Three Young Ranchmen/Chapter 21

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CHAPTER XXI.


Shooting a Grizzly Bear


"I wonder if Captain Grady is alone or if he has a number of the gang with him?" observed Paul, as he rode alongside of his younger brother, and just in front of the two men.

"Most likely he is expecting trouble and has help at hand," returned Chet. "He knows well enough we won't give up our claim without a fight."

"It's possible he thought to frighten us off until Allen got back from San Francisco."

"Don't make any difference how much help he has," broke in Jack Blowfen. "He ain't no right to put ye out like a couple o' dogs, an' he knows it."

In this manner the talk went on until a little after noon, when the locality known as Demon Hollow was reached.

"Do you remember the badger, Paul?" laughed Chet. "The Hollow looks different in the daylight, doesn t it?"

"Yes, indeed, but still—what was that?"

"Jumpin' June bugs!" cried Jack Blowfen. "Dottery, did ye hear that?"

"I did," replied the old ranch owner, and he clutched his gun apprehensively.

"I heard something," said Chet. "What was it?"

"A bar, boy, sure ez ye are born—a grizzly!"

"Oh!"

At once the little party came to a halt. To the right of them was a tall overhanging rock, to the left a number of prickly bushes. Ahead and behind was the winding and uneven road along which their animals had come on a walk.

"Do ye see old Ephraim?" asked Jack Blowfen, as he, too, got his gun in readiness.

"I don't see anything," declared Paul.

Bang! It was Chet's gun which spoke. He fired up toward the top of the overhanging rock. Scarcely had the shot rung out than a fearful roar of mingled pain and rage rent the air.

"Shot him, by Jupiter!" cried Caleb Dottery. "Stand from under, quick!"

Hardly had the word been given than there was another roar. Then a heavy weight filled the air and down into the road leaped a big brown and gray grizzly weighing all of eight hundred pounds.

He came down between the boys and the two men, and no sooner had he landed than Dottery and Blowfen opened fire on him, both striking the beast in the shoulder, and, consequently, doing but little damage, for a grizzly bear is tough and can stand many shots which do not touch his vital parts.

The horses, much scared, backed in all directions, some going into the bushes and others up against the rocks.

More angry than before the grizzly half turned, and then, without warning, raised up on his hind legs and made for Chet, whose horse was now flat upon the rocks, having stumbled in his hasty retreat. Chet himself was partly in and partly out of the saddle when the charge was made.

"Run, Chet, run!" yelled Paul. "He is coming for you!"

In alarm he came up on foot, his horse refusing to budge in the direction of the bear.

The bear heard Paul's voice and for the second paused and turned, as if to make sure he was in no immediate danger from that quarter. Then he continued to advance upon Chet.

Almost overcome with fear, Paul raised his gun and fired at the bear's head. It was a chance shot, but luckily it hit the huge beast in the ear The bear howled with pain, staggered forward a few feet and rolled over on his side.

By this time Dottery and Blowfen had their pistols out. Leaping to the roadway, they ran forward, and in less than a minute the bear had received six pistol balls and was kicking in his death agony.

It was Paul who helped Chet to his feet. The boy was as white as a sheet and trembled so he could scarcely stand.

"I—I thought I was a goner!" he stammered. "What a big fellow he is!"

"The bar we war arfter last spring," said Jack Blowfen to Dottery as they examined the brute. "See those marks on his side where we tipped him? A good job that he is out of the way."

It was the second grizzly bear the boys had seen since they had lived in that section and they gazed at him curiously. What white teeth he had, and how powerful he looked! Even now that he was still and all was over, Chet hardly cared to touch him.

"I want to see no more of him," he said.

"Well, I reckon he's the last in this neighbor hood," said Caleb Dottery. "He's the only one I've seen around in nigh on six years."

It was decided to leave the bear where he was until they returned. Of course, it was possible some wild animal might come up and make a feast in the meanwhile, but this could not be helped. To skin the animal and hang up the meat would take too long.

Leaving Demon Hollow, they pushed along as rapidly as the horses would carry them.

At the creek they stopped to water the animals, and here also partook of the lunch which Blowfen had packed up before starting.

It was nightfall when they at last came in sight of the ranch home. All seemed deserted. Every building was tightly closed and so was the gate to the stockade.

"Maybe he has thought better of it and skipped out," said Chet.

"There is our stuff still in the road," returned Paul, pointing ahead.

In a moment more they had reached the stockade. All four rode straight up to the heavy wooden gate.

"I'll have to jump over and unbar it," said Paul.

"Be careful," was Caleb Dottery s caution. "This may be a trap and——"

He had no need to say more.

"Halt!" came from the yard behind the stockade. "Stop where you are or I'll fire on you!"

It was Captain Grady himself who spoke.