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Chapter IV - Prehistoric Memories
There is one puzzling thing about these prehistoric memories of mine. It
is the vagueness of the time element. I lo not always know the order of
events;—or can I tell, between some events, whether one, two, or
four or five years have elapsed. I can only roughly tell the passage of
time by judging the changes in the appearance and pursuits of my fellows.
Also, I can apply the logic of events to the various happenings. For
instance, there is no doubt whatever that my mother and I were treed by
the wild pigs and fled and fell in the days before I made the acquaintance
of Lop-Ear, who became what I may call my boyhood chum. And it is just as
conclusive that between these two periods I must have left my mother.
I have no memory of my father than the one I have given. Never, in the
years that followed, did he reappear. And from my knowledge of the times,
the only explanation possible lies in that he perished shortly after the
adventure with the wild pigs. That it must have been an untimely end,
there is no discussion. He was in full vigor, and only sudden and violent
death could have taken him off. But I know not the manner of his going—whether
he was drowned in the river, or was swallowed by a snake, or went into the
stomach of old Saber-Tooth, the tiger, is beyond my knowledge.
For know that I remember only the things I saw myself, with my own eyes,
in those prehistoric days. If my mother knew my father's end, she never
told me. For that matter I doubt if she had a vocabulary adequate to
convey such information. Perhaps, all told, the Folk in that day had a
vocabulary of thirty or forty sounds.
I call them SOUNDS, rather than WORDS, because sounds they were primarily.
They had no fixed values, to be altered by adjectives and adverbs. These
latter were tools of speech not yet invented. Instead of qualifying nouns
or verbs by the use of adjectives and adverbs, we qualified sounds by
intonation, by changes in quantity and pitch, by retarding and by
accelerating. The length of time employed in the utterance of a particular
sound shaded its meaning.
We had no conjugation. One judged the tense by the context. We talked only
concrete things because we thought only concrete things. Also, we depended
largely on pantomime. The simplest abstraction was practically beyond our
thinking; and when one did happen to think one, he was hard put to
communicate it to his fellows. There were no sounds for it. He was
pressing beyond the limits of his vocabulary. If he invented sounds for
it, his fellows did not understand the sounds. Then it was that he fell
back on pantomime, illustrating the thought wherever possible and at the
same time repeating the new sound over and over again.
Thus language grew. By the few sounds we possessed we were enabled to
think a short distance beyond those sounds; then came the need for new
sounds wherewith to express the new thought. Sometimes, however, we
thought too long a distance in advance of our sounds, managed to achieve
abstractions (dim ones I grant), which we failed utterly to make known to
other folk. After all, language did not grow fast in that day.
Oh, believe me, we were amazingly simple. But we did know a lot that is
not known to-day. We could twitch our ears, prick them up and flatten them
down at will. And we could scratch between our shoulders with ease. We
could throw stones with our feet. I have done it many a time. And for that
matter, I could keep my knees straight, bend forward from the hips, and
touch, not the tips of my fingers, but the points of my elbows, to the
ground. And as for bird-nesting—well, I only wish the
twentieth-century boy could see us. But we made no collections of eggs. We
I remember—but I out-run my story. First let me tell of Lop-Ear and
our friendship. Very early in my life, I separated from my mother.
Possibly this was because, after the death of my father, she took to
herself a second husband. I have few recollections of him, and they are
not of the best. He was a light fellow. There was no solidity to him. He
was too voluble. His infernal chattering worries me even now as I think of
it. His mind was too inconsequential to permit him to possess purpose.
Monkeys in their cages always remind me of him. He was monkeyish. That is
the best description I can give of him.
He hated me from the first. And I quickly learned to be afraid of him and
his malicious pranks. Whenever he came in sight I crept close to my mother
and clung to her. But I was growing older all the time, and it was
inevitable that I should from time to time stray from her, and stray
farther and farther. And these were the opportunities that the Chatterer
waited for. (I may as well explain that we bore no names in those days;
were not known by any name. For the sake of convenience I have myself
given names to the various Folk I was more closely in contact with, and
the "Chatterer" is the most fitting description I can find for that
precious stepfather of mine. As for me, I have named myself "Big-Tooth."
My eye-teeth were pronouncedly large.)
But to return to the Chatterer. He persistently terrorized me. He was
always pinching me and cuffing me, and on occasion he was not above biting
me. Often my mother interfered, and the way she made his fur fly was a joy
to see. But the result of all this was a beautiful and unending family
quarrel, in which I was the bone of contention.
No, my home-life was not happy. I smile to myself as I write the phrase.
Home-life! Home! I had no home in the modern sense of the term. My home
was an association, not a habitation. I lived in my mother's care, not in
a house. And my mother lived anywhere, so long as when night came she was
above the ground.
My mother was old-fashioned. She still clung to her trees. It is true, the
more progressive members of our horde lived in the caves above the river.
But my mother was suspicious and unprogressive. The trees were good enough
for her. Of course, we had one particular tree in which we usually
roosted, though we often roosted in other trees when nightfall caught us.
In a convenient fork was a sort of rude platform of twigs and branches and
creeping things. It was more like a huge bird-nest than anything else,
though it was a thousand times cruder in the weaving than any bird-nest.
But it had one feature that I have never seen attached to any bird-nest,
namely, a roof.
Oh, not a roof such as modern man makes! Nor a roof such as is made by the
lowest aborigines of to-day. It was infinitely more clumsy than the
clumsiest handiwork of man—of man as we know him. It was put
together in a casual, helter-skelter sort of way. Above the fork of the
tree whereon we rested was a pile of dead branches and brush. Four or five
adjacent forks held what I may term the various ridge-poles. These were
merely stout sticks an inch or so in diameter. On them rested the brush
and branches. These seemed to have been tossed on almost aimlessly. There
was no attempt at thatching. And I must confess that the roof leaked
miserably in a heavy rain.
But the Chatterer. He made home-life a burden for both my mother and me—and
by home-life I mean, not the leaky nest in the tree, but the group-life of
the three of us. He was most malicious in his persecution of me. That was
the one purpose to which he held steadfastly for longer than five minutes.
Also, as time went by, my mother was less eager in her defence of me. I
think, what of the continuous rows raised by the Chatterer, that I must
have become a nuisance to her. At any rate, the situation went from bad to
worse so rapidly that I should soon, of my own volition, have left home.
But the satisfaction of performing so independent an act was denied me.
Before I was ready to go, I was thrown out. And I mean this literally.
The opportunity came to the Chatterer one day when I was alone in the
nest. My mother and the Chatterer had gone away together toward the
blueberry swamp. He must have planned the whole thing, for I heard him
returning alone through the forest, roaring with self-induced rage as he
came. Like all the men of our horde, when they were angry or were trying
to make themselves angry, he stopped now and again to hammer on his chest
with his fist.
I realized the helplessness of my situation, and crouched trembling in the
nest. The Chatterer came directly to the tree—I remember it was an
oak tree—and began to climb up. And he never ceased for a moment
from his infernal row. As I have said, our language was extremely meagre,
and he must have strained it by the variety of ways in which he informed
me of his undying hatred of me and of his intention there and then to have
it out with me.
As he climbed to the fork, I fled out the great horizontal limb. He
followed me, and out I went, farther and farther. At last I was out
amongst the small twigs and leaves. The Chatterer was ever a coward, and
greater always than any anger he ever worked up was his caution. He was
afraid to follow me out amongst the leaves and twigs. For that matter, his
greater weight would have crashed him through the foliage before he could
have got to me.
But it was not necessary for him to reach me, and well he knew it, the
scoundrel! With a malevolent expression on his face, his beady eyes
gleaming with cruel intelligence, he began teetering. Teetering!—and
with me out on the very edge of the bough, clutching at the twigs that
broke continually with my weight. Twenty feet beneath me was the earth.
Wildly and more—wildly he teetered, grinning at me his gloating
hatred. Then came the end. All four holds broke at the same time, and I
fell, back-downward, looking up at him, my hands and feet still clutching
the broken twigs. Luckily, there were no wild pigs under me, and my fall
was broken by the tough and springy bushes.
Usually, my falls destroy my dreams, the nervous shock being sufficient to
bridge the thousand centuries in an instant and hurl me wide awake into my
little bed, where, perchance, I lie sweating and trembling and hear the
cuckoo clock calling the hour in the hall. But this dream of my leaving
home I have had many times, and never yet have I been awakened by it.
Always do I crash, shrieking, down through the brush and fetch up with a
bump on the ground.
Scratched and bruised and whimpering, I lay where I had fallen. Peering up
through the bushes, I could see the Chatterer. He had set up a demoniacal
chant of joy and was keeping time to it with his teetering. I quickly
hushed my whimpering. I was no longer in the safety of the trees, and I
knew the danger I ran of bringing upon myself the hunting animals by too
audible an expression of my grief.
I remember, as my sobs died down, that I became interested in watching the
strange light-effects produced by partially opening and closing my
tear-wet eyelids. Then I began to investigate, and found that I was not so
very badly damaged by my fall. I had lost some hair and hide, here and
there; the sharp and jagged end of a broken branch had thrust fully an
inch into my forearm; and my right hip, which had borne the brunt of my
contact with the ground, was aching intolerably. But these, after all,
were only petty hurts. No bones were broken, and in those days the flesh
of man had finer healing qualities than it has to-day. Yet it was a severe
fall, for I limped with my injured hip for fully a week afterward.
Next, as I lay in the bushes, there came upon me a feeling of desolation,
a consciousness that I was homeless. I made up my mind never to return to
my mother and the Chatterer. I would go far away through the terrible
forest, and find some tree for myself in which to roost. As for food, I
knew where to find it. For the last year at least I had not been beholden
to my mother for food. All she had furnished me was protection and
I crawled softly out through the bushes. Once I looked back and saw the
Chatterer still chanting and teetering. It was not a pleasant sight. I
knew pretty well how to be cautious, and I was exceedingly careful on this
my first journey in the world.
I gave no thought as to where I was going. I had but one purpose, and that
was to go away beyond the reach of the Chatterer. I climbed into the trees
and wandered on amongst them for hours, passing from tree to tree and
never touching the ground. But I did not go in any particular direction,
nor did I travel steadily. It was my nature, as it was the nature of all
my folk, to be inconsequential. Besides, I was a mere child, and I stopped
a great deal to play by the way.
The events that befell me on my leaving home are very vague in my mind. My
dreams do not cover them. Much has my other-self forgotten, and
particularly at this very period. Nor have I been able to frame up the
various dreams so as to bridge the gap between my leaving the home-tree
and my arrival at the caves.
I remember that several times I came to open spaces. These I crossed in
great trepidation, descending to the ground and running at the top of my
speed. I remember that there were days of rain and days of sunshine, so
that I must have wandered alone for quite a time. I especially dream of my
misery in the rain, and of my sufferings from hunger and how I appeased
it. One very strong impression is of hunting little lizards on the rocky
top of an open knoll. They ran under the rocks, and most of them escaped;
but occasionally I turned over a stone and caught one. I was frightened
away from this knoll by snakes. They did not pursue me. They were merely
basking on flat rocks in the sun. But such was my inherited fear of them
that I fled as fast as if they had been after me.
Then I gnawed bitter bark from young trees. I remember vaguely the eating
of many green nuts, with soft shells and milky kernels. And I remember
most distinctly suffering from a stomach-ache. It may have been caused by
the green nuts, and maybe by the lizards. I do not know. But I do know
that I was fortunate in not being devoured during the several hours I was
knotted up on the ground with the colic.
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