Neal started,—who wouldn’t?—and joggled the canoe, thereby nearly ending the night hunt at once by the untimely discharge of his rifle.
He had barely regained some measure of steadiness, though he felt as if needles were sticking into him all over, when at last there was a crashing amid the bushes on the right bank, not a hundred yards distant.
Noiselessly as ever the canoe shot around, turning the jack’s eye in that direction. A minute later a magnificent buck, swinging his antlers proudly, dashed into the pond, and stooped his small red tongue to drink, licking in the water greedily with a soft, lapping sound.
Neal silently cocked his rifle, almost choking with excitement; then paused for a few seconds to brace up and control the nervous terrors which had possessed him, before his eye singled out the spot in the deer’s neck which his bullet must pierce. But he found his operations further delayed; for the animal suddenly lifted its head, scattered feathery spray from its horns and hoofs, and retired a few steps up the bank.
In its former position every part of its body was visibly outlined under the silver light of the jack. Now a successful shot would be difficult, though it might be managed. The boy leaned slightly forward, trying to hold his gun dead straight and take cool aim, when the most curious of all the curious sensations he had felt this night ran through him, seeming to scorch like electricity from his scalp to his feet.
From the stand which the deer had taken, its body was in shadow. All that the sportsman could discern were two living, glowing eyes, staring—so it appeared to him—straight into his, like starry search-lights, as if they read the death-purpose in the boy’s heart, and begged him to desist.
It was all over with Neal Farrar’s shot. He lowered his rifle, while the speech, which could no longer be repressed, rattled in his throat before it broke forth.
“I’ll go crazy if I don’t speak!” he cried.
At the first word the buck went scudding like the wind through the forest, doubtless vowing by the shades of his ancestors that he never would stand to gaze at a light again.
“And—and—I can’t shoot the thing while it’s looking at me like that!” the boy blurted out.
“You dunderhead! What do you mean?” gasped Cyrus, breaking silence in a gusty whisper of mingled anger and amusement. “You won’t get a chance to shoot it or anything else now. You’ve lost us our meat for to-night.”
“Well, I couldn’t help it,” Neal whispered back. “For pity’s sake, what has been moving this canoe? The quiet was enough to set a fellow mad! And then that buck stared straight at me like a human thing. I could see nothing but two burning eyes with white rings round them.”
“Stuff!” was the American’s answer. “He was gazing at the jack, not at you. He couldn’t see an inch of you with that light just over your head. But it would have been a hard shot anyhow, for his nose was towards you, and ten to one you’d have made a clean miss.”