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Forest, Lake and Prairie
Chapter XXVIII
Bear hunt - Big grizzlies - Surfeit of fat meat.

IN accord with the plan mentioned in last chapter, Peter and I saddled up sooner than the rest, and rode on. I will never forget that afternoon. I was in perfect health. My diet for the last few weeks forbade anything like dyspepsia—the horseback travel, the constant change, the newness of my surroundings, this beautiful and wonderful country. Oh, how sweet life was to me! Then the day was superb—bright sunshine, fleecy clouds, and intensely exhilarating atmosphere; everywhere, above and around us, and before and beneath us, a rich and lovely country—quietly sloping plains, nicely rounded knolls, big hills on whose terraced heights woodland and prairie seemed to have scrambled for space, and someone, with wonderful artistic taste, had decided for them, and placed them as they were; lakelets at different altitudes glistening with sun rays, and that quiet afternoon sleeping as they shone; the early autumn tinting the now full-grown grass and foliage with colors the painter might well covet. As I rode in silence behind my guide, my eyes feasted on these panoramic views, and yet I was sharply and keenly looking for some game that might serve the purpose of our quest.

When suddenly I saw a dark object in the distance, seeming to come out of a bluff of poplars on to the plain, I checked my horse and watched intently for a little and saw it move. I whistled to Peter, and he said, "What is it ?" and I pointed out to him what I saw. Said he, "It is a buffalo." Ah! how my hunting instincts moved at those words. A buffalo on his native heath! Even the sight of him was something to be proud of. The plain this animal was crossing was on the farther side of a lake, and at the foot of a range of hills, the highest of which was called "Sickness Hill."

It may have been about four or five miles from us to the spot where I had seen the dark object moving.

After riding some distance, we came upon a ridge which enabled Peter to make up his mind that what he now saw was a bear and not a buffalo. This was to both of us somewhat of a disappointment, as it was food more than sport we wanted.

I said to Peter, "Will the bear not be good to eat?" " Of course he will, and we will try and kill him," was Peter's reply; and carefully scan- fling the ground he laid his plan for doing this. The bear was lazily coming to the shore of the rake, and Peter said, "I think he is coming to bathe, and in all probability will swim across to this side of the lake."

There was a gully running down through the hills to the lake, and Peter told me to follow that to the shore, and said he would ride around and thus give us a double chance.

Accordingly we separated, and I made my way down the gully, and coming near the lake dismounted and crawled up the little hill which alone was my cover from that portion of the lake where I expected to see our game.

Parting the grass at the summit of the hill, what I saw almost made my heart jump into my mouth, for here was Bruin swimming straight for me.

How excited I was I very much doubted my ability to shoot straight, even when I got the chance.

Crawling back under cover I endeavored to quiet my nerves, and waited for my opportunity. Then, looking through the grass again, I saw the bear swimming, as hard as he could, back to the shore he had come from, and though he was far out I concluded to try a shot at him, and doing so, saw my ball strike the water just to the left of his head.

Mine was but a single-barrelled shot-gun at best, and here I was with an empty gun and a restive horse, and looking for the reason of the bear's sudden change of front, I saw Peter galloping around the end of the lake to intercept the bear, if possible.

Jumping on my horse, I followed as fast as I could, and began to load my gun as I rode.

This was an entirely new experience for me, and took me some time to accomplish. I spilled the powder, and got some of it in my eyes. In putting the stopper of my powder-horn, which I held in my teeth, back into the horn, I caught some of the hairs of my young moustache, and felt smart pain as these were pulled out as the horn dropped.

But, in the meantime, my horse was making good time, and at last I was loaded, and now nerved and calm and ready for anything.

During all this I kept my eyes alternately between Peter and the bear; saw the bear reach the shore ; saw Peter come close to him; saw Peter's horse plunge, and jump, and kick, and try to run away; saw Peter chance a shot while his horse was thus acting; saw that he tickled the bear's heel ; saw the bear grab up its heel and, giving a cry of pain, settle down to run for the nearest woods; heard Peter shout to me, "Hurry, John; head him off;" and I was coming as fast as riiy horse could bring me, and thinking, far in advance of my pace, "What shall I do if I catch the bear before he reaches that thicket? My horse may act like Peter's has, and I will miss the bear, as sure as fate."

Just then I saw a lone tree standing on the plain right in the course the bear was taking, and it flashed upon me what to do. I will ride up between the bear and the tree, jump off, let the bear come close, and then if I miss him I will drop my gun and make for that tree. I felt I coud leave the bear in a fair run for that distance. We required the food, and I wanted to kill that bear. With all my heart I wished to do this, and now I was opposite, and my horse began to shy and jump; so I uncoiled my lariat and let it drag, to make it easier to catch my horse, and, jumping from his back, I let him go; and now the bear, seeing me between him and the brush, showed the white of his teeth, put back his ears, and came at me straight.

I looked at the tree, measured the distance, cocked my gun, and let him come until he almost touched the muzzle, and then fired.

Fortunately my bullet went into his brain, and down he dropped at my feet, and I was for the time the proudest man in Canada.

Mark my astonishment when Peter came at me vehemently in this wise: "You young rascal! what made*you jump off your horse? That bear might have killed you. It was all an accident, your killing him. Your father put you in my care. If anything had happened to you, what could I say to him?"

I stood there in my folly, yet proud of it; but I saw I must change the subject, so I looked innocently up at Peter, and said, "Do you think he is fat?" Then a smile lit up Peter's face, and he said, "Fat Why, yes; he is shaking with fat;" and jumping from his horse, he grasped his knife and laid open the brisket of the bear to verify his words, and sure enough the fat was there.

And now, as the food supply was fixed for a day or two, the next question was to bring our party together.

For this purpose Peter said to me, "Gallop away to the top of yonder hill and look out for our people, and when you see them, ride your horse to and fro until they see you, and when they see you and turn toward you, you can come back to me."

So I galloped away to the distant hill, and presently saw our party coming over another; and riding my horse to and fro in short space, soon attracted their attention, and they diverged towards me; and when I was sure of the direction, I rode back to Peter, who had the bear skinned and cut up by this time, and when our folks came to us, we concluded to camp right there for Sunday.

We could not have had a lovelier spot to dwell in for a time.

Very soon we had bear ribs roasting by the fire, and bear steak frying in the pan.

After supper we saw three large "grizzlies" not far from us. They entered a small thicket, which we surrounded, but after waiting for the huge brutes to make a move, and taking into consideration that our guns were but shot, and muzzle-loading, that our camp was well supplied with bear meat, and that it is written, "Prudence is the better part of valor," we retired to our camp and left the bears alone.

The fact of the matter was, as General Middleton would have described it, we "funked."

Two nights and one whole day and parts of two other days on fat bear meat straight was quite enough for our party.

We did not carry much with us as we left that camp next Monday morning bright and early. Our appetites for this special kind of food had changed since last Saturday evening. Then we ate a hearty supper, but less for breakfast Sunday morning, and this went on in a decreasing ratio at each subsequent meal. Even Mr. Woolsey, a hardened veteran and ordinarily fond of fat, weakened on this diet. How often did we think and even say, "If we only had some bread or some potatoes, or anything to eat with this;" but there was none, and gladly we left that camp and pushed on our way, hoping to reach the Indians or buffalo before long.


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