Read CHAPTER THIRTY THREE - WATTY’S FEAST. of Steve Young , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

Watty Links was undoubtedly great in a certain capacity.  He resembled a Dutch galliot, especially built to contain the largest quantity of merchandise in the smallest tonnage.  Of course Watty was not built to receive merchandise, but he was built to receive food, and the quantity he could consume when he was unfettered was so great that a crew made up of men proportionately as great eaters would have made a captain wince when stores were running out, and shipowners decline to take them again at any wage.

There being a pretty good amount of the deer haunch left when the men departed ­for in their hurry and excitement no one had thought it worth while to pack it up ­Watty was left, so to speak, with a free hand ­that is to say, he had a fire, plenty of meat, a knife, he knew how to cook, and there was no one to say, “Hold hard, young fellow!  I’m sure you have had quite enough.”  So after making such arrangements as should provide an ample amount of roast deer for Steve when he returned, and also for the three personages of the expedition, Watty took a look round.

The sun was getting lower, but the glittering ice peaks and the lights and shades on the mountain were beautiful to behold.  But Watty did not see that beauty.  He noticed how profound the silence was, thought it very lonely, and turned back to the fire, which was the most beautiful thing he had seen that day, for the gas and smoke were gone, and the coal was all of a hot glow, there being plenty and no question of its price per ton.

“She wonters where the young chief has gone,” muttered Watty.  “Hey, but what a fire to broil a bone!”

A minute later the leg bone of the buck was spitting and sputtering on the glowing coals, and Watty smiled as he felt in his pockets and brought out a tobacco box, which, on being opened, proved to contain two pieces of rag, which he also opened, and displayed about a dessert-spoonful of salt and about half that quantity of black pepper.

“She smells fine alreaty,” said the lad; and he took a pinch of pepper as if it were snuff, and carefully sprinkled it over the grilling bone, following it up with a pinch of salt.  Then the box, with its contents, was put away, and Watty dived into his pockets again, to bring out a couple of biscuits.

“Twa biscuit,” he said.  “Hey, but she willna waste ta pread when she can have sae muckle gude meat!”

He turned the bone over and waited a few minutes, which he spent in whetting the blade of his knife on a piece of smooth stone, and trying its edge again and again, and ending by giving it a stropping on his boot sole as if he meant to shave.

“Done!” he cried suddenly; and whisking the browned and in some places blackened bone from the fire, he squatted down with his legs doubled under him like a Japanese, and began to skin off pieces of the tempting venison, and ate them deliberately, smiling with satisfaction the while.

“I ken naebody could hae cookit deer meat efer so petter as tat,” he said as he worked away, thoroughly enjoying his picnic meal till the last scrap was cleaned off, and then he cracked the bone with the back of his knife, and managed to get out a good deal of the marrow.

“She’s fine, though she is mickle,” he said; and then he sighed and looked hard at the pieces of the deer set aside for the absent ones ­a shabby, raggedly cut lot, though of course of delicious meat.

Watty stretched his eyes away and had a look round.

“They dinna come pack,” he said, “and it’s chust wasting a bonnie bit fire.”

There was a pause.

“She’d petter pit on some mair coal,” muttered Watty; and he picked up a weather-worn lump, but dropped it again.

“It’s chust spoiling a gude fire to put on mair coal,” he said softly, with his face all wrinkles, “and a’ tat meat waiting.”

He had another look round.

“She’s ferry hungry,” he muttered; “and she’ll chust hae ane wee pit.  The captain said he couldna eat.  She can.”

He made a dart at the biggest piece, laid it on the glowing coal, seasoned it as before, waited till it was done on one side, and then picked it up cleverly on the point of his knife and turned it, seasoned this side also, and replaced his box.

“Peautiful, peautiful!” he murmured.  “Hey, put she smells petter than floores!”

He did not leave the meat to cook too long, but soon had it out and laid upon a nicely warmed, flat piece of slaty stone, which served him for a plate as he began to eat with the greatest of gusto.

“Hey, put she is chuicy,” he muttered, as he munched away without paying much heed to a bit or two of cinder adhering to the meat and sounding unpleasant as he crunched them between his strong, white teeth.

“Peautiful!” he murmured again, as he got about half-way through.  “She’s thenking it would pe petter to begin cooking mair so as to be retty when they come pack.”

So he placed another piece on the fire, and then went on eating his second snack so slowly and deliberately, spending a certain amount of time the while in watching and turning the cooking piece that it was beautifully done by the time he had finished; and now came a terrible test of his powers of endurance.  He looked at the frizzled slice, then away from it, then back at it; and it tempted him so sorely that he got up and walked away.

“She’s letting the fire oot,” he cried, and ran back to stand looking down at it.  “Nay, put she’d spoil a gude cooking fire if she put on anny coal.  She’ll cook ta rest.”

No sooner said than done.  A fresh piece was put on the glowing cinders, and the newly cooked slice placed upon the bit of shale.

“She’ll chust spoil if she gets caud,” muttered Watty.  “The teer-fat goes hart and stickits to the roof of her mouth, an’ it’s a pity to spoil such bonnie meat.”

He gave his shock head a rub, and looked round again, wondering whether there were any bears likely to come and disturb him; but, as far as he could see, he was quite alone in the grand solitude, and he uttered a deep sigh.

“She never said she was to cook anny meat,” he said, “an’ it such a pity to let it spoil.  She’ll chust eat this wee pit, an’ they’ll pe pack py the time the nex’ pit is tone.”

Watty took another look, then seasoned and saw to the fresh piece frizzling; and the next minute the smell and sight of the slice upon the stone were too tempting to be resisted longer, and he began upon it and finished it as ravenously as if he had not had a morsel before.

“Hey, put she is fine,” he murmured with a sigh of satisfaction; “she never hat such a gran’ treat pefore, an’ it would pe wicket to let such gude meat spoil by ketting caud.  The captain an’ the tocktor poth said they wadna eat a pit, an’ perhaps Meester Stevey’s gone pack to ta ship or the poat pecause she was tired.  She hasna the hairt to see such gude meat spoil.”

Poor Watty had grown reckless now, and, casting conscience to the winds, he went on with his banquet.  His appetite seemed to increase as he went on, and, forgetful of bears, captains, doctors, Norsemen, and Steves, seeing, tasting, and enjoying the cooking and eating of these juicy, well-seasoned, delicious pieces of venison, time seemed to be no more for him, and he only awoke to his position as he shook out the contents of his pepper and salt rags on the last piece of meat, a goodly slice, the best of all, which he had avoided eating, always having selected the smaller bits.

“Hat she petter leave tat?” he sighed, as he looked at it longingly and passed his tongue over his lips.  “Nay, if she toes, they’ll expeckit mair; put if there’s nane they winna say a word.  She’ll hae to eat tat, too.”

The piece was half done, and he turned it, inhaling its delicious odour as he gloated over the brown side, and then took out his biscuits and had them ready.

“Chust to fanish off,” he said, smiling faintly.  “She’ll chust pit it atween twa biscuit, an’ mak’ a santwich of it, an’ then ­Yah!”

Watty uttered an unearthly yell, for a great shadow fell across the fire at that moment, and he was thrust sidewise, to fall just clear of the fire upon his face.

“The pears ­the pears!” he groaned.  “What shall she to?” But he did not stir, neither did he see that the piece of hot meat had been literally snatched off the fire, and a crunching sound told him that a pair of strong jaws, with great, white teeth that in imagination he could see gleaming, were grinding up the biscuits that were to form the finale of his meal.

“The pear always hugs her pefore she eats her oop,” thought Watty, as he lay there shivering with dread, this being the only movement he could contrive, feeling as he did that if he attempted to escape the great animal would seize him.  Then he recollected reading about a traveller pretending to be dead, and lying face downward till a bear in pursuit overtook him, smelled him over, and then went away.

“She lie as tet as a toornail,” thought Watty; and he tried to hold his breath as he waited for the bear to come.  But it was evidently too busy with the food, crunching up the biscuits and finishing the meat.

“Oh, if she could only lie still an’ not preathe a pit!” said the lad to himself.  “She can’t, an’ it makes a noise.  She wishes the pear would come an’ smell her an’ go.”

But the new arrival was too busy, and made Watty, as he lay there on his face, moist with perspiration, wonder how so big a beast could be so long eating so small a quantity of food.

At last the boy felt as if he could endure no more, and that he must make a leap to his feet and run for his life.  He knew that the thing to do would be to draw a very deep breath, make a sudden effort, and run, for the suffering from lying there those brief minutes, which seemed to be like hours, was more than he could endure.

He had made up his mind to try, but his heart sank, and he lay a little longer.  A second time he tried to screw himself up to the sticking-point, but failed, and lay panting, till all at once, just as he was saying to himself, “She must to it ta third time,” the bear uttered a low “Ah-ah-ah!” and the lad sprang to his feet.

“That’s right, Watty; get me a drink of water.”

“Meester Stevey!” exclaimed the lad.  “Oh! oh! oh!” he half sobbed, and, throwing himself again upon the ground, he buried his face in his hands, and lay gently rolling from side to side, trying to stifle the hysterical fit which had attacked him; for it was mingled with relief from what he had looked upon as certain death, anger with himself for making such a blunder, and delight at Steve’s return.

“Why, Watty, what’s the matter?” cried Steve.  “I do believe he’s crying.  Get up.  Did you think I was dead?”

“Yes, we all tought you wass teat, an’ I tought the pear wass come to eat me, ant ­ant ­ant ­she’s ferry clad to see you acain, though she don’t like you.”

“Well, you are a rum chap, Watty!  I say, you didn’t mind my snatching away that meat?  I couldn’t help it, I was nearly starved.”

“No, she ton’t mind,” replied the lad.  “She’d hat a little pit o’ meat pefore.  But she’s all scratted, an’ her het pleets, an’ she’s cot no skin on her knuckles!”

“Oh, never mind that!  I got away ­escaped.  But it was very bad.”

“Put it wass ferry pad!  What wass ferry pad?”

“Having a couple of bears after you.”

“An’ she had twa pears after her?”

“Yes, monsters.  They hunted me all along a gully right up into the mountain.”

“Hey!  An’ tid they catch her?”

“No; one got tired and stopped, but the other came right on to where it was all ice and snow.  Up yonder,” said Steve, pointing to the glittering slopes and peaks far above their heads.

“An’ what tid that one to?  Tid she ket tired?”

“No,” said Steve.  “I made a jump to get up a steep bit of the ice, caught hold, and then fell right on to the bear as it was coming up after me.”

“Hey, tid she, though?”

“Yes; and knocked it off the slope, and we went down together for a little way rolling over and over.  Then I found I was alone, for the bear had clawed about and stopped itself; but I was sliding and slipping there down and down, I don’t know how far, but it must have been hundreds of feet over the steep snow, till I rolled over among the stones and cut my head.”

“Hey, and she has cut it!  Hadn’t she petter tie it up?”

“Oh, that’s nothing.”

“Put what tid the pear to?”

“I don’t know.  I didn’t see any more of it.  I suppose it’s up there in the mountain somewhere.  I say, Watty, I wish I’d had Skeny with me.  I don’t know, though; perhaps the bears would have killed him.  Where are the others?”

“They’re gone to leuk for you.  She’s waiting for them to come pack.”

“Have they got Skeny with them?  He ought to have scented me out, so that they could have shot the bears.”

“Skeny?  Na; she tidn’t see the tog.”

Steve started.

“Why, Watty, I don’t remember seeing him when we turned back with the deer; did you?”

“Na, she tidn’t see the tog since she rin after a teer.  She wass going ferry fast, an’ she forgot all spout the tog after.  She hopes the tog isna lost.”

“No fear!  Skeny will find his way back.  Oh, how stiff and sore I am!  Hark!”

There was a faint whistle from the distance, and Watty leaped up, and, thrusting his fingers into his mouth, blew an answer.

A couple of minutes later, as the boys stood watching in the direction from which the sound had come, they made out three figures on the slope of the mountain.  Then these three figures stopped, and began to wave their caps, and directly after they broke into a trot, and were soon up by the fire.

“Steve, lad!” cried Captain Marsham.  “Thank God, you are safe!”

“Where have you been, boy?” cried the doctor joyfully, as he wrung the hand the captain had left at liberty.  “Why, you have made me a job.  Get some water, my lad,” he continued to Watty, and laying down his gun he began to take out a pocket-book to get sticking-plaster and scissors.

“I’m very glad, Mr Steve,” said Johannes quietly.  “We thought you were lost.”

While the doctor washed away the marks left by Steve’s fall and carefully applied sticking-plaster the boy told his adventure, Watty listening again attentively, and now watching the speaker, now the mountain-side, in full expectation of seeing the bear make its appearance from one of the gullies; but there was no interruption, and they heard all.

“You must not leave your friends again, my lad,” said the captain.  “We must all be ready to help each other; co-operation is power.  Well, how do you feel now?”

“So stiff I can hardly move,” replied Steve.

“Then we must camp here for a few hours.  Fortunately we have a little of the provisions in our satchels.  Where’s the rest of the meat, my lad?”

Watty turned more red than usual.  “There isna a pit left, sir.  Meester Stevey ate oop a’ there wass left.”

“Bravo, Steve, my boy!” cried the doctor merrily.  “Any one who can eat well has not much the matter with him.”

“I felt starved when I came back,” said Steve, colouring.  “I couldn’t help it.”

Watty looked horribly guilty; but his was not the nature to make a clean breast of the matter, and he sat furtively watching the little party as the provisions were brought out; and free from care now, they all began to eat.

“Here, Watty,” said Steve, as soon as he received a portion, “we must not forget you.”

“Na, sir, she couldna eat a pit,” cried the lad truthfully, and it was only by great persuasion that his modesty was overcome; but certainly he did not do justice to the biscuits and cheese handed to him, for there were limits even to his capacity.

Just as they had about finished, a distant barking was heard, and Steve tried to stand up, but sank back with a groan.

“Skeny!” he cried.  “Oh, I say, I am stiff!”

“The dog!  Ah, where has he been all this time?”

“She went off efter the teer, and tidna come pack.”

“Not after deer now, gentlemen,” cried Johannes, snatching up his spear.  “Quick! your guns.”

The weapons were seized, and all now caught sight of that which had attracted the Norseman’s attention; for a huge bear was seen coming down from a ravine, followed by the dog, which kept on snapping savagely at the beast’s heels, and then as the bear turned bounded out of its reach.

But the bear did not appear disposed to follow the dog, acting directly after as if it had some object in view, for it turned again, placed its nose close to the ground, and came on toward the little open camp.

“That’s my big bear!” said Steve excitedly.  “How do you know?” said the captain, altering the cartridge in one of his barrels for a bullet.

“Because I came down from the mountain that way; and look, he’s smelling my footsteps.”

“Yes, that is right, gentlemen.  The brute will be here soon.  Shall we meet him here, or get among the rocks?”

“What do you say?” cried the captain.  “Here, sir, now that we are not out of breath.  If we climb, our hands will tremble.”

“But I’ve no gun,” said Steve.

“And you are not fit to use one, so leave it to us, my boy.  Will it come on when it sees us, Johannes?”

“Yes, sir, I think so.  These beasts are very fierce, and they have had so little to do with man, that they do not avoid him.  We must be very steady and stand firm.  I’ll attack first from the right.”

“What, with the spear?” cried Captain Marsham.  “No!”

“It would be better, sir,” said the Norseman respectfully.  “These animals move rather slowly.  It will turn to attack me savagely; and as I try to keep it off with the spear, it will be side on to you, and give you both good shots at the shoulder.  Don’t aim at the head until it is down.”

“You are right,” said the captain.  “Do as you say, but take care of yourself.”

“I leave that to you, gentlemen,” said the man, smiling.  “You will have to shoot the brute while I hold its attention.”

There was no more time for conversation, for the bear was coming steadily on, checked by the dog from time to time, the former action being repeated again and again, and Skene’s activity enabling him to leap away from the savage blows directed at him by the bear.

“Cartridges all right, Handscombe?” cried the captain sharply.

“Yes; both fresh.”

“Mind not to hit the dog.”

The doctor nodded, and Steve stood with his heart beating, wishing that he had the gun far away now upon the sledge, though he was fain to believe that his hands shook, so that he could not have shot straight.  He had to join with Watty in occupying the position of spectators, and he was watching the bear come on, still without appearing to realise their presence, when the captain said: 

“I don’t think we shall have any difficulty with the brute; but you lads must be ready to take to the rocks if we do.  He might charge by us.”

“Just a few yards forward, sir,” said Johannes; “the ground is more level.”

They moved away from where the boys were standing to a spot free from fallen rocks; and Steve’s heart beat more heavily, as he felt how brave it seemed to be to step forward to the attack of so fierce a beast ­one which, by a single stroke of the paw, could sweep away those strong men; and as the bear came on, once more he saw himself breathless and exhausted, climbing up and up the snowy slope towering above where he now stood, with the savage beast close at his heels, merciless and untiring, and so determined that it had gone on tracking him ever since his escape.  All this robbed him of any feeling of commiseration for the ferocious creature, and he hoped fervently that it was coming on surely to its fate.

“She’ll come an’ climb oop amang the rocks?” whispered Watty just then.

“No, no; stop here,” said Steve hoarsely.

“She’ll pe safer,” whispered Watty.

“Be quiet and look on,” replied Steve angrily.

“She’ll pe kilt,” groaned the lad; but he was silent afterwards, and as much interested in the scene before him as his companion.

And all the while the snapping, growling, and turning went on while the bear approached nearer and nearer, still without seeing those who waited for it with their deadly weapons poised.  It seemed at first that in its heavy way the animal would have come close up; but at last, when it was not more than fifty yards distant, Skene made a sharper charge than ever, as if delighted that his master and friends should see his prowess, charging so close home that he seized the long hair upon the bear’s leg, gave it a shake, and narrowly escaped the claws which were dashed savagely at it.

But Skene was nimble, and now he darted forward to where his friends were, barking loudly, as much as to say, “Here he is; look out!” and then dashed back again.

But the bear had followed the dog with its eyes, and now, forsaking the scent it had been running down, it swung its head from side to side so as to get each eye to bear well in turn upon its enemies, quite ignoring the dog when he dashed back barking furiously.

“Call the dog, and keep him with you, Steve,” said the captain loudly, but without turning; and in obedience to the summons Skene returned to his master, and stayed there, held by the long hair of his neck, trembling with excitement.

There was a low, deep growl now, and the bear stopped, facing them, as if undecided whom first to attack; and then it came on again growling, with its mind still not made up.

These were the most exciting moments, for all felt that the beast might charge in a way which gave no good opportunity for a deadly shot.

It was very close now, and its eyes flashed in the sunshine as it swung its head about with its muzzle close down to the ground, though it was not scenting its way now, but carefully watching its enemies.

Skene uttered an excited yelp just then, and recognising in it the little foe which had so pertinaciously hung on to it for some time past, the bear now uttered a growl, and turned toward where Steve stood with the dog.

“Rin, Meester Stevey, rin!” cried Watty, setting the example; “she’s coming here.”

But the bear soon changed its tactics, for Johannes took a few steps forward and made a thrust at the animal with his lance.

The great brute uttered a furious roar, swung round, struck at the lance shaft, and rose up upon its hind legs to seize the aggressor.

It was a dangerous position for the Norseman, for could the bear get one blow at him with its great hook-armed paw, his chances of being extricated alive were doubtful.  But he stood firm, for he had perfect confidence in the captain, and knew that he would seize this opportunity to fire.  He was quite right.  The captain drew trigger, there was the sharp, loud crack of the rifle, and almost simultaneously the thud of the bullet.

The bear uttered a furious roar, and swung round to meet the enemy who had struck it that terrible blow on its shoulder.  This brought it into an inconvenient position for the doctor to get his shot, for the animal was now face on to them; but it gave Johannes his chance, of which he was not long in availing himself, for he rushed in and gave the monster a terrible thrust with the lance.

The next instant the bear had swung round, snapping the shaft in two like a straw, and made for Johannes with a roar, when, just as it was on the point of overtaking the now unarmed man, crack went the captain’s rifle again, but without checking the monster in the least, and Johannes’ fate seemed sealed, when, with a sharp hiss, Steve loosed the dog.

“At him, Skeny! css!”

The dog dashed at the bear with a furious burst of barks, and fixed his teeth in the monster’s hind leg, so diverting its attention that it stopped to strike at the new enemy.

It was a fatal moment for the bear, but it gave the Norseman an opportunity to escape.  For, as the brute stopped to turn on Skene, the doctor now had his chance, and fired, from not ten yards’ distance, two shots right in the shoulder, and with an aim that told well of his knowledge of anatomy, for the bear stopped, rose up, and struck at the air with its paws as if imagining its enemy was within reach, and then, as it towered up far higher than a tall man, tottered for a moment or two, and fell over backward ­dead.

“Well done, Handscombe!” cried Captain Marsham warmly.  “But, Johannes, my good fellow, you were too daring; you ought not to have run so great a risk.”

“I am not hurt, sir,” said the Norseman, smiling gravely; “and it gave you the chance to fire.”

“Yes; but suppose I had not been there to fire?” cried the captain.

“Ah, that would have been different, sir.  Then I should not have been there to break my lance in the bear’s chest.”

Johannes smiled as he approached the bear more closely to extricate his spear.

“Mind!” cried Steve.  “Perhaps he is not quite dead.”

“There is no fear, sir,” replied the man; and, seizing the broken shaft, he dragged the head out of the bear’s body, and then took out his knife.

“What are you going to do?” said Steve.

“Skin it, sir,” replied the man, looking surprised that such a question should be asked.

“But suppose its mate comes?”

Johannes paused, and looked dubious.

“Ah!” he said, “then we should have to fight the mate.”

“No more fighting this time,” said the captain.  “And Steve is quite right; the other bear may come in search of its companion.  We must not attempt to camp here.”

“I should say not,” cried the doctor, “if we are likely to have another bear visitor.”

“Do you think you can walk a few miles, Steve?” asked the doctor.

“Yes, if you will go slowly,” replied the boy.  “I’m very stiff now, but I shall get better as we go on.”

And risking the destruction and loss of the skin, they started at once for the boat, to reach it after what to Steve was a long and painful walk.

That night he slept so soundly that ten hours had passed before he made his appearance in the cabin, a good deal scratched and otherwise marked, but little the worse for his adventure.