After much deliberation, Arthur has decided he doesn’t own a horse.
He doesn’t have many skills that he’s proud of, but he can say he’s decent with horses. Or at least, more decent than most folk – he really doesn’t understand what the fuss is all about, you just treat them with respect and they’ll do the same for you, it ain’t hard. But he’s always found animals in general easier to figure out than people – maybe it’s because he’s got a ‘wild soul’, as Annabelle had once said. More likely he simply prefers the company of beasts matching his own level of intellect, as Dutch had quipped immediately after. But he’s ridden all sorts of horses over the years – his own, plus a whole heap of others he’s trained up to sell on or keep for the gang. From high-strung racers to sturdy drafts to fully wild horses he’s gone out and caught himself, he’s seen and ridden them all.
Which brings him to the conclusion that he doesn’t currently have a horse. What he has is a saddle atop near two thousand pounds of pure spite, with a dash of obstinacy and a heavy dollop of sheer bloody mindedness thrown in for good measure. And teeth. Best not forget the teeth. He’d seen the bone in that unfortunate O’Driscoll’s shoulder – shooting him in the head had probably been the kindest thing he could do for the fella. Thing is though, Atlas likes him – and really that’s all that matters ain’t it? Certainly came in useful when that ‘lost traveller’ tried to steal him (and the sheer surprise on the man’s face when Atlas had planted his hooves, twisted around, and bit right through his boot still makes Arthur chuckle just thinking about it). Though, he’d named the Ardennes after the titan for his size, but some days he wishes Hosea still had that old mythology book, so he could find the name of the wrestler who tried to fight everyone he met. Atreus or something.
Might’ve been more fitting.
“Whoa, easy boy. Easy! C’mon, you already picked fight with a snake today, leave it. Whoa!”
Atlas rumbles angrily, straining against the reins – determined to head to their right, for some reason.
“Come on now, Valentine’s that way – hey!”
Atlas stamps and snorts – but his ears are pricked forwards rather than pinned back. Listening for something. Arthur strains his ears too, and he catches it – the snarl of a bear. But even after being turned in a few tight circles to try and ease him down, Atlas still seems determined to head for the bear noises. Arthur’s wondering how the hell he managed to get the one horse in the world that wants to run towards bears rather than away from them, when he hears another sound in the distance – short, sharp, high-pitched. And suspiciously human-like.
“Shit. Go go go!”
He gives Atlas his head, and he surges forward with another agitated rumble, weaving between the trees while Arthur ducks under branches, pulling out his rifle. They break through the tree line, and Arthur’s heart jumps up to somewhere in his throat.
There’s a damn great grizzly bear, up on its hind legs, growling and pawing at a sheer rocky outcrop. It’s not as big as the one he’d encountered with Hosea, but pretty damn close. And just a couple of feet beyond the bear’s reach, a man’s clinging to the rock face. And he’s wearing a horribly familiar straw boater.
Atlas lets out a roar that nearly drowns out the bang of Arthur’s rifle – he fires a warning shot into the rock face to the side of the bear, not wanting to hit the thing anywhere except dead between the eyes – if his experience with that monster at O’Creagh’s Run is anything to go by, hitting it anywhere else will just piss it off. Luckily, the bear doesn’t seem to be in a fighting mood – it recoils and immediately bolts into the trees with a growl-whine, and Arthur has to haul back on the reins to stop Atlas from charging after it.
“You already scared it off, come on now. Easy boy, settle down...” Atlas prances and snorts, but eventually lets Arthur guide him to a tree – even if he does look mightily displeased when he gets tethered to it. Now his horse can’t run off to fight bears, Arthur can finally turn to the man on the ledge.
“Mr. Mason? That you?”
“M- Mr. Morgan?!”
Albert’s clinging to the rock, looking like he hardly dares to turn his head to look down at Arthur. But when he does, his face breaks into a relieved grin.
“Oh, thank goodness! You truly are a guardian angel, sir!”
Arthur chuckles, coming to the base of the cliff.
“I’ve been called a lot of nasty names over the years, but that’s a first. Come on down, bear’s gone.”
“Ah, yes, right. I’ll just, err...”
There’s a long pause, in which Albert fails to move.
“You okay up there?”
“Certainly! Just, ahm, trying to figure out the best way down...”
“Well... just do whatever you did to get up there, backwards.”
“Yes, well, trouble is,” Albert begins as he slowly, shakily starts clambering down the rock face, “I’m afraid I don’t really remember. One minute, I was taking a close up shot of some yarrow plants – physicians are discovering they have many medicinal properties you know. They’re an important species to preserve! – and the next thing I knew, I was climbing for my li-IFE!”
He yelps as he half-slides, half-falls the rest of the way down, hitting the ground boots-first and staggering. Arthur lunges forward to catch him, and ends up with the man practically latched onto him like a baby opossum.
“Yeah, well, near-death experiences will do that to you,” he consoles, trying not to laugh. But again, there’s another long pause in which Albert fails to move. “Uhm...”
“I do apologise,” Albert says faintly, “I realise this is a gross invasion of personal space. But... I think I just... need... a moment...”
And Arthur can feel that he’s trembling. He chuckles, pats him on the back.
“Don’t worry about it.”
Later, when he’s recounting today in his journal, he’ll wonder at the fact that he didn’t mind the closeness. Hosea and Jack, and sometimes Tilly and Abigail, are really the only ones who ever hug him these days, and that suits him just fine (well, Sean tries every time he’s drunk, which is often, but that don’t count.) He’d learned a long time ago that it’s best not to let more than a select few get too close – literally and metaphorically. Otherwise he just seems to end up getting hurt.
And yet, there’s something about this madcap photographer that lets him breeze right past the walls Arthur has carefully built up over the years.
Albert sucks in a breath and finally pulls away.
“Ahem, sorry about that,” he says sheepishly, pink dusting his cheeks.
“Don’t mention it,” Arthur shrugs. Firmly ignores the way something in his chest almost aches at the loss of contact.
“Well,” Albert huffs, seemingly collecting himself as he puts his hands on his hips, surveying the clearing – including his camera that’s been knocked over a ways away. “I can’t say this is how I planned for my day to go, you know. Imagine, if you hadn’t arrived when you did...”
“I’ve learned it’s best not to dwell on such things, Mr. Mason.”
“Oh?” Albert looks at him curiously, and Arthur clears his throat awkwardly.
“So uh, you’re taking pictures of plants now? ‘Least they won’t try to eat you,” he hurriedly changes the subject, lest Albert starts asking about just how many near-death experiences he’s had.
“Well, yes, though it’s not the subject I initially planned on - typical! I traipse around these foothills for two weeks trying to find a grizzly bear-”
“-but the one day I decide to focus on botanical subjects, one finds me!”
“Hold up, you was lookin’ for the biggest, meanest sonsofbitches around on purpose?”
“But of course!”
“The hell for?!” And Arthur can’t understand why Albert’s looking at him like he’s the crazy one.
“To capture their likeness in their natural habitat! Their sheer power and majesty!”
“They’re an iconic species Mr. Morgan! And very much maligned, I’ll have you know.”
“That so?” Arthur asks, hooking his thumbs into his belt and raising an eyebrow.
“Oh yes! Think about it: every depiction of a grizzly bear in the media is inevitably some giant, man-eating monster with blood dripping from its jaws, when in fact, they are omnivorous – a large portion of their diet consists of fruit and vegetation! Especially this time of year, when they’re in a state of hyperphagia-”
“Hyperphagia, the bears eat lots to pack on weight – and that makes them an excellent disperser of seeds! They’re an integral part of the ecosystem!”
And Arthur can’t help but smile as Albert warms up to the subject, espousing the many splendid qualities of ‘Ursus arctos horribilis’ (and the man straight-up pouts at him when he suggests that ‘horrible’ is a good descriptor).
“So, lemme get this straight. You went lookin’ – you, a walkin’, talkin’, juicy bit of meat – for bears, on purpose, at a time of year when they’ll eat just about anythin’?”
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he wonders whether calling a man he barely knows ‘juicy’ is crossing some sort of line, and tries not to cringe. But while he’d meant it as a joke (mostly), Albert’s shoulders droop.
“Oh, I suppose you’re right. As usual, it would seem capturing their magnificence requires far greater skill than I possess,” he sighs, looking forlorn as he inspects his camera.
And Arthur really shouldn’t say anything. He’s got things to do; Pearson’s been hounding him to go out and hunt something bigger than rabbits, Strauss keeps pointedly reminding him about the debts he’s supposed to be collecting, and Dutch will no doubt have cooked up another scheme he wants Arthur to take the lead on. But dammit, the gang can survive for a day without him, whereas he fears the same thing can’t be said for Albert Mason (and he stubbornly refuses to examine the realisation that he’d much rather spend the day with the photographer anyway.)
“Oh, and I must’ve trampled the yarrow too, look. Perhaps you were right Mr. Morgan – I’m just not cut out for the wilderness, it seems,” Albert says miserably, looking as crushed as the flowers on the ground.
Arthur really shouldn’t say anything.
But he does.
“You got places to be today, Mr. Mason?”
“Uh, well... no, nowhere in particular. Why?”
“Follow me, I know a spot.”
“For more yarrow?”
“Sure,” Arthur chuckles, heading back over to Atlas. “You got a horse?”
“Yes! Well, no – not exactly? She must have run off when the bear arrived.”
“Like a normal horse should,” Arthur mutters under his breath, stepping over to where he can see Albert’s flash bulb lying in the grass. “Well, you can ride with me until we find her. Just, careful with my horse now, he can be a little-”
He turns, and his eyes widen in horror for the second time today. Albert is already right in Atlas’ face, reaching out to pat him.
But then he stares in bafflement as Albert strokes down the blaze on Atlas’ face, and the big bastard doesn’t so much as bare his teeth at him.
“Something wrong, Mr. Morgan?”
“Uh... no,” Arthur says slowly, eyeing Atlas suspiciously. “Just... he usually don’t like strangers. Or... anyone. In fact, heh, fella I got him from was givin’ him away because he said he ain’t ever encountered ‘such an angry and ornery hellbeast’ in all his life.”
“What?! Lies and scandal!” Albert exclaims, all blustering outrage on Atlas’ behalf. “You’re a big sweetheart, aren’t you boy? Yes you are...” Arthur can only watch in bemusement as he pets and fusses over Atlas, while the Ardennes innocently nibbles on his boater hat, blinking back at Arthur.
Maybe he shouldn’t be surprised, though. Seems Mr. Mason has a habit of bringing out the best in violent brutes.
“So, where exactly are you taking me, Mr. Morgan?” Albert asks, now perched atop his Tennessee walker.
“Not too far – it’s a spot I came across ‘couple of weeks back, just past Cumberland Falls.”
“Oh? Is there an especially large meadow of- Oh! Look! A ferruginous hawk! Did you know they’re one of only two hawk species that have feathers all the way down to their toes?”
“I did not,” Arthur says, raising his eyebrows. He’s firmly of the opinion that there are few things greater in life than a long, lone ride through wild country – just him, his horse, and a big open sky. But he has to admit, riding with Albert Mason is as interesting as it is entertaining – even if the journey is taking twice as long, since he keeps stopping to photograph things (and Arthur never thought he’d see a grown man get so excited by a muskrat, or be so enthralled by a toad – his enthusiasm only matched, in Arthur’s experience, by Jack when he finds an especially big bug. But it’s kinda... endearing, in a way.)
“Splendid creatures...” Albert murmurs under his breath, before abruptly turning to face him. “You know Mr. Morgan, I’ve never asked – what is it you do, exactly? When you aren’t saving foolish photographers, that is.”
“Oh, I uh...” This is the problem with letting people get close, especially ones from outside the gang; they start asking questions. But Hosea and Dutch had instilled it into him long ago that the best lies were the ones steeped in truth. “I’m a wanderer, I guess. Been travelling with some family and friends from up north after a fire destroyed our homes.” And it’s half-true, at least – his old tent had been burned down, along with a good portion of the rest of camp.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Albert murmurs, looking genuinely sympathetic. “It must be very hard, living life on the run.”
Arthur hums in agreement before the words properly register. Then they hit like a bucket of ice water.
“‘On the run’?” he echoes, trying to keep the sudden rising panic out of his voice. Albert couldn’t know, could he? He hadn’t run screaming in the opposite direction the first time they met, or any other time since, so surely he didn’t know he was talking to a notorious outlaw – a ruthless thug, criminal and killer? Shit, he never should have given Albert his real name – using aliases is another habit Dutch and Hosea have tried to drill into him over the years, with limited success. Just, Albert had seemed so earnest when they first met, it hadn’t even occurred to him to lie. But what if he does know? What if this is all a trick to lure him- No, can’t be. Sure, he’s run into Albert a few times now, but it’s always been purely by chance, there’s no way he could’ve known-
“Being constantly on the move, I mean. Oh look there, on the riverbank! A badger! Did you know the European species have-” And Arthur’s glad Albert’s looking the other way – it means he doesn’t see his shoulders slump in relief. Was just an awkward use of phrase, nothing more.
“What about you, Mr. Mason?” Arthur asks, steering the topic of conversation further away from himself. “For a city slicker, you sure seem to know a lot about animals and such.” Except for a few key facts like ‘wolves will eat you’ and ‘grizzlies will take issue with anyone wandering onto their turf’, but he doesn’t mention that – not while Albert’s beaming at him in a way that makes that same something in Arthur’s chest flutter for the first time in years.
“Why thank you! Though it’s all learned from books, I’m afraid – New York may be lacking in wildlife, but thankfully the local library had an excellent natural history section! I spent many a happy afternoon in there after school – they had everything, from Walden to Wallace to Darwin himself-”
Arthur chuckles – he can picture it, a young Albert, all knobbly knees and wide eyes, surrounded by piles of books describing in great detail the hunting methods of big cats (sneak up then go for the throat) or the courtship displays of tropical birds (be colourful and make a lot of noise). Sure explains his lack of awareness though.
“Hold on a sec – we’ll leave the horses here.”
“Oh? Will we be traversing difficult terrain? I must admit, the fellow back at the outfitters in New York did warn me that crampons were essential out here, but-”
“No, no you don’t need... whatever those are, just grab your camera gear. I just uh, don’t want Atlas to try and get involved,” Arthur says, side-eyeing the big bastard.
“Ah, of course! Yarrow is very toxic to horses after all- ...Oh, you aren’t planning on using those, I hope...?” Albert asks, watching anxiously as Arthur draws a rifle and shotgun from his saddle.
“Ain’t wise to go wanderin’ in the wilderness without at gun, Mr. Mason. Ain’t none of your books teach you that?” Arthur frowns. Then again, this is the same man that thought luring wolves with a big hunk of meat he weren’t standing fifty feet away from was a good idea. “But naw, I shouldn’t need to use ‘em. Not where we’re goin’.”
“Oh good,” Albert sighs, visibly relieved. And Arthur feels like he should find it irritating, insulting even – lord knows, he’s robbed enough naïve city slickers over the years who thought the ‘countryside’ was quaint and harmless. But instead, Albert’s boundless optimism is... kind of endearing too.
“So, why photography, Mr. Mason? That a family business?” he asks as he leads the way further up the river.
Albert’s laugh is surprisingly bitter.
“Heavens, no! Rather the opposite, in fact...”
“Indeed. I’m the youngest of six, you see-”
“Six?! That’s rough.”
“Quite. And my father worked in law-” Once again, Arthur’s glad Albert happens to be facing away from him, so he doesn’t see him flinch.
“Oh? Sounds like it’d be, uh, interestin’. He get to send people off to the gallows much?” he jokes weakly, hoping he hasn’t gone pale. Dutch had warned him about this, told him time and again of the dangers of being friendly with anyone from outside the gang. But... there’s no way this is a set up, it just ain’t possible. Partly because there’s no way Albert could tell where he plans on being on any given day – the fact they’ve run into each other so many times has to be pure coincidence. And because... there’s something in Arthur that desperately wants to believe that Albert is as earnest and genuine as he seems. Desperately wants to believe that there really are good people left in the world – because he doesn’t seem to have met many, as of late.
“Oh, hardly! My father was involved in property law, dreadfully boring I assure you. At least if he was in criminal law, he might have met some interesting people.” Albert gives him a... smile, at that, and Arthur isn’t quite sure what to make of it. But Albert blithely carries on before he can figure it out. “And David – that’s my oldest brother – joined my father’s firm. Then James – that’s the next brother – he went into medicine. Harry went into estate law – he spends most of his time with families fighting over their dead relatives’ money. Will became a surgeon, Heather married one of Harry’s colleagues-”
“So it was your turn to become a doctor,” Arthur finishes. He can see where this is going.
“Indeed,” Albert sighs. “Everyone except Heather was... less than impressed, with my pursuit of a career in photography.”
“I thought there was decent money to be made, takin’ fancy folks’ portraits and the like?”
“Oh, there is,” Albert says ruefully as they pick their way along the riverbank. “You would be amazed, Mr. Morgan, at just how much money people are willing to part with in order to have a picture of themselves in their Sunday best against some grandiose backdrop, or in some silly costume...”
“Heh, well maybe I should switch careers.”
“Oh, no! Believe me, Mr. Morgan, no money in the world is worth trading this,” he gestures sweepingly around them, “for stroking the egos of pompous, sneering socialites by making them look like the next president or, or some European princess. It’s utterly maddening, I tell you! But, never mind – I’m sorry, I got carried away, I’ll stop boring you,” Albert says, flushing a little.
“By all means, Mr. Mason, tell me more about these ‘sneering socialites’.”
“Oh, no, there’s nothing worse than listening to someone complain about their work! Let’s just, enjoy the sounds of nature shall we?” He casts another admiring look around, but Arthur shakes his head.
“No can do. There are plenty of wild animals around here – and a surprised animal is a dangerous animal, even the small ones. So either you keep talkin’ to let ‘em know we’re comin’, or I start singin’. And you really don’t want that.” He grins back at him, but Albert’s flushed further, looking away.
“Oh, I, I see. Sorry, I thought... I was under the impression you...”
“If I’d known you just wanted noise, I could have talked about something far more fascinating than myself!”
“You’re one of the most fascinatin’ people I’ve ever met, Mr. Mason.” The words slip out before Arthur thinks them through, and now it’s his turn to flush and look away. There’s a beat of awkward silence before he clears his throat.
“So uh, these people, they really get all dressed up in fancy costume? Just for a photo?”
“Indeed they do. And, oh, there’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose, just... Tell me, Mr. Morgan – have you ever felt like what you do, and who you are, are two different things entirely?”
“You have no idea,” Arthur mutters, more to himself.
“I’d see it all the time you know, in studio. People pretending. And the worst thing is, I helped! It’s so easy to turn people into something they’re not – whether it be for a gallery portrait or a wanted poster.” Arthur misses a step at that, and is ready to blame it on a loose rock, but Albert doesn’t seem to notice. “I couldn’t stand it! I’ve always dreamed of photographing nature – wild animals have a, a truthfulness to them that most people don’t anymore. Take the grizzly bears for example – they’ve been painted as mindless, vicious killers, but they’re so much more than that! Their fearsome reputation largely comes from their actions to defend themselves!”
“Kinda know how they feel,” Arthur murmurs. Again, he means to keep it to himself – but there’s a pause in the footsteps behind him, and he glances back to find Albert giving him a thoughtful look.
“Best watch your step here, Mr. Mason,” Arthur says gruffly, thankful that his hat is covering his ears, since he’s pretty sure they’ve gone red. “These rocks can be real slippery.”
“Oh, that truly would be a fitting end to my day – you having to carry me out after I’ve gone and managed to break my leg!”
The thought that he wouldn’t really mind having Albert’s warm weight in his arms is as sudden as it is startling, and he huffs, shaking his head to clear it. Just around this bend now...
But Albert must think the gesture is directed at him.
“I know, I know – I really am a fool,” he sighs.
“Naw, you ain’t a fool, Mr. Mason. Bit naïve maybe – but not a fool.”
“No, no, there’s no need to sugar coat it. You said so yourself - it takes a special kind of idiocy to go looking for bears in the woods with nothing but a camera!”
“I didn’t mean it like that-”
“Well you’d be right if you did! I suppose it would make for an amusing headline if nothing else,” Albert huffs as he carefully picks his way along the bank, not looking up as Arthur comes to a stop. “Photographer advocating for wildlife preservation eaten by his subjects, read all about it on page three!”
“Just think, if my father could see me now! I don’t know if he’d find it disappointing, or hysterical.”
“At least he’d get to say ‘I told you so’. Perhaps he was right – I’m just a dreamer, I’m not cut out for the frontier-”
He finally looks up.
And Arthur wishes he had his own camera with him, so he could permanently capture the expression on Albert’s face.
“Oh... Mr. Morgan...!”
There’s near a dozen of them, lined up along the falls, more on the shoreline enjoying their catch, or lounging in the pools below. The big males have taken up the best spots, but there are a few smaller females, and even some juveniles dotted around.
“The trick to gettin’ up close to grizzly bears,” Arthur says softly, keeping one eye on the bears, but repeatedly glancing back at Albert’s face – trying to memorise the child-like wonder to put into his journal later, “is to not be the juiciest source of food around. Salmon run comes early, in these parts.”
“You mean... I can...?”
“Yep. Just move real slow, don’t do nothin’ to startle ‘em- that means you probably can’t use the flash, though.”
“No matter, the sun’s high enough,” Albert says distractedly – setting up his camera apparently by muscle-memory alone, not once taking his eyes off the bears or losing the look of pure awe.
“They won’t be bothered by our presence?”
“Naw, they already know we’re here, they’re too busy fishin’ to care ‘bout us. Like I said, just move nice and slow, and we’ll be fine.”
Arthur stands back as Albert takes photos – picture after picture after picture, all the while softly whispering in delight (“Oh look, got it right in his mouth! The skill! And that one’s trying to bat them onto the bank with his paws! Is that a small female or a yearling, do you think? Look at the scars on that one! Oh that salmon made it past them- no, that one near the back’s got it! Oh just look at them! Aren’t they magnificent?!”). After a while of the bears continuing to ignore them, Arthur relaxes his grip on his gun, watching Albert instead – unable to stop himself from smiling this time, at the pure, unadulterated joy radiating from the man. Finally, Albert turns to him, eyes shining.
“So, you still want us to go find some yarrow?” Arthur jokes weakly – again, not sure what to do with the look Albert is giving him. And he’s entirely unprepared when Albert throws his arms around him.
“Thank you, Arthur,” Albert whispers in his ear, and Arthur thinks they’re the most heartfelt three words he’s heard in his whole life. He can’t help but grin and hug him back.
“Don’t mention it,” he breathes, as that small, fragile, fluttering thing in his chest soars. They stay like that for what feels like forever, but it isn’t long enough. Then Albert gasps.
“Oh! Oh Arthur, look! Cubs!”
Sure enough, a mama bear wanders up with not one, not two, but three little fuzzballs, yelping and tumbling over each other. Arthur releases Albert and tightens his grip on his rifle – females with cubs to protect are the most dangerous of all. But she seems relaxed, ignoring them in favour of giving the cubs’ first-ever fishing lesson, judging by the way they ogle from the shoreline. Albert’s speechless with delight at this point, camera clicking again and again as he takes more photos, changing out the little glass plates faster than Arthur thinks he could re-load his revolvers. And Arthur doesn’t have many skills that he can say he’s proud off. But he feels like he’s achieved more in this one afternoon than in weeks of hunting and robbing and generally being a no-good degenerate. If he’d known a little basic tracking and wildlife-behaviour know-how could make someone this damn happy – well, maybe he can add those skills to that list.
Albert’s completely absorbed in watching the bears.
Arthur’s completely absorbed in watching Albert.
So the grunt from behind him comes as a surprise.
Albert’s gasp is overly loud as everything seems to slow down and sharpen. Every lecture Hosea and Bessie had ever given him about what to do if he accidentally got too close to a grizzly echoes in his ears – stay calm, don’t run, speak softly, don’t turn your back on it, slowly wave your arms, don’t get between a mother and her cubs, don’t run, make sure it realises you’re human, if it’s up on its hind legs it’s probably just curious, don’t run, don’t climb a tree, step sideways slowly to put more distance between you, if it attacks you play dead, if you’ve got a gun you’ll only have one shot, don’t run. But above all that, one thought rings through his head, crystal-clear: protect Albert, no matter what it costs.
He’s huge. The biggest Arthur’s ever seen.
“Hey there, big fella,” he says lowly. The grizzly bear sniffs – this close, Arthur can see his eyes are big and bright and liquid gold-brown, like Copper’s had been. The bear’s nose quivers – there’s a soft click from somewhere to Arthur’s left – and he wonders if he can get the barrel of his rifle up in time.
And then the bear grunts again and ambles past him, wandering over to take a prime position at the base of the falls.
He turns back to Albert, who’s still standing behind the camera – pointed his way now – looking at him with stunned awe that he’s pretty sure must be on his own face too.
Suddenly they’re in each other’s arms again, gasping and laughing, and Arthur can’t remember the last time his heart felt this light.
Quincy Harris Memorial Hall Restoration Centenary: Wildlife of America Exhibition, Exhibit #37
Photographer: Albert Mason
Date: Unknown, possibly late 1890s/early 1900s
Of course, it would be remiss to showcase American wildlife photography without including the work of Albert Mason. The famous nature photography of Albert Mason has been displayed at the gallery many times before – however, a recent donation sheds new light, and adds new mysteries, to the life of one of America’s most esteemed naturalists. This image, carefully digitized and restored, was generously donated by the Marston family of West Elizabeth – descendants of the same Mr. J Marston who assisted Albert Mason as a guide later in his career. The identity of the man in the photo is unknown, but the fact he is so heavily armed suggests a similar role as guide or guard of the photographer. However, his relaxed stance is at odds with his proximity to the large male grizzly bear in the left of the photo. While some have proposed this may have been a tamed bear, Albert Mason’s famous aversion to staged photos suggests that this may be a real encounter with a wild grizzly. The arresting juxtaposition of the two characters makes this a striking photo in both subject matter and skill. Most intriguing of all, however, is the note on the back of the original photograph - believed to be the handwriting of Albert Mason himself, there is no date or information that identifies the mystery man in the photo, or under what circumstances it was taken. There is simply the caption:
Kindred spirits: fearsome in reputation, gentle in nature.