Young Hunters of the Lake/Chapter 26
A HUNT AFTER WILDCATS
As my old readers know, Jed Sanborn knew all about wild animals and just how to trail them, and the young hunters followed his directions readily.
"Be sure your guns are in prime condition and loaded," said Jed. "And as we may be out until nightfall, better take a lunch with you."
"We have it, in our gamebags," answered the doctor's son.
They were soon on the way, along a small trail leading directly away from Lake Narsac. It was uphill, but the old hunter knew just how to turn to make climbing easy, so, although they covered a mile or more, they were not greatly fatigued.
"I know we came for wildcats, but if ye want some wild turkeys here's your chance," said the old hunter presently, and he pointed to the left of the trail. The boys gazed in that direction but saw nothing unusual and said so.
"The turkeys are in yonder tree," answered Jed Sanborn. "I jest saw two on 'em movin' around on some branches."
"You certainly have keen eyes," answered Snap, for the distance to the tree was at least a hundred and fifty yards.
"Have to have, lad, to be a good shot," was the reply.
Not to alarm the game, Jed Sanborn told them to walk with care, and led the way in a semicircle through the timber. Then he told the boys to spread out around the tree.
"Fire as soon as ye get a good chance, but not afore," said he.
As they crawled closer they saw the wild turkeys quite plainly. There was a gobbler and six or seven hens, and they were roosting on several limbs close to the ground.
"Must be gittin' lazy, to be on their perches so late in the morning," abserved Jed. "Ought to have been scratchin' fer a llvin' hours ago."
"Well, this suits us," answered Whopper. "I'm going to try for the gobbler."
"I'll take the one below him," said Snap.
"I'll take the hen on the left," came from Giant.
"And I'll try for the one on the right," put in Shep. "What will you shoot at, Jed?"
Before the old hunter could answer there was a stir on the tree. The gobbler had heard them and he gave the alarm. Up and out went the turkeys as fast as they could fly. Bang! bang! went the shotguns, and several more shots followed. Jed Sanborn had also taken aim. There was a great fluttering, and down dropped two turkeys like lead. Two hens fluttered around, and the gobbler remained in the tree, caught between two branches and breathing his last.
"Hurrah! let us finish them!" cried Snap, and ran forward. The next instant he felt one of the wounded turkeys strike his face. He caught the game by the legs and then received a peck in the hand that drew blood. Before the turkey could do any more harm the young hunter stunned it by a blow against the tree and then finished it. In the meantime the other hen was killed by Whopper, while Jed Sanborn took his gun and poked the gobbler out of the tree crotch and despatched him.
"Certainly a good haul, boys," said the old hunter, when the temporary excitement was over. "You'll have turkey meat enough to last some time."
"I know what I am going to do with the gobbler, if you'll let me," said Whopper. "I am going to send him home to my folks, if Jed will carry him."
"Sure I will, my lad, and I'll carry some more if you wish," Jed continued, looking at the other young hunters.
"Let each of us send a turkey home," suggested Snap. "That will show the folks that we are not starving." And so it was agreed.
Tying the turkeys in a bunch, they put them in a safe place on a tree and then continued up the mountainside. The recent rains had cleared the sky and washed the bushes and grass, and the view was a most charming one. Soon they came to a small clearing and from this could see over a large portion of the lake's surface.
"It certainly is a wild place," was Snap's comment. "But some day the lumbermen will get in here, and then you'll see this forest melt like magic."
"Yes, and half the charm will be gone," added Jed Sanborn. "Not much left after a saw mill gets started in a place like this."
Noon came and found them well up on the mountain. So far they had seen no game but the turkeys, nor had they seen a further trace of the wildcats. They sat down in an open spot for lunch, and rested for half an hour afterward.
When the hunt was resumed Jed Sanborn turned along the mountainside, where there were a series of shelving rocks. He had gone but a short distance when he uttered a cry:
"A bear! a bear!"
"Where?" asked all of the others simultaneously.
"Over on yonder cliff! There he goes!"
The young hunters looked in the direction indicated, and saw a bear leaping swiftly from rock to rock. Almost before they knew it he was out of sight. They were too far away to take a shot, much to their disappointment.
"Any use of going after him?" asked Whopper.
"Not now," answered Jed Sanborn. "He'll be on guard all day. You can come back some other day if you want to. But be careful he don't chew ye up."
Again they went on, and now came to a slight hollow on the mountainside. Suddenly Snap saw something moving cautiously over the rocks close at hand.
"There's a wildcat!" he cried, and swinging around his gun he fired. The wildcat was hit in the side but kept on. Then Giant fired, hitting the beast in the head, and it rolled from the rocks to a position almost at their feet.
"Is it dead?" asked the doctor's son.
"Dead as a door nail," announced the small youth, after an examination.
"I think that wildcat came from yonder hole in the rocks," said Snap, pointing to the opening in question.
"If he did there may be more of them there," answered Whopper. "How can we find out?"
"Might go up, ring the doorbell, and ask," suggested Snap, with a grin.
"Excuse me, I don't want to walk into any wild-cat's hotel," was Whopper's answer. "I heard of a fellow who did that once, and when he came out he was still on the inside."
"Still on the inside?" repeated Jed Sanborn.
"Yes—inside the wildcats," and this answer made the old hunter roar loudly.
"Let us throw rocks into the opening," suggested Giant, and began to do as he had suggested. They heard a growl, but no wildcats showed themselves.
"I'll throw a firebrand in," said Jed Sanborn, and cut a dry cedar bough. "Stand ready to shoot, if anything shows itself."
With interest the boys watched the old hunter prepare his firebrand and light it. Then he swung it into a lively blaze, let fly, and sent it whirling into the hollow among the rocks.
Hardly had the firebrand disappeared when there came a savage growl and some whines, and from the hollow leaped a female wildcat with a little one in her teeth. After the two came another little one.
As soon as the big wildcat appeared the boys blazed away, and the mother and her offspring were shot dead. Then Whopper raised his shotgun to kill the other little one, but suddenly lowered the weapon.
"I can't kill such a baby," he murmured.
"I am sorry we killed the other little one," added Snap, soberly.
"That little wildcat will soon be a big one, so there is no use of letting it get away," said Jed Sanborn, and he discharged a shot that immediately finished the last of that wildcat family. The boys gazed at the small wildcats with interest but did not want to pick them up and carry them away. Somehow, the killing of the little creatures appeared to put a damper on the whole day's outing.
When the party got back to the camp they had the turkeys, several rabbits and also a number of squirrels to their credit. They retired early that evening and slept soundly. In the morning they thought they would arise early but found Jed Sanborn up ahead of them.
"Your folks will enjoy them turkeys, I know," said the old hunter, as he prepared to depart, after eating a substantial breakfast. "They'll be proud to know you shot 'em."
"Well, we are proud of having done so," answered Shep. "Here are the letters," and he handed over various written communications.
"Now mind, don't let that ghost carry you off," warned Jed, as he started to paddle away in his canoe.
"I doubt if we even see the ghost," answered Snap. But he was mistaken, they did see the ghost, and that before very long. And the meeting led to a tremendous surprise.