“Not talking aloud! Well, I should smile!” answered the camp captain. “You were making as much noise as a loon, and that’s the noisiest thing I know. Go to sleep again, young one, and don’t have any more crazy spells before dinner-time.”
Cyrus removed his hand, shut his eyes, and in a minute or two was breathing heavily. Neal, who had been aroused too, followed his example, laughing and mumbling something about “it’s being an old trick of Dol’s to hunt in his sleep.”
But the junior member of the party remained awake. After his dreams had been dissipated he cared no more for slumber. When he could venture it without disturbing his companions, he rose to a sitting posture, and, after squatting for a while in meditation, got on his feet, picked up his coat and moccasins, and, stealthily as an Indian, crept out of the hut.
The rolling music among the pine-tops had died down; only at long intervals a soft, random rustle swept through them. It was nearly midday. The camp-fire was almost dead, quenched by the dazzling sunlight which fell in patches on the camping-ground, and flooded the clearing beyond the shadow of the pines.
Moreover, the camping-ground was deserted. Neither Uncle Eb nor Tiger could be seen, though Dol’s eyes sought for them wistfully. But something caught his attention. It was a ray of light filtering through the pine boughs and glinting on the trigger of an old-fashioned muzzle-loading shot-gun, which leaned against a corner of the hut. An ancient, glistening powder-horn and a coon-skin ammunition pouch hung above it.
Dol lifted the antiquated weapon, withdrew to a short distance, and examined it closely. He knew it belonged to the guide, but was rarely used by him since he had purchased the 44-calibre Winchester rifle, with which he could do uncommon feats in shooting.
The shot-gun interested the boy mightily. There was a facsimile of it, swathed in green baize, stowed away somewhere in his father’s house in Manchester. The first time he had ever used fire-arms was on a memorable day when his fingers pulled its trigger in his father’s garden under Neal’s direction, and a lean starling fell before his shot. After that he had often taken out a fowling-piece of a newer style, and had done pretty well with it too.
As he handled the shot-gun, which the guide had bought away back in the year ’55, musing about it under the pines, the thought suddenly tumbled out of a corner of his brain that at present there was a brilliant opportunity for him to use the gun and all the shooting skill he possessed for the benefit of his comrades and himself.
There was no meat in the camp for dinner or supper save the pork on which they had feasted since they arrived there, and that was fast giving out. Cyrus, in addition to his knapsack, had hauled over from Greenville, where articles of camp fare could be procured in abundance, a goodly supply of tea, coffee, condensed milk, flour, salt, sugar, etc., in a stout canvas bag, Neal at intervals helping him with the burden. For the rest he had trusted to Nature’s larder, and such food as he might purchase from his guides, desiring to go into the woods as “light” as possible.