Alan Douglas.

Storm-Bound: or, A Vacation Among the Snow Drifts



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"Oh! Elmer!" exclaimed the tall scout, as soon as he noticed that his companion was close to him; "a deer, as sure as smoke, and I fired point-blank at him both times; but hang the luck, I must have missed the beggar, for he gave an awful jump, and went off like a streak, worse luck to me for a bungler!"

CHAPTER VII
LIL ARTHA SAVES THE DAY

"That's too bad, Lil Artha," said Elmer, "but no matter, I'm sure you did the best you could."

That was just like Elmer. Plenty of fellows, in the first flush of keen disappointment, would have allowed themselves to speak more or less bitterly, and complain that it must have been rank carelessness that would account for such bad results. But Elmer saw that the tall scout was already suffering keenly; and his first thought was to console him.

At the same time he was looking about, and while the chagrined hunter began to aimlessly open his gun so as to thrust new shells into the barrels, Elmer went on to say:

"Point out to me just where the deer was when you fired, Lil Artha."

"Oh! now even you suspect that I just imagined I saw one, Elmer," sighed the other scout, "but d'ye notice that log lying across the other, something like a letter X? Well, he jumped clean over that when I gave him the second shot. Oh! he was as big as a barn to me, I tell you, and how I could ever miss him with the barrel that had the buckshot shell in it beats my time. I ought never to go out in the forest alone; I'm a fine duck of a hunter, ain't I? If it depended on Lil Artha to keep the camp in game we'd all turn into living skeletons, like the one in the sideshow of the circus last summer. Oh, rats – but not muskrats – I'm feeling pretty sick."

Elmer had not waited to listen to all this lament on the part of the disappointed marksman. Pushing forward he was now at the crossed logs. Immediately he called out in a loud voice that seemed to have an air of excitement about it:

"Hi! there, Lil Artha, come here, and hurry, too!"

Upon that the tall scout jammed the breech of his gun shut, having succeeded in reloading the same, and he lost no time in hastening to join his chum.

"W-what is it, Elmer?" he asked, breathlessly.

The other pointed to his feet.

"What do you call that, and that, and that?" he asked, impressively.

Lil Artha stared, and over his thin face there crept a look, almost of rapture, as he ejaculated:

"Blood spots on the snow, as sure as anything, Elmer! Oh! then I must have hit that deer after all! I'm glad, and then again I'm sorry. If he had to get away from us, I'd much rather not a single piece of lead had found him. Now he'll only suffer, and it'll do us no good at all."

"Hold on, don't be too sure about that," remarked Elmer, as he started to step across the logs, and follow the plainly marked red trail over the otherwise spotless field of pure snow; "that chap has been struck hard, and I don't believe he can go very far before he drops!"

At hearing this Lil Artha became greatly excited.

"Then let's chase after him right away!" he exclaimed.

"Goodness knows we need fresh meat about as much as anybody could, because we're almost half starved, and haven't a ghost of a show at anything else. And if the poor thing does drop think how mean it'd be to have the foxes and other varmints gnaw at our deer all night long, while we sucked our thumbs in camp, and went hungry."

All this while Elmer was following the trail. It was an easy task, and even the tenderfoot scout of the troop might have accomplished such a proposition without being coached.

"Don't you see that it seems to be getting stronger all the while," he explained to Lil Artha, who was close at his heels, holding his breath with eagerness as he tried to look ahead so as to glimpse the welcome sight of the deer fallen at last through sheer exhaustion, "and take my word for it, we're pretty sure to get your game before we go back to camp."

"Well, that would tickle me more'n I could tell you, Elmer," the other assured him, with visions of glorious feasts rising up before his mind.

"And there he is!" added the other, quickly, "just at the foot of that fir tree!"

They made a spurt, and were soon bending over the deer, which they found quite dead, though life had evidently just departed. Lil Artha could hardly contain himself. He insisted on shaking hands several times with Elmer, and then did the same thing with himself, bubbling over with delight.

"Oh! tell me I'm not dreaming, Elmer, and that I have really and truly shot a fine deer, just when we needed it the worst kind?"

"There's no mistake about it, old fellow, because here's your deer as plain as anything," Elmer assured him, not a little pleased himself at the great success that had accompanied their hunt.

"Think how the other fellows will yell when they see it!" Lil Artha continued, "and Toby needn't be afraid he's going to starve yet a while, need he?"

"I should think not," the scout master admitted; "when there's all this fresh venison to be cooked. The country is saved, Lil Artha, and you're the lucky one to be our George Washington. The boys will be wanting to kneel down and kiss the back of your hand."

"If they try any of that softy business they'll take a back seat in a hurry, let me tell you," was what the matter-of-fact scout remarked. "But, Elmer, ain't it queer that somehow the snow woods don't look quite so dreary to me now? Fact is, I kind of think this is as pretty a sight as I've seen for a long time."

Elmer laughed at hearing that.

"They always say circumstances alter cases, Lil Artha, and when I hear you talking that way I know it's true. When a man's as hungry as he can be and yet live, the world looks different to him from what it does an hour later after some kind friend has filled him up. This deer gives you the magic spectacles through which you view things in an altogether different light."

"I guess you're right, Elmer," admitted the other; "I was feeling blue, and so I looked at everything through blue glasses. Now I'm seeing rosy. But say, however will we manage?"

"You mean about getting the game back to camp, I reckon, Lil Artha?"

"That's what I'm striking at, Elmer. We must be some distance off, and I should think the deer would weigh between a hundred-and-fifty and two hundred pounds; a pretty hefty load for two boys, with all this snow around. And yet to have to stop so as to cut the deer up would delay us like fun."

"Wait, and let's look around for a strong pole," suggested Elmer, who had seen heavier game than this carried for miles by two husky cow punchers or hunters. "I have some good stout cord along, which we'll use to tie his forelegs together, and then the hind ones ditto. The pole will pass through, and is carried on a shoulder of each. That's the way hunters always get their shoot to camp, if there are a pair of them."

The necessary pole was soon discovered, and they managed by means of jumping on the same to reduce it to the required length. Then the scout master made good use of his cord in order to secure the legs of the deer in such a way as to afford a hold when the pole was shoved through. Nothing now remained but to lift the game, and start over the back trail.

As long as the light held they would find no difficulty whatever in keeping on the track; and should twilight rapidly change into darkness Elmer had his bearings so that he could lead aright.

Lil Artha had considered that he was "dog-tired" up to the time he started that deer from where it had been lying in some brush; but this was forgotten in the excitement of the hour. When glorious success rewards the efforts of the hunter he seems to have been granted a new lease of life; and weariness is forgotten.

All the same the load was no light one, and the going very bad. Many times they staggered, and once both of them fell down. But the snow prevented any injury, and they were in too satisfied a frame of mind to complain.

"We'll have our revenge all right later on, Lil Artha!" the scout master told his comrade as they got up and dug the snow out of their ears, as well as shook another accumulation free from their collars.

"That's right, we will," assented the other, "and for every tumble like that I promise myself an additional chunk of deer meat for supper. Another thing, Elmer, we ought to remember; the heavier the game the more grub we'll have."

"You know how to see the bright side of things, Lil Artha," Elmer told him.

"Oh! anybody can when success comes along. It takes fellows like you to keep smiling when things are going wrong all around. But I've learned a lesson, Elmer, and after this I won't despair, no matter how dark the clouds look."

"If one deer can reform a scout, what would big game like an elephant do?" asked Elmer, "but then again I'm a little sorry too, Lil Artha."

"What for?" demanded the panting hunter who held up the other end of the pole that bent under the weight of the suspended game.

"We won't have that chance to settle whether the Indians knew a good thing when they said musquash was better than 'coon or 'possum, or even rabbit stew!"

"Gosh! don't waste a tear over that, Elmer. Besides, while we're up here with Uncle Caleb, like as not we'll have plenty of chances to give that dish a try. But honest to goodness, it doesn't seem to strike me just as much as it did before I cracked over this bully young buck for you said it was a fairly young one, and ought to eat tender enough."

"I guess that's only natural," the scout master told him. "While we were facing starvation, why stewed musquash sounded right good to us; but with a whole carcass of venison on our hands it's plain muskrat again; and there you are, Lil Artha."

"How d'ye think we're getting along by now?" asked the tall scout with a little vein of entreaty in his voice.

"Oh! perhaps half-way there, more or less," came the reply.

"Whew! think we can make the riffle with this mountain of a deer, Elmer?"

"Seems to weigh about three hundred now, don't it? That's because we're getting more tired all the time. But since we've started it would be a shame to stop. And think of the joy we'll be bringing Toby, and poor hungry George."

"That does seem to help out some," admitted Lil Artha, taking occasion to change his end of the pole from the right shoulder to the left.

"Keep in step with me as much as you can," advised the leader; "that does more than you'd think to make the going easier. It's a point everybody learns who has to carry heavy burdens this way. Coolies over in China know it. Horses running together pull easier if they happen to go in step. You've watched a pair trying to start, with a stalled wagonload of freight. When first one bucks hard, and then the other, there's nothing doing; but once get them to combine, and away she goes on the jump."

There was little that escaped the observation of Elmer Chenowith; and he never failed to try and impart some of the information he picked up to those of his chums who did not happen to be so keen-eyed.

"It's getting dark; and I can hardly see our old tracks now!" announced the tall scout, presently.

"Well, we're near enough to camp to have them hear us if we chose to give out a yell," he was told, reassuringly, "but for my part I think we'd better keep right along as we have been doing, and surprise the boys."

"Oh! I thought I glimpsed a star through the trees ahead just then, Elmer, but that couldn't be so."

"It's the fire, and I've seen it several times, but didn't want to say anything until you had a chance to make the discovery for yourself!" Elmer declared.

"Bully for that!" exclaimed Lil Artha, "and now we've just got to buckle down to our load, for I'd be ashamed to have to call for help when we're on the home stretch."

He watched for that welcome glow all the while, and whenever it came it seemed to give Lil Artha renewed strength. In this manner, then, did they finally approach the camp under the pine tree. Presently they could see the moving figures of their comrades, and then Elmer announced:

"They must be getting a little worried about us, because there's Toby standing up and looking this way as hard as he can. I think you'd better give a whoop, so as to let them know we're coming."

That was just like Elmer; he wanted Lil Artha to have the first say, because the honors should be fitted to his brow. And when the lucky hunter did give a shout no doubt there was enough of joy in it to tell those in camp their comrades were not returning quite empty handed.

When they saw what the two Nimrods were carrying slung on that bending pole that rested on their sore shoulders Toby and George gave a series of shouts themselves:

"Lo! the conquering hero comes; get the laurel wreath ready," cried the dancing Toby, and then adding: "A deer! Tell me about that, would you? Oh! what great luck. Who shot it? Elmer, was it you? What, Lil Artha got his buck after all, did he? Well, well, well, if that doesn't beat anything I've heard this long while. And won't we have the grandest feast to-night ever heard of? Oh! say, I'm just trembling all over, I'm so crazy with joy, and p'raps weak, too, because I haven't had enough to eat. Lil Artha, shake hands with me, won't you; and later on you've got to tell us just however you managed to knock such noble game over."

Meanwhile George, who had not said a single word, went over to where the tired hunters had dropped their burden. He was seen to bend down and feel of the animal, first about its antlered head, and then even down its hind quarters to its pretty little hoofs. After that he turned to Lil Artha, and said in a relieved tone:

"Why, it is a deer, sure enough! I was beginning to think hunger had made us see things that didn't have any foundation. But after I've proved my sight by my sense of feeling I can believe it. And you shot him, did you, Lil Artha? Well, I want to congratulate you, old fellow."

It was just like Lil Artha, bubbling over with mischief, and feeling ever so happy because good fortune had come his way, to look meaningly at George, poke him suggestively in the ribs as he had done once before, and with a wink say:

"That's all right, George, and I'm sure I thank you; but between us don't you think after all you're the one to be congratulated? Consider what you've p'raps escaped by my lucky shot. But it's all right, George, and no reason for you to lie awake nights after this, worrying. You can keep on getting fatter and fatter, now, because the danger is past," and then he watched Elmer getting ready to exercise his skill in cutting up the deer, so they could have a supply of meat for supper.

CHAPTER VIII
A PRIZE IN THE TRAP

"How's the wood supply?" asked Elmer, while preparations were going on looking to their having a generous supply of fresh venison for supper.

"Not so good as last night," replied Toby; "it's twice as hard to get, you see; but then, George has agreed to start in again later on, and pile up more stock. He certainly does swing that little hand-ax of yours to beat the band, Elmer."

"Did any of your people come from the South of Ireland, Toby?" demanded the said George; "because you've got the gift of gab down to a fine point, and know how to blarney a fellow first-class."

"But you did say you would chop a whole lot more wood," protested Toby.

"Sure I did," continued the other scout, "but it was agreed at the same time I'd spell you in the job, and bring in as much as you did. Now, since Elmer and Lil Artha have tramped so far, and lugged this splendid young buck all the way into the camp, the least the rest of us can do is to make sure of the fuel supply. And, Toby, I'm going to hold you to your word."

"Well, after we've dined perhaps I won't feel so weak as I do now, and then we'll see what's to be done," Toby acknowledged.

Elmer had made a pretty good job of cutting up the deer. It was not the first time he had had to undertake such a task; and besides, he had watched other hunters accomplish it frequently, up there in Canada on the farm and cattle range.

Before a great while the four chums were all busily engaged in cooking meat after various styles. Some choice pieces had been thrust into the fryingpan, with a couple of slices of bacon which Toby managed to resurrect from some hiding place or other, and from the appetizing odor that soon began to rise it was evident that they were going to have a great feast. Other "chunks" of meat were thrust on the ends of long and stout splinters of wood, and these were held out near the red ashes in certain places, where they would get in contact with the fierce heat, and begin to brown, hunter-style.

It might as well be confessed right here that in the end this last method of cookery did not appeal to the boys as much as the fryingpan style. Perhaps they did not know just how to go about it, as experience is needed to get the best results from anything; but in spite of their labor they found that while the meat cooked, and even burned on the outside, it was almost raw within. Still, hunger causes a camper to forgive such small faults as this; and as they started on the poorer supply to finish with that cooked in the skillet, there were few complaints.

All of them gorged so much that it became necessary for them to lie around and rest for some little time after the meal was over. Indeed Toby showed a desire to hug his blanket, and doze in the warmth of the fire, so that George had to urge him to remember the bargain they had made with each other, and start to collecting more wood.

Elmer soon joined in the labor, for he knew they would need all they were able to gather; and besides, he was so constituted that he could not bear to lie around when others were working, no matter how tired he might feel.

So Lil Artha, although he really believed he had earned his rest, not to be shamed by all this honest toil on the part of his three mates, also strolled forth, to return several times dragging some branch he had managed to break loose.

The collection of firewood was not near so formidable as on the preceding night but then as there was no storm in progress now they might get along fairly comfortably on what they managed to haul in.

"Lucky thing you put such a fine edge on the camp hatchet before starting on this trip, Elmer," George remarked, pausing in his chopping to recover his breath.

"I wouldn't think of starting anywhere without getting everything ready," replied the scout master. "If you look ahead, and be prepared, you'll ease things a whole lot most of the time. As there are no nails to strike in this wood, and every chopper is warned to keep clear of stones, that edge ought to hold good through the whole vacation time. And it's a great joy to see the steel eat into the wood like that camp hatchet does. Let me take a whirl at it again, George; you've done your share of the work in great shape."

So it would seem that despite George's failings he had many good points about him, and often expressed a desire to relieve a comrade who had begun to show evident signs of weariness. Perhaps by slow degrees he might be weaned from that exasperating habit of complaining, and forever doubting things.

All was quiet around them, not even the whispering of the night wind in the snow-laden branches of the pines being heard. Toby declared it seemed as solemn as a funeral to him, and that he did love the good old summer-time to be outdoors, while the crickets, katydids, frogs, and everything else kept up a friendly chorus, that helped a fellow to sleep. Now it was so "awfully still that you could almost hear yourself think!" he told the others, as they began to get their blankets ready for a night's rest.

Already one experience in bunking amidst the snow piles had given the boys a number of useful suggestions from which they meant to profit on this second occasion. The rubber ponchos were used, not as a curtain to shield them from the air, but under their blankets to separate them from the ground, and serve to keep the dampness away. The heat of the fire was apt to melt the surrounding snow to some extent; and the warmth of their bodies acted after a fashion in the same way; so those waterproof rubber blankets proved invaluable. They should always be taken by those who go to the woods, and will be found to be worth their weight in silver every time.

Taken in all that was not such a bad night for the boys. There was no wind, and Elmer managed to awaken frequently enough to keep the fire from going out; so that with the blessing of their warm blankets, which they wrapped closely about them, the scouts did not really suffer.

Everybody was very glad when dawn came along, dreary as the aspect might be. It made a wonderful difference in their feelings just to know that there was no longer any possibility of immediate starvation. George must have dreamed that some trouble had descended upon them, because the very first thing he did after crawling out of his blanket was to hurry over to where they had fastened the balance of the precious venison, encased in the hide of the deer, to the limb of a tree, and closely examine the pack; Elmer, who was watching him, with a smile on his face, heard the doubter say in a relieved tone:



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