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THAT night Neewa had a hard attack of Mistu-puyew, or stomach-ache. Imagine a nursing baby going direct from its mother's breast to a beefsteak! That was what Neewa had done. Ordinarily he would not have begun nibbling at solid foods for at least another month, but nature seemed deliberately at work in a process of intensive education preparing him for the mighty and unequal struggle which he would have to put up a little later, For hours Neewa moaned and wailed, and Noozak muzzled his bulging little belly with her nose, until finally he vomited and was better.
After that he slept. When he awoke he was startled by opening his eyes full into the glare of a great blaze of fire. Yesterday he had seen the sun, golden and shimmering and far away. But this was the first time he had seen it come up over the edge of the world on a spring morning in the Northland. It was as red as blood, and as he stared it rose steadily is and swiftly until the flat side of it rounded out and it was a huge ball of something. At first he thought it was Life – some monstrous creature sailing up over the forest toward them – and he turned with a whine of enquiry to his mother. Whatever it was, Noozak was unafraid. Her big head was turned toward it, and she was blinking her eyes in solemn comfort. It was then that Neewa began to feel the pleasing warmth of the red thing, and in spite of his nervousness he began to purr in the glow of it. From red the sun turned swiftly to gold, and the whole valley was transformed once more into a warm and pulsating glory of life.
For two weeks after this first sunrise in Neewa's life Noozak remained near the ridge and the slough. Then came the day, when Neewa was eleven weeks old, that she turned her nose toward the distant black forests and began the summer's peregrination. Neewa's feet had lost their tenderness, and he weighed a good six pounds. This was pretty good considering that he had only weighed twelve ounces at birth.
From the day when Noozak set off on her wandering trek Neewa's real adventures began. In the dark and mysterious caverns of the forests there were places where the snow still lay unsoftened by the sun, and for two days Neewa yearned and whined for the sunlit valley. They passed the waterfall, where Neewa looked for the first time on a rushing torrent of water. Deeper and darker and gloomier grew the forest Noozak was penetrating. In this forest Neewa received his first lessons in hunting. Noozak was now well in the "bottoms" between the Jackson's Knee and Shamattawa waterway divides, a great hunting ground for bears in the early spring. When awake she was tireless in her quest for food, and was constantly digging in the earth, or turning over stones and tearing rotting logs and stumps into pieces. The little gray wood-mice were her pièce de résistance, small as they were, and it amazed Neewa to see how quick his clumsy old mother could be when one of these little creatures was revealed. There were times when Noozak captured a whole family before they could escape. And to these were added frogs and toads, still partly somnambulent; many ants, curled up as if dead, in the heart of rotting logs; and occasional bumble-bees, wasps, and hornets. Now and then Neewa took a nibble at these things. On the third day Noozak uncovered a solid mass of hibernating vinegar ants as large as a man's two fists, and frozen solid. Neewa ate a quantity of these, and the sweet, vinegary flavour of them was delicious to his palate.
As the days progressed, and living things began to crawl out from under logs and rocks, Neewa discovered the thrill and excitement of hunting on his own account. He encountered a second beetle, and killed it. He killed his first wood-mouse. Swiftly there were developing in him the instincts of Soominitik, his scrap-loving old father, who lived three or four valleys to the north of their own, and who never missed an opportunity to get into a fight. At four months of age, which was late in May, Neewa was eating many things that would have killed most cubs of his age, and there wasn't a yellow streak in him from the tip of his saucy little nose to the end of his stubby tail. He weighed nine pounds at this date and was as black as a tar-baby.
It was early in June that the exciting event occurred which brought about the beginning of the big change in Neewa's life, and it was on a day so warm and mellow with sunshine that Noozak started in right after dinner to take her afternoon nap. They were out of the lower timber country now, and were in a valley through which a shallow stream wriggled and twisted around white sand-bars and between pebbly shores. Neewa was sleepless. He had less desire than ever to waste a glorious afternoon in napping. With his little round eyes he looked out on a wonderful world, and found it calling to him. He looked at his mother, and whined. Experience told him that she was dead to the world for hours to come, unless he tickled her foot or nipped her ear, and then she would only rouse herself enough to growl at him. He was tired of that. He yearned for something more exciting, and with his mind suddenly made up he set off in quest of adventure.
In that big world of green and golden colours he was a little black ball nearly as wide as he was long. He went down to the creek, and looked back. He could still see his mother. Then his feet paddled in the soft white sand of a long bar that edged the shore, and he forgot Noozak. He went to the end of the bar, and turned up on the green shore where the young grass was like velvet under his paws. Here he began turning over small stones for ants.
He chased a chipmunk that ran a close and furious race with him for twenty seconds. A little later a huge snow-shoe rabbit got up almost under his nose, and he chased that until in a dozen long leaps Wapoos disappeared in a thicket. Neewa wrinkled up his nose and emitted a squeaky snarl. Never had Soominitik's blood run so riotously within him. He wanted to get hold of something. For the first time in his life he was yearning for a scrap. He was like a small boy who the day after Christmas has a pair of boxing gloves and no opponent. He sat down and looked about him querulously, still wrinkling his nose and snarling defiantly. He had the whole world beaten. He knew that. Everything was afraid of his mother. Everything was afraid of him. It was disgusting – this lack of something alive for an ambitious young fellow to fight. After all, the world was rather tame.
He set off at a new angle, came around the edge of a huge rock, and suddenly stopped.
From behind the other end of the rock protruded a huge hind paw. For a few moments Neewa sat still, eying it with a growing anticipation. This time he would give his mother a nip that would waken her for good! He would rouse her to the beauty and the opportunities of this day if there was any rouse in him! So he advanced slowly and cautiously, picked out a nice bare spot on the paw, and sank his little teeth in it to the gums.
There followed a roar that shook the earth. Now it happened that the paw did not belong to Noozak, but was the personal property of Makoos, an old he-bear of unlovely disposition and malevolent temper. But in him age had produced a grouchiness that was not at all like the grandmotherly peculiarities of old Noozak. Makoos was on his feet fairly before Neewa realized that he had made a mistake. He was not only an old bear and a grouchy bear, but he was also a hater of cubs. More than once in his day he had committed the crime of cannibalism. He was what the Indian hunter calls uchan – a bad bear, an eater of his own kind, and the instant his enraged eyes caught sight of Neewa he let out another roar.
At that Neewa gathered his fat little legs under his belly and was off like a shot. Never before in his life had he run as he ran now. Instinct told him, that at last he had met something which was not afraid of him, and that he was in deadly peril: he made no choice of direction, for now that he had made this mistake he had no idea where he would find his mother. He could hear Makoos coming after him, and as he ran he set up a bawling that was filled, with a wild and agonizing prayer for help. That cry reached the faithful old Noozak. In an instant she was on her feet – and just in time. Like a round black ball shot out of a gun Neewa sped past the rock where she had been sleeping, and ten jumps behind him came Makoos. Out of the corner of his eye he saw his mother, but his momentum carried him past her. In that moment Noozak leapt into action. As a football player makes a tackle she rushed out just in time to catch old Makoos with all her weight full broadside in the ribs, and the two old bears rolled over and over in what to Neewa was an exciting and glorious mix-up.
He had stopped, and his eyes bulged out like shining little onions as he took in the scene of battle. He had longed for a fight but what he saw now fairly paralyzed him. The two bears were at it, roaring and tearing each other's hides and throwing up showers of gravel and earth in their deadly clinch.
In this first round Noozak had the best of it. She had butted the wind out of Makoos in her first dynamic assault, and now with her dulled and broken teeth at his throat she was lashing him with her sharp hind claws until the blood streamed from the old barbarian's sides and he bellowed like a choking bull. Neewa knew that it was his pursuer who was getting the worst of it, and with a squeaky cry for his mother to lambast the very devil out of Makoos he ran back to the edge of the arena, his nose crinkled and his teeth gleaming in a ferocious snarl. He danced about excitedly a dozen feet from the fighters, Soominitik's blood filling him with a yearning for the fray, and yet he was afraid.
Then something happened that suddenly and totally upset the maddening joy of his mother's triumph. Makoos, being a he-bear, was of necessity skilled in fighting, and all at once he freed himself from Noozak's jaws, wallowed her under him, and in turn began ripping the hide off old Noozak's carcass in such quantities that she let out an agonized bawling that turned Neewa's little heart into stone.
It is a matter of most exciting conjecture what a small boy will do when he sees his father getting licked. If there is an axe handy he is liable to use it. The most cataclysmic catastrophe that can come into his life is to have a father whom some other boy's father has given a walloping. Next to being President of the United States the average small boy treasures the desire to possess a parent who can whip any other two-legged creature that wears trousers. And there were a lot of human things about Neewa. The louder his mother bawled the more distinctly he felt the shock of his world falling about him. If Noozak had lost a part of her strength in her old age her voice, at least, was still unimpaired, and such a spasm of outcry as she emitted could have been heard at least half a mile away.
Neewa could stand no more. Blind with rage, he darted in. It was chance that closed his vicious little jaws on a toe that belonged to Makoos, and his teeth sank into the flesh like two rows of ivory needles. Makoos gave a tug, but Neewa held on, and bit deeper. Then Makoos drew up his leg and sent it out like a catapault, and in spite of his determination to hang on Neewa found himself sailing wildly through the air. He landed against a rock twenty feet from the fighters with a force that knocked the wind out of him, and for a matter of eight or ten seconds after that he wobbled dizzily in his efforts to stand up. Then his vision and his senses returned and he gazed on a scene that brought all the blood pounding back into his body again.
Makoos was no longer fighting, but was running away – and there was a decided limp in his gait!
Poor old Noozak was standing on her feet, facing the retreating enemy. She was panting like a winded calf. Her jaws were agape. Her tongue lolled out, and blood was dripping in little trickles from her body to the ground. She had been thoroughly and efficiently mauled. She was beyond the shadow of a doubt a whipped bear. Yet in that glorious flight of the enemy Neewa saw nothing of Noozak's defeat. Their enemy was running away! Therefore, he was whipped. And with excited little squeaks of joy Neewa ran to his mother.