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The Grizzly Boatman

please read it out loud


It had been a good winter's trapping, the best François could remember, he thought as he loaded the canoe with furs. It wouldn't be long until he was home sitting by his fireside toasting his toes. Only one major problem lay between him and that cosy fireside glow, "The Devil's Jaws".

"The Devil's Jaws" was the most fearsome stretch of rapids in all Canada. François would've been quaking in his large brown boots if it hadn't been for the fact that Sylvian would take the prow of the canoe, and Sylvian was the best man in a canoe in all Canada.

When the two friends set off you'd have thought they were off to a party. Laughing and joking they paddled down the river with hardly a fear in their minds. But they weren't that foolhardy to treat "The Devil's Jaws" with disrespect. When the water began to get choppy and the foam began to rise they pulled the canoe to the bank and tied it fast. You needed a good solid meal in your stomach, and a good few hours rest before you paddled through "The Devil's Jaws" even with Sylvian guiding the way.

François wasted no time shooting a rabbit for their tea while Sylvian made up a fire. They sat watching the rabbit sizzle at the spit and thought they were the luckiest of men. But another nose caught a waft of that delicious aroma, and he wasn't about to turn down an invitation to such a feast.

The first the two knew of their guest was a cracking of twigs in the bushes which grew to the sound of an approaching storm as their new friend wasted no time looking for his seat. Can you imagine our two trappers with eyes like soup bowls when that grizzly joined them for tea?

They didn't stay frozen for long, Sylvian was off like a jack-rabbit and François had his gun to his eye before even he realized it. But as François squeezed his finger tightly around the trigger and wasn't greeted by a gratifying bang, he realized that rabbit had been the ungrateful recipient of his last cartridge. François flung the gun and caught the grizzly across the muzzle and he ran for his life.

Now I don't know if you've noticed, but if you invite someone to lunch with you, and when he arrives you start kicking up a fuss, trying to shoot him and hitting him on the nose with your gun, its not the best way to put him at his ease. Well, the grizzly wasn't best pleased with his reception, he let out a howl and was off to the races, claws at the ready, just itching to show François how he felt.

Now Sylvian probably would've laughed if he'd been around to watch, but as he was heading for the next territory at a rate of knots he missed the absurd scene that followed.

There was François running round and round a tree closely followed by one extremely angry bear. Round and round they went until you couldn't have told who was chasing whom. They got dizzier and dizzier until, luckily for François, the bear, who didn't have a head for this sort of game, went staggering off straight into a neighbouring tree, cannoned off that into another, and senseless, blundered off into the wood accompanied by the occasional crack as his head made contact with yet another forest giant.

François was in no hurry to go wandering unless he should renew an acquaintance with his new friend. He waited until dark and made his way back to the river. And, thank heavens, who was there but Sylvian all ready and waiting in the canoe. Now maybe it wasn't a good idea to go through "The Devil's Jaws" in the middle of the night, but if one man could do it that man was Sylvian. So not bothering to churlishly bring up the little matter of Sylvian leaving him to his fate François jumped in behind Sylvian in his bear skin coat and hat, and pushed off.

What a journey, you would never believe it if I told you the half of it: whirlpools, rocks the size of mountains and waterfalls the depth of a house. But with Sylvian at the helm, what had François to fear. After what seemed an hour or more of being tossed this way and that the water began to calm and François let his tired head lull. He was exhausted, he was sure Sylvian wouldn't mind if he took a short nap.

Now there are good ways to wake in the morning and there are bad. I don't think François has the sight that greeted his eyes next morning on his list of favourites. As he woke he saw in front of him a great grizzly bear and just couldn't hold back an astonished yip. Now that bear had been dazed and confused but a few solid hours sleep had put him right, and having woken just exactly like a bear with a sore head he wasn't about to put up with anyone creeping up behind him and yipping. He got to his feet and turned around.

There are times to wait for formal introductions and times when it is better to take your leave. This, thought François, was one of the latter. He jumped overboard and swam in a mad panic for the bank. The bear wasn't quite so sure about taking a bath, the last François saw of him was as the sole passenger of a wildly swaying canoe full of all those wonderful furs heading off down river.

After drying off, François made the long trudge back home, a broken man. When he reached the trading post he created quite a stir, everyone thought he was dead. They had found his canoe by a logjam with bear tracks leading away. And what of his fair weather friend? Well, Sylvian had hitched a ride home with some Indians and had written off his friend as a man from his past.

Well yes, they were both rich men that Spring from those furs the bear had so kindly delivered, but believe it or believe it not, those two men never went trapping together again.

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