The Grizzly’s Shelf
H. MORTIMER BATTEN, F.Z.S.
WHEN Wolver Stark saw the wild sheep fall, he thought he had lost it for good. So far as he could judge from the place at which he fired
the shot, it went clean over the edge, and he concluded that the shattered hulk would not come to rest for 1,000 feet or more. So he went back to his pack pony, and riding over to the place at which the ram had disappeared, he looked down.
But Stark’s luck was in, for there lay the sheep on a comparatively wide shelf about fifty feet down. He had his rope, and recovering it would be a matter of minutes only, for which he was grateful, since he needed fresh meat. At the edge of the cliff grew a stunted, twisted jackpine, and to it Stark made fast his rope. By the aid of this he would climb down, attach the other end to the carcass, then climbing back, he w'ould drag his kill to the top when he was safely landed.
dark cavern, black a¡ ink. Blocks and teetl of ice still existed bad in the shadows, and ai Stark peered in hi , realized that the eartl was trodden smootl about the mouth of the opening. Then he saw somethin! move back in the blackness—back under the roots of thi tree several feet in.
TUCKILY the mountaineer’s life had been such that his limbs were trained to work spontaneously, am
SO THE mountaineer lowered himself over the gnarled roots of the pine, beneath which there was a comparatively wide landing. As his feet touched this his nostrils detected a faint musky odor, which at first he was at a loss to account for. Sheep? No. He knew the smell well enough, and it was not sheep. What it was, he could not for the moment recall, but somehow it caused him to look quickly around, at once on the alert.
From where Stark now stood he could see under the pine, for the sandy earth had been washed away, exposing an entanglement of crooked tentacles, and forming a
action came to him before his brain had conceived thi fact that action was necessary. Had there been time ti think, he might not have done what he did do, and as suredly then he would have been whirled into giddj space. He might have tried to climb up so as not corner himself, but now he stepped back, letting himsel down hand over hand, and as he went he felt the wind of ; terrible blow aimed as his head, missing him only bj millimetres—a blow which probably would have decapi tated him, for the she grizzly had come out of her dei straight into Stark’s face as it were.
The mountaineer was on the shelf where the deal sheep lay when next he came to rest, and looking up hi saw the grizzly flat on the shelf above, showing her yellov fangs, while her small eyes, set in the massive, thickly furred head, looked ominously red and significant^ close together. There was no reason to doubt that he hac trodden into a hornet’s nest, for the defensive fury of thi bear told his educated mind that she was a mother bear on whose territory he was trespassing. There are bear: and bears, and a mother bear is a highly specialized kinc of machinery, especially a mother grizzly.
Stark was an optimistic soul, who had ever boasted o his own good luck, and his first sentiments were in thi
direction of self com
mendment. It wa lucky the she bea had not hit him and equally luck.' that she had no bitten the rope ii two, for it mus have sawed agains her face. Stark sa down in the warn morning sunshini beside the deal sheep, the drip-drij
from the shelves all round him, to think things out. i How long he was here for he did not know, but a climb back by the way he had come was obviously impossible until—or rather unless—the mother bear went right away and took the cubs she was nursing with her. That there was no other way up or down was obvious at a glance. Even a goat could not have escaped from that shelf save by what foothold there was directly overhead and up to the grizzly shelf.
CERTAINLY it was unlucky that Stark had left his rifle with the pack pony, for he had with him only his hunting knife. But to offset this his good luck had designed that he should land on the sunny side. Had this been the dark side of the mountain, the cliff face would have been ice-bound and perishingly cold, but here it was so pleasantly warm in the sun that even though he had left his canvas jacket above, Stark could have slept comfortably.
Having thus summed things up, the mountaineer’s thoughts turned next to what was to be done. He thought over his predicament carefully and philosophically from every view-point, but clearly if he did anything at all, there was but one thing he could do—try eventually to climb back. At present that course was obviously impossible, and therefore he could do nothing at all.
Stark did not stir, for his best plan was to enrage and disturb the grizzly as little as possible. She was still watching him, but she had ceased to growl and snarl. He could just see one of her eyes and a corner of her woolly head peering over the brink above. In time she would settle down, then it might occur to her to shift her cubs to some other place away from human interference. Stark’s one hope of release lay in this.
About thirty minutes passed, then looking cautiously up, the mountaineer saw that the bear was gone, so. he decided to creep to the end of the shelf, where he would be in a better position to watch the ledge above. He was carrying this decision into effect when a shrill and familiar whinnie sounded overhead. Old Jess, his pack pony, of course! Stark had almost forgotten her. Evidently she had not scented the lurking bear, or she would not have dared to issue the summons. She was growing impatient, and wondering what he was about.
Watching over his shoulder, Stark saw something which had previously been a boulder detach itself from under the pine where it had stood motionless—watching him! He saw the grizzly go up the cliff face by a way of her own. Clearly she knew every foothold, for she went silently and swiftly as a cat, and Stark uttered an earsplitting yell to startle his pony and put her on the alert, while at the same time it might delay the grizzly. Certainly the latter looked back at him as the yell awoke the echoes, but she lost no time in so doing. Next moment she disappeared, and Stark heard a scream of terror from Jess, followed by the pounding of her hoofs on the rocky ground.
'T'HE man hurried back to his rope. Now was his chance to get out—that was presuming the bear would follow the pony some distance. He knew that he was facing terrible risks, for even if—by his usual luck— he safely gained the brow above, he would have no rifle, for Jess had made off with it. That the grizzly would charge him instantly she saw him anywhere within a hundred yards radius of her den he knew—knew, moreover, that she would not travel far out of sight of her cubs with him so near. But if he were ever to escape, he must let no possible chance go by.
So, hand over hand, his brown muscles shining in the sunlight, Stark went up. He had just obtained a grip of the grizzly’s ledge when he saw her coming down from the brink. She came head foremost with never a mis-step, much as a fur-clad street car might descend the vertical with brakes off. Stark let the rope slide between his horny hands, and down he went once more with a run, and once more he heard that horrible chopping snarl perilously near his face.
Safely back on his shelf Stark told himself he was glad the grizzly had not followed his pony too far. Jess was growing old, and her wind these days was none too good. She had been a wise little mare, and she loved him, and now he fell to wondering what would become of her if he could not escape. Would she return to the cabin? Probably not while he was here. She would hang about the high country where the wolves hunt in packs, and old and stiff as she was, she would not stand much chance.
So there were two very good reasons why Stark must contrive to escape before nightfall. The first was that it might turn deadly cold, and he was none too well clothed. The second that he would probably lose a sound pony, which he could never replace.
The prospect of being frozen to the shelf gave Stark an idea, and he set to work to skin the sheep. Owing to limited space this took some time, but when accomplished he fastened the skin roughly to form a jacket, hair side innermost, and spread it in the sun to dry. All this absorbed two hours or more, during which time nothing of note happened. He saw and heard no more of the
grizzly, but his instincts told him that she was keeping a close watch over him. Certainly he noticed two immense eagles wheeling lower and lower, as though the scent of the carcass beside him were attracting them, but he paid no heed to them till one actually alighted on the shelf a few feet away, and stood there looking at him, wings raised, head down.
T IKE most experienced mountaineers Stark cherished ^ a keen respect for these fierce and powerful birds. There were certain shelves which neither he nor the Indians ever traversed, because it was known that the eagles nested near to them. Out in the open there was nothing to fear from them, yet the red hunters had it that they resented human trespass on the shelves they considered their own—or possibly it was that they knew a human being amidst such settings to be at a disadvantage.
Stark had assured himself that if anything worth while was going to happen, it would happen about sundown. By then the mother grizzly would be hungry, and either she would go off to hunt or she would shift her cubs. He judged that there were two cubs, and that that was what was delaying her. Had there been only one she might have carried him out of the danger zone ere this, but she did not know how to carry two at a time, and she feared to leave the second while removing the first.
To a point Stark’s expectations were fulfilled, for no sooner had the sun dipped from view than the grizzly came out. With ponderous tread she went to the edge and sniffed, and finding Stark still there she bristled and snarled. Then without ado, she began to scrape away the earth from a seam in the shelf beside the den mouth, and Stark’s hopes sank to zero as he realized that she had stored food at hand!
Of the exact materials of that store Stark did not know, but his nostrils told him that whatever it was it had been in store some time. No doubt she buried it when she denned up last autumn, and ere long the cracking and crunching of bones came to Stark’s ears. For perhaps twenty minutes she fed, then she reinterred the remains and went back to her cubs deep under the roots.
So Stark, as he watched the fading lights in the west, decided that if his luck held out he would to-morrow contrive in some way to rob the grizzly’s cache, throwing its contents over the edge, so that she would be compelled to hunt or starve. This might be possible even though he could not make the final portion of the climb, and, at any rate, it would delight his heart to achieve such a feat, for he felt spiteful towards the grizzly for having sprung this unforeseen surprise on him.
EVERY night for many years Stark might have watched the dying of the day behind that self-same range, yet curiously enough he never before really watched it. To-night he could give the sunset his undivided attention, and the beauty of it transferred him to another world. He had never possessed any great fear of death, nor did he choose to regard its close proximity as likely, but if he was ho die, he hoped it would be with his gaze upon such a scene as this. My God, the Heavenly
wonder of it! It lulled his soul like softest music, it left him floating in inmeasurable space!
Stark, floating in immeasurable space! Stark, with his high laced moccasins aspiring sky wards, his skin, which had assumed the complexion of a raisin, stretched to cracking point at the novelty and insecurity of the sit uation! But tonight Stark saw himself as a god amidst godly set's tings. He set to
analyzing his own soul, which he had
not done till it assumed the semblance of manhood. What was wrong with this soul of his? Why was it that life had ceased to wear the glorious tints now before his eyes? He weighed things up correctly—there, with the rampant skies above and around, the ranges silver and gold and deepest indigo, and he came to know why life’s sunsets fade, even as the transient sunset of each day which comes, fades before our eyes. It was because between youth and matured manhood, there exists this difference of outlook. Youth dwells in the moment, the glory of the skies, the beauty of the hills, which to youth is the promise of to-morrow. Youth goes, and manhood dwells in the beauties of yesterday. To-morrow is a false and fickle jade. That he has learnt by experience, till yesterday comes to yield the brightest views.
But now Stark dwelt in the joy of the moment. For once to-morrow did not matter because it was unknown. If the dawn brought bitter cold, then Stark would see no more than the dawn. That fact did not trouble him. With the future veiled for once, he was content to dwell in the child-like joy of the moment. So darkness gathered, night crept in from the east, and as the last vivid rift above the mountain faded, faded, and was gone, Stark was called back to earth by the shrill, commanding neigh of Jess, his pack horse.
Poor little creature! She was frightened with the closing of the night. She did not know why he had forsaken her, she did not understand, and Stark was half of a mind to ■ call to her in reassuring tones. But he restrained himself. If she heard his voice she might come back to look for Continued on page UI4.
Stark might want part of that sheep, so his first act was to strip the carcass of certain portions for his own use. By climbing a few feet towards the grizzly’s shelf he managed to cut a trailing branch of the jack pine, about three feet in length, and to this he bound his knife, so as to form a lance.
None too soon were these preparations made, for almost immediately the second eagle came down, its terrible claws outspread towards Stark’s face. Whether or not it meant attacking him he did not know—did not wait to see—for as it came within his reach he aimed a stabbing thrust at its exposed breast.
The knife went home, into the tough body, and with a scream the great bird fell, flapping wildly, its clawed feet, which almost rivalled those of the grizzly as fighting weapons, striving to get at him. As it fell it clutched the carcass and the other bird, mistaking its efforts, alighted alongside, both of them dragging at the dead sheep, the one in its death agonies, the other purposely. The result was that the carcass, none too safely lodged, slipped over and down, and the knife, buried to the hilt in the muscular body of the falling bird, was torn from its lashings, and fell with them. ■
So Stark found himself with no weapon of any kind, save three feet of hooked pine branch, but he told himself that it was lucky he had made his jacket and cut off some of the meat ere the knife went. After all he was not likely to want the knife. The branch in his hand would be just about as useful if it came to close quarters with the bear.
The Grizzly’s Shelf
Continued from page 15
him, and the grizzly might surprise her. So Stark remained silent, though his tongue itched
Certainly good luck was with the woodsman that night, for a warm wind came in from the south-west, bearing the freshness of budding groves. He knew that it was the first breath of spring, which would bring the blue birds to the valleys. Tomorrow it would be hot in the low country. There was to be no more winter, and the dawn would bring no frost. So Stark was to live!
WARM and comfortable in his sheepskin, the man slept, but in fitful snatches, for ever and anon he was wakened by the screaming neighs of his pack-horse. He longed to answer her, for surely, in this way, she would bring the wolves to her trail, but his better judgment told him that nothing could be gained by calling out. He would only make her more desperate, besides which he would disturb the grizzly, who—his natural optimism told him—might at that moment be carrying her cubs away.
So far as Stark could judge, the pony was parading back and forth in a wide half circle behind the cliff edge, .but as the night wore on, the radius gradually narrowed. In her desperation she was drawing in, fearless of the grizzly, and he loved her the better for her devotion. Poor little beast! How he would pat her neck when once more he found himself astride the saddle!
Then Stark must have slept, for he started suddenly, his vision clear, to find that dawn had come. An extra shrill neigh, seeming so near in his memory that he looked for Jess along the very shelf, rang in his ears, then he looked up towards the cliff edge, where, away to the east, a lowering of the crags exposed to his view a deep little valley, into which the dawn lights were just flooding. He saw her come trotting down with stirrups dangling, he saw her stop dead and remain stock still with ears acock.
Then from the purple shadows near Stark saw a dark outline rise up. It looked twice the size of the cayuse, for its shadow was added to its girth, and straight towards the pony it plunged, like the shadow of a wind-swept cloud. And Stark saw his cayuse wheel to present her heels to the approaching foe.
She did not flee—no! She turned to fight, and this manner of turning was strange to the grizzly. Always she had striven to attack her quarry from the rear, but here was a quarry obliging. Its back was towards her, ready to flee, and so she charged at breathless speed ere it should be gone.
But the cayuse stood her ground. She was watching behind her, and her heels were ready. Perfectly she timed the blow, and her hoofs were iron-shod. They smote the she bear’s face at their best reach—one struck her nose tip, the other her forehead. She stopped, -blinking, stunned, surprised. This was a method of defence she did not know, and Jess saw her chance. Again she lashed out, and this time both iron shod hoofs fell together upon the grizzly’s jaw.
It was a terrible blow, and it fell at a terrible moment, for the she bear’s tongue was between her teeth. Stark heard the malicious thud and click as he leant forward, hanging on to his rope. He knew that it signified broken bones, and his heart veritably stood still. Would the grizzly rise now and strike his beloved cayuse to the ground? He might, had he thought, have taken this moment to escape but he did not think. His mind was a blank to all things save the contest he was witnessing.
NO, THE grizzly did not rise and strike, for her roar of rage and pain was stifled by the rain of sledge-hammer blows which fell, two to the second, ere she could recover. In his own mind Stark had pictured his cayuse as old and stiff, unfit to fend for herself, but now he was to see her in a different light. A weasel could not have been quicker. Back, back, she went, and the bear fell back behind her. The blows fell like the rattle of a kettle drum, each one truly timed and truly aimed. So, back, hack, the grizzly crouched, the blood beaten into her eyes, streaming from her shattered jaws. She rose with gorilla arms widely flung,
ready to spring upon and crush under her adversary, but she never made that spring. Those iron shod hoofs smote her neck, her breast, her under-parts. In ? deadly tattoo they played upon her, like the death-dealing mitrailleuse, so back, back, she fell, across the broken tundra back and yet back, blind now to all sense of self defence, for this was a foe whose methods savored of the dread unknown.
So Stark watched, and as he watched he could not bring himself to think that what he saw in that unearthly glow was real. He saw it as one might see a magiclantern show thrown in incredible shades upon a screen, and ever afterwards, when so he chose, he could see it yet again. But never could he rid himself of the notion that his own imaginative mind had played some part in the painting of the picture.
Twice, thrice, the grizzly strove to free herself and back away, till at length, blinded on all sides by that increasing tattoo, she closed, as an armadillo closes, and rolled before her adversary’s charge.
But the cayuse was wise. She was on the high side, and she meant to hold it. Downhill, blindly down, she drove her foe, and so to the cliff edge, where the grizzly rose and charged.
Stark saw the glint of the sun on her terrible sabre fangs, he saw the gleam of her tongue, white now with terror and defeat. Some seconds later he heard the awful, rending snarl, half scream, half roar. F or days after he heard it, yet when it came to his ears the fight was ended.
To the very edge the grizzly had clung, but broken-jawed, bewildered, with that inexorable rain of death upon her face and flanks, she had slowly, surely lost her hold. Like a coon beaten nigger-fashion from a branch, she had lost her hold, and strove to catch some obstacle lower down. But nothing came till her descending form made hold impossible, and so she struck and spun, and struck, down, down, through empty space, down into the spangled purple whence the daylight shafts had not yet penetrated, and Stark, hanging to his rope and looking down into the shadows, saw her fall, spinning, spinning, smaller, smaller, till he could see no more of her. But from below, far below, came the hollow ghastly impact, and the mountaineer drew back, shuddering at the giddy awfulness of it.
STARK took the cubs home with him, for he could not leave them to starve, besides which the grizzly is a rare beast to-day. He straddled his pony, patting her neck and taking possession of his rifle for the friendliness of its touch, and he said aloud—“Not so bad, old girl! I’ve enjoyed myself no end, and I shall remember it. Things worth remembering are worth enduring, and anyway, we’ve got three strong grizzly cubs and bounty to draw on the mother.”
But somehow Stark never did go down to get the scalp which was to bring in the bounty money. It seemed to him that he had played his part in the show, and that to scalp the grizzly mother at the point at which she lay for so much silver coin, was not a white man’s course. But months later an Indian came to his cabin with his hunting knife, red with rust. He knew by its ebony hilt that it was Stark’s knife, and he said—“Big grizzly skeleton lay among the rocks. Only bones left, no scalp, no skin, no bounty money. Near grizzly big eagle, just bones and feathers bleaching in the sun, and the knifeblade fast in breast-bone.”
He looked big-eyed at the white hunter, waiting for his story, but Stark took the knife and restored it to his empty sheath. “You stay for supper?” he said. “Canned beans, sugared bacon, and French coffee.” And the Indian heard no more of the story of the great white hunter’s knife.