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Title: The Master-Girl
Author: Hilliers, Ashton
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Calgary Special Collections and the Online Distributed
produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/American Libraries.)



THE MASTER-GIRL



BY THE SAME AUTHOR


 MEMOIRS OF A PERSON OF QUALITY
 AS IT HAPPENED
 AN OLD SCORE
 THE MISTAKES OF MISS MANISTY

[Illustration: LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT]



 THE
 MASTER-GIRL

 BY
 ASHTON HILLIERS

 WITH EIGHT ILLUSTRATIONS BY
 ARTHUR H. BUCKLAND

 SECOND EDITION

 METHUEN & CO, LTD.
 36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
 LONDON



 _First Published_      _April 28th 1910_
 _Second Edition_             _1910_



TO MY CAVE MOTHER


 Quarried from world-old gloom,
   Yellow, brittle and dry,
 Here, in our Science-Room,
   Locked under glass they lie;
   Bone to its bone brought nigh,
 Bare to general view,
 Bones that of yore were--you!
   _And, bone of your bone am I!_

 Nature her course has changed,
   The sea-worm's lair is dry,
 Your moon aloof, estranged,
   Stares from an alien sky,
   Levelled are low and high,
 Mountains have rumbled down,
 Here is a gas-lit town,
   _But bone of your bone am I._

 Lords of the wild who reigned
   By fear of fang and eye,
 Antlered, tusked and maned,
   Under the ooze they lie.
   Mute is their hunting cry,
 Their forests fall'n and gone,
 Yet, the Soul that was you lives on,
   _And, bone of your bone am I._

 Bend from your cavern-crypt,
   Mother, a kindling eye,
 Breathe thro' my manuscript
   Strength of a day long by;
   Colour, vitality,
 Passion and laughter give!
 Till the story's dry bones live,
   For--_bone of your bone am I_!

 A.H.



CONTENTS


                                                       PAGE

 Prologue                                               1

 CHAP.

 I. Love at First Sight                                17

 II. A Housekeeping                                    33

 III. The Ghost-Bear                                   64

 IV. Hard Need Mother of Invention                     81

 V. The Testing of the New Thing                      110

 VI. Renunciations                                    151

 VII. Short, somewhat Dry, but Important              162

 VIII. The Flitting, and the Forerunner               169

 IX. The Home-coming                                  200

 X. The Spear-Throwing                                218

 XI. The Passing of the Master-Girl                   270

 Epilogue                                             293



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


 Love at First Sight      _Frontispiece_

                                                 _Facing page_

 The Ghost-Bear                                        64

 Salving the Ghost-Bear's Skin                        100

 He threw short with a Gasp                           122

 Stale-mate                                           144

 Pursued                                              169

 The Forerunner                                       190

 Drew Swiftly, and as Swiftly Loosed                  256



THE MASTER-GIRL



PROLOGUE


He had come gently and observantly up the glen, tapping here and
scratching there as he climbed, and ever and anon straightening an
elderly back to deliver a small cough. Also at intervals he would turn
his face to the way by which he had come to rest the plantar muscles
and study the lie of the land.

Chance-led he came and unadventurously, as one might say, and with no
more premonition of impending change, or of this being a White Day
in his life than had you, yourself, dear reader, when you left your
breakfast-table this morning.

He was a little person in the clerical wideawake and dark tweeds of
a don in vacation, elderly and grey, with heavy, lower-middle-class
features refined by expression as a sunset refines a dull street.

Something about the rounded shoulders and narrow chest bespoke the
bookish man, the "scholar's slope," they used to call it. His hands
were large and broad at the finger-tips, such must have done manual
labour in their time, pick-and-shovel work, possibly. At the moment
of his walking into this story they were--I will not say dirty, but
redolent of the soil, for as he went he would still be fumbling in a
roomy wallet which pulled down his shoulder, and be taking therefrom
for close and loving inspection this or that shapeless fragment of
stone which he would presently return to the society of its fellows.

"It never came here by accident--there is no such thing," he murmured,
conversing with himself, thought discussing matters with thought,
as do the thoughts of those of us who live the single life, or
cherish interests which are unshared by those with whom we cohabit.
"We have no example from this level," he went on, turning in hand
a something small and angular which he had picked up a few yards
down the slope, a fragment of grey chert it was. "Three conchoidal
fractures are sufficient, when associated with such patination. Here
are--six--eight minor flaws in these cutting edges, apart from the
cross-fracture--(patinated too). Yes, undoubtedly a used-up flake. And
the thing hasn't travelled half-a-mile from home.... Where's the floor?"

"And, to think," he went on, "that such evidence would be lost--wasted
upon that young doctor-fellow. It is almost incredible, the crass
ignorance of our so-called scientific men.... Tried to interest him ...
no use.... 'Out here to climb,' he says!... And with lovely things like
these under his feet.... Amazing!"

In fact, the professor exhibited the impatience which the man of one
idea feels for the man of another, and had even the personal repulsion
which a man with the Oxford manner experiences for one who begins all
his sentences with "_M'yess!_"

From which disjointed self-communings the reader will have already
deduced that the professor was an ethnologist, one of that small band
of heroes who during the past hundred years have quietly dug out and
fitted together the buried past of the human race, pelted all the while
by Ignorance and Bigotry as they delved.

The little grey professor had come in for his share of pelting: not
very recently, for his science has won her right to exist and speak
her mind. Dogma, which would have burned the ethnologist some time
back, and more recently did her best to starve him, has of late
lifted the boycott. He is now merely glanced at with a pitying shrug
and passed over when anything good is going, as "Eminent in his own
line, but--peculiar," and forthwith, the good thing goes to a safe
man, someone who never did anything, nor ever will. This is Dogma's
way of coming round. The sons of the men who pelted us will build our
sepulchres, never fear, whilst themselves making a cock-shy of some
other poor devil whom their sons will canonise in turn: for the bigots,
and the poor, ye have always with you.

So it had come to pass that the professor by dint of giving to
fossil-grubbing the forty-five years of life which he might have given
to money-grubbing, and spending upon the collection and verification
of tiny fragments of unpopular evidence the time which he might have
spent more profitably in the delivery of sermons in St Mary's, which
would have delighted the stupid by the "safety" of what they didn't
see the bottom of, and amused the clever by the preacher's address in
skating upon cat-ice, had come to know as much as was known about the
Magdalanian Period.

Others worked at River-drift, Thames gravels and the terraces north of
Amiens: and other some questioned the Plateaux deposits for eoliths
and got but uncertain answers, as to which our professor reserved his
judgment, unconvinced, but not wishing to be found sitting in the seat
of the scornful at the Last Day. Neoliths he pretended to know nothing
about whilst knowing everything that had been written. It was the men
of the Madelaine Cave, the giant hunters of Mentone and their artist
fellows to whom he had given his life.

Now some studies can be pursued by the fireside, the mathematics of
a boomerang, for instance, or why a breakfast egg, if you set it
spinning vigorously upon its side, will presently arise and spin upon
its end. For the collation of Syriac gospels the neighbourhood of the
Bodleian is as good a neighbourhood as any, but our professor, whose
fireside was within a stone's-throw of the Bodleian, cared for neither
mathematics nor codices, and as regards his own particular study had
long since known that to prosecute it as it should be prosecuted
entailed days and weeks in clammy dark caverns long miles from
anywhere, and subsequent months put in with a series of little sieves
and acids and gelatine and what not, cleaning-out and piecing together
the uncleanly little bits of brittle rubbish which eventually would
constitute a New Fact and take a place in the growing chain of evidence.

"To anybody capable of weighing testimony," muttered the professor,
"this flake, which can only have been brought eighty miles up-stream
by human agency, is as good evidence of Early Man at this end of the
valley as if I had projected myself back a thousand centuries and seen
the fellow break his tool and drop it."

He was somewhat out of breath with his climb, moreover the going was
none of the best; there was no path, and the slope was clothed with
a tall growth of flowering weeds, mountain coltsfoot, and the great
purple gentian, dogwood, juniper and aconite. He replaced his hat
after wiping his forehead, and, turning, parted the brush to find
himself faced by a low bluff, an outcrop of the underlying bedrock,
jutting through the rough slope of _débris_ into which the at-one-time
precipitous sides of the glen had broken down. The bluff bore a
ludicrous resemblance to the countenance of some ancient person asleep
and half buried in bedclothes; there aloft was a massive nose and
receding rocky forehead, nearer an upper lip overhung a transverse
fissure, an open mouth, nearly filled with a tongue of soapy-looking
brown stalagmite resting upon a lower jaw of the same material hidden
by a growth of Martagon lilies. The professor, unaware of what Fate had
in store for him, and, to tell the truth, expecting nothing out of the
way, for a man of his years and experiences is past being sanguine,
peered through the lush greenery and saw beneath the edge of that lower
lip a jumble of small broken stone loosely cemented like ill-compacted
concrete into which water has percolated (which was precisely what the
material was and what had befallen it).

And, peering thus, a Something caught the professor's eye. Now the
Thing, whatever it might turn out to be, could not fly away, nor was
its finder a callow novice that he should howk out his trove at sight
and, maybe, destroy evidence in so doing, so he made himself a mental
rough sketch of its surroundings before disturbing them.

"A lot of weathering just here," he muttered. "Glen half filled-up
since the watershed was cut back and the stream diverted. This was
a cliff once upon a time, and this was a cave. Roof fallen in and
cemented down to an ancient stalagmite floor ... breccia beneath with,
apparently, a layer of charcoal in it.... If you please!" this to the
lilies; they did please, or at least made way for him; he was down
upon his elderly knees in the moist dirt breaking away the perished
flooring of the old cave with his hammer; interested, of course, for
the case was exactly in his line, but still without enthusiasm, when
(see how our best things approach us unsought) the man made his great
find, the chance of his lifetime came to him, such a trove as he had
ceased to expect, for, despite many long vacations and snatched Easters
spent in patient and systematic grubbing, the man had not been one
of the successful cave explorers. But this was his day; a plate of
stalagmite came away, and the disintegrated breccia beneath it gave to
his cautious and practised handling, and lo, he drew forth the whole
and perfect shoulder-blade of a Cave Bear, the mighty _Ursus spelæus_
himself, glazed all over back and front with a transparent film of
carbonate of lime.

The relic bore abundant marks of the chert knife, a shard of which
was cemented down to it; but, what raised its interest and value to
the _n_th power, and made its discoverer's heart to flutter in his
bosom, was the clear, boldly-drawn lines of the picture with which
the flat surface of the bone was etched. Here was a find indeed, a
leaf from the sketch-book of a Primitive, as good as anything found
by Lartet and Christy. "_De_lightful! a find at last!" exclaimed the
professor. "A contemporary picture of _Spelæus_, positively our first,
I think. A bear attacking two humans, of opposite sexes, eh, what? but
that seems unlikely. And what is this bent object in the hand of the
indeterminate figure?--Weapon?--But what?" screwing up his eyes. "Bent
throwing-stick, Egyptian type? Boomerang?--very curious. Same object
repeated in corner of picture behind bear; conceivably boomerang in
flight. But as to this--er--epicene figure--I doubt its being female
somehow!--and yet--" He turned the bone, "Hey, what have we here?--this
I might almost say justifies a feminine interpretation, there
apparently was a woman in the case," for adhering to the back of the
scapula was a bone needle! "Rough work this, for a female," remarked
the professor, wagging his head whilst polishing his glasses, and
attempting to realise the scene. "This fellow was as big as a horse, a
grizzly would be considerably smaller and with inferior jaw power. The
Magdalanian type was tall, I grant you,--she might have stood six feet
and an inch, but--" he wagged his head again in disapproval of a woman
participating in so rough a field sport as this sketch indicated. The
professor was an old bachelor with mid-Victorian conceptions of the
functions of womanhood.

"There is no getting over the charcoal--it was a cooking-place, a
hearth. The design, here, implies leisure and permanent residence, and
the needle a lady. This was a home, a housekeeping." He wrapped the
relic in a silk handkerchief; it was more precious in his eyes than
the arm of St Mark in those of a Venetian, and at least as authentic.
This done he turned to take stock of the place, conversing gently with
himself the while. "Cave more roomy at one time--hardly to call a cave
now, possibly was never better than _un abri_, just the rock shelter
that I once spent an uncomfortable night under among the Spanish
Pyrenees." He glanced up at the overhang, fringed with fern. "Calls
for systematic exploration.... Costly business at this height, short
season and no quarters within any reasonable distance. Entails a camp,
I fear. Wonder if the University would come down with a grant?... _Who
were these people?_" he stroked the handkerchief. "We get no nearer; a
hundred thousand years is a wide gap--very. It makes the pre-dynastic
Egyptian seem neighbourly. We dig, we fit together, but--they are
too remote. Personally, I despair of getting to closer quarters with
them in my time." He mused with half-shut, speculative eyes. "The
Myers and Gurney business gives unsatisfactory results at its best,
and what communications they claim to have received seem chiefly from
the recently deceased.... Classic idea of a _genius loci_ might have
had something behind it ... but, _they_ approached the Surmise with
propitiatory sacrifices,--we try the planchette--and get piffle! Other
plan seems sounder, but, how to set about it? Language question a
difficulty. Something might be attempted with an Esperanto of Eskimo
and Bushman roots, eh?" he smiled. "And the offering? Coarsish tastes,
I conceive...." In common with some three hundred millions of his
fellow Europeans, the professor had never seen a sacrifice offered. The
conception, once universal, has completely passed out of our ken. That
a trousered, cravatted white man should take anything which he really
valued--a horse, a motor, a family heirloom, a prize pedigree ram, a
cask of claret--what you will, and deliberately destroy it in public
for some definite religious object, or to purchase some visible result,
recompense or immunity, is unthinkable.

The professor's mind fell back from this impermeable wall of alien
thought and custom. He sighed and shifted himself as if about to rise,
still muttering. "I'd give a good deal," said he, without the faintest
idea that he was really and veritably offering Something to Someone,
but, sincere as far as he went, "for one hour's genuine confab,
_séance_, communication (call it what you like) with this couple, here.
What _wouldn't_ I give?--ah--say a clear month out of my life--"

He said no more for that time, in fact he stopped short in the middle
of his sentence and fell forward doubled up into a soft mass of the
greenstuff which he had treated with so little ceremony, nor did he
fall alone; a sheet of stalactite, part of the ancient roof of the
cave, had detached itself from the impending lip and fallen upon and
with him.

Was it possible that the _genius loci_ had taken him at his word?



CHAPTER I

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT


The younger girls picked fast in fear of the Master-Girl's hard little
hand, eating surreptitiously when her eye was off them. They made small
progress, for what with the badgers and the birds and the lateness of
the season the whortleberries were getting thin upon that rock. The
Master-Girl ran a critical eye over the steep face below them. It was
blue with fruit, but dangerous, for the strata dipped and the stuff
was soft. She peeped into her pupils' skin wallets and uttered words
of counsel, took the biggest satchel and went over the edge. It was
finger-and-toe work and loose in places; she could hear smothered
giggling above her as she climbed, and knew that the youngsters
were indulging, but held upon her way. The fruit she had reached was
blue-black, dead-ripe, and for some reason untouched by the birds for
days past. She had never tried this face before; she began to pick.

Then, all suddenly, her hands stopped, her eyes fixed, and every muscle
grew tense, for from just below her feet had sounded a little faint
sneeze!

Dêh-Yān was sixteen, full woman as her people counted, the biggest,
strongest and bravest of the unmarried lasses of the Little Moons.
She could throw a chert-headed assegai forty strides and make it spin
as it flew. She could handle a stone hatchet dexterously, skin, cut
up, and roast. She could rub fire out of two sticks more quickly than
any member of the tribe, could use her bone needle and split sinew to
admiration. In fact she was more than well-grounded in the domestic
arts then practised by woman, and hence the chief, and the head-wife
of that chief, were in no hurry that this household treasure should
marry out of the clan, and had set her in permanent charge over the
younger children. Dêh-Yān was the First Governess.

When a modern woman is startled she shrieks, a perfectly useless
expenditure of energy, and worse, for the sound and its reaction upon
the system of the shrieker prevent her from hearing more; also she
not uncommonly shuts both eyes to shriek the better. Dêh-Yān neither
shrieked nor shut her eyes, although thoroughly startled and indeed
frightened. Now Dêh-Yān was not easily frightened; there were in fact
but three or four things which she really feared, a wolf in open
country, a bear or lion in any country, and a wife-hunter from beyond
the ranges. This sneeze was the sneeze of a man, of a strange man in a
neighbourhood and in times in which a stranger was an enemy confessed.
So, the girl held her breath tightly and remained perfectly rigid for a
few seconds, strung for such activities of flight as might be possible
under the circumstances.

Nothing happened. Her presence was plainly unsuspected. And now the
woman-nature in her proved itself. That small muffled sneeze excited
in her bosom a vehement curiosity. Her duty, her safety, the safeties
of the brats committed to her guardianship, depended upon a silent and
prompt retreat, but, she must needs first see this man who had sneezed.

With infinite precaution she lowered herself to a ledge a few feet
beneath her, crawled, leaned and peeped; farther and yet farther she
craned for a view, and--there he was!--She found herself overlooking
the brow of a cave, a fissure in the limestone, and there, at the
cave's mouth, sate her enemy!

One steady, all-embracing glance assured the girl that this interloper
was not of her clan, nor of its allies. The stone-axe beside him was
plumed with crimson feathers, the wings of a Wall Creeper. Its owner
must needs be a Sun-Disc man, an enemy from the other side of the
mountains, and one who was presumably hunting herself.

What should she do?--Another girl would have crept stealthily away up
the cliff; another girl would already have been in full flight, and
would have run shrieking to camp. Then the braves would have turned out
and found--nothing!--and that girl would have been beaten for crying
Wolf!

Dêh-Yān did not relish being beaten. She knew all about it; if she had
to run any risks these should not include that risk. She knew herself
as strong as some men and as clever as most. In her heart of hearts
she was somewhat jealous of men. She would have liked enormously to
have been a man and a chief. Moreover she had been for some time in
silent rebellion against her lot. She was well aware that by right
and usage she should have been sold in marriage any time within the
past two years. An old maid was an unknown creature among her people.
Savages do not appreciate the utility of old maids, any more than does
our working-class to-day. Nothing but the covetousness of the old chief
stood between this girl and a husband of one of the allied totems.
She was too useful to part with at any price which her suitors could
pay. Dêh-Yān knew all this, there is not much that a savage woman
aged sixteen does not know which concerns herself. There is nothing
which answers to false modesty in your savage. Hence Dêh-Yān was as
discontented as a young person is likely to be whose future is blocked.

This girl panted for a larger life than she was enjoying. She wanted
to score, but being only a woman she was never allowed an innings. She
knew by fair trial that she had the legs of any young brave in her
tribe; that she was a far better climber than most, and could handle
a man's weapons as well as any lad of her age. Yet, when there was
anything to be done with axe or assegai it was their call, while she
must be stitching a kaross or gathering sticks! The unfairness of it!

And there had been no war in their country for some years, nor any
chance for her to prove her capacity and courage in emergency.

Here was her chance; here, just beneath her feet. 'Twas now or never,
she would kill this woman-hunter and take his scalp back to camp. It
would be a glorious feat, the women would be jealous, no doubt, and so
might the younger men, but someone would make a song about it, and her
name would be remembered. That would be something that would comfort
her when after a few brief years of overwork and child-bearing she was
no longer supple and swift, and had shrivelled into a blear-eyed,
haggard old squaw of thirty-five, bullied and bidden about by her own
sons.

And it was really quite easy. As the villain sate there exactly below
her he was so utterly in her hand. One smashing down-cast and her
hatchet would be in his brain, and--well, it would spoil the scalp!

Was there no other way? She would peep again. He had not changed his
position. From signs she could see that he had not changed it for days.
His left foot fell inwards unpleasantly; it was _broken above the
ankle_.

The man was starving to death. Water he did not want for, a trickle
oozed near him.

Then Dêh-Yān understood why the whortleberries upon that cliff-face had
ripened untouched.

Then the Alternative occurred to her.

The Custom of the Country considered it sound practice that an enemy
taken alive should be tortured before being eaten. The girl knew this
as a matter of course, just as a modern duchess knows that a garotter
is whipped and a murderer hanged by the neck, nor is broken of her
sleep by the knowledge. Dêh-Yān had listened with horrified interest to
the talk of old women who professed to have watched the process out,
or nearly out. Immemorial Custom sanctioned a woman's presence at the
salutary spectacle. The girl was no more responsible for the usages and
customs of her people than a St Louis belle is responsible for lynching.

So, there remained the Alternative, a dreadfully thrilling
catch-you-by-the-throat alternative, of giving this wife-hunter over to
the tribe.

She played with the idea for a moment--women think quickly--then she
acted, as women act, upon impulse. She would have a good look at the
wretch first, would have her fill of jibing at him, teasing him,
terrifying him if that were possible. At least she would tell this
outlander who had come for her--(proposing, as she knew, to knock her
over the head in the dusk at the dipping-hole down by the river and
drag her off half-stunned to be his trophy and slave for the term of
her natural life), she would tell this raider, I say, in good set terms
precisely what was in store for him, and see how he took it.

She peered and dropped a pebble. He looked up, and, albeit neither knew
it, her business, and his too, was done. Incidentally the fates of
countless millions of humans were spun by that brief passage of eyes.
The horoscopes of empires were cast then and there. There and then
was delimitated the eastern frontier of Old Rome, the Parthian march,
which the legion was never to cross. The issue of Senlac was decided;
Agincourt and Crecy were lost and won.

The seated man below leaned slowly back and turned his face up. It was
the handsomest face the girl had ever seen. He wasn't at all what she
had fancied, not by any means a brute, but quite young and--and--nice.

"You there?" said the man, quite naturally. Dêh-Yān studying his face
did not answer.

"Come down and talk to me. I shall not eat you," he smiled wearily.

The girl pouted; this was putting the moccasin upon the wrong foot. And
then the bush she was holding by parted without warning. She snatched,
but failed in getting hold, snatched again at sliding rock and stone,
saw firmaments of constellations, and went to sleep.

A few minutes later, not more, she awoke with a wet face. Someone was
dabbing her sore head with water. Who--Where? She opened her eyes. The
hunter, his own head bleeding from a fallen stone, was holding a sponge
of wet moss to hers.

She struggled up dizzily and sate, within his reach, for the sill of
the cave was narrow and the face beneath it fell steeply.

There was no escape for her if he were still strong enough to strike.
She thought for a moment that he had struck, for she was running red,
she was sitting in a red puddle, but it was whortleberry juice. Her
wallet had partially broken her fall.

"I shan't eat you," he repeated. Nature had been pressing him to
experiment. He had got so far as to finger his knife.

"Why?" she asked stupidly, thinking aloud. One of her Little Moon
braves in similar circumstances would have regarded the tumble of an
enemy-woman as a sheer food-gift from the God of the Hills.

"Sun-Men don't eat girls," he was saying. "Now you are well again, what
will you do?"

"I--don't--know," said Dêh-Yān. He was not only very--very beautiful,
but incredibly gentle; wholly, quite absolutely different from the
young braves of her clan who had been making eyes at her, and whom the
old chief had warned off, Pong-Gu, Low-Mah and Gow-Loo, rough boastful
fellows whom she had known and played with as boys on an equality, but
who, since their midnight initiations had seen fit to treat her as the
dirt under their noble masculine feet.

"Run away, now, if you feel strong again," said the man quite gently,
and seemed to mean it. "Run and fetch your braves. I am tired of
sitting here." (He looked dead tired, and oh, so thin!) "They will take
my scalp and eat me. You Little Moons are not nice feeders."

"They will roast you first, _alive_!" said Dêh-Yān very low, and
covered her mouth with her hand; the unpleasantness of the practice
coming home to her for the first time.

"Yes, I know ... 'tis my risk.... I took it.... But, unless they come
quickly I shall be--dead first."

His words came slowly. He leaned back and--fainted.

Dêh-Yān looked him over as he lay and was conscious that new, and
strangely pleasant, and unnamed feelings were moving within her. She
no longer feared this man; he had given her a horrid fright, but that
was over, and had left no after effects--savages are insensible to what
doctors call shock. Nor did she hate him as she had thought she hated
all Sun-Disc men, and had been prepared to hate this one until he had
turned his face up to her and spoken gently.

The girl's wallet lay where it had fallen disgorging crushed berries
and disclosing a certain ration of jerked meat which she had brought
with her for the day. An extraordinary and wholly irrational desire
suddenly possessed her to capture and tame this man. He promised to be
nice in another sense than the gastronomical. She really was pitying
him, but of this she was unaware, for pity was an emotion unknown to
the Little Moons, who had no equivalent for the word in their speech.

Having bathed his head in her turn and brought him round, the girl
fed her man with bits of meat and presently found him stronger. It
was not that the food was assimilated; it would be an hour before it
passed out of the stomach and was picked up and distributed, but the
nerves sent word along that help had arrived and the system responded
sympathetically. He looked better, more beautiful than any man had ever
looked to Dêh-Yān. Besides he was her discovery, her capture. No one
else, man or woman, should share her possession; he was her very own.
Here came into play the sense of property, but behind it gratitude
awoke, a very rare growth in palæolithic times, as rare as pity. She
sate thinking, hand to mouth, her man still slowly eating, restraining
his ravenousness, enjoying the food as he had never enjoyed food in
his life of seventeen years or so.

What was to do next? A shrill cry from above brought on the crisis.
The children had missed her and were growing anxious: if one of those
youngsters caught a glimpse, had the faintest inkling, she would lose
her treasure.

Necessity was upon her, she must act, and act decisively. Swiftly
shovelling with both hands the rest of her day's food from the bottom
of the wallet into the lap of the man, she whispered quick and low,
"More to-morrow!" and began to re-climb the face.

The boys above saw her coming and grinned roguishly at her slow
movements, and more at her empty wallet and juice-stained kilt and
bleeding head. She got her breath before chasing and smacking the
biggest, then, marshalling her little army, she kept it hard at work
until the sun dipped behind the snows and 'twas time to be making for
camp.



CHAPTER II

A HOUSEKEEPING


"More to-morrow," the Master-Girl had said, but to-morrow has a knack
of taking the bit in its teeth. When Dêh-Yān looked forth at the
weather very early next morning she knew that her path was blocked.
Snow had fallen in the night and was still falling from clouds which
were creeping down the wooded shoulders of the foot-hills after
powdering their bare polls with the first fall of autumn. The nine
white giants which never changed were hidden, and the horrid, bitter,
frozen river of ice which came winding down from the closed valley
which we call the Lap of the Gods, bearing dirt and stones upon its
cracked and dirty back, was hidden too.

The old chief sniffed more snow in the sky and bade strike the
wigwams, the summer homes of his people. 'Twas ho, for their winter
quarters, the range of southward-facing limestone caverns, a
ten-fingers' march down-stream. Certain braves were sent on ahead
to prospect and smoke out the hyænas which were pretty sure to have
usurped possession.

Preparations began at once and the Master-Girl must make herself
conspicuously useful and prominent in the flitting with whatever heart
she set to it. As she worked and packed she thought hard and keenly
as she had never thought before in her life. Hitherto her thoughts
had been solely for her tribe, and upon topics upon which she could
think aloud, but, now, and for the first time, she had thoughts for
someone outside the circle which had enclosed her since she could
first remember, and thoughts which must most carefully be kept to
herself; yes, so rigorously that she gabbled loudly, as girls who work
in company will when they fear the suspicion of having any private
thoughts at all.

Before mid-day the march was begun, and the Master-Girl, still chatting
loudly and thinking hard, must take her place on the trail, albeit with
a very backward-looking heart. How was her man getting on?--This cold
was bad for him, he had no bison-skin robe with him. A wife-hunter's
kit is light, and no doubt the weather had been warmer when he left
his people upon the other, the sunny side of the ranges. Another night
of this would finish him. She had given him her word, too, and the
Master-Girl was as truthful as girls went in those days, which means
she didn't lie from choice, and had a natural pride in doing the
thing which she had said she would do, even if it proved unexpectedly
difficult.

Thus it befell that without committing herself to any specific plan the
Master-Girl kept a definite end resolutely in view, even to the extent
of selecting for her special burdens on the march certain articles
which on another occasion she might have placed upon the back of one
and another of her pupils.

The braves formed line and scouted for game ahead of the old men in the
centre. The squaws and girls staggered slowly behind bowed beneath the
property of the tribe, the accumulated gettings of a summer's hunting.
There were also the household stuff and the babies.

So big were the flakes that progress was difficult from the first, and
presently became impossible, the smaller and more heavily-laden girls
could not be kept going. It was no use beating the stragglers. The old
chief called a halt. When young things begin to get behind, someone
will presently be missing. The braves, who had come upon bears' sign,
might follow it up; but a camp must be pitched for the night at any
rate, and the girls must drop their burdens and forth for firing before
the snow covered all. Down went ill-secured bundles of skins, sheaves
of assegais, wallets of jerked deer-meat, the miscellaneous lumber of a
tribe of hunters, and out went the stick collectors; 'twas then or not
at all.

A little girl near the edge of the covert saw the Master-Girl bending
beneath a faggot, saw her drop it and run, heard her shriek "_Bear!_"
There was a headlong race through swirling flakes over and under fallen
trunks and laden boughs: five minutes later the last of the runners was
safe in camp. The mother-squaws were scolding, counting, cackling, but
where was Dêh-Yān? The hunters must be recalled, but were far ahead
running a trail. By the time they were told of what had happened, and
the pack had been lifted, the snow had covered all marks, indeed a
good deal of property which had been thrown down in the confusion was
temporarily lost. For the rest of the short dark day the braves cast
forward up this gully and that glen, but it was upon their return
that a hound scratched up from under a drift a skin wallet stiff and
red. The finder of this grim relic brought it to the old chief in good
faith. The elder looked, sniffed, snarled, "Fool!--this is not blood,
but berry-juice!" whereat Gow-Loo, a somewhat jolter-headed young
savage, slunk away cursing the lost girl and wishing the bear a good
meal of her. Later he cursed her more bitterly still.

A hasty camp was pitched, ill-warmed, ill-lighted. The squaws huddled
amid their shuddering children, the men never laid down their arms
all night. A cannibal bear was the most terrible enemy known to the
tribe; a taste for human flesh once acquired, and the fear of man once
overcome, there was no knowing to what lengths such a beast might go.
'Twas opined to be no brown bear either, but a grizzly, or worse, a
cave monster, one of the sort that even the lions feared, a brute that
hung around the mammoth herd on its march, and occasionally cut off a
calf. Nobody slept, and there was but one topic of conversation, the
fate of Dêh-Yān.

One boy, indeed, the boy whom she had spanked the day before, stuck
to it that she had outrun him whilst making for camp, had passed him
running silently and running wide, but none believed him, for he was
not a truthful boy, nor did his tale obtain a moment's credence from
the fact that next morning certain assegais, axes and skins were
missing. Such losses are incidental to a panic when women and girls run
and cry out and drop things; they would be found, if and when the snow
melted. But the snow did not melt.

So, a day later, the Little Moons trailed down in close order to
their winter quarters, leaving their summer camp under a robe of new
snow. The fate of the First Governess added a delicious piquancy to
the nightly tremors of the children whom she had whipped. The women
regretted, grumbled and speculated without a misgiving, but a doubt
remained in the mind of a certain young brave, which doubt he later
imparted to a couple of his comrades, who turned it over silently in
their minds.

       *       *       *       *       *

The man with the broken leg had made a poor night of it. He had
finished the jerked deer-meat and was ravenously hungry, sickeningly,
dreadfully hungry, and quite desperately cold. He had been telling
himself all night between the brief naps permitted him by the various
pains, cramps and gnawings which assailed him, that this girl could not
return, yet, all through, something within him kept the spark of hope
alight. A dark, thick, long-delayed morning, with eddying flakes as big
as beech-leaves, put that spark out. Such weather he knew would break
up the summer camp at once. The girl, who, under other circumstances,
might conceivably have paid him a single surreptitious visit, would be
tied to her burden and to the line of march; every hour would lengthen
the distance between them. No, it was all up ... he must die ... and
this dying was very slow work ... and abominably painful.... He wished
the braves of her tribe had found him.... He would have shown those
dirty Little Moons how a Sun-Disc man could stand fire. Ugh!--he was a
fool to have given the creature a second thought--a mere Little Moon
woman, useful perhaps when properly trained, but one of a backward
tribe that ate snake (think, snake!) and plumed their axes with owls'
feathers.

The contempt and hatred felt by a savage for a man of another totem and
habits is almost inconceivably bitter, nearly as fierce and irrational
as the loathing entertained by an Orangeman for a Papist, or a Wee Free
for a United.

So the broken-legged man sate and shuddered involuntarily, for he was
true to stock, and made no more moan about his condition and prospects
than does a trapped wolf. He had gone over his chances and appraised
and laid the last of them down--worthless! But, there was one which
he had given not a thought to--the ardent strength of a woman's first
passion.

"_Man, I am come._"

His dim eyes opened very slowly. 'Twas no dream, she was there, dark
bronze-red with exertion and exhaling warmth. She was burdened too;
he marvelled dully how she had got such a bundle down that rock-face.
A bison-robe was drawn under him, another laid over him: he was fed
again, and again he revived, but more slowly, for this time he was far
gone with cold and exhaustion. He had not spoken. She was gone. He
wondered. Then the mouth of the cave was darkened once more, and she
was back with something, a small sheaf of assegais, two axes, and a
dozen flake-knives. A second absence and a second return revealed her
in another character, for there lay her fire-sticks, and scrapers, yes,
and more skins, a housekeeping!

The man's eyes were clear by this time. "What will the Little Moons say
to this?" he asked, his brown cheek bulging with food.

The girl frowned and plucked at the hair of her kilt. "I am dead. A
bear got me at our first camp. Oh, I did it well! We were out for
wood; the snow was falling thickly; I laid a trail of my things up a
side glen, mittens, wallet, and an old kaross, then I cried _Bear!_
and sprinted back to camp, picked up these things (none of mine--no
scent for the pack--am I a child?) and doubled on our trail across the
open where tracks were many. If a hound opens on my line they will
whip him off for running heel!--But there was no padding me after the
first minute--the snow saw to that!" She grinned. "Neither spoor
nor scent!--And while they are casting forward on a false line, I am
here,--with you!" Her eyes shone, her voice, hard and hunter-like at
first, fell softly and almost shyly at the end.

Here again, as at their first interview, the man's intelligence
followed the girl's speech laggingly. Her people and his had been
separated for many generations by mutual distrust and mountains.
Intertribal trade did not exist, nor peaceful communication, but
internecine wife-stealing had kept alive a common glossary. When she
had passed to another subject he recalled something strange in her
story: "the pack," she had said, she had referred to "a hound" ("good
wolf" was her word--Pŭl-Yūn knew bad wolves only). He did not interrupt
his meal and her recital at the time with questions, but learnt later
that the Master-Girl's people, more backward than his in most respects,
had recently domesticated wolf-whelps.

The man touched the skins wistfully, he hardly understood as yet.

"But a bear would not eat bison-robe and hatchets. When you go back to
camp--" he began, feeling his way towards the incredible.

"I am not going back to camp," said Dêh-Yān, in a whisper. "This is my
camp."

The broken-legged man sucked in both lips and stared, but his eyes
kindled and smiled. "It seems that I am to get my wife after all," he
said softly.

The Master-Girl brought to the point--the point for which she had been
scheming and working for the past day and night, was already modern
woman enough to cover her mouth with her hand and shiver. After all
then, she would belong to this man, not he to her; her captive had
caught her, and thus soon!--Well, it was to be, she had no retreat open
to her, and--and--he was gloriously beautiful, and--and--so gentle!
She nodded assent, her hand still over her mouth. The young people's
eyes met. It meant marriage.

"It is well," said the man. "We will--live!"--his eyes shone--"for
a little while, perhaps. But, who knows? The Gods of your hills may
be kind to us. They have been kind to us so far, and have covered my
hiding-place and your tracks with the ptarmigan's feathers. Let us
praise them! I do not know their names. As for the God of my tribe, She
is hidden. She must wait. I will greet Her when next She shows me Her
face. Meanwhile, be our time together long or short, I will sing my
wedding-song."

He sate as erect as he was able, staying himself upon his palms and,
filling his chest, began to chant trumpet-lipped the hymn of his
people, the one reserved for such occasions. Its exact terms are,
perhaps fortunately, irrecoverable. It was even then of an immemorial
antiquity (nothing changes more slowly than the wedding custom of a
primitive people), this was an archaic survival, sanctioned by use
and wont and age; there were words and idioms in it which were wholly
foreign to the girl--imbedded fragments of the long-dead River-drift
men's gabble, frog-like guttural cluckings of tongue and the tonsil
mingled with newer and nobler speech, vocables truly human and musical.
The girl listened and panted and glowed, tingling to the tips of her
toes. This was life!--Life!--If, by any hap, she were tracked, caught
and dragged back to her tribe to suffer the frightful penalty reserved
for a girl who so far forgot herself as to "steal her man"--as their
speech had it (a phrase still used by our peasantry)--well, she would
grin it out to the very last. She had lived!

How shall we picture the youngsters? Were they handsome? According to
modern canons--no. High in the cheek, narrow and low in the brow, and
something heavy in the jaw, one fancies; strongly outlined sketches of
the race to come after. Comely enough though, in one another's eyes--oh
(a detail this, but worth preserving), stalwart exceedingly--he a good
seven feet in height by our measure, and the Master-Girl six feet three.

Suddenly in mid-chant the singer's eyes rolled inward, his lip was
drawn up from the teeth and he was sinking back. She caught and
cherished him to warmth and comfort. He was splendidly plucky, but weak.

So passed the first day of these young people's housekeeping. The girl
got some kindling in before the light went, and made fire, and watched
the night out beside her sleeping patient. The First Nurse. Before dawn
she recognised and prostrated herself to the crescent moon, her totem,
to whom she gave credit for her successful elopement, and to whose
mercy she committed her husband and herself.

The next day he was better. Dêh-Yān found herself able to leave her new
treasure. It was hard, but business is business, and the girl was as
practical as she was enthusiastic.

"It has stopped. I go to hunt--for us."

"The fall is too young," he objected. "Nothing will be afoot yet--no
spoor."

"You shall see," said the girl. "At least I can be getting more wood."

At the edge of the covert below the face Dêh-Yān, moving slowly and
with eyes all around her, saw a something tiny and black moving upon
the whiteness, the jetty tail-tip of an ermine in his winter pelage.
Pursing her lips she gave the shrill, small squeal of a leveret in
difficulties, and was presently looking into the face of the eager
little robber who had raced to her lure. Her throwing-stick broke his
back. Dêh-Yān was not fond of stoat, no one is, but meat is meat; she
cut out the gland and pouched him. Observing that his muzzle was
bloody, she worked his line to heel, and coming upon the hole he had
just left, dug down to a family party of hedgehogs laid up for their
winter sleep in beech leaves, each as fat as butter, and only one of
them sucked. Here, with economy, was meat for three days at a pinch.
She returned to the cave silently pleased with herself to meet the
silent approval of her man.

For the rest of the day she accumulated firewood. Her man should be
warm.

At night Pŭl-Yūn, as he bade her call him, groaned in sleep. By
daylight his wife would examine his hurt. The limb was sufficiently
wasted to show the overlapping of the bones. It was a simple fracture
of the fibula, and the muscle was enfeebled enough to tempt her to put
into practice the woman's lore learnt of the old chiefs head-wife.

"Hold to the rock--hard--I shall pull." He braced himself, she drew
with slow power and felt the limb give, then, venting pent breath,
relaxed and heard the broken ends of the bone cluck neighbourly as they
came to a renewed understanding.

"Now, lie upon your sound side, and the leg will keep its shape."

Her man took breath, for the operation had hurt him abominably, albeit
he had not let the least little moan. "O woman, what talk is this?--It
is a moon-and-a-half of a matter before broken leg-bone knits strongly;
how am I to keep it in one shape so long?--when I am sleeping, say?
Wah! You are very clever, but I shall break it again before morning."

The girl thought hard, sitting at the entrance of the cave and studying
the curve of the young moon just visible, afloat in the darkening blue,
her people's totem and her own, and her favourite object among the
heavenly host. "O Moon, Little Moon, teach me to medicine my man!" she
murmured. "Here are not the things which we of your people use in such
a case. This cave-floor is hard rock, I cannot drive little pegs to
keep the limb in place, nor while this frost holds can I dig clay to
make a mould to hold it firm. What shall I do for him, O Little Moon?"

And, behold it came, a Thought, an Expedient, bright and wonderfully
simple, and perfectly novel and practicable. Arising without a word,
she fetched six straight hazel wands, and, having wound the limb
carefully in a deer's hide, bound it within a cradle of splints. 'Twas
new practice, she had never seen nor heard of such work before, nor
had her man, but he let her have her way with him, for he was not only
very weak and weary, but the fellow saw that he had fallen into the
hands of a wise woman. We, too, are by way of recognising that here
was that rare and invaluable creature, a born inventor. Such are of
altogether incalculable value to the race. And, bethink you, how seldom
do they appear. Our own age, verily an age of miracles, is altogether
exceptional; never in the whole course of man's history has there
been such a time. Dimly one descries a period, the so-called Second
Dynasty, when the Egyptian brain, then young and new and plastic,
scintillated once in a century or so, admirable inventions, the wedge,
the lever, inclined plane, wheel-and-axle, but who invented anything
since until our own day?--Gunpowder and printing, the arch, and steel,
the mariner's compass, you'll remind me, and what else in the course
of six thousand years? Within the memory of living men if an Oxford
don wanted light in haste he had recourse to flint and steel and an
oil lamp. If he wished to reach London in haste a good horse was his
best servant. Rameses the Great would have done no otherwise in either
emergency. Most of earth's greatest men have harboured an inexplicable
prejudice against inventors, the Greek philosophers, for instance; even
the greatest generals in history would trust nothing that was new,
Alexander, Hannibal, Marlborough conquered with the ordinary weapons
of their day; Wellington distrusted the rocket and preferred Brown Bess
to the rifle, Napoleon (fortunately for Liberty and England), sneered
at inventions and had a nickname for inventors.

No, not only the practice of invention, but the very theory of
it is modern: the mere idea that there is anything that _can_ be
discovered (without mortal sin) is of yesterday. Your ancient inventor
investigated at the risk of his life, and published his invention in
terror. However obvious and useful it might chance to be, if it hit
a vested interest, or offended a priest, the man would be burned for
having commerced with the devil.

So with the lowest savages; not the filthiest of their foods, the most
objectionable of their customs, or the silliest and clumsiest of their
tools or weapons, but is bound up in some way with their religion, and
protected from innovation by its sanctions. Did not Mumbo Jumbo give
them the throwing-stick in the days before the Moon began to chase his
sister the Sun?--Who so presumptuous then as to suggest any improvement
upon the throwing-stick, the divinely-inspired throwing-stick? Let him
be skinned alive and eaten, says Mumbo Jumbo, and let the best and
tenderest of his chops be the portion of me, Rum Tum, the High Priest
of Mumbo Jumbo.

Thus hampered, man's intelligence moves slowly, and racial advance has
not been precipitate in Korea, say, or Spain. Among the Little Moons
the very possibility of inventing anything had been long forgotten.
From his childhood to his death each member of the tribe moved in a
web of routine, and did what he did at stated times because it was the
custom of the community. There was never any change, improvement was
impossible, for the corpus of the law which regulated his life and
bound him hand and foot, resided in the retentive memories of the
oldest and most pig-headed of his people, themselves brought up in a
similar environment and mentally incapable of breaking away from it in
any one smallest particular.

Hence this departure from practice in the matter of treating a broken
leg filled the man's bosom with wonder too deep for words. He found
himself encumbered with novel feelings, feelings for which he had no
suitable vocabulary. When a young brave went on a wife-hunt it was not
to be supposed that he should respect or reverence the dejected and
sulky captive whom he drove home before him. That in the course of
years their mutual relations might improve, that some regard for the
mother of his sons, some admiration even for her capacity and judgment
might arise was possible, but at the first her lot was a sorry one; she
stood for the proof of her captor's strength, courage and address; his
slave, no more.

But, Dêh-Yān stood for nothing of the kind. And what she did stand for
Pŭl-Yūn was at a loss to explain to himself. Having nothing to do, he
watched her about the cave and marvelled at her--also at himself and at
something which was going on inside him.

And in her, though he did not know it. The first passage of their eyes
had begun it, but much had happened since. She had touched him. She had
handled, lifted, supported him--given him exquisite pain (as she knew
by intuition), fed him, rubbed his cold stiff limbs back to warmth and
suppleness. Needless to say that this girl had never had occasion to
deal thus with a man-creature of her own age hitherto. What she had
done, she had done with a steady and purposeful hand, but now it was
over, she found herself shaking as if from cold. Yet she was not cold.
What was it?--Dêh-Yān could put no name to this novel experience, and
whilst she thought upon it, seated as far from her patient as the
limits of the cave permitted (for the revulsive fit was upon her) it
came over her with a horrid clearness how near she had been to handing
this delightful, troublesome, beautiful, helpless, bewilderingly
strange creature-comrade of hers over to the braves of her tribe. With
a momentary gleam of insight, she saw him as he might have been at the
stake. The sight wrung her heart. "Ooh!"--she groaned, and clapped a
hand over her mouth. Then, with a second gleam of prescience, she saw
herself in a like predicament--as yet might be her fate--and laughed!

"What are you laughing at?" her man was asking weakly.

"I was thinking that I must get to my hunting--we cannot live long
upon a stoat and a walletful of hedgehogs. Also I am thinking we must
have skins for leggings and mittens," smiled the girl, lying glibly to
conceal feelings of which she was half ashamed.

The frost had not given, and wild-life, hunger-nipped, was getting over
the first paralysing fear of making tracks. The big game, elephants
and bison, would have moved down-stream for the winter, and lion would
have followed them, and bear laid up to sleep off his fat. She knew as
much. The edge of the covert was printed thickly with slot of hare,
badger, fox and marten. She could see that chamois and stone-buck had
come down, but chamois and stone-buck were kittle cattle. There were
the broad pads of a big tom-lynx. The girl looked them over narrowly,
and knew them from wolf by the sign of hair upon the soles of the feet.
She dreaded lynx, but meat she must have. There among the tangle of
creeping pine (the _Pinus pumulus_ which makes such desperately hard
going) was the well-beaten run of capercaillie. Dêh-Yān followed it
into the scrub as far as a fallen spruce and set that log with twenty
springes of deer-sinew, then, fetching a circle, she beat the covert
with some small outcry back towards her nooses, and with results. The
master-cock, a great black-bearded tyrant, twice as big as his wives,
had got a hairy leg into trouble but had broken away, but not before
six youngsters and hens, hastening to their lord's assistance, had been
themselves ensnared.

"Good!" said the man when the huntress panted up the cliff face
carrying an almost throttling necklace of heavy birds, "we have food
for days. Give that covert a rest, Dêh-Yān. Also I have another reason.
Listen. I dreamed of a hare whilst you were away. Danger is near."

Without a word, weary as she was, the girl left the cave and ascended
the rock face, climbing slowly and very carefully, keeping to the bare
exposures lest she should leave incriminating sign, and ensconcing
herself in a juniper bush, spied far and long over the white expanse.

The dream had already come true. There, below her and more than four
miles away by our measurement, three tiny black specks moved slowly
across a snow-field between two dark belts of wood.

The girl watched with a hardening mouth, bending upon these crawling
black specks the wonderful, long-sighted eyes of a savage. Nearer they
came and nearer, she made out and named each. There was Low-Mah, there
was Pongu, and, worst of all, there was the detested Gow-Loo, a brave
whom she most particularly disliked, and with whose property she had
accordingly made free when she left the tribe.

Plainly the man had missed his axes and spears, had revisited the camp
where they had last been seen and had not found them. Pongu in like
manner had missed his bison-robes, and Low-Mah certain deer-skins,
properties which if cast away by girls in a panic-stricken rush would
have lain where they fell. Each had his dog with him, and having failed
in finding what they sought at the site of the snow-camp, were casting
up the glen with a certain air of grim determination which the watcher
did not like.

They had reasoned the matter out and had ceased to believe in that
bear, albeit, just what had induced an unmarried girl to break away
from her tribe and make a winter-hunting of her own was beyond them. It
was a matter which needed clearing up.

There must be no fire for her man that day, nor next day, nor for a
handful of days. Dêh-Yān spied from her bush, her patient from his
cave, and once heard the three hunters pass below him. A sprinkle of
fresh snow had covered the girl's tracks, or this story would never
have been written, but they had lit upon one of her springes and were
justly scandalised. Her motive in absconding was still a mystery, but
such conduct was outrageous. They would see the matter out, and were
curious in devising punishments for the truant.

But next day the girl beheld them in full flight down the glen before
an angry bear.

This was to exchange one danger for another. It might well be that the
dream portended this. Wolf the dwellers in the cave did not fear, for
no wolf could climb so steep a face, but wherever a man can go on rocks
a grizzly can go.

Dêh-Yān told her fears to her husband, who bade block the cave-mouth
with big stones and let a spear be always beside him. Poor defence, but
better than none; his arms were regaining flesh.



CHAPTER III

THE GHOST-BEAR


The cold increased. Pŭl-Yūn, debarred his usual exercise, suffered in
his circulation and felt nipped within the robes which his nurse heaped
upon him.

"Mittens thou shalt have," said she, and made her promise good at the
charges of a brace of blue hare, whose longs-and-shorts she patiently
followed up until her throwing-stick decided the ownership of the
peltries which she claimed.

Pŭl-Yūn watched her stitching: a needle snapped. "My wife will be
wanting a touch of my skill," he said, and selected a shank-bone, slim
and straight, split it, and scraped the more promising piece to a point.

"That is all very well," said the Master-Girl, "but how about the
eye?--I have no bits small enough for drilling a needle-eye. We must
punch our holes in the skin, and poke the sinew through with a forked
bone, as when one nets."

[Illustration: THE GHOST-BEAR]

"That makes clumsy stitches," remarked the man. "No, I do not think we
shall come down to the punch. Thy needles are pit-eyed--"

"We always make them so; how else?--with the centre-bit, a bent stick,
a twist of hazel," said the girl.

"But we use the strung-drill. Hast never seen it?" She stared. "Then
there is something that even a Little Moon woman can learn from her
man!" He spoke in humorous mockery, but with a spice of malice, for
truly this astonishing squaw of his had forereached upon her master in
a manner beyond all precedent; would he ever get the whip-hand of her
again?

She understood; she crawled to him cooing gently; patted his hand; they
rubbed noses.

"Why are my needles clumsy?" she asked humbly, and he showed her that
her people's method of boring the eye, a funnel-shaped hole driven from
each side and meeting midway, necessitated a broader head than a small
true hole drilled straight through at one asking.

"Our holes are big and shallow, yes, like ant-lion pits," she laughed.
"That is because our centre-bit wobbles; but how can one help the
centre-bit wobbling?"

From the raffle of bones upon the floor (Cave-man was an untidy fellow,
or 'tis little we should know about him)--from the remains of his
yesterday's dinner Pŭl-Yūn chose a young roe's shin-bone, sawed off the
joint with care and sucked out the marrow. "I want," said he, "a small
sharp stone, to sit in that hollow: there are such in the bellies of
bigger stones,"--he meant quartz crystals, and the Master-Girl nodded;
so far his requirements presented no difficulty. "And I must have," he
went on, "a couple of smooth rods of rowan or hazel as long as my arm;
also an elder-stick as long as my hand."

There was meat in the larder for two days; the nurse was keen to
provide play-things for her convalescent, nor was she herself loth or
incurious; within the hour she was back with a handful of sparkling
gems from the hollow of a big pebble and a pair of rods, one of which
she watched her husband bend and string with a thong of deer-skin.

Presently he had found a shard of rock-crystal to his mind, and had
hafted it in the hollow bone with a morsel of pitch picked from
his axe-head and warmed in the embers. (It is singular, but beyond
controversy, that the Old Stone men, who used the drill so adroitly
for small work, and could pierce the enamel of a bear's tooth, or the
nacre of a sea-shell when a necklace was required, never applied their
invention to the hafting of their weapons. An axe was apparently too
serious a matter to be bored, nor did the presence of a natural hole
in a flint pebble suggest the insertion of a stick, any more than the
hole for the handle in a trade hatchet appeals to a South-Sea Islander
of one of the more backward races; no, he stops the hole with gum and
hafts as his fore-fathers did, and as Pŭl-Yūn and Dêh-Yān did, in a
cleft stick).

What next?--Dêh-Yān, still very much in the dark but longing for
light, watched her husband with absorbed attention. Now he had laid
aside the strung rowan-rod and the armed bone for a moment, and was at
work upon the elder-stick, working one end of it to a smooth rounded
head, driving into the tough, yielding, pithy hollow of its opposite
extremity the sharpened shank of the armed roedeer's bone as far as it
would go. He had now to his hand a short, solidly-made dagger, stoutly
cylindrical in form, and bearing as its head a glittering morsel of
crystal. He next fastened the slip of hare's bone which he proposed to
convert to a needle firmly to the handle of his axe, and bound the axe
in turn to the thigh of his sound leg, raised his knee, and said--

"Now, I begin!"

"Wah!--this is a wonder! But have a care of thy broken ankle!"

"I will have a care. Give me that strung rowan-rod." He took it from
her hand, bent it yet more and looped the slackened thong once around
the barrel of his drill, or bit, and then, using his own breast and
left hand as bearings for the smooth butt, applied the crystal point to
the blind head of the needle and drew the bent rod swiftly from left
to right. The drill revolved, its armature began to mark the bone, to
penetrate infinitesimally. He reversed the action and again the tool
spun and cut. He persisted, it began to excavate. Pŭl-Yūn was no novice
at the work, he had an instinctive appreciation of what his tool would
bear, he knew to a nicety just what the fragile bone might be trusted
to take without splitting.

"I am through, or nearly," said he, the sweat running into his eyes,
for he was wholly out of condition, and the attitude was trying. "Let
us turn the needle, I will work a little from the other side and then
we can give it a point and a polish."

The Master-Girl, meanwhile, overlooked this new magic of the Sun-Men,
with a breathless frowning intentness which (and this marks the
woman we have to deal with) had no contempt in it. Your savage has a
fathomless irrational scorn for the arts and usages of any other tribe
than his own. A traveller who had photographed a group of Fingo women
at their field work showed them a picture of a similar group of Pondos
taken a fortnight before; there was a shout of derisive laughter. "They
are using the long-handled hoe--_Baboons!_" Upon his return journey
he showed the Fingo photograph to his Pondo friends; again the yell of
scorn. "They are using the short-handled hoe--the _Baboons_!"

The girl's cast of mind, or her relation to this man, saved her from
this fatal attitude of sterile complacency. She waited and watched,
reserving judgment. Full approval was conceded, with an undercurrent
of doubt as to the possibility of improvement. To her husband the size
and curvature of his implement were fixed by custom and unimprovable.
To Dêh-Yān these dimensions were open questions. She experimented;
would not a longer bow give longer strokes? He stared, but, being
sensible beyond the run of men, and grateful somewhat, and what was
possibly more to the point than all else, having no one to laugh at
him[1]--consented to give the larger drill a trial and presently found
his tool biting faster.

Within the week the girl, having such a head upon her brown shoulders
as is conceded to a savage but once in a thousand generations or so,
after much watching and brooding, made for herself a bigger drill from
a bough of her own height, and seating herself opposite to her man,
drove the bow rapidly, whilst he steadied the bit and watched the holes
deepen at a pace quite new to his experience. It was no longer needles
but hunting-whistles.

It was whilst thus at work, he, seated with his face to the mouth of
the cave, beheld the broad, five-clawed fore-paw of a bear thrust up
from below, feeling for foothold upon the smooth sill of the dwelling.
The woman saw the living fear in his eyes, sprang for an axe, and was
hacking hard at the protruding toes before they found their purchase.
Thrice she beat them down, and when the great wrinkled, snarling
muzzle and fanged cavern of a mouth came up within reach, she was too
urgent and too sudden to be faced. The enemy withdrew deliberately
beneath a pelting storm of stones not ill-directed.

It was all over, a brief struggle of wills between a girl and an ogre,
but how intolerably long had it seemed to the foot-fast convalescent.
It was over, and Pŭl-Yūn listening to the final slide and scratching
upon the rock and crash among the bushes beneath, drew deep breaths and
looked upon this woman of his with a new and huge admiration, for not
once had she cried for help, but thrice and four times had she bidden
him keep still and respect his injured limb.

There are people who give vent to the surplus excitement generated by
an adventure in chatter and exclamation; there are others who take it
quietly. Pŭl-Yūn was one of the latter, he felt the imperative need of
silence in which to review the thing, and see whether he had played
the game. Had Dêh-Yān fallen into tears or gigglings, he would have
been hard put to it to have borne with her; but, it appeared that she
was of his own way of taking things, and when for some while neither
had spoken one word, their mutual respects had deepened.

"Woman, that was well done!" said the man at length, and the girl
nodded with a proud humility. She had played a great innings and knew
it, but, having an intuitive understanding of Man, she wisely forbore
to celebrate her achievement with vaunts, as a brave of her tribe would
certainly have done under like circumstances.

"We were near the end of our stones," remarked Pŭl-Yūn, looking about
him.

"We had only one left--this--" replied the girl. "I kept it to the
last."

"That was lucky," admitted her husband, meaning more than he said,
but it was a maxim in old days that a woman was little the better for
praise.

"He will come again," he added doubtfully.

"Next time I--we will kill him," said Dêh-Yān a little above herself;
"I will get more stones, and bigger, for his entertainment."

"Yes, he will be back again; not to-morrow, perhaps, but within a
while, when he has turned it over in his mind and thinks we have
forgotten him," resumed the man, ignoring the woman's brag.

Dêh-Yān was sensible of her master's silent censure, and of a
sex-superiority too secure of itself to need assertion, and shrunk back
half-meekly, half-resentfully, but within a little found herself rising
quietly and resolutely against its injustice. It must be so at present,
no doubt, but it should not always be so. Meanwhile, her husband,
satisfied with the effects of the snubbing, was speaking again.

"We shall certainly be looked up before long. But, there is something
I do not understand about that bear, Dêh-Yān. In my country, south of
the ranges, a brown bear ambushes and waylays, but rarely attacks by
day and in the open. Is it more usual here? Are thy people's weapons so
weak that a bear has no fear of them? or is this a Ghost-Bear, thinkest
thou?--This beast should either have followed your tribe down, or have
laid up for the winter. What is he doing abroad in snow?--_Is he a bear
at all?_ Did any warrior of your tribe die during the past summer?"

"This was no Brown Bear--but a Grizzly of the Big Kind[2]--but--I
think--" she paused, her hand over her mouth. "Saw-Kimo, the old
chief's son, died--was found dead," she muttered reluctantly, for death
is a very mysterious thing to your savage, and to speak of the recently
deceased is unlucky; they may be about, anywhere, at your elbow, and
may take offence; who can say?

"Was _found_ dead?" questioned the man.

"Yes ... no one saw how it happened.... A stone was thought to have
fallen; so said Gow-Loo, who found him."

"Oho, Gow-Loo? Was not that one of the three who came a-hunting thee?
Now tell me, Dêh-Yān, and speak the thing that is--"

"I always do!" exclaimed the girl.

"I believe thee, I shall always believe thee. So, tell me, was not this
Saw-Kimo one of the young braves who had asked for thee? Yes?--And had
not this Gow-Loo asked for thee too?"

The girl nodded. "I was to have been given to Saw-Kimo, but--he died."

"It is very unlucky when stones fall in that manner. Gow-Loo painted
his face for his friend, no doubt, and made great lamentation, as I
should expect. Was it not so?--But, is there no witch-doctor in your
tribe? Was there no smelling-out for blood?"

The girl shook her head. "There was talk of it in the old chief's
tee-pee, but--Gow-Loo's people are strong, and he and his two
friends, Low-Mah and Pongu, who always hunt with him (it was they who
came upon the winter-hunting)--they were thought to have made gifts
to the medicine-man and put him off the line, if indeed there was a
line. I do not know--how should I?--I am only a woman. I did not like
Saw-Kimo--much; but--" with sudden heat, "I hate Gow-Loo--and the
others."

"Humph," grunted Pŭl-Yūn, "it is curious that three braves who are
tied up in a knot of this sort, and who are keen enough to go upon a
winter-hunting together, should have run from a bear as they ran from
this; right away down-stream and out of the valley too. It is strange.
But, if they had reason to think he was their old friend, Saw-Kimo,
that would explain a good deal."

"Perhaps he was very fierce--they had touched him, I think," argued
the girl, willing to believe anything rather than that she and her
crippled husband were beleaguered by her dead lover in the form of a
ghost-bear.

"Touched?--What makes thee think so?"

"He seemed to climb clumsily. He had but one fore-paw to which he could
fully trust, as it seemed to me. I watched him go, and he went lame in
the shoulder, and it was not my stones that did that--no, there was a
something there, a stump of a spear, as I think, and that is why he has
lost some of his fat and cannot lay up for the winter."

"And, being too slow to catch bison calf, he comes for us. My dream was
a true sending. He is certainly thy Saw-Kimo and will assuredly come
back for thee, Dêh-Yān."

"And so will _they_," muttered the girl, "for they must know they have
left a spear-head in him and that he must be getting weaker. They will
give the wound time to ripen, and then--"

"It is time I was about again," growled the crippled hunter, and set
to work upon his drilling with a grim face. Dêh-Yān was kneeling upon
his right hand, her left resting loosely upon the cave-floor within his
reach. Upon the impulse of the moment and without word or look, Pŭl-Yūn
struck swift and hard at the brown wrist with the elder bit that he was
holding: the stick encountered the rock and split, for the slim brown
wrist had been withdrawn with nimble rapidity. The eyes of the young
people met and smiled, it was their first attempt at play.

"My husband sees that I can take care of myself," remarked the girl
sedately.

"That is well, Dêh-Yān, for with a Ghost-Bear and a hunting party of
three in this glen, a woman has need of eyes in the back of her head,"
was the comment of her lover.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: Children, countrymen and savages are keenly sensitive to
ridicule. It is the fear of failure and of becoming the butt of his
fellows which keeps many a young labourer from attempting anything new.
To have tried and failed is to incur some opprobrious by-name that may
stick to a villager through life. Rustic wit is cruel and drearily
long-lived.]

[Footnote 2: She meant Cave Bear (_Ursus spelæus_), now extinct.]



CHAPTER IV

HARD-NEED MOTHER OF INVENTION


The days wore. Dêh-Yān went about her hunting with extreme precaution,
cultivated eyes all over her brown body, pricked her small hairy ears
perpetually, and moved through the most tangled coverts of trailing
pine as silently as a fox.

Acting upon her husband's suggestion, she laid a trail about the main
glen, and having completed the circuit, sate a day out ambushed beside
her tracks to wit if any creature, whether lynx, wolf, ghost-bear
or man should be following up her spoor. None showed, and she grew
uplifted of heart again, and as luck would have it, her hunting
prospered for once beyond reason.

A roebuck met her face to face in a pass between two rocks. The small
fellow was more than full-headed, he bore eight three-inch tines,
any one of which was death to a naked woman, and for a moment meant
battle; but, after a startled grunt, tossed his head and doubled in
panic. Dêh-Yān's throwing-stick broke his off-hind leg below the hough,
and she finished him after a fight in which the odds were still about
even, for the charges of a roebuck at bay, even when upon three legs,
are sudden and very difficult to avoid in deep snow. If he had once got
the girl down she would never have risen again; but the affair went
well, and Dêh-Yān, toiling mightily, won home with a load of meat and a
deep-piled, mossy skin for her man to sit upon.

She had restocked the cave with missiles: scores of stones, as heavy
as she could manage, were piled against the rock-sides of the dwelling
ready at need. This was a three days' labour, and it was whilst resting
after her last load and discussing the arrangement of their stores of
artillery, that the singular incident occurred which resulted in--but
I will not anticipate. The element of luck mingles in the best-laid
schemes of human intelligence, chances lie thick about us, and genius
consists in the recognition and utilisation of chance.

These strung-drills were common form to Pŭl-Yūn who had known them
all his life, and expected nothing more from them than they were made
to yield, and had long since disclosed of use. As for playing with
them, it had no more occurred to him to amuse himself by playing
tricks with a strung-drill than it occurs to your harvestman to use
his scythe handle as a vaulting-pole, or to your gardener to practise
throwing with his fork at a target, or to toss and catch his spade. The
implements of labour are invested with the seriousness due to maturity;
respect should be paid to them; if one gets larking something is sure
to be broken. They are tools, not toys.

But, to the girl a strung-drill was a novelty, a thing beautiful and
astonishing, an inexhaustible source of wonder and amusement, fraught
with all manner of latent possibilities.

To Pŭl-Yūn, a good conservative, it was unimprovable. The girl's
audacious innovation had already outpaced him. There was much that
was interesting, but nought that was sacred in the thing to her; she
had amazed her husband by one improvement, and was about to astonish
him yet more. Not that she was aware of what was coming, no; she was
simply uneasy as yet in the presence of a tricky piece of mechanism
with unexplored capacities of use and delight in it. She did not sit
down to invent, she simply started to play. And in this her sex and
temperament gave her a pull over her comrade. A man loses much of his
zeal for, if not the power of playing soon after sixteen--that is to
say for anything that is not a contest or a gamble. The so-called
sports of manhood, cricket, footer, rowing, hunting and what-not, are
usually very exhausting, and frequently outrageously expensive forms of
business, from which the primary idea and essential qualities of play
have disappeared. For it is of the very quiddity of play that it should
be gay, irresponsible, jolly in a word; and who will be hardy enough to
claim gaiety for croquet, or irresponsibility for bridge?

But most girls and many women can play at any time as naturally and
spontaneously as a child or a kitten. Dêh-Yān, fortunately for herself,
and for Pŭl-Yūn (and for you and me)--Dêh-Yān, I say, possessed this
happy faculty of amusing herself with whatever scrap of stone, stick
or string came within her reach. These strung-drills for example, she
was for ever stretching, releasing, twanging the things, studying their
actions and reactions, wondering at the difference in their notes,
and had come within a little of discovering the germ of the lyre,
when--well, what she did discover was of more importance than music to
mankind in the making.

Pŭl-Yūn had been for a month and more carving a tom-lynx out of a piece
of bone. It was a spirited performance, for the man, like many of his
race, was an artist. At this work Dêh-Yān, whose faculty lay in another
direction, could not assist him, and thus, whilst he bent over his
work, she was trifling with one of the strung-drills temporarily out
of use. She had been trimming the hide of the roebuck and was still
holding a sharp-edged shard of chert in her left hand, the hand which
also held the taut, bent wood. She was plucking and releasing the
string, listening to the twang of it, and by chance--by the veriest
chance--the shard pricked her palm. She transferred it to her right,
the string-hand, and plucked again. The loosened cord caught the stone,
which flew across the cave and struck Pŭl-Yūn above the ear, drawing
blood.

"Wah! what was that?" he asked without temper, and would be shown how
she had done the trick.

It was amazing. Dêh-Yān, whilst amusing herself, had stumbled upon a
property of the bent stick and cord which had escaped the dull eyes of
countless generations of routine-ridden, unimaginative men.

The new play diverted the girl, and her husband through her, albeit
neither as yet had caught a glimpse of its significance. Indeed, it
was three days before Dêh-Yān (Dêh-Yān again!) discovered that a stick
could be propelled endlong by the same agency.

They had hit upon the root-idea of the bow and arrow without knowing
it, and like a thousand other excellent ideas, this might have
perished without bearing fruit, but for the occasion which revealed
its importance, lifting the fortuitous combination of two sticks and a
string from the status of a toy to the dignity of a lethal weapon of
the first rank.

[The luck of inventions is very various. We know a crabbed octogenarian
who, in boyhood, invented a certain tool but could find no one to take
it up, nor had means to patent and push it himself. He broke his model
in chagrin, and sixty years later saw another man rediscover his idea
and win wealth and fame by his discovery.]

It will be understood that since the Ghost-Bear's attempted escalade
the youthful householders had never felt safe. But suspense and fear
did not break them down as a modern couple under similar conditions
might have been broken down. Early man was a hunting animal, hunted
in turn by beasts stronger but less cunning than himself. Among the
first recollections of our ancestors would be that thrilling cry of
_Wolf!_ and the scurry for shelter of tiny bare feet up rock-faces
too steep for the blunt claws of the secular enemy of childhood.
When the shadows lengthened the fear of _Bears_ grew urgent (as it
does to those cave-children's far-removed descendants to-day in
nurseries lit by electric lights), a fear sedulously instilled by the
careful cave-mother, for the shaggy urchin who "didn't care," and who
adventured one step too far beyond the circle of fire-light, never came
back. (And left no progeny!)

We are the lineal heirs of a race of creatures who had the very
best reasons for dreading the dark, hence you shall find among your
acquaintance tall men of fine physique and cultivated women whose
almost complete emancipation does not include the liberty of walking
around their own suburban tennis-courts alone after nightfall.

Pŭl-Yūn and Dêh-Yān had had their warning, thenceforth their fire was
never let out, nor at night did they both sleep at the same time.

Meanwhile the lynx was turning out well, there were no flaws in the
bone: it worked kindly, and the tedious process of scraping and
undercutting went on steadily.

"Give me but ten more days to get out of these splints and yet another
ten to supple the stiff limb, Dêh-Yān, and then--let thy Ghost-Bear
lover come if he will, I will meet him at the cave-sill and stop him
there."

Then he would expatiate after the manner of men upon the extraordinary
virtues of his tribal totem, the Sun God. "Oh, a good totem, a great
totem, the best of totems!"

"Yet not so good as mine," riposted the woman with conviction, "thou
shalt see my totem, the Little Moon, will have the better of it yet."
She knew not what she meant, but for the fun of opposition she argued
pertinaciously and had the last word whilst testing the capacities of
her new toy at a mark. Yes, it would send a big skewer the whole length
of their dwelling and make it stick firmly into anything softish.
Moreover, and this was a thing to take note of, you must shoot from
the level of the eye and aim point-blank--no throwing high as with
an assegai. She was learning more than she knew. She played at this
childish game at intervals for some days, gradually lengthening the
skewers, and attaining a pretty creditable proficiency, watched with
a good-humoured tolerance by her husband, and might, in the end, have
played her game out and wearied of her toy without getting to the
bottom of it, had not the Thing happened that I am about to tell.

There came a bitter night with the wind edging in and out of the
cave-mouth and compelling the youngsters to shift the fire and the
bed-skins to the far end if they would keep a light or sleep at all.
Pŭl-Yūn had taken his spell off, shuddering and muttering in sleep, and
Dêh-Yān, shivering in her bison robe, had kept watch. The last silver
shard of a waning moon hung low over the forest spires south-eastward,
the cave-woman made silent obeisance to the god of her private
orisons, bending low and striking the rock-floor with her forehead.
"Little Moon!--be good to my man--and to me!" She grovelled prone,
and as she did so something snapped beneath her; it was one of her
assegais. She raised it and examined it in the dim light, good enough
for a woman of a race which still saw well enough in the dark. The
mischief was done, the thin tapering shaft had parted at a knot-hole, a
flaw in the wood selected by its maker, the loutish Gow-Loo. The keen,
leaf-shaped chert head of the weapon had less than an arm's-length of
shaft behind it, and until remounted was useless as a throwing-spear.

Pŭl-Yūn sate up at the sound, asked and was told its cause, and scolded
his wife for her carelessness. She excused herself, and even as they
spoke, querulously as sleepy folk may be excused for speaking who are
miserably cold and are talking down a blusterous wind (and perhaps too
loudly for a hunted folk) the Terror was upon them!

There, upon the sill-platform beyond the cave's mouth, and disregarding
the dull ash of a dying fire let down because the night was over, stood
the Great Ghost-Bear, huge and hairy, terrible, black against the
first pallor of the dawn, obliterating Dêh-Yān's totem, nullifying and
intercepting the answer to her prayer!

Escape was none; nor was resistance reasonably possible. The enemy was
already within their defences; had made good his footing; yet Pŭl-Yūn
without a word of reproach to the woman whose ear had for once been at
fault, gripped his axe and sate square with clenched teeth and narrowed
nostrils. No moan escaped him, his time had come, he would show his
squaw how a Sun-Disc brave could take his death.

The girl's heart seemed to swell upwards until it filled her body, and
thrust against her throat. She did not cower, or shriek, or cover her
eyes, but crouched for a spring--if such might be possible; she would
give away no fraction of a chance. Her man was doomed; nothing that
she could do, nothing that ten men in her place could have done, would
save him. But, life is very, very sweet--_What of herself?_ Could she,
or could she not, slip past and escape? Yes, it was possible. She was
wearing kilt and kaross, she slipped out of both and stood nude and
slippery, agile as an eel. Her garments she proposed to toss in the
bear's face, then to throw her bison-robe over his head and to dart
past him whilst momentarily entangled.

"_And leave your man--the loveliest, kindest, cleverest, wisest, best
creature that ever lived--to this Ghost of the silly Saw-Kimo to be
chawed and mumbled alive? To have the bone that is almost knit cracked
and sucked.... Whilst_ YOU _run away?_"

Something within the woman, not recognisably herself, put this very
pertinent question. Who was the speaker?--Unquestionably it was
the Totem, the Little Moon of her prayers, so she persisted to her
dying day. The innate womanhood of the Master-Girl, that passionate
self-devotion, self-immolation, of which the sex in every land and
under every manner of garb and rite has proved itself capable,[3] arose
and strove. No, she would not go forth safe, alone and humbled; she
would die with her man, _for_ her man, indeed, for this matter should
be taken fighting.

Tossing her clothing behind her, she stooped and groped right and left,
snatching for spears, axes, anything in the darkness.

When she looked again the huge beast had shuffled sidelong past the
hot ashes, and was standing over her husband. Pŭl-Yūn had thrown back
the hand that held the axe for one last stroke. The bear, just beyond
reach, certain of his meal, and perhaps not particularly hungry, or it
may be, disposed, as are all beasts of prey, to play with his victim,
snarled joyously and half-arose upon his broad haunches, hanging a vast
bestial head over the seated man, its pestiferous darkness imperfectly
lit by the green glitter of an eye.

Exactly over the brute's head, and between his round ears, Dêh-Yān
caught sight of that pale, thin sickle of moon, her moon, her people's
god and hers! Her right hand held the broken assegai, her left the
longest strung-drill (she had snatched it from the floor in mistake for
a spear). There was no time to seek another weapon; the spears, as she
now remembered, lay between Pŭl-Yūn and the Ghost-Bear. If there was to
be fighting she must fight with this toy, naught else.

With an almost bursting heart she fitted the stump of that broken
assegai to the string--I have said it had parted at a knot, the
knot-hole provided a natural and quite effective nock. The girl drew
suddenly, hugely, and with the strength of her despair until the
chert-head lay upon her thumb; she aimed at that green eye and loosed
with a cry, "_Moon, help me!_" The cave hummed to the twang of the
cord, the green light of the eye went out. There was a reverberating,
snarling roar, the enemy, instead of charging, backed, shaking his
head in a horrid agony, and as he reached the sill, having lost his
marks, reared and clawing his mask with both paws, fell over the edge
backwards--down--and down!

Open-mouthed, incredulous, the youngsters listened for the rasp of
claws and the sounds of re-ascent. Instead, after a perceptible
interval, came a dull, pounding crash. He had gone to the bottom, taken
the full fall, a hundred feet or more. There was moaning, fainter,
and more faint. Silence came before daylight showed them the extent of
their deliverance and their abounding, enormous wealth.

There at the foot of the cliff lay the dead monster, huddled and broken
and burst! Incredible--but true.

Pŭl-Yūn had held Dêh-Yān in his arms for a minute which seemed an hour;
neither had spoken whilst the Ghost-Bear's dying was going on, and
those gruesome sounds came up from below. For once Dêh-Yān's nerve had
failed. She had clung to her husband, dumbly shuddering, conscious of
what she still possessed and had so nearly, nearly lost. Of her own
escape she was thinking not at all, nor of her amazing feat--at present.

Pŭl-Yūn was the first to pull himself together. As a conservative he
felt that the hour might not pass without the ritual proper to the
occasion, the _hallalai_ sanctioned by custom and use. So, he sang the
Bear Song, an ancient chanty which had come down from the youth of his
tribe; full of absurd boasting, insults to the slain, and gastronomic
anticipations; but, even whilst trolling it out upon the frosty air
and watching his hot breath smoke in the red dawn, he felt less than
himself, and knew well who, by right, should have been celebrating the
victory. (Only, who ever heard of a squaw singing the Bear Song?) He
had not borne himself ill, as he knew; but, had not another interposed,
this ogre had been cracking his marrow-bones by this time.

Meanwhile, Dêh-Yān, being intensely practical, was hardly giving her
husband's music the applause and critical attention which he may have
thought due to it. Hungry and cold as she was she must set to work ere
the great unwieldy carcass should have stiffened, and, labouring as she
had never laboured in her life, heaved, thrust, wrenched and tugged
until the hide came away. During this moenadic spasm of toil I am
bound to confess that my heroine worked stark naked despite the cold,
and neither ate nor drank save for the morsels of raw bear-meat with
which she filled a distended cheek at intervals. For Dêh-Yān, though a
savage, was no fool. She knew, none better, that the smell of so much
spilt blood would bring upon the scene eagle and lammergeier, buzzard
and raven, and what she feared more, wolverene, lynx, wolf, and she
knew not what beside, possibly Man! Whilst it lay there it was a menace
to herself and to her husband; but, promptly and properly dealt with,
it was warmth and food and safety for the remainder of the winter.

The hide when off proved an unhandy burden, made still more massive by
its accumulations of frozen blood and snow. Two whole deer-skins went
in thongs before a cord was knotted by which she, Pŭl-Yūn assisting,
drew the load up the cliff to the cave. Nor was the girl even then
content with her day's work, but ere the short winter's day closed, had
lit fires on three sides of the carcass and begun to strip the bones.

[Illustration: SALVING THE GHOST-BEAR'S SKIN]

The salving of that bear's-meat was a four-days' poem. By the fifth
evening the youngsters were victualled for the rest of the winter, and
Dêh-Yān had not one thumb-nail's breadth of cutting-edge upon the last
of her chert-flakes. She was also dead beat.

The whole of the sixth day and the following night the girl slept the
deep, dreamless sleep of a healthy organism wearied out, watched by
Pŭl-Yūn, who had seen to it that she had gorged herself to repletion
before lying down, and who had himself rubbed her swollen joints
vigorously with fat, and who watched over her whilst she slept beneath
the vast hairy spoil of her twice-dead lover.

"Saw-Kimo," jeered the young brave during the long chilly
night-watches, "this is the third time thou hast bid for my woman. She
was not for thee, nor thy Little Moons. She is mine! mine!--I tell
thee!--Was there ever such a woman?--never!--I have seen two bears die
in my time on the other side of the ranges, but they were Brown Bears,
and young bears at that, yet they died within a ring of as many braves
as they (or thou) had claws upon their feet. It took the whole strength
of a war-party to bring either of them to bay and keep them there. We
brought two braves who did not go home with us. One we buried to each
bear. And, look thou at thy business, O Saw-Kimo (if that be thy name)
and whimper for shame, thou who died at one stroke, and that from the
hand of a squaw--of a girl! a stroke in the eye of thee; in the brain
of thee. Such a stroke! And thou a Cave Grizzly! Was there ever such a
woman?"

So Pŭl-Yūn; for the glory of the feat had got upon his imagination.
The more he sang of it, the less he understood it. You must remember
that his knowledge of how the thing had been done was all by hearsay.
The bolt had been discharged from behind him, and owing to the darkness
of the cave, he had not watched it home; Dêh-Yān's description of the
wound, and of the chert assegai-head still enfixed in the eye-socket,
was unsatisfying. He must see for himself, some day, soon--yes, at
once--the great stripped skull which lay a hundred feet beneath him.
And whilst he pondered a certain familiar sound reached his ears from
the foot of the cliff; it was the cracking of a bone. Some furry
scavenger of the forest had been drawn to the carcass and would not be
long without competitors. The man must risk something. He cast loose
his bandages and splints, crawled to the sill and hurled stone after
stone upon the marauder. Nor did his leg suffer. The bone had knit.

The scraping, greasing and suppling of that immense hide was a
laborious business, but a labour of love for Dêh-Yān, whose heart was
both big and high within her. There was no tribal record, no legend
even, of any woman having killed a bear in single fight. Yet she held
her tongue, and silently grew in moral stature.

Pŭl-Yūn might sing about his wife's prowess, but he was not to be
convinced of the superiority, or even of the use, of her new weapon.
He was a spearman. As a spearman, an expert with the assegai, he had
won the deputy-chieftainship, the war-chieftainship, of his tribe.
What was possible with the spear he could do; but this fiddling with
a strung-drill was too novel, too womanish, too uncertain as yet. He
would have none of it.

The girl, already convinced and sanguine, wisely desisted from
argument. By help of the cord the massive skull was hauled up from
below to tell its tale to deaf ears, to be admired, turned over, its
death-wound marvelled at and its lesson ignored. The man set himself
to dig out the enormous white fangs. He also detached those twenty
black curving claws, arranged, studied and pored over them, watched by
Dêh-Yān. She knew by intuition what was passing in his mind and waited.
This was the critical, the dangerous point of their married life.

Who was to wear those teeth? those claws?

He put the question from him (she had not raised it), it would wait;
the trophies were not ready for wearing as yet, they must be drilled
before they could be strung. Dêh-Yān saw that her husband needed
something but was too sulky to ask, and by a real intuition fetched
him the lengths of elder which he required for this new drilling and
left him to his work, setting herself to study the properties of her
new weapon. There was nothing to take her afield, stacks of frozen
bear-meat blocked the cave, she could experiment at her leisure, and
had conquered some of the initial difficulties before her man, glumly
busy up above, knew anything about them.

Thus, the girl found that assegai-heads were too heavy, and
assegai-shafts too stout for successful shooting; terrible at
point-blank range, at anything over twenty strides they wobbled and
swerved and fell short, and Dêh-Yān, the practical, argued, and argued
rightly, that unless her shafts flew farther and straighter and bit
deeper than a thrown assegai, she had better keep to the orthodox
weapon. She needed chert, or flint, to make for her arrows smaller and
lighter heads: but neither chert nor flint was to be found in that
valley, nor was it possible for her to adventure the week's journey
down-stream to the chalk cliff which was the only source known to
her of the tribe's cutting-tools. But, womanlike, she remembered her
needles, and in default of chert fell to experimenting with bone tips
attached to lighter shafts by rosin and sinew, the hafting method of
the Little Moons. She succeeded from the first attempt, settling after
many trials to a shaft as long as her own arm: made herself ten upon
this pattern and practised sedulously. Skill came apace, far more
quickly to this tense-sinewed one-idead savage woman than it would
come to a modern, and at the end of three days' constant archery she
found herself able to put all ten arrows into a small circle marked out
upon a snow-bank at full assegai-range. Beyond this range her missiles
disappointed her, they still wobbled. As a practical spear-thrower she
knew what was lacking--there was no spin upon them. How could this be
remedied?--This question lay down with her at night and arose with her
in the morning. She besought her totem for wisdom, but got never a
sign. A sacrifice was needed; she vowed to the Moon the first-fruits
of her bow, and greatly daring, adventured out into the wintry
forest armed with her new weapon and nought else. What would the
God send (the moon is a man to the savage), fur or feather? A little
hazel-grouse trotted out into the glade; the shot was a difficult one,
impossible with spear or throwing-stick, owing to overhanging boughs,
but the girl prayed as she drew and brought it off. Her heart filled
with gratitude, her totem was still watching over her for good. This
should be a whole-burnt offering; a few feathers alone would she retain
as her own share of the spoils, the first that ever fell to her bow
(the Ghost-Bear always excepted).

Whilst walking caveward, these curving flight-feathers in hand,
something in their curvature, their shapes, aroused her superstition.
"_Moon-feather_," she whispered, and attached one of them to one of her
shafts. The feather was narrow, stiff and strongly curved, it refused
to lie along the shaft, but must needs curl somewhat around it when
bound thereto by small sinews at either end. Dêh-Yān's first shot with
it at her snow-bank target flooded her bosom with adoring gratitude,
for here was the thing she had sought and prayed for, the shaft spun
as it flew! Again and again she essayed shots at increasing ranges
and still the wonder persisted, at fifty, yes, and at sixty paces
the shaft flew straight, swerving neither to left nor right. All her
shafts were presently feathered, and, since the principle eluded her,
and some behaved better than others, she must practise daily, watch,
consider and think, and within a while came to a practical conclusion,
to closely imitate the feathering of those which span the best.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 3: A capacity independent of religious sanctions and
of future hopes. What celestial reward did Eucharis expect, the
freed-woman of "light life," whose constancy on behalf of her friend,
the falsely-accused Octavia, exhausted the infernal ingenuities of
Nero?]



CHAPTER V

THE TESTING OF THE NEW THING


And now there was gloom in the household. Pŭl-Yūn was gaining strength
daily and as irritable as your convalescent is permitted to be. His leg
was not yet sound enough or supple enough to attempt the descent of the
face, for the knee-joint creaked from its six weeks of disuse; on the
other hand, it could not get enough of play within the limits of the
cave. His nerves excited him, his temper was less even than when he was
helpless, and, worst of all, his conscience would not let him be. Thus
came Aidôs down to men.

Dêh-Yān put up with her man's petulant outbreaks and slaved for him
harder than ever. A diet of dark bear-meat--solid bear-meat daily and
twice a day, although admirably suited to keep up the bodily warmth,
is hard upon the liver unless regulated by abundant exercise, which
in the case of her husband was out of the question. She cast about
for something lighter, but game was getting scarce in the immediate
neighbourhood of the cave, and indeed in the glen itself; she had
hunted it too closely and too long. It was the depth of winter in the
mountains, migratory life had long since left for the lower levels,
resident life was scanty. Dêh-Yān betook herself to trapping. A bird of
some kind her man should have.

Pŭl-Yūn, peering moodily from his cave-platform, watched her bending
over a trap far below and a long way off. The cackle of a chough came
up clearly through the cold air, a danger-signal, and it struck him as
singular that the bird should be calling so far from the woman, for
as a rule they ignored her movements unless she were within, say, a
hundred paces, yet he put the matter from him, no dream had given him
prescience of impending danger.

The girl, busied at her work, crouched beside her gin, her deer-skin
quiver upon her shoulder, her bow laid beside her hand. The man was
annoyed at the sight, he distrusted this new-fangled plaything of hers;
why could she not carry spears as he would have done, as he was going
to do in a week or so? Everything she did, or failed to do, had power
to annoy the poor fellow now. That she bore with him so quietly was an
offence in itself. Had she answered him back, had she met him half-way
in the quarrel which he had been provoking for a week past, he would
have taken such an attitude in good part. That is to say he would have
found it natural and treated it naturally, beaten her, to wit, as every
savage man has ever done since the male subjugated the female.

But Dêh-Yān's gentle, unselfish reserve, and perpetual activities on
his behalf, gave him never an opening.

So he watched her moodily, _jealously_--come, the secret is out at
last, we have a name for the complaint.

This is of the primitive passions. It is one which we share with, or
inherit from the brutes. A cat, a lap-dog, a parrot, will sicken of
jealousy. Children, savages, uneducated people, our semi-educated
fellow-citizens (our new masters), are subject to severe and protracted
fits of this torturing disease. We have known a working-man,
middle-aged, of failing health, and with a sickly wife and young family
to support, throw up a foreman's post of twenty-eight shillings the
week and begin life again upon seventeen as a common labourer, from
sheer jealousy of one of the gang under him whom he could not induce
his firm to discharge without a reason.

Women are more liable to the malady than men because they have, upon
the whole, less distractions for their minds. A man can escape from
the proximity of his enemy (once possibly his friend), he can steep his
mind in business, in politics, in literature, in sport. A woman has
her rival ever at her elbow, in her kitchen, in the nursery, in the
school-room or next door.

In the case of poor Pŭl-Yūn the position was reversed. It was he, who
with hardening muscles and strengthening passion, was debarred from
healthy and adequate physical exercise, and was fain to eat his heart
in bitterness of spirit, with an accusing conscience ever at his elbow,
a house-mate for which he had no name, for the Thing, like many other
Things, rheumatism, gravity, panic-terror, malaria, etc., although
maleficent, had not yet been separated, personified and named.

Picture him overlooking with the beady, deep-set, far-sighted eyes
of the savage, like an eagle from his eyrie, the doings of his
jealously-loved squaw a half-mile away and three hundred feet below.

There, she had set that gin, and half arose, her chert-knife in one
hand, her bow in the other. Sudden as the pounce of a lynx (and nothing
in nature save the stroke of a snake can be swifter), a man leaped upon
her from the scrub. Pŭl-Yūn caught his breath, for the enemy had her by
the kaross and must have borne her down had not his foot caught in a
trailing bough of _pumilus_. As it was, it was the nearest thing in the
world, for as he stumbled, still fast to her, the skewer at her throat
snapped, he reeled back with the kaross, the woman was free. He was
at her again, but she doubled under his tossed-up arm, striking back
and up as she did so and getting him in the arm-pit, as her husband
thought. By some means she was at liberty, off and away; not along the
glade, but winding swift and puzzlingly amid the tangling scrub of
which she knew every game-track by heart. This was the saving of her,
as Pŭl-Yūn saw and breathed again, for two other hunters now upsprang
from beside the path which they had anticipated her flying feet would
follow. These seemed for a moment somewhat out of it, for their quarry
had doubled back and secured a lead, but they were hardened braves in
the pink of condition, winter-hunters who seemed to know the valley,
and once clear of that patch of scrub what would happen?

There is but one thing that can happen when an unarmed woman is set
upon by three armed men--unless, indeed, she be helped. But how was
Dêh-Yān to be helped?--and by whom?--By himself only! He smote his
stiff knee and yelped a short and very bitter laugh. Yes, the girl must
come to him for help at the last.

Meanwhile she was playing the game, running her ring about the thicket,
as a vixen does when roused. There was just the off-chance that she
might throw her pursuers out, and get back to her earth unviewed. But,
with three men (and such men), it was the poorest of chances, and she
was incurring the most outrageous risks. She had boasted somewhat to
him of her speed, and he had believed that she was fleet for a woman,
but what woman, or what man, for the matter of that, could stand up
before three?--She was heading down-glen when he lost sight of the
chase, and every step would have to be retraced, and the double made
in face of a runner-up pressing her for all he was worth, and flankers
running wide to cut her off when she turned.

He threw himself upon the cave-floor and gnawed his knuckles in
impotent chagrin.

She should not have turned. She should have headed straight for him at
once. They would have stood out the siege together, and died together,
for that was what it would have come to, as he saw too clearly.

As for his wife making a successful stand anywhere, or under any
circumstances, and fighting it out with that new Thing of hers, the
idea never occurred to him once during the long hours of his lonely
vigil.

The shadows of the winter's day lengthened. The imprisoned man had
given up hope. His wife did not come, would never come to him again.
The husband's heart grew heavy with the sorrow which settles down
upon the watcher whose anxieties are over at last, whom the worst has
befallen.

For himself he did not particularly care. He had no fear that she would
give him away under torture. Dêh-Yān would be staunch to the last, of
that he was assured, doing her justice now that she was gone. He had
stores enough for another four months, and long before that would be
as sound a man again as ever he was. But this cave would be a hateful
place without his squaw. Nor could he face the thought of returning
to his tribe without her, empty-handed, with nothing to show for his
winter-hunting. This was a humiliation not to be borne, the sneering
enquiries of his cousin and rival, the wonder of his fellow-braves, the
eyes of the women. No wife and no scalps?

Whether besieged or no, Pŭl-Yūn would stay back and avenge her. What
was she worth in Little Moon lives? He held up all his ten fingers and
solemnly gloomed upon them. Ten should die for her--if he lived--not
less. So the night wore.

Then a stick cracked below in the darkness, and her signal, the shrill
whistle of the marmot, rang out. His heart leaped, he gripped his axe
and a stone for a down-throw; she would be hard-pressed to a surety,
but why did the fool-creature make such a noise?--'Twas madness!

He hirpled to the lip of the rock-platform and craned over, peering
down into the impenetrable dusk below, ready for action, listening,
eye, ear and nostril at stretch for news of the whereabouts of his
foes. But the only sounds were the scrape of his squaw's moccasins and
her hardly-taken breaths. How heavily she climbed!--Was she wounded?
She did not reply to his low-spoken questions. She was coming nearer,
nearer; his eyes, accustomed to seeing in the worst of lights, could
make out her bare unbandaged head and shoulders, her arms too, there
seemed little the matter with what of her he could see. Her kaross
was gone, he had seen it go, she was still encumbered with that silly
bag of arrows, and the big bow-drill hampered her climbing. Drawing
her breath in gasps, she reached the sill of the cave, crawled in
and sate mutely panting, her eyes shining glassily in her head. She
seemed unharmed; she was unharmed; it was wonderful--amazing! Now, what
had happened? Why could not the creature speak? "What of the chase,
Dêh-Yān?"

Still mute and with an open mouth drawn up from the teeth with the
muscular contraction of extreme toil, she unrolled and laid out before
him in the dusk--_One_--Two--THREE bloody scalps each with the top-knot
of a brave,--raw, fresh-stripped.

Pŭl-Yūn caught his breath in with a harsh cry:
"_Wah!--What?--How?--Where?_" but the woman squatting over her spoils
did not answer. She had reached her farthest. She swayed, she leaned,
she collapsed, she tumbled forward almost into his arms.

The man drew the bear-skin over her as she lay shuddering, whimpering.
He marvelled to hear her long-drawn sobbing in the darkness. This was
new indeed; never had he known her to weep. Presently she relaxed and
slept. He watched her slumber, gnawing a tortured lip, incredulous and
convinced, exulting and humiliated, adoring and furiously jealous by
fits. What would come out of this? 'Twas glorious! But 'twas absurdly
disconcerting! Wonderful, no doubt, past whooping, but not to be put up
with!

At midnight she awoke with a start, sighed once, rubbed her eyes, put
back her hair, pulled herself together and was a new creature. Ashamed
of her weakness, she silently got to her feet, made up the fire and
cooked food for both.

Pŭl-Yūn watched her, would give her time, when she had eaten forth it
came.

She had led her pursuers over a long and difficult line, hoping to
throw them out, but Gow-Loo, though less fleet than she, was not
to be shaken off; in fact he had pressed her hard and fired thrice
as the leading greyhound fires at his hare, whilst the others,
running to point, had headed-off her attempts at doubling. The men
were in training, knew the country, and thought to wear her down by
sprinting in succession. Again, and yet again, had her turn of speed
been the saving of her.

[Illustration: HE THREW SHORT WITH A GASP]

But she was getting a long way down the glen and the daylight held. It
would see her out unless she changed her tactics. In a little while she
would be out of her country and (for aught that she knew) in theirs,
then the game would be up.

So, tightening her throat, she had made up her mind, and doubled
right-handedly close across the line of Low-Mah, whom she believed she
had hurt, taking the risk of his assegai at short range. Her judgment
justified itself when the hunter threw short with a gasp and she
slipped past him and made her point, a salient rock-face that she knew,
steep, narrow, where she could neither be overlooked nor outflanked.
There, at more than a very tall spruce-tree's height from the last
stones of the scree below her, she had chosen her ledge and stood at
bay, regulating her breath and schooling her swimming head for the
final tussle.

"I think those rocks were not wholly new ground to thee," suggested the
listener.

"I had been up there before--three years back, when I was a girl. Our
old men call them '_The Two Fangs_,' but the tribe has re-named them;
they are '_The Hungry Boys_' since--since something happened there
which is not good to speak about," she shot a glance over her shoulder
to make sure that The Dead were not listening. "Three of our unproved
lads, two half-growns and a child, whilst berrying, were driven up
that cleft by a wolf. They were not found in time. The two boys must
have eaten the little one. Then--who knows?--perhaps they fought with
knives. They were found up there, dead,--with the bones."

"Ugh! not a clean place after dark. Surely your children went wide of
it in all lights. How then--?"

"The boys I played with dared me.... Not one of them would do it....
There was a gnawed finger-bone still in a crevice.... So, I knew my
footholds to-day."

Pŭl-Yūn laid his hand upon his mouth and perused this wife of his in
the flicker of the brands. There was nothing in this by-incident to
excite surprise, a piteous tragedy: the coarse woof of savage life is
occasionally shot by such a crimson warp. His mental vision was busy
with this woman's adventure, picturing the tall, splintered _aiguille_,
springing sheer from its scree, cleft by its one narrow _cheminée_
leading to its one broad platform-ledge so far aloft there. Yes, he had
realised the _mise-en-scène_, and could follow the woman's weary voice
carrying on her story, and could accompany her point by point.

The pursuers had seen that she was at the top of a blind _couloir_
from which was no escape upward. Saw too that the overhang protected
her from anything sent down from above. Saw too that the rock was
absolutely sound, and that she had _nothing to throw_ (a point in their
favour).

Then, since daylight was waning, they determined to put the thing
through. Their camp, dogs ("good wolves"), karosses and sleeping-robes
were hours away. There was neither fuel nor water upon that scree
beneath the cliff. After all, strong runner as she was, this was only a
girl--unarmed, and probably spent.

Up came the leading couple, boldly and close together, and only when
fully committed to the business, recognised the trap.

The girl, who had by this time recovered her wind, held her fire until
the leading climber's top-knot showed twenty feet below her ledge.
She knew him for Gow-Loo, he turned his head, saw her leaning above
him, handling the absurd bent stick which she had carried throughout
the run, and, getting his breath, made her a mock offer of marriage,
the same bitter little jeer that he had cast after her thrice during
the chase. As he made it, he laid his head back upon his shoulder the
better to leer at his helpless victim, now safely under his hand,
and--even as he bared his dog-tooth, a little short light assegai was
sticking deeply beneath his ear. The stricken man plucked hard at the
shaft with one hand, but the bone head was barbed and he could not
draw it. He uttered no cry, possibly from shame, more probably from
inability to articulate, and his fellow-climber, Pongu, just below him
in the _cheminée_, getting no reply from him, and craning out to learn
why his leader had stopped, knew not what had happened before a second
shaft was driven hard and deep between collar-bone and shoulder-blade
into his own lung, which brought him, too, to a stand with his mouth
and nose full of blood.

Each man knew that he was hard hit, but knew not of the other's hurt;
each felt the immediate need of getting down, but neither could speak,
nor warn the man below him to vacate the footholds. To give ground to a
young squaw was despicable; both held on grimly, doggedly and too long.

Low-Mah, the lowest, came up the cleft haltingly, crippled by that stab
in the arm-pit that we know of, and which he had known for hours past
to his bitter cost. The point of the Master-Girl's knife, whilst making
a quite inconsiderable puncture, had touched one of the nerves of the
brachial plexus, his right arm felt heavy and numb and was giving him
exquisite agony, which he was bearing as mutely as a wolf. He knew by
trial that he could not throw, but thought he could climb. His honour
was engaged. To be known henceforth as the warrior who was lamed by a
squaw?--Not he!

He saw that the leaders had stopped, and without visible cause,
although Pongu, two spears'-lengths above him, was coughing fast
and hard. He could not see their wounds, nor the weapons which had
caused them, but the patter of falling blood from the severed artery
in Gow-Loo's throat warned him of something amiss. Then an assegai
clipped past his own ear very close. Phew! what was this? Whence had
this she-lynx weapons?--Was this an old haunt of hers? and had she led
them up this cleft to spear them with javelins stored for the occasion?
His position, almost exactly beneath his leaders, had its advantages;
their bodies screened him; he offered the smallest of marks--but (a
fear suddenly gripped him, bred by the silence and immobility of those
leaders) what if one of them should fall? He hailed them by name, but
elicited no reply. "I must get from under them while I may," thought
he, and attempted a traverse, a ticklish piece of work for a man so
hampered. If he could but escape from this _cheminée_, this death-trap,
and win around the buttress to the left, he would, as he reckoned, be
under cover. He made the move, and not a moment too soon. Why, oh why,
had not one or the other of his mates fought his way up within swing of
a tomahawk?--(there is no throwing to be done while scaling a vertical
fissure). Tomahawk, indeed? Gow-Loo, being by this time in exceeding
evil case, and growing blind and weak, dropped his hatchet, and a
moment later, with never a cry of warning, let go altogether; his knees
buckled, his body bent, and down he came upon Pongu and took him to the
bottom with him. There they lay, their life's business accomplished,
the matter disposed of so far as they were concerned.

Then Low-Mah, for almost the first time in his life, knew fear. Yet it
no more unnerved him than the proximity of the leading hound relaxes
the sinews of a failing fox. Desperately, yet cautiously, he wrought to
put that salient overhang of cliff between him and the Master-Girl;
it was but a matter of a spear's length; if he gained it he were
safe. He had paused in his climb, as who would not?--when the bodies
of his friends rushed down past him; quickly he withdrew his eyes
from them where they lay, to look too long upon such a sight does a
climber no good, and in another step he had won shelter and comparative
safety--when--how say it?--his left arm, the one upon which he chiefly
depended, was pinned down to its shoulder by a small, but astonishingly
hard-thrown assegai! Oh, the pang of it!--and the ignominy of being
twice maimed and held-up by a squaw! He gnashed his teeth hearing the
clear triumphant laugh of the Master-Girl above him, and then in a wink
that laugh had changed to a thrilling, brief scream, and something
light came bounding down the fissure, the bent stick the girl had held
in hand when she crossed him. He must glance up, knowing his wound,
but not yet understanding his luck, nor perceiving that his enemy was
already disarmed, and saw that enemy in a very close place, for she,
whilst laughing, had been overcome by one of those revulsions which
lie in wait for the overstrung. Her desperate exertions, her desperate
risk, followed by such unimaginable success, had shaken her; she had
leaned too far over watching the effect of her shaft, and had almost
followed it.

"And, O husband" (let the Master-Girl tell the adventure in her own
words), "then, for the second time, I so nearly gave up! The first time
was when Gow-Loo made his last sprint for me. My heart seemed bursting,
my legs shook as I raced. He got within throw ... I felt all up my
back what was coming. '_This is the end_,' I thought,--but his hatchet
struck my quiver. Then I took fresh heart, I remembered thee. '_My man
shall not starve like a sick badger in his earth. Little Moon, help my
man_,' I prayed! and new strength came to my legs, and Gow-Loo dropped
back blown. It was after that that I doubled and all came right. But
now, for the second time, I thought all was over. I had overbalanced,
I stumbled, I let fall my bow and my last arrow, and came down twice
my height, scrambling and clutching hard. When I stopped and my eyes
cleared I was in a bad place and could find no footholds for ever so
long. But, again I thought of thee, and again I cried to my Totem, and
lo! at once my right foot was on something, and I was safe."

"Safe?" echoed Pŭl-Yūn hoarsely, catching his breath, "with all thy
weapons at the foot of the cliff, and that half-crippled wolf between
thee and them?--was there no scraping past him?"

"It was not to be done. He was well-placed astride the outer angle of
the buttress with both feet firm; but the only holds for getting down
that _cheminée_ lay close under his hand, and he knew it. I worked
down to within my length of him, but it would not do. I had to return
to my ledge and wait."

"And he?"

"He made mouths at me and said all the worst that he knew. No, I will
not tell thee what he said. This is his scalp, is not that enough?"

"Nay, but I _will_ hear. What said he?"

"First he fixed his eyes upon mine and would have charmed me down, and
when that would not serve, he must show me point by point what must be
the end; this hold, and that hold, and then the one next to him; and
that, as I must needs come down feet foremost, he would set his hand
or his teeth in me, for he was too badly hurt to get down himself. And
it was all--_Come down to me, my Little Love, and thou and I will go
gently to the bottom together, and thou shalt sleep long (Oh long!) and
soundly (very soundly) in my arms!_"

"Eh, but he said _that_?" blurted the husband. "Which didst say was his
scalp?"

"What matter?--nay, thou must not spoil it! It was almost the last
thing he did say. Oh, but we were thirsty, he and I! I sucked the
rock!--and cold--we were cold; I could see him shaking. Is he cold now,
dost thou think? I hope he is very, very cold!"

"And then?" asked the husband, recovering himself, and prosaically
detached from the possible sensations of a dead enemy, but Dêh-Yān
paused.

Yes, what then?--for there seemed no way out of this stale-mate. The
man might cling on there until the woman above him perished of the
night's wind-frost, of exhaustion, or thirst, or made some despairing
attempt and met her death so.

But, what of the other, the brute denizens of the glen? The rapid
movement of a chase hath a stimulating influence upon whatever is
within sight or hearing. Have we not seen the apparition of a pack
of hounds in full cry set a whole countryside in motion?--horses at
grass, calves, colts, sows, pigs of all sizes, breaking bounds, yea,
the heavy-footed Wessex labourer, school-children, the curate upon his
rounds, and the village postman upon his, swept out of their several
orbits and drawn into the tail of the passing comet?

Yes, these four racing figures had been seen, and noted, and followed
as far as appetite prompted or means of progression allowed. A lean,
lone wolf with a festering fore-pad struck the trail and limped on
at a steady, questing, three-legged trot, in hopes that the end of
the matter might provide something toothsome. The rapid movements of
parties of men had been known to have such an effect even at that time
(as since).

But the chief watchers and followers had been the fowls of the air.

Every mountain peak had then, and many have still, a planetary
system of birds of prey. In clear weather these swing in circles at
unimaginable heights, scrutinising in turn every radiating glen, and
remarking all that moves therein.

Yes, man and beast, each fly-tormented mule, new-yeaned ibex kid and
German botanist climbing economically without a guide, is marked,
scrutinised, summed up and kept under day-long observation, and his
probabilities of life assessed upon certain grim actuarial tables known
only to the tribes who seek their meat from God. You had not thought
it? You scarce credit it. "Have never seen them." _But they have seen
you_, and in the Hautes Pyrénées, or the Atlas, your every step has
been marked from your rising up to your lying down.

Without counting the buzzards, which are chiefly concerned with mice,
there are at least three kinds of watchers of the world below.

First, and most in evidence, is the griffon, a lordly creature to
the eye, with vast, square-cut wings and a small woolly head sunk
into a snow-white ruff; a vulture he, with a vulture's appetite for
carrion--and for nothing else. His interest in a man begins when that
man is in the act of falling, and becomes urgent only in the case of
the fall proving fatal.

The eagle is smaller, but more powerful; he, too, is a carrion feeder,
but will carry off grouse, marmot and red-deer calf. In hard weather
Scottish eagles will pack and destroy a full-grown hind, whilst the
larger race of Tibet is credited with killing wolf in fair fight. But
the fear of man is on him--he learned it long ago, and there is no
record of this bird attacking even a small boy. Sooth to say, he is
both cowardly and stupid, though all-glorious to see.

Last and most formidable, because incalculable, is the great bearded
vulture, or lammergeier (the gypaëte of the Gavarnie izard-hunters),
a sly ruffian who makes up in brains what he lacks in weapons. This
sort is as fond of carrion as the others, and has ways of his own for
providing it.

The Master-Girl and her pursuers had not run three bow-shots before the
eye of a watcher was upon them. By the time they had gone a mile the
whole planetary system of the nearest peak was disturbed; and before
the girl had taken sanctuary a ring of big birds was circling half a
mile above her. This might mean business.

Her climbing was watched by the griffons without excitement; their turn
might come later, but had not come yet; it was the bearded vulture
which dropped out of the blue in bold spirals and marked the four
humans disappear into that _cheminée_. Then, if a bird of prey ever
swears he swore, for a man climbing between the strait walls of a cleft
is of no use to him.

When two bodies fell there was commotion, the griffons shut their wings
and plunged two thousand feet in a few seconds, but clapped on the
brakes and bore up again with the wind rattling in their great drab
quills, for the bodies had not rebounded upon the scree, but lay close
under the rock--_where something else might fall_. Patience, brothers!

Moreover, there were two living figures yet upon that rock, and these
the griffons held in fear. They climbed the sky again and waited on,
wheeling narrowly and near.

Not so the bearded vulture, playing a lone hand and pursuing the
traditional tactics of his race, he skimmed the summit of that
_aiguille_ and took stock of its capabilities. Two humans were still
within the cleft. The upper was well sheltered from above, and on both
sides. He turned short to keep her in his eye (a wicked crimson eye
it was). At that moment she faltered, slipped and was almost gone.
Instantly he dipped and edged in, but she recovered herself; out he
went again. Whilst turning he once more caught sight of the lower
figure; he had lost it for a while. It had shifted, had emerged
from the cleft, and was clinging to an exposed, projecting buttress,
overhung from above, safe from a downright stroke, but from a
side-flick, eh?

The human moved slowly, it went short upon one of its fore-legs; it
seemed, and was, very lame, very tired and unsure of its footing.

Meanwhile the two humans in question knew nothing of the scrutiny
of which they were the subjects, being otherwise and fully engaged.
Besides, griffons may guide a hunter to a kill, but signify naught
else. The presence of the real danger had clean escaped them, for
the bearded vulture is less given to soaring than to gliding along a
cliff-face close in, ready for the emergencies of anything that moves
thereon.

The light had begun to go; it was abominably cold, a flurry of small
snow found its way into the cleft, and ran in little round dry pellets
upon the naked back of the Master-Girl crouching for warmth like a
hare in her form, and hugging herself against the strong shudders
which ran through her. To have fought her battle and to have so nearly
won, and to lose life and all from such a childish blunder!--If she
had but the smallest of weapons, a skinning-knife, a bodkin, she would
take her chance; but the bodkin had gone when the kaross went, and her
knife had been wrenched from her hand when she struck. There was not
one little wee loose stone within reach; she had tried them all, even
to breaking her nails.

And that wretch Low-Mah, down there, not six bows'-lengths away, lamed
as he was, would be girding at her all the time, breaking off at
whiles to work desperately at that crippling arrow. It was certainly
loosening. One barb held; but such was the fellow's courage that he
would tear it out yet, and then?

Until it drew he could not get back into the cleft, for his pinned-up
hand was upon that side. When he rested from his bouts of self-torture
he indemnified himself by assailing her with insults and taunts,
governing his voice lest she should guess how far he was gone. She did
guess, and with chattering teeth gave him fully as good as she took.
It was very pitiful, inexpressibly vulgar, this nose-to-nose pitched
battle of primeval Billingsgate. Lo, did ye think that passionate hate
first found expression in our time?

He played upon her shaken nerves. Could she not see those child-eating
boys, sitting at her either elbow, their reddened teeth a-work, click!
click! To which sally Dêh-Yān, stroking her own hair and pointing down
to his, rejoined that his scalp should hang from her belt ere night
with the top-knots of the other two. "And, ah me! I have no knife,
Lo-Mah; shall I find it under thine arm?--or am I to borrow thine for
our little business?" With other like endearments. Pity them both.

In the middle of one of her ripostes the girl choked, for the last
barb had given, his arm was free. Nodding to her mutely, for he was
well-nigh sick with agony, the man brought his hand down; he stripped
the feathers, biting the gut whipping, and took the barbs in his teeth;
he had but to draw the nock through his forearm and would be not only
free but weaponed.

He drew inch by inch, it came, he had it in his hand. "Now, my Heart, I
begin. Wait for me, my dove, my love! I am coming for thee!"

He shook the new snow from his ears, shifted his hold, lifted a foot,
still grimly nodding his unspoken threat, and--next moment was reeling
out into empty air, whilst a huge bird which had dealt the buffet,
staggered past and plunged, then opening wide wings regained its
balance and swept short zigzags down--down in pursuit of its falling
booty.

[Illustration: STALE MATE]

But the Master-Girl beat her little fists upon the stone and wept. "I
would have killed him yet," she wailed in that bitterness of spirit
which overcomes the bravest when the ideal perfection of some all-but
achieved success has been marred at the ultimate moment.

It is always so in life. Napoleon instead of yielding his sword to
the conquering Briton, rattles off from his last battle-field in a
well-horsed _calèche_. Nor did every French ship strike her colours
at Trafalgar. Nor did the allies enter Sevastopol on the night of the
Alma, as they might have done so easily; nor did Kitchener catch the
gallant and adroit De Wet.

Her chaplet lacked the full foliage that is accorded to the victor in
fiction only.

Bear not too hardly upon her, ye, who are proudly and perfectly
straightforward in all speech and action, if I confess upon her behalf
that in after life the Master-Girl made not quite so much of the
bearded vulture's intervention as you might have done.

She had achieved an unheard-of and almost incredible feat, and knew
it--but (now came that deadly reaction!)--the Shape-Strength was ebbing
from her. Would her luck hold?

She had no fear of her feathered ally. Him, she, craning far over, had
watched take seizin of his kill, and then, as the light went suddenly,
spread vast wings and racquet-tail and sail forth across the darkening
scree and blacker forest-spires to some roosting cranny of his own.

Her knees gave way beneath her, her wrists jerked as she let herself
down from ledge to jut and from jut to cranny of that _cheminée_ of
death; her eyes were set in her head and her jaws cramped with a
tongue-drying ague of fear of falling. In a word she was as nearly
forespent as a girl of sixteen may be, and has a right to be, who has
run as she had run, fought as she had fought, and fasted as she had
fasted, and was still fasting.

At last (after what agonies of apprehension and endurance) the tension
upon her fingers might be relaxed, for one foot was upon the first
loose stone of the scree. Its fellow found something soft and chilly
beneath it. At the touch of a dead enemy the Master-Girl's eyes were
enlightened as if with food.

The rites of victory must be observed. She fell to, panting thickly
as she cut and tugged, not for the horror of her task but from sheer
exhaustion, and whilst arising to her feet to utter the three whoops
which the occasion demanded,[4] found her legs bending, and dropped
asleep upon the stones between her silent foes. So have men fallen
asleep upon the rack when the screws were eased.

But the Porter-Soul which seldom sleeps would allow her no long
respite. Much remained to do, and was she not still in peril? Before
long she suddenly threw the gathering snow off her and glanced around
keenly. The night-wind blowing up the crevice was tainted with--what?
Four green, shining eyes were watching her. She sniffed, "Fox!" and
contemptuously threw a stone and, ere its rattle had ceased, felt her
scalp crawl, for over the spruce spires travelled the drear, anti-human
menace of the wolf.

Her Totem was obscured and for once seemed far, but there was another
resource near at hand and familiar, if only--only--it were propitious!
those malignant Boy-Ghosts whose jibbering squeaks and rustlings had
added untold horrors to the last hour of her darkling vigil upon the
ledge. These, for some cause, had spared her, might she not entreat
their continued good-will? She had known and played with all three
before her promotion to the tribal governess-ship: there was nothing
between herself and the elder two; the eaten child did not count.
Doubtless they would be hungry--(Oh, how her own vitals pinched!)
Quick, then, an offering! Savagely, desperately she hacked the hands
from Low-Mah, and (it had been impossible before her sleep) bestowed
them upon a ledge some five bows'-lengths up that dark ascent.

"Pen-noo!--Lab-go-nee!--here is meat! See I bring you food!--I bring it
in peril of my life! Ye, who kept yourselves from the grey wolf, _keep
me this night_!"

She was down again and tore herself from the place. Partake she would
not, though nature cried out for food. A brave of her race would have
had no qualms, but--a squaw?--No!

Feebly, and with her spirit riding her reluctant flesh as a ruthless
rider urges a failing horse, did Dêh-Yān set her face upon that
ghost-guarded journey up the valley, nor did wolf, lynx or worse molest
her.

Her foes were the tormenting thoughts which, vulture-like, wheel
closely around a spirit encumbered by a weakened body.

Was it worth it? Her man had grown cold and silent and strange to her.
Twice the agony of wounded affection superadded to crushing bodily
fatigue brought her to a stand beneath dark boughs at some rougher
gradient. Then with shut eyes and chin driven hard against a labouring
bosom she fought it out. The nurse-spirit triumphed.--"If I lie down
and sleep here--I shall not awake again, and he--will die, or at best
be a lame man for his life." Then, lifting her face again, she would
draw a deep breath and set her jaw to endure the anguish of walking,
and so, by a series of shortening spurts, reeling and rocking, she
reached the foot of the face. But it was a dog-weary girl, without one
spark of the pride of victory alight within her, who crawled in over
the cave-sill.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 4: Still given at the breaking-up of a fox, and more
ceremoniously, with winded horn as the _hallalai_ at the death of the
German stag.]



CHAPTER VI

RENUNCIATIONS


After the recital the woman flagged again, and presently could hardly
keep her eyes open. At a sign from her man she lay down and was dead
asleep almost before she had drawn up her knees in the posture assumed
by the sleeping savage all the world over, the antenatal position in
which the pre-dynastic Egyptians buried their dead.

But Pŭl-Yūn could not sleep. He had passed through every phase of
mental agony; had spent a long day at the torture-stake of suspense and
anticipation, and had been released from it to find himself confronted
by a crisis in his domestic relations.

He understood only too well what had happened. Since the world and
wiving began was there ever such a woman?--Was there ever such a
predicament for the husband of a woman? Use and wont and the immemorial
practice of his own, and all other tribes, had fixed the relative
positions of the sexes. This man believed as firmly as did the Apostle
Paul that the Man was made first, and was the Head of the Woman, who
was provided for him, for his comfort and use by his Goddess, the
Sun, and over whom he, the man, was bound to exercise the rights of
mastery and lordship to the very fullest extent. Whilst young and
comely the wife was a valuable possession, but, when stringy and past
work and child-bearing, it had until recently been a question in
times of scarcity whether she might not be eaten. That the Sun-Disc
Men had recently decided against the older use is a point in favour
of the Sun-Disc Men which we, their descendants, may score to their
credit. The Fuegians, at the time of Charles Darwin's visit, still
occasionally dined upon their grandmothers.[5] As to conceding to one
of the subject sex equal rights, the thing was extra-revolutionary, it
was indeed inconceivable, it was outside the region of discussion.

But, what was this that had happened?--Here, in this chance-begun
housekeeping, the whole matter had been turned topsy-turvy; the
moccasins were on contrary feet; the hatchet was in the wrong hand. He
had come out to capture a wife, and a wife had captured him. He had
broken his leg and she had mended it. Twice he had been attacked by a
bear and twice she (not he), had beaten it off, killing it--actually
killing the monster,--at the second encounter (think of it!--whoever
heard the like?) On that occasion he, the man, had borne himself
stoutly, and as a brave; he had faced his foe axe in hand, without
hope, and had made no moan, and would have taken his mauling, and his
death, without a whimper. Thus had he preserved his self-respect, had
participated in the fight, and had in some roundabout fashion come
to persuade himself that the skin was his, and that the necklace of
claws and teeth which was now around his neck had a right to be there.
(It did not sit comfortably as yet, but, comfort and assurance would
have come in time, never fear. Did not the Prince Regent assert so
frequently that as "Major Brown" he had fought at Mont St Jean, that
at length, as George the Fourth his gracious Majesty related the story
with embellishments at the Waterloo banquet and appealed to Wellington
himself for substantiation?--"'Twas I gave the order--'_Up Guards and
at 'em!_'--_You heard me, Arthur?_")

Such, alack, is poor human nature in these latter days, nor was it more
veracious in The Days of Ignorance.

Yes, Pŭl-Yūn had begun to believe that he had killed that bear.

But, who killed the three braves whose raw scalps lay upon the cave
floor? Those three scalps were another guess matter, a different
story altogether. There was no straight, or even plausible manner of
accounting for them. He saw no way of persuading himself now, or in the
future, that he had had any hand in the taking of them.

In a word, they were his wife's, every single hair of them--not his,
alas, not his!

In a word, this poor ignorant savage man was all to seek in the lore of
Modern Officialism,--the Whole Art of Assumption was hid from him; by
which I mean the mental and spiritual capacity to appropriate to one's
own peculiar credit not only the results of another man's courage,
luck or capacity, but _the actual performance itself_. This is the
recognised modern practice. The pupil paints or plans, the Master signs
the drawings and takes the commission. The devil devils, the Leader
wins the case. The C.I.V. storms Bavianskloof, the alderman of his ward
receives the war-medal. The Stunt-Sahib, squattering through bottomless
mud, organises the new annexation, his chief (down at the base under a
punkah) gets the thanks of the Governor-General.

This is how we do it to-day. They did it otherwise in days when
The All-Seeing Sun was believed to shine with approval upon the
Sayer-of-the-thing-that-is, but to hide Her face from the liar, and the
sneak, and the tribesman who stole the axe or the honour of another.

So, poor foolish Pŭl-Yūn gnawed his knuckles for long dark hours,
wishing that his wife and he were dead, and, but for a soul of goodness
in things evil--a red savage, for one--might e'en have brought his
wish to the birth by braining the woman as she slept and subsequently
pitching himself off the crag. He dreed his weird for the lee-lang
watches of the coldest and blackest night that ever he had known,
colder and blacker than those which he had worn through after the
breaking of his leg, and before the Master-Girl had found and taken
possession of him. He would say in the after years, and did plainly
believe, that during that night-watch there were strange visitants to
the cave, that two birds flew in out of the darkness and sate with him;
the one upon his right hand was a ptarmigan of the scree, winter-white
and soft, clucking sweet things, gentle things, about the sleeping
girl. The one upon his left hand a raven of the cliff, blacker than
the midnight or the shadows of the cave, croaking evil things, showing
the poor, hardly-bestead savage all the shame and the ignominy and the
laughing scorn of the home-coming to his tribe.

But the longest and blackest of nights wears at last, and the
dawn-streak shot aloft and the cold grey peaks took fire and glowed
like rosy brands amid the ash of a hearth: then, whilst the dawn
brightened and the upper ranges were dyed a colour that had no name
to the watcher, nor has gained one yet, for it is not the heart of a
rose, nor saffron, nor salmon, nor hath it an earthly counterpart--it
was whilst the heavens above him were declaring the Glory of God and
the firmament showing His handiwork, that the last struggle took place,
the tender clucking mastered the dull croaking! The raven stalked forth
to the cave-sill and took wing a-down the gulf of air but, thrice the
little snow-white ptarmigan tossed himself aloft into the keen clear
morning, and thrice he came circling down again to the cave-sill with
stiffly-bent wing and inflated throat singing his song of praise to the
Lord who made and warmed him, and then he too was gone and the watcher
was alone.

Then Pŭl-Yūn, under the stirring of a new impulse, did a very strange
and wonderful thing. Taking the trophy from his own neck he laid it
across the throat of the sleeping woman. Her eyes opened, her hand went
up, she felt, saw and understood. She arose to her knees, a new and
beautiful light was in her eyes, a great and pathetic awe had fallen
upon her.

"No--thou shalt not do it!--No!--How shall my husband go home to his
people bare-necked whilst his wife walks behind him wearing--these?"

"I--will!" groaned the man.

"You shall not,--you dare not,--you cannot!"

"Be silent!--I say I will!" he groaned more harshly.

Catching up scalps and necklace she cast everything at his feet and
bent grovelling before him.

"What are these to me?--I want but thee! But to a brave they are more
than father, mother, wife, or life itself." She did not speak in scorn,
but from what she had seen and known, yet it hurt.

"Stop,--cease, be still!" he cried abruptly and very fiercely, for how
shall a man fight himself if his wife takes sides with his lower nature
against the higher? The woman did not understand; she thought him
enraged, she knew not why; but, the jealousy which had poisoned their
life for weeks past was cause enow. Plainly he must be humoured.

"That is right!--Be master!--What am I?--Thy slave and a Little Moon
girl, no more. Thou hast never beaten me yet, beat me now!--take
the things! Let us be as we were.... Yes," with a dead-lift of
self-renunciation, "I will break my bow!" She reached for the weapon
where it lay,--what it meant for her only an inventor, and a successful
inventor, can tell. To allay the unreasoning jealousy, the rooted
conservatism of her husband, this red girl would have put out of her
life the New Thing that she had thought out, brought to the birth,
perfected and tested at the risk of her very heart's blood.

As her hand closed upon the wood, a larger and stronger hand closed
over both. Her lover silently drew her to himself.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 5: As you may read in _The Voyage of the Beagle_.]



CHAPTER VII

SHORT, SOMEWHAT DRY, BUT IMPORTANT


We must compress into three or four pages the labours and results of
four busy months, during which by frequent experiment, and incessant
practice these two young creatures worked at, and worked out the
mechanics of their discovery.

It was an opportunity of almost incalculable infrequency. Consider, I
beseech you. Your savage, a man of a hunting tribe, lives normally from
hand to mouth. Is game abundant and his hunting successful he gorges
to repletion and sleeps long and heavily. Is food scarce he hunts
the harder, sleeps lightly, eats sparingly, and has in prosperity no
incentive, and in adversity no leisure for protracted and systematic
experiment, even if he should find the impulse within himself, and be
upheld by the applause and co-operation of his tribe.

It is doubtful if the combination of rare and delicate qualities which
go to the making of an inventor present themselves once in a thousand
generations of savage men, and how much rarer still must be that
general recognition from his fellows without which a savage can effect
nothing permanent. Even the privacy, which is hardly less essential
than sympathy for a tentative effort, is wanting, for a savage lives
in public, and the initial failures of the inventor not seldom in our
own times expose him to the pitiless raillery of his contemporaries, a
blighting, sterilising ridicule to which the child-nature of primitive
man was certainly not less sensitive than are the natures of monkeys,
dogs and children.

The steadfast mind that can ignore and outstay the gibes of neighbours
is not too common to-day, and was probably very rare indeed in that
remote and ancient world of which my tale tells.

That an armourer should work behind locked doors, and that it is folly
to show unfinished work to a bairn are excellent adages. But, savages
are all bairns; indeed, among primitive peoples the environment is so
unfavourable for invention that one might almost say that a savage
never invents anything, and even in the case of his stumbling upon a
promising novelty, its unfamiliarity condemns it in the eyes of his
comrades, if not in his own.

Only in the excessively rare event of a reforming chief can any advance
be registered. And how seldom does such a prodigy arise! The stars in
their courses fight against such an avatar!--We, the English of the
twentieth century, are, take us all round, as open to reason and as
receptive to the New Idea as any folk upon this earth, or any that
ever trod it; what is more, we are accustomed to reforms, we await
them with expectancy if not with equanimity, we know full well that
certain of our venerable institutions stand in need of tinkering, but
we never dream that the impulse shall come from above. A codifying, or
land-transfer-simplifying Lord Chancellor, or a reforming or unifying
Archbishop is incredible. The processes by which such men climb to
their posts disable their minds from criticising a system which has
justified itself in their persons. Nor is it likely that a sachem will
be impatient of a state of affairs which has landed him at the summit
of his ambitions. A Peter the Great comes but once in an æon.

Here, however, in this snow-bound glen, were just that assemblage of
conditions which stimulate and protect the inventor whilst perfecting
his invention. The store of frozen bear-meat secured leisure. There
had been sufficient initial success to encourage continued experiment.
The companionship of two united hearts provided the needful sympathy;
nor was the touch of emulation wanting. The august mountains kept the
ring, their snowy silence excluding the hee-haws of jealous ignorance.

Heavens, how these children worked!--Size, material, method of use,
the best position, trajectories,--everything was an open question;
everything had to be mastered by trial, by competition, by comparison.
Observe, there was absolutely no past, no tribal lore to handicap or
guide. How they chattered! As to arrows, now,--should they head them
with bone or with stone?--How fledged?--How straightened?--Of what
length?--This brought on the bow, its size, its weight, its parent
tree; wych-elm, ash, or cornel?

Pŭl-Yūn leaned to something small and short, handy for wood-work;
but after being consistently out-shot by longer weapons of the
Master-Girl's choosing, propelled by a longer bow, gave way after some
sulking.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was by way of learning. And so was she, for never again during
those four months did she shoot her best in his presence, or to
his knowledge. Thenceforward she would essay her longest flights in
private, and found that the extreme range which contented her man was
far from being the limit of her own bow. But this knowledge she kept to
herself.

Pŭl-Yūn was as yet a poor walker, but his infirmity in no wise hindered
his archery, rather did it help, in that it tied him to the butts. His
industry, his zeal to excel were tremendous, and there was reason that
he should toil terribly to perfect himself in this novel art before
presenting himself again to his tribe. He had by now determined, at
Dêh-Yān's earnest intercession, and as the reasoned result of a couple
of months' watching of his shafts, to discard his spears. It was a
momentous decision; who shall say what it meant to the war-chief of a
small tribe hard-pressed by stronger and better armed neighbours?

Conceive then, this human pair, mere youngsters according to our
reckoning, cut off from the world, applying every faculty which they
possessed to the study of their art. Doubt not that when once they had
come to an agreement as to details, progress was consistent and rapid;
and as week by week their smaller and yet smaller marks were stricken
at lengthened ranges, their exultation rose and hardened to solid
confidence.

So wore the days and the months of winter.

[Illustration: PURSUED]



CHAPTER VIII

THE FLITTING, AND THE FORERUNNER


"Dêh-Yān, we must be going!"

"And thy leg?"

"Ah, yes,--but, stronger or weaker, we must go, or there will be no
legs of mine, or of thine, to go upon!"

"Dreams again?--that hare?"

The man nodded sagely and swept the white waste below the cave with
apprehensive eyes. There was nothing to be seen. A delaying spring had
hardly made itself evident at their height. The lammergeiers in a cleft
high overhead, were feeding a single clamorous youngster, a fat, downy
chick, but the lammergeier lays its egg in the last days of the old
year. The ravens were hard at work upon their nest, the wool was in
(winter coat of stone-buck), the first green egg would be laid within
the week, for March was wearing according to our modern calendar.

The stream had begun to trickle, the water-ousels were at work, but
the larch was still untasselled, and not a flower had yet broken the
snow-crust, not even the fringed purple soldanella, or the small pale
crocuses at the edges of the drifts. The passes would still be piled
deep with soft new falls.

The crossing would be a desperate business as Pŭl-Yūn knew very well.
Such a feat had never been essayed so early within human memory; all
crossings (and such were rare events) had ever been made in the late
autumn when the snows were hard. Yet he was in a fever to be gone, and
the woman knew why.

"Thy Little Moons will make an early start of it--some of them at least
will be up here presently looking for their lost braves."

"I buried them deeply--many stones did I roll down over them," said
the girl gravely, thinking her own thoughts.

"But, their dogs (Good Wolves) will find them, never doubt," remarked
Pŭl-Yūn. "It was bad luck thy not killing their dogs the same night.
Nay, I do not blame thee. Thou hadst run far and fast, and fought
bravely, wonderfully; it makes my heart laugh to think of one woman
fighting three braves and bringing away their scalps. Yes, I own thou
wast tired out. All the same it was against us, and is against us
still, that those three dogs were left to gnaw through their leashes
and get away down to the tribe masterless. They will be brought up
again and laid on and followed, and if they do not own to the trails of
their dead masters, they will own to ours, which is as bad for us. No,
we cannot fight the whole of thy tribe, we must be moving, and at once."

This was final. Dêh-Yān, who had put in three whole days at
arrow-making, arose with the last and finest specimen of her art in
her hands. It was fledged with the white and black quills of ptarmigan,
and pointed with a keen splinter of bone. Holding the venomous looking
thing between her hands by point and nock, she straightened a weary
back and lifted it towards the Young Moon. "O Totem of my people, and
of me, and of my New Thing, grant that this one at the least of all my
arrows may serve me at my need!"

They began their packing, a serious affair; their outfit must be cut
down to the least, last ounce. It must consist of just food, raw meat,
their weapons, the bear-skin to sleep in, and the trophies; no more.

Double-moccasinned they set forth, clothed with deer-skin leggings to
the body, dividing the loads between them, an event significant and of
the first importance in human history.

"We must march light," said Pŭl-Yūn, and paused. Dêh-Yān frowned, set
her mouth, and tossed from the cave-sill the hoard of rock-crystals,
amethyst and cairngorm, as dear to a girl of the Magdalanian age as her
diamonds to a bride of our own.

"This I will _not_ leave," continued the man, nodding approval of
the accomplished sacrifice of vanities. The thing reserved was the
shoulder-blade of the dead bear upon which he, no mean draughtsman,
had etched the story of the fight; yet, watching the resolution of his
wife to disencumber herself, he presently cast down his achievement,
and turned his back to it where it lay.--Yet, as we know, it was not
lost: did not the drip from the roof glaze it over and preserve it? Did
not the wet floor upon which it lay enclasp and seal it down? Did not a
sheet of incrustation fall from the roof and cover it, and finally, in
the fulness of time, did not the Professor come fumbling along and find
it? And is it not to-day the especial glory and pride of a certain case
in a certain University Museum?

Pŭl-Yūn was minded to work up as high as his leg would carry him, and
then, after a heavy meal, to make a night of it, coiled up with his
wife in that thick, warm, capacious bear-skin in a hole in a drift.
"Walk whilst the light lasts and you can see your marks," was his rede.
"Who knows what the weather upon the pass may be to-morrow?" It might
well be that a "firn" from the south would be blowing on the col, and
then they must just lie snug and sleep it out, yes, to the last strip
of their meat, if needs were, for to face it would be--death!

Up they trudged, and up, and still up, bowed double beneath their
burdens, occasionally stopping to straighten weary backs, always
choosing the outcrops of bare rock where such trended upward, but
for an hour on end sinking mid-thigh-deep at every toilsome step in
soft, new snow. The last of the trees was far below them, even the
trailing pine and juniper had given out. They were working up into
their first cloud; below the ragged coldness of its moving edge Dêh-Yān
turned and took her last look upon the country of her childhood and
her folk. There was no regret in her heart; nor any love for any human
creature whom she was leaving. Her father she had never known, he had
perished young. (Most savages die young--hard is the life and heavy
the mortality; the hunter-tribes barely keep up their stocks despite
early marriage). Her mother, whom she could just remember, was also
dead. Her child-life had been made bitter to her by blows and grinding
service rendered to gruff masters and shrewish mistresses. The small
girl-child had struggled up; other children died, she survived, being
one of the indestructibles, sharpened, hardened, toughened exceedingly
by her environment. Such an upbringing, whatsoever else it may do, does
not cultivate the affections. How jealous she had been of the boys!
How she had despised the girls, her inferiors in speed and daring!
When promoted to the post of Governess, how she had bullied her small
charges!

No, she gazed with unshaken bosom and clear eye upon the valleys of her
home. The last peep! And there, miles and miles away, and, oh, so far
beneath, was a something strung out across a snow-field, a something
which would have escaped the best eye in a regiment of modern Alpini--a
something which moved slowly, and was withal so faint and so far, that
a strand of cobweb seen across a pane at the breadth of a wide room
would be cable-broad compared with it. "Wah, we started none too soon,"
was Pŭl-Yūn's comment, and, leg-weary as he found himself, he kept at
it, butting away upward into cloud and falling snow so long as he was
sure of his line, then, confident that the advance-party of the Little
Moons, supposing that they had got upon the spoor, and meant sticking
to it, would not have daylight to make it good, he bored into the
leeside of a big drift, throwing out the loose snow behind him like a
dog, and invited Dêh-Yān to accept it as a camp.

Dêh-Yān disliked the idea of camping in the presence of pursuit, but
she saw that her man had marched as far as he was able. Moreover,
he was now in his element; a brave who had been a member of four
war-parties had a right to his opinion as to what other braves would or
would not do. "They will follow on to the edge of the cloud," said he.
"Above that the new fall will cover our sign, not wholly, but enough to
make them call off the dogs when the sun sets. And we--we will be up
and off before She rises to-morrow. And I say, Dêh-Yān, I do not like
those Good Wolves of thy people."

"Nor I--And if they follow on?"

"They won't. They are wholly out of their country, and I am nearing
mine, and have travelled this road before, which none of them have, as
I think--at least none that returned."

"That is so," assented Dêh-Yān. "When I was quite little, two of our
young men tried this pass. They never came back. Tell me," she went on,
snuggling down into the bear-skin, and feeling the blood begin to move
again in her toes. "What brought thee over this awful road?"

"I was out for a wife."

"But were there no girls in the tribes south of you that thou took this
high white path?"

"Oh, yes, there are girls everywhere, but the tribes to the south of
the Sun-Men, the Hawks and the White Wolf people, are so much stronger
than we that we have had to give up going to them for wives. It was our
braves who never came back from those journeys."

"Oho! those tribes would not be braver, I think? then, how?"

"They have an all-year-round camp close to the best quarry of
weapon-stone. They have many slaves at work doing nothing else but
axe-making, and so are better armed than we. Also they stockade their
camps. There is no getting in or getting out of their villages. I think
our bows will surprise them." He added, "And now, if thou hast eaten
all thou canst, go to sleep. I shall watch, or rather lie awake and
listen."

Pŭl-Yūn had out-marched his pursuers, but he had over-marched himself.
The pride of manhood kept him going, the same pride forbade him to
acknowledge his terrible weariness, but his wife was not deceived.

"I will watch first," she had said, and had insisted upon taking a last
look round their hiding-place before turning in. Upon her return she
found, as she had anticipated, that her man was sunk in the deepest
sleep that nature knows. The Master-Girl nodded, built herself a line
of marks, slight, but sufficient, and glided off into the snow-lit
night silent as an owl.

At midnight Pŭl-Yūn turned himself and woke with a sense of something
lost. He was alone. For some moments his locality, and his very
individuality escaped him, so deeply had he plunged, then both returned.

"Dêh-Yān, come in here, it is my watch," he whispered, but there was
no reply. The man peered forth into the darkness, and got to his feet
armed. His wife was gone. He listened. The night was thick and still,
what wind was blowing came up the pass from the glen which they had
left. It was bitter cold. Suddenly, from down the pass came one small
sound, slight and keen as the squeak of a bat, but it was not the
squeak of a bat, and Pŭl-Yūn felt the hairs creep upon his neck, for it
was the shrieking yelp of a wolf. Now a wolf is an animal which hunts
and lives in a society of its own, a society which has common needs
and cooperates in its enterprises. Hence wolves have a multiplicity
of cries with which to express their wants and intentions, and many
of these were known to Pŭl-Yūn from childhood. But a wolf, though a
villain, is no coward, and rarely, most rarely expresses pain. As a
rule, when trapped he dies mute. What meant that single piercing yelp?
To the ear and trained imagination of the woodlander it signified a
spasm of surprise, despair, disappointment and grief. It was a call to
the pack, "_To me, my comrades! Haro! I am betrayed!_"

That his wife's hand was in it Pŭl-Yūn never doubted, but how deep was
her hand in it? and could she withdraw that hand? To have left him
asleep and gone off upon a lone hunting at midnight was--it was--_like
her_! But, it was hard upon him, very hard.

He took his weapons, axe and knife, for of what service are arrows
in a midnight?--and moved in the direction of the cry. Within a few
strides he stumbled upon the first of her marks, then upon a second,
later upon a third. This, then, was no unpremeditated escapade; no,
like everything else which she did, this foray towards the camp of the
pursuing enemy was a thought-out business.

The snow creaked, something was coming. A quick light breathing, a
swift foot, Dêh-Yān was upon him, had caught him silently by the arm,
had turned him and was urging him to his top speed. He raced beside her
obediently in blind faith, she smelt of wolf and of blood. There was a
cry of wolves behind them as they ran, but Dêh-Yān was laughing. The
cry, mingled with the shouts of hunters, rose to a crash.

"That is the last of it--they have come upon my kill, and are baying
upon the blood. They can carry the line no farther."

She was right, the fierce, wild clamour rose and fell and rose again,
but was stationary.

"But, we must be upon the trail. There is no room here for thee and for
me." The Master-Girl was speaking with quick decision; her husband
listened, guessing wildly--they had picked up the marks, had found the
snow-camp, she was refolding the bear-skin; he gathered his own affairs
and followed her.

"Whither?--thou hast never been this way before, and even I am unsure
of our road in this thickness and mirk."

"_Anywhere_ is good--it is sheer death to loiter. We must risk
everything upon speed and the chance of a farther snowfall. Run thy
best now, I will tell thee more to-morrow."

Hours later in the first grey of a wintry dawn they had halted and dug
themselves a second cave. This time they both snuggled within it, and
sat panting and weak, listening for sounds of pursuit, and hearing only
the ghost-like cackle of the mountain choughs at play amid cloud and
falling snow overhead. They had got to their farthest; if followed up
and found now they must die. Rest and sleep and food were imperative
claims which would take no denials. Snow was falling, they had still a
chance. They ate and slept and were not interrupted.

They awoke in an unknown world, small flakes fell steadily and
straight, no wind breathed, there was no sun or sign of sun, it was
one whiteness of diffused light in which the sense of direction was
defeated.

They sate close as snow-bound hares and munched bear-meat, Dêh-Yān
telling her story between the mouthfuls.

"After I mounted guard it came to me that my people--I mean the Little
Moons--would never have come up so high so early in the season for
game. It is no winter-hunting that we saw below us at the edge of the
cloud, it is a war-party, and they mean scalps. Also, it seemed to me,
even at that distance, I could make out Good Wolf with them."

"Good eyes thou must have!--but, go on."

"Now it came to me that with Good Wolf they could not very well lose
our trail, and being on the war-path, all braves too, and marching
light, we should not be able to outmarch them, burdened as we are,
and--and--"

"And--and--" mimicked the husband, "my wife did not wish to leave her
skin behind, eh?"

"We find it useful, thou and I; warm too," murmured the wife, drawing
the deep-piled pelt around her lover, and burying her own nose in the
soft fur. "But it was not for this skin only, but for two others for
which I was taking thought--"

"They are not so furry, those two," chuckled Pŭl-Yūn, pinching her.

"It seemed to me," resumed the Master-Girl sedately, "that if it were a
war-party of braves, with Good Wolf, too, our chance was bad, unless--"

"Unless someone somehow foiled our line?" whispered the man
ponderingly. "But how?"

"That was the question. I went down to their camp and made friends with
the first Good Wolf that came up to me. There were others, but they
were curled up each with his master, this one was the only watch they
had set. I listened, I saw. Then I was for coming away, for ten braves
and as many Good Wolf are bad company for one girl. But the getting
away again was not easy. Gow-Loo's Good Wolf (I knew him, and he me)
was suspicious. He walked around my knees so closely I could hardly
move my feet. I could not speak to him for fear of rousing the camp.
At last, when he had licked my hands, I got him to let me out and to
follow. When I had led him a good way, and he was upon my hatchet-hand,
and a little in front of me, I killed him. I had not meant him to have
spoken, but the light was bad and he was very quick. It cost me two
strokes. The rest thou knows."

Pŭl-Yūn did know that his wife had run a frightful risk, and that once
again her foresight and cool courage had brought her through. What
he did not know was that she owed her life to the fact that her dead
enemy's wolf, or wolf-dog, was still ignorant of the art of barking,
and had met the night-comer to his masters' camp in the silent fashion
of his wild parents. But, the wonder of it! His inmost heart told him
that this adventure would have been beyond him: he would not have
risked the certainty of being pulled down by wolves, good or bad, and
taken from them by their masters to dree a crueller ending at the stake.

Meanwhile snow fell steadily for a day and a night. The fugitives sate
close and contrived to keep themselves warm, but their stock of food,
howsoever well husbanded, was running out. Their position was already
critical, presently it might be desperate, but they were spared the
pangs of indecision or of divided counsels. Both recognised that their
very lives depended upon doing nothing. To exhaust their bodily heat by
struggling in deep new drift would be madness. And whither?--Their last
mark was lost, they knew not north from south whilst the snow continued
falling. No, they must sit it out, even if they starved where they sat.

By the evening of the third day the last of the meat was gone. They
were huddling in silence, having discussed the question of eating their
leggings and moccasins on the morrow, and agreed to refrain.

"For," said Pŭl-Yūn, "we could never get away from this snow-camp
without our leg-gear, so we may as well starve clothed and with a hope
in our hearts, as starve two days later half-naked with none." And to
this the Master-Girl had agreed.

But the situation was far from cheerful and did not conduce to much
conversation.

"Hark!--what is that?"

"Hush, on thy life, hush!--we are well hidden."

During their headlong flight from their first halt, and in the course
of the various doublings and subterfuges by which the fugitives had
hoped to break the continuity of their trail and baffle their pursuers,
these youngsters had most effectually lost their bearings. This, their
second, and which threatened to prove itself their final camp, was
excavated in the side of one among many round-topped drifts which
studded a level plain, or what seemed such, for its limits were hidden,
it was probably the frozen surface of some small lake, or such another
expanse as the Andermatt valley, a green and pleasant place in the
summer months, upon which several lateral glens converged, a haunt of
the mountain bison and the tall, wide-antlered stag, but in winter a
dreary waste avoided by man and beast.

Yet, something was approaching, for the snow, frozen crisply by the
evening's chill, crunched beneath heavy feet. There was the deep,
rhythmical panting of a huge body labouring hugely. What on earth might
this be? Four thoroughly frightened human eyes peered forth from the
spy-hole left at the mouth of the snow-cave, and beheld--What think ye?
A great, bald, black block of a head, maned at the temples and nape
and hung with a pair of shield-shaped hairy ears, was butting through
the drifts. A coil of bristly trunk was stowed away between a pair
of prodigious tusks which showed yellow amid the whiter snows around
them. They were as stout as young beeches and curled upon themselves in
such wise that their points were useless to the monster who bore them.
This had probably been his down-fall; some younger rival with shorter
weapons, shorter and lighter, but with points which could be brought
to bear, had ousted this patriarch from the herd. Here was a rogue
mammoth upon his travels, setting the height and width of a mountain
range between himself and the scene of his disgrace, a Napoleon on his
way to St Helena, diswived, discrowned, a tragedy of brute existence.
The great heart was hot within him, he was boiling to avenge his wrongs
upon the first creature that he might meet, and meantime was working
off his fury in tempestuous exertions. What was a fifty or sixty-mile
march to the enormous sinews of limbs seasoned by migrations and
combats of a hundred and fifty years? His breath smoked around him as
he forged his way along, now pawing the snow under him, now wallowing
over it, using his huge belly as a raft.

[Illustration: THE FORERUNNER]

Evidently he had fought his fight to a finish, had bellowed, butted and
thrust at some more adroit or better-armed youngster (some youth of
seventy or eighty summers, maybe), who had worn him down and worsted
him, and now, with such holes and rents in his shaggy sides as would
have been death to any smaller beast, and were gruesome to see, he had
relinquished the partners and pastures of his lusty prime, and was a
wanderer upon the face of the earth until death--death which would from
henceforth ambush his path and his lying down, for no keenly-interested
wives would henceforth watch over his safety. No, with yearly waning
powers he must stave off doom as he might, but come it would at length,
a grisly onslaught of a horde of lions, a staked pitfall, a snow-hidden
morass.

Dêh-Yān shuddered at the sight of his small, red, wicked eye.

"If he gets our wind?" she whispered, in the ghost of a pixie's
whisper, and was well pinched for the indiscretion. The giant did not
get their wind, he had something else to think of. When he paused for
breath close to their cave, they could see the great wall of hairy side
twitching with the smart of the raw gashes with which it was scored,
the records of that desperate and final conflict, for it is the law
of the elephant herd that a dethroned master-bull shall never retry
the issue: once down he is an outcast for the rest of his life, and a
terror to the twentieth-century jungle, as his collateral ancestor, the
rogue mammoth, was to the bleak tundras and mountain forests which were
his home in the age of ice.

It was their first sight of a mammoth, the great beasts were already a
dwindling race in the times we tell of, the days of the Magdalanian men.

Presently the silent watchers beheld the great panting hero get his
breath and resume his travels. Ploughing, heaving, wading through the
snow, he faded from sight and silence returned.

"This may be just the luckiest thing in the world for us," said
Pŭl-Yūn, "or on the other hand, the unluckiest."

"Um, yes," assented the Master-Girl, thoughtfully, peering forth upon
the trail which the passing monster had left. "If he is marching by
himself we can take the same line, there is no losing _that_ spoor. He
knows the way, be sure of that, and where he can go we can follow--but,
he leaves a blood-sign behind him, see!--If a party of tigers, or of
grizzlies, strike that trail they will follow it up on the chance of
finding the bull in some drift. Or, those Little Moon braves might
happen upon it, eh?"

"In any case we must lie close for to-night, no more dark marches for
me! and if the morning shows that the bull is travelling unattended, we
will use his trail."

"I begin to think we shall do it after all," smiled Dêh-Yān, a little
grimly, perhaps, for though she had kept a stiff mouth all day, the
prospect was not encouraging, and she, at least, had no local knowledge
to fall back upon even if the weather should take up and let them
through.

Fortune smiled upon the youngsters. Morning-light showed them the
mammoth-track skinned over with a film of new snow unprinted by the
spoor of beast or man. The fall had ceased, the drifts ploughed through
and pressed down by the bulk and weight of their forerunner, gave easy
passage; something in the contours of the ground seemed familiar to
Pŭl-Yūn, who silently took the lead, striding ahead with confidence,
and presently, suddenly, the change came, the slope eased off, and the
glory of the prospect before her rushed to the eyes of the girl who
had been toiling up the last ascent bent beneath her load. She had
never been so high before, nor overlooked such an extent of country. It
caught her breath.

"Oh, what wide place is this!--And all the hunting-grounds of our
people?"

"Not the twentieth part of it!" growled Pŭl-Yūn with a frown. "Have I
not told thee how narrow our ground is, and that it grows narrower?"

The Master-Girl sucked in her lips and re-shouldered her pack. "Let
us be getting down to them," she said shortly; then, half to herself,
"Narrow or broad there shall be room enough for one Little Moon
woman--and her bow! But, O Pŭl-Yūn, when thou hast found thy folk, do
not quite forget poor Dêh-Yān."

The man fell back a stride and went beside his wife for a while in
silence, albeit the going was so good that speech had been easy whilst
in Indian file. It came home to him how bitter is the lot of the
newly-caught slave-wife among the older women of the tribe, to whom her
ignorance, youth and foreignness are subjects for ill-natured merriment
and opportunities for spite.

"There shall be no breaking-in for my wife," he said.
"Listen!--To-morrow night thou shalt sit upon that bear-skin in my
chief's presence. I have said it!"

And all this fuss about crossing one of the lower cols!

Wait, my friend. These young people had neither guides nor porters,
nor maps, compass, nor rope, nor ice-axes nor well-nailed, water-tight
boots; appointments which make a fairly simple thing of what were
otherwise a perilous feat. Moreover this was very early in the season,
a time of year when every week makes a difference. The writer of this
veracious history of the Old Time has himself seen the farm folk in a
Pyrenean glen leave their hay to run shouting at the first tourist of
the season who had news of their friends on the other side of the pass.
And that was in May.

Nor were the Alps of that Old Time just as we see them to-day. I
grant you they had come down in the world since their first glorious
Himalayan youth; they no longer towered thirty, thirty-five thousand
feet above the sub-tropical _terai_ interspersed with its chain of
salt lakes which we now know as the Mediterranean. The worst of the
Great Ice Age was over, that grievous time when half the waters of the
oceans were piled in a solid cap around the northern pole, a cap which
extended southward in such sort that in Britain everything north of
the Thames, and upon the mainland all that is now Germany and Austria,
was sealed down beneath a solid sheet which was not melted for twenty
thousand years on end. During this time, and for long after the worst
of it was over, the Alps and the Tirol were in process of being ground
down to something approaching what we see to-day. Their soaring peaks
had arrested the cloud-systems of central Europe, and turned France
into an arid steppe, the grazing-ground of countless herds of wild
horse and gazelle, the clouds had deposited themselves in snow, the
hoarded snows had ground down the sides of the giants, pared away their
summits and crawled out half across Lombardy in glaciers, which, when
they finally receded, left trails of rubbish thirty miles long, spoils
filched from the heights behind them.

The worst of this was over. The Rhone glacier had dwindled somewhat,
but still blocked the Wallis. For many generations the shores of the
Mediterranean had been peopled in winter by tribes which had each its
summer hunting quarters in this or that glen of the hinterland; tribes
which had but little knowledge of, and no intercourse with, the people
upon the other side of the chain in the glens which feed the headwaters
of the Po.

How should they have had?--I am telling a tale of the long ago; much
water has run under the bridges since, both those of Avignon and those
of Padua, and every gallon of it brought down something from the
southern Alps, hence, as nothing rolls uphill, century by century the
passes have been growing lower than they were when our two youngsters
essayed their adventure.



CHAPTER IX

THE HOME-COMING


It was evening, the men of the Sun-Disc Clan had returned from their
hunting and fishing. The women and children were squatted about the
fires. A clear, peculiar outcry broke from the girl in the tree-top,
the watch-woman; just such a cry comes from the sentinel bird of a
flock of feeding wild-fowl. The whole community was upon its feet in a
moment, peering under arched hands.

Afar off against the yellow side of a dry gully of the foot-hills which
arose between the last of the chestnut forest and the first of the
spruce were to be descried a couple of moving specks.

They, whoever they might be, were miles away: made visible for a moment
by the chance of their crossing a bare rock-face which had caught the
last of the sunlight, thrown up distinctly against this ruddy yellow
background and defined by the magical clearness of an open sunset
following a day of rain.

The braves handled their assegais awaiting the word of the old chief,
a ring-man who had taken his first scalp forty years before and wore
the necklace of five bears'-claws which testified to participation in
a later and yet sterner fight. He gave no order and kept his eyes upon
the moving specks.

These had dipped into a hollow. "They have seen our smokes," said he.
"If they are friends they will come right on, if they are unfriends
they will not show again and the young men must deal with them
to-night."

"Who but unfriends would come from that side?" asked a very tall young
brave. There was a touch of covert insolence in the tone although the
question was natural enough.

The speaker was a person of some consideration, for when he spoke
others held their peace and listened (watching still, be sure).--He was
one Honk-Ah, a great-nephew of the old chief, a man of notable activity
and more ambition; one who aspired to the deputy-chieftainship; an
aspiration which had been kept in check for two years past by the
presence of his cousin Pŭl-Yūn, a brave equally active and more
popular, less subject to fits of disfiguring passion; a man marked
out for leadership as well by his birth--being grandson to the
chief-regnant--as by his qualities.

But Pŭl-Yūn had been absent more than six moons, and during the past
winter, as the old chief grew stiffer with the rheumatism which is
the worst evil of the northern savage, more dreaded than most forms
of death,--this youngster had waxed insolent at times, each recurring
attack of lumbago might be the last, the one which would tie the old
leader into his final knot, reducing him to a helpless, querulous
cripple, and leaving the chieftainship open to the bravest and
strongest man of his race.

The chief ignored the question, he was at gaze: yes, the strangers
had come into view again, were holding a right line towards the
camp-smokes, there was no affectation of concealment, no ruse. Who
might they be?

Said the sentinel-girl at length, "These are two braves, for they go
side by side at times,--one is shorter than the other by a head. Both
are carrying something,--spears, I think,--and other things,--robes."

Said the old chief's head-wife in the spirit of prophecy, "It is my
grandson!"

"And the small one, the other?" asked Honk-Ah, raising a doubt which no
one was as yet in a position to allay.

There is but little twilight south of the Alps: it was in a thick green
dusk that the all-but-given-up Pŭl-Yūn strode back into camp with his
shorter companion going beside him as an equal and a friend goes. No
man of their tribe this;--who then?--a slave? No.--_A squaw!_

The two, stepping out strongly (they had kept a trot for the avenue)
made straight for the tee-pee of the old chief, and saluted the father
of the tribe before exchanging a word with any. They also saluted the
head-wife, some word of petition and consent passed in dumb show, the
skin that hung over the entrance was shifted, in they went and the show
was over.

But not the talk. It has been said that the Old English Manorial system
assumed that every person in the village was intimately acquainted
with the habits, business and doings of every other person in the
village--(one might assume the same of villagers to-day with but
little injustice). This rule held among those earlier communities from
which the mediæval Englishman was remotely descended. Everybody was
enormously and unblushingly inquisitive. Why should he not be? When
his body was satisfied he had nothing else to think about save the
goings-on of his comrades. Hence he (and she) knew to a nicety the
precise distance which so-and-so could jump, or swim, or throw; knew
the last, least intimate fact about the bodies and minds, the personal
peculiarities and habits of each and of all of the tribe, for--and bear
this in mind, ye who travel in tubes and have the day mapped out and
guarded for you--ignorance of some small particular might at any moment
cost life itself.

Your savage is incessantly hunting and being hunted. At any moment in
his day his dinner may jump up in front of him and run away. At any
moment a huge tawny cat may claim him for her meal. At any moment he
may find a spear sticking in the calf of his leg. Such possibilities
are calculated to develop the faculty of attention: from his childhood
up he is trained by the hard facts of his life to be as observant as a
magpie and as pertinaciously inquisitive as a dog.

And this, methinks, is the place to introduce, an I durst, an excursus
upon the Decay of Curiosity, a fine and tempting subject. There can
be no sort of doubt that this is one of the vanishing instincts (the
senses of locality and smell are others). The adult male European
has very little curiosity, if of a fairly good stock and breeding,
none at all. His wife, her maid, and the children of both sexes have
traces of the faculty more or less pronounced, as being some degrees
nearer to the savage. (I prithee madam, thump me not, I speak but the
naked truth!) If the antique instinct reappears at intervals, as in
Spy-manias, Dreyfus-obsessions and what-not, in modern France, it is
less terrible than in that recent past which saw their Law of Suspects
and our Popish Plot, and earlier witch-baitings. Across the Atlantic
the defect is less noticeable, indeed one of the less endearing
characteristics of Cousin Jonathan is that insatiable and unabashed
curiosity which, whether it make for righteousness or no, is the making
of the Yellow Press.

With us English the primeval safeguard has almost lapsed. We pride
ourselves upon an incurious optimism, the outcome of urban surroundings
and long internal peace. Are they yelling murder next door? Let them
yell, 'tis no affair of ours; it don't do to interfere--leave it to
the police. We have fifty little apothegms to excuse our cowardice or
sloth. It has come to this that every time we find ourselves at war (we
are still somewhat pugnacious)--it takes the average man of us from six
to twelve months to get himself back into the sensitively-apprehensive,
warily-cautious skin of his forefather to whom a condition of warfare
was normal, who carried a weapon as we carry an umbrella and
distrusted every bush. Some of His Majesty's forces never do regain
a reasonable and saving curiosity. Middle-aged general officers,
especially those who have hung about Windsor and done much reviewing,
practically never. This sort go into action wearing white plumes, and
insist upon being followed by a mounted orderly with a red-and-white
guidon upon his lance. These are they who throw six shells at a wooded
height at five miles' range and pronounce it "unoccupied": who excuse
outpost duty on Christmas Eve "as a treat to the men," who reduce their
superiors to despair, their subordinates to stupor, the operations to
a standstill, and who, when sent home as incapable, arouse Society and
the Houses upon their noble behalves, and assure the smoking-rooms of
the clubs that the Service is going to the deuce.

Many a town-bred private is in his own way as deficient: he makes haste
to lose his regiment upon the march, also himself; then, if it be
night, in place of effacing himself and using his wits and his ears, he
will strike a match, and the better to advertise his presence, sings
for company, being a secret believer in "things in the dark," but an
arrant agnostic as to the "hen'my bein' hanywheres abart." Thus poor
Tommy knows not that doom hath gone forth until he finds himself being
held down and vivisected by the Afridi knife; or, with better luck,
stripped of every rag that covers him by a Dutchman.

All which makes most unpleasant reading, but, I put it to you, is it
not true?

Agreed then, we have pretty well parted with the acute and rational
curiosity which was the first armour of our race.

But, the Sun-Disc folk had it in a highly specialised form, and by the
time that that deer-skin _portière_ had ceased swinging behind the
newcomers, had noticed much, and had actually deduced a good deal of
the recent histories of Pŭl-Yūn and his companion, from a stick here
and a bundle there, a limp and a side-glance, momentary impressions in
the dusk.

"He goes short upon his left leg, and it is no strain," said Honk-Ah.

"He has not gone short of meat--see how heavy he is!--Whoever saw a
brave come home from a winter-hunting, or a wife-hunting in such case?
La, we were worn away to sinew and bone at our last war-party: but,
he--" said an older man, a man of experience, with appropriate gesture.

"But his squaw!" said the women. "To let the Thing walk beside
him!--and to hold her head up so! Why, when my man brought me into camp
my hands were tied behind my back!"

"And mine," said another, "and my head was broken too, for my man
stands no nonsense, I tell you!"

"A broken head!" laughed a third. "It was nigh a broken back in my
case. I mind me he laded me down with every single thing he owned and
strutted before me like a black-cock in lekking-time! Oh, but wasn't
I proud of him!--Fine and mannish he looked when I could get a peep
at him, for my head was bent to my knees with my load and the sweat
was running into my eyes, I tell you! Ha!" The speaker laughed at the
remembrance, just as a prefect chuckles over the lammings he took when
a fag.

"Eh, but, what in the world will this mean?" cried all together. "He
has divided the loads, and she was carrying--_what?_ It can never be a
bear-skin, the thing is plainly impossible. And--look at those silly
bags of little feather-ended sticks! and the long ash-sticks!--What
foolishness is this?"

"The young chief is no fool."

"They walked well, anyhow."

"Pride, mere pride--they were ready to drop. Could not ye see as much?
Think, they are in full winter dress: heavy deer-skin leggings and
karosses and all, 'tis plain they have come from high up, somewhere,
not over the pass, that is impossible for another three moons yet: they
will have felt the heat cruelly all day."

"A likely-looking girl--a Little Moon girl by her gait and colour;--but
where can he have picked her up--and where has he been all this while?
A brave can't live upon snow, and he has lived well, and upon an
enemy's ground. Wah, Pŭl-Yūn is a wise man in some ways,--but a fool in
others. He must be mad to set so much by an unproved squaw."

"He has had six months of her in my view," said an old woman, "and,
right or wrong, Pŭl-Yūn ever knew his own mind."

"She has bewitched him--he is mad--mad!" muttered Honk-Ah morosely,
who saw his deputy-chieftainship slipping through his fingers after
seeming safely in hand. The man was not a politic man (from the modern
standpoint he was but a youth), he was a jealous fellow and wont
to strike first. It seemed to him that this was his opportunity; he
loafed around talking to those whom he believed to be in his interest,
in undertones at first, then more loudly. "Who is she?--a Little
Moon?--But, that story will not do, for there are none of that tribe
on this side of the ranges, and he cannot have passed the ranges this
spring. Where has Pŭl-Yūn been?"

This was Mystery the First, an offence in itself in a community which
has the right to know the most intimate facts of the life of each
of its members. Mystery breeds suspicion and suspicion leads up to
distrust and to hate. But in the heart of Honk-Ah hate was already full
grown.

"There is something here that the tribe should know," he spoke aloud
and his voice carried far. "It seems to us that the Sun-Folk should be
told, and told this night, where a brave has been harbouring who has
been away, and on an enemy's grounds, for six moons."

"Also," said a young blood who was of Honk-Ah's hunting-party, "we
would see more of this squaw whom he brings into camp--or who brings
him." A laugh. "Our brother Pŭl-Yūn went forth for a wife" (the word
had the secondary meaning of female slave), "but has come back with a
master." More laughter.

The silence within the old chief's tee-pee was unbroken for a while,
and when the hanging _portière_ moved it was shifted with the utmost
deliberation. The old chief himself came forth followed by Pŭl-Yūn. The
elder spoke.

"My young men are noisy to-night. It is not good. My grandson has
brought home a wife. He has done well. I say it. Is my nephew's heart
black because he has no wife? The passes were open last autumn for him
as for my grandson. Let him make his heart white or go forth upon his
wife-hunting so soon as he chooses."

"The passes are not open--" interposed Honk-Ah insolently.

"The passes are open to a brave with a big heart,--or, for the matter
of that to a brave with a squaw's heart," riposted the old chief
severely. "My grandson crossed yesterday; his wife crossed with him."

There was silence, an astounded silence. Honk-Ah felt himself slipping:
he must make a push for it. He spoke.

"We do not believe--" he began, but the old chief cut him short,--

"_I_ believe, and that is enough for my people. And, listen to me,
Honk-Ah, and you who side with him, for I know what is in your
hearts,--this thing shall come to a head, it shall cease, and at once.
My grandson Pŭl-Yūn was war-chief when he went forth. Is he weaker, or
less brave, or less cunning since he has returned?"

There were mutterings in the darkness. Pŭl-Yūn stepped to the front and
spoke: very gently he spoke, but they knew him.

"It is two years since I beat my cousin at the spear-throwing. It
has always been the law that one trial is enough. The tribe cannot
be always changing its war-chief. But I will put the law out of the
question for once, for it is not well that the Sun-Folk should be under
a war-chief who is weak of hand, or whom they think is weak of hand.
The matter shall be retried. At sunrise to-morrow, as soon as there is
full light, let Honk-Ah be ready with his spears and I will be ready
with mine. And the man of us two who can throw farthest, and make his
point go deepest, he shall be war-chief. I have said."

"It is good," assented Honk-Ah, who had got what he was playing up for,
an early trial.

The deer-skin shook, the old chief and Pŭl-Yūn had returned to the
tee-pee. The knot of mutineers moved slowly off conversing in muttered
undertones.

"That is a point to me," said Honk-Ah. "He is fat, he is slow. He was
sweating as he marched in, I saw it. And, _he carried no spears_. I
know every assegai of mine by name, and they know me. To-morrow I win!"



CHAPTER X

THE SPEAR-THROWING


The scene with which the last chapter closed had come as a not
unwelcome interruption to a family explanation which had been in
progress within the deer-skin hangings of the old chief's tee-pee.

A mother-in-law may be a delightful person, or the reverse. The
difficulties and temptations which beset her position are of no modern
creation. Are there not ancient wheezes upon this topic in Greek
anthologies? I doubt not that these hoary japes were in their day and
generation rehashes of Mykenæan jibes still more venerable, for under
given circumstances we humans act alike all the world over, and there
is no valid reason for assuming that our behaviours and misbehaviours
have varied to any great extent during the past hundred thousand years.

Listen to a case in point. A friend of mine with a faculty for getting
into and out of places the most tight and remote, once found himself
for a whole month dependent upon the hospitality of an African tribe
so degraded as to have lost (if it had ever possessed) the art of
hut-building. These simple aborigines erected little shelters of small
brushwood to windward and slept thereunder. They wore no garments, not
even the most exiguous. A rough man, a coarse man, in such company
would have discerned nothing but the brutality which he brought with
him. He would have mishandled the situation from the first, and, having
presently reduced his position to an impossibility, would have taken
himself off and returned (with luck) to civilisation with a story of
beastly savages, less than half human, no better than the dog-faced
baboons of the cliffs.

Not so my friend, who, being an English gentleman of the best type,
had no difficulty in adapting himself to the necessities of a novel
situation. He took to his hosts, they reciprocated, and he enjoyed the
unique opportunity of being admitted to the inner life of a singular
and interesting community. He watched and remembered. Among other
matters he observed that _the ladies of this little people had several
of the habits, mannerisms and small personal traits of their sisters in
good society_.

Back to my tale. One of the little ways of mothers-in-law, even of
mothers-in-law of family, is to assume a large degree of ignorance upon
the part of the bride, and to gently (but firmly) initiate her into the
right ways of doing things, and the relative positions and status of
the persons of her new circle. I put it diplomatically. I have not used
the word "encroach"; I have known a bride return from her honeymoon to
find _all_ her bridecake cut up and distributed.

But, conceive the claims of a grandmother-in-law, who was also
head-wife of the chief-regnant, a woman of advanced years, of the
firmest character, and not unaccustomed to implicit obedience.

This old lady was a rather terrible old lady, and no fool. She detected
a Little Moon woman at a glance, as she was likely to do, being a
Little Moon woman herself who had come over the pass forty years before
with her elbows shackled and a bruise upon the top of her head as big
as a fresh-water mussel. Hence a woman of the clan into which she had
been born was a quite unmysterious creature, about which she had, as
she conceived, nothing to learn. She was for undertaking the usual
breaking-in forthwith.

But her grandson Pŭl-Yūn would have none of it. Mildly, but with
absolute decision, he postponed the business. "No, my wife shall sit
in my presence,--yes, at my desire. Also, she shall eat with me. It is
unusual, I admit, but such is Our Rule. You do not understand?--That
too, I admit. I am hoping to make things plain presently, but we must
start fair, start as we mean to go on. In one word my wife is a Very
Great Medicine. I have brought her a long way through deep snow, she
is tired. I do not wish her to stand any more to-night, nor answer
questions. To-morrow, perhaps. In the meantime, feel this--" the man
extended his leg. "It was broken, as thou canst feel--she--my wife
there, mended it. I lay more than a whole moon in her hands. She found
me so; she left her tribe to come to me; she made me a sound man, as
thou canst see. It was great medicine."

"It was great medicine," murmured the old chief, critically fingering
the reunited bone. The eyes of the head wife snapped; seldom did a
broken leg come so straight as this, but, she would admit nothing.
Pŭl-Yūn was speaking.

"That was once, but she has saved my life three times since in battle.
I say it. Do not ask how to-night. Yes, this is a bear-skin, the pelt
of a very great Man-bear. A Cave Grizzly. I have never seen a greater,
but I have seen but few. Possibly my chief, who has seen and handled
several bears, has seen a greater Man-bear than this?"

The old chief watched the unrolling of the huge skin and shook his
head; no, he had never seen one as wide or so long: it was immense: a
winter coat, too, it was the finest skin he had ever handled.

"I did not kill this bear," said his grandson after a dramatic pause.

It was at this juncture that the challenge from without brought these
explanations temporarily to a close, and when the men re-entered the
tee-pee both felt that they had more momentous matter in hand than the
relative positions of the ladies.

Said the old chief, "Thou art in for it now. I would have warned thee
hadst thou not spoken so fast. My nephew has a bad heart. While thou
wast absent he has been sucking away from me the hearts of my young
men. Some he has beaten, and some he has bought, and some he has talked
over. But, I have kept the place warm for thee. I still dreamed of thy
home-coming. Never camest thou to me in sleep as thou wouldst have
come hadst thou been dead. But, this challenge and thy taking of it
up is a heavy matter. Honk-Ah has come on in his spear-throwing. And
he has great store of excellent weapons, well-handled, well-headed,
well-balanced. And, where are thine?--Thou hast come home empty-handed.
It is not well. But, since thou hast spoken I see no way out of a
re-trial."

"Nor I, chief," said Pŭl-Yūn, making low and dutiful obeisance, for
the old man's grave slow tones failed to hide a heart shaken by the
presence of long-expected and now imminent calamity, his grandson would
show courage enough for both,--"Nor would I put it off for a day. Leave
my wife and me to look over our weapons. All will go as thou wouldst
wish."

And to this the old chief listened with a grunt, a somewhat weak grunt,
as his grandson thought. The head-wife was harder to satisfy, a matter
which Pŭl-Yūn must take upon himself, as he presently discovered, for
her husband sate mute, letting her nag and question whilst Dêh-Yān
worked in silence and with despatch. What had come to the old chief? He
had not used to be so acquiescent: his grandson turned it over in his
mind, nor found any solution, being unacquainted with the premonitory
symptoms of age, the indisposition to take a strong line because inward
warnings forbid its being followed up effectively. There were few old
men among the Sun-Folk. The whole generation between the old chief and
the youth of the tribe had perished in a disastrous fight with their
southern neighbours some years before; a blow which had necessitated a
prompt removal from the disputed hunting-grounds and the stone-quarry,
the object of the battle. It was there that the fathers of Pŭl-Yūn
and his cousin had fallen. The Sun-Men, in fact, had been a dwindling
clan for nearly two generations, always liable to be cut off from their
supplies of two necessities, weapon-stone and wives, neither of which
could they obtain save at undue risks. Now with savages to dwindle is
the precursory process of death. The braves knew this and were restless.

So, during the hard weather of the past winter, the feeling among the
young warriors of the tribe that a younger and more active chief was
needed had been gathering to a head. There is small reverence for age
among the lowest savages: the Eskimo, nearest of existing races to the
Old Stone men of whom we are speaking, give little deference to the
grey head and the weak hand. Here, among the Sun-Men, the process of
supersession was beginning, the new leaf was pushing off the old.

"It seems to me," murmured Dêh-Yān to her husband, "it seems to me that
on this side of the ranges also the young bulls are making ready to
drive an old tusker from the herd." Pŭl-Yūn grunted, testing the point
of an arrow with his thumb.

But, although he had said nothing, Pŭl-Yūn's eyes and mind were
at work, and the impression of instability, of a new spirit among
his people since he had last been with them, and of impending and
far-reaching changes, lay down with him and arose with him next
morning. And was promptly confirmed, for his rival and his rival's
backers had been up and out betimes; the lists were already set and the
mark fixed, a matter which was the business of the chief alone.

The old chief saw what had been done and nodded acquiescence. It might
be that the sceptre was passing from him: he would have one more fight
for it, but the fight should be upon ground of his own choosing. He
was too great-minded to quibble over trifles, and in truth the lists
were well-set and the mark as truly and fairly fixed as he could have
desired.

None disputed his position as referee.

The contest would be quite the most solemn and momentous, as well
as the most sporting event that had occurred within the memories of
the tribe. Honk-Ah, who had been runner-up for the war-chieftainship
for two years past, as the old chief had said, had come on in his
spear-throwing during the winter, and was believed to have overcast
his cousin's best records. If he should succeed to-day it was possible
that he would kill two birds with one stone, make a sudden snatch at
the head-chieftaincy of the tribe, and that his backing of young braves
might support him.

If this occurred, if it came to blows, how would the matter go? The old
chief asked himself the question, but got no answer. Of one thing only
he was assured, winning or losing he would die a chief.

The mark was a badger-skin kaross fixed upon a wicker fish-trap and
set upon a stake as high as a man. The distance was extreme, as Pŭl-Yūn
saw at a glance. Forty-five strides is a big, a very big throw with an
assegai, if the mark is to be hit and penetrated. As a mere cast, an
exhibition of distance-throwing, a man might do more. But this was no
fancy-work; by the terms of the wager the mark was to be not merely hit
but pierced. A badger's pelt is long in the hair, the skin is of the
thickest and toughest of forest trophies. Pŭl-Yūn nodded.

"My cousin has set himself a difficult mark, it is small and it is not
easy to pierce. My cousin has plainly improved in his spear-practice
since I have been away. Let him begin the play."

The man addressed, Honk-Ah, a lithe, tall brave, naked except for his
breech-clout, arose from his heels carrying three spears.

"Shall it be a matter of three spears at this range?" he asked.

"Three will be sufficient," replied Pŭl-Yūn, "and he whose points go
farthest through the peltry shall be adjudged winner."

"I am judge," grunted the old chief.

"Without doubt, my father!" assented Pŭl-Yūn. Honk-Ah said nothing, he
was balancing a spear as he walked to the throwing crease.

Five paces he passed beyond it, turned upon his heel, paused, measured
his distance with his eye from old habit, arose upon his toes, pranced
up to his crease with hand and arm at their utmost stretch, shook and
flung his assegai.

All eyes followed the weapon, its grey chert head travelled steady as
a stone, its five feet of shaft rotating as it flew in such wise that
its extremity traversed a small circle. This was how a spear should
be thrown, perfect form. How about the aim? The weapon completed
its curve, pitched, struck, but did not satisfy the demands of the
competition so completely as the thrower's friends could have wished:
the direction was better than good, but the elevation was ever so
little too high: the weapon had struck the upper edge of the mark, the
shaft swung over and drew the point. The spear lay upon the ground
beyond, its head towards the thrower: yet, it was a great throw. As
every watcher knew, had the mark been a man that man would have taken a
nasty wound.

The thrower, you may be sure, had followed the flight of his assegai
no less critically. Without once taking his eye from the mark he took
and weighed in hand the spear which he was to throw next, stepped
lightly back, took distance, shook, ran and threw. Nor was he below
himself, this was better, as good as to direction, and as to elevation
somewhat lower than the former. The head penetrated the nether edge of
the skin and held, albeit the shaft drooped; thus much only it lacked
of perfection, yet, there was not another man in the silent circle
of spectators who could have done as well. The third and last was a
truly fine performance: a centre well driven home, it would have been
impossible to better it. The spearman, his hands hanging by his sides
surveyed his work frowning slightly, as an expert does who has done
well, but whose ambition was to have done better than well; then he
slowly raised his chin, folded his arms across his chest and turned to
his cousin with the superb and natural scorn of the savage who has no
tradition of restraint behind him.

"Is that Honk-Ah's best?" asked Pŭl-Yūn quietly, without rising from
his heels. "Let my cousin take his time, the day is still young. Try
three more throws, and again three more; it may be that two of thy
spears balanced ill, or thy arm was yet stiff from being lain upon.
What?--thou art satisfied? Wilt stand by these, nor ask for more,
however the matter goes?"

He ceased at a touch of the old chief's hand, and none too soon.
Honk-Ah, a passionate and hasty fellow was shaking with anger; he
detested his cousin with a bitterness which surprised even himself: he
had hated him when he thought him dead, and now, that he had returned
from the underworld, as it seemed, to snatch the prize from his grasp,
his aversion went near to choking him. Whether Pŭl-Yūn spoke or was
silent, sat or stood, he hated him; his least movement, or the absence
of movement fed the hate which had been smouldering within him for a
year, which had glowed in his bosom all night and now had all-but burst
into flame.

It was a full-blown flower of primitive jealousy. The old chief
recognised the growth and inwardly shivered, things might yet go ill.
Let there be no talk, let Pŭl-Yūn betake himself to his weapons.

"If it must be, it must be," remarked Pŭl-Yūn without enthusiasm. "But,
look you, my brothers and friends, I am but a night and a day from the
snows of the pass; three (or was it not four?) days and as many nights
did I sit in a snow-cave waiting for the fall to stop. I have travelled
through drifts as deep as my chin, and this upon the top of a broken
leg. Yes, I lay for nigh two moons in a cave with a broken leg. Hence
Pŭl-Yūn, who was approved your war-chief two years ago, is not at his
best this day. He has forgot his spear-throwing somewhat. It is four,
nay, it is six, moons since he threw a spear."

A shiver of astonishment ran around the circle, for this was giving
the contest away before it was begun. Spear-throwing is an art which
calls for constant and unremitting practice: the assegai-thrower no
more than the violinist can lay aside his instrument for weeks and
months at a time and resume it at will with his old facility. The
listening tribesmen covered their mouths with their hands and smiled
behind them, each man's eyes rolled on his fellows' seeking and finding
comprehension. The thing was as good as settled. But Pŭl-Yūn had
arisen to his feet and was still speaking,--

"I have brought back to camp no spears of our sort, for my arm is very
fat and weak, much weaker than the arm of my wife here (who will throw
presently)." A laugh broke out, but fell, for he was grave and was
still speaking, he had none of the marks of a madman about him, he was
just the Pŭl-Yūn whom they had all known and loved, gentle of speech
exceedingly,--yet his words, or some of them were strange--ludicrous.

"So, I have made for myself little assegais, boys' assegais," whilst
speaking he drew one from the long skin pouch which hung at his back
and handed it to the old chief, who turned it end for end in his hand,
and looked it over very critically and passed it on to the elder
nearest to him with an impassive face but a very shaken heart. The
absurd little thing went slowly around the circle, none above the age
of an uninitiated boy had ever handled its like, it reached Honk-Ah
who disdained to touch it, smiling insolently, his game already won.

"Yet, it seems I must do what I can," said Pŭl-Yūn, sighing again, "and
if, by good luck, I can make these little-boys' spears fly straighter
and stick deeper than my cousin's, what will ye say?"

Said the grey chief, "My son's son, whilst thou hast been away we have
had omens of change and of trouble. Our enemies, the White Wolves and
the men of the Lynx Totem have begun to encroach yet more upon our
hunting-grounds; they have taken game from our traps, they waylay and
wound our young men hunting singly. We have given up lone hunting, we
hunt in couples or threesomes. They, or we must move on. But, it needs
fighting to clear the matter. And,--and--I am grown better at council
than at the chase. Strong am I still, but I stiffen, and am slower of
foot than my wont. The Sun-Men have always had a war-chief who could
lead them. The tribe,--the young men, are asking for one. Thy cousin
claims the post. What can I say to thy question?"

To Pŭl-Yūn's thinking there was more than physical weakness in this
appeal, he faced the old man silently but with a steady confidence in
his eye which went some way to restore the senior's shaken courage, who
took fresh breath and went on--

"The spear, my son, is the only weapon, and the farther it is cast and
the deeper it is driven the better the warrior. Yonder is the mark. Get
thee to thy spears. I have spoken."

The little dart was still travelling its round, exciting amazement,
amusement and curiosity as it went. It returned to Pŭl-Yūn, he examined
its point and feather (the absurd little feather, fingered by so many,
understood by him alone), all with an exasperating deliberation and
gentle cheerfulness as of a man regaining his spirits. The tent-folds
behind him shook and forth came the foreign woman, his wife, Dêh-Yān,
as he had been heard to address her, bringing in hand--what?--surely
not more spears, for there were others in the skin pouch upon his
back, yet, she bore to him a staff stouter, heavier and longer than
any assegai, and, whereas a well-made assegai is thickest three hands'
breadths behind the head and thence tapers both ways, this clumsy shaft
was thickest in the middle. An impossible, headless weapon, thought the
tribe craning to see.

Pŭl-Yūn took the staff, tossed and caught it, shook it a little, whilst
the Little Moon woman unwound a stout cord of twisted sinew looped at
either end. Watched intently by the tribe the man threaded both loops
upon the staff, fitted the last to a notch at one end of it, which end
he turned under and set his left foot upon; then, holding the staff
erect and close to his left side, he, gripping its upper end with his
right, swiftly and strongly bent it over his knee and hip whilst with
his left hand sliding the second loop to its resting-place in the
second notch which was now close beside his chin.

'Twas done in a moment, and the thing stood confessed no weapon at all,
but just a drilling-bow, an out-sized, clumsy tool. Honk-Ah led the
laugh.

But Pŭl-Yūn unmoved and passively grave, was emptying at his feet
the skin pouch aforesaid, and lo! there lay more boys' assegais,
weak, light and decked with feathers where no feathers should be. The
laughter did not cease when the man chose three and approached the
scratch thus armed, for the bow-drill which he carried his critics
regarded as a mere encumbrance, a thing as foreign to the business
in hand as a fishing-line. Taking his stand upon the crease itself,
and making no preparation for the usual run before throwing, the
young chief gripped the bent bow-drill left-handedly by its midmost
stoutest part, laid a dart across the wood, and his left forefinger
over that dart, then, fitting a hitherto unnoticed notch in the end of
that dart to the string, he gripped both dart and sinew and drew both
away from the bending wood whilst raising the whole apparatus with
his extended left hand. Back and back went his right hand, stiffly
and more stiffly extended his left arm, until the chert head of the
dart stuck out beyond the left thumb, whilst the notched and feathered
tail, still fast against the sinew-cord, was level with the man's ear.
Thus he stood poised, tense and silent for a breath, the last cackle
of derisive laughter died; what did all this mean? _Twang!_--something
hummed like the wings of the great fawn-coloured mountain swift when he
sweeps a beetle from a grass-blade close to one's knee and is a hundred
strides away before one knows what he had done. Pŭl-Yūn was standing
exactly as he had stood before the sound, save that the string had
escaped from his hand and the bow-drill had gone straight again. What
had become of the dart? 'Twas gone, yet none had seen it go. At such
close range, and from such a powerful bow, an arrow travels nearly
level and exceedingly fast. The eyes of the tribe, fixed upon the man,
and awaiting the vehement action of the spear-thrower, had failed
altogether to pursue the flight of the missile.

"Wah! when is he going to throw?" "Where has it gone?" "When did he
cast?" "_How came it there?_" for lo! in the target beside the best
spear of Honk-Ah stood the dart of Pŭl-Yūn, quite as well-centred and
more deeply fixed.

A buzz of subdued clamour arose and was instantly hushed, for the
marksman's second dart was in his hand, and again that queer, clumsy
domestic implement, hitherto reserved for the girl who made fire, or
the eye of a needle, was bending again. _Twang!_--again that new, keen
sound and all eyes jumped, and again failed to follow that unnaturally
low, swift flight. They looked above it, looked where a spear would
have been, and whilst they stared--_thuck!_--a second dart was standing
in the target, not a hand's-breadth away from the first, and as deeply
imbedded.

Honk-Ah crammed his mouth full of his own fingers and bit them, but no
one spoke. All edged a step nearer, and when the string hummed for the
third time, and the final dart, driven straight and hard, stood between
the other two, there was a deep gasp of half incredulous surprise.

Savages are deeply and religiously conservative, and easily persuade
themselves that their own way, though demonstrably the worse, is the
right way. Did the land-owners of England effusively fold Stephenson to
their noble bosoms? His trains would interfere with their fox-hunting,
so much they could see. Later they saw money in the thing and came into
it with a rush.

Now the Sun-Men were almost as conservative as the House of Peers in
the day when the Rocket was the last New Thing; and there was nothing
of lucre with which to commend this invention to their unwilling
admiration.

Alack, our race has moved with a pitiful slowness, and still moves
locally and by jerks, and with much intermediate marking of time and
retrogressions elsewhere.

Hence it is not to be supposed that the Sun-Men acclaimed the first
performances of the New Thing with shouts of joy. To the braves of the
tribe it signified the success of a piece of woman's gear. Their first
impulse was to have none of it, to shout it down as foreign magic,
certainly novel, probably impious, and no doubt offensive to their
deity. Even the old chief, with all to gain by his grandson's victory,
was unenthusiastic.

Were they more stupid than their descendants of a later day? I trow
not. Let the reader judge. Once during England's struggle with
Napoleon was the chance offered to each antagonist to end the matter
at a stroke. How did they take it? Joseph Manton laid his designs for
rifled artillery before the Master of the Ordnance and was refused
leave to manufacture guns capable of demolishing the ships, forts
and forces of France at long range. A few years later young Fulton
explained to Bonaparte his plans for towing the wind-bound Boulogne
fleet across the Channel by steam. The hard, shallow grey eyes of
the Corsican stared him down, "_Idéalist!_" and England was safe for
another century.

Pŭl-Yūn had won, but the successful competitor's three astonishing
shots aroused suspicion in some, anger and jealousy in others. There
were men present capable of surlily or passionately repudiating the
fact. Honk-Ah did. He arose from his heels, flung out his hands,
strutted, laughed derisively, indulged in gestures offensive and
provocative and walked towards the target.

"Stop!" cried the old chief, "let no man draw those spears."

Himself detaching the skin he bore it around the circle of watching
braves. There was no denying the evidence. Those three, small,
bow-driven darts were in over their heads. A man so struck would hardly
have lived out the day.

Pŭl-Yūn, without vaunts, took the fact of his victory for granted, and,
noting his backer's reserve, came to the front.

"I have just one small thing to ask," said he, raising his hand, "a
very little thing. It is that my cousin will now throw spears with my
wife."

The listening tribe stared with open-mouthed amazement. The challenged
man fairly bristled. To a brave such a proposal was an indelible
insult. Yet Pŭl-Yūn's manner was not insulting; nothing could be less
provocative than the gentle, unsmiling simplicity of his mien.

"A brave plays only with braves," said the old chief, interpreting the
challenged man's rigid silence.

Then, at a nod from her husband, Dêh-Yān came from the curtained
doorway of the wigwam. She was wearing the full spring-months' working
dress of a woman of the tribe, to wit, her own supple beauty hidden
only from the waist to the knee by an apron of skins.

There was nothing to remark in this, but, what drew a murmur of
amazement from the circle, a murmur which presently turned to scoffs
and incredulous laughter, was the bear-skin which she bore upon her
arm, and the collar of teeth and claws which encircled the ruddy
symmetry of her throat. Sedately she spread the skin and took her stand
upon it. She knew, none better, that this hour would be the making or
the breaking of her man and herself, but she bore herself superbly. If
her heart fluttered within her breast her mouth was hard and her eye
steady. Silently she fingered the necklace and looked a question to her
husband who raised his hand.

"Do you ask why my wife stands upon that bear-skin whilst I stand upon
bare earth? Do you ask why she, and not I, wears that necklace? Those
are fair questions which I will answer presently. But, first I too have
a question to ask of you--

"If two go to the woods to hunt and a bear is killed by one of the two,
who shall wear the spoils--he who did the killing or he who looked on?

"That is our case, my wife's and mine. Whilst I lay with a broken
leg-bone, that bear came like a lynx upon a wood-hen in a gin and
thought to have made a meal of me. My wife was there, she might have
run for it, but she took spear in hand and killed that bear,"--he
stooped and lifted one of the enormous paws of the hide. "At one thrust
she killed that bear. He was very near to me, nearer than my cousin
is now; he was upreared for the stroke; he was not a young bear, nor
a brown bear, but a Grizzly of the rocks; an Old Man Grizzly; so my
chief says who knows more of bear than any of us; for myself I have
never had much to do with bear of any sort, two, perchance, Brown
Bears both--they fought well--did not they, Honk-Ah? But this was my
first Grizzly (he came near to being my last). We were in a cave, the
three of us. I was sitting, with my leg stiff and weak, so--" he was
now upon the ground at Dêh-Yān's feet, acting the scene. "The Grizzly
came thus--" he bounded from the earth, crawled, reared, pawed the
air, impersonating the monster. "She--she here, my wife,--who was not
attacked, who might have saved herself,--what did she?--_What did
she?--I ask!_" his voice rose to a shout. "What would _my cousin have
done_?" it fell to a soft, penetrating tone, he spread his hands and
bent towards Honk-Ah as though genuinely seeking an answer to his
question, a question put with an air of suave simplicity which it was
impossible to effectively resent. "My cousin would have done what my
wife did, yes, he would have killed that Grizzly, I see it in his
eye!--Thou wouldst have done just that, Honk-Ah!"

A stifled titter ran around the circle, for this was a home thrust.
Honk-Ah had indeed, as Pŭl-Yūn had reminded him, been present at the
hunting of one of the two bears which had been slain by the Sun-Men
during the past four years, but, by over-caution, or maladroitness, or
sheer ill-luck, it had not fallen to him to distinguish himself in that
fight. All braves cannot be at their best upon all occasions, and that
had not been one of Honk-Ah's days. The emergency which had found his
cousin wanting had been one which had set the seal to Pŭl-Yūn's courage
and address. Rivals before, the cousins had been rivals since, Pŭl-Yūn
leading. The elders present perceived that their young war-chief, not
content with re-establishing his precedence, was bent upon inflicting
a public humiliation upon his would-be supplanter; perceived too, that
he was probably aware of the plot which his timely return to his tribe
had barely forestalled, and were wondering how the Honk-Ah party were
taking it.

These, as it happened, were taking the matter extremely well. They had
fallen under the influence of Honk-Ah not for any love which they bore
him, but because a leader of some sort was needful for the tribe at a
critical juncture, and he, in default of Pŭl-Yūn, was the only possible
man. Their former war-chief had dropped upon them from the skies,
and albeit they had wavered in their allegiance, and some of them
had talked big over-night, with the instability of the savage (who,
like a boy, is merely a man in the making, fickle and easily moved
to good or evil), they were ready to return to duty. The result of
the spear-throwing had shaken them, but this exhibition of Pŭl-Yūn's
adroit eloquence had completed their reconversion, not to the new
weapon but to the old comrade.

Honk-Ah was upon his feet, he had heard the titter of the women behind
him, he had looked towards one and another of his chosen friends and
followers, but had failed in finding an answering eye, he felt himself
slipping, the situation called for instant action, he took it with a
rush, there was no finesse about Honk-Ah. He struck his hardest at his
opponent's weakest spot--this tale was too wonderful for belief. He
appealed to the experience of the old chief and the half dozen elders,
he claimed as a brave to know something, he and his contemporaries
had seen a bear or two die, but they had died hard, had charged home
a dozen times, had run, when it came to running, for a long way, had
stood at bay under a storm of spears for half a day: it had taken every
man of the hunting party all that he knew to finish the fight with a
whole skin. Yet, this foreign woman, forsooth, had killed her bear,
an Old Man Grizzly (there was no getting over that skin) with a casual
poke with one--_one_--of her people's stupid little darts. Absurd! That
the bear had died was evident--even bears cannot live forever; but, how
had he died?--In a pit? or under a down-fall? or by a chance-fallen
rock, perhaps? Such things did happen to bears as to men, he supposed.
And doubtless this had befallen whilst Pŭl-Yūn lay sick, and--well--it
was only too plain that his cousin had been very sick indeed, both in
his feet and in his head, for in a word, this foreign woman had fooled
him.

Pŭl-Yūn heard him to an end with grave patience, then turning to
Dêh-Yān, who was now quivering with hard-pent excitement, he nodded.
The girl retired to the wigwam and was presently back again no longer
wearing the bear's trophies, but re-arrayed in a triple necklace of
human teeth which encircled her brown throat in shining rows, whilst
three scalps swung and dangled from her waist-band.

A low cry of utter wonder broke from the circle of spectators, and rose
louder as, in obedience to her husband's eye, she made the circuit
of the ring, exhibiting these undreamed-of wonders to the astonished
braves with a sort of shy bravado. Scalps?--these were not the scalps
of old men, or of women, but of top-knotted braves. The teeth, too,
were not milk-teeth, but the unworn, fully-fanged grinders of men.
She returned to her place upon the bear-skin pursued by admiring
glances. All kept silence, not even Honk-Ah had any remarks to offer or
explanations to suggest. Pŭl-Yūn arose again.

"My cousin is hard to satisfy. A brave who has killed his bear in
single fight is still unworthy to meet my cousin. I ask my chief, I ask
myself and you--nay, I will ask my cousin--Who is worthy to meet so
great a warrior as Honk-Ah?--

"And, here is my answer!" he turned to his wife, "Behold my squaw,
Dêh-Yān is her name, she is wearing the scalps of three braves, they
were strong braves and great runners, a winter war-party (Gow-Loo,
Pongu and Low-Mah were their names). They were well-armed, behold their
axes and knives! They ambushed my wife, set upon her as she bent over
a trap; so much did I see of the fight with these eyes, looking from
the cave where I lay foot-fast. Did she fly screaming to me?--No, she
thought for me; she led them away from our cave, a long chase, oh, a
hard chase! one whole day. But this I cannot speak of particularly
for I did not see it. Late that night she returned to me with these
scalps. They were fresh then, new-stripped. Does my cousin, who speaks
of down-falls and pits, think that my squaw took all three braves in a
pit at one running? In a _hopo_, say, like a drove of horse? Does he
think in his heart that these young warriors gave their hair and their
teeth to a girl for love?" The speaker laughed merrily at the idea,
and save Honk-Ah, everyone within hearing laughed with him; he stilled
the merriment with upraised hand and turned to his antagonist.

"Once again I ask him whether he will play at the spear-throwing with
this brave, my squaw?"

The speaker paused for a reply, and in the silence which followed
braves and women alike craned for a better view of the face of the man
whom he challenged, who was squatting upon his heels glowering upon
his rival, the fingers of his throwing-hand tightening, slackening and
again tightening around the shaft of his assegai.

An answer of some sort he must make, but, what answer would pass?

Whilst he debated the foreign woman stooped, took her husband's bow
from the ground, chose her a single dart and approached the crease. She
turned and scrutinised the mark, the creel now denuded of the badger's
skin. The stake upon which it hung protruded through the wicker for the
length of half an arm. Watched by all she stood serenely at gaze, then,
threw up her chin and called to a woman at the other end of the lists.

"O woman, there!--thou with the papoose!--I want a mark. Wilt hang
something small, say a moccasin, upon the top of that stake? I thank
thee, sister!"

A gust of astonished laughter arose, what foolery, what bravado was
this?--There hung a child's mitten, an impossible mark, such as no
brave had ever set for himself or for his rival. Again arose the clear,
mellow woman's voice, using their own tongue with just a touch or two
of foreignness in its intonations--

"O my father and chief, may I throw at this mark?--I will throw but
once."

The old chief turned first to Honk-Ah, but the man sate mute and glum
as though the business was no concern of his. Then to the woman he
turned and nodded assent: doubting as did the rest, Pŭl-Yūn excepted.

[Illustration: DREW SWIFTLY, AND AS SWIFTLY LOOSED]

Dêh-Yān fitted arrow to string and half bent the great bow, still
keeping her eye upon the tiny mark, then with a small sweet laugh she
tripped back from the throwing-crease five full strides, drew swiftly
and to the ear and as swiftly loosed. Twang! the cord sang shrill in
the morning air, the arrow sped, and a whoop of sheer delight broke
from the watching tribe, for the shaft had struck the mitten full, had
pierced and transfixed it. The archer had watched the flight of her
shaft with a hard bright eye, now she turned and tripped back to her
husband's side without a side-glance, as if such marksmanship was all
in her day's work, a thing of nought. Doubt not that her little heart
was high within her bosom, but no vaunting word escaped her lips.
Dêh-Yān was great.

The old chief was upon his feet. Would his nephew throw? 'Twas a fair
challenge.

"On some other day--perhaps," muttered Honk-Ah, confusedly.

"To-day, and now, my cousin,--or not at all, and never!" retorted
Pŭl-Yūn. "And, bethink thee, it is not now for the war-chieftaincy that
thou art bidden to throw--that is lost to thee--but for its reversion.
Wilt thou stand third in the tribe by out-throwing my wife?--No!--then
thou art nought, just a brave among my braves, no more, whilst she
leads the war-parties in my absence."

"That is so,--I say it," said the old chief, stilling the clamour that
was arising among the braves. "Here stands my daughter, no foreign
woman, but a full member of the tribe; no squaw but a brave, and a very
great spearman."

"_Witch!_" screamed the cousin bounding to his feet and whirling back
his spear. In the twinkling of an eye he had quivered and had hurled
it at the shapely bosom of Dêh-Yān. But the grey chief stepped before
her with upraised hands and lips opening in rebuke that was never to
be uttered. Straight betwixt those upraised hands sped the spear, and
drove its keen chert head deep through the neck-cordage and into the
great throat artery of the father of the tribe.

The bright life-blood spouted high and wide. The stricken man
staggered, but kept his feet, composedly folded his arms and stood
awaiting his death.

A bitter cry of horror burst from the circle of braves, a shriller wail
from the outer ring of women, and as the uproar grew the tall figure of
the ancient leader was seen to totter, sway and fall.

Pŭl-Yūn had leaped to his feet snatching right and left for axe and
knife in the blind impulse of wrath. Honk-Ah, horror-struck at his
impiety, stood for some breaths covering his wide open mouth with his
hand, a petrifaction of remorse, whilst his friends fell away from him
as from an infected thing; then, seeing his enemy and master, the new
chief, in whose hand lay his life and his limbs to torture at his will,
bounding across the open circle towards him, he turned and fled with
winged feet.

He had yet a chance, not only for life alone, but for far more than
life, for the chieftaincy of the tribe! If he could reach covert and
maintain himself alive for ten days and ten nights the Headship of the
Sun-Men was his.

Such was the Custom of the Tribe. Such was the rule of succession of
the Priests of Nemi (Kings of the Grove) down to the times of the
Antonines; such, within living memory, was the law of the Red-skins of
the Middle States.

The timber was near; with such a start and on so short a course escape
seemed possible. Save those of the head-wife, bent in agony upon the
resolutely-composed face of her dying lord, the eyes of all were upon
the runners, who had reached a hundred strides from the lists and were
nearing the edge of the scrub. The avenger of blood carried nought
but an axe, he ran desperately, but haltingly, for his leg failed
him, suddenly he stopped, threw, and missed! Honk-Ah drew away, and
then,--all was momentary, whence came it?--What was happening?--it was
done! A cry "_Moon, help me!_" had shrilled,--a tense string had hummed
behind the backs of the gazing crowd, a light fledged assegai had
sped its curve over their heads, had dipped and was sticking between
the working shoulder-blades of the murderer. A throw prodigious and
incredible!--The stricken man ran staggering for a few paces, then
his head went forward and he pitched upon his face, struggled to his
knees and strove to rise. But Pŭl-Yūn was after him with the long
leaping strides of the master-wolf when he hurls himself at the flank
of the sinking buck. He was upon him, a knife rose and fell, all was
over. Why did he not take his scalp?--For what was he waiting? To
whom beckoning? Round wheeled the tribe to see more of the thrower of
that amazing cast, and met Dêh-Yān, last night the foreign woman, and
now the just-admitted brave, her black eyes burning, her white teeth
a-glitter in the glory of victory. Bow in hand she broke through the
throng, her light limbs twinkled as she raced to her husband's side.
Her bow she cast down, her knife was out, an avenging fury she knelt
upon her fallen foe and tore away his scalp as the falcon strips the
breast-bone of a partridge.

Her shriek of triumph ended in a peal of elvish laughter. Shall we
blame her? No, nor praise. Why should we? Here stands a primitive human
document. This was no product of nursery, High School and drawing-room,
nor was she an unsexed termagant of the slum, neither super-civilised
nor residual. No, nor an abnormality, but something above a typical
woman of the Old Stone Age, a fine specimen, if you will, of woman
as we know her in the shaping, half-way up from the ridge-browed,
spidery-armed, dog-toothed Forerunner, who, some hundred thousand years
or so earlier, had dropped from her tree at the cry of her fallen
piccaninny, and, greatly daring, had beaten off a hyena with a club.
There, indeed stood the First Parent whom we need recognise, for, past
gainsaying the crucial moment was that which found us upon firm ground
instead of clinging to a branch, which saw us upon two feet instead of
four, and with a tool in hand.

The difference betwixt that far-away, hirsute, anthropoid heroine
who discovered the club, and her distant descendant who invented the
bow, was great, but was chiefly physical. The lengthening of the
lower limbs and the shortening of the upper, changes in the forms
of the extremities, a progressive opening of the facial angle, and
modifications in eye, ear, and spinal column had obliterated the ape
and brought to the birth a stalwart savage, ingenious, artistic, and
in many ways distinctively human, without sensibly raising the moral
standard. Yet another hundred thousand years, more or less, would have
to elapse ere a Voice should cry "_Love your enemies!_"

The Master-Girl had already once in her life gone as far in that
direction as could be expected of her. There were no tribal or
religious sanctions for sparing the life of a ruffian who had shed the
blood of the father of his people in a treacherous attempt upon the
wife of his cousin.

Leaving the corpse to the care of whom it might concern, and her
weapons to her husband, Dêh-Yān strode back to the lists swinging
the dripping scalp around her head, singing her chant of triumph,
transfigured, her six feet of supple bronze seeming to o'ertop
the tallest brave of her tribe. They drew away from her cowering,
deprecating her incantation and the magical potencies of her glance
and hand; a priestess confessed.

Meanwhile the widowed head-wife rent the air with her wailing; to her
the victor addressed herself, a woman to a woman. The mourner had seen
nothing, knew nothing, nor understood what had befallen, until in
answer to her passionate appeals for vengeance upon the slayer of her
lord, the newcome foreign woman laid in her hands the wet scalp of the
murderer.

The braves returning from stepping-out the full distance of that still
only just credible cast, found the head-wife of their dead chief
grovelling at the feet of the New Leader.

"Dêh-Yān," said her husband tremulously, himself half afraid of this
prodigy to whom he found himself mated, "will it please thee to draw
thy shaft?--they--we--do not seem to care to lay hand to it. It is
still fast in his heart. Its head was small enough to pass between his
back-ribs. Thou wilt remember the arrow--the last of thy making."

"The white ptarmigan's feather? Yes, I prayed to my Totem for its luck
when I made it; and again as I loosed. What are they saying?"

"They are hailing thee chieftainess--Yes, and I, too, hail thee!" He
came near, very near, to prostrating himself, but something in her eye,
some movement of her lip deprecated, forbade.

From that hour the Master-Girl's influence was paramount.

       *       *       *       *       *

That shot converted the braves of the Sun Totem from spear-throwers to
bowmen. In time, and as it seemed, but just in time, an archer-force,
equipped and trained by their chieftainess, encountered the long
anticipated raid of the Lynx-Men. The rout of the invaders was signal
and complete. Timely warning of their presence was given by the young
Good Wolves which the Master-Girl had taught her people to domesticate:
these warders of the dimness before the dawn held up the advance guard
of the foe with bristling backs and shining teeth until Dêh-Yān had set
her battle in array. A born general, one of the first, she had silently
thought out her strategy--piously attributing its inspiration and
success to her Totem--the horned moon, whose very form she imitated in
the marshalling of her little force.

This naked woman-savage had evolved from her own clear brain the
most consistently successful tactic of all subsequent warfare, that
deceptive movement which consists in refusing battle by the attacked
centre whilst delivering counterstrokes from the converging flanks.

"The Lynx-Men are very stout-hearted," she said. "They have carried
matters their own way for many years, you tell me. It is well, O
Pŭl-Yūn, for I would have them charge us as an old boar charges,
without thought of turning or looking to left or right," she laughed
low in her throat, but her eye was hard and bright, her braves watched
her as growing boys watch a man. "Now we have them," she cried, as
battle was joined, "remember, if one of them falls by a _spear_ of ours
I shall want to know whose spear it was that transgressed!"

A minute later and the Sun-Men's centre, a special force of spearmen,
trained to practice the ruse, after wasting their assegais at
idle range, were in full retreat upon the stockade--_and their
bows!_--whilst ambuscaded archery was closing in upon both flanks. The
enemy, stubborn, haughty and with an unbeaten record, saw nothing, knew
nothing, until, clambering one upon another at the stockade like bees
that swarm, their backs felt the dreadfully-piercing small javelins of
their despised foes, whilst the bowmen behind the stockade struck them
down faster than they could climb.

They died there to a man; not one escaped. It was a war-party of
Sun-Men disguised in Lynx trappings which took the news of the defeat
to the Quarry-camp. This was the Master-Girl's counterstroke; she led
it--as the song that was sung for many generations told--led it in the
weed of a captive woman, one of a crowd of women, and of braves decked
out as women, who marched with dishevelled hair and down-cast heads
and with hoppled hands!--but with their bows borne for them by their
(supposed) captors, ready at need. The surprise was absolute and final.
The Lynx Totem was blotted out, only the young unproved girls and the
smallest of the toddling boys were reserved to be incorporated in the
Sun-and-Moon Clan, the first of many similar acts of adoption.



CHAPTER XI

THE PASSING OF THE MASTER-GIRL


And of the rest of the deeds of the Master-Girl, and of her extreme
wisdom, foresight and daring, what shall I say? Time would fail me to
tell of her dealings with the White Wolves and the Beaver Totem, the
Elks and the Red Clouds, and twenty tribes more; yea, and how she,
moved thereto by memories of early humiliations, crossed the ranges in
force and wiped out her old people the Little Moons; as to which grim
deed I desire to express no opinion. Human nature, even nowadays, is
queer, nor was it less queer in the Days of Ignorance. Let us admit
that a warfare begun in self-defence was carried on for conquest. Her
new weapon, her generalship carried all before her, and in her day
the Sun-and-Moon Totem waxed great, throve and multiplied, became a
dominant clan, pushing back the hunting and war parties of all other
names for a month's journey and more. Nor was it a brief episode, for
this woman, the Great Chieftainess, as men called her during her life,
and for long after, ruled her tribe for so many seasons that if a man
were asked to tell how long, that man must hold up his two full hands
six times, and yet show three fingers beyond ("three _whole men_ and
three _toes_" by Eskimo count). So many times did the black-cock go
a-lekking during the reign of the Master-Girl.

In her day every man of her tribe had not less than two wives. Yea,
even her husband; for being childless herself, she, loving her Pŭl-Yūn
with an exigeant and emulous love, was minded to see him with a larger
family of young braves and girls to his name than any other man of
the Totem, and to this end supplied him with wives whom she picked
and trained: conjugal arrangements distressing to us moderns, but
still existing among the Primitives of the Aurès Mountains in Southern
Algeria, and which in the case of Pŭl-Yūn and Dêh-Yān in no wise
lessened the reverence which the husband paid to the wife of his youth,
nor the more exacting and jealous love with which she returned his
affection.

Moreover, did she not arm and train an especial force of women
archers?--women who hunted by moonlight?--These, and the Good Wolves
of their training, were the camp-guard, both of the home stockade at
the quarries whither the tribe removed, and of the flying camps in
war-time. Sorely dreaded were they by the foemen of other Totems,
as well for their close and accurate shooting as for their midnight
raids, for the men of the Old Stone Are dreaded to go among dark woods
for good and sufficient reasons, and having this fear engrained in
their beings, had imagined and come to believe in a-many strange and
dismal Things which haunted the dark beside those upon which an axe
could bite, which beliefs are held, or at least acted upon, by not a
few of their descendants to this hour (albeit by daylight they will in
nowise allow that they feel any nervousness at all, nor will admit that
Anything whatsoever exists to warrant it).

This Amazon force was recruited from among the fleetest and hardiest of
the unmarried girls. Admission to its ranks was jealously restricted
and hedged about according to the manner of savages by secret and
severe initiatory ceremonies celebrated by virgin priestesses under the
light of the New Moon, in forest retreats, to which no man was ever
admitted.

And to this, Pŭl-Yūn, war-chief and arch-priest of the rival Sun-Disc
cult, was brought to consent, an admission of the moral ascendency of
the Master-Girl which will not be lost upon the discerning reader.

She would seem to have had a great time of it, but of her many
campaigns (as of those of Kai Khosroo and of Genghis Khan and other
conquerors whose exploits were too complete to be recorded) no faintest
hollow whisper has come down to us. The chronicles of the First
Woman-Chief (what a wealth of richly-embroidered incident is lost to
mankind!) were writ in that earliest cuneiform script, the arrow-head,
upon that most perishable of materials, the bodies of her foemen.

It may be surmised that the movements of the tribes whom her conquests
dispossessed may account for some of the otherwise inexplicable
migrations and settlements of peoples ignorant of the bow, the
Australian to wit, and the still lower Tasmanian.

Proudly she lived, ruling her household vigorously and strictly, nor
did her masterfulness decrease with advancing age.

       *       *       *       *       *

And what of the end? what of the final scene which closes in and rounds
off the longest and most eventful of lives?

To them it came suddenly. Pŭl-Yūn, grey, hale, unbent, had grown
somewhat silent, husbanding breath and powers which he had private
reasons to suspect were failing, albeit no man of his body-guard had
yet seen his doubt reflected in the silent side-glancing face of a
fellow.

The summer heats were upon the land, a great drought, the tall
and stalwart elder had overtaxed himself in the noon-day sun at a
game-driving. When the evening meal was cooked, he did not eat. Dêh-Yān
urged uselessly. All that night he was restless, dreaming, speaking
in his sleep, but not of enemies, no, for this the keenly-solicitous
wife, holding her breath, listened in vain. To whom might she lay this
sickness?--a bewitching, obéah-work doubtless, but, for ten days' march
in any direction was there a man who dared think in his inmost heart
evil of the great chief? No, there was none in all that region that
peeped or moved the wing.

Who in her household then? She brooded, vainly pondering. All the
next day her man lay silent, refusing the various foods which she
prepared with her own hands. At sunset she summoned the clan; her
subject wives, their handmaidens, daughters and slaves sate around the
silent hut: beyond the royal enclosure in a wider ring squatted the
body-guard, his sons and grandsons, and the staunchest of the braves of
the tribe, grizzled ring-men upon whose scarred, brown chests shifted
and glittered the trophies of forty battles. They squatted mute, hand
over mouth, knowing well what was a-doing inside, jealous, remorseful,
anxious; someone should die for this!--yes, to the fire with her,
though she were the beauty of the tribe, or with him, if he were the
best archer of them all!

Dêh-Yān came forth and perambulated the concourse, a V-shaped sprig
of the witch-hazel in her hands; seven times she went through them
and about them, but the twig turned to none. Rhabdomancy had failed
her. Silently she had come, silently she went, still an-hungered for
vengeance, and still unsatisfied re-entered the dark hut.

"It is none of our people," she said, but there was no reply from the
sick man. Her breath came short, she approached, touched, felt him. He
was dead--dead of the broken heart which kills silently and swiftly
so many gallant savages when stricken with one of the mysterious
sicknesses for which they know no remedies and for which they cannot
account.

Going forth she dismissed the assembly, bade the women of the royal
household still their tongues and their children, and returning to the
dark wigwam squatted all night beside her dead, revolving many things.
Once her courage wavered and her faith in herself. "Husband! Chief! _Is
this my doing?_"

But, for the main of her vigil the heart within the woman was
insurgent. She had ruled too long without the physical or spiritual
touch of restraint to brook an injury even from Death himself. Too
proud to weep, and too self-contained to give vent to the passion of
pent wrath which burnt her bosom, she crouched dumb and suffering
whilst the constellations wheeled across the black vault overhead--her
whole nature yearning desperately for her lost mate.... _Give me back
my man!_

Just before the dawn-streak she must have slept, for a voice and a
presence were in the hut, her husband's; but not as she had hoped to
see and to hear him, with a clear doom-word as to whom she was to hold
to account for his death; no, nor as she had known him these many
years, a grey, massive familiar figure. He returned to her smiling and
bland, youthful, exquisitely beautiful and young, the happy bridegroom
of her youth, who had been the first to hail her as chieftainess of
the tribe. She exclaimed with rapture, spread her arms for him, and--he
was gone. She was alone with the corpse.... "_He needs me!_" she said.
"Wait for me, Pŭl-Yūn. I will not be long!"

In one moment her resolve was taken. All her life had been a series
of swiftly-taken intuitive decisions, this was the last. The drowsing
watchers without found her standing in the rift of the hanging skins
before the doorway. "Wood," was her word. "Bring wood--much wood, let
every man, woman and child bring a faggot, dry and fit. Your lord is
a-cold and I am minded to warm him."

There was something terrible in the calmness and intensity of her face,
although the words were wild enough, for, what shall a man need with a
stack of dry kindling at midsummer?

"This will surely be a very great and sore burning," muttered this one
and that as they went their ways to the forest. Hardly dared man or
woman look one upon another, so heavily lay upon all the dread of an
accusation of witchcraft, of having commerced with the Unseen Powers of
Darkness to the hurt of their chief.

This is the canker of savage life, the haunting, still-impending secret
terror that walketh in darkness, from which few uncivilised communities
are long free.

Of this the Sun-and-Moon-Men had known little or nothing for the space
of four generations. The dominant personality of the Master-Girl had
brooked no interference from self-chosen mystery-mongers; sixty years
of splendid health, unshaken by wound or accident, had afforded scant
openings for the medicine-man. As High-Priestess of the Moon-rite she
had been a law unto herself and to her people, nor had her unbroken
sequence of success in war provided occasions for witch-smellings
or human sacrifices. Yet, as in the southern Europe of our day the
habit of delation has survived the Inquisition, so among the people
of her tribe oral tradition of the dread ritual persisted, the rusted
and long-disused machinery for exorcism and inquest for necromancy
lay ready to hand, and might be put together and set a-working at any
juncture, should authority but crook its little finger in signal. Yes,
now was the time, and before night a score of their best warriors and
handsomest women might be expiating the crime of "overlooking" the
dying chief.

Deep-rooted indeed must be this antique belief, since it died out
in our England only within human memory (if it be truly dead) and
still survives in the Celtic Fringe. The sensitive, impressionable
poetical Welshman is a thousand years nearer to his past than his
fellow-subject of King Edward across Offa's Dyke. In broad daylight,
nay, by gas-and-candle-light, the man is as we, and in one or two of
the arts is more than we; he professes, and truly believes, some
evangelical creed, and glances askance at the superstitious mummeries
of the detested Establishment; but, let sickness, sorrow or misfortune
strike him, and, in the deep overhung country lanes, or by the hearth
whilst mountain winds rumble in the stone chimney, he begins to doubt.
The Old Faith, the doggerel charms, the scraps of nurse-lore, may there
not be something in them after all? He can whisper his misgivings to
his brother Celt in their native speech, it seems natural, possible,
probable, but, to a question put to him in the English he stiffens, or
more probably puts on that impenetrable air of simplicity which has
baffled the keenest seeker for folk-lore.

As for his cousin across St George's Channel, is it yet ten years since
a poor epileptic woman was held down and burned to death upon her
own hearthstone by her husband, family and neighbours with atrocious
circumstances, and according to some immemorial rite which might have
been lifted straight from Mashonaland or the days of the Cave Men?

Heavy of heart the wood-collectors departed upon their quests, heavy
of heart, but light of heel. Woe to the laggard who hung back, to the
woman whose bundle was small, or who seemed to fear, and to avoid
the eye of the great chieftainess. Before mid-day every faggot was
ready--where should the pile be built?--_where were the stakes?_

Dêh-Yān, hollow-eyed and of an ominous mien, paced the circle,
took note of the burdens, then, whilst all throats grew tight and
dry, and all breaths thickened, their ruler with regal wave of
arm bade bear the wood to the inner stockade and pile it round
the royal wigwam. There was a general movement to carry out her
orders, this was no time for questioning. Whilst this black mood
of their chieftainess held, and whilst her mate lay silent within
(sick?--possessed?--overlooked?--forespoken?--not _dead_, oh, surely
not dead!) at such a juncture, with the air thick with doubt and
suspicion, prompt, blind, implicit obedience was safest. What this last
order meant who could guess? Many were guessing. What might come next,
who dare surmise?--yet all were surmising.

Dêh-Yān had withdrawn within the wigwam: crouched there in the gloom
she heard the crackle and snap of piled brush. The small place was
dominated by the presence of mortality in dissolution. Her mind was
divided, half with her dead, half turned jealously towards the workers
without. She felt that they were listening--knew their minds and the
workings of them, knew that hopes of respite were dawning, glancings
forward, previsions of a possible sequel other than the one which
each feared. One event was coming home to them, the super-sensitive
faculties of the savage at full strain could get no tidings of the
chief who had withdrawn himself from his braves for two days. This
absence, this silence spoke but one word--Death!

Then, as she mused, something moved in the darkness behind her with
the quiet, unbreathing, soft sinuosity of a snake. Turning swiftly
she pounced and caught--a slim ankle! Her captive lay mute, panting
thickly, shuddering strongly. Dêh-Yān without speaking ran an open hand
over the features, followed out the limbs, and beside the relaxed hand
lay something which she had not handled for many a year, reminiscent of
her far-away youth, her own personal fire-sticks, long disused.

"This is little Fallow-Doe," she said softly and without anger, naming
her dead lord's favourite grand-daughter, "but, what does young
Fallow-Doe here? unbidden in the place of death?"

"O mother," whimpered the girl, "I knew--I could not help it--I
thought--yes, I have eyes too--thou art leaving us! Oh, do not forsake
thy children! What shall we do?--To whom shall we look? Yes, _He_
there is dead--we know; but, how we know not. All must die. Our times
come. Maybe his time came. I do not think that any of the tribe bore
a black heart towards him. But, O my mother, if it is Obi (and thou
knowest best), charge whom thou wilt. Charge _me_! I will die for him,
though my heart is as white as a full moon; but, oh, do not leave us!"

The mourning widow withheld her answer, and when the word came, it was
breathed softly and motherly. "Little girl, thy heart is white, I know
it; but no whiter than the hearts of the rest. Get thee gone now by the
way thou camest, and say nothing of thy coming hither until the third
day at evening."

The child slipped eel-like under the tent-skirts and into the
loosely-piled faggots. Dêh-Yān patted the space left vacant and smiled,
for the fire-sticks were gone too. She arose, gravely smiling, and took
from a skin wallet that hung high a pair of round stones, dense and
very heavy, and struck them softly one against the other, and lo! the
darkness was lightened with pale green sparks, for these were nodules
of pyrites, her latest discovery, and one which would die with her to
be rediscovered in later times. "You will not fail me, I think," she
murmured, and began to arrange the tinder, crooning the first notes of
her death-song to herself as she worked.

Wave after wave of memory flowed in upon her out of the long-forgotten
past, and with each some trait of her dead husband travelled towards
her, towered and subsided. Battle touches, his shield before her,
himself exposed, his shout of triumph rang in her ears as her shaft
went home. Or a hot, breath-catching moment in the life of a big-game
huntress, a lioness with ears laid to her skull, and with head, neck,
back and tail in one level tawny line, broke covert and made for her
snarling, and again it was Pŭl-Yūn who had stridden between her and
the wrinkled black lips. She saw him leap the fence of the enclosure
and throw himself in the path of the stampeding herd of buck, when the
leaders of the driven mob swerved in the very jaws of the _hopo_ and
were breaking back. What a man he had been! yes, they had lived, they
two!

And about the time that the heat of the day began to wane, the watching
tribe heard her voice raised in song within the royal wigwam, and
certain duller sounds as of soft stones pounded, and, whilst all
strained eye and ear, fearing the approach of the unknown with hearts
high in their throats, the afternoon sunshine was dimmed by a thin
smoke, and above the ridge of the wigwam, where the poles crossed,
the air grew glassy like troubled water. Then, whilst the dry sticks
crackled, and here and there a green one spat, the pale flame that
is invisible in the sunlight turned the wood grey and shrivelled the
skin hangings. The death-chant pealed intermittently from within,
interrupted by coughing, but ever resumed. Soon the whole pile was
alight, and on every side the crowd, though pressed upon from outside,
was driven back by the heat.

"And, oh, I _did_ steal these--And I _did_ pray her not to leave us!"
wept Fallow-Doe.

Strong shudders shook the throng of watchers. Wild men, whose
grandsires this woman (think--a woman!) had brought to heel, whose
fathers she had trained to the bow and schooled in her battle tactics,
wept, actually wept!

For the chieftainess whose death-song arose fitfully and faintly above
the roar of the flame, had been more than a great warrior; the dead
chief had been that, a giant in fight, terrible at the axe, with a
rush and a shout like the charge and the roar of a rutting stag. But,
she! how put it?--at once desperate and cautious, patient as a waiting
heron, sudden in attack as the same bird when its uncoiled neck drives
home the dagger-beak! Other leaders were pricked to hot decisions by
the approach of unsuspected peril, she, for so long their pride and
marvel, had planned her battle ere the tassels hung upon the hazel and
won it after the nuts were ripe--yea, and ever upon ground of her own
choice. Did the Lynxes pounce at dawn, or the Sitting Bulls await her
coming, 'twas all one, the event fell as she had foretold. (Wail, ye
women!) Other tribes swarmed disorderly to the onset and closed with
clamour and confusion; she had taught her braves the true method of
advancing silently and in line; she too, had drilled them (at what
pains and with what sternness!) to a battle formation already described
(subsequently re-invented by a later savage genius--Tchaka), compelling
her centre to mark time until her convergent horns had enveloped the
headlong foe and the killing began to a general shout of "_O Moon!_"
Each of her battles had been an antedated Cannæ. Tribe after tribe
(names now to the young draft), scornful of woman-led warriors, had
charged cheering into her traps and perished, for no quarter was given
in the Stone Age, nor had the Master-Girl a use for a living enemy.
(Groan, ye men, nor spare your tears for once, though the children and
women see that your cheeks are wet!)

The groaning of the braves deepened, the keening of the women grew
shrill, but from the core of the heat where the naked wigwam-poles,
stripped now of their gear, were blazing above the pyre like torches,
came never a sound.

All through that afternoon the tribe watched and waited. The sun sank
to her couch blood-red, and laying her broad face upon a hill-shoulder,
forbore, as minded to see the last of her priest. The fire was burning
itself out, but was still too hot to approach. A circular rampart of
glistering whiteness lay there with the air shuddering above it. Some
of the ash retained the shape of bavin and faggot, more was flaky and
formless as snow, but pulsing through it came rosy flushes from the
glowing heart within. But, ah, in the centre-space where the wigwam had
stood, the Great Father and the Great Mother of their people, they,
who but two days since had stood for Authority, Strength, Courage and
Wisdom, were now white calcined bones!

It was then that a wonder and a portent appeared, for the tribe raising
scorched faces from the dreary place of burning, beheld one half of the
sky steeped as it were with blood, and the Sun, their Goddess, wading
therein, whilst near to her, and within that ensanguined field stood
the first presence of the young Moon, a bow of palest green.

Then did the eldest son of the dead arise, and with solemnly-uplifted
hands salute the Twin Totems. "Ye are there," he cried. "We hail ye
both, Heavenly Watchers over your children!"



EPILOGUE


Darkness enwrapped him, comfortably soft, thick and warm. He neither
knew nor cared how long he had lain in it, nor if at any time he
had ever known other conditions. He was just a motionless atom, or
congeries of atoms, without ambitions, cares or resentments; yet
withal, a modicum of self-knowledge.

For instance, certain black marks outstanding from a dull luminosity
over against him connoted definite ideas of origin and locality.
IGHTHAM FISSURES, such were the marks, thick, heavy, distinct lettering
in brownish black, output of a small hand-press used for printing
museum labels. (Oh, it was all known to him, the oddness consisted in
his knowing so much and no more, nor feeling any especial curiosity for
information unexpressed by these symbols.)

Then, by gradual but sensible degrees, the intensity of the darkness
yielded; and, as layer after layer was lifted from him, or washed off,
he recognised himself more fully. He was a Calcareous Accretion--(more
black typing showed)--He was being treated with weak acid baths.
There were hopes entertained of the result. (He overheard Someone say
so.) He began to be interested in his own case; these accretions were
little granular nodules found among the old dead earth of the clefts
and fissures of the Ightham chalk; dead earth which had slipped down
these rifts in the dead-and-gone long-ago when they were natural
pitfalls in the surface of an Arctic tundra. In winter their dangers
would have been hidden by the sheet of drifted snow through which
an unwary reindeer calf had fallen to its doom. (He remembered that
reindeer calf, also the Arctic fox which was tempted down by the
meat; and the lemming which was chased down by the stoat, and how
neither fox, lemming nor stoat ever got out again). In summer insects
fell in, and his own case filled him with mild speculative hopes. The
acid was fining him down, his chalky envelopes were leaving him, coat
after coat. Oh, there was something inside--a something which was
probably interesting--possibly a New Fact! (Here anticipation awoke in
him.) Suppose, now, the chitinous core of him when washed clean and
dissolved out should be recognisably _Bombus hyperboreus_, the big
bumble-bee of the Arctic, the one so rare in collections, the insect
which seems almost immune to frost, and goes booming from one little
frozen flower-bell to another during the brief northern summer whilst
snowflakes eddy round it! Such a find would be valuable, and New!
Confirmatory as to climatic conditions, too.

"_M'yess!_" Someone was speaking above him, someone's finger pressed
his wrist; he distinguished the ticking of a watch. He opened his eyes.

"_W-What is all this?_" and behold that underbred, uninteresting young
doctor was looking down upon him with the subdued pride with which a
medical man regards a case which will do him credit. (He had put a
solid fortnight of holiday into it, for which, as he knew well, he
could not legally recover a sou).

The Professor--(he was now the Professor again, and all the black
marks, labels and Ightham-Fissure-Business were gone)--found himself
bursting with a huge, novel experience, which it behoved him to get
into writing if he died for it.

"P-pencil and paper--please."

       *       *       *       *       *

And, eventually, he was allowed to have his way.


COLSTONS LIMITED, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH





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