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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Grizzly King: A Romance Of The Wild - Chapter 12
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The Grizzly King: A Romance Of The Wild - Chapter 12 Post by :ben.g Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :1880

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The Grizzly King: A Romance Of The Wild - Chapter 12

CHAPTER TWELVE

For still another two hours Thor led Muskwa on that tiresome jaunt into the north. They had travelled a good twenty miles since leaving the Bighorn Highway, and to the little tan-faced cub those twenty miles were like a journey around the world. Ordinarily he would not have gone that far away from his birthplace until his second year, and very possibly his third.

Not once in this hike down the valley had Thor wasted time on the mountain slopes. He had picked out the easiest trails along the creek. Three or four miles below the pool where they had left the old bear he suddenly changed this procedure by swinging due westward, and a little later they were once more climbing a mountain. They went up a long green slide for a quarter of a mile, and luckily for Muskwa's legs this brought them to the smooth plainlike floor of a break which took them without much more effort out on the slopes of the other valley. This was the valley in which Thor had killed the black bear twenty miles to the southward.

From the moment Thor looked out over the northern limits of his range a change took possession of him. All at once he lost his eagerness to hurry. For fifteen minutes he stood looking down into the valley, sniffing the air. He descended slowly, and when he reached the green meadows and the creek-bottom he _mooshed along straight in the face of the wind, which was coming from the south and west. It did not bring him the scent he wanted--the smell of his mate. Yet an instinct that was more infallible than reason told him that she was near, or should be near. He did not take accident or sickness or the possibility of hunters having killed her into consideration. This was where he had always started in to hunt for her, and sooner or later he had found her. He knew her smell. And he crossed and recrossed the bottoms so that it could not escape him.

When Thor was love-sick he was more or less like a man: that is to say, he was an idiot. The importance of all other things dwindled into nothingness. His habits, which were as fixed as the stars at other times, took a complete vacation. He even forgot hunger, and the whistlers and gophers were quite safe. He was tireless. He rambled during the night as well as the day in quest of his lady-love.

It was quite natural that in these exciting hours he should forget Muskwa almost entirely. At least ten times before sunset he crossed and recrossed the creek, and the disgusted and almost ready-to-quit cub waded and swam and floundered after him until he was nearly drowned. The tenth or dozenth time Thor forded the stream Muskwa revolted and followed along on his own side. It was not long before the grizzly returned.

It was soon after this, just as the sun was setting, that the unexpected happened. What little wind there was suddenly swung straight into the east, and from the western slopes half a mile away it brought a scent that held Thor motionless in his tracks for perhaps half a minute, and then set him off on that ambling run which is the ungainliest gait of all four-footed creatures.

Muskwa rolled after him like a ball, pegging away for dear life, but losing ground at every jump. In that half-mile stretch he would have lost Thor altogether if the grizzly had not stopped near the bottom of the first slope to take fresh reckonings. When he started up the slope Muskwa could see him, and with a yelping cry for him to wait a minute set after him again.

Two or three hundred yards up the mountainside the slope shelved downward into a hollow, or dip, and nosing about in this dip, questing the air as Thor had quested it, was the beautiful she-grizzly from over the range. With her was one of her last year's cubs. Thor was within fifty yards of her when he came over the crest. He stopped. He looked at her. And Iskwao, "the female," looked at him.

Then followed true bear courtship. All haste, all eagerness, all desire for his mate seemed to have left Thor; and if Iskwao had been eager and yearning she was profoundly indifferent now. For two or three minutes Thor stood looking casually about, and this gave Muskwa time to come up and perch himself beside him, expecting another fight.

As though Thor was a thousand miles or so from her thoughts, Iskwao turned over a flat rock and began hunting for grubs and ants, and not to be outdone in this stoic unconcern Thor pulled up a bunch of grass and swallowed it. Iskwao moved a step or two, and Thor moved a step or two, and as if purely by accident their steps were toward each other.

Muskwa was puzzled. The older cub was puzzled. They sat on their haunches like two dogs, one three times as big as the other, and wondered what was going to happen.

It took Thor and Iskwao five minutes to arrive within five feet of each other, and then very decorously they smelled noses.

The year-old cub joined the family circle. He was of just the right age to have an exceedingly long name, for the Indians called him Pipoonaskoos-- "the yearling." He came boldly up to Thor and his mother. For a moment Thor did not seem to notice him. Then his long right arm shot out in a sudden swinging upper-cut that lifted Pipoonaskoos clean off the ground and sent him spinning two-thirds of the distance up to Muskwa.

The mother paid no attention to this elimination of her offspring, and still lovingly smelled noses with Thor. Muskwa, however, thought this was the preliminary of another tremendous fight, and with a yelp of defiance he darted down the slope and set upon Pipoonaskoos with all his might.

Pipoonaskoos was "mother's boy." That is, he was one of those cubs who persist in following their mothers through a second season, instead of striking out for themselves. He had nursed until he was five months old; his parent had continued to hunt tidbits for him; he was fat, and sleek, and soft; he was, in fact, a "Willie" of the mountains.

On the other hand, a few days had put a lot of real mettle into Muskwa, and though he was only a third as large as Pipoonaskoos, and his feet were sore, and his back ached, he landed on the other cub like a shot out of a gun.

Still dazed by the blow of Thor's paw, Pipoonaskoos gave a yelping call to his mother for help at this sudden onslaught. He had never been in a fight, and he rolled over on his back and side, kicking and scratching and yelping as Muskwa's needle-like teeth sank again and again into his tender hide.

Luckily Muskwa got him once by the nose, and bit deep, and if there was any sand at all in Willie Pipoonaskoos this took it out of him, and while Muskwa held on for dear life he let out a steady stream of yelps, informing his mother that he was being murdered. To these cries Iskwao paid no attention at all, but continued to smell noses with Thor.

Finally freeing his bleeding nose, Pipoonaskoos shook Muskwa off by sheer force of superior weight and took to flight on a dead run. Muskwa pegged valiantly after him. Twice they made the circle of the basin, and in spite of his shorter legs, Muskwa was a close second in the race when Pipoonaskoos, turning an affrighted glance sidewise for an instant, hit against a rock and went sprawling. In another moment Muskwa was at him again, and he would have continued biting and snarling until there was no more strength left in him had he not happened to see Thor and Iskwao disappearing slowly over the edge of the slope toward the valley.

Almost immediately Muskwa forgot fighting. He was amazed to find that Thor, instead of tearing up the other bear, was walking off with her. Pipoonaskoos also pulled himself together and looked. Then Muskwa looked at Pipoonaskoos, and Pipoonaskoos looked at Muskwa. The tan-faced cub licked his chops just once, as if torn between the prospective delight of mauling Pipoonaskoos and the more imperative duty of following Thor. The other gave him no choice. With a whimpering yelp he set off after his mother.

Exciting times followed for the two cubs. All that night Thor and Iskwao kept by themselves in the buffalo willow thickets and the balsams of the creek-bottom. Early in the evening Pipoonaskoos sneaked up to his mother again, and Thor lifted him into the middle of the creek. The second visual proof of Thor's displeasure impinged upon Muskwa the fact that the older bears were not in a mood to tolerate the companionship of cubs, and the result was a wary and suspicious truce between him and Pipoonaskoos.

All the next day Thor and Iskwao kept to themselves. Early in the morning Muskwa began adventuring about a little in quest of food. He liked tender grass, but it was not very filling. Several times he saw Pipoonaskoos digging in the soft bottom close to the creek, and finally he drove the other cub away from a partly digged hole and investigated for himself. After a little more excavating he pulled out a white, bulbous, tender root that he thought was the sweetest and nicest thing he had ever eaten, not even excepting fish. It was the one _bonne bouche of all the good things he would eventually learn to eat--the spring beauty. One other thing alone was at all comparable with it, and that was the dog-tooth violet. Spring beauties were growing about him abundantly, and he continued to dig until his feet were grievously tender. But he had the satisfaction of being comfortably fed.

Thor was again responsible for a fight between Muskwa and Pipoonaskoos. Late in the afternoon the older bears were lying down side by side in a thicket when, without any apparent reason at all, Thor opened his huge jaws and emitted a low, steady, growling roar that sounded very much like the sound he had made when tearing the life out of the big black. Iskwao raised her head and joined him in the tumult, both of them perfectly good-natured and quite happy during the operation. Why mating bears indulge in this blood-curdling duet is a mystery which only the bears themselves can explain. It lasts for about a minute, and during this particular minute Muskwa, who lay outside the thicket, thought that surely the glorious hour had come when Thor was beating up the parent of Pipoonaskoos. And instantly he looked for Pipoonaskoos.

Unfortunately the Willie-bear came sneaking round the edge of the brush just then, and Muskwa gave him no chance to ask questions. He shot at him in a black streak and Pipoonaskoos bowled over like a fat baby. For several minutes they bit and dug and clawed, most of the biting and digging and clawing being done by Muskwa, while Pipoonaskoos devoted his time and energy to yelping.

Finally the larger cub got away and again took to flight. Muskwa pursued him, into the brush and out, down to the creek and back, halfway up the slope and down again, until he was so tired he had to drop on his belly for a rest.

At this juncture Thor emerged from the thicket. He was alone. For the first time since last night he seemed to notice Muskwa. Then he sniffed the wind up the valley and down the valley, and after that turned and walked straight toward the distant slopes down which they had come the preceding afternoon. Muskwa was both pleased and perplexed. He wanted to go into the thicket and snarl and pull at the hide of the dead bear that must be in there, and he also wanted to finish Pipoonaskoos. After a moment or two of hesitation he ran after Thor and again followed close at his heels.

After a little Iskwao came from the thicket and nosed the wind as Thor had felt it. Then she turned in the opposite direction, and with Pipoonaskoos close behind her, went up the slope and continued slowly and steadily in the face of the setting sun.

So ended Thor's love-making and Muskwa's first fighting; and together they trailed eastward again, to face the most terrible peril that had ever come into the mountains for four-footed beast-a peril that was merciless, a peril from which there was no escape, a peril that was fraught with death.

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