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“Gosh!” said Scott Peck, when he stepped up to the log-house that served for the guides, unknowing what awaited him, for the messenger had not found him at home, but left word he was to come to Bartlett’s for something, and the first thing he saw was this gray horse.

“What fool fetched his hoss up here?”

The guides gathered about the door of their hut, burst into a loud cackle of laughter; even the beautiful hounds in their rough kennel leaped up and bayed.

“W-a-a-l;” drawled lazy Joe Tucker, “the feller ‘t owns him ain’t nobody’s fool. Be ye, Scotty?”

“Wha-t!” ejaculated Scott.

“It’s your’n, man, sure as shootin’!” laughed Hearty Jack, Joe Tucker’s brother.

“Mine? Jehoshaphat! Blaze that air track, will ye? I’m lost, sure.”

“Well, Bartlett’s gone out Keeseville way, so’t kinder was lef’ to me to tell ye. ‘Member that ar chap that shot hisself in the leg down to your shanty this summer?”

“Well, I expect I do, seein’ I ain’t more’n a hundred year old,” sarcastically answered Scott.

“He’s cleared out South-aways some’eres, and his ma consaited she was dredful obleeged to ye; ‘n I’m blessed if she didn’t send an old Dutch feller up here fur to fetch ye that hoss fur a present. He couldn’t noways wait to see ye pus’nally, he sed, fur he mistrusted the’ was snows here sometimes ‘bout this season. Ho! ho! ho!”

“Good land!” said Scott, sitting down on a log, and putting his hands in his pockets, the image of perplexity, while the men about him roared with fresh laughter. “What be I a-goin’ to do with the critter?” he asked of the crowd.

“Blessed if I know,” answered Hearty Jack.

“Can’t ye get him out to ‘Sable Falls or Keeseville ‘n sell him fur what he’ll fetch?” suggested Joe Tucker.

“I can’t go now, noways. Sary’s wood-pile’s nigh gin out, ‘n there was a mighty big sundog yesterday; ‘nd moreover I smell snow. It’ll be suthin’ to git hum as ‘tis. Mabbe Bartlett’ll keep him a spell.”

“No, he won’t; you kin bet your head. His fodder’s a-runnin’ short for the hornid critters. He’s bought some up to Martin’s, that’s a-comin’ down dyrect; but ‘tain’t enough. He’s put to’t for more. Shouldn’t wonder ef he had to draw from North Elby when sleddin’ sets in.”

“Well, I dono’s there’s but one thing for to do; fetch him hum somehow or ‘nother; ‘nd there’s my boat over to the carry!”

“You’d better tie the critter on behind an’ let him wade down the Racket!”

Another shout of laughter greeted this proposal.

“I s’all take ze boat for you!” quietly said a little brown Canadian—Jean Poiton. “I am go to Tupper to-morrow. I have one hunt to make. I can take her.”

“Well said, Gene. I’ll owe you a turn. But, fur all, how be I goin’ to get that animile ‘long the trail?”

“I dono!” answered Joe Tucker. “I expect, if it’s got to be did, you’ll fetch it somehow. But I’m mighty glad ‘tain’t my job!”

Scott Peck thought Joe had good reason for joy in that direction before he had gone a mile on his homeward way! The trail was only a trail, rough, devious, crossed with roots of trees, brushed with boughs of fir and pine, and the horse was restive and unruly. By nightfall he had gone only a few miles, and when he had tied the beast to a tree and covered him with a blanket brought from Bartlett’s for the purpose, and strapped on his own back all the way, the light of the camp-fire startled the horse so that Scott was forced to blind him with a comforter before he would stand still. Then in the middle of the night, a great owl hooting from the tree-top just above him was a fresh scare, and but that the strap and rope both were new and strong he would have escaped. Scott listened to his rearing, trampling, snorts, and wild neigh with the composure of a sleepy man; but when he awoke at daylight, and found four inches of snow had fallen during the night, he swore.

This was too much. Even to his practised woodcraft it seemed impossible to get the horse safe to his clearing without harm. It was only by dint of the utmost care and patience, the greatest watchfulness of the way, that he got along at all. Every rod or two he stumbled, and all but fell himself. Here and there a loaded hemlock bough, weighed out of its uprightness by the wet snow, snapped in his face and blinded him with its damp burden; and he knew long before nightfall that another night in the woods was inevitable. He could feed the horse on young twigs of beech and birch; fresh moss, and new-peeled bark (fodder the animal would have resented with scorn under any other conditions); but hunger has no law concerning food. Scott himself was famished; but his pipe and tobacco were a refuge whose value he knew before, and his charge was tired enough to be quiet this second night; so the man had an undisturbed sleep by his comfortable fire. It was full noon of the next day when he reached his cabin. Jean Poiton had tied his boat to its stake, and gone on without stopping to speak to Sarah; so her surprise was wonderful when she saw Scott emerge from the forest, leading a gray creature, with drooping head and shambling gait, tired and dispirited.

“Heaven’s to Betsey, Scott Peck! What hev you got theer?”

“The devil!” growled Scott.

Sary screamed.

“Do hold your jaw, gal, an’ git me su’thin’ hot to eat ‘n drink. I’m savager’n an Injin. Come, git along.” And, tying his horse to a stump, the hungry man followed Sarah into the house and helped himself out of a keg in the corner to a long, reviving draught.

“Du tell!” said Sarah, when the pork began to frizzle in the pan. “What upon airth did you buy a hoss for?” (She had discovered it was a horse.)

“Buy it! I guess not. I ain’t no such blamed fool as that comes to. That feller you nussed up here a spell back, he up an’ sent it roun’ to Bartlett’s, for a present to me.”

“Well! Did he think you was a-goin’ to set up canawl long o’ Racket?”

“I expect he calc’lated I’d go racin’,” dryly answered Scott.

“But what be ye a-goin’ to feed him with?” said Sary, laying venison steaks into the pan.

“Lord knows! I don’t. Shut up, Sary! I’m tuckered out with the beast. I’d ruther still-hunt three weeks on eend than fetch him in from Sar’nac, now I tell ye. Ain’t them did enough? I could eat a raw bear.”