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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Grizzly King: A Romance Of The Wild - Chapter 4
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The Grizzly King: A Romance Of The Wild - Chapter 4 Post by :runtonk Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :1548

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The Grizzly King: A Romance Of The Wild - Chapter 4

CHAPTER FOUR

In the edge of the balsam and spruce Langdon and Otto sat smoking their pipes after supper, with the glowing embers of a fire at their feet. The night air in these higher altitudes of the mountains had grown chilly, and Bruce rose long enough to throw a fresh armful of dry spruce on the coals. Then he stretched out his long form again, with his head and shoulders bolstered comfortably against the butt of a tree, and for the fiftieth time he chuckled.

"Chuckle an' be blasted," growled Langdon. "I tell you I hit him twice, Bruce--twice anyway; and I was at a devilish disadvantage!"

"'Specially when 'e was lookin' down an' grinnin' in your face," retorted Bruce, who had enjoyed hugely his comrade's ill luck. "Jimmy, at that distance you should a'most ha' killed 'im with a rock!"

"My gun was under me," explained Langdon for the twentieth time.

"W'ich ain't just the proper place for a gun to be when yo'r hunting a grizzly," reminded Bruce.

"The gully was confoundedly steep. I had to dig in with both feet and my fingers. If it had been any steeper I would have used my teeth."

Langdon sat up, knocked the ash out of the bowl of his pipe, and reloaded it with fresh tobacco.

"Bruce, that's the biggest grizzly in the Rocky Mountains!"

"He'd 'a' made a fine rug in your den, Jimmy--if yo'r gun hadn't 'appened to 'ave been under you."

"And I'm going to have him in my den before I finish," declared Langdon. "I've made up my mind. We'll make a permanent camp here. I'm going to get that grizzly if it takes all summer. I'd rather have him than any other ten bears in the Firepan Range. He was a nine-footer if an inch. His head was as big as a bushel basket, and the hair on his shoulders was four inches long. I don't know that I'm sorry I didn't kill him. He's hit, and he'll surely fight say. There'll be a lot of fun in getting him."

"There will that," agreed Bruce, "'specially if you meet 'im again during the next week or so, while he's still sore from the bullets. Better not have the gun under you then, Jimmy!"

"What do you say to making this a permanent camp?"

"Couldn't be better. Plenty of fresh meat, good grazing, and fine water." After a moment he added: "He was hit pretty hard. He was bleedin' bad at the summit."

In the firelight Langdon began cleaning his rifle.

"You think he may clear out--leave the country?"

Bruce emitted a grunt of disgust.

"Clear out? _Run away_? Mebbe he would if he was a black. But he's a grizzly, and the boss of this country. He may fight shy of this valley for a while, but you can bet he ain't goin' to emigrate. The harder you hit a grizzly the madder he gets, an' if you keep on hittin' 'im he keeps on gettin' madder, until he drops dead. If you want that bear bad enough we can surely get him."

"I do," Langdon reiterated with emphasis. "He'll smash record measurements or I miss my guess. I want him, and I want him bad, Bruce. Do you think we'll be able to trail him in the morning?"

Bruce shook his head.

"It won't be a matter of trailing," he said. "It's just simply _hunt_. After a grizzly has been hit he keeps movin'. He won't go out of his range, an' neither is he going to show himself on the open slopes like that up there. Metoosin ought to be along with the dogs inside of three or four days, an' when we get that bunch of Airedales in action, there'll be some fun."

Langdon sighted at the fire through the polished barrel of his rifle, and said doubtfully:

"I've been having my doubts about Metoosin for a week back. We've come through some mighty rough country."

"That old Indian could follow our trail if we travelled on rock," declared Bruce confidently. "He'll be here inside o' three days, barring the dogs don't run their fool heads into too many porcupines. An' when they come"--he rose and stretched his gaunt frame--"we'll have the biggest time we ever had in our lives. I'm just guessin' these mount'ins are so full o' bear that them ten dogs will all be massacreed within a week. Want to bet?"

Langdon closed his rifle with a snap.

"I only want one bear," he said, ignoring the challenge, "and I have an idea we'll get him to-morrow. You're the bear specialist of the outfit, Bruce, but I think he was too hard hit to travel far."

They had made two beds of soft balsam boughs near the fire, and Langdon now followed his companion's example, and began spreading his blankets. It had been a hard day, and within five minutes after stretching himself out he was asleep.

He was still asleep when Bruce rolled out from under his blanket at dawn. Without rousing Langdon the young packer slipped on his boots and waded back a quarter of a mile through the heavy dew to round up the horses. When he returned he brought Dishpan and their saddle-horses with him. By that time Langdon was up, and starting a fire.

Langdon frequently reminded himself that such mornings as this had made him disappoint the doctors and rob the grave. Just eight years ago this June he had come into the North for the first time, thin-chested and with a bad lung. "You can go if you insist, young man," one of the doctors had told him, "but you're going to your own funeral." And now he had a five-inch expansion and was as tough as a knot. The first rose-tints of the sun were creeping over the mountain-tops; the air was filled with the sweetness of flowers, and dew, and growing things, and his lungs drew in deep breaths of oxygen laden with the tonic and perfume of balsam.

He was more demonstrative than his companion in the joyousness of this wild life. It made him want to shout, and sing, and whistle. He restrained himself this morning. The thrill of the hunt was in his blood.

While Otto saddled the horses Langdon made the bannock. He had become an expert at what he called "wild-bread" baking, and his method possessed the double efficiency of saving both waste and time.

He opened one of the heavy canvas flour sacks, made a hollow in the flour with his two doubled fists, partly filled this hollow with a pint of water and half a cupful of caribou grease, added a tablespoonful of baking powder and a three-finger pinch of salt, and began to mix. Inside of five minutes he had the bannock loaves in the big tin reflector, and half an hour later the sheep steaks were fried, the potatoes done, and the bannock baked to a golden brown.

The sun was just showing its face in the east when they trailed out of camp. They rode across the valley, but walked up the slope, the horses following obediently in their footsteps.

It was not difficult to pick up Thor's trail. Where he had paused to snarl back defiance at his enemies there was a big red spatter on the ground; from this point to the summit they followed a crimson thread of blood. Three times in descending into the other valley they found where Thor had stopped, and each time they saw where a pool of blood had soaked into the earth or run over the rock.

They passed through the timber and came to the creek, and here, in a strip of firm black sand, Thor's footprints brought them to a pause. Bruce stared. An exclamation of amazement came from Langdon, and without a word having passed between them he drew out his pocket-tape and knelt beside one of the tracks.

"Fifteen and a quarter inches!" he gasped.

"Measure another," said Bruce.

"Fifteen and--a half!"

Bruce looked up the gorge.

"The biggest I ever see was fourteen an' a half," he said, and there was a touch of awe in his voice. "He was shot up the Athabasca an' he's stood as the biggest grizzly ever killed in British Columbia. Jimmy, _this one beats 'im_!"

They went on, and measured the tracks again at the edge of the first pool where Thor had bathed his wounds. There was almost no variation in the measurements. Only occasionally after this did they find spots of blood. It was ten o'clock when they came to the clay wallow and saw where Thor had made his bed in it.

"He was pretty sick," said Bruce in a low voice. "He was here most all night."

Moved by the same impulse and the same thought, they looked ahead of them. Half a mile farther on the mountains closed in until the gorge between them was dark and sunless.

"He was pretty sick," repeated Bruce, still looking ahead. "Mebbe we'd better tie the horses an' go on alone. It's possible--he's in there."

They tied the horses to scrub cedars, and relieved Dishpan of her pack.

Then, with their rifles in readiness, and eyes and ears alert, they went on cautiously into the silence and gloom of the gorge.

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