Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
A New Kind of Coon
A merry meal now followed, chaffing and jokes passed several hours away, but the boys were rested and restless by nine o’clock and eager for more adventures.
“Aren’t there any Coons ’round here, Mr. Clark?”
“Oh, I reckon so. Y-e-s! Down a piece in the hardwood bush near Widdy Biddy Baggs’s place there’s lots o’ likely Cooning ground.”
That was enough to stir them all, for the place was near at hand. Peetweet alone was for staying in camp, but when told that he might stay and keep house by himself he made up his mind to get all the fun he could. The night was hot and moonless, Mosquitoes abundant, and in trampling and scrambling through the gloomy woods the hunters had plenty of small troubles, but they did not mind that so long as Turk was willing to do his part. Once or twice he showed signs of interest in the trail, but soon decided against it.
Thus they worked toward the Widdy Baggs’s till they came to a dry brook bed. Turk began at once to travel up this, while Caleb tried to make him go down. But the Dog recognized no superior officer when hunting. After leading his impatient army a quarter of a mile away from the really promising heavy timber, Turk discovered what hewas after, and that was a little muddy puddle. In this he calmly lay down, puffing, panting and lapping with energy, and his humble human followers had nothing to do but sit on a log and impatiently await his lordship’s pleasure. Fifteen minutes went by, and Turk was still enjoying himself, when Sam ventured at last:
“’Pears to me if I owned a Dog I’d own him.”
“There’s no use crowdin’ him,” was the answer. “He’s runnin’ this hunt, an’ he knows it. A Dog without a mind of his own is no ’count.”
So when Turk had puffed like a Porpoise, grunted and wallowed like a Hog, to his heart’s content and to the envy of the eight who sat sweltering and impatient, he arose, all dribbling ooze, probably to seek a new wallowing place, when his nose discovered something on the bank that had far more effect than all the coaxings and threats of the “waiting line,” and he gave a short bark that was a note of joy for the boys. They were all attention now, as the old Hound sniffed it out, and in a few moments stirred the echoes with an opening blast of his deepest strain.
“Turk’s struck it rich!” opined Caleb.
The old Dog’s bawling was strong now, but not very regular, showing that the hunted animal’s course was crooked. Then there was a long break in it, showing possibly that the creature had run a fence or swung from one tree to another.
“That’s a Coon,” said Yan eagerly, for he had not forgotten any detail of the other lesson.
Caleb made no reply.
The Hound tongued a long way off, but came back to the pond and had one or two checks.
“It’s a great running for a Coon,” Yan remarked, at length in doubt. Then to Caleb, “What do you think?”
Caleb answered slowly: “I dunno what to think. It runs too far for a Coon, an’ ’tain’t treed yet; an’ I kin tell by the Dog’s voice he’s mad. If you was near him now you’d see all his back hair stannin’ up.”
Another circle was announced by the Dog’s baying, and then the long, continuous, high-pitched yelping told that the game was treed at last.
“Well, that puts Fox and Skunk out of it,” said the Trapper, “but it certainly don’t act like a Coon on the ground.”
“First there gets the Coon!” shouted Blackhawk, and the boys skurried through the dark woods, getting many a scratch and fall. As it was, Yan and Wesley arrived together and touched the tree at the same moment. The rest came straggling up, with Char-less last and Guy a little ahead of him. Guy wanted to relate the full particulars of his latest glorious victory over Char-less, but all attention was now on old Turk, who was barking savagely up the tree.
“Don’t unnerstan’ it at all, at all,” said Caleb. “Coony kind o’ tree, but Dog don’t act Coony.”
“Let’s have a fire,” said the Woodpecker, and the two crowds of boys began each a fire and strove hard to get theirs first ablaze.
The firelight reached far up into the night, and once or twice the hunters thought they saw the shining eyes of the Coon.
“Now who’s to climb?” asked the Medicine Man.
“I will, I will,” etc., seven times repeated; even Guy and Char-less chimed in.
“You’re mighty keen hunters, but I want you to know I can’t tell what it is that’s up that tree. It may be a powerful big Coon, but seems to me the Dog acts a little like it was a Cat, and ’tain’t so long since there was Painter in this county. The fact of him treeing for Turk don’t prove that he’s afraid of a Dog; lots of animals does that ’cause they don’t want to be bothered with his noise. If it’s a Cat, him as climbs is liable to get his face scratched. Judging by the actions of the Dog, I think it’s something dangerous. Now who wants the job?”
For awhile no one spoke. Then Yan, “I’ll go if you’ll lend me the revolver.”
“So would I,” said Wesley quickly.
“Well, now, we’ll draw straws"–and Yan won. Caleb felled a thin tree against the big one and Yan climbed as he had done once before.
There was an absence of the joking and chaffing that all had kept up when on the other occasion Yan went after the Coon. There was a tension that held them still and reached the climber to thrill him with a weird sense of venturing into black darkness to face a fearful and mysterious danger. The feeling increased as he climbed from the leaning tree to the great trunk of the Basswood, to lose sight of his comrades in the wilderness of broad leaves and twisted tree-arms. The dancing firelight sent shadow-blots and light-spots in a dozen directions with fantastic effect. Some of the feelings of the night at Garney’s grave came back to him, but this time with the knowledge of real danger. A little higher and he was out of sight of his friends below. The danger began to appal him; he wanted to go back, and to justify the retreat he tried to call out, “No Coon here!” but his voice failed him, and, as he clung to the branch, he remembered Caleb’s words, “There’s nothing ahead of grit, an’ grit ain’t so much not bein’ scairt as it is goin’ straight ahead when you arescairt.” No; he would go on, come what would.
“Find anything?” drawled a cheery voice below, just at the right time.
Yan did not pause to answer, but continued to climb into the gloom. Then he thought he heard a Coon snarl above him. He swung to a higher branch and shouted, “Coon here, all right!” but the moment he did so a rattling growl sounded close to him, and looking down he saw a huge grey beast spring to a large branch between him and the ground, then come climbing savagely toward him. As it leaped to a still nearer place Yan got a dim view of a curious four-cornered face, shaggy and striped, like the one he saw so long ago in Glenyan–it was an enormous Lynx.
Yan got such a shock that he nearly lost his hold, but quickly recovering, he braced himself in a crotch, and got out the revolver just as the Lynx with a fierce snarl leaped to a side branch that brought it nearly on a level with him. He nervously cocked the pistol, and scarcely attempting to sight in the darkness, he fired and missed. The Lynx recoiled a little and crouched at the report. The boys below raised a shout and Turk outdid them all in racket.
“A Lynx!” shouted Yan, and his voice betrayed his struggle with fear.
“Look out!” Caleb called. “You better not let him get too close.”
The Lynx was growling ferociously. Yan put forth all his will-power to control his trembling hand, took more deliberate aim, and fired. The fierce beast was struck, but leaped wildly at the boy. He threw up his arm and it buried its teeth in his flesh, while Yan clung desperately to the tree with the other arm. In a moment he knew he would be dragged off and thrown to the ground, yet felt less fear now than he had before. He clutched for the revolver with the left hand, but it found only the fur of the Lynx, and the revolver dropped from his grasp. Now he was indeed without hope, and dark fear fell on him. But the beast was severely wounded. Its hind quarters were growing heavy. It loosed its hold of Yan and struggled to get on the limb. A kick from his right foot upset its balance; it slipped from the tree and flopped to the ground below, wounded, but full of fight. Turk rushed at it, but got a blow from its armed paw that sent him off howling.
[Illustration: “He nervously fired and missed."]
A surge of reaction came over Yan. He might have fainted, but again he remembered the Trapper’s words, “Bravery is keeping on even when you are skairt.” He pulled himself together and very cautiously worked his way back to the leaning tree. Hearing strange sounds, yells, growls, sounds of conflict down below, expecting every moment to hear the Lynx scramble up the trunk again, to finish him, dimly hearing but not comprehending the shouts, he rested once at the leaning tree and breathed freely.
“Hurry up, Yan, with that revolver,” shouted Blackhawk.
“I dropped it long ago.”
“Where is it?”
Yan slid down the sapling without making reply. The Lynx had gone, but not far. It would have got away, but Turk kept running around and bothering it so it could not even climb a tree, and the noise they made in the thicket was easy to follow.
“Where’s the revolver?” shouted Caleb, with unusual excitement.
“I dropped it in the fight.”
“I know. I heard it fall in the bushes,” and Sam soon found it.
Caleb seized it, but Yan said feebly, “Let me! Let me! It’s my fight!”
Caleb surrendered the pistol, said “Look out for the Dog!” and Yan crawled through the bushes till that dark moving form was seen again. Another shot and another. The sound of combat died away, and the Indians raised a yell of triumph–all but Little Beaver. A giddiness came over him; he trembled and reeled, and sank down on a root. Caleb and Sam came up quickly.
“What’s the matter, Yan?”
Caleb took his arm. It was wet. A match was struck.
“Hallo, you’re bleeding.”
“Yes, he had me–he caught me up the tree. I–I–thought I was a goner.”
All interest was now turned from the dead Lynx to the wounded boy.
“Let’s get him to the water.”
“Guess the camp well is the nearest.”
Caleb and Sam took care of Yan, while the others brought the Lynx. Yan grew better as they moved slowly homeward. He told all about the attack of the Lynx.
“Gosh! I’d ’a’ been scared out o’ my wits,” said Sam.
“Guess I would, too,” added Caleb, to the surprise of the Tribe; “up there, helpless, with a wounded Lynx–I tell you!”
“Well, I was scared–just as scared as I could be,” admitted Yan.
At camp a blazing fire gave its lurid light. Cold water was handy and Yan’s bleeding arm was laid bare. He was shocked and yet secretly delighted to see what a mauling he had got, for his shirt sleeve was soaked with blood, and the wondering words of his friends was sweetest music to his ears.
Caleb and the city boy dressed his wounds, and when washed they did not look so very dreadful.
They were too much excited to sleep for an hour at least, and as they sat about the fire–that they did not need but would not dream of doing without–Yan found no lack of enthusiasm in the circle, and blushed with pleasure to be the hero of the camp. Guy didn’t see anything to make so much fuss about, but Caleb said, “I knowed it; I always knowed you was the stuff, after the night you went to Garney’s grave.”