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Title: The First Horseman
Author: H. G. Wells
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0603061.txt
Edition: 1
Language: English
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Date first posted: July 2006
Date most recently updated: July 2006

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The First Horseman.
H.G. Wells

Now, in the days when Ugh-lomi killed the great cave bear there was
little trouble between the horses and men. Indeed, they lived apart--
the men in the river swamps and thickets, the horses on the wide
grassy uplands between the chestnuts and the pines. Sometimes a pony
would come straying into the clogging marshes to make a flint-hacked
meal, and sometimes the tribe would find one, the kill of a lion, and
drive off the jackals, and feast heartily while the sun was high.
These horses of the old time were clumsy at the fetlock and dun-coloured,
with a rough tail and big head. They came every spring-time
north-westward into the country, after the swallows and before the
hippopotami, as the grass on the wide downland stretches grew long.
They came only in small bodies thus far, each herd, a stallion and two
or three mares and a foal or so, having its own stretch of country,
and they went again when the chestnut trees were yellow and the wolves
came down the Wealden mountains.

It was their custom to graze right out in the open, going into cover
only in the heat of the day. They avoided the long stretches of thorn
and beechwood, preferring an isolated group of trees, void of
ambuscade, so that it was hard to come upon them. They were never
fighters; their heels and teeth were for one another, but in the clear
country, once they were started, no living thing came near them,
though perhaps the elephant might have done so, had he felt the need.
And in those days man seemed a harmless thing enough. No whisper of
prophetic intelligence told the species of the terrible slavery that
was to come, of the whip and spur and bearing-rein, the clumsy load
and the slippery street, the insufficient food, and the knacker's
yard, that was to replace the wide grass-land and the freedom of the

Down in the Wey marshes Ugh-lomi and Eudena had never seen the horses
closely, but now they saw them every day as the two of them raided out
from their lair on the ledge in the gorge, raiding together in search
of food. They had returned to the ledge after the killing of Andoo;
for of the she-bear they were not afraid. The she-bear had become
afraid of them, and when she winded them she went aside. The two went
together everywhere; for since they had left the tribe Eudena was not
so much Ugh-lomi's woman as his mate; she learnt to hunt even--as
much, that is, as any woman could. She was indeed a marvellous woman.
He would lie for hours watching a beast, or planning catches in that
shock head of his, and she would stay beside him, with her bright eyes
upon him, offering no irritating suggestions--as still as any man. A
wonderful woman!

At the top of the cliff was an open grassy lawn and then beechwoods,
and going through the beechwoods one came to the edge of the rolling
grassy expanse, and in sight of the horses. Here, on the edge of the
wood and bracken, were the rabbit-burrows, and here among the fronds
Eudena and Ugh-lomi would lie with their throwing-stones ready, until
the little people came out to nibble and play in the sunset. And while
Eudena would sit, a silent figure of watchfulness, regarding the
burrows, Ugh-lomi's eyes were ever away across the greensward at those
wonderful grazing strangers.

In a dim way he appreciated their grace and their supple nimbleness.
As the sun declined in the evening-time, and the heat of the day
passed, they would become active, would start chasing one another,
neighing, dodging, shaking their manes, coming round in great curves,
sometimes so close that the pounding of the turf sounded like hurried
thunder. It looked so fine that Ugh-lomi wanted to join in badly. And
sometimes one would roll over on the turf, kicking four hoofs
heavenward, which seemed formidable and was certainly much less

Dim imaginings ran through Ugh-lomi's mind as he watched--by virtue of
which two rabbits lived the longer. And sleeping, his brains were
clearer and bolder--for that was the way in those days. He came near
the horses, he dreamt, and fought, smiting stone against hoof, but
then the horses changed to men, or, at least, to men with horses'
heads, and he awoke in a cold sweat of terror.

Yet the next day in the morning, as the horses were grazing, one of
the mares whinnied, and they saw Ugh-lomi coming up the wind. They all
stopped their eating and watched him. Ugh-lomi was not coming towards
them, but strolling obliquely across the open, looking at anything in
the world but horses. He had stuck three fern-fronds into the mat of
his hair, giving him a remarkable appearance, and he walked very
slowly. "What's up now?" said the Master Horse, who was capable, but

"It looks more like the first half of an animal than anything else in
the world," he said. "Fore-legs and no hind."

"It's only one of those pink monkey things," said the Eldest Mare.
"They're a sort of river monkey. They're quite common on the plains."

Ugh-lomi continued his oblique advance. The Eldest Mare was struck
with the want of motive in his proceedings.

"Fool!" said the Eldest Mare, in a quick conclusive way she had. She
resumed her grazing. The Master Horse and the Second Mare followed

"Look! he's nearer," said the Foal with a stripe.

One of the younger foals made uneasy movements. Ugh-lomi squatted down
and sat regarding the horses fixedly. In a little while he was
satisfied that they meant neither flight nor hostilities. He began to
consider his next procedure. He did not feel anxious to kill, but he
had his axe with him, and the spirit of sport was upon him. How would
one kill one of these creatures?--these great beautiful creatures!

Eudena, watching him with a fearful admiration from the cover of the
bracken, saw him presently go on all fours, and so proceed again. But
the horses preferred him a biped to a quadruped, and the Master Horse
threw up his head and gave the word to move. Ugh-lomi thought they
were off for good, but after a minute's gallop they came round in a
wide curve, and stood winding him. Then, as a rise in the ground hid
him they tailed out, the Master Horse leading and approached him

He was as ignorant of the possibilities of a horse as they were of
his. And at this stage it would seem he funked. He knew this kind of
stalking would make red deer or buffalo charge, if it was persisted
in. At any rate Eudena saw him jump up and come walking towards her
with the fern plumes held in his hand.

She stood up, and he grinned to show that the whole thing was an
immense lark, and that what he had done was just what he had planned
to do from the very beginning. So that incident ended. But he was very
thoughtful all that day.

The next day this foolish drab creature with the leonine mane, instead
of going about the grazing or hunting he was made for, was prowling
round the horses again. The Eldest Mare was all for silent contempt.
"I suppose he wants to learn something from us," she said, and "Let
him." The next day he was at it again. The Master Horse decided he
meant absolutely nothing. But as a matter of fact, Ugh-lomi, the first
of men to feel that curious spell of the horse that binds us even to
this day, meant a great deal. He admired them unreservedly. There was
a rudiment of the snob in him, I am afraid, and he wanted to be near
these beautifully-curved animals. Then here were vague conceptions of
a kill. If only they would let him come near them! But they drew the
line, he found, at fifty yards. If he came nearer than that they moved
off--with dignity. I suppose it was the way he had blinded Andoo that
made him think of leaping on the back of one of them. But though
Eudena after a time came out in the open too, and they did some
unobtrusive stalking, things stopped there.

Then one memorable day a new idea came to Ugh-lomi. The horse looks
down and level, but he does not look up. No animals look up--they have
too much common-sense. It was only that fantastic creature, man, could
waste his wits sky-ward. Ugh-lomi made no philosophical deductions,
but he perceived the thing was so. So he spent a weary day in a beech
that stood in the open, while Eudena stalked. Usually the horses went
into the shade in the heat of the afternoon, but that day the sky was
overcast, and they would not, in spite of Eudena's solicitude.

It was two days after that that Ugh-lomi had his desire. The day was
blazing hot, and the multiplying flies asserted themselves. The horses
stopped grazing before mid-day, and came into the shadow below him,
and stood in couples nose to tail, flapping.

The Master Horse, by virtue of his heels, came closest to the tree.
And suddenly there was a rustle and a creak, a thud. . . . Then a
sharp chipped flint bit him on the cheek. The Master Horse stumbled,
came on one knee, rose to his feet, and was off like the wind. The air
was full of the whirl of limbs, the prance of hoofs, and snorts of
alarm. Ugh-lomi was pitched a foot in the air, came down again, up
again, his stomach was hit violently, and then his knees got a grip of
something between them. He found himself clutching with knees, feet,
and hands, careering violently with extraordinary oscillation through
the air--his axe gone heaven knows whither. "Hold tight," said Mother
Instinct, and he did.

He was aware of a lot of coarse hair in his face, some of it between
his teeth, and of green turf streaming past in front of his eyes. He
saw the shoulder of the Master Horse, vast and sleek, with the muscles
flowing swiftly under the skin. He perceived that his arms were round
the neck, and that the violent jerkings he experienced had a sort of

Then he was in the midst of a wild rush of tree-stems, and then there
were fronds of bracken about, and then more open turf. Then a stream
of pebbles rushing past, little pebbles flying side-ways athwart the
stream from the blow of the swift hoofs. Ugh-lomi began to feel
frightfully sick and giddy, but he was not the stuff to leave go
simply because he was uncomfortable.

He dared not leave his grip, but he tried to make himself more
comfortable. He released his hug on the neck, gripping the mane
instead. He slipped his knees forward, and pushing back, came into a
sitting position where the quarters broaden.

It was nervous work, but he managed it, and at last he was fairly
seated astride, breathless indeed, and uncertain, but with that
frightful pounding of his body at any rate relieved.

Slowly the fragments of Ugh-lomi's mind got into order again. The pace
seemed to him terrific, but a kind of exultation was beginning to oust
his first frantic terror. The air rushed by, sweet and wonderful, the
rhythm of the hoofs changed and broke up and returned into itself
again. They were on turf now, a wide glade--the beech-trees a hundred
yards away on either side, and a succulent band of green starred with
pink blossom and shot with silver water here and there, meandered down
the middle. Far off was a glimpse of blue valley--far away. The
exultation grew. It was man's first taste of pace.

Then came a wide space dappled with flying fallow deer scattering this
way and that, and then a couple of jackals, mistaking Ugh-lomi for a
lion, came hurrying after him. And when they saw it was not a lion
they still came on out of curiosity. On galloped the horse, with his
one idea of escape, and after him the jackals, with pricked ears and
quickly barked remarks. "Which kills which?" said the first jackal.
"It's the horse being killed," said the second. They gave the howl of
following, and the horse answered to it as a horse answers nowadays to
the spur.

On they rushed, a little tornado through the quiet day, putting up
startled birds, sending a dozen unexpected things darting to cover,
raising a myriad of indignant dung-flies, smashing little blossoms,
flowering complacently, back into their parental turf. Trees again,
and then splash, splash across a torrent; then a hare shot out of a
tuft of grass under the very hoofs of the Master Horse, and the
jackals left them incontinently. So presently they broke into the open
again, a wide expanse of turfy hillside--the very fellow of the grassy
downs that fall northward nowadays from the Epsom Stand.

The first hot bolt of the Master Horse was long since over. He was
falling into a measured trot, and Ugh-lomi, albeit bruised exceedingly
and quite uncertain of the future, was in a state of glorious
enjoyment. And now came a new development. The pace broke again, the
Master Horse came round on a short curve, and stopped dead. . . .

Ugh-lomi became alert. He wished he had a flint, but the throwing
flint he had carried in a thong about his waist was--like the axe--
heaven knows where. The Master Horse turned his head, and Ugh-lomi
became aware of an eye and teeth. He whipped his leg into a position
of security, and hit at the cheek with his fist. Then the head went
down somewhere out of existence apparently, and the back he was
sitting on flew up into a dome. Ugh-lomi became a thing of instinct
again--strictly prehensile; he held by knees and feet, and his head
seemed sliding towards the turf. His fingers were twisted into the
shock of mane, and the rough hair of the horse saved him. The gradient
he was on lowered again, and then--"Whup!" said Ugh-lomi astonished,
and the slant was the other way up. But Ugh-lomi was a thousand
generations nearer the primordial than man: no monkey could have held
on better. And the lion had been training the horse for countless
generations against the tactics of rolling and rearing back. But he
kicked like a master, and buck-jumped rather neatly. In five minutes
Ugh-lomi lived a lifetime. If he came off the horse would kill him, he
felt assured.

Then the Master Horse decided to stick to his old tactics again, and
suddenly went off at a gallop. He headed down the slope, taking the
steep places at a rush, swerving neither to the right nor to the left,
and, as they rode down, the wide expanse of valley sank out of sight
behind the approaching skirmishers of oak and Hawthorn. They skirted a
sudden hollow with the pool of a spring, rank weeds and silver bushes.
The ground grew softer and the grass taller, and on the right-hand
side and the left came scattered bushes of May--still splashed with
belated blossom. Presently the bushes thickened until they lashed the
passing rider, and little flashes and gouts of blood came out on horse
and man. Then the way opened again.

And then came a wonderful adventure. A sudden squeal of unreasonable
anger rose amidst the bushes, the squeal of some creature bitterly
wronged. And crashing after them appeared a big, grey-blue shape. It
was Yaaa the big-horned rhinoceros, in one of those fits of fury of
his, charging full tilt, after the manner of his kind. He had been
startled at his feeding, and someone, it did not matter who, was to be
ripped and trampled therefore. He was bearing down on them from the
left, with his wicked little eye red, and his great horn down, and his
little tail like a jury-mast behind him. For a minute Ugh-lomi was
minded to slip off and dodge, and then behold! the staccato of the
hoofs grew swifter, and the rhinoceros and his stumpy hurrying little
legs seemed to slide out at the back corner of Ugh-lomi's eye. In two
minutes they were through the bushes of May, and out in the open,
going fast. For a space he could hear the ponderous paces in pursuit
receding behind him, and then it was just as if Yaaa had not lost his
temper, as if Yaaa had never existed.

The pace never faltered, on they rode land on.

Ugh-lomi was now all exultation. To exult in those days was to insult.
"Ya-ha! big nose," he said, trying to crane back and see some remote
speck of a pursuer. "Why don't you carry your smiting-stone in your
fist?" he ended with a frantic whoop.

But that whoop was unfortunate, for coming close to the ear of the
horse, and being quite unexpected, it startled the stallion extremely.
He shied violently. Ugh-lomi suddenly found himself uncomfortable
again. He was hanging on to the horse, he found, by one arm and one

The rest of the ride was honourable but unpleasant. The view was
chiefly of blue sky, and that was combined with the most unpleasant
physical sensations. Finally, a bush of thorn lashed him and he let
go. He hit the ground with his cheek and shoulder, and then, after a
complicated and extraordinarily rapid movement, hit it again with the
end of his backbone. He saw splashes and sparks of light and colour.
The ground seemed bouncing about just like the horse had done. Then he
found he was sitting on turf, six yards beyond the bush. In front of
him was a space of grass, growing greener and greener, and a number of
human beings in the distance, and the horse was going round at a smart
gallop quite a long way off to the right.

The human beings were on the opposite side of the river, some still in
the water, but they were all running away as hard as they could go.
The advent of a monster that took to pieces was not the sort of
novelty they cared for. For quite a minute Ugh-lomi sat regarding them
in a purely spectacular spirit. The bend of the river, the knoll among
the reeds and royal ferns, the thin streams of smoke going up to
Heaven, were all perfectly familiar to him. It was the squatting-place
of the Sons of Uya, of Uya from whom he had fled with Eudena, and whom
he had waylaid in the chestnut woods and killed with the First Axe.

He rose to his feet, still dazed from his fall, and as he did so the
scattering fugitives turned and regarded him. Some pointed to the
receding horse and chattered. He walked slowly towards them, staring.
He forgot the horse, he forgot his own bruises, in the growing
interest of this encounter. There were fewer of them than there had
been--he supposed the others must have hid--the heap of fern or the
night fire was not so high. By the flint heaps should have sat Wau--
but then he remembered he had killed Wau. Suddenly brought back to
this familiar scene, the gorge and the bears and Eudena seemed things
remote, things dreamt of.

He stopped at the bank and stood regarding the tribe. His mathematical
abilities were of the slightest, but it was certain there were fewer.
The men might be away, but there were fewer women and children. He
gave the shout of homecoming. His quarrel had been with Uya and Wau--
not with the others. They answered with his name, a little fearfully
because of the strange way he had come.

"Children of Uya!" he cried.

For a space they spoke together. Then an old woman lifted a shrill
voice and answered him. "Our Lord is a Lion."

Ugh-lomi did not understand that saying. They answered him again
several together, "Uya comes again. He comes as a Lion. Our Lord is a
Lion. He comes at night. He slays whom he will. But none other may
slay us, Ugh-lomi. None other may slay us."

Still Ugh-lomi did not understand.

"Our Lord is a Lion. He speaks no more to men."

Ugh-lomi stood regarding them. He had had dreams--he knew that though
he had killed Uya, Uya still existed. And now they told him Uya was a

The shrivelled old woman, the mistress of the fire-minders, suddenly
turned and spoke softly to those next to her. She was a very old woman
indeed, she had been the first of Uya's wives, and he had let her live
beyond the age to which it is seemly a woman should live. She had been
cunning from the first, cunning to please Uya and to get food. And now
she was great in counsel. She spoke softly, and Ugh-lomi watched her
shrivelled form across the river with a curious distaste. Then she
called aloud, "Come over to us, Ugh-lomi."

A girl suddenly lifted up her voice. "Come over to us, Ugh-lomi," she
said. And they all began crying, "Come over to us, Ugh-lomi."

It was strange how their manner changed after the old woman called. He
stood quite still watching them all. It was pleasant to be called, and
the girl who had called first was a pretty one. But she made him think
of Eudena.

"Come over to us, Ugh-lomi," they cried, and the voice of the
shrivelled old woman rose above them all. At the sound of her voice
his hesitation returned. He stood on the river bank, Ugh-lomi--Ugh the
Thinker--with his thoughts slowly taking shape. Presently one and then
another paused to see what he would do. He was minded to go back, he
was minded not to. Suddenly his fear or his caution got the upper
hand. Without answering them he turned, and walked back towards the
distant thorn-trees, the way he had come. Forthwith the whole tribe
started crying to him again very eagerly. He hesitated and turned,
then he went on, then he turned again, and then once again, regarding
them with troubled eyes as they called. The last time he took two
paces back, before his fear stopped him. They saw him stop once more,
and suddenly shake his head and vanish among the hawthorn-trees.

Then all the women and children lifted up their voices together, and
called to him in one last vain effort.

Far down the river the reeds were stirring in the breeze, where,
convenient for his new sort of feeding, the old lion, who had taken to
man-eating, had made his lair.

The old woman turned her face that way, and pointed to the hawthorn
thickets. "Uya," she screamed, "there goes thine enemy! There goes
thine enemy, Uya! Why do you devour us nightly? We have tried to snare
him There goes thine enemy, Uya!"

But the lion who preyed upon the tribe was taking his siesta. The cry
went unheard. That day he had dined on one of the plumper girls, and
his mood was a comfortable placidity. He really did not understand
that he was Uya or that Ugh-lomi was his enemy.

So it was that Ugh-lomi rode the horse, and heard first of Uya the
lion, who had taken the place of Uya the Master, and was eating up the
tribe. And as he hurried back to the gorge his mind was no longer full
of the horse, but of the thought that Uya was still alive, to slay or
be slain. Over and over again he saw the shrunken band of women and
children crying that Uya was a lion. Uya was a lion!

And presently, fearing the twilight might come upon him, Ugh-lomi
began running.


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