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Washing-Day. — A Strange Noise. — Cluey takes us on a Moose. Hunt, and discloses a Novel Method of hunting the Animal.
AUG. 24. — This forenoon we had a general “washing” of shirts and socks. The latter had got very holey, and needed darning. My darning-needle now came into play; and, as we had no yarn, we ravelled down the tops a few inches, “where it could be spared as well as not,” as Wash suggested, and so repaired the foot part.
Cluey was not troubled with socks; wore his moccasons on his bare feet like a true woodsman.
Washing and mending took us most of the day.
Just at night we went out after partridges; but saw none, and came back in the twilight. It had grown dusk. Suddenly, as we were tending the fire, getting out the kettle, and clipping off sapin, a rather singular noise — something like the low grumbling note of a bull when heard at a distance — came borne on the still air.
“Hark!” said Wash, rising to listen. “Was that thunder?”
We had all heard it.
“What was that noise, Cluey?” asked Wade of the old man, who was busy preparing slices of meat for the coals.
“That ar? Why, that ar’s a moose. They’re just beginnin’ ter beller. I heerd un larst night arter the rest on ye’d gone ter sleep. Hadn’t heerd un afore this season. ‘Bout time fer um to begin, though: allus do ‘bout the fust o’ September.”
“Why do they bellow at that time?” asked Raed.
“Wal, that’s ruther a hard question, I reckon,” said Cluey, laying the slices on the coals. “This ‘ere’s the time they’re gittin out o’ the swamps up on ter the high lands, an’ pairin’ up, ye know. The stags fight like all persessed ‘bout this time.”
“Fight?” queried Wade.
“Ye-us; fight with one ‘nuther fer the cows.”
“Cows? Is that what you call the female moose?” asked Raed.
“That’s what we call um. The stags, ye see, fight over ‘um to see which’ll git the pootyist un, I s’pose,” added the old fellow, looking covertly at us. “Oh! they’re vary much like all other critters, these ‘ere stags air. They’re great on dooels; mighty high notions uv ‘onor these ‘ere stags hey; an’ they’re no cowards nuther. Oh! dooels is common anough, I tell ye,” Cluey kept on, seeing that we were all on the broad grin at the rather suggestive parallel he was running. “Dooels is as common as ever they used to be at Wash’n’ton when ole Tippycanoe was presydint, an’ the hot-bludded, cotton-headed, fire-an’ tow Calhown men war there in all their glory.”
“Well, well,” interrupted Wade, reddening at this unexpected turn of the old man’s loquacity. “You were telling us of moose, I believe. Do these fights ever result fatally? Do the stags ever kill each other?”
“Wal, full as often as is giner’ly the case in dooels, I reckon,” replied Cluey naively. “I remamber wunst hearin’ a tormented bellerin’ one night when I was campin’ up on the Telos Lake. The next mornin’ I went out towards whar I’d heerd it, an’ cum upon two moose-stags dead, with their horns locked together ser tight that I couldn’t git um apart, pullin’ with all my might. An’ another time I cum upon one dead, with his in’ards all strung out, an’ a prong of a horn broke off in his buddy. The ground all about was tore up an’ trampled full o’ huff-holes; an’ the bushes — some on um big’s my arm — all broke down an’ twisted off. Tell ye, there’d ben an orful tussel thar!”
Raed had been making a pudding; and by this time the meat was steaked. We sat down to supper, — in the usual fashion. While we were eating, another of those low, ominous bellowings came to our ears.
“He’s challengin’,” said Cluey, — “challengin’, or else threatenin’ an’ bullyin’. The pair are prob’bly together now; an’ the stag’s warnin’ others off. He’ll keep that up all night, an’ p’r’aps fer a fotnit to cum.”
“How far off should you judge them to be?” asked Wash.
“Wal, nigh on ter two mile. The sound’ll travel a good ways this still night; an’ then it’s er tremendus noise too. Wait till ye hear it close to wunst, an’ you’d say so, I guess.”
“If they should hear us, or smell our smoke, would it frighten them off?” asked Raed.
“Wal, it might; an’ then, agin, it mightn’t. Moose act quar at this time o’ year. A couple o’ months ago, we’d had pooty hard work to git near un; but now the stags don’t mind a man much. Ef we war to go out thar whar that un’s bellerin’, they might both carnter off; but like’s not the stag’d take at us full tilt. Ef he happened to feel ruxious, he would. An’ then, I tell ye, we’d hey ter scamper pooty tall ter git out o’ his way. Half a dozen balls, fired hasty, might not stop him. An’ then, gar! ef he war to git at un uv us with them big huffs an’ broad horns, it would be all day with him. Only way’d be ter drop gun, an’ up a tree quicker’n lightnin’.
“Raaly,” continued the old man, scraping out the pudding-kettle, “a hunter’s in more actooal danger from moose at this time o’ year than from all the b’ars and catermouts that ever war. Why, I naver had a b’ar nor a catermout come straight at me, when I hadn’t pervoked um to’t, in the wureld; but I’ve ‘ad a stag-moose do it time’n agin. I mind one time I’s goin’ through the woods not fur from the Ambejijis Lake, goin’ along onconsarned like (jest about this time o’ year too); when all ter wunst un uv tham paskey critters rushed out uv a little clump o’ alders with a snort an’ a grunt an’ a beller, an’ come straight fer me. Ef it hadn’t ‘a’ ben fer a big hemlock standin’ thar that I dodged be hind, he’d ‘a’ smashed .my brain-pan sure’s the gospil. As ‘twas, he tuk the bark off’n both sides o’ that thar tree, with me croochin on t’other side.”
“Do you mean to tell us that we are, and shall for the next month be, in constant danger of attack from moose?” asked Wash.
“I mean ter say as ‘ow we’re in more danger from moose than from ony other critter,” said Cluey. “Oh, no! I don’t s’pose a moose’Il Ink at us ‘ere in camp. But then it wouldn’t be so vary oncommon ef one should. Fer ef a pair should come along by ‘ere, near whar we’re settin’, like’s not the stag’d make a plunge at us. He might. They’re jest that savage sometimes.”
While Cluey was talking, we several times heard the distant bellow. It rather resembled thunder, low and hoarse, behind some towering mountain-ridge, than any sound I ever heard from the throat of a living creature. Coming at intervals, it gave one the sensations of signal-cannon, or the fearful voice of the sea beneath some icy floe.
Cluey was smoking.
Presently, finishing his pipe, he carefully knocked out the ashes on a stone.
“Are ye vary tired, yonkers?” he asked. We were not unusually fatigued.
“I s’pose we might nab that ar bellerer out thar,” he continued. “I s’pose I could show ye a trick in moose-huntin’ as per’aps ye naver heered on. ‘Twouldn’t be a bad plan, nuther. Meat would come pooty acceptable: we’re runnin’ a leetle short.”
“Of course, of course!” exclaimed Raed. “We’re in for it! Go ahead!”
“Wal, in the fust place, while I see ter the fire, you see ter the guns. Put in a fresh cart ridge slug an’ three buck-shot inter the shot-gun: that’s the way ter load a smooth-bore for moose.”
“I believe,” remarked Raed to Wade as we were about this duty, “that Cluey’s idea of loading a gun corresponds with those of one of your distinguished generals during the late un pleasantness, — ‘Load with three buck-shot and a ball.’ Wasn’t that his order to his men on a certain memorable battle-field?”
“Yes, sir,” said Wade, a little stiffly; “and the result of that battle showed the wisdom of the order.”
“Undoubtedly,” replied Raed, laughing. “Three buck-shot and a ball would be pretty sure to hit something, I should say.”
“All ready!” exclaimed Wash, capping the rifle.
“Not too farst!” said Cluey; then, turning to Wade, “Ye must tie up that dorg, — that ar ha’rless purp o’ yourn. We don’t want him no how. Git a with, an’ hitch ‘im up: make ‘im farst, so he won’t git luse an’ come sneakin, aster.”
A with was cut from a yellow birch standing near, and Ding-bat was “made farst” to a sapling “hornbeam” a few yards from the fire. Seeing us about to depart, he set up a howl.
“Shet up!” growled Cluey, giving him a sly kick.
A dog without “har” violated all his sense of natural propriety.
“Now step light, an’ foller close,” advised the old man.
We filed off from the fire into the silent forest, taking the direction whence the bellowings had seemed to proceed.
It was a hazy evening. The early-rising moon was already half way up the heavens. It’s dim light fell in through the thick tree-tops, faintly relieving the deep shadows. Here and there, a hare, startled at our approach, scudded away. Once a brood of Canada grouse started from under a bush, and scattered in all directions, peeping, quitting, and fluttering; and, as we walked rapidly forward, a larger animal, a bear perhaps, sprang out from behind an upturned root, and bounded hastily off through the cracking brush.
Coming presently to a large white birch, which stood like some arboreal ghost among its darker-clad brethren, Cluey stopped to strip off a cut of the bark, having first given the tree a long slash, and then turned up the edges with his knife.
“What are you peeling bark for now?” asked Wash.
“Oh! you’ll see,” chuckled the old man, who always enjoyed mystifying us a little.
We went on again, and gradually climbed the side of a broad, heavily-wooded ridge. For some minutes Cluey had been admonishing us to tread lightly. Frequently he would stop to listen. Once only, since starting, had the bellowing been repeated.
“We must be gittin’ pooty close on ‘um,” muttered the old fellow. “Be ready to dodge behind a tree. The stag may make a rush at us ony minit now. ‘Twouldn’t be at all strairnge ef he should ‘appen ter hear us.
“Can’t be fur from ‘ere,” he continued as we came out on what seemed the summit of the ridge. “Jest about the sort er place fer um tu. We’ll try fer um ‘ere, ony rate,” rolling up the piece of bark into a trumpet shape. “You two fellers” (indicating Raed and myself) “clamber up inter this low beech. Do it stiller’n mice, now. Take the rifle with ye. Git placed up among the limbs so ye ken look down round an’ fire when ye hear the moose. Me an’ these two other yonkers’ll climb up inter anuther tree. But be keerful ye don’t shute inter our tree,” he turned to say, “even if ye shud think ye /leered a moose up thar.”
The branches of the beech were within reach from the ground. Catching hold, I swung up. Raed handed up the rifle, and climbed up after me. We then made our way up some fifteen or twenty feet, and perched as comfortably as possible where the broad-spreading branches joined the trunk. Cluey and the other boys were, meanwhile, climbing another beech two or three rods off. The growth on the crest of the ridge consisted mainly of these beeches, shrubby and low from their exposed situation. The moonlight fell in between them; for they stood sparsely here. From where we sat, we could see Wash and Wade perched eight or ten feet over Cluey’s head, who was not up more than ten feet from the ground.
But just then a singular sound began to be heard, which at once attracted our attention.
“What, for pity sake, is that noise?” whispered Raed.
I had never heard any thing like it. It was a sort of cluck, and seemed to come from along the ridge to the westward. “Chock-chock-chock chock-chock-chock-chock!” It kept being repeated at intervals of about a second.
“What is that, Cluey?” demanded Raed in a loud whisper.
“That ar’s the stag, choppin’.”
“Chopping? How does he do it?”
“With his teeth — whackin’ his jaws together.”
“How far off is he?” asked Raed.
“Wal, nigh outer a quarter uv a mile, I reckon. Now be on the lookout: I’m agwine ter call ‘im.” I saw Cluey raise the bark-roll to his mouth. Instantly the forest resounded to a hideous cry, almost an exact counterpart of the bellowing of the stag we had heard during the evening. Raed, who had not seen Cluey’s movement, started so violently as to come near tumbling from his seat.
“Heavens!” he exclaimed. “Was that Cluey?”
We heard Wash and Wade laughing with surpressed shakes, and the old man uttering a warning “Sh!” to them.
Then we all listened intently; but there was no response. Only an owl far down in the valley beyond sent up his dismal bass-solo.
After about five minutes, Cluey again uttered his challenge. How he contrived (having, as I suppose, human lungs) with the aid of this simple bark-trumpet to create such a sound entirely passes my comprehension. We boys afterwards made many attempts, but could not even approximate it. It may fairly be termed the moose-hunter’s secret; and, as such, might, I judge, make a very tolerable subject for a popular novelette.
Still there was no response from the moose. Raed and I began to exchange sceptical whispers. Cluey waited five or ten minutes longer; then gave another call, — a very loud and long-drawn one. Scarcely had the echoes rebounded from the opposite ridge ere a terrific roar burst forth from the woods higher up, followed by a distant crashing sound.
“Git yer gun ready!” muttered Cluey excitedly “He’s comin’!”
Raed cocked the rifle; and, at the same instant, I heard a similar click from the other tree. Then came another bellow from Cluey’s trumpet. It was fiercely answered, nearer than before. The air seemed fairly to shudder to the awful note: at least, it made me shudder; for there was some thing fear-inspiring in the sound. The crashing noise came louder, nearer. Cluey again roared defiance. It was replied to appallingly not ten rods off. I saw Cluey drop his trumpet, and grasp the shot-gun. There was a sudden smash of dead limbs; the small growth above swayed violently; the very ground jarred beneath the hoofs of the monster; and I heard a loud, hoarse panting, as with a snort, and another unearthly bellow of rage, there rushed out of the shadows a huge black animal with lofty antlers, which seemed borne on a level with our feet.
Crack went the rifle from our tree, with a blaze of flame out into the dim scene!
Bang went the shot-gun!
I caught a glimpse of the excited faces of Wash and Wade with the momentary flash.
The moose gave a loud grunt, and reared up; then, lowering its antlers, butted heavily against Cluey’s tree, making a strange, crunching sound. We heard Cluey rattling with the ramrod, and bethought ourselves to reload our own piece. I got out a fresh cartridge, which Raed put in. But, before we could get on a cap, Cluey fired again. The moose staggered back from the tree with a cry not much unlike that of a wounded steed. Raed aimed and fired. His shot was followed by another fearful shriek. The animal continued to back off, rearing, and slatting its antlers, making all the time the same crunching noise. Before we could again reload, it had got off several rods among the trees; but we could still hear it threshing about.
“Stay whar ye ar!” shouted Cluey to us. “Load yer rifle, but keep in yer tree!”
We could see him getting down with the gun. Dropping to the ground, he stole cautiously along, holding the gun ready to fire.
But, feeling a great desire to be in at the death, Raed and I began to get down. Ere we had dropped from the lower limbs, however, Cluey fired, and we paused to listen; and it was well we did. Cluey was running back, with the moose after him. The sight of its enemy had been sufficient to rouse it to this last effort.
“Shute ‘im! shute ‘im!” shouted the old man, running under our tree, and thence dodging to the other.
The stag rushed after him, knocking its ponderous antlers against the very branches on which we stood. Raed could not immediately fire. The infuriated creature plunged after Cluey, who was compelled to dodge to another tree; thence to an other; from which he doubled back to ours again, the moose still close upon him. Raed now fired full at the animal’s breast at not more than three yards; Cluey, meanwhile, darting to cover of an other tree-trunk. The moose seemed to reel back from the flash of the rifle, and stood motionless a moment. Then, like a staggering horse, it began to sway, and, falling on its haunches, rolled over with deep groans. Nevertheless, Cluey did not immediately approach, but still peered warily from behind his tree.
“Not tu farst!” said he. “That critter may git up agin.”
The moose kicked heavily once or twice more.
“I reckon he’s done fer,” remarked the old man at length. “You can venter’ to git down.”
We swung down, and approached where it lay. Cluey had taken off his cap, and was wiping his leathery brow.
“Give me quite a sweat, dodgin’ thar, I declar’ for’t! That war a pooty good shot o’ yourn, though, — that larst un. Gut a match, any on ye?” he continued, picking up his bark-trumpet. “Let’s take a look at ‘im.”
A match was produced, and the bark lighted. We cautiously bent over the still-throbbing carcass. The eyes were already glazing. The blood, almost black by the light, gushed in quick jets from one of its wounds; while close beside it there was another bullet-hole, which seemed scarcely to have oozed a drop. There were two other wounds, bleeding slowly, — one in the neck, and the other back of the right shoulder.
“Yer see, now,” remarked Cluey, “that it takes more’n one ball to stop un o’ these old stags. Sposin’ one man ‘ad undertuk this job alone. Ten to one he’d gut wusted. He’d stud a rum chance on’t. Sposin’ ye hadn’t stud ready ter shute this un ‘ere when he’s arter me: he’d a roused me about from tree ter tree, no knowin’ how long; an’ ef I’d ‘a’ ‘appened ter trip in the brush, or stumble, he’d ‘a’ sune trod the life outen my carkis. Talk ‘bout catermout-huntin’ or lion huntin’ or tiger-huntin’: I tell ye thar’s more real actooal resk in a moose-hunt than in all yer over-the-water tiger-scrapes yer hear ser much uv.”
“How much should you judge this stag would have weighed alive?” asked Wash.
“Wal, somewhar frum thirteen ter fifteen hun dred. Carrid his head ten or ‘leven feet hum the ground. Look at that ar forelaig tu! Thar’s a long laig fer ye! — five foot ef it’s an inch. Tell ye, yonkers, yer don’t find much bigger game’n that ar chap onywhars, ‘ceptin’ elefunts an’ rinoserosis, an’ sech over-the-water critters.”
Cluey was evidently not a little proud of the noble game once so abundant in our native State, but which now grows lamentably scarce.
We built a fire; and Cluey proceeded to strip off the hide from the haunch and sirloin, preparatory to cutting out the choicest portions of the meat.
“Is the moose really a deer?” Wade asked as we lay on the ground watching Cluey.
He directed the question to the naturalist.
“More properly an elk,” replied Wash; “though it is frequently called the moose-deer. Deer and moose both belong to the same great order of animals, of course; but, when it comes down to species, the moose should be ranked with the elk of Europe and the famous fossil elk found in Ireland. The larger animals of the order are called elks; the smaller, deer.”
“Wish we could save tham antlers,” said Cluey as he was cutting off the muffle (the pendent upper lip, which is much larger in the moose than in the horse: hunters consider it a very choice bit). “That’s a splanded set as ever I see.”
But, as they would certainly have weighed sixty or seventy pounds, none of us cared to undertake their carriage, especially in addition to the load of meat Cluey had prepared. The old man had carved so greedily, that we each of us had from thirty-five to fifty pounds to tug back to camp.
Tired enough we were, too, when Ding-bat’s barks, and a faint glimmer of coals shining through the bushes, announced our approach to the fire, which we had nearly missed in the dark ness. It was past one o’clock. We threw ourselves on the sapin, and fell asleep almost instantly.
Cluey was broiling steaks when I awoke. To lie there half awake, with the delicious odor of the frying meat in one’s nose, was a luxury not to be described adequately. One by one, the other boys woke; and we got up to breakfast. Oh! one needs to get off into the wilderness to relish a breakfast of moose-steaks, coffee, and corn-cake.
After putting up a lunch, we started off to examine the ledges, leaving Cluey to cure the meat, which, as he afterwards told us, he did by smoking it over a cedar smudge.