How Two Schoolboys Killed a Bear by H. F. Marsh

It was an unpleasant day. The gray clouds looked cold and dark, and the wind was blowing a gale as the stage left the little village of Lowton on its daily trip to the Summit. The weather prophets said it was the equinoctial, although it was ten days too early if the almanac was right; and every one predicted a storm, a northeaster that would set all the streams boiling, and probably carry away all the bridges between Lowton and the Summit.

But little for northeasters cared Leon and Sam Bearer, as they settled themselves cosily inside. They each carried a shot-gun, and under the care of their elder brother, Herbert, they were going on a two weeks' hunt among the well stocked forests on the mountains back of the Summit.

At noon they stopped at the Half-Way House, a little hotel built just at the rise of the mountain, where they were served with fresh venison in a dining-room hung with great antlers from the deer killed by the landlord, and his son, who was only fourteen years old—no older than Sam. The boys became very much excited listening to their hunting stories; and after dinner nothing but Herbert's decided command prevented their loading the guns to be ready for any game they might see on the road. The landlord and the driver said that they never saw any deer driving along the road; but the boys thought it might be that they would, and after they started a strict watch was kept, which resulted in seeing forty-one squirrels but nothing larger.

They had not driven many miles up the mountain before it cleared off, and the sun came out. The forest road, lined with ferns and banks of moss, was very picturesque, and Leon and Sam enjoyed the ride as only happy schoolboys can, in the pleasantest spot that boys can be—a forest peopled with deer and squirrels. And when they reached the Summit House they were in as good spirits as jolly boys could be who expected a glorious chase the next day.

The hotel was a large, pleasant one, and on every side were the trophies of game that so delight a boy's heart. The office and dining-room were hung with antlers, and the hat rack in the hall was made from them. Then there was a couch and some seats covered with bear skins and supported by great branching antlers with so many prongs that Leon tired of counting them, although he knew each one represented a year, and that he could compute the deer's age by them. In the sitting-room there were a stuffed deer, a fox, a number of similar animals, a partridge, some pigeons and many small birds; and in the office were two large panthers that looked very fierce and natural, their glass eyes glaring as if watching a victim, their feet placed as if ready for a leap. But the boys enjoyed most the deer in the large park back of the hotel. There were four old deer and two pretty young fawns with glossy, spotted coats, that Sam and Leon thought were the most beautiful animals they had ever seen, as they ran and played together like lambs, jumping and capering with a perfect grace that only deer possess.

After a nice venison supper the boys went to bed, and in a few minutes both were dreaming of deer, and bears, panthers and hounds, and all the excitements of the chase among the game-covered mountains.

Early in the morning, and long before Herbert was up, Sam and Leon were out again watching the deer in the park, and examining again the terrible panthers whose changeless eyes looked just as fierce as the night before. Their guns were loaded, and when they had eaten breakfast and the men were ready to start, the boys were off ahead ready for the expected game. All the way up the mountain path to the runways they kept the lead, occasionally stopping to rest in the shade of some great pine where chattering squirrels were quarrelling over their breakfast. Often, too, they would leave the path and plunge off in search of "track," which they failed to find, so that by the time the runways were reached they were well tired.

The landlord stationed Sam and Leon on the lower runway, while he and Herbert went to those higher up the mountain. There was a long time to wait before any game could be expected, as the man who was to start the hounds had a good distance to make before sending them off, and he was only a half-hour ahead of the watchers.

Leon laid down to rest after making sure that his gun was in good order; but Sam wandered around, looking for squirrels and "signs of game," until suddenly he heard, away back on the mountain, the bay of a hound. This was a signal that the chase had begun, and he hurried back to the watching-place to be ready for the deer, should the deer come. For nearly an hour the boys stood with guns ready, every minute hoping to see a deer. A squirrel running through the brush would bring their guns to their faces, and at the slightest rustle of the bushes they would start and listen. Meanwhile the hounds were surely coming nearer and nearer, their excited barking proclaiming that they were close upon the game; and at last Sam was sure they were down on the lower runway and, turning to Leon in great excitement, he said, "Let's keep cool and we can kill this deer! Then won't Herb be sorry he went further up?" Both boys felt sure there must be a deer coming, although they had been told that the hounds often came in without anything.

At last they could hear the brush crackling—yes, the hounds were surely down on their runway; and in a minute the dogs and game did come in sight together. But what a surprised pair of huntsmen they were when they saw what the game was! Leon was frightened, while even Sam felt a little uneasy. The hounds had not started a deer at all. Instead they were pursuing an old bear, and two young cubs about the size of a large dog. The old bear was very large and fierce, and whenever the hounds came up with the cubs, that could not run very fast, she would turn around and fight until the cubs ran on a few rods and then she would run again.

Just as the bear and cubs reached the watching place there was a fight, and the great creature caught one of the hounds and hugged him in her arms till he was breathless, all the time sitting up on her hind legs and looking as tall as a man. While she was in this position Sam took aim at her head and fired, and a moment later Leon fired too. Then the bear started to run, and they both fired the other barrel of their shot-guns, though without taking much aim, but a moment after they saw her lying on the ground, surrounded by the pack.

By this time Herbert and the landlord had come down in hot haste to see what the shooting was for, and in great surprise they gathered around the huge creature which the boys had secured. Leon and Sam had really killed a bear, a genuine black bear, a large one too—the landlord said the largest he had seen that year; and there were never two prouder fellows than these two schoolboys, as they surveyed their noble game.

But this was not all. The hounds were sent after the cubs, and in a few minutes they were caught alive. They were taken to the hotel and caged. Very quiet animals they were; in a few days they would eat from the boys' hands, as tame as the fawns in the park, never trying to bite or showing any crossness. With these pets and with their fine bear skin to show, it is no wonder that the boys thought there was never a pleasanter place than the hotel in the mountains; and it is not at all strange that they hated to leave it when their two weeks were up. But they had a new, strong cage made for the baby bears, and took them home to keep in the little yard near the barn, where every boy, and nearly every man in town came to see them, and to hear the story of their capture, and take the dimensions of the handsome black bear skin. At school certainly nothing else was talked of that term, and I fear the boys really believed they were the best hunters in the State. How long their mamma will allow them to keep their pets they do not know, but they hope it will be as long as the two bears live and behave.