« PreviousContinue »
Tom had no impulse to join his rival, or to exchange gratuitous civilities with him, so he waited at the spring until Rob should strike into the path lower down and get ahead of him. When he had allowed the hunter what he considered a sufficient start, Tom resumed his own journey down the mountain.
The light had increased, and aided by the reflection from the snow, was strong enough to make objects visible, and to etch the bare branches with tolerable distinctness on the cold background furnished by atmospheric distance. The thought crossed Tom's mind that the hunter must have overslept himself-"bein' Sunday," and that a trip to a turkey-blind so close on sunrise would be love's labor lost.
"Wild turkeys air gifted fowels," he pondered, with insight gained by experience, "Havin' to look out fur number one an' scuffle fur a livin' sharpens birds ther same as humans-keeps ther intellecks God A'mighty gin 'em in prime runnin' order. Keen ain't ther word fur thar eyes an' y' ears an' it's my belief them old gawblers kin smell too, same as a fox-hound. An' notice!-thar ain't nothin' gwine little enough fur 'em to miss! It's plumb curious! Every stick an' limb an' scrop o' bresh you lay on a blind have got to be stole thar-one at a time, an' days an' days between licks so them durned razor-edged creeters kin count it natu'l growin'. Then ther baitin'!—just as percise as stalkin' deer an' heap mo' troublesome. An' at last, when you come to shoot, if you ain't squattin' in their blind an hour befo' they git thar, or so much as break a stick onbeknownst-good-bye-turkey! Funny how tamin' 'em thickens up thar senses. A tame turkey is a natu'l born fool."
Tom's ruminations on the deleterious effects of domestication were cut short by a sound in the woods. He instantly paused, with eyes alert and attention keenly arrested-it was the note of a wild turkey. An answering call came from the other side, from the direction in which Tom supposed the blind to be. His practiced ear unconsciously analyzed the quick, sharp notes, and his inward comment was that Rob's turkey-bone had a flaw in it. The imitation of the wild bird's call was fairly good, but not perfect; the second effort was better but still not up to nature, and the suspicious old gobbler, who had opened the conversation, seemed to feel a want, for he plainly came to a halt and called again. Rob replied, and
now it would have required a subtle ear to detect a difference between the sounds. About fifteen yards ahead of the spot where Tom stood, a fallen log lay beside the path with a fringe of bushes close up to it. The bushes stirred, parted, and a splendid gobbler appeared upon the log; he lifted his scarlet head and turned it this way and that, as though taking observations, and having satisfied himself that the coast was clear -for Tom, at sight of him, had dodged behind a tree-opened his wings a little and jumped from the log, with a clucking call intended to reassure his following. Another, and another bird crossed the log and the path and disappeared in the woods in the wake of the first. Tom's quick eye numbered themtwenty-five, at least, and half of them, apparently, gobblers. His sporting instincts kindled, and he longed for a gun with ardor. Rob's seductive call sounded once more from the wood. "Thet fellow gits all ther luck," growled Tom discontentedly. "He never even made thet blind. Connor done it himself befo' Chris'mas, an' then got tuckered out baitin' an' let Rob take the job. Rob air same as a possum 'bout gutherin' arter t'other folks plantin'."
Tom had yet to learn the world-old lesson that the successful man is not the man who simply labors, but he who can seize opportunity. Toil counts for much in life, but quick perception and instant adaptation count for more.
"I could spile his fun by creepin' through ther bushes an' mockin' a fox or some y'uther varmint," his thought ran on; "I could skeer them turkeys in-about to death. If t'warn't such a free-nigger trick I'd do it too. He'll git a gawbler this mornin' sure an' maybe three or four. When thar heads air down, pickin' corn, an' ther sight's good, I've know'd a prime passel kilt in a couple o' shots. I'd like to see what out he makes. Maybe I kin git close enough to view th'out spilin' sport.
He turned aside into the woods, stepping cautiously and following the tracks of the turkeys, distinctly visible in the snow. Once or twice he paused to listen, and then moved forward carefully. The blind was nearer than he had supposed, in a little hollow, or more accurately, slight depression in the hillside. Tom approached as near as he dared, and then noiselessly climbed a tree, to give himself every advantage.
For a few yards the ground was comparatively level and had been utilized for a field of action. Not a bush, nor stone, nor bit of brush, had been meddled with; but the fallen leaves had been moved aside to make a baiting-place in the center, with "leaders" from it into the woods in various directions. The blind was a mere brush-heap, disposed as naturally as possible, behind which a man could crouch and through the interstices of which he must take his chance of hitting his game. The pile of corn at the central baiting-place, and in the little trails leading from it, had been covered by the snow, but Tom could see that fresh grain had been scattered about, and a good deal of it in line with the blind.
The turkeys were busy with their breakfast, but huddled together so that to shoot among them might be productive of more terror than execution. Tom could see the hunter lift his head and peer cautiously through the brush: he was waiting for the flock to spread out and give him a better shot. The sun just showed a rim above the eastern mountains and the level light-rays glinted along the burnished backs of the bending birds and struck out prismatic reflections: the crimson of their wattles came out bravely against the whiteness of the snow. They had laid aside all caution, and every bird had breakfast in his mind and naught besides, and pushed and huddled against his neighbors in efforts to secure the major portion of the food for himself. Soon they began to spread out, following the lines of corn. Rob raised himself, crouching upwards inch by inch, and swerving sideways to rid himself of the brush. The watcher felt a thrill of excitement tingle along his nerves, his hand closed on a near limb as though it had been a gun-barrel; involuntarily he closed one eye and inclined his head a little for the sight.
Four splendid gobblers were in line, their heads almost together, their bodies even, like soldiers on parade. Beyond them a group of seven or eight fed toward the blind. Rob had inched himself to the edge of the brush-heap; he was on his knees, the gun against his shoulder: the gobblers' heads were down; he crouched lower, aimed steadily, and sent the contents of both barrels, in quick succession, into the flock.
What followed was like the transformation scene at a theater. The turkeys started, leaped upward with cries of
alarm and amazement, and vanished into the woods on every side, leaving their dead on the field. In a quarter of a second not a living feather was in sight, and hardly a sound of the stampede audible in the bushes.
Rob advanced, gun in hand, to examine his game. The charge had been heavy and the range close: three of the four gobblers had been beheaded as cleanly as though guillotined. The second shot, although not so pretty, had been equally effective, and Rob was surrounded by trophies of his success seven in number.
Tom slipped down from his post of observation and came forward, quick with the sportsman's instinct of helping to secure game.
"Mornin', Rob," he called, accounting for himself at once. "I seed you come out as I passed the clearin' along about daybreak, an' I 'lowed you was arter turkeys. The critters crossed the path lower down an' I crept in arter 'em to see ther fun. You done some toler❜ble pretty shootin' just now."
Rob pushed his hat backward and held out his hand. "Mornin'," he answered cheerily; "I'd have done better with a better gun. Them durned skittish fowels don't give a muzzle-loader much chance. If you're tol'r'ble spry an' have luck, you git in a couple o' shots an' thar's the end o' your tether. Whyn't you sing out when you seed me? I'd have fetched you out a gun. 'Twas a pretty passel o' turkeys."
"Mighty pretty," Tom assented, catching up one of the gobblers by the legs and weighing it in his hand. "Them fellows ought to dress twenty pounds apiece. What air you aimin' to do with 'em?"
"Eat some, an' sell some," Rob replied laconically. "They'll fetch somthin', I reckon, in the Marshal market," Tom observed. "Ther winter's been open so far, an' thar ain't been the glut o' game that comes with a snowy season. It's in better order too. I'll help you tote it home if you want me."
The offer was accepted, and the men shouldered the game and proceeded with it to the cabin in the clearing.