Autumn in the Kootenais makes one forget paradise. The sun over the snow-capped mountains becomes playful. The weather turns into pure delight, inviting men to laugh more and fret less. Having lost its parching fierceness, the calm warmth conjures smiles to lips, and gives the heart ease. Not a cloud darkens the blue sky, seldom does a wind stir the leaves, now ablaze with bright colours.
Eastward, across the Continental Divide, the spectacle of an alpenglow can be seen. Who could forget the phenomenon capable of transforming barren, forbidding masses of rocks into resplendent incandescence, that provides an incentive to rise before dawn, and fills the mind with soothing happiness in the evening before retiring.
After supper they gathered around a crackling fire, talking, or rather listening to Lena Bauer’s narrations, during which they were unable to hide a deeply felt discomfort. It affected them adversely that a woman should brag to have penetrated a man’s domain, especially in the last bastion of masculinity. They felt shamed and dishonoured while listening to her various hunting adventures.
The chase, so commendable to a man, in their opinion had lost its sheen. Their indignation, however, was mitigated by Bauer’s foreign accent, which lent an air of unreality to these boasts. Besides, imbibing freely also helped to lessen their discomfort.
The huntress quickly got into full swing. Anxious to ingratiate herself, she overstepped propriety. As happens so often, someone’s endeavour to emulate obtains results opposite of those aimed for. The ones imitated, pleased no doubt, at the same time feel the spurs of contempt.
The men were casting clandestine glances at each other, carrying a message more explicit than words: namely, to escape Bauer’s nonstop revelations. When she stopped to catch her breath, Russel announced:
“Time for bed, I guess.”
“Yes, tomorrow will be an eventful day,” Hicks, already on his feet, agreed.
Next morning they set out at dawn. Tarrying not for a moment to admire the splendorous scenery, they hurried on. Russel advised Miss Bauer:
“I have inspected your rifle as the rules demand, all is in order.”
“Don’t wait too long, shoot at the first opportunity,” Hicks recommended.”
“And keep shooting till the bear drops,” Russel added.
Soon they had taken their respective positions, where they waited for a propitious opportunity to start the hunt. It arrived when a lone grizzly ambled onto the clearing. Bauer, the impatient huntress, immediately stepped from her hiding place and took aim, waiting for the bear to come nearer. Startled, the Silvertip stopped, then rose up and started to sniff and sway.
From thereon everything happened so fast that neither Russel, close by, nor Hicks across the creek had a chance to act. The bear, growing angrier by the second, growling and chopping his jaws, acquired a frightful posture, meant to scare away the figure at the end of the clearing. But the huntress stood her ground. Heartened by the fully loaded rifle levelled at the bawling beast, she waited for the right condition to pull the trigger.
Suddenly the bear charged with lightning speed. Like a ball of fury, snarling and squalling, he hurled himself towards the huntress. Shots rang out, yet the bear kept coming at a clip unimaginable to anyone who had not seen it. Noticing that her shots took no effect, Bauer ran, or rather attempted to. She stood not the ghost of a chance. Before she turned, the terror of the woods, by now a bundle of wrath, was upon her. By the time Russel’s bullets found their aim, Bauer breathed no more, the huntress lay dead on the ground.
Hicks, who meanwhile had arrived at the scene, could not hide his disbelief. Shaking his head he muttered:
“I can’t understand it. Some of her shots must have lodged, yet the beast neither stopped, nor seemed to be fazed.”
“She probably missed,” suggested Russel.
“Mark, four shots were fired, at least one at close range, no more than ten steps away,” Hicks protested, then added:
“One sure thing, she is a plucky woman.”
“Was, Tony, was.”
Excerpt from Twelve O’Clock Sharp