Afterward he had sat inside the woodshed with the door open, his shotgun loaded and cocked, looking across at his father sitting on the screen porch reading the paper, and thought, “I can blow him to hell. I can kill him.” Finally he felt his anger go out of him and he felt a little sick about it being the gun that his father had given him. Then he had gone to the Indian camp, walking there in the dark, to get rid of the smell. There was only one person in his family that he liked the smell of, one sister. All the others he avoided all contact with. That sense blunted when he started to smoke. It was a good thing. It was good for a bird dog but it did not help a man.
“What was it like, Papa, when you were a little boy and used to hunt with the Indians?”
“I don’t know.” Nick was startled. He had not even noticed the boy was awake. He looked at him sitting beside him on the seat. He had felt quite alone but this boy had been with him. He wondered for how long. “We used to go all day to hunt black squirrels,” he said. “My father only gave me three shells a day because he said that would teach me to hunt and it wasn’t good for a boy to go banging around. I went “ with a boy named Billy Gilby and his sister Trudy. We used to go out nearly every day all one summer.”
“Those are funny names for Indians.”
“Yes, aren’t they,” Nick said.
“But tell me what they were like.”
“They were Ojibways,” Nick said. “And they were very nice.”
“But what were they like to be with?”
“It’s hard to say,” Nick Adams said. Could you say she did first what no one has ever done better and mention plump brown legs, flat belly, hard little breasts, well-holding arms, quick searching tongue, the flat eyes, the good taste of mouth, then uncomfortably, tightly, sweetly, moistly, lovely, tightly, achingly, fully, finally, unendingly, never-endingly, never-to-endingly, suddenly ended, the great bird flown like an owl in the twilight, only it daylight in the woods and hemlock needles stuck against your belly. So that when you go in a place where Indians have lived you smell them gone and all the empty painkiller bottles and the flies that buzz do not kill the sweet-grass smell, the smoke smell and that other like a fresh-cased marten skin. Nor any jokes about them nor old squaws take that away. Nor the sick sweet smell they get to have. Nor what they did finally. It wasn’t how they ended. They all ended the same. Long time ago good. Now no good.
And about the other. When you have shot one bird flying you have shot all birds flying. They are all different and they fly in different ways but the sensation is the same and the last one is as good as the first. He could thank his father for that.
“You might not like them,” Nick said to the boy. “But I think you would.”
“And my grandfather lived with them, too, when he was a boy, didn’t he?”
“Yes. When I asked him what they were like he said that he had many friends among them.”
“Will I ever live with them?”
“I don’t know,” Nick said. “That’s up to you.”
“How old will I be when I get a shotgun and can hunt by myself.”
“Twelve years old if I see you are careful.”
“I wish I was twelve now.”
“You will be, soon enough.”
“What was my grandfather like? I can’t remember him except that he gave me an air rifle and an American flag when I came over from France that time. What was he like?”
“He’s hard to describe. He was a great himter and fisherman and he had wonderful eyes.”
“Was he greater than you?”
“He was a much better shot and his father was a great wing shot, too.”
“I’ll bet he wasn’t better than you.”
“Oh, yes he was. He shot very quickly and beautifully. I’d rather see him shoot than any man I ever knew. He was always very disappointed in the way I shot.”