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plying his axe, he soon knocked out a large quantity of the resinous knots. These he at length collected, and putting them into a bag, returned with François to the fire. He then announced that he had no further preparations to make.
All four now sat down to supper, which consisted of dry meat, with biscuits and coffee ; and, as their appetites were sharpened by their water journey, they made a hearty meal of it. As soon as they had finished eating, the canoe was launched and got ready. The screen of birch-bark was set up, by lashing its shaft to the bottom timbers and also to one of the seats. Immediately in front of this, and out upon the bow, was placed the frying-pan; and this having been secured by being tied at the handle, was filled with dry pine-knots, ready to be kindled at a moment's notice. These arrangements being made, the hunters only awaited the darkness to set forth.
In the progress of their hunt they would be carried still further down stream ; but as that was the direction in which they were travelling, they would only be progressing on their journey, and thus “killing two birds with one stone.” This was altogether a very pleasant consideration; and having stowed everything snugly in the canoe, they sat chatting agreeably and waiting for the arrival of night.
Night came at length, and as Norman had predicted, it was as "dark as pitch.” Stepping gently into the canoe, and seating themselves in their respective places, they pushed out and commenced floating down stream. Norman sat near the bow, in order to attend to his torch of pine-knots. François was next to him, holding his double-barrel loaded with buck-shot, which is the same size as that used for swans, and in England is even known as swanshot.”
Next came Basil with his rifle. He sat near François, just by the middle of the little vessel. Lucien, who was altogether a man of peace principles, and but little of a shot compared with either of his brothers, handled the oar-not to propel the canoe, but merely to guide it. In this way the party floated on in silence.
Norman soon kindled his torch, which now cast its red glare over the surface of the river, extending its fiery radii3 even to the banks on both sides of the stream. The trees that overhung the water seemed tinged with vermillion, and the rippling wave sparkled like liquid gold. The light only extended over a semicircle. From the manner in which the torch was placed, its light did not fall upon the other half of the circle, and this, by contrast, appeared even darker than it would otherwise have done.
The advantage of the plan which Norman had adopted was at once apparent to all. Ahead of the canoe the whole river was plainly seen for a distance of several hundred yards. No object larger than a cork could have floated on its surface, without being visible to those in the vessel-much less the great white body of a trumpeter swan. Astern of the canoe, on the other hand, all was pitchy darkness, and any one looking at the vessel from a position ahead could have seen nothing but the bright torch and the black uniform surface behind it. As I have already stated, the concave side of the bark was towards the blaze, and the pan containing the torch being placed in close to the screen, none of the light could possibly fall upon the forms of those within the canoe. They were therefore invisible to any creature from the front, while they could see everything before them.
Two questions yet remained unanswered. First, would our hunters find any swans on the river ? Second, if they should, would these birds allow themselves to be approached near enough to be shot at? The first question Norman, of course, could not answer. That was a matter beyond his knowledge or control. The swans might or might not appear, but it was to be hoped they would. It was likely enough; many had been seen on the preceding day, and why not then? To the second question, the young Canadian gave a definite reply. He assured his cousins that, if met with, the birds would be easily approached in this manner; he had often hunted them so. They would either keep their place, and remain until the light came very near them, or they would move towards it (as he had many times known them to do) attracted by curiosity and the novelty of the spectacle. He had hunted deer in the same manner; he had shot, he said, hundreds of these animals upon the banks of rivers, where they had come down to the water to drink, and stood gazing at the light,
His cousins could well credit his statements. They themselves had hunted deer by torchlight in the woods of Louisiana, where it is termed "firehunting." They had killed several in this way. The creatures, as if held by some fascination, would stand with head erect, looking at the torch carried by one of the party, while the other took sight between their glancing eyes, and fired the deadly bullet. Remembering this, they could easily believe that the swans might act in a similar manner.
It was not long until they were convinced of it by actual experience. As the canoe rounded a bend in the river, three large white objects appeared in the “reach"4 before them. A single glance satisfied all that they were swans, though, in the deceptive glare of the torch, they appeared even larger than swans. Their long, upright necks, however, convinced the party they could be nothing else, and the canoe was headed directly for them.
As our hunters approached, one of the birds was heard to utter his strange trumpet note, and this he repeated at intervals as they drew nearer.
"I have heard that they sing before death," muttered François to Basil, who sat nearest him. “If so, I hope that's the song itself;" and François laughed quietly at the joke he had perpetrated.
Basil also laughed; and Lucien, who had overheard the remark, could not restrain himself from joining in the laughter.
“I fear not," rejoined Basil; "there is not enough music in the note to call it a song.
They may live to 'blow their own trumpet' a long while yet.”
This remark called forth a fresh chorus of laughter, in which all took part; but it was a very silent kind of laughter, that could not have been heard ten yards off: it might have been termed "laugh. ing in a whisper."
It soon ended, however, as matters now became serious: they were already within less than two hundred yards of the game, and the greatest caution had to be observed. The gunners had arranged the order of fire : Basil was to shoot first, taking steady aim with his rifle at any one of the birds;
while François should fire as soon as he heard the report of his brother's gun, taking the remaining swans upon the wing, with one or both barrels, as best he might.
At length, Basil deemed himself near enough, and levelling his piece, fired. The bird threw out its wings, and flattened down upon the water, almost without a struggle. The other two were rising into the air, when “Crack! crack !" went the two barrels of François' piece, and one of the swans fell back with a broken wing, and fluttered over the surface of the stream. Basil's had been shot dead, and was taken up easily; but the wounded bird was only captured after a long chase with the canoe; and when overtaken, it struck so fiercely with its remaining wing, that one of the blows inflicted a painful wound on the wrist of François. Both, however, were at length got safely aboard, and proved to be a male and female of the largest dimensions.
Captain Mayne Reid.