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A Relic of the Pliocene - Jack London - zip

I wash my hands of him at the start. I cannot father his tales,
nor will I be responsible for them. I make these preliminary
reservations, observe, as a guard upon my own integrity. I possess
a certain definite position in a small way, also a wife; and for
the good name of the community that honours my existence with its
approval, and for the sake of her posterity and mine, I cannot take
the chances I once did, nor foster probabilities with the careless
improvidence of youth. So, I repeat, I wash my hands of him, this
Nimrod, this mighty hunter, this homely, blue-eyed, freckle-faced
Thomas Stevens.

Having been honest to myself, and to whatever prospective olive
branches my wife may be pleased to tender me, I can now afford to
be generous. I shall not criticize the tales told me by Thomas
Stevens, and, further, I shall withhold my judgment. If it be
asked why, I can only add that judgment I have none. Long have I
pondered, weighed, and balanced, but never have my conclusions been
twice the same--forsooth! because Thomas Stevens is a greater man
than I. If he have told truths, well and good; if untruths, still
well and good. For who can prove? or who disprove? I eliminate
myself from the proposition, while those of little faith may do as
I have done--go find the same Thomas Stevens, and discuss to his
face the various matters which, if fortune serve, I shall relate.
As to where he may be found? The directions are simple: anywhere
between 53 north latitude and the Pole, on the one hand; and, on
the other, the likeliest hunting grounds that lie between the east
coast of Siberia and farthermost Labrador. That he is there,
somewhere, within that clearly defined territory, I pledge the word
of an honourable man whose expectations entail straight speaking
and right living.

Thomas Stevens may have toyed prodigiously with truth, but when we
first met (it were well to mark this point), he wandered into my
camp when I thought myself a thousand miles beyond the outermost
post of civilization. At the sight of his human face, the first in
weary months, I could have sprung forward and folded him in my arms
(and I am not by any means a demonstrative man); but to him his
visit seemed the most casual thing under the sun. He just strolled
into the light of my camp, passed the time of day after the custom
of men on beaten trails, threw my snowshoes the one way and a
couple of dogs the other, and so made room for himself by the fire.
Said he'd just dropped in to borrow a pinch of soda and to see if I
had any decent tobacco. He plucked forth an ancient pipe, loaded
it with painstaking care, and, without as much as by your leave,
whacked half the tobacco of my pouch into his. Yes, the stuff was
fairly good. He sighed with the contentment of the just, and
literally absorbed the smoke from the crisping yellow flakes, and
it did my smoker's heart good to behold him.

Hunter? Trapper? Prospector? He shrugged his shoulders No; just
sort of knocking round a bit. Had come up from the Great Slave
some time since, and was thinking of trapsing over into the Yukon
country. The factor of Koshim had spoken about the discoveries on
the Klondike, and he was of a mind to run over for a peep. I
noticed that he spoke of the Klondike in the archaic vernacular,
calling it the Reindeer River--a conceited custom that the Old
Timers employ against the CHECHAQUAS and all tenderfeet in general.
But he did it so naively and as such a matter of course, that there
was no sting, and I forgave him. He also had it in view, he said,
before he crossed the divide into the Yukon, to make a little run
up Fort o' Good Hope way.

Now Fort o' Good Hope is a far journey to the north, over and
beyond the Circle, in a place where the feet of few men have trod;
and when a nondescript ragamuffin comes in out of the night, from
nowhere in particular, to sit by one's fire and discourse on such
in terms of "trapsing" and "a little run," it is fair time to rouse
up and shake off the dream. Wherefore I looked about me; saw the
fly and, underneath, the pine boughs spread for the sleeping furs;
saw the grub sacks, the camera, the frosty breaths of the dogs
circling on the edge of the light; and, above, a great streamer of
the aurora, bridging the zenith from south-east to north-west. I
shivered. There is a magic in the Northland night, that steals in
on one like fevers from malarial marshes. You are clutched and
downed before you are aware. Then I looked to the snowshoes, lying
prone and crossed where he had flung them. Also I had an eye to my
tobacco pouch. Half, at least, of its goodly store had vamosed.
That settled it. Fancy had not tricked me after all.

Crazed with suffering, I thought, looking steadfastly at the man--
one of those wild stampeders, strayed far from his bearings and
wandering like a lost soul through great vastnesses and unknown
deeps. Oh, well, let his moods slip on, until, mayhap, he gathers
his tangled wits together. Who knows?--the mere sound of a fellow-
creature's voice may bring all straight again.

So I led him on in talk, and soon I marvelled, for he talked of
game and the ways thereof. He had killed the Siberian wolf of
westernmost Alaska, and the chamois in the secret Rockies. He
averred he knew the haunts where the last buffalo still roamed;
that he had hung on the flanks of the caribou when they ran by the
hundred thousand, and slept in the Great Barrens on the musk-ox's
winter trail.

And I shifted my judgment accordingly (the first revision, but by
no account the last), and deemed him a monumental effigy of truth.
Why it was I know not, but the spirit moved me to repeat a tale
told to me by a man who had dwelt in the land too long to know
better. It was of the great bear that hugs the steep slopes of St
Elias, never descending to the levels of the gentler inclines. Now
God so constituted this creature for its hillside habitat that the
legs of one side are all of a foot longer than those of the other.
This is mighty convenient, as will be reality admitted. So I
hunted this rare beast in my own name, told it in the first person,
present tense, painted the requisite locale, gave it the necessary
garnishings and touches of verisimilitude, and looked to see the
man stunned by the recital.

Not he. Had he doubted, I could have forgiven him. Had he
objected, denying the dangers of such a hunt by virtue of the
animal's inability to turn about and go the other way--had he done
this, I say, I could have taken him by the hand for the true
sportsman that he was. Not he. He sniffed, looked on me, and
sniffed again; then gave my tobacco due praise, thrust one foot
into my lap, and bade me examine the gear. It was a MUCLUC of the
Innuit pattern, sewed together with sinew threads, and devoid of
beads or furbelows. But it was the skin itself that was
remarkable. In that it was all of half an inch thick, it reminded
me of walrus-hide; but there the resemblance ceased, for no walrus
ever bore so marvellous a growth of hair. On the side and ankles
this hair was well-nigh worn away, what of friction with underbrush
and snow; but around the top and down the more sheltered back it
was coarse, dirty black, and very thick. I parted it with
difficulty and looked beneath for the fine fur that is common with
northern animals, but found it in this case to be absent. This,
however, was compensated for by the length. Indeed, the tufts that
had survived wear and tear measured all of seven or eight inches.

I looked up into the man's face, and he pulled his foot down and
asked, "Find hide like that on your St Elias bear?"

I shook my head. "Nor on any other creature of land or sea," I
answered candidly. The thickness of it, and the length of the
hair, puzzled me.

"That," he said, and said without the slightest hint of
impressiveness, "that came from a mammoth."

"Nonsense!" I exclaimed, for I could not forbear the protest of my
unbelief. "The mammoth, my dear sir, long ago vanished from the
earth. We know it once existed by the fossil remains that we have
unearthed, and by a frozen carcase that the Siberian sun saw fit to
melt from out the bosom of a glacier; but we also know that no
living specimen exists. Our explorers--"

At this word he broke in impatiently. "Your explorers? Pish! A
weakly breed. Let us hear no more of them. But tell me, O man,
what you may know of the mammoth and his ways."

Beyond contradiction, this was leading to a yarn; so I baited my
hook by ransacking my memory for whatever data I possessed on the
subject in hand. To begin with, I emphasized that the animal was
prehistoric, and marshalled all my facts in support of this. I
mentioned the Siberian sand-bars that abounded with ancient mammoth
bones; spoke of the large quantities of fossil ivory purchased from
the Innuits by the Alaska Commercial Company; and acknowledged
having myself mined six- and eight-foot tusks from the pay gravel
of the Klondike creeks. "All fossils," I concluded, "found in the
midst of debris deposited through countless ages."

"I remember when I was a kid," Thomas Stevens sniffed (he had a
most confounded way of sniffing), "that I saw a petrified water-
melon. Hence, though mistaken persons sometimes delude themselves
into thinking that they are really raising or eating them, there
are no such things as extant water-melons?"

"But the question of food," I objected, ignoring his point, which
was puerile and without bearing. "The soil must bring forth
vegetable life in lavish abundance to support so monstrous
creations. Nowhere in the North is the soil so prolific. Ergo,
the mammoth cannot exist."

"I pardon your ignorance concerning many matters of this Northland,
for you are a young man and have travelled little; but, at the same
time, I am inclined to agree with you on one thing. The mammoth no
longer exists. How do I know? I killed the last one with my own
right arm."

Thus spake Nimrod, the mighty Hunter. I threw a stick of firewood
at the dogs and bade them quit their unholy howling, and waited.
Undoubtedly this liar of singular felicity would open his mouth and
requite me for my St. Elias bear.

"It was this way," he at last began, after the appropriate silence
had intervened. "I was in camp one day--"

"Where?" I interrupted.

He waved his hand vaguely in the direction of the north-east, where
stretched a TERRA INCOGNITA into which vastness few men have
strayed and fewer emerged. "I was in camp one day with Klooch.
Klooch was as handsome a little KAMOOKS as ever whined betwixt the
traces or shoved nose into a camp kettle. Her father was a full-
blood Malemute from Russian Pastilik on Bering Sea, and I bred her,
and with understanding, out of a clean-legged bitch of the Hudson
Bay stock. I tell you, O man, she was a corker combination. And
now, on this day I have in mind, she was brought to pup through a
pure wild wolf of the woods--grey, and long of limb, with big lungs
and no end of staying powers. Say! Was there ever the like? It
was a new breed of dog I had started, and I could look forward to
big things.

"As I have said, she was brought neatly to pup, and safely
delivered. I was squatting on my hams over the litter--seven
sturdy, blind little beggars--when from behind came a bray of
trumpets and crash of brass. There was a rush, like the wind-
squall that kicks the heels of the rain, and I was midway to my
feet when knocked flat on my face. At the same instant I heard
Klooch sigh, very much as a man does when you've planted your fist
in his belly. You can stake your sack I lay quiet, but I twisted
my head around and saw a huge bulk swaying above me. Then the blue
sky flashed into view and I got to my feet. A hairy mountain of
flesh was just disappearing in the underbrush on the edge of the
open. I caught a rear-end glimpse, with a stiff tail, as big in
girth as my body, standing out straight behind. The next second
only a tremendous hole remained in the thicket, though I could
still hear the sounds as of a tornado dying quickly away,
underbrush ripping and tearing, and trees snapping and crashing.

"I cast about for my rifle. It had been lying on the ground with
the muzzle against a log; but now the stock was smashed, the barrel
out of line, and the working-gear in a thousand bits. Then I
looked for the slut, and--and what do you suppose?"

I shook my head.

"May my soul burn in a thousand hells if there was anything left of
her! Klooch, the seven sturdy, blind little beggars--gone, all
gone. Where she had stretched was a slimy, bloody depression in
the soft earth, all of a yard in diameter, and around the edges a
few scattered hairs."

I measured three feet on the snow, threw about it a circle, and
glanced at Nimrod.

"The beast was thirty long and twenty high," he answered, "and its
tusks scaled over six times three feet. I couldn't believe,
myself, at the time, for all that it had just happened. But if my
senses had played me, there was the broken gun and the hole in the
brush. And there was--or, rather, there was not--Klooch and the
pups. O man, it makes me hot all over now when I think of it
Klooch! Another Eve! The mother of a new race! And a rampaging,
ranting, old bull mammoth, like a second flood, wiping them, root
and branch, off the face of the earth! Do you wonder that the
blood-soaked earth cried out to high God? Or that I grabbed the
hand-axe and took the trail?"

"The hand-axe?" I exclaimed, startled out of myself by the picture.
"The hand-axe, and a big bull mammoth, thirty feet long, twenty

Nimrod joined me in my merriment, chuckling gleefully. "Wouldn't
it kill you?" he cried. "Wasn't it a beaver's dream? Many's the
time I've laughed about it since, but at the time it was no
laughing matter, I was that danged mad, what of the gun and Klooch.
Think of it, O man! A brand-new, unclassified, uncopyrighted
breed, and wiped out before ever it opened its eyes or took out its
intention papers! Well, so be it. Life's full of disappointments,
and rightly so. Meat is best after a famine, and a bed soft after
a hard trail.

"As I was saying, I took out after the beast with the hand-axe, and
hung to its heels down the valley; but when he circled back toward
the head, I was left winded at the lower end. Speaking of grub, I
might as well stop long enough to explain a couple of points. Up
thereabouts, in the midst of the mountains, is an almighty curious
formation. There is no end of little valleys, each like the other
much as peas in a pod, and all neatly tucked away with straight,
rocky walls rising on all sides. And at the lower ends are always
small openings where the drainage or glaciers must have broken out.
The only way in is through these mouths, and they are all small,
and some smaller than others. As to grub--you've slushed around on
the rain-soaked islands of the Alaskan coast down Sitka way, most
likely, seeing as you're a traveller. And you know how stuff grows
there--big, and juicy, and jungly. Well, that's the way it was
with those valleys. Thick, rich soil, with ferns and grasses and
such things in patches higher than your head. Rain three days out
of four during the summer months; and food in them for a thousand
mammoths, to say nothing of small game for man.

"But to get back. Down at the lower end of the valley I got winded
and gave over. I began to speculate, for when my wind left me my
dander got hotter and hotter, and I knew I'd never know peace of
mind till I dined on roasted mammoth-foot. And I knew, also, that
that stood for SKOOKUM MAMOOK PUKAPUK--excuse Chinook, I mean there
was a big fight coming. Now the mouth of my valley was very
narrow, and the walls steep. High up on one side was one of those
big pivot rocks, or balancing rocks, as some call them, weighing
all of a couple of hundred tons. Just the thing. I hit back for
camp, keeping an eye open so the bull couldn't slip past, and got
my ammunition. It wasn't worth anything with the rifle smashed; so
I opened the shells, planted the powder under the rock, and touched
it off with slow fuse. Wasn't much of a charge, but the old
boulder tilted up lazily and dropped down into place, with just
space enough to let the creek drain nicely. Now I had him."

"But how did you have him?" I queried. "Who ever heard of a man
killing a mammoth with a hand-axe? And, for that matter, with
anything else?"

"O man, have I not told you I was mad?" Nimrod replied, with a
slight manifestation of sensitiveness. "Mad clean through, what of
Klooch and the gun. Also, was I not a hunter? And was this not
new and most unusual game? A hand-axe? Pish! I did not need it.
Listen, and you shall hear of a hunt, such as might have happened
in the youth of the world when cavemen rounded up the kill with
hand-axe of stone. Such would have served me as well. Now is it
not a fact that man can outwalk the dog or horse? That he can wear
them out with the intelligence of his endurance?"

I nodded.


The light broke in on me, and I bade him continue.

"My valley was perhaps five miles around. The mouth was closed.
There was no way to get out. A timid beast was that bull mammoth,
and I had him at my mercy. I got on his heels again hollered like
a fiend, pelted him with cobbles, and raced him around the valley
three times before I knocked off for supper. Don't you see? A
race-course! A man and a mammoth! A hippodrome, with sun, moon,
and stars to referee!

"It took me two months to do it, but I did it. And that's no
beaver dream. Round and round I ran him, me travelling on the
inner circle, eating jerked meat and salmon berries on the run, and
snatching winks of sleep between. Of course, he'd get desperate at
times and turn. Then I'd head for soft ground where the creek
spread out, and lay anathema upon him and his ancestry, and dare
him to come on. But he was too wise to bog in a mud puddle. Once
he pinned me in against the walls, and I crawled back into a deep
crevice and waited. Whenever he felt for me with his trunk, I'd
belt him with the hand-axe till he pulled out, shrieking fit to
split my ear drums, he was that mad. He knew he had me and didn't
have me, and it near drove him wild. But he was no man's fool. He
knew he was safe as long as I stayed in the crevice, and he made up
his mind to keep me there. And he was dead right, only he hadn't
figured on the commissary. There was neither grub nor water around
that spot, so on the face of it he couldn't keep up the siege.
He'd stand before the opening for hours, keeping an eye on me and
flapping mosquitoes away with his big blanket ears. Then the
thirst would come on him and he'd ramp round and roar till the
earth shook, calling me every name he could lay tongue to. This
was to frighten me, of course; and when he thought I was
sufficiently impressed, he'd back away softly and try to make a
sneak for the creek. Sometimes I'd let him get almost there--only
a couple of hundred yards away it was--when out I'd pop and back
he'd come, lumbering along like the old landslide he was. After
I'd done this a few times, and he'd figured it out, he changed his
tactics. Grasped the time element, you see. Without a word of
warning, away he'd go, tearing for the water like mad, scheming to
get there and back before I ran away. Finally, after cursing me
most horribly, he raised the siege and deliberately stalked off to
the water-hole.

"That was the only time he penned me,--three days of it,--but after
that the hippodrome never stopped. Round, and round, and round,
like a six days' go-as-I-please, for he never pleased. My clothes
went to rags and tatters, but I never stopped to mend, till at last
I ran naked as a son of earth, with nothing but the old hand-axe in
one hand and a cobble in the other. In fact, I never stopped, save
for peeps of sleep in the crannies and ledges of the cliffs. As
for the bull, he got perceptibly thinner and thinner--must have
lost several tons at least--and as nervous as a schoolmarm on the
wrong side of matrimony. When I'd come up with him and yell, or
lain him with a rock at long range, he'd jump like a skittish colt
and tremble all over. Then he'd pull out on the run, tail and
trunk waving stiff, head over one shoulder and wicked eyes blazing,
and the way he'd swear at me was something dreadful. A most
immoral beast he was, a murderer, and a blasphemer.

"But towards the end he quit all this, and fell to whimpering and
crying like a baby. His spirit broke and he became a quivering
jelly-mountain of misery. He'd get attacks of palpitation of the
heart, and stagger around like a drunken man, and fall down and
bark his shins. And then he'd cry, but always on the run. O man,
the gods themselves would have wept with him, and you yourself or
any other man. It was pitiful, and there was so I much of it, but
I only hardened my heart and hit up the pace. At last I wore him
clean out, and he lay down, broken-winded, broken-hearted, hungry,
and thirsty. When I found he wouldn't budge, I hamstrung him, and
spent the better part of the day wading into him with the hand-axe,
he a-sniffing and sobbing till I worked in far enough to shut him
off. Thirty feet long he was, and twenty high, and a man could
sling a hammock between his tusks and sleep comfortably. Barring
the fact that I had run most of the juices out of him, he was fair
eating, and his four feet, alone, roasted whole, would have lasted
a man a twelvemonth. I spent the winter there myself."

"And where is this valley?" I asked

He waved his hand in the direction of the north-east, and said:
"Your tobacco is very good. I carry a fair share of it in my
pouch, but I shall carry the recollection of it until I die. In
token of my appreciation, and in return for the moccasins on your
own feet, I will present to you these muclucs. They commemorate
Klooch and the seven blind little beggars. They are also souvenirs
of an unparalleled event in history, namely, the destruction of the
oldest breed of animal on earth, and the youngest. And their chief
virtue lies in that they will never wear out."

Having effected the exchange, he knocked the ashes from his pipe,
gripped my hand good-night, and wandered off through the snow.
Concerning this tale, for which I have already disclaimed
responsibility, I would recommend those of little faith to make a
visit to the Smithsonian Institute. If they bring the requisite
credentials and do not come in vacation time, they will undoubtedly
gain an audience with Professor Dolvidson. The muclucs are in his
possession, and he will verify, not the manner in which they were
obtained, but the material of which they are composed. When he
states that they are made from the skin of the mammoth, the
scientific world accepts his verdict. What more would you have?
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