"I now remembered that the porcupine was one of the plantigrade family, with five toes on his hind feet, and only four on the fore ones. The tracks were undoubtedly his.
"My companion and I were somewhat chagrined at being thus drawn away from our hunt by such an insignificant object; and we vowed to take vengeance upon the porcupine as soon as we should set our eyes upon him. We were not long in doing this,—for as we stole quietly forward, we caught sight of a shaggy animal moving among the branches of a tree about fifty yards ahead of us. It was he, of course. At the same moment, however, another animal 'hove in sight,' in appearance as different from the porcupine as a bull from a blue-bottle.
"This creature—tail and all—was not less than a yard and a quarter in length, and yet its body was not thicker than the upper part of a man's arm. Its head was broad and somewhat flattened, with short, erect ears, and pointed nose. It was bearded like a cat, although the face had more of the dog in its expression. Its legs were short and strong; and both legs and body denoted the possession of agility and strength. It was of a reddish-brown colour, with a white mark on the breast, and darker along the back and on the legs, feet, nose, and tail. Its whole appearance reminded one of a gigantic weasel—which in fact it was—the great marten of America, generally, though improperly, called the 'fisher.' When we first saw it, it was crouching along a high log, that ran directly toward the tree, upon which was the porcupine. Its eyes were fixed intently upon the latter; and it was evidently meditating an attack. We stopped to watch it.
"The porcupine had not yet perceived his enemy, as he was busily engaged in splitting the bark from the cotton-wood. The marten, after reconnoitring him for some moments, sprang off from the log, and came running toward the tree. The other now saw him; and at the same instant uttered a sort of shrill, querulous cry, and appeared to be greatly affrighted. To our astonishment, however, instead of remaining where it was, it suddenly dropped to the ground almost at the very nose of its adversary! I could not at first understand the meaning of this artful movement on the part of the porcupine, but a moment's reflection convinced me it was sound policy. The marten would have been as much at home on the tree as himself; and had he remained among the branches— which were slender ones—his throat and the under part of his body—both of which are soft and without quills—would have been exposed to the teeth of his adversary. This, then, was why he had let himself down so unexpectedly; and we noticed that the instant he touched the ground, he rolled himself into a round clew, presenting on all sides the formidable chevaux-de-frise of his quills.
"The marten now ran around him, doubling his long vermiform body with great activity—at intervals showing his teeth, erecting his back, and snarling like a cat. We expected every moment to see him spring forward upon his victim; but he did not do so. He evidently understood the peril of such an act; and appeared for a moment puzzled as to how he should proceed. All this while, the porcupine lay quiet—except the tail. This was, in fact, the only 'feature' of the animal that could be seen, as the head and feet were completely hidden under the body. The tail, however, was kept constantly in motion—jerking from side to side, and flirted occasionally upwards.
"What would the marten do? There was not an inch of the other's body that was not defended by the sharp and barbed quills—not a spot where he could insert the tip of his nose. Would he abandon the contest? So thought we, for a while; but we were soon convinced of our error.
"After running around several times, as we have described, he at length posted himself near the hind-quarters of the porcupine, and with his nose a few inches from the tail of the latter. In this position he stood for some moments, apparently watching the tail, which still continued to oscillate rapidly. He stood in perfect silence, and without making a movement.
"The porcupine, not being able to see him, and perhaps thinking that he was gone, now waved his tail more slowly; and then suffered it to drop motionless.
"This was what the other was waiting for; and, the next moment, he had seized the tail in his teeth. We saw that he held it by the tip, where it is destitute of the thorny spines.
"What would he do next? Was he going to bite off the end of the porcupine's tail? No such thing. He had a game different from that to play—as we soon witnessed.
"The moment the marten caught the tail, the porcupine uttered its querulous cries; but the other heeding not these, commenced walking backward, dragging his victim after him. Where was he dragging it to? We soon saw. He was pulling it to a tree, close by, with low branches that forked out near the ground. But for what purpose? thought we. We wondered as we watched.
"The porcupine could offer no resistance. Its feet gave way, and slipped along the snowy ground; for the marten was evidently the much stronger animal.
"In a short time, the latter had reached the tree, having pulled the other along with him to its foot. He now commenced ascending, still holding the porcupine's tail in his teeth; taking good care not to brush too closely against the quills. 'Surely,' thought we, 'he cannot climb up, carrying a body almost as big as himself!' It was not his intention to climb up—only to one of the lowermost branches—and the next moment he had reached it, stretching his long body out on the limb, and clutching it firmly with his cat-like claws. He still held fast hold of the porcupine which was now lifted into such a position, that only its forequarters rested on the ground, and it appeared to stand upon its head—all the while uttering its pitiful cries.
"For the life of us, we could not guess what the marten meant by all this manoeuvring. He knew well enough, as he gave proof the moment after. When he had got the other as it were on a balance, he suddenly sprang back to the ground, in such a direction that the impetus of his leap jerked the porcupine upon its back. Before the clumsy creature was able to turn over and 'clew' itself, the active weasel had pounced upon its belly, and buried his claws in the soft flesh, while, at the same time, his teeth were made fast in its throat!
"In vain the porcupine struggled. The weasel rode him with such agility, that he was unable to get right side up again; and in a few moments the struggle would have ended, by the porcupine's throat being cut; but we saw that it was time for us to interfere; and, slipping Castor and Pollux from the leash, we ran forward.
"The dogs soon drove the marten from his victim, but he did not run from them. On the contrary, he turned round upon them, keeping both at bay with his sharp teeth and fierce snarling. In truth, they would have had a very tough job of it, had we not been near; but, on seeing us approach, the animal took to a tree, running up it like a squirrel. A rifle bullet soon brought him down again; and his long body lay stretched out on the earth, emitting a strong odour of musk, that was quite disagreeable.
"On returning to the porcupine—which our dogs took care not to meddle with—we found the animal already better than half-dead. The blood was running from its throat, which the marten had torn open. Of course, we put the creature out of pain by killing it outright; and taking the marten along with us for the purpose of skinning it, we returned homeward, leaving the elk-hunt for another day.
"All this, as I have said, occurred afterwards. Let us now return to the narrative of our fishing excursion.
"As soon as the porcupine had been disposed of, we were reminded of the sufferings of our dogs, who had ceased their howling, but required to be relieved of the barbed spines with which their lips were sticking full. We drew them out as easily as we could; but, notwithstanding this, their heads began to swell up to twice the natural size, and the poor brutes appeared to be in great pain. They were fairly punished for their inconsiderate rashness; and it was not likely that they would run their noses against another porcupine for some time to come."
CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.
THE CUNNING OLD "'COON."
"We now continued our journey toward our fishing-ground, Cudjo having hung the porcupine to a tree, with the design of taking it home with him on our return. It was Cudjo's intention to skin it, and eat part or the whole of it,—a species of food, which he assured us, he had often eaten before, and which tasted equal to young pig. None of us were likely to join Cudjo in such a meal; but at all events, thought we, when the quills and skin are removed, our dogs might get a morsel of it as a reward for their sufferings. This was an object, certainly; as, out of our scanty larder, Castor and Pollux did not fare the best sometimes.
"We soon arrived upon the bank of the creek, and close to the pool. This was a long stretch of deep dark water, with a high bank on one side, shadowed over with leafy trees. On the opposite side, the bank was low, and shelved down to the edge—while several logs lay along it, half covered with water, and half of them stretching up against the bank.
"We took the high bank for our station, as upon this there was a spot of smooth grassy turf, shaded by beautiful palmetto-trees, where the children could tumble about. Here Mary sat down with them, while the rest of us proceeded to fish. Of course, we could do no more than throw in our lines, and then wait until the fish should be fools enough to bite. We conversed very quietly, lest the noise of our talking should frighten the fish—though this was only an imagination of our own. We had not been watching our floats more than five minutes, when we noticed, here and there, a slight stir in the water; and, in the midst of the little circles thus made, we could see small black objects not unlike the heads of snakes. At first we took them for these. Cudjo, however, knew better than we what they were, for he had often seen them while fishing in the creeks of Virginia.
"'Golly, Massa!' cried he, as soon as they made their appearance, 'de creek here am full ob de turtle.'
"'Turtles!' exclaimed Harry.
"'Yes, Massa Harry,' replied Cudjo; 'and as dis nigger lib, de am de real soff-shell turtle! Dat's de meat for dis child Cudjo,—better dan fish, flesh, fowl, or 'possum,—dat am de soff-shell.'
"As Cudjo spoke, one of the turtles 'bobbed' up nearly under where we sat; and, from the elongated shape of its head, resembling a snout, and the flexible shell that bent up and down along its edges, as he swam, I saw it was a species of trionyx, or soft-shelled turtle,—in fact, it was that known as trionyx ferox, the most prized of all the turtle race for the table of the epicure. Here, then, was another luxury for us, as soon as we could catch them.
"I turned round; and was on the point of asking Cudjo how this could be accomplished, when I saw that my float went suddenly down, and I felt a pull upon the line. I thought, of course, it was a fish, and commenced handling it; but, to my surprise, on bringing it to the surface, I perceived that I had hooked one of the turtles, and no doubt the same one which had looked up at us but a moment before. He was not a very large one; and we soon landed him; when Cudjo secured him simply by turning him over upon his back. As I learnt from Cudjo, these creatures will eagerly bite at anything that may be thrown into the water and appears strange to them. Of the truth of this we had a curious demonstration shortly afterwards.
"In a few minutes more, each of us had taken several good-sized fish; and we still continued watching our rods in silence, when our attention was attracted to the movements of an animal upon the opposite bank, and about one hundred yards below where we sat. We were all well acquainted with this animal; and Harry, the moment he saw it, whispered,—
"'Look, papa! mamma! a 'coon!'
"Yes, it was a raccoon. There was no mistaking the broad dark-brown back, the sharp fox-looking face and snout, and the long bushy tail, with its alternate rings of black and yellowish white. The short thick legs, the erect ears, and the white and black marks of the face, were familiar to all of us—for the raccoon is one of the best-known animals in America, and we had it among our pets.
"At the sight of the ''coon,' Cudjo's eyes fairly glistened—for there is no animal that affords so much sport to the negroes of the United States as the 'coon; and he is, therefore, to them as interesting a creature as the fox to the red-coated hunters of England. Hunting the raccoon is one of the principal amusements which the poor slave enjoys, in the beautiful moonlight nights of the Southern States, after he has got free from his hard toil. By them, too, the flesh of the 'coon is eaten, although it is not esteemed much of a dainty. The 'possum is held in far higher estimation. Cudjo's eyes then glistened as soon as he set them upon his old and familiar victim.
"The 'coon all this while had seen none of us, else he would soon have widened the distance between us and himself. He was crawling cautiously along the bank of the creek, now hopping up on a log, and now stopping for a while, and looking earnestly into the water.
"'De ole 'coon go to fish,' whispered Cudjo; 'dat's what he am after.'
"'Fish!' said Harry.
"'Yes, Massa Harry. He fish for de turtle.'
"'And how will he catch them?' inquired Harry.
"'Golly, Massa Harry, he catch 'em. Wait, you see.'
"We all sat quietly watching his manoeuvres, and curious to witness how he would catch the turtles; for none of us, with the exception of Cudjo, knew how. We knew that it was not likely he would leap at them in the water, for these animals can dive as quickly as a fish; besides they can bite very severely, and would be sure to take a piece out of the 'coon's skin, should he attack them in their own element. But that was not his intention, as we presently saw. Near the end of one of the logs that protruded into the water, we observed the heads of several turtles moving about on the surface. The raccoon saw them also, for he was stealthily approaching this log with his eyes fixed upon the swimming reptiles. On reaching it, he climbed upon it with great silence and caution. He then placed his head between his fore-legs; and, turning his tail toward the creek, commenced crawling down the log, tail-foremost. He proceeded slowly, bit by bit, until his long bushy tail hung over into the water, where he caused it to move gently backwards and forwards. His body was rolled up into a sort of clew, until one could not have told what sort of a creature was upon the log.
"He had not remained many moments in this attitude, when one of the turtles, swimming about, caught sight of the moving tail; and, attracted partly by curiosity, and partly in hopes of getting something to eat, approached, and seized hold of the long hair in his horny mandibles. But he had scarce caught it, before the 'coon unwound himself upon the log; and, at the same time, with a sudden and violent jerk of his tail, plucked the turtle out of the water, and flung him high and dry upon the bank! Then following after, in three springs, he was beside his victim, which with his long sharp nose he immediately turned over upon its back—taking care all the while to avoid coming in contact with the bill-like snout of the turtle. The latter was now at the mercy of the 'coon, who was proceeding to demolish him in his usual fashion; but Cudjo could stand it no longer, and away went he and the dogs, with loud shouts, across the creek.
"The chase was not a long one, for in a few seconds the steady barking of the dogs told us that poor 'coony' was 'treed.' Unfortunately, for himself, he had run up a very low tree, where Cudjo was able to reach him with his long spear; and when the rest of us got forward to the spot, we found that Cudjo had finished him, and was holding him up by the tail, quite dead.
"We now went back to our fishing; and although we caught no more of the turtles, we succeeded in taking as many fish as we wanted; and returning to the house, Mary cooked for us a most excellent fish dinner, which we all ate with a keen appetite."
CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.
LITTLE MARY AND THE BEE.
"During the winter we saw very little of our beavers. Through the cold season they lay snug in their houses—although not in a state of torpidity, as the beaver does not become torpid in winter. He only keeps within doors, and spends most of his time in eating and sleeping; but he goes out of his house at intervals to wash and clean himself, for the beaver is an animal of very precise habits. He is not compelled, however, to go abroad in search of food. As we have seen, he lays up a stock which serves him throughout the cold season.
"For several weeks in mid-winter, the dam was frozen over with ice strong enough to bear our weight; and we visited the houses of the beavers that stood up like so many hay-stacks. We found them so hard and firm, that we could climb upon them, and pounce down upon their tops, without the least danger of breaking them in. In fact, it would have been anything but an easy task to have opened one of them from above; and no animal—not even the wolverene with his crooked claws,— could have done it. We observed that in every case the doors were far below the ice, so that the entrance still remained open to the animals within; and, moreover, when any one stamped heavily upon the roof, through the clear ice we could see the frightened creatures making their escape by darting off into the water. Sometimes we remained to see if they would return, but in no instance did they come back. At the time we wondered at this—as we knew they could not possibly live under the ice, where there was no air. We soon found, however, that these cunning creatures knew what they were about; and that they had already provided means to escape from the danger of being drowned.
"Along one side of the dam there was a bank, that rose considerably above the water; and into this bank they had made large holes, or as they are termed 'washes.' These were so constructed that the entrances to them could not be frozen up; and we found that whenever the beavers were disturbed or frightened from their houses, they invariably betook themselves to these washes, where they could crawl quietly up above the surface of the water, and breathe in safety!
"This was the proper season to trap the beaver, as their fur is more valuable in winter than at any other time; but, as I have already said, it was not our intention to disturb them, until they should become very numerous.
"The ice upon the dam was exceedingly smooth, and of course suggested the idea of skates. Both Frank and Harry were very fond of this amusement, and, indeed, I was rather partial to it myself.
"Skates then must be had, at all cost, and again we had recourse to the bois d'arc, the wood of which was sufficiently light and compact for our purpose Cudjo, with his hammer and a good hickory-fire, soon drew out the shoeing for them, making it very thin—as our stock of iron consisted in what we had taken from the body of the wagon, and was of course very precious, and not to be wasted upon articles designed merely for amusement. However, we knew it would not be lost upon the skates; as we could take it from them, whenever we should want to apply it to a more useful purpose. In a short time, we had three pairs; and, strapping them firmly to our feet with strips of deerskin, were soon gliding over the dam, and spinning around the beaver-houses—no doubt to the great wonderment of such of the animals as came out under the ice to look at us. Mary, with Cudjo and the children, stood watching us from the shore, and clapping their hands with delight.
"With these and such-like innocent recreations, we passed the winter very agreeably. It was but a very short winter; and as soon as the spring returned, Cudjo, with his wooden plough, turned up our little field, and we planted our corn. It occupied nearly an acre of ground; and we had now the pleasant prospect that, in six weeks' time, we should gather about fifty bushels. We did not neglect our hundred grains of wheat, but sowed that carefully in a corner by itself. You may fancy that it did not take up much ground. Mary had also her garden, with beds of wild potatoes, and other roots, which she had discovered in the valley. One of these was the species of turnip already mentioned as the pomme-blanche, or Indian turnip. She had found wild onions too, which proved of great service in soup-making. In her garden were many others of which I only know the names; but three of them, the 'kamas,' the 'kooyah,' and 'yampah' roots are worth mentioning, as thousands of the miserable Indians who inhabit the American Desert subsist chiefly on them. The widely scattered tribes known as the 'Diggers,' take their name from the fact of their digging for, and living upon, these roots.
"The flowers now came out in full bloom; and some of the openings near the upper end of the valley were a sight to behold. They were literally covered with beautiful blossoms—malvas, cleomes, asclepiae, and helianthi. We frequently visited this part, making pic-nic excursions to all the places of note in our little dominion. The cataract where the stream dashed over the cliff, the salt spring, and such-like places, formed points of interest; and we rarely failed in any of these excursions to draw some useful lesson from the school of Nature. Indeed, Mary and I frequently designed them, for the purpose of instructing our children in such of the natural sciences as we ourselves knew. We had no books, and we illustrated our teachings by the objects around us.
"One day we had strayed up as usual among the openings. It was very early in the spring, just as the flowers were beginning to appear. We had sat down to rest ourselves in the middle of a glade, surrounded by beautiful magnolias. There was a bed of large blue flowers close by; and Frank, taking little Mary by the hand, had gone in among them to gather a bouquet for his mother. All at once the child uttered a scream, and then continued to cry loudly! Had she been bitten by a snake? Alarmed at the thought, we all started to our feet, and ran for the spot. The little creature still cried—holding out her hand, which we at once perceived was the seat of the pain. The cause of it was evident—she had been stung by a bee. No doubt she had clasped a flower, upon which some bee had been making his honey, and the angry insect had punished such a rude interference with his pleasures.
"As soon as the child had been pacified by a soothing application to the wound, a train of reflection occurred to the minds of all of us. 'There are bees, then, in the place,' said we. We had not known this fact before. In the autumn previous we had been too busy with other things to notice them; and of course during the winter season they were not to be seen. They were just now coming out for the early spring flowers.
"It was natural to infer, that where there were bees there should also be honey; and the word 'honey' had a magic sound in the ears of our little community. Bees and honey now became the topic of conversation; and not a sentence was uttered for some minutes that did not contain an allusion to bees or bees' nests, or bee-trees, or bee-hunters, or honey.
"We all scattered among the flowers to assure ourselves that it really was a bee, and not some rascally wasp that had wounded our little Mary. If it was a bee, we should find some of his companions roaming about among the blossoms of the helianthus.
"In a short time Harry was heard crying out, 'A bee!—a bee!' and almost at the same instant Frank shouted, 'Another!' 'Hya—hya!' cried Cudjo, 'yar's de oder one—see 'im!—biz-z-z. Gollies! how he am loaded with de wax!'
"Two or three others were now discovered, all busily plying their industrious calling; and proving that there was one hive, at least, in some part of the valley.
"The question now arose, how this hive was to be found? No doubt it was in some hollow tree—but how were we to find this tree, standing as it likely did among hundreds of others, and not differing from the rest in appearance? This was the question that puzzled us.
"It did not puzzle all of us though. Fortunately there chanced to be a bee-hunter among us—a real old bee-hunter, and that individual was our famous Cudjo. Cudjo had 'treed' bees many's the time in the woods of 'Ole Vaginny,' and cut down the trees too, and licked the honey—for Cudjo was as sweet upon honey as a bear. Yes, Cudjo had 'treed' bees many's the time, and knew how—that did Cudjo.
"We should have to return to the house, however, to enable him to make ready his implements; and as the day was now pretty far advanced, we determined to leave our bee-hunting for the morrow."
CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.
A GRAND BEE-HUNT.
"Next day we had a warm, sunshiny day—just such an one as would bring the bees out. After breakfast we all set forth for the openings, in high spirits at the prospect of the sport we should have. Harry was more eager than any of us. He had heard a good deal about bee-hunters; and was very desirous of knowing how they pursued their craft. He could easily understand that, when a bee-tree was once found, it could be cut down with an axe and split open, and the honey taken from it. All this would be very easily done. But how were bee-trees found? That was the puzzle; for, as I have before observed, these trees do not differ in appearance from others around them; and the hole by which the bees enter is usually so high up, that one cannot see these little insects from the ground. One might tell it to be a bee's nest, if his attention were called to it; for the bark around the entrance, like that of the squirrel's, is always discoloured, in consequence of the bees alighting upon it with their moist feet. But then one may travel a long while through the woods before chancing to notice this. Bee-trees are sometimes found by accident; but the regular bee-hunter does not depend upon this, else his calling would be a very uncertain one. There is no accident in the way he goes to work. He seeks for the nest, and is almost sure to find it—provided the ground be open enough to enable him to execute his manoeuvres. I may here remark that, wherever bees take up their abode, there is generally open tracts in their neighbourhood, or else flower-bearing trees—since in very thick woods under the deep dark shadow of the foliage, flowers are more rare, and consequently the food of the bees more difficult to be obtained. These creatures love the bright glades and sunny openings, often met with in the prairie-forests of the wild West.
"Well, as I have said, we were all eager to witness how our bee-hunter, Cudjo, would set about finding the bee-tree—for up to this time he had kept the secret to himself, to the great tantalisation of Harry, whose impatience had now reached its maximum of endurance. The implements which Cudjo had brought along with him—or as he called them, the 'fixins'—were exceedingly simple in their character. They consisted of a drinking-glass—fortunately we had one that had travelled safely in our great mess-chest—a cup-full of maple molasses, and a few tufts of white wool taken from the skin of a rabbit. 'How was he going to use these things?' thought Harry, and so did we all—for none of us knew anything of the process, and Cudjo seemed determined to keep quiet about his plans, until he should give us a practical illustration of them.
"At length we arrived at the glades, and entered one of the largest of them, where we halted. Pompo was taken from the cart, and picketed upon the grass; and we all followed Cudjo—observing every movement that he made. Harry's eyes were on him like a lynx, for he feared lest Cudjo might go through some part of the operation without his seeing or understanding it. He watched him, therefore, as closely as if Cudjo had been a conjuror, and was about to perform some trick. The latter said nothing, but went silently to work—evidently not a little proud of his peculiar knowledge, and the interest which he was exciting by it.
"There was a dead log near one edge of the opening. To this the bee-hunter proceeded; and, drawing out his knife, scraped off a small portion of the rough bark—so as to render the surface smooth and even. Only a few square inches of the log were thus polished and levelled. That would be enough for his purpose. Upon the spot thus prepared, he poured out a quantity of the molasses—a small quantity, forming a little circle about the size of a penny piece. He next took the glass, and wiped it with the skirt of his coat until it was as clear as a diamond. He then proceeded among the flowers in search of a bee.
"One was soon discovered nestling upon the blossom of a helianthus. Cudjo approached it stealthily, and with an adroit movement inverted the glass upon it, so as to inclose both bee and flower; at the same instant one of his hands—upon which was a strong buckskin glove—was slipped under the mouth of the glass, to prevent the bee from getting out; and, nipping the flower stalk between his fingers, he bore off both the bee and the blossom.
"On arriving at the log, the flower was taken out of the glass by a dexterous movement, and thrown away. The bee still remained, buzzing up against the bottom of the glass—which, of course, was now the top, for Cudjo had held it all the while inverted on his palm. The glass was then set upon the log, mouth downwards, so as to cover the little spot of molasses; and it was thus left, while we all stood around to watch it.
"The bee, still frightened by his captivity, for some time kept circling around the upper part of the glass—seeking, very naturally, for an egress in that direction. His whirring wings, however, soon came in contact with the top of the vessel; and he was flung down right into the molasses. There was not enough of the 'treacle' to hold him fast; but having once tasted of its sweets, he showed no disposition to leave it. On the contrary, he seemed to forget all at once that he was a captive; and thrusting his proboscis into the honeyed liquid, he set about drinking it like a good fellow.
"Cudjo did not molest him until he had fairly gorged himself; then, drawing him gently aside with the rim of the glass, he separated him from his banquet. He had removed his gloves, and cautiously inserting his naked hand he caught the bee—which was now somewhat heavy and stupid—between his thumb and forefinger. He then raised it from the log; and turning it breast upward, with his other hand he attached a small tuft of the rabbit wool to the legs of the insect. The glutinous paste with which its thighs were loaded enabled him to effect this the more easily. The wool, which was exceedingly light, was now 'flaxed out,' in order to make it show as much as possible, while, at the same time, it was so arranged as not to come in contact with the wings of the bee and hinder its flight. All this did Cudjo with an expertness which surprised us, and would have surprised any one who was a stranger to the craft of the bee-hunter. He performed every operation with great nicety, taking care not to cripple the insect; and, indeed, we did not injure it in the least—for Cudjo's fingers, although none of the smallest, were as delicate in the touch as those of a fine lady.
"When everything was arranged, he placed the bee upon the log again, laying it down very gently.
"The little creature seemed quite astounded at the odd treatment which it was receiving; and for a few seconds remained motionless upon the log; but a warm sunbeam glancing down upon it soon restored it to its senses; and perceiving that it was once more free, it stretched its translucent wings and rose suddenly into the air. It mounted straight upward, to a height of thirty or forty feet; and then commenced circling around, as we could see by the white wool that streamed after it.
"It was now that Cudjo's eyes rolled in good earnest. The pupils seemed to be dilated to twice their usual size, and the great balls appeared to tumble about in their sockets, as if there was nothing to hold them. His head, too, seemed to revolve, as if his short thick neck had been suddenly converted into a well-greased pivot, and endowed with rotatory motion!
"After making several circles through the air, the insect darted off for the woods. We followed it with our eyes as long as we could; but the white tuft was soon lost in the distance, and we saw no more of it. We noticed that it had gone in a straight line, which the bee always follows when returning loaded to his hive—hence an expression often heard in western America, the 'bee-line,' and which has its synonym in England in the phrase, 'as the crow flies.' Cudjo knew it would keep on in this line, until it had reached the tree where its nest was; consequently, he was now in possession of one link in the chain of his discovery—the direction of the bee-tree from the point where we stood.
"But would this be enough to enable him to find it? Evidently not. The bee might stop on the very edge of the woods, or it might go twenty yards beyond, or fifty, or perhaps a quarter of a mile, without coming to its tree. It was plain, then, to all of us, that the line in which the tree lay was not enough, as without some other guide one might have searched along this line for a week without finding the nest.
"All this knew Cudjo before; and, of course, he did not stop a moment to reflect upon it then. He had carefully noted the direction taken by the insect, which he had as carefully 'marked' by the trunk of a tree which grew on the edge of the glade, and in the line of the bee's flight. Another 'mark' was still necessary to record the latter, and make things sure. To do this, Cudjo stooped down, and with his knife cut an oblong notch upon the bark of the log, which pointed lengthwise in the direction the bee had taken. This he executed with great precision. He next proceeded to the tree which he had used as a marker, and 'blazed' it with his axe.
"'What next?' thought we. Cudjo was not long in showing us what was to be next. Another log was selected, at a point, at least two hundred yards distant from the former one. A portion of this was scraped in a similar manner, and molasses poured upon the clear spot as before. Another bee was caught, imprisoned under the glass, fed, hoppled with wool, and then let go again. To our astonishment, this one flew off in a direction nearly opposite to that taken by the former.
"'Neber mind,' said Cudjo, 'so much de better—two bee-tree better than one.'
"Cudjo marked the direction which the latter had taken, precisely as he had done with the other.
"Without changing the log a third bee was caught and 'put through.' This one took a new route, different from either of his predecessors.
"'Gollies! Massa!' cried Cudjo, 'dis valley am full ob honey. Three bee-trees at one stand!' and he again made his record upon the log.
"A fourth bee was caught, and, after undergoing the ceremony, let go again. This one evidently belonged to the same hive as the first, for we saw that it flew toward the same point in the woods. The direction was carefully noted, as before. A clue was now found to the whereabouts of one hive—that of the first and fourth bees. That was enough for the present. As to the second and third, the records which Cudjo had marked against them would stand good for the morrow or any other day; and he proceeded to complete the 'hunt' after the nest of Numbers 1 and 4.
"We had all by this time acquired an insight into the meaning of Cudjo's manoeuvres, and we were able to assist him. The exact point where the bee-tree grew was now determined. It stood at the point where the two lines made by bees, Numbers 1 and 4, met each other. It would be found at the very apex of this angle—wherever it was. But that was the next difficulty—to get at this point. There would have been no difficulty about it, had the ground been open, or so that we could have seen to a sufficient distance through the woods. This could have been easily accomplished by two of us stationing ourselves—one at each of the two logs—while a third individual moved along either of the lines. The moment this third person should appear on both lines at once, he would of course be at the point of intersection; and at this point the bee-tree would be found. I shall explain this by a diagram.
"Suppose that A and C were the two logs, from which the bees, Numbers 1 and 4, had respectively taken their flight; and suppose A B and C B to be the directions in which they had gone. If they went directly home— which it was to be presumed they both did—they would meet at their nest at some point B. This point could not be discovered by seeing the bees meeting at it, for they were already lost sight of at short distances from A and C. But without this, had the ground been clear of timber, we could easily have found it in the following manner:—I should have placed myself at log A, while Cudjo stationed himself at C. We should then have sent one of the boys—say Harry—along the line A D. This, you must observe, is a fixed line, for D was already a marked point. After reaching D, Harry should continue on, keeping in the same line. The moment, therefore, that he came under the eye of Cudjo—who would be all this while glancing along C E, also a fixed line—he would then be on both lines at once, and consequently at their point of intersection. This, by all the laws of bee-hunting, would be the place to find the nest; and, as I have said, we could easily have found it thus, had it not been for the trees. But these intercepted our view, and therein lay the difficulty; for the moment Harry should have passed the point D, where the underwood began, he would have been lost to our sight, and, of course, of no farther use in establishing the point B.
"For myself, I could not see clearly how this difficulty was to be got over—as the woods beyond D and E were thick and tangled. The thing was no puzzle to Cudjo, however. He knew a way of finding B, and the bee-tree as well, and he went about it at once.
"Placing one of the boys at the station A, so that he could see him over the grass, he shouldered his axe, and moved off along the line A D. He entered the woods at D, and kept on until he had found a tree from which both A and D were visible, and which lay exactly in the same line. This tree he 'blazed.' He then moved a little farther, and blazed another, and another—all on the continuation of the line A D—until we could hear him chopping away at a good distance in the woods. Presently he returned to the point E; and, calling to one of us to stand for a moment at C, he commenced 'blazing' backwards, on the continuation of C E. We now joined him—as our presence at the logs was no longer necessary to his operations.
"At a distance of about two hundred yards from the edge of the glade, the blazed lines were seen to approach each other. There were several very large trees at this point. Cudjo's 'instinct' told him, that in one of these the bees had their nest. He flung down his axe at length, and rolled his eyes upwards. We all took part in the search, and gazed up, trying to discover the little insects that, no doubt, were winging their way among the high branches.
"In a few moments, however, a loud and joyful exclamation from Cudjo proclaimed that the hunt was over—the bee-tree was found!
"True enough, there was the nest, or the entrance that led to it, away high up on a giant sycamore. We could see the discoloration on the bark caused by the feet of the bees, and even the little creatures themselves crowding out and in. It was a large tree, with a cavity at the bottom big enough to have admitted a full-sized man, and, no doubt, hollow up to the place where the bees had constructed their nest.
"As we had spent many hours in finding it, and the day was now well advanced, we concluded to leave farther operations for the morrow, when we should fell it, and procure the delicious honey. With this determination, and well satisfied with our day's amusement, we returned to our house."
CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.
A RIVAL HONEY-ROBBER.
"Now, there were some circumstances to be considered, before we could proceed any farther in the matter of the bees. How were we to get at the honey? 'Why, by felling the tree, and splitting it open, of course,' you will say. Well, that would have to be done, too; but there was still another consideration. It is no very difficult matter to fell a tree, and split it up—that is, when one has a good axe—but it is a very different affair to take the honey-combs from some eight or ten thousand bees, every one of them with a sharp sting in his tail. We had no brimstone; and if we had had such a thing, they were well out of the reach of it, while the tree stood; and after it should be felled, we could not approach them. They would then be furious to a certainty.
"But Cudjo's knowledge of bee-hunting extended farther than to the mere finding of the tree. He knew, also, how to humbug the bees, and rob them of their sweet honey. That was a part of the performance that Cudjo understood as well as any other. According to his directions, then, two pairs of stout buckskin gloves were prepared. We chanced to have one pair already, and Mary soon stitched up a second, of the kind generally used for weeding thistles—that is, having only a thumb, and a place for all the fingers together. One pair of the gloves Cudjo intended to use himself—the other was for me. Of course, the rest were to take no part in the robbery, but only to stand at a safe distance and look on.
"In addition to the gloves, a couple of masks were cut out of elk-hide, and with strings fitted to our faces. These, with our thick deerskin overcoats, would protect us against the stings of all the bees in creation.
"Thus accoutred, then, or rather taking these articles along with us, we set out for the bee-tree. Of course, everybody went as usual. We took with us the axe to cut down the tree, and several vessels to hold the honey.
"On arriving at the glade, we loosed Pompo out of the cart; and picketed him as we had done the day before. It would not do to bring him any nearer the scene of action, as the bees might take a fancy to revenge themselves by stinging him. We then took our 'fixings' from the cart, and proceeded to the tree. In a few moments we stood by its foot.
"On looking up we observed that there was an unusual commotion among the bees. They were whirring in large numbers around the entrance of their nest, and swarming out and in. As the day was very still, we could hear them buzzing loudly. What could it mean? Were they going to hive?
"Cudjo thought not. It was too early in the season for that. And yet their actions were strange. He could not understand it.
"'Dey look, Massa,' said he, after gazing at them for some moments, 'dey look zackly like some varmint war a-vexin' ob 'em.'
"So did they, but no 'varmint' appeared to be near their hole; and no animal, however thick in the skin, would have ventured into it, as we thought. The orifice was not over three inches in diameter, and we knew that neither squirrel, marten, nor weasel, would have dared to put a nose into it. What, then, could have so excited them?
"We observed that it was a warm day—the warmest we had had up to that time—and, probably, the beat had set them a-going. With this explanation, therefore, in the absence of a better, we remained satisfied; and commenced making our preparations to fell the tree.
"It was not likely to be a difficult job. The tree, as I have said, was a hollow one; and near the ground its trunk was nothing but a mere shell, which we could easily cut through. So Cudjo went lustily to work with his axe; and the white sycamore chips were soon flying in every direction.
"He had hardly made a dozen strokes, when we were startled by a singular noise, that sounded something like a 'cross' between a growl and a snort!
"Cudjo immediately suspended his blows; and we all stood gazing at each other with looks that betokened surprise and terror. I say terror— for the noise had something terrible in it; and we knew it could have proceeded from nothing else than some large and fierce animal. Whence did it come?—from the woods? We looked anxiously around us, but no motion could be observed in the bramble. The underwood was thin, and we could have seen a large animal at some distance, had such been there.
"Again the horrid sound echoed in our ears. It appeared to issue out of the earth! No—it came out of the tree!
"'Golly!' exclaimed Cudjo, 'it am a bar, Massa Roff! I know him growl.'
"'A bear!' I ejaculated, catching the thought at the same moment. 'A bear in the bee-tree! Run, Mary! Run for the glade!'—and I hurried my wife and children from the spot. Harry and Frank both wished to remain with their rifles, and I could hardly get them off. I induced them to go, at length, by telling them that they must stay near their mother and the little ones, to guard them in case the animal should come that way. All this occupied but a few seconds of time, and then Cudjo and I were left to ourselves.
"It was evident that a bear was up the hollow of the tree, and hence the flurry among the bees. Cudjo's axe had disturbed him—he was coming down!
"What was to be done? Could we not close up the hole? No—there was nothing—we should be too late!
"I seized my rifle, while Cudjo stood by with his axe. I cocked the piece, and made ready to fire the moment his head should appear. To our astonishment, instead of a head, a shapeless mass of shaggy, black hair made its appearance, which we saw was the rump and hind-quarters of the animal. He was coming down tail-foremost—although not a bit of tail was to be seen, for he had none.
"We did not stop to examine that. I fired as soon as his hips made their appearance, and almost at the same instant Cudjo dealt them a hearty blow with his axe. It was enough to have killed him, as we thought, but to our surprise the hind-quarters suddenly disappeared. He had gone up the tree again.
"What next?—would he turn himself in the hollow, and come down head-foremost? If so, my rifle was empty, and Cudjo might miss his blow, and let him pass out.
"All at once my eye fell upon the two great deerskin coats, that were lying on the ground close by. They would be large enough, properly rolled, to fill the mouth of the cavity. I threw aside my rifle, and laid hold of them. Cudjo assisted me. In a second or two, we had gathered them into a hard 'clump,' and wedged them into the hole. They fitted it exactly!
"We saw blood streaming down as we stuffed in the coats. The bear was wounded. It was not likely, then, that he would trouble us for a while; and as one watched the coats, the other brought up great stones, which we piled against them, until we had made all secure.
"We now ran around the tree, looking up the trunk, to assure ourselves that there was no opening above, through which he might creep out and come down upon us. No—there was none, except the bee-hole, and that was not big enough for his nose, sharp as it was. Bruin was fairly 'in the trap.'
"I knew that Mary and the rest would be uneasy about us; and I ran out to the glade to make known our success. The boys cheered loudly; and we all returned together to the tree, as there was now no danger—no more than if there hadn't been a bear nearer to us than the North Pole.
"We had him safe, so that there was no fear of his escaping. But how were we to get at him?—for we had determined to take his life. Such a fierce creature as this must not be allowed to get off; as he would soon have settled with one of us, had he met us on anything like equal terms. I had thought, at first, he might be a grizzly bear, and this had terrified me the more—for the killing of one of these fierce animals with a shot is next to an impossibility. When I reflected, however, I knew it could not be this; for the 'grizzly,' unlike his sable cousin, is not a tree-climber. It was the black bear, then, that we had got in the tree.
"But how were we to reach him? Leave him where he was, and let him starve to death? No, that would never do. He would eat all the fine stock of honey; if, indeed, he had not done so already. Moreover, he might scrape his way out, by enlarging the bee-hole. This he could do with his great sharp claws. We must therefore adopt some other plan.
"It occurred to us that it was just probable he might be down at the bottom, poking his nose against the coats. We could not tell, for there was no longer any growling. He was either too angry, or too badly scared to growl—we could not say which. At all events, he was not uttering a sound. He might, nevertheless, be as close to us at the moment as he could get. If so, our plan would be to cut a small hole in the tree above him, so that we might reach him with a bullet from the rifle. This plan was adopted, and Cudjo set to work to make the hole.
"In a few minutes the thin shell was penetrated, and we could see into the cavity. Bruin was nowhere visible—he was still up the tree. The 'taste of our quality,' which he had had on his first descent, had evidently robbed him of all inclination to try a second. What next?
"'Smoke 'im!' cried Cudjo; 'dat fotch 'im down.'
"The very thing: but how were we to do it? By pushing dead leaves and grass through the hole Cudjo had cut, and then setting them on fire. But our coats—they might be burned! These we could first remove, putting great stones in their place; and we proceeded to do so. In a few minutes that was accomplished: the grass and leaves were staffed in; some tufts were set on fire and thrust through; more rubbish was piled on top, until it reached up on a level with the hole; and then the hole was closed with a bundle of grass, so as to prevent the smoke from escaping.
"In a few moments we saw that everything was progressing as we had intended it. A blue rope of smoke came oozing out of the bee-hole, and the terrified bees swarmed out in clusters. We had not thought of this before, else we might have saved ourselves the trouble of making the gloves and masks.
"Bruin soon began to give tongue. We could hear him high up the tree snarling and growling fiercely. Every now and then he uttered a loud snort, that sounded like an asthmatic cough. After a while his growls changed into a whine, then a hideous moan, and then the sounds ceased altogether. The next moment we heard a dull concussion, as of a heavy body falling to the earth. We knew it was the bear, as he tumbled from his perch.
"We waited for some minutes. There was no longer any stir—no sound issued from the tree. We removed the grass from the upper hole. A thick volume of smoke rolled out. The bear must be dead. No creature could live in such an atmosphere. I introduced my ramrod through the opening. I could feel the soft hairy body of the animal, but it was limber and motionless. It was dead. Feeling convinced of this, at length, we removed the rocks below, and dragged it forth. Yes, the bear was dead,—or, at all events, very like it; but, to make the thing sure, Cudjo gave him a knock on the head with his axe. His long, shaggy hair was literally filled with dead and dying bees, that, like himself, had been suffocated with the smoke, and had fallen from their combs.
"We had hardly settled the question of the bear, when our attention was called to another circumstance, which was likely to trouble us. We perceived that the tree was on fire. The decayed heart-wood that lined the cavity inside had caught fire from the blazing grass, and was now crackling away like fury. Our honey would be lost!
"This was a grievous finale, after all—in short, a complete disappointment to our hopes, for we had calculated on having honey on our table at supper.
"What could we do to save it? But one thing, that was evident:—cut down the tree as quickly as possible, and then cut it through again between the fire and the bees' nest.
"Should we have time for all this? The fire was already high up; and the draught, since we had opened the holes below, whizzed up the cavity as through a funnel.
"Seeing this, we closed them again; and Cudjo went to work with his axe, cutting all around the tree. And the way he did ply that axe! he seemed to have a wager against time. It was beautiful to see the style in which the chips flew!
"At length the tree began to crack, and we all stood out from it, except Cudjo, who understood which way it would fall, and was not afraid of being crushed. Not he! for Cudjo could 'lay' a tree wherever it was wanted to the breadth of a hair.
"'Cr-r-r-ack!—cr-r-r-r-ash!' said the great sycamore, and down it came, shivering its branches into an hundred sticks as it fell.
"It had scarcely touched the ground, when we saw Cudjo attack it at another point with his axe, as though it were some great monster, and he trying to cut off its head.
"In a few minutes more he had laid open the cavity, close to the combs; and, to our great satisfaction, we saw that the fire had not yet reached them. They were well smoked, however, and completely deserted by the bees; so that we used neither our masks nor gloves in gathering the honey. Bruin had been before us, but he had not been long at his meal when we intruded upon him, as only one or two of the combs were missing. Enough was left. It was evidently a very old hive, and there was honey enough to fill all the vessels we had brought with us.
"We bundled the bear into the cart—as his hams and skin were worth the trouble—and leaving the old sycamore to burn out, we turned our faces homeward."
CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.
THE BATTLE OF THE BUCKS.
"The main object we had in view was not yet accomplished. With the exception of our flock of turkeys, none of the pets we had tamed could contribute to our support. We wished to capture some of the deer species, and for this purpose we had thought of various expedients. We had seen the fawns once or twice following their mothers; but we had failed in coming up with them, although we had made several hunting excursions for that purpose. At length, however, instead of a fawn, we very unexpectedly captured a couple of old bucks, of the red-deer species. The circumstances of this capture were somewhat singular; and I shall detail them minutely as they occurred.
"We had gone out one day, Harry and myself, in search of the deer, and in hopes that we might be able to start, run down a fawn with the dogs, and take it alive. For this we had muzzled both, so that they should not tear the fawn when they came up with it—as I had often seen greyhounds muzzled at home for the same purpose. We went up the valley, where we should be most likely to fall in with the objects of our search; but not knowing how soon a deer might start out of the bushes, we walked along very silently and slowly, watching the woods before us, and listening to every sound. At length we arrived near the edge of a small opening, as we could tell by the clear breaks through the branches. It was in these glades or openings that we usually fell in with the deer; and we advanced with increased caution, each of us holding a dog in the leash which we had made for them. All at once a singular noise reached our ears, evidently coming from the glade. It sounded as if several large animals were stamping furiously over the firm turf; but in the midst of this there was a constant cracking of some hard substances, as if half-a-dozen men were playing with eagerness at the game of single-stick. Every now and then we could hear a strange sound, short and fierce, like the snorting of a horse. Of course, Harry and I stopped in our tracks the moment we first heard these singular noises. Our dogs cocked their ears, and wanted to spring forward; but we held them both tightly on their strings, while we listened. For the life of us, neither I nor my companion could guess what was going on in the glade.
"'What can it be, papa?' said Harry.
"'I haven't the slightest idea,' replied I.
"'It must be animals,' said he, 'and a good many of them, too, to make so much stamping. Papa, is not that the snort of a deer? I think I have heard deer make just such a noise.'
"'Maybe it is. Perhaps it may be elk; but what can cause such a commotion among them, I wonder?'
"'What think you,' suggested Harry, 'if they are fighting with some animal—a panther, or perhaps a bear?'
"'If so,' said I, 'our best plan would be to get back the road we came, and that as speedily as possible. But I do not think it is that. They would not stand to fight such creatures. Both elk and deer trust to their heels rather than horns to escape from bears and panthers. No, it is not that; but let us creep forward, and see what it is, anyhow. Hold fast to your dog. Come!'
"We crouched forward with the utmost caution, taking care not to tread upon the dry leaves and dead branches that lay across our track. We saw before us a thicket of pawpaws; and we made towards this—knowing that the broad green leaves of these bushes would screen us. We were soon among them; and a few paces farther through the thicket brought us in full view of the glade. There we saw what had caused all the strange noises, and which still continued as loud as ever.
"In the middle of the glade there were six red-deer. They were all bucks, as we could easily tell from their great branching antlers. They were engaged in fierce and terrible conflict—sometimes two and two, and sometimes three or four of them, clumped together in a sort of general melee. Then they would separate again; and going some distance apart, would wheel suddenly about, and rush at each other with furious snorts— first striking forward with their forefeet held close together, and then goring one another with their sharp horns, until we could see the skin torn open, and the hair flying from them in tufts. Their eyes were flashing like fire, and their whole actions betokened that the animals were filled with rage and fury.
"I saw at once what all this meant. It was now the rutting season; and these chivalrous bucks were engaged in desperate combat about some fair doe, as is their yearly habit.
"They were too distant for either Harry's rifle or mine; and thinking they might fight themselves a little nearer, we determined to remain where we were, and watch. The combat continued to rage furiously. Sometimes a pair of them came together with such violence that both went rolling over to the earth; but in a moment they would up, and at it again, as fiercely as ever.
"Our attention was particularly directed to two of the combatants, that were larger and older than any of the others—as we could tell from the greater number of points upon their antlers. None of the others seemed a match for either of these two, who had at length singled each other out as worthy antagonists, and fought separately. After goring and stamping a while, they parted—as if by mutual consent—and walked backward until they had got at least twenty yards from each other. Then setting their necks, and putting all their energy into the rush, they dashed forward, and met head to head, like a couple of rams. There was a terrible crashing among their antlers; and Harry and I looked to see whether a pair of them had not been knocked off in the concussion; but it appeared not. After this, the two struggled for a while, and then suddenly paused—still head to head—as though by a tacit agreement, in order to take breath. For some moments they stood quietly in this attitude, and then once more commenced struggling. After a while they stopped again, still keeping their heads together, so that their red expanded nostrils steamed into each other. We thought that they fought quite differently from all the rest; but our eyes were now drawn to the others, who were getting nearer us; and we prepared our rifles to receive them. At length several came within range; and, each of us choosing one, we fired almost simultaneously. At the double crack one of the bucks fell; and the other three, on perceiving the common enemy, immediately desisted from their mutual warfare, and bounded off like lightning. Harry and I rushed forward, as we had fired; and thinking that the deer which we had missed—it was Harry's miss that time—might be wounded, we unmuzzled the dogs, and let them after. Of course, we had stooped down to perform this operation. What was our surprise, on looking up again, to see the two old bucks still in the glade, and fighting, head to head, as briskly as ever!
"Our first thought was to reload our pieces, but the dogs had been let loose; and these, instead of pursuing the other deer, dashed forward at the bucks, and the next moment sprang upon their flanks. Harry and I rushed after, and you may guess that our surprise was still further increased when we saw the bucks, instead of separating, still struggle head to head—as if their desperate hostility for each other had rendered them reckless of every other danger! When we got forward to the spot, the mastiffs had brought both of them to their knees; and now for the first time we perceived the true cause why they had continued their singular combat—because they could not help themselves—their antlers were locked in each other! Yes,—held as firmly as if they had been lashed together by thongs cut out of their own hides. Indeed, far more firmly, for after we had beaten off the dogs, and secured the animals from the chance of escaping, we found their horns so interlocked—one pair within the other—that we could not separate them with all our efforts. We had sadly wronged the poor old bucks, in believing them so desperately pugnacious. Their hostile feelings for each other had long since ceased—no doubt the moment they found themselves in such a terrible fix—and they now stood, nose to nose, quite frightened-like, and 'down in the mouth,' as if vexed at the mess they had got themselves into by their bad behaviour.
"Harry and I, after much pulling and hammering, found it quite impossible to make two of them. The antlers, which, as you know, are elastic, had bent with the terrible concussion we had witnessed; and it was far beyond our strength to bend them back again. In fact, nothing but a machine of horsepower could have accomplished that. I sent my companion, therefore, after Cudjo and his handsaw—at the same time directing him to bring the horse and cart, for the carcass of the buck we had shot, as well as some ropes for our captives. While he was gone, I employed my time in skinning the dead animal, leaving his live companions to themselves: I had no fear of their being able to escape. Cowed and sullen as both of them looked, it was well for them—since we did not mean to butcher them—that we had arrived upon the ground as we did. Otherwise their fate was a settled one. The wolves, or some other of their numerous enemies, would have treated them worse than we intended to do; or even had they not been discovered by these, their doom was sealed all the same. They might have twisted and wriggled about for a few days longer, to die of thirst and hunger, still looked in that hostile embrace. Such is the fate of many of these animals.
"Cudjo soon arrived with the necessary implements; and, after hobbling both the bucks, we sawed one of the branches from their antlers, and set them asunder. We then put all three into the cart, and returned triumphant to the house."
CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.
"Cudjo had already completed our deer-park, which consisted of several acres, partly woodland and part of it being in the glade immediately adjoining the house. It was enclosed on all sides by a ten-rail fence, with stakes and riders, so that no animal of the deer species could possibly leap out of it. One of its sides lay along the lake; and a trench had been cut, so as to admit a small pond of water within the enclosure. Into this our bucks were put, and left to enjoy themselves as they best might.
"The next anxiety of Harry and myself was to procure a doe or two to keep them company. There was no likelihood that we should capture a pair of does as we had just done the bucks—since the does or this species of deer are without the great antlers. How then should we get hold of one? That was what puzzled us, and set all our wits to work.
"As we sat around the log-fire in the evenings we talked the matter over and over again. We might shoot one that had the fawns following at her heels; and we knew we could then easily take them—as these affectionate little creatures always remain by their mother, even after she has fallen by the bullet of the hunter's rifle. But this was a cruel expedient; and mamma, who of course overheard us planning the thing, at once entered her protest against it. So, too, did Frank, for he was of a very gentle nature; and, as you might say, could not endure to see a fly killed, except when strict necessity required it. Yet, withal, this same Frank, and mamma, who were entomologists, as well as ornithologists and botanists, had killed many a fly—as might be seen by looking at a large frame hung against the wall, where all sorts of flies, and moths, and great bright butterflies, were impaled upon the sharp thorns of the locust. I am afraid that neither mamma nor Frank could have defended the point very gracefully with so contradictory an argument hanging against the wall. Harry and I, however, did not contemplate the adoption of this plan—as we knew that the fawns would be a long time in growing up, and we wanted an old doe or two at once.
"'Can we not trap them?' asked Harry. 'Why not take them in a trap, as Frank did the turkeys?'
"'I am afraid you would not easily get deer into such a trap as that where the turkeys were caught.'
"'But, papa,' continued Harry, 'I have read of other kinds of traps. One I remember well. It is made by building a large enclosure just like our park, only leaving a gap; and then having two fences that run out from this gap far into the woods, and opening like the legs of a pair of compasses. The deer are driven between these two fences, and into the gap, when the hunters follow and close them in. I think that looks very easy to be done. How if we try it?'
"'It would not do at all. In the first place, it would take us several weeks to split rails enough to make the fences sufficiently long; and, secondly, we should require men, and dogs, and horses more than we have, to run the deer in the right direction. All this we might manage, it is true, by undergoing a great deal of trouble; but I think I know a sort of trap that will serve our purpose better.'
"'Oh, you do. I am glad. What kind, papa?'
"'You remember where we noticed so many deer tracks running between two large trees?'
"'Yes, yes, near the salt spring. You said it was a path used by the deer and other animals, when they went to lick the salt from the rocks below.'
"'Well—between those two trees let us dig a pit, and cover it over with branches, and grass, and leaves. Then we shall see. What think you?'
"'Oh, a pit-trap! that's the very thing!'
"Next morning, with our spade and axe, Cudjo, Pompo, and the cart, we set forth. We were soon upon the ground, and commenced operations. We first marked out the size of the pit—which was to be eight feet long, and to extend in width from tree to tree, as near to both as we could conveniently get for the great roots. Cudjo then set to work with his spade, while I handled the axe and cut off the spreading roots as they were laid bare. Harry, meanwhile, employed himself with the hatchet in getting long slender saplings and canes to cover in the pit. We threw the earth into the cart, and hauled it off some distance into the woods—taking care not to spill much of it around the place. Fortunately the ground was very soft and easily dug up, so that in about five hours' time we had excavated a square hole, at least seven feet deep. This would do, thought we. No deer could leap out of that hole, we were certain.
"We now placed the saplings across the top, and over these a thin stratum of cane-reeds, and above all this a quantity of long grass and withered leaves—so as to make it look as like as possible to the rest of the surface around it. We then removed the clods, and other marks of our work, put our implements into the cart, and started off home again. Of course we could do nothing more than wait, until some unlucky deer should drop into the pit.
"By sunrise on the following morning, we paid a visit to our trap. As we drew near, we saw to our great joy that the top was broken in.
"'We have caught something, papa,' said Harry as we ran eagerly up to the ground. What was our astonishment, on looking into the pit, to see lying along the bottom the naked skeleton of an animal, which we knew at once was that of a deer! We knew this by the horns, as well as pieces of the torn skin that were strewed all over the ground. All around the inside of the trap there were evidences of some terrible struggle that had taken place during the night; and the reeds and grass that had fallen in along with the animal were sprinkled with blood, and trampled down upon the bottom of the pit.
"'What can it be?' inquired Harry, as we stood gazing at this unexpected picture. 'Ha! papa, I'll wager it was the wolves!'
"'No doubt,' replied I; 'it must have been they. The buck has fallen in during the night; and they have just leaped down upon, and made a meal of him.'
"'Isn't it too bad,' said Harry, in a tone of vexation, 'that we should have constructed so fine a trap just to accommodate those rascally wolves? Isn't it too bad?'
"'Have a little patience,' said I, 'we shall see what can be done to punish the ravenous brutes. Run back to the house, and bring Cudjo, with his cart and tools—be sure you tell him to bring the large basket.'
"In a short time Cudjo came with his spade and cart, and we get freshly to work upon the pit. It was now so deep that we had to use the large willow-basket which Cudjo had made some time before. This we slung upon a thong of deer's hide; and lowering it into the pit, we filled it with the earth, drew it up again, and emptied it into the cart. It was somewhat laborious work; and Cudjo and I took turns about with the basket and spade. After a couple of hours or so, we had added four feet to the depth of our pit, which made it twelve in all. Of course we cut the sides as nearly perpendicular as we could—if anything a little hanging over. We covered it as before, putting fresh leaves and grass on the top of all.
"'Now,' said we to one another, as we marched off, 'let us see the wolf that will leap out of that, should he be only fool enough to drop into it. He may kill the deer while he is in, but we shall do the same for him in the morning.'
"Next morning we started forth again, big with expectation. Our whole party went,—Frank, Mary, and the little ones,—as they were all eager to see the trap, and whether we had taken anything. Cudjo brought with him his long spear, while Harry and I carried our rifles. Frank armed himself with his bow. We were prepared for the wolves every way.
"As we drew near the trap, Harry, who had gone a few paces in advance of the rest, came running back to announce that the top was broken in, and that there was some animal inside. This was great news; and we all hurried forward, filled with the excitement of expectation. We were soon upon the spot, and looking down into the pit. The hole that had been made through the grass covering was not a very large one, and it appeared quite dark inside; but in the midst of the darkness we could distinguish the shining eyes of animals. There were more than one pair—there were several—all looking up at us and glittering like coals of fire! 'What sort could they be?' asked we of one another. 'Were they wolves? Yes, they must be wolves.'
"Putting the rest to one side, I knelt down, and stretching my neck over the hole, looked steadily in. I was not long in this position until I counted no less than six pairs of eyes; and, to my great surprise, these eyes were of various shapes and colours. The trap appeared to be full of animals of all sorts!
"At this moment the thought entered my head that there might be a panther among the rest; and as I knew that he could easily spring out, I became somewhat alarmed, and hastily rose to my feet. I directed Mary to get into the cart along with the children; and we then led them off to some distance out of the way, until we should assure ourselves as to what sort of creatures were our captives. We returned to the trap, and cautiously removing a quantity of the grass so as to admit the light, we again looked down. To our great delight the first animal we could distinguish was the very one for which we had made the pit—a red doe— and still better, among her legs we saw two beautiful spotted creatures of a light cinnamon colour, which we at once recognised as fawns. We then looked around the pit for the others whose eyes I had seen; and there, crouching in the darkest corners, we saw three bodies of a reddish-brown colour, closely squatted like so many foxes. But they were not foxes—they were wolves, as we knew well—three wolves of the barking or prairie species. They were not likely to bark much more, although they howled a bit, as Cudjo reached them with his long spear, and finished them in a trice.
"Mary was now brought back; and Cudjo, descending into the pit, secured the doe and fawns which were soon hoisted up, and put into the cart. The wolves were also flung out and dragged off to some distance; and the trap was again put in order for farther captures after which we all returned to our house, pleased with the valuable addition we had made to our stock. We were not much less pleased at having destroyed the three wolves—for these animals were very plenty in the valley, and ever since our arrival had caused us much annoyance. A piece of meat could not be left outside without being carried off by them; and even since the capture of our two bucks, they had several times chased them through the park, until the noise made by the snorting of the latter had brought our dogs, and some of us along with them, to their rescue.
"But the most curious circumstance connected with this affair was, why these wolves had left the doe and her fawns unmolested. They could have killed the three in a moment's time, yet not a hair was ruffled upon any of them! This strange conduct on the part of the wolves puzzled us all at the time; and we could not offer even a probable conjecture as to its cause. We found it out afterwards, however, when we became better acquainted with the nature of these animals. We found that of the wild creatures that inhabited our valley, the prairie wolf was by far the most sagacious of all. Even sly Reynard himself, who has been so long famous for his craft and cunning, is but a stupid when compared to his own cousin, the barking wolf. This we proved satisfactorily, when we endeavoured afterwards to trap these animals. We first tried them with a 'cage-trap,' similar to that which Frank had used in taking his turkeys. We baited it inside with a nice piece of venison; but although we saw tracks all around, and particularly on that side nearest to the bait, not one of the wolves had cared to venture up the funnel-shaped entrance. We next laid a bait with snares around it, made out of the sinews of the deer. We found the bait gone, and the snares gnawed to pieces, as though the rats had done it; but we knew by the tracks that it was no other animals than the prairie wolves. Our next attempt was with a 'figure-of-four' trap. It was constructed with a large shallow crate, made of split rails, and set leaning diagonally with its mouth downwards. It was held in that position with a regular staying and triggers—just as Frank and Harry used to set their traps to catch small birds. The bait was placed underneath upon the staying, in the most tempting manner we could think of. On returning to examine our trap in the morning, we saw as we came near that it was down. We have caught one of them at last, thought we. What was our astonishment to find, on the contrary, that there was no wolf under the trap, and, moreover, that the bait was gone! This was easily explained. A large hole had been scraped under the trap, which, running for some distance underground, came out upon the outside. But the most singular part of the business was, that this hole had evidently been burrowed before the trigger had been touched, or the trap had fallen! We could tell this, because the hole was made from the outside, and through it the animal had most likely entered. Of course, in laying hold of the bait, the trigger was sprung, and the trap fell; but it was of no use then, as the wolf had only to crawl out through the subterranean road he had made, dragging the meat along with him!
"We again tried the 'pit-trap'—although we still had the one which we had made near the salt springs, and in which we afterwards from time to time caught deer and other animals, but no wolves. We made another, however, at a different part of the valley, near some caves where we knew the wolves were in great plenty. We baited this, first placing some venison upon the covering of leaves, and afterwards putting one of our live bucks into the pit; but in both cases the bait remained untouched, although we had sufficient evidence that wolves had been around it all the night.
"We were very much chagrined by these numerous disappointments, as we wanted to thin off the wolves as much as possible. We occasionally shot an odd one or two; but we as often missed them; and we could not afford to waste our powder and lead upon them. Cudjo, however, did the business at last, by constructing a trap such as he said he had often caught raccoons with in 'old Vaginny.' This was arranged something on the principle of the wire mouse-trap; and the spring consisted in a young tree or sapling bent down and held in a state of tension until the trigger was touched, when it instantly flew up, and a heavy log descended upon whatever animal was at the bait, crushing or killing it instantly. By means of Cudjo's invention we succeeded in taking nearly a dozen of our skulking enemies in the course of a few nights, after which time they grew so shy, that they would not approach anything at all that looked like a 'fixture,' and for a long while we could trap no more of them.
"Of course all these incidents occurred afterwards, but they convinced us that it was owing to their great sagacity, why the three we had killed in the pit had left undisturbed the doe and her fawns. They were no doubt the same that had eaten the buck on the night before. They had found him in a shallow pit, out of which, after making their supper upon him, they had easily escaped. Returning again next night, they had watched until the doe and her fawns came along and dropped into the pit; and then, without dreaming of any change in the circumstances of the case, the wolves had leaped in after. But the increased descent down which they had pitched, convinced these wary animals that they had 'leaped without looking,' and were 'in the trap' themselves; and, guessing that whoever had made that trap would soon be alongside, they were as much frightened as the poor doe. In this state we had actually found them—cowering and crouching, and more scared-like than the fawns themselves. You will think this a very improbable relation, yet it is quite true. An equally improbable event occurred not long after. Frank caught a large fox and a turkey in his trap; and although they had been together for some hours, not a feather of the turkey was plucked by its affrighted neighbour!
"I have also heard of a panther, who, by the sudden rising of a flood, had found himself upon a small islet in company with a deer; and although at any other time his first instinct would have led him to pounce upon the deer, yet the poor thing was allowed to run about without its fierce companion making any attempt to molest it. The panther saw that he and the deer were equally in peril; and a common danger among the wild animals—as among men—frequently changes foes into friends."
CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT.
THE OLD "'POSSUM" AND HER KITTENS.
"The next adventure which befell us was near having a more serious termination. This time Frank was my companion, while Harry remained at home with his mother. Our errand was to procure some of the long Spanish moss that grew upon the live-oaks in the lower end of the valley. This moss, when smoked and cleansed of the leaves and pieces of bark that adhere to it, makes most excellent stuffing for bed-mattresses—in fact, almost equal to curled hair—and for this purpose we wanted it. We did not take the cart, as Cudjo had Pompo in the plough, preparing a large tract for our second crop of corn. We only carried with us a couple of raw-hide ropes, intending to bring home good burdens of the moss upon our rock.
"We travelled on down the valley, looking for a tree with moss upon it, that we could climb. At length, almost close to the foot of the cliff, we chanced upon a very large live-oak, with low branches, from which the long, silvery moss was hanging down in streamers, like the tails of horses. We soon stripped off what was on the lower branches; and then, climbing up on these, proceeded to rob the others, that were higher, of their long stringy parasites.
"While thus engaged, our attention was attracted to the chirping and chattering of some birds in a thicket of pawpaws close to our tree. We looked in that direction, and we could see down into the thicket very plainly from where we stood among the branches. We saw that the birds making the noise were a pair of orioles, or 'Baltimore birds,' as they are often called, from the fact that, in the early settlements, their colour—a mixture of black and orange—was observed to be the same as that in the coat-of-arms of Lord Baltimore. Frank and I conjectured that they must have a nest among the pawpaws, for they had scolded us as we were passing through but a moment before. But what were they scolding at now? asked we of one another—for the birds were fluttering among the broad green leaves, uttering their shrill screams, and evidently under great excitement. We left off gathering our moss, and stood for a moment to see what it was all about.