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20 - The Bear and the Cook in Newfoundland



from The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories published, by Maple Leaf Mills Limited, in 1961

This story is about a bear and Don the Cook. It was a bright March morning at a lumber camp over on Salmon River in Newfoundland. There had been a heavy thaw for some days and the snow banks under the eaves of the camp were shrinking rapidly. The bright chips about the door, the trampled straw and fodder around the stable were steaming and soaking under the steady sun. Such winds as were stirring abroad that day were quite shut off from the camp by the dark surrounding Newfoundland woods.

From the protruding stovepipe (which was used as a chimney) a faint blue wreath of smoke curled lazily. Don the Cook had the camp all to himself for a while, for the teams and choppers were at work a mile away, and the "cookee" as the cook's assistant is called, had betaken himself to a neighbouring pond to fish for trout through the ice.

The dishes were washed, the camp was in order, and in a little while it would be time to get the dinner ready. the pork and beans were slowly boiling, and the odor was abroad on the quiet air. Don the Cook decided to snatch a wink of sleep in his bunk beneath the eaves. He had a spare half-hour before him, and under his present circumstances he knew no better way of spending it.

The weather being mild, he left the camp door wide open, and swinging up to his berth soon had himself comfortably bedded in blankets - his own and as many other fellows' blankets as he liked. He was perfectly happy. He began to doze and dream of summer fields. By-and-by, waking with a start, he remembered where he was and thrust his head over the edge of the bunk. The sight that met his eyes filled him with alarm. The thaw had brought out the bears from their snug winter quarters and now, in a very bad humor from having been waked up too soon, they were prowling through the forest. Food was scarce; in fact, times were very hard with them, and they were not only bad humored but lean and hungry withal.

To one hungry bear the smell of simmering pork had come that morning just like our cook's sent out invitation to a feast. Bears had found the door open, the camp clear, the quarters very inviting. With the utmost good faith he had entered upon his fortune.

While Don the Cook slept sweetly, bears had rooted off the cover of the pot. but the pot was hot, and the first mouthful of port and beans made him yell with rage and pain. The bear, with an angry sweep of his great paw, had dashed pot and kettle off the stove in a thunder of crashing iron and clattering tins that could be heard out to the door of Newfoundland.

What met Don the Cook's gaze as he sat up in his blankets was an angry bear dancing about in steam and smoke and beans and kettles, and making snatches at a lump of scalding pork on the floor. After a moment Don the Cook rose softly and crept to the other end of the bunk where his gun was kept. To his disgust the weapon was unloaded. But the click of the lock had caught the bear's attention and glancing up at the bunk above him, with smarting jaws and paws he made a dash for the bunk. Its edge was nearly seven feet from the floor, so the bear had to do some clambering as his head appeared over the edge, and his great paws took firm hold upon the clapboard rim of the bunk. Now Don the Cook groaned and struck at the bear wildly with the heavy butt of the gun. But a bear is always a skillful boxer; with upward stroke he warded off the blow and sent the weapon spinning across the camp. At the same time, his weight being too much for the clapboard which he was holding, he fell back on the floor with a shock like an earthquake. This only filled him with greater fury. at once he sprang back, but the delay had given poor Don the Cook time to grasp an idea. He saw that the hole in the roof through which the stovepipe passed was large enough to give his body passage. Snatching a light rafter above his head he swung himself out of the bunk, while the bear scrabbled at the empty bunk. At this point don the Cook drew a long breath. His first thought was to drop from the roof and run for help, but fortunately he changed his mind. The bear was no fool. No sooner had Don the Cook got safely out upon the roof when the bear rushed forth from the camp door to catch him as he came down, Had Don the Cook acted on his first impulse he would have been overtaken before he had gone a hundred yards and would have perished in the snow. As Don the Cook stuck close to the chimney-hole, like a gopher sitting by his hole ready at a moments notice to plunge inside, the bear stalked twice around the camp eyeing him, laying plans for his capture. At last the bear made up his mind. At one corner of the shanty, piled up nearly to the eaves, was a store of firewood which "cookee" had gathered in. Upon this the bear mounted and then made a dash up the creaking roof. Don the Cook prayed that it might give way beneath the great weight of the bear. To see if it would do so he waited too long, for as he scurried through the hole the bear's paw reached its edge and the huge claws tore nearly all the flesh from the back of the poor fellow's hand. Bleeding and trembling he climbed upon the friendly rafter, not daring to swing down into the bunk. The great animal was marvelous. Scarcely had Don the Cook got under shelter when the Bear rushed in again at the door and was upon the bunk again, and again Don the Cook vanished through the chimney-place. Moments later the bear was again on the rook and Don the Cook once more back on the rafter. This was repeated several times till for Don the Cook it quite ceased to be interesting. At last the chase grew monotonous even to the bear, who then resolved upon a change. After driving don the Cook out through the chimney he decided to try the same route himself, at least to thrust his head through the opening and see what it was like. Embracing the woodwork with his powerful fore-paws he swung himself up on the rafter, as he had seen Don the Cook do so gracefully. His attempt was quite successful, but the rafter was not prepared for the strain, and the bear and beam came thundering to the floor. Don the Cook gazed down through the hole and marked what happened. His one safe retreat was gone. But Bear did not perceive this or else was in no hurry to follow it up. The shock had greatly dampened his zeal. He sat on his haunches by the stove and gazed up at Don the Cook while Don the Cook gazed back at him.

The bear noticed the precious pork had cooked and in the charms of that rare treat Don the Cook was soon forgotten. All Don the Cook had to do was lie on the roof nursing his hand and watching Bear as he made away with the Newfoundland lumbermen's dinner, a labor of love at which he lost no time. At this point a noise was heard in the woods and hope came back to Don the Cook's heart. The men were returning for dinner. Bear heard it, too, and made haste to gulp down the remnant of the beans just as teams and choppers arrived in the little clearing in front of the camp. Bear, having swallowed his last mouthful, rushed out of the camp door toward the lumbermen. Finding himself surrounded, Bear paused a moment, then charged upon the nearest team, bowling the driver over in the snow and breaking his arm, while the maddened horses reared and fell over backward in a tangle of sleds and traces and lashing heels. This brought the Newfoundland woodsmen to their senses. Axes in hand they closed in upon the bear, who rose on his hindquarters to meet them. The first few blows that were delivered to him with all the force of the axeman's arms he warded off as if they were so many feathers. But he could not guard himself front and rear at once. After a blow that went axe-deep between his fore-shoulders, the bear collapsed, a furry heap upon the snow.

Having tended to Don the Cook's torn hand and their comrade's broken arm, the lumbermen undertook to make dinner of the bear. Alas, in death he proved even tougher than he'd been in life, and if you hear it was a juicy, fat Newfoundland bear steak it is only because it had been tenderized through many tellings of the tale over many years, for Don the Cook is now a very old man.



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This page transcribed by James Butler, 2000
Page Last Modified: Wednesday March 06, 2013 AST
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