They had ventured to drag out one of the seines and unroll it on the floor of the loft, when the cow below them broke into distressful bawling. Peering down a square aperture, through which hay was lifted by machine forks in the season of storing, they saw that the calf had got in between the wheels of two buggies which were housed on one side of the driveway.
The feeble creature was stuck fast enough, and the helpless dam could only bellow her distress. The boys, in spite of some fear of the cow, would have gone down to extricate the calf, but at this instant Solomon roused in his lair, and took a hand in the demonstration.
His uproar became frightful as the cow, more than ever alarmed for her calf, continued to bawl. There was a trap-door raised for ventilation over Solomon's stall, and the boys ran eagerly to have a look at the grizzly.
They were highly entertained for a moment. Hair on end, teeth gnashing, Solomon charged back and forth in his enclosure. Then he reared up on his hind legs and clawed at the pine planks which shut him in. He had not long continued this performance when his claws caught in the crack of a loosened board. There was a ripping creak and a crash, and down came the board. Another followed, and Solomon, ceasing his violent threats for the instant, peered through a wide gap into another domain. His hesitation was brief; he scrambled through, walked out of the open door of the horse-stall into an alley, and sought wider range.
At first the boys were a little frightened, but they concluded that Solomon would not be able to climb into the loft, and that it was safer for them to stay above than to go down the ladder, for the grizzly might easily push aside one of the half-dozen sliding doors and get out of the barn.
The barn was at a considerable distance from the house, so they determined not to alarm the women unless Solomon should get outside and so make it necessary. They sat for a time listening to the monotonous bawling of the cow. Solomon seemed to have lost interest in her noise, as they heard him now and then rummaging among the empty stalls.
They had begun to hope that the bear would not find his way out of the stalls, when they heard him scrambling heavily.
Then came a resounding thump as he dropped from one of the open mangers to the floor of the barn.
Almost instantly a terrific bawling and uproar broke out below.
Solomon had reached the cow at last. The boys ran to the edge of the hay-lift and peered down. The cow was directly underneath, had backed up against the buggies, and stood tossing her head and bawling like a crazy thing.
Dropping their eyes below the level of the loft floor, the lads saw Solomon coming round a pile of new alfalfa which had been unloaded in front of the central stalls. His rage was terrific, although he advanced slowly to the attack.
He came under the wide opening and swayed back and forth before the cow like a tiger in its cage, roaring his threats and watching for an opening to get by the lowered horns. He was a creature of instinct, and with a veteran's precaution before a wicked pair of horns.
Nevertheless the cow, in a lightning charge, caught him broadside on, and bore him, in a swift rush, into the midst of the heap of clover. But for that soft padding for his ribs, it would have gone hard with Solomon. He was doubled up and thrust into the soft mass, fighting wildly.
Bear and cow were buried in a storm of clover and flying hay. They twisted about. Then the bear got his back braced against a stall and his hind feet against the cow, and he bowled her into the middle of the barn.
With a huge grunt she alighted on her side and rolled clean over.
As she scrambled to her feet, full of pluck and snorting fiercely, Solomon issued from the midst of the alfalfa-heap, and again the two faced each other, filling the barn with loudmouthed threats.
It was a splendid and exciting battle, but Rufe and Perry, certain that the bear would kill the cow unless prevented, felt that they must do something. They had heard their Uncle Joe say that, since Solomon was getting crosser, he would give him away if anybody could be found to come and get him.
Since nobody else was within reach, they cast about for some means of distracting Solomon from his fell purpose. Better kill the bear, if possible, than let him destroy a valuable farm animal. Suddenly, as the bear came directly beneath, Perry bethought him of the fish-spears.
In a twinkling he had one in hand, and was standing over the wide aperture.
"That's it! That's it!" shouted Rufe. "Stab him! Stick it clear into him! That'll keep him busy for a while!"
Solomon was again weaving back and forth before the threatening horns, and as he came within easy reach, Perry gave him a fierce thrust between the shoulders. As the tines pierced his muscles, the bear reared to his hind legs with a whining roar of pain. Perry, still clinging to the handle of the spear, was suddenly thrown off his perch and tumbled head foremost upon the grizzly!
Thus the peril of breaking bones in falling was avoided in the peril of rolling on the barn floor in the clutches of a mad grizzly!
The bear had twisted his neck to seize the spear-handle, and when Perry hit him, was bowled over on his side.
The spear-handle snapped in his teeth, and as he wrenched frantically at the fragment, its tines were twisted, cutting deeper into his flesh.
This wound, the first he had ever received, set Solomon crazy.
He paid not the slightest heed to boy or cow, but rolled and threshed, biting at the fragment of spear-handle, giving vent to his rage and pain in a hoarse, distressful roar.
Perry might easily have scrambled to his feet and escaped, but he also was flung at full length on the floor, and instantly Solomon, in distress, rolled over him, crushing the breath from his lungs.
The terrified Rufe, looking down upon his brother's blackened face and the bear's wicked claws waving above it, leaped to his feet and started to run to the barn-loft door, to scream for help.
At less than half the distance, his feet caught in the meshes of the unrolled net, and he measured his length on the floor.
As he quickly untangled a foot, the thought flashed into his mind, "Throw this net upon the bear's legs!" In a flash he was at the edge of the open floor and hauling the big seine in coils at his feet.
When he had a heap to the height of his knees he gathered it in his arms and dropped the coils upon Solomon's waving legs.
The bear's claws took instant hold of the stout meshes, and bruin, feeling his feet entangled, wrenched at their fastenings, rolling himself over on his side and off the body of the prostrate boy.
Perry, well-nigh smothered, had barely strength enough to crawl out of reach of the whirlwind fight which now took place.
Even the cow was awed to silence by the uproar of Solomon's rage as he fought with the entangling folds of the salmon net.
The seine needed no attendance. It did its own work once the grizzly's legs had been thrust through its meshes.
Coil after coil, the hundred and fifty feet of seine came down out of the loft as the bear rolled and pitched and tumbled. The more he tore and threshed, the more meshes there were to enwrap and entangle him.
In five minutes from the time its first meshes dropped upon him, the net had Solomon so wound and bound that his legs were immovable, and he could barely wriggle his neck.
Perry soon recovered his breath, and before they ran to the field to tell of Solomon's plight, the two boys had the presence of mind to pen the cow up where she could not, should she take a notion, gore the helpless grizzly.
Amid both laughter and commiseration, blended with comments on the pluck of the two youngsters, the ranchmen performed a surgical operation on the helpless Solomon, extracting the spear from his flesh. With much greater difficulty they freed him from the seine and got him back into his lair.
A DROLL FOX-TRAP
By C. A. Stephens
When I was a boy I lived in one of those rustic neighborhoods on the outskirts of the great "Maine woods." Foxes were plenty, for about all those sunny pioneer clearings birch-partridges breed by thousands, as also field-mice and squirrels, making plenty of game for Reynard.
There were red foxes, "cross-grays," and "silver-grays;" even black foxes were reported. These animals were the pests of the farm-yards, and made havoc with the geese, cats, turkeys, and chickens. In the fall of the year, particularly after the frosts, the clearings were overrun by them night and morning. Their sharp, cur-like barks used often to rouse us, and of a dark evening we would hear them out in the fields, "mousing" around the stone-heaps, making a queer, squeaking sound like a mouse, to call the real mice out of their grass nests inside the stone-heaps.
This, indeed, is a favorite trick of Reynard.
At the time of my story, my friend Tom Edwards (ten years of age) and myself were in the turkey business, equal partners. We owned a flock of thirty-one turkeys. These roosted by night in a large butternut tree in front of Tom's house--in the very top of it, and by day they wandered about the edges of the clearings in quest of beech-nuts, which were very plentiful that fall.
All went well till the last week in October, when, on taking the census one morning, a turkey was found to be missing; the thirty-one had become thirty since nightfall the previous evening.
It was the first one we had lost.
We proceeded to look for traces. Our suspicions were divided. Tom thought it was "the Twombly boys," nefarious Sam in particular. I thought it might have been an owl. But under the tree, in the soft dirt, where the potatoes had recently been dug, we found fox-tracks, and two or three ominous little wads of feathers, with one long tail feather adrift. Thereupon we concluded that the turkey had accidentally fallen down out of the butternut--had a fit, perhaps--and that its flutterings had attracted the attention of some passing fox, which had, forthwith, taken it in charge. It was, as we regarded it, one of those unfortunate occurrences which no care on our part could have well foreseen, and a casualty such as turkey-raisers are unavoidably heirs to, and we bore our loss with resignation. We were glad to remember that turkeys did not often fall off their roosts.
This theory received something of a check when our flock counted only twenty-nine the next morning. There were more fox-tracks, and a great many more feathers under the tree. This put a new and altogether ugly aspect on the matter. No algebra was needed to figure the outcome of the turkey business at this rate, together with our prospective profits, in the light of this new fact. It was clear that something must be done, and at once, too, or ruin would swallow up the poultry firm.
Rightly or wrongly, we attributed the mischief to a certain "silver-gray" that had several times been seen in the neighborhood that autumn.
It would take far too much space to relate in detail the plans we laid and put in execution to catch that fox during the next two weeks. I recollect that we set three traps for him to no purpose, and that we borrowed a fox-hound to hunt him with, but merely succeeded in running him to the burrow in a neighboring rocky hill-side, whence we found it quite impossible to dislodge the wily fellow.
Meanwhile the fox (or foxes) had succeeded in getting two more of the turkeys.