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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Grizzly King: A Romance Of The Wild - Chapter 14
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The Grizzly King: A Romance Of The Wild - Chapter 14 Post by :Truman Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :3333

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The Grizzly King: A Romance Of The Wild - Chapter 14

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

In his hiding-place Muskwa heard the last sounds of the battle on the ledge. The crevice was a V-shaped crack in the rock, and he had wedged himself as far back in this as he could. He saw Thor pass the opening of his refuge after he had killed the fourth dog; he heard the click, click, click of his claws as he retreated up the trail; and at last he knew that the grizzly was gone, and that the enemy had followed him.

Still he was afraid to come out. These strange pursuers that had come up out of the valley had filled him with a deadly terror. Pipoonaskoos had not made him afraid. Even the big black bear that Thor killed had not terrified him as these red-lipped, white-fanged strangers had frightened him. So he remained in his crevice, crowded as far back as he could get, like a wad shoved in a gun-barrel.

He could still hear the tongueing of the dogs when other and nearer sounds alarmed him. Langdon and Bruce came rushing around the bulge in the mountain wall, and at sight of the dead dogs they stopped. Langdon cried out in horror.

He was not more than twenty feet from Muskwa. For the first time the cub heard human voices; for the first time the sweaty odour of men filled his nostrils, and he scarcely breathed in his new fear. Then one of the hunters stood directly in front of the crack in which he was hidden, and he saw his first man. A moment later the men, too, were gone.

Later Muskwa heard the shots. After that the barking of the dogs grew more and more distant until finally he could not hear them at all. It was about three o'clock--the siesta hour in the mountains, and it was very quiet.

For a long time Muskwa did not move. He listened. And he heard nothing. Another fear was growing in him now--the fear of losing Thor. With every breath he drew he was hoping that Thor would return. For an hour he remained wedged in the rock. Then he heard a _cheep, cheep, cheep_, and a tiny striped rock-rabbit came out on the ledge where Muskwa could see him and began cautiously investigating one of the slain Airedales. This gave Muskwa courage. He pricked up his ears a bit. He whimpered softly, as if beseeching recognition and friendship of the one tiny creature that was near him in this dreadful hour of loneliness and fear.

Inch by inch he crawled out of his hiding-place. At last his little round, furry head was out, and he looked about him. The trail was clear, and he advanced toward the rock-rabbit. With a shrill chatter the striped mite darted for its own stronghold, and Muskwa was alone again.

For a few moments he stood undecided, sniffing the air that was heavy with the scent of blood, of man, and of Thor; then he turned up the mountain.

He knew Thor had gone in that direction, and if little Muskwa possessed a mind and a soul they were filled with but one desire now--to overtake his big friend and protector. Even fear of dogs and men, unknown quantities in his life until to-day, was now overshadowed by the fear that he had lost Thor.

He did not need eyes to follow the trail. It was warm under his nose, and he started in the zigzag ascent of the mountain as fast as he could go. There were places where progress was difficult for his short legs, but he kept on valiantly and hopefully, encouraged by Thor's fresh scent.

It took him a good hour to reach the beginning of the naked shale that reached up to the belt of snow and the sky-line, and it was four o'clock when he started up those last three hundred yards between him and the mountain-top. Up there he believed he would find Thor. But he was afraid, and he continued to whimper softly to himself as he dug his little claws bravely into the shale.

Muskwa did not look up to the crest of the peak again after he had started. To have done that it would have been necessary for him to stop and turn sidewise, for the ascent was steep. And so, when Muskwa was halfway to the top, it happened that he did not see Langdon and Bruce as they came over the sky-line; and he could not smell them, for the wind was blowing up instead of down. Oblivious of their presence he came to the snow-belt. Joyously he smelled of Thor's huge footprints, and followed them. And above him Bruce and Langdon waited, crouched low, their guns on the ground, and each with his thick flannel shirt stripped off and held ready in his hands. When Muskwa was less than twenty yards from them they came tearing down upon him like an avalanche.

Not until Bruce was upon him did Muskwa recover himself sufficiently to move. He saw and realized danger in the last fifth of a second, and as Bruce flung himself forward, his shirt outspread like a net, Muskwa darted to one side. Sprawling on his face, Bruce gathered up a shirtful of snow and clutched it to his breast, believing for a moment that he had the cub, and at this same instant Langdon made a drive that entangled him with his friend's long legs and sent him turning somersaults down the snow-slide.

Muskwa bolted down the mountain as fast as his short legs could carry him. In another second Bruce was after him, and Langdon joined in ten feet behind.

Suddenly Muskwa made a sharp turn, and the momentum with which Bruce was coming carried him thirty or forty feet below him, where the lanky mountaineer stopped himself only by doubling up like a jack-knife and digging toes, hands, elbows, and even his shoulders in the soft shale.

Langdon had switched, and was hot after Muskwa. He flung himself face downward, shirt outspread, just as the cub made another turn, and when he rose to his feet his face was scratched and he spat half a handful of dirt and shale out of his mouth.

Unfortunately for Muskwa his second turn brought him straight down to Bruce, and before he could turn again he was enveloped in sudden darkness and suffocation, and over him there rang out a fiendish and triumphant yell.

"I got 'im!" shouted Bruce.

Inside the shirt Muskwa scratched and bit and snarled, and Bruce was having his hands full when Langdon ran down with the second shirt. Very shortly Muskwa was trussed up like a papoose. His legs and his body were swathed so tightly that he could not move them. His head was not covered. It was the only part of him that showed, and the only part of him that he could move, and it looked so round and frightened and funny that for a minute or two Langdon and Bruce forgot their disappointments and losses of the day and laughed.

Then Langdon sat down on one side of Muskwa, and Bruce on the other, and they filled and lighted their pipes. Muskwa could not even kick an objection.

"A couple of husky hunters we are," said Langdon then. "Come out for a grizzly and end up with that!"

He looked at the cub. Muskwa was eying him so earnestly that Langdon sat in mute wonder for a moment, and then slowly took his pipe from his mouth and stretched out a hand.

"Cubby, cubby, nice cubby," he cajoled softly.

Muskwa's tiny ears were perked forward. His bright eyes were like glass. Bruce, unobserved by Langdon, was grinning expectantly.

"Cubby won't bite--no--no--nice little cubby--we won't hurt cubby--"

The next instant a wild yell startled the mountain-tops as Muskwa's needle-like teeth sank into one of Langdon's fingers. Bruce's howls of joy would have frightened game a mile away.

"You little devil!" gasped Langdon, and then, as he sucked his wounded finger, he laughed with Bruce. "He's a sport--a dead game sport," he added. "We'll call him Spitfire, Bruce. By George, I've wanted a cub like that ever since I first came into the mountains. I'm going to take him home with me! Ain't he a funny looking little cuss?"

Muskwa shifted his head, the only part of him that was not as stiffly immovable as a mummy, and scrutinized Bruce. Langdon rose to his feet and looked back to the sky-line. His face was set and hard.

"Four dogs!" he said, as if speaking to himself. "Three down below--and one up there!" He was silent for a moment, and then said: "I can't understand it, Bruce. They've cornered fifty bears for us, and until to-day we've never lost a dog."

Bruce was looping a buckskin thong about Muskwa's middle, making of it a sort of handle by which he could carry the cub as he would have conveyed a pail of water or a slab of bacon. He stood up, and Muskwa dangled at the end of his string.

"We've run up against a killer," he said. "An' a meat-killin' grizzly is the worst animal on the face of the earth when it comes to a fight or a hunt. The dogs'll never hold 'im, Jimmy, an' if it don't get dark pretty soon there won't none of the bunch come back. They'll quit at dark--if there's any left. The old fellow's got our wind, an' you can bet he knows what knocked him down up there on the snow. He's hikin'--an' hikin' fast. When we see 'im ag'in it'll be twenty miles from here."

Langdon went up for the guns. When he returned Bruce led the way down the mountain, carrying Muskwa by the buckskin thong. For a few moments they paused on the blood-stained ledge of rock where Thor had wreaked his vengeance upon his tormentors. Langdon bent over the dog the grizzly had decapitated.

"This is Biscuits," he said. "And we always thought she was the one coward of the bunch. The other two are Jane and Tober; old Fritz is up on the summit. Three of the best dogs we had, Bruce!"

Bruce was looking over the ledge. He pointed downward.

"There's another--pitched clean off the face o' the mount'in!" he gasped. "Jimmy, that's five!"

Langdon's fists were clenched tightly as he stared over the edge of the precipice. A choking sound came from his throat. Bruce understood its meaning. From where they stood they could see a black patch on the upturned breast of the dog a hundred feet under them. Only one of the pack was marked like that. It was Langdon's favourite. He had made her a camp pet.

"It's Dixie," he said. For the first time he felt a surge of anger sweep through him, and his face was white as he turned back to the trail. "I've got more than one reason for getting that grizzly now, Bruce," he added. "Wild horses can't tear me away from these mountains until I kill him. I'll stick until winter if I have to. I swear I'm going to kill him--if he doesn't run away."

"He won't do that," said Bruce tersely, as he once more swung down the trail with Muskwa.

Until now Muskwa had been stunned into submissiveness by what must have appeared to him to be an utterly hopeless situation. He had strained every muscle in his body to move a leg or a paw, but he was swathed as tightly as Rameses had ever been. But now, however, it slowly dawned upon him that as he dangled back and forth his face frequently brushed his enemy's leg, and he still had the use of his teeth. He watched his opportunity, and this came when Bruce took a long step down from a rock, thus allowing Muskwa's body to rest for the fraction of a second on the surface of the stone from which he was descending.

Quicker than a wink Muskwa took a bite. It was a good deep bite, and if Langdon's howl had stirred the silences a mile away the yell which now came from Bruce beat him by at least a half. It was the wildest, most blood-curdling sound Muskwa had ever heard, even more terrible than the barking of the dogs, and it frightened him so that he released his hold at once.

Then, again, he was amazed. These queer bipeds made no effort to retaliate. The one he had bitten hopped up and down on one foot in a most unaccountable manner for a minute or so, while the other sat down on a boulder and rocked back and forth, with his hands on his stomach, and made a queer, uproarious noise with his mouth wide open. Then the other stopped his hopping and also made that queer noise.

It was anything but laughter to Muskwa. But it impinged upon him the truth of one of two things: either these grotesque looking monsters did not dare to fight him, or they were very peaceful and had no intention of harming him. But they were more cautious thereafter, and as soon as they reached the valley they carried him between them, strung on a rifle-barrel.

It was almost dark when they approached a clump of balsams red with the glow of a fire. It was Muskwa's first fire. Also he saw his first horses, terrific looking monsters even larger than Thor.

A third man--Metoosin, the Indian--came out to meet the hunters, and into this creature's hands Muskwa found himself transferred. He was laid on his side with the glare of the fire in his eyes, and while one of his captors held him by both ears, and so tightly that it hurt, another fastened a hobble-strap around his neck for a collar. A heavy halter rope was then tied to the ring on this strap, and the end of the rope was fastened to a tree.

During these operations Muskwa snarled and snapped as much as he could. In another half-minute he was free of the shirts, and as he staggered on four wobbly legs, from which all power of flight had temporarily gone, he bared his tiny fangs and snarled as fiercely as he could.

To his further amazement this had no effect upon his strange company at all, except that the three of them--even the Indian--opened their mouths and joined in that loud and incomprehensible din, to which one of them had given voice when he sank his teeth into his captor's leg on the mountainside. It was all tremendously puzzling to Muskwa.

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CHAPTER THIRTEENThe first night after leaving Iskwao and Pipoonaskoos the big grizzly and the tan-faced cub wandered without sleep under the brilliant stars. Thor did not hunt for meat. He climbed a steep slope, then went down the shale side of a dip, and in a small basin hidden at the foot of a mountain came to a soft green meadow where the dog-tooth violet, with its slender stem, its two lily-like leaves, its single cluster of five-petalled flowers, and its luscious, bulbous root grew in great profusion. And here all through the night he dug and ate.Muskwa, who had filled
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