The Columbus Citizen, Nov. 22, 1922, p. 14
This story won one of the $100 prizes in
The Citizen All-Ohio Short Story Contest.
In ancient days the rocky gulches near what is now the site of the city of Cleveland, Ohio, on the banks of Lake Erie, were inhabited by bands of cave men. Powerful and unemotional indeed were these primitive citizens of Ohio.
No bit of sentiment could be tolerated, for was there not much work to do? In the primeval battle with nature there was no time or place for aught but the most serious of duties, so it was no wonder that Abu was an outcast.
Abu was an outcast. The cave men had driven him from their midst because he had dared to refuse to take the mate selected for him by the council of his elders! He had refused point blank to go to the cave of the husky amazon in question and by the brutal custom in vogue in the cave man clan, to drag his victim forth by her long hair and compel her to share with him another cave which should be their future home. “No,” he had said. “No. Abu will not mate with Goo La. Abu will have Hi All or none.”
The counselors had been astonished by his unheard of thing. “Hi Ah!” The one condemned, the laughing stock of strong men who scorned her as too frail and dainty to mother the usual motley crew of “cubs.” They went into council. At high noon the clan had gathered at the shrine of Ooh All, the Sun, and having executed their savage worship dance on the hard trampled clay floor, had driven Abu fiercely from their midst to die among the fierce wild life beyond the limits of their little world.
Abu’s first care had been to find a shelter. Luckily he discovered a clean, new cave which he lost no time in fortifying, and thus having taken the precautions dictated by nature’s first law, he wandered down to the great blue lake and seating himself upon a great rock he tried to think through his strange experience.
What was this strange new feeling which possessed him? When he thought of Hi Ah, the dainty lass who was the innocent cause of all his difficulty, what was that strange new feeling inside, that strange thumping in his hairy breast? Ah, yes, he wanted a mate. That was it. What was more he wanted Hi Ah. He would return and fetch her. They should not deprive him of the thing he wanted so much. He would fight his way back and bathe his war club in the blood of any who dared to oppose him. If Hi Ah refused to come he would stun her with his club and the rest would be easy—and he raised his voice in the savage mating call of his tribe—but no, he could never strike pretty little Hi All. He did not want to knock out any of those pretty teeth in the crude marriage ceremony prescribed by the tribe. But what should he do?
Abu was a cave man of more than ordinary intelligence, but thinking was a task. As he sat moodily upon the great rock a gentle wave from the lake rolled in and just touched his great hairy feet. A glistening shell caught his eye. Absently he picked up the shell with his toes, for not yet had the feet of men lost their similarity to hands, but the iridescent lining of the shell only made him think again of the pearly teeth of Hi Ah, and he hurled it far out over the water. He was in despair.
Abu gazed over the great lake. The great water was his friend. Vast and incomprehensible as it was he loved it. He loved the soothing cadence of its gentle surf. He exulted in its power when Whoo, the North Wind, raged across its storm-tossed waves. He wished that Whoo would come now. He wanted to see the storm. He felt like storming himself!
A dozen paces from where Abu was sitting lay a turtle shell. Victim of some disaster the turtle had been cast ashore and buzzard and summer sun had soon disposed of all the easily destroyed parts of the unfortunate turtle leaving only a few dried sinews stretched tightly over the curved shell. While Abu was sullenly wishing for Whoo to come and stir the great water into a raging turmoil, Ah Ah, the gentle south wind, playfully blew her zephyr breath across the taut strings of the crude turtle shell harp and Abu heard, for the first time in human history, the eerie harmony of an Aeolian harp!
Subtly the sound bore in upon his consciousness. What was that? As if in answer to his startled query Ah Ah blew with a slightly stronger breath upon the strings of her newfound plaything and, starting softly, the sweet sound increased to a ravishing fortissimo and then trembled away into silence with such a glory of musical harmony that Abu’s head fairly whirled with the delight of this new experience. He located the source of the strange new sound and his hair raised in terror as Ah Ah once more blew a trilling harmony. But his primeval curiosity soon overcame his fear and he approached the strange shell cautiously.
After many attempts he managed to summon sufficient courage to place his hand timidly upon the shell just as Ah Ah blew once more upon the strings and he felt the vibrations of the shell and saw the quivering strings as they trembled forth their voluptuous harmony. Curiously he plucked at them. To his surprise he found he could thus produce the sweet sounds at will. His fear vanished and he carried his treasure to his cave and fed his hungry primitive soul all day long on the crude music.
Forgetful of all except the delight of possession of his treasure Abu sat at the door of his cave and swept his clumsy fingers over the strings again and again. He even forgot to retire to the security of his cave when the sun sank to rest in the waters of the great lake. He played on and on when suddenly he looked up to behold the full moon rising in queenly splendor and suddenly he thought of Hi Ah!
The music alone might not have done it. The moon alone would have sent Abu terror stricken to bed. But music, moonlight and Hi Ah! It happened. Forgetting the many dangers of the night he tucked his harp under his arm and started bravely forth to the distant cave of Hi Ah!
The valley of the cave men lay silent beneath the moonlight. All were safely sheltered in their caves awaiting the return of Oo Ah the Sun. The native wolves were scouring the valley for chance bits of food which might have been left by the inhabitants, but none of the night prowlers harmed Abu, perhaps for very surprise at his audacity. He arrived safely at the cave of Hi Ah.
Abu then and there invented “Free Verse.” Striking his crude harp with all the fervor of an Orpheus he sang the first serenade!
Hi Ah, oh Hi Ah!
And the while Abu poured forth his primitive emotions as a flood, the inhabitants of the little valley trembled with fear. The scavenging wolves slunk into the shadows and whined apprehensively. The huge bear that had stalked Abu across the hill drew back in snarling dismay. And the first poet and musician continued his roaring serenade.
Hi Ah was the first to respond. She remembered Abu. She had pitied him when he was so cruelly driven away. She had half suspected that he cared for her in some way that was different from the ordinary cave man interest. She wondered at his daring, to come to her through the dangerous night. Suddenly she rose and, forcing her way past those who sought to retain her, she rushed forth into the moonlight.
Abu laid down his harp and stretched out his arms. Hi Ah hesitated. What was she to do?
As they stood thus motionless in the moonlight, Ze Ze, the mischievous night wind, blew upon the strings of Abu’s harp. Sweet, piercing, clear the eerie harmony rose in a trembling crescendo until the silent night was filled with the most wonderful sound that had ever delighted the ears of Hi Ah. Then gradually the dulcet tones shivered away into a silence that could be felt. It was enough. Even primitive woman possessed intuition. With a little inarticulate cry of joy Hi Ah threw herself into the waiting arms of Abu and he instinctively crushed her to him in a savage embrace. Then he whispered, “Come, we go?” and submissively she followed him across the moonlit valley to his distant cave.
* * *
We are frequently reminded by purist friend that the final “o” in Ohio is a long vowel, but most of us persist in saying “Oh Hi Ah,” and who can say but what that pronunciation is much more musical?