The Dungarvan Whooper
ACROSS the face of nature strode McTaggart, a gallant figure in the foreground. Through a vent in the top of his hat a tuft of sandy hair arose like a sprig of sorrel, while over his breast one red suspender was latticed in relief as vivid as a ribbon of the Bath upon the breast of nobility. But what cared McTaggart for splendor of raiment ? His trousers, overwrought by adventures with the windfalls, flapped their pennants about his legs, and a jail delivery of his toes seemed impending through the holes in his moose-hide moccasins. His manner, however, with all the woe of his garments, was gayety itself, and in one hand he flourished a fish spear, — three iron prongs upon an ashen staff. Cautiously, with catlike steps, he walked out upon the sluiceway and, peering into the pool below, scanned the depths as one glances down a bill of fare in search of a dinner; for thus McTaggart prepared to dine.
“ Ay,” he cried with glee, “ a fat fish and a big un ! ”
Lewis — frayed and weather-beaten like his companion — looked up from his work in the canoe, and threw back a sarcastic comment.
“ Stab him, then, ye thief ; or if he sees ye he 'll scoot, and we ’ll be to bed liungrylike ! ”
Now, even out into the wilderness the laws of her Majesty’s province reach a jealous hand. Without payment for the privilege, you shall not take her fish, nor shall you kill her game. Also, under no circumstance, shall you stab salmon with a spear. It is a misdemeanor, — brother to a felony, almost, — but what cared McTaggart for that ? It was from Wiggin, lessee of the salmon water, that he was poaching; and between them no love was lost. Here, by a sharp and graceless trick, the newcomer had bought the river rights, thus ousting Burling, who long had held the lease. Friendship runs deep in the woods, and Burling was the friend of McTaggart, — his patron and employer, — so McTaggart consoled his respect for the law with the idea that to steal Wiggin’s fish was fine poetic justice. Moreover, he and Lewis were in need of food, in itself a sufficient reason. He raised his arm, his eye upon the salmon scouring the gravel below, and at this instant Lewis called out in alarm : —
“ Sawny, quick ! Here’s Wiggin ! ”
But the spear had driven downward, McTaggart, with a grunt, striving against the frantic writhing of the transfixed fish. Then, with a dexterous flirt of the elbow, he started the salmon upward, and landed it gasping and quivering upon the sluiceway.
“ Leave it! ” cried Lewis, “ leave it! ”
McTaggart was not of that kind. But he had worked for his dinner, and would have it even in the face of Wiggin and of all the statutes of the Dominion. He clutched the fish by the gills, leaped for the canoe, and a moment later the bark dipped over the brink of the pitch and ran its frightened course among the rapids.
A cry told that they were pursued. They saw the lessee and his warden, Gower, launch their canoe in the eddy and ply after them with eager effort. Bending to the paddles, they urged their craft along until, rounding a turn in the stream, they plunged into the mouth of a bogan, and were hidden from view. But still, with galloping strokes, they pushed onward, resting only when a long stretch of dead water lay between them and the river.
“ Ugh!” grunted McTaggart, “ did ye hear ’em holler ? ’T was like the Whooper — ay ? ”
“ The Dungarvan Whooper ye ’re meanin’, Sawny ? Like enough it was. I hear tell, man, too, that the Whooper’s come back to the upper Miramichi. It’s sore for the man that meets him, or Wiggin, ayther.”
McTaggart leaned back to laugh, hooting in derision at Lewis’s misgiving tone. “ Pish, Reddy ! Ye ’re that much of a born fool ye’d be hearkenin’ to the last ole woman’s tale to be settin’ ye dramin’ the weeks to come. The Whooper — fiddlesticks ! ”
“ No sich at all,” — this in protesting key. “Ye’ll be sayin’ next there’s no sich as the bogy. Ye ’ll hole yer tongue, Sawny McTaggart, in the face of others better inf-armed and ov longer experience. Wit’ these eyes I have nex’ to seen the Whooper, and was it not me, — ay, I ask it, — was it not me that found Tighe the teamster dead in the snow wit’ a horrid light in his eyes that ’ll be lookin’ heavenward till the last angel trumps ? ”
McTaggart scoffed him idly, for the tale was not new. At every hovel along the river, in every camp in the forest, along the logging roads and on the spring drive, it had been told with all its variations. At every fireside, woodsmen whispered the deeds of the something that went galloping through the forest aisles, grim and grotesquely crying, whooping into the distance. There were stories — detailed and sinister — of men left out overnight; of the brush crackling with a heavy tread, of an unseen horror that shrieked when disturbed. Half-breed, Indian, white, all had their tales to toll, some braggartly scornful, others tremulous with fright. Tighe they always told of, — Tighe, the teamster, found dead in a winter logging road, a red mark across his throat, and, far down in a black cedar swamp, the sound of awful derision. McTaggart shuddered mockingly while Lewis rounded up the story.
“ Horrid, Reddy, and may the Whooper get Wiggin for his sins ! But ’twixt the two, lad, ye ’ll be losin’ yer wits to a cat owl. Ay, man, but I think — Ho ! what’s that ? ”
A crackling in the brush broke the silence as some heavy body lunged through the brake. McTaggart, with an exclamation, seized the fish spear, while Lewis, pale-faced, crouched in the canoe. They listened intently, the brush crashing anew.
“ Ah-r ! Look at there ! ”
McTaggart pointed the spear toward the forest edge. A black bulk stepped out striding down the bog growth, — a moose, a big bull! But here, high up in the New Brunswick wilds, a moose is a familiar of the solitude. It was the size of this bull, the width and breadth of his growing antlers, that transfixed them with amazement. It was a bull moose, such as the two had rarely seen; and silent in admiration their glittering eyes took in its unmatched bigness. At the shoulder it stood higher than a workhorse, — black, blurred with the mud of a noonday wallow, in its uncouth greatness it seemed a stray from the primeval ages. Its square gray muffle, tentatively trying the air, swung from side to side ; then, as if assured of safety, it crashed down the bank, plunging to its flanks in the muddy run.
“ Reddy, Reddy, will ye look ! ” McTaggart cried under his breath. " D’ye see the sear on the shoulder, forrard, eh ? D’ ye mind the Wabsky — the one down there Burling shot at ? Ay, ’t is him, the beauty ! ”
A long, narrow blaze, half hidden by the hair, showed upon the shoulder, — the mark of an old bullet wound. Dipping to his crest in the muddy run, grunting and guzzling in his hunger, the moose began his evening meal; and while his head was lowered beneath the surface McTaggart pushed the canoe along, the water whispering under the prow. He was bound to have a nearer view, though Lewis, in the bow, felt his fears grow painful as they glided down upon the feeding lord of the swamps. Stroke by stroke they drew nearer, McTaggart murmuringin admiration. The moose looked up, a slow suspicion manifest as he turned his head along his flank looking backward toward the canoe. For a moment he stood motionless in stupid fright; then an angry terror transformed him. They saw the hair of his hump rise bristling, he snorted and plunged around.
“ Look out ! ” exclaimed Lewis, launching himself backward on his elbows ; “ look out! He 'll run us down ! ”
A swift stroke of the paddle drove the canoe aside, and at this, the bull’s boldness deserting him, he wore around heavily and scrambled up the bank. Breasting frantically through the brush, his antlers guarded on his shoulders, he shuffled along toward the forest, and, with a final crash of deadwood, swung away into the safe haven of the woods. For some time the two men sat there silent and wondering, while far beyond in the further fastnesses of the bush the panic-stricken lord of the solitudes fled with swinging strides.
“ I ’ll mind him when the season opens!” cried Lewis, slatting the gunwale with a heavy hand. “ Them horns then ’ll be worth the price of a quarter’s wages o’ work. That’s my moose yon ! ”
McTaggart glared at this with uncompromising severity.
“ Ye’ll forgit them words, Reddy Lewis, and it’s no sich thing. Him yon is Burling’s moose, and if ye offer wunst to draw sight on him in these here patch o’ woods, ye ’re no longer friend o’ mine. D’ ye hear ? ”
Lewis heard, and his jaw fell. “ Five feet and a half them horns spread, and I’d like they was mine. But as you say, — as you say, — him’s Burling’s moose, though’t will be lookin’ for one cloud after a rainstorm to find him when the runnin’ season’s on. Wait, though, wait till I find if this be where he works.” He clattered ashore, all excitement, and followed swiftly in the trail of the vanishing moose. McTaggart watched him out of sight, drew forth a pipe, and prepared to smoke. A mink came skipping along a log to keep him company, a muskrat squeaked in the bank, and overhead a flight of ducks flipped to and fro in search of lodging for the night. Once the big salmon at his feet stirred with a last shudder ; then silence and the twilight settled down upon the wild, and McTaggart stretched himself in an ecstasy of comfort.
“ Got ye there, Sawny McTaggart,” a harsh voice croaked. “ Got ye, hey ! ”
There almost at his elbow were Wiggin and the fish warden. They had spied him from the bend below, trying the bogan when the main river drew blank, and quietly had crawled up behind his back. Wiggin was grinning in delight, and at the sight of the fish lying at MeTaggart’s feet his elation broke into a cry.
“ There’s the salmon, — taken redhanded, Sawny McTaggart, you poaching thief! ”
“ No names, there,” he growled. “ No names, or ” —
The remainder was indistinguishable, but McTaggart’s manner sufficed. He waved the spear, menacing their approach, and the canoe backed off in energetic haste.
“ Don’t bother him, Gower ! Come away ! ” Wiggin gave these orders with less assurance than his first charge. “ Let him be, Gower; it’s felonious assault, and we ’ll swear out a warrant for that, too.”
Shaking his fist at McTaggart, Wiggin helped paddle the canoe about, when they bore swiftly away. Then Sawny threw his spear clattering into the bottom of the canoe, and drew a deep breath. He was in for it. He knew Wiggin’s methods and manner and was convinced that the law would be pushed to an extremity, and what would happen then ? “ Sawny ! Sawny ! ” a hoarse whisper called to him. “ Air they gone ? ” Lewis had returned, in time to hear an echo of the colloquy between the two canoes. He listened gloomily while McTaggart told the story, and for once was dumb. McTaggart, as Wiggin had said, was taken red-handed. He must stand the double penalty of poaching and of spearing fish, all meaning a heavy fine and perhaps imprisonment. There was no escape ; even McTaggart’s ready imagination failed in the face of the situation. Silently the two paddled along the breast of the rising land, looking for a " night chance ” to camp, and when the fire was lighted and the kettle boiling, McTaggart at last made up his mind.
“ There ’s no other way from out of it,” he explained dolefully. “ I ’ll jus’ be takin’ to the bush for want o’ better; and what’s to happen to Janie and the bairns, I’m thinkin’, when their man’s out lyin’ in the woods ? ”
There was an answer, dark enough, to this in Lewis’s face. But he shook his head without other response, and glowered into the fire. McTaggart, indeed, must take to the bush, for no other alternative but jail was offered. A day’s work threw up a shack for the outlaw at the head of the big pond, where Lewis left him to paddle down river with the news. And a sad day it was for Janie McTaggart when it came, Lewis fiddling about on one foot, and making the best of it by blurting out the situation. Janie listened with troubled face, but did not weep, for she was of stronger stuff than that.
“ I’d like to know what’s best done,” she protested. " But what is ut, I’m askin’ ? I ’d sell the coo ” (she meant cow), “ but what’d the bairns be doin’ for their milk ? And what price ’ud it be bringin’? There’s no way out, Reddy Lewis, but you to go back to the bush, and bring him in. It’s sore times that the man be up in jail, but I’d rather him in it than to be gallivantin’ nowheres out there wit’ that empty noddle o’ his’n. I ’ll lave him to think it out a week, and then ye ’ll be goin’ after him, Reddy Lewis, and no thanks to ye for lettin’ him and us into days’ throubles like this.”
Lewis, with the shock-haired McTaggart children scrambling about his feet, could make no reply. He shambled out with hanging head, Janie’s tongue lashing him down the road and out of hearing, and at the bridge he met Wiggin and Gower. They were bustling along, Gower with a paper in his hand that Lewis had no doubt was a warrant. Wiggin confronted the sullen-eyed Lewis, who brushed him aside. “ Where’s McTaggart ? ” demanded the lessee. " I want him.”
“ The devil ye do ! ” remarked Lewis coolly, with a scowl, passing on. He took satisfaction in the belief that when Janie McTaggart had heard their mission she would wind a blast about their ears that would add some comfort to the oppressed when he heard of it. But, after all, it was little help for the outlaw. With his uncheerful thoughts for company, McTaggart was tramping the solitude far up at the head of the river, and dark times were in store for his clan. A week later, Lewis struck into the woods. Things were in a fair way to set the McTaggarts emigrating across the line, and this dark thought was in his mind when he overhauled Gower lurking along the river in quest of other poachers. He pushed his canoe into an eddy and lay there watching, too, when Gower swung about and saw him.
“ Mornin’, Gower,” Lewis called doubtfully.
But Gower did not resent his appearance. His brow was drawn and troubled, and care clung about him with oppressive weight.
“ Oh, is it Reddy Lewis only ? ” he mumbled.
“ Ay — only Reddy ; and did ye think the lost angel was claimin’ ye for yer sins, Terry Gower ? ”
Gower drew up his setting pole and pushed his canoe abreast of Lewis, where he clung staring into the ripping current.
“ What’s the news ? ” Then without waiting, he branched off into a new drift, rambling about from one thing to another, from the last run of fish to a bank beaver working in the upper dead water. Lewis eyed him stoutly, and then took matters into his own hands. “ What ’s up wit’ ye now, Terry Gower ; and if ye ’re thinkin’ o’ Sawny McTaggart, it’s an evil day’s work ye done there what wit’ his wife and childern.”
Gower sniffed, while he looked uneasily about him. “ Not that, Reddy, it’s not that! ” he cried sharply. “ The Whooper ’s come back. I seen him! ”
Lewis was prone to laugh, but, notwithstanding, his belief in the Whooper improved. “ What’s that, — the Whooper and ye’ve seen him ? ” Gower nodded dully. Somewhere in the past a strain of Indian had been infused into the Gower line, and now it showed in the man’s low superstition. He was even trembling, and with little pressure told his tale. He had gone up to the big pond just before nightfall to get a mess of trout, and while at the work a figure had emerged from the woods.
“ It had a red gash acrost it. I was sittin’ on the big log — ye ’ll mind ut at the spring hole — when of a sudden I feel all creepylike. Lor’ ! I looks up, there’s the Whooper beyant! Wit’ that it screamed — ah-r — awful! Saints that be, I fell backwuds, and ut screamed agin. God forbid I live to see the like of it afterwards ! ” He pressed his hands over his ears as if to shut out the dread horror of the Whooper’s cry, the echo of its shuddering scream, while Lewis sat back gaping at his fear.
“ Terry Gower,” he delivered impressively, “ ye ’re the fust to see the Whooper wit’ mortal eye. Ye ’re doomed man — doomed — and may the saints have mercy on ye that have sinned sore. D’ ye remember Tighe, the teamster? ”
He pushed on up the river with a lurking grin, leaving Gower crouched in the canoe ; and at nightfall found McTaggart camped out on the pond. “ Ye ’re to come home,” he announced. “ Janie swears she ’ll not be bidin’ alone by the house wit’ you to be cuttin’ didos elsewhere. Ye ’re to come in, and I’m minded the jail’s fine to what ye ’ll feel when yer wife’s clapped eye and tongue to ye, Sawny.”
“ What’s else for the news, Reddy ? ” asked McTaggart gloomily.
“ Gower’s seen the Whooper,” was the prompt answer. “ What I was sayin’ to ye ’ll remember, Sawny McTaggart, and the Whooper’s in the woods.”
McTaggart questioned, and then burst into a fit of laughter. Lewis believed the other’s wits gone, until McTaggart drew out of his merriment with a jocose gleam in his eye. " ’T was I, ye dummy ! ” he tittered. “ I seen him fishin’ by the spring hole, and but tried him wit’ a screech, bein’ in mem’ry o’ his luny failin’s. And the Whooper was wearin’ a bloody gash, eh ? Ay, ’t was this,” and here he stuck a thumb under the lonesome red suspender, and snapped it against his chest. But much against his will, he followed Lewis into the settlements, there to take his punishment. In matters of this order, Wiggin was hardly laggard. He pursued McTaggart into court with a jeer, and swore down upon his head every heinous detail of the offense, omitting only the assault, which he reserved for future reference. But justice, though swift, was lenient, McTaggart’s previous good character serving him considerately. Yet the fine imposed was a facer, and when this judgment was set forth he was appalled at the figure.
“ A fine, — ay ! Then ye’d best be lockin’ me up the day. D’ ye think I can pay that offhand like as if I made money in me cellar ? ”
He was resolved, moreover, to stand imprisonment rather than to pay, but at this juncture Janie McTaggart stepped in with a firm and decisive tread. “ Ye think ye ’ll be loafin’ in the lockup, eh ? ” she demanded caustically. “ D’ ye think ye ’ll lave the babes and me to nibble our fingers for a dinner ? Ye’ve not the money, I ’ll grant, but it’s a slippery mind ye have under that furze thatch o’ yourn, and I ’ll thank ye, Sawny McTaggart, to think us out o’ this, bein’ that ye brung us to it unwillin’ as a lamb to slaughter. Sorrow on the day that took ye and that other light o’ folly, Reddy Lewis beyant, moon - chasin’ into the woods together. Speak up, I say ! ”
“ Ay, — I ’ll speak, D’ you know where’s the money to be got ? Am I a banker from the States, that I can be writin’ it all over the face o’ a sheet o’ paper ? The best I 'll be doin’ is to give Day, the storekeeper, my hand o’ wrote to a mortgage that I’m as like to pay as the whole national debt o’ the univarse. What’s now ? ”
Janie threw her apron over her head and groaned. His suggestion that he must give the farm as security read like all the awful fiction in the farm newspapers that runs hand in hand with Hubbard squash, sheep rot, ensilage, and valentine verses. She loved her home, and to pawn it for whatever purpose seemed to her to be like sitting on the doorstep and bidding disaster step in. McTaggart considered the proposition gloomily, for there was little work in the woods till the fall shooting began, and how could he pay off the debt ? Yet there was no other way. McTaggart shrewdly kept clear of giving a mortgage, pointing out that the farm was there, and he’d not be making way with it overnight, and Day, who knew the man’s rugged honesty in business affairs, was willing enough to advance the money on a note. But when McTaggart saw the interest to be paid, he was horrified and showed it after his manner. “ Ye ’re good at figures, Mister Day. Eh, — what, ’s that ? Oh, I ’m but notin’ the intrust to be paid.”
With the proceeds from this venture, McTaggart paid his fine, and for an hour breathed freer. Yet it was with heavy heart that he slouched home, and besought his wife to give him peace. “ There ’ll be work yet, Janie, if ye ’re not drivin’ me first to a bedlam. Have done, and give me a bite to eat.” Convinced that there was no remedy in sitting with idle hands, she bestirred herself ; though with the odor of cooking there was wafted in from the cookroom a monotone of subtle compliments upon McTaggart’s self - conscious character. But there is an end to all things, and Janie’s garrulous complaint ceased abruptly at a thundering knock upon the door, that flung open before the answer admitting Lewis,
“ Ye ’ll git, — git out quick ! ” he cried. “ Wiggin’s that mad ye’ve got off wit’ a fine he’s took out a warrant for assault. Ye ’ll mind wavin’ the spear at him out beyant the day av it all ? Git— there ’s no time to be lost! ”
McTaggart stared stupidly, hardly able to comprehend. But Lewis drove him to haste. Wiggin was determined to hunt McTaggart to the end, and there was no time, indeed, to lose. Without the pause for a sober, second thought, they flung his things together, and once more McTaggart took to the bush, leaving Janie, sick at heart, alone in the cabin by the river. Out there in the wilderness, her husband faced the blank solitude, sick and sore at heart, and thus the summer passed with deeper woe confronting. Burling, said Lewis, would be along soon, and then there would be an end to the difficulty. But the weeks sped by, and Burling did not come. Week after week slipped by; the shooting had begun, but there was no work for McTaggart. An outlaw, driven to the woods to keep his liberty, was not exactly the sort of guide to inspire confidence in strangers. None of the shooting parties would engage him, though Lewis tried many. So McTaggart settled down doggedly to wait until Burling should appear, and, in the meantime, hunted about in search of the big bull they had seen that eventful day. And just after the calling began he found the trail. The bull was keeping the long ridge far across at the Gulquock, still unmated and ranging widely, day and night, in search of a responsive cow. McTaggart knew the track at a glance, for one point of the hoof had been broken, and its bigness was unmistakable. He followed, marking the bull’s direction, and on the edge of a small black pond tried him with the horn. At the first low call, the moose answered eagerly, and came rioting down to the water’s edge, where he thrashed the bushes with his heavy horns, and, at a responsive grunt from McTaggart, rushed out into the open.
“ Lors ! ” murmured McTaggart, viewing the breadth and bulk of the spreading antlers, “ it’s my sowl I’d be givin’ to have Burling see him wunst.”
He left the bull unmolested, convinced that he would not wander far from the clustering chain of ponds, and his next adventure was to find Wiggin and Gower in the woods. McTaggart, prowling along the ridge keeping watch and ward over his big bull, spied the two stealing through the timber. He hid behind a windfall, watching, and, to his consternation, saw them strike upon the trail where the moose had passed a short time before. Gower, with an exclamation, pointed to the slot, and stooping over the marks in the soft earth, the two men ranged back and forth, all excitement. Then Gower waved the way the bull had gone, and with rapid strides they went circling off to leeward in full pursuit. McTaggart followed, clinging to the cover, the chase dipping down toward the pond. But here they lost the trail, running afoul, instead, of McTaggart’s leanto.
“ Oh, and what’s this ? ” he heard Wiggin demand of Gower, as he crawled near. Gower, busily pulling over McTaggart’s things, determined soon enough. With that Wiggin’s face was convulsed with anger.
“ I ’ll have no such vermin in the woods with me! ” he cried, sticking a foot through the side of the bark hut. McTaggart, with a malediction, threw up his gun to his shoulder, and leveled the sights at his enemy. But a swift thought of Janie and his helpless children stayed the shot, and Wiggin never knew how near he had been to sudden death. Tiring of kicking at the sides of the lean-to, he whipped a match out of his pocket, and touched it to a bit of curling bark. He held the splinter downward until it blazed and crackled, and Gower, nonplussed at his employer’s vindictiveness, asked what he was intending. “ If ye ’re goin’ to burn him out,” he remarked, “ ye’ll leave the man no place to lay his head. He ’ll soon be homeless elsewhere, Mister Wiggin, for I mind hearin’, now, that there’s next to a mortgage on the farm below he’s never like to pay.”
“ He has what ? ” demanded Wiggin. “ And you have not told me this before. Out with it ! ”
His manner was crafty and eager. He ground out the blazing bark with his heel, and extracted fact after fact from his man. Then gripping his gun, he strode off through the woods, bidding Gower follow. “ But the moose — the big un,” the man protested.
“ Devil take it! ” growled Wiggin, striding on through the forest. They reached their camp, threw their things hastily into a canoe, and pushed off. At nightfall, the day after, the two reached the settlements, when Wiggin’s eager inquiries found that there were hard times, indeed, at the McTaggarts’. Janie had told her sorrow and care to the neighbors, for the simple-hearted creature was in sore need of sympathy. She had drawn her children about her, weeping, when a ready-tongued gossip came with consolations and a real desire for details. In a month the note would fall due, and she saw no escape. Wiggin heard all this on his way to the settlement store, where eager and malevolently grinning he demanded to see Day.
Mrs. Day admitted the visitor, embarrassed at the condescension of a call. “ Come right in, Mr. Wiggin, come right in. Have a cheer and sit by. Yes, sir, my man ’s right out to the barn. ’Pears the air’s gittin’ sharp — hey? Yes, sir, I was ” —
Wiggin inwardly cursed her volubility, cut, her short and sent for Day. The man came in, and the two adjourned to the front room, leaving Gower in the kitchen with his legs sprawling and his mouth open in wonder at his employee’s vindictive pursuit. Wiggin began the business without formalities. He wished to know what Day would take for the note; and when Day stared in astonishment rapped out the question again, sharply, insistently. The storekeeper demurred, Wiggin insisted, threatening to withdraw his trade, and the upshot of the matter was that he got the note, paying a stiff bonus for the privilege. It was irrogular, unjustifiable, and all that, but Wiggin went out of the place, vengeance stirring in his breast, and an evil day awaiting the McTaggarts when their oppressor’s opportunity should fall due.
More days passed in gloom. Wiggin and Gower had returned to the woods, and the inevitable was drawing nigh. The last week in September, Lewis, going into the post office, found a letter. " How long’s this been waitin’?” he asked, recognizing Barling’s handwriting. He tore it open, read it rapidly, read it again, and then crumpling it in his hand walked slowly out. Burling was not coming into the woods : he had written to say it was impossible. On the way up the road he met Janie, but had not the heart to tell her then. “ No news,” he murmured, shaking his head and walking on. He launched a canoe dejectedly, put his things aboard in a disordered heap, and started out for the woods. He must tell McTaggart, and what should happen now was only too painfully obvious. He poled along, thoughtful and gloomy, utterly downcast over the prospects for the McTaggarts, who in his affections were as his kith and kin. At the head of the river, he plunged into the forest in search of McTaggart’s camp, and in a hollow at the foot of a hill saw some one slinking through the bush. Just as he looked he saw the figure dodge behind a tree, and at this semblance of suspicion Lewis himself was aroused. Who’s there ? ” he cued sharply. It was Gower, who finding himself discovered stepped out into the open. " Oh, it’s you, is it ? " exclaimed Lewis disgustedly; “ and what’s up now, I’m askin’ ? ” Gower hastened toward him, holding out a hand that Lewis ignored, “ You seem right ready to hide yeself, Terry Gower, and what’s in the wind ? ”
Gower shuffled about from one foot to the other, uneasily looking over his shoulder. “ Well,” he hesitated, “ I seen a moose—an’ a mighty big un — horns so big! ” He stretched his arms to indicate the breadth of the antlers. “ Mister Wiggin seen him, too, but sorter got the staggers. Lor’, he could n’t shoot at all ! ” Lewis looked at him keenly, for the man’s eyes were shifting uneasily toward the thicket at the foot of the hill. Lewis’s mind was made up that the man had something to conceal, and in a few minutes determined that it lay within the clump of bushes. “ Ye ’ve had luck ! ” he ventured suddenly, and leaned forward to touch Gower’s knife. “ Why,” he exclaimed, " it’s covered all wit’ blood ! ”
Gower’s face was a study of stupidity and craft. He shook his head, denying the assertion vehemently ; but when Lewis walked swiftly toward the thicket, turning a deaf ear to Gower’s protests and appeals, a jet of blood along the brown autumn leaves confirmed his opinion that something was amiss, and a search showed he was right. There in the thicket lay the half-stripped carcass of a fat cow moose, and to kill a cow is a grievous offense against the statutes. “ So it’s this, Terry Gower ! ” cried Lewds sharply, “ ye was tryin’ to hide ! And d’ ye know it’s a big fine and mebbe jail for the man that kills the cow moose ? ” Gower appealingly asserted that it was not his work. Lewis laughed, telling him to try that on the marines. “ Not yer work, eh ? And what’s this axe o’ yourn doin’ standin’ here by a tree, and is that yer gun yon or no, Terry Gower ? Mebbe not, or have the gun and the axe been out for but a stroll in the woods, and stopped by for a rest ? Ah-r ! Don’t be lyin’ like that! ”
“I tell ye ’t was not me!” Gower reiterated. “ Ye ’ll not be peachin’ will ye, Reddy, for the guv’ment’d be sore after me, its own warden. What’s the woman and her childer to do then ? ”
“ Did ye think av that, Terry Gower, when ye laid throuble thick to the door o’ Sawny McTaggart ? — answer that now ! ”
“ Ah-r, ’t was not me, though ! ’T was Mr. Wiggin, Reddy, that did that; he’s yon in the camp now, and ’ll tell ye ! ”
A sudden thought transformed Lewis’s face with cunning. “ Wiggin, yon, shot the cow, too!” he cried with a strong conviction. “I’ve guessed it,” — this shrilly, — “and ye’ll not be lyin’ agin, Terry Gower.”
Gower nodded ; Wiggin had killed the cow. They had called down the big bull the night before, but a cow had come with him. Gower coaxed and pleaded on the horn for hours, knowing from the marks they had seen on the range that the bull was big. But though eager to flirt with another cow, the bull was old and suspicious, and went circling about in the darkness trying to get their scent on the dead night air. Just as they thought they had him coming out into the open, the companion cow tired of the struggle with her lord, and rushed in to investigate. She almost charged the two in their canoe, and discovering the peril fled, crashing through the bush, thoroughly scaring the big bull. In vengeful anger at this interruption, Wiggin fired on her just as she charged the bank, and planted a bullet in her ribs. She fell, struggled to her feet and went on, and at dawn Gower had tracked her to the place where she last lay down and died.
“ Yer camp’s right handy across, eh ? ” asked Lewis. “ Then I ’ll be payin’ a visit to Mr. Wiggin.” He announced this with emphasis, deaf to Gower’s objections, and knowing the way, led on through the forest. Wiggin was cleaning his rifle when they arrived, and seemed perturbed at the sight of Lewis. He nodded coldly, and went on with his work, while Lewis, sitting on a fire log, pulled out his pipe and gravely filled it. “ What luck ? ” he demanded when he had finished. He leaned forward to pull an ember from the fire, his eyes wandering from Wiggin, while he puffed deliberately at the tobacco.
“ Luck ? ” snapped the other, “ none at all.”
“ Dunno — that’s a big cow ye got down yonner.”
Wiggin shot a sharp and angry glance at Gower, who dropped his eyes in guilty consciousness. “ Blast it, man, what d’ you mean ? ” demanded Wiggin.
“ Nothin’, Mr. Wiggin. Cow killin’ is agin the laws, though. They took up two fellers on the Wabsky las’ week, I hear, for doin’ the same.”
“ Well, my friend, I suppose you are now going in to lodge an information — hey ? ”
“ Dunno,” answered Lewis slowly.
“ Got any reasons why I had n’t oughter? " Wiggin put down his gun and looked him over. He cleared his throat huskily, and apparently thought hard. “ Now suppose,” said he, “ that it was made worth your while to let this drop?” Lewis asked how, and Wiggin told him.
“ Want to buy me — hunh ? ” he snorted. “ Think ye can buy me, hey ? ”
“ Every man has his price,” was the answer. Wiggin’s philosophy included this assumption in a developed degree, and now he was disposed to give it exercise. “ Every man has his price,” he repeated. “ Mine’s high,” answered Lewis. Wiggin named a figure that to him seemed reasonably high. Lewis named one higher. He was mentally calculating the amount of McTaggart’s note with interest to date, and the price he named was even more. So they sat there, haggling, while Gower, out of hearing, looked on gloomily. In the end, Lewis got his price, and Wiggin prepared to write a check.
“ Is it a cheek?” inquired Lewis. “ Ye’ll save the bother, Mr. Wiggin, for I ’ll not take it. I want money — hard cash it is, or nothin’! ”
Wiggin laughed lightly, remarking that Lewis seemed to be an old hand in such affairs to have fear that a check might be used against him. “ You’ve done this before, maybe ? ” he sneered.
“ No, Mr, Wiggin, wit’ all ye know av these things, ye ’re wrong. It’s the first.”
He got the amount in money, slung his gun over his shoulder, and walked off whistling a cocky air, “ Good-by, Gower, and look out the Whooper don’t get ye! Better luck next time, Mr. Wiggin,” he called back, turning to wave an airy adieu, but Wiggin merely cursed.
McTaggart’s camp was deserted, but a square of birch bark set in a cleft stick told where he had gone. He was away tracking the bush, he said, looking to find where the moose were working, and would be away a couple of days. Lewis’s elation subsided suddenly. He was primed to push the roll of bills into McTaggart’s hand, and to end his melancholy at once. But where could he find him ? He hopped up and ran to where McTaggart kept his canoe. It was gone, and Lewis knew from this that the other would stick to the water courses ; so shouldering his pack, he pushed along in pursuit, but, by chance, going precisely in the wrong direction. He spent two days in this pursuit, and then convinced how futile was a search in the interminable system of interlacing dead waters, bogans, and ponds, returned to the still vacant camp. Here he spent another two days, fretting and fuming over McTaggart’s absence, and then went cruising the bush again. But McTaggart had gone far, and the week had passed before he returned to the camp on the big pond. Lewis was away at the time, but McTaggart rejoiced in a letter that told he would return the following day. Weary and discouraged, he prepared his evening meal, and then turned in to sleep heavily.
The moon arose, big and bright, while the dead forest lay silent under the clear, gray light. On the pond, it silvered the wake of the plying muskrat, and set the water gleaming where the trout lunged along the sandy shallows. But before the moon had cleared the rim of the distant hills, the silence was broken by a pealing murmur. It came soft and dreamily first, and then with the repeat droned higher over the sleeping solitude. McTaggart rolled over in his blankets, and awoke with a sudden shudder. He cocked his ear and listened. A cat owl boomed far away, and a muskrat flopped in the pond with a splash that set his heart thumping against his ribs. Once more the low note sounded. It was a cow moose calling — no, a sudden inflection set his mind at rest. It was some one using a horn, trying to call out from his retreat the lord of the woodland ranges. Softly launching a canoe, McTaggart stole clown the pond, clinging to the black shadow alongshore and awake to the chance that they might fire on him in the dark by mistake. Softly he pushed along till he heard a bark horn rattle against the cedar splints of a canoe bottom and a rustle as some one rose. Again the call droned across the stillness, echoing upon the hilltops and beating back from ridge to ridge. On the quiet air it drifted afar, stillness again following in its wake. E-ee-ee-uu-ooooO-oonh ! McTaggart listened, and then — Unh! Unh!—a bull grunted the answer.
“ There ! ” a shrill whisper proclaimed. “ I hear him ! ”
McTaggart was near enough to distinguish the tone ; it was Wiggin. Again the bull grunted, and slowly drifting to the bank McTaggart crept ashore. As he dragged the canoe after him its bilges scraped upon the bushes, and a sharp exclamation — a whisper of warning — told that the others had heard. He held his breath and waited.
“ Ain’t nawthin’ but a mushquash, likely,” he heard Gower explaining after a pause. “ I ’ll tell ye if the moose comes in. Don’t shoot les’ it’s the big un.”
He called again, and once more the bull answered. He was coming fast. McTaggart heard the moose swing over the ridge and plunge down toward the pond. His horns clanged against the tree trunks as he pressed onward; a dry stub cracked as he surged against it, and at every other stride he grunted — unh ! unh ! — unh ! Then, halfway down the slope he paused, quiet as a mouse, and only the distant booming of a cat owl broke the stillness drifting down upon the night.
“ E-unh ! E-unh ! ” Gower was trying him again. The muffled note whined dolorously, simulating with a keen inflection the gurgling of a complacent cow. Even McTaggart admitted the man’s woodcraft, and “ Unh ! Oonh ! ” the bull answered, beating his antlers upon the saplings. But old and suspicious, the moose waited to make sure before plying his courtship further. McTaggart heard their canoe creak as Gower cautiously moved ; then slosh! slosh ! slosh ! close at hand. He started. But it was not the bull ; it was Gower imitating with his paddle the tramp of a cow upon the shallows. The moose grunted fiercely ; there was a crash in the brush, and peering through the undergrowth McTaggart saw a black form stride out upon the bog. With a rending of dry wood and a resounding splash, the bull stepped down into the dead water, his head held aloft and swinging from side to side. His nose, stretched out, ranged upward trying the air with a deep breath, while the broad antlers lay back upon his bristling shoulders. McTaggart stared, a sudden thought suggesting that this might be the big bull returned again to his old ranging ground, the big bull he had been watching for Burling’s sake. He saw the others’ canoe drift out from the shadow, Gower, with noiseless strokes, driving it down upon the quarry. Along the bank strode the bull, grunting once as he searched on all sides for the wooing cow he had heard from his haunt high up among the hard wood. As he turned, the moonlight shone upon his horns. McTaggart started, an exclamation breaking from him. It was the big bull. In the dim light he watched the canoe drift slowly forward, while his heart beat wildly as he awaited the crack of the rifle. Then, clenching his teeth, he leaped upright, and screamed with all the strength of his lungs.
A startled cry answered. The bull, splashing across the shallows, halted snorting. McTaggart screamed again. A flurry overwhelmed the canoe; he saw Gower struggle to his feet. “ The Whooper! ” screamed the man, and tumbled backward into the stream. Crash followed crash — the bull, leaping to the shore, burst his way through the thickets. Trembling but satisfied, McTaggart lay upon the ground clutching the pulpy moss, while the moose bounded up the slope, his horns clanging on every tree trunk, the thickets crashing beneath his tread.
Dawn came. Wiggin and Gower sat in camp — Gower, his clothes drenched, leaning over the fire vainly seeking warmth and dryness ; Wiggin enraged and scornful.
“ The Whooper, eh ? ” He glared at Gower, his lip curling. “ You fool! ” The man sullenly wagged his head and crouched lower over the blaze. His hair, dull and matted, hung over his low brow, its blackness contrasting the pallor of his face. With his eyes shifting about, he answered heavily, “No, sir — no — rio, don’t say that. I see Tighe when the Whooper got him. Oh, sir — oh—oh ” —— His voice broke into whimpering. “ I seen him and it was orful. I seen him lying limp in the snow wit’ the red mark acrost his throat, and, way off in a black swamp, the Whooper was howlin’ and hollerin’ like a luny. Ugh-r — it was orful. sir ! ”
He shuddered anew, bending still closer to the cheerful, crackling blaze. Even the daylight failed to clear his terror. Wiggin, as contemptuous as ever, demanded whether he had ever seen the Whooper, and Gower cried please God that he never should again. Wiggin laughed mockingly. “ You get into that canoe, Gower; we ’ll see what tracks your Whooper leaves.”
“ Oh, sir — please ! ”
Wiggin cut him short. Baffled and trembling, Gower launched a canoe, and steadied it until Wiggin walked aboard. Then, under direction, he paddied down the pond and into the head of the dead water toward the scene of the night’s frantic doings. Wiggin eyed the situation keenly ; he marked the slots in the mud where the bull had walked out into the open ; then further on his attention was directed to a broad track in the bank.
“ There ! ” he exclaimed. “ What’s that ? ”
Gower looked. To his accustomed eye the trail told its own story. “ A canoe — some un’s hauled ashore there ! ” He was all excitement, and with a strong stroke drove in to the bank. There in the soft ground he made out moccasin tracks, and with an oath leaned forward to pick up a pipe.
“ By God ! ” he cried. " That’s Sawny McTaggart’s pipe or I’m a liar ! ”
“ No — not McTaggart’s, Gower. It’s the Whooper’s, and what sort of tobacco does the thing smoke ? ”
Gower’s face was livid with passion, and all the Craft and cunning hatred of his remote Indian ancestor burned upon his brow. He ground his teeth and, with a gesture of rage, hurled the pipe far from him. “ Hush ! Listen ! ” exclaimed Wiggin, raising a warning finger. “ What’s that ? ”
He kneeled behind a bush on the bog, his eyes glittering. Then Gower, watching this pantomime of expression, saw his face twitch. He pointed a finger across the pond, and Gower looked. There was McTaggart paddling alongshore, and watching sharply ahead. He saw their canoe drawn up on the bank and halted. He had returned, no doubt, to look for his pipe, and the sight was too much for Gower. He sprung to his feet, snatched the rifle from Wiggin’s hands, and sent a bullet ringing across the water. The forest roared with the echoes of the explosion, the empty shell leaped upward from the breech and Gower fired again. But his rage destroyed his aim and, ere murder could be done, Wiggin knocked up the muzzle and snatched the rifle from his hands.
“ You fool ! ” he screamed into Gower’s ear. “ He was as good as caught. Damn you — stand away from me ! ”
McTaggart, with a derisive wave of his hand, whirled his canoe about and made off down the pond. But he was hardly out of range when a shout brought fresh alarm. A figure came out of the woods and waved to him, and for an instant he thought either Gower or Wiggin was pursuing and crouched lower to escape the expected shot. But the shout was repeated, and looking again he saw it was Lewis. With galloping strokes he drove his craft ashore.
“ They tried murder! ” he cried.
“ They were shootin’ at me ! ”
“ Heavens, then, be praised!” exclaimed Lewis, “ I thought they were shootin’ the big bull. Is that all, Sawny ? ”
But McTaggart was in earnest, and in a few words he made Lewis understand what had happened. “ Murder, ye say ! ” roared Lewis, “ and by him yon ?
The divvil — I ’ll fix him ! ” He put McTaggart into the bottom of the canoe, bidding him lie hidden, and drove back to the head of the dead water. “ If they try shootin’ on me,” he promised,
“ I ’ll satisfy them ! ” Boldly he paddied up to the bank, where Wiggin and Gower still stood, the employer venting his spleen upon the other’s head. “ Drat ye, be still, ye loafer! ” cried Lewis, after listening a moment to Wiggin’s words. “ Yes, it’s ye, I mean — I ’ll have a word wit’ ye, me man ! Ye’ve been tryin’ murder, is it? ”
“ A good thing, too,” was the answer.
“ That sneaking poacher would be better off with a bullet in his ribs. I ’ll see him into jail, now, and make sure of him! ”
“ And ye ’ll follow into it after him, Mister Wiggin,” responded Lewis sharply. “ Ye know that ye cannot shoot at a man as ye please even out here in the woods. I grant it, ye ’ll be sure o’ mind what a jury down river ’ll say to ye, Mister Wiggin wunst they get ye afore 'em. Ye mind that, eh ? Ye and yer man, there, is not much liked — eh, my friend, — and what ’ll happen when murder ’s the charge ? ”
The warning was strong with meaning. Wiggin glanced at him, wondering what was the next to come, and on that score, Lewis soon set him at rest. “ I ’ll throuble ye, Wiggin,” — he had dropped the deferential prefix and was slanging the other without regard, — “I ’ll throuble ye to hand over the warrant ye have agin Sawny McTaggart, or I ’ll be down, the day, to the justice, and have ye properly took up.”
Assuming a cool and independent attitude, Lewis pulled out his pipe once more, watching Wiggin sharply over his fingers as he touched a match to the tobacco. “ How about it — eh ? ” he demanded, whiffing out the light. In Wiggin’s face anger and self-possession struggled for mastery. Lewis fixed him with an unflinching eye, and Wiggin, cursing under his breath, drew out the warrant, tore it across, and tossed the fragments into the stream. “ I’ve not done with the dog yet, though,” he warned, his face wrinkling craftily, and at this McTaggart sat bolt upright in the canoe. Wiggin greeted him with a curse.
“ Ah-r, there you are — eh ! You 've escaped jail, my man, but you wait — you wait ! " Here he shook his fist vindictively at McTaggart’s head, grinning with malevolence. “ Mark me — at the end of the month when you ’re turned out of house and home — thrown out, mind you — just remember me ! ”
“ Ye ’ll rest content I ’ll never forgit ye ! ” retorted McTaggart. “ I misdoubt ye mean the note now — hey ? ”
Wiggin chuckled jubilantly. “ Right you are, Sawny McTaggart. I’ve got you there, for I’ve bought the note from Day, and I ’ll drive you from the place when I’m done.” He drew out the note and waved it tauntingly, but Lewis cut in with a hoot of disdain. “ Pass up that note there! ” he cried, noting that Wiggin was waving it in McTaggart’s face. “ Pass it along here ! ” he roared. Before the other knew, he had reached across and snatched the paper from Wiggin’s hand. “ There, now, and this is the money for it, ye pawnbrokin’ thief.” He tossed the roll of bills into the canoe, and driving his own craft about paddled down the pond, McTaggart wild with curiosity. “ It’s nothing,” Lewis casually remarked ; “ I but caught him in evil and made him pay for it.” He told the story, and McTaggart protested. “ But, Reddy, it’s a jail offense — it’s blackmail — and he ’ll have the law on ye.” But Lewis was as derisive as ever. " He ’ll have no laws on me, and what odds if he do ? I ’ve no wife or childer, and a trip to the lockup will be but food and fun for the price o’ nawthin’.”
“ Worry be the day,” moaned McTaggart, “ye’ve shifted my sins to yer own head.”
“ Sure, Sawny, and now we ’ll be goin’ arter the big moose — hey, man ? ”
In the dusk of a gray afternoon, a week later, a moose with horns spreading like the limbs of a wasted pine was pawing potholes in the runway at the foot of a wooded hill. His flying strokes flipped the leaves and soggy soil high over his haunches, and at times he paused to beat a sapling with his antlers, A twig cracked sharply on the hill and, at this, transformed into a statue, he stood, with bristling mane, staring along bis flank. One ear hung forward over the beam of the broad antlers ; the other quivered backward. His gray nose wrinkled while the neck stretched forth. Then a rifle cracked, the woods clattering with the detonation. Down upon his knees crashed the colossus, swaying heavily, and Sawny McTaggart, leaping the windfalls and breasting through the bush, raced down the hillside screaming like the Dungarvan Whooper.