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A Rabbit Day by W. O. Stoddard

 

"Jim," said Charley, "has that dog of yours gone crazy?"

"Old Nap? No. Why? What's the matter with him?"

"Just look at the way he's diving in and out among the trees. He'll run full split right against one first thing he knows."

"No, he won't. He's after rabbits. We're 'most to the swamp now, and Nap knows what we've come for as well as we do."

There was no mistake but what he was a wonderfully busy dog just then. It looked as if he was trying to be all around, everywhere, at the same time; and every few moments he would give expression to his excitement in a short sharp yelp.

"He means to tell us he'll stir one out in a minute," said Jim. "It's a prime rabbit day."

"Are there more rabbits some days than there are others?"

"Easier to get 'em. You see, there came a thaw, and the old snow got settled down, and a good hard crust froze on top of it; then there was a little snow last night, and the rabbits'll leave their tracks in that when they come out for a run on the crust. Old Nap knows. See him; he'll have one out in a minute."

"Is this the swamp?" asked Charley.

"All that level ahead of us. In spring, and in summer too, unless it's a dry season, there's water everywhere among the trees and bushes; but it's frozen hard now."

"What is there beyond?"

"Nothing but mountains, 'way back into the Adirondacks. We'd better load up, Charley."

"Why, are not the guns loaded?"

"No. Father never lets a loaded gun come into the house. Aunt Sally won't either. Shall I load your gun for you?"

"Load my gun! Well, I guess not. As if I couldn't load my own gun!"

Charley set himself to work at once, for the movements of old Nap were getting more and more eager and rapid, and there was no telling what might happen.

But Charley had never loaded a gun before in all his life. Still, it was a very simple piece of business, and he knew all about it. He had read of it and heard it talked of ever so many times, and there was Jim loading his own gun within ten feet, just as if he meant to show how it should be done. He could imitate Jim, at all events; and so he thought he did, to the smallest item; and he hurried to get through as quickly, for it would not do to be beaten by a country boy. And then, too, there was old Napoleon Bonaparte—that is to say Nap—beginning to yelp like mad.

They were just on the edge of the swamp, and it was, as Jim said, "a great place for rabbits."

"He's after one! There he comes!"

"Where? Where? I see him! Oh, what a big one!"

Bang!

Charley had been gazing, open-mouthed, at the rapid leaps of that frightened white rabbit, and wondering if he would ever sit down long enough to be shot at, with that dog less than half a dozen rods behind him.

He was in a tremendous hurry, that rabbit, and he would hardly have "taken a seat" if one had been offered him; but he was down now, for Jim had not only fired at him—he had hit him.

"One for me. I meant to let you have the first shot. Never mind; you take the next one. Keep your eyes out. He may be along before I'm loaded."

Old Nap's interest in a rabbit seemed to cease the moment it was killed, for he was now ranging the bushes at quite a distance.

"Here comes one. Quick, Charley! He's stopped to listen for the dog."

So he had, like a very unwise rabbit, and was perking up his long ears within quite easy range of Charley's gun as he levelled it.

"Cock it! cock it!" shouted Jim. "Cock your gun!"

"Oh, I forgot that."

But he knew how; and when he once more lifted his gun, and pulled the triggers, one after the other, they came down handsomely.

"Only snapped your caps?" said Jim. "I never knew that gun to miss fire before. He's gone."

The rabbit had taken a hint from the bursting of the caps, and was now running a race with Napoleon Bonaparte across the swamp.

Charley looked at his weapon very gravely, and put on another pair of caps, remarking, "I never had a gun miss fire like that with me before."

Jim's own gun was ready again in short order, but there was a queer questioning look stealing into his face, and he said,

"Take mine, Charley; I'll look into that business."

Charley traded guns, and stood anxiously watching for another rabbit, while Jim "looked into" both barrels of the offending piece, and tried them with the ramrod.

"Got enough in 'em; no mistake about that. Guess I'd better draw the charges."

There was a corkscrew on the end of the ramrod for that sort of thing, and in a moment more Jim had a wad out of each barrel.

"Hullo! Powder? I declare! Why, Charley, you've put your ammunition in wrong end first. You might have cracked caps on that thing all day. Your shot's all at the bottom."

"Is that so? Well, you see, I never used that kind of a gun before, and—"

"Here comes Nap! Big rabbit. There's a chance for you. Take him on the run."

He tried. That is, he raised Jim's gun, and blazed away with one barrel, but all the harm he did that rabbit was to knock down a whole bunch of bright red mountain-ash berries from a branch twenty feet above him.

"Quick, Charley! Your other barrel. He's turning on Nap, around those sumac bushes."

Charley had held his gun a little loosely, and it had given him a smart kick in consequence; but he saw what Jim meant, and his reputation as a sportsman was at stake. He knew, too, that Jim was trying his best not to laugh, and he was determined to get that rabbit.

"Bow-ow-ow-wow!"

Rabbit and dog seemed somehow to come within range of that gun at the same instant, just as it went off. It was a grand good thing for old Nap that his master's city cousin aimed so high, and that the gun kicked again. As it was, the astonished dog was now making the snow fly in a whirl, as he dashed around in it after the tip of his tail, where one of the little leaden pellets had struck him.

That was only for a moment, however, and then he came gravely marching across the crust, and looked up in the faces of the boys, one after the other, as much as if he was asking, "Which of you was green enough to take me for a rabbit?"

He had not been very badly hurt, except, perhaps, in his sense of justice; but now Charley suddenly gave a shout, and sprang forward.

"I hit him! I hit him!"

"Fact," said Jim; "so you did. Come here, Nap. Poor fellow! How's your old tail now?"

Charley was back in a twinkling with his own rabbit and the one Jim had killed, but there was a wide difference between them. There was shot enough in the latter to have killed half a dozen, while all the mark they could find on Charley's game was one little spot at the roots of his ears.

"So much for making the shot scatter. If I hadn't put in a double load of shot, you'd have lost 'em both."

"There wasn't but one," said Charley.

"I mean that rabbit and old Napoleon Bonaparte. Come on now. Your gun's all right. Let's try the other side of the swamp."

He pointed out a rabbit, sitting among some bushes, on the way, and Charley's gun went off finely, now that the powder had been put in first.

"Don't you ever shoot them when they're sitting still, Jim?"

"No; and you won't when you're used to it. There's one coming for me. I'll take him as he goes by."

Nap was entirely safe this time. Indeed, he seemed inclined all the rest of that morning to do his rabbit-hunting at a somewhat unsociable distance from his friends.

There were plenty of rabbits in the swamp, and the boys were more than a little proud of their success, especially Charley; but when the time came for going home, it was curious how ready they both were to go. So was Napoleon Bonaparte. Truth to tell, it had been hard work, and the boys declared the rabbit a remarkably heavy beast, for his size, by the time they reached home with their game.

JIM AND CHARLEY IN THE WOODS.

JIM AND CHARLEY IN THE WOODS.