Beside himself with rage, the stranger grappled with John, and then began a wrestling match strange to see. If the bear up in the tree knew what it all meant, he must have been very much excited.
The two lads clinched, swayed, and finally fell to the ground, rolling over and over. The stranger pummeled and kicked, scratched and bit. John merely defended himself, holding his enemy firmly and trying to keep him under. It was easy to see that he was the stronger of the two. Presently the young man began to weaken, and at last John felt the stranger’s body grow limp in his clutch. He felt a thrill of triumph such as the Hermit certainly had never taught him. But suddenly, remembering the duty of a noble foe, he rose to his feet, leaving the stranger lying where he was.
He was not badly hurt. Presently he also rose, sullenly, and pulled on his cap which had fallen off. John had taken possession of his spear and bow. He now gravely handed an arrow to the young man.
“You may keep that,” he said politely. “I think you can do no harm with that.”
The stranger turned crimson, and his face was wicked to see.
“You shall pay for this!” he spluttered, with sobs in his voice. “No one can injure me without danger. You shall—”
At this moment, not far away in the direction of the Hermit’s hut, a horn sounded. Once, twice, thrice, it blew vigorously, as if giving a command. Both John and the stranger started.
“I must go!” muttered the latter to himself. “Needs must at that call.” And without another word or glance at John, he ran to his horse, which was tethered close by, and was soon galloping away in the direction of the bugle-call.
Trembling with excitement and with alarm at this coming of strangers to the forest which so long had been at peace, John hurried back to the hut. But Bruin remained safe in his tree.
He seemed to have no wish to come down And learn what all these strange doings meant.
John found the Hermit sitting as usual beside the door of his hut, reading his book. He was surrounded by his family of pets. Brutus bounded to meet John, but the boy was too excited to give him the usual caress.
“Father!” he cried, “have you heard or seen nothing? There are strangers in the forest, wicked strangers who hunt our friends the beasts. I have but now come from such a terrible scene!”
He covered his face with his hands. The Hermit started to his feet.
“What has happened?” he quavered. “Just now the wolf came leaping into the hut; but I feared nothing. Your clothes are torn. Your face is bloody. Who has been hurting you, my son?”
But before John could answer came again the call of a bugle, this time very near, “Tara! Tara! Tara!”