His comrades followed in single file, carrying their rifles in front of their bodies instead of on their shoulders, so that there might be no danger of a sudden clang or rattle from the barrels striking the trees. Following the example of their guide, each one carefully avoided stepping on crackling twigs or dry branches, or rustling against bushes or boughs. The latter they would take gingerly in their hands as they approached them, bend them out of the way, and gently release them as they passed. Heroically they forebore to growl when their legs were scraped by jagged bowlders or prickly shrubs, giving thanks inwardly to the manufacturers of their stout tweeds that their clothes held together, instead of hanging on them like streamers on a rag-bush.
It was a good, practical lesson in moose-trailing; but, save for the knowledge gained by the three who had never stalked a moose before, it was a failure.
The air beneath the dense foliage grew depressing—suffocating. Each one longed breathlessly for the minute when he should emerge from this heavy timber-growth, even to do more rugged climbing. Distant rumbles were heard. Herb’s prophecy was being fulfilled. Pamolah was grumbling at the trailers, and sending out his Thunder Sons to bid them back.
But it was too late for retreat. If they gave up their purpose, turned and fled to camp, the storm, which was surely coming, would catch them under the interlacing trees, a danger which the guide was especially anxious to avoid. He pressed on with quickened steps, stooping no more to make circles round the moose’s prints. Old Pamolah’s threatenings grew increasingly sullen. At last the desired break in the woods was reached; the trackers found themselves on the open side of Katahdin, surrounded by a tangled growth of alders and white birches struggling up between granite rocks; then the mountain artillery broke forth with terrifying clatter.
A loud, long thunder-roll was echoed from crag, slide, forest, spur, and basin. The “home of storms” was a fort of noise.
“Ha! there’ll be a big cannonading this time, I guess. Pamolah is going to let fly at us with big shot, little shot, fire and water—all the forces the old scoundrel has,” said Herb Heal, at last breaking the silence which had been kept on the trail, and looking aloft towards the five peaks guarding that mysterious basin, from which heavy, lurid clouds drifted down.
At the same time a blustering, mighty wind-gust half swept the four climbers from their feet. A great flash of globe lightning cut the air like a dazzling fire-ball.
“We’ll have to quit our trailing, and scoot for shelter, I’m thinking!” exclaimed Cyrus.
“Good land, I should say so!” agreed the guide. “The bull-moose likes thunder. He’s away in some thick hole in the forest now, recovering himself. We couldn’t have come up with him anyhow, boys, for them blood-spots had stopped. I guess his leg wasn’t smashed; and he’ll soon be as big a bully as ever. Follow me now, quick! Mind yer steps, though! Them bushes are awful catchy!”