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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter60)

2006-09-08 19:57

  CHAPTER LX The Redemption of Van

  WHEN things is looking black as black can be, it's a sure sign of luck coming your way." so said Si Sylvanne, and so it proved to Van Cortlandt The Moon of the Falling Leaves was waning, October was nearly over, the day of his return to Albany was near, as he was to go out in time for the hunters to return in open water. He was wonderfully improved in strength and looks. His face was brown and ruddy. He had abandoned all drugs, and had gained fully twenty pounds in weight. He had learned to make a fire, paddle a canoe, and go through the woods in semi-silence. His scholarly talk had given him large place in Rolf's esteem, and his sweet singing had furnished a tiny little shelf for a modicum of Quonab's respect. But his attempts to get a deer were failures. "You come back next year with proper, farsight glasses and you'll all right," said Rolf; and that seemed the one ray of hope.

  The three days' storm had thrown so many trees that the hunters decided it would be worth while making a fast trip down to Eagle's Nest, to cut such timber as might have fallen across the stream, and so make an easy way for when they should have less time.

  The surmise was quite right. Much new-fallen timber was now across the channel. They chopped over twenty-five trunks before they reached Eagle's Nest at noon, and, leaving the river in better shape than ever it was, they turned, for the swift, straight, silent run of ten miles home.

  As they rounded the last point, a huge black form in the water loomed to view. Skookum's bristles rose. Quonab whispered, " Moose! Shoot quick!" Van was the only one with a gun. The great black beast stood for a moment, gazing at them with wide-open eyes, ears, and nostrils, then shook his broad horns, wheeled, and dashed for the shore. Van fired and the bull went down with a mighty splash among the lilies. Rolf and Skookum let off a succession of most unhunterlike yells of triumph. But the giant sprang up again and reached the shore, only to fall to Van Cortlandt's second barrel. Yet the stop was momentary; he rose and dashed into the cover. Quonab turned the canoe at once and made for the land.

  A great sob came from the bushes, then others at intervals. Quonab showed his teeth and pointed. Rolf seized his rifle, Skookum sprang from the boat, and a little later was heard letting off his war-cry in the bushes not far away.

  The men rushed forward, guns in hand, but Quonab called, "Look out! Maybe he waiting."

  "If he is, he'll likely get one of us." said Rolf, with a light laugh, for he had some hearsay knowledge of moose.

  Covered each by a tree, they waited till Van had reloaded his double-barrelled, then cautiously approached. The great frothing sobs had resounded from time to time.

  Skookum's voice also was heard in the thicket, and when they neared and glimpsed the place, it was to see the monster on the ground, lying at full length, dinging up his head at times when he uttered that horrid sound of pain.

  The Indian sent a bullet through the moose's brain; then all was still, the tragedy was over.

  But now their attention was turned to Van Cortlandt. He reeled, staggered, his knees trembled, his face turned white, and, to save himself from falling, he sank onto a log. Here he covered his face with his hands, his feet beat the ground, and his shoulders heaved up and down.

  The others said nothing. They knew by the signs and the sounds that it was only through a mighty effort that young Van Cortlandt, grown man as he was, could keep himself from hysterical sobs and tears.

  Not then, but the next day it was that Quonab said: "It comes to some after they kill, to some before, as it came to you, Rolf; to me it came the day I killed my first chipmunk, that time when I stole my father's medicine."

  They had ample work for several hours now, to skin the game and save the meat. It was fortunate they were so near home. A marvellous change there was in the atmosphere of the camp. Twice Quonab spoke to Van Cortlandt, as the latter laboured with them to save and store the meat of his moose. He was rubbed, doped, soiled, and anointed with its flesh, hair, and blood, and that night, as they sat by their camp fire, Skookum arose, stretched, yawned, walked around deliberately, put his nose in the lawyer's hand. gave it a lick, then lay down by his feet. Van Cortlandt glanced at Rolf, a merry twinkle was in the eyes of both. "It's all right. You can pat Skookum now, without risk of being crippled. He's sized you up. You are one of us at last;" and Quonab looked on with two long ivory rows a-gleaming in his smile.

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