Cosmopolitan Magazine
43.3 (July 1907): 327-29.

The Cave Boy

by William MacLeod Raine

Wearied with yesterday's long hunt, the Cave Boy slept till the sun crept in and shook slumber from his eyes. He had followed far into the Hill Country before making his kill, and had plodded back with the dead buck on his shoulders. Night's myriad stars had been out ere he had finished gorging himself and crawled into his hole. Wherefore he had slept far beyond his usual time before he flung aside the thick brush that filled the mouth of his cave and stepped out for his morning bath of sun-beat.

He was a beautiful young animal in the prime of adolescence. Straight as a willow wand, with rippling muscles flowing free, he stood lithely graceful, an untamed Apollo of the primeval wilderness. The rich young world he inhabited could have found no more perfect representative than [328] this splendid embodiment of the fit survival. The sun-tan of a long summer had left him a berry-brown from head to heel save where the wolfskin girded his loins. As alert, as keen, as the free forest creatures around him, he was every whit as wild. Only this differentiated him from them: he was their master because through many generations of vanished ancestors he had struggled into the possession of that strange power which dimly grappled with the eternal Why.

With a cry of delight he bounded down the path to the gleaming river. Flinging aside his loin-skin the youth plunged into the cool stream. Long he buffeted the current in the sheer lust of battle, flinging the waves from him forcefully as he shot through the water. At last, sated with the joy of his swim, he lay down in the warm sand that the sun might dry his lean nude body. Presently he went back up the path and set himself methodically to prepare his morning meal. With infinite patience he ran a blunt-pointed stick along a groove of its own making in another stick, moving it to and fro so swiftly the eye could scarce follow. From the dry leaves and tiny twigs which he had gathered a thin flame soon crept into a roaring fire supplied with fuel of larger branches. Into this he rolled some large stones to heat, meanwhile half filling a skin-lined hollow with water and a long strip of venison. When the stones were at a red heat he put them one after another into the water until it boiled. This operation he repeated again and again. When he judged the meat sufficiently cooked, he ate a prodigious quantity of it, seasoning it with berries and washing it down with water.

Carefully he put out his fire, lest some wanderer might discover his cave and appropriate its treasures. He then sallied forth for the adventures of the day, carrying his sling, his pointed stone dagger, and his knotted club.

It was neither the snapping of a twig nor the rustle of bushes that brought him to a sudden halt with ears pricked. No sound had broken the vague stirring of the forest life, but his instinct for danger had warned him of an intruder. He glided behind a tree and waited, his sling poised, his club clutched tightly.

Presently there debouched into the open grove from the denser woods beyond a young savage and his mate. He was a hill man, broad of shoulder, deep of chest, ferocious of aspect. His gnarled mace was not more knotted than the swelling muscles that leaped under the leathery skin. The breadth of his massive trunk, the length of his great arms, told of brutal power.

Lower crouched the Cave Boy to escape the eye of his formidable enemy. His intent gaze followed the approach of the hill-dwellers, who were manifestly on their way to the river to fish. The woman walked behind her master carrying a rough woven basket thonged to her shoulders. She was very young, but as beautiful in her unfettered grace as he was terrible in his barbaric strength.

Since the hill-dwellers had killed his parents a half-score years before, the Cave Boy had fought for his own hand against a world inexorably intent on crushing the weak. His every thought had been to survive, to evade the menace of his environment, to kill rather than be killed. But now a new emotion surged up in him. The mating instinct, the desire of possession, leaped full-armed to life. His young blood spun with the fierce exaltation of his passion. Swiftly he stepped out into the pathway and confronted the Hill Man, a tacit challenge to keep his own if he could. The Hill Man understood and accepted without question. He gave a roar that echoed through the forest, and stopped to await the onset.

Despite the Cave Boy's sinewy grace of form and catlike agility, the battle looked too unequal for the issue to lie long in doubt. He was still but a youth, his muscles not yet hardened to flexible steel, his power still immature; whereas his gigantic opponent was of gorilla strength.

Lightning-like the Cave Boy freighted and flung his missiles. Once, twice, thrice he scored, then tossed aside the sling and bounded lightly forward to catch the foe in the pain of his bleeding blindness. With a bellow of rage the Hill Man sprang to meet him. His mace whirled and crashed down, but his agile opponent leaped aside and, almost at the same instant, forward and back. On the giant's forehead, where the stone bound in the end of the Cave Boy's club had struck, a purple splash showed angrily. Like a wild bull the Hill Man charged, thrashing fiercely in his rage at the alert dodging figure that flashed in and out with unerring precision.

Dazed by the shower of blows that fell on [329] him, the Hill Man filled the wilderness with his hoarse cries of mad anger. In his rage he was like a trapped wild beast fighting for freedom without hope or direction. Once indeed his descending club caught the other a glancing blow and hurled him to the ground. But the Cave Boy was up and away before he could follow, ducking here and there from the terrible sweeping blows, with the reeling instinct for self-preservation, until the dizziness had left him. Then he harassed the Hill Man mercilessly, tempting him to futile rushes and striking home once and again. The great figure swayed like a pillar about to fall, but his vigilant enemy would risk nothing by a too rash coup.

With narrowed eyes the Cave Boy crept forward toward the blinded bleeding thing he had at bay. The Hill Man struck, stumbled, and went down. Panther-like the Cave Boy leaped. His dagger flashed and pinned the cry in the Hill Man's throat. For a few heart-beats the dagger worked as regularly as a piston-rod. When the Cave Boy rose his enemy was dead.

He looked down at the inanimate thing that had been but a few minutes ago so full of lusty life, and a wave of exultation flooded him. He had made his first kill of his own kind, made it in fair fight against odds. He was no longer a cave boy but the Cave Man. His proud glance swept the grove triumphantly and fell with a shock of surprise on the forgotten woman.

She was watching him with fascinated fearful eyes out of which looked a defiant shyness that knew him for her master but would not recognize it. She was his to do with as he pleased, this slim sweet creature of lithe rounded curves and soft dimpled cheeks. Since he had won her in fight, she was his slave. The intoxication of it mounted to his brain.

But he did not speak nor move toward her. He had to adjust himself to this new sense of ownership, for he had no idea what manner of animal Woman might be. Without curiosity his wild life had known her only at a distance. She was to fetch and carry, to bear burdens and to perpetuate the species. So much he knew; no more. And now in a moment he found himself the mate of this dusky, sullen, wholly adorable daughter of Eve, at whom he looked and was swept by a new sweet emotion altogether out of his ken.

Gravely he took in the physical attributes of his new possession. Though she filled him with an indescribable joy, he was yet almost as afraid of her as she was of him.

And she was quick to see it. When, daring greatly, he took up wonderingly one of the heavy strands of roped hair that hung down her back far past her hips, her strong white teeth flashed and almost met in the fleshy part of his upper arm. She was off at once like a deer, running free and strong up the trail toward the hills. He leaped after her with the swift tigerish lope of the forest, snatching up a broken grape-vine of convenient length as he ran. He thought her splendid, superb, in the blaze of her anger. But he knew what to do now, and he was ready to do it with the more passion because he loved her.

She led him a long chase, for he was weary and wounded with the marks of a desperate battle. But he ran her down at last, and she turned on him in panting fury. He lashed her with the grape-vine, the while she fought back with all her healthy young animal vigor. But he was the stronger, and of a sudden she fell still, taking her punishment with set teeth till she could endure no more in silence. With a cry of submission she fell quivering at his feet, beseeching him to beat her no more.

He lifted her, and she stood before him with downcast eyes. Plainer than words, her attitude – the drooping head, the flame of color in her soft tanned cheeks, the sweet indescribable shyness of her pose – accepted the new relationship, told him that she was his, and asked him to be good to her.

His nostrils whiffed a faint savor of sweetness from her, and he turned abruptly away with a gesture that bade her follow. She plodded after him in a silence that endured hour after hour till the shadows of evening fell. He was stiff and lame from his wounds, but he marched buoyantly with his face to the stars, thanking all his pagan gods for the love of woman.

Presently he knew without turning that she was beginning to lag, and, still in silence, he accommodated his pace to hers. Later, when the wolves howled in the jungle bordering the trail, she crept close to his heels. He slipped back a step or two and his fingers groped in the darkness till they found her little brown fist and closed on it. With the contact there pulsed through him a glow of divine content that was not passion. So hand in hand they went down the path that led to his cave by the river bank.

transcribed by Benedict Jones
March 2006