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Sunday on the “Brulé.” — A “Work of Necessity.” — Going Blue-berrying. — Bears. —
The Wrong Bear killed. — An Inexplicable Shot. — Bear-Steaks
THE sun was up ere we had fairly waked.
“Let’s see,” muttered Raed drowsily: “Sunday, isn’t it? Yesterday was Saturday.”
It was the Sabbath.
“Going to march to-day?” Wade asked.
“Not a march,” said Raed. “It’s better to rest one day in seven, anyhow, to say nothing of our duty as citizens of a Christian country.”
So, following the example of many other citizens of this Christian country, we lay and rested till nearly nine o’clock. Breakfast was thereupon prepared and eaten. We then put our hands in our pockets, and strolled down to our camping‑ place of the previous evening. The inducements to stay there long were very small: so, after a look at the defunct Mephitis mephitica over in the gully, we strolled back, and sat in the sun a while; for the morning was very pleasant. Presently we bethought ourselves to change our shirts and. socks, that being a sort of Sunday ceremony quite universal.
“The dirty ones ought to be washed,” said Wade. “We can’t very well wash them on a regular marching day, either. I think this may fairly be called a work of necessity.”
It did look so.
We took them down to the runnel, washed them out, and hung them on the blackberry-bushes to dry. We then sat in the sun a while longer.
“I suppose there can be no great harm in picking a few blueberries,” said Wash at length.
There seemed no great sin in that, certainly.
We walked up toward the crest of the ridge above us, taking the guns as a matter of course. It was very cool and pleasant up there, with a fine breeze from the north-west. Beyond this ridge there was another, and over that another, of the same interminable “brulé,” shrubby with cherry-trees, and carpeted with blueberry-bushes. While we sat leisurely picking for the “big ones,” Ding-bat had scoured off into the sag, or hollow, beyond. Suddenly there came a queer sound, something like the single surprised “haw” of a crow, from that direction. It was repeated a moment later, — haw! Then came a gruff little yap from the Chinaman, followed by a sort of squeal, not greatly unlike the minor note of a scared pig. The dog now began to bark furiously.
“Game!” muttered Wash.
Sunday slipped out of sight altogether.
With a glance to the caps of the guns, we stole down into the hollow, which was filled with hazel and elder; and, guided by the barking, crossed to the other side.
“Still, now!” whispered Raed. “We’re getting up pretty near.”
A thick mass of alders, hung with wild vines, was before us. Getting down on our hands and knees, we crept under them, and came out on the other side, behind an old overblown root. Wash peeped round it, and looked earnestly for some seconds; then drew back.
“By Jude,” he whispered, “there’s a sight for a sportsman!”
I was next to him, and so took the next peep. Beside a big black stump all overrun with vines, not twenty yards off, stood just one of the biggest black bears I had ever seen, with its back humped up, and its face drawn round askew at Ding-bat, who was daring up within ten or fifteen feet, barking frantically; and on the other side of the old bear, a little back from the dog, were two half-grown cubs, staring frightenedly at him.
An artist should have seen them. If he could have sketched it fairly, his reputation would have been made. Wonder and fear were in the savage little visages of the cubs; wonder, but a calm, bearish defiance, in the face of the rough old dam.
I drew noiselessly back. Raed and Wade then peeped, one after the other.
“Take the old one!” I whispered to Wash; for he had the rifle.
“Both together!” said he: “we shall be the more likely to fetch her!”
Very carefully we pointed the muzzles of both guns by the root.
“All ready now,” Wash muttered: “one, two, three!”
We both fired, and all jumped up with an in voluntary shout. One of the cubs had taken to his heels, and was legging it off among the bushes, whimpering like a young lamb: the other lay kicking. The old bear had given a great growl, and was making a rush at Ding-bat; but, suddenly hearing and catching sight of us, whirled about, and ran off after the fugitive cub, without seeming to notice the one that lay keeled over. The Chinaman, who had discreetly retreated with considerable haste, now turned tail, and gave chase.
We went up to the wounded cub. He was nearly done for. The rifle-bullet had gone through him; and he seemed, too, to have received the most of the shot from my gun.
“I thought you both fired at the old bear!” exclaimed Wade.
Just how the cub came to get the contents of both guns has never been very clearly explained; more especially since the distance was not more than fifty feet. The ammunition was back at the camp; but, hearing Ding-bat burst out whining, we ran off down the hollow with empty guns. A hundred yards lower we met him coming limping back with a claw-mark torn into his flank.
“Charged up too near, didn’t you, old fellow?” laughed Wade.
The old bear had probably turned upon him, and given him a cuff before he could get out of reach.
Not deeming it expedient to set off on a regular bear-hunt Sunday, we went back to where the cub lay; and, taking him up by the legs between us (one hold of each leg), we tugged him into camp. Raed thought the carcass would weigh considerably over a hundred pounds. Wash set it as high as a hundred and fifty.
“Now for some bear-steaks!” Said Wade. “Who’ll skin him?”
“No need of skinning the whole of him,” remarked Wash.
We skinned one of his hams, and cut out what we thought we should want. A fire was kindled, and several slices of it fried with our eggs for supper.
It was very fair meat, I suppose; though I can not say that I much relished it. We did not think it worth while to take any of it along with us.
The night passed without event. We were up and off in the morning by seven o’clock. By eleven, forenoon, we had reached the highest ridge of the brulé. Far to the southward could be traced our weary route up from the pond for the last three days. Wade set the aneroid, and found the height indicated at seventeen hundred and ninety feet above the sea. To the northward the ridges fell off rapidly, and the small growth seemed gradually to thicken into forest.