“Well,” he added, after five minutes of acute listening, “I guess we may give over jacking for to-night. That first cry of yours was enough to set a regiment of deer scampering. I’m only half mad after all at your losing a chance at such a splendid buck. It was something to see him as he stooped to drink in the glare of the jack, a midnight forest picture such as one wants to remember. Long may he flourish! We wouldn’t have started out to rid him of his glorious life if we weren’t half-starved on flapjacks and ends of pork. Let’s get back to camp! I guess you felt a few new sensations to-night, eh, Neal Farrar?”
Indeed, shocks and sensations seemed to ride rampant that night in endless succession; a fact which Neal presently realized, as does every daring young fellow who visits the Maine wilderness for the first time, whatever be his object.
Ere turning the canoe towards home, Cyrus drove it a few feet nearer to shore, again warily listening for any further sound of game. Just then another wild, whooping scream cleft the night air; and, on looking towards the bank, Neal beheld his owlship, who had finished the squirrel, seated on an aged windfall, one end of which dipped into the water.
[Footnote 1: A forest tree which has been blown down.]
The gray bird on the gray old trunk formed a second thrilling midnight picture, but at this moment young Farrar was in no mood for studying effects. He felt rather unstrung by his recent emotions; and, though he was by no means an imaginative youth, he actually took it into his head half seriously that the whooping, hooting thing was taunting him with making a failure of the jacking business. Without pausing to consider whether the owl would furnish meat for the camp or not, he let fly at him suddenly with his rifle.
The fate of that ghostly, big-eyed creature will be forever one of those mysteries which Neal Farrar would like to solve. Whether the heavy bullet intended for deer laid him open—which is improbable—or whether it didn’t, nobody had a chance to discover. Being unused to birch-bark canoes, the sportsman gave a slight lurch aside after he had discharged his leaden messenger of death, startled doubtless by the loud, unexpected echoes which reverberated through the forest after his shot.
“Hold on!” cried Cyrus, trying to avert a ducking by a counter-motion. “You’ll tip us over!”
Too late! The birch skiff spun round, rocked crazily for a second or two, and keeled over, spilling both its occupants into the black and silver water of the pond.
Of course they ducked under, and of course they rose, gurgling and spluttering.
“You didn’t lose the rifle, Neal, did you?” gasped the American directly he could speak.
“Not I! I held on to it like grim death.”