Tent in Agony, A
Tale by Stephen Crane
Four men once came to a wet place in the roadless forest to fish.
They pitched their tent fair upon the brow of a pine-clothed ridge of
riven rocks whence a bowlder could be made to crash through the brush
and whirl past the trees to the lake below. On fragrant hemlock boughs
they slept the sleep of unsuccessful fishermen, for upon the lake
alternately the sun made them lazy and the rain made them wet. Finally
they ate the last bit of bacon and smoked and burned the last fearful
and wonderful hoecake.
Immediately a little man volunteered to stay and hold the camp while
the remaining three should go the Sullivan county miles to a farmhouse
for supplies. They gazed at him dismally. “There's only one of you—the
devil make a twin,” they said in parting malediction, and disappeared
down the hill in the known direction of a distant cabin. When it came
night and the hemlocks began to sob they had not returned. The little
man sat close to his companion, the campfire, and encouraged it with
logs. He puffed fiercely at a heavy built brier, and regarded a
thousand shadows which were about to assault him. Suddenly he heard the
approach of the unknown, crackling the twigs and rustling the dead
leaves. The little man arose slowly to his feet, his clothes refused to
fit his back, his pipe dropped from his mouth, his knees smote each
other. “Hah!” he bellowed hoarsely in menace. A growl replied and a
bear paced into the light of the fire. The little man supported himself
upon a sapling and regarded his visitor.
The bear was evidently a veteran and a fighter, for the black of his
coat had become tawny with age. There was confidence in his gait and
arrogance in his small, twinkling eye. He rolled back his lips and
disclosed his white teeth. The fire magnified the red of his mouth. The
little man had never before confronted the terrible and he could not
wrest it from his breast. “Hah!” he roared. The bear interpreted this
as the challenge of a gladiator. He approached warily. As he came near,
the boots of fear were suddenly upon the little man's feet. He cried
out and then darted around the campfire. “Ho!” said the bear to
himself, “this thing won't fight—it runs. Well, suppose I catch it.”
So upon his features there fixed the animal look of going—somewhere.
He started intensely around the campfire. The little man shrieked and
ran furiously. Twice around they went.
The hand of heaven sometimes falls heavily upon the righteous. The
In desperation the little man flew into the tent. The bear stopped
and sniffed at the entrance. He scented the scent of many men. Finally
he ventured in.
The little man crouched in a distant corner. The bear advanced,
creeping, his blood burning, his hair erect, his jowls dripping. The
little man yelled and rustled clumsily under the flap at the end of the
tent. The bear snarled awfully and made a jump and a grab at his
disappearing game. The little man, now without the tent, felt a
tremendous paw grab his coat tails. He squirmed and wriggled out of his
coat like a schoolboy in the hands of an avenger. The bear bowled
triumphantly and jerked the coat into the tent and took two bites, a
punch and a hug before he, discovered his man was not in it. Then he
grew not very angry, for a bear on a spree is not a black-haired
pirate. He is merely a hoodlum. He lay down on his back, took the coat
on his four paws and began to play uproariously with it. The most
appalling, blood-curdling whoops and yells came to where the little man
was crying in a treetop and froze his blood. He moaned a little speech
meant for a prayer and clung convulsively to the bending branches. He
gazed with tearful wistfulness at where his comrade, the campfire, was
giving dying flickers and crackles. Finally, there was a roar from the
tent which eclipsed all roars; a snarl which it seemed would shake the
stolid silence of the mountain and cause it to shrug its granite
shoulders. The little man quaked and shrivelled to a grip and a pair of
eyes. In the glow of the embers he saw the white tent quiver and fall
with a crash. The bear's merry play had disturbed the center pole and
brought a chaos of canvas upon his head.
Now the little man became the witness of a mighty scene. The tent
began to flounder. It took flopping strides in the direction of the
lake. Marvellous sounds came from within—rips and tears, and great
groans and pants. The little man went into giggling hysterics.
The entangled monster failed to extricate himself before he had
walloped the tent frenziedly to the edge of the mountain. So it came to
pass that three men, clambering up the hill with bundles and baskets,
saw their tent approaching. It seemed to them like a white-robed
phantom pursued by hornets. Its moans riffled the hemlock twigs.
The three men dropped their bundles and scurried to one side, their
eyes gleaming with fear. The canvas avalanche swept past them. They
leaned, faint and dumb, against trees and listened, their blood
stagnant. Below them it struck the base of a great pine tree, where it
writhed and struggled. The three watched its convolutions a moment and
then started terrifically for the top of the hill. As they disappeared,
the bear cut loose with a mighty effort. He cast one dishevelled and
agonized look at the white thing, and then started wildly for the inner
recesses of the forest.
The three fear-stricken individuals ran to the rebuilt fire. The
little man reposed by it calmly smoking. They sprang at him and
overwhelmed him with interrogations. He contemplated darkness and took
a long, pompous puff. “There's only one of me—and the devil made a
twin,” he said.