Twice Joe’s rifle spoke again. One shot took effect. There was a fearful growl from the beast, but it was not yet mortally wounded.
Maddened and desperate, it wheeled about, and came straight for its pursuers. Again the guide fired. Still the bear advanced, gnashing its teeth and mumbling horribly; Neal saw its black shape not thirty yards from him.
“Shoot! shoot, boy!” screamed Joe. “Or give me your rifle. I haven’t got a charge left!”
For half a minute Farrar shook all over as with ague. His nostrils felt choked. His mouth was wide open in his efforts to breathe. His heart pounded like a sledge-hammer. With that mumbling brute advancing upon him, he felt as if he couldn’t fire so as to hit a haystack or a flock of hens at a barn-door.
Then, suddenly, he was cool again, seeing and hearing with extraordinary clearness. The ignominious alternative of giving his rifle to Joe produced a revulsion. His fingers were on the trigger, his left hand firmly gripped the barrel of his Winchester; he brought it to his shoulder.
“Aim low! Try to hit him in the front of the neck where it joins the body,” said Joe, in tones sharp as a razor, which cut his meaning into Neal’s brain.
Bruin was only fifteen yards away when Farrar’s rifle cracked once—twice—sending out its messengers of death.
There was a last terrible growl, a plunge, and a thud which seemed to shake the ground under Neal’s feet. As the smoke of his shots cleared away, Joe beheld him leaning on his rifle, with a face which in the moonlight looked white as chalk, and the bear lying where it had fallen headlong towards him. It made a desperate struggle to regain its feet, then rolled on its side, dead.
One bullet had pierced the spot which Joe mentioned, and had passed through the region of the heart.
“THE SKIN IS YOURS.”
A regular war-dance was performed about the slain marauder by the young Sinclairs and Dol Farrar, when these laggards in the chase reached the spot where he fell. The firebrands had all died out before the enemy turned; but in the white moon-radiance the bear was seen to be a big one, with an uncommonly fine skin.
Neal took no part in the triumphal capers. He still leaned upon his rifle, his breath coming in gusty puffs through his nostrils and mouth. Not alone the desperate sensations of those moments when he had faced the gnashing, mumbling brute, but the unexpected success of his first shot at big game, had unhinged him. By his endurance in the chase, by the pluck with which he stood up to the bear, above all, by his being able, as Joe phrased it, to “take a sure pull on the beast at a paralyzing moment,” he had eternally justified his right to the title of sportsman in the eyes of the natives. The guides, Joe and Eb, were not slow in telling him that he had behaved from start to finish like no “greenhorn,” but a regular “old sport.”