Big Jim grunted and then abruptly changed the subject. " Been a-lookin' fer signs o' Mr. Peaked Toes, an' they ain't none too plentiful. If it was two months later I should say this country hed been hunted hard. I wonder now-" he paused abruptly to gaze into the fireplace with an air of deep abstraction.
"What do you wonder?" asked Walter when the silence became oppressive.
Big Jim reached for his pipe. "I wonder," said he slowly as with his fingers he deftly transferred a hot coal from the embers to the bowl of his pipe, " I wonder if some o' them sneakin' low-lived poachers ain't been a-killin' deer out o' season right round these here parts. Durant's lumber camp has been havin' a right smart lot o' fresh 1 veal1 all summer, an' some one's been supplyin' it. You an' me will have a look around on th' ridges this morning—take a kind o' census, mebbe. This afternoon we'll have another try at th' trout t' make up fer those Mr. Mink had fer breakfast."
While the guide exchanged his heavy boots for a pair of moccasins Walter slipped on a pair of sneaks, for he realized that this was to be a still hunt, the highest form of sportsmanship, a matching of human skill against the marvelous senses of the most alert and timid of all the animals that live in the forest. It was to be his first deer hunt, for the jacking expedition of the night before could hardly be dignified by the name of hunt, the advantage lying so wholly with the hunters. Now, however, the advantage would be reversed, lying wholly with the hunted, with ears trained to detect the smallest sound, suspicious of the mere rustle of a leaf, and with nostrils so acutely sensitive that they would read a dozen messages in the faintest breeze.
It was still early and Big Jim at once led the way to the foot of a series of low ridges above a swamp that flanked one side of the pond, explaining as they went that deer are night feeders, coming down to the lowlands at dusk and spending the night in the swamps, and along the watercourses. " 'Bout now they'll be workin' back t' higher ground, till along 'bout ten o'clock they'll be well up on th' hardwood ridges where they'll lay up fer th' day, snoozin' behind a windfall or thick clump o' evergreens. Then 'long 'bout four o'clock they'll git movin' agin, an' pretty quick begin t' work back t' low ground and a drink," said the guide.
" Now, pard," he continued, " yer watch them feet o' yourn, and put 'em down 'sif this here ground was made o' egg-shells. Look out fer twigs and dead sticks. Snap one o' 'em and it's good-bye Mr. Peaked Toes! When I stop jest you stop, freeze in yer tracks, till I move on agin. Guess yer larned yer lesson yesterday 'bout sudden movin'."
By this time they were skirting the foot of one of the ridges and Big Jim moved forward slowly, his keen eyes searching the ground for signs, and sharply scanning the thickets. It was wonderful to the boy a few feet behind to note how without an}' apparent attention to where he was stepping each foot was planted surely and firmly without the rustle of so much as a leaf. It seemed as if the big moccasins were endowed with an intelligence of their own, and picked their way among the scattered litter of dead sticks without attention from the man whose huge form and heavy weight they bore so lightly.
Walter himself found that it required every bit of concentration of which he was capable to watch his path and at the same time keep an eye on his companion that he might be prepared to " freeze " should the latter stop suddenly. It was a nervous strain that rapidly became fatiguing in the extreme. He could not relax for an instant to look about him, lest in an unguarded moment there should be a fateful snap underfoot. He won-ered if it could be possible that he would ever acquire that seemingly instinctive art of still walking which is inborn in the Indian and has become almost a sixth sense in the trained woodsman.
It was a relief when Big Jim suddenly stopped and pointed to a bit of soft ground just ahead of them. There, clearly defined, were the V shaped imprints of sharp-edged little cloven hoofs. The guide studied them a moment.
" Doe crossed here within five minutes," he whispered.
" How do you know ? " asked Walter, imitating the guide's guarded whisper.
" Know it's a doe by th' size." He stooped and pointed to a slight film of moisture on the edge of one of the prints and even as he did so a tiny particle of wet soil loosened and fell. Had more than five minutes elapsed the edges would have slightly dried out, and Walter was enough of a scout to realize this and understand the significance of what he saw. The guide scanned the side hill to the right.
" Watch that old windfall," he whispered.
Walter looked in the direction indicated and studied the tangle of fallen timber a hundred yards away, but for the life of him he could make out nothing that in any way resembled an animal. A slow smile dawned on the good-natured, sun-browned face watching him. Then slowly Big Jim stooped and picked up a good-sized stick, which he broke in his hands with a sharp snap.
Instantly there was a startled whistle, followed by a sudden crash at one end of the fall, and Walter caught a glimpse of two slim reddish-brown legs and a white " flag " ridiculously like a magnified edition of the little bunch of cotton which had been his last glimpse of Brer Rabbit early that morning. There were two or three diminishing crashes beyond the windfall and then all was still.
Walter turned to look at the guide, whose mouth was broadly stretched in a hearty but noiseless laugh. " Did you see her all the time? " he whispered.
Big Jim nodded. " Sure," he replied. " Yer see, son, yer was lookin' fer somethin' thet wasn't thar—Mrs. Lightfoot right out on full dress parade like yer've seen 'em in a park, mebbe, and o' course yer didn't see her. Now I was lookin' fer jest a leetle patch o' red, which couldn't nohow be leaves at this season o' year, and I see it right away. Yer most generally see what you're lookin' fer—if it's thar. In the woods th' thing is t' know what t' look fer."