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   Chapter 3 THE RABBIT-HUNT.

Winter Fun By William Osborn Stoddard Characters: 13947

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Deacon Farnham was fond of chopping down trees; but he had not brought a big sleigh into the woods that morning, with two yoke of oxen, merely to have them stand still in the snow while he did some chopping. Such fires as he kept up at the farmhouse called for liberal supplies; and so Susie was to have an opportunity to see a load of logs put on.

She and Pen had to get out of the sleigh, and then she expressed her wonder if her uncle and Vosh would be strong enough to lift those huge "back-log" pieces into it:-

"They never can do it, Pen, not in all the world."

"Lift 'em! Of course they won't. I'll show you how they do it: it's dreadful easy, soon as you know how."

It would hardly have been as easy for Pen and Susie as it seemed to be for Vosh and the deacon.

They took all the side-stakes out of the sleigh, on the side towards the wood-pile; and they put down, with one end of each on the sleigh, and the other end in the snow, a pair of long, strong pieces of wood that Vosh called "skids:" that made an inclined plane, and it was nothing but good hard work to roll the logs up, and into their places on the sleigh. They made a tier all over the sleigh-bottom, and then the lighter logs were piled on them in regular order, till the load was finished off on top with a heap of bark and brushwood.

"That'll crackle good when it burns," said Vosh. "I like brush on a fire: don't you?"

Susie said she did; and she probably told the truth, for she was beginning to think she liked every thing in the country, even in winter.

"Now, Pen," said Vosh, "if you and Susie'll climb up, we'll set out for home with this load."

"Isn't your father coming, Pen?"

"No, Susie, I guess he won't."

"Will he stay here and chop trees all alone?"

"He says he likes it, and he isn't a bit afraid of being alone. There's a man at the house to help Vosh when we get there. Now, Susie, we must climb."

There was fun in that, but Pen was up first.

"Is your dress caught, Susie?-Vosh, help Susie: she's caught on a splinter."

"I'll help her."

"No, you needn't. There, it isn't torn much.-Now, Pen, do you think the oxen can pull such a load as this?"

"Of course they can."

In a minute or so more, Susie began to have new ideas about the management of oxen, and how strong they were, and how wonderfully willing. They seemed to know exactly what to do, with a little help from Vosh and his long whip. When all was ready, and they bowed their horns, and strained against their yokes with their powerful necks, it seemed as if they could have moved any thing in the world.

One long strain, a creaking sound, and then a sudden giving-way and starting, and the snow began to crunch, crunch, beneath the wide, smooth runners of the sleigh. Vosh walked beside his team, and drove it away around in a semicircle, carefully avoiding trees and stumps, until he and his load were once more in the road, and on their way home.

"Hark!" exclaimed Susie just then. "Was that the report of a gun, or was it the sound of another tree falling?"

"Guess it was a gun," said Vosh. "It's one of the boys shooting at something. Plenty of game, if they can hit it."

If they had been listening with any kind of attention, they might have heard a similar sound before, although the place where the boys were was at some distance from what Vosh called "the clearing."

Corry and Porter had pushed on after Ponto as best they could; but he had not stirred up for them any game in the thick, gloomy forest.

"No rabbits here," said Porter.

"Sometimes there are a few," said Corry; "but this isn't the place. We're most there now: we'd better load up."

"The guns,-aren't they loaded?"

"No. We never leave a charge in. Father says a gun's always safe when it's empty."

Corry put the butt of his gun on the ground while he spoke, and Porter watched him narrowly.

"That's his powder-flask," he said to himself. "I might have known that much. The powder goes in first: of course it does."

He had never loaded a gun in all his life, and his experience with the axe had made him feel a little cautious. Still he tried to make quick work of it; and, when Corry began to push down a wad of paper after the powder, his city cousin did the same thing, only he was a little behindhand, and he put in a much bigger wad of paper.

"How he does ram it! So will I," Porter remarked.

"Don't put too many shot into that gun. I'll measure 'em for you. You'll know next time. It scatters too much if you overcharge it."

Porter was wondering at that very moment how many shot he had better put in, or whether he should try the big shot from one side of his shot-pouch, or the smaller shot from the other.

"What are the big ones for?" he asked, when he saw Corry choose the smaller size.

"Buckshot? Oh! you can kill almost any thing with buckshot,-deer, or even bear."

"Can you? I never used 'em. Thought they were big for rabbits."

He was glad to know his gun was correctly loaded, however; and he imitated Corry in putting on the caps for both barrels, as if he had served a long apprenticeship at that very business.

"We haven't reached the swamp yet, have we?"

"No, but we have a'most. It's a great place for rabbits, when you get there. Halloo! Ponto's started one! Come on, Port!"

They did not really need to stir a foot, for the swift little animal the dog had disturbed from his seat among the bushes was running his best right toward them.

"There he is!" shouted Porter.

"Try him, Port."

"No, you try him."

Corry's gun was at his shoulder, and in another second the bright flash leaped from the muzzle.

"Did you hit him? He didn't stop running: he kept right on."

"Missed him, I guess. Too many trees, and it was a pretty long shot."

"Why, it didn't seem far."

"Didn't it? That's 'cause it was over the snow: it was more'n ten rods. Hark! hear Ponto!"

The old dog was barking as if for dear life, and the boys ran as fast as the snow would let them. They had not far to go before they could see Ponto dancing around the foot of a huge beech-tree.

"If he hasn't treed him!"

"Treed a rabbit! Why, do you mean they can climb?"

"Climb! Rabbits climb! I guess not. But that tree's hollow. See that hole at the bottom? The rabbit's in there, sure."

"Can we get him?"

"We'll try, but it won't pay if it takes too long,-just one rabbit."

Porter Hudson had a feeling that it would be worth almost any thing in the world to catch that rabbit. He hardly knew how to go to work for it; but he felt very warm indeed while his cousin stooped down and poked his arm deeper and deeper into the hole in the tree. It did not go down, but up; and it was a pretty big one at its outer opening.

"Is it a hollow tree, Corry?"

"Guess not, only a little way up."

"Can you feel him?"

"Arm isn't long enough."

Ponto whimpered, very much as if he understood what his master was say

ing. That was probably not the first runaway game which had disappointed him by getting into a den of safety of one kind or another.

"Hey, Port! Here he comes!"

"Got him, have you?"

"There he is."

Corry withdrew his arm as he spoke, and held up in triumph a very large, fat, white rabbit.

"You did reach him."

"No, I didn't. Some of my shot had hit him, and he came down the hole of his own weight. Don't you see? They didn't strike him in the right place to tumble him right over: he could run."

"Poor fellow!" said Porter: "he won't run any more now."

It was of small use to pity that rabbit, when the one thought uppermost in his mind was that he could not go home happy unless he could carry with him another of the same sort, and of his own shooting.

Corry loaded his gun again, and on they went; but pretty soon he remarked,-

"We're in the swamp now, Port."

"I don't see any swamp: it's all trees and bushes and snow."

"That's so, but there's ice under the snow in some places. You can't get through here at all in the spring, and hardly in summer. It's a great place for rabbits."

Ponto was doubtless aware of that fact, for he was dashing to and fro most industriously.

There were plenty of little tracks on the snow, as the boys could now plainly see; but they crossed each other in all directions, after a manner that puzzled Porter Hudson exceedingly.

"How will he find out which one of them he'd better follow up?"

"Wait, Port: you'll see."

Porter was taking his first lesson as a sportsman, and was peering anxiously behind trees and in among the nearest bushes. Suddenly he saw something, or thought he saw it, which made him hold his breath and tremblingly lift his gun.

"Can that be a real rabbit," he thought, "sitting there so still?"

He did not utter a loud word; and the first Corry heard about it was from both barrels of his cousin's gun, fired in quick succession. Bang, bang! they went.

"What is it, Port?"

"I've got him! I've got him!"

He was bounding away across the snow, and disappeared among some thick hazel-bushes. A moment more, and he was out again, with a rabbit in his hand every ounce as big as the one Corry had killed.

"First-rate, Port! Was he running?"

"No, he was sitting still, and listening for something."

Corry was too polite to say that no regular sportsman fired at a rabbit unless it was running. It would have been a pity to have dampened Porter Hudson's tremulous exultation over his first game.

He held that rabbit up, and looked at it, until he grew red in the face.

He had no time to talk then; for he had his gun to load, and he was in no small anxiety as to whether he should succeed in getting the charge in rightly. Besides, there was Ponto racing across the farther side of the swamp, with a big rabbit just ahead of him. He was a capital jumper, that rabbit, and he was gaining on his barking pursuer when he ran out within range of Corry Farnham's gun.

Only one barrel was fired, but Ponto's master was ahead again.

"Two to my one," said Porter.

"You'll have chances enough. Don't you let off both barrels every time, though, or you may lose some of 'em. Fill your rabbits all full of shot, too, like that one."

Port's idea had been that both barrels of his gun were there for the purpose of being fired off, but he was quite ready to take a hint. He had more and more serious doubts, however, about his ability to hit a rabbit on the run. The first time he actually tried to do it, he doubted more than ever. His chance and his disappointment came to him a little after Corry's gun was loaded, and while they were crossing the swamp.

"I must have hit him," he said, as he lowered his gun, and looked after the rabbit he had fired at, and which was still clearing the snow with long, vigorous jumps.

"Well, if you did," said Corry, "he hasn't found it out yet."

"Your first one didn't find out he was hit till he got into the tree."

"That's so. But I never knew it to happen just so before. Ponto's after that one again! He's turned him around those sumach-bushes. He's coming this way. Give him your other barrel. Shoot ahead of him."

Porter was positive, in his own mind, that he could not hit that rabbit, and he felt himself blushing as he raised his gun; but he tried to see the rabbit somewhere beyond the end of it, and then he blazed away.

"I declare! you've done it! A good long distance too."

It was so very long, that the shot had scattered a great deal, and one of the little leaden pellets had strayed in the direction of that rabbit,-just one, but it was as good as a dozen, for it had struck in a vital spot; and Porter was as proud as if the skin of his game had been filled with shot-holes.

"I'm even with you now."

"That's so. If you only had practice, you'd shoot well enough."

Almost two hours went by, after that, and they tramped all over the swamp. Porter killed another sitting rabbit; but Corry was again one ahead of him, and was feeling half sorry for it, when he suddenly stopped marching, and lifted his hand, exclaiming,-

"Hear Ponto! Hark! Away yonder!"

"Started another rabbit."

"No, he hasn't. It isn't any rabbit this time."

"What is it? What is it?"

"Hear that jumping? Hear Ponto's yelp? It's a deer."

"Deer! Did you say it was a deer? Can you tell?"

"Hark! Listen!"

Ponto was no deer-hound. He was somewhat too heavily built for that kind of sport; but any deer of good common sense would get away from his neighborhood, all the same. The certainty that the dog could not catch him would not interfere with his running.

Ponto's discovery was a really splendid buck, and he was in a terrible hurry when his long, easy bounds brought him out from among the forest-trees into the more open ground in the edge of the swamp. Porter thought he had never before seen any thing half so exciting, but the buck went by like a flash.

Just half a minute later, Corry turned ruefully to his cousin, and asked him,-

"Port, what did you and I fire both barrels of our guns for?"

"Why, to hit the deer."

"At that distance? And with small shot too? If they'd reached him, they'd hardly have stung him. Let's go home."

Porter was ready enough; and it was not long before even Ponto gave up following the buck, and came panting along at the heels of his master. He looked a little crestfallen, as if he were nearly prepared to remark,-

"No use to drive deer for boys. I did my duty. No dog of my size and weight can do more."

They had a tramp before them. Not that they were so far from home, but then it was one long wade through the snow until they reached the road; and Porter Hudson knew much more about the weight of rabbits by the time he laid his game down at the kitchen-door of the farmhouse.

They had been growing heavier and heavier all the way, until he almost wished he had not killed more than one.

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