27. Bringing Down Two Bears.
 

"Bears!" burst out Sam, and started back in alarm.

"Bears!" shrieked Jasper Grinder, and turned as pale as death. "Oh, somebody save me!" He wanted to run, but he was in such a tremble he could not, and sank on his knees in the snow in terror.

Crack! It was the report of John Barrow's rifle, and one of the bears was hit full in the left eye. Crack! went the piece Dick carried, and the other bear was hit in the neck. Then Tom fired the shotgun which had been found on Jasper Grinder, and the bear Dick had hit was wounded in the side.

Of course there followed a terrible uproar, and in a twinkle both bears left the pile of rocks and came toward those who had wounded them. The one that had been wounded in the eye was mortally hit, however, and staggered in a heap before he had gone ten paces.

But the second bear was full of fight, and his course was directly for Tom. Before the lad could run the beast was almost on top of him.

"Dodge him!" called out Dick. "Dodge him, Tom!"

"Shoot him, somebody!" yelled back Tom. "Shoot him, quick"

And then he dodged behind some nearby brush. But the bear was almost as quick, and ran directly into the brushwood, to face him on the opposite side.

By this time John Barrow had the rifle reloaded, and now he skirted the brushwood, followed by Dick. Crack! went the rifle again, just as bruin was about to pounce upon Tom. But the bullet merely clipped the hair on the bear's back, and in a twinkle the beast was on Tom and had the lad down.

With his heart in his throat, Dick made a leap with the shotgun. Bang! went the piece, when he was not over three yards from the bear. The charge entered the beast's ear, and with a snort he rolled over and over in the snow, sending it flying in every direction.

Freed of the bear, Tom lost no time in scrambling to his feet. Soon the struggles of the beast ceased, and they knew he was either dying or dead. To make sure, John Barrow stepped in, hunting knife in hand, and plunged the blade into his throat. Then the other bear was served in the same fashion.

The fight had been of short duration, yet the peril had been extreme, and after it was over poor Tom found he could scarcely stand. Dick led him to a rock and set him down, asking him if he was hurt.

"I got a scratch on the arm, but I reckon it's not much," was the faint answer. "But it was a close call, wasn't it?"

"Those bears must have been awfully hungry, or they wouldn't have put up such a fight," said the guide. "Their being at the cache proves they wanted food."

"Well, we've got the food now," returned Dick grimly. "We'll have all the bear steaks and roasts anybody wants."

"Yes, and I can tell you a juicy steak will just be boss!" put in Sam enthusiastically.

It was seen that Tom was hurt more than he cared to admit, and the others lost no time in building a big camp-fire, that they might warm themselves, while Dick took off his brother's coat, rolled up his shirt-sleeves, and bandaged an ugly scratch with a bit of linen.

"You can help here," said John Barrow to Jasper Grinder. "I'll fix it as your duty to keep the fire a-goin'. There is a hatchet and there is the brushwood. Don't let the fire go down, or I'm afraid there won't be enough heat for cooking your supper." And the guide smiled grimly.

At this indirect threat Jasper Grinder scowled. But he did not dare to complain, and was soon at work cutting brushwood and dragging it to the spot.

"Gosh, but he's not used to hard work," was Sam's whispered comment. "I'll wager he doesn't like that for a cent."

"It's time he was set to work doing something," answered Dick. "It will keep him from getting into mischief."

As late as it was, and although all were tired out from their long walk through the deep snow, they found it necessary to construct some shelter for the night. The guide located a number of cedars growing close together, and this spot was cleaned out and made as comfortable as circumstances permitted. The fire was shoved over to the new location, and then John Barrow cut up one of the bears and procured a big juicy steak for supper. It is needless to say that all enjoyed the treat set before them, even Jasper Grinder eating his full share.

"We'll hang the meat up on a tree," said John Barrow. "If we don't some hungry foxes or other wild animals will surely be after it." And procuring the necessary ropes, he flung them over some limbs and all hauled the carcasses up, Tom, of course, being excused from the task, because of his wounded arm.

The wind had gone down, and when all retired within the shelter not a sound but the merry crackling of the fire broke the stillness around them. In front of the camp was a long stretch of the pond, now thickly covered with snow; in the rear a slope of a mountain, rock-ribbed and covered with cedars and hemlock. To the left was located one of the branches of the river and a hundred yards distant was a second branch.

At first John Barrow had thought to set a guard for the night, but as the spot seemed free from danger for the time being, this was dispensed with, and all went to bed, to sleep soundly until sunrise.

"And now for the treasure hunt!" cried Sam, who was among the first to awaken. "It's just a perfect day, and we ought to accomplish a good deal, if we set to work right after breakfast."

He talked freely, for Jasper Grinder was still asleep--snoring lustily in a corner of the shelter. John Barrow was already outside, boiling coffee, broiling another bear steak, and preparing a pot of beans for cooking. He had likewise set some bread for raising.

"Goin' to give you a breakfast as is a breakfast," said the guide; with a broad smile. "Reckon all of you are ready for it, eh?"

"I am," said Dick. "Phew! but this mountain air does give one a tremendous appetite!"

While Jasper Grinder still slept Dick brought forth the precious map and studied the description, and also the translation of the French text into English, which Randolph Rover had made for them.

"'To find the box of silver and gold, go to where Bear Pond empties into Perch River,'" he read. "Well, we are at this spot, or, at least, at one of the spots. It may mean this branch, and it may mean one of several others."

"We can try one branch after another," put in Sam. "Go on with the description."

"'Ten paces to the west is a large pine tree which was once struck by lightning,'" continued Dick. He looked around. "I don't see any tree like that around here."

"You must remember, my lad, that that writin' was put down years ago," said John Barrow. "More'n likely if the tree was struck an' blasted, it's fallen long ago, and the spring freshets carried it down the river."

"That's true," said Sam, with a falling look. "But, anyway, we ought to be able to locate the stump."

"Yes, we ought to be able to do that."

"I'm going to locate it now," cried Sam, and stalked off to where the pond emptied into the stream. From this spot he stalked ten paces westward, and of a sudden disappeared from view.

"Help!" he cried.

"Hullo, Sam's disappeared!" cried Dick, and ran toward the spot.

"Look out!" sang out John Barrow. "There may be a nasty hole there!"

Nevertheless, he too went forward, and they soon beheld Sam floundering in snow up to his neck. He had stepped into a hollow between the rocks, and it took him some time to extricate himself from the unpleasant position.

"Oh, my, what a bath!" he exclaimed ruefully, as he tried to get the snow from out of his collar and his coat-sleeves. "I--I didn't think of a pitfall like that!"

"You want to be careful how you journey around here," cautioned John Barrow. "If that hollow had been twice as deep the snow might have smothered you to death."

"I will be careful," answered Sam. "I don't want any more snow down my back and up my coat-sleeves," and he hurried back to the camp-fire to warm himself.

By this time Tom was outside, and he was followed by Jasper Grinder, and presently all sat down close to the blaze to enjoy the generous breakfast the guide had provided. Tom said that his arm was a little stiff, but that otherwise he felt as well as ever.