A Wolf’s Tale
狼的传说
    

         With all her big brothers and sisters off to school, our ranch became a lonely place for our three-year-old daughter, Becky. She longed for playmates. Cattle and horses were too big to cuddle and farm machinery dangerous for a child so small. We promised to buy her a puppy but in the meantime, “Pretend” puppies popped up nearly every day.
  I had just finished washing the lunch dishes when the screen door slammed and Becky rushed in, cheeks flushed with excitement. “Mama!” she cried, “Come see my new doggy! I gave him water two times already. He’s so thirsty!”
  I sighed, another of Becky’s imaginary dogs.
  “Please come, Mama.” She tugged at my jeans, her brown eyes pleading, “He’s crying — and he can’t walk!”
  “Can’t walk?” Now that was a twist. All her previous make-believe dogs could do marvelous things. One balanced a ball on the end of its nose. Another dug a hole that went all the way through the earth and fell out on a star on the other side. Still another danced on a tightrope. Why suddenly a dog that couldn’t walk?
  “All right, honey,” I said. By the time I tried to follow her, Becky had already disappeared into the mesquite.
  “Where are you?” I called.
  “Over here by the oak stump. Hurry, Mama!”
  I parted the thorny branches and raised my hand against the glare of the Arizona sun. A numbing chill gripped me. There she was, sitting on her heels, toes dug firmly in the sand, and cradled in her lap was the unmistakable head of a wolf! Beyond its head rose massive black shoulders. The rest of the body lay completely hidden inside the hollow stump of a fallen oak.
  “Becky,” My mouth felt dry. “Don’t move.” I stepped closer. Pale-yellow eyes narrowed. Black lips tightened, exposing double sets of two-inch fangs. Suddenly the wolf trembled. Its teeth clacked, and a piteous whine rose from its throat.
  “It’s all right, boy,” Becky crooned. “Don’t be afraid. That’s my mama, and she loves you, too.”
  Then the unbelievable happened. As her tiny hands stroked the great shaggy head, I heard the gentle thump, thump, thumping of the wolf’s tail from deep inside the stump. What was wrong with the animal? I wondered. Why couldn’t he get up? I couldn’t tell. Nor did I dare to step any closer.
  I glanced at the empty water bowl. My memory flashed back to the five skunks that last week had torn the burlap from a leaking pipe in a frenzied effort to reach water during the final agonies of rabies. Of course! Rabies! Warning signs had been posted all over the county, and hadn’t Becky said, “He’s so thirsty?” I had to get Becky away. 
   “Honey,” My throat tightened. “Put his head down and come to Mama. We’ll go find help.”
Reluctantly, Becky got up and kissed the wolf on the nose before she walked slowly into my outstretched arms. Sad yellow eyes followed her. Then the wolf’s head sank to the ground. With Becky safe in my arms, I ran to the barns where Brian, one of our cowhands, was saddling up to check heifers in the North pasture. “Brian! Come quickly. Becky found a wolf in the oak stump near the wash! I think it has rabies!” 
   “I’ll be there in a jiffy,” he said as I hurried back to the house, eager to put Becky down for her nap. I didn’t want her to see Brian come out of the bunkhouse. I knew he’d have a gun.
   “But I want to give my doggy his water,” she cried. I kissed her and gave her some stuffed animals to play with. 
   “Honey, let Mom and Brian take care of him for now,” I said. Moments later, I reached the oak stump.
  Brian stood looking down at the beast. “It’s a Mexican lobo, all right.” He said, “And a big one!”
  The wolf whined. Then we both caught the smell of gangrene. “Whew! It’s not rabies,” Brian said. “But he’s sure hurt real bad. Don’t you think it’s best I put him out of his misery?”
  The word “yes” was on my lips, when Becky emerged from the bushes. “Is Brian going to make him well, Mama?” She hauled the animal’s head onto her lap once more, and buried her face in the coarse, dark fur. This time I wasn’t the only one who heard the thumping of the lobo’s tail.
  That afternoon my husband, Bill, and our veterinarian came to see the wolf. Observing the trust the animal had in our child, Doc said to me, “Suppose you let Becky and me tend to this fella together.” Minutes later, as child and vet reassured the stricken beast, the hypodermic found its mark. The yellow eyes closed.
  “He’s asleep now,” said the vet. “Give me a hand here, Bill.” They hauled the massive body out of the stump. The animal must have been over five feet long and well over a hundred pounds. Bullets had mutilated the wolf’s hip and leg. Doc did what he had to in order to clean the wound and then gave the patient a dose of penicillin. Next day he returned and inserted a metal rod to replace the missing bone.
  “Well, it looks like you’ve got yourselves a Mexican lobo,” Doc said. “He looks to be about three years old, and even as pups, they don’t tame real easy. I’m amazed at the way this big fella took to your little girl. But often there’s something that goes on between children and animals that we grownups don’t understand.”
  Becky named the wolf Ralph and carried food and water to the stump every day. Ralph’s recovery was not easy. For three months he dragged his injured hindquarters by clawing the earth with his front paws. From the way he lowered his eyelids when we massaged the limbs, we knew he endured excruciating pain, but not once did he ever try to bite the hands of those who cared for him.
  Four months to the day, Ralph finally stood unaided. His huge frame shook as long-unused muscles were activated. Bill and I patted and praised him. But it was Becky to whom he turned for a gentle word, a kiss or a smile. He responded to these gestures of love by swinging his busy tail like a pendulum. As his strength grew, Ralph followed Becky all over the ranch.
  Together they roamed the desert pastures, the golden-haired child often stooping low, sharing with the great lame wolf whispered secrets of nature’s wonders. When evening came, he returned like a silent shadow to his hollow stump that had surely become his special place.
  As time went on, although he lived primarily in the brush, the habits of this timid creature endeared him more and more to all of us. His reaction to people other than our family was yet another story. Strangers terrified him, yet his affection for and protectiveness of Becky brought him out of the desert and fields at the sight of every unknown pickup or car. Occasionally he’d approach, lips taut, exposing a nervous smile full of chattering teeth.
  More often he’d simply pace and finally skulk off to his tree stump, perhaps to worry alone.
Becky’s first day of school was sad for Ralph. After the bus left, he refused to return to the yard. Instead, he lay by the side of the road and waited.
  When Becky returned, he limped and tottered in wild, joyous circles around her. This welcoming ritual persisted throughout her school years.
  Although Ralph seemed happy on the ranch, he disappeared into the surrounding deserts and mountains for several weeks during the spring mating season, leaving us to worry about his safety. This was calving season, and fellow ranchers watched for coyotes, cougars, wild dogs and, of course, the lone wolf. But Ralph was lucky.
  During Ralph’s twelve years on our ranch, his habits remained unchanged. Always keeping his distance, he tolerated other pets and endured the activities of our busy family, but his love for Becky never wavered.
  Then the spring came when our neighbor told us he’d shot and killed a she-wolf and grazed her mate, who had been running with her. Sure enough, Ralph returned home with another bullet wound. Becky, nearly fifteen years old now, sat with Ralph’s head resting on her lap. He, too, must have been about fifteen and was gray with age. As Bill removed the bullet, my memory raced back through the years. Once again I saw a chubby three-year-old girl stroking the head of a huge black wolf and heard a small voice murmuring, “It’s all right, boy. Don’t be afraid. That’s my mama, and she loves you, too.”
  Although the wound wasn’t serious, this time Ralph didn’t get well. Precious pounds fell away. The once luxurious fur turned dull and dry, and his trips to the yard in search of Becky’s companionship ceased. All day long he rested quietly. But when night fell, old and stiff as he was, he disappeared into the desert and surrounding hills. By dawn his food was gone. The morning came when we found him dead. The yellow eyes were closed.
  Stretched out in front of the oak stump, he appeared but a shadow of the proud beast he once had been. A lump in my throat choked me as I watched Becky stroke his shaggy neck, tears streaming down her face. “I’ll miss him so,” she cried.
  Then as I covered him with a blanket a strange rustling sound from inside the stump startled us. Becky looked inside. Two tiny yellow eyes peered back and puppy fangs glinted in the semidarkness. Ralph’s pup!
  Had a dying instinct told him his motherless offspring would be safe here, as he had been, with those who loved him? Hot tears spilled on baby fur as Becky gathered the trembling bundle in her arms.
  “It’s all right, little ... Ralphie,” she murmured. “Don’t be afraid. That’s my mom, and she loves you, too.”

  哥哥姐姐都去上学以后,对我们三岁的女儿贝基来说,农场就成为一个寂寞的地方了。她渴望伙伴。牛马太大了,她无法抱在怀里。农业机械对这么小的孩子也太危险。我们答应给她买个宠物,不过同时,“虚构”的宠物每天都会出现。
  我刚洗完午饭的盘子,纱窗门就砰地被撞开,贝基跑了进来,兴奋地满脸通红。“妈妈!”她叫着,“快来看看我的新狗狗!我已经喂他两次水了,他都快渴死了!”
  我叹息了一声,又是一只贝基虚构的小狗。
  “来呀,妈妈。”她使劲拖着我的牛仔裤,棕色的眼睛里透出乞求的眼神。“他一直在叫——他还不会走路呢!”
  “不会走路?”这倒是一个预想不到的变化。她以前编造的狗狗都会做令人惊异的事情。其中一只会在鼻尖上平稳地顶着一个球不让它掉下来,另一只挖洞穿越了地球,从另一端掉到星球上去了,还有一只在能在钢丝上跳舞。怎么突然有了一只不会走路的狗狗呢?
  “好吧,宝贝。”我说。还来不及跟上她呢,贝基就已经消失在豆科灌木丛中了。
  “你在哪儿啊?”我喊道。
  “就在橡树桩这儿。快点呀妈妈!”
我拨开带刺的枝叶,抬手遮住亚利桑那州的太阳。突然一种麻木的寒战擢紧了我。她就在那儿,蹲坐在脚后跟上,脚尖陷进沙子里,紧抱在腿上的明明是一只狼的脑袋!脑袋下面是巨大的黑色肩膀。身体的其他部位完全隐藏在一颗倒下的橡树的中空的树桩中。
  “贝基,”我觉得嘴里发干,“不要动。”我走近一些。淡黄色的眼睛眯起来了,黑色的嘴唇绷紧了,露出两排两寸长的犬牙。突然,狼有些战栗。牙齿噼啪作响,喉咙里发出令人怜悯的哀鸣。
  “没关系,宝贝,”贝基轻柔地安慰他。“不要害怕,那是我的妈妈,她也爱你。”
  接着令人难以置信的事情发生了。当她的小手抚摸那颗硕大而毛发粗浓的脑袋时,我听到从树根深处传来狼尾巴的轻微撞击声,砰,砰,砰!这个动物到底怎么了?我感到奇怪。为何他站不起来?我不知道,也不敢再朝前迈一步。
  我瞟了一眼空空的盛水的碗,我立刻想起了上周在从一个漏管子中咬破粗麻布挣扎着要到达水边的经历着最后痛苦的患狂犬病的五只臭鼬。是的!狂犬病!全国都张贴了这种警告标志,贝基不也说过 “他快渴死了” 吗?我必须让贝基离开。
  “宝贝,”我的喉咙变紧了,“把他的头放下,到妈妈这儿来。我们得去求助。”
  贝基很不情愿地站起来,又在狼的鼻子上亲了一下,才慢慢走进我的怀抱中。悲哀的黄眼睛跟随着她。接着它的脑袋就堕落到了地上。看到贝基安全地回到了我的怀抱,我赶紧向牲口棚跑去。我们的牧牛工布赖恩正要备马去北方牧场查看小母牛。“布赖恩!快来。贝基在洼地附近的橡树桩发现了一匹狼!我想它一定染上了狂犬病。”
  “我马上去,”他说。我赶紧回到屋里,希望贝基能快点午睡。我不想让她看到布赖恩从简易住处中出来,我知道他有枪。
  “但我想给狗狗喝水,”她哭起来。我吻了吻她,给她一些填充玩具让她玩。
  “宝贝儿,现在让妈妈和布赖恩去照料他。”我说。片刻之后,我又来到橡树桩那里。
  布赖恩站在那里看了一会这个野兽。“这确实是墨西哥大灰狼。”他补充互说,“而且是个大个。”
  狼发出哀叫声。接着我们都闻到了坏疽的味道。“哟!不是狂犬病,”布赖恩说。“但他肯定受了重伤。你觉得我结束他的痛苦不是最好的吗?”
  我马上就要说出“是的”,这时贝基从灌木丛中出现了。“布赖恩会把他治好的,是吗妈妈?”她把狼脑袋又拖到自己的腿上,把脸埋进粗糙而缺乏光亮的毛皮中。这次不仅我一个人听到了大灰狼尾巴的砰砰声。
那天下午我的丈夫比尔和我们的兽医来看望狼。看到这只动物对我们孩子的信任,医生对我说,“你就让贝基和我一起照管他吧。”
  “他现在睡着了,”兽医说。“比尔,帮我一下忙。”他们一起把狼沉重的身体从树桩中拉出来。他至少得有五英尺长,一百多磅。子弹伤害了他的臀部和腿部。医生为了清洗伤口做了该做的一切,又为这匹受伤的狼服了一剂青霉素。第二天他又来了,嵌入一根金属棒来代替失去的骨头。
  “哎呀,看来你们得到的是只墨西哥大灰狼,”医生说。“他看来差不多有3岁了,即便是幼崽,他们也不太容易驯服。令我惊异的是这个大家伙对你家小女孩的方式。不过常常孩子和动物之间会发生一些我们成人无法理解的事情。”
  贝基给这匹狼取了个名字叫拉尔夫,每天都把食物和水送到树桩那里。拉尔夫康复起来并不容易。三个月来,他都用前爪扒着地,拖着受伤的后腿部分移动。但当我们给他按摩萎缩的肢体时,从他搭拉下眼皮的方式我们知道他经受着极度的痛苦,然而他从没有试图咬过照顾他的人的手。
  到今天就四个月了,拉尔夫终于独立地站立起来。当长期未活动的肌肉活跃起来,他庞大的体格有些摇晃。比尔和我轻轻拍了拍他,对他加以赞扬。但他却转向了贝基以得到一句温柔的话、一个吻或者一个微笑。他则像个钟摆似的频繁摇着尾巴回应她爱的表示。随着他的力量的慢慢恢复,拉尔夫跟着贝基在整个农场里逛游。
  他们一起在荒凉的牧场上漫游,金发孩子常常俯下身来,轻声细语地与庞大的瘸腿大灰狼分享大自然的秘密奇观。夜晚来临时,他就像一个寂静的影子一样返回那个中空的树桩,那里理所当然成为他的专用地方。
  随着时间的流逝,尽管他主要生活在灌木丛中,这个羞怯的动物的习性却让我们越来越喜欢他了。他对我们家人之外的人的反应自然又不同了。陌生人使他感到害怕,然而每次看到不熟悉的小货车或汽车时他对贝基的友爱与保护都让他走出荒地和田野。偶尔他也会走近,双唇绷紧,牙齿打战,露出一个紧张的微笑。
  更多的时候他只是踱步,最后又偷偷回到他的树桩那儿,也许要独自不安。
  贝基第一天上学对拉尔夫来说是个悲伤的日子。公共汽车离开后,他拒绝回到院子里,而是待在路边等她回来。
  贝基回来后,他狂热而快乐地围着她一瘸一拐地打转。她整个上学期间他都一直坚持用这种欢迎仪式。
  尽管拉尔夫在农场显得很高兴,当春天交配季节来临时,他在附近的荒原和山上消失了好几周,留下我们担心他的安全。这也是裂冰的季节,同行的农场主们都在监视着丛林狼、美洲狮、豺狗,当然还有单独出来的狼。不过拉尔夫很幸运。
  拉尔夫在农场上生活的12年间,习惯一直没变。总是保持着距离,容忍着其他的宠物,忍受着我们家忙碌的生活,但他对贝基的爱一直没有动摇过。
  接着春天来临了,这时我们的邻居告诉我们他开枪射死了一匹母狼,擦伤了和她一起逃亡的配偶。当然,拉尔夫带着另一个子弹伤口回来了。贝基现在快15岁了,她坐在那儿,让拉尔夫的头枕在她的腿上。他肯定也差不多15岁了,随着年龄的增长也变老了。当比尔取出子弹时,我的记忆又回到了很多年前。我仿佛又看到一个胖胖的三岁小女孩抚摸着大大的黑狼的脑袋,听到她轻声细语,“没关系,宝贝,不要害怕。那是我的妈妈,她也爱你。”
  尽管伤不是很严重,这次拉尔夫没有好起来。宝贵的体重消瘦下来,曾经舒适的皮毛变得暗淡枯燥,他也不到院里找贝基玩了。他一整天就是安静地休息,但夜晚一到,尽管他老了,也不灵活了,他就消失在荒野和周围的小山中。破晓之前他的食物不见了。早上来了,我们发现他已经死了,黄色的眼睛也已经闭上。
  走在橡树桩前面,他又出现了,但只是他曾经的高傲野兽的影子。看到贝基抚摸他那毛发粗浓的脖颈时,我的喉咙有些哽咽,泪水从她的脸上滚落下来。“我会非常想他的,”她哭着说。
  接着,当我给他盖上毯子时,从树桩里传出的沙沙声吓了我们一跳。贝基往里看了看。两只黄色的小眼睛正眯眼看着我们。小犬牙在半明半暗中闪耀着。拉尔夫的幼崽!
  是否临终前的本能告诉他没有母亲的孩子在这里会很安全,就像他当初一样,有那些爱他的人们呢?贝基把发抖的包袱的抱进怀中时热泪滴在了幼崽的毛毛上。
  “没关系,小……拉尔夫,”她轻声说着,“不要害怕。那是我的妈妈,她也爱你。”