CAMP AND TRAIL
A Story of the Maine Woods
AUTHOR OF "TUKE," "IN THE SERVICE," "LOST IN MAINE WOODS," ETC.
LOTHROP PUBLISHING COMPANY
TYPOGRAPHY BY C.J. PETERS & SON, BOSTON.
PRESSWORK BY BERWICK & SMITH.
In adding another to the list of stories bearing on that subject of perennial interest to boys, adventures in camp and on trail among the woods and lakes of Northern Maine, one thought has been the inspiration that led me on.
It is this: To prove to high-mettled lads, American, and English as well, that forest quarters, to be the most jovial quarters on earth, need not be made a shambles. Sensation may reach its finest pitch, excitement be an unfailing fillip, and fun the leaven which leavens the camping-trip from start to finish, even though the triumph of killing for triumph's sake be left out of the play-bill.
"There is a higher sport in preservation than in destruction," says a veteran hunter, whose forest experiences and descriptions have in part enriched this story. I commend the opinion to boy-readers, trusting that they may become "queer specimen sportsmen," after the pattern of Cyrus Garst; and find a more entrancing excitement in studying the live wild things of the forest than in gloating over a dying tremor, or examining a senseless mass of horn, hide, and hoofs, after the life-spring which worked the mechanism has been stilled forever.
One other desire has trodden on the heels of the first: That Young England and Young America may be inspired with a wish to understand each other better, to take each other frankly and simply for the manhood in each; and that thus misconception and prejudice may disappear like mists of an old-day dream.
I. JACKING FOR DEER
II. A SPILL-OUT
III. LIFE IN A BARK HUT
IV. WHITHER BOUND?
V. A COON HUNT
VI. AFTER BLACK DUCKS
VII. A FOREST GUIDE-POST
VIII. ANOTHER CAMP
IX. A SUNDAY AMONG THE PINES
X. FORWARD ALL!
XI. BEAVER WORKS
XII. "GO IT, OLD BRUIN!"
XIII. "THE SKIN IS YOURS"
XIV. A LUCKY HUNTER
XV. A FALLEN KING
XVII. HERB'S YARNS
XVIII. To LONELIER WILDS
XIX. TREED BY A MOOSE
XX. DOL'S TRIUMPH
XXI. ON KATAHDIN
XXII. THE OLD HOME-CAMP
XXIII. BROTHERS' WORK
XXIV. "KEFPING THINGS EVEN"
XXV. A LITTLE CARIBOU QUARREL
XXVI. DOC AGAIN
XXVII. CHRISTMAS ON THE OTHER SIDE
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
THE MOOSE WAS NOW SNORTING LIKE A WAR-HORSE BENEATH.
"THERE IS MOOSEHEAD LAKE."
DOL SIGHTS A FRIENDLY CAMP.
IN THE SHADOW OF KATAHDIN.
"GO IT, OLD BRUIN! GO IT WHILE YOU CAN!"
A FALLEN KING.
THE CAMP ON MILLINOKETT LAKE.
"HERB CHARGED THROUGH THE CHOKING DUST-CLOUDS."
GREENVILLE,—"FAREWELL TO THE WOODS."
CAMP AND TRAIL.
JACKING FOR DEER.
"Now, Neal Farrar, you've got to be as still as the night itself, remember. If you bounce, or turn, or draw a long breath, you won't have a rag of reputation as a deer-hunter to take back to England. Sneeze once, and we're done for. That means more diet of flapjacks and pork, instead of venison steaks. And I guess your city appetite won't rally to pork much longer, even in the wilds."
Neal Farrar sighed as if there was something in that.
"But, you know, it's just when an unlucky fellow would give his life not to sneeze that he's sure to bring out a thumping big one," he said plaintively.
"Well, keep it back like a hero if your head bursts in the attempt," was the reply with a muffled laugh. "When you know that the canoe is gliding along somehow, but you can't hear a sound or feel a motion, and you begin to wonder whether you're in the air or on water, flying or floating, imagine that you're the ghost of some old Indian hunter who used to jack for deer on Squaw Pond, and be stonily silent."
"Oh! I say, stop chaffing," whispered Neal impetuously. "You're enough to make a fellow feel creepy before ever he starts. I could bear the worst racket on earth better than a dead quiet."
This dialogue was exchanged in low but excited voices between a young man of about one and twenty, and a lad who was apparently five years his junior, while they waded knee-deep in water among the long, rank grasses and circular pads of water-lilies which border the banks of Squaw Pond, a small lake in the forest region of northern Maine.
The hour was somewhere about eleven o'clock. The night was intensely still, without a zephyr stirring among the trees, and of that wavering darkness caused by a half-clouded moon. On the black and green water close to the bank rocked a light birch-bark canoe, a ticklish craft, which a puff might overturn. The young man who had urged the necessity for silence was groping round it, fumbling with the sharp bow, in which he fixed a short pole or "jack-staff," with some object—at present no one could discern what—on top.
"There, I've got the jack rigged up!" he whispered presently. "Step in now, Neal, and I'll open it. Have you got your rifle at half-cock? That's right. Be careful. A fellow would need to have his hair parted in the middle in a birch box like this. Remember, mum's the word!"
The lad obeyed, seating himself as noiselessly as he could in the bow of the canoe, and threw his rifle on his shoulder in a convenient position for shooting, with a freedom which showed he was accustomed to firearms.
At the same time his companion stepped into the canoe, having first touched the dark object on the pole just over Neal's head. Instantly it changed into a brilliant, scintillating, silvery eye, which flashed forward a stream of white light on a line with the pointed gun, cutting the black face of the pond in twain as with a silver blade, and making the leaves on shore glisten like oxidized coins.
The effect of this sudden illumination was so sudden and beautiful that the boy for a minute or two held his rifle in unsteady hands while the canoe glided out from the bank. An exclamation began in his throat which ended in an indistinct gurgle. Remembering that he was pledged to silence, he settled himself to be as wordless and motionless as if his living body had become a statue.
From his position no revealing radiance fell on him. He sat in shadow beside that glinting eye, which was really a good-sized lantern, fitted at the back with a powerful silvered reflector, and in front with a glass lens, the light being thrown directly ahead. It was provided also with a sliding door that could be noiselessly slipped over the glass with a touch, causing the blackness of a total eclipse.
This was the deer-hunters' "jack-lamp," familiarly called by Neal's companion the "jack."
And now it may be readily guessed in what thrilling night-work these canoe-men are engaged as they skim over Squaw Pond, with no swish of paddle, nor jar of motion, nor even a noisy breath, disturbing the brooding silence through which they glide. They are "jacking" or "floating" for deer, showing the radiant eye of their silvery jack to attract any antlered buck or graceful doe which may come forth from the screen of the forest to drink at this quiet hour amid the tangled grasses and lily-pads at the pond's brink.
Now, a deer, be it buck, doe, or fawn in the spotted coat, will stand as if moonstruck, if it hears no sound; to gaze at the lantern, studying the meteor which has crossed its world as an astronomer might investigate a rare, radiant comet. So it offers a steady mark for the sportsman's bullet, if he can glide near enough to discern its outline and take aim. There is one exception to this rule. If the wary animal has ever been startled by a shot fired from under the jack, trust him never to watch a light again, though it shine like the Kohinoor.
As for Neal Farrar, this was his first attempt at playing the part of midnight hunter; and I am bound to say that—being English born and city bred—he found the situation much too mystifying for his peace of mind.
He knew that the canoe was moving, moving rapidly; for giant pines along the shore, looking solid and black as mourning pillars, shot by him as if theirs were the motion, with an effect indescribably weird. Now and again a gray pine stump, appearing, if the light struck it, twice its real size, passed like a shimmering ghost. But he felt not the slightest tremor of advance, heard no swish or ripple of paddle.
A moisture oozed from his skin, and gathered in heavy drips under the brim of his hat, as he began to wonder whether the light bark skiff was working through the water at all, or skimming in some unnatural way above it. For the life of him he could not settle this doubt. And, fearful of balking the expedition by a stir, he dared not turn his head to investigate the doings of his comrade, Cyrus Garst.
Cyrus, though also city bred, was an American, and evidently an old hand at the present business. The Maine wilds had long been his playground. He had studied the knack of noiseless paddling under the teaching of a skilled forest guide until he fairly brought it to perfection. And, in perfection, it is about the most wizard-like art practised in the nineteenth century.
The silent propulsion was managed thus: the grand master of the paddle gripped its cross handle in both hands, working it so that its broad blade cut the water first backward then forward so dexterously that not even his own practised hearing could detect a sound; nor could he any more than Neal feel a sensation of motion.
The birch-bark skiff skimmed onward as if borne on unseen pinions.
To Neal Farrar, who had been brought up amid the tumult of rival noises and the practical surroundings of Manchester, England, who was a stranger to the solitudes of primitive forests, and almost a stranger to weird experiences, the silent advance was a mystery. And it began to be a hateful one; for he had not even the poor explanation of it which has been given in this record.
It was only his third night in Maine wilds; and I fear that his friend Cyrus, when inviting him to join in the jacking excursion, had refrained from explaining the canoe mystery, mischievously promising himself considerable fun from the English lad's bewilderment.
Neal's hearing was strained to catch any sound of big game beating about amid the bushes on shore or splashing in the water, but none reached him. The night seemed to grow stiller, stiller, ever stiller, as they glided towards the head of the pond, until the dead quiet started strange, imaginary noises.
There was a pounding as of dull hammers in his ears, a belling in his head, and a drumming at his heart.
He was tortured by a wild desire to yell his loudest, and defy the brooding silence.
Another—a midnight watchman—broke it instead.
It was the thrilling scream of a big-eyed owl as he chased a squirrel to its death, and proceeded to banquet in unwinking solemnity.
Neal started,—who wouldn't?—and joggled the canoe, thereby nearly ending the night hunt at once by the untimely discharge of his rifle.
He had barely regained some measure of steadiness, though he felt as if needles were sticking into him all over, when at last there was a crashing amid the bushes on the right bank, not a hundred yards distant.
Noiselessly as ever the canoe shot around, turning the jack's eye in that direction. A minute later a magnificent buck, swinging his antlers proudly, dashed into the pond, and stooped his small red tongue to drink, licking in the water greedily with a soft, lapping sound.
Neal silently cocked his rifle, almost choking with excitement; then paused for a few seconds to brace up and control the nervous terrors which had possessed him, before his eye singled out the spot in the deer's neck which his bullet must pierce. But he found his operations further delayed; for the animal suddenly lifted its head, scattered feathery spray from its horns and hoofs, and retired a few steps up the bank.
In its former position every part of its body was visibly outlined under the silver light of the jack. Now a successful shot would be difficult, though it might be managed. The boy leaned slightly forward, trying to hold his gun dead straight and take cool aim, when the most curious of all the curious sensations he had felt this night ran through him, seeming to scorch like electricity from his scalp to his feet.
From the stand which the deer had taken, its body was in shadow. All that the sportsman could discern were two living, glowing eyes, staring—so it appeared to him—straight into his, like starry search-lights, as if they read the death-purpose in the boy's heart, and begged him to desist.
It was all over with Neal Farrar's shot. He lowered his rifle, while the speech, which could no longer be repressed, rattled in his throat before it broke forth.
"I'll go crazy if I don't speak!" he cried.
At the first word the buck went scudding like the wind through the forest, doubtless vowing by the shades of his ancestors that he never would stand to gaze at a light again.
"And—and—I can't shoot the thing while it's looking at me like that!" the boy blurted out.
"You dunderhead! What do you mean?" gasped Cyrus, breaking silence in a gusty whisper of mingled anger and amusement. "You won't get a chance to shoot it or anything else now. You've lost us our meat for to-night."
"Well, I couldn't help it," Neal whispered back. "For pity's sake, what has been moving this canoe? The quiet was enough to set a fellow mad! And then that buck stared straight at me like a human thing. I could see nothing but two burning eyes with white rings round them."
"Stuff!" was the American's answer. "He was gazing at the jack, not at you. He couldn't see an inch of you with that light just over your head. But it would have been a hard shot anyhow, for his nose was towards you, and ten to one you'd have made a clean miss."
"Well," he added, after five minutes of acute listening, "I guess we may give over jacking for to-night. That first cry of yours was enough to set a regiment of deer scampering. I'm only half mad after all at your losing a chance at such a splendid buck. It was something to see him as he stooped to drink in the glare of the jack, a midnight forest picture such as one wants to remember. Long may he flourish! We wouldn't have started out to rid him of his glorious life if we weren't half-starved on flapjacks and ends of pork. Let's get back to camp! I guess you felt a few new sensations to-night, eh, Neal Farrar?"
Indeed, shocks and sensations seemed to ride rampant that night in endless succession; a fact which Neal presently realized, as does every daring young fellow who visits the Maine wilderness for the first time, whatever be his object.
Ere turning the canoe towards home, Cyrus drove it a few feet nearer to shore, again warily listening for any further sound of game. Just then another wild, whooping scream cleft the night air; and, on looking towards the bank, Neal beheld his owlship, who had finished the squirrel, seated on an aged windfall, one end of which dipped into the water.
[Footnote 1: A forest tree which has been blown down.]
The gray bird on the gray old trunk formed a second thrilling midnight picture, but at this moment young Farrar was in no mood for studying effects. He felt rather unstrung by his recent emotions; and, though he was by no means an imaginative youth, he actually took it into his head half seriously that the whooping, hooting thing was taunting him with making a failure of the jacking business. Without pausing to consider whether the owl would furnish meat for the camp or not, he let fly at him suddenly with his rifle.
The fate of that ghostly, big-eyed creature will be forever one of those mysteries which Neal Farrar would like to solve. Whether the heavy bullet intended for deer laid him open—which is improbable—or whether it didn't, nobody had a chance to discover. Being unused to birch-bark canoes, the sportsman gave a slight lurch aside after he had discharged his leaden messenger of death, startled doubtless by the loud, unexpected echoes which reverberated through the forest after his shot.
"Hold on!" cried Cyrus, trying to avert a ducking by a counter-motion. "You'll tip us over!"
Too late! The birch skiff spun round, rocked crazily for a second or two, and keeled over, spilling both its occupants into the black and silver water of the pond.
Of course they ducked under, and of course they rose, gurgling and spluttering.
"You didn't lose the rifle, Neal, did you?" gasped the American directly he could speak.
"Not I! I held on to it like grim death."
"Good for you! To lose a hundred-and-fifty-dollar gun when we're starting into the wilds would be maddening."
Then, just because they were extremely healthy, happy, vigorous fellows, whose lungs had been drinking in pure, exhilarating ozone and fragrant odors of pine-balsam and were thereby expanded, they took a cheerful view of this duck under, and made the midnight forest echo, echo, and re-echo, with peals and gusts and shouts of laughter, while they struggled to right their canoe.
The merry jingles rang on in challenge and answer, repeating from both sides of the pond, until they reached at last the wooded slopes and mighty bowlders of Old Squaw Mountain, a peak whose "star-crowned head" could be imagined rather than discerned against the horizon, near the distant shore from which the hunters had started. Here echo ran riot. It seemed to their excited fancies as if the ghost of Old Squaw herself, the disappointed Indian mother who had, according to tradition, lived so long in loneliness upon this mountain, were joining in their mirth with haggish peals.
The canoe had turned bottom uppermost. On righting it they found that the jack-staff had been dislodged. The jack was floating gayly away over the ripples; its light, being in an air-tight case, was unquenched.
"Swim ashore with the rifle, Neal," said Cyrus. "I'll pick up the jack. Did you ever see anything so absurdly comical as it looks, dodging off on its own hook like a big, wandering eye?"
With his comrade's help young Farrar succeeded in getting the gun across his back, slinging it round him by its leather shoulder-strap; then he struck out for the bank, having scarcely twenty yards to swim before he reached shallow water.
Now, for the first time to-night, the moon shone fully out from her veil of cloud, casting a flood of silver radiance, and showing him a scene in white and black, still and clear as a steel engraving, of a beauty so unimagined and grand that it seemed a little awful. It gave him a sudden respect for the unreclaimed, seldom-trodden region to which his craving for adventure had brought him.
The outline of Old Squaw Mountain could be plainly discerned, a dark, towering shape against the horizon. A few stars glinted like a diamond diadem above its brow. Down its sides and from the base stretched a sable mantle of forest, enwrapping Squaw Pond, of which the moon made a mirror.
"My! I think this would make the fellows in Manchester open their eyes a bit," muttered Neal aloud. "Only one feels as if he ought to see some old Indian brave such as Cyrus tells about,—a Touch-the-Cloud, or Whistling Elk, or Spotted Tail, come gliding towards him out of the woods in his paint and feather toggery. Glad I didn't visit Maine a hundred years ago, though, when there'd have been a chance of such a meeting."
Still muttering, young Farrar kicked off his high rubber boots, and dragged off his coat. He proceeded to shake and wring the water from his upper garments, listening intently, and glancing half expectantly into the pitch-black shadows at the edges of the forest, as if he might hear the stealthy steps and see the savage form of the superseded red man emerge therefrom.
"Ugh! I mind the ducking now more than I did a while ago," he murmured. "The water wasn't cold. Why, we bathed at the other end of the pond late last evening! But these wet clothes are precious uncomfortable. I wish we were nearer to camp. Good Gracious! What's that?"
He stood stock-still and erect, his flesh shrinking a little, while his drenched flannel shirt clung yet more closely and clammily to his skin.
A distant noise was wafted to his ears through the forest behind. It began like the gentle, mellow lowing of a cow at evening, swelled into a quavering, appealing crescendo cadence, and gradually died away. Almost as the last note ceased another commenced at the same low pitch, with only the rest of a heart-beat between the two, and surged forth into a plaintive yet tempestuous call, which sank as before. It was followed by a third, terminating in an impatient roar. The weird solo ran through several scales in its performance, rising, wailing, booming, sinking, ever varying in expression. It marked a new era in Neal's experience of sounds, and left him choking with bewilderment about what sort of forest creature it could be which uttered such a call.
He began to get out some bungling description when Cyrus joined him shortly afterwards, but the American had had a lively time of it while recovering his jack-light and righting the canoe on mid-pond. He was in no mood for explanations.
"Keep the yarn, whatever it is, till to-morrow, Neal," he said. "I didn't hear anything special. Perhaps I was too far away. I'm so wet and jaded that I feel as limp as a washed-out rag. Let's get back to camp as fast as we can."
LIFE IN A BARK HUT.
It was two o'clock in the morning when the tired, draggled pair stumbled ashore at the place where they embarked, hauled up their birch skiff, leaving it to repose, bottom uppermost, under a screen of bushes, and then stood for some minutes in deliberation.
"I'm sure I hope we can find the trail all right," said Cyrus. "Yes, I see the blazes on the trees. Here's luck!"
He had been turning the jack-lamp on either side of him, trying to discover the "blazes," or notches cut in some of the trunks, which marked the "blazed trail"—in other words, the spotted line through the otherwise trackless forest, which would lead him whither he wanted to go.
It required considerable experience and unending watchfulness to follow these "blazes"; but young Garst seemed to have the instinct of a true woodsman, and went ahead unfalteringly, if vigilantly, while Neal followed closely in his tracks.
After rather a lengthy trudge, they reached a point where the ground sloped gently upward into a low bluff. Still keeping to the trail, they ascended this eminence, finding the forest not so dense, and the walking easier than it had been hitherto. Gaining the top, they emerged upon an open patch, which had been cleared of its erect, massive pines, and the long-hidden earth laid bare to the sky by the lumberman's axe.
Here the eagerly desired sight—that sight of all others to the tired camper; namely, the camp itself, with its cheery, blazing camp-fire—burst upon their view, sheltered by a group of sapling pines, which had grown up since their giant brothers went to make timber.
Now, a Maine camp, as every one knows, may consist of any temporary shelter you choose to name, according to the tastes and opportunities of its occupants, from a fair white canvas home to a log cabin or a hastily erected canopy of spruce boughs. In the present instance it was a "wangen," or hut of strong bark, such as is sometimes used by lumbermen to rest and sleep in when they are driving their floats of timber down one of the rivers of this region to a distant town, which is a centre of the lumber trade.
Cyrus and Neal were making across the clearing in the direction of the camp-fire with revived spirits, when the American suddenly grabbed his friend by the arm, and drew him behind a clump of low bushes.
"Hold on a minute!" he whispered. "By all that's glorious, there's Uncle Eb singing his favorite song! It's worth hearing. You never listened to such music in England."
"I don't suppose I ever did," answered Neal, suppressed laughter making him shake.
Upon a gray pine stump, beside the blaze, which he was feeding with a hemlock bough, sat a battered-looking yet lively personage. Had he been standing upright upon the remnant of trunk, he would certainly, in the bright but changeful firelight, have deceived an onlooker into believing him to be a continuation of it; for the baggy tweed trousers which he wore on his immense legs, and which partially hid his loose-fitting brogans, or woodsman's boots, his thick, knitted jersey, his mop of woolly hair, with the cap of coon's fur that adorned it, were a striking mixture of grays, all bordering upon the color of the stump. His skin, however, was a fine contrast, shining as he bent towards the flame like the outside of a copper kettle. In daylight it would be three shades darker, because the thick coral lips, gleaming teeth, and prominent, friendly eyes of the individual, betrayed him to be in his own words, "a colored gen'leman;" that is, a full-blooded negro, and a free American citizen.
Beside him, squatting upon his haunches and wagging his shaggy tail, was a good-sized dog, not of pure breed, but undoubtedly possessed of fire and fidelity, as was shown by the eye he raised to his master. His red coat and general formation showed that his father had been an Irish setter, though he seemed to have other and fiercer blood in his veins, mingling with that of this gentle parent.
To him the negro was chanting a war-song,—some lines by a popular writer which he had found in an old newspaper, and had set to a curious tune of his own composition, rendering the performance more inspiriting by sundry wild whoops, and an occasional whacking of his teeth together.
Here are two verses, under the influence of which the dog worked himself up to such excitement that he seemed to feel the ghosts of rabbits slain—for he could smell no live ones—hovering near him:—
"I raise my gun whar de rabbit run— Ketch him, Tiger, ketch him! En de rabbit say: 'Gimme time ter pray, Fer I ain't got long fer to stay, to stay!' Oh, ketch him, Tiger, ketch him!
"Ketch him, oh, ketch him! Run ter de place en fetch him! De bell done chime Fer de breakfast time— Oh, ketch him, Tiger, ketch him!"
"If there are any more verses, Uncle Eb, keep them until we've had supper, or breakfast, or whatever you like to call a meal at this unearthly hour. I'm so hungry that I could chew nails!" cried Cyrus, springing from behind the bushes, and reaching the, camp-fire with a few strides, Neal following him.
"Sakes alive! yonkers; is dat you?" cried the darkey, uprearing his gray figure. "I'se mighty glad to see you back. Whar's yer meat? Left it in de canoe mebbe? De buck too big to drag 'long to camp—eh?"
There was a wicked rolling of Uncle Eb's eyes while he spoke. Evidently from the looks of the sportsmen he guessed immediately what had been the result of their excursion.
"No luck and no buck to-night!" answered Garst. "But don't roast us, Uncle Eb. Get us something to eat quicker than lightning or we'll go for you—at least we would if we weren't entirely played out. It isn't everybody who can manage a hard shot as cleverly as you do, when he can only see the eyes of an animal. And that was the one chance we got."
No man living ever heard a further word from Cyrus as to how his English friend bore the scares of a first night's jacking.
"Ya-as, dat's a ticklish shot. Most folks is skeered o' trying it," drawled out Ebenezer Grout, a professional guide as well as "colored gen'leman," familiarly called by visitors to this region who hired the use of his hut and his services, "Uncle Eb."
"There's some comfort for you," whispered Cyrus slyly into Neal's ear. Aloud he said, addressing the guide, "We had a spill-out, too, as a crown-all. I'm mighty glad that this is the second of October, not November, and that the weather is as warm as summer; otherwise we'd be in a pretty bad way from chill. I feel shivery. Hurry up, and get us some steaming hot coffee and flapjacks, Uncle Eb, while we fling off these wet clothes. The trouble is we haven't got any dry ones."
"Hain't got no oder suits?" queried the woodsman. "Den go 'long, boys, and rig yerselves up in yer blankets. Ye can pertend to be Injuns fer to-night. Like enough dis ain't de worst shift ye'll have to make 'fore ye get out o' dese parts."
As the draggled pair were making towards the hut, which stood about six feet from the fire, to follow his advice, its bark door was suddenly pushed wide open. Forth stepped, or rather staggered, another boy, younger and shorter than Neal. His tumbled fair hair was here and there adorned with a green pine-needle, which was not remarkable, considering that he had just arisen from a bed of pine boughs. Sundry others were clinging to the surface of the warm, fleecy blankets in which he was wrapped, and his feet were thrust into a pair of moccasins. He had the appearance and voice of a person awaking from sound sleep.
"I say, you fellows, it's about time you got back!" he said, rubbing his heavy eyes, and addressing the hunters. "I hope you've had some luck. I dreamt that I was smacking my lips over a venison steak."
"Smack 'em w'en you git it, honey!" remarked Uncle Eb, while he mixed a plain batter of flour, baking-powder, and cold water, which he dropped in big spoonfuls on a frying-pan, previously greased, proceeding to fry the mixture over his camp-fire.
The thin, round cakes which presently appeared were the "flapjacks" despised by Cyrus as insufficient diet.
Without waiting to answer the new boy's greeting, the hunters had disappeared into the bark shanty. When next they issued forth they were rigged up Indian fashion in moccasins and blankets, the latter being doubled and draped over their underclothing,—of which luckily they had a dry supply,—and gathered round their waists with leather straps. Knitted caps, usually worn when sleeping, adorned their heads.
"You see, we followed Dol's example and your advice, Uncle Eb," said Cyrus, as they seated themselves by the camp-fire. "And I tell you these make tip-top dressing-gowns when you're feeling a little bit chilly after a drenching. We didn't bring along a second suit of tweeds for the simple reason that we mean to do some pretty rough tramping with our packs on our backs, and then a fellow is likely to grumble at any unnecessary pound of weight he carries."
"Shuah—shuah!" assented Uncle Eb.
"And that is why we left our fishing-rods behind," continued Garst. "You see, our main object this trip is neither hunting nor fishing. But a creel of gamey trout from Squaw Pond would come in handy now to replenish our larder."
"Wal, I b'lieve I'll fix up a rod to-mo-oh an' hook a few, fer de pork's givin' out. Hain't got mich use fer trout meself. Dey's kind o' tasteless eatin' if a man can git a bit o' fat coon or a fatty [hare], let 'lone ven'zon. Pork's a sight better'n 'em to my mind."
While Uncle Eb was giving his views on food, he was hurriedly "bilin'" coffee, frying unlimited flapjacks, and breaking up some crystal cakes of maple sugar, which he melted into a sirup, and poured over them.
"De bell done chime Fer de breakfast time!"
he shouted gleefully when all was accomplished. "Heah, yonkers! I guess we may call dis meal breakfast jest as well as not, fer it's neah to dawn now."
And the trio fell to voraciously, as he handed them each a steaming tin mug and an equally steaming plate. The newly awakened youngster, who had been cuddling his head sleepily against Neal's shoulder (a glance showed that they were brothers), had clamored for his share of the banquet.
"You haven't been lonely, Dol, I hope, have you?" said Cyrus, as a whole flapjack, doubled over and drenched in sirup, disappeared down his capacious throat.
"Not I," answered Dol (Adolphus Farrar, ladies and gentlemen), shutting and opening a pair of steel-gray eyes with a sort of quick snap. "Uncle Eb and I sat by the fire until twelve o'clock. He sang songs, and told tip-top stories about coon hunts. I tell you it was fun! I'd rather see a coon hunt than go out at night jacking, especially if I got a ducking instead of a deer, like some bungling fellows I know."
"Don't be saucy, Young England, or I'll go for you when I've finished eating," laughed Cyrus good-humoredly. "Who told you what we got?"
Dol winked at Uncle Eb, who had, indeed, entertained him with giggling jokes about the unsuccessful hunters while they were stripping off their wet garments.
Adolphus, being the youngest of the camping-party, was favored with the softest pine-bough bed and the best of the limited luxuries which the camp possessed, with unlimited nicknames,—from "Young England" to "Shaver" or "Chick," according to the whims of his comrades.
"Say, Uncle Eb, we're having a fine old time to-night—all sorts of experiences! I guess you may as well finish that song we interrupted while we're finishing our meal."
"All rightee, gen'lemen!" answered the jolly guide and cook.
The dog Tiger had retreated to the back of the camp-fire, where he lay blissfully snoozing; but at a booming "Whoop-ee!" from his master, which formed a prelude to the following verses, he shot up like a rocket, and manifested all his former signs of excitement.
"Dey's a big fat goose whar de turkey roos'— Ketch him, Tiger, ketch him! En de goose—he say, 'Hit'll soon be day, En I got no feders fer ter give away!' Oh, ketch him, Tiger, ketch him!
"Ketch him, oh, ketch him, Run ter de roos' en fetch him! He ain't gwine tell On de dinner bell— Ketch him, Tiger, ketch him!"
"Scoot 'long to bed now, you yonkers, or ye'll look like spooks to-mo-oh! Hit's day a'ready," cried the singer directly he had whooped out his last note.
And the "yonkers," nothing loath, for they had finished their repast, sprang up to obey him.
"Isn't it a comfort that we haven't any trouble of undressing and getting into our bedclothes, fellows?" Cyrus said, as they reached the wangen, and prepared to throw themselves upon the fragrant camp-bed of fresh green pine-boughs, which made the bark hut smell more healthily than a palace.
The natural mattress was wide enough to accommodate three. The boughs were laid down in rows with the under side up, and overlapped each other. To be sure, an occasional twig might poke a sleeper's ribs, but what mattered that? To the English boys especially—having the charm of entire novelty—it was a matchless bed, wholesome, restful, and rich with balsamic odors hitherto unknown.
The trio were stupidly tired; but on the American continent no happier or healthier youths could have been found.
It had, indeed, been a night big with experiences; and there was one still to come, which, to Neal Farrar at any rate, was as novel as the rest. He had thrown himself upon his bough couch, too weary to offer anything but the gladness of his heart for worship, when Cyrus touched his arm.
"Look there!" he said. "If a fellow could see that without feeling some sensations go through him which he never felt before, he wouldn't be worth much!"
He pointed through the open door of the hut at the sky above the clearing, over which was stealing a pearly hue of dawn, shot with a tinge of rosy light, like the fire in the heart of an opal.
This made a royal canopy over the towering head of Old Squaw Mountain,—near by now and plainly visible,—which had not yet lost its starry diadem, though the gems were paling one by one. The shoulders of the peak wore a mantle of purple, and the forest which clothed its bulk was changing from the blackness of a mourning robe to the emerald green of a sea-nymph's drapery.
The shutters of Night were rolling back, and young Day was stepping out to cast her first smile on a waiting earth.
As the watchers in the hut caught that smile, every thought which rose in them was a daybreak song to the God who is light, and the secret of every dawning.
With the day-smile kissing their faces they fell asleep, feeling that they were wrapped in the embrace of the invisible King.
"Where from? Whither bound?" It is not often that a man or boy burns to put these questions—which ships signal to each other when they pass upon the ocean—to some individual who hurries by him on a crowded thoroughfare, whose name perhaps he knows, but whose hand he has never clasped, of whose thoughts, feelings, and capabilities he is ignorant.
But just let him meet that same fellow during a holiday trip to some wild sea-beach or lonely mountain, let an acquaintance spring up, let him observe the habits of the other traveller, discovering a few of his weak points and some of his good ones, and then he wishes to ask, "Where do you hail from? Whither are you bound?"
Therefore, having encountered three fairly good-looking, jovial, well-disposed young fellows amid the solitudes of a Maine forest, having spent some eventful hours in their company, learning how they behaved in certain emergencies, it is but natural that the reader should wish to know their ordinary occupations, with their reasons for venturing into these wilds, and the goal they wish to reach, before he journeys with them farther.
Just at present, being fast asleep, dreaming, and—if I must say it—snoring like troopers, upon their mattresses of pine boughs, they are unable to give any information about themselves. But the friend who has been authorized to record their travels will be happy to satisfy all reasonable curiosity.
To begin, then, with the "boss" of the party, Cyrus Garst, the writer would say that he is a student of Harvard University, and a brainy, energetic, robust son of America. Among his college classmates he is regarded as a bit of a hero; for, in spite of his comparative youth, he is an enterprising traveller and a veteran camper, whose camp-fire has blazed in some of the wildest solitudes of his native land. For his hobby is natural history, and his playground the "forest primeval," where he studies American animals amid the lonely passes which they choose for their lairs and beats.
Every year when Harvard's learned halls are closed for the long summer vacation,—sometimes at other seasons too,—he starts off on a trip to a wilderness region, with his knapsack on his back, his rifle on his shoulder, and often carrying his camera as well.
Once in a while he has been accompanied by a bosom friend or two. More frequently he has gone alone, hiring the services of a professional guide accustomed to the locality he visits. Now, such a guide is the indispensable figure in every woodland trip. He is expected to supply the main part of his employer's camp "kit"; namely, a tent or some shelter to sleep under, cooking utensils, axes, etc., as well as a boat or canoe if such be required. And this son of the forest, whose foot can make a bee-line to its destination through the densest wooded maze, is not only leader, but cook and general-utility man in camp as well. The guide must be equally grand-master of paddle, rifle, and frying-pan.
For these tireless woodland heroes Cyrus Garst has a general admiration. He has always agreed with them famously—save on one point; and he has never had to shorten his wanderings for fear of lengthening their fees. For Cyrus has a millionnaire father in the Back Bay of Boston, who is disposed to indulge his whims.
The one point of variance is this: while all guides admire young Garst as a crack shot with a rifle, he frequently dumfounds them by letting slip stunning chances at game, big and little. They call him "a queer specimen sportsman,"—understanding little his love for the wild offspring of the woods,—because he never uses his gun save when the bareness of his larder or the peril of his own life or his chum's demands it.
Nevertheless, feeling the need of fresh meat, the naturalist was for the moment hotly exasperated because his English comrade, Neal Farrar, missed even a poor chance at a buck during the midnight excursion on Squaw Pond.
His friends are proud of stating that up to the present Cyrus had proceeded well in his friendly acquaintance with wild creatures, his desire being to study their habits when alive rather than to pore over their anatomy when dead. And he has always reaped a plentiful harvest of fun during his trips, declaring that he has "the pull over fellows who go into the woods for killing," seeing that he can thoroughly enjoy the escape of a game animal if he can only catch a sight of it, and perceive how its pluck or cunning enables it to baffle pursuing man. There are those who call Cyrus a sportsman of the best type. Perhaps they are right.
Yet in the year of our story, when he had just attained his majority, this student of forest life is still unsatisfied, because he has not been able to obtain a good view of the behemoth of American woods, the ignis fatuus of hunters,—the mighty moose.
Once only, when paddling on a still pond with his experienced guide for company, the latter suddenly closed the slide of the jack-lamp, hiding its light. At the same moment a dark, splendid monster, tall as a horse and swinging a pair of antlers five feet broad, suddenly appeared upon the bank, near to which the canoe lay in black shadow. The hunters dared not breathe. It was at a season of year when the Maine law exacts a heavy fine for the killing of a moose; and even the guide had no desire to send his bullets through the law, though he might have riddled the game without compunction.
For a minute or two the creature halted at the pond's brink, magnified in the mirror of moonlit water into a gigantic, wavering shape. Then with slow, solemn tread he walked along the bank ahead, gave a loud snort something like the snort of a war-horse, made a crunching, chopping noise with his jaws, resembling the sound of a dull axe striking against wood, plunged into the lake, and swam across to the opposite shore.
"If we had fired, he might have come for us full tilt," whispered the guide so softly that his words were like a gliding breath. "And then I tell you we'd have had a narrow squeak. He'd have kicked the canoe into splinters and us out o' time in short order."
"But a moose won't charge unless he's attacked, will he?" asked Cyrus, later in the night, when a couple of quacking black ducks which had received a dose of lead were lying silent at his feet, and the hunters were returning to camp with food.
"Not often," was the reply. "Only at this time o' year, if they've got a mate to defend, you can't say for sure what they'll do. They won't always fight either, even if they're wounded, when they can get a chance to bolt. But a moose, if he has to die, will be sure to die game, with his face to his enemy; and so will every wild animal that I know. I've even seen a shot partridge flutter up its feathers like a game-cock at the fellow who dropped it."
Well, this memorable glimpse of his mooseship was obtained in the year before our story. And now, in the beginning of October, young Garst was off into Maine wilds again, having arranged to "do" the forest thoroughly after his usual fashion, seeing all he could of its countless phases of life, and finally to meet this same guide—a dare-devil fellow who was reported to have had adventures in moose-hunting such as other woodsmen did not dream of—at a log camp far in the wilderness. Thence they could proceed to solitudes where the voice of man seldom echoed, where the foot of man rarely trod, and where moose signs were pretty sure to be found.
But there was one very unusual feature in his present expedition. The student of nature, who generally started forth alone, was this year, owing to a freak of fate and to his natural good-nature, accompanied by two English lads.
Early in the summer of this same year, Francis Farrar, a wealthy cotton-merchant of Manchester, England, visited America on a business-trip, and became the guest of Cyrus's father. He brought with him his two sons, Neal, aged sixteen and a half, and Adolphus, familiarly called Dol, who was more than a year younger.
Both boys had been at a large public school, and physically, as well as mentally, were well developed. They were accustomed to spending long vacations with their father at wild spots on the seashore, or amid mountains in England and Scotland. They could tirelessly do a sixty-mile spin on their "wheels," were good football players, excellent rowers, formed part of the crew of their father's yacht, could skilfully handle gun and fishing-rod, but they had never camped out.
They knew none of the delights of sleeping in woodland quarters, with only a canvas or bark roof, or perhaps a few spruce boughs, between them and the sky—
"While a music wild and solemn From the pine-tree's height Rolls its vast and sea-like volume On the wind of night."
Small wonder, then, that when they heard Cyrus Garst tell of his camping excursions, of his jolly times, long tramps, and hairbreadth escapes, their hearts swelled with a tremendous longing to accompany him on the trip into northern Maine which he was then projecting for the following October.
Now, Cyrus at the first start-off conceived a liking for these English fellows, to whom, for his father's sake, he played the part of genial host. With a lordly recognition of his superior years he pronounced them "first-rate youngsters, with lots of snap in them." And as the acquaintance progressed, Neal Farrar, with his erect figure, broad chest, musical voice, and wide-apart gray eyes,—so clear and honest that their glance was a beam,—proved a personage so likable that the student adopted him as "chum," forgetting those five years which had been a gulf between them.
Dol, whose eyes were of a more steely hue than his brother's, striking fire readily and showing all manner of flinty lights, who had a downright talent for mimicry, and a small share of juvenile self-importance, came in for regard of a more indulgent and less equal nature.
Directly he got an inkling of the desire for a forest trip which stirred in the boys' breasts, making them yearn all day and toss all night, Cyrus gave them both a cordial invitation to accompany him into Maine. Mr. Farrar did not purpose returning to Europe till midwinter. His consent was easily obtained. He presented each of his sons with a new Winchester repeating rifle, with which they practised diligently at a target ere the eventful day of the start dawned, though their leader emphatically insisted that the prime pleasures of the trip were not to be looked for in the slaughter done by their hands.
Wearing the camper's favorite dress of stout gray tweed, the trio left Boston on a lovely September evening towards the close of the month, taking a fast night train for Maine, brimful of enthusiasm about the wild woods and free camp-life. The hue of their clothes was chosen with a view to making their figures resemble the forest trunks, so that they would be less likely to attract the notice of animals, and might get a chance to creep upon them undetected.
About their waists were their ammunition belts, with pouches well stocked. Their large knapsacks contained blankets, moccasins, and various other necessaries of a camper's outfit, including heavy knitted jerseys for chill days and nights, and rubber boots reaching high on the legs for wear in wading and traversing swampy tracts.
About twenty-four hours later they dropped off the rattling, jingling stage-coach which bore them over the latter part of their journey, at the flourishing village of Greenville, on the borders of the Maine wilds.
Here they were greeted by a view, the loveliness of which made the English boys, who had never looked on it before, experience strange heart-leaps.
A magnificent sheet of water nearly forty miles long and fourteen broad lay before them, studded with islands, girt with evergreen forests and wooded peaks. Under the rays of the setting sun its bosom was shot with arrows of pale, quivering gold. Banners of gold and flame-color floated over the crests of the hills, flinging streamers of light down their emerald sides.
"Fellows, there is Moosehead Lake; and I guess you'll find few lakes in America or elsewhere that can beat it for beauty," said Cyrus, with a patriotic thrill in his voice, for he had a feeling that he was doing the honors of his country.
His English comrades were warm with admiration, and here, in view of the forest-land which was their El Dorado, tingled with anticipation of the unknown.
The three rested that night at Greenville, and began their tramping on the following morning. They trudged a distance of seven miles or so to the camp of Ebenezer Grout, which, as Garst knew, was situated between Squaw Pond and Old Squaw Mountain, the latter being one of the finest peaks near Moosehead Lake.
"Uncle Eb" was an old acquaintance of Cyrus's, a dusky, lively woodsman, who spent a great part of the year in his lone bark hut, with his dog Tiger for company. He subsisted chiefly on what he brought down with his rifle, and sometimes earned three dollars a day for guiding tourists up Old Squaw or through the adjacent forests.
He was not an ambitious hunter, and rarely pushed far into the solitudes of the wilderness in search of moose or other big game. A coon hunt was to him the climax of all fun. It was chiefly with a hope that his comrades might enjoy some novel entertainment of this kind that Cyrus made his first stoppage at Uncle Eb's camp, purposing to sojourn there for a few days.
He was not disappointed.
The stupidly tired trio had slept for about two hours, while the reader has been receiving information second-hand about their past and future, when a scratching, scraping, boring noise on the outside of their bark roof temporarily disturbed their slumbers. Dol called out noisily, and, as was the way of that youngster on sundry occasions, talked some gibberish in his sleep. The scraping instantly ceased.
A renewed and blissful season of snoring. Another awakening. More music on the roof, evidently caused by the claws of some wild animal, while each of the campers was startled by a loud "Cluck!"
"Lie still, fellows! Don't budge. Let's see what the thing is," breathed Cyrus in a peculiarly still whisper which he had learned from his moose-hunting guide of whom mention has been made.
Dead silence in the hut. Redoubled scraping and rattling above, with a scattering of bark chips.
Then light appeared through a jagged hole just over a string which was stretched across one corner of the cabin, and from which dangled sundry articles of camp bric-a-brac, mostly of a tinny nature, with Uncle Eb's last morsel of "pork.
"By all that's glorious! it's a coon," breathed Cyrus, but so softly that his companions did not hear.
As for the two Farrars, they were working up to such a heat of excitement that they felt as if life were now only beginning. They had heard of the thievish raids made by the black bear on unprotected camps, and of his special fondness for pork. Not knowing that there was no chance of an encounter with Bruin so near to civilization as this, they peered at that hole in the roof, expecting every moment to see a huge, black, snarling snout thrust through it.
It was a pointed gray muzzle which warily appeared instead—appeared and disappeared on the instant. For at this crisis Tiger's shrill bugle-call resounded without, giving warning of an attack on the camp. The thing, whatever it was, scrambled from the roof, and with a strange, shrill cry of one note made towards the woods. The dog followed it, barking for all he was worth.
Now, too, Uncle Eb's booming "Whoop-ee!" was heard.
The hardy old woodsman, after his visitors had gone to roost, instead of stretching himself as usual upon his pine mattress, had started off, accompanied by Tiger, to visit some traps which he had set in the forest, hoping to catch a marten or two. He took the precaution of closing the door of the hut when he saw that its inmates were soundly sleeping, thinking meanwhile, that, as day was dawning, there was little chance of any wild "critter" coming round the camp during his absence.
But a greedy raccoon, which had been prowling near in the woods during the night, and had been tantalized to desperation by the smell of the late meal, especially by the odor of flapjacks frying in pork fat, had stolen from cover after the departure of his natural enemy, the dog.
Finding the coast clear and the camp unguarded, he made himself quietly at home, rooted among some potato parings which the guide had thrown aside a day or two before, devoured a cold flapjack, and cleaned the camp frying-pan as it had never been cleaned before, with his tongue. But his appetite was whetted, not glutted. Scent or instinct told him that pork, molasses, and other eatables were hidden in the bark hut. Here was a golden opportunity for Mr. Coon. No one molested him. Meditating a feast, he climbed to the roof, and began cautiously to scrape off portions of the bark. The rising sun ought to have warned him back to forest depths; but he persisted in his scratching, repeating now and again a satisfied cluck.
His hole was made. His keen nose told him that pork was almost within reach, when the bugle-call of his enemy—Tiger's challenging bark—smote upon his ear. Guide and dog were opportunely returning to camp.
Of course, as soon as the marauder scrambled off the roof, Cyrus and the boys sprang from their couch. Barefooted, and in night costume, they were already at the door of the hut before Uncle Eb was heard booming,—
"Boys! Boys! Tumble out—tumble out! Dere's a reg'lar razzle-dazzle fight goin' on heah. Tiger's nabbed de coon."
A COON HUNT.
A razzle-dazzle fight it surely was! On one side of the camp, between the camping-ground, which Uncle Eb had cleared with many a backache, and the woods, was a narrow strip covered with a stunted, prickly growth of wild raspberry bushes and tiny cherry-trees. These had sprung up after the pines had been cut down, as soon as the sun peeped at the long-hidden earth.
Into it the bare-legged trio dared not venture, knowing that they would get a worse scratching and tearing than if the coon itself mauled them.
But they could see and hear a whirling, howling, clawing, spitting, rough-and-tumble conflict going on in the midst of this miniature jungle.
"Whew! Whew!" gasped Cyrus. "Here's your first sight of a wild coon, boys. I wish to goodness it had been a different sight, but I suppose he must pay for his thieving."
"Tiger'll make him do dat. Bet yer life he will! He's death on coons, if ever a dog was," yelled Uncle Eb, gambolling with excitement, his eyes bulging and widening until they looked like oysters on the shell.
The soft, battered, gray felt hat which replaced his fur cap in the daytime surged off his gray wool, and frisked gently away towards the camp-fire. There, coming in contact with a red ember, it scorched and shrivelled into smoking, smelling ashes, all unnoticed in the tumult of the fight.
Whirling round and round, now under, now over, dog and coon rolled presently forth from the bushes, nearer to the feet of the spectators. Then Neal and Dol could get a clearer view of the strange animal. A breeze of exclamations came from them, mingling with the yelping, snarling, and clucking of the combatants.
"Good gracious! Look at the stout body and funny little legs of the fellow!"
"Doesn't he fight like a spitfire?"
"I'm glad he's not clawing me!"
"He's not much like any picture of a raccoon I ever saw in a Natural History!"
"I guess he wouldn't resemble them greatly, especially in that attitude, Dol," said Cyrus, as soon as there was a lull in the boys' comments.
The raccoon had now rolled on his back, and was fighting so fiercely with teeth and claws that a despairing cry broke from Uncle Eb,—
"Yah! He's makin' Tiger's wool fly!"
It was then that the old guide began to deliberate about rushing forward and despatching his coonship with the butt end of his rifle. Cyrus would gladly have stopped the tussle long before, for there was too much savagery about it to suit him; but he could only have done so by stunning or killing one of the combatants.
A heart-rending howl from Tiger. The coon had caught him by his lower jaw. Uncle Eb, clutching his empty rifle like a club, was starting to the rescue, when the dog with a sudden, desperate jerk freed himself. Mad with rage and pain, he tried to seize the raccoon's throat. But his enemy managed to elude the strangling grip, and getting on his feet, again caught Tiger, this time by the cheek, causing another agonizing yelp.
Now, however, the undaunted dog whirled round and round with such rapidity as to make Mr. Coon relax his hold, and, gathering all his strength, flung the wild animal off to a distance of several feet.
Probably the raccoon felt that he had enough of the conflict, and was doubtful about its final issue. He seized the chance for escape. While the spectators gasped with excitement, they beheld him, with his head doubled under his stomach, roll over and over like a huge gray India-rubber ball, until he reached the nearest tree, which happened to be one of the young pines that shaded the camp. Quick as lightning he climbed up its trunk, uttering a second shrill, far-reaching cry of one note.
"Listen! Listen, fellows!" cried Cyrus. "That raccoon is a ventriloquist. The cry seemed to come from somewhere far above him. I had a tame coon long ago, and I often heard him call like that. I tell you he's a ventriloquist, and a mighty clever one too.
"The one piercing note was to warn his mate," went on the naturalist, after a moment's pause; "or in all probability, though we have been speaking of the animal as 'he,' it is really a female, for I have heard that peculiar call given more frequently by a mother to warn her cubs."
All that could now be seen of the animal—on whose gender new light had been cast—was a gray ball curled up on a tasselled bough near the top of the pine-tree, and a glimpse of a black nose over the edge of the limb.
"Wal! 'tain't no matter wedder de critter is a male or a fimmale; I'm a-goin' to bring it down from dar mighty quick," said Uncle Eb, fumbling with the cartridge-box which was attached to his broad leather belt, and preparing to load his rifle, while he cast murderous looks aloft.
"No, you don't, then!" said Cyrus hotly. "The creature has fought pluckily, and it deserves to get a fair chance for its life. I'll see that it does too. You oughtn't to be hard on it for liking pork, Uncle Eb."
"Coons will be gittin' into eatin' order soon," murmured the guide, smacking his lips, and handling his gun undecidedly. "Roast coon's a heap better'n roast lamb."
"Well, they're not in eating order yet, and won't be till next month," answered Garst. "Come, you've got to let this one go, Uncle Eb, to please me."
"Tell ye wot: I'll call Tiger off" (Tiger was alternately licking his wounds and baying furiously for vengeance about the tree which sheltered his enemy), "den, wen de coon finds de place clear, bime-by he'll light down from dat limb, I'll start off de dog, and let 'em finish de game atween 'em."
Cyrus considered for a minute, then decided that on the coon's behalf he might safely accept the compromise.
"Let's get into our clothes, fellows!" he cried to Neal and Dol. "Now we're going to have some fair fun! I guess there won't be any more fighting; and I want you to see how cunningly the raccoon will cheat the dog and escape, if he gets an even chance."
In five minutes the trio were out of their blankets and in their ordinary day apparel. The old guide had hung the wet tweeds to dry by the blazing camp-fire before he started out to visit his traps, carefully stretching them to prevent their "swunking" (shrinking). Thus they were again fit for wear.
A half-hour of waiting ensued, during which every one was on the tiptoe of expectation. They had all withdrawn to some distance from the tree. Uncle Eb had been obliged to drag Tiger away, and was bathing his cuts out of the camp water-bucket in a shady corner. The dog, recognizing that he was a patient, submitted without a growl or budge, until his master, who had been keeping a keen eye on that pine-tree, suddenly loosed him, and started him off afresh with a loud "Whoop-ee!" and a—
"Ketch him, Tiger! ketch him!"
The coon had "lighted down."
Away went the wild creature into the woods. Away after him, went dog, guide, student, and boys, plunging, tumbling, rushing along helter-skelter, with a yell on every lip.
"There he is! See him? That gray ball rolling over and over!" shouted Cyrus. "I'll tell you what, now; he's going to resort to his clever dodge of 'barking a tree.' There never was a general yet who could beat a coon for strategy in making a retreat."
The forest surrounding the eminence on which Uncle Eb's camp was situated consisted mostly of pines, with here and there the brilliant autumn foliage of a maple or birch showing amid the evergreens. The trees down the sides of the hill were not densely crowded, but grew in irregular clumps instead of an unbroken mass. This, of course, afforded a better opportunity for the pursuers to catch glimpses of the fugitive animal.
On finding that it was again chased, the raccoon at first took shelter in a dense thicket of scrub oak, which formed in places a tangled undergrowth. Tiger quickly followed up its trail, and it was driven thence.
Then Cyrus and the boys caught sight of it spinning over and over like a ball, towards a maple-tree with widely projecting limbs and thick foliage; for it knew well that in speed it was no match for the dog, and therefore resorted to a neat little stratagem. The next minute, being hotly pressed, it scrambled up the friendly trunk.
"He's treed again, yonkers! Come on!" shouted the guide, indifferent to the creature's probable gender.
Tiger sat on his haunches at the foot of the maple, setting up a slow, steady bark.
"Keep where you are, fellows! Watch the other side of the tree!" whispered Cyrus, his face twitching with excitement.
In his character of naturalist he had managed to find out more about the coon's various dodges than even the old guide had done.
In breathless wonder the Farrars presently beheld that ingenious raccoon steal along to the end of the most projecting limb on a different side of the tree from the one it had climbed, so that a screen of boughs and the trunk were between it and its adversary.
Then it noiselessly dropped from the tip of the branch to the ground, alighting, like a skilled acrobat, on its shoulders, doubled its pointed black nose under its stomach, and again rolled over and over for a considerable distance, when it got on its short legs and scurried away, while Tiger still bayed at the foot of the maple-tree, thinking the vanished prey was above.
"That's what I called the coon's dodge of 'barking a tree,'" said Cyrus. "Don't you see, when hard pressed, he runs up the trunk, leaving his scent on the bark; then he creeps to the other side under cover of the foliage, and drops quietly to the ground. So he breaks the scent and cheats the dog."
"Good gracious!" exclaimed Neal with an expressive whistle.
"Perhaps it's because of his long gray hairs that he has so much wisdom," Dol suggested.
"A bright idea, Chick!" chuckled the student, tapping the boy's shoulder.
"We keep on speaking of him as 'he' when you said the thing was probably a female," put in Neal.
"That doesn't matter. I'm not certain. Look at old Tiger! He's having fits now that he has discovered how he's been tricked."
The dog was circling out from the tree, with wild, uncertain movements, nosing everywhere. Presently he struck the scent again, and darted off like a streak.
But the raccoon had by this time reached a dark stream of water which coursed through the over-arching forest at the foot of the hill, as if it was flowing through a tunnel. Here this astute animal crossed and recrossed under the gloom of interlocking trees, mid dense undergrowth, until its trail was altogether lost.
Tiger, having further "fits," nosing about, darting hither and thither, venting short, baffled barks, finally gave up in despair.
The pursuing party turned back to camp.
"Did ye ever see ennyting to ekal de cunnin' o' de critter," said Uncle Eb gloomily; "runnin' up dat tree on'y to jump off, so as he'd break de scent an' fool de dog? Ye'll learn a heap o' queer tings in dese woods, chillun, 'fore ye get t'rough," he added, addressing the English lads.
"We've learned queerer things than we ever imagined or dreamed of, already, Uncle Eb," Neal answered.
Meanwhile, Cyrus and Dol had begun to discuss the size of the escaped coon.
"I should think it measured about two feet from the tip of its nose to the beginning of the tail, and that would add ten or eleven inches. Probably it weighed over thirty pounds," said the experienced Garst.
"A fine tail it had too!" answered Dol; "all ringed with black and buff—not black and white as the books say. There was hardly an inch of white about the animal anywhere. Its thick gray hair was marked here and there with black; wasn't it, Cy?"
"Rather with a darker shade of gray, bordering on black. I think old Tiger can testify that the creature had capable teeth; and it possesses a goodly number of them—forty in all; that's only two less than a bear, an animal that might make six of it in size."
"Whew! No wonder it's a good fighter!" ejaculated Dol.
"But the funniest of the coon's or—to give the animal its proper name—the raccoon's funny habits is, that while it eats anything and everything, it souses all meat in water before beginning a feed. That's what it would have done with our bit of pork,—dragged it to a stream, and washed it well before swallowing a morsel.
"I caught glimpses of a raccoon chasing a jack-rabbit in this very section of the woods, last year," went on the student, seeing that Dol was breathlessly listening. "The big animal killed the little one under a dead limb; and I traced its tracks through some mud, where it tugged the rabbit to the brink of the nearest brook to be dipped and devoured.
"After the meal, Mr. Coon halted on an old bit of stump as gray as himself, close to where I lay under cover, trying to get a peep at his operations, but, unluckily, in my excitement I touched a bush, and broke a twig not as big as my little finger. I tell you he just jumped off that stump as if it scorched him, and disappeared."
"What about that tame coon you owned, Cy?" Dol asked. "You haven't got him now."
"Bless your heart, I should think not!" Here the student indulged in a chuckle of mirth. "That coon was the fun and bane of my life. No fear of my being dull while I had him! I had him as a present, when he was only a cub, from a man out here who is my special chum among woodsmen, Herb Heal, the guide in whose company we're going to explore for moose, and the soundest fellow in wind, limb, and temper that ever I had the luck to meet. I guess you English boys will say the same when you know him.
"Well! when my friend Herb bestowed upon me that baby raccoon, I called the little innocent 'Zip,' and kept him in-doors, letting him roam at will. But after he grew to manhood, I was obliged to banish him to our yard and chain him up; and there his piteous, sky-piercing calls, which seemed to come from the roof of a house near him, first showed me what a ventriloquist the animal can be."
"Why on earth did you banish him?" asked Neal.
"Because his plan of campaign, when loose, was to follow me about like a devoted cat, climbing over me whenever he got the chance, with slobbery fondness. But as soon as I was out of the way he'd steal every mortal thing I possessed, from my most precious instruments to my latest tie and handkerchiefs. I never saw anything to equal his ingenuity in ferreting out such articles, and his incorrigible mischief in destroying them. I chained him in the yard after he had torn my father's silk hat into shreds, and made off with his favorite spectacles. Whether he wore them or not I don't know; he chewed up the case; the glasses no man thereafter saw. I couldn't endure his piteous cries for reconciliation while he was in banishment, so I gave him away to a friend who was suffering from an imaginary ailment, and needed rousing.
"Talking of fathers, boys, reminds me that I feel responsible to Francis Farrar, Esq., for the welfare of his lusty sons. Neal had a pretty tiring time last night, and only about two hours' sleep since. I don't suppose any of us are outrageously hungry, seeing that we had some kind of breakfast at an unearthly hour. Here we are at camp! I propose that we turn in, and try to sleep until noon. What do you say?"
Their leader having wound up his talk, thus, neither of his comrades ventured to oppose his suggestion, though they felt little inclined for slumber.
"Pleasant day-dreams to you, fellows!" said Cyrus three minutes afterwards, flinging off his coat, and throwing himself on his mattress of boughs, while he wiped the steady drip of perspiration from his forehead and cheeks. "This day is going to be too warm for any more rushing. Our variable climate occasionally gives us these hot spells up to the middle of October; but they don't last. So much the better for us! We don't want sizzling days and oppressive nights, with mosquitoes and black flies to make us miserable. October in this country is the camper's ideal—month"—
The last sentence was broken by a great yawn, followed presently by a snort and an attempt at a shout, which quavered away into a queer little whine. Garst had passed into dreamland, where men revel in fragmentary memories and pell-mell visions.
AFTER BLACK DUCKS.
If Cyrus's dreams were ruffled after the morning's excitement, those of his comrades were a perfect chaos.
A slight wind hummed wordless songs through the tasselled tops of the pine-trees about the camp. The music was tender and drowsy as a mother's lullaby. Contrary to their expectations, Neal and Dol were lulled to sleep by it like babies, with a feeling as if some guardian spirit were gliding among the tree-tops.
But when slumber held them, when the murmur increased to a surge of sound, sank to a ripple and again rolled forth, in their dreams they imagined it the scurrying of a deer's hoofs along some lonely forest deer-path, the rustling of a buck through bushes, the splashing of a mighty moose among lily-pads and grasses at the margin of a dark pond, the startled cluck of a coon. In fact, that rolling music of the pines was translated into every forest sound which they had heard, or expected to hear.
The excitement of wild scenes, new sensations, strange knowledge, still thrilled them even in sleep. Their visions were accordingly wild, rushing, jumbled, yet all set in a light so bright as to be bewildering—a sign that health and happiness as great as human boys can enjoy were the possession of the dreamers.
By and by their pulses grew steadier. Out of this confused rush of imaginings grew in the mind of each one steady, absorbing dream. Neal fancied that he was on the top of Old Squaw Mountain, and that beneath, above, around him, sounded the strangely prolonged weird call, which he had heard at a distance on the previous night while Cyrus was recovering the jack-light. Owing to the ever-changing excitements of camp-life, he had not questioned his comrade again about it.
Dol's visions resolved themselves into a mighty coon hunt. He tossed on his pine boughs, kicked and jabbered in his sleep, with sundry odd little cries and untranslatable mutterings,—
"Go it, Tiger! Go it, old dog! There he is—up the tree! Ah" (disgustedly), "you're no good!"
A lull. Then the dreamer rolled out a string of what may be called gibberish, seeing that it consisted of fragments of words and was unintelligible, followed by,—
"The coon's eating the pork—no, he's b-b-b-barking it! Hu-loo-oo!"
"Oh, say, Chick, give us a chance! We can't sleep with you chirping into our ears."
It was Cyrus who spoke, shaking with drowsy laughter, and Cyrus's big hand gently shook the dreamer's arm.
"What? what? wh-wh-at?" gasped Dol, awaking. "I wasn't talking out loud, was I?"
"Not talking aloud! Well, I should smile!" answered the camp captain. "You were making as much noise as a loon, and that's the noisiest thing I know. Go to sleep again, young one, and don't have any more crazy spells before dinner-time."
Cyrus removed his hand, shut his eyes, and in a minute or two was breathing heavily. Neal, who had been aroused too, followed his example, laughing and mumbling something about "it's being an old trick of Dol's to hunt in his sleep."
But the junior member of the party remained awake. After his dreams had been dissipated he cared no more for slumber. When he could venture it without disturbing his companions, he rose to a sitting posture, and, after squatting for a while in meditation, got on his feet, picked up his coat and moccasins, and, stealthily as an Indian, crept out of the hut.
The rolling music among the pine-tops had died down; only at long intervals a soft, random rustle swept through them. It was nearly midday. The camp-fire was almost dead, quenched by the dazzling sunlight which fell in patches on the camping-ground, and flooded the clearing beyond the shadow of the pines.
Moreover, the camping-ground was deserted. Neither Uncle Eb nor Tiger could be seen, though Dol's eyes sought for them wistfully. But something caught his attention. It was a ray of light filtering through the pine boughs and glinting on the trigger of an old-fashioned muzzle-loading shot-gun, which leaned against a corner of the hut. An ancient, glistening powder-horn and a coon-skin ammunition pouch hung above it.
Dol lifted the antiquated weapon, withdrew to a short distance, and examined it closely. He knew it belonged to the guide, but was rarely used by him since he had purchased the 44-calibre Winchester rifle, with which he could do uncommon feats in shooting.
The shot-gun interested the boy mightily. There was a facsimile of it, swathed in green baize, stowed away somewhere in his father's house in Manchester. The first time he had ever used fire-arms was on a memorable day when his fingers pulled its trigger in his father's garden under Neal's direction, and a lean starling fell before his shot. After that he had often taken out a fowling-piece of a newer style, and had done pretty well with it too.
As he handled the shot-gun, which the guide had bought away back in the year '55, musing about it under the pines, the thought suddenly tumbled out of a corner of his brain that at present there was a brilliant opportunity for him to use the gun and all the shooting skill he possessed for the benefit of his comrades and himself.
There was no meat in the camp for dinner or supper save the pork on which they had feasted since they arrived there, and that was fast giving out. Cyrus, in addition to his knapsack, had hauled over from Greenville, where articles of camp fare could be procured in abundance, a goodly supply of tea, coffee, condensed milk, flour, salt, sugar, etc., in a stout canvas bag, Neal at intervals helping him with the burden. For the rest he had trusted to Nature's larder, and such food as he might purchase from his guides, desiring to go into the woods as "light" as possible.
Uncle Eb had baked bread for his guests after a fashion of his own on the camp frying-pan, setting the pan on some glowing coals a foot or so from the fire; he had fried unlimited flapjacks, and had cheerfully placed what stores he had at their disposal. His three luxuries were novelties to the English lads, being pork, maple sugar,—drawn from the beautiful maple-trees near his camp,—and a small wooden keg of sticky, dark molasses. The sugar was the only one which Dol found palatable; and he knew that the Bostonian, Cyrus, shared his feeling. To tell the truth, the juvenile Adolphus was not fastidious, but he was suddenly seized with an ambitious desire to vary the diet of the camp.
"Uncle Eb said that I could use this 'ole fuzzee,' as he called it, whenever I liked," he muttered, looking wistfully at the shot-gun; "and I've a big mind to give those lazy fellows in there a surprise. They spent the night out jacking, and didn't get any meat because Cyrus let Neal do the shooting, and he bungled it. It's my turn next to go after deer, but I'm not going to wait for that."
Here his steel-gray eyes fell on the moccasins which he had not yet put on, and struck fire instantly. His ambition was doubled. For if there is one thing more than another which in the forest will stir the pluck of a novice, and make him feel like an old woodsman, it is the sight of his Indian footwear. Dol put his on, admired their light, comfortable feeling, their soft buckskin, and rashly decided that he could dispense with the loose inner soles which Cyrus had fitted into them to protect his feet.
Then, being very much of a stranger to American woods, he communed with himself after this fashion,—
"Cyrus says that different tribes of Indians wear differently made moccasins, and one redskin, if he sees the tracks of another in soft mud or snow, can tell what tribe he belongs to by his footmarks. That's funny! I suppose if any old brave was knocking about and saw my tracks in a boggy spot, he'd think it was a Kickapoo who had passed that way—not Dol Farrar of Manchester, England. These are of the shape worn by the Kickapoo tribe—so Cy says.
"I'm the kid of the camp, I know," he went on, with another flash in his eyes, as if there was a bit of flint somewhere in his make-up which had struck their steel. "But I'll be bound I can do as well or better than the others can. I'm off now to Squaw Pond. I think I can follow the trail easily enough. Uncle Eb showed me yesterday where he had spotted some of the trees all the way along to the water. And if I don't shoot a couple of black ducks for dinner or supper, I'm a duffer, and not fit for camping."
He took down the powder-horn and slung it round him, saw that there was plenty of meat in the ragged coon-skin ammunition pouch which hung beside it, fastened that to his belt, slipped on his coat, and started off, with the "ole fuzzee" on his shoulder.
Never a sound did he make as he crossed the clearing, passing the clump of bushes behind which Cyrus and Neal had lingered on the previous night to hear Uncle Eb's song. Owing to his Indian footwear, silently as the gliding redskin himself he entered the woods at a point where he saw a tree with a fresh notch carved in it. He knew this marked the beginning of the "blazed trail," and that he must be very wide-awake and show considerable "gumption" if he wanted to follow that line to the pond.
Not every tree was spotted. Only at intervals of fifteen or twenty yards he came upon a trunk with two small pieces chopped out of it on opposite sides. These were Uncle Eb's way-marks. One set of notches would catch his eye as he went towards the water, the other would lead him back to camp. Once or twice Dol got away from the trail, but he quickly found it again; and in due time emerged from the forest twilight into the broad glare of the sun, to see Squaw Pond lying before him like a miniature mother-of-pearl sea, so protected by its evergreen woods that scarcely a ripple stirred it.
He heard the shrill, wild call of a loon, the noisy bird to which Cyrus had likened him, and saw its white breast rising above the water, as it swam about among the reeds near the opposite bank. The cry was oft repeated, making an unearthly din, now joyous, now dreary, among the echoes around the lake.
Dol paused for a minute to listen; but he was bent on business, and did not want to be very long away from camp lest his absence should cause alarm. He took a careful survey of the scene. Not beholding any fleet of black ducks as yet, he loaded his gun, and warily proceeded along the bank towards the head of the pond.
Keeping a sharp lookout, he by and by detected something moving among the water grasses a little way ahead, and heard a hoarse, squalling "Quack! quack!"
Immediately afterwards a flock of half a dozen ducks sailed forth from their shelter, nodding and quacking inquisitively.
A wild drumming was at Dol's heart, and a reckless singing in his ears, as he raised his gun to his shoulder, and fired among them. Nevertheless, his aim was sure and deadly. Two quackers were killed with one shot! The others rose from the water, and with much fluttering and hoarse noise winged their way to safety.
"How'll they be for meat, I wonder? Won't I have a crow over those fellows?" shouted Adolphus aloud, with a yell entirely worthy of a Kickapoo Indian, when he had recovered from surprise at the success of his own shot.
He laid down the gun, pulled off his moccasins and socks, rolled up his trousers, and waded in for the prize. Truly luck was with him—so far—in his first venture in this region of the unknown. The water was so shallow that, having grabbed the ducks, he splashed out of it, kicking shiny drops from his toes, without wetting an inch of his garments.
"I'm the kid of the camp, I know; but I'll be the first fellow to bring any decent meat into it. Hooray!" he whooped again. "Shouldn't wonder if these moccasins brought me wonderful luck; one can steal about so quietly in them."
He had hit upon the supreme advantage which the Indian footwear possesses over every other for the woodsman. A little later he was to learn its disadvantage, having, with foreign inexperience, disdained the extra soles because they were not "Indian" enough for his taste; for the soft buckskin could not protect from roots and stones a wearer whose flesh was not hardened to every kind of forest travelling.
But at present Dol bepraised his moccasins; for they had enabled him to sneak upon his birds, the wildest of the duck tribe, who generally, at a single hoarse "Quack!" from their leader, will cease their antics in lake or stream, and disappear like a skimming breeze before a sportsman can get a fair shot at them.
For a quarter of an hour Dol Farrar sat by this forest pond engaged in the cheerful occupation of "booming himself," as his friend Cyrus would have said. He told himself that he had made a pretty smart beginning, not alone in shooting a brace of black ducks, but in successfully following a difficult trail on his fourth day in the woods. Henceforth, he thought, there would be little reason for him to dread the unknown in this great wilderness.