Chapter Eighteen

Cain hated the cattle. They stank and made dumb noises and clumsily nudged him with their wet, mushy snouts. They were ugly and stupid and dirty, and Cain herded them to new grassy fields every day, longing for the moment he could find a river or lake clean enough to bathe in.

The work was easy and boring. Life in the Garden must have been something like this. Every morning, he rose at dawn and ate fruit he had picked or some beef. He hated the dirty taste of the tough meat, but often it was all he could get. As soon as he had eased his hunger, he went to wake the cattle. There was very little difference between their waking and sleeping behavior. Staring blearily straight ahead, they ambled forward, each following the animal ahead of it, not stopping when they relieved themselves, stepping heedlessly into each other's manure. Occasionally and without provocation, one of them would let out a long, loud groan. This would start a brief chorus of discordant moans. Then they would be silent until one of them lowed again.

When he reached a pasture large and lush enough to keep the cattle busy eating for a day, he ran ahead of them all, coaxing the ones in front to stop. Having stopped, they would stand still for a while, looking around with their big, blank eyes and moaning. They stared around, moving their heads in a leisurely way, for some time before lowering their large heads to eat whatever happened to be within reach; thistle or dandelion, it made no difference to them. The cattle behind them kept walking until they collided with the ones in front. A cacophony of moans would rise then, and would not cease for a long, long time. The cattle would try dozens of times to continue walking through the others, though there were no gaps in the wall of animals. At last one of them, near the edge of the group, would get the idea of walking around the ones in front. It would take a few steps away, and stop there to graze, large mouthfuls of weeds falling from its mouth. The others near this one would stare at it for a long time before starting to follow, and then they would bump into it. It would moan loudly, move a few more steps forward, and settle down to graze again. The next would take its place, until another thought of moving out of the crowd too. This one would nudge the second out of its place. The second would nudge the first out of its new place, amid much lowing. This could go on for an entire morning or afternoon, the process repeating over and over, each bumping into another, the herd gradually dispersing across the field. It could take half a day for the stupid animals to spread out enough for each of them to have room to eat.

All this happened as Cain watched in disgust. After stopping the front row, he would settle down under a tree and glare, observing their lethargic movements. Sometimes watching their mindless patience at spreading out frustrated him so much he wanted to pick every one of them up and move it to a suitable spot. He hated watching the stupid things get settled.

All this, he thought, because I hit someone who was trying to kill me because a pile of corn didn't burn.

***

Cain wandered for five years, which he reckoned by the cold and warm. As he went farther east, however, it became hotter and drier, and food became harder to find. He started to follow a river which twisted and turned through the land, toward the east. One spring, after he had been following it for over a year, he was bathing in it when he heard a sound. It was a footstep, but not that of a cow. It sounded more like his mother's, but not quite. Another person! Hopes racing faster than his heart, he turned rapidly until he saw what had made the noise.

It was a woman. She looked a lot like Eve, but not quite the same. She was taller, he guessed almost as tall as he, and slimmer. She was also much younger, with no wrinkles on her face or grey hairs. Her eyes were large and eloquent. She was dressed differently; he had never seen clothes like hers. They were made out of something limper and apparently softer than animal skins. They were bright red, almost as bright as a holly berry. She was beautiful.

She hadn't seen him. He began splashing out of the water. She looked up suddenly, seeming startled. He waved his arms at her. "Who are you?" he shouted. "Come here, please! Where did you come from? Are there other people here? Who are you?" She rose and backed away a few steps. "No — don't go, please! I want to talk to you! Where did you come from?" He was out of the water by this time, and he ran toward her, even though she was a good distance down the bank. As he emerged from the river, she stared as if she had never seen another human before, then turned and ran.

"No — wait! Please don't go! Please!" He started to run after her, but she was already loping away, moving like a deer. He had frightened her. How stupid of him. And he was naked. The family had always considered nakedness rude except in private, and even when his mother had bathed his wounds or rubbed his sore muscles after he had been hurt or working hard, he had at least worn a brief loincloth, even when he was a small boy. This girl, and whatever people she was with, probably found nakedness rude too; perhaps even ruder, because her garment had hung loosely on her body and hidden much more than Eve's tight leather wrappings could.

He dressed hastily, putting on a jacket and his longest breeches as well as his loincloth, in spite of the heat. Maybe this would help him not offend the girl and the other people who might be with her. He hoped he hadn't frightened her so much he wouldn't be able to find her. He ran as swiftly as he could in the direction she had gone. Farther east, as always.

Soon, reaching the top of a hill, he saw a cluster of huts in the valley below him, like the shack that had leaned against the cave he had grown up in. These, however, were much sturdier, and stood by themselves, without the support of a cliff's face. People were moving around them, all of them wearing loose, flowing clothes of that same strange material as the girls, all colored like flowers. The colors were not vivid, but none of them were the drab brown of his own simple leather garments.

He scanned the valley for the girl. She was standing with several other people, talking to them excitedly. She was probably telling them about him. He shouted down to her, and she pointed to him, speaking rapidly to the others. He hurried down the slope of the hill.

When he reached the group, he immediately began to question her again, but was abruptly stopped. Three men from the group stepped forward and held spears to his chest. He froze, too shocked and frightened to move. The girl stood between a man and a woman, both well older than she. The woman, however, looked strikingly like her, in spite of her greater age and height, and the air of assurance in her posture. It came to him that this woman was probably the girl's mother, and therefore the man must be her father. No doubt they were angry with him for frightening their daughter. He would have to convince them that his intentions had been innocent. They both seemed entirely at ease, even with their cold curiosity, but the girl was tense and her eyes kept flitting up and down, studying him.

The man spoke after examining him for a long moment. "Why did you attack my daughter?"

Cain gasped. "Attack! I didn't touch her! I did run after her, but I didn't want to hurt her. I wanted to talk to her. I didn't mean to frighten her. I just — it's been so long since I saw another person…. I'm very, very sorry. I didn't want to scare her."

"What are you doing alone?"

"Travelling with my herd. Uh, there wasn't enough for them to eat where I was, or enough for my family and I, so we separated, dividing the herd. I've been searching for five years for a place to settle. I thought God hadn't made any other people."

"God?" They all looked at one another. The man asked, "Is this your name for the Great Serpent who gave us life and taught us our arts?"

At the mention of the "Great Serpent", they all touched their foreheads with one hand. Remembering the gestures Adam and Abel had made when they mentioned God, Cain quickly copied them, eager to win their approval; he might want to stay with them.

He was thinking triumphantly, "I was right! He didn't create everything after all. Here are people who've never even heard of him!"

"That is… who he is," Cain agreed quickly. He didn't want to anger these people any more. He could not have hoped for better luck. These people gave the serpent credit! Perhaps it wasn't Eve's serpent they were speaking of, but at least it wasn't God. He looked around, trying to decide how to please them. They all looked unhealthily thin, and tired. They must be hungry. "I didn't want to scare your daughter," he repeated. "I just wanted to ask her if there were other people with her. I haven't seen another human in five years. Please, accept my apologies. And let me make a gift to you all, to show… my good will. Take my herd, and have a feast."

Their eyes widened, and after a moment the oldest man motioned for the others to lower their spears. "Go fetch the cows," he ordered, and they ran to do so. He then clasped Cain's shoulders. "Welcome. Tell me your name."

"Cain."

"I am Seth. My wife is Sarai, and my daughter is Luluwa. My wife and I are the leaders of this village. You shall eat with us at the feast this evening. Why do you wear leather clothes?"

He felt foolish. "I've never seen this material you make your clothes from. This is the only material I know for clothes."

Seth shook his head. "It won't do. Too hot. I'll give you one of my robes to wear. Come with me." And Cain followed him to the largest hut, in the center of the village. His heart thundered in his ears. He was among other people again, and now, anything was possible.

***

That night, as everyone in the village ate beef and celebrated, Cain found out everything he could about these people. Between watching the strange things they did, and listening to Seth answer his questions, and looking at beautiful Luluwa, who he found far more lovely than any of the young women of the village, he could scarcely take it all in. Some of the men chanted and used bones and sticks to make rhythms a little like the ones Eve had made for him when he was a boy. These, however, were less like sounds that animals and weather made; they were unlike anything else he had ever heard. Young women and almost-grown girls moved around in perfect unison in time with the music, dancing with liquid grace. It fascinated him to see, and when Luluwa danced for a while, he could not look away, for the easy motions of her slim body were more hypnotic than any other girl's.

Seth had many questions for him. "What village did you come from?" he asked.

"There was no village. There was just my family. But then there wasn't enough food and we had to separate."

"Hmm. Er… my daughter says you came out of the water naked and chased her."

Cain turned red. He should have had better sense. "I… didn't mean to offend her. It wasn't so rude in my family as it seems to be here. And I was so astonished at seeing her — at seeing anyone — that I couldn't think for a moment. I was just so anxious to talk to her it never occurred to me that I might frighten her."

"Well, be more careful from now on."

"Of course! I wouldn't want to offend any of your people!"

Seth smiled. Then he asked, "What can you do?"

"Well… I can hunt, and make tools, and I can make plants…." He hesitated, then said, "I don't mean to be forward, but… it looks as if none of you have had such a good meal in a long time."

Seth sighed. "We haven't. It's getting drier every year. The plants don't bear enough fruit anymore. We're getting thinner, some of our babies can't live. We don't know what to do. Your herd is a truly great gift… but it won't last long."

Cain paused. "But you're right next to a river! Why isn't that enough water to nourish your plants?"

"The river is much lower than it was. And rain doesn't come often, so the plants don't get enough to grow."

"But you could — you don't know what you could do! Don't you plant things? Don't you plant fields?" Seth looked bewildered. Cain stood up. He was beginning to get excited. A trench, an artificial creek could be dug from the river to the fields. These people didn't know a thing about raising crops! This new problem was showing him solutions he had never had to think of. If they dug a trench to the fields… they'd have to clear a lot of land, with so many people, they'd better only plants things that made a lot of fruit…. He was cursed from the ground, but he could still tell others how to plant! "I know how you can make the plants grow! I know how you can make sure they all get enough water! You can have as much as you want to eat!"

Seth stood up anxiously. "You truly know these things?"

"Of course!"

"Then please, tell us! How can you do this?"

"I'll need a lot of your people to help me, but it can be done. First, what we have to do is…."

Cain spent most of the night telling Seth what must be done. By dawn, his place in the village was secure. In a day, everyone knew about his knowledge and ideas, and every one of them was filled with gratitude and awe. For the first time, Cain's ideas were regarded as Cain's.

 

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