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So we followed the trail down until we came to more houses; then made a circuit and followed on again, still finding evidence that she had pa.s.sed. Soon we came to more houses, at ever shortening intervals, until the bank of the stream on both sides was either continuously occupied by houses or showed traces of men being constantly at work there. And beyond was the town itself. It was of no use for us to go farther. In the town we could see lights streaming from many of the buildings, and the shouting of men's voices came to our ears. We wandered round the outskirts of the town till it was daylight, and then drew back into the hills and lay down again, very sad and hungry--for we had hardly thought of food--and very lonesome.

Kahwa, we felt sure, was somewhere among those houses in the town. But that was little comfort to us. And all the time we wondered what man wanted with her, and why he could not have left us to be happy, as we had been before he came.

CHAPTER VI.

LIFE IN CAMP.

One of the results of Kahwa's disappearance was to make me much more solitary than I had ever been before, not merely because I did not have her to play with, but now, for the first time, I took to wandering on excursions by myself. And these excursions all had one object:--to find Kahwa.

For some days after her capture we waited about the outskirts of the town nearly all night long; but on the third or fourth morning father made up his mind that it was useless, and, though mother persuaded him not to abandon the search for another night or two, he insisted after that on giving up and returning to the neighborhood where we had been living since the fire. So we turned our backs upon the town, and, for my part very reluctantly, went home.

The moon was not yet much past the full, and I can remember now how the berry-patch looked that night as we pa.s.sed it, lying white and shining in the moonlight. We saw no other bears at it, and did not stop, but kept under the trees round the edges, and went on to our favorite resting-place, where, a few hundred yards from the river, a couple of huge trees had at some time been blown down. Round their great trunks as they lay on the ground, young trees and a ma.s.s of elder-bushes and other brushwood had sprung up, making a dense thicket. The two logs lay side by side, and in between them, with the tangle of bushes all round and the branches of the other trees overhead, there was a complete and impenetrable shelter.

We had used this place so much that a regular path was worn to it through the bushes. This night as we came near we saw recent prints of a bear's feet on the path, and the bear that made them was evidently a big one. From the way father growled when he saw them, I think he guessed at once whose feet they were. I know that I had my suspicions--suspicions which soon proved to be correct.

During our absence our enemy, the surly bear that I have spoken of, had taken it into his head that he would occupy our home. Of course he had lived in this district much longer than we, and, had this been his home when we first came, we should never have thought of disputing possession with him. But it had been our home now, so far as we had any regular home at this time of year, ever since our arrival after the fire, while he had lived half a mile away. Now, however, there he was, standing obstinately in the pathway, swinging his head from side to side, and evidently intending to fight rather than go away. We all stopped, my father in front, my mother next, and I behind. I have said that the stranger was bigger than my father, and in an ordinary meeting in the forest I do not think my father would have attempted to stand up to him; but this was different. It was our home, and we all felt that he had no right there, but that, on the contrary, he was behaving as he was out of pure bad temper and a desire to bully us and make himself unpleasant. Moreover, the events of the last few days had rendered my father and mother irritable, and they were in no mood to be polite to anybody.

Usually it takes a long time to make two bears fight. We begin slowly, growling and walking sideways towards each other, and only getting nearer inch by inch. But on this occasion there was not much room in the path, and father was thoroughly exasperated. He hardly waited at all, but just stood sniffing with his nose up for a minute to see if the other showed any sign of going away, and then, without further warning, threw himself at him. I had never seen my father in a real fight, and now he was simply splendid. Before the stranger had time to realize what was happening, he was flung back on his haunches, and in a moment they were rolling over and over in one ma.s.s in the bushes. At first it was impossible to see what was going on, but, in spite of the ferocity of my father's rush, it soon became evident that in the end the bigger bear must win. My father's face was buried in the other's left shoulder, and he had evidently got a good grip there; but he was almost on his back, for the stranger had worked himself uppermost, and we could see that he was trying to get his teeth round my father's fore-leg. Had he once got hold, nothing could have saved the leg, bone and all, from being crushed to pieces, and father, if not killed, would certainly have been beaten, and probably crippled for life. And sooner or later it seemed certain that the stranger would get his hold.

Then it was that my mother interfered. Hurling herself at him, she threw her whole weight into one swinging blow on the side of the big bear's head, and in another second had plunged her teeth into the back of his neck. My father's grip in the fleshy part of the shoulder, however painful it might be, had little real effect; but where my mother had attacked, behind the right ear, was a different matter. The stranger was obliged to leave my father's leg alone and to turn and defend himself against this new onslaught; but, big as he was, he now had more on his hands than he could manage. As soon as he turned his attention to my mother, my father let go of his shoulder, and in his turn tried to grip the other's fore-leg. There was nothing for the stranger to do now but to get out of it as fast as he could; and even I could not help admiring his strength as he lifted himself up and shook mother off as lightly as she would have shaken me. She escaped the wicked blow that he aimed at her, and dodged out of his reach, and my father, letting go his hold of the fore-leg, did the same. The stranger, with one on either side of him, backed himself against one of the fallen logs and waited for them to attack him. But that they had no wish to do. All that they wanted was that he should go away, and they told him so. They moved aside from the path on either hand to give him s.p.a.ce to go, and slowly and surlily he began to move.

I was still standing in the pathway. Suddenly he made a movement as if to rush at me, but my father and mother jumped towards him simultaneously, while I plunged into the bushes, and he was compelled to turn and defend himself against my parents again. But they did not attack him, though they followed him slowly along the path. Every step or two he stopped to make an ugly start back at one or the other, but he knew that he was overmatched, and yard by yard he made off, my father and mother following him as far as the edge of the thicket, and standing to watch him out of sight. And I was glad when he was safely gone and they came back to me.

It was not a pleasant home-coming, and we were all restless and nervous for days afterwards; and then it was that I vowed to myself that, if I ever grew up and the opportunity came, I would wreak vengeance on that bear.

If we were all nervous, I was the worst, and in my restlessness took to going off by myself. Up to this time I do not think I had ever been a hundred yards away from one or other of my parents, and now, when I started out alone, it was always in horrible fear of meeting the big bear when there was no one to stand by me. Gradually, however, I acquired confidence in myself, making each night a longer trip alone, and each night going in the direction of the town. At last, one night, I found myself at the edge of the town itself, and now when I was alone I did not stop at the first building that I came to, but very cautiously--for the man-smell was thick around me, and terrified me in spite of myself--very cautiously I began to thread my way in between the buildings.[A] As I snuffed round each building, I found all sorts of new things to eat, with strange tastes, but most of them were good. That the men were not all asleep was plain from the shouts and noises which reached me at times from the centre of the big town, where, as I could see by occasional glimpses which I caught of the nearer buildings, many of the houses had bright lights streaming from them all night. Avoiding these, I wandered on, picking up things to eat, and all the while keeping ears and nose open for a sign of Kahwa.

[A] The new mining town or camp of the Far West has no long rows of houses or paved streets. The houses are built of logs or of boards, rarely more than one story high, and are set down irregularly. There maybe one more or less well-defined "street"--the main trail running through the camp--but even along that there will be wide gaps between the houses; while, for the rest, the buildings are at all sorts of angles, so that a man or a bear may wander through them as he pleases, regardless of whether he is following a "street" or not.

I stayed thus, moving in and out among the buildings, till dawn. Once a dog inside a house barked furiously as I came near, and I heard a man's voice speaking to it, and I hurried on. As the sky began to lighten, I made my way out into the woods again, and rejoined my father and mother before the sun was up. When I joined them, my father growled at me because I smelled of man.

The next night found me down in the town again. I began to know my way about. I learned which houses contained dogs, and avoided them. Other animals besides myself, I discovered, came into the town at night for the sake of the food which they found lying about--coyotes and wood-rats, and polecats; but though bears would occasionally visit the buildings nearest to the woods, no other penetrated into the heart of the town as I did. It had a curious fascination for me, and gradually I grew so much at home, that even when a man came through the buildings towards me, I only slipped out of his way round a corner, and--for man's sight and smell are both miserably bad compared with ours--he never had a suspicion that I was near.

On the third or fourth night I had gone nearer to the lighted buildings than I had ever been before, when I heard a sound that made me stop dead and throw myself up on my haunches to listen. Yes, there could be no doubt of it! It was Kahwa's voice. Anyone who did not know her might have thought that she was angry, but I knew better. She was making exactly the noise that she used to make when romping with me, and I knew that she was not angry, but only pretending, and that she must be playing with someone. I suppose I ought to have been glad that she was alive and happy enough to be able to play, but it only enraged me and made me wonder who her playmates might be. Then gradually the truth, the incredible truth, dawned upon me. Truly incredible it seemed at first, but there could be no doubt of it. _She was playing with man._

I could hear men's voices speaking to her as if in anger, and then I heard her voice and theirs in turn again, and at last I recognized that their anger was no more real than hers. The sounds came from where the lights were brightest, and it was long before I could make up my mind to go near enough to be able to see. At last, however, I crept to a place from which I could look out between two buildings, keeping in the deep shade myself, and I can see now every detail of what met my eyes as plainly as if it was all before me at this minute.

There was a building larger than those around it, with a big door wide open, and from the door and from the windows on either side poured streams of light out into the night. In the middle of the light, and almost in front of the door, was a group of five or six men, and in the centre of the group was Kahwa, tied to a post by a chain which was fastened to a collar round her neck. I saw a man stoop down and hold something out to her--presumably something to eat--and then, as she came to take it from the hand which he held out, he suddenly drew it away and hit her on the side of the head with his other hand. He did not hit hard enough to hurt her, and it was evidently done in play, because as he did it she got up on her hind-legs and slapped at him, first with one hand and then with the other, growling all the time in angry make-believe. Sometimes the man came too near, and Kahwa would hit him, and the other men all burst out laughing. Then I saw him walk deliberately right up to her, and they took hold of each other and wrestled, just as Kahwa and I used to do by the old place under the cedar-trees when we were little cubs. I could see, too, that now and then she was not doing her best, and did not want to hurt him, and he certainly did not hurt her.

At last the men went into the building, leaving Kahwa alone outside; but other men were continually coming out of, or going into, the open door, and I was afraid to approach her, or even to make any noise to tell her of my presence. So I sat in the shade of the buildings and watched.

Nearly every man who pa.s.sed stopped for a minute and spoke to her, but none except the man whom I had first seen tried to play with her or went within her reach. The whole thing seemed to me incredible, but there it was under my eyes, and, somehow, it made me feel terribly lonely--all the lonelier, I think, because she had these new friends; for as friends she undoubtedly regarded them, while I could not even go near enough to speak to her.

At last so many men came out of the building that I was afraid to stay.

Some of them went one way, and some another, and I had to keep constantly moving my position to avoid being seen. In doing so I found myself farther and father away from the centre of the town, and nearer to the outskirts. The men shouted and laughed, and made so much noise that I did not dare to go back, but made my way out into the woods. And for the first time I did not go home to my father and mother, but stayed by myself in the brush.

The next evening I again made my way into the town, and once more saw the same sights as on the preceding night. This evening, however, there was a wind blowing, and it blew directly from me, as I stood in the same place, to Kahwa in front of the lighted door. Suddenly, while she was in the middle of her play, I saw her stop and begin to snuff up the wind with every sign of excitement. Then she called to me. Answer I dared not, but I knew that she had recognized me and would understand why I did not speak. While she was still calling to me, the man with whom she had been playing--the same man as on the night before--came up and gave her a cuff on the head, and she lost her temper in earnest. She hit at him angrily, but he jumped out of her way (how I wished she had caught him!), and, after trying for awhile to tempt her with play again, he and the other men left her and went into the building. Then she gave all her time to me, and at last, when n.o.body was near, I spoke just loud enough for her to hear. She simply danced with excitement, running to the end of her chain toward me until it threw her back on to her hind-legs, circling round and round the stump to which she was fastened, and then charging out to the end of her chain again, all the time whimpering and calling to me in a way which made me long to go to her.

I did not dare to show myself, however, but waited until, as on the night before, just as it was beginning to get light, the men all came out of the building and scattered in different directions. This time, however, I did not go back to the woods, but merely shifted out of the men's way behind the dark corners of the buildings, hoping that somehow I would find an opportunity of getting to speak to Kahwa. At last the building was quiet, and only the man who had played with Kahwa seemed to be left, and I saw the lights inside begin to grow less. I hoped that then the door would be shut, and the man inside would go to sleep, as I knew that men did in other houses when the lights disappeared at night; but while there was still some light issuing from door and windows the man came out and went up to Kahwa, and, unfastening the chain from the stump, proceeded to lead her away somewhere to the rear of the building.

She struggled and tried to pull away from him, but he jerked her along with the chain, and I could see that she was afraid of him, and did not dare to fight him in earnest, and bit by bit he dragged her along. I followed and saw him go to a sort of pen, or a small enclosure of high walls without any roof, in which he left her, and then went in to his own building. And soon I saw the last lights go out inside and everything was quiet.

I stole round to the pen and spoke to Kahwa through the walls. She was crazy at the sound of my voice, and could hear her running round and round inside, dragging the chain after her. Could she not climb out? I asked her. No; the walls were made of straight, smooth boards with nothing that she could get her claws into, and much too high to jump.

But we found a crack close to the ground through which our noses would almost touch, and that was some consolation.

I stayed there as long as I dared, and told her all that had happened since she was taken away--of the fight with the strange bear, and how I had been in the town alone looking for her night after night; and she told me her story, parts of which I could not believe, though now I can understand them better.

What puzzled me, and at the time made me thoroughly angry, was the way in which she spoke of the man whom I had seen playing with her, and who had dragged her into the pen. She was afraid of him in a curious way--in much the same way as she was afraid of father or mother. The idea that she could feel any affection for him I would have scouted as preposterous; but after the experiences of the last few nights nothing seemed too wonderful to be true, and it was plain that all her thoughts centered in him and he represented everything in life to her. Without him she would have no food, but as it was she had plenty. He never came to her without bringing things to eat, delightful things sometimes; and in particular she told me of pieces of white stuff, square and rough like small stones, but sweeter and more delicious than honey. Of course, I know now that it was sugar; but as she told me about it then, and how good it was, and how the man always had pieces of it in his pockets, which he gave her while they were playing together, I found myself envying her, and even wishing that the man would take me to play with, too.

But as we talked the day was getting lighter, and promising to come again next night, I slipped away in the dawn into the woods.

Night after night I used to go and speak to Kahwa. Sometimes I did not go until it was nearly daylight, and she was already in her pen.

Sometimes I went earlier, and watched her with the men before the door of the building, and often I saw the man who was her master playing with her and giving her lumps of sugar, and I could tell from the way in which she ate it how good it was. Many time I had narrow escapes of being seen, for I grew careless, and trotted among the houses as if I were in the middle of the forest. More than once I came close to a man unexpectedly, for the man-smell was so strong everywhere that a single man more or less in my neighborhood made no difference, and I had to trust to my eyes and ears entirely. Somehow, however, I managed always to keep out of their way, and during this time I used to eat very little wild food, living almost altogether on the things that I picked up in the town. And during all these days and nights I never saw my father or my mother.

Then one evening an eventful thing happened. The door of Kahwa's pen closed with a latch from the outside--a large piece of iron which lifted and fell, and was then kept in place by a block of wood. I had spent a great deal of time at that latch, lifting it with my nose, and biting and worrying it, in the hopes of breaking it off or opening the door; but when I did that I was always standing on my hind-legs, so as to reach up to it, with my fore-feet on the door, and, of course, my weight kept the door shut. But that never occurred to me. One evening, however, I happened to be standing up and sniffing at the latch, with my fore-feet not on the door itself, but on the wall beside the door. It happened that, just as I lifted the latch with my nose, Kahwa put her fore-feet against the door on the inside. To my astonishment, the door swung open into my face, and Kahwa came rolling out. If we had only thought it out, we could just as well have done that on the first night, instead of trying to reach each other for nearly two weeks through a narrow crack in the wall until nearly all the skin was rubbed off our noses.

However, it was done at last, and we were so glad that we thought of nothing else. Now we were free to go back into the woods and take up our old life again with father and mother. Would it not be glorious, I asked? Yes, she said, it would be glorious. To go off into the woods, and never, never, never, I said, see or think of man again.

Yes--yes, she said, but--Of course it would be very glorious, but--Well, there was the white stuff--the sugar--she could come back once in a while--just once in a while--couldn't she, to see the man and get a lump or two?

I am afraid I lost my temper. Here was what ought to have been a moment of complete happiness spoiled by her greediness. Of course she could not come back, I told her. If she did she would never get away a second time. We would go to father and mother and persuade them to move just as far away from man as they could. Instead of being delighted, the prospect only made her gloomy and thoughtful. Of course she wanted to see father and mother, but--but--but--There was always that "but"--and the thought of the man and the sugar.

While we were arguing, the time came when I usually left the town for the day, and the immediate thing to be done was to get away from that place and out into the woods, and all went well till we got to the last house in the town.

Now, however, Kahwa insisted on going up to snuff around this house. I warned her of the dog, but the truth was that she had grown accustomed to dogs, and I think had really lost her fear of men. So she went close up to the house, and began smelling round the walls to see if there was anything good to eat, while I stood back under the trees fretting and impatient of her delay.

Having sniffed all along one side of the house, she pa.s.sed round the corner to the back. In turning the corner she came right upon the dog, who flew at her at once, though he was not much bigger than her head.

Whether she was accustomed to dogs or not, the sudden attack startled her, and she turned round to run back to me. In doing so she just grazed the corner of the house, and the next instant she was rolling head over heels on the ground. The end of her chain had caught in the crack between the ends of two of the logs at the corner, and she was held as firmly as if she had been tied to her stump in front of the door. As she rolled over, the dog jumped upon her, small as he was, yelping all the time, and barking furiously. I thought it would only be a momentary delay, but the chain held fast, and all the while the dog's attacks made it impossible for her to give her attention to trying to tear it free.

A minute later, and the door of the house burst open, and a man came running out, carrying, to my horror, a thunder-stick in his hand. Kahwa and the dog were all mixed up together on the ground, and I saw the man stop and stand still a moment and point the thunder-stick at her. And then came that terrible noise of the thunder-stick speaking.

Too frightened to see what happened, I took to my heels, and plunged into the wood as fast as I could, without the man or the dog having seen me. I ran on for some distance till I felt safe enough to stop and listen, but there was not a sound, and no sign of Kahwa coming after me.

I waited and waited until the sun came up, and still there was no sign of Kahwa, until at last I summoned up courage to steal slowly back again. As I came near I heard the dog barking at intervals, and then the voices of men. Very cautiously I crept near enough to get a view of the house from behind, and as I came in sight of the corner where Kahwa had fallen I saw her for the second time--just as on that wretched evening at the berry-patch--surrounded by a group of three or four men. But this time they had no ropes round her, and were not trying to drag her away; only they stood talking and looking down at her, while she lay dead on the ground before them.

CHAPTER VII.

THE PARTING OF THE WAYS.

Now indeed I was truly lonely. During the three or four weeks that had pa.s.sed since I had seen my father or mother, I had in a measure learned to rely upon myself; nor had I so far felt the separation keenly, because I knew that every evening I should see Kahwa. Now she was gone for ever. There was no longer any object in going into the town, and the terror of that last scene was still so vivid in my mind that I wished never to see man again.

It was true that I had feared man instinctively from the first, but familiarity with him had for a while overcome that fear. Now it returned, and with the fear was mingled another feeling--a feeling of definite hatred. Originally, though afraid of him, I had borne man no ill-will whatever, and would have been entirely content to go on living beside him in peace and friendliness, just as we lived with the deer and the beaver. Man himself made that impossible; and now I no longer wished it. I hated him--hated him thoroughly. Had it not been for dread of the thunder-sticks, I should have gone down into the town and attacked the first man that I met. I would have persuaded other bears to go with me to range through the buildings, destroying every man that we could find; and though this was impossible, I made up my mind that it would be a bad day for any man whom I might meet alone, when unprotected by the weapon that gave him so great an advantage.

Meanwhile my present business was, somehow and somewhere, to go on living. On that first evening, amid my conflict of emotions, it was some time before I could bring myself to turn my back definitely upon the town; for it was difficult to realize at once that there was in truth no longer any Kahwa there, nor any reason for my going again among the buildings, and it was late in the night before I finally started to look for my father and mother. I went, of course, to the place where I had left them, and where the fight with the stranger had taken place.

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Bear Brownie Part 3 summary

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