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Whittling is a great avenue to thought, particularly when one's tabac has got wet. And I sat there at my end of the island making long white slivers of birch and watching them fall into the current, eddy around once or twice, then sweep out into the stream like a vessel setting out for sea and not knowing the rough passage before it. I whittled and whittled until I had used up a little tree and my tabac had got dried on a stone, along with my matches. “Occasionally I looked at Friend Bear. But he was, as you say, still bearable. He was at his end of the island, making no offer to eat me, but also not offering to swim home and let me sleep. Instead he reclined on his haunches, panting like a dog, never taking his eyes, which were all of a reddishness, from me. “So I found a smooth stone and began to sharpen my knife, as a lesson to him. And thus the twilight came. A cool wind blew down river, and the stars peeked over the trees on one side of the river of sky above, and jumped the river, and disappeared over the trees on the other side, one after another. And the hours passed, one after another. But Friend Bear and I, we did not go, one after another. “If I could have talked bear to him, like Indians, I would have said: ‘Friend Bear, let us have truce till morning, and let me cuddle close to your warm fur. I promise not to stick knife between your ribs.' But I had only eighteen years then and had not learned bear.” “Have you learned it now?” asked E. L., half in earnest. “Oui, certainement. Eh bien—the dawn came. But mon frère did not. And why should hel He thought I had gone on, perhaps, a day's trip after the beavair. Neither did anything come for breakfast. Friend Bear noticed this, and looked with a hunger at me. I began to wonder how many hours, how many days it would be till one of us was driven crazy enough to attack the other. For there was no other thing to do. On either side of us Les Bébés laughed and reached out their white hands for us. They were hungry, too, like everything else in nature. “But everything else in nature seemed to know how to get its breakfast—even Friend Bear. No, I do not mean that he began on me—that was later. He sat him down at his end of the island, where the water whirled around and around in a little still pool, and
dropped his paw beside a rock and waited patiently until—whippp, whish!—he pulled his paw up with a jerk, and a trout or a doré would be flopping on the beach. Quick as a mouse-cat he fell upon that fish, and it advanced into his mouth with much swiftness. “And this reminded me of the hooks in my hatband. If Friend Bear would but give me one piece of fish for bait, I would have a success too, though the good waters were at his end of the island. But I could not use my fingers for bait. I did not get any fish. He would not give me any bait. “Noon approached. I found another stick to whittle, and amused myself with making numerous wriggly snakes by carving the whittlings from around the stick. It made the time pass and did not anger Friend Bear. But the roar of Les Bébés sounded louder in my ears, the hours till mon frère might come seemed far beyond hope, and my hunger did not diminish because I could see the bear eat. I was glad that he was content with fish; but I was afraid that his taste would turn; that he would seek another diet. “It was mid-afternoon, and we had just completed our first day on the island, when I thought I heard a voice calling. But it was only Les Bébés. Any stream talks to itself in a so lonely wilderness as that, and the rapids were calling, calling down to the big Jumping Rat that they were coming. It made me very sad to think that I had not heard that which I thought to hear. It made me very sad, also, to see the sun creep from our island, first from the far shore, then from the near. Evening, in which I could not sleep to forget my hunger, was coming. And now I discovered a new misery. Friend Bear would be a friend no longer. The fish would come no longer to his quiet fishing-pool. All the afternoon he had not caught one, and he began looking hungrily at me. My matches were all gone but one. That I was saving, though I did not know why. Something in my breast, said “Save it!' and I was saving it. But the bear for the first time began to walk beyond his part of the island, looking at me. “‘Impossible, Monsieur!' said I to him; “it is unworthy of you to eat a friend.” “But just the same, I could imagine what he would say to his mother when she found him, as she was bound to do. “It hurt me, ma mère,” he would say, “almost as much as it hurt him; but I was very hungry.’ “And I almost began to excuse him for eating me, in my thoughts. He was a growing bear, you see. Besides, I had only to close my eyes to imagine a pretty little fire of coals, some neat bear steaks roasting above them, mon frère sitting beside me saying how favorable it was to begin the winter's catch with a pretty bearskin, and all that. Yet when I opened my eyes, the bear steaks were still inside the skin, there was no fire, no frère and only the roar of those tiresome bébés in my ears. Malheur! They make me ennuyé.
“Friend Bear trotted up to my end of the island, not bothering about me at all, and began to cry out to his mother how glad he was to see her, and possibly some remarks about myself. She flung herself into the stream and swam mightily for us, hauling her huge brown dripping flanks from the river in less time than I would have drowned in. They sniffed at each other, until I had almost envy of their gladness.
" "I AM READY TO STAB WITH MY KNIFE.
“All of an instant my heart jumped for joy. For there was a rustle in the bushes, a dark form—mon frère! Friend Bear pricked up his ears and began to sniff, to cry low. “Ah! Friend Bear!” cry I, who is the gourmand now!' And I look a look of exultation at him. But only for the once, because, when I signal to my brother, I find I am waving at a gigantic bear standing on the shore. I make the great eyes at it in my astonishment. My hairs I could feel standing feebly up in horror. For now it was all over! I was still a tender age. I was probably the first of the season for both of them. They would have the honor of dining on the son of Jean-Baptiste Prunier de Peribonka in about five minutes.
SHE TAKES ONE LAST STEP AND-" "
“As for me, myself, I had retreated to Friend Bear's end of the island, and was lamenting that I had whittled up all the trees on the island. It is a bad habit, whittling. If I had left myself one strong birch pole, perhaps I could have rendered a better account of myself. But we never know what le bon Dieu has in mind. That whittling was very lucky.”
“I don’t see how,” said E. L.
“You will see,” said Prunier, continuing. “Well, now the old bear had got done licking her whimpering son and began to plan for his next meal, which was me. She stood up on her hind feet and looked like a locomotive reared on its hind wheels, very black, very sniffy, and her eyes very small, but wicked looking. I made one glance at the boiling rapids below me, and began to wonder which was the better—to be swept into them, or into the bear's stomach. But the water looked very uncomfortable; and as she began to advance I lost my fear. ‘Come, Monsieur Prunier,' I said to myself, ‘be not weak and throw your life away. Sell it like a Frenchman, like Napoleon, the gallant, the brave.” And this thought gave me any quantity of courage. I picked up some stones. “They had got done talking over their plans, those two, and licking their chops, and were coming toward me, one down each side of the island. I waited. Finally I threw a round stone which hit Friend Bear on the end of his nose. He gave a great squeal and began to rub it. “Voila, mon ami’ I said, “it is necessary to be so brusque.” “La mère was now angry, and I know I have only two or three minutes to live. I have a big stone ready for her nose, and a jack-knife and a good pair of legs, and just once I look around me at the rapids. But I like not to drown. “And now she raises herself on her haunches and looks high like a step-ladder, it was frightful!—and with such small eyes that had a reddishness in them. It would have been sweet to live, for I had only eighteen years. It would have been pleasant to see mon frère again, for I love him. But le bom Dieu has our way marked out and we must not depart from it. My way was down her red throat, malheureusement. But I said a little prayer for courage. She takes a step; I take a step. The water sucks at my legs and I resolve not to give myself to it. She makes a horrible growl and stretches up to give a great prize-fighting blow at me. She towers. I am ready to jump sideways, to stab with my knife, to run, to repeat. With courage I may win. She takes one last step and— “‘Temez!’” [Hold! Bang-whizzzzzzz! “Mon frère!’” I cry. “The bullet plumps into her skull. She roars and lunges. I leap sideways. She falls with a terrific splash, head into the stream. I fall with weakness beside, and her last dying kick gives me the bad arm, as you have seen.” Prunier paused. “It was your brother, of course?” I asked. “Oui, mom bon frère.” “But how?” demanded both E. L. and I together; “how did he get there?” “That is the way le bon Dieu works when He wants His way,” said Prunier, reverently. “You see, the camot had gone down the Jump
ing Rat and had come into the whirlpool at the bottom. Everything that goes down those rapids collects there, goes sailing around for two, three days, and then is pushed into the lower stream and out into the Lac aur Rats. “Well, that first afternoon, mon frère had gone up to fish at the foot of the rapids for the trouts. It is the best place. One bait, one throw, one jerk, two trouts! “He was just arriving when he saw the camot. It makes him sigh. He sees the scratches of the bear and it makes him think. Mom frère, he is a great one to think. He sits down on a stone and thinks and thinks, first of bear, then of me, then bear, then me. It is a good place to think, for the water goes round and round and brings your thoughts back to you. And all the time he thinks, he gets sadder. It is certain that I have been drowned in the Jumping Rat, and he even pokes under the foams for my body. It is n’t there, though. So he must think some more. “Well, he prepares to go back to tent, for he can not think anything else but that I am drowned, when all of an instant his eye sees something! It is a quick eye, my brother's, and it sees something that should n’t be there —a long, white, fresh, birch whittling come sailing around and around in the pool. Perhaps your eye, Monsieur Lucky, perhaps yours, E. L., would not have seen that, but mom frère is used to seeing things that can not be well seen. And it say something to him. It say, ‘Look at me, a nice new whittling. I did not make myself. Ton frère, he has made me. Go hunt him, quick!’ “That's what the other whittlings say, too, as they come sailing around and around in the pool, “Go hunt him, quick!’ “Mom frère, he gave a great shout and started off. He hunted carefully, and I don’t see how he happened yet to pass me and Friend Bear and the island. It was the roar of Les Bébés that hindered him; or maybe the mist that comes from the river; or maybe he think we must be farther along. Anyway, he keeps on from early dawn, calling, calling. But every time he calls, Les Bébés, they must have called louder. And so he never found us. Then he turned sadly home. And this time he was very sad indeed, because he had just been so glad. And he almost gives up searching, when all of an instant he looks up, sees la mère bear risen so high above me to bring that last claw down upon her supper. He shouts ‘Temez!" and raises his rifle, and crracks! You know the end.” Prunier rose, saying, “Let us couch ourselves; it is late.” But E. L. put a determined hand on his arm. “You can’t go before the end of the story, Prunier. For we want to know how you got off the island and what happened to the other bear.” “Oh, mon frère had shot him, of course,” said Prunier. “It was a fine begin for the season, two robes.” “It sounds easy,” said E. L., “but how did you get off the island? That was hard.” Prunier gave his little smile and the twinkle in his eye. “How would you have got off?” he asked. “How would you, Lucky?” E. L. asked me. “I suppose I should have brought up an ax and rope, if there were any, and have made a raft that would have stood the rapids.” Prunier shook his head. “No raft ride the Jumping Rat.” “Well, how would you, E. L.?” “I suppose I would have hunted out a very tall tree and felled that so that there was a
foot-bridge over to the island. Was the river too wide, Prunier?” “Too wide,” said Prunier, his grin increasing. “Well, at any rate you got away and did n’t learn to swim. How did you do it, Prunier?” “It was very difficult,” said the guide, with an open laugh at us. “Mon frère, he brought the camot and we paddle upstream, two, three minutes.” “Oh! Of course! I forgot the canoe,” we both said, looking rather shamefacedly at each other. “But it was torn by the bear, Prunier.” “That make no difference; new bark, new spruce gum, new camot, two-three hours. You had better go to bed, too; you sleepy, I think.” And he laughed again, delighted. We went, and despite the boundings of the train, I was almost asleep when I heard E. L. call down from his upper to the story-teller, saying, “Prunier, you had better learn to swim, I think.” “I will one day when the water he get a little drier,” said Prunier.