Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. April 20, 1902. [Spring wild fowl hunting trip at Stilwell's ranch, Valentine Lake District.] Omaha Sunday World-Herald 37(202): 18. Continues: 4/27, 37(209): 18; 5/4, 37(216): 18; 5/11, 37(223):18; 5/18, 37(230): 18; 5/25, 37(237): 18; 6/1, 37(244): 20; 6/8, 37(251): 18; 6/15, 37(258): 18; 6/29, 37(272): 18; and 7/6, 37(279): 21. Part of Forest Field and Stream column. Spelling changed to correct Stilwell from Stillwell.

[Spring Wild Fowl Hunting Trip at Stilwell's Ranch, Valentine Lake District]

Small, indeed are the chances of finding a more attractive region for wild fowl than that up in Cherry county. In the immediate vicinity of Stilwell's ranch there is a veritable archipelago-if I may infringe on the literal definition of the word-of lakes, and from the summit of the Badger's back, a nearby sandhill, no less than nine of these glistening expanses of water, reeds and rice are to be taken in with the naked eye. Among the most prominent of these are Hackberry-an unsurpassed ducking ground, and also famous for its black bass-Clear, Dewey, Loon, Willow, Long, Deer and Ballard's, all located within an area of ten square miles. This system of waters is under the exclusive control of E. Stilwell and one or two neighbors-large land owners, whose irrevocable determination is to preserve the territory for the exclusive enjoyment of legitimate sportsmen and the grazing of their vast herds.

Around the shores of some of these lakes are great fields of rice, cane and rushes, interspersed with wild bugloss and flags. The bugloss flecks the whole border with these azure spangles. There are, of course, countless other swamp plants here, many of which I imperfectly described in a previous article in enumerating the indigenous feed of the wild fowl. In many localities about these sandhills lakes the camomilia, a very useful growth, flourishes luxuriantly. It is a herb belonging to the composite family and closely related to our common camomile, whose flowers have a strong and fragrant smell and a bitter, aromatic taste, being full of medicinal properties. The leaves are tonic, febrifugal and emetic, while the oil of the stalk is carminative.

After waiting at Valentine for twenty-four hours in the vain hope that the wild storm which set in on the night of our arrival would abate, we started at 10:00 o'clock Sunday morning for Stilwell's ranch, thirty three miles to the south, in the very fury of one of the worst blizzards that had visited that section of the state during the whole winter. It was a foolhardy determination, but we had heard great stories of the plentifulness of birds at the lakes, had already squandered one day of our valuable time, and against the advice of old residenters we had Sam hitch up his team, and under an avalanche of robes and blankets, set out on our not only uncomfortable but perilous journey. But we had the fever and the wind to our backs, and listened to the counsel of no one. Out of the town we rattled at a merry clip, across the sullen Niobrara and out upon the whitened waste that spread like an objectless sea before us. As we proceeded the storm seemed to gather force and fury, and on more occasions than one we were tempted to turn back before it was too late. But the thought of plunging into the very teeth of the raging tempest, would change our minds, and cause us to urge Sam to push his team along. At first the distant sandhills mingled grayly, and then amidst a nasty, fine, driving mist of sleet and snow the whole perspective was wrapped in a hideous swirl. With the swoop of a man-eating tiger the wild blast bore down upon us, then there would be a sudden shifting of the whirling clouds and hope arose in our smiling hearts, but it was but short lived. To the magic of sunshine the white, swirling curtains lifted and there was an instantaneous glitter all about us. Then it came again, the howling, black tempest from the north with its sheets of snow and sleet engulfing the blue rim of the distant hills, the whitened earth and the heavens as well. The face of all nature shrunk, as if within some murky horror. The sky grew blacker and our surroundings more wrathful, the wind tearing across the wide plain like shafts of steel. The snow grew finer and fiercer and came howling and shrieking at our backs as if all the world was about to end. In spite of our heavy wraps, we were soon chilled to the marrow-Gerard buried in the arm robes in the bottom of the wagon, being the only one to escape these tortures.

A blizzard in the sandhills or on the plains is an entirely different exhibition that it is in town or city, though even there it is bad enough. But out here there is a horror and a wildness about it that is indescribable, and woe is it to man or beast caught in it any considerable distance from any of the meager shelters that desolate country affords. Cattle perish by the hundreds-by the herd. Their instinct goes for naught when once overwhelmed on these broad plains or among the ghostly hills. Once started before the blast nothing seems formidable enough to check or swerve them aside, ragged chop hills or dangerous canyon, plateau or valley, river, lake or morass offer no impediment to their blind onward rush until absolute exhaustion and death overcome them. They make no detours, Sam told us, but drift straight ahead, and once the shores of a lake or marsh are reached, the leaders, pushed on by the maddened hosts in the rear, plunge blindly in. If enabled to reach the opposite shore, they continue on until the fury of the storm has abated sufficiently to allow them to halt for rest and what scanty nourishment they may be able to paw up from the drifts of snow. If the depth of the mire or water precludes this possibility, they crown in until they are either stuck in the mud or trampled down beneath the hoofs of others, hundreds often meeting this terrible fate in a body of water or mucky slough which in pleasant weather would furnish nothing worse than a haven of refreshment. There are innumberable instances, says Sam, where herds have become wedged in in such a place, so thickly jammed together that you could walk across upon their backs, here to remain until completely buried by the drifting snow. When the storm breaks and the disconsolate stockman and cowboy goes forth in quest of his drifted stock a horn or two glistening in the sunshine from out a desert of snow often leads him to the mausoleum of his ill-fated herds. While locomotion is possible, drifting cattle never stop, but keep on their weary way for days and nights, in fact, until the storm spends its fury and indications of peace again descend upon the earth.

Undoubtedly, a blizzard in Western Nebraska is the bete noir of the rancher's life, entailing as it does enormous loss and days and nights of laborious traveling, privation and toll. Many and many a stockman has been robbed of his all in a single night by one of these tremendous visitations, and no one can appreciate their awful destructiveness until they see it with their own eyes. They are not only threatening to the lives of stock, but to man himself, and many and many a belated traveler or improvident herdsman has met a horrible fate in their midst.

But we got safely through on our journey and today the adventure is a theme to joke and laugh about.

For a time, though, it looked really as if Sam was in doubt just what was best to do, and he looked as if he really felt that we were in imminent danger. But he knows the country like he knows his own house; is a good driver, a thorough horseman, a man of experience and indomitable will, and if he did feel dubious we never learned of it by complaint from him. He urged his horses on, but frequently halted to take his bearings and study the character of the surrounding country as best he could, and then with a look back in the direction whence came the howling hordes, he would push on again more urgent than before, and that, too, at times when he must have been ignorant of his exact whereabouts. I couldn't figure out how he so persistently held his way, for the storm seemed to come screaming out of every blackened arroyo, and when screeching over the barrens from all sides at once, then converging like a shrieking crew of rapacious demons about our devoted heads.

The snow and sleet were at last streaming over the whole earth in one continuous sheet, the wind sweeping everything before it with the ravings of a tornado, first this way and then that, like some evil spirit bent upon the most diabolical ends.

It was nearly 3 o'clock when we reached the sod house belonging to Hiram Clapp, where Sam pulled up to give his horses a feed and a bit of much needed rest, and to allow us also to get inside and thaw out, the storm letting up measurably at this juncture. Once within the old rancher's snug walls, the Judge found that he had frozen one side of his nose and his off auricular, but a vigorous rubbing with a handful of snow by the sturdy rancher, and the normal color of these useful organs returned and the Judge declared they felt just about as usual. We were all, save Gerard, who managed to weather the trip in better shape than any of us, very cold and the way we huddled around Clapp's little cannon stove was a sight to behold.

"You fellers has got a good deal o' nerve to set out on a trip like this in sich a storm; seems like's if you didn't have a very correct understanding of things. Howsomever, I've seed many wusser blows than this, and a good guide like Sam should have no trouble in finding his way.

"But talk about blizzards, I'll never forgit the one I was caught in here some ten or a dozen years ago-that was a blizzard, o' the sure 'nough kind," and then the old rancher proceeded to give us the story of his adventure.

He said that after he had become completely lost, he wouldn't believe it, and though blinded and baffled by the driving snow, which came down upon him in whirls and eddies, like poisoned javelins, he struggled on, in the very midst of all that wild and fearful din, Clapp told how there were intervals of such deathlike stillness, that were even more appalling than all the horrible uproar of the blast's more ferocious stages. This is one of the mysterious features of a Nebraska blizzard, and all those who have encountered such will recall these tomblike spells, which fall ever and anon upon the ragged rush of the wintry hurricane.

On, on, ceaselessly labored the sturdy plainsman, and there were times, he said, when he seemed to literally make no headway at all, when every landmark known to his practical senses was lost, and he felt, as he plodded and stumbled forward, as if he was tramping to his own funeral. Now he fell into some hidden drift, and the next moment was frenziedly tearing his way through the matted grass and weeds, which in places defied even the power of the awful storm, while most all the time there poured into his frozen ears that deep muffled roar, coming and going, rising and falling, like the mysterious wails we hear at dead of night from the lashing and wrathful ocean, and in sooth -- might have well felt that he was alone with death.

And why not? Even though he was born to the hills and plains, and thoroughly versed in all their darker vagaries, as the student is in his books, he was yet but human. Why he thought, might not he be plodding to his own funeral? Others, as familiar in such lore, as strong and courageous and resolute as he, had been engulfed, submerged, swallowed up, in just such cataclysms of sleet and snow, only to be thawed out and found rigid and lifeless at a future day. But Clapp wasn't the man to get frightened while he had strength, still he was extremely dubious, it was the closest call he had ever experienced in his life of privation and exposure and the situation seemed to grow worse with every step he took. He was almost ready to drop from fatigue, but he knew that meant an end to it, sure and speedy, and he valiantly struggled on. If he could only find shelter somewhere, some wolf's hole in the prairie, or some sort of a barricade against the fury of the storm, he would anyway halt briefly for rest. But now the night was settling down upon him blacker than Erebus and he dare not think of stopping for one second. His heart began to quicken its pulsations and he began to flounder more and more showing that his strength was going. Then an insane determination, it seemed, seized him. He would get out of that black and shrieking blast at once or never.

Hark! What was that. He stopped. Surely that was the bark of a dog, or was it but another cry of the winds, or the wail of a skulking coyote? Then it came again, yes it was a dog, and none other than Mop, his own collie; he knew his voice, and screaming his name in wild delight, he dashed in at a gallop almost and the next instant the shaggy, yellow brute, with an almost human cry of joy, dashed up to him and leaped to lick his hand. The rancher spoke lovingly to him, and fastened his benumbed hand in his shaggy hide, then plunged on-the next minute plumb up against his own door.

It was a good story and we all enjoyed it-and with voluminous adieus we all bundled up again, and went forth into the open air, to find the storm greatly allayed, and Sam waiting in the wagon in the roadway.

Three hours later we arrived at Stilwell's, and found the thermometer marking 18 degrees below zero, and as we stumbled in to the cozy hunter's lodge, our thoughts were of something else than canvasbacks and mallards.

Hilarity reigned within Stilwell's cosy hunter's lodge the night of our arrival. After warming and cleaning up and a glorious supper in the family dining room, we hunters returned to our own quarters and spent the balance of the evening arranging our luggage, overlooking guns, packing shell cases and so on and so forth, until we were all tired and ready to go to bed.

Stilwell's hunting lodge is a sod structure, of course, as there is no other kind in the sandhills, and none other would harmonize with the environments. The sod house is as much a part of the sandhills as the sand itself. In this instance it is a commodious affair about 18x24, well and substantially built and well furnished with a heating stove, four nice clean beds, washstand, bureau, chairs and table. There are two small windows, one to the north, overlooking a long, lean arm of Hackberry's limpid waters and the distant bluffs and one to the south, the view from which is shut out by the proximity of another building.

Everything shipshape, we spent another hour discussing the prospects of the morrow which, it must be confessed, were anything but flattering. The weather was still decidedly cold, the lakes, of course, frozen as tight as a safety vault, and no signs of ducks, so Rivers, Stilwell's son, informed us when he came in late from the corral, and as Mr. Stilwell himself was in Wood Lake, where he was weatherbound by the blizzard, we determined to put in the next day in simply tinkering about camp and wait until the temperature rose a little before attempting a reconnaissance after ducks.

With this delay staring up in the face, instead of preparing for an expedition on the morrow, we did the next best thing, fell to telling stories of past hunts, until finally rivers had the floor all by himself in a description of the animal and bird life to be seen about the sandhills lakes-and especially their own Hackberry-in the spring, during the summer and in the fall. The rancher was very interesting and we all enjoyed the information he gave us immensely. However, there are few things than an old time visitor to the sandhills has to learn, and as interesting as they are today, and as great a redundance of the flora and fauna of the country is to be found there, I remember ten or twelve years ago when it was four fold more prolix.

Ah's me, the wonderful sights I have seen and the great times I have had within these so-called desolate precincts at different periods throughout the western part of this state and in the Dakotas, the days when I used to go out with George Tzschuck, A.C. Claflin, Tom Foley, George Scribner, Charlie Metz and others. Those were days forever gone, sights and scenes on which the curtain has been lowered for many years. Many and Many is the hour I have put in studying the thousands of interesting features and phases of the sandhills and sandhills lakes and marshes. For hours at a time have I sat in my reedy blind, notebook and pencil in hand, with my whole attention wrapped up in the birds and animals that are always to be seen and studied here under favorable circumstances-otter, muskrat, mink, cayote, ducks, geese, crane, avocets, hawks, owls, loons, grebes, marsh song birds and myriads of exquisite plants and vines and insects. How one's heart beats-a lover of these things-as he sits thus and scans the scene before him, peering earnestly through the stalks of rice and tules and ribbons of cane, with an eagerness that few can understand. How he bends and peers over his bobbing decoys and gulps in all the minutia of the life-both animal and vegetable-reviewing before him.

A wandering breeze ripples the pollened pools and sways the sheets of reeds, while the swamp sparrow twitters sweetly from the very mazes about your hidden boat; the red winged black bird chucks and chirps incessantly as he streams along overhead or tilts jauntingly from some nearby rice stem; the mournful "meow" of the gull sounds from the distant shore where he walks upright like a man of the cloth in search of sluggard, snail, or unwary minnow, while the red tail hawk circles about on steady pinion on the ceaseless lookout for wounded duck or skulking marsh mouse, making the whole picture as pleasing to the senses as it is educating and mystifying, is it any wonder then, that one who sees so much in the hills, the fields and waters, is it any wonder that he will sacrifice almost everything else to indulge in a commingling with such things, is it any wonder that to him it is health and happiness, instead of sordid greed and gain?

How glorious in the awakening spring time and how ecstatic, too, in the melancholy autumn, when the flag is fading and tints of tan are creeping over the stately heads of the cattail, when the scarlet plume of the Indian feather is drooping, and the rice is shedding its tiny kernels on the smooth waters. These are days that I now most about, as my trips in the fall have been much more frequent and of longer duration than those in the spring. Then is when the English snipe-our much beloved jack-lounges along the mucky shores, probing the soft soil or squatting in some little motte of dying lilies or grasses, only to jump at the least alarm. Then it is, his long bill, large lustrous eyes and gaudy plumage, make the loveliest of pictures in the mirror of waters as he zigzags in flight or trots along the marshes' edge. Myriads of yellowlegs swarm the shallows, or fly indolently up and down the watery expanse, sounding their liquid tinkle as they move about. White and rufous hued sandpipers sweep in large flocks low down over the ocean of tules, and wrens and sparrows and swamp gulls, hawks and blackbirds which swarm in numbers almost incredible. In the sky are long lines of geese headed south, while quacking and whistling at every point over the marsh are teal and mallard and widgeon in ones and twos, and at times hundreds and thousands.

Inasmush as there was no improvement in the weather the second day at Stilwell's was spent in almost absolute idleness. The weather was intensely cold and the wind blew a hurricane, and we found our genial quarters in the hunting lodge preferable to the outdoors. Goodrich and I employed ourselves playing pinochle for the championship of the world, the Judge and Rivers with scientific disquisitions on guns, munitions, boats, decoys and kindred matters, while Gerard and little Lee Stilwell were never idle a moment. With playing with the dogs, trapping blackbirds, reading and so on and so forth, the time passed pleasantly enough with them, and being confined to the house wasn't so bad after all.

Matters got a trifle too monotonous for the Judge, however and long about 3 o'clock in the afternoon he donned the picturesque habiliments of the field, shouldered his Parker, and whistling up Roxy and Sport, started out alone for a little reconnoiter down Hackberry's bleak shores. He came in just about dark with three big canvasbacks, two drakes and a hen, and a pair of baldpates, and as a matter of course he had lots to tell. He said he was slowly skirting the little brushy bayou that the spring overflow had created on the south side of the lake, when he was suddenly startled by hearing a sort of a hoarse squawk. Then he saw an bird, black and white, flying laboriously against the stiff wind just a couple of feet over the frozen surface of the bayou, with Rosy in full chase, nipping at the bird at every bound, until finally he secured a tail hold and pulled it down. The Judge called the dog and he came trotting proudly in over the slippery surface, with a nice big fat canvasback drake in his mouth. The Judge was delighted at this rare piece of luck. He concluded of course that it was a wounded bird, but on close examination he could discover no shot marks or other signs of injury, but he did find the short tail feathers matted with ice and at once concluded that it had been caught in the sudden freeze up and thus prevented from leaving with his companions when they left for more salubrious climes. Two hundred yards further on the dogs put up another canvas and as this one got pretty well up in the air and swerved around near the Judge he shot it. The tail feathers of this bird, as well as those along the belly were in congealed state, and hastening to the spot whence it had flushed he found quite a small handful of downy feathers still adhering to the ice, proving beyond cavil that the birds had been thus entrapped.

Considering this pretty easy and profitable duck killing the Judge made a closer and more extensive search of the bayou and the result was three more ducks, another canvas and the pair of baldpates. All of them had been caught in the ice, and two of them, the last canvas and one of the widgeon, were unable to rise at all and were caught and pulled loose by the dogs.

We had a good time around the roaring fire that night as the Judge, always an interesting talked, was at his best, and his recountal of his afternoon's experience was as extraordinary as it was interesting.

"One thing I regretted very much," observed the Judge, "was the discovery of a large number of dead bass scattered along the lake shore, and I am afraid, Rivers, that at the breakup this spring you will find your fish have been about all frozen."

"No, I don't thin so," responded the rancher's son, as he tossed the butt of a cigarette in the fire, "more or less are frozen with every hard spell every winter, but there has always up to date, anyway, been plenty left to give us good fishing when the season rolls round. I think, however, that the destruction of our bass is getting more general as the country grows older."

"Is this because of the lessening of the water?"

"Yes, partly, but it is my idea they die for want of air. The supply is cut off more and more every winter. The fur-bearing animals-the otter, beaver, mink and muskrat-were great air suppliers. These animals always used to keep the water opened in places and made it accessible to air in a limited way, but sufficient for the use of the bass. It is true that while the supplied the fish with air they lived largely on the fish-especially otter and mink. The muskrat rarely, if ever, touched a fish, and what the otter and mink used to eat was a small number, indeed, to those that now die for want of air."

"But the muskrat," interrupted the Judge, "are they in anyway detrimental to the thrift of the fish?"

"No, indeedy. The muskrat is the fish's best friend. He either lives in a house where he thinks where will be water all winter or at least where he can reach the water from it at all times, or in the bank. If one can be found steep and the water deep enough. You know a muskrat house looks like a cock of sodden hay, two or three feet high. They are erected of tules and cane during the autumn months, and the high waters in the spring and early summer generally wash them away, hence a new one is built every year. The material, I said, is tules and cane, mixed with roots of various kinds, grass and mud. If you should open up one of these you would find a nicely arched dome, with a raised platform above the level of the water on which the rat resides when not out in the water feeding or gathering food. I have cut open many a one to get the rat after spearing him with a long, sharp, one-tined spear through the shell of his abode. From their houses they have roads running to other houses and to deep water. To large houses they have three ot four of these runways, where the rushes and mud are cleaned away, as the rat goes to or from the house by no other route. If the roads freeze with clear ice sufficiently strong to bear a man, these roads make an excellent place to spear the rats through the ice. These runways are white with air under the ice, carried in by the rats, I presume, for their own use, and to keep the ice from freezing so hard over the road. This air and the open water at the end, kept in motion by the rat, supplies the fish with air."

"But don't you think these rats ever eat the fish, I am told that they will destroy and eat crippled ducks?" from the Judge.

"It is possible that they may feed on the fish if hard pressed, but I think not, and I never knew a muskrat to molest a wounded duck, although I know city sportsmen generally think they do. When you find the bones and feathers on one of your trips on the prairie or among the reed where you were previously shooting, you can bet that it was either a mink, skunk, coyote or otter that attended to his case and not a rat. Muskrats feed on the roots and nuts in the bottom of these sloughs, and when the water is not frozen, sometimes on mussels and slugs.

"When the water is deep or the bank above the water is step, he digs a hole back into the same beyond the reach under the surface of the ground into the water, which he always keeps open under the ice, make the same traveled roads with a deposit of air along them under the ice, running from one hole or house to another. The otter makes his home in the bank like the muskrat and keeps the water pen in the same manner, but in place of living on roots and vegetable matter, as the rat does, he lives principally on fish that resort there for air. But the mink he is the worst of the bunch-a regular buccaneer. I don't believe he ever makes a hole of his own, but uses the muskrat's when he wants a mess of bass. I an not familiar with the beaver, for there has been none here since we came. You will find that it is in the shallow places in the lake where the rats do not work, where the fish usually die in cold weather, while nearer the deep holes, where there are rat houses adjacent, no dead fish are to be found. Wherever the muskrat stays the bass will live, and it is to them I give the credit for the preservation of our fish in just such cold snaps as we have experienced this winter. In deep holes, where moss grows at the bottom, the bass will survive through the severest winters. The growth of moss, although slow in the water, makes some air or oxygen, which the fish must have to keep alive. If you go right off from Harris', when the whole lake is frozen hard, cut a hole in the ice and drop a hook baited with a minnow, you'll get a bass sure if there happens to be one around. The fish in these deep holes wear hollow places in the underside of the ice which catches the air that rises from the moss.

"And you say the bass will bite in the dead of winter?"

"Well, I think so, anyway, we have caught them at all season. The black bass, you know, is a voracious glutton, and I don't remember the time I have known them to have all they want to eat. Just come up here in May, you and Mr. Griswold and Fred, and I'll give you all the bass fishing you can attend to in spite of the fact that you think they have frozen out. I've known these same conditions often before right here on Hackberry, which I think are the best black bass waters this side of Minnesota."

"Well, I do not know about that," observed the Judge reflectively, and with a bit of the interrogatory in his words, "but if you do have fish here in Hackberry, as you say you have, you should take scrupulous care of them, that is certain. Let me see. I'm told that Judge B.E.B. Kennedy, an esteemed and venerable citizen of our town, planted these fish here over twenty years ago, and if the enterprise of one man has brought about such benefits for the people, who now enjoy them, I do not think they can be any too careful in their preservation. I am quite a close student of these matters, and I think with the legal protection you now have, you can do much in addition yourselves. If air during tight freeze-up is such a necessary commodity to the welfare of the fish, some artificial means should be provided for supplying it. For instance it would be no such onerous task for you and your interested neighbors about here, for this is bound to be a great bass resort as soon as it becomes known to the city anglers, to keep holes open in the lake during extreme cold weather, or perhaps, better than this, keep a supply of fresh warm air pumped or forced in under the ice. I am inclined to think it would spread out and be more accessible to the fish than a hole of small dimensions, or by adopting a device, or have Mr. O'Brien, our state fish warden, provide for it at the state's expense, the device now in use in many eastern private fish preserves, which is simply make a "muskrat hole" with tiling placed below frost. These, you know, while they are charming like the big Minnesota lakes, which are the natural habitat of the bass. And then instead, you should protect them. They are a harmless, prolific animal, who, if not molested at all, would, in a large measure help, if they did not entirely take care of the air supply for your fish. They can easily be protected, as they are worthless for anything save the trifle that their fur brings. The sale of this could be prevented as easily as it is to prevent the shipping of game. Indeed, I think, in view of your information, the legislature should make provision at its next session to this end, by adding a clause to the present game law. But look, it's past 11 o'clock, let's step out and see what the weather looks like, and then turn in. Tomorrow, cold or warm, shine or shadow, I am going to kill some ducks. I saw quite a number of big flocks this evening passing over the lower end of the lake towards Dewey, and if I made them out correctly, they were mostly canvasback."

With this we all proceeded to the open air and were delighted to find that overhead the gray clouds were breaking and between them big, luminous stars were pouring forth their coy luster, while a very evident moderation was taking place in the temperature.

"I don't set much store by a clearing at night, but in any event, tomorrow is going to be a tolerable day, and you will certainly find some shooting," remarked Rivers.

Then we returned to the warmth of the lodge, glanced at the Yellowstone decanter and "doused the glim."

Even the third morning, after our arrival at Stilwell's, dawned rather cheerlessly, but not nearly so cold. Great masses of ragged clouds were wheeling themselves across the heavens, and the breeze from the south was of that soft, deceptive character that generally presages rain. The sunlight, however, was struggling encouragingly through the shifting vapors and with the hope that it would eventually clear off and give us a half decent day, we prepared to sally forth and try our luck on the birds.

The plan was that Fred and the Judge should take the team and go off several miles and scout the country roundabout Willow lake, while I was to visit the lower end of Hackberry and ascertain the outlook there.

Sam soon had his team hooked up, and after loading the wagon bed with shell cases, decoys and other impediments, Fred and the Judge climbed in and were off. As they wound away through the chop hills, Gerard and I, with Roxy at our heels, also made a start and were also quickly on our jocund way to the west end of the reedy Hackberry.

An old cock grouse arose with a leap from a clump of rose bushes by the road side as we rounded the south arm of the lake and with an impatient chucking went whizzing off toward the distant hills, while the black birds, flying over from roost to feeding grounds in the low calamus swails. Suddenly in climbing over a slight raise we came upon a coyote trotting straight toward us on the lookout, likely, for his morning meal-unwary jack rabbit, chicken or crippled duck. Seeing us, he wheeled like a flash of gray-brown light, and straining every nerve and sinew in his graceful body, streaked it off for the low hills with a speed that could only be likened to that of the wind. A load of No. 7s from my reliable old Parker dusted the sands in his rear, and swerving aside, he was quickly hidden from view amid the clumps of soap weed that flourish so plentifully here.

Roxy stood as still as if carved from stone after I had shot, gazing and sniffing off in the direction the wolf had gone, but being a well trained dog, he made no move to follow. Gerard was sure that the coyote had been hit, for he said that at the report of the gun he had dropped his flank almost to the sands, and to satisfy him we went to the spot where the animal had disappeared, but finding no traces of blood, we returned to the cattle path and continued on our way. We shortly reached the summit of the last dividing hill and Lower Hackberry lay before us, stretching away toward the north and the west like a sheet of silver, save where the vast areas of ice still show dully gray, but reflecting on the rippling surface of the open spaces the lights and shades of the changeful heavens. Down in front of us was a charming bay, with a rice tangled island a short way out, and a hazy brown facade of endless sandhills far beyond; then a protruding point, rush and flag-covered, abruptly shut off the view of the further reaches of ice and water. It gleamed out again, however, a quarter of a mile or so further on, more dazzling, because of its more open condition, and more beautiful than ever. There was a cool gray light hovering over the whole bottom, with occasional shafts of gold running down from the broken clouds, and in all the larger pools we descried many hundreds of ducks, mostly pintails, but with a fair sprinkling of snowy-breasted companions, which I knew were canvasbacks. The opposite hills rose indistinctly, as if reared by some gigantic race of prehistoric times, in the air, with dark pictures of floating fogs between them, and which I feared meant rain. The air was growing fresher, even to chilliness, but was always sweet with the fragrance of weed and water. A big black loon off Harris' point was sending forth his weird bravura, awakening a hundred quavering echoes, and an osprey, or fish-hawk, was sailing round and round above the yellow rice beds. We could see down to our right, hauled well into the shore, one of Fred's ducking boats, long and graceful as a pike, with the quiet ripples sparkling around its prow and the rushes breaking over its gunwales. Gerard wanted me to take the boat and push out and stir up the floating hordes of birds, but I knew there was too much ice, and we finally trudged along. Now a rift in the sullen clouds let down a flood of sunshine to dance over the waters, twinkle among the yellow rice stalks and bathe distant hill and plain, then all was cold and gray again. That was my first real good view of Hackberry lake, and lying as it did, half smothered by the gloomy sandhills, in the spasmodic lights and shades of that early March morning, it made a picture that put to shame the daubs of the Domenichinos, the Correggios and the Titians-a chef d'oeuvre of the master hand.

At last bunches of ducks began to move about in the air and I was delighted to find among them long lines of canvasbacks with greater frequency than I had been led to believe could have been possible, so greatly did the pintails outnumber all other species. As the birds became more and more in evidence, flying up and down the lake, Gerard and I went down to the shore, with the hopes of getting a shot, and as we neared the first low line of broken rushes I found a good blind of recent construction, and determined to halt a while. There was a little narrow coon-path leading to this little circular sounce of grass and weeds, and we were soon in it, Roxy and all. The place looked for all the world as if a deer had made its form there during the night, and I quickly made up my mind that it was a favorable point, for I found several dozen empty shells that had been fired no longer than a day or two before. I knelt down on my knees fronting the lake, while Gerard and Roxy curled up together on the dry tules behind me, and cautioning them to keep still, I began my vigil for passing birds. Meantime the gray light in the east had changed to a delicate amber and the feathered clouds at the zenith were flushing with crimson, and things looked altogether as if the weather was about to clear. The bluffs began to creep out bold and distant from the massed mist and dull gray and a stream of filmy vapor to crawl along the lake. The barren points was east of the ranch came out more plainly and the marsh wrens began their refined twittering. The waters of the open reach before us shortly showed diffusing colors; here a slab of marble gray, there of polished green, while the clouds grew more streaky and streaky and flushed more and more into rose. Suddenly the hitherto opaque masses in the east became diaphanous and glowed into ruby, then beamed with gold. Then came a gust of some southern behemoth's breath and the sable fragments, like scurrying crows, hurried off behind the northern hills, and the morning's sunshine, with all its wondrous and mystic charms, poured over the legendary Hackberry. The open waters were now dancing with all the hues of a prism-red and orange, green, blue, purple and violet. Yellow lines ran along the ragged tops of the cane and rice; the eastern skies fairly gleamed with their royal banners and finally the whole breathing earth was whelmed in gladdening light, the golden luster of the unhampered sun. This remarkable change was as welcome as it was unlooked for and I was just congratulating myself of the delightful metamorphose, when the melodious whistle of the pintail's wing caught my hearing and turning to the left I saw a bunch of birds cutting the clear air southward bound, but just a trifle beyond the reach of my Parker. But mine are not the only ears to catch the sound; old Roxy lifts his shapely head up from Gerard's entwining arms and looks at me as much to say, ""Why didn't you let them have it. Fred would never let a bunch of birds like that get away." Then a big tanned hawk rises with a flourish from the thick cane and sweeps around and down by us so close that we catch the flash of his wild eye ball, but I refrain from touching the trigger, not wholly through conscientious qualms, but because I discover bearing down upon us from the northwest a dotted line of swiftly flying birds I recognized at once as canvasback.

Had it not been for this thrilling revelation my Parker would surely have greeted the jaunty and audacious Mr. Red Tail with a hearty bon jour.

On came that line of royal birds, and the next moment, it seemed, they were right over me. They were going at a tremendous velocity, but a trifle higher than I thought, or it might have been they raised some, instinctively, as they neared the shore line, but with both barrels I succeeded in cutting out a bird, and as it fell with a thud and a bound, not more than fifty yards from our little reedy covert, without a word, Roxy was out with a bound, crashing through the dank tangle like a fish-hungry otter, then he disappeared. We heard him as he moved gingerly about within the flaggy labyrinth, shuffling here and plunging there, until abruptly all sound ceased a moment; then there was a splash in the water, and we heard him returning. The next instant we caught a glimpse of his blue-spotted coat, then saw head and shoulders emerge from the reedy thicket, and, holding the dead duck in his square jaws, he walked slowly up to where Gerard and I crouched like Napoleon before the retreat from Waterloo.

"Good doggy," cried Gerard, and I echoed his words with fervor, for, share my exultation, comrades of the marsh, it was a big, magnificent canvasback drake.

I took the bird from Roxy's mouth, and by one slate-colored leg held it up for the admiration of the boy, the dog and myself. Then I tossed it carelessly amongst the broken sticks and grasses back of the blind, but could not take my eyes off it but for a few seconds at a time. It was my first canvasback since October's gaudy banners had been furled, almost a half year before; my first duck of any kind, in fact, and I was as proud and jubilant as if it had been the first one I had ever killed. It was with varied emotions, indeed, that I kept glancing back and down upon that peerless bird, as it lay there in all its wild and delicate picturesqueness, lay there amidst the dried and reviving vegetation of that lonely swamp land, with its long white neck and mahogany hood curled back, its snowy breast shining in the sunlight, and its lavender legs outstretched behind. There he lay, the victim of a lust for blood, the monarch of the whole wild fowl race, the courser of God's blue skies, so lately cleaving the spring air in the glory of his fearless heart and noble strength, cleaving the air with the spread of matchless ashen wings; there he lay, still and cold, with the stains of scarlet on his broken pinion and gray side-beautiful to the last, his deep garnet eye yet unshadowed by the mists of death.

And what a theme for the artist or photographer, that one dead bird and his breathing surroundings-that dead bird lying there half hidden beneath the gloss of struggling flag and grass blade, glistening together in the sun's rare luster in the solitude of that lonely marsh. That graceful water fowl, the decayed and awakening sprout and tendril, waving and nodding already in curves of matchless beauty, the crystal lake, the grandeur of the whole wild landscape, small things but of mighty potentiality.

"Down Gerard! Charge! Roxy, charge!"

A bunch of birds, like aerial opponents in a race for life or death, are approaching from off over the chop hills to the east. In fact there are birds in sight in almost every direction-canvasback, redhead and pintail. A mass of them is circling round and round over the rice fields in the west end, and large and small flocks are flying aimlessly up and down the lake, but far out, across the far end of the peninsula, over the bulky headland and far above the glinting sandhills ranging along the northern boundaries like the fortifications, the ramparts of an ancient foe.

The boy and Roxy obey my sharp mandate and as they crouch together behind the straggling tules, the bunch of birds I have been so eagerly noting, swing up the slender arm of open water to my left. They are redheads. I bend low my self, and strain my neck as I endeavor to keep eye upon them from beneath the rim of my slouch hat. On they come. I bend lower, and nervously tighten my hold on my gun stock, as visions of flying feathers and falling birds float before me. They have now reached the edge of the tules before us, but instead of coming steadily on they suddenly dip, like so many exaggerated swallows, and swerving, attempt to clear the suspicious clump of reeds and grasses, and go up the lake past us. I pull my Parker a dozen feet or more ahead of the slate-colored wisp and almost simultaneously let go with both barrels. Three birds are checked in their impetuous onrush, and leaving a mass of downy feathers hanging undecided in the air, go head over heels, gyrating into the tule beds. The remainder of the flock go up into the air as if under the propulsive force of a dynamite bomb, and then with another of those characteristic convolutions for which Anas Ferina of all the duck tribe is alone guilty, swoop around with a swish of wing, and turn and come right back as if determined to go right over the same perilous path again. I utter the soft and peculiar coaxing cackle of the mallard-not being a master of the redhead language-and down they dive over the broken stalks as though bent on finding the trio that had so unceremoniously parted company with them. But they wasted no time in their investigations. No more than I, in my insatiate desire to again pour a leaden storm in upon them. They came directly opposite our tule ambuscade and I emptied two more of those matchless Peter's shells into their bunched ranks and another brace of beauties folded their wings of pearl, curled their graceful necks, and plunged like meteors into the sodden reeds before us. Then there was no more tarrying in that neighborhood. That second visitation of chilled leaden hail was a quantum sufficit, and like so many flashes of gray light, they went on up the lake, out over the shore, across the haylands and the sunny valley, off over the distant ranch and the chop hills toward Red Deer lake.

Were these lifeless and crippled birds lying out there in the dank weeds, the fruits of such morals as should have been inculcated by the sight of the dead canvasback? Yes, there is no denying it. It was true. So, after all there is no mellowing influences, no elevating sentiments, no compunction, no mercy in a duck hunter's blind, Grover Cleveland's serene wild fowler to the contrary. All refinement of thought in the sportsman, with whizzing ducks about him, is mockery. To kill is the ever dominant desire of the dead-grass coated monster crouched in rice or tules, or cane and reeds, let him be on the shores of the fabled Chesapeake, within the Illinois' ricey domain or the rushy, reedy borders of lonely Hackberry.

It required fully a half hour for Gerard, Roxy and I to make our retrieve, for one cunning old hen, more scared than hurt, gave us all a merry chase, and finally gave us the slip entirely, I thought. But when Gerard and I splashed back to the blind with the four birds we had been able to gather, Roxy lingered. He baited and looked back at us as we crouched down behind our barricade, then, with head down, ran out on the shore, up the sand incline and out of sight among the yucca plants and blowouts.

"There he comes!" exclaimed Gerard after a few moments had elapsed, "and he's got the duck."

And sure enough, he had her. She had dove, crawled beneath the matted debris, then emerged onto the shore and made an effort, deserving of a better reward, to leave the dangerous locality overland. But Roxy's unerring nostrils had ferreted her out, and with a bound he came back into the blind and laid the still live duck at my feet. I killed her, patted the Belton on the head approvingly, and again turned my attention flightwards.

I bagged eleven more birds, mostly pintails, but long about noon the ducks ceased to fly almost entirely, and those that did take wing became so wild and wary and flew so high that I saw I was to get no more shooting, and as Gerard was importunate, I concluded to go home. The frescoes of the morning had long since melted away, and the steady light of the lengthening afternoon rested over hill, plain and water. The bedraggled rice and cane dozed in the really languid sunshine; the lake itself looked drowsy and the opposite sandhills half dissolved in March's blue and dreamy haze. But the restlessness of the gulls told plain as words could tell that this fair scene was not to be long continued, nor it was not.

That night the Judge and Fred returned along about 8 o'clock. They had a fine kill of birds, including eighteen canvasback, but the story of their adventures will be all the more appreciated as it falls from their own lips, which must be deferred until another Sunday.

Indisputable there is a charm about camp life that can be found in not other mode of living. It must be experienced, however, to be appreciated. The merest aroma is only perceptible through the instrumentality of pen or brush. Tucked away there, as we were at Stilwell's, in a little pocket in that rolling plain of sand, lake and grazing land, with the frowning sandhills all around and the perennial breeze dropping lullabies through the arroyos, we passed the lazy hours, between hunts, in aimless bliss, prolonging life on the ozone, swapping stories and speculating on the cosmic forces which induced the mighty upheaval that mingled so much beauty with so much desolation.

That night, after the usual bountiful supper, we disposed of ourselves for a genial smoke and an exchange of the day's experience before the roaring fire.

It seemed that the Judge and Fred had had a much more successful shoot than I first supposed, for when Sam and Rivers brought their birds in from the wagon to tie them up, a recount showed just forty-four head-eighteen canvas, twenty pintail, four white geese and two baldpate.

These birds they had killed from a pit dug in the sandy soil along a little slough that had been caused by the late rains out on the open prairie just before reaching Willow lake.

As they approached the spot in the wagon in the morning they found it literally crowded with pintails and canvasbacks, which were feeding there on the short tender grasses to be found at the slough's bottom.

Fred made up his mind that it was useless to explore further, so they alighted, dug the pit, put out their decoys and told Sam to drive off on the prairie three quarters of a mile or so and unhook his horses, holding himself in readiness at all times to return when signaled for.

"And then the fun began," continued Fred, "Sam had hardly gotten 200 yards from our hole, when the judge called my attention to a pair of pintails, with their slender necks stretched out to their fullest elongation, which were coming straight for us from over in the direction of Clear lake. Suddenly they catch sight of our decoys scattered over the shallow waters of the slough, and warily make a sharp turn and start to circle the spot after that tantalizing fashion they have. You've seen 'em, many a time, Sandy, an' know just how cunning they are. Dang me, if I believe there is a single bird in the whole duck tribe that has got half the sense of one of these pintails. Why, I was out on the Platte at Clarks one day last spring shootin' with Sam Richmond and we saw a"-

"But tell them, Fred, about the shoot this afternoon," interrupted the placid Judge, as he deftly rolled a coffin nail, "it isn't ancient history we want now, but what happened this afternoon."

"You'll pardon me, but when I set to discussing the pintail, I don't know when to stop, But when those two birds began to circle 'round our hole this morning, I felt, as long as there had been no shooting there yet this spring, that their hunger would soon overcome their timidity and that I would get a shot. True enough, the next minute I saw them coming, and in such beautiful shape for a double, that I turned to the Judge, not in greediness, for I am always ready to give the man in the blind with me the first crack, but because they were on my side and I felt that I could distinguish myself the first dash out of the box with a double.

"'I'll kill 'em both, Judge,' I whispered, 'but if I don't let 'em have it.'

"The two pins had now swung clear 'round over the lake-Willow lake-back of us, but were coming back at a rate of speed that made me doubt my ability to stop one of them, let alone both. I couldn't get in the best position, either, but just before the spikes got over me, I led the wily old drake about five feet and at the crack of my good old Parker, his mottled body stopped right in the air as if he had run up against a stone wall and came down onto the prairie with a wop, almost within reach of us, dead as a door nail. The hen, with an affrighted squeak, threw in a little more coal, put on a little extra steam and did her best to get out of the reach of that old Parker, but when they do that they go some I tell you, and of course she failed. I was shooting the celebrated Peters' Ideal shells, 3 1/2 drachms of Schultze, and 1 1/8 of chilled 7s, the best shell and the best load I ever used, and Mrs. Spiketail, catching the full charge well astern, made a frantic effort to keep up in the air, but finding it no use, plunged to the wet prairie, quite 300 yards away."

"'That was great Fred, remarked the Judge, climbing out of the pit to go after the last bird. 'If you keep on improving you will soon be shooting as well as I do.'

"The Judge had hardly gotten back and cosily fixed in the hole again, when the clamor of a mob of white geese broke the morning stillness. They were coming from the southwest off toward Dewey lake, and we quickly descried the snowy triangle clearing the dividing rise, coming straight as an arrow's flight toward us. Admonishing the judge to take the rear birds, as they were on my side, I crounched down lower in the pit and feverishly awaited the supreme moment. The bulk of the big flock passed over to the right of our hole, with a sturdy old gander at the very point of the apex calling loudly for his followers to 'come on.' I broke his white neck with my left barrel, and then in the frantic scramble for the neither spaces that followed, I killed my second, while the Judge also cut a pair out of the tail enders.

"Not a bird fell more than forty yards from the pit and they were dead when they bounced upon the frozen prairie, every one of them, which once more attests to the killing quality of the Peters' shells.

"There was quite a little interval of inactivity after the geese had gone off, clamoring wildly, over Willow lake, and then Fred and I took a good survey of our surroundings. I always like to know just where I am at on occasions like this, and I never fail to make a mental note of the whole surrounding country," here broke in the judge, "it helps you out very often later. On either side of us across the watery expanse of low plain, was a broad sweep of brown pasture land and sandhills, swelling from the very shores of the distant lake. Here and there bunches of cactus, withered and dead, strewed their dull tints, while scattered bunches of green soap-weed were discernible further on. Heavy clouds, with bright edges had crowded into the sky, and the whole scene was fitful with lights and shades. But you've seen just such pictures in these sandhills-how sometimes a struggling sunbeam lights suddenly on the top of a shadowed sandhill, overflowing it with splendor in the flash of an eye. A fresh shadow then darts from the base, peeling off the light until the whole mass frowns again in gloom. So with the black lake in our rear, now showing a sullen hue on its icy surface, next a gleam of light, widening until dazzling gems danced upon its congealed bosom, followed by a cold, leaden tint, which closed like an enormous lid over its broad, sparkling face. The picture was indeed an interesting one. Suddenly a growl of thunder echoed round the scene, as if the frowning hills were giving vent to anger and"-

"Well, here, Judge, whose tellin' this story?" interrupted Fred with some acerbity. "If you want to write a book, wait till you get back into Omaha, just now Sandy wants to know how we got our birds. But that thunder, wouldn't that cork you, it means all kinds of weather, I'm afraid. Mark! There comes a string of canvasback, or I'm a dummy. There they come, Judge, see! from the north, and I pointed out the dotted line coming like meteors toward us. There they were right onto us before we could realize it. On they came straight as a string, and it looked as though they must pass high over us. But our decoys and the seductive notes I sounded on the damp air did their work effectively. When forty yards away the birds fairly dove down fro their onward rush and come in over our decoys with a swish of wing that fairly took our breath.

"The Judge and I were on our feet together and we gave them four loads and when we sufficiently recovered to realize what we had done we were electrified at our luck. Four handsome birds, with their white bellies uppermost, floated on the shallow waters before us, while a fifth, a wing-tipped drake, was cutting across through the thin ice for the farther shore.

"'We were a trifle premature,' I remarked to the Judge, and then as I saw him pulling on the wounded drake, I told him there was no use in wasting a shell, that he could catch the bird, as there was no place for it to hide, and it couldn't get away, so he jumped out of the hole and splashed out after him. But the old cock wasn't much hurt and the Judge seeing that he was going to lead him a very vexatious chase roundabout the slough, pulled up his Parker and killed him.

"Puffing and very red the Judge got back into the pit, and he said as he knelt down, "now after this when I see proper to overshoot a cripple you just bottle your advice, or go get him yourself. That bird, I tell you, would have kept floundering out there all day-there Fred! Fred! Knock down that pintail!'

"A single bird had swung right into us, notwithstanding our upright positions, and I let him have both barrels, and so did the Judge, but he kept on going just as if nothing had happened, finally joining a big passing flock far out over the lake.

"'Too high!' laconically observed the Judge, but the next instant we caught sight of another bunch of canvasback, and down into our hole we went.

"'Now don't be in a hurry, Judge,' I said, as I saw the able jurist moving restlessly, "they're canvas all right, and we want to make sure of another big kill. Let 'em sweep past our decoys, they are too far out, they will circle and come back if we let them, for they always do. Squawk! Squawk! Squawk! That brought the, and just like the previous flock, each one seemed to be striving to get into us first, but so evenly were they matched in speed that they all came on and in together. "Give it to 'em,' I called and then there was a rain of dead and crippled canvasback, for no less than seven fell in response to our four loads!

"This my not be a very edifying confession, but I don't believe there is a single sportsman in the country but what would have done just what we did under similar circumstances. This sentiment about the preservation of game birds is all right enough for discussion, but when it comes to practicing the same in the midst of a scurrying cloud of such incomparable birds, why the man don't live who can do it, that's all."

And then Fred continued to rattle away, telling us how the bird got away by reason of his cramped position or the Judge's dilatoriness; how they downed four pintails out of a bunch of five that came down to their decoys as if they were going to roost; how the Judge made a double on a pair of canvas after he had missed with both barrels, and how an old drake led both of the a furious chase three-quarters of a mile out on the open prairie, when it had fallen apparently as dead as the proverbial mackerel. Then he told of the evening flight that came in over the low hills just about the time they signaled for Sam to come and take them home; how great strings of white geese were constantly streaming across the leaden sky; told of the yawping coyote they saw squatted on the ice at the upper end of Dewey lake; of the big flock of swans that floated like big white balloons against the dripping west and of a hundred and one other things equally as interesting.

"Oh, yes," he exclaimed, as he rose from his chair, picked up the water pail and after taking a long draught, sat it on the soap box again. "I must tell you about the Judge's skunk. We were just entering the embouche of the chop hills after leaving Clear lake in our rear, when Sam hollered, "There goes a skunk, show us what you can do, Fred," and he pointed to the cunning little beast waddling through the close cropped buffalo grass up the side of a small draw. But he was making for the salvage of dead cactus and dry weeds at the farther extremity of the little ravine, and hampered with his big ulster, the Judge saw he was going to get there before he could get near enough for a good shot. So he stopped and let him have it at long range. He halted instantly at the report of the Judge's gun and his beautiful bushy tail, bristling out to its fullest dimensions, was hoisted over his black and white striped back.

"The Judge hesitated. But he did not go another step. He turned and made his way meditatively back to the wagon involved in an atmosphere, which I can swear, bore no suspicion to new mown hay or the delicate breath of a bunch of wild roses."

"Well, I hit him, anyway, didn't I?" enquired the Judge in a half satisfied way.

"From the way he filled the air with incense, I should say you did, Judge," and Fred took another drag at the water bucket.

We sat up late that night, tired as we all were, but you see the Judge had made us a bowl of the loveliest Yellowstone punch you ever tasted and its exhilarating effects vanished all idea of slumber, and until quite midnight we lolled around the cheerful fire, each endeavoring to outdo the other in building fabulous fabrications of sights and scenes he had seen and been through in other lands in other years. After a close race, Stilwell rewarded me the pennant, using the race course axiom that I had them all "beaten a block."

Just before retiring, Rivers stepped to the door to see what old Phobabilities proposed doing on the morrow and he wasn't long finding out.

"Gee Willikins! Whew-w-w!" he ejaculated as a gust of wind swept by almost as wild and fierce as the blizzard of days before. "I guess you'll get no ducks tomorrow, fellows, if this keeps up."

Just the same, we were all astir at an early hour at Stilwell's the next morning, only to find a cold, drizzling rain falling and everything desolate and forlorn. Nevertheless we resolved to go forth, and ate an early breakfast accordingly. The kill that the Judge and Fred had made the day before had worked us up to fever heat, and it would have required a much more formidable barrier than a cold drizzle to have kept us within doors.

When the Judge and I stepped out of the sod lodge to take a cursory survey of the surroundings I will admit the aspect was a discouraging one indeed, and the prospects for a good flight poor. The nearer hills were looking dark through the misty air, and glimmering more and more indistinct, until, after breakfast was over, they were completely shaded in. Over Hackberry in front ragged scuds were flitting while curtains of white vapor hid its bosom. The nearer bayou, and the dripping rice stalks mezzotinted with ceaseless drops, looked hopeless and lonely.

The three setters were under the eaves of the adjoining shed. Roxy snapping at the drops that splintered on his nose, and Sport gazing off toward the wagon trail leading through the chop hills to Clear lake, with an uplifted foot and an earflap erect, as if he knew just what we were thinking about, while Charlie Metz' old retriever stalked solemnly around, occasionally lengthening himself back with protruded forefeet and gaping lazily. Finally he made a turn or two, and then crounched in as dry a place as he could find, and with his shapely head between his forepaws closed his eyes in apparent slumber. Charlie Metz, I forgot to remark, had concluded that the outlook for shooting was too poor to justify any continued absence from business, and had driven to Valentine a day or two before and gone home. It is for this reason that this sterling sportsman, has not figured more in this unpretentious history of the trip. The fact is, Charlie stayed for such a short time that I had really forgotten that he was along.

"I think we might as well go back into the lodge, Judge," I remarked, turning to Ogden, "and stay there. I've not seen a bird in the air this morning."

"No, I don't think so," he replied, "it takes all kinds of weather to make an enjoyable outing and if the birds were thick enough to pick off the yucca plants, it would be no more sport than if there wasn't a feather in the country. The harder game is to get, the keener the excitement with the true sportsman. I think it is the man who goes forth to learn, as the scholar goes to school, who is the man who gets the full benefits of his vacation. Be his success what it may he never becomes irrecoverably regretful. He finds his annual outing just as glorious, just as beneficial, with moderate killing, as he does when he finds lake and slough swarming with birds as the cicadae swarms in July's burning suns. He never fails to find shooting enough to keep the blood in healthy circulation, and gets what game he actually wants, even though it requires a little harder labor than common."

"Oh, that's all right, Judge," I responded, a trifle mettled at the Judge's erroneous estimate of my worth as a true lover of the out-of-doors, "I'll go all right, and you bet, I'll get some birds."

"That's right," he went on in that deliberate way of his, "it is not the true sportsman who is disappointed at times like these, but that class who only care to hear the roar of their guns, and to whom a commingling with nature is a positive bore at its best, that is, unless their murderous instincts for fish or game cannot be constantly appeased. When the slaughter ceases their enjoyment is at an end. (I'll thank you for a light, Mr. Griswold, I see you have plenty of fire on your cigar-there-thank you). To me an outing is an outing always-glorious, incomparable, whether it is for ducks in March, bass in June or plover in July, and the weather may do its worst or its best. I like it in all its moods. The sky never look bluer, the grass greener or the water brighter than when once adrift on marsh and meadow. To me is welcome every sound that comes from earth or air and that is the case with every true sportsman. Nothing can compare with his happiness, nothing is half so stirring, half so grand, inspiring or exhilarating. A tramp afield. With the multifarious perfumes of budding land and gurgling waters, the music of the bird and the breeze, and the faint flutter of reviving life of all kinds, filling all his senses, it is the very acme of mental and physical delight, the intenser pleasures of life, ever spread before him with a beneficient hand. He is a lover of nature"-

"And Yellowstone whiskey!" interrupted Fred at this juncture as he thrust his huge bulk between the judge and myself. "What are you up to judge, preaching another of those sermons of yours on the metaphysics and the ethics of pure sport. Bah! better come in and pull on your waders-you too Sandy-I've ordered the wagon to be here in ten minutes," and giving Roxy an affectionate kick in the ribs with his rubbered hoof he lumbered back into the lodge.

"That boy!" and the judge wagged his head solemnly, proceeding as if he had never been interrupted at all. "Yes, the true sportsman's tastes are inherited and inbred, and successful or unsuccessful in the baser aim of destruction, he would not exchange one day's sweet communion with nature-rain or shine-for weeks and months of the ordinary pastimes which engross the cruder humanity"-

"Come off there!" and Fred's head was again stuck out the door, "I've got everything all ready, and there comes the wagon."

Twenty minutes later we were rumbling on our wet and gloomy way for Willow Lake. We were soon in the hills and were slowly crawling over one of the numerous sand bumps, when we came suddenly on a huge gray wolf. He was trotting leisurely along the trail, going the same direction we were, probably making for his lair in the deeper distant hills after a night's maraud against Stilwell's stock. Hearing our approach our approach he deliberately stopped in the middle of the road and, half turning, gazed defiantly at us a moment, but the next instant, as Fred was about to swing his big Parker upon him, he was off across the soggy sands like a flash. With a yip and a ki-yi, Goodrich banged away at him, and although he was fully 150 yards away we saw a splash in the sand at his rear, as with wonderful celerity he lengthened out his long, gaunt shape until all we could discern was a streak of gray against the background of brown. He quickly reached a protecting knoll and was at once buried from sight.

Another mile and we were through the hills and on the plain that stretched away to Willow Lake and in sight of the long slough on which Fred and the Judge had made their kill the day before.

The heavy eyes of the morning were now wide open, and although still glazed with tears, we saw that the dull, humid scud above was breaking and an increased light fell over the earth, coming like an elixir or a good drink of Yellowstone after a hard day's tramp on a jacksnipe grounds. The rain now soon dwindled into a cool transparency and then glimmered away. The blanket of mist broke into huge fragments with glaring white edges, as if the light was trying to drain through, and curls of scud grazed the background hilltops, twining like fabulous serpents around the highest cones. The outlines of the lake shore began to show with hair-like distinctness. The surface of Willow, where the ice had been driven away, was like oil, and the half merged haystacks and distant line of rushes stood still as in a painting.

We had now arrived at the slough where Fred and the Judge had shot on the previous day. A great mass of pintails arose with their plaintive piping, as we approached from the far off arm of half frozen shallows, and bore off over the sand hills to the north. Arriving at the hole which my companions had dug the day before we all alighted, unloaded shell boxes, luncheon and decoys, and told Sam to drive off a mile or so on the prairie. We intended to all shoot from the pit, which was quite commodious, but not very comfortable for three. I quickly noted this and made up my mind that I would try my luck alone elsewhere, and was just about to make this intention known, when I saw a bunch of swan approaching from off toward Red Deer lake.

"Down! down!" I cried excitedly, leaping into the hole, where the Judge and Fred were arranging their shell cases, wraps, etc.

"Swan!" whispered Fred, "there are nine of them and I believe they are going to pass right over us."

And sure enough, on they came, those royal birds, cleaving the air with measured stroke of snowy pinion, coming from the southeast, on a line, and true enough, as Fred had said, they looked as if they would come right over us. As they cleared the little rise on the plain, just south of us, they discovered the pit, and began to rise and veer off.

"Give it to them!" I cried, in the vain hope that our united efforts might cut out at least one bird at even such a long range, and rising together, we let them have it, first our right barrels and then the lefts.

We heard the chilled shot rattle against their white sides, but none left the flock. With a thrilling and sonorous "hoo-oo-oo-oo! those great lumbering creatures spasmodically beat their broad sails of snow, climbing higher and higher, and then with a magnificent sweep swung off over the dome of the frowning sandhill to our left.

For once our reliable old Parkers went back on us, for once those matchless Peters shells refused to obey our behest, and yet, a cottony bit of down or two, floating almost stationary on the now almost listless breeze, was an evidence left us that as far away as they were, we were shooting the proper guns and the right shells. Ten yards closer and we would have gotten at least, a bird a piece.

Down!" again I commanded, "the swan beat us out, but here comes some geese."

Both Fred and the Judge, trained wild fowlers that they are, instantly caught sight of the long white line against the breaking fragments of blue and gray and ebony of the background sky. They were coming swiftly on with their usual garrulous clamor and were soon over us, probably fifty yards high. We all straightened up to get a better chance, and leading them well, in accordance to Fred's whispered admonition, we all let go together, but not a bird folded his wings.

"Lead 'em! lead 'em!" cried the now thoroughly excited Frederick.

The birds had gone over us and their broken ranks were welling together again, and while I felt they were getting out of range, I obeyed Fred's mandate, and together with him and the Judge, I gave them the other barrel.

Surprising as it was we cut out two birds with this second fusillade, and as they dropped out of the line, gyrating and whirling like ingenious toys in the air. I could not refrain from giving a whoop of exultation. The two birds struck the plain almost together, one bounced and rolled over, but the other stuck fast in a bunch of dried cactus.

After recovering the "brant"-a misnomer for snow geese-I informed Fred and the Judge that I was going to leave them-that the hole was too small for all three of us and that I would go back to the lake and make a blind among the big tall tufts of yellow pampas grass I saw growing there. They made a sort of a half-hearted remonstrance, but all the same were glad to get rid of me, but I made them ashamed of themselves before the sun went down, don't you forget that. The truth is, when I was out, retrieving the brace of geese, I got up on the little elevation back of the pit that overlooked the nearer borders of the lake, and will you believe it if I say so? Well, if there was one pintail, one canvasback and one redhead, feeding in the grassy shallows under the huge bank, there was ten million of them.

Informing the Judge and Fred that I was going over and build a blind for myself on the lake shore, the latter said he would go with me and help me construct it and bidding the Judge good by, we started off.

After we had gotten a hundred yards or so from the pit I told Fred that there was a perfect swarm of ducks, mostly pintails, feeding in the grassy shallows just over the embankment and probably it wouldn't be a bad idea to try and get a pot shot. This suggestion struck the young capitalist favorably, and after we had reached a slightly elevated point from which a view of the lake was commanded, he became most excitedly enthusiastic.

And the scene was certainly an animated one, and one that seldom greets the eye of even the most inveterate wild fowler. Peering over the summit of the dividing rise we could see up and down the shallow lake shore for miles, and the confused cackling and contented mutterings of the thousands and thousands of dozing preening and feeding birds, specking the thin waters, and grassy shore line, like snow flakes on the brown prairie. A grand and thrilling sight, indeed, to the man who sees more beauty in such a picture than he does in foaming cataracts, rolling oceans or majestic mountains, and Fred and I were fairly beside ourselves. But you have been there, you old duck hunters, and you know the sensation?

Just at this juncture, the gray clouds thinned a bit overhead and the misty sunshine fell slantingly upon the indolent and busy feathery hordes. The crystal shallows for a half mile each way was literally specked and studded with birds, geese and ducks and waders, with the pintails predominating at about one hundred to one. But among the shifting and garrulous masses, we detected the chestnut hoods and gleaming backs of many canvasback, the quiet gray of the widgeon, slate colored redheads, tiny greenwings, black and white butterballs, scattering bunches of snow geese, many yellowlegs and straggling avocets. The most of them were gluttonously engaged with their morning meal, cropping off the tender grass shoots, and exhuming buried seeds, snails and mollusks, on which the birds fatten in an incredibly short time. Many had satiated themselves and with their heads under their wings were quietly floating in slumber on the surface of the deeper pools, while hundreds of others, in twos and threes and fours, were arduously occupied with their vernal love making, and still others, in enormous flocks, packed closely together, were whiling away the early hours in social confab and quiet recreation, evidently getting ready for a continuation of their weary pilgrimage to the farther north. Feasting our vision on this thrilling scene for many moments, Fred, who is always of an investigating turn, and with his telescopic eyes, I believe, can see a duck as far away as any man that lives, suddenly said to me, as he pointed way off over the tops of the half whelmed hay stacks, which dotted the broad expanse of ice and water in every direction:

"Look off there, Sandy, inside of that line of rushes are millions of birds."

I directed my gaze toward the point indicated, and sure enough along the tule line were tiers and tiers of birds, ranged along on both banks, with the regularity of the columns of some vast army. The most of them were feeding, but many in rows and schools, were romping in the deeper water, rising their wings and flapping them rapidly, as if preparatory to a race across the country, but more probably in welcome recognition of the exhilarating air and the straggling bits of sunshine that came stingily down from the vapory masses above. Gray coated yellow legs flew jerkily across the weedy sound, filling the humid atmosphere with their tinkling melody, and dotted lines, coming and going in the distant heavens, indicated that contrary to expectations it was going to be a moving day with the palmiped tribe. Somber looking mudhens bobbed among the nearer water crypts, while others, their green legs contrasting sharply with the brown earth, walked solemnly about on the shore.

"Put down your shell case," cautioned Fred, "and we'll make a sneak."

The next moment, on hands and knees, we were working our laborious way to a line of tall plume-like grass which grew quite luxuriously along another rise, but much lower than the one from which we had just departed, and which was within long range of the nearest unsuspecting myriads. For so large a man Fred is about as active, especially when in the pursuit of a bit of shooting, as the best trained and most supple athlete, and despite my earnest efforts he constantly managed to keep a couple of yards in front of me. He finally reached the fluffy barrier of yellow blades, and whispering for me to hurry, I knew that the birds had at least, through sense of smell or sight or by intuition, received some sort of warning or impending peril, and when, blowing like a porpoise I reached his side, a glance through the separating grass convinced me that his was true.

Every bird on the waters an in the shallows sat as motionless as images. Heads were erect and an air of danger hung over the whole picture. Then, before we could exchange a word or even properly prepare ourselves, there was a roar of wings and confused minglement of squawks, honks, cackles and quacks, and the whole tremendous feathery mass jumped right straight up into the air, and with pounding wings, began to tear away from the fated spot like a shower of meteors. They had undoubtedly seen us. But quick and prompt to act as they were, they didn't beat Fred and I much, and together, so nearly so that four barrels blended into one, we let them have both barrels. It was a long shot, but our Parkers were equal to it, and when that storm of chilled lead from those four long reaching Peters shells tore into their fleeting ranks, no less than seven birds, all cripples, fell whirling from the flying network in the air, and again splashed upon the roilly waters. The sudden jumping of the birds had muddied the liquid depths of the lake even out beyond the reed line. There were so many of them that the waters were fairly churned when they made their quick rise. As soon as we saw that our birds had been only crippled, Fred and I ran down the shelving bank and darted into the shallows and shot them over as fast as we could splash within range. Not one escaped. And carrying them to shore we found we had three canvasback and four pintails.

"Not so bad!" ejaculated Fred as he patted the stock of his Parker affectionately, "when old Mr. Goodrich pokes this black tube at anything you bet something has to come."

"You talk as if I was merely a spectator," I replied with some irritability, "and as long as you consider yourself it, I'll inform you that six of these birds, and among them the three canvasback, fell from the bunch I shot into. You shot way off to the right there, and only one bird came down in that direction.

That was a sockdolager.

At first Fred couldn't conjure up a reply, then suddenly, seized with a paroxysm of laughter, he threw his ponderous hulk upon the damp sands and rolled over and over, until the earth fairly vibrated and the waters of the lake trembled with the shock.

"If you ain't good," he cried sitting up, bareheaded and gazing at me, "why you were so excited when those birds rose, that you didn't shoot at all. You had about as bad an attack of 'duck fever' as I ever witnessed. I first cut into the mass to my right, then turned the other barrel onto those on my left, and as sure as you are the greatest sporting editor-in your highly polish mind-on earth, I killed all seven of those birds. The three canvas I ranged together and with one pintail, and cut them down with my left barrel. The other three pintail responded to my right which I shot last.

"You give me a pain," I rejoined.

"Well, I'm sorry," said Fred, "but always take a chance; don't figure on distance, but shoot. However, you needn't worry, I'll tell the Judge you killed two of the birds, and that is pretty liberal, I think, when I killed them all. If the Judge had made a shot like the one I just made, and you had been with him, he wouldn't have acknowledged your presence on earth, let alone offer to share the credit with you. But I say Sandy, while I don't drink, I will take a shot at that flask of Yellowstone, just to prove that I have no hard feelings, not that I want a drink, but I know you never did like to drink alone."

Our little by-play over, Fred and I set to work and after a half hour's tug we had uprooted about twenty-five tufts of the tall pampas grass from which we had made our sneak shot and lugged them down far out on to a little barren peninsula that ran well out into the grassy shallows toward the open lake. Before completing this, however, I had made a trip to the Judge's stand and toted back a dozen decoys. We then proceeded to arrange the bunches of grass as naturally as possible, in a circular position, and finally finishing the job, Fred shouldered the seven dead birds and started up over the slope to return to his pit on the prairie.

"If you hear me shooting pretty often, Fred," I remarked as he walked away, "and you find business dull over there, come back. I think we can both manage to shoot from this blind all right. The next moment I was alone, Fred's big, broad back had barely faded over the divide and I was just weighting back the lid of my shell case, so I could get at my shells handily, when a bunch of nine canvasbacks, like fabled racers from the upper regions, came pouncing down upon me from the sky. The first premonition I had of their proximity was the sharp whistle and swish of their wings as they dished down and flashed over my decoys like apparitions of the air. I was startled and half rising, presented my gun, but the birds were by and quickly crouching again, I was delighted to see them turn, a way off a quarter of a mile or so, in the hazy distance, swing round and head in my direction again.

I had barely time to settle myself in an advantageous position, at such a tremendous velocity does the hungry canvasback fly, when they were again upon me, yet in not half decent shooting distance. But no chances were to be thrown away on these peerless birds, and I banged away, both barrels, as they hustled past, like a charge of canister, into their very midst.

On they went, every mother's son of them, to my overwhelming disappointment, but the next instant, for I kept my eyes on the receding flock, I saw one fall behind, farther and farther, sagging and wobbling more and more with each labored wing stroke, then, abruptly, give up, and come to the ice with a plunk, fully 300 yards away. I was a bit leery of venturing out on the ice, but the temptation was resistless, and I waded out and stepped on the soggy-looking ice. I tried it repeatedly with my rubbered heel before becoming too venturesome, but realizing that it would sustain my weight all right enough, I hurried out and picked up my duck. It proved to be a fine young drake in the full blazonry of its first spring plumage, and truly, I was satisfied with my luck, after all. So much for the potent charm with which a single specimen of these grand birds fills the heart of the ardent sportsman.

A gushing stream of clear, cold water, like a torrent from the mountains, came pouring into the lake from the overflow on the prairie right in front of my blind, and there being a sudden lull in the flight after the passage of the canvasback, I went out and making a cup of the crown of my slouch hat, took a long and refreshing draught. Then I returned to the hide, lit a cigar and settled myself for business. It was a profitless vigil for over an hour from a shooting standpoint, but a big black and white, green-headed merganzer and a hen pintail was added to my bag, but the enjoyment derived from a close connection with nature in her many changing and charming forms was compensation enough for the wasted time. I heard a shot or two coming dully over the prairie from the direction of the Judge's and Fred's pit and then all became still and mysterious as it only can in the lonely sandhills country. For a time I was engrossed watching the groups of fowl basking in the thin sunshine far out on the ice, and listening to their distant cackling and the cansonet of the ever passing blackbird, and the blots of sound that occasional fell from winnowing hawk or skulking coyote among the far hills. All of these, however, were finally unnoticed, as I lay flat on my back with my old ulster for a mattress, with the swaying spears of yellow pampas grass for my pickets, and watched the cloud ridges, which had changed from the homogeneous watery gray to great rolling and tumbling volumes, piled up on each other like great, fabulous boulders, all lowering in a mighty form over half the heavens and plunging leagues and leagues of desolate plain and hill into a shadow black as death. Now and then shafts of silver and gold, like peans of peace and happiness, would break from rents in the nebulous range and glance from this object to that with almost startling brilliance. We bend our heads before the grandeur of a Yellowstone, where veritable seas of water plunge upon the rocky heart of that wild country, with reverberations that mock the thunders, but glance merely at some cataract of March vapor dashing down the sky slope, or rearing their craggy heads toward the empyrean! Yellowstone, Yosemite, Niagara are mere cascades to the falls God builds of vapor in the air! We linger entranced upon the beamy lights and velvety shades of the masters decorating the walls of Mr. Lininger's home, and we bend the knee to them, giving voice to our praise of Titian or Tintorreto, whose names are blazoned with the magic tints of the Alps, but we gaze in unresponsive silence on the daily and nightly Chef d'oeuvres painted by an intangible brush in the skies, whose tamest efforts flash disdain upon the dull blazary of their imitated hues. Even the divinest frescoes of Raphael must yield to the common tints of sky and cloud and earth and water and trembling atmosphere in Nebraska's much maligned sandhills. And the most majestic achievements in architecture of the fabled Angelos or Glottos, what are they compared with what is revealed to you in the skies over a Nebraska plain in the riotous spring time. There is the work of the solitary and invisible artisan, molder, draughtsman, the towers and turrets, colonnades and spires and pillars, never tiring the wondering vision with an unchanging sameness, but shifting , kaleidoscopically as you gaze, resting in the struggling light of the morning's climbing sun on foundations of living sapphire and flushed with sifting tints that transcend even the celestial dreams of the mightiest masters the ages ever gave birth to.

"Quack! quack! quack!"

That was the thrilling sound that roused me from my dreams. I jumped clear to my feet in my fervor and beheld a big drake mallard curling around and away from directly over my blind so close that I saw the burnished green of his head and neck, the glistening speculum of green and blue upon his hammering wings, and the delicate curl-the Anas Boschas beauty mark-of shining emerald on his rump was as distinct as his flashing sloe-like eyes and the milk white bands on his tail. But I didn't linger to idly admire, my Parker cracked with malicious purport and the bird folded his superb pinions and stone dead plunged into the dashing torrent in front of me, not forty yards away. I had no more than returned to the blind again than I saw a big cock widgeon and his sweet-heart come glistening over the no sunlit reeds. I pulled ahead of the old gentleman with the bronze splotch upon his wings at what seemed to be about the right distance, and with supreme confidence touched the trigger. But on he went as smooth as gossamer, not a shining feather ruffled, but poor, little mother, she got my second barrel square in her mottled breast, and with a bound struck the sandy shelf back of me. Scarcely had I slipped in another pair of Ideal shells when a bunch of pintails, high up, came along on an investigating tour. The wily old rooster in the lead was craning his long snake-like neck, and wagging his graceful head in an effort to make out the meaning of the suspicious bunch of pampas grass growing so far out on that naked and sandy bar. He had heard the two previous reports of my gun and evidently felt that it was a good idea to keep well up into space, while he prosecuted his Sherlock Holmes business. But his curiosity got the better of his discretion, mistaking my bobbing decoys for friends, he dropped a trifle, bringing the rest of the bunch down with him and before he could put on the brakes I broke his neck, and then cut three more, all hens, out of the bulk of the bunch, as they whirled together to get away, with my second barrel.

I had no time to retreat and dared not overshoot the only crip of the four, and a glance told me that it was paddling swiftly out into the lake, for the soft hiss of the sailing wings of a flock of canvasbacks caught my ear and turning, prairiewards, I saw them on easy flight approaching, in unauspiciously serenity of soul, intending to alight. But I refused permission and just as they were dropping their light, bluish legs, I poured both barrels into them, and was thrilled to see two noble birds join the motionless pintails, lying, belly up, in the shallows. Hardly had I loaded, when two greenwing teal shot across the void, one about six feet ahead of the other. I tossed my Parker ahead of the foremost bird at about the same distance I had been used to leading a jacksnipe after he had steadied himself into straightaway going, and pulled the trigger. The rear duck skipped like a "saller," with splash, splash, splash, over the low waters, dead as a door-nail, while the one at which I had aimed sped across the bayou and off over the grassy embankment with unruffled feather. I had fallen into the common error of all inexperienced duck shooters, that of underestimating the speed of these cunning little feathered shooting stars, and consequently the distance necessary to hold ahead of it. Always whirl your gun in from behind the speeding birds and you will generally do execution, for the motion of the line of sight is faster than that of the birds. The line of fire is always ahead of where it seems, on account of the time lost in pulling the trigger and the escape of the shot, during which the muzzle of your gun is moving past the line of the game.

But here, I am encroaching upon my space and for the week must close.

For the space of half an hour after I had killed the teal, with which incident I closed last week's narration, I had most capital sport, and shooting as fast as I could load my reliable old Parker became so hot that I had to wade out and cool the barrels by thrusting them into the gushing torrent. There was one bird-a splendid big mallard drake-I never shall forget, possibly, perchance because the mallards were mostly noticeable for their absence on this occasion, but more likely for the reason that I made one of the most grotesque misses of my long and varied career as a wild fowl hunter. Well, this old drake was so big, so plump, and easy in flight, that I never can account why I did not kill him stone dead with the first barrel. And think of it, I was using the very best shells and the very best loads ever made, the Peters Ideal shell, with three and three-quarters drams of Schultze smokeless and an ounce and an eighth of chilled No. 7s, the most killing concoction over sent hustling after scurrying wild fowl. Along the rib of my Parker I saw the thin sunshine dance on his burnished green hood and it seemed absolutely foolhardy to pull anywhere but dead on to him. He wasn't more than twenty yards away from me and hovering in the air a dozen feet above my bobbing decoys like a sparrow hawk hovers over an unwary mouse out on the prairie. Aiming deliberately at his cream and chestnut breast I let him have the right barrel. Had the waters of the lake flew up and splashed on the ragged clouds above I could have hardly been more dumbfounded than I was to see that old drake, with madly thumping wings, bound skyward at the report of my gun, emitting one spasmodic squawk as he arose.

I was so taken aback and rattled that I did not resort to my left with the premptitude the exigency demanded, but I did finally recover, and as old Anas Boschas swung round to the left and bore off over the high ridge of pampas grass, I cut loose with it. But he had placed too much space between himself and me, but at that, I noticed the load pushed him along a trifle faster, and a downy tuft or two of cottony feathers came floating back over my blind on the dying wind.

But I had little time to reflect over the cause of my miss with the first barrel, when a butter ball came flashing over the brown tules. I aimed at the right spot ahead of his little blue bill, as I thought, and pulled the trigger, first one and then the other. Yet at the crack of each barrel every glistening feather sailed straight on and over the hay cocks as smoothly as a spider's banners on the morning breeze.

Right here, as a matter of course, being an artistic sort of a student, I indulged in a bit of oratory soothing to a vexed spirit, and was glancing suspiciously at the shell I held in my fingers, when, like a charge of wild Cassocks in their bright and picturesque uniform, with long green heads and banded necks gleaming like th couched lances of the wild bedouins, a flock of mallards, some twenty-two or three of them, streamed along the water in front of me. Though I could see six or seven green and yellow heads in line as I touched trigger, but two ducks fell; and as the rest, apparently unharmed climbed into space on throbbing pinions, I released the other barrel on a fine drake who was leading the stampede. He parted from his comrades in wavering flight, hung in the damp air for a second, then folding his beautiful sails, descended with a loud splash into the tules back of me along the shallow water's edge, where I concluded it would not pay to lose time in the midst of such an exhilarating flight to look for him.

As I knew it would, the flight of ducks all along the shallows my way, and, of course, visible from the hole in which the philosophical judge and the enthusiastic young capitalist were crouching, together with the Fourth of July fusillade I was keeping up, proved decidedly too much for the latter's nerves, and a moment later I had tumbled the drake into the tules, his elephantine proportions loomed up over the ridge and he exclaimed:

"Say, Sandy, I can't stand this; we aren't getting any shooting at all; do you think there is room for one more in there with you?"

"Plenty!" I called, "but hurry, hurry up-here comes a big bunch of canvas!"

Fred lumbered down the sandy incline and out on the bar with an alacrity surprising in such a big fellow, and while he was all out of wind, and panting like a hard pushed coyote, when he dropped with me within my grassy crypt, he cut a bird out of the flock, which, at that very moment glistened past us, with each barrel, while I got but one.

This bunch of canvas proved but the forerunners of scores more, and hardly had their gray bodies blended with the distant background's hazy curtain, than two widgeon, rival messengers to distant relatives, probably, came down the wind with the velocity of meteors.

"There is your chance, Sandy, let's see you make a double with that famous Parker of yours."

The words had hardly been uttered when the speckled pair of aerial sprinters were whizzing by us, but they were on my side of the blind, and Fred, always considerate of his shooting companion's prerogatives, had very properly told me to take them.

Bang! went my first barrel, but on went the ducks.

"Lead 'em, lead 'em a mile!" cried Fred and I pulled way ahead of the now rapidly leaving widgeon, ahead, probably twelve yards, and cut loose, and would you believe it, just like the teal before Fred had joined me, the last bird, which was yards in the rear of its mate, went down slantingly into the slushy water with a broken wing.

In the first instance, with the greenwings, I thought I appreciated the secret of my missing, and that my unquestioned dexterity as a quick shot on jacksnipe or quail in the brush, would tell again, as on a pair of ducks leaving me with such velocity. But the nerves that felt only a slight tremor when Bob White burst whirring from the low undergrowth now quaked beneath the storm that broke suddenly upon us, seemingly from every quarter of the compass. It appeared as if our little circular grass fortress was the converging point of dark lines, flocks, bunches and strings rushing toward us at different rates of speed, but even the slowest [words n.l.] fast. All reasoning over inconsequential misses was out of the question, and we stood there, and crouched there, pouring a storm of leaden ball into the scurrying winged hosts. Four barrels would no more than disperse a flock, and they would radiate away in different directions, then the sky would again darken around us with hissing wings and whizzing bodies.

We made the best of this big flurry, Fred and I, but it ceased as abruptly as it began and when we had retrieved our birds and had them spread out beautifully on the sands behind our blind, a careful count developed the fact that we had but forty-three, when we both imagined we had double that number. But it was a splendid kill-canvasback, widgeon, blue bill, mallard and teal and we were just as content as if it had been one thousand. All day long we stuck to our posts and the judge to his, and if the flurry in the morning of which I have just told, was a thrilling spectacle, you ought to have seen the flight in the evening. It was something to make you hold your breath and wonder really if the wild fowl ever would be exterminated. Phoebus, was well down the sky slope, and threateningly near the pearly peaked sand hills, and his glowing chariot, seen like a big, red, rolling dome amidst the gilded clouds, was about to plunge over the horizon's abyss, when the birds began to fill the air, springing out of the skies, arising from the earth, in fact we little recked where they did come from, just so they kept coming. And they did.

On the clear sky, which now completed the canopy in the eastern heavens, and was rapidly following in the wake of the clouds all over the firmament, the light from the struggling sun's rays in the west, was shattered into a million tints, with everything above the hills outline in clear silhouette, while over the whole broad prairie and darkening lake rested a pallid glow, which intensified the diamond flashes in the orient skies, but cast a weird gloom on all below. From the now sinking sun, streaks of rosy and topaz light pointed like begemmed arrows from the mouth of a huge dark quiver into the glowing zenith, while the clear heavens along the east changed by the increasing contrast into a pale lemon fringed with purple and green. North and south the ragged scud still held sway, with blue archipelagoes dotting the shifting surface like whitecaps on a stormy sea, the darkening bronze shading for a moment into delicate tints, then shifting into orange on rays of gold struck them. Along the western horizon now was a line of richest umber fringed with crimson fire, while breaking it rudely and spasmodically, as they rolled into the boundless gulf below, were Himalayan peaks of coppery hue, black embouchures, like the craters on the moon, with fleecy streams an amethyst vapor between. With such scenery and over such a stage swarmed a troop of actors that appeared in the wondrous drama, that March sunset in the sandhills, called the "Evening Flight."

Hitherto the passing ducks had come from either up or down the lake, but now, with a rushing, seething, hissing sound, rending the air like rifle bullets, they seemed to storm from everywhere, right out of the face of the night. Great strings of canvasbacks, like chalk lines in space, cut athwart the vision; pintails by thousands whistled and hurtled above; big squads of bluebills came winding swiftly down, with streams of mallards, whose strong wings made the air fairly sing; long inclines and sweeping curves of redheads, and wisp upon wisp of little black teal rode down the darkening air, shooting in volleys and dropping in myriads from the sky. Widgeon squeaking and querulous, impatient as they hurried on, blended with the canvasback's hoarse call, the quack of the mallard, the meow of the red head and piping of the lesser birds, all making a babble as thrilling as the sight was wondrous. Large bands of Canada geese went trooping past high up in the air, while the snow geese and speckled brants dotted the background light in all directions. Cranes, too, sandhill and blue, marched by with faster wing and more raucous throats. Myriads of ducks of all kinds traveling in this and every other direction, swept through the air with unslackened gait. Black in the falling night the greenhead and long neck of the mallard was stretched as if they intended to maintain their journey throughout the night, and we could tell them from all other birds. The forked rudder of the pintail, against the crimson sky, never failed to reveal his identity, and the straight lines and hissing noise always gave away both canvasback and redhead. Far above all these and still bathed in opaline light was floating southward, as softly as flocks of vapor an occasional long array of white crane-the whooper so rarely seen nowadays-dropping down through several miles of still, cool air, their strangely penetrating, blood-creeping cries. Swans, too, there were way up in those still sunlit regions and Fred and I stood and gazed and shot and commented until the lengthening twilight blended confusedly and we concluded to quit and get out before dark.

As we drove home that evening the last vestige of a cloud had disappeared and everything pointed to a pleasant day on the morrow. The Judge had fared almost as well as Fred and I in that marvelous closing action, and the pile of birds he jealously guarded in one of the rear corners of the wagon box told plain enough of the headway he is making with the hammerless and on the wing. We were boisterous and jocund as we trailed along the lonely valley road as the last lights faded in the west and the coyote began his nocturnal chant, but our team was a fine one and we felt as if we had not driven more than a mile or two, when Sam drew up in front of the sod lodge door.

No pleasanter hours are there than those spent around the genial campfire after a successful day's shoot, and a roast duck dinner, such as Mrs. Stilwell never fails to have awaiting the tired incomers from the local chase. That night we were all feeling uncommonly good. The arduous sport of the day, supplemented on our return in the evening by a most robust and exhilarating Yellowstone cocktail, had given us all an enormous appetite, and when we gathered around Mrs. Stilwell's steaming and savory table we were a contented and jocund crew, indeed. A dozen greenwing teal, broiled with the delicacy of a Chamberlain, great flakes of wild goose breast, richly browned and swimming in ruddy juices, shirred eggs, curls of crisp potato chippings, currant jelly, dill pickles and a golden nectar brewed from a mixture of Moca and the rarest old government Java, was the spread that made out eyes stick out like English walnuts. It is needless to mention the fact that we did full justice to the feast. As we arose three quarters of an hour later, rubbing with luxuriant complacency our distended victualling departments, Mrs. Stilwell needed no further testimonial as to the merits of the meal. That simple rapid motion of rubbing the palm of the hand over the rotund abdomen, was more eloquent than the most thorough knowledge of the science of philology would have been enabled even the erudite Judge to have expressed his extreme approbation of the lady's culinary acquirements.

Back in the cosy lodge, lolling around the cheerful blaze, with our pipes, the hours sped away on rosy petals as entertaining was the small and the large talk that at times commingled into one confused cackle, so eager were we all to be heard.

"This morning," remarked the Judge, "just after you left the hole, Fred, a jacksnipe came flying aimlessly down the slough, now pitching to the left and now to the right, evidently on the lookout for some familiar spot he had known before."

"Git out," responded the fat young capitalist in his usual brusque manner. "I haven't heard a single skeape since we've been up here, an' I don't believe there is a jack in the country. It was a yellowleg or a killdeer, probably," and Fred winked at me.

"Well, I'll acknowledge," continued the Judge, as he arose and cast the butt of his cigarette into the fire, "that you know considerable about our wild fowl, but what you do not know would fill an encyclopedia, in fact such a volume, if human mind could compile it, would make the Britannica look like a dime novel. Now what do you call this," and the Judge stepped over in the corner where his bed stood and reaching in the game pocket of his canvas shooting coat, which hung on the post, he drew forth the rather ruffled form of a jacksnipe and handed it to the wild-eyed Mr. Goodrich.

"Can it be that we are in Elysian among the gods?" ejaculated the young capitalist as he took the proffered bird from the Judge's hand, and after first smoothing down its rich rosewood feathers, he held it up by one leg in the full glare of the big lamp.

"A jack, as sure as Hades!"

"You see, Mr. Goodrich," suavely resumed the imperturbable Judge, "you did not permit me to finish my speech, or I would have told you that I killed the bird just as it passed by blind. I was delighted at the fine shot I made, and cannot account for my forgetting all about it until this moment, only on the score of the exciting sport I had all through the day afterward. Instead of putting the snipe with my dead ducks after I had retrieved it, I simply stuck it in my pocket, and, well I just forgot all about it until a moment ago.

"I beg your pardon all the way from Omaha to the sandhills and back, Judge. You are a gentleman and a scholar and I am a ninny hammer. It's on me! Sam," turning to our driver, "reach in the sideboard there and hand me that bottle of Yellowstone. Thank you. Here Judge, you first, drink hearty. Hit it a wallop, Sandy; Rivers, Mr. Stilwell, that's right don't be afraid of it, it's the best whiskey in the world, and although I never drink, I'll smile with you this time, just for luck. Sam, take a snifter and put it back in the sideboard."

"Jimminy!" exclaimed Sam, after something like a quarter of a pint of the golden liquid had gurgled down his capacious esophagus, "that ar' is whisky, there 'ere sandhill hellyruns never hern tell of. Holy smoke, but it goes to the right spot!"

"Yes," proceeded the Judge. "I made a beautiful shot, and my only regret was that you and Sandy were not there to see me make it. Here, Sam hang it out under the shed with the ducks.

"The greatest bird in the world, the most delicate marceau of all wild game, I think," I remarked turning to the Judge.

"Yes, indeed, I think I can almost agree with you, but they are so little understood and so few people know anything about them," he replied. "How do you like your snipe served, Mr. Griswold, that you class them so highly?"

"Roasted!" was my laconic, but emphatic response.

"Roasted?" repeated the Judge interrogatively, at the same time winking knowingly at Rivers, "ain't they more properly a broiler? You see, Mr. Griswold, I was brought up down in New Orleans, where our cooks were all French, and they are great partronomes, you know."

"Yes, I know they are, and I also know that the French cooks know the least about cooking game and fish than any breed of cooks in the whole category. They are great on fancy mixes, salads, condiments, rich viands, pastry and all that, but on game and fish, they are boors"-

"But, Mr. Griswold-"

"Just be patient, Judge. You asked me how I preferred my snipe and I want to tell you, then I will show due deference to what you may desire to promulgate about your Parisian chefs. To proceed, I will say, that a broiled jacksnipe is not half bad, neither is a jacksnipe stew, fricassee or any other style, but the true way, the epicurean way, is to roast him. I think he is the most delicious eating in the world, the inferior to no known, delicacy that flies or runs or swims, not even excepting the woodcock, the upland plover, canvasback duck, beaver's tail or terrapin. Like all of his congeners who feed in pure shallow waters or on oozy grounds, the quicker the jacksnipe is served after killing the better. The rule is inexorable, they must be perfectly fresh. The man who knows what to eat, and how to eat, and has been reared on the best in the market from youth to manhood, abhors any of our dark-meated game birds if they are served after having become, in the slightest degree, tainted, or as our fastidious English cousins style it, high. I have always been taught that all gallinaceous game, such as prairie chicken, the grouse family, quail and the like, are improved by keeping some considerable length of time, say from a week to one month. But the dark-meated birds, the wild fowl, jacksnipe, rail and, in fact, all the waders, lose flavor and delectability and, in fact are absolutely ruined, by delay in serving them. They are like fish, and should be eaten fresh. A black bass, for instance, caught this morning and served this noon is a piscatorial morsel calculated to tickle the palates of the gods, but a black bass, caught today and served next Thursday, is, in my esteem, literally unfit for the table, and would taste about as much like the bass caught and eaten the same day as a broiled door mat would taste like a porterhouse steak. All gastronomers, all good livers and all men who know now and what to eat, execrate a tainted duck, jack or upland plover. If possible, all these birds should be put on the tale no later than one day after killing."

"And to serve them, what is your idea about the jacksnipe, say, this bird you consider without an equal" inquired the Judge, as he rolled a smoke.

"Well, in the first place, they should be carefully and neatly picked and cleaned-that is primarily essential. Not a drop of coagulated blood or intestinal segment should be left within the carcass of the bird and not even one hair-like pin feather left sticking to rump or tip of wing, but never, on your life, should they be skinned. Nicely prepared, bend the neck downward, running the bill transversely through the body, just below the wings, with one leg thrust through the sinew of the thigh of the other leg, then with a piece of pure, sweet butter about the size of a hazel nut and well peppered and salted, place them in a hot oven and roast, say, no longer than twenty minutes. Some of the old time gastronomic savants would never eat a snipe only one way-roasted before a hot fire for no more than ten minutes, without butter or other condiment, and devour piping hot. When being served in this way a piece of crisp, buttered toast should form the foundation while the bird is roasting, it serves as a receptacle for the juices and basting. Never try to accompany a roast jacksnipe with a gravy or a sauce, and to blanket any sort of a dark meated game bird between strips of soft, fat bacon is an abomination not to be tolerated.

"Well, I agree with you, partly," proceeded the Judge, but not entirely. I do believe, however, as you intimate that more men know how to slay ducks and snipe and game of all kinds secundum artem, than they do how to order them for the table, or how to eat them gracefully after they gt there. The true sportsman that is always figuring on getting the most reward out of his shooting and fishing trips, is the man who looms up conspicuously in this regard, and the man to the manner born, the lover of game as the choicest of all table freightage."

"And our quail, Judge, while a large majority of people, but not sportsmen, prefer, this bird to any other winged game, you and I know they cannot be compared to the jacksnipe, woodcock, canvasback or mallard, but as for serving them, however, they require fully the same attention that their dark-meated relatives do."

"Yes, when I was a boy, we had a French cook in our family, who, I thought, had no equal in the world, and the way he used to serve those Louisiana quail. I am not so sure but what they came in for and a good bunch of the laurels. They were delicious. As you have already intimated, a quail well may be kept for a considerable period in the fall, hanging, of course, out in the pure, crisp air, and not kept in an ice box or other close storage arrangement. I have kept them as long as three weeks to advantage, and when it comes to roasting a quail, it should be done with all possible speed, before an extremely hot fire. It should be done thus quickly in order that the skin may become seared in an instant, and the escape of the small quantity of juices the quail contains prevented. The finish of the process should be in milder neat and gradual. When thoroughly done serve with fried bread crumbs and any palatable sauce. Preserves, sweets and such accompaniments do not go with those white-meated birds. The quail and chicken are also delightful, planked, larded, grilled or even boiled, in the latter style, with a soupeon of garlic and plenty of cayenne or red pepper pods.

"But I cannot agree with you in your declaration of a few minutes abo about the French cooks knowing nothing about cooking game or fish. I was brought up in New Orleans, where all the prominent chefs are of the Gallic persuasion, and I believe they are the rage at all our big New York and seaside hotels-in fact, everywhere in Salmis, with game, the French cooks have no equals, but I will confess that their tendency to smother the bodies of our small game birds in fat bacon, before roasting or baking, is barbarous, but all that is necessary is to hint that you cannot stand for this sort of cookery, and your Frenchman will come pretty nearly getting it up in a palatable shape for you. This at bacon whim, or encasing birds in any sort of batter, is idiotic as it does entirely away with the greatest desideratum, that of closing the pores by quick beat, in order that its natural juices will be retained, with which it becomes tender and odorous, but entwined with bacon, the flesh is impregnated with its common flavor, and in a large measure, destroyed. You see,"-

"Oh, come off," here Fred interrupted the Judge with exceeding rudeness, and rising from his seat he stretched his big, fat arms and continued, "to hear you fellows talk one would think that you were regular and foundered amphitryon, and had been doing nothing for the last forty years but giving good dinners and eating them. So far as I am concerned, the Red Onion is good enough for me. But let's switch the subject and plan something for tomorrow. Just look at the clock. It is almost midnight."

"We will excuse you, Fred," I remarked as the big fellow began threshing around like a wounded hippopotamus in the act of disrobing: "go on, Judge," turning to Ogden, "lets hear according to your idea just how game should be cooked, broiled or roasted?"

"You ask me how game should be cooked, broiled or roasted," he repeated. "The question involves a double answer, coupled with an evasion. It depends altogether where you are. You must keep in mind that the boast or talk of broiled game when it is fresh, being the best, is the most primitive way of cooking. When one is out in the woods he can't expect to carry with him a Delmonico range. Hence he cooks as primitively as the Indians and other savages. The first time primitive man, after getting over eating raw meat, cooks, he does it over hot coals or a fire built out in the forests. He eats his game oftentimes five minutes after having killed it. I do not wish by this to condemn broiling as altogether out of place, but it is sometimes amusing to one accustomed to the luxuries of the table to hear people say this or that chef is a great cook, because he broils so well. The cooking of the game is various and multifarious. It is true not every one has the same tastes, but there are standards acknowledged by the civilized world which one must conform to if he wishes to maintain his reputation as a connoisseur. One may say he does not care for French cooking, yet he must recognize that the French, whether good or bad, have established a standard which the world has accepted and adopted. You never hear of a great chef in any large city among the best and cultured unless he is a French chef. They are the highest priced cooks of the world and in their line break down all national prejudices and barriers. The English, as a people, hate the French, but from the king of England down to counts and viscounts, all those who can afford it have a French chef. You may say you prefer a chromo to a Meissonier, and you are entitled to your own opinions, but you could not by that choice change the accepted standard established by the great masters. Coming back to the difference between broiling and roasting game, I may say that in a well appointed cuisine roasting is always the rule, except, perhaps, in the case of the teal duck. It is always permissible to serve that delicate marceau by broiling it, but this is found more often to be the case in restaurants or meals served at clubs than in the king's home, or that of the epicure. The advantage of roasting is that it gives opportunity of stuffing, which always adds to the flavor. Take that prince of birds, the woodcock, have it stuffed with truffles and French mushrooms, the around the outside with thread a thin layer of fresh pork, (not bacon-that is heathenish), roast it slowly, basting it every five to eight minutes, and after twenty-five minutes of cooking, if you do not have a dish envied by the gods, mark me, as not knowing what I am talking about.

"And a model dinner, how should it be gotten up? A model dinner, well that is more difficult to answer-There are so many of them, but I have partaken of meals at Victor's in New Orleans, at Morchan's, the Poodle Dog, the Pup on the coast, at Delmonico's, Martin's, Rector's, the Waldorf Astoria in New York, de Paris, Feracattis, Paris, Scatt and Alkins in London, and innumberable others of equal celebrity, and yet there was a good old family in the old town of New Orleans, who once in a while entertained friends and either the illusion of years or the enthusiasm of youth made me say then, and I feel so now, gave the best dinners I ever have partaken of. Your soup was as you wished, plain and simple, for you must remember that heavy soups don't belong to the polite. Always keep in mind a well served dinner does not feed you full at one dish. After the soup the pompano follows, with potatoes souffle, Madeira is served with the potatoes, and Chateau Yquen or any other fine wine brand with the fish. The Pompano is usually broiled and served with drawn butter sauce and fine herbs. You then have a dish that no one having a palate will scorn. Following this, small veal chops breaded en pappillotte. When I say small, I mean it. No one year veal will do; it must be no older than three or four months. If you can tell it from a broiled chicken then it is not the veal I mean. Accompanying this course served in the same plate (never use side dishes at a big dinner, it smacks so much of the lunch counter) you have your petits pous francais. At this course for that matter, it may be well to remark you begin filling your glasses with a good brand of red or claret wine, which, with the Europeans, is drank throughout the meal with ice in it, which by melting gives all the water necessary to dilute the vinous beverage. Then comes your game-the wood cock, stuffed with mushroom and truffles and roasted, as I have above described, served with the salad, always in the same plate. I recognize that some parvenus and others in order to make a display of the length of courses (which is always in bad taste) serve the salad as a separate course, but this should never be done. The blending of the head lettuce salad with game gives a combination that brings out in bold relief the flavor of the bird and the acid helps the digestion. One must eat not only to enjoy the delicacy of the dish, but he must not be allowed to suffer afterwards. You never hear of the French as dyspeptics and you will see in one journal of our country more advertisements for cures of this nature than all the daily publications of France put together. To return-your salad with your woodcock and then a fine bottle of Chambertin and a good brand of champagne. Some great epicures often mix their Burgundy with the champagne and by proper proportions eliminate the too sweet in the white win and avoid the evil effects thereof. After this course, which of all others I warn you should be eaten very slowly, comes and very scarce of unusual vegetable-a fine brand of asparagus will do as also cauliflower. At that period of the dinner nay of the wines may be drunk except Maderia of Chateau Yquem, these being by custom usually restricted to the courses to which they belong. I warned you about eating slowly. That is true in more senses than one. You injure yourself when you do not follow that rule and you look very badly to the rest of the company. In eating fast you make noises with your mouth and grimaces that often suggest you are not a human being. It very often makes one wonder, especially if he is your neighbor at the table, whether this is not the first time you have ever partaken of a magnificent repast, so you not only annoy but very often disgust and by your manners, to use a vulgarism, give yourself away. Don't comment on the food or scrutinize it as though it seemed strange to you. Eat and drink and act as though you were to the manor born. A dinner with a civilized, intellectual human being is not merely a means of satisfying hunger or quenching the thirst. It is a grand rest, where jollity, repartee and an casual story can be enjoyed in, and in this don't usurp everything, be generous and give everybody a show and demonstrate you have a kind heart and a good liver, and you will be invited again.

The dessert-biscuit glace, fruits, charlotte russe, delicate small pastry, that melts in your mouth; the coffee and brandy and the eating over, serve for the women a liqueur and pass the Havanas to the men and the dinner is closed.The women retire and the men sit around the table smoking, conversing, deciding affairs of state, literature, all that bonhommie. Now I hear you say that with all these wines you must feel badly-not at all-only the one who does not know how to drink may complain. The wines are not served as though you were a funnel-a gentleman is moderate and a moderate man is a gentleman. The wines will do their part if you do not overindulge, they will help the gastric juices, they will aid the digestion and in a few hours you will hardly realize you have eaten, so little after effects being noticeable. Often a big steak will distress you a hundred fold more than the menu I have prescribed. But let me add," continued the judge, "and then we'll join the Elephant in the land of Nod." turning his head toward Fred's bed, "there is nothing more pitiable in my eyes that the man who cannot rough it a bit occasionally-the man who cannot eat heartily and with keenest relish a chunk of salt pork, with plain bread, a boiled potato with the jacket on, a raw onion and a cup of weak tea or rural coffee, that is when he is so situated that he can't get better, but there is nothing that he can't get better, but there is nothing more contemptible at the same time than the man who doesn't care what he eats. Twelve o'clock to the dot."

The dawn's first gray was tinging the darkness when we arose the next morning in accordance with our plan laid the night before. We were determined to make a day of it and resolved to reach the lake with as little delay as possible. As I stepped forth from the lodge a warm south breeze brushed my face, but the sky was overcast and there was a continued suggestion of humidity in the air.

Hackberry lake showed its broad neutral tint in front, with the dim shores on either hand, and the sand hills beyond resting against a black background. The east momentarily warmed, while in the strengthening gray of the zenith the stars were melting like sparks in the ashes of a camp fire.

After breakfast Sam soon had the horses hooked up and we were shortly on our way to the scenes of yesterday's triumph. Reaching the backbone of the hills separating the Stilwell valley from the Clear lake chain beyond, Sam pulled up to allow the horses to catch their wind, and as we stood there I gazed once more down upon the rice-fringed waters of the sprawling Hackberry, with its jutting points and reedy islands in the distance, until the view was closed by he high background of the peninsula. The grey light gave way to the soft glow preceding the sunrise. Rosy clouds smiled overhead, and in the east an umber of a long, ragged mass of vapory billows turned slowly into tawny gold.

"We are going to have clearin' weather," observed Sam, and as he spoke the jagged summit of a distant hill brightened in a flood of sunshine, remaining a few moments transfigured among its grey surroundings.

Even so, thought I, is woman glorified by the divine fancy of poets. She owes the recognition of her charms to those children of the passionate heart and glowing brain. They kindle the aureole that crowns her brow.

"Apollo was pitching his darts" thick and fast into the winding draws and narrow arroyos as we trundled down the sandy road and out onto the level plain abreast of Clear lake, on whose blue bosom, far out of reach of the best Parker ever made, floated immense flotillas of water fowl, the white and black of the canvasback largely predominating. While an occasional teal hurtled like a shot down the lake it was evident that the main body of birds had no intention of moving yet awhile, and the Judge urged Sam to hustle the team along in order that we might be in our blinds before the flight did begin.

Three quarters of an hour later we were all cosily located, Fred and I in our grass blind of the night before and the Judge in a burrow in the top of a half whelmed hay stack a quarter of a mile to our left, some two hundred yards out in the lake, but within plain view of each other.

A lone widgeon started the morning's stir. Slowly winging his way out of the circle of grey, he crossed the sky in dim outline above our blind. The billowy clouds, warring in the east, have again closed out the sunshine, and it is so dark that there seems little likelihood of the bird seeing us, but suddenly his mottled wings begin to thump the air with extra force as he endeavors to climb out of danger. He was not quite expeditious enough though, and Fred rising to his feet, let him have it. At the crack of his gun the widgeon's slender neck droops, his wings fold, then flutter convulsively, and down he comes.

At the same time, almost, "bang! bang!" comes two quick reports from the half-whelmed haystack, and the next instant we notice the Judge floundering around out in the water among his decoys in eager pursuit of a wing-tipped canvasback. Seeing that the wily bird meant to lead him a merry race, the Judge finally slipped in another shell and killed his bird and retrieving it, gets back into his aerie in the hay, but not a moment too soon.

Hardly had the reports of our Parkers reverberated over against the gloomy sandhills, than the air seemed throbbing with a million pair of wings, and a wild medley of confused sounds, from ducks and geese and brant, crane, killdeer, avocet and yellowleg, as far and near myriads of birds, who have been thus roused from their early morning repose, fill the air.

What is the use of my detailing the scores of shots we had, what is the use going over the same old remarkable kills, ludicrous misses and the haps and mishaps of the succeeding two hours among the swarming water fowl; time and again have I drawn the picture, and while I feel confident that it is a never failing theme of interest to the duck hunter, I think, just now, a brief sketch of the morning flight at Willow Lake as a whole, would be more apropos.

The morning air was filled with lights and shades, as the shifting clouds degreed, and into countless divisions, like a panic-stricken army, endeavoring to marshal itself from chaos into order, the vast hordes of ducks and geese pour over and across the wild scene. Great bunches of bluebills and red redheads would whirl skyward, and then stream over our blind without seeming to care for the shots we poured into them. There are ducks, widgeon, teal, pintail and bluebill everywhere, and as the flame shoots up into the air from the muzzles of our fowling pieces, there is a momentary scattering immediately overhead, but all around, as far as the eye can reach countless feathery pinions continue to hammer the air until the noise amounts to almost a roar, and the very earth seems to tremble. Again the birds are back over you-and endless mass of dark bodies, outstretched necks and rushing wings.

Surely the morning flight at Willow Lake in the spring time is a rare scene indeed, a scene calculated to remind one of the earlier days of the country when the wild fowl swarmed all our waterways like infusoria in the summer air.

"Look out, there! Sandy! don't shoot at those teal; look, behind them comes a bunch of mallards," and the young capitalist turned to get in a crack himself.

On comes the long line of green-hooded birds, like cavalry men on a charge, and we are about to pour in our four loads, when a Canada goose, thrillingly near, winds his mellow horn and we shift round, and right onto us, it seemed, the air was filled with great slate colored birds, with white collars encircling their black necks, and broad wings barred with black, climbing and sheering heavenward, in fact for all points of the compass at the same time, while the struggling shafts of sunshine strikes ebony heads and black bills like gleaming daggers, and from which poured a volley of sound like the mingling of a hundred bugles.

What a sight, those great, floundering birds made in their wild dismay, how rare and beautiful they were; it seems incredible that one's lust for life would overcome his appreciation of the wonderful, and our four barrels were emptied in rapid succession into the frantically scurrying birds. Chances such as that were too rare, and there was no remorse in our hearts as we pulled the trigger. At the crack of my first, a noble old gander pitched straight to the sands of the lengthening bar behind us, and at the second another, with folded wings and drooping neck, changed its course earthward, while simultaneous with the explosion of Fred's piece no less than three birds relaxed their hold in the arm sunlight, and descend in a revolving whirl, to the low shallows near our hide, and the third, slantingly into the torrential waters bursting through the bank into the lake from the prairie overflow.

And then it was ducks and ducks and ducks again. With hissing wings a flock of pintails shoot by, while a log dark line of swiftly cleaving bluebills, follow, the weaving birds off over the lake increasing with every new beam of light that struggles through the misty morning. No longer do the redheads and canvasbacks pounce upon you from the sky, as they do during the evening flight, nor do they come from any one direction any more than they do from another. There seems to be birds everywhere. From every point they flash, the uproar gradually subsiding, and the birds rallying, uniting, and marching away through the morning mist on more orderly and methodical wing. Skimming over the tules and the rice back of us the butterballs and ruddies pour in dark masses, while long, regular lines or phalanxed bunches at tremendous velocity, vanish on the rising winds.

At last dawn settled over the lake, and the birds rose higher and flew farther though fragments of the flight continued to furnish us sport until well along in the morning.

A flock of mallards, making the air sing, and so close that he must certainly have been able to mark the shading of their gray bellies and caught the gleam of the sun upon the burnished green of their heads, went by the Judge, and before we heard the reports of his Parker, we saw four birds quit, as if they had run against a stone wall, and tumble among his bobbing decoys in the water. Then a moment later, we note a straggling flock of pintails, approach him, and we laugh as we see him kneel in his dead grass crypt, and pull on the leader, who keeps on towering, after first one report comes to us and then another, the whole bunch climbing the airy stairway behind their leader, without dropping even a feather to comfort the Judge.

While Fred and I had most capital sport and each killed his full legal quantum of birds, we knew the Judge had better. He was in plain view all the time and there seemed to be a very network of weaving birds around him constantly and from the fusillade he kept up we felt that he would have no complaint to make when the day was done. We were intently watching him as he bobbed up and shot, and then crouched down again, in the hollow top of the old hay stack, when suddenly a bunch of bluebills came onto us with such a rush that they were overhead before we had time to fire. Like darting shadows they came from out the lifting mist straight for our circle of grass-their dark wings hazy with speed. Fred threw his gun ahead with that alacrity for which he is celebrated among his shooting comrades, and yet he was late, and while a single bird went on a slanting line down into the distant tules, it was so far away that he would not undertake to gather it. He said he would lose forty good shots while looking for it.

But enough of detail. It was a great morning for the birds and the flight was an extraordinary one. We had not anticipated such sport and were at a loss to account for it, for none of us thought that the shooting was going to be extra good. But it is a difficult matter to determine just what is the best duck weather. Some old shooters prefer a wild, boisterous, blustery day, others one that is calm and beautiful and without wind, and I must confess that I class with the latter. It was my kind of a morning, although a trifle gray and cloudy, but that it was a good one for the ducks was attested by the great flocks of mallards that would skim the shores so close that their green necks often shone within twenty-five yards of the muzzles of our guns, and when we rose to shoot there was a sparkling mixture of blue bars flashing on ashen wings, glistening breasts of rusty brown, white banded tails with curls of polished green, of orange legs and beaded eyes, whirling upward and outward with distraught squawking. Then too, we saw line after line of geese wind slowly out of the nebulous vapors until near the lake's surface and then with silent wing, and every musical throat suddenly hushed, drift softly along until you could almost feel the soft fanning of their strong pinions and see their sloe-like eyes sparkle, as you arose and looked along the rib of you faithful gun and pulled the trigger. Then such a pounding of sheering wings, such confusion of white collars on black necks of ashen-sails and swarthy feet, that would crowd upon your excited vision, was worth months of life to behold.

But as marvelous as that morning's flight was, it was about all we got of the birds that day. By 10 o'clock the air was devoid of feathered passengers as if there was not a duck this side the warm lagoons of the gulf, and while through the day we got occasional shots at wary bunches and single stragglers, there was noting inspiring about it. The evening flight was big, but the birds seemed to have got on to us, and they almost wholly gave our end of the lake the go-by. Off over Dewey and Clear lakes the aerial paths fairly swarmed with the hurrying hordes, and even at such a distance it was a grand sight. But we had certainly had our portion of the day's flight and just just before sundown Sam was signalled from his stand, a mile off on the prairie, and was soon rumbling eagerly our way. The last of the dead birds piled on the straw in the wagon's bed, we climbed in and in the soft twilight started down the winding valley road for home.

  • The blackbirds flew to their roosting place,
  • As the sun went down;
  • And far in the sky the goose's flight we traced,
  • In flocks that wavered and interlaced,
  • As the sun went down.
  • The coyote yipped by the lake's black rim,
  • As the sun went down;
  • And the rushes stood all grim and slim,
  • Where the mists gathered gray and dim,
  • As the sun went down.
  • A teal comes past with a swish of wings,
  • As the sun went down;
  • And the folds of the twilight creeps and clings
  • To the flagstalks and a whipperwill sings,
  • As the sun went down.

Jocund, truly, was our last day in the sandhills, not only from a meteorological standpoint, but from the grand sport we had as well. There was a cool, gray light hovering over Hackberry when we emerged from the lodge at dawn in the morning, but the open water stretched away like a sheet of glass. The domes of the distant sandhills at the west end rose indistinctly as if reared in air, with dark pictures below them. The atmosphere was fresh almost to chilliness, yet sweet with the odors of spring. The sod house looked ghostly, the prairie gloomy. A lone coyote, squatted on his haunches on the slope of the hill to the east of the house, was yawping and yelping in the defiance of our presence. There were no ducks in the air, but an osprey was sailing over the lake.

"We are going to have a fine day," observed Sam. "When the kiyote sings that tune in the early morn make up your mind he's goin' to hide from the sun all day."

And true enough, even before we were summoned to breakfast a drowsy twitter was creeping through the valley. The ashes in the eastern heavens began to dissolve and kindle into a transparent gray, and the coyote, with one long wistful look down toward the ranch, turned tail, and with drooping head trotted back into the embouchure of the hills, along whose barren crest a yellow hue was stealing. The farther ridges began to stalk forth from the lingering mists, and clouds of what looked like steam, lifted from the water. The rice and reeds soon stood out boldly, the blackbirds began to stir, and diffusing colors to fill the air.

As we came forth to make ready for our last trip down the lake there was roses blushing at the zenith, and the ruby in the east was turning into gold. The lake was quickly a prism of gemmed colors, a stream of topaz poured over the sandhill summits, and as Sam came rumbling up the lodge door with the wagon, the sun, pouring his beautiful lustre through a vista of the sand ridges, struck all the world into gladdening light.

Our hurriedly conceived plan was for the whole party, the Judge, Fred, Gerard, Sam, Rivers and myself, should go down to the foot of Hackberry and work throughout the morning flight, then return, pack up and prepare for departure home.

Guns, decoys, shell cases and other impediments deposited carefully in the bottom of the wagon, we all climbed in-a tight squeeze-and Sam cracked his gad, and away we went, Roxy and Sport caracoling in an exuberance of delight in front, behind and on all sides. Around the glistening peninsula we whirled, past as fine snipe grounds as can be found in the world, the dogs, on a rollicking canter, showing the way, on around over the traveled road, through the low draw, and out onto the plain again, then over the road, close to the marshes' quaking shore; past glimmering and besmirched snowbanks that lingered on the north side of the low knolls, past the widening expanse of the overflow, past low, black soggy bog lands, with their gleaming pools and splotches, where the water eddied and sparkled, past fields of stripped rice and bedraggled tules, grassy pastures, barren slopes, cactus clusters, dog holes, fireguards, moldy haystacks and blood-budded beds of wild rose bushes, until we reached the lowe end of the lake, where broad fields of rice stretched away on either hand, offering all sorts of cover for blinds and hiding from the birds, which by this time had begun to move.

The Judge, Gerard and I were stationed in the little circular pen amidst the reeds and rice that Gerard and I had occupied days before, while Fred and Rivers hurried off down around the distant point below us, where the rancher's hope and promise said they would be on the flyway of the canvasback. Sam drove the team off up the draw and soon the sport was on.

We were watching Fred and Rivers as they advanced around the lake, with Roxy and Sport at heel, and missed a bunch of whizzing redheads which came upon us as if they had dropped from the sky. To be sure the Judge did shoot, and to be sure a little puff of slate-colored feathers, like thistle down, floated back from the flock and over us, but that was all; the birds had gotten too far away, and he did well to displace even a feather.

Fred and Rivers, true to their instincts were slashing forward with all possible haste, prying into every weed muskrat road and bending low as they forced their way through the forests of rice and cane. Now they crouch, so low that tail of the young capitalist's hunting coat dips into the brackish waters, as a bunch of mallards bear down upon them from over the low hills in the direction of Long lake. A couple of thinnish puffs of smoke, shoot into the sunshine, then the light crack of four good Peters shells, one after the other, in rapid succession, greet us, and, duck hunter, envy them, four, big fat birds came gyrating and fluttering down and into the weedy shallows.

We saw Fred gather up the dead birds and tossing them in a pile, pulled the reeds down over them to keep off the sun, then together they trudged on again. They were just rounding the curve on the other side, when they jumped a big flock of feeding green-wing teal-there must have been several thousand of them-and we saw both men pour in a raking shot. They killed fully a dozen and maybe more, for we could see the birds falling all along the line, so many and so fast that we didn't undertake to count them. The next moment we see Fred poke it into a bunch pintails, fairly scraping the sky, and by Rivers' gesticulations we know that he was expostulating with the enthusiastic young capitalist about his prodigal waste of ammunition, and then as they move on we see them halt again and Goodrich knocks down a redtail hawk that has been feasting on the carcass of a dead duck in the tules, where they find its remains undoubtedly pulled into mince-meat. We saw them stoop over as if examining just what sort of duck it was, then rise and go "slashing" on again, banging away as they advanced at everything that happened along, their canvas coats lancing like the backs of a couple of herons as they moved in and out of the rice and rushes. It was our last day in the sandhills, and it was plain to be seen that Fred intended to make the most of it. Finally they reached the point they were aiming for, a jutting point almost opposite us, but a mile away, and we saw them arranging their decoys, and we turned our attention to our own immediate surroundings, and it is well we did, for we had barely knelt upon our bed of dead tules when a line of geese came over the low southern hills.

Double on ducks at Clear Lake - 5 Oct 1902 OWH.
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The Judge's Double on Clear Lake.

"Now, Gerard, keep perfectly quiet, don't bat an eye," I remarked in a whisper, as the Judge and I bent low behind the waving ribbons of our blind. Announcing their progress with mellow honks the outstretched string of great gray birds came swiftly toward us, growing rapidly larger, as the flock widened out, for the Canada goose, though a slow, cumbersome looking fellow awing, is an astonishingly speedy flier. On they came, the auh-aunk of the leader sounding clearer and deeper with every utterance, and I could hardly resist the temptation to lift my head for a better look, but I did not, but in breathless suspense waited, not an hour, as it seemed, only a few seconds. Wiff, wiff, wiff, wiff, wiff that was the heavy sound of their great wings, and together the Judge and I jumped to our feet and poured it into them. The scene was calculated to stir a tumult in one's blood, and seldom is so much excitement condensed into so short a space of time, as when you behold the air filled with those big thumping wings, sheering in wildest consternation, this way and that, in fact in all directions, to get away from that fatal spot, and hear that medley of aunk-honk-onk-onk-auh-wonks-wonks, your heart beats wildly and you feel almost as if you could rise and start off in their wake.

Gerard was on his feet as quickly as we were, and as those great gray birds came tumbling down into the grass and weeds after the reports of our Parkers, he stood clapping his little hands in an excess of keenest enjoyment.

But my space is limited, and while there are hundreds of little events and happenings that yet remain to be told, I must have ere this wearied the reader with my long drawn out story of a wonderful spring duck hunt, and with a paragraph or two I will dismiss the theme until a more fitting and opportune time.

Indeed, our last day at Stilwell's was a memorable one. The broad sprawling lake and its tangly surroundings was literally alive with feathered game and the lovely spring morning was all too short.

There is no need of telling of the ducks we killed, that can be guessed at when I say that often flocks of mallards would skim along the surface of the water holes and rice beds so close to our blinds that we could almost count the blue bars on their wings. Clear up to 10 o'clock, myriads of water fowl of all species, traveling from the south, swept on without slackening wing and we had a glorious morning's shoot. Once during a brief lull, a jacksnipe came trotting along the boggy strip lying between us and the sloping shore, and keeping perfectly still, we saw the royal little rascal probe the mud with his long, soft bill around him, and we saw him, too, pull out worm after worm and sling them down his marvelous throat with a little toss of the head that was as interesting as it was peculiar. After the engulfing of one of these morsels he would stand a few seconds with a look of sublime content in his deep, dark eye, and perhaps squat a moment or two in some little tuft of grass, though he generally wore a restless foot and seemed forever on the go.

But all things, the smiling and the frowning as well, come to an end, as did our vernal outing in the Cherry county sandhills, and its memory has been swallowed up amidst the gloom and humdrum of every-day life, for several months, only, however, to break forth fresh and green, in moments of leisure and idleness. But men must work and women must weep, thought the sandhill winds be moaning, and though care and worry lie at the end of all golden days, we live on in hope that the chain has not been forever broken, and that when along the distant marsh's moist shore the azure bloom of the mimulous begins to help out the brilliant blue of the wild lobelia, and the arrowy tules begin to brown, that another happy link will be forged, and when the chill nights in the far north once more start the vanguard of the great quacking hordes on their southward flight, that we may once again find ourselves in the old sod lodge at Stilwell's, resting like the eye of fate amidst the flaunting banners of October, deep within our wonderful sandhills.