Harold Bindloss.

The Boy Ranchers of Puget Sound

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"A bear, sure," cried Harry excitedly. "Going off up hill. Shoot if you can see it."

Frank gazed intently ahead, but could see absolutely nothing, though he could hear a smashing and crashing which presently died away again on the slope. Then Harry brought down his rifle and turned away.

"You can generally hear a black bear," he said. "He goes straight and rips right through the things a deer would jump. He's a kind of harmless beast, anyway."

"Could we find a deer?" Frank asked, his hopes still high.

"We'll try when we've had dinner," replied his companion. "I haven't seen any lately, though that doesn't count for much, because it would be possible not to notice one if the woods were full of them. Still, they seem to have a way of clearing right out of the country every now and then for no particular reason. The bear and the timber wolves do the same thing."

They ate their dinner sitting among the roots of a big cedar, while a gorgeous green and red woodpecker climbed about a neighboring trunk. Then Harry stood up and shouldered his rifle.

"After this we'll leave the birds alone," he announced. "You don't want to make a noise when you're trailing deer."


They plodded through the bush for an hour or two without seeing any living thing except a few pigeons, and Harry began to look doubtful.

"If it was early morning, I'd try one of the rock outcrops where nothing grows," he observed. "The deer get up on to those places out of the dew then. As it's afternoon, I don't know which way to head."

Frank glanced at his clothes. Keen as he was on hunting, he would not have been sorry to head for home, for his duck trousers were badly torn and one of his boots which had been rather the worse for wear when he started was almost dropping off his foot. They trudged on, however, and accident favored them, as it often does when one is hunting, for at last when they were in very thick bush Harry dropped suddenly behind a patch of withered fern.

"Look there!" he said softly. "Right ahead of you yonder."

Frank gazed ahead with straining eyes, but he could only see the great trunks stretching back in serried ranks. He had heard somewhat to his astonishment that it is not often that a novice can see a deer in the bush even when it is pointed out to him, but now, it seemed, the thing was true. He could have declared that there was not a deer anywhere within the range of his vision.

"Right in front," whispered Harry, impatiently. "About seventy yards off. Oh, look yonder!"

He stretched his hand out and at last Frank noticed what seemed to be a very slightly different colored strip of something behind a narrow opening in a thicket. It might have been withering fern, or a cluster of fading leaves, but he would never have imagined it to be a portion of a deer. Then his doubts vanished, for it suddenly moved.

"Where shall I shoot?" he asked beneath his breath.

"At the bottom of the bit you can see," was the low answer.

Frank threw up his rifle.

He was too eager to kneel or lie down, and it scarcely seemed probable that the deer would wait until he was comfortably ready. He lined the sights on a twig immediately in front of the object, and though his hands had quivered he found them growing steadier as he squeezed the trigger. He heard no report, but there was a crash in the thicket as the smoke came drifting back, and Harry ran forward with a shout.

"Come on!" he cried. "You've hit it!"

Frank ran his fastest, though running of any kind was extraordinarily difficult. In places the withered fern was higher than his head and there seemed to be innumerable bushes in his way, while when he endeavored to avoid them he generally came upon a giant tree which had to be scrambled around. Still, there was no doubt that the deer was not far off, for he could hear it floundering through the brakes and fern, and by and by he came upon a trail of red splashes scattered here and there upon the leaves.

"It's hit bad," panted Harry. "If we can hold out we'll get it yet."

They did their utmost for the next half hour, but they never once saw the deer, which by the decreasing sound seemed to be drawing away from them, and Frank felt that it would be impossible for him to keep up the pace many minutes longer. He was breathless, and dripping with perspiration, and his clothes were torn all over. Indeed, eager as he was, it was almost a relief when the sound in front of him gradually died away, and Harry stopped, gasping, and leaned against a fir.

"What are we going to do about it now?" Frank asked.

"Trail that deer," was the breathless answer. "It's not going very far. You can tell by the noise it made that it was hit too bad to jump."

Frank was of the opinion that it had gone quite far enough already, but he silently watched Harry, who began to walk up and down, looking carefully about him.

"It went through this bush," he said at length. "After that it must have crossed the fern yonder." Then scrambling forward he waved his hand. "Come on! The trail's quite plain."

Frank followed him with some trouble and once more saw the red splashes on the leaves. Now and then they lost them for a little while and the undergrowth did not seem to have been disturbed, but on each occasion Harry contrived to find the spots again. He traced them from place to place, moving more slowly and cautiously, while Frank painfully broke through the thickets in his wake. They were both nearly exhausted when an hour after the shot was fired they came to a little creek.

"It lay down here," said Harry. "We'll stop a minute or two. Guess that deer's 'most as played out as we are."

This seemed very probable to Frank as he glanced at the broad red smear upon the damp soil, and for the first time he was troubled by a sense of compunction as he realized that there were two sides to hunting. The pursuers' labor was severe enough, but he could imagine what the flight must have cost the sorely wounded creature who had so far managed to keep in front of them. He was scratched and torn and exhausted, but at least he was sound in limb, while the deer must have staggered on in anguished terror with its life steadily draining from the cruel bullet hole. Somewhere in his mind there was now a wish that he had not made so good a shot.

"Do you think we're far behind it?" he asked.

"I don't, but that doesn't count," answered Harry. "We have to follow it, anyway. I remember when I got my first deer. Dad was with me, and before I fired he asked if I thought I could hit it where I wanted. I said I did, and he told me to make sure, because if the beast got away with a bullet in it I'd have to trail it until it dropped." He stopped with a significant laugh. "As it happened, we followed it close on three hours, through the thickest kind of bush, and – I wasn't so big then – it was mighty hard work to get back to the ranch afterward."

Frank fancied that in the present case he might drop before the deer did, though he realized that Mr. Oliver's rule was in one way a merciful one and undoubtedly calculated to encourage careful shooting. When he had recovered his breath a little they started again, but it was half an hour later when they caught a glimpse of the deer painfully laboring through a clump of fern on the slope of a steep rise. Harry pitched up his rifle, and though the animal disappeared again immediately after they fired, they knew it was still going on by the snapping of twigs and the rustling in the fern.

Harry was sure that he had hit it, and making a last effort, they broke into a run which Frank remembered for a considerable time afterward. The slope seemed to be getting remarkably steep, he could scarcely see a dozen yards in front of him through the undergrowth, and several times he stuck fast for a moment or two in tangled thickets. Then he fell into a horrible tangle of rotting branches, dropping his rifle and bruising himself cruelly, and he only succeeded in forcing himself along because his companion shouted breathlessly that the deer was rapidly flagging. Frank could hear it very plainly now.

At last when they reached the summit of the rise it came out into open view for a moment. The bush was thinner there, with less growth between the trees, and he saw the animal limp out from a thicket, dragging an injured limb. He flung up his rifle, and Harry who was a little in front fired almost as he did. The deer staggered, made a feeble bound, and vanished as if the earth had opened under it. A moment or two later Harry stopped with a hoarse, gasping shout.

Frank stumbled forward and found him standing on the brink of what seemed to be a very deep ravine, the almost precipitous sides of which were shrouded in young firs and densely growing bushes. Harry was gazing dubiously into the gully.

"I don't quite know how we're going to get down, but we'll have to try," he said. "The deer's at the bottom done for, and I don't feel like going home and telling dad we left it. Besides, it's quite likely he might send us back for it."

"Then if it has to be done, we may as well get about it," said Frank wearily.

Slinging his rifle, he crawled over the edge and went sliding and slipping down for about a dozen yards until he fell into the branches of a young fir. After that he plunged into several bushes before he could stop again, and eventually lowered himself foot by foot, clutching at whatever seemed strong enough to hold him, until he alighted knee-deep in a splashing creek. Nearby the deer lay motionless where it had fallen upon the stones. It was a beautifully symmetrical creature, but it seemed to Frank smaller than he had expected.

"A young black-tail," said Harry. "Anyway, that's what we call them, though I believe it's really the mule-deer. There's another black-tail. We've got the deer names kind of mixed up on the Pacific Slope."

Frank regarded the animal dubiously. "It seems to me the most important question is how we're going to get it home."

"Pack it," answered Harry. "But I'd better open it up first. You can sit down while I do it, if you'd rather."

Frank would very much have preferred to sit down out of sight while the deer was dressed, but it occurred to him that it would scarcely be fitting to leave the disagreeable part of the work to his companion.

"No," he persisted, "I'll help as much as I can."

"Well," said Harry dryly, "if you want to go hunting it's a thing you'll have to learn."

The operations that followed were singularly unpleasant, and Frank felt a good deal less enthusiastic about hunting when he washed his hands and the sleeves of his jacket in the creek after they were over.

"I don't know if I'll eat any of that deer," he said.

"You'll get over it," Harry assured him with a smile. "Anyway, in my opinion deer meat isn't much of a delicacy. It's that stringy you could 'most make lariats of it, unless you keep it until it's bad."

Frank felt inclined later to agree with this statement, but in the meanwhile Harry got the deer, which he had not yet skinned, upon his shoulders with its fore legs pulled over in front of him, and they started back for the ranch. It was, however, some time before they could find a way out of the gulch, and then they only gained the summit by an arduous scramble. After that they found themselves in exceedingly thick bush, with nothing that Frank could see to guide them. There was probably not much light at any time down among those great trunks whose branches met and crossed high overhead, and what there was seemed to be getting dim.

"If we keep on going down we'll strike something by and by," urged Harry. "The slope's naturally toward the beach."

The first thing they struck was a remarkably steep hillside, up which they struggled, Frank now carrying the deer, which he found heavy enough before he reached the top. Then a narrow valley opened up before them, which did not seem to be what Harry had expected. There were one or two ponds in the bottom of it, and he gazed at them thoughtfully.

"We might get a duck," he mused. "They ought to be coming down from Alaska now. It's freezing up there."

They floundered down the declivity, and, though Frank would have preferred to push on straight for home, Harry insisted on creeping through the long harsh grass about the edge of the water. They tried one of the ponds with no result, but at last Harry dropped suddenly behind a tall clump of grass.

"Look!" he said. "There are two or three ducks yonder. You take the nearest. Keep the foresight as fine as you can."

Frank saw one or two small objects floating just outside the grass across the pond. They seemed to be a very long way off, and though he feared that he could not keep the sights upon any of them standing, the ground looked horribly quaggy to kneel in. This could not be helped, however, for it seemed that getting wet and torn did not count when one was hunting, and he pressed his right knee down into the mire. He could just see one of the ducks when he closed his left eye, and he had misgivings as to the result when he squeezed the trigger. Harry's rifle flashed immediately after his, there was a rattle of wings and a startled quacking, and he saw two ducks with long necks stretched out fly off above the trees. Another seemed to be lying on the water, and remembering the size of the bullet, he had no fear of that one getting away.

"The next thing is to get it," said Harry. "It's not going to be easy."

He was perfectly right. They spent a long while struggling around the pond, into which they had to wade nearly waist-deep before Harry contrived to rake the duck in toward him with the muzzle of his rifle. It did not look a sightly object when he had secured it, but he decided that there was enough of it left to eat.

"Is it the one you shot at?" he asked with a grin.

"I can't say," Frank answered. "I shouldn't be surprised if it wasn't."

"Well," said Harry, "we're not going to quarrel about the thing. What we have to do is to make a bee-line home. We'll come along again in a week or two. The ponds are full of ducks for a little in the spring and fall."

"Only then?"

"They're not so plentiful between-whiles," Harry answered. "Of course, our worst winters aren't marked by the cold snaps you have back East, and quite a few of the ducks stay with us, while some put in the summer, too; but in a general way every swimming bird of any size heads north to the tundra marshes by the Polar Sea in spring. In the fall they come back again, how far I don't know – lower California, Mexico, perhaps, right away to Bolivia and Peru. Going and coming, the big flocks stop around here to rest a while." He smiled at his companion. "A mallard duck's a little thing, but he covers a considerable sweep of country."

He picked up the deer and they went on again, but darkness overtook them before they reached the ranch, utterly worn out, with most of their garments rent to tatters; and Frank, who had carried the deer the last mile or two, gave a gasp of relief when he laid it down.


It was about a week after the boys' hunting trip when Mr. Oliver's nearest neighbor, Mr. Webster, drove up to the ranch in a dilapidated wagon. It was dark when he arrived, for the days were rapidly getting shorter. When Jake had taken his horse away he laid what appeared to be a small armory on the kitchen table and sat down by the stove. He was a young man with a careless, good-humored expression, and Harry aside informed Frank that his ranch was not much of a place.

"I've brought you my guns along," said Mr. Webster, addressing Mr. Oliver, and then looked down at the dog, who had walked up to him in the meanwhile and now stood regarding him with its head on one side. "Hello!" he added, patting it, "I'd 'most forgotten you. You have managed to put up with him, Miss Oliver?"

Miss Oliver said that she had grown fond of him, and the dog, after standing up with a paw upon the man's knee, dropped down on all fours at the sound of her voice and trotted back to her without waiting for another pat.

"I always had a notion he was an ungrateful as well as an ordinary beast," said Mr. Webster. "Would you have fancied my dog would leave me like that after all I've done for him? I guess I've laid into him with 'most everything about the ranch from the grubhoe handle to the riding quirt."

Mr. Oliver laughed. "But why have you brought your guns?"

"For you to take care of. My place gets damp in winter without the stove on and I'm going away for a month or two. I've taken on a log-bridge contract with a fellow I used to work with, on one of the new settlement roads. The man who's been clearing land up the creek took the few head of stock I had off my hands and the fruit trees will grow along all right without worrying anybody until I get back again. If one hadn't to do so much cutting every now and then, they'd be a long sight handier than raising stock."

"Well," Mr. Oliver assured, "I think we can promise to look after the guns. I didn't know you had so many of them."

Mr. Webster arose and walked toward the table. "Though I never was a great shot, guns are rather a hobby of mine. I needn't say anything about these two – single-shot Marlin, Winchester repeater – but the old-timers seem to have a notion that a man must excuse himself for keeping a scatter gun. This" – and he picked up what seemed to Frank a handsome single barrel – "is a thing I bought for a few dollars last time I was in Portland. I allowed she would do to keep the pigeons off my oats. Not much of a gun, but she throws out the shell." Then he took up a double gun with the brown rubbed off the barrels, leaving bright patches. "This one's different; there's some tone about her. A sport I once had boarding with me gave her to me when he went away. Said I'd given him a great time, and as he was fixed, it might be two or three years before he could get out into the woods again."

He sat down on the table and looked over with a smile at the boys. "I don't know any reason why you two shouldn't have those guns until I come back; they'll keep better if they're used and rubbed out once in a while, and there's a box of shells in the wagon. You can't call yourself a sport until you can drop a flying bird with the scatter gun, and there's considerably more to it than most of the old-timers who can only plug a deer with a rifle seem to think."

He evidently noticed the interest in Frank's face, for he proceeded to demonstrate, standing up with the double gun held across him a little above his waist.

"Now," he added, "you don't want to aim, poking the gun about. You keep it down and your eyes on the bird, until you're ready, and then pitch it up right on the spot first time – it's better with both eyes open, if you can manage it." The gun went in to his shoulder and Frank heard the striker click, after which the man swung the muzzle half a foot or so. "Say you missed. You've still got the second barrel – "

They heard no more, for there was an appalling crash, a short cry from Miss Oliver, and a yelp from the dog who jumped into the air, while a filmy cloud of smoke drifted about the room. When it cleared Mr. Webster, who had opened the door, sat down on the table looking very sheepish and turned toward Miss Oliver.

"I'm sorry – dreadful sorry," he observed contritely. "I hadn't the least notion there was anything in the thing."

Mr. Oliver glanced at the ragged hole high up in the log wall and then looked at Mr. Webster with ironical amusement in his eyes.

"Your instructions were good as far as they went, but you have forgotten one rather important point." He turned to the boys. "It's this. Never bring a gun of any kind into a house without first opening the magazine or breach, and if there's a shell in it, immediately take it out. It's a precaution that's as simple as it's effective, and though there was perhaps some excuse for an accident in the old days when a man couldn't readily empty his gun unless he fired off the charge, there's none now."

"Sure," agreed Mr. Webster, who seemed to be getting over his confusion, for he addressed the boys again. "With winter coming on, the best sport I know with a scatter gun is shooting flighting duck, and there's plenty of them along the beach. They've a way of moving around in flocks between the light and dark, which is the best time, though you can get them through the night if there's not too bright a moon. A good place would be those patches of sand and mud behind the islands, especially when the tide's just leaving the flats. Take the sloop or canoe along sometime and try it."

The boys thanked him and Frank's eyes glistened as he handled the light single gun.

"What are you going to do with your team?" asked Mr. Oliver, changing the subject.

"Anson down by Nare's Hill will take them for their keep, but I might have made a few dollars out of them if I'd been staying on."

"How's that?"

"Well," in a significant tone, "a man came along three or four nights ago. I don't know where he came from, and I don't know where he went – he just walked in with the lamp lit when I was getting supper. He wanted to know if I was open to hire him a team for a night or two."

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