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Chapter 43 - The Rifle Rangers by Mayne Reid

A Battle with Bloodhounds

We stood for some moments gathering breath and nerving ourselves for the desperate struggle. I could not help looking over the precipice. It was a fearful sight. In a vertical line two hundred feet below, the stream rushing through the cañon broke upon a bed of sharp, jagged rocks, and then glided on in seething, snow-white foam. There was no object between the eye and the water; no jutting ledge, not even a tree, to break the fall—nothing but the spiky boulders below, and the foaming torrent that washed them.

It was some minutes before our unnatural enemies made their appearance, but every howl sounded nearer and nearer. Our trail was warm, and we knew they were scenting it on a run. At length the bushes crackled, and we could see their white breasts gleaming through the leaves. A few more springs, and the foremost bloodhound bounded out upon the bank, and, throwing up his broad jaw, uttered a hideous “growl.”

He was at fault where we had entered the water. His comrades now dashed out of the thicket, and, joining in a chorus of disappointment, scattered among the stones.

An old dog, scarred and cunning, kept along the bank until he had reached the top of the cañon. This was where we had made our crossing. Here the hound entered the channel, and, springing from rock to rock, reached the point where we had dragged ourselves out of the water. A short yelp announced to his comrades that he had lifted the scent, and they all threw up their noses and came galloping down.

There was a swift current between two large boulders of basalt. We had leaped this. The old dog reached it, and stood straining upon the spring, when Lincoln fired, and the hound, with a short “wough”, dropped in upon his head, and was carried off like a flash.

“Counts one less to pitch over,” said the hunter, hastily reloading his rifle.

Without appearing to notice the strange conduct of their leader, the others crossed in a string, and, striking the warm trail, came yelling up the pass. It was a grassy slope, such as is often seen between two tables of a cliff; and as the dogs strained upward we could see their white fangs and the red blood that had baited them clotted along their jaws. Another crack from Lincoln’s rifle, and the foremost hound tumbled back down the gorge.

“Two rubbed out!” cried the hunter; and at the same moment I saw him fling his rifle to the ground.

The hounds kept the trail no longer. Their quarry was before them; their howling ended, and they sprang upon us with the silence of the assassin. The next moment we were mingled together, dogs and men, in the fearful struggle of life and death!

I know not how long this strange encounter lasted. I felt myself grappling with the tawny monsters, and hurling them over the cliff. Now they sprang at my throat, and I threw out my arms, thrusting them fearlessly between the shining rows of teeth. Then I was free again, and, seizing a leg, or a tail, or the loose flaps of the neck, I dragged a savage brute towards the brink, and, summoning all my strength, dashed him against its brow, and saw him tumble howling over.

Once I lost my balance and nearly staggered over the precipice, and at length, panting, bleeding, and exhausted, I fell to the earth. I could struggle no longer.

I looked around for my comrades. Clayley and Raoul had sunk upon the grass, and lay torn and bleeding. Lincoln and Chane, holding a hound between them, were balancing him over the bluff.

“Now, Murter,” cried the hunter, “giv’ him a good heist, and see if we kin pitch him cl’ar on t’other side; hee-woop!—hoo!”

And with this ejaculation the kicking animal was launched into the air. I could not resist looking after. The yellow body bounded from the face of the opposite cliff, and fell with a heavy plash upon the water below.

He was the last of the pack!

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