Chapter VIII - The Law of Meat
The cub's development was rapid. He rested for two days, and then
ventured forth from the cave again. It was on this adventure that
he found the young weasel whose mother he had helped eat, and he
saw to it that the young weasel went the way of its mother. But on
this trip he did not get lost. When he grew tired, he found his
way back to the cave and slept. And every day thereafter found him
out and ranging a wider area.
He began to get accurate measurement of his strength and his
weakness, and to know when to be bold and when to be cautious. He
found it expedient to be cautious all the time, except for the rare
moments, when, assured of his own intrepidity, he abandoned himself
to petty rages and lusts.
He was always a little demon of fury when he chanced upon a stray
ptarmigan. Never did he fail to respond savagely to the chatter of
the squirrel he had first met on the blasted pine. While the sight
of a moose-bird almost invariably put him into the wildest of
rages; for he never forgot the peck on the nose he had received
from the first of that ilk he encountered.
But there were times when even a moose-bird failed to affect him,
and those were times when he felt himself to be in danger from some
other prowling meat hunter. He never forgot the hawk, and its
moving shadow always sent him crouching into the nearest thicket.
He no longer sprawled and straddled, and already he was developing
the gait of his mother, slinking and furtive, apparently without
exertion, yet sliding along with a swiftness that was as deceptive
as it was imperceptible.
In the matter of meat, his luck had been all in the beginning. The
seven ptarmigan chicks and the baby weasel represented the sum of
his killings. His desire to kill strengthened with the days, and
he cherished hungry ambitions for the squirrel that chattered so
volubly and always informed all wild creatures that the wolf-cub
was approaching. But as birds flew in the air, squirrels could
climb trees, and the cub could only try to crawl unobserved upon
the squirrel when it was on the ground.
The cub entertained a great respect for his mother. She could get
meat, and she never failed to bring him his share. Further, she
was unafraid of things. It did not occur to him that this
fearlessness was founded upon experience and knowledge. Its effect
on him was that of an impression of power. His mother represented
power; and as he grew older he felt this power in the sharper
admonishment of her paw; while the reproving nudge of her nose gave
place to the slash of her fangs. For this, likewise, he respected
his mother. She compelled obedience from him, and the older he
grew the shorter grew her temper.
Famine came again, and the cub with clearer consciousness knew once
more the bite of hunger. The she-wolf ran herself thin in the
quest for meat. She rarely slept any more in the cave, spending
most of her time on the meat-trail, and spending it vainly. This
famine was not a long one, but it was severe while it lasted. The
cub found no more milk in his mother's breast, nor did he get one
mouthful of meat for himself.
Before, he had hunted in play, for the sheer joyousness of it; now
he hunted in deadly earnestness, and found nothing. Yet the
failure of it accelerated his development. He studied the habits
of the squirrel with greater carefulness, and strove with greater
craft to steal upon it and surprise it. He studied the wood-mice
and tried to dig them out of their burrows; and he learned much
about the ways of moose-birds and woodpeckers. And there came a
day when the hawk's shadow did not drive him crouching into the
bushes. He had grown stronger and wiser, and more confident.
Also, he was desperate. So he sat on his haunches, conspicuously
in an open space, and challenged the hawk down out of the sky. For
he knew that there, floating in the blue above him, was meat, the
meat his stomach yearned after so insistently. But the hawk
refused to come down and give battle, and the cub crawled away into
a thicket and whimpered his disappointment and hunger.
The famine broke. The she-wolf brought home meat. It was strange
meat, different from any she had ever brought before. It was a
lynx kitten, partly grown, like the cub, but not so large. And it
was all for him. His mother had satisfied her hunger elsewhere;
though he did not know that it was the rest of the lynx litter that
had gone to satisfy her. Nor did he know the desperateness of her
deed. He knew only that the velvet-furred kitten was meat, and he
ate and waxed happier with every mouthful.
A full stomach conduces to inaction, and the cub lay in the cave,
sleeping against his mother's side. He was aroused by her
snarling. Never had he heard her snarl so terribly. Possibly in
her whole life it was the most terrible snarl she ever gave. There
was reason for it, and none knew it better than she. A lynx's lair
is not despoiled with impunity. In the full glare of the afternoon
light, crouching in the entrance of the cave, the cub saw the lynx-
mother. The hair rippled up along his back at the sight. Here was
fear, and it did not require his instinct to tell him of it. And
if sight alone were not sufficient, the cry of rage the intruder
gave, beginning with a snarl and rushing abruptly upward into a
hoarse screech, was convincing enough in itself.
The cub felt the prod of the life that was in him, and stood up and
snarled valiantly by his mother's side. But she thrust him
ignominiously away and behind her. Because of the low-roofed
entrance the lynx could not leap in, and when she made a crawling
rush of it the she-wolf sprang upon her and pinned her down. The
cub saw little of the battle. There was a tremendous snarling and
spitting and screeching. The two animals threshed about, the lynx
ripping and tearing with her claws and using her teeth as well,
while the she-wolf used her teeth alone.
Once, the cub sprang in and sank his teeth into the hind leg of the
lynx. He clung on, growling savagely. Though he did not know it,
by the weight of his body he clogged the action of the leg and
thereby saved his mother much damage. A change in the battle
crushed him under both their bodies and wrenched loose his hold.
The next moment the two mothers separated, and, before they rushed
together again, the lynx lashed out at the cub with a huge fore-paw
that ripped his shoulder open to the bone and sent him hurtling
sidewise against the wall. Then was added to the uproar the cub's
shrill yelp of pain and fright. But the fight lasted so long that
he had time to cry himself out and to experience a second burst of
courage; and the end of the battle found him again clinging to a
hind-leg and furiously growling between his teeth.
The lynx was dead. But the she-wolf was very weak and sick. At
first she caressed the cub and licked his wounded shoulder; but the
blood she had lost had taken with it her strength, and for all of a
day and a night she lay by her dead foe's side, without movement,
scarcely breathing. For a week she never left the cave, except for
water, and then her movements were slow and painful. At the end of
that time the lynx was devoured, while the she-wolf's wounds had
healed sufficiently to permit her to take the meat-trail again.
The cub's shoulder was stiff and sore, and for some time he limped
from the terrible slash he had received. But the world now seemed
changed. He went about in it with greater confidence, with a
feeling of prowess that had not been his in the days before the
battle with the lynx. He had looked upon life in a more ferocious
aspect; he had fought; he had buried his teeth in the flesh of a
foe; and he had survived. And because of all this, he carried
himself more boldly, with a touch of defiance that was new in him.
He was no longer afraid of minor things, and much of his timidity
had vanished, though the unknown never ceased to press upon him
with its mysteries and terrors, intangible and ever-menacing.
He began to accompany his mother on the meat-trail, and he saw much
of the killing of meat and began to play his part in it. And in
his own dim way he learned the law of meat. There were two kinds
of life - his own kind and the other kind. His own kind included
his mother and himself. The other kind included all live things
that moved. But the other kind was divided. One portion was what
his own kind killed and ate. This portion was composed of the non-
killers and the small killers. The other portion killed and ate
his own kind, or was killed and eaten by his own kind. And out of
this classification arose the law. The aim of life was meat. Life
itself was meat. Life lived on life. There were the eaters and
the eaten. The law was: EAT OR BE EATEN. He did not formulate
the law in clear, set terms and moralise about it. He did not even
think the law; he merely lived the law without thinking about it at
He saw the law operating around him on every side. He had eaten
the ptarmigan chicks. The hawk had eaten the ptarmigan-mother.
The hawk would also have eaten him. Later, when he had grown more
formidable, he wanted to eat the hawk. He had eaten the lynx
kitten. The lynx-mother would have eaten him had she not herself
been killed and eaten. And so it went. The law was being lived
about him by all live things, and he himself was part and parcel of
the law. He was a killer. His only food was meat, live meat, that
ran away swiftly before him, or flew into the air, or climbed
trees, or hid in the ground, or faced him and fought with him, or
turned the tables and ran after him.
Had the cub thought in man-fashion, he might have epitomised life
as a voracious appetite and the world as a place wherein ranged a
multitude of appetites, pursuing and being pursued, hunting and
being hunted, eating and being eaten, all in blindness and
confusion, with violence and disorder, a chaos of gluttony and
slaughter, ruled over by chance, merciless, planless, endless.
But the cub did not think in man-fashion. He did not look at
things with wide vision. He was single-purposed, and entertained
but one thought or desire at a time. Besides the law of meat,
there were a myriad other and lesser laws for him to learn and
obey. The world was filled with surprise. The stir of the life
that was in him, the play of his muscles, was an unending
happiness. To run down meat was to experience thrills and
elations. His rages and battles were pleasures. Terror itself,
and the mystery of the unknown, led to his living.
And there were easements and satisfactions. To have a full
stomach, to doze lazily in the sunshine - such things were
remuneration in full for his ardours and toils, while his ardours
and tolls were in themselves self-remunerative. They were
expressions of life, and life is always happy when it is expressing
itself. So the cub had no quarrel with his hostile environment.
He was very much alive, very happy, and very proud of himself.