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- BEASTS MEN AND GODS - 4/45 -


would spend my last strength to drag myself to the top of the mountain to die there, looking away over the infinite sea of mountains and forest toward the point where my loved ones were.

However, the same life gave me much matter for reflection and yet more occupation for the physical side. It was a continuous struggle for existence, hard and severe. The hardest work was the preparation of the big logs for the naida. The fallen trunks of the trees were covered with snow and frozen to the ground. I was forced to dig them out and afterwards, with the help of a long stick as a lever, to move them from their place. For facilitating this work I chose the mountain for my supplies, where, although difficult to climb, it was easy to roll the logs down. Soon I made a splendid discovery. I found near my den a great quantity of larch, this beautiful yet sad forest giant, fallen during a big storm. The trunks were covered with snow but remained attached to their stumps, where they had broken off. When I cut into these stumps with the ax, the head buried itself and could with difficulty be drawn and, investigating the reason, I found them filled with pitch. Chips of this wood needed only a spark to set them aflame and ever afterward I always had a stock of them to light up quickly for warming my hands on returning from the hunt or for boiling my tea.

The greater part of my days was occupied with the hunt. I came to understand that I must distribute my work over every day, for it distracted me from my sad and depressing thoughts. Generally, after my morning tea, I went into the forest to seek heathcock or blackcock. After killing one or two I began to prepare my dinner, which never had an extensive menu. It was constantly game soup with a handful of dried bread and afterwards endless cups of tea, this essential beverage of the woods. Once, during my search for birds, I heard a rustle in the dense shrubs and, carefully peering about, I discovered the points of a deer's horns. I crawled along toward the spot but the watchful animal heard my approach. With a great noise he rushed from the bush and I saw him very clearly, after he had run about three hundred steps, stop on the slope of the mountain. It was a splendid animal with dark grey coat, with almost a black spine and as large as a small cow. I laid my rifle across a branch and fired. The animal made a great leap, ran several steps and fell. With all my strength I ran to him but he got up again and half jumped, half dragged himself up the mountain. The second shot stopped him. I had won a warm carpet for my den and a large stock of meat. The horns I fastened up among the branches of my wall, where they made a fine hat rack.

I cannot forget one very interesting but wild picture, which was staged for me several kilometres from my den. There was a small swamp covered with grass and cranberries scattered through it, where the blackcock and sand partridges usually came to feed on the berries. I approached noiselessly behind the bushes and saw a whole flock of blackcock scratching in the snow and picking out the berries. While I was surveying this scene, suddenly one of the blackcock jumped up and the rest of the frightened flock immediately flew away. To my astonishment the first bird began going straight up in a spiral flight and afterwards dropped directly down dead. When I approached there sprang from the body of the slain cock a rapacious ermine that hid under the trunk of a fallen tree. The bird's neck was badly torn. I then understood that the ermine had charged the cock, fastened itself on his neck and had been carried by the bird into the air, as he sucked the blood from its throat, and had been the cause of the heavy fall back to the earth. Thanks to his aeronautic ability I saved one cartridge.

So I lived fighting for the morrow and more and more poisoned by hard and bitter thoughts. The days and weeks passed and soon I felt the breath of warmer winds. On the open places the snow began to thaw. In spots the little rivulets of water appeared. Another day I saw a fly or a spider awakened after the hard winter. The spring was coming. I realized that in spring it was impossible to go out from the forest. Every river overflowed its banks; the swamps became impassable; all the runways of the animals turned into beds for streams of running water. I understood that until summer I was condemned to a continuation of my solitude. Spring very quickly came into her rights and soon my mountain was free from snow and was covered only with stones, the trunks of birch and aspen trees and the high cones of ant hills; the river in places broke its covering of ice and was coursing full with foam and bubbles.

CHAPTER IV

A FISHERMAN

One day during the hunt, I approached the bank of the river and noticed many very large fish with red backs, as though filled with blood. They were swimming on the surface enjoying the rays of the sun. When the river was entirely free from ice, these fish appeared in enormous quantities. Soon I realized that they were working up-stream for the spawning season in the smaller rivers. I thought to use a plundering method of catching, forbidden by the law of all countries; but all the lawyers and legislators should be lenient to one who lives in a den under the roots of a fallen tree and dares to break their rational laws.

Gathering many thin birch and aspen trees I built in the bed of the stream a weir which the fish could not pass and soon I found them trying to jump over it. Near the bank I left a hole in my barrier about eighteen inches below the surface and fastened on the up- stream side a high basket plaited from soft willow twigs, into which the fish came as they passed the hole. Then I stood cruelly by and hit them on the head with a strong stick. All my catch were over thirty pounds, some more than eighty. This variety of fish is called the taimen, is of the trout family and is the best in the Yenisei.

After two weeks the fish had passed and my basket gave me no more treasure, so I began anew the hunt.

CHAPTER V

A DANGEROUS NEIGHBOR

The hunt became more and more profitable and enjoyable, as spring animated everything. In the morning at the break of day the forest was full of voices, strange and undiscernible to the inhabitant of the town. There the heathcock clucked and sang his song of love, as he sat on the top branches of the cedar and admired the grey hen scratching in the fallen leaves below. It was very easy to approach this full-feathered Caruso and with a shot to bring him down from his more poetic to his more utilitarian duties. His going out was an euthanasia, for he was in love and heard nothing. Out in the clearing the blackcocks with their wide-spread spotted tails were fighting, while the hens strutting near, craning and chattering, probably some gossip about their fighting swains, watched and were delighted with them. From the distance flowed in a stern and deep roar, yet full of tenderness and love, the mating call of the deer; while from the crags above came down the short and broken voice of the mountain buck. Among the bushes frolicked the hares and often near them a red fox lay flattened to the ground watching his chance. I never heard any wolves and they are usually not found in the Siberian regions covered with mountains and forest.

But there was another beast, who was my neighbor, and one of us had to go away. One day, coming back from the hunt with a big heathcock, I suddenly noticed among the trees a black, moving mass. I stopped and, looking very attentively, saw a bear, digging away at an ant- hill. Smelling me, he snorted violently, and very quickly shuffled away, astonishing me with the speed of his clumsy gait. The following morning, while still lying under my overcoat, I was attracted by a noise behind my den. I peered out very carefully and discovered the bear. He stood on his hind legs and was noisily sniffing, investigating the question as to what living creature had adopted the custom of the bears of housing during the winter under the trunks of fallen trees. I shouted and struck my kettle with the ax. My early visitor made off with all his energy; but his visit did not please me. It was very early in the spring that this occurred and the bear should not yet have left his hibernating place. He was the so-called "ant-eater," an abnormal type of bear lacking in all the etiquette of the first families of the bear clan.

I knew that the "ant-eaters" were very irritable and audacious and quickly I prepared myself for both the defence and the charge. My preparations were short. I rubbed off the ends of five of my cartridges, thus making dum-dums out of them, a sufficiently intelligible argument for so unwelcome a guest. Putting on my coat I went to the place where I had first met the bear and where there were many ant-hills. I made a detour of the whole mountain, looked in all the ravines but nowhere found my caller. Disappointed and tired, I was approaching my shelter quite off my guard when I suddenly discovered the king of the forest himself just coming out of my lowly dwelling and sniffing all around the entrance to it. I shot. The bullet pierced his side. He roared with pain and anger and stood up on his hind legs. As the second bullet broke one of these, he squatted down but immediately, dragging the leg and endeavoring to stand upright, moved to attack me. Only the third bullet in his breast stopped him. He weighed about two hundred to two hundred fifty pounds, as near as I could guess, and was very tasty. He appeared at his best in cutlets but only a little less wonderful in the Hamburg steaks which I rolled and roasted on hot stones, watching them swell out into great balls that were as light as the finest souffle omelettes we used to have at the "Medved" in Petrograd. On this welcome addition to my larder I lived from then until the ground dried out and the stream ran down enough so that I could travel down along the river to the country whither Ivan had directed me.

Ever traveling with the greatest precautions I made the journey down along the river on foot, carrying from my winter quarters all my household furniture and goods, wrapped up in the deerskin bag which I formed by tying the legs together in an awkward knot; and thus laden fording the small streams and wading through the swamps that lay across my path. After fifty odd miles of this I came to the country called Sifkova, where I found the cabin of a peasant named Tropoff, located closest to the forest that came to be my natural environment. With him I lived for a time.

* * * * *

Now in these unimaginable surroundings of safety and peace, summing up the total of my experience in the Siberian taiga, I make the following deductions. In every healthy spiritual individual of our times, occasions of necessity resurrect the traits of primitive


BEASTS MEN AND GODS - 4/45

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