Read CHAPTER IX - FIRE AND WATER of Monarch‚ The Big Bear of Tallac, free online book, by Ernest Thompson Seton, on

That was Jack’s baptism of fire, for the rifle had cut a deep flesh-wound in his back.  Snorting with pain and rage, he tore through the bushes and traveled on for an hour or more, then lay down and tried to lick the wound, but it was beyond reach.  He could only rub it against a log.  He continued his journey back toward Tallac, and there, in a cave that was formed of tumbled rocks, he lay down to rest.  He was still rolling about in pain when the sun was high and a strange smell of fire came searching through the cave; it increased, and volumes of blinding smoke were about him.  It grew so choking that he was forced to move, but it followed him till he could bear it no longer, and he dashed out of another of the ways that led into the cavern.  As he went he caught a distant glimpse of a man throwing wood on the fire by the in-way, and the whiff that the wind brought him said:  “This is the man that was last night watching the sheep.”  Strange as it may seem, the woods were clear of smoke except for a trifling belt that floated in the trees, and Jack went striding away in peace.  He passed over the ridge, and finding berries, ate the first meal he had known since killing his last sheep.  He had wandered on, gathering fruit and digging roots, for an hour or two, when the smoke grew blacker, the smell of fire stronger.  He worked away from it, but in no haste.  The birds, deer, and wood hares were now seen scurrying past him.  There was a roaring in the air.  It grew louder, was coming nearer, and Jack turned to stride after the wood things that fled.

The whole forest was ablaze; the wind was rising, and the flames, gaining and spreading, were flying now like wild horses.  Jack had no place in his brain for such a thing; but his instinct warned him to shun that coming roaring that sent above dark clouds and flying fire-flakes, and messengers of heat below, so he fled before it, as the forest host was doing.  Fast as he went, and few animals can outrun a Grizzly in rough country, the hot hurricane was gaining on him.  His sense of danger had grown almost to terror, terror of a kind that he had never known before, for here there was nothing he could fight; nothing that he could resist.  The flames were all around him now; birds without number, hares, and deer had gone down before the red horror.  He was plunging wildly on through chaparral and manzanita thickets that held all feebler things until the fury seized them; his hair was scorching, his wound was forgotten, and he thought only of escape when the brush ahead opened, and the Grizzly, smoke-blinded, half roasted, plunged down a bank and into a small clear pool.  The fur on his back said “hiss,” for it was sizzling-hot.  Down below he went, gulping the cool drink, wallowing in safety and unheat.  Down below the surface he crouched as long as his lungs would bear the strain, then slowly and cautiously he raised his head.  The sky above was one great sheet of flame.  Sticks aflame and flying embers came in hissing showers on the water.  The air was hot, but breathable at times, and he filled his lungs till he had difficulty in keeping his body down below.  Other creatures there were in the pool, some burnt, some dead, some small and in the margin, some bigger in the deeper places, and one of them was close beside him.  Oh, he knew that smell; fire-all Sierra’s woods ablaze-could not disguise the hunter who had shot at him from the platform, and, though he did not know this, the hunter really who had followed him all day, and who had tried to smoke him out of his den and thereby set the woods ablaze.  Here they were, face to face, in the deepest end of the little pool; they were only ten feet apart and could not get more than twenty feet apart.  The flames grew unbearable.  The Bear and man each took a hasty breath and bobbed below the surface, each wondering, according to his intelligence, what the other would do.  In half a minute both came up again, each relieved to find the other no nearer.  Each tried to keep his nose and one eye above the water.  But the fire was raging hot; they had to dip under and stay as long as possible.

The roaring of the flame was like a hurricane.  A huge pine tree came crashing down across the pool; it barely missed the man.  The splash of water quenched the blazes for the most part, but it gave off such a heat that he had to move-a little nearer to the Bear.  Another fell at an angle, killing a coyote, and crossing the first tree.  They blazed fiercely at their junction, and the Bear edged from it a little nearer the man.  Now they were within touching distance.  His useless gun was lying in shallow water near shore, but the man had his knife ready, ready for self-defense.  It was not needed; the fiery power had proclaimed a peace.  Bobbing up and dodging under, keeping a nose in the air and an eye on his foe, each spent an hour or more.  The red hurricane passed on.  The smoke was bad in the woods, but no longer intolerable, and as the Bear straightened up in the pool to move away into shallower water and off into the woods, the man got a glimpse of red blood streaming from the shaggy back and dyeing the pool.  The blood on the trail had not escaped him.  He knew that this was the Bear of Baxter’s canon, this was the Gringo Bear, but he did not know that this was also his old-time Grizzly Jack.  He scrambled out of the pond, on the other side from that taken by the Grizzly, and, hunter and hunted, they went their diverse ways.