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Title: Double Challenge
Author: Kjelgaard, Jim, 1910-1959
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Double Challenge" ***

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http://www.pgdpcanada.net



                         DOUBLE CHALLENGE

                         By Jim Kjelgaard


    DODD, MEAD & COMPANY
    NEW YORK

    1958

    © 1957 by Jim Kjelgaard
    All rights reserved

    Second Printing

    No part of this book may be reproduced in any form
    without permission in writing from the publisher

    Library or Congress Catalog Card Number: 57-5233

    Printed in the United States of America
    by The Cornwall Press, Inc., Cornwall, N.Y.


    _For Patty Gallagher, and Linda, Pam, Larry and Craig Lewis_



CONTENTS


       1. THE JOLT                               1

       2. THE THREAT                            17

       3. THE CAMP                              31

       4. THE FUGITIVE                          47

       5. COON VALLEY                           59

       6. MESSENGER DOG                         75

       7. A FLIGHT OF WOODCOCK                  91

       8. TROUBLE FOR NELS                     107

       9. A BLACK BEAR CHARGES                 121

      10. DAMON                                137

      11. PYTHIAS                              153

      12. AL'S BETRAYAL                        167


       *       *       *       *       *

_The characters, incidents and situations in this book are imaginary and
have no relation to any person or actual happening._

       *       *       *       *       *



DOUBLE CHALLENGE



1

THE JOLT


When Ted Harkness reached the summit of Hawkbill, he hurried. He grinned
a little smugly as he did so, for his had been a non-stop climb and most
people who wanted to reach Hawkbill, the highest point in the Mahela and
the only one that wasn't forested, had to rest at least twice. Some,
starting out with firm determination to climb to the top, wavered en
route and never did get there.

The gorgeous, tricolored collie that had been pacing beside Ted ran a
short ways, snuffled into some brush and disappeared. Presently he came
wagging back, to fall in beside his master, and Ted let a hand rest on
the dog's silken head. A little farther on, the collie pricked up its
ears and Ted stopped in his tracks.

Just ahead, a fallen tree lay at an angle down the slope. Either rooted
in soft earth or shallowly rooted, it had toppled when its upper
structure became too heavy for its root system to support, and it had
fallen so recently that its leaves had not even started to shrivel.
Sitting nervously on its trunk, suspecting danger was near but lacking
the faintest idea as to where it was, were seven young bobtailed grouse.

An imp of mischief danced in Ted's eyes. Ruffed grouse were one of the
sportiest and one of the wisest of birds, but they weren't born wise and
experienced. Like everything else, they had to learn and certainly these
grouse weren't old enough to have learned much of anything. Ted said
softly, "Get one, Tammie."

Very slowly, knowing his game and stalking it as a cat would have
stalked, Tammie slunk forward. Ted watched with great interest. Rarely
could any dog catch a mature ruffed grouse unless it was injured, and it
was questionable as to whether Tammie could take one of these
comparative babies. But he might.

Tammie neared the log, sprang, and six of the seven young grouse took
fluttering wing. The seventh, clamped in Tammie's slender jaws,
fluttered a moment and was still. Eyes proud, plumed tail waving, Tammie
trotted back to Ted and placed the prize in his master's hand. Ted
complimented him.

"Good boy, Tammie!"

He took the young grouse gently, feeling its thumping heart and
understanding its terrified eyes. It wasn't hurt. When teaching Tammie
to catch various birds and animals, Ted had taught him to be
tender-mouthed. After a moment, he tossed his captive into the air and
watched it fly out of sight.

"Let's go, dog."

They broke out of the beech woods onto the abutment that rose above.
Almost solid rock, nothing grew here except lichens and, in the cracks,
occasional strips of grass. Bent somewhat like a hawk's bill, it was a
favorite playground for hawks that wanted to test their wings. The view
was unsurpassed.

Ted sat down on the very tip of Hawkbill and Tammie squatted
companionably beside him. Ted looked at the Mahela.

For as far as he could see in any direction, forested hills folded into
one another. Spinning Creek sparkled like a silver ribbon that some
giant hand had draped gracefully down a forested valley. The road to
Lorton, from this distance, was a footpath beside the creek. Two miles
down the valley, the green clearing in which lay Carl Thornton's
Crestwood Resort, the only resort in the Mahela and Ted's place of
employment, gleamed like a great emerald.

Just below, almost at Ted's feet, was the snug log house in which he and
his father lived, surrounded by two hundred acres of forest, except for
small and scattered patches here and there. The Harknesses owned the
last remaining private land in the Mahela. Its only clearings were those
in which the cabin was built and one for a garden patch. Al Harkness
didn't want or need much clearing. He preferred the beech woods to the
cultivated fields, the trap line or woodsman's ax to the plow.

Behind Hawkbill rose a mountain that, long ago, had been ravaged by
fire. The fire had burned slowly in the lower reaches and the forest
there remained green and virgin. But a little more than halfway up,
probably fanned by sudden, fierce winds, the fire had become an inferno.
Nearly all the trees had been killed and had long since fallen. The
place had grown up into a tangle of blackberry canes, with a few patches
of scrubby aspen here and there. As Ted watched, he saw what he'd hoped
to see. It was only a wisp of motion, a mere flutter in the aspens, and
as soon as Ted spotted it, he lost it. Presently he picked it up again.

It was an immense deer, a great gray buck. Heavy-bodied, thick-necked,
it would outweigh most big bucks by at least fifty pounds. Massive of
beam, with four perfect points on either side, its antlers were a
hunter's dream come true. It was feeding on something, probably patches
of grass that grew among the briers. Ted's eyes glowed and he continued
to search.

Presently he saw the second buck, an exact twin of the first. It was
standing quietly in the warm sun, a hundred feet up-slope.

These were the bucks that were known throughout the Mahela, and far
beyond it, as Damon and Pythias. All who'd seen them thought that either
one, if bagged, would set a new record. But so far, both had carried
their antlers safely through several hunting seasons and from the lazy
way they posed on the mountainside, they might have been two gray steers
in any farmer's pasture. The appearance was deceptive, though, and Ted
knew it. Let anything at all excite either buck's suspicion and they'd
prove their mettle. Ted rubbed Tammie's head reflectively.

"There they are," he observed, "and one of these days I'm going to hang
one of those heads over our fireplace."

Tammie yawned and Ted laughed. "Okay, so I'm bragging again. But I'm
still going to do it. Let's go, dog."

Having seen what he had come to see, he struck back down the mountain,
through the forest of massive, gray-trunked beeches that marched like
rows of orderly soldiers in all directions. Forty-five minutes later he
emerged into his father's clearing.

No shanty or casual cabin, but a solid log structure built by a master
craftsman, the house was set back against the line of trees. Artfully
designed, it belonged exactly where it was and as it was. The Harkness
house fitted the Mahela as well as did the big beeches against which,
and of which, it was built. With a wing on each side and a covered porch
that jutted forward, somehow the house itself seemed to hold out
welcoming arms. A huge brick chimney told of the big fireplace within.

To one side was a shed, half of which formed a home for the few chickens
Al Harkness saw fit to keep. There were never fewer than six of these
and never more than ten, just enough to furnish Ted and his father with
the eggs they needed and to provide an occasional fowl for the pot. The
other half of the shed was a storage place for tools.

Behind the house was another, larger shed which sheltered a gasoline
engine and buzz saw and provided a place for Al to take care of the
furs, wild honey, herbs and other treasures that he brought in from the
Mahela. In front stood the game rack, a cross pole mounted on two heavy
timbers imbedded in the ground. Here hung the deer and occasional black
bear that Al, Ted and their guests brought down.

To one side lay the garden, big enough to provide all the vegetables the
Harknesses needed but not big enough to make a glaring scar in the beech
woods. As a protection against raiding deer, this garden was surrounded
by an eight-foot fence. The road to Lorton ran about sixty yards in
front of the house but was hidden from it by trees. Beside the road was
the high line with its two wires stretching into the house. There was a
rutted drive that served as an entrance and exit for the battered
pickup truck which was all the car Al Harkness had ever thought he
needed.

When the boy and dog entered the clearing, Tammie raced ahead and
streaked toward the work shed. Knowing his father would be there or
Tammie wouldn't have gone, Ted strolled up and looked in at the open
door. Sitting on a wooden chair with a broken back, Al Harkness was
using his hunting knife to put the finishing touches on a board over
which, when the time was right, a mink pelt would be stretched. He
looked up and said, "Hi, fella."

"Hi, Dad. I'm back."

"Figgered that out all by myself, when your dog came in to say hello."
Tammie was sitting near, watching Al work. For a moment, Ted watched,
too.

Perfectly-shaped, with exactly the right taper, the board upon which Al
worked did not vary a hundredth of an inch from one side to the other.
Al, who got more money for his furs than other trappers did because he
took better care of them, sliced off another shaving and squinted down
the board. A big man, he seemed as rugged as one of the giant beech
trees. His brows jutted out like stone crags, while the eyes beneath
them were gentle. But they were gentle in the manner of a soft wind that
can become a fierce gale. There was something about him that was more
than faintly akin to the grouse Ted had held in his hand, the rugged
summit of Hawkbill, and the two immense bucks he had seen. Al Harkness
would be out of place anywhere except in the Mahela.

"What'd you see?" he asked.

"Damon and Pythias," Ted answered happily. "Anybody who thinks they had
a rack of horns last year should see them now!"

"Where they hangin' out?"

"Where they always are at this time of year, in the briers on Burned
Mountain."

"And where," Al asked, "will they be come huntin' season?"

"I don't know, but I'm sure going to find out. One or the other of those
heads will hang over our fireplace."

"For sure now?" Al smiled faintly.

"If it doesn't, it won't be for lack of trying on my part."

"One, two, three, four," Al counted rapidly. "One thousand, two
thousand, three thousand, four thousand--You'll have to get at the end
of a long line of hunters who want those heads."

"I know a lot of hunters have tried for them, but they can be had."

"Anything can be had," Al observed sagely, "and one nice thing 'bout
young 'uns is they think they can get it. Land either of those bucks and
your picture'll be in every paper in the state. Maybe even in some out
of state."

"Sure," Ted grinned, "I'll be famous as a deer hunter before I ever am
as a resort owner."

Finally satisfied with his stretching board, Al laid it carefully in a
corner. He took a blackened pipe from his shirt pocket and an
exquisitely wrought tobacco pouch from his trousers. Made of home-tanned
buckskin, even if the pouch had not borne the stamp of Al's
craftsmanship, it would have been recognized as his. His name, A.
HARKNESS, was stencilled on it. Al filled his pipe, lighted it and
puffed lazy bursts of blue smoke into the air.

Tammie, who, in common with most dogs, disliked the smell of tobacco,
sneezed and moved farther away. For a moment Al did not speak. Finally
he murmured, "So now you're goin' to be a famous resort owner?"

"Why, didn't you know?" Ted asked gaily. "The Mahela Lodge will be known
all the way from Lorton to Danzer."

Al grinned faintly. "That's a real long ways, nigh onto six miles. You
wouldn't change your mind?"

"About what?"

"You can still go to college this fall and learn to be a dentist,
lawyer, or anything else you want."

"Colleges cost money."

"I have," Al said tartly, "been scarin' up a penny every now and again
since I been changin' your didies. I can still scare up enough to send
you through college, but I mistrust about startin' you in the resort
business. Crestwood cost Carl Thornton more money than I've earned in my
whole life."

"I don't want to leave the Mahela."

"Too much of your pappy in you," Al growled, "and not enough of your
mother. I want you to be somethin' besides a woods runner."

"It isn't that, Dad. I've tried to explain to you. It's the
people--seeing them come in here all tired out, and seeing them go away
rested and refreshed after we've shown them everything we have in the
Mahela. I know college is valuable and I don't look down my nose at
education. But this is my job."

Al sighed. "I've tried to talk some sense into you. How are you and
Thornton gettin' along?"

"Dad, Thornton owns Crestwood. I just work there."

"So that makes Thornton better'n you, huh? You're goin' to be a right
smart passel of time, savin' enough to start your own resort on what
Thornton pays you."

"I'm getting experience, meeting people, learning how it's done. I'm
really learning the business from the bottom up."

"Huh?"

"Nels Anderson and I have been working on the plumbing in Crestwood's
basement," Ted grinned.

Al frowned. "I'm not foolin'. This is a big job you've set up for
yourself and I don't see how you'll ever get enough money to do it."

Ted said confidently, "I'll work it out."

"I wish," Al declared, "that I was eighteen 'stead of forty-nine. I'd be
able to work things out, too. But it's you doin' it. Everybody's got to
live the way they see fit."

Al picked up another board and began shaping it. Ted took his
pocketknife from his pocket.

"I'll help you, huh?"

"Reckon not." Al shook his head. "Sunday's your day off."

"Let me help. It wouldn't really be work to me."

"Nope. Even if I did want help, nobody but me can make my stretchin'
boards."

"Then I'll go get dinner."

"That's a smart idea."

With Tammie pacing beside him, Ted went into the house. Everything about
it was solid, strong, heart-warming. The front door was made of oak
boards an inch and a half thick, the windows were set ten inches back in
the log walls, the ample fireplace was of native stone. Obviously it was
the home of an outdoorsman. Two mounted bucks' heads stared from the
same wall, and of the five rugs on the living room floor, three were
bearskins and two were bobcats. Ted's and Al's rifles and shotguns hung
on a rack and there was a glass-enclosed case for fishing tackle.

But Al Harkness, child of the Mahela though he was, did not spurn modern
conveniences. Electric lights hung from the ceiling. Bottled gas
furnished fuel for the kitchen range and there was a hot water heater.
Al had an electric refrigerator, a large freezer and a tiled sink with
regulation hot and cold faucets.

Tammie, knowing they'd been out and would go no more, curled up on one
of the bearskin rugs. Ted took a chicken from the refrigerator and began
to stuff it with a dressing made of bread dough, giblets, apples and
seasoning. It was a task he'd done often, and his thoughts wandered.

Al, who'd never gone beyond the sixth grade, had a near-worshipful
regard for education and he'd insisted that his son be educated. After
graduating with honors from Lorton High, Ted himself realized that
college training would be valuable. But there were other factors
involved.

With no desire to become a trapper and woodsman like his father, Ted
wanted to stay in the Mahela. It was worthy and wonderful. Wilderness
would always be needed, and, deep inside him, Ted saw himself running a
grand lodge to which guests could come and partake of the benefits
Crestwood's clients certainly found. People who came back to the
wilderness always seemed to be coming back to the source of things and
finding spiritual values that lay only at the source.

Ted had taken a flunkey's job at Crestwood two days after he graduated.
It did not pay as much as he might have earned elsewhere, but it was
what he wanted and he saved as much as possible. Meanwhile, his dream
continued to grow. The couple of hundred dollars he had put aside was a
mere drop in the bucket compared to the--Ted had never even dared let
himself imagine how many--thousands he needed. But he knew he would find
a way and, above all, he wished that he could make his father know it,
too.

Ted lighted the oven, put his chicken in to roast and scrubbed potatoes
to be baked in their jackets. He mixed biscuit dough. Since neither he
nor Al cared for dessert, he didn't prepare any. But he did take a
package of carrots and peas from the freezer. He remembered whimsically
that, before they had the freezer, his father used to can dozens of
quarts of vegetables. Dreamily he went about setting the table. As he
did so, he noticed a man in an expensive car driving up the Lorton Road.

There was a squeal of brakes as he stopped suddenly and a shriek of
tires as he turned up the Harkness drive. He was a short man, and fat,
but his smile was nice, although his eyes were shrewd.

"Do you own this land?" he demanded.

Al and Ted told him that they owned it, whereupon the short, fat man
declared breathlessly that a diamond mine had just been discovered in
their back yard and that he, personally, would guarantee them a hundred
thousand dollars for the mining rights! He would give fifty thousand at
once, and it was all right with him if they built a great resort in
front, as long as they didn't interfere with his mine.

Ted grinned ruefully as his daydream faded and he went to call his
father to dinner.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning, the rising sun was only halfway down Hawkbill when Ted
walked to his job at Crestwood. His heart lifted, as it always did when
he saw the place. He liked to imagine that he owned it.

Semi-luxurious Crestwood, the only resort in the Mahela, had
accommodations for sixty guests under normal conditions and perhaps
ninety if they were crowded in. It was well patronized in fishing
season, had a sprinkling of guests who wanted to do nothing save enjoy
the out of doors when there was neither hunting nor fishing, filled up
again when the small game season started and was packed in the deer
season for which the Mahela was famous. While deer hunting was on,
Thornton turned away twice as many guests as he could accommodate.
Afterwards, Crestwood was closed until fishing season opened again.

At the far end of a spacious clearing, set back against the beeches and
blending very well with the background, Crestwood's main lodge was a big
log building that contained a dining hall, a kitchen, a lounge, a game
room, an office for Thornton, quarters for the help and rooms for guests
who preferred to remain in the lodge. To one side were ten neat log
cabins that accommodated four guests each in normal times and six during
deer season. The utility rooms and outbuildings were behind the main
lodge and hidden by it and the wide driveway was of crushed stone.

"Hi, Ted!"

Ted turned to wait for middle-aged Nels Anderson, his co-flunkey at
Crestwood. Neither brilliant nor subtle, but always gentle, Nels had
been taught by a lifetime of hard knocks to appreciate the good things
that came his way, and, as far as Nels was concerned, the best thing
that had ever come his way was his job at Crestwood. Always a hewer of
wood and a drawer of water, the most Nels asked was to be paid with
reasonable regularity for his hewing and drawing. He smiled a slow
Scandinavian smile as Ted returned his greeting.

"Good morning, Nels. How are you feeling?"

"Goot. And you?"

"First rate. Shall we start earning our wages?"

"Yah. You go down? Or me?"

"I'll go. You catch the pipe."

They entered the lodge. Ted ducked into Crestwood's gloomy basement,
turned on the light and caught up a length of pipe. He and Nels were
running water to some of the upstairs rooms. He maneuvered the pipe
through an already drilled hole and waited for his companion to catch it
and stab it into an elbow.

Nothing happened and Ted sighed resignedly. Nels was one of those rare
people who know enough about many things to do a passable job. He could
run water pipes and wires, build a stone wall, shingle a roof, tend a
sick cow or horse, fell trees, construct a root cellar and do well any
of a few dozen more things that might need doing. But he was apt to get
sidetracked, in which event he needed a while to wake up. Obviously he
was sidetracked now. Then the door opened and Nels stood behind Ted.

"The boss, he wants to see you."

"What's he want?"

"He forgot to say."

"Well--"

"He say right now."

"Will you take this pipe?"

"Oh! Yah, I take it."

Nels took the pipe and Ted went back into the lobby. He knocked on the
office door, and Carl Thornton opened it.

"Come on in, Ted."

The boy stepped into the spacious office. The floor was covered with a
thick carpet. At one side was a mahogany desk upon which stood a
typewriter. Over it were hung bookshelves. There were four cushioned
chairs and a satiny davenport upon which the owner usually slept. In a
wall rack were Thornton's high-powered rifle and a belt full of his
distinctive, brass-jacketed, hand-loaded shells. Ted turned to face his
employer.

In his late thirties, Thornton was not slightly built. But there was
about him an air of slightness that was accentuated by his quick
movements. Thinning blond hair was artfully combed to hide a bald spot.
His eyes were pale blue, almost icy blue, behind gold-rimmed glasses.
The ghost of a smile haunted his lips. He had a flair for conversation
that always made it appear as though nothing anyone else could say was
nearly as important as what he had to offer.

"I've been watching your work, Ted, and I like it."

"Thanks, Mr. Thornton."

"There'll be a better job pretty soon; Crestwood's going to expand."

Ted's heart leaped. This was what he'd always wanted. "Thank you."

"A good man," Thornton said, "is not easily come by and I've learned the
value of one. That's why I'm putting you on a special job right now."

"You are?" Ted's voice quivered eagerly.

"Yes. You're a pretty good deer hunter, aren't you?"

"I--I guess so."

"You know of those two bucks they call Damon and Pythias?"

"Everyone does."

Thornton said, "I want them."

"You--?"

"That's right. With those two heads on the wall--" Thornton shrugged.
"Crestwood would be mentioned in every paper in the state. If they're
really records, there probably would be national publicity. In any
event, they'll help bring guests here."

"But--Nobody has even managed to get near those two bucks in hunting
season."

Thornton looked shrewdly at him. "But before the season?"

"You mean?"

"That's just what I mean. Those two bucks don't go into hiding until
after hunters take to the woods. I'm pretty sure that anyone who knew
what he was doing could get both of them before the season opened. How
about it?"

Ted said reluctantly, "It might be done."

"Good! Take all the time you need and I'll leave the details up to you.
If you're caught, of course you'll keep your mouth shut and I'll pay the
fine. But I think you'll know how to go about it without getting caught.
Deliver both bucks to Crestwood--we'll arrange those details after you
get them--and thereafter it's up to me. Good luck."

Ted heard himself saying, "No, Mr. Thornton."

Thornton looked puzzled. "I don't understand."

"I can't do it."

"I've already told you that I'll pay your fine if you're caught."

"It isn't that."

"Then what is it? Does it make any difference if those bucks are shot
now or six weeks from now?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Getting them now would be violating the law."

"Who doesn't violate the law? Considering the mass of laws we have, few
people can live a single day without, intentionally or otherwise,
running afoul of them. Have you ever looked up some of the crackpot
laws, such as the one which states that, on Sunday, in this state, no
horse shall wear other than a plain black harness?"

"It's not that."

"Ted, do you know anyone at all in the Mahela who lives up to the full
letter of the game laws? Do you know anyone who doesn't take what he
wants when he wants it, in season or out?"

"Yes."

"Who?"

"My father and I."

There was an ominous silence. Thornton broke it.

"It seems that I've misjudged you."

"It seems you have!" Ted's anger was rising. "I'll leave now!"



2

THE THREAT


Tramping along the Lorton Road toward his father's house, Ted told
himself that he had been a complete fool. With a start in the only
business that interested him, he had sacrificed everything for what
suddenly seemed a trivial reason.

Carl Thornton had spoken the truth. Those who lived in the Mahela
thought that just living there gave them a proprietary interest in the
game and fish that shared the wilderness with them. But, except for
Smoky Delbert, a notorious poacher who hunted and fished for the market,
most dwellers in the Mahela confined their poaching to killing a deer
when they felt like having venison or catching a mess of trout when they
thought they needed some fish for dinner. They broke the law, but as far
as Ted knew, their chances of going to Heaven when they died were fully
as good as his. They weren't sinners.

Half inclined to turn back and tell Thornton he'd reconsidered, still
Ted went on. It wouldn't be easy, but definitely it would be possible to
shoot both of the great bucks before the hunters who invaded the Mahela
when the season opened sent them into hiding. If Ted got them, or even
promised to try to get them, he would be back in Thornton's good graces.

"If I was smart," he told himself, "I'd tell Thornton I was hunting
those bucks and not get either."

He played with the tempting thought, then put it behind him and walked
on. Nobody who called himself a man took another man's pay for doing a
job and then failed to do it. Ted asked himself questions and tried to
provide his own answers.

Was he afraid of Loring Blade, the game warden? He didn't think so. The
Mahela was a big country and the warden could not be everywhere at once.
The chances were very good that anyone who knew what he was doing could
get both bucks safely to Crestwood, where they became Thornton's
responsibility. Besides, Thornton had said he'd pay the fine if Ted were
caught.

Did he shrink from breaking the law? Yes, of course. At the same time he
knew positively that if he and his father were in desperate straits, if
they had no food and no other means of getting any, he'd shoot deer or
any other edible game he could find, regardless of whether it was in
season or out.

There seemed to be something else involved and Ted could find no precise
bracket in which it fitted. It concerned the grouse he'd held in his
hand, the cool morning breeze, the view from Hawkbill, his
father--everything Ted loved and held dear.

His mind was a whirlpool in which nothing at all was clear except that
he could not shoot the two bucks for Thornton. It would be as easy to
shoot Tammie--his lips formed a sick grin at that thought! Yesterday his
dreams had been bright as bubbles in the sun. Today all the bubbles
were burst. There wasn't the faintest possibility of getting a job at
another resort for the simple reason that there was no other resort.

Of course, if he left the Mahela--But he couldn't do that either.

Ted was a half mile from their house when he saw Al's tobacco pouch
lying beside the road. He picked it up and put it in his pocket.
Obviously his father had been here--probably he'd been scouting mink
sign along Spinning Creek and had walked back up the road--and he was
forever losing his pouch. But somehow somebody always found it and
brought it back to him.

Ted tried to put a spring in his step and a cheerful smile on his lips.
A man faced up to his own troubles and did not inflict them on other
people. He tried to whistle and succeeded only in hissing.

He was a hundred yards from the house when Tammie, who'd caught his
scent, hurried to meet him. Sleek fur rippling and short ears jiggling,
he advanced at the collie's lope, which seems so restrained and is so
incredibly fast. Tammie came to a graceful halt in front of Ted and
looked at him with dancing eyes.

"Hi, dog! Hi, Tammie!" Ted ruffled his head with a gentle hand as Tammie
fell in beside him. Plucking the tobacco pouch from his pocket, he gave
it to the collie. "Here. Take it to Al."

The tobacco pouch dangling by its drawstrings, Tammie streaked up the
road. Disdaining the drive leading into the house, he cut through the
woods and disappeared. Ted squared his shoulders, tried again to
whistle--and succeeded. His father must be home. When Ted was working
and Al went out, Tammie always went with him.

Ted turned up the drive and was halfway to the house when Tammie came
flying back to meet him. They went to the shed in the rear; Al would be
working. Ted peered through the open door and his father, shaping
another stretching board, glanced up to greet him.

"Hi, Ted!"

"Hello, dad!"

"No work today?"

"That's right."

Al bent his head to hide the question in his eyes. Something had
happened and he knew it. His voice was a little too casual as he said,
"Figgered when Tammie fetched my tobacco pouch that he'd made up his
mind to go 'round pickin' up after me."

"No, I found it beside the road and sent Tammie with it. You should put
a string on that pouch and tie it to your britches."

"Guess I'd ought. Tammie and me took a whirl down the crick to look for
mink sign. Must of lost my pouch on the way back."

"Find any sign?"

"There'll be mink on the crick this year. I can take a string of pelts
and leave enough so there'll also be mink next year."

"Now that's just swell!" Ted bit his tongue. Wanting to keep his
troubles to himself by appearing gay and careless, he'd leaned too far
in that direction and been over-emphatic. Al raised his head and
searched his son's face with wonderfully gentle eyes.

"Want to tell me?"

"Tell you what?"

"What happened to you."

"Oh," Ted forced what he tried to make a casual laugh, "Thornton fired
me."

Al remained calm. "He what?"

"Thornton gave me the gate, the bounce act, ye olde heave-ho. He said,
in short, that I was never to darken his kitchen towels again."

Al said, "Come off it, Ted."

Suddenly Ted's misery and heartbreak were too great a burden to bear
alone. He fought to keep his voice from quavering and his lower lip from
trembling.

"That's right. I've been fired."

"Want to tell me why?" Al did not raise his voice.

"I--I wouldn't shoot Damon and Pythias for Thornton."

Al arched surprised brows. "Why's he want those two bucks?"

"He's going to expand Crestwood. He said that if he had one or both of
those heads to put on the wall, it would be written up in every paper in
the state. He said they'd help bring guests."

"Boy, seems to me like you went off half-cocked."

"What do you mean?"

"Thornton's takin' a lot for granted to think that you, or anyone, could
get either one of those bucks. But if you wanted to hunt 'em, and if you
did get one, 'twould do no harm to give it to him. 'Twould save your job
for you."

"That would have been different," Ted said wryly, "but that wasn't what
he asked. He wants both bucks _before_ the season opens."

"So?" Al was almost purring. "And you turned him down?"

"That's right."

"You don't aim to change your mind?"

"No."

"Not even to get your job back?"

"Not even for that."

"You're sure now?"

"I'm sure."

"That bein' the case," Al said, rising, "I think I'll go down to
Crestwood and have a little talk with Mr. Thornton. You stay here with
Tammie."

       *       *       *       *       *

When Al Harkness climbed into his old pickup truck and pressed the
starter, his thoughts went back thirty-six years. The Mahela had been
young then, and he'd been young, and that, he'd told himself a thousand
times since, was probably the reason why he'd also been blind. It was
not that he'd lacked eyes, very keen eyes that could detect the skulking
deer in its copse, the grouse in its thicket and the rabbit in its set.
But he hadn't seen clearly what was right before his eyes.

At that time, the road to Lorton had been a mud track in spring and
fall, a dusty trace in summer and impassable in winter. Nobody had
needed anything better. The only car even near the Mahela belonged to
Judge Brimhall, of Lorton, and excitement ran at fever pitch when the
respected judge drove his vehicle to Danzer, seven whole miles, without
breaking down even once!

Lorton and the Mahela itself had been almost as far apart as Lorton and
New York were now. Even when the road was good, a traveler had needed a
whole day to go the fifteen miles to town and back. Whoever had
extensive business in Lorton might better figure on two days for the
round trip. The dwellers in the woods had been inclined to sneer at the
town folk as sissified and, in turn, were sneered at for being hicks.

There'd been seven families in the wilderness; the Harknesses, the
Delberts, two families of Staceys and three of Crawfords. All of them
had gardens, a milk cow, a few chickens, a couple of pigs and a team of
horses or mules. But all this was only secondary--the Mahela itself
fulfilled most of their wants. It was a great, inexhaustible larder,
provided by a benign Providence who had foreseen that men would rather
hunt than work. Al remembered some of the hunts. His father, George
Stacey and Tom Crawford had shot thirty-three deer in one day and sold
them all in Lorton. Two days later, they shot twenty-nine more.

There weren't that many deer when Al came of an age to hunt. His elders
were at a loss to explain the scarcity, unless some mysterious plague
had come among the animals. Never once did they think of themselves and
their indiscriminate, year-round slaughter as the "plague." On Al's
thirteenth birthday, he shot a buck and a doe. They were the last deer
taken in the Mahela for the next thirteen years.

It wasn't an inexhaustible larder at all, but just a place that could be
depleted by always thoughtless and often vicious greed. Then had come
the change.

The Game Department, the Lorton paper announced, had purchased deer from
a state that still had some. In the hope that they'd multiply and
rebuild the vast herds that had once roamed there, twenty of them were
to be released in the Mahela. There was to be no hunting at all until
such time as there were sufficient deer to warrant a hunt, and game
wardens were to enforce that regulation.

It hadn't been easy. Bitterly jealous of what they considered their
vested rights, the natives of the Mahela had resisted the game wardens.
There had been quarrels and even a couple of shootings. But the wardens
had won out and the deer had come back.

There were as many as there'd ever been and perhaps more. Protected by
strict and sane laws, they flourished. Seven families had all but
exterminated the Mahela deer. Now four thousand properly regulated
hunters a year couldn't do it, and this Al Harkness had seen.

He thought of the families--still the Harknesses, the Delberts, the
Crawfords and the Staceys, who lived in the Mahela. With the exception
of Al and Ted, who observed the game laws to the letter, most of them
took more than their share of the Mahela's wildlife. Smoky Delbert was
an especially vicious poacher who belonged, and one day would land, in
jail. But, with game wardens on constant patrol, even Smoky could no
longer indulge in wholesale slaughter.

There was, Al had always conceded, some excuse for the Crawfords and the
Staceys. Al was the only Mahelaite who'd held on to the entire family
acreage. Glad to raise money any way he could, the Staceys and Crawfords
had sold theirs, all but a homesite and garden patch, and the proceeds
were long since exhausted. Most of the men worked at day labor and their
employment was never certain. Always struggling, there were times when
they would have no meat at all if they did not shoot an occasional deer.
That condition would not endure. Since all the younger people left the
Mahela, preferably for some brightly lighted city, as soon as they
possibly could, the Staceys and Crawfords who remained were not going to
last forever.

But if there was some excuse for them, there was none whatever for Carl
Thornton. Comparatively wealthy, certainly he was in no danger of going
hungry. Educated, he must understand what conservation meant. Supposedly
intelligent, he must know that nobody at all could take what he wanted
simply because he felt like taking it, or for his own advantage, and
still hope to leave enough for others and for future generations. Al
braked to a halt in Crestwood's drive and entered the lodge.

Jules Crowley, Thornton's pale-faced clerk, stepped in front of him.
"You can't come in here!"

Al said, "Oh yes I can."

He moved around Jules, jerked the office door open and closed it behind
him. Thornton was sitting at his desk, going over some papers. He looked
up. Al hesitated. Now that he was here, just what was he supposed to do?
It would be silly to threaten Carl Thornton, and how could he report him
to the game warden when he had broken no law? Al felt a little foolish
and Thornton's voice was as cold as his eyes when he spoke.

"What do you want?"

"You fired Ted?"

"That's right."

"What for?"

"Inefficiency."

"Ted told me different. He told me you fired him because he wouldn't
shoot those two big bucks for you."

"He's a liar."

Al stepped to the desk, twined his right hand in Thornton's lapel,
lifted him to his feet and used his left hand to slap both Thornton's
cheeks. Then he let the resort owner slump back into the chair and
turned on his heel.

"For callin' Ted a liar," he said.

He stalked out, knowing as he did so that he had made a deadly enemy but
not caring. Thornton owned Crestwood. But he was still a little man and
sooner or later little men stumbled over big problems. As Al climbed
back into the pickup, he almost forgot Thornton. He had something more
important to occupy his thoughts.

He had hoped mightily that, after he finished High School, Ted would go
on to college. It didn't matter what he studied there as long as it was
something; a Harkness would go out of the Mahela to become a man of
parts. But Ted had not only wanted to stay in the Mahela, but also to
start a resort there, and for almost the first time in his life Al faced
a problem to which he saw no solution.

An expert woodsman, he earned a comfortable income. Since his own wants
were simple, there would certainly be enough left over to pay Ted's
college expenses. But Al couldn't even imagine the vast sum of money
needed to start a resort. He had told the truth when he said Crestwood
cost Thornton more than he'd earned in his whole life.

Al fell back on an idea that he himself had been mulling over. Hunters
and fishermen were a varied breed, with varying tastes. Some preferred
the comforts of Crestwood, but every season numbers of them hauled
trailers into the Mahela or set up tents there and they did so because
they liked that way of hunting or fishing. Not all of them wanted the
same things and not all cared to be crowded.

Driving back into his own yard, Al got out of the pickup and faced his
son serenely. But seeing Ted's uncertain hand fall to Tammie's head, he
grinned inwardly. The boy turned to Tammie whenever he was worried or at
a loss.

"Did you see Thornton?" Ted's voice was too casual.

"I saw him."

"Did--?"

"No," Al told him gently. "I didn't. He's still alive and, as far as I'm
concerned, he can stay that way. Ted, let's go up to Beech Bottom."

"Swell!"

Ted and Tammie got into the pickup and Al drove. He did not speak
because he was thinking too busily to talk. A father, if he was worthy
of being a father, showed his children the right path. But it was always
better if he could guide them into doing their own thinking, instead of
leading them along the path--and sometimes that called for subtle
measures.

Two miles up the road, Al came to a clearing. A little less than an
acre, it was a jungle of yellow-topped golden rod. Here and there a
milkweed raised its spear-shaft stem and showed its silk-filled pods to
all who passed. In the center was an old building with all the windows
broken and part of the roof fallen in. Sun, wind, rain and snow had
exercised their own artistry on the unpainted boards and tinted them a
delicate shade which no brush could possibly achieve. There was a little
patch of summer apples and two small bucks, stretching their necks to
get the wormy fruit, moved reluctantly away when the truck stopped.

Al got out of the truck and Ted and Tammie alighted beside him. Al
looked at the tumble-down building.

"My gosh! It ain't possible!"

"What isn't?"

Al grinned ruefully, "Seems like yesterday I worked here."

"You worked at the old Hawley logging camp?"

"Yep. Chore boy. Got up at four every mornin' to feed and curry the
horses so they'd be ready to go into the woods. You wouldn't think
fifteen men, or fourteen men and a boy, ate and slept in that old house,
would you?"

"It's big enough."

"By gosh! Seems like a person gets born, takes six breaths and gets old.
That old house is still good, though. Those boards are really seasoned
and I bet they last another hundred years."

Ted asked without much interest, "What happened?"

"Old Man Hawley sold everything 'cept that little patch when the state
took over and made the Mahela into state forest. Jud, his son, was goin'
to make a huntin' camp of it. But he never did and he never will. Bet
you could buy the works for a hundred and fifty dollars."

Ted almost yelled, "Dad!"

"What's the matter? Bee sting you?"

"No, but something else did! Dad, I'm going to buy it!"

"That?" Al looked puzzled.

"Don't you see?" Ted's eyes were shining and Al knew his heart was
singing. "With more and more people coming into the Mahela every year,
they must have more places to stay. I'm going to tear this house down
and build a camp right here! Bet it'll rent five months out of the
year!"

"Well, I'll be jugged!" Al hoped Ted couldn't interpret his smile. "That
_is_ an idea!"

"We'll buy them all!" Ted bubbled, "with the money you were going to use
to send me to college! There're plenty of these small plots in the
Mahela and nobody else wants them! They can be had cheaply! Dad, it can
be done that way!"

"By gosh, Ted, it might! But it'll take a while."

"I know but--What's Tammie barking at?"

"One way to find out is to go see."

Off in the goldenrod, Tammie barked again. They made their way to him
and found him peering into a shallow little stream, Tumbling Run, that
wound out of the beeches, crossed the clearing and hurried back into the
beeches, on its way to meet Spinning Creek. In the middle of the run, a
small gray raccoon with a trap on its left front paw did not even glance
up. It had fought the trap fiercely and now was too spent and too weary
to fight anything.

Al's words were almost an explosion. "Smoky Delbert!"

He jumped down into the creek, encircled the little raccoon's neck with
an expert hand and used his free hand to depress the trap spring. Free,
but not quite believing it, the little animal went exactly as far as the
trap chain had previously let him go and then ventured two inches
farther. Sure at last that the miracle had happened, he scuttled into
the goldenrod. Al jerked the trap loose from its anchor.

"Let's go, Ted."

"Where?"

"You want to buy this place. We'll go into Lorton and see Jud Hawley.
But on the way, we'll have a little palaver with Smoky."

A half hour later, Al drove his pickup into the Delbert yard, to find
another truck there ahead of him. It belonged to Loring Blade, the
warden, who was talking with Smoky. He turned to nod at Al and Ted.

"Hi!"

Al said, "I won't be but a minute, Lorin'." He held the steel trap out
to Smoky Delbert. "This yours?"

Smoky looked at him through insolent, half-closed eyes. "Nope."

"You lie in your teeth! I've told you before not to set traps before
furs are prime. I'm tellin' you again and this is the last time."

"What goes on?" Blade demanded.

"Nothin' you can help, Lorin'. Smoky, if I find you poachin' in the
Mahela once more, I'm goin' to beat you within an inch of your life!"

"You got any ideas along that line," Smoky remained insolent, "come
shootin'."

Al said, "I can do that, too!"



3

THE CAMP


Sprawled on his favorite bearskin in the Harkness living room, Tammie
dreamed a dog's good dreams and his paws twitched with excitement as he
lived again some old adventure. Al, sitting in front of the fireplace,
studied the bed of glowing coals within it as though they were as
fascinating as the first coals he had ever seen. Sitting at the table
with a pen in his hand, a pile of fresh paper on one side and a pile of
crumpled sheets on the other, Ted was busy writing.

He laid the pen down, picked up what he had just written and frowned
over it. Making a motion to crumple this paper too, he thought better of
it and called, "How's this, Dad? 'For Rent, furnished camp in the
Mahela. Bunks for eight. Forty-five dollars a week in small game season,
sixty in deer season. Available for season. Ted Harkness, R.D. 2,
Lorton.'"

Al shrugged. "Says 'bout everythin' you got to say."

"I don't know." Ted's frown deepened. "'Bunks for eight,' it says. If a
bunch of deer hunters take the place, they may bring twelve or sixteen.
Do you think I should say, 'Bring extra cots for more than eight?'"

"Mighty important point," Al said gravely, "but do you figure you got to
throw out that much sign?

"If I was readin' that and wanted to rent a camp and saw 'bunks for
eight,' I'd calc'late that there wasn't bunks for ten or sixteen. I'd
figger that, if I brought more than eight, I'd best bring somethin' for
'em to sleep on."

"If I say 'accommodations for eight,' and a bigger party wanted to take
the camp, they might pass it up."

"'Bunks' is the word," Al pronounced. "Why it's pra'tically liter-choor.
City people are always gettin' accommodations. Might help rent your camp
if they knew they was goin' to sleep on bunks."

"That's a point," Ted agreed. He continued to frown thoughtfully. "Now
this 'available for season,' do you think I should say at ten per cent
discount?"

"Nope."

"But doesn't everybody do that?"

"Everybody 'cept horse traders, and you can always do your horse tradin'
when and if you have to. But I don't think you're goin' to rent for the
season."

"Why not?"

Al shrugged. "Figger it out by yourself. How many city people can take a
whole season just to go huntin'? Most they get is a couple of weeks or
so."

"That's right, too. Do you think I should say, 'deer and small game
abundant'?"

"I wouldn't. Nobody'd come into the Mahela 'thout havin' some idea they
could find game here and there's another point."

"What's that?"

"You're tryin' to build up a business, and the more repeat business you
can get, the less it'll cost to get it. Promise too much and you might
drive business away. Some people, readin' about over-plenty game, might
expect a flock of grouse behind every tree and a ten-point buck in every
swale and be mad if they didn't find it. Let 'em do their own lookin'."

"I was thinking of hiring out as a guide."

"Wouldn't put that in either. Some people want guides and some don't.
Anybody who rents your camp and wants a guide will ask you where to find
one. Then you can dicker."

"Do you think I'm asking too much money?"

"Nope. Chances are that you won't get less than six in any party. Split
the cost amongst 'em and it won't break any one. Your prices are fair."

Ted lost himself in his literary effort. "It doesn't seem very
forceful."

"Land o'goshen!" Al's eyes glinted with amusement. "You're tryin' to get
information across, not writin' a speech! How many papers you crumpled
so far?"

"Well," Ted looked at the pile of discarded papers beside him and
grinned, "quite a few. You really think this is all right?"

"A masterpiece," Al answered solemnly. "Mail it afore you change your
mind again."

Ted folded his paper, wrote a short letter to the effect that he wanted
his ad to run in the classified section, wrote a check, put all three in
an envelope and addressed it to a leading daily newspaper in a city from
which the Mahela drew numerous hunters. Tammie trotted beside him as he
ran down to the mailbox, put his letter in and raised the red flag to
let Bill Parker, their rural carrier, know there was mail to pick up.
He ran back to the house.

_"Br-r!_ It's cold!"

"The jackets in the closet," Al observed drily, "are not there because
they look pretty."

Ted said meekly, "Yes, Dad."

He re-seated himself at the table and took up his pen. The first hunting
season, for woodcock, opened next week. Two weeks later, squirrels,
cottontails and ruffed grouse became legal game and the season ran for a
month. During the last week of small game season, black bears could be
shot. Then everything else was closed and hunting wound up with the
three-week deer season.

Ted calculated carefully. There were six weeks of the small game season.
If he rented his camp throughout at forty-five dollars a week, it would
give him a net return of two hundred and seventy dollars. Three weeks of
deer season would add another hundred and eighty, or a total of four
hundred and fifty. Ted consulted his expense records.

Jud Hawley had sold them the land with the old building on it for a
hundred and fifty dollars and Al and Ted had torn down the old building
and rebuilt it. Just the same, expenses had mounted with incredible
speed. Al had all the tools, but it was necessary to buy nails. The
window casings Al had fashioned, but the glass that went into them cost
money. They'd had to buy a secondhand cooking range and a heating stove
and enough table and cooking ware to serve many people. Bedding had been
an expensive item, and composition shingles for both the roof and outer
walls had cost a great deal.

Economizing as much as possible and hiring no labor, the camp had still
cost six hundred and fifteen dollars. However, the old building had
been a huge place and there was enough lumber left over to build
another, smaller camp as soon as they acquired another building site.
Ted nibbled the end of his pen.

"We'll be in the clear on this one before next hunting season; then
everything it brings in will be pure gravy."

"How do you figger it?"

"There's six weeks of small game hunting and three of deer season. If
the camp is rented continuously, it will bring in four hundred and fifty
dollars. Then, when fishing opens--"

"If," Al broke in, "is a right fancy word. Might be a good idea to rent
your camp 'fore you spend the rent money."

"It might at that," Ted said meekly, "and I forgot to charge against it
the fifteen dollars the ad's costing."

"Charge it," Al advised, "and get this one thing straight. There's no
such thing as 'pure gravy.' What a body gets, he works for. What he
don't work for, he don't get. You started the ball rollin', but it will
stop if you don't keep it rollin'."

"What do you suggest I do?"

"Just what you are doin', but don't get cocky about it. You've made a
start, but it's a small start that stacks up against a big job. See how
things work out. If they come 'round like I think they will, this camp
will make money. But it won't be your money. It belongs to the job
you've set yourself. Build another camp--and another and another, until
you've got as many as you can handle. Go on from there."

"Go on?"

"You started out," Al reminded him, "to own a place like Crestwood."

"That will take years!"

"Did you expect to get it in a week?"

"Well--No."

"Good, on account you won't. You'll need years. Then, after you finally
get what you want, or somethin' close to it, all the people who set
'round on their hunkers while you worked will still be settin' 'round
tellin' each other how lucky you are."

Ted grinned, then yawned and stretched. "Gosh! All this heavy
philosophy's making me tired!"

"What do you think your bed's for?"

"You get the best ideas!"

"Oh, I'm the smart one!" Al smiled and filled his pipe. "Catch yourself
some shut-eye. There's work to be done come mornin'."

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning, with Al driving and Tammie on the floor in front of
Ted, they started back toward the camp they had built. The lazy sun,
reluctant to get out of bed, made a splash of gold only on the very tip
of Hawkbill. The rest of the wilderness was a deep-shadowed green, with
overtones of gray. A doe danced across the road in front of them and
stopped to look back over her shoulder at the passing pickup. They saw
two more does, then a buck--and Al stepped suddenly on the gas.

Spurting ahead, the old truck still missed by a wide margin a lean
coyote that was running a scant twenty feet behind the buck. Tammie rose
and bristled. Ted held him down. The collie was fast, but nothing except
a greyhound was fast enough to catch a coyote. Visible for only fleeting
seconds, this one disappeared in the forest. Failing to run the coyote
down, Al stopped his truck.

"Doggone! Of all times to be without a rifle!"

"It looked to me as though he was chasing that buck," Ted observed.

Al shook his head. "Just followin' it; one coyote couldn't kill a grown
buck. But he can and will do a lot of damage 'mongst the small game.
I'll have to nail that critter's scalp to the wall soon's I can. Let's
have a look."

They got out and examined the tracks in the dusty road. Al made careful
observations of his own. He went a little ways into the forest and came
back to the truck.

"Looks like he's been crossin' here quite a few times. I'll fetch the
rifle tomorrow mornin', on the chanst I'll nail him. If I don't, I'd
best string some traps. Can't have coyotes in the Mahela."

"We sure can't."

Without completely understanding his father's bitter lesson--seeing his
beloved wilderness all but denuded of game by thoughtless or greedy
hunters and built back through sound conversation--Ted knew only that Al
had an almost ferocious hatred for destructive elements wherever they
were found. Therefore, the coyote could not be tolerated. Ted's eyes
roved up Hawkbill, and the cool wind felt good on his face. When they
mounted a hill, he strove for and caught a glimpse of the burned
mountain behind Hawkbill. Al saw and interpreted his look.

"They're there all right, and it's my bet they'll be there after deer
season ends."

"Not both of 'em," Ted asserted. "I'm going to nail one or the other."

"Which one you aim to get? Damon? Or Pythias?"

"Either will satisfy. How do you tell 'em apart?"

"I imagine there'd be some small differences if a man was close. But on
a far look, I can't tell which is which. They're alike as two peas in a
pod. All I'm sure of is that I never saw bigger bucks."

Ted said smugly, "Either should be as much advertising for the
Harknesses as it could be for Crestwood."

"Hadn't you ought to get it first?" Al asked wryly. "Well, here we are
again."

To the vast delight and relief of a colony of chipmunks that were snugly
at home beneath it, the Harknesses had built their new camp on the site
of the old. However, they had done so to save hauling lumber and because
the old foundation was so solid; any benefits accruing to the chipmunks
were merely incidental. The new camp was a one-story structure,
twenty-six feet long by eighteen wide.

The exterior, if less than magnificent, did promise comfort. The windows
were small, consisting of four panes each, and set well back in their
casings. Two tin chimneys, one for each stove, protruded well above the
roof. The shingled walls and roof gave assurance that no cold winds
could creep in and there was a covered porch. Probably not so much as
one hunter would ever sit on it, but it did provide a place for storing
wood and keeping it dry. The surrounding goldenrod had been crushed and
scattered and the truck had made its own path in.

Al drew up in front of the door and Tammie leaped out to sniff at the
various cracks and crevices the chipmunks used in their comings and
goings. Al and Ted went inside.

In the center of the one room, not too close to the heating stove, was a
long wooden table, with benches on either side. Convenient to it was a
built-in cupboard, one end of which contained tableware and dishes.
Running along the wall, the other half of the cupboard held skillets,
pans and kettles. Nearby was the cooking stove, with cabinets for food
storage and a sturdy table for the cook's use. At the other end of the
building, as far as possible from both stoves, were the bunks. Scattered
along the walls were two secondhand davenports and five chairs that had
seen their best days but would still offer comfort to anyone who'd been
hiking the hills all day.

Al surveyed the place critically. "Not much like Crestwood."

Ted teased, "It is kind of ramshackle."

"Ramshackle!" Al bristled. "Why you young whipper-snapper! This is as
good-built a camp as--"

"There you are!" Ted grinned. "If you had a choice, would you stay here
or at Crestwood?"

"Why here," Al grumbled. "I never did go for that fancy stuff."

"And neither do a lot of other hunters. When they go out, they'd as soon
be in the woods. Besides, the prices here aren't much like Crestwood's,
either. In deer season, Thornton's cheapest room is fifteen dollars a
day. We could rent twenty camps like this if we had 'em."

"And we won't even rent this'n 'thout we finish it. Now let's do some
figgerin'."

At the kitchen end of the camp, they had built a wooden stand and in it
placed the tub from a large kitchen sink. There was an overflow pipe
that led to a septic tank beneath the floor of the camp itself; thus it
wouldn't freeze. Al scratched his head.

"My figgerin's all done."

"It is?"

"Yup, and it figgers out the same's it always does. If we want water in
here, we'll have to work to put it in. Get your boots on."

"Yes, boss."

Ted donned rubber boots and they went out. Tammie, who had been having
an exciting time trying to catch a chipmunk that insisted on poking its
nose out of a crevice, wagged his tail and ran to join them. A doe that
had come to the apple trees stamped an apprehensive foot and drifted
slowly into the forest. The two workers took a pick and shovel from the
truck, and Al led the way to a little knoll.

On the very top of the knoll was a seepage of water that sent a tricklet
into Tumbling Run. Green grass, rather than goldenrod, lined its length
and at no place was the runlet more than four inches wide or two deep.
Never in Al's memory had it been more or less; the spring provided a
constant flow. Even in coldest weather, the runlet never froze, and its
banks were always free of snow. It was a favorite drinking place for
deer that found other water icebound.

Al asked, "Can you think of any more excuses for deep thinkin'?"

"Not even one."

"Me neither," Al said mournfully, "so I guess we can start the workin'
part. Do you want the pick or the shovel?"

"Is there a choice?"

"Could be, but here's the shovel and you might as well dig."

Ted sunk his shovel point deep into the wet earth and scooped out a
chunk of soggy earth. Ice-cold, muddy water at once filled the hole and
Ted scooped again. He made a wry face.

"This is like shoveling glue!"

"Case you ever get a job in a glue factory, you'll know how to shovel
it," Al soothed. "We got to get down anyway three feet."

"I'll persevere, but I know now why you wanted the pick.

"Who's the brains of this outfit?"

"Obviously you are."

"There ain't any real need for a pick." Al grinned. "Wet ground don't
have to be loosened. I'll go snake in some wood."

Al left and Tammie frisked beside him. Both got into the truck, and Al
drove across the clearing into the woods. Then there came the sound of
his ax ringing on dead wood.... An hour later he was back. The pickup's
box was filled with wood and Al dragged a log that he had chained to the
truck. He left the wood beside the camp and, with Tammie sitting proudly
in Ted's accustomed place, drove back for another load.

Ted continued to deepen the spring. It was cold, dirty work, but it was
a good idea and certainly it would make the camp more comfortable. The
spring must be made deep enough to form a pool. Then its present
overflow would be plugged, diverted into some secondhand pipe they'd
already bought and led into the kitchen sink. Al thought there was
sufficient fall so no pump would be necessary and the water would force
itself through the pipe. Thus the cabin would be assured of a continuous
flow of fresh, pure water. In winter, when the camp would have no
occupants, it would be necessary only to pull the pipe or plug it and so
send the overflow back into its original course.

Al returned with a second load of wood, dumped it and came up to see how
Ted was doing. Tammie sniffed at the muddy pool, then promptly jumped
into it. He climbed out, shook himself and sent a roily spray flying in
all directions.

Ted ducked and sputtered, "For Pete's sake, dog!"

Al grinned. "He thinks you need a bath."

Ted glanced down at his mud-spattered boots and clothing. "Maybe I do.
Is this deep enough?"

"Let's have the shovel."

Ted stood aside while Al took the implement. An old hand at this sort of
thing, he probed expertly into corners that Ted had missed and lifted
out shovelfuls of mud without splashing his clothes at all. Ten minutes
later he leaned on the shovel and inspected the spring, which in its
present stage of construction was a muddy pool, four feet square by a
little more than three deep, with the overflow still going down its
natural channel.

"That'll do," Al decided. "Now for the plumbin'."

He caught up a length of pipe, walked to the apple trees, inserted his
pipe in a crotch and bent it into an 'L.' He bent it again, so that one
end formed a gooseneck, and carried his pipe into the cabin. Al
maneuvered one end through an already drilled hole in the floor, hung
the gooseneck over the sink and used a metal clamp to fasten his pipe to
the wall.

Ted marveled. His father had measured nothing, but the bent pipe fitted
perfectly and the straight half of the 'L' lay flat on the ground
beneath the cabin.

Ted asked,

"What now?"

"Let's eat."

"Most sensible idea I've heard all day."

They ate the sandwiches and drank the coffee they'd brought along while
Tammie, sitting hopefully near, expertly caught and gobbled the crusts
they tossed him. Then the two went back to work.

Taking a bit of soap from his pocket, Al soaped the threads on another
length of pipe; filling the threads, the soap would prevent leaks. The
two "plumbers" then fitted this section into the pipe that protruded
beneath the cabin and continued with additional lengths until they were
within five feet of the spring.

Al cut that five-foot length off with a hack saw. He plugged the cut end
with a piece of wood, started at a point about a foot below the top of
the knoll and used the flat of his ax to drive the plugged section of
pipe through so that it emerged a foot below the surface of the spring.
He screwed the short length into the already laid pipe and straightened.

"Now we're diggin' where there's taters!" he said cheerfully.

Catching up the shovel, he closed the spring's outlet with dirt and mud.
Then he rolled up his right sleeve, reached into the water and pulled
the wooden plug out. A second time he straightened, grinning. "If it
don't work, it's a sign we did it wrong. Let's go see."

They re-entered the cabin and stood expectantly near the sink. For a
moment nothing happened. Then a series of choking gurgles and a rush of
air came through the gooseneck. This was followed by a muddy trickle
that subsided to a few drops. Then there was a violent surge of water
that leveled off to a steady flow. Al and Ted looked triumphantly at
each other.

"It works!" Al said.

"Running water yet!" Ted exulted, "Even if it is muddy!"

"It'll clear itself in a few hours."

"Don't you think we should have a faucet on this gooseneck?"

Al shook his head. "Not in cold weather. It don't freeze 'cause it runs
fast. Come spring, we may tie a faucet onto it."

"What do we do now?"

"Go home. It's quittin' time."

Ted was surprised to find that long evening shadows were slanting across
the valleys. They had worked hard, and perhaps that had made the day
seem so short. Only when they climbed back into the pickup for the ride
home did he realize that he was very tired. He tickled Tammie's silken
ears.

"Tomorrow's another day," he murmured.

"Yep," Al agreed somberly, "and another day brings more work. Reckon
I'll take after that coyote. He's got to be caught. You want to saw
wood?"

"Sure thing."

       *       *       *       *       *

Early the next morning, Al let Ted and Tammie off at the camp and turned
back, with traps and rifle, to get on the trail of the marauding coyote.
While the collie renewed his acquaintance with the chipmunks, Ted laid a
chunk of wood in the sawbuck and sawed off a twelve-inch length. He
sawed another ... and worked until noon. After lunch, he started
splitting the wood he had sawed. It was the right way to do things. If
hunters cut their own wood, they might injure valuable trees.

Evening shadows were long again when Al came to pick him up. "Get your
coyote?" Ted greeted his father.

"No, but I will. I found where he's runnin' and I put traps in the right
places. See you got a sizable pile of wood."

"I haven't been loafing."

"Not much anyhow."

Ted said tiredly, "What a refreshing sense of humor my old pappy's got."

They turned into the driveway of their own house, to see Loring Blade's
pickup truck already there and the game warden waiting. With him was
Jack Callahan, Sheriff of Mahela County.

Al's voice was weighted with surprise as he welcomed them. "Hi, Lorin'.
'Lo, Jack. Been waitin' long?"

"Not very long," Loring Blade said. "We figured you'd be in about now.
We have to ask you some questions, Al."

"Well, come in and ask."

They entered the house and Ted snapped on the lights in the living room.
He started into the kitchen to prepare supper. Al swung to face their
guests.

"Ask away," he invited them.

"We came to find out," said Jack Callahan, "what you can tell us about
the shooting of Smoky Delbert."



4

THE FUGITIVE


The words brought Ted to a shocked halt, just as he was entering the
kitchen. He turned to stare in disbelief and Tammie, sensing that
something was wrong, searched his master's face as though this would
show him what he must do. Failing to find any guiding sign, the collie
turned toward the two strangers. He did nothing and would do nothing
until Ted or Al told him to. But he was ready for any part he must take.

In his turn, Ted looked to his father for a clue and found none.
Whatever Al might feel, he was successfully hiding it, and his voice was
neither raised nor lowered when he spoke.

"Somebody finally got him, huh?"

Jack Callahan challenged, "What do you mean by that?"

"Where you been the past twenty or twenty-five years, Jack? Smoky's been
askin' for it at least that long."

Callahan's voice was hard as ice and as brittle. "You didn't answer my
question."

"So I didn't, but I will. I know nothin' 'bout who might've shot Smoky,
but I can think of lots of reasons why."

"Is this yours?"

Callahan's hand dipped into his pocket and came up bearing Al's
distinctive tobacco pouch. Ted gasped. His father was unmoved.

"Yep. But I haven't seen it for two weeks or more."

"That's true!" Ted asserted. "He hasn't had it for at least that long!"

Al said quietly, "Stay out of this, boy."

"You needn't stay out." Callahan swung toward Ted. "Was your father with
you today?"

"Well--no."

"Where was he?"

"He was out hunting a coyote."

A note of triumph in his voice, Callahan turned again to Al. "By any
chance, a two-legged coyote?"

Al said disgustedly, "Don't be a fool!"

"Did you have your rifle with you?"

"What would you carry if you was huntin' a coyote? A pocketful of
pebbles?"

"Can you account for your actions of today?"

"Yep. Crossed the nose of Hawkbill, went into Coon Valley, climbed that
to its head, swung behind Burned Mountain, crossed the Fordham Road and
come back by way of Fiddlefoot Crick."

"Can you prove all this?"

"Sure!" Al snorted. "I'll get you an affy-davit from a couple of crows
that saw me."

"That is your tobacco pouch?"

"I've already said it is."

"That pouch," and again Callahan's voice rose in triumph, "was found not
six feet from where Smoky fell!"

"So?"

"Al, I'd hate to have to get tough with you."

"Don't think you'd better try it."

"Loring heard you threaten to shoot Delbert."

"And I also," Loring Blade broke in, "heard Smoky threaten to shoot Al.
There's more than one side to this, Jack, and suppose you simmer down?"

"I'm in charge here!"

"But you're getting nowhere. Al, will you talk to me?"

"I'll tell you what I can, Lorin'."

"If you had anything to do with this, tell your story now. I don't hold
with shooting, but certainly I never held with Smoky Delbert. I, for
one, am willing to believe that, no matter how it happened or who he
met, Smoky raised his rifle first. I've known him a long while."

"But you never jailed him."

"Only because," the warden said, "I could never catch him. He was crafty
as he was mean. But he's still a human being."

"Could be some argument 'bout that," Al murmured. "Lorin', where was
Smoky shot?"

"Coon Valley," the warden answered reluctantly. "Almost beside those
three big sycamores near Glory Rock."

"Is he dead?"

"No, but he probably would be if he hadn't dragged himself to the
Fordham Road. Bill Layton, passing in his logging truck, found him and
took him into the hospital at Lorton."

"Is he goin' to die?"

"He's in a bad way."

"Has he talked?"

"Not yet."

"How about the bullet?"

"It went right through him; we couldn't find it."

"How do you know he was shot near them three sycamores in Coon Valley?"

"Bill told us where he picked him up. Jack and I went up there to see
what we could find and," the warden shrugged, "the back trail wasn't
hard to follow. Smoky was hit hard."

"And you found my tobacco pouch?"

"That's right, Al. It was within a few feet of where Smoky fell."

"How do you know he fell there?"

Loring Blade shrugged again. "He laid a while before he started to drag
himself out. There was plenty of evidence."

"Now here's a point, Lorin'. I've already said I was in Coon Valley
today. Suppose I had my pouch, couldn't I have lost it when I passed the
sycamores?"

"You could have."

"What time did you go up Coon Valley?" Jack Callahan broke in.

"'Twas before eight. I started early."

"Then you crossed back to the Fordham Road?"

"Don't try to snarl my words up," Al warned. "I've already said that I
went up Coon Valley to its head and crossed back of Burned Mountain to
the Fordham Road."

"But you heard no shooting?"

Al seemed a little contemptuous. "You ever make that crossin'?"

"I asked you a question."

"And I asked you one. Did you ever cross that way?"

"No." Put on the defensive, Callahan sulked.

"Try it," Al advised shortly. "It's a right smart hop. There's places
back in there where you couldn't hear a cannon fired in Coon Valley."

"Look, Al," Loring Blade pleaded, "I'll ask you again to tell your
straight story. I'm sure there has to be more to it than this. I know
you too well to think you'd shoot Delbert or anyone else down in cold
blood. Won't you help me to help you?"

Al said doggedly, "I've told my story. Seems like there's an easy way to
settle this whole works."

"What is it?"

"Delbert ain't dead. When he talks, he'll tell who shot him."

"There's no guarantee that Delbert will ever talk."

Jack Callahan said, "I'm afraid I'll have to take you in, Al."

"On what grounds?"

"Suspicion. If Delbert lives, the charge will be assault with a deadly
weapon. If he dies--" Callahan shrugged.

Al looked aside, and the fierce storms that could rage in his usually
gentle eyes were raging now. Ted shivered, and then Al calmed.

"All right, Jack. If that's the way it must be."

"You won't resist?"

"I promise I won't raise a hand against you or Lorin'."

Loring Blade said relievedly, "That's a help, Al. Thanks."

"Is there any reason," Al asked, "why a body can't eat first? Ted and
me've been out sinst early mornin' with only a snack in between."

Loring Blade said agreeably, "No reason at all, Al." Callahan glared at
the warden. Al smiled faintly.

"Have a bite with us, Lorin'?"

"I'll be glad to."

"How about you, Jack?"

"Look here, Al, if you try anything--"

"I've give my word that I'll raise no hand to either of you."

"See that you keep your word."

"Leave that to me. Will you eat with us?"

Callahan answered reluctantly, "I'll stay."

"Then Ted and me'll be rustlin' a bite."

Silent, but seething inwardly, Al joined Ted in the kitchen. Knowing
something was amiss, but not what he could do about it, Tammie lay down
woefully on his bearskin rug. Wanting to speak, but not knowing what to
say, Ted looked dully at his father's face. It was unreadable.

Finally Al said, "We'll all feel better when we've had a bite to eat,
and I for one am hungry."

He lighted a burner and stooped to take a kettle from beneath the sink.
Ted stared his astonishment. Al had the huge kettle, the one they used
when there were ten or more hunters staying with them. Half-filling it
with water, he put it over the burner to heat and took an unopened peck
of potatoes from their storage place. Industriously he began to peel
them.

Ted said, "Dad--"

"We'll need plenty," Al broke in. "S'pose you get about four more
parcels of pork chops out and start 'em cookin?"

"But, Dad--"

"Let's not," Al whirled almost savagely, "waste our time talkin'. Let's
just do it."

Sick with fear, Ted did as directed. He and Al froze pork chops six to a
package, and three were all a hungry man wanted. Four more packages
meant that they would cook thirty pork chops, and what were any four
men--even four ravenous men--to do with them? Ted got four more packages
out and began breaking them apart. He stole a sidewise glance at his
father. Had this sudden, terrible accusation unseated Al's reason? Ted
put the still frozen pork chops into two of their biggest skillets and
began thawing them over burners. Loring Blade came into the kitchen.

"Can I help?"

Al said, "Reckon not, Lorin'."

"My gosh! You're making enough for an army!"

"Might's well have plenty. Ted, give me another sack of biscuit mix."

Ted's head whirled. He licked dry lips and looked at the two pans of
biscuits Al had already prepared. Loring Blade turned away and in that
instant when they were unobserved, Al shook a warning head. Ted took
another sack of biscuit mix from the cupboard while cold fear gnawed at
him as a dog gnaws a bone. If there was some idea behind this madness,
what could it possibly be? Al was preparing enough food for a dozen men.

Ted turned to his skillets full of sputtering pork chops while Al tested
the boiling potatoes with a fork.

"Most done," he commented. "How you comin'?"

"Another five minutes."

"Guess I can drain the spuds."

He drained them into the sink, shook them, and added a generous hand
full of salt and a bit of pepper. He shook the kettle of potatoes again
to mix the seasoning thoroughly. Then he put them on the table and
pushed the hot coffee pot to a warming burner. While Ted took their
biggest platter from the cupboard and began forking pork chops onto it,
Al slipped in to set four places at the table.

"Ready?"

"All ready."

"Guess we can eat, then."

Leaving the potatoes in their huge kettle, he carried it in and put it
in the center of the table. Ted brought the platter of pork chops and
returned to the kitchen for coffee. Al passed him with two plates of
biscuits.

"Chow."

Jack Callahan, who had been so grim and unrelenting and now seemed to
regret it, smiled.

"Whew! Are four of us going to eat that?"

"If we can."

"I'll do my darndest."

"You're s'posed to."

"Doggonit, Al," Callahan said plaintively, "don't blame me for this. I
have a job and I intend to do it!"

"I know."

"There's nothing personal."

"I know that, too."

"Do you have to be so gloomy?"

"What'd you do if you was on your way to jail? Turn handsprings?"

Loring Blade grinned mirthlessly, speared two pork chops and added a
generous helping of potatoes. He broke a hot biscuit and lathered it
with butter. The game warden began to eat.

"Seen Damon and Pythias lately?" he asked companionably.

"Nope."

Loring Blade looked down at his plate. Under ordinary circumstances they
could have made easy conversation. But circumstances weren't ordinary;
the shadow of one in trouble cast its pall over the other three. The
game warden ate a pork chop and some of his potatoes. Then, unable to
refrain from talking about that which loomed so largely, he burst out,
"Al, for pete's sake! If you have anything to say, say it! If you shot
in self-defense, I, for one, will buy the story. There's a way out if
you'll take it!"

"I've told my story, Lorin'."

"You refuse to admit you shot Delbert?"

"I didn't shoot him."

Callahan said, "There's evidence to the contrary."

"So?"

Ted toyed with a single pork chop, one potato, and almost gagged. He
took a drink of hot coffee and found it stimulating. Tammie, lying on
the bearskin, looked questioningly at his master. Loring Blade pushed
his plate back.

"I'm full. Told you you cooked far too much."

"No harm's done."

"We'll help you clean up."

"Right nice of you."

Al put the uneaten pork chops, a great pile of them, in two covered
dishes and placed them in the refrigerator. He covered the kettle of
potatoes and left them on the table, and put the biscuits in the
breadbox. Ted washed the dishes and Loring Blade dried them.

While he worked Ted brought some order to his scattered thoughts. His
father was in trouble, serious trouble, and nothing mattered now except
getting him out. That meant the services of a skilled attorney and they
had little money. But he could sell the camp for at least as much as it
had cost and probably he could get a job in Lorton. Ted washed the last
plate and Loring Blade dried it. There was an uneasy interval during
which nobody did or said anything because nobody knew what to do or say.

Finally Loring Blade asked, "Are you ready, Al?"

"Yep."

"Shall we go?"

"Guess so."

Ted said firmly, "I'm following you in. I'm going to see John McLean
tonight. He's a good lawyer."

There was a ring of command in Al's voice, "No, Ted!"

"But--"

"Don't come to Lorton tonight! Stay right here!"

Ted said reluctantly, "If that's what you want--"

"That's what I do want. This thing's too harebrained already. No use
makin' it more so by actin' without thinkin'."

"I'll come in in the morning."

"If you think best. So long for now."

The door opened and closed and they were gone. Ted heard Loring Blade
start his pickup and watched the red taillight bobbing down their
driveway. They reached the Lorton Road and Loring Blade gunned his
motor.

Ted sank dully into a chair and Tammie came to sit comfortingly beside
him. The big dog shoved his slender muzzle into Ted's cupped hand, and,
getting no response, he laid his sleek head on his master's knee. The
measured ticking of the clock on the mantel seemed like the measured
ringing of tiny bells. Ted fastened his gaze on it, and because he had
to do something, he watched the clock's black hands creep slowly around.
Like everything else, he thought, time was a relative thing. Fifteen
minutes seemed no more than an eyewink when one was busy, but it was an
age when you could do nothing except struggle with your own tortured
thoughts.

Another fifteen minutes passed, and another, and an exact hour had
elapsed when Tammie sprang up and trotted to the door. He stood, head
raised and tail wagging. Ted opened the door.

"Dad!"

"'Fraid I got to move, Ted. Help me pack all thet grub we cooked for
supper, will you? Hills'll be full of posse men for the next few days
and I can't be startin' any fires."

"But--"

"I kept my promise," Al assured him, "and all I promised was that I
wouldn't raise a hand 'gainst Lorin' or Jack. Never did say I wouldn't
jump out of the truck when it slowed for Dead Man's Curve."

"They'll be on your trail!"

"Not right away, they won't. I went into the woods when I took off and
they're lookin' for me there." He grinned briefly. "Callahan found me.
'Come out or I'll shoot!' he said. I didn't come out and he shot. Hope
the beech tree he thought was me don't mind."

"You could have run from here if you were going to run anyhow!"

"When I run," Al Harkness said, "nobody 'cept me gets in the way of any
bullets I might draw. Think I want 'em shootin' up you or Tammie?"

Al laid a canvas pack sack on the kitchen table. While Ted wrapped the
cooked pork chops in double thicknesses of waxed paper and the excess
biscuits in single, his father spooned the potatoes into glass quart
jars and mashed them down. He packed everything into the rucksack and
added a package of coffee, one of tea, some salt and a few
miscellaneous items. Donning his hunting jacket, he shouldered the pack.
Filling two pockets with matches, he slid two unopened boxes of
cartridges into another. Finally he strung a belt ax and hunting knife
on a leather belt, strapped it around his middle and took his rifle from
its rack.

"Don't try to find me, Ted."

"What shall I say if they come?" Ted whispered.

"Tell the truth and say I was here. They'll find it out anyhow."

"What are you going to do?"

"Lay in the hills 'til somethin' turns up. Can't do nothin' else now."

"Dad, don't go!" Ted pleaded. "Stay and face it out. It's the best way."

"It might have been," Al agreed, "and I was most tempted to go clear in.
But it ain't any more."

"Why?"

"Lorin' had his radio on; listened on the way down. Smoky Delbert come
to and talked. He named me as the man who shot him and said I shot from
ambush! Be seein' you, Ted."



5

COON VALLEY


Tammie whined uneasily and Ted woke with a start. He glanced at the
clock on the mantel and saw that it read twenty minutes past five. The
last time he had looked, he remembered, the clock had said half past
two. Obviously he'd fallen asleep in the chair where he'd been waiting
for someone to come or something to happen. No one had come, but they
were coming now. On the Lorton Road, Ted heard the cars that Tammie had
detected twenty seconds earlier.

He got to his feet and looked out into the thin, gray mistiness of early
dawn. With its lights glowing like a ghost's eyes in the wan dimness, a
car churned up the Harkness drive and a second followed it. The boy
shrank away. Last night's events now seemed like some horrible
nightmare, but the tread of steps outside and the knock on the door
proved that they were not.

Ted opened the door to confront Loring Blade and Corporal Paul Hausler,
of the State Police. He glanced beyond them at the men gathered beside
the cars and saw that three of the nine were attired in State Police
uniforms. The six volunteer posse men were Tom and Bud Delbert, Smoky's
brothers; Enos, Alfred and Ernest Brill, his cousins; and Pete Tooms,
who would go anywhere and do anything as long as it promised excitement
and no monotonous labor.

Loring Blade greeted Ted, "Good morning, Ted."

The boy muttered, "Good morning."

"You seen your dad?"

"Yes."

"I mean, since we took him away last night?"

"Yes."

"Did he come back here?"

"That's right."

"What time?"

Ted hesitated. He'd had his eyes fixed on the clock, but seconds and
split seconds counted, too.

"I don't know the _exact_ time."

"Better tell the truth," Corporal Hausler warned bluntly. "It can go
hard with you if you don't. Where's your father now?"

"I don't know."

"Maybe a couple of slaps will jar your memory!"

He took a step forward. Tammie, rippling in, placed himself in front of
Ted. There was no growl in his throat or snarl on his lips, but his eyes
were grim and his manner threatening. Hausler stopped.

"I don't think you'd better let him bite me."

Loring Blade said quietly, "Cut it out, Paul. There's enough trouble in
this family without adding unnecessarily to it. Ted didn't do anything."

"He can tell us where his father is."

"I cannot!" Ted flared.

"When did he leave here?"

"Last night."

"What time?"

"I forgot to hold a stop watch on him."

"Why didn't you stop him? Don't you know that failing to do so can make
you liable to arrest as an accessory after the fact?"

"A sheriff and a game warden couldn't stop him."

"He's right," Loring Blade agreed. "We couldn't. Why don't you start
your men into the hills?"

"If he left this house," Hausler threatened, "we'll be on his track in
two minutes."

He turned and went out, and Ted laughed. Loring Blade swung to face him.

"You feel pretty bitter, don't you?"

"How would you feel?"

"Not too happy," the warden admitted. "Why did you laugh?"

Ted grinned faintly. "Does that trooper really think he, or anyone else,
can track Dad?"

"If he does have such ideas," Loring Blade conceded, "he'll soon have
some different ones. Nobody can track Al Harkness."

"Nor can they find him."

"Perhaps not immediately, but sooner or later they will."

"Yes?" Ted questioned. "Send a thousand men into the hills, send a
thousand into any big thicket, and they wouldn't find him unless they
happened to stumble right across him."

"Al can't stay in the hills forever."

"Maybe not, but he can stay there a long time. He knows every chipmunk
den in the Mahela."

"He won't be easy to find," the warden conceded, "but he will be found.
What time did he come back last night?"

"Just about an hour after you took him away."

Loring Blade exclaimed, "Wow!"

Ted looked quizzically at him and the warden continued, "We were on Dead
Man's Curve, and he was between Jack and me, when suddenly he pushed the
door open and just seemed to float out of it. We beat the brush around
Dead Man's Curve until one o'clock this morning. About then I tumbled to
the idea that he must have come back here."

"Why didn't you come last night?"

Loring Blade shrugged. "He slipped through our fingers once. It wasn't
hard to figure that he wouldn't have done that only to let himself be
picked up again. Besides, it did seem sort of useless to hunt him at
night. He headed into the woods, and because he didn't make a sound that
either Jack or I could hear, we thought he was holed up right close.
Ted, do you think he shot Smoky?"

"No!"

"Why not?"

"He said he didn't."

"Delbert said he did."

"Just what did he say?"

"That's all. He regained consciousness briefly. The officer with him
asked who shot him and he said Al did from ambush. I doubt if he's
talked since."

"Do you believe Dad shot Smoky?"

The warden frowned. "If he did, it wasn't from ambush. There's more to
it than that. We could have brought it out, but it will be harder now.
When Al ran, he made things look pretty bad."

"Not to me."

"But to a lot of other people. Do you think you can get him to come back
and give himself up?"

"I asked him last night to stay and face it out."

"Why wouldn't he?"

"Dad's part of the Mahela," Ted said quietly, "and the Mahela's code is
the one he knows best. He would not go to jail for a crime he didn't
commit, any more than a wild deer would voluntarily enter a cage."

"Doggone, that sure complicates things. Do you have any bright ideas?"

"What did you find in Coon Valley?"

"Just what I told you, Smoky's back trail and your dad's tobacco pouch."

"Nothing else?"

"Smoky's rifle. We brought it in with us."

"No sign of anything else?"

Loring Blade answered wearily, "You know what it's like there. Unless
it's a trail like Smoky's, and Smoky was bleeding hard, there's little
in the way of sign that a human eye can detect."

"Just the same, I think I'll go up there."

"What do you expect to find?"

"I don't know. Anything would be a help."

"Guess it would at that. Good luck."

"Are--are you going to join the hunt for Dad?"

Loring Blade grinned wryly. "I'm not that optimistic. I agree with you
that, if Al wants to lose himself in the Mahela, he won't be found. But
sooner or later he'll show up. He can't spend the winter there."

"I wouldn't bet on that."

"Bet the way you please. Now I'm not saying that you will, but if you
should run across Al up there in the hills, see if you can persuade him
to give himself up. He still has a good case, in spite of Smoky's
testimony. Too many people know Al too well to believe he'd shoot
anybody from ambush; he has a lot of friends. The only ones who'd join
the posse were Delberts and Pete Tooms, and I sure hope none of them
stumble across Al. If they come in fighting, he's apt to fight right
back, and one stove-in Delbert around here is enough. Good luck again,
Ted."

Ted lost his belligerence; the warden was his father's friend. "Stay and
have breakfast with me."

"Thanks, but we breakfasted in Lorton before we came here. I'll be
seeing you around."

"Do that."

The warden left and Ted was alone except for Tammie. He dropped a hand
to the collie's silken head and tried to think a way out of the
bewildering maze in which he was trapped. He was sure of two things; Al
had not shot Smoky Delbert and his father would stay in the hills until,
as Loring Blade had said, winter forced him out. But it would have to be
bitter, harsh winter. Al could make his way in anything else.

Ted whispered, "What are we going to do, Tammie?"

Tammie licked his fingers and Ted furrowed his brow. The situation, as
it existed, was almost pitifully vague. A man had been shot in Coon
Valley, and the only signs left were the hurt man's trail and an
accusing finger to point at who had hurt him. There had to be more than
that, but what? Loring Blade had found nothing and Loring was an expert
woodsman. However, even though everything seemed hopeless, somebody had
better do something to help Al and, except for Loring Blade, Ted was the
only one who wanted to help him. Even though it was a slim one, finding
something that the game warden had not found seemed the only chance.
Ted decided to take it.

"But we'll eat first," he promised Tammie.

Ted prepared a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs and fed Tammie. Then
he fixed a lunch and, with Tammie beside him, got into Al's old pickup.
He gulped. The seat had always seemed small enough when he and his
father occupied it together. With Al gone, and despite the fact that
Tammie sat beside him, the seat was huge. Ted gritted his teeth and
started down the drive.

He turned left on the Lorton Road, slowed for the dangerous, hairpin
turn that was Dead Man's Curve, speeded up to climb a gentle rise,
descended back into the valley and turned again on the Fordham Road. A
well graded and not at all a dangerous highway, somehow the Fordham Road
had never seemed a place for cars. It was as though it had always been
here, a part of the Mahela, and had never been torn out of the beech
forest with gargantuan bulldozers or ripped with blasting powder. For
the most part, it was used by the trucks of a small logging outfit
which, under State supervision, was cutting surplus timber and by
hunters who wanted to drive their cars as close as possible to remote
hunting country.

Ted slowed up for five deer that drifted across the road in front of him
and stopped for a fawn that stood with braced legs and wide eyes and
regarded the truck in amazement. Only when Ted tooted the horn did the
fawn come alive, scramble up an embankment and disappear. The boy smiled
wearily. Had Al been with him, both would have enjoyed the startled fawn
and they would have talked about it.

An hour after leaving his house, Ted came to the mouth of Coon Valley.
Long and shallow, the upper parts of both slopes were covered with
beech forest. But if any trees had ever found a rooting in the floor of
the valley or for about seventy yards up either side, they had died or
been cut so long ago that even the stumps had disappeared. The usual
little stream trickled down the valley.

Ted pulled over to the side and stopped. He got out and put the truck's
keys in his pocket. Tammie jumped to the ground beside him. The big
collie bristled and walked warily around a dark stain in the road. Ted
fought a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. There was no doubt that
some hurt thing had lain here, but unless someone had told him so, he
never would have known that it was a man. Ted licked his lips, and
Tammie stayed close beside him as they started up the valley.

Smoky Delbert's journey had indeed been a terrible one. Had he not been
hardened by a lifetime of outdoor living, probably he never could have
made it. In a way, Ted supposed, it was Smoky's atonement for his many
vicious practices. Yet, the boy found it in his heart to admit that,
whoever had shot the poacher and forced him to crawl, wounded and
bleeding, to the Fordham Road, was even more vicious.

Ted stirred uneasily, then calmed himself. Al had said it was no part of
his doing. Therefore it was not. Who had done this dreadful thing?

A spring trickling across the valley had left a soft spot. Here Ted
stopped instantly. Very plain in the soft earth were the tracks of a
single, unshod horse that had walked down Coon Valley and back up it, or
up it and back down. Ted could not be sure, but his heart leaped. Loring
Blade and Jack Callahan had said nothing about any horses. Who had taken
a horse up the valley, and why? His interest quickening, Ted looked for
more horse tracks.

He found them farther on, where the trail became a stretch of sand from
the little stream's overflow, but he still could not determine whether
the horse had gone up or down the valley first. He knew definitely only
that it had traveled both ways, and if he could find out why, he might
also find a clue as to who had shot Smoky Delbert. Ted kept downcast
eyes on the trail.

Save for that unmistakable sign left by Smoky Delbert and an occasional
path or little trail which anything at all might have used, for a long
ways he found only scattered indications that Coon Valley was traveled
at all. The lush grass, beginning to wither because of lack of rain,
formed its own hard cushion. An Indian or bushman tracker might have
been able to read the story of what had come this way. Ted could find
little.

Trotting a little ways ahead, Tammie stopped suddenly, pricked up his
ears and looked interestedly at a small clearing that reached perhaps
three hundred yards into the beech woods. Following his gaze, Ted saw
two brown horses and a black one. Their heads were up and ears pricked
forward as they studied the two on the trail. Ted sighed in resignation.

The Crawfords and the Staceys, who lived in the Mahela, each kept
several horses. Why they did, why they kept any at all, only they could
explain, for neither had enough land to warrant keeping even one horse.
Still they had them. The horses were usually left to forage for
themselves from the time the first spring grass appeared until hunting
season opened. Then sometimes they were pressed into service, to pack or
pull the tents and gear of hunters who had a yen for some remote spot,
or to pack out deer or bears that had been brought down a long ways from
any road.

At any rate, the horse tracks were explained. While it wasn't usual for
one horse to break from its companions and go wandering, now and again
one would do it. The black horse broke from the two browns, trotted down
to Ted, arched its neck and extended a friendly muzzle. Ted petted him.

"Lonesome for a human being, fella?"

Ted went on and the black horse followed him a little ways before it
turned back to join the other two.

A half mile from the Fordham Road, Ted came to the three sycamores near
Glory Rock.

The sides of Coon Valley pitched sharply upwards here, and the beech
forest came closer to the valley's floor. The three sycamores, a giant
tree and two near-giants, rustled their leaves in the little breeze and
remained aloof from everything else, as though they were the royalty in
this place. Even Glory Rock, an elephant-backed, elephant-sized boulder
whose ancient face wore a stubble of lichens, seemed demure in their
presence. To the left, a raggle-taggle thicket of beech brush crawled to
within twenty feet of the valley's floor.

Ted looked down at the place where Smoky Delbert had fallen, and there
could be no mistaking it. The boy stood still, searching everything near
the spot, and as he did hope faded.

The bullet, Loring Blade had said, had gone clear through Smoky. That,
within itself, was unusual. With no exceptions of which Ted knew,
everybody who came into the Mahela used soft-point hunting bullets that
mushroomed on impact. But now and again, though very rarely, a faulty
bullet didn't expand when it struck. Probably that was another factor
that had saved Smoky's life. A mushrooming bullet did awful damage. In
spite of the fact that some of it might escape the hunter, probably at
least eighty per cent of anything hit with one died sooner or later.
Smoky, Ted's experience told him, never would have moved from beside the
sycamores if this bullet had mushroomed.

Ted furrowed his brows. The bullet might prove a lot, but finding it was
as hopeless as locating a pebble in the ocean. There was nothing except
the sycamores and grass right here, and none of the sycamore trunks were
bullet marked. Going through Smoky without expanding, the bullet had
snicked into the ground the same way. Locating it might mean sifting
tons, and perhaps dozens of tons, of earth. Even then, unless one were
lucky, the bullet might elude him.

Tammie, who was sitting beside Ted and staring into the beech brush,
whined suddenly. In turn he lifted both white front paws and put them
down again. He drank deeply of some scent that only he could detect. Ted
looked keenly at him.

"What have you got, Tammie?"

Tammie ran a little ways toward the beech brush and turned to look back
over his shoulder. Ted frowned. Loring Blade had reported correctly and
in full everything that could be found in the valley, but Loring hadn't
had a dog with him. Obviously, Tammie's nose had discovered something
that any human being might well miss.

Ted ordered, "Go ahead, Tammie."

The dog started up-slope toward the brush and Ted followed. He ducked
into the thicket, so dense that, once within it, visibility was limited
to twenty feet or less and there were places where he had to crawl. In
the center of the thicket, Tammie halted to look down and Ted came up
beside him.

In the center of the beech brush was a well-marked trail used by deer
that knew perfectly well the advantages of staying in a thicket. Tammie
was looking down at a splash of drying blood, obviously a deer had been
badly wounded here and had fallen. Ted heaped lavish praise on his dog.

"Good boy! Good boy, Tammie!"

He set his jaw and his eyes glinted. Unless a hunter were within twenty
feet of the trail, in which case it was highly improbable that any deer
would have come down it, nobody within the beech brush could have
wounded the deer. But how about the opposite slope?

Ted retraced his steps and climbed to the top of Glory Rock. From that
vantage point, where he could look across at it instead of trying to
look through it, the beech thicket became more open. He couldn't see
everything, but he could see very plainly the place where the deer had
fallen. Moving to one side, Ted had the same view. The deer could have
been shot from any of a dozen places on this slope.... What had taken
place assumed definite shape in Ted's mind.

Smoky Delbert, always the poacher, had known of the beech thicket and
the trail through it. He had waited for a deer and shot one when it
appeared. Somebody else, somebody who knew and took violent exception to
Smoky and his antics--and there were at least thirty men who did--had
either happened along or had witnessed the whole thing. Probably there
had been an argument, followed by the shooting.

No nearer a solution than he had been before, Ted nibbled his lip in
frustration. He knew now why Smoky had been shot, but he still hadn't
the faintest idea as to who had shot him. All he had were widely
scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, with too many pieces missing.
However, first things came first and he'd better get the hurt deer, for
it was both practical and merciful to do so. Badly wounded, it couldn't
possibly travel far. If he found it still alive, the least he could do
was put it out of its misery. If it was dead, he should save what could
be salvaged of the venison. Al would have done the same had he been
here.

Ted said, "Come on, Tammie."

They returned to the place where the deer had fallen and took up the
trail. It was easy to follow, for the animal had been badly hurt.
Straight down the trail it had run, and sixty yards farther on Ted found
where it had fallen again and thrashed about. The beech brush blended
back into beech forest and the trail Ted followed swerved to within
twenty feet of the valley floor. He found a great puddle of blood where
the deer had fallen a third time.

He marveled. The deer had been down three times in a little more than
three hundred yards and it never should have been able to get up and go
on. But it had gone on and it had also nearly stopped bleeding. From
this point there was only a spot here and there to mark the leaves. Ted
shook his head. If he wasn't seeing this himself, he wouldn't have
believed it. He remembered that a deer is an incredibly tough thing. It
can still run after receiving wounds that would stop a man in his
tracks.

Overrunning the trail, the boy had to stop and circle until he picked
it up again. It was necessary to do this so many times that, by
midafternoon, he was scarcely a mile from the three sycamores. A half
hour later he lost the trail completely; the deer had stopped bleeding.
Ted made a wide circle in an effort to find the trail again, and when he
failed, he made a wider circle. He stopped to think.

He'd have sworn, knowing how hard the deer was hit, that it would never
run five hundred yards. Obviously he had guessed wrong, and what now?
Anything he did would be little better than a shot in the dark, but if
he could help it, he would not leave an injured beast to a lingering,
terrible death. Wounded wild things were apt to seek a haven in
thickets. Perhaps, if he cast back and forth through brush tangles,
Tammie would scent the deer again.

Ted made his way to a grove of scrub hemlock, cut from there to a laurel
thicket and pushed and crawled his way through half a dozen snarls of
beech brush. He knew that he was not going to find the wounded deer and
he sorrowed for the suffering animal. About to drop his hand to Tammie's
head, he found that the collie was no longer beside him.

He was about twenty feet back, dancing excitedly in the trail. His ears
were alert, his eyes happy, and there was a doggy smile on his jaws. He
had a scent, but it was not the scent of a wounded deer. Ted took his
handkerchief from his pocket and gave it to the dog.

"Take it to Al," he ordered quietly. "Take it to Al, Tammie."

Carrying the handkerchief, Tammie streaked into the forest and
disappeared. Ted walked down Coon Valley and waited at the truck. An
hour and a quarter later, no longer carrying the handkerchief, Tammie
joined him. Ted petted him and looked somberly at the forest. He didn't
know where Al was hiding and he didn't want to know.

But Tammie knew.



6

MESSENGER DOG


In the gathering gloom of the beech woods, a silver-throated thrush sang
its evening song. Then, starting where it had ended, the thrush repeated
the same notes backwards. Ted paused to listen and Tammie halted beside
him. The boy grinned faintly. Because it first seemed to wind itself up
and then to unwind, Al had always insisted on calling this thrush the
"winder bird." It was, Ted supposed, as good a name as any.

Tammie sat down and turned a quizzical head to look at the harness he
was wearing and, for excellent reasons, could wear only at night. Ted
himself had made the harness from a discarded pack sack. It had a chest
strap to keep it from sliding backwards, a belly strap to prevent it
from falling off, and on either side was a spacious pocket with a flap
that could be fastened. Right now, the pack was laden with thirty pounds
of junk that Ted had picked up around the house.

Tammie tried to scrape the harness off with his right hind paw. Ted
stooped to pet and coax him.

"Come on, Tammie. Come on. That's a good boy!"

Tammie sighed and got to his feet. He didn't know why he was thus
burdened and he had no aspirations whatever to become a pack dog. But if
Ted wanted it, he would try to do it. He followed to the end of the
drive and stood expectantly while Ted opened the mailbox.

The metropolitan daily in which Ted had placed his ad, and that was
always delivered to the Harknesses a day late, lay on top. Beneath were
thirteen letters.

Ted's heart began to pound. He'd watched the mail every day, but except
for the paper, the usual hopeful bulletins addressed to "occupant," and
a few miscellaneous items, there had been nothing interesting. Ted had
almost despaired of getting anything, but he realized, as he stood with
the letters in his hand, that he hadn't allowed hunters enough time to
answer his ad.

The thirteen letters represented more first-class mail than the
Harknesses usually received in three months, and Ted held them as though
they burned his fingers. They were important, perhaps the most important
letters he had ever had or ever would have, for the future of the
Harknesses could depend on what was in them.

Ted ran back up the drive. Running with him, Tammie was too busy to pay
attention to the obnoxious pack. Ted burst into the house, slammed the
door behind him, laid the letters and papers on the table and knelt to
take the pack from Tammie. He thrust it, still laden, into the darkest
corner of a dark closet and turned excitedly back to the mail.

Sighing with relief, Tammie curled up on his bearskin. Ted looked at the
sheaf of letters. Except for two, they were addressed in longhand. He
picked one up, made as though to open it then put it back down. If the
news was good, it would be very good. If bad, it would be very bad. His
eye fell on a box on the paper's front page.

     GUNMAN STILL AT LARGE

     After a week's intensive manhunt, Albert, "Al" Harkness is still at
     large in the wild Mahela. Harkness, named by Clarence Delbert as
     the man who shot him from ambush, escaped from two officers the
     same night he was apprehended. Delbert, still in critical
     condition, has supplied no additional details. Corporal Paul
     Hausler, of the State Police, has expressed confidence that
     Harkness will be captured.

Ted pushed the paper aside and stared across the table. For three days
the hunt had been pressed with unflagging zeal. Only Pete Tooms and the
duly deputized Delberts had gone out for two days after that and now,
Ted understood, even they were staying home. They had discovered for
themselves what Ted and Loring Blade had known from the start: if Al
chose to hide in the Mahela, he couldn't be found. But the item in the
paper cast a shadow of things to come.

Al could hide for a while, perhaps for a long while, but without proper
equipment or a place to stay, even he couldn't live in the wilderness
when winter struck with all its fury. Sooner or later, he would have to
come out, and what happened when he came was so terribly dependent on
what was in the letters! Ted slit the first one open and read,

     Dear Mr. Harkness:

     I saw your letter in the _Courier_ and we would like to rent your
     camp for the first two weeks of deer season. Can you let me know at
     once if it is available? There will be ten of us.

Ted put the letter aside and picked up the next one. That likewise
wanted the camp for the first two weeks of deer season. There would be
eight in the party. But there was a very welcome, "I enclose an advance
to hold our reservation," with a twenty-dollar check made out to Ted. He
folded the note over the check and took up the third letter. That also
wanted the camp for the first two weeks of deer season. Ted turned to
Tammie.

"Doesn't anybody hunt anything except deer?"

But the fourth letter, containing a deposit of ten dollars, was from a
party of grouse hunters who wanted the camp during the first two weeks
of grouse season, and the fifth had been written by a man representing a
group of hunters who obviously liked to do things the hard way. Scorning
anything as easy as deer, grouse, squirrels, or cottontails, they wanted
the camp for bear season. There was no deposit enclosed, but if they
could be persuaded to send one, the camp would be rented for another
week. The next five letters, two of which contained deposits of twenty
dollars each, were all from deer hunters who wanted to come the first
two weeks of the season and the one after that was from a confirmed
grouse hunter who wished to come the first week. Ted picked up the last
letter, one of two that were typewritten, and read:

     Dear Ted Harkness:

     For lo, these many years, my silent feet have carried me into the
     haunts of big game and my unerring rifle has laid them low. I have
     moose, elk, grizzlies, caribou, sheep and goats to my credit.
     Honesty compels me to admit that I also have several head of big
     game to my discredit, but that happened in the days of my callow
     youth, when I thought hunting and killing were synonymous.

     Presently, in my mellow old age, I still love to hunt. But I have
     become--heaven help me!--a head hunter. In short, I want 'em big or
     I don't want 'em. I do not have a whitetail buck to which I can
     point with pride. Living in the Mahela, and I envy you your
     dwelling place!, you must know the whereabouts of such a beastie.

     The simplicity of your ad was most impressive and I always did
     admire people who sign themselves "Ted" rather than "Theodore." I
     do not want your camp, but do you want to guide a doddering old
     man? Find me a room, any old room at all as long as it's warm and
     dry, and I'm yours for three weeks. Find me a buck that satisfies
     me and, in addition to your guiding fee, I'll give you a bonus of
     twenty-five dollars for every inch in the longest tine on either
     antler.

     Humbly yours,
     John L. Wilson

Ted re-read the letter, so friendly and so obviously written by a hunter
who had experience, time and--Ted tried not to think it and couldn't
help himself because his need was desperate--money. The Harkness house
was very large and, now that Al was not in it, very empty. There was no
reason whatsoever why John L. Wilson, whoever he was, should not stay
here. Twelve dollars a day was not too much to ask for board, room and
guide services. As for the twenty-five dollars an inch--there were some
big bucks in the Mahela!

Ted sat down to write, "Dear Mr. Wilson: Thanks very much for your
letter--" He crumpled the sheet of paper and started over, "Dear Mr.
Wilson: There are some big bucks--" Then he crumpled that sheet and did
the only thing he could do. "Dear Mr. Wilson: I am going to tell you
about Damon and Pythias."

Ted told, and he was scrupulously honest. His father, born in the Mahela
almost fifty years ago, had never seen bigger bucks. Certainly they were
the biggest Ted had ever seen. In their prime now, royal trophies, a
couple of years would see them in their decline. Ted gave it as his
personal opinion that both were at their best this year. Next season,
they would not be quite as good and the year after, Ted thought, both
would bear the misshapen antlers that are so often the marks of old
bucks. But just getting a shot at either would involve more than a
routine hunt. The two bucks were very wise; many hunters had tried for
them and nobody had come near to getting either. It might very well take
three weeks just to hunt them, and Ted could not guarantee success.
However, though they were far and away the biggest, by no means were
Damon and Pythias the only big bucks in the Mahela. He concluded by
writing that Mr. Wilson could stay with him, and that his fee for board,
room and guide service would be twelve dollars a day.

Ted sealed the letter, addressed it, put two stamps on, marked it air
mail and turned to the others. He shook a bewildered head. The way Carl
Thornton ran Crestwood, catering to guests had always seemed the essence
of simplicity. Obviously, it had its headaches.

Of the dozen applicants for his camp, eight wanted it in deer season
only and all wanted the first two weeks. Ted screened the letters again,
then narrowed them down to the three who had sent advances. They'd
offered earnest intent of coming, the rest might and might not appear.
But which of the three should he accept?

Ted solved it by consulting the postmarks on the letters. All had been
mailed the same day, but one had been stamped at ten A.M. and the other
two at two P.M. Ted wrote to the author of the letter with the earliest
time mark, a Mr. Allen Thomas, and told him that the camp was his for
the first two weeks of deer season. The other two checks--if only he had
three camps!--he put in envelopes with letters saying that, he was very
sorry, but the camp had already been reserved for the time they wanted.

Then, in a flash of inspiration, he opened both letters and added a
postscript, saying that the camp was still available for the last week
of the season. He grinned ruefully as he did so and seemed to hear Al
saying, "'Most missed a pelt there, Ted."

Ted assured the other deer hunters that his camp was reserved for the
first two weeks but open the third. He contemplated bringing his price
down to forty-five dollars for that week. Then he reconsidered. Most
hunters thought that hunting would be much better the first of the
season than it ever could be the last, and, in part, they were right.
Unmolested for almost a year, during the first days of the season game
was apt to be less wary. As compensation, during the latter part of any
season there were seldom as many hunters afield. Anyhow, deer hunters
who really wanted a camp would not let an extra fifteen dollars stand in
the way of getting one.

Writing to the bear hunters, Ted accepted a tentative reservation that
would be confirmed as soon as he received a deposit of ten dollars. Too
many people made reservations with no deposit; then, if something arose
that prevented their honoring their reservations, they simply didn't
come. Anyone who paid money in advance would be there or cancel in
plenty of time to get their money back.

Ted told the grouse hunters who'd sent a ten-dollar deposit that the
camp was theirs for the first two weeks of the season and he pondered
over the other grouse hunter's letter.

Nobody at all had applied for woodcock season because, Ted decided,
woodcock are so uncertain. One of the finest of game birds, they are
also migratory. A few nested in the Mahela, but they were too few to
attract sportsmen. Depending on conditions, flight birds might and might
not be in the Mahela during the season and some years they by-passed it
completely. But when they came, they offered marvelous shooting.

Ted wrote the second grouse hunter, a Mr. George Beaulieu, that the only
vacancy he had left was for the third week of grouse season. But was he
interested in woodcock? If he was, and if he would advise Ted to that
effect, Ted would be happy to call him long distance in the event of a
worthwhile flight.

Tammie rose, yawned prodigiously and lay down to sleep on his other side
for a while. Ted shuffled the pile of letters, which he needn't put in
the mailbox because he was definitely going into Lorton in the morning,
and pondered.

It hadn't worked out quite as he'd hoped it would, with the camp rented
continuously throughout six weeks of small game hunting and three of
deer. He figured with his pen on a discarded piece of paper. The camp
was definitely rented for two weeks of grouse and one of bear hunting at
forty-five dollars a week. That added up to a hundred and thirty-five
dollars. It was certainly rented for two weeks of deer hunting at sixty
a week, thus he would have a hundred and twenty dollars more.

Ted sighed wistfully. Two hundred and fifty-five dollars was by no means
an insignificant return on their investment, even if they had put a
price on their labor, and they could look forward to the next hunting
and fishing seasons. If Al were here, they'd be happy about it and
eagerly planning more camps.

But Al wasn't here, and all that mattered now was that, by the end of
deer season, Ted could be certain of having at least two hundred and
fifty-five dollars in cash. If John Wilson came, stayed with Ted for
twenty-one days, and paid him twelve dollars a day, that would be two
hundred and fifty-two dollars more. If Mr. Wilson got a buck that
satisfied him, and the buck's antlers had one tine nine inches long--

"Cut it out!" Ted advised himself. "Cut it out, Harkness! Count on what
you know you'll have, and that's two hundred and fifty-five dollars."

Tammie, hearing Ted's voice and thinking he was called, came over to sit
beside his master. He raised a dainty paw to Ted's hand and smiled with
his eyes when the boy took it. Ted glanced at the clock.

"Great guns! Twenty past one! We'd better hit the hay!"

He shucked off his clothes, put on his pajamas and crawled into bed. But
even though he was tired, sleep would not come because he was thinking
of Al. How was his father spending this chilly night--and where? In some
cave perhaps, or some thicket. Ted tried to put such thoughts behind
him. Wherever Al might be, that outdoorsman was warm, dry and even
comfortable. But Ted's mind insisted on seeking the gloomy side, and he
was brought out of it only when Tammie whined.

Instantly Ted became alert. Taught to whine but never to bark when a
stranger came near the house, Tammie was warning him now. The boy
slipped out of bed, and, in the darkness, he felt for his shoes and
pulled them on. He laced them so there would be no danger of tripping
over the shoelaces and soft-footed across the floor to take a five-cell
flashlight from its drawer and his twelve-gauge shotgun from its rack.

Out of the night came a sound that has been familiar since the first
ancient man domesticated the first chickens. It was the sleepy squawk of
a hen protesting removal from its warm roost. Ted opened the door
softly, stabbed the darkness with his light and trapped within its beam
a figure that ran from the chicken coop toward the forest.

"Get him, Tammie!"

Tammie rippled forward, and the light magnified his bobbing shadow
twenty times over. He was not a dog but a monster, a nightmare from some
antediluvian swamp, bearing down on the fleeing man. He rose into the
air, struck the runner's back with his full weight, knocked him
sprawling and snarled over him. It was what he'd been trained to do and
it was all he'd do unless his captive tried too hard to get up. Then a
little fang-work might be necessary, but this prisoner wasn't even
moving.

Ted shined his light into the terrified face of a young ne'er-do-well
known to his parents as Sammy Allen Stacey, to himself and a few of his
intimates as S.A., and to too many others as Silly Ass.

His captor asked sternly, "What are you doing here?"

"Uh--Nothin'."

"What's in the sack?"

"I--I just borrowed three of your hens!" Sammy started to sniffle. "I
was goin' to bring 'em back tomorrow! Honest!"

"Guess I'll go back to the house," Ted said meaningfully. "When I hear
you scream, I'll know Tammie's working on you."

"No! Don't! Please don't!"

"Think you can stay out of other people's chicken coops?"

"Yes! Yes!"

Ted ordered, "All right, Tammie." The collie moved back and Ted
addressed the prostrate youth. "Get up and get out of here. If ever you
come back again, I'll just turn you over to the dog."

Sammy rose and ran into the woods. Ted returned the three indignant hens
to their roost and addressed Tammie, "I'll bet that, if ever he is found
in another chicken coop, it won't be ours. You must have scared some
sense into him."

Back in the house, Tammie sought his bearskin. Ted replaced the
flashlight and shotgun, took his shoes off and went back to bed.
Tomorrow he must go to Lorton but it needn't be bright and early
because, by Mahela standards, Lorton just didn't get up bright and
early.

Ted slept until a quarter to seven. An hour later, with Tammie on the
pickup's seat beside him, he started down the road.

He drove slowly because the business and professional offices in Lorton
wouldn't open for another hour. Coming opposite Crestwood, he saw Nels
Anderson, his former partner, working with a pick and shovel beside the
driveway. Ted eased his truck over and stopped.

"Hello, Nels."

"Py golly, Ted!" Nels' face could never reflect anything he did not
feel. "Is goot to see you!"

"It's good to see you, too. How are things?"

"We must not holler. Yah?"

"Guess it never does any good. How's the boss?"

Nels smiled sadly. "Mad."

"What's he mad at?"

"Me. I go to fix the freezer and he say, 'Get out of there, you crazy
Scandahoovian! From now on you work only outside and joost three days a
week!"

"For Pete's sake! Why?"

"He's mad."

"Why don't you get a different job, Nels? One you can depend on?"

"Yah, I like to. I do not like Mr. Thornton no more."

"Why not?"

"He gets mad. You hear from your pa, Ted?"

"No."

"I'm awful sorry," Nels said gravely. "I do not believe your pa, he
shoot this man like they say he did. If I could help him, I would."

"Thanks, Nels. Be seeing you."

"So long, Ted."

Ted drove on, wondering. He'd had only two personal contacts with Carl
Thornton--the day he was hired and the day he was fired. He couldn't
really say that Thornton was not an unpredictable individual, given to
sudden rages, because he didn't know him that well. He had impressed Ted
as somewhat cold and carefully calculating. The boy shrugged. Nels was a
nice person. But an idea soaked into his head about as easily as
sunbeams penetrate mud. Probably he'd broken some rule which he had not
understood and still didn't understand, and Thornton was punishing him.
But putting him on halftime, and Nels with five children to support,
seemed like extreme punishment.

Ted drove on to Lorton, where, even though most of the town's residents
were his friends, he could not help feeling self-conscious. Smoky
Delbert's shooting had brought Lorton more fame, or notoriety, than it
had known since its founding. The story had been in most of the State's
papers and gained wide distribution through a couple of news services.
Parking in front of the First National Bank, Ted left Tammie in the
truck, dropped his stamped letters in a mailbox and walked up the dimly
lighted stairs that led to the law offices of John McLean. Edith
Brewman, McLean's ageless secretary, had not yet come in but John McLean
was rummaging through her desk.

He looked up and said, "Howdy, boy."

"Good morning, Mr. McLean."

Ted stood awkwardly, a little embarrassed and a little lost. Just how
did one approach an attorney and what did one say to him? John McLean
continued to paw through the desk and Ted studied him covertly.

A huge, gaunt man in an ill-fitting suit, with unkempt gray hair and a
black tie askew on his collar, John McLean looked like anything save the
successful attorney he was. His dress and person were part of a clever
act. Slouching into a courtroom, he was more apt to provoke snickers
than admiration. But an opposing attorney who underrated him, and most
did, literally fell into his clutches. There was a silver tongue behind
John McLean's rather slack lips and a razor-sharp brain beneath his gray
hair. He grinned loosely now.

"Edith's too darn' orderly. When she puts something away, I can never
find it. What can I do for you?"

"I'm Ted Harkness, Mr. McLean."

"I know."

"I want to find out if you'll take care of my father."

"Judging from what I've read in the papers, your dad's taking pretty
good care of himself."

Ted said hesitantly, "He can't stay in the Mahela forever. Sooner or
later, they'll get him."

"Sooner or later," John McLean said, "they get everybody. Wish people
would stop making a joke out of that old saw, 'Crime Doesn't Pay.' It
doesn't."

He resumed poking through the desk while Ted stood uncomfortably, not
knowing whether or not he'd been dismissed. Two minutes later, John
McLean whirled on him.

"Is your dad guilty?"

"No!"

"How do you know?"

"He said he isn't!"

John McLean chuckled. "Simmer down. I don't want to fight you. Just
wanted to find out if you had a good reason for thinking your dad
innocent."

"Is the reason good enough for you?"

As though forgetting Ted, the attorney opened another drawer and leafed
through its contents.... He said suddenly, "I'll take the case."

Ted sighed relievedly, "Oh, thank you!"

"Better save that until after the trial."

"But--"

"Save your worries, too."

"Then you can help him?"

"We'll figure out something. Who did shoot this Delbert?"

"I wish I knew."

"So do I."

Ted said uneasily, "I haven't any money right now, but I'll have at
least two hundred and fifty-five dollars, and perhaps a great deal more,
right after deer season."

John McLean murmured, "It'll help. The price of justice is too often too
blasted high."

"Do--Do you want to talk with Dad soon?"

"Where is he?"

"Laying out in the Mahela."

"The Mahela's a big place."

Ted said honestly, "I don't know where he is. I haven't seen him since
he left but--I could get a message to him."

"I won't ask you how. Does your dad mind laying out?"

"No."

"Then leave him until the time's right. It would have been better if
he'd given himself up right away; but staying out now will do more good
than harm. People, even prosecuting attorneys, can forget quite a bit in
a short time."

"Is there anything else?"

"When he comes in, or when you bring him in, I want to be the first to
talk with him. Can you arrange that?"

"I'm sure I can."

       *       *       *       *       *

That night, back at the Harkness house, Ted took Tammie's harness from
the closet and emptied it of junk. He replaced the junk with an equal
weight of food, added a handful of matches, thrust a pad of paper and a
pencil into one of the pockets and strapped the harness on Tammie. Ted
took his dog to the back door and let him into the darkness.

"Take it to Al," he ordered. "Go to Al, Tammie."

Tammie, who hadn't been able to see any sense in the pack but who saw
it now, raised his drooping ears and wagged his tail. He raced away in
the darkness. Ted had scarcely closed the back door when there was an
imperative knock at the front.

He opened it to admit Jack Callahan.



7

A FLIGHT OF WOODCOCK


The sheriff stood tall in the doorway, his face unreadable, while at the
same time he seemed to strain forward like an eager hound on a hot
scent.

Disconcerted, showing it and aware that he showed it, Ted fought for
self-possession. He said, "Well hello."

"Hello, Ted." Callahan was not unfriendly. "How are things?"

Ted tried to cover his confusion with a shrug. "Not much change."

"You seem," Callahan was looking narrowly at him, "a bit nervous."

"Is that strange?"

"Guess not." Callahan was too casual. "It's probably a nerve-wracking
business. Uh--thought I heard you talking?"

"You might have. I was talking to Tammie."

"Your dog, eh?"

"That's right."

"I don't see him around."

"I just let him out the back door. He likes to go for a little run at
night."

"I'm darned," Callahan said, "if I didn't think I caught a glimpse of
you letting him out. Tammie looked awful big."

"He's a big dog."

Just how much had Callahan seen? Definitely, a pack-laden collie was not
going camping and Callahan would know where it was going. The sheriff
dropped into a chair and crossed his right leg over his left knee.

"I know he's big, I've seen him before. But he sure looked bigger than
usual. That's a mighty good dog, Ted."

"Yes, he is."

"Highly-trained, too, isn't he? That dog will do almost anything you
want him to, won't he?"

"Oh, sure," Ted said sarcastically. "Every night he sets his own alarm
for five o'clock. Then he lays and lights a fire so the house will be
warm when I get out of bed."

"Aw now, Ted!" Callahan said reproachfully. "You know darn' well what I
mean! Why only the other night I found Silly Ass Stacey running down the
road like a haunt was chasing him. 'Don't go up there!' he told me.
'Don't go up to Harknesses! They have a man-eating dog and it just ate
me!'"

Doubtless unintentionally, Callahan had given something away. The
Harkness house was being closely watched or the sheriff wouldn't have
been on the Lorton Road at the hour when Sammy ran down it. In full
control of himself now, Ted did not let himself reveal what he had just
learned. He said grimly, "Sammy was in our chicken coop."

"_Hm-m._ Want me to pick him up for it?"

"I doubt if he'll be as fond of chicken stealing from now on. Tammie
knocked him down and did a little snarling over him. He didn't hurt
him."

Callahan grinned. "Figured that out all by myself; nobody who'd most
been eaten could run as fast as Silly Ass was running. Hope it does
teach him a lesson; if he gets rid of his oversized notions, he won't be
anything except a harmless sort of nut. Jail might make him vicious. But
that's what I mean about your dog. You've really got him trained."

"I spend a lot of time training him."

"You have to if you want results, but it's worth it. You have a dog you
can really work."

"There are limits."

"Of course. Of course there are. A dog's a dog. But I'll bet," Callahan
looked squarely at Ted, "that Tammie would even go find your father if
you told him to."

"You're sure?"

"Well, who could be sure? But I admire trained dogs no end and yours is
the best I ever saw. Call him back, will you? I'd like to see him
again."

"I--" Ted hesitated and hated himself because Callahan noticed his
hesitation. "I don't know if I can. Tammie takes some pretty long
rambles at night and he may be out of hearing."

"You'll have Loring on your tail if he bothers game."

"Tammie doesn't bother anything unless he's ordered to do it."

Callahan said admiringly, "That's where training comes in. This could
even be a story!"

"What could?"

"Why, your dad laying out in the Mahela. He doesn't have any grub except
the load he cooked the night Loring and I were here--and wasn't I the
dope not to see through that? He needs about everything. You can't take
it to him because you could be followed. But you have a big, strong,
well-trained dog. You, oh you might even make a pack for him. Then you
load the pack and send it to your dad. Who's going to follow Tammie? Get
it?"

Ted looked at the floor. Coming at exactly the wrong second, Callahan
had seen enough to rouse suspicion but not enough to be sure of
anything. The boy conceded, "It's a story all right."

"Could even be a _true_ story, huh?"

"You're doing the guessing."

"Oh, well," Callahan shrugged, "I didn't come here to bother you. But I
sure would like to see that dog of yours again and I haven't much time.
Call him back, will you?"

Both hands in front of him, fingers tightly locked, Ted walked to the
back door. When Tammie took anything to Al, he usually ran. If he had
run this time, and kept on running, he would be out of hearing. If he
was not out of hearing, he would come back. Ted hoped Callahan didn't
see him gulp. If Tammie returned with the pack, it would be all the
evidence Callahan needed that the dog could find Al. But not to call him
would serve only to convince the sheriff, anyhow, that Tammie was on his
way to Al.

Ted opened the back door and whistled. He waited a moment, whistled
again and closed the door behind him.

"He'll come if he heard."

"And if he didn't," Callahan commented, "he's a long way back in the
Mahela, huh?"

"That's right."

"Now that's strange," the sheriff mused. "I know a little about dogs.
You take an airedale, for example. He'll make long tracks, if he gets a
chance. But I always thought a collie was pretty much the home type. I
never figured they'd get very far from their doorsteps. Unless, of
course, maybe it's a trained collie that's sent away."

"Dogs vary."

"Of course, of course. There's no rule says two of any one breed have to
be alike. Couple of years ago, over beyond Taylorville, we had to get a
pack that was running wild and, believe it or not, there was a Boston
bull with them. Now who'd think a Boston bull--What's that?"

"I--I didn't hear anything."

"Well, I did. Ah! There it is again!"

A second time, and unmistakably, Tammie's distinctive whine sounded at
the back door. Ted's heart plummeted to his toes and his throat went
dry. He was about to rise and let Tammie in--the only thing he could
do--but he was forestalled by Jack Callahan.

"There he is. He heard you, all right. I'll let him in."

He walked to the back door ... opened it. Ted hoped his gasp was not as
loud as it seemed. Wearing no pack, Tammie came sedately in, greeted
Callahan with a wag of his tail and tripped across the floor to sit down
beside his master. The boy bent his head to conceal ecstatic eyes.
Poker-faced Callahan showed nothing of what he must be feeling.

"Just as handsome as I remember him!" he said admiringly. "That dog's a
real credit to you, Ted!"

"He has just one little flaw," Ted said gravely. "Sometimes he thinks he
sees things he never saw at all."

Callahan grinned engagingly. "Some people make that mistake, too.
Especially when there's deep shadow. How are you making out, Ted?"

"All right. My camp's rented for five weeks and I may rent it for
woodcock season, if the flight comes in."

"Loring told me there's flight birds at Taylorville. He said there's
quite a few, and he thinks there'll be a big flight."

"Hope it comes here!"

Callahan said soberly, "If it'll help you, so do I. I'm sorry you're in
trouble."

"Trouble comes."

"I know, but being the sheriff who makes it isn't the snap job it's
cracked up to be. I've had to hurt a lot of people I'd rather not
bother, but when I swore to uphold the law, I didn't make any exceptions
and I'm not going to make any. I hope you don't hold that against me."

"I don't."

"Just so you understand. A lot of people who cuss peace officers would
find out for themselves what a mess they'd be in if there weren't any."

"I know that, too."

"Then you know why I must bring your dad in. When I do, and I will,
he'll get every break I'm able to offer. By the same token, Smoky
Delbert may have some breaks coming. So long for now, Ted."

"So long."

Callahan left and Ted was alone with Tammie. He tickled the big dog's
soft ears.

"The Lord watches over idiots!" he murmured. "He sure enough does!"

What had happened was obvious. Disliking the pack anyway, Tammie hadn't
gone more than a couple of hundred feet before ridding himself of it.
Only he knew how he'd unclasped the buckles, but he'd managed. Of
course, when ordered to do so, he should have gone to Al. But he could
be forgiven this time.

"I'd best get to bed," Ted told him. "I don't know where you left that
pack, but do know I'd better find it before Mr. Callahan comes back this
way. That man has sixteen eyes, and don't ever let's think he's dumb! He
came right close to tipping over our meat house tonight!"

Ted was up an hour before dawn and had breakfasted by the time the first
pale light of day began to lift night's shroud from the great beech
trees. With Tammie at his side, he stepped out the back door and formed
a plan of action.

He didn't know exactly how much time had passed between his whistle and
Tammie's appearance at the door, but it couldn't have been more than
fifteen or twenty seconds. Certainly the collie had needed some little
time to rid himself of the pack. It couldn't possibly be far from the
cabin. Ted petted the dog.

"You lost it," he scolded gently. "Why don't you find it?"

Tammie raced ahead twenty yards, whirled, came back to leap at and snap
his jaws within a quarter inch of Ted's right hand, then flew away
again. He continued running around and around, stopping at intervals to
snap. But though he never missed very much, he never hit either.

Ted walked slowly, on a course parallel to the cabin, and he turned his
head from side to side as he walked. There were no thickets or windfalls
here. There was nothing at all except the big beeches. Wherever Tammie
had dropped it, the pack wouldn't be hard to see.

Descending into a little swale, Ted flushed three woodcock out of it.
Their distinctive, twittering whistle, which Ted had always thought was
made by wind rushing through stiff flight feathers, sounded as they
flew. The boy's eyes glowed with pleasure.

The ruffed grouse was a marvelous game bird and nobody who knew him
well, or even fairly well, would ever deny it. But there was a very
special group--Ted himself belonged to it--who held the woodcock in
highest esteem. Swift-winged and sporty, the woodcock had an air of
mystery and romance possessed by few other wild things.

Measuring eleven inches, from the tip of his bill to the end of his
tail, the woodcock's plumage varied from black to gray, with different
shades of brown predominant. So perfectly did they blend with their
surroundings that, even though a hunter might watch a flying woodcock
alight on the ground, he was often not able to see it afterwards. Their
legs were short and their bills, with which they probed into soft earth
for the various larvae and worms upon which they fed, were ridiculously
long. But their eyes remained their outstanding characteristic.

Placed near the top of the head, they were luminous and expressive, as
though, somehow, they mirrored all of nature. They were very large in
proportion to the bird's size. Whoever saw them would never forget them
and who knew the woodcock knew one of the finest and most delightful of
all wild creatures.

Ted marked the trio down, but he did not approach them again. The season
was not open, and nobody could ever be sure of woodcock. Perhaps these
were stragglers. Maybe they marked the vanguard of a big flight that
would be in the Mahela when the season opened and maybe they didn't.
He'd have to wait and see and, even then, neither he nor anyone else
could be sure. Cover that might be alive with woodcock one day could be
empty, or hold only a few birds, the next. During the night, every
woodcock had often picked up and moved on.

When he'd gone as far as he thought he should, Ted moved twenty-five
yards deeper into the woods and swung back on a course parallel to the
one he'd followed. He began to worry.

The pack couldn't possibly be far because Tammie hadn't had time to go
far. It was good sized, so it should be easy to see. Ted made another
swing about. Two hours after he had started hunting, he stopped. He was
a half mile from the house, definitely the extreme limit Tammie might
have reached. The boy went back to cover the same area more
carefully.... He went through it a third time. By midday, he was wholly
baffled.

The pack was not here. Where was it? Had Jack Callahan, nobody's fool,
seen more than he had admitted seeing? Had he slipped back after leaving
Ted and found the pack himself? It seemed improbable. Recovery of the
pack, so obviously for a dog and not for a man to wear, would be proof
within itself that Ted had intended to send Tammie to Al. And if
Callahan had the least reason to suppose that Tammie could really find
Al, he'd be in the house right now, insisting that he do it. Ted petted
the collie.

"Why can't you talk?" he murmured. "Why can't you tell me what you did
with it?"

Tammie licked his master's fingers and wagged his tail. Ted sighed. He'd
looked in all the places where the pack might be and hadn't found it. It
stood to reason that nobody else was going to find it either, or at
least, they wouldn't find it easily. Still worried, Ted went back to the
house and fixed a lunch. He thought of looking for the pack some more
and decided against it. There was no other place to look but there were
things to do. He hadn't been at the camp since the night Al was accused
of shooting Smoky. If he intended to rent it to hunters, he'd better go
see how things were.

Ted chose to walk, for he had been doing a great deal of serious
thinking and had changed many of his ideas. Running a successful resort,
or even a successful camp, involved a great deal more than just being a
gracious host. In any city, or even any town, such a camp probably
wouldn't rent at all because it was so radically different from what
urban residents had come to expect in their dwellings. But it fitted the
Mahela, and for a short time each year, it would be appreciated because
it offered a refreshing change from conventional living. But there was
still more involved.

Few people wanted to get into the out-of-doors merely for the sake of
being there. The place must offer something, and beyond any doubt the
Mahela's prime attraction was its deer herds. But nobody, regardless of
whether he was running Crestwood or renting camps, could hope to make a
living just from the three-week deer season alone. He would also have to
lure all the small game hunters and all the fishermen he could, and if
he didn't lure them honestly, they'd never come back. It stood to reason
that nobody who lived a couple of hundred miles from the Mahela could
know what was taking place there. They must be kept informed, and Ted
wished to walk now because he wanted to judge for himself whether or not
there would be a worthwhile flight of woodcock.

The birds might be anywhere at all. Ted had flushed them from the very
summit of Hawkbill. But as a rule they avoided the thickest cover and
haunted the streams, bogs and swamps because they found their food
along stream beds and in swamps. With Tammie trailing happily beside
him. Ted followed the course of Spinning Creek.

He flushed two woodcock from a sparse growth of aspens and watched them
wing away and settle on the other side of the creek. Then he put up a
single and, farther on, a little flock of five. In the clearing, almost
at the camp's door, another single whistled away and dropped near
Tumbling Run. That made nine woodcock between the Harkness house and the
camp. Definitely it was not a substantial flight and no hunter should be
advised to come to the Mahela because of them. But there were more than
there had been.

A doe and two spring fawns were nosing about the apple trees. Bears had
been climbing the same trees, leaving scarred trunks and broken branches
in their wake. Black bears, of which there were a fair number in the
Mahela, would come almost as far for apples as they would for honey. But
they came only at night and did a lot of damage when they climbed the
trees. However, these tough apple trees had been broken by bears every
year they'd borne a crop and they'd always recovered. They'd recover
again, and Ted supposed bears had as much right as anything else to the
apples. He grinned. The fruit was gnarled and wormy, but it was a
woodland delicacy and woodland dwellers competed for it as fiercely as a
crowd of undisciplined children might compete for a rack of ice-cream
cones.

Ted walked all around the camp, saw nothing amiss and unlocked the door.
He pulled the hasp back, went in--and saw Tammie's pack lying under the
table. Momentarily alarmed, he stopped. Only one person could have left
the pack! He picked it up and thrust his hand into a side pocket. He
found and pulled out a page torn from the pad of paper he'd inserted in
the pack and read the penciled note.

     Dear Ted; I was cuming to see you last nite. Tammy met me a sniff
     from the dor and I snuck up and saw Calhan. Gess he wants to see me
     rite enuf but I don't want to see him!

     Hope taking Tammy's pak don't throw you off.

     I can get along a good spel with the stuf in the pak and wudcok
     seson cuming on. I've saw a mess of flite wudcok. Don't send Tammy
     agen without you know it's safe and send him after midnite. I won't
     be so far away he can't get to me and bak. Watch Calhan. He's
     sharp.

     Your dad

     P.S. I got the kyote.

Ted heaved a mighty sigh of thanksgiving. Al had the pack's contents and
there were three blankets missing from the camp. For the first time, the
dark clouds that surged around the boy revealed their silver lining. Al
was still a fugitive, but he had enough to eat and he was sleeping under
blankets. It seemed a great deal.

Ted read the note again and smiled over it. A hunted outlaw, Al was
still abiding by the principles in which he believed. He might have been
justified in killing game for food, but the reference to woodcock season
indicated that he had done no such thing. Possibly--Ted remembered that
he had his coyote traps--he had caught a bobcat or so. The season was
never closed on bobcats and, if one could overcome natural
squeamishness, they were really delicious eating. Ted lifted the stove
lid, put the note within, applied a lighted match, waited until the
paper burned to ashes, then used the lid lifter to pound the ashes to
dust.

He looked fondly at Tammie, who had been nowise derelict. Ordered to go
to Al, he had done exactly that and it was none of Tammie's doing if Al
had been within a "sniff" of his own back door.

Ted said cheerfully, "Guess we'll go home, Tammie. But we'll come back
for the pack tonight, Mr. Callahan, or some of his friends, probably
will be patroling here and there."

That night there were three more letters, two from deer hunters who
wanted the camp the usual first two weeks of the season and one from a
grouse hunter who wanted the first week. Ted advised them of the camp's
present status, put his letters in the mailbox and lifted the red flag
to let the carrier know there was mail to pick up. The next night there
were five letters, two of which had been sent airmail. Ted opened the
first.

     Dear Mr. Harkness: Your letter intrigued us no end. We haven't seen
     a good flight of woodcock for ten years and didn't think there was
     any such thing any more. Should they come in, by all means call me
     and reverse the charges. My business phone is TR 5-4397; my home is
     LA 2-0489. Call either place and we'll start an hour afterwards.
     There'll be seven of us, and I enclose a ten-dollar check as
     deposit.

     Cordially,
     George Beaulieu

The second airmail letter read:

     Bless you, Ted! You've started me dreaming of Damon and/or Pythias.
     One or the other will do, but nothing else, please! By your own
     invitation, you're stuck with me for the full twenty-one days.
     I'll see you the day before the season opens.

     Gratefully,
     John L. Wilson

There was a check for a hundred dollars enclosed and almost grimly Ted
folded both checks in his wallet. He'd have to spend some money for
food, but not a great deal. The freezer was almost full and much of the
garden remained to be harvested. He stared at the far wall.

He had not planned it this way. He had looked forward to a happy
venture, to enjoying and helping his guests, and if he made money in so
doing, that would be fine. Had things turned out as he'd planned, there
was already enough money in sight to build and equip another camp. But
that was not to be. Al had to come out of the Mahela some time. When he
did, they were in for a fight, and money would be a powerful weapon in
that all-out battle. They must win, and anything else must be secondary.

The other three letters were from deer hunters who wanted the camp the
first two weeks of the season.

Ted devoted the next fortnight to harvesting the garden. He dug the
potatoes, emptied them in the cellar bin and stacked squash and pumpkins
beside them. Bunches of carrots and turnips were stored in another bin,
and shelled beans were put in sacks.

Almost every mail brought more letters, and two out of three were from
deer hunters. Ted rented his camp for the season's third week. Maybe
nobody could make a living from deer hunters alone, but anybody who had
enough camps, perhaps ten or twelve, could certainly earn a decent sum
of money from just deer hunters.

The Mahela changed its green summer dress for autumn's gaudy raiment and
the frosts came. Woodcock continued to drift in, and two days before the
season opened, they arrived in force. Where there had been one, there
were thirty, and still they came. Ted drove into Lorton and called from
the drugstore.

"Mr. Beaulieu?"

"Yes?"

"This is Ted Harkness, Mr. Beaulieu. The woodcock are in."

"A big flight?"

"The biggest in years."

"We'll be there tomorrow," George Beaulieu said happily. "Hold the camp
for us!"

"I'll do that, and anybody in Lorton can tell you where to find me."

"Thanks for calling. We'll be seeing you."



8

TROUBLE FOR NELS


In the beech forest, just beyond Tumbling Run, a buck so young that
budding antlers did little more than part the coarse hair on its head
stamped a front hoof and snorted. Old enough to have a vast admiration
for himself and his own powers, but too young to have any sense, the
little buck snorted again and tried to sound as ferocious as possible.
Nosing about for any apples that might remain under the trees near Ted's
camp, he had stood his ground gallantly when Ted and Tammie approached.

Not ten minutes before their arrival, he'd chased a rabbit away from the
trees and he was so impressed by that feat that he thought he could
chase anything. But when Ted and Tammie refused to run, he'd trotted
into the forest to do his threatening from a safer place. He snorted
again, more hopefully than angrily, and when he did not regain
possession of the apple trees, he looked sad. Ted grinned at him.

"Junior's almost decided he can't bluff us, Tammie. Poor little guy!
He'd just about convinced himself that he's a real ripsnorter of a buck.
Oh, well, it's a hard world for everybody."

Ted continued to string clotheslines between the apple trees. He pulled
them tight, tested their tension with an experimental finger and turned
thoughtfully back to the camp. It might be a hard world for adolescent
bucks, but if it weren't for the fact that his father was still laying
out in the Mahela, right now it would be a pretty good one for Ted.

True to his promise, George Beaulieu and his six companions had arrived
the day before woodcock season opened. In his mid-fifties, Beaulieu was
branch manager for an insurance company. Of the six men with him, only
twenty-six-year-old George Junior, an insurance salesman who thought his
father was the greatest man in the world and who wanted nothing more
than to follow in his footsteps, had been less than middle-aged. The
other five were a filling station owner, a dentist, a toolmaker, an
electrical appliance dealer and a printer. Their party had been
complemented by two dogs, an English setter and a springer spaniel.

There had been nothing sensational about any of them, including the
dogs. Except for George Beaulieu, his son and the printer, none of the
men had been even fair hunters. The three, far and away the best of the
seven gunners, had averaged three shots for every woodcock brought down.
The worst gunner, the electrical appliance dealer, who appropriately
enough was named Joseph Watt, had fired at least fifteen times for every
woodcock he put in his pocket. Yet Ted felt that the happy man had lived
through an uplifting and a near-sensational experience.

Although unpretentious, his guests had definitely not been meek or
demure. Whoever missed an easy shot, which practically all of them did
at least twice a day, was needled mercilessly by the others. Not one
among them, under the best of conditions, could have made even a meager
living as a professional hunter. Yet they represented the best type of
present-day game seekers.

They had come to shoot woodcock and they would have been disappointed
not to shoot some. But they did not pursue their quarry with the
calculating coldness of a Smoky Delbert or, for that matter, with the
intense concentration of an Al Harkness, when Al was after a pelt he
wanted. They were out for fun and they had fun, and although game
mattered, meat did not. There were so many woodcock that everybody, even
Joseph Watt, got some. But considering the shells they shot, the camp
rental, food, transportation and licenses, their game probably cost them
at least fifteen dollars a pound!

After the first week ended and there seemed to be more woodcock than
ever--the flight was still coming in--they had decided that another ten
years might pass before they saw this again and stayed the second week.
They'd left only this morning, promising to be back next year if there
was another flight of woodcock, or for grouse if there was not.

Ted hummed as he started toward the camp. The Beaulieu party had been
wonderful guests and certainly they were welcome back. If the Mahela was
good for them, they were just as good for the Mahela.

Ted gathered up as much bedding as he could carry. He'd been a little
worried about it because he'd provided neither sheets nor pillowcases.
But lack of them hadn't seemed to worry the Beaulieu party in the
slightest. Most people who hunted all day were too tired by night to
care whether their beds were formal, or anything except comfortable.
Next year--always supposing his father and he still had the camp, Ted
thought that they would have to provide linens, too. Summer campers
spent more time in camp than hunters did, and they were apt to be more
particular.

Ted hung the blankets and quilts on the lines he had strung and pinned
them securely. If they aired all day long, they'd be fresh by night. The
grouse hunters--Ted had corresponded with an Arthur Beamish--were due
some time after supper and there would be ten in the party.

The small buck, that had been lurking hopefully near and awaiting a
chance to come back, snorted his astonishment when the bedding began to
blow in the wind and ran away as fast as he could. The little fellow
thought he was fully capable of dealing with anything natural, but
wind-blown bedclothes smacked of the supernatural. Ted lost himself in
thought.

The camp was completely rented, except for the third week of small game
season, and it would return a little more than four hundred dollars in
rent. Added to that was the money he'd certainly get from John Wilson,
and the total was more than it had cost to build and furnish the camp.
Some of it would have to go for food and John Wilson probably would
expect good things to eat, but he'd get them. Ted had six woodcock, a
gourmet's delight, in the freezer, and he would add the legal two days'
possession limit of six grouse. He'd need more than that, but even after
buying whatever was necessary, he'd still have enough money to put up a
hard legal battle for Al when his father finally had to surrender. There
would be at least twice as much money as Ted had told John McLean he
would have. If more was needed, and it probably would be, he'd sell the
camp.

Ted gathered up the dirty towels and wash and dish cloths, put them in a
bushel basket brought along for that purpose and replaced them with
fresh, clean laundry. The Beaulieu party, another proof of their
sportsmanship, had left the camp in fine shape, with the dishes washed
and stacked where they belonged and the floor clean. Tammie came in the
open door and Ted grinned at him.

"Guess we can go, Tammie, and you'd better rest a bit. You're going into
the hills tonight."

Tammie wagged an agreeable tail and trotted out to the pickup with his
master; Ted eased the little truck onto the road.

He'd sent Tammie, with a load of food, the night before the Beaulieu
party arrived and everything had gone without a hitch. Tammie had left
shortly after midnight and returned two and a half hours later. The pack
was empty save for the note Al had thrust in it.

     Dear Ted: Tammy cum al rite. This works good, huh? I got enuf to
     last me anyhow 2 weeks mor. Don't send Tammy befor. The les you got
     to send him, the beter it is. Good luk and thanks.

     Your dad

Ted sighed wearily. He'd hoped that, with passing time, the situation
would clear itself or be cleared. If anything, it was worse.

Definitely out of danger, but due for a long convalescence in the Lorton
hospital, Smoky Delbert had told everything. Starting from the Fordham
Road, he had gone up Coon Valley with the intention of finding good
places to set fox traps. He'd carried his rifle because there was always
a chance of seeing a fox or bobcat, predators upon which there was a
bounty. He'd known Al Harkness was ahead of him, for Al's distinctive
boot marks had been left in the soft place where the spring overflowed
the Coon Valley trail. Nearing the three sycamores, and without any
warning at all, Al had risen from behind Glory Rock and shot.

It was a simple, straightforward story and one that bore out other known
facts. By his own admission, Al had been in Coon Valley the same day. He
did wear boots with soles of his own design, and therefore they were
distinctive. Smoky Delbert, a woodsman of vast experience, might very
well have seen these tracks, in spite of the fact that Loring Blade had
missed them. Ted sighed again.

The papers had printed Smoky's story and most were sympathetic. There
had even been a couple of resounding editorials demanding that Al be
brought in--regardless of the cost and effort that might be expended to
apprehend him--and face the justice he so richly deserved. But editors
were not the only ones who had swung to Smoky's side.

Time, John McLean had asserted, made people forget. Only, in this
instance, it had made too many of them forget that Smoky Delbert was a
vicious poacher. He had, instead, become the wronged innocent, and when
Ted went into Lorton now there were those who averted their faces when
they passed him or even crossed to the other side of the street to avoid
meeting him at all.

Carl Thornton had become something of a local hero. Nobody knew how the
news had leaked out, but everyone knew that Crestwood's owner was
paying all of Smoky's extensive hospital bills. That puzzled Ted, for
Thornton had never seemed the type to care about anyone's welfare save
his own. But he would do anything that worked to his own advantage, and
perhaps he thought it worth his while, at the price of Smoky's hospital
expenses, to have Lorton solidly behind him. There could be no doubt
that Lorton was there.

"Cut it out!" Ted urged himself. "You don't like Thornton, but give him
credit, if credit's due."

Ted swung up the Harkness drive and parked. While Tammie went off on an
inspection tour to assure himself that everything was as it should be,
the boy took the basket of laundry inside. He grimaced. Modern in some
respects, Al had by no means accepted the streamlined age as an unmixed
blessing. He'd bought a freezer and refrigerator because their
advantages were obvious. But he scorned washing machines and was sure
that, though clothes emerging from one might look clean, they couldn't
possibly be as pure as those that were washed on a scrub-board.

Ted put the washtub on its stand, filled it with hot water, added soap
and went to scrubbing. He rinsed the laundry, ran it through a hand
wringer and hung it on a line stretched behind the house.

An hour before sundown, he went back to camp to replace the bedding and
wind his clotheslines on a spool. He got his own supper, fed Tammie,
washed the dishes and had just finished putting them where they belonged
when the collie whined a warning. A car, followed by a second, came up
the drive and, a moment later, there was an unnecessarily loud knock on
the door.

Ted opened it to confront a rather plump man, who was probably in his
mid-thirties. He was dressed in a gaudy wool shirt, hunting pants,
ten-inch lace boots, and around his middle was belted a hunting knife
almost long enough to be a small sword. His black hair was a little wild
and so were his eyes, but his smile was pleasant and his outstretched
hand was quite steady.

"Ted?"

"That's right."

"I'm Beamish," the other stated, a little thickly. "B'-gosh, we found
you!"

"You certainly did!"

Ted smiled faintly. Hunters going into camp often did a little
anticipatory celebrating and evidently Arthur Beamish had been overdoing
it.

"This the camp?" he asked.

"No, the camp's farther up the road."

"Good!" Arthur Beamish said happily. "You go in the woods, you go in the
woods! More woods, the better! That's what I always say! What do you
always say?"

"Same thing." Ted grinned. "If you want to follow me, I'll show you the
way up there."

"Ride with ya," Beamish declared. "Tha's just what I'll do."

"You're welcome."

Ordering Tammie to stay in the house, Ted guided his exuberant guest to
the pickup and opened the door for him. Arthur Beamish bellowed, "Follow
us, men! Ah, wilderness!"

He sat companionably close and draped a friendly arm across Ted's
shoulder. "Lots of grouse?"

"Plenty. You like grouse hunting, eh?"

"Best darn' game there is!" Beamish exploded. "I rather get me one
grouse than forty-nine deer! And I get 'em, too!"

"You do?"

"Didn't you ever hear about me?"

"I--" Ted hesitated. Obviously, he was supposed to know his guest. But
he didn't, yet to say the wrong thing might mean to give offense,
"Uh--aren't you--?"

"Tha's right!" Beamish said happily. "I'm Beamish, the trapshooter!
Traps in summer, grouse in season! Br-br-br! Up they go! Bang! Down they
come! Every time!"

Ted twisted uneasily. Three grouse was the daily bag limit. Nobody
should need, or take, more than that. He calmed himself. As yet, nobody
had taken more. He pulled in to the camp and stopped.

"Fine camp!" enthused Beamish, who could see only that part of it which
was illuminated by the pickup's lights. "Best I ever did see! Great lil'
camp!"

The other two cars stopped and the rest of the hunters got out. Even in
the night, there was that about them which at once set them apart from
the quiet Beaulieu party. They were younger, more restless, and they
fairly oozed that nervous sparkle which so often marks young executives.
They were also sensible--only Arthur Beamish and one other had been
over-indulging themselves. Definitely, the drivers of the two cars were
in full possession of all their faculties.

The three beautiful setters that had ridden in a pen in one of the car's
trunks were as smartly turned out as the men. Obviously, they were
hunting dogs, the best money could buy. But this crowd had money to
spend.

"Come 'round!" Arthur Beamish bellowed. "Wan'sha to meet Ted!"

One by one, Ted was introduced to the rest of the party and as he met
them, he liked them. If they were young and restless, they were also
competent and talented and they had an air of belonging here in the
wilderness. Probably this was not the first camp they'd ever seen.

"Let's go in," Ted suggested.

Arthur Beamish bubbled, "You get the best ideas!"

Ted let the men into the camp, watched closely as they inspected it and
knew definitely that they'd been in such places before. Their glances
were quick but all encompassing.

One of them, and although Ted did not remember all the names, he thought
this one was Tom Strickland, turned with a smile. "This will do very
well. Do you know where we can get a wet nurse?"

"A what?"

Strickland grinned, "A sort of combination cook, fire-builder,
sweeper-upper, dishwasher; we'll want to spend our time hunting."

"I think I can find somebody. Is nine dollars a day all right?"

"Sure. Can you send him up tomorrow?"

"Send him tonight!" somebody yelled.

Strickland said scathingly, "I wouldn't inflict you wild hyenas on
anyone tonight. I'll cook breakfast."

"Oh, my aching ptomaine!"

Ted grinned. "I'm sure I can send somebody tomorrow. Everything's O.K.,
eh?"

"Right as rain."

Ted got grimly back into the pickup and started down the road. Nine
dollars a day for fourteen days meant another hundred and twenty-six
dollars that probably would be sorely needed when Al had his inevitable
day in court, but Ted hadn't wanted to accept the job tonight because,
somehow, doing so would have seemed grasping. But he'd swallow his pride
and take it tomorrow. He must think of nothing except clearing his
father's name.

Back at the house, Ted loaded Tammie's pack very carefully. Laying out
in the Mahela, Al would not expect and did not need luxuries. Ted packed
cornmeal and oatmeal, desiccated soup, a parcel of dried apricots,
powdered milk, sugar, tea, flour. But when everything else was in, there
was room for a parcel of frozen pork chops. Ted added them and a note.

     Dad: Everything's fine. There are grouse hunters in camp now and
     there will be bear hunters next. Take care of yourself and let me
     know what you need.

     Love,
     Ted

At five minutes past midnight, he strapped the pack on Tammie, took him
to the back door and let him out. Just as he did, there was an almost
timid knock on the front door. He jumped nervously.

"Go to Al!" he urged. "Take it to Al, Tammie! And please run!"

He shut the back door and perspiration broke on his brow as he stood
anxiously near it. Callahan, whose suspicions should have been
effectively lulled, was not lulled at all. He'd merely bided his time,
struck at the right hour and Ted was trapped.

He crossed the floor on shaky legs and opened the front door to come
face to face with Nels Anderson. Ted gasped.

His one-time working partner was pale and looked ill. Weariness had
left its impression in great blue patches beneath both eyes, but it was
not entirely physical weariness. Nels had suffered some terrible
shock--and in his extremity he had come to his friend.

"Nels! What's wrong?"

"I," Nels forced the shadow of his former smile, "am all right."

"Come on in!"

"I--I do not want to bother you. But I saw your light and--"

"What on earth have you been doing?"

"Walkin'. Yoost walkin'."

"All night?"

"I--" Nels looked at the floor. "I did not want to see Hilda. I--I lose
my yob."

"How come?"

Nels smiled again, but it was a sickly smile. "Mrs. Martin, she's
helpin' in the kitchen while huntin' season's on, she says, 'Nels,' she
says, 'the door on the walk-in cooler is stuck. I can't open it. Can
you?' I say I open it and Thornton comes. 'Told you to stay out of
here!' he yells. He was awful mad. 'Now get out and stay out!' So, no
more yob."

"You'll get another one."

"Oh sure. I get another one easy. You--You know where?"

Ted said recklessly, "I know where you can work for the next two weeks.
There's a bunch of hunters in my camp and they're looking for somebody
to do their cooking and odd jobs. Get up there tomorrow morning and say
I sent you. The pay is nine dollars a day."

Stars shone in Nels' woebegone eyes. "You mean it?"

"Sure I mean it."

"Yah! I go tell Hilda!"

Nels had shuffled in the door but he seemed to float out of it. Ted
stared grimly at the black window. He needed the money himself, but Nels
had a wife and five children and whether or not they ate regularly
depended on whether Nels worked steadily. Ted paced back and forth, then
sank into a chair.

Weariness overcame him and he dozed.... He awakened suddenly, sure he'd
heard something. Then Tammie whined for admittance and Ted got up to let
him in. He took off the pack and looked for the note he knew he would
find.

     Dear Ted: Tammy cum agen, as you know. I'm set rite nise now. There
     is no need to send Tammy agen for a cuple weeks. Tel your bear
     hunters that a lot of bears hang out in Carter Valley.

     Your dad



9

A BLACK BEAR CHARGES


Ted had had an awakening.

Four days after he sent Nels to work for the Beamish party, Nels had
come back singing their praises in the loftiest tones. They were all
gentlemen of the highest order. Nobody cared what he cooked as long as
there was plenty of whatever it was. Driving Nels into Lorton, Mr.
Strickland had asked him to order groceries and had paid the rather
large bill without a murmur. That night they'd voted him the best camp
cook they ever saw and given him a ten-dollar tip.

Of course, they were a little bit queer. He'd told them his name at
least a dozen times, but everybody insisted on calling him Hjalmar. They
pronounced it exactly as it was spelled, too. Nels didn't mind because
Hjalmar was certainly a fine old name. But it had taken him almost a day
to get used to it.

They were wonderful hunters, especially that Mr. Beamish. The first day
he'd shot five grouse, the second seven, and on the two succeeding days
he'd shot five and seven. That made twenty-three grouse in four days
and he'd used just thirty-two shells. It must be some kind of record or
something, Nels didn't know. However, each day everyone else in the
party had paid Mr. Beamish money. Nels understood if Mr. Beamish scored
too many misses, he'd have to pay all the others. Still singing the
praises of the Beamish party, Nels hurried off to resume his duties with
them.

Ted was left to ponder a problem that he had hoped he would never have
to face.

Too many people--who were too often intelligent people--took game laws
far too lightly. They shot what they wished when they wished to, and few
of them ever thought that they were doing any wrong. Actually, in every
sense of the word, they were thieves. Bag and possession limits, insofar
as it was humanly possible to apportion wild game justly, were provided
so everyone might have a share and still leave some behind. Who took
more than his share, took from all the others.

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, it was the duty of anyone who knew of game
law violations to report the violator to the nearest warden so the
proper action could be taken. But how could Ted report Arthur Beamish's
when Beamish was his guest? The boy still hadn't made a decision when,
the next day, Loring Blade came in.

The warden said quietly, "I've been watching the grouse hunters in your
camp."

"You have?"

"Yes, and I arrested one of them this morning, a man named Beamish. He's
killed nineteen grouse that I know of, seven over anything he should
have had, in four days."

Ted said reluctantly, "He's killed twenty-three."

"How do you know?"

"Nels told me."

"Wish I'd known that, but I think he'll toe the mark now."

"What'd you do to him?"

"Took him before Justice McAfee. Mac fined him fifty dollars and a
positive revocation of his license if he violates any more."

"But--"

"But what?"

"There's a twenty-five dollar fine for every illegal grouse. As long as
you were taking him in, you should have had him fined a hundred and
seventy-five dollars."

"Not him," Loring Blade declared. "You can't hurt him too much by
hitting him in the pocketbook. His hunting privileges are what he holds
dear."

It was, Ted decided after the warden had left, a smart way to do things.
The penalty for breaking game laws should be harsh, but fining Arthur
Beamish a hundred and seventy-five dollars would bother him less than a
ten-dollar fine might inconvenience a Stacey or a Crawford. However,
Beamish's hunting privileges really meant something to him.

At any rate, the warden's method worked. Nels, who lost none of his
admiration for the grouse hunters, gave Ted a complete report at
intervals. Nobody in the camp took more than the limit after Beamish was
fined--and there was still another angle. Ted had always known that he
and his father were in the minority--sometimes it seemed that nobody
except he and Al cared what happened to the Mahela. But now the boy was
assured that others worked for its best interests, too.

The grouse hunters had gone home and for a whole week there would be
nobody in the camp. There was nothing to worry about in the immediate
future. Al, as his last note indicated, was doing all right. The Beamish
party, who'd really liked Nels, had expressed their satisfaction in more
lavish tips and for the first time in three years, Nels' family could
get by for a while, even if he did not work. However, he could certainly
work all through deer season. The Andersons might face a bleak New Year,
but they would have a happy Christmas.

Ted had decided to seize the week's interlude as a fine time to go over
the camp from top to bottom, but there was little to do. Nels would
never write a learned dissertation about Shakespeare, or come up with a
startling new aspect of the nuclear fission theory, but whoever hired
him got all they paid for, plus a substantial bonus. Working by the day,
in Nels' opinion, meant working twenty-four hours, if that were
necessary. The cabin was spotless. Even the blankets had been aired.

With time heavy on his hands, Ted fretted. He collected the six grouse
to which he was entitled and put them in the freezer. For lack of
something else to do, he went twice more to the three sycamores near
Glory Rock, the scene of Smoky Delbert's shooting. He didn't find
anything, but he hadn't really expected to discover any new evidence or
clues. Looking for them had helped kill time while he waited anxiously
for the bear hunters.

Deer were not especially hard to get, if all one wanted was venison;
there were does and young deer that wouldn't even run from hunters. But
the big old bucks with acceptable racks of antlers got big because they
were wary and they were difficult to bring down. Woodcock were sporting
and who hunted grouse successfully had every right to call himself a
hunter. Squirrels were fun, providing one hunted them with a rifle
instead of a shotgun. But unless one used dogs to bring them to
bay--and it was against the law to use dogs on any big game in the
Mahela--black bears were far and away the most difficult game of all.

Keen-nosed and sharp-eared, they almost always knew when hunters were
about. Wise, they were well aware of the best ways to preserve their own
hides. As circumstances prescribed, they could slink like ghosts or run
like horses and they laid some heartbreaking trails. Fifty miles was no
unusual distance for a black bear to cover in a day and they were full
of tricks. Ted himself had followed black bears on snow and come to
where the trail ended abruptly. The bears had walked backwards, stepping
exactly in the tracks they had made running forward, and made a long
sidewise jump that always delayed their pursuer and sometimes baffled
him.

Some men who'd spent their lives in black bear country had yet to see
their first one. It took hunters of the highest caliber to get them, and
thus Ted looked forward to those who would occupy his camp. But while he
waited there was little else to do and he spent some of his time in
Lorton.

Just another sleepy little town for forty-nine weeks of the year, Lorton
was almost feverishly preparing for its moment of glory. If it was not
exactly the center of all eyes, due to its geographical position as the
town nearest the Mahela, it was the center of deer hunting. Every room
in its two hotels and three motels had long since been reserved and any
householder with a room to rent could have a choice of at least ten
hunters. In the next few weeks, Lorton would see at least twice as many
deer hunters as it had permanent residents. Its normally quiet streets
would have bumper-to-bumper traffic. Parking space would be at a
premium; there'd be crowds waiting in every eating place; stores would
sell more merchandise than they did at any other time of the year; and
any Lortonite who knew anything at all about the Mahela, even if his
knowledge was limited to how to get into it and out of it again, could
have a job guiding deer hunters, if he wanted it.

In addition, every camping ground in the Mahela would have its quota of
trailers, tents and hardy souls who either slept in cars or made their
beds on the ground. Sometimes, in the event of heavy storms, these
venturesome ones got into trouble and were trapped until snowplows or
rescue parties reached them. But this fall the weather had been mild,
almost springlike, and there was every indication that it would continue
to be so.

Twice, just after the grouse hunters left and again four days later, Ted
sent Tammie to Al. He would send him again just before deer season
opened, for that was an uncertain time. There would be hunters
everywhere and no assurance as to what they would do. Horses, cattle,
sheep, leaves fluttering in the wind and men had all been mistaken for
bucks with nice racks of antlers and punctured accordingly with
high-powered ammunition. If Tammie should be delayed and have to come
back in daylight, there was no guarantee whatever that some
trigger-happy hunter would not consider him a choice black and white
deer. Stocking Al with plenty of everything he needed meant that Tammie
would not have to go out again until deer season ended.

Ted spent the two days prior to the opening of bear season cutting more
wood for the camp. On the afternoon before, he built and banked a fire
in the heating stove so that the camp would be reasonably warm and dry
when the hunters arrived. Then he prepared his supper and Tammie's and
was ready for the knock on his door when it sounded. He opened the door
and blinked in astonishment.

The man who stood before him was young, not much older than Ted himself,
and very grave. He wore hunting clothes and hunting boots, but perhaps
because they were new, they seemed somewhat ill-fitting. Strapped around
his middle were two belts, one containing a knife with a blade at least
a foot long and the other supporting two enormous 45 caliber revolvers.
He was making every effort to appear nonchalant, but it was an effort so
strained that the effect was a little ludicrous. His eyes brimmed with a
lilting excitement and a vast anticipation.

"Mr. Harkness?"

"Yes."

"I'm Alex Jackson."

"Oh, yes." Ted extended his hand. "Glad to see you, Mr. Jackson."

"As you can see," Alex Jackson indicated the two revolvers, "I'm ready
for them."

"Uh--are you going bear hunting with revolvers?"

"Oh, no! Definitely not. I have my rifle, too. It's just that one must
be prepared when the beasts charge."

"Ah--What'd you say?"

"I said--Oh, before I overlook it."

Alex Jackson took out his wallet and counted out the thirty-five dollars
still due on the camp rental. Ted tried to collect his spinning
thoughts. Expecting a seasoned, experienced hunter, he'd met instead a
youngster who talked seriously about black bears charging. Or hadn't Ted
heard correctly? He slipped the money into his pocket and looked
sidewise at his guest.

"If you'll follow me, I'll take you to the camp."

"Would you have a little time to talk?"

"Of course."

"May I bring the fellows in?"

"Certainly."

The man turned to beckon, and somebody shut off the car's idling motor
and flicked off its lights. Five more hunters came into the house, and
Ted was introduced as they came. None were older than Alex Jackson. Two,
Alex's brother Paul and a youngster named Philip Tarbox, looked as
though they should be behind their high-school desks, rather than in a
hunting camp. Alex Jackson turned with a smile.

"Now you know us. How do you like us?"

"Fine," Ted murmured. "Uh--how much bear hunting have any of you done?"

Alex Jackson's eyes were full of dreams. "None of us have ever hunted
any big game, but I've read all about it."

"You've never hunted?"

"Not big game," Alex Jackson said modestly. "You see, I just came of age
last month and thus was able to handle my own affairs. But I've always
wanted to hunt big game, especially bears."

"Do--do your folks know you're here?"

"Paul and I haven't any, and I am now Paul's guardian. But the other
fellows' parents do. Yes, of course, and they were glad to have them in
my charge. I've been counsellor for three summers at Camp Monawami. You
needn't worry about our ability to handle firearms. We've all hunted
rabbits. But I would like to ask your advice."

"Sure." Ted felt weak.

"Philip, Steve, Arnold and Wilson are armed with nothing but shotguns.
Do you think I should return to the town through which we just passed
and buy them rifles and revolvers?"

"Gosh no!"

"I'm worried," Alex Jackson said seriously. "Grimshaw, in his _Bears of
the North_, says that when the beasts charge--"

"Grimshaw was writing about grizzlies. These are black bears."

"Oh!" Alex Jackson elevated his brows. "You can say definitely that they
will not charge?"

"Nobody can say that. They're wild animals."

"I thought so!" Alex Jackson seemed vastly relieved. "Will a shotgun
halt them when they charge?"

"Oh, yes."

Ted wished he could sink through the floor. Expecting hunters, he had
his hands full of what, very literally, were babes in the woods. But
they had a great dream and a great hope, and regardless of who told them
that not once in 1000 times will even a wounded black bear charge a
hunter, they wouldn't believe it because they did not care to believe
it. They had come bear hunting to live dangerously!

Alex Jackson nodded happily. "Thank you very much. Now will you please
show us the camp?"

"Follow me."

As he drove up the Lorton Road, Ted gave himself over to his own grim
thoughts. Obviously, there was much more to building and renting camps
than met the casual eye. One never knew who was coming or what they'd
do. Now he was certain only that this crew of naive hopefuls should not
venture into the Mahela alone. He wasn't even sure that they should be
permitted to stay in camp without supervision, but he'd risk that much
for at least one night. He parked in front of the camp, waited for his
guests and admitted them.

"Just what I'd hoped for!" Alex Jackson exclaimed. "Semi-primitive
surroundings! Delightful!"

Ted asked, "Can you handle the stoves and everything?"

"Oh, yes! Oh, indeed yes! But perhaps you will tell us where we have the
best chance of encountering bears?"

"I'll do better than that. I'll show you."

"That's good of you. Would you care to start at daylight?"

"I'll be here."

"We'll be ready."

       *       *       *       *       *

On arriving at the camp a half hour before daylight the next morning,
Ted saw that it was not burned down and that his young guests had made
no obvious blunders. Rather, with breakfast eaten and the dishes stacked
away, they seemed to be doing pretty well for themselves. But, even
though they knew what to do around a camp, the fact remained that none
of them had ever hunted big game.

Ted exchanged greetings and looked out of the window. Renting hunting
camps might be a nice way to earn a living, but there must be easier
ones! The very fact that he'd rented his camp to them implied an
obligation. Six hunters who knew exactly what to do had little enough
chance of getting a bear. These youngsters had one in a thousand. But if
there was any way to do it, Ted still had to offer them their money's
worth and he considered himself responsible for them. Sending them into
the Mahela alone probably, and at the least, meant that they would get
lost.

"Ready?" he asked.

"Let's go!" Alex Jackson said happily.

Ted led the six into the lightening morning. Since there was no snow, it
was futile even to think of tracking a bear. Without any experience,
these youngsters had no hope whatever of staging a successful drive, or
putting four of their number in favorable shooting positions while the
rest beat through the forest and tried to drive a bear past them. Only
Alex Jackson and his brother were armed with rifles, therefore they were
the only two who had even a slight chance of getting a bear, should one
be sighted at long range. But the possibilities of even seeing a bear
were so slim anyway that Ted had not wanted Alex to buy rifles for the
other four.

There was just one faint hope.... This was the season of the Great
Harvest. Frost had opened the pods on the beech trees and beech nuts had
fallen like rain into the forest litter below. Tiny things, they were in
vast quantity. Deer, bears, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, foxes,
practically every creature in the Mahela was spending almost full time
filling itself with beech nuts or storing them away. Winter, that would
bring hunger and lean bellies, was just ahead and well the wild things
knew it.

If Ted posted his crew at favorable places among the beech trees and if
they sat absolutely quiet, one or more of them might at least see a
bear. Very definitely there was not much of a chance, but there was none
at all if they did anything else.

Al had told of a lot of bears in Carter Valley and Ted took his hunters
there. He left them in various strategic places where scraped and pawed
leaves told their own story of being turned aside so that hungry
creatures might partake of the beech nuts hidden beneath. Lacking snow,
there was no foolproof way to tell just what had been scraping or
pawing, but something had and it might be bears.

After the rest had been posted, Ted took Alex Jackson out to the rim of
Carter Valley. The slope pitched sharply downwards and rose just as
sharply on the other side, but here the valley was shallow, with perhaps
a hundred yards to its floor. It was possibly another hundred yards from
rim to rim, and the opposite rim was almost treeless. About a half mile
away across the treeless slope was a crumbling slag pile. Years ago a
vein of coal had been discovered here and mined as long as it paid off.
But it had ceased to pay and had been abandoned long before Ted was
born. Only the tunnel and the slag pile were left.

The opposite slope was covered with beech brush that would be jungle
thick to anyone within it. But from this vantage point, eyes could
penetrate the brush. Any bear going up or down the valley, and one might
do just that, would certainly travel through the beech brush and any
hunter posted here would surely have some good shooting. Ted turned to
Alex Jackson.

"You stay here."

"Here?"

"Yes. Move as little as possible and make no noise. Watch the beech
brush across there. Sooner or later a bear's going through it. I'll pick
you up tonight."

"Right-o."

That night, the bear hunters were still reasonably happy. All had seen
squirrels and feeding grouse. Four had seen deer and three had watched
turkeys feeding. Paul Jackson had thought he'd seen a bear, but it
turned out to be a black squirrel running on the opposite side of a
fallen tree, with only its bobbing back appearing now and then.

For the next few days, the sextette stayed quite happy. Then deer,
squirrels and turkeys began to pall. They were proud bear hunters, and
so far they hadn't seen even a bear's track. The last day,
disappointment was in full reign. They'd not only told their friends
they were going to get a bear but, Ted suspected, Alex Jackson had done
considerable talking about the way bears charged hunters.

Nevertheless, they all followed Ted back into Carter Valley and the five
younger hunters took the places assigned them. It was the best way.
They'd occupied these same stands for six days without seeing any bears,
but sooner or later the law of averages would send one along.

With Alex Jackson in tow, Ted started back toward the valley's rim. Alex
Jackson touched his arm.

"I say, would you mind if I just wandered about on my own?"

"Not if that's the way you want it."

Alex Jackson had arrived so full of dreams and spirit and now he seemed
so despondent. "I won't get lost--and I may find something," he said
quietly.

"Good luck," Ted replied gently.

Ted wandered gloomily out to the rim of the valley and sat down in the
place Alex Jackson had been occupying. Not every hunter can leave the
woods with a full bag of game, but Ted felt that, somehow, he had failed
this eager young group. His guests might at least have _seen_ a bear.
Carrying no rifle--he was the guide--and with nothing special to do,
Ted basked in the warm sunshine.

An hour later, his eye was caught by motion down the valley. Coming out
of the semi-doze into which he had fallen, he looked sharply at it and
gasped. A bear, not a monstrous creature but no cub--it weighed perhaps
250 pounds--was coming through the beech brush. It was about two hundred
yards down the valley and halfway up the other slope, and it was not in
the slightest hurry. It stopped to sniff at some interesting thing it
discovered and turned to retrace its steps a few yards. Then it came on.

Ted groaned inwardly. A rifleman posted here could have an easy
shot--and Alex Jackson had sat here idly for six days! The bear came on
for another sixty yards, lay down beside a huge boulder and prepared
itself for a nap.

Ted crawled away. Bears have a remarkable sense of scent and good
hearing, but very weak eyes. This one couldn't see him. If it smelled
him, it certainly would not be where it was. If he was very careful, it
might not hear him. As soon as Ted thought he was far enough from the
valley's rim, he rose and ran back to where he'd left Paul Jackson.

That alert youngster heard him coming and had his rifle ready, but its
muzzle was pointed at the ground. Paul Jackson lacked experience, but
not sense. He wasn't going to shoot at anything until he knew what was
in front of his rifle.

Ted came close and whispered, "Come on! I've got one spotted!"

"You have?"

"Take it easy and quiet! He won't be there if you don't!"

Nearing the valley's rim, Ted dropped back to a crawl. He peered at the
boulder and breathed easily again; the bear had not moved. He put his
mouth very close to Paul Jackson's ear.

"There he is!"

"Where?"

"Just to the right of that big boulder!"

"I see him!"

Paul Jackson knelt, rested his right elbow on his right knee, raised his
rifle--and Ted groaned silently. The youngster's stance was perfect, but
so was his buck fever. The rifle shook like an aspen leaf in a high
wind. It blasted, and Ted saw the bullet kick up leaves twenty feet to
one side of the sleeping bear.

The bear sprang up as though launched from a catapult and kept on
springing. Straight up the slope he went, and across the nearly treeless
summit.

Ted shouted, "Shoot!"

"Did you say shoot?"

Paul Jackson was still in a daze, bewildered by this thing that could
not be but was. The bear was four hundred yards away when he raised his
rifle a second time, shot and succeeded only in speeding the running
beast on its way. He lowered his rifle and muttered, "I guess I'm not a
very good hunter."

"Nobody connects every time."

The bear was running full speed toward the old mine tunnel. Surprised,
its first thought had been to put distance between the hunter and
itself, but now it was planning very well. The old tunnel had one outlet
that led into a dense thicket of laurel. Certainly the bear knew all
about this and he would go into the thicket. Definitely, he was lost to
the young hunter.

Then, within the mouth of the old tunnel itself, another rifle cracked
spitefully. The running bear swapped ends, rolled over and lay still.
Alex Jackson emerged from the tunnel.

       *       *       *       *       *

Twenty minutes later, when Paul and Ted reached him, he was sitting
quietly beside his trophy and looking at it with unbelieving eyes. But
they were wonderfully happy eyes. Long ago he had dreamed his dream.
Now--and probably it never had been before and never would be again in
hunting annals--he had seen it come true. He looked dreamily up at Ted
and Paul and his voice was proof that, whether it's bringing down a
bear, shooting a hole-in-one, or playing a perfect game of chess, any
dream can be as bright as the dreamer makes it.

"It charged," he said.



10

DAMON


In the parking lot beside Lorton's little railway station, Ted sprawled
wearily in his pickup truck.

It had taken much of the day to bring Alex Jackson's bear out of Carter
Valley. The animal might have been skinned where it fell, cut up and
brought out piece by piece, but not one of the young hunters would hear
of such a thing. They had come a long way and worked hard for this
trophy; they would take it with them intact. It had been necessary to do
things the hard way.

Dragging it would have injured the fine pelt, so Ted had lashed its feet
to a long pole and put a man on each end. The start had been easy, but
game carried in such a fashion has an astonishing way of adding weight.
By the time they'd traveled a quarter of a mile, instead of a mere 250,
the bear weighed at least 2500 pounds, and the panting carriers were
relieving each other every fifty paces.

Finally, they'd reached an old tote road up which Ted could drive with
his pickup and the rest had been easy. They'd lashed the bear on Alex
Jackson's car and six exhausted but happy youngsters had piled in to
begin their long journey homewards.

Ted grinned to himself. He'd spent a week with the Jackson party solely
because he'd thought they would get into trouble if he did not. No
guide's fee had been expected or asked, but, just the same, it might
have been good business. The fathers of three of the youngsters were
ardent hunters themselves. Ted had been assured over and over again that
they'd hear about the Mahela and be directed to Ted, far and away the
world's best guide. The youngsters were certainly coming back for
fishing season and to spend part of their summer in the Mahela and
they'd want the cabin.

Ted's grin faded. Next year there might not be any cabin to rent. He
stretched wearily in the darkness and yawned.

He'd reached home just in time to pack Tammie and send him on what must
be his last visit to Al until deer season ended. Sending him so early
might have been taking a chance, but when Ted next returned home he'd
have a guest with him, and letting anyone else see the packed Tammie
would surely be taking more of a chance. Ted had fixed a meal for
himself, taken two woodcock from the freezer and put them in cold water
to thaw. Then he had driven in to meet John Wilson.

The little station's windows looked as though they hadn't been washed
for the past nine months and probably they hadn't. Lights glowed dully
behind them, and the clicking of the telegrapher's key sounded
intermittently. Ted looked about.

The parking lot was full, and the night before deer season opened was
the only time throughout the whole year when it ever was. Though by far
most of the deer hunters came by car, some traveled by train from
wherever they lived to the city of Dartsburg, sixty miles away. Then
they came to Lorton on what some of the local wags described as the
"tri-weekly"--it went down one week and tried to come back the next.
Actually, it was a daily train, and in spite of a superfluity of jokes
and near-jokes about it, it kept a tight schedule.

When Ted's watch read ten past seven, he left the pickup and went to
stand in the shadows on the waiting platform. The drivers of other cars
joined him, and here and there a little group of men engaged in
conversation. Then the train's whistle announced its approach and every
eye turned down the tracks.

Ordinarily, the train pulled a combined baggage and mail car and one
coach, but on this eventful night a second coach had been resurrected
from somewhere and every window gleamed. The train hissed to a halt and
hunters started piling off. Without exception, they were dressed in
hunting gear; red coats, red caps and whatever they fancied in the way
of trousers and footwear. They lugged everything from suitcases to
rucksacks and, invariably, either strapped to the luggage or carried in
a free hand, rifles were in evidence.

The men waiting on the platform went forward to greet hunters they knew
and bundled them off to cars. Jimmy Deeks, Lorton's only taxi driver,
called his "Taxi!" just once and was stampeded by a dozen hunters who
wanted to go to a hotel or motel. There was some little argument and,
after promising to return for the rest, Jimmy went off with as many
hunters as his cab would hold.

The arriving crowd thinned rapidly and Ted looked with some
bewilderment on those who were left. He'd never seen John Wilson and
hadn't the faintest idea as to the sort of man he must look for.
Certainly he'd be alone, and the only hunters left were in groups of
three or more. Then Dan Taylor, the station agent, passed and saw Ted.

"Hi, Ted."

"Hi, Dan."

"Waitin' for somebody?"

"Yup."

"Well if he ain't on this train, he's sure walkin'!"

The station agent guffawed at his own not very subtle humor and moved
on. A second later, a man detached himself from one of the groups and
approached Ted. He was not tall, even in hunting boots he lacked five
and a half inches of Ted's six feet. He wore a red-plaid jacket, a
red-checked cap and black wool trousers that tucked into his boots. In
his right hand was a leather suitcase and in his left he carried a cased
rifle. Despite the gray hair that escaped from beneath his cap, he
walked with a light and firm tread and humor glinted in his eyes.

He asked, "Are you Ted Harkness?"

"That's right."

The man put his suitcase down and thrust out his right hand. "I'm John
Wilson."

Ted shook the proffered hand. "I--I thought you'd be different."

"Don't let my grotesque appearance frighten you. I'm harmless."

Ted blurted out, "You said in your letter that you're a doddering _old_
man."

"Ten years older than Methuselah." John Wilson laughed and the sound
was good to hear. "I'm glad to know you, Ted."

"And I you. Shall we get out to the house?"

"If you don't mind, I'd like to grab a bite to eat. The dining car on
the Limited was crowded and I couldn't get in."

"The cafes will be crowded and we'll have to wait. I'll fix you
something, if you want to come along now."

"Fine!"

Ted picked up the suitcase, escorted John Wilson to the pickup and put
the luggage in the rear. About to open the door for his guest, he was
forestalled when John Wilson opened it himself and climbed in. Ted
settled in the driver's seat.

"Mind if I smoke?" John Wilson asked.

"Not at all."

He lighted a pipe and sat puffing on it while Ted steered expertly
through Lorton's hunting season traffic. A happy warmth enveloped him.
He liked most people, but very few times in his life had he been drawn
so close to one on such short acquaintance. John Wilson was probably ten
years older than Al, but far from doddering. He was that rare person
whom age has made mellow rather than caustic.

Then they were on the Lorton Road and started into the Mahela. John
Wilson spoke for the first time since leaving the station.

"They crowd in."

"For deer season they do," Ted agreed. "The day after it ends, you could
shoot a cannon down Main Street and never hit a person."

They passed a tent set up beside the road, and a gasoline lantern
burning inside gave its walls a ghostly translucence. There was a neat
pile of wood beside it and wood smoke drifted from a tin pipe that
curled through the wall. The car in which the campers had come was
backed off the road. It was a good camp and as they passed Ted was aware
that John Wilson knew it was good. But he said nothing, and Ted had the
impression that he did not talk unless he had something worthwhile to
say.

A quarter mile beyond the camp, the truck's probing lights reflected
from the startlingly bright eyes of a deer. Ted slowed. Deer were always
running back and forth across the road and, since bright lights dazzled
them, they would not always get out of the way. They came closer and the
lights revealed very clearly a magnificent buck.

So alert that every muscle was tense, he stood broadside. One rear leg
was a bit ahead of the other, the animal was poised for instant flight.
His antlers were big and branching, and in the car lights they looked
perfectly symmetrical. It was a splendid creature, one that would
command attention anywhere. After ten seconds, it leaped into the forest
and disappeared.

John Wilson said, "A nice head."

He spoke as though the buck had delighted and warmed him, but there was
in his voice none of the babbling enthusiasm which some hunters, upon
seeing such a buck, might express. Obviously, he had seen big bucks
before.

Ted commented, "He was a darn' big buck."

"As big," and a smile lurked in John Wilson's voice, "as your Damon and
Pythias?"

Ted answered firmly, "No sir. He was not."

"Then I am in the right place?"

"I hope so, Mr. Wilson."

"It'd be just as simple to call me John."

Ted grinned. "All right, John."

They passed more tents and trailers, swerved to miss a wild-eyed doe
that almost jumped into the truck. Finally, Ted drove thankfully up the
Harkness driveway. The house was stocked with everything they needed,
and as far as he was concerned, he was willing to stay there until deer
season ended. At any rate, he hoped he'd have to do no more night
driving.

He escorted his guest in, snapped the light on and waited for what he
thought was coming next. It came. John Wilson glanced about and he
needed no more than a glance. It was enough to tell him what was here
and his voice said he liked it.

"You do all right for yourself."

"Glad you like it. If you'll make yourself at home, I'll have something
to eat rustled up in a little while."

"Let me help you."

"It's a one-man job."

John Wilson reclined in an easy chair while Ted went into the kitchen.
He put a great slab of butter in a skillet, let it brown, seasoned the
brace of woodcock, put them into the pan, covered it and turned the
flame lower. He prepared a fresh pot of coffee, biscuits, potatoes and a
vegetable. All the while, he waited nervously for Tammie to whine at the
door. There'd have to be some nice timing when the collie returned. Ted
must slip out, strip the harness off and let the dog in without letting
John Wilson know he'd worn a harness.

When the meal was ready and Tammie still had not come, Ted's nervousness
mounted. The dog was a half hour late already. What could have happened
out in the Mahela? Ted put the dinner on the table and tried to sound
casual as he announced, "Chow's ready."

"This is 'chow'?" John Wilson chided him. "Butter-browned woodcock is
deserving of a better name. Let me at it!"

He cut a slice of the dark breast and began to eat it. "_Mm-m!_ That's
good! Something wrong, Ted?"

"Yes--uh--That is, no."

"You're nervous as a wet cat."

"My dog's out and I'm a little worried about--There he is now! Go right
ahead and eat."

Tammie's whine sounded again and Ted slipped out the back door. Hastily
he knelt to strip the harness off and take Al's note from the pocket.
Then he threw the harness aside--he'd get it in the early
morning--tucked the note in his pocket and, with Tammie beside him, went
into the house. John Wilson stopped eating to admire.

"That's a beautiful collie. What's his name?"

"Tammie, and he's just as good as he looks."

Tammie sniffed delicately at their guest, received a pat on the head and
went to stretch out on his bearskin. John Wilson glanced at him again.

"Aren't you afraid to let him run?"

"After tomorrow, poor Tammie will be confined to quarters until deer
season ends."

John Wilson nodded. "That's wise, some hunters will shoot at anything.
What time do you plan to get out in the morning?"

"Whenever you care to leave."

"Isn't it traditional for hunters to be in the woods at dawn?"

"That's right."

"Then let's not violate revered custom. Where do these two big bucks
hang out?"

"They've been on Burned Mountain for a long while. Hunters may put them
off there and then again they may not."

"Where do they lurk during deer season?"

"Nobody knows exactly," Ted admitted. "They've been seen in a dozen
parts of the Mahela. Sometimes they've been 'seen' in a dozen different
places at the same hour on the same day. We'll just have to plan as we
go along."

"That suits me. I'll help with the dishes."

"I'll do them."

"You'll spoil me!"

"Take it easy while you can. You're in for some rough days."

John Wilson resumed sitting in the easy chair. Before Ted washed the
dishes, he stole a glance at Al's note.

     Ted; I got enuf. Don't send Tammy agen til deer seson ends. I wish
     your sport luk. I saw one of the big buks on burned mountin today.
     Gess you'll find both.

     Your dad

Ted nodded, satisfied. If Damon and Pythias were still on Burned
Mountain, he knew exactly where to go. He touched the note to the flame,
waited until it burned to ashes, swept them into a wastebasket and
joined his guest.

John Wilson, looking at the dying embers in the fireplace, asked
quietly, "Got your campaign mapped, General?"

"Only the first skirmish. I know--That is, I'm pretty sure that Damon
and Pythias are still on Burned Mountain."

"Then at least we'll know where to find them."

"I believe so. Do you mind if I carry a rifle?"

"Why, I hope you do."

"I won't shoot either Damon or Pythias, even if I should get a shot,"
Ted promised. "But I would like to get a buck. It helps a lot on the
meat bills."

"By all means get one. Pretty warm for this time of year, isn't it?"

"Too warm. Some snow would be a great help."

They exchanged more hunting talk, then went to bed.

An hour before dawn the next morning, after ordering Tammie to stay in
the house, Ted closed the back door behind him and started up Hawkbill
with his guest. He walked slowly, for Hawkbill was a hard climb for a
young man, even in daylight. Though John Wilson was by no means
doddering, neither was he young. Ted stopped to rest at judicious
intervals.

The darkness lifted slowly, but it was still a thick curtain of gray
when, in the distance, a fusillade of shots rang out. Ted grimaced. Some
fool, who couldn't possibly see what he was shooting at, had shot
anyhow. That was one way hunters managed to kill each other instead of
game.

As daylight became stronger, shots were more frequent. Some quite near
and some far-off, the sounds were a ragged discord, with now four or
five hunters shooting at the same time, then a single shot or succession
of shots, then a lull with no shooting. Hunters were seeing deer and
shooting, but definitely not all of them were connecting. As Ted knew,
many a deer, many a herd of deer, had emerged unhurt after a hundred or
more shots were fired at them.

Ted mounted the crest of Hawkbill and turned to offer a hand to his
panting guest. John Wilson wiped his moist brow.

"Whew! Why didn't you tell me we were going to climb the Matterhorn?"

Ted grinned sympathetically. "You're up it now, and we can see what
there is to be seen."

Ted buttoned his jacket. The weather was unseasonably warm, but here on
Hawkbill's summit, little fingers of cold that probed at his exposed
nose and throat told of chillier things to come. While the temperature
made no difference, snow would increase their chances a hundred per
cent. He studied Burned Mountain.

Spread out in a thin skirmish line, a party of red-clad hunters were
about halfway up it. A deer fled before one of them and the man stopped
to raise his rifle. There sounded the weapon's sharp bark, but the deer
ran on and disappeared in some brush.

John Wilson said, "He should have had that one with a slingshot."

"Wonder if he could tell whether it was a buck or doe. I--There he is!"

"There who is?"

"One of those big bucks! See him?"

"No."

"A quarter of the way below the summit. Look a hundred yards to the
right of that light-colored patch of ground and thirty yards down
slope."

"I still don't--Oh, my gosh!"

He uncased his binoculars, put them to his eyes, focused and stared for
a full three minutes. When he took the glasses down, there was a gleam
of purest ecstasy in his eyes and at the same time a little awe.

"There isn't a buck that big!" he murmured breathlessly.

"Look again," Ted invited. "Wonder where the dickens the other one is."

He searched the briers, a little puzzled. Damon and Pythias were known
as such because, except during the rutting season, they were never far
apart. But definitely only one of the two huge deer was on Burned
Mountain now. It was very unusual.

Ted shrugged. There was no unchangeable rule that said the two big bucks
must always be together. Maybe the sound of shooting or the hunters
going into the woods had caused them to separate, or perhaps they had
parted for reasons of their own.

The shooting continued spasmodically, and not too far away came the
outlandish cacophony of shrieks and shouts that meant a hunting party
was staging a deer drive. A thin voice screamed, "He's coming your way,
Harvey!"

As Ted continued to watch the big buck, John Wilson became restless.

"Let's go after him."

"Wait a bit," Ted advised. "It isn't going to be that easy."

The climbing hunters, about a hundred and fifty yards apart, broke out
of the forest and into the briers. Two of them were so placed that,
unless he moved, they would pass the big buck at almost equal distances.
But the buck let them pass without so much as flicking an ear. He knew
very well exactly where both hunters were, but he was no fawn to panic
because men were in the woods. The buck had a good hiding place, knew
it, and he had eluded hunters this time merely by doing nothing.

"He's smart, all right." John Wilson had appreciated the strategy, too.
"What do you suggest, Ted?"

"I'm going over to flush him out. You stay here and let me know what he
does."

"But--What good will that do?"

"Deer are pretty much creatures of habit. He's in that bed now because
he likes it. If he doesn't become too frightened today, the chances are
good, both that he'll go into the same bed tonight and that he'll do the
same thing when he's flushed out of it tomorrow. Only you'll be waiting
for him."

John Wilson nodded. "That listens all right."

"Wave your red hat when he goes," Ted directed. "I'll see that and wait
for you, and we can figure our next move afterwards."

Unencumbered by an older companion, Ted half-ran down the opposite slope
of Hawkbill and started swiftly up Burned Mountain. He had no hope of
seeing the buck, but just going to the bed where it had been lying was
within itself no easy task. Viewed from the summit of Hawkbill, various
parts of Burned Mountain had various distinguishing characteristics. But
once on the mountain itself, everything looked alike. Ted emerged from
the forest into the briers, crashed a way through them, and when he
thought he was very near the place where the buck had bedded, he turned
to see John Wilson waving his hat.

Ted sat down for what he was sure would be a long wait. He had climbed
to this place in twenty-five minutes, but he was eighteen years old.

An hour later, he heard John Wilson's, "Hall-oo!"

"Here!" Ted yelled.

Carrying his hat, streaming perspiration, but entirely happy, John
Wilson panted up to join him.

"He went out," he said cheerfully, "and I'll swear he flushed no more
than twenty yards ahead of you! Thought sure you'd see him."

"Where'd he go?"

"Quartered up the mountain and crossed the summit just a little to the
right of some white birches."

Ted nodded. The course described by John Wilson had kept the big buck in
thick cover all the way. It was the route he might have been expected to
take, except that there were a dozen others with brush just as thick.
However, there was every chance that he would go the same way a second
time and tomorrow morning John Wilson would be posted in the birches
while Ted tried to drive the buck through.

"What's it like on top?" John Wilson asked.

"Patches of laurel and rhododendron. We'll go see what we can do."

       *       *       *       *       *

That night, tired and hungry, the pair made their way down Burned
Mountain. They hadn't seen the monster buck again, but were in no wise
disheartened. There were twenty days of the season left and John Wilson
had had, and failed to take, a chance at a very good eight-point buck.
Obviously, he'd meant it when he said he wanted only the biggest.

Ted prepared supper and washed the dishes afterwards.... The two hunters
were sprawled in the living room when Tammie whined to announce that
someone was coming. A minute later there was a knock at the door and Ted
opened it to confront George Stacey.

"Come on in, George."

"Cain't. Gotta git home. Thought I'd stop an' tell ya that Thornton,
down to Crestwood, fetched in one of them big bucks today."

"He did?"

"Sure did, an' hit's big enough for ary two bucks. Go see hit. Hit's
a'hangin' on the game pole."

"Thanks, George."

"Yer welcome. Go see hit."

"Want to go?" Ted asked his guest.

"Sure thing!"

The night air had a distinct bite, and a definite promise of freezing
cold to be. Ted turned the heater on, and after they'd gone a mile or
so, the pickup's cab filled with welcome warmth.

As soon as they came in sight of Crestwood it was evident that something
unusual had occurred at that resort. Carl Thornton provided parking
space for his guests. Now all the available area was filled and parked
cars lined both sides of the driveway. Ted backed into one of the few
empty spaces. He and John Wilson got out to join the crowd at the game
rack.

Crestwood's hunters had brought in seven other bucks this opening day
and three of them were big deer. But the biggest seemed puny beside the
monster that the crowd was eyeing. Its antlers were laced close to the
game pole, but its outstretched hoofs nearly touched the ground. If this
buck did not set a new record, it would come very close to so doing.

John Wilson murmured, "Gad, what a buck! Is the other as big?"

"They're twins."

Ted went up for a closer look. He put his hand on the hanging buck and
set it to swinging gently. He gasped. As unobtrusively as possible,
hoping none had noticed his outburst, he drew back into the crowd.

But several matters that had been very cloudy had become very clear.



11

PYTHIAS


Ted lingered on the fringes of the crowd, and in his mind's eye he
conjured up an image of Nels Anderson. Nels always earned his pay plus a
little bit more, and Ted wondered why Carl Thornton had fired him. But
he wondered no more.

The great buck hung on Crestwood's game rack and bore Carl Thornton's
deer tag, but it had never been killed today. The weather, though
colder, still had not dipped to the freezing point and the big buck was
frozen solidly. The others hung limp and pliable.

Failing to persuade Ted to hunt the big bucks for him, obviously
Thornton had hired someone else and Ted's thoughts swung naturally to
Smoky Delbert. Smoky would do anything for money and he knew how to
bargain. If he'd hired Smoky, Thornton must have paid a stiff price and
the rest was simple.

Crestwood's walk-in refrigerator had a freezing compartment that would
accommodate a side of beef. It had been necessary only to bring the buck
to Crestwood--no impossible or even difficult feat--hang it in the
freezer, and on this, the first day of the season, bring it out again.
Nels, of course, had been fired solely to keep him from discovering what
was in the freezer. It would hurt both Thornton and Crestwood if it were
known that Thornton had bought his buck. The favorable publicity for
which he'd hoped, and which he'd certainly get unless Ted exposed him,
would turn to scathing condemnation.

Alan Russell, Crestwood's part-time bookkeeper, broke from the crowd and
came to Ted's side.

"Hello, Ted."

"Hi, Alan."

"Some buck, eh?"

"Sure is," Ted said wryly. "I can imagine Thornton telling his adoring
guests just what a Daniel Boone he had to be to get it."

"After this season he won't be telling 'em at Crestwood."

"Why not?"

"Thornton's sold out."

"Sold out!"

"That's right."

"When did all this happen?"

"It's been hanging fire for a couple of months, but the prospective
buyers met Thornton's price only three days ago. It was a stiff price."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm handling the book work."

Ted said happily, "Alan, I love you!"

The other looked suspiciously at him. "Do you feel all right?"

"I never felt better!"

Ted's heart sang. Game laws were game laws, and they applied to Carl
Thornton as well as to everyone else. But Crestwood was important to the
economy of the Mahela. One did not jeopardize the livelihood of those
who worked there, or the sorely needed money Crestwood's guests spent in
the Mahela, because of a single illegally killed buck or half a dozen of
them. But now Ted was free to act. He sought and found John Wilson.

"Shall we go?"

"Guess we might as well. Looking holes right through this buck won't
bring the other one in range. Wonder how the lucky cuss got it?"

"I have an idea."

"I expect you have. _Br-r!_ It's getting cold."

"It will be colder. We have to hurry."

John Wilson looked at him curiously. "What's up?"

"I'll tell you in a minute."

They got into the pickup. Ted started the motor that had not yet had
time to cool completely, and a trickle of warmth came from the heater.
John Wilson looked sharply at Ted.

"All right. Give."

"Did you notice anything unusual about that buck?"

"Only that it's the biggest I ever saw."

"It's also frozen solid."

"I--I don't understand."

"The weather hasn't been cold enough to freeze deer. Thornton never
killed that buck today."

"Then he--?"

"That's it exactly."

There was a short silence. John Wilson broke it with a quiet, "Is there
a story behind it?"

"There is."

"Want to tell me?"

Ted told of his love for the Mahela, and of a heart-rooted desire to
dedicate his life to helping people enjoy it. He spoke of his work at
Crestwood, and of his great dream to have a similar place, one day. He
related as much as he knew, which was as much as anyone knew, of the
story of Damon and Pythias. He told of Carl Thornton's commissioning him
to get both bucks before the season opened, of his refusal to do so and
the consequent loss of his job.

He described the camp, and how and why it was built. Then the bombshell;
Smoky Delbert's shooting and Al a fugitive in the Mahela. He spoke of
his father's near-passionate interest in true conservation, and of his
near-hatred for those who violated the sportsman's code. However, aware
of Crestwood's importance to the Mahela, knowing that this violation
would hurt and perhaps ruin Thornton, Al himself would not have reported
it. But now that Thornton was leaving, was there any reason why he
should be shielded?

There was another brief silence before John Wilson said quietly, "Don't
do it, Ted."

"You mean let him get away with it?"

"Under any other circumstances," John Wilson said, "I'd say drive into
Lorton and report him to the game warden. As things are with you now, if
you do, you'll hate yourself. How are you going to decide exactly
whether you turned him in to settle a grudge or because you're a
believer in conservation? I agree that he should be arrested and fined.
But arresting him won't return the buck to Burned Mountain. It won't do
anything at all except bring Thornton a hundred-dollar fine, and he can
spare the money. Yes, I'd say let him go and good riddance."

"But--"

"You asked my advice and you got it. If you turn him in, you'll hurt
yourself more than you will him. By all means report law violators, but
never let even a suspicion of personal prejudice influence your report.
It won't work."

"I guess you're right."

"I hope I am."

That night the temperature fell to zero, and every buck on every game
rack in the Mahela froze solid. There was no longer any evidence
whatever to prove that Damon, as Ted thought of the great buck on
Crestwood's game rack, had been taken by other than legal means.

Even if Ted wanted to do something now, his chance was gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

For twenty days, always leaving the Harkness house before dawn and never
getting back until after dark, Ted and his guest had hunted Pythias.

They had seen deer, dozens of them, and Ted had dropped a nice
eight-point so close to his house that they had needed only fifteen
minutes to dress it out, slide it in over the six inches of crisp snow
that now lay in the Mahela and hang it on the game rack. John Wilson had
had his choice of several bucks, and at least four of them had been fine
trophies. But he had come to hunt the big buck that still lurked on
Burned Mountain and he was determined to get that one or none.

It looked as though it would be none, Ted reflected as he sat in front
of the blazing fire, tearing a bolt of red cloth into strips. Pythias,
who had sucked in his woodcraft with his mother's milk, had only
contempt for any mere human who coveted his royal rack of antlers.

The second day of the season, giving John Wilson ample time to post
himself in the white birches, Ted had gone to the bed in which they'd
seen Pythias on the first day. A small buck and two does had gone
through, but Pythias had not. Most deer have favorite runways, or paths,
that are as familiar to them as sidewalks are to humans. Pythias seldom
used one, and he never took the same route twice in succession.

Hunted hard every day, he hadn't let himself be chased from the top of
Burned Mountain. Staying there, he knew what he was doing. Sparsely
forested, the top of the mountain was given over to a devil's tangle of
twining laurel and snarled rhododendron. Some of the stems from which
the latter evergreen grew were thick as tree trunks, and some of the
winding, snaking branches were thirty feet long. It was heartbreaking
work just to go through one, and impossible for a man to do so without
making as much noise as a running horse. Once within the laurel or
rhododendron, and some thickets were a combination of both, it was
seldom possible to see seven yards in any direction. Often, visibility
was restricted to seven feet.

Pythias haunted those thickets that varied from an eighth of an acre to
perhaps eighty acres. Chased out of one, he entered another, flitting
like a gray ghost through the scrub aspen that separated them. Then he
lingered until the hunters came and entered another thicket. Only when
going through the aspens, where he knew very well he could be seen, did
he run. In the thickets he walked or slunk, and he never made a foolish
move.

       *       *       *       *       *

Every day there'd been snow--and John Wilson and Ted had had tracking
snow for seventeen of the twenty days--they'd found Pythias' bed and
his fresh tracks. His hoofmarks were big and round, and they indicated
him as surely as a robe of ermine or a scepter marks a king. But except
for the first day, when he'd been hopelessly out of range, the two
hunters hadn't seen him even once. Pythias could never conceal the fact
that he had walked in the snow. But he could hide himself.

Methodically, Ted continued to tear strips from his bolt of red cloth
and lay them on the table. Tammie, grown fat and lazy during the three
weeks he'd been confined to the house--even though Ted had let him out
for a run every night--raised his head and blinked solemnly at the
fireplace. Bone tired, John Wilson turned in his chair and grinned.

"You have enough of those red ribbons so you could fasten one on half
the deer in the Mahela. Think they'll work?"

"I don't know of anything else. We've tried everything."

"It's been a good hunt," John Wilson said contentedly, "and a most
instructive one. I don't have to have a buck."

"But you'd like one?"

"Not unless it's Pythias."

"We have one more day and I have plans. Here, let me show you."

Ted tore the last of his red cloth into strips, pulled his chair up to
the table, took a sheet of paper and a pencil and drew a map. John
Wilson leaned over his shoulder.

"This is the Fordham Road," Ted explained, "the first left-hand fork
leading from the Lorton Road. Climb over the mountain and drop down the
other side. The first valley you'll see, it's right here, is Coon
Valley. You can't miss it, there's a turnout and hunters have been using
it. Park the truck and walk up Coon Valley. In about half a mile, or
right here, you'll come to three sycamores near a big boulder. On this
slope," Ted indicated it with his pencil, "there's a thicket of beech
scrub. You can see everything in it from the top of the boulder, Glory
Rock. Climb it and wait."

"That's all? Just wait?"

"That's all. If I can put him out of the laurel, there's at least an
even chance he'll cross the ridge and try to get back into the thickets
at the head of Coon Valley. If he does, he'll come through the beech
scrub."

"And if you can't?"

"He won't."

"What time do you want me there, Ted?"

"There's no great hurry. He isn't going to leave his thickets easily. It
will take you about an hour to reach the mouth of Coon Valley and maybe
another half hour or forty-five minutes to get set on Glory Rock. If you
leave the house by half-past six, you should be there soon after eight.
That's time enough."

"How long should I wait?"

"Until I pick you up, and I will pick you up there. I may not come
before dark. If I can put him past you, I will."

"As you say, General."

The tinny clatter of Ted's alarm clock awakened him at half-past three
the next morning. He reached down to shut it off, reset it for half-past
five and stole in to put it near the still sleeping John Wilson. Ted
breakfasted, gave Tammie his food and a pat, donned his hunting jacket,
put the strips of red cloth into the game pocket and stepped into the
black morning.

He bent his head against the north wind and started climbing Burned
Mountain. He knew as he climbed that he was pitting himself against a
force as old as time.

The woodcraft of Pythias, or any deer, shamed that of the keenest human.
Deer could identify every tiny sound, every wind that blew and the many
scents those winds carried. They knew everything there was to know about
their wilderness and they were all masters of it. No human could hope to
equal their senses.

But Pythias, the greatest and most cunning of all, was still a beast. He
knew and could interpret the wilderness, but he couldn't possibly apply
reason to that which was not of the wilderness. If his confidence could
be shaken....

It was still black night when Ted reached the summit of Burned Mountain,
but he had crossed and re-crossed it so many times in the past twenty
days that he could do so in the darkness. Pythias was there, and
possibly he already knew that Ted was back on the mountain. But he'd
feel secure in the thicket where he was bedded and he would not go out
until he was flushed.

Ted sought the aspen grown aisles between the thickets. He hung a strip
of red cloth on a wind whipped branch, walked fifty yards and hung
another. The night lifted and daylight came, and an hour later Ted tied
his last strip of cloth to a twig. Carrying no rifle--but Pythias
couldn't possibly know that--he put his hands in his pockets to warm
them. Now he had to flush the big buck.

He and his guest had left the great animal in one of the larger thickets
last night, but it was almost certain that he hadn't passed the whole
night there. Ted circled the thicket, found Pythias' unmistakable tracks
and followed to where the big buck had nibbled tender young aspen shoots
and pawed the snow to get at the dried grass beneath it. Thereafter
Pythias had done considerable wandering. Ted worked out the trail and
discovered where his quarry had gone to rest in another thicket.

He tracked him in, and he'd done this so many times that he knew almost
exactly what to expect. The big buck would wait until he was sure
someone was again on his trail, then he'd get up and sneak away. There
would be nothing except tracks in the snow to mark his going. A man
could not travel silently through the thickets, but a deer could.

Deep within the thicket, Ted found the bed, a depression melted in the
snow, to which Pythias had retired when his wandering was done. The
tracks leading away were fresh and sharp, no more than a couple of
minutes old, but they were not the widely spaced ones of a running buck.
Knowing very well what he was doing, aware of the fact that he could not
be seen while there, Pythias always walked in the thickets.

However, when he decided to leave this thicket, he had leaped through
the scrub aspen separating it from the next one. It could have taken him
no more than a second or so. If a hunter had been watching, he would
have had just a fleeting shot and only a lucky marksman would have
connected. Ted followed fast. There were no cloth strips in these
aspens.

But when he came to where Pythias had intended to leave the next
thicket, he discovered where the big buck had set himself for the first
leap then wheeled to slip back into the laurel. Ten feet to one side,
the strip of cloth that had turned him still whipped in the wind.
Pythias had tried again to leave the thicket, been turned a second time
by another fluttering cloth and leaped wildly out at a place where Ted
had hung no ribbons.

The buck's pattern changed completely. He was safe in the thickets, knew
it, and had never deigned to run while sheltered by friendly brush. Now
he was running, either in great leaps that placed his bunched feet six
yards apart or at a nervous trot. Ted began to have hopes.

Pythias had the acute senses of a wild thing plus the cunning of a wise
creature that had eluded every danger for years. But the wilderness he
knew changed only with the changing seasons. What did the fluttering
cloths mean? Where had they come from? What peril did they indicate?
Pythias' tracks showed that he was becoming more nervous.

Ted pushed him hard. The buck could not reason, but if he passed enough
of them safely and discovered for himself that there was no danger in
the red ribbons, he would pay no more attention to them. An hour and a
half after taking the track Ted knew that, at least in part, he had
succeeded.

Unable to decide for himself what the fluttering cloths meant, Pythias
swung away from the thickets into beech forest. Now he ran continuously.
In the thickets, knowing very well that he could not be seen, he had
walked until the fluttering cloths introduced an unknown and possibly
dangerous element. This was beech forest, with visibility of anywhere
from fifty up to as much as two hundred and fifty yards. A hunter might
be anywhere and well the buck knew it. He was going to offer no one a
standing shot.

Ted followed swiftly, for now the hunt had a definite pattern. A young
buck, chased out of the thickets on Burned Mountain, might linger in the
beeches. A wise old one would hurry as fast as possible into the
thickets at the head of Coon Valley, and the nearest route lay through
the scrub beech at Glory Rock. Ted was still a quarter of a mile away
when he heard the single, sharp crack of a rifle.

He left the trail and cut directly toward Glory Rock. A volley was very
picturesque and sounded inspiring, but whoever ripped off half a dozen
shots in quick succession was merely shooting, without much regard to
aiming. Ted murmured an old hunter's adage as he ran, "One shot, one
deer. Two shots, maybe one deer. Three shots, no deer."

He ran down the slope into Coon Valley and found John Wilson standing
over Pythias. The hunter's delighted eyes met Ted's, but mingled with
his delight was a little sadness, too.

"I now," John Wilson said, "have lived."

"You got him!"

"I got him, poor fellow!"

"He'll never be a better trophy than he is right now."

It was true. At the height of his powers, Pythias faced a certain
decline. Soon he would be old, and the wilderness is not kind to the old
and infirm that dwell within it.

John Wilson laughed. "I know it. Look at him! Just look at him! I'll bet
his base tine is thirteen inches long!"

Ted said, "Ten inches."

"Are you trying to beat yourself out of seventy-five dollars? I did
promise you twenty-five dollars for every inch in its longest tine, if I
got a head that satisfied me! This is surely the one!"

Ted grinned. "I'll dress it for you," he offered.

He turned the buck over, made a slit with his hunting knife and pulled
the viscera out. At once it became evident that John Wilson was the
second hunter of whom Pythias had run afoul, for he had been wounded
before. Ted probed interestedly. Entering the flank, the bullet had
missed the spine by two inches and any vital organs by a half inch. It
had lodged in the thick loin, and nature had built a healing scab of
tissue around it.

Ted probed it out with his knife and almost dropped the missile. In his
hand lay one of Carl Thornton's distinctive, unmistakable, hand-loaded
bullets.

John Wilson asked, "He's been wounded before, eh?"

"Yes!"

"Ted, I swear that you're more excited than I am!"

_Ted scarcely heard. He was here, beside Glory Rock, the day after Smoky
Delbert was shot. Damon and Pythias, always together, and a deer so
badly wounded that it couldn't possibly go on. Damon hadn't gone on.
Only Pythias had. Hurt but not mortally, he had left enough blood on the
leaves to convince Ted that there'd been only one deer._

"When do you suppose he picked that one up?" John Wilson asked.

"I don't know."

_Carl Thornton, who got what he wanted, had decided to get Damon and
Pythias himself._

"He's darn' near as big as a horse," Wilson said.

"Sure is."

_A horse, a friendly, easily caught horse, that had gone down Coon
Valley that night with Damon on its back, then been released to go back
up it._

"You certainly know how to field-dress a buck."

"I've done it before."

_Smoky Delbert, happening to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Thornton couldn't afford to be found out. Smoky would blackmail him._

_Thornton paying Delbert's hospital bills._

"Did I hit him square?"

"A good neck shot."

_Factory-loaded ammunition that almost never failed to mushroom.
Hand-loaded cartridges that might fail._

John Wilson fumbled in his pocket. "Doggone, I seem to have lost my
pipe."

_Al, forever losing his tobacco pouch, had gone to see Carl Thornton the
day Thornton fired Ted._

Ted wiped his knife blade on the snow, stood up and sheathed his knife.
He looped a length of rope around the great buck's antlers.

"He'll be easy to get out of here," he said.



12

AL'S BETRAYAL


Deer season was ended and the village of Lorton brooded moodily between
the snowclad hills that flanked it. From now until arriving fishermen
brought new excitement, Lorton would know only that which arose from
within itself. Ted, who had put John Wilson and his great buck on
yesterday's outgoing train, steered his pickup down the street with its
plow-thrown heaps of snow on either side and drew up in front of Loring
Blade's house. He said, "Stay here, Tammie."

The collie settled back into the seat. Ted walked to the front door,
knocked and was admitted by the game warden's attractive wife.

"Hello, Ted."

"Hello, Helen. Is Loring home?"

"Yes, he is. Come on in."

She escorted the boy into the living room, where, pajama-clad and with a
pile of magazines beside him, Loring Blade lay on a davenport and sipped
lazily from a cup of coffee. He looked up and grimaced.

"Whatever you want, I'm ag'in' it. I aim to stay here for the next
nineteen years."

Ted grinned. "Have they been pushing you pretty hard, Loring?"

"I've been on the go forty-seven hours a day and, at a conservative
estimate, I've walked nine million miles since deer season opened."

"Was it bad?"

"No worse than usual. Most of the hunters who came in were a pretty
decent lot. But there always is--and I suppose always will be--the wise
guy who thinks he can get away with anything. I caught one joker with
nine deer."

"Wow!"

"He was fined," Loring said happily, "a hundred dollars for each one and
suspension of hunting privileges for five years."

"Smoky Delbert give you any trouble?"

"You know better than that. Smoky can't walk a hundred yards from his
house and won't be able to for a long while to come."

"I feel kind of sorry for the poor cuss," Ted murmured.

Loring Blade looked at him sharply. "You didn't come here to ask me
about Smoky."

"Oh, yes I did. Who talked with him after he was shot?"

"I did, for one. Why?"

"What did he tell you?"

The warden shrugged. "You know that as well as I do. Smoky was walking
up Coon Valley when your dad rose from behind Glory Rock and shot him."

"Can you tell me the exact story?"

Loring Blade looked puzzled. "What do you want to know, Ted?"

"Did Smoky hear any shooting?"

"Come to think of it, a half minute or so before he got to Glory Rock he
heard two shots."

Ted's heart pounded excitedly. The two shots had been for Damon and
Pythias. Smoky wouldn't have heard the one that got him. Ted continued
his questioning.

"Did Smoky have any idea as to who was shooting at what?"

"He thought your dad was banging away at a varmint."

"Then he did know Dad had gone up Coon Valley ahead of him?"

"Why yes, he saw his boot track in the mud. But you knew that."

"Was Smoky afraid to go on?"

"Why should he have been afraid? Who expects to get shot?"

"Tell me exactly how he said he saw Dad shoot him."

"Smoky was near the three sycamores when he thought he saw something
move. A second later, your dad rose from behind Glory Rock and shot
him."

"Smoky's very sure of that? It was Dad that rose from behind the rock?"

"He told the same story at least a dozen times that I know of. It never
varied."

"Dad didn't step out from beside the rock, or anything like that?"

"No, he rose from behind it."

"Loring, has it occurred to anybody, except me, that the back of Glory
Rock is a sheer drop? Anyone who could rise from _behind_ and shoot over
it would have to be at least nine feet tall!"

"I--By gosh, you're right! I knew Al never bush-whacked him! He must
have been standing in plain sight when Smoky came up the valley!"

"Smoky never saw who shot him."

"That's not the way he told it."

"Think!" Ted urged. "Think of the sort of man Smoky is. There was bad
blood between him and Dad and had been for some time. You were there
when Dad dressed him down for setting traps before fur was prime. There
was, as you'll remember, talk of shooting even then. Smoky knew Dad had
gone up Coon Valley ahead of him; probably he even _thinks_ Dad shot
him. He said he saw him because he wanted to be sure of revenge. Smoky
would do that."

"Yes, he would. But it seems to me that you're doing a lot of guessing."

"Maybe. You brought Smoky's rifle out?"

"Yes."

"Had it been fired?"

"No, the bore was mirror slick."

"What would you do if you ran across Dad?"

"I'd bring him in, if I had to do it at gun point."

"Loring, I am going to do something that neither you nor I thought I
would ever do. I am going to betray my dad into your hands."

"Then you do know where he is?"

"No, I haven't seen him since the night he left."

"Cut it out, Ted. We all know you've been taking him supplies and we've
tried a dozen times to catch you at it. You do know where he is?"

"I don't, but Tammie does."

"So!" the warden exploded. "Callahan was right! He thought he saw Tammie
leave your house that night with a pack on his back. But when you
whistled him in, and he didn't have any pack, Callahan figured he'd made
a mistake. How'd you manage that?"

"Dad was coming to see me and he saw Callahan, too. He met Tammie within
yards of the house and took his pack off. Loring, if this is to be done,
it's to be done my way."

"What's your way?"

"You do exactly as I say."

"I'm listening."

"Meet me at my house two hours after midnight. We'll cross the hills to
Glory Rock; we won't be able to walk up Coon Valley. Then you're to hide
behind or beside the rock, any place you can listen without being seen,
until I say you can come out."

"Now look here, Ted, I like you and I like your dad, but I'm not
sticking my neck out for anybody."

"I promise you won't, and I also promise that you will get a chance to
bring Dad in."

The game warden pondered. Finally he agreed, "All right, Ted, it'll be
your way. But if there are any tricks, somebody's going to get hurt."

"O.K. Meet me at two?"

"At two."

Ted drove happily to Nels Anderson's modest house and found his friend
chopping wood. Nels greeted him with a broad smile.

"Hi, Ted! Come in an' have a cup of coffee?"

"I can't stay, Nels. How are you doing?"

"Goot, goot for now. Them deer hunters what stayed in your camp, they
paid me nice an' I get another yob soon."

"Crestwood's changing hands and the new owners are taking over next
week. You might go ask them for your old job back."

"Yah! I do that."

"If you don't get one there," Ted said recklessly, "I myself will be
able to offer you something that'll tide you over until you get another
job. I'm going to build more camps."

"Py golly, Ted, I yoost don't know how to thank you!"

"Will you do me a favor?"

"For you I do anything!"

"Then listen carefully. At seven o'clock tomorrow morning I want you to
go to Crestwood and see Thornton; he'll be out of bed. Tell him that
there's something near those three sycamores in Coon Valley that he'd
better take care of."

Nels scratched his head and let the instructions sink in. "At seven
tomorrow mornin' I see Thornton. I tell him, 'There's somethin' near
them three sycamores in Coon Valley you better take care of.'"

"That's it."

"Yah, Ted, I do it yoost that way."

       *       *       *       *       *

Ted's alarm awakened him at a quarter past one. He reached down in the
darkness to shut it off, and as he lay there he knew a cold foreboding.
Until now, the day to put his plan into execution, he had been very sure
he was right. But suppose he was wrong? Al would be in Loring Blade's
hands, delivered there by his own son! Ted got up and almost grimly
clothed himself. His father couldn't stay in the Mahela much longer
anyhow, and Ted knew he was right. When he was dressed, he sat down and
wrote a note:

     Dad; Meet me at the three sycamores near Glory Rock and bring
     Tammie with you. It's very important. When you get there, hide in
     the beech scrub until you think it's time to come out. You'll know
     what it's about after you arrive.

     Love,
     Ted

He put the note in a pliofilm bag and was just on the point of handing
it to Tammie when he hesitated. Timing was very important, and certainly
Al Harkness was never going to show himself at the three sycamores if he
saw Loring Blade anywhere near them. Ted put his doubts behind him. His
note said plainly that something was stirring and his father wasn't
going to show himself anyway until he knew what it was.

Ted opened the back door, gave the pliofilm bag to Tammie and said,
"Take it to Al. Go find Al."

Tammie streaked away in the darkness and Ted turned back to the kitchen.
He set coffee to perking, laid strips of bacon in a skillet and arranged
half a dozen eggs nearby. At seven o'clock--and because he was who he
was it would be exactly seven o'clock--Nels would go to Carl Thornton
and deliver Ted's message. If Thornton was innocent, he'd probably think
Nels had gone crazy.

But if Ted was right and he was guilty, Thornton would come up Coon
Valley as soon as possible, to find and destroy any incriminating
evidence that lay there. He would get the message at seven. Give him ten
minutes to get ready, forty minutes--Crestwood was nearer than the
Harkness house--to reach the mouth of Coon Valley and another twenty
minutes to reach the sycamores. If he was not there by nine o'clock, he
would not come.

There was a knock on the door and Ted opened it to admit Loring Blade.

"Hi!"

"Hi!" the warden grumped. "I've made all arrangements."

"For taking Dad to jail?"

"For having my head examined!" the warden snapped. "Who in his right
mind would let himself in for this sort of thing?"

"In about three minutes," Ted promised, "I'll have hot coffee and bacon
and eggs. You'll feel better then."

They ate, the warden maintaining a sour silence and Ted again filled
with doubt. All he really knew was that Carl Thornton had killed Damon
and wounded Pythias before the season opened. The wounded deer in the
beech scrub could have been shot by anyone at all and--

No, they couldn't. Al and Smoky Delbert, as far as anyone knew, had been
the only two people in Coon Valley that day. Al wouldn't shoot an
illegal deer and Ted had Loring Blade's word for it that Smoky's rifle
had never been fired. There had been a third party, and after Ted chased
him out of the thickets on Burned Mountain, Pythias had cut through the
beech scrub. Obviously, he knew the route and he wouldn't have
remembered that, a couple of months ago, he had almost come to disaster
on it. A deer's memory isn't that long.

When the two had finished eating, Ted asked, "Shall we go?"

"I'm ready. But if we're going to Glory Rock, why can't we drive to the
mouth of Coon Valley?"

"You promised to do this my way."

There must be nothing to warn Carl Thornton away--if he came--and fresh
tracks leading up Coon Valley might do just that.

Loring Blade said, "I suppose I might as well be a complete jackass as a
partial one. We'll walk."

They went out into the cold night, while the north wind fanned their
cheeks and trees sighed around them. A deer snorted and bounded away,
and there came an angry hiss from a weasel that, having all but cornered
the rabbit it was hunting, expressed its hatred for humans before it
fled from them.

Ted asked, "You tired?"

"Lead on."

The wan, gray light of an overcast morning fell sadly on the wilderness
when the pair came again to the three sycamores and Glory Rock. Ted's
watch read seven-thirty. Carl Thornton had his message and, if he was
guilty, even now he was on his way.

Loring Blade asked, "What now?"

"You'd better hide."

"Oh, for pete's sake--"

"Dad isn't going to walk into your open arms."

The warden said grimly, "All right. But if he doesn't come, there'll be
one Harkness hide tacked to the old barn door and it won't be your
dad's."

He slipped in behind Glory Rock and it was as though he'd never been.
Ted was left alone with the keening breeze, the murmuring trees and the
Mahela. He looked across at the beech scrub where Al was supposed to
hide, where he might even now be hiding, and saw nothing. He shivered
slightly--and knew that he was lost if Thornton didn't come.

Then he was sure that Thornton was not coming ... but when he looked at
his watch it was only five minutes to eight. There simply hadn't been
time.... Mentally Ted ticked another hour off. However, his watch said
that only seven minutes had passed and he stopped looking at it.
Forty-eight hours later, which his faulty watch said was only
forty-eight minutes, he looked down the valley and saw motion.

Ted stood very still in front of Glory Rock, and a prayer went up from
his heart.... When the approaching man was very near he said, "Hello,
Thornton."

Carl Thornton stopped, and for a moment shocked surprise ruled his face.
But it was only for a moment. He replied coolly, "Hello, Harkness."

"I see," Ted observed, "that you got my message?"

"Message?"

"The one Nels Anderson gave you at seven o'clock this morning. The one
that sent you up here."

"What are you talking about?"

"This--and I found it within six feet of where you're standing. Now do
you think it could be the bullet that went through Smoky Delbert?"

Ted took from his pocket the bullet he had dug out of Pythias and held
it up between thumb and forefinger. Again, but only for an almost
imperceptible part of a second, Carl Thornton's composure deserted him.
Then, once more, he was the master of Crestwood and as such he had no
association with ordinary residents of the Mahela. He said scornfully,
"Give me that bullet."

"Well now, I just don't think I will. The Sheriff, the State Police--and
maybe others--will sure be interested as all get out. You'll have some
explaining to do, Thornton, and _can you explain_?"

"I want that bullet!"

"Why do you want it, Thornton?"

"Give me that bullet!"

"Not so fast. I might _sell_ it to you. What's it worth for you to have
it?"

Carl Thornton's laugh carried an audible sneer. "You slob! You hill
monkey! You're even lower than I thought! Sell the evidence that would
clear your own father for money!"

"Then you _did_ shoot Smoky!"

"I want that bullet!"

"Come take it."

"I'll do just that."

Ted balanced on the balls of his feet, a grin of sheerest delight on his
face. Thornton was bigger than he--and heavier--and he was moving like a
trained boxer. But because his back was turned, he did not see Tammie
burst from the scrub beech and race him down. Tammie went into the air.
His flying body struck squarely and Carl Thornton took two involuntary
forward steps. He fell face downwards and rolled over to shield his
throat with his right arm. Tammie's bared fangs gleamed an inch away and
Thornton's voice was muffled.

"Call him off! I'll give you a thousand dollars for the bullet!"

"No, thanks," Ted said evenly, "and I wouldn't move if I were you.
Anyway, I wouldn't move too far or fast. Tammie might get nervous." He
raised his voice. "All right, Loring, I think he'll tell you the rest
now."

Ted scarcely noticed when Loring Blade came out from behind Glory Rock
because his whole attention was centered on the man who emerged from the
beech scrub. Al Harkness was lean as a wolf. His ragged hair had been
hacked as short as possible with a hunting knife and his beard was
bushy. His tattered clothing was held together with strips of deerskin,
fox pelt, wildcat fur and fishing line. But his step was lithe and his
eyes were clear and happy.

"Hi, Ted!"

"Hello, Dad!"

They came very close and looked at each other, saying with their eyes
all that which, for the moment, they could find no words to express....
Then Al asked, "How you been, Son?"

"Fine! Had a swell season! As soon as you get squared around again--and
used to living like a civilized man--we can start two more camps."

"Right glad to hear it. You'll have your lodge yet."

"Might at that. How have you been?"

"Not too bad." Al grinned his old grin. "Not too bad at all."

"Hey!" Loring Blade called plaintively. "Call your dog, will you? I've
told him six times to get away so I can start taking this guy to jail
and all he does is growl louder!"

Ted turned and snapped his fingers.

"Come on, Tammie. Come on up here and join your family."



JIM KJELGAARD


was born in New York City. Happily enough, he was still in the
pre-school age when his father decided to move the family to the
Pennsylvania mountains. There young Jim grew up among some of the best
hunting and fishing in the United States. He says: "If I had pursued my
scholastic duties as diligently as I did deer, trout, grouse, squirrels,
etc., I might have had better report cards!"

Jim Kjelgaard has worked at various jobs--trapper, teamster, guide,
surveyor, factory worker and laborer. When he was in the late twenties
he decided to become a full-time writer. He has succeeded in his wish.
He has published several hundred short stories and articles and quite a
few books for young people.

His hobbies are hunting, fishing, dogs, and questing for new stories. He
tells us: "Story hunts have led me from the Atlantic to the Pacific and
from the Arctic Circle to Mexico City. Stories, like gold, are where you
find them. You may discover one three thousand miles from home or, as in
_The Spell of the White Sturgeon_, right on your own doorstep." And he
adds: "I am married to a very beautiful girl and have a teen-age
daughter. Both of them order me around in a shameful fashion, but I can
still boss the dog! We live in Phoenix, Arizona."





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