Primordial by Morgan Robertson
Gasping, blue in the face, half drowned, the boy was flung spitefully—as though the sea scorned so poor a victory—high on the sandy beach, where succeeding shorter waves lapped at him and retired. The encircling life-buoy was large enough to permit his crouching within it. Pillowing his head on one side of the smooth ring, he wailed hoarsely for an interval, then slept—or swooned. The tide went down the beach, the typhoon whirled its raging center off to sea, and the tropic moon shone out, lighting up, between the beach and barrier reef, a heaving stretch of oily lagoon on which appeared and disappeared hundreds of shark-fins quickly darting, and, out on the barrier reef, perched high, yet still pounded by the ocean combers raised by the storm, a fragment of ship's stern with a stump of mizzenmast. The elevated position of the fragment, the quickly darting dorsal fins, and the absence of company for the child on the beach spoke, too plainly, of shipwreck, useless boats, and horrible death.
Sharks must sleep like other creatures, and they nestle in hollows at the bottom and in coral caves, or under overhanging ledges of the reefs which attract them. The first swimmer may pass safely by night, seldom the second. Like she-wolves, fiendish cats, and vicious horses, they have been known to show mercy to children. For one or both reasons, this child had drifted to the beach unharmed.
Anywhere but on a bed of hot sand near the equator the sleep in wet clothing of a three-year-old boy might have been fatal; but salt water carries its own remedy for the evils of its moisture, and he wakened at daylight with strength to rise and cry out his protest of loneliness and misery. His childish mind could record facts, but not their reason or coherency. He was in a new, an unknown world. His mother had filled his old; where was she now? Why had she tied him into that thing and thrown him from her into the darkness and wet? Strange things had happened, which he dimly remembered. He had been roused from his sleep, dressed, and taken out of doors in the dark, where there were frightful crashing noises, shoutings of men, and crying of women and other children. He had cried himself, from sympathy and terror, until his mother had thrown him away. Had he been bad? Was she angry? And after that—what was the rest? He was hungry and thirsty now. Why did she not come? He would go and find her.
With the life-buoy hanging about his waist—though of cork, a heavy weight for him—he toddled along the beach to where it ended at a massive ridge of rock that came out of the wooded country inland and extended into the lagoon as an impassable point. He called the chief word in his vocabulary again and again, sobbing between calls. She was not there, or she would have come; so he went back, glancing fearfully at the dark woods of palm and undergrowth. She might be in there, but he was afraid to look. His little feet carried him a full half-mile in the other direction before the line of trees and bushes reached so close to the beach as to stop him. Here he sat down, screaming passionately and convulsively for his mother.
Crying is an expense of energy which must be replenished by food. When he could cry no longer he tugged at the straps and strings of the life-buoy. But they were wet and hard, his little fingers were weak, and he knew nothing of knots and their untying, so it was well on toward midday before he succeeded in scrambling out of the meshes, by which time he was famished, feverish with thirst, and all but sunstruck. He wandered unsteadily along the beach, falling occasionally, moaning piteously through his parched, open lips; and when he reached the obstructing ridge of rock, turned blindly into the bushes at its base, and followed it until he came to a pool of water formed by a descending spray from above. From this, on his hands and knees, he drank deeply, burying his lips as would an animal.
Instinct alone had guided him here, away from the salt pools on the beach, and impelled him to drink fearlessly. It was instinct—a familiar phase in a child—that induced him to put pebbles, twigs, and small articles in his mouth until he found what was pleasant to his taste and eatable—nuts and berries; and it was instinct, the most ancient and deeply implanted,—the lingering index of an arboreal ancestry,—that now taught him the safety and comfort of these woody shades, and, as night came on, prompted him—as it prompts a drowning man to reach high, and leads a creeping babe to a chair—to attempt climbing a tree. Failing in this from lack of strength, he mounted the rocky wall a few feet, and here, on a narrow ledge, after indulging in a final fit of crying, he slept through the night, not comfortably on so hard a bed, but soundly.
During the day, while he had crawled about at the foot of the rocks, wild hogs, marsupial animals, and wood-rats had examined him suspiciously through the undergrowth and decamped. As he slept, howling night-dogs came up, sniffed at him from a safe distance, and scattered from his vicinity. He would have yielded in a battle with a pugnacious kitten, but these creatures recognized a prehistoric foe, and would not abide with him.
A week passed before he had ceased to cry and call for his mother; but from this on her image grew fainter, and in a month the infant intelligence had discarded it. He ate nuts and berries as he found them, drank from the pool, climbed the rocks and strolled in the wood, played on the beach with shells and fragments of splintered wreckage, wore out his clothes, and in another month was naked; for when buttons and vital parts gave way and a garment fell, he let it lie. But he needed no clothes, even at night; for it was southern summer, and the northeast monsoon, adding its humid warmth to the radiating heat from the sun-baked rocks, kept the temperature nearly constant.
He learned to avoid the sun at midday, and, free from contagion and motherly coddling, escaped many of the complaints which torture and kill children; yet he suffered frightfully from colic until his stomach was accustomed to the change of diet, by which time he was emaciated to skin and bone. Then a reaction set in, and as time passed he gained healthy flesh and muscle on the nitrogenous food.
Six months from the time of his arrival, another storm swept the beach. Pelted by the warm rain, terror-stricken, he cowered under the rocks through the night, and at daylight peered out on the surf-washed sands, heaving lagoon, and white line of breakers on the barrier reef. The short-lived typhoon had passed, but the wind still blew slantingly on the beach with force enough to raise a turmoil of crashing sea and undertow in the small bay formed by the extension of the wall. The fragment of ship's stern on the reef had disappeared; but a half-mile to the right—directly in the eye of the wind—was another wreck, and somewhat nearer, on the heaving swell of the lagoon, a black spot, which moved and approached. It came down before the wind and resolved into a closely packed group of human beings, some of whom tugged frantically at the oars of the water-logged boat which held them, others of whom as frantically bailed with caps and hands. Escorting the boat was a fleet of dorsal fins, and erect in the stern-sheets was a white-faced woman, holding a child in one arm while she endeavored to remove a circular life-buoy from around her waist. At first heading straight for the part of the beach where the open-eyed boy was watching, the boat now changed its course and by desperate exertion of the rowers reached a position from which it could drift to leeward of the point and its deadly maelstrom. With rowers bailing and the white-faced woman seated, fastening the child in the life-buoy, the boat, gunwale-deep, and the gruesome guard of sharks drifted out of sight behind the point. The boy had not understood; but he had seen his kind, and from association of ideas appreciated again his loneliness—crying and wailing for a week; but not for his mother: he had forgotten her.
With the change of the monsoon came a lowering of the temperature. Naked and shelterless, he barely survived the first winter, tropical though it was. But the second found him inured to the surroundings—hardy and strong. When able to, he climbed trees and found birds' eggs, which he accidentally broke and naturally ate. It was a pleasant relief from a purely vegetable diet, and he became a proficient egg-thief; then the birds built their nests beyond his reach. Once he was savagely pecked by an angry brush-turkey and forced to defend himself. It aroused a combativeness and destructiveness that had lain dormant in his nature.
Children the world over epitomize in their habits and thoughts the infancy of the human race. Their morals and modesty, as well as their games, are those of paleolithic man, and they are as remorselessly cruel. From the day of his fracas with the turkey he was a hunter—of grubs, insects, and young birds; but only to kill, maim, or torture; he did not eat them, because hunger was satisfied, and he possessed a child's dislike of radical change.
Deprived of friction with other minds, he was slower than his social prototype in the reproduction of the epochs. At a stage when most boys are passing through the age of stone, with its marbles, caves, and slings, he was yet in the earlier arboreal period—a climber—and would swing from branch to branch with almost the agility of an ape.
On fine, sunny days, influenced by the weather, he would laugh and shout hilariously; a gloomy sky made him morose. When hurt, or angered by disappointment in the hunt, he would cry out inarticulately; but having no use for language, did not talk, hence did not think, as the term is understood. His mind received the impressions of his senses, and could fear, hate, and remember, but knew nothing of love, for nothing lovable appealed to it. He could hardly reason, as yet; his shadow puzzled, angered, and annoyed him until he noticed its concomitance with the sun, when he reversed cause and effect, considered it a beneficent, mysterious Something that had life, and endeavored by gesture and grimace to placate and please it. It was his beginning of religion.
His dreams were often horrible. Strange shapes, immense snakes and reptiles, and nondescript monsters made up of prehistoric legs, teeth, and heads, afflicted his sleep. He had never seen them; they were an inheritance, but as real to him as the sea and sky, the wind and rain.
Every six months, at the breaking up of the monsoon, would come squalls and typhoons—full of menace, for his kindly, protecting shadow then deserted him. One day, when about ten years old, during a wild burst of storm, he fled down the beach in an agony of terror; for, considering all that moved as alive, he thought that the crashing sea and swaying, falling trees were attacking him, and, half buried in the sand near the bushes, found the forgotten life-buoy, stained and weather-worn. It was quiescent, and new to him,—like nothing he had seen,—and he clung to it. At that moment the sun appeared, and in a short time the storm had passed. He carried the life-buoy back with him—spurning and threatening his delinquent shadow—and looked for a place to put it, deciding at last on a small cave in the rocky wall near to the pool. In a corner of this he installed the ring of cork and canvas, and remained by it, patting and caressing it. When it rained again, he appreciated, for the first time, the comfort of shelter, and became a cave-dweller, with a new god—a fetish, to which he transferred his allegiance and obeisance because more powerful than his shadow.
From correlation of instincts, he now entered the age of stone. He no longer played with shells and sticks, but with pebbles, which he gathered, hoarded in piles, and threw at marks,—to be gathered again,—seldom entering the woods but for food and the relaxation of the hunt. But with his change of habits came a lessening of his cruelty to defenseless creatures,—not that he felt pity: he merely found no more amusement in killing and tormenting,—and in time he transferred his antagonism to the sharks in the lagoon, their dorsal fins making famous targets for his pebbles. He needed no experience with these pirates to teach him to fear and hate them, and when he bathed—which habit he acquired as a relief from the heat, and indulged daily—he chose a pool near the rocks that filled at high tide, and in it learned to swim, paddling like a dog.
And so the boy, blue-eyed and fair at the beginning, grew to early manhood, as handsome an animal as the world contains, tall, straight, and clean-featured, with steady eyes wide apart, and skin—the color of old copper from sun and wind—covered with a fine, soft down, which at the age of sixteen had not yet thickened on his face to beard and mustache, though his wavy brown hair reached to his shoulders.
At this period a turning-point appeared in his life which gave an impetus to his almost stagnant mental development—his food-supply diminished and his pebble-supply gave out completely, forcing him to wander. Pebble-throwing was his only amusement; pebble-gathering his only labor; eating was neither. He browsed and nibbled at all hours of the day, never knowing the sensation of a full stomach, and, until lately, of an empty one. To this, perhaps, may be ascribed his wonderful immunity from sickness. In collecting pebbles his method was to carry as many as his hands would hold to a pile on the beach and go back for more; and in the six years of his stone-throwing he had found and thrown at the sharks every stone as small as his fist, within a sector formed by the beach and the rocky wall to an equal distance inland. The fruits, nuts, edible roots, and grasses growing in this area had hitherto supported him, but would no longer, owing to a drought of the previous year, which, luckily, had not affected his water-supply.
One morning, trembling with excitement, eye and ear on the alert,—as a high-spirited horse enters a strange pasture,—he ventured past the junction of bush and tide-mark, and down the unknown beach beyond. He filled his hands with the first pebbles he found, but noticing the plentiful supply on the ground ahead of him, dropped them and went on; there were other things to interest him. A broad stretch of undulating, scantily wooded country reached inland from the convex beach of sand and shells to where it met the receding line of forest and bush behind him; and far away to his right, darting back and forth among stray bushes and sand-hummocks, were small creatures—strange, unlike those he knew, but in regard to which he felt curiosity rather than fear.
He traveled around the circle of beach, and noticed that the moving creatures fled at his approach. They were wild hogs, hunted of men since hunting began. He entered the forest about midday, and emerging, found himself on a pebbly beach similar to his own, and facing a continuation of the rocky wall, which, like the other end, dipped into the lagoon and prevented further progress. He was thirsty, and found a pool near the rocks; hungry, and he ate of nuts and berries which he recognized. Puzzled by the reversal of perspective and the similarity of conditions, he proceeded along the wall, dimly expecting to find his cave. But none appeared, and, mystified,—somewhat frightened,—he plunged into the wood, keeping close to the wall and looking sharply about him. Like an exiled cat or a carrier-pigeon, he was making a straight line for home, but did not know it.
His progress was slow, for boulders, stumps, and rising ground impeded him. Darkness descended when he was but half-way home and nearly on a level with the top of the wall. Forced to stop, he threw himself down, exhausted, yet nervous and wakeful, as any other animal in a strange place. But the familiar moon came out, shining through the foliage, and this soothed him into a light slumber.
He was wakened by a sound near by that he had heard all his life at a distance—a wild chorus of barking. It was coming his way, and he crouched and waited, grasping a stone in each hand. The barking, interspersed soon with wheezing squeals, grew painfully loud, and culminated in vengeful growls, as a young pig sprang into a patch of moonlight, with a dozen dingoes—night-dogs—at its heels. In the excitement of pursuit they did not notice the crouching boy, but pounced on the pig, tore at it, snapping and snarling at one another, and in a few minutes the meal was over.
Frozen with terror at this strange sight, the boy remained quiet until the brutes began sniffing and turning in his direction; then he stood erect, and giving vent to a scream which rang through the forest, hurled the two stones with all his strength straight at the nearest. He was a good marksman. Agonized yelps followed the impact of stone and hide; two dogs rolled over and over, then, gaining their feet, sped after their fleeing companions, while the boy sat down, trembling in every limb—completely unnerved. Yet he knew that he was the cause of their flight. With a stone in each hand, he watched and waited until daylight, then arose and went on homeward, with a new and intense emotion—not fear of the dingoes: he was the superior animal, and knew it—not pity for the pig: he had not developed to the pitying stage. He was possessed by a strong, instinctive desire to emulate the dogs and eat of animal food. It did not come of his empty stomach; he felt it after he had satisfied his hunger on the way; and as he plodded down the slope toward his cave, gripped his missiles fiercely and watched sharply for small animals—preferably pigs.
But no pigs appeared. He reached his cave, and slept all day and the following night, waking in the morning hungry, and with the memory of his late adventure strong in his mind. He picked up the two stones he had brought home, and started down the beach, but stopped, came back, and turned inland by the wall; then he halted again and retraced his steps—puzzled. He pondered awhile,—if his mental processes may be so termed,—then walked slowly down the beach, entered the bush a short distance, turned again to the wall, and gained his starting-point. Then he reversed the trip, and coming back by way of the beach, struck inland with a clear and satisfied face. He had solved the problem—a new and hard one for him—that of two roads to a distant place; and he had chosen the shortest.
In a few hours he reached his late camping-spot, and crouched to the earth, listening for barking and squealing—for a pig to be chased his way. But dingoes hunt only by night, and unmolested pigs do not squeal. Impatient at last, he went on through the forest in the direction from which they had come, until he reached the open country where he had first seen them; and here, rooting under the bushes at the margin of the wood, he discovered a family—a mother and four young ones—which had possibly contained the victim of the dogs. He stalked them slowly and cautiously, keeping bushes between himself and them, but was seen by the mother when about twenty yards away. She sniffed suspiciously, then, with a warning grunt and a scattering of dust and twigs, scurried into the woods, with her brood—all but one—in her wake.
A frightened pig is as easy a target as a darting dorsal fin, and a fat suckling lay kicking convulsively on the ground. He hurried up, the hunting gleam bright in his eyes, and hurled the second stone at the little animal. It still kicked, and he picked up the first stone, thinking it might be more potent to kill, and crashed it down on the unfortunate pig's head. It glanced from the head to the other stone and struck a spark—which he noticed.
The pig now lay still, and satisfied that he had killed it, he tried to repeat the carom, but failed. Yet the spark had interested him,—he wanted to see it again,—and it was only after he had reduced the pig's head to a pulp that he became disgusted and angrily threw the stone in his hand at the one on the ground. The resulting spark delighted him. He repeated the experiment again and again, each concussion drawing a spark, and finally used one stone as a hammer on the other, with the same result—to him, a bright and pretty thing, very small, but alive, which came from either of the dead stones. Tired of the play at last, he turned to the pig—the food that he had yearned for.
It was well for him, perhaps, that the initial taste of bristle and fat prevented his taking the second mouthful. Slightly nauseated, he dropped the carcass and turned to go, but immediately bounded in the air with a howl of pain. His left foot was red and smarting. Once he had cut it on a sharp shell, and now searched for a wound, but found none. Rubbing increased the pain. Looking on the ground for the cause, he discovered a wavering, widening ring of strange appearance, and within it a blackened surface on which rested the two stones. They were dry flint nodules, and he had set fire to the grass with the sparks.
Considering this to be a new animal that had attacked him, he pelted it with stones, dancing around it in a rage and shouting hoarsely. He might have conquered the fire and never invoked it again, had not the supply of stones in the vicinity given out, or those he had used grown too hot to handle; for he stayed the advancing flame at one side. But the other side was creeping on, and he used dry branches, dropping to his hands and knees to pound the fire, fighting bravely, crying out with pain as he burned himself, and forced to drop stick after stick which caught fire. Soon it grew too hot to remain near, and he stood off and launched fuel at it, which resulted in a fair-sized bonfire; then, in desperation and fear, he hurled the dead pig—the cause of the trouble—at the terrible monster, and fled.
Looking back through the trees to see if he was pursued, he noticed that the strange enemy had taken new shape and color; it was reaching up into the air, black and cloud-like. Frightened, tired mentally and physically, and suffering keenly from his burns, he turned his back on the half-solved problem and endeavored to satisfy his hunger. But he was on strange territory and found little of his accustomed food; the chafing and abrading contact of bushes and twigs irritated his sore spots, preventing investigation and rapid progress, and at the end of three hours, still hungry, and exasperated by his torment into a reckless, fighting mood, he picked up stones and returned savagely to battle again with the enemy. But the enemy was dead. The grass had burned to where it met dry earth, and the central fire was now a black-and-white pile of still warm ashes, on which lay the charred and denuded pig, giving forth a savory odor. Cautiously approaching, he studied the situation, then, yielding to an irresistible impulse, seized the pig and ran through the woods to the wall and down to his cave.
Two hours later he was writhing on the ground with a violent stomach-ache. It was forty-eight hours after when he ate again, and then of his old food—nuts and berries. But the craving returned in a week, and he again killed a pig, but was compelled to forego eating it for lack of fire.
Though he had discovered fire and cooked food, his only conception of the process, so far, was that the mysterious enemy was too powerful for him to kill, that it would eat sticks and grass but did not like stones, and that a dead pig could kill it, and in the conflict be made eatable. It was only after months of playing with flints and sparks that he recognized the part borne by dry grass or moss, and that with these he could create it at will; that a dead pig, though always improved by the effort, could not be depended upon to kill it unless the enemy was young and small,—when stones would answer as well,—and that he could always kill it himself by depriving it of food.
It is hardly possible that animal food produced a direct effect on his mind; but the effort to obtain it certainly did, arousing his torpid faculties to a keener activity. He grasped the relation of cause to effect—seeing one, he looked for the other. He noticed resemblances and soon realized the common attributes of fire and the sun; and, as his fetish was not always good to him,—the sun and storm seeming to follow their own sweet will in spite of his unspoken faith in the lifebuoy,—he again became an apostate, transferring his allegiance to the sun, of which the friendly fire was evidently a part or symbol. He did not discard his dethroned fetish completely; he still kept it in his cave to punch, kick, and revile by gestures and growls at times when the sun was hidden, retaining this habit from his former faith. The life-buoy was now his devil—a symbol of evil, or what was the same to him—discomfort; for he had advanced in religious thought to a point where he needed one. Every morning when the sun shone, and at its reappearance after the rain, he prostrated himself in a patch of sun-light—this and the abuse of the life-buoy becoming ceremonies in his fire-worship.
In time he became such a menace to the hogs that they climbed the wall at the high ground and disappeared in the country beyond. And after them went the cowardly dingoes that preyed on their young. Rodent animals, more difficult to hunt, and a species of small kangaroo furnished him occupation and food until they, too, emigrated, when he was forced to follow; he was now a carnivorous animal, no longer satisfied with vegetable food.
The longer hunts brought with them a difficulty which spurred him to further invention. He could carry only as many stones as his hands would hold, and often found himself far from his base of supply, with game in sight, and without means to kill it. The pouch in which the mother kangaroo carried her young suggested to his mind a like contrivance for carrying stones. Since he had cut his foot on the shell, he had known the potency of a sharp edge, but not until he needed to remove charred and useless flesh from his food did he appreciate the utility. It was an easy advance for him roughly to skin a female kangaroo and wear the garment for the pocket's sake. But it chafed and irritated him; so, cutting off the troublesome parts little by little, he finally reduced it to a girdle which held only the pouch. And in this receptacle he carried stones for throwing and shells for cutting, his expeditions now extending for miles beyond the wall, and only limited by the necessity of returning for water, of which, in the limestone rock, there were plenty of pools and trickling springs.
He learned that no stones but the dry flints he found close to the wall would strike sparks; but, careless, improvident, petulant child of nature that he was, he exhausted the supply, and one day, too indolent to search his hunting-tracts to regain the necessary two, he endeavored to draw fire from a pair that he dug from the moist earth, and failing, threw them with all his strength at the rocky wall. One of them shivered to irregular pieces, the other parted with a flake—a six-inch dagger-like fragment, flat on one side, convex on the other, with sharp edges that met in a point at one end, and at the other, where lay the cone of percussion, rounded into a roughly cylindrical shape, convenient for handling. Though small, no flint-chipping savage of the stone age ever made a better knife, and he was quick to appreciate its superiority to a shell.
Like most discoveries and inventions that have advanced the human race, his were, in the main, accidental; yet he could now reason from the accidental to the analogous. Idly swinging his girdle around his head, one day, and letting go, he was surprised at the distance to which, with little effort, he could send the stone-laden pouch. Months of puzzled experimenting produced a sling—at first with a thong of hide fast to each stone, later with the double thong and pouch that small boys and savages have not yet improved upon.
To this centrifugal force, which he could use without wholly understanding, he added the factor of a rigid radius—a handle to a heavy stone; for only with this contrivance could he break large flints and open cocoanuts—an article of good food that he had passed by all his life and wondered at until his knife had divided a green one. His experiments in this line resulted in a heavy, sharp-edged, solid-backed flint, firmly bound with thongs to the end of a stick,—a rude tomahawk,—convenient for the
coup de grâce.
The ease with which he could send a heavy stone out of sight, or bury a smaller one in the side of a hog at short range, was wonderful to him; but he was twenty years old before, by daily practice with his sling, he brought his marksmanship up to that of his unaided hand, equal to which, at an earlier date, was his skill at hatchet-throwing. He could outrun and tomahawk the fastest hog, could bring down with his sling a kangaroo on the jump or a pigeon on the wing, could smell and distinguish game to windward with the keen scent of a hound, and became so formidable an enemy of his troublesome rivals, the dingoes,—whose flesh he disapproved of,—and the sharks in the lagoon, that the one deserted his hunting-ground and the other seldom left the reef.
He broke or lost one knife and hatchet after another, and learned, in making new ones, that he could chip them into improved shape when freshly dug, and that he must allow them to dry before using—when they were also available for striking fire. He had enlarged his pocket, making a better one of a whole skin by roughly sewing the edges together with thongs, first curing the hide by soaking in salt water and scraping with his knife. His food-list now embraced shellfish and birds, wild yams, breadfruit, and cocoanuts, which, even the latter, he cooked before eating and prepared before cooking. Pushed by an ever-present healthy appetite, and helped by inherited instincts based on the habits and knowledge of a long line of civilized ancestry, he had advanced in four years from an indolent, mindless existence to a plane of fearless, reasoning activity. He was a hunter of prowess, master of his surroundings, lord over all creatures he had seen, and, though still a cave-dweller when at home, in a fair way to become a hut-builder, herdsman, and agriculturist; for he had arranged boughs to shelter him from the rain when hunting, had attempted to block up the pass over the wall to prevent the further wanderings of a herd of hogs that he had pursued, and had lately become interested in the sprouting of nuts and seeds and the encroachments and changes of the vegetation.
Yet he lacked speech, and did his thinking without words. The deficiency was not accompanied by the unpleasant twisted features and grimacing of mutes, which comes of conscious effort to communicate. His features were smooth and regular, his mouth symmetrical and firm, and his clear blue eye thoughtful and intent as that of a student; for he had studied and thought. He would smile and frown, laugh and shout, growl and whine, the pitch and timbre of his inarticulate utterance indicating the emotion which prompted it to about the same degree as does an intelligent dog's language to his master. But dogs and other social animals converse in a speech beyond human ken; and in this respect he was their inferior, for he had not yet known the need of language, and did not, until, one day, in a section of his domain that he had never visited before,—because game avoided it,—down by the sea on the side of the wall opposite to his cave, he met a creature like himself.
He had come down the wooded slope on the steady jog-trot he assumed when traveling, tomahawk in hand, careless, confident, and happy because of the bright sunshine and his lately appeased hunger, and, as he bounded on to the beach with a joyous whoop, was startled by an answering scream.
Mingled with the frightful monsters in the dreams of his childhood had been transient glimpses of a kind, placid face that he seemed to know—a face that bent over him lovingly and kissed him. These were subconscious memories of his mother, which lasted long after he had forgotten her. As he neared manhood, strange yearnings had come to him—a dreary loneliness and craving for company. In his sleep he had seen fleeting visions of forms and faces like his reflection in a pool—like, yet unlike; soft, curving outlines, tinted cheeks, eyes that beamed, and white, caressing hands appeared and disappeared—fragmentary and illusive. He could not distinctly remember them when he wakened, but their influence made him strangely happy, strangely miserable; and while the mood lasted he could not hunt and kill.
Standing knee-deep in a shallow pool on the beach, staring at him with wide-open dark eyes, was the creature that had screamed—a living, breathing embodiment of the curves and color, the softness, brightness, and gentle sweetness that his subconsciousness knew. There were the familiar eyes, dark and limpid, wondering but not frightened; two white little teeth showing between parted lips; a wealth of long brown hair held back from the forehead by a small hand; and a rounded, dimpled cheek, the damask shading of which merged delicately into the olive tint that extended to the feet. No Venus ever arose from the sea with rarer lines of beauty than were combined in the picture of loveliness which, backed by the blue of the lagoon, appeared to the astonished eyes of this wild boy. It was a girl—naked as Mother Eve, and as innocently shameless.
In the first confusion of his faculties, when habit and inherent propensity conflicted, habit dominated his mind. He was a huntsman—feared and avoided: here was an intruder. He raised his hatchet to throw, but a second impulse brought it slowly down; she had shown no fear—no appreciation of what the gesture threatened. Dropping the weapon to the ground, he advanced slowly, the wonder in his face giving way to a delighted smile, and she came out of the pool to meet him.
Face to face they looked into each other's eyes—long and earnestly; then, as though the scrutiny brought approval, the pretty features of the girl sweetened to a smile, but she did not speak nor attempt to. Stepping past him, she looked back, still smiling, halted until he followed, and then led him up to the wall, where, on a level with the ground, was a hollow in the formation, somewhat similar to his cave, but larger. Flowering vines grew at the entrance, which had prevented his seeing it before. She entered, and emerged immediately with a life-buoy, which she held before him, the action and smiling face indicating her desire that he admire it.
The boy thought that he saw his property in the possession of another creature, and resented the spoliation. With an angry snarl he snatched the life-buoy and backed away, while the girl, surprised and a little indignant, followed with extended hands. He raised it threateningly, and though she did not cower, she knew intuitively that he was angry, and feeling the injustice, burst into tears; then, turning from him, she covered her eyes with her hands and crouched to the ground, sobbing piteously.
The face of the boy softened. He looked from the weeping girl to the life-buoy and back again; then, puzzled,—still believing it to be his own,—he obeyed a generous impulse. Advancing, he laid the treasure at her feet; but she turned away. Sober-faced and irresolute, not knowing what to do, he looked around and above. A pigeon fluttered on a branch at the edge of the wood. He whipped out his sling, loaded it, and sent a stone whizzing upward. The pigeon fell, and he was beneath it before it reached the ground. Hurrying back with the dead bird, he placed it before her; but she shuddered in disgust and would not touch it. Off in the lagoon a misguided shark was swimming slowly along,—its dorsal fin cutting the surface,—a full two hundred yards from the beach. He ran to the water's edge, looked back once, flourished his sling, and two seconds later the shark was scudding for the reef. If she had seen, she evidently was not impressed. He returned, picked up his tomahawk on the way, idly and nervously fingered the pebbles in his pocket, stood a moment over the sulky girl, and then studied the life-buoy on the ground. A light came to his eyes; with a final glance at the girl he bounded up the slope and disappeared in the woods.
Three hours later he returned with his discarded fetish, and found her sitting upright, with her life-buoy on her knees. She smiled gladly as he approached, then pouted, as though remembering. Panting from his exertion, he humbly placed the faded, scarred, and misshapen ring on top of the brighter, better-cared-for possession of the girl, and stood, mutely pleading for pardon. It was granted. Smiling radiantly,—a little roguishly,—she arose and led him again to the cave, from which she brought forth another treasure. It was a billet of wood,—a dead branch, worn smooth at the ends,—around which were wrapped faded, half-rotten rags of calico. Hugging it for a moment, she handed it to him. He looked at it wonderingly and let it drop, turning his eyes upon her; then, with impatience in her face, she reclaimed it, entered the cave,—the boy following,—and tenderly placed it in a corner.
It was her doll. Up to the borders of womanhood—untutored, unloved waif of the woods—living through the years of her simple existence alone—she had lavished the instinctive mother-love of her heart on a stick, and had clothed it, though not herself.
With a thoughtful little wrinkle in her brow, she studied the face of this new companion who acted so strangely, and he, equally mystified, looked around the cave. A pile of nuts in a corner indicated her housewifely thrift and forethought. A bed of dry moss with an evenly packed elevation at the end—which could be nothing but a pillow—showed plainly the manner in which she had preserved the velvety softness of her skin. Tinted shells and strips of faded calico, arranged with some approach to harmony of color around the sides and the border of the floor, gave evidence of the tutelage of the bower-birds, of which there were many in the vicinity. And the vines at the entrance had surely been planted—they were far from others of the kind. In her own way she had developed as fully as he. As he stood there, wondering at what he saw, the girl approached, slowly and irresolutely; then, raising her hand, she softly pressed the tip of her finger into his shoulder.
In the dim and misty ages of the past, when wandering bands of ape-like human beings had not developed their tribal customs to the level of priestly ceremonies,—when the medicine-man had not arisen,—a marriage between a man and young woman was generally consummated by the man beating the girl into insensibility, and dragging her by the hair to his cave. Added to its simplicity, the custom had the merit of improving the race, as unhealthy and ill-favored girls were not pursued, and similar men were clubbed out of the pursuit by stronger. But the process was necessarily painful to the loved one, and her female children very naturally inherited a repugnance to being wooed.
When a civilized young lady, clothed and well conducted, anticipates being kissed or embraced by her lover, she places in the way such difficulties as are in her power; she gets behind tables and chairs, runs from him, compels him to pursue, and expects him to. In her maidenly heart she may want to be kissed, but she cannot help resisting. She obeys the same instinct that impelled this wild girl to spring from the outstretched arms of the boy and go screaming out of the cave and down the beach in simulated terror—an instinct inherited from the prehistoric mother, who fled for dear life and a whole skin from a man behind armed with a club and bent upon marriage.
Shouting hoarsely, the boy followed, in what, if he had been called upon to classify it, might have seemed to him a fury of rage, but it was not. He would not have harmed the girl, for he lacked the tribal education that induces cruelty to the weaker sex. But he did not catch her; he stubbed his toe and fell, arising with a bruised kneecap which prevented further pursuit. Slowly, painfully, he limped back, tears welling in his eyes and increasing to a copious flood as he sat down with his back to the girl and nursed his aching knee. It was not the pain that brought the tears; he was hardened to physical suffering. But his feelings had been hurt beyond any disappointment of the hunt or terror of the storm, and for the first time in his life since his babyhood he wept—like the intellectual child that he was.
A soft, caressing touch on his head aroused him and brought him to his feet. She stood beside him, tears in her own eyes, and sympathy overflowing in every feature of the sweet face. From her lips came little cooing, gurgling sounds which he endeavored to repeat. It was their first attempt at communication, and the sounds that they used—understood by mothers and infants of all races—were the first root-words of a new language. He extended his arms, and though she held back slightly, while a faint smile responded to his own, she did not resist, and he drew her close—forgetting his pain as he pressed his lips to hers.