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Wade goes on a “‘Coon-Hunt.” — A Cry for Help. — A Rush to the Rescue. — “Is that You, Fellows?” —
“A Big Bull-Moose.” — “Hit him in the Brisket!”
SEPT. 4. — Wade had an adventure this evening; a rather dangerous one, he thought.
While we were at supper, a raccoon passed along the hollow below our camp, uttering, from minute to minute, its lonely quavering cry. Next to the clear alto-call of the loon, the cry of a raccoon is one of the most impressive of forest-sounds especially when heard at evening in the darkening woodland.
Wade had never seen a raccoon, though we had heard them a dozen times since entering the wilderness. The peculiar note had been exciting his curiosity, I presume; for, after listening a few moments, he asked Cluey whether he sup posed he could get sight of it by going down there.
“Wal,” said Cluey, “yer might p’r’aps; but yer haf ter be pooty sly ‘bout it. Cunnin’ critters; amost as shy as a fox. Difficulter than a fox ter ketch. Can’t hiper off ser farst; but then they kin climb, an’ git inter holler trees, which a fox can’t du.”
Wade took up the shot-gun, and started quietly off. Cluey watched him till he had gone out of sight among the firs; then said, —
“Gone ter hunt that ar ‘cune, sure’s ye live. Wal, he’ll larn a thing or two ‘bout ‘cunes ef he goes till he ketches ‘im.”
Raed had found a very fine specimen of iron pyrites; also a beautiful crystal of purple quartz (amethyst), and some chunks of cream-white felspar. He was showing them to Wash and my self. I remember we talked some time, planning to make a mineralogical collection of specimens which we might find during future trips. We decided to make a company concern of it; all of us to deposit, or send to some central place for us, as at Boston. If we carried out our present plans of exploration and travel, we thought we might, in time, make a collection of specimens worthy of a place in some university when we were done with it. I say, we thought so. The idea was really Raed’s; though, after he had once spoken of it, Wash and I concurred with him, and pledged ourselves to it.
“It would be a good work,” Raed added; “something to remember us by after we’ve gone back into the earth. It’s a shame to live in the world fifty or sixty years, and die without leaving something behind us to tell the people of the next century of our dead selves. We never shall see the great improvements, the grand times, and the highly-cultured people, of the year 2000 A. D., of course. But perhaps the next best thing would be to leave some good honest work like this collection, — something to help the world on, if ever so little. Such a thing will be prized more then than now, probably; and the ones who labored to make it will be honorably remembered and spoken of. That will be something, even if a fellow is dead, and his life gone to warm up other dust. And, if we run our yacht along as many coasts as I hope to, there’s nothing to hinder our making a respectable collection, — a world-wide one.”
“Of course, if we undertake it, we must make a good one,” said Wash. “I despise these mediocre things.”
“That’s the idea!” exclaimed Raed. “The best, or none at all.”
We were so engaged discussing this project, that we nearly forgot Wade, till Cluey interrupted us with, —
“Seems ter me that yonker’s gone a plaguy long spell. I ‘gin ter be worrid ‘bout ‘im. ‘Fraid he’s gut lost or suthin’.”
“Wade is gone, isn’t he?” exclaimed Raed. “Went after that ‘coon, didn’t he?”
“Ben gone as much as ‘alf an hour,” said Cluey. “I didn’t much like the idee of his goin’; but I didn’t s’pose he’d be gone five minutes.”
Twilight had just begun when he started; but now it was getting quite dark. The fire shone brightly.
“Oh! I guess he is all right,” said Wash. “He will be back shortly.”
“He ought not to stay away long,” remarked Raed. “There’s always some danger after night fall.”
“Wal, thar is now,” said Cluey. “I don’t ‘prove er gittin’ fur off frum the fire arter dark up round ‘ere, an’ at this time o’ year.”
“Here, Ding-bat!” cried Raed.
The Chinaman lay asleep on the leaves near the fire; he had not gone With Wade.
“Here, you lazy fellow! Go find your master!” The dog yawned, and got up, whining.
“See here, sir!” cried Raed, pointing off in the direction Wade had taken, and then to the ground. “See here! Now go find him!”
Ding-bat looked round, then sniffed intelligently, and trotted off.
“Wal, he does know suthin,” said Cluey, who had always been a little sceptical on that point.
“He will find him,” Wash was saying; when suddenly we heard the report of the shot-gun.
“There he is!” exclaimed Raed. “Fired at the raccoon, probably.”
“Some ways off,” muttered Cluey. “That ar war over on the side-hill yender; t’other side the holler; ‘alf or three quarters uv a mile.”
“He will be here soon,” said Wash.
Five minutes passed; perhaps more. All at once Ding-bat came racing back, his tongue looking as if he had had a hard run. We supposed that Wade was only a few steps behind, and were expecting every moment to see him come through the firs; when a distant hollo came faintly from the forest.
“Hark! Wasn’t that Wade?” exclaimed I.
“It war him!” cried Cluey, jumping up excitedly. “He’s got lost or suthin!! That ar dorg,” shaking his fist at the cringing Chinaman, “paver found ‘im. Didn’t s’pose he knew anough. Fire the rifle! The yonker’s lost.”
Wash seized the rifle, and discharged it over his head.
Another faint hollo responded to the report.
“Load her up, an’ fire agin!” shouted Cluey.
I got out the cartridges; but, before Wash could put in one, there came another hollo.
Wash immediately fired a second shot; and, a moment later, there was another far-borne shout, several together, as if a number of words were called. Cluey had stood with his hand to his ear to catch the sound.
“He says ‘Help!’” exclaimed he. “He’s more’n lost! Suthin’s afoul uv ‘im! Hark!”
Again the distant cry came wafted on the still, damp air.
It was help!
“Help, help, help!”
“Load up that rifle quicker’n lightnin’!” yelled the old man, tearing round like a fettered gorilla.
“Hollo, hollo, hollo!” he shouted with a voice like a veteran pilot. “Climb — a — tree-e-e-e! We’re cumin’!
“Here,” he continued to us, “grab that hatchet! Down with that little maple! Off with er couple o’ good clubs! That’s the talk! Gi’me that rifle, Wash! Keep the hatchet, Kit! Grab a club apiece, you Wash and Raed! Outer my way, ye little harless, good-fer-nothin’ satun!” stumbling over Ding-bat, and giving him a kick that sent poor Chinaman end over end.
“Come on!” plunging away among the firs. We followed him as fast as we could run.
“Help, help!” came wafted to our ears as we ran on.
Down into the hollow we sped, stumbling over logs, and tripping amid the thick ground-hemlock. Reaching the brook, we jumped across, and went smashing through the dead alders on the other bank, and hurrying on up the side of the opposite ridge; Cluey several rods ahead, in spite of our utmost efforts. Presently a much nearer shout from Wade told us we were getting in his vicinity. Cluey stopped so short, that we nearly ran over him in the dusk.
“Hold on!” he whispered. “We’d better find out what’s the trouble before we go ony nearer. You call ter him, Wash. Du it as shrill an’ kinder bird-like as ye ken.”
“Wade!” sang out Wash as bird-like as he could.
“I say, Wade!”
“Hollo! is that you, fellows?” replied Wade, seemingly about twenty rods off.
“Yes,” chirruped Wash. “What’s the matter, anyway? What’s got you?”
“A big bull-moose!” shouted Wade. “I’m treed. Be careful, fellows! He’s awful cantankerous! Is Cluey there?”
“Jest as I ‘xpected!” chuckled the old man. “But, ef he’s up a tree, he’s all right. We’re the ones as has gut ter look out! Tell ‘im I’m ‘ere, an’ ter keep whar he is, an’ ter mad the moose all he ken. Tell ‘im ter switch at ‘im with er stick, so he needn’t mind us.”
“Yes; Cluey’s here,” carolled Wash. “He says you must keep the moose’s attention all you can. Strike down at him with a switch. Don’t let him notice us. We’ll creep up and shoot him.”
“All right!!” shouted Wade. “But, if you are going to shoot him, shoot low. I ain’t up more’n twelve or fifteen feet. Aim low, now. Hit him in the brisket: there’s where his heart is.”
We crept along as still as possible, Cluey in advance. The moon (rising later to-night) was just beginning to peep up, lightening the forest considerably. On getting within ten or a dozen rods, we could hear Wade talking to him.
“Ah, aha, you old bruiser! You old wall-eyed abolitionist! Don’t ye wish ye could, now? — don’t ye wish ye could? Oh, grit your old teeth; grind your old stubs, now; slat your horns; grunt, push, now! You’ll have hard work to push this tree over. Stamp! No, ye don’t: ye can’t reach! Have a segaw? Take that on your old long snout, and that, and that, and that! If I just had that gun up here, I never would have hollered murder for you. Wiggle your old stub tail; wiggle!”
Wade then got up a variation by barking at him like a dog; then he yawled and spit as we had heard “Beelly” do on a former occasion. The moose, too, could now plainly be heard, stamping, grinding its tushes, and butting heavily against something, which we presumed to be the trunk of the tree. Keeping in a clump of shrubby hemlocks which grew along the side of the ridge, we worked carefully up to within six or seven rods.
“Now the rest on ye climb up inter ony o’ these ‘ere ‘emlocks!” whispered Cluey. “Climb up jest high enough to be out o’ reach uv ‘im ef he should make a dive this way. I’ll try ter git a shot at ‘im.”
We three boys drew ourselves as quietly as possible up into one of the thick evergreens, one after the other. I suppose we must have made a slight rustling; for Wade asked, —
“Are you coming, fellows?”
Cluey was creeping along on the ground.
“Aim low, now,” advised Wade. “I’m up here, and the moose’s down there, — right under me. Don’t overshoot him. Hit him in the brisket.”
His advice was interrupted by the crack of the rifle and a squeal from the stag, followed instantly by a great trampling and rushing. Cluey came scudding back into the hemlock-thicket, and after him the moose, panting, and uttering a hideous, whining noise. We held our breath in horror. Cluey disappeared among the boughs somewhere, and the stag went crashing through the thicket. Then, turning, the black monster came dashing back with a prodigious crushing of the branches.
“He didn’t have time to climb up!” whispered Raed excitedly. “I’m afraid the moose went over him!”
After beating about among the hemlocks for some minutes, the moose stalked back to the foot of Wade’s tree
“Cluey!” we all began to whisper, anxiously enough too.
“Cluey, Cluey!” louder still.
“Anybody hurt?” cried Wade from his tree. “He didn’t catch the old man, did he?”
Just then the hemlock began to stir in one particular spot; and presently, as we stared, the old black fur cap was poked cautiously out.
“You aren’t dead yet, are you, Cluey?” exclaimed Wash.
We began to laugh.
“‘As ‘e gone?” demanded the old man in a hurried whisper.
“Yes; gone back to Wade,” we all whispered.
Cluey crept out, and came along toward us, keeping our hemlock between him and the moose.
“Thar!” he exclaimed, holding up the rifle “I’m the biggest old fool that ever trud Gud’s fut-stool! I cum off an’ naver thought to tuk an extry load! Thar! I cud chaw my heart strings!”
“Don’t do it,” laughed Raed. “Here’s the very thing you want, I guess.”
More thoughtful than any of us, Raed had caught up a handful of the cartridges and the cap-box ere he had run off after Cluey.
“Yer don’t say! Show! Yonker, yer a thoughtful un! Yer ort ter be cap’n uv a vassel.”
He had put in the cartridge, and was opening the cap-box, when the bough on which Wash was perched gave way with a creaky snap, obliging that young worthy to make a sudden grab and scramble to keep from tumbling out. In a jiffy the moose turned, and, uttering a loud bellow, came straight for the hemlocks again.
“Look out!” shouted Wade. “He’s coming! Scatter! mizzle!”
Cluey mizzled among the thick hemlock instanter; and we all three hitched up a little higher as the ugly brute came tearing along like a loco motive, and, passing under us, again beat through the thicket. But as it plunged amid the swaying, cracking boughs, a bright, sudden flash blazed from beneath. It was followed by another squeal. The moose fell, I thought, — fell, and floundered for a moment; but immediately regained its legs, and, with another squeal, ran off through the thicket and down the side of the ridge at a great pace. We could hear the brush cracking far down in the hollow. Cluey came out from his hiding- place.
“He’s bolted,” said the old man. “They’Il do that sometimes, all uv a suddin. Shoudn’t wonder ef that larst shot teekled his ribs a leetle tu much fer his cumfut.
“It’s cur’us,” continued Cluey, “‘ow a moose’ll act. Fust they’ll be saviger than the Dav’l; then tuk fright like a hoss, an’ bolt, as this un jest did. Oh! they’re freaky critters.”
Wade had got down, and now came along.
“Hollo, old boy!” exclaimed Wash, shaking him by the hand. “Behold the rescooed ‘coon-hunter!”
“And the rescooed is duly thankful,” replied Wade. “I tell you, fellows, you’ve got me out of a tough scrape. I’ll try to remember it too.”
“Of course you’ll remember it to the day of your post mortem!” laughed Wash. “Don’t go to making a thanksgiving-speech, though.”
“Whar’s yer ‘cune ?” demanded Cluey.
“The last I saw of him, he was just whipping in between a couple of big rocks out there be yond the tree I’ve been roosting in. I fired at him.”
“Then that was the ‘coon you fired at,” said Raed.
“Yes: I got a glimpse of him down there in the hollow. He scampered off up the side of the ridge; and I ran after him, and kept on, hoping to get a snap at him, clean up here. Just as he was dodging in between those rocks yonder, I let fly at him; but, before I had time to even wink twice, the moose came tearing out of this hemlock-thicket, stamping and squealing, and grinding his teeth. I had just time to drop the gun and shin up that hornbeam, and — well, you know the rest of the story.
“I supposed he had trod the gun all to pieces,” continued Wade, examining it. “But I reckon he hasn’t hurt the barrel any,” sighting across it. “Scarred the stock a little with his hoofs; that’s all.”
After an unsuccessful search for the ‘coon about the rocks, we started back toward the camp.
Just as we had crossed the brook, Cluey stopped short all at once.
“What is it?” demanded Raed.
“I dunno,” peeking ahead. “Suthin thar’, I b’l’eve. Looks like a critter’s eyes. One uv tham pasky lucivees, I guess. Gi’ me anuther uv tham catridges.”
We could plainly see the eyes of some animal glowing in the darkness two or three rods ahead. But, while Cluey was loading, a low whine began.
“It’s Ding-bat!” exclaimed Wash. “Come here, doggy! Come here, good fellow!”
The poor disgraced Chinaman come racing to us, tickled half to death.
“Leetle more, sur,” muttered Cluey, not very thankfully either, — “leetle more, sur, an’ you’d ‘a’ lost yer leetle, wuthlis, good-fer-nothin’ life, sure’s ye live.”
It was after eleven before we got to bed that night.