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Title: Ugh-Lomi and the Cave Bear
Author: H. G. Wells
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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Date first posted: July 2006
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Ugh-Lomi and the Cave Bear
H.G. Wells

In the days when Eudena and Ugh-lomi fled from the people of Uya
towards the fir-clad mountains of the Weald, across the forests of
sweet chestnutand the grass-clad chalkland, and hid themselves at last
in the gorge of the river between the chalk cliffs, men were few and
their squatting-places far between. The nearest men to them were those
of the tribe, a full day's journey down the river, and up the
mountains there were none. Man was indeed a newcomer to this part of
the world in that ancient time, coming slowly along the rivers,
generation after generation, from one squatting-place to another, from
the south-westward. And the animals that held the the hippopotami and
rhinoceri of the river valleys, the horses of the grass plains, the
deer and swine of the woods, the grey apes in the branches, the the
uplands, feared him but little--let alone the mammoths in the
mountains and the elephants that came through the land in the summer-
time out of the south. For why should they fear him, with but the
rough, chipped flints that he had not learnt to haft and which he
threw but ill, and the poor spear of sharpened wood, as all his
weapons against hoof and horn, tooth and claw?

Andoo, the huge cave bear, who lived in the cave up the gorge, had
never even seen a man in all his wise and respectable life, until
midway through one night, as he was prowling down the gorge along the
cliff edge, he saw the glare of Eudena's fire upon the ledge, and
Eudena red and shining, and Ugh-lomi, with a gigantic shadow mocking
him upon the white cliff, going to and fro, shaking his mane of hair,
and waving the axe of stone--the first axe of stone--while he chanted
of the killing of Uya. The cave bear was far up the gorge, and he saw
the thing slanting-ways and far off. He was so surprised he stood
quite still upon the edge, sniffing the novel odour of burning
bracken, and wondering whether the dawn was coming up in the wrong
place.

He was the lord of the rocks and caves, was the cave bear, as his
slighter brother, the grizzly, was lord of the thick woods below, and
as the dappled lion--the lion of those days was dappled--was lord of
the thorn-thickets, reed-beds, and open plains. He was the greatest of
all meat-eaters; he knew no fear, none preyed on him, and none gave
him battle; only the rhinoceros was beyond his strength. Even the
mammoth shunned his country. This invasion perplexed him. He noticed
these new beasts were shaped like monkeys, and sparsely hairy like
young pigs. "Monkey and young pig," said the cave bear. "It might not
be so bad. But that red thing that jumps, and the black thing jumping
with it yonder! Never in my life have I seen such things before."

He came slowly along the brow of the cliff towards them, stopping
thrice to sniff and peer, and the reek of the fire grew stronger. A
couple of hynas also were so intent upon the thing below that Andoo,
coming soft and easy, was close upon them before they knew of him or
he of them. They started guiltily and went lurching off. Coming round
in a wheel, a hundred yards off, they began yelling and calling him
names for the start they had had. "Ya-ha!" they cried. "Who can't grub
his own burrow? Who eats roots like a pig? . . . Ya-ha!" For even in
those days the hyna's manners were just as offensive as they are now.

"Who answers the hyna?" growled Andoo, peering through the midnight
dimness at them, and then going to look at the cliff edge.

There was Ugh-lomi still telling his story, and the fire getting low,
and the scent of the burning hot and strong.

Andoo stood on the edge of the chalk cliff for some time, shifting his
vast weight from foot to foot, and swaying his head to and fro, with
his mouth open, his ears erect and twitching, and the nostrils of his
big, black muzzle sniffing. He was very curious, was the cave bear,
more curious than any of the bears that live now, and the flickering
fire and the incomprehensible movements of the man, let alone the
intrusion into his indisputable province, stirred him with a sense of
strange new happenings. He had been after red deer fawn that night,
for the cave bear was a miscellaneous hunter, but this quite turned
him from that enterprise.

"Ya-ha!" yelled the hynas behind. "Ya-ha-ha!"

Peering through the starlight, Andoo saw there were now three or four
going to and fro against the grey hillside. "They will hang about me
now all the night until I kill," said Andoo. "Filth of the world!" And
mainly to annoy them, he resolved to watch the red flicker in the
gorge until the dawn came to drive the hyna scum home. And after a
time they vanished, and he heard their voices, like a party of Cockney
beanfeasters, away in the beech-woods. Then they came slinking near
again. Andoo yawned and went on along the cliff, and they followed.
Then he stopped and went back.

It was a splendid night, beset with shining constellations, the same
stars, but not the same constellations we know, for since those days
all the stars have had time to move into new places. Far away across
the open space beyond where the heavy-shouldered, lean-bodied hynas
blundered and howled, was a beech-wood, and the mountain slopes rose
beyond, a dim mystery, until their snow-capped summits came out white
and cold and clear, touched by the first rays of the yet unseen moon.
It was a vast silence, save when the yell of the hynas flung a
vanishing discordance across its peace, or when from down the hills
the trumpeting of the new-come elephants came faintly on the faint
breeze. And below now, the red flicker had dwindled and was steady,
and shone a deeper red, and Ugh-lomi had finished his story and was
preparing to sleep, and Eudena sat and listened to the strange voices
of unknown beasts, and watched the dark eastern sky growing deeply
luminous at the advent of the moon. Down below, the river talked to
itself, and things unseen went to and fro.

After a time the bear went away, but in an hour he was back again.
Then, as if struck by a thought, he turned, and went up the gorge. . .
.

The night passed, and Ugh-lomi slept on. The waning moon rose and lit
the gaunt white cliff overhead with a light that was pale and vague.
The gorge remained in a deeper shadow, and seemed all the darker. Then
by imperceptible degrees the day came stealing in the wake of the
moonlight. Eudena's eyes wandered to the cliff brow overhead once, and
then again. Each time the line was sharp and clear against the sky,
and yet she had a dim perception of something lurking there. The red
of the fire grew deeper and deeper, grey scales spread upon it, its
vertical column of smoke became more and more visible, and up and down
the gorge things that had been unseen grew clear in a colourless
illumination. She may have dozed.

Suddenly she started up from her squatting position, erect and alert,
scrutinising the cliff up and down.

She made the faintest sound, and Ugh-lomi too, light sleeping like an
animal, was instantly awake. He caught up his axe and came noiselessly
to her side.

The light was still dim, the world now all in black and dark grey, and
one sickly star still lingered overhead. The ledge they were on was a
little grassy space, six feet wide, perhaps, and twenty feet long,
sloping outwardly, and with a handful of St. John's wort growing near
the edge. Below it the soft, white rock fell away in a steep slope of
nearly fifty feet to the thick bush of hazel that fringed the river.
Down the river this slope increased, until some way off a thin grass
held its own right up to the crest of the cliff. Overhead, forty or
fifty feet of rock bulged into the great masses characteristic of
chalk, but at the end of the ledge a gully, a precipitous groove of
discoloured chalk, slashed the face of the cliff, and gave a footing
to a scrubby growth, by which Eudena and Ugh-lomi went up and down.

They stood as noiseless as startled deer, with every sense expectant.
For a minute they heard nothing, and then came a faint rattling of
dust down the gully, and the creaking of twigs.

Ugh-lomi gripped his axe, and went to the edge of the ledge, for the
bulge of the chalk overhead had hidden the upper part of the gully.
And forthwith, with a sudden contraction of the heart, he saw the cave
bear half-way down from the brow, and making a gingerly backward step
with his flat hind-foot. His hind-quarters were towards Ugh-lomi, and
he clawed at the rocks and bushes so that he seemed flattened against
the cliff. He looked none the less for that. From his shining snout to
his stumpy tail he was a lion and a half, the length of two tall men.
He looked over his shoulder, and his huge mouth was open with the
exertion of holding up his great carcase, and his tongue lay out. . .
.

He got his footing, and came down slowly, a yard nearer.

"Bear," said Ugh-lomi, looking round with his face white.

But Eudena, with terror in her eyes, was pointing down the cliff.

Ugh-lomi's mouth fell open. For down below, with her big fore-feet
against the rock, stood another big brown-grey bulk--the she-bear. She
was not so big as Andoo, but she was big enough for all that.

Then suddenly Ugh-lomi gave a cry, and catching up a handful of the
litter of ferns that lay scattered on the ledge, he thrust it into the
pallid ash of the fire. "Brother Fire!" he cried, "Brother Fire!" And
Eudena, starting into activity, did likewise. "Brother Fire! Help,
help! Brother Fire!"

Brother Fire was still red in his heart, but he turned to grey as they
scattered him. "Brother Fire!" they screamed. But he whispered and
passed, and there was nothing but ashes. Then Ugh-lomi danced with
anger and struck the ashes with his fist. But Eudena began to hammer
the firestone against a flint. And the eyes of each were turning ever
and again towards the gully by which Andoo was climbing down. Brother
Fire! Suddenly the huge furry hind-quarters of the bear came into
view, beneath the bulge of the chalk that had hidden him. He was still
clambering gingerly down the nearly vertical surface. His head was yet
out of sight, but they could hear him talking to himself. "Pig and
monkey," said the cave bear. "It ought to be good."

Eudena struck a spark and blew at it; it twinkled brighter and then--
went out. At that she cast down flint and firestone and began wringing
her hands. Her face was wet with tears. Then she sprang to her feet
and scrambled a dozen feet up the cliff above the ledge. How she hung
on even for a moment I do not know, for the chalk was vertical and
without grip for a monkey. In a couple of seconds she had slid back to
the ledge again with bleeding hands.

Ugh-lomi was making frantic rushes about the ledge-now he would go to
the edge, now to the gully. He did not know what to do, he could not
think. The she-bear looked smaller than her mate--much. If they rushed
down on her together, one might live. "Eigh?" said the cave bear, and
Ugh-lomi turned again and saw his little eyes peering under the bulge
of the chalk. "Stand away!" said the bear; "I'm going to jump down."

Eudena, cowering at the end of the ledge, began to scream like a
gripped rabbit.

At that a sort of madness came upon Ugh-lomi. With a mighty cry, he
caught up his axe and began to clamber up the gully to the bear. He
uttered neither word nor cry. The monster gave a grunt of surprise. In
a moment Ugh-lomi was clinging to a bush right underneath the bear,
and in another he was hanging to its back half buried in fur, with one
fist clutched in the hair under its jaw. The bear was too astonished
at this fantastic attack to do more than cling passive. And then the
axe, the first of all axes, rang in its skull.

The bear's head twisted from side to side, and he began a petulant
scolding growl. The axe bit within an inch of the left eye, and the
hot blood blinded that side. At that the brute roared with surprise
and anger, and his teeth gnashed six inches from Ugh-lomi's face. Then
the axe, clubbed close, came down heavily on the corner of the jaw.

The next blow blinded the right side and called forth a roar, this
time of pain. Eudena saw the huge, flat feet slipping and sliding, and
suddenly the bear gave a clumsy leap sideways, as if for the ledge.
Then everything vanished, and the hazels smashed, and a roar of pain
and a tumult of shouts and growls came up from far below.

Eudena screamed and ran to the edge and peered over. For a moment, man
and bears were a heap together, Ugh-lomi uppermost; and then he had
sprung clear and was scaling the gully again, with the bears rolling
and striking at one another among the hazels. But he had left his axe
below, and three knob-ended streaks of carmine were shooting down his
thigh. "Up!" he cried, and in a moment Eudena was preceding him to the
top of the cliff.

In half a minute they were at the crest, their hearts pumping noisily,
with Andoo and his wife far and safe below them. Andoo was sitting on
his haunches, both paws at work, trying with quick exasperated
movements to wipe the blindness out of his eyes, and the she-bear
stood on all-fours a little way off, ruffled in appearance and
growling angrily. Ugh-lomi flung himself flat on the grass, and lay
panting and bleeding with his face on his arms.

For a second Eudena regarded the bears, then she came and sat beside
him, looking at him. . . .

Presently she put forth her hand timidly and touched him, and made the
guttural sound that was his name. He turned over and raised himself on
his arm. His face was pale, like the face of one who is afraid. He
looked at her steadfastly for a moment, and then suddenly he laughed.
"Waugh!" he said exultantly.

"Waugh!" said she--a simple but expressive conversation.

Then Ugh-lomi came and knelt beside her, and on hands and knees peered
over the brow and examined the gorge. His breath was steady now, and
the blood on his leg had ceased to flow, though the scratches the she-
bear had made were open and wide. He squatted up and sat staring at
the footmarks of the great bear as they came to the gully--they were
as wide as his head and twice as long. Then he jumped up and went
along the cliff face until the ledge was visible. Here he sat down for
some time thinking, while Eudena watched him.

Presently Ugh-lomi rose, as one whose mind is made up. He returned
towards the gully, Eudena keeping close by him, and together they
clambered to the ledge. They took the firestone and a flint, and then
Ugh-lomi went down to the foot of the cliff very cautiously, and found
his axe. They returned to the cliff now as quietly as they could, and
turning their faces resolutely up-stream set off at a brisk walk. The
ledge was a home no longer, with such callers in the neighbourhood.
Ugh-lomi carried the axe and Eudena the fire-stone. So simple was a
Palolithic removal.

They went up-stream, although it might lead to the very lair of the
cave bear, because there was no other way to go. Down the stream was
the tribe, and had not Ugh-lomi killed Uya and Wau? By the stream they
had to keep--because of drinking.

So they marched, through beech trees, with the gorge deepening until
the river flowed, a frothing rapid, five hundred feet below them. And
of all the changeful things in this world of change, the courses of
rivers, in deep valleys change least. It was the river Wey, the river
we know to-day, and they marched over the very spots where nowadays
stand little Guildford and Godalming--the first human beings to come
into the land. Once a grey ape chattered and vanished, and all along
the cliff edge, vast and even, ran the spoor of the great cave bear.

And then the spoor of the bear fell away from the cliff, showing, Ugh-
lomi thought, that he came from some place to the left, and keeping to
the cliff's edge, they presently came to an end. They found themselves
looking down on a great semi-circular space caused by the collapse of
the cliff. It had smashed right across the gorge, banking the up-
stream water back in a pool which overflowed in a rapid. The slip had
happened long ago. It was grassed over, but the face of the cliffs
that stood about the semicircle was still almost fresh-looking and
white as on the day when the rock must have broken and slid down.
Starkly exposed and black under the foot of these cliffs were the
mouths of several caves. And as they stood there, looking at the
space, and disinclined to skirt it, because they thought the bears'
lair lay somewhere on the left in the direction they must needs take,
they saw suddenly first one bear and then two coming up the grass
slope to the right and going across the amphitheatre towards the
caves. Andoo was first, and he dropped a little on his fore-foot, and
his mien was despondent, and the she-bear came shuffling behind.

Eudena and Ugh-lomi stepped quite noiselessly back from the cliff
until they could just see the bears over the verge. Then Ugh-lomi
stopped. Eudena pulled his arm, but he turned with a forbidding
gesture, and her hand dropped. Ugh-lomi stood watching the bears, with
his axe in his hand, until they had vanished into the cave. He growled
softly, and shook the axe at the she-bear's receding quarters. Then to
Euderia's terror, instead of creeping off with her, he lay flat down
and crawled forward into such a position that he could just see the
cave. It was bears--and he did it as calmly as if it had been rabbits
he was watching!

He lay still, like a barked log, sun-dappled, in the shadow of the
trees. He was thinking. And Eudena had learnt, even when a little
girl, that when Ugh-lomi became still like that, jawbone on fist,
novel things presently began to happen.

It was an hour before the thinking was over; it was noon when the two
little savages had found their way to the cliff brow that overhung the
bears' cave. And all the long afternoon they fought desperately with a
great boulder of chalk; trundling it, with nothing but their unaided
sturdy muscles, from the gully where it had hung like a loose tooth,
towards the cliff top. It was full two yards about, it stood as high
as Eudena's waist, it was obtuse-angled and toothed with flints. And
when the sun set it was poised, three inches from the edge, above the
cave of the great cave bear.

In the cave, conversation languished during the afternoon. The she-
bear snoozed sulkily in her corner--for she was fond of pig and
monkey--and Andoo was busy licking the side of his paw and smearing
his face to cool the smart and inflammation of his wounds. Afterwards
he went and sat just within the mouth of the cave, blinking out at the
afternoon sun with his uninjured eye, and thinking.

"I never was so startled in my life," he said at last. "They are the
most extraordinary beasts. Attacking me!"

"I don't like them," said the she-bear, out of the darkness behind.

"A feebler sort of beast I never saw. I can't think what the world is
coming to. Scraggy, weedy legs . . . . Wonder how they keep warm in
winter?"

"Very likely they don't," said the she--bear.

"I suppose it's a sort of monkey gone wrong."

"It's a change," said the she-bear.

A pause.

"The advantage he had was merely accidental," said Andoo. "These
things will happen at times."

"I can't understand why you let go," said the she-bear.

That matter had been discussed before, and settled. So Andoo, being a
bear of experience, remained silent for a space. Then he resumed upon
a different aspect of the matter. "He has a sort of claw--a long claw
that he seemed to have first on one paw and then on the other. Just
one claw. They're very odd things. The bright thing, too, they seemed
to have--like that glare that comes in the sky in daytime--only it
jumps about--it's really worth seeing. It's a thing with a root, too--
like grass when it is windy."

"Does it bite?" asked the she-bear. "If it bites it can't be a plant."

"No----I don't know," said Andoo. "But it's curious, anyhow."

"I wonder if they are good eating?" said the she-bear.

"They look it," said Andoo, with appetite--for the cave bear, like the
polar bear, was an incurable carnivore--no roots or honey for him.

The two bears fell into a meditation for a space. Then Andoo resumed
his simple attentions to his eye. The sunlight up the green slope
before the cave mouth grew warmer in tone and warmer, until it was a
ruddy amber.

"Curious sort of thing--day," said the cave bear. "Lot too much of it,
I think. Quite unsuitable for hunting. Dazzles me always. I can't
smell nearly so well by day."

The she-bear did not answer, but there came a measured crunching sound
out of the darkness. She had turned up a bone. Andoo yawned. "Well,"
he said. He strolled to the cave mouth and stood with his head
projecting, surveying the amphitheatre. He found he had to turn his
head completely round to see objects on his right-hand side. No doubt
that eye would be all right to-morrow.

He yawned again. There was a tap overhead, and a big mass of chalk
flew out from the cliff face, dropped a yard in front of his nose, and
starred into a dozen unequal fragments. It startled him extremely.
When he had recovered a little from his shock, he went and sniffed
curiously at the representative pieces of the fallen projectile. They
had a distinctive flavour, oddly reminiscent of the two drab animals
of the ledge. He sat up and pawed the larger lump, and walked round it
several times trying to find a man about it somewhere. . . .

When night had come he went off down the river gorge to see if he
could cut off either of the ledge's occupants. The ledge was empty,
there were no signs of the red thing, but as he was rather hungry he
did not loiter long that night, but pushed on to pick up a red deer
fawn. He forgot about the drab animals. He found a fawn, but the doe
was close by and made an ugly fight for her young. Andoo had to leave
the fawn, but as her blood was up she stuck to the attack, and at last
he got in a blow of his paw at her nose, and so got hold of her. More
meat but less delicacy, and the she-bear, following, had her share.
The next afternoon, curiously enough, the very fellow of the first
white rock fell, and smashed precisely according to precedent.

The aim of the third, that fell the night after, however, was better.
It hit Andoo's unspeculative skull with a crack that echoed up the
cliff, and the white fragments went dancing to all the points of the
compass. The she-bear coming after him and sniffing curiously at him,
found him lying in an odd sort of attitude, with his head wet and all
out of shape. She was a young she-bear, and inexperienced, and having
sniffed about him for some time and licked him a little, and so forth,
she decided to leave him until the odd mood had passed, and went on
her hunting alone.

She looked up the fawn of the red doe they had killed two nights ago,
and found it. But it was lonely hunting without Andoo, and she
returned caveward before dawn. The sky was grey and overcast, the
trees up the gorge were black and unfamiliar, and into her ursine mind
came a dim sense of strange and dreary happenings. She lifted up her
voice and called Andoo by name. The sides of the gorge re-echoed her.

As she approached the caves she saw in the half light, and heard, a
couple of jackals scuttle off, and immediately after a hyna howled
and a dozen clumsy bulks went lumbering up the slope, and stopped and
yelled derision. "Lord of the rocks and caves--ya-ha!" came down the
wind. The dismal feeling in the she-bear's mind became suddenly acute.
She shuffled across the amphitheatre.

"Ya-ha!" said the hynas, retreating.

"Ya-ha!"

The cave bear was not lying quite in the same attitude, because the
hynas had been busy, and in one place his ribs showed white. Dotted
over the turf about him lay the smashed fragments of the three great
lumps of chalk. And the air was full of the scent of death.

The she-bear stopped dead. Even now, that the great and wonderful
Andoo was killed was beyond her believing. Then she heard far overhead
a sound, a queer sound, a little like the shout of a hyna but fuller
and lower in pitch. She looked up, with her little dawn-blinded eyes,
seeing little, her nostrils quivering. And there, on the cliff edge,
far above her against the bright pink of dawn, were two little shaggy
round dark things, the heads of Eudena and Ugh-lomi, as they shouted
derision at her. But though she could not see them very distinctly she
could hear, and dimly she began to apprehend. A novel feeling as of
imminent strange evils came into her heart.

She began to examine the smashed fragments of chalk that lay about
Andoo. For a space she stood still, looking about her and making a low
continuous sound that was almost a moan. Then she went back
incredulously to Andoo to make one last effort to rouse him.

Thus it was in the dawn of time that the Great Bears, who were the
Lords of the Rocks and Caves, began their acquaintance with Man.



THE END



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