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- THE VALIANT RUNAWAYS - 2/26 -


"Oh--hush."

"Ay, yi, Roldan! Roldan!"

The horses were standing upright, neighing pitifully. Adan gave a hoarse gurgle and crossed himself.

"The adventures have begun," said Roldan.

In a great swath of moonlight on a ledge some yards above them, standing on his hind legs and swinging his forepaws goodnaturedly, was an immense grey bear. Suddenly he extended his arms sociably, almost affectionately.

"We cannot retreat down that steep trail," said Roldan, rapidly. "He could follow faster and the horses would fall. To the left! in the brush, quick!--a bear cannot run sideways on a mountain."

The boys dug their spurs into the trembling mustangs, who responded with a snort of pain and plunged into the thicket. Only the bold skill of the riders saved them from pitching sidewise down the steep slope, despite the brush, for they were unshod and their knees had weakened.

But the grizzly, alas! was still master of the situation. In less than a moment the boys saw him lumbering along above them. He evidently had possession of a trail, more or less level.

"Dios de mi alma!" cried Adan. "If he gets ahead of us he will come down and meet us somewhere. We shall be lost--eaten even as a cat eats a mouse, a coyote a chicken."

"You will look well lining the dark corridors of the bear, my friend. Your yellow jacket with those large red roses, which would make a bull sweat, would hang like tapestry in the houses of Spain. Those hide boots, spotted with mud, and the blood of the calf, would keep him from wanting another meal for many a long day--"

"Ay, thou fearless one! Why, it is said that if the grizzly even raises his paw and slaps the face every feature is crushed out of shape."

"I should not be surprised."

They plunged on, tearing their clothes on the spiked brush and the thorns of the sweetbrier, fragrant lilac petals falling in a shower about them, great ferns trodden and rebounding. The air was heavy with perfume and the pungent odour of redwood and pine.

Roldan had passed Adan. Suddenly his horse stumbled and would have gone headlong had not his expert rider pulled him back on his haunches.

"What is it? What is it?" cried Adan, who also had been obliged to pull in abruptly, and who liked horses less when they stood on their hind legs. "Is it the bear upon us? But, no, I hear him--above and beyond. What are you doing, my friend?"

Roldan had dismounted and was on his hands and knees. In a half moment he stood erect.

"We are saved," he said.

"Ay? What?"

"It is a hole, my friend--large and deep and round. Did you put any meat in your saddle-bags?"

"Ay, a good piece."

"Raw?"

"Yes."

"Give it to me--quick. Do not unwrap it."

Adan handed over the meat, then dismounted also.

"A bear-trap?" he asked.

"Yes, a natural one. Come this way, before I unwrap the meat."

The boys forced their way to the south of the large hole, dragging the still terrified horses, who were not disposed to respond to anything less persuasive than the spur. Roldan approached the edge of the excavation and shook the meat loose, flinging the paper after it. As the smell of fresh beef pervaded the air it was greeted by a growl like rising thunder, and almost simultaneously the huge unwieldy form of the bear hurled itself down through the brush. The boys held their breath. Even Roldan felt a singing in his ears. But the grizzly, without pausing to ascertain his bearings, went down into the hole at a leap. He made one mouthful of the meat, then appeared to realise that he was in a trap. With a roar that made the horses rear and neigh like stricken things, he flung himself against the sides of his prison, drew back and leaped clumsily, tore up the earth, and galloped frantically to and fro. But he was caught like a rat in a trap.

The boys laughed gleefully and remounted their horses, which also seemed to appreciate the situation, for they had quieted suddenly.

"Adios! Adios!" cried Roldan, as they forced their way up to the trail the bear had discovered. "You will make a fine skeleton; we will come back and look at you some day."

But it was not the last they were to see of Bruin in the flesh.

III

An hour later they began to descend the mountain on the other side, and by dawn espied a ranch house in a valley. The white walls were pink under the first streamers of the morning. The redwoods rose like a solid black wall on the towering mountains on every side.

"Ay!" exclaimed Roldan, drawing a deep sigh. "Sleep and a hot breakfast. They will be good once more."

"They will," answered Adan, who had been collapsing and digging his knuckles into his eyes for an hour and more.

They feared that no one might be stirring, but, as they approached the verandah, the door opened and a stout smiling Californian, dressed in brown small-clothes, appeared.

"Who have we here?" he cried. "But you are early visitors, my young friends."

"We are dodging the conscript," said Roldan. "You will not betray us?"

"I should think not. I'd hide my own boys, if the mountains did not do that for me. Come in, come in. The house is yours, my sons. Burn it if you will. Tired? Here. Go in and get into bed. The servants are not up, but I myself will make you chocolate and a tortilla."

The boys did not awaken for eight hours. When they emerged, somewhat shamefacedly, they found the family assembled on the verandah, drinking their afternoon chocolate, and impatient with curiosity. There were no girls to criticise the dilapidated garments--which the kind hostess had mended while the boys slept; but there were two youths of fourteen and fifteen and two young men who were lying in hammocks and smoking cigarritos.

Roldan and Adan were made welcome at once.

"My name is Jose Maria Perez," said the host, coming forward. "This is my wife, Dona Theresa, and these are my sons, Emilio, Jorge, Benito, and Carlos. What shall we call you, my sons?"

"My name is Roldan Castanada of the Rancho Los Palos Verdes, and this is my friend Adan Pardo of the Rancho Buena Vista."

"Ay! we have distinguished visitors. But you were just as welcome before. Sit down while I go and see if the big stew I ordered is done. Caramba! but you must be hungry."

The four lads quickly fraternised, and Roldan began at once to relate their adventures, continuing them over the steaming dish of stew. When he reached the point which dealt with the outwitting of the bear, Don Emilio sprang from his hammock.

"A bear trapped?" he cried. "A grizzly? We will have a fight with a bull. You are rested, no? As soon as you have eaten, come and show us the way."

The boys, always ready for sport, and believing that they were beyond the grasp of the law for the present, eagerly consented. An hour later Don Emilio, Don Jorge, the four lads, and three vaqueros all sallied forth to capture one poor bear. The vaqueros dragged a sled, and much stout rope.

When they reached the trap darkness had come, but the four boys held lighted torches over the hole--this was their part. The bear, disheartened with his long and futile effort to escape, lay on the uneven surface below, alternately growling and roaring. As the torches flared above him he sprang to his feet with a vast roar, his eyes as green and glittering as marsh lights. In a moment a lasso had flown over his head and he was on his back. But his formidable legs were not to be encountered rashly. Each was lassoed in turn, also his back; then his huge lunging body was dragged up the side of the excavation and onto the sled. There he was bound securely; then the rope about his neck was loosened and he was fed on a hind quarter of sheep. But it placated him little. His anger was terrific. He roared until the echoes awoke, and strained at the rope until it seemed as if his great muscles must conquer.

But he was powerless, and the procession started: first Roldan and Benito with their torches; then two vaqueros dragging the sled, the third holding the rope which encircled the bear's neck, ready to tighten it on a second's notice. Following were Don Jorge and Don Emilio, then the two other young torch bearers. Thus was poor Bruin carried ignominiously out of the forest where he had been lord, to perform for the benefit of the kind he despised. That night he rested alone in a high walled corral, liberated by the quick knife of one of the vaqueros, who sprang through the door just in time to save himself.

There was an angry guest on the ranch that night. The bear's lungs, which were of the best, had little repose, and he flung himself against the earth walls of the corral until they quivered with the impact. The horses in the neighbouring corrals whinnied; the cows in the fields bellowed. It was a vocal night, and few slept.

Nevertheless everybody was excited and good-natured next morning. Immediately after breakfast they went out to the corral, and by means of


THE VALIANT RUNAWAYS - 2/26

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