Back to the Stone Age

Chapter XVI

Old White

Edgar Rice Burroughs

BELOW HIM the leaves of the trees moved to a gentle breeze as von Horst came from the cave after sleeping. The air was fresh and clear, and the breeze was cool, tempering the heat of the high sun, as though it blew across the snow of far mountains. The man looked about him and saw that life was astir again in the cliff village of the mammoth-men. He heard his name called from below and saw Thorek beckoning to him to come down. Gorph had to yet come from the cave; so von Horst descended and joined Thorek at the foot of the cliff. Many warriors were assembling. Mamth was there, and though he saw von Horst he paid no attention to him.

“We are going to train Old White,” said Thorek.

“Mamth has said that you may come with us. You may ride with me upon my mammoth.”

Presently the herd appeared, driven by herders mounted on their great beasts. These were all well trained mammoths, and they moved quietly and obediently. When all the warriors were mounted Mamth led the way up the main canyon. The gorges that ran into it were mostly narrow with steep, rocky sides. Before the entrance to one of them Mamth halted. The opening into the gorge was very narrow and across it were bars each of which was a good size tree. The top bar was roped securely into place by a large rope that had been made by braiding long grass. Warriors removed the rope; and two of the mammoths, directed by their riders, lifted the bars and removed them; then the party filed into the gorge. Beyond the entrance it widened and the floor was level. They had ridden up it but a short distance when von Horst saw a huge mammoth standing in the shade of a tree. It was swaying to and fro on its great feet, its head and trunk undulating to the cadence of its swaying body. On its left jowl was a patch of white hair. It was Old White, the Killer. Von Horst would have recognized the huge beast among hundreds of its kind.

At sight of the party the animal raised its trunk and screamed. The rocky hills trembled to the giant’s warning. It started toward them, and then von Horst saw that one of its feet was secured to a great log. It could move about, but the log prevented it from moving rapidly. Two mammoths were ridden in on either side of Old White. When he attempted to raise his trunk to seize the riders the other mammoths caught and held it with theirs, and it required the combined strength of the two to do it.

Now a third warrior rode close and clambered over the back of one of the tame mammoths to sit astride Old White’s neck, and the close contact of the man threw the captive into a fury. Trumpeting and bellowing, he sought to escape from the beasts that pressed close on either side. He fought to raise his trunk and snatch the man-thing from him as he lurched erratically about the floor of the gorge dragging the great log in his wake.

Old White, the Killer, was wise with great age; and when he realized that he could accomplish nothing by force he suddenly became quiet and apparently as docile as a lamb; then commenced his training. The rider struck him a sharp blow with the flat of his hand on his back just behind where the warrior sat, and simultaneously a mammoth in his rear and those on either side of him pushed him forward. A blow on the head in front of the rider was a signal to stop, and the three great training mammoths stopped him. Time and again he was rehearsed in these movements; then he was taught to turn to the right or left by a kick on the opposite jowl. Old White learned quickly. Mamth was delighted. Here, indeed, was a powerful and intelligent beast worthy to be the mount of a chief. The trainers watched Old White carefully, his ears, his tail, his trunk, his eyes, for these were the indices of his temper; and they all proclaimed resignation and docility.

“Never have I seen a wild mammoth subdued so easily or taught so quickly,” exclaimed Mamth. “He is already trained. Let him be ridden alone now without the other mammoths. Later we will remove the log.”

The riders withdrew the other three mammoths to a short distance from Old White; and the great beast stood gently swinging his trunk to and fro, a picture of contentment and docility. The young warrior riding him struck him sharply on the back, signaling him to move forward. As quickly as a snake strikes, Old White swung his trunk up and seized his rider; and simultaneously he was transformed into a raging devil of hate and fury.

Screaming with rage, he raised the struggling warrior high above his head; then he dashed him heavily to the ground in front of him. The three warriors who had been assisting with his training urged their mounts in, but too late. Old White placed a great foot on the warrior and trampled him into the earth. Then he seized the warrior on the nearest mount and hurled him across the gorge, and all the while he trumpeted and bellowed. As he lunged for another of the warriors the two turned their mammoths and retreated; but Old White pursued them, dragging the heavy log after him. That was the end of the mighty captive’s training. Mamth, disappointed and angry, ordered all from the gorge, the bars of the gate were replaced; and they rode back down the canyon toward the village.

Von Horst had been an interested spectator, his interest augmented because of his former remarkable experience with Old White. His sympathies were with the mammoth, and he was secretly pleased by the manner in which the wise old beast had completely deceived his captors and won at least a partial revenge for the sufferings and indignities that he had been subjected to.

Von Horst had also been interested in learning the method used by the mammoth-men in controlling their ponderous mounts; and as they left the gorge he asked Thorek if he might pilot the animal the two were riding; and Thorek, amused, consented. Thus he acquired an accomplishment that appeared quite as useless as anything that he had ever learned in his life.

“Will you ever be able to tame Old White?” he asked.

Thorek shook his head. “Not unless Mamth is crazy,” he replied, “will he ever risk another warrior on that brute. He is a natural killer. Such as he are never tamed. He has killed many warriors, and knowing how easy it is to kill us he would never be safe.”

“What will become of him?” “He will be destroyed, but not before he has afforded the tribe some entertainment.” They rode on in silence. Von Horst’s thoughts were rummaging in the attic of memory rediscovering many a half forgotten souvenir. Bold and fresh and clear among them was the figure of La-ja. He turned his face a little toward Thorek.

“Lotai is a fine girl,” he said.

Thorek looked surprised, and scowled. “What do you know of Lotai?” he demanded.

“I am quartered in Graph’s cave.” Thorek grunted.

“Lotai will make some warrior a good mate,” ventured von Horst.

“He will have to fight me,” said Thorek.

Von Horst smiled. “Grum has a mate,” he said. “Whoever takes Lotai will not have to take Grum, too. He will only have to fight you. But I did not know that you cared. Lotai does not know that you care.”

“How do you know?”

“She said so,”

“Do you want her?” demanded Thorek.

“She is very desirable, but she loves another,”

“And you are afraid to fight him?”

“No,” replied von Horst “I am not afraid to fight him. I have already done so and beaten him.”

“And you have mated with her?” Thorek’s tone sounded like the growl of a beast.

“No. I know that she loves him.”

“Who is he? He’ll not have her. I’ll kill him. Who is he? Tell me.”

“You,” said yon Horst, grinning.

Thorek looked very foolish. “You are sure?” he asked.

“Positive. She has told me.”

“Before the next sleep I shall ask Mamth, and I shall take Lotai to my cave.”

“Do you have to ask Mamth?”

“Yes; he is chief.”

“Ask him now,” suggested von Horst.

“As well now as later,” agreed Thorek. He urged his mount forward until he rode abreast of Mamth.

“I would like Lotai, the daughter of Gorph, to be my mate,” he said to the chief.

Mamth scowled. “No,” he said.

“Why?” demanded Thorek. “I am a great warrior. I have no mate. I want Lotai.”

“So do I,” said Mamth.

Thorek flushed. He was about to make some rejoinder when von Horst put a warning finger to his own lips and slowed the mammoth down until it had again taken its place in the column.

“I have a plan,” said von Horst.

“What sort of a plan?” asked Thorek.

“A plan whereby you may get Lotai and at the same time do something that will make her very happy.”

“And what is that?”

“She and her mother, Mumal, are very unhappy here. Mumal wishes to return to Sari, the country from which Gorph stole her; and Lotai wishes to go with her.”

“Well, what can I do about it?” demanded Thorek.

“You can take them. It is the only way that you can get Lotai.”

“I cannot take them,” said Thorek. “I could never get them out of the village.”

“Would you go to Sari with them if you could?”

“I would only be killed by the men of Sari.”

“The Sarians would not kill you. Mumal is a Sarian, and I have a friend named Dangar who would see that you were taken into the tribe. He would do anything that I asked.”

“It is useless,” insisted Thorek. “I could never leave the village with two women.”

“Would you, if you could?” demanded von Horst.

“Yes; if Lotai would go with me I would go anywhere.”

“In the back of Gorph’s cave there is an opening into a tunnel.”

“Yes, I know of it; it leads to Molop Az.”

“It leads to the little canyon. When the tarags at the other end are gone you may go out that way with Lotai and Mumal.”

“How do you know that it leads to the little canyon?” demanded Thorek.

“I have talked with one who went through it as far as the place where the tarags are.”

Thorek rode in silence for a time before he spoke again. The party came to the village and dismounted. The herders drove the mammoths away. Mamth was irritable and glum. He turned on von Horst.

“Get to Gorph’s cave,” he ordered, “and stay there. Perhaps before the next sleep we shall take you to the little canyon.”

“That is the end for you, my friend,” said Thorek. “I am sorry. I thought that perhaps we might find a way for you to go with us to Sari; but the way will not be open, the tarags will not be gone until after you have been taken to the little canyon; then it will be too late.”

Von Horst shrugged. “There is not very much that one can do about it,” he said.

“There is nothing,” asserted Thorek.

He walked on beside von Horst toward the ladder that led upward to Gorph’s cave. “Perhaps this is the last time that we shall talk together,” he said.

“Perhaps,” agreed von Horst.

“Will you speak to Lotai for me?” “Certainly. What shall I say?” “Ask her if she will go with me to Sari, she and Mumal. If she will, raise your right arm straight toward the sun when next you see me. If she will not, raise your left arm. I shall be watching. If they will go, tell them that when the others go to the little canyon, they must hide. I will do the same, and after all are gone we can enter the tunnel and go as far as the tarags. When the tribe has left the little canyon, we can come out and go away in search of Sari.” “Good-by,” said von Horst. They had reached the foot of the ladder. “Good-by and good luck. I will speak to Lotai as soon as possible.” Von Horst found Lotai and Mumal alone in front of the cave, and immediately explained the plan that he and Thorek had discussed. Both women were delighted, and they sat for a long time planning on the future. Presently Gorph came and demanded food. As usual he was surly and brutal. He glowered and growled at von Horst.

“I shall not have to feed you again,” he said. “Mamth has spoken, and soon all will be in readiness in the little canyon. You will be taken there with the other prisoners, and you will not come back.”

“I shall miss you, Gorph,” said von Horst.

The mammoth-man looked at him in stupid amazement. “I shall not miss you,” he said.

“I shall miss your pleasant ways and your hospitality.”

“You are a fool,” said Gorph. He gobbled his food and arose. “I am going into the cave to sleep,” he said. “If word is passed that we are going to the little canyon, wake me.”

As he crossed to enter the cave he aimed a vicious kick at Lotai, which she dodged by rolling quickly out of the way. “Why don’t you get a man?” he demanded. “I am sick of seeing you around; I am tired of feeding you;” then he passed on into the cave.

The three sat in silence. They dared not plan for fear they might be overheard. The thoughts of the women were filled with happiness—thoughts of escape, of Sari, of love, and of happiness. The man thought not of the future but of the past—of the world of his birth, of his friends, and his family, of a beautiful girl who had touched his life briefly and yet had filled it. There was no future for him—only a brief interval of uncertainty and then death. A young man climbed agilely up the ladders to the ledge before Gorph’s cave. He halted and surveyed the three, his eyes resting on Lotai.

“You are to go to the cave of Mamth,” he said. “He has chosen you to be his mate.”

Lotai turned very white; her wide eyes were horror filled. She tried to speak; but she only gasped, her fingers clutching at her throat.

Von Horst looked at the messenger. “Tell Mamth that Lotai has been ill,” he said, “but that she will come presently.”

“She had better not be long,” warned the man, “if she doesn’t want a beating.”

After he had departed the three sat whispering together for some time; then Lotai arose and went into the cave. Von Horst and Mumal remained where they were for a short time; then they too, feeling the urge to sleep, went into the cave.

Von Horst was awakened by loud voices outside the cave; then Gorph entered, calling Lotai. There was no reply. Von Horst sat up.

“Lotai is not here,” he said. “Don’t make so much noise; I want to sleep.”

“Where is she?” demanded Gorph. “She has got to be here.”

“Perhaps, but she is not. Mamth sent for her to come to his cave. Go and inquire of Mamth where she is.”

Two warriors entered the cave. “She did not come to Mamth’s cave.” said one of them. “He sent us to fetch her.”

“Perhaps something happened to her,” suggested von Horst.

The two, with Gorph, searched the cave. They questioned Mumal, but she only replied as had von Horst that Mamth had sent for Lotai. At last they departed, and the others followed them to the ledge. Presently von Horst saw a number of warriors commence a search of the village. They searched every cave, but they did not find Lotai. Von Horst could see Mamth standing among the trees at the foot of the cliff, and he guessed from his gestures that he was very angry. Nor was he mistaken. Presently the chief came himself to the cave of Gorph and searched it; and he questioned Gorph, and Mumal, and von Horst. He wanted to blame one or all of them, but he had no evidence to support him. He stopped in front of yon Horst, scowling.

“You are bad luck,” he said, “but it will not be for long—we go now to the little canyon.”

To the little canyon! The end of his adventure in Pellucidar was approaching. Well, what of it? One must die. It is little easier one time than another. Even the very old and hopeless cling tenaciously to life. They may not wish to, but they cannot help it—it is just another of Nature’s immutable laws.

He followed the warriors down the ladders to the foot of the cliff. Here the clan was gathering, men, women, and children. A herd of mammoths was being driven into the village; and the great beasts were lifting men, women, and children to their backs.. Von Horst looked about in search of Thorek, but he could not find him; then he was ordered to the back of a mammoth, where he sat behind a warrior. He saw Frug on another beast, as well as other prisoners similarly mounted. There were men from Amdar, from Go-hal, from Lo-har. Von Horst had never met any of the other prisoners except Frog; but he had heard them spoken of by Mumal, Grum, and Lotai. He would have been glad to have talked with the man from Lo-har, because that was La-ja’s country. Because of that he felt closer to him. His heart might have warmed even to the redoubtable Gaz.

Presently he caught sight of Thorek. He was standing at one side among the trees staring steadily at von Horst; and the instant that the man from the outer crust caught his eye, he raised his right arm aloft toward the sun.

Thorek nodded and turned away. Immediately thereafter Mamth moved off upon his great mount, and the others followed. The hairy warriors with their women and children, the monstrous beasts that bore them, presented a picture of primitive savagery that thrilled von Horst despite its sinister connotation. It was indeed an inspiring prelude to death. He looked about him. Riding beside and almost abreast of him, he discovered Gorph alone upon the back of his mammoth.

“Where is Mumal?” inquired von Horst.

Gorph looked at him and scowled. “She is sick,” he said. “I hope she dies; then I could get me a good mate. I will not hunt for two of them and their brats.”

Presently the trail wound up the side of the canyon to the summit of a ridge that paralleled a steep-sided canyon. Here the tribe dismounted, turning the mammoths over to the herders; after which the men, women, and children ranged themselves along the edge of the canyon which formed an amphitheater below them.

“This,” said the warrior with whom von Horst had ridden, “is the little canyon.”

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