Chapter Seven - In the Cave of Grun Waugh.
GRUN WAUGH the Cave Lion reclined comfortably upon his side, beneath the lofty rock shelter of Mawdlinan overhanging cliff close to the right bank of the Vezere River. A few paces distant, sat Scrag, his half-grown son. The latter was in the midst of his morning paw-scrub, a self-inflicted process indulged in by all members of the cat family and vulgarly known as "spit-wash."
Scrag had spent the night in some wild orgie and had but recently returned home in the grey morning hours where his parent awaited him. Judging from his appearance, he had experienced a lively time of it. His right eye was bunged and gashed so that he was obliged to depend entirely upon his left. One ear was torn and bleeding; it seemed to have been chewed. Father and son were conversing in low growls. At the moment, Scrag had the floor and was recounting the details of his night's adventures.
"I was hiding in the grass; lying low, chest and stomach to the ground just as you have always told me to do. I cannot account for it but he must have seen me."
"How about your tail?" his sire remarked gruffly. "No doubt that was waving in the air so that even a mole could see it."
"Possibly," Scrag admitted, slightly elevating the brows crowning his one good eye. "I may have been a trifle careless as to tail. I never thought of it. Well, anyhow just as he passed me, I jumped."
"And missed, I presume," the Cave Lion grumbled with an I-suppose-I'll-have-to-pay-the-bill air.
"Not exactly," chuckled the other, applying himself diligently to his toilet. "True, I missed what I jumped at "souse, souse," but I did "swish, swish, "hit something."
"What?" Grim Waugh snorted impatiently.
"A rock," snickered Scrag, all set and ready to run. "I struck it head on and bumped my eye. For an instant I was half-stunned; but luckily for me I had senses enough left to remember something else you used to tell me."
"What?" roared Grun Waugh.
"That I had four good legs and knew how to use them. Did I use them? I most certainly did. You would have been proud of your little Scraggy had you been there to see."
"Whelp !" thundered the Cave Lion. "Never will I hear the last of this. You, son of the grandest and boldest among flesh-eaters, fled from . . ."
"The Woolly Rhinoceros," leered Scrag, screwing up his face. He stroked his chin bristles with his forepaw and looked thoughtfully at Grun Waugh as he added mischievously: "Now who was it taught me to do that?"
The Cave Lion said nothing but he was choking with suppressed rage and his tail squirmed like a snake on a hot griddle. There were but two animals in the world that he had been known to run from; the Woolly Rhinoceros was one of them.
He was brooding angrily over the matter and endeavoring to formulate some plausible excuse, when a burly figure suddenly thrust itself between him and the light. He looked up quickly and saw standing before him, Crocut, his henchman and giant leader of the Hyena Pack.
Crocut settled down upon his haunches and grinned, first at Grun Waugh then at Scrag. He always grinned and meant nothing in particular by it, for his face was simply built that way. It may be that as head undertaker of the Vezere valley, it was his place to appear cheerful at all times and because of that he either grinned or laughed. His grin was a death-mask and his laugh a voice from the grave.
Grun Waugh and Crocut had formed a partnership and were engaged in the meat business - wholesale and retail. Crocut selected the live stock and Grun Waugh did the killing and dangerous work. He received the freshest and choicest cuts as his share, after which Crocut cleared away the remains and disposed of the by-products. The giant Hyena employed members of his own family as scavengers for this latter purpose. It was also one of his important duties to develop new business, and so he wandered about continually, searching for occasional horse, ox, bison or other animal that might have strayed from its herd and could be attacked to advantage. It then remained for him to convey such information to his royal master the Cave Lion. Crocut had scruples and conscientiously refrained from intruding upon the executive or killing end of the business. This was Grun Waugh's prerogative. The two got along finely by thus working in harmony.
The Leader of the Hyena Pack brought news, otherwise he would not have come. "I have much to tell you," he began. "First, I will speak of the Woolly Rhinoceros."
Grun Waugh scowled and wrinkled his muzzle. Again that name; but although at first greatly vexed, he listened attentively as Crocut told of a man who had pushed a big rock over the cliff. This rock had barely missed crushing the Rhinoceros, also the Mammoth, who was with him. Crocut had seen this with his own eyes.
"Escaped; always escaped," growled the Cave Lion. "Had either the Rhinoceros or Mammoth been killed, it would have been different; but as it is, the tale annoys me."
"I too have suffered in order that my lord might learn all," whined the Hyena. "The Trog-boy was with the two animals. He threw a stone at me and bruised my jaw. It is so sore that for several days I have been unable to crack even the smallest bone."
Crocut grit his teeth, and winced with the pain which even this slight pressure caused him; then discovering that he was arousing no sympathy, he resumed: "Irritating, indeed; but please remember that it was a man who so nearly slew the Mammoth and Rhinoceros. Heretofore, none of the Trog-folk have dared attack the two animals."
"Hah!" Grun Waugh pricked up his ears. The tale now presented features of interest. "Not bad," he said to Scrag but the latter was already past hearing. He had curled himself up into a ball and was sound asleep.
"I have taken much interest in this man," Crocut went on. "He has the odor of a hyena and yet he appears to be a man. Possibly he is a relative; surely a friend. In addition to the first episode, he a second time attacked the Mammoth."
Grun Waugh was now sitting up, his features expressing rapt attention. The moment of silence was broken by only Scrag's resonant snores. Crocut described the scene at the slough and the Mammoth's narrow escape. It was exasperating to think that the huge elephant had got off scot-free and yet the narrative had its brighter side - the man's share in it. He had done his part well and the failure was no fault of his. Grun Waugh was beginning to feel kindly toward this Hyena Man. He purred softly and stretched his claws. Scrag snored peacefully on.
"I have not yet told all," the giant bone-breaker resumed. "The Hyena Man - our friend if I may be so bold as to say it - is now doing even better. Already he has set upon the Ape Man."
Grun Waugh licked his flewed lips as though anticipating a feast. His purring became a gargle. He gave an attentive ear to the balance of Crocut's thrilling account to the accompaniment of Scrag's nose-racking snores. The Ape Man meant Pic. All flesh-eaters called him that and hated him most cordially into the bargain. Grun Waugh hated him worst of all, for it was whispered among the beasts that this Ape Man when a boy had dethroned their royal monarch, the Lion.
Crocut explained that the stranger had not attacked the Ape Man directly but it would seem that he had done even better. He had robbed him of his whelp and was now fleeing southward. The whole valley was in an uproar over the matter. Already the Ape Man had hurried off in pursuit, riding upon his friend the Mammoth. If they caught the Hyena Man, it would go hard with him. It was unfortunate and Crocut wished that the fugitive might in some way elude his pursuers but the Mammoth was swift of foot and there was no telling what might happen.
Grun Waugh leaped to his feet and gave vent to a thunderous roar.
"And so the Mammoth and Ape Man are pursuing the Hyena Man," he said fiercely. "Meddlers ! We will follow them and chastise them for interfering."
Crocut wilted. He hung his head and looked about him as though seeking an avenue of escape. It began to look as though there might be some fighting and of course he wanted to keep clear of that. "In your absence, I" he began and then held his peace for Grun Waugh's cold green eyes were directed full upon him.
"You will go with us, of course," said the Cave Lion biting his moustache and thereby displaying his huge canine teeth. "You began this and now you must see it through. Come Scrag."
The prodigal son yawned and stretched his limbs; then with a wry face, stood erect and wiped the sleep from his one good eye. Crocut groaned inwardly. Although a bone-breaker of the first order, he aimed at all times to be numbered among the spectators whenever there was fighting to be done. However, the Cave Lion had spoken and there seemed no way out of it. And so under his guidance, the three hurried down the river bank to the Dordogne where they picked up the Mammoth's trail and followed it across the stream to the southland beyond.