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[Illustration: GREAT TRUNK SHOT DOWNWARD AND BACKWARD PICKED UP THE MAN AND HURLED HIM YARDS AWAY]
THE STORY OF AB
A TALE OF THE TIME OF THE CAVE MAN
Author of “A Man and a Woman,” “An Odd Situation,” etc.
This is the story of Ab, a man of the Age of Stone, who lived so long ago that we cannot closely fix the date, and who loved and fought well.
In his work the author has been cordially assisted by some of the ablest searchers of two continents into the life history of prehistoric times. With characteristic helpfulness and interest, these already burdened students have aided and encouraged him, and to them he desires to express his sense of profound obligation and his earnest thanks.
Once only does the writer depart from accepted theories of scientific research. After an at least long-continued study of existing evidence and information relating to the Stone Ages, the conviction grew upon him that the mysterious gap supposed by scientific teachers to divide Paleolithic from Neolithic man never really existed. No convulsion of nature, no new race of human beings is needed to explain the difference between the relics of Paleolithic and Neolithic strugglers. Growth, experiment, adaptation, discovery, inevitable in man, sufficiently account for all the relatively swift changes from one form of primitive life to another more advanced, from the time of chipped to that of polished implements. Man has been, from the beginning, under the never resting, never hastening, forces of evolution. The earth from which he sprang holds the record of his transformations in her peat-beds, her buried caverns and her rocky fastnesses. The eternal laws change man, but they themselves do not change.
Ab and Lightfoot and others of the cave people whose story is told in the tale which follows the author cannot disown. He has shown them as they were. Hungry and cold, they slew the fierce beasts which were scarcely more savage than they, and were fed and clothed by their flesh and fur. In the caves of the earth the cave men and their families were safely sheltered. Theirs were the elemental wants and passions. They were swayed by love, in some form at least, by jealousy, fear, revenge, and by the memory of benefits and wrongs. They cherished their young; they fought desperately with the beasts of their time, and with each other, and, when their brief, turbulent lives were ended, they passed into silence, but not into oblivion. The old Earth carefully preserved their story, so that we, their children, may read it now.
I. THE BABE IN THE WOODS.
II. MAN AND HYENA.
III. A FAMILY DINNER.
IV. AB AND OAK.
V. A GREAT ENTERPRISE.
VI. A DANGEROUS VISITOR.
VII. THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS.
VIII. SABRE-TOOTH AND RHINOCEROS.
IX. DOMESTIC MATTERS.
X. OLD MOK, THE MENTOR.
XI. DOINGS AT HOME.
XII. OLD MOK’S TALES.
XIII. AB’S GREAT DISCOVERY.
XIV. A LESSON IN SWIMMING.
XV. A MAMMOTH AT BAY.
XVI. THE FEAST OF THE MAMMOTH.
XVII. THE COMRADES.
XVIII. LOVE AND DEATH.
XIX. A RACE WITH DREAD.
XX. THE FIRE COUNTRY.
XXI. THE WOOING OF LIGHTFOOT.
XXII. THE HONEYMOON.
XXIII. MORE OF THE HONEYMOON.
XXIV. THE FIRE COUNTRY AGAIN.
XXV. A GREAT STEP FORWARD.
XXVI. FACING THE RAIDER.
XXVII. LITTLE MOK.
XXVIII. THE BATTLE OF THE BARRIERS.
XXIX. OLD HILLTOP’S LAST STRUGGLE.
XXX. OUR VERY GREAT GRANDFATHER.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
BY SIMON HARMON VEDDER
“HIS GREAT TRUNK SHOT DOWNWARD AND BACKWARD, PICKED UP THE MAN, AND HURLED HIM YARDS AWAY”
“AB SEIZED UPON TWO OF THE SNARLING CUBS, AND OAK DID THE SAME”
“AB SPRANG TO HIS FEET, AND DREW HIS ARROW TO THE HEAD”
“THE YOUNG MEN CALLED TO HER, BUT SHE MADE NO ANSWER. SHE BUT FISHED AWAY DEMURELY”
“AB STOOD THERE WEAPONLESS, A CREATURE WANDERING OF MIND”
“WITH A GREAT LEAP HE WENT AT AND THROUGH THE CURLING CREST OF THE YELLOW FLAME!”
“THE GIRL COWERED BEHIND A REFUGE OF LEAVES AND BRANCHES”
“UPON THE STRONG SHAFT OF ASH THE MONSTER WAS IMPALED”
THE STORY OF AB.
THE BABE IN THE WOODS.
Drifted beech leaves had made a soft, clean bed in a little hollow in a wood. The wood was beside a river, the trend of which was toward the east. There was an almost precipitous slope, perhaps a hundred and fifty feet from the wood, downward to the river. The wood itself, a sort of peninsula, was mall in extent and partly isolated from the greater forest back of it by a slight clearing. Just below the wood, or, in fact, almost in it and near the crest of the rugged bank, the mouth of a small cave was visible. It was so blocked with stones as to leave barely room for the entrance of a human being. The little couch of beech leaves already referred to was not many yards from the cave.
On the leafy bed rolled about and kicked up his short legs in glee a little brown babe. It was evident that he could not walk yet and his lack of length and width and thickness indicated what might be a babe not more than a year of age, but, despite his apparent youth, this man-child seemed content thus left alone, while his grip on the twigs which had fallen into his bed was strong, as he was strong, and he was breaking them delightedly. Not only was the hair upon his head at least twice as long as that of the average year-old child of today, but there were downy indications upon his arms and legs, and his general aspect was a swart and rugged one. He was about as far from a weakly child in appearance as could be well imagined and he was about as jolly a looking baby, too, as one could wish to see. He was laughing and cooing as he kicked about among the beech leaves and looked upward at the blue sky. His dress has not yet been alluded to and an apology for the negligence may be found in the fact that he had no dress. He wore nothing. He was a baby of the time of the cave men; of the closing period of the age of chipped stone instruments; the epoch of mild climate; the ending of one great animal group and the beginning of another; the time when the mammoth, the rhinoceros, the great cave tiger and cave bear, the huge elk, reindeer and aurochs and urus and hosts of little horses, fed or gamboled in the same forests and plains, with much discretion as to relative distances from each other.
It was some time ago, no matter how many thousands of years, when the child–they called him Ab–lay there, naked, upon his bed of beech leaves. It may be said, too, that there existed for him every chance for a lively and interesting existence. There was prospect that he would be engaged in running away from something or running after something during most of his life. Times were not dull for humanity in the age of stone. The children had no lack of things to interest, if not always to amuse, them, and neither had the men and women. And this is the truthful story of the boy Ab and his playmates and of what happened when he grew to be a man.
It is well to speak here of the river. The stream has been already mentioned as flowing to the eastward. It did not flow in that direction regularly; its course was twisted and diverted, and there were bays and inlets and rapids between precipices, and islands and wooded peninsulas, and then the river merged into a lake of miles in extent, the waters converging into the river again. So it was that the banks in one place might form a height and in another merge evenly into a densely wooded forest or a wide plain. It was so, too, that these conditions might exist opposite each other. Thus the woodland might face the plain, or the precipice some vast extending marsh.
To speak further of this river it may be mentioned, incidentally, that to-day its upper reaches still exist and that the relatively small stream remaining is called the Thames. Beside and across it lies the greatest city in the world and its mouth is upon what is called the English Channel. At the time when the baby, Ab, slept that afternoon in his nest in the beech leaves this river was not called the Thames, it was only called the Running Water, to distinguish it from the waters of the coast. It did not empty into the British Channel, for the simple and sufficient reason that there was no such channel at the time. Where now exists that famous passage which makes islands of Great Britain, where, tossed upon the choppy waves, the travelers of the world are seasick, where Drake and Howard chased the Great Armada to the Northern seas and where, to-day, the ships of the nations are steered toward a social and commercial center, was then good, solid earth crowned with great forests, and the present little tail end of a river was part of a great affluent of the Rhine, the German river famous still, but then with a size and sweep worth talking of. Then the Thames and the Elbe and Weser, into which tumbled a thousand smaller streams, all went to feed what is now the Rhine, and that then tremendous river held its course through dense forests and deep gorges until it reached broad plains, where the North Sea is to-day, and blended finally with the Northern Ocean.
The trees which stood upon the bank of the great river, or which could be seen in the far distance beyond the marsh or plain, were not all the same as now exist. There was still a distinctive presence of the towering conifers, something such as are represented in the redwood forests of California to-day, or, in other forms, in some Australian woods. There was a suggestion of the fernlike but gigantic age of growth of the distant past, the past when the earth’s surface was yet warm and its air misty, and there was an exuberance of all plant and forest growth, something compared with which the growth in the same latitude, just now, would make, it may be, but a stunted showing. It is wonderful, though, the close resemblance between most of the trees of the cave man’s age, so many tens of thousands of years ago, and the trees most common to the temperate zone to-day. The peat bogs and the caverns and the strata of deposits in a host of places tell truthfully what trees grew in this distant time. Already the oak and beech and walnut and butternut and hazel reared their graceful forms aloft, and the ground beneath their spreading branches was strewn with the store of nuts which gave a portion of food for many of the beasts and for man as well. The ash and the yew were there, tough and springy of fiber and destined in the far future to become famous in song and story, because they would furnish the wood from which was made the weapon of the bowman. The maple was there with all its symmetry. There was the elm, the dogged and beautiful tree-thing of to-day, which so clings to life and nourishes in the midst of unwholesome city surroundings and makes the human hive so much the better. There were the pines, the sycamore, the foxwood and dogwood, and lime and laurel and poplar and elder and willow, and the cherry and crab apple and others of the fruit-bearing kind, since so developed that they are great factors in man’s subsistence now. It was a time of plenty which was riotous. There remained, too, a vestige of the animal as well as of the vegetable life of the remoter ages. There were strange and dangerous creatures which came sometimes up the river from its inlet into the ocean. Such events had been matters of interest, not to say of anxiety, to Ab’s ancestors.
The baby lying there among the beech leaves tired, finally, of its cooing and twig-snapping and slept the sleep of dreamless early childhood. He slept happily and noiselessly, but when he at last awoke his demeanor showed a change. He had nothing to distract him, unless it might be the breaking of twigs again. He had no toys, and, being hungry, he began to yell. So far as can be learned from early data, babies, when hungry, have always yelled. And, of old, as to-day, when a baby yelled, the woman who had borne it was likely to appear at once upon the scene. Ab’s mother came running lightly from the river bank toward where the youngster lay. She was worthy of attention as she ran, and this is but a bungling attempt at a description of her and of her dress.
It should be explained here, with much care and caution, that the mother of Ab moved in the best and most exclusive circles of the time. She belonged to the aristocracy and, it may be added, regarding this fine lady personally, that she had the weakness of paying much attention to her dress. She was what might properly be called a leader of society, though society was at the time somewhat attenuated, families living, generally, some miles apart, and various obstacles, chiefly in the form of large, man-eating animals, complicating the matter of paying calls. As for the calls themselves, they were nearly as often aggressive as social, and there is a certain degree of difference between the vicious use of a flint ax and the leaving of a card with a bending lackey. But all this doesn’t matter. The mother of Ab belonged to the very cream of the cream, and was dressed accordingly. Her garb was elegant but simple; it had, first, the one great merit, that it could easily be put on or taken off. It was sustained with but a single knot, a bow-knot–they had learned to make a bow-knot and other knots in the stone age, for, because of the manual requirements for living, they were cleverer fumblers with their fingers than we are now–and the lady here described had tied her knot in a manner not to be excelled by any other woman in all the fiercely beast-ranged countryside.
The gown itself was of a quality to please the eye of the most carping. It was made from the skins of wolverines, and was drawn in loosely about the waist by a tied band, but was really sustained by a strip of the skin which encircled the left shoulder and back and breast. This left the right arm free from all encumbrance, a matter of some importance, for to be right-handed was a quality of the cave man as of the man today. We should have a grudge against them for this carelessness, and should, may be, form an ambidextrous league, improving upon the past and teaching and forcing young children to use each hand alike.
The garment of wolverine skins, sewed neatly together with thread of sinews, was all the young mother wore. Thus hanging from the shoulder and fully encircling her, it reached from the waist to about half way down between the hips and the knees. It was as delightful a gown as ever was contrived by ambitious modiste or mincing male designer in these modern times. It fitted with a free and easy looseness and its colors were such as blended smoothly and kindly with the complexion of its wearer. The fur of the wolverine was a mixed black and white, but neither black nor white is the word to use. The black was not black; it was only a swart sort of color, and the white was not white; it was but a dingy, lighter contrast to the darker surface beside it. Yet the combination was rather good. There was enough of difference to catch the eye and not enough of glaringness to offend it. The mother of Ab would be counted by a wise observer as the possessor of good taste. Still, dress is a small matter. There is something to say about the cave mother aside from the mere description of her gown.
MAN AND HYENA.
It is but an act of simple gallantry and justice to assert that the cave woman had a certain unhampered swing of movement which the modern woman often lacks. Without any reflection upon the blessed woman of to-day, it must be said truthfully that she can neither leap a creek nor surmount some such obstacle as a monster tree trunk with a close approach to the ease and grace of this mother who came bounding through the forest. There was nothing unknowing or hesitant about her movements. She ran swiftly and leaped lightly when occasion came. She was lithe as the panther and as careless of where her brown feet touched the ground.
The woman had physical charms. She was of about the average size of womanhood as we see it embodied now, but her waist was not compressed at an unseemly angle, and much resembled in its contour that of the Venus of Milo which has become such a stock example of the healthfully symmetrical. Her hair was brown and long. It was innocent of knot or coil or braid, and was transfixed by no abatis of dangerous pins. It was not parted but was thrown straight backward over the head and hung down fairly and far between brown shoulders. It was a fine head of hair; there could be no question about that. It had gloss and color. Captious critics, reasoning from the standpoint of another age, might think it needed combing, but that is only a matter of opinion. It was tangled together in a compact and fluffy mass, and so did not wander into the woman’s eyes, which was a good thing and a great convenience, for bright eyes and unobstructed vision were required in those lively days.
The face of this lady showed, at a glance, that no cosmetic had ever been relied upon to give it an artificial charm. As a matter of fact it would have been difficult to use cosmetics upon that face in the modern way, for there was a suggestion of something more than down upon the countenance, and there were certain irregularities of facial outline so prominent that such details as the little matter of complexion must be trifling. The eyes were deep set and small, the nose was short and thick and possessed a certain vagueness of outline not easy of description. The upper lip was excessively long and the under lip protruding. The chin was well defined and firm. The mouth was rather wide, and the teeth were strong and even, and as white as any ivory ever seen. Such was the face, and there may be added some details of interest about the figure. The arms of this fascinating woman were perfectly proportioned. They were adapted to the times and were very beautiful. Down each of them from shoulder to elbow ran a strip of short dark hair. From either hand ran upward to the elbow another strip of hair, and the two, meeting at the elbow, formed a delightful little tuft reminding one of what is known as a “widow’s peak,” or that little point which grows down so charmingly on an occasional woman’s forehead. Her biceps were tremendous, as must necessarily be the case with a lady accustomed to swing from limb to limb along the treetops. Her thumb was nearly as long as her fingers, and the palms of her hands were hard. Her legs were like her arms in their degree of muscular development and hairy adornment. She had beautiful feet. It is to be admitted that her heels projected a trifle more than is counted the ideal thing at the present day, and that her big toe and all the other toes were very much in evidence, but there is not one woman in ten thousand now who could as handily pick up objects with her toes as could the mother of the baby Ab. She was as brown as a nut, with the tan of a half tropical summer, and as healthy a creature, from tawny head to backward sloping heel, as ever trod a path in the world’s history. This was the quality of the lady who came so swiftly to learn the nature of her offspring’s trouble. Ladies of that day attended, as a rule, to the wants of their own children. A wet nurse was a thing unknown and a dry one as unthought of. This was good for the children.
The woman made a dive into the little hollow and picked the babe from its nest of leaves and tossed him up lightly, and at once his crying ceased, and his little brown arms went around her neck, and he cooed and prattled in very much the same fashion as does a babe of the present time. He was content, all in a moment, yet some noise must have aroused him, for, as it chanced, there was great need that this particular babe at this particular moment should have awakened and cried aloud for his mother. This was made evident immediately. As the woman tossed him aloft in her arms and cuddled him again there came a sound to her ears which made her leap like some wilder creature of the forest up to a little vantage ground. She turned her head, and then–you should have seen the woman!
Very nearly above them swung down one of the branches of a great beech tree. The mother threw the child into the hollow of her left arm, and leaped upward a yard to catch the branch with her right hand. So she hung dangling. Then, instantly, holding him firmly by one arm in her left hand, she lowered the child between her legs and clasped them about him closely. And then, had it been your fortune to be born in those times, you might have seen good climbing. With both her strong arms free, this vigorous matron ran up the stout beech limb which depended downward from the great bole of the tree until she was twenty feet above the ground, and then, lifting herself into a comfortable place, in a moment was sitting there at ease, her legs and one arm coiled about the big branch and a smaller upstanding one, while the other arm held the brown babe close to her bosom.
This charming lady of the period had reached her perch in the beech tree top none too soon. Even as she swung herself into place upon the huge bough, there came rushing across the space beneath, snarling, smelling and seeking, a brute as foul and dangerous as could be imagined for mother and son upon the ground. It was of a dirty dun color, mottled and striped with a lighter but still dingy hue. It had a black, hoggish nose, but there were fangs in its great jaws. It resembled a huge wolf, save as to its massiveness and club countenance, It was one of the monster hyenas of the time, a beast which must have been as dangerous to the men then living as any animal except the cave tiger and the cave bear. Its degenerate posterity, as they shuffle uneasily back and forth when caged to-day, are perhaps not less foul of aspect, but are relatively pygmies. Doubtless the brute had scented the sleeping babe, and, snarling aloud in its search, had waked it, inducing the cry which proved the child’s salvation.
The beast scented immediately the prey above him and leaped upward ferociously and vainly. Was the woman thus beset thus holding herself aloft and with her child upon one arm in a state of sickening anxiety? Hardly! She but encircled the supporting branch the closer, and laughed aloud. She even poked one bare foot down at the leaping beast, and waved her leg in provocation. At the same time there was no doubt that she was beset. Furthermore she was hungry, and so she raised her voice, and sent out through the forest a strange call, a quavering minor wail, but something to be heard at a great distance. There was no delay in the response, for delays were dangerous when cave men lived. The call was answered instantly and the answering cry was repeated as she called again, the sound of the reply approaching near and nearer all the time. All at once the manner of her calling changed; it was an appeal no longer; it was a conversation, an odd, clucking, penetrating speech in the shortest of sentences. She was telling of the situation. There was prompt reply; the voice seemed suddenly higher in the air and then came, swinging easily from branch to branch along the treetops, the father of Ab, a person who felt a natural and aggressive interest in what was going on.
To describe the cave man it is, it may be, best of all to say that he was the woman over again, only stronger, longer limbed and deeper chested, firmer of jaw and more grim of countenance. He was dressed almost as she was. From his broad shoulder hung a cloak of the skin of some wild beast but the cord which tied it was a stout one, and in the belt thus formed was stuck a weapon of such quality as men have rarely carried since. It was a stone ax; an ax heavier than any battle-ax of mediaeval times, its haft a scant three feet in length, inclosing the ax through a split in the tough wood, all being held in place by a taut and hardened mass of knotted sinews. It was a fearful weapon, but one only to be wielded by such a man as this, one with arms almost as mighty as those of the gorilla.
The man sat himself upon the limb beside his wife and child. The two talked together in their clucking language for a moment or two, but few words were wasted. Words had not their present abundance in those days; action was everything. The man was hungry, too, and wanted to get home as soon as possible. He had secured food, which was awaiting them, and this slight, annoying episode of the day must be ended promptly. He clambered easily up the tree and wrenched off a deadened limb at least two yards in length, then tumbling back again and passing his wife and child along the main branch, he swung down to where the leaping beast could almost reach him. The heavy club he carried gave him an advantage. With a whistling sweep, as the hyena leaped upward in its ravenous folly, came this huge club crashing against the thick skull, a blow so fair and stark and strong that the stunned beast fell backward upon the ground, and then, down, lightly as any monkey, dropped the cave man. The huge stone ax went crashing into the brain of the quivering brute, and that was the end of the incident. Mother and child leaped down together, and the man and woman went chattering toward their cave. This was not a particularly eventful day with them; they were accustomed to such things.
They went strolling off through the beech glades, the strong, hairy, heavy-jawed man, the muscular but more lightly built woman and the child, perched firmly and chattering blithely upon her shoulder as they walked, or, rather, half trotted along the river side and toward the cave. They were light of foot and light of thought, but there was ever that almost unconscious alertness appertaining to their time. Their flexible ears twitched, and turned, now forward now backward, to catch the slightest sound. Their nostrils were open for dangerous scents, or for the scent of that which might give them food, either animal or vegetable, and as for the eyes, well, they were the sharpest existent within the history of the human race. They were keen of vision at long distance and close at hand, and ever were they in motion, swiftly turned sidewise this way and that, peering far ahead or looking backward to note what enemies of the wood might be upon the trail. So, swiftly along the glade and ever alert, went the father and mother of Ab, carrying the strong child with them.
There came no new alarm, and soon the cave was reached, though on the way there was a momentary deviation from the path, to gather up the nuts and berries the woman had found in the afternoon while the babe was lying sleeping. The fruitage was held in a great leaf, a pliant thing pulled together at the edges, tied stoutly with a strand of tough grass, and making a handy pouch containing a quart or two of the food, which was the woman’s contribution to the evening meal. As for the father, he had more to offer, as was evident when the cave was reached.
The man and woman crept through the narrow entrance and stood erect in a recess in the rocks twenty feet square, at least, and perhaps fifteen feet in height. Looking upward one could see a gleam of light from the outer world. The orifice through which the light came was the chimney, dug downward with much travail from the level of the land above. Directly underneath the opening was the fireplace, for men had learned thoroughly the use of fire, and had even some fancies as to getting rid of smoke. There were smoldering embers upon the hearth, embers of the hardest of wood, the wood which would preserve a fire for the greatest length of time, for the cave man had neither flint and steel nor matches, and when a fire expired it was a matter of some difficulty to secure a flame again. On this occasion there was no trouble. The embers were beaten up easily into glowing coals and twigs and dry dead limbs cast upon them made soon a roaring flame. As the cave was lighted the proprietor pointed laughingly to the abundance of meat he had secured. It was food of the finest sort and in such quantity that even this stalwart being’s strength must have been exceptionally tested in bringing the burden to the cave. It was something in quality for an epicure of the day and there was enough of it to make the cave man’s family easy for a week, at least. It was a hind quarter of a wild horse.
A FAMILY DINNER.
Despite the hyena and baby incident, the day had been a satisfactory one for this cave family. Of course, had the woman failed to reach just when she did the hollow in which her babe was left there would have come a tragedy in the extinction of a young and promising cave child, and the two would have been mourning, as even wild beasts mourn for their lost young. But there was little reversion to past possibilities in the minds of the cave people. The couple were not worrying over what might have been. The mother had found food of one sort in abundance, and the father’s fortune had been royal. He had tossed a rock from a precipice a hundred feet in height down into a passing herd of the little wild horses, and great luck had followed, for one of them had been killed, and so this was a holiday in the cave. The man and wife were at ease and had each an appetite.
The nuts gathered by the woman were tossed in a heap among the ashes and live coals were raked upon them, and the popping which followed showed how well they were being roasted. A sturdy twig, two yards in length and sharpened at the end, was utilized by the man in cooking the strips of meat cut from the haunch of the wild horse and very savory were the odors that filled the cave. There was the faint perfume of the crackling nuts and there was the fragrant beneficence of the broiling meat. There are no definite records upon the subject; the chef of to-day can give you no information on the point, but there is reason to believe that a steak from the wild horse of the time was something admirable. There is a sort of maxim current in this age, in civilized rural communities, to the effect that those quadrupeds are good to eat which “chew the cud or part the hoof.” The horse of to-day is a creature with but one toe to each leg–we all know that–but the horse of the cave man’s time had only lately parted with the split hoof, and so was fairly edible, even according to the modern standard.
The father and mother of Ab were not more than two years past their honeymoon. They, in their way, were glad that their union had been so blest and that a lusty man-child was rolling about and crowing and cooing upon the earthen floor of the cave. They lived from hand to mouth, and from day to day, and this day had been a good one. They were there together, man, woman and child. They had warmth and food. The entrance to the cave was barred so that no monster of the period might enter. They could eat and sleep with a certainty of the perfect digestion which followed such a life as theirs and with a certainty of all peace for the moment. Even the child mumbled heartily, though not yet very strongly, at the delicious meat of the little horse, and, the meal ended, the two lay down upon a mass of leaves which made their bed, and the child lay snuggled and warm within reach of them. The aristocracy of the time had gone to sleep.
There was silence in the cave, but, outside, the world was not so still. The night was not always one of silence in the cave man’s time. The hours of darkness were those when the creature which walked upon two legs was no longer gliding through the forest with ready club or spear, and when those creatures which used four legs instead of two, especially the defenseless, felt more at ease than in the daytime. The grass-eating animals emerged from the forest into the plateaus and upon the low plains along the river side and the flesh-eaters began again their hunting. It was a time of wild life, and of wild death, for out of the abundance much was taken; there were nightly tragedies, and the beasts of prey were as glutted as the urus or the elk which fed on the sweet grasses. It was but a matter of difference in diet and in the manner of doing away with one life which must be sacrificed to support another. There was liveliness at night with the queer thing, man, out of the way, and brutes and beasts of many sorts, taking their chances together, were happier with him absent. They could not understand him, and liked him not, though the great-clawed and sharp-toothed ones had a vast desire to eat him. He was a disturbing element in the community of the plain and forest.
And, while all this play of life and death went on outside, the three people, the man, woman and child, in the cave slept as soundly as sleep the drunken or the just. They were full-fed and warm and safe. No beast of a size greater than that of a lank wolf or sinewy wildcat could enter the cave through the narrow entrance between the heaped-up rocks, and of these, as of any other dangerous beast, there was none which would face what barred even the narrow passage, for it was fire. Just at the entrance the all-night fire of knots and hardest wood smoked, flamed and smoldered and flickered, and then flamed again, and held the passageway securely. No animal that ever lived, save man, has ever dared the touch of fire. It was the cave man’s guardian.
AB AND OAK.
Such were the father and mother of Ab, and such was the boy himself. His surroundings have not been indicated with all the definiteness desirable, because of the lack of certain data, but, in a general way, the degree of his birth, the manner of his rearing and the natural aspects of his estate have been described. That the young man had a promising future could not admit of doubt. He was the first-born of an important family of a great race and his inheritance had no boundaries. Just where the possessions of the Ab family began or where they terminated no bird nor beast nor human being could tell. The estates of the family extended from the Mediterranean to the Arctic Ocean and there were no dividing lines. Of course, something depended upon the existence or non-existence of a stronger cave family somewhere else, but that mattered not. And the babe grew into a sturdy youth, just as grow the boys of today, and had his friendships and adventures. He did not attend the public schools–the school system was what might reasonably be termed inefficient in his time–nor did he attend a private school, for the private schools were weak, as well, but he did attend the great school of Nature from the moment he opened his eyes in the morning until he closed them at night. Of his schoolboy days and his friendships and his various affairs, this is the immediate story.
The father and mother of Ab as has, it is hoped, been made apparent, were strong people, intelligent up to the grade of the time and worthy of regard in many ways. The two could fairly hold their own, not only against the wild beasts, but against any other cave pair, should the emergency arise. They had names, of course. The name of Ab’s father was One-Ear, the sequence of an incident occurring when he was very young, an accidental and too intimate acquaintance with a species of wildcat which infested the region and from which the babe had been rescued none too soon. The name of Ab’s mother was Red-Spot, and she had been so called because of a not unsightly but conspicuous birthmark appearing on her left shoulder. As to ancestry, Ab’s father could distinctly remember his own grandfather as the old gentleman had appeared just previous to his consumption by a monstrous bear, and Red-Spot had some vague remembrance of her own grandmother.
As for Ab’s own name, it came from no personal mark or peculiarity or as the result of any particular incident of his babyhood. It was merely a convenient adaptation by his parents of a childish expression of his own, a labial attempt to say something. His mother had mimicked his babyish prattlings, the father had laughed over the mimicry, and, almost unconsciously, they referred to their baby afterward as “Ab,” until it grew into a name which should be his for life. There was no formal early naming of a child in those days; the name eventually made itself, and that was all there was to it. There was, for instance, a child living not many miles away, destined to be a future playmate and ally of Ab, who, though of nearly the same age, had not yet been named at all. His title, when he finally attained it, was merely Oak. This was not because he was straight as an oak, or because he had an acorn birthmark, but because adjoining the cave where he was born stood a great oak with spreading limbs, from one of which was dangled a rude cradle, into which the babe was tied, and where he would be safe from all attacks during the absence of his parents on such occasions as they did not wish the burden of carrying him about. “Rock-a-by-baby upon the tree-top” was often a reality in the time of the cave men.
Ab was fortunate in being born at a reasonably comfortable stage of the world’s history. He had a decent prospect as to clothing and shelter, and there was abundance of food for those brave enough or ingenious enough to win it. The climate was not enervating. There were cold times for the people of the epoch and, in their seasons, harsh and chilling winds swept over bare and chilling glaciers, though a semi-tropical landscape was all about. So suddenly had come the change from frigid cold to moderate warmth, that the vast fields of ice once moving southward were not thawed to their utmost depths even when rank vegetation and a teeming life had sprung up in the now European area, and so it came that, in some places, cold, white monuments and glittering plateaus still showed themselves amid the forest and fed the tumbling streams which made the rivers rushing to the ocean. There were days of bitter cold in winter and sultry heat in summer.
It may fairly be borne in mind of this child Ab that he was somewhat different from the child of to-day, and nearer the quadruped in his manner of swift development. The puppy though delinquent in the matter of opening it’s eyes, waddles clumsily upon its legs very early in its career. Ab, of course, had his eyes open from the beginning, and if the babe of to-day were to stand upright as soon as Ab did, his mother would be the proudest creature going and his father, at the club, would be acting intolerable. It must be admitted, though, that neither One-Ear nor Red-Spot manifested an extraordinary degree of enthusiasm over the precociousness of their first-born. He was not, for the time, remarkable, and parents of the day were less prone than now to spoiling children. Ab’s layette had been of beech leaves, his bed had been of beech leaves, and a beech twig, supple and stinging, had already been applied to him when he misbehaved himself. As he grew older his acquaintance with it would be more familiar. Strict disciplinarians in their way, though affectionate enough after their own fashion, were the parents of the time.
The existence of this good family of the day continued without dire misadventure. Ab at nine years of age was a fine boy. There could be no question about that. He was as strong as a young gibbon, and, it must be admitted, in certain characteristics would have conveyed to the learned observer of to-day a suggestion of that same animal. His eyes were bright and keen and his mouth and nose were worth looking at. His nose was broad, with nostrils aggressively prominent, and as for his mouth, it was what would be called to-day excessively generous in its proportions for a boy of his size. But it did not lack expression. His lips could quiver at times, or become firmly set, and there was very much of what might, even then, be called “manliness” in the general bearing of the sturdy little cave child. He had never cried much when a babe–cave children were not much addicted to crying, save when very hungry–and he had grown to his present stature, which was not very great, with a healthfulness and general manner of buoyancy all the time. He was as rugged a child of his age as could be found between the shore that lay long leagues westward of what is now the western point of Ireland and anywhere into middle Europe. He had begun to have feelings and hopes and ambitions, too. He had found what his surroundings meant. He had at least done one thing well. He had made well-received advances toward a friend; and a friend is a great thing for a boy, when he is another boy of about the same age. This friendship was not quite commonplace.
Ab, who could climb like a young monkey, laid most casually the foundation for this companionship which was to affect his future life. He had scrambled, one day, up a tree standing near the cave, and, climbing out along a limb near its top, had found a comfortable resting-place, and there upon the swaying bough was “teetering” comfortably, when something in another tree, further up the river, caught his sharp eye. It was a dark mass,–it might have been anything caught in a treetop,–but the odd part of it was that it was “teetering” just as he was. Ab watched the object for a long time curiously, and finally decided that it must be another boy, or perhaps a girl, who was swaying in the distant tree. There came to him a vigorous thought. He resolved to become better acquainted; he resolved dimly, for this was the first time that any idea of further affiliation with anyone had come into his youthful mind. Of course, it must not be understood that he had been in absolute retirement throughout his young but not uneventful life. Other cave men and women, sometimes accompanied by their children, had visited the cave of One-Ear and Red-Spot and Ab had become somewhat acquainted with other human beings and with what were then the usages of the best hungry society. He had never, though, become really familiar with anyone save his father and mother and the children which his mother had borne after him, a boy and a girl. This particular afternoon a sudden boyish yearning came upon him. He wanted to know who the youth might be who was swinging in the distant tree. He was a resolute young cub, and to determine was to act.
It was rare, particularly in the wooded districts of the country of the cave men, for a boy of nine to go a mile from home alone. There was danger lurking in every rod and rood, and, naturally, such a boy would not be versed in all woodcraft, nor have the necessary strength of arm for a long arboreal journey, swinging himself along beneath the intermingling branches of close-standing trees. So this departure was, for Ab, a venture something out of the common. But he was strong for his age, and traversed rapidly a considerable distance through the treetops in the direction of what he saw. Once or twice, though, there came exigencies of leaping and grasping aloft to which he felt himself unequal, and then, plucky boy as he was, he slid down the bole of the tree and, looking about cautiously, made a dash across some little glade and climbed again. He had traversed little more than half the distance toward the object he sought when his sharp ears caught the sound of rustling leaves ahead of him. He slipped behind the trunk of the tree into whose top he was clambering and then, reaching out his head, peered forward warily. As he thus ensconced himself, the sound he had heard ceased suddenly. It was odd. The boy was perplexed and somewhat anxious. He could but peer and peer and remain absolutely quiet. At last his searching watchfulness was rewarded. He saw a brown protuberance on the side of a great tree, above where the branches began, not twoscore yards distant from him, and that brown protuberance moved slightly. It was evident that the protuberance was watching him as he was watching it. He realized what it meant. There was another boy there! He was not particularly afraid of another boy and at once came out of hiding. The other boy came calmly into view as well. They sat there, looking at each other, each at ease upon a great branch, each with an arm sustaining himself, each with his little brown legs dangling carelessly, and each gazing upon the other with bright eyes evincing alike watchfulness and curiosity and some suspicion. So they sat, perched easily, these excellent young, monkeyish boys of the time, each waiting for the other to begin the conversation, just as two boys wait when they thus meet today. Their talk would not perhaps be intelligible to any professor of languages in all the present world, but it was a language, however limited its vocabulary, which sufficed for the needs of the men and women and children of the cave time. It was Ab who first broke the silence:
“Who are you?” he said.
“I am Oak,” responded the other boy. “Who are you?”
“Me? Oh, I am Ab.”
“Where do you come from?”
“From the cave by the beeches; and where do you come from?”
“I come from the cave where the river turns, and I am not afraid of you.”
“I am not afraid of you, either,” said Ab.
“Let us climb down and get upon that big rock and throw stones at things in the water,” said Oak.
“All right,” said Ab.
And the two slid, one after the other, down the great tree trunks and ran rapidly to the base of a huge rock overtopping the river, and with sides almost perpendicular, but with crevices and projections which enabled the expert youngsters to ascend it with ease. There was a little plateau upon its top a few yards in area and, once established there, the boys were safe from prowling beasts. And this was the manner of the first meeting of two who were destined to grow to manhood together, to be good companions and have full young lives, howbeit somewhat exciting at times, and to affect each other for joy and sorrow, and good and bad, and all that makes the quality of being.
A GREAT ENTERPRISE.
What always happens when two boys not yet fairly in their ‘teens meet, at first aggressively, and then, each gradually overcoming this apprehension of the other, decide upon a close acquaintance and long comradeship? Their talk is firmly optimistic and they constitute much of the world. As for Ab and Oak, when there had come to them an ease in conversation, there dawned gradually upon each the idea that, next to himself, the other was probably the most important personage in the world, fitting companion and confederate of a boy who in an incredibly short space of time was going to become a man and do things on a tremendous scale. Seated upon the rock, a point of ease and vantage, they talked long of what two boys might do, and so earnest did they become in considering their possible great exploits that Ab demanded of Oak that he go with him to his home. This was a serious matter. It was a no slight thing for a boy of that day, allowed a playground within certain limits adjacent to his cave home, to venture far away; but this in Oak’s life was a great occasion. It was the first time he had ever met and talked with a boy of his age, and he became suddenly reckless, assenting promptly to Ab’s proposal. They ran along the forest paths together toward Ab’s cave, clucking in their queer language and utilizing in that short journey most of the brief vocabulary of the day in anticipatory account of what they were going to do.
Ab’s father and mother rather approved of Oak. They even went so far as to consent that Ab might pay a return visit upon the succeeding day, though it was stipulated that the father–and this was a demand the mother made–should accompany the boy upon most of the journey. One-Ear knew Oak’s father very well. Oak’s father, Stripe-Face, was a man of standing in the widely-scattered community. Stripe-Face was so called because in a casual, and, on his part, altogether uninvited encounter with a cave bear when he was a young man, a sweep of the claws of his adversary had plowed furrows down one cheek, leaving scars thereafter which were livid streaks. One-Ear and Stripe-Face were good friends. Sometimes they hunted together; they had fought together, and it was nothing out of the way, and but natural, that Ab and Oak should become companions. So it came that One-Ear went across the forest with his boy the next day and visited the cave of Stripe-Face, and that the two young cubs went out together buoyant and in conquering mood, while the grown men planned something for their own advantage. Certainly the boys matched well. A finer pair of youngsters of eight or nine years of age could hardly be imagined than these two who sallied forth that afternoon. They send very fine boys nowadays to our great high schools in the United States, and to Rugby and Eaton and Harrow in England, but never went forth a finer pair to learn things. No smattering of letters or lore of any printed sort had these rugged youths, but their eyes were piercing as those of the eagle, the grip of their hands was strong, their pace was swift when they ran upon the ground and their course almost as rapid when they swung along the treetops. They were self-possessed and ready and alert and prepared to pass an examination for admission to any university of the time; that is, to any of Nature’s universities, where matriculation depended upon prompt conception of existing dangers and the ways of avoiding them, and of all adroitness in attainments which gave food and shelter and safety. Eh! but they were a gallant pair, these two young gentlemen who burst forth, owning the world entirely and feeling a serene confidence in their ability, united, to maintain their rights. And their ambitions soon took a definite turn. They decided that they must kill a horse!
The wild horse of the time, already referred to as esteemed for his edible qualities, was, in the opinion of the cave people, but of moderate value otherwise. He was abundant, ranging in herds of hundreds along the pampas of the great Thames valley, and furnished forth abundant food for man as well as the wild beasts, when they could capture him. His skin, though, was not counted of much worth. Its short hair afforded little warmth in cloak or breech-clout, and the tanned pelt became hard and uncomfortable when it dried after a wetting. Still, there were various uses for this horse’s hide. It made fine strings and thongs, and the beast’s flesh, as has been said, was a staple of the larder. The first great resolve of Ab and Oak, these two gallant soldiers of fortune, was that, alone and unaided, they would circumvent and slay one of these wild horses, thereby astonishing their respective families, at the same time gaining the means for filling the stomachs of those families to repletion, and altogether covering themselves with glory.
Not in a day nor in a week were the plans of these youthful warriors and statesmen matured. The wild horse had long since learned that the creature man was as dangerous to it as were any of the fierce four-footed animals which hunted it, and its scent was good and its pace was swift and it went in herds and avoided doubtful places. Not so easy a task as it might seem was that which Ab and Oak had resolved upon. There must be some elaborate device to attain their end, but they were confident. They had noted often what older hunters did, and they felt themselves as good as anybody. They plotted long and earnestly and even made a mental distribution of their quarry, deciding what should be done with its skin and with its meat, far in advance of any determination upon a plan for its capture and destruction. They were boys.
There was no objection from the parents. They knew that the boys must learn to become hunters, and if the two were not now capable of taking care of themselves in the wood, then they were but disappointing offspring. Consent secured, the boys acted entirely upon their own responsibility, and, to make their subsequent plans clearer, it may be well to explain a little more of the geography of the region. The cave of Ab was on the north side of the stream, where the rocky banks came close together with a little beach at either side, and the cave of Oak was perhaps a mile to the westward, on the same side of the stream and with very similar surroundings. On the south side of the river, opposite the high banks between the two caves, the land was a prairie valley reaching far away. On the north side as well there was at one place a little valley, but it reached back only a few hundred yards from the river and was surrounded by the forest-crowned hills. The close standing oaks and beeches afforded, in emergency, a highway among their ranches, and along this pathway the boys were comparatively safe. Either could climb a tree at any time, and of the animals that were dangerous in the treetops there were but few; in fact, there was only one of note, a tawny, cat-like creature, not numerous, and resembling the lynx of the present day. Almost in the midst of the little plain or valley, on the north side of the river, rose a clump of trees, and in this the two boys saw means afforded them for a realization of their hopes. The wild horses fed daily in the valley to the north, as in the greater one to the south of the river. But there also, in the high grass, as upon the south, sometimes lurked the great beasts of prey, and to be far away from a tree upon the plain was an unsafe thing for a cave man. From the forest edge to the clump of trees was not more than two minutes’ rush for a vigorous boy and it was this fact which suggested to the youths their plan of capture of the horse.
The homes of the cave men were located, when possible, where the refuge of safety overhung closely the river’s bank, and where the non-climbing animals must pass along beneath them, but, even at that period of few men and abundant animal life, there had developed an acuteness among the weaker beasts, and they had learned to avoid certain paths that had proved fatal to their brethren. They were numerous in the plains and comparatively careless there, relying upon their speed to escape more dangerous wild beasts, but they passed rarely beneath the ledges, where a weighty rock dropped suddenly meant certain death. It was not a task entirely easy for the cave men to have meat with regularity, flush as was the life about them. New devices must be resorted to, and Ab and Oak were about to employ one not infrequently successful.
The clam of the period, particularly the clam along this reach of the upper Thames, was a marvel in his make-up. He was as large as he was luscious, as abundant as he was both and was a great feature in the food supply of the time. Not merely was he a feature in the food supply, but in a mechanical way, and the first object sought by the boys, after their plan had been agreed upon, was the shell of the great clam. They had no difficulty in securing what they wanted, for strewn all about each cave were the big shells in abundance. Sharp-edged, firm-backed, one of these shells made an admirable little shovel, something with which to cut the turf and throw up the soil, a most useful implement in the hands of the river haunting people. The idea of the youngsters was simply this: Their rendezvous should be at that point in the forest nearest the clump of trees standing solitary in the valley below. They would select the safest hours and then from the high ground make a sudden dash to the tree clump. They would be watchful, of course, and seek to avoid the class of animals for whom boys made admirable luncheon. Once at the clump of trees and safely ensconced among the branches, they could determine wisely upon the next step in their adventure. They were very knowing, these young men, for they had observed their elders. What they wanted to do, what was the end and aim of all this recklessness, was to dig a pit in this rich valley land close to the clump of trees, a pit say some ten feet in length by six feet in breadth and seven or eight feet in depth. That meant a gigantic labor. Gillian, of “The Toilers of the Sea,” assigned to himself hardly a greater task. These were boys of the cave kind and must, perforce, conduct themselves originally. As to the details of the plan, well, they were only vague, as yet, but rapidly assuming a form more definite.
The first thing essential for the boys was to reach the clump of trees. It was just before noon one day when they swung together on a tree branch sweeping nearly to the ground, and at a point upon the hill directly opposite the clump. This was the time selected for their first dash. They studied every square yard of the long grass of the little valley with anxious eyes. In the distance was feeding a small drove of wild horses and, farther away, close by the river side, upreared occasionally what might be the antlers of the great elk of the period. Between the boys and the clump of trees there was no movement of the grass, nor any sign of life. They could discern no trace of any lurking beast.
“Are you afraid?” asked Ab.
“Not if we run together.”
“All right,” said Ab; “let’s go it with a rush.”
The slim brown bodies dropped lightly to the ground together, each of the boys clasping one of the clamshells. Side by side they darted down the slope and across through the deep grass until the clump of trees was reached, when, like two young apes, they scrambled into the safety of the branches.
The tree up which they had clambered was the largest of the group and of dense foliage. It was one of the huge conifers of the age, but its branches extended to within perhaps thirty feet of the ground, and from the greatest of these side branches reached out, growing so close together as to make almost a platform. It was but the work of a half hour for these boys, with their arboreal gifts, to twine additional limbs together and to construct for themselves a solid nest and lookout where they might rest at ease, at a distance above the greatest leap of any beast existing. In this nest they curled themselves down and, after much clucking debate, formulated their plan of operation. Only one boy should dig at a time, the other must remain in the nest as a lookout.
Swift to act in those days were men, because necessity had made it a habit to them, and swifter still, as a matter of course, were impulsive boys. Their tree nest fairly made, work, they decided, must begin at once. The only point to be determined upon was regarding the location of the pit. There was a tempting spread of green herbage some hundred feet to the north and east of the tree, a place where the grass was high but not so high as it was elsewhere. It had been grazed already by the wandering horses and it was likely that they would visit the tempting area again. There, it was finally settled, should the pit be dug. It was quite a distance from the tree, but the increased chances of securing a wild horse by making the pit in that particular place more than offset, in the estimation of the boys, the added danger of a longer run for safety in an emergency. The only question remaining was as to who should do the first digging and who be the first lookout? There was a violent debate upon this subject.
“I will go and dig and you shall keep watch,” said Oak.
“No, I’ll dig and you shall watch,” was Ab’s response. “I can run faster than you.”
Oak hesitated and was reluctant. He was sturdy, this young gentleman, but Ab possessed, somehow, the mastering spirit. It was settled finally that Ab should dig and Oak should watch. And so Ab slid down the tree, clamshell in hand, and began laboring vigorously at the spot agreed upon.
It was not a difficult task for a strong boy to cut through tough grass roots with the keen edge of the clamshell. He outlined roughly and rapidly the boundaries of the pit to be dug and then began chopping out sods just as the workman preparing to garnish some park or lawn begins his work to-day. Meanwhile, Oak, all eyes, was peering in every direction. His place was one of great responsibility, and he recognized the fact. It was a tremendous moment for the youngsters.
A DANGEROUS VISITOR.
It was not alone necessary for the plans of Ab and Oak that there should be made a deep hole in the ground. It was quite as essential for their purposes that the earth removed should not be visible upon the adjacent surface. The location of the pit, as has been explained, was some yards to the northeast of the tree in which the lookout had been made. A few yards southwest of the tree was a slight declivity and damp hollow, for from that point the land sloped, in a reed-grown marsh toward the river. It was decided to throw into this marsh all the excavated soil, and so, when Ab had outlined the pit and cut up its surface into sods, he carried them one by one to the bank and cast them down among the reeds where the water still made little puddles. In time of flood the river spread out into a lake, reaching even as far as here. The sod removed, there was exposed a rectangle of black soil, for the earth was of alluvial deposit and easy of digging. Shellful after shellful of the dirt did Ab carry from where the pit was to be, trotting patiently back and forth, but the work was wearisome and there was a great waste of energy. It was Oak who gave an inspiration.
“We must carry more at a time,” he called out. And then he tossed down to Ab a wolfskin which had been given him by his father as a protection on cold nights and which he had brought along, tied about his waist, quite incidentally, for, ordinarily, these boys wore no clothing in warm weather. Clothing, in the cave time, appertained only to manhood and womanhood, save in winter. But Oak had brought the skin along because he had noticed a vast acorn crop upon his way to and from the rendezvous and had in mind to carry back to his own home cave some of the nuts. The pelt was now to serve an immediately useful purpose.
Spreading the skin upon the grass beside him, Ab heaped it with the dirt until there had accumulated as much as he could carry, when, gathering the corners together, he struggled with the enclosed load manfully to the bank and spilled it down into the morass. The digging went on rapidly until Ab, out of breath and tired, threw down the skin and climbed into the treetop and became the watchman, while Oak assumed his labor. So they worked alternately in treetop and upon the ground until the sun’s rays shot red and slanting from the west. Wiser than to linger until dusk had too far deepened were these youngsters of the period. The clamshells were left in the pit. The lookout above declared nothing in sight, then slid to the ground and joined his friend, and another dash was made to the hill and the safety of its treetops. It was in great spirits that the boys separated to seek their respective homes. They felt that they were personages of consequence. They had no doubt of the success of the enterprise in which they had embarked, and the next day found them together again at an early hour, when the digging was enthusiastically resumed.
Many a load of dirt was carried on the second day from the pit to the marsh’s edge, and only once did the lookout have occasion to suggest to his working companion that he had better climb the tree. A movement in the high grass some hundred yards away had aroused suspicion; some wild animal had passed, but, whatever it was, it did not approach the clump of trees and work was resumed at once. When dusk came the moist black soil found in the pit had all been carried away and the boys had reached, to their intense disgust, a stratum of hard packed gravel. That meant infinitely more difficult work for them and the use of some new utensil.
There was nothing daunting in the new problem. When it came to the mere matter of securing a tool for digging the hard gravel, both Ab and Oak were easily at home. The cave dwellers, haunting the river side for centuries, had learned how to deal with gravel, and when Ab returned to the scene the next day he brought with him a sturdy oaken stave some six feet in length, sharpened to a point and hardened in the fire until it was almost iron-like in its quality. Plunged into the gravel as far as the force of a blow could drive it, and pulled backward with the leverage obtained, the gravel was loosened and pried upward either in masses which could be lifted out entire, or so crumbled that it could be easily dished out with the clamshell. The work went on more slowly, but not less steadily nor hopefully than on the days preceding, and, for some time, was uninterrupted by any striking incident. The boys were becoming buoyant. They decided that the grassy valley was almost uninfested by things dangerous. They became reckless sometimes, and would work in the pit together. As a rule, though, they were cautious–this was an inherent and necessary quality of a cave being–and it was well for them that it was so, for when an emergency came only one of them was in the pit, while the other was aloft in the lookout and alert.
It was about three o’clock one afternoon when Ab, whose turn it chanced to be, was working valiantly in the pit, while Oak, all eyes, was perched aloft. Suddenly there came from the treetop a yell which was no boyish expression of exuberance of spirits. It was something which made Ab leap from the excavation as he heard it and reach the side of Oak as the latter came literally tumbling down the bole of the tree of watching.
“Run!” Oak said, and the two darted across the valley and reached the forest and clambered into safe hiding among the clustering branches. Then, in the intervals between his gasping breath, Oak managed to again articulate a word:
“Look!” he said.
Ab looked and, in an instant, realized how wise had been Oak’s alarming cry and how well it was for them that they were so distant from the clump of trees so near the river. What he saw was that which would have made the boys’ fathers flee as swiftly had they been in their children’s place. Yet what Ab looked upon was only a waving, in sinuous regularity, of the rushes between the tree clump and the river and the lifting of a head some ten or fifteen feet above the reed-tops. What had so alarmed the boys was what would have disturbed a whole tribe of their kinsmen, even though they had chanced to be assembled, armed to the teeth with such weapons as they then possessed. What they saw was not of the common. Very rarely indeed, along the Thames, had occurred such an invasion. The father of Oak had never seen the thing at all, and the father of Ab had seen it but once, and that many years before. It was the great serpent of the seas!
Safely concealed in the branches of a tree overlooking the little valley, the boys soon recovered their normal breathing capacity and were able to converse again. Not more than a couple of minutes, at the utmost, had passed between their departure from their place of labor and their establishment in this same tree. The creature which had so alarmed them was still gliding swiftly across the morass between the lowland and the river. It came forward through the marsh undeviatingly toward the tree clump, the tall reeds quivering as it passed, but its approach indicated by no sound or other token of disturbance. The slight bank reached, there was uplifted a great serpent head, and then, without hesitation, the monster swept forward to the trees and soon hung dangling from the branches of the largest one, its great coils twined loosely about trunk and limb, its head swinging gently back and forth just below the lower branch. It was a serpent at least sixty feet in length, and two feet or more in breadth at its huge middle. It was queerly but not brilliantly spotted, and its head was very nearly that of the anaconda of to-day. Already the sea-serpent had become amphibious. It had already acquired the knowledge it has transmitted to the anaconda, that it might leave the stream, and, from some vantage point upon the shore, find more surely a victim than in the waters of the sea or river. This monster serpent was but waiting for the advent of any land animal, save perhaps those so great as the mammoth or the great elk, or, possibly, even the cave bear or the cave tiger. The mammoth was, of course, an impossibility, even to the sea-serpent. The elk, with its size and vast antlers, was, to put it at the mildest, a perplexing thing to swallow. The rhinoceros was dangerous, and as for the cave bear and the cave tiger, they were uncomfortable customers for anything alive. But there were the cattle, the aurochs and the urus, and the little horses and deer, and wild hog and a score of other creatures which, in the estimation of the sea-serpent, were extremely edible. A tidbit to the serpent was a man, but he did not get one in half a century.
Not long did the boys remain even in a harborage so distant. Each fled homeward with his story.
THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS.
It was with scant breath, when they reached their respective caves, that the boys told the story of the dread which had invaded the marsh-land. What they reported was no light event and, the next morning, their fathers were with them in the treetop at the safe distance which the wooded crest afforded and watching with apprehensive eyes the movements of the monster settled in the rugged valley tree. There was slight movement to note. Coiled easily around the bole, just above where the branches began, and resting a portion of its body upon a thick, extending limb, its head and perhaps ten or fifteen feet of its length swinging downward, the great serpent still hung awaiting its prey, ready to launch itself upon any hapless victim which might come within its reach. That its appetite would soon be gratified admitted of little doubt. Profiting by the absence of the boys, who while at work made no effort to conceal themselves, groups of wild horses were already feeding in the lowlands, and the elk and wild ox were visible here and there. The group in the treetop on the crest realized that it had business on hand. The sea-serpent was a terror to the cave people, and when one appeared to haunt the river the word was swiftly spread, and they gathered to accomplish its end if possible. With warnings to the boys they left behind them, the fathers sped away in different directions, one up, the other down, the river’s bank, Stripe-Face to seek the help of some of the cave people and One-Ear to arouse the Shell people, as they were called, whose home was beside a creek some miles below. Into the home of the little colony One-Ear went swinging a little later, demanding to see the head man of the fishing village, and there ensued an earnest conversation of short sentences, but one which caused immediate commotion. To the hill dwellers the rare advent of a sea-serpent was comparatively a small matter, but it was a serious thing to the Shell folk. The sea-serpent might come up the creek and be among them at any moment, ravaging their community. The Shell people were grateful for the warning, but there were few of them at home, and less than a dozen could be mustered to go with One-Ear to the rendezvous.
They were too late, the hardy people who came up to assail the serpent, because the serpent had not waited for them. The two boys roosting in the treetop on the height had beheld what was not pleasant to look upon, for they had seen a yearling of the aurochs enveloped by the thing, which whipped down suddenly from the branches, and the crushed quadruped had been swallowed in the serpent’s way. But the dinner which might suffice it for weeks had not, in all entirety, the effect upon it which would follow the swallowing of a wild deer by its degenerate descendants of the Amazonian or Indian forests.
The serpent did not lie a listless mass, helplessly digesting the product of the tragedy upon the spot of its occurrence, but crawled away slowly through the reeds, and instinctively to the water, into which it slid with scarce a splash, and then went drifting lazily away upon the current toward the sea. It had been years since one of these big water serpents had invaded the river at such a distance from its mouth and never came another up so far. There were causes promoting rapidly the extinction of their dreadful kind.
Three or four days were required before Ab and Oak realized, after what had taken place, that there were in the community any more important personages than they, and that they had work before them, if they were to continue in their glorious career. When everyday matters finally asserted themselves, there was their pit not yet completed. Because of their absence, a greater aggregation of beasts was feeding in the little valley. Not only the aurochs, the ancient bison, the urus, the progenitor of the horned cattle of to-day, wild horse and great elk and reindeer were seen within short distances from each other, but the big, hairy rhinoceros of the time was crossing the valley again and rioting in its herbage or wallowing in the pools where the valley dipped downward to the marsh. The mammoth with its young had swung clumsily across the area of rich feed, and, lurking in its train, eyeing hungrily and bloodthirstily the mammoth’s calf, had crept the great cave tiger. The monster cave bear had shambled through the high grass, seeking some small food in default of that which might follow the conquest of a beast of size. The uncomely hyenas had gone slinking here and there and had found something worthy their foul appetite. All this change had come because the two boys, being boys and full of importance, had neglected their undertaking for about a week and had talked each in his own home with an air intended to be imposing, and had met each other with much dignity of bearing, at their favorite perching-place in the treetop on the hillside. When there came to them finally a consciousness that, to remain people of magnitude in the world, they must continue to do something, they went to work bravely. The change which had come upon the valley in their brief absence tended to increase their confidence, for, as thus exhibited, early as was the age, the advent of the human being, young or old, somehow affected all animate nature and terrified it, and the boys saw this. Not that the great beasts did not prey upon man, but then, as now, the man to the great beast was something of a terror, and man, weak as he was, knew himself and recognized himself as the head of all creation. The mammoth, the huge, thick-coated rhinoceros, sabre-tooth, the monstrous tiger, or the bear, or the hyena, or the loping wolf, or short-bodied and vicious wolverine were to him, even then, but lower creatures. Man felt himself the master of the world, and his children inherited the perception.
Work in the pit progressed now rapidly and not a great number of days passed before it had attained the depth required. The boy at work was compelled, when emerging, to climb a dried branch which rested against the pit’s edge, and the lookout in the tree exercised an extra caution, since his comrade below could no longer attain safety in a moment. But the work was done at last, that is, the work of digging, and there remained but the completion of the pitfall, a delicate though not a difficult matter. Across the pit, and very close together, were laid criss-crosses of slender branches, brought in armfuls from the forest; over these dry grass was spread, thinly but evenly, and over this again dust and dirt and more grass and twigs, all precautions being observed to give the place a natural appearance. In this the boys succeeded very well. Shrewd must have been the animal of any sort which could detect the trap. Their chief work done, the boys must now wait wisely. The place was deserted again and no nearer approach was made to the pitfall than the treetops of the hillside. There the boys were to be found every day, eager and anxious and hopeful as boys are generally. There was not occasion for getting closer to the trap, for, from their distant perch, its surface was distinctly visible and they could distinguish if it had been broken in. Those were days of suppressed excitement for the two; they could see the buffalo and wild horses moving here and there, but fortune was still perverse and the trap was not approached. Before its occupation by them, the place where they had dug had appeared the favorite feeding-place; now, with all perversity, the wild horses and other animals grazed elsewhere, and the boys began to fear that they had left some traces of their work which revealed it to the wily beasts. On one day, for an hour or two, their hearts were in their mouths. There issued from the forest to the westward the stately Irish elk. It moved forward across the valley to the waters on the other side, and, after drinking its fill, began feeding directly toward the tree clump. It reached the immediate vicinity of the pitfall and stood beneath the trees, fairly outlined against the opening beyond, and affording to the almost breathless couple a splendid spectacle. A magnificent creature was the great elk of the time of the cave men, the Irish elk, as those who study the past have named it, because its bones have been found so frequently in what are now the preserving peat bogs of Ireland. But the elk passed beyond the sight of the watchers, and so their bright hopes fell.
The crispness of full autumn had come, one morning, when Ab and Oak met as usual and looked out across the valley to learn if anything had happened in the vicinity of the pitfall. The hoar frost, lying heavily on the herbage, made the valley resemble a sea of silver, checkered and spotted all over darkly. These dark spots and lines were the traces of such animals as had been in the valley during the night or toward early morning. Leading everywhere were heavy trails and light ones, telling the story of the night. But very little heed to these things was paid by the ardent boys. They were too full of their own affairs. As they swung into place together upon their favorite limb and looked across the valley, they uttered a simultaneous and joyous shout. Something had taken place at the pitfall!
All about the trap the surface of the ground was dark and the area of darkness extended even to the little bank of the swamp on the riverside. Careless of danger, the boys dropped to the ground and, spears in hand, ran like deer toward the scene of their weeks of labor. Side by side they bounded to the edge of the excavation, which now yawned open to the sky. They had triumphed at last! As they saw what the pitfall held, they yelled in unison, and danced wildly around the opening, in the very height of boyish triumph. The exultation was fully justified, for the pitfall held a young rhinoceros, a creature only a few months old, but so huge already that it nearly filled the excavation. It was utterly helpless in the position it occupied. It was wedged in, incapable of moving more than slightly in any direction. Its long snout, with its sprouting pair of horns, was almost level with the surface of the ground and its small bright eyes leered wickedly at its noisy enemies. It struggled clumsily upon their approach, but nothing could relieve the hopelessness of its plight.
All about the pitfall the earth was plowed in furrows and beaten down by the feet of some monstrous animal. Evidently the calf was in the company of its mother when it fell a victim to the art of the pitfall diggers. It was plain that the mother had spent most of the night about her young in a vain effort to release it. Well did the cave boys understand the signs, and, after their first wild outburst of joy over the capture, a sense of the delicacy, not to say danger, of their situation came upon them. It was not well to interfere with the family affairs of the rhinoceros. Where had the mother gone? They looked about, but could see nothing to justify their fears. Only for a moment, though, did their sense of safety last; hardly had the echo of their shouting come back from the hillside than there was a splashing and rasping of bushes in the swamp and the rush of some huge animal toward the little ascent leading to the valley proper. There needed no word from either boy; the frightened couple bounded to the tree of refuge and had barely begun clambering up its trunk than there rose to view, mad with rage and charging viciously, the mother of the calf rhinoceros.
SABRE-TOOTH AND RHINOCEROS.
The rhinoceros of the Stone Age was a monstrous creature, an animal varying in many respects from either species of the animal of the present day, though perhaps somewhat closely allied to the huge double-horned and now nearly extinct white rhinoceros of southern Africa. But the brute of the prehistoric age was a beast of greater size, and its skin, instead of being bare, was densely covered with a dingy colored, crinkly hair, almost a wool. It was something to be dreaded by most creatures even in this time of great, fierce animals. It turned aside for nothing; it was the personification of courage and senseless ferocity when aroused. Rarely seeking a conflict, it avoided none. The huge mammoth, a more peaceful pachyderm, would ordinarily hesitate before barring its path, while even the cave tiger, fiercest and most dreaded of the carnivora of the time, though it might prey upon the young rhinoceros when opportunity occurred, never voluntarily attacked the full-grown animal. From that almost impervious shield of leather hide, an inch or more in thickness, protected further by the woolly covering, even the terrible strokes of the tiger’s claws glanced off with but a trifling rending, while one single lucky upward heave of the twin horns upon the great snout would pierce and rend, as if it were a trifling obstacle, the body of any animal existing. The lifting power of that prodigious neck was something almost beyond conception. It was an awful engine of death when its opportunity chanced to come. On the other hand, the rhinoceros of this ancient world had but a limited range of vision, and was as dull-witted and dangerously impulsive as its African prototype of today.
But short-sighted as it was, the boys clambering up the tree were near enough for the perception of the great beast which burst over the hummock, and it charged directly at them, the tree quivering when the shoulder of the monster struck it as it passed, though the boys, already in the branches, were in safety. Checking herself a little distance beyond, the rhinoceros mother returned, snorting fiercely, and began walking round and round the calf imprisoned in the pitfall. The boys comprehended perfectly the story of the night. The calf once ensnared, the mother had sought in vain to rescue it, and, finally, wearied with her exertion, had retired just over the little descent, there to wallow and rest while still keeping guard over her imprisoned young. The spectacle now, as she walked around the trap, was something which would have been pitiful to a later race of man. The beast would get down upon her knees and plow the dirt about the calf with her long horns. She would seek to get her snout beneath its body sidewise, and so lift it, though each effort was necessarily futile. There was no room for any leverage, the calf fitted the cavity. The boys clung to their perches in safety, but in perplexity. Hours passed, but the mother rhinoceros showed no inclination to depart. It was three o’clock in the afternoon when she went away to the wallow, returning once or twice to her young before descending the bank, and, even when she had reached the marsh, snorting querulously for some time before settling down to rest.
The boys waited until all was quiet in the marsh, and, as a matter of prudence, for some time longer. They wanted to feel assured that the monster was asleep, then, quietly, they slid down the tree trunk and, with noiseless step, stole by the pitfall and toward the hillside. A few yards further on their pace changed to a run, which did not cease until they reached the forest and its refuge, nor, even there, did they linger for any length of time. Each started for his home; for their adventure had again assumed a quality which demanded the consideration of older heads and the assistance of older hands. It was agreed that they should again bring their fathers with them–by a fortunate coincidence each knew where to find his parent on this particular day–and that they should meet as soon as possible. It was more than an hour later when the two fathers and two sons, the men armed with the best weapons they possessed, appeared upon the scene. So far as the watchers from the hillside could determine, all was quiet about the clump of trees and the vicinity of the pitfall. It was late in the afternoon now and the men decided that the best course to pursue would be to steal down across the valley, kill the imprisoned calf and then escape as soon as possible, leaving the mother to find her offspring dead; reasoning that she would then abandon it. Afterward the calf could be taken out and there would be a feast of cave men upon the tender food and much benefit derived in utilization of the tough yet not, at its age, too thick hide of the uncommon quarry. There was but one difficulty in the way of carrying out this enterprise: the wind was from the north and blew from the hunters toward the river, and the rhinoceros, though lacking much range of vision, was as acute of scent as the gray wolves which sometimes strayed like shadows through the forest or the hyenas which scented from afar the living or the dead. Still, the venture was determined upon.
The four descended the hill, the two boys in the rear, treading with the lightness of the tiger cat, and went cautiously across the valley and toward the tree trunk. Certainly no sound they made could have reached the ear of the monster wallowing below the bank, but the wind carried to its nostrils the message of their coming. They were not half way across the valley when the rhinoceros floundered up to the level and charged wildly along the course of the wafted scent. There was a flight for the hillside, made none too soon, but yet in time for safety. Walking around in circles, snorting viciously, the great beast lingered in the vicinity for a time, then went back to its imprisoned calf, where it repeated the performance of earlier in the day and finally retired again to its hidden resting-place near by. It was dusk now and the shadows were deepening about the valley.
The men, well up in the tree with the boys, were undetermined what to do. They might steal along to the eastward and approach the calf from another direction without disturbing the great brute by their scent. But it was becoming darker every moment and the region was a dangerous one. In the valley and away from the trees they were at a disadvantage and at night there were fearful things abroad. Still, they decided to take the risk, and the four, following the crest of the slight hill, moved along its circle southeastward toward the river bank, each on the alert and each with watchful eyes scanning the forest depths to the left or the valley to the right. Suddenly One-Ear leaped back into the shadow, waved his hand to check the advance of those behind him, then pointed silently across the valley and toward the clump of trees.
Not a hundred yards from the pitfall the high grass was swaying gently; some creature was passing along toward the pitfall and a thing of no slight size. Every eye of the quartet was strained now to learn what might be the interloper upon the scene. It was nearly dark, but the eyes of the cave men, almost nocturnal in their adaptation as they were, distinguished a long, dark body emerging from the reeds and circling curiously and cautiously around the pitfall; nearer and nearer it approached the helpless prisoner until perhaps twenty feet distant from it. Here the thing seemed to crouch and remain quiescent, but only for a little time. Then resounded across the valley a screaming roar, so fierce and raucous and death-telling and terrifying that even the hardened hunters leaped with affright. At the same moment a dark object shot through the air and landed on the back of the creature in the shallow pit. The tiger was abroad! There was a wild bleat of terror and agony, a growl fiercer and shorter than the first hoarse cry of the tiger, and, then, for a moment silence, but only for a moment. Snorts, almost as terrible in their significance as the tiger’s roar, came from the marsh’s edge. A vast form loomed above the slight embankment and there came the thunder of ponderous feet. The rhinoceros mother was charging the great tiger!
There was a repetition of the fierce snorts, with the wild rush of the rhinoceros, another roar, the sound of which reechoed through the valley, and then could be dimly seen a black something flying through the air and alighting, apparently, upon the back of the charging monster. There was a confusion of forms and a confusion of terrifying sounds, the snarling roar of the great tiger and half whistling bellow of the great pachyderm, but nothing could be seen distinctly. That a gigantic duel was in progress the cave men knew, and knew, as well, that its scene was one upon which they could not venture. The clamor had not ended when the darkness became complete and then each father, with his son, fled swiftly homeward.
Early the next morning, the four were together again at the same point of safety and advantage, and again the frost-covered valley was a sea of silver, this time unmarred by the criss-crosses of feeding or hunting animals. There was no sign of life; no creature of the forest or the plain was so daring as to venture soon upon the battlefield of the rhinoceros and the cave tiger. Cautiously the cave men and their sons made their way across the valley and approached the pitfall. What was revealed to them told in a moment the whole story. The half-devoured body of the rhinoceros calf was in the pit. It had been killed, no doubt, by the tiger’s first fierce assault, its back broken by the first blow of the great forearm, or its vertebrae torn apart by the first grasp of the great jaws. There were signs of the conflict all about, but that it had not come to a deadly issue was apparent. Only by some accident could the rhinoceros have caught upon its horns the agile monster cat, and only by an accident even more remote could the tiger have reached a vital part of its huge enemy. There had been a long and weary battle–a mother creature fighting for her young and the great flesh-eater fighting for his prey. But the combatants had assuredly separated without the death of either, and the bereaved rhinoceros, knowing her young one to be dead, had finally left the valley, while the tiger had returned to its prey and fed its fill. But there was much meat left. There were, in the estimation of the cave people, few more acceptable feasts than that obtainable from the flesh of a young rhinoceros. The first instinct of the two men was to work fiercely with their flint knives and cut out great lumps of meat from the body in the pit. Hardly had they begun their work, when, as by common impulse, each clambered out from the depression suddenly, and there was a brief and earnest discussion. The cave tiger, monarch of the time, was not a creature to abandon what he had slain until he had devoured it utterly. Gorged though he might be, he was undoubtedly in hiding within a comparatively short distance. He would return again inevitably. He might be lying sleeping in the nearest clump of bushes! It was possible that his appetite might come upon him soon again and that he might appear at any moment. What chance then for the human beings who had ventured into his dining-room? There was but one sensible course to follow, and that was instant retreat. The four fled again to the hillside and the forest, carrying with them, however, the masses of flesh already severed from the body of the calf. There was food for a day or two for each family.
And so ended the first woodland venture of these daring boys. For days the vicinity of the little valley was not sought by either man or youth, since the tiger might still be lurking near. When, later, the youths dared to visit the scene of their bold exploit, there were only bones in the pitfall they had made. The tiger had eaten its prey and had gone to other fields. In later autumn came a great flood down the valley, rising so high that the father of Oak and all his family were driven temporarily from their cave by the water’s influx and compelled to seek another habitation many miles away. Some time passed before the comrades met again.
As for Ab, this exploit might be counted almost as the beginning of his manhood. His father–and fathers had even then a certain paternal pride–had come to recognize in a degree the vigor and daring of his son. The mother, of course, was even more appreciative, though to her firstborn she could give scant attention, as Ab had the small brother in the cave now and the little sister who was still smaller, but from this time the youth became a person of some importance. He grew rapidly, and the sinewy stripling developed, not increasing strength and stature and rounding brawn alone, for he had both ingenuity and persistency of purpose, qualities which made him rather an exception among the cave boys of his age.
Attention has already been called to the fact that the family of Ab were of the aristocracy of the region, and it should be added that the interior of One-Ear’s mansion corresponded with his standing in the community. It was a fine cave, there was no doubt about that, and Red-Spot was a notable housekeeper. As a rule, the bones remaining about the fire after a meal were soon thrown outside–at least they were never allowed to accumulate for more than a month or two. The beds were excellent, for, in addition to the mass of leaves heaped upon the earth which formed a resting-place for the family, there were spread the skins of various animals. The water privileges of the establishment were extensive, for there was the river in front, much utilized for drinking purposes. There were ledges and shelves of rock projecting here and there from the sides of the cave, and upon these were laid the weapons and implements of the household, so that, excepting an occasional bone upon the earthen floor, or, perhaps, a spattering of red, where some animal had been cut up for roasting, the place was very neat indeed. The fact that the smoke from the fire could, when the wind was right, ascend easily through the roof made the residence one of the finest within a large district of the country. As to light, it cannot be said that the house was well provided. The fire at night illuminated a small area and, in the daytime, light entered through the doorway, and, to an extent, through the hole in the cave’s top, as did also the rains, but the light was by no means perfect. The doorway, for obvious reasons, was narrow and there was a huge rock, long ago rolled inside with much travail, which could on occasion be utilized in blocking the narrow passage. Barely room to squeeze by this obstruction existed at the doorway. The sneaking but dangerous hyena had a keen scent and was full of curiosity. The monster bear of the time was ever hungry and the great cave tiger, though rarer, was, as has been shown, a haunting dread. Great attention was paid to doorways in those days, not from an artistic point of view exactly, but from reasons cogent enough in the estimation of the cave men. But the cave was warm and safe and the sharp eyes of its inhabitants, accustomed to the semi-darkness, found slight difficulty in discerning objects in the gloom. Very content with their habitation were all the family and Red-Spot particularly, as a chatelaine should, felt much pride in her surroundings.
It may be added that the family of One-Ear was a happy one. His life with Red-Spot was the sequence of what might be termed a fortunate marriage. It is true that standards vary with times, and that the demeanor of the couple toward each other was occasionally not what would be counted the index of domestic felicity in this more artificial and deceptive age. It was never fully determined whether One-Ear or Red-Spot could throw a stone ax with the greater accuracy, although certainly he could hurl one with greater force than could his wife. But the deftness of each in eluding such dangerous missiles was about the same, and no great harm had at any time resulted from the effects of momentary ebullitions of anger, followed by action on the part of either. There had not been at any time a scandal in the family. The pair were faithful to each other. Society was somewhat scattered in those days, and the cave twain, anywhere, were generally as steadfast as the lion and the lioness. It was centuries later, too, before the cave men’s posterity became degenerate enough or prosperous enough, or safe enough, to be polygamous, and, so far as the area of the Thames valley or even the entire “Paris basin,” as it is called, was concerned, monogamy held its own very fairly, from the shell-beds of the earliest kitchen-middens to the time of the bronze ax and the dawn of what we now call civilization.
There were now five members in this family of the period, One-Ear, Red-Spot, Ab, Bark and Beech-Leaf, the two last named being Ab’s younger brother and little more than baby sister. The names given them had come in the same accidental way as had the name of Ab. The brother, when very small, had imitated in babyish way the barking of some wolfish creature outside which had haunted the cave’s vicinity at night time, and so the name of Bark, bestowed accidentally by Ab himself, had become the youngster’s title for life. As to Beech-Leaf, she had gained her name in another way. She was a fat and joyous little specimen of a cave baby and not much addicted to lying as dormant as babies sometimes do. The bearskin upon which her mother laid her had not infrequently proven too limited an area for her exploits and she would roll from it into the great bed of beech leaves upon which it was placed, and become fairly lost in the brown mass. So often had this hilarious young lady to be disinterred from the beech leaf bed, that the name given her came naturally, through association of ideas. Between the birth of Ab and that of his younger brother an interval of five years had taken place, the birth of the sister occurring three or four years later. So it came that Ab, in the absence of his father and mother, was distinctly the head of the family, admonitory to his brother, with ideas as to the physical discipline requisite on occasion, and, in a rude way, fond of and protective toward the baby sister.
There was a certain regularity in the daily program of the household, although, with reference to what was liable to occur outside, it can hardly be said to have partaken of the element of monotony. The work of the day consisted merely in getting something to eat, and in this work father and mother alike took an active part, their individual duties being somewhat varied. In a general way One-Ear relied upon himself for the provision of flesh, but there were roots and nuts and fruits, in their season, and in the gathering of these Red-Spot was an admitted expert. Not that all her efforts were confined to the fruits of the soil and forest, for she could, if need be, assist her husband in the pursuit or capture of any animal. She was not less clever than he in that animal’s subsequent dissection, and was far more expert in its cooking. In the tanning of skins she was an adept. So it chanced that at this time the father and mother frequently left the cave together in the morning, their elder son remaining as protector of the younger inmates. When occasionally he went with his parents, or was allowed to venture forth alone, extra precautions were taken as to the cave’s approaches. Just outside the entrance was a stone similar to the one on the inside, and when the two young children were left unguarded this outside barricade was rolled against what remained of the entrance, so that the small people, though prisoners, were at least secure from dangerous animals. Of course there were variations in the program. There was that degree of fellowship among the cave men, even at this early age, to allow of an occasional banding together for hunting purposes, a battle of some sort or the surrounding and destruction of some of the greater animals. At such times One-Ear would be absent from the cave for days and Ab and his mother would remain sole guardians. The boy enjoyed these occasions immensely; they gave him a fine sense of responsibility and importance, and did much toward the development of the manhood that was in him, increasing his self-reliance and perfecting him in the art of winning his daily bread, or what was daily bread’s equivalent at the time in which he lived. It was not in outdoor and physical life alone that he grew. There was something more to him, a combination of traits somewhere which made him a little beyond and above the mere seeker after food. He was never entirely dormant, a sleeper on the skins and beech leaves, even when in the shelter of the cave, after the day’s adventures. He reasoned according to such gifts as circumstances had afforded him and he had the instinct of devising. An instinct toward devising was a great thing to its possessor in the time of the cave people.
We know very well to-day, or think we know, that the influence of the mother, in most cases, dominates that of the father in making the future of the man-child. It may be that this comes because in early life the boy, throughout the time when all he sees or learns will be most clear in his memory until he dies, is more with the woman parent than with the man, who is afield; or, it may be, there is some criss-cross law of nature which makes the man ordinarily transmit his qualities to the daughter and the woman transmit hers to the son. About that we do not know yet. But it is certain that Ab was more like his mother than his father, and that in these young days of his he was more immediately under her influence. And Red-Spot was superior in many ways to the ordinary woman of the cave time.
It was good for the boy that he was so under the maternal dominion, and that, as he lingered about the cave, he aided in the making of threads of sinew or intestine, or looked on interestedly as his mother, using the bone needle, which he often sharpened for her with his flint scraper, sewed together the skins which made the garments of the family. The needle was one without an eye, a mere awl, which made holes through which the thread was pushed. As the growing boy lounged or labored near his mother, alternately helpful or annoying, as the case might be, he learned many things which were of value to him in the future, and resolved upon brave actions which should be greatly to his credit. He was but a cub, a young being almost as unreasoning in some ways as the beasts of the wood, but he had his hopes and vanities, as has even the working beaver or the dancing crane, and from the long mother-talks came a degree of definiteness of outline to his ambitions. He would be the greatest hunter and warrior in all the region!
The cave mother easily understood her child’s increasing daringness and vigor, and though swift to anger and strong of hand, she could not but feel a pride in and tell her tales to the boy beside her. After a time, when the family of Oak returned to the cave above and the boys were much together again, the mother began to see less of her son. The influence of the days spent by her side remained with the boy, however, and much that he learned there was of value in his later active life.
OLD MOK, THE MENTOR.
It was at about this time, the time when Ab had begun to develop from boyhood into strong and aspiring youth, that his family was increased from five to six by the addition of a singular character, Old Mok. This personage was bent and seemingly old, but he was younger than he looked, though he was not extremely fair to look upon. He had a shock of grizzled hair, a short, stiff, unpleasant beard, and the condition of one of his legs made him a cripple of an exaggerated type. He could hobble about and on great occasions make a journey of some length, but he was practically debarred from hunting. The extraordinary curvature of his twisted leg was, as usual in his time, the result of an encounter with some wild beast. The limb curved like a corkscrew and was so much shorter than the other leg that the man was really safe only when the walls of a cave enclosed him. But if his legs were weak his brain and arms were not. In that grizzled head was much intelligence and the arms were those of a great climber. His toes were clasping things and he was at home in a treetop. But he did not travel much. There was no need. Old Mok had special gifts, and they were such as made him a desirable friend among the cave men. He had, in his youth, been a mighty hunter and had so learned that he could tell wonderfully the ways of beasts and swimming things and the ways of slaying or eluding them. Best of all, he was such a fashioner of weapons as the valley had rarely known, and, because of this, was in great request as a cared-for inmate of almost any cave which hit his fancy. After his crippling he had drifted from one haven to another, never quite satisfied with what he found, and now he had come to live, as he supposed, with his old friend, One-Ear, until life should end. Despite his harshness of appearance–and neither of the two could ever afterward explain it–there was something about the grim old man which commended him to Ab from the very first. There was an occasional twinkle in the fierce old fellow’s eye and sometimes a certain cackle in his clucking talk, which betokened not unkindliness toward a healthy youngster, and the two soon grew together, as often the young and old may do.
Though but what might be called in one sense a dependent, the crippled hunter had a dignity and was arbitrary in the expression of his views. Never once, through all the thousands of years which have passed since he hobbled here and there, has lived an armorer more famous among those who knew him best. No fashioner of sword, or lance, or coat of mail or plate, in the far later centuries, had better reputation than had Mok with his friends and patrons for the making of good weapons, though it may be that his clientele was less numerous by hundreds to one than that of some later manufacturer of a Toledo blade. He might be living partly as a dependent, but he could do almost as he willed. Who should have standing if it were not accorded to the most gifted chipper of flint and carver of mammoth tooth in all the region from where the little waters came down to make a river, to where the blue, broad stream, blending with friendly currents, was lost in what is now the great North Sea?
A boy and an old man can come together closely, and that has, through all the ages, been a good thing for each. The boy learns that which enables him to do things and the man is happy in watching the development of one of his own kind. Helping and advising Ab, and sometimes Oak as well, Old Mok did not discourage sometimes reckless undertakings. In those days chances were accepted. So when any magnificent scheme suggested itself to the two youths, Ab at once sought his adviser and was not discountenanced.
It was a great night in the cave when Ab brought home two fluffy gray bundles not much larger than kittens and tied them in a corner with thongs of sinew, sinew so tough and stringy that it could not easily be severed by the sharp teeth which were at once applied to it. The fluffy gray bundles were two young wolves, and were, for Ab, a great possession. They were not even brother and sister, these cubs, and had been gallantly captured by the two courageous rangers, Ab and Oak. For some time the boys had noted lurking shadows about a rugged height close by the river, some distance below the cave of Ab, and had resolved upon a closer investigation. A particularly ugly brute was the wolf of the cave man’s time, but one which, when not in pack, was unlikely to assail two well-armed and sturdy youths in daylight; and the result of much cautious spying was that they found two dens, each with young in them, and at a time when the old wolves were away. In one den Ab seized upon two of the snarling cubs and Oak did the same in the other, and then the raiders fled with such speed as was in them, until they were at a safe distance from the place where things would not go well with them should the robbed parents return. Once in safe territory, each exchanged a cub for one seized by the other and then each went home in triumph. Ab was especially delighted. He was determined to feed his cubs with the utmost care and to keep them alive and growing. He was full of the fancy and delighted in it, but he had assumed a great responsibility.
[Illustration: AB SEIZED UPON TWO OF THE SNARLING CUBS AND OAK DID THE SAME]
The cubs were tied in a corner of the cave and at once commanded the attention and unbounded admiration of Bark and Beech-Leaf. The young lady especially delighted in the little beasts and could usually be found lying in the corner with them, the baby wolves learning in time to play with her as if she were a wolf-suckled cub herself. Bark had almost the same relations with the little brutes and Ab looked after them most carefully. Even the father and mother became interested in the antics of the young children and young wolves and the cubs became acknowledged, if not particularly respected, members of the family. But Ab’s dream was too much for sudden realization. Not all at once could the wild thing become a tame one. As the cubs grew and their teeth became longer and sharper, there was an occasional conflict and the arms of Bark and Beech-Leaf were scarred in consequence, until at last Ab, though he protested hardly, was compelled to give up his pets. Somehow, he was not in the mood for killing the half grown beasts, and so he simply turned them loose, but they did not, as he had thought they would, flee to the forest. They had known almost no life except that of the cave, they had got their meat there and, at night, the twain were at the doorway whining for food. To them were tossed some half-gnawed bones and they received them with joyous yelps and snarls. Thenceforth they hung about the cave and retained, practically, their place in the family, oddly enough showing particular animosity to those of their own kind who ventured near the place. One day, the female was found in the cave’s rear with four little whelps lying beside her, and that settled it! The family petted the young animals and they grew up tamer and more obedient than had been their father and mother. Protected by man, they were unlikely to revert to wildness. Members of the pack which grew from them were, in time, bestowed as valued gifts among the cave men of the region and much came of it. The two boys did a greater day’s work than they could comprehend when they raided the dens by the river’s side.
But there was much beside the capture of wolf cubs to occupy the attention of the boys. They counted themselves the finest bird hunters in the community and, to a certain extent, justified the proud claim made. No youths could set a snare more deftly or hurl a stone more surely, and there was much bird life for them to seek. The bustard fed in the vast nut forests, the capercailzie was proud upon the moors, where the heath-cock was as jaunty, and the willow grouse and partridge were wise in covert to avoid the hungry snowy owl. Upon the river and lagoons and creeks the swan and wild goose and countless duck made constant clamor, and there were water-rail and snipe along the shallows. There were eggs to be found, and an egg baked in the ashes was a thing most excellent. It was with the waterfowl that the boys were most successful. The ducks would in their feeding approach close to the shores of the river banks or the little islands and would gather in bunches so near to where the boys were hidden that the young hunters, leaping suddenly to their feet and hurling their stones together, rarely failed to secure at least a single victim. There were muskrats along the banks and there was a great beaver, which was not abundant, and which was a mighty creature of his kind. Of muskrats the boys speared many–and roasted muskrat is so good that it is eaten by the Indians and some of the white hunters in Canada to-day–but the big beaver they did not succeed in capturing at this stage of their career. Once they saw a seal, which had come up the river from the sea, and pursued it, running along the banks for miles, but it proved as elusive as the great beaver.
But, as a matter of course, it was upon land that the greatest sport was had. There were the wild hogs, but the hogs were wary and the big boars dangerous, and it was only when a litter of the young could be pounced upon somewhere that flint-headed spears were fully up to the emergency. On such occasions there was fine pigsticking, and then the atmosphere in the caves would be made fascinating with the odor of roasting suckling. There is a story by a great and gentle writer telling how a Chinaman first discovered the beauties of roast pig. It is an admirable tale and it is well that it was written, but the cave man, many tens of thousands of years before there was a China, yielded to the allurements of young pig, and sought him accordingly.
The musk-ox, which still mingled with the animals of the river basin, was almost as difficult of approach as in arctic wilds to-day, as was a small animal, half goat, half antelope, which fed upon the rocky hillsides or wherever the high reaches were. There were squirrels in the trees, but they were seldom caught, and the tailless hare which fed in the river meadows was not easily approached and was swift as the sea wind in its flight, swifter than a sort of fox which sought it constantly. But the burrowing things were surer game. There were martens and zerboas, and marmots and hedgehogs and badgers, all good to eat and attainable to those who could dig as could these brawny youths. The game once driven to its hole, the clamshell and the sharpened fire-hardened spade-stick were brought into use and the fate of the animal sought was rarely long in doubt. It is true that the scene lacked one element very noticeable when boys dig out any animal to-day. There was not the inevitable and important dog, but the youths were swift of sight and quick of hand, and the hidden creature, once unearthed, seldom escaped. One of the prizes of those feats of excavation was the badger, for not only was it edible, but its snow-white teeth, perforated and strung on sinew, made necklaces which were highly valued.
The youths did not think of attacking many of the dangerous brutes. They might have risked the issue with a small leopard which existed then, or faced the wildcat, but what they sought most was the wolverine, because it had fur so long and oddly marked, and because it was braver than other animals of its size and came more boldly to some bait of meat, affording opportunity for fine spear-throwing. And, apropos of the wolverine, the glutton, as it is called in Europe, it is something still admired. It is a vicious, bloodthirsty, unchanging and, to the widely-informed and scientifically sentimental, lovable animal. It is vicious and bloodthirsty because that is its nature. It is lovable because, through all the generations, it has come down just the same. The cave man knew it just as it is now; the early Teuton knew it when “hides” of land were the rewards of warriors. The Roman knew it when he made forays to the far north for a few centuries and learned how sharp were the blades of the Rhine-folk and the Briton. The Druid and the Angle and Jute and Saxon knew it, and it is known to-day in all northern Europe and Asia and America, in fact, in nearly all the northern temperate zone. The wolverine is something wonderful; it laughs at the ages; its bones, found side by side with those of the cave hyena, are the same as those found in its body as it exists to-day. It is an anomaly, an animal which does not advance nor retrograde.
The two big boys grew daily in the science of gaining food and grew more and more of importance in their respective households. Sometimes either one of them might hunt alone, but this was not the rule. It was safer for