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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter21)

2006-09-08 19:34

  CHAPTER XXI Rolf's First Deer

  Anxious to lose no fine day they had worked steadily on the shanty, not even going after the deer that were seen occasionally over the lake, so that now they were out of fresh meat, and Rolf saw a chance he long had looked for. "Quonab, I want to go out alone and get a deer, and I want your gun.

  "Ugh! you shall go. To-night is good."

  "To-night" meant evening, so Rolf set out alone as soon as the sun was low, for during the heat of the day the deer are commonly lying in some thicket. In general, he knew enough to travel up wind, and to go as silently as possible. The southwest wind was blowing softly, and so he quickened his steps southwesterly which meant along the lake. Tracks and signs abounded; it was impossible to follow any one trail. His plan was to keep on silently, trusting to luck, nor did he have long to wait. Across a little opening of the woods to the west he saw a movement in the bushes, but it ceased, and he was in doubt whether the creature, presumably a deer, was standing there or had gone on. "Never quit till you are sure," was one of Quonab's wise adages. Rolf was bound to know what it was that had moved. So he stood still and waited. A minute passed; another; many; a long time; and still he waited, but got no further sign of life from the bush. Then he began to think he was mistaken; yet it was good huntercraft to find out what that was. He tried the wind several times, first by wetting his finger, which test said "southwest"; second, by tossing up some handfuls of dried grass, which said "yes, southwest, but veering southerly in this glade." So he knew he might crawl silentlv to the north side of that bush. He looked to the priming of his gun and began a slow and stealthy stalk, selecting such openings as might be passed without effort or movement of bushes or likelihood of sound. He worked his way step by step; each time his foot was lifted he set it down again only after trying the footing. At each step he paused to look and listen. It was only one hundred yards to the interesting spot, but Rolf was fifteen minutes in covering the distance, and more than once, he got a great start as a chicadee flew out or a woodpecker tapped. His heart beat louder and louder, so it seemed everything near must hear; but he kept on his careful stalk, and at last had reached the thicket that had given him such thrills and hopes. Here he stood and watched for a full minute. Again he tried the wind, and proceeded to circle slowly to the west of the place.

  After a long, tense crawl of twenty yards he came on the track and sign of a big buck, perfectly fresh, and again his heart worked harder; it seemed to be pumping his neck full of blood, so he was choking. He judged it best to follow this hot trail for a time, and holding his gun ready cocked he stepped softly onward. A bluejay cried out, "jay, jay!" with startling loudness, and seemingly enjoyed his pent-up excitement. A few steps forward at slow, careful stalk, and then behind him he heard a loud whistling hiss. Instantly turning he found himself face to face with a great, splendid buck in the short blue coat. There not thirty yards away he stood, the creature he had been stalking so long, in plain view now, broadside on. They gazed each at the other, perfectly still for a few seconds, then Rolf without undue movement brought the gun to bear, and still the buck stood gazing. The gun was up, but oh, how disgustingly it wabbled and shook! and the steadier Rolf tried to bold it, the more it trembled, until from that wretched gun the palsy spread all over his body; his breath came tremulously, his legs and arms were shaking, and at last, as the deer moved its head to get a better view and raised its tail, the lad, making an effort at selfcontrol, pulled the trigger. Bang! and the buck went lightly bounding out of sight.

  Poor Rolf; how disgusted he felt; positively sick with self-contempt. Thirty yards, standing, broadside on, full daylight, a big buck, a clean miss. Yes, there was the bullet hole in a tree, five feet above the deer's head. "I'm no good; I'll never be a hunter," he groaned, then turned and slowly tramped back to camp. Quonab looked inquiringly, for, of course, he heard the shot. He saw a glum and sorry-looking youth, who in response to his inquiring look gave merely a head-shake, and hung up the gun with a vicious bang.

  Quonab took down the gun, wiped it out, reloaded it, then turning to the boy said: "Nibowaka, you feel pretty sick. Ugh! You know why? You got a good chance, but you got buck fever. It is always so, every one the first time. You go again to-morrow and you get your deer."

  Rolf made no reply. So Quonab ventured, "You want me to go?" That settled it for Rolf; his pride was touched.

  "No; I'll go again in the morning."

  In the dew time he was away once more on the hunting trail. There was no wind, but the southwest was the likeliest to spring up. So he went nearly over his last night's track. He found it much easier to go silently now when all the world was dew wet, and travelled quickly. Past the fateful glade he went, noted again the tree torn several feet too high up, and on. Then the cry of a bluejay rang out; this is often a notification of deer at hand. It always is warning of something doing, and no wise hunter ignores it.

  Rolf stood for a moment listening and peering. He thought he heard a scraping sound; then again the bluejay, but the former ceased and the jay-note died in the distance. He crept cautiously on again for a few minutes; another opening appeared. He studied this from a hiding place; then far across he saw a little flash near the ground. His heart gave a jump; he studied the place, saw again the flash and then made out the head of a deer, a doe that was lying in the long grass. The flash was made by its ear shaking off a fly. Rolf looked to his priming, braced himself, got fully ready, then gave a short, sharp whistle; instantly the doe rose to her feet; then another appeared, a sinal one; then a young buck; all stood gazing his way.

  Up went the gun, but again its muzzle began to wabble. Rolf lowered it, said grimly and savagely to himself, "I will not shake this time." The deer stretched themselves and began slowly walking toward the lake. All had disappeared but the buck. Rolf gave another whistle that turned the antler-bearer to a statue. Controlling himself with a strong "I will," he raised the gun, held it steadily, and fired. The buck gave a gathering spasm, a bound, and disappeared. Rolf felt sick again with disgust, but he reloaded, then hastily went forward.

  There was the deep imprint showing where the buck had bounded at the shot, but no blood. He followed, and a dozen feet away found the next hoof marks and on them a bright-red stain; on and another splash; and more and shortening bounds, till one hundred yards away - yes, there it lay; the round, gray form, quite dead, shot through the heart. I

  Rolf gave a long, rolling war cry and got an answer from a point that was startlingly near, and Quonab stepped from behind a tree.

  "I got him," shouted Rolf.

  The Indian smiled. "I knew you would, so I followed; last night I knew you must have your shakes, so let you go it alone."

  Very carefully that deer was skinned, and Rolf learned the reason for many little modes of procedure.

  After the hide was removed from the body (not the hand or legs), Quonab carefully cut out the-broad sheath of tendon that cover the muscles, beginning at the hip bones on the back and extending up to the shoulders; this is the sewing sinew. Then he cut out the two long fillets of meat that lie on each side of the spine outside (the loin) and the two smaller ones inside (the tenderloin).

  These, with the four quarters, the heart, and the kidneys, were put into the hide. The entrails, head, neck, legs, feet, he left for the foxes, but the hip bone or sacrum he hung in a tree with three little red yarns from them, so that the Great Spirit would be pleased and send good hunting. Then addressing the head he said: "Little brother, forgive us. We are sorry to kill you. Behold! we give you the honour of red streamers." Then bearing the rest they tramped back to camp.

  The meat wrapped in sacks to keep off the flies was hung in the shade, but the hide he buried in the warm mud of a swamp hole, and three days later, when the hair began to slip, he scraped it clean. A broad ash wood hoop he had made ready and when the green rawhide was strained on it again the Indian had an Indian drum.

  It was not truly dry for two or three days and as it tightened on its frame it gave forth little sounds of click and shrinkage that told of the strain the tensioned rawhide made. Quonab tried it that night as he sat by the fire softly singing:

  "Ho da ho-he da he."

  But the next day before sunrise he climbed the hill and sitting on the sun-up rock he hailed the Day God with the invocation, as he had not sung it since the day they left the great rock above the Asalnuk, and followed with the song:

  "Father, we thank thee; We have found the good hunting. There is meat in the wigwam."

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