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.
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 two than one, when the forest was invaded deeply. But not all their time was spent in evading or seeking the life of such living things as they might discover. They had a home life sometimes as entertaining as the life found anywhere outside.
DOINGS AT HOME.
Those were happy times in the cave, where Ab, developing now into an exceedingly stalwart youth, found the long evenings about the fire far from monotonous. There was Mok, the mentor, who had grown so fond of him, and there was most interesting work to do in making from the dark flint nodules or obsidian fragments—always eagerly seized upon when discovered by the cave people in their wanderings—the spearheads and rude knives and skin scrapers so essential to their needs. The flint nodule was but a small mass of the stone, often somewhat pear-shaped. Though apparently a solid mass, composed of the hardest substance then known, it lay in what might be called a series of flakes about a center, and, in wise hands, these flakes could be chipped or pried away unbroken. The flake, once won, was often slightly concave on the outside and convex on the other, but the core of the stone was something more equally balanced in formation and, when properly finished, made a mighty spearhead. For the heavy axes and mallets, other stones, such as we now call granite, redstone or quartose grit, were often used, but in the making of all the weapons was required the exercise of infinite skill and patience. To make the flakes symmetrical demanded the nicest perception and judgment of power of stroke, for, with each flake gained, there resulted a new form to the surface of the stone. The object was always to secure a flake with a point, a strong middle ridge and sides as nearly edged as possible. And in the striking off of these flakes and their finishing others of the cave men were to old Mok as the child is to the man.
Ab hung about the old man at his work and was finally allowed to help him. If, at first, the boy could do nothing else, he could, with his flint scraper, work industriously at the smoothing of the long spear shafts, and when he had learned to do well at this he was at last allowed to venture upon the stone chipping, especially when into old Mok's possession had come a piece of flint the quality of which he did not quite approve and for the ruining of which in the splitting he cared but little.
There were disasters innumerable when the boy began and much bad stone was spoiled, but he had a will and a good eye and hand, and it came, in time, that he could strike off a flake with only a little less of deftness than his teacher and that, even in the more delicate work of the finer chipping to complete the weapon, he was a workman not to be despised. He had an ambition in it all and old Mok was satisfied with what he did.
The boy was always experimenting, ever trying a new flint chipper or using a third stone to tap delicately the one held in the hand to make the fracture, or wondering aloud why it would not be well to make this flint knife a little thinner, or that spearhead a trifle heavier. He was questioning as he worked and something of a nuisance with it all, but old Mok endured with what was, for him, an astonishing degree of patience, and would sometimes comment grumblingly to the effect that the boy could at least chip stone far better than some men. And then the veteran would look at One-Ear, who was, notoriously, a bad flint worker,—though, a weapon once in his grasp, there were few could use it with surer eye or heavier hand—and would chuckle as he made the comment. As for One-Ear, he listened placidly enough. He was glad a son of his could make good weapons. So much the better for the family!
As times went, Ab was a tolerably good boy to his mother. Nearly all young cave males were good boys until the time came when their thews and sinews outmatched the strength of those who had borne them, and this, be it said, was at no early age, for the woman, hunting and working with the man, was no maternal weakling whose buffet was unworthy of notice. A blow from the cave mother's hand was something to be respected and avoided. The use of strength was the general law, and the cave woman, though she would die for her young, yet demanded that her young should obey her until the time came when the maternal instinct of first direction blended with and was finally lost in pride over the force of the being to whom she had given birth. So Ab had vigorous duties about the household.
As has been told already, Red-Spot was a notable housekeeper and there was such product of the cave cooking as would make happy any gourmand of to-day who could appreciate the quality of what had a most natural flavor. Regarding her kitchen appliances Red-Spot had a matron's justifiable pride. Not only was there the wood fire, into which, held on long, pointed sticks, could be thrust all sorts of meat for the somewhat smoky broiling, and the hot coals and ashes in which could be roasted the clams and the clay-covered fish, but there was the place for boiling, which only the more fortunate of the cave people owned. Her growing son had aided much in the attainment of this good housewife's fond desire.
With much travail, involving all the force the cave family could muster and including the assistance of Oak's father and of Oak himself, who rejoiced with Ab in the proceedings, there had been rolled into the cave a huge sandstone rock with a top which was nearly flat. Here was to be the great pot, sometimes used as a roasting place, as well, which only the more pretentious of the caves could boast. On the middle of the big stone's uppermost surface old Mok chipped with an ax the outline of a rude circle some two feet in diameter. This defined roughly the size of the kettle to be made. Inside the circle, the sandstone must be dug out to a big kettle's proper depth, and upon the boy, Ab, must devolve most of this healthful but not over-attractive labor.
The boy went at the task gallantly, in the beginning, and pecked away with a stone chisel and gained a most respectable hollow within a day or two, but his enthusiasm subsided with the continuity of much effort with small result. He wanted more weight to his chisel of flint set firmly in reindeer's horn, and a greater impact to the blows into which could not be put the force resulting from a swing of arm. He thought much. Then he secured a long stick and bound his chisel strongly to it at one end, the top of the chisel resting against a projecting stub of limb, so that it could not be driven upward. To the other end of the stick he bound a stone of some pounds in weight and then, holding the shaft with both hands, lifted it and let the whole drop into the depression he had already made. The flint chisel bit deeply under the heavy impact and the days were few before Ab had dug in the sandstone rock a cavity which would hold much meat and water. There was an unconscious celebration when the big kettle was completed. It was nearly filled with water, and into the water were flung great chunks of the meat of a reindeer killed that day. Meanwhile, the cave fire had been replenished with dry wood and there had been formed a wide bed of coals, upon which were cast numerous stones of moderate size, which soon attained a shining heat. A sort of tongs made of green withes served to remove the stones, one after another, from the mass of coal, and drop them in with the meat and water. Within a little time the water was fairly boiling and soon there was a monster stew giving forth rich odors and ready to be eaten. And it was not allowed to get over-cool after that summoning fragrance had once extended throughout the cave. There was a rush for the clam shells which served for soup dishes or cups, there was spearing with sharpened sticks for pieces of the boiled meat, and all were satisfied, though there was shrill complaint from Bark, whose turn at the kettle came late, and much clamor from chubby Beech-Leaf, who was not yet tall enough to help herself, but who was cared for by the mother. It may be that, to some people of to-day, the stew would be counted lacking in quality of seasoning, but an opinion upon seasoning depends largely upon the stomach and the time, and, besides, it may be that the dirt clinging to the stones cast into the water gave a certain flavor as fine in its way as could be imparted by salt and pepper.
Old Mok, observing silently, had decidedly approved of Ab's device for easier digging into sandstone than was the old manner of pecking away with a chisel held in the hand. He was almost disposed now to admit the big lad to something like a plane of equality in the work they did together. He became more affable in their converse, and the youth was, in the same degree, delighted and ambitious. They experimented with the stick and weight and chisel in accomplishing the difficult work of splitting from boulders the larger fragments of stone from which weapons were to be made, and learned that by heavy, steady pressure of the breast, thus augmented by heavy weight, they could fracture more evenly than by blow of stone, ax or hammer. They learned that two could work together in stone chipping and do better work than one. Old Mok would hold the forming weapon-head in one hand and the horn-hafted chisel in another, pressing the blade close against the stone and at just such angle as would secure the result he sought, while Ab, advised as to the force of each succeeding stroke, tapped lightly upon the chisel's head. Woe was it for the boy if once he missed his stroke and caught the old man's fingers! Very delicate became the chipping done by these two artists, and excellent beyond any before made were the axes and spearheads produced by what, in modern times, would have been known under the title of "Old Mok & Co."
At this time, too, Ab took lessons in making all the varied articles of elk or reindeer horn and the drinking cups from the horns of urus and aurochs. Old Mok even went so far as to attempt teaching the youth something of carving figures upon tusks and shoulder blades, but in this art Ab never greatly excelled. He was too much a creature of action. The bone needles used by Red-Spot in making skin garments he could form readily enough and he made whistles for Bark and Beech-Leaf, but his inclinations were all toward larger things. To become a fighter and a hunter remained his chief ambition.
Rather keen, with light snows but nipping airs, were the winters of this country of the cave men, and there were articles of food essential to variety which were, necessarily, stored before the cold season came. There were roots which were edible and which could be dried, and there were nuts in abundance, beyond all need. Beechnuts and acorns were gathered in the autumn, the children at this time earning fully the right of home and food, and the stores were heaped in granaries dug into the cave's sides. Should the snow at any time fall too deeply for hunting—though such an occurrence was very rare—or should any other cause, such, for instance, as the appearance of the great cave tiger in the region, make the game scarce and hunting perilous, there was the recourse of nuts and roots and no danger of starvation. There was no fear of suffering from thirst. Man early learned to carry water in a pouch of skin and there were sometimes made rock cavities, after the manner of the cave kettle, where water could be stored for an emergency. Besieging wild beasts could embarrass but could not greatly alarm the family, for, with store of wood and food and water, the besieged could wait, and it was not well for the flesh-seeking quadruped to approach within a long spear-thrust's length of the cavern's narrow entrance.
The winter following the establishment of Ab's real companionship with Old Mok, as it chanced, was not a hard one. There fell snow enough for tracking, but not so deeply as to incommode the hunter. There had been a wonderful nut-fall in the autumn and the cave was stored with such quantity of this food that there was no chance of real privation. The ice was clean upon the river and through the holes hacked with stone axes fish were dragged forth in abundance upon the rude bone and stone hooks, which served their purpose far better than when, in summer time, the line was longer and the fish escaped so often from the barbless implements. It was a great season in all that made a cave family's life something easy and complacent and vastly promotive of the social amenities and the advancement of art and literature—that is, they were not compelled to make any sudden raid on others to assure the means of subsistence, and there was time for the carving of bones and the telling of strange stories of the past. The elders declared it one of the finest winters they had ever known.
And so Old Mok and Ab worked well that winter and the youth acquired such wisdom that his casual advice to Oak when the two were out together was something worth listening to because of its confidence and ponderosity. Concerning flint scraper, drill, spearhead, ax or bone or wooden haft, there was, his talk would indicate, practically nothing for the boy to learn. That was his own opinion, though, as he grew older, he learned to modify it greatly. With his adviser he had made good weapons and some improvements; yet all this was nothing. It was destined that an accidental discovery should be his, the effect of which would be to change the cave man's rank among living things. But the youth, just now, was greatly content with himself. He was older and more modest when he made his great discovery.
It was when the fire blazed out at night, when all had fed, when the tired people lay about resting, but not ready yet for sleep, and the story of the day's events was given, that Old Mok's ordinarily still tongue would sometimes loosen and he would tell of what happened when he was a boy, or of the strange tales which had been told him of the time long past, the times when the Shell and Cave people were one, times when there were monstrous things abroad and life was hard to keep. To all these legends the hearers listened wonderingly, and upon them afterward Ab and Oak would sometimes speculate together and question as to their truth.
OLD MOK'S TALES.
It was worth while listening to Old Mok when he forgot himself and talked and became earnestly reminiscent in telling of what he had seen or had heard when he was young. One day there had been trouble in the cave, for Bark, left in charge, had neglected the fire and it had "gone out," and upon the return of his parents there had been blows and harsh language, and then much pivotal grinding together of dry sticks before a new flame was gained, and it was only after the odor of cooked flesh filled the place and strong jaws were busy that the anger of One-Ear had abated and the group became a comfortable one. Ab had come in hungry and the value of fire, after what had happened, was brought to his mind forcibly. He laid himself down upon the cave's floor near Old Mok, who was fashioning a shaft of some sort, and, as he lay, poked his toes at Beechleaf, who chuckled and gurgled as she rolled about, never for a moment relinquishing a portion of the slender shin bone of a deer, upon the flesh of which the family had fed. It was a short piece but full of marrow, and the child sucked and mumbled away at it in utmost bliss. Ab thought, somehow, of how poor would have been the eating with the meat uncooked, and looked at his hands, still reddened—for it was he who had twisted the stick which made the fire again. "Fire is good!" he said to Mok.
The old man kept his flint scraper going for a moment or two before he answered; then he grunted:
"Yes, it's good if you don't get burned. I've been burned," and he thrust out an arm upon which appeared a cicatrice.
Ab was interested. "Where did you get that?" he queried.
"Far from here, far beyond the black swamp and the red hills that are farther still. It was when I was strong."
"Tell me about it," said the youth.
"There is a fire country," answered Old Mok, "away beyond the swamp and woods and the place of the big rocks. It is a wonderful place. The fire comes out of the ground in long sheets and it is always the same. The rain and the snow do not stop it. Do I not know? Have I not seen it? Did I not get this scar going too near the flame and stumbling and falling against a hot rock almost within it? There is too much fire sometimes!"
The old man continued: "There are many places of fire. They are to the east and south. Some of the Shell People who have gone far down the river have seen them. But the one where I was burned is not so far away as they; it is up the river to the northwest."
And Ab was interested and questioned Old Mok further about the strange region where flames came from the ground as bushes grow, and where snow or water did not make them disappear. He was destined, at a later day, to be very glad that he had learned the little that was told him. But to-night he was intent only on getting all the tales he could from the veteran while he was in the mood. "Tell about the Shell People," he cried, "and who they are and where they came from. They are different from us."
"Yes, they are different from us," said Old Mok, "but there was a time, I have heard it told, when we were like them. The very old men say that their grandfathers told them that once there were only Shell People anywhere in this country, the people who lived along the shores and who never hunted nor went far away from the little islands, because they were afraid of the beasts in the forests. Sometimes they would venture into the wood to gather nuts and roots, but they lived mostly on the fish and clams. But there came a time when brave men were born among them who said they would have more of the forest things, and that they would no longer stay fearfully upon the little islands. So they came into the forest and the Cave Men began. And I think this story true."
"I think it is true," Old Mok continued, "because the Shell People, you can see, must have lived very long where they are now. Up and down the creek where they live and along other creeks there lie banks of earth which are very long and reach far back. And this is not really earth, but is all made up of shells and bones and stone spearheads and the things which lie about a Shell Man's place. I know, for I have dug into these long banks myself and have seen that of which I tell. Long, very long, must the Shell People have lived along the creeks and shores to have made the banks of bones and shells so high."
And Old Mok was right. They talk of us as the descendants of an Aryan race. Never from Aryan alone came the drifting, changing Western being of to-day. But a part of him was born where bald plains were or where were olive trees and roses. All modern science, and modern thoughtfulness, and all later broadened intelligence are yielding to an admission of the fact that he, though of course commingling with his visitors of the ages, was born and changed where he now exists. The kitchen-midden—the name given by scientists to refuse from his dwelling places—the kitchen-middens of Denmark, as Denmark is to-day, alone, regardless of other fields, suffice to tell a wondrous story. Imagine a kitchen-midden, that is to say the detritus of ordinary living in different ages, accumulated along the side of some ancient water course, having for its dimensions miles in length, extending hundreds of yards back from the margin of this creek, of tens and tens of thousands of years ago, and having a depth of often many feet along this water course. Imagine this vast deposit telling the history of a thousand centuries or more, beginning first with the deposit of clams and mussel shells and of the shells of such other creatures as might inhabit this river seeking its way to the North Sea. Imagine this deposit increasing year after year and century by century, but changing its character and quality as it rose, and the base is laid for reasoning.
At first these creatures who ranged up and down the ancient Danish creek and devoured the clams and periwinkles must have been, as one might say, but little more than surely anthropoid. Could such as these have migrated from the Asiatic plateaus?
The kitchen-middens tell the early story with greater accuracy than could any writer who ever lifted pen. Here the creek-loving, ape-like creatures ranged up and down and quelled their appetites. They died after they had begotten sons and daughters; and to these sons and daughters came an added intelligence, brought from experience and shifting surroundings. The kitchen-middens give graphic details. The bottom layer, as has been said, is but of shells. Above it, in another layer, counting thousands of years in growth, appear the cracked bones of then existing animals and appear also traces of charred wood, showing that primitive man had learned what fire was. And later come the rudely carved bones of the mammoth and woolly rhinoceros and the Irish elk; then come rude flint instruments, and later the age of smoothed stone, with all its accompanying fossils, bones and indications; and so on upward, with a steady sweep, until close to the surface of this kitchen-midden appear the bronze spear, the axhead and the rude dagger of the being who became the Druid and who is an ancestor whom we recognize. From the kitchen-midden to the pinnacle of all that is great to-day extends a chain not a link of which is weak.
"They tell strange stories, too, the Shell People," Old Mok continued, "for they are greater story-tellers than the Cave Men are, more of them being together in one place, and the old men always tell the tales to the children so that they are never forgotten by any of the people. They say that once huge things came out of the great waters and up the creeks, such as even the big cave tiger dare not face. And the old men say that their grandfathers once saw with their own eyes a monster serpent many times as large as the one you two saw, which came swimming up the creek and seized upon the river horses there and devoured them as easily as the cave bear would a little deer. And the serpent seized upon some of the Cave People who were upon the water and devoured them as well, though such as they were but a mouthful to him. And this tale, too, I believe, for the old Shell Men who told me what their grandfathers had seen were not of the foolish sort."
"But of another sort of story they have told me," Mok continued, "I think little. The old men tell of a time when those who went down the river to the greater river and followed it down to the sea, which seems to have no end, saw what no man can see to-day. But they do not say that their grandfathers saw these things. They only say that their grandfathers told of what had been told them by their grandfathers farther back, of a story which had come down to them, so old that it was older than the great trees were, of monstrous things which swam along the shores and which were not serpents, though they had long necks and serpent heads, because they had great bodies which were driven by flippers through the water as the beaver goes with his broad feet. And at the same time, the old story goes, were great birds, far taller than a man, who fed where now the bustards and the capercailzie are. And these tales I do not believe, though I have seen bones washed from the riversides and hillsides by the rains which must have come from creatures different from those we meet now in the forests or the waters. They are wonderful story-tellers, the old men of the Shell People."
"And they tell other strange stories," continued the old man. "They say that very long ago the cold and ice came down, and all the people and animals fled before it, and that the summer was cold as now the winter is, and that the men and beasts fled together to the south, and were there for a long time, but came back again as the cold and ice went back. They say, too, that in still later times, the fireplaces where the flames came out of great cracks in the earth were in tens of places where they are in one now, and that, even in the ice time, the flames came up, and that the ice was melted and then ran in rivers to the sea. And these things I do not believe, for how can men tell of what there was so long ago? They are but the gabblings of the old, who talk so much."
Many other stories the veteran told, but what most affected Ab was his account of the vale of fire. He hoped to see it sometime.
AB'S GREAT DISCOVERY.
It may be that never in what was destined to be a life of many changes was Ab happier than in this period of his lusty boyhood and early manhood, when there was so much that was new, when he was full of hope and confidence and of ambition regarding what a mighty hunter and great man he would become in time. As the years passed he was not less indefatigable in his experiments, and the day came when a marvelous success followed one of them, although, like most inventions, it was suggested in the most trivial and accidental manner.
It chanced one afternoon that Ab, a young man of twenty now, had returned early from the wood and was lying lazily upon the sward near the cave's entrance, while, not far away, Bark and the still chubby Beechleaf were rolling about. The boy was teasing the girl at times and then doing something to amuse or awe her. He had found a stiff length of twig and was engaged in idly bending the ends together and then letting them fly apart with a snap, meanwhile advancing toward and threatening with the impact the half-alarmed but wholly delighted Beechleaf. Tired of this, at last, Bark, with no particular intent, drew forth from the pouch in his skin cloak a string of sinew, and drawing the ends of the strong twig somewhat nearly together, attached the cord to each, thus producing accidentally a petty bow of most rotund proportions. He found that the string twanged joyously, and, to the delight of Beechleaf, kept twanging it for such time as his boyish temperament would allow a single occupation. Then he picked from the ground a long, slender pencil of white wood, a sliver, perhaps, from the making of a spear shaft, and began strumming with it upon the taut sinew string. This made a twang of a new sort, and again the boy and girl were interested temporarily. But, at last, even this variation of amusement with the new toy became monotonous, and Bark ceased strumming and began a series of boyish experiments with his plaything. He put one end of the stick against the string and pushed it back until the other end would press against the inside of the twig, and the result would be a taut, new figure in wood and string which would keep its form even when laid upon the ground. Bark made and unmade the thing a time or two, and then came great disaster. He had drawn the little stick, so held in the way we now call arrowwise, back nearly to the point where its head would come inside the bent twig and there fix itself, when the slight thing escaped his hands and flew away.
The quiet of the afternoon was broken by a piercing childish yell which lacked no element of earnestness. Ab leaped to his feet and was by the youngsters in a moment. He saw the terrified Beechleaf standing, screaming still, with a fat arm outheld, from which dangled a little shaft of wood which had pierced the flesh just deeply enough to give it hold. Bark stood looking at her, astonished and alarmed. Understanding nothing of the circumstances, and supposing the girl's hurt came from Bark's careless flinging of sticks toward her, Ab started toward his brother to administer one of those buffets which were so easy to give or get among cave children. But Bark darted behind a convenient tree and there shrieked out his innocence of dire intent, just as the boy of to-day so fluently defends himself in any strait where castigation looms in sight. He told of the queer plaything he had made, and offered to show how all had happened.
Ab was doubtful but laughing now, for the little shaft, which had scarcely pierced the skin of Beechleaf's arm had fallen to the ground and that young person's fright had given way to vengeful indignation and she was demanding that Bark be hit with something. He allowed the sinner to give his proof. Bark, taking his toy, essayed to show how Beechleaf had been injured. He was the most unfortunate of youths. He succeeded but too well. The mimic arrow flew again and the sound that rang out now was not the cry of a child. It was the yell of a great youth, who felt a sudden and poignant hurt, and who was not maintaining any dignity. Had Bark been as sure of hand and certain of aim as any archer who lived in later centuries he could not have sent an arrow more fairly to its mark than he sent that admirable sliver into the chest of his big brother. For a second the culprit stood with staring eyes, then dropped his toy and flew into the forest with a howl which betokened his fear of something little less than sudden death.
Ab's first impulse was to pursue his sinful younger brother, but, after the first leap, he checked himself and paused to pluck away the thing which, so light the force that had impelled it, had not gone deeply in. He knew now that Bark was really blameless, and, picking up the abandoned plaything, began its examination thoughtfully and curiously.
The young man's instinct toward experiment exhibited itself as usual and he put the splinter against the string and drew it back and let it fly as he had seen Bark do—that promising sprig, by the way, being now engaged in peering from the wood and trying to form an estimate as to whether or not his return was yet advisable. Ab learned that the force of the bent twig would throw the sliver farther than he could toss it with his hand, and he wondered what would follow were something like this plaything, the device of which Bark had so stumbled upon, to be made and tried on a greater scale. "I'll make one like it, only larger," he said to himself.
The venturesome but more or less diplomatic Bark had, by this time, emerged from the wood and was apprehensively edging up toward the place where Ab was standing. The older brother saw him and called to him to come and try the thing again and the youngster knew that he was safe. Then the two toyed with the plaything for an hour or two and Ab became more and more interested in its qualities. He had no definite idea as to its possibilities. He thought only of it as a curious thing which should be larger.
The next day Ab hacked from a low-limbed tree a branch as thick as his finger and about a yard in length, and, first trimming it, bent it as Bark had bent the twig and tied a strong sinew cord across. It was a not discreditable bow, considering the fact that it was the first ever made, though one end was smaller than the other and it was rough of outline. Then Ab cut a straight willow twig, as long nearly as the bow, and began repeating the experiments of the day before. Never was man more astonished than this youth after he had drawn the twig back nearly to its head and let it go!
So drawn by a strong arm, the shaft when released flew faster and farther than the maker of what he thought of chiefly as a thing of sport had imagined could be possible. He had long to search for the headless arrow and when he found it he went away to where were bare open stretches, that he might see always where it fell. Once as he sent it from the string it struck fairly against an oak and, pointless as it was, forced itself deeply into the hard brown bark and hung there quivering. Then came to the youth a flash of thought which had its effect upon the ages: "What if there had been a point to the flying thing and it had struck a reindeer or any of the hunted animals?"
He pulled the shaft from the tree and stood there pondering for a moment or two, then suddenly started running toward the cave. He must see Old Mok!
The old man was at work and alone and the young man told him, somewhat excitedly, why he had thus come running to him. The elder listened with some patience but with a commiserating grin upon his face. He had heard young men tell of great ideas before, of a new and better way of digging pits, or of fishing, or making deadfalls for wild beasts. But he listened and yielded finally to Ab's earnest demand that he should hobble out into the open and see with his own eyes how the strung bow would send the shaft. They went together to an open space, and again and again Ab showed to his old friend what the new thing would do. With the second shot there came a new light into the eyes of the veteran hunter and he bade Ab run to the cave and bring back with him his favorite spear. The young man was back as soon as strong legs could bring him, and when he burst into the open he found Mok standing a long spear's cast from the greatest of the trees which stood about the opening.
"Throw your spear at the tree," said Mok. "Throw strongly as you can."
Ab hurled the spear as the Zulu of later times might hurl his assagai, as strongly and as well, but the distance was overmuch for spear throwing with good effect, and the flint point pierced the wood so lightly that the weight of the long shaft was too great for the holding force and it sank slowly to the ground and pulled away the head. A wild beast struck by the spear at such distance would have been sorely pricked, but not hurt seriously.
"Now take the plaything," said Old Mok, "and throw the little shaft at the tree with that."
Ab did as he was told, and, poor marksman with his new device, of course missed the big tree repeatedly, broad as the mark was, but when, at last, the bolt struck the hard trunk fairly there was a sound which told of the sharpness of the blow and the headless shaft rebounded back for yards. Old Mok looked upon it all delightedly.
"It may be there is something to your plaything," he said to the young man. "We will make a better one. But your shaft is good for nothing. We will make a straighter and stronger one and upon the end of it will put a little spearhead, and then we can tell how deeply it will go into the wood. We will work."
For days the two labored earnestly together, and when they came again into the open they bore a stronger bow, one tapered at the end opposite the natural tapering of the branch, so that it was far more flexible and symmetrical than the one they had tried before. They had abundance of ash and yew and these remained the good bow wood of all the time of archery. And the shaft was straight and bore a miniature spearhead at its end. The thought of notching the shaft to fit the string came naturally and inevitably. The bow had its first arrow.
An old man is not so easily affected as a young one, nor so hopeful, but when the second test was done the veteran Mok was the wilder and more delighted of the two who shot at the tree in the forest glade. He saw it all! No longer could the spear be counted as the thing with which to do most grievous hurt at a safe distance from whatever might be dangerous. With the better bow and straighter shaft the marksmanship improved; even for these two callow archers it was not difficult to hit at a distance of a double spear's cast the bole of the huge tree, two yards in width at least. And the arrow whistled as if it were a living thing, a hawk seeking its prey, and the flint head was buried so deeply in the wood that both Mok and Ab knew that they had found something better than any weapon the cave men had ever known!
There followed many days more of the eager working of the old man and the young one in the cave, and there was much testing of the new device, and finally, one morning, Ab issued forth armed with his ax and knife, but without his spear. He bore, instead, a bow which was the best and strongest the two had yet learned to fashion, and a sheaf of arrows slung behind his back in a quiver made of a hollow section of a mammoth's leg bone which had long been kicked about the cave. The two workers had drilled holes in the bone and passed thongs through and made a wooden bottom to the thing and now it had found its purpose. The bow was rude, as were the arrows, and the archer was not yet a certain marksman, though he had practiced diligently, but the bow was stiff, at least, and the arrows had keen heads of flint and the arms of the hunter were strong as was the bow.
There was a weary and fruitless search for game, but late in the afternoon the youth came upon a slight, sheer descent, along the foot of which ran a shallow but broad creek, beyond which was a little grass-grown valley, where were feeding a fine herd of the little deer. They were feeding in the direction of the creek and the wind blew from them to the hunter, so that no rumor of their danger was carried to them on the breeze. Ab concealed himself among the bushes on the little height and awaited what might happen. The herd fed slowly toward him.
As the deer neared the creek they grouped themselves together about where were the greenest and richest feeding-places, and when they reached the very border of the stream they were gathered in a bunch of half a hundred, close together. They were just beyond a spear's cast from the watcher, but this was a test, not of the spear, but of the bow, and the most inexperienced of archers, shooting from where Ab was hidden, must strike some one of the beasts in that broad herd. Ab sprang to his feet and drew his arrow to the head. The deer gathered for a second in affright, crowding each other before the wild bursting away together, and then the bow-string twanged, and the arrow sang hungrily, and there was the swift thud of hundreds of light feet, and the little glade was almost silent. It was not quite silent, for, floundering in its death struggles, was a single deer, through which had passed an arrow so fiercely driven that its flint head projected from the side opposite that which it had entered.
Half wild with triumph was the youth who bore home the arrow-stricken quarry, and not much more elated was he than the old man, who heard the story of the hunt, and who recognized, at once far more clearly than the younger one, the quality of the new weapon which had been discovered; the thing destined to become the greatest implement both of chase and warfare for thousands of years to come, and which was to be gradually improved, even by these two, until it became more to them than they could yet understand.
But the lips of each of the two makers of the bow were sealed for the time. Ab and Old Mok cherished together their mighty secret.
A LESSON IN SWIMMING.
Ab and Oak, ranging far in their hunting expeditions, had, long since, formed the acquaintance of the Shell People, and had even partaken of their hospitality, though there was not much to attract a guest in the abodes of the creek-haunters. Their homes were but small caves, not much more than deep burrows, dug here and there in the banks, above high water mark, and protected from wild beasts by the usual heaped rocks, leaving only a narrow passage. This insured warmth and comparative safety, but the homes lacked the spaciousness of the caves and caverns of the hills, and the food of fish and clams and periwinkles, with flesh and fruit but seldom gained, had little attraction for the occasional cave visitor. Ab and Oak would sometimes traffic with the Shell People, exchanging some creature of the land for a product of the water, but they made brief stay in a locality where the food and odors were not quite to their accustomed taste. Yet the settlement had a slight degree of interest to them. They had noted the buxom quality of some of the Shell maidens, and the two had now attained an age when a bright-eyed young person of the other sex was agreeable to look upon. But there had been no love passages. Neither of the youths was yet so badly stricken.
There came an autumn morning when Ab and Oak, who had met at daybreak, determined to visit the Shell People and go with them upon a fishing expedition. The Shell People often fished from boats, and the boats were excellent. Each consisted of four or five short logs of the most buoyant wood, bound firmly together with tough withes, but the contrivance was more than a simple raft, because, at the bow, it had been hewed to a point, and the logs had been so chosen that each curved upward there. It had been learned that the waves sometimes encountered could so more easily be cleft or overridden. None of these boats could sink, and the man of the time was quite at home in the water. It was fun for the young men whose tale is told here to go with the Shell People and assist in spearing fish or drawing them from the river's depths upon rude hooks, and the Shell People did not object, but were rather proud of the attendance of representatives of the hillside aristocracy.
The morning was one to make men far older than these two most confident and full of life. The season was late, though the river's waters were not yet cold. The mast had already begun to fall and the nuts lay thickly among the leaves. Every morning, and more regularly than it comes now, there was a spread of glistening hoar frost upon the lowlands and the little open lands in the forest and upon every spot not tree-protected. At such times there appeared to the eyes of the cave people the splendor of nature such as we now can hardly comprehend. It came most strikingly in spring and autumn, and was something wonderful. The cave men, probably, did not appreciate it. They were accustomed to it, for it was part of the record of every year. Doubtless there came a greater vigor to them in the keen air of the hoar frost time, doubtless the step of each was made more springy and each man's valor more defined in this choice atmosphere. Temperate, with a wonderful keenness to it, was the climate of the cave region in the valley of the present Thames. Even in the days of the cave men, the Gulf Stream, swinging from the equator in the great warm current already formed, laved the then peninsula as it now laves the British Isles. The climate, as has been told, was almost as equable then as now, but with a certain crispness which was a heritage from the glacial epoch. It was a time to live in, and the two were merry on their journey in the glittering morning.
The young men idled on their way and wasted an hour or two in vain attempts to approach a feeding deer nearly enough for effective spear-throwing. They were late when, after swimming the creek, they reached the Shell village and there learned that the party had already gone. They decided that they might, perhaps, overtake the fishermen, and so, with the hunter's easy lope, started briskly down the river bank. They were not destined to fish that day.
Three or four miles had been passed and a straight stretch of the river had been attained, at the end of which, a mile away, could be seen the boats of the Shell People, to be lost to sight a moment later as they swept around a bend. But there was something else in sight. Perched comfortably upon a rock, the sides of which were so precipitous that they afforded a foothold only for human beings, was a young woman of the Shell People who had before attracted Ab's attention and something of his admiration. She was fishing diligently. She had been left by the fishing party, to be taken up on their return, because, in the rush of waters about the base of the rock, was a haunt of a small fish esteemed particularly, and because the girl was one of the little tribe's adepts with hook and line She raised her eyes as she heard the patter of footsteps upon the shore, but did not exhibit any alarm when she saw the two young men. The ordinary young woman of the Shell People did not worry when away from land. She could swim like an otter and dive like a loon, and of wild beasts she had no fear when she was thus safely bestowed away from the death-harboring forest. The maiden on the rock was most serene.
The young men called to her, but she made no answer. She but fished away demurely, from time to time hauling up a flashing finny thing, which she calmly bumped on the rock and then tossed upon the silvery heap, which had already assumed fair dimensions, close behind her. As Ab looked upon the young fisherwoman his interest in her grew rapidly and he was silent, though Oak called out taunting words and asked her if she could not talk. It was not this young woman, but another, who had most pleased Oak among the girls of the Shell People.
It was not love yet with Ab, but the maiden interested him. He held no defined wish to carry her away to a new home with him, but there arose a feeling that he wanted to know her better. There might,—he didn't know—be as good wives among the Shell maidens as among the well-running girls of the hills.
"I'll swim to the rock!" he said to his companion, and Oak laughed loudly.
Short time elapsed between decision and action in those days, and hardly had Ab spoken when he flung his fur covering into the hands of Oak, and, clad only in the clout about his hips, dropped, with a splash, into the water. All this time the girl had been eyeing every motion closely. As the little waves rose laughingly about the man, she descended lightly from her perch and slid into the stream as easily and silently as a beaver might have done. And then began a chase. The girl, finding mid-current swiftly, was a full hundred yards ahead as Ab came fairly in her wake.
A splendid swimmer was the stalwart young man of the hills. He had been in and out of water almost daily since early childhood, and, though there had never been a test, was confident that, among all the Shell People, there was none he could not overtake, despite what he had heard and knew of their wonderful cleverness in the water. Were not his arms and legs longer and stronger than theirs and his chest deeper? He felt that he could outswim easily any bold fisherman among them, and as for this girl, he would overtake her very quickly and draw her to the bank, and then there would be an interview of much enjoyment, at least to him. His strong arm swept the water back, and his strong legs, working with them, drove his body forward swiftly toward the brown object not very far ahead. Along the bank ran the laughing and shouting Oak.
Yard by yard, Ab's mighty strokes brought him nearer the object of his pursuit. She was swimming breast forward, as was he—for that was his only way—she with a dog-like paddling stroke, and often she turned her head to look backward at the man. She did not, even yet, appear affrighted, and this Ab wondered at, for it was seldom that a girl of the time, thus hunted, was not, and with reason, terrified. She, possibly, understood that the chase did not involve a real abduction, for she and her pursuer had often met, but there was, at least, reason enough for avoiding too close contact on this day. She swam on steadily, and, as steadily, Ab gained upon her.
Down the long stretch of tumbling river, sweeping eastward between hill and slope and plain and woodland, went the chase, while the panting and cheering Oak, strong-legged and enduring as he was, barely kept pace with the two heads he could see bobbing, not far apart now, in the tossing waters. Ab had long since forgotten Oak. He had forgotten how it was that he came to be thus swimming in the river. His thought was only what now made up an overmastering aim. He must reach and seize upon the girl before him!
Closer and closer, though she as much as he was aided by the swift current, the young man approached the girl. The hundred yards had lessened into tens and he could plainly see now the wake about her and the occasional up-flip of her brown heels as she went high in her stroke. He now felt easily assured of her and laughed to himself as he swept his arms backward in a fiercer stroke and came so close that he could discern her outline through the water. It was but a matter of endurance, he chuckled to himself. How could a woman outswim a man like him?
It was just at the time when this thought came that Ab saw the Shell girl lift her head and turn it toward him and laugh—laugh recklessly, almost in his very face, so close together were they now. And then she taught him something! There was a dip such as the otter makes when he seeks the depths and there was no longer a girl in sight! But this was only a demonstration, made in sheer audacity and blithesome insolence, for the brown head soon appeared again some yards ahead and there was another twist of it and another merry laugh. Then the neat body turned upon its side, and with quick outdriving legstrokes and the overhand and underhand pulling-forward which modern swimmers partly know, the girl shot ahead through the tiny white-capped waves and away from the swimmer so close behind her, as to-day the cutter leaves the scow. From the river bank came a wild yelp, the significance of which, if analyzed, might have included astonishment and great delight and brotherly derision. Oak was having a great day of it! He was the sole witness of a swimming-match the like of which was rare, and he was getting even with his friend for various assumptions of superiority in various doings.
Unexhausted and sturdy and stubborn, Ab was not the one to abandon his long chase because of this new phase of things. He inhaled a great breath and made the water foam with his swift strokes, but as well might a wild goose chase a swallow on the wing as he seek to overtake that brown streak on the water. It was wonderful, the manner in which that Shell girl swam! She was like the birds which swim and dive and dip, and know of nothing which they fear if only they are in the water far enough away from where there is the need of stalking over soil and stone. It was not that the Shell girl was other than at home on land. She was quite at home there and reasonably fleet, but the creek and river had so been her element from babyhood that the chase of the hill man had been, from the start, a sheer absurdity.
Ab lifted himself in the waters and gazed upon the dark spot far away, and, piqued and maddened, put forth all the swimming strength there was left in his brawny body. It seemed for a brief time that he was almost equal to the task of gaining upon what was little more than a dot upon the surface far ahead. But his scant prospect of success was only momentary. The trifling spot in the distant drifts of the river seemed to have certain ideas of its own. The speed of its course in the water did not abate and, in a moment, it was carried around the bend, and lost to sight. Ab drifted to the turn and saw, below, a girl clambering into safety among the rafts of the fishing Shell People. What she would tell them he did not know. That was not a matter to be much considered.
There was but one thing to be done and that was to reach the land and return to a life more strictly earthly and more comfortable. There is nothing like water for overcoming a young man's fancy for many things. Ab swam now with a somewhat tired and languid stroke to the shore, where Oak awaited him hilariously. They almost came to blows that afternoon, and blows between such as they might have easily meant sudden death. But they were not rivals yet and there was much to talk of good-naturedly, after some slight outflamings of passion on the part of Ab, and the two men were good friends again.
The sum of all the day was that there had been much exercise and fun, for Oak at least. Ab had not caught the Shell girl, manfully as he had striven. Had he caught her and talked with her upon the river bank it might have changed the current of his life. With a man so young and sturdy and so full of life the laughing fancy of a moment might have changed into a stronger feeling and the swimming girl might have become a woman of the cave people, one not quite so equal by heritage to the task of breeding good climbing and running and fighting and progressive beings as some girl of the hills.
It matters little what might have happened had the outcome of the day's effort been the reverse of what it was. This is but the account of the race and what the sequel was when Ab swam so far and furiously and well. It was his first flirtation. It was yet to come to him that he should be really in love in the cave man's way.
THE MAMMOTH AT BAY.
It was late autumn, and a light snow covered the ground, when one day a cave man, panting for breath, came running down the river bank and paused at the cave of One-Ear. He had news, great news! He told his story hurriedly, and then was taken into the cave and given meat, while Ab, seizing his weapons, fled downward further still toward the great kitchen-midden of the Shell People. Just as ages and ages later, not far from the same region, some Scottish runner carried the fiery cross, Ab ran exultingly with the news it was his to bring. There must be an immediate gathering, not only of the cave men, but of the Shell People as well, and great mutual effort for great gain. The mammoths were near the point of the upland!
The runner to the cave of One-Ear was a hunter living some miles to the north, upon a ledge of a broad forest-covered plateau terminating on the west in a slope which ended in a precipice with more than a hundred feet of sheer descent to the valley below. On rare occasions a herd of mammoths invaded the forest and worked itself toward the apex of the plateau, and then word went all over the region, for it was an event in the history of the cave men. If but a sufficient force could be suddenly assembled, food in abundance for all was almost certainly assured. The prize was something stupendous, but prompt action was required, and there might be tragedies. As bees hum and gather when their hive is disturbed, so did the Shell People when Ab burst in upon them and delivered his message. There was rushing about and a gathering of weapons and a sorting out of men who should go upon the expedition. But little time was wasted. Within half an hour Ab was straining back again up the river toward his own abode, while behind him trailed half a hundred of the Shell People, armed in a way effective enough, but which, in the estimation of the cave men, was preposterous. The spears of the Shell People had shafts of different wood and heads of different material from those of the cave men, and they used their weapons in a different manner. Accustomed to the spearing of fish or of an occasional water beast, like a small hippopotamus, which still existed in the rivers of the peninsula, they always threw their spears—though the cave people were experts with this as well—and, as a last resource in close conflict, they used no stone ax or mace, but simply ran away, to throw again from a distance, or to fly again, as conditions made advisable. But they were brave in a way—it was necessary that all who would live must have a certain animal bravery in those days—and their numbers made them essential in the rare hunting of the mammoth.
When the company reached the home of Ab they found already assembled there a score of the hill men, and, as the word had gone out in every direction, it was found, when the rendezvous was reached, which was the cave of Hilltop, the man living near the crest of the plateau, and the one who had made the first run down the river, that there were more than a hundred, counting all together, to advance against the herd and, if possible, drive the great beasts toward the precipice. Among this hundred there was none more delighted than Ab and Oak, for, of course, these two had found each other in the group, and were almost like a brace of dogs whining for the danger and the hunt.
Not lightly was an expedition against a herd of mammoths to be begun, even by a hundred well-armed people of the time of the cave men. The mammoth was a monster beast, with perhaps somewhat less of sagaciousness than the modern elephant, but with a temper which was demoniacal when aroused, and with a strength which nothing could resist. He could be slain only by strategy. Hence the everlasting watch over the triangular plateau and the gathering of the cave and river people to catch him at a disadvantage. But, even with a drove feeding near the slope which led to the precipice, the cave men would have been helpless without the introduction of other elements than their weapons and their clamor. The mammoth paid no more attention to the cave man with a spear than to one of the little wild horses which fed near him at times. The pygmy did not alarm him, but did the pygmy ever venture upon an attack, then it was likely to be seized by the huge trunk and flung against rock or tree, to fall crushed and mangled, or else it was trodden viciously under foot. From one thing, though, the mammoth, huge as he was, would flee in terror. He could not face the element of fire, and this the cave men had learned to their advantage. They could drive the mammoth when they dare not venture to attack him, and herein lay their advantage.
Under direction of the veteran hunter, Hilltop, who had discovered the whereabouts of the drove, preparations were made for the dangerous advance, and the first thing done was the breaking off of dry roots of the overturned pitch pines, and gathering of knots of the same trees, with limbs attached, to serve as handles. These roots and knots, once lighted, would blaze for hours and made the most perfect of natural torches. Lengths of bark of certain other trees when bound together and lighted at one end burned almost as long and brightly as the roots and knots. Each man carried an unlighted torch of one kind or another, in addition to his weapons, and when this provision was made the band was stretched out in a long line and a silent advance began through the forest. The herd of mammoths was composed of nineteen, led by a monster even of his kind, and men who had been watching them all night and during the forenoon said that the herd was feeding very near the edge of the wood, where it ended on the slope leading to the precipice. There was ice upon the slope and there were chances of a great day's hunting. To cut off the mammoths, that is, to extend a line across the uprising peninsula where they were feeding, would require a line of not more than about five hundred yards in length, and as there were more than a hundred of the hunters, the line which could be formed would be most effective. Lighted punk, which preserved fire and gave forth no odor to speak of, was carried by a number of the men, and the advance began.
It had been an exhilarating scene when the cave men and Shell People first assembled and when the work of gathering material for the torches was in progress. So far was the gathering from the present haunt of the game that caution had been unnecessary, and there was talk and laughter and all the open enjoyment of an anticipated conquest. The light snow, barely covering the ground, flashed in the sun, and the hunters, practically impervious to the slight cold, were almost prankish in their demeanor. Ab and Oak especially were buoyant. This was the first hunt upon the rocky peninsula of either of them, and they were delighted with the new surroundings and eager for the fray to come. All about was talk and laughter, which became general with any slight physical disaster which came to one among the hunters in the climbing of some tree for a promising dead branch or finding a treacherous hollow when assailing the roots of some upturned pine. It was a brisk scene and a lively one, that which occurred that crisp morning in late autumn when the wild men gathered to hunt the mammoth. All was brightness and jollity and noise.