About half an hour had passed when Neal Farrar suddenly and sharply rapped out these words close to Joe’s ear. He felt certain that he would not now bring upon him the woodsman’s good-natured scorn for making a disturbance about nothing. A heavy, stealthy tread, as of some big animal, was crushing the pygmy bushes near the tent. Immediately afterwards he saw an uncouth black shape in the lane of light between himself and the fire. It disappeared while his heart was giving one jump, and he heard a dull, mumbling noise, such as a pig might make when rooting amid rubbish, varied with an occasional low growl.
Joe was already awake. His hunter’s instinct told him that something truly exciting was on now.
“My cracky! I b’lieve it’s a bear!” he muttered, forming his words away down in his throat, so that Neal only caught the last one. “Keep still as death!”
The guide reached out a long arm, and clutched his rifle. Hurriedly he jammed half a dozen cartridges into its magazine. Then lightly and silently, as if he was made of cork, he got upon his feet, and bounded out of the tent, Neal copying his actions nimbly and noiselessly as he could; though, in his excitement, he only succeeded in getting two cartridges into his Winchester.
Royal’s snoring ceased. Doc’s eager question, “What’s up now, boys?” reached the two just as they quitted shelter, and passed into the broad moonlight, crossed with red gleams from their fire.
“A bear!” yelled Joe in answer, his rifle and he breaking silence together.
Three times the Winchester sharply cracked.
Then with a mad “Halloo!” the guide seized a flaming stick from the fire, and, swinging it above his head, started after the big black animal of which Neal had caught a glimpse before. He now saw it plainly as, already fifty yards ahead, it made off at a plunging gallop across the moonlit brulee.
Young Farrar had been the champion runner of his school, and he blessed his trained legs for giving him a prominent part in the wild chase that followed. Still imitating the woodsman, he pulled another half-lighted stick from the camp-fire, and waved it in a frenzy of excitement, while he ran like a buck at Joe’s side.
“Tumble out! Tumble out, boys! A bear! A bear!” now rang from one tent to another.
In two minutes every camper, in his stocking feet, just as he had risen from his bed, was tearing across the brulee in the wake of Bruin, yelling, leaping, and swinging smouldering firebrands.
It was a scene and a chase such as the boys, in their most far-fetched dreams, had never pictured,—the white moonlight glimmering on the black stumps and tottering trunks of the ruined tract, the hunted bear plunging off among them, frightened by the shouting and the lights, the heavy, lumbering gallop enabling it at first to distance its pursuers.