“He’ll drop one, sure! He’s a crack shot—is Cyrus! There! he’s drawing bead. Bravo!... he’s floored the biggest!”
Herb’s gusty breath blew the sentences through his nostrils, while the sudden, explosive bang of the Winchester cut through all other sounds, and set the air a-quiver.
Twice Cyrus fired.
The largest bull-caribou leaped three feet upward, wheeled about, staggered to his knees. A third shot stopped his bullying forever.
“Hurrah! I guess you’ve got the leader—the best of the herd. That other bull was a buster too! You might ha’ dropped him, if you’d been in the humor!” bellowed the guide, springing to his legs, and letting out his pent-up wind in a full-blast roar of triumph.
He well knew that Cyrus, “being a queer specimen sportsman,” and the right sort after all, would be satisfied with the one inevitable deed of death.
As their leader fell, the caribou raised their heads, stared in stiffened wonder for a few seconds, offering a steady mark for the smoking rifle if it had been in the grasp of a butcher. Then, as though propelled by one shock, they cut for the wood at dazzling speed.
A minute—and they were in the distance as tufts of hair blown before a storm-wind.
The half-killed weakling sought shelter more slowly in another direction.
“Well done, Cy!”
“Congratulations, old man!”
“You’ve got a trophy now. You’ll never leave this splendid head behind. My eye, what antlers!”
Such were the exclamations blown to Garst’s ears by the hot breath of his English friends, as they reached his side, and stooped with him to examine the fallen forest beauty.
“No; I guess we can manage to haul the head back to camp, with as much meat as we need. You’ll have your ’chunk of caribou-steak as big as a horse’s upper lip,’ to-night, Herb, and bigger if you want it. I’m tickled at getting the antlers, especially as I didn’t shoot this beauty for the sake of them. I’ll hook them on my shoulders when we start back to Millinokett to-morrow.”
So answered the successful hunter, tingling with some pride in the skill which, because of his reverence for all life, he generally kept out of sight.
And he stuck to his purpose about the antlers.
* * * * *
Cheered and invigorated by a sumptuous supper and breakfast of broiled caribou-steaks, supplemented by Herb’s lightest cakes, and carrying some of the meat with them as provision for the way, the campers accomplished their backward tramp to the log camp on Millinokett Lake in fulness of strength and spirits.
Once or twice during the journey, when the guide was stalking ahead, and thought himself unnoticed, the city fellows saw him lift his right hand and look at it for a full minute. Then it swung heavily back to his side.
“He’s missing his rifle, the partner that never went back on him,” said Cyrus. “Say, boys! I’ve got an idea!”