A Tent in Agony

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 farm-house 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 bear


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 howled 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 centre

pole and brought a chaos of canvas about 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

frenziedly walloped the tent 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 bundlesand scurried to one side, their eyes gleaming with fear. The canvasavalanche swept past them. They leaned, faint and dumb, against trees andlistened, 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.