Brown Brother by Zoe Meyer
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.