The Shades of the Wilderness eBook

Joseph Alexander Altsheler
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 332 pages of information about The Shades of the Wilderness.

CHAPTER VII

IN THE WAGON

He ran at first, reckless of impediments, and there was a sound of crashing as he sped through the bushes.  He was not in the least afraid of Haskell.  He had his rifle and pistols and in the woods he was infinitely the superior.  He did not even believe that Haskell would pursue, but he wanted to get far beyond any possible Federal sentinels as soon as possible.

After a flight of a few hundred yards he slackened speed, and began to go silently.  The old instincts and skill of the forester returned to him.  He knew that he was safe from immediate pursuit and now he would approach his own lines carefully.  He was grateful for the chance or series of chances that always took him toward Lee.  It seemed now that his enemies had merely succeeded in driving him at an increased pace in the way he wanted to go.

He was descending a slope, thickly clothed with undergrowth.  A few hundred yards farther his knees suddenly crumpled under him and he sank down, seized at the same time with a fit of nervous trembling.  He had passed through so many ordeals that strong and seasoned as he was and high though his spirits, the collapse came all at once.  He knew what was the matter and, quietly stretching himself out, he lay still that the spell might pass.

The lonesome owl, probably the same one that he had heard earlier, began to hoot, and now it was near by.  Harry thought he could make out its dim figure on a branch and he was sure that the red eyes, closed by day, were watching him, doubtless with a certain contempt at his weakness.

“Old man, if you had been chased by the fowler as often as I have,” were the words behind his teeth, addressed to the dim and fluffy figure, “you wouldn’t be sitting up there so calm and cocky.  Your tired head would sink down between your legs, your feathers would be wet with perspiration and you’d be so tired you’d hardly be able to hang on to the tree.”

Came again the lonesome hoot of the owl, spreading like a sinister omen through the forest.  It made Harry angry, and, raising himself up a little, he shook his fist again at the figure on the branch, now growing clearer in outline.

“‘Bird or devil?’” he quoted.

The owl hooted once more, the strange ominous cry carrying far in the silence of the night.

“Devil it is,” said Harry, “and quoth your evil majesty ‘never more.’  I won’t be scared by a big owl playing the part of the raven.  It’s not ‘nevermore’ with me.  I’ve many a good day ahead and don’t you dare tell me I haven’t.”

Came the solemn and changeless hoot of the owl in reply.

Harry’s exertions and excitement had brought too much blood to his head and he was seeing red.  He raised himself upon his elbows and stared at the owl which stared back from red rimmed eyes, cold, emotionless, implacable.  He had been terribly shaken, and now a superstitious fright overcame him.  The raven and the albatross were in his mind and he murmured under his breath passages from their ominous poems.  The scholar had his raven, the mariner had his albatross and now he alone in the forest had his owl, to his mind the most terrible bird of the three.

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The Shades of the Wilderness from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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