How Balser Got A Gun continued…
He was so intent on the game which he knew the dogs held at bay, that he did not look about him with his accustomed caution, and the result of his unwatchfulness was that he found himself within ten feet of two huge bears before he was at all aware of their presence. They were evidently male and female, and upon seeing him the great he-bear gave forth a growl that frightened Balser to the depths of his soul. Retreat seemed almost impossible; and should he fire at one of the bears, his gun would be empty and he would be at the mercy of the other. To attempt to outrun a bear, even on level ground, would be almost a hopeless undertaking; for the bear, though an awkward-looking ceature, is capable of great speed when it comes to a foot-race. But there, where the tangled underbrush was so dense that even walking through it was a matter of great difficulty, running was out of the question, for the thicket which would greatly impede Balser would be but small hindrance to the bears.
After Balser had killed the big bear at the drift, he felt that he never again would suffer from what hunters call “buck ager”; but when he found himself confronted by those black monsters, he began to tremble in every limb, and for the life of him could not at first lift his gun. The he-bear was the first to move. He raised himself on his haunches, and with a deep growl started for poor Balser. Balser should have shot the bear as he came toward him, but acting solely from an instinct of self preservation he started to run. He made better headway than he had thought possible, and soon came to a small open space of ground where the undergrowth was not so thick, and where the bright light of the sun dispelled the darkness. The light restored Balser’s confidence, and the few moments of retreat gave him time to think and to pull himself together. So, turning quickly, he lifted his gun to his shoulder and fired at the bear, which was not two yards behind him. Unfortunately, his aim was unsteady, and his shot wounded the bear in the neck, but did not kill him.
Balser saw the disastrous failure he had made, and felt that the bear would be much surer in his attack upon him than he had been in his attack upon the bear. The boy then threw away his gun, and again began a hasty retreat.
He called for his father, and cried, “Tige! Prince! Tige! Tige!” not so much with a hope that either the dogs or his father would hear, but because he knew not what else to do. Balser ran as fast as he could, still the bear was at his heels, and the frightened boy expected every moment to feel a stroke from the brute’s huge rough paw. Soon it came, with a stunning force that threw Balser to the ground, upon his back. The bear was over him in an instant, and caught his left arm between his mighty jaws. It seemed then that the light of the world went out for a moment, and he remembered nothing but the huge, blood-red mouth of the bear, his hot breath almost burning his cheeks, and his deep, terrible growls nearly deafening his ears.
Balser’s whole past life came up before him like a picture, and he remembered every thing that had ever happened to him. He thought of how deeply his dear father and mother would grieve, and for the only time in his life regretted having received the carbine, for it was the gun, after all, that had got him into this trouble. All this happened in less time than it takes you to read ten lines of this page, but it seemed very, very long to Balser, lying there with the huge body of the bear over him.
Suddenly a note of hope struck his ear the sweetest sound he had ever heard. It was the yelp of dear old Tige, who had heard his call and had come to the rescue. If there is any creature on earth that a bear thoroughly hates, it is a dog. Tige wasted not a moment’s time, but was soon biting and pulling at the bear’s hind legs. The bear immediately turned upon the dog, and gave Balser an opportunity to rise. Of this opportunity he quickly took advantage, you may be sure. Soon Prince came up also, and in these two strong dogs the bear had foemen worthy of his steel.
Balser’s great danger and narrow escape had quickened all his faculties, so he at once ran back to the place where he had dropped his gun, and although his left arm had been terribly bitten, he succeeded in loading, and soon came back to the help of the dogs, who had given him such timely assistance.
The fight between the dogs and the bear was going on at a merry rate, when Balser returned to the scene of action. With Prince on one side and Tige on the other, both so strong and savage, and each quick and nimble as a cat, the bear had all he could do to defend himself, and continually turned first one way and then another in his effort to keep their fangs away from his legs or throat. This enabled Balser to approach within a short distance of the bear, which he cautiously did. Taking care not to wound either of his faithful friends, he was more fortunate in his aim than he had been the first time, and gave the bear a mortal wound.
The wounded animal made a hasty retreat back into the thicket, followed closely by the dogs; but Balser had seen more than enough of bear society in the thicket, and prudently concluded not to follow. He then loaded his gun with a heavy charge of powder only, and fired it to attract his father’s attention. This he repeated several times, until at last he saw the welcome form of his father hurrying toward him from the bluff. When his father reached him and saw that he had been wounded, Mr. Brent was naturally greatly troubled; but Balser said: “I’ll tell you all about it soon. Let’s go in after the bears. Two of them are in the thicket up there next to the cliff, and the dogs have followed them. If Tige had not come up just in time, one of the bears would have killed me ; but I think the shot I gave him must have killed him by this time.”
So without another word, Balser having loaded his gun, they started into the dark thicket toward the cliff, in the direction whence came the voices of the dogs.
They had not proceeded farther than a hundred yards when they found the bear which Balser had shot, lying dead in the path over which Balser had so recently made his desperate retreat. The dogs were farther in, toward the cliff, where the vines, trees, and brush grew so thick that it was almost dark.
The two hunters, however, did not stop, but hurried on to the help of their dogs. Soon they saw through the gloom of the thicket the she-bear, and about her the dogs were prancing, barking, and snapping most furiously.
Carefully Balser and his father took their position within a few yards of the bear, and Balser, upon a signal from his father, called off the dogs so that a shot might be made at the bear without danger of killing either Tige or Prince.
Soon the report of two guns echoed through the forest, almost at the same instant, and the great she-bear fell over on her side, quivered for a moment, and died. This last battle took place close by the stone cliff, which rose from the bottom-land to a height of fifty or sixty feet.
Balser and his father soon worked their way through the underbrush to where the she-bear lay dead. After having examined the bear, Balser’s attention was attracted to a small opening in the cliff, evidently the mouth of a cave which had probably been the home of the bear family that he and his father had just exterminated. The she-bear had taken her stand at the door of her home, and in defending it had lost her life. Balser examined the opening in the cliff, and concluded to enter; but his father said: “You don’t know what’s in there. Let’s first send in one of the dogs.”
So Tige was called and told to go into the cave. Immediately after he had entered he gave forth a series of sharp yelps which told plainly enough that he had found something worth barking at. Then Balser called the dog out, and Mr. Brent collected pieces of dry wood, and made a fire in front of the cave, hoping to drive out any animal that might be on the inside.
He more than suspected that he would find a pair of cubs.
As the smoke brought nothing forth, he concluded to enter the cave himself and learn what was there. Dropping upon his knees, he began to crawl in at the narrow opening, and the boy and the two dogs followed closely. Mr. Brent had taken with him a lighted torch, and when he had gone but a short distance into the cave he saw in a remote corner a pair of gray-black, frowzy little cubs, as fat and round as a roll of butter. They were lying upon a soft bed of leaves and grass, which had been collected by their father and mother.
Balser’s delight knew no bounds, for, next to his gun, what he wanted above all things was a bear cub, and here were two of them. Quickly he and his father each picked up a cub and made their way out of the cave.
The cubs, not more than one-half larger than a cat, were round and very fat, and wore a coat of fur, soft and sleek as the finest silk. Young bears usually are gray until after they are a year old, but these were an exception to the rule, for they were almost black.
Leaving the old bears dead upon the ground, Balser and his father hurried down to the creek, where Mr. Brent washed and dressed his son’s wounded arm. They then marked several trees upon the bank of the creek by breaking twigs, so that they might be able to find the bears when they returned that evening with the horses to take home the meat and skins.
All this, which has taken so long to tell, occurred within the space of a few minutes; but the work while it lasted was hard and tiresome, and, although it was but a short time past noon, Balser and his father were only too glad to turn their faces homeward, each with a saucy little bear cub under his arm.
“As we have killed their mother,” said Balser, referring to the cubs, “we must take care of her children and give them plenty of milk, and bring them up to be good, honest bears.”
The evening of the same day Mr. Brent and a few of his neighbours brought home the bear meat and skins. Balser did not go with his father because his arm was too sore. He was, however, very proud of his wound, and thought that the glory of the day and the two bear cubs were purchased cheaply enough after all.