“My cracky! ’twas lucky for me that you had game blood in you, which showed up,” exclaimed Joe, catching the boy’s arm in a friendly grip, with an odd respect in his touch, which marked the admission of young Farrar into the brotherhood of hunters. “I hadn’t a charge left, an’ not even my hunting-knife. Lots o’ city swells ’u’d have been plumb scared before a growler like that,”—touching Bruin’s carcass with his foot,—“even if they had a small arsenal to back ’em up. They’d have dropped rifle and cartridges, and hugged the nearest trunk. I’ve seen fellers do it scores o’ times, bless ye! after they came out here rigged up in sporting-book style, talking fire about hunting bears and moose. But that was all the fire there was to ’em.”
Yet Neal’s triumph over the poor brute, which had raced well for its life, was not without a faint twinge of pain; and he was too manly to look on this as a weakness. A sportsman he might be, of the sort who can shoot straight when necessity demands it, but never of that class who prowl through the forests with fingers tingling to pull the trigger, dreading to lose a chance of “letting blood” from any slim-legged moose or velvet-nosed buck which may run their way. It needed Doc’s praise to make him feel fully satisfied with his deed.
“It was a crack shot, boy,” said the doctor proudly. “And I guess the farmer at the next settlement will feel like giving you a medal for it. Old Bruin has only got what he gave to every creature he could master.”
There being no tree conveniently near to which they could string up the dead bear, the guides decided to leave the ugly matter of skinning and dissecting him for morning light. The excited party returned to camp, but not to sleep. They built up their scattered fire, squatted round it, and discoursed of the night’s adventure until a clear dawn-gleam brightened the eastern sky. Then Uncle Eb and Joe started out again across the brulee. They reappeared before breakfast-time, bringing Bruin’s skin and a goodly portion of his meat.
Joe laid the hide at Neal’s feet.
“There, boy,” he said, “the skin is yours. It belongs rightly to the man who killed the bear; and I guess the brute wasn’t mortally hurt at all till your bullet nipped him in the neck.”
“But what about the fifteen dollars from that New York man, Joe? You’ll lose it,” faltered young Farrar, with a triumphant heart-leap at the thought of taking this trophy back to England, but loath to profit by the woodsman’s generosity.
“Don’t you bother about that; let it go,” answered Joe, whose business of guiding was profitable enough for him. “’Tain’t enough for the skin, anyhow. Nary a finer one has been taken out o’ Maine in the last five years; and mighty lucky you Britishers were to git a chance of a bear-hunt at all. Old Bruin must have been powerful hungry to come around our camp.”
There was a grand breakfast before the travellers broke camp that morning. The guides and Doc—who had got accustomed to the luxury during visits to settlers and lumber-camps—feasted off bear-steaks. Cyrus and the boys, American and English, declined to touch it. The whole appearance of Bruin as he lay stretched on the ground the night before made their “department of the interior” revolt against it.