Editor's note: This is the final installment of a four-part story from the Middlinville Chronicles by Ron Flewelling.
Doon had a pretty fair head of steam built up when he plowed into the bear's hind side. It wasn't as soft as it looked, It felt like a railroad tie covered with a fur blanket.
Notch-Nose gave a "WOOF!" of surprise...
Doon thought he'd broken his collar bone...
Buttermilk closed his eyes...
The bear toppled over backwards, dragging Buttermilk with him.
They both fell on top of Doon, who had a brief second to curse his cockamamie plan.
Things commenced to get a mite confusing. Doon felt as if his adams apple was being squeezed out his goozle. It didn't help that Old Notch-Nose was wallowing around on top of him, flailing away with all four paws and roaring like sixty.
One razor sharp claw passed within inches of Buttermilk's face, caught the front of his bib overalls, and shredded them right down to his waist.
As the combatants thrashed away, tearing up a sizable piece of real estate, it began to look and sound as if some demon had crawled out of the Book of Revelations and had begun to walk the earth. All the animals, birds, and insects residing within a mile of the field of combat immediately vacated the area.
As the melee progressed, Notch-Nose found himself just a tad nonplused. He was used to pulverizing these hairless little pip-squeaks in a no-sweat, one-on-one butt kicking instead of becoming embroiled in some damned free-for-all. Doon was clinging desperately to the bear's back trying to stay out of the reach of the deadly claws while Buttermilk was thrashing around somewhere down around the bottom of the pile.
Finding himself all twisted around, his arms pinned and his face full of rank, sweaty grizzly pelt, Buttermilk employed the only weapon left in his arsenal. Taking a deep breath, he sank his strong white teeth into Notch-Nose's leg.
The result was immediate and awe inspiring. Notch-Nose leaped three feet in the air and gave out a roar the shredded the leaves from the nearby trees.
All things considered, the boys were giving a real good accounting of themselves, but the odds still favored the bear by a considerable margin.
But then things took a turn for the weird.
Unknown to the three combatants, the River, over the years, had undermined the cliff on which the battle royal was taking place. This cliff might have stood unchanged for another decade or three but the tremors currently being generated by the cataclysmic free-for-all was worth at least twenty years of natural erosion.
So right in the middle of the fight, just as Notch-Nose ripped the seat out of Doon Lawton's pants, the whole darned bank, the two men, and the bear toppled into the River.
On the long fall to the water, Buttermilk found himself plummeting upside down, his nose only inches from Notch-Nose's. The bear had a confused "What kind of deal is this?" expression on his face.
Buttermilk, overjoyed at escaping the bear's clutches, momentarily forgot what was in store for him at the end of the fall.
He was quickly reminded when he plowed face first into the icy, fast moving water of the River.
The next few minutes were a confusion of rocks and churning water. Notch-Nose bobbed to the surface and like some prehistoric fuzzy whale, splashed ashore. He disappeared into the brush and was last seen heading north hell bent for election.
By gad, he was going back to Montana where things weren't so blasted strange!
Buttermilk didn't notice the bear's departure, however. He was too busy imitating a rock. He'd run plumb out of breath and had swallowed a couple of gallons of river water when he felt something grab him by the collar and haul him to the surface.
It was the Solitary, and with his help, Buttermilk soon floundered to the safety of the river bank fervently vowing in the future to avoid bears, learn how to swim, give up fishing and to attend church services on a regular basis.
The two exhausted men threw themselves on the grass at the River's edge and sprawled there, catching their breaths and staring at each other. Buttermilk rummaged around in his hip pocket and finding the pint bottle of whisky intact, offered the flask to Doon Lawton with a shaking hand.
Doon accepted the bottle and put it to his lips. His teeth chattered like castanets on the rim until he steadied his hand long enough for a drink. He handed the flask back to Buttermilk. Buttermilk took a long pull himself, and sighed.
"You know," He said philosophically. "We might not have whipped that bear, but we dad blamed sure fought him to a draw."
Doon twisted around and observed his bare behind sticking out of his seatless trousers.
"I believe he did me a favor," He said, speaking for the first time, "Otherwise I believe I would have filled my pants."
Buttermilk, with the help of a nearby slender willow tree, pulled himself erect. With the strain of gravity, the mangled, mauled, and much maligned bib overalls he wore collapsed in tatters around his ankles. Doon took one look at the forlorn expression on Buttermilk's face as he stared at his bare knobby knees and exploded into laughter. It was contagious and soon the two of them were near-hysterical, shrieking with laughter and pounding each other on the back.
Doon took Buttermilk back to his cabin and gave him a pair of trousers so as not to upset the more conservative element down in the Settlement, who didn't know for a fact that bear fighting was sheer Hades on clothing.
They doctored each other's wounds which, surprisingly, were fairly minor. These consisted for the most part of a some scrapes and scratches, plus a couple of bruises that would turn livid in the next day or two. These were handily treated with Peck's Blended Best on the outside for cleansing and on the inside for comfort. Linament and corn plaster were used for the more serious of the bruises and sprains.
All-in-all, it was a small price to pay for the dance they'd just attended, although a few days later, Buttermilk caught cold from his icy dunk in the River and had the croup for three days.
What was even more remarkable was that this was the beginning of a friendship that would last for years.
Buttermilk was in near-awe of Doon, admiring his seemingly endless knowledge of practically everything. He'd never seen as many books in one place as Doon had crammed on shelves and in odd corners in his cabin. It seemed impossible to Buttermilk that any one man could carry that much learning around in his head. He would listen with near-enchantment as Doon would describe battles between long dead Romans and how things like paper were made.
He never tired of listening to Doon talk and the weeks following the bear fight found him a frequent visitor at the rock cabin. Slowly, Buttermilk began to emulate Doon in little things. He learned how to handle silverware at meal times instead of relying on his fingers and pocket knife. His grammar and style of dress methodically improved and when Doon taught him to read, a whole new world was opened to him.
For his part, Doon found himself being drawn out of his shell. It was fresh and fascinating to look at the world through Buttermilk's innocent and uncomplicated mind. He might have taught Buttermilk how to handle a carving knife but Buttermilk taught him how to gig a frog and how to tell a birch tree from an elm. He might have been teaching Buttermilk about life, but Buttermilk was teaching him about living.
One day, Buttermilk brought news to the rock cabin. It seems that the Settlement planned on dumping hundreds of loads of rocks into the River at the Ford, making the crossing easier and less dependent of the water level at any given time.
Doon scoffed at the idea and wondered aloud why, with a little more effort, they just didn't go ahead and build a bridge.
Using an old envelope for a pad, Doon sketched a wood bridge that, by utilizing available materials, could be a very distinct possibility. Butermilk, studying the simple sketch, recognized the potential even with his uneducated eye. He pocketed the envelope and hurried back to the Settlement.
Over the next couple of days, Buttermilk showed the envelope to Cyrus Peavine, Homer Pierson, and just about anybody else he could latch onto. He repeated Doon's observations verbatim until the Settlement finally sent a delegation to the Lawton cabin to beseech Doon's assistance.
Doon, at Buttermilk's urging, finally agreed to draw up the plans for the proposed bridge and to oversee its construction.
The project fired everyone's imagination and the whole settlement turned to and helped build the bridge.
The first bridge spanning the River was finished late that Autumn. By then, Doon was no longer referred to as the Solitary.
Clumping along in new boots with his chest puffed proudly out, Buttermilk Sykes was the first person to ever walk across the Ford and not get his feet wet.
About a year or so later, Doon did indeed discover a deposit of high grade granite and with the money he'd saved, started a quarry.
Over a period of time, as the business expanded, this became the Settlement's main industry. Eventually, the Lawton Granite Company would become known as far east as New York City. The company logo would be a snarling grizzly bear and the corporate vice president would be a rather easy going individual by the name of Burnham Sykes.
Old Notch-Nose, after his fracas with Doon and Buttermilk, retired to the Grand Tetons where he became smitten with a certain female-type grizzly bear whose disposition was even ornerier and more contrary than his. After a tumultuous courtship that shook the dust from half the mountains in the area, the two love birds took up housekeeping in a cave somewhere up near the Canadian border.