Read CHAPTER THIRTY - MISSING. of Steve Young , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

Every one stared at Watty, he was so completely transformed from the sulky, ill-conditioned lad who assisted the cook.  The Scottish blood in his veins was fired by the sight of the deer and recollections of the stalking he had witnessed in his own Highlands, when he had been with one or other of the keepers, and his eyes flashed as he saw the advance made with the rifled guns.

It proved to be no laborious stalk, for the deer did not apprehend danger.  The captain brought down one, the doctor another, while Steve, although he rested his heavy rifle on a stone in taking aim, missed an easy shot.  He did better later on, though, for another opportunity occurred enabling him to creep within sixty yards of a buck with large spreading antlers, and he was about to fire at the animal as it stood with head erect looking round listening to a sound in the distance, when there was a hard breathing just at his shoulder.

“Watty, you here?” he said.

“Ay.  She cam’ to see her shute.  Tak’ a lang straight aim this time, laddie.  Dinna miss the beastie for bonnie Scotland’s sake.  Quick, or she’ll be gane!  Tak’ care; reet i’ the shouther.” Bang!  “Hey, but ye het her!”

For as the report of Steve’s piece rang out and echoed from the side of the mountain, and again from a ridge across the mossy plain at whose edge they wandered, the stag at which he had fired made a bound and went off at full speed, leaving the lad with his heart beating and full of disappointment.

“No, Watty, a miss; I can’t shoot straight, and it’s of no use trying, I only waste the cartridges.”

“Got him?” came faintly from the distance, and, turning, Steve could see the doctor a couple of hundred yards away.

“No!” cried Steve gloomily; and then softly, “I can’t shoot;” and he watched the disappearing stag.

“Yes, yes, yes!” yelled Watty.  “Hi ­yi ­yi ­yi ­ah!”

For just as the deer was going at full speed, and a few more bounds would have taken it round a point and out of sight, it dropped suddenly, the impetus at which it had been going sending it right over and over twice; then it lay motionless, and, re-loading as he went, Steve exultantly started after his prize.

“I told her sae; I kenned she’d het her by the way the beastie rinned.  Shot recht through the hairt, laddie ­recht through the hairt.”

“Mind, it may only be wounded, and these things are dangerous.”

“Nay, she’ll never rin again,” panted Watty, whom long inaction on board had made fat.  “It was a bonnie lang shot, and ye ought to be verrà proud.”

“But I’m not, Watty; it seems a shame and cowardly to crawl after a beautiful animal and murder it.”

“She isna a peautiful animal,” said Watty scornfully.  “She’s fat, put she’s not so big and bonnie as a Hieland stag, and her horns are puir scrats o’ things.  Hey, but ye should see the tines on the het of a bonnie ret-teer!  She’s only coot to eat; ant she must kill the beasties, or else she’d pine to deat.”

Watty was right, and they could approach the deer without fear of attack.  As it happened, it proved to be the finest shot that day, and after it had been gralloched (as the Highlanders term the opening and cleaning of a stag), by the Norsemen, the light sledge was brought into requisition, the men harnessed themselves to it, and the reindeer was dragged to where the game had been left for picking up on their return; but to the surprise of all it was missing.

“It must have been here that we left it,” said the captain, glancing round at the wilderness of rocks reaching from them to the mountain-foot.

“Of course; here are the marks,” said the doctor.

At that minute, with a quiet smile, Johannes touched Steve’s arm and pointed.  The boy followed the direction indicated, and saw something moving on the mountain-side.

“Yes, I see it!” cried Steve.  “There goes our deer.”  For, plainly enough, though over a mile away, possibly two miles, for the air was wonderfully clear, there was a white-coated bear calmly dragging off for its own dinner the deer which had fallen to the doctor’s piece.

“Well, of all the thievish impudence!” he cried.  “Come along, and let’s give him a lesson.”

“No, I think not to-day,” said the captain; “we are all tired and hungry.  We should not care for the flesh now.”

“But the bear and his skin?”

“We could not take him to-day; we can track him another time.  If we shot him now, we should have to leave the carcass, and the skin might be torn.  Let’s get back to the other deer.”

The doctor nodded, and, to Steve’s great delight, they pressed on, picked up the next deer, and then all at once Steve handed his gun to Johannes and started off at a trot toward the valley by which they had come.

“Hi!  Where’s he going?” cried the doctor, as the men loaded the sledge.

“I don’t know,” said the captain.  “Yes, I do:  he has run on to light a fire where we found the coal, so as to cook some of the meat.”

“Yes, that’s it,” said the doctor.  “I hope he’ll have a good fire.  One gets horribly hungry out here.”

They trudged on till they came to where the next deer lay waiting to be picked up.  This was the last, and, quite satisfied with their load, they made their way steadily on toward the nearly perpendicular rocks where the coal had been discovered cropping out from the face.

“That’s the place, isn’t it?” said the doctor, pointing and shifting his rifle from one shoulder to the other.

“Yes, sir!” cried Watty Links eagerly.  “She can see ta big white ullet flitting aboot and roond and roond because Meester Stevey’s leeting ta fire.  She wushes she’d gane.  She can leet a fire better tan Meester Stevey, and she could ha’ blow in it wi’ her brath and beat it wi’ her bonnet to mak’ a big blaze coom sune.”

“Did Mr Stephen say to you that he was going to light a fire?”

“Phut!” ejaculated Watty, emitting a sound like an angry turkey-cock, and ruffling up and speaking indignantly.  “And tit she thenk she would have let her go and light a fire if she hat kenned aboot it?  She’d ha’ gane hersel’, and not let the young chentleman touch the coal stuff.  She wadna tell me, and rin away to leet the fire her nainsel’, because she thocht she could do it better.  But where’s the smok?”

“Perhaps you are right,” said the captain; “but I don’t see any smoke.  He would have been there by now.”

“He has chosen some corner out of the wind,” suggested the doctor, as he watched the great bird circling about the face of the cliff, but from their distance looking less than a pigeon.

“We ought to have a specimen of those owls,” said the captain as they trudged on, rather wearily now, their pieces seeming to have grown wonderfully heavy.

“Marsham, my good friend,” said the doctor, “there is only one specimen in natural history that interests me now, and that is the fleshy tissue known as steak or collops, frizzled over a good clear fire.  After I have exhibited, as we doctors say, a dose of that to myself, I shall be quite ready to talk about owls; not before.”

“See him, Johannes?” said the captain, dropping back to take hold of one of the tracking lines, and helping to pull the sledge and ease the men.

“No, sir.  He has been troubled to get the fire to burn.  Maybe he has no matches.  For there was plenty of rough coal lying about, and dry stuff that would soon catch alight.  But it will be something to find the fire ready to burn; and we can soon get some bits of meat to roast.”

“I don’t see any signs of that, my lad,” said the captain, after they had gone a little farther.  “Of course that was why he ran on.  Did he say anything to you about it?”

“Not a word, sir.  He made a sudden dart off and was gone.”

“Perhaps he has a fire where we cannot see it,” said the captain; “and it tells well for the coal that it burns with so little smoke.  It will be capital for the engines.”

They trudged on, quite satisfied that they had not the other deer to drag as well, for the ground was very rugged, and Captain Marsham suggested to the doctor that if they had had the bear-skin the task would not have been much lighter.  Still, every one was cheerful, and tugged heartily at his track rope; but there was no sign of the lad when they reached the foot of the coal cliff.