“Is this your first trip into Maine woods, younkers?” he asked. “Well, I guess you’ve come to the right place for sport. I’m sorry I wasn’t on hand to welcome you when you arrived. A pretty forest guide you must have thought me. But I guess I’ll show you a sight to-morrow that’ll wipe out all scores.”
There was such triumph in the hunter’s eye that the voices of the trio blended into one as they breathlessly asked,—
“What sight is it?”
“A dead king o’ the woods, boys,” answered Herb Heal, his voice vibrating. “A fine young bull-moose, as sure as this is a land of liberty. I dropped him by a logon on the east bank of Fir Pond, about four miles from here. I started out early, hoping to nab a deer; for I had no fresh meat left, and I didn’t want to have a bare larder when you fellows came along. But the woods were awful still. There didn’t seem to be anything bigger than a field-mouse travelling. Then all of a sudden I heard a tormented grunting, and the moose came tearing right onto me. I was to leeward of him, so he couldn’t get my scent. A man’s gun doesn’t take long to fly into position at such times, and I dropped him with two shots. There he lies now by the water, for I couldn’t get him back to camp till morning. He’s not full-grown; but he’s a fine fellow for all that, and has a dandy pair of antlers. By George! I’d give the biggest guide’s fees I ever got if you fellows had been there to hear him striking the trees with ’em as he tore along. He was a buster.
“But you’ll see him to-morrow anyhow, and have a taste of moose-meat for the first time in your lives, I guess.”
Here Herb waved the fag-end of his bark roll, threw it down as it scorched his horny fingers, and stamped upon it.
The interior of the log cabin, ere it was extinguished, was a scene for a painter,—the lithe, muscular figure, tanned face, and gleaming eyes of the lucky hunter shown by the flare of his birch torch, and the three staring listeners, with blankets draped about them, who feared to miss one point of his story.
Cyrus was grinding his teeth in vexation that he had narrowly missed seeing the moose alive. The two Farrars were burning with excitement at the thought of beholding the monarch of the forest at all, even in death. For they had heard enough wood-lore to know that the bull-moose, with his extreme caution, is like a tantalizing phantom to hunters. Continually he lures them to disappointment by his uncouth noises, or by a sight of his freshly made tracks, while his sensitive ears and super-sensitive nose, which can discriminate between the smell of man and every other smell on earth, will generally lead him off like a wind-gust before man gets a sight of him.
“I’m sorry to keep you awake, boys,” said Herb Heal, making for the fire, after he had finished his story; “but I haven’t had a bite since morning, and I’m that hungry I could chaw my moccasins. I’ll get something to eat, and then we’ll turn in. We’ll have mighty hard work to-morrow, getting the moose to camp.”