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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBefore Adam - Chapter X
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Before Adam - Chapter X Post by :yates Category :Long Stories Author :Jack London Date :March 2011 Read :865

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Before Adam - Chapter X

After we had had out our laugh, Lop-Ear and I curved
back in our flight and got breakfast in the blueberry
swamp. It was the same swamp to which I had made my
first journeys in the world, years before, accompanied
by my mother. I had seen little of her in the
intervening time. Usually, when she visited the horde
at the caves, I was away in the forest. I had once or
twice caught glimpses of the Chatterer in the open
space, and had had the pleasure of making faces at him
and angering him from the mouth of my cave. Beyond
such amenities I had left my family severely alone. I
was not much interested in it, and anyway I was doing
very well by myself.

After eating our fill of berries, with two nestfuls of
partly hatched quail-eggs for dessert, Lop-Ear and I
wandered circumspectly into the woods toward the river.
Here was where stood my old home-tree, out of which I
had been thrown by the Chatterer. It was still
occupied. There had been increase in the family.
Clinging tight to my mother was a little baby. Also,
there was a girl, partly grown, who cautiously regarded
us from one of the lower branches. She was evidently
my sister, or half-sister, rather.

My mother recognized me, but she warned me away when I
started to climb into the tree. Lop-Ear, who was more
cautious by far than I, beat a retreat, nor could I
persuade him to return. Later in the day, however, my
sister came down to the ground, and there and in
neighboring trees we romped and played all afternoon.
And then came trouble. She was my sister, but that did
not prevent her from treating me abominably, for she
had inherited all the viciousness of the Chatterer.
She turned upon me suddenly, in a petty rage, and
scratched me, tore my hair, and sank her sharp little
teeth deep into my forearm. I lost my temper. I did
not injure her, but it was undoubtedly the soundest
spanking she had received up to that time.

How she yelled and squalled. The Chatterer, who had
been away all day and who was only then returning,
heard the noise and rushed for the spot. My mother
also rushed, but he got there first. Lop-Ear and I did
not wait his coming. We were off and away, and the
Chatterer gave us the chase of our lives through the
trees.

After the chase was over, and Lop-Ear and I had had out
our laugh, we discovered that twilight was falling.
Here was night with all its terrors upon us, and to
return to the caves was out of the question. Red-Eye
made that impossible. We took refuge in a tree that
stood apart from other trees, and high up in a fork we
passed the night. It was a miserable night. For the
first few hours it rained heavily, then it turned cold
and a chill wind blew upon us. Soaked through, with
shivering bodies and chattering teeth, we huddled in
each other's arms. We missed the snug, dry cave that
so quickly warmed with the heat of our bodies.

Morning found us wretched and resolved. We would not
spend another such night. Remembering the
tree-shelters of our elders, we set to work to make one
for ourselves. We built the framework of a rough nest,
and on higher forks overhead even got in several
ridge-poles for the roof. Then the sun came out, and
under its benign influence we forgot the hardships of
the night and went off in search of breakfast. After
that, to show the inconsequentiality of life in those
days, we fell to playing. It must have taken us all of
a month, working intermittently, to make our
tree-house; and then, when it was completed, we never
used it again.

But I run ahead of my story. When we fell to playing,
after breakfast, on the second day away from the caves,
Lop-Ear led me a chase through the trees and down to
the river. We came out upon it where a large slough
entered from the blueberry swamp. The mouth of this
slough was wide, while the slough itself was
practically without a current. In the dead water, just
inside its mouth, lay a tangled mass of tree trunks.
Some of these, what of the wear and tear of freshets
and of being stranded long summers on sand-bars, were
seasoned and dry and without branches. They floated
high in the water, and bobbed up and down or rolled
over when we put our weight upon them.

Here and there between the trunks were water-cracks,
and through them we could see schools of small fish,
like minnows, darting back and forth. Lop-Ear and I
became fishermen at once. Lying flat on the logs,
keeping perfectly quiet, waiting till the minnows came
close, we would make swift passes with our hands. Our
prizes we ate on the spot, wriggling and moist. We did
not notice the lack of salt.

The mouth of the slough became our favorite playground.
Here we spent many hours each day, catching fish and
playing on the logs, and here, one day, we learned our
first lessons in navigation. The log on which Lop-Ear
was lying got adrift. He was curled up on his side,
asleep. A light fan of air slowly drifted the log away
from the shore, and when I noticed his predicament the
distance was already too great for him to leap.

At first the episode seemed merely funny to me. But
when one of the vagrant impulses of fear, common in
that age of perpetual insecurity, moved within me, I
was struck with my own loneliness. I was made suddenly
aware of Lop-Ear's remoteness out there on that alien
element a few feet away. I called loudly to him a
warning cry. He awoke frightened, and shifted his
weight rashly on the log. It turned over, sousing him
under. Three times again it soused him under as he
tried to climb out upon it. Then he succeeded,
crouching upon it and chattering with fear.

I could do nothing. Nor could he. Swimming was
something of which we knew nothing. We were already
too far removed from the lower life-forms to have the
instinct for swimming, and we had not yet become
sufficiently man-like to undertake it as the working
out of a problem. I roamed disconsolately up and down
the bank, keeping as close to him in his involuntary
travels as I could, while he wailed and cried till it
was a wonder that he did not bring down upon us every
hunting animal within a mile.

The hours passed. The sun climbed overhead and began
its descent to the west. The light wind died down and
left Lop-Ear on his log floating around a hundred feet
away. And then, somehow, I know not how, Lop-Ear made
the great discovery. He began paddling with his hands.
At first his progress was slow and erratic. Then he
straightened out and began laboriously to paddle nearer
and nearer. I could not understand. I sat down and
watched and waited until he gained the shore.

But he had learned something, which was more than I had
done. Later in the afternoon, he deliberately launched
out from shore on the log. Still later he persuaded me
to join him, and I, too, learned the trick of paddling.
For the next several days we could not tear ourselves
away from the slough. So absorbed were we in our new
game that we almost neglected to eat. We even roosted
in a nearby tree at night. And we forgot that Red-Eye
existed.

We were always trying new logs, and we learned that the
smaller the log the faster we could make it go. Also,
we learned that the smaller the log the more liable it
was to roll over and give us a ducking. Still another
thing about small logs we learned. One day we paddled
our individual logs alongside each other. And then,
quite by accident, in the course of play, we discovered
that when each, with one hand and foot, held on to the
other's log, the logs were steadied and did not turn
over. Lying side by side in this position, our outside
hands and feet were left free for paddling. Our final
discovery was that this arrangement enabled us to use
still smaller logs and thereby gain greater speed. And
there our discoveries ended. We had invented the most
primitive catamaran, and we did not have sense enough
to know it. It never entered our heads to lash the
logs together with tough vines or stringy roots. We
were content to hold the logs together with our hands
and feet.

It was not until we got over our first enthusiasm for
navigation and had begun to return to our tree-shelter
to sleep at night, that we found the Swift One. I saw
her first, gathering young acorns from the branches of
a large oak near our tree. She was very timid. At
first, she kept very still; but when she saw that she
was discovered she dropped to the ground and dashed
wildly away. We caught occasional glimpses of her from
day to day, and came to look for her when we travelled
back and forth between our tree and the mouth of the
slough.

And then, one day, she did not run away. She waited
our coming, and made soft peace-sounds. We could not
get very near, however. When we seemed to approach too
close, she darted suddenly away and from a safe
distance uttered the soft sounds again. This continued
for some days. It took a long while to get acquainted
with her, but finally it was accomplished and she
joined us sometimes in our play.

I liked her from the first. She was of most pleasing
appearance. She was very mild. Her eyes were the
mildest I had ever seen. In this she was quite unlike
the rest of the girls and women of the Folk, who were
born viragos. She never made harsh, angry cries, and
it seemed to be her nature to flee away from trouble
rather than to remain and fight.

The mildness I have mentioned seemed to emanate from
her whole being. Her bodily as well as facial
appearance was the cause of this. Her eyes were larger
than most of her kind, and they were not so deep-set,
while the lashes were longer and more regular. Nor was
her nose so thick and squat. It had quite a bridge,
and the nostrils opened downward. Her incisors were
not large, nor was her upper lip long and down-hanging,
nor her lower lip protruding. She was not very hairy,
except on the outsides of arms and legs and across the
shoulders; and while she was thin-hipped, her calves
were not twisted and gnarly.

I have often wondered, looking back upon her from the
twentieth century through the medium of my dreams, and
it has always occurred to me that possibly she may have
been related to the Fire People. Her father, or
mother, might well have come from that higher stock.
While such things were not common, still they did
occur, and I have seen the proof of them with my own
eyes, even to the extent of members of the horde
turning renegade and going to live with the Tree
People.

All of which is neither here nor there. The Swift One
was radically different from any of the females of the
horde, and I had a liking for her from the first. Her
mildness and gentleness attracted me. She was never
rough, and she never fought. She always ran away, and
right here may be noted the significance of the naming
of her. She was a better climber than Lop-Ear or I.
When we played tag we could never catch her except by
accident, while she could catch us at will. She was
remarkably swift in all her movements, and she had a
genius for judging distances that was equalled only by
her daring. Excessively timid in all other matters,
she was without fear when it came to climbing or
running through the trees, and Lop-Ear and I were
awkward and lumbering and cowardly in comparison.

She was an orphan. We never saw her with any one, and
there was no telling how long she had lived alone in
the world. She must have learned early in her helpless
childhood that safety lay only in flight. She was very
wise and very discreet. It became a sort of game with
Lop-Ear and me to try to find where she lived. It was
certain that she had a tree-shelter somewhere, and not
very far away; but trail her as we would, we could
never find it. She was willing enough to join with us
at play in the day-time, but the secret of her
abiding-place she guarded jealously.

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It must be remembered that the description I have justgiven of the Swift One is not the description thatwould have been given by Big-Tooth, my other self of mydreams, my prehistoric ancestor. It is by the medium ofmy dreams that I, the modern man, look through the eyesof Big-Tooth and see.And so it is with much that I narrate of the events ofthat far-off time. There is a duality about myimpressions that is too confusing to inflict upon myreaders. I shall merely pause here in my narrative toindicate this duality, this perplexing mixing ofpersonality. It is I, the
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Red-Eye was an atavism. He was the great discordantelement in our horde. He was more primitive than anyof us. He did not belong with us, yet we were still soprimitive ourselves that we were incapable of acooperative effort strong enough to kill him or casthim out. Rude as was our social organization, he was,nevertheless, too rude to live in it. He tended alwaysto destroy the horde by his unsocial acts. He wasreally a reversion to an earlier type, and his placewas with the Tree People rather than with us who werein the process of becoming
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