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Hunting Worse Than Slavery

from Fables For Children, Stories For Children, Natural Science Stori - STORIES FOR CHILDREN





We were hunting bears. My companion had a chance to shoot at a bear: he
wounded him, but only in a soft spot. A little blood was left on the
snow, but the bear got away.

We met in the forest and began to discuss what to do: whether to go and
find that bear, or to wait two or three days until the bear should lie
down again.

We asked the peasant bear drivers whether we could now surround the
bear. An old bear driver said:

"No, we must give the bear a chance to calm himself. In about five days
it will be possible to surround him, but if we go after him now he will
only be frightened and will not lie down."

But a young bear driver disputed with the old man, and said that he
could surround him now.

"Over this snow," he said, "the bear cannot get away far,--he is fat. He
will lie down to-day again. And if he does not, I will overtake him on
snow-shoes."

My companion, too, did not want to surround the bear now, and advised
waiting.

But I said:

"What is the use of discussing the matter? Do as you please, but I will
go with Demyan along the track. If we overtake him, so much is gained;
if not,--I have nothing else to do to-day anyway, and it is not yet
late."

And so we did.

My companions went to the sleigh, and back to the village, but Demyan
and I took bread with us, and remained in the woods.

When all had left us, Demyan and I examined our guns, tucked our fur
coats over our belts, and followed the track.

It was fine weather, chilly and calm. But walking on snow-shoes was a
hard matter: the snow was deep and powdery.

The snow had not settled in the forest, and, besides, fresh snow had
fallen on the day before, so that the snow-shoes sunk half a foot in the
snow, and in places even deeper.

The bear track could be seen a distance away. We could see the way the
bear had walked, for in spots he had fallen in the snow to his belly and
had swept the snow aside. At first we walked in plain sight of the
track, through a forest of large trees; then, when the track went into a
small pine wood, Demyan stopped.

"We must now give up the track," he said. "He will, no doubt, lie down
here. He has been sitting on his haunches,--you can see it by the snow.
Let us go away from the track, and make a circle around him. But we must
walk softly and make no noise, not even cough, or we shall scare him."

We went away from the track, to the left. We walked about five hundred
steps and there we again saw the track before us. We again followed the
track, and this took us to the road. We stopped on the road and began to
look around, to see in what direction the bear had gone. Here and there
on the road we could see the bear's paws with all the toes printed on
the snow, while in others we could see the tracks of a peasant's bast
shoes. He had, evidently, gone to the village.

We walked along the road. Demyan said to me:

"We need not watch the road; somewhere he will turn off the road, to the
right or to the left,--we shall see in the snow. Somewhere he will turn
off,--he will not go to the village."

We walked thus about a mile along the road; suddenly we saw the track
turn off from the road. We looked at it, and see the wonder! It was a
bear's track, but leading not from the road to the woods, but from the
woods to the road: the toes were turned to the road. I said:

"That is another bear."

Demyan looked at it, and thought awhile.

"No," he said, "that is the same bear, only he has begun to cheat. He
left the road backwards."

We followed the track, and so it was. The bear had evidently walked
about ten steps backwards from the road, until he got beyond a fir-tree,
and then he had turned and gone on straight ahead. Demyan stopped, and
said:

"Now we shall certainly fall in with him. He has no place but this swamp
to lie down in. Let us surround him."

We started to surround him, going through the dense pine forest. I was
getting tired, and it was now much harder to travel. Now I would strike
against a juniper-bush, and get caught in it; or a small pine-tree would
get under my feet; or the snow-shoes would twist, as I was not used to
them; or I would strike a stump or a block under the snow. I was
beginning to be worn out. I took off my fur coat, and the sweat was just
pouring down from me. But Demyan sailed along as in a boat. It looked as
though the snow-shoes walked under him of their own accord. He neither
caught in anything, nor did his shoes turn on him.

And he even threw my fur coat over his shoulders, and kept urging me on.

We made about three versts in a circle, and walked past the swamp.
Demyan suddenly stopped in front of me, and waved his hand. I walked
over to him. Demyan bent down, and pointed with his hand, and whispered
to me:

"Do you see, a magpie is chattering on a windfall: the bird is scenting
the bear from a distance. It is he."

We walked to one side, made another verst, and again hit the old trail.
Thus we had made a circle around the bear, and he was inside of it. We
stopped. I took off my hat and loosened my wraps: I felt as hot as in a
bath, and was as wet as a mouse. Demyan, too, was all red, and he wiped
his face with his sleeve.

"Well," he said, "we have done our work, sir, so we may take a rest."

The evening glow could be seen through the forest. We sat down on the
snow-shoes to rest ourselves. We took the bread and salt out of the
bags; first I ate a little snow, and then the bread. The bread tasted to
me better than any I had eaten in all my life. We sat awhile; it began
to grow dark. I asked Demyan how far it was to the village.

"About twelve versts. We shall reach it in the night; but now we must
rest. Put on your fur coat, sir, or you will catch a cold."

Demyan broke off some pine branches, knocked down the snow, made a bed,
and we lay down beside each other, with our arms under our heads. I do
not remember how I fell asleep. I awoke about two hours later. Something
crashed.

I had been sleeping so soundly that I forgot where I was. I looked
around me: what marvel was that? Where was I? Above me were some white
chambers, and white posts, and on everything glistened white tinsel. I
looked up: there was a white, checkered cloth, and between the checks
was a black vault in which burned fires of all colours. I looked around,
and I recalled that we were in the forest, and that the snow-covered
trees had appeared to me as chambers, and that the fires were nothing
but the stars that flickered between the branches.

In the night a hoarfrost had fallen, and there was hoarfrost on the
branches, and on my fur coat, and Demyan was all covered with hoarfrost,
and hoarfrost fell from above. I awoke Demyan. We got up on our
snow-shoes and started. The forest was quiet. All that could be heard
was the sound we made as we slid on our snow-shoes over the soft snow,
or when a tree would crackle from the frost, and a hollow sound would
pass through the whole woods. Only once did something living stir close
to us and run away again. I thought it was the bear. We walked over to
the place from where the noise had come, and we saw hare tracks. The
young aspens were nibbled down. The hares had been feeding on them.

We came out to the road, tied the snow-shoes behind us, and walked down
the road. It was easy to walk. The snow-shoes rattled and rumbled over
the beaten road; the snow creaked under our boots; the cold hoarfrost
stuck to our faces like down. And the stars seemed to run toward us
along the branches: they would flash, and go out again,--just as though
the sky were walking round and round.

My companion was asleep,--I awoke him. We told him how we had made a
circle around the bear, and told the landlord to collect the drivers for
the morning. We ate our supper and lay down to sleep.

I was so tired that I could have slept until dinner, but my companion
woke me. I jumped up and saw that my companion was all dressed and busy
with his gun.

"Where is Demyan?"

"He has been in the forest for quite awhile. He has investigated the
circle, and has been back to take the drivers out."

I washed myself, put on my clothes, and loaded my guns. We seated
ourselves in the sleigh, and started.

There was a severe frost, the air was calm, and the sun could not be
seen: there was a mist above, and the hoarfrost was settling.

We travelled about three versts by the road, and reached the forest. We
saw a blue smoke in a hollow, and peasants, men and women, were there
with clubs.

We climbed out of the sleigh and went up to the people. The peasants
were sitting and baking potatoes, and joking with the women.

Demyan was with them. The people got up, and Demyan took them away to
place them in our last night's circuit. The men and women stretched
themselves out in single file,--there were thirty of them and they could
be seen only from the belt up,--and went into the woods; then my
companion and I followed their tracks.

Though they had made a path, it was hard to walk; still, we could not
fall, for it was like walking between two walls.

Thus we walked for half a verst. I looked up, and there was Demyan
running to us from the other side on snow-shoes, and waving his hand for
us to come to him.

We went up to him, and he showed us where to stand. I took up my
position and looked around.

To the left of me was a tall pine forest. I could see far through it,
and beyond the trees I saw the black spot of a peasant driver. Opposite
me was a young pine growth, as tall as a man's stature. In this pine
growth the branches were hanging down and stuck together from the snow.
The path through the middle of the pine grove was covered with snow.
This path was leading toward me. To the right of me was a dense pine
forest, and beyond the pine grove there was a clearing. And on this
clearing I saw Demyan place my companion.

I examined my two guns and cocked them, and began to think where to take
up a stand. Behind me, about three steps from me, there was a pine-tree.
"I will stand by that pine, and will lean the other gun against it." I
made my way to that pine, walking knee-deep in snow. I tramped down a
space of about four feet each way, and there took my stand. One gun I
took into my hands, and the other, with hammers raised, I placed against
the tree. I unsheathed my dagger and put it back in the scabbard, to be
sure that in case of need it would come out easily.

I had hardly fixed myself, when Demyan shouted from the woods:

"Start it now, start it!"

And as Demyan shouted this, the peasants in the circuit cried, each with
a different tone of voice: "Come now! OO-oo-oo!" and the women cried, in
their thin voices: "Ai! Eekh!"

The bear was in the circle. Demyan was driving him. In the circuit the
people shouted, and only my companion and I stood still, did not speak
or move, and waited for the bear. I stood, and looked, and listened, and
my heart went pitapat. I was clutching my gun and trembling. Now, now he
will jump out, I thought, and I will aim and shoot, and he will fall--
Suddenly I heard to the left something tumbling through the snow, only
it was far away. I looked into the tall pine forest: about fifty steps
from me, behind the trees, stood something large and black. I aimed and
waited. I thought it might come nearer. I saw it move its ears and turn
around. Now I could see the whole of him from the side. It was a huge
beast. I aimed hastily. Bang! I heard the bullet strike the tree.
Through the smoke I saw the bear make back for the cover and disappear
in the forest. "Well," I thought, "my business is spoiled: he will not
run up to me again; either my companion will have a chance to shoot at
him, or he will go through between the peasants, but never again toward
me." I reloaded the gun, and stood and listened. The peasants were
shouting on all sides, but on the right, not far from my companion, I
heard a woman yell, "Here he is! Here he is! Here he is! This way! This
way! Oi, oi, oi! Ai, ai, ai!"

There was the bear, in full sight. I was no longer expecting the bear
to come toward me, and so looked to the right toward my companion. I saw
Demyan running without the snow-shoes along the path, with a stick in
his hand, and going up to my companion, sitting down near him, and
pointing with the stick at something, as though he were aiming. I saw my
companion raise his gun and aim at where Demyan was pointing. Bang! he
fired it off.

"Well," I thought, "he has killed him." But I saw that my companion was
not running toward the bear. "Evidently he missed him, or did not strike
him right. He will get away," I thought, "but he will not come toward
me."

What was that? Suddenly I heard something in front of me: somebody was
flying like a whirlwind, and scattering the snow near by, and panting. I
looked ahead of me, but he was making headlong toward me along the path
through the dense pine growth. I could see that he was beside himself
with fear. When he was within five steps of me I could see the whole of
him: his chest was black and his head was enormous, and of a reddish
colour. He was flying straight toward me, and scattering the snow in all
directions. I could see by the bear's eyes that he did not see me and in
his fright was rushing headlong. He was making straight for the pine
where I was standing. I raised my gun, and shot, but he came still
nearer. I saw that I had not hit him: the bullet was carried past him.
He heard nothing, plunged onward, and did not see me. I bent down the
gun, almost rested it against his head. Bang! This time I hit him, but
did not kill him.

He raised his head, dropped his ears, showed his teeth,--and straight
toward me. I grasped the other gun; but before I had it in my hand, he
was already on me, knocked me down, and flew over me. "Well," I thought,
"that is good, he will not touch me." I was just getting up, when I
felt something pressing against me and holding me down. In his onrush he
ran past me, but he turned around and rushed against me with his whole
breast. I felt something heavy upon me, something warm over my face, and
I felt him taking my face into his jaws. My nose was already in his
mouth, and I felt hot, and smelled his blood. He pressed my shoulders
with his paws, and I could not stir. All I could do was to pull my head
out of his jaws and press it against my breast, and I turned my nose and
eyes away. But he was trying to get at my eyes and nose. I felt him
strike the teeth of his upper jaw into my forehead, right below the
hair, and the lower jaw into the cheek-bones below the eyes, and he
began to crush me. It was as though my head were cut with knives. I
jerked and pulled out my head, but he chawed and chawed and snapped at
me like a dog. I would turn my head away, and he would catch it again.
"Well," I thought, "my end has come." Suddenly I felt lighter. I looked
up, and he was gone: he had jumped away from me, and was running now.

When my companion and Demyan saw that the bear had knocked me into the
snow, they dashed for me. My companion wanted to get there as fast as
possible, but lost his way; instead of running on the trodden path, he
ran straight ahead, and fell down. While he was trying to get out of the
snow, the bear was gnawing at me. Demyan ran up to me along the path,
without a gun, just with the stick which he had in his hands, and he
shouted, "He is eating up the gentleman! He is eating up the gentleman!"
And he kept running and shouting, "Oh, you wretched beast! What are you
doing? Stop! Stop!"

The bear listened to him, stopped, and ran away. When I got up, there
was much blood on the snow, just as though a sheep had been killed, and
over my eyes the flesh hung in rags. While the wound was fresh I felt no
pain.

My companion ran up to me, and the peasants gathered around me. They
looked at my wounds, and washed them with snow. I had entirely forgotten
about the wounds, and only asked, "Where is the bear? Where has he
gone?"

Suddenly we heard, "Here he is! Here he is!" We saw the bear running
once more against us. We grasped our guns, but before we fired he ran
past us. The bear was mad: he wanted to bite me again, but when he saw
so many people he became frightened. We saw by the track that the bear
was bleeding from the head. We wanted to follow him up, but my head hurt
me, and so we drove to town to see a doctor.

The doctor sewed up my wounds with silk, and they began to heal.

A month later we went out again to hunt that bear; but I did not get the
chance to kill him. The bear would not leave the cover, and kept walking
around and around and roaring terribly. Demyan killed him. My shot had
crushed his lower jaw and knocked out a tooth.

This bear was very large, and he had beautiful black fur. I had the skin
stuffed, and it is lying now in my room. The wounds on my head have
healed, so that one can scarcely see where they were.





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