It wasn't that Horace was actually afraid, mind you. It was just that one doesn't mess around with grizzly bears when they are hibernating. Even the littlest Sylph knew that, and Horace certainly was not the littlest Sylph-- even though sometimes he acted as though he was. Actually, Horace was old enough to be apprenticed to the Sand Storm Squad, where he was supposed to be learning how to blow sand in concentric circles and through cracks in window frames.
Harvey was apprenticed to the Sand Storm Squad too, and it didn't take long for the squad leader to realize that one of his most stupid ideas had been to apprentice Horace and Harvey to the same squad. What Horace didn't think up to make trouble, Harvey did. The squad leader already had received three delegations of irate Fairies, the Elf Commander himself, and the chief coyote from the next valley, all complaining about the havoc Horace and Harvey had wrought.
Take what Harvey has said a little while ago, for instance: "Let's take a sandstorm up into the mountains and blow it at the grizzly bears." The squad leader had told them on the very first day that sandstorms belonged only in the desert, and under no circumstances were they to be blown anywhere else. Harvey knew that as well as Horace, of course, but little things like rules didn't bother either one of those two very much. When one thought about it, thought Horace, it did seem silly for sandstorms to be kept just in one place when there were so many new places where they never had been taken.
What did bother Horace, though, was the grizzlies themselves. Even though he'd never actually seen one, he knew all about their bad temper. Right now they were hibernating, and to wake them up by blowing sand into their warm cave and up their noses--well, even Horace thought that was asking for more trouble than they could handle.
But Harvey had said, "Wassa matter? You scared?" (Harvey, of course, would say that.) And naturally Horace had said that no he was not scared, and if Harvey wanted to blow a sandstorm at the grizzlies he was perfectly prepared to blow a sandstorm at the grizzlies.
So here they were, swirling up a very respectable cloud of sand at the base of the mountain. They thought they'd better put their sandstorm together at the edge of the desert even though this wasn't standard procedure, so there would be less chance of the squad leader seeing them. Already three or four nearby cactuses had objected, but Horace and Harvey paid no attention to them. Cactuses were so prickly, they always were complaining about something. If the squad leader didn't come along, there would be nothing to worry about.
Finally the sandstorm was ready to go. Horace and Harvey knew that it would take a lot of huffing and puffing tp get it up into the high country where the grizzlies' caves were. They took their positions underneath the sand cloud, took several deep breaths, and began to blow upward. This was hard, and it made their necks ache. Always before they had blown their clouds straight ahead or just a little bit at an angle.
Now, however, it was straight up all the way. It took Horace and Harvey all afternoon, huffing and puffing until they were quite worn out, to get the sandstorm to the very top of the mountain and over the edge into the valley below.
"Whew!" whewed Horace. "Let's rest." So they rested--Harvey impatiently cracking his knuckles and Horace almost asleep.
Finally Harvey said, "OK, let's go. How much sleep do you need, anyhow?"
Reluctantly, Harvey sat up, stretched, yawned, and pulled himself together.
"Now we've got to sneak that sandstorm along the edge of the valley," instructed Harvey. "If anybody sees it and reports it to the squad leader before we get to the bears' caves, we'll be out of luck."
So Horace and Harvey carefully moved the sandstorm along the sides of the valley. It was seen by several human beings, who reported it to the weather bureau and the radio station, but people there could do nothing but talk about it. It was seen by a moose, who stamped his hoof in protest but created such a cloud of dust while doing so that he couldn't complain any more. It was seen by two young rabbits who raced home to tell their mother about the "sand monster" that was coming, but she told them that it they would stop nibbling so many nasturtiums they wouldn't see such silly things. And it was seen by the head Gnome, who considered leaving his work for a while to report the matter to the Sylph squad leader, but decided it was simply too much trouble to go all the way down the mountain to tell the squad leader something he would find out for himself only too soon as it was.
"OK, here we are," Harvey whispered when they finally came to a boulder that almost hid the entrance to a cave. "The grizzlies are in there."
Horace tiptoed to the cave entrance and listened. "I don't hear nuttin'," he whispered.
"Of course not, dummy," said Harvey. "They're asleep."
"But shouldn't they be snoring or something?" asked Horace.
"Not everyone snores," said Harvey impatiently. "Now let's get this show on the road. Start blowing."
Horace and Harvey got behind the cloud of sand and began to blow as hard as they could toward the cave entrance. Little by little, the sand drifted into the cave, first in little dribbles and then in a big cloud that settled around the bears and everything else inside. And still Horace and Harvey kept on blowing.
Horace and Harvey couldn't see what was going on inside the cave, but things were happening! First one grizzly's nose began to twitch and then the other grizzly's nose began to twitch. One grizzly sneezed in his sleep and rubbed his paw across his face. The other grizzly coughed, sneezed, sputtered--and woke up.
"GROOOOWWWWWLLLL!!" he growled. "What's going on here?"
"A-A-A-CHOOOO!!" sneezed the second grizzly, also waking up. "Where's this sand coming from?"
"There's more coming in all--all-a-a-AHH-CHOOOO!!--the time," sneezed the first grizzly.
"We better get out of here before we suffocate," said the first grizzly. The sand was now so thick he couldn't see the entrance, and he walked straight into the wall instead, banging his head. That gave him a headache and did not help his already bad temper one bit!
"RRRROOOOWWWWWW!!" he roared, finding his way to the entrance at last and bounding out, with the second grizzly close behind.
Meantime Horace and Harvey had been leaning against a rock near the cave door, laughing with glee. "Boy, those grizzlies are mad," said Harvey. "Listen to them roar!"
"Maybe we ought to hide before they come out," suggested Horace.
"They won't come out for a while," said Harvey, still laughing. "They'll get lost in the sand."
"Just the same, I think it would be a good idea to--oh-oh!" Horace stared at the hairy brown bear that suddenly appeared in front of him.
"A-A-A-ACHOOOOO!!" sneezed the bear, blowing rather smelly breath all over Horace.
Horace tried to run away, but a large paw knocked him to the ground and held him fast. "You young whippersnapper! What's the idea of blowing samd into our cave? You're going to be sorry you ever got up this morning!"
"But--but--but--" sputtered Horace, but the huge paw squeezed him even harder.
"Quiet!" roared the grizzly. "Oh ho! There's another one, is there?"
Horace stared as another huge, angry bear appeared, dragging Harvey along by the hair. "This one was trying to get away, but I caught him. What are we going to do with these twerps?"
"Look like the Sylph squad leader's delinquents to me," said the first grizzly. "Probably should deliver them to him."
"You belong to the squad leader?" asked the second bear, pulling Harvey's hair harder.
"Y-y-y-yes, sir," sobbed Harvey.
Scared as he was, Horace couldn't help staring at Harvey in astonishment. Harvey never cried, and he certainly never had said "sir" to anyone before.
"No point our going back to sleep now," growled the first grizzly. "It's almost spring, anyhow. Let's take these brats back to the squad leader. They really deserve to be eaten for breakfast, but they're not more than a crumb each and hardly worth it."
And so Horace and Harvey were dragged back through the valley, bump, bump, bumpety-bump, across grass, through prickles and scratchy shrubs, through two brooks and a river. There was a good deal of giggling from the moose, the rabbit family, grandfather frog, three cows, and a raccoon, all of whom thought that two scruffy-looking Sylphs being dragged along by two fierce- looking grizzlies was one of the funniest sights they'd ever seen.
The human beings were just getting out of their car after coming back from the weather bureau and the radio station when they saw the grizzlies.
"Eeek, bears!" they shrieked, jumped back into the car and drove off as fast as they could. They never saw Horace and Harvey at all.
Up the mountain over rocks and gravel and down the other side over more rocks and gravel, Horace and Harvey were dragged along. They were bruised and battered and their clothes were torn and their hair was pulled and their heads ached. They yelled and cried and begged for mercy, but the grizzlies paid no attention. On they plodded, dragging the Sylphs along behind them.
Finally they came upon the Sylph squad leader, treading air near the treetops and scanning the air currents for signs of Horace and Harvey. "Where have those brats gotten off to now?" the squad leader was muttering to himself. Only a short time before, he had come home from teaching his tornado class to find Horace and Harvey missing and the other Sylphs totally unwilling to go out and look for them. "Good riddance!" was the general reply when the squad leader suggested that they might be lost. "Tough!" was the general reply when he suggested that they might be in trouble and needing help. Since the squad leader fully agreed with these sentiments, even though he knew they were not very nice, he couldn't really force the other Sylphs to make a search for Horace and Harvey.
Suddenly the squad leader was startled to hear growling somewhere beneath him, and he looked down to see two grizzlies, each holding down a Sylph with its paw.
"These belong to you?" shouted one grizzly.
"Good grief!" said the squad leader, diving down. "Yes, I'm afraid they do. Where did you find them?"
"Outside our cave blowing a sandstorm," said the other grizzly, with no more explanation than that.
"What?!" exploded the squad leader. "Sandstorm? But your cave is over the mountain, miles from the desert!"
"Ummmmm," acknowledged the first grizzly. "That didn't seem to make much difference to these two! They blew the storm right up the mountain and through the valley and under our front door. Blasted nuisance! Almost suffocated us before we got out! These guys have a lot of strength--or maybe it's just a lot of hot air. Anyhow, if you don't mind our saying so, you ought to harness that energy to something more useful."
"Oh, I will," said the squad leader, hands on his hips, glaring at Horace and Harvey with cold eyes. "I most certainly will. First of all, have they apologized to you?"
"Apologized!" snorted the second grizzly. "First they thought it was funny, then they yelled and screamed. I don't think 'apology' ever occurred to them."
"Well, it's going to occur now!" snapped the squad leader. "First, you two will apologize to the grizlies, and then you will go back with them and clean out their cave, and then you will blow every grain of that sand back to the desert where it belongs."
"Apologize?" whispered Horace.
"Clean out?" whispered Harvey. "Blow back?" whispered Horace and Harvey together, looking more horrified with every whisper.
"But we can't!" protested Horace.
"You can and you will," said the squad leader, in the angriest voice Horace and Harvey ever had heard. "Now begin!"
And so it happened that Horace and Harvey, with a lot of throat clearing and foot shuffling, finally did apologize to the grizzlies."
"Humph!" was the grizzlies' only reply, which Harvey privately didn't think was very polite. The squad leader seemed to see nothing wrong with it, however, and he suggested that the grizzlies drag Horace and Harvey back over the mountain the same way they had come, just to make sure they didn't try to run away.
"Good idea," said the grizzlies, and the next thing Horace and Harvey knew they once more were being dragged by the hair up the mountain over rocks and gravel and down the other side over more rocks and gravel. Then bump, bump, bumpety-bump across grass, through prickles and scratchy shrubs, through two brooks and a river, back through the valley they went.
Finally they were back at the cave.
"OK you two, clean up this mess, and don't leave one grain of sand inside. Remember, you have to blow all of it back to the desert. Ha-ha-ha!" Both grizzlies seemed to think it was very funny, as they settled down to watch.
Harvey asked for a broom.
"Broom?" bellowed the first grizzly. "What do you think we are, humans? We don't have brooms! You blew that stuff in here; you can blow it out. Ha-ha- ha!" And both grizzlies doubled up laughing. They laughed and laughed and laughed all afternoon, while Horace and Harvey blew and blew blew and blew.
At last the cave was clean, and all the sand piled up outside the entrance. Horace and Harvey, exhausted, flopped down on the ground next to it.
"GRRRRROWWWLLLL!" growled the first grizzly, suddenly no longer laughing. "This is our front yard, not a hotel. We don't want sleeping bodies in our front yard. We don't want this sand here, either. It belongs in the desert, and you have to get it back there. NOW!"
With that, both grizzlies headed menacingly for Horace and Harvey. Horace and Harvey jumped up, fast! Forgetting how tired they were, they started blowing the sand and began to work it into a sandstorm. The grizzlies stood right behind them, growling and snuffling and frightening them all over again.
In less time than anyone would have thought possible, Horace and Harvey had a very proper standstorm whirling and twirling around. They stopped only long enough to take two especially deep breaths, and then began blowing the sandstorm back through the valley. In full view of everyone, it went churning along--through the midst of the meadows and the wheat fields and the cabbage patches and the peony beds. But one thing you can be sure of. No damage was done to the meadows or the wheat fields or the cabbage patches or the peony beds. Every grain of sand was accounted for and stayed right in the storm at all times.
Blowing the sandstorm back up the mountain and down the other side was the hardest work Horace and Harvey ever would have to do in all their lives. Every single grain of sand had to go up the mountain and down the other side. If even one plant on the mountainside was damaged, the squad leader would know it, too. And, somehow, Horace and Harvey didn't think it would be at all a good idea for the squad leader to find out anything like that.
But, finally, the job was done. Horace and Harvey guided the sandstorm back down the mountain and with their very last breaths blew every single grain of sand back onto the desert.
Then, once again, they flopped down on the ground, and this time they were allowed to sleep. No grizzlies disturbed them and, although they didn't know it, even the squad leader came by several times during the night to check on them and make sure they were all right.
Next morning, still feeling a bit wobbly, Horace and Harvey reported to the squad leader.
He looked them up and down strenly for a moment, then said, "Well, boys, do you want to take another sandstorm on tour?"
"Oh, no," said Horace in horror. "No more sandstorms."
"Please," added Harvey, for good measure.
And so it came about that Horace and Harvey left the Sanstorm Squad and were apprenticed to the Light Breeze Division, where they learned gentleness and patience and how to bring refreshment and pleasant moments to plants and people, and even to grizzlies, all summer long.