Midnight in the wilderness. The belated moon wheels slowly above the eastern ridge, where for a few minutes past a mighty pine and hundreds of pointed spruce tops have been standing out in inky blackness against the gray and brightening background. The silver light steals swiftly down the evergreen tops, sending long black shadows creeping before it, and falls glistening and shimmering across the sleeping waters of a forest lake. No ripple breaks its polished surface; no plash of musquash or leaping trout sends its vibrations up into the still, frosty air; no sound of beast or bird awakens the echoes of the silent forest. Nature seems dying, her life frozen out of her by the chill of the October night; and no voice tells of her suffering.
A moment ago the little lake lay all black and uniform, like a great well among the hills, with only glimmering star-points to reveal its surface. Now, down in a bay below a grassy point, where the dark shadows of the eastern shore reach almost across, a dark object is lying silent and motionless on the lake. Its side seems gray and uncertain above the water; at either end is a dark mass, that in the increasing light takes the form of human head and shoulders. A bark canoe with two occupants is before us; but so still, so lifeless apparently, that till now we thought it part of the shore beyond.
There is a movement in the stern; the profound stillness is suddenly broken by a frightful roar: M-wah-uh! M-waah-uh! M-w-wa-a-a-a-a! The echoes rouse themselves swiftly, and rush away confused and broken, to and fro across the lake. As they die away among the hills there is a sound from the canoe as if an animal were walking in shallow water, splash, splash, splash, klop! then silence again, that is not dead, but listening.
A half-hour passes; but not for an instant does the listening tension of the lake relax. Then the loud bellow rings out again, startling us and the echoes, though we were listening for it. This time the tension increases an hundredfold; every nerve is strained; every muscle ready. Hardly have the echoes been lost when from far up the ridges comes a deep, sudden, ugly roar that penetrates the woods like a rifle-shot. Again it comes, and nearer! Down in the canoe a paddle blade touches the water noiselessly from the stern; and over the bow there is the glint of moonlight on a rifle barrel. The roar is now continuous on the summit of the last low ridge. Twigs crackle, and branches snap. There is the thrashing of mighty antlers among the underbrush, the pounding of heavy hoofs upon the earth; and straight down the great bull rushes like a tempest, nearer, nearer, till he bursts with tremendous crash through the last fringe of alders out onto the grassy point.—And then the heavy boom of a rifle rolling across the startled lake.