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BABY SYLVESTER

BABY SYLVESTER

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Written by Hunter   
Wednesday, 08 October 2008 01:14

(The writer has taken up temporary quarters in the cabin of his friend
Sylvester, a California miner).

I do not remember how long I slept. I must have been conscious, however,
during my slumber, of my inability to keep myself covered by the serape,
[Footnote: Serape: a blanket or shawl commonly worn by the Mexicans.]
for I awoke once or twice clutching it with a despairing hand as it was
disappearing over the foot of the couch. Then I became suddenly aroused
to the fact that my efforts to retain it were resisted by some equally
persistent force, and letting it go, I was horrified at seeing it
swiftly drawn under the couch. At this point I sat up, completely awake;
for immediately after, what seemed to be an exaggerated muff began to
emerge from under the couch. Presently it appeared fully, dragging the
serape after it. There was no mistaking it now--it was a baby bear. A
mere suckling, it was true--a helpless roll of fat and fur--but
unmistakably, a grizzly cub!

I cannot recall anything more irresistibly ludicrous than its aspect as
it slowly raised its small wondering eyes to mine. It was so much taller
in its haunches than its shoulders--its fore legs were so
disproportionately small--that in walking, its hind feet invariably
took precedence. It was perpetually pitching forward over its pointed,
inoffensive nose, and recovering itself always, after these involuntary
somersaults, with the gravest astonishment. To add to its preposterous
appearance, one of its hind feet was adorned by a shoe of Sylvester's,
[Footnote: Sylvester: the author's friend in whose cabin he was staying
at the time of the story.] into which it had accidentally and
inextricably [Footnote: Inextricably: in a hopelessly involved manner.]
stepped. As this somewhat impeded its first impulse to fly, it turned to
me; and then, possibly recognizing in the stranger, the same species as
its master, it paused. Presently, it slowly raised itself on its hind
legs, and vaguely and deprecatingly [Footnote: Deprecatingly:
regretfully, entreatingly.] waved a baby paw, fringed with little hooks
of steel. I took the paw, and shook it gravely. From that moment we were
friends. The little affair of the serape was forgotten.

Nevertheless, I was wise enough to cement our friendship by an act of
delicate courtesy. Following the direction of his eyes, I had no
difficulty in finding, on a shelf near the ridge-pole, the sugar box and
the square lumps of white sugar that even the poorest miner is never
without. While he was eating them I had time to examine him more
closely. His body was a silky, dark, but exquisitely modulated gray,
deepening to black in his paws and muzzle. His fur was excessively long,
thick, and soft as eider-down, the cushions of flesh beneath perfectly
infantine in their texture and contour. He was so very young that the
palms of his half-human feet were still tender as a baby's. Except for
the bright blue, steely hooks, half sheathed in his little toes, there
was not a single harsh outline or detail in his plump figure. He was as
free from angles as one of Leda's [Footnote: Leda: the maiden who was
wooed by Jupiter in the form of a swan.] offspring. Your caressing hand
sank away in his fur with dreamy languor. To look at him long was an
intoxication of the senses; to pat him was a wild delirium; to embrace
him, an utter demoralization of the intellectual faculties.

When he had finished the sugar he rolled out of the door with a
half-diffident, half-inviting look in his eye, as if he expected me to
follow. I did so, but the sniffing and snorting of the keen-scented
Pomposo [Footnote: Pomposo: the writer's horse.] in the hollow, not only
revealed the cause of his former terror, but decided me to take another
direction. After a moment's hesitation he concluded to go with me,
although I am satisfied, from a certain impish look in his eye, that he
fully understood and rather enjoyed the fright of Pomposo. As he rolled
along at my side, with a gait not unlike a drunken sailor, I discovered
that his long hair concealed a leather collar around his neck, which
bore for its legend the single word, "Baby!" I recalled the mysterious
suggestion of the two miners. This, then was the "baby" with whom I was
to "play."

How we "played"; how Baby allowed me to roll him downhill, crawling and
puffing up again each time, with perfect good humor; how he climbed a
young sapling after my Panama hat, which I had "shied" into one of the
topmost branches; how after getting it he refused to descend until it
suited his pleasure; how when he did come down he persisted in walking
about on three legs, carrying my hat, a crushed and shapeless mass,
clasped to his breast with the remaining one; how I missed him at last,
and finally discovered him seated on a table in one of the tenantless
cabins, with a bottle of syrup between his paws, vainly endeavoring to
extract its contents--these and other details of that eventful day I
shall not weary the reader with now. Enough, that when Dick Sylvester
returned, I was pretty well fagged out, and the baby was rolled up, an
immense bolster at the foot of the couch, asleep.

--BRET HARTE (adapted).

[Footnote: Why had the miners chosen the name "Baby Sylvester" for the
bear cub? Read the story and explain the author's surprise at the
appearance of the "Baby." Does the author describe the bear
sympathetically and lovingly or as a naturalist? Illustrate. What
qualities had the cub that endeared it to the author? Which of the
senses predominates in the description? Illustrate. Would you consider
"Baby Sylvester" capable of training? Why? Read the entire story and
tell what becomes of the "Baby."]
 
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