Before adam, p.1
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       Before Adam, p.1

           Jack London
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Before Adam


  Produced by John Hamm

  BEFORE ADAM

  by Jack London

  1906

  "These are our ancestors, and their history is our history. Rememberthat as surely as we one day swung down out of the trees and walkedupright, just as surely, on a far earlier day, did we crawl up out ofthe sea and achieve our first adventure on land."

  CHAPTER I

  Pictures! Pictures! Pictures! Often, before I learned, did I wonderwhence came the multitudes of pictures that thronged my dreams; forthey were pictures the like of which I had never seen in real wake-a-daylife. They tormented my childhood, making of my dreams a procession ofnightmares and a little later convincing me that I was different from mykind, a creature unnatural and accursed.

  In my days only did I attain any measure of happiness. My nights markedthe reign of fear--and such fear! I make bold to state that no man ofall the men who walk the earth with me ever suffer fear of like kind anddegree. For my fear is the fear of long ago, the fear that was rampantin the Younger World, and in the youth of the Younger World. Inshort, the fear that reigned supreme in that period known as theMid-Pleistocene.

  What do I mean? I see explanation is necessary before I can tell youof the substance of my dreams. Otherwise, little could you know of themeaning of the things I know so well. As I write this, all thebeings and happenings of that other world rise up before me in vastphantasmagoria, and I know that to you they would be rhymeless andreasonless.

  What to you the friendship of Lop-Ear, the warm lure of the Swift One,the lust and the atavism of Red-Eye? A screaming incoherence and nomore. And a screaming incoherence, likewise, the doings of the FirePeople and the Tree People, and the gibbering councils of the horde. Foryou know not the peace of the cool caves in the cliffs, the circus ofthe drinking-places at the end of the day. You have never felt the biteof the morning wind in the tree-tops, nor is the taste of young barksweet in your mouth.

  It would be better, I dare say, for you to make your approach, as I mademine, through my childhood. As a boy I was very like other boys--in mywaking hours. It was in my sleep that I was different. From my earliestrecollection my sleep was a period of terror. Rarely were my dreamstinctured with happiness. As a rule, they were stuffed with fear--andwith a fear so strange and alien that it had no ponderable quality.No fear that I experienced in my waking life resembled the fear thatpossessed me in my sleep. It was of a quality and kind that transcendedall my experiences.

  For instance, I was a city boy, a city child, rather, to whom thecountry was an unexplored domain. Yet I never dreamed of cities; nor dida house ever occur in any of my dreams. Nor, for that matter, did any ofmy human kind ever break through the wall of my sleep. I, who had seentrees only in parks and illustrated books, wandered in my sleep throughinterminable forests. And further, these dream trees were not a mereblur on my vision. They were sharp and distinct. I was on terms ofpractised intimacy with them. I saw every branch and twig; I saw andknew every different leaf.

  Well do I remember the first time in my waking life that I saw an oaktree. As I looked at the leaves and branches and gnarls, it came to mewith distressing vividness that I had seen that same kind of tree manyand countless times in my sleep. So I was not surprised, still later onin my life, to recognize instantly, the first time I saw them, treessuch as the spruce, the yew, the birch, and the laurel. I had seen themall before, and was seeing them even then, every night, in my sleep.

  This, as you have already discerned, violates the first law of dreaming,namely, that in one's dreams one sees only what he has seen in hiswaking life, or combinations of the things he has seen in his wakinglife. But all my dreams violated this law. In my dreams I never sawANYTHING of which I had knowledge in my waking life. My dream lifeand my waking life were lives apart, with not one thing in common savemyself. I was the connecting link that somehow lived both lives.

  Early in my childhood I learned that nuts came from the grocer, berriesfrom the fruit man; but before ever that knowledge was mine, in mydreams I picked nuts from trees, or gathered them and ate them from theground underneath trees, and in the same way I ate berries from vinesand bushes. This was beyond any experience of mine.

  I shall never forget the first time I saw blueberries served on thetable. I had never seen blueberries before, and yet, at the sightof them, there leaped up in my mind memories of dreams wherein I hadwandered through swampy land eating my fill of them. My mother setbefore me a dish of the berries. I filled my spoon, but before I raisedit to my mouth I knew just how they would taste. Nor was I disappointed.It was the same tang that I had tasted a thousand times in my sleep.

  Snakes? Long before I had heard of the existence of snakes, I wastormented by them in my sleep. They lurked for me in the forest glades;leaped up, striking, under my feet; squirmed off through the dry grassor across naked patches of rock; or pursued me into the tree-tops,encircling the trunks with their great shining bodies, driving me higherand higher or farther and farther out on swaying and crackling branches,the ground a dizzy distance beneath me. Snakes!--with their forkedtongues, their beady eyes and glittering scales, their hissing and theirrattling--did I not already know them far too well on that day of myfirst circus when I saw the snake-charmer lift them up?

  They were old friends of mine, enemies rather, that peopled my nightswith fear.

  Ah, those endless forests, and their horror-haunted gloom! For whateternities have I wandered through them, a timid, hunted creature,starting at the least sound, frightened of my own shadow, keyed-up, everalert and vigilant, ready on the instant to dash away in mad flight formy life. For I was the prey of all manner of fierce life that dweltin the forest, and it was in ecstasies of fear that I fled before thehunting monsters.

  When I was five years old I went to my first circus. I came home fromit sick--but not from peanuts and pink lemonade. Let me tell you. As weentered the animal tent, a hoarse roaring shook the air. I tore my handloose from my father's and dashed wildly back through the entrance. Icollided with people, fell down; and all the time I was screaming withterror. My father caught me and soothed me. He pointed to the crowd ofpeople, all careless of the roaring, and cheered me with assurances ofsafety.

  Nevertheless, it was in fear and trembling, and with much encouragementon his part, that I at last approached the lion's cage. Ah, I knew himon the instant. The beast! The terrible one! And on my inner visionflashed the memories of my dreams,--the midday sun shining on tallgrass, the wild bull grazing quietly, the sudden parting of the grassbefore the swift rush of the tawny one, his leap to the bull's back, thecrashing and the bellowing, and the crunch crunch of bones; or again,the cool quiet of the water-hole, the wild horse up to his knees anddrinking softly, and then the tawny one--always the tawny one!--theleap, the screaming and the splashing of the horse, and the crunchcrunch of bones; and yet again, the sombre twilight and the sad silenceof the end of day, and then the great full-throated roar, sudden, likea trump of doom, and swift upon it the insane shrieking and chatteringamong the trees, and I, too, am trembling with fear and am one of themany shrieking and chattering among the trees.

  At the sight of him, helpless, within the bars of his cage, I becameenraged. I gritted my teeth at him, danced up and down, screaming anincoherent mockery and making antic faces. He responded, rushing againstthe bars and roaring back at me his impotent wrath. Ah, he knew me, too,and the sounds I made were the sounds of old time and intelligible tohim.

  My parents were frightened. "The child is ill," said my mother. "He ishysterical," said my father. I never told them, and they never knew.Already had I developed reticence concerning this quality of mine, thissemi-disassociation of personality as I think I am justified in callingit.

  I saw the snake-charmer, and no more of the circus did I se
e that night.I was taken home, nervous and overwrought, sick with the invasion of myreal life by that other life of my dreams.

  I have mentioned my reticence. Only once did I confide the strangenessof it all to another. He was a boy--my chum; and we were eight yearsold. From my dreams I reconstructed for him pictures of that vanishedworld in which I do believe I once lived. I told him of the terrors ofthat early time, of Lop-Ear and the pranks we played, of the gibberingcouncils, and of the Fire People and their squatting places.

  He laughed at me, and jeered, and told me tales of ghosts and of thedead that walk at night. But mostly did he laugh at my feeble fancy.I told him more, and he laughed the harder. I swore in all earnestnessthat these things were so, and he began to look upon me queerly. Also,he gave amazing garblings of my tales to our playmates, until all beganto look upon me queerly.

  It was a bitter experience, but I learned my lesson. I was differentfrom my kind. I was abnormal with something they could not understand,and the telling of which would cause only misunderstanding. When thestories of ghosts and goblins went around, I kept quiet. I smiled grimlyto myself. I thought of my nights of fear, and knew that mine were thereal things--real as life itself, not attenuated vapors and surmisedshadows.

  For me no terrors resided in the thought of bugaboos and wicked ogres.The fall through leafy branches and the dizzy heights; the snakes thatstruck at me as I dodged and leaped away in chattering flight; the wilddogs that hunted me across the open spaces to the timber--these wereterrors concrete and actual, happenings and not imaginings, things ofthe living flesh and of sweat and blood. Ogres and bugaboos and I hadbeen happy bed-fellows, compared with these terrors that made their bedwith me throughout my childhood, and that still bed with me, now, as Iwrite this, full of years.

 
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