The Return Of The Moose
"TO the best of my knowledge, ther' ain't been no moose seen this side
the river these eighteen year back."
The speaker, a heavy-shouldered, long-legged backwoodsman, paused in
his task of digging potatoes, leaned on the handle of his broad-tined
digging fork, and bit off a liberal chew from his plug of black
tobacco. His companion, digging parallel with him on the next row,
paused sympathetically, felt i
his trousers' pocket for his own plug
of "black jack," and cast a contemplative eye up the wide brown slope
of the potato-field toward the ragged and desolate line of burnt woods
which crested the hill.
The woods, a long array of erect, black, fire-scarred rampikes,
appeared to scrawl the very significance of solitude against the
lonely afternoon sky. The austerity of the scene was merely heightened
by the yellow glow of a birch thicket at the further upper corner of
the potato-field, and by the faint tints of violet light that flowed
over the brown soil from a pallid and fading sunset. As the sky was
scrawled by the gray-and-black rampikes, so the slope was scrawled by
zigzag lines of gray-and-black snake fence, leading down to three log
cabins, with their cluster of log barns and sheds, scattered
irregularly along a terrace of the slope. A quarter of a mile further
down, beyond the little gray dwellings, a sluggish river wound between
alder swamps and rough wild meadows.
As the second potato-digger was lifting his plug of tobacco to his
mouth, his hand stopped half way, and his grizzled jaw dropped in
astonishment. For a couple of seconds he stared at the ragged
hill-crest. Then, it being contrary to his code to show surprise, he
bit off his chew, returned the tobacco to his pocket, and coolly
remarked: "Well, I reckon they've come back."
"What do you mean?" demanded the first speaker, who had resumed his
"There be your moose, after these eighteen year!" said the other.
Standing out clear of the dead forest, and staring curiously down upon
the two potato-diggers, were three moose,--a magnificent, black,
wide-antlered bull, an ungainly brown cow, and a long-legged,
long-eared calf. A potato-field, with men digging in it, was something
far apart from their experience and manifestly filled them with
"Keep still now, Sandy," muttered the first speaker, who was wise in
the ways of the wood-folk. "Keep still till they git used to us. Then
we'll go for our guns."
The men stood motionless for a couple of minutes, and the moose came
further into the open in order to get a better look at them. Then,
leaving their potato forks standing in their furrows, the men strode
quietly down the field, down the rocky pasture lane, and into the
nearest house. Here the man called Sandy got down his gun,--an old
muzzle-loading, single-barrelled musket,--and hurriedly loaded it with
buckshot; while the other, who was somewhat the more experienced
hunter, ran on to the next cabin and got his big Snider rifle. The
moose, meanwhile, having watched the men fairly indoors, turned aside
and fell to browsing on the tiny poplar saplings which grew along the
top of the field.
BROWN COW, AND A LONG-LEGGED, LONG-EARED CALF."]
Saying nothing to their people in the houses, after the reticent
backwoods fashion, Sandy and Lije strolled carelessly down the road
till the potato-field was hidden from sight by a stretch of young
second-growth spruce and fir. Up through this cover they ran eagerly,
bending low, and gained the forest of rampikes on top of the hill.
Here they circled widely, crouching in the coarse weeds and dodging
from trunk to trunk, until they knew they were directly behind the
potato-field. Then they crept noiselessly outward toward the spot
where they had last seen the moose. The wind was blowing softly into
their faces, covering their scent; and their dull gray homespun
clothes fitted the colour of the desolation around them.
Now it chanced that the big bull had changed his mind, and wandered
back among the rampikes, leaving the cow and calf at their browsing
among the poplars. The woodsmen, therefore, came upon him unexpectedly.
Not thirty yards distant, he stood eying them with disdainful
curiosity, his splendid antlers laid back while he thrust forward his
big, sensitive nose, trying to get the wind of these mysterious
strangers. There was menace in his small, watchful eyes, and
altogether his appearance was so formidable that the hunters were
just a trifle flurried, and fired too hastily. The big bullet of
Lije's Snider went wide, while a couple of Sandy's buckshot did no
more than furrow the great beast's shoulder. The sudden pain and the
sudden monstrous noise filled him with rage, and, with an ugly
grunting roar, he charged.
"Up a tree, Sandy!" yelled Lije, setting the example. But the bull was
so close at his heels that he could not carry his rifle with him. He
dropped it at the foot of the tree, and swung himself up into the dead
branches just in time to escape the animal's rearing plunge.
Sandy, meanwhile, had found himself in serious plight, there being no
suitable refuge just at hand. Those trees which were big enough had
had no branches spared by the fire. He had to run some distance. Just
as he was hesitating as to what he should do, and looking for a rock
or stump behind which he might hide while he reloaded his gun, the
moose caught sight of him, forgot about Lije, and came charging
through the weeds. Sandy had no more time for hesitation. He dropped
his unwieldy musket, and clambered into a blackened and branchy
hackmatack, so small that he feared the rush of the bull might break
it down. It did, indeed, crack ominously when the headlong bulk
reared upon it; but it stood. And Sandy felt as if every branch he
grasped were an eggshell.
Seeing that the bull's attention was so well occupied, Lije slipped
down the further side of his tree and recaptured his Snider. He had by
this time entirely recovered his nerve, and now felt master of the
situation. Having slipped in a new cartridge he stood forth boldly and
waited for the moose to offer him a fair target. As the animal moved
this way and that, he at length presented his flank. The big Snider
roared; and he dropped with a ball through his heart, dead instantly.
Sandy came down from his little tree, and touched the huge dark form
and mighty antlers with admiring awe.
In the meantime, the noise of the firing had thrown the cow and calf
into a panic. Since the woods behind them were suddenly filled with
such thunders, they could not flee in that direction. But far below
them, down the brown slopes and past the gray cabins, they saw the
river gleaming among its alder thickets. There was the shelter they
craved; and down the fields they ran, with long, shambling, awkward
strides that took them over the ground at a tremendous pace. At the
foot of the field they blundered into the lane leading down to
Now, as luck would have it, Sandy had that summer decided to build
himself a frame house to supplant the old log cabin. As a preliminary,
he had dug a spacious cellar, just at the foot of the lane. It was
deep as well as wide, being intended for the storage of many potatoes.
And, in order to prevent any of the cattle from falling into it, he
had surrounded it with a low fence which chanced to be screened along
the upper side with a rank growth of burdock and other barnyard
When the moose cow reached this fence, she hardly noticed it. She was
used to striding over obstacles. Just now her heart was mad with
panic, and her eyes full of the gleam of the river she was seeking.
She cleared the fence without an effort--and went crashing to the
bottom of the cellar. Not three paces behind her came the calf.
By this time, of course, all the little settlement was out, and the
flight of the cow and calf down the field had been followed with eager
eyes. Everyone ran at once to the cellar. The unfortunate cow was seen
to have injured herself so terribly by the plunge that, without
waiting for the owner of the cellar to return, the young farmer from
the third cabin jumped down and ended her suffering with a butcher
knife. The calf, however, was unhurt. He stood staring stupidly at his
dead mother and showed no fear of the people that came up to stroke
and admire him. He seemed so absolutely docile that when Sandy and
Lije came proudly down the hill to tell of their achievement, Sandy
declared that the youngster should be kept and made a pet of.
"Seems to me," he said to Lije, "that seein' as the moose had been so
long away, we hain't treated them jest right when they come back. I
feel like we'd ought to make it up to the little feller."