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A Hero of Ticonderoga by Rowland E. Robinson

Seth had no weapon but his axe


Sometimes

Job joined them and told of his lonely scouts in the Ranger service, and of bush fights with Indians and their French allies, and of encounters with wild beasts, tales made more impressive in their relation by the loneliness of the campfire, with the circle of wild lights and shadows leaping around it in the edge of the surrounding darkness, out of which came, perhaps from far away, the howl of a wolf or the nearer hoot of the great horned owl.

Sometimes Martha spent part of a day in camp with her brother, helping in womanly ways that girls so early acquired in the training of those times, when every one of the household must learn helpfulness and self-reliance. But the little sister enjoyed most the evenings when the syrup was taken to the house and sugared off. The children surfeited themselves with sugar "waxed" on snow, and their parents, and Job, if he chanced to be there, shared of this most delicious of the few backwoods luxuries, and the five made a jolly family party.

One morning, when the surface of the coarse-grained old snow was covered with one of the light later falls, known as "sugar snow," as Seth and his son were on their way to the sugar place, the latter called his father's attention to a large track bearing some resemblance to the imprint of a naked human foot, and tending with some meandering in the same direction that they were going.

"Why," said Seth,

at the first glance, "it's a bear, an' if he's been to the camp, I'm afraid he's done mischief, for they're meddlesome creatur's. But there wa'n't much left there for him to hurt," he added, after taking a brief mental inventory of the camp's contents.

"I can't think of nothing but the hunk of pork we had to keep the big kittle from b'ilin' over," said Nathan, "and a little mite of syrup that we left in the little kittle 'cause there was more'n we could carry home in the pails."

"He's welcome to that if he's left the pork; we hain't no pork to feed bears."

Now, as they drew near the camp, they heard a strange commotion in its neighborhood; a medley of smothered angry growls, impatient whines, unwieldy floundering, and a dull thud and clank of iron, the excited squalling of a party of jays, and the chattering jeers of a red squirrel. Running forward in cautious haste, they presently discovered the cause of this odd confusion of noises to be a large black bear.

His head was concealed in the pot-bellied syrup kettle, held fast in that position by the bail, that, in his eagerness to lick out the last drop of stolen sweet, had slipped behind his ears. His frantic efforts to get rid of his self-imposed muzzle were so funny that, after their first moment of bewilderment, the two spectators could but shout with laughter.

Now upreared, the blindfolded bear would strike wildly at the kettle with his forepaws; then, falling on his back, claw it furiously with his hinder ones; then, regaining his feet, rush headlong till brought to a sudden stand by an unseen tree trunk. Recovering from the shock, he would remain motionless for a moment, as if devising some new means of relief, but would presently resume the same round of unavailing devices, with the constant accompaniment of smothered expressions of rage and terror.

But there was little time for laughter when a precious kettle and a fat bear might at any moment be lost by the fracture of one and the escape of the other. Seth had no weapon but his axe, but with this he essayed prompt attack, the happy opportunity for which was at once offered. In one of his blind, unguided rushes, the bear charged directly toward the camp, till his iron-clad head struck with a resounding clang against the great boiling kettle. As he reeled backward from the shock, half stunned by it, and bewildered by the unaccustomed sound that still rang in his ears, Seth was beside him with axe uplifted.


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