His face clouded suddenly as he continued. " I don't nohow like th' way she dusted out. If it was th' huntin' season I wouldn't think nothin' o' it. But it ain't, and she ought not t' hev run more'n a couple o' hundred yards afore she got so blamed curious thet she'd hev stopped and then come a-sneakin' back t' see what had given her thet sudden attack oJ heart disease. She was sure scared, and she's been worse scared quite lately."
They resumed their tramp in the same cautious manner as before, finding several old tracks and two or three fresh ones, to none of which Big Jim gave more than a moment's attention. Then they ran across a trail which, from the size of the prints, Walter knew must have been made by a big buck. The guide wet a finger and carefully tested the direction of the wind, which was so faint as not to be perceptible to the dry skin. Satisfied that the trail led directly into the wind he started to follow it, explaining as they went along that had the trail led down wind it would have been useless to waste time following it, for the game would have scented them long before they were near it.
The course now led up to higher ground and only such trained eyes as the guide's could have picked it out. As they approached the top of the ridge Big Jim suddenly left the trail and made a wide detour to the left, then circled back to the top of the ridge, along which he led the way with the utmost caution, stopping at every step to study the landscape in front and below. Finally in the shelter of a young hemlock he stopped and nodded for Walter to join him.
" Look in thet thicket o' young hemlocks a couple o' hundred yards down from th' top o* the ridge," he whispered.
Walter looked as directed, but for a few minutes could make out nothing unusual. Then he recalled his lesson earlier in the day and looked for a " patch o' red." Almost at once he saw it, low down under the hemlocks, and by looking intently soon made out the form of the buck lying down in unsuspicious contentment.
" Foxy old Mr. Peaked Toes has been clear up on top o' th' ridge an' then doubled back and laid down whar he can watch his back track," whispered the guide. " But we've fooled him this time."
For a few minutes they watched him. Then the hush of the great forest was abruptly broken by the alarm notes of a crow, so close at hand that Walter instinctively looked up, expecting to see the black mischief maker above their heads. But no bird was to be seen, and a glance at Big Jim's grinning face told him that the crow was none other than the guide himself.
When his glance once more returned to the buck it was to behold a lordly animal standing with his magnificent head, crowned with ten point antlers still in the velvet, thrown up, his sensitive nostrils testing the wind for trace of possible danger. For a few minutes he stood motionless, ears forward to catch the least sound, big soft eyes searching the hillside, delicate nostrils expanded and a-quiver in the effort to read some warning in the air. So the king stood, suspicious but not alarmed, a royal animal in the full vigor of maturity.
Satisfied that ears and eyes and nose could detect no danger, but still suspicious, he suddenly bounded behind the hemlocks, clearing a fallen tree with a leap which was a marvel of lightness. The thicket shut him from their view, but presently Big Jim called Walter's attention to a slight movement of bushes far up along on the ridge.
" He's making a sneak t' high ground whar he can have a better look around. Then he'll make a big circle t' try the wind from all quarters. Did yer notice that scar on his shoulder ? He's been burned thar by a bullet or had an ugly tear in a scrap with another buck. Son, you've seen th' King o' Lonesome Pond. I've tried fer him for th' last three years in th' open season, but th' old rascal knows as well as I do when th' huntin' season begins and he's too smart fer me. No walkin' up on him then like we did to-day ! I'd like t' get him and yet—well, fact is I'd hate t' see him dead. He sure is a king! Now fer camp an' lunch an' then a try fer them trout. Son, yer'll make a still hunter one o' these days, and, son, don't yer never fergit thet still huntin' is th' only real sportin', square deal way o' huntin' deer."
These few words of approval from his companion amply rewarded the boy for his long effort to " keep his feet in the way they should go " and now as they tramped rapidly toward camp he felt within him for the first time the sense of mastery and self-reliance which is ever the woodsman's best reward.
In the afternoon fishing Walter failed to equal his record catch of the day before, but nevertheless landed some handsome trout, and they soon had all they could use. After an early supper the guide led the way to a deer run only a short distance from camp, where, he said, the animals were in the habit of coming down to drink. Here at one side in a position to command an unobstructed view of a part of the run Walter set up his camera, masking it with branches broken from the surrounding trees. A flash was arranged to be exploded by an electric spark from two dry cells which had been brought along for the purpose. A stout thread was fastened across the run in such a way that an animal passing up or down must strike it and the adjustment was such that the least pull would make the necessary contact and set off the flash.
" Thar's a couple o' other runs close by, and it's all a chance whether a deer will take this partic'lar run, but I think th' chance is good," said the guide.
Back at camp the guide put out the fire lest the smell of smoke should alarm the game. Then they sat down to wait, Big Jim whiling away the time with stories of hunting and adventure which set the boy's pulses to faster beating. Swiftly the shadows crept through the woods and dusk settled over the landscape. Through the tree tops Walter caught the gleam of the first star.
" Ought not t' be long now 'fore thar's some-thin' doin'," said the guide.
Almost with the words the report of a rifle rang out from the lake in the direction of the run where the camera was set, and rolled in heavy echoes along the mountain. Big Jim was on his feet in an instant, his face contorted with rage, while he shook a brawny fist in the direction of the shot.
" You hound, I'd wring yer blasted neck fer two cents ! " he muttered. Then he turned to Walter and shook his head sorrowfully as he said, " It ain't a mite o' use t'-night, son. Thet shot hit th' narves o' every deer within two miles o' here. Might as well go bring in th' camera. I been sartin all day thet some such mischief as this was afoot. We didn't see half th' number o' deer we'd ought to this mornin' and them was so skeery thet I suspicioned they was bein' hunted right along. Guess when we git back t' Woodcraft we'll hev t' notify th' game warden and do a little still huntin' fer bigger game than Peaked Toes. Reckon I could guess who th' feller is. but I ain't got no proof, not a mite. If yer was t' leave thet picter box out all night yer might ketch one 'long just 'fore daybreak," he added as an afterthought.
Walter agreed to this, and they set about preparing for the night, when both were startled by a distant flare of light.
" The flash I " cried Walter joyously. " You guessed wrong that time, you old croaker! "
Big Jim's face was a study. " Reckon I did, pard," he drawled. " Must be one deer round these parts what is plumb foolish in her head. Well, we'll go bring in th' camera."
In a few minutes they reached the run. Sure enough the thread was broken and the flash sprung. Walter at once slipped in the slide, and gathering up the apparatus they returned to camp, the boy in high spirits, but Big Jim in unwonted soberness.