A sight met him which, because of what went before and all that came after, will be forever chief among the forest pictures which rise in exciting panorama before his memory, when camping is a thing of the past.
A broad dash of evening light, the sun’s afterglow, fell upon a patch of clearing bordered by clumps of slim, outstanding pines, the scouts of their massive brethren. That this was used as a camping-ground the first glance revealed. A camp which looked to the tired eyes of the lost boy a real “home-camp,” though it consisted of rude log cabins, occupied it. A couple of birch-bark canoes reposed amid a network of projecting roots. Withered stumps and tree-tops littered the ground.
In the foreground of the picture stood a man with a horn in his uplifted hand, which he had just taken from his mouth. He was minus a coat; and the rough-and-tumble disarray of his attire showed that he had been lounging by his camp-fire, or perhaps overseeing the preparation of supper. Dol had a vague impression that the individual was not a forest-guide like Uncle Eb, nor a rough lumberman such as he had heard of. He would have taken him for a pioneer farmer,—not having yet encountered such a character,—but there could be no farm on this little bit of clearing. And he was too dazed to see that there were signs of a cultivated intelligence in the tanned, beaming face under the horn-blower’s broad-brimmed hat. Indeed, the hat itself, its wearer, log huts, canoes, and trees seemed to have a strange propensity to waltz before the lad’s eyes, and there was a queer waving sensation in his own legs, as if they, too, would join in the spinning movement. For as he advanced into the light out of the sombre shadows, a dizziness from long tramping in the woods, and from a hunger such as he had never before experienced, overcame him. He reeled against an outstanding tree, troubled by an affliction which Uncle Eb had called “wheels in his head.”
“Ho! you boys. Where in thunder are you? Come to supper, or the venison will be spoiled!” shouted the possessor of the horn again, shutting one eye into which a crimson ray was pouring, while he swept the skirts of the woods with the other; and there was music as well as bluster in his shout.
Lo! the first to answer this fetching invitation was the foot-sore, leg-weary boy, pale from exhaustion, with his strange equipment of powder-horn, coon-skin pouch, and ancient shot-gun, who, getting partly the better of his giddiness, crossed the clearing slowly, as if he was groping his way. Within a few feet of the horn-blower he halted; for the man had lowered his horn, and was gazing at him with keen, questioning eyes. Dol tried to find suitable speech to express his need; but though words came with considerable effort, his voice sounded hoarse and creaky in his own ears, and threatened to crack off altogether.