The Huge Hunter/Chapter XII

FROM WHERE young Brainerd was perched on the tree it was impossible to catch a glimpse of the steam man, so patiently awaiting his return. The distance was also too great for him to make himself beard by the miners, who were hard at work twenty miles away.

Fruitful in expedients, it was not long before the boy found a resource in his trouble. Tearing a large strip from his coat, he tore this into smaller strips, until he had secured a rope half a dozen yards in length. Upon the end of this he placed a loop, and then, descending to the lowest limb, he devoted himself to the task of drooping it over the end of his gun. It fortunately had fallen in such a manner that the nuzzle was somewhat elevated, so that here was a good opportunity for the exercise of his skill and patience.

When the first attempt was made the bear suddenly clawed at it and tore it from the boy's hand before he could jerk it beyond his reach. So he was compelled to make another one.

Nothing discouraged, the boy soon had this completed, and it was dropped down more cautiously than before. When the grizzly made a lunge at it, it was deftly twitched out of his way.

This was repeated several times, until the brute became disgusted with the sport, and dropping down behind the tree, let the boy do all the fishing he chose.

How was his time, but the boy did not allow his eagerness to overcome the steadiness of his nerves. It required no little skill, but he finally succeeded in dropping the noose over the muzzle of the gun and jerked it up taut.

With a heart beating high with hope, Johnny saw it lifted clear of the ground, and he began carefully drawing it up. The grizzly looked curiously at his maneuvers, and once made as if to move toward the dangling rifle; but, ere his mind was settled, it was drawn beyond his reach, and the cold muzzle was grasped in the hand of the eagerly waiting boy.

While drawing it up, he had been debating with himself as to the best means of killing the brute. Remembering that his first shot had done no harm, he sensibly concluded that he had not yet learned the vulnerable part of the monster.

His gun was loaded very carefully, and when everything was ready he made a noise, to attract the attention of the brute. The bear looked up instantly, when the gun was aimed straight at his right eye.

Ere the grizzly could withdraw his gaze, the piece was discharged, and the bullet sped true, crashing into the skull of the colossal brute. With a howling grunt, he rose upon his hind feet, clawed the air a few moments, and then dropped dead.

Young Brainerd waited until he was certain that the last spark of life had fled, when he cautiously descended the tree, scarcely able to realize the truth that he had slain a grizzly bear—the monarch of the western wilderness. But such was the fact, and he felt more pride at the thought than if he had slain a dozen buffaloes.

'If I only had him in the wagon,' be reflected, 'I'd take him into camp, for they will never believe I killed a grizzly bear.'

However, it occurred to him that he might secure some memento, and accordingly he cut several claws and placed them in his pocket. This done, he concluded that, as the afternoon was well advanced, it was time he started homeward.

His hurried flight from the ferocious brute had bewildered him somewhat, and, when he took the direction he judged to be the right one, he found nothing familiar or remembered, from which fact he concluded he was going astray.

But a little computation on his part, and be soon righted himself, and was walking along quite hopefully, when he received another severe shock of terror, at hearing the unmistakable whoop of an Indian, instantly followed by several others.

Immediately he recalled the warning given by the trapper, and looked furtively about, to make sure that he was not already in their hands. His great anxiety now was to reach the steam man and leave the neighborhood, which was rapidly becoming untenable.

So he began stealing forward as rapidly as possible, at the same time keeping a sharp lookout for danger. It required a half-hour, proceeding at this rate, before reaching the base of the mountain. The moment he did so, he looked all around in quest of the steam man, whom he had been compelled to desert for so long a time.

He discovered it standing several hundred yards away; but, to his dismay, there were fully a dozen Indians standing and walking about it, examining every portion with the greatest curiosity.

Here was a dilemma indeed, and the boy began to believe that he had gotten himself into an inextricable difficulty, for how to reach the steam man and renew the fire—under the circumstances—was a question which might well puzzle an older head to answer.

It was unfortunate that the machine should have been taken at this great disadvantage, for it was stripping it of its terror to those Indians, who were such inveterate enemies to the whites.

They had probably viewed it with wonder and fear at first; but finding it undemonstrative, had gradually gathered courage, until they had congregated around it, and made as critical a scrutiny as they know how.

Whatever fear or terror they had felt at first sight was now gone; for they seemed on the most familiar terms with it.

Several climbed into the wagon—others passed in and around the helpless giant—and one valiant fellow hit him a thwack on the stomach with his tomahawk.

This blow hurt the boy far more than it did the iron man, and he could hardly repress a cry of pain, as he looked upon the destruction of his wonderful friend as almost inevitable.

The savage, however, contented himself with this demonstration, and immediately after walked away toward the mountain. The observant boy knew what this meant, and he withdrew from his temporary hiding-place, and started to watch him.

The fact that the Indian followed precisely the path taken by him, did not remove the uneasiness, and be made up his mind that nothing but danger was to come to him from this proceeding.

When the Indian had reached the spot where the dead grizzly bear lay, be paused in the greatest wonderment. Here was something which he did not understand.

The dead carcass showed that somebody had slain him, and the shot in the eye looked as though it had been done by an experienced hunter. A few minutes' examination of the ground showed further that he who had fired the shot was in the tree at the time, after which he had descended and fled.

All this took but a few minutes for the savage to discover, when he gave a whoop of triumph at his success in probing the matter, and started off on the trail.

Unluckily, this led straight toward the bowlder behind which the boy had concealed himself; and ere he could find a new hiding-place the Indian was upon him.

At sight of the boy, the savage gave a whoop, and raised his tomahawk; but the youngster was expecting this, and instantly raising his gun, he discharged it full into his heart.

As he heard the shriek of the Indian, and saw him throw up his arms, be did not wait to bear or see anything else, but instantly fled with might and main, scarcely looking or knowing whither he was going.

A short time after he found himself at the base of the mountain, very near the spot where he had first come, and glancing again toward the steam man, he saw him standing motion less, as before, and with not a single Indian in sight!