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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter37)

2006-09-08 19:40

  CHAPTER XXXVII The Pekan Or Fisher

  There was one large track in the snow that they saw several times —— it was like that of a marten, but much larger. "Pekan," said the Indian, "the big marten; the very strong one, that fights without fear."

  "When my father was a papoose he shot an arrow at a pekan. He did not know what it was; it seemed only a big black marten. It was wounded, but sprang from the tree on my father's breast. It would have killed him, but for the dog; then it would have killed the dog, but my grandfather was near.

  "He made my father eat the pekan's heart, so his heart might be like it. It sought no fight, but it turned, when struck, and fought without fear. That is the right way; seek peace, but fight without fear. That was my father's heart and mine." Then glancing toward the west he continued in a tone of menace: "That trap robber will find it so. We sought no fight, but some day I kill him."

  The big track went in bounds, to be lost in a low, thick woods. But they met it again.

  They were crossing a hemlock ridge a mile farther on, when they came to another track which was first a long, deep furrow, some fifteen inches wide, and in this were the wide-spread prints of feet as large as those of a fisher.

  "Kahk," said Quonab, and Skookum said "Kahk," too, but he did it by growling and raising his back hair, and doubtless also by sadly remembering. His discretion seemed as yet embryonic, so Rolf slipped his sash through the dog's collar, and they followed the track, for the porcupine now stood in Rolf's mind as a sort of embroidery outfit.

  They had not followed far before another track joined on —— the track of the fisher-pekan; and soon after they heard in the woods ahead scratching sounds, as of something climbing, and once or twice a faint, far, fighting snarl.

  Quickly tying the over-valiant Skookum to a tree, they crept forward, ready for anything, and arrived on the scene of a very peculiar action.

  Action it was, though it was singularly devoid of action. First, there was a creature, like a huge black marten or a short-legged black fox, standing at a safe distance, while, partly hidden under a log, with hind quarters and tail only exposed, was a large porcupine. Both were very still, but soon the fisher snarled and made a forward lunge. The porcupine, hearing the sounds or feeling the snow dash up on that side, struck with its tail; but the fisher kept out of reach. Next a feint was made on the other side, with the same result; then many, as though the fisher were trying to tire out the tail or use up all its quills.

  Sometimes the assailant leaped on the log and teased the quill-pig to strike upward, while many white daggers already sunk in the bark showed that these tactics had been going on for some time.

  Now the two spectators saw by the trail that a similar battle had been fought at another log, and that the porcupine trail from that was spotted with blood. How the fisher had forced it out was not then clear, but soon became so.

  After feinting till the Kahk would not strike, the pekan began a new manceuvre. Starting on the opposite side of the log that protected the spiny one's nose, he burrowed quickly through the snow and leaves. The log was about three inches from the ground, and before the porcupine could realize it, the fisher had a space cleared and seized the spiny one by its soft, unspiny nose. Grunting and squealing it pulled back and lashed its terrible tail. To what effect? Merely to fill the log around with quills. With all its strength the quill-pig pulled and writhed, but the fisher was stronger. His claws enlarged the hole and when the victim ceased from exhaustion, the fisher made a forward dash and changed his hold from the tender nose to the still more tender throat of the porcupine. His hold was not deep enough and square enough to seize the windpipe, but he held on. For a minute or two the struggles of Kahk were of desperate energy and its lashing tail began to be short of spines, but a red stream trickling from the wound was sapping its strength. Protected by the log, the fisher had but to hold on and play a waiting game.

  The heaving and backward pulling of Kahk were very feeble at length; the fisher had nearly finished the fight. But he was impatient of further delay and backing out of the hole he mounted the log, displaying a much scratched nose; then reaching down with deft paw, near the quill-pig's shoulder, he gave a sudden jerk that threw the former over on its back, and before it could recover, the fisher's jaws closed on its ribs, and crushed and tore. The nerveless, almost quilless tail could not harm him there. The red blood flowed and the porcupine lay still. Again and again as he uttered chesty growls the pekan ground his teeth into the warm flesh and shook and worried the unconquerable one he had conquered. He was licking his bloody chops for the twentieth time, gloating in gore, when "crack" went Quonab's gun, and the pekan had an opportunity of resuming the combat with Kahk far away in the Happy Hunting.

  "Yap, yap, yap!" and in rushed Skookum, dragging the end of Rolf's sash which he had gnawed through in his determination to be in the fight, no matter what it cost; and it was entirely due to the fact that the porcupine was belly up, that Skookum did not have another hospital experience.

  This was Rolf's first sight of a fisher, and he examined it as one does any animal —— or man —— that one has so long heard described in superlative terms that it has become idealized into a semi-myth. This was the desperado of the woods; the weird black cat that feared no living thing. This was the only one that could fight and win against Kahk.

  They made a fire at once, and while Rolf got the mid-day meal of tea and venison, Quonab skinned the fisher. Then he cut out its heart and liver. When these were cooked he gave the first to Rolf and the second to Skookum, saying to the one, "I give you a pekan heart;" and to the dog, "That will force all of the quills out of you if you play the fool again, as I think you will."

  In the skin of the fisher's neck and tail they found several quills, some of them new, some of them dating evidently from another fight of the same kind, but none of them had done any damage. There was no inflammation or sign of poisoning. "It is ever so," said Quonab, "the quills cannot hurt him." Then, turning to the porcupine, he remarked, as he prepared to skin it:

  "Ho, Kahk! you see now it was a big mistake you did not let Nana Bojou sit on the dry end of that log."

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