Dave Porter in the Far North/Chapter 29
BEARS AND WOLVES
At the announcement from Dave, Mr. Porter tried to rise to his feet. He could not stand on both legs, and so had to rest against one of the rocks. From this point he, too, could see the two bears; but a moment later both animals were hidden completely by the brushwood and the snow.
"I am afraid they mean business," said Dave, anxiously.
"They are hungry and the deep snow has made it hard for them to get food," answered Mr. Porter.
"I thought bears went into winter quarters in a place like this."
"So they do sometimes, but not always. Besides, I disturbed the wounded bear when I fell over the cliff, and I presume that other beast is his mate."
"I wish I had a rifle. I could get a better shot than with this pistol."
"A good double-barreled shotgun would be a fine thing, Dave. But we'll have to use what we've got. Don't shoot until you are certain of your aim," added Mr. Porter.
A portion of his strength had come back to him, and the new alarm gave him temporary vigor. Yet he knew that to fight off two angry bears would not be easy, and he looked around for some better shelter than that which they at present possessed.
"Here is a small opening between the rocks,—let us back into it, if the bears press us too closely," said he.
He had scarcely spoken when the wounded bear advanced, followed closely by its mate. Dave waited until the foremost beast was within a dozen paces of him, then he fired. There was a growl of pain and the bear tumbled back, landing against its mate.
"Good!" cried Mr. Porter. "Look out!" he added, a second later. "The other one is coming!"
He was right. The bigger bear of the two came forward with a bound, landing almost at Dave's feet. Crack! crack! went Mr. Porter's pistol, and the huge animal was hit twice, in the breast and in the neck. The bear uttered a sound that was half growl and half yelp and then came on again. Crack! went Dave's pistol, and the bullet hit the beast directly in the teeth, knocking one of them down the animal's throat. Wounded and alarmed, the bear stood still, and again the boy fired, and then the bear turned and lumbered away into the brushwood, wounded just sufficiently to make it thoroughly disagreeable. The other bear followed; and the battle, for the time being, came to an end.
"Come, Dave, it is dangerous to stay out here," said Mr. Porter. "Let us go back into the hollow, and bring that fire with you if you can."
Mr. Porter crawled back and the youth followed, dragging the burning brushwood behind him. Then Dave took both pistols and reloaded the empty chambers with all possible speed.
"I see you have learned the first rule of hunting," said his father, with a smile.
"What is that?"
"Never to carry around an empty or partly empty weapon. I kept my pistol loaded up as long as I had any cartridges left."
"I wish I had some more brushwood to put on the fire—that would keep the beasts off. Wonder if I can't break some of the stuff off?"
"Don't go out yet, Dave—it's dangerous," pleaded Mr. Porter.
"I'll keep my eyes on the bears, never fear," was the reply.
With caution the youth crawled over to the nearest patch of brushwood, a distance of fifty feet. iVs he broke off some of the dry twigs a low growl reached his ears. But he kept at the task until he had as much as he thought he could carry.
But Dave never got the brushwood where he wanted it, for as he commenced to drag it along both bears leaped from their hiding-place and one landed almost on top of him. Crack! crack! went his pistol, and the weapon Mr. Porter possessed sounded out three times. Each bear was wounded again, but Dave received a blow from a rough paw that sent him headlong. He rolled over and over in the snow, and then leaped for the shelter, and his father dragged him to temporary safety. While this was going on the bears started to retreat. This time they left the brushwood entirely and stationed themselves behind the nearest belt of firs, about fifty yards away.
"I told you to be careful," said Mr. Porter, as Dave got up and faced about. "Are you seriously hurt?"
"N—no, bu—but that bear knocked me do—down as if he was a pri—prize-fighter!" gasped Dave. "Phew! but they are powerful!"
"If he hadn't been wounded he might have killed you. You must take no more chances. Promise me you won't, Dave. I don't want to lose you right after finding you!" And Mr. Porter turned an appealing look into the lad's eyes.
"I'll be on guard, father. And don't you take any chances either," added Dave, gazing at his father in a manner which spoke volumes.
They found the hollow under the cliff to be less than two yards deep and of about the same width. The rocks overhead hung down so that they touched Dave's head. In front was a small snowdrift, looking over which father and son could just make out the two bears, as they squatted on the ground between the firs. The beasts did considerable growling and did what they could to take care of their wounds, yet they showed no disposition to leave that vicinity.
"They must be very hungry," was Mr. Porter's comment. "Otherwise they wouldn't remain here after being punished so badly;" and he was right: the animals were well-nigh starved, hence their recklessness.
Half an hour went by, and Dave and his parent remained under the cliff. Without a fire it was extremely cold, and they had to stamp around to keep warm. At times Mr. Porter felt rather faint from his wounds, but he kept this from Dave as much as possible. Yet presently the boy noticed it.
"I must get you out of this soon," he said. "You need regular medical attention."
"I shan't mind it, Dave, if only I can keep warm."
"Maybe I can get that brushwood now, father."
"No, do not attempt it."
There was a spell of silence after that, and then Dave raised his pistol.
"Do you know what I am going to do?" he said. "I am going to discharge four shots at the bears. Even at this distance I ought to be able to do some damage."
"Well, you can try it, Dave. But I don't think you'll accomplish a great deal. Their hide is too tough."
Dave brushed the snow from the rocks in front of him, knelt down, and rested his arm with care. Then he took careful aim at the bear that had first appeared. Crack! went the pistol four times in rapid succession. The bear gave a leap, clawed at its face several times, and then, with a grunt of agony, turned and fled among the firs and out of sight.
"Hurrah! that did some damage!" cried the youth, as he started to reload. "Now I'll see if I can hit the other bear—— Hello, he's gone, too!"
The boy was right, the larger beast was also lumbering off, evidently frightened by the way its mate had been treated. Soon it, too, had disappeared from view. Mr. Porter and Dave watched for a long time, but neither animal came back.
"They may possibly return, but I doubt it," said Dave. "Anyway, I don't think they'll come back right away, and that will give us a chance to escape."
"Not if we must go back through that patch of timber, my son."
"Let us try to get away by walking along the base of the cliff. We are bound to strike some sort of a mountain trail sooner or later. But, pshaw, I forgot that you can't walk. Well, maybe I can carry you."
"No, it will be too much of a load, Dave. We had better wait awhile." And so they sat down and waited, after Dave had brought in the brushwood he had previously broken off. A roaring fire cheered them greatly, and once more each related his experiences. Mr. Porter told how he had traveled in many parts of the world, and said that Dave must some day do the same. He asked the youth about his education, and when Dave related how he had won the medal of honor at Oak Hall his face beamed with pleasure.
"I certainly owe Professor Potts and Mr. Wadsworth a good deal," he said. "And I shall not forget them. You could not have fallen among better friends."
"I believe that," answered Dave, warmly. "Professor Potts and all of the Wadsworths have been just as good as they could be to me."
Almost before they knew it darkness came on. Dave brought in more of the brushwood and even dragged over some limbs of a fallen fir. Luckily he had brought along enough provisions for several meals, and they proceeded to make themselves as comfortable as possible in the hollow of the cliff. They ate slowly, talking the while and each smiling warmly into the face of the other.
"It seems almost too good to be true," said Mr. Porter, not once but several times.
"And, oh, I am so thankfull" responded Dave.
Mr. Porter was so weak he needed sleep, so Dave told his parent to lie down on some of the brushwood, which he spread out as a couch next to the rocky wall.
"But what will you do, my son?" asked Mr. Porter.
"I'll remain on guard—so those bears don't get a chance to surprise us."
"But aren't you sleepy?"
"No—I'm so happy I don't think I'll be able to sleep for a week."
Mr. Porter lay down and closed his eyes, but it was a good hour before he dropped into a doze. Dave sat by the fire, where he could look at his father's face. It seemed as if he would never get done gazing at those features, so like his Uncle Dunston's.
"Found at last!" he murmured. "Found at last, and thank God for it!"
Two hours passed, and still Dave sat in the same position, thinking of the past and speculating on the future. He thought of his sister Laura and wondered how soon they would meet, and if she and Jessie would become friends.
The boy leaped to his feet, and the sudden movement aroused his father. Both listened to a yelping and a growling at a distance. The yelping grew louder and louder, while the growling grew fainter.
"I know what it is!" cried Dave, at length. "Some wolves have gotten on the trail of those wounded bears. Now there will be a battle royal!"
"You must be right, Dave. Hark! The wolves must number a dozen or more."
"Sounds like about half a hundred to me, father."
The battle took place at the far end of the forest of firs and gradually grew fainter and fainter. Mr. Porter shook his head doubtfully.
"I don't like this, Dave."
"What, aren't you glad that the bears have been attacked? I am."
"It Isn't that. If those wolves want more meat they'll follow up that bloody trail—and it leads directly over here."
"Phew! I never thought of that. I'll stir up the fire—that will help to keep them at a distance."
Dave set to work with avidity, piling on nearly all of the brushwood that was left. He had just completed the task when he chanced to look beyond into the waste of snow. He saw a pair of gleaming eyes—then another pair and still another.
"The wolves are coming, father!" he cried, in consternation.
"I see them, Dave, and we are going to have the fight of our lives to keep them off," answered Mr. Porter.