But there was a third reason, still more powerful than these two, why he should make a trip to the distant town, which stirred Herb’s mind while he stirred his cakes. His sturdy sense told him that it would be well he should put in an appearance when Cyrus made a statement before the Greenville coroner as to the cause and manner of Chris’s death.
“Now, you boys, we don’t want no fooling this blessed day,” he said, when breakfast was in order, and the campers were emptying for the second time their tin mugs of coffee. “There’s sport before us—tearing good sport. Whatever do you s’pose I come on this morning when I was cruising over the bog for water? Caribou-tracks! Caribou-tracks, as sure as there’s a caribou in Maine!
“Who’s for following ’em? We hain’t got much provisions left; and I guess a chunk of broiled caribou-steak about as big as a horse’s upper lip would cheer each of us up, and make us feel first-rate. What say, boys?”
“By all that’s glorious!” ejaculated Cyrus, his eyes striking light. “Caribou-signs! Of course we’ll follow them. A bit of fresh meat would be pretty acceptable, and a good view of a herd of caribou would be still more so—to me, at any rate. That would just about top off our exploring to a T.”
“We’ve got to be mighty spry, then,” said the woodsman, lurching to his feet, muscles swelling, and nostrils spreading like a sleuth-hound’s. “If you want caribou, you’ve got to take ’em while they’re around. Old hunters have a saying: ‘They’re here to-day, to-morrow nowhere.’ And that’s about the size of it.”
“Let’s start off this minute!” Dol jerked out the words while he bolted the last salt shreds of his pork. “Hurry up, you fellows! You’re as slow as snails. I’d eat the jolliest meal that was ever cooked in three minutes.”
“No wonder you squirm and shout all night, then, until sane people with good digestions feel ready to blow your head off,” laughed Cyrus, who was one of the laggards; but he disposed of the last mouthfuls of his own meal with little regard for his digestive canal.
In rather less than twenty minutes the four were scanning with wide eyes certain fresh foot-marks, plainly printed on a patch of soft oozing clay, midway on the boggy tract.
“Whew! Bless me! Those caribou-tracks?” Cyrus caught his breath with amazement while he crouched to examine them. “Why, they’re bigger than any moose-tracks we’ve seen!”
“Isn’t that great?” gasped Dol.
“Well, come to think of it, it is,” answered the guide, in the stealthy tones of an expectant hunter; “for a full-grown bull-caribou don’t stand so high as a full-sized moose by two or three feet, and he don’t weigh more’n half as much. Still, for all that, caribou deer beat every other animal of the deer tribe, so far’s I know, in the size of their hoofs, as you’ll see bime-by if luck’s with us! And my stars! how they scud along on them big hoofs. I’d back ’em in a race against the smartest of your city chaps that ever spun through Maine on his new-fangled ‘wheel,’ that he’s so sot on.”