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- Visions in the Cave
My vision of the scene came abruptly, as I emerged from the forest. I
found myself on the edge of a large clear space. On one side of this space
rose up high bluffs. On the other side was the river. The earth bank ran
steeply down to the water, but here and there, in several places, where at
some time slides of earth had occurred, there were run-ways. These were
the drinking-places of the Folk that lived in the caves.
And this was the main abiding-place of the Folk that I had chanced upon.
This was, I may say, by stretching the word, the village. My mother and
the Chatterer and I, and a few other simple bodies, were what might be
termed suburban residents. We were part of the horde, though we lived a
distance away from it. It was only a short distance, though it had taken
me, what of my wandering, all of a week to arrive. Had I come directly, I
could have covered the trip in an hour.
But to return. From the edge of the forest I saw the caves in the bluff,
the open space, and the run-ways to the drinking-places. And in the open
space I saw many of the Folk. I had been straying, alone and a child, for
a week. During that time I had seen not one of my kind. I had lived in
terror and desolation. And now, at the sight of my kind, I was overcome
with gladness, and I ran wildly toward them.
Then it was that a strange thing happened. Some one of the Folk saw me and
uttered a warning cry. On the instant, crying out with fear and panic, the
Folk fled away. Leaping and scrambling over the rocks, they plunged into
the mouths of the caves and disappeared...all but one, a little baby, that
had been dropped in the excitement close to the base of the bluff. He was
wailing dolefully. His mother dashed out; he sprang to meet her and held
on tightly as she scrambled back into the cave.
I was all alone. The populous open space had of a sudden become deserted.
I sat down forlornly and whimpered. I could not understand. Why had the
Folk run away from me? In later time, when I came to know their ways, I
was to learn. When they saw me dashing out of the forest at top speed they
concluded that I was being pursued by some hunting animal. By my
unceremonious approach I had stampeded them.
As I sat and watched the cave-mouths I became aware that the Folk were
watching me. Soon they were thrusting their heads out. A little later they
were calling back and forth to one another. In the hurry and confusion it
had happened that all had not gained their own caves. Some of the young
ones had sought refuge in other caves. The mothers did not call for them
by name, because that was an invention we had not yet made. All were
nameless. The mothers uttered querulous, anxious cries, which were
recognized by the young ones. Thus, had my mother been there calling to
me, I should have recognized her voice amongst the voices of a thousand
mothers, and in the same way would she have recognized mine amongst a
This calling back and forth continued for some time, but they were too
cautious to come out of their caves and descend to the ground. Finally one
did come. He was destined to play a large part in my life, and for that
matter he already played a large part in the lives of all the members of
the horde. He it was whom I shall call Red-Eye in the pages of this
history—so called because of his inflamed eyes, the lids being
always red, and, by the peculiar effect they produced, seeming to
advertise the terrible savagery of him. The color of his soul was red.
He was a monster in all ways. Physically he was a giant. He must have
weighed one hundred and seventy pounds. He was the largest one of our kind
I ever saw. Nor did I ever see one of the Fire People so large as he, nor
one of the Tree People. Sometimes, when in the newspapers I happen upon
descriptions of our modern bruisers and prizefighters, I wonder what
chance the best of them would have had against him.
I am afraid not much of a chance. With one grip of his iron fingers and a
pull, he could have plucked a muscle, say a biceps, by the roots, clear
out of their bodies. A back-handed, loose blow of his fist could have
smashed their skulls like egg-shells. With a sweep of his wicked feet (or
hind-hands) he could have disembowelled them. A twist could have broken
their necks, and I know that with a single crunch of his jaws he could
have pierced, at the same moment, the great vein of the throat in front
and the spinal marrow at the back.
He could spring twenty feet horizontally from a sitting position. He was
abominably hairy. It was a matter of pride with us to be not very hairy.
But he was covered with hair all over, on the inside of the arms as well
as the outside, and even the ears themselves. The only places on him where
the hair did not grow were the soles of his hands and feet and beneath his
eyes. He was frightfully ugly, his ferocious grinning mouth and huge
down-hanging under-lip being but in harmony with his terrible eyes.
This was Red-Eye. And right gingerly he crept out or his cave and
descended to the ground. Ignoring me, he proceeded to reconnoitre. He bent
forward from the hips as he walked; and so far forward did he bend, and so
long were his arms, that with every step he touched the knuckles of his
hands to the ground on either side of him. He was awkward in the
semi-erect position of walking that he assumed, and he really touched his
knuckles to the ground in order to balance himself. But oh, I tell you he
could run on all-fours! Now this was something at which we were
particularly awkward. Furthermore, it was a rare individual among us who
balanced himself with his knuckles when walking. Such an individual was an
atavism, and Red-Eye was an even greater atavism.
That is what he was—an atavism. We were in the process of changing
our tree-life to life on the ground. For many generations we had been
going through this change, and our bodies and carriage had likewise
changed. But Red-Eye had reverted to the more primitive tree-dwelling
type. Perforce, because he was born in our horde he stayed with us; but in
actuality he was an atavism and his place was elsewhere.
Very circumspect and very alert, he moved here and there about the open
space, peering through the vistas among the trees and trying to catch a
glimpse of the hunting animal that all suspected had pursued me. And while
he did this, taking no notice of me, the Folk crowded at the cave-mouths
At last he evidently decided that there was no danger lurking about. He
was returning from the head of the run-way, from where he had taken a peep
down at the drinking-place. His course brought him near, but still he did
not notice me. He proceeded casually on his way until abreast of me, and
then, without warning and with incredible swiftness, he smote me a buffet
on the head. I was knocked backward fully a dozen feet before I fetched up
against the ground, and I remember, half-stunned, even as the blow was
struck, hearing the wild uproar of clucking and shrieking laughter that
arose from the caves. It was a great joke—at least in that day; and
right heartily the Folk appreciated it.
Thus was I received into the horde. Red-Eye paid no further attention to
me, and I was at liberty to whimper and sob to my heart's content. Several
of the women gathered curiously about me, and I recognized them. I had
encountered them the preceding year when my mother had taken me to the
But they quickly left me alone, being replaced by a dozen curious and
teasing youngsters. They formed a circle around me, pointing their
fingers, making faces, and poking and pinching me. I was frightened, and
for a time I endured them, then anger got the best of me and I sprang
tooth and nail upon the most audacious one of them—none other than
Lop-Ear himself. I have so named him because he could prick up only one of
his ears. The other ear always hung limp and without movement. Some
accident had injured the muscles and deprived him of the use of it.
He closed with me, and we went at it for all the world like a couple of
small boys fighting. We scratched and bit, pulled hair, clinched, and
threw each other down. I remember I succeeded in getting on him what in my
college days I learned was called a half-Nelson. This hold gave me the
decided advantage. But I did not enjoy it long. He twisted up one leg, and
with the foot (or hind-hand) made so savage an onslaught upon my abdomen
as to threaten to disembowel me. I had to release him in order to save
myself, and then we went at it again.
Lop-Ear was a year older than I, but I was several times angrier than he,
and in the end he took to his heels. I chased him across the open and down
a run-way to the river. But he was better acquainted with the locality and
ran along the edge of the water and up another run-way. He cut diagonally
across the open space and dashed into a wide-mouthed cave.
Before I knew it, I had plunged after him into the darkness. The next
moment I was badly frightened. I had never been in a cave before. I began
to whimper and cry out. Lop-Ear chattered mockingly at me, and, springing
upon me unseen, tumbled me over. He did not risk a second encounter,
however, and took himself off. I was between him and the entrance, and he
did not pass me; yet he seemed to have gone away. I listened, but could
get no clew as to where he was. This puzzled me, and when I regained the
outside I sat down to watch.
He never came out of the entrance, of that I was certain; yet at the end
of several minutes he chuckled at my elbow. Again I ran after him, and
again he ran into the cave; but this time I stopped at the mouth. I
dropped back a short distance and watched. He did not come out, yet, as
before, he chuckled at my elbow and was chased by me a third time into the
This performance was repeated several times. Then I followed him into the
cave, where I searched vainly for him. I was curious. I could not
understand how he eluded me. Always he went into the cave, never did he
come out of it, yet always did he arrive there at my elbow and mock me.
Thus did our fight transform itself into a game of hide and seek.
All afternoon, with occasional intervals, we kept it up, and a playful,
friendly spirit arose between us. In the end, he did not run away from me,
and we sat together with our arms around each other. A little later he
disclosed the mystery of the wide-mouthed cave. Holding me by the hand he
led me inside. It connected by a narrow crevice with another cave, and it
was through this that we regained the open air.
We were now good friends. When the other young ones gathered around to
tease, he joined with me in attacking them; and so viciously did we behave
that before long I was let alone. Lop-Ear made me acquainted with the
village. There was little that he could tell me of conditions and customs—he
had not the necessary vocabulary; but by observing his actions I learned
much, and also he showed me places and things.
He took me up the open space, between the caves and the river, and into
the forest beyond, where, in a grassy place among the trees, we made a
meal of stringy-rooted carrots. After that we had a good drink at the
river and started up the run-way to the caves.
It was in the run-way that we came upon Red-Eye again. The first I knew,
Lop-Ear had shrunk away to one side and was crouching low against the
bank. Naturally and involuntarily, I imitated him. Then it was that I
looked to see the cause of his fear. It was Red-Eye, swaggering down the
centre of the run-way and scowling fiercely with his inflamed eyes. I
noticed that all the youngsters shrank away from him as we had done, while
the grown-ups regarded him with wary eyes when he drew near, and stepped
aside to give him the centre of the path.
As twilight came on, the open space was deserted. The Folk were seeking
the safety of the caves. Lop-Ear led the way to bed. High up the bluff we
climbed, higher than all the other caves, to a tiny crevice that could not
be seen from the ground. Into this Lop-Ear squeezed. I followed with
difficulty, so narrow was the entrance, and found myself in a small
rock-chamber. It was very low—not more than a couple of feet in
height, and possibly three feet by four in width and length. Here, cuddled
together in each other's arms, we slept out the night.
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