HOW BALSER GOT A GUN
 FOR many years after the killing of the big bear, as told
in the preceding chapter, time was reckoned by Balser
as beginning with that event. It was, if I may say it,
his "Anno Domini," In speaking of occurrences, events,
and dates, he always fixed them in a general way by
saying, "That happened before I killed the big bear;"
or, "That took place after I killed the big bear." The
great immeasurable eternity of time was divided into
two parts; that large unoccupied portion preceding the
death of the big bear, and the part, full to
overflowing with satisfaction and pride, after that
Balser's adventure had raised him vastly in the
estimation of his friends and neighbours, and, what was
quite as good, had
 increased his respect for
himself, and had given him confidence, which is one of
the most valuable qualities for boy or man. Frequently
when balser met strangers, and the story of the big
bear was told, they would pat the boy on the shoulder
and call him a little man, and would sometimes ask him
if he owned a gun. Much to Balser's sorrow, he was
compelled to admit that he did not. The questions as to
whether or not he owned a gun had put into his mind the
thought of how delightful life would be if he but
possessed one; and his favourite visions by day and his
sweetest dreams by night were all about a gun; one not
so long nor so heavy as his father's but of the
shorter, lighter pattern known as a smooth-bore
carbine. He had heard his father speak of this gun, and
of its effectiveness at short range; and although at
long distances it was not so true of aim as his
father's gun, still he felt confident that, if he but
possessed the coveted carbine he could, single-handed
and alone, exterminate all the races of bears,
 wolves and wildcats that inhabited the forests round
about, and "pestered" the farmers with their
But how to get the gun! That was the question. Balser's
father had received a gun as a present from his
father when Balser Sr. had reached the advanced age of
twenty-one, and it was considered a rich gift. The cost
of a gun for Balser would equal half of the sum total
that his father could make during an entire year; and,
although Little Balser looked forward in fond
expectation to the time when he should be twenty-one
and should receive a gun from his father, yet he did
not even hope that he would have one before then,
however much he might dream about it. Dreams cost
nothing, and guns were expensive; too expensive even to
be hoped for. So Balser contented himself with
inexpensive dreams, and was willing, though not
content, to wait.
But the unexpected usually happens, at an unexpected
time, and in an unexpected manner.
 About the beginning of the summer after the
killing of the big bear, when Balser's father had "laid
by" his corn, and the little patch of wheat had just
begun to take on a golden brown as due notice that it
was nearly ready to be harvested, there came a few days
of idleness for the busy farmer. Upon one of those rare
idle days Mr. Brent and Balser went down the river on a
fishing and hunting expedition. There was but one gun
in the family, therefore Balser could not hunt when his
father was with him, so he took his fishing-rod, and
did great execution among the finny tribe, while his
father watched along the river for game, as it came
down to drink.
Upon the day mentioned Balser and his father had
wandered down the river as far as the Michigan road,
and Mr. Brent had left the boy near the road fishing,
after telling him to go home in an hour or two, and
that he, Mr. Brent, would go by another route and be
home in time for supper.
So Balser was left by himself, fishing at a
hole perhaps a hundred yards north of the road. This
was at a time when the river was in flood, and the ford
where travellers usually crossed was too deep for
Balser had been fishing for an hour or more, and had
concluded to go home, when he saw approaching along the
road from the east a man and woman on horseback. They
soon reached the ford and stopped, believing it to be
impassable. They were mud stained and travel-worn, and
their horses, covered with froth, were panting as if
they had been urged to their greatest speed. After a
little time the gentleman saw Balser, and called to
him. The boy immediately went to the travellers, and
the gentleman said:—
"My little man, can you tell me if it is safe to
attempt the ford at this time?"
"It will swim your horses," answered Balser.
"I knew it would," said the lady, in evident distress.
She was young and pretty, and seemed to be greatly
fatigued and frightened. The gentleman was very
 and tried to soothe her, but in a moment
of two she began to weep, and said:—
"They will catch us, I know. They will catch us. They
cannot be more than a mile behind us now, and we have
no place to turn."
"Is some one trying to catch you?" asked Balser.
The gentleman looked down at the little fellow for a
moment and was struck by his bright, manly air. The
thought occurred to him that Balser might suspect them
of being fugitives from justice, so he explained:—
"Yes, my little fellow, a gentleman is trying to catch
us. He is this lady's father. He has with him a dozen
men, and if they overtake us they will certainly kill
me and take this lady home. Do you know of any place
where we may hide?"
"Yes, sir," answered Balser, quickly; "help me on
behind you, and I'll take you to my father's house.
There's no path up the river, and if they attempt to
follow they'll get lost in the woods."
Balser climbed on the horse behind the
and soon they plunged into the deep forest, and rode up
the river toward Balser's home. They boy knew the
forest well, and in a short time the little party of
three was standing at the hospitable cabin door.
Matters were soon explained to Balser's mother, and
she, with true hospitality, welcomed the travellers to
her home. During the conversation Balser learned that
the gentleman and lady were running away that they
might be married, and, hoping to finish a good job, the
boy volunteered the advice that they should be married
that same evening under his father's roof. He also
offered to go in quest of a preacher who made his home
some two miles to the east.
The advice and the offer of services were eagerly
accepted, and the lady and gentleman were married that
night, and remained a few days at the home of Mr. Brent
until the river was low enough to cross.
The strangers felt grateful to the boy who had given
them such timely help, and asked him what they could do
for him in return.
 Balser hesitated a moment, and said "There's only
one thing I want very bad, but that would cost so much
there's no use to speak of it."
"What is it, Balser? Speak up, and if it is anything I
can buy, you shall have it."
"A gun! A gun! A smooth-bore carbine. I'd rather have
it than anything else in the world."
"You shall have it if there's one to be bought in
Indianapolis. We are going there, and will return
within a week or ten days, and you shall have your
carbine if I can find one."
Within two weeks after this conversation Balser was the
happiest boy in Indiana, for he owned a carbine, ten
pounds of fine powder, and lead enough to kill every
living creature within a radius of five miles.
Of course the carbine had to be tested at once. So the
day after he received it Balser started out with his
father on a hunting expedition, fully determined in his
own mind to kill a bear twice as large as his first
 They took with them corn-bread and dried venison
for dinner, and started east toward Conn's Creek, where
the houses of the settlers were thinly scattered and
They had with them two faithful dogs, "Tige" and
"Prince." Balser considered these dogs the most
intelligent animals that walked on four feet. They were
deer-hounds with a cross of bulldog, and were swift of
foot and very strong.
Our hunters had travelled perhaps three or four miles
into the forest when they started a deer, in pursuit of
which the dogs bounded off with their peculiar bark,
and soon deer and dogs were lost to sight. Balser and
his father listened carefully for the voices of the
dogs, for should the deer turn at bay, the dogs,
instead of the quick bark, to which they gave voice in
the chase, would utter a long-drawn-out note—half howl,
The bay of the hounds had died away in the distance,
and Balser and his father had heard nothing of them for
two or three hours.
 The hunters had seen other deer as they walked
along, but they had been unable to obtain a shot.
Smaller game was plentiful, but Balser and his father
did not care to frighten away large game by shooting at
squirrels or birds. So they continued their walk until
they reached the bank of Conn's Creek, near the hour of
noon; by that time Balser's appetite was beginning to
call loudly for dinner, and he could not resist the
temptation to shoot a squirrel, which he saw upon a
limb of a neighbouring tree. The squirrel fell to the
ground and was soon skinned and cleaned. Balser then
kindled a fire, and cutting several green twigs,
sharpened the ends and fastened small pieces of the
squirrel upon them. He next stuck the twigs in the
ground so that they leaned toward the fire, with the
meat hanging directly over the blaze. Soon the squirrel
was roasted to a delicious brown, and then Balser
served dinner to his father, who was sitting on a rock
near by. The squirrel, the corn bread, and the venison
dis-  appeared, and Balser, if permitted to
do so, would have found another squirrel and would have
cooked it. Just as dinner was finished, there came from
a long way up-stream the howling bark of Tige and
Prince, telling, plainly as if they had spoken English,
that the deer was at bay.
Thereupon Balser quickly loaded his gun, and he and his
father looked carefully to their primings. Then Mr.
Brent directed Balser to climb down the cliff and move
toward the dogs through the thicket in the bottom,
while he went by another route, along the bluff. Should
the hunters be separated, they were to meet at an
agreed place in the forest. Balser climbed cautiously
down the cliff and was soon deep in a dark thicket of
tangled underbrush near the creek.
Now and then the deep bay of the dogs reached his ears
from the direction whence he had first heard it, and he
walked as rapidly as the tangled briers and undergrowth
would permit toward his faithful fellow-hunters.
 He was so intent on the game which he knew the
dogs held at bay, that he did not look about him with
his accustomed caution, and the result of his
unwatchfulness was that he found himself within ten
feet of two huge bears before he was at all aware of
their presence. They were evidently male and female,
and upon seeing him the great he-bear gave forth a
growl that frightened Balser to the depths of his soul.
Retreat seemed almost impossible; and should he fire at
one of the bears, his gun would be empty and he would
be at the mercy of the other. To attempt to outrun a
bear, even on level ground, would be almost a hopeless
undertaking; for the bear, though an awkward-looking
creature, is capable of great speed when it comes to a
foot-race. But there, where the tangled underbrush was
so dense that even walking through it was a matter of
great difficulty, running was out of the question, for
the thicket which would greatly impede Balser would be
but small hindrance to the bears.
 After Balser had killed the big bear at the drift,
he felt that he never again would suffer from what
hunters call "buck ager"; but when he found himself
confronted by those black monsters, he began to tremble
in every limb, and for the life of him cold not at
first lift his gun. The he-bear was the first to move.
He raised himself on his haunches, and with a deep
growl started for poor Balser. Balser should have shot
the bear as he came toward him, but acting solely from
an instinct of self-preservation he started to run. He
made better headway than he had thought possible, and
soon came to a small open space of ground where the
undergrowth was not so thick, and where the bright
light of the sun dispelled the darkness. The light
restored Balser's confidence, and the few moments of
retreat gave him time to think and to pull himself
together. So, turning quickly, he lifted his gun to his
shoulder and fired at the bear, which was not two yards
behind him. Unfortunately, his aim was unsteady, and
 shot wounded the bear in the neck, but did not
Balser saw the disastrous failure he had made, and felt
that the bear would be much surer in his attack upon
him than he had been in his attack upon the bear. They
boy then threw away his gun, and again began a hasty
He called for his father, and cried, "Tige! Prince!
Tige! Tige!" not so much with a hope that either the
dogs or his father would hear, but because he knew not
what else to do. Balser ran as fast as he could, still
the bear was at his heels, and the frightened boy
expected every moment to feel a stroke form the brute's
huge rough paw. Soon it came, with a stunning force
that threw Balser to the ground, upon his back. The
bear was over him in an instant, and caught his left
arm between his mighty jaws. It seemed then that the
light of the world went out for a moment, and he
remembered nothing but the huge, blood-red mouth of the
bear, his hot breath almost burning his checks, and
 his deep, terrible growls nearly deafening his
ears. Balser's whole past life came up before him like
a picture, and he remembered everything that had ever
happened to him. He thought of how deeply his dear
father and mother would grieve, and for the only time
in his life regretted having received the carbine, for
it was the gun, after all, that had got him into this
trouble. All this happened in less than it takes you to
read ten lines of this page, but it seemed very, very
long to Balser, lying there with the huge body of the
bear over him.
Suddenly a note of hope struck his ear—the sweetest
sound he had ever heard. It was the yelp of dear old
Tige, who had heard his call and had come to the
rescue. If there is any creature on earth that a bear
thoroughly hates, it is a dog. Tige wasted not a
moment's time, but was soon biting and pulling at the
bear's hind legs. The bear immediately turned upon the
dog and gave Balset an opportunity to rise. Of this
opportunity he quickly took advantage, you
 may be
sure. Soon Prince came up also, and in these two strong
dogs the bear had foemen worthy of his steel.
Balser's great danger and narrow escape had quickened
all his faculties, so he at once ran back to the place
where he had dropped his gun, and although his left arm
had been terribly bitten, he succeeded in loading, and
soon came back to the help of the dogs, who had given
him such timely assistance.
The fight between the dogs and the bear was going on at
a merry rate, when Balser returned to the scene of
action. With Prince on one side and Tige on the other,
both so strong and savage, and each quick and nimble as
a cat, the bear had all he could do to defend himself,
and continually turned first one way and then another
in his effort to keep their fangs away form his legs or
throat. This enabled Balser to approach within a short
distance of the bear, which he cautiously did. Taking
care not to wound either of his faithful friends, he
was more fortunate in his aim than he had been the
 first time, and gave the bear a mortal wound.
The wounded animal made a hasty retreat back into the
thicket, followed closely by the dogs; but Balser had
seen more than enough of bear society in the thicket,
and prudently concluded not to follow. He then loaded
his gun with a heavy charge of powder only, and fired
it to attract his father's attention. This he repeated
several times, until at last he saw the welcome form of
his father hurrying toward him from the bluff. When his
father reached him and saw that he had been wounded,
Mr. Brent was naturally greatly troubled; but Balse
said: "I'll tell you all about it soon. Let's go in
after the bears. Two of them are in the thicket up
there next to the cliff, and the dogs have followed
them. If Tige had not come up just in time, one of the
bears would have killed me; but I think the shot I gave
him must have killed him by this time"
So without another word, Balser having
 loaded his
gun, they started into the dark thicket toward the
cliff, in the direction whence came the voices of the
They had not proceeded farther than a hundred yards
when they found the bear which Balser had shot, lying
dead in the path over which Balser had so recently made
his desperate retreat. The dogs were father in, toward
the cliff, where the vines, trees, and brush grew so
thick that it was almost dark.
The two hungers, however, did not stop, but hurried on
to the help of their dogs. Soon they saw through the
gloom of the thicket the she-bear, and about her the
dogs were prancing, barking, and snapping most
Carefully Balser and his father took their position
within a few yards of the bear, and Balser, upon a
signal from his father, called off the dogs so that a
shot might be made at the bear without danger of
killing either Tige or Prince.
Soon the report of two guns echoed
 through the
forest, almost at the same instant, and great she-bear
fell over on her side, quivered for a moment, and died.
This last battle took place close by the stone cliff,
which rose from the bottom-land to a height of fifty or
Balser and his father soon worked their way through the
underbrush to where the she-bear lay dead. After having
examined the bear, balser's attention was attracted to
a small opening in the cliff, evidently the mouth of a
cave which had probably been the home of the bear
family that he and his father had just exterminated.
The she-bear had taken her stand at the door of her
home, and in defending it had lost her life. Balser
examined the opening in the cliff, and concluded to
enter; but his father said:—
"You don't know what's in there. Let's first send in
one of the dogs."
So Tige was called and told to go into the cave.
Immediately after he had entered he gave forth a series
of sharp yelps which told plainly enough that he had
 worth barking at. Then Balser
called the dog out, and Mr. Brent collected pieces of
dry wood, and made a fire in front of the cave, hoping
to drive out any animal that might be on the inside.
He more than suspected that he would find a pair of
As the smoke brought nothing forth, he concluded to
enter the cave himself and learn what was there.
Dropping upon his knees, he began to crawl in at the
narrow opening, and the boy and the two dogs followed
closely. Mr. Brent had taken with him a lighted torch,
and when he had gone but a short distance into the cave
he saw in a remote corner a pair of gray-black, frowzy
little cubs, as fat and round as a roll of butter. They
were lying upon a soft bed of leaves and grass, which
had been collected by their father and mother.
Balser's delight knew no bounds, for, next to his gun,
what he wanted above all things was a bear cub, and
here were two of them.
 Quickly he and his father
each picked up a cub and made their way out of the
The cubs, not more than one-half larger than a cat,
were round and very fat, and wore a coat of
fur, soft and sleek as the finest silk. Young bears
usually are gray until after they are a year old, but
these were an exception to the rule, for they were
Leaving the old bears dead upon the ground, Balser and
his father hurried down to the creek, where Mr. Brent
washed and dressed his son's wounded arm. They then
marked several trees upon the bank of the creek by
breaking twigs, so that they might be able to find the
bears when they returned that evening with the horses
to take home the meat and skins.
All this, which has taken so long to tell, occurred
within the space of a few minutes; but the work while
it lasted was hard and tiresome, and, although it was
but a short time past noon, Balser and his father were
only too glad to turn their faces homeward,
with a saucy little bear cub under his arm.
"As we have killed their mother," said Balser,
referring to the cubs, "we must take care of her
children and give them plenty of milk, and bring them
up to be good, honest bears."
The evening of the same day Mr. Brent and a few of his
neighbours brought home the bear meat and skins. Balser
did not go with his father because his arm was too
sore. He was, however, very proud of his wound, and
thought that the glory of the day and the two bear cubs
were purchased cheaply enough after all.