts toward the pit edge nearest him. One after another he pulled his feet from the slime but only one at a time and as fast as one was free, the others sank deeper.
"Pic's friend; so much the better," a human voice sneered. At the sound of the voice, the Mammoth became quiet. In his terror, he had not perceived the man squatting beside him. He squealed plaintively as much as to say: "Friends should ever help each other," and stood waiting trembling and expectant. Gonch never moved, but grinned fiendishly as he watched the great beast begging for assistance. He gathered a handful of dirt and threw it in the Mammoth's face.
The latter recoiled in surprise, then his ears flapped wildly and he bellowed loudly with rage. This change of sentiment helped him as nothing else could. He heaved and pulled, using his trunk as a lever on the pit edge, forgetting all fear in his eagerness to reach and chastise the man. His rage increased as he watched the man pick up a big limestone block. The animal realized his enemy's intention. As Gonch hurled the stone at the base of his trunk, the Mammoth suddenly ducked and received the blow upon his head peak, a bony prominence reinforced within by air cells and protected from without by a thick mop of shaggy hair. A painful bruise but no real damage done. Gonch procured another stone and made ready to try again.
And then something swept down upon him with the weight and fury of an avalanche, sending him sprawling in the grass. It was a rotund, short-legged animal which did not stop until it reached the margin of the morass. There it studied the situation of the Mammoth with the utmost deliberation, while Gonch crept away to hide behind a stone.
It took the Woolly Rhinoceros several minutes to realize his friend's plight and to devise ways and means for effecting a rescue. Having determined his course, he anchored his forefeet firmly and as close to the pit as he dared, then extended his head toward the Mammoth. The latter responded by raising his trunk and curling its flexible tip about the other's nose horn, a formidable affair about two feet long, as smooth and glossy as polished steel. When assured that his partner had secured a firm grip, the Woolly Rhinoceros settled back his full weight, at the same time pushing hard with his legs.
The elephant drew his feet clear of the mire and advanced them one by one, slowly but surely, now that the Rhinoceros was relieving him of so much of his dead weight. The Mammoth clung to the other's nose horn with the persistence and desperation of one drowning. Even when his right forefoot touched solid ground, he did not release this hold.
Meanwhile the Rhinoceros maintained the tension on his partner's trunk, hanging on as determinedly as a bulldog. Having rested, the Mammoth now concentrated every ounce of his strength for the final heave. The Rhinoceros too put on more power until his friend's nose-spout stretched almost to the breaking point.
At last with sucking slobbering sighs, the rear pillar limbs drew clear. The next moment, both beasts stood shoulder to shoulder stamping and snorting with rage.
Both animals were sniffing vigorously but the wind told no tales for it blew from themthe wrong way.
Gonch peered cautiously from his stone.
"A happy ending to an unpleasant dream," he thought as he watched the pair disappearing behind rocks and trees. He raised himself into a crouching position, just as a big-eared head rose with him from the grass, about ten paces distant. It was a maneless head with repulsive features and slopping jaw. It grinned horribly at the man and yet made no move to attack him. "One would think the beast my friend," thought Gonch as he stood erect with ax held ready to defend himself.
"A hyena but never have I seen such a big one. The Mammoth has cheated us both," he said aloud to the beast. "We must wait and hope for the chance that may come again."
The hyena licked his muzzle and leered at the man, then turned and walked slowly away. A sloping back and bushy tail trailed behind the huge head. Such trust in human nature was astonishing. The Muskman might have glided stealthily after and slain the brute before it could turn and defend itself. He was standing motionless, watching the grey back melt away in the meadow grass when he heard sounds in the opposite direction. The bushes waved and crackled and he made out a human form coming through them and rapidly toward him.
Gonch dropped flat in the grass and lay still. The crackling sounds and he who made them, came nearer. Gonch could now see his face. He breathed a sigh of deep relief. In a moment he was on his feet and advancing to meet the newcomer. It was the boy Kutnar.