Chapter VII - The Wall of the World
By the time his mother began leaving the cave on hunting
expeditions, the cub had learned well the law that forbade his
approaching the entrance. Not only had this law been forcibly and
many times impressed on him by his mother's nose and paw, but in
him the instinct of fear was developing. Never, in his brief cave-
life, had he encountered anything of which to be afraid. Yet fear
was in him. It had come down to him from a remote ancestry through
a thousand thousand lives. It was a heritage he had received
directly from One Eye and the she-wolf; but to them, in turn, it
had been passed down through all the generations of wolves that had
gone before. Fear! - that legacy of the Wild which no animal may
escape nor exchange for pottage.
So the grey cub knew fear, though he knew not the stuff of which
fear was made. Possibly he accepted it as one of the restrictions
of life. For he had already learned that there were such
restrictions. Hunger he had known; and when he could not appease
his hunger he had felt restriction. The hard obstruction of the
cave-wall, the sharp nudge of his mother's nose, the smashing
stroke of her paw, the hunger unappeased of several famines, had
borne in upon him that all was not freedom in the world, that to
life there was limitations and restraints. These limitations and
restraints were laws. To be obedient to them was to escape hurt
and make for happiness.
He did not reason the question out in this man fashion. He merely
classified the things that hurt and the things that did not hurt.
And after such classification he avoided the things that hurt, the
restrictions and restraints, in order to enjoy the satisfactions
and the remunerations of life.
Thus it was that in obedience to the law laid down by his mother,
and in obedience to the law of that unknown and nameless thing,
fear, he kept away from the mouth of the cave. It remained to him
a white wall of light. When his mother was absent, he slept most
of the time, while during the intervals that he was awake he kept
very quiet, suppressing the whimpering cries that tickled in his
throat and strove for noise.
Once, lying awake, he heard a strange sound in the white wall. He
did not know that it was a wolverine, standing outside, all a-
trembling with its own daring, and cautiously scenting out the
contents of the cave. The cub knew only that the sniff was
strange, a something unclassified, therefore unknown and terrible -
for the unknown was one of the chief elements that went into the
making of fear.
The hair bristled upon the grey cub's back, but it bristled
silently. How was he to know that this thing that sniffed was a
thing at which to bristle? It was not born of any knowledge of
his, yet it was the visible expression of the fear that was in him,
and for which, in his own life, there was no accounting. But fear
was accompanied by another instinct - that of concealment. The cub
was in a frenzy of terror, yet he lay without movement or sound,
frozen, petrified into immobility, to all appearances dead. His
mother, coming home, growled as she smelt the wolverine's track,
and bounded into the cave and licked and nozzled him with undue
vehemence of affection. And the cub felt that somehow he had
escaped a great hurt.
But there were other forces at work in the cub, the greatest of
which was growth. Instinct and law demanded of him obedience. But
growth demanded disobedience. His mother and fear impelled him to
keep away from the white wall. Growth is life, and life is for
ever destined to make for light. So there was no damming up the
tide of life that was rising within him - rising with every
mouthful of meat he swallowed, with every breath he drew. In the
end, one day, fear and obedience were swept away by the rush of
life, and the cub straddled and sprawled toward the entrance.
Unlike any other wall with which he had had experience, this wall
seemed to recede from him as he approached. No hard surface
collided with the tender little nose he thrust out tentatively
before him. The substance of the wall seemed as permeable and
yielding as light. And as condition, in his eyes, had the seeming
of form, so he entered into what had been wall to him and bathed in
the substance that composed it.
It was bewildering. He was sprawling through solidity. And ever
the light grew brighter. Fear urged him to go back, but growth
drove him on. Suddenly he found himself at the mouth of the cave.
The wall, inside which he had thought himself, as suddenly leaped
back before him to an immeasurable distance. The light had become
painfully bright. He was dazzled by it. Likewise he was made
dizzy by this abrupt and tremendous extension of space.
Automatically, his eyes were adjusting themselves to the
brightness, focusing themselves to meet the increased distance of
objects. At first, the wall had leaped beyond his vision. He now
saw it again; but it had taken upon itself a remarkable remoteness.
Also, its appearance had changed. It was now a variegated wall,
composed of the trees that fringed the stream, the opposing
mountain that towered above the trees, and the sky that out-towered
A great fear came upon him. This was more of the terrible unknown.
He crouched down on the lip of the cave and gazed out on the world.
He was very much afraid. Because it was unknown, it was hostile to
him. Therefore the hair stood up on end along his back and his
lips wrinkled weakly in an attempt at a ferocious and intimidating
snarl. Out of his puniness and fright he challenged and menaced
the whole wide world.
Nothing happened. He continued to gaze, and in his interest he
forgot to snarl. Also, he forgot to be afraid. For the time, fear
had been routed by growth, while growth had assumed the guise of
curiosity. He began to notice near objects - an open portion of
the stream that flashed in the sun, the blasted pine-tree that
stood at the base of the slope, and the slope itself, that ran
right up to him and ceased two feet beneath the lip of the cave on
which he crouched.
Now the grey cub had lived all his days on a level floor. He had
never experienced the hurt of a fall. He did not know what a fall
was. So he stepped boldly out upon the air. His hind-legs still
rested on the cave-lip, so he fell forward head downward. The
earth struck him a harsh blow on the nose that made him yelp. Then
he began rolling down the slope, over and over. He was in a panic
of terror. The unknown had caught him at last. It had gripped
savagely hold of him and was about to wreak upon him some terrific
hurt. Growth was now routed by fear, and he ki-yi'd like any
The unknown bore him on he knew not to what frightful hurt, and he
yelped and ki-yi'd unceasingly. This was a different proposition
from crouching in frozen fear while the unknown lurked just
alongside. Now the unknown had caught tight hold of him. Silence
would do no good. Besides, it was not fear, but terror, that
But the slope grew more gradual, and its base was grass-covered.
Here the cub lost momentum. When at last he came to a stop, he
gave one last agonised yell and then a long, whimpering wail.
Also, and quite as a matter of course, as though in his life he had
already made a thousand toilets, he proceeded to lick away the dry
clay that soiled him.
After that he sat up and gazed about him, as might the first man of
the earth who landed upon Mars. The cub had broken through the
wall of the world, the unknown had let go its hold of him, and here
he was without hurt. But the first man on Mars would have
experienced less unfamiliarity than did he. Without any antecedent
knowledge, without any warning whatever that such existed, he found
himself an explorer in a totally new world.
Now that the terrible unknown had let go of him, he forgot that the
unknown had any terrors. He was aware only of curiosity in all the
things about him. He inspected the grass beneath him, the moss-
berry plant just beyond, and the dead trunk of the blasted pine
that stood on the edge of an open space among the trees. A
squirrel, running around the base of the trunk, came full upon him,
and gave him a great fright. He cowered down and snarled. But the
squirrel was as badly scared. It ran up the tree, and from a point
of safety chattered back savagely.
This helped the cub's courage, and though the woodpecker he next
encountered gave him a start, he proceeded confidently on his way.
Such was his confidence, that when a moose-bird impudently hopped
up to him, he reached out at it with a playful paw. The result was
a sharp peck on the end of his nose that made him cower down and
ki-yi. The noise he made was too much for the moose-bird, who
sought safety in flight.
But the cub was learning. His misty little mind had already made
an unconscious classification. There were live things and things
not alive. Also, he must watch out for the live things. The
things not alive remained always in one place, but the live things
moved about, and there was no telling what they might do. The
thing to expect of them was the unexpected, and for this he must be
He travelled very clumsily. He ran into sticks and things. A twig
that he thought a long way off, would the next instant hit him on
the nose or rake along his ribs. There were inequalities of
surface. Sometimes he overstepped and stubbed his nose. Quite as
often he understepped and stubbed his feet. Then there were the
pebbles and stones that turned under him when he trod upon them;
and from them he came to know that the things not alive were not
all in the same state of stable equilibrium as was his cave - also,
that small things not alive were more liable than large things to
fall down or turn over. But with every mishap he was learning.
The longer he walked, the better he walked. He was adjusting
himself. He was learning to calculate his own muscular movements,
to know his physical limitations, to measure distances between
objects, and between objects and himself.
His was the luck of the beginner. Born to be a hunter of meat
(though he did not know it), he blundered upon meat just outside
his own cave-door on his first foray into the world. It was by
sheer blundering that he chanced upon the shrewdly hidden ptarmigan
nest. He fell into it. He had essayed to walk along the trunk of
a fallen pine. The rotten bark gave way under his feet, and with a
despairing yelp he pitched down the rounded crescent, smashed
through the leafage and stalks of a small bush, and in the heart of
the bush, on the ground, fetched up in the midst of seven ptarmigan
They made noises, and at first he was frightened at them. Then he
perceived that they were very little, and he became bolder. They
moved. He placed his paw on one, and its movements were
accelerated. This was a source of enjoyment to him. He smelled
it. He picked it up in his mouth. It struggled and tickled his
tongue. At the same time he was made aware of a sensation of
hunger. His jaws closed together. There was a crunching of
fragile bones, and warm blood ran in his mouth. The taste of it
was good. This was meat, the same as his mother gave him, only it
was alive between his teeth and therefore better. So he ate the
ptarmigan. Nor did he stop till he had devoured the whole brood.
Then he licked his chops in quite the same way his mother did, and
began to crawl out of the bush.
He encountered a feathered whirlwind. He was confused and blinded
by the rush of it and the beat of angry wings. He hid his head
between his paws and yelped. The blows increased. The mother
ptarmigan was in a fury. Then he became angry. He rose up,
snarling, striking out with his paws. He sank his tiny teeth into
one of the wings and pulled and tugged sturdily. The ptarmigan
struggled against him, showering blows upon him with her free wing.
It was his first battle. He was elated. He forgot all about the
unknown. He no longer was afraid of anything. He was fighting,
tearing at a live thing that was striking at him. Also, this live
thing was meat. The lust to kill was on him. He had just
destroyed little live things. He would now destroy a big live
thing. He was too busy and happy to know that he was happy. He
was thrilling and exulting in ways new to him and greater to him
than any he had known before.
He held on to the wing and growled between his tight-clenched
teeth. The ptarmigan dragged him out of the bush. When she turned
and tried to drag him back into the bush's shelter, he pulled her
away from it and on into the open. And all the time she was making
outcry and striking with her free wing, while feathers were flying
like a snow-fall. The pitch to which he was aroused was
tremendous. All the fighting blood of his breed was up in him and
surging through him. This was living, though he did not know it.
He was realising his own meaning in the world; he was doing that
for which he was made - killing meat and battling to kill it. He
was justifying his existence, than which life can do no greater;
for life achieves its summit when it does to the uttermost that
which it was equipped to do.
After a time, the ptarmigan ceased her struggling. He still held
her by the wing, and they lay on the ground and looked at each
other. He tried to growl threateningly, ferociously. She pecked
on his nose, which by now, what of previous adventures was sore.
He winced but held on. She pecked him again and again. From
wincing he went to whimpering. He tried to back away from her,
oblivious to the fact that by his hold on her he dragged her after
him. A rain of pecks fell on his ill-used nose. The flood of
fight ebbed down in him, and, releasing his prey, he turned tail
and scampered on across the open in inglorious retreat.
He lay down to rest on the other side of the open, near the edge of
the bushes, his tongue lolling out, his chest heaving and panting,
his nose still hurting him and causing him to continue his whimper.
But as he lay there, suddenly there came to him a feeling as of
something terrible impending. The unknown with all its terrors
rushed upon him, and he shrank back instinctively into the shelter
of the bush. As he did so, a draught of air fanned him, and a
large, winged body swept ominously and silently past. A hawk,
driving down out of the blue, had barely missed him.
While he lay in the bush, recovering from his fright and peering
fearfully out, the mother-ptarmigan on the other side of the open
space fluttered out of the ravaged nest. It was because of her
loss that she paid no attention to the winged bolt of the sky. But
the cub saw, and it was a warning and a lesson to him - the swift
downward swoop of the hawk, the short skim of its body just above
the ground, the strike of its talons in the body of the ptarmigan,
the ptarmigan's squawk of agony and fright, and the hawk's rush
upward into the blue, carrying the ptarmigan away with it,
It was a long time before the cub left its shelter. He had learned
much. Live things were meat. They were good to eat. Also, live
things when they were large enough, could give hurt. It was better
to eat small live things like ptarmigan chicks, and to let alone
large live things like ptarmigan hens. Nevertheless he felt a
little prick of ambition, a sneaking desire to have another battle
with that ptarmigan hen - only the hawk had carried her away. May
be there were other ptarmigan hens. He would go and see.
He came down a shelving bank to the stream. He had never seen
water before. The footing looked good. There were no inequalities
of surface. He stepped boldly out on it; and went down, crying
with fear, into the embrace of the unknown. It was cold, and he
gasped, breathing quickly. The water rushed into his lungs instead
of the air that had always accompanied his act of breathing. The
suffocation he experienced was like the pang of death. To him it
signified death. He had no conscious knowledge of death, but like
every animal of the Wild, he possessed the instinct of death. To
him it stood as the greatest of hurts. It was the very essence of
the unknown; it was the sum of the terrors of the unknown, the one
culminating and unthinkable catastrophe that could happen to him,
about which he knew nothing and about which he feared everything.
He came to the surface, and the sweet air rushed into his open
mouth. He did not go down again. Quite as though it had been a
long-established custom of his he struck out with all his legs and
began to swim. The near bank was a yard away; but he had come up
with his back to it, and the first thing his eyes rested upon was
the opposite bank, toward which he immediately began to swim. The
stream was a small one, but in the pool it widened out to a score
Midway in the passage, the current picked up the cub and swept him
downstream. He was caught in the miniature rapid at the bottom of
the pool. Here was little chance for swimming. The quiet water
had become suddenly angry. Sometimes he was under, sometimes on
top. At all times he was in violent motion, now being turned over
or around, and again, being smashed against a rock. And with every
rock he struck, he yelped. His progress was a series of yelps,
from which might have been adduced the number of rocks he
Below the rapid was a second pool, and here, captured by the eddy,
he was gently borne to the bank, and as gently deposited on a bed
of gravel. He crawled frantically clear of the water and lay down.
He had learned some more about the world. Water was not alive.
Yet it moved. Also, it looked as solid as the earth, but was
without any solidity at all. His conclusion was that things were
not always what they appeared to be. The cub's fear of the unknown
was an inherited distrust, and it had now been strengthened by
experience. Thenceforth, in the nature of things, he would possess
an abiding distrust of appearances. He would have to learn the
reality of a thing before he could put his faith into it.
One other adventure was destined for him that day. He had
recollected that there was such a thing in the world as his mother.
And then there came to him a feeling that he wanted her more than
all the rest of the things in the world. Not only was his body
tired with the adventures it had undergone, but his little brain
was equally tired. In all the days he had lived it had not worked
so hard as on this one day. Furthermore, he was sleepy. So he
started out to look for the cave and his mother, feeling at the
same time an overwhelming rush of loneliness and helplessness.
He was sprawling along between some bushes, when he heard a sharp
intimidating cry. There was a flash of yellow before his eyes. He
saw a weasel leaping swiftly away from him. It was a small live
thing, and he had no fear. Then, before him, at his feet, he saw
an extremely small live thing, only several inches long, a young
weasel, that, like himself, had disobediently gone out adventuring.
It tried to retreat before him. He turned it over with his paw.
It made a queer, grating noise. The next moment the flash of
yellow reappeared before his eyes. He heard again the intimidating
cry, and at the same instant received a sharp blow on the side of
the neck and felt the sharp teeth of the mother-weasel cut into his
While he yelped and ki-yi'd and scrambled backward, he saw the
mother-weasel leap upon her young one and disappear with it into
the neighbouring thicket. The cut of her teeth in his neck still
hurt, but his feelings were hurt more grievously, and he sat down
and weakly whimpered. This mother-weasel was so small and so
savage. He was yet to learn that for size and weight the weasel
was the most ferocious, vindictive, and terrible of all the killers
of the Wild. But a portion of this knowledge was quickly to be
He was still whimpering when the mother-weasel reappeared. She did
not rush him, now that her young one was safe. She approached more
cautiously, and the cub had full opportunity to observe her lean,
snakelike body, and her head, erect, eager, and snake-like itself.
Her sharp, menacing cry sent the hair bristling along his back, and
he snarled warningly at her. She came closer and closer. There
was a leap, swifter than his unpractised sight, and the lean,
yellow body disappeared for a moment out of the field of his
vision. The next moment she was at his throat, her teeth buried in
his hair and flesh.
At first he snarled and tried to fight; but he was very young, and
this was only his first day in the world, and his snarl became a
whimper, his fight a struggle to escape. The weasel never relaxed
her hold. She hung on, striving to press down with her teeth to
the great vein were his life-blood bubbled. The weasel was a
drinker of blood, and it was ever her preference to drink from the
throat of life itself.
The grey cub would have died, and there would have been no story to
write about him, had not the she-wolf come bounding through the
bushes. The weasel let go the cub and flashed at the she-wolf's
throat, missing, but getting a hold on the jaw instead. The she-
wolf flirted her head like the snap of a whip, breaking the
weasel's hold and flinging it high in the air. And, still in the
air, the she-wolf's jaws closed on the lean, yellow body, and the
weasel knew death between the crunching teeth.
The cub experienced another access of affection on the part of his
mother. Her joy at finding him seemed even greater than his joy at
being found. She nozzled him and caressed him and licked the cuts
made in him by the weasel's teeth. Then, between them, mother and
cub, they ate the blood-drinker, and after that went back to the
cave and slept.