Chapter Six - Off with the Muskman.
AT SIGHT of Gonch, Kutnar shouted a glad "Hi-ya!" and ran forward to meet him.
"You are too young to he traveling about alone," said Gonch when the pair came together.
The boy pouted. "Do not worry. I can take care of myself." He now bore an ax in addition to the sling and stone-pouch which he always carried. "I have not been alone long," he added. "Wulli was with me. He strayed off somewhere and I was Just looking for him."
"Yes, the Woolly Rhinoceros. That is the name we know him by. The Mammoth is Hairi."
"They both passed me some time ago," said the Muskman. "They were strolling side by side up the valley." For obvious reasons. he made no mention of the slough and what had occurred there.
"Good," said the boy, much relieved. "I heard squeals and thought that one of them might be in trouble."
"No trouble at all," Gonch assured him. "They seemed quite happy and contented as they went away together. Strange why they should choose each other for companions. Are the two such good friends?"
"The best of friends," Kutnar replied. "They would fight and die for each other. Any man or beast who attacks one of them, has to fight both."
"Your father is much interested in the Hairy Elephant," said Gonch. "I understand that he permits no one to hunt him. Would the latter go to him if any man were bold enough to harm the beast?"
"Perhaps; perhaps not," replied the youth. "He and are sometimes queer about such matters. Like as not they would keep quiet and punish the offender themselves. Wulli in particular is inclined that way. However, you never can tell. Only this morning a rock, the Tilting Stone, fell from the cliff and barely missed destroying both animals. I doubt if my father yet knows of this."
"And there would be only the rock to punish if he did know of it," said Gonch.
"Also he who pushed it down," the boy added. "How?" the Muskman was in a cold sweat. "Who pushed it down?"
"A hyena," the lad replied. "At first, I thought it was a man."
Gonch gasped and wiped his forehead. "No, your father does not know of this. I was with him on the rock only a short time ago and he made no mention of it. Your father and I have grown to be very fond of one another. Only this morning he was showing me how he made his flints."
"How he finished them?" asked the lad in surprise.
"Yes, with the little tool. Do you know how it is done?"
"Of course I do," was the answer. "My father says that I am to become a weapon maker and so he has taught me how to do the work. Some day I will do as well as he; so he says."
"Um-m !" The man's eyes sparkled with a strange light.
"Wonderful boy," he muttered. "And so you can make the fine blades with the little finishing tool. How surprising. And now I am about to tell you something. If you were not as good a friend of mine as I am yours, I could not bring myself to say it."
"Agh, but I am your good friend," Kutnar answered quickly. "You should tell me everything."
"And you will not repeat what I say?" Gonch asked. "Your father and I must be very careful. Someone might hear of it."
"Hear of what?" the boy inquired, now beside himself with curiosity. "I will be silent. Tell me."
Gonch glanced about him. "Sh !" he said lowering his voice and assuming an air of deep mystery. "We southrons haye a new and better way of finishing the flints."
"A better way?" the boy stared. "Impossible."
"It is true," Gonch declared impressively. "Your father agrees with me that our method is the best. I am to get it and bring it to him."
"The new finishing tool; cannot you understand?" the Muskman grumbled. "You see I am grateful because you and your father have been very good to me. I am to live the rest of my life here, helping with the weapon making. And now I must hurry away to get the finishing tool - the wonderful tool that we make our fine blades with. I will be so lonely, going away without you. That will hasten my return." He embraced the boy and lingered over him. Kutnar's nostrils caught the offensive beast odor. He detached himself from the other's arms and turned away his head. "Is my best friend offended by the smell of my panther and hyena-killing?" Gonch asked in a hurt voice. "Perhaps I did but a poor service when once I saved you from death."
On being thus reminded of his debt, Kutnar experienced a wave of remorse. He clung tightly to his friend and buried his face in his chest. "Agh, you did well," he whispered earnestly. "What you have done for me makes the odor sweet. I will not haye you leave me alone. We will go together."
"Would that it were possible. I would be so happy with you as my companion. But you see I must hurry. I cannot wait while you prepare yourself for the journey."
The boy looked scornfully at the Musk-man's equipment which consisted of nothing but an ax. "I am as much prepared as you are," he said. "We can both go at once."
Gonch yielded with apparent reluctance and they hurried off together, Gonch chatting and pointing out various things of interest. Kutnar was excited. This was his first long trip away from home and the thought of new adventures and things to see, filled him with delight and anticipation. Deep down within his heart was a subdued feeling that he was playing the part of truant and that his father and friends might not like his sudden leave-taking. But he had a good friend with him and his father would soon understand that the two of them had gone away together, also why and where they had gone. He wished that he might at least say good-by to the Mammoth and Rhinoceros; but there was no time.
The two traveled the balance of that day and far into the night, for Gonch confided that he was anxious to reach his destination and return before the cold weather set in. After a short rest, they were up with the sun and away again.
Pic squatted beside his fire before the grotto of Moustier. He was engaged in his usual occupation - weapon making. It had been over twenty-four hours since he last saw Kutnar but this gave him no cause for worry. The boy went to and fro, spending as much of his time in the valley as lie did upon the rock. He had been known to have absented himself from home several days at a time. "I was eyen more restless at his age than he is," chuckled Pic. "Probably he is off on some lark," and so he went on with his flint working. His entire day was spent alone and the night too. Nothing to worry about seriously but when morning came and the boy was still absent, Pic began to feel not altogether at his ease.
He endeavored to resume his work but finding that he was striking the flint flakes everywhere but the right place, he put aside his hammer stone and armed with a flint ax, descended into the valley.
Here he was met by a party of Mousterian hunters. All welcomed him and showed no small surprise, for rarely did he take part in their activities unless something unusual was afoot. To his question, "The boy Kutnar; where is he?" none could give a satisfactory reply.
"He may have gone somewhere with the Mammoth and Rhinoceros," one of the hunters suggested.
"Yes, the three of them must be together," Pic agreed. "The boy is perfectly safe in the company of two such powerful animals," and feeling much comforted, he returned to the rock and resumed his work. And yet although inwardly rebuking himself for his needless concern, many times that day he put aside his hammer stone and gazed up and down the valley. When night came, he retired later than was his custom and his rest was broken by many wakeful moments at which times he would arise and seek the cave threshold, hoping that the boy had returned. Vain hopes, for when morning broke, Kutnar was still absent.
Pic strode to and fro upon the ledge, turning his head this way and that like a caged lion. From his elevated position, he could see up and down the valley for many miles. The Mammoth at least could be seen if he were anywhere near; but strain his eyes as he would, Pic caught not a single glimpse of the huge and familiar figure. He did no work that morning, for his anxiety had greatly increased and he made no further effort to conceal it. "I fear that something is wrong," he said. "Otherwise Kutnar would have returned long before this."
Once more he descended to the valley and sought news from his men but there was none to be had and his worry increased. The cave men were beginning to gather about by two and threes, for word had already passed that their chieftain was greatly concerned because of his son's continued absence. Soon a crowd of them had assembled but not one man had any information worth giving about Kutnar. One of them however had something to tell that made Pic grind his teeth in rage. The man had seen from a distance the plight of the Mammoth when Gonch had attacked the helpless animal struggling in the mire.
"Kutnar might be with the stranger," suggested itself to Pic. "The two have been much together." This thought both angered and alarmed him. He scowled as he asked, "Has anyone seen the Musk-man?"
Nobody had seen him for several days. When last observed he was alone and on his way somewhere down the valley.
"The bird has flown," thought Pic much relieved. "For a moment I thought - but no, the skulker would not have dared. He values his life too highly;" but even though his fears as to Gonch were quieted, he felt it time to set the machinery in motion for a systematic search.
The cave men were divided into squads which scattered in all directions, up, down and across the valley, examining every nook and corner as they went. Pic at the head of one of the squads hurried southwest along the river bank. Before dividing his men, he said, "The man Gonch is a traitor. If you come upon him, kill him."
Pic and his band hurried downstream along the right bank of the Vezere. The giant flint worker led the way, running in and out among the rocks and bushes like a hound following a trail. He held his ax in readiness to strike down man or beast as he led the way fearlessly past ledge and thicket, from which hidden enemies might have sprung upon him. His voice thundered commands and all hastened to obey. The cave men were amazed by his fierce energy. He was a being transformed; this strange man, of whom it had been said that he would neither hunt nor fight. They reached the confluence of the Vezere and Dordogne Rivers. Suddenly Pic uttered a loud shout as two shaggy heads rose above the river bank. The Mammoth and Rhinoceros were emerging from the water after a swim from the opposite bank. They presented a woebegone and exhausted appearance as though their entire night had been spent in traveling without food and rest.
As Pic ran forward to meet them, his followers halted at a respectful distance. The two animals shook the river water out of their coats and then told their story.
The Hyena Man, meaning Gonch, had fled taking Kutnar with him. He had a peculiar and unpleasant odor, which was fortunate, for it had enabled them to follow his trail without much trouble. His scent was so strong that they could not understand how they had lost it, but anyhow after crossing a riyer, they had been unable to find it again. A mean trick had been played upon them, they were positive, but not knowing just what to do next, they had returned for assistance. Both were agreed that the Hyena Man could no longer be trusted. He had tried to kill the Mammoth when the latter was caught fast in the mud. The big elephant had a hump on his forehead to show for it. He felt particularly aggrieved at such treatment and intended to trample the Hyena Man to death if ever he caught him, but the wretch had escaped and to make matters worse, he had taken Kutnar along with him.
That was all but quite enough. Pic was furious. He raged like a mad bull. The cave men crowded about him, shouting and brandishing their weapons. But raging and shouting led to nothing; Pic soon realized that much. Gonch had several days' start; also he knew just where he was going, which the others did not. He had anticipated pursuit by performing the well-known water trick, thereby throwing the Mammoth and Rhinoceros off his track. Pic became deadly calm. His men were of no use to him now. He could kill Gonch without anyone's assistance but the trouble was to catch him. Speed was what he desired most. Every moment of delay now counted against him. He raised his hands in despair to the Mammoth. "Friends should ever help each other," he groaned in beast jargon. "Would that I were a bird to fly or a deer to speed over the meadows like the rushing wind. How can I hope to overtake the traitor and save my boy?"
As if in reply, the Mammoth raised his foreleg and stood at attention. Pic's despair changed to amazement, then understanding. Like a flash, he sprang upon the beast's uplifted limb and seized his ear. A moment later he had drawn himself up and astride the great shaggy neck, sitting comfortably in the depression between head and shoulders. The cave men waved their axes and shouted themselves hoarse: "Kill, kill ! Death to the traitor !" and then Pic raised his hand. All became quiet listening to their leader's final instructions.
"You," he said, pointing to a young giant seamed with battle-scars; "You must command here, and death to him who disobeys you. I may be gone many days. He who makes trouble in my absence will be food for the hyenas when I return. Good luck to you and farewell. I will not come back without the boy."
"Long live the Mammoth Man; death to Gonch," howled the cave men, waving their axes on high. Obedient to a hand pat from his rider, the Mammoth wheeled and made for the river. Pic heard footsteps behind him. He looked back and frowned as he saw the Woolly Rhinoceros following closely on his partner's heels.
"Not this time, good old friend," he said. "You are too slow and will only delay us. You must stay behind."
Wulli stopped short. The words rang in his ears like the sound of his own doom; but Pic had said them. He stopped obediently and stood, head cocked on one side, a prey to his ponderous reflections. The Mammoth had by this time entered the water and still the Rhinoceros remained immovable watching the unsubmerged portion of his friend sailing rapidly across the stream.
So intent was he, so intent were the cave men upon Pic and the Mammoth's departure that none perceived a spectre in the background slinking leisurely away. It was a big-eared beast with ghoul-grinning face and slopping jaws. It had been an interested witness of all that had passed; but none had seen or heard the foul beast of ill-omen, Crocut the Bone-breaker and giant leader of the Cave Hyenas.