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The Adirondacks
by [?]

After it was thoroughly dark, we went down to make a short trial trip. Everything working to satisfaction, about ten o’clock we pushed out in earnest. For the twentieth time I felt in the pocket that contained the matches, ran over the part I was to perform, and pressed my gun firmly, to be sure there was no mistake. My position was that of kneeling directly under the jack, which I was to light at the word. The night was clear, moonless, and still. Nearing the middle of the lake, a breeze from the west was barely perceptible, and noiselessly we glided before it. The guide handled his oar with great dexterity; without lifting it from the water or breaking the surface, he imparted the steady, uniform motion desired. How silent it was! The ear seemed the only sense, and to hold dominion over lake and forest. Occasionally a lily-pad would brush along the bottom, and stooping low I could hear a faint murmuring of the water under the bow: else all was still. Then almost as by magic, we were encompassed by a huge black ring. The surface of the lake, when we had reached the center, was slightly luminous from the starlight, and the dark, even forest-line that surrounded us, doubled by reflection in the water, presented a broad, unbroken belt of utter blackness. The effect was quite startling, like some huge conjurer’s trick. It seemed as if we had crossed the boundary-line between the real and the imaginary, and this was indeed the land of shadows and of spectres. What magic oar was that the guide wielded that it could transport me to such a realm! Indeed, had I not committed some fatal mistake, and left that trusty servant behind, and had not some wizard of the night stepped into his place? A slight splashing in-shore broke the spell and caused me to turn nervously to the oarsman: “Musquash,” said he, and kept strait on.

Nearing the extreme end of the pond, the boat gently headed around, and silently we glided back into the clasp of that strange orbit. Slight sounds were heard as before, but nothing that indicated the presence of the game we were waiting for; and we reached the point of departure as innocent of venison as we had set out.

After an hour’s delay, and near midnight, we pushed out again. My vigilance and susceptibility were rather sharpened than dulled by the waiting; and the features of the night had also deepened and intensified. Night was at its meridian. The sky had that soft luminousness which may often be observed near midnight at this season, and the “large few stars” beamed mildly down. We floated out into that spectral shadow-land and moved slowly on as before. The silence was most impressive. Now and then the faint yeap of some traveling bird would come from the air overhead, or the wings of a bat whisp quickly by, or an owl hoot off in the mountains, giving to the silence and loneliness a tongue. At short intervals some noise in-shore would startle me, and cause me to turn inquiringly to the silent figure in the stern.

The end of the lake was reached, and we turned back. The novelty and the excitement began to flag; tired nature began to assert her claims; the movement was soothing, and the gunner slumbered fitfully at his post. Presently something aroused me. “There’s a deer,” whispered the guide. The gun heard, and fairly jumped in my hand. Listening, there came the crackling of a limb, followed by a sound as of something walking in shallow water. It proceeded from the other end of the lake, over against our camp. On we sped, noiselessly as ever, but with increased velocity. Presently, with a thrill of new intensity, I saw the boat was gradually heading in that direction. Now, to a sportsman who gets excited over a gray squirrel, and forgets that he has a gun on the sudden appearance of a fox, this was a severe trial. I suddenly felt cramped for room, and trimming the boat was out of the question. It seemed that I must make some noise in spite of myself. “Light the jack,” said a soft whisper behind me. I fumbled nervously for a match, and dropped the first one. Another was drawn briskly across my knee and broke. A third lighted. but went out prematurely, in my haste to get it to the jack. What would I not have given to see those wicks blaze! We were fast nearing the shore,–already the lily-pads began to brush along the bottom. Another attempt, and the light took. The gentle motion fanned the blaze, and in a moment a broad glare of light fell upon the water in front of us, while the boat remained in utter darkness.