“I heard the distant challenge of a bull-moose a couple of hours ago,” said the guide, as they went along. “I never suspicioned he was attacking you; but after the camp was a’ ready, and you hadn’t turned up, I got kind o’ scared. I left Neal to tend the fire and toast the pork, and started out to search. I s’pose I took the wrong direction; for I hollered, and got no answer. Afterwards, when I was travelling about the bog, I heard a ‘Coo-hoo!’ and the noises of an angry moose. Then I guessed there was trouble.”
“Won’t Neal look blue when he hears that he was toasting pork while we were perched in those trees, with the moose waltzing below!” exclaimed Dol. “Well, Cy, I’ve won the antlers, and I’ve got my ripping story for the Manchester fellows. I don’t care how soon we turn home now.”
“You don’t, don’t ye?” said the guide. “Well, I should s’pose you’d want to trail up that moose to-morrow, and see what has become of him.”
“Of course I do! I forgot that.”
And Dol Farrar, who had thought his record of adventure and triumph so full that it could hold no more, realized that there is always for ambition a farther point.
Neal did feel a little blue over the thought of what he had missed. But, being a generous-hearted fellow, he tasted his young brother’s joy, when the latter cuddled close to him upon the evergreen boughs that night, muttering, as if the whole earth lay conquered at his feet:—
“My legs are as stiff as ramrods, but who’d think of his legs after such a night as we’ve had?
“I say, Neal, this is life; the little humbugging scrapes we used to call adventures at home are only play for girls. It’s something to talk about for a lifetime, when a fellow comes to close quarters with a creature like that moose. I said I’d get the better of his ears, and I did it. Pinch me, old boy, if I begin a moose-call in my sleep.”
Several times during the night Neal found it necessary to obey this injunction, else had there been no peace in the camp. But, in spite of Dol’s ravings and riotings in his excited dreams, the party enjoyed a needed ten hours’ slumber, all save Herb, who, as usual, was astir the next morning while his comrades were yet snoring.
He got his fire going well, and baked a great flat loaf of bread in his frying-pan, setting the pan amid hot ashes and covering it over. Previous to this, he had made a pilgrimage to the distant spring, to fill his kettle for coffee and bread-making, and had carefully examined the ground about the clump of hemlocks.
The result of his investigation was given to the boys as they ate their breakfast under the shade of a cedar, with a sky above them whose morning glories were here and there overshot by leaden tints.
“I guess we’ve got a pretty fair chance of trailing that moose,” he said. “I found both hair and blood on the spot where he was wounded. I’m for following up his tracks, though I guess they’ll take us a bit up the mountain. If he’s hurt bad, ‘twould be kind o’ merciful to end his sufferings. If he ain’t, we can let him get off.”