Bruin by Mayne Reid
CHAPTER TWO. THE
CHAPTER SIX. TO
BRUIN AT HOME?
HAND TO HAND.
ONE. A MEETING
FIVE. A BEAR IN
A BIRD'S NEST.
ONE. A SKURRY
OVER A SAND-BAR.
TWO. PURSUED BY
FOUR. THE OLD
FIVE. EATING A
SIX. THE TAGUA
NINE. THE LONE
CHAPTER FORTY. A
ONE. CUTTING OUT
THREE. THE POLAR
FOUR. THE OLD
FIVE. A WHOLE
SIX. THE BARREN
TAKING A BATH.
EIGHT. THE GREAT
TREED BY OLD
SIX. THE TALL
NINE. THE SLOTH
BRUIN TAKEN BY
ONE. AN EXTRA
TWO. AN UNHAPPY
THREE. THE SNOW
FOUR. THE LAST
Bruin, by Captain Mayne Reid.
The story told is quite good one, but is rather spoilt by the
author's insistence on showing how clever he is by calling the animals
and plants that appear in the story, by their Latin names.
Two young brothers, the sons of a Russian nobleman, ask their father
if they may spend a while travelling the world. He agrees, but lays
down two conditions: one, that they should bring back the skins, in
good condition, of every species of bear there is; two, that they
should proceed from east to west, or from west to east, without
doubling back on their tracks, except, of course, while actually
engaged in the chase.
The boys, for they are still in their teens, accept the conditions,
and set off westward, visiting all sorts of interesting places in
Europe and elsewhere, and gathering numerous bearskin trophies on the
way. Oddly enough they never go to Australia, but maybe the Koala bear
is not a bear, within the definition of the word.
They take with them an old retired guardsman, Pouchskin, who looks
after them generally, and takes a lot of the knocks of the journey.
Eventually they return home, where the boys are lauded as heroes, and
Pouchskin returns to obscurity.
BRUIN, BY CAPTAIN MAYNE REID.
CHAPTER ONE. THE PALACE GRODONOFF.
On the banks of the Neva, near the great city of Saint Petersburg,
stands a splendid palace, known as the Palace Grodonoff. It is the
property of a Russian nobleman of that name, as it is also his place of
residence. Were you to drive up to the front gate of this grand palace,
you would see a coat-of-arms sculptured in granite over the entrance.
In this piece of sculpture, the principal and most striking figure is a
bear, with the blade of a knife buried in his breast, the haft being
clutched by a human hand! Open the gate, and enter the spacious
courtyard. Inside, on the right and left, you will observe two live
bearsboth of chestnut-brown colour, and each of them as big as a
buffalo. You cannot fail to notice them, for, ten chances to one, they
will rush towards you with fierce growls; and were it not that a strong
chain hinders them from reaching you, you might have reason to repent
having entered the courtyard of the palace Grodonoff. Look around you
in the courtyard and over the different doors that open upon it; you
will again see the crest of the bear, sculptured in stone; you will see
it over the stables, the coach-house, the granary, the kitchens,
everywhere. You may know by all this, that it is the coat-of-arms of
the Baron Grodonoff, whose crest is a bear with a blade buried in its
breast, and a human band clutching the haft.
You will naturally conclude that there is some history connected
with this singular tableauthat it is the commemoration of some deed
done by a Grodonoff, entitling him to use the bear as his heraldic
device. This is quite true; and if you enter the picture-gallery of the
palace, you will there behold the deed more explicitly represented, in
a large oil-painting hung conspicuously in the centre of the wall. The
scene of this painting is a forest of old trees, whose grey, gnarled
trunks stand thickly over the ground. There is only a little open space
or glade in the middle; and this is occupied by three figures, two men
and a bear. The bear is between the two men; or, rather, one of the men
is prostrate upon the groundwhere he has been struck down by a blow
from Bruin's pawwhile the huge animal stands over him reared up on
his hind quarters. The other man is upon his feet, apparently engaged
in a desperate wrestle with the fierce brute, and likely to prove the
conqueroras he has already buried the blade of a large hunting-knife
in the animal's breast, and directly over the region of its heart.
Indeed, the shaggy monster already shows signs of succumbing. His paw
has dropped from the shoulder of his antagonist, his long tongue lolls
out, the blood rushes from his mouth and nostrils, and it is evident
that his strength is fast forsaking him, and that he will soon sink
lifeless upon the earth. You will notice that the two men who figure in
the painting are very dissimilar in appearance. Both are young men, and
both are in hunting costume; but so unlike in their dress, that you
could not fancy they followed the same occupation. He upon the ground
is richly attired. He wears a tunic of finest green cloth slashed with
sable fur on the skirt, collar, and sleeves; his limbs are encased in
breeches of white doeskin; and his boots, reaching nearly to his
thighs, are of soft russet leather, ample at the tops. A belt around
his waist is richly embroidered; and the hilt of a short hunting-sword,
protruding from the sheath, appears chased and studded with jewels. A
light plumed hat lies upon the ground near his headevidently tossed
off in the struggleand beside it is a boar-spear that has been jerked
out of his fingers as he fell. The whole costume is similar to that
used upon the stagewhen some young German or Sclavonian prince is
represented as hunting the wild boar in the forests of Lithuania.
In reality it is a prince who is depicted in the group of the
gallery Grodonoffbut not a German prince. He is a Russian, and the
bear is the Russian bear.
The other hunterhe who had given its death-blow to the fierce
quadrupedis dressed in a style entirely different. It is the costume
of a fur-huntera trapper of sablesand consists of skin coat and
cap, with a strong leathern belt round his waist, and rough boots of
untanned hide upon his legs and feet. The costume is rude, and bespeaks
him a peasant; but his face, as the painter has represented it, is
neither common nor ill-looking. It is not so handsome as that of the
prince: for he would be an unskilful artistone utterly reckless of
his own fortunewho should paint the features of a peasant as handsome
as those of a prince. In Russia, as elsewhere, such an imprudent
painter would be a rara avis indeed.
The picture of which we are speaking is the piece de resistance
of the Grodonoff gallery. Its size and conspicuous position declare the
fact; and the story attached to it will show that it merits the
distinction. But for that picture, or rather the scene which it
represents, there would be no Grodonoff galleryno palaceno baron of
the name. Paintings, palace, title, all have their origin in the
incident there representedthe battle with the bear.
The story is simple and may be briefly told. As, already stated, he
upon his back, hat off, and spear detached from his grasp, is a Russian
princeor rather was one, for at the time when our history commences
he is an emperor. He had been hunting the wild boar; and, as often
happens to sporting princes, had become separated from his courtier
attendants. The enthusiasm of the chase had led him on, into the
fastnesses of the forest, where he came suddenly face to face with a
bear. Princes have their hunter ambition as well as other men; and, in
hopes of tailing a trophy, this one attacked the bear with his
boar-spear. But the thrust that might have penetrated the flesh of a
wild boar, had no effect upon the tough thick hide of Bruin. It only
irritated him; and as the brown bear will often do, he sprang savagely
upon his assailant, and with his huge paw gave the prince such a pat
upon the shoulder, as not only sent the spear shivering from his grasp,
but stretched his royal highness at full length upon the grass.
Following up his advantage, the bear had bounded forward upon the
prostrate body; and, no doubt, in the twinkling of a bedpost would have
made a corpse of iteither squeezing the breath out of it by one of
his formidable hugs, or tearing it to pieces with his trenchant
teeth. In another moment the hope of Russia would have been
extinguished; but, just at this crisis, a third figure appeared upon
the scenein the person of a young huntera real onewho had
already been in pursuit of the bear, and had tracked him up to the
On coming upon the ground, the hunter fired his gun; but, seeing
that the shot was insufficient, he drew his knife and rushed upon the
bear. A desperate struggle ensued, in which, as may be already
anticipated, the young hunter proved victorioushaving succeeded in
sheathing his blade in the heart of the bear, and causing the savage
quadruped to bite the dust.
Neither the prince nor the peasant came scathless out of the
encounter. Both were well scratched; but neither had received any wound
of a serious nature; and the amateur hunter rose once more to his feet,
conscious of having made a very narrow escape.
I need not add that the prince was profuse in his expressions of
gratitude to him who had saved his life. The young hunter was not one
of his own party, but a stranger to him, whose home was in the forest
where the incident occurred. But their acquaintance did not end with
the adventure. The prince became an emperorthe peasant hunter a
lieutenant in the Imperial Guard, afterwards a captain, a colonel, a
general, and finally a baron of the empire!
Grodonoff,he in whose palace hangs the picture we have described.
CHAPTER TWO. THE BARON GRODONOFF.
In one of the apartments of the palace Grodonoff, behold its
proprietor, the baron himself! He is seated in an old oak chair, with a
heavy table of the same material in front of him. On the table is
spread out a map of the world; and by the side of the chair stands a
large terrestrial globe. Several shelves standing against the wails
contain books; and yet the apartment is not a library in the proper
sense of the word: rather is it a large oblong saloon; having three of
its sides occupied by spacious glass cases, in which are exhibited
objects of natural history,birds, quadrupeds, reptiles, and
insects,all mounted in proper form and arranged in due order. It is,
in fact, a museum,a private collectionmade by the baron himself;
and the books that fill the shelves are works relating to natural
In a man of military aspectan old veteran with snow-white hair,
and grand moustaches of like huesuch as he who is seated at the
tableyou would scarce expect to meet the lover of a study so pacific
in its character as that of natural history? Rather would you look to
find him pouring over plans of fortifications, with the pages of Yauban
spread open before him; or some history detailing the campaigns of
Suwarrow, Diebitsch, Paskiewitch or Potemkin? In this instance,
however, appearances were deceptive. Though the baron had proved an
excellent military officer, and seen service, he was a student of
Nature. His early years, spent as a hunter, had begot within him a
taste for natural history; which, as soon as the opportunity offered,
had become developed by study and research. It was now no longer a
predilection, but a passion; and in his retirement nearly the whole of
his time was devoted to his favourite study. A vast fortune, which his
grateful sovereign had bestowed upon him, enabled him to command the
means for gratifying his taste; and the magnificent collection by which
he was surrounded gave evidence that no expense was spared in its
It was a map and globe of the world that now occupied his attention.
Could these have reference to a question of natural history?
In an indirect manner they had,and what follows will account for
A hand-bell stood upon the table. The baron rang it; and before its
tingling had ceased, the door opened, and a servant entered the
Summon my sons to attend me!
The servant bowed, and retired.
A few minutes after, two youths entered the apartment. They appeared
to be of the respective ages of sixteen and eighteen. One, the elder
and taller, was of a darkish complexion, with brown waving hair, and
hazel eyes. The expression of his countenance was that of a youth of
firm and rather serious character; while the style of his dress, or
rather his manner of wearing it, showed that he was altogether without
vanity in matters of personal appearance. He was handsome withal,
having that aristocratic air common to the nobility of Russia. This was
The younger brother differed from him as much as if no kinship
existed between them. He was more the son of his mother, the baroness;
while Alexis inherited the features and a good deal of the disposition
of his father. Ivan was a fair-haired lad, with golden locks curling
over a forehead of bright blonde complexion, and cheeks that exhibited
the hue of the rose. His eyes were of a deep azure-bluesuch as is
often seen among the Sclavonic racesand their quick sparkle told that
in the breast of Ivan there beat a heart brimming with bright thoughts,
and ever ready for mischief and merriment, but without any admixture of
Both approached their father with a serious expression of
countenance. That of Alexis bespoke sincerity; while Ivan stole forward
with the air of one who had been recently engaged in some sly mischief,
and who was assuming a demure deportment with the design of concealing
A word about these two youths, and the object for which their father
had summoned them into his presence. They had now been each of them
more than ten years engaged in the study of books, under some of the
ablest teachers that Russia could furnish. Their father himself had
given much time to their instruction; and, of course, an inclination to
their minds similar to that which characterised his own, but chiefly to
the mind of Alexis.
The latter had imbibed a fondness for the study of nature, while
Ivan was more given to admire the records of stirring events, with a
strong penchant for the splendours of the world, in which he
felt longing to bear a part. The nature of the books which had passed
through their handsa great number of them being books of travelhad
begotten within these youths a wish to see the world, which, increasing
each day, had grown into an eager desire. This desire had been often
expressed in hints to their father; but at length, in a more formal
manner, by means of a written petition, which the boys, after much
deliberation, had drawn up and presented to him, and which was now seen
lying open before him upon the table.
The petition was simply their united request, that their father
would be so good as to allow them to travel and see foreign
countrieswhere, and how, to be left to his wise guidance and
It was to receive an answer to this petition, that his sons were now
summoned into his presence.
CHAPTER THREE. THE SEALED ORDERS.
So, my youngsters! said the baron, directing his glance upon them,
you have a desire to to travel? You wish to see the world, do you?
True, papa! modestly answered Alexis; our tutor tells us that we
are sufficiently educated to go abroad; and, if you have no objection,
we should very much like to make a tour.
What! before going to the University!
Why, papa! I thought you were not going to send us to the
University for some time to come? Did you not say, that a year of
travelling was worth ten at a University?
Perhaps I may have said so; but that depends upon how one
travels. If you travel merely to amuse yourselves, you may go over all
the world, and come back no wiser than when you started! I have known
many a man return from a circumnavigation of the globe, without
bringing with him the knowledge of a single fact that he might not have
obtained at home. You would expect to travel in snug railway-carriages,
and comfortable steam-ships, and sleep in splendid hotelsis that your
Oh no, papa! whatever way you may direct, that will be agreeable to
me, said Alexis.
As for me, rejoined Ivan, I'm not particular. I can rough it, I'm
There was a little flavour of bravado in the manner of Ivan's
speech, that showed he was scarce inclined to the roughing system, and
that he merely assumed the swaggering air, because he had no belief
that he would be called upon to make trial of it.
If I permit you to travel, continued the baron, where would you
like to go? You, Alexis! to what part of the world would your
inclination lead you?
I should like to see the new world of Americaits noble rivers,
and forests, and mountains. I should certainly visit America, if it
were left to my choice; but I shall be guided by you, papa, and do as
Paris, for me, of all places in the world! replied Ivan, without
any suspicion that the answer would be displeasing to the father.
I might have known so, muttered the baron, with a slight frown
clouding his forehead.
O papa! added Ivan, noticing the shade of displeasure which his
answer had produced; I don't care particularly about Paris. I'll go
anywhereto America, if Alexis likes it bestall round the world
for that matter.
Ha! ha! ha! laughed the baron; that sounds better, Ivan; and,
since you offer no objection to it, all round the world you shall go.
Indeed? I'm glad to hear it, said Alexis.
What! visit all the great cities of the world? exclaimed Ivan,
whose mind was evidently occupied with the delights of great cities.
So replied his father; it is just that which I do not
intend you shall do. There is a great deal to be learnt in cities, but
much that would be better not learnt at all. I have no objection to
your passing through citiesfor you must needs do so on your
journeybut one of the conditions which I shall prescribe is, that you
make stay in no city, longer than you can arrange for getting out of
it. It is through countries I wish you to travelamidst the
scenes of natureand not in towns and cities, where you would see very
little more than you can in Saint Petersburg itself. It is Nature I
wish you to become acquainted with, and you must see it in its most
primitive forms. There only can you appreciate Nature in all its
sublimity and grandeur.
Agreed, papa! exclaimed both the boys at once. Which way do you
wish us to go?
All round the world, as Ivan has suggested.
Oh, what a long voyage! I suppose we shall cross the Atlantic, and
then by the isthmus of Panama to the Pacific; or shall we go as
Magellan went, around Cape Horn?
Neither wayI wish you to make great journeys by land, rather than
voyages by sea. The former will be more instructive, though they may
cost more time and toil. Remember, my sons! I do not send you forth to
risk your lives without a purpose. I have more than one purpose. First,
I wish you to complete your studies of natural science, of which I have
taught you the elements. The best school for this is the field of
Nature herself, which you shall explore in your travels. Secondly, as
you both know, I am fond of all natural objects, but especially those
that have lifethe beasts of the field and the birds of the air; these
you must observe in their native haunts, with their habits and modes of
existence. You will keep a journal of all facts and events that may be
worth noting down, and write out in detail such adventures as may occur
to you upon your route, and you think may prove interesting to me to
read on your return. I shall provide you with ample means to accomplish
your journey; but no money is to be wasted by idly sojourning in large
cities: it must be used only for the necessary expenses of your
travels. The emperor has been kind enough to give you a circular
letter, which will get you funds and such other assistance as you may
require from his agents in all parts of the world.
We promise, dear father, strictly to adhere to your instructions.
But whither do you desire us to go? Alexis asked the question.
The baron paused for some time before making reply. Then, drawing
from his desk a sealed paper, which showed signs of having been but
recently folded, he gravely said as he held it towards them
In this document you will find the conditions upon which I give you
permission to travel. I do not ask you to agree to them, until you have
carefully examined and reflected upon them. You will therefore retire
to your room, read this document over, and, having given its contents
due consideration, return, and signify whether you accept the terms;
for if not, there is to be no travelling.
By the Great Peter! whispered Ivan to Alexis, they will be
hard indeed if we don't accept them.
Alexis took the paper, and both, bowing to their father, retired to
their own apartment.
The seal was immediately broken and not without some surprise did
they peruse the contents of the document. It was in the form of an
epistle, and ran thus:
My sons Alexis and Ivan!You have expressed a desire to travel,
and have requested me to give you my permission. I accede to your
request, but only upon the following conditions: You must procure for
me a skin of every variety of bear known upon the earth. I do not mean
such varieties as are termed `accidental,' arising from albinism or
like circumstances, but every species or variety known to naturalists
and acknowledged as `permanent.' The bears from which these skins are
to be taken must be killed in their native haunts, and by your own
handswith no other assistance than that of an attendant whom I shall
appoint to accompany you. In order to accomplish the task which I have
imposed upon you, it will be necessary for you to go `round the world;'
but I add the further condition, that you are to go only once round
it. In latitude, I leave you free to rangefrom pole to
pole, if it so please you [this was a stretch of liberty at which both
boys laughed]; but longitudinally, no. You must not cross the
same meridian twice before returning to Saint Petersburg. I do not
intend this condition to apply to such traverses as you may be
compelled to make, while actually engaged in the chase of a bear, or in
tracking the animal to his den: only when you are en route upon
your journey. You will take your departure from Saint Petersburg, and
go east or west, which you please. From the conditions I have imposed
upon you, I hope you will have skill enough to discover that a route is
traced out for you, and, that, on starting, you can follow it
either eastward or westward. This, with all matters relating to your
means and mode of travelling, I leave to your own choice; and I trust
that the practical education you have received will enable you to make
your tour with proper judgment. [`Tour, indeed!' exclaimed Ivan.] Once
out of my palace, I take no farther charge of you. You may be some
years older before I see you again; but I trust the time will not be
mis-spent; and that upon your return you may be able to give a proper
account of yourselves, is the earnest hope and wish of your
affectionate father, Michael Grodonoff.
CHAPTER FOUR. DISCUSSING THE
The two youths were no little astonished by the contents of this
singular epistle; but, for all that, the terms imposed did not seem to
them either harsh or unreasonable, and they were only too pleased to
accede to them. They partly guessed their father's motive. They knew
that he loved both of them with a true paternal love; but his affection
was not of that kind to pet and pamper them within the precincts of his
luxurious palace. He had a different idea of what would be beneficial
to their future interests. He believed in the education which is
acquired in the rude school of toil and travel, more than in the
book-lore of classic universities; and he was determined that they
should have a full measure of this sort of training. He had resolved
that they should see the world; not according to the ordinary
understanding of this hackneyed phrasenot the world of towns and
great cities, with their empty shows and vicesbut the world of
Nature; and, in order that they should have the opportunity of
becoming thoroughly acquainted with this sort of world, he had traced
out for them a route that would lead them into its very wildest scenes,
and disclose to them its rarest and most primitive forms.
By my word, brother! exclaimed Ivan as soon as Alexis had finished
reading the letter, we shall have travelling to our hearts' content.
Certainly, papa has adopted a strange plan to keep us out of the walls
of great cities.
Yes, quietly answered Alexis; there are not many cities where
Such strange conditions! added Ivan, I wonder what father can
mean by imposing them upon us.
Indeed, I hardly know myself. One thing only seems to explain it.
What is that, brother?
You are aware, Ivan, of the interest that papa takes in all matters
relating to bears. As people say, it is almost a mania with him.
Oh! the great picture in the gallery will account for that, said
Ivan, laughing. But for a bear, you know, our papa would never
have been a baron.
True: that may have been what first led him to take an interest in
And yet to impose upon us these queer conditions! continued Ivan;
it certainly does seem a little eccentric?
No doubt papa has his purpose, said Alexis. Who knows that he may
not be intending to write a monograph of the bears; and it is
for this he wishes to have full set of their skinsthe complete
costume of each individual member of Monsieur Bruin's family? Well, we
must do our best, and procure them for him. It is not for us to inquire
into the motives of our dear father. It is our duty to obey his
orderseven though the task be ever so irksome or difficult.
Oh, certainly, brother! I admit that; and I am ready to yield
obedience and perform any task dear papa may think proper to impose on
Certainly there was some reason for the surprise with which the
youths had read the letter. Its contents might have appeared still more
whimsical to them, had it not been their father that had written it;
and, but for the fact that he had already given them a thorough
training in the natural sciences, they would have found it difficult,
if not altogether impossible, to carry out his instructions. A bear of
every known variety was to be killed and skinnedkilled, too, in its
own haunts and by their own hands; which, of course, meant that they
were to visit every country where bears are to be found, and obtain a
skin of each kind. Notwithstanding their youth both boys were skilled
hunters, and excellent marksmen. Himself brought up to the calling,
their father had early initiated them into the hunter's craft; and, in
addition to the knowledge of natural history, which he had imparted, he
had taught them habits of self-reliancesuch as are only acquired by
ordinary individuals at the full age of manhood. Both were already
inured to such perils and hardships as are incidental to a hunter's
life; both could endure to go a day or two without food or drinkcould
sleep in the open air, with no other tent than the canopy of heaven,
and no other couch than the grassy covering of the earth. All this sort
of experience they had already gone through, in the cold climate of
their own country; and it was not likely they would meet with one much
more rigorous anywhere on the earth. The young Grodonoffs had been
submitted to a training of almost Spartan severitya perfect
Cyropoediaand dreaded neither hardships nor dangers. They were
just the youths to carry out that singular programme which had been
traced for them by the paternal hand.
Was it possible, however to do so? This was their first query. There
were some very nice points in that brief chapter of instructions.
Latitudinally they might traverse as circumstances required, but
not longitudinally. Under these limitations would it be possible
to visit the haunts of all the bears,to cover, as it were, the whole
area of Bruin's geographical distribution?
That it was possible might be inferred, from the fact of their
father having issued the orders; but it was necessary for the young
expeditionists to set out with caution: else might they take a wrong
route, and be altogether unable to fulfil his injunctions. They must
not twice cross the same meridian. It was this quaint condition
that puzzled them, and rendered it necessary to guard against making a
Lucky it was that Alexis was an accomplished zoologist, and
thoroughly understood the geographical distribution of the genus
ursus. But for this knowledge, they would certainly have been
puzzled as to the route they were to take.
Well, brother Ivan! said Alexis with a smile, had these orders
been issued when the great Swede published his Systema Naturae,
our task would have been easily accomplished. How far do you suppose
our travels need to have extended?
I don't quite comprehend you, Alexis. How far?
Why, simply into the courtyard of our palace. It would have been
only necessary to kill and skin one of the great bears chained by the
gate, and that would have fulfilled all the conditions papa has imposed
And yet, I don't understand you, rejoined Ivan, with a puzzled
How obtuse you are, brother! Read the letter again; note well its
Well, I understand them. We are to travel on, and not come home
again till we have killed a bear of every variety known.
Therejust so. Of course papa means every variety known to
naturalists,that is, to the `scientific world,' as it is termed. Now
you comprehend my meaning?
Oh, yes! answered Ivan; you mean that when Linnaeus published his
`System of Nature,' only our own brown bear of Europe was known to
Precisely soonly the ursus arctos; and consequently we
should have had but a very short journey to make, compared with what is
before us now. It is true that previous to his death, the Swedish
naturalist had made the acquaintance of the `Polar' bear (ursus
maritimus); but, strange enough, he regarded this as a mere variety
of the ursus arctosan error that one may wonder Linnaeus could
Oh, they are very different. I could tell that myself. To say
nothing of the colour, they are unlike in shape; and, as everybody
knows, their habits are very dissimilar. Why, one lives in forests, and
feeds chiefly upon fruits; while the other dwells amidst fields of snow
and ice, and subsists almost exclusively on flesh, or fish. Variety,
indeed! no, they are surely different species.
Undoubtedly, answered Alexis; but we shall have an opportunity of
comparing them hereafter. For the present we must drop the subject, and
find out the route of travel which papa has traced out for us.
But he has not indicated any routehas he? He gives us permission
to go where we please, so long as we get the bearskins, and do not
return upon our meridian. We are not to take the backtrackha!
Of course not; but you will find, to avoid doing this, we shall
have to go by a definite course, and can take no other.
By my word! brother, I don't see what you mean. I shall trust all
to you: so take me where you pleasewhich way, then?
Ah! that has yet to be determined. I cannot tell myself; and it
will take me some time before I can make quite sure as to what
direction we are to take on starting outwhether east, west, north, or
south. It will be necessary for me to examine a map of the world, and
trace out the boundaries of the different countries in which King Bruin
Ah! that will be an interesting lesson for me. Here is the map; let
me spread it out, and do what I can to assist you in finding our way.
As Ivan said this, he drew a large travelling map of the world from
its case, and opening it out, laid it upon the table. Both the youths
sat down; and, running their eyes over the chart, proceeded to discuss
the direction which, by the conditions imposed upon them, they must
CHAPTER FIVE. TRACING THE ROUTE.
In the first place, said Alexis, there is the brown bear (
ursus arctos). Him we might find in many parts of our own
countrysince he is emphatically our `Russian bear'; but there is also
a black bear, which some naturalists say is a variety of the ursus
arctos, while others believe it to be a separate species, having
given to it the specific name of ursus nigerursus ator
it is sometimes called. Now, whether it be a species or only a variety,
we must get a skin of it all the samesince papa has definitely
expressed it so.
This black bear is to be found in our own northern forests, is it
Yes; it has been observed there; but more frequently in the
mountains of Scandinavia: and, as we might wander through all the north
of Russia without finding one, our best plan will be to proceed at once
to Norway or Lapland. There we shall be certain also of finding the
brown bear, and thus kill two birds with one stone.
Say Lapland: I should like to see the little Laps, but where next?
To North America, I suppose?
By no means. There is a bear in the Pyrenees, and other mountains
of Spainin the Asturias especially. It is also deemed by most
naturalists to be only a variety of the ursus arctos, but it is
certainly a distinct species; and papa thinks so. Some naturalists
would have it that there are only three or four distinct species in the
whole world. They might just as well say there was but one. I
think it better to follow papa's views upon this subject, and regard
all those bears which have permanent marks of distinctionwhether it
be in size, colour, or otherwiseas being so many separate species,
however much they may approximate in habits or disposition. Why, some
naturalists even call the American black bear merely a variety of our
brown; and, as I said a moment ago, Linnaeus himself believed the Polar
to be the same species. This is now known to be an erroneous theory.
Since papa has given as much time to the study of the bears as perhaps
any one else, I shall follow his theory, and regard the Spanish bear (
ursus pyrenaicus it is called) a distinct species.
You propose, then, to go next to Spain, and kill the Spanish bear?
We must. Having started in a westerly course by going to
Lapland, we must keep on in that direction.
But how about the white bear of the Alps?
You mean the ursus albus of Lesson?
Yes. To reach the Alps, where it is said to be found, we should
have to recross a meridian of longitude?
We should, if there were such an animal to be found in the Alps;
but there is not. The white bear of Buffon and Lesson (ursus albus
) was only a mere accidental variety or albino of the brown bear;
and papa does not mean that we should collect the skins of such as
these. He has said so. Indeed, Ivan, were that task imposed on us, we
should both be old men before we could complete it, and return home
again. It is only the skins of the permanent varieties we are to
procure, and therefore the ursus albus is scratched out of our
Out with him then! where go we next? To North America, then no
Perhaps to Africa?
Are there no bears in Africa?
That is a disputed point among writers, and has been so since the
days of Pliny. Bears are mentioned as having been exhibited in the
Roman circus, under the name of Numidian bears; and Herodotus,
Virgil, Juvenal, and Martial all mention Libyan bears in their
writings. Pliny, however, stoutly denies that there were any of these
animals in Africa; but it must be remembered that he equally denies
that stags, goats, and boars existed on the African continent:
therefore his statement about the non-existence of the Numidian bears
is not worth a straw. Strange enough, the point is as much disputed now
as in the days of Pliny. The English traveller Bruce, states positively
that there are no bears in Africa. Another English traveller to
Abyssinia, Salt, makes no mention of them; while the German, Ehrenberg,
says that he has seen them in the mountains of Abyssinia, and heard of
them also in Arabia Felix! Several French and English travellers
(Dapper, Shaw, Poncet, and Poiret), bear testimony to the existence of
bears in different parts of Africain Nubia, Babur, and Congo. In the
Atlas mountains, between Algiers and Morocco, according to Poiret,
bears are common enough; and this writer even gives some details as to
their habits. He says that they are exceedingly fierce and carnivorous,
and that the Arabs believe they can lift stones in their paws and fling
them at those who may be in pursuit of them! He relates that an Arab
hunter brought him the skin of one of those bears; and also showed him
a wound in his leg, which he had received by the animal having launched
a stone at him while he was pursuing it! Monsieur Poiret, however, does
not vouch for the truth of the stone-throwing, though he stoutly
maintains the existence of African bears.
What does papa think about it? inquired Ivan.
That there are bears in Africaperhaps in all the mountainous
parts of Africabut certainly in the Atlas and Tetuan ranges. Indeed,
an English traveller of veracity has put the question beyond a doubt,
by giving some points in the description of these African bears.
Naturalists thought that if such an animal existed in Africa, it would
be the same species as the Syrian; but although the bears reported in
the Arabian and Abyssinian mountains are likely enough to be of that
species, those of the Atlas are evidently not only distinct from the
Syrian bear, but from all other known kinds. One that was killed near
Tetuan, about twenty-five miles from the Atlas mountains, was a female,
and less in size than the American black bear. It was black also, or
rather brownish black, and without any white marking about the muzzle,
but under the belly its fur was of a reddish orange. The hair was
shaggy and four or five inches long, while the snout, toes, and claws
were all shorter than in the American black bear, and the body was of
thicker and stouter make. The Englishman had learnt something of its
habits too. The Arabs said it was rarely met with near Tetuan; that it
fed on roots, acorns, and fruits, but was only an indifferent climber.
Indeed it would be very improbable, continued Alexis, that the great
ranges of the Atlas and Abyssinian mountains should be without these
mammalia, since they exist in nearly all the other mountains of the
globe. Moreover, it should be remembered that it is only a few years
since the bears of the Himalayas, of the Great Andes of America, and
those of the East-Indian islandsand even the bear of Mount Lebanon
became known to the scientific world. Why, then, should there not be a
species in Africaperhaps more than onethough civilised people are
yet unacquainted with it?
But you say we are not going to Africa?
No; our instructions relate only to every variety of bear known to
naturalists; and the African bear does not come under this category
since it has not yet been described by any naturalist. For that reason
we shall have no errand into Africa.
Then, surely North America is our next stage?
Certainly notyou are aware that there is a South American bear.
Yes, the `spectacled bear,' as he is called.
Just sothe ursus ornatus. I think we shall find two
species in South America, though that is also a disputed point.
Well, brother, what if we should?
Why, both will be found in the Andes of Chili and Peru, and not in
the eastern parts of South America.
And how should that affect our route of travel?
Very essentially indeed. Were we to go first to North America, we
should find no less than five species, or four species and one
well-marked variety. To reach the native haunt of one of theseI mean
the grizzly (ursus ferox)we should have to go farther west
than any part of the South American Andes: how, then, could we
afterwards reach the spectacled bear without doubling back on our
True, brotherI see that, by looking on the map. You propose,
then, steering first to South America, and afterwards to the northern
division of the American continent?
We are compelled to do so, by the very nature of our contract.
Having procured the skins of ursus ornatus and another variety
we shall find in the Andes, we can then travel almost due north. On the
Mississippi we shall be able to pick up a skin of the American black
bear (ursus americanus), and by the help of the Hudson's Bay
voyageurs we shall reach the shores of the great gulf in which that
territory takes its name. There the `polar bear' (ursus maritimus
) can be found. Farther westward and northward we may hope to capture
the `barren ground bear,' which the English traveller Sir John
Richardson thinks is only a variety of our European brown bear, but
which papaand good reasons he has believes to be nothing of the
kind. Crossing the Rocky Mountains, we shall be able, I hope, to knock
over the famed and formidable grizzly (ursus ferox), and in
Oregon, or British Columbia, we shall strip his hide from the `cinnamon
bear' (ursus cinnamonus), believed to be a variety of the
American black. That will finish with the bears of America.
Asia next, I suppose?
Yes, straight across to Kamschatka. There we shall meet with the
`Siberian,' or `collared bear' (ursus collaris). Of these, two
varieties are said to exist, one of which, specified by the name
ursus sibiricus, is also found in Lapland and Siberia.
Go on, brother! Where next?
From Kamschatka we shall make a long traverse to the south-west.
Our best hunting-ground will be Borneo.
Ah! the beautiful little bear with the orange-coloured breast!
Yes; that is the `Bornean bear' (ursus euryspilus), or
`Bruang,' as he is called by the Malays.
But there is another Bruang?
Yesthe `Malayan sun-bear' (ursus malagenus). This we shall
encounter in Sumatra or Java, whichever we choose to visit.
Well, the list is much larger than I expected; certainly it has
been wonderfully lengthened since the days of the good old Linnaeus.
We have not reached the end yet.
Where next, brother?
Up the Bay of Bengal, and on to the Himalayas. First in the
foot-hills of these mountains we shall have to search for the curious
`sloth bear,' or `juggler's bear' (ours de jongleurs) as the
French writers term him. He is the ursus labiatus of
naturalists; and we may find him in the plains of India, before
reaching the Himalayas. Having skinned him, we shall proceed to climb
the great mountains, and higher up we are certain to come across the
`Thibet bear' (ursus thibetanus)by some very erroneously
described as being one of the numerous varieties of the European brown
bear! Still higher up we shall, I hope, have the good luck to encounter
and kill a specimen of the `Isabella bear' (ursus isabelinus),
so called from his colour, but termed by Anglo-Indian sportsmen the
`snow bear,' because he frequents the declivities near the snow-line of
these stupendous mountains.
That is all, is it not?
No, Ivanone more, and that will be the last.
What is he?
The `Syrian' (ursus syriacus); and though the last in our
catalogue, this is the very first on record: for they were bears of
this species that came out of the wood and `tare forty and two' of the
mockers of the prophet Elisha. We shall have to visit Syria, to procure
a skin of the ursus syriacus.
Well, I hope their ferociousness has been tamed down since Elisha's
time, else we may stand a fair chance of being served in a similar
No doubt we shall have many a scratch before we encounter the bears
of Mount Lebanon. When we have obtained a robe from one of them, there
will be nothing more for us to do but take the most direct route home.
We shall then have gone once round the world.
Ah, that we shall! said Ivan, laughing; and all over it too.
Great Czar! I think by the time we have captured one of Elisha's bears,
we shall have had a surfeit of travel.
No doubt of it; but now, brother, that we know where we are going,
let us waste no more time, but signify our acceptance of the
conditions, and be off at once.
Agreed, said Ivan; and both returning into the presence of the
baron, announced their readiness to take the road.
Are we to travel alone, papa? inquired Ivan; I think you spoke of
Yes, one attendant. You must not be encumbered with too many
servants to wait upon you. One will be quite sufficient.
Who is it to be? asked Ivan.
The baron rang the bell, and a servant entered.
Send Corporal Pouchskin to me!
Shortly after, the door reopened, and a man of about fifty appeared.
The tall well-balanced form and erect attitudethe close-cropped hair
and enormous grizzled moustachecombined with great gravity of
features, denoted a veteran of the Imperial Guard,one of those grand
and redoubtable soldiers who have seen service in the presence of an
emperor. Though no longer wearing the military uniform, but dressed
somewhat as a park or game keeper, the silent salute and attitude of
attention were sufficiently indicative of the profession which
Pouchskin had followed: for it was the veritable Pouchskin who had
entered the apartment. He said not a word, nor did he look either to
the right or left,only directly forward, and at the baron.
I wish you to make a journey.
I am ready.
Not quite, corporal. I will give you an hour to prepare.
Where does the general wish me to go?
Round the world.
Half an hour will suffice.
So much the better, then. Prepare to start in half an hour.
Pouchskin bowed and retired.
CHAPTER SIX. TO THE TORNEA.
We shall not detail the parting interview between the Baron
Grodonoff and his sons; there was the usual interchange of affectionate
expressions, with as much feeling as is common on such occasions.
Neither need we relate the ordinary incidents of travel which befell
our expeditionists, on their way to the mountains of Lapland. Suffice
it to say that they journeyed by post from Saint Petersburg direct to
Tornea, at the head of the Great Bothnian Gulf. Thence they proceeded
northward up this river Torneatill they had reached the mountainous
region in which this stream takes its rise. They were amply furnished
with the means of travelling in the most expeditious manner, and were
not encumbered with any great amount of luggage. A bag of roubles,
which Pouchskin carried in a safe pocket, proved the most convenient
article they could have taken along with them; since it enabled them to
supply their wants from day to day, without troubling themselves with
any cumbersome baggage. There are few parts of the world in which ready
money will not command the necessaries of life; and as this was all our
hunters cared for, they had no difficulty in obtaining supplieseven
in the remote regions of uncivilised Lapland. The wild, half-savage Lap
perfectly comprehends the value of a coin; and will exchange for it his
reindeer flesh and milk, or anything else that may be asked from him.
Our young hunters therefore travelled lightlywith little else in the
shape of baggage than a pair of knapsacks which they carried on their
backs, and which contained only a change or two of linen, and such
toilet articles as were absolutely necessary to their comfort. A
knapsack of much larger dimensions formed the chief care of Pouchskin;
and although this, with its contents, would have been a heavy load for
an ordinary man, the veteran of the Imperial Guard thought no more of
it than if it had been a bag of feathers. Each in addition carried an
ample fur cloak; which, on the march, was folded up and strapped to
their backs on top of the knapsack, but at night was wrapped around
their bodies, and served both as bed and bedclothes. All three were
armed and equipped, in the most substantial manner. They carried guns,
though differing in kind. The piece of Alexis was a handsome Jager
rifle; Ivan's was a double-barrelled shot-gun or fowling-piece; while
Pouchskin balanced over his shoulder an immense fusil, the bullet of
which weighed a good ounce avoirdupois. All were provided with a knife
of one fashion or another.
In such guise did our young hunters enter the mountains of Lapland;
and commence their search after the old man in the fur coat, as the
Laplanders term the bear.
They had taken proper measures to secure success. They had secured
the services of a guide, who engaged to conduct them to a district
where bears existed in great plenty, and where he himself lived in a
state almost as savage as the bearsfor he was a true Laplander and
lived in a tent in the very heart of the mountains. He was one of those
who had no reindeer; and was therefore forced to depend on the chase
for his subsistence. He trapped the ermine and beaverkilled the wild
reindeer when he couldspent his whole life in battling with wolves
and bears; and with the skins of these animalswhich he sold to the
fur-traders he was able to supply himself with the few necessaries
which such a state of existence called for.
Under his tent of coarse wadmal cloth the travellers found
shelter, and such rude hospitality as the poor Lap could afford
themin return for which they had to live in the midst of a smoke that
nearly put out their eyes. But they knew they had entered upon an
expedition, in which many hardships were to be expected; and they bore
the inconvenience with becoming fortitude.
It is not my intention to give the details of the everyday life of
the young hunters, nor yet an account of the very many curious
incidents, which occurred to them during their sojourn in Lapland. Much
was noted down in their journalfrom which this narrative has been
drawn interesting only to themselves, or perhaps still more to their
father the baron. For him they wrote an account of everything peculiar
that they observedsuch as the odd customs of the Laplanderstheir
mode of travelling in sledges with reindeertheir snow-skating on the
skidors and skabargersand, in short, a full account of the
habits and manners of these singular people. Especially, however, did
Alexis describe the objects of natural history which came under his
notice giving such details as he drew from personal observation, or
derived from the native hunters, many of whom they encountered while
engaged in the chase of the bear.
These details, were they given in full, would fill a book of
themselves. We must content ourselves, therefore, with relating only
the more interesting incidents, and striking adventures which happened
to our heroes.
We may here state that it was in the early part of spring that they
arrived in Lapland, or rather in the latter part of winter, when the
ground is still covered with deep snow. At this season the bears are
hidden away in their cavesin crevices of the rocks or hollow trees
from which they only issue forth when the spring sun makes itself felt,
and the snow begins to disappear from the sides of the hills.
Every one has heard of this winter sleep of the bears; and it
has been attributed to bears of all species. This, however, is a
mistake, as it is only indulged in by a few kinds; and the climate and
nature of the country which the bear inhabits has more to do with his
hybernation than any natural instinct of the animal: since it has
been observed that bears will go to sleep, or hybernate, as it
is termed, in one part of a country, while individuals of the same
species, in another region, will be found roaming about all the winter
through. The state of torpor seems to be voluntary with these animals:
since it is generally in districts where food could not be procured,
that they submit themselves to this prolonged siesta.
However this may be, the brown bears of Lapland certainly indulge in
a period of slumberduring which they are difficult to find. Never
issuing from their places of concealment, they make no track in the
snow by which they might be followed. At such seasons it is only by
accident, or by the aid of his dog, that the Lap hunter chances to
discover the retreat of a bear; and, when one is thus discovered,
various methods are adopted for securing the valuable skin and carcass
of the animal.
It so chanced that, previous to the arrival of the young Russians
upon their hunting-ground, there had been a show of springthat is, a
few days of warm sunbut this had been succeeded by a return of the
cold weather, with a fresh fall of snow. The spell of warmth, however,
had aroused many bears from their lethargysome of which had ventured
out of their caves, and made short excursions among the hillsin
search, no doubt, of the berries, that, preserved all winter by the
snow, are sweet and mellow at this season, and a favourite food of the
This casual occurrence of the spring having made a promise and not
kept it, was just the chance for our hunters; since it enabled them in
a very short time to track a bear to his den.
A few days after their arrival upon the hunting-ground, they were
able to do thishaving come upon the footmarks of a bear, that,
followed for a mile or so through the snow, led them to the animal's
lair. It led them also to an adventure, which was the first they had
yet encountered; and which came very near being the last that Pouchskin
was ever to have in the world. Pouchskin was certainly in great peril;
and how he escaped from it will be learnt, by reading an account of the
CHAPTER SEVEN. JACK-IN-THE-BOX.
It was early in the morning, shortly after leaving the tent of the
Laplander, they had chanced upon the track of the bear.
After following it for nearly a mile, it conducted them to a narrow
gorge or ravine, lying between two rocky ridges. The ravine itself was
not more than ten or a dozen yards in width, and its bottom was filled
with snow to the depth of several feet. Along the sides the snow lay
sparsely; and in fact there had been scarce any in that place before
the fall the preceding night. This had only covered the ground to the
depth of a few inches: but it was sufficient to show the footmarks of
the bear; and they were able to follow the sparso the
Scandinavian hunters call the tracks of an animalas fast as they
chose to go.
Following it up, then, our hunters entered the ravine. They kept for
some distance along one sidejust by the edge of the deep snow; but at
length, the track indicated where the bear had crossed to the other
side; and of course they were compelled to cross likewise.
This deep snow was the accumulated deposits of different storms that
had occurred during the winter; and, shadowed from the sun by the long
branches of evergreen pines from both sides stretching outward over the
ravine, it had remained without melting. There was a crust over it
strong enough to carry a man on skidors, but not without them,
unless he proceeded with care and caution. The bear had gone over it;
but these animals, notwithstanding their enormous weight and bulk, can
pass over ice or crusted snow that will not carry a man. Their weight
rests upon four points instead of two; and as they need only lift one
foot at a time, they still have three points of support. A man must
also lift one foot, which leaves him only one to stand upon; and
therefore his whole weight presses upon a single point, and so
endangers his breaking through. The great length of a bear's body,
moreover, and the vast stretch between his fore and hind legs give him
an additional advantageenabling him to distribute his weight over a
large surface and this is why he can shuffle over ice or snow-crust,
that may be too weak to carry a human being. Every boy knowsat least
every boy who has skated or ventured upon a frozen pondthat by
creeping on hands and knees, or, more certain still, by sprawling along
on the breast, ice may be passed over, that would not bear the same boy
in an erect attitude.
Such advantage, then, had the bear which our young hunters were
tracking up; and it would have been well for themat least for
Pouchskinhad they thought of it. They did not. They supposed that
where a great heavy animal like a bear had gone they might go too; and,
without further reflection, they stepped out upon the deep bed of snow.
Alexis and Ivan being light weights passed over the snow safely
enough; but Pouchskin, weighing nearly as much as both of themand
further loaded with a ponderous wood-axe and his huge gun, to say
nothing of sundry well-filled pockets and poucheswas more than the
crust would carry. Just when he had got about halfway across, there was
heard a tearing crash; and before the boys could turn to inquire the
cause, Pouchskin had disappeared, and all his paraphernalia
along with him!
No, not quite all. There was seen about two feet of the barrel of
his gun above the surface; and as that still pointed upwardwhile it
moved around the circular hole through which the old guardsman had
fallenthe boys concluded that the piece was in his hands, and that
Pouchskin was still upon his feet.
At the same instant a voice reached their earsin a hollow
sepulchral tone, like that of a man speaking from the bottom of a well,
or through the bung-hole of an empty cask!
Notwithstanding its baritone notes, the boys perceived that
the exclamations made by the voice were not those of terror, but rather
of surprise, followed by a slight laugh. Of course, therefore, their
attendant had received no injury, nor was he in any danger; and,
assured of this, Ivan first, and then Alexis, broke out into yells of
On cautiously approaching the trap-like hole, through which
Pouchskin had disappeared, their merriment burst forth afresh, at the
ludicrous spectacle. There stood the old guardsman, like a
jack-in-the-box in the centre of a hollow funnel-shaped cylinder which
he had made in the snow. But what was strangest of all, there was no
snow among his feet: on the contrary, he was up to his knees in water,
and not stagnant water either, but a current, that ran rapidly
underneath the snow, and had swished the crusted fragments from the
spot where he was standing!
A stream, in fact, ran down the ravine; and, although the snow
completely hid it from view, there it was, rushing along underneath
through a tunnel which it had melted out for itselfthe snow forming a
continuous bridge above it.
The boys did not know all thisfor they could only just see the top
of Pouchskin's head, with his long arms holding the gunbut they could
hear the rushing noise of the water, and Pouchskin reported the rest.
It did not appear so easy to extricate him from his unpleasant
predicament; for the resemblance between his situation, and that of
jack-in-the-box, went no further. There was no jerking machinery by
which the ex-guardsman could be jumped out of his box; and, since his
head was full three feet below the crust of the snow, how he was to be
raised to the surface required some consideration.
Neither of the young hunters dared to approach the circumference of
the circular hole through which Pouchskin had sunk. They might have
broken through themselves, and then all three would have been in the
same fix. Of course, under this apprehension, they dared not go near
enough to pull him out with their handseven had they been able to
reach down to him.
It is true he might have got out, after some time, by breaking the
snow before him, and working his way at right angles to the course of
the stream: for it was evident that the ground sloped sharply up in
that direction, and the snow became shallower. Except above the water,
it was firm enough to have borne his weight, and after a time he might
have scrambled out; but a more expeditious plan of relieving him, and
one far less troublesome to Pouchskin, suggested itself to Alexis.
One of the impedimenta, which the old guardsman carried on
his shoulders, was a coil of stout cordalmost a rope. This they had
brought with them, in the anticipation of being successful in their
hunt; and, with the idea of its being required at the skinning of the
bearas also for packing the hide, or any similar purpose.
It was the presence of this cord that suggested to Alexis the scheme
he had conceived, for relieving his faithful follower from his unhappy
position; and the plan itself will be understood by our describing its
execution, which took place on the instant.
Alexis called to Pouchskin to tie one end of the rope round his
body, and then fling the other out upon the snowas far as he could
cast it. This request was instantly complied with; and the end of the
rope made its appearance at the feet of Alexis.
The latter taking it in his hand, ran up the bank to the nearest
tree; and, giving it a turn or two round the trunk, he handed it to
Ivan, with the direction to hold it fast and keep it from slipping. A
knot would have served the same purpose; but the whole thing was the
work of only a few moments; and as Ivan was standing by doing nothing,
his brother thought he might just as well take hold of the rope and
Alexis now crept back, as near to the edge of the trap as it was
safe to go. He took with him a long pole, which by a lucky chance, he
had found lying under the trees. Slipping this under the rope, and
placing it crosswise, he shoved it still nearer to the circumference of
the broken circlehis object being to give support to the cord, and
keep it from cutting into the snow.
The contrivance was perfectly correct; and as soon as Alexis had got
all ready, he shouted to Pouchskin to haul upon the rope, and help
Meanwhile, the old guardsman had slung his fusil upon his back; and,
immediately on receiving the signal, commenced his ascentpulling hand
over hand upon the rope, and assisting his arms by working his feet
against the wall of snow.
The moment his head appeared above the surface, the laughter of his
young masters, that had been for a while suspended, burst forth afresh.
And it was no wonder: for the expression upon the old soldier's visage,
as it rose above the white crust, his bent attitude, and the desperate
exertions he was making to clamber upward, all combined to form a most
Ivan screamed till the tears ran down his cheeks. So overcome was he
with mirth, that it is possible he would have let go, and permitted
Pouchskin to tumble back into his trap; but the more sober Alexis,
foreseeing such a contingency, ran up and took hold of the rope.
By this means, Pouchskin was at length landed safely on the surface
of the snow; but even his tall boots of Russia leather had not saved
his legs and feet from getting well soaked; and he was now dripping
with muddy water from the thighs downwards.
There was no time, however, to kindle a fire and dry him. They did
not think of such a thing. So eager were all three in the chase of the
bear, that they only waited to coil up the cord, and then continued
CHAPTER EIGHT. THE SCANDINAVIAN
Really, now, said Ivan, pointing to one of the tracks, if it
wasn't that I see the marks of claws instead of toes, I should fancy we
were tracking a man instead of a bearsome barefooted Laplander, for
instance. How very like these tracks are to those of a human foot!
That is quite true, rejoined Alexis; there is a very remarkable
resemblance between the footprints of the bear and those of a human
beingespecially when the trades have stood a while. As it is, now,
you can see clearly the marks of the claws; but in a day or two, when
the sun or the rain has fallen upon the snow, and melted it a little,
the claw marks will then be filled up with the thaw, and, losing their
sharp outlines, will look much more like the tracks of toes. For that
reason, an old bear-track is, indeed, as you say, very like that of a
And quite as large too?
Quite as large: the tracks of some kinds even larger than those of
most men. As, for instance, the white and grizzly speciesmany
individuals of both having paws over twelve inches in length!
The bear does not tread upon his toes in walking, but lays the
whole sole of his foot along the grounddoes he not? asked Ivan.
Precisely so, replied Alexis; and hence he is termed a
plantigrade animal, to distinguish him from those other kinds, as
horses, oxen, swine, dogs, cats, and so forth, that all, in reality,
step upon their toes.
There are some other plantigrade animals besides bears? said Ivan,
interrogatively; our badger and glutton, for instance?
Yes, answered the naturalist. These are plantigrade; and for this
reason they have been classed along with the bears under the general
name ursidae; but in father's opinion, and mine too, added
Alexis, with a slight sparkle of scientific conceit, this
classification is altogether an erroneous one, and rests upon the very
insignificant support of the plantigrade feet. In all other respects
the different genera of small animals, that have thus been introduced
into the family of the bears are, as unlike the latter almost bears as
are to blue bottles.
What animals have been included in this family ursidae?
The European glutton and American wolverine (gulo), the
badgers of both continents, and of Asia (meles), the raccoon (
procyon), the Cape ratel (mellivora), the panda (ailurus
), the benturong (ictides), the coati (nasua), the
paradoxure (paradoxurus), and even the curious little teledu of
Java (mydaus). It was Linnaeus himself who first entered these
animals under the heading of bearsat least, such of them as
were known in his day; and the French anatomist, Cuvier, extended this
incongruous list to the others. To distinguish them from the true
bears, they divided the family into two branchesthe ursinae,
or bears properly so called, and the subursinae, or little
bears. Now, in my opinion, continued Alexis, there is not the
slightest necessity for calling these numerous species of animals even
`_little bears.' They are not bears in any sense of the word: having
scarce any other resemblance to the noble Bruin than their plantigrade
feet. All these animalsthe Javanese teledu exceptedhave long tails;
some of them, in fact, being very long and very bushya characteristic
altogether wanting to the bears, that can hardly be said to have tails
at all. But there are other peculiarities that still more widely
separate the bears from the so called `little bears;' and indeed so
many essential points of difference, that the fact of their being
classed together might easily be shown to be little better than mere
anatomical nonsense. It is an outrage upon common sense, continued
Alexis, warming with his subject, to regard a raccoon as a bear,an
animal that is ten times more like a fox, and certainly far nearer to
the genus canis than that of ursus. On the other hand, it
is equally absurd to break up the true bears into different genera
as these same anatomists have done; for if there be a family in the
world the individual members of which bear a close family likeness to
one another, that is the family of Master Bruin. Indeed, so like are
the different species, that other learned anatomists have gone to the
opposite extreme of absurdity, and asserted that they are all one and
the same! However, we shall see as we become acquainted with the
different members of this distinguished family, in what respects they
differ from each other, and in what they are alike.
I have heard, said Ivan, that here, in Norway and Lapland, there
are two distinct species of the brown bear, besides the black variety,
which is so rare; and I have also heard say that the hunters sometimes
capture a variety of a greyish colour, which they call the `silver
bear.' I think papa mentioned these facts.
Just so, replied Alexis; it has been the belief among Swedish
naturalists that there are two species, or at least permanent
varieties, of the brown bear in Northern Europe. They have even gone so
far as to give them separate specific names. One is the ursus arctos
major, while the other is ursas arctos minor. The former is
the larger animalmore fierce in its nature, and more carnivorous in
its food. The other, or smaller kind, is of a gentler dispositionor
at all events more timidand instead of preying upon oxen and other
domestic animals, confines itself to eating grubs, ants, roots,
berries, and vegetable substances. In their colour there is no
perceptible difference between the two supposed varietiesmore than
may be often found between two individuals notedly of the same kind;
and it is only in size and habits that a distinction has been observed.
The latest and most accurate writers upon this subject believe that the
great and little brown bears are not even varieties; and that the
distinctive characteristics are merely the effects of age, sex, or
other accidental circumstances. It is but natural to suppose that the
younger bears would not be so carnivorous as those of greater age. It
is well-known that preying upon other animals and feeding upon their
flesh, is not a natural instinct of the brown bear; it is a habit that
has its origin, first in the scarcity of other food, but which, once
entered upon, soon develops itself into a strong propensityalmost
equalling that of the felidae.
As to the black bear being a distinct species, that is a question
also much debated among both hunters and naturalists. The hunters say
that the fur of the black European bear is never of that jetty
blackness which characterises the real black bears of American and
Asiatic countries, but only a very dark shade of brown; and they
believe that it is nothing more than the brown fur itself, grown darker
in old age. Certainly they have reason for this belief: since it is a
well-known fact that the brown bears do become darker as they grow
Ha! said Ivan, with a laugh, that is just the reverse with us.
Look at Pouchskin there! Your hair was once black, wasn't it, old
Yes, Master Ivan, black as a crow's feathers.
And now you're as grey as a badger. Some day, before longbefore
we get home again may beyour moustache, old fellow, will be as white
as an ermine.
Very like, master, very likewe'll all be a bit older by that
Ha! ha! ha! laughed Ivan; you're right there, Pouchy; but go on,
brother! he added, turning to Alexis, let us hear all about these
Scandinavian bears. You have not spoken yet of the `silver' ones.
No, said Alexis; nor of another kind that is found in these
countries, and that some naturalists have elevated into a different
speciesthe `ringed bear.'
You mean the bears with a white ring round their necks? Yes, I have
heard of them too.
Just so, rejoined Alexis.
Well, brother, what do you think? is it a distinct species,
or a permanent variety?
Neither one nor the other. It is merely an accidental marking which
some young individuals of the brown bear chance to have, and it
scarcely ever remains beyond the age of cubhood. It is only very
young bears that are met with of this colour; and the white ring
disappears as they get older. It is true that hunters now and then meet
with an odd ringed bear of tolerable size and age; but all agree that
he is the brown bear, and not a distinct kind. The same remarks apply
to the `silver' bear; and hunters say that in a litter of three cubs
they have found all three coloursthe common brown, the `ringed,' and
the `silver,'while the old mother herself was a true ursus arctos.
Well, since papa only binds us to the brown and black, it will be a
nice thing if we could fall in with a skin of the ringed and silver
varieties. It would please him all the better. I wonder now what sort
is this fellow we are following? By the size of his tracks he must be a
No doubt an old male, rejoined Alexis; but if I am not mistaken,
we shall soon be able to determine that point. The spar gets
fresher and fresher. He must have passed here but a very short while
ago; and I should not wonder if we were to find him in this very
See! exclaimed Ivan, whose eyes had been lifted from the trail,
and bent impatiently forward;see! by the great Peter! yonder's a
hole, under the root of that tree. Why might it not be his cave?
It looks like enough. Hush! let us keep to the trail, and go up to
it with cautionnot a word!
All three, now scarce breathinglest the sound should be
heardstole silently along the trail. The fresh-fallen snow, still
soft as eider-down, enabled them to proceed without making the
slightest noise; and without making any, they crept up, till within
half-a-dozen paces of the tree.
Ivan's conjecture was likely to prove correct. There was a line of
tracks leading up the bank; and around the orifice of the cavity the
snow was considerably trampled downas if the bear had turned himself
two or three times before entering. That he had entered, the hunters
did not entertain a doubt: there were no return tracks visible in the
snowonly the single line that led up to the mouth of the cave, and
this seemed to prove conclusively that Bruin was at home.
CHAPTER NINE. HYBERNATION OF BEARS.
As already stated, it is the custom of the brown bear, as well as of
several other species, to go to sleep for a period of several months
every winter,in other words, to hybernate. When about to take
this long nap, the bear seeks for himself a cave or den, in which he
makes his bed with such soft substances as may be most convenientdry
leaves, grass, moss, or rushes. He collects no great store of these
however his thick matted fur serving him alike for bed and coverlet;
and very often he makes no further ado about the matter than to creep
into the hole he has chosen, lie down, snugly couch his head among the
thickets of long hair that cover his hams, and thus go to sleep.
Some naturalists have asserted that this sleep is a state of
torpidity from which the animal is incapable of awaking himself or of
being awakened, until the regular period of indulgence in it may have
passed. This, however, is not the case; for bears are often surprised
in their sleep, and when aroused by the hunters act just as is usual
with them at other times.
It must be observed, however, that the retirement of the bear into
winter quarters is not to be regarded as of the same nature as the
hybernation of marmots, squirrels, and other species of rodent animals.
These creatures merely shut themselves up from the cold; and to meet
the exigencies of their voluntary imprisonment, they have already
collected in their cells a large store of their usual food. Bees and
many other insects do precisely same thing. Not so with the bear.
Whether it be that he is not gifted with an instinct of providence it
is difficult to say; but certain it is, that he lays up no store for
these long dark days, but goes to sleep without thought of the morrow.
How he is maintained for several months without eating is one of
nature's mysteries. Every one has heard the absurd theory: that he does
so by sucking his paws, and the ingenious Buffon has not only given
credence to this story, but endeavours to support it, by stating that
the paws when cut open yield a substance of a milky nature!
It is a curious fact that this story is to be found scattered all
over the worldwherever bears hybernate. The people of Kamschatka have
it; so also the Indians, and Esquimaux of the Hudson's Bay territory,
and the Norwegian and Lap hunters of Europe. Whence did these
widely-distributed races of men derive this common idea of a habit
which, if the story be a true one, must be common to bears of very
This question can be answered. In northern Europe the idea first
originatedamong the hunters of Scandinavia. But the odd story once
told was too good to be lost; and every traveller, since the first
teller of it, has taken care to embellish his narrative about bears
with this selfsame conceit; so that, like the tale of the Amazon women
in South America, the natives have learnt it from the travellers, and
not the travellers from the natives!
How absurd to suppose that a huge quadruped, whose daily food would
be several pounds weight of animal or vegetable mattera bear who can
devour the carcass of a calf at a single mealcould possibly subsist
for two months on the paw-milk which Monsieur Buffon has
How then can we account for his keeping alive? There need be no
difficulty in doing so. It is quite possible that during this long
sleep the digestive power or process is suspended, or only carried on
at a rate infinitesimally small; that, moreover, life is sustained and
the blood kept in action by means of the large amount of fat which the
bear has collected previous to his going to bed. It is certain
that, just at their annual bed time, bears are fatter than at
any other season of the year. The ripening of the forest fruits, and
the falling of various seeds of mast-worts, upon which, during the
autumn, bears principally subsist, then supply them with abundance, and
nothing hinders them to get fat and go to sleep upon it. They would
have no object in keeping awake: were they to do so, in those countries
where they practise hybernation, they would certainly starve, for, the
ground being then frozen hard, they could not dig for roots, and under
the deep covering of snow they might search in vain for their masts and
berries. As to foraging on birds or other quadrupeds, bears are not
fitted for that. They are not agile enough for such a purpose.
They will eat both when they can catch them; but they cannot always
catch them; and if they had no other resource in the snowy season the
bears would certainly starve. To provide them against this time of
scarcity, nature has furnished them with the singular power of
somnolence. Indeed, that this is the purpose is easily proved. It is
proved by the simple fact that those bears belonging to warm latitudes,
as the Bornean, Malayan, and even the black American of the Southern
States, do not hybernate at all. There is no need for them to do so.
Their unfrozen forests furnish them with food all the year round; and
all the year round are they seen roaming about in search of it. Even in
the Arctic lands the polar bear keeps afoot all the year; his diet not
being vegetable, and therefore not snowed up in winter. The female of
this species hides herself away; but that is done for another purpose,
and not merely to save herself from starvation.
That the stock of fat, which the bear lays in before going to sleep,
has something to do with subsisting him, is very evident from the fact
that it is all gone by the time he awakes. Then or shortly afterwards,
master Bruin finds himself as thin as a rail; and were he to look in a
glass just then, he would scarce recognise himself, so very different
is his long emaciated carcass from that huge plump round body, that two
months before he could scarce squeeze through the entrance to his cave!
Another great change comes over him during his prolonged sleep. On
going to bed, he is not only very fat, but also very lazy; so much so
that the merest tyro of a hunter can then circumvent and slay him.
Naturally a well-disposed animalwe are speaking only of the brown
bear (ursus arctos) though the remark will hold good of several
other specieshe is at this period more than usually civil and
soft-tempered. He has found a sufficiency of vegetable food which is
more congenial to his taste than animal substances; and he will not
molest living creature just then, if living creature will only let him
alone. Aroused from his sleep, however, he shows a different
disposition. He appears as if he had got up wrong side foremost. His
head aches, his belly hungers, and he is disposed to believe that some
one has stolen upon him while asleep, and robbed him of his suet. Under
this impression he issues from his dark chamber in very ill humour
indeed. This disposition clings to him for a length of time; and if at
this period, during his morning rambles, he should encounter any one
who does not get speedily out of his way, the party thus meeting him
will find him a very awkward customer. It is then that he makes havoc
among the flocks and herds of the Scandinavian shepherdfor he
actually does commit such ravagesand even the hunter who meets him at
this season will do well to ware bear.
And so does the hunter; and so did Alexis, and Ivan, and Pouchskin.
All three of them were well enough acquainted with the habits of the
bear their own Russian bearto know that they should act with
caution in approaching him.
And in this wise they acted; for instead of rushing up to the mouth
of the hole, and making a great riot, they stole forward in perfect
silence, each holding his gun cocked, and ready to give Bruin a salute,
the moment he should show his snout beyond the portals of his den.
Had they not tracked him to his cave, they would have acted quite
differently. Had they found a bear's denwithin which they knew that
the animal was indulging in his winter sleepthey would not have cared
so much how they approached it. Then he would have required a good deal
of stirring up to induce him to show himself, so that they could get a
shot at him; but the track told them that this one had been up and
abroadperhaps for several daysand as the new snow, in all
likelihood, had hindered him from picking up much to eat, he would be
as savage as a meat axe.
Expecting him to spring out almost on the instant, the three took
stand at some distance from the mouth of the cave; and, with arms in
readiness, awaited his coming forth.
CHAPTER TEN. BRUIN AT HOME?
The entrance to the cave, if cave it was, was an aperture of no
great dimensionsabout large enough to admit the body of a full-grown
bear, and no bigger. It appeared to be a hole or burrow, rather than a
cave, and ran under a great pine-tree, among whose roots, no doubt, was
the den of the bear. The tree itself grew up out of the sloping bank;
and its great rhizomes stretched over a large space, many of them
appearing above the surface soil. In front of the aperture was a little
ledge, where the snow was hacked by the bear's paws, but below this
ledge the bank trended steeply downits slope terminating in the bed
of deeper snow already described.
As stated, the three hunters had taken their stand, but not all
together. Directly in front of the cave was Pouchskin, and below it, of
course, on account of the sloping bank. He was some six paces from the
aperture. On the right side Ivan had been placed, while Alexis had
passed on, and now stood upon the left. The three formed a sort of
isosceles triangle, of which Pouchskin was the apex, and the line of
the bank the base. A perpendicular dropped from the muzzle of
Pouchskin's gun would have entered the aperture of the cave. Of course
Pouchskin's was the post of danger; but that was to be expected.
They stood a good while in silence. No signs of Bruinneither by
sight nor hearing.
It was then resolved that some stir should be madea noise of any
kind, that might bring the beast forth. They coughed and talked loudly,
but all to no purpose. They shouted at length with like fruitless
result Bruin would not stir!
That he was inside none of them doubted. How could they? The tracks
going to the cave, and none coming from it, set that question at rest.
Certainly he was in his den? but whether asleep or not, it was evident
he took no heed of their shouting.
Some other means must be adopted to get him out. He must be stirred
up with a pole! This was the plan that suggested itself, and the one
Pouchskin started off to procure a pole. The others kept
guardstill holding their guns in readiness, lest the bear might make
a rush in Pouchskin's absence. But Bruin had no such intention; nor was
his presence betrayed by sight or sound, until Pouchskin came back. He
had cut a pole with his axe, and had taken the precaution to select a
long one. A young sapling it was, that when cleared of its branches
appeared as long as a hop-pole. Pouchskin knew the advantage of its
length. He had no particular wish to come to close quarters with the
Creeping back pretty nearly into his old place, he inserted the end
of the sapling into the aperturethen rattled it against the sides,
and waited a bit. No response from Bruin! Once more the pole was pushed
in, this time a little further, and again accompanied with similar
noisy demonstrations. Bruin neither moves nor makes sound!
He must be asleep! Try a little further, Pouchskin!
This suggestion came from the impatient Ivan.
Encouraged by the words of his young master, Pouchskin approached,
nearer to the aperture, and buried half of the pole inside. He then
turned the stick and poked it all about, but could touch nothing that
felt like a bear. Growing more confident, he crept yet nearer, and
pushed the pole up till he could touch the bottom of the caveonce
more feeling with its point in all directions, against the further end,
along the sides, upwards and downwards, and everywhere. Still he
touched nothing softnothing that felt as the shaggy hide of a bear
should do nothing, in fact, but hard rocks, against which the stick
could be heard rattling wherever he pushed it!
This was very mysterious. Pouchskin was an old bear-hunter. He had
poked his pole into many a burrow of Bruin, and he knew well enough
when he had touched bottom. He could tell moreover that the cave he was
now exploring was all in one piecea single-roomed house. Had there
been any second or inner chamber he would have found the aperture that
led to it; but there appeared to be none.
To make sure of this, he now approached quite near to the entrance,
and continued to guage the cavity with his stick. Alexis and Ivan also
drew nearone on each side of himand the exploration continued.
In a short while, however, Pouchskin became nearly satisfied that
there was no bear in the den! He had groped with his stick all
round and round it, and had come in contact with nothing softer than a
rock or a root of the tree. As a last resource he lay down on
the ground to listenplacing his ear close to the mouth of the cave;
and, cautioning his young masters to keep silent, in this position he
remained for some seconds of time.
Perhaps it was fortunate for them, if not for him, that they
attended to his caution. Their silence enabled them to hear what
Pouchskin could notplaced as he now wasand that was a sound that
caused the young bear-hunters to start back and look upwards, instead
of into the cave.
As they did so, a sight met their eyes that drew from both a
simultaneous cry, while both at the same instant retreated several
paces from the spot, elevating their guns as they went backward.
Slowly moving down the trunk of the great pine-tree appeared an
animal of enormous size. Had they not been expecting something of the
kind neither could have told that this moving object was an animal:
since at first sight neither a head nor limbs could be
distinguishedonly an immense shapeless mass of brown shaggy hair.
The instant after a huge hairy limb was protruded below, and then
another both terminating in broad ungulated paws, that in succession
griped the rough bark of the tree, causing it to rattle and scale off.
Singular as its shape was there was no mistaking the animal that was
making this retrograde movement. It was Bruin himself, descending the
tree buttocks downward!
CHAPTER ELEVEN. HAND TO HAND.
Alexis and Ivan, as they started back, simultaneously screamed out a
shout of warning to Pouchskin. Both, almost at the same instant, raised
their guns, and fired into the buttocks of the bear.
Pouchskin had heard their cries, but not the preliminary sniff
which the animal had uttered: he had been too eager in listening
inside of the cave, to hear aught that was passing without. He
heard their warning cry however, and the reports of their guns; but not
in time to get out of the way. Just as the shots were fired, he had
half risen from his recumbent attitude; but the bear at that moment
dropped down from the tree, and coming co-thump on the back of
the old guardsman, once more flattened him out upon his face!
Perhaps it would have been as well for Pouchskin, if he had quietly
remained in that attitude: for the bear had already turned from him,
and showed signs of an intention to retreat; but Pouchskin, deeming
that he was in the worst position he could well be in, scrambled
suddenly to his feet, and made a grab at his gun.
This show of fight on the part of his antagonistand the belief,
perhaps, that it was Pouchskin that had so rudely tickled his
posteriorsroused the fury of the bear; and instead of exposing his
hind quarters to a second assault, he charged mouth open upon the
ex-guardsman. By this time, the latter had recovered his gun, and
promptly brought the piece to his shoulder; but, alas! the gun snapped!
The lock had been wetted in the snow-trap. It was a flint lock, and the
priming had got damped.
The failure only increased the fury of the animal; and a charge of
swan-shot, which Ivan at the same instant fired from his second barrel,
still further irritated him.
Pouchskin drew his long-bladed knife. It was the only weapon he
could lay his hand upon, for the axe, which might have served him
better, had been left above on the bank, where he had lopped the
He drew his knife, therefore, and prepared to defend himself in a
hand to paw struggle.
He might still have retreated, though not with a certainty of
safety for in the hurry of the moment the bear had got on the bank
above him: and had he turned his back, the fierce quadruped might have
overtaken, and knocked him down at his will. Pouchskin thought it
better to face the bear, and receive his onslaught at arm's length.
There was but one way in which he could have retreated, and that was
backward down the slope. He might make ground in that direction; and it
occurred to him to do so, in order to get footing on a more level
The bear having paused a moment to bite the place where the rifle
bullet had stung him, gave Pouchskin time to gain some ground
backwards; but only a few pacessince the whole affair did not occupy
a tenth of the time taken in describing it.
Just as Pouchskin had reached the bottom of the slope, his angry
assailant, with a terrific growl, rushed forth from the smoke, and
galloped directly towards him. When about three feet distant from the
hunter, Bruin reared upon his hind legs, in the attitude of a
Pouchskin was seen to lunge forward with his right armthe one
which carried his knife; and, the moment after, both man and beast
appeared closed together, in grips.
In this fashion they went waltzing over the snow, the spray of which
rose in a cloud around them; and for a while they were seen only as one
dark upright form, in confused and violent motion!
Ivan was uttering cries of fearfear for the safety of his
dearly-loved Pouchskin; while Alexis, more cool, was rapidly reloading
his rifle, knowing that the surest means of saving the life of their
faithful attendant, was to encompass the death of the bear.
It was a moment of real peril for Pouchskin. The bear was one of the
largest and fiercest he had ever encountered; and, perhaps, had he
examined the brute more minutely before the conflict commenced, he
would have thought twice before facing him. But the smoke from the guns
was still over and around the spot, hanging upon the damp air. Up to
the time when Pouchskin resolved to make stand, he had not yet had a
clear view of his shaggy antagonist. When at length he perceived the
formidable proportions of the animal, it was too late to retreat; and
the struggle began as described.
In brief time Alexiswho at loading was quick as a tirailleurhad
recharged his piece, and was now hastening up to the rescue.
Without going quite close he dared not fire: for in the way that man
and bear were dancing about, there would be as much danger of killing
the one as the other.
All at once, however, they appeared to separate. Pouchskin had torn
himself out of the bear's clutches, and, evidently disinclined to a
renewal of the embrace, was retreating backward, over the snow, still
hotly pursued by the animal.
At this moment Alexis would have fired; but, unfortunately, the
direction in which Pouchskin was going, kept his body nearly in a line
with that of the animal; and Alexis could not fire without danger of
The chase led across the ravine, and of course over the bed of snow.
The pursued was doing his best to escape. But the pursuer had the
advantagefor while the man was breaking through at every step, the
broad-pawed quadruped glided over the frozen crust without sinking an
Pouchskin had got a little the start, but his pursuer was fast
gaining upon him. Once or twice, indeed, the bear was close enough to
touch Pouchskin's skirts with his extended snout; but the necessity of
rearing up, before making a stroke with his paw, required him to get
still nearer, and Bruin knew that.
He had, however, got near enough even for this; and had risen on his
hind feet, with the intention of clawing down his victim. Ivan and
Alexis simultaneously uttered a cry of dismay; but before the dangerous
stroke could descend, he for whom it was intended had sunk out of
At first, the young hunters believed the blow had been struck, and
that Pouchskin had fallen prostrate under it. They saw the bear spring
forward as if to cover the fallen man; but the next moment their terror
was mingled with astonishment on seeing, or rather not seeing,
either man or bear: both had suddenly disappeared!
CHAPTER TWELVE. A MYSTERIOUS
The sudden disappearance of both man and bear would no doubt have
sadly perplexed our young hunters, had it not been for Pouchskin's
previous adventure. With that still fresh in their memory, they were at
no loss to comprehend what had occurred. While eagerly endeavouring to
escape from his antagonist, Pouchskin had, no doubt, forgotten the
dangerous snow-bridge; and, just as before, he had broken through it.
This time, however, it was no laughing matter. Pouchskin was no
longer playing a solitary Jack-in-the-box, but, in all likelihood, he
was under the huge body of the savage monster, in the act of being torn
to pieces by his teeth, or perhaps drowned in the subnivean
stream. Whether the bear had sprung voluntarily after him, or, in the
impetus of charging, had been himself precipitated into the snow chasm
without the power of preventing it, could not for the moment be known.
The young hunters suspected that the bear had fallen in rather against
his will; for certainly he had been seen to go down in rather an
awkward and blundering manner, his hind legs pitching upwards as he
Whether the plunge had been voluntary or against his will could
matter but little. He must be now upon top of the ex-guardsman; and,
knowing the implacable fury of these animals when roused to resentment,
his young masters had no other idea but that their attendant would be
either drowned or torn to pieces.
As a last hope, however, Alexis rushed on over the snow, holding his
ride before him, and prepared to fire its contents into the bear the
moment he should get sight of the animal.
As he advanced, he could hear a plunging and splashing of water,
with other noises,as the snorting and growling of the bear, and the
crashing of frozen snow, all mixed up in confusion of sounds.
Concluding that these noises were caused by the struggle still going on
between the man and the bear, he hurried forward. Strange! there came
no voice from Pouchskin!
When within about three paces of the broken edge, an object came
under his eyes, that caused him to halt in his track. That object was
the snout of the bear, that was projected upward above the surface of
the snow. The eyes of the animal were not visible, nor any other part
of it, except the aforesaid snout, and about six inches of the muzzle.
The thought instantly occurred to Alexis, that the bear had reared
upon his hind feet, and was endeavouring to clamber out; and this was
true enough, for the instant after, he was seen to spring
perpendicularly upward, until his whole head and part of his neck
became visible. Only for an instant, however; for Bruin, who now
appeared to be playing Jack-in-the-box, sank once more out of sight,
snout and all.
The young hunter was just regretting that he had not taken a snap
shot at the animal's head; but before ten seconds of time had elapsed,
the snout was again popped up by the edge of the hole. In all
probability the bear would make a second attempt to spring out.
Alexis was therefore waiting till the whole head should show itself;
but quick as a flash of lightning, it occurred to him that the brute
might at the second effort succeed in reaching the surface of the snow,
and then he would himself be in danger. To avoid this contingency, he
resolved to fire at once; not at the snout, for, although he could not
have failed to send his bullet through it, he knew that that would not
kill the bear, but only render him more desperately furious, if such a
thing had been possible.
It was the bear's skull he meant to take aim at. From the position
of the animal's snout, of course he could tell exactly where the head
must be, though he could not see it.
Had Alexis been an unskilled marksman, he would have stood his
ground; and, guessing the position of the bear's head, would have fired
at it through the snow. But he did not act in this manner. He had
scientific knowledge sufficient to tell him that his bullet, sent in a
slanting direction, might glance off the frozen crust, and miss the
mark altogether. To ensure its direction, therefore, he instantly
glided two steps forward, poked the barrel of his piece through the
snow, until the muzzle almost touched the head of the bearand then
For some seconds he saw nothing. The smoke of the gunpowder, as well
as the snow-dust blown up before the muzzle of the gun, formed a dense
cloud over the spot. But though Alexis could not see the effect of his
shot, he could tell by what he heard that his bullet had done good
work. A loud swattering at the bottom of the hole proclaimed that the
bear was struggling in the water; while his piteous whines and faint
grunting told that his fierce strength was fast passing away.
As soon as the smoke had cleared off, Alexis upon his knees crept
forward to the edge, and looked over it. There was blood upon the snow;
the side against which the bear had stood was crimsoned with streams of
it; and below, in the water, among the clumps of broken snow-crust,
appeared a dark-brown mass, which Alexis knew to be the body of the
It was still in motion; but as it was in a prostrate attitude, and
making only feeble efforts, the young hunter knew that the life was
nearly out of it.
It was not this that was now causing him to look down with such an
anxious and troubled countenance. It was his apprehensions for
Pouchskin. Where was he? At the bottom of the crater-like pit Alexis
could see the body of the animal, but nothing of a manneither arms,
legs, nor body. Could he be under the bear, concealed by the shaggy
hair? Was he hidden under the black water that filled the bottom of the
ravine?or, horrible thought! was he dead, and had his body been
carried off by the current that rushed rapidly under the snow?
This was not improbable, for Alexis could see that there was a sort
of arched tunnel between the snow and the water, quite large enough to
have admitted the body of a man!
In agony he cried out, calling Pouchskin by name. He was repeating
his despairing invocation, when all at once a loud laugh echoed in his
ears, uttered close behind him. In the laughter he recognised the voice
Alexis suddenly leaped to his feet, wondering what on earth could be
the cause of this ill-timed merriment. He turned towards Ivan with the
intention of chiding him; but at that moment an object fell under his
eye, that hindered him from carrying his intention into effect. On the
contrary, the sight he saw caused him such joy, that he could not
restrain himself from joining Ivan in his laughter. No wonder. The
sight was odd enough to have drawn a smile from a dying man. A
spectacle more ludicrous could scarce have been conceived.
A little further down the ravine, and about ten paces from where the
boys were standing, an object was seen protruding above the snow. It
was about ten inches in vertical diameter, something less horizontally,
and of a roundish or oval shape. In colour it was almost white as the
snow itself: for, indeed, it was sprinkled over with this material out
of the bosom of which it had just emerged. A stranger coming upon the
ground might have been sorely puzzled to make out what it was; but not
so Ivan, who, on first beholding it, as it popped upward through the
frozen crust, recognised it as the head of Pouchskin. Alexis also made
it out at the first glance; and it was the comic twinkle of Pouchskin's
eyesdenoting that no great damage had happened to himthat led
Alexis to join his brother in the laughter.
Their merriment, however, was of short continuanceonly an
involuntary burst, for a moment's reflection told them that Pouchskin,
although they saw him alive, might nevertheless have sustained some
serious injury; and both at the thought hastened up towards the head.
On getting close to it, however, Ivan was unable to control himself,
and once more gave way to a fit of involuntary laughter. The head of
the old guardsman, standing up like a sphinx above the frozen
surface,his grizzled hair powdered all over with snow like the poll
of some grand flunkey,his long moustache loaded with it,his eyes
sparkling and twinkling, and his features set in a serio-comic
expression,all combined to form a picture that it was difficult to
contemplate with seriousness.
Alexis, however, anxious to ascertain as to whether Pouchskin had
received any dangerous wound, did not this time join in his
brother's mirth; and, as soon as they came near enough, his inquiries
were directed to that end.
Only scratched a bit, masters! answered the old guardsman,only
scratched a bitnothing much; but the bearthe bear! where has the
To his long home, answered Alexis; you need be under no further
apprehension about him. I think your knife must have well-nigh settled
his account, for he was unable to get out of the hole again; but,
fortunately, I have finished him with a bullet, and it only remains for
us to haul his carcass up and take the skin off it. First, however, let
us endeavour to extricate you, my good Pouchskin; and then you can tell
us by what means you have managed to make an escape that certainly
So saying, Alexis, assisted by Ivan, commenced digging away the hard
crust that surrounded the neck of Pouchskin; and kept on at it, until
they had uncovered his shoulders. Then seizing him by the armsone on
each sidethey drew him up, till his feet once more rested on the
surface of the snow.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN. A SUBNIVEAN
Pouchskin proceeded to describe the manner of his escapehis young
masters listening to him with great interestalthough they already
guessed pretty nearly how it had been accomplished. Still there were
some points not so clear to them, which the old guardsman detailed.
In the first place, he had retreated from the bear, not because he
believed himself vanquished, but because he had lost his knife. Its
handle, wet with blood, had slipped from his grasp; and he could not
tell what had become of it! Finding himself unarmed, of course his next
thought was to get out of Bruin's way, for what could an unarmed man do
in the embrace of a bearand such a bear?
He then turned and ran; but he had quite forgotten the dangerous
character of the snow-bedthe bridge that had refused to carry him
before; though, indeed, over it was the only direction he could have
taken. Had he attempted to run to the right or left, his course must
have been up-hill; and the bear would have been certain to overhaul him
in a couple of leaps. After all, he had taken the proper direction;
and, as it proved in the end, his breaking through was the most
fortunate accident that could possibly have happened to him. Had it not
chanced so, he would, in all probability, have fallen into the clutches
of the bear, and been torn to shreds by the infuriated animal.
Well, on touching bottom, he felt the water among his feet, and just
then remembered how it had been before. He remembered the hollow
archway under the snow, and, seeing the bear above, and in the act of
being precipitated on top of him, he suddenly ducked his head, and
pushed himself into the tunnel. He could feel the bear falling upon him
behind, and the weight of the animal's body, as it was precipitated
downwards, forced him still further under the snow-bridge.
Once in, he continued on down the stream, working both with head and
arms, and clearing a space that would allow his body to pass. The soft
snow was easily pressed out of the way; and, after going as far as he
deemed necessary, he turned to the right, and worked his way upward to
It was while he was thus engaged that Alexis had been squaring
accounts with the bear. The fierce creature had not followed Pouchskin
under the snow. In all probability, his sudden souse into the water
had astonished Bruin himself;from that moment all his thoughts were
to provide for his own safety, and, with this intention, he was
endeavouring to get back to the surface of the snowdrift, when Alexis
first caught sight of his snout.
At the moment that Alexis fired the final shot, or just a little
after it, Pouchskin had popped up his head through the congealed crust
of the snow, and elicited from Ivan those peals of laughter that had so
much astonished his brother. Pouchskin, however, had not come unscathed
out of the scrimmage. On examining the old guardsman, it was found
that the bear had clawed him severely; and a piece of skin, of several
inches square was peeled from his left shoulder. The flesh, too, was
rather badly lacerated.
Alexis was not without some surgical skill; and, without suffering a
moment to be lost, he dressed the wound in the best manner possible
under the circumstances. A clean handkerchief, which Ivan chanced to
have, served as a covering for the scar; and this being tied on
securely, with a strip torn from the sleeve of Pouchskin's own shirt,
left the wounded guardsman in a condition to recover, as soon as it
might please nature to permit. Nothing more could have been done by the
most skilful practitioner.
Their next business was to look after the bear. On going back to the
hole, and, gazing into it, the animal, as Alexis had anticipated, was
quite dead; and the water, partially dammed up by the huge carcass, was
flowing over it.
Ivan, who had hitherto done least of all to secure the prize, now
became the most active of the three; and, leaping down upon the body of
the great brute, he looped the rope around one of its hind legs, and
then stood on one side to help the rest in raising it upward.
Alexis and Pouchskin commenced hauling on the other end of the rope,
and the vast mass slowly ascended upward, Ivan pushing from below, and
guiding it past the inequalities of the snow. It would have been a
different sort of a task, to have hauled Bruin out of such a hole three
months earlier in the season; that is, about the time he had lain down
for his winter siesta. Then he would have turned six or seven
hundred pounds upon the scales, whereas at this time he was not more
than half the weight. His skin, however, was in just as good condition
as if he had been fat; and it was this, and not his carcass, that our
hunters cared for.
After some tough pulling, accompanied by a good deal of shouting
from Ivan at the bottom of the hole, the huge carcass was dragged
forth, and lay at full length along the frozen snow. It was still
necessary to raise it to the branch of a tree, in order that it might
be skinned in a proper manner. This however, could be easily
accomplished by means of the rope.
Up to this time Pouchskin had been puzzled about the loss of his
knife. Everywhere he looked for it; but it was nowhere to be found. All
the surface over which he had danced with the bear was carefully
examined, and the snow scraped up to the depth of several inches. There
was the blood of the bear, and some of Pouchskin's own too, but no
knife! Could it have got into the water? No. Pouchskin declared that he
had dropped it near the edge of the snow-bed: for this accident, as
already stated, had been the cause of his retreat from the conflict.
It was only when the great carcass was being hauled up to the
branch, that the lost knife made its appearance. Then, to the
astonishment of the young hunters, as well as to Pouchskin himself, the
knife was seen sticking in the shoulder of the bear! There it had been
when the haft slipped from his hands, and there had it remained. No
doubt that stab would have given the bear his death-blow; but still
more fatal had been the bullet from the rifle of Alexis, which had
passed through Bruin's brain, crushing his skull like a shell!
The skinning of the animal was accomplished with great care; for the
coat was one of the finest, and the boys knew with what interest it
would be regarded on its arrival at the palace Grodonoff. They spared
no pains, therefore, in removing it from the carcass; and after the
work was finished, it was neatly folded up, tied with the rope, and
placed like a knapsack on Pouchskin's shoulders.
Of the carcass they took no heed; but leaving it to the wolves, the
gluttons, or any other carnivorous creatures that might chance to stray
that way, they turned back up the ravine; and, striking off on a path
that led towards the tent of the Laplander, reached their smoky
quarters in good time for dinner.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN. RINGING THE BEAR.
The bear thus killed was the true ursus arctos, or brown
bearthe latter name being given to him from the colour of his fur,
which, in ninety-nine cases out of every hundred, is a uniform brown.
The name, however, is not appropriate, since there are other brown
bears belonging to very different species.
Having secured his robe, as we have seen, the next call of our
hunters was to obtain a skin from the body of his black brother. They
were well aware that this would not be so easy of accomplishment, from
the simple fact, that the ursus niger, or European black bear,
is one of the rarest of animalsindeed, so few of them are obtained,
that out of a thousand skins of the European bear that pass through the
hands of the furriers, not more than two or three will be found to be
of the black variety.
It is true that they were just in the country where they would be
most likely to fall in with one; for it is only in the northern zone of
Europe (and Asia also) where the black ones are found. This variety is
not encountered in the southern ranges of mountains in the Alps,
Pyrenees, and Carpathians. Whether this black bear is a distinct
species was not a question with them. They knew that by most
naturalists he is recognised as a varietyby some a permanent one. It
was therefore certainly included in the conditions of their father's
letter; and a skin must be procured coute qui coute. This done,
they would have no further business in Lapland, but might proceed at
once to the Pyrenees.
It was not necessary to procure skins of the grey or silver bear,
nor that with the white ring round its neckknown as the ringed or
collared bear. As Alexis had said, it is acknowledged by all who know
the ursus arctos his native haunts, that these are mere
accidental varieties. The true collared bear (ursus collaris)
is not found in Lapland, only in northern Asia and Kamschatka, and it
is he that is known as the Siberian bear. The boys therefore were not
bound by their covenant to procure these varieties; but for all that,
they were gratified at going beyond the strict letter of their
agreement, which good luck enabled them to do; for while scouring the
country in search of the ursus niger, they chanced upon another
brown bear, a female, with three cubs, one of which was brown, like the
mother; the second had the white ring round its neck, and the third was
as grey as a little badger! All four were taken; and the young hunters
not only had the gratification of being able to send the different
varieties of skins to their father's museum, but an additional
satisfaction was afforded to Alexis, the naturalist, by this grand
family capture. It proved incontestably, what he already suspected, and
what, moreover, the native peasants and hunters had told him, that the
silver and ringed bears were identical with the ursus arctos.
Notwithstanding their joy at the capture of the old she, and her
parti-coloured pets, they were yet very anxious about the black bear.
They had hunted all the forests and mountains for miles around, and had
even succeeded in killing several other specimens of Brownie, but no
Blackie was to be met with.
It had now got known among the native hunters what they were in
search of; and, as they had offered a liberal reward to any one who
could guide them to the haunt or den of a real black bear, it was not
unlikely they should soon hear of one.
In this expectation they were not deceived. About a week after the
offer had been proclaimed, a Finnish peasant (one of the Quans, as they
are called) made his appearance at their headquarters, add announced
that he had ringed a black bear. It was welcome tidings; and the
young Russians at once proceeded to the indicated place.
It may be necessary to explain what the man meant when he told them
he had ringed the bear; since that is a phrase of specific meaning
throughout the countries of Scandinavia. In these countries, when the
track of a bear is observed in the snow, it is followed up by the
person who has discovered it, with the intention of ringing the
animalthat is, ascertaining as near as maybe, the locality in which
it may have halted from its rambles, and lain down to rest. Of course,
if the person thus trailing the bear be a hunteror if it be a party
of hunters actually engaged in the chase, they will keep on until they
have found the bear in his den. But in nine cases out of ten, bears are
not pursued in this fashion. Generally, their hauntwhether temporary
or otherwisehas been ascertained beforehand, by some shepherd or
woodcutter, and a party of hunters then proceeds to the spot, and makes
a surround of the animal before rousing him from his lair.
This surround, however, has nothing whatever to do with the
ringing of the bear, which is an operation of a different character,
and is performed by the party who has first chanced upon the tracks.
The mode of proceeding is simply to follow the trail, or spar,
of the bear as silently as possibleuntil the tracker has reason to
believe that the animal is not far off. This he discovers by observing
that the spar no longer trends in a direct line, but doubles
about in zigzags, and backward turnings, upon itself; for when a bear
intends to lie down, it is his habit to quarter the ground in every
direction, precisely as does the hare before squatting in her form.
Many other animals observe a similar caution before going to rest.
The bear-tracker having reached this point, then leaves the track
altogether, and makes a circuit round that part of the forest within
which he suspects Bruin to have couched himself. This circuit is of
greater or less diameter, according to circumstancesdepending on the
season of the year, nature of the ground, and a variety of other
considerations. While going round this circle, if it should be seen
that the track of the bear leads beyond it, then that ring is given
up, and another commenced further forward. If, on the other hand, the
tracker gets round to the place whence he first started, without again
coming upon the spar, he concludes that the bear must be lying
somewhere within the circumference which he has traced, and will there
be found. This, then, is termed ringing the bear.
You may wonder why the man does not follow up the spar until
he actually reaches the den or lair of the animal. That is easily
explained. The tracker is not always a bear-hunter, and even if he
were, it would not be prudent for him to approach a bear without
assistants, who, by surrounding the animal, should cut off its retreat.
Were he to go forward direct to the bear's hiding-place, Bruin would,
in all probability, discover him before he could approach within shot;
and, making a bolt, might carry him a chase of ten or twelve miles
before stopping. The brown bear often does so.
The tracker, having ascertained the circle within which the animal
has made its temporary resting-place, next proceeds to warn the hunters
of his village or settlement; and then a large party go out for the
destruction of the common enemy. They deploy around the ring, and
closing inward, are pretty sure to find the bear either asleep in his
den, or just starting out of it, and trying to get off. The ring will
usually keep for several dayssometimes for weeksfor the bear,
especially in winter time, will remain in the vicinity of his lair for
long spells at a time. Frequently several days will elapse before any
hunters arrive on the ground; but, if the bear should have strayed off
in the mean time, his tracks in the snow will still enable them to
follow and find him. If, however, fresh snow should have fallen, after
the bear has made his exit from the marked circle, then, of course, the
search will prove a blank, and Bruin make his escapeat least out of
One of the most singular features of this custom is, that he who has
succeeded in ringing a bear, is regarded as the lawful proprietor of
the animalor rather of the ringand can dispose of his right to
any hunting party he pleases. Of course he cannot guarantee the killing
of the bear: that is left to the skill of the hunters, who must take
their chance. The tracker only answers for a bear being found within a
prescribed circle, of which he gives proof by pointing out the spar. With such conditions, established by long and well-observed custom, it
will easily be believed that the woodcutters and other peasants make a
market by ringing bears, frequently disposing of the ring to the more
ardent hunters for a very considerable price! It was just with this
view that the Finnish peasant had put himself in communication with our
young Russians; and as the bounty they had already offered far exceeded
the usual purchase-money in such cases, the Quan at once closed with
their offer, and conducted them to the ring.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN. OLD NALLE.
While proceeding towards the ground where they expected to find the
bear, their guide informed them that he had not only ringed the animal,
but actually knew the den in which it was lying. This was still better:
it would not only save them a search, but enable them to encompass the
beast on all sides and cut off his retreatshould he attempt to bolt
before they could get near.
On approaching the place, therefore, Pouchskin proposed that the
three should separate, and, after having deployed into a circle,
proceed inward from different directions.
But the guide opposed this suggestionsaying, with a significant
smile, that there was no need of such precautions, as he would answer
for the bear not leaving his den, until they had all got up as near as
they might wish to be.
The hunters wondered at this confidence on the part of their guide,
but in a few minutes' time they had an explanation of it. Going up to a
sort of cliff that formed the side of a little stony knoll, the Quan
pointed to a hole in the rocks, saying, as he did so:
Old nalle is in there.
Now nalle is the nickname of the bear throughout the Scandinavian
countries, and our Russian hunters knew this well enough; but that a
bear could be inside the little hole, to which their guide had pointed,
appeared utterly incredible, and Ivan and Alexis burst into a loud
laugh, while Pouchskin was rather inclined to show a little anger about
The hole which the Quan had pointed out was a crevice between two
great boulders of rock. It was about a yard above the ground, upon
which they stood; and was certainly not more than six or eight inches
in diameter. All round the orifice the rocks were thickly coated with
ice; and from the top of the cliff on both sides huge icicles projected
downwards, until their tips touched the earth, looking like enormous
trunks of elephants, or such as even mammoths might have carried. One
of these immense icicles was directly in front of the aperture; while
on the ground just below its point stood up a huge mass of an irregular
conical shape, the convex surface of which was coated with snow that
had lately fallen.
The first impression of the hunters was, that they had been deceived
by the cunning Quan. Pouchskin declared that they would not stand being
tricked; and at once demanded back the ten rix-dollars which his young
masters had paid for the ring of the bear.
It was all nonsense, he said; even if there was a cave, no bear
could be inside, for the simple reason that none, even the smallest,
could possibly have squeezed his carcass through a hole like that;a
cat could hardly have crept into such an aperture. Besides, where were
the tracks of the bear? There were none to be seenneither by the
mouth of the hole, nor in the snow outside.
There were old tracks of the peasant himself and of a dog, but not
of a bear.
It's a decided take-in, grumbled Pouchskin.
Patience, master! said the Quan. There is a bear inside for all
that; and I'll prove it, or else return you your money. See my little
dog! he'll tell you old nalle is there. It was he that told me.
As the Quan said this he let slip a diminutive cur, which he had
hitherto held in the leash. The animal, on being set free, rushed up to
the hole, and commenced scratching at the ice, and barking in the most
furious and excited manner. It certainly proved there was some living
creature inside; but how could the Quan tell it was a bear? and, above
all, a black bear!
He was interrogated on this point.
By it, replied the peasant, taking from his pouch a tuft of long
black fur, which was evidently that of a bear; that is how I know that
old nalle's in the cave, and the colour of the hair tells me
that it's black nalle who's inside.
But how came you by that? inquired all three in a breath, as the
man held the tuft before their eyes.
Well, masters! answered the Quan, you see some jaggy points on
the rock, at the top of the hole, there. I found it sticking there,
where the bear must have left it, as he was squeezing himself into his
cave that's how it was.
But surely, said Alexis, you don't mean to assert that a bear
could pass through such a hole as that? Why, a badger couldn't get in
there, my man!
Not now, said the Quan, I admit; it's three months since
he went in. The hole was bigger then.
Certainly, masters! the heap you see below is only ice. It's the
drip of that great icicle that has frozen up as it fell, and if it were
not there you'd see a place big enough for a bear to get in. Ah! sirs!
he's there, I can assure you.
Why, he couldn't get out of himself?
That is very true, replied the peasant; he'd be safe enough there
till a good bit on in the spring. If we hadn't found him, he would have
been obliged to stay in his cave till the sun had thawed that great
heap out of his way. It often happens so with the bears in these
parts, added the Quan, without seeming to think there was anything
unusual about the circumstance.
What the man said was literally true. The bear had gone into this
cleft or cave to take his winter nap, and during the long weeks, while
he was thus hybernating, the water, of rain and melting snow, dripping
from the top of the cliff, had formed enormous stalactites of ice, with
stalagmites as well: since it was one of the latter that had closed up
the entrance to the den, and fairly shut him up in his own house!
Not only does this curious accident often occur to Scandinavian
bears, but these animals, notwithstanding their proverbial sagacity,
frequently become their own jailers. They have a habit of collecting
large quantities of moss and grass in front of their caves, which they
place right in the aperture; and not inside as a bed to lie upon. Why
they do so is not clearly understood. The Scandinavian hunters allege
that it is for the purpose of sheltering them from the cold wind, that
would otherwise blow up into their chamber; and in the absence of any
better explanation this has been generally adopted. The heap soon gets
saturated by rain and melting snow, and congeals into a solid mass, so
hard that it requires to be cut with an axe before it can be got out of
the way; and the bear himself is totally incapable of removing it. The
consequence is that it often shuts up the entrance to his winter
chamber; and Bruin, on awakening from his sleep, finds himself caught
in a trap of his own construction. He has then no other resource but to
remain inside till the spring heats have thawed the mass, so that he
can tear it to pieces with his claws, and thus effect an exit. On such
occasions, he issues forth in a state of extreme weakness and
emaciation. Not unfrequently he is altogether unable to clear away the
obstacle, and perishes in his den.
On hearing these explanations from the Quan, who appeared to be well
acquainted with Bruin's habits, the young hunters were satisfied that a
bear was really in the cave. Indeed, they were not long upon the spot,
till they had still more satisfactory evidence of this fact; for they
could hear the sniffing of the animal, with an occasional querulous
growl, as if uttered in answer to the barking of the dog. Beyond doubt,
there was a bear inside.
How was he to be got out? That now became the important question.
CHAPTER SIXTEEN. THE STAKED
They waited, for a time, in hopes that he might show his snout at
the little aperture, and all three stood watching it, with guns cocked
and ready. A good while passed, however, and, as no snout made its
appearance, they came to the conclusion that the bear was not to be
caught in that simple way. By the snorting growl they could tell that
he was at no great distance from the entrance, and they thought a pole
might reach him. They tried this, but found that it could be inserted
only in a diagonal direction; and although Pouchskin poised in the
pole, and bent it round like a rattan, he could not touch wool
anywhere; while the bear, though he gave tongue now and then, still
kept his place at the further end of the cave.
No other plan offered, except to cut away the icy mass, and set open
the mouth of the cavity. If this were done, would Bruin be then likely
to come forth? The Quan was confident he would; alleging as his reason,
that, in consequence of the spell of warm weather there had been, the
bear must have fully shaken off his winter drowsiness, and would no
doubt have been abroad long ago, but for the ice preventing his egress
from the den. As soon as that should be removed, he would be pretty
sure to sally outfor hunger, said the peasant, will bring him forth,
if not just at the moment, certainly within an hour or so. At the worst
they could wait a while. Moreover, were the ice removed, they might be
able to reach him with a pole; and that would be certain to put him in
such a rage as would at once tempt him to make a sortie.
With this idea, Pouchskin seized his axe, knocked the great icicle
into smithereens, and was about going to work upon the huge
stalagmite that blocked up the entrance, when he was interrupted by
With your leave, master! said the latter, as he laid his hand upon
Pouchskin's arm to restrain him. Not so fast, if you please?
Why? asked the ex-guardsman, don't you intend to unearth the
Yes, master, replied the Quan; but something must be done first.
This is a black bear, you must know.
Well, and what of a black one more than any other? demanded
Pouchskin, somewhat surprised, for in the forests of Russia, where he
had hunted bears, there were no black ones.
Don't you know, said the Finn, that Black Nalle is always bigger
and fiercer than his brown brother? Besides, just at this time he will
be so savage with hunger, that he would eat one of us up the moment he
got out. If that ice was away, I shouldn't like to stand here. Take
your time, master! I think I can show you a better plan, at all events
it is a safer one. It's a way we practise herewhen we are sure that a
bear is asleep, and won't interrupt us while we're making ready for
Oh, well, replied Pouchskin, I'm agreeable to anything you
propose. I'm not particularly desirous of risking another wrestlenot
II had enough of that the other day. And as the old guardsman made
the remark, he gave a significant shrug of his shoulders, the wounds
upon which not being yet quite cicatrised, feelingly reminded him of
the rough handling he had received.
Well then, said the Quan, if you will help me to cut some strong
stakes, I shall show you a plan by which you may knock old nalle
upon the skull without danger to any of us, or send your bullets
through his brain, if you like better to kill him in that way.
All, of course, agreed to the Quan's proposal; for if the black bear
was as he represented him, fiercer than his brown brethren, it would be
no pleasant prospect to have him loose among them; and in case of their
not being able to shoot him dead on the spot as he rushed out, they
might not only be in danger of getting mauled, but in danger of what
they dreaded almost as muchlosing him altogether. He might get off
into the forest; and as there were tracts along the hill-sides, now
quite clear of snow, he might steal away from them beyond recovery.
This would be a disappointment of no ordinary kind. In fact, it might
be the means of keeping them for weeks, or perhaps months, from
proceeding on their journey: since it might be weeks or months before
they should fall in with another chance of obtaining a black bearskin;
and until that was procured they could not turn their faces towards
With such a prospect then, they were only too ready to agree to any
conditions by which the bear might be safely secured.
The Quan was not long in disclosing his plan; and as soon as he had
communicated it, all three set to work to aid him in its execution.
A number of stout stakes were cuteach about six feet in length,
and pointed at one end. These were driven into the earth around the
outer edge of the icy mass, in a sort of semicircular row; and so as to
enclose a small space in front of the aperture. To hold the stakes all
the more firmly, large stones were piled up against them, and the
uprights themselves were closely wattled together by the broad flat
branches of the spruce pines that grew near. In this way was
constructed a fence that a cat could not have crawled through, much
less a bear. One aperture only was left in it, and that was directly in
fronta hole at about the height of a man's knee from the ground, and
just big enough to admit the head of a bearfor that was the purpose
for which it was intended.
The next thing done was to roof the whole of this stockade
enclosure; and that was accomplished by resting long poles horizontally
over it, tying them at the ends to the tops of the uprights, and then
covering them thickly with granris (the spray lopped from the
branches of the evergreen pines).
It now only remained to get the ice cut of the way, and allow the
bear to come forth. That would not have been so easy of accomplishment,
had it not been already partially removed. Before closing up the top,
Pouchskin, directed by the Finnish peasant, had cut away most of the
mass, leaving only a shell; which, although filling up the entrance as
before, could be easily beaten down, or driven in from the outside of
During the time that the ex-guardsman had been sapping away the ice,
he had been keeping a sharp lookout. He was admonished to do this by
certain noises that, now and then, came rumbling out of the cave; and
not very certain that he was in perfect safety, he had been under some
apprehension. The bear, by throwing all his weight against the reduced
mass of ice, might break his way out; and as by the constant
chiselling the wall grew weaker and thinner, Pouchskin's fears
increased in proportion. He was only too happy, when, having picked the
congealed mass to what was thought a sufficient thinness, he desisted
from his work, and crept out of the enclosure, through the space that
had been kept open for him.
This was now fenced up as securely as the rest; and it only remained
to knock away the icy barricade, and tempt Bruin to come forth.
The icy wall could be broken in by means of a long boar-spear with
which the Finnish peasant had provided himself. It was headed with a
heavy piece of iron, edged and tipped with the best Swedish steel, and
this being jobbed against the ice, and kept constantly at work, soon
splintered the shell into pieces.
As soon as the Quan saw that he had opened a hole large enough to
pass the body of the bear, he drew back his spear, telling the hunter
to look out.
During the operation, all three had kept watch through crevices in
the stockade-wall, holding their guns pointed towards the aperture, and
ready to give the bear a volley the moment he should show his snout.
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN. THE
To their disappointment, however, the bear refused to exhibit even
as much as the tip of his nose, not only while his door was being
opened, but afterwards; and they began to think that he might not come
forth after all.
The Quan assured them that he would be certain to do so in time; but
perhaps not for a few hours, till after they should have remained quiet
a while, and old nalle should fancy they had gone away.
He has been a long time without his breakfast, added the Quan,
and his stomach will now be talking loudly to him; that will tell him
to steal out for something to eat. No fear of it, masters!
But for what purpose have you designed this hole? inquired Ivan,
pointing to the little aperture that had been left in the wattled
Oh, replied the peasant, that is how we kill bears sometimes;
especially if we are not rich enough to have a gun. As soon as old
nalle rushes out from his den, the first thing he does is to run
all round, looking for a chance to break through the fence. Of course
he finds the hole, and pokes his head through it. One of us stands
outside, as you see me now, with a hatchet ready; and we would be
clumsy, indeed, if we could not cleave in his skull, or give him such a
crack upon it, as would turn him back downwards. You shall see how the
bear will rush to this hole the moment he comes out, and then, masters!
you shall see!
Here the Quan gave a significant shake to his hatchet, twirling it
with the dexterity peculiar to his craft, for it so chanced that he was
a woodcutter by trade.
Our hunters, however, saw that this would never do. According to the
conditions under which they travelled, the bear must be killed by one
of themselves; and, therefore, after a little explanation, the Quan
resigned his intention and stepped aside. His post, however, was
supplied by the ex-guardsman, who, poising his ponderous axe, stood
ready to deal a far heavier, and deadlier, blow than could be given by
any woodcutter in Scandinavia. Alexis took charge of Pouchskin's gun,
determined to fire it as soon as he had discharged his own rifle; and
as Ivan had one barrel loaded with ball and the other with slugs, it
was not likely, against such a formidable battery as was thus prepared
for him, that Bruin could manage to live much longer.
It now became a question whether they should wait patiently till the
bear came out, or whether they might not adopt some mode of tempting
him forth, that would act upon him more rapidly than the cravings of
There could be no harm in trying to reach and stir him up with a
pole; and for this purpose the woodcutter stepped aside to find one.
He very soon succeeded in procuring a long birch saplingas long as
an ordinary fishing-rod; and having cleared this of its spray, he
inserted it into the cave. To the gratification of the party it was
found long enough for the purpose; for by the muffled feel it could
only be Bruin's fur that its point was buried in. It was just as far,
however, as the pole would reach; and as it was a slender sapling
without any stiffness in it, they were unable to do anything in the way
of giving him a poke. No doubt, had the entrance to his den been wider,
even the tickling of the pole would have caused him to turn out; for
a bear, unless badly wounded, will not stand much badgering. It was
possible, in this case, that Bruin suspected there was some trap set
for him outsideindeed, the noises he had been listening to for more
than an hour, must have admonished him that all was not as it ought to
be; and this perhaps rendered him more wary than was his wont. He might
not yet be aware that his door was open; for the roofed enclosure still
kept out the light as much as the stalagmite had done; and
although he might have heard the icy mass giving way before the axe and
spear, he might not understand all that. It was necessary, therefore,
to coax him as far as the thresholdso that he might discover that the
door of his chamber had been opened for him.
The tickling of the pole, however, proved of no service; for,
although it drew from the huge brute a sniff or two, he still kept to
What was to be done? Must they retire, and wait patiently till the
calls of hunger should urge him forth? The day was piercingly cold, and
to remain there long would have been unpleasant enough. They might,
indeed, have to stay by the cave all day and all night too: for the
enclosure had been only slightly put upmerely to check the bear for a
few minutesand if they were to leave him all night to himself, he
could easily tear down the stakes and get off.
They could not think of deserting the spot for an instant; but to
avoid a long vigil they set about considering some plan by which Bruin
might be induced to come forth from his inaccessible retreat.
A thought occurred to Ivan, who was a quick conceivera plan which
promised welland that was to make a spitting-devil, and send it up
into the cave. It appeared a good ideaat all events, it would not be
difficult to give it a trial. Gunpowder was not scarce with themsince
Russian roubles were plenty; and Pouchskin, pouring out nearly a
quarter of a pound into the palm of his broad hand, commenced spitting
upon it and working the powder into a paste. Ivan, who directed this
operation, was determined his plan should not fail by any stinginess in
regard to the materials required for carrying it out.
After a short space of time the plastic fingers of Pouchskin had
elaborated the powder paste into a roll as large as a regalia cigar;
and this being dried slightly near a firewhich they had long before
kindledwas ready for the touch. To the old grenadier was intrusted
the management of the miniature rocket; and, while the young hunters
once more stood to their guns, he proceeded to carry out the design.
Having thrust his head through the hole intended for the bear, and
his arm through another which he had made for himself, he held the
devil at arm's length between his finger and thumb. The Quan now took
a blazing faggot from the fire, and passing it between the wattles,
ignited the fuse which the old grenadier had ingeniously placed
in the devil's tail.
As soon as Pouchskin perceived that it was fairly on fire, with an
adroit jerk he sent the little rocket up into the cave, as far as he
could throw it; and then jerking himself backward, he seized hold of
There was a moment of suspense; not long: for almost on the instant
a brilliant light shone within the cave, accompanied with a sputtering
and whizzing and cracking, as if half a dozen alarm-clocks had been set
going at the same time! In the midst of this confusion of noises, and
louder far than any, could be heard a number of sharp wild shrieks, and
before the rocket had half burnt out, Bruin was seen bolting forth over
the broken fragments of ice. Two shots were fired, almost
simultaneously; but both failed to check his onward rush; and with a
mighty force he came bump against the palisades, causing them to
crash and swag as if they would give way. It was fortunate for the
hunters that the stakes stood the shock: for such a set of teeth as
that bear exhibited they had never before seen. A single stroke from
those paws would have been enough to crack the thickest skull in
Ivan gave him his second barrelthe one loaded with slugs,but it
only served to increase his fury; and now rearing up, and then going on
all-fours, he kept rushing backward and forward through the enclosure,
all the while uttering fierce growls.
Alexis, meanwhile, had dropped his rifle and taken up the fusil of
Pouchskin. His place was at one side of the enclosure. He had already
got the barrel through the wattles, and was endeavouring to level it
upon the bearseeking for a mortal part at which he might aim. The
darkness, however,for the roofed stockade rendered it darkcombined
with the quick movements of the animal, hindered him from getting a
sight to his satisfaction. He knew the importance of making this a
killing shot. Should the bear, wounded as he now was, retreat back into
his den, there would be no chance whatever of getting him out again.
Alexis thought of this; and therefore resolved not to fire at random,
as he had done before. He knew that a full-grown bear, unless shot in
the brain or heart, can accommodate a score of bullets without being
much inconvenienced by them.
Knowing this, Alexis was biding his time, when all at once he
perceived the bear make halt on the front side of the enclosure. He now
aimed at the heart of the huge animal, but before he could pull
trigger, a loud crash sounded in his ear, and Bruin was seen dropping
to the ground, where he continued to lie, almost without giving a kick!
It was the axe of Pouchskin that had caused the crash, as its edge
of steel descended upon the bear's cranium, smashing it in as if it had
been an eggshell. As the Quan predicted, the animal had imprudently
poked his head through the aperture where Pouchskin was standing ready
This, of course, finished the affair. It was only necessary to
remove the palisades, sling the bear to a tree, and then strip him of
his much-coveted skin. All this in due time was accomplished; and with
the robe once more packed on the shoulders of Pouchskin, the hunters
returned to their headquarters.
It provedas the Quan had promised themto be a black bear; not
that his fur was altogether black, as is the case with the ursus
americanus and the black bears of India. On the contrary, the hair
was brown near the roots, and only black at the tips, which, however,
gave it the appearance of being black all over the surface; and Alexis
knew that this was the variety of bear they were in search of.
Satisfied that they had obtained the skin of the ursus niger,
it only remained for our hunters to pack up their travelling traps, bid
adieu to the cold climate of Scandinavia, and start for the sunny
southfor the far-famed Pyrenees of Spain.
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN. THE PALOMBIERE.
It is not intended to detail the many incidents that befell them on
the way, the chit-chat of steamboats, railroads, and hotels. Their
father cared not to hear of these trifles; he could read enough of such
delightful stuff in the books of whole legions of travellers; and, as
they did not note anything of this kind in their journal, we are left
to suppose that they encountered the usual pleasures and desagremens
which all travellers must experience on similar journeys. As money was
no object, they travelled with expeditionmaking only a short stay in
the great capitals through which they passed, in order to have their
passports vised, and sometimes for the purpose of using the
great emperor's letter for the replenishment of their exchequer. This
magic document proved all-powerful everywhere they went; and as they
knew it would be so in all corners of the habitable globe, they could
rely upon it with perfect confidence. Pouchskin's leathers bag was
always well weighted with the yellow metal,and specie,
whatever stamp it may bear, is current all over the world.
Their journal merely mentions the route followed. From their
hunting-ground they returned down the Tornea river, which, running due
north and south, of course did not compromise the terms of their
covenant; neither were the conditions infringed by their taking at any
time the backtrack when engaged in the chase, for, as already known,
there was a specification in the baron's letter, that allowed of this
deviation. All that was required of them was that they should not
recross a meridian when on their actual route of travel.
A ship carried them from Tornea to Dantzic. Hence they passed to
Berlin, and on through Frankfort, Stutgard, and Strasbourg, to Paris.
Paris, it is true, was a little out of their way; but what Russian
could travel across Europe without paying a visit to Paris? Pouchskin
cared little about it. The old grenadier had been there beforein
1815when he was far from being welcome to the Parisians; and Alexis
would rather have gone by another and more direct route, that is,
through Switzerland; but the gay Ivan would not hear of such a thing.
To see Paris he was determined; and see it he did; though what he or
they did there is not mentioned in the book of the chronicles of our
From Paris they travelled by rail, almost directly souththough
still slightly westwardto the celebrated baths of Bagneres. Here they
found themselves not only within sight, but actually among the
foot-hills of those mountains, for the tourist scarce second in
interest to the Alps themselves, but perhaps for the naturalist even
more interesting than these.
At Bagneres they made but a short stay, only long enough to recruit
their strength by bathing in its thermal springs, and to witness a
spectacle which is regarded as the grand lion of the placethe
As you, young reader, may not have heard of the Palombiere,
and may be curious to know what it is, I give the account of it, which
I find recorded in the journal of Alexis.
About two miles from Bagneres rises a ridge of considerable
elevation running parallel with the general direction of the
Pyrenees, of which it may be considered an outlying step, or foot
hill (pied mont). Along the crest of this hill stands a row of
very tall trees, from which the branches have been carefully lopped,
leaving only a little bunch at the top of each. On coming close to
these treesprovided it be in the months of September or Octoberyou
will observe a something between them that resembles a thin gauzy veil
of a greyish colour. On getting still nearer, you will perceive that
this veil is a netor rather a series of netsextended from tree to
tree, and filling up all the spaces between themfrom the highest
point to which the branches have been lopped down to within three feet
of the ground.
Another singular object, or series of objects, will long ere this
have attracted your attention. You will see standing, at certain
intervals apart, and about thirty yards in front of the trees, a row of
tall tapering sticksso tall that their tops are fifty yards from the
ground! They might remind you of the masts of a ship; but that there
are in each case two of them together,the one standing vertically,
and the other bending over to it, with a slight curve. On this account
you may be more struck with their resemblance to the shears seen in
shipyards, by which the masts are stepped into their places. These
masts, as we may call them, are not all of one stick of wood, but of
several pieces spliced together; and notwithstanding their prodigious
lengthfifty yards, you will rememberthey are of no great thickness.
In fact, although the two are joined together at the topas we shall
presently have occasion to showwhen a strong wind blows, both bend,
and vibrate back and forward like an elastic trout rod. At their bases
they are only five feet apart; and the curving one is intended to act
as a stay to the other. Both, as already stated, meet at the top, and
looking up you will seewhile the sight makes you dizzya little
roundish object at the point of the junction. It is a basket set there
firmly, and just big enough to hold the body of a man. If you look
carefully you will see a man actually within it; but, to quote
Shakespeare's quaint simile, he will appear to your eyes not half as
gross as a beetle! In all likelihood he is not a man, but only a boy;
for it is boys who are selected to perform this elevated and apparently
How did the boy get there? will probably be your next question. By
running your eye along the curved pole, you will perceive a row of
projecting pegs extending from bottom to top. They are quite two feet
apart; but had you been present while that youth was making the
ascent which he did by the help of these pegsyou would have seen
him scramble up as rapidly, and with as little concern, as a sailor
would ascend the ratlines of a ship! It is his trade to do so, and
practice has made him as nimble as he is intrepid; but you, who are
unaccustomed to witness such tall gymnastics, cannot help again
recalling Shakespeare, and exclaiming, with the great dramatic poet,
Fearful trade! Quite as fearful, indeed, as the gathering of
But what is this trade? What is all this contrivance forthese nets
and tall masts, with crows' nests at their tops? What are the boys
doing up there? And what are they about belowthose men, women, and
childrena crowd composed of all ages and all sexes? What are they
Pigeon-catching. That is what they are doing, or rather what
they are aiming to do, as soon as the opportunity offers. These people
are simply pigeon-catchers.
What sort of pigeons? and where do they come from? These questions
must be answered.
To the first, then, the answer is the common European wild pigeon (
columba palumbis). It is well-known in England by the name of
wood-pigeon, and in France it is called ramier. In England the
wood-pigeon is not migratory. In that country there is a much milder
winter than is experienced in the same or even a more southerly
latitude on the Continent. This enables the pigeon to find food
throughout all the year, and it therefore remains in England. In
continental countriesPrance among the numberthe severity of the
winter forces it southward; and it annually migrates into Africathe
supposed limit of its flight being the chain of the Atlas mountains. Of
course the wood-pigeon is only one of many birds that make this annual
tour, taking, as the rest do, a return ticket.
Now the ramiers of France, in passing southward, must ply
their wings a little more strenuously to mount over the snowy summits
of the Pyrenees; but they only commence ascending to this higher
elevation when near the mountains. The ridge at Bagneres chances to lie
in the line of their flightof course, not of all of them, but such as
may be sweeping along in that particular meridian; and, passing between
the tall trees already mentioned, they get caught in the meshes of the
nets. The moment they strike theseseveral of them coming butt
against one at the same instant,a trigger is pulled by the menwho
are below concealed under screensand this trigger, acting on a
string, causes the net to drop, with the fluttering victims safely
secured in its meshes.
When the flight has passed, the women, girls, boys, and even the
children, rush forth from their hiding-places; and, seizing the
struggling birds, put a quick termination to their fruitless efforts,
by biting each of them in the neck. Old, half-toothless cronesfor
this is especially their part of the performancewill be seen thus
giving the final coup to the beautiful but unfortunate
And still we have not explained what the boys are doing up yonder.
Well, we shall now announce their metier. Each has taken up with
him a number of little billets of wood, fashioned something like the
letter T, and about six inches in length. When this billet is flung
into the air, and twirls about in its descent, it exhibits some
resemblance though not a very close oneto a flying pigeon-hawk. The
resemblance, however, is near enough to do the pigeons; for when they
are within about one hundred yards of the crows' nest, the boy launches
his billet into the air, and the birds, believing it to be a hawk,
immediately dip several yards in their flightas they may be seen to
do when a real hawk makes his appearance. This descent usually brings
them low enough to pass between the trees; and of course the old women
soon get their teeth upon them.
The pigeon-catching is not free to every one who may take a fancy
to it. There are pigeon-catchers by trade; who, with their families,
follow it as a regular calling during the season, while it lasts; and
this, as already stated, is in the months of September and October. The
Palombiere, or pigeon-ridge, belongs to the communal authorities,
who let it out in sections to the people that follow the calling of
pigeon-netting; and these, in their turn, dispose of the produce of
their nets in the markets of Bagneres and other neighbouring towns.
Every one knows how excellent for the table is the flesh of this
beautiful bird: so much is it esteemed, that even at Bagneres, in the
season of their greatest plenty, a pair will fetch a market price of
from twelve to twenty sous.
CHAPTER NINETEEN. THE PYRENEES.
Speaking geologically, the Pyrenees extend along the whole north of
Spain, from the Mediterranean to the province of Galicia on the
Atlantic; and in this sense the chain may be regarded as between six
and seven hundred miles in length.
More properly, however, the term Pyrenees is limited to that
portion of the range which lies directly between France and Spain; in
other words, along the neck or isthmus of the Spanish peninsula. Thus
limited, the range is less than half the above length, or about three
hundred miles; while its average breadth is fifty.
Though less elevated than the Alps, the Pyrenees mountains are no
molehills. Their highest peak, Maladetta, towers above 11,000 feet; and
several others are of nearly equal heightwhile more than forty
summits reach the elevation of 9,000!
The most elevated peaks are near the centre of the Pyrenees, the
range gradually dipping downward as the extremities are approached. For
this reason the most practicable passes are found near the eastern and
western ends; though many also exist in the central part of the chain.
In all, there are fifty passes or ports, as they are called, leading
from the French to the Spanish side; but only five of these are
practicable for wheeled vehicles; and a large number are only known (or
at all events only travelled) by the smugglerscontrabandistas
a class of gentry who swarm on both sides of the Pyrenean frontier.
The superficial extent of these mountains is about 11,000 or 12,000
square miles. Part of this is French, and the remainder Spanish
territory. As a general rule, the divide, or main axis of the ridge
forms the boundary line; but in the eastern section, the French
territory has been extended beyond the natural frontier.
The geological formation of the Pyrenees consists both of primitive
and secondary rocksthe latter being greater in mass, and composed of
argillaceous schist, grauwacke (schistose and common), and limestone.
Mines of lead, iron, and copper are found in this formationthe lead
containing a proportion of silver. The primitive rocks are granite; and
run in zones or belts, extended lengthwise in the direction of the
chain; and it is in the rupture between these and the transition
strata, that the chemical springs, for which the Pyrenees are so
famous, gush forth. Of these remarkable fountainsmany of them almost
at boiling heatno less than 253 have been discovered in different
parts of the range. A great number of them are celebrated for their
medicinal virtues, and are the favourite summer resorts of invalids, as
well as the votaries of pleasure, from all parts of the worldbut more
especially from France and Spain.
The botany of the Pyrenees is full of interest. It may be regarded
as an epitome of the whole European flora: since scarcely a
plant exists, from the Mediterranean to the Arctic sea, that has not a
representative species in some part of this mountain chain. In the
valleys and lower slopes of the mountains the forest is chiefly
composed of Lombardy poplars and sycamores; a little higher, the
Spanish chestnut, oaks, hazels, and alders, the mountain ash and birch
trees abound; and still farther up you enter the region of the
pinesthe pinus sylvestris growing in dense continuous forests,
while the more graceful stone pine is seen only in isolated groups or
scattered trees. Everywhere a rich flora meets the eye; flowers
of the most lovely hues reflected in crystal rivuletsfor the waters
of the Pyrenees are pure beyond comparison, such a thing as a turbid
stream being unknown throughout the whole range.
Above the pine forests the mountains exhibit a zone of naked
declivities, stretching upward to the line of congelationwhich in the
Pyrenees is higher than upon the Alps. The former has been variously
estimated: some fixing it at 8,300 feet, while others raise it as high
as 9,000; but, indeed, it would be more just to say that the snow-line
depends greatly upon the locality of the particular mountain, and its
southern or northern exposure.
In any case, it is more than 1,000 feet higher than on the Alps; the
superior elevation being accounted for, by the more southern latitude
of the Franco-Spanish chain. Perhaps the proximity of the sea has more
to do with this phenomenon than the trifling difference of latitude?
Upon the higher declivities and summits, snowfields and glaciers
abound, as in the Alps; and even in some of the passes these phenomena
are encountered. Most of the passes are higher than those of the Alps;
but in consequence of the greater elevation of the snow-line, they
remain open throughout the winter. At all seasons, however, they are by
no means easy to traverse; and the cold winds that whistle through them
are scarce to be endured. The Spaniards, who have a proverbial
expression for almost every idea, have not neglected this one. In the
ports (puertos) of the Pyrenees, say they, the father waits not
for his son, nor the son for his father.
If the passes across these mountains are higher than those of the
Alps, the transverse valleys are the reverse; those of the Pyrenees
being in general much lower. The consequence is, that from the bottom
of these valleys the mountains themselves appear far loftier than any
of the Alpine peaks,the eye taking in at one view a greater angle of
The fauna of the Pyrenean chain, though less full and varied
than its flora, is nevertheless of great interest. In the more
densely wooded solitudes, and higher declivities of the mountains, a
large bear is found, whose light fulvous-coloured body and black paws
pronounce him a different animal from the ursus arctos. If he be
the same species, as naturalists assert, he claims at least to be a
permanent variety, and deserves his distinctive appellation of ursus
Wolves abound; Spanish wolves, long famed for their fierceness; the
common whitish-brown wolf (canis lupus), and a darker and still
larger varietyin short, a black wolf, designated the wolf of the
Pyrenees, though it is equally a denizen of the other mountain
sierras of Portugal and Spain.
The European lynx (felis lynx), and the wild cat, both skulk
through the Pyrenean forests; the former now only rarely seen. Along
the naked cliffs leaps the izzard, which is identical with the
chamois of the Alps (antelope rupicapra); and in the same
localities, but more rarely seen, the bouquetin, or tur (
aigocerus pyrenaicus)a species of ibex, not identical with
the capra ibex of Linnaeus and the Alpine mountains.
Birds of many European species frequent the lower forests of the
Pyrenees, or fill the sheltered valleys with their vocal music; while,
soaring above the mountain summits, may be seen the great
vulture-eagle, or lammergeyer, watching with greedy eye the feeble
lambkin, or the new-born kid of the ibex and izzard.
With such knowledge of their natural history, it was with feelings
of no ordinary interest that our young hunters turned their faces
towards that vast serried rampart that separates the land of the Gaul
from the country of the Iberian.
It was by the Val d'Ossau, literally the valley of the bear, that
they made their approach to the mountains,that valley celebrated as
the residence and hunting-ground of Henri of Navarre: but now, in
modern days, noted for its valuable thermal springs of Eaux Bonnes
and Eaux Chaudes.
Up this mountain gorge went our heroes, their faces turned
southward, and their eyes carried high up to the Pic du Midi
d'Ossauthe mountain of the bearsan appropriate name for that beacon
which was now directing their course.
CHAPTER TWENTY. AN ODD AVALANCHE.
It is needless to say that the young Russians were delighted with
the scenes that met their eyes in this fair southern land; and many of
them are found faithfully described in their journal. They noted the
picturesque dresses of the Pyrenean peasantryso different from the
eternal blue blouse which they had met in northern and central France.
Here was worn the barret, of scarlet or white, the rich brown jacket
and red sash of the peculiar costumes of the Basque and Bearnais
peasantsa fine race of men, and one, too, historically noble. They
saw carts drawn by large limbed cream-coloured oxen; and passed flocks
of sheep and milch goats, tended by shepherds in picturesque dresses,
and guarded by numbers of large Pyrenean dogs, whose chief duty was to
protect their charge from the wolves. They saw men standing knee-deep
in the water, surrounded by droves of pigsthe latter voluntarily
submitting themselves to a process of washing, which resulted in
producing over their skins a roseate, pinky appearance. It could be
seen, too, that these pachyderms not only submitted voluntarily
to the operation, but with a keen sense of enjoyment, as evinced by
their contented grunts, and by their long tails, hanging kinkless
while the large calabashes of water were poured over their backs.
Perhaps to this careful management of the Pyrenean pigs are the
beautiful Bayonne hams indebted for their celebrity.
Further on, our travellers passed a plumire, or hen-bath.
Here was a tankanother thermal springin which the water was
something more than tepid. In fact, it was almost on the boil; and
yet in this tank a number of women were ducking their hensnot, as
might be supposed, dead ones, in order to scald off their feathers, but
live fowls, to rid them, as they said, of parasitical insects, and make
them feel more comfortable! As the water was almost hot enough to
parboil the poor birds, and as the women held them in it immersed
to the necks, the comfort of the thingso thought our
travellerswas rather a doubtful question.
A little further on, another custom of the French Pyrenees came
under the eyes of the party. Their ears were assailed by a singular
medley of sounds, that rose from a little valley near the side of the
road. On looking into the valley, they saw a crowd of forty or fifty
women, all engaged in the same operation, which was that of
flax-hackling. They learnt from this that; in the Pyrenean countries
the women are the hacklers of flax; and that, instead of each staying
at her own home to perform the operation, a large number of them meet
together in some shaded spot, bringing their unhackled flax along with
them; and there, amidst jesting and laughing and singing, the rough
staple is reduced to its shining and silky fineness.
Still another curious custom was observed; but this was further on,
and higher up the sides of the mountains. Their observation of it was
attended with some degree of danger, and therefore came very close on
being an adventure. For this reason it found a place among the events
recorded in their journal.
It should be remarked, that all three were mountedAlexis and Ivan
upon stout, active ponies, of that race for which the
Pyrenees,especially the western section of them,are celebrated.
Pouchskin's mount was not of the genus equus, nor yet an
asinus, but a hybrid of both genera,in short, a mule.
It was a French mule, and a very large one: for it required a
good-sized quadruped of the kind to make an appropriate roadster for
the ex-grenadier of the Imperial guard. It was not a very fat mule,
however, but raw-boned and gaunt as a Pyrenean wolf.
Of course these animals were all hired onesobtained at Eaux
Bonnes, and engaged for the trip across the Pyrenees to the Spanish
sideas also to be used in any deviations that the hunters should
think proper to make, while engaged in the pursuit of the bear.
From the nearest village on the Spanish side, the animals were to be
sent back to their owner; for it was not the intention of our
travellers to return to the French territory.
Having crossed the mountains, and accomplishing the object for which
they had visited them, their course would then be continued southward,
Along with themalso mounted on mulebackwas a fourth individual,
whose services they had secured. His metier was manifoldon
this occasion combining in his single person at least three purposes.
First, he was to serve them as guide; secondly, he was to bring back
the hired horses; and, thirdly, he was to aid them in the chasse of
the bear: for it so happened that this man-of-all-work was one of the
most noted izzard-hunters of the Pyrenees. It is scarcely correct to
say it happened so. Rather was it a thing of design than chance;
for it was on account of his fame as a hunter, that he had been engaged
for the triple duty he was now called upon to fulfil.
The four travellers, then, all mounted as we have described, were
ascending a very steep declivity. They had left the last hamletand
even the last housebehind them; and were now climbing one of the
outlying spurs that project many miles from the main axis of the
mountains. The road they were following scarcely deserved the name;
being a pack-road, or mere bridle-path; and so sleep was the ascent,
that it was necessary to zigzag nearly a dozen times, before the summit
of the ridge could be attained.
While entering upon this path, and near the base of the ridge, they
had noticed the forms of men far above them, moving about the summit,
as if engaged in some work. Their guide told them that these men were
faggot-cutters, whose business was to procure firewood for the towns in
There was nothing in this bit of information to produce
astonishment. What did astonish our travellers, however, was the
mode in which these men transported their firewood down the mountain,
of which, shortly after, they were treated to an exhibition. As they
were zigzagging up the mountain-path, their ears were all at once
saluted by a noise that resembled a crashing of stones, mingled with a
crackling of sticks. The noise appeared to proceed from above; and, on
looking up, they beheld a number of dark objects coming in full rush
down the declivity. These objects were of rounded formin fact, they
were bundles of faggotsand so rapidly did they roll over, and make
way down the mountain, that had our travellers chanced to be in their
track, they might have found some difficulty in getting out of the way.
Such was their reflection at the moment; and they were even thanking
their stars that they had escaped the danger, when all at once a fresh
avalanche of faggots was launched from above; and these were evidently
bounding straight towards the party! It was impossible to tell which
way to gowhether to rush forward or draw back: for what with the
inequality of the mountain-side, and the irregular rolling of the
bundles, they could not tell the exact direction they would take. All
therefore drew up, and waited the result in silent apprehension. Of
course they had not long to waitscarce a secondfor the huge bundles
bounding on, each moment with increased impetus, came down with the
suddenness of a thunderclap; and before the words Jack Robinson could
have been pronounced, they went whizzing past with the velocity of
aerolites, and with such a force, that had one of them struck either
mule or pony it would have hurled both the quadruped and its rider to
the bottom of the mountain. It was only their good fortune that saved
them: for in such a place it would have been impossible for the most
adroit equestrian to have got out of the way. The path was not the two
breadths of a horse; and to have wheeled round, or even drawn back upon
it, would have been a risk of itself.
They rode on, again congratulating themselves on their escape; but
fancy their consternation when they found themselves once more, and for
the third time, exposed to the very same danger! Again came a set of
bundles rolling and tearing down the slope, the billets rattling and
crackling as they rolled; again they went swishing by; again, by the
merest accident, did they miss the travellers, as they stood upon the
Now, it might be supposed that the faggots were being launched all
along the ridge of the hill; and that, go which way they might, our
party would still be exposed to the danger. Not so. The bundles were
all rolled down at one particular placewhere the slope was most
favourable for this purposebut it was the zigzag path, which every
now and then obliqued across the line of the wood-avalanche, that had
thus repeatedly placed them in peril.
As they had yet to quarter the declivity several times before they
could reach the summit, they were more careful about approaching the
line of descent; and whenever they drew near it, they put their ponies
and mules to as good a speed as they could take out of them.
Though all four succeeded in reaching the summit in safety, it did
not hinder Pouchskin from pouring out his vial of wrath on the heads of
the offending woodcutters; and if they could have only understood his
Russian, they would have heard themselves called by a good many hard
names, and threatened with a second pursuit of Moscow. Frog-eating
Frenchmen! was the very mildest title which the ex-guardsman bestowed
upon them; but as his Russian was not translated, of course the phrase
fell harmlesselse it would have undoubtedly been retaliated by a
taunt about tallow.
The izzard-hunter swore at them to more purpose; for he, too,
having undergone equal risk with the rest of the party, had equally
good reasons for being angry; and giving utterance to a long string of
execrations with all the volubility of a Bearnais, he further
threatened them with the terrors of the law.
As the woodcutters, slightly stupefied by this unexpected attack,
submitted with tolerable grace, and said nothing in reply, the
izzard-hunter at length cooled down, and the party proceeded on their
way; Pouchskin, as he rode off, shaking his clenched fist at the
staring log-choppers, and hissing out in angry aspirate another Russian
shibboleth, which neither could nor should be translated.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE. A MEETING WITH
A little beyond the scene of their encounter with the woodcutters,
the path entered among the gorges of the mountains, and the level
plains of France were for a time lost to their view. The route they
were following was a mere bridle-track, quite impracticable for
carriages, but leading to one of the ports already mentioned, by
which they could pass through to the Spanish side. Through this port a
considerable traffic is carried on between the two countriesmost of
the carrying being done by Spanish muleteers, who cross the mountains
conducting large trains of mulesall, except those upon which they
themselves ride, laden with packs and bales of merchandise.
That such a traffic was carried over this route, our Russian
travellers needed no other evidence than what came under their own
eyes; for shortly after, on rounding a point of rock, they saw before
them a large drove of mules, gaily caparisoned with red cloth and
stamped leather, and each carrying its pack. The gang had halted on a
platform of no great breadth; and the driversabout a dozen men in
allwere seen seated upon the rocks, a little way in advance of the
animals. Each wore a capacious cloak of brown clotha favourite colour
among the Pyrenean Spaniards; and what with their swarthy complexions,
bearded lips, and wild attire, it would have been pardonable enough to
have mistaken them for a band of brigands, or, at all events, a party
They were neither one nor the other, however; but honest Spanish
muleteers, on their way to a French market, with commodities produced
on the southern side of the mountains.
As our travellers came up, they were in the act of discussing a
luncheon, which consisted simply of black bread, tough goat's-milk
cheese, and thin Malaga winethe last carried in a skin bag, out of
which each individual drank in his turn, simply holding up the bag and
pouring the wine by a small jet down his throat.
They were good-humoured fellows, and invited our travellers to taste
their wine; which invitation it would have been ill-mannered to refuse.
Ivan and Alexis emptied some out into their silver cupswhich they
carried slung conveniently to their belts; but Pouchskin not having his
can so ready, essayed to drink the wine after the fashion of the
muleteers. But the goat-skin bag, clumsily manipulated in the hands of
the old guardsman, instead of sending the stream into his mouth, jetted
it all over his face and into his eyes, blinding and half-choking him!
As he stood in his stultified attitude, wine-skin in hand, the precious
fluid running down his nose, and dripping from the tips of his grand
mustachios, he presented a picture that caused the muleteers to laugh
till the tears ran down their cheeks; shouting out their bravos
and other exclamations, as if they were applauding some exquisite piece
of performance in a theatre.
Pouchskin took it all in good part, and the muleteers pressed him to
try again; but, not caring to expose himself to a fresh burst of
ridicule, the old grenadier borrowed the cup of one of his young
masters; and by the help of this managed matters a little more to his
mind. As the wine tasted good to the old soldier's palate, and as the
hospitable muleteers invited him to drink as much as he pleased, it was
not until the goat-skin bag exhibited symptoms of collapse, that he
returned it to its owners.
Perhaps had Pouchskin not indulged so freely in the seducing Malaga
tipple, he might have avoided a very perilous adventure which befell
him almost on the instant, and which we shall now relate.
Our travellers, after exchanging some further civilities with the
muleteers, had once more mounted, and were about proceeding on their
way. Pouchskin, riding his great French jennet, had started in the
advance. Just in front of him, however, the pack mules were standing in
a clusternot only blocking up the path, but barring the way on both
sidesso that to get beyond them it would be necessary to pass through
their midst. The animals all seemed tranquil enoughsome picking at
the bushes that were within their reach, but most of them standing
perfectly still, occasionally shaking their long ears, or changing one
leg to throw the weight upon another. Pouchskin saw that it was
necessary to pass among them; and, probably, had he squeezed quietly
through, they might have remained still, and taken no notice of him.
But, elated with the wine he had drunk, the ex-grenadier, instead of
following this moderate course, drove his spurs into his great French
hybrid, and with a loud charging yellsuch as might have issued from
the throat of a Cossackhe dashed right into the midst of the drove.
Whether it was because the animal he bestrode was French, or whether
something in Pouchskin's voice had sounded ill in their ears, it is not
possible to say, but all, at once the whole Spanish mulada was
perceived to be in motioneach individual mule rushing towards
Pouchskin with pricked ears, open mouth, and tail elevated in the air!
It was too late for him to hear the cry of the izzard-hunter,
prenez-garde! or the synonym, guarda te! of the muleteers.
He may have heard both these cautionary exclamations, but they reached
him too late to be of any service to him: for before he could have
counted six, at least twice that number of mules had closed round him,
and with a simultaneous scream commenced snapping and biting at both
him and his French roadster with all the fury of famished wolves! In
vain did the stalwart jennet defend itself with its shod hoofs, in vain
did its rider lay round him with his whip: for not only did the Spanish
mules assail him with their teeth, but, turning tail as well, they sent
their heels whistling around his head, and now and then thumping
against his legs, until his leather boots and breeches cracked under
Of course the muleteers, on perceiving Pouchskin's dilemma, had
rushed instantaneously to the rescue; and with loud cries and cracking
of their whipsas muleteers alone can crack themwere endeavouring to
beat off the assailants. But, with all their exertions, backed by their
authority over the animals, Pouchskin might have fared badly enough,
had not an opportunity offered for extricating himself. His animal,
fleeing from the persecution of its Spanish enemies, had rushed in
among some boulders of rock. Thither it was hotly pursued; and
Pouchskin would again have been overtaken, had he not made a very
skilful and extensive leap out of the saddle, and landed himself on a
ledge of rock. From this he was able to clamber still higher, until he
had reached a point that entirely cleared him of the danger.
The French jennet, however, had still to sustain the attack of the
infuriated mules; but, now that it was relieved from the encumbrance of
its heavy rider, it gained fresh confidence in its long legs; and
making a dash through the midst of the mulada, it struck off up
the mountain-path, and galloped clear out of sight. The mules,
encumbered with their packs, did not show any inclination to follow,
and the drama was thus brought to a termination.
The woe-begone look of the old guardsman, as he stood perched upon
the high pinnacle of rock, was again too much for the muleteers; and
one and all of them gave utterance to fresh peals of laughter. His
young masters were too much concerned about their faithful Pouchskin to
give way to mirth; but on ascertaining that he had only received a few
insignificant bruises,thanks to the Spanish mules not being shod,
they, too, were very much disposed to have a laugh at his expense.
Alexis was of opinion that their follower had made rather free with the
wine-skin; and therefore regarded the chastisement rather in the light
of a just retribution.
It cost the izzard-hunter a chase before Pouchskin's runaway could
be recovered; but the capture of the jennet was at length effected;
and, all things being set to-rights, a parting salute was once more
exchanged with the muleteers, and the travellers proceeded on their
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO. THE PYRENEAN
It was well they had the izzard-hunter for a guide, for without him
they might have searched a long time without finding a bear. These
animals, although plenteous enough in the Pyrenees some half-century
ago, are now only to be met with in the most remote and solitary
places. Such forest-tracts, as lie well into the interior gorges of the
mountains, and where the lumberer's axe never sounds in his ears, are
the winter haunts of the Pyrenean bear; while in summer he roams to a
higher elevationalong the lower edge of the snowfields and glaciers,
where he finds the roots and bulbs of many Alpine plants, and even
lichens, congenial to his taste. He sometimes steals into the lower
valleys, where these are but sparsely cultivated; and gathers a meal of
young maize, or potatoes, where such are grown. Of truffles he is as
fond as a Parisian sybarite,scenting them with a keenness far
excelling that of the regular truffle dog, and rooting them out from
under the shade of the great oak trees, where these rare delicacies are
Like his near congener, the brown bear, he is frugivorous; and, like
most other members of their common family, he possesses a sweet tooth,
and will rob bees of their honey whenever he can find a hive. He is
carnivorous at times, and not unfrequently makes havoc among the flocks
that in summer are fed far up on the declivities of the mountains; but
it has been observed by the shepherds, that only odd individuals are
given to this sanguinary practice, and, as a general rule, the bear
will not molest their sheep. On this account, a belief exists among the
mountaineers that there are two kinds of bears in the Pyrenees; one, an
eater of fruits, roots, and larvae,the other, of more
carnivorous habits, that eats flesh, and preys upon such animals as he
can catch. The latter they allege to be larger, of more fierce
disposition, and when assailed, caring not to avoid an encounter with
man. The facts may be true, but the deduction erroneous. The
izzard-hunter's opinion was that the Pyrenean bears were all of one
species; and that, if there were two kinds, one was a younger and more
unsophisticated sort, the other a bear whom greater age has rendered
more savage in disposition. The same remark will apply to the Pyrenean
bear that is true of the ursus arctos,viz., having once eaten
flesh, he acquires a taste for it; and to gratify this, of course the
fiercest passions of his nature are called into play. Hunger may have
driven him to his first meal of flesh-meat; and afterwards he seeks it
The izzard-hunter's father remembered when bears were common enough
in the lower valleys; and then not only did the flocks of sheep and
goats suffer severely, but the larger kinds of cattle were often
dragged down by the ravenous bruteseven men lost their lives in
encounters with them! In modern times, such occurrences were rare, as
the bears kept high up the mountains, where cattle were never taken,
and where men went very seldom. The hunter stated, that the bears were
much sought after by hunters like himself, as their skins were greatly
prized, and fetched a good price; that the young bears were also very
valuable, and to capture a den, of cubs was esteemed a bit of rare good
luck: since these were brought up to be used in the sports of
bear-baiting and bear-dancing, spectacles greatly relished in the
frontier towns of France.
He knew of no particular mode for taking bears. Their chase was too
precarious to make it worth while; and they were only encountered
accidentally by the izzard-hunters, when in pursuit of their own
regular game. Then they were killed by being shot, if old ones; and if
young, they captured them by the aid of their dogs.
So scarce are they, added the hunter, that I have killed only
three this whole season; but I know where there's a fourtha fine
fellow too; and if you feel inclined
The young Russians understood the hint. Money is all-powerful
everywhere; and a gold coin will conduct to the den of a Pyrenean bear,
where the keenest-scented hound or the sharpest-sighted hunter would
fail to find it. In an instant almost, the bargain was made. Ten
dollars for the haunt of the bear!
The Pic du Midi d'Ossau was now in sight; and, leaving the
beaten path that passed near its base, our hunters turned off up a
lateral ravine. The sides and bottom of this ravine were covered with a
stunted growth of pine-trees; but as they advanced further into it, the
trees assumed greater dimensionsuntil at length they were riding
through a tall and stately forest. It was, to all appearance, as
wild and primitive as if it had been on the banks of the Amazon or amid
the Cordilleras of the Andes. Neither track nor trail was seenonly
the paths made by wild beasts, or such small rodent animals as had
their home there.
The izzard-hunter said that he had killed lynxes in this forest; and
at night he would not care to be alone in it, as it was a favourite
haunt of the black wolves. With, such company, however, he had no fear:
as they could kindle fires and keep the wolves at bay.
The neighbourhood, in which he expected to find the bear, was more
than two miles from the place where they had entered the forest. He
knew the exact spot where the animal was at that moment lyingthat is,
he knew its cave. He had seen it only a few days before going into this
cave; but as he had no dogs with him, and no means of getting the bear
out, he had only marked the place, intending to return, with a comrade
to help him. Some business had kept him at Eaux Bonnes, till the
arrival of the strangers; and learning their intentions, he had
reserved the prize for them. He had now brought his dogstwo great
creatures they were, evidently of lupine descentand with these Bruin
might be baited till he should come forth from his cave. But that plan
was only to be tried as a last resource. The better way would be to
wait till the bear started out on his midnight ramble,a thing he
would be sure to do, then close up the mouth of the cave, and lie in
ambush for his return. He would not come home till morning, said the
izzard-hunter; and they would have light to take aim, and fire at him
from their different stations.
It seemed a feasible plan, and as our adventurers now placed
themselves in the hands of the native hunter, it was decided they
should halt where they were, kindle a fire, and make themselves as
comfortable as they could, until the hour when Bruin might be expected
to go out upon his midnight prowl.
A roaring fire was kindled; and Pouchskin's capacious haversack
being turned inside out, all four were soon enjoying their
dinner-supper with that zest well-known to those who have ridden twenty
miles up a steep mountain-road.
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE. THE
They passed the time pleasantly enough, listening to the stories of
the izzard-hunter, who related to them much of the lore current among
the peasantry of the mountainstales of the chase, and of the
contraband trade carried on between Spain and France, besides many
anecdotes about the Peninsular war, when the French and English armies
were campaigning in the Pyrenees. In this conversation Pouchskin took
part: for nothing was of greater interest to the old soldier than
souvenirs of those grand times, when Pouchskin entered Paris. The
conversation of the izzard-hunter related chiefly to his own calling,
and upon this theme he was enthusiastic. He told them of all the
curious habits of the izzard; and among others that of its using its
hooked horns to let itself down from the cliffsa fancy which is
equally in vogue among the chamois hunters of the Alps, but which
Alexis did not believe, although he did not say sonot wishing to
throw a doubt on the veracity of their guide. The latter, however, when
closely questioned upon the point, admitted that he had never himself
been an eye-witness of this little bit of goat gymnastics; he had only
heard of it from other hunters, who said they had seen it; and similar,
no doubt, would be the answer of every one who spoke the truth about
this alleged habit of the chamois. The fact is, that this active
creature needs no help from its horns. Its hoofs are sufficient to
carry it along the very narrowest ledges; and the immense leaps it can
take either upward or downward, can be compared to nothing but the
flight of some creature furnished with wings. Its hoof, too, is sure,
as its eye is unerring. The chamois never slips upon the smoothest
rocksany more than would a squirrel upon the branch of a tree.
Our travellers questioned the izzard-hunter about the profits of his
calling. They were surprised to find that the emolument was so
trifling. For the carcass of an izzard he received only ten francs; and
for the skins two or three more! The flesh or venison was chiefly
purchased by the landlords of the hotelsof which there are hundreds
at the different watering-places on the French side of the Pyrenees.
The visitors were fond of izzard, and called for it at the table.
Perhaps they did not relish it so much as they pretended to do; but
coming from great cities, and places where they never saw a chamois,
they wished to be able to say they had eaten of its flesh. In this
conjecture the izzard-hunter was, perhaps, not far out. A considerable
quantity of game of other kinds is masticated from a like motive.
It was suggested by Ivan, that, with such a demand for the flesh,
the izzard should fetch a better price. Ten francs was nothing?
Ah! replied the hunter with a sigh, that is easily explained,
monsieur! The hotel-keepers are too cunning, both for us and their
guests. If we were to charge more, they would not take it off our
But they would be under the necessity of having it, since their
guests call for it.
So they do; and if there were no goats, our izzard-venison
would sell at a higher price.
How? demanded Ivan, puzzled to make out the connection between
goats and izzard-venison.
Goats and izzards are too much alike, monsieurthat is, after
being skinned and cut up. The hotel-keeper knows this, and often makes
`Nanny' do duty for izzard. Many a hotel traveller at Eaux Bonnes may
be heard praising our izzard's flesh, when it is only a quarter of
young kid he's been dining upon. Ha! ha! ha!
And the hunter laughed at the cheatthough he well knew that its
practice seriously affected the income of his own calling.
But, indeed, if the truth had been told, the man followed the chase
far less from a belief in its being a remunerative profession, than
from an innate love for the hunter's life. So enthusiastic was he upon
the theme, that it was easy to see he would not have exchanged his
calling for any othereven had the change promised him a fortune! It
is so with professional hunters in all parts of the world, who submit
to hardships, and often the greatest privations, for that still sweeter
privilege of roaming the woods and wilds at will, and being free from
the cares and trammels that too often attach themselves to social life.
Conversing on such topics, the party sat around the bivouac fire
until after sunset, when their guide admonished them that they would do
well to take a few hours of sleep. There was no necessity for going
after the bear until a very late hourthat is, until near morningfor
then the beast would be most likely to be abroad. If they went too
soon, and found him still in his cave, it was not so certain that even
the dogs could prevail on him to turn out. It might be a large cavern.
He might give battle to the dogs inside; and big as they were, they
would be worsted in an encounter of that sort: since a single blow from
the paw of a bear is sufficient to silence the noisiest individual of
the canine kind. The dogsas the hunter again repeatedshould only be
used as a last resource. The other plan promised better; as the bear,
once shut out of his cave, would be compelled to take to the woods. The
dogs could then follow him up by the fresh scent; and unless he should
succeed in finding some other cavern in which to ensconce himself, they
might count upon coming up with him. It was not uncommon for the
Pyrenean bear, when pursued by dogs and men, to take to a tree; and
this would be all that their hearts could desire: since in a tree the
bear would be easily reached by the bullets of their guns. Besides,
they might have a chance, when he returned to his closed cave, to shoot
him down at once; and that would end the matter without further
It was not necessary to go to the cave until near morningjust
early enough to give them time to close up the entrance, and set
themselves in ambush before day broke. On this account the guide
recommended them to take some sleep. He would answer for it that they
should be waked up in time.
This advice was cheerfully accepted and followed. Even Pouchskin
required repose, after the rough handling he had received at the mouths
of the mules; and he was now quite as ready as his young masters to
wrap himself up in his ample grenadier great-coat, and surrender
himself into the arms of the Pyrenean Morpheus.
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR. THE AMBUSCADE.
True to his promise, the izzard-hunter awoke them about an hour
before dawn; and having saddled and bridled their animals, they mounted
and rode off. Among the great tree trunks it was very dark; but the
hunter knew the ground; and, after groping along for half a mile
farther, and somewhat slowly, they arrived at the base of a cliff.
Keeping along this for some distance farther, they came at length to
the place of their destinationthe mouth of the cave. Even through the
gloom, they could see a darker spot upon the face of the rock, which
indicated the entrance. It was of no great sizeabout large enough to
admit the body of a man in a stooping attitudebut the hunter was
under the impression that it widened inward, and led to a grand cavern.
He drew his inference, not from having ever explored this particular
cave, but from knowing that there were many others of a similar kind in
that part of the mountains, where the limestone formation was
favourable to such cavities. Had it been only a hole just big enough
for the den of a bear, he would have acted very differentlythen there
would have been a hope of drawing Bruin out with the dogs; but if the
place was an actual cavern, where the beast might range freely about,
she hunter knew there would be no chance of getting him out. Their
presence outside once suspected, the bear might remain for days within
his secure fortress; and a siege would have to be laid, which would be
a tedious affair, and might prove fruitless in the end.
For this reason, great caution had been observed as they drew near
the cave. They feared that they might come upon the bear, by chance
wandering about in the woods,that he might hear them, and, taking the
alarm, scamper back to his cavern.
Acting under this apprehension, they had left their animals a good
way offhaving tied them to the treesand had approached the cave on
foot, without making the slightest noise, and talking to each other
only in whispers.
The izzard-hunter now proceeded to put his designs into execution.
While the others had been sleeping, he had prepared a large torch, out
of dry splinters of the stone pine; and now quietly igniting this, set
it in the ground near the base of the cliff. The moment the bright
flame illuminated the entrance to the cave, all stood with their guns
in hand ready to fire. They were not sure that Bruin had gone out at
all. He might still be a-bed. If so, the light of the torch might wake
him up and tempt him forth; therefore it was best to be prepared for
such a contingency.
The izzard-hunter now slipped his dogs, which up to this time he had
held securely in the leash. As soon as they were free, the well-trained
animals, knowing what was expected of them, rushed right into the care.
For some seconds the dogs kept up a quick continuous yelping, and
their excited manner told that they at least scented a bear: but the
question to be determined was, whether the brute was still in his den.
The hunter had surmised correctly. The aperture conducted to a real
cavern, and a very large oneas could be told by the distance at which
the yelping of the dogs was heard. Out of such a place it would have
been hopeless to have thought of starting a bearunless it should
please Bruin to make a voluntary exit. It was, therefore, with no
little anxiety that the hunters listened to the tongue of the dogs,
as it echoed within the cavernous hollow.
They all knew that if the bear should prove to be inside, the dogs
would soon announce the fact by their barking, and other fierce sounds
characteristic of canine strife.
They were not kept long in suspense; for, after an interval of less
than a minute, both dogs came running out, with that air of
disappointment that told of their having made an idle exploration.
Their excited movements, however, proved that the scent of the bear
was freshthat he had only recently forsaken his denfor the dogs had
been heard scratching among the sticks and grass that composed it; but
this only showed clearly that his habitation was untenanted, and Bruin
was not at home.
This was just what the izzard-hunter desired; and all of them laying
aside their guns, proceeded to close up the entrance. This was an easy
task. Loose boulders lay around, and with these a battery was soon
built across the mouth of the cavern, through which no animal could
possibly have made an entrance.
The hunters now breathed freely. They felt certain they had cut off
the retreat of the bear; and unless he should suspect something wrong,
and fail to return to his cave, they would be pretty sure of having a
shot at him.
Nothing remained but to place themselves in ambush, and wait for his
coming. How to conceal themselves became the next consideration. It was
a question, too, of some importance. They knew not which way the bear
might come. He might see them while approaching, and trot off again
before a shot could be fired? To prevent this some extraordinary
measure must be adopted.
A plan soon presented itself to the practised hunter of the
Pyrenees. Directly in front of the cliff grew several large trees. They
were of the pinus sylvestris, and thickly covered with bunches
of long needle-shaped leaves. If they should climb into these trees,
the leaves and branches would sufficiently conceal them, and the bear
would hardly suspect their presence in such a situation.
The suggestion of their guide was at once acted upon. Ivan and
Pouchskin got into one tree, while the izzard-hunter and Alexis chose
another; and all having secured places where they could command a view
of the walled-up entrance without being themselves seen, they waited
for daylight and the coming back of the bear.
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE. A BEAR IN A
For the light they had not long to wait. The day broke almost as
soon as they had got well settled in their places; but the bear was
likely to delay them a little longerthough how long it was impossible
to guess, since his return to his sleeping quarters might depend on
Formerly the Pyrenean bearsso the izzard-hunter saidwere often
met with ranging about in the day-time; but that was when they were
more numerous, and less hunted. Now that they were scarce, and their
skins so highly prizedwhich, of course, led to their becoming scarcer
every day, and more shy toothey rarely ever left their hiding-place
except during the night, and in this way they contrived to escape the
vigilance of the hunters. As to the one they were waiting for, the
hunter said he might return earlier or later, according to whether he
had been much chased of late.
The exact time of his return, however, was soon after ascertained,
by the bear himself making his appearance right under their noses.
All at once, and in the most unexpected manner, the great quadruped
came shuffling up to the mouth of the cave. He was evidently moving
under some excitement, as if pursued, or alarmed by something he had
seen in the woods. It was perhaps the sight of the horses, or else the
scent of the hunters themselveson whose track he appeared to have
come. Whatever it was, the party in the trees did not take time to
consider, or rather the bear did not give them time; for, the moment he
reached the entrance to his cave, and saw that it was blocked up, he
gave utterance to a terrific scream expressing disappointment, and
turning in his tracks, bounded off, as rapidly as he had come up!
The volley of four shots, fired from the trees, caused some of his
fur to fly off; and he was seen to stagger, as if about to fall. The
hunters raised a shout of triumph, thinking they had been successful;
but their satisfaction was short-lived: for, before the echoes of their
voices died along the cliff, the bear seemed once more to recover his
equilibrium, and ran steadily on.
Once or twice he was seen to stop, and face round to the treesas
if threatening to charge towards them; but again resigning the
intention, he increased his speed, went off at a lumbering gallop, and
was soon lost to their sight.
The disappointed hunters rapidly descended from their perch; and
letting loose the dogs, started off on the trail. Somewhat to their
surprise, as well as gratification, it led near the place where they
had left their animals; and as they came up to these, they had proofs
of the bear having passed that way, by seeing all four, both ponies and
mules, dancing about, as if suddenly smitten with madness. The ponies
were whighering, and the mules squealing, so that their owners had
heard them long before coming in sight of them. Fortunately the animals
had been securely fastenedelse there was no knowing whither they
would have galloped, so panic-stricken did they appear.
Our hunters believed it a fortunate circumstance that the bear had
gone that way; for the guide assured them that there was no telling
where he would now stop; and as the chase might carry them for miles
through the mountains, they would have been compelled to take to their
saddles before starting upon it. The direction the bear had taken,
therefore, was just the one most convenient for his pursuers.
Staying no longer than to untie their animals, they once more
mounted, and kept after the dogs, whose yelping they could hear already
some distance in the advance.
As the izzard-hunter said, the Pyrenean bear, like his Norwegian
cousin, when started from his lair, often scours the country to a great
distance before making haltnot unfrequently deserting the ravine or
mountain-side, where he habitually dwells, and making for some other
place, where he anticipates finding greater security.
In this way he often puts his pursuers at faultby passing over
rocky shingle, along ledges of cliffs, or up precipitous slopes, where
neither men nor dogs can safely follow him. This was just what they now
had to fear; for the guide well knew that the forest they were in was
surrounded on almost every side by rocky cliffs; and if the bear should
get up these, and make to the bald mountains above, they would stand a
good chance of losing him altogether.
But one hope the hunter had. He had perceivedas indeed they all
had that several of their shots had hit the bearand that he must be
severely wounded to have staggered as he had done. For this reason he
might seek a hiding-place in the forest, or perchance take to a tree.
Cheered by this hope, the pursuers pushed onward.
The conjecture proved to be a just one; for before they had gone
half a mile farther, a continuous barking sounded on their ears, which
they knew to be that of the dogs. They knew, moreover, by this sign,
that the bear had done one of three thingseither taken to a tree,
retreated into a cave, or come to a stand in the open ground, and was
keeping the dogs at bay. Of the three conjectures, they desired that
the first should prove the correct one; and from the manner in which
the dogs were giving tongue, they had reason to hope that it would.
In effect, so it did; for, on getting a little closer, the two dogs
were seen bounding about the roots of an enormous tree, at intervals
springing up against its trunk, and barking at some object that had
taken refuge in the branches above.
Of course, this object could only be the bear; and under this
belief, the pursuers approached the treeeach holding his gun cocked
and ready to fire.
When they had got quite up to the tree, and stood under it, no bear
was to be seen! A large black mass was visible among the topmost
branches; but this was not the body of a bear: it was something
altogether different. The tree was one of gigantic sizethe very
largest they had seen in the whole forest; it was a pine, of the
species sylvestris, with huge spreading limbs, and branches
thickly covered with fascicles of long leaves. In many places the
foliage was dark and dense enough to have afforded concealment to an
animal of considerable size; but not one so bulky as a bear; and had
there been nothing else but the leaves and branches to conceal him, a
bear could not have found shelter in that tree without being visible
from below. And yet a bear was actually in itthe very same bear they
were in pursuit ofthough not a bit of his bodynot even the tip of
his snout, was visible to the eyes of the hunters!
He was certainly there: for the dogs, who were not trusting to their
eyes, but to that in which they placed far more confidencetheir
scent,by their movements and behaviour, showed their positive belief
that Bruin was in the tree.
Perhaps you will fancy that the pine was a hollow one, and that the
bear had crept inside. Nothing of the kind: the tree was perfectly
sound not even a knot-hole was visible either in its trunk or limbs.
It was not in a cavity that Bruin had been able to conceal himself.
There was no mystery whatever about their not seeing him: for as
soon as the hunters got fairly under the tree, and looked up, they
perceived, amidst its topmost branches, the dark object already
mentioned; and as the bear could be seen nowhere else in the tree, this
object accounted for his being invisible.
You will be wondering what it was; and so wondered our young hunters
when they first raised their eyes to it. It looked more like a stack of
faggots than aught else; and, indeed, very good faggots would it have
made: since it consisted of a large mass of dry sticks and branches,
resting in an elevated fork of the tree, and matted together into a
solid mass. There were enough to have made a load for an ordinary cart,
and so densely packed together, that only around the edges could the
sky be seen through them; towards the centre, and for a diameter as
large as a millstone, the mass appeared quite solid and black, not a
ray of light passing through the interwoven sticks.
The nest of a lammergeyer! exclaimed the izzard-hunter, the moment
his eye glanced up to it. Just so!my dogs are right: the bear has
taken shelter in the nest of the birds!
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX. THE
This was evident to all. Bruin had climbed the tree, and was now
snugly ensconced in the great nest of the vulture-eagles, though not a
hair of his shaggy hide could be visible from below.
The hunters had no doubt about his being there. The chasseur
was too confident in the instinct of his well-trained dogs to doubt
them for a moment, and his companions had no reason to question a fact
so very probable. Had there been any doubt, it would soon have been set
aside, by an incident that occurred the moment after their arrival
under the tree. As they stood looking upward, two great birds were seen
upon the wing, rapidly swooping downward from on high. They were
lammergeyers, and evidently the owners of the invaded nest. That
the intruder was not welcome there, became apparent in the next moment;
for both the birds were seen shooting in quick curves around the top
branches of the tree, flapping their wings over the nest, and screaming
with all the concentrated rage of creatures in the act of being
plundered. Whether Bruin, in addition to his unwelcome presence, had
also committed burglary, and robbed the eagles of their eggs or young,
could not be told. If he had done so, he could not have received
greater objurgation from the infuriated birds, that continued their
noisy demonstrations, until a shot fired from below admonished them of
the presence of that biped enemy far more dreaded than the bear. Then
did they only widen the circle of their flight, still continuing to
swoop down over the nest at intervals, and uttering their mingled cries
of rage and lamentation.
The shot was from the gun of the izzard-hunter; but it was not till
after he had been some time upon the ground that he had fired it. All
four had previously dismounted and fastened their animals to the
surrounding trees. They knew that the bear was in the nest; but
although his retreat was now cut off, it was still not so certain that
they should succeed in making a capture. Had the bear taken refuge in a
fork, or even among thick branches, where their bullets might have
reached him, it would have been a very different thing. They might then
have brought him down at their pleasure, for if killed, or severely
wounded, he must have fallen to the ground; but nowah, now! what was
to be done? The broad platform of the nest not only gave him a surface
on which he could recline at his ease, but its thick mass formed a
rampart through which not even a bullet would be likely to penetrate to
How were they to reach him with their bullets? That was the next
question that came under consideration. The odd shot had been fired as
an experiment. It was fired in the hope that it might startle the bear,
and cause him to shift his quartersif only a littleso that some
part of his body might be exposed; and while the izzard-hunter was
discharging his piece, the others had stood watching for a chance. None
was given to them, however. The bullet was heard striking the sticks,
and caused the dust to puff out, but it produced no further effectnot
a move was made by the occupant of that elevated eyrie.
Two or three more shots were fired with like effect; and the fusil
of Pouchskin was next called into requisition, and brought to bear upon
the nest. The large bullet crashed up among the dry sticks, scattering
the fragments on all sides, and raising a cloud of dust that enveloped
the whole top of the tree. But not a sign came from Bruin, to tell that
it had disturbed him; not even a growl, to reward Pouchskin for the
expenditure of his powder and lead. It was evident that this mode of
proceeding could be of no service; and the firing was at once
discontinuedin order that they might take into consideration some
other plan of attack.
At first there appeared to be no way by which the bear might be
ousted from his secure quarters. They might fire away until they should
empty both their powder-horns and pouches, and all to no purpose. They
might just as well fire their shots into the air. So far as their
bullets were concerned, the bear might bid them defiancea cannon shot
alone could have gone through his strong rampart of sticks.
What could they do to get at him? To climb up and assail him where
he lay was not to be thought ofeven could they have climbed into the
nest. On the firm ground, none of them would have liked to risk an
encounter with the enemy, much less upon such insecure footing as a
nest of rotten sticks. But they could not have got into the nest,
however bent upon such a thing. Its wide rim extended far beyond the
supporting branches; and only a monkey, or the bear himself, could have
clambered over its edge. To a human being, ascent to the nest would
have been not only difficult, but impossible; and no doubt the instinct
of the eagles guided them to this while they were constructing it. Not
for a moment, then, did our hunters think of climbing up to their
What, then, were they to do? The only thing they could think of was
to cut down the tree. It would be a great undertaking: for the trunk
was several feet in diameter; and as they had only one axe, and that
not a very sharp one, it would be a work of time. They might be days in
felling that gigantic pine; and even when down, the bear might still
escape from themfor it did not follow that the fall of the tree would
result in the consummation of his capture. It might swing over
gradually and easily, or, striking against others, let the bear down
without doing him the slightest damage; and in the confusion consequent
on its fall, he would have a good chance of getting off.
These considerations caused them to hesitate about cutting down the
tree, and reflect whether there might not be some easier and more
effective method for securing the skin of the bear.
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN. FIRING THE
After beating their brains, for some time to no purpose, an
exclamation from the izzard-hunter at length announced that some happy
idea had occurred to him. All eyes were at once turned towards him;
while the voice of Ivan was quickly heard, interrogating him as to the
object of his exclamation.
I've got a plan, young monsieur! replied the hunter, by which
I'll either force the bear to come down, or roast him up yonder where
he lies. Parbleu! I've got an excellent idea!
What is it? what is it? eagerly inquired Ivan; though from what
the izzard-hunter had said, he already half comprehended the design.
Patience, young monsieur! in a minute you shall see!
All three now gathered around the chasseur, and watched his
They saw him pour a quantity of gunpowder into the palm of his hand;
and then tear a strip of cotton rag from a large piece which he had
drawn out of his pouch. This he saturated with saliva and then coated
it over with the powder. He next proceeded to rub both rag and powder
togetheruntil, after a considerable friction between the palms of his
hands, the cotton became once more dry, and was now thoroughly
saturated with the powder, and quite blackened with it.
The next proceeding on the part of the chasseur was to procure a
small quantity of dead moss, which was easily obtained from the trunks
of the surrounding trees; and this, mixed with a handful or two of dry
grass, he rolled up into a sort of irregular clew.
The man now felt in his pouch; and, after a little fumbling there,
brought forth a small box that was seen to contain lucifer-matches.
Seemingly satisfied with their inspection, he returned the box to its
place, and then made known the object for which all these preliminary
manoeuvres had been practised. Our young hunters had already more than
half divined it, and it only confirmed their anticipations when the
hunter declared his intention to climb the tree and set fire to the
nest. It is needless to say that one and all of them approved of
the scheme, while they admired its originality and cunning. Its
boldness, too, did not escape their admiration, for it was clearly a
feat of daring and danger. The bottom of the nest might be reached
easily enough; for though a tall tree, it was by no means a difficult
one to climb. There were branches all along its trunk from bottom to
top; and to a Pyrenean hunter, who, when a boy, as he told them, had
played pigeon vidette in one of the crows' nests they had seen, the
climbing of such a tree was nothing. It was not in this that the danger
lay, but in something very different. It was in the contingency, that,
while up in the branches, and before he could effect his purpose, the
bear might take a fancy to come down. Should he do so, then, indeed,
would the life of the venturesome hunter be in deadly peril.
He made light of the matter, however, and, warning the others to get
their guns ready and stand upon their guard, he sprang forward to the
trunk, and commenced swarming upward.
Almost as rapidly as a bear itself could have ascended, the
izzard-hunter glided up the tree, swinging himself from branch to
branch, and resting his naked feetfor he had thrown off his shoeson
knots and other inequalities, where no branch offered. In this way he
at length got so close to the nest, that he could without difficulty
thrust his hand into the bottom of it.
He was now seen drawing forth a number of the dry sticks, and
forming a cavity near the lower part of the huge mass. He operated with
great silence and circumspectiontaking all the care he could not to
make his presence known to the bear, nor in any way disturb whatever
dreams or reflections Bruin might then be indulging in.
In a short time he had hollowed out a little chamber among the
sticks just large enough for his purpose,and, taking the ball of
dry grass out of his pouch, he loosened it a little, and then placed it
within the cavity.
It was but the work of another minute to light a lucifer-match, and
set fire to the long strips of tinder rag that hung downwards from the
This done, the izzard-hunter swung himself to the next branch below;
and, even faster than he had gone up, he came scrambling down the
Just as he reached the ground, the grass was seen catching; and
amidst the blue smoke that was oozing thickly out of the little
chamber, and slowly curling up around the edges of the nest, a red
blaze could be distinguishedaccompanied with that crackling noise
that announces the kindling of a fire.
The four hunters stood ready, watching the progress of the little
flameat the same time directing their glances around the rim of the
They had not long to wait for the denouement. The smoke had
already caught the attention of the bear; and the snapping of the dry
faggots, as they came in contact with the blazing grass, had awakened
him to a sense of his dangerous situation.
Long before the blaze had mounted near him, he was seen craning his
neck over the edge of the nest; first on one side, then on another, and
evidently not liking what he saw. Once or twice he came very near
having a bullet sent at his head; but his restlessness hindered them
from getting a good aim, and for the time he was left alone.
Not for long, however: for he did not much longer remain upon his
elevated perch. Whether it was the smoke that he was unable longer to
endure, or whether he knew that the conflagration was at hand, does not
clearly appear; but from his movements it was evident the nest was
getting too hot to hold him.
And no doubt it was too hot at that crisis. Had he remained in it
but two minutes longer, an event would have occurred that would have
ruined everything. The bear would either have been roasted to a cinder;
or, at all events, his skin would have been singed, and, of course,
completely spoilt for the purpose for which it was required!
Up to this moment that thought had never occurred to the young
hunters; and now that it did occur, they stood watching the movements
of the bear with feelings of keen apprehension. A shout of joy was
heard both from Alexis and Ivan as the great quadruped was seen
springing out from the smoke, and clutching to a thick branch that
traversed upward near the nest. Embracing the branch with his paws, he
commenced descending stern foremost along the limb; but a more rapid
descent was in store for him. Out of the four bullets fired into his
body, one at least must have reached a mortal part; for his forearms
were seen to relax their hold, his limbs slipped from the bark, and his
huge body came bump to the ground, where it lay motionless as a log
and just as lifeless.
Meanwhile the flames enveloped the nest, and in five minutes more
the whole mass was on fire, blazing upward like a beacon. The dry
sticks snapped and crackledthe pitchy branches of the pine hissed and
spurtedthe red cinders shot out like stars, and came showering down
to the earthwhile high overhead could be heard the vengeful cries of
the vultures, as they saw the destruction of their aerial habitation.
But the hunters took no heed of all this. Their task was
accomplished, or nearly so. It only remained to divest Bruin of his
much-coveted skin; and, having done this in a skilful and proper
manner, they mounted their roadsters, and once more took their route
across the mountains.
On reaching the first village on the Spanish side, they parted with
the expert izzard-hunter and his hired chargehaving well remunerated
him for his threefold service, each branch of which he had performed to
their entire satisfaction.
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT. SOUTH AMERICAN
Our travellers passed southward to Madrid, where they only remained
long enough to witness that exciting but not very gentle spectacle, a
Thence proceeding to Lisbon, they took passage direct for Para, or
Gran Para, as it is calleda thriving Brazilian settlement at the
mouth of the Amazon river, and destined at no very distant day to
become a great city.
The design of our hunters was to ascend the Amazon, and reach, by
one of its numerous head waters, the eastern slope of the Andes
mountains which they knew to be the habitat of the spectacled bear.
On arriving at Para, they were not only surprised, but delighted, to
find that the Amazon river was actually navigated by steamboats; and
that, instead of having to spend six months in ascending to the upper
part of this mighty riveras in the olden timethey could now
accomplish the journey in less than a score of days! These steamers are
the property of the Brazilian Government, that owns the greater part of
the Amazon valley, and that has shown considerable enterprise in
developing its resourcesmuch more than any of the Spano-American
States, which possess the regions lying upon the upper tributaries of
the Amazon. It is but fair to state, however, that the Peruvians have
also made an attempt to introduce steam upon the Amazon river; and that
they have been unsuccessful, from causes over which they could scarce
be expected to have control. The chief of these causes appears to have
been the dishonesty of certain American contractors, who provided them
with the steamersthree of themwhich, on being taken to the head of
steam navigation on the Amazon, were found to be utterly worthless, and
had to be laid up! This bit of jobbery is to be regretted the more,
since its bad effects do not alone concern the people of Peru, but the
whole civilised world: for there is not a country on the globe that
would not receive benefit by a development of the resources of this
Our young Russians had been under the belief, as most people are,
that the banks of the Amazon were entirely without civilised
settlements that the great river had scarcely been exploredthat
only a few travellers had descended this mighty stream; and that
altogether it was still as much of a terra incognita as in the
days of Orellana. They found that these notions were quite incorrect;
that not only is there the large town of Para near the mouth of the
Amazon, but there are other considerable settlements upon its banks, at
different distances from each other, all the way up to Peru. Even upon
some of its tributaries as the Rio Negro and Madeirathere are
villages and plantations of some importance. Barra, on the former
stream, is of itself a town of 2,000 inhabitants.
In that part of the Amazonian territory which lies within the
boundaries of Brazil, the settlements are, of course, Brazilianthe
settlers being a mixture of Portuguese negroes and Christianised
Indians. The portion of the great valley higher up towards the
Cordilleras of the Andes, belongs to the Spanish-American
governmentschiefly to Peru. There are also settlements of a
missionary character, the population of which consists almost entirely
of Indians, who have submitted themselves to the rule of the Spanish
priests. Years ago many of these missionary settlements were in a
flourishing condition; but at present they are in a complete state of
Our young Russians found, then, that the great South American river
was by no means unknown or unexploredthough as yet no great observer
has given an account of it. The different travellers who have descended
the Amazon, and written books about it, have all been men of slight
capacity, and lacking powers of scientific observation; and one cannot
help feeling regret, that Humboldt did not choose the Amazon, instead
of the Orinoco, as the medium of his valuable researches into the
cosmography of South America. Such a grand subject was worthy of such a
In ascending the Amazonwhich our party did by the Brazilian
steamer they were fortunate in finding on board a very intelligent
travelling companion; who gave them much information of the great
valley and its resources. This man was an old Portuguese trader, who
had spent nearly a lifetime in navigating not only the Amazon itself,
but many of its larger tributaries. His business was to collect from
the different Indian tribes the indigenous products of the forestor
montana, as it is calledwhich stretches almost without
interruption from the Andes to the Atlantic. In this vast tropical
forest there are many productions that have found their way into the
channels of commerce; and many others yet unknown or unregarded. The
principal articles obtained by the traders are sarsaparilla, Peruvian
bark, annatto, and other dyes, vanilla, Brazil nuts, Tonka beans,
hammocks, palm fibre, and several other kinds of spontaneous vegetable
productions. Monkeys, toucans, macaws, parrots, and other beautiful
birds, also enter into the list of Amazonian exports; while the imports
consist of such manufactured articles as may tempt the cupidity of the
savage, or the weapons necessary to him either in war or for the chase.
In this trade their travelling companion had spent thirty years of
his life; and being a man of intelligence he had not only acquired a
consider able fortune, but laid in a stock of geographical knowledge,
of which the young Russians were not slow to take advantage. In the
natural history of the montana he was well versed; and knew the
different animals and their habits from actual observationfor which
thirty years of adventure had given him a splendid opportunity. It was
a rich store, and our travellers, especially the naturalist Alexis, did
not fail to draw largely from it.
From the information given by this intelligent trader, Alexis was
enabled to determine several facts about the bears of South America,
that had hitherto been doubtful. He learnt that there are at least two
very distinct varieties of themone, the spectacled bear (ursus
ornatus)so called, on account of the whitish rings around his
eyes, suggesting the idea of spectacles; and another without these
white eye markings, and which has been lately named by a distinguished
German naturalist ursus frugilegus.
The former kind is known throughout the Peruvian countries as the
Hucumari, and although it inhabits the Cordilleras, it does not
ascend to the very cold elevations known as the paramos and puna.
On the contrary, it affects a warmer climate, and is not unfrequently
found straying into the cultivated valleys termed generally the
Sierra. The ursus frugilegus chiefly frequents the tangled
woods that cover the eastern spurs of the Andes, ranging often as far
down as the montana, and never so high as the declivities that border
on the region of snow.
Both of these species are black bears, and termed oso negro by the
Spanish-Americans; but the Hucumari is distinguished by a white list
under the throat, a white breast, a muzzle of a greyish buff colour,
and the crescent-like eye markings already mentioned. It is also of a
gentler disposition than its congener, smaller in size, and never preys
upon other animals. The other does sofrequently making havoc among
the flocks of sheep, and even attacking the cattle and horses of the
haciendas. The ursus frugilegus will give battle even to man
himselfwhen baited, or rendered furious by being chased.
Both these species are supposed to be confined to the Chilian and
Peruvian Andes. This is an erroneous supposition. They are equally
common in Bolivia, and in the sierras of New Grenada and Venezuela.
They are found on both sides of Lake Maracaiboin the sierras Perija
and Merida. One of them, at least, has also been observed in the
mountains of Guianathough naturalists have not met with it there.
Humboldt, it is true, saw the tracks of what the natives told him was a
bear on the Upper Orinoco; and, reasoning from their size, he drew the
inference that it must have been a much smaller species than the
ursus americanus; but in this matter the great philosopher was led
into an error by a misapplied name. He was informed that the animal was
the oso carnero, or flesh-eating beara title given by the Mission
Indians to distinguish it from two other animals, which they also
erroneously term bearsthe oso palmero, or great ant-eater (
tamanoir), and the oso hormiguero (tamandua). The animal by
whose tracks Humboldt was misled, was, no doubt, one of the smaller
plantigrade animals (coatis or grisons), of which there
are several species in the forests of South America.
Our hunters learnt enough from their travelling acquaintance to
convince them that, in whatever latitude they might approach the Andes
from the east, they would be certain to find both varieties of the
South American black bear; but that the best route they could take
would be up the great Napo river, which rises not very far from the old
Peruvian capital of Quito. In the wild provinces of Quixos and Macas,
lying to the east of Quitoand to which the Napo river would conduct
themthey would be certain to meet with the animals they were in
They would have been equally sure of meeting bears in the territory
of Jean de Bracamoros; and this would have been more easily reached;
but Alexis knew that by taking that route across the Cordilleras, they
would be thrown too far to the west for the isthmus of Panamawhich it
was necessary they should cross on their way to the northern division
of the American continent.
By keeping up the Napo to its source, and then crossing the
Cordilleras of New Granada, they would still be enabled to make
westerly as far as Panamato which port they could get passage in one
of the Grenadian coasting-vessels.
On arriving at the mouth of the Napo, therefore, they engaged a
periagua, with its Indian crew, and continued their journey up this
stream towards the still-distant Cordilleras of Quito.
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE. THE AMAZONIAN
The river Napo is one of the largest of the head waters of the
Amazon, and one of the most interestingsince, by it, most of the
early expeditionists descended in search of the country of the gilded
kings, and the gold-roofed temples of Manoa. Though these proved to be
fabulous, yet the existence of gold dust among the Indians of the Napo
was true enough, and is true to the present hour. On this river, and
its numerous branches, gold washings, or placers, are quite
common; and occasionally the savages, who roam over this region,
collect the dust, and exchange it with the traders who venture among
them. The Indians, however, are of too idle a habit to follow this
industry with any degree of energy; and whenever they have obtained a
quill full of the metallic sandjust enough to purchase them some
coveted nick-knack of civilised manufacturethey leave off work, and
the precious ingots are permitted to sleep undiscovered in their beds.
Notwithstanding the length of their journey up the Napo, our
travellers did not deem it tedious. The lovely tropical scenery, ever
under their eyes, together with the numerous little incidents which
were constantly occurring, relieved the monotony of their daily life,
and kept them in a constant state of interested excitement. At every
bend of the river appeared some object, new and worthy of
admirationsome grand tropical plant or tree, some strange quadruped,
or some bird of glorious plumage.
The craft in which they travelled was that in general use on the
upper tributaries of the Amazon: a large canoehollowed out from the
gigantic bombax ceiba, or silk-cotton treeand usually known as
a periagua. Over the stern part, or quarter-deck, a little
round house is erected, resembling the tilt of a wagon; but, instead
of ash hoops and canvas, it is constructed of bamboos and leaves of
trees. The leaves form a thatch to shade the sun from the little cabin
inside, and they are generally the large leaves of the vihai, a
species of heliconia, which grows abundantly in the tropical
forests of South America. Leaves of the musacaae (plantains
and bananas) serve for a similar purpose; and both kinds are
equally employed in thatching the huts in which the natives dwell.
The little cabin thus constructed is called a toldo. Inside
it is high enough for a man to sit upright, though not to stand; and
generally it is only used for sleeping in, or as a shelter during rain.
At other times the traveller prefers the open air; and sits or reclines
upon the roof of the toldo, which is constructed of sufficient strength
to bear his weight. The forward part of the periagua is left quite
open; and here the rowers take their stations, so that their movements
do not interfere with the comfort of the travellers.
Through the influence of the Portuguese trader, our party had the
good fortune to obtain a proper periagua and crew. They were
Christianised Indians, belonging to one of the Spanish missions
situated far up the Napo. They had descended this river with a cargo of
the products of the mission; and were just about starting to go back,
as our travellers arrived at the river's mouth. An agreement was easily
entered into with the capataz, or chief of the periagua; and as
our travellers always paid liberally for such service, and kept the
crew well fed, they received as good attendance and accommodation as
circumstances would admit of. Here and there on the banks of the
riverthough at very long intervals apartwere settlements of the
wild Indians of the forest; and as nearly all the tribes of Amazonia do
less or more in the way of cultivation and commerce, our travellers
were enabled from time to time to replenish their larder. Their guns,
too, helped materially to keep up the supply: since almost every day
game of one kind or another was procured along the banks. For bread
they had farinha, a good stock of which they had brought with
them on the steamer from Paru. This is the grated root of the manioc
plant (jatropha manihot), and forms the staple food of all
classes throughout the countries of Amazonia.
Alexis was particularly interested in what they saw. Never had
naturalist a finer field for observation. Here was nature presented to
the eye in its most normal condition. Here could be observed the
tropical forest in all its primeval virginity, unbroken by the axe of
the lumberer, and in many places untrodden even by the foot of the
hunter. Here its denizensquadrupeds, quadrumana, birds,
reptiles, and insectsmight be seen following out their various habits
of life, obedient only to the passions or instincts that had been
implanted in them by Nature herself, but little modified by the
presence of man. Now would appear a flock of capivarasor
chiguires, as they are also calledthe largest of rodent animals,
basking upon some sunny bank, raising their great rabbit-like heads,
and gazing curiously at the passing periagua. Perhaps before the
travellers had lost sight of them, the whole gang would be seen
suddenly starting from their attitudes of repose, and in desperate rush
making for the water. Behind them would appear the yellow-spotted body
of the jaguarthe true tyrant of the Amazonian forest, who, with a
single blow of his powerful paw would stretch a chiguire upon
the grass, and then, couching over his fallen victim, would tear its
body to pieces, drink its warm blood, and devour its flesh at his
If by good fortune the flock might all escape, and reach the water,
the jaguar, conscious of their superior adroitness in that element,
would at once abandon the pursuit; and returning to his ambush, lie
waiting for a fresh opportunity. But for all that, the poor chiguires
would not be certain of safety; for even in the water they might
encounter another enemy, equally formidable and cruel, in the gigantic
jacarethe crocodile of the Amazonian waters. Thus assailed in
either element, the poor innocent rodents are driven from land to
water, and from the water back again to the land; and so kept in a
state of continual fear and trembling. The puma, too, assails them, and
the jaguarundi, and the fierce coatimundi; and not
unfrequently the enormous anaconda enfolds them in its deadly
embrace; for the innocuous creatures can make no defence against their
numerous enemies; and but for that fecundity which characterises the
family to which they belongthe so called Guinea pigstheir race
would be in danger of total extirpation.
The chiguires were not the only gregarious animals observed by our
travellers in their ascent of the Napo. Others of a very different
order appeared in the peccaries, or wild pigs of the montana. These are true pachyderms, and in reality pigs; though naturalists
have seen fit to separate them from the genus Sus, and
constitute for them a genus of their own. It is hardly necessary to say
that this is a very useless proceedingsince the peccaries are neither
more nor less than true wild hogs, the indigenous representatives of
the suidae, on the American continent. Their classification into
a separate genus has been productive of no good purpose, but the very
contrary: since it has added to the number of zoological names, thereby
rendering still more difficult the study of that interesting science.
For such an endless vocabulary, we are chiefly indebted to the
speculations of anatomic naturalists, who, lacking opportunities of
actual observation, endeavour to make up for it by guesses and
conjectures, founded upon some little tubercle upon a tooth!
Notwithstanding their learned treatises, it often provesand very
often toothat these tubercles tell most abominable stories; in
plainer terms, that the animals lie in their teeth.
The peccarywhich the old writers were content to regard as a wild
pig, and very properly placed under the genus susis now termed
dicotyles. Two species only are yet known to naturaliststhe
white-lipped and collared (dicotyles labritus and
dicotyles collaris); and although they are rarely found frequenting
the same district of country, either one or the other kind can be
encountered in all the wilder parts of Americafrom California on the
north, to the latitude of the La Plata on the south. Both are nearly of
one form and coloura sort of speckled greyish-brown; the collared
species being so named from a whitish list running up in front of its
shoulders, and forming the semblance of a collar; while the
white-lipped derives its specific title from having lips of a
greyish-white colour. In size, however, there is a great difference
between the two: the white-lipped peccary weighing 100 pounds, or
nearly twice the weight of the collared species. The former, too, is
proportionably stouter in build, and altogether a stronger and fiercer
animal; for although fierceness is not a characteristic of their
nature, like other animals of the hog family, when, roused, they
exhibit a ferocity and fearlessness equalling that of the true
Both kinds of peccary are preyed upon by the jaguar; but this tyrant
of the wilds approaches them with more caution and far less confidence,
than when he makes his onslaught on the helpless chiguires; and not
unfrequently in conflicts with the peccary, the jaguar comes off only
second best. Of this fact our travellers had ample proofshaving
frequently witnessed, while ascending the Napo, encounters between the
peccaries and the jaguars. One of these encounters they had watched
with an interest more than common: for in its result their own safety
was concerned; and the very position of peril in which they were
placed, enabled them to have a full and perfect view of the whole
spectacle; an account of which we find recorded in the journal of
CHAPTER THIRTY. THE PERUVIAN
They had reacted a district which lies between two great branches of
the Napo river, and which bears the name of Canelos, or the
cinnamon country. The name was given to it by the Spanish discoverers
of Peru from the fact of their finding trees in this region, the bark
of which bears a considerable resemblance to the celebrated spice of
the East Indies. Canela is the Spanish name for cinnamon; and
the rude adventurers Pineda and Gonzalez Pizarro, fancying it was the
real cinnamon-tree itself, so called it; and the district in which they
found it most abundant thenceforward took the name of Canelos.
The tree, afterwards identified and described by the Spanish
botanist Mutis, is not the Laurus cinnamomum of Ceylon; but a
species of laurus peculiar to the American continentto which
this botanist has given the name laurus cinnamomoides. It is
not, however, confined to the region around the Rio Napo, but grows in
many parts of the Great Montana, as well as in other countries
of tropical America. Bonpland identified it on the Upper Orinoco, and
again in the county of Caraccas; though nowhere does it appear to be in
such plenty as to the east of the Cordilleras of Ecuador and
Peruthroughout the provinces of Quixos, Macas, and Jean de
Bracamoros. In these provinces it is found forming extensive woods, and
filling the air with the delicious aroma of its flowers. The bark of
the laurus cinnamomoides is not considered equal in delicate
flavour to that of the Oriental cinnamon. It is hotter and more pungent
to the tasteotherwise the resemblance between the two trees is very
considerable, their foliage being much alike, and the bark peeling off
of nearly equal thickness. The American, however, becomes more brownish
when dried; and, though it is not equal to the cinnamon bark of Ceylon,
large quantities of it are collected, both for use in the
Spanish-American countries and for export to Europewhere it is often
passed off for the true cinnamon. Were it not that the province of
anelos is rather inaccessible to commerce, no doubt a great deal more
of it would find its way into the European markets; but there are
perils and hardships in the collecting of this bark, which make it
unprofitable to deal in, even at the full price of the true cinnamon.
The Peruvians believe that, were the tree cultivated in a proper
manner, as the Oriental cinnamon is, its bark would prove equal in
quality to the latter; and perhaps this may be true, since occasionally
specimens of it have been procured, having all the rich aroma of the
spice of Ceylon. These have been taken from trees that grew in
favourable situations that is, standing alone, and where the sun had
free access to the leaves and flowers. The leaves themselves have the
peculiar cinnamon flavour, and the flowers also; but in a much stronger
degree. Indeed, the flowers are even more aromatic than those of the
It is said that the wild pigs (peccaries) are very fond of
these flowers, as well as the seeds, when ripe; and a singular habit of
these animals is related by some of the early Peruvian travellersthe
Jesuit Ovalle for one. The old father states that when a flock of the
peccaries go in search of the flowers of the canela-tree, they separate
into two divisions, of about nearly equal numbers. The individuals of
one division place their shoulders to the different trees; and, by
shaking them violently, cause the flowers to fall down to the earth.
While thus employed, the peccaries of the other party stand under the
shower, and eat undisturbedly until they have quite filled their
bellies, or otherwise satisfied themselves. These last then take the
place of the hungry hogs; and reciprocating the service by shaking the
trees, leave the former to enjoy themselves in their turn!
It is not easy to swallow this story of the Jesuit, though he was
himself a native of the country where the scene is laid. That part of
it which relates to the hogs shaking the trees for one another, is not
likely to be true, though it is possible all the other particulars are
It may be true enough that the animals shake the trees to bring down
the flowers: for this would exhibit a sagacity not greater than hogs of
other species are capable of; but it is not according to the laws of
their moral nature to perform the service for one another. That they
roam in great flocks through the canela forests, and devour with
avidity the blossoms of these trees, is undoubtedly a factof which
our travellers had the evidence of their own eyes while on their
journey up the river Napo.
They were passing a place where these wild cinnamon-trees lined the
banks of the stream; and, in order to make a closer examination of such
an interesting species, Alexis landed from the periagua, Ivan
went along with himtaking his double-barrelled gun, in hopes of
getting a shot at something. In one barrel he had a bullet, while the
other was loaded with shotso that he was prepared for any sort of
game that might turn up, either beasts or birds. Alexis, as usual,
carried his rifle.
It was their intention to walk for some distance up the bank. There
was a sandy strip between the water and the treeswhich would enable
them to make way without difficultyand it is only where this occurs
that the banks of the Amazonian rivers can be followed on foot.
Generally, the thick forest comes down to the very water's edge; and
there is no pathway except an occasional track followed by the
chiguires, tapirs, and other animals; but, as these creatures only open
the underwood to the height of their own bodies, all above that is a
matted labyrinth of leaves and llanos, that form an impenetrable
barrier to the passage of anything so tall as a man. The Indians
themselves rarely follow these paths, but keep to their canoes or
Seeing this fine open sand-bar, which appeared to stretch for miles
above them, our young travellers, tired of sitting upon the toldo, determined to stretch their legs in a walk; and, directing the capataz
to keep up the river and take them in above, they set out along the
banknow and then dipping into the woods, wherever an opening showed
itself, and examining such rare natural objects as attracted their
Pouchskin did not go with them; and the reason was that, some days
before, Pouchskin had encountered a mishap, by which he was laid up
lame. The cause of his lameness was simply that some chigas had
got between his toes; and not having been extracted in time, had there
laid their eggs, and caused a terrible inflammation to his feet. A
misfortune that frequently happens in tropical countries. The wound
caused by the chiga, though not absolutely of fatal
consequences, is very dangerous to be trifled withoften leading to
the necessity of amputating the part attacked by these diminutive
insects. Pouchskin, sneering at the insignificance of the enemy, had
neglected taking proper precautionsnotwithstanding that the Indian
canoe-men had warned him of the danger. The consequence was a swelling
of the parts and an inflammation, that lamed the old grenadier as
completely as if his leg had been carried off by a bomb-shell; and he
was now reclining along the top of the toldo, unable to stand upon his
For this reason, being in no condition to join his young masters on
their pedestrian excursions, he was necessarily left behind. It was,
perhaps, just as well for him: since it was the means of keeping him
clear of a scrape into which both of the young hunters chanced to fall
very soon after; and which, perhaps, had Pouchskin been with them,
might have ended worse than it did: since it could not have ended much
CHAPTER THIRTY ONE. A SKURRY OVER A
Journeying along the bank, as we have described, Alexis and Ivan had
gone some two or three miles up the river. They were beginning to get
tired of their walk: as the sand was rather soft, and sank under their
feet at every step. Just then they descried, a little ahead of them, a
long bar, or spit of the bank, running out nearly to the middle of
the river. They made up their minds to go on until they should reach
this bar. At its end appeared a proper place for the periagua to come
to, and take them aboard.
The craft was still working up stream, and had got nearly opposite
them, so that they could hail it. They did sodesiring the popero, or steersman, to put in at the extremity of the sand-bar. This matter
having been arranged, they continued on up the bank, going at their
On arriving at that part of the bank where the sand-spit projected
into the river, they were about stepping out upon it, when the quick
ear of Ivan caught the sound of some animals moving among the
underwood. All was game that came to Ivan's gun; and as he had seen
nothing worth wasting a charge upon, during their long walk, he was
very desirous to have a shot at something before returning to the
What he heard was a rustling of leaves. It did not appear to proceed
from any particular spot, but rather from all parts of the forest. Now
and then the sound was varied by a sort of half-squeaking,
half-grunting noise, that indicated the presence of animals, and a
great many of them too: since at times, several scores of these squeaks
and grunts could be heard uttered simultaneously. Alexis heard the
sounds too; but being less of a keen sportsman than his brother, cared
less to go after the creatures that were making them. He had no
objection to Ivan straying a little out of his way; and promised to
wait for him on the open bank.
Had he known what sort of game it was that his brother was going
after that is, had he been acquainted with the habits of the animals
that were making themselves heard, he would either have gone along with
Ivan, or, what is more likely, would have hindered him from going at
all. Alexis, however, was under the impression that monkeys of some
kind were making the strange noisesfor not only are there many
species of these in the forests of the Napo, but some that can imitate
the voices of other animals. Of course, with monkeys, there could be no
danger: since none of the American quadrumana are large enough or
strong enough to attempt an attack upon man.
Ivan had not left the spot more than five minutes, when a loud
report, reverberating among the trees, announced that he had fired his
gun; and, almost in the same instant, a second crack told that both
barrels were now empty.
Alexis was about proceeding to the place to see what his brother had
shot, when all at once his ears were assailed by a loud chorus of
noisesa screaming, and snorting, and grunting,that seemed to come
from all parts of the wood; while the cracking of sticks, and the
swishing of branches, announced a singular commotionas if some
hundreds of creatures were rushing to and fro through the jungle. At
the same instant was heard the voice of Ivan, crying out in accents of
alarm; while the boy was himself seen breaking his way through the
bushes, and running with all his might in the direction of his brother.
His looks betokened terror, as if some dreaded pursuer was behind him.
Run! brotherrun! cried he, as he got clear of the underwood;
run for your life!they're after methey're after me!
It was no time to inquire what pursuers were after him. Evidently,
they were of a sort to be shunned: since they had caused to the
courageous Ivan such serious alarm; and Alexis, without staying for an
explanation, turned, and joined in his brother's flight. Both directed
themselves towards the open sand-spit, in hopes of being able to reach
the periaguawhich could be seen just drawing up to its point of the
They had not made a dozen steps into the open ground, when the
bushes from which they had just parted were seen to vibrate, and from
out their trembling cover rushed a host of strange creatures: literally
a host, for, in a few seconds' time, not less than two hundred of them
made their appearance.
They were quadrupeds of a greyish-brown colour, not larger than
half-grown pigs; and pigs they werethat is to say, they were
peccaries. They were those of the species labiatusas could
be seen by their white lips. These lips were especially conspicuous,
for each individual was rushing on open-mouthed, with snout raised
aloft all of them cracking their teeth like castanets, uttering, as
they ran, a confused chorus of short, sharp grunts and squeaks
expressive of anger.
As soon as Alexis saw them, he recognised the peril of the situation
in which he and his brother were placed. He had read, and heard
moreover from the Portuguese traderas well as from the Indian
canoe-menof the danger to be apprehended from an attack of these
fierce little animals; and how the hunter, to escape from them, is
often compelled to take to a tree. Had he and Ivan reflected for a
moment, they would probably have made for the woods, instead of running
out on the open sand-bar as they had done. It was now too late,
however. The peccaries covered the whole line of beach behind them; and
no tree could have been reached, without passing back again through the
midst of the drove. Their retreat in the direction of the woods was
completely cut off; and there appeared no alternative, but to make the
best use they could of their heels, and if possible get on board the
With this determination they rushed on over the sandbank, closely
pursued by the peccaries.
CHAPTER THIRTY TWO. PURSUED BY
It is needless to say that our young hunters took as long strides as
the nature of the ground would permit; but, unfortunately, they were
not long enough. The sand was soft and heavy, and in places so full of
holes, where the turtles had had their eggsnow emptythat the
fugitives could make but slow progress, though fear was urging them to
do their utmost. The pursuers themselves did not make as good speed as
they would have made on firmer ground, but they were going faster than
the pursued; and the boys were beginning to fear that they would never
be able to reach the periagua in time. To be overtaken meant the same
as to be dragged down upon the sand, and torn to pieces by the sharp
tusks of the peccaries. The periagua was still three hundred yards
distant. The Indians saw the chase, and knew the dangerknew it so
well, that it was not likely they would venture ashore to the rescue;
and as for Pouchskin, he was unable to budge an incheven had there
been no other means of saving his young masters. It was a moment of
fearful apprehension for the faithful Pouchskin. He had seized his
fusil, and wriggled his body into an erect attitude; but he felt
powerless to do more.
In this moment of peril an object came under the eyes of Alexis that
promised safety. At least it held out the prospect of a temporary
retreat from the dangerthough whether they might succeed in reaching
this retreat was not certain.
This object was a treenot standing and growing, but a fallen
tree dead, and divested of its leaves, its bark, and most of its
branches. It lay upon the sand-spitwhere it had, no doubt, been
deposited during the season of floodsnot exactly in the line of their
flight, but some paces to the right of the track they would have
followed in keeping on to the periagua. It was nearer them than the
boat, by full two hundred yards; and Alexis observing this, suddenly
conceived a hope that they might yet reach the tree, and find shelter,
either upon its trunk or among its branches. Of these the larger ones
still remainedrising many feet above the surface of the sand, and
shrouded under masses of weeds and withered grass, which had been there
deposited at the falling of the flood. Indeed, Alexis scarce looked to
the capabilities the tree afforded for giving them a secure retreat.
There was no alternative. It was like the drowning man catching at
straws. He only cast a look behind him, to see what time they might
have to spare; and by a quick glance calculating their distance from
the pursuers, he shouted to Ivan to follow him, and turned obliquely
towards the tree.
They had noticed the tree when first starting to run, but had not
thought of it as a place of retreat. Indeed, they had thought of
nothing except getting back to the boat; and it was only now, when this
had proved clearly impossible, that they determined on taking to the
As they faced full towards it, they were able to note the chances it
offered for their safety. They saw that they were not so bad; and,
encouraged by hope, they made efforts more energetic than everboth of
them straining every nerve and muscle in their legs and bodies.
The effort was needed; but fortunately it proved sufficient to save
them. Just sufficient: for scarce had they succeeded in getting upon
the log, and drawing their limbs up after them, when the infuriated
host arrived upon the ground, and in a few seconds surrounded them on
all sides. Lucky it was that the log was a large one. It was the
dead-wood of a gigantic silk-cottonthe bombax ceiba of the
tropical forests; and its trunk, being full five feet in diameter, gave
them that elevation above the surface of the sand. Notwithstanding
this, they saw that their safety was not yet quite assured: for the
spiteful peccaries, instead of desisting in their attacks, commenced
leaping up against the log, endeavouring to reach its top, and there
assail them. Now and then one more active than the rest actually
succeeded in getting its fore feet over the ridge of the dead-wood:
and, had it not been for the quick use which our hunters made of the
butts of their guns, undoubtedly they would have been reached. Both
stood with their barrels grasped firmly now threatening the assailing
host, and now punching in the head such of them as sprang within
reachthe peccaries all the while uttering their angry grunts, and
chattering their teeth, as if a hundred strings of Christmas crackers
were being let off at the same time!
In this way the conflict was carried onthe hunters bit by bit
working themselves along the log towards the top branches, which,
projecting higher, appeared to offer a more secure place of retreat.
But at intervals as they advanced, they were compelled to make halt,
and deal a fresh shower of blows to their assailants, who still kept
leaping up from below.
At length the boys succeeded in reaching the projecting limbs of the
tree; and each choosing one strong enough to carry him, they scrambled
up towards their tops. This placed them in a position where they could
set the peccaries at defiance; for although the creatures could now
spring up on the main trunkwhich several of them had already
donethe more slender limbs baffled all their efforts at climbing; and
such of them as attempted it were seen to roll off and tumble back upon
The hunters, now feeling secure, could not refrain from a shout of
joy, which was answered by a cheer from the periagua, in which the
baritone of Pouchskin bore a conspicuous part.
Our heroes now believing themselves in for a siege, began to
consider the best means of raising it; when all at once a spectacle
came under their eyes, that guided their thoughts into a far different
CHAPTER THIRTY THREE. SCYLLA AND
Their retreat upward upon the slanting limbs of the tree had brought
a large band of their assailants round to that side; and, just as they
raised their triumphant cry, they saw the peccaries dancing among the
branches that lay extended along the sand-bar. Many of these were
hidden by the flakes of hanging grass already mentioned; but another
fearful creature chanced to have been hidden there also; who now
displayed himself in all his shining majestynot only to the eyes of
the besieged, but likewise to those of the besiegers. The creature was
a quadrupedone of fearful mien, and dimensions far exceeding that of
the Lilliputian peccaries. It was their natural enemythe jaguar!
Whether it was the shout that had startled him, or the peccaries had
trodden him out of his lair, or both, certain it was that he now sprang
suddenly out, and with one bound launched himself upon the log. For a
moment he stood cowering on its top, turning his eyes first upon the
branches where the boys had taken refuge, and then in the opposite
direction, towards the woods. He seemed irresolute as to which course
he would take; and this irresolution, so long as it lasted, produced an
unpleasant effect upon our young hunters. Should the jaguar also attack
them, their destruction might be accounted as certain; for the great
cat would either strike them down from their unstable porch, or claw
them to death if they continued to cling to it. Of course, to fall down
among the peccaries would be death, equally certain and terrible.
By good fortune, however, the jaguar at the moment of showing
himself was eagerly assailed by the wild pigs; and it was to escape
from their assault, that he had sprung upward to the log. Thither the
peccaries had pursued him, and were now endeavouring to reach the top
of the dead-wood, just as they had done while after the hunters. The
jaguar no longer stood silent and irresolute; but, uttering loud
screams, he commenced defending himself against the assailing host,
striking them with his broad ungulated paws, and flinging one after
another back to the ground, where they lay kicking in the throes of
Perhaps it was the presence of mind exhibited by Alexis that brought
matters to a climax, and saved the lives of himself and his brother.
His rifle was still loadedfor it had appeared useless firing into the
midst of two hundred assailants. He knew he could kill only one or two;
and this, instead of frightening them off, would but render the others
more implacable in their resentment. Partly for this reason, and partly
that he had all along held the piece clubbed in his hands, he had
reserved his fire. Now was the time to deliver it. The jaguar was even
more to be dreaded than the peccariesfor they were now secure from
the attacks of the latter, whereas they were not only within reach of
the former, but in the very place to which the brute might fancy
retreating. To prevent this contingency, Alexis resolved to give the
jaguar his bullet.
It was but a moment's work to turn the gun in his hand and take aim.
The crack followed quickly; and, on the instant, the hunters had the
gratification to see the great tawny quadruped spring out from the log,
and alight upon the sandwhere, in a second's time, he was surrounded
by the dark drove, that from all sides rushed screaming towards him.
It was a bit of good fortune that the bullet of Alexis had only
wounded the jaguar, instead of killing him on the spot. Had he been
shot dead, the peccaries would have torn his beautiful skin to ribbons,
and reduced his quivering flesh to mincemeat, and that within the space
of a score of seconds; but luckily it chanced that the jaguar was only
woundedhad only received a broken leg; and, availing himself of the
three that remained sound, he commenced retreating towards the timber.
Thither he was followed by his thick-skinned assailants; who,
transferring their spite to this new enemy, seemed to forget all about
their original adversaries, who remained quietly perched upon the limbs
of the tree!
For some time nothing could be seen but a confused crowd, writhing
over the sanda dark mass, in the midst of which now and then a bright
yellow object appeared conspicuous, and was then for a time out of
sight; and thus, like a rolling wave, the great drove went surging on,
amidst grunting and screaming, and growling, and chattering of teeth,
till it swept up to the edge of the underwood, and then suddenly
disappeared from the eyes of the spectators!
Whether the peccaries eventually succeeded in destroying the jaguar,
or whether the wounded tyrant of the forest escaped from their terrible
teeth, could never be told. Our young hunters had no curiosity to
follow and witness the denouement of this strange encounter.
Neither cared they to take up the bodies of the slain. Ivan was
completely cured of any penchant he might have had for peccary
pork; and, as soon as their late assailants were fairly out of sight,
both leaped down from the limbs of the tree, and made all haste towards
the boat. This they reached without further molestation; and the
canoe-men, rapidly plying their paddles, soon shot the craft out upon
the bosom of the broad riverwhere they were safe from the attack
either of wild pigs or wild cats.
It was likely the jaguar betook himself to a treehis usual mode of
escape when surrounded by a herd of infuriated peccariesand, as a
proof that he had done so, our travellers could hear the wild hogs
still uttering their fierce grunts long after the boat had rounded the
sand-spit, and was passing up the bend of the river.
CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR. THE OLD
Passing many scenes of interest, and meeting with several other
strange incidents, our travellers at length arrived at Archidonaa
small town at the head of boat navigation upon the Napo, and the usual
port of embarkation for persons proceeding from the country around
Quito to the regions upon the Amazon. Up to this place they had been
journeying through a complete wildernessthe only exceptions being
some missionary stations, in each of which a monkish priest holds a
sort of control over two or three hundred half christianised Indians.
It would be absurd to call these missions civilised settlements: since
they are in no degree more advanced, either in civilisation or
prosperity, than the maloccas, or villages of the wild
Indiansthe infidels, as it pleases the monks to call those tribes
who have not submitted to their puerile teachings. Whatever difference
exists between the two kinds of Indians, is decidedly in favour of the
unconverted tribes, who display at least the virtues of valour and a
love of liberty, while the poor neophytes of the missions have suffered
a positive debasement, by their conversion to this so called Christian
religion. All these monkish settlementsnot only on the Napo, but on
the other tributaries of the Amazonwere at one time in a state of
considerable prosperity. The missionary padres, backed by a little
soldier help from the Spanish Government, were more able to control
their Indian converts, and compel them to workso that a certain
amount of prosperity was visible in the mission settlements, and some
of them had even attained to a degree of wealth. This, however, was but
an apparent civilisation; and its benefits only extended to the monks
themselves. The Indian neophytes were in no way bettered by the wealth
they created. Their condition was one of pure slaverythe monks being
their masters, and very often hard taskmasters they proved
themselvesliving in fine conventual style upon the sweat and labour
of their brown-skinned converts. The only return made by them to the
Indians was to teach the latter those trades, by the practice of which
they themselves might be benefited, and that was their sole motive for
civilising them. On the other hand, instead of endeavouring to
cultivate their intellectual nature, they strove in every way to
restrain itinculcating those doctrines of duty and obedience, so
popular among the priests and princes of the world. They taught them a
religion of the lips, and not of the hearta religion of mere idle
ceremonies, of the most showy kind; and above all a religion, whose
every observance required to be paid for by toll and tithe. In this
manner they continued to filch from the poor aboriginal every hour of
his workand keep him to all intents and purposes an abject slave. No
wonder, that when the Spanish power declined, and the soldier could no
longer be spared to secure the authority of the priestno wonder that
the whole system gave way, and the missions of Spanish America from
California to the Patagonian plainssank into decay. Hundreds of these
establishments have been altogether abandonedtheir pseudo converts
having returned once more to the savage stateand the ruins of
convents and churches alone remain to attest that they ever existed.
Those still in existence exhibit the mere remnants of their former
prosperity, and are only kept together by the exertions of the monks
themselvesbacked by a slight thread of authority, which they derive
from the superstitions they have been able to inculcate. In fact, in
the missions now existing, the monks have no other power than that
which they wield through the terrors of the Church; and in most cases,
these padres constitute a sort of hierarch chieftaincy, which
has supplanted the old system of the curacas, or caciques.
At one period the missions of the Napo were both numerous and
powerful. That was while they were under the superintendence of those
active apostles, the Jesuit fathers; but most of their settlements have
long ago disappeared; and now only a few sparse stations exist along
the borders of the great Montana.
In ascending the Napo, our travellers had an opportunity of visiting
some of these old missionary establishments; and observing the odd
rigmarole of superstitions there practised under the guise, and in the
name of religiona queer commingling of pagan rites with Christian
ceremoniesnot unlike those Buddhistic forms from which these same
ceremonies have been borrowed.
One advantage our travellers derived from the existence of these
stations: they were enabled to obtain from them the provisions required
upon their long riverine voyage; and without this assistance they would
have found it much more difficult to accomplish such a journey.
Beyond Archidona the rest of the journey to Quito would have to be
performed on horseback, or rather muleback; but they were not going
direct to Quito. Between them and the old Peruvian capital lay the
eastern Cordillera of the Andes, and it was along its declivities, and
in the valleys between its transverse spurs, facing the Montana, they
would have to search for the haunts of the bear.
On the Napo itself, still higher up than Archidonawhere the
stream, fed by the snows of the grand volcano of Cotopaxi, issues from
the spurs of the Andesthere were they most likely to accomplish the
object of their expedition, and thither determined they to go.
Having procured mules and a guide, they proceeded onward; and after
a journey of three daysin which, from the difficulty of the roads,
they had travelled less than fifty milesthey found themselves among
the foot-hills of the Andesthe giant Cotopaxi with his snowy cone
towering stupendous above their heads.
Here they were in the proper range of the bearsa part of the
country famous for the great numbers of these animalsand it only
remained for them to fix their headquarters in some village, and make
arrangements for prosecuting the chase.
The little town of Napo, called after the river, and situated as it
is in the midst of a forest wilderness, offered all the advantages they
required; and, choosing it as their temporary residence, they were soon
engaged in searching for the black bear of the Cordilleras.
CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE. EATING A
According to their usual practice, they had hired one of the native
hunters of the district to act as a guide, and assist them in finding
the haunts of Bruin. In Napo they were fortunate in meeting with the
very man in the person of a mestizo, or half-blood Indian, who
followed hunting for his sole calling. He was what is termed a
tigrero, or tiger-hunterwhich title he derived from the fact that
the jaguar was the principal object of his pursuit. Among all
Spanish-AmericansMexicans includedthe beautiful spotted jaguar is
erroneously termed tigre (tiger), as the puma or couguar is
called leon (lion). A hunter of the jaguar is therefore
denominated a tiger-hunter, or tigrero.
There are no puma or lion-hunters by professionas there is nothing
about this brute to make it worth whilebut hunting the jaguar is, in
many parts of Spanish America, a specific calling; and men make their
living solely by following this occupation. One inducement is to obtain
the skin, which, in common with those of the great spotted cats of the
Old World, is an article of commerce, and from its superior beauty
commands a good price. But the tigrero could scarce make out to
live upon the sale of the skins alone; for although a London furrier
will charge from two to three guineas for a jaguar's robe, the poor
hunter in his remote wilderness market can obtain little more than a
tenth part of this pricenotwithstanding that he has to risk his life,
before he can strip the fair mantle from the shoulders of its original
It is evident, therefore, that jaguar-hunting would not pay, if
there was only the pelt to depend upon; but the tigrero looks to
another source of profitthe bounty.
In the hotter regions of Spanish America,the Brazils as
wellthere are many settlements to which the jaguar is not only a
pest, but a terror. Cattle in hundreds are destroyed by these great
predatory animals; even full-grown horses are killed and dragged away
by them! But is this all? Are the people themselves left unmolested?
No. On the contrary, great numbers of human beings every year fall
victims to the rapacity of the jaguars. Settlements attempted on the
edge of the great Montanain the very country where our young hunters
had now arrivedhave, after a time, been abandoned from this cause
alone. It is a well-known fact, that where a settlement has been
formed, the jaguars soon become more plentiful in that neighbourhood:
the increased facility of obtaining foodby preying on the cattle of
the settlers, or upon the owners themselvesaccounting for this
augmentation in their numbers. It is precisely the same with the royal
tiger of India, as is instanced in the history of the modern settlement
To prevent the increase of the jaguars then, a bounty is offered for
their destruction. This bounty is sometimes the gift of the government
of the country, and sometimes of the municipal authorities of the
district. Not unfrequently private individuals, who own large herds of
cattle, give a bounty out of their private purses for every jaguar
killed within the limits of their estates. Indeed, it is not an
uncommon thing for the wealthy proprietor of a cattle-estate (
hacienda de ganados) to maintain one or more tigreros in his
servicejust as gamekeepers are kept by European grandeeswhose sole
business consists in hunting and destroying the jaguar. These men are
sometimes pure Indians, but, as a general thing, they are of the mixed,
or mestizo race. It need hardly be said that they are hunters of
the greatest courage. They require to be so: since an encounter with a
full-grown jaguar is but little less dangerous than with his striped
congener of the Indian jungles. In these conflicts, the tigreros often
receive severe wounds from the teeth and claws of their terrible
adversary; and, not unfrequently, the hunter himself becomes the
You may wonder that men are found to follow such a perilous calling,
and with such slight inducementfor even the bounty is only a trifle
of a dollar or twodiffering in amount in different districts, and
according to the liberality of the bestower. But it is in this matter
as with all others of a like kindwhere the very danger itself seems
to be the lure.
The tigrero usually depends upon fire-arms for destroying his noble
game; but where his shot fails, and it is necessary to come to close
quarters, he will even attack the jaguar with his machetea
species of half-knife half-sword, to be found in every Spanish-American
cottage from California to Chili.
Very often the jaguar is hunted without the gun. The tigrero, in
this case, arms himself with a short spear, the shaft of which is made
of a strong hard wood, either a guaiacum, or a piece of the
split trunk of one of the hardwood palms.
The point of this spear is frequently without irononly sharpened
and hardened by being held in the fireand with this in his left hand,
and his short sword in the right, the hunter advances with confidence
upon his formidable adversary. This confidence has been fortified by a
contrivance which he has had the precaution to adoptthat is, of
enveloping his left arm in the ample folds of his blanketserape,
roana, or poncho, according to the country to which he
belongsand using this as a shield.
The left arm is held well forward, so that the woollen mass may
cover his body against the bound of the animal, and thus is the attack
received. The jaguar, like all feline quadrupeds, springs directly
forward upon his prey. The tigrero prepared for this, and, with every
nerve braced, receives the assailant upon the point of his short spear.
Should the jaguar strike with its claws it only clutches the woollen
cloth; and while tearing at thiswhich it believes to be the body of
its intended victimthe right arm of the hunter is left free, and with
the sharp blade of his machete he can either make cut or thrust
at his pleasure. It is not always that the tigrero succeeds in
destroying his enemy without receiving a scratch or two in return; but
a daring hunter makes light of such woundsfor these scars become
badges of distinction, and give him eclat among the villages of
Just such a man was the guide whom our young hunters had engaged,
and who, though a tiger-hunter by profession, was equally expert at the
capturing of a bearwhen one of these animals chanced to stray down
from the higher slopes of the mountains, into the warmer country
frequented by the jaguars. It was not always that bears could be found
in these lower regions; but there is a particular season of the year
when the black bear (ursus frugilegus) descends far below his
usual range, and even wanders far out into the forests of the Montana.
Of course there must be some inducement for his making this annual
migration from his mountain home; for the ursus frugilegus,
though here dwelling within the tropics, does not affect a tropical
climate. Neither is he a denizen of the very cold plainsthe
paramosthat extend among the summits of eternal snow. A medium
temperature is his choice; and this, as we have already stated, he
finds among the foot-hills, forming the lower zone of the Eastern
Andes. It is there he spends most of his life, and that is his place of
birth, and consequently his true home. At a particular season of the
year, corresponding to the summer of our own country, he makes a roving
expedition to the lower regions; and for what purpose? This was the
very question which Alexis put to the tigrero. The answer was as
curious as laconic:
Comer la cabeza del negro. (To eat the negro's head!)
Ha, ha! to eat the negro's head! repeated Ivan, with an
Just so, senorito! rejoined the man; that is what brings him down
Why, the voracious brute! said Ivan; you don't mean to say that
he makes food of the heads of the poor negroes?
Oh no! replied the tigrero, smiling in his turn; it is not that.
What then? impatiently inquired Ivan. I've heard of negro-head
tobacco. He's not a tobacco chewer, is he?
Carrambo! no, senorito, replied the tiger-hunter, now
laughing outright; that's not the sort of food the fellow is fond of.
You'll see it presently. By good luck, it's just in season nowjust as
the bears fancy itor else we needn't look to start them here. We
should have to go further up the mountains: where they are more
difficult both to find and follow. But no doubt we'll soon stir one up,
when we get among the cabezas del negro. The nuts are just now
full of their sweet milky paste, of which the bears are so fond, and
about a mile from here there are whole acres of the trees. I warrant we
find a bear among them.
Though still puzzled with this half-explanation, our young hunters
followed the guideconfident that they would soon come in sight of the
CHAPTER THIRTY SIX. THE TAGUA TREE.
After going about a mile further, as their guide had forewarned
them, they came within sight of a level valley, or rather a plain,
covered with a singular vegetation. It looked as if it had been a
forest of palmsthe trunks of which had sunk down into the earth, and
left only the heads, with their great radiating fronds above the
ground! Some of them stood a foot or two above the surface; but most
appeared as if their stems had been completely buried! They were
growing all the same, however; and, at the bottom of each great bunch
of pinnate leaves, could be seen a number of large, roundish
objectswhich were evidently the fruits of the plant.
There was no mystery about the stems being buried underground. There
were no stems, and never had been anyexcept those that were seen
rising a yard or so above the surface. Neither was there any longer a
mystery about the negro's head; for the rounded fruit, with its
wrinkled coriaceous pericarpsuggesting a resemblance to the little
curly knots of wool on the head of an Africanwas evidently the object
to which the tigrero had applied the ambiguous appellation.
What our hunters saw was neither more nor less than a grove of
Tagua treesbetter known as the vegetable ivory.
This singular tree was for a long time regarded as a plant of the
Oycas family; and by some botanists it has been classed among the
Pandanaceae, or screw-pines. Growing, as its leaves do, almost out
of the earth, or with only a short trunk, it bears a very marked
resemblance to the cycads; but for all this, it is a true palm. Its not
having a tall trunk is no reason why it should not be a palm, since
many other species of palmaceae are equally destitute of a
visible stem. It is now, however, acknowledged by the most expert
botanists, that the Taguaor Cabeza del Negro, as the Peruvians
style itis a palm; and it has been honoured as the representative of
a genus (Phytelephas), of which there are but two species
knownthe great fruited and little fruited (macrocarpa and
microcarpa). Both are natives of the hot valleys of the Andes, and
differ very little from each other; but it is the species with the
larger fruit that is distinguished by the figurative title of negro's
The Peruvian Indians use the pinnate fronds of both species for
thatching their huts; but it is the nuts of the larger one that have
given its great celebrity to the tree. These are of an oblong
triangular shape; and a great number of them are enclosed in the
pericarp, already described. When young, they are filled with a watery
liquid that has no particular taste; though regarded by the Indians as
a most refreshing beverage. A little older, this crystal-like fluid
turns of a milky colour and consistence; and still later it becomes a
white paste. When fully ripe, it congeals to the whiteness and hardness
of ivory itself; and, if kept out of water, is even more beautiful in
texture than, the tusks of the elephant. It has been employed by the
Indians from time immemorial in the construction of buttons, heads for
their pipes, and many other purposes. Of late years it has found its
way into the hands of civilised artisans; and, since it can be procured
at a cheaper rate, and is quite equal to the real ivory for many useful
and ornamental articles, it has become an important item of commerce.
But however much the vegetable ivory may be esteemed by the Indians,
or by bipeds of any kind, there is one quadruped who thinks quite as
much of it as they, and that is the black bear of the Andes (ursus
frugilegus). It is not, however, when it has reached the condition
of ivory that Bruin cares for it. Then the nut would be too hard, even
for his powerful jaws to crack. It is when it is in the milky stateor
rather after it has become coagulated to a pastethat he relishes it;
and with so much avidity does he devour the sweet pulp, that at this
season he is easily discovered in the midst of his depredations, and
will scarce move away from his meal even upon the appearance of the
hunter! While engaged in devouring his favourite negro-head, he appears
indifferent to any danger that may threaten him.
Of this our hunters had proof, and very shortly after entering among
the tagua trees. As the tigrero had predicted, they soon came upon the
sign of a bear, and almost in the same instant discovered Bruin
himself browsing upon the fruit.
The young hunters, and Pouchskin too, were about getting ready to
fire upon him; when, to their surprise, they saw the tigrero, who was
mounted on a prancing little horse, spur out in front of them, and
gallop towards the bear. They knew that the killing of the animal
should have been left to them; but, as they had given their guide no
notice of this, they said nothing, but looked onleaving the tigrero
to manage matters after his own way.
It was evident that he intended to attack the bear, and in a
peculiar fashion. They knew this by seeing that he carried a coil of
raw-hide rope over his arm, on one end of which there was a ring and
loop. They knew, moreover, that this was a celebrated weapon of the
South Americansthe lazo, in short; but never having witnessed
an exhibition of its use, they were curious to do so; and this also
influenced them to keep their places.
In a few minutes the horseman had galloped within some twenty paces
of the bear. The latter took the alarm, and commenced trotting off; but
with a sullen reluctance, which showed that he had no great disposition
to shun the encounter.
The ground was tolerably clear, the taguas standing far apart, and
many of them not rising higher than the bear's back. This gave the
spectators an opportunity of witnessing the chase.
It was not a long one. The bear perceiving that the horseman was
gaining upon him, turned suddenly in his tracks, and, with an angry
growl, rose erect upon his hind legs, and stood facing his pursuer in
an attitude of defiance. As the horseman drew near, however, he
appeared to become cowed, and once more turning tail, shambled off
through the bushes. This time he only ran a few lengths: for the shouts
of the hunter provoking him to a fresh fit of fury, caused him to halt
again, and raise himself erect as before.
This was just the opportunity of which the hunter was in
expectation; and before the bear could lower himself on all-foursto
charge forward upon the horse, the long rope went spinning through the
air, and its noose was seen settling over the shoulders of the bear.
The huge quadruped, puzzled by this mode of attack, endeavoured to
seize hold of the rope; but so thin was the raw-hide thong, that he
could not clutch it with his great unwieldy paws; and by his efforts he
only drew the noose tighter around his neck.
Meanwhile, the hunter, on projecting the lazo, had wheeled, with the
quickness of thought; and, driving his sharp spurs into the ribs of his
horse, caused the latter to gallop in the opposite direction. One might
have supposed that he had taken fright at the bear, and was
endeavouring to get out of the way. Not so. His object was very
different. The lazo still formed a link of connection between the
hunter and his game. One end of it was fast to a staple firmly imbedded
in the wood of the saddle-tree, while the other, as we have seen, was
noosed around the bear. As the horse stretched off, the rope was seen
to tighten with a sudden jerk; and Bruin was not only floored from his
erect attitude, but plucked clear off his feet, and laid sprawling
along the earth. In that position he was not permitted to remain: for
the horse continuing his gallop, he was dragged along the ground at the
end of the lazohis huge body now bounding several feet from the
earth, and now breaking through the bushes with a crackling, crashing
noise, such as he had himself never made in his most impetuous charges.
In this way went horse and bear for half a mile over the plain; the
spectators following after to witness the ending of the affair. About
that there was nothing particular: for when the tigrero at length
halted, and the party got up to the ground, they saw only an immobile
mass of shaggy hairso coated with dust as to resemble a heap of
earth. It was the bear without a particle of breath in his body; but,
lest he might recover it again, the tigrero leaped from his horse,
stepped up to the prostrate bear, and buried his machete between
the ribs of the unconscious animal.
That, he said, was the way they captured bears in his part of the
country. They did not employ the same plan with the jaguars: because
these animals, crouching, as they do, offered no opportunity for
casting the noose over them; and, besides, the jaguars haunt only among
thick woods, where the lazo could not be used to advantage.
Of course, the skin of this particular bear was not suitable for the
purpose for which one was required; and the tigrero kept it for his own
profit. But that did not signify: another bear was soon discovered
among the tagua trees; and this being despatched by a shot from the
rifle of Alexis,supplemented, perhaps, by a bullet from the fusil of
the ex-guardsman,supplied them with a skin according to contract; and
so far as the ursus frugilegus was concerned, their bear-hunting
in that neighbourhood was at an end. To find his cousin with the
goggle eyes, they would have to journey onward and upward; and
adopting for their motto the spirit-stirring symbol Excelsior! they
proceeded to climb the stupendous Cordilleras of the Andes.
In one of the higher valleys, known among Peruvians as the Sierra,
they obtained a specimen of the Hucumari. They chanced upon this
creature while he was engaged in plundering a field of Indian corn
quite close to a tambo, or traveller's shed, where they had put up
for the night. It was very early in the morning when the corn-stealer
was discovered; but being caught in the act, and his whole attention
taken up with the sweet milky ears of maize, his spectacled eyes did
not avail him. Our hunters, approaching with due caution, were able to
get so near, that the first shot tumbled him over among the stalks.
Having secured his skin, they mounted their mules, and by the great
Cordillera road proceeded onward to the ancient capital of northern
CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN. NORTHWARD!
After resting some days in the old capital of Quito, our travellers
proceeded to the small port of Barbacoas, on the west coast of Equador;
and thence took passage for Panama. Crossing the famous isthmus to
Porto Bello, they shipped again for New Orleans, on the Mississippi. Of
course, their next aim was to procure the North American bears
including the Polar, which is equally an inhabitant of northern Asia,
but which, by the conditions of their route, would be more conveniently
reached on the continent of North America. Alexis knew that the black
bear (ursus americanus) might be met with anywhere on that
continent from the shores of Hudson's Bay to the isthmus of Panama, and
from the seaboard of the Atlantic to the coast of the Pacific Ocean. No
other has so wide a range as this specieswith the exception, perhaps,
of the brown bear of Europewhich, as we have said, is also an Asiatic
animal. Throughout the whole extent of country above defined, the black
bear may be encountered, not specially confining himself to
mountain-ranges. True, in the more settled districts he has been driven
to theseas affording him a refuge from the hunter; but in his normal
condition he is by no means a mountain-dwelling animal. On the
contrary, he affects equally the low-wooded bottoms of ravines, and is
as much at home in a climate of tropical or sub-tropical character, as
in the cold forests of the Canadas.
Mr Spencer Bairdthe naturalist intrusted by the American
Government to describe the fauna of their territory, and
furnished for his text with one of the most splendid collections ever
madein speaking of the genus ursus, makes the following
The species of bears are not numerous, nor are they to be found
except in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. North
America possesses more species than any other part of the world, having
at least four, and perhaps five.
With the exception of the very idle assertion that the species of
bears are not numerous, every idea put forth in the above categorical
declaration is the very reverse of what is true.
Is the polar bear found only in the temperate regions of the
northern hemisphere? Is the ursus arctos of Europe confined to
these limits? Are the bears of South America?the sloth bear of India
and Ceylon? the bruang of Borneo?and his near congener, the bruang
of Java and Sumatra? Why, these last are actually dwellers among
palm-treesas the cocoa-planters know to their cost! Even Mr Baird's
own American black bear is not so temperate in his habits; but loves
the half-tropical climate of Florida and Texas quite as much as the
cold declivities of the Alleghanies.
And how does North America possess more species than any other part
of the world? Even admitting the doubtful fifth, on the continent of
Asia there are six species at the very least; and, if we are allowed to
include the Oriental islands, we make eight Asiatic. There are three
species in the Himalaya mountains aloneunquestionably distinct,
dwelling in separate zones of altitude, but with the territory of all
three visible at a single coup d'oeil.
Mr Baird is a naturalist of great celebrity in America. He is a
secretary of the Smithsonian Institution: he should make better use of
the books which its fine library can afford him.
The United States' Government is extremely unfortunate in the
selection of its scientific employesmore especially in the
departments of natural history. Perhaps the most liberal appropriation
ever made for ethnological purposesthat for collecting a complete
account of the North American Indianshas been spent without purpose,
the job having fallen into the hands of a placeman, or old
hunker, as the Americans term ita man neither learned nor
intellectual. With the exception of the statistics furnished by Indian
agents, the voluminous work of Schoolcraft is absolutely worthless; and
students of ethnology cannot contemplate such a misappropriation
without feelings of regret.
Fortunately, the American aboriginal had already found a true
portrayer and historian. Private enterprise, as is not unfrequently the
case, has outstripped Government patronage in the performance of its
task. In the unpretending volumes of George Catlin we find the most
complete ethnological monograph ever given to the world; but just for
that reason, Catlin, not Schoolcraft, should have been chosen for the
Knowing the range of the black bear to be thus grandly extended, our
young hunters had a choice of places in which to look for one; but, as
there is no place where these animals are more common than in Louisiana
itself, they concluded that they could not do better than there choose
their hunting-ground. In the great forests, which still cover a large
portion of Louisiana, and especially upon the banks of the sluggish
bayous, where the marshy soil and the huge cypress trees, festooned
with Spanish moss, bid defiance to all attempts at cultivation, the
black bear still roams at will. There he is found in sufficient numbers
to ensure the procuring of a specimen without much difficulty.
The hunters of these parts have various modes of capturing him. The
log-trap is a common plan; but the planters enjoy the sport of running
him down with dogs; or rather should it be termed running him up; since
the chase usually ends by Bruin taking to a tree, and thus
unconsciously putting himself within reach of the unerring rifle.
It was by this means that our young hunters determined to try their
luck; and they had no difficulty in procuring the necessary adjuncts to
ensure success. The great Czar, powerful everywhere, was not without
his agent at New Orleans. From him a letter of introduction was
obtained to a planter living on one of the interior bayous; and
our heroes, having repaired thither, were at once set in train for the
sportthe planter placing himself, his house, his hounds, and his
horses at their disposal.
CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT. THE NORTHERN
On their arrival, the hospitable planter sent to his neighbours, and
arranged a grand hunt, to come off at an early day specified in the
invitation. Each was to bring with him such hounds as he was possessed
ofand in this way a large pack might be got together, so that a wide
extent of forest could be driven.
Among the planters of the Southern states this is a very common
practice: only a few of them keeping what might be called a regular
kennel of hounds, but many of them having five or six couples. In a
neighbourhood favourable to the chase, by uniting a number of these
little bands together, a pack may be got up large enough for any
The usual game hunted in the Southern states is the American
fallow-deer (cervus virginianus), which is still found in
considerable plenty in the more solitary tracts of forest all over the
United States. It is the only species of deer indigenous to Louisiana:
since, the noble stag or elk, as he is erroneously called (cervus
canadensis), does not range so far to the south. On the Pacific
coast this animal is found in much lower latitudes than on that of the
Besides the fallow-deer, the fox gives sport to the Louisiana
hunter. This is the grey fox (vulpes virginianus). The bay lynx
alsoor wild cat, as it is called (lynx rufus)and now and
then, but more rarely, the cougar (felis concolor), give the
hounds a run before taking to the tree.
Racoons, opossums, and skunks are common enough in the forests of
Louisiana; but these are regarded as vermin, and are not permitted to
lead the dogs astray.
With regard to the other animals mentioned, they all rank as noble
gameespecially the cougar, called panther by the backwoodsmanand
the pack may follow whichever is first scared up.
The grand game, however, is the bear; and the capture of Bruin is
not a feat of everyday occurrence. To find his haunts it is necessary
to make an excursion into the more unfrequented and inaccessible
solitudes of the forestin places often many miles from a settlement.
Not unfrequently, however, the old gentleman wanders abroad from his
unknown retreat, and seeks the plantationswhere in the night-time he
skulks round the edges of the fields, and commits serious depredations
on the young maize plants, or the succulent stalks of the sugar-cane,
of which he is immoderately fond. Like his brown congener of Europe he
has a sweet tooth, and is greatly given to honey. To get at it he
climbs the bee-trees, and robs the hive of its stores. In all these
respects he is like the brown bear; but otherwise he differs greatly
from the latter species, so much indeed, that it is matter of surprise
how any naturalist should have been led to regard them as the same.
Not only in colour, but in shape and other respects, are they
totally unlike. While the fur of the brown bear is tossed and
tuftyhaving that appearance usually termed shaggythat of the
American black bear is of uniform length, and all lying, or rather
standing, in one direction, presenting a smooth surface corresponding
to the contour of his body. In this respect he is far more akin to the
bears of the Asiatic islands, than to the ursus arctos. In
shape, too, he differs essentially from the latter. His body is more
slender, his muzzle longer and sharper, and his profile is a curve with
its convexity upward. This last characteristic, which is constant,
proclaims him indubitably a distinct species from the brown bear of
Europe; and he is altogether a smaller and more mild-tempered animal.
As the grand chasse had been arranged to come off on the third day
after their arrival, our young hunters determined to employ the
interval in ranging the neighbouring woods; not with any expectation of
finding a bearas their host did not believe there was any so
nearbut rather for the purpose of becoming acquainted with the
character of the North American sylva.
That of South America Alexis had carefully observed and studied in
their long journey across that continent. He had noted the grand
tropical treesthe palms and pothos plantsthe mimosas
and musaceaethe magnificent forms of the lombax and
bertholletiathe curious cecropias and fig-treesthe giant
cedrelas and the gum-yielding siphonias. On the Andes he had
observed the agaves, the cycads, and cactaceaeall strange to the eye
of a Russian. He was now desirous of making himself familiar with the
forests of North America; which, though of a sub-tropical character in
Louisiana, contained forms altogether different from those of the
Amazonian regions. Here he would meet with the famed magnolia, and its
relative the tulip-tree; the catalpa and flowering cornel, the giant
cypress and sycamore, the evergreen oak, the water-loving tupelo, and
the curious fan-like palmetto. Of these, and many other beautiful trees
belonging to the North American sylva, Alexis had readin fact,
knew them botanically; but he wished to cultivate a still pleasanter
acquaintance with them, by visiting them in their own native home.
For this purpose he and Ivan set out alone, with only a negro for
their guide; the planter being engaged, visiting his different friends,
and warning them for the grand hunt.
Pouchskin remained behind. He had been left at the houseto do some
necessary repairs to the travelling traps both of himself and his young
masters, which, after their long South American expedition, needed
looking to. At this work had Pouchskin been left, surrounded by a
circle of grinning darkies, in whose company the old grenadier would
find material to interest and amuse him.
It was only for a stroll that our young hunters had sallied forth,
and without any design of entering upon the chase; but they had become
so accustomed to carrying their guns everywhere, that these were taken
along with them. Some curious bird or quadruped might be startedwhose
fur or feathers they might fancy to make an examination of. For that
reason, both shouldered their guns.
CHAPTER THIRTY NINE. THE LONE
They were soon beyond the bounds of the plantation, and walking
under the dark majestic woodsthe darkey guiding them on their way.
They had heard of a curious lake or lagoon, that lay about a mile from
the plantation. There they would be likely to witness a spectacle
characteristic of the swamps of Louisiana; and thither they directed
Sure enough, on arriving at the borders of the lagoon, a singular
scene was presented to their eyes. The whole surface of the lake
appeared alive with various forms of birds and reptiles. Hundreds of
alligators were seen, lying like dead trees upon the water, their
corrugated backs appearing above the surface. Most of them, however,
were in motion, swimming to and fro, or darting rapidly from point to
point, as if in pursuit of prey. Now and then their huge tails could be
seen curling high up in air, and then striking down upon the water,
causing a concussion that echoed far through the forest. At intervals a
shining object, flung upward by their tails, could be seen for a moment
in the air, amidst the showery spray that was raised along with it. It
was easy to see that the glittering forms thus projected were fishes,
and that it was the pursuit of these that was causing the commotion
among the huge reptiles. Aquatic birds, of a great number of kinds,
were equally busy in the pursuit of the fish. Huge pelicans stood up to
their tibia in the waternow and then immersing their long mandibles
and tossing their finny victims high into the air. Cranes and herons
too were thereamong others the tall Louisiana craneconspicuous
among the smaller speciessnow-white egrets, the wood ibis, and others
of white and roseate huethe snake-darter, with long pointed beak and
crouching serpent-like neckthe qua-bird, of lugubrious note and
melancholy aspectand, fairest of all, the scarlet flamingo.
Other birds besides those of aquatic habits took part in the odd
spectacle. Hovering in the air were black vulturesthe carrion crow
and the turkey-buzzardand upon the tops of tall dead trees could be
seen the king of the feathered multitude, the great white-headed eagle.
His congener, the osprey, soared craftily aboveat intervals swooping
down, and striking his talons into the fish, which the alligators had
tossed into the airthus robbing the reptiles of their prey, to be
robbed in turn by his watchful cousin-german upon the tree. The
spectacle was far from being a silent one: on the contrary, the
confused chorus of sounds was deafening to the ears of the spectators.
The hoarse bellowing of the alligatorsthe concussions made by their
great tails striking the waterthe croaking of the pelicans, and the
clattering of their huge mandiblesthe doleful screaming of the
herons, cranes, and qua-birdsthe shrieks of the ospreyand the
shrill maniac laughter of the white-headed eagle, piercing through all
other sounds formed a medley of voices as unearthly as inharmonious.
A shot from the gun of Ivan, that brought down a splendid specimen
of the white-headed eagletogether with the appearance of the hunters
by the edge of the waterput a sudden termination to this grand drama
of the wilderness. The birds flew up into the air, and went soaring off
in different directions over the tops of the tall trees; while the huge
reptiles, that had been taught by the alligator hunters to fear the
presence of man, desisted for a while from their predatory prey, and
retreated to the reeds upon the opposite shore.
The spectacle was one well worthy of being seen, and one that cannot
be witnessed every dayeven in the swamps of Louisiana. Its occurrence
at that time was accounted for by the drying up of the lake, which left
the fish at the mercy of their numerous enemies.
Having taken up the eagle which Ivan had shot, the young hunters
continued their excursion along the edge of the lagoon.
They had not gone far when they came upon a bank of mud, that had
formerly been covered with water. So recently had the water dried from
it, that, in spite of the hot sun shining down upon it, the mud was
still soft. They had not gone many steps further, when they perceived
upon its surface, what at first they supposed to be the tracks of a
man. On getting a little closer, however, they doubted this; and, now
recollecting the resemblance which they had noticed in the snows of
Laplandbetween the footsteps of a human being and those of a bearit
occurred to them that these might also be bear-tracksthough they knew
that the tracks of the American bear would be slightly different from
those of his European cousin.
To satisfy themselves, they hastened forward to examine the tracks;
but their negro guide had anticipated them, and now called out, with
the whites of his eyes considerably enlarged
Golly, young mass'rs! dat be de tracks ob um ba!
Ya, ya, mass'rs! a big badis child know um tracksee'd um many
de timede ole coon he be arter de fish tooall ob dem a-doin' a bit
ob fishin' dis mornin'yaw, yaw, yaw!
And the darkey laughed at what he appeared to consider an excellent
On closely scrutinising the tracks, Alexis and Ivan saw that they
were in reality the tracks of a bearthough much smaller than those
they had followed in Lapland. They were quite freshin fact, so
recently did they appear to have been made, that both at the same time,
and by an involuntary impulse, raised their eyes from the ground and
glanced around them; as if they expected to see the bear himself.
No such animal was in sight, however. It was quite probable he had
been on the ground, at their first coming up to the lake; but the
report of Ivan's gun had alarmed him, and he had made off into the
woods. This was quite probable.
What a pity, reflected Ivan, that I didn't leave the eagle alone!
We might have got sight of Master Bruin, and given him the shot
instead. And now, added he, what's to be done? There's no
snow,therefore we can't track the brute. The mud bank ends here, and
he's gone off it, the way he came? Of course he wouldn't be out yonder
among those logs? He wouldn't have taken shelter there, would he?
As Ivan spoke, he pointed to a little peninsula that jutted out into
the lake, some twenty or thirty yards beyond the spot where they were
standing. It was joined to the mainland by a narrow neck or isthmus of
mud; but at the end towards the water there was a space of several
yards covered with dead treesthat had been floated thither in the
floods, and now lay high and dry, piled irregularly upon one another.
Alexis looked in the direction of this pile as Ivan pointed it out.
I'm not so sure of that, he answered, after scrutinising the logs.
It's a likely enough place for an animal to lurk. He might be there?
Let us go and see, then! said Ivan. If he's there he can't escape
us, without our having a shot at him; and you say that these American
bears are much easier killed than ours. The South Americans were so,
certainly. I hope their northern brothers may die as easy.
Not all, rejoined Alexis. We may expect some tough struggles when
we come to the great grizzly, and to him of the polar regions; but the
black bears are, as you conjecture, not so difficult to deal with. If
wounded, however, they will show fight; and, though their teeth and
claws are less dangerous than the others, they can give a man a most
uncomfortable hug, I have heard. But let us go, as you say. If not
yonder, he must have taken to the woods. In that case there is no way
of following him up, except by dogs; and for these we must go back to
As they continued talking, they advanced towards the narrow isthmus
that connected the little peninsula with the mainland.
What a pity, remarked Ivan, that that great log is there! But for
it we might have seen his track in the mud crossing over.
Ivan referred to a prostrate trunk that traversed the isthmus
longitudinallyextending from the mainland to the higher ground of the
peninsula, to which it formed a kind of bridge or causeway. Certainly,
had it not been there, either the bear's tracks would have been seen in
the mud or not; and if not, then no bear could have passed over to the
peninsula, and their exploration would have been unnecessary. But,
although they saw no tracks, they had started to examine the wood pile;
and they continued on, climbing up to the log, and walking along its
All at once, Alexis was seen to pause and bend his body forward and
What is it? inquired Ivan, who was behind, on seeing his brother
in the bent attitude, as if he looked at something on the log.
The bear's tracks! answered Alexis, in a low but earnest tone.
Ha! you think so? Where?
Alexis pointed to the dead-wood under his eyesupon the bark of
which were visible, not the tracks of a bear, but dabs of mud, that
must have been recently deposited there, either by the feet of a bear,
or some other animal.
By the Great Peter! said Ivan, speaking cautiously,
notwithstanding his innocent adjuration; that must be his tracks? It's
the same sort of mud as that in which we've just been tracing
himblack as ink nearly. It has come off his great pawsnot a doubt
of it, brother?
I think it is likely, assented Alexis, at the same time that both
looked to the locks of their guns, and saw that the caps were on the
A little further along the log, the bark was smoother, and there the
track was still more conspicuous. The print was better denned, and
answered well for the footmark of a bear. There was the naked paw, and
the balls of the five toes, all complete. They no longer doubted that
it was the track of a bear.
It was just a question whether the animal had gone over the log and
returned again. But this was set at rest, or nearly so, by a closer
scrutiny. There was no sign of a return track. True, he might have
washed his paws in the interval, or cleaned them on the dead-wood; but
that was scarce probable, and our hunters did not think so. They felt
perfectly sure that the bear was before them; and, acting upon this
belief, they cocked their guns, and continued their approach towards
the wood pile.
CHAPTER FORTY. A DARKEY ON
Both the young hunters succeeded in passing over the log, and had
set foot on the peninsula; while the negro, who was following a little
behind, was still upon the prostrate trunk. Just at that moment a noise
was heardvery similar to that made by a pig when suddenly started
from its bed of strawa sort of half snort, half grunt; and along with
the noise a huge black body was seen springing up from under the loose
pile of dead trees, causing several of them to shake and rattle under
its weight. Our hunters saw at a glance that it was the bear; and
levelled their guns upon it with the intention of firing.
The animal had reared itself on its hind legsas if to reconnoitre
the groundand while in this attitude both the hunters had sighted it,
and were on the eve of pulling their triggers. Before they could do so,
however, the bear dropped back on all-fours. So sudden was the
movement, that the aim of both was quite disconcerted, and they both
lowered their guns to get a fresh one. The delay, however, proved fatal
to their intention. Before either had got a satisfactory sight upon the
body of the bear, the latter sprang forward with a fierce growl, and
rushed right between the two, so near that it was impossible for either
of them to fire otherwise than at random. Ivan did fire, but to no
purpose; for his bullet went quite wide of the bear, striking the log
behind it, and causing the bark to splinter out in all directions. The
bear made no attempt to charge towards them, but rushed straight on
evidently with no other design than to make his escape to the woods.
Alexis wheeled round to fire after him; but, as he was raising his gun,
his eye fell upon the negro, who was coming on over the log, and who
had just got about halfway across it. The bear had by this time leaped
up on the other end, and in a hurried gallopthat had been quickened
by the report of Ivan's piecewas going right in the opposite
direction. The negro, who saw the huge shaggy quadruped coming straight
towards him, at once set up a loud hulla-balloo, and, with his eyes
almost starting from their sockets, was endeavouring to retreat
backwards, and get out of the way.
His efforts proved fruitless: for before he had made three steps to
the rear, the bearmore frightened at the two adversaries behind him
than the one in frontrushed right on, and in the next instant pushed
his snout, head, and neck between the darkey's legs!
Long before this the negro had lost his senses, but now came the
loss of his legs: for as the thick body of the bear passed between
them, both were lifted clear up from the log, and hung dangling in the
air. For several feet along the log was the negro carried upon the
bear's back, his face turned to the tail; and no doubt, had he
preserved his equilibrium, he might have continued his ride for some
distance further. But as the darkey had no desire for such a feat of
equestrianism, he kept struggling to clear himself from his involuntary
mount. His body was at length thrown heavily to one side, and its
weight acting like a lever upon the bear, caused the latter to lose his
balance, and tumbling off the log, both man and bear fell slap-dash
into the mud.
For a moment there was a confused scrambling, and spattering, and
splashing, through the soft mirea growling on the part of the bear,
and the wildest screeching from the throat of the affrighted negroall
of which came to an end by Bruinwhose body was now bedaubed all over
with black mudonce more regaining his feet, and shuffling off up the
bank, as fast as his legs could carry him.
Alexis now fired, and hit the bear behind; but the shot, so far from
staying his flight, only quickened his pace; and before the darkey had
got to his feet, the shaggy brute had loped off among the trees, and
disappeared from the sight of everybody upon the ground.
The grotesque appearance of the negro, as he rose out of the mire in
which he had been wallowing, coated all over with black mudwhich was
a shade lighter than his natural huewas too ludicrous for Ivan to
resist laughing at; and even the more serious Alexis was compelled to
give way to mirth. So overcome were both, that it was some minutes
before they thought of reloading their guns, and giving chase to the
After a time, however, they charged again; and crossing back over
the log, proceeded in the direction in which Bruin had made his
They had no idea of being able to follow him without dogs; and it
was their intention to send for one or two to the house, when they
perceived that the bear's trace could be made outat least, for some
distance without them. The inky water, that had copiously saturated
his long fur, had been constantly dripping as he trotted onward in his
flight; and this could easily be seen upon the herbage over which he
They determined, therefore, to follow this trail as far as they
could; and when it should give out, it would be time enough to send for
They had not proceeded more than a hundred yards; when all at once
the trail trended up to the bottom of a big tree. They might have
examined the ground further, but there was no need; for, on looking up
to the trunk, they perceived large blotches of mud, and several
scratches upon the bark, evidently made by the claws of a bear. These
scratches were, most of them, of old date; but there were one or two of
them quite freshly done; besides, the wet mud was of itself sufficient
proof that the bear had gone up the tree, and must still be somewhere
in its top. The tree was a sycamore, and therefore only sparsely
covered with leaves; but from its branches hung long festoons of
Spanish moss (tillandsia usneoides), that grew in large bunches
in the forksin several of which it was possible even for a bear to
have stowed himself away in concealment.
After going round the tree, however, and viewing it from all sides,
our hunters perceived that the bear was not anywhere among the moss;
but must have taken refuge in a hollow in the trunkthe mouth of which
could be seen only from one particular place; since it was hidden on
all other sides by two great limbs that led out from it, and between
which the cavity had been formed by the decaying of the heart-wood.
There could be no doubt that Bruin had entered this tree-cave; for
all around the aperture the bark was scraped and worn; and the wet mud,
lately deposited there, was visible from below.
CHAPTER FORTY ONE. CUTTING OUT THE
The question was, how he was to be got out? Perhaps by making a
noise he might issue forth?
This plan was at once tried, but without success. While the negro
rasped the bark with a pole, and struck the stick at intervals against
the trunk, the hunters stood, with guns cocked, watching the hole, and
ready to give the bear a reception, the moment he should show himself
It was all to no purpose. Bruin was too cunning for them, and did
not protrude even the tip of his snout out of his secure cavity.
After continuing the rasping, and repeating the blows, till the
woods echoed the sonorous concussions, they became convinced that this
plan would not serve their purpose, and desisted from it.
On examining the track more closely, they now perceived spots of
blood mixed among the mud which the bear had rubbed off upon the bark.
This convinced them that the animal was wounded, and therefore there
would be no chance of starting him out from his hole. It was no doubt
the wound that had led him to retreat to this tree, so near the place
where he had been attacked, otherwise he would have led them a longer
chase through the woods before attempting to hide himself. When,
severely wounded, the black bear betakes himself to the first hollow
log or tree he can find; and taking refuge in it, will there
remaineven to die in his den, if the wound has been a fatal one.
Knowing this habit of the animal, our hunters perceived that they
had no chance of again setting their eyes upon the bear, except by
cutting down the tree; and they resolved to adopt this method, and fell
the great sycamore to the ground.
The darkey was despatched to the plantation; and soon returned with
half a dozen of his brethren, armed with axesPouchskin heading the
sable band. Without further delay the chopping began; and the white
chips flew out from the great trunk in all directions.
In about an hour's time the sycamore came crashing down, carrying a
number of smaller trees along with it. The hunters, who expected that
the bear would at once spring forth, had taken their position to cover
the mouth of the cavity with their guns; but, to their surprise, the
tree fell, and lay as it had fallen, without any signs of Bruin. This
was strange enough; for, as the negroes alleged, in all similar cases
the bear is certain to charge out upon the fall of a tree that contains
A sapling was now obtained, and inserted into the cavityat first
with caution, but after a time it was punched in with all the force
that Pouchskin could put into his arm. He could feel the bear quite
distinctly; but poke the animal as he might, it would not stir.
It was suggested that they should cut into the trunkat a place
opposite to where the bear was encasedand then they could drag him
out at will; and, although this would cost a good deal of trouble, it
appeared to be the only mode of reaching the obstinate animal.
This course was followed, therefore; and a cross section being made
of the hollow trunk, the shaggy hair was at length reached, and then
the body of Bruin, who was found to be dead as a nail!
They no longer wondered that he had paid no heed to the punching of
the pole. The bullet of Alexis had traversed his huge body in a
longitudinal direction, until it had lodged in a vital part, and, of
course, it was this that had deprived him of life. He would, therefore,
have died all the same, and in his tree-den, too, whether they had
pursued him or not.
Our hunters learnt from their negro assistants a singular fact in
relation to the black bear: and that is, that the tree-cavity in which
the animal often takes shelter, or goes to sleep, is rarely of greater
width than his own body! In most cases it is so narrow, that he cannot
turn round in it, nor has it any lair at the bottom wide enough for him
to lie down upon. It follows, therefore, that he must sleep in a
standing position, or squatted upon his hams. It is in this attitude he
makes his descent into the cavity, and in the same way comes down the
trunk of the tree, when at any time making his departure from his den.
From this it would appear that the upright attitude is as natural to
this animal, as that of resting on all-fours, or even lying prostrate
on the ground; for it is well-known that, farther to the northwhere
the winters are more severe, and where the black bear hybernates for a
short seasonhe often takes his nap in a tree-cavity, which his body
completely fills, without the possibility of his turning round in it!
One precaution he takes, and that is, to scrape off all the rotten wood
around the sides of the cavity; but for what purpose he exercises this
curious instinct, neither hunter nor naturalist can tell. Perhaps it is
that the projections may not press against his body, and thus render
his couch uncomfortable?
Our young hunters found this bear one of the largest of his species,
and his skin, after the mud had been washed off, proved to be an
Of course, they coveted no other; but for all that, they had the
pleasure of being present at the death of several bears, killed in the
great hunt that came off on the appointed day.
A deer-chase was also got up for their special entertainmentduring
which a cougar was treed and killedan event of rarer occurrence
than even the death of a bear; for the cougar is now one of the
scarcest quadrupeds to be met with in the forests of North America.
Another entertainment which the planter provided for his guests was
a barbecuea species of festival peculiar to the backwoods of
America, and which, on account of its peculiarity, deserves a word or
two of description.
CHAPTER FORTY TWO. THE SQUATTER'S
As we have just said, the barbecue is a festival which especially
belongs to the backwoods settlements, although it has now become known
even in the older States, and often forms a feature in the great
political meetings of an election campaignlosing, however, much of
its true character in the elaborate adornments and improvements
sometimes bestowed upon it.
When Alexis and Ivan strolled down in the early morning to the quiet
glade which had been selected as the scene of this rural festivity,
they found there a noisy and bustling crowd. A monstrous fire of logs,
enough to roast not only a single ox, but a hecatomb of oxen, was
blazing near the edge of the glade, while a half-dozen chattering
negroes were busy digging a great pit close by. This pit, when entirely
excavated, measured some ten or twelve feet in length, by five or six
in width, and perhaps three in depth; and was lined with smooth flat
stones. As soon as the logs had ceased to flame and smoke, and were
fast falling into a mighty heap of glowing ruddy coals, they were
shovelled hastily into the pit. Another party of negroes had been busy
in the woods, searching out the tall slender saplings of the pawpaw (
asimina triloba), and now returned, bringing their spoil with them.
The saplings were laid across the top of the pit, thus extemporising
over it a huge gridiron. The ox, which was to form the staple of the
day's feast, had been killed and dressed; and, having been split in
halves after the fashion of the barbecue, was laid upon the bars to
roast. Proudly presiding over the operation was the major-domo of the
planter's household, assisted by several celebrated cooks of the
neighbourhood, and a score of chosen farm-hands, whose strength was
ever and anon invoked to turn the beef; while the chef ordered a
fresh basting, or himself sprinkled the browning surface with the
savoury dressing of pepper, salt, and fine herbs, for the composition
of which he had attained a grand reputation.
The morning wore swiftly on in the observation of these novel
manoeuvres; and with the noon came the guests in numbers from the
neighbouring plantations and settlements. Even the determined
resistance of the toughest beef must have failed before the hot attack
of such an army of live coals, as had lain intrenched in the deep
fireplace; and the tender joints of the enormous boeuf roti were
ready to bear their share in the festivities almost as soon as the
invited company. Separated with great cleavers, and laid into white
button-wood trays hollowed out for the purpose, they were borne rapidly
to the shady nook selected for the dining-place, followed by vast
supplies of sweet potatoes, roasted in the ashes, and of rich, golden
maize bread. A barrel of rare cider was broached; while good
old-fashioned puddings, and the luscious fruits of the region completed
the bill of fare in honour of the day. Of course joy was unconfined.
Everybody pronounced the roast a grand success; and the young Russians
thought that they had never tasted so appetising a meal. With the
exhilaration of the fresh, clear air, the encouragement of hearty
appetite, and the full flavour of the meatfor it is well-known that
the sap which exudes from the pawpaw, when thus exposed to fire, adds a
new relish to whatever is cooked upon itcombined to make a dinner fit
for the Czar himself; and they determined to attempt, at some time, an
imitation of the Southern barbecue under the colder sky of Russia.
Merriment was unbounded; healths were drunk, songs sung, odd
speeches made, and stories told.
One of the last in particular made an impression upon our heroes;
partly, because it was a bear story, and partly because it illustrated
a very characteristic phase of squatter life and practical humour. In
fact, Alexis made a sketch of it in his journal, and from his notes we
now reconstruct it.
Two squatters had occupied lands not far from each other, and within
some eight or ten miles of a small town. Busied in clearing off the
woodland, each bethought himself of a source of revenue beyond the
produce of his tilled ground. He would occupy an occasional leisure day
in hauling to the town, the logs which he cut from time to time, and
then selling them as firewood. This unity of purpose naturally brought
the two men into competition with one another for the limited custom of
the settlement; and a rivalry sprang up between them, which was fast
ripening into jealousy and ill-will, when a curious coincidence
Each owned a single yoke of oxen, which he used regularly in his
farm labour, and also in dragging his wood to market. Within a week
each lost an ox; one dying of some bovine distemper,the other being
so injured by the fall of a tree, that his owner had been obliged to
As one ox could not draw a wood-wagon, the occupation of both
squatters as wood merchants was goneand even farm operations were
likely to suffer. Each soon heard of his neighbour's predicament; and
proposed to himself to make a bargain for the remaining ox, that he
might be the possessor of the pair, continue his clearing prosperously,
and command the wood-hauling business. But, as one might suppose, where
both parties were so fully bent upon accomplishing their own ends, the
trade was no nearer a conclusion when a dozen negotiations had taken
place than at first. So matters stood in statu quo, the days
rolled by, and our two squatters found their condition waxing
One fine morning, squatter the first started off to make a last
attemptdetermined to close the bargain peaceably if he could,
forcibly if he must. Revolving project upon project in his mind, he had
traversed the two or three miles of woodland which lay between him and
his neighbour's clearing, and was just entering it, when a sudden
rustle and significant growl coming from behind broke in upon his
reverie. Turning hastily, he saw almost at his heels a bear of the most
unprepossessing aspect. To reach the cabin before Bruin could overtake
him was impossible; and to turn upon the creature would be folly: for,
in the depth of his deliberation, he had forgotten on leaving home to
take any kind of weapon with him. Some dead trees had been left
standing in the field, and to one of these he sped with flying steps,
hoping to find shelter behind it till help could come. He did not hope
in vain for this protection. He found that by pretty active dodging, he
could keep the trunk of the tree between himself and the bearwhose
brain could hardly follow the numerous shifts made by the squatter to
escape the frequent clutches of his claws. Rising indignantly upon his
hind legs, the bear made a fierce rush at the squatter, but hugged only
the tough old tree, in whose bark he buried deep his pointed claws. An
inspiration flashed through the squatter's mind, as he saw the bear
slowly and with some difficulty dragging out his nails; and seizing
Bruin's shanks just above the paws, he braced himself against the tree,
resolved to try and hold the claws into their woody sockets until his
neighbour could respond to his halloos for help.
The other squatter heard his cries; but instead of hastening to the
rescue, he came slowly along, carelessly shouldering his axe.
Perceiving his neighbour's difficulty, a new solution of the ox
question had entered his mind; and to the redoubled appeals for
assistance, he calmly replied
On one condition, neighbour!
What is it? anxiously inquired the other.
If I let you loose from the bar, you'll gi' me up your odd steer.
There was no help for it, and with a heavy sigh, the prisoner
consented. Stop! cried he, ere the axe could fall; this old brute
has half plagued the life out o' me, and I'd like nothing better'n the
satisfaction o' killin' him myself. Jest you ketch hold here, and let
me give him his death-blow.
The second squatter, rejoicing beyond measure at having accomplished
his long-desired purpose, unsuspiciously agreed, dropped the axe,
cautiously grasped the sinewy shanks, and bent his strength to the
momentary struggle. To his utter dismay, he beheld his neighbour
quietly shoulder the axe, and walk away from the ground!
Hold on! he shouted; ain't ye goin' to kill the bar?
Wal, not jest now, I fancy; I thought you might like to hang on a
The tables thus turned, the deluded squatter had no resource but to
make terms with his grimly gleeful neighbour, who at last consented to
put an end to the wild beast's life, if he might not only be released
from the bargain he had just made, but, in addition, be himself the
recipient of the odd ox. Sorely chagrined, the second squatter
consented. But he was a little comforted at the idea of a slight
revanche that had just entered his head. Watching his chance, as
the other approached to deal the fatal blow, with a desperate effort he
tore out the bear's claws from the barksetting the infuriated animal
freeand then fled at full speed to his cabin, leaving the two
original combatants to fight it out between themselves.
The particulars of the contest even tradition has not preservedthe
sequel to the narrative only telling that half an hour later the first
squatter, scratched and bloody, hobbled slowly up to the cabin,
remarking satirically as he threw down the broken axe:
Thar, neighbour; I'm afraid I've spiled yer axe, but I'm sure I've
spiled the bar. Prehaps you'd let one o' your leetle boys drive that
ere ox over to my house?
After enjoying the hospitality of their planter friend for a few
days longer, our travellers once more resumed their journey; and
proceeded up the great Mississippi, towards the cold countries of the
CHAPTER FORTY THREE. THE POLAR BEAR.
A few weeks after leaving the Louisiana planter, our hunters were
receiving hospitality from a very different kind of host, a
fur-trader. Their headquarters was Fort Churchill, on the western
shore of Hudson's Bay, and once the chief entrepot of the famous
company who have so long directed the destinies of that extensive
region sometimes styled Prince Rupert's Land, but more generally
known as the Hudson's Bay Territory.
To Fort Churchill they had travelled almost due northfirst up the
Mississippi, then across land to Lake Superior, and direct over the
lake to one of the Company's posts on its northern shore. Thence by a
chain of lakes, rivers, and portages to York factory, and on
northward to Fort Churchill. Of course, at Fort Churchill they had
arrived within the range of the great white or Polar bear (ursus
maritimus), who was to be the next object of their chasse.
In the neighbourhood of York factory, and even further to the south,
they might have found bears of this species: for the ursus maritimus
extends his wanderings all round the shores of Hudson's Baythough not
to those of James' Bay further south. The latitude of 55 degrees is his
southern limit upon the continent of America; but this only refers to
the shores of Labrador and those of Hudson's Bay. On the western coast
Behring's Straits appears to form his boundary southward; and even
within these, for some distance along both the Asiatic and American
shores, he is one of the rarest of wanderers. His favourite range is
among the vast conglomeration of islands and peninsulas that extend
around Hudson's and Baffin's Bays including the icebound coasts of
Greenland and Labradorwhile going westward to Behring's Straits,
although the great quadruped is occasionally met with, he is much more
rare. Somewhat in a similar manner, are the white bears distributed in
the eastern hemisphere. While found in great plenty in the Frozen
Ocean, in its central and eastern parts, towards the west, on the
northern coasts of Russia and Lapland, they are never seenexcept when
by chance they have strayed thither, or been drifted upon masses of
It is unnecessary to remark that this species of bear lives almost
exclusively near the sea, and by the sea. He may be almost said
to dwell upon it: since out of the twelve months in the year, ten of
them at least are passed by him upon the fields of ice. During the
short summer of the Arctic regions, he makes a trip inlandrarely
extending it above fifty miles, and never over a hundredguided in his
excursions by the courses of rivers that fall into the sea. His purpose
in making these inland expeditions, is to pick up the freshwater fish;
which he finds it convenient to catch in the numerous falls or shallows
of the streams. He also varies his fish diet at this season, by making
an occasional meal on such roots and berries as he may find growing
along the banks. At other times of the year, when all inland water is
frozen up, and even the sea to a great distance from land, he then
keeps along the extreme edge of the frozen surface, and finds his food
in the open water of the sea. Sea-fish of different species, seals, the
young walrus, and even at times the young of the great whale itself,
become his prevail of which he hunts and captures with a skill and
cunning, that appears more the result of a reasoning process than a
His natatory powers appear to have no limit: at all events, he has
been met with swimming about in open water full twenty miles from
either ice or land. He has been often seen much further from shore,
drifting upon masses of ice; but it is doubtful whether he cared much
for the footing thus afforded him. It is quite possible he can swim as
long as it pleases him, or until his strength may become exhausted by
hunger. While going through the water, it does not appear necessary for
him to make the slightest effort; and he can even spring up above the
surface, and bound forward after the manner of porpoises or other
If any quadruped has ever reached the pole, it is the polar bear;
and it is quite probable that his range extends to this remarkable
point on the earth's surface. Most certainly it may, if we suppose that
there is open water around the polea supposition that, by analogical
reasoning, may be proved to be correct. The daring Parry found white
bears at 82 degrees; and there is no reason why they should not
traverse the intervening zone of 500 odd miles, almost as easily as the
fowls of the air or the fish of the sea. No doubt there are polar bears
around the pole; though it may be assumed for certain that none of them
ever attempts to swarm up it, as the white bear is not the best
climber of his kind. The female of the polar bear is not so much
addicted to a maritime life as her liege lord. The former, unless when
barren, keeps upon the land; and it is upon the land that she brings
forth her young. When pregnant, she wanders off to some distance from
the shore; and choosing her bed, she lies down, goes to sleep, and
there remains until spring. She does not, like other hybernating bears,
seek out a cave or hollow tree; for in the desolate land she inhabits,
ofttimes neither one nor the other could be found. She merely waits for
the setting-in of a great snow-stormwhich her instinct warns her
ofand then, stretching herself under the lee of a rockor other
inequality, where the snow will be likely to form a deep driftshe
remains motionless till it has smoored her quite up, often covering
her body to the depth of several feet. There she remains throughout the
winter, completely motionless, and apparently in a state of torpor. The
heat of her body thawing the snow that comes immediately in contact
with it, together with some warmth from her limited breathing, in time
enlarges the space around her, so that she reclines inside a sort of
icy shell. It is fortunate that circumstances provide her with this
extra room: since in due course of time she will stand in need of it
for the company she expects.
And in process of time it is called into use. When the spring sun
begins to melt the snow outside, the bear becomes a mother, and a brace
of little white cubs make their appearance, each about as big as a
The mother does not immediately lead them forth from their snowy
chamber; but continues to suckle them there until they are of the size
of Arctic foxes, and ready to take the road. Then she makes an effort,
breaks through the icy crust that forms the dome of her dwelling, and
commences her journey towards the sea.
There are times when the snow around her has become so firmly caked,
that, with her strength exhausted by the suckling of her cubs, the bear
is unable to break through it. In a case of this kind, she is compelled
to remain in an involuntary duranceuntil the sun gradually melts the
ice around her and sets her free. Then she issues from her prolonged
imprisonment, only the shadow of her former self, and scarce able to
keep her feet.
The Northern Indians and Eskimos capture hundreds of these
hybernating bears every seasontaking both them and their cubs at the
same time. They find the retreat in various ways: sometimes by their
dogs scraping to get into it, and sometimes by observing the white hoar
that hangs over a little hole which the warmth of the bear's breath has
kept open in the snow.
The hunters, having ascertained the exact position of the animal's
body, either dig from above, and spear the old she in her bed; or they
make a tunnel in a horizontal direction, and, getting a noose around
the head or one of the paws of the bear, drag her forth in that way.
To give an account of the many interesting habits peculiar to the
polar bearwith others which this species shares in common with the
Bruin familywould require a volume to itself. These habits are well
described by many writers of veracity,such as Lyon, Hearne,
Richardson, and a long array of other Arctic explorers. It is therefore
unnecessary to dwell on them herewhere we have only space to narrate
an adventure which occurred to our young bear-hunters, while procuring
the skin of this interesting quadruped.
CHAPTER FORTY FOUR. THE OLD SHE
They had been for some days on the lookout for a white bear; and had
made several excursions from the Portgoing as far as the mouth of the
Seal river, which runs into Hudson's Bay a little farther to the north.
On all these excursions they had been unsuccessful; for, although they
had several times come upon the track of the bears, and had even seen
them at a distance, they were unable in a single instance to get within
shot. The difficulty arose from the level nature of the ground, and its
being quite destitute of trees or other cover, under which they might
approach the animals. The country around Fort Churchill is of this
characterand indeed along the whole western shore of Hudson's Bay,
where the soil is a low alluviom, without either rocks or hills. This
formation runs landward for about a hundred milesconstituting a strip
of marshy soil, which separates the sea from a parallel limestone
formation further inward. Then succeed the primitive rocks, which cover
a large interior tract of country, known as the Barren Grounds.
It is only on the low belt adjoining the coast that the polar bear
is found; but the females range quite across to the skirts of the woods
which cover the limestone formation. Our hunters therefore knew that
either upon the shore itself, or upon the low alluvial tract adjoining
it, they would have to search for their game; and to this district they
confined their search.
On the fifth day they made a more extended excursion towards the
interior. It was now the season of midsummer, when the old males range
up the banks of the streams: partly with the design of catching a few
freshwater fish, partly to nibble at the sweet berries, but above all
to meet the females, who just then, with their half-grown cubs, come
coyly seaward to meet their old friends of the previous year, and
introduce their offspring to their fathers, who up to this hour have
not set eyes on them.
On the present excursion our hunters were more fortunate than
before: since they not only witnessed a reunion of this sort, but
succeeded in making a capture of the whole family,father, mother, and
They had on this occasion gone up the Churchill river, and were
ascending a branch stream that runs into the latter, some miles above
the fort. Their mode of travelling was in a birch-bark canoe: for
horses are almost unknown in the territory of the Hudson's Bay Company,
excepting in those parts of it that consist of prairie. Throughout most
of this region the only means of travelling is by canoes and boats,
which are managed by men who follow it as a calling, and who are styled
voyageurs. They are nearly all of Canadian originmany of them
half-breeds, and extremely skilful in the navigation of the lakes and
rivers of this untrodden wilderness. Of course most of them are in the
employ of the Hudson's Bay Company; and when not actually engaged in
voyaging do a little hunting and trapping on their own account.
Two of these voyageurskindly furnished by the chief factor at the
fortpropelled the canoe which carried our young hunters; so that with
Pouchskin there were five men in the little craft. This was nothing,
however, as birch-bark canoes are used in the Territory of a much
larger kindsome that will even carry tons of merchandise and a great
many men. Along the bank of the stream into which they had now entered
grew a selvage of willowshere and there forming leafy thickets that
were impenetrable to the eye; but in other places standing so thinly,
that the plains beyond them could be seen out of the canoe.
It was a likely enough place for white bears to be found
inespecially at this season, when, as already stated, the old males
go inland to meet the females, as well as to indulge in a little
vegetable diet, after having confined themselves all the rest of the
year to fish and seal-flesh. The voyageurs said that there were many
bulbous roots growing in those low meadows of which the bears are very
fond; and also larvae of certain insects, found in heaps, like
anthillswhich by Bruin are esteemed a delicacy of the rarest kind.
For this reason our hunters were regarding the land on both sides of
the stream, occasionally standing up in the canoe to reconnoitre over
the tops of the willows, or peering through them where they grew
thinly. While passing opposite one of the breaks in the willow-grove, a
spectacle came before their eyes that caused them to order the canoe to
be stopped, and the voyageurs to rest on their oars.
Alexis, who had been upon the lookout, at first did not know what to
make of the spectacle: so odd was the grouping of the figures that
composed it. He could see a large number of animals of quadrupedal
form, but of different colours. Some were nearly white, others brown or
reddish-brown, and several were quite black. All appeared to have long
shaggy hair, cocked ears, and large bushy tails. They were not standing
at rest, but moving aboutnow running rapidly from point to point, now
leaping up in the air, while some were rushing round in circles! In all
there appeared to be thirty or forty of them; and they covered a space
of ground about as large as a drawing-room floor.
There was a slight haze or mist hanging over the meadow, which
hindered Alexis from having a clear view of these animals; and, through
the magnifying influence of this sort of atmosphere, they appeared as
large as young oxen. Their form, however, was very different from
these; and from their pointed ears, long muzzles, and full bunching
tails, Alexis could think of nothing else to compare them to but
wolves. Their varied colours signified nothing: since in these northern
lands there are wolves of many varieties from white to black; and
wolves they really wereonly magnified by the mist into gigantic
Alexis had not viewed them long before perceiving that they were not
all wolves. In their midst was an animal of a very different kind
much larger than any of them; but what sort of a creature it was the
young hunter could not make out.
Ivan, who had risen to his feet, was equally puzzled to tell.
It appeared as large as half a dozen of the wolves rolled up into
one, and was whiter than the whitest of them; but it looked as if it
had a hunch upon its back; and altogether more like a shapeless mass of
white bristly hair than a regularly-formed quadruped. It must be an
animal, however, as its motions testified; for it was seen to be
turning round and round, and at intervals darting forward a pace or
two, as if working its way in the direction of the river.
Whatever the animal was, it soon became clear that it was battling
with the wolves that surrounded it; and this accounted for the singular
movements that these last were making, as well as for their fierce
barking and growling that, in confused chorus, filled the air. At
intervals, and still louder, could be heard a different sort of cry
shrill and plaintive, like the hinny of a muleand evidently
proceeding not from the wolves, but from the huge white animal which
they were assailing.
The voyageurs at once recognised the cry.
A bear!a sea bear! exclaimed both together.
One of them stood up, and looked over the plain.
Yes, said he, confirming his first assertion. An old she it is,
surrounded by wolves. Ha! it's her cubs they're after! Voila,
messieurs! She's got one of them on her back. Enfant de garce, how the old beldam keeps them at bay! She's fighting her way to the
Guided by the words of the voyageur, our hunters now perceived
clearly enough that the white object appearing over the backs of the
wolves was neither more nor less than a large bear; and that which they
had taken for a hunch upon its shoulders was another beara young one,
stretched out at full length along the back of its mother, and clinging
there, with its forearms clasped around her neck.
It was evident, also, as the voyageur had said, that the old she was
endeavouring to work her way towards the riverin hopes, no doubt, of
retreating to the water, where she knew the wolves would not dare to
follow her. This was evidently her design: for, while they stood
watching, she advanced several yards of ground in the direction of the
Notwithstanding the fierce eagerness with which the wolves kept up
the attack, they were observing considerable caution in the conflict.
They had good reason: since before their eyes was an example of what
they might expect, if they came to very close quarters. Upon the
ground over which the fight had been raging, three or four of their
number were seen lying apparently deadwhile others were limping
around, or sneaked off with whining cries, licking the wounds they had
received from the long claws of their powerful adversary.
It was rather an odd circumstance for the wolves to have thus
attacked a polar bearan antagonist of which they stand in the utmost
dread. The thing, however, was explained by one of the voyageurs; who
said that the bear in question was a weak onehalf-famished, perhaps,
and feeble from having suckled her young; and it was the cubs, and not
the old bear herself, that the wolves were afterthinking to separate
these from their mother, and so destroy and devour them. Perhaps one of
them had been eaten up already: since only one could be seen; and there
are always two cubs in a litter.
Our young hunters did not think of staying longer to watch the
strange encounter. Their sole idea was to get possession of the bear
and her cub; and with this intent they ordered the voyageurs to paddle
close up to the shore and land them. As soon as the canoe touched the
bank, both leaped out; and, followed by Pouchskin, proceeded towards
the scene of the conflict,the voyageurs remaining in the canoe.
CHAPTER FORTY FIVE. A WHOLE FAMILY
The party had not gone more than a dozen steps from the water's
edge, when a new object coming under their eyes caused them to halt.
This was another quadruped that at that moment was seen dashing out
from the willows, and rushing onward towards the scene of the strife.
There was no mistaking the character of the creature. Our hunters saw
at a glance that it was a large white bearmuch larger than the one
surrounded by the wolves. It was, in fact, the male; who, wandering in
the thicket of willowsor, more likely, lying there asleephad not
till that moment been aware of what was going on, or that his wife and
children were in such deadly danger. Perhaps it was the noise that had
awaked him; and he was just in the act of hastening forward to the
With a shuffling gallop he glided over the plainas fast as a horse
could have gone; and in a few seconds he was close up to the scene of
the conflictto which his presence put an end right on the instant.
The wolves, seeing him rush open-mouthed towards them, one and all
bolted off; and ran at full speed over the plain, their long tails
streaming out behind them. Those that were wounded, however, could not
get clear so easily; and the enraged bear, charging upon these, rushed
from one to the other, knocking the breath out of each as he came up to
it, with a single pat of his heavy paws.
In less than ten seconds the ground was quite cleared of the
ravenous wolves. Only the dead ones remained on it; while the others,
having got off to a safe distance, halted in straggling groups; and,
with their tails drooping upon the grass, stood gazing back with looks
of melancholy disappointment.
Bruin, meanwhile, having settled his affair with the wounded wolves,
ran up to his mate; and, throwing his paws around her neck, appeared to
congratulate her upon her escape! And now did our hunters perceive that
there were two cubs instead of onethat which still clung fast upon
the mother's back, and another which was seen under her belly, and
which she had been equally protecting against the crowd of assailants
that surrounded her.
Both the little fellowsabout as large as foxes they werenow
perceived that they were out of a dangerwhich, no doubt, they had
perfectly comprehended. That upon the shoulders of the dam leaped down
to the earth; while the other crawled out from under; and both coming
together began tumbling about over the grass, and rolling over one
another in play, the parents watching with interest their uncouth
Notwithstanding the well-known ferocity of these animals, there was
something so tender in the spectacle, that our hunters hesitated about
advancing. Alexis, in particular, whose disposition was a shade more
gentle than that of his companions, felt certain qualms of compassion,
as he looked upon this exhibition of feelings and affections that
appeared almost human. Ivan was even touched; and certainly neither he
nor his brother would have slain these creatures out of mere wanton
sport. They would not have thought of such a thing under ordinary
circumstances; and it was only from the necessity they were under of
procuring the skin that they thought of it at all. Perhaps they would
even have passed this group; and taken their chances of finding
another, that might make a less powerful appeal to their compassion;
but in this they were overruled by Pouchskin. The old grenadier was
afflicted by no such tender sentiments; and throwing aside all scruple,
before his young masters could interfere to prevent him, he advanced a
few paces forward, and discharged his fusil, broadside at the biggest
of the bears.
Whether he hit the bear or not, was not then known. Certain it was
that he in no way crippled the animal; for, as soon as the smoke had
cleared out of his eyes, he saw the huge quadruped part from the side
of his mate, and come charging down upon him.
Pouchskin hesitated for a moment whether to withstand the attack,
and had drawn his knife to be ready; but the formidable appearance of
the antagonist, his immense size, and fierce aspect, admonished
Pouchskin that in this case discretion might be the better part of
valour, and he yielded to the suggestion. Indeed, the two voyageurs in
the canoe were already shouting to all three to run for itwarning
them of the danger they were in by the most earnest speech and gesture.
Ivan and Alexis stood their ground till Pouchskin had returned to
where they were, and then both fired upon the bear. They may have hit
him or not; but the huge monster showed no sign, and only appeared to
charge forward the faster.
All three together now ran for the boat. It was their only refuge;
for had it been a trial of speed, and much ground to go over, the bear
would certainly have overtaken them; and a few wipes from his paw would
have ended the life of one or the otherperhaps of the whole trio.
It was fortunate they had the boat to flee to: else Pouchskin's
imprudence, in provoking the bear, might have led to a fatal
Quick as their legs could carry them they made for the canoe; and
one after the other leaped into it. Without even waiting for them to
seat themselves, the two voyageurs pushed off from the bank, suddenly
shooting the craft out into the middle of the stream.
But this did not stay the pursuit of the infuriated bear, nor even
delay him for a moment.
On reaching the bank, he did not make halt; but, launching out,
sprang down with a plunge upon the water. Then, stretching his body at
full length, he swam direct after the canoe.
The craft had been turned head down the stream; and, what with the
help of the current and the impulse of the oars, it swept onward with
arrow-like rapidity. But for all that it soon became apparent that the
bear was gaining upon ithis broad paws enabling him to swim with the
velocity of a fishwhile every now and then he rose above the surface,
and bounded forward to a distance of several feet through the air!
The voyageurs plied their paddles with all their skill and energy;
there was the dread of death to stimulate them to the utmost exertion
of their strength. They knew well, that, if the bear should succeed in
coming up with the canoe, he would either mount into it, and drive all
of them into the water; or, what was more probable, he would upset the
craft, and spill the whole party out of it. In either case, there would
be the danger of coming in contact with his claws; and that, they knew,
was the danger of death itself.
The hunters were all three busy reloading their guns; and getting
ready to fire before the enemy should be up to them.
They were not in time, however. With the motion of the boat, and the
constrained attitudes in which it placed them, the loading was a slow
process; and, before any of the three had a bullet down, the bear was
close astern. Only Ivan had a barrel loaded; and this, unfortunately,
was with small shot, which he had been keeping for waterfowl. He fired
it, nevertheless, right into the teeth of the pursuer; but, instead of
stopping him, it only increased his rage, and roused him to make still
greater efforts to overtake the canoe.
Pouchskin, in despair, threw down his gun, and seized upon an axe,
that by good luck had been brought in the boat. With this firmly
grasped in his hands, and kneeling in the stern, he waited the approach
of the infuriated swimmer.
The bear had got close up to the boatin fact was within the length
of his own body of touching it. Believing himself now near enough, he
made one of his prodigious bounds, and launched himself forward. His
sharp claws rattled against the birch-bark, tearing a large flake from
the craft. Had this not given way, his hold would have been complete;
and the boat would, in all likelihood, have been dragged, stern
foremost, under water. But the failure of his clutch brought the head
of the monster once more on a level with the surface; and before he
could raise it to make a second spring, the great wedge of steel
descended upon his crown, and went crashing through his skull.
Almost in the same instant, he was seen to turn over in the water;
his limbs moved only with a spasmodic action; he gave a feeble kick or
two with his long hind legs; and then his carcass floated along the
surface, like a mass of white foam.
It was soon secured, and drawn out upon the bankfor the purpose of
being stripped of its snow-white robe.
Our young hunters would have been contented to have left the others
aloneneither the female nor her cubs being required by them. But the
voyageurswho were desirous of obtaining the skins of all three on
their own accountproposed returning to effect their destruction; and
in this proposal they were backed by Pouchskin, who had a natural
antipathy to all bears.
It ended in the killing of the dam, and the capturing of her cubs
alive; for, encumbered as the old she was with her offspring, she was
soon overtaken, and fell an easy victim to the volley of bullets that
were poured into her from all sides at once.
With the skins of the old bears, and the cubs tied in the bottom of
the canoe, our hunters started back down stream; but they had scarce
parted from the place, before the ravenous wolves returnednot only to
devour the carcases of the bears, but also those of their own comrades
that had fallen in the encounter!
CHAPTER FORTY SIX. THE BARREN
The Barren Ground bear was next to be sought for; but to reach the
haunts of this animal, a long and toilsome journey must be made. That
tract of the Hudson's Bay territory known as the Barren Grounds,
extends from the shores of the Arctic Sea as far south as the latitude
of the Churchill river; bounded eastward by Hudson's Bay itself, and
westward by a chain of lakes, of which the Great Slave and Athapescow
are the principal.
This immense territory is almost unexplored to the present hour.
Even the Hudson's Bay trappers have a very imperfect knowledge of it.
It has been crossed in one or two places, and skirted by exploring
parties, but it is still almost a terra ignota, except to the
four or five tribes of Indians who dwell around its borders, and the
Esquimaux, who venture a little way into it along the coast of the
Before proceeding to hunt the Barren Ground bear, let us say a word
about his species. By writers, both old and modern, he has been
variously classed. Even the ablest naturalist who has written about him
is puzzled as to his species. We speak of Sir John Richardson, the
companion of the lamented Franklin, and himself one of the great men of
the earth. Sir John first regarded this bear, though very doubtfully,
as a variety of the ursus americanus, or American black bear.
Later observations influenced him to change this opinion; and again
with modest doubtfulnesscharacteristic of the manhe suggests his
being a variety of the ursus arctos.
We shall make bold to affirm that he is a variety of neither; but a
distinct species of bear.
We shall give our reasonsand first, as to his distinctness from
the ursus americanus. He is not like the latter, either in
colour, shape of body, bulk, profile, physiognomy, length of feet or
tail. In all these respects he bears a greater resemblance to the
ursus arctos, or even to his nearer neighbour, the grizzly (
ursus ferox). He differs from both these, however, in other
pointsas will presently be seen. Again, he is of a fiercer
disposition than the black bear, and more dangerous to the
hunteralmost as much so as the grizzly, and quite as much as the
brown. Moreover, he dwells in a country in which the black bear could
not make his home. To the existence of the latter, the forest is
essential; and he is never found far out of it. It is not the higher
latitude that keeps him out of the Barren Grounds, but the absence of
timber. This is proved by the fact of his being found quits as far
northward as any part of the Barren Grounds, but where the limestone
formation favours the growth of trees; whereas, among the primitive
rocks to the north of Nelson river, the black bear does not existthe
very region that appears most favourable to the existence of the Barren
Ground specieswho cares not for trees, and cannot climb them.
Still another material difference may be pointed out. The black
bear, in his normal state, is altogether frugivorousa true vegetable
feeder. The other is carnivorous and piscivorousat one season killing
and eating marmots and mice, at another frequenting the sea coast and
subsisting upon fish. In a word, the two bears are as unlike as may
bethey are distinct species.
To compare the Barren Ground bear with the ursus arctos. The
former is certainly much more like this species, than he is to the
ursus americanus; but again we encounter notable points of
difference; and were it not for a certain resemblance in colour, it is
possible the two kinds would never have been brought into comparison.
It is easy, however, to prove them also distinct speciesby simply
observing that their habits are altogether unlike. The ursus arctos
is a tree-climbing wood bear: the Barren Ground species is not.
The former prefers a vegetable dietthe latter likes better fish,
flesh, and insectsthough he will also fill his stomach with a farrago
of vegetable matters.
But to say nothing of the very different habits of the two animals,
there is a yellowish tinge over the fur of the American species, that
is not observed in the brown bears of European countriesexcept,
perhaps, in those of the Pyreneesand at certain seasons this tinge
turns so pale, as to give a whitish appearance to the animal: hence, by
the Indians, they are often termed white bears.
It is, besides, altogether improbable, that the brown bear of Europe
should turn up in the Barren Grounds of the Hudson's Bay
territoryan isolated, treeless tractquite unlike his habitat in the
Old World; and to which no line of migration could be traced with much
probability. We might suppose such a migration through Siberia and
Russian America; and certainly there is some probability in this view:
for although it has been hitherto stated that the Barren Ground bear is
only found within the limits of the peculiar district so called, it is
very certain that his range extends beyond these boundaries. The brown
bear of Russian America and the Aleutian Islands appears to be
identical with this species; and there is a suspicion, that the brown
species of Kamschatka is no other than the Barren Ground bear of the
Hudson's Bay. The fishing habits of the former go some ways towards an
identification of the two speciesat the same time separating both
from the ursus arctos of Scandinavia.
It needs hardly to be argued, that the Barren Ground bear is quite a
distinct animal from the grizzly though writers have often confounded
them. They are different in size and colour. Though the grizzly is
sometimes brown, it is always with a mixture of white tipped hairs; but
the most essential distinction is to be found in the greater ferocity
of the latter, and his far longer and more curving claws. Many other
points might be mentionedshowing them to be animals of two separate
speciesbesides, their range is altogether distinct.
The Barren Ground bear, then, is not the ursus arctos, americanus, or ferox. What then? Has he received no specific name from the
naturalists? Not yet. Alexis, however, bestowed one upon him. He named
him after the man who has given the clearest account of his country and
his habits; and whom Alexis deemed most worthy of the honour. In his
journal we find the record. There it is written, that the Barren Ground
bear is the ursus Richardsonii.
CHAPTER FORTY SEVEN. BRUIN TAKING A
To seek the haunts of this new species of bear, I have said that our
hunters would have a long journey to makeeven so far as the Great
Slave Lakefor although the Barren Grounds extend many degrees to the
south of this water, the ursus Richardsonii; rarely wanders to a
lower latitude. Upon the shores of the Slave Lake, however, they would
be certain to encounter him; and thither they repaired.
They were fortunate in the time of the year. The annual brigade of
boats belonging to the Great Fur Company was just setting out from York
Factory, for Norway House on Lake Winnipeg; and thence a division of it
would proceed to the posts still further northwardon Lake Athapescow
and the waters of the Mackenzie Riverpassing through the Slave Lake
itself. Their object, of course, in their annual journey is to
distribute at the fur stations, the goods, brought from England by the
Company's ships, and in return bring back the peltries collected
throughout the winter.
With the brigade, then, went our hunters; and after enduring, in
common with the others, the hardships and perils incidental to such a
long inland voyage, they at length found themselves at the point of
their destinationFort Resolution, on the Great Slave Lake, near the
mouth of the river bearing the same appellation. The canoe of an Indian
fishermanof which there are many dwelling around the shores of this
great inland seawas soon pressed into service; and with the fisherman
(who of course was a hunter also) for their guide and companion, they
could make convenient excursions along the shores of the lake, land
whenever they pleased, and search for Bruin in the localities where he
was most likely to be encountered. In this they were assisted by their
hired guide; who was not long in putting them upon the trail of a bear.
In fact, in the very first excursion which they made, one of the true
breed was discovered and captured.
The circumstances attending his capture were of no very particular
interest; but as they illustrate one of the habits of this species, we
shall give them as recorded in the journal of Alexis.
They were paddling gently along the shorethrough water that was as
calm as a pondwhen, at a great distance ahead of them, the Indian
observed a slight rippling upon the surface, and pointed it out. It was
not caused by the wind; for there was not a breath stirring at the
time; and it was not like the whitish curl which a breeze casts upon
the surface of water. It resembled more a series of little wavelets,
such as proceed from a stone plunged into a deep pool, or from a
disturbance of the water caused by the movements of some animal. The
Indian said that it was a bear: though there was no bear, nor any
living thing in sight!
As the canoe moved nearer, our hunters perceived that there was an
indentation on the shorea little creek or bay out of which the
ripples were proceeding. The guide knew that there was such a bay; and
believed that the bear would be found somewhere within it, swimming
about in the water.
The hunters did not stay to inquire the reason why Bruin should be
thus bathing himself? There was no time: for just at that instant the
Indian beached his canoe; and desired them all to disembark and follow
such further instructions as he might give them. Without hesitation
they accepted his invitation; resolved to act according to his counsel.
The Indian, after making his boat fast, took the route inland,
followed by the other three. After going some three or four hundred
yards, he turned to the left, and conducted the party around the shore
of the baywhich trended in a semicircular or horse-shoe shape. He did
not take all of them around; but only one, whom he stationed on the
opposite side. This was Pouchskin. Ivan he had already placed on the
nearer side, and Alexis at the bottomso that they were thus set at
the three angles of a triangle, nearly equilateral.
On assigning to each of them his station, the Indian further
instructed them to creep forward among the busheswhich still
separated them from the waterand to do so without making any noise,
till they should hear a whoop from himself. This would be the signal
for them to show themselves around the edge of the bayin the water of
which the Indian hunter was confident a bear was bathing himself. He
himself returned to his canoe.
Agreeably to his instructions, the three hunters crawled
forwardeach on his own line of approach, and all observing the
greatest caution and silence. As soon as their eyes rested upon the
water, they perceived the correctness of the Indian's conjecture. A
bear there was, sure enough!
They saw only his head; but this was sufficient for Bruin's
identification: since no similar cranium could have been encountered in
such a place.
As the Indian had apprised them, the bear was swimming about in the
bay; but for what purpose it was at first difficult to make out. To
their astonishment, he swam with his mouth wide openso that they
could see the interior of his great encarmined palate, while his long
tongue flapped out at intervals, and appeared to sweep the surface of
the water. At intervals, too, he was seen to close his mouththe huge
jaws coming together with a clap-clap, the noise of which could be
heard echoing far over the lake!
He did not go long in one course; but ever and anon kept turning
himself, and quartering the bay in every direction.
It was a long time before the spectators could find any explanation
of these odd manoeuvres on the part of the bear. They might have
fancied he was merely taking a cool bath to refresh himself: for the
day was exceedingly hot, and the air was filled with mosquitoesas our
hunters had already learnt to their great discomfort. It might have
been to get rid of these tormentors that Bruin had submerged his body
in the water; and so Pouchskin concluded, and also Ivanthough both
were puzzled by the odd behaviour of the bear, in swimming
open-mouthed, and at intervals snapping his jaws as he did. Alexis,
however, was a better reasoner; and soon discovered the why and the
wherefore of these mysterious demonstrations. Alexis saw that the
surface of the water was thickly coated with something; and, on
scrutinising it more closely, he made out this something to be a swarm
of insects. There appeared to be more than one species of themtwo
indeed there wereboth about the size of ordinary gadflies; but
altogether different from each other in colour and habits. One was a
sort of water-beetle that swam near the surface; while the other was a
winged insect that occasionally rose into the air, but more generally
crawled along the watermaking short runs from place to place, then
stopping a moment, and then darting on again. The whole surface of the
bayand even out for some distance into the lakefairly swarmed with
these creatures; and it was in pursuit of them that Bruin was whisking
his tongue so rapidly about, and bringing his jaws together in such
sonorous concussion. The animal was simply indulging in a favourite
mealwhich in summer is furnished him not only on the shores of the
Great Slave Lake, but most of the smaller lakes throughout the Barren
Alexis had scarce finished making the observation, when a loud
whoop was heard from the direction of the lake; and almost at the
same instant the canoe of the Indian was seen shooting through the
water, right for the entrance of the bay!
Obedient to the signal, the three hunters rushed out from their
cover, and ran forward upon the beecheach holding his gun in
readiness to fire. The bear, seeing himself thus suddenly and
unexpectedly surrounded, at once gave over his fly-trapping; but,
irresolute in which direction to retreat, he turned round and round in
the water, first swimming a bit one way and then another. At length,
rearing himself high above the surface, and showing his sharp teeth, he
uttered a deep growl of rage, and dashed recklessly towards the shore.
It was to Ivan's side he first directed himself; but Ivan was upon
the watch; and, advancing close to the edge of the water, he took aim
His bullet struck the bear right upon the snout, and it appeared to
have spun him roundso quickly was he seen heading in the opposite
It was now Pouchskin's turn; and in a second after the loud report
of the grenadier's gun went booming over the lake, while the ball
splashed the water right into the eyes of the bear. Though it did not
hit any part of his body, it had the effect of half-turning himso
that he now swam towards Alexis, stationed at the bottom of the bay.
Alexis took the matter more coolly. There was a convenient tree
behindto which he intended to retreat in case of missingand this
influenced him to hold his ground, till the bear should come near
enough to ensure a certain aim.
The bear swam straight on, until within some ten yards of where
Alexis was standing; when all at once he appeared to take the rue, and
was turning off to one side. This was just what Alexis desired: it
brought the head of the animal broadside towards him, and, taking
steady aim, he planted his bullet a little under the left ear.
It was a dead shot. The huge creature, loaded with fat, sank
instantly to the bottom; but fortunately the water was shallow; and the
Indian now coming in with his canoe, soon fished up the carcass, and
towed it out upon the beachwhere its fur coat was stripped off in a
CHAPTER FORTY EIGHT. THE GREAT
The grizzly bear (ursus ferox), the fiercest and most
formidable of the ursine family, was the next to be captured and
The range of the grizzly, though wider than that of the Barren
Ground bear, is still not so extensive as that of the ursus
americanus. The great chain or cordillera of the Rocky Mountains
may be taken as the axis of his rangesince he is found
throughout its whole extent, from Mexico to its declension near the
shores of the Arctic Sea. Some writers have asserted that he is
confined to these mountains, but that is an error. To the west of them
he is encountered throughout all the countries lying between the Rocky
Mountains and the Pacific coast wherever circumstances are favourable
to his existence; and to the east he extends his wanderings for a
considerable distance into the great plainsthough nowhere so far as
to the wooded countries near the meridian of the Mississippi. In these
the black bear is the only forest-ranger of the family.
Woods are not the favourite haunt of the grizzly bear; and although
in youth he can make a sort of scramble up a tree, when full-grown his
enormous clawsalways blunted at the tipshinder him from climbing.
Low bushy thickets, with open glades interveningand especially where
the underwood consists of berry-bearing bushesare his chosen
retreats. He often sallies out into the open ground; and on those
prairies where grows the pomme blanche, or Indian turnip (
psoralea esculenta), he may be seen tearing up the earth with his
claws, and leaving it turned into furrowsas if a drove of hogs had
been rooting the ground. On the bottoms of the streams he also digs
up the kamas root (camassia esculenta), the yampah, (
anethum graveolens), the kooyah (Valeriana edulis), and the
root of a species of thistle (circium virginianum). Many species
of fruits and berries furnish him with an occasional meal; and the
sweet pods of the mesquites (species of acacia), and the cones
of the pinon tree (pinus edulis) form portions of his varied
He does not, however, confine himself to a vegetable diet. Like most
of his kind, he is also carnivorous, and will dine off the carcass of a
horse or buffalo. The latter animal, notwithstanding its enormous bulk
and strength, frequently falls a prey to the grizzly bear. The long
masses of hair that hang over the eyes of the buffalo, hinder it from
perceiving the presence of an enemy; and, unless warned by the scent,
it is easily approached. The bear, knowing this, steals up against the
wind; and, when within safe distance, springs upon the hind quarters of
the ruminant, and cramping it in his great claws, succeeds in dragging
it to the ground. He is even able to transport the huge carcass to a
considerable distancefor the purpose of concealing it in some
thicket, and devouring it at his leisure.
The grizzly bear is more like to the brown bear of Europe than to
any other species of the genus. His fur is long and shaggynot
presenting the even surface which characterises the coat of the black
bear. It is generally of a dark-brown colourthe hair being whitish at
the tips, more especially during the summer season, when it becomes
lighter-coloured. The head is always of a grizzled grey; and it is this
appearance that has obtained for the animal its specific name. There
are brown, reddish-brown, bay or cinnamoncoloured, and white-breasted
varieties of the black bear; but the Indians can distinguish all these
from the true grizzly at a glance. In all of the latter, where there
are white hairs intermingled with the fur, it is always observable that
these odd hairs are white to the roots; whereas the hoary appearance of
the grizzly is caused by only the tips of the hair being white. This
characteristic is constant; and would of itself justify a distinction
being made between the species; but there are many other points of
greater importance. The ears of the grizzly are shorter, more conical,
and set wider apart than in either the ursus americanus or
arctos. His claws are white, arched, far longer, and broader than
those of the other bearstheir greatest breadth being across their
upper surface. Underneath they are chamfered away to a sharp edge; and
projecting far beyond the hair of the foot, they cut like chisels when
the animal strikes a blow with them. His huge paw is both broader and
longer than that of other bears; while his tail, on the other hand, is
short and inconspicuousbeing completely buried under the fur of his
buttocks. So characteristic is this appendage for its extreme
shortness, that it is a standing joke among the Indianswhen they have
killed a grizzly bearto desire any one unacquainted with the animal,
to take hold of its tail!
This appendage in the ursus americanus and ursus arctos
is conspicuous enough; and in the Barren Ground bear is still longer
than in either.
There could be no possibility of mistaking an old or full-grown
grizzly for any of the kindred species. Both in size and aspect he is
different. It is only in the case of young or half-grown specimens
where a mistake of this kind is likely to be made. The enormous size of
the old malesoften weighing 1,000 pounds, and quite equalling the
largest individuals of the ursus maritimusrenders them easy of
identification; though it is certain that under favourable
circumstances the ursus arctos often attains to a similar bulk.
In ferocity of disposition, however, in carnivorous inclination, and
in strength and power to carry out his mischievous propensities, no
bear, not even the ursus maritimus, appears to be a match for
this monster of the Rocky Mountains. The hunter never thinks of
attacking him, unless when assisted by a number of his comrades; and
even then it may be a fatal encounter for one or more of them. Were it
not for the advantage obtained by their being mounted on horseback, the
grizzly would always have a wide berth given him: but fortunately this
fierce quadruped is unable to overtake the mounted hunteralthough he
can easily come up with a man on foot.
As to fearing or running away from a human antagonist, the younger
grizzlies may sometimes do so; but when an old male has been attacked
the case is quite different. A full-grown individual will stand his
ground against a crowd of assailantscharging from one to the other,
and showing fight so long as there is breath in his body.
The number of Indian and white hunters, who have either been killed
or badly mutilated by grizzly bears, is almost incredible. Were it not
that these men are usually mounted on good horses the list would have
been still greater; and his intended victims often find another means
of escaping from his clawsby taking to a tree.
Fortunate it is that nature has not bestowed upon the grizzly the
power of tree-climbing; else many a pursued hunter, who has succeeded
in gaining the branches of a friendly cottonwood, might have found his
refuge anything but a secure one.
In fact, climbing into a treewhen one can be reachedis the
common resource of all persons pursued by the grizzly bear; and by this
means did our hunters themselves escape from a brace of infuriated
grizzlies, while engaged in hunting these formidable animals.
CHAPTER FORTY NINE. A FUR-TRADER'S
Having settled their accounts with Bruin of the Barren Grounds, our
travellers proceeded down the Mackenzie river to the Hudson's Bay post
of Fort Simpson. Thence they ascended a large tributary of the
Mackenzie, known as the River of the Mountains,or as the Canadian
voyagers call it, Riviere aux Liards. This large stream has its
sources far beyond the highest peaks of the Rocky Mountains: thus
exhibiting the curious phenomenon of a river, breaking through a chain
of mountains in a transverse direction; though the same occurs in
several other parts of the Rocky Mountain range, and also in the Andes
of South America. On the Riviere aux Liards the Hudson's Bay
Company have several postsas Forts Simpson, Liard, and Halkettthe
last-mentioned being far up among the mountains. Westward again, upon
the Pacific side, they have other trading stationsthe most important
of which is that of Pellyss Banks, situated at the junction of Lewis
and Pelly rivers. These rivers, after joining, run into the Pacific,
not far from Mount Saint Elioslong noted as a landmark to the
navigators of the North Pacific ocean.
From Fort Halkett, a route has been established to the post at
Pelly's Banks by means of Dease's riverwhich is one of the effluents
of the Riviere aux Liardsand partly by canoe navigation and
partly by portage; the continent can be crossed in this northern
latitude. From Pelly's Banks to the Pacific coast the route is still
easierfor not only do the Russians visit these parts, but there are
native Indian traders who go twice every year from Pelly's Banks to
Sitkathe entrepot of the Russian Fur Companyand the Lynn channel, a
little to the north of Sitka, is also visited by the steamers of the
Hudson's Bay Company itself.
Our travellers would therefore have no difficulty in reaching Sitka;
and thence crossing to the peninsula of Kamschatka, on the Asiatic
coast. On their way over the Rocky Mountains, they would be certain to
fall in with the grizzly; and in the countries lying along the Pacific,
they could obtain that variety of the ursus americanus, known as
the cinnamon bearfor it is to the west of the Rocky Mountainsin
California, Oregon, British Columbia, and Russian Americathat this
spice-coloured species is most frequently met with.
A party of fur-traders and trappers were just starting from Fort
Simpson to carry supplies up to the posts of Liard and Halkett; and
along with them our travellers went.
On reaching the last-named station, they came to a halt, for the
purpose of hunting the grizzly.
They were not long in starting their gamefor this fierce monster
of the mountains is far from being a scarce animal. In fact, in those
districts which they choose for their beat, the grizzly bears are
more numerous than most other quadrupeds; and not unfrequently half a
dozen or more of them may be seen together. It is not that they are
gregarious; but simply, that, being in considerable numbers in a
particular neighbourhood, accident thus brings them together. To see
troops of four associating together is very common; but these are
merely the members of one familymale, female, and yearling cubsfor
two is the number of the progenythe grizzly bear in this respect
resembling his congener of the ursus maritimus, and differing as
essentially from the black and brown bearswith whom three is the
usual number of cubs at a birth.
There are good reasons why the grizzly bears are not in much danger
of being exterminated. In the first place, their flesh is of inferior
quality. Even the Indians will not eat it; while they relish that of
the black species. Secondly, their robe is of scarce any value, and
fetches but a trifling price in the fur-market. Thirdlyand perhaps
the most powerful reason of allis that the hunter cares not to risk
his life in an encounter with these animals, knowing that there is no
adequate reward for such risk. For this reason Old Ephraimas the
trappers jocosely style the grizzlyis usually permitted to go his way
without molestation, and, therefore, instead of being thinned off by an
exterminating chasesuch as is pursued against the buffalo, or even
the black bear, whose robe is marketablethe grizzly maintains his
numerical strength in most places where he is found.
At Fort Halkettin consequence of a scarcity of hands, and the
great pressure of business, in forwarding the brigade onward to the
Pelly Stationour young hunters were unable to obtain a guide; and
therefore started out for the chase alonePouchskin, of course, being
one of the party.
The trading post of Fort Halkett being situated in the midst of the
wildest regionwithout any cultivated ground or other settlement
around itthey would not have far to go before finding a grizzly.
Indeed, they were as likely to meet with one within sight of the Port
as anywhere else; and from the moment of passing through the gate of
the stockade they were on the lookout.
They had not the good fortune, however, to meet with one so very
easily, for although they came upon the traces of bears, and saw
numerous signs of them, they could not set eyes upon them; and returned
from their first excursion rather disheartened with their day's work.
In one thing, however, they had their reward. They had succeeded in
shooting one of the rarest animals of America, a creature only met with
in the more northern districts of the Rocky Mountainsthat is, the
Rocky Mountain goat (capra americana). This rare
quadrupedwhose long, snow-white, silky hair renders it one of the
most attractive of animalsis a true wild goat; and the only species
of the genus indigenous to America. It is about the size of the common
domestic breeds, and horned as they; but the shining hair over its
flanks and body is frequently so long as to hang down almost to its
hoofsgiving the animal the appearance of having a much heavier body
and much shorter legs than it really has. Like the ibex of Europe, it
is only met with on the loftiest summits of the mountains, upon peaks
and cliffs inaccessible to almost every other quadrupedthe mountain
sheep alone excepted. It is much shyer than the latter, and far more
difficult of approachthe consequence being, that its beautiful skin,
though highly prized, and commanding a good price, is but rarely
obtained, even by the most expert hunters.
Having succeeded in bringing down one of these precious animals, our
young hunters were satisfied with their day's workalmost as well as
if it had been a grizzly they had killed.
On their second day's excursion, however, this feat was also
accomplishedas we shall now proceed to relate.
CHAPTER FIFTY. TREED BY OLD EPHRAIM.
They had got about a mile from the Fort; and were proceeding
cautiously along through a hilly country, where thicket-like groves
grew interspersed with patches of open ground, forming park-like
scenery. There are many scenes of this character in the valleys of the
Rocky Mountains; and in the more northern latitudes these groves often
consist of berry-bearing bushessuch as wild currants, bird and choke
cherries, the amelanchier and hippophae canadensis. Of
all these fruits the grizzly bear is known to be exceedingly fond; and
as the thickets among which our hunters had entered contained many
trees of the above kinds at that season drooping under their ripe
fruitit was but reasonable to expect they might find some of the
grizzlies engaged in gathering them. They had been told at the fort
that this was a favourite browsing-place of the bear; and, as they
passed along they had evidence of the correctness of the information by
seeing the cherry-trees with their branches brokenand some of the
stems pulled down into a slanting position,evidently done by the
bears to enable them to get conveniently at the fruit. From the trees
that had been treated in this rough manner all the fruit had been
stripped off as clean as if a party of cherry-pickers had passed that
The ravages exhibited a very recent sign. Most of them must have
been done within a week; and one tree looked as freshly torn, as if it
had been pulled about that very morning.
Of course, with such indications before their eyes, our hunters were
advancing on the qui vive.not knowing the instant that Bruin
might break out.
It would not be correct to say that they were proceeding with
caution. Had they been sufficiently cautious, they would not have been
there afoot. Of course they were on footsince no horses could
be procured in these parts. To go afoot in pursuit of such game as
grizzly bears was the height of indiscretion; and the traders had told
them so; but they made light of what they had been told, for two
reasons,first, because it was absolutely necessary they should kill a
grizzly and strip him of his skin; and secondly, because our young
hunters, Pouchskin as well, had but a very indefinite idea of the risk
they were running. They had heard that the grizzly was one of the
fiercest of its kind; but because it was called a bear, and they had
now hunted and killed so many other bears, they fancied this one might
be as easily conquered as any of its congeners. They had heard that
these animals often turn tail and run away at sight of man; but these
stories are deceptive. The bears that do so are either juvenile
grizzlies or brown individuals of the versus americanuswhich
are often mistaken for the grizzly.
With old Ephraim himself the case is quite different, as we have
already said. On sight of a human enemy, instead of running away, the
grizzly more frequently runs towards him, charging forward with open
mouth, and often without having received the slightest provocation.
Of this fact our hunters had proof almost upon the instant. They had
entered a wide tract, sparsely covered with trees; but such small
trees, and so thinly standing over the ground, that the hunters might
have fancied them to have been planted; and that they were entering
within the boundaries of some old orchard. The tract thus characterised
was about five or six acres in superficial extent; and surrounded by
the same kind of coppice that covered most of the face of the country.
Under the thin trees there was neither underwood, nor long grass;
and they could see between their trunks in every direction, to the edge
of the jungle that grew around.
While walking quietly along, a singular noise reached their ears,
that caused them suddenly to halt in their tracks. It caused them to
turn also: for the noise appeared to come from behind them. It
resembled the hurried breathing of a person badly afflicted with
asthma; but so much louder, that if it had proceeded from human lungs,
they could only have been those of an asthmatic giant!
It was, in reality, a gigantic creature that produced the noise:
since it was neither more nor less than a grizzly bear. Not one alone,
but a brace of these monstrous animalsa male and female, no
doubtwere seen at that moment by the edge of the thicket, out of
which the hunters had just emerged. Both were standing on their hind
limbs, and both uttering the strange snuffing noise that had attracted
attention to them. Other noises were now mingled with thesesharp
querulous gruntsand, by the gestures which the bears were making, it
was evident they not only saw the three hunters in the open ground, but
were reconnoitring them perhaps with an intention to make an attack
Our hunters were quite taken aback. They had expected, at least, to
have been allowed the initiative in any conflict that might occur; but
they now saw that, instead of being the assailing party, they were
likely to be the assailed!
They had no time for deliberation; for the brace of bears,
apparently having satisfied themselves with their threatening
demonstrations, dropped down on all-fours, and came galloping
onwardalmost as fast as horses could have done!
The three hunters fired at once; and not with out effect: for one of
the bears fell to their shots. It was the smaller one, and that which
had been foremost. Acting without concert, they had all aimed at the
same animalchoosing that which was nearest; and this was unfortunate,
for had some one of them sighted the other and bigger bear, they might
have given him a wound that would have, at least, crippled him.
As it was, he had neither been shot at, nor touched; and the fall of
his matefor it was the male who survivednow so completely
exasperated him, that he rushed on with the full determination to deal
death among the enemies who had bereaved him.
It was fortunate that he stopped a moment over his fallen companion.
He did so as if to convince himself that she was dead. It was only for
an instant; but a precious instant that was to all three of the
hunters. It gave them sufficient time to take to a treeeach springing
up to the one that was most convenient. Alexis and Ivan being young and
nimble, easily accomplished this feat; but it cost Pouchskin an effort;
and he came very near making it in vain. He had got his arms over a
branch, and was drawing his great booted legs after him; but, before he
could raise them to a sufficient height, the bear had arrived upon the
ground, and reared upward to seize him.
Ivan and Alexis uttered a simultaneous shout of alarm. They saw the
shaggy forearms of the quadruped doubled around the legs of their
faithful follower; and were looking to see Pouchskin in another moment
pulled down from the tree. What was their delight, as well as
astonishment, on seeing the bear fall slap back to the earthwith
one of the ex-grenadier's great boots fast clutched between his
pawswhile Pouchskin himself was seen gliding upward to the top
branches of the tree!
A shout of joy followed the cry of alarm, to which they had just
given utterance; and without another word all three hastened to reload
Meanwhile the disappointed bear appeared determined to revenge
himself on the boot; and for some seconds continued to tear itboth
with teeth and clawstill nothing of its original shape remained.
Then, scattering the fragments over the ground, he desisted from this
idle employment; and rushed back to the trunk of the tree up which
Pouchskin had climbed. He knewfrom having often made the
experimentthat he could not climb it; nor did he attempt to do so;
but seizing the slender trunk in his powerful grasp, he shook the tree
backward and forward, as if endeavouring to drag it up by the roots or
throw it to the ground.
For some time our hunters were not without apprehensions that he
might succeed. The tree was not bigger than an ordinary pear-tree; and
its trunk vibrated from side to side, and bent over to such an extent,
that its roots could be heard cracking beneath the ground.
Pouchskin, far up in the top, was tossed backward and forwardas if
he had been a shuttlecock between two battledoresand it was just as
much as he could do to keep his hold among the branches, much less
finish the loading of his fusil, which he had only half accomplished
when the rocking began. Had he been alone, his position would have been
one of great danger: for no doubt, in process of time, the bear would
have torn down the tree. But the efforts of Bruin were brought to a
sudden termination; for Ivan and Alexis, having now reloaded, took
careful aim, and sent both their bullets into the body of the beast.
One of the shots must have hit him in a mortal part: since, on
receiving it, the bear let go his hold, dropped down from his erect
attitude, and doubling himself up at the bottom of the tree, looked as
if he had suddenly gone to sleep! But the red stream, pouring out from
his still distended jaws, told that it was the sleep of death that had
Our hunters, assured that both bears were dead, now descended from
their respective perches; but the sight of Pouchskin, with one leg in
stocking, and the other buried up to the thigh in a great horse-skin
boot, would have been too much for the gravity of a judge, and his
young masters were once more merry at his expense.
Having skinned the bears, they returned to the fort with their
spoils to the no slight astonishment of some of the old trappers
stationed there. They could scarce believe that these young strangers
were capable of accomplishing such a feat as the conquest of a couple
of full-grown grizzlies. The thing had been done, howeveras the
trophies testifiedand it is needless to say that our hunters, by this
gallant action, gained golden opinions from the mountain men.
They had no desire, however, to try another contest of the kind.
They had become perfectly satisfied of the great peril to be expected
in an encounter with Old Ephraim; and were only too well pleased of
having it in their power, on all future occasions, to imitate the
example of other travellers, and give the grizzly a wide berth.
Indeed, they would have had no opportunity, had they desired it, to
hunt the bear any longer in that neighbourhood: for the boat brigade,
with which they were travelling, started the next day for Fort Pelly;
and it was necessary for them to accompany it, as the journey could not
otherwise be accomplished.
They arrived at this last-named place in safety; and, with some
native traders, that chanced to be at the fort, they were enabled to
proceed onward to the Russian settlement of Sitkawhere the magic
cipher which Alexis carried in his pocket procured them the most
hospitable treatment that such a wild, out-of-the-way place could
They had been fortunate, upon their route, to procure a skin of the
cinnamon bearas well as one of black colour with a white breast,
both of which Alexis was able to identify as mere varieties of the
ursus americanus. These varieties are sometimes seen to the east of
the Rocky Mountains; but they are far more common throughout the
countries along the Pacificand especially in Russian America, where
the cinnamon-coloured kind is usually termed the red bear. They
occur, moreover, in the Aleutian islands; and very probably in Japan
and Kamschatkain which country bears are exceedingly
numerousevidently of several species, confusedly described and ill
identified. Unfortunately, the Russian naturalistswhose special duty
it has been to make known the natural history of the countries lying
around the North Pacifichave done their work in a slovenly and
Bruinby Captain Mayne Reid
CHAPTER FIFTY ONE. THE
The bear of Kamschatka had to be skinned next. But it was necessary
to catch one before he could be skinned; and also necessary to go to
Kamschatka before he could be caught. To get to Kamschatka was not so
difficult as it may sound to the ear. Our travellers were just in the
place, from which it was possible to, proceed direct to this Asiatic
peninsula. Vessels belonging to the Russian Fur Company every year
collect the furs along the north-west coast of America, and among the
Fox and Aleutian islandsSitka being their port of rendezvous. Thence
proceeding to the harbour of Saint Peter and Saint Paul
(Petropaulouski), on the coast of Kamschatka, they complete their
cargoes with the skin crop that during the winter has been collected
throughout the peninsula. Thence to China a portion of these furs are
takenespecially skins of the sable, which the Chinese mandarins use
extensively for trimming their costly robes; and for which, teas, silk,
lacquer-ware, and other articles of Chinese manufacture are given in
The Japanese also, and other wealthy Oriental nations, buy up
quantities of costly furs; but by far the greater portion of this
produce is consumed by the Russians themselvesin whose cold climate
some sort of a fur coat is almost a necessity. Even most of the furs
collected by the Hudson's Bay Company find their way into Russia: for
the consumption of these goods in Great Britain is extremely limited,
compared with that of many other articles de luxe.
In the fur ship our travellers proceeded from Sitka to the port of
Petropaulouski, which is situated on Avatcha bay, near the southern end
of the peninsula.
As Avatcha bay is nearly land-locked, it forms one of the most
sheltered harbours on that side of the Pacific; but unfortunately
during winter the bay freezes over; and then ships can neither get into
nor out of it.
The vessel which carried our adventurers arrived at Petropaulouski
late in the spring; but, as the winter had been unusually prolonged,
the bay was still blocked up with ice, and the ship could not get up to
the little town. This did not hinder them from landing. Dog-sledges
were brought out upon the ice by the inhabitants; and upon these our
travellers were carried to the town, or ostrog as it is calledsuch
being the name given to the villages of Kamschatka.
In Petropaulouski, many curious objects and customs came under the
observation of our travellers. They saw no less than three kinds of
housesfirst, the isbas, built of logs, and not unlike the
log-cabins of America. These are the best sort of dwellings; and belong
to the Russian merchants and officials, who reside thereas well as to
the Cossack soldiers, who are kept by the Russian Government in
The native Kamschatdales have two kinds of houses of indigenous
architectureone for summer, the balagan, and another to which they
retire during the winter, called the jourt. The balagan is
constructed of poles and thatch upon a raised platformto which the
Kamschatdale climbs up by means of a notched trunk of a tree. There is
only one story of the house itselfwhich is merely the sloping
thatched roofwith a hole in the top to give passage to the smokeand
resembles a rough tent or hayrick set upon an elevated stand. The space
under the platform is left open; and serves as a store-house for the
dried fish, that forms the staple food of all sorts of people in
Kamschatka. Here, too, the sledges and sledge harness are kept; and the
dogs, of which every family owns a large pack, use this lower story as
a sleeping place.
The winter-house or jourt, is constructed very differently. It is
a great hole sunk in the ground to the depth of eight or ten feet,
lined round the sides with pieces of timber, and roofed over above the
surface of the groundso as to look like the rounded dome of a large
bake-oven. A hole at the apex is intended for the chimney, but it is
also the door: Since there is no other mode of entrance into the jourt,
and the interior is reached by descending a notched tree trunksimilar
to that used in climbing up to the balagan.
The curious fur dresses of the Kamschatdales; their thin yellowish
white dogs, resembling the Pomeranian breed; their dog-sledges, which
they use for travelling in winter; the customs and habits of these
singular people; all formed an interesting study to our travellers, and
enriched their journal with notes and observations. We find it recorded
there, how these people spend their time and obtain their subsistence.
Very little agriculture is practised by themthe climate being
unfavourable to the growth of the cereals. In some parts barley and rye
are cultivated; but only to a very limited extent. Cattle are
scarcea few only being kept by the Russian and Cossack settlers; and
horses are equally rare, such as there are belonging to the officials
of the Government, and used for Government purposes. The common or
native people subsist almost entirely on a fish diettheir lakes and
rivers furnishing them with abundance of fish; and the whole of the
summer is spent in catching and drying these for their winter
provision. Several wild vegetable productions are addedroots and
berries, and even the bark of treesall of which are eaten along with
the dried fish. Wild animals also furnish part of their subsistence;
and it is by the skins of theseespecially the sablethat the people
pay their annual tax, or tribute, to the Russian Government. From
animals, too, their clothing is chiefly manufactured; and many other
articles used in their domestic economy. The peninsula is rich in the
fur-bearing quadrupeds, and some of these furnish the very best quality
of furs that are known to commerce. The sable of Kamschatka is of a
superior kind as also the many varieties of the fox. They have,
besides, the wolverine and wolf, the ermine and Arctic fox, the marmot
and polar hare, and several smaller animals that yield furs of
commercial value. The sea otter is common upon the coasts of
Kamschatka; and this is also an object of the chaseits skin being
among the costliest of peltries. The great argali, or wild
sheep, and the reindeer, furnish them both with flesh and skins; but
one of the chief objects of the chase is that great quadruped for which
our young hunters had come all the way to Kamschatka, the bear. Into
his presence they would find no difficulty in introducing themselves:
for perhaps in no country in the world does master Bruin's family
muster so strongly as in this very peninsula.
CHAPTER FIFTY TWO. FISHING-BEARS.
Previous to starting forth in search of the Kamschatkan bear, our
hunters collected all the particulars they could in regard to the
haunts and habits of this animal.
They learnt that there were at least two varieties known to the
Kurilski and Koriac hunters. One of them was the more common kinda
brown bear, closely resembling the ursus arctos; and the other
also a brown bear; but with a whitish list running up from the under
part of his throat, and meeting like a collar over the tops of his
shoulders. This latter kind was undoubtedly the species known as the
Siberian bear (ursus collaris); and which has an extensive
range throughout most of the countries of Northern Asia. The native
hunters alleged that the two kinds were of nearly similar habits. Both
went to sleep during the winterconcealing themselves cunningly in
caves and crevices among rocks, or among fallen timber, where such
could be found in sufficient quantity to afford them shelter.
One remarkable habit of these bears indicates a very marked
difference between them and the ursus arctos, with which they
have been usually classed; and that is, that they are fishing-bears
subsisting almost exclusively on fish, which they catch for
themselves. During their winter sleep, of course they eat nothing; but
in spring, as soon as they emerge from their retreats, they at once
betake themselves to the numerous streams and lakes, with which the
country abounds; and roaming along the banks of these, or wading in the
water itself, they spend the whole of their time in angling about after
trout and salmon. There, fish, thanks to their immense numbers, and the
shallowness of the water in most of the lakes and streams, the bears
are enabled to catch almost at discretion. They wade into the water,
and getting among the shoals of the fish as they are passing to and
fro, strike them dead with their paws. The fish are killed as
instantaneously as if impaled upon a fishing spear; and in such numbers
do the bears capture them, at certain seasons, that the captors grow
dainty, and only eat a portion of each fish! They show a strange
preference for that part, which is usually considered refuse, the
head,leaving the tail, with a considerable portion of the body,
untouched. The rejected portions, however, are not lost; for another
animal, still hungrier than the bears, and less skilful in the
piscatory art, is at this time also in search of a meal of fish.
This creature is the Kamschatkan dognot a wild species, as you may
suppose, but the trained sledge-dogs of the Kamschatdales themselves;
which at this season forsake the ostrogs, or villages, and betake
themselves to the borders of the lakes and rivers. There they remain
during the whole period of summer, feeding upon fishwhich they also
know how to captureand eating up such portions as have been refused
by the bears. In fact, this is the only food which these poor dogs can
get; and, as they are not needed during the summer season, they do not
think of returning home until frost sets in. Then, strange to say, one
and all of them go voluntarily back, and surrender themselves up to
their old mastershard taskmasters too, who not only work them like
slaves, but half starve them throughout the whole winter. This
voluntary submission to their yoke has been quoted as an illustration
of the high training and faithful disposition of the Kamschatkan dogs;
but it has its origin in a fur different motive than that of mere
fidelity. Their return to the snug shelter of the balagan is
simply an instinct of self-preservation: for the sagacious animals well
know, that in winter the lakes and streams will be completely frozen
over, and were they to remain abroad, they would absolutely perish
either from hunger or cold. Even the wretched winter allowance of heads
and entrails of fishthe only crumbs that fall to their shareis
better than nothing at all; which would be their portion were they to
remain abroad among the bare snow-clad hills and valleys of Kamschatka.
The Kamschatdales have various modes of taking the bear. In early
winter they sometimes find his track in the snow; and then pursue him
with a gun and a bear-spear, killing him as they best can. Later still,
when he has gone to sleep in his den, he is often foundby similar
indications as those which guide the Laplanders, North American
Indians, and Esquimauxsuch as the hoar caused by his breath showing
over the spot, or by their hunting-dogs scenting him out, and barking
at the entrance. The log-trap, or dead-fall, is also in use among the
Kamschatkan hunters; and the penn formed around the mouth of the bear's
cave, shutting him up, until an entrance can be dug into it from above.
In the summer time the mode is different. Then the hunter lies in
ambush, with his loaded riflefor the Kamschatdale carries this
weaponin such places as he expects the bear to pass. These are on the
banks of the streams and lakes that abound in fish; and as the bears
ramble along the edge of the water, or are even seen swimming or wading
into it, the patient hunter is pretty sure of getting a shot. Should he
fail to bring down Bruin at the first fire, the game becomes uncertain;
and sometimes dangerous: since the animal often charges upon the
hunter. Even though the latter may be concealed among the long reeds
and bushes, the sagacious bear, guided by the smoke and blaze of the
powder easily finds out his assailant. The hunter, however, never fires
without taking a deliberate aim. He carries a forked stick, over which
he rests his piece, and never fires off-hand. To miss would not only
endanger his life and the loss of his game, but what is also of
consequence to a Kamschatdale, the loss of his powder and
bulletcostly articles in this remote corner of the earth. In case of
missing, he has still his bear-spear and a long-bladed knife to fall
back upon; and with these he defends himself as well as he canthough
not unfrequently Bruin proves the victor, and the hunter the victim.
There are certain times when the Siberian bears become exceedingly
dangerous to approach. The season of rutwhich occurs in the latter
part of the summeris one of those; but there is another period of
dangerwhich, however, does not happen every year. When the spring
chances to be lateon account of a prolonged winterand when the
lakes and streams remain frozen over, after the bears have come forth
from their hiding-places, then ware Bruin is a caution which it is
prudent to observe. The fierce animals, half-famished for want of their
usual diet of fish, roam over the country in all directions; and
fearlessly approach the ostrogs, roaming around the balagans and
jourts in search of something to eat. Woe to the Kamschatdale that gets
in their tray at such a timefor the bear, instead of waiting to be
attached, becomes himself the assailant; and, as great numbers of these
quadrupeds often troop about together, of course the encounter is all
the more perilous.
It was just in such a spring that our young hunters had arrived at
Petropaulouski; and stories of numerous bear conflicts, that had
recently occurred in the neighbourhood, were rife in the village; while
the number of fresh skies every day brought in by the Kurilski hunters,
showed that bears could not be otherwise than plentiful in the country
Guided by one of these hunters, our party set forth upon a search.
The snow still covered the ground; and, of course, they travelled in
sledgeseach having one to himself, drawn by five dogs, as is the
custom of the country. The dogs are harnessed two and two abreast, with
the odd one in front. Each has his collar of bearskin, with a leather
thong for a trace; and five of them are sufficient to draw the little
sledge with a man in it. The sledge, called saunka, is less than
four feet long; and, being made of the lightest birch wood, is of very
A curved stick, called the oschtolwith an iron point, and
little bells at the other endis used to direct the dogs; and, urged
on by this and by well-known exclamations of their driver, they will go
at a speed of many miles an hour.
In this slight vehicle, hills, valleys, lakes, and rivers are
crossed, without such a thing as a road being thought of; and when the
dogs are good, and have been well cared for, an immense distance may be
passed over in a day.
In less than an hour after their departure from Petropaulouski, our
hunters had entered amid the wildest scenerywhere not the slightest
sign of either cultivation or human habitation was to be seen, and
where at any moment they might expect to come in sight of their great
CHAPTER FIFTY THREE. DOG-DRIVING.
The guide was conducting them to a stream that ran into the bay some
ten or twelve miles from the ostrog. On that stream, he said, they
would be pretty certain to find a bear, if not several: since at a
place he knew of the water was not frozen, and the bears might be there
trying to catch fish. When questioned as to why this particular stream
was not frozen like the others, he said that some distance up it there
were warm springsa phenomenon of frequent occurrence in the peninsula
of Kamschatkathat these springs supplied most of the water of the
stream; and that for several hundred yards below where they gushed
forth, the river was kept open by their warmth during the severest
winters. Not throughout its whole course, however. Farther down, where
the water became cool, it froze like in other streams; and that this
was the case, was evident to our hunters, who had entered the mouth of
the rivers from the icy surface of the bay, and were gliding in their
sledges up its frozen channel.
After having gone three or four miles up this icebound stream, which
ran through a narrow valley with steep sloping sides, the guide warned
our hunters that they were close to the place where the water would be
found open. At this point a low ridge ran transversely across the
valley through which the stream had, in process of time, cut a
channel; but the ridge occasioned a dam or lake of some half-dozen
acres in superficial extent, which lay just above it. The dam itself
was rarely frozen over; and it was by the water remaining in it, or
flowing sluggishly through itand thus giving it time to coolthat
the stream immediately below got frozen over.
The lake lay just on the other side of the ridge, and was now only
hidden from their view by the rise of the ground. If not frozen over,
as the guide conjectured, there was likely to be a bear roaming around
its edge; and therefore they resolved to observe caution in approaching
The sledges were to be taken no further. Our hunters had learnt how
to manage both dog-sledges and dogs. Their experience in Finland, as
well as in the countries of the Hudson's Bay territory, had taught them
that; and made them skilful in the handling of these animalselse they
would have made but poor work in travelling as they did now. In fact,
they could not have managed at all: since it requires a great deal of
training to be able to drive a dog-sledge. This, however, they had
receivedboth the boys and Pouchskinand fortunate it had been so;
for very shortly after they were placed in a predicament, in which
their lives depended on their skill as sledge drivers.
The dogs were left under cover of the ridge, near the bottom of the
little slope; a sign was given to them to keep their placeswhich
these well-trained creatures perfectly comprehended; and the
huntersthe Kurilski with the restholding their guns in readiness,
ascended towards the summit of the slope.
There was no cover, except what was afforded by the inequality of
the ground. There were no trees in the valleyonly stunted bushes, not
half the height of a man's body, and these nearly buried to their tops
in the snow. A few, however, appeared growing along the crest of the
The hunters crawled up to these on all-fours, and peeped cautiously
through their branches.
It was the impatient Ivan that looked first; and what he saw so
surprised him, as almost to deprive him of the power of speech! Indeed,
he was not able to explain what he sawtill the other three had got
forward, and became equally eye-witnesses of the spectacle that had
As the guide had conjectured, the lake was not frozen. There was
some loose snow floating over its surface; but most of the water was
open; and the stream that flowed slowly in on the opposite side was
quite clear of either ice or snow.
The guide had also predicted hypothetically that they might see a
bear perhaps two. It had not occurred to this man of moderate
pretensions that they might see twelveand yet no less than
twelve bears were in sight!
Yes, twelve bearsthey were as easily counted as oxenwere around
the shores of this secluded lake, and on the banks of the little stream
that ran into itall within five hundred yards of each other. Indeed,
it would have been easy to have mistaken them for a herd of brown
heifers or oxen; had it not been for the various attitudes in which
they were seen: some upon all-fourssome standing erect, like human
beings, or squatted on their hams like gigantic squirrelsothers in
the water, their bodies half submergedothers swimming about, their
backs and heads only visible above the surface; and still others,
prowling leisurely along the banks, or over the strip of level
meadow-land that bordered the lake.
Such a sight our bear-hunters had never witnessed before, and might
never witness again, in any other country, save Kamschatka itself.
There it is by no means uncommon; and twenty bears instead of twelve
have been often seen in a single droveat that season when they
descend from their mountain retreats to their favourite fishing-grounds
upon the lakes and streams.
Our hunters were perplexed by so unexpected a sight; and for some
moments unresolved as to how they should act. Fortunately, the bushes
already mentioned served to conceal them from the bears; and the wind
was blowing towards the huntersotherwise the bears, who are keen of
scent, would soon have discovered their presence. As it was, not one of
themthough several were close to the ridgeseemed to have any
suspicion that an enemy was so near. The huge quadrupeds appeared to be
too busy about their own affairsendeavouring to capture the
fishsome of them greedily devouring those they had already taken, and
others wandering restlessly about, or eagerly observing the movements
of the fish in the water. One and all of them looked fierce and
famished, their bodies showing gaunt and flaky, and their enormous
limbs having a lank angular appearance, that gave them a still greater
resemblance to heifersonly heifers that had been half starved!
CHAPTER FIFTY FOUR. A SLEDGE-CHASE.
I have said that our hunters were for some time irresolute about how
to act. The Kurilski was inclined to withdraw from the spot and leave
the bears alone; and this of course was his advice to the others. He
said there might be danger in disturbing themso many clustered
together, and in such a mood as they appeared to be. He had known them
to attack a large party of men under such circumstances, and give chase
to them. They might do the same now?
Our hunters, however, did not give full credit to this story of
their guidethinking it might have its origin in the fears of the
Kurilski, whom they knew to be of a timid race; and therefore they
determined not to back out. The chance was too tempting to be
surrendered for so slight a reason, and without a struggle. There were
several bears within easy shot of the ground where they were kneeling!
It would never do to let such an opportunity pass. They might not
meet with so good a chance again; or, at all events, they might be
delayed a good long time before another would turn up; and a residence
in Petropaulouski, even in the isba of the governorwho was himself
only a sergeant of Cossacks, and his dwelling a mere hutwas not so
pleasant as that they should wish to prolong it. They had now been a
great while journeying through countries covered with frost and snow;
and they were longing to reach those tropical islesfamed for their
spices and their lovelinesswhich were to be the next stage in their
grand tour round the globe.
Influenced by these thoughts, then, they resolved to run all hazard,
and try a shot at the bears.
The Kurilski, seeing them determined, gave in; and, joining his gun
to theirs, a volley of four shots was simultaneously discharged through
Two bears were seen to drop over and lie kicking upon the snow; but
whether they continued their kicking for any considerable length of
time, was a question about which our hunters could give no definite
information. They did not stay to see: for the moment the smoke had
cleared off, they saw the whole gang of bears in motion, and rushing
towards them from all sides of the lake. The shrill fierce screaming of
the animals, and the hurried pace in which they were making towards the
ridge, declared their intentions. They were charging forward to the
The hunters saw this at a glance; and thought only of retreating.
But whither could they fly? There were no trees; and if there had been,
the bears could have climbed them even better than themselves. There
were steep rocky cliffs on both sides of the ravine; but these would
afford them no securityeven had their ice-coated slope permitted of
their being scaled. But it did not, and if it had, the bears could have
scaled the rocks too!
Our Russian hunters were in a complete state of perplexity, and
perhaps would not have known how to save themselves, had it not been
for their Kurilski comrade. He, however, had conceived an ideaor,
rather, had drawn it from old experience; and just at this moment he
rushed down the slope, as he did so calling to the others to take to
their sledges, and warning them that it was their only chance of
Of course none of them thought of disputing his advice, or even
calling it in question; but one and all of them yielded obedience on
the instant. Without saying a word, each rushed to his sledge, leaped
upon the runners, seated himself in double quick time upon the little
crescent-like cradle, seized the ribbons, and straightened his team
to the road.
Had the dogs not been well-trained, and their drivers equally well
used to the management of a sledge, their peril would have been
extreme. As it wasthough all came into their places in good style,
and without confusionthey had not a second to spare. The bears were
already galloping down the slope; and as the last sledgewhich was
Pouchskin'smoved off from the bottom of the ridge, the foremost of
the roaring pursuers had got within less than six yards of it!
It was now a trial of speed between bears and sledge-dogsfor the
latter knew that they were in as much danger as their masters; and
needed neither the exclamation Ah! nor the oschtol to
urge them forward. On swept they over the frozen crust, as fast as they
could gohandling their limbs and claws with the nimbleness peculiar
to their race.
The bears followed in a sort of lumbering gallop; yet,
notwithstanding their uncouth movements, they kept for a long time
close in the rear of the fugitives.
Fortunately they did not possess the speed of the canine race; and
at lengthseeing that they were being distancedone after another
gave up the chase, and commenced returning towards the lake, slowly,
and with apparent reluctance.
Just at this crisis an accident occurred to Pouchskinor rather
Pouchskin committed a mistakewhich, had it been made five minutes
sooner, would most assuredly have cost him his life. The mistake which
Pouchskin made, was to drop the iron end of his oschtol on the
snowy crust between his sledge and the two dogs nearest to itthe
wheelers as we may call them. The effect of this, with Kamschatkan
sledge-dogs, is to cause the whole team to halt; and so acted the dogs
that Pouchskin was drivingall five suddenly coming to a dead stop!
Pouchskin endeavoured to urge them forwardcrying out the usual
signal, Ha; but, in his anxious eagerness, Pouchskin placed the
accent after the vowel, instead of before it; and instead of Ha!
his exclamation sounded Ah! The latter being the command for the
dogs to halt, of course only kept them steady in their places; and they
stood without offering to move a leg. By good fortune, the bears had
already given up the pursuit, and were not witnesses of this
interruption: otherwise it would have gone ill with the ex-grenadier.
In due time the dogs were once more started; and Pouchskinputting
them to their highest rate of speedsoon overtook the sledge-train;
which did not come to a halt until a good mile of snow-covered country
was between it and the bears.
The hunters only paused then, for a short while, to breathe their
panting dogs; and this done, they resumed their seats on the sledges,
and continued on to the ostrogwithout a thought of going back after
They had no intention, however, of giving them up entirely. They
only drove home to the villagein order to get assistance; and, as
soon as their report was delivered, all the men of the
settlementCossacks, Kurilskis, and half-breedsturned out armed to
the teeth for a grand battue, and proceeded towards the lake with the
Governor himself at their head.
The bears were still upon the groundboth the living and the
deadfor it was now seen that two of their number had fallen to the
shots of our huntersand upon the former a general fusillade was at
once opened, which ended in their complete discomfiture. Five more of
them were killed upon the spot; and several others that took to flight
were tracked through the snow, and destroyed in their hiding-places.
For a week after, there was very little fish eaten in the ostrog of
Petropaulouskiwhich for a long period previous to that time had not
witnessed such a carnival.
Of course our Russian hunters came in for their share of the
trophies; and, choosing the skin of one of the bears they had
themselves shot, they left it with the Governor, to be forwarded via
Okhotsk and Yakoutsk, to the distant capital of Saint Petersburg.
Shortly after the fur ship carried them to Canton,whence they might
expect to find a passage in a Chinese trading vessel to the grand
island of Borneo.
CHAPTER FIFTY FIVE. THE SUN-BEARS.
There are colonies of Chinese settled in different parts of Borneo
whose principal business there is the working of gold and antimony
mines. These Chinese colonial settlementsalong with numerous others
throughout the Oriental islandsare under the protection and direction
of a great Mercantile Company called Kung Lisomewhat
resembling our own East India Company. In Borneo, the headquarters of
this commercial association of the Chinese, is the port and river of
Sambos, on the western coast; though they have many other settlements
in different parts of the island. Of course, between these colonies and
Canton there is a regular traffic; and our travellers found no
difficulty in proceeding to Borneo in a Chinese junk which traded
direct from Canton to Sambos. At Sambos there is also a Dutch
settlement, or factory, belonging to the Dutch East India Company;
and this Company has also two other stations in the islandall,
however, occupying a territory of limited extent, compared with the
large surface of the island itself. No other European settlements exist
in Borneo, if we except an English agency lately established at the
little island of Labuan; and a settlement at Sarawak, under an English
adventurer, who styles himself Rajah Brooke.
The rajah rests his claim to the title and territory of Sarawak on
a grant from the Sultan of Borneo (Bruni); and the quid pro quo
which he professes to have given, was the having assisted the said
Sultan in putting down the Dyak pirates! This is the pretence
hitherto put forth to the British public; but on a closer inquiry into
the facts of this transaction, the story assumes quite a different
colour; and it would rather appear, that, instead of assisting to put
down piracy in the Bornean waters, the first act of the philanthropic
Englishman was to assist the Malay Sultan in enslaving several tribes
of inoffensive Dyaks, and forcing them to work without pay in the mines
of antimony! This appears to have been the nature of the services that
purchased Sarawak. It was, in fact, aiding the pirates, instead of
putting them down: since the Bornean Sultan was himself the actual
patron and protector of these sea robbers, instead of being their
The patriot and statesman Hume endeavoured to procure an inquiry
into these acts of Oriental filibusterism; but the underhand
influence of an unprincipled Administration, backed by an interested
commercial clamour, was too strong for him; and the shameful usurpation
has been justified.
Notwithstanding that Europeans have been settled for hundreds of
years in the islands of the Indian Archipelagoruling them, as we may
almost sayit is astonishing how little is yet known of the great
island of Borneo. Only its coasts have been traced, and these very
imperfectly. The Dutch have made one or two expeditions into the
interior; but much knowledge need not be expected from such trading
hucksters as they. Their energies in the East have been expended
throughout a period of two centuries, with no other apparent object
than to promote dissension, wherever it was possible; and to annihilate
every spark of freedom or nobility among the races who have had the
misfortune to come in contact with them.
Notwithstanding their opportunities, they have done little to add to
our knowledge of Borneowhich was about as well-known a hundred years
ago as it is at the present hour.Never was a subject more ripe for
illustration than this magnificent island. It courts a monographsuch
as has been given to Sumatra by Marsden, by Tennant to Ceylon, and to
Java by Sir Stamford Raffles. Perhaps some one of my young readers may
become the author of that monograph?
Teeming with the most gorgeous forms of tropical lifeso rich in
fauna and flora, that it might be almost regarded as a great
zoological and botanical garden combinedit will well repay the
scientific explorer, who may scarce find such another field on the face
of the earth.
Our young hunters, in contemplating the grand tropical scenery of
Borneo, were filled with admiration. The sylva was quite equal
to anything they had witnessed on the Amazon; while the fauna
especially in quadrupeds and quadrumanawas far richer.
To one quadruped was their attention more especially directed; and I
need hardly say that this was the Bornean bearby far the most
beautiful animal of the whole Bruin family. The Bornean bear is also
the smallest of the familyin size, being even less than his near
congener, the Malayan bear; though resembling the latter in many
particulars. His fur is a jet black, with a muzzle of an orange-yellow
colour, and a disc of still deeper orange upon the breast, bearing a
certain resemblance to the figure of a heart. The hair is thickly and
evenly set over his whole bodypresenting the same uniform surface
which characterises the black bear of North America, the two species of
South America, and also his Malayan cousinwho inhabits the
neighbouring islands of Sumatra and Java. For the latter, indeed, he is
often taken; and many naturalists consider them as one speciesthough
this is certainly an error. The Bornean bear is not only much less in
bulk; but the deep orange-colour on his breast offers a permanent mark
of distinction. In the Malayan bear there is also a marking on the
breast; but it is of half-moon shape and whitish colour. Besides, the
colour of the muzzle in the latter species is only yellowish,
not yellow; and the animal altogether is far from being so
handsome as the bear of Borneo.
Dr Horsfield, who had good opportunities of observing them both, has
pointed out other essential characteristics, which prove conclusively
that they are separate species; but the Doctor, guided by his love for
generic distinctions, could not rest satisfied, without further
ornamenting his taskby constituting for them a new genus, under the
title of Helarctos. There is no reason whatever for this
inundation of generic names. It has served no good purpose; but, on the
contrary, renders the study of natural history more complicated and
obscure; and to no family of animals do these remarks more pointedly
apply, than to that of the bears. So similar are all these quadrupeds
to one another so perfect is the family likeness between
themthat to separate them into different genera is a mere pedantic
conceit of the anatomists. There are about a dozen species in all; and
the systematic naturalists who do not even admit that numberhave
formed for the bears nearly as many genera as there are species,among
which may be mentioned the ridiculous titles of Prochilus, Melursus,
Helarctos, and the like.
The Bornean bear is as much a true species of ursus as either
the brown bear of Europe, the black bear of North America, or the black
bears of the Cordilleras; and, indeed, to these last his habits
assimilate him very closelybeing, like them, a vegetarian in his
diet, and a great lover of sweets.
Of his penchant for honey our young hunters had proof: for,
it was while actually engaged in plundering a hive they first saw the
Bornean bear. They were at the same time successful in effecting his
capture which is now to be described.
CHAPTER FIFTY SIX. THE TALL TAPANG.
On their arrival at Sambos, our young hunters according to their
usual custom, procured a native guide to direct them to the haunts of
In this case it was a Dyak who became their conductorone of those
who follow the business of bee-hunters; and who, from the very nature
of their calling, are often brought into contact with the bears as well
as the bees.
Under the direction of the Dyak, our hunters made an excursion to a
range of wooded hills, not far from Sambos, where the sun-bear was
known to exist in great numbers; and where one was likely to be found
almost at any time.
As they were passing through the woods, they observed a very
singular species of treeindeed many species, that might be styled
singular; but one pre-eminently so, that strongly arrested their
attention. These trees did not grow in any great numbers together; but
only two or three in one place; and more generally they stood
singlyapart from any of their own kind, and surrounded by other trees
of the forest. But though surrounded by other sorts, they were
overtopped by none. On the contrary, their own tops rose above all the
others to a vast height; and, what was most singular, they did not put
forth a branch from their trunks until the latter had shot up to some
feet above the spray of the surrounding forest. It was this
peculiarity that had drawn the attention of our hunters. They might not
have noticed it, had they kept on under the trees; but, on crossing a
slight eminencewhere the ground was openthey chanced to get a view
of a number of these tall trees, and saw that they towered to a vast
height, above all the others.
Even their tops had the appearance of tall trees, standing thinly
over the groundthe ground itself being neither more nor less than the
contiguous heads of the other trees, that formed the forest. Had this
forest been a law jungle, there would have been nothing extraordinary
in what they saw; but our hunters had already observed that it was a
true forest of grand treesmost of them a hundred feet in height. As
the trees which had attracted their admiration rose full fifty feet
above the tops of the others, it may be imagined what tall individuals
they were. They were slender, too, in proportion to their height; and
these stems rising two hundred feet, without a single offshoot or
branch upon them, gave the trees the appearance of being still taller
than they actually werejust as a thin clean spar, set upright, looks
much taller than a hill or a house of the same elevation.
We have said that there were no branches for the first hundred feet
or so up the stem. Beyond that there were many and large limbs; which,
diverging only slightly, and in a fastigiate manner, carried the tree
nearly as much higher. These branches were regularly set; and covered
with small, light, green leaves, forming a beautiful round head.
The bark of this tree was white, and by piercing it with a knife,
our hunters perceived that it was soft and milky. The wood, too, for
some inches below the periphery was so spongy, that the blade of the
knife penetrated into it almost as easily as into the stalk of a
The wood near the bark was of a white colour. Inwards it became
harder; and had they been able to reach the heart, they would have
found it very hard, and of a dark chocolate colour. On exposure to the
air, this heart-wood turns black as ebony; and is used for similar
purposes by the native Dyaks and Malays, who manufacture from it
bracelets and other bijouterie.
On asking their Dyak guide the name of this remarkable tree, he said
it was called the tapang. This, however, gave no information
regarding its species; but Alexis, shortly after, in passing under one,
observed some flowers that had fallen from its top; and having examined
one of these, pronounced the tree a species of ficusa very
common genus in the islands of the Indian Archipelago.
If our young hunters were filled with admiration at sight of this
beautiful tree itself, they shortly after observed something that
changed their admiration into wonder. On advancing towards one of the
tapangs, they were struck with a singular serrated appearance that
showed along the edge of its trunkfrom the ground up to the base of
its branching head. It looked as if a tall ladder was laid edgeways
along the trunk of the treeone side of it bidden under the bark! On
drawing nearer, this appearance was explained. A ladder in reality it
was; but one of rare construction; and which could not have been
removed from the tree, without taking it entirely to pieces. On closer
examination, this ladder proved to be a series of bamboo spikesdriven
into the soft trunk in a slightly slanting direction, and about two
feet apart, one above the other. The spikes themselves forming the
rounds, were each about a foot in length; and held firmly in their
places by a bamboo railto which their outer ends were attached by
means of thin strips of rattan. This rail extended the whole way from
the ground to the commencement of the branches.
It was evident that this extemporised ladder had been constructed
for the purpose of climbing the tree, but with what object? Upon this
head their Dyak guide was the very man to enlighten them: since it was
he himself who had made the ladder. The construction of such ladders,
and afterwards the climbing of them, were the most essential branches
of his callingwhich, as already stated, was that of a bee-hunter. His
account of the matter was as follows. A large wasp-like bee, which is
called lanyeh, builds its nests upon these tall tapangs. The
nest consists of an accumulation of pale yellowish waxwhich the bees
attach to the under-side of the thick branches, so that these may
shelter the hive from the rain. To reach these nests, the bamboo ladder
is constructed, and the ascent is madenot for the purpose of
obtaining the honey alonebut more on account of the wax, out of which
the combs are formed. The lanyeh being as much wasp as bee, produces a very small quantity of honey; and that, too, of inferior
quality; but the wax is a valuable article, and of this several
dollars' worth may be procured from a single hive.
It is dearly earned moneyvery dearly earned, indeed; but the poor
Dyak bee-hunter follows the calling from motives not easily
understoodsince almost any other would afford him a living, with less
labour and certainly with less pain. Pain, indeed! he never
succeeds in plundering the store of the lanyeh, without being
severely stung by the insects; and though their sting is quite as
painful as that of the common wasp, experience seems to have rendered
the Dyak almost indifferent to it. He ascends the flimsy ladder without
fearcarrying a blazing torch in his hand, and a cane basket on his
back. By means of the torch, he ejects the bees from their aerial
domiciles; and, then having torn their combs from the branches, he
deposits them in his basketthe incensed insects all the while buzzing
around his ears, and inflicting numerous wounds over his face and
throat, as well as upon his naked arms! Very often he returns to the
ground with his head swollen to twice the size it was previous to his
going up! Not a very pleasant profession is that of a Bornean
CHAPTER FIFTY SEVEN. THE BRUANG.
As the party proceeded onward, they observed several other
tapang-trees, with ladders attached to them; and at the bottom of one
of thesewhich was the tallest they had yet seenthe guide made a
Taking off his kris, and throwing to the ground an axe, which
he had brought along, he commenced ascending the tree.
Our hunters inquired his object. They knew it could not be either
honey or wax. There had been a bees' nest upon this treeas the ladder
toldbut that had been removed long ago; and there now appeared
nothing among the branches that should make it worth while to climb up
to them. The answer of the bee-hunter explained his purpose. He was
merely ascending to have a lookout over the forestwhich in that
neighbourhood could not be obtained by any other means than by the
climbing of a tapang.
It was fearful to watch the man ascending to such a dizzy height,
and with such a flimsy, uncertain support beneath his feet. It reminded
them of what they had seen at the Palombiere of the Pyrenees.
The Dyak soon reached the top of the ladder; and for some ten
minutes or more clung therescrewing his head around, and appearing to
examine the forest on all sides. At length his head rested steadily
upon his shoulders; and his gaze appeared to be fixed in one particular
direction. He was too distant for the party at the bottom of the tree
to note the expression upon his countenance; but his attitude told them
that he had made some discovery.
Shortly after he came down; and reported this discovery in laconic
phrase, simply saying:
The hunters knew that bruang was the Malayan name for bear; and
the coincidence of this word with the sobriquet Bruin had
already led them to indulge in the speculation, as to whether the
latter might not have originally come from the East?
They did not stay to think of it then: for the guide, on regaining
terra firma, at once started offtelling them to follow him.
After going rapidly about a quarter of a mile through the woods, the
Dyak began to advance more cautiouslycarefully examining each of the
trunks of the tapangs that stood thinly scattered among the
At one of these he was seen to make an abrupt halt, at the same
instant turning his face upward. The young hunters, who were close
behind him, could see that there were scratches upon the soft succulent
bark, as if caused by the claws of some animal; but, almost as soon as
they had made the observation, their eyes were directed to the animal
Away up on the tall tapangjust where its lowest limbs parted from
the main stema black body could be distinguished. At such a distance
it appeared not bigger than a squirrel; but, for all that, it was a
Bornean bear; and the spot of vivid orange upon its breast could be
seen shining like a coal of fire. Close by its snout a whitish mass
appeared attached under the branches. This was the waxen domicile of
the lanyeh bees; and a slight mist-like cloud, which hung over
the place, was the swarm itselfno doubt engaged in angry conflict
with the plunderer of their hive.
The little bear was too busy in the enjoyment of his luscious
mealthat is, if the stings of the lanyehs allowed him to enjoy
itto look below; and for some minutes the hunters stood regarding
him, without making a movement.
Satisfied with their inspection, they were at length preparing to
fire at him; when they were hindered by the Dyakwho, making signs to
them to be silent, drew them all back from the tree.
When out of sight of the bear, he counselled them to adopt a
different plan. He saidwhat was true enoughthat at such a height
they might miss the bear; or, even if they should hit him, a bullet
would scarce bring him downunless it should strike him in a vital
part. In the contingency of their missing, or only slightly wounding
him, the animal would at once ascend further up into the tapang; and,
hidden behind the leaves and branches, might defy them. He would there
remain till hunger should force him down; and, since he was just in the
act of having his meal, and had, no doubt, been eating from the time he
was first espied or longer, perhapshe would be in a condition to
stay in the tree, until their patience should be more than exhausted.
True, they might fell the tree: they had an axe, and could soon cut
the tree downas the wood was soft; but the Dyak alleged that the
bruang in such cases usually contrives to escape. The tapang rarely
falls all the way, but only upon the tops of the trees that stand
thickly round; and as the Bornean bear can climb and cling like a
monkey, he is never shaken out of the branches, but springs from them
into some other tree among the thick leaves of which he may conceal
himself; or, by getting to the ground, manage to steal off.
His advice, therefore, was, that the hunters should conceal
themselves behind the trunks of the surrounding trees; and, observing
silence, wait till the bruang had finished his mellifluous repast, and
feel inclined to come down. The Dyak said he would make his descent
stern foremost; and, if they acted cautiously, they might have him at
their mercy, and almost at the muzzles of their guns.
There was only one of the three who was not agreeable to this plan;
and that was the impatient Ivan; but, overruled by the advice of his
brother, he also gave his consent to it.
The three now took their respective stands behind three treesthat
formed a sort of triangle around the tapang; and the guide, who had no
gun, placed himself apartholding his kris in readiness to finish off
the bear, should the animal be only wounded.
There was no danger to be dreaded from the encounter. The little
bear of Borneo is only dangerous to the bees and white antsor other
insectswhich he is accustomed to lick up with his long tongue. The
human hunter has nothing to fear from him, any more than from a timid
deerthough he will scratch, and growl, and bite, if too closely
It was just as the Dyak had predicted. The bruang, having finished
his meal, was seen coming down the tree tail foremost; and in this way
would no doubt have continued on to the ground; but, before he had got
halfway down the trunk, Ivan's impatience got the better of him; and
the loud bang of his fowling-piece filled the forest with its echoes.
Of course it was a bullet that Ivan had fired; and it appeared that he
had missed. It was of little use firing also his shot barrel, though he
did so immediately after.
The effect of his shots was to frighten the bruang back up the tree;
and at the first report he commenced ascending. Almost as rapidly as a
cat he swarmed upward; and for a moment the chances of losing him
appeared as two to one. But Alexis, who had been watching the restless
movements of his brother, had prepared himself for such an issue; and,
waiting till the bruang made a pause just under the branches, he fired
his rifle with deadlier aim. The bear, in clutching to one of the
limbs, had extended his body outward, and this gave the rifleman the
chance of aiming at his head. The bullet must have told: for the bear,
instead of ascending higher, was seen hanging down from the limb, as if
he was clinging to it with enfeebled strength.
At this moment the cannon-like report of Pouchskin's fusil filled
the woods with its booming echoes; and Bruin, suddenly relaxing his
grasp, came bump down among the huntersmissing Pouchskin by about the
eighth part of an inch! Lucky for the old grenadier there was even this
much of a miss. It was as good as a mile to him. Had the bear's body
descended upon his shoulders, falling from such a height, it would have
flattened him out as dead as the bear was himself; and Pouchskin,
perceiving the danger from which he had so narrowly escaped, looked as
perplexed and miserable as if some great misfortune had actually
CHAPTER FIFTY EIGHT. THE
Our heroes now, having accomplished their mission to Borneo, were
about to cross over to the island of Sumatra; in whichas well as in
Java, or upon the mainland of Malaccathey would find the other
sun-bear, known as the ursus malayanus; but previous to their
departure from Sambos, they obtained information that led them to
believe that this species also inhabited the island of Borneo. It was
more rarely met with than the orange-breasted variety; but the natives,
generally better guides than the anatomists in the matter of specific
distinctions, stoutly maintained that there were two kinds; and the
Dyak bee-hunterwhose interest had been secured by the ample reward
already bestowed upon himpromised them, that if they would go with
him to a certain district of country, he would show them the larger
species of bruang. From the man's description of it Alexis easily
recognised the ursus malayanus the species they had killed
being the ursus euryspilus.
Indeed, had there been any doubt about this matter, it would have
been set at rest, by what our travellers saw in the streets of Sambos.
There both species were exhibited by the itinerant jugglersfor both
the sun-bears can be easily tamed and trainedand these men stated
that they had procured the big bruang, in the woods of Borneo.
Since, then, he was there to be found, why go to Sumatra in search
of him? They had still travelling enough before them; and they were
beginning to get tired of it. It was natural thatafter so long an
absence and the endurance of so many perils and hardshipsthey should
be longing for home, and the comforts of that fine palace on the banks
of the Neva.
They resolved, therefore, to accompany the Dyak guide on a new
They were a whole day upon the journey; and just before nightfall
reached the place, where the man expected to fall in with the big
bruangs. Of course, they could not commence their search before
morning. They baited, therefore, and formed camptheir Dyak guide
erecting a bamboo hut in less than an hour, and thatching it over with
the huge leaves of the wild musaceae.
The place where they had halted was in the midst of a magnificent
grove, or rather a forest, of palms; of that kind called nibong
by the natives, which is a species of the genus arenga. It is
one of the cabbage palms; that is, its young leaves before expanding
are eaten by the natives as a vegetable after the manner in which
Europeans use cabbage. They are of a delicate whiteness, with a sweet
nutty flavour; and, in point of excellence, are even superior to those
of the cocoa-nut, or even the West India cabbage palm (areca
oleracea). But the nibong is put by the Borneans and other natives
of the Indian Archipelago to a great variety of uses. Its round stem is
employed as uprights and rafters for their houses. Split into lathes,
it serves for the flooring. Sugar can be obtained from the saccharine
juice of its spadix, which also ferments into an intoxicating beverage;
and sago exists in abundance within the trunk. Pens and arrows for
blow-guns are also made from the midribs of the side leaves; and, in
fact, the arenga saccharifera, like many other palms, serves for
an endless variety of purposes.
Alexis was greatly interested by the appearance of this beautiful
tree; but it was too late when they arrived on the ground for him to
have an opportunity of examining it. The half-hour before darkness had
been occupied in the construction of the hutin which all hands had
Early in the morning, Alexisstill curious about the
arenga-treesand desirous of ascertaining to what genus of palms they
belongedstrayed off among them, in hopes of procuring a flower. The
others remained by the hut, preparing breakfast.
Alexis saw none of the trees in flower, their great spathes being
yet unfolded; but, toping to find some one more forward than the rest,
he kept on for a considerable distance through the forest.
As he was walking leisurely along, his eyes at intervals turned
upward to the fronds of the palms, he saw that one of the trunks
directly in front of him was in motion. He stopped and listened. He
heard a sound as of something in the act of being rent, just as if some
one was plucking leaves from the trees. The sound proceeded from the
one that was in motion; but it was only its trunk that he saw; and
whatever was causing the noise and the movement appeared to be up among
the great fronds at its crown.
Alexis regretted that he had left his gun behind him. He had no
other weapon with him but his knife. Not that he was afraid: for the
animal could not be an elephant in the top of a palm-tree, nor a
rhinoceros; and these were the only quadrupeds that need be greatly
dreaded in a Bornean forest: since the royal tiger, though common
enough both in Java and Sumatra, is not an inhabitant of Borneo.
It was not fear that caused him to regret having left his gun behind
him; but simply that he should lose the chance of shooting some
animal perhaps a rare one. That it was a large one he could tell by
the movement of the tree: since no squirrel or small quadruped could
have caused the stout trunk of the palm to vibrate in such a violent
I need not say how the regret of the young hunter was increased,
when he approached the tree, and looking up, saw what the animal really
wasa bear, and that bear the true ursus malayanus! Yes, there
was he, with his black body, yellowish muzzle, and white half-moon upon
his breast busy gorging himself upon the tender leaflets of the
arengawhose white fragments, constantly dropping from his jaws,
strewed the ground at the bottom of the tree.
Alexis now remembered that this was a well-known habit of the
Malayan bearwhose favourite food is the cabbage of palm-trees, and
who often extends his depredations to the cocoa plantations, destroying
hundreds of trees before he can be detected and destroyed himself. Of
course this wild arenga woodfurnishing the bear with as much
cabbage as he might requirewas just the place for him; and Alexis
now understood the reason why the Dyak had conducted them thither.
As the naturalist knew that this kind of bear was more rare than the
other speciesthat is, in Borneohe now more than ever felt chagrin
at not having his gun with him. To attempt attacking the animal with
his knife would have been absurd, as well as dangerousfor the Malayan
bear can maintain a better fight than his Bornean brother.
But, indeed, even had Alexis desired it, there would have been no
chance to reach the animal with his knifeunless the hunter should
himself climb up the palm; and that was more than he either dared or
Of course the bear had long ere this perceived his enemy at the foot
of the tree; and, uttering a series of low querulous cries, had
desisted from his cabbage eating, and placed himself in an attitude of
defence. It was evident from the position he had assumed, that he had
no design of coming down, so long as the hunter remained at the bottom
of the tree; nor did the latter desire him to do so. On the contrary,
he struck the tree with a stick, and made several other demonstrations,
with the design to hinder the bear from attempting a descent. But the
animal did not even meditate such a thing. Though the palm was not one
of the highest, it was tall enough to keep him out of the reach of any
weapon the hunter could lay hands upon; and the bear, seemingly
conscious of this fact, kept his perch with a confident airthat
showed he had no intention of changing his secure position.
Alexis now began to reflect about what he should do. If he could
make the others hear him, that would answer every purpose. Of course
they would come up, bringing with them their guns. This was the most
promising plan; and Alexis hastened to put it into execution, by
hallooing at the top of his voice. But, after he had shouted for nearly
ten minutes, and waited for ten more, no response was given; nor did
any one make an appearance upon the ground.
Once more Alexis raised his voice, and shouted till the woods rang
with echoes. But these echoes were all the reply he could get to his
It was evident he had unconsciously strayed far from the camp, and
quite out of earshot of his companions!
What was to be done? If he should go back to the others, to bring
them and also his gun, the bear would in all probability seize the
opportunity to descend from the tree and take himself off. In that case
he would most certainly escape: since there would be no chance of
tracking him through such a wood. On the other hand, Alexis need not
remain where he was. He might stay there till doomsday, before Bruin
would condescend to come down; and even should he do so, what chance
would there be of effecting his capture?
While reflecting thus, a happy idea occurred to the young hunter;
and he was seen all at once to step a pace or two back, and place
himself behind the broad leaves of a wild pisang, where he was
hidden from the eyes of the bear.
As the morning was a little raw he had his cloak around him; and
this he instantly stripped off. He had already in his hands the stout
long stickwith which he had been hammering upon the palmand this he
now sharpened at one end with his knife. On the other end he placed his
cap, and beneath it his cloak, folding the latter around the stick, and
tying it on in such a fashion as to make of it a rude representation of
the human form.
When he had got the dummy rigged out to his satisfaction, he
reached cautiously forwardstill keeping the fronds of the pisang
between himself and the bear. In this position, he held the scarecrow
out at the full length of his arm; and, giving the stick a punch, set
it erect in the ground. The bruang, from his elevated perch on the
tree, could not fail to see the objectthough the hunter himself was
still concealed by the huge leaves that drooped over his head. Alexis,
now cautiously, and without making the slightest noise, stole away from
the spot. When he believed himself well out of hearing of the bear, he
quickened his pace, and retraced his steps to the camp.
It was but the work of a minute for all hands to arm themselves and
set out; and in ten minutes' time they arrived at the bottom of the
arenga, and had the gratification of finding that the ruse
of Alexis had proved successful.
The bruang was still crouching upon the crown of the palm; but he
did not stay there much longer, for a volley fired at his white breast
toppled him over from his perch; and he fell to the bottom of the tree
as dead as a stone.
The Dyak was rather chagrined that he had not himself discovered the
game; but, on ascertaining that he would receive the promised bounty
all the same, he soon got the better of his regrets.
Our hunters being on the ground, were determined to make a day of
it; and after breakfast continued their huntwhich resulted in their
finding and killing, not only another bruang, but a rimau
dahan, or clouded tiger (felis macrocelus): the most
beautiful of all feline animals, and whose skin they intended should be
one of the trophies to be mounted in the museum of the palace
This hunt ended their adventures in the Oriental Archipelago; and
from Sambos they proceeded direct through the straits of Malacca, and
up the Bay of Bengal to the great city of Calcutta.
CHAPTER FIFTY NINE. THE SLOTH BEAR.
En route for the grand mountains of Imausthe stupendous
chain of the Himalayas!
There our hunters expected to find no less than three species of
bears each distinct from the others in outline of form, in aspect, in
certain habits, and even in habitat; for although all three
exist in the Himalayas, each has its own zone of altitude, in which it
ranges almost exclusively. These three bears are, the sloth bear (
ursus labatus), the Thibet bear (ursus thibetanus), and the
snow bear (ursus isabellinus).
The first-mentioned is the one which has received most noticeboth
from naturalists and travellers. It is that species which by certain
wiseacres of the closet school was for a long time regarded as a sloth
(bradypus). In redeeming it from this character, other
systematists were not content to leave it where it really belongsin
the genus ursusbut must, forsooth, create a new one for its
special accommodation; and it now figures in zoological catalogues as a
prochilusthe prochilus labiatus! We shall reject this
absurd title, and call it by its real oneursus labiatus,
which, literally translated, would mean the lipped bearnot a very
specific appellation neither. The name has been given in reference to a
peculiar characteristic of the animalthat is, its power of protruding
or extending the lips to seize its foodin which peculiarity it
resembles the tapir, giraffe, and some other animals. Its trivial name
of sloth bear is more expressive: for certainly its peculiar
aspectcaused by the long shaggy masses of hair which cover its neck
and bodygives it a very striking resemblance to the sloth. Its long
crescent-shaped claws strengthen this resemblance. A less distinctive
name is that by which it is known to the French naturalists, ours de
jongleurs, or juggler's bear. Its grotesque appearance makes it a
great favourite with the Indian mountebanks; but, as many other species
are also trained to dancing and monkey-tricks, the name is not
This bear is not quite so large as the ursus arctos; though
individuals are sometimes met with approaching the bulk of the latter.
The fur is longer and shaggier than in any other speciesbeing upon
the back of the neck full twelve inches in length. In this mass of long
hair there is a curious line of separation running transversely across
the back of the neck. The front division falls forward over the crown,
so as to overhang the eyesthus imparting to the physiognomy of the
animal a heavy, stupid appearance. The other portion flaps back,
forming a thick mane or hunch upon the shoulders. In old individuals
the hair becomes greatly elongated; and hanging down almost to the
ground on both flanks, and along the neck, imparts to the animal the
strange appearance of being without legs!
The general colour of the coat is black, with here and there a dash
of brown over it. Upon the breast there is a white list of a triangular
shape; and the muzzle is also a dirty yellowish white. There is no
danger of mistaking this species for any other of the black Asiatic
bears, or even any black bears. The long shaggy hair, hanging loosely,
presents an appearance altogether different from the uniform brush-like
surface, which characterises the coats of ursus malayanus,
euryspilus, americanus, ornatus, and frugilegus.
Perhaps the most peculiar characteristic of the sloth bear is the
capability it possesses of protruding the lips, which it can do to a
length of several inches from its jawsshooting them out in the form
of a tube, evidently designed for suction. This, together with the long
extensile tonguewhich is flat shaped and square at the extremity
shows a peculiar design, answering to the habits of the animal. No
doubt the extraordinary development of tongue is given to it for the
same purpose as to the edentata of the ant-eating tribeto
enable it to lick up the termites.
Its great curved claws, which bear a very striking resemblance to
those of the ant-eatersespecially the large tamanoir of South
Americaare used for the same purpose: that of breaking up the
glutinous compost with which the termites construct their curious
These insects constitute a portion of the sloth bear's commissariat
of subsistence; but he will also eat fruits, and sweet succulent
vegetables; and, it is scarce necessary to add, that he is wild after
honey, and a regular robber of bee-hives.
Notwithstanding the comic role, which he is often taught to
play in the hands of the jugglers, he not unfrequently enacts a little
bit of tragedy. This occurs when in his wild or natural state. He is
not disposed wantonly to make an attack upon human beings; and if left
unmolested, he will go his way; but, when wounded or otherwise
provoked, he can show fight to about the same degree as the black bear
of America. The natives of India hold him in dread: but chiefly on
account of the damage he occasions to their cropsespecially to the
plantations of sugar-cane.
We have stated that the sloth bear is not exclusively confined to
the Himalayas. On the contrary, these mountains are only the northern
limit of his rangewhich extends over the whole peninsula of
Hindostan, and even beyond it, to the island of Ceylon. He is common in
the Deccan, the country of the Mahrattas, Sylhet, and most probably
throughout Transgangetic India. In the mountains that bound the
province of Bengal to the east and west, and also along the foot-hills
of the Himalayas of Nepaul on its north, the sloth bear is the most
common representative of the Bruin family; but up into the higher
ranges he does not extend his wanderings. His habitat proves
that he affects a hot, rather than a cold climatenotwithstanding the
great length of the fur upon his coat.
One peculiarity remains to be mentioned. Instead of hiding himself
away in solitudes, remote from human habitations, he rather seeks the
society of man: not that he is fond of the latter; but simply that he
may avail himself of the results of human industry. For this purpose he
always seeks his haunt near to some settlementwhence he may
conveniently make his depredations upon the crops. He is not, strictly
speaking, a forest animal. The low jungle is his abode; and his lair is
a hole under some overhanging bankeither a natural cavity, or one
which has been hollowed out by some burrowing animal.
Knowing that the sloth bear might be met with in any part of the
country, to the northward of Calcutta, our hunters determined to keep a
lookout for him while on their way to the Himalayaswhich mountains
they intended ascending, either through the little state of Sikkim, or
the kingdom of Nepaul.
Their route from Calcutta to the hills lay a little to the west of
north; and at many places on their journey they not only heard of the
sloth bear, but were witnesses of the ravages which this destructive
creature had committed on the crops of the farmers.
There were sugar plantations, on which they saw tall wooden towers
raised in the middle of the field, and carried to a considerable height
above the surrounding vegetation. On inquiring the purpose of these
singular structures, they were informed that they were intended as
watch-towers; and that, during the season, when the crops were
approaching to ripeness, videttes were stationed upon these
towers, both by night and by day, to keep a lookout for the bears, and
frighten them off whenever these plunderers made their appearance
within the boundaries of the fields!
Notwithstanding the many evidences of the sloth bear's presence met
with throughout the province of Bengal, our hunters failed in falling
in with this grotesque gentleman, till they were close up to the foot
of the Himalaya mountains, in that peculiar district known as the
Terai. This is a belt of jungle and forest landof an average
width of about twenty miles, and stretching along the southern base of
the Himalaya range throughout its whole length, from Afghanistan to
China. In all places the Terai is of so unhealthy a character, that it
can scarcely be said to be inhabitedits only human denizens being a
few sparse tribes of native people (Mechs); who, acclimated to its
miasmatic atmosphere, have nothing to fear from it. Woe to the European
who makes any lengthened sojourn in the Terai! He who does will there
find his grave.
For all its unhealthiness, it is the favourite haunt of many of the
largest quadrupeds: the elephant, the huge Indian rhinoceros, the lion
and tiger, the jungly ghau or wild ox, the sambur stag, panthers,
leopards, and cheetahs. The sloth bear roams through its thickets and
gladeswhere his favourite food, the white ants, abounds; and it was
upon reaching this district that our hunters more particularly bent
themselves to search for a specimen of this uncouth creature.
Fortunately they were not long till they found oneelse the climate
of the Terai would soon have so enfeebled them, that they might never
have been able to climb the stupendous mountains beyond. Almost upon
entering within the confines of this deadly wilderness, they
encountered the sloth bear; and although the interview was purely
accidental, it ended in Bruin being deprived of his life and his
The sloth bear did not submit tamely to this double robbery, for he
was himself the assailanthaving been the first to cry stand and
deliver! Nor was his conquest accomplished without a perilous
strugglethat came very near reducing the number of our heroes from
odd to even. But we shall give the account of the affair, as we find it
detailed in the journal of Alexis.
CHAPTER SIXTY. BRUIN TAKEN BY THE
The travellers had halted for lunch, and tied their horses to the
trees. While Pouchskin was spreading out the comestibles, and Alexis
engaged in noting down in his journal the events of the day,
Ivanattracted by a beautiful birdhad taken up his fowling-piece,
and followed the bird through the junglein hopes of getting a shot at
it. We go along with Ivan, for it was he who started the mountebank
bear, that came near mounting him on the moment of their meeting it.
Ivan was walking cautiously along a bank, that rose to about the
height of his head; but which in places was undermined, as if by the
action of running waterthough there was no water to be seen. The
ground, however, upon which he trod was covered with pebbles and coarse
gravel showing that at some period water must have flowed over it;
and, indeed, it was evidently the bed of a stream that had been full
during the rainy season, but was now completely dried up.
Ivan was not thinking of this; but of the beautiful bird which was
flitting about among the treesstill keeping out of the range of his
gun. He was in a bent attitude, crouching along under the bankwhich
he was using as a cover, to enable him to approach the tantalising
All at once, a singular noise fell upon his ear. It was a sort of
monotonous purring, like that made by a spinning-machine, or a very
large tom-cat; and like the latter, it was prolonged and continuous.
The sound was not exactly pleasant to Ivan's ear, for it denoted the
proximity of some animal; and, although it was not loud, there was
something about the tone that told him the animal giving utterance to
it was a creature to be feared. In fact, it fell upon Ivan's ear in the
character of a warning; and caused him to desist from his pursuit of
the bird, come suddenly to a stand, and listen with great attention.
For some moments he was unable to make out whence the sound
proceeded. It seemed to fill the space all around himas if it came
out of the air itselffor the purring sound kept the atmosphere
constantly vibrating; and, as there was no definite concussion, it was
all the more difficult to trace it to its source.
The thought that had entered into Ivan's mind was that it might be
the purring of a tiger he heard; and yet it seemed scarcely so harsh as
thatfor he knew the peculiar rattle which frequently proceeds from
the thorax of the royal Bengalese cat.
He quickly reflected, however, that whether it was tiger or not, it
would neither be safe for him to raise an alarm, nor start to rush back
to the bivouacthough this was not twenty yards from the spot. By
making an attempt to retreat, he might draw the animal after him, or
stumble upon itnot knowing its direction. It was to ascertain its
whereabouts that he had stopped and stood listening. That once known,
he might keep his place, or lake to flightas circumstances should
Nearly a minute remained he in this irresolute attitudelooking
around on every side, and over the bank into the contiguous jungle; but
he could see no living thing of any kindfor even the bird had long
since taken its departure from the place. Still the purring continued;
and once or twice the sound increased in volumetill it almost assumed
the character of a growl.
All at once, however, it came to an end; and was succeeded by a
quick sharp sniff, several times repeated. This was a more definite
sound; and guided Ivan's eyes in a direction in which he had not before
thought of looking. He had hitherto been reconnoitring around him and
over the bank. He had not thought of looking under it.
In this direction were his eyes now turned; and, stooping his body,
he peered into the dark subterraneous excavation which the water had
caused in the alluvial earth. There, to his surprise, he beheld the
author of the baritone performance that had been puzzling him.
At first he saw only a countenance of a dirty-whitish colour, with a
pair of ugly glancing eyes; but, in looking more attentively, this
countenance was seen to protrude out of an immense surrounding of black
shaggy hair, which could be the covering of no other animal than a
bearand a sloth bear at that?
On making this discovery, Ivan did not know whether to be merry or
sad. He would have been glad enough, had he seen the bear at a
distance; but, situated as he waswith the great brute near enough to
reach him at a single spring,in fact, almost between his legshe had
little cause to congratulate himself upon the find. Nor did he. On
the contrary, he was seized with a quick perception of danger, and only
thought of making his escape. He would have turned upon the instant and
fled; but it occurred to him, that by doing so he would draw the bear
after him; and he knew that, notwithstanding the uncouth shuffle which
a bear makes in running,and the sloth bear is the greatest shuffler
of the family, he can still go too fast for a man. Should he turn his
face, the bear might spring upon his back, and thus have him at his
Instead of facing away, therefore, Ivan kept his front to the bank;
and with his eyes fixed upon the animal, commenced gliding backward,
slowly but silently. At the same time he had cautiously raised his gun
to the levelwith no intention, however, of firing, but merely to be
ready in case the bear should become the assailant. Otherwise, Ivan was
perfectly agreeable to making it a draw between them.
Bruin, however, had no idea of thus giving up the game; for the
fierce growl which just at that moment escaped him, signified anything
but assent. On the contrary, it was the prelude to the play; and
declared his intention of beginning it. Almost simultaneous with the
growl, he was seen starting to his feet; and before Ivan could pull
trigger, or even raise his gun to a proper elevation, a huge mass of
black shaggy hair, like a bundle of sooty rags, came whisking through
the air directly towards him. Men talk of the sudden spring of the
tiger, and the quick, rushing charge of the lion; but strange as it may
seem, neither one nor other of these animals can charge forward on
their intended victim with more celerity than a bearclumsy and
uncouth as Bruin may appear. His capacity of raising himself erect
gives him this advantage; and from his great plantigrade posterior
paws, combined with his powerful muscular legs, he can pitch forward
with a velocity surprising as it is unexpected. This the regular
bear-hunter well knows; and the knowledge renders him cautious about
coming too close to a couchant bear. Ivan himself knew it; and
it was for this very reason he was endeavouring to widen the distance
between himself and Bruin, before he should turn to run.
Unfortunately he had not succeeded in gaining sufficient ground. He
was still within charging distance of the animal as it rose to its
feet; but another step backward as the bear launched forth, carried him
clear of the spring; and Bruin leaped short. In another instant,
however, he erected himself, and again sprang forward; but this time
the impetus given to his body was not so great; and, although he
succeeded in closing with the young hunter, the latter was enabled to
keep his feet and grapple with him in an erect attitude. Had he fallen
to the ground, the bear would have made short work with him.
Ivan had dropped his gun: for, not having time to raise it or take
aim, the weapon was of no use. His hands were therefore free; and as
the bear pitched up against him, he stretched out his arms, grasped the
long hair that hung over the frontlet of the animal, and with all his
might held back the monster's head with his threatening jaws.
The bear had thrown both his paws around the body of the young
hunter; but a broad thick belt which the latter chanced to have on,
protected his skin from the animal's claws. So long as he could hold
back that open mouth, with its double rows of white sharp teeth, he had
not so much to fear; but his strength could not last long against such
a powerful wrestler. His only hope was that the cries which he was
raising would bring the others to his assistance; and of this he had no
doubt: as he already heard both Pouchskin and Alexis hurrying up
towards the spot.
It was a perilous moment. The extended jaws of the bear were within
twelve inches of the young hunter's face; he could feel the hot breath
steaming against his cheeks, and the long extensile tongue almost
touched his forehead, vibrating about in rapid sweeps, as if the animal
by that means hoped to bring his head within reach!
The struggle was not protracted. It lasted till Alexis and Pouchskin
came upon the ground; but not six seconds longer. The first thing that
Pouchskin did was to grasp the protruding tongue of the bear in his
left handmaking a half curl of it round his fingerswhile with his
right he plunged his long knife right between the ribs of the animal.
Alexis, on the other side, dealt a blow in similar fashion; and, before
either of them could draw his blade out of its hair-covered sheath, the
huge mountebank relaxed his hold, and rolled over among the pebbles.
There, after a few grotesque contortions his limbs lay extended and
motionless, making it evident beyond a doubt, that his dancing
days were over.
CHAPTER SIXTY ONE. AN EXTRA SKIN.
Our hunters did not remain at their bivouac longer than was
absolutely necessary to swallow a hasty meal. They had been warned of
the dangerous climate of the Terai, and hurrying on through it,
reached the more elevated hill region before night. Journeying on, they
entered the kingdom of Nepaul, among whose hills they expected to find
the Thibet bear (ursus thibetanus). This animal has been usually
regarded as a mere variety of the ursus arctos; but without the
slightest reason. It is an animal of more gentle habits, and
exclusively a vegetarian in its diet: in colour it is black, but having
a white mark on its breast shaped like a Y, the branches of the letter
coming up in front of its shoulders, while the limb extends between the
fore legs and halfway along the belly. The claws of the animal are
small and weak; and its profile forms almost a straight line, thus
essentially differing from the ursus arctos. It is also a much
smaller animalrarely attaining to more than half the size of the
latter species, and scarce bigger than the ursus malayanus, to
which it bears a far greater resemblance. It is found in the mountains
of Sylhet, and throughout that portion of the Himalayas enclosed within
the great bend of the Brahmapootra, in Thibet, whence it derives its
specific appellation. It is equally an inhabitant of the hill-country
of Nepaul; and there our hunters proceeded in search of their specimen.
By the help of a Ghoorka guide, which they had hired, they were not
long in finding one; but as there was no curious or particular incident
connected with its capture, the journal of Alexis is silent upon the
affair: it is only recorded that the animal was started from a thicket
of rhododendron bushes, and shot down while endeavouring to make
Having settled their business with the Thibet bear, our hunters
might have also procured another species within the territory of
Nepaulthat is, the brown, or Isabella bear (ursus isabellinus
). This they could have found by ascending to the higher ranges of the
great snowy mountains that overlook Nepaul; but as they knew they
should also encounter this species near the sources of the Ganges, and
as they were desirous of visiting that remarkable locality, they
continued on westward through Nepaul and Delhi, arriving at the health
station of Mussoorie, in the beautiful valley of the Dehra Doon.
After resting here for some days, they proceeded to ascend the
mountains, the lower and middle zone of which they found covered with
forests of magnificent oaks, of several distinct species.
In these oak-forests, greatly to the surprise of Alexis, they heard
of the existence of a large black bear, altogether different from the
ursus thibetanus, and equally so from the ursus isabellinus
a distinct species, in fact, which, though well-known to Anglo-Indian
hunters, appears to have escaped the attention of naturalists.
They ascertained, moreover, that he was far from being a scarce
animal, or an insignificant member of the Bruin family; in point of
size, formidable strength, and ferocity of disposition, being only
inferior to ursus ferox and maritimus, and in all these
qualities quite a match for the ursus arctos. Of his fierce
nature, and the capability to do mischief, our travellers had evidence
in almost every village through which they passed. Numerous instances
were brought before their notice of men who had been scratched and torn
by these black bears, and some most fearfully mutilated. They saw men
with their whole skin stripped from their skulls and faces; their
features presenting a most hideous aspect.
This singular habit of inflicting punishment on their human enemy
appears to be common to the whole bear tribeI mean, the habit of
scalping their victims, and endeavouring to disfigure the face. Not
only do both the black and brown bears of the Himalayas follow this
habit, but also the ursus arctos, the grizzly, and the white.
They always aim at the head, but more especially the face; and with a
single rake of their spread claws, usually strip off both skin and
Having accomplished this, a bear will often desist from further
ill-treatment of his victims; and if the latter will but lie still and
feign dead, the monster will give up mauling him, and shamble off from
the ground, apparently satisfied with having taken the scalp.
This savage habit on the part of the bears our young hunters had
long since noted; and that the black bear of the Himalayas followed the
fashion of his kindred, they had now ample evidence.
In his other habitswhich they learnt from the shikkaries, or
village huntersthis bear strongly resembles the ursus arctos
of Northern Europe. On ordinary occasions his food consists of fruits,
roots, and insects of every kind he can catcheven scorpions
and beetlesand where the primeval forest does not afford him full
rations, he will enter the cultivated grounds and make havoc among the
crops. Strange enough, he does not meddle with the wheat; though he
will ravage the fields of buckwheat and barley! At night he enters the
gardens contiguous to the houses, and plunders them of all kinds of
fruits and vegetables. He even approaches still nearerabstracting
their honey from the tame beesthe hives of which, according to a
curious custom of the hill people, are set in little indentations in
the walls of their dwelling-houses.
The black bear occasionally cools his chops by munching melons and
cucumbers; but he is particularly fond of a dessert of apricotswhich
is the most common fruit cultivated throughout the middle ranges of the
Himalayas. The bear enters the apricot orchard at night; and climbing
the trees, will make more havoc in a single visit than a score of
schoolboys. In all the orchards, elevated crows' nests or sentry boxes
are set up, specially intended for watching the bears; and at this
season many of them are killed in the act of robbing.
The Himalayan black bear will eat flesheither fresh or putridand
when once he has got into this habit he never forsakes it, but remains
a carnivorous creature for the rest of his life. He will attack the
goats and sheep on the mountain pastures; and will even make inroads to
the village enclosures, and destroy the animals in their very sheds!
When a flock of sheep falls in his way, unless he is driven off by the
shepherds, he does not content himself by killing only one, but
sometimes converts a score of them into mutton.
Those bears, however, that exhibit an extreme carnivorous
propensity, are certain to bring about their own destruction: as the
attention of the villagers being drawn upon them, snares and baited
traps are set everywhere, and they are also followed by the Shikkaries
armed with their matchlock guns.
These bears often attain to an immense sizein this respect nearly
equalling the ursus arctos, of which they cannot, however, be
supposed to be a variety. Eight feet is the usual length of a
full-grown specimen; and, when in a good condition, it requires a whole
crowd of men to raise the carcass of one of them from the ground.
Autumn is their season of greatest fatness; and especially when the
acorns are getting ripe, but previous to their falling from the tree.
Then the black bears are met with in the greatest numbers, coming from
all parts into the oak-forests, and climbing the trees to procure their
favourite food. They do not nibble off the acorns one by one; but first
break the branches which are loaded, and carry them all into one
place generally into some forkwhere, seated like squirrels, on
their great hams, they can discuss the meal at their leisure. In
passing through these oak-forests, large piles of branches may be seen
thus collected together on the tops of the treesresembling the nests
of rooks or magpieswhich have been brought together by the bears for
the purpose above stated.
When the forest lies in a district, where these bears are much
hunted, they usually retire by day; and conceal themselves in their
hiding-places in the thickets; but even in such forests the animals may
be seen prowling about before sunset, and long after daylight in the
In the higher hills and forests of the khurso oak, remote
from the villages, they do not even take the precaution to hide
themselves, but remain all day acorn-gathering among the trees. It is
at this season that they can be hunted with most success: since the
hunter is under no necessity of tracking them, but can find his great
game by simply walking quietly through the woods, and keeping a lookout
overhead, just as if he were searching for squirrels.
It chanced to be the months of October when our hunters arrived at
this part of the Himalayas; and having reached the region of the larger
oak-forests, they commenced their search accordingly. They were
extremely desirous of success; knowing how much their father would be
gratified at obtaining the skin of this black bear, which being an
undescribed variety, might be considered an extra one.
CHAPTER SIXTY TWO. AN UNHAPPY HORSE.
Our young hunters commenced their search in a forest of khurso
oaks, which, interspersed with cedars and other trees, covered a high
round-topped ridge, that rose above the little village where they had
made their headquarters.
On reaching the flat summit of the ridge, they found they could
manage better without their horses: as seated in the saddle they could
not so well reconnoitre the tops of the trees, where they expected to
see their game. They dismounted, therefore, and leaving their animals
tied to the branches of a large spreading cedar-tree (the deodor
), they proceeded onward on foot.
On this day the luck seemed to be against them; for although they
met with plenty of signwhere the bears had broken the branches of
the oaksand also saw numbers of freshly-made rooks' nests, they
could not get their eyes upon Bruin himself, who had left these tokens
of his presence. It might be that this forest was frequently hunted by
the native Shikkaries; and that would account for the absence of the
bears during the day-time. They had gone, no doubt, to their
This was the conclusion at which our hunters arrivedafter tramping
about until they were tired; and not having met with a single bear.
It was now the hour of noon; and, as they had been told that the
evening would be the likelier time to find Bruin upon the prowl, they
resolved returning to where they had left their horses, and remaining
there until evening should arrive. They had grown hungry; and, having
walked many miles, were pretty well done up. A bit of dinner, and a few
hours' rest under the great cedar, would recruit their strength; and
enable them to take the field again before sunset with a better
prospect of success.
Following their backtrack through the forest, therefore, they
proceeded towards the place where they had left their horses.
Before coming in sight of these animals, they were admonished of
their proximity by hearing them neighing at short intervals; but, what
surprised them still more, they heard a constant poundingas if the
horses were striking the ground repeatedly and continuously with their
Arriving within view of them, their astonishment was not diminished,
on perceiving that the three horses were rearing and dancing over the
ground, as if endeavouring to break loose from their fastenings! Each
had been tied to a separate branch of the treetheir bridles being
simply noosed over the twigs at the extremities of the branches; and
allowing them to play to the full length of the rein. Consequently, the
three horses were many yards apart from each other; but all were
equally in motionall neighing and pitching about, as if something had
set them mad!
Could it be horse-flies? thought the hunters. They knew there was a
species of horse-fly in the Himalayasgreatly dreaded by all animals,
and even by man himself. They knew this: for they had already suffered
from its persecuting bite. But this was in the lower valleys; and it
was not likely it should be found at the elevation of this khurso
forestsquite 10,000 feet above sea level.
Perhaps bees? There might be a nest of wild bees somewhere nearwhy
not in the cedar itselfand if so, the horses might be attacked by
them? That would account for the capers they were cutting!
They had almost settled it in their mind that this was the true
explanation; when an object came before their eyes that gave a very
different solution to the mystery.
One of the horses appeared more frightened than the other twoat
least he was squealing and curveting in a much more violent manner. As
he danced around, his eyes appeared to be directed upwardsthe great
eye-balls sparkling, and protruded as if about to start from their
sockets. This guided the glances of the hunters; and, looking among the
branches of the cedar, they now perceived a large black mass, of an
oblong shapeextended along one of the lower limbs, and just over the
spot where the horse was tied.
They had hardly time to make out the shape of this dark object, and
become convinced that it was the body of a bear, when the huge creature
was seen to launch itself down from the limb; and then drop like a cat,
all-fours, upon the back of the horse!
The latter uttered a scream of affright; and as if terror had added
to his strength, he now succeeded in breaking the brancharound which
the rein was loopedand bounded off through the forest, the bear still
squatted upon his back!
The trees that stood around were nearly all of slender growth; but,
as their stems grew thickly together, the horse, with his strange
rider, could make but slow way among them; and every now and then the
former, half blind with affright, dashed his sides against the trunks,
causing them to crackle and shiver at each concussion.
All at once the horse was seen coming to a halt, as if brought up by
the power of a Mameluke bit! The spectators saw this with wondering
eyes enable for the moment to explain it. As they were very near the
spot where the halt had been made, they soon perceived the nature of
the interruption. The bear had thrown one of his great forearms around
a tree; while, with the other, he still clutched the horse, holding him
fast! The design of Bruin was perfectly clear: he had seized the tree
in order to bring the steed to a stand!
In this for a time he was successful. With one arm he was enabled to
retain the tree in his powerful hug; while with the other he held the
horsehis huge paw, with its retentive claws, being firmly fixed under
the pommel of the saddle.
A singular struggle now ensued, which lasted for some seconds of
time; the horse making the meet energetic efforts to escape; while the
bear was equally eager in endeavouring to retain him.
Lucky was it for the steed that his master was not more particular
about the girth of his saddle, and that either the strap or buckle was
a bad one. Whichever of the two it was, one of them gave way; and the
horse, thus freed, was not slow to profit by the fortunate accident.
Uttering a neigh of joy, he sprang onwardleaving both bear and saddle
So far as the horse was concerned, his danger was over. Not so with
the bear, whose troubles were just now to begin. While holding the
horse in his muscular armand clutching the pine with the otherthe
tree had got bent until its top almost touched the saddle. When the
girth broke, therefore, the elastic sapling sprang back like a piece of
whalebone; and with such an impetus as not only to shake Bruin from his
hold, but to pitch him several yards to the opposite sidewhere he lay
stunned, or at all events so astonished, as, for a moment, to appear as
if he had taken leave of his life!
This moment of the bear's embarrassment was not lost upon the
hunters, who ran rapidly uptill within ten paces of the prostrate
animaland discharging their guns into his body, prevented him from
ever again getting to his feet. His hide was the only part of him that
afterwards attained the erect attitude; and that was when it was
mounted in the museum of the Palace Grodonoff.
CHAPTER SIXTY THREE. THE SNOW BEAR.
Higher up the Himalayas dwells the snow bear. This species has
received from naturalists the very fanciful appellation of the
Isabella bear (ursus isabellinus)a title suggested by its
colour being that known as Isabella colour,the type of which was
the very dirty gown worn by Queen Isabella at the siege of Grenada. It
is doubtful whether any living man could exactly tell what is an
Isabella colour; and the use of such a phrase in describing the hue of
an animal's skin is altogether indefinite and, to say the least,
The Isabella bears, moreover, are not always of the so called
Isabella colour. On the contrary, there are some of dark-brown, some of
a hoary brown, and others nearly white; and to Himalayan hunters they
are known by the various appellations of brown, red, yellow, white,
grey, silver, and snow, stowing the numerous varieties of colour met
with in the species. Some of these varieties are to be attributed to
the different seasons of the year, and the age of the animal.
Of all these designations, that of snow bear appears the most
characteristic, since it avoids the risk of a confusion of namesthe
other titles being equally bestowed upon certain varieties of the
ursus americanus and ursus ferox. It is also appropriate to
the Himalayan animal: since his favourite haunt is along the line of
perpetual snow; or in the grassy treeless tracts that intervene between
the snow-line and the forest-covered declivitiesto which they descend
only at particular times of the year.
In identifying this species, but little reliance can be placed on
colour. In spring their fur is long and shaggyof various shades of
yellowish brown, sometimes reddish-brown, and not unfrequently of a
grey or silvery hue. In summer this long yellowish fur falls off; and
is replaced by a shorter and darker coat, which gradually grows longer
and lighter as the winter approaches. The females are a shade
lighter-coloured than the males; and the cubs have a broad circle of
white around the neck, which gradually disappears as they grow to their
The snow bear hybernates, hiding himself away in a cave; and
he is only seen abroad when the spring sun begins to melt the snow upon
the grass-covered tracts near the borders of the forest. On these he
may be found throughout the summerfeeding upon grass and roots, with
such reptiles and insects as come in his way. In the autumn he enters
the forests in search of berries and nuts, and at this seasonlike his
congener, the black bearhe even extends his depredations to the
cultivated grounds and gardens of the villagers, in search of fruit and
grain, buckwheat being a favourite food with him.
Though naturally a vegetarian in his diet, he will eat flesh-meat
upon occasions; and frequently makes havoc among the flocks of sheep
and goats, that in summer are taken up to pasture on the grassy tracts
above mentioned. While thus engaged, he does not regard the presence of
man; but will attack the shepherds who may attempt to drive him off.
Among the many strange items that compose the larder of the snow
bear, grubs and scorpions have a prominent place. He spends much of his
time in searching for thesescratching them out of their holes, and
turning over stones to get at them. Great boulders of rock, that a man
could not move, he will roll over with his muscular arms; and large
tracts of ground may be seen with the stones thus displaced.
It was while engaged in this curious occupation, that our hunters
came upon one of the snow bears; which they succeeded in killing. He
was not the first they had encountered: they had started several, and
wounded two; but both had got off from them. This one, however, fell to
their bag, and in rather an unexpected fashion.
They were working their toilsome way up a narrow ravinewhich,
although the season was autumn, was still filled with snow, that lay in
the bottom of the gorge to a great depth. It was snow that had lain all
the year; and although not frozen, the surface was firm and stiff; and
it was with difficulty they could get support for their feet on it.
Here and there they were compelled to stop and cut steps in the
snowas the surface sloped upward at an angle of full 50 degrees, and,
in fact, they were rather climbing than walking. Their object, in
undertaking this toilsome ascent, was simply because they had seen a
bear going up the same way but a few minutes before; and the scratches
of his claws were visible on the snow just before their faces.
Making as little noise as possible, they kept onward; and at length
reached the head of the gorge. On peeping cautiously over, they saw a
little table-like tract of level ground, several acres in extent. It
was quite clear of snow; and covered with green herbage. A number of
large boulder stones lay scattered over itwhich had evidently rolled
down from the mountain-side that rose still higher above the table.
But the sight that most gratified them was the bear himselfno
doubt, the same they had seen going up the ravine. They now discovered
him upon the level ground, not twenty yards from the spot where they
stood. In a strange attitude they saw himgrasping between his fore
paws a huge boulder stone, almost as large as his own body, and
evidently in the act of rolling it out of its bed!
They were the less astonished at what they saw: for, being already
acquainted with this singular habit of the snow bear, they knew what he
was about. They did not stay, therefore, to watch his herculean
labours; but all three, levelling their guns, pulled trigger
simultaneously. The bulletssome of them, at leastevidently struck
the bear; but, although, he dropped the great boulderwhich at once
fell back into its placehe did not himself drop. On the contrary, he
turned suddenly round; and, giving utterance to a savage growl, rushed
direct towards the hunters.
The latter, not having time to reload, had no choice but to run for
it. There was no other way of escape open to them, except by the gorge
up which they had come; as, to attempt ascending to the level ground
would have brought them face to face with the bear. They turned,
therefore; and commenced retreating down the ravine.
But now came the difficulty. They had not made three strides, before
perceiving that they could not keep their feet upon the hard sloping
surface of the snow. They had no time to cut fresh steps, nor pick out
their old ones: as by doing either they would go too slowly, while the
bear could scramble down the snow as rapidly as on bare ground. There
was no alternative, therefore, but to fling themselves on their
posteriors, and slide down the slope.
Quick as came the thought, all three of them dropped down upon their
hams; and using their guns to prevent them from going with too great
velocity, they shot downward to the bottom of the ravine.
On reaching the lower end of the slope, and regaining their feet,
they turned and looked back up the gorge. The bear had arrived at the
upper end; and was standing with his fore feet projected over the edge,
and resting upon the snow. He appeared to be undecided, as to whether
he should come down after them, or give up the pursuit. He was within
easy range of a bullet; and they bethought them of reloading and giving
him a fresh volley; when, to their chagrin, they discovered that the
barrels of their guns were filled with snowwhich had got into them
during the descent.
While lamenting this unfortunate accidentin the full belief that
they would now lose the bearthey saw the animal make a strange
movement. It was forward, and towards themas if he had made up his
mind to charge down the slope; but they soon perceived that this could
not be his intention: for as he came gliding on, sometimes his head,
and sometimes his stern, was foremost; and it was evident that instead
of the movement being a voluntary act on his part, it was quite the
contrary. The fact was, that the bullets which they had fired into him
had drawn the life's blood out of his veins; and having stood too long
on the sloping edge of the snow, he had fallen through feebleness; and
was now tumbling down the ravine, without strength enough to stay his
In another instant he lay stretched almost at the feet of the
hunters; for the impetus imparted to his huge carcass in the descent,
had brought it with such a whack against a large rock, as to deprive
him of whatever either of blood or breath there had been left in his
The hunters, however, made sure of this, by drawing their long
knives, and making an additional vent or two between his ribsthus
securing themselves against all risk of his resuscitation.
They had now finished with the Himalayan bears of known and unknown
kinds; but Alexis learnt enough from hunters, whom they had encountered
during their sojourn in these mountains, to convince him that great
confusion exists among naturalists as to the different species and
varieties that inhabit the Himalayan range. Of the snow bear itself,
a variety exists in the mountains of Cashmere; which, as far as Alexis
could learn, was very different from the kind they had killed. The
Cashmirian variety is of a deep reddish-brown colour, much longer in
the muzzle than the snow bear, and also a more dangerous antagonist
to manbeing a brute of eminently carnivorous propensity and savage
It is quite probable, remarks Alexis, in his journal, that
instead of three kinds of bears inhabiting the Himalayan range, twice
that number of `species'or at all events, of permanent varietiesmay
be found within the extensive area covered by these stupendous
CHAPTER SIXTY FOUR. THE LAST CHASE.
Our travellers descended once more to the plains of Hindostan, and
crossed the peninsula by dak to Bombay. From Bombay they sailed
through the Indian Ocean, and up the Persian Gulf to the port of
Bussora, on the Euphrates. Ascending the Tigris branch of this Asiatic
river, they reached the famed city of Bagdad. They were now en route
for the haunts of the Syrian bear among the snowy summits of Mount
Lebanon. With a Turkish caravan, therefore, they started from Bagdad;
and after much toil and many hardships, arrived in the city of
Damascusthe scene of so many troubles and massacres caused by the
fanaticism of a false religion.
With these questions our travellers had nothing to do; nor did they
stay any length of time within the walls of the unhappy city. Soon
after their arrival in the place, they obtained all the information
they required of the whereabouts of the Syrian bear; and their steps
were now directed towards the snowy summits of Libanusbetter known to
Christians by its Scriptural name of Mount Lebanon.
In these mountains the Syrian bear (ursus syriacus) is found;
and it is only a few years since the animal was discovered there. Every
naturalist had doubted the existence of bears in any part of Syriaas
they now deny that there are any in Africa. Those who acknowledge it,
are inclined to regard the Syrian bear as a mere variety of the
ursus arctos; but this theory is altogether incorrect. In shape,
colour, and many of his habits, the Syrian bear differs essentially
from his brown congener; and his dwelling-placeinstead of being in
forest-covered tractsis more generally in open ground or among rocks.
In fact, his range upon the Syrian mountains is very similar to that of
the snow bear on the Himalayasnear the line of perpetual snow.
The colour of the ursus syriacus is a light ash or fulvous
brown, oftenwith a hoary or silvery tingebut the colour varies at
times to lighter and deeper shades. The hair lies close against the
skinin this respect differing from most of the species, in which the
fur stands erect or perpendicular to the outlines of the body. This
gives the Syrian bear the appearance of being a thinner and smaller
animal, than many bears of upright fur that are no bigger than he.
By one characteristic mark he may be easily identified; and that is,
by his having an erect ridge of fur running from his neck along the
spine of his back, and looking not unlike the mane of a donkey. But,
indeed, the Syrian bear may be easily distinguished from any other
member of this family; and to regard him as a mere variety of the
ursus arctos, is only going back to the old system that considers
all the bears as one and the same species.
The Syrian bear does not inhabit the whole range of the mountains
that pass under the general name of Lebanon. Only on the loftier
summits is he foundparticularly on that known as Mount Makmel. This
summit is covered with snow; and it is under the snow-line he usually
makes his haunt. Sometimes, however, he descends to a lower elevation;
and in the village gardensjust as does the snow bear in the
Himalayashe makes sad havoc among fruits and vegetables. He will also
kill sheep, goats, and even larger animals, that come in his way; and
when provoked will attack the hunter without fear. He is most dreaded
in the night: for it is during the darkness he generally makes his
plundering expeditions. Both shepherds and hunters have been killed by
himproving that he still retains the savage character given to him in
the Scriptures; where several of his kindshe-bears they wereare
represented as having torn forty and two of the mockers of Elisha.
He appears to have been equally characterised by a ferocity of
disposition in the crusading agessince it is related that the great
leader Godfrey slew one of these bears, whom he found assaulting a poor
woodcutter of Antioch; and the affair was considered a feat of great
prowess, by those eccentric champions of the Cross.
That the Syrian bear is still as ferocious and savage, as he ever
could have been, our hunters proved by their own experience: for
although they did not get into the power of one, they would certainly
have done so some one of them at leasthad they not been fortunate
enough to kill the bear before he could lay his claws upon them. But we
shall briefly describe the adventure; which was the last our hunters
were engaged in at least, the last we find recorded in the journal of
Bischerre, a little mountain village, situated near the snow-line on
Mount Makmel, had become their temporary headquarters. Its
neighbourhood was celebrated for the great number of bears that
frequent it. These animals descending from the higher ridges
surrounding it, frequently enter the gardens of the villagers, and rob
them of their vegetables and chick peas (cicer arietinus)the
latter being a favourite food of the Syrian bear.
From Bischerre the hunters extended their excursions on foot: since
the nature of the ground would not admit of their using horses; and
they had succeeded in getting several good bear-chases, and in
killing a brace of these animals. Both, however, were very young
onescubs, in fact and their skins would not do. A better specimen
must be procured.
This came into their hands in the following manner:
They had succeeded in tracing a bear up into a rocky ravinethe
entrance into which was not over ten or twelve feet in width. The
ravine itself was a steep descent leading up to the mountains; and its
bottom, or bed, was covered with a conglomeration of large rounded
boulders, that looked as if they had been rolled into this shape by
water. They resembled the round stones sometimes seen in rivers; and no
doubt there was a torrent there at times; but just then the channel was
dry, and not a drop of water appeared anywhere. There was no snow
either; as the place was below the line of snow; and they had only
traced the bear into it on information given them by some shepherds,
who had seen the animal recently enter it.
Belying upon this information, they kept up the defile, making their
way with difficulty over the loose pebbles. They had a hope that the
bear was still somewhere within the gorge; and that they might find him
in some crevice or cave. On each side rose high cliffs that almost met
over head; and our hunters, as they scrambled up the steep, examined
these cliffs carefullyexpecting to perceive the mouth of a cavern.
The place was likely enough, for at every few yards they saw crevices
and deep cavities; but in none of them could they find any traces of
They had got about halfway through the ravineand were still
scrambling upwardwhen a loud sniff drew their attention; and, looking
in the direction whence it appeared to have proceeded, there, sure
enough, was the identical animal they were afterMaster Bruin himself.
They saw only his snout; which was projected out from the face of the
cliff, about twenty feet above the bed of the ravine. His whole head
was shortly after poked forth, and seen en profile from below,
it looked as if there was a bear's head glued against the flat surface
of the rock, just as stags' heads are seen ornamenting the halls of
grand country mansions. Our hunters, however, knew there must be a cave
behindin which was the body of the bear, though it was concealed from
The bear, after glancing at the intruders who had disturbed him,
drew back his head so suddenly, that not a shot could be fired in time.
The hunters, in order to get into a better position, hurried past under
the cave; and took stand several paces above itwhere they were able
to command a better view of the entrance.
They were now on a level with the hole out of which the head had
shown itself; and without speaking a word, only in whispers, they
waited for the reappearance of the snout.
It was not long before they had the satisfaction of seeing it.
Whether from curiosity to know if they were goneor with the design of
sallying forth in pursuit of themthe bear once more protruded his
muzzle from the hole. Fearing that he might draw it back again, and not
give them another chance, all three fired, and in such haste that two
of them quite missed the object. Only the bullet of Alexis had been
properly aimed; and this was seen striking the bear right in the
teethseveral of which were shot clean out of his jaws!
As the smoke cleared out of their eyes, the great yellow body of the
bear was observed out upon the little ledge that projected in front of
the cave; and uttering loud screamsexpressive both of rage and pain
the angry animal bounded down among the boulders. Instead of making
down the ravineas our hunters expectedhe turned upwards, and rushed
directly towards them.
Again there was no alternative but flight; and up the steep gorge
they must go. To make downward would be to run right upon the claws of
the infuriated animal; and upward was the only way left open to them.
All three started and ran as fast as they were able; and for a while
were in hopes of distancing their pursuer. But further up, the slope
grew steeper; and the loose stones became more difficult to clamber
over. Their breath, too, was by this time quite gone; and all three
were panting like winded horses.
It was impossible for them to go a step farther.
In despair, they halted; and turned to face the pursuerall of them
at the same instant drawing their knives; and bracing their bodies for
the expected struggle. The bear, still growling and screaming, came
on making way over the stones much faster than they had done. He
would have been certain of overtaking them, had they continued their
race: for he was scarce six paces behind them when they stopped.
No doubt it would have been a dangerous conflict, had it come off;
and, indeed, breathless as they were, they could never have sustained
the attack. Of course, they had no time to reload their guns, and did
not think of such a thing. Their determination was to defend themselves
with their knives; and perhaps they might have succeeded in doing so,
had there been an occasion. But there was not.
Before the bear could get up to them, a better idea had flashed
across the brain of Pouchskin; which he lost not a moment in carrying
into execution. Stooping suddenly, and flinging his knife out of his
hands, he laid hold of a large boulderbig enough to weigh at least
half a hundredand, raising this to the height of his shoulder, he
hurled it down upon the bear!
The huge stone struck the animal right upon the breast; and what
with the force by which it had been launched from Pouchskin's powerful
arm, and the impetus it had gained in its descent, it acted on Bruin
like a thunderboltnot only knocking him over on his back, but
carrying his body along with it full ten paces down the gorge!
When the hunters at length reloaded their guns, and went down to
where Bruin lay among the rocks, they found him lying doubled up as
dead as mutton!
Having stripped him of his fulvous skin, they returned to Bischerre;
and next day packing up their impedimenta, they crossed through
the passes of Mount Libanus, and proceeded onward to the shores of the
Home was now thy word; and right pleasant was the sound of it in
their ears. The grand bear-hunt was ended. They had accomplished the
task imposed upon themhaving kept every condition of their covenant.
Of course they expected a grand welcome upon their return; and in
this expectation they were not disappointed; for many days and nights
after the baronial halls of the Palace Grodonoff echoed the sounds of
mirth and revelry.
In the museum our young hunters met their old acquaintances, from,
all parts of the world. They encountered them standing in different
attitudesall mounted in the most approved fashion. The Syrian bear
was the only one not among them: as they had themselves brought his
skinall the others having been sent home by Parcels Delivery. In a
few days, however, the ursus syriacus was set upon his legs; and
the collection was complete.
The news of the Grand Bear-Hunt, with its curious conditions, soon
got abroad; and travelled all round the social circle of Saint
Petersburgh. Figuratively speaking, our young hunters were transformed
into animals themselvesthey became lions,and remained so for that
season; but even at this hour in the salons of the great Russian
capital, you may often hear introduced, as a favourite topic of
The Baron and his Bears. THE END.