The moose was a big one, “about as big as they grow,” as the guide afterwards declared. Under the jack-light he looked a regular behemoth. He must have been over seven feet high at the shoulders, for he was taller than the tallest horse the boys had ever seen. His black mane bristled. His antlers were thrown back. His great nose, with its dilated nostrils, looked as if it were drinking in every scent of the night world. His eyes had a green glare in them, as for ten seconds he gazed at the strange light which had suddenly burst into view, its silver radiance so dazzling him that he saw not the screened boat beneath.
At the rash noise which Dol made his ears twitched. He splashed a step forward as if to investigate matters, seeing which, Herb held his Winchester in readiness to fly to his shoulder at a moment’s notice. But the moose evidently regarded the jack-lamp as a supernatural, terrible phenomenon. He shrank from it as man might shrink beneath a flaming heaven.
With one more despairing look right and left for that phantom cow which had deluded him, he wheeled around, and crashed back into the forest, tearing away more rapidly than he came.
“He’s off now, and Heaven knows when he’ll stop!” said Herb, breaking the weird spell of silence. “Not till he reaches some lair where nary a creature could follow him. Well, boys, you’ve seen the grandest game on this continent, the king o’ the woods. What do you think of him?”
All tongues were loosened together. There was a general shifting of cramped bodies, accompanied by a gust of exclamations.
“He was a monster!”
“He was a behemoth!”
“Oh! but you’re a conjurer, Herb. How on earth did you give such a fetching call?”
“I could never have believed that those sounds came from a human throat and a birch-bark horn, if I hadn’t been sitting in the boat with you!”
When there was a break in the excited chorus, Herb, without answering the compliments to his calling powers, asked quietly,—
“Didn’t you think we’d lost him, boys, when he stopped short in the middle of his rush, and you heard nothing?”
“We just did,” answered Cyrus. “That was the longest half-hour I ever put in. What made him do it?”
“I guess he was kind o’ criticising my music,” said the guide, laughing. “Mebbe I got in a grunt or two that wasn’t natural, and the old boy wasn’t satisfied with his sweetheart’s voice. He was sniffing the air, and waiting to hear more. But ’twasn’t more ’n twenty minutes before I gave the second call, though no doubt it seemed longer to you. A man must be in good training to get the better of a moose’s ears and nose.”
“I’m going to get the better of them before I leave these woods!” cried Dol, who was still puffing and gasping with intense excitement. “I’ll learn to call up a moose, if I crack my windpipe in doing it.”
“Hurrah for the Boy Moose-Caller!” jeered Cyrus, with a teasing laugh, which Neal echoed.