Saturday, July 23, 2005
ABOVE him Robbins saw the great red mouth of the grizzly with its slavering fangs coming nearer and nearer. He covered his face with his arms, trying to shut out the horrible sight, each instant expecting to feel the tearing, crunching of those terrible jaws.
From somewhere came a spiteful crack; another. The grizzly screamed, a scream that was almost human. Head lolling awkwardly, it collapsed suddently, falling across Robbins' body and the hind quarters of the horse. A strangled sob, quick breathing, and another spiteful crack, this time louder and nearer, caused the trapped puncher to uncover his eyes and look.
June sank down beside him, tearing at the shaggy fur of the bear and crying. She held her rifle in one hand, while with the other she was futilely endeavoring to lift the heavy body from him.
“Don't, June,” he whispered hoarsely. “You'll only hurt yourself. He's too heavy for you.”
“Oh, I'm so glad you're alive,” she cried sobbingly. “I thought I'd never be in time, Bill! It all happened so quickly, and my horse got so frightened I couldn't seem to do anything to help you! Are you hurt?”
He shook his head, the only part of his body he could move besides his arms.
“No, but I'm sure wedged in here to a fare-thee-well. Is he dead? Guess he is, since he hasn’t moved, but I'm not sure yet he won't make a meal of me.”
She laughed tremulously and wiped her cheeks.
“Yes, he's dead. I think I killed him the first shot, but I fired twice more to be sure.”
“That's fine. Now, how about gettin' me out of here? Did yore horse run away?”
She got to her feet and gazed around.
“He's stopped,” she answered. “There he is, about a quarter of a mile away. He knows better than to leave me like that.”
“That's great. If you catch him you can drag this decoration off of me in no time. Whew! I thought the whole Rocky Mountains was fallin' on top of me. The next time I go huntin' bear I'm goin' to wear armor.
“Will you be all right until I get back?”
He nodded. His good humor was fully restored, now that the danger was over.
“Sure I will. You weren't afraid I'd run away, were you? Honest, I'll be here when you come back.”
His smile was contagious, and she could not help laughing at his words.
“I'll be right back, then. But you be sure you're here, because I won't save you again if another bear comes along. That reminds me, don't bears travel in pairs? Here, take my rifle in case there's another one around.”
She nodded brightly at him and moved out of his range of vision. He heard her running over the rocks, the sound of her footsteps gradually diminishing until they died out and he could no longer hear them. The minutes passed, long, tedious minutes that seemed hours. Robbins' leg grew cramped and painful, and the bear sagged down until a good deal more of its weight rested upon him.
After what he thought must have been at least two hours, his straining ears picked up the rattle of stones dislodged by a horse's hoofs. Soon June called cheerily, and he answered, though he could not see her. The sounds of her approach grew louder, and with another call, she dismounted a few feet away and ran to him. Anxious eyes stared into his, but the anxiety changed somewhat to relief as she saw him smiling up at her tenderly and hopefully.
“You're all right?” she questioned. “I came back as soon as I could, but Tommy didn't want to be caught.”
“You must've had a lot of trouble catchin' him to be gone so long. About two hours, isn't it, though it seems longer.”
She laughed merrily.
“Two hours! Why, I haven't been gone longer than half an hour at the most! Twenty-five minutes would be nearer right.”
He stared incredulously at her.
“What? Twenty-five minutes? Gosh, seems like it must have been longer!”
“It wasn't, though,” she assured him. “Wait till I get my rope. That old bear must be getting awfully heavy, isn't he?”
“I'll say he is! I never expected to have anythin' as heavy as he is roostin' on my lap.”
“Well,” smilingly, “just hang on to him and we'll have him off in a jiffy.”
She ran quickly back to her horse and returned with a lariat. The shaggy head of the grizzly was heavy, but she managed to get the noose around it and fast to the neck. Then she mounted, took several dallies around the horn, edged slightly to one side so that the pull would be away from Robbins' head, and spoke gently to her horse:
“All right, Tommy.”
At her words the faithful little cow pony dug in his toes and lunged forward willingly. The rope tightened. The grizzly stirred, lifted an inch or two and settled back, as if reluctant, even in death, to permit the escape of the mortal it had imprisoned. Tommy lunged forward again, obeying the girl's coaxing voice. This time the huge carcass, now nearly rigid, upended and rolled clear.
Robbins breathed deeply.
“You sure took a load off my chest that time,” he remarked, as the girl returned and swung down to the ground. “If you can find a pole of some kind to pry with, I think we can get my foot free without any trouble. Wouldn't do to drag my cayuse off like yuh did our little playmate.”
“Yes, you're right,” June agreed. “It would smash your foot. How does it feel? Any bones broken?”
“Don't think so,” the puncher answered doubtfully. “But then, there ain't much feelin' in it at all. Sorta numb, that leg is, clear up to my hip.”
After some searching, June found a stout mesquite limb in a coulee and came back dragging it behind her. She knew just what to do without Robbins telling her. First she pulled and tugged at a large section of rock until she had got it up to the dead horse's hips. Inserting one end of the mesquite limb between this and the carcass, she threw her weight upon the other. The hind quarters raised, and Robbins jerked his foot free and got painfully to his knees.
“I suppose it'll feel good when it quits hurtin',” he said whimsically, as the girl dropped the limb and came to him. “But right now I ain't at all enthusiastic over it.”
“Can you stand?” June asked anxiously. “Try it. Here, lean on me.”
She helped him to his feet, her arm around his waist. Carefully Robbins walked a few steps.
“Guess it's all right,” he said. “Seems like there's a million needles, more or less, stickin' in my leg, but the foot appears to be whole and hearty yet. It'll be 0. K. when the blood gets circulatin'. Thanks a lot, June. I'm sure glad you came with me. Dunno what I'd have done without you.”
“You'd probably not have got into this predicament if I hadn't been along,” she told him gravely. “I'm not forgetting how you threw yourself between the bear and me, Bill. I'm the one to be thankful, not you.”
“Oh, forget that,” he bade her modestly. “All I did was stop his charge until you could get away. That wasn't anythin'.”
“It was everything to me, though. The mouth of that old grizzly looked big enough to take me at one gulp. He was awfully hard to kill, wasn't he?”
“I'll say he was. Didn't waste no time showin' us what he thought of us. Soon as I get my leg to workin' like it was meant to, I'll look him over. I'm curious to see where Loco wounded him.”
He rubbed his leg briskly until the circulation was nearly normal again, and then went to the still, furry carcass. The holes caused by the bullets from June's gun and his own were easily to be found, but nowhere could he discover other wounds. Twice he counted them, rolling the grizzly over with Tommy's aid to inspect the other side thoroughly. At last he rose and answered the girl's unspoken question.
“Looks like we got the wrong bear, June. Leastways, this isn't the one Loco heaved lead into. He's got twelve bullets in him, and that's all. Of course, that's a lot, but you fired three times, and I shot six times with my six-gun and three with the Winchester. So he was unwounded when we came across him.”
“That means the bear Loco shot at is still somewhere in these rocks, then,” June said. “That takes a lot of starch out of me. After all this, it's rather a shock to find we've been battling with the wrong grizzly, isn't it?”
“Yeah. Maybe this was the mate of the one we were trailin'. Our bear is probably holed up somewhere lickin' its wounds. I make a motion we leave off bear huntin' for to-day and mosey back to the ranch. It's a cinch we can't do much with only one horse between us.”
A noise behind them, the light scraping of a boot on rock, startled them. They wheeled about together. Robbins' hand darted to his holster, and his heart sank as he remembered his revolver was lying empty on the ground several yards distant where it had been knocked by the grizzly's mighty paw.
On the top of one of the two ledges forming the V from which the bear had charged sat Mat Whortle, a gun in his hairy right hand and a sardonic smirk on his lips. The heads and shoulders of four coarse-featured men showed in rear of him.
[End of chapter]