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متن انگلیسی فصل

IN WHICH I Am On the Track

I run down the street, vault over the bridge railing, and climb down the abutment to the creek. I take off my moccasins and, wading into the cool water, splash upstream toward Alice’s camp.

I’m a tug-of-war inside. I want to look for Frightful with all my heart, and with all my heart I want to find Alice. But the battle, my head says, is already won. I’ve got to find Alice.

Some things become clear as I run. Frightful was stolen from me. And Bate, who must be that blue-and-brown-eyed man, is going to sell her to Skri at Beaver Corners. Hacking is just a code word that means Bate has birds to sell.

What isn’t clear is Alice’s situation. Did the two men find her? Did they harm her? I run faster.

With the beginning of twilight darkening the falls, I splash up to Alice’s camp.

She should be here, but she’s not. Where is she? Feeling prickles of fear running over my skin, I crawl into her stone home and sit down.

I am paralyzed. I can’t seem to act. I don’t know what to do. Should I wait? Or should I get the police? In anguish I roll over and bury my face in her rabbit-fur pillow.

It crackles. I snatch it up and find a letter. Crawling out on the ledge, my hands trembling, I lay a small pile of pine needles and twigs, then, taking out my flint and steel, strike a spark and start a fire. As the flame flares up, my heart thumps like a plumping mill. Why is she writing me a letter? That’s not part of On the Track. She must be in trouble. I unfold a sheet of paper with the Monroe Poland China Farm crest on it and see it is dated this morning. The letter was here when I arrived before noon, but since I didn’t lie down on the pillow I didn’t find it.

“Hi, Sam,” I read. “Isn’t this fun?”

Fun? Are you crazy? I am worried to death about you, Alice, and you think this is fun. Don’t you know that dangerous men are around you? I hold the letter closer to the fire and read on.

“There were falconers here in the woods. I saw them. They left about an hour ago, soon after the nice woodland coyote killed one of their birds.

“I have some good news for you. But I can no longer wait for you to get here to tell you. You’re too pokey. I’m off to the Helderberg Escarpment.”

She’s gone. She departed after the men left the woods and before they came up the creek. She’s all right. Maybe they didn’t even see her. I breathe a sigh of relief and read on.

“There’s a leaf bag of hickory nuts on the ledge above the bed. Help yourself. The coyote has puppies under the rhododendron bush by the old mill. Let’s get a coyote puppy; they’re adorable. Signed, “Your friend, Alice Van Rensselaer. Ha. Wasn’t it fun having everyone bow and scrape because they thought you were a Van Rensselaer? People-clues work when you give them to nice people like Mr. and Mrs. Van Sandtford and Hanni. Hanni’s neat.


I groan and smile at the same time. “You’re impossible.”

Now that I know she’s all right I’m angry at her. I haven’t got time for her little games with sun compasses, pigs, Van Rensselaers, and coyotes. I’ve got a sawmill to tend and food to gather for the winter.

Alice, will you ever grow up and think of someone besides yourself?

But I am on the move. Alice is safe. I should have known when I saw that eight-hundred-foot drop off the Helderberg Escarpment that she was headed for that falls from the moment she left her tree house.

Now, to go to Beaver Corners and get my beloved falcon back.

I stamp out the fire, bury the charred twigs, and sprinkle the burned spot with dirt. As the full moon comes over the tips of the hemlocks in the east and the sun goes down in the west, I climb down the falls and splash toward the bridge.

A dark mass to my left attracts my attention; something dull in texture is floating on the surface of the darkening stream. I wade to it.

“Oh, no,” I wail.

It’s the mother coyote. That’s what the men were going to do when they headed up the creek, kill the coyote. They came back to seek revenge. Near the mother floats a puppy, and I can look no more. These men are cruel—and they have Frightful.

I splash down the creek, climb to the bridge, and put on my moccasins.

I don’t even glance at the gristmill, but go straight to the restaurant.

The evening diners, a well-dressed group, are chatting and waiting to be served. I walk as casually as I can to the kitchen, where Mr. Milo is checking a dish in the oven.

“Mr. Milo,” I say, trying to be calm. “Where’s the police station?”

“There’s no police station in Rensselaerville,” he says. “Why? What’s up?”

“Two men are about to sell my falcon to an agent for an Arab sheik. They’re at Beaver Corners near East Berne and should be arrested. It’s a felony to hold endangered species, and it must be worse to sell them.” “The nearest police are about twenty miles from here in Altamont,” Mr. Milo says, his eyes wide. “I’ll call Scan Conklin, our conservation officer. He’s been staying in town. He can make arrests.” Mr. Milo dials his number and gets no answer.

“Good,” I say. “He and Bando must have gone to Beaver Corners.”

“Anything I can do?” Mr. Milo asks. “My buyer is going there in the morning to purchase red raspberries from a farm. He can give you a ride.”

“No, thanks,” I say. “It’s only about twelve miles and there’s a full moon tonight. I’m on my way.”

“Suit yourself,” he says and I hurry off.

At the last streetlight on the road out of town, I take out the map with the Helderberg Escarpment on it. Alice is probably already there. I study the contours and names. Most likely she’s near the Indian Ladder where Outlet Falls plunges off the cliff. Miss Turner said that once the Indians felled a tree against the escarpment. The stumps of its branches, which they had trimmed away, formed the rounds of the ladder they climbed to the top. Now, she said, wooden and iron steps take its place.

I start off for Beaver Corners in the last light of day, happy that Alice is far from the men who have Frightful, but keeping an eye out for piled stones or corncob arrows to say for certain that she is.

The road winds through farmland that looks like a rough quilt in the glow of the rising moon. Lights go off in a lonely house at the end of the macadam, and I’m on a dirt road.

Bats swing over my head and nighthawks cry as I hurry along. The freshness of the countryside and the knowledge that Alice is safe sends me whistling on my way to find Frightful.

Almost all the lights are out in the little town of Berne as I come down a steep road to its main street. One streetlight is burning above a historical marker and, knowing I don’t have to reach Beaver Corners before dawn, I stop and read it.

“The Anti-rent War began here in 1839. The farmers of the Helderberg Mountains declared they would no longer pay rent to the Van Rensselaers and honor leases which bound their land forever and forever, for an annual payment, to a landed aristocracy.

“The rent was ten to fourteen bushels of wheat, four fat fowls, and one day’s service each year with team and wagon. The tenant had to pay the taxes and build and maintain the roads. The patroon reserved all water and mineral rights. After two hundred years without being permitted to own the land they had opened and worked, the tenant farmers rebelled. Dressed as Indians, they harassed the Van Rensselaer agents and the state militia when they came into the mountains to collect the rent. The militia fought back. The war went on for thirteen years, the legal struggle for ownership for another twenty-four. Finally, one hundred years after the Declaration of Independence, the Supreme Court ruled against the Van Rensselaers.” The rent seemed like a lot to me, if the land was anything like Great-grandfather Gribley’s. Ten to fourteen bushels of wheat would have been most of his crop.

As I cross a bridge and head toward East Berne, which is about two miles from Beaver Corners, I see the ruins of an old water mill. It, too, is illuminated by a streetlight. With only a couple of hours of walking ahead of me, and it being hours before dawn, I take time out to look at the mill. There is not much left of it. The stones in the crumbled walls (they must not have been laid one on two, two on one) are soft with moss. There are no millstones around. It must have been a sawmill. That’s neat.

I look for rusty machinery, shafts, and bolts that I might use, find none, and turn to go when an out-of-character structure on the sluice wall attracts my attention. It’s a pile of stones two on one, one on two. Alice, I say. She’s passed by. All is well. She’s left me a message at a place she knows I’ll stop—an old water mill. I smile. On the Track is very satisfying—when it’s going right.

The moon shines on her structure, and I get down on my knees to try to figure out what she’s saying. Two large rocks support a thin triangular stone in an upright position. Thirteen pebbles are arranged in an arc. It’s a sundial. She’s telling me what time she was here. I look closer. A stick is laid on the two-hour. The sun was up. She was here this afternoon at two. Good, I say. She’s sleeping by the falls right now.

I’m about to start off again when I decide to use the moon and Alice’s dial to find out what time it is. When the moon is full, which it is tonight, it is directly opposite the sun, so the shadow it casts will give me the correct time. I look down. It’s eleven o’clock.

I’m about six miles from Beaver Corners, and the men won’t be there until dawn. I think I have time to grab a little sleep before I go on. I’m pretty tired.

Several hours later, I awake in alarm—have I overslept? I jump up, look at Alice’s dial, and am relieved to see it’s only 3:00 A.M. The moon is beginning to slide west. I orient myself by facing it. My right arm points north. Beaver Corners is northeast of me. I start off in that direction, set a swift pace, and cover the four miles in a little more than an hour. Two to go.

East Berne is a smaller town than Livingstonville. It doesn’t even have a gas station, and the post office is a trailer. I like it but do not linger.

I take the road to Beaver Corners, pass several dark houses and a church, and then I’m out in the wilds again. Miles of dark swampland lie to either side of the road. Frog songs and owl calls hang like a sound blanket over this lowland. I jog along, watching for bobcats and beaver—even black bear.

I arrive at Beaver Corners as the eastern sky begins to lighten. There’s not much here, a crossroad, woodland, and an abandoned church that looks like it’s ready to fall down. I don’t see Bando or the conservation officer’s car, but recalling the note on the library wall, I cross the road to the church.

As I walk, I whistle for Frightful, a birdlike call in the night. If she’s here, she’ll answer me.

She does not.

I round the abandoned church and find Bate’s pickup. They’re here, but not in the truck. I peer through the camper window. Frightful’s not there, either, but I do see falcon perches, leashes, and hoods. She’s near. I run around the church. She’s not staked out, so I look for her in the woods. As I come down a slope, I see a green car parked in the tall grass near a beaver dam.

It must be the agent’s car. I look through the side window but see only seats.

I despair. Maybe the coyote killed Frightful before she killed the sharp-shinned. Alice didn’t mention Frightful at all. I poke my head in the church and wonder why they ever decided to meet here. The place is falling in and very dangerous. Boards creak and the floor is ripped up and gaping. Where are the men, where are the birds? They’re around here somewhere.

I walk deeper in the woods in search of them, give up the hunt, and return to the other side of the road to wait for Bando and Officer Conklin.

I see nothing but nature and hear nothing but nature.

When it’s light enough to read the maps, I take out the Altamont quadrangle and look at Beaver Corners. There’s a cave marked on it, just about where I am sitting. Maybe that’s where the men are.

Poking around, I push back some tall rushes and find a path leading right up to the cave.

The entrance is narrow, the cavern black. I climb a pine and knock off an old limb stub rich in resin. On the ground I start a small fire with my flint and steel and light the knot. When it flares up, I slip between two huge slabs of limestone and sidle down the tight tunnel. Suddenly I am in a high, narrow room. This is great. Water trickles down the walls; a bat comes in for the day and hangs upside down on the pointed ceiling above me. I hold my torch high and see three long, narrow passageways leading into the dark underworld. This doesn’t look like a good meeting place, but a cave is a cave. It screams out to be explored, and I go on. Walking down one of the tunnels, I turn a corner and am looking out on the beaver dam and the agent’s car. The cave has two entrances. I go back and take the middle passage. It ends.

I might as well go down the last passage. Bending low, I inch along. The pine knot flares and throws off so much black smoke I do not see a fourth passageway on my left. I pass it. The tunnel I’m in dwindles to two feet, and I turn back.

As I return, I see the tunnel I missed minutes ago. It is wide and high enough for me to walk in upright. I ease myself along, intrigued by the smooth, waterworn walls.

Far ahead a light shines. This is not the blue white light of day but a yellow electric light. Walking toward it, I see that it is coming through a crack in the boards of a big door. I hear voices. Quietly I approach and peer through the crack.

I can see only half of a basement which, I judge from the distance I’ve come, is under the church. A man steps into my vision—it’s Bate. He’s holding a leash in one hand, and probably Frightful in the other, but I can’t see that hand. My heart beats so hard it shakes my shirt. Let it be Frightful. Let it be Frightful.

I move slightly so I can see the other half of the room—and my spirits sink. Bate is holding, not Frightful, but a prairie falcon. Bate’s driver is standing beside him. Seated on a barrel is the man who must be the agent, Skri.

“We made a deal for a peregrine falcon,” Skri says. “I won’t pay fifty thousand dollars for a prairie falcon. No. No. And where is the sharp-shinned?” I have seen and heard enough. Biting my lips to keep from crying, I pick up my pine knot and return to the road and the dawn.

Something terrible has happened to Frightful. I don’t even care if the men are arrested or not. She’s dead; I know.

A car drives up, stops, and Bando jumps out.

“Hi, Sam.” he says. “Officer Conklin and I came here last night, but no one was around.”

“There is now,” I say as Officer Conklin comes around his car and introduces himself. He is a tall, bony-faced man with a mustache and a lot of red hair. He carries a revolver on his hip. The work of an environmental conservation officer is serious.

“Where are they?” he asks, looking around.

“In the basement of that church,” I answer. “But you can’t get there through the church; it’s falling down. The cave across the road leads into it.” “The old Tenant Hideout,” he says in surprise. “The farmers of the Helderbergs went into the church basement and hid in this cave when the rent collectors and the militia came after them. Not many people know about it now. Just local kids and a few spelunkers.

“I’ll hide my car off the road in the woods,” he says, “and we’ll wait in the bushes for the men to come out.”

“It’s no use, sir.” I say. “You can’t arrest them. They don’t have my peregrine falcon. She’s dead.”

“If they are selling hawks and falcons, I can arrest them,” Scan Conklin replies. “Birds of prey are protected by three different laws, one of which is a multinational treaty endorsed by 103 members. Fines run up to $250,000.

“I’ve been after these fellows for a long time,” he goes on. “They are not licensed falconers and should not be keeping these birds, and for sure not selling them.” We walk around the church to the pickup, and I show him the green car by the beaver dam. Bando tells him that the librarian saw the man called Skri drive off in such a car.

Officer Conklin puts a foot on the steps of the church. Boards rattle and creak.

“They surely won’t come out this way,” he says. “Let’s wait by the cave entrance.”

Hardly has he spoken than we see Bate and his friend coming across the road toward us. They have no birds at all. Conklin can’t arrest them. They’re going to walk away free.

“Hello, Conklin,” Bate calls jauntily.

“Hello, Bate.”

Helpless to act, he watches them go around the church to their pickup. Then I think of the cave.

“Don’t let them get away,” I say. “Bando, come with me.”

I dash through the woods to the green car just as Skri, carrying the hooded prairie falcon on his fist, comes out of the beaver-dam cave exit and runs to his car. I swing my sling over my head, aiming for the car door, and strike it a thundering blow. Skri jumps. The bird flaps.

“Stop where you are, mister,” Scan Conklin calls. “You’re under arrest.” Seeing the revolver, Skri quietly walks toward him.

“It’s his bird,” he says, pointing to Bate.

Officer Conklin turns to Bate. “If that is so, you’d better come with me, too. You are not on the roster of licensed falconers.”

“Where is my peregrine falcon?” I cry. “What did you do to her?”

He does not answer.

“You didn’t take her to the university, did you? She’s dead, isn’t she?”

He does not answer.

“The man’s not going to talk, Sam,” Officer Conklin says. “He’ll incriminate himself.”

I turn away in despair, and Bando slips his arm around my shoulder. I shrug him off and walk to the edge of the woods. Sitting down, I put my elbows on my knees and my chin in my fists. I swallow hard. I had been so sure I would find Frightful here.

After a while Officer Conklin walks over to me.

“Sam,” he says. “We’re taking the men to Altamont to book them. Do you want to come?”

“No, no, I don’t, thank you,” I answer. “I’m going to the Helderberg Escarpment.”

“Let me shake your hand,” he says, extending his right hand. “Your quick thinking saved the prairie falcon.”

I look up. Bando is holding the hooded falcon and smiling at her. She is a beauty.

“Sam,” he says. “Sean Conklin needs me to carry the falcon while he drives these men to Altamont. After he has booked them, he and his son will take the bird to New Paltz. There’s a licensed falconer at the university who will ship her to Boise, Idaho, where another falconer will meet her. He’ll hack her back to freedom in her native habitat.” I am listening intently.

“He says there is a network of falconers who use their knowledge to keep these birds flying.”

“That’s what falconry is today,” Officer Conklin adds. “Falconers working for the birds of prey, not the birds of prey working for falconers.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to come along? Then we can start home.”

“I’m going to get Alice,” I say. “She’s at the big falls on the escarpment. We’ll be there if you decide to join us.”

With my hands in my pocket and my head bowed, I take the road to the Helderberg Escarpment and to the water that spills eight hundred feet.

“The goshawks,” I say, breaking into a run. I had forgotten all about them. It’s the end of June. They’ll have young. The eggs hatch around the first week in June, and the nestlings are ready to fledge in early July. During this time the parents are very dangerous. Their parental instincts are at their height, and they defend their offspring with strikes and slicing talons. Frightful’s parents were docile compared to these birds, and they were fierce enough. They nearly knocked me off the cliff.

I run faster, for as sure as my name is Sam Gribley, Alice will climb that tree to see the nestlings. And as sure as her name is Alice Gribley, she’ll end up on the ground or badly cut or both.

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