VI. SEARCHING FOR A TRAIL
Soon the leader appeared, and Hubbard and George fired almost simultaneously. If ever there was a goose that had his goose cooked, it was that poor, unfortunate leader. One of the bullets from the .45-70 rifles that were aimed at him went through his neck, cutting the bone clean and leaving his head hanging by two little bits of skin. The other bullet bored a hole through his body, breaking both wings. I did not blame him when he keeled over. The leader disposed of, Hubbard and George again fired in quick succession, and two of the other geese dropped just as they were turning back upstream and vainly trying to rise on their wings, which were useless so soon after the moulting season. The second shot emptied George's rifle. He threw it down, grabbed a paddle and went after one of the birds, which, only slightly wounded, was flopping about in the water.
Meanwhile Hubbard had fired twice at the fourth goose and missed both times. His rifle also being empty now, he cast it aside, seized his pistol, ran around the bank and jumped into the water in time to head off the remaining goose as it was flopping upstream. That brought the goose between him and George, and the bird was so bewildered that Hubbard had time to fire at him twice with his pistol and kill him, while George effectually disposed of the wounded goose by swatting him over the head with the paddle. Thus all four birds were ours, and our exultation knew no bounds. We shouted, we threw our hats in the air and shouted again. Lifting the birds critically, we estimated that we had on hand about fifty pounds of goose meat.
More luck came to us that same day when we halted for luncheon at the foot of some rapid water. As soon as we stopped, Hubbard, as usual, cast a fly, and almost immediately landed a half-pound trout. Then, as fast as I could split them and George fry them, another and another, all big ones, fell a victim to his skill. The result was that we had all the trout we could eat that noon, and we ate a good many.
It was late in the afternoon when we reached the point where the two brooks joined to form Goose Creek. Our scouting was finished in less than two hours, and we went into camp early: for, as Hubbard expressed it, we were to have a "heap big feed," and George reminded us that it would take a good while to roast a goose. Our camp was pitched at the foot of a semi-barren ridge a half-mile above the junction of the brooks. George built a big fire - much bigger than usual. At the back he placed the largest green log he could find. Just in front of the fire, and at each side, he fixed a forked stake, and on these rested a cross pole. From the centre of the pole he suspended a piece of stout twine, which reached nearly to the ground, and tied the lower end into a noose.
Then it was that the goose, nicely prepared for cooking, was brought forth. Through it at the wings George stuck a sharp wooden pin, leaving the ends to protrude on each side. Through the legs he stuck a similar pin in a similar fashion. This being done, he slipped the noose at the end of the twine over the ends of one of the pins. And lo and behold! the goose was suspended before the fire.
It hung low - just high enough to permit the placing of a dish under it to catch the gravy. Now and then George gave it a twirl so that none of its sides might have reason to complain at not receiving its share of the heat. The lower end roasted first, seeing which, George took the goose off, reversed it and set it twirling again. After a time he sharpened a sliver of wood, stuck it into the goose and examined the wound critically.
"Smells like a Christmas goose when one goes through the kitchen dead hungry before dinner," said Hubbard.
"Um-m-n!" I commented.
In a little while George tried the sharp splinter again. Hubbard and I watched him anxiously. White juice followed the stick. Two hours had passed, and the goose was done!
Events now came crowding thick and fast. First, George put the steaming brown goose in his mixing basin, and deftly and rapidly disjointed it with his sheath knife. Meanwhile, with nervous haste, Hubbard and I had drawn our knives, and with the tin basin of goose before us, all three of us plumped down in a half-circle on the thick moss in the light of the bright-blazing fire. Many of the rules of etiquette were waived. We stood not on the order of our falling to, but fell to at once. We eat, and we eat, at first ravenously, then more slowly. With his mouth full of the succulent bird, George allowed he would rather have goose than caribou. "I prefer goose to anything else," said he, and proceeded to tell us of goose hunts "down the bay" and of divers big Indian feasts. At length all the goose was gone but one very small piece. "I'll eat that for a snack before I sleep," said George, as he started to put the giblets to stew for breakfast.
The fire died down until nothing remained save a heap of glowing embers. For a long time we sat in the darkness over an extra pot of tea. At first, silence; and then, while George and I puffed complacently on our pipes, Hubbard, who never smoked, entertained us with more of Kipling. "The Feet of the Young Men" was one of his favourites, and that night he put more than his usual feeling into the words: