“All right,” Nick said. “You want to take him?”
“No, Nickie. No.”
Nick went forward into the willows and picked up the three grouse and batted their heads against the butt of the rifle stock and laid them out on the moss. His sister felt them, warm and full-breasted and beautifully feathered.
“Wait till we eat them,” Nick said. He was very happy.
“I’m sorry for them now,” his sister said. “They were enjoying the morning just like we were.”
She looked up at the grouse still in the tree.
“It does look a little silly still staring down,” she said.
“This time of year the Indians call them fool hens. After they’ve been hunted they get smart. They’re not the real fool hens. Those never get smart. They’re willow grouse. These are ruffed grouse.”
“I hope we’ll get smart,” his sister said. “Tell him to go away, Nickie.”
“You tell him.”
“Go away, partridge.”
The grouse did not move.
Nick raised the rifle and the grouse looked at him. Nick knew he could not shoot the bird without making his sister sad and he made a noise blowing out so his tongue rattled and lips shook like a grouse bursting from cover and the bird looked at him fascinated.
“We better not annoy him,” Nick said.
“I’m sorry, Nickie,” his sister said. “He is stupid.”
“Wait till we eat them,” Nick told her. “You’ll see why we hunt them.”
“Are they out of season, too?”
“Sure. But they are full grown and nobody but us would ever hunt them. I kill plenty of great horned owls and a great horned owl will kill a partridge every day if he can. They hunt all the time and they kill all the good birds.”
“He certainly could kill that one easy,” his sister said. “I don’t feel bad any more. Do you want a bag to carry them in?”
“I’ll draw them and then pack them in the bag with some ferns. It isn’t so far to the berries now.”
They sat against one of the cedars and Nick opened the birds and took out their warm entrails and feeling the inside of the birds hot on his right hand he found the edible parts of the giblets and cleaned them and then washed them in the stream. When the birds were cleaned he smoothed their feathers and wrapped them in ferns and put them in the flour sack. He tied the mouth of the flour sack and two corners with a piece of fish line and slung it over his shoulder and then went back to the stream and dropped the entrails in and tossed some bright pieces of lung in to see the trout rise in the rapid heavy flow of the water.
“They’d make good bait but we don’t need bait now,” he said. “Our trout are all in the stream and we’ll take them when we need them.”
“This stream would make us rich if it was near home,” his sister said.
“It would be fished out then. This is the last really wild stream there is except in another awful country to get to beyond the foot of the lake. I never brought anybody here to fish.”
“Who ever fishes it?”
“Nobody I know.”
“Is it a virgin stream?”
“No. Indians fish it. But they’re gone now since they quit cutting hemlock bark and the camps closed down.”
“Does the Evans boy know?”
“Not him,” Nick said. But then he thought about it and it made him feel sick. He could see the Evans boy.
“What’re you thinking, Nickie?”
“I wasn’t thinking.”
“You were thinking. You tell me. We’re partners.”
“He might know,” Nick said. “Goddam it. He might know.”
“But you don’t know that he knows?”
“No. That’s the trouble. If I did I’d get out.”
“Maybe he’s back at camp now,” his sister said.
“Don’t talk that way. Do you want to bring him?”
“No,” she said. “Please, Nickie, I’m sorry I brought it up.”
“I’m not,” Nick said. “I’m grateful. I knew it anyway. Only I’d stopped thinking about it. I have to think about things now the rest of my life.”
“You always thought about things.”