There was a boy who wished to learn humility and pride in order to become skillful and worthy in the woods, who suddenly found himself becoming so skillful so rapidly that he feared he would ever become worthy because he had not learned humility and pride, although he had tried to, until one day and as suddenly he discovered that an old man who could not have defined either had led him, as though by the hand, to that point where an old bear and a little mongrel of a dog showed him that, by possessing one thing other, he would possess them both.
And a little dog, nameless and mongrel and many-fathered, grown, yet weighing less than six pounds, saying as if to itself, “I can’t be dangerous, because there’s nothing much smaller than I am; I can’t be fierce, because they would call it just a noise; I can’t be humble, because I’m already too close to the ground to genuflect;13 I can’t be proud, because I wouldn’t be near enough to it for anyone to know who was casting the shadow, and I don’t even know that I’m not going to heaven, because they have already decided that I don’t possess an immortal soul. So all I can be is brave. But it’s all right. I can be that, even if they still call it just noise.”
That was all. It was simple, much simpler than somebody talking in a book about youth and a girl he would never need to grieve over, because he could never approach any nearer her and would never have to get any farther away. He had heard about a bear, and finally got big enough to trail it, and he trailed it four years and at last met it with a gun in his hands and he didn’t shoot. Because a little dog—But he could have shot long before the little dog covered the twenty yards to where the bear waited, and Sam Fathers could have shot at any time during that interminable minute while Old Ben stood on his hind feet over them. He stopped. His father was watching him gravely across the spring-rife twilight of the room; when he spoke, his words were as quiet as the twilight, too, not loud, because they did not need to be because they would last. “Courage, and honor, and pride,” his father said, “and pity, and love of justice and of liberty. They all touch the heart, and what the heart holds to becomes truth, as far as we know the truth. Do you see now?”
Sam, and Old Ben, and Nip, he thought. And himself too. He had been all right too. His father had said so. “Yes, sir,” he said.