Meanwhile the summer was slipping fast away, and October came, bringing with it cool weather and changing leaves. The woods soon looked like great gardens, filled with giant flowers. The maple became a vivid scarlet, the chestnut orange, the oak a rich red brown, and the hickory and tall locust were variegated with a deep green and delicate yellow. Luxuriant vines, laden with clusters of ripe grapes, twined around and festooned the trees to their summits, while the ground beneath was strewn with the hard-shelled hickory-nut and sweet mealy chestnut, which pattered down in thousands with the falling leaves.
It was at day-break on one of the brightest and mildest mornings of this delightful season, that the family were awakened by the shouts of Tom, who was already up and out of doors, setting the pigs, which were his particular charge, free for their daily rambles in the forest.
“Oh, Uncle John!” he cried, running in for his gun, “do get up: there are such lots of pigeons about! Flock upon flock! you can hardly see the sun!”
Every one hastily dressed and rushed out—it was indeed a wonderful sight which presented itself. The heavens seemed alive with pigeons on their way from the cold north to more temperate climates; they flew, too, so low, that by standing on the log-house roof one might have struck them to the earth with a pole. Millions must have passed already, when there approached a dense cloud of the birds, which seemed to stretch in length and breadth as far as eye could reach. It formed a regular even column—a dark solid living mass, following in a straight undeviating flight the guidance of its leader. The sight was so exciting that Mr. Lee and Uncle John ran for their rifles as Tom had done, and opened a destructive fire as it passed over.
The ground was soon covered with the victims, and the sportsmen still seemed intent on killing, as if they thought only of destroying as many as possible of the crowded birds, when Mrs. Lee called to them to desist.
“There are more of the pretty creatures already slain,” she said, “than we can eat,—it is a shocking waste of life!”
“And see, Tom,” cried his sister, “the poor things are not dead, only wounded and in pain!”
They all instantly ceased firing, and Mr. Lee looked on the bleeding birds scattered around, with the regretful feeling that he had bought a few minutes’ amusement at a great expense of suffering. Uncle John and Tom, however, only thought of pigeon-pies, and went to work to put the sufferers out of their misery, and prepare them for cooking.
A few days after this memorable morning, the children and Uncle John set out for a regular nutting excursion; Annie had made great bags for their gatherings, and Mrs. Lee provided a fine pigeon-pie for their dinner; Tom took charge of it, his sister of Georgy, and Uncle John carried his constant companion on a ramble—his good rifle. By noon they had gone more than three miles into the depths of the forest; their bags were nearly filled, and Tom began to grumble at the weight of the pie, so that when they reached a pleasant open spot near a spring, it was at once decided that they should dine there. They spread their little store on the ground, adding to it some bunches of grapes from the vines around, and then sat down with excellent appetites and the merriest of tempers.