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- This Line
Of our wanderings in the great swamp I have no clear knowledge. When I
strive to remember, I have a riot of unrelated impressions and a loss of
time-value. I have no idea of how long we were in that vast everglade, but
it must have been for weeks. My memories of what occurred invariably take
the form of nightmare. For untold ages, oppressed by protean fear, I am
aware of wandering, endlessly wandering, through a dank and soggy
wilderness, where poisonous snakes struck at us, and animals roared around
us, and the mud quaked under us and sucked at our heels.
I know that we were turned from our course countless times by streams and
lakes and slimy seas. Then there were storms and risings of the water over
great areas of the low-lying lands; and there were periods of hunger and
misery when we were kept prisoners in the trees for days and days by these
Very strong upon me is one picture. Large trees are about us, and from
their branches hang gray filaments of moss, while great creepers, like
monstrous serpents, curl around the trunks and writhe in tangles through
the air. And all about is the mud, soft mud, that bubbles forth gases, and
that heaves and sighs with internal agitations. And in the midst of all
this are a dozen of us. We are lean and wretched, and our bones show
through our tight-stretched skins. We do not sing and chatter and laugh.
We play no pranks. For once our volatile and exuberant spirits are
hopelessly subdued. We make plaintive, querulous noises, look at one
another, and cluster close together. It is like the meeting of the handful
of survivors after the day of the end of the world.
This event is without connection with the other events in the swamp. How
we ever managed to cross it, I do not know, but at last we came out where
a low range of hills ran down to the bank of the river. It was our river
emerging like ourselves from the great swamp. On the south bank, where the
river had broken its way through the hills, we found many sand-stone
caves. Beyond, toward the west, the ocean boomed on the bar that lay
across the river's mouth. And here, in the caves, we settled down in our
abiding-place by the sea.
There were not many of us. From time to time, as the days went by, more of
the Folk appeared. They dragged themselves from the swamp singly, and in
twos and threes, more dead than alive, mere perambulating skeletons, until
at last there were thirty of us. Then no more came from the swamp, and
Red-Eye was not among us. It was noticeable that no children had survived
the frightful journey.
I shall not tell in detail of the years we lived by the sea. It was not a
happy abiding-place. The air was raw and chill, and we suffered
continually from coughing and colds. We could not survive in such an
environment. True, we had children; but they had little hold on life and
died early, while we died faster than new ones were born. Our number
Then the radical change in our diet was not good for us. We got few
vegetables and fruits, and became fish-eaters. There were mussels and
abalones and clams and rock-oysters, and great ocean-crabs that were
thrown upon the beaches in stormy weather. Also, we found several kinds of
seaweed that were good to eat. But the change in diet caused us stomach
troubles, and none of us ever waxed fat. We were all lean and
dyspeptic-looking. It was in getting the big abalones that Lop-Ear was
lost. One of them closed upon his fingers at low-tide, and then the
flood-tide came in and drowned him. We found his body the next day, and it
was a lesson to us. Not another one of us was ever caught in the closing
shell of an abalone.
The Swift One and I managed to bring up one child, a boy—at least we
managed to bring him along for several years. But I am quite confident he
could never have survived that terrible climate. And then, one day, the
Fire People appeared again. They had come down the river, not on a
catamaran, but in a rude dug-out. There were three of them that paddled in
it, and one of them was the little wizened old hunter. They landed on our
beach, and he limped across the sand and examined our caves.
They went away in a few minutes, but the Swift One was badly scared. We
were all frightened, but none of us to the extent that she was. She
whimpered and cried and was restless all that night. In the morning she
took the child in her arms, and by sharp cries, gestures, and example,
started me on our second long flight. There were eight of the Folk (all
that was left of the horde) that remained behind in the caves. There was
no hope for them. Without doubt, even if the Fire People did not return,
they must soon have perished. It was a bad climate down there by the sea.
The Folk were not constituted for the coast-dwelling life.
We travelled south, for days skirting the great swamp but never venturing
into it. Once we broke back to the westward, crossing a range of mountains
and coming down to the coast. But it was no place for us. There were no
trees—only bleak headlands, a thundering surf, and strong winds that
seemed never to cease from blowing. We turned back across the mountains,
travelling east and south, until we came in touch with the great swamp
Soon we gained the southern extremity of the swamp, and we continued our
course south and east. It was a pleasant land. The air was warm, and we
were again in the forest. Later on we crossed a low-lying range of hills
and found ourselves in an even better forest country. The farther we
penetrated from the coast the warmer we found it, and we went on and on
until we came to a large river that seemed familiar to the Swift One. It
was where she must have come during the four years' absence from the
horde. This river we crossed on logs, landing on side at the large bluff.
High up on the bluff we found our new home most difficult of access and
quite hidden from any eye beneath.
There is little more of my tale to tell. Here the Swift One and I lived
and reared our family. And here my memories end. We never made another
migration. I never dream beyond our high, inaccessible cave. And here must
have been born the child that inherited the stuff of my dreams, that had
moulded into its being all the impressions of my life—or of the life
of Big-Tooth, rather, who is my other-self, and not my real self, but who
is so real to me that often I am unable to tell what age I am living in.
I often wonder about this line of descent. I, the modern, am incontestably
a man; yet I, Big-Tooth, the primitive, am not a man. Somewhere, and by
straight line of descent, these two parties to my dual personality were
connected. Were the Folk, before their destruction, in the process of
becoming men? And did I and mine carry through this process? On the other
hand, may not some descendant of mine have gone in to the Fire People and
become one of them? I do not know. There is no way of learning. One thing
only is certain, and that is that Big-Tooth did stamp into the cerebral
constitution of one of his progeny all the impressions of his life, and
stamped them in so indelibly that the hosts of intervening generations
have failed to obliterate them.
There is one other thing of which I must speak before I close. It is a
dream that I dream often, and in point of time the real event must have
occurred during the period of my living in the high, inaccessible cave. I
remember that I wandered far in the forest toward the east. There I came
upon a tribe of Tree People. I crouched in a thicket and watched them at
play. They were holding a laughing council, jumping up and down and
screeching rude choruses.
Suddenly they hushed their noise and ceased their capering. They shrank
down in fear, and quested anxiously about with their eyes for a way of
retreat. Then Red-Eye walked in among them. They cowered away from him.
All were frightened. But he made no attempt to hurt them. He was one of
them. At his heels, on stringy bended legs, supporting herself with
knuckles to the ground on either side, walked an old female of the Tree
People, his latest wife. He sat down in the midst of the circle. I can see
him now, as I write this, scowling, his eyes inflamed, as he peers about
him at the circle of the Tree People. And as he peers he crooks one
monstrous leg and with his gnarly toes scratches himself on the stomach.
He is Red-Eye, the atavism.
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