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On Seeing Deer
by [?]

Once I happened to be sitting out a dance with a tactful young girl of tender disposition who thought she should adapt her conversation to the one with whom she happened to be talking. Therefore she asked questions concerning out-of-doors. She knew nothing whatever about it, but she gave a very good imitation of one interested. For some occult reason people never seem to expect me to own evening clothes, or to know how to dance, or to be able to talk about anything civilized; in fact, most of them appear disappointed that I do not pull off a war-jig in the middle of the drawing-room.

This young girl selected deer as her topic. She mentioned liquid eyes, beautiful form, slender ears; she said “cute,” and “darlings,” and “perfect dears.” Then she shuddered prettily.

“And I don’t see how you can ever BEAR to shoot them, Mr. White,” she concluded.

“You quarter the onions and slice them very thin,” said I dreamily. “Then you take a little bacon fat you had left over from the flap-jacks and put it in the frying-pan. The frying-pan should be very hot. While the onions are frying, you must keep turning them over with a fork. It’s rather difficult to get them all browned without burning some. I should broil the meat. A broiler is handy, but two willows, peeled and charred a little so the willow taste won’t penetrate the meat, will do. Have the steak fairly thick. Pepper and salt it thoroughly. Sear it well at first in order to keep the juices in; then cook rather slowly. When it is done, put it on a hot plate and pour the browned onions, bacon fat and all, over it.”

“What ARE you talking about?” she interrupted.

“I’m telling you why I can bear to shoot deer,” said I.

“But I don’t see–” said she.

“Don’t you?” said I. “Well; suppose you’ve been climbing a mountain late in the afternoon when the sun is on the other side of it. It is a mountain of big boulders, loose little stones, thorny bushes. The slightest misstep would send pebbles rattling, brush rustling; but you have gone all the way without making that misstep. This is quite a feat. It means that you’ve known all about every footstep you’ve taken. That would be business enough for most people, wouldn’t it? But in addition you’ve managed to see EVERYTHING on that side of the mountain–especially patches of brown. You’ve seen lots of patches of brown, and you’ve examined each one of them. Besides that, you’ve heard lots of little rustlings, and you’ve identified each one of them. To do all these things well keys your nerves to a high tension, doesn’t it? And then near the top you look up from your last noiseless step to see in the brush a very dim patch of brown. If you hadn’t been looking so hard, you surely wouldn’t have made it out. Perhaps, if you’re not humble-minded, you may reflect that most people wouldn’t have seen it at all. You whistle once sharply. The patch of brown defines itself. Your heart gives one big jump. You know that you have but the briefest moment, the tiniest fraction of time, to hold the white bead of your rifle motionless and to press the trigger. It has to be done VERY steadily, at that distance,–and you out of breath, with your nerves keyed high in the tension of such caution.”

“NOW what are you talking about?” she broke in helplessly.

“Oh, didn’t I mention it?” I asked, surprised. “I was telling you why I could bear to shoot deer.”

“Yes, but–” she began.

“Of course not,” I reassured her. “After all, it’s very simple. The reason I can bear to kill deer is because, to kill deer, you must accomplish a skillful elimination of the obvious.”