Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
The Coon Hunt
Yan did not forget the proposed Coon hunt–in fact, he was most impatient for it, and within two days the boys came to Caleb about sundown and reminded him of his promise. It was a sultry night, but Yan was sure it was just right for a Coon hunt, and his enthusiasm carried all before it. Caleb was quietly amused at the ’cool night_” selected, but reckoned it would be “better later.”
“Set down–set down, boys,” he said, seeing them standing ready for an immediate start. “There’s no hurry. Coons won’t be running for three or four hours after sundown.”
So he sat and smoked, while Sam vainly tried to get acquainted with old Turk; Yan made notes on some bird wings nailed to the wall, and Guy got out the latest improved edition of his exploits in Deer-hunting and Woodchuck killing, as well as enlarged on his plans for gloriously routing any Coon they might encounter.
By insisting that it would take an hour to get to the place, Yan got them started at nine o’clock, Caleb, on a suggestion from Guy, carrying a small axe. Keeping old Turk well in hand, they took the highway, and for half an hour tramped on toward the “Corners.” Led by Sam, they climbed a fence crossed a potato field, and reached the corn patch by the stream.
“Go ahead, Turk. Sic him! Sic him! Sic him!” and the company sat in a row on the fence to await developments.
Turk was somewhat of a character. He hunted what he pleased and when he pleased. His master could bring him on the Coon grounds, but he couldn’t make him hunt Coon nor anything else unless it suited his own fancy. Caleb had warned the boys to be still, and they sat along the fence in dead silence, awaiting the summons from the old Hound. He had gone off beating and sniffing among the cornstalks. His steps sounded very loud and his sniffs like puffs of steam. It was a time of tense attention; but the Hound wandered, farther away, and even his noisy steps were lost.
They had sat for two long minutes, when a low yelp from a distant part of the field, then a loud ’bow-wow” from the Hound, set Yan’s heart jumping.
“Game afoot,” said Sam in a low voice.
“Bet I heered him first,” piped Guy.
Yan’s first thought was to rush pell-mell after the Dog. He had often read of the hunt following furiously the baying of the Hounds, but Caleb restrained him.
“Hold on, boy; plenty of time. Don’t know yet what it is.”
For Turk, like most frontier Hounds, would run almost any trail–had even been accused of running on his own–and it rested with those who knew him best to discover from his peculiar style of tonguing just what the game might be. But they waited long and patiently without getting another bay from the Hound. Presently a rustling was heard and Turk came up to his master and lay down at his feet.
“Go ahead, Turk, put him up,” but the Dog stirred not. “Go ahead,” and Caleb gave him a rap with a small stick. The Dog dodged away, but lay down again, panting.
“What was it, Mr. Clark?” demanded Yan.
“Don’t hardly know. Maybe he only spiked himself on a snag. But this is sure; there’s no Coons here to-night. There won’t be after this. We come too early, and it’s too hot for the Dog, anyway.”
“We could cross the creek and go into Boyle’s bush,” suggested the Woodpecker. “We’re like to strike anything there. Larry de Neuville swears he saw a Unicorn there the night he came back from Garney’s wake.”
“How can you tell the kind of game by the Dog’s barking?” asked Yan.
“H-m!” answered Caleb, as he put a fresh quid in his lantern jaw. “You surely can if you know the country an’ the game an’ the Dog. Course, no two Dogs is alike; you got to study your Dog, an’ if he’s good he’ll larn you lots about trailing.”
The brook was nearly dry now, so they crossed where they would. Then feeling their way through the dark woods with eyes for the most part closed, they groped toward Boyle’s open field, then across it to the heavy timber. Turk had left them at the brook, and, following its course till he came to a pool, had had a bath. As they entered the timber tract he joined them, dripping wet and ready for business.
“Go ahead, Turk,” and again all sat down to await the opinion of the expert.
It came quickly. The old Hound, after circling about in a way that seemed to prove him independent of daylight, began to sniff loudly, and gave a low whine. He followed a little farther, and now his tail was heard to ’tap, tap, tap_’ the brush as he went through a dry thicket.
“Hear that? He’s got something this time,” said Caleb in a low voice. “Wait a little.”
The Hound was already working out a puzzle, and when at last he got far enough to be sure, he gave a short bark. There was another spell of sniffing, then another bark, then several little barks at intervals, and at last a short bay; then the baying recommenced, but was irregular and not full-chested. The sounds told that the Hound was running in a circle about the forest, but at length ceased moving, for all the barking was at one place. When the hunters got there they found the Dog half-way in a hole under a stump, barking and scratching.
“Humph,” said Caleb; “nothing but a Cottontail. Might ’a’ knowed that by the light scent an’ the circling without treeing.”
So Turk was called off and the company groped through the inky woods in quest of more adventures.
“There’s a kind of swampy pond down the lower end of the bush–a likely place for Coons on a Frog-hunt,” suggested the Woodpecker.
So the Hound was again “turned on” near the pond. The dry woods were poor for scent, but the damp margin of the marsh proved good, and Turk became keenly interested and very sniffy. A preliminary ’Woof!_" was followed by one or two yelps and then a full-chested “_Boooow!” that left no doubt he had struck a hot trail at last. Oh, what wonderfully thrilling horn-blasts those were! Yan for the first time realized the power of the “full cry,” whose praises are so often sung.
The hunters sat down to await the result, for, as Caleb pointed out, there was “no saying where the critter might run.”
The Hound bayed his fullest, roundest notes at quick intervals, but did not circle. The sound of his voice told them that the chase was straight away, out of the woods, easterly across an open field, and at a hot pace, with regular, full bellowing, unbroken by turn or doubt.
“I believe he’s after the old Callaghan Fox,” said the Trapper. “They’ve tried it together before now, an’ there ain’t anything but a Fox will run so straight and fetch such a tune out of Turk.”
The baying finally was lost in the distance, probably a mile away, but there was nothing for it but to wait. If Turk had been a full-bred and trained Foxhound he would have stuck to that trail all night, but in half an hour he returned, puffing and hot, to throw himself into the shallow pond.
“Everything scared away now,” remarked Caleb. “We might try the other side of the pond.” Once or twice the dog became interested, but decided that there was nothing in it, and returned to pant by his master’s feet.
They had now travelled so far toward home that a very short cut across fields would bring them into their own woods.
The moon arose as they got there, and after their long groping in the murky darkness this made the night seem very bright and clear.
They had crossed the brook below Granny de Neuville’s, and were following the old timber trail that went near the stream, when Turk stopped to sniff, ran back and forth two or three times, then stirred the echoes with a full-toned bugle blast and led toward the water.
“_Bow–bow–bow–bow,” he bawled for forty yards and came to a stop. The baying was exactly the same that he gave on the Fox trail, but the course of the animal was crooked, and now there was a break.
They could hear the dog beating about close at hand and far away, but silent so far as tongue was concerned.
“What is it, Caleb?” said Sam with calm assurance, forgetting how recent was their acquaintance.
“Dunno,” was the short reply.
“’Tisn’t a Fox, is it?” asked Yan.
But a sudden renewal of ’Bow–bow–bow–” from the Hound one hundred yards away, at the fence, ended all discussion. The dog had the hot trail again. The break had been along the line of a fence that showed, as Caleb said, “It was a Coon, ’cept it might be some old house Cat maybe; them was the only things that would run along top of a fence in the night time.”
It was easy to follow now; the moonlight was good, and the baying of the Hound was loud and regular. It led right down the creek, crossing several pools and swamps.
“That settles it,” remarked the Trapper decisively. “Cats don’t take to the water. That’s a Coon,” and as they hurried they heard a sudden change in the dog’s note, no longer a deep rich ’B-o-o-w-w.’ It became an outrageous clamour of mingled yelps, growls and barks.
“Ha–heh. That means he’s right on it. That is what he does when he sees the critter.”
But the “view halloo” was quickly dropped and the tonguing of the dog was now in short, high-pitched yelps at one place.
“Jest so! He’s treed! That’s a Coon, all right!” and Caleb led straight for the place.
The Hound was barking and leaping against a big Basswood, and Caleb’s comment was: “Hm, never knowed a Coon to do any other way–always gets up the highest and tarnalest tree to climb in the hull bush. Now who’s the best climber here?”
“Yan is,” volunteered Sam.
“Kin ye do it, Yan?”
“Guess we’ll make a fire first and see if we can’t see him,” said the Woodpecker.
“If it was a Woodchuck I’d soon get him for you,” chimed in Hawkeye, but no one heeded.
Sam and Yan gathered stuff and soon had a flood of flickering red light on all the surrounding trees. They scanned the big Basswood without getting sight of their quarry. Caleb took a torch and found on the bark some fresh mud. By going back on the trail to where it had crossed the brook they found the footprint–undoubtedly that of a large Coon.
“Reckon he’s in some hollow; he’s surely up that tree, and Basswood’s are always hollow.”
Yan now looked at the large trunk in doubt as to whether he could manage it.
Caleb remarked his perplexity and said: “Yes; that’s so. You ain’t fifteen foot spread across the wings, are you? But hold on–”
He walked to a tall thin tree near at hand, cut it through with the axe in a few minutes, and threw it so as to rest against the lowest branch of the big Basswood. Up this Yan easily swarmed, carrying a stout Elm stick tied behind. When he got to the great Basswood he felt lost in the green mass, but the boys below carried torches so as to shed light on each part in turn. At first Yan found neither hole in the trunk nor Coon, but after long search in the upper branches he saw a great ball of fur on a high crotch and in it two glowing eyes that gave him a thrill. He yelled: “Here he is! Look out below.” He climbed up nearer and tried to push the Coon off, but it braced itself firmly and defied him until he climbed above it, when it leaped and scrambled to a lower branch.
Yan followed it, while his companions below got greatly excited, as they could see nothing, and only judged by the growling and snarling that Yan and the Coon were fighting. After another passage at arms the Coon left the second crotch and scrambled down the trunk till it reached the leaning sapling, and there perched, glaring at the hunters below. The old Hound raised a howl when he saw the quarry, and Caleb, stepping to one side, drew his revolver and fired. The Coon fell dead into their midst. Turk sprang to do battle, but he was not needed, and Caleb fondly and proudly wiped the old white pistol as though it alone were to be thanked for the clever shot.
Yan came down quickly, though he found it harder to get down than up. He hurried excitedly into the ring and stroked the Coon with a mixture of feelings–admiring its fur–sorry, after all, that it was killed, and triumphant that he had led the way. It was his Coon, and all admitted that. Sam “hefted” it by one leg and said, “Weighs thirty pounds, I bet.”
Guy said: “Pooh! Tain’t half as big as that there big Woodchuck I killed, an’ you never would have got him if I hadn’t thought of the axe.”
Yan thought it would weigh thirty-five pounds. Caleb guessed it at twenty-five (and afterward they found out that it barely weighed eighteen). While they were thus talking the Dog broke into an angry barking such as he gave for strangers–his “human voice,” Caleb called it–and at once there stepped into the circle William Raften. He had seen the lights in the woods, and, dreading a fire at this dry season, had dressed and come out.
“Hello, Da; why ain’t you in bed, where you ought to be?”
Raften took no notice of his son, but said sneeringly to Caleb: “Ye ain’t out trying to get another shot at me, air ye?” ’Tain’t worth your while; I hain’t got no cash on me to-night.”
“Now see here, Da,” said Sam, interrupting before Caleb could answer, “you don’t play fair. I know, an’ you ought to know, that’s all rot about Caleb shooting at you. If he had, he’d ’a’ got you sure. I’ve seen him shoot.”
“Not when he was drunk.”
“Last time I was drunk we was in it together,” said Caleb fiercely, finding his voice.
“Purty good for a man as swore he had no revolver,” and Raften pointed to Caleb’s weapon. “I seen you with that ten years ago. An’ sure I’m not scairt of you an’ yer revolver,” said Raften, seeing Caleb fingering his white pet; “an’ I tell ye this. I won’t have ye and yer Sheep-killing cur ramatacking through my woods an’ making fires this dry saison.”
“D–– you, Raften, I’ve stood all I’m goin’ to stand from you.” The revolver was out in a flash, and doubtless Caleb would have lived up to his reputation, but Sam, springing to push his father back, came between, and Yan clung to Caleb’s revolver arm, while Guy got safely behind a tree.
“Get out o’ the way, you kids!” snarled Caleb.
“By all manes,” said Raften scoffingly; “now that he’s got me unarrumed again. You dhirty coward! Get out av the way, bhoys, an Oi’ll settle him,” for Raften was incapable of fear, and the boys would have been thrust aside and trouble follow, but that Raften as he left the house had called his two hired men to follow and help fight the fire, and now they came on the scene. One of them was quite friendly with Caleb, the other neutral, and they succeeded in stopping hostilities for a time, while Sam exploded:
“Now see here, Da, ’twould just ’a’ served you right if you’d got a hole through you. You make me sick, running on Caleb. He didn’t make that fire; ’twas me an’ Yan, an’ we’ll put it out safe enough. You skinned Caleb an’ he never done you no harm. You run on him just as Granny de Neuville done on you after she grabbed your groceries. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Tain’t square, an’ ’tain’t being a man. When you can’t prove nothin’ you ought to shut up.”
Raften was somewhat taken aback by this outburst, especially as he found all the company against him. He had often laughed at Granny de Neuville’s active hatred against him when he had done her nothing but good. It never occurred to him that he was acting a similar part. Most men would have been furious at the disrespectful manner of their son, but Raften was as insensitive as he was uncowardly. His first shock of astonishment over, his only thought of Sam was, “Hain’t he got a cheek! My! but he talks like a lawyer, an’ he sasses right back like a fightin’ man; belave I’ll make him study law instid of tooth-pullin’.”
The storm was over, for Caleb’s wrath was of the short and fierce kind, and Raften, turning away in moral defeat, growled: “See that ye put that fire out safe. Ye ought all to be in yer beds an’ aslape, like dacint folks.”
“Well, ain’t you dacint?” retorted Sam.
Raften turned away, heeding neither that nor Guy’s shrill attempt to interpolate some details of his own importance in this present hunt–"Ef it hadn’t been for me they wouldn’t had no axe along, Mr. Raften"–but William had disappeared.
The boys put out the fire carefully and made somewhat silently for camp. Sam and Yan carried the Coon between them on a stick, and before they reached the teepee they agreed that the carcass weighed at least eighty pounds.
Caleb left them, and they all turned in at once and slept the sleep of the tired camper.