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turned ; and, acting upon my first impulse, I uttered a shout, which not only awakened my companions, but startled the bear so much that he paused in the very act of seizing his prey, and turned his glaring eyes full upon me.
In a moment more he seemed to have changed his original design, and had crouched again for a spring ; but this time the victim would have been myself, had he lived to take the fatal leap. I saw my danger at once, and instinctively grasped one of the pistols, which it will be remembered I had taken from the second mate's boat, and which, I had fortunately, loaded and placed in my belt at the commencement of my watch.
Not an instant was to be lost : but although fully conscious of my danger, my nerves were firm and my thoughts clear and collected; and quick as the lightning's flash, I raised the pistol, took hasty but accurate aim at the monster's glistening eye, and pulled the trigger.
To the astonishment and delight of all who witnessed the scene — including even myselfthe dying howl of the monster instantly followed the report of the pistol ; and ere the smoke had fairly cleared away, the ferocious beast was writhing in the death-struggle at our feet. My hasty aim had been true, — my bullet had entered at the eye, piercing the brain of the bear, and causing almost instant death.
Our danger, however, was not yet over; for there were other bears in the immediate vicinity, and we could see their eyes glistening like stars in the darkness which surrounded our camp, as they stealthily approached us, as if meditating a sudden and simultaneous attack.
No time was now to be lost in guarding against this fearful danger, and preparing for a hand to hand battle, if need be, with these fierce and hungry monsters; and Tolman and myself held a hasty consultation as to what should be done, while loading our pistols; for although the natives were, doubtless more competent than ourselves, to judge as the most proper course to pursue, - it will be remembered that we could neither understand their language, nor they ours; consequently, we were compelled to trust to ourselves in this emergency.
The natives, however, seemed to comprehend our design, and tacitly to acquiesce in it; for, without wasting time in striving to communicate with us, they immediately prepared to assist and protect us in the coming struggle. Three of them seized their short spears their only weapons of offence or defence—and placed themselves in advance of Tolman and myself, with the evident intention of protecting us while in the act of loading, and of coming to the rescue in case our bullets should miss their aim, and wound without killing the fierce creatures, while the fourth immediately set about re-kindling the extinct camp-fire.
These preparations were made in much less time than I have consumed in describing them; but not an instant too soon for our safety. We had scarcely finished loading our pistols, and taken our position in the rear of the natives, when a huge she bear bounded forward from the covert of bushes in which she had been reconnoitring the camp ground, crouched for an instant upon her hind legs, and uttering a fearful yell, sprang with the rapidity of lightning upon us.
Nothwithstanding the impetuosity of the attack, our three native guards stood firm as a column of trained infantry, and received the infuriated beast upon the points of their spears, which entered her breast to a considerable depth and brought her to the ground; but not, however, without breaking the spears, and prostrating the natives as she fell.
At this moment I brought my pistol to bear, and fired; but the violent struggles of the wounded beast had prevented me from taking an accurate aim, and, although my bullet pierced her side, it only served to enrage her the more, without disabling her in the slightest degree. Tolman was about to discharge his
. pistol also, when his arm was seized by one of the natives who had regained his feet, and he was soon made to comprehend that he must reserve his fire for a more pressing emergency.
By this time the other two natives had es caped, as it were, from the very claws of the bear which still rolled and struggled upon the ground in agony, driving the spears still farther into her breast with every motion, and rising to their feet, had procured other spears from the wigwam.
By the time the creature had succeeded in regaining her feet, they were again prepared for combat, and a second time received her upon their spears.
As before, the spears snapped like pipe-stems, and bear and natives rolled upon the ground in a promiscuous heap; but this time the infuriated animal succeeded in planting her claws deep into the leg of one of the natives as she feil.
The poor victim gave forth the most heartrending cries of agony as the claws of the bear penetrated his flesh; but several moments necessarily elapsed before his companions could come to his rescue; and in the meantime the infuriated beast had lacerated his leg in the most shocking manner. Indeed, she would probably have succeeded in killing him, had not Tolman discharged his pistol at the very “nick of time," with so good an aim that the ball entered the monster's head, just below the ear, and caused her to relinquish her grasp upon her victim and fall powerless to the earth.
The companions of the wounded man immediately rushed upon the beast followed by myself, armed with a hatchet which I had hastily procured, and with which I followed up the work of Tolman's pistol, by dealing the bear several blows upon the head, which quickly deprived her of the power of doing further mischief.
A few thrusts of the spears completed the work of destruction ; and by this time, the bright blaze of the re-kindled fire had lit up the scene : frightening the other bears back to their coverts, and revealing to us the inanimate bodies of our two prizes.