6. On The Right Track.

or
“The Tail of the ‘Coonskin Cap”

by Calico

LATE SEPTEMBER – 1861

On a fine fall day, in fairest Kansas where I lay my scene, a worthy farmer, called by name – Alexander Heyes – became possessed of restlessness for travel and adventure. Upon safe gathering of his goodly harvest, Alexander felt impelled to leave the peace of cultivated acres. He yearned to forsake hearth and home, forswear soft comforts, pit his manly resolve against peril and hardship, journey into wilder realms.

Alexander determined that the copy made for eternity of his beauty…
…I mean the stamp in which men might see his image…
…the fruit of his prime and comfort of his years…
…the foremost scion of the house of Heyes…
…or to speak plain, the branch seeded from his trunk…
…or to speak yet plainer his eldest son, Hannibal …
should accompany him upon this quest and share the challenge to be faced.

Ever a man of considerate benevolence, he did further bethink him that Hannibal – noble youth – would welcome a companion close in years upon this venture. And so, Alexander sent forth entreaty to the neighbouring house of Curry – whether the youngest lad, bearing of that ancient Celtic name, might join them on this enterprise. This favour fairly granted by his worthy sire and dam – fresh-faced Jed Curry made a fitting third and last to this most gallant troupe.

In short, Alex Heyes plans to take his son Hannibal and young Jed Curry hunting.

‘Why?’ – you ask. Why indeed? What makes a man to wander, what makes him leave his home? The urge to hunt stretches into our pre-history. It fills the world of myth and is even printed by us on the pattern formed by the stars overhead. We paint into the infinite indigo of the midnight sky – Orion, with his dogs, in pursuit of ever-elusive quarry.

The ancients venerated men skilled in the hunt, depicting heroes and kings in the virile mystery of the chase.

“Man the hunter!”

These three words embody masculinity. They conjure the camaraderie and interdependence of those bonded in pursuit of dangerous prey or wily quarry.

“Man the hunter!”

See him test his wits and mettle to master nature and subdue the beasts. See him bend the fanged peril to his will! See him face down tooth and claw amidst the hostile terrain! Is there any doubt this – primordial – instinct drives Alexander Heyes?

Or – just possibly, he fancies a change from salt pork and the occasional broiler.

There is a further possibility, though I am loath to think my hero so shallow. But, in the interests of verisimilitude, I will inform you that Alex has recently purchased a new rifle and is itching to try it out.

…oooOOOooo—

“Mr. Heyes,” said Jed, looking up from the rifle he was cleaning under strict supervision. “You’re not jus’ goin’ to have me cleanin’ this are you? I mean…”

“JUST cleaning!” Alex interrupted him, “JUST cleaning! Jed, don’t you know this is one of the most important jobs? A man can never pay too much attention to keeping his gun in perfect firing order. After every use – before every use – daily if you can – your gun should be thoroughly cleaned, dried, and oiled.” He exchanged a glance with Hannibal. “Isn’t that right son?”

“Biggest cause of accidents through mis-firing – is sloppy cleanin’,” confirmed Hannibal, gravely. “All experienced hunters know that,” he added, with consequence. He had accompanied his father before AND been allowed a shot, so felt quite justified in including himself amongst ‘experienced hunters’.

“Yeah, but…” started Jed.

“And,” broke in Alex, with a meaning look at the bottle placed between the boys, “…if your rifle is to do you credit – you should never spare the oil.” Obediently Jed once again, with youthful vigour, plied the lubricated cloth, as he had been shown.

“Don’t worry, Jed,” said Alex, kindly, “…I’ll let you load it too.”

“Yeah, but…”

“Once I’ve shown you how.”

“But…”

“IF – I’m sure you’ve listened properly.”

“‘Course!” protested Jed. Of COURSE he would listen! “But…”

“It’s a responsible job – loading,” nodded Alex, seriously. “A man relies on his loader.”

“Yeah,” blurted Jed, “But – after all that – are you goin’ to let me have a shot?”

Father and son exchanged another glance. Unseen by Jed, Alex gave Hannibal a wink. He drew in his breath audibly to indicate grave doubt.

“Let you have a shot?” he hesitated. “Not sure about that! What do you think, son?”

Hannibal shook his head slowly and also drew in his breath.

“Not sure about that!” he agreed, deadpan.

“I’m old enough!” urged Jed. “I’m eight! Nate was allowed to shoot when he was eight!”

“You’re only just eight!” pointed out Hannibal.

“Han!” objected Jed, “Not – ‘only just’! It was AGES ago!”

“It’s not just a question of age,” explained Alex, with another flick of his eyes towards Hannibal. “Remind me – Hannibal,” his brow furrowed in pretended forgetfulness, “…what is the first rule governing when someone may shoot one of my rifles?”

“They hafta be tall enough to look over it – held upright!” proclaimed Hannibal, decisively. “All experienced hunters know THAT! A rifle should never be higher than your chin – cause – you need to see the muzzle as you’re loadin’.” A beat. “An’…” he looked doubtfully at his friend, seated on a box in the barn, “…reckon some folks here might be an inch or so short!”

“I’m tall enough!” asserted Jed, getting to his feet. Seeing the length of the thirty-nine inch three grooved barrel, with rifling twist and the additional foot or so of gleaming wooden butt, he decided to hedge his bets. “Tall enough to look over it anyhow,” he surreptitiously rose off his heels. He saw where he reached and added hastily “… that stuff about your chin…that’s just a silly rule!”

Two sets of Heyes breath were again drawn in – signifying exaggerated doubt.

“Remind me again, son,” requested Alex, “…what is the second rule governing when someone may shoot one of my rifles?”

“They hafta agree with ALL your rules, ALWAYS do as they’re told – an’ NEVER argue!” pronounced Hannibal, as one reciting the words of the oracle.

Jed, still trying to lever his chin above the tip of the perfectly cleaned muzzle without making it too obvious he was approaching tiptoe – opened his mouth to argue. He thought about the second rule – and shut his mouth firmly.

Alex looked at the pleading look in the blue eyes facing him and decided to bring an end to the teasing.

“We…ell,” he decided, slowly. “IF – you remember rule two – I might let you have a shot. We can always get around rule one. We’ll just have to find you a slope to stand on for loading.”

—oooOOOooo—

Early the next morning our party of three, our trusty triumvirate, our plucky protagonists, our heroic huntsmen set out.

They – together with a horse…
…stalwart steed and fellow traveller on so many of men’s journeys…
…faithful friend to humanity…
…so beautiful in motion, so elegant in repose…
…noble companion to our race since time immemorial…
Well, not exactly time immemorial. For between three thousand nine hundred and six thousand four hundred years, depending on which archaeological theory you accept AND, assuming we are writing in 1861. Which we are. I say we. I mean me, obviously. Or – given the grammatical placement – I wish to indicate the perpendicular pronoun -‘I’.

To recapitulate.

Alex took a horse. And a wagon. The horse pulled the wagon.

The combined human and equine subjects of this stirring tale, set out for a series of wooded bluffs and perennial streams, some distance from the Heyes farm.

Now, let me make it clear – there are no descriptions of scenery within this story. At no point is the account interrupted to describe the landscape around Larson Creek. Nor yet any neighbouring place. No explanation that the autumn fields of North-Eastern Kansas are laid out like pieces of a golden pavement into the azure blue of the Western side of the mighty Missouri river. No portrayal of the bossy beaten work of mountain chains, nor of softly glowing terraced gardens. No invocation of the scent of flowers – heavy with frankincense, mixed among masses of laurel, and orange, and plumy palm that abate with their grey-green shadows the burning of the marble rocks, and of the ledges of porphyry sloping under lucent sand. As we travel, we do not see orient colours change gradually into a vast belt of rainy green, where the pastures and poplar valleys and dark forests stretch forth in beauty. No pastoral vision of fertile land is glimpsed through clefts in grey swirls of rain-cloud and flaky veils of the mist of the brooks, spreading low along the stubble of the harvested wheat. [1]

The technological wonder of photography has rendered such passages both unnecessary and comparatively lacking in bringing before the reader an accurate picture of the area in which this adventure is set.

And – the resemblance of North East Kansas to the description NOT given above – is slight.

The resemblance is NOT non-existent. There ARE fields. AND a river. But, it is – slight.

—oooOOOooo—

“Now, Jed,” said Alex, “This…” he stroked the barrel, lovingly, “…This is a beautiful muzzle-loading rifle with a percussion cap as an ignition device. She’s a few years old – sure. But, the man I bought her from clearly knew how to treat a lady. She’s good as new.” The two boys exchanged a glance. Hannibal gave the trace of a shrug. “You see her barrel is fastened to the stock with three metal bands – so we call this a “three band” model. Her cartridges…” [2]

Jed could stand it no longer.

“Mr. Heyes,” he interrupted.

Alex started slightly from his reverie of respectful admiration.

“Uh huh?”

“Why do you keep callin’ the rifle – ‘she’?” asked Jed.

“All rifles are female, Jed,” smiled Alex. “Lovely as the Shulamite – sometimes temperamental – always to be handled with respect, but once understood – delightfully responsive to the correct touch.” Again, glances were exchanged. This time, both sets of juvenile shoulders twitched in the merest suggestion of – ‘huh?’ “Where was I?” checked Alex.

“Cartridges,” prompted Hannibal.

“Her cartridges contain sixty eight grains of black powder – and the ball is around 530 grain. The sight…” Alex held the rifle low to show Jed, “…has steps for a hundred to four hundred yards. But for longer distances…” he flipped up the blade sight, “…this adjusts up to about twelve hundred yards.”

“That’s near two thirds of a mile,” put in Hannibal, impressively. He might not be at one with his father over the feminine nature of rifles, but he did want Jed to be impressed.

Jed was. “Can you really hit somethin’ that far off, Mr. Heyes?” he asked.

“Something? – Maybe,” smiled Alex. “What you’re aiming at? Nope – not a hope! With practice, a good marksman can hit something about the size of – say a deer – a BIG deer,” he temporised, “- at five, six hundred yards. Maybe more if you’re good AND lucky.” He saw Jed’s mind work as the boy looked around. “See that twisted Mockernut Hickory by the bend of the creek?” Jed followed the pointing finger and nodded. “Five hundred yards is about that far.”

It looked a good long way off to Jed.

“You could hit that from here?”

“‘Course he could!” asserted Hannibal. “Pa’s a real good marksman.”

Alex laughed at his son’s confidence.

“IF I’d had a rifle THIS good when I was fifteen years younger – probably. Now?” It was his turn to shrug. “We’ll see, huh?”

Seriously, he went on, “I’m going to load this lady – real slow – and say what I’m doing. So – I want you both concentrating hard. Then, I’ll talk you both through it, as you have a try. Understand.”

Two equally serious faces nodded. Jed in particular was frowning in determination to concentrate hard. He did not want to give Mr. Heyes any reason to think he was too young or too inattentive to be allowed to have a shot.

“You bring the rifle to the ground with the barrel outwards,” started Alex, demonstrating, “…with your left hand – seize her firmly near the muzzle… let your thumb stretch along the stock – place the butt between the heels, the barrel between the knees.” He looked up, “Don’t forget – flex your knees. You lean her into your body – though angling the mouth away – do you see? Take your cartridge…” Two heads, one dark, one golden, bent forward to watch closely. “… and, with your teeth…” for a second, the instructions became blurred, “…you twist off the end. Put the cartridge in the barrel… powder, then ball…” again the enunciation became clear as crystal. “With your right hand take the ramrod…draw it out… let go of the rifle and grasp the ramrod a hand’s breadth…” Alex looked at the boys’ hands. He smiled, “…in your case, two hands’ breadth from the bottom…” One set of dark, one set of blue eyes followed the ramrod upward, “… sink the ramrod one inch into the barrel…then force down the cartridge with both hands.” Alex rammed. He continued, “Return the ramrod to the pipe.” He smiled. “That’s it – loaded.” [3]

He pointed at the two older rifles.

“Now – you can load these two lovely old girls. Let’s see what you remember…” He took another look at his younger pupil beside the rifle. “Wait a minute, Jed – let’s find you something to stand on.”

“I’m high enough!” protested Jed, again worried that his turn was disappearing in unfair height discrimination.

“Just an extra three or four inches – for ramming,” said Alex, kindly, coming back with a sturdy box, brought for the purpose. “Otherwise, you’ll be tempted to tilt her toward yourself. And…” he turned to his son, “What’s another rule…?”

“Always look to your gun, but never let your gun look at you,” supplied the well-briefed Hannibal.

“Never let the barrel of any gun point toward you, Jed,” clarified Alex, earnestly. “Nor – at anyone else!”

“It’s not loaded yet, Mr. Heyes,” soothed Jed. However, he obediently stood on his low box, before bringing the rifle between his knees and leaning – ‘HIM’ – thought Jed, stubbornly, against his shirtfront.

Two sets of Heyes’ breath drew in – in horror. As one, one deep and one treble voice chanted,

“Never, never let your gun
Pointed be at anyone!
That it may unloaded be,
Is of interest – none – to me!”
Jed blinked. He made a mental note NEVER to use the ‘it’s not loaded’ justification again.

Slow loading took place under a watchful eye and to the accompaniment of gentle reminders.

“…make sure all the powder’s in, before you put in the ball …”
“…keep your knees flexed…”
“…it’s a ramrod Hannibal – not a rapier – no need for the flourish…”
“…DON’T look down the barrel!”

A minute or so later Alex finished up with – “Well done! Now…” he went on, “…we always set out with our weapons loaded, BUT we never put the cap on the cone until we are about to fire…” He demonstrated on his own rifle, “Because – most injuries happen from guns going off accidentally. It makes your shot a split second slower – but it’s worth it.” He turned in the direction of the distant – and condemned – twisted hickory. “Watch closely Jed,” he instructed, “Your turn next.”

The blue eyes narrowed in concentration.

“Bring her into the centre of your body and up…left little finger on the hammer spring … left thumb stretched along the stock …bring it up to mouth level.”

A young brow furrowed, as every word was committed to memory.

“The right thumb goes on the cock… four fingers under the guard. Cock her real gently… let the right hand grasp the small of the stock.” Alex’s eyes sought Jed’s, though his head did not move. “You see – I’ve got the butt in the hollow of my shoulder …nice and firm. Right foot back … and don’t forget to flex your knees. Guns recoil – hard. If you’re standing too stiff – you’re going to get a real jolt. Support her close before the lock with your left hand. Get the right elbow raised even with your shoulder. Fore finger on the trigger, head bent, cheek resting on that of the rifle. Remember – if you turn your head away as you pull the trigger – you’ll miss. It’s natural for a beginner – nothing to be ashamed of – but you have to train yourself not to flinch away.” [3] and [4]

Hannibal nodded wisely at Jed to back up this sage piece of advice.

Alex continued, “Shut your left eye …take aim through the sight with the right …” Jed practiced closing his left eye. “Other left,” corrected Alex, kindly. Flushing slightly – and avoiding the smirk on Hannibal’s face, Jed hastily shut the – other – left eye. “Now,” said Alex, allowing himself a boyish grin, “I’m taking a fix on the low branch, furthest away from the water. Let’s see how she does at around five hundred yards!”

A moment of silence. Then, Jed and Hannibal both blinked at the report. In the distance, the condemned branch shuddered and their sharp eyes saw twigs and leaves exiting downwards and a pair of disgruntled small birds exiting upwards. The boyish grin on the face of the one party member too old to be wearing one, widened. Dimples deepened. Despite his earnestly meant strictures that rifles were not playthings – he took a childlike delight in his new toy.

“Told you he’d hit it,” glowed Hannibal. “Good shot, Pa!”

“I think that one was good – and lucky,” demurred Alex, stroking the butt of his new inamorata, lovingly. “What a range! But – I think I’ll be trying to get a mite closer to targets that move, huh?”

“Well done, Mr. Heyes,” said Jed. A beat. Then, almost jigging with impatience, “Is it my turn now?”

“Reckon so,” smiled Alex. “Put your cap in place…that’s right. Now…” he explained, “…I had a better rifle AND I’ve done it a few times before. So, I think it’s only fair if we pick you a target a good bit closer. Say…about eighty yards. I’m thinking – that Plains Cottonwood,” he pointed out the target. “Go for – dead centre.”

“Easy!” dismissed Hannibal.

“Pffttt!” teased Alex, “They’re all easy shots when you’re not the one making them! Ignore him Jed…” He moved behind the boy, “Take it slow now. Plenty of time… Nice and firm into your shoulder… Keep your knees relaxed … Keep ALL of you relaxed …”

A second report shattered the quiet of the scene. Splinters of bark flew, as a harmless cottonwood – innocently minding its own business – was perforated, pretty much dead centre. A beat.

“Was that really your first ever try?” checked Alex. “Nate hasn’t been letting you shoot on the quiet?”

“No,” Jed assured him, an involuntary delighted grin splitting his face. “Nate talks just like you Mr. Heyes…No gun is a toy…An’ not to even TOUCH ‘em less you or Pa are with me an’ say I can… An’ – an’ all that stuff you go on an’ on an’ on about.”

“Uh huh?” responded Alex, smiling at this innocent criticism of his safety instructions. “In that case Jed – either you had unbelievable beginner’s luck. OR – I reckon you have a real marksman’s eye.” He dropped his hands to his hips, “Hannibal,” he said, “Let Jed have the rifle you’re holding.”

Hannibal, vexation sweeping across his face, opened his mouth to protest at this gross injustice.

Alex forestalled him, “You can have two goes next,” he said. “Besides – I’m running things as an autokratôr here. If and when democracy breaks out – I’ll let you know. Don’t hold your breath.”

“Huh?” said Hannibal.

“I’m in charge – no arguing,” translated Alex. With a subdued grumble, Hannibal handed over the third rifle to Jed, as Alex relieved the younger boy of his discharged weapon. Jed took the loaded weapon warily. Thrilled as he was to have hit his target – he had been shaken by the force of the recoil. Decidedly, both Nate and Mr. Heyes were right – this was NOT a game. “This time, Jed,” Alex said, “Try for the Post Oak…” Jed gave a little smile, as his eyes followed the pointing finger. He rarely heard Mr. Heyes just say …’tree’. “…the Post Oak with the knothole on its trunk, about thirty or forty yards further off. Keep it slow – we’ve got plenty of …”

He was interrupted by the sound of exploding powder. In the distance, a ball travelling at nine hundred feet per second buried itself into a fine specimen of – what only a desire not to sound TOO pompous, prevented Alex referring to as – Quercus stellata.

—oooOOOooo—

Later that afternoon our mentor, his newest protégé and his direct descendant…
… his oldest offspring …
… his primary patrilineal progeny …
… his consanguine companion…
… his heir apparent – here apparent…
… he to whom Alex stood as agnatic antecedent …

I refer to Hannibal. Heyes. Not Hannibal of Carthage.
… so neither Hannibal Gisco of Carthage, who won fame in the First Punic War …
… nor Hannibal Barca of Carthage, who crossed the Alps with war elephants…
… nor yet Hannibal the Rhodian, also of Carthage, who commanded a fast quadrime during the Siege of Lilybaeum. Not that a SLOW quadrime would be much use. Quadrimes are by their nature fast. So, that was a redundant adjective. Possibly not the first. Probably not the last.
… no – my reference is to none of the Hannibals above.
It is to Hannibal Heyes. Of Kansas. By this time, the state of Kansas. Just.

Alex, Hannibal and Jed, having tethered the horse amidst ample grazing and with assured supplies of water…
… water, essential element to all life…
… cool, cleansing, quenching …
… sparkling in the sunlight…
… mythic mirror in which Narcissus lost his heart …

Let me recap.

Alex has tethered the horse. On grass, near water.

Let me – resume.

Alex and the boys are now near a different bluff. They are tracking.

To be strictly accurate – they are TALKING about tracking.

—oooOOOooo—

Trying his best to match Alex’s stride – though having to add a quick catch up scurry at times – Jed was listening to Hannibal. Hannibal, not one to be cast down by having missed three out of his four arboreal – and thus stationary – targets, whilst Jed had hit all but one, was in full flow.

“Marksmanship’s OK…” explained Hannibal, loftily, “…but the REAL skill of the experienced hunter is in the trackin’. Not much point bein’ able to hit a tree is there? You hafta hit – game. An’ before you can hit it – you hafta find it? Huh? Huh?”

Realising some response was being called for, Jed nodded.

“Guess so,” he said. He could afford to be generous. Jed had been buoyed up by anticipation, ever since Mr. Heyes offered to bring him hunting. His practise shots had inflated his mood from good to – exultant.

“Guess so!” repeated Hannibal, “GUESS so!! It IS so! Everyone knows!” he added, inclusively.

“Uh huh?” nodded Jed.

Satisfied he had won his audience, Hannibal proceeded to pass on the knowledge he had accumulated over half a dozen or so previous hunting trips with his father.

“You see,” said Hannibal, scanning the ground ten feet ahead, with shielded eyes and a squint signifying intense concentration, “I’m soakin’ up information about the land around me like a – like a sponge! Isn’t that right, Pa?”

“Uh huh,” confirmed Alex. “Don’t forget to let it all drip back out though – so we can share it, sponge. I mean, son.”

Hannibal decided to rise above the teasing.

“I’m lookin’ for all kinds of what we hunters call – spoor. That’s footprints, tracks, beds, chews, hair…”

“I thought we were after birds this afternoon? Deer at dawn tomorrow?” interrupted Jed.

“…hair OR feathers!” frowned Hannibal, firmly. “I’m givin’ you the general principles here, Jed!” A beat. Content Jed had seen the error of interrupting the instruction of a master, Hannibal carried on, “I’m lookin’ all the time for scratchin’ or markin’ posts, drag marks, kills, scat…”

“Scat?” queried Jed.

“Er…” Hannibal searched.

“Faeces,” supplied Alex. Jed still looked doubtful. “Droppings,” he tried. Enlightenment. “Best to look out for them anyhow…” added Alex, seriously, “…otherwise you tend to step in it.” He gazed earnestly at Jed, “Of course, a good hunter might WANT to step in it, to camouflage his own smell. We might have to roll you in – scat – tomorrow, Jed. Before we send you upwind of the deer. That’d be OK, huh?” Jed blinked. He was never QUITE sure when Mr. Heyes was joking. “OR,” temporised Alex, still deadpan, “…we COULD just let you stay downwind with us. What do you think, Hannibal?”

“Maybe a few dabs o’ scat behind his ears,” grinned Hannibal, “…Just to be on the safe side, huh?”

Jed was ALMOST sure they were joking. His gaze wavered from one set of dark eyes to the other. Alex was poker faced, but he saw the smallest telltale tightening of Hannibal’s mouth. Han was trying not to laugh! Jed grinned.

“Is that what you’re wearin’, Han?”

Hannibal laughed. It was getting harder fooling Jed as he grew older – but there was plenty of time yet. He cleared his throat and resumed the expression supposed to signify he was blood brother to ‘Hawkeye the Pathfinder’.

“I’m keepin’ the sun in front of me… do you see that Jed? That way – any shadows cast by the spoor show up. ‘Cause – if the sun’s in front of me – it’s gotta be behind the spoor. That’s why an experienced hunter always tracks real early, or late afternoon. It’d be hard work trackin’ in a midday glare. An’ you’ll notice…”

Jed interrupted again.

“I HAVE tracked before y’know, Han! An’ – an’ I don’t seem to recall you being much use, last week, when we was tryin’ to trail …” He stopped. Under a darting, warning look from Hannibal, he shut his mouth firmly. Two sets of suddenly guilty eyes, one blue, one brown, risked a quick look at Alex. Wisely, Hannibal’s father decided not to hear. Presumably, if whatever – or whomever – had been the object of last weeks stalking, had come to harm – he would have heard of it by now.

Hannibal cleared his throat and continued to offer the fruits of ten years crowded experience to his young friend.

“You’ll notice I never look down at my feet – it slows you – I keep my eyes about fifteen feet in front.”

“I TOLD you, Han! I do know this stuff!” protested Jed, breaking into another quick trot to keep up.

Hannibal drew himself up.

“Didn’t I hear Nate tell you – you’d learn a lot of good stuff ‘bout tracking, first few times you came out with Pa an’ me?”

“Yeah,” admitted Jed, “…But…”

“AND…” Hannibal drowned out his friend’s voice, “…here y’are, bein’ too ornery and uppity to even LISTEN!”

“Wasn’t YOU Nate said I should be listenin’ to!” deflated Jed.

“While you’re wastin’ your time arguin’,” pronounced Hannibal, “I…I am placin’ myself within the skin of my quarry. I…” he added, with consequence, “… am anticipatin’ an’ – an’ identifyin’ with my prey!”

“Huh?” said Jed.

“I’m pretendin’ to be a quail,” explained Hannibal.

A snort of laughter and a subdued – ‘squawk’ – from Jed.

“I am pretendin’ to be a quail,” repeated Hannibal, firmly, “…an’ thinkin’…where would I be?”

“Uh huh?” sniggered Jed.

Suddenly, an expression of delight swept across Hannibal’s face. He darted forward towards a scrub patch. Returning at a run, he held out a small object ruffling in the chilly wind.

“Spoor!” he said to his father, casting a triumphant look at Jed. “‘Tis – isn’t it? It’s quail!”

“Bobwhite tail feather,” confirmed Alex.

“Mr. Heyes,” asked Jed, tentatively, “…DID you bring us this way by – by thinkin’ like a quail – like Han said?”

“I’d love to say, ‘Yes’, Jed,” Alex smiled, “Because – it was all good stuff.” He raised Hannibal’s hat briefly to ruffle his hair.

“But, to be honest – I’ve just walked us straight to the same place I found coveys the past few years.” He pointed, “There’ll be some in that wooded creek bottom – and…” the finger moved, “…we’ll probably bag a few if we flush out that standing small bluestem.”

“Are…” Jed repeated the question still foremost on his mind, “…Are you goin’ to let us have a go?” he asked. As an afterthought, he added, “Please – Mr. Heyes?”

“Er…” Alex checked his watch. He did want to go home with plenty of game, not JUST two very satisfied young boys.

“Ple-ease, Pa,” chipped in Hannibal.

“Plee…ee…ease,” echoed Jed. He had been warned, on pain of maternal wrath, not to pester Mr. Heyes. But – asking nicely could not be classed as ‘pestering’.

Alex looked down at two pleading faces. He supposed he could trade the chance of the last half dozen birds for the pleasure of staying well up on the ‘satisfactory father’ and ‘favourite honorary uncle’ listings.

“You have remembered who’s in charge?” he checked, “And – the ‘no arguing’ rule?” Two mouths opened. A glance was exchanged. A mute conversation on the ‘no arguing’ rule was held. In unison, the two mouths shut. Boyish eyes – appealed. Appealingly. “Good!” said Alex. “In that case,” he squatted down, “…this is what we’ll do. Quail aren’t all that quick to disperse. When we start flushing and shooting, the covey will tend to stick together and make for the next nearest cover. The bevy’ll get smaller – but it’ll be thirty or forty minutes before we lose the lot. So…” he took a breath, “…you two can have a go EITHER twenty minutes after my first shot, OR when I’ve bagged a dozen birds. Whichever comes first. Do you understand? Then we’ll move to another good spot – and do the same again.”

Two brains were evidently calculating the odds. Hannibal spoke up.

“With three guns – that’s four rounds of shootin’.” He gave a satisfied smile. “That shouldn’t take twenty minutes!”

Alex laughed.

“I hate to break it to you, Hannibal, but…” he leant forward and, in a mock-conspiratorial whisper went on, “…however much you build me up, I think Jed’s going to notice I do miss. Quite often. So – I think it’ll be four rounds – AND the rest.” He smiled at both boys, “How long it takes is pretty much going to depend on how fast you two help me load!”

—oooOOOooo—

A dozen bagged birds later – Jed’s turn. This was going to be SO easy! Mr. Heyes had told him he had a real marksman’s eye. AND – the birds being flushed into the air were MILES closer than the tree he had managed to hit dead centre. He did not understand why, if Mr. Heyes was supposed to be such a good shot…And, he must be, because Nate said so…IF he was such a good shot, why was he missing so many? He had missed FIVE… OH! Jed’s face fell in disbelief.

“Bad luck, Jed,” sympathised Alex, kindly. A second later, “Bad luck, Hannibal! Do your best not to move your head, son.” A beat. “Reload. Let’s flush what’s left up again. Have another go.”

—oooOOOooo—

Five minutes – and a couple of ‘goes’ each – have passed. Jed has completely revised his reservations about Alex as a marksman for missing five out of seventeen shots at small feathery moving targets flapping unpredictably towards the next nearest cover.

“More left, Jed …more left,” panted an excited Hannibal. A miss. A beat. “I TOLD you – more to the left!”

“You MADE me miss!” protested Jed, “…He made me miss, Mr. Heyes! He’s puttin’ me off!”

“I was HELPIN'” objected a picture of outraged and unappreciated innocence.

“Helpin’ me miss – yeah!”

“Didn’t need any help missin’ the others, did ya?” pointed out Hannibal. “I was only worried you were …”

“Worry about your own birds, Han,” interrupted a disgruntled Jed, “…An’ quit yakkin‘ while I‘M shootin‘!”

“Pa…”
“Mr. Heyes…”

Alex had moved off and was squatting down to fasten the dead birds together.

“Uh huh?”

“Tell him…”
“Tell him…”

The owners of the united voices stopped. They exchanged a glance – a scowling glance.

“Can’t you just tell each other?” grunted Alex. “But – be quick about it.” He straightened up. He sniffed the air, “My master tracker’s nose tells me we’ll find another covey – maybe partridge too – about a mile nor’-nor’-east of here.” He waited until Jed’s face wavered through ‘impressed’ into ‘doubt’. He waited until the younger boy opened his mouth… then he forestalled him. “Leastways – they were there last year!”

As they strode along, Hannibal running a little ahead in quest of ‘spoor’, Alex felt a tug at his sleeve.

“Mr. Heyes,” came a subdued voice.

“Uh huh?”

“All that stuff you said ‘bout – ‘bout me havin’ a good eye…” Jed trailed off.

“Uh huh?”

“Were you jus’ – jus’ bein’ nice? Was it jus’ beginner’s luck?”

“No, and – nope,” said Alex. “I wasn’t just being nice. And – I don’t THINK it was beginner’s luck. Mind you,” he added, “I’ve seen you use a sling – so I already knew you’d a good eye.”

“Then…” Jed shot a glance at Hannibal to make sure he was not listening. He was not. “Then – why didn’t I hit nothin’?”

“Anything,” corrected Alex, automatically. “Because Jed, birds move and trees don’t. Because – you were in too much of a hurry, too excited and discharged your weapon too soon. Which is a fault men three and four times your age still suffer from – so don’t let it get you down. Because – you moved your head away from the rifle’s butt as you followed the bird. That only needs practice. Because…” Alex smiled down, “…because your arms are still an inch or so too short for the gun. So, you’re doing real well considering – and every fraction of an inch you grow – you’ll get better.”

Jed turned this over in his mind. He did not answer Mr. Heyes. But, after a moment or two, he happily ran forward to join Hannibal in practising tracking skills. After all – hitting a target is only half the battle. First – you have to find it.

—oooOOOooo—

“Spoor!” called Jed. “I mean … drat! I mean…scrat!”

Hannibal came over to look.

“Well – it’s not quail – is it?”

“Still – scrat,” pointed out Jed.

“Scat,” corrected Hannibal.

“An’ – an’ it was me spotted it,” continued Jed, “…Like a sponge!” A beat. “You’re the ‘sperienced hunter,” challenged Jed. “So – it’s not bird. An’ – I can see it’s not rabbit. Or – or – horse nor nothin’! So – what is it?”

“Well,” said Hannibal, bending down and taking a tentative sniff. He drew back. “It’s fresh!” he announced confidently.

“Uh huh?” replied Jed, “…AND…?”

Hannibal wiped the indecision off his face and assumed the expression of a kindly instructor of youth.

“Pa,” he called, casually, “Jed can’t identify this scat!”

Alex came over. He took a look. He broke a twig off the scrubby brush under which the scat had been spotted. He poked at the – undoubtedly fresh – scat. He sniffed the twig.

“Racoon,” he said.

“Racoon,” Hannibal informed Jed, obligingly.

“Good sign,” said Alex. “Often find racoon around a covey site. Plenty of eggs, you see – earlier in the year.”

“It’s a good sign,” Hannibal told Jed, ever keen to pass on his knowledge. “Often find racoons near to…”

“I’m not DEAF,” protested Jed.

The hunting party continued on its way. Hannibal, however, appeared – abstracted.

“Racoon?” he murmured under his breath. Thought furrowed his brow. He fingered something in his jacket. Jed knew the signs. Until they arrived at the next covey and the excitement of ‘having a turn’ took over, Hannibal ceased to be ‘Hawkeye the Pathfinder’; he was… Jed thought hard. Who, in the stories Mr. Heyes told, was supposed to be real good at plotting and scheming. Not Sinbad. Whatshisname – the other fella. The name would not come. But, yeah – Hannibal was now – him. Yup!

After, by this mental process, having demonstrated the enduring power with which Homer’s poetry stretches forth through the centuries, Jed put the classics out of his mind and concentrated his full cognitive powers ten to fifteen feet ahead.

—oooOOOooo—

A second covey has been flushed – pushed – rushed – ambushed – trussed. The tally of birds is no longer twelve – but twenty-two.

—oooOOOooo—

“Jed’s comin’ along, huh?” said Hannibal, indulgently.

Jed bridled.

“Comin’ along! I’m doin’ as well as you!” he averred. “AN’…” he went on, firmly, “…it’s my first time. AN’ my arms are shorter. So, all things consid’ed – BETTER’N you!” he decided.

“Pfffttt!” dismissed Hannibal, succinctly.

“AM so!”

“Are NOT!”

“AM SO!”

“ARE NOT!”

“AM SO!”

“ARE NOT!”

A beat.

“Mr. Heyes…”
“Pa…”

“Uh huh?” responded Alex.

“Tell him…”
“Tell him…”

Once again, Alex straightened up after trussing the legs of birds.

“My apologies,” he said, deadpan. “Sometime during your brilliant rhetorical cut and thrust, I lost track of the exact topic under discussion.”

“Huh?” puzzled Jed
“Pa!!” disgruntled Hannibal.

“What are you arguing about?” checked Alex.

“Who’s the best shot here?” demanded Hannibal.

“That’d be me!” Alex grinned. “By a MILE! Of course – I do admit to being biased!”

“Pa!” objected his son, “You KNOW what I mean! Who between me an’ Jed is doin’ best?” He gave his father a nudge in the right direction, just in case. “It’s me – isn’t it? Tell him!”

“Well,” considered Alex, “…these questions are usually settled by counting how many kills each man has made in a day. Hannibal – how many birds have you killed?” Hannibal scowled at this blatant disloyalty. “I’ll take a rough estimate for now,” added Alex, unrepentantly.

“Nearly – three!” stated Hannibal. “That last one – that was REAL close!”

“Uh huh?” said Alex. “So, nearly three – but actually…?”

Hannibal wriggled.

“Approx’mly…” he hesitated, “…approx’mly – none.”

Alex turned.

“And you, Jed?”

“My first shot here,” began Jed, “…took a tail feather. You SAID it did, Mr. Heyes!”

“Uh huh,” grunted Alex, “…But – just for the moment – we’re counting whole birds.” A beat. “Round figures’ll do.”

“I didn’t shoot none,” admitted Jed.

“Any,” said Alex.

“Any,” parroted Jed.

“Uh huh. Remind me,” frowned Alex, “…what was the question?”

“Nothin’,” sighed Hannibal, “…Don’t matter.”

“Nothin’, Mr. Heyes,” agreed Jed.

“Right then,” said Alex, “…get those rifles reloaded. We’re heading back to the wagon, but – we might be passing jackrabbits and a couple of dozen squirrel drays on the way. Wrong time of day for squirrel – but, you never know!”

—oooOOOooo—

“Well done, Jed!” congratulated Alex, delighted. “That was some shot! On your first day too!”

“Good shot, Jed,” chimed in Hannibal.

Jed’s face was split with an exultant grin. He looked up and basked for a moment in Mr. Heyes’ warm approval. Alex nodded, “Let’s go fetch it, huh,” he smiled. All three of them walked over to the dead squirrel.

Jed reached down towards the body. A minute ago, she had been frisking and sporting in the fall sunshine, twining herself around the branches with the grace of an eel, revelling in her own sinuous suppleness. Now she was… Jed picked her up. She flopped limply in his hand. Never again would she scamper through the grass to search for fallen acorns. Never again choose a mate in the spring. Never again nurse and nuzzle a brood of precious kits.

Alex took a quick look at Jed’s face.

“Hannibal,” he said, cheerfully, “…just run over the next rise will you? See if you can spot any signs of rabbit.”

Hannibal strode away.

“Jed,” said Alex, quietly, “…if you don’t want to shoot at anything else, that’s absolutely fine. Not a problem.”

Jed shot him a doubtful look.

“No,” he said, after a moment. “I do – do wanna learn to shoot. It’s jus’ – jus’…” He searched. “I thought it’d feel – better’n when I hit the tree. An’ – an’ it don’t.”

“Good,” said Alex, with a little smile. Jed blinked. “I enjoy shooting, Jed. And – I enjoy being good at it,” Alex explained. “But, if I’m shooting JUST for fun – I pick a target that doesn’t bleed. Remember – these birds will feed our families. Their breast feathers will get saved for bedding. Tonight, we’ll be roasting this squirrel for supper and – we’ll be finding a use for her pelt. If I get a deer tomorrow, nearly every bit of it will be eaten, or worn, or turned into cordage. The pleasure’s in the skill – and in being good enough to bring off a humane clean shot, NOT in killing. Understand?” Jed nodded. “But – if you’d rather just shoot at targets,” repeated Alex, “…not a problem. Alright?”

A beat.

“We’re really gonna eat this?” Jed checked.

“I am,” smiled Alex. “Whether you and Hannibal want any – is up to you.”

Jed thought a bit more.

“I think that makes it alright,” he decided.

“So do I, ” agreed Alex.

Jed began to smile again.

“It was a good shot, wasn’t it? I mean – clean?”

“Wonderful!” admired Alex. “Difficult shot too! They’re quick! And the sun’s getting real low between the branches. Usually you don’t get squirrel this time of day – more of a morning shot.”

“You see …” began Jed, “…I saw this squirrel coming down the trunk…”

“Uh huh,” encouraged Alex. He did not remind Jed he HAD been watching. What is the point of hunting without a little boasting?

“…an’ I knew – I jus’ knew she’d be heading across the long branch…”

“Uh huh?”

“…an’ instead of followin’ the squirrel, I took me a sight on the branch…”

“Uh huh?”

“…an’ – I waited. Like a – like a…” a brow furrowed under golden curls. “…Like one o’ them waitin’ things…”

“Uh huh?”

—oooOOOooo—

Our triad have returned to their wagon and tethered horse. Game has been secured from heat and predators. Our group are making camp. They have made – fire! Truly, they follow in the steps of mythic heroes!

Fire – first mastered by man in the caves of Dragon Bone Hill, north of the Yellow River in what men now (by ‘now’ I refer to 1861, pray do not misunderstand me) … now call China. Fire – Olympian gift to Prometheus!
Fire – the consuming element.
Fire – nest of the phoenix, symbol or rebirth
Fire – keeping at bay the dreams and the dangers deep in the dark.

Not that it is dark yet. You may, however, picture approaching dusk. Have you pictured approaching dusk?

Then, fair friend, follow. For we forgather with fearless, fire-makers – forthwith.

—oooOOOooo—

“You see …” began Jed, “… I saw this squirrel coming down the trunk…”

“Oh for Pete’s sake!” objected Hannibal. “Not again! Just how many hundred squirrels came down this dang trunk, huh?”

An – offended – beat.

The boys got on with what they were supposed to be doing – fetching respectively, more firewood (Hannibal) and water (Jed). Hannibal cast a glance over to where Alex was – in Hannibal’s opinion – just messing about with his knife, whilst they did all the chores.

“Look Jed,” he said, pulling something from his jacket, “…I’ve been thinkin’.”

“That’s what you’re good at, huh?” sniffed Jed. Under his breath he muttered, “…Cause – it’s sure not shootin’.”

“I shot a rabbit!” objected sharp-eared Hannibal. “I saw him … headed for his hole, an’…I took …”

“I got a squirrel AND a rabbit!” trumped Jed. A beat. “I saw this squirrel comin’ down the trunk an’…”

“I’ve been thinkin’,” interrupted Hannibal, flapping the something he had taken from his jacket in front of his friend.

Jed looked at what Hannibal was showing him. It was a battered, six-cent, sixteen-page story paper. “That’s MINE!” Jed said, “…It’s that book I lent you – ‘bout Daniel Boone an’ the Grizzly!”

“I know it is,” answered Hannibal, mildly. “We swapped. I lent you – ‘Daniel Boone – Kidnap in Kentucky! A tale of Marauders an’ Menace!'”

“That was a good one, Han,” reflected Jed. Reflectively.

“Uh huh,” pressed on Hannibal, “Like I say … I’ve been thinking. You know that racoon scat I found today…”

“WHO found?” protested Jed.

“You know that racoon scat I ‘dentified earlier…” amended Hannibal. Jed rolled his eyes, but in the interests of brevity allowed this to pass. “Had me an idea,” said Hannibal.

Hannibal pointed to one of the line drawings illustrating the work of literature lent him by Jed. It depicted the story’s protagonist in the undoubtedly dramatic – though highly improbable – act of forcing open the jaws of one grizzly bear whilst holding a second at bay with a sturdily booted foot. Whilst dangling from a tree. Dangling upside down. Dangling from one crooked knee. Dangling from a tree to which the story’s heroine had been tethered. Tethered by a strangely under motivated villain. NOT tethered by a bear. Not even a well-motivated bear. It was not THAT improbable. Specifically, Hannibal pointed at the cap worn by the dangling hero. It was obviously a highly practical garment, as it remained firmly in place even when its wearer rotated through one hundred and eighty degrees AND wrassled with two – count them TWO – grizzlies.

“Oh!” breathed Jed. He grinned at Hannibal.

“Danny…” started Hannibal. He and Jed considered themselves on first name terms with the Kentucky pioneer. “…Danny always wears it!”

Jed again studied the coonskin cap with the distinctive dangling…Tail? Ringlet substitute? Single earmuff? The distinctive dangling – dangly bit.

“Do you reckon your Pa will let us go back?” he asked.

“Ask him,” urged Hannibal.

“Why me?” said Jed. “You ask him?”

“You’re a guest – an’ it’s your first huntin’ trip. Do the big blue eyed look,” urged Hannibal.

“I’ve not got no big blue eyed look!” protested Jed, disgusted.

“Pfffttt!” snorted Hannibal. He mimicked an older feminine voice, “What a little angel! Look at those curls! Look at those eyes!”

“Quit it, Han!” objected Jed. Ladies fussing over him might have certain cookie and candy advantages – but he did not relish teasing on the subject. “You ask him. You’re the one reckons he can talk anyone round!”

“We’ll both ask,” compromised Hannibal. “Jus’ – jus’ take your cue from me.”

A deep voice called over from the campfire.

“Are you two comin’ back, or just beddin’ down in the creek?” Alex stood up to check on his party, “Get yourselves back over here,” he said. “Come and learn how to skin a squirrel, Jed!”

The boys did get themselves back over to the fire. Beans were set to stew. Then, Alex positioned himself opposite Hannibal and Jed with one of the two squirrels in his hands. He had shot the second squirrel himself, considering one spit-roasted squirrel between three a shade – frugal.

“This works best with two,” he said cheerfully. “So, Hannibal can help me first – because, he’s done it before, huh?”

Hannibal nodded and once again assumed an expression indicative of the seasoned woodsman. “Then – Jed can decide whether he wants a go,” went on Alex, “…Because – he did enough work shooting it! So, it’s up to him whether he wants to skin his own squirrel, or not. Alright?” Jed understood that Mr. Heyes was giving him a non-sissy way out, if he did not want to skin his squirrel.

Alex made a start.

“I hold the squirrel up by his tail, Hannibal holds his rear legs,” Hannibal did so. “With a good sharp knife…”

As the lesson continued, Jed took a small step back.

Less than two minutes later, a skinned squirrel – dangled from Alex’s hand.

“Pa,” began Hannibal. But, Alex was still in full flow.

“Now…” said Alex, “… we remove all the musk glands – other wise he’ll taste pretty bitter.” He pointed, precisely, “You can see them – these little grey balls. The only difficult ones…” said Alex, again wielding the knife.

“Pa,” tried Hannibal, louder.

“… are behind the rear leg …”

“Pa!”

“Wait a moment Hannibal, I’m talking!” A beat. “Er… are behind the rear leg knee joints. You need to…”

“Pa, you know tomorrow…?”

“Hannibal!” Alex took a breath. “What?”

“After you’ve shot all the deer you want…”

“Uh huh?”

“Jed has somethin’ to ask you.”

Alex shifted his gaze to Jed. A beat.

“Uh huh?” he prompted. Another beat. “One of you spit it out,” he said, “…I’m dangling a half-cleaned squirrel here and I’d like to get him roasted some time before dawn.”

“We were wonderin’ if we could…” Jed looked at Hannibal, “…could go back to the second quail covey place? You know.”

“AFTER you’ve done what YOU want – shootin’ deer,” Hannibal repeated, to emphasise the reasonableness of the request. “‘Cause – you know you wanna get the deer real early. So, there’ll be time enough to bring ‘em back an’ set out again.”

“Why?” asked Alex. “I doubt the birds will be back. Not that quick.”

“We wanted to hunt somethin’ else,” explained Hannibal.

“Uh huh?” Alex encouraged. “Still dangling squirrel here,” he reminded them.

Hannibal nudged Jed. He nudged him again, harder.

“Racoon,” blurted Jed.

“Racoon?” said Alex. “It’s – it’s a bit of an acquired taste, Jed. I’d wait and see if you enjoy the squirrel first. Racoon’s a bit like squirrel – only – kind of more so! A lot – more so.” He smiled, “And – WE’D have to eat it. Because, I don’t know that your Ma will thank me much for offering her racoon in place of a couple more rabbits.”

“It wasn’t so much for eatin’,” explained Jed.

“You COULD eat it, of course,” put in Hannibal, obligingly.

“Course,” said Jed, tentatively. He decided to wait until he had tasted squirrel before making any promises to share it.

“It’s – it’s more for the fur, Mr. Heyes. An’…” he put in, winningly, “…that’s not for fun is it? If’n we want pelts for somethin’ real useful.”

“It’s attractive fur, alright,” agreed Alex. He looked puzzled. “Are you thinking of – of a muff, or a collar for your mother or one of your sisters, Jed? Something like that?”

“Er…” hesitated Jed.

“Somethin’ like that,” confirmed Hannibal, confidently. “Somethin’ real practical an’ – an’ warm, now winter’s comin’ up.” A beat. “Coonskin caps,” he said. “Real, real practical.”

“Uh huh?” said Alex. He had no particular objection to the suggestion. A cap made out of a pelt would certainly be warm and practical enough.

“Jus’ like Danny wears,” put in Jed. Hannibal rolled his eyes.

“Danny – who?” asked Alex. He made a start on the second squirrel.

“Daniel Boone,” said Hannibal. Casually he added, “You remember, Pa? You read me that book – all about him. All about his adventures in Kentucky.” He shot a warning glance at Jed, “It was real – educational. Proper history.”

Alex did remember. He had indeed read aloud, ‘A Biographical Memoir of Daniel Boone – the First Settler of Kentucky,’ some months ago.

“I don’t recall anything about a coonskin cap in that,” he said. “Of course, it did later become a popularised image of Daniel Boone and, indeed – of pioneers generally. I believe the ubiquitous nature of the portrayal dates to the song ‘The Hunters of Kentucky’. Originally…”

“Danny always wears…” interrupted Jed.

“Originally the caps were worn by the Indians native to the area…” went on Alex. He stopped. “Sorry Jed. You were saying?”

“That book of yourn can’t have been the full story, Mr. Heyes,” explained Jed, earnestly. “…Because Danny ALWAYS wears his coonskin cap. Ev’ryone knows that.” He turned, “Show him, Han! Show your Pa.” He saw Hannibal roll his eyes. Jed did not understand why. Mr. Heyes liked books! As the story paper was passed over, Jed pointed cheerfully at the illustration. “See, Mr. Heyes! It’s in a book. So – it’s proper hist’ry!”

“Uh huh?” said Alex. His mouth twitched. He glanced at Hannibal. A faint flush showed on his son’s cheeks.

Hannibal lifted his chin.

“Some lit’rature,” he quoted, “…some lit’rature, exists purely to divert an’ relax the mind with a good story. An’ – an’ there’s nothin’ wrong with enjoyin’ a mix.” A beat. “Isn’t that right?”

“Sounds familiar,” admitted Alex.

“An’ this – and the others,” clarified Jed, “…are a real good mix. ‘Cause – like it says at the start…they are TRUE eyewitness ‘counts of the real adventures of brave, fearless Danny Boone. But…” he went on, in case Mr. Heyes should fail to grasp the crux of his point, “…as well as being HIST’RY – they’re excitin’ stories too!”

“Like – like the bit in the one you read me – where he was captured by the Shawnee,” put in Hannibal. “I mean – that was true, huh?”

“Uh huh,” admitted Alex. “I’m also quite prepared to believe Daniel Boone genuinely had a successful encounter with a bear.” He took another look at the illustration. “Though, I always assumed he had a rifle with him…” He took a third look. “And… I think he was probably the right way up.”

“Danny was the ‘rippen’est, roarin’est, fighten’est man the frontier ever knew’,” explained Jed, simply.

“Uh huh,” grunted Alex, by now finishing the gutting of the second squirrel and attaching her to a spit.

“From the COONSKIN cap on the top of ol’ Dan,
To the heel of his rawhide shoe;” agreed Hannibal, with appropriate emphasis. He nodded at Jed.

Two boyish voices chimed together,
“He’s the rippin’est, roarin’est, fightin’est man
The frontier ever knew!”

Alex blinked. However, he contented himself with a gentle, “Sheesh!” He stood up from the campfire. “Right,” he pronounced, “…while they’re roasting, we have rifles to clean!”

“A man can never pay him too much ‘tention to keepin’ his gun in perfect firin’ norder,” nodded Jed, wisely.

A long beat while cleaning commenced. Another beat.

“I saw this squirrel comin’ down the trunk…” began Jed.

“Uh huh?” nodded Alex, encouragingly. For the third time in five minutes, Hannibal rolled his eyes.

—oooOOOooo—

“What do you think of the squirrel, huh, Jed?” asked Alex.

Jed took another bite and chewed reflectively.

“It’s pretty good,” he decided. “Kinda – smoky.” He smiled, “The beans are kinda – smoky too. I like ‘em this way.”

“Campfire cooking does have a – smoked flavour,” agreed Alex. “Everything tastes pretty good after a long day in the fresh air though, huh?”

—oooOOOooo—

The three hunters stared into the flicker of the flames. Jed rubbed his – smoky – eyes and wriggled with contentment. It was real dark. It must be much later than his usual bedtime. They were digesting a meal he had helped provide. Cooked on a fire he had helped build and light. If he looked anything like Hannibal, he was real grubby. And – tomorrow he was going deer hunting. Maybe more rabbit too. Then – maybe, just maybe – he would be getting a coonskin cap to swank in at school come winter. Jed smiled to think of the look on Tommy’s face when he and Han walked in wearing caps just like Danny Boone. Made from pelts HE had shot; with his marksman’s eye.

Jed took another sip of sweet hot tea. Remembering what Nate, Zach and Han had told him about hunting trips, when he had still been declared ‘too young’, he asked, “Aren’t we supposed to be tellin’ camp fire tales?”

“Uh huh,” grunted a warm and relaxed Alex. A beat. “Who’s taking first go?” he yawned.

The boys exchanged glances. But, faced with this gross – and frankly idle – dereliction of duty, Jed piped up, “There was this…”

“It CAN’T be ‘bout squirrels!” put in Hannibal, firmly.

Jed piped down. A beat.

“Shall I tell one, Pa?” offered Hannibal, a certain would be casualness in his tone indicating he was keen.

Alex drew a flask from his jacket and added something to his own tin mug of tea. He took a sip and topped up the mug again with a second tot of – something. Thus fortified, he said, “Go on then, son.”

“Go on, Han,” echoed Jed.

“It’s NOT – a story,” started Hannibal, carefully. He flashed a quick look at his father and gave just the tiniest wink. Then, he looked earnestly at Jed. “It’s a TRUE ‘count of an adventure which I had while out huntin’.”

“Nothing like a true hunting story, for the evening camp fire,” approved Alex. “It’s – kind of – traditional, Jed.” He took another sip of – tea, in preparation for listening to the upcoming treat.

“After many months of livin’ at my ease in the quiet town of Larson Creek,” began Hannibal, “I grew restless of my life of leisure.”

Jed blinked. If this was how you were expected to tell tales, he was glad he had not been asked to start. No wonder the squirrel story was not going down so well, as at first.

Alex dropped his head to grin. He was fairly relaxed that the echoes from repeated hearings of ‘Sinbad’ would ease off soon enough.

“I had been warned – many times an’ oft,” went on Hannibal, “…not to wander to the forests alone…”

Jed blinked again. Forests? Near Larson Creek?

“But although most strictly adjured,” continued his dark eyed friend, “…I was so possessed with thoughts of adventure – an’ huntin’ – that I took my father’s gun an’ a knife an’…” Hannibal searched, “…an’ all the other stuff I’d need, an’ set off to the wilderness, to test my mettle.” He took a good swallow of tea and carried on. “After travellin’ for many miles, an’ reachin’ realms unknown to me…”

“When WAS this?” interrupted Jed.

“It was some months back,” frowned Hannibal. “It was – spring. The month of May, when a young man’s fancy turns to – huntin’!”

Alex kept his eyes down, but dimples deepened.

“I don’t remember you tellin’ me you’d snuck your Pa’s gun an’ gone huntin’?” argued Jed, “Haven’t you always said he’d…” He glanced at Alex. “…Mr. Heyes, I thought you’d skin anyone alive for so much as touchin’ one of your rifles without leave?”

Alex’s earnest brown eyes met Jed’s.

“How do you know Hannibal’s story doesn’t end with him getting skinned alive?”

Jed drew his head back. He supposed – he did not know that.

“Where was I?” checked Hannibal.

“You were reaching realms unknown,” supplied Alex, helpfully. “In the wilderness.”

“I had travelled beyond the realm known to me,” picked up Hannibal.

“You mean – you weren’t in Kansas no more?” asked Jed.

“I jus’ said – it weren’t known to me!” exploded Hannibal. “If’n it weren’t known to me – how the Sam Hill would I know if I’d crossed the state border or not? I travelled north ‘till I didn’t recognise nothin’! Sheesh!”

A beat. Jed gave his friend an apologetic look.

“I had travelled without ceasin’ from dawn to dusk,” went on Hannibal, “… and covered MANY,” he shot Jed a meaningful glare, “…many miles. The restlessness possessin’ me kept me goin’, ‘cause…’cause…huntin’ deer, bein’ as it is the sport of princes…gave to me such sharp delight, it was ever my rulin’ appetite.”

A smothered – something – possibly a cough, from Alex.

At a glare from Hannibal, he said, “Sorry, son. The smoke got my throat.”

“I had found plenty of – of deer spoor, so I knew I’d found me a real good spot,” explained Hannibal, “…but as I said, I’d been travellin’ all day and it was kinda late. Come nightfall – I found the forest growin’ very dark.”

“Figures,” put in Alex.

“So – I made me a bed amongst the leaves – an’ slept, ‘till mornin’.”

“You stayed out all night?” checked Jed.

“Uh huh. Come first light…”

“Didn’t you miss him, Mr. Heyes?”

“Er…” wavered Alex. “Sure…”

“No!” insisted Hannibal.

“I mean, no,” agreed Alex. “Hannibal had made his plans so cunningly – I never realised he’d gone.”

“How?” asked Jed, incredulous. Well – caught between credulous and ‘incredulous’.

Alex shook his head firmly.

“I can’t tell you that, Jed,” he said, deadpan. “If I told you – you might be tempted to try it out. And then…” he drew in his breath, indicating deep trepidation, “…if your mother found out I’d passed on the idea…” Alex shuddered. “She’d…she’d…”

“She’s do some’n SO bad – you can’t say,” nodded Jed, “…’Cause – if you did, you’d hafta wash your own mouth out?”

“That’s about the size of it,” agreed Alex.

Jed pursed his lips. He could see why IF Hannibal had a way of staying out all night without being found out – Mr. Heyes would NOT say how it was done. If.

“Where was I?” asked the long-suffering and much interrupted one.

“In a bed of leaves. In a forest up north. First light,” recapped Alex. He took another drink of tea.

“I made my way – real stealthy – to where I had found signs of deer. Now, before I set out, I had made for myself an – an instrument which makes a sound like the bleat of a fawn. You see,” explained Hannibal, to the listening Jed, “… a mother deer knows that the fawn don’t give off much scent – and so is pretty safe hidden in the grass. So, that’s what she does. But the mother – she goes off an’ beds down in a thicket near by. D’you see?”

“Uh huh,” nodded Jed.

“But – with this pipe I’d made to bleat,” went on the older boy, “…which is an Indian trick,” he turned for confirmation, “…isn’t it Pa?”

“Documented fact,” agreed Alex. [4]

“So, I started makin’ bleatin’ sounds,” said Hannibal, “…in hopes of lurin’ a doe out in sight of my rifle.” He paused. He gave an impatient sigh.

Recognising a cue, Alex chimed in, “And – did it work?”

“Only too well,” answered Hannibal, dramatically. He sank his voice, “The wary victim was on her way out of the thicket.” Hannibal began to mime the actions, “I raised my rifle, took careful aim. I was just in the act of pulling my trigger, when…” he paused, dramatically.

“Uh huh?” breathed Jed. “When – what?”

“There was a rustlin’ in the grass on my left… I looked…” Hannibal widened his eyes, “…a huge cougar – HUGH – claws of steel – fangs half a foot long – was bounding toward me! It too, had heard the bleat!”

“A cougar?” repeated Jed. He blinked. He frowned. “I’ve never seen a cougar round here,” he said suspiciously.

“Hannibal wasn’t round here though, was he?” said Alex, reasonably. “He was miles and miles north – in parts unknown.”

He sipped his tea thoughtfully.

“AND…” put in Hannibal, “…just ‘cause you haven’t seen cougars – don’t mean there aren’t any! Cougars are tricky an’ stealthy as can be! Remember what Danny Boone always says – ‘A cougar can be a few yards away – but most men won’t see him ‘less the cat chooses!'”

Jed turned over both these weighty arguments.

“What did you do?” he asked. “Did you shoot him, Han?”

“I turned my rifle,” breathed Hannibal, eyes still wide, “…but – it misfired!”

“No!” gasped Jed. He brooded for a second on the ills wrought by sloppy cleaning. “…Uh huh?”

“My – my life flashed before me!” said Hannibal.

“Uh huh?”

“The beast was so close – I could feel his – his breath on my face!”

“Uh huh?”

“I was – was harrowed!” milked Hannibal, “…It did freeze my young blood! Mine eyes did start! An – an’ each parti’clar hair did stand on end like a porkedpine!”

Jed blinked.

Again, there was a – cough – followed by an apologetic look from Alex.

“What could I do? How could I escape?” wondered Hannibal.

Jed wondered too.

“I dropped the rifle an’, with a single bound…” explained Hannibal.

That sounded familiar – thought Jed.

“With a single bound, I leapt into the nearest tree an’ began to climb,” Hannibal said.

“But…” Jed began to protest.

“Right!” forestalled Hannibal. “Course the giant cat leapt after me – swarmin’ through the branches. What could I do?” He took a deep breath. “Suddenly, I had an – an ‘spiration. I grabbed me one of the grape vines twined around the tree’s limbs – and – taking a firm grip – leapt from the tree into the air. Holding tight to the vine – I swung – flying through the air to the next tree. From there – to the next. Looking back – I saw the cougar snarlin’ in frustrated fury!” [7]

“No!” said Jed. He searched Hannibal’s face. “No,” he said, again. “That’s not possible!” Hannibal was a picture of trustworthy verisimilitude. “Is it?”

“You can see vines in some of the trees, huh?” pointed out Hannibal.

“Yeah, but…” Jed was torn. “But…if you grabbed one of ‘em an’ jumped – I reckon you’d just drop like a stone. At best – you’d smack back into the same tree!”

“Nah!” Hannibal shook his head earnestly. “Not with the right angle an’ swing! You gotta consider nat’ral elasticity, Jed. An’ – an’ arcs an’ stuff!”

Jed wriggled. Arcs and – stuff – meant mathematics. If it came to anything to do with mathematics – he would not like to argue against Hannibal.

“There’s a formula for everythin’, Jed,” said Hannibal, seriously, with a glance at his father.

“Yeah, but…” Jed decided to take his argument onto ground he was more certain of. “If that all happened – how come you never said nothin’ before? Not like you!” He turned, “He ever say any of this to you before, Mr. Heyes?”

“We – ell,” equivocated Alex, with a return glance at his son, “…I can truthfully say, Jed – I have heard most of it before. One time or another.”

“Really?”

Alex nodded.

“Sheesh!” said Jed, impressed.

Another glance was exchanged.

“Wait till he tells you about how the cat started swingin’ through the trees after him!” deadpanned Alex. “Carryin’ the rifle too!” Jed blinked – and frowned. “Must have done,” pointed out Alex, “…Since Hannibal left it behind – and it’s the one you were cleaning earlier!”

Two dimpled grins finally turned to laughter together. Two pairs of brown eyes crinkled at Jed.

The younger boy flushed.

Then, “Aw!” he protested, grinning back. “I – I knew you was joshin’ all along, Han! I was jus’ – jus messin’ with you!”

—oooOOOooo—

The narrator has taken a short – chagrined – break, after receiving intimations that certain readers feel the story of Danny Boone, the two wrestling grizzlies and the tethered heroine sounds much more the kind of thing they were hoping for. What they have actually been given seems sadly lacking in incident!

Further – she has heard that after having read her ramblings on water and fire – other readers have requested she keep her reflections on air and earth for another day.

However, in the interests of clarity, the narrator has asked me to say – it is now shortly before dawn. The next day.

It is now shortly before dawn. The next day.

—oooOOOooo—

“The hunt is up, the hunt is up and it is well nigh day,
and Harry our king is gone hunting, to bring his deer to bay.”

Jed opened his eyes. He stretched. His bed felt – hard and, cold. He blinked a few times. Of course – he was not in bed. He was camping out with Mr. Heyes and Han and – it appeared to be still the middle of the night. He shut his eyes again. The sound which had awoken him, recommenced.

“The east is bright with morning light – and darkness it is fled;
the merry horn wakes up the morn to leave his idle bed.”

Someone was shaking him.

“Come on, Jed,” came Mr. Heyes’ deep voice, ” Wake with the morn! The hunt is up! Time to leave your idle bed.” The shaking stopped. The voice however continued.

“Get up Hannibal! Time to bring those deer to bay. But – get the kettle on first.”

Jed sat up and rubbed his eyes. In the first grey streaks of light, he looked over at Hannibal.

“Best get up,” said Hannibal, getting stiffly to his feet and scratching. “Otherwise – he comes back and tips you out.” He pulled on one boot and began to lace it.

Jed crawled out from his bedroll, then began to search it for a kicked off sock.

“Behold, the skies with golden dyes are glowing all around;
the grass is green, so are the treen all laughing at the sound.”

Jed looked over at Hannibal. Hannibal grinned. Both boys looked over toward the creek from where the singing now drifted.

“Pa – he’s kinda a mornin’ person – that’s what he says!” explained Hannibal.

“The horses snort to see the sport, the dogs are running free,
the woods rejoice at the merry noise of hey tantara, tee ree!”

Singing and – then – splashing. Jed shivered at the thought of that cold creek water in the sharp morning air, before the sun even had a chance to take the chill off. He followed Hannibal’s example in having a good scratch.

“You heard him,” said Hannibal. “Get some wood on the fire, fetch some water an’ – get the kettle on.”

“The sun is glad to see us clad all in our lusty green,
and smiles in sky as he riseth high to see and to be seen.”

Jed and Hannibal reached the creek, pitchers in hand and watched Mr. Heyes stride out of it and start to dry himself off.

“Awake, all men, I say again, be merry as …”

“Mr. Heyes,” Jed protested, “Aren’t you – cold?”

“Yup,” said Alex, pulling on his pants. “It is – icy – in there.” He gave his hair another shake. “Invigorating though.” A beat.

“Awake, all men, I say again, be merry as you may
for…”

“Mr. Heyes,”

“Uh huh?” Alex pulled on his Henley.

“You’re not gonna make us go in, are you?” checked Jed, filling his pitcher.

“No!” Alex grinned. “As long as you clean your rifle properly, Jed, feel free to hang on to – most – of your personal dirt.” A beat. “I’m going to insist on a little modest hand washing – before breakfast – that’s all.”

“Awake, all men, I say again, be …”

This time Alex interrupted himself, to call after the retreating boys.

“You don’t know what you’re missing, though!”

The two youngsters exchanged a glance. And – a shudder.

“I reckon we do, huh?” said Hannibal.

—oooOOOooo—

A breakfasted trio were striding along. It was – Jed admitted – definitely morning, but only just.

“You see,” Mr. Heyes explained, “…early morning is the best time to stalk deer – that or evening. That’s when they’re busy feeding – and least alert.”

“Are you looking for – for spoor, to find ‘em, Mr. Heyes?” asked Jed.

“Not quite yet,” smiled Alex. “This time of year, our friend the cagey whitetail buck will be enjoying the Bur Oak acorns – which have just dropped. So, we go where there are plenty of Bur Oaks.”

“Only works for a couple of weeks though,” put in Hannibal. “Three at the most. ‘Cause – cause of the…” he paused, then decided just to say it, “… ruttin’.”

“You see,” explained Alex, “…What we’re hunting is a bachelor group. Just now – we want to catch them before the rutting starts. They’re just feeding, enjoying acorns, watering – basically loafing around. They don’t move much. IF we’re lucky!” He grinned, “Of course … THEY decide the timetable, not us. IF they’ve already worked out that acorns simply aren’t a patch on…” he glanced down, “…Er… well, on the company of does, then the group will have broken up.”

A brief silence. Except for subdued humming of, ‘The hunt is up…’ Jed and Hannibal saw a wooded area – plenty of Bur, White and Post Oak – up ahead. Hannibal scanned the ground. He beckoned his father.

“Tracks,” he grinned.

Alex went over for a look. So did Jed. All three squatted down. There did indeed seem to be imprints from small hooves.

“Can you tell how old, son?” Alex asked. “Have a good look.”

Hannibal did look. Jed could see he was thinking hard.

“Not fresh,” said Hannibal, confidently. A little more warily, he offered, “Maybe – maybe two days old?”

Mr. Heyes beamed approval. He raised Hannibal’s hat and ruffled his hair.

“Good!” he said.

“How – how can you tell?” protested Jed. “They look fresh enough! I reckon you’re guessin’ Han!”

Hannibal frowned – he had not been exactly guessing. But, he had been pleased to have his ‘best estimate’, confirmed by his father.

“It is NOT guessin’. It’s good trackin’!” He decided to take the discrete route in continuing the explanation. “Tell him, Pa!”

“Look closely, Jed,” said Mr. Heyes. “This trail was made two days before, in the morning.”

Jed blinked.

“Are you – are you joshin’ me again?” he checked.

“Nope,” said Alex. He pointed over to the east. “That’s where the sun will be by about eight – drying any dew. Now – there’s been NO dew to speak of for the last two nights, but on Friday morning – it was real heavy, huh?” Hannibal nodded, wisely. Jed wriggled – he did not remember one way or the other. “Look at these spears of grass that the hooves have pressed down into the earth. Can you see that the dust and grit is still sticking? Huh?” Jed nodded. “So, we know the grass was wet when the tracks were made. Understand?” [4]

Alex straightened up. He checked the wind direction. He placed the caps on the cones of the rifles in readiness.

“We’ll wheel around that way,” he pointed, “…so we approach across the wind. I want you real quiet now, understand? When I signal like this…” he demonstrated, “…you freeze like statues till I move. THIS…” another demonstration, “…means get down on your bellies – but if HEAR you – I’ll, I’ll…”

“Skin us like a squirrel?” suggested Hannibal, helpfully.

“That, or – whittle me a bleat pipe and feed you to a cougar! Understand?”

Two solemn nods.

—oooOOOooo—

Stealthy, surreptitious, sly, slinking, skulking, sneaking, silent – stalking.
Skilful, successful, sharp shooting.
Smiling satisfaction.
Son – showing-off. Swaggering, swanking.
Some (scribe – swallows) singing.

—oooOOOooo—

Alex had secured the two bucks from heat (such as there was) and any inquisitive predators. The wagon was ready to leave when they were. A late lunch was eaten. Hannibal took something from the provisions box – eggs.

“Now,” he said, to Jed, “… Pa agreed we didn’t have to have these at breakfast, because…” he grinned, “…I thought they might come in useful for luring a wily racoon or two from their lair, huh?”

Seeing the trusting look on the younger boy’s face, Alex thought it only fair to temporise just a touch. “You do realise – I’m not real confident. We can go back, and – the eggs sure are a good idea, son. But…”

“Pa!” urged Hannibal, ever the optimist, “We KNOW there are racoons around – and I reckon we can find or – leastways – guess where their burrow – or hollow tree is!”

“‘Course!” chimed in Jed.

“We…ell,” Alex mused, “I suppose there’s a FAIR chance of that. AND – I don’t see why we shouldn’t spot a likely trail. Racoons usually head along the stream searching for food,” he was actually talking himself back into boyish optimism. “Whether we’ll see them…?” He gave a hopeful shrug. “You never know! It‘ll still be a bit early when we get there – but, they do think about coming out before dusk – sometimes.”

“You never know,” agreed Hannibal, “If we can get ‘em to smell a cracked egg – and, if we’re real, real patient. Real stealthy…like – like cougars…”

—oooOOOooo—

“Wait,” breathed Alex, so soft Hannibal and Jed saw the lips move rather than heard him. His hand made the ‘wait’ signal.

Jed felt as if his very fingertips were quivering with impatience. He understood WHY Mr. Heyes was waiting. He must think the racoon’s mate might come out and join him at the eggs. But – but suppose the one they had in their sights scurried away? They had waited SO long for this one to emerge. Jed did not think he had ever been SO quiet for SO long before. Oh! The racoon was moving off! His trigger finger – itched. No – no, it was alright. He was just nosing around and selecting a second egg. Then…Jed swallowed hard to stop himself yelping with excitement. She WAS coming out. Sniffing cautiously first, then scurrying over to share the booty.

The ‘wait’ signal was withdrawn.

Both boys fired. Jed felt triumph flood every inch of his body. A split second later, Mr. Heyes’ shot cleanly finished off Han’s injured racoon.

“Well done both of you!” Alex exclaimed. “Wonderful shot, Jed! Dead centre! You too, Hannibal! Kept your head – real steady.” He gave Hannibal’s shoulders a hug. “You did it son! It was your plan – and it worked. You lured them out!”

Hannibal tried to look modest. He failed. A beat. Alex assumed a mock-annoyed expression. “Hannibal! Jed! How often have you been told NOT to leave your things laying around?” The boys exchanged a confused glance. “I see two hunting caps getting dusty down by the creek! Go – pick them up!”

Two inordinately self-satisfied boys strode … No, make that – strutted – off, to obey him.

—oooOOOooo—

Homeward – the weary worn hunters.

Like their Palaeolithic ancestors, the men bond as they journey back. Knit together by shared skill, common danger and hardship.

Do they – like their hide-clad antecedents also revel in the lissom beauty of the running deer? Do they yearn to carry torches into their homes – and, by the flickering light, etch ochre shadows of the fleeing quarry? With sweeping graceful charcoal strokes – honour the life of the conquered prey? Preserve forever an iconic image of the charmed hunt?

Frankly – no.

They are, however, discussing art. Literature to be precise. To be ABSOLUTEY precise, Alex is being given more information about the documented adventures of Daniel Boone – than he either needs or desires.

—oooOOOooo—

“You see – Danny found some thief had been stealin’ his provisions,” explained Hannibal.

“Uh huh?” grunted Alex, giving the reins a gentle flick to encourage the horse.

“He was real mad!” put in Jed.

“Sure was!” agreed Hannibal. “Though – usually he’s a peaceable man.”

“The singin’est, laughin’est, happiest man, the frontier ever saw!” clarified Jed. [6]

“Sheesh,” murmured Alex, wondering if this tale was anywhere near finale.

“So – he set himself to watch,” went on Hannibal. “Real stealthy an’ patient. Just like us!”

“‘Cause – Danny’s got an eye like an eagle,” added Jed.

“Just the one?” asked Alex.

Jed frowned.

“He’s got EYES like an eagle,” he amended.

“And is tough as a mighty oak tree,” elaborated Hannibal. A beat. “Well – you saw that, by how he can fight off grizzlies without even havin’ his gun!”

“Though – usually – he ALWAYS has his gun,” said Jed. “He even sleeps with it.”

“He uses the butt as a pillow; points the muzzle between his knees, an’ circles his arms around the breech,” detailed Hannibal. “So – at the least movement he’s up an’ firing!”

“Uh huh,” grunted Alex. “What does Mrs. Boone have to say about that?”

“There ISN’T a MRS. Boone!” protested Jed, disgusted.

Hannibal, however, recalled that in the less highly coloured history read aloud by his father, some character named Rebecca appeared – and generally interrupted the flow.

“I guess,” he hazarded, “…a lot of his most excitin’ adventures musta happened BEFORE he got married.”

“Guess there’s a lesson there,” mused Alex, ruminatively. A beat. “Is that it?” he asked, hopefully.

“‘Course not!” scoffed Hannibal, “I’ve not started yet!” He frowned. “You do WANT to hear this, Pa?” he checked.

“How can you even ask?” responded Alex, diplomatically.

“Right,” went on Hannibal, “…Danny has hidden himself – an’ is watchin’ his camp. He’s a-watchin’ an’ a-waitin’ for the low-down dirty thief to show his face! AND…” Hannibal, adopted questioning mode to draw in his listener, “…what do you think he saw?”

“Well,” pondered Alex, “…this is a story about how Daniel Boone supposedly got his first coonskin cap. So…” he scratched his chin, thoughtfully, “…let me think…could it have been …maybe … maybe a…”

“It was a RACOON!” blurted Jed. “Danny saw a racoon rummagin’ in his stuff an’ – an’ openin’ his provisions pack with its paws!”

“No!” marvelled Alex. He met Hannibal’s suspicious look with blank innocence.

“Danny said,” Hannibal dropped his voice – and drawled, “‘…That dang ring-tail thief, will rue his crimes!’ Then, he stepped forward – an’ fired!”

“Uh huh?” grunted Alex, showing willing.

“BUT,” said Hannibal, “…the rifle mis-fired!”

Alex clicked his tongue in disapproval.

“Sloppy cleaning?” he asked.

Jed frowned.

“Not Danny!” he decided. “Musta – musta just been one o’ them things, Mr. Heyes.”

“Uh huh,” nodded Alex. “Can happen to the best of us, huh?”

“But – quick as quick,” went on Hannibal, “Danny turned round the rifle an’ ran forward to use the butt as a club! AND…” he pressed on, “…instead of runnin’, the racoon came forward to make a fight of it!”

“Sure can be plucky, racoons,” nodded Alex. “Need to be treated with respect!”

“That’s EXACTLY what Danny said,” exclaimed Hannibal, pleased. “He said,

‘Although I caught this ring-tail thief in an act of knav’ry,
On my head I’ll wear his pelt, in tribute to his bravery.”

“Sheesh,” murmured Alex again, under his breath.

“An’ we’re gonna look jus’ like him – once we get our caps, huh – Mr. Heyes?” chirped Jed. “It’ll stop that Tommy swankin’ that only he has a proper coonskin, huh?”

“Guess so,” came the response.

Alex wondered whether historians of the future, looking back say ninety to a hundred years – so from about the mid 1950s – would find it hard to credit that the imagination of young boys could be so caught by the fictional headgear of a romanticised historical figure.

Two boyish trebles began to trill. Something about the lyrics sounded – not QUITE right. Though, Alex had to admit, the chorus did have a catchy tune.

“Sheesh!” muttered Alex, for the third time. However, since he did respect the tradition of huntsmen raising their voices in song, as they wended homeward, he joined the salute to the man with the coonskin cap.

“Danny, Brave Da-anny Bo-oone!
King of the Wild Frontier!”

—oooOOOooo—

References:

(I am an urban Englishwoman who has never touched a gun nor been hunting in her life. SO, a certain amount of this story has been pinched. I do apologise – adapted!)

[1] Tweaked from ‘The Nature of the Gothic’ by John Ruskin.
[2] Alex is describing a rifle similar to a later (improved) model of the Enfield 1853 Rifled Musket, probably manufactured mid-later 1850s. He COULD – theoretically – in 1861 have one of the first breech loading rifles. But, this would be stretching reality a touch, so I decided that he is, at this point, just reading about breechloaders, drooling and saving up hard!
[3] ‘Regulations for the Exercise of Riflemen and Light Infantry and the Instructions for their Conduct in the Field.’ by Baron Francis de Rottenberg.
[4] ‘The Prairie Traveller’ by Randolph Barnes Marcy, Captain, U.S.A.
[5] If anyone wants to know what Alex is saying – ‘Squirrel Cleaning Technique’ by John Lewis Thomas.
[6] From the TV series’ theme song. But as this is strictly ‘not for profit’ and will be read purely by ASJ fans – and that’s only if I’m lucky – I’m sure they won’t mind!
[7] The ‘tall tale’ of escape swinging from tree to tree on creepers/vines – though NOT from a cougar – was indeed told about Daniel Boone, eighty to ninety years before Edgar Rice Burroughs used it in the ‘Tarzan’ novels.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s