Text - "Twice Bought" R.M. Ballantyne
A brown bear, either enjoying his morning walk or on the look-out for breakfast, suddenly met him face to face, and stood up on its hind legs as if to have a good look at him. Tom was no coward; indeed he was gifted with more than an average amount of animal courage. He at once levelled his rifle at the creature's breast and fired. The bear rushed at him, nevertheless, as if uninjured. Drawing his revolver, Tom discharged two shots before the monster reached him. All three shots had taken effect but bears are noted for tenacity of life, and are frequently able to fight a furious battle after being mortally wounded. The rifle ball had touched its heart, and the revolver bullets had gone deep into its chest, yet it showed little sign of having been hurt. Knowing full well the fate that awaited him if he stood to wrestle with a bear, the youth turned to run, but the bear was too quick for him. It struck him on the back and felled him to the earth. Strange to say, at that moment Tom Brixton's ill-gotten gains stood him in good stead. There can be no question that the bear's tremendous claws would have sunk deep into the youth's back, and probably broken his spine, if they had not been arrested by the bag of gold which was slung at his back. Although knocked down and slightly stunned, Brixton was still unwounded, and, even in the act of falling, had presence of mind to draw his long knife and plunge it up to the haft in the creature's side, at the same time twisting himself violently round so as to fall on his back and thus face the foe. In this position, partly owing to the form of the ground, the bear found it difficult to grasp its opponent in its awful embrace, but it held him with its claws and seized his left shoulder with its teeth. This rendered the use of the revolver impossible, but fortunately Brixton's right arm was still free, and he drove the keen knife a second time deep into the animal's sides. Whether mortal or not, the wound did not immediately kill. Tom felt that his hour was come, and a deadly fear came over him as the thought of death, his recent life, and judgment, flashed through his brain. He drew out the knife, however, to make another desperate thrust. The bear's great throat was close over his face. He thought of its jugular vein, and made a deadly thrust at the spot where he imagined that to run. Instantly a flood of warm blood deluged his face and breast; at the same time he felt as if some dreadful weight were pressing him to death. Then consciousness forsook him. While this desperate fight was going on, the miners of Pine Tree camp were scouring the woods in all directions in search of the fugitive. As we have said, great indignation was felt at that time against thieves, because some of them had become very daring, and cases of theft were multiplying. Severe penalties had been imposed on the culprits by the rest of the community without curing the evil. At last death was decided on as the penalty for any act of theft, however trifling it might be. That these men were in earnest was proved by the summary execution of the next two offenders who were caught. Immediately after that thieving came to an abrupt end, insomuch that if you had left a bag of gold on an exposed place, men would have gone out of their way to avoid it! One can understand, therefore, the indignation that was roused in the camp when Tom Brixton revived the practice in such a cool and impudent manner. It was felt that, despite his being a favourite with many of the diggers, he must be made an example. Pursuit was, therefore, organised on an extensive scale and in a methodical manner. Among others, his friend Fred Westly took part in it. It cost those diggers something thus to give up the exciting work of gold-finding for a chase that promised to occupy time and tax perseverance. Some of them even refused to join in it, but on the whole the desire for vengeance seemed general. Bully Gashford, as he did not object to be called, was, in virtue of his size, energy, and desperate character, tacitly appointed leader. Indeed he would have assumed that position if it had not been accorded to him, for he was made of that stuff which produces either heroes of the highest type or scoundrels of the deepest dye. He arranged that the pursuers should proceed in a body to the mouth of the valley, and there, dividing into several parties, scatter themselves abroad until they should find the thief's trail and then follow it up. As the miners were not much accustomed to following trails, they engaged the services of several Indians who chanced to be at the camp at that time. "What direction d'ye think it's likely your precious chum has taken?" asked Gashford, turning abruptly to Fred Westly when the different parties were about to start. "It is impossible for me to tell." "I know that," retorted Gashford, with a scowl and something of a sneer, "but it ain't impossible for you to guess. However, it will do as well if you tell me which party you intend to join." "I shall join that which goes to the south-west," replied Westly. "Well, then, I will join that which goes to the south-east," returned the bully, shouldering his rifle. "Go ahead, you red reptile," he added, giving a sign to the Indian at the head of the party he had selected to lead. The Indian at once went off at a swinging walk, amounting almost to a trot. The others followed suit and the forest soon swallowed them all in its dark embrace. In making this selection Gashford had fallen into a mistake not uncommon among scoundrels-that of judging other men by themselves. He knew that Westly was fond of his guilty friend, and concluded that he would tell any falsehood or put the pursuers on any false scent that might favour his escape. He also guessed-and he was fond of guessing-that Fred would answer his question by indicating the direction which he thought it most probable his friend had not taken. In these guesses he was only to a small extent right. Westly did indeed earnestly hope that his friend would escape; for he deemed the intended punishment of death most unjustly severe, and, knowing intimately the character and tendencies of Tom Brixton's mind and tastes, he had a pretty shrewd guess as to the direction he had taken, but, so far from desiring to throw the pursuers off the scent his main anxiety was to join the party which he thought most likely to find the fugitive-if they should find him at all-in order that he might be present to defend him from sudden or unnecessary violence. Of course Paddy Flinders went with the same party, and we need scarcely add that the little Irishman sympathised with Fred. "D'ee think it's likely we'll cotch 'im?" he asked, in a whisper, on the evening of that day, as they went rapidly through the woods together, a little in rear of their party. "It is difficult to say," answered Westly. "I earnestly hope not; indeed I think not, for Tom has had a good start; but the search is well organised, and there are bloodthirsty, indignant, and persevering men among the various parties, who won't be easily baffled. Still Tom is a splendid runner. We may depend on having a long chase before we come up with him." "Ah, then, it's glad I am that ye think so, sor," returned Paddy, "for I've been afear'd Mister Tom hadn't got quite so much go in him, since he tuk to gambling and drinkin'." "Look here, Paddy," exclaimed his companion, stopping abruptly, and pointing to the ground, "are not these the footprints of one of your friends?" "Sure it's a bar," said the little man, going down on his knees to examine the footprints in question with deep interest. Flinders was a remarkably plucky little man, and one of his great ambitions was to meet with a bear, when alone, and slay it single-handed. His ambition had not up to that time, been gratified, fortunately for himself, for he was a bad shot and exceedingly reckless, two qualities which would probably have insured his own destruction if he had had his wish. "Let's go after it, Mister Westly," he said, springing to his feet with an excited look. "Nonsense, it is probably miles off by this time; besides, we should lose our party." "Niver a taste, sor; we could soon overhaul them agin. An' won't they have to camp at sundown anyhow? Moreover, if we don't come up wi' the bar in a mile or so we can give it up." "No, no, Paddy, we must not fall behind. At least, I must not; but you may go after it alone if you choose."
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