Read CHAPTER II - A SPILL-OUT of Camp and Trail A Story of the Maine Woods, free online book, by Isabel Hornibrook, on ReadCentral.com.

Indeed, shocks and sensations seemed to ride rampant that night in endless succession; a fact which Neal presently realized, as does every daring young fellow who visits the Maine wilderness for the first time, whatever be his object.

Ere turning the canoe towards home, Cyrus drove it a few feet nearer to shore, again warily listening for any further sound of game. Just then another wild, whooping scream cleft the night air; and, on looking towards the bank, Neal beheld his owlship, who had finished the squirrel, seated on an aged windfall, one end of which dipped into the water.

The gray bird on the gray old trunk formed a second thrilling midnight picture, but at this moment young Farrar was in no mood for studying effects. He felt rather unstrung by his recent emotions; and, though he was by no means an imaginative youth, he actually took it into his head half seriously that the whooping, hooting thing was taunting him with making a failure of the jacking business. Without pausing to consider whether the owl would furnish meat for the camp or not, he let fly at him suddenly with his rifle.

The fate of that ghostly, big-eyed creature will be forever one of those mysteries which Neal Farrar would like to solve. Whether the heavy bullet intended for deer laid him open which is improbable or whether it didn’t, nobody had a chance to discover. Being unused to birch-bark canoes, the sportsman gave a slight lurch aside after he had discharged his leaden messenger of death, startled doubtless by the loud, unexpected echoes which reverberated through the forest after his shot.

“Hold on!” cried Cyrus, trying to avert a ducking by a counter-motion. “You’ll tip us over!”

Too late! The birch skiff spun round, rocked crazily for a second or two, and keeled over, spilling both its occupants into the black and silver water of the pond.

Of course they ducked under, and of course they rose, gurgling and spluttering.

“You didn’t lose the rifle, Neal, did you?” gasped the American directly he could speak.

“Not I! I held on to it like grim death.”

“Good for you! To lose a hundred-and-fifty-dollar gun when we’re starting into the wilds would be maddening.”

Then, just because they were extremely healthy, happy, vigorous fellows, whose lungs had been drinking in pure, exhilarating ozone and fragrant odors of pine-balsam and were thereby expanded, they took a cheerful view of this duck under, and made the midnight forest echo, echo, and re-echo, with peals and gusts and shouts of laughter, while they struggled to right their canoe.

The merry jingles rang on in challenge and answer, repeating from both sides of the pond, until they reached at last the wooded slopes and mighty bowlders of Old Squaw Mountain, a peak whose “star-crowned head” could be imagined rather than discerned against the horizon, near the distant shore from which the hunters had started. Here echo ran riot. It seemed to their excited fancies as if the ghost of Old Squaw herself, the disappointed Indian mother who had, according to tradition, lived so long in loneliness upon this mountain, were joining in their mirth with haggish peals.

The canoe had turned bottom uppermost. On righting it they found that the jack-staff had been dislodged. The jack was floating gayly away over the ripples; its light, being in an air-tight case, was unquenched.

“Swim ashore with the rifle, Neal,” said Cyrus. “I’ll pick up the jack. Did you ever see anything so absurdly comical as it looks, dodging off on its own hook like a big, wandering eye?”

With his comrade’s help young Farrar succeeded in getting the gun across his back, slinging it round him by its leather shoulder-strap; then he struck out for the bank, having scarcely twenty yards to swim before he reached shallow water.

Now, for the first time to-night, the moon shone fully out from her veil of cloud, casting a flood of silver radiance, and showing him a scene in white and black, still and clear as a steel engraving, of a beauty so unimagined and grand that it seemed a little awful. It gave him a sudden respect for the unreclaimed, seldom-trodden region to which his craving for adventure had brought him.

The outline of Old Squaw Mountain could be plainly discerned, a dark, towering shape against the horizon. A few stars glinted like a diamond diadem above its brow. Down its sides and from the base stretched a sable mantle of forest, enwrapping Squaw Pond, of which the moon made a mirror.

“My! I think this would make the fellows in Manchester open their eyes a bit,” muttered Neal aloud. “Only one feels as if he ought to see some old Indian brave such as Cyrus tells about, a Touch-the-Cloud, or Whistling Elk, or Spotted Tail, come gliding towards him out of the woods in his paint and feather toggery. Glad I didn’t visit Maine a hundred years ago, though, when there’d have been a chance of such a meeting.”

Still muttering, young Farrar kicked off his high rubber boots, and dragged off his coat. He proceeded to shake and wring the water from his upper garments, listening intently, and glancing half expectantly into the pitch-black shadows at the edges of the forest, as if he might hear the stealthy steps and see the savage form of the superseded red man emerge therefrom.

“Ugh! I mind the ducking now more than I did a while ago,” he murmured. “The water wasn’t cold. Why, we bathed at the other end of the pond late last evening! But these wet clothes are precious uncomfortable. I wish we were nearer to camp. Good Gracious! What’s that?”

He stood stock-still and erect, his flesh shrinking a little, while his drenched flannel shirt clung yet more closely and clammily to his skin.

A distant noise was wafted to his ears through the forest behind. It began like the gentle, mellow lowing of a cow at evening, swelled into a quavering, appealing crescendo cadence, and gradually died away. Almost as the last note ceased another commenced at the same low pitch, with only the rest of a heart-beat between the two, and surged forth into a plaintive yet tempestuous call, which sank as before. It was followed by a third, terminating in an impatient roar. The weird solo ran through several scales in its performance, rising, wailing, booming, sinking, ever varying in expression. It marked a new era in Neal’s experience of sounds, and left him choking with bewilderment about what sort of forest creature it could be which uttered such a call.

He began to get out some bungling description when Cyrus joined him shortly afterwards, but the American had had a lively time of it while recovering his jack-light and righting the canoe on mid-pond. He was in no mood for explanations.

“Keep the yarn, whatever it is, till to-morrow, Neal,” he said. “I didn’t hear anything special. Perhaps I was too far away. I’m so wet and jaded that I feel as limp as a washed-out rag. Let’s get back to camp as fast as we can.”