“Snake,” whispered Wetzel.
Joe saw a huge blacksnake squirming in the grass. Its head had been severed. He caught glimpses of other snakes gliding away, and glossy round moles darting into their holes. A gray rabbit started off with a leap.
“We’re near enough,” whispered Wetzel, stopping behind a bush. He rose and surveyed the plain; then motioned Joe to look.
Joe raised himself on his knees. As his gaze reached the level of the grassy plain his heart leaped. Not fifty yards away was a great, shaggy, black buffalo. He was the king of the herd; but ill at ease, for he pawed the grass and shook his huge head. Near him were several cows and a half-grown calf. Beyond was the main herd, extending as far as Joe could see—a great sea of black humps! The lad breathed hard as he took in the grand sight.
“Pick out the little fellar—the reddish-brown one—an’ plug him behind the shoulder. Shoot close now, fer if we miss, mebbe I can’t hit one, because I’m not used to shootin’ at sich small marks.”
Wetzel’s rare smile lighted up his dark face. Probably he could have shot a fly off the horn of the bull, if one of the big flies or bees, plainly visible as they swirled around the huge head, had alighted there.
Joe slowly raised his rifle. He had covered the calf, and was about to pull the trigger, when, with a sagacity far beyond his experience as hunter, he whispered to Wetzel:
“If I fire they may run toward us.”
“Nope; they’ll run away,” answered Wetzel, thinking the lad was as keen as an Indian.
Joe quickly covered the calf again, and pulled the trigger. Bellowing loud the big bull dashed off. The herd swung around toward the west, and soon were galloping off with a lumbering roar. The shaggy humps bobbed up and down like hot, angry waves on a storm-blackened sea.
Upon going forward, Wetzel and Joe found the calf lying dead in the grass.
“You might hev did better’n that,” remarked the hunter, as he saw where the bullet had struck. “You went a little too fer back, but mebbe thet was ’cause the calf stepped as you shot.”
So the days passed swiftly, dreamily, each one bringing Joe a keener delight. In a single month he was as good a woodsman as many pioneers who had passed years on the border, for he had the advantage of a teacher whose woodcraft was incomparable. Besides, he was naturally quick in learning, and with all his interest centered upon forest lore, it was no wonder he assimilated much of Wetzel’s knowledge. He was ever willing to undertake anything whereby he might learn. Often when they were miles away in the dense forest, far from their cave, he asked Wetzel to let him try to lead the way back to camp. And he never failed once, though many times he got off a straight course, thereby missing the easy travelling.