Followers of the Trail
by Zoe Meyer
THE CALL OF THE
OF KAGH, THE
THE TRAIL OF THE
IN THE BEAVERS'
WHEN THE MOON IS
THE HAUNTER OF
HOLDS NO TERRORS
IN THE WAKE OF
THE WHITE WOLF
[Illustration: The Hermit and Pal Took Many a Trip into the forest.]
FOLLOWERS OF THE TRAIL
By ZOE MEYER
Illustrated by WILLIAM F. STECHER
Boston Little, Brown, And Company 1926
Copyright, 1926, By Little, Brown, and Company.
All rights reserved
Published May, 1926 Printed in the United States of America
FOLLOWERS OF THE TRAIL
In the depths of the green wilderness, where dark spruce and hemlock
guard the secrets of the trail, are still to be found wild creatures
who know little of man and who regard him with more of curiosity than
of fear. Woodland ponds, whose placid waters have never reflected the
dark lines of a canoe, lie like jewels in their setting of green hills;
ponds where soft-eyed deer come down to drink at twilight, and where
the weird laughter of the loon floats through the morning mists. Toward
the south, however, man is fast penetrating the secrets of the forest,
blazing dim trails and leaving fear and destruction in the wake of his
guns and traps.
Occasionally a hunter, unarmed save perhaps for a camera, enters the
wilderness to study its inhabitants, not that he may destroy them, but
that he may the better understand them, and through them draw closer to
nature. Such a man was the Hermit, who dwelt alone in a log cabin where
the southern border of the wilderness terminated abruptly at an old
snake fence. Tall forest trees leaned toward the clearing and many a
follower of dim forest trails approached the fence during the hours of
darkness to peer curiously, though somewhat fearfully, at the lonely
Perhaps the visitor might be a black bear in search of the berries
which were sure to be found at the edges of the cleared ground; perhaps
a lynx, staring with pale, savage eyes upon the cabin, hating the man
who occupied it, yet fearing his power. Again it might be an antlered
deer who paused a moment, one dainty hoof uplifted, brown eyes, wholly
curious, fixed upon the silent dwelling. Only the smaller woodfolk such
as rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, porcupines, and now and then a fox,
dared make a closer investigation of the clearing.
As for the man himself, he would, if possible, have made a friend of
every wild creature who came near his dwelling. Broken in health, he
had turned wearily from the rush and clamor of the city to the clear,
balsam-scented air of the woods, where he was fast gaining a health and
vigor that he had not believed possible. Out of a lean face, tanned by
exposure and wrinkled with kindly humor, a pair of keen gray eyes
looked with never-flagging interest upon the busy world about him.
The Hermit, in spite of his comparative isolation from those of his
kind, was far from leading a life of uselessness. Having been from
boyhood an enthusiastic student of botany, he had located in the big
woods many a leaf, bark and root which, when sent back into the busy
world, proved a blessing to ailing humanity.
He knew where to find the aromatic spice-bush to cool the burning of
fever, and where in the spring grew the tenderest willow twigs whose
bark went into cures for rheumatism. Sassafras yielded its savory roots
for tea and tonics, and the purplish red pokeberry supplied a valuable
blood purifier. So he harvested the woods for others, at the same time
finding for himself health and contentment.
Twice yearly he took his harvest to the nearest shipping center,
setting forth as the first streaks of dawn appeared in the east, and
returning when the serrated wall of the wilderness was etched sharply
against the sunset sky, and the songs of the robin and the hermit
thrush gave voice to the twilight.
Since his arrival at the cabin the Hermit had been much alone, his
only visitors being occasional hunters or trappers who passed his home
by chance, or asked shelter when overtaken by the night. At infrequent
intervals one of his distant neighbors would drop in to chat or to ask
aid in case of illness or accident, for many had found the Hermit a
help at such a time. They were, for the most part, busy farmers
wresting a home from the wilderness, a task which left them little idle
One summer evening, as the fiery ball of the sun was sinking out of
sight behind the forest wall, leaving the world bathed in the hush of
twilight, the Hermit heard a scratching upon his doorstep. Looking up
from the fire over which he was cooking his supper, he saw in the open
doorway a small black and white dog, its forefeet upon the sill, its
great brown eyes fixed in mute appeal upon the face of the man. A
moment they looked into each other's eyes; then, without a word, the
Hermit held out his hand.
It was a simple gesture, yet it heralded a change in the lives of
both. Into the eyes of the homeless dog sprang a glad light, followed
by such a look of adoration that the man experienced a warm glow of
pleasure. Out of their loneliness each had found a friend.
From that day the two were never far apart. When the Hermit went
into the forest for his harvesting, Pal, as the wanderer had been
named, accompanied him, his proud protector. While the man worked, Pal
often ranged the near-by woods, his sensitive nose eagerly seeking out
the latest news of the wild; yet he was never out of sound of the
Hermit's call. To the dog, as to the man, the woods were a never-ending
source of interest, and he seldom offered to molest the wild creatures
unless they seemed unfriendly toward his master. Pal would have
attacked the biggest beast of the wilderness unhesitatingly in defense
of the one who had befriended him.
In going about his work the Hermit, as a rule, saw few of the forest
inhabitants, but from tree or thicket bright eyes were sure to be
following his every movement with keen interest. Fear, when once
instilled into the wild creatures, is not easily banished, but little
by little they came to regard this quiet man as a friend.
An instance of their trust was shown one day when, as the Hermit
worked in his herb garden at the rear of the cabin, a rabbit slipped
through the fence. With great bounds the little animal crossed the
garden toward him, its ears lying along its back and its gentle eyes
wide with terror. The Hermit glanced up in surprise; then his face set
and he raised his hoe threateningly. Close behind the fleeing bunny
came a weasel, its savage red eyes seeing nothing but its expected
prey. In another bound the rabbit would have been overtaken and have
suffered a terrible death had not the Hermit stepped between with his
With a snarl the weasel paused, its eyes flaming with hatred. For a
moment it seemed inclined to attack the man. At that point Pal rounded
the corner of the cabin to see the savage little beast confronting his
adored master. The sight aroused all the ferocity in the dog's nature.
The light of battle flared in his usually mild eyes and the hair rose
stiffly along his back. With a sharp bark, he charged. The weasel,
seeing itself outnumbered, turned and sped toward the forest, where it
vanished with the dog in hot pursuit. The Hermit returned to his
hoeing, glad that he and Pal had been the means of saving one life from
the cruel fangs which kill purely for the lust of killing.
On another day the Hermit owed his own life to the faithful dog. He
had gone some distance into the woods to visit a bed of ginseng which
he had discovered a fortnight before. In the rich leaf-mold the plants
grew lustily, covering the forest floor for some distance with their
spreading green umbrellas. With delighted eyes the Hermit stood gazing
upon his rich find, but when he stooped to ascertain whether or not the
roots were ready for drying, his outstretched hand was quickly arrested
by Pal's frenzied barking. He quickly withdrew his hand and moved
slightly until he could follow the dog's gaze. There, scarcely a foot
away, lay a coiled rattler, the ugly head raised. Even as the man
looked, the tail sent out its deadly warning.
The Hermit was surprised but not alarmed, for he had dealt with
rattlers before. With one blow of the mattock, which he always carried
for digging, the head of the big snake was crushed and its poisoned
fangs buried in the earth.
Good old Pal! You probably saved my life. I would never have seen
the reptile in time, the Hermit said feelingly, as he patted the head
of the gratified dog. The rattles were carried home as trophies and the
love between man and dog was deepened, if such a thing were possible.
Thus, with long rambles in the forest and with hours of harvesting
and drying roots and berries, the days sped by, lengthening into weeks
and the weeks into months. Birch and maple dropped their leaves, a
rustling carpet about their feet. Wedges of wild geese winged their way
southward through the trackless sky, making the nights vocal with their
honking. The bear, woodchuck, skunk, raccoon and chipmunk, fat from
their summer feeding, had retired to den or hollow tree where they were
to sleep snugly through the cold months.
Then one night the Storm King swept down from the North, locking the
forest in a frozen grip which only the spring could break. A thick
mantle of snow covered the wilderness over which a deep silence
brooded, broken now and then by a sharp report from some great pine or
spruce as the frost penetrated its fibers. The sun, which now shone but
a few hours of the day, could make no headway against the intense cold,
but those creatures of the wilderness which were still abroad were
prepared to meet it with warm coats of fur, through which the frost
could not penetrate.
The Hermit and Pal enjoyed the short crisp days and took many a trip
into the forest, the man upon snowshoes, the dog with his light weight
easily upborne by the crust. Then there were long, quiet evenings by
the fire, when the Hermit studied and Pal drowsed beside him, one eye
on the man, ready to respond to the least sign of attention.
At this season of hunger many wild creatures, which in the days of
abundance were too shy to approach the cabin, overcame their timidity,
to feast upon the good things spread for them about the clearing. The
birds, especially, grew so tame that they would fly to meet the Hermit
the moment he stepped forth. The bolder ones even found a perch on his
shoulders or head, chatting sociably or scolding at each other.
Occasionally one of the larger animals visited the banquet, and though
these were regarded somewhat askance by the regular frequenters, a
truce which was never violated held about the food supply.
One clear, crisp day in the late winter when the snow crust sparkled
under the sun's rays as if strewn with diamond dust, and the cold was
intense, Pal frolicked away by himself into the woods as the Hermit was
feeding his wild friends. That was nothing unusual but, as the
afternoon wore on and he did not return, his master began to feel a
slight uneasiness. Pal had never before stayed away so long.
Occasionally the Hermit went to the window which looked out upon the
dark wall of the wilderness, but there was no movement in its borders
and the cold soon drove him back to his warm fireside.
At length, when the sun was well down in the western sky, there came
a familiar scratching on the door of the cabin. The Hermit sprang to
open it, giving a relieved laugh at sight of Pal upon the doorstep.
But, strange to say, the dog would not enter. With a sharp bark he
trotted a short distance down the path, looking back at his master.
No, no, Pal, I don't want to take a walk to-day. Come in and get
warm, you rascal, and give an account of yourself, the Hermit called,
still holding the door open though the air was chilling.
The dog wagged his tail, but made no move toward the house. Instead,
he whined, trotted a few steps farther and looked eagerly back into his
master's face. It was clear to the Hermit that Pal wished him to
follow, but for a moment he hesitated, contrasting the warmth within
the cabin with the bitter cold and loneliness of the forest. Then he
looked again at the dog, who had not taken his pleading eyes from his
All right, Pal, just come in until I bundle up. This cold would
freeze a man in no time if he were not well protected.
The Hermit turned back into the cabin and the dog, apparently
understanding, no longer hung back. His adored master had not failed
him. A few minutes later both issued from the house with the dog in the
lead, soon disappearing from sight in the shadows of the forest.
In the morning of that same day Dave Lansing, a young hunter and
trapper, had left his rude cabin some miles to the north of the
Hermit's clearing to visit his trap line. Ill luck seemed to be with
him. In the first place he had been delayed long after his accustomed
time for starting. Then, one after another, he had found his traps
rifled, until he had turned away from the last one angry and disgusted.
Still a perverse fate seemed to be following him. Several miles from
his cabin, he stumbled upon something buried in the snow; there was a
sharp click, and with a sudden grunt of pain he sank to the ground, his
axe flying from his hand and skimming for some distance over the smooth
Dave sat up, dazed. The pain which he suffered, however, soon
cleared his brain and he found that he was caught in the steel jaws of
a trap. The trap was not of his own setting, but this made him no less
a captive. He tried to press open the jaws but they held stubbornly.
Then he remembered his axe. Crawling as far as the trap would permit,
he stretched himself at full length upon the snow and reached
desperately. The instrument which would have been his salvation was six
inches out of reach. Moreover, the strain upon his foot was so
unbearable that he was obliged to draw back in order to ease it.
Now, as the full significance of his plight dawned upon him, even
Dave's stout heart quailed. He was helpless to free himself without the
axe, and so far as he knew there was no human being within ten miles of
the spot. Moreover the intense cold was beginning to penetrate his warm
clothing. He no longer felt the pain of his imprisoned foot.
Circulation had slowed down and numbness was fast creeping up his limb.
He swung his arms and beat his hands upon his breast, but in spite of
all he could do the chill penetrated more deeply into his bones. He
realized that if he were not rescued within a few hours he would freeze
to death, for no one could long remain inactive in that biting cold.
Dave smiled somewhat grimly as he reflected that he was now in the
predicament of the helpless creatures which every day perished in his
Suddenly his unpleasant thoughts were interrupted by a scratching in
the snow behind him, and turning quickly he saw a small black and white
dog regarding him in a friendly manner. Dave's heart leaped. Surely,
where there was a dog there must be a man. He held out his hand to the
dog while he shouted again and again with all his might, waiting
breathlessly each time for the answer which did not come.
At length he gave up the attempt and turned his attention to his
small companion. It was evident that the dog was alone, but perhaps if
he could be made to understand, he might bring help. With this thought
new hope returned. Pointing in the direction from which the dog had
appeared and looking intently into the great brown eyes, Dave
commanded, Go, sir! Go get your master.
Several times the words were repeated while Pal stood undecided.
Then suddenly he seemed to understand and with a joyous bark trotted
swiftly away and soon disappeared down a white corridor of the woods.
It was not until he had gone that Dave remembered the axe which the dog
might have brought to him had he not, in his eagerness, forgotten it.
He groaned and buried his face in his hands, but the opportunity was
gone and he resolutely fixed his thoughts upon the hope of the dog's
The woods were very still. As the coppery sun sank lower, it cast
long blue shadows upon the snow, while the cold grew more intense. Dave
shivered and huddled down as far as possible into his coat.
Gradually there grew upon him the feeling that he was not alone;
that he was being watched by hostile eyes. A strange prickling of his
scalp under his fur cap caused him to turn his head slightly and so
meet the unwinking gaze of a pair of pale yellow orbs. Involuntarily
Dave stiffened. The creature's round, moon-like face, gray-brown fur
and tufted ears proclaimed it a Canada lynx, one of the most savage of
the cat tribe.
[Illustration: Slowly it advanced, its body almost brushing the
As a rule, the lynx, in common with other wilderness inhabitants, is
shy of man; still he is not to be trusted. The winter had been a hard
one, game was scarce and the animal was emboldened by hunger. Moreover
it seemed to know that the man was crippled. Slowly it advanced, its
body almost brushing the snow, its huge furry pads making no sound upon
the smooth crust, its unwinking eyes fixed upon those of the man.
The perspiration stood out upon Dave's forehead as he stared back
into the brilliant, cruel eyes of the lynx. He was unarmed save for his
hunting knife, a poor weapon against so savage a beast, yet he drew it,
determined to die fighting.
A few paces away the lynx paused and the trapper could see the
muscles of its powerful hind legs gather for the spring. His own
muscles braced instinctively to meet it. But strangely the animal's
attention wavered. It sniffed the air uncertainly. An instant later
there came a furious barking and a yell which seemed to shatter the
silence as a delicate vase is shattered by a blow. The lynx shrank back
and with one bound melted into the shadows of the forest. At the same
moment Pal, closely followed by his master, rushed up and with a
friendly red tongue licked the trapper's face.
I didn't know I could yell so, chuckled the Hermit. Like to
scared the beast to death. It is a good thing Pal found you when he
did, though. You look about frozen.
He had picked up the trapper's axe, which he now used to good
effect. In another moment the cruel jaws of the trap had been loosened
and the foot was free, though Dave was unable to stand. Good woodsmen
as they were, they were equal to the emergency. The axe again came into
play, and on a rude sledge made of thick spruce boughs, the wounded man
began the trip to the Hermit's cabin which was nearer than his own. Pal
frisked joyously about, now at the head of the little procession, again
bringing up the rear, growling deep in his throat at some imaginary
enemy of the wonderful beings whom it was his duty to protect. It was
some distance through the heavy forest, fast growing shadowy with the
coming of night. Before the old rail fence came into view, the Hermit
was spent with fatigue, while Dave Lansing was all but fainting from
the pain of his rough ride.
At length, however, the cabin was reached. The almost frozen trapper
was gradually thawed out and his wound dressed, the Hermit showing
himself wonderfully skillful in the process. This done, the host set
about the preparation of supper while Dave lay comfortably in the bunk
watching him, with a warm glow of thankfulness for his rescue and a
determination to be more humane in his dealings with the creatures of
the wild. As for Pal, he dozed contentedly before the fire, his eyes
occasionally turning to the man whom he had rescued from death, but for
the most part following every movement of his adored master.
THE CALL OF THE SPRING
As the days began to lengthen and the sun climbed higher, the forest
country of the north stirred under the icy fetters that had bound it
for long, weary months, during which the snow had drifted deep and
famine had stalked the trails. Under the influence of a warm south wind
the sunlit hours became musical with the steady drip, drip of melting
snow, while new life seemed to flow in the veins of the forest
creatures grown gaunt under the pinch of hunger. Only Kagh, the
porcupine, had remained full fed, but Kagh had been unusually blessed
by a kind Providence, in that every tree held a meal for him in its
soft inner fibers.
It was yet too early to expect the final breaking up of winter.
There would still be days when the cold would be intense and snow would
drift in the trails. Nevertheless spring had called, and even the
sluggish blood of the porcupine responded. Every day the earth's white
mantle grew more frayed about the edges, leaving a faint tinge of green
on warm southward slopes.
It was on one of these mild days that Mokwa, the black bear,
shouldered aside the underbrush which concealed the mouth of the snug
cave where he had hibernated, and stepped forth into the awakening
world. Half blinded by the glare of sunlight upon the snow, he stood
blinking in the doorway before he shambled down the slope to a great
oak tree where a vigorous scratching among the snow and leaves brought
to light a number of acorns. These he devoured greedily and, having
crunched the last sweet morsel, sniffed eagerly about for more. Mokwa
had fasted long, and now his appetite demanded more hearty fare than
nuts and acorns.
The nights were chill, but each day brought a perceptible shrinking
of the snowy mantle, leaving bare patches of wet, brown earth. One day
Mokwa, breaking through a thick clump of juniper bushes, came out upon
the bank of the Little Vermilion, its glassy surface as yet apparently
unaffected by the thaw. For a moment the bear hesitated, his little
near-sighted eyes searching the opposite bank and his nose sniffing the
wind inquiringly; then, as if reassured, he stepped out upon the ice
and made for the opposite shore.
On the surface the ice appeared solid enough, but in reality it was
so honeycombed by the thaw that it threatened to break up at any moment
and go out with a rush. Mokwa was in mid-stream when a slight tremor
beneath his feet warned him of danger. He broke into a shuffling trot,
but had gone only a few steps when, with a groaning and cracking which
made the hair rise upon his back, the entire surface of the river
seemed to heave. A great crack appeared just before him. With a frantic
leap he cleared it, only to be confronted the next moment by a lane of
rushing black water too wide for even his powerful muscles to bridge.
Mokwa crouched down in the center of his ice cake, which was now being
swept along in mid-stream with a rapidity which made him giddy. The
weight of the bear helped to steady his queer craft, and unless it
should strike another floating cake, Mokwa was in no immediate danger.
Thus he drifted for miles, while the banks seemed to glide swiftly
to the rear and the stream grew gradually wider. At length a faint
roar, growing louder every moment, caused Mokwa to stir uneasily as he
peered ahead across the seething mass of black water and tumbling ice
cakes. Suddenly his body stiffened and his eyes took on new hope. His
cake had entered a side current which carried him near shore. Closer
and closer drifted the great cakes all about him until at length, with
a hoarse grinding, they met, piling one upon the other, but making a
solid bridge from shore to shore. The jam lasted but a moment, but in
that moment the bear leaped, as if on steel springs, and as the ice
again drifted apart and swept on to the falls not far below, he
scrambled ashore, panting but safe. Here, with tongue hanging out, he
stood a moment watching the heaving waters which seemed maddened at the
loss of their prey. Then he turned and vanished into the forest.
Mokwa now found himself in unknown territory, but, as he managed to
find food to supply his needs, he accepted the situation
philosophically and was far from being unhappy.
One day his wanderings brought him to the edge of the wilderness
where, inclosed by a zigzag fence of rails, he caught his first glimpse
of human habitation. Concealed in a clump of young poplars, he gazed
curiously at the Hermit who was chopping wood at the rear of his cabin,
and at Pal who ran about, sniffing eagerly here and there, but never
far from his adored master.
At length one of his excursions into the border of the forest
brought to Pal's keen nostrils the scent of the bear. Pal hated bears.
The hair stiffened along his back while a growl grew in his throat,
rumbled threateningly and broke forth into a volley of shrill barks.
Bear! Bear! Bear! he called in plain dog language; but the ears of
the Hermit seemed to be strangely dull and, thinking that the dog had
taken up the trail of a rabbit or at the most that of a fox, he
whistled Pal back to the clearing. Pal obeyed reluctantly, stopping
every few steps to look back and voice his opinion of the intruder;
but, by the time he had joined his master, the bear had slipped into
Late that same afternoon, as Mokwa stood at the top of a small hill,
a bright glitter from a grove of straight, smooth trees below, caught
his eye. The glitter was alluring and, with no thought save to gratify
his curiosity, the bear shambled quickly down the slope and brought up
before a tree on the trunk of which hung a small, shining bucket. The
sunlight reflected from the tin dazzled his little eyes, while to his
ears came a curious, musical plop, plop.
Without even taking the precaution to glance around him, Mokwa
reared upon his haunches and examined the pail into which a clear fluid
splashed, drop by drop, from a little trough inserted in the tree. A
faint but delectable odour drifted to the sniffing black nose of the
bear. It was Mokwa's first experience with maple sap and he proceeded
to make the most of it.
Though unable to reach the liquid, owing to the smallness of the
pail, he could easily lick the spile which conveyed the sap from the
tree, and this Mokwa did with evident relish. His tongue sought out
every crevice and even greedily lapped the tree about the gash; then,
growing impatient at the slowness with which the wonderful fluid
appeared, he turned his attention to the pail. Mokwa wished, no doubt,
that several inches might have been added to the length of his tongue,
but, though that useful member failed him, necessity found a way. He
soon discovered that it was possible to dip in one paw from which the
sweetness could easily be licked. However, the pressure of his other
paw upon the rim of the pail caused it to tip, and sliding from the
spile, it rolled upon the ground.
The accident did not dismay the bear. On the contrary it filled him
with joy, for it served to bring the contents of the pail within reach,
and he lapped up every drop before it could soak into the earth. The
pail, too, was cleansed of sap as far as the eager tongue could reach,
though, during the process, it rolled about in a way which sorely tried
the bear's patience. At length it came to rest against the trunk of a
tree, with which solid backing Mokwa was enabled to thrust in his
muzzle far enough to lap up the last sweet drops.
But alas! when he attempted to withdraw his head, Mokwa found
himself a prisoner. With the pressure against the tree the sap-bucket
had become wedged so tightly upon his head that it refused to come off.
Though the bear twisted and turned, banging the tin upon the ground and
against trunks of trees, the endeavor to rid himself of this
uncomfortable and unwelcome headdress was in vain. Mokwa grew more and
more frantic and the din was so terrific that a horrified cottontail,
with eyes bulging until they seemed in danger of rolling down his nose,
sat frozen in his tracks at the edge of a spruce thicket. The Hermit,
on his way to inspect his sap-buckets, broke into a run.
Mokwa, in his mad scramble, had paused a moment for breath. He heard
the man's footfalls and the sound filled him with fresh alarm. With a
last despairing effort he rose upon his haunches and tugged at the
battered pail. This time his efforts were rewarded. A peculiar twist
sent it flying, and the bear, free at last, made quick time to the
friendly shelter of the spruce thicket, sped by the loud laughter of
Guess that bear will never bother my sap-buckets again, the man
chuckled, as he picked up his bright new pail, battered now past all
On the day following his harrowing experience in the sugar-maple
grove Mokwa was a much chastened bear, but the incident soon faded from
his memory and he once more trod the forest trails as if they had been
presented to him for his sole use by Dame Nature herself. In the swamp
the pointed hoods of skunk cabbage were appearing, the heat generated
by their growth producing an open place in the snow about them. The
odour from which the name is derived was not at all offensive to the
bear who eagerly devoured many of the plants, varying the diet with
roots and small twigs swelling with sap.
In the damp hollows the coarse grass was turning green, and before
long the swamps were noisy with the shrill voice of the hylas, while
the streams once more teemed with fish.
As the season advanced Mokwa grew fat and contented, exerting
himself only enough to shuffle from one good feeding ground to another.
He would grunt complainingly at any extra exertion, as, for instance,
that which was required to reach the small wild sweet apples which he
dearly loved, and which were clustered thickly on their small trees at
the edge of the forest. At this season Mokwa's diet was almost strictly
vegetarian and the smaller creatures of the wilderness, upon which he
sometimes preyed, had little to fear from him.
The long summer days drifted by and autumn was not far away. Mokwa
grew restless; both his food and surroundings palled upon him. At
length, following a vague though persistent inner impulse, he turned
his face northward toward the hills which had been his birthplace and
from which he had been so strangely carried.
Long before daylight he had taken the trail and, in spite of the
protests of his overfed body, had pushed steadily on, pausing at the
edge of the tamarack swamp long enough to open with his sharp claws a
rotting log that lay in his path, a log which yielded him a meal of fat
grubs. Then he shambled on, drawn by some irresistible force. The mist
which hung like a white veil over the low ground bordering the swamp
was fast dissolving in curling wisps of vapor under the ardent rays of
the sun. The forest was alive with bird song; squirrels chattered to
him from the trees and the rattle of the kingfisher was in his ears,
but Mokwa held a steady course northward, his little eyes fixed on some
About noon he came out upon the bank of the Little Vermilion, not
far from the place where he had so narrowly escaped death on the
floating ice. The roar of the falls came to him clearly on the still
air and the big bear shivered. If he remembered his wild ride, however,
the memory was quickly effaced by the discovery of a blueberry thicket,
a luscious storehouse that apparently had never been rifled. Mokwa
feasted greedily, at first stripping the branches of fruit and leaves
alike; but at length, the keen edge of his appetite dulled, he sought
only the finest berries, crushing many and ruthlessly tearing down
whole bushes in his greed to get a branch of especially choice fruit.
Then, his face and paws stained with the juice and his sides
uncomfortably distended, he sought a secluded nook in which to sleep
off his feast.
Toward evening, when the shadows grew long and the hills were
touched with the red and gold of the setting sun, Mokwa again took up
the northward trail, to which he held steadily most of the night.
Morning found him emerging from a thicket of juniper upon the banks of
the river at a place that he instantly recognized as the one from which
he had begun his unwilling travels.
Turning sharply to the right, the bear's eager eyes discovered the
trunk of a hemlock which had been blasted by lightning. Rearing himself
upon his haunches against it, and reaching to his utmost, he prepared
to leave his signature where he had so often left it, always above all
rivals. Ere his unsheathed claws could leave their mark, however, he
paused, gazing at another mark several inches above his own.
The hair rose along his back and his little eyes gleamed red while
he growled deep in his chest; yet, stretch as he would, he could not
quite reach the signature of the other bear. Mokwa dropped to all
fours, rage filling his breast at this indication of a rival in what he
considered his own domain. He hurried on, keenly alert, growing more
and more incensed at every fresh trace of the interloper. Here he came
upon evidences of a meal which the rival had made upon wake-robin
roots. Satisfied before he had devoured all he had dug, some of the
roots still lay scattered about, but, though Mokwa was hungry, he
disdained the crumbs from the other's table. He dined, instead, upon a
fat field mouse which he caught napping beside its runway. Again he
pressed on, his anger steadily fanned by fresh evidences of the hated
rival who seemed always just ahead.
Mokwa slept that night in his old den, but the next morning found
him once more on the trail of the enemy, a trail which was still fresh.
He had not gone far when his rival was, for the time being, forgotten,
while he sniffed eagerly at a new odour which drifted to his sensitive
nostrils. It was the scent of honey, a delicacy which a bear prizes
above all else. At that moment, as if to confirm the evidence of his
nose, a bee flew by, followed by another and another, all winging their
way back to the hive. The red gleam faded from Mokwa's eyes as he
followed their flight; then he broke into a shuffling run as he came
within sight of the tree to which the bees were converging from all
About half way up the great trunk Mokwa's eyes discovered a hole
which he knew at once to be the mouth of the hive. He quickly climbed
the tree on the side opposite the hole, peering cautiously around until
he had reached a point directly opposite the hive. Then, craftily
reaching one paw around the tree, with his claws he ripped off a great
section of bark, disclosing a mass of bees and reeking comb.
At once the bees seemed to go mad. Their angry buzzing filled the
air, but failed to strike terror to the heart of the robber. His thick
fur rendered him immune to their fiery darts, though he was careful to
protect his one vulnerable spot, the tender tip of his nose. In another
moment he would have been enjoying the feast had he not discovered
something which caused the hair to rise along his back and his eyes to
glow with hate.
Advancing from the opposite direction was another bear, a bear
larger than Mokwa and scarred with the evidences of many battles, a
bear who trod the forest with a calm air of ownership. Across Mokwa's
mind flashed the memory of a certain tree with his own signature the
highest save one. The owner of that one was now approaching with the
evident intention of claiming the sweet prize.
Mokwa's anger rose. He scrambled from the tree and, with a savage
roar, was upon his rival almost before the latter had become aware of
his presence. And then occurred a memorable battle, a battle for
sovereignty and the freedom of the trails. Mokwa's rival was the larger
of the two, but Mokwa had the advantage of youth. Sounds of the fray
penetrated far into the woods. Delicate flowers and vigorous young
saplings were trampled underfoot; timid little wild creatures watched
with fast beating hearts, ready for instant retreat should they be
observed, while above their heads the bees were busy carrying the
exposed honey to a safer hiding-place.
Back and forth the combatants surged. For a time it was impossible
to judge to whom the victory would go; but at length youth began to
tell. The older bear was pushed steadily back. At last, torn and
bleeding, his breath coming in laboring gasps, he turned and beat a
retreat, far from the domain of the bear whose claim he had preëmpted.
[Illustration: And then occurred a memorable battle.]
Mokwa, too exhausted to follow, glared after him until he had
vanished among the trees; then, much the worse for his fight, he turned
again to the spoils, now doubly his by the right of conquest as well as
of discovery. The owners of the hive, too busy to molest him, went on
about their work of salvaging the contents and Mokwa made a wonderful
meal, although he licked up a number of bees in his eagerness for the
honey. Then, glutted with the feast, he crept away to lick his bruises
and recover from the fray.
Mokwa fell asleep with the pleasant assurance that no more would the
hated signature appear above his own on the hemlock trunk. The spring
had called him to great adventure, but the summer had led him home and
left him master of the forest.
THE ADVENTURES OF KAGH, THE PORCUPINE
As the moon swung clear of the pointed fir tops and shone full upon
a tall spruce tree in the wilderness, a dark object, looking not unlike
a great bird's nest upon one of the branches, suddenly came to life.
Kagh, the porcupine, had awakened from his dreamless slumber and,
though scarce two hours had elapsed since his last satisfying meal upon
tender poplar shoots, he decided that it was time to eat. With a dry
rustling of quills and scratching of sharp claws upon the bark, he
scrambled clumsily down the tree. Then, with an air of calm
fearlessness which few of the wilderness folk can assume, he set off
toward the east, his short legs moving slowly and awkwardly as if
unaccustomed to travel upon the ground.
Now, when Kagh left the spruce tree, it seemed he had in mind a
definite goal; yet he had not gone far when his movements took on the
aimlessness characteristic of most of a porcupine's wanderings. Here
and there he paused to browse upon a young willow shoot or to sniff
inquiringly at the base of some great tree. Once he turned sharply
aside to poke an inquisitive nose into a prostrate, hollow log, where a
meal of fat white grubs rewarded his search.
Kagh emerged from the thick, tangled underbrush upon a faint trail,
invisible to all save the keen eyes of the forest folk. Here travel was
easier and he made better time, though it could not be said that he
hurried. He had not gone far upon the trail when he heard behind him a
soft pad, pad. At the sound he paused a moment to stare indifferently,
expecting to be given a wide berth, for, though Kagh seldom takes the
offensive, even the savage lynx, unless crazed by winter hunger, will
let him severely alone. This time, however, Kagh was disappointed, for
the newcomer was a furry bear cub who had never had experience with a
porcupine to teach him wisdom.
The cub stopped and sat upon his haunches to stare curiously at the
strange creature in his path, while Kagh, incensed by the delay, tucked
his nose under him until he resembled nothing so much as a huge
bristling pincushion. He lay still, his small eyes shining dully among
his quills. The cub regarded him for a moment; then he advanced and
reached out an inquisitive paw toward the queer-looking ball. For this
Kagh had been waiting. There was a lightning swing of his armed tail
which, if it had reached its mark, would have filled the paw with
deadly quills. Fortunately, however, the cruel barbs failed to reach
their mark, for, an instant before the swing, the small bear received a
cuff which sent him sprawling into the bushes, and Mother Bruin stood
in the trail confronting the porcupine.
Kagh, like most of the wilderness folk, knows that there is a vast
difference between a full-grown bear and a furry, inquisitive cub.
Though he was not afraid, the appearance of the mother bear was more
than he had bargained for, and he immediately rolled himself into a
ball again, every quill bristling defiantly. The old bear, however,
wise in the lore of the dim trails, paid no more attention to him.
Calling her cub, she shambled off through the bushes, the youngster
casting many a backward glance at this little, but seemingly very
dangerous creature. Kagh went on his way well satisfied with himself.
As before, he traveled leisurely, pausing often to browse or to stare
at some larger animal upon whose path he chanced.
Of all the creatures of the wilderness the porcupine seems the most
slow and stupid, yet he bears a charmed life. In the woods, where few
may cross the path of the hunter and live, the porcupine is usually
allowed to go unhurt. Because he can easily be killed without a gun,
his flesh has more than once, it is said, been the means of saving a
lost hunter from starvation. As a rule, the creatures of the
wilderness, too, let him strictly alone, knowing well the deadly work
of his quills, which, when embedded in the flesh, sink deeper and
deeper with every frantic effort toward dislodgment.
Only under the stress of winter hunger will an animal sometimes
throw caution to the winds and attack this living pincushion. And then
his dinner is usually the price of his life, for there is no escaping
the lightning-like swing of the barbed tail.
In the course of time Kagh came to the edge of a tamarack swamp.
Here the ground was soft and spongy. The prostrate trunks of a number
of great trees lay half submerged in lily-choked pools, beside which
stalks of the brilliant cardinal flower flamed by day in the green
dimness. Scrambling upon one of these decaying logs the porcupine made
his way, almost eagerly for him, far out among the lily-pads. Kagh
reveled in succulent lily stems and buds, and as he feasted he uttered
little grunts of satisfaction.
Here he would probably have been content to spend the remainder of
the night had not an interruption occurred. Another porcupine crawled
out upon the same log and proceeded confidently toward the choice
position at its farther end. At sight of Kagh he paused a moment; then
he went on, his quills raised. Kagh looked up from his feasting,
astonished that any one should thus intrude upon his hunting-ground.
And then on the end of the old log in the tamarack swamp was fought
a bloodless battle, a conflict mainly of pushing and shoving. Much to
his disgust, Kagh was hustled to the very end of the log and was at
length pushed off, splashing into the cool water beneath. For a moment
the victor peered down at him with indifferent eyes, then deliberately
turned his back and began to feed upon the lilies, leaving Kagh either
to sink or swim. The latter, however, was in no danger. Buoyed up by
his hollow quills he soon reached the shore, none the worse for his
sudden bath, save for his sorely ruffled feelings. For the time being
his hunger for lily-pads had been satisfied but, as he shambled out of
the swamp toward the dryer woods, he grunted complainingly.
A dim light among the trees warned him of the approach of day, and
Kagh looked about for a place to take a nap. Immediately in his path a
prostrate pine trunk with a snug hollow at the center offered an
inviting shelter, but when the porcupine poked in his blunt black nose,
he found the retreat occupied. A red fox lay curled in a furry ball,
fast asleep. Even in slumber, however, a fox is alert. At the sound of
Kagh's heavy breathing the occupant of the log was instantly wide
By right of discovery and occupation the hollow trunk belonged to
the fox, but Kagh's moral sense was either lacking or undeveloped. He
wanted the hollow. Therefore he set about securing it in the easiest
and most effective way. By pressing his quills close to his body and
backing into the log, the sharp points presented a formidable front
against which the fox had no protection. So, as Kagh backed in, the fox
backed out, incensed but helpless. In a very few moments the porcupine
was fast asleep, his conscience quite untroubled. As the sun rose
higher, a bloodthirsty weasel thrust its pointed nose into the log and
glared with red eyes of hate upon the sleeping porcupine, then went his
way, spreading terror and destruction among the smaller wood folk.
About noon Kagh awoke and, crawling to the opening of the log,
looked about him. As a rule the porcupine travels and feeds by night,
but Kagh was a creature of whims and he decided that he had been
fasting quite long enough. Accordingly he set out in a leisurely search
for food, loafing along the base of a sunny ledge of rock. A meal of
grubs and peppery wake-robin roots left him happy, but still he rambled
on, following his nose and alert for any new adventure.
Suddenly he lifted his head and sniffed the air. To his nostrils
drifted the faint scent of smoke, and smoke in Kagh's mind was
associated with campfires and delectable bits of bacon rind or salty
wood. For the first time since leaving his spruce tree the evening
before, Kagh hurried. He blundered along the trail in a way which would
have scandalized the other forest inhabitants, among whom silence is
the first law of preservation.
Near the camp a rabbit had crept timidly from the forest and was
sitting erect upon its haunches, its quivering nose testing the wind,
its bulging eyes missing nothing that went on around it. Kagh paid no
more attention to the rabbit than to the bush under which it sat. He
blundered into the camp, from which the hunter was absent in search of
game, but the next moment he backed off, squeaking with pain and
surprise. He had walked straight into the warm ashes of the campfire.
His discomfort was soon forgotten, however, as he came upon a board
saturated with bacon grease. Kagh's teeth were sharp as chisels and the
sound of his gnawing could be heard far in the still air. He ate all he
could hold of the toothsome wood, then started upon a tour of
inspection of the camp.
An open tent-flap drew his attention. Forthwith he walked inside,
knocking down as he went, an axe which had been propped close beside
the entrance. Kagh sampled the axe-helve and, finding to his liking the
faint taste of salt from the hand of the man who had wielded it, he
succeeded in rendering it almost useless before his interest flagged.
His inquisitive nose now drew him to a small bag of tobacco beside
which lay a much blackened cob pipe. Whether Kagh did not care for
tobacco, or whether some new fancy at that moment took possession of
him, no one can tell. At any rate he nosed the pipe from its place,
scattered the tobacco to the four winds, and then shambled from the
tent and disappeared among the trees.
Ten minutes later he was sound asleep in a poplar sapling. What the
hunter said when he returned to camp and beheld the work of his visitor
is not recorded.
Kagh's was a restless spirit. Moonrise again found him abroad in
search of food and adventure. This time he traveled far for a slow old
fellow. At length he came to the zigzag fence of split rails which
prevented the wilderness from encroaching upon the clearing of the
From the top rail of the fence he could see the gray roof of the
Hermit's cabin, silvered with the radiance of the full moon. At no time
was Kagh troubled with bashfulness and now, under the influence of that
flooding radiance, he decided to investigate the cabin and the
clearing. The fence, ending in a rough wall of field stone, made a
capital highway along which he shuffled happily until brought to an
abrupt halt by the appearance of another fence traveler. The white
quills with their dark points erected themselves from his
blackish-brown fur until he looked twice his normal size. This time,
however, his armor failed to strike terror to the heart of the enemy.
Kagh, the porcupine, was scornful of man and feared but one beast,
the one who now advanced toward him along the wall. That long, silky
fur, jet black save for two broad white stripes running down the back,
and that plumy tail, could belong to but one creature. The skunk,
returning from a neighborly visit to the Hermit's cabin, probably with
a view to a meal of fat chicken, advanced with its usual air of owning
the earth. This time the porcupine did not dispute the passage.
Instead, he curled up and dropped to the ground, whence he proceeded on
his way, complaining peevishly to himself.
All was still about the cabin. Kagh circled it until he came to the
lean-to at the back that served the Hermit as a storehouse. Here the
animal's useful nose caught an alluring scent. The logs of the building
were thick, but patient search was at length rewarded by the discovery
of a large chink. His keen cutting-teeth at once came into play and the
sound of his gnawing, which carried clearly in the still night air,
awakened the Hermit.
[Illustration: Pal stopped, clearly astonished.]
Only a porcy, he said to himself, after listening a moment, and he
went peacefully to sleep, little dreaming of the havoc which that same
porcy was to make.
In a very short time Kagh had succeeded in gnawing a hole large
enough to permit his entrance into the storehouse. Then indeed he found
himself in rich pasturage. The first thing he came to was a small
basket of eggs, a delicacy which he prized highly. When these were
neatly reduced to shells, he gnawed a hole in a barrel near by and
sampled the little stream of flour which ran out. This was not to be
compared with eggs, however, and after scattering a goodly quantity
about the floor, he finished his meal on a side of fat bacon. When at
last he turned his face toward the forest, he found that the hole,
which had been a tight squeeze when he entered, was now out of the
question, and he must do some further gnawing before he could squeeze
his fat sides through.
Once in the open he set a leisurely course toward the borders of the
forest, only to be interrupted by a series of staccato barks as Pal
rounded the cabin and glimpsed the night prowler. Like the bear cub,
Pal had had no experience with a porcupine to teach him prudence. He
felt that the beast had no business in the clearing and accordingly
charged, barking furiously, only to be met by a round ball of bristling
quills. Pal stopped, clearly astonished. Then, as the ball lay
deceivingly still, he rashly tried closer investigation, and was met
with a smashing blow from the barbed tail.
Several quills fastened themselves in the dog's soft and tender nose
and there they stayed, paining him unbearably. The aggressive challenge
changed to yelps of pain and, as swiftly as he had charged, Pal
retreated to the cabin, vainly trying to free his muzzle of the fiery
barbs. With his efforts they but sank the deeper. He suffered agony
until his master, aroused by the outcry, came to his relief. Holding
the struggling dog firmly with both hands, the Hermit extracted the
quills with his teeth. It was a painful process and both were glad when
the last quill was out.
Meanwhile, Kagh continued on his placid way toward the black forest
wall, just beyond the rail fence. He had fed well and had quickly
routed his enemy. Altogether he considered the world a happy place for
porcupines. In the darkness which precedes the dawn he took his way to
a slender poplar sapling standing near the border of the woods. This he
climbed as far as his weight would permit and, seated comfortably on
one branch, with his hand-like paws tightly clasping another, he went
peacefully to sleep, lulled by every passing breeze.
THE TRAIL OF THE MOOSE
On a bare, rocky promontory far up in the north country, where the
turbulent waters of the Little Vermilion cut through lanes of pointed
fir and dark spruce, a gigantic moose stood, his ungainly body and huge
antlers silhouetted against the sky of sunset. Below him the noisy,
hurrying waters were churned into foam over innumerable hidden rocks;
to the rear lay the wilderness, green, shadowy and mysterious.
The moose was a magnificent beast, the ridge of his shoulders rising
to a height of little less than seven feet. His great antlers, the
admiration and desire of every hunter in the Little Vermilion country,
showed a spread of almost six feet from tip to tip. As if carved from
the rock the big moose stood, his eyes on the distant waters, only his
ears moving slightly to test the wind. Then, as some vagrant whiff from
the gently moving air assailed the sensitive nostrils, or some faint
sound reached his ears, the great beast turned and vanished into the
forest, as light and soundless as thistledown for all his twelve
hundred pounds of bulk. Not even a twig snapped under his feet.
[Illustration: As if carved from the rock the big moose stood.]
As night shrouded the dim trails, the moose turned southward through
the darkness. In spite of the dense wilderness he advanced rapidly, his
huge antlers laid along his back that they might impede his progress as
little as possible, his nose thrust upward, sifting the wind. In about
an hour he came out upon the shore of a lonely pond among the hills. A
faint breeze ruffled the mirror-like surface upon which the delicate
white cups of water-lilies seemed to hold a light of their own among
the dark green pads.
With a sigh of satisfaction the moose waded in and plunged his
muzzle into the clear water, breaking the star reflections into
innumerable points of light as the ripples widened over the pond. For
some time he fed greedily, moving slowly along the shore. At times his
great head was wholly submerged as his long, flexible upper lip sought
out the succulent roots and buds; again it was raised, while from the
gently moving jaws the water dripped with a musical plash into the
Suddenly the wilderness was startled from its calm by the appearance
of a dazzling finger of light which crept across the pond and came to
rest upon the dark bulk of the moose at his feeding. The great beast
raised his head to stare into the strange, blinding radiance. He could
not see the dark form crouched in the boat behind the light, nor the
long sinister object leveled upon him. He could only stare, fascinated,
an easy mark for the hunter behind the jack-light.
From the forest in the rear of the moose came a faint sound. It was
only the crackling of a twig, yet it served to break the spell under
which the beast stood, for in the wilderness the snap of a twig is one
of the most ominous of sounds. The animal wheeled sharply just as the
hunter pulled the trigger. There was the sharp crack of a rifle which
woke the echoes and startled the wilderness into an added alertness,
while the ball sped across the water, barely missing the form of the
moose. Before the disappointed hunter could again pull the trigger the
great beast had reached the shore with a bound and was crashing through
the forest, over windfalls and through thickets with the speed of an
express train. Lesser wilderness folk watched his flight with startled
eyes, keeping well out of his path. Even the fierce Canada lynx knew
better than to attack that living whirlwind, though his pale eyes
gleamed maliciously and his claws dug deep into the bark as the moose
passed directly beneath the branch on which the big cat crouched. The
fleeing animal did not see him.
That night, far from the pond, the moose made his bed on a wooded
knoll, lying, as is the custom of his kind, with his back to the wind.
Should danger approach from the rear his keen nose would give him
warning, while eyes and ears would protect him from anything
approaching against the wind.
With the first light of day he was on his feet, enjoying a breakfast
of birch twigs, obtained by breasting down a sapling and holding it
beneath his body while he fed upon the tender tips. His meal finished,
he backed off, leaving the sapling to spring up again unharmed. His
fear of the night before had vanished and once more he was lord of the
wilderness, a beast to be admired but let severely alone.
Again he turned southward, stepping daintily, the bell, or tuft of
coarse hair beneath his chin, swinging to his pace. Occasionally a
cottontail leaped from his path and paused to stare, big ears alert and
nose twitching sensitively; or a red squirrel, that saucy
mischief-maker of the woods, chattered derisively at him from the safe
side of a spruce trunk. But the moose paid no more heed to them than to
the lofty trees which arched above his path.
Gradually the shadows lengthened and again dusk swathed the forest
aisles in gray mystery. As the darkness deepened, the moose moved more
cautiously, testing each step for crackling twigs. His great head swung
much lower than the ridge of his shoulders as he paused occasionally to
listen, his gray-brown form melting into the shadows as if he wore a
cloak of invisibility.
Thus he came again to the wilderness pond where he had so nearly met
fate in the form of the hunter's bullet. The glare was gone and peace
once more brooded over the placid water. For a long moment he stood
upon the bank, listening and looking; then a vagrant puff of air
brought to his nostrils a strange odor. His great muscles tightened,
but, as no sound broke the stillness, he moved cautiously in the
direction of the scent.
At the edge of a small natural clearing among the trees he paused to
reconnoiter. In the center of the clearing glowed the embers of a
campfire, the smoke of which had reached him at the pond. A small
tongue of flame occasionally leaped up, illuminating a circle of
darkness. On the side opposite the moose lay a still, dark form wrapped
in a blanket.
For some time the animal stood, the pupils of his eyes contracting
or expanding as the glow of the embers waxed or waned. Then a brand in
the campfire burned through and broke with a snap, sending up a shower
of sparks. Whether the sound reminded him of the rifle report of the
previous night or whether the man-smell at that moment startled him, is
uncertain. At any rate his eyes suddenly grew red with anger and, with
a roar, he charged straight toward the sleeping form beside the fire.
Immediately the hunter awoke to action. In order to free himself of
the entangling blanket he rolled over, a fortunate move which
accomplished a double purpose in that it took him just out of reach of
the charging animal. Before the moose could stay his mad rush and turn,
the man had scrambled up a tree. From that safe perch he watched
helplessly the destruction of his camp. The hunter being out of reach,
the big moose charged upon his camp supplies, and the night was made
hideous with the crashing of pots and pans.
The noise seemed to drive the brute to a frenzy. With a wild bellow
he crashed away through the forest, the remains of a frying pan impaled
upon the sharp point of an antler. As he rushed, it banged against
trees and drove him to greater speed until it was left behind on a
branch. As for the hunter, he could only gaze wrathfully upon his
wrecked camp and bemoan the fate which had twice brought to him the
coveted game, only to snatch it away again unharmed.
The night tumult had aroused the Hermit in his cabin, a mile distant
at the edge of the forest. With the coming of daylight he set out to
ascertain what had happened. By good fortune he stumbled upon the camp
just as the disgusted hunter was leaving and he heard the story of the
charging moose, the evidence of whose mad flight was apparent for some
distance. He invited the hunter to spend a few days in his cabin, an
invitation which the man thankfully accepted. Though each morning found
him abroad, armed and eager, he caught no further glimpse of the big
Meanwhile, the wilderness was becoming an uncomfortable place for
the hunter. The myriad swarms of insects gave him no peace by day or
night, while the big moose was spending long peaceful hours far away at
the edge of a tiny, wood-girt lake. During the day the moose dozed on a
cool mud bed in the shallows, his body submerged save for the tip of
his nose. This, too, disappeared from sight occasionally as the flies
became too persistent. At night he wandered abroad, searching out the
Late summer gave place to autumn with its warm mellow days and its
nights tinged with frost. The sun shone through a faint haze, touching
to glowing color the maples in the swamp and the golden birches on the
knolls. Now and then a leaf drifted to the ground with a faint rustle.
At the edge of the wilderness where stood the cabin of the Hermit
and those of his widely scattered neighbors, the aromatic smell of
burning leaves hung all day in the still air, while the early stars
looked down on bright heaps of burning rubbish. It was the outdoor
On several occasions, as the Hermit stood dreamily watching the thin
wisps of smoke curl upward from the burning heap, he heard the call of
a moose to its mate or its challenge to a rival. The sound thrilled him
as no sound had for years. He longed to answer the summons.
Accordingly, one day he made a trip into the borders of the wilderness
where a group of slender birch trees huddled. Like Hiawatha he stripped
one of a section of its bark.
The next evening found him seated comfortably on the top rail of the
snake fence which separated his upland pasture from the closely
pressing forest. The sun had set, and a mellow twilight with a tang of
frost in the air was fast obscuring the black stumps and welding
together the clumps of blueberries and wild raspberries.
The man sat so still that gradually the small inhabitants of the
wilderness went fearlessly about their hunting or playing. If they
noticed him at all, perhaps they mistook him for a stake of the fence
upon which he sat. As he watched dreamily, the dusk grew deeper and the
first stars came out, one by one. Then the harvest moon appeared,
peeping over the tops of the firs and finally riding clear in the dark
sky, throwing a mysterious radiance over the clumps of juniper in the
pasture and trying vainly to penetrate the thick stand of second-growth
fir, spruce and maple at the edge of the forest.
Now the Hermit slowly raised to his lips the birch-bark trumpet
which he had fashioned. The next moment the brooding silence of the
night was startled by a harsh roar. The Hermit chuckled softly. If
there is a moose within a mile he can't help hearing that, he thought.
He waited, his heart beating fast with excitement. The echoes rolled
for a moment among the hills, then died away, leaving the silence
Again he raised the trumpet to his lips and sent out a call into the
night. This time the sound had scarcely died away when an answering
challenge rolled from a pair of great lungs back in the wilderness. In
his excitement the man almost lost his perch upon the fence. That's an
old bull, sure enough. Probably the same one that broke up the hunter's
camp, he said, speaking aloud, as is often the custom of those living
He listened a moment. Hearing no further sound, once more he raised
his trumpet, this time giving a low, seductive call. The effect was
immediate and unexpected. A short distance back in the forest there
came the crash of trampled undergrowth and, the next moment, a huge
black bulk detached itself from the dark background and stood forth in
the moonlight, alarmingly close.
[Illustration: The Hermit took the one chance that presented
The Hermit caught his breath. It was without doubt the big moose,
and that he was in no gentle mood was soon apparent. He listened a
moment, motionless as the trees at his back; then he brought forth a
harsh roar that sent a chill to the heart of the unprotected man. When
he had come to the pasture to try his trumpet, the Hermit had little
expected an answer, or at best had hoped merely to call up a cow moose.
Instead, he found himself confronted by the biggest bull moose he had
ever seen. Though his heart thrilled at sight of the great head and
antlers, he wished ardently that there might have been some stronger
protection than the frail fence between them.
Absolute immovability was his only hope and, like Molly Cottontail,
he froze. Incensed at the silence where he had expected to find
either a mate or a rival, the big moose began to grumble deep in his
throat and to shake his antlers threateningly. Then he advanced a few
steps. Perspiration stood out upon the face of the Hermit, but he made
no movement. The moonlight was deceptive and the beast did not see the
man until he was uncomfortably close. Then a great bellow of rage burst
from him. At the same moment the Hermit took the one chance that
presented itself and dropped on the opposite side of the fence. The
charge of the big moose smashed the slight barrier as if it had been
straw, but it gave the man the chance he desired. He sprinted as he
never had sprinted before to a wild cherry tree which stood in an angle
of the fence. With an agility which he would not have believed
possible, he drew himself into its branches just as the moose reached
the spot. There the Hermit sat panting while the animal raged
underneath, trying vainly to spear his enemy with the bayonet-sharp
points of his antlers.
Finding the man out of reach, the moose turned his attention to the
fence which he quickly reduced to kindling wood. The Hermit could only
watch the destruction of that which had taken days of labor. He used
vigorously the only weapon which he possessed, his tongue, but the big
moose cared nothing for the sound of the human voice raised in
protestation. Having vented his rage upon the hapless fence, he took up
his position beneath the tree, rumbling threateningly and tearing up
the ground with his sharp hoofs, one blow of which would have instantly
killed the man.
Occasionally he stepped into the fringe of the forest but at the
least movement of his prisoner in the tree he was back on guard,
shaking his huge antlers threateningly. Thus the time wore on. As the
air grew frostier, the Hermit shivered and huddled closer to the trunk
of his tree. Wish I had your hide! he muttered, looking wrathfully
down at his jailer.
Now and then the Hermit could hear Pal howling lonesomely.
Fortunately, he had shut the dog up in the house when he set forth upon
his rash adventure. Never mind, Pal, he said aloud, you may be glad
you are alone. I only wish I were. He aimed a vicious kick at
the antlers, which were not far below, but was forced to draw up his
At last, when the Hermit's cramped position had grown distressingly
painful, there came a welcome interruption. Suddenly the big moose
ceased his pawing and listened intently, his great ears strained to
some sound which had been inaudible to the Hermit. Both waited
expectantly. Far off, but unmistakable, came the call of a cow moose.
Instantly the bull sent out his rumbling reply, though he did not
desert his post. Again came the call, this time much nearer. The Hermit
in his interest forgot that he was a prisoner, that his feet had gone
to sleep, and that he was chilled through and through.
Now a crackling sounded from among the trees and a moment later a
shadowy bulk, followed by a smaller one which the Hermit rightly judged
to be a yearling calf, emerged from the dark forest. The bull, with a
low bleat ridiculous in so large a beast, sprang to meet them. The man
in the tree was forgotten as the two big animals followed by the calf,
vanished, three shadows among the darker shadows of the woods. The
Hermit was glad enough to lower himself from the tree and make his way
painfully to the cabin and the comfort of his fire and his dog. He had
had enough of moose-calling for a season.
The big moose reigned supreme in all the northland. When the snows
of winter began to whiten the wilderness, he led his herd to a
sheltered nook deep among the hemlocks. There the yard was formed, a
labyrinth of intersecting paths, kept free from deep snow and leading
to the best places for food and shelter. The herd lived in comparative
comfort until spring returned to the wilderness, and the bull moose,
having shed his great antlers, sought seclusion until a new pair should
once more clothe him with strength and courage.
IN THE BEAVERS' LODGE
Ahmeek, the beaver, swimming slowly with only his eyes and the tip
of his nose above the water, came to a stop at a spot where the shores
of the stream were low and flat. He was soon joined by his mate and the
two clambered out upon the bank where they looked about with
It was an ideal location for a beaver settlement. Poplars, yellow
birches and willows on the banks offered material for a dam and assured
an abundance of winter food; the low banks would enable the stream to
spread out, making a pond deep enough to prevent freezing to the bottom
in winter; best of all, it was a lonely spot where there was no
evidence of man.
Dusk had fallen like a gray mantle upon the wilderness when the
beavers began their work. Ahmeek selected a poplar to his liking, not
far from the bank of the stream. Grasping the trunk with his hand-like
paws and turning his head to one side in order to bring his great
cutting teeth into play, he bit out a huge chunk, following it with
another and another until the tree swayed and crashed to the ground.
Then both beavers set to work to strip it of branches and lay the
foundations for the dam.
The dam, when finished, was a work worthy of a trained engineer. The
twigs and trunks of trees Ahmeek and his mate laid lengthwise with the
current. On the upper face, where the force of the water would but
drive it the more tightly, the mass was plastered and bound together
with a cement of mud and stones, which in the freezing days of winter
would become impenetrable. Here again the beavers showed their wisdom
by leaving several low places over which the water could trickle, thus
relieving the pressure that otherwise would have broken the dam. Now
the stream overflowed its low banks, making a deep pond, soon to become
the home of pickerel and trout and of a great colony of water-lilies, a
delicacy for the beaver larder.
The next work was the construction of the lodge, a hollow mound of
mud, sticks and stones twelve feet in width and four in height, within
which was a dry room, its floor safely above the high-water mark. Two
passages led to this room, one straight, for carrying food, the other
winding. The main entrance was cleverly concealed beneath the roots of
a great tree which had fallen across the stream.
[Illustration: The dam, when finished, was a work worthy of a
Ahmeek and his mate were soon joined by other beavers, pioneers from
farther south, who, finding the spot to their liking, decided to
establish a colony. As with the human pioneers, there was a great
felling of trees and hours of heavy labor before the dwellings were
finished and the various families ensconced in their snug homes.
That first winter in the new colony was uneventful and when the ice
broke up in the spring the beaver city was swarming with sleek brown
youngsters who, while learning the serious business of life, found time
to indulge in play just as do the children of their human neighbors. At
twilight one after another would appear upon the bank, where he would
make his toilet, combing his thick, chestnut brown fur until it shone
like satin. No beaver is untidy about his dress.
Among the young beavers there was one who from the first took the
lead. Born in the lodge of old Ahmeek, king of the beavers, he showed
every indication of following in the footsteps of his father. He it was
who led the others in their frolic in the pond and upon the banks, and
when the sharp slap of a tail upon the water told of danger, none was
more quick to obey its warning.
The young beavers did not spend all their time in play. The dam
constantly needed repair; wood must be cut and stored at the bottom of
the pond, so that the colony might have food through the winter. At
this work Flat Tail, son of Ahmeek, laboured manfully. His teeth were
not yet long and sharp enough for felling trees, but they could cut off
the smaller branches. Flat Tail was very proud when he could swim back
to the lodge with one of these branches over his shoulder, kept in
place by his fore-paws held close to his body.
One day toward the end of the summer Flat Tail had a narrow escape.
He was sitting on the bank, combing his glossy brown fur, of which he
was very proud, when a prowling panther discovered him. The big cat's
mouth watered, for beaver at all times is a delicate morsel for the
flesh-eating animals. The green eyes narrowed to mere slits as, silent
as a shadow, the panther climbed a tree and made its way out to a point
from which a straight drop would land it upon its unsuspecting quarry.
In another moment Flat Tail, intent upon his toilet and oblivious of
his danger, would undoubtedly have furnished a meal for the panther had
not old Ahmeek appeared, swimming upward from the lodge. Immediately
his keen eyes discovered the crouching animal and, with a sound like
the crack of a rifle, his flat, horny tail descended upon the water.
It was a sound which all beavers are taught to obey instantly and
without question. Even as the big cat dropped, Flat Tail dived backward
into the stream. The panther, with a scream of rage, dug its claws into
the earth where its prey had been sitting a moment before. The beaver
was out of reach, however, and there was nothing for the panther to do
but continue on his hungry way, his scream having warned every animal
for miles around to hide. As for Flat Tail, he swam directly to the
lodge where he crouched trembling.
The summer passed, and autumn with its flaming colors and hint of
frost came to the wilderness. On a warm Indian summer day the Hermit,
in his search for healing roots, came out upon the shore of the stream
which sheltered the beaver colony. As he approached he heard a
resounding slap and saw a number of sleek brown forms dive into the
water. Thus, when he stepped out upon the shore, there was not a beaver
in sight, though evidences of their work were all about. The Hermit's
eyes had grown keen and his brain wise in the lore of the wilderness,
so that now he knew beyond a doubt that the colony was busy building
the dam higher and raising the lodges farther above the stream.
Must be expecting a freshet, he mused.
For some time he waited, concealed in a clump of bushes, hoping to
catch sight of the inhabitants of the pond or perhaps even watch them
at work. His waiting was vain, however, for the bright eyes of the wily
little beasts had penetrated his hiding place and not one ventured
forth until the Hermit gave up in despair and went on his way. Then
immediately the shining face of Ahmeek appeared at the surface and the
pond once more swarmed with activity.
Under Ahmeek's direction the dam was made much higher and the floors
of the lodges were raised above the highest mark which the stream had
ever reached. Then the whole colony turned its attention to providing
food for the winter. Aspen, poplar and willow branches were carried to
the pond where, as they became waterlogged, they sank to the bottom,
there to remain until needed. Lily-pads floating lightly upon the
surface of the pond gave promise of white succulent roots which
penetrated the ooze beneath. Sweet flag was abundant, and close by grew
a clump of dark green, spicy mint.
The warm, hazy days of Indian summer passed. The leaves drifted to
the ground where they spread a rustling carpet, hiding the sweet
three-cornered beechnuts upon which squirrels and raccoons waxed fat
and contented. The activities of the beavers continued until, one
morning after a clear cold night, when the stars seemed to twinkle
immeasurably far above the wilderness, a film of ice covered the
surface of the pond.
Then, in a night, winter descended upon the forest. The ice grew
thick and solid. The domes of the lodges froze as hard as stone and
only a thin, almost imperceptible wisp of steam, arising from the
ventilating holes, gave indication of the life within. This was the
beavers' season of rest and they made the most of it. Snow covered land
and water alike. Icy gales swept over the wilderness, sending the
inhabitants to cover and lashing the great trees until it seemed as if
they could not stand. For most of the wilderness folk it was the hunger
time, when game is scarce and exceedingly wary.
For the beavers, however, it was a time of plenty. On their warm
beds of leaves under the frozen domes where never a cold breeze touched
them, they dreamed away the hours or, waking, nibbled a bit of aspen
bark thoughtfully provided on the floor of the lodge. The sticks were
then carried out and used in strengthening the dam. Occasionally a
black, whiskered face would appear beneath the ice where the snow had
been blown away, and stare out for a moment at the wintry world, but it
would be quickly withdrawn as the beaver returned to his comfortable
One day in midwinter, when the sun shone upon a world of sparkling
white, the Hermit, this time upon snowshoes, again visited the beaver
pond. The white domes of the lodges dotted the snowy surface but there
was no sign of life. The man stepped out upon the dam and hacked at it
with an axe which he had brought to provide himself with firewood.
There was no penetrating its stony surface, and, as he looked out
across the hard, rounded domes, he smiled to himself, picturing the
beavers in their snug retreats. He knew that beneath the ice was a
fortune in valuable furs, but the thought brought with it no desire for
possession. In the Hermit's opinion the skins were of far greater value
to the beavers than to himself.
Knowing that the forest folk, after having been storm-bound for
days, would now be driven abroad by hunger, the Hermit concealed
himself in a fir thicket not far from the pond and waited to see what
of interest chance would bring to him. He had waited scarcely ten
minutes when a lithe, tawny form appeared, sniffing at his trail and
pausing often to look suspiciously about. Panther, thought the
Hermit, with a thrill of pleasure that his watching had so soon yielded
It was the same panther who had so nearly made a meal of Flat Tail
several months before. The beast, finding food scarce, had drifted
south far from its usual haunts and, locating the beaver lodges, had
decided to winter in the locality. Following the man's trail the
panther, too, stepped out upon the dam. It soon caught the faint, warm
scent rising from the ventilating hole of a near-by lodge. Frantically
it dug at the top of the dome, but it yielded no more than had the dam
under the man's axe.
Baffled, the big cat gave up its useless scratching and again turned
to the trail which had led it to the pond. As the beast came nearer,
and the Hermit realized that it was probably made bold by hunger, he
blessed the forethought which had led him to bring his axe along when
he left his pile of firewood and struck off through the forest to visit
the beaver pond.
The panther advanced, its body close to the ground and its great
feet bearing it upon the crust as if it wore snowshoes. It was coming
uncomfortably close and the Hermit began to experience a creepy
sensation. He had little fear that, armed as he was, the beast would
dare attack him in broad daylight, but nevertheless it gave him an
unpleasant feeling to see his trail stalked.
It was evident that the panther had scented him. It stopped and
crouched lower, motionless save for the tip of its long tail which
waved back and forth in a way which fascinated the man. The beast
seemed more curious than ferocious, but in spite of that the Hermit
thought it high time to create a diversion.
Remembering the effect of his shout upon the lynx the day he had
rescued Dave Lansing, the trapper, he was about to spring to his feet.
Suddenly a deer came into sight, stopped an instant, terrified at sight
of its hereditary enemy, and then leaped away with the panther in
pursuit. Thus the Hermit was left free to return to his firewood and
the safety of his cabin.
Before leaving, however, he scraped the snow from a spot upon the
surface of the pond and, putting his face close to the ice, looked
down. Through the clear water he saw the storehouse of the beavers and
even caught a glimpse of a brown shadow which at once vanished into a
dark passage. But, though the man lingered for some time, he caught no
further glimpse of the pond's interesting inhabitants.
The winter was extremely cold. Many smaller streams and ponds froze
solid, though the depth of the beaver pond prevented this calamity.
When spring came at last and the ice broke up, the water began to rise.
Higher and higher it came, fed by the melting ice and snow toward its
source. The homes of the muskrats, some distance farther upstream, were
flooded, many of the occupants being drowned and others driven for
refuge to higher ground. The beavers had no fear, however, for old
Ahmeek had prepared for just such an emergency.
Still the water rose. It reached and passed the highest mark that it
had attained for many years. And then came the big freshet. The streams
became torrents, hurling great masses of driftwood and even trees
before them. Constant vigilance on the part of the beavers was required
to keep the dam from washing away. When a drifting log or mass of brush
caught, and threatened to wreck their hope, the entire colony turned
out and literally worked like beavers tearing away the obstruction
and allowing it to slide on down stream. Each small leak was found and
mended before it had become large enough to be dangerous.
The water rose within an inch of the floor of the lodges. The
Hermit, remembering the beavers and concerned for their safety, made
another trip to the pond, noting with anxious eye, long before he
reached it, the havoc wrought on every hand by the freshet. It was with
a distinct sense of relief that he found the dam still intact and the
domes of the lodges still above the water. He paused at some distance
from the bank and watched the beavers as they went about their repairs
without a thought for his presence. And he marveled anew at their skill
Still the water rose, spreading out into a vast lake and reaching to
the floor of the lodges. Now the beavers became alarmed and watched
anxiously. For if the stream rose higher, the dam must go and the
lodges be flooded. The crest had been reached, however, and the flood
came no higher. Instead it began to recede, vanishing as rapidly as it
had come. It left the low ground around the beaver pond a mass of
sticky mud and tangled wreckage.
The flood was followed by the opposite extreme and the water fell
until it threatened to expose the entrance to the lodges. In that event
nothing could have saved the beavers from their enemies. Fortunately,
however, the stream soon returned to its normal level and life once
more became peaceful for the beavers, though there was much repair work
to be done. And so, by his forethought, Ahmeek had saved the whole
colony from destruction.
The summer was uneventful, but the winter following the great
freshet came near being a disastrous one for the thriving colony. Two
half-breed trappers on their way north for furs came upon the pond. As
they noted the number and size of the lodges dotting the surface, their
eyes shone. Here indeed was a find, for beaver pelts brought much
They made their camp near the pond and the next morning set a number
of snares. The ice was not thick and it was an easy matter to drive
stakes about the pile of wood which was the storehouse of the beavers.
The stakes were set so close together that a beaver could pass between
in only one place, where a slender, pliant branch had been set. Then
the trappers waited, their eyes fixed expectantly upon the tip of the
branch which extended above the water.
Before long a big beaver left his lodge to visit his wood-pile which
was also his pantry. Strange to say, it could only be reached in one
place. Here there was a slender branch, but the beaver easily pushed
past it and entered the trap. As he did so, the tip of the branch
quivered and the trappers, knowing their quarry had entered the trap,
closed the opening securely with stout stakes.
Thus the beaver, unable to escape and reach the air, soon perished
miserably and was taken from the water. Several others were taken in
the same way before the Hermit discovered what was happening and
intervened to save the colony.
Knowing that sooner or later, unless protected, the beavers would be
killed for their pelts, the Hermit had made a trip to the city and had
purchased the land through which the stream ran. Thus the trappers
found themselves poachers and were forced to leave empty-handed. The
Hermit removed the snares and departed, leaving Ahmeek and his colony
once more free to dream away the winter unmolested.
Near the southern border of the wilderness the aisles of lofty
spruce give place to second-growth birch, maple and ash, and these in
turn to wild meadows and stump lots. The country is rugged, broken here
and there by upthrusts of gray rock. Protruding ledges shelter dark
caves, and protect their moss-carpeted entrances from sun and wind.
Dense thickets of pawpaw, hazel and wild cherry offer coverts for the
shy and furtive kindred of the forest: goggle-eyed rabbits, restless as
wind-blown leaves; mice, with their intricate system of runways among
the grass roots; slow-moving porcupines, prickly as huge sandburs; and
occasionally a stately buck or savage-eyed Canada lynx.
In such a country, in a cleverly concealed den about a mile from the
Hermit's cabin, Silver Spot was born. A projecting ledge, crowned with
hazel brush, concealed the mouth of the den which looked out upon a
small mossy clearing, sloping warmly toward the rising sun. It was an
ideal location, for, though it lay so near the outposts of
civilization, no human foot had ever trodden the spot until the Hermit
discovered it quite by accident one day while harvesting a store of
golden seal, a root of great value in the drug market.
Drawn by the peace and seclusion of this shadowy, green world, he
laid aside his mattock and wandered to the edge of the hazel thicket.
Thinking the spot a likely one for a fox den, he parted the bushes and,
as noiselessly as one of the forest creatures, crept forward until he
could look into the mossy clearing under the ledge. He had been there
but a moment when out into the sunshine rolled a furry ball which, upon
dissolving, proved to be three sturdy fox cubs. For a moment they sat
on their tails, blinking in the sunlight; then, as if at a signal, they
rose upon their haunches and began a good-natured rough and tumble,
biting and clawing as they rolled over and over on the moss.
All were appealing, as are young animals at play the world over, but
to one the Hermit's eyes turned in admiration again and again. He was
larger than the others, with a snowy white spot on breast and tail. His
movements were quick and sure and, though he still possessed some of
the awkwardness of the kitten, he showed every indication of making a
splendid animal when grown.
[Illustration: A full grown fox stood motionless in the sunlight, a
rabbit hanging limply from her jaws.]
In his study of the wild creatures of the forest the Hermit had
learned a valuable art, that of keeping still. Assuming a comfortable
position with his back against a tree, he let himself blend into his
background of green and brown until even the keen eyes of the forest
people were deceived. A chickadee regarded him inquisitively from a
branch over his head, talking softly to itself the while; a rabbit,
hopping by on some apparently urgent business, came upon the motionless
figure, stopped suddenly and then, as the Hermit did not move, went on
indifferently. It was a busy and interesting world, but the attention
of the man was upon the fox cubs.
Suddenly the play came to a halt as all eyes turned toward the
thicket on the opposite side of the little clearing. Following their
gaze, the man saw a full grown fox standing motionless in the sunlight,
a rabbit hanging limply from her jaws. Now a singular thing happened.
The cubs, who had made a wild dash toward the mother, stopped abruptly,
stood an instant, and then, silent as little shadows, vanished into the
dark cave. So far as the Hermit could observe, the mother fox had made
no sound, yet some communication had passed from her to the cubs and
they had instantly and unquestioningly obeyed. The mother stood a
moment longer, alert but unmoving; then, instead of entering the den,
she slipped away. The Hermit caught a glimpse of her circling the
thicket suspiciously, so, not wishing to alarm her unnecessarily, he
stole quietly away, leaving her free to return to the cubs.
Almost daily he paid a visit to the den, keeping well out of sight
but becoming more and more interested in the big cub that he had named
Silver Spot. Often, as he waited, the mother fox would return with
food, and before many days she appeared to become accustomed to the
motionless figure among the hazel bushes, for she no longer sent the
cubs to the den with her silent warning.
The meal finished, she would lie down in the warm sunshine and let
the cubs play rough and tumble games about her, such as those of
puppies or kittens. Worrying her plumy tail and tobogganing from her
back seemed to be favorite pastimes with two of the cubs. Silver Spot
had a mind of his own and would sometimes wander alone to the edge of
the clearing, his attitude expressing intense interest in the world
beyond. He never went farther, however, for his mother, apparently
engrossed in the play of the others, would suddenly raise her head and
look intently at the big cub, who would at once return to the family
circle. The Hermit could but wonder at the perfect understanding which
needed no sound audible to human ears.
The cubs grew fast, but Silver Spot outstripped the others. His fur
grew long and thick and glossy, his brush magnificent. His trim,
pointed ears allowed nothing to escape his active brain. The family,
when grown, soon separated, but Silver Spot, much to the satisfaction
of the Hermit, remained near the home den. Occasionally Pal, in his
private explorations into the edge of the forest, would take up the
trail of the fox. At such a time it would have been difficult to decide
which animal more enjoyed the chase, the dog or the big fox.
Silver Spot possessed an abundant share of that alertness and
sagacity necessary to a fox or any other animal in the wilderness. He
did not fear the dog, but seemed to enjoy making the trail as
complicated as possible, while Pal, nose to the ground, would patiently
follow its intricacies. Solemnly the fox would trot around in a large
circle, then, leaping as far to one side as possible, would saunter off
with an amusing air of indifference, pausing to listen for mice or
rabbits. Later, round and round in the circle would go the dog until,
becoming aware of the deceit practised upon him, he would range the
neighborhood until he struck the scent. Often the fox doubled on his
trail. From a ridge some distance away he would sit down and watch his
puzzled pursuer, who was always it in this game of tag.
One day, from a slight elevation, the Hermit followed the course of
such a race as well as was possible in the heavy forest. Pal had
profited by his experience and was, the Hermit concluded, giving Silver
Spot a stiff run. As the man stood leaning comfortably against a tree,
though he had caught no glimpse of the fox, he could hear the dog
coming rapidly nearer. Then suddenly Silver Spot, with the lightness of
a wind-blown leaf, drifted into view a few paces away among the trees.
He paused at sight of the man. As the beast stood, alert and graceful,
one paw daintily lifted, with no sign of fear in the eyes which
questioned the motionless figure, he made a picture which the Hermit
carried in his mind for many a day.
From his brief survey the fox evidently decided that the intruder
was quite harmless and consequently uninteresting. Though the dog was
hot on his trail, Silver Spot paused a moment longer to give an
unhurried look about him. A little to one side lay a tree which, in
falling, had lodged among the branches of its neighbor. At a point
where it was raised about four feet from the ground Silver Spot leaped
upon it and thence into the middle of a little forest stream beneath.
In another moment he had disappeared, keeping to the water which he
well knew would leave no tell-tale scent.
He was scarcely out of sight when the dog appeared, passing his
master as unheedingly as if the latter had been a part of the tree
against which he leaned. At the foot of the inclined trunk Pal stopped,
plainly puzzled. No trace of the alluring scent could he catch, though
he eagerly nosed all about the tree and even partly up the trunk. Not
having the agility of the woodland creature, however, he could not
proceed far enough to recapture the scent. So he was obliged to content
himself with ranging the neighborhood in the hope of picking up the
trail, a fruitless search from which he was at length recalled by the
whistle of his master. And though the trail invariably ended in some
such manner, Pal never seemed to weary of the chase.
As a rule a fox frequents a somewhat restricted territory in which,
if he is strong enough, he rules supreme, driving away all trespassers.
Silver Spot, however, was an unusual fox in many ways and often
demonstrated his individuality by wandering far afield.
Late one afternoon, while ranging the woods several miles to the
east of the home den, he paused beside a clear forest stream to drink.
As he raised his head from the refreshing water, his alert ears caught
a faint stir. Soundless as a shadow he melted into the bushes at his
back just as a queer procession came into view. At the head, advancing
with an air of slow dignity, walked a shining black animal with two
broad white stripes down her back and fur so long that it rippled
silkily in the breeze; behind, in a row, came five little ones, exact
counterparts of their mother. Upon a flat stone at the edge of the
stream they all crouched for a drink. Silver Spot did not offer to
molest them, but watched curiously as, their thirst quenched, they
again took up their slow march. He even followed at a discreet
distance, watching the youngster who brought up the rear and who often
had to be hustled back into the line from which his curiosity had led
Night found Silver Spot in an upland pasture at the edge of the
forest, a place of black stumps and thickets of juniper and wild
berries, silvered over with the radiance of the full moon. He drifted
lightly across the pasture, alert for any adventure which the night
might present, and brought up beside a rude building from which came an
enticing odour. Silver Spot had not tasted chicken since, as a cub, he
had rushed to meet his mother returning from a foraging expedition, but
the recollection of the delicacy was still strong with him. He worked
industriously, and before long dug out an entrance under the building.
Then, before the plump hen which he had selected could wake and cry
out, Silver Spot had killed her and was out and away. He traveled
swiftly and, safe in his own den, enjoyed the feast.
Having acquired a taste for plump chicken, Silver Spot decided to
revisit the henhouse the following evening. This time, however, his
intentions were thwarted in a way which almost put an end to his
career. Eyes other than those of the Hermit had been watching the
growth of Silver Spot, eyes burning with greed when they looked upon
his handsome coat. Fur such as this sold for much money in the city and
the desire for money left no room for pity or admiration for the animal
in the mind of the half-breed, Sam. He had bided his time, but now,
though it was not the best time for furs, he dared wait no longer. Very
soon he was to guide a party of hunters and fishermen far into the
north, and he must take the fox now or never.
Most cunningly he had baited and concealed his trap, which had been
purged by fire of all human touch. Then he had scented the ground all
about with the carcass of a freshly killed chicken. Thus Silver Spot,
the memory of his feast still upon him, caught the alluring scent.
Swerving from his path, he was suddenly caught in the steel jaws which
closed with an ugly click. The big fox was a prisoner, the victim of a
He tore savagely at the thing which held him, straining every effort
to gain his freedom, but without avail. The trap seemed only to close
more tightly, cutting through fur and sinew, staining the ground red.
At length, exhausted, he sank down in the leaves only to rise again and
again to renew the struggle.
The hours dragged on. He was hungry and unbearably thirsty, with
water only a few yards out of reach. His brave heart almost failed him,
but as the darkness began to pale and the wilderness to waken,
desperation gave him fresh courage. He set his sharp teeth upon the
imprisoned foot and at last was free once more, two toes missing. He
took a long drink from the stream before limping off to his den where
morning found him licking his wound, thus cleansing it of all
impurities and assuring a swift recovery.
A few hours later the half-breed visited his trap where his keen
eyes read correctly the evidences of the night's struggle. Sorely
disappointed, he returned to his cabin, save for the trap as
empty-handed as he had left it.
For a time the big fox was lame, but nature soon healed the wound
and he was able once more to roam the forest as free as the air itself.
He had learned a lesson, however, and no trap could be so cleverly
placed as to lead him into its cruel jaws. He paid no more visits to
the farm in the clearing, but kept almost entirely to his own domain.
Late in the summer came a wet period when for days dark clouds hung
over the wilderness and the rain fell steadily. When the sun did
appear, scattering the clouds, the woods were soaked and dripping, and
showers still fell from the heavy branches.
It was on such a day that a hunter with a pack of trained fox hounds
entered the forest a mile to the west of Silver Spot's den. It was not
long before the dogs had found the trail of the big fox and the chase
was on, a chase destined to try the cunning and strength of the hunted
to the breaking point.
At first the fox felt no anxiety. He thoroughly enjoyed mystifying a
pursuer. Ordinarily in a straight-away run he could outdistance the
fleetest foxhound. Now, however, even Nature seemed to conspire against
him. He was soon drenched with spray. The water clung to his long fur,
and his brush, usually carried blithely aloft, drooped heavily. In
spite of all his tricks, circling and doubling, leaping from fallen
trees and taking to the water, the hounds clung to his trail like bees
to honey. Their deep baying sent the chill of fear to the staunch heart
of Silver Spot. Realizing that here was no play such as he had indulged
in with Pal, the Hermit's dog, he bent all his energies toward
outstripping his pursuers.
For a time he kept well ahead of the dogs, but at length, as his old
wound made itself felt, the pace began to tell upon him. His tail
drooped lower until it all but swept the ground, while with it the
courage of the fox seemed to fail. His breathing became labored. His
foot-pads were cut by thorns and sharp sticks, leaving now and then a
trace of blood upon the moss. He thought with longing of the home den
which he was widely circling, but to which he dared not turn. With the
pack in full cry, the hunted beast broke from cover at the edge of the
wilderness where stood the cabin of the Hermit.
At once Silver Spot realized his mistake. Here in the open there was
no means of avoiding the dogs, nor could he return to the woods. Even
as he paused in despair, the leader of the pack burst into view, eyes
gleaming savagely and cruel teeth bared. There was but one alternative
and the fox took it.
Across the clearing the door of the log cabin stood open. For some
time the Hermit had been following the course of the chase from his
bench outside the door, his first feeling of exultation at the cunning
and fleetness of his pet gradually giving place to uneasiness and then
to genuine alarm for his safety. As Silver Spot came into view so
closely pressed, the Hermit sprang to his feet, but the fox heeded him
not. With a last effort he leaped the fence, sped across the clearing
and through the door which the man closed in the very teeth of the
foremost hound. The wild creature whom he had come to love had turned
to him for sanctuary, and not in vain.
The hunt was over and, while the big fox crouched in the corner
regaining his breath, the dogs raved unavailingly without. The hunter
soon arrived upon the scene and coaxed and threatened, but the Hermit
was firm. He told of his interest in the fox since the time he had
found him, a furry cub, playing before the home den, and of how again
and again he had watched him outwit his own dog. The hunter was at
length won over and departed with his hounds, even going so far as to
promise to hunt outside of Silver Spot's domain in the future.
The Hermit waited until man and dogs had vanished from sight; then
he opened the door of the cabin and stood aside. There was a flash of
reddish fur as Silver Spot bounded forth and away to the forest, his
splendid brush once more aloft and new courage in his heart.
WHEN THE MOON IS FULL
One summer night when the moon hung so low that it seemed to have
become entangled in the branches of a giant spruce, a comical furry
face wearing a black mask across the eyes appeared at an opening high
up in a tree. A moment later Ringtail, the big raccoon, scrambled to
the ground and set off in search of food. His brown fur was long and
thick, and his big tail with its seven dark rings was the pride of his
heart. In the wilderness, life is a serious business, yet the big
raccoon enjoyed to the utmost the blessings which Providence had heaped
Not far from the home tree lay a tamarack swamp to which Ringtail
now made his way, having in mind a certain still, deep pool, bordered
with rushes and lilies and teeming with fish, frogs, and tadpoles, fare
beloved of raccoons. While yet some distance from the pool he could
hear the chorus of the frogs, the shrill tenor of the smaller ones
accented at regular intervals by the deep base of bullfrogs, and at the
sound his mouth watered in anticipation.
[Illustration: The big frog was flipped out upon the bank.]
Stealthily though Ringtail advanced, sharp eyes noted his approach.
The chorus stopped abruptly and when he stood upon the edge of the pool
not a frog was to be seen. The raccoon, however, being wise in the ways
of frogs, was not discouraged. He crept out to the tip of the half
submerged log, where he crouched, prepared for the long and patient
wait which is so often the price of a meal in the wilderness. As he had
hoped, the inhabitants of the pool soon forgot the presence of the
motionless animal, taking him for a part of the log upon which he
crouched. Gradually the chorus was resumed, at first on the farther
shore, then coming nearer until, close at hand, sounded a hoarse, deep
bellow which betokened the presence of a big bullfrog. Ringtail's mouth
watered afresh, but he moved not so much as a muscle. The frog was as
yet too far away to risk a catch.
A moment later its bulging eyes appeared, almost under the nose of
the raccoon. Quick as a flash a little black, hand-like paw was thrust
into the water and the big frog was flipped out upon the bank. Having
secured it, Ringtail returned to the tip of his log where he proceeded
to dip the body of the frog into the water again and again until every
speck of leaf mold and dirt was washed away. Then he dispatched it with
As the commotion had disturbed the rest of the inhabitants of the
pool, Ringtail now wisely turned his back upon the swamp and set out
for fresh hunting-grounds. He wandered through the forest until he came
to the bank of a clear stream which he knew of old to be well stocked
with fish. Owing to recent rains at its source the stream had risen and
the current was swift and strong. In the shallows where it had spread
over its low banks, Ringtail found an abundance of food and fed
daintily. Each morsel was thoroughly washed before he swallowed it, a
habit of all raccoons, even though the morsel may have only that moment
been taken from the water.
Ringtail's feast suffered a sudden interruption. A few paces farther
on another raccoon had been having a similar meal when Ringtail
appeared. Now the first comer believed the feast to be his by right of
discovery and therefore advanced threateningly upon the intruder.
Ringtail was surprised but not disturbed. Fighting was almost as much
fun as feasting. Accordingly, when the other animal appeared ready to
quarrel, Ringtail, although he had eaten all he desired, advanced
joyously to the fray.
The two were evenly matched and for a time they rolled about, locked
in each other's embrace, neither gaining the advantage. A porcupine
dawdling along the trail stopped to look at the belligerents with cold
little eyes; then, grunting disdainfully, he waddled to the edge of the
stream to see what prize could be worth so great an exertion. As they
fought, the raccoons drew nearer and nearer to the porcupine, who did
not offer to move. Another lurch would undoubtedly have brought them
into contact with his bristling quills had they not in the nick of time
discovered their danger. Instantly they separated and leaped back. The
leap brought them to the slippery mud at the edge of the stream and the
next moment both rolled helplessly into the flood.
They rose gasping, but the current, which at that point set well in
toward the bank, seized and bore them struggling for some distance
before they managed to scramble upon a large branch that the stream was
carrying. There they clung, all desire for fight wiped out by the
For a time they rode, looking longingly at the banks which seemed to
glide rapidly to the rear. Then their queer craft was swept into a side
current and grounded, while the raccoons lost no time in wading to
shore. On the bank they cleaned and smoothed their bedraggled fur until
it was once more dry and fluffy; then, without a backward glance, each
hurried away, Ringtail to his home tree, where he arrived just as the
rosy fingers of dawn appeared in the east. The warmth of his snug
hollow felt very grateful after his sudden immersion and his ride in
the cool night air.
The next night found Ringtail entirely recovered from his adventure
and once more abroad. He wandered until he emerged from the forest at
the edge of a bit of cleared ground. Before him lay a moon-washed open
space and beyond that rose tall, green ranks of corn, a sight that
filled the raccoon's heart with joy. He quickly crossed the clearing
and, bearing down a stalk, stripped it of its husk and sank his teeth
into the milky kernels. Ringtail dearly loved sweet corn and he ate
until his round, furry sides were distended and he could hold no more.
Then he ran up and down through the rustling field, bearing down great
quantities, merely sampling their sweetness and leaving behind a wide
swath of ruin.
The next morning when the farmer beheld the work of destruction, his
wrath was great and he vowed vengeance upon all the raccoon tribe. That
night he lay in wait at the edge of the field with his gun. No marauder
appeared, yet in the morning he found that a new section had been
visited. It looked as if a dozen raccoons had feasted. A grand hunt
followed, but Ringtail, safe in his hollow tree at the edge of the
tamarack swamp, heard the distant barking of the dogs without alarm.
The hunt swept off in another direction and quiet again fell upon the
Thus the summer with its long, sunny days and velvety nights sped by
and was succeeded by the moon of falling leaves. The air was tinged
with frost and the forest flamed with color. The cornfield no longer
held a lure for Ringtail, but the beech trees were dropping their
little, three-cornered nuts and the big raccoon was still fat and
Late one night, when he had feasted well and was making his way
slowly homeward, he heard the barking of a dog. He paused in the trail
to listen. His sharp ears soon assured him that but a single enemy was
upon the trail and he started on again, not at all alarmed. He made
good time for so fat a fellow but it soon became apparent that he would
be overtaken before he could reach the home tree. Accordingly he sought
out a large beech tree and, backing up to its great trunk, waited for
He did not have long to wait. A black and white dog soon burst into
view, nose to earth, and almost ran into the waiting Ringtail before he
became aware of the raccoon's presence. With a yelp of surprise Pal
halted so abruptly that he skidded in the dry leaves, while the big
raccoon hissed warningly. For a long moment the two eyed each other,
each seemingly unwilling to offer the offensive. Pal barked sharply,
but the sound produced no effect upon the raccoon. Then the dog began
circling the tree. Ringtail circled with him, always presenting a
Ordinarily the peace-loving canine would hardly have attacked the
raccoon, but the madness of the season was racing in the veins of the
Hermit's dog and he longed for heroic adventure. So, after slowly
circling the tree several times, he threw caution to the winds and
closed in. Ringtail was ready, and for a time there was an inextricable
tangle of raccoon and dog. Then Pal backed off, bleeding in several
places, while the big raccoon, panting and disheveled, still stood with
back against the tree.
For a moment the two glared at each other. Then Pal's look wavered.
He glanced up into the tree and thence into the forest. Then he yawned
as if he had lost all interest in the affair and, trotting off, was
soon out of sight among the dark trees. Ringtail was free to continue
his way homeward, limping slightly but proud of his victory. Before
going to sleep he spent some time cleansing his matted fur and
restoring it to its usual soft and lustrous state.
A few nights later Ringtail met with a strange adventure, one which
left him thoroughly puzzled. He had left his hollow tree early in the
evening, very hungry after his hours of fasting. Coming upon a bed of
wake-robins, which covered the forest floor with their spotted leaves,
he stopped to dig up a few of the peppery roots. Washing them in a
near-by stream, he devoured them, blinking his eyes comically over an
unusually hot one. Then he wandered on in search of beechnuts, his
appetite only made keener by this peppery salad.
Not far from the rail fence which guarded the clearing of the
Hermit, he came upon a little open glade carpeted with moss and
surrounded by great trees. From the side opposite Ringtail a strange
yellow radiance streamed out over the glade. In its brightness a number
of rabbits were disporting themselves, jumping about as if in some
queer dance, pausing occasionally to stare into the center of that
fascinating glow. Now and then one would vanish into the darkness to
right or left, but another was sure to take its place.
Ringtail stared, the light reflected from his bright little eyes.
Slowly he crept nearer, lured by that strange radiance, fearful, yet
unable to resist. The rabbits vanished at his approach, while a tiny
wood-mouse which had stolen up, fled with a squeak of panic. But for
once Ringtail had no eyes for plump wood-mice. He stared a moment, then
moved aside into the darkness where his eyes were not so blinded, and
looked about him.
The light came from a small object set upon the ground. Ringtail
walked all around it, passing within a few feet of a spot where the
Hermit sat concealed in a thicket of wild cherry. The man had secreted
himself behind his dark-lantern in such a way that the wind would blow
toward him, so no scent of human presence reached the inquisitive
raccoon, who continued his cautious circling until he emerged again
into the radiance of the lantern. His fur bristled and the rings upon
his tail stood out sharply, while his queer little masked face held
such a puzzled look that the Hermit chuckled to himself.
You would make a fine pet, old Ringtail, but I suppose it would be
a shame to deprive you of your liberty, thought he, as he looked
admiringly at the big animal. His experiment with the light was proving
even more successful than he had hoped.
For some time Ringtail remained in the vicinity of the light,
generally just out of its glow. Several times he circled the lantern,
regarding it curiously but keeping at a respectful distance, for it
much resembled a trap. At length, however, the pangs of hunger asserted
themselves and he went on his way reluctantly, looking back often until
the strange glow was hidden from sight. Beechnuts were forgotten, but
he made a satisfying meal on fresh-water clams and several big, juicy
tadpoles before he turned his face toward the home tree.
By going some distance out of his way he came again to the little
open glade. This time it was illumined only by the radiance of the
harvest moon, a radiance very familiar and therefore not particularly
interesting to the big raccoon. The night was far spent when he reached
his hollow tree and climbed to his doorway. There he was sharply
silhouetted for a moment against the low-hanging moon before he
vanished into the friendly darkness. The bottom of the hole was made
soft with a thick covering of leaves into whose warmth Ringtail sank
with a sigh of content, and at once fell asleep.
The first dull cold days, heavy with their hint of coming snow,
found the big raccoon fat and sleepy, ready to go into winter quarters.
Ringtail seldom braved the gales of winter. He was an indolent,
peace-loving fellow, who would not have been able to cope with the
hunger and cold of the snowy months. The home hollow was not quite deep
enough to suit his fancy, so for one whole day he wandered about,
investigating tree after tree before he found one to his liking.
Occasionally he would enter a hole to find it occupied by another
raccoon who only looked at him sleepily and went on with his
All day dark clouds had hung over the wilderness. Late in the
afternoon a few big flakes, harbingers of the coming storm, drifted
slowly to earth. The sight caused Ringtail to hasten his investigations
and at last he discovered a place quite to his liking. It was a warm
deep hollow, well up from the ground in a big beech tree, its doorway
opening toward the south.
When Ringtail poked in his furry face, he found another raccoon
already in possession of the snug hollow, but this fact did not trouble
him at all. He slid down into the hole, which was carpeted almost a
foot deep with beech leaves, and, instead of resenting the intrusion,
the other raccoon only sighed comfortably and went back to sleep.
Ringtail squeezed his big body into the warm bed of leaves, cuddling
his nose into the thick fur of his bedfellow and protecting his feet
with his own bushy tail. And there the two slept contentedly, a furry
brown ball, until the warm spring sun peeping in at their doorway
called them forth.
THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF RINGTAIL,
Late one summer afternoon a hush lay over the wilderness. The air
was so still that even the poplar leaves, which move at the slightest
breath, hung motionless. The swamp steamed in the heat, and even in the
more open forest the air was sultry and oppressive. Birds and wild
creatures waited panting for the relief of darkness, seeming to move
more silently and furtively than usual. The sun sank behind a bank of
angry-looking clouds, but even after dusk had shrouded the trails there
was only slight relief from the heat.
Ringtail climbed from the home tree to which he had returned in the
spring, and set out for the swamp, eager for a meal of frogs and fish
in spite of the strange, oppressive feeling in the air. About midnight,
while he was still abroad, the storm broke and swept over the
wilderness, leaving its path strewn with a tangled mass of brush and
fallen trees. Fortunate it was for Ringtail that he was not at home,
for the great beech crashed to the earth, where it lay upon the forest
floor, the entrance to the raccoon's house buried from sight. Thus
Ringtail found it when he returned from his fishing, having safely
weathered the storm under a ledge of rock.
His comfortable home was gone, but Ringtail was not one to complain.
The next night found him abroad in search of a new dwelling, moving
being no trouble at all for him. In the course of his wanderings he
came to the rail fence which protected the clearing of the Hermit.
Standing with his front feet on the lower rail, Ringtail surveyed the
house and the cleared ground flooded with moonlight. A dark object at
the top of a tall pole caught his attention and he decided to
Ringtail was a skillful climber and he soon stood on a stout
platform at the top of the pole. Before him was a rude, though
inviting-looking cabin of sticks; but, alas for poor Ringtail's hopes,
the doorway was much too small for him to enter. He poked in his
inquisitive, pointed nose, thereby causing a great commotion among the
sparrows who had made the place their home. Aroused by their noisy
chirping, the Hermit appeared in his doorway and in the moonlight
discovered the dark bulk before his birdhouse.
Wondering what it could be, he approached noiselessly and turned his
flashlight upon the visitor. The light revealed a pair of bright little
eyes set in a comical, black-masked face peering down at him over the
edge of the platform.
Old Ringtail, as sure as I am standing here, and by the looks of
things, trying his best to roost in my birdhouse! The Hermit chuckled
as he looked up into the eyes of the animal, who did not seem at all
After the two had gazed sociably at each other for a few moments the
Hermit bade Ringtail a cheery good-night and withdrew to his own cabin,
calling to Pal, who had been arousing the echoes with his excited
barking. The next morning Ringtail had disappeared, but, deciding that
the raccoon would make a far more interesting neighbor than a colony of
noisy sparrows, the Hermit tore out the nests and enlarged the doorway
enough to permit the animal to enter. Then he awaited developments,
trusting to the raccoon's curiosity to bring him back.
He was not disappointed. The following night Ringtail again visited
the birdhouse. To his joy he discovered that it could now be entered,
even though the doorway was a tight fit. The sparrows, who, in spite of
the destruction of their nests, had returned to the cabin to roost, he
evicted without a qualm of conscience. The first streaks of dawn found
him curled up snugly, sound asleep in his new home.
From that time on, the big raccoon made himself very much at home
about the clearing. At night he investigated everything on the place
and nearly drove Pal to a frenzy until the dog's master gave him to
understand that the raccoon was to be one of the family. Pal was
surprised and disgusted, but from that time on he tried to ignore his
old enemy. This was not an easy matter. Ringtail, who had grown
extremely bold with the protection accorded him, seemed to take delight
in making Pal's life miserable. He would tag the dog around the
clearing until Pal, in desperation, would turn upon him with a savage
growl. Then his tormentor would take to a tree, or his pole, or even
the roof of the cabin, there to wait until the dog's anger had cooled.
Ringtail had, also, another habit which annoyed Pal greatly. In the
shade just outside the cabin door was the dog's drinking-pan which the
Hermit always kept filled with fresh water from the spring. This pan
the raccoon always used for washing his food. Poor Pal, coming up hot
and thirsty, was sure to find it full of leaves, twigs and earth. He
bore this affront for some time but at last his patience was exhausted.
There-after he did his drinking at the spring, approaching it always by
a round-about way lest the raccoon discover it and pollute its clear
water. The Hermit watched the two animals with amusement, but he did
not interfere. Gradually the feud was forgotten. Indeed, before many
weeks had passed, the two had become firm friends, though Ringtail
still delighted in teasing the dog.
In a surprisingly short space of time, too, the raccoon came to
trust the Hermit, even to the point of entering the cabin and eating
from his hand. This friendliness, however, led to trouble, as the man
soon discovered. Ringtail's curiosity was never satisfied and the cabin
furnished a rich field for exploration. Shining objects of all kinds
seemed to hold a fascination for him. One day when the Hermit missed
his watch, and found it eventually in the raccoon's house, he decided
that it was time to put a curb upon that animal's explorations.
Ringtail developed another habit which came to be very annoying to
the Hermit. On warm summer nights the man slept in a hammock swung
between two trees in front of his cabin. Ringtail, returning from his
nocturnal hunting, would run along the low branch of one of these trees
until he stood directly above the sleeper. Then he would let go and
fall with a thud, sometimes into the springy hammock, but more often
upon the man.
Nothing that the Hermit could do would break Ringtail of this
playful habit. At length he was compelled to move his hammock, swinging
it between a corner of the cabin and a small spruce having no long,
horizontal branches. Here for a time he slept in peace, until Ringtail
discovered that he could take a few steps on the rope and so get into
the hammock, where he would sleep contentedly until morning. At least
this was better than having the raccoon's weight descend upon him
without warning, and the Hermit permitted him to remain. Sometimes he
even used Ringtail for a pillow, a liberty which the animal never
As has been mentioned, Ringtail was extremely fond of bright
objects. A bit of glass or tin glittering in the light would draw him
irresistibly. And one night this attraction led him into serious
trouble. At dawn Ringtail was still absent, and as the morning passed
and he did not return, the Hermit grew uneasy. Pal, too, seemed to miss
his playmate. He wandered aimlessly about and at last disappeared into
Late in the afternoon Pal returned and signified by his actions that
his master was needed in the forest. Remembering the plight in which
Dave Lansing had found himself, the Hermit carried his axe with him
into the wilderness. Pal ran on ahead but his eager barking enabled his
master to follow. Coming to a mossy spot under a big pine, he beheld a
sight which moved him to pity.
Long before, a trap had been set under the tree and forgotten. It
was covered from sight and badly rusted save for one spot, where a
moonbeam had made a dazzling point of light in the darkness. Lured by
its gleam Ringtail had stopped to investigate and his foot had been
caught fast in the trap.
For hours he had torn at the thing which held him so tightly, until,
bleeding and exhausted and almost dead with thirst, he had crouched
down among the leaves in despair. Thus Pal had found him and, unable to
do anything for his playfellow, had brought his master, confident that
to him all things were possible. When the Hermit came upon them, Pal
was licking the face of the big raccoon who seemed much comforted by
the dog's presence.
The Hermit, with his axe, soon freed Ringtail. As the latter limped
painfully, he carried him in his arms to the cabin, Pal frisking
joyfully about them. Ringtail had the best of attention and in a few
days was as lively as ever, his spirits undampened by his harrowing
experience. He worried Pal continually, but the dog bore it all with a
look of mingled resignation and pleasure which was comical to see.
About this time a new trick which the big raccoon had developed
became very annoying to poor Pal. When presented by his master with an
unusually fine bone, the dog would sneak off back of the cabin, look
suspiciously around and then quickly bury his prize, concealing all
traces of its location. Almost invariably, however, a pair of bright
eyes set in a masked face would be watching from some place of
concealment and the dog would no sooner turn his back than the
mischievous Ringtail would dig up the treasure. Pal generally
discovered him in time to save the bone and the friendship appeared not
to suffer in the least.
Once Pal, in his turn, owed his life to his friend. At dusk the two
wandered together into the borders of the wilderness. While Ringtail
was catching mice, Pal went on by himself. Early that spring a lynx had
taken up its abode in a rocky cave not far from the Hermit's clearing,
and several times had watched hungrily as Pal trotted through the
forest. Pal had always been accompanied by the Hermit and, though the
lynx could see no gun, it was suspicious of mankind and dared not
attack. Now, however, it found the dog alone and unprotected.
Without a sound the beast crouched and leaped. As it sprang,
however, a sound deflected its attention and the leap fell short, the
long claws raking cruelly across the dog's unprotected back, but
causing no fatal injury. Pal uttered a howl of terror and pain and,
before the big cat could launch itself again, a raging whirlwind of
claws and teeth descended upon its back.
Ringtail, at his hunting not far away, had heard the agonized cry of
his playmate and the sound had filled him with rage. Now, perched upon
the back of the astonished lynx, he bit and tore, holding his place in
spite of the animal's frantic efforts to dislodge him. At length, cowed
and exhausted and with bleeding flanks, the lynx was glad to escape to
its den. From that time on it showed no interest in either dog or
Late summer came, with a full moon flooding the world with its
silvery radiance. The nights were almost as bright as the days and
seemed to hold a witchery which ran like fire in the veins of the
forest folk. Ringtail slept in his log house the greater part of the
day but was seldom to be found about the clearing at night. He was
round, full-fed, and jolly.
[Illustration: Ringtail had heard the agonized cry of his playmate.]
One night the Hermit fell asleep thinking of Ringtail. As he slept,
he dreamed of walking in the forest and of hearing the distant barking
of dogs. Louder and louder grew the sound until suddenly he awoke to
find that it had not all been a dream. So close at hand as to startle
him, he heard a wild clamor in which he could distinguish Pal's excited
voice. Leaping from his hammock he quickly rounded the corner of the
cabin and beheld a weird sight. A torch borne in the hand of a tall man
cast a flickering light over a mêlée of dogs, leaping and barking about
the foot of the pole which held Ringtail's snug home. Another but
smaller figure stood near, pointing to the spot where, upon the
platform before the birdhouse, two shining eyes looked down at the
group. Pal was here, there and everywhere, loudly voicing his opinion
of the intruders.
The Hermit strode up to the group. What does this mean? he asked
in a stern voice, of the man who held the torch.
Instead of replying to his question, the man asked, Is that your
No, it isn't my coon, but it is kind enough to be boarding with me
at present, the Hermit replied.
Well, you'll have to kill him. My name is Graham. I live a mile up
the river and this coon has just about ruined my cornfield, was the
How do you know it is this one? the Hermit asked. There are other
raccoons in the woods.
How do we know? The man was growing angry at the delay. Didn't we
just track him here? After he had ruined a choice patch last night, I
made up my mind to get him. Sure enough, he came to-night and the dogs
brought us here.
The Hermit's face grew grave and he raised troubled eyes to those of
his old friend twinkling down at him. If this is true, he said
slowly, of course something will have to be done. I only ask you to
make sure first. Will you do what I propose?
He talked earnestly for a few moments while the farmer listened in
silence. Then Mr. Graham said, still unconvinced, Well, we will try
it, but if we find that it is your coon, he will have to be killed.
The Hermit nodded and, calling their dogs, the strangers departed
without their game. The Hermit returned to his hammock and silence once
more settled over the clearing. It was long, however, before the man
slept. Ringtail, with his mischievous ways and funny masked face, had
become a favorite member of his little household. And now disgrace and
death were probably to be his portion. With a sinking of the heart the
Hermit remembered Ringtail's long absences in the moonlight and his
full-fed, happy appearance upon his return.
The following morning, in accordance with his promise to the farmer,
the Hermit lured Ringtail to the cabin by means of a cooky. Snapping a
chain about his neck he tethered him securely to a young pine before
the door. Ringtail ate the cooky, nosed the Hermit's hand for more and
then started for home. The chain, however, brought him up with a jerk
and he turned such a bewildered look upon the man that the latter's
heart almost failed him.
I'm sorry, old chap, but I promised, he said. If you would take
just a little corn it would not matter, but I have seen a field ruined
by your tribe and I know it cannot be permitted.
Ringtail tried in every way to gain his freedom but the chain was
strong. Pal, too, seemed much bewildered at the sudden curtailing of
his playmate's liberty. He stood at attention, looking from the Hermit
to his old chum and back again.
It's no use, Pal. I promised to keep him chained to-night. Then if
Mr. Graham's field suffers again, he will know that it was not Ringtail
who visited it. The Hermit patted the dog's head and turned back to
the cabin. When he came out some time later, he found Pal and the
raccoon asleep side by side.
So Ringtail became a prisoner of war, though, it must be confessed,
a very pampered one. During the day he seemed quite contented with his
lot, playing with the shining links of his chain or sleeping with his
tail over his eyes. But when night came and the moon again flooded the
wilderness with its radiance, the raccoon strained at his leash and
whimpered like a child, so that the Hermit was forced to harden his
heart anew. Meanwhile, he hoped against hope that the jury would not
find his pet guilty.
Both the man and the animal spent a restless night. The Hermit rose
early and was just preparing his breakfast when he heard a commotion in
the clearing. Looking out, he beheld Farmer Graham and his son, guns
over their shoulders and two weary dogs at their heels.
Well, I guess you can keep your coon, the farmer chuckled, as the
Hermit stepped out to greet him. The thief came again last night and
we treed him much nearer home than this. He patted a bulky bag at his
back. The trails of the two must have crossed the other time. Anyway,
we'll give your Ringtail the benefit of the doubt. Sorry to have
That's all right and I will confess that I am glad Ringtail has not
been found guilty. I am just getting breakfast. Come right in and help
eat it, won't you? the Hermit invited, heartily.
The farmer declined, on the plea that breakfast would be waiting at
home, and the men parted friends. Ringtail was then released from
bondage and given a good breakfast, after which he climbed to his home
in the birdhouse and fell asleep, unconscious of his narrow escape from
THE HAUNTER OF THE TRAIL
Toward the close of an early autumn day the Hermit might have been
seen leaning comfortably against an angle of the old rail fence,
pleasantly engaged in doing nothing. At his feet lay a bundle of
freshly dug roots, the rich forest mold still adhering to their
leathery, brown surfaces. At his back stretched an upland pasture
covered with coarse brown grass and dotted with clumps of jumper and
wild berry-bushes; before him lay the wilderness, the golden tints of
birch and poplar and the scarlet of maples in sharp contrast with the
dark green of pine and spruce.
The Hermit was puzzled. On several occasions when harvesting in the
woods, he had become conscious of being watched by unfriendly eyes, yet
when he turned there was nothing to be seen, save perhaps an
inquisitive chickadee or a squirrel peeping at him from behind a tree
trunk. That very afternoon, while digging his roots, he had experienced
the unpleasant sensation and, stopping his work, had searched the
forest all about him. Yet, a little later, the feeling had returned,
and Pal had growled deep in his throat, the hair along his back
bristling defiantly. The dog, however, did not leave his master and
after a moment of silent waiting the Hermit had turned again to his
work, resolutely dismissing the matter from his mind.
Now, as he leaned against the fence looking back toward the forest,
he resolved to visit it again the following afternoon for the sole
purpose of seeking out this mysterious haunter of his trail. In the
mean time the shadows were growing long and a number of tasks were
still to be done, so he picked up his roots, whistled to Pal, who was
investigating a woodchuck hole, and turned his face homeward.
The next afternoon the Hermit entered the wilderness alone, for he
wanted no excitable small dog to balk his quest. Seating himself
comfortably with his back against a log and partly screened by a
thicket of young alders, he waited motionless. A deep hush seemed to
clothe the forest as in a garment. All about him rose great trees,
their branches shutting out the sunlight and making a mysterious green
For a long time nothing unusual appeared and the Hermit grew
impatient, half believing that his experience had been but a trick of
the imagination. He had just about made up his mind to abandon the
quest when suddenly he caught his breath, thankful that he had not
stirred. He was aware of neither sound nor motion, yet not many paces
distant stood a tawny, gray-brown animal whose round, moon-like face,
pale savage eyes and tufted ears proclaimed it to be a lynx, or, as it
is more commonly known in the backwoods settlements, a lucivee.
The animal stood a trifle over twenty inches in height, his hind
legs somewhat longer than his front ones, giving him a queer, humped-up
appearance. His feet were huge, furry pads which could tread a cracking
forest floor as silently as shadows; his eyes beneath the tassels of
stiff dark hair glowed with a pale fire, giving the beast a most
sinister appearance. Save for the nervous twitching of his stubby tail,
the lucivee stood as motionless as the trees about him.
As the wind was blowing toward him, the Hermit felt sure that the
lynx was not yet aware of his presence. He was glad of this, as it
would give him an opportunity to study the beast. The attention of the
lynx was directed elsewhere, and even the ears of the man, dull in
comparison with those of the wild creature, gradually became aware of a
faint rustling which grew momentarily louder. The animal drifted behind
a tree where he melted into the shadows and became invisible. The
effect was uncanny and the Hermit ceased to wonder that he had been
unable to catch a glimpse of this haunter of his trail.
Now the rustling sound grew louder and, turning his eyes, the Hermit
beheld a strange spectacle. Coming slowly between the trees was
something which resembled a huge burr covered with brown leaves. The
Hermit stared for a moment, scarce believing the evidence of his eyes;
then, as the queer object came nearer, his face relaxed in a broad
grin. The apparition was Kagh, the porcupine, who had apparently been
enjoying a nap in a bed of dry leaves which had adhered thickly to his
spiky covering. He was indeed an odd looking object as he blundered
along. The Hermit had much ado to keep from chuckling aloud, especially
as he watched the lynx who seemed interested but altogether puzzled.
The animal peered out from behind the tree trunk, round eyes fixed
unwaveringly upon this stranger who advanced, calmly indifferent to the
As the porcupine passed, the lynx came cautiously forth from his
concealment and padded after him, his curiosity still unsatisfied. Kagh
had not gone far when some whim caused him to turn about as if to
retrace his steps. The lucivee was close behind, but with a motion like
the bounding of a rubber ball he quickly vacated the spot and again
stood peering from behind a tree.
And now the Hermit witnessed an amusing performance. Some strange
freak seemed to possess the porcupine, for he slowly circled the tree
behind which the lynx crouched, stopping every few steps to sniff at
the bark or to peer up into the branches. For a moment the big cat held
his ground, but the sight of the queer apparition bearing down upon him
was too much for his high-strung nerves. With a snarl he scrambled up
the tree, where he crouched upon a branch, glaring down at the animated
leaf-pile. Kagh shambled around the tree, his nose to the ground as if
hunting for something. Then he continued on his placid way,
disappearing down the gray vista of the forest, apparently ignorant of
the fact that there was a lucivee in the woods.
[Illustration: He crouched upon a branch, glaring down at the
A sudden puff of wind now carried the scent of the man to the
crouching lynx. By a stiffening of the animal's muscles the Hermit knew
that his presence had been detected. As the branch was close enough to
bring the cat within springing distance, he deemed it time to assert
himself. Accordingly, he sprang to his feet with a shout, while the
lynx, horrified at the sudden clamor, dropped to the ground. Shrinking
off into the shadows the lucivee vanished as completely as if swallowed
up by the earth.
The setting sun was casting long shadows among the trees and the air
was fast growing chill with the coming of night when the Hermit climbed
the rail fence into his clearing, to be met by an enthusiastic Pal. The
man had learned what it was that had been haunting his trail and, his
mind at rest, he felt no further uneasiness. He did not believe that
the lynx would attack him, at least while food was abundant. Though he
rarely carried a gun, he always bore his mattock or something which
could be used as a weapon in case of need.
The big cat, too, had come to know all he desired of the man whose
footsteps he had been dogging for days. His savage nature craved the
deeper solitudes and the next evening found him journeying northward,
away from the settlements with their danger from men and guns. Wood
mice were plentiful and once the lynx caught a deer, dropping upon it
from an overhanging branch. In this feast he was joined by another
lynx, smaller but more savage, and thereafter the two traveled
together, selecting their home among the ledges of a heavily wooded
Autumn passed. The wild geese drifted southward in search of open
waterways, and the moon of snowshoes was ushered in. For days a fierce
storm raged, the keen wind lashing the branches of the forest trees and
piling the drifts deep. Few indeed of the forest folk ventured abroad,
most of them keeping to their dens until the storm should pass. When
the sun again appeared, it shone upon a world of pure, glistening
white, where the frost particles in the air sparkled like diamond dust.
Hunger drove the creatures forth, and by evening the snow was
interlaced with their innumerable trails. The bigger lynx emerged from
his dark den high up under an overhanging ledge, stretched himself and
yawned mightily, then set off in search of a meal. For a long time he
was unsuccessful. The creatures were shy and frightened by their own
shadows upon this white coverlet which made the night woods almost as
light as day. The lynx was obliged to be content with a rabbit caught
at the edge of a snow drift, though his fierce appetite craved stronger
Weeks passed and the plight of the forest creatures grew steadily
worse. Icy gales swept down from the far north, following each other in
rapid succession and making it impossible for any forest creature to
stir abroad, sometimes for days at a time. The lynxes grew steadily
leaner and their temper more savage. Like gaunt shadows of doom they
drifted down the snowy aisles of the forest, now and then coming upon a
grouse, which had burrowed into a drift for the night, only to find
itself imprisoned by the freezing of the crust above. Even wood mice
were difficult to obtain, though their runways branched everywhere deep
down under the snow, which to them was a blessing. The nights were cold
and still, lit by the great fan of the Aurora Borealis which pulsed
upward to the zenith, glowing with its ever-changing colorsdelicate
green fading into violet and blue, flaming redly or dying away in a
pure white light.
About this time the female lynx met her fate in an encounter with a
fat porcupine who dawdled across her trail. The sight of good eating so
tantalizingly near caused her to lose all caution. With her long claws
she endeavored to turn the porcupine over that she might reach his
unprotected under parts. In her eagerness, however, she forgot the
barbed tail which dealt her a smashing blow, full in the face. One of
the quills mercifully penetrated the brain and at once put an end to
the painful struggles. Thus the male lynx was left to walk the trails
alone, but in spite of the odds against him, he succeeded in holding
The beginning of March saw no break in the intense cold. In fact,
March in the wilderness is the most bitter month of the winter. Food is
reduced to a minimum and the survivors of cold and hunger are
One night when the moon, far off in a cloudless sky, sent pale
fingers of mysterious light creeping down the dark forest lanes, the
surviving lynx appeared in his endless search for food, his huge pads
making no sound as he kept himself cunningly concealed among the
shifting shadows. The hush of death brooded over the frozen forest, a
hush in which the scratching of a dry leaf across the icy snow crust
could be plainly heard for some distance. Occasionally the silence was
broken by a loud report from some great tree.
The lynx drifted on, seeking vainly for food to stay his fierce
appetite. Suddenly he crouched close to the ground, startled, as a
weird, hollow cry rang out just above him. It was the voice of doom for
many smaller creatures but not for the lynx. As the great owl drifted
by on soundless wings, the animal snarled but went on his way.
At length he paused again to listen. Far away a mournful howl rose
on the still air and died away, only to be taken up by another and
another. At the sound the hair bristled upon the back of the listener.
It was the cry of the wolf pack.
Now the lynx hesitated, uncertain whether to ignore the sound or to
make good his escape. Since game had become scarce the wolves had taken
to hunting the lynxes. For a single wolf the big cat felt little fear,
but he realized that he would be no match for them hunting in packs.
Accordingly, much against his will, he turned back toward the den,
stopping occasionally to listen, the tassels of dark hairs upon his
ears standing stiffly erect and his pale eyes gleaming fiercely.
It soon became apparent that the pack was coming rapidly closer and
in another moment had caught the scent. On they came, silent and swift,
until they sighted their quarry among the trees. Then they broke into
full cry. The lynx, knowing that he could not hope to escape them upon
the ground, hastily scrambled up a tree where, crouching upon a limb,
he glared down at his enemies.
Maddened at the escape of their quarry, the wolves circled the tree
with snapping jaws, leaping as far upward as possible, only to fall
back among their fellows. Their eyes gleamed red, but the lynx, safe on
his branch high above, felt only disdain. He knew that they could not
The moon sank out of sight, leaving the forest in darkness, but
still the wolf pack kept watch beneath the tree, moving restlessly but
always alert. In the east the darkness paled and the sky became
gradually suffused with pink. The lynx thought that daylight would see
the end of his imprisonment, but though a few of the pack slunk away,
enough remained on guard to make a descent from the tree extremely
Soon after sunrise, however, easier game was sighted and those
beneath the tree at once joined the chase, leaving the lynx free to
stretch his cramped muscles and descend from his perch. That morning he
was fortunate in finding the half-devoured carcass of a doe which a
panther had killed and left unguarded, and he ate greedily of the
life-giving food. His fur had grown ragged and his sides gaunt with
hunger, but after this satisfying meal new life and courage seemed to
flow into his veins.
For some reason the panther did not return to its kill and the flesh
of the deer kept the lynx in food for several days. All too soon,
however, it was gone, and starvation again stared him in the face. Then
he remembered the settlements, with their many dangers, but also with
their promise of food. So he drifted southward and found a new den not
far from the edge of the wilderness.
Thus it was that, late one afternoon, as the Hermit and Pal were
returning to the cabin after a tramp through the woods, the dog became
suddenly uneasy and the man again experienced the unpleasant sensation
of hostile eyes staring at him. Not caring to have darkness overtake
him in the woods, unarmed as he was, he whistled to Pal and went
steadily on, watchful but unafraid. The lynx, from the shadows of the
trees, watched him hungrily, longing to attack the small,
harmless-looking animal but afraid of the man.
Day after day the lucivee watched for a time when the dog might
follow the trail alone, but the Hermit did not permit Pal to wander off
unaccompanied, and he was careful to arm himself on his infrequent
trips into the forest. Though he was often aware of the presence of the
lynx, he caught only one glimpse of him, a dim gray shadow among the
grayer shadow of the woods. The animal hunted wide. He would
occasionally grow so bold as to approach the outlying farms under cover
of darkness, and make a raid upon a sheep-pen. This was always sure to
bring pursuit, and after the lynx had received a painful flesh wound he
grew wary of the abode of man.
Thus the days passed, sometimes marked by plenty, but more often by
hunger, until at last the winter came to an end, as even the longest
winter must do. When the wild geese returned to their northern breeding
places and food grew more abundant, the lynx, too, turned his face to
the vast solitudes, far from the dangers of the settlements. With him
far away, Pal was once more allowed the freedom of the trails, while
his master, about his work in the woods, was no longer aware of that
grim, unseen haunter of his footsteps.
WHERE WINTER HOLDS NO TERRORS
In a small reed-girt pool near the source of a forest stream which
emptied into the Little Vermilion not far from the Hermit's cabin,
stood a rough dome of grass roots, lily stems, mud and sticks. Standing
at a bend in the stream, it resembled a mass of driftwood deposited by
the freshet, yet it was the snug home of a fat old muskrat.
The roof of the lodge sloped somewhat toward the south, thus
permitting the sun's warmth to penetrate the one loose place in the
mass, the muskrat's ventilating shaft. In a snug room about a foot down
from the roof of the dome, and well above the water line, he had made
his bed of leaves and grass, where he could sleep snugly even when the
winter gales shrieked overhead and the snow drifted deep.
The muskrat, as is usual with his tribe, had two entrances to his
lodge, one a tortuous passage opening under water and leading inward
about a foot, then slanting upward five or six feet, the other leading
to the open air, its exit cleverly concealed by a tussock of coarse
grass. Here he lived a life of ease and also of adventure, feasting on
sweet-flag root, rushes and lily stems, of which there was always an
abundance close at hand, and taking his exercise in the water or in his
many runways in the long grass bordering the stream. The muskrat had
adopted the modern slogan of Safety First and had, in addition to his
lodge, made a burrow in the bank not far away, a retreat in time of
One warm summer day the muskrat emerged from the lower entrance to
his lodge. Swimming lazily across the little pool, he paused under the
shade of a mass of overhanging roots where it was safe to thrust out
his nose for a breath of air. Though the air of the wilderness was warm
and oppressive, the water of the stream was pleasantly cooled by a
number of springs. The sun shining down upon it served only to
intensify the green of overhanging grass and leaves, so that the
muskrat seemed to be basking in a dim green world. Gnats hovered in a
thick swarm in the sunlight close above the calm surface, and a group
of birches, leaning over to look at their reflection, trailed their
tender green branches in the clear mirror. Occasional flecks of foam
from the falls above drifted by, or a leaf fell softly, floating like a
fairy boat on a sea of glass.
Lured by the peacefulness of the scene the muskrat ventured forth
into the sunlight to comb his fur, about which he was extremely
fastidious. He had just begun his toilet when a shadow drifted between
him and the sun. Without looking upward, he plunged back into the pool,
carrying with him a number of tiny bubbles of air which gleamed like
silver amid his thick fur. Under the shadow of the root he lay quiet
for some time, having no means of knowing that the shadow had been but
that of a summer cloud drifting by overhead.
As the muskrat lay quiet, something dropped with a light plash upon
the surface of the pool and, looking up, he beheld the flutter of
bright wings as a butterfly struggled with the strange element into
which it had so suddenly dropped. The next moment there was a swirl of
water as a vigorous young trout rose to the surface, and the butterfly
The pool was now quiet and, as a muskrat's memory is short, he once
more decided to take an airing. At a place where a little sandy beach
sloped to the water he climbed out and, seating himself, began a
leisurely toilet. With his claws he combed out his fur until it was dry
and fluffy and shone with a silky luster where the warm sun touched it.
Then he began on his face and ears, rubbing them with both paws in a
comical manner. Suddenly, however, his toilet was interrupted in a way
which all but put a period to the muskrat's story.
[Illustration: The hawk dropped like a thunderbolt and caught him in
He had just finished washing his face when, without warning, there
came a sweep of great wings just over his head. The muskrat dodged and
turned to the pool, but he was too late. The hawk dropped like a
thunderbolt, caught him in its talons and rose swiftly into the air far
above the quiet pool. For a moment the big muskrat was stunned with the
force and suddenness of the attack; very soon, however, his wits
returned, and he squirmed sharply until the hawk had difficulty in
holding his prize.
A thoughtful Providence, in fashioning the muskrat tribe, has
clothed them in a skin which seems several times too large, a fact that
is often the means of saving their lives. The claws of the hawk had
caught only in the flabby, loose flesh, and with a sudden twist the big
muskrat pulled himself loose from the cruel grasp just as they passed
over a woodland stream. Fortunately for the rat, his captor was flying
low and before the hawk could again secure its prey the muskrat had
fallen into the stream. He sank like lead to the bottom and hid under
an overhanging bank. As for the hawk, with a scream of baffled rage it
flew away, knowing it would be useless to wait for the quarry to
For a long time the muskrat lay trembling in the darkness, with only
the tip of his nose above water. Then he swam warily to the edge of the
shadow and looked about. The stream was one that he had, at infrequent
intervals, visited before. As it held none of the attractions of the
home pool, he had always returned to his original haunts, relieved when
the journey by land was safely accomplished. Now he waited until sure
that his enemy had gone; then he climbed warily from the water,
crouching among the grass roots or under fallen logs at the least hint
of danger, but traveling as straight as if guided by a compass to his
own stream. There he slid happily into the water and entered his
waiting home, glad to rest and recover from his fright.
One day, not long after his adventure with the hawk, the big muskrat
sat in his favorite retreat under the birch roots, just below a spot
where a cold spring bubbled from the sand of the stream bed. He kept
under water as much as possible, only coming up to renew his supply of
air. While he idly watched the placid surface above, a gaudy fly
dropped lightly upon the water and lay still. As on that other day when
the butterfly had met its fate, a big trout rose at once to the lure.
The fly disappeared but, instead of swimming away, the trout began
what seemed to the muskrat a series of exceedingly queer antics. He
made a rush downstream near the surface, shaking his head from side to
side, while the muskrat could see a long, thin line trailing behind
him. Then the fish leaped several times into the air, the sunlight
flashing upon the bright carmine spots on his olive-green sides. Next
he tried sulking on the bottom of the pool, jiggling from side to side,
only to rise gradually to the surface. A net dipped for a moment into
the water and the trout vanished as if spirited away. The muskrat
watched with bulging eyes but the trout did not again return to the
After a time the muskrat bestirred himself and crossed the pool to a
spot near his own front door. But instead of entering it, he rose
toward the surface, having decided to take a brief journey in one of
his many runways. A surprise was in store for the big rat, however, a
surprise which drove all thoughts of a journey from his mind.
As he approached the surface, he looked up and found himself staring
directly into a pair of pale, savage eyes set in a round face,
surmounted by a pair of tasseled ears. The lynx lay upon a half
submerged log, its face close to the surface of the water, in order
that the reflections might not interfere with its vision of the clear
depths. As the muskrat came near the surface, a great paw armed with
long, keen claws was thrust into the water, but the lynx was a moment
too late. With a suddenness which caused him to turn a backward
somersault, the big muskrat arrested his upward motion and dived for
his subterranean doorway. He did not pause in his swift flight until
the long passage was traversed and he crouched, shaken and panting, in
the darkest corner of his house. Nor did he venture forth again that
One day he had a narrow escape from a huge snapping turtle which
entered the pool on a foraging expedition. At the time, the muskrat was
dozing in his favorite retreat, all unconscious of the invader until he
felt his right hind foot taken in a vise-like grip which made him
squeak with pain. He twisted about until he could look at his ugly
captor, at sight of whom his heart sank. Pull as he would, he could not
loosen his foot from the cruel jaws. All would have been over with him
had not the Hermit at that moment chanced upon the pool and, seeing his
plight, come to the rescue. The muskrat entered his den with a bleeding
foot but a thankful heart.
It must not be supposed, however, that the muskrat's life was one
continual round of sudden dangers and narrow escapes. For weeks at a
time no enemy visited the quiet pool, and he played about and fed,
occasionally with other muskrats who had their homes in the same
stream. They are sociable folk, as a rule, and like to live in
colonies. The big muskrat, however, kept much to himself, leading his
own life, independent of the colony.
The drowsy summer days passed and with a swirl of snowflakes the
Frost King descended upon the world. The muskrat's playground was
roofed over with ice, blue as steel, and the wilderness lay under a
glistening white mantle. For the fat old muskrat, however, the winter
held no terrors. He slept for long hours, curled up snug and warm in
his soft, dry bed, while the wind howled and the snow drifted but a
foot above his head. Many of the wilderness creatures began to feel the
pinch of hunger but not the big rat. Just outside the subterranean
entrance to his abode grew plenty of sweet-flag and succulent lily
stems and roots, his for the taking.
The whole pool was his playground, the season which brought distress
to so many creatures proving a blessing to him. The snapping turtle had
burrowed into the ground for the winter; the hawk had vanished; and
minks, those deadly enemies of the dwellers of the pool, were seldom
seen. The muskrat had nothing to fear. The water under the thick ice
was comfortably warm and, as it fell below its summer level, it left an
air space of several inches along the bank. There the muskrat could
travel long distances or seat himself comfortably and look out upon the
wintry world from which he was so well protected.
It was indeed a changed world upon which he looked one wintry
morning. The depths of the pool were as calm as a summer day, but above
the ice the bare branches of the birch trees were lashed by a cutting
wind straight from the ice fields of the north. Snow covered the forest
floor. Now and then a rabbit, looking like an animated snowball in its
white winter coat, drifted past the muskrat's hiding-place, but most of
the wilderness folk had denned up, waiting for the storm to pass.
The muskrat now bestirred himself and began a leisurely journey
downstream, stopping when an unusually succulent root showed itself
above the oozy bed. He had traveled far, lured by tempting food always
just ahead. Suddenly his heart seemed to stand still and he gazed down
stream with bulging eyes. Coming swiftly toward him, swimming with a
sinuous ease which struck terror to the muskrat's heart, was a long,
brown animal whose keen eyes seemed to bore into every nook and corner
of the stream. The one enemy had arrived.
The muskrat knew that he could never hope to reach his home ahead of
the bloodthirsty mink. Glancing wildly about, he discovered a small
haven under the bank, a doubtful hiding place, but his one chance of
escape. Squeezing his big body into the cavity as best he could, he
waited with wildly beating heart.
It was indeed fortunate for him that the mink was intent upon other
game, or his hiding-place would have been quickly detected. The mink
was in pursuit of a big trout and had no eyes for other inhabitants of
the stream. He forged swiftly ahead in the wake of the fleeing trout
and soon passed from sight, though the muskrat remained for some time
in his retreat, afraid to venture forth. As the animal did not return,
he at last slid out and turned upstream, keeping near the shore, ready
to dart into hiding at the least sign of danger. He reached home
without mishap, and drew a breath of relief as he settled for a nap on
his warm dry bed.
About a week later the big muskrat was again feeding some distance
down stream. His fright was forgotten and he was happy as could be,
digging in the oozy stream bed for flag roots, raising his head
occasionally, his face and whiskers covered with soft mud through which
his eyes shone comically as he contentedly chewed a juicy root. Having
eaten his fill he climbed out into an air space where the water had
receded and the ice made a thick protection over his head, and
proceeded to make his toilet.
His fur was soon as clean and dainty as if it had never come into
contact with the soil. He was thinking of returning home, when a number
of small trout darted past him in a frenzied manner and vanished
upstream. The muskrat gave one look, then he, too, took to the water,
swimming with long powerful strokes, fear seeming to lend him power.
The mink steadily gained upon him, and when the muskrat at length
reached his subterranean entrance his enemy was close behind.
Now the mink, though a powerful swimmer, cannot hold his breath long
under water and, at the time he sighted the muskrat, he was feeling the
need of replenishing his supply of air. Knowing, however, that he would
never be able to overtake his game if he paused now, he forged steadily
ahead, his lungs feeling as if they would burst. As the muskrat darted
into his passage, the mink was close behind, his bloodthirsty jaws not
a yard from the feet of the pursued. There the mink hesitated a moment.
He had entered many of these tortuous, subterranean passages and knew
that if it were very long, he would not be able to hold his breath to
the end and would perish in its darkness. Moreover, the muskrat would
have the advantage of being on familiar ground.
Meanwhile the big rat had reached his den, where he quickly refilled
his lungs, and having more courage than most of his tribe, turned,
prepared for defense. He did not have long to wait. The mink had wisely
risen to the surface to replenish his air supply and now, with fresh
vigor, he hastened to the attack, his mouth watering at thought of the
meal ahead. He had reckoned without the strength and courage of his
adversary, however. The muskrat charged suddenly upon him while he was
still in the submerged part of the passage, the force of the onslaught
knocking the breath out of him. Before he could recover, the muskrat
was upon him.
There, in the darkness under the water, was fought a terrible battle
which lasted until even the muskrat was laboring for breath and the
mink could stand the strain no longer. He gulped and his lungs
instantly filled with water.
The fight was over. The muskrat, torn and bleeding, reeled back to
his lodge to refill his aching lungs. Then, having carried out the body
of his enemy, he proceeded to lick his many wounds and make a long and
thorough toilet. This done, he curled up into a furry ball and went to
sleep, well content at having rid the stream of so relentless an enemy.
For some distance the silvery thread of the Little Vermilion crept
between low banks lined with half-grown fir and spruce, and clumps of
wild cherry, through which the sunlight sifted to the ground in
innumerable flecks of light and shadow. On the north bank, in the
densest part of the thicket, lay a fawn, his dappled coat like a
garment of invisibility against the sun-flecked background of brown
leaves. The little animal lay as motionless as the mossy old log at his
back, but the brown eyes looked out upon the forest world with wonder
and keen interest.
Suddenly the sensitive ears came forward at the crackling of a twig
and the fawn half rose to his feet. The newcomer was not the mother
deer, however, and the fawn shrank noiselessly back, though he
continued to watch with interest. He had never seen a man before and
the sight filled him with wonder.
[Illustration: Instantly the fawn thrust out his delicate muzzle and
licked the outstretched hand.]
The Hermit, with his bag of roots on his back, would have passed by
unheeding had not a troublesome gnat crept into the fawn's nostril,
causing him to sneeze. The faint sound caught the man's keen ear and,
like one of the wilderness folk, he instantly became immovable, every
sense alert. His glance at once sought the thicket, but it was several
moments before he saw the fawn, so closely did the little animal's
colors blend with the background. The man found himself staring into a
pair of great, appealing brown eyes, wide with interest but containing
Very slowly, pausing at every step, the Hermit moved forward until
he stood close to the little creature. Then he stretched forth his
hand. Instantly the fawn thrust out his delicate muzzle and licked the
outstretched hand, finding it very palatable with its faint taste of
salt. The Hermit then drew from his pocket a lump of sugar which the
fawn eagerly devoured, nosing about for more.
As the Hermit sat on the end of the log, gently stroking the velvety
ears of the fawn who nestled confidingly against him, he suddenly
became aware of another figure in this little woodland scene. Looking
up he encountered the gaze of a pair of great brown eyes, wide with
terror. The doe had returned to find her baby being fondled by one of
the dreaded man-creatures, a sight which caused her to tremble in every
Instantly, with a hoarse cry of danger, she threw up her head and
bounded away, her tail carried high, showing the white flag as a signal
to the little one to follow. From the time a fawn comes into the world
he learns to obey this signal and now, instinctively, he sprang to his
feet. Then the Hermit held out his hand and the fawn stopped perplexed.
Again came the warning cry but the little animal was licking the man's
palm and made no movement to obey.
The Hermit felt a thrill of pride at the trust shone in him by this
beautiful woodland creature. He was sorely tempted to prolong the
pleasure of the moment but, knowing that the fawn's life might some day
depend upon his instant response to the doe's signal, he felt that he
had no right to allow the little creature to remain. Accordingly, with
a last pat he sprang to his feet, clapping his hands sharply. Fear
leaped at once into the brown eyes which had been raised so trustingly
to his, and the Hermit felt a stab of pain at the sight; yet, knowing
that trust in mankind is scarcely an asset to a fawn, he hardened his
heart and said aloud, Go, little Brown Brother. Never desert the
At sound of his voice the fawn bounded away, his own flag raised,
and the man had the satisfaction of seeing the doe join him and lead
the way into the wilderness, their progress marked now and then by a
flash of white in the green gloom.
Brown Brother grew fast and soon became wise in the ways of the
wilderness. He learned when to lie still and trust to his peculiar
marking and color to remain invisible, and when to rely upon his long
legs to carry him away from danger. And in spite of the enemies all
about him his life was far from being one of fear.
Once, as the mother deer and her small companion roamed the woods
together, a fawn not much older than Brown Brother ran up to them and
nestled tremblingly against the doe. At the same instant there sounded
the crackling of a twig and away the three bounded, keeping together
and never stopping until the invisible danger was left behind. The
lonely orphan became one of the family, following the doe as if she had
been his own mother.
Late one afternoon as the three were drinking from a clear forest
stream, they were joined by a lordly buck, his antlers bristling like a
thicket, each point needle-sharp. At once he took command of the little
herd, showing them the best feeding grounds and protecting them from
danger. One night he led them southward to the very edge of the
wilderness. Immediately before them a low stone wall bordered a garden
patch, the rows of peas and beans and round heads of cabbage bathed in
the bright moonlight.
The low wall was no obstacle, even to the fawns. With graceful leaps
they cleared it and found themselves in a land of plenty. They sampled
everything, but soon came back to the long rows of peas, sweet and
tender in their green pods. Here they gorged themselves until the first
light of day appeared, when they returned to the wilderness, leaving
the garden a sorry sight indeed.
The next night the enraged farmer lay in wait with a gun but the
wily old buck knew better than to return to the same place. He again
led his family southward, but this time they left the wilderness at a
point several miles east of the spot where the man lay in wait.
Here they paused at an old rail fence to stare curiously at a cabin
bathed in the moonlight, and a much smaller cabin set upon the top of a
tall pole. The old buck sniffed the wind suspiciously. As no danger
seemed to threaten, he decided upon a closer investigation and led the
others a short distance along the fence which terminated in another low
stone wall. The next moment they were stepping daintily between the
Hermit's rows of beets, stopping here and there to browse upon anything
that took their fancy.
Perhaps the Hermit's garden also would have suffered greatly, had
not Pal soon discovered the visitors and advanced upon them barking
shrilly. The buck lowered his head and pawed the ground threateningly,
inclined to defend his position and his herd, while the dog paused
uncertainly before the bristling array. His continued barking soon
aroused his master who leaped from his hammock and hurriedly rounded
the corner of the cabin.
At the appearance of the man the buck's courage deserted him. He
knew men and their far-reaching instrument of death and he did not stop
to argue even the question of fresh vegetables. Instead, he presented
the flag of truce and his little family lost no time in following his
example. Only Brown Brother hesitated. Between the rows of beets his
tongue had come into contact with the handle of a hoe. The Hermit had
that day been using the hoe and his hands, damp with perspiration, had
left a faint suggestion of salt upon the handle.
The taste recalled to the mind of the fawn a long forgotten
impression. His rough tongue caressed the handle, then he looked up,
vaguely troubled. The Hermit, seeing the deer and hoping that it was
his old friend, called Pal to heel and advanced slowly with
outstretched hand. Brown Brother trembled but stood his ground. It is
impossible to say whether or not the old association would have held
him, for while the Hermit was yet several yards away, a hoarse warning
sounded from the darkness beyond the fence. The sound seemed to release
a spring, for instantly the fawn bounded away, his white flag raised,
and joined the others in the safety of the wilderness.
Providence was kind to the buck and his family and in spite of their
many enemies late autumn found them still together. Through October,
the hunters' month, when the law permits the shooting of males, they
all grew exceedingly wary. The sound of a gun in the still forest would
send them fleeing swiftly and tirelessly toward the denser coverts to
Now Brown Brother heard the whining of the wind among the branches
and he would pause to look up wonderingly at their swaying tops.
Woodchucks, so fat from their summer feeding that it seemed as if their
coats must split, were locating their winter homes where they might
sleep comfortably during the cold months. Often during the night a
wedge of flying geese went honking over the forest, driven south by
The first snow came drifting down like white feathers from some
giant flock of birds, falling softly among the spruce and hemlock and
covering the wilderness with a carpet that left a tell-tale record of
every foot which crossed its smooth expanse. And as the face of the
wilderness changed, its inhabitants, also, changed. Some went into
hiding for the cold months; others, fierce beasts such as the wolf and
wildcat, simply donned warmer coats; still others, notably the hare and
the ptarmigan, weaker and therefore in greater danger during the months
of famine, put on coats of white which made them almost
indistinguishable against the snowy background of the forest.
The snow found the herd of deer, under command of the big buck,
heading northward to the country of evergreens. Here, deep in a balsam
swamp, the winter yard was made, a labyrinth of intersecting paths
leading to the best food supplies and providing safety and shelter for
the deer. The fragrant balsam tips made excellent feeding and, by
scraping away the snow, the herd found plenty of moss and lichens for
browsing. Here they were quartered safe from all enemies, for though
the deer were familiar with the winding paths, an enemy soon became
bewildered in their many ramifications and was glad to get out alive
without its dinner.
As the cold increased, the snow grew deeper. The paths were kept
trodden to the ground and, sheltered between their warm banks, the deer
did not suffer from the cutting winds. Food was still plentiful, though
the lower branches of the hemlocks had been stripped and the tender
tips had long since been devoured.
One night in midwinter Brown Brother, in spite of the safety of his
fortress, had a narrow escape. The herd had wandered to the edge of the
yard where they stood looking out across the great lonely barrens. The
snow was deep and soft and the deer knew better than to venture forth.
With their tiny, sharp hoofs they would have floundered helplessly at
every step, and so become an easy prey to the first enemy that came
The wind had died away with the setting of the sun, and the night
was very still. Across the barrens a faint tinge of green appeared upon
the horizon, spreading outward like a great fan across the sky,
changing from green to violet and from violet to pink, while great
flaming streamers spread upward to the zenith, pulsating as if with
life. It was a magnificent display of the Northern Lights and the
little herd stood like black statues in the glow.
There they remained, staring out across the vast expanse of snow,
until suddenly the buck threw up his head and stamped a warning.
Immediately the herd came to attention; then, silent as shadows, they
turned and vanished along their sheltering pathsall save Brown
Brother. Alert but curious, he paused to see for himself what had
alarmed the leader. The next moment a lean, tawny beast launched itself
toward him and only his extreme quickness saved his life. Like the wind
he fled down the path in the direction which the herd had taken, the
hungry panther close behind. Upon rounding a corner, he gave a sudden
leap which carried him over the intervening wall of snow into the next
path, where after several turnings he found the rest of the herd and
knew that he was safe. The panther paused, bewildered, at the spot
where the trail ended abruptly and the fugitive seemed to have vanished
into thin air. He sniffed hungrily about, then turned and slunk back
the way he had come, his stomach still empty and his temper boding ill
for any unfortunate whose trail he might cross.
As the long winter dragged on, food became more scarce. The ground
had been cropped clean of lichens and moss and it was necessary to
reach high for the balsam twigs. The doe and fawns would have fared ill
had not the buck helped them by bending down the higher branches which
only he could reach. As it was, their sides grew lean and their skin
hung loosely upon them. In March the big buck shed his antlers, leaving
them lying upon the snow where the fawns sniffed curiously at them.
At length the cold was broken, and when the drifts began to shrink
together and fill the streams to overflowing, the herd left the yard,
glad to be free once more. The buck, shorn of his lordly headdress,
craved solitude and wandered away by himself. Soon afterward the doe,
too, disappeared, leaving the fawns to shift for themselves. Though
lonely at first, they soon recovered their spirits and rejoiced in the
freedom of the woods after the narrow confines of the yard, and in the
abundance of food which appeared everywhere. Some weeks later the doe
reappeared, accompanied by a wobbly, long-legged fawn, its dappled coat
giving the effect of sunlight sifting through a leafy screen of
branches. At times the herd could be found together, but more often
Brown Brother and the orphan wandered off, each by himself.
That summer Brown Brother grew his first antlers. Mere prongs they
were, but the deer felt very proud of them as he carefully rubbed off
the velvet. He often visited alone the gardens of the farmers at the
edge of the wilderness. Sometimes in the dark hours before the dawn he
went close to the cabin of the Hermit, drawn, it seemed, simply by
curiosity. Occasionally at his harvesting in the forest the Hermit
would look up to find himself regarded by a pair of great brown eyes.
At such times he would assume his old position, standing perfectly
still with outstretched hand, his eyes narrowed to mere slits lest they
make the wild thing uneasy.
The animal, also, would stand immovable for a moment; then training
would conquer curiosity and, with a snort of fear, he would bound
gracefully away, his white flag gleaming occasionally between the trees
until the animal was lost to sight. One day the Hermit left a lump of
sugar upon the log beside which he had been standing and, secreting
himself at a safe distance, waited. As he had hoped, the deer returned,
eagerly licked up the sweet morsel and nosed about for more. After that
the Hermit made it a practice, upon sighting the deer, to leave a bit
of salt or sugar in a conspicuous place. The animal would invariably
return to it. And so the Hermit was content to have their friendship
rest, never attempting to force himself upon the wary but courageous
The summer that Brown Brother attained his first full set of antlers
a forest fire devastated a great section of the wilderness to the
northward. The animals fled in terror before it, lynx and deer, fox and
rabbit, side by side, all personal feuds forgotten in the great common
danger. Many perished, overtaken by the flames which, fanned by a brisk
wind from the north, traveled with lightning-like rapidity. It had been
weeks since rain had fallen upon the forest and the underbrush was like
tinder. Great trees became in an instant towers of flame as the fire
roared onward like a living thing. The animals, their fur singed by
sparks and their eyes red and smarting with smoke, sought the water
holes, the strong shouldering the weak aside to get the best places,
great fierce animals, once the terror of the forest, whimpering like
For days the air about the cabin of the Hermit had been hazy and had
carried the faint scent of smoke, which grew ever thicker. By day the
sun shone red through the haze and at night the dark sky above the
forest to the north alternately glowed and dulled as with the
pulsations of the Aurora.
The farmers had dug wide fire guards about their clearings and kept
cloths saturated with water ready for instant use. The Hermit no longer
took trips far into the forest, but remained near the cabin, Pal always
trotting uneasily at his heels. Like his neighbors, the Hermit watched
and hoped for a change in the wind, which would be the only means of
saving their homes.
Early one morning, as he was preparing his breakfast, a slight noise
at the door caused him to look up. There, framed in the doorway, stood
a noble buck, its great antlers proclaiming it a king of its kind. For
a moment the two gazed at each other; then the Hermit held out his
hand. At the movement the deer backed away, blowing out his breath
gustily. The Hermit laid a lump of sugar upon the doorsill and stepped
Brown Brother, for it was he, looked at the sugar a moment, then
advanced warily but with a certain dignity, and daintily accepted the
offering. The Hermit did not force his advantage, but did everything in
his power to gain the confidence of the noble beast which had been
driven by the fire to his protection.
The forest fire brought me one blessing, anyway, didn't it, Brown
Brother? the Hermit said softly, as he watched the buck eagerly
drinking from a pail of water which he had thought to provide. Pal,
strange to say, paid scant attention to the deer. Something in the
heavy atmosphere seemed to weigh upon his spirits, for he crowded close
upon the heels of his master. When the man seated himself the dog crept
between his knees.
Then suddenly the wind veered, blowing strongly from the west and
bringing with it the rain. The fire was checked while yet many miles
from the border of the wilderness and was soon extinguished, leaving
blackened ground and bare, charred trees to show where it had passed.
With the rain and the fresh air, once more free of smoke, new
strength seemed to flow into the veins of humans and animals alike. Pal
took a new interest in life and once more roamed about by himself.
Brown Brother returned to the forest, stepping with the dignity which
befitted the position he was soon to hold as leader of a herd.
IN THE WAKE OF THE THAW
On a day in early March, when the wilderness lay wrapped in its
snowy mantle and the winter sleepers had not yet ventured abroad, a big
skunk, curled snug and warm in his den, sighed and opened his eyes. The
sunlight streaming in at the mouth of the little cave attracted him and
he stepped forth. A warm south wind had risen during the night and the
faint sound of running water was borne to the keen ears of the animal,
a sound which reminded him pleasantly of spring.
Wide awake now, he began to feel the pangs of hunger, and
accordingly he sallied forth to see what tempting morsel might be
brought his way. Instinctively he turned south towards the nearest
farm, stopping occasionally, his head cocked on one side, to listen for
mice which had their runways beneath the snow. He paused a moment on a
high ridge to look about him and decide upon his course.
Across a snowy pasture, broken by clumps of juniper and bay and
steep upthrusts of rock, he saw the rude but substantial buildings of a
backwoods farm. The smoke rising lazily from the chimney into the clear
air was the only sign of life about the place. The prospect looked
inviting and the skunk quickly made his way down the ridge and across
the pasture to the nearest building. A delectable odour assailed his
nostrils and he paused to sniff appreciatively. It was the warm,
tempting odour of poultry.
The skunk walked around the building, the delicious odour meeting
him at every turn. As he reached the front there arose a furious
barking and a dog appeared around the farther corner. At sight of the
skunk, the dog stopped so precipitately as to skid for almost a foot in
the soft snow. The skunk stopped and regarded him in a haughty manner.
Then with his forefeet he stamped upon the ground, a warning which the
dog, versed in the ways of skunks, was quick to recognize. A moment
longer they looked into each other's eyes; then the dog turned and
strolled back in the direction of the house, his whole bearing
indicating a lack of interest in his immediate surroundings. The skunk,
too, turned his back indifferently.
At one side he found a place where the soil had been partly washed
away from beneath the building. He soon succeeded in enlarging the hole
enough to permit his entrance. A few minutes later he might have been
seen making for the ridge, a plump duck accompanying him.
When about half-way across the pasture, the skunk stopped and
deposited his limp burden upon the snow. Then he turned and looked back
toward the building which he had just left and which was so easy of
access. Possibly he reflected that if one duck were good, two ducks
would be better. At any rate he hid his prize under a convenient ledge
of rock and retraced his steps.
He had scarcely turned his back when a sleek, red-brown animal
appeared on the ridge a short distance away and with bright eyes
watched the skunk until he disappeared around the corner of the
building. The fox was acquainted with that building and its contents
and at once became interested. Deciding on a closer investigation, he
crossed the pasture jauntily, until abreast of the ledge under which
the skunk had concealed his trophy. Here he came to an abrupt halt, his
nose twitching. There could be no doubt about it. The odour was that of
freshly killed fowl.
Now the skunk, unaware of the presence of this other poultry lover,
had taken no pains to conceal his booty and it was soon located by the
keen nose of the fox. He drew it forth, threw it over his shoulder and
departed for the ridge, where he paused to gloat over his find. This
pause, however, proved his undoing. Upon reaching the poultry house,
the skunk had encountered an unexpected difficulty. A man was boarding
up the hole by which the thief had so recently entered and departed.
Knowing it would be useless to proceed, the skunk had turned back
unobserved, just in time to see his first prize being carried away on
the back of the fox. His eyes turned red with anger and the hair along
his back stiffened.
The attention of the fox, meanwhile, had been attracted by a sound
from the woods on his right. So it was that the skunk reached the ridge
before the second thief was aware of his presence. A slight sound
caused the fox to turn quickly and the two stood eyeing each other
belligerently across the body of the duck.
The fox knew well enough with whom he had to deal; nevertheless he
was hungry and not inclined to relinquish easily his fat prize. He
seized a leg of the duck just as the skunk laid hold of its head. Both
glared but refused to let go. It was a comical sight but, not being
blessed with a sense of humor, neither animal was aware of this fact.
Meanwhile the duck was stretched to an alarming length between them.
[Illustration: Both glared but refused to let go.]
The skunk now believed the time had come to insist firmly upon his
rights which were being seriously threatened by this sleek brown
upstart. He possessed a weapon against which the fox would be helpless
and in this extremity he prepared to use it. Still, the skunk was a
gentleman and scorned to attack without warning.
He stamped sharply with his forefeet. This had been sufficient
warning for the farmer's dog but, though the fox looked uneasy, he
clung to the duck. Surprised, the skunk raised his plumy tail like a
flag of battle. The fox backed an inch, keeping his eyes on the enemy,
but still inclined to ignore the hint. Amazed at this defiance, the
skunk glared at him a moment. There was no need of further
demonstration, however. The courage of the fox seemed suddenly to fail,
for he relinquished his hold upon the duck and fled, not pausing until
he had put the ridge between himself and the dangerous black and white
poultry thief. The victor then calmly picked up his prize and retired
to his den among the rocks, where he feasted royally.
The next sunshiny day found the skunk abroad. Though the snow-crust
had frozen once more, and the air was biting cold, there was a feeling
in the atmosphere which stirred the blood of the skunk. He stepped
blithely forth, gobbling up a plump wood mouse that had rashly ventured
forth from its safe retreat under the snow.
High up in a sapling a fat porcupine swayed contentedly with the
motion of the branches as he uttered a peculiar sound between a grunt
and a squeal. It was his Spring Song and, though to sensitive ears it
might have been entirely lacking in melody, to the ears of the forest
world it was sweetest music, for it presaged the breaking up of winter.
The skunk paused a moment to gaze up at the contented little beast,
then went on his way strangely light of heart.
Meanwhile, a gaunt gray form was drifting southward through the
forest, its passing as silent as a shadow. The lone wolf, having been
injured and separated from the pack, had found it increasingly
difficult to secure food. Now, emboldened by hunger, he had thrown
caution to the winds and was about to invade the haunts of man, and
that in broad daylight.
Suddenly the wolf paused, his uplifted muzzle searching the breeze.
Then, his eyes glowing with a fierce fire, he glided forward, a
sinister shadow. Between the trees a short distance away he had
glimpsed a small black and white animal trotting down the trail. It was
Pal, returning from an excursion of his own into the woods.
For a short distance the wolf slipped along parallel to the dog, but
to leeward so that no scent betrayed his presence. Several times he
could have sprung upon his unsuspecting prey, but caution restrained
him. He had seen Pal before but always protected by a man with a heavy
club or gun. Now, though the man was not visible, the wolf was
suspicious, and not inclined to rush into danger.
It was not long, however, before he decided that the Hermit was not
about. Gradually he closed in, and Pal, for the first time scenting
this deadly enemy, gave a frightened bark, then bravely turned at bay
with his back against a tree. He was no match for the wolf and all
would have been over in a moment had not the big skunk unwittingly
stepped between them.
Ordinarily the skunk did not court trouble; on the other hand, he
did not run away from it. Thus, when he beheld the wolf apparently
bearing down upon him, he was startled, but not to the point of losing
Immediately he assumed the defensive. He noticed Pal backed up to
the tree, but of dogs he had no fear. It was the wolf upon whom his
battery was turned. Pal, at sight of the newcomer, backed discreetly
away and then fled for his life. The wolf, however, was not so
fortunate, for, before he saw his mistake, he had leaped. In his effort
to save himself he turned a complete backward somersault and wallowed
upon the snow, his eyes smarting and blinded and his lungs gasping for
breath. A moment later he was racing away in a vain endeavor to escape
from himself, while the skunk returned to his den quite unshaken by the
A few nights after the skunk's little affair with the timber wolf he
returned to the clearing from which he had purloined the fat duck. Much
to his disappointment he found the building protected against
four-footed marauders and, though the same enticing odour drifted to
his nostrils, he was unable to gratify his appetite. In the course of
his wanderings he discovered a small structure with latticed front, in
which was a good-sized opening. The skunk walked up indifferently and
looked within; then his eyes brightened and he stepped quickly inside
to procure the chicken's head lying in a corner. As he did so, he heard
a click behind him and jumped back, only to find his retreat cut off by
a board which had fallen into place across the opening. The big skunk
was a prisoner.
Vainly he sought a loophole. There was none. Having assured himself
of this fact, he turned to the chicken head which had been his undoing,
and calmly devoured it. Then he settled himself at the front of the box
to wait, manifesting little of the anxiety usually shown by a trapped
Early the next morning the farmer's boy, on his way to feed the
poultry, discovered the captive. My, he's a beauty! the boy said
aloud, gazing in admiration at the skunk's thick, glossy fur. That
pelt ought to bring a good price, but I believe I'll see if I can tame
Thus the life of the big skunk was saved, at least for the time
being. Although the boy made many friendly advances, the animal told
him in plain language, Hands off! With an air of condescension he
would accept the choice morsels brought to him, but if a hand were
thrust through the bars, at once would come his warning. And the farm
boy, who understood skunks, never forced his attentions.
It was thus that matters stood when one day the skunk had a new
visitor. The animal had just finished his dinner and was busy cleaning
his fur when a small hand was thrust between the bars of his prison and
a voice said, coaxingly, Pretty kitty!
The skunk paused to stare at this person who was unquestionably a
human being, yet who was so very small. Surely here was no enemy. The
big skunk sniffed daintily at the hand. It was a very small hand and,
as it stroked his soft fur, the animal crowded closer. The baby laughed
delightedly and thrust her hand through the bars as far as possible.
Then she worked at the fastening of the cage door until she succeeded
in wriggling her small body through. There she was, inside the cage
with her new playmate.
Thus her mother found her when, a half hour later, she rounded a
corner of the house in a search for the runaway. The woman turned pale
and with a cry snatched the child away, never stopping until what she
considered a safe distance had been placed between them and the skunk.
She sniffed suspiciously and was astonished to find that not the
slightest odour adhered to the child's garments, for the skunk, as is
the way of his kind, was scrupulously clean about his person.
The baby refused to be separated from her pet and, when it was found
that the skunk meant no harm, but seemed, on the contrary, quite happy
in her company, she was permitted to play with him to her heart's
content. Sometimes with a string around his neck she led him about the
clearing and, though the big animal could easily have broken away, he
made no effort to do so. He was fed with good things until his gait
became an undignified waddle. Moreover he loved the petting which was
lavished upon him by this small backwoods maiden.
One day after a week of intense cold, during which the baby was
confined to the house and the skunk to the warmest corner of his box,
the two companions were again abroad, the skunk as usual being led
happily along. The baby's wanderings took her farther and farther from
the house until, upon rounding the corner of the poultry house which
overlooked the lonely pasture, she suddenly found herself face to face
with a gaunt, gray timber wolf.
She did not scream, but stood as if rooted to the spot. Both were
surprised but the wolf was the first to recover. He was starving and
here was food close at hand, to be had for the taking. His eyes flamed
as he crouched for the spring. Still the child stood, unable to move,
her eyes fixed as if fascinated on the savage ones so near.
It was a tense moment but the tragedy was averted by the big skunk.
With banner unfurled he stepped between the wolf and his prey. One
moment the wolf glared at the small black and white animal, whom he
remembered only too well. The blood lust quickly faded from his eyes,
replaced by a great fear. The next moment, with tail between his legs,
he was in full retreat, running as he had never run before, while the
child rushed screaming to the house.
The big skunk stood where they had left him, looking across the
snowy pasture. The sight of the ridge with its group of birch trees and
the gray rocks of the pasture recalled the memory of his old free life,
and of the den where he had slept so snugly. His weeks of pampered life
seemed to fall from him as if they had not been. Without a backward
glance he crossed the pasture and vanished over the ridge, the white
string trailing behind, the only link remaining between him and the
life of the settlements.
The twins were born one blustery winter day in a den hollowed out
beneath the roots of a giant beech. They were woolly black bear cubs,
who at birth were blind and no larger than kittens. With nothing to do
but to eat and sleep, they grew rapidly. Outside in the forest the
gales howled and the snow drifted deep, but the cave was well protected
and the great bulk of Mother Bruin kept it warm and of an even
Before the snow had disappeared the old bear left the cave each day,
driven forth by hunger after her long winter fast, but the cubs
remained at home until the north wind with its blizzards was forced to
retreat before the balmy wind of the south. Then they tumbled out into
the sunshine, blinking and rubbing their eyes with their little black
paws at the abrupt change from dusk to bright daylight.
It was a wonderful world in which they found themselves. Patches of
snow still lingered in the hollows, but the earth was rapidly
discarding its brown winter mantle, replacing it with one of living
green. The gracefully drooping branches of a group of birch trees
standing beside the stream were delicately filmed with green; the air
was sweet with the breath of arbutus; and from a tree close beside the
swollen brook drifted the six plaintive notes of a white-throated
Scraping away the dry leaves under a beech tree, Mother Bruin
disclosed a few of the little three-cornered nuts, moldy from their
long contact with the earth but, nevertheless, acceptable food for a
bear. A little farther on she dug for roots in the soft mud at the edge
of a swamp, now vocal with the spring call of the hylas. The cubs
followed her, full of curiosity concerning everything they beheld in
this new and fascinating world.
Several weeks later, while the Hermit was roaming the woods with his
familiar brown bag upon his back, he was granted the rare privilege of
watching the bear family when the three were unaware of his presence.
Mother Bruin, as usual, was leading the way, the cubs, as like as two
peas, following single file in her footsteps and imitating her every
move so faithfully that the Hermit chuckled to himself. When the big
bear halted and looked about her, the small bears also halted and
looked eagerly about; when she sniffed at a fallen log, they, too,
sniffed; and once when she sneezed, the cubs looked curiously at her
and then tried faithfully to imitate the sound.
The ants were busy making their community dwellings and when Mother
Bruin paused to lick up a mouthful, two little red tongues joined hers,
the cubs smacking their lips over the treat. At length, their hunger
satisfied, the family stopped under a great pine and the cubs began a
rough and tumble game, while Mother Bruin sat on her haunches, keenly
watchful of every move. Occasionally, for no reason which the Hermit
could detect, one or the other of the cubs would receive a boxing from
his mother which would set him howling. The punishment was soon
forgotten, however, and it is to be hoped that it did them good. Over
and over they rolled on the brown pine needles, two furry balls cuffing
and biting at each other. Then they paused and sat up panting, exactly
as Mother Bruin was sitting.
The effect was so ludicrous that the Hermit had much ado to keep
from laughing aloud, but he also had a wholesome fear of Mother Bruin
when she felt that her cubs might be in danger. So he stifled the laugh
that would have betrayed his presence and at length slipped
While shambling through the forest one day Mother Bruin made a
wonderful discovery. She came to a tree which had recently fallen to
the forest floor and from within came a curious humming. She stopped
abruptly to listen, her great head cocked to one side and her eyes
shining with anticipation. The cubs also paused, cocked their heads
upon one side and waited expectantly. Mother Bruin soon assured herself
that there could be no mistake. With her terrible claws she ripped open
the rotting log, disclosing a mass of well-filled honey-comb and
liberating a great swarm of bees. The air was soon filled with their
The cubs decided that the spot was not a healthful one and retreated
to the bushes, but Mother Bruin paid no attention to the enraged owners
of the hive. For a few moments the cubs watched wonderingly; then the
tree with its appetizing odour called them and they shambled up to it,
the bees being too busy carrying away their store to bother them.
One of the cubs thrust a little black paw into the mass of amber
honey and then, as any child would have done, transferred the paw to
his mouth. Immediately there spread over his comical little face a look
of utter happiness. The other cub, seeing her brother thus pleasantly
engaged, lost no time in following his example and the two were soon
smeared with honey from top to toe. Never were little bears happier.
The three gorged themselves until they could hold no more. And all
the next day the cubs were busy licking their own paws and furry coats,
or each other's. It mattered not which, for both bears were literally
as sweet as honey.
As the season advanced and the cubs grew more self-reliant, Mother
Bruin occasionally left them for a whole day or night while she
traveled farther than their short legs would permit them to follow.
Upon one of these occasions when they were left to shift for
themselves, the Hermit came suddenly upon them, grubbing for roots at
the border of the swamp. Man and cubs were alike surprised and stood
eyeing each other. The cubs caught a strange, disturbing odour, but
curiosity was stronger than fear and they held their ground.
[Illustration: The other cub forgot her fear and demanded her sugar
Seeing that they had no intention of running away, the Hermit,
careful to make no sudden movement, drew from his pocket a lump of
sugar which he always carried in the hope of meeting Brown Brother, the
deer. He seated himself upon a log and placed the sugar upon the ground
in front of him. The cubs also sat down and looked at the man and the
sugar. Clearly this strange creature meant no harm and the white object
looked good. For a while longer the cubs regarded him keenly while the
man refrained from looking directly at them lest his eyes make them
At length one of the cubs, the one who had first investigated the
bee tree, advanced cautiously, keeping his eyes on the man, and sniffed
at the sugar. The next moment he had gobbled it up and was licking his
lips in appreciation. It was almost, if not quite, as good as honey.
Seeing his delight, the other cub forgot her fear and demanded her
sugar lump. They then permitted the Hermit to pet them to his heart's
content, while they nosed about his pockets for more sweets.
He had made two close friends, as he discovered a bit later,
somewhat to his embarrassment. For when he rose to continue his way,
the cubs trotted after him as a matter of course. Try as he would he
could not rid himself of them. The cubs had found him a source of good
and they stuck to him like burrs. Vainly he shouted at them, waving his
arms like windmills; the cubs only sat back upon their haunches and
looked at him in wonder, until he could not help laughing. Then he
tried throwing sticks at them but this method, also, had no effect.
Their hides were thick and sticks meant nothing to them.
Finally he stopped and looked down at the two small bears with an
expression blended of amusement and annoyance. He knew that, should the
mother bear return and find the cubs following her natural enemy, she
would not wait for explanations. There would be but one explanation in
her mind and her vengeance would be swift. The Hermit had seen her and
from afar noted with respect her great bulk. Moreover, he was unarmed.
To say the least, the situation was an unpleasant one, and he wished
heartily that he had not been so quick to make friends. Every crackling
twig in the forest brought a quickening of his pulses but, fortunately
for him, Mother Bruin was miles away, enjoying a meal of berries.
Meanwhile the Hermit's situation was growing more uncomfortable. One
of the cubs seemed to have made up his mind that the man had more
sugar, which he was deliberately keeping from them. Accordingly he
attempted to scale the Hermit as he would a tree, a proceeding to which
the man objected most emphatically. The cub was big and heavy and his
claws were sharp. With a yell the man dislodged him and sprang aside.
As it happened, this movement was his salvation, for it recalled to
his mind the bag upon his back. The bag contained two apples and
several cookies which he had carried with him, expecting to be gone
from his cabin the greater part of the day. Now as he remembered them,
he gave a sigh of relief. The cubs watched him with interested eyes as
he drew the good things from the bag and deposited them upon the ground
under a big tree. As he had hoped, the bears at once fell upon them and
became so engrossed that he was able to slip out of sight behind the
tree. He immediately took to his heels, never stopping until he had put
a safe distance between himself and the too-friendly bear cubs.
The paths of the man and the cubs, however, were destined often to
cross. Not long after this experience they met again. In the Hermit's
clearing, close to the fence, stood a sweet apple tree loaded with
fruit. Approaching it one day to see if the apples were ripening, the
Hermit discovered two furry balls among the branches and found himself
looking into two pairs of bright little eyes. Quickly ascertaining that
Mother Bruin was not present, he paused beneath the tree and called, in
as stern a voice as he could assume, Come down out of my apple tree,
you little thieves!
The more timid bear climbed to a higher branch, but the male cub sat
comfortably, his feet dangling, one paw holding to the branch and the
other to the trunk, and looked down at the man. His expression so
resembled that of a small boy caught stealing apples, that the Hermit
laughed aloud and Pal trotted up to see what was going on.
At sight of the bears the dog seemed to go wild. He circled the
tree, barking furiously, while the cubs watched him in wonder. Fearing
that Mother Bruin might at any moment appear and misunderstand the
situation, the Hermit was about to call the dog and return to the
house, leaving the bears in possession of the tree. Before he could
pucker his lips for a whistle, however, the situation was taken from
his hands. One of the cubs, upon shifting his position, loosened a
small apple which fell directly into the upturned face of the dog. With
a yelp of pain and astonishment Pal scuttled for the cabin, his tail
between his legs and his interest in bear cubs suddenly evaporating.
The Hermit looked up in mock reproach at the cub. Aren't you
ashamed to treat my dog that way after I fed you sugar and gave you my
lunch? he asked. And now I suppose I shall have to give you more
sugar to get you to come down. I don't care to have Mother Bruin with
her three hundred odd pounds roosting in my apple tree.
He went to the house, returning with a number of lumps of sugar and
several apples. The cubs at once scrambled from the tree, keeping their
eyes greedily upon the good things with which they allowed themselves
to be tolled some distance into the woods. There the Hermit left them
to feast while he made good time back to the cabin and his chastened
In their wanderings one day in late summer the cubs, now so fat and
well fed that their gait was a mere waddle, came upon a great patch of
blueberries. Here was a treat indeed. They rose upon their hind legs
and greedily stripped the branches until their faces were so stained
with juice that Mother Bruin would scarcely have recognized them.
Now it happened that they had found the same blueberry patch on the
bank of the Little Vermilion that Mokwa, the big bear, had discovered
after his strange ride the year before. And as so often happens,
history repeated itself. The cubs wandered to the edge of the river,
and seeing a log with one end resting on the bank and the other in the
water, the more venturesome of the twins crouched upon it with his face
close to the water to look for fish. His weight at the end caused the
log to tip. Into the river he went, heels over head, while the log
slipped loose from its moorings.
At that point the water was not deep and the bear soon regained his
feet but, as he scrambled back upon the log, it drifted farther out.
The next moment it was caught by the current and carried swiftly along,
the little bear crouching upon it in a frightened heap. The second cub
watched her brother in astonishment, half inclined to enter the water
and follow. At that moment, however, Mother Bruin appeared upon the
shore and at sight of the log and its occupant became greatly excited.
Down the bank she rushed, scrambling over logs and through bushes,
scaring some of the smaller wilderness folk almost out of their wits.
She had eyes for nothing except the cub which was being carried rapidly
toward the falls. The second cub tried to follow the mother, whimpering
for her to wait, but as the old bear paid no attention to her cries,
she at length gave up the attempt and followed more leisurely.
Meanwhile, the male cub was being carried swiftly along in
mid-stream, the thunder of the falls growing steadily louder. Although
he did not understand the sound, it made him uneasy. He whined
pitifully as he watched Mother Bruin, trying to keep abreast of him
upon the shore, yet so far away. The falls were alarmingly close when
suddenly the eyes of the cub brightened. Just ahead, and very near the
brink of the falls, the forest reached an arm out into the river, and
standing at the extreme end was a man, fishingthe same man who had
fed him with sweets.
At the moment when the cub spied him, the Hermit saw the cub and
recognized his danger. Poor little fellow! he said aloud in
compassion. I wish there were some way of helping him.
As if in answer to his wish, a way was opened. An eddy carried the
floating log directly toward the shore where the Hermit stood, and for
a moment he believed it would touch. He soon saw, however, that it
would just miss the point and that, unless the cub jumped at the right
moment, nothing could save him from the falls. The man groaned; then
quick as a flash he saw a way of rescuing the little animal. He rushed
out into the water as far as he could safely stand, holding to a tree
which leaned horizontally over the stream. As the log came abreast of
him, but just out of reach, he held out his hand.
This time the hand held no sugar, but the cub knew it as a friend
and did not hesitate. He leaped into the water, battling frantically
with the current. At first he seemed doomed to be swept on after the
log, which at that moment hung trembling at the brink of the falls
before the plunge. The cub's struggles, however, brought him near
enough for the Hermit to grasp his thick fur. Then, gripping the tree
until his knuckles whitened and exerting his utmost strength, the man
slowly drew the animal to safety.
The Hermit smiled at the woe-begone figure as the cub scrambled upon
the bank and stood limp and dripping, but safe. The next moment the
smile froze upon his lips. Bearing down upon him was a whirlwind of
blazing eyes and gaping mouth, propelled by the powerful muscles of a
very big and very angry bear. Seeing the man, the bear at once became
convinced that he was at the root of the trouble from which her cub had
so narrowly escaped. So she charged, and the Hermit knew that one blow
of her mighty paw would either crush him or whirl him into the current
and over the falls.
He glanced swiftly about. A few yards away an overhanging bank
offered the only possible hiding-place. It meant a ducking and perhaps
worse, for even where he stood the current was strong. Nevertheless the
Hermit did not hesitate. He turned toward the hiding-place and dived,
swimming for a moment under water until he felt his fingers close upon
something solid. Then, coming to the surface, he gave a sigh of relief.
His dive had carried him beneath the overhanging bank and he was
clutching a strong root which had forced its way through the mass of
earth and so reached the air. He stood up to his armpits in the cold
water, shivering, but glad to be alive, and glad, too, in spite of his
predicament, that he had saved the cub.
Meanwhile, Mother Bruin stood bewildered at the sudden and complete
disappearance of the enemy. Her rage evaporated before the mystery and
she stood for several moments, staring at the spot where the man had
vanished. The Hermit, however, was well hidden and would have escaped
observation from keener eyes than those of a bear.
She soon turned to the cub which was whimpering miserably, and in
drying his wet fur she forgot the man. They were joined by the other
cub just as the Hermit peered out of his watery hiding-place. Finding
them still in evidence he shook his fist belligerently at the old bear.
He was careful to keep out of sight, however, and a short time later
had the satisfaction of seeing them disappear in the woods, Mother
Bruin in the lead and the cubs as usual trotting dutifully behind.
The male cub's thrilling ride and battle with the current had for
the time being subdued his adventurous spirit. He was content to stand
meekly by while his mother tore to pieces a rotting log, disclosing for
them all a meal of ants and fat white grubs.
THE WHITE WOLF
The Little Vermilion, placid river of the plains, has its source in
an ice-cold spring high up among the ledges of old Scarface where,
after a sheer drop of fifty feet, the young river goes on its way a
brawling, turbulent mountain stream. In a cave so close to the cataract
that the entrance was often screened by a curtain of mist, a pair of
wolf cubs first saw the light of day. It was a wild and savage spot for
a home, one that befitted the mate of Gray Wolf, leader of the pack.
In their early infancy the cubs were appealing balls of gray down,
rolling and tumbling about on the rocky floor of their cave much in the
manner of young animals the world over. And, like other young animals,
when they first essayed to walk, their legs had a treacherous way of
doubling up beneath them and, without warning, letting them down on the
hard floor of the cave. In a remarkably short time, however, they
gained control over these unruly members and were ready to begin the
training which would qualify them for membership in the pack.
From the first, one of the cubs gave promise of being no ordinary
wolf. Long white hairs appeared among the down upon his back and sides,
growing more and more numerous until, when the cub was half grown, they
made a coat of pure white. The first time his mother returned from her
hunting to see him standing in the sunlight at the mouth of the den,
she stopped several yards away, looking at him keenly and half
suspiciously. The moment he discovered her presence the cub ran to meet
her with a glad whine of recognition and her look changed. From that
time on, she accepted him without question.
The white cub grew fast, and as he grew, the wild and savage nature
of his surroundings seemed to creep into his blood and become a part of
him. His baby growl was drowned by the ceaseless roar of the falls, but
as his voice grew stronger and fuller it took on the deep note of the
cataract. Long before his brother, he learned to pounce upon the
luckless grasshopper or cricket which appeared near the cave and to
hold it down with his fore-paws while he crunched it with relish. From
grasshoppers he progressed to mice, and from mice to rabbits, until he
came to depend but little upon the spoils of the mother wolf's hunting.
One night, when he was little more than half grown, the cub awakened
to find his mother absent at her hunting. The moonlight at the entrance
to the cave called him and he trotted out. Save for the thunder of the
falls, the night was very still. He stood upon the ledge before the
cave, looking down upon the wilderness, mysterious and alluring in the
moonlight, and the sight affected him strangely.
Suddenly there came to his ears a long-drawn howl. At the sound,
indescribably lonely and wild, the hair rose upon the back of the young
wolf and his eyes gleamed. It was the summons of the leader to the pack
and, though the cub knew nothing of its meaning, his heart
instinctively thrilled to it.
There was a moment of silence. Then, from far diverging points, the
cry was taken up as the various members of the pack rallied to the call
of their leader. The cub's heart swelled with a new and strange
emotion. The next moment, high on his rocky ledge, he lifted his muzzle
to the moon and sent out his own answer. The call was lost in the roar
of the cataract, but from that night the white cub felt his kinship
with the pack of which he was one day to become the leader.
[Illustration: High on his rocky ledge he lifted his muzzle to the
Time passed, and the white cub was no longer a cub but a grown wolf,
unexcelled for fleetness of foot and strength of muscle. His mother and
the other cub had long since joined the pack, but for some reason the
white wolf kept to himself. When the rallying call reached his ears on
a still winter night, it ran like fire through his veins; yet he did
not answer the call and morning invariably found him curled up in the
old den, high on the shoulder of Scarface. Occasionally he was sighted
by a lone hunter who returned to the settlements with tales of the
great white wolf of the mountain, tales which grew from lip to lip
until the animal had attained gigantic proportions. And still the white
wolf traveled alone.
Then one night, when the wilderness lay in the merciless grip of
winter, and famine stalked the trails, the white wolf joined the pack.
It came about in this wise.
Gray Wolf, leader of the pack, had taken up the trail of a lynx. In
an encounter between the two, the latter would scarcely have been a
match for the big wolf; but it chanced that soon after Gray Wolf sprang
to the attack, the mate of the lynx appeared and joined the fray. Thus
the wolf became the victim of a double set of raking claws and sharp
teeth. He fought savagely but the claws of the male lynx gashed him
horribly from beneath, while its mate bit and tore from above.
The double punishment was too much for the wolf. Exhausted and
bleeding, he raised his voice in the rallying call of the pack. As the
call rang out over the silent wood the lynxes, knowing that they would
soon be hopelessly outnumbered, sprang clear. With great leaps they
vanished among the shadows of the forest, lost to sight even before the
foremost wolf appeared.
Thus when the members of the pack had gathered, they found, not the
game which they had anticipated, but only their leader, sorely wounded.
The winter had been a hard one, with food unusually scarce. The gaunt
bodies of the wolves gave evidence of their fast and their tempers had
become very uncertain. Accordingly the sight and smell of blood, though
that of one of their own number, almost drove them to a frenzy.
Gray Wolf, quickly perceiving the attitude of the pack, drew himself
painfully to a sitting posture on a large flat rock and from this
vantage point glared at his followers who had hitherto been obedient to
his will. And though he was old and wounded, the pack quailed for a
time before his glance. His advantage could not last, however. The
others soon grew restless, the circle of dark forms tightening in a
menacing way about the rock upon which the old leader crouched. Then a
young wolf who had long chafed under the leadership of Gray Wolf,
sprang for a throat hold.
Gray Wolf's mate was absent. There was none to defend him and,
though he would not have given up easily, there could have been but one
ending to the fight had not a strange interruption occurred. The young
wolf was suddenly hurled backward as from a catapult, his neck being
broken as he struck the ground, while upon the rock beside the old
leader appeared a great white wolf, fangs bared and eyes glowing with
savage fire. For a moment the pack stood aghast. Never had such a wolf
been seen in all the Little Vermilion country. With tails between their
legs they retreated to a safe distance where they paused, uncertain
whether to stay or to flee.
The white wolf, however, turned scornfully from them and looked down
at the wounded leader. Gray Wolf did not cower, nor did his staunch
heart fail him. He tried to rise, but the movement started the flow of
blood afresh and the next moment he sank back dead. The white wolf
gazed at him; then, standing upon the rock, he raised his muzzle to the
stars and sent out a long mournful howl which carried over miles of
dark wilderness and seemed the very embodiment of the night and the
solitude. Without a sound the pack slunk away, scattering to the four
winds just as the first streaks of dawn appeared in the east.
A short time later the white wolf might have been seen before the
entrance to his den, high among the ledges. He stood as if carved from
the rock at his back, while the sky grew rosy with the gleams of the
rising sun which drove the darkness before them and made rainbows of
the mist that shrouded the cataract. Before the sun itself appeared
above the horizon, the wolf had vanished into the dark cave.
Dusk of the following day found him once more abroad. He descended
the mountain and swiftly threaded the wilderness until he came to the
rock upon which Gray Wolf had perished. Here he stationed himself and
as darkness fell, he proudly raised his head, sending out over the
wilderness a full, deep-throated rallying-call, the like of which the
forest had never known. Lesser creatures of the wilderness shivered
with fear, cowering in their burrows for some time before daring to
One of the lynxes which had so severely wounded the old leader heard
the challenge and, though it struck fear into even his savage heart, he
stole soundlessly forward until he could see the beast upon the rock.
But at sight of the snow-white wolf he shrank back in utter terror and
attempted to steal away.
Unfortunately for him the eyes of the white wolf had pierced his
hiding-place and in a moment he was hurled from his feet by the force
of the attack. The lynx fought but feebly, seemingly benumbed by the
strange apparition, and in a few minutes his limp form was stretched
upon the ground. As for his mate, she too cowered before the sight of
the white wolf and fled afar, never to return. So was Gray Wolf avenged
and his avenger, once more mounting the rock, sent his cry of victory
echoing over the wilderness.
Now the wolves began to arrive, settling themselves in a ring about
the great rock where the new leader stood silent, staring out over the
heads of the pack. When all had arrived, as if at some signal they fell
hungrily upon the body of the lynx which in a very short time was
devoured. Only the big white wolf stood aloof.
Without question the pack accepted the new leadership. That same
night they started northward, led by the white wolf, traveling always
with the tireless lope which enables their kind to cover great
distances. Thus they came out upon the edge of the barrens, a vast,
treeless country which few care to penetrate during the snows of
winter. Nothing moved in all its white expanse and the silence of death
hung over it. Yet without hesitation the white wolf trotted out upon it
and the pack followed, only a few hanging back in the shelter of the
Ten minutes later the faith of the pack in their leader was
justified. Not far away a gray blur drifted across their path and
vanished, hidden by the curtain of snow which had begun to fall. It was
a caribou herd, that drifting band which in midwinter is at once the
hope and the despair of the larger flesh-eating animals. Wandering as
they do at will, none can foretell their movements; yet the white wolf
had led his pack unerringly through mile after mile of snowy forest,
straight to the path of the herd.
The sight brought fresh courage to the famished wolves and they did
not stop to question the wisdom or the instinct which had led them.
They soon overtook the herd, but instead of charging into it, a
proceeding which would have caused the caribou to bolt at a pace that
would have left the wolves hopelessly behind, they followed silently
and with apparent indifference. Nevertheless they kept a close watch
upon the deer, singling out one who had been wounded before, and was
showing signs of weakening. This animal soon lagged and was cunningly
separated from the herd, thus falling an easy prey to the wolves.
Another was treated in the same manner before the savage appetites were
satisfied and the wolves turned back to the woods.
For a time good fortune seemed to travel with the pack, but, as
February dragged by and gave place to March, the most bitter month of
all in the wilderness, the wolves once more grew gaunt and famished.
This time the white wolf led them, not to the far north, but to the
south in the direction of the settlements.
Late afternoon of a bitter March day found Dave Lansing, hunter and
trapper, returning from a trip to the nearest town after supplies. He
was plodding along the snowy trail, his eyes upon the ground and his
thoughts far afield, when a distant, long-drawn howl caused him to
raise his head. Dave knew that howl. It was the call of a wolf and,
though armed, it filled him with uneasiness. He did not believe that
the wolves would attack a man in daylight, but night was coming rapidly
and he was some miles from his cabin. For a moment he considered
turning back and spending the night with the Hermit, but his heart
revolted at the thought. Dave was never one to show the white feather
and he pushed resolutely on, though he quickened his steps.
For a time the woods were very still. With his cabin almost within
sight, the trapper had begun to breathe more freely when suddenly the
howl was repeated, this time so close that he stopped in dismay. A
moment later he saw them coming, flitting silently along his trail or
from tree to tree, like gray shadows of the coming night.
There would not be time to reach his cabin. Muttering angrily, Dave
kicked off his snowshoes and drew himself into the branches of the
nearest tree. He was just in time, for he had scarcely drawn up his
feet when the pack closed in. His snowshoes were quickly demolished
while the man could only look on, angry but helpless. Then the wolves
sat down in a circle in the snow and looked hungrily up at him.
Yes, look at me! Dave remarked, shaking his fist at the pack.
Think you've got me, don't you? Well, you just wait.
He brought his ever-ready rifle into position and looked about for
the leader, thinking that if he could be killed, the pack would
disband. For a time he hesitated, unable to determine which wolf it
might be; then he stared, forgetting his discomfort in his
astonishment. Among the pack had suddenly appeared a snow-white wolf,
the like of which the trapper, in all his years in the wilderness, had
never beheld, though it was said that a tribe of them was to be found
in the far north. Here was the white wolf about whom so many stories
had been told, stories to which he had listened unbelieving.
For a moment he could only stare in admiration at the powerful
animal; then the hunter's instinct asserted itself and he fired. So
quickly did the wolf swerve that the eye of the hunter could not
perceive the movement. Dave only knew that he had missed, he, the best
marksman in all the Little Vermilion country! Again he fired, but the
bullet embedded itself harmlessly in a tree.
This was too much for the hunter. Here was no wolf. He felt sure
that the bullets had reached their mark, yet the beast was unharmed.
Dave was a mighty hunter but, like most ignorant people, he was
superstitious. He had often heard tales of the loup-garou, or witch
wolf, whom no bullet could kill. With a hand that trembled slightly he
laid his gun across his knees, deciding not to waste his bullets.
He had settled himself for a long cold wait in his tree when,
without a sound, the white wolf turned and trotted swiftly away into
the forest, the whole pack following. The trapper stared after them,
unable to believe his eyes. Fearing an ambush, he waited for some time;
then as the wolves did not reappear, he lowered himself cautiously from
the tree and set out once more for his cabin, minus his snowshoes and
greatly perplexed at the mystery. Dave could not know that the keener
nose of the white wolf had scented a deer at no great distance and so
had led the pack to the safer game.
Now began a time of annoyance for the farmers at the borders of the
wilderness. Sheep and pigs were killed and devoured, and now and then a
cow. Many had seen the wolf pack and a few had glimpsed the big white
leader, but, although scores of shots had been fired, apparently none
had reached the mark. So the fame of the white wolf grew, and many,
like Dave Lansing, were inclined to the belief that the leader at least
was gifted with supernatural powers. Traps and poison, no matter how
cleverly concealed, he uncovered or avoided with an uncanny wisdom,
while he continued to take toll of the farmers' flocks and herds.
The Hermit in his lonely cabin heard the tales, which lost nothing
in the telling, and though he knew them to be greatly exaggerated, he
wished ardently for a sight of the big wolf. The beast's cunning and
courage had aroused his admiration. Pal was kept strictly within
bounds, and when his master went into the woods he carried a weapon
which, however, would never be used save in self-defense.
One day the Hermit's wish was granted and he came face to face with
the white wolf not far from the clearing. The beast suddenly appeared
among the trees, not many paces distant, and the two stood staring
curiously at each other. The Hermit made no move to draw his gun and
the wolf, on his part, seemed to know that no harm was intended, for he
showed no sign either of fear or antagonism. He stood for a long minute
gravely regarding the man; then he turned and trotted away without a
backward glance and with no sign of haste. The Hermit did not know that
for days the wolf had secretly followed him and found him to be
Spring came at last, and when the snow had given place to the new,
eager life of the forest, and food was once more abundant, the pack
turned northward to the wilds. It was never seen again, but the fame of
the big white wolf lived in the minds of the farmers, and stories of
his prowess and cunning were handed down long after the wolf had passed
to the Happy Hunting Grounds of his tribe.