Saturday, July 02, 2005
THE BEAR TRAP
TWO nights later the trap for the grizzly bear was set and waiting for him. The days had been spent in routine range work, and Robbins had taken the opportunity to make a trip to town, as well as visiting practically every corner of the C Bar property. The nights had been devoted to guarding the herd of cattle the cowboys were collecting so that it would not scatter, and during the second day it had been drifted gradually up to and upon the mesa.
Robbins had allowed no one to appear upon the mesa during daylight for, as he told them, he did not want to have a lot of human scent around and frighten away the bear. But after dark they took up their positions, Craig and the two punchers waiting at the road cutting across the mesa near the canyon, and Robbins and the rancher hidden in the rocks. Larry had begged to be allowed to accompany them, but his father and his sister both commanded him to stay in bed, telling him his wounds were far from being healed. June had insisted on going along, however, but had agreed to stay below the rim of the mesa out of danger.
The herd, for the most part, was quiet, the cattle lying down close to the rocks. Robbins had given Crimins the Winchester .45-90, and stationed him fairly close to the rear of the herd with instructions to shoot at anything suspicious he saw approaching it. He himself was a hundred yards east of the rancher, near the spot where he had discovered the bear tracks the day after the first stampede.
Along the road, stretching across the top of the slope down which two other herds of C Bar stock had been stampeded into the canyon, Pete Craig and his companions were piling brush, hidden by the darkness. With the first rumble of the stampede, or the first burst of shots, they would set fire to the brush and thus bar the way into the canyon with a sheet of flame. To the north were more rocks and rough country, and the stampede would be compelled to turn southward, where it could run itself out in the valley without damage.
It was a long wait. Several times Robbins heard a noise as of some moving thing, but it ceased abruptly and he decided that all was yet well. Then, along toward midnight, he heard a soft, scraping, scratching noise to his left, on the opposite side from Crimins; a noise that might have been made by some animal crawling and sliding over the rocks. He raised himself cautiously and with straining eyes tried to pierce the darkness. Finally he saw it, an indistinct, black form that slipped stealthily out of the rocks into the open and very silently approached the herd.
The cattle had been uneasy for a long time, sensing the presence of the waiting men. Now there were several wild snortings as nervous cows on the edge of the herd saw or scented the thing stealing toward it. Robbins listened very closely for some sound from Crimins. Would the man never shoot? Was he asleep, or was he going to let that silent, black form get among the cattle before he even moved?
Blam! Blarn! Blam! From where he knew the cattleman was waiting came three swift stabs of red flame. The dark form turned in a flash and came running back. Robbins had now moved to the place it had come out of the rocks, and stood waiting with his revolver in his hand. He could hear it plainly as it approached; the rasping on the stones as of a bear's claws, the scrape of the pads of the feet.
Suddenly a big black bulk raced around the boulder behind which he stood and collided forcefully with him. Both of them went to the ground. For a moment in the deeper shadow of the boulder there was a scuffling and trampling and panting. Then came the dull scrunch of blows as Robbins raised his gun and brought it down violently several times. Finally the cowboy arose, felt around for a rope he had laid near by in preparation, and knelt beside the still form.
He heard the running footsteps of Crimins approaching; heard the frightened bellowings and the rumble of a herd stampeding; the distant shouts, the roar of guns, and became conscious that the rumble was rapidly diminishing.
“Bill! Bill!” cried the heavy voice of Crimins. “Where are yuh? Did yuh get him?”
His tones were excited, anxious. Robbins went to meet him.
“Here I am!” he called. “Yes, I got him. He won't stampede no more cattle.”
The rancher loomed up in the darkness and gasped.
“Yuh say yuh got him? But I didn't hear yuh shoot. Is he dead?”
“No,” Robbins laughed. “He's alive. I captured him without havin' to shoot. He'll make a pretty good exhibit. I've got him tied up over there by that big boulder.”
Crimins' gasp this time was not for breath, but in surprise.
“What! Captured a grizzly alive? Great guns, man, that's impossible!”
“Uh-huh,” Robbins agreed. “Maybe so. Wait a minute. Somebody's comin'.”
A horse galloped up and slid to a halt beside them. June dismounted and came close to them, a flash light in her hand.
“I heard the shots,” she said eagerly. “Did you get him?”
“You bet 1” Crimins answered enthusiastically.
“Bill caught him alive. Can yuh beat that? Catchin' a bear—a grizzly, alive? Don't sound right, does it?
“I guess my three bullets must have wounded him pretty bad, though, or he'd never have been able to do it.”
“Yo're wrong, Crimins. You missed him all three times.”
Crimins bridled instantly, very indignant.
“Now I know yo're crazy! Come on! Let's go see him.”
Together they went into the shadow of the big boulder, Robbins in the lead.
“Turn on yore flash light, June, will yuh?” he asked. “It's pretty dark here.”
Obediently the girl snapped on the tiny switch. What she and her father saw in its yellow rays' caused them to gasp in sheer astonishment.
“Why!” cried June in bewilderment. “Why, it's a man! It's Melvin Kurtz!”
“I see you recognize him,” Robbins said dryly.
“But where's the bear?” queried Crimins in a puzzled tone.
“You never heard of a grizzly ridin' a horse, did yuh?” asked Robbins by way of an answer.
“No, I never did,” admitted Crimins, still perplexed. “But what has that—”
“Well,” interrupted Robbins, “this bear did. And that bear, the one that stampeded yore cattle twice before, is none other than Mr. Kurtz!”
“Uh-huh. See the cute dingus on his feet? See the little pads on the bottom resemblin' those of a bear's feet? See the five claws? That's what he made the bear tracks with that fooled you and June, and fooled me, too, for a while.”
June held the light so they could see the leather pads strapped to Kurtz's feet more clearly. They had been well made, and left almost perfect replica of the tracks of a real bear.
The eyes of the prone manager of the Big Bear opened and stared at them malevolently, but he did not speak. Crimins straightened, scowling down at him.
“So it's you who's been runnin' my cattle over-cliffs and killin' them, eh?” he burst out. “You dirty skunk, playin' the hypocrite and pretendin' yuh wanted to help me, when all the time yuh were tryin' to ruin me! I hope yuh get twenty years for this!”
“He probably will, if not more,” declared Robbins.
Craig and the two punchers rode up and reported that they had had no trouble at all in turning the cattle. The herd had raced on down into the valley and had milled of its own accord. They stared in amazement at the t;ussed form of the “bear,” and laughed uproariously when Robbins explained.
“That's why yuh didn't want anybody on the mesa in the daytime, then, isn't it, Bill?” Crimins wanted to know. “I suppose yuh figured Kurtz would be watchin' for another chance in his scheme to ruin me and force me to sell. But how did yuh figure it was a man, and not a bear that stampeded the cattle?”
“Why,” the cowboy answered readily, “when June and I followed the tracks here after yuh almost hung me, I thought I discovered somethin' peculiar about some I saw clearly in a place between two rocks. Yuh see, the ground where the cattle were isn't very soft, and the tracks weren't very clear. I managed to follow them, though, until I came to where there were a lot of horse tracks. I thought it was funny the bear tracks should end near the horse tracks, but didn't connect them till long afterward.
“When June and I followed the tracks of the bear that attacked Loco at the corral, I got a better chance to study them, and I decided that they were made by a man. Why? Because a bear runs somethm' like a dog, a lumberin' gallop, yuh might say. And yet, the bear tracks we saw were placed as far apart and as similar as those of a man.~~
“Then Kurtz was snooping around the corral, and when Loco surprised him, he attacked Loco and then ran up here?” asked June. “Is that it?”
“Yes. It was a long walk, but he figured it was worth it. Just why he was at the corral I'm not certain, but I think he thought he might learn what we knew, and at the same time leave tracks that we would find in the mornin' and which would likely make us believe still more there was a real bear mixed up in the affair. June and I did find one the next day, but he was only a resident of the country and perfectly innocent of stampedin' yore stock, Crimins.”
“But what was the idea of walkin' clear back here?”
“There wasn't any other place where he could leave his horse and not have the tracks seen and suspicion aroused. When he stampeded the cattle— both times he climbed over all sorts of rocks where his trail became lost, then mounted his horse and rode away. That's what he did the night Loco surprised him. He still has the wound Loco gave him then, by the way. I happened to grab hold of his thigh when I jumped him a minute ago, and he sure felt it!”
[End of chapter]