Harry Lowerison
from: From Paleolith to Motor Car; or Heacham Tales
1906

Inito's Axe

I WANT, in this story, to take you back about ten thousand years. We will stand on what is now Heacham Recreation Ground, and look around us.

Dotted all over the sandy earth, which was covered with sparse grass and occasional clumps of gorse, were round, bee-hive huts. In one place a man and woman were making one. First of all they laid down, in a ring about twelve feet across, a number of large flints, leaving a narrow opening as a doorway. Then they picked up the earth with a deer-horn pick, and threw it out over the ring of stones with shovels made of the blade-bones of oxen.

When the hole was about three feet deep, the ring of stones outside was covered with earth, and they fixed poles in this to hold it up, and bent the poles together above to meet over the center of the circle. When the bottom of the hole was paved with flints, and the poles above wattled with willows and plastered with mud, the hut was finished.

Larger huts could be seen which were respectively for young men and young women; and near the centre of the very straggling village, in a big hut, higher than the rest, lived the Head-man or Chief.

He sat at his door on a shaggy bearskin, and looked down the slope to where now stands our village; but all he saw was marsh and tall reeds, from which came the calls of wild geese and ducks. He was an old man with a long wrinkled face. His eyes were not unkind, but they were keen and bright, and flashed almost fiercely as h rose to his feet and grasped his war-spear. Yet he was thinking not of war but of the chase, and turning round he spoke into the hut:

"Inito! gather the folk together."

A slim but well formed lad of perhaps sixteen years came out at once. His face was dark of skin, and his hair and eyes were black. He only paused to raise his hand in salute, and ran at once from hut to hut calling at each door: "The chief bids ye come together." Very soon all the men of the village, clad mostly in skins, with necklaces of the teeth and claws of bears, wolves and boars, and bits of rough amber and jet, stood in a circle round the chief, the women standing further off, yet curious to learn what was going to happen.

"We lack meat," said the chief, "is it not so?" The hunters nodded and grunted a yes. "To-morrow, then, at sunrise, we hunt the seal. Go ye and prepare." And the tribe, accustomed to obey the chief, dispersed to their huts and began to bring out into the sunlight rude stone axes hafted in wood, and arrows and spears tipped with flint. These they sharpened; some by rubbing on a flat stone, and some by chipping off tiny flakes from the blunted edges by pressure.

While thus employed, women, wearing only an apron of skin and necklaces, were feeding a fire in an open place in the village, and soon a big stag, the last of their meat, was swung over the fire by a thong from a bending pole. The stag had been skinned, cleaned, and had its head cut off, and as it swung over the hot, red-and-white embers of the fire, a woman touched it with a pole and kept it swinging sound.

Presently it was cooked sufficiently, and the pole was lowered so that the roasted carcase swung clear of the fire. Then the chief came forward and cut off a portion of meat for himself with a flint knife, and the other men came in their turn according to their rank and did the same. Each man then sat down and ate his portion, while the women waited behind till their lords had finished.

When all had eaten, and the women and hungry children had picked the bones, and even broken them to scoop out the marrow with rude wooden spoons, the sun was setting across the sea-marshes and all went into the huts and slept. No sentinels were placed, as the marsh and forest protected the encampment.

Before sunrise next morning the boy Inito stepped from the chief's hut, and blew a loud blast on a big ox horn that hung on the door. At the sound all the hunters came pouring out of their huts, carrying their weapons in their hands and slung at their belts. The chief looked over them, and then strode into the marsh, where a rude causeway of logs led to a basin of water about two feet deep, on which floated several canoes, dug out, with fire and flint axe, from the straight trunks of trees. Into these the hunters sprang, seized each his paddle, and swung the vessels down the narrow winding water-way that led to the river.

Arrived here, the biggest boat, in the bow of which the chief sat, came to the front. Inito was seated at his feet, holding a hafted stone axe, a heavy wooden club and a spear. He smiled up in the old man's face as the sun shone out; and the chief, on his part, smiled back and patted the lad's head.

Inito was not of the tribe. Some years before, on a hunting expedition, they had come across a clearing where a chief was being buried by another tribe.

Three huge slabs of chalk had been raised on end and a fourth laid flat on the top. Into the little room or cist so formed, the body was put in a sitting position, with the knees drawn up to the chin. Then the brother of the dead man came forward and laid a fine flint axe on the knees of the corpse. After that came others with more weapons and laid them in the cist. Lastly the dead man's brother again came forward leading Inito, his nephew, and son of the late chief. The uncle swung a war axe up, and the next moment it would have descended on the boy's head, had not an arrow hissed through the air and sunk deep in the heart of his intending slayer. The man swayed and fell forward on his face against the stones; and the tribe, amazed and terrified, ran for the shelter of the woods, leaving the frightened boy trembling by the dead bodies.

It was Inito's present friend who had sped that arrow, and when the tribesmen fled it was he who came up to the boy, took him by the hand, and led him gently away.

Afterwards his kinsmen came back, put the dead man beside his brother, and raised a huge mound of earth many feet long over the cist. It ran east and west, and was highest and broadest at the eastern end over the place of burial. Nine such mounds you can see to-day close by Manor Farm, and I believe these to be burial mounds or 'barrows.'

Since then Inito had lived in the chief's hut, his willing slave and comrade, and to-day was going with the seal hunters out to sea.

The canoes reached the bar, or shallow part at the mouth of the river, at full tide, and so got over it easily. Then they paddled straight to sea. On the sands along the shore several seals were lying, but they waddled down to the river and disappeared.

The boats sped on till they reached a tiny sand-spit, showing above the water far out at sea, and here they were anchored by big stones, and the men waded ashore. They sat for some time on the sand till the tide had ebbed sufficiently, and then set to work just over the ridge to dig shallow pits. Here every man laid himself down, and covered himself with sand, leaving only a breathing and seeing hole.

Presently the grey, whiskered head of an old seal appeared. He swam up to the canoes and sniffed at them from the surf. Then he raised himself on his fore flippers and dragged his hinder parts up to them, repeating the process till he had passed the canoes and was lying near the ridge behind which the men were hidden. The hunters lay still and made no sound, and seal after seal made its appearance and lumbered up the slope; till, little and big, there were sixty of them basking in the sun.

Suddenly the chief raised his spear, and every man leapt from his hiding place, and, armed with a club, ran straight at the seals. Some of the older animals showed fight, rising to their fullest height and snapping with their teeth, barking and growling savagely; but most of them flipped heavily down to the sea, only to be overtaken and knocked over by the clubs. The dead bodies were quickly thrown into the canoes; and then, with shouts of laughter, the hunters paddled away.

Getting back was a more difficult matter than going out; and once the men had to wade and drag the laden boats over a shallow, but at last they were all moored at the landing place, and the women and children came down to help carry the seals to the village. The whole tribe at once set to work to cut the animals up, the men skinning with flint knives, and the women and children scraping the skins with flint scrapers as soon as they were handed to them. When they were quite clean of every bit of fat, they were thrown over poles to dry. Afterwards they would be beaten with sticks and rolled and kneaded till they were soft and pliable, and could be used for clothing or rugs.

When all the seals had been skinned and cleaned, the dogs were allowed to eat the offal, which they did, snapping and barking at each other till they were gorged, when they slunk off to sleep.

Meanwhile the women had been carrying rude vessels of dark baked clay to the fire. They dared not place them on the ashes for fear they broke, but they put them near and then partly filled them with water. Next they took flint stones, and dropped them into the fire at the edge. When they were red hot they deftly lifted them out with sticks and placed them gently in the pots. As soon as the water began to boil they took tit-bits like the tongues of the seals and put them in the water, keeping it boiling by dropping in more "pot-boilers" as these stones were called. As the hot stones met the water they cracked and chipped, and some of the chips fell on the meat, but Neolithic man did not trouble much about quality if quantity was sufficient. Soon the tribe was again feasting, and they ate much as the dogs ate, till they were full, and then went to the huts to sleep.

When all was quiet in the village, Inito crept quietly out of the chiefs hut and up to the fire. Out of a pouch of otter's hide that was slung at his belt he took a big pebble of flint, and held it up to the light. He examined it carefully and laughed softly to himself. Far and near had he sought such a stone; and to-day, when the new hut was made, it had been thrown out with the earth.

Along with it, among the stones he picked up the axe which Coo had once used. Her father had lost it on one of his hunts. This too he carefully saved, to re-chip and sharpen for future use.

About twelve miles to the south, where now is Massingham Heath, a tribe lived who mined for flint, making shafts many feet deep till they reached in the chalk a thin band of solid flint. This they broke up, and lifted the pieces up the shafts from one platform to another, these platforms being left for the purpose. Such flint as this, fresh from the earth, flaked better than the flint pebbles that Inito's present tribe were content to use. He had journeyed through the forests to the heath, and bartered skins for a block of the virgin flint, bill had not been satisfied with the colour when he had flaked it.

He wanted an axe and an arrow-head. His father used to have a polished axe, flaked and chipped and then rubbed down to a smooth surface on a hard stone; and he had had an arrow-head, a wonder of rippled chipping, which men handled carefully as now one handles a perfectly cut gem. Only chiefs could afford such weapons, and even then they were only brought out on state occasions, and not used in war or hunting. At a later period they became more common, but in Inito's time they were very rare, so he wished to make and give them to the kind old man who had saved his life. The light of the fire, however, was not enough to work by, so he crept into the hut again and snuggled down into his skin rug and slept.

With the earliest dawn he was up and away into the forest some distance from the camp, stopping only where the cattle were penned, to milk one of the cows into a little jug. He drank: the milk, filled the jug again, and went on. Presently he sat down at the foot of an oak, and took from his bag his flint chisel, and a hammer stone. He threw back his skin coat, looked at the flint carefully, put it between his naked knees and held it there firmly. Then he took his chisel, put the cutting edge on the flint, and with one smart blow flaked off a piece large enough for the arrow-head. Successive blows, given very carefully, roughed out the rude shape of the axe. It was slow work, because he did not want to spoil his stone, and every blow had to be long thought out before it was given; a false stroke would have ruined the shape. So when the shades of evening fell he gathered carefully up the flakes that looked like making good knives or scrapers, put them, together with his axe and arrow-shapes, into a hole in the root of the oak, and set off for the village.

He was just in time for the evening meal of fishy tasting seal-flesh and cows' milk, but he ate hungrily and slept well.

For some days he flaked with hammer and chisel at his weapons, and then he laid the axe aside — the polishing could wait — while he chipped his arrowhead.

This chipping, the finer work, was not done with the hammer and chisel. He took the flint between the finger and thumb of one hand; and with a bone, scraped and polished to a fine point, in the other, he pressed the point against the edge of the arrow till a delicate chip flew off. If the flaking was careful work, this was much more so. The least want of skill or care would have spoilt the weapon. But Inito had done much work of this kind, and his hand and eye did not fail him. Slowly he worked up one side of the arrow, from the point to the barb and from the barb to the tang that was to be secured in the shaft.

Daily he toiled at it, working only in full sunlight; and when finger and thumb were numbed with holding, he would take out the axe-head and polish it with water and sand on the flat surface of a basalt block such as to-day stands on our village green.

At last, after many days of careful work, both axe and arrow were finished. They were beautiful things, and Inito was proud of them. The stone itself was of a fine colour, a pale brown clouded and spotted with cream. The axe was broad towards the cutting edge, and tapered to a point towards the other, which was fitted into a socket of deer-horn, and this again into the wooden shaft. The arrow-head was even finer than the axe, the "ripples" of the chipping making play of light and shade on the even brown of its colour. Imito fitted it into a straight shaft of fine grained oak, sawn to length with a flint saw, and rounded by scraping with a hollow scraper. He bound the tang with a fine cord tightly into a notch sawn in the end of the shaft, and then winged the other end with bright green feathers from a kingfisher's tail.

He took his bow with him on the day when he was to finish the arrow, and after admiring his work and balancing the weapons in his hands, he thrust the axe into his belt and fitted the arrow to the string. He drew lightly and let the arrow fly right above his head, delighted to see it curve round and drop plumb into the grass near his feet. Then, entirely satisfied with his work, he dropped the arrow into his quiver of skin and set off for home.

He had not gone far when be began to hear through the trees a confused noise, in which he distinguished the barking of dogs, the lowing of cattle, the shrieks of women and children, and the angry shouts of men. Then Inito put his head forward, as the swift runner does, and ran. Louder and louder grew the noise as he drew near, and just at the wicker gate of the village he had to leap over the body of one of his playmates, dead, with a spear wound in his breast from which the blood was welling.

Some of the huts were on fire. Women were dashing madly off into the marshes carrying their children. The cows were rushing here and there, trying to break down the rails of their pen. The dead and dying lay, singly or in groups, all over, the village; and groups of men were still fighting in the spaces before the huts. Some fought with spear and axe, striking and dodging and feinting and parrying and leaping aside; and some had thrown away or broken their weapons, and were wrestling together and tearing with teeth and nails at each others throats.

The old chief had been very busy in the grim game. Five of the stranger tribe who had attacked the village lay dead in front of him, but two were still left, and one ran round a hut to take him from behind. The old warrior was sore wounded. From a big gash on his brow the blood ran into his eyes, and his left arm was broken and hung limply by his side.

Inito saw nothing else. His protector, his friend, was in danger. He fitted his gift-arrow to his bow again, and ran with all his might. Then he stopped suddenly, as the stranger crept from behind the hut, and drawing his bow almost at a venture the keen arrow whizzed off as the bow string twanged, and struck the man full in the throat. He pitched forward heavily on his face, bringing his raised axe down on the chief's shoulder as lie did so. The old man trembled, dizzy and weak with the loss of blood, swayed to one side, and sank to the ground.

His other assailant had looked round when the arrow sang through the air, and in that instant Inito had gained many feet; and taking a disc-shaped throwing-stone from his pouch he hurled it, without stopping, at his enemy's face, and closed on him, drawing his axe as he did so. The stone struck full between the eyes and splintered the bone, and before he had steadied himself Inito's axe swung whistling round and half buried itself in the man's skull. He fell, and the boy set his bare foot on the bloody head and wrenched at the axe. It was too firmly imbedded, however, to come easily away; so, taking both hands, Inito wrenched again — and broke the axe across.

All around the battle yet raged fiercely, but Inito dropped on his knees beside the chief and pillowed the bleeding head on his shoulder. The old man opened his dim eyes, saw the boy and smiled. Then he said, brokenly, and with effort:

"Go, my son. Leave me. Fight."

And Inito wanted him to say just this. His eyes were blazing with fierce hate of the invaders; so calling a woman who was shrieking over the dead body of her husband, Inito bade her see to the chief, and ran to join the fray,

He burst between the first couple he came to. Both were tired and both were fighting warily. Inito thrust his own tribesman aside, and rushed like a wild cat at the enemy. The man had no chance. He was worn with toil, and long past his prime, and the boy was fresh and eager, and burning with the lust to kill and revenge his friend. Moreover, although he had never been in a battle until now, he had followed the tribe for years on their hunting expeditions, and had prepared himself by running, leaping, swimming, wrestling, throwing the stone and the spear, and shooting with the bow, to play a man's part when his call came.

It had come now, and Inito rushed in and slew his man. Disregarding the club that his enemy swung, he closed on him swiftly, flung his arms around him, lifted him clear off the ground, swung him round, and threw him heavily. Before he could recover Inito kicked him fiercely under the chin. There was a sickening little "crick" and the neck was broken, and Inito sprang away to kill more of his hated foes.

The village men were hard pushed. The onset of the invaders had been sudden and fierce, and it came on them when tired after a long day's hunt. Many of them fell in the first rush, before they could lay hand to weapon, and when the chief fell their main hope fell with him. But Inito's coming changed the fortunes of the fight. He ran, and struck as he ran, never pausing to parry, and as he fought he had but one thought and one cry: "Kill! Kill!"

Slowly the strangers retreated in the direction of the marsh, pushed back by the men who were fighting for their home; and the tired got new strength, and the wounded forgot their pain, in watching Inito's prowess.

At last the enemy were reduced to one little band, who, finding the causeway leading to the canoes behind them, turned round and ran. Inito was in front of his tribesmen, and he bounded forward and cut down the hindmost of their foes even as he was in the act of turning. He left him and ran on, and as soon as he overtook he struck; till, when they reached the canoes, only one was left, and he the tallest and strongest of the invaders.

This man was wary and agile. Suddenly he turned and threw himself at Imito's feet. The boy struck with his broken axe and missed; could not stay himself; and stumbled over his foe's prostrate body and over the edge of the little wharf into the water.

The fight was to be an equal one, for Inito's fellows were lagging behind, killing those whom he had stunned. As soon as his foe had risen the boy had sprung from the water; and heeding nothing, fearing nothing, he rushed madly in. But the water trickled into his eye and partly blinded him; and the warrior stepped quickly aside, swung round his axe is he did so, and broke the boy's arm as he dashed past.

The pain sobered Inito. He had been drunk with rage. He turned again and faced his man and looked at him. He was taller than the lad, taller in fact than any man Inito had ever seen. He wore a feather in his hair, and a cloak of woven stuff that was new to the boy. His own tribe had no sheep and did not weave cloth. The man's axe too was a splendid weapon of greenish stone, polished till it flashed in the red light of the last sun-rays. Evidently he was a chief.

Inito would kill him. He could think of nothing else. Even if he lost his own life, this hated foe, who had led his band of murderers on their peaceful village, should die. He would make sure of it at any cost. He rushed in again, and again the warrior stepped aside and swung his axe; but this time Inito was ready, and swerving aside he dropped his club, grasped the warrior's hair and bore him back into the water. Springing up, the boy grasped a stake, sharpened with axe and fire to be used as a smaller pile in building a new wharf; and as the man rose from the water, the sharp point, driven with all the force that rage and hate could give, met his breast, and he sank into the mud and was transfixed there, just as Inito's fellow tribesmen came yelling into view.

They led the boy with all honour back to the village, and he went at once to his wounded chief.

The blood had been washed from the old man's face, but he was very pale and lay quite still. Inito knelt by him and put his unwounded arm round his neck; and at the familiar touch he opened his eyes and smiled again; but his eyes were dim, and he felt with a weak, groping hand for the boy's face.

"It is I, Inito, my chief and my father, speak to me," moaned the boy.

"I have fought my last battle," said the old man in a weak, hoarse voce. "I fight no more. I speak no more. I die. Call hither the tribe."

What was left of it was there already, most of them wounded, but there by their chief to see the end.

The old man raised himself painfully on his elbow and looked round: "I leave ye, my children. It grows dark. I see ye no more. Whom will be that I name as chief? It is the custom of our tribe."

One word came from every mouth "Inito."

The chief smiled: "Ye have chosen even as I would have chosen for you. Ye have done well."

He sank wearily on the boy's breast, and tender hands carried him into his hut and laid him softly down. Then the tribe dispersed to the task of carrying away the bodies of their enemies. These they simply flung into the marsh in an out-of-the-way place. At night the wolves came and devoured them, and one old wolf tore off the head in which stuck the broken half of Inito's axe, and carried it away snarling. He stopped and had his grisly feed just near where our house is now. The skull had long ago rotted away; but flint is very durable, and that is why we dug the axe up when we made our first botanic garden.

Near midnight all was quiet. A bright moon shone in a cloudless sky; and Inito, with his arm bound up, sat near his dying friend. The skin curtain that formed the door was drawn aside, and the moon filled the hot with a weird, uncertain light. The sea could be heard very faintly washing on the pebbles a mile away. The tide was just on ebb.

"Inito!" the old man whispered, and the lad put his ear down to catch the words. "I have tried to be a father to my people. Thou art young. I need not say 'Be brave.' Be just and gentle. We — may — meet — again, in the Happy-After-World. I — will — ask — how — thou — hast — kept — thy trust,"

And, turning his face to the wall, he passed away with the ebbing tide.