MoboReader> Literature > Winter Fun

   Chapter 10 THE DEER-HUNT ON THE CRUST.

Winter Fun By William Osborn Stoddard Characters: 17891

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


That Saturday afternoon was a quiet one at the farmhouse. It really seemed as if there had been excitement enough for one day. Still, as aunt Judith was in the habit of remarking,-

"Sometimes you can't always tell for sure what's a-coming."

Vosh Stebbins came over after supper, and he met Deacon Farnham at the gate. There was nothing unaccountable in that; but the boys heard him say, just as he was following the deacon in,-

"No, we won't need any snow-shoes. I'll take mine along."

"I'll take mine too, but the crust's strong enough without 'em."

"It'll be weak in spots in the woods: Sile Hathaway says it is."

Those were great words for two boys to hear,-"woods" and "Sile Hathaway."

"Port," said Corry, "something's coming."

"Hark!"

"Yes, deacon, Sile says the deer break right through, every here and there. There's droves of 'em, and the storm's kind o' driven 'em down this way."

"I've known it happen so more'n once."

"Port," whispered Corry, as if it were an awful secret, "I know now: it's a deer-hunt on the crust."

"Oh-h!" was all the answer; and in half a minute more Vosh was on the stoop with them. Then he was in the house. Then the whole affair burst out like a sudden storm.

Deacon Farnham did not say much; but there was a flush on his face, and a light in his eyes, that made him look ten years younger. Mrs. Farnham told him so. But Pen interrupted Vosh halfway in the explanation he was giving Susie, by exclaiming,-

"O mother! may I go?"

"My child"-

"I never saw a live deer killed on the snow. If Susie goes, may I go?-Are you going?"

Susie could hardly help saying,-

"I know I can't go, but I'd like to."

"Port!" exclaimed Corry, "let's get out the guns, and clean 'em. It won't do to have 'em miss fire."

"That's a good idea," said his father. "Vosh and I'll want to set out early Monday morning. You won't have time to clean 'em before you go to school."

"School! Monday!"

"Now, Joshaway," exclaimed aunt Judith, "don't tease the boy that way. He won't miss just one day's schoolin', and the crust ain't going to last forever. If Mrs. Stebbins can spare Vosh"-

"My mother? Why, she'd go herself if she could."

"Well, Corry," said his father, "if you and Port'll agree not to kill too many deer, you may go."

Port was still wrestling with the painful idea of a gun missing fire after it was actually pointed at large game. There was something dreadful and incredible about it; and, when the weapons were brought out, he cleaned away at them almost painfully.

Deacon Farnham attended to his own rifle. Then he took a ladle, and melted some lead at the kitchen fire, and moulded a score or so of bullets.

"Will that be enough?" asked Port.

"With those in my pouch? I'd say they would. If I get a chance to use half a dozen, I'll be satisfied. You boys'd better take plenty of buckshot, though. You'll be sowing the woods with 'em."

Susie did not exactly care to handle those "shooting-irons," as Vosh called them; but there was a strange fascination about them, after all. She could understand why, when they were all laid down on the table, aunt Judith put on her spectacles, and came and peered at them all over, and said,-

"They ain't much like the guns we had when I was a girl. They used to kill heaps o' game, too."

"What is the difference, aunt Judith?" asked Susie.

"Well, 'pears like these ain't much more'n half as big and heavy. Double bar'ls, too, and all our'n was single. We had flint locks, and didn't know what percussion-caps was. 'Pears to me, if I was goin' a-huntin', I'd ruther have one of the old kind."

Pen counted her father's bullets over and over, till she could hardly tell whether he had two dozen or four; and Corry had to stop her nicking them with the scissors.

"That's to show they're counted."

"Yes; but they won't go straight with nicks in 'em. You'll make father miss his deer."

Vosh went home early; but it was all arranged before he left the house, and it was safe to say that nobody he left behind him would go to sleep right away.

It was very hard indeed, all day Sunday, for the youngsters to keep good, and not to say more than once an hour,-

"It's good and cold. The crust'll be all right to-morrow."

The Monday morning breakfast was eaten before daylight, and it was hardly over before they heard Vosh and Mrs. Stebbins at the door.

They came right in, of course; and the first words were from her,-

"Now, Judith, you and Sarah ain't goin', are ye? I'd go in a minute, if I had a gun, and was sure it wouldn't go off.-Susie, are you and Pen goin'? I do hope there'll be deer enough for all four on 'em, and they won't come back and have to say they left 'em in the woods."

There was not much time to talk, so ready was every thing and every body; but it did seem to Port as if Vosh Stebbins's hand-sled, long as it was, was a small provision for bringing home all the deer they were to kill.

"The lunch-basket and the snow-shoes half fill it now."

"It'll do," said Vosh. "You'll see."

"Why don't you put on your snow-shoes?"

"The ice-pegs I've put in all your boot-heels'll be worth a good deal more, if the crust's what it's likely to be."

It was not a great while before they all discovered what good things to prevent slipping were a few iron peg-heads sticking out of the heels of your boots. As for the snow-shoes, nobody ever wants to wear such clumsy affairs unless it is necessary.

Old Ponto had been in a fever ever since the boys began to clean the guns Saturday evening; but Vosh had secured for that day's work the services of a very different kind of dog,-one, moreover, that seemed to know him, and to be disposed to obey his orders, but that paid small attention to the advances of any other person.

"Is Jack a deer-hound?" asked Port.

"Not quite," said Vosh. "He's only a half-breed; but he's run down a good many deer, knows all about it."

He was a tall, strong, long-legged animal, with lop-ears and a sulky face; but there was much more "hunter" in his appearance than in that of old Ponto. His conduct was also more business-like; for it was not until Ponto had slid all the way to the bottom of several deep hollows, that he learned the wisdom of plodding along with the rest, instead of searching the woods for rabbits.

"Rabbits!" The very mention of those little animals made the boys look at each other as if asking,-

"Did you ever hunt any thing as small as a rabbit?"

The snow in the woods was deep, but it was not drifted much; and the crust was hard, except close to the trunks of the trees, and under the heavier pines and hemlocks. Walking was easy, and they pushed right on through the forest.

"How'll we ever find our way back again?" asked Port.

"Follow our own tracks," said Corry. "Besides, father and Vosh'd never dream of getting lost around here. Guess I wouldn't, either."

Port looked back at the trail they had made. He thought he could follow that. Still he would have been more sure of himself in the streets of a city, with names and numbers on all the lamp-posts at the corners.

"Keep your tempers, boys. It's hunter's luck, you know. We may not get a single shot."

The words were hardly out of the deacon's mouth, before Jack sprang suddenly forward, anxiously followed by Ponto.

"He's scented!" exclaimed Vosh. "There isn't much wind; but it's blowing this way, what there is."

"Hark! Hear him?"

That was music. It seemed as if a thrill went over every nerve among them, at the cry of the excited hound, as he fully caught the scent, and "opened on it."

"There'll be a run now, Vosh."

"Not up the mountain."

"No, we won't follow yet. If they turn him, he'll come this way."

"Or down the hollow."

"No lake for him now."

"He can run on this crust."

"Yes, but he can't pick his own course with the dogs behind him."

Comments followed thick and fast, as the eager sportsmen pushed onward. It seemed to the boys a good time to do some running, if they could but know in what direction to go; but Vosh and the deacon were carefully studying what they called "the lay of the land."

Ahead of them, they knew, was a bold, steep mountain, such as no deer would climb. Half a mile to the right was the road to Mink Lake; and to the left and behind them the woods were open, with a fair amount of "running-room."

"If they turn him," said Vosh, "he'll have to pass in sight. You may get a shot, deacon. It'll be a long one, but I'd be ready if I was you."

It turned out that way in less than five minutes; for a fine doe came springing across the snow, well ahead of the dogs, and out of "shot-gun range."

"Try her, deacon! There, she's broken through! Try her!"

The deacon's rifle was already at his shoulder, and, just as the beautiful animal scrambled out upon the crust, the sharp "crack" rang through the forest.

"Struck!" shouted Vosh as the doe gave a great spring; but she dashed right onward, followed by the dogs.

"Now, boys, you run while I load."

Port and Corry hardly needed orders; and the main wonder was, that they did not break their necks in the desperate burst they made after that wounded deer. Even Jack could not do his best running over that icy crust, except when travelling in a straight line. He could not turn quickly without slipping; and the doe must have known it, to judge by the manner in which she dodged among the trees.

"Here she comes, right past us!"

Bang! went one barrel of Vosh Stebbins's gun.

"Missed, I declare! Must be I've got the buck-ague."

Bang! from Corry, and he seemed to have done no better; but just then the deer broke through at the foot of a hemlock, and Porter Hudson had what was almost as sure as a "sitting shot."

He made the best of it by letting drive with right and left. It was a long range, and the shot scattered, of course; but they afterwards found the marks of nine of them in the skin of that doe.

In twenty seconds Jack had her by the throat; and Ponto tried to imitate him, but concluded that he had better lie down and pant a little.

Vosh was on hand now, to take off Jack, and to finish the work with his long, sharp hunting-knife. He knew exactly what to do; and, when Deacon Farnham came up, they hung their game to the lower limb of a tree.

"No wolves around," said Vosh; "but it'll be safe from any kind of varmint."

"What does he mean, Corry?"

"Why, the wolves are pretty well killed off; but there are wildcats, and some other things, I hardly know what. All the bears are treed. We'll stop for our game on our way home."

They were now barely two miles from the farmhouse, and they went fully another before they saw any more game. Off, then, went the dogs; and the boys were taken a little by surprise when the deacon said,-

"Vosh, you and the boys sit right down here.-No, Corry, you and Port walk off to the right there, about thirty or forty rods. I'll strike to the left as far as the edge of the big ravine. If they've really started a deer, he may come along there."

Away he went, and away went the boys. Porter Hudson had hardly been able to speak ever since he fired at the doe. It was true that his uncle had hit it first; but then, he had killed it, and he was thinking what a thing that would be to tell his city friends after he should get home. He did not know a boy among them who had ever fired a gun at a deer. Now he himself was to be that very boy, and it was almost too much. He was beginning to half dream about it, when he heard the warning cry of Jack, coming nearer and nearer, ahead of him.

Almost at the same moment he heard the crack of his uncle's rifle. He saw Corry spring to his feet, and stand still, while Vosh Stebbins darted away to the left, as if he thought he might be needed there.

"What can it be? I don't see a single thing. No-yes-there he goes, straight for Corry! Why doesn't Vosh stop?"

The deer in sight was a fine buck, with antlers which afterward proved him to be three years old; and it was easier for Corry to hit him "on the run" than to hit a white rabbit. He fired both barrels too, and he shouted to Port; but there was no more glory for the city boy this time. Corry had aimed too well, and the buck had been too near; and it was hardly necessary for the dogs to pull down their game.

"Corry, hear that? It's Vosh's gun. What's the matter?"

"There goes his second barrel. Run: your gun's loaded."

It was all in a minute; and Port darted away with a strong impression that something strange had happened.

Corry must have thought so too, for he loaded his gun like lightning.

Something strange had indeed happened.

Deacon Farnham had walked on rapidly towards the deep ravine, after leaving the boys. He had known that forest ever since he was a boy, and had killed more than one deer in that vicinity. He did not go any great distance, keeping his eyes sharply about him, when he suddenly stopped short, and raised his rifle.

It looked as if he were aiming at a clump of sumach-bushes; and Port, or even Corry, would probably have said they saw nothing there. Vosh, perhaps, or any hunter of more experience, would have said,-

"See his antlers, just above the thick bush? See 'em move? He's gazing now. He'll be off in a jiffy."

If left alone, but not so fast after the deacon had fired; for, after he had seen those antlers, he could guess pretty well at the body below them. He could not correctly guess its exact position, however; and so, instead of hitting the deer in the chest or side, the bullet grazed his shoulder, and struck his right hip. There was no more "run" after that in that magnificent buck, but there was plenty of fight. There was danger, too, in his sharp and branching horns, as Deacon Farnham discovered when he so rashly plunged in among those bushes.

Danger from a deer!

Exactly. Danger of being gored by those natural weapons of his.

Instead of being able to use his hunting-knife, the deacon found himself dodging actively behind trees, and fending off with his empty rifle the furious charges of his desperate assailant, until Vosh came to his assistance.

It was a very good thing that Vosh came when he did, and that his gun was loaded. Two charges of buckshot were fired at very short range; and the deacon was safe, but he was pretty nearly out of breath.

"You were just in time, Vosh."

"Glad I was. Isn't he a whopper? Sile Hathaway was right. The deer haven't run as well, down this way, since I remember."

Port came running up just then; and he was all eyes and ears, although his help was not needed.

"He's a grand one! We've got another."

"Have you?" panted his uncle. "Vosh, you go and 'tend to it. I'll 'tend to this one soon as I get my breath. Guess we've got all the game we want for one day."

"Why, uncle, it isn't much after noon: we might kill some more."

"Well, we might, but it'll be late enough when we get home. We've work before us, Port. Time we had some lunch, anyway."

They were all ready enough for that; but the boys began to discover soon afterwards that deer-hunting was not all play. It was easy enough to cut down branches of trees, and lay them on the sled, and fasten them together. Then it was not a terrible lift for all four of them to raise a dead deer, and lay him on the branches.

The tug of war came afterwards, as they hauled that sled homeward over the crust. Several times it broke through; and then there was no end of floundering in the snow, and tugging and lifting, before they again got it a-going. Then once it got away from them, and slid away down a deep, steep hollow, landing its cargo all in a heap at the bottom. There was no use for the snow-shoes, but they had to be fished for in the snow when the sled broke through.

It was a long pull, but they all worked at it until at last they hauled the sled out into the half-made road to Mink Lake. After that, they got on better; but they were a weary lot of hunters when they reached the farmhouse, and the day was about gone.

There were eager faces at the windows, that of Mrs. Stebbins among them. There were shrill shouts from Pen on the front stoop. Then there was an excited little gathering at the kitchen-door, when the sled was drawn in front of it, and the deacon exclaimed,-

"There! Look at 'em!"

"Three of 'em!" exclaimed aunt Judith. "All real good ones, too. Now, when I was a girl, I've known the men folks go out and bring in six of a morning, and they didn't have to go more'n a mile from the house."

Mrs. Farnham was equally well satisfied, and Pen clapped her little hands in a gale of excitement.

"Poor things!" said Susie.

She could hardly help feeling a little sorry for those three beautiful creatures on the sled; but Mrs. Stebbins curtly remarked,-

"Nonsense, my dear: they was made to be killed and eaten.-Deacon, did you and the boys kill any on 'em?"

She had a vague idea that the glory of that hunt must somehow have been won by "my Vosh;" but Susie had just time to say,-

"They look so innocent, so helpless!" when her uncle exclaimed,-

"Innocent! Helpless! That big buck was within an inch of making an end of me when Vosh came up and shot him.-He's your game, Mrs. Stebbins."

He forgot to mention that the fight with the buck was all his own fault, for he began it; but the story helped Susie out of her bit of soft-heartedness, and it made Mrs. Stebbins hold her head up amazingly.

"O father!" said Pen. "Did he hurt you? He's a dreadful deer."

"I think, Pen," said her father, "I'll let you eat some of him for supper."

There was venison-steak in abundance at table, and Corry was nearly justified in declaring,-

"It's good fun to hunt deer, but I'd rather eat 'em than drag 'em home."

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