The House in the Water
by Charles G. D. Roberts
The Sound in the
CHAPTER II. The
Battle in the
CHAPTER III. In
CHAPTER V. Dam
CHAPTER VI. The
Peril of the
The Saving of
CHAPTER I. The Sound in the Night
UPON the moonlit stillness came suddenly a far-off, muffled,
crashing sound. Just once it came, then once again the stillness of the
wilderness night, the stillness of vast, untraversed solitude. The Boy
lifted his eyes and glanced across the thin reek of the camp-fire at
Jabe Smith, who sat smoking contemplatively. Answering the glance, the
woodsman muttered old tree fallin', and resumed his passive
contemplation of the sticks glowing keenly in the fire. The Boy, upon
whom, as soon as he entered the wilderness, the taciturnity of the
woodsfolk descended as a garment, said nothing, but scanned his
companion's gaunt face with a gravely incredulous smile.
So wide-spread and supreme was the silence that five seconds after
that single strange sound had died out it seemed, somehow, impossible
to believe it had ever been. The light gurgle of the shallow and
shrunken brook which ran past the open front of the travellers'
lean-to served only to measure the stillness. Both Jabe and the Boy,
since eating their dinner, had gradually forgotten to talk. As the moon
rose over the low, fir-crested hills they had sunk into reverie,
watching the camp-fire die down.
At last, with a sort of crisp whisper a stick, burnt through the
middle, fell apart, and a flicker of red flame leaped up. The woodsman
knocked out his pipe, rose slowly to his feet, stretched his gaunt
length, and murmured, Reckon we might as well turn in.
That's all right for you, Jabe, answered the Boy, rising also,
tightening his belt, and reaching for his rifle, but I'm going off to
see what I can see. Night's the time to see things in the woods.
Jabe grunted non-committally, and began spreading his blanket in the
lean-to. Don't forgit to come back for breakfast, that's all, he
muttered. He regarded the Boy as a phenomenally brilliant hunter and
trapper spoiled by sentimental notions.
To the Boy, whose interest in all pertaining to woodcraft was much
broader and more sympathetic than that of his companion, Jabe's
interpretation of the sound of the falling tree had seemed hasty and
shallow. He knew that there was no better all-round woodsman in these
countries than Jabe Smith; but he knew also that Jabe's interest in the
craft was limited pretty strictly to his activities as hunter, trapper
and lumberman. Just now he was all lumberman. He was acting as what is
called a timber-cruiser, roaming the remoter and less-known regions
of the wilderness to locate the best growths of spruce and pine for the
winter's lumbering operations, and for the present his keen faculties
were set on the noting of tree growths, and water-courses, and the lay
of the land for the getting out of a winter's cutting. On this
particular cruise the Boywho, for all the disparity in their years
and the divergence in their views, was his most valued comradehad
accompanied him with a special object in view. The region they were
cruising was one which had never been adequately explored, and it was
said to be full of little unnamed, unmapped lakes and streams, where,
in former days, the Indians had had great beaver hunting.
When the sound of the falling tree came to his ears across the
night-silence, the Boy at once said to himself, Beavers, at work! He
said it to himself, not aloud, because he knew that Jabe also, as a
trapper, would be interested in beavers; and he had it in his mind to
score a point on Jabe. Noiseless as a lynx in his soft-soled
larrigans, he ascended the half-empty channel of the brook, which
here strained its shrunken current through rocks and slate-slabs,
between steep banks. The channel curved steadily, rounding the shoulder
of a low ridge. When he felt that he had travelled somewhat less than
half a mile, he came out upon a bit of swampy marsh, beyond which, over
the crest of a low dam, spread the waters of a tranquil pond shining
like a mirror in the moonlight.
The Boy stopped short, his heart thumping with excitement and
anticipation. Here before him was what he had come so far to find. From
his books and from his innumerable talks with hunter and trapper, he
knew that the dam and the shining, lonely pond were the work of
beavers. Presently he distinguished amid the sheen of the water a tiny,
grassy islet, with a low, dome-shaped, stick-covered mound at one end
of it. This, plainly, was a beaver house, the first he had ever seen.
His delighted eyes, observing it at this distance, at once pronounced
it immeasurably superior to the finest and most pretentious
muskrat-house he had ever seena very palace, indeed, by comparison.
Then, a little further up the pond, and apparently adjoining the shore,
he made out another dome-shaped structure, broader and less conspicuous
than the first, and more like a mere pile of sticks. The pond, which
was several acres in extent, seemed to him an extremely spacious domain
for the dwellers in these two houses.
Presently he marked a black trail, as it were, moving down in the
middle of the radiance from the upper end of the pond. It was obviously
the trail of some swimmer, but much too broad, it seemed, to be made by
anything so small as a beaver. It puzzled him greatly. In his eagerness
he pushed noiselessly forward, seeking a better view, till he was
within some thirty feet of the dam. Then he made out a small dark spot
in the front of the trail,evidently a beaver's head; and at last he
detected that the little swimmer was carrying a bushy branch, one end
held in his mouth while the rest was slung back diagonally across his
The Boy crept forward like a cat, his gray eyes shining with
expectancy. His purpose was to gain a point where he could crouch in
ambush behind the dam, and perhaps get a view of the lake-dwellers
actually at work. He was within six or eight feet of the dam, crouching
low (for the dam was not more than three feet in height), when his
trained and cunning ear caught a soft swirling sound in the water on
the other side of the barrier. Instantly he stiffened to a statue, just
as he was, his mouth open so that not a pant of his quickened breath
might be audible. The next moment the head of a beaver appeared over
the edge of the dam, not ten feet away, and stared him straight in the
The beaver had a stick of alder in its mouth, to be used, no doubt,
in some repairing of the dam. The Boy, all in gray as he was, and
absolutely motionless, trusted to be mistaken for one of the gnarled,
gray stumps with which the open space below the dam was studded. He had
read that the beaver was very near-sighted, and on that he based his
hopes, though he was so near, and the moonlight so clear, that he could
see the bright eyes of the newcomer staring straight into his with
insistent question. Evidently, the story of that near-sightedness had
not been exaggerated. He saw the doubt in the beaver's eye fade
gradually into confidence, as the little animal became convinced that
the strange gray figure was in reality just one of the stumps. Then,
the industrious dam-builder began to climb out upon the crest of the
dam, dragging his huge and hairless tail, and glancing along as if to
determine where the stick which he carried would do most good. At this
critical moment, when the eager watcher felt that he was just about to
learn the exact methods of these wonderful architects of the wild, a
stick in the slowly settling mud beneath his feet broke with a soft,
[Illustration: BEGAN TO CLIMB OUT UPON THE CREST OF THE DAM.]
So soft was the sound that it barely reached the Boy's ears. To the
marvellously sensitive ears of the beaver, however, it was a warning
more than sufficient. It was a noisy proclamation of peril. Swift as a
wink of light, the beaver dropped his stick and dived head first into
the pond. The Boy straightened up just in time to see him vanish. As he
vanished, his broad, flat, naked tail hit the water with a cracking
slap which resounded over the pond like a pistol-shot. It was reëchoed
by four or five more splashes from the upper portion of the pond. Then
all was silence again, and the Boy realized that there would be no more
chance that night for him to watch the little people of the House in
the Water. Mounting the firm-woven face of the dam and casting his eyes
all over the pond, he satisfied himself that two houses which he had
first seen were all that it contained. Then, resisting the impulse of
his excitement, which was to explore all around the pond's borders at
once, he resolutely turned his face back to camp, full of thrilling
plans for the morrow.
CHAPTER II. The Battle in the Pond
AT breakfast, in the crisp of the morning, while yet the faint mists
clung over the brook and the warmth of the camp-fire was attractive,
the Boy proclaimed his find. Jabe had asked no questions,
inquisitiveness being contrary to the backwoodsman's code of etiquette;
but his silence had been full of interrogation. With his mouth
half-full of fried trout and cornbread, the Boy remarked:
That was no windfall, Jabe, that noise we heard last night!
So? muttered the woodsman, rather indifferently.
Without a greater show of interest than that the Boy would not
divulge his secret. He helped himself to another flaky pink section of
trout, and became seemingly engrossed in it. Presently the woodsman
spoke again. He had been thinking, and had realized that his prestige
had suffered some kind of blow.
Of course, drawled the woodsman sarcastically, it wa'n't no
windfall. I jest said that to git quit of bein' asked questions when I
was sleepy. I knowed all the time it was beaver!
Yes, Jabe, admitted the Boy, it was beavers. I've found a big
beaver-pond just up the brook a waysa pond with two big beaver-houses
in it. I've found itso I claim it as mine, and there ain't to be any
trapping on that pond. Those are my beavers, Jabe, every one of them,
and they sha'n't be shot or trapped!
I don't know how fur yer injunction'd hold in law, said Jabe
dryly, as he speared a thick slab of bacon from the frying-pan to his
tin plate. But fur as I'm concerned, it'll hold. An' I reckon the boys
of the camp this winter'll respect it, too, when I tell 'em as how it's
your own partic'lar beaver pond.
Bless your old heart, Jabe! said the Boy. That's just what I was
hoping. And I imagine anyway there's lots more beaver round this region
to be food for the jaws of your beastly old traps!
Yes, acknowledged Jabe, rising to clear up, I struck three likely
ponds yesterday, as I was cruisin over to west'ard of the camp. I
reckon we kin spare you the sixteen or twenty beaver in 'Boy's Pond!'
The Boy grinned appreciation of the notable honour done him in the
naming of the pond, and a little flush of pleasure deepened the red of
his cheeks. He knew that the name would stick, and eventually go upon
the maps, the lumbermen being a people tenacious of tradition and not
to be swerved from their own way.
Thank you, Jabe! he said simply. But how do you know there are
sixteen or twenty beaver in my pond?
You said there was two houses, answered the woodsman. Well, we
reckon always from eight to ten beaver to each house, bein' the old
couple, and then three or four yearlin's not yet kicked out to set up
housekeeping fer themselves, and three or four youngsters of the
spring's whelping. Beavers' good parents, an' the family holds together
long's the youngsters needs it. Now I'm off. See you here at noon, fer
grub! and picking up his axe he strode off to southwestward of the
camp to investigate a valley which he had located the day before.
Left alone, the Boy hurriedly set the camp in order, rolled up the
blankets, washed the dishes, and put out the last of the fire. Then,
picking up his little Winchester, which he always carried,though he
never used it on anything more sensitive than a bottle or a tin
can,he retraced his steps of the night before, up-stream to the
Knowing that the beavers do most of their work, or, at least, most
of their above-water work, at night, he had little hope of catching any
of them abroad by daylight. He approached the dam, nevertheless, with
that noiseless caution which had become a habit with him in the woods,
a habit which rendered the woods populous for him and teeming with
interest, while to more noisy travellers they seemed quite empty of
life. One thing his study of the wilderness had well taught him, which
was that the wild kindreds do not by any means always do just what is
expected of them, but rather seem to delight in contradicting the
When he reached the edge of the open, however, and peered out across
the dam, there was absolutely nothing to break the shining morning
stillness. In the clear sunlight the dam, and the two beaver-houses
beyond, looked larger and more impressive than they had looked the
night before. There was no sign of life anywhere about the pond, except
a foraging fish-hawk winging above it, with fierce head stretched low
in the search for some basking trout or chub.
[Illustration: A FORAGING FISH-HAWK WINGING ABOVE.]
Following the usual custom of the wild kindreds themselves, the Boy
stood motionless for some minutes behind his thin screen of bushes
before revealing himself frankly in the open. His patient watch being
unrewarded, he was on the very verge of stepping forth, when from the
tail of his eye he caught a motion in the shallow bed of the brook, and
ducked himself. He was too wary to turn his head; but a moment later a
little brown sinuous shape came into his field of view. It was an
otter, making his way up-stream.
The otter moved with unusual caution, glancing this way and that and
seeming to take minute note of all he saw. At the foot of the dam he
stopped, and investigated the structure with the air of one who had
never seen it before. So marked was this air that the Boy concluded he
was a stranger to that region,perhaps a wanderer from the head of the
Ottanoonsis, some fifteen miles southward, driven away by the
operations of a crew of lumbermen who were building a big lumber-camp
there. However that might be, it was evident that the brown traveller
was a newcomer, an outsider. He had none of the confident, businesslike
manner which a wild animal wears in moving about his own range.
When he had stolen softly along the whole base of the dam, and back
again, nosing each little rivulet of overflow, the otter seemed
satisfied that this was much like all other beaver dams. Then he
mounted to the crest and took a prolonged survey of the stretch of
water beyond. Nothing unusual appearing, he dived cleanly into the
pond, about the point where, as the Boy guessed, there would be the
greatest depth of water against the dam. He was apparently heading
straight up for the inlet of the pond, on a path which would take him
within about twenty-five or thirty yards of the main beaver-house on
the island. As soon as he had vanished under the water the Boy ran
forward, mounted the crest of the dam, and peered with shaded eyes to
see if he could mark the swimmer's progress.
[Illustration: THE OTTER MOVED WITH UNUSUAL CAUTION.]
For a couple of minutes, perhaps, the surface of the pond gave no
indication of the otter's whereabouts. Then, just opposite the main
beaver-house, there was a commotion in the water, the surface curled
and eddied, and the otter appeared in great excitement. He dived again
immediately; and just as he did so the head of a huge beaver poked up
and snatched a breath. Where the two had gone under, the surface of the
pond now fairly boiled; and the Boy, in his excitement over this novel
and mysterious contest, nearly lost his balance on the frail crest of
the dam. A few moments more and both adversaries again came to the
surface, now at close grips and fighting furiously. They were followed
almost at once by a second beaver, smaller than the first, who fell
upon the otter with insane fury. It was plain that the beavers were the
aggressors. The Boy's sympathies were all with the otter, who from time
to time tried vainly to escape from the battle; and once he raised his
rifle. But he bethought him that the otter, after all, whatever his
intentions, was a trespasser; and that the beavers had surely a right
to police their own pond. He remembered an old Indian's having told him
that there was always a blood feud between the beaver and the otter;
and how was he to know how just the cause of offence, or the stake at
issue? Lowering his gun he stared in breathless eagerness.
The otter, however, as it proved, was well able to take care of
himself. Suddenly rearing his sleek, snaky body half out of the water,
he flashed down upon the smaller beaver and caught it firmly behind the
ear with his long, deadly teethteeth designed to hold the convulsive
and slippery writhings of the largest salmon. With mad contortions the
beaver struggled to break that fatal grip. But the otter held
inexorably, shaking its victim as a terrier does a rat, and paid no
heed whatever to the slashing assaults of the other beaver. The water
was lashed to such a turmoil that the waves spread all over the pond,
washing up to the Boy's feet on the crest of the dam, and swaying the
bronze-green grasses about the house on the little island. Though,
without a doubt, all the other citizens of the pond were watching the
battle even more intently than himself, the Boy could not catch sight
of so much as nose or ear. The rest of the spectators kept close to the
covert of grass tuft and lily pad.
[Illustration: SUDDENLY REARING HIS SLEEK, SNAKY BODY HALF OUT OF
All at once the small beaver stiffened itself out convulsively on
top of the water, turned belly up, and began to sink. At the same time
the otter let go, tore free of his second and more dangerous adversary,
and swam desperately for the nearest point of shore. The surviving
beaver, evidently hurt, made no effort to follow up his victory, but
paddled slowly to the house on the island, where he disappeared.
Presently the otter gained the shore and dragged himself up. His glossy
brown skin was gashed and streaming with blood, but the Boy gathered
that his wounds were not mortal. He turned, stared fixedly at the
beaver-house for several seconds as if unwilling to give in, then stole
off through the trees to seek some more hospitable water. As he
vanished, repulsed and maltreated, the Boy realized for the first time
how hostile even the unsophisticated wilderness is to a stranger. Among
the wild kindreds, even as among men, most things worth having are
When the Boy's excitement over this strange fight had calmed down,
he set himself with keen interest to examining the dam. He knew that by
this time every beaver in the pond was aware of his presence, and would
take good care to keep out of sight; so there was no longer anything to
be gained by concealment. Pacing the crest, he made it to be about one
hundred feet in length. At the centre, and through a great part of its
length, it was a little over three feet high, its ends diminishing
gradually into the natural rise of the shores. The base of the dam, as
far as he could judge, seemed to be about twelve feet in thickness, its
upper face constructed with a much more gradual slope than the lower.
The whole structure, which was built of poles, brush, stones, and
earth, appeared to be very substantial, a most sound and enduring piece
of workmanship. But along the crest, which was not more than a foot and
a half in width, it was built with a certain looseness and elasticity
for which he was at a loss to account. Presently he observed, however,
that this dam had no place of overflow for letting off the water. The
water stood in the pond at a height that brought it within three or
four inches of the crest. At this level he saw that it was escaping,
without violence, by percolating through the toughly but loosely woven
tissue of sticks and twigs. The force of the overflow was thus spread
out so thin that its destructive effect on the dam was almost nothing.
It went filtering, with little trickling noises, down over and through
the whole lower face of the structure, there to gather again into a
brook and resume its sparkling journey toward the sea.
The long upper slope of the dam was smoothly and thoroughly faced
with clay, so that none of its framework showed through, save here and
there the butt of a sapling perhaps three or four inches in diameter,
which proclaimed the solidity of the foundations. The lower face, on
the other hand, was all an inexplicable interlacing of sticks and poles
which seemed at first glance heaped together at haphazard. On
examination, however, the Boy found that every piece was woven in so
firmly among its fellows that it took some effort to remove it. The
more he studied the structure, the more his admiration grew, and his
appreciation of the reasoning intelligence of its builders; and he
smiled to himself a little controversial smile, as he thought how
inadequate what men call instinct would be to such a piece of work as
But what impressed him most, as a mark of engineering skill and
sound calculation on the part of the pond-people, was the direction in
which the dam was laid. At either end, where the water was shoal, and
comparatively dead even in time of freshet, the dam ran straight,
taking the shortest way. But where it crossed the main channel of the
brook, and required the greatest strength, it had a pronounced upward
curve to help it resist the thrust of the current. He contemplated this
strong curve for some time; then, a glance at the sun reminding him
that it was near noon, he took off his cap to the low-domed house in
the water and made haste back to camp for dinner.
CHAPTER III. In the Under-water World
MEANWHILE, in the dark chamber and the long, dim corridors of the
House in the Water there was great perturbation. The battle with the
otter had been a tremendous episode in their industrious, well-ordered
lives, and they were wildly excited over it. But much more important to
themto all but the big beaver who was now nursing his triumphant
woundswas the presence of Man in their solitude. Man had hitherto
been but a tradition among them, a vague but alarming tradition. And
now his appearance, yesterday and to-day, filled them with terror. That
vision of the Boy, standing tall and ominous on the dam, and afterwards
going forward and backward over it, pulling at it, apparently seeking
to destroy it, seemed to portend mysterious disasters. After he was
gone, and well gone, almost every beaver in the pond, not only from the
main house but also from the lodge over on the bank, swam down and made
a flurried inspection of the dam, without showing his head above water,
to see if the structure on which they all depended had been tampered
with. One by one, each on his own responsibility, they swam down and
inspected the water-face; and one by one they swam back, more or less
relieved in their minds.
All, of course, except the big beaver who had been in the fight. If
it had not been for that vision of the Boy, he would have crept out
upon the dry grass of the little island and there licked and comforted
his wounds in the comforting sunlight. Now, however, he dared not allow
himself that luxury. His strong love of cleanliness made him reluctant
to take his bleeding gashes into the house; but there was nothing else
to be done. He was the head of the household, however, so there was
none to gainsay him. He dived into the mouth of the shorter of the two
entrances, mounted the crooked and somewhat steep passage, and curled
himself upon the dry grass in one corner of the dark, secluded chamber.
His hurts were painful, and ugly, but none of them deadly, and he knew
he would soon be all right again. There was none of that foreknowledge
of death upon him which sometimes drives a sick animal to abdicate his
rights and crawl away by himself for the last great contest.
The room wherein the big beaver lay down to recover himself was not
spacious nor particularly well ventilated, but in every other respect
it was very admirably adapted to the needs of its occupants. Through
the somewhat porous ceiling, a three-foot thickness of turf and sticks,
came a little air, but no light. This, however, did not matter to the
beavers, whose ears and noses were of more significance to them than
their eyes. In floor area the chamber was something like five feet by
six and a half, but in height not much more than eighteen inches. The
floor of this snug retreat was not five inches above the level of the
water in the passages leading in to it; but so excellently was it
constructed as to be altogether free from damp. It was daintily clean,
moreover; and the beds of dry grass around the edges of the chamber
were clean and fresh.
From this room the living, sleeping, and dining room of the beaver
family, ran two passageways communicating with the outside world. Both
of these were roofed over to a point well outside the walls of the
house, and had their opening in the bottom of the pond, where the water
was considerably more than three feet in depth. One of these passages
was perfectly straight, about two feet in width, and built on a long,
gradual slope. It was by this entrance that the house-dwellers were
wont to bring in their food supplies, in the shape of sticks of green
willow, birch and poplar. When these sticks were stripped clean of
their bark, which was the beavers' chief nourishment, they were then
dragged out again, and floated down to be used in the repair of the
dam. The other passage, especially adapted to quick exit in case of
danger from the way of the roof, was about as spacious as the first,
but much shorter and steeper. It was crooked, moreover,for a reason
doubtless adequate to the architects, but obscure to mere human
observers. The exits of both passages were always in open water, no
matter how fierce the frosts of the winter, how thick the armour of ice
over the surface of the pond. In the neighbourhood of the house were
springs bubbling up through the bottom, and keeping the temperature of
the pond fairly uniform throughout the coldest weather, so that the
ice, at worst, never attained a thickness of more than a foot and a
half, even though in the bigger lakes of that region it might make to a
depth of three feet and over.
[Illustration: POKED HIS HEAD ABOVE WATER.]
While the wounded beaver lay in the chamber licking his honourable
gashes, two other members of the family entered and approached him. In
some simple but adequate speech it was conveyed to them that their
presence was not required, and they retreated precipitately, taking
different exits. One swam to the grassy edge of the islet, poked his
head above water under the covert of some drooping weeds, listened
motionless for some minutes, then wormed himself out among the long
grasses and lay basking, hidden from all the world but the whirling
hawk overhead. The other, of a more industrious mould, swam off toward
the upper end of the pond where, as he knew, there was work to be done.
Still as was the surface of the pond, below the surface there was
life and movement. Every little while the surface would be softly
broken, and a tiny ripple would set out in widening circles toward the
shore, starting from a small dark nose thrust up for a second. The
casual observer would have said that these were fish rising for flies;
but in fact it was the apprehensive beavers coming up to breathe,
afraid to show themselves on account of the Boy. They were all sure
that he had not really gone, but was in hiding somewhere, waiting to
pounce upon them.
It was the inhabitants of the House in the Water who were moving
about the pond, this retreat being occupied by their wounded and
ill-humoured champion. The inhabitants of the other house, over on the
shore, who had been interested but remote spectators through all the
strange events of the morning, were now in comfortable seclusion,
resting till it should be counted a safe time to go about their
affairs. Some were sleeping, or gnawing on sappy willow sticks, in the
spacious chamber of their house, while others were in the deeper and
more secret retreats of their two burrows high up in the bank,
connecting with the main house by roomy tunnels partly filled with
water. The two families were quite independent of each other, except
for their common interest in keeping the great dam in repair. In work
upon the dam they acted not exactly in harmony but in amicable rivalry,
all being watchful and all industrious.
In the under-water world of the beaver pond the light from the
cloudless autumn sun was tawny gold, now still as crystal, now
quivering over the bottom in sudden dancing meshes of fine shadow as
some faint puff of air wrinkled the surface. When the dam was first
built the pond had been of proper depthfrom three to four feetonly
in the channel of the stream; while all the rest was shallow, the old,
marshy levels of the shore submerged to a depth of perhaps not more
than twelve or fifteen inches. Gradually, however, the industrious
dam-builders had dug away these shallows, using the materialgrass,
roots, clay, and stonesfor the broadening and solidifying of the dam.
The tough fibred masses of grass-roots, full of clay and almost
indestructible, were just such material as they loved to work with, the
ancient difficulty of making bricks without straw being well known to
them. Over a large portion of the pond the bottom was now clean sand
and mud, offering no obstacle to the transportation of cuttings to the
houses or the dam.
The beavers, moving hither and thither through this glimmering
golden underworld, swam with their powerful hind feet only, which drove
them through the water like wedges. Their little forefeet, with
flexible, almost handlike paws, were carried tucked up snugly under
their chins, while their huge, broad, flat, hairless tails stuck
straight out behind, ready to be used as a powerful screw in case of
any sudden need. Presently two of the swimmers, apparently by chance,
came upon the body of the beaver which the journeying otter had slain.
They knew that it was contrary to the laws of the clan that any dead
thing should be left in the pond to poison the waters in its decay.
Without ceremony or sentiment they proceeded to drag their late comrade
toward shore,or rather to shove it ahead of them, only dragging when
it got stuck against some stone or root. At the very edge of the pond,
where the water was not more than eight or ten inches deep, they left
it, to be thrust out and far up the bank after nightfall. They knew
that some hungry night prowler would then take care of it for them.
Meanwhile an industriously inclined beaver had made his way to the
very head of the pond. Here he entered a little ditch or canal which
led off through a wild meadow in a perfectly straight line, toward a
wooded slope some fifty yards or so from the pond. This ditch, which
was perhaps two feet and a half deep and about the same in width,
looked as if it had been dug by the hand of man. The materials taken
from it had been thrown up along the brink, but not on one side only,
as the human ditch-digger does it. The beavers had thrown it out on
both sides. The ditch was of some age, however, so the wild grasses and
weeds had completely covered the two parallel ridges and now leaned low
over the water, partly hiding it. Under this screen the beaver came to
the surface, and swam noiselessly with his head well up.
At the edge of the slope the canal turned sharply to the left, and
ran in a gradual curve, skirting the upland. Here it was a piece of new
work, raw and muddy, and the little ridges of fresh earth and roots
along its brink were conspicuous. The beaver now went very cautiously,
sniffing the air for any hint of peril. After winding along for some
twenty or thirty yards, the new canal shoaled out to nothingness behind
a screen of alder; and here, in a mess of mud and water, the beaver
found one of his comrades hard at work. There was much of the new canal
yet to do, and winter coming on.
The object of this new ditch was to tap a new food supply. The food
trees near enough to the pond to be felled into it or rolled down to it
had long ago been used. Then the straight canal across the meadow to
the foot of the upland had opened up a new area, an area rich in birch
and poplar. But trees can be rolled easily down-hill that cannot be
dragged along an uneven side-hill; so, at last, it had become necessary
to extend the canal parallel with the bottom of the slope. Working in
this direction, every foot of new ditch brought a lot of new supplies
[Illustration: STICKY LUMPS, WHICH THEY COULD HUG UNDER THEIR
The extremity of the canal was dug on a slant, for greater ease in
removing the material. Here the two beavers toiled side by side,
working independently. With their teeth they cut the tough sod as
cleanly as a digger's spade could do it. With their fore paws they
scraped up the soilwhich was soft and easily workedinto sticky
lumps, which they could hug under their chins and carry up the slope to
be dumped upon the grass at the side. Every minute one or the other
would stop, lift his brown head over the edge, peer about, and sniff,
and listen, then fall to work again furiously, as if the whole future
and fortune of the pond were hanging upon his toil. After a half-hour's
labour the canal was lengthened very perceptiblyfully six or eight
inchesand as if by common consent the two brown excavators stopped to
refresh themselves by nibbling at some succulent roots. While they were
thus occupied, and apparently absorbed, from somewhere up the slope
among the birch-trees came the faint sound of a snapping twig. In half
a second the beavers had vanished noiselessly under water, down the
canal, leaving but a swirl of muddy foam to mark their going.
CHAPTER IV. Night Watchers
WHEN the Boy came creeping down the hillside, and found the water in
the canal still muddy and foaming, he realized that he had just missed
a chance to see the beavers actually at work on their ditch-digging. He
was disappointed. But he found ample compensation in the fact that here
was one of the much-discussed and sometimes doubted canals, actually in
process of construction. He knew he could outdo the beavers in their
own game of wariness and watchfulness. He made up his mind he would lie
out that very night, on the hillside close byand so patiently, so
unstirringly, that the beavers would never suspect the eager eyes that
were upon them.
All around him, on the nearer slopes, were evidences of the purpose
for which the canal was designed, as well as of the diligence with
which the little people of the pond were labouring to get in their
winter stores. From this diligence, so early in the season, the Boy
argued an early and severe winter. He found trees of every size up to
two feet in diameter cleanly felled, and stripped of their branches.
With two or three exceptionsprobably the work of young beavers
unskilled in their artthe trees were felled unerringly in the
direction of the water, so as to minimize the labour of dragging down
the cuttings. Close to the new part of the canal, he found the tree
whose falling he and Jabe had heard the night before. It was a tall
yellow birch, fully twenty inches through at the place where it was
cut, some fifteen inches from the ground. The cutting was still fresh
and sappy. About half the branches had been gnawed off and trimmed,
showing that the beavers, after being disturbed by the Boy's visit to
the dam, had returned to work later in the night. Much of the smaller
brush, from the top, had been cleared away and dragged down to the edge
of the canal. As the Boy knew, from what trappers and woodsmen had told
him, this brush, and a lot more like it, would all be anchored in a
huge pile in mid-channel, a little above the dam, where it would serve
the double purpose of breaking the force of the floods and of supplying
food through the winter.
Very near the newly felled birch the Boy found another large tree
about half cut through; and he vowed to himself that he would see the
finish of that job that very night. He found the cutting done pretty
evenly all around the tree, but somewhat lower and deeper on the side
next to the water. In width the cut was less than that which a good
axeman would makebecause the teeth of a beaver are a more frugal
cutting instrument than the woodsman's axe, making possible a
straighter and less wasteful cut. At the foot of this tree he picked up
chips fully eight inches in length, and was puzzled to imagine how the
beavers imitated the effect of the axe in making the chips fly off.
For a couple of hours the Boy busied himself joyously, observing the
work of these cunning woodsmen's teeth, noting the trails by which the
remoter cuttings had been dragged down to the water, and studying the
excavations on the canal. Then, fearing to make the little citizens of
the pond so nervous that they might not come out to business that
night, he withdrew over the slope and made his way back to camp. He
would sleep out the rest of the afternoon to be fresh and keen for the
At supper that evening, beside the camp-fire, when the woods looked
magical under the still, white moon, Jabe Smith gradually got fired
with the Boy's enthusiasm. The Boy's descriptions of the canal digging,
of the structure of the dam, and, above all, of the battle between the
otter and the beavers, filled him with a new eagerness to observe these
wonderful little engineers with other eyes than those of the mere
hunter and trapper. In the face of all the Boy's exact details he grew
almost deferential, quite laying aside his usual backwoods pose of
indifference and half derision. He made no move to go to bed, but
refilled his pipe and watched his young comrade's face with shrewd,
bright eyes grown suddenly boyish.
At last the Boy rose and picked up his rifle.
I must hurry up and get myself hidden, said he, or I'll see
nothing to-night. Good night, Jabe. I'll not be back, likely, till
along toward morning.
The backwoodsman's usual response was not forthcoming. For some
seconds he fingered his rugged chin in silence. Then, straightening
himself up, he spoke with an air of mingled embarrassment and
Them beaver of yourn's certainly an interestin' kind of varmint.
D'ye know, blam'd if I ain't got a notion to go along with you
to-night, an' watch 'em myself!
The Boy, though secretly delighted at this evidence of something
like conversion, eyed Jabe doubtfully. He was not sure of the latter's
capacity for the tireless patience and long self-effacement necessary
for such an adventure as this.
Well, Jabe, he answered hesitatingly, you know well how more than
glad I'd be of your company. It would just about double my fun, having
you along, if you were really interested, as I am, you know. And are
you sure you could keep still long enough to see anything?
Jabe would have resented this halting acceptance of his
companionship had he not known in his heart that it was nothing more
than he well deserved. But the doubt cast upon his woodcraft piqued
Hain't I never set for hours in the wet ma'sh, never movin' a
finger, waitin' for the geese? he asked with injury in his voice.
Hain't I never sneaked up on a watchin' buck, or laid so still I've
fooled a bear?
The Boy chuckled softly at this outbreak, so unexpected in the
taciturn and altogether superior Jabe.
You're all right, Jabe! said he. I reckon you can keep still. But
you must let me be captain, for to-night! This is my trick.
Sartain, responded the woodsman with alacrity. I'll eat mud if
you say so! But I'll take along a hunk of cold bacon if you hain't got
On the trail through the ghostly, moonlit woods, Jabe followed
obediently at the Boy's heels. Silently as shadows they moved, silently
as the lynx or the moose or the weasel goes through the softly parting
undergrowth. The Boy led far away from the brook, and over the crest of
the ridge, to avoid alarming the vigilant sentries. As they approached
the head of the canal, their caution redoubled, and they went very
slowly, bending low and avoiding every patch of moonlight. The light
breeze, so light as to be almost imperceptible, drew upward toward them
from the meadow, bringing now and then a scent of the fresh-dug soil.
At last the Boy lay down on his belly; and Jabe religiously imitated
him. For perhaps fifty yards they crept forward inch by inch, till at
length they found themselves in the heart of a young fir thicket,
through whose branches they could look out upon the head of the canal
and the trees where the beavers had most recently been cutting.
Among the trees and in the water, all was still, with the mystic,
crystalline stillness of the autumn moonlight. In that light everything
seemed fragile and unreal, as if a movement or a breath might dissolve
it. After a waiting of some ten minutes Jabe had it on the tip of his
tongue to whisper, derisively, Nothin' doin'! But he remembered the
Boy's injunction, as well as his doubts, and checked himself. A moment
later a faint, swirling gurgle of water caught his ear, and he was glad
he had kept silence. An instant more, and the form of a beaver,
spectral-gray in the moonlight, took shape all at once on the brink of
the canal. For several minutes it stood there motionless, erect upon
its hind quarters, questioning the stillness with eyes and ear and
nose. Then, satisfied that there was no danger near, it dropped on all
fours and crept up toward the tree that was partly cut through.
This pioneer of the woodcutters was followed immediately by three
others, who lost no time in getting down to work. One of them went to
help the leader, while the other two devoted themselves to trimming and
cutting up the branches of the big birch which they had felled the
night before. The Boy wondered where the rest of the pond-people were,
and would have liked to consult Jabe about it; but he remembered the
keenness of the beaver's ears, and held his tongue securely. It seemed
to him probably that they were still down in the pond, working on the
houses, the brush pile, or the dam. Presently one more was accounted
for. A renewed splashing in the canal turned the attention of the
watchers from the tree-cutting, and they saw that a single wise
excavator was at work, carrying forward the head of the ditch.
There was no impatience or desire to fidget left in Jabe Smith now.
As he watched the beavers at work in the moonlight, looking very
mysterious in their stealthy, busy, tireless diligence, and conducting
their toil with an ordered intelligence which seemed to him almost
human, he understood for the first time the Boy's enthusiasm for this
kind of bloodless hunting. He had always known how clever the beavers
were, and allowed them full credit; but till now he had never actually
realized it. The two beavers engaged in cutting down the tree sat erect
upon their haunches, supported by their huge tails, chiseling
indefatigably. Cutting two deep grooves, one about six or eight inches,
perhaps, above the other, they would then wrench off the chips by main
force with their teeth and forepaws, jerking their powerful necks with
a kind of furious impatience. As he noted how they made the cut deeper
and lower on one side than the other, that the tree might fall as they
wished, he was so delighted that he came dangerously near vowing he
would never trap a beaver again. He felt that it was almost like
ensnaring a brother woodsman.
Equally exciting was the work on the other tree, which was being
trimmed. The branches, according to their size, were cut into neat,
manageable lengths, of from three to six or seven feetthe less the
diameter the greater the length, each piece being calculated to be
handled in the water by one beaver. These pieces were then rolled,
shoved or dragged, as the case might require, down the smooth trails
already made in hauling the brush, and dumped into the canal. Other
beavers presently appeared, and began towing the sticks and brush down
the canal to the pond. This part of the process was hidden from the
eager watchers in the thicket; but the Boy guessed, from his own
experience in pushing a log endwise before him while in swimming, that
the beavers would handle the sticks in the same way. With the brush,
however, it was different. In hauling it down the trail each beaver
took a branch in his teeth, by the butt, twisted it across his
shoulders, and let it drag behind him. It was obvious that in the
water, too, this would be the most convenient way to handle such
material. The beavers were not the kind of people to waste their
strength in misdirected effort.
[Illustration: TWISTED IT ACROSS HIS SHOULDERS, AND LET IT DRAG
While all this cutting and hauling was going on, the big beaver down
at the head of the canal was attending strictly to his task, running
his lines straight, digging the turf and clay, shoving his loads up the
slope and out upon the edge of the ditch. The process was all in clear,
easy view of the watchers, their place of hiding being not more than
eight or ten paces distant.
They had grown altogether absorbed in watching the little
canal-builder, when a cracking sound made them turn their eyes. The
tree was toppling slowly. Every beaver now made a mad rush for the
canal, not caring how much noise he madeand plunged into the water.
Slowly, reluctantly, majestically, the tall birch swung forward
straight down the slope, its top describing a great arc against the sky
and gathering the air in its branches with a low but terrifying roar.
The final crash was unexpectedly gentle,or rather, would have seemed
so to one unfamiliar with tree-felling. Some branches snapped, some
sticks flew up and dropped, there was a shuddering confusion in the
crystal air for a few seconds, then the stillness fell once more.
But now there was not a beaver to be seen. Jabe wondered if they had
been scared by the results of their own work; or if one of their
sentinels had come and peered into the thicket from the rear. As minute
after minute dragged by, and nothing happened, he began to realize that
his muscles were aching savagely from their long restraint. He was on
the point of moving, of whispering to ask the Boy what it meant, when
the latter, divining his unrest, stealthily laid a restraining hand
upon his arm. He guessed that the beavers were on the alert, hiding,
and watching to see if any of their enemies should be attracted by the
[Illustration: EVERY BEAVER NOW MADE A MAD RUSH FOR THE CANAL.]
Not five seconds later, however, he forgot his aches. Appearing with
uncanny and inexplicable suddenness, there was the big pioneer again,
sitting up by the edge of the canal. As before, he sat absolutely
motionless for a minute or two, sniffing and listening. Then, satisfied
once more that all was well, he moved lazily up the slope to examine
the tree; and in half a minute all were at work again, except that
there was no more tree-felling. The great business of the hour was
For some time longer the watchers lay motionless, noting every
detail of the work, till at last the Boy began to think it was time to
release Jabe from his long and severe restraint and break up the beaver
chopping-bee. Before he had quite made up his mind, however, his eyes
chanced to wander a little way up the slope, and to rest, without any
conscious purpose, on a short gray bit of log. Presently he began to
wonder what a piece of log so short and thicknot much more than three
feet longwould be doing there. No beavers would waste time cutting up
a twelve-inch log into lengths like that. And there had been no
lumberman in the neighbourhood. Then, in a flash, his eyes cleared
themselves of their illusion. The log had moved, ever so slightly. It
was no longer a log, but a big gray lynx, creeping slowly, inexorably,
down upon the unsuspecting people of the pond.
For perhaps ten seconds the Boy stared in uncertainty. Then he saw
the lynx gather his muscles for the final, fatal rush. Without a
whisper or a warning to the astonished Jabe, he whipped up his rifle,
The sharp report seemed to shatter the whole scene. Its echoes were
mixed with the scattering of the horrified beavers as they rushed for
the waterwith the short screech of the lynx, as it bounced into the
air and fell back on its side, deadwith an exclamation of
astonishment from Jabeand with a crashing of branches just behind the
thicket. The Boy looked around, triumphantto see that Jabe's
exclamation was not at all the result of his clever shot. The woodsman
was on his hands and knees, his back turned, and staring at the form of
a big black bear as it lumbered off in a panic through the bushes. Like
the unfortunate lynx, the bear had been stalking the beavers on his own
account, and had almost stepped upon the silent watchers in the
[Illustration: IT WAS NO LONGER A LOG, BUT A BIG GRAY LYNX.]
CHAPTER V. Dam Repairing and Dam
AS the Boy trudged triumphantly back toward camp, over the crest of
the moon-bright ridge, he carried the limp, furry body of the lynx
slung by its hind legs over his shoulder. He felt that his prestige had
gone up incalculably in the woodsman's eyes. The woodsman was silent,
however, as silent as the wilderness, till they descended the other
slope and came in sight of the little solitary camp. Then he said:
That was a mighty slick shot of yourn, d'ye know it? Ye're quicker'n
chain lightnin', an' dead on!
Just luck, Jabe! replied the Boy carelessly, trying to seem
This different suggestion Jabe did not take the trouble to
controvert. He knew the Boy did not mean it.
But I thought as how ye wouldn't kill anything? he went on,
Had to! retorted the Boy. That was self-defence! Those beavers
are my beavers. An' I've always wanted a real good excuse for getting a
good lynx skin, anyway!
I don't blame ye a mite fer standin' by them beaver! continued
Jabe. They're jest all right! It was better'n any circus; an' I don't
know when I've enjoyed myself more.
Then the least you can do, Jabe, is promise not to trap any more
beavers! said the Boy quickly.
Wa'al, answered Jabe, as they entered camp and began spreading
their blankets, leastwise I'll do my best to see that no harm comes to
them beaver, nor to the pond.
Next morning, as the woodsman was starting out for the day's cruise,
the Boy said to him:
If you're game for another night's watching, Jabe, I'll show you
something altogether different up at the pond to-night.
Try me! responded the woodsman.
You'll have to be back earlier than usual, then, said the Boy.
We'll have to get hidden earlier, and in a new place.
I'll come back along a couple of hours afore sundown, then,
answered Jabe, swinging off on his long, mooselike stride. It was
contrary to his backwoods etiquette to ask what was in store for him;
but his curiosity was excited, and kept him company through the
solitude all day.
When Jabe was gone, the Boy went straight up-stream to the dam,
taking no special care to hide his coming. His plan was one in regard
to which he felt some guilty qualms. But he consoled himself with the
thought that whatever harm he might be doing to the little citizens of
the pond would be more than compensated by the protection he was giving
them. He was going to make a break in the dam, for the sake of seeing
just how the beavers would mend it.
On reaching the dam, however, it occurred to him that if he made the
break now the beavers might regard the matter as too urgent to be left
till nightfall. They might steal a march on him by mending the damage
little by little, surreptitiously, through the day. He had no way of
knowing just how they would take so serious a danger as a break in
their dam. He decided, therefore, to postpone his purpose till the
afternoon, so that the beavers would not come to the rescue too early.
In the meantime, he would explore the stream above the pond, and see if
there were other communities to study.
Skirting the hither side of the pond to near its head, he crossed
the little meadow and the canal, and reached the brook again about
fifty yards beyond. Here he found it flowing swift and narrow, over a
rocky bottom, between high banks; and this was its character for nearly
half a mile, as he judged. Then, emerging once more upon lower ground,
he came upon a small dam. This structure was not much over eighteen
inches in height, and the pond above it, small and shallow, showed no
signs of being occupied. There was no beaver house to be seen, either
in the water or on shore; and the water did not seem to be anywhere
more than a foot and a half in depth. As he puzzled over thisfor he
did not think the beavers were likely to build a dam for nothinghe
observed a second and much larger dam far away across the head of the
Hastening to investigate this upper dam, he found it fully three
feet high, and very massive. Above it was a narrow but deep pond,
between comparatively steep shores; and along these shores he counted
three low-roofed houses. Out in the middle of the pond there was not
one dwelling; and he came presently to the conclusion that here,
between the narrow banks, the current would be heavy in time of
freshet. The lower dam, pretty obviously, was intended to reinforce the
upper, by backing a foot and a half of water against it and taking off
just that much of the pressure. He decided that the reason for locating
the three houses along the shore was that the steep bank afforded
special facilities for shore burrows.
The explorer's fever being now hot upon him, the Boy could not stay
to examine this pond minutely. He pressed on up-stream with breathless
eagerness, thrilling with expectation of what the next turn might
reveal. As a matter of fact, the next turn revealed nothingnor the
next, nor yet the next. But as the stream was full of turns in this
portion of its course, that was not greatly discouraging.
About a quarter of a mile, however, above the head of the narrow
pond, the ardent explorer came upon a level of sparse alder swamp. Here
he found the stream just beginning to spread over its low banks. The
cause of this spreading was a partial obstruction in mid-channelwhat
looked, at first glance, like an accidental accumulation of brush and
stones and mud. A second look, however, and his heart jumped with
excitement and delight. Here was the beginning of a new pond, here were
the foundations of a new dam. He would be able to see what few indeed
of the students of the wilderness had had the opportunity to watchthe
actual process by which these wilderness engineers achieved their great
All about the place the straightest and brushiest alders had been
cut down, those usually selected being at least ten or twelve feet in
height. Many of them were still lying where they fell; but a number had
been dragged to the stream and anchored securely, with stones and turfy
clay, across the channel. The Boy noted, with keenest admiration, that
these were all laid with the greatest regularity parallel with the flow
of the current, butts up stream, brushy tops below. In this way, the
current took least hold upon them, and was obstructed gradually and as
it were insidiously, without being challenged to any violent test of
strength. Already it was lingering in some confusion, backing up, and
dividing its force, and stealing away at each side among the bushes.
The Boy had heard that the beavers were accustomed to begin their dams
by felling a tree across the channel and piling their materials upon
that as a foundation. But the systematic and thorough piece of work
before him was obviously superior in permanence to any such slovenly
makeshift; and moreover, further to discredit such a theory, here was a
tall black ash close to the stream and fairly leaning over it, as if
begging to be put to some such use.
At this spot the Boy stayed his explorations for the day. Choosing a
bit of dry thicket close by, to be a hiding-place for Jabe and himself
that night, a bunch of spruce and fir where he knew the beavers would
not come for supplies, he hurried back to the camp for a bite of
dinner, giving wide berth to all the ponds on the way. Building a tiny
camp-fire he fried himself a couple of slices of bacon and brewed a tin
of tea for his solitary meal, then lay down in the lean-to, with the
sun streaming in upon him, for an hour's nap.
The night having been a tiring one for his youthful nerves and
muscles, he slept heavily, and awoke with a start to find the sun a
good two hours nearer the horizon. Sleep was still heavy upon him, so
he went down to the edge of the brook and plunged his face into the
chilly current. Then, picking up an axe instead of his rifle, he
returned up-stream to the dam.
As he drew near, he caught sight of a beaver swimming down the pond,
towing a big branch over its shoulder; and his conscience smote him at
the thought of the trouble and anxiety he was going to inflict upon the
diligent little inhabitants. His mind was made up, however. He wanted
knowledge, and the beavers would have to furnish it, at whatever cost.
A few minutes of vigorous work with the axe, a few minutes of
relentless tugging and jerking upon the upper framework of the dam, and
he had made a break through which the water rushed foaming in a muddy
torrent. Soon, as he knew, the falling of the pond's level would alarm
the house-dwellers, and bring them out to see what had happened. Then,
as soon as darkness came, there would be a gathering of both households
to repair the break.
[Illustration: HE CAUGHT SIGHT OF A BEAVER SWIMMING DOWN THE
Hiding in the bushes near by, he saw the water slowly go down, but
for half an hour the beavers gave no sign. Then, close beside the
break, a big fellow crawled out upon the slope of the dam and made a
careful survey of the damage. He disappeared; and presently another
came, took a briefer look, and vanished. A few minutes later, far up
the pond, several bushy branches came to the surface, as if they had
been anchored on the bottom and released. They came, apparently
floating, down toward the dam. As they reached the break, the heads of
several beavers showed themselves above water, and the branches were
guided across the opening, where they were secured in some way which
the watcher could not see. They did not so very greatly diminish the
waste, but they checked the destructive violence of it. It was
evidently a temporary makeshift, this; for in the next hour nothing
more was done. Then the Boy got tired, and went back to camp to wait
for Jabe and nightfall.
That evening the backwoodsman, forgetting the fatigue of his day's
cruising in the interest of the Boy's story, was no less eager than his
companion; and the two, hurrying through an early supper, were off for
the pond in the first purple of twilight. When they reached the Boy's
hiding-place by the dam the first star was just showing itself in the
pallid greenish sky, and the surface of the pond, with its vague, black
reflections, was like a shadowed mirror of steel. There was not a sound
on the air except the swishing rush of the divided water over the break
in the dam.
The Boy had timed his coming none too early; for the pond had
dropped nearly a foot, and the beavers were impatient to stop the
break. No sooner had night fairly settled down than suddenly the water
began to swirl into circles all about the lower end of the pond, and a
dozen heads popped up. Then more brush appeared, above the
island-house, and was hurriedly towed down to the dam. The brush which
had been thrust across the break was now removed and relaid
longitudinally, branchy ends down stream. Here it was held in place by
some of the beavers while others brought masses of clayey turf from the
nearest shore to secure it. Meanwhile more branches were being laid in
place, always parallel with the current; and in a little while the
rushing noise of the overflow began to diminish very noticeably. Then a
number of short, heavy billets were mixed with shorter lengths of
brush; and all at once the sound of rushing ceased altogether. There
was not even the usual musical trickling and tinkling, for the level of
the pond was too low for the water to find its customary stealthy
exits. At this stage the engineers began using smaller sticks, with
more clay, and a great many small stones, making a very solid-looking
piece of work. At last the old level of the dam crest was reached, and
there was no longer any evidence of what had happened except the
lowness of the water. Then, all at once, the toilers disappeared,
except for one big beaver, who kept nosing over every square inch of
the work for perhaps two minutes, to assure himself of its perfection.
When he, at last, had slipped back into the water, both Jabe and the
Boy got up, as if moved by one thought, and stretched their cramped
I swan! exclaimed the woodsman with fervour. If that ain't the
slickest bit o' work I ever seen! Let's go over and kind of inspect the
job fer 'em!
Inspection revealed that the spot which had just been mended was the
solidest portion of the whole structure. Wherever else the water might
be allowed to escape, it was plain the beavers intended it should have
no more outlet here.
From the mended dam the Boy now led Jabe away up-stream in haste, in
the hope of catching some beavers at work on the new dam in the alders.
Having skirted the long pond at a distance, to avoid giving alarm, the
travellers went with the utmost caution till they reached the swampy
level. Then, indifferent to the oozy, chilly mud, they crept forward
like minks stealing on their prey; and at last, gaining the fir thicket
without mishap, they lay prone on the dry needles to rest.
As they lay, a sound of busy splashing came to their ears, which
promptly made them forget their fatigue. Shifting themselves very
slowly and with utter silence, they found that the place of ambush had
been most skilfully chosen. In perfect hiding themselves, they
commanded a clear and near view of the new dam and all its approaches.
There were two beavers visible, paddling busily on the foundations
of the dam, while the overflowing water streamed about them, covering
their feet. At this stage, most of the water flowed through the still
uncompacted structure, leaving work on the top unimpeded. The two
beavers were dragging into place a long birch sapling, perhaps eleven
feet in length, with a thick, bushy top. When laid to the satisfaction
of the architects,the butt, of course, pointing straight
up-stream,the trunk was jammed firmly down between those already
placed. Then the more erect and unmanageable of the branches were
gnawed off and in some waywhich the observers with all their
watchfulness could not make outwattled down among the other branches
so as to make a woven and coherent mass. The earth and sod and small
stones which were afterwards brought and laid upon the structure did
not seem necessary to hold it in place, but rather for the stoppage of
While this was going on at the dam, a rustling of branches and
splashing of water turned the watchers' attention up-stream. Another
beaver came in sight, and then another, each partly floating and partly
dragging a straight sapling like the first. It seemed that the
dam-builders were not content to depend altogether on the crooked,
scraggly alder-growth all about them, but demanded in their foundations
a certain proportion of the straighter timbers and denser branches of
the birch. It was quite evident that they knew just what they were
doing, and how best to do it.
While the building was going on, yet another pair of beavers
appeared, and the work was pressed with a feverish energy that produced
amazing results. The Boy remembered a story told him by an old Indian,
but not confirmed by any natural history which he had come across, to
the effect that when a pair of young beavers set out to establish a new
pond, some of the old ones go along to lend a hand in the building of
the dam. It was plain that these workers were all in a tremendous
hurry; and the Boy could see no reason for haste unless it was that the
majority of the workers had to get back to their own affairs. With the
water once fairly brought under control, and the pond deep enough to
afford a refuge from enemies, the young pair could be trusted to
complete it by themselves, get their house ready, and gather their
supplies in for the winter. The Boy concluded to his own satisfaction
that what he was now watching was the analogue, in beaver life, to one
of those house-raising bees which sometimes took place in the
Settlement, when the neighbours would come together to help a man get
up the frame of a new house. Only, as it seemed to him, the beavers
were a more serious and more sober folk than the men.
When this wilderness engineering had progressed for an hour under
the watchers' eyes, Jabe began to grow very tired. The strain of
physical immobility told upon him, and he lost interest. He began to
feel that he knew all about dam-building; and as there was nothing more
to learn he wanted to go back to camp. He glanced anxiously at the
young face beside himbut there he could see no sign of weariness. The
Boy was aglow with enthusiasm. He had forgotten everything but the
wonderful little furry architects, their diligence, their skill, their
coöperation, and the new pond there growing swiftly before his eyes.
Already it was more than twice as wide as when they had arrived on the
scene; the dam was a good eight inches higher; and the clamour of the
flowing stream was stopped. No, Jabe could see no sympathy for himself
in that eager face. He was ashamed to beg off. And moreover, he was
loyal to his promise of obedience. The Boy, here, was Captain.
Suppressing a sigh, Jabe stealthily and very gradually shifted to an
easier position, so stealthily that the Boy beside him did not know he
had moved. Then, fixing his eyes once more upon the beavers, he tried
to renew his interest in them. As he stared, he began to succeed
amazingly. And no wonder! The beavers all at once began to do such
amazing things. There were many more of them than he had thought; and
he was sure he heard them giving orders in something that sounded to
him like the Micmac tongue. He could not believe his ears. Then he saw
that they were using larger stones, instead of mud and turf, in their
operationsand floating them down the pond as if they were corks. He
had never heard of such a thing before, in all his wilderness
experience. He was just about to compliment the Boy on this
unparalleled display of engineering skill, when one particularly large
beaver, who was hoisting a stone as big as himself up the face of the
dam, let his burden slip a little. Then began a terrible struggle
between the beaver and the stone. In his agonizing effortwhich his
companions all stopped work to watchthe unhappy beaver made a loud,
gurgling, gasping noise; then, without a hint of warning, dropped the
stone with a splash, turned like lightning, and grabbed Jabe violently
by the arm.
The astonishing scene changed in a twinkling; and Jabe realized that
the Boy was shaking him.
A nice one to watch beavers, you are! cried the Boy, angry and
Whywhere've they all gone to? demanded Jabe, rubbing his eyes.
They're the most interestin' critters I ever hearn tell of!
Interesting! retorted the Boy, scornfully. So interesting you
went to sleep! And you snored so they thought it was an earthquake. Not
another beaver'll show a hair round here to-night. We'd better go
Jabe grinned sheepishly, but answered never a word; and silently, in
Indian file, the Boy leading, the two took the trail back to camp.
CHAPTER VI. The Peril of the Traps
AT breakfast next morning the Boy had quite recovered his good
humour, and was making merry at Jabe's expense. The latter, who was, of
course, defenceless and abashed, was anxious to give him something new
to think of.
Say, he exclaimed suddenly, after the Boy had prodded him with a
searching jibe. If ye'll let up on that snore, now, I'll take a day
off from my cruisin', and show ye somethin' myself.
Good! said the Boy. It's a bargain. What will you show me?
I'll take ye over to one of my ponds, in next valley, an'
show ye all the different ways of trappin' beaver.
The Boy's face fell.
But what do I care about trapping beaver? he cried.
You know I wouldn't trap anything. If I had to kill anything, I'd
shoot it, and put it out of misery as quick as I could!
I know all that, responded Jabe. But trappin' is somethin' ye
want to understand, all the same. Ye can't be an all-round
woodsman 'less ye understand trappin'. An' moreover, there's
some things ye learn about wild critters in tryin' to git the better of
'em that ye can't learn no other way.
I guess you're right, Jabe! answered the Boy, slowly. Knowledge he
would have, whether he liked the means of getting it or not. But the
woodsman's next words relieved him.
I'll just show ye how, that's all! said Jabe. It's a
leetle too airly in the season yit fur actual trappin'. An' moreover,
it's agin the law. Agin the law, an' agin common sense, too, fer the
fur ain't no good, so to speak, fer a month yit. When the law an'
common sense stand together, then I'm fer the law. Come on!
Picking up his axe, he struck straight back into the woods, in a
direction at right angles to the brook. To uninitiated eyes there was
no trail; but to Jabe, and to the Boy no less, the path was like a
trodden highway. The pace set by the backwoodsman, with his long,
slouching, loose-jointed, flat-footed stride, was a stiff one, but the
Boy, who was lean and hard, and used his feet straight-toed like an
Indian, had no fault to find with it. Neither spoke a word, as they
swung along single file through the high-arched and ancient forest,
whose shadows, so sombre all through summer, were now shot here and
there with sharp flashes of scarlet or pale gleams of aërial gold.
Once, rounding a great rock of white granite stained with faint pinkish
and yellowish reflections from the bright leaves glowing over it, they
came face to face with a tall bull moose, black and formidable-looking
as some antediluvian monster. The monster, however, had no desire to
hold the way against them. He eyed them doubtfully for a second, and
then went crashing off through the brush in frank, undignified alarm.
For a good three miles the travellers swung onward, up a slow long
slope, and down a longer, slower one into the next valley. The Boy
noted that the region was one of numberless small brooks flowing
through a comparatively level land, with old, long-deserted
beaver-meadows interspersed among wooded knolls. Yet for a time there
were no signs of the actual living beavers. He asked the reason, and
It's been all trapped over an' over, years back, when beaver pelts
was high,an' by Injuns, likely, who just cleaned out everythin',an'
broke down the dams,an' dug out the houses. But the little critters
is comin' back. Furder up the valley there's some good ponds now!
And now they'll be cleaned out again! exclaimed the Boy, with a
rush of indignant pity.
Not on yer life! answered Jabe. We don't do things that way now.
We don't play low-down tricks on 'em an' clean out a whole family, but
jest take so many out of each beaver house, an' then leave 'em alone
two er three years to kinder recooperate!
As Jabe finished they came in sight of a long, rather low dam, with
a pond spread out beyond it that was almost worthy to be called a lake.
It was of comparatively recent creation, as the Boy's observant eye
decided at once from the dead trees still rising here and there from
Gee! he exclaimed, under his breath. That's a great pond, Jabe!
There's no less'n four beaver houses in that pond! said the
woodsman, with an air of proud possession. That makes, accordin' to my
reckonin', anywheres from thirty to thirty-six beaver. Bye and bye,
when the time comes, I'll kinder thin 'em out a bit, that's all!
From the crest of the dam all four housesone far out and three
close to shorewere visible to the Boy's initiated eye; though
strangers might have taken them to be mere casual accumulations of
sticks deposited by some whimsical freshet. It troubled him to think
how many of the architects of these cunningly devised dwellings would
soon have to yield up their harmless and interesting lives; but he felt
no mission to attempt a reform of humanity's taste for furs, so he did
not allow himself to become sentimental on the subject. Beavers, like
men, must take fate as it comes; and he turned an attentive ear to
Ye know, of course, said the woodsman, the steel trap we use. We
ain't got no use fer the tricks of the Injuns, though I'm goin' to tell
ye all them, in good time. An' we ain't much on new-fangled
notions, neether. But the old, smooth-jawed steel-trap, what kin
hold when it gits a grip, an' not tear the fur, is good enough for
Yes, I know all your traps, of all the sizes you use, from muskrat
up to bear! interrupted the Boy. What size do you use for the
Number four, answered Jabe. Jaw's got a spread of six and
one-half inches or thereabouts. But it's all in the where an' the how
ye set yer trap!
And that's what I want to know about! said the Boy. But why don't
you shoot the poor little beggars? That's quicker for both, and
just as easy for you, ain't it?
T'ain't no use shootin' a beaver, leastways not in the water!
He just sinks like a stone. No, ye've got to trap him, to git
him. Now, supposin' you was goin' to trap, where would ye set the
I'd anchor them just in the entrances to their houses, answered
the Boy promptly. Or along their canals, when they've got canals. Or
round their brush piles an' storage heaps. And when I found a tree
they'd just partly cut down, I'd set a couple of traps, covered up in
leaves, each side of the trunk, where they'd have to step on the pan
when they stood up to gnaw.
Good for you! said Jabe, with cordial approbation. Ye'd make a
first-class trapper, 'cause ye've got the right notion. Every one of
them things is done, one time or another, by the old trapper. But
here's one or two wrinkles more killin' yet. An' moreover, if ye trap a
beaver on land ye're like to lose him one way or another. He's got so
much purchase, on land, with things to git hold on to; he's jest
as like as not to twist his leg clean off, an' git away. If it's one of
his fore legs, which is small an' slight, ye know, he's most sure to
twist it off. An' sometimes he'll do the trick even with a hind leg.
I've caught lots of beaver as had lost a fore leg, an' didn't seem none
the worse. The fur'd growed over it, an' they was slick an' hearty. An'
I've caught them as had lost a hind leg, an' they was in good
condition. A beaver'll stand a lot, I tell you. But then, supposin' you
git yer beaver, caught so fast he ain't no chance whatever to git
clear. Then, like as not, some lynx, or wildcat, or fisher, or fox, or
even maybe a bear, 'll come along an' help himself to Mr. Beaver
without so much as a by yer leave. No, ye want to git him in the water;
an' as he's just as anxious to git thar as you are to git him thar,
that suits all parties to a T.
[Illustration: 'OR EVEN MAYBE A BEAR.']
Good! said the Boy,not that it really seemed to him good, but to
show that he was attending.
But, continued Jabe, what would ye say would most upset the
beaver and make 'em careless?
The Boy thought for a moment.
Breaking their dam! he answered tentatively.
Eg_zactly! answered the woodsman. Well, now, to ketch beaver
sure, make two or three breaks in their dam, an' set the traps jest a
leetle ways above the break, on the upper slope, where they're sure to
step into 'em when hustlin' round to mend the damage. That gits 'em,
every time. Ye chain each trap to a stake, driven into three or four
foot of water; an' ye drive another stake about a foot an' a half away
from the first. When the beaver finds himself caught, he dives straight
for deep water,his way of gittin' clear of most of his troubles. But
this time he finds it don't work. The trap keeps a holt, bitin' hard.
An' in his struggle he gits the chain all tangled up 'round the two
stakes, an' drowns himself. There you have him safe, where no lynx nor
fox kin git at him.
Then, when one of them dies so dreadfully, right there before their
eyes, said the Boy, I suppose the others skin out and let the broken
dam go! They must be scared to death themselves!
Not on yer life, they don't! responded Jabe. The dam's the thing
they care about. They jest keep on hustlin' round; an' they mend up
that dam if it takes half the beaver in the pond to do it. Oh, they're
grit, all right, when it comes to standin' by the dam.
Hardly seems fair to take them that way, does it? mused the Boy
It's a good way, asserted Jabe positively, quick an' sure! Then,
in winter there's another good an' sure way,where ye don't want to
clean out the whole house, which is killin' the goose what lays the
golden egg, like the Injuns does! Ye cut a hole in the ice, near the
bank. Then ye git a good, big, green sapling of birch or willow, run
the little end 'way out into the pond under the ice, an' ram the big
end, sharpened, deep into the mud of the bank, so the beaver can't pull
it out. Right under this end you set yer trap. Swimmin' round under the
ice, beaver comes across this fresh-cut sapling an' thinks as how he's
got a good thing. He set right to work to gnaw it off, close to the
bank, to take it back to the house an' please the family. First thing,
he steps right into the trap. An' that's the end of him. But other
beaver'll come along an' take the sapling, all the same!
You spoke of the ways the Indians had, of cleaning out the whole
family, suggested the Boy, when Jabe had come to a long pause, either
because he was tired of talking or because he had no more to say.
Yes, the Injuns' methods was complete. They seemed to have the idee
there'd always be beaver a-plenty, no matter how many they killed. One
way they had was to mark down the bank holes, the burrows, an' then
break open the houses. This, ye must understand, 's in the winter, when
there's ice all over the pond. When they're drove from their houses, in
the winter, they take straight to their burrows in the bank, where they
kin be sure of gittin' their heads above water to breathe. Then, the
Injuns jest drive stakes down in front of the holes,an' there they
have 'em, every one. They digs down into the burrows, an' knocks Mr.
Beaver an' all the family on the head.
Simple and expeditious! remarked the Boy, with sarcastic approval.
But the nestest job the Injuns makes, continued Jabe, is by
gittin' at the brush pile. Ye know, the beaver keeps his winter supply
of grub in a pile,a pile of green poles an' saplings an' branches,a
leetle ways off from the house. The Injun finds this pile, under the
ice. Then, cuttin' holes through the ice, he drives down a stake fence
all 'round it, so close nary a beaver kin git through. Then he pulls up
a stake, on the side next the beaver house, an' sticks down a bit of a
sliver in its place. Now ye kin guess what happens. In the house, over
beyant, the beavers gits hungry. One on 'em goes to git a stick from
the pile an' bring it inter the house. He finds the pile all fenced
off. But a stick he must have. Where the sliver is, that's the only
place he kin git through. Injun, waitin' on the ice, sees the sliver
move, an' knows Mr. Beaver's gone in. He claps the stake down agin, in
place of the sliver. An' then, of course, there's nawthin' left fer Mr.
Beaver to do but drown. He drowns jest at the place where he come in
an' couldn't git out agin. That seems to knock him out, like, an' he
jest gives up right there. Injun fishes him out, dead, puts the sliver
back, an' waits for another beaver. He don't have to wait longan'
nine times outer ten he gits 'em all. Ye see, they must git to
the brush pile!
[Illustration: HE DROWNS JEST AT THE PLACE WHERE HE COME IN.]
I'm glad you don't trap them that way, Jabe! said the Boy.
But tell me, why did you bring me away out here to this pond,
to tell me all this, when you could have done it just as well at my
I jest wanted the excuse, answered Jabe, fer takin' a day off
from cruisin'. Now, come on, an' I'll show ye some more likely ponds.
CHAPTER VII. Winter Under Water
FOR three days more the Boy and Jabe remained in the beaver country;
and every hour of the time, except when he had to sleep, the Boy found
full of interest. In the daytime he compared the ponds and the dams
minutely, making measurements and diagrams. At night he lay in hiding,
beside a different pond each night, and gained a rich store of
knowledge of the manners and customs of the little wilderness
engineers. On one pondhis own, be it saidhe made a rude raft of
logs, and by its help visited and inspected the houses on the island.
The measurements he obtained here made his note-book pretty complete,
as far as beaver life in summer and fall was concerned.
Then Jabe finished his cruising, having covered his territory. The
packs were made up and slung; the two campers set out on their three
days' tramp back to the settlements; and the solemn autumn quiet
descended once more upon the placid beaver ponds, the shallow-running
brooks, and the low-domed Houses in the Water.
As the weather grew colder; and the earlier frosts began to sheathe
the surface of the pond with clear, black ice, not melting out till
noon; and the bitten leaves, turning from red and gold to brown, fell
with ghostly whisperings through the gray branches, the little beaver
colony in Boy's Pond grew feverishly active. Some subtle prescience
warned them that winter would close in early, and that they must make
haste to finish their storing of supplies. The lengthening of their new
canal completed, their foraging grew easier. Trees fell every night,
and the brush pile reached a size that guaranteed them immunity from
hunger till spring. By the time the dam had been strengthened to
withstand the late floods, there had been some sharp snow-flurries, and
the pond was half frozen over. Then, in haste, the beavers brought up a
quantity of mud and grass roots, and plastered the domes of their
houses thickly till they no longer looked like heaps of sticks, but
rather resembled huge ant-hills. No sooner was this task done than, as
if the beavers had been notified of its coming, the real cold came. In
one night the pond froze to a depth of several inches; and over the
roof of the House in the Water was a casing of armour hard as stone.
The frost continued for several days, till the stone-like roof was a
good foot in thickness, as was the ice over the surface of the pond.
Then a thick, feather-soft, windless snow-fall, lasting twenty-four
hours, served as a blanket against the further piercing of the frost;
and the beavers, warm-housed, well-provisioned, and barricaded against
all their enemies but man, settled themselves down to their long
seclusion from the white, glittering, bitter, outside world.
When the winter had tightened its grip, this outside world was full
of perils. Hungry lynxes, foxes, and fishers (black cat, the woodsman
called them) hunted through the silent and pallid aisles of the forest.
They all would have loved a meal of warm, fat beaver-meat; and they all
knew what these low, snow-covered mounds meant. In the roof of each
house the cunning builders had left several tiny, crooked openings for
ventilation, and the warm air steaming up through these made little
chimney holes in the snow above. To these, now and then, when stung by
the hunger-pangs, a lynx or fox would come, and sniff with greedy
longing at the appetizing aroma. Growing desperate, the prowler would
dig down, through perhaps three feet of snow, till he reached the stony
roof of the house. On this he would tear and scratch furiously, but in
vain. Nothing less than a pick-axe would break through that stony
defence; and the beavers, perhaps dimly aware of the futile assault
upon their walls, would go on calmly nibbling birch-sticks in their
safe, warm dark.
[Illustration: HUNTED THROUGH THE SILENT AND PALLID AISLES OF THE
Inside the house everything was clean and dry. All refuse from the
clean repasts of the family was scrupulously removed, and even the
entrances, far out in the pond, were kept free from litter. When food
was needed, a beaver would slip down into the dark water of the tunnel,
out into the glimmering light of the pond, and straight to the brush
pile. Selecting a suitable stick, he would tow it back to the house, up
the main entrance, and into the dry, dark chamber. When all the tender
bark was eaten off, the bare stick would be carried away and deposited
on the dam. It was an easy life; and the beavers grew fat while all the
rest of the wild kindreds, save the porcupine and the bear, were
growing lean with famine. There was absolutely nothing to do but eat,
sleep and take such exercise as they would by swimming hither and
thither at terrific speed beneath the silver armour of the ice.
One night, however, there came to the pond an enemy of whose powers
they had never had experience. Wandering down from northwestward, under
the impulse of one of those migratory whims which sometimes give the
lie to statistics and tradition, came a sinister, dark, slow-moving
beast whose savage and crafty eyes took on a sudden flame when they
detected the white mound which hid the shore beaver-house. The
wolverene did not need that faint, almost invisible wisp of vapour from
the air-holes to tell him there were beavers below. He knew something
about beavers. His powerful forearms and mighty claws got him to the
bottom of the snow in a few seconds. Other hungry marauders had done
the same thing before, to find themselves as far off as ever from their
aim. But the wolverene was not to be balked so easily. His cunning nose
found the minute openings of the air-holes; and by digging his claws
into these little apertures he was able to put forth his great strength
and tear up some tiny fragments of frozen mud.
[Illustration: A SINISTER, DARK, SLOW-MOVING BEAST.]
If he had had the patience to keep on at his strenuous task
unremittingly for, perhaps, twenty-four hours or more, it is
conceivable that this fierce digger might have succeeded in making his
way into the chamber. There was no such implacable purpose, however, in
his attack. In a very little while he would have desisted from what he
knew to be a vain undertaking. Even had he succeeded, the beavers would
have fled before he could reach them, and taken refuge in their burrows
under the bank. But while he was still engrossed, perhaps only amusing
himself with the thought of giving the dwellers in the house a bad
quarter of an hour, it chanced that a huge lynx came stealing along
through the shadows of the trees, which lay blue and spectral in the
white moonlight. He saw the hind quarters of some unknown animal which
was busy working out a problem which he himself had striven in vain to
solve. The strange animal was plainly smaller than himself. Moreover,
he was in a position to be taken at a disadvantage. Both these points
weighed with the lynx; and he was enraged at this attempted poaching
upon what he chose to regard as his preserves. Creeping stealthily,
stealthily forward, eyes aflame and belly to the snow, he sprang with a
huge bound that landed him, claws open, squarely on the wolverene's
Instantly there arose a hideous screeching, growling, spitting and
snarling, which pierced even to the ears of the beavers and sent them
scurrying wildly to their burrows in the bank. Under ordinary
circumstances the wolverene, with his dauntless courage and tremendous
strength, would have given a good account of himself with any lynx
alive. But this time, caught with head down and very busy, he stood
small chance with his powerful and lightning-swift assailant. In a very
few minutes the lynx's eviscerating claws had fairly torn him to
shreds; and thus came to a sudden close the invasion of the wolverene.
But meanwhile, from far over the hills, moving up from the lowlands
by the sea, approached a peril which the beavers did not dream of and
could find no ingenuity to evade. Two half-breed trappers, semi-outlaws
from the Northern Peninsula, in search of fresh hunting-grounds, had
come upon this rich region of ponds and dams.
[Illustration: HE SPRANG WITH A HUGE BOUND THAT LANDED HIM, CLAWS
OPEN, SQUARELY ON THE WOLVERENE'S HIND QUARTERS.]
CHAPTER VIII. The Saving of Boy's
WHEN, early in the winter, the lumbermen moved into these woods
which Jabe had cruised over, establishing their camp about two miles
down-stream from the spot where the Boy and the woodsman had had their
lean-to, Jabe came with them as boss of a gang. He had for the time
grown out of the mood for trapping. Furs were low, and there was a
sight more money for him in lumbering that winter. Popular with the
rest of the lumbermenwho most of them knew of the Boy and his queer
notionsJabe had no difficulty in pledging them to respect the
sanctity of Boy's Pond and its inhabitants. In fact, in the evenings
around the red-hot stove, Jabe told such interesting stories of what he
and the Boy had seen together a few months before, that the reckless,
big-hearted, boisterously profane but sentimental woodsmen were more
than half inclined to declare the whole series of ponds under the
special protection of the camp. As for Boy's Pond, that should be safe
at any cost.
Not long after Christmas the Boy, taking advantage of the fact that
some fresh supplies were being sent out from the Settlement by team,
came to visit the camp. The head of the big lumber company which owned
these woods was a friend of the Boy's father, and the Boy himself was
welcome in any of the camps. His special purpose in coming now was to
see how his beavers got on in winter, and to assure himself that Jabe
had been able to protect them.
The morning after his arrival in camp he set out to visit the pond.
He went on snowshoes, of course, and carried his little Winchester as
he always did in the woods, holding tenaciously that the true lover of
peace should be ever prepared for war. The lumbermen had gone off to
work with the first of dawn; and far away to his right he heard the
axes ringing, faintly but crisply, on the biting morning air. For half
a mile he followed a solitary snowshoe trail, which he knew to be
Jabe's by the peculiar broad toe and long, trailing heel which Jabe
affected in snowshoes; and he wondered what his friend was doing in
this direction, so far from the rest of the choppers. Then Jabe's track
swerved off to the left, crossing the brook; and the Boy tramped on
over the unbroken snow.
The sound of the distant choppers soon died away, and he was alone
in the unearthly silence. The sun, not yet risen quite clear of the
hilltops, sent spectral, level, far-reaching gleams of thin
pink-and-saffron light down the alleys of the sheeted trees. The low
crunching of his snowshoes on the crisp snow sounded almost blatant in
the Boy's tensely listening ears. In spite of himself he began to tread
stealthily, as if the sound of his steps might bring some ghostly enemy
upon him from out of the whiteness.
Suddenly the sound of an axe came faintly to his ears from straight
ahead, where he knew no choppers were at work. He stopped short. That
axe was not striking wood. It was striking ice. It was chopping the ice
of Boy's Pond! What could it mean? There were no fish in that pond to
chop the ice for!
As he realized that some one was preparing to trap his beavers his
face flushed with anger, and he started forward at a run. That it was
no one from the camp he knew very well. It must be some strange trapper
who did not know that this pond was under protection. He thought this
out as he ran on; and his anger calmed down. Trappers were a decent,
understanding folk; and a word of explanation would make things all
right. There were plenty of other beaver ponds in that neighbourhood.
Pressing through the white-draped ranks of the young fir-trees, he
came out suddenly upon the edge of the pond, and halted an instant in
irresolution. Two dark-visaged menhis quick eye knew them for
half-breedswere busy on the snow about twenty paces above the low
mound which marked the main beaver house. They had a number of stakes
with them; and they were cutting a series of holes in a circle. From
what Jabe had told him of the Indian methods, he saw at once that these
were not regular trappers, but poachers, who were violating the game
laws and planning to annihilate the whole beaver colony by fencing in
its brush pile.
The Boy realized now that the situation was a delicate if not a
dangerous one. For an instant he thought of going back to camp for
help; but one of the men was on his knees, fixing the stakes, and the
other was already chopping what appeared to be the last hole. Delay
might mean the death of several of his precious beavers. Indignation
and compassion together urged him on, and his young face hardened in
Walking out upon the snow a little way, he halted, at a distance of
perhaps thirty paces from the poachers. At the sound of his snowshoes
the two men looked up scowling and apprehensive; and the kneeling one
sprang to his feet. They wanted no witnesses of their illegal work.
Good morning, said the Boy politely.
At the sound of his soft young voice, the sight of his slender
figure and youthful face, their apprehensions vanished; but not their
anger at being discovered.
Mornin'! growled one, in a surly voice; while the other never
opened his mouth. Then they looked at each other with meaning question
in their eyes. How were they going to keep this unwelcome visitor from
I'm going to ask you, said the Boy sweetly, to be so kind as to
stop trapping on this pond. Of course you didn't know it, but this is
my pond, and there is no trapping allowed on it. It is reserved, you
know; and I don't want a single one of my beavers killed.
The man with the axe scowled fiercely and said nothing. But the
other, the one who had been driving the stakes, laughed in harsh
You don't, hey, sonny? he answered. Well, you just wait an' watch
us. We'll show ye whose beaver they be! And turning his back in scorn
of his interlocutor's youth, he knelt down again to drive another
stake. The man who had not spoken, however, stood leaning on his axe,
eying the Boy with an ugly expression of menace.
The Boy's usually quiet blood was now pounding and tingling with
anger. His alert eyes had measured the whole situation, and noted that
the men had no firearms but their rifles, which were leaning against a
tree on the shore fully fifty yards behind them.
Stop! he cried, with so confident a tone of authority that the
kneeling man looked up, though with a sneer on his face. Unless you go
away from this pond at once, I'll get the men from the camp, and
they'll make you go. They'll not be so polite as I am. You're just
poachers, anyway. And the boys will like as not just run you clean out
of the country. Will you do as I ask you, or shall I go and get them?
The man with the axe spat out some French curse which the Boy didn't
understand very clearly. But the man at the stakes jumped up again with
a dangerous grin.
You'll stay right where you are, sonny, till we're done with you,
he snarled. You understand? You're a-goin' to git hurt ef ye gits in
our way any! See?
The Boy was now in a white rage; but he kept his wits cool and his
eyes watchful. He realized at this moment that he was in great danger;
but, his mettle being sound, this only made him the more resolute.
All right. You've decided! he said slowly. We'll see what the
boys will have to say about it.
As he spoke he made a movement as if to turn, but without taking his
eyes from the enemy. The movement just served to swing his little
Winchester into a readier position.
At his first move the man with the axe took a step forward, and
swung up his axe with a peculiar gesture which the Boy understood. He
had seen the woodsmen throw their axes. He knew well their quickness
and their deadly precision. But quickness and precision with the little
Winchester were his own especial pride,and, after all, he had not
turned any further than was just right for a good shot. Even as the axe
was on the verge of leaving the poacher's hand, the rifle cracked
sharply. The poacher yelled a curse, and his arm dropped. The axe flew
wide, landing nowhere near its aim. On the instant both the half-breeds
turned, and raced for their rifles on the shore.
Stop, or I'll shoot you both! shouted the Boy, now with
embarrassment added to his wrath. In their wild fury at being so balked
by a boy, both men trusted to his missing his aimor to the hope that
his gun was not a repeater. They ignored his command, and rushed on.
The Boy was just going to shoot again, aiming at their legs; when, to
his amazement and inconceivable relief, out from behind the tree where
the poachers' rifles leaned, came Jabe.
Snatching up one of the guns, he echoed the Boy's command.
Stop right there! he ordered curtly. An' up with your
hands, too! Mebbe youse kin fling a knife slick ez ye kin an axe.
The half-breeds stood like stones. One held up both hands; but the
other only held up his left, his right being helpless. They knew there
was nothing to say. They were fairly caught. They were poaching. The
tall lumberman had seen the axe flung. Their case was a black one; and
any attempt to explain could do no less than make it worse. They did
not even dare to look at each other, but kept their narrow, beady eyes
fixed on Jabe's face.
The Boy came swiftly to Jabe's side.
Neat shot! said the woodsman; but the note of astonished
admiration in his tone was the most thrilling compliment the Boy had
What are you going to do with them, Jabe? he inquired, mildly.
That's fer you to say! They're yourn! answered Jabe, keeping his
eyes on the prisoners.
The Boy looked the two culprits over carefully, with his calm,
boyish gaze. He was overwhelmingly elated, but would have died rather
than show it. His air was that of one who is quite used to capturing
two outlaws,and having axes hurled at his head,and putting bullets
through men's shoulders. He could not help feeling sorry for the man
with the bullet through his shoulder.
Well, Jabe, he said presently, we can't let them go with their
guns, because they're such sneaking brutes, they'd shoot us from behind
a tree. And we can't let them go without their guns, because we can't
be sure they wouldn't starve before they got to their own homes. And we
don't want to take them into camp, for the fellows would probably treat
them as they deserve,and I don't want them to get anything so bad as
Maybe it might be better not to let the hands git hold of
'em! agreed Jabe. They'd be rough!
A gleam of hope came into the prisoners' eyes. The unwounded one
spoke. And he had the perspicacity to address himself to the Boy rather
than to Jabe, thereby conciliating the Boy appreciably.
Let us go! he petitioned, choking down his rage. We'll swear to
quit, right now an' fer good; an' not to try to git back at yez!
Ye'll have to leave yer guns! said Jabe sternly.
They're the only guns we got; an' they're our livin', fer the
winter! protested the half-breed, still looking at the Boy.
If we take away their guns, what's the good of making them swear?
demanded the Boy, stepping up and gazing into their eyes. No, I reckon
if they give their oath, they'll stick to it. Where's your camp, men?
Over yonder, about three mile! answered the spokesman, nodding
toward the northeast.
If we give you back your guns, went on the Boy gently, will you
both give us your oath to clear right out of this country altogether,
and not trap at all this side of the line? And will you take oath,
also, that you will never, in any way, try to get even with either him
or me for having downed you this way?
Sartain! responded the spokesman, with obvious sincerity. I'll
swear to all that! An' I won't never want to git even, if you
use us so gentlemanlike!
And will you swear, too? inquired the Boy, turning to the silent
one who had thrown the axe at him. The fellow glared at him defiantly
for a moment, then glanced at his wounded arm, which hung limp at his
side. At last he answered with a sullen growl:
Yes, I'll swear! Got to! Curse you!
Good! said the Boy. That's the best way for all of us. Jabe, will
you take their oaths. You know how better than I do!
All right! responded the latter, shrugging his shoulders in a way
which saidit's your idee, not mine! Then he proceeded to bind each
man separately by an oath which left no loophole, and which was sealed
by all that their souls held sacred. This done, he handed back the
rifles,and the two poachers, without a word, turned their backs and
made off at a swift lope straight up the open pond. The Boy and Jabe
watched them till they vanished among the trees. Then, with a shy
little laugh, the Boy picked up the axe which had been hurled at his
I'm glad he left me this, he murmured, to kind of remember him
The sneakin' skunk! growled Jabe. If I'd had my way, it'd be the
penitentiary for the both of 'em!
That evening, when the whole story was told, the woodsmen were
indignant, for a time, because the half-breeds had been let go; but at
last they gave heed to Jabe's representations, and acknowledged that
the Boy's plan had saved a sight of bother. To guard against future
difficulties, however, they took a big piece of smooth board, and
painted the following sign, to be nailed up on a conspicuous tree
beside the pond.
THIS IS BOY'S POND. NO TRAPPING HERE.
IF ANYBODY WANTS TO SAY, WHY NOT? LAWLER'S
CAMP WILL LET HIM KNOW.
THE WHITE-SLASHED BULL
HER back crushed beneath the massive weight of a deadfall, the
mother moose lay slowly sobbing her life out on the sweet spring air.
The villainous log, weighted cunningly with rocks, had caught her just
above the withers, bearing her forward so that her forelegs were
doubled under her, and her neck outstretched so that she could not lift
her muzzle from the wet moss. Though her eyes were already glazing, and
her nostrils full of a blown and blood-streaked froth, from time to
time she would struggle desperately to raise her head, for she yearned
to lick the sprawling, wobbling legs of the ungainly calf which stood
close beside her, bewildered because she would not rise and suckle him.
The dying animal lay in the middle of the trail, which was an old,
half-obliterated logger's road, running straight east into the glow of
the spring sunrise. The young birches and poplars, filmed with the
first of the green, crowded close upon the trail, with, here and there,
a rose-blooming maple, here and there, a sombre, black-green hemlock,
towering over the thick second growth. The early air was fresh, but
soft; fragrant with the breath of opening buds. Faint mists streamed up
into the sunlight along the mossy line of the trail, and the only
sounds breaking the silence of the wilderness were the sweetly
plaintive calls of two rain-birds, answering each other slowly over the
treetops. Everything in the scenethe tenderness of the colour and the
air, the responses of the mating birds, the hope and the expectancy of
all the waking worldseemed piteously at variance with the anguish of
the stricken mother and her young, down there in the solitude of the
Presently, in the undergrowth beside the trail, a few paces beyond
the deadfall, a twig snapped sharply. Admonished by that experience of
a thousand ancestral generations which is instinct, the calf lifted his
big awkward ears apprehensively, and with a shiver drew closer to his
mother's crushed body. A moment later a gaunt black bear thrust his
head and shoulders forth from the undergrowth, and surveyed the scene
with savage, but shrewd, little eyes. He was hungry, and to his palate
no other delicacy the spring wilderness could ever afford was equal to
a young moose calf. But the situation gave him pause. The mother moose
was evidently in a trap; and the bear was wary of all traps. He sank
back into the undergrowth, and crept noiselessly nearer to reconnoitre.
In his suspicious eyes even a calf might be dangerous to tamper with,
under such unusual conditions as these. As he vanished the calf
shuddered violently, and tried to climb upon his mother's mangled body.
In a few seconds the bear's head appeared again, close by the base
of the deadfall. With crafty nose he sniffed at the great timber which
held the moose cow down. The calf was now almost within reach of the
deadly sweep of his paw; but the man-smell was strong on the deadfall,
and the bear was still suspicious. While he hesitated, from behind a
bend in the trail came a sound of footsteps. The bear knew the sound. A
man was coming. Yes, certainly there was some trick about it. With a
grunt of indignant disgust he shrank back again into the thicket and
fled stealthily from so dangerous a neighbourhood. Hungry as he was, he
had no wish to try conclusions with man.
The woodsman came striding down the trail hurriedly, rounded the
turn, and stopped abruptly. He understood at a glance the evil work of
the game poachers. With indignant pity, he stepped forward and drew a
merciful knife across the throat of the suffering beast. The calf
shrank away and stood staring at him anxiously, wavering between terror
For a moment or two the man hesitated. Of one thing he was certain:
the poachers who had set the deadfall must not profit by their success.
Moreover, fresh moose-meat would not be unappreciated in his backwoods
cabin. He turned and retraced his steps at a run, fearing lest some
hungry spring marauders should arrive in his absence. And the calf,
more than ever terrified by his mother's unresponsiveness, stared after
him uneasily as he vanished.
For half an hour nothing happened. The early chill passed from the
air, a comforting warmth glowed down the trail, the two rain-birds kept
whistling to each other their long, persuasive, melancholy call, and
the calf stood motionless, waiting, with the patience of the wild, for
he knew not what. Then there came a clanking of chains, a trampling of
heavy feet, and around the turn appeared the man again, with a pair of
big brown horses harnessed to a drag-sled. The calf backed away as the
man approached, and watched with dull wonder as the great log was
rolled aside and his mother's limp, crushed form was hoisted
laboriously upon the sled. This accomplished, the man turned and came
to him gently, with hand outstretched. To run away would have been to
run away from the shelter of his mother's presence; so, with a snort of
apprehension, he submitted to being stroked and rubbed about the ears
and neck and throat. The sensation was curiously comforting, and
suddenly his fear vanished. With his long, mobile muzzle he began to
tug appealingly at a convenient fold of the man's woollen sleeve.
Smiling complacently at this sign of confidence, the man left him, and
started the team at a slow walk up the trail. With a hoarse bleat of
alarm, thinking he was about to be deserted, the calf followed after
the sled, his long legs wobbling awkwardly.
From the first moment that she set eyes upon him, shambling
awkwardly into the yard at her husband's heels, Jabe Smith's wife was
inhospitable toward the ungainly youngling of the wild. She declared
that he would take all the milk. And he did. For the next two months
she was unable to make any butter, and her opinions on the subject were
expressed without reserve. But Jabe was inflexible, in his taciturn,
backwoods way, and the calf, till he was old enough to pasture, got all
the milk he wanted. He grew and throve so astonishingly that Jabe began
to wonder if there was not some mistake in the scheme of things, making
cows' milk the proper nutriment for moose calves. By autumn the
youngster was so big and sleek that he might almost have passed for a
Jabe Smith, lumberman, pioneer and guide, loved all animals, even
those which in the fierce joy of the hunt he loved to kill. The young
moose bull, however, was his peculiar favouritepartly, perhaps,
because of Mrs. Smith's relentless hostility to it. And the ungainly
youngster repaid his love with a devotion that promised to become
embarrassing. All around the farm he was for ever at his heels, like a
dog; and if, by any chance, he became separated from his idol, he would
make for him in a straight line, regardless of currant bushes, bean
rows, cabbage patches or clothes-lines. This strenuous directness did
not further endear him to Mrs. Smith. That good lady used to lie awake
at night, angrily devising schemes for getting rid of the ugly brute.
These schemes of vengeance were such a safety-valve to her injured
feelings that she would at last make up her mind to content herself
with takin' it out on the hide o' the critter next day, with a sound
hickory stick. When next day came, however, and she went out to milk,
the youngster would shamble up to greet her with such amiable trust in
his eyes that her wrath would be, for the moment, disarmed, and her
fell purpose would fritter out in a futile Scat, you brute! Then she
would condone her weakness by thinking of what she would do to the
animal some day.
That some day, as luck would have it, came rather sooner than she
expected. From the first, the little moose had evinced a determination
to take up his abode in the kitchen, in his dread of being separated
from Jabe. Being a just man, Jabe had conceded at once that his wife
should have the choosing of her kitchen guests; and, to avoid
complications, he had rigged up a hinged bar across the kitchen
doorway, so that the door could safely stand open. When the little bull
was not at Jabe's heels, and did not know where to find him, his
favourite attitude was standing in front of the kitchen door, his long
nose thrust in as far as the bar would permit, his long ears waving
hopefully, his eyes intently on the mysterious operations of Mrs.
Jabe's housework. Though she would not have acknowledged it for worlds,
even to her inmost heart, the good woman took much satisfaction out of
that awkward, patient presence in the doorway. When things went wrong
with her, in that perverse way so trying to the careful housewife, she
could ease her feelings wonderfully by expressing them without reserve
to the young moose, who never looked amused or attempted to answer
But one day, as it chanced, her feelings claimed a more violent
easementand got it. She was scrubbing the kitchen floor. Just in the
doorway stood the scrubbing-pail, full of dirty suds. On a chair close
by stood a dish of eggs. The moose calf was nowhere in sight, and the
bar was down. Tired and hot, she got up from her aching knees and went
over to the stove to see if the pot was boiling, ready to make fresh
At this moment the young bull, who had been searching in vain all
over the farm for Jabe, came up to the door with a silent, shambling
rush. The bar was down. Surely, then, Jabe was inside! Overjoyed at the
opportunity he lurched his long legs over the threshold. Instantly his
great, loose hoofs slid on the slippery floor, and he came down
sprawling, striking the pail of dirty suds as he fell. With a seething
souse the slops went abroad, all over the floor. At the same time the
bouncing pail struck the chair, turned it over, and sent the dish of
eggs crashing in every direction.
For one second Mrs. Jabe stared rigidly at the mess of eggs, suds
and broken china, at the startled calf struggling to his feet. Then,
with a hysterical scream, she turned, snatched the boiling pot from the
stove, and hurled it blindly at the author of all mischief.
Happily for the blunderer, Mrs. Jabe's rage was so unbridled that
she really tried to hit the object of it. Therefore, she missed. The
pot went crashing through the leg of a table and shivered to atoms
against the log wall, contributing its full share to the discouraging
mess on the floor. But, as it whirled past, a great wedge of the
boiling water leaped out over the rim, flew off at a tangent, and
caught the floundering calf full in the side, in a long flare down from
the tip of the left shoulder. The scalding fluid seemed to cling in the
short, fine hair almost like an oil. With a loud bleat of pain the calf
shot to his feet and went galloping around the yard. Mrs. Jabe rushed
to the door, and stared at him wide-eyed. In a moment her senses came
back to her, and she realized what a hideous thing she had done. Next
she remembered Jabeand what he would think of it!
Then, indeed, her conscience awoke in earnest, and a wholesome dread
enlivened her remorse. Forgetting altogether the state of her kitchen,
she rushed through the slop to the flour-barrel. Flour, she had always
heard, was the thing for burns and scalds. The pesky calf should be
treated right, if it took the whole barrel. Scooping up an extravagant
dishpanful of the white, powdery stuff, and recklessly spilling a lot
of it to add to the mixture on the floor, she rushed out into the yard
to apply her treatment, and, if possible, poultice her conscience.
The young moose, anguished and bewildered, had at last taken refuge
in the darkest corner of the stable. As Mrs. Jabe approached with her
pan of flour, he stood staring and shaking, but made no effort to avoid
her, which touched the over-impetuous dame to a fresh pang of
penitence. She did not know that the stupid youngster had quite failed
to associate her in any way with his suffering. It was only the
potthe big, black thing which had so inexplicably come bounding at
himthat he blamed. From Mrs. Jabe's hands he expected some kind of
In the gloom of the stall Mrs. Jabe could not see the extent of the
calf's injury. Mebbe the water wasn't quite bilin'! she
murmured hopefully, coaxing and dragging the youngster forth into the
light. The hope, however, proved vain as brief. In a long streak down
behind the shoulder the hair was already slipping off.
Sarved ye right! she grumbled remorsefully, as with gentle fingers
she began sifting the flour up and down over the wound. The light stuff
seemed to soothe the anguish for the moment, and the sufferer stood
quite still till the scald was thoroughly covered with a tenacious
white cake. Then a fresh and fiercer pang seized the wound. With a
bleat he tore himself away, and rushed off, tail in air, across the
stump-pasture and into the woods.
Mebbe he won't come back, and then Jabe won't never need to know!
soliloquized Mrs. Jabe, returning to clean up her kitchen.
The sufferer returned, however, early in the afternoon, and was in
his customary attitude before the door when Jabe, a little later, came
back also. The long white slash down his favourite's side caught the
woodsman's eye at once. He looked at it critically, touched the flour
with tentative finger-tips, then turned on his wife a look of poignant
interrogation. But Mrs. Jabe was ready for him. Her nerve had
recovered. The fact that her victim showed no fear of her had gradually
reassured her. What Jabe didn't know would never hurt him, she mused.
Yes, yer pesky brat come stumblin' into the kitchen when the bar
was down, a-lookin' for ye. An' he upset the bilin' water I was goin'
to scrub with, an' broke the pot. An' I've got to have a new pot right
off, Jabe Smithmind that!
Scalded himself pretty bad! remarked Jabe. Poor little beggar!
I done the best I know'd how fer him! said his wife with an
injured air. Wasted most a quart o' good flour on his worthless hide!
Wish't he'd broke his neck 'stead of the only pot I got that's big
enough to bile the pig's feed in!
Well, you done jest about right, I reckon, Mandy, replied Jabe,
ashamed of his suspicions. I'll go in to the Cross Roads an' git ye a
new pot to-morrer, an' some tar for the scald. The tar'll be better'n
flour, an' keep the flies off.
I s'pose some men ain't got nothin' better to do than be
doctorin' up a fool moose calf! assented Mrs. Jabe promptly, with a
snort of censorious resignation.
Whether because the flour and the tar had virtues, or because the
clean flesh of the wild kindreds makes all haste to purge itself of
ills, it was not long before the scald was perfectly healed. But the
reminder of it remained ineffaceablea long, white slash down across
the brown hide of the young bull, from the tip of the left fore
Throughout the winter the young moose contentedly occupied the
cow-stable, with the two cows and the yoke of red oxen. He throve on
the fare Jabe provided for himgood meadow hay with armfuls of
browse cut from the birch, poplar and cherry thickets. Jabe trained
him to haul a pung, finding him slower to learn than a horse, but
making up for his dulness by his docility. He had to be driven with a
snaffle, refusing absolutely to admit a bit between his teeth; and,
with the best good-will in the world, he could never be taught to allow
for the pung or sled to which he was harnessed. If left alone for a
moment he would walk over fences with it, or through the most tangled
thickets, if thereby seemed the most direct way to reach Jabe; and
once, when Jabe, vaingloriously and at great speed, drove him in to the
Cross Roads, he smashed the vehicle to kindling-wood in the amiable
determination to follow his master into the Cross Roads store. On this
occasion also he made himself respected, but unpopular, by killing,
with one lightning stroke of a great fore hoof, a huge mongrel mastiff
belonging to the storekeeper. The mastiff had sprung out at him
wantonly, resenting his peculiar appearance. But the storekeeper had
been so aggrieved that Jabe had felt constrained to mollify him with a
five-dollar bill. He decided, therefore, that his favourite's value was
as a luxury, rather than a utility; and the young bull was put no more
to the practices of a horse. Jabe had driven a bull moose in harness,
and all the settlement could swear to it. The glory was all his.
By early summer the young bull was a tremendous, long-legged,
high-shouldered beast, so big, so awkward, so friendly, and so sure of
everybody's good-will that everybody but Jabe was terribly afraid of
him. He had no conception of the purposes of a fence; and he could not
be taught that a garden was not meant for him to lie down in. As the
summer advanced, and the young bull's stature with it, Jabe Smith began
to realize that his favourite was an expensive and sometimes
embarrassing luxury. Nevertheless, when September brought budding
spikes of horns and a strange new restlessness to the stalwart
youngster, and the first full moon of October lured him one night away
from the farm on a quest which he could but blindly follow, Jabe was
He ain't no more'n a calf yet, big as he is! fretted Jabe. He'll
be gittin' himself shot, the fool. Or mebbe some old bull'll be after
givin' him a lickin' fer interferin', and he'll come home to us!
To which his wife retorted with calm superiority: Ye're a bigger
fool'n even I took ye fer, Jabe Smith.
But the young bull did not come back that winter, nor the following
summer, nor the next year, nor the next. Neither did any Indian or
hunter or lumberman have anything to report as to a bull moose of great
stature, with a long white slash down his side. Either his quest had
carried him far to other and alien ranges, or some fatal mischance of
the wild had overtaken his inexperience. The latter was Jabe's belief,
and he concluded that his ungainly favourite had too soon taken the
long trail for the Red Men's land of ghosts.
Though Jabe Smith was primarily a lumberman and backwoods farmer, he
was also a hunter's guide, so expert that his services in this
direction were not to be obtained without very special inducement. At
calling moose he was acknowledged to have no rival. When he laid his
grimly-humourous lips to the long tube of birch-bark, which is the
caller's instrument of illusion, there would come from it a strange
sound, great and grotesque, harsh yet appealing, rude yet subtle, and
mysterious as if the uncomprehended wilderness had itself found voice.
Old hunters, wise in all woodcraft, had been deceived by the soundand
much more easily the impetuous bull, waiting, high-antlered and eager,
for the love-call of his mate to summon him down the shore of the still
and moon-tranced lake.
When a certain Famous Hunter, whose heart took pride in horns and
heads and hidesthe trophies won by his unerring rifle in all four
corners of earthfound his way at last to the tumbled wilderness that
lies about the headwaters of the Quah Davic, it was naturally one of
the great New Brunswick moose that he was after. Nothing but the
noblest antlers that New Brunswick forests bred could seem to him
worthy of a place on those walls of his, whence the surly front of a
musk-ox of the Barren Grounds glared stolid defiance to the snarl of an
Orinoco jaguar, and the black, colossal head of a Kadiak bear was eyed
derisively by the monstrous and malignant mask of a two-horned
rhinoceros. With such a quest upon him, the Famous Hunter came, and
naturally sought the guidance of Jabe Smith, whom he lured from the
tamer distractions of a timber cruise by double pay and the pledge of
an extravagant bonus if the quest should be successful.
The lake, lying low between its wooded hills, was like a glimmering
mirror in the misty October twilight when Jabe and the Famous Hunter
crept stealthily down to it. In a dense covert beside the water's edge
they hid themselves. Beside them stretched the open ribbon of a narrow
water-meadow, through which a slim brook, tinkling faintly over its
pebbles, slipped out into the stillness. Just beyond the mouth of the
brook a low, bare spit of sand jutted forth darkly upon the pale
surface of the lake.
[Illustration: IT WAS NOT UNTIL THE MOON APPEARED ... THAT JABE
BEGAN TO CALL.]
It was not until the moon appeareda red, ominous segment of a
diskover the black and rugged ridge of the hills across the lake,
that Jabe began to call. Three times he set the hollow birch-bark to
his mouth, and sent the hoarse, appealing summons echoing over the
water. And the man, crouching invisible in the thick shadow beside him,
felt a thrill in his nerves, a prickling in his cheeks, at that
mysterious cry, which seemed to him to have something almost of menace
in its lure. Even so, he thought, might Pan have summoned his
followers, shaggy and dangerous, yet half divine, to some symbolic
The call evoked no answer of any kind. Jabe waited till the moon,
still red and distorted, had risen almost clear of the ridge. Then he
called again, and yet again, and again waited. From straight across the
strangely-shadowed water came a sudden sharp crashing of underbrush, as
if some one had fallen to beating the bushes furiously with sticks.
That's him! whispered Jabe. An' he's a big one, sure!
The words were not yet out of his mouth when there arose a most
startling commotion in the thicket close behind them, and both men
swung around like lightning, jerking up their rifles. At the same
instant came an elusive whiff of pungency on the chill.
Pooh! only a bear! muttered Jabe, as the commotion retreated in
Why, he was close upon us! remarked the visitor. I could have
poked him with my gun! Had he any special business with us, do you
Took me for a cow moose, an' was jest a-goin' to swipe me!
answered Jabe, rather elated at the compliment which the bear had paid
to his counterfeit.
The Famous Hunter drew a breath of profound satisfaction.
I'll be hanged, he whispered, if your amiable New Brunswick
backwoods can't get up a thrill quite worthy of the African jungle!
St! admonished Jabe. He's a-comin'. An' mad, too! Thinks that
racket was another bull, gittin' ahead of 'im. Don't ye breathe
now, no more! And raising the long bark, he called through it again,
this time more softly, more enticingly, but always with that
indescribable wildness, shyness and roughness rasping strangely through
the note. The hurried approach of the bull could be followed clearly
around the head of the lake. It stopped, and Jabe called again. In a
minute or two there came a brief, explosive, grunting replythis time
from a point much nearer. The great bull had stopped his crashing
progress and was slipping his vast, impetuous bulk through the
underbrush as noiselessly as a weasel. The stillness was so perfect
after that one echoing response that the Famous Hunter turned a look of
interrogation upon Jabe's shadowy face. The latter breathed almost
inaudibly: He's a-comin'. He's nigh here! And the hunter clutched his
rifle with that fine, final thrill of unparalleled anticipation.
The moon was now well up, clear of the treetops and the discolouring
mists, hanging round and honey-yellow over the hump of the ridge. The
magic of the night deepened swiftly. The sandspit and the little
water-meadow stood forth unshadowed in the spectral glare. Far out in
the shine of the lake a fish jumped, splashing sharply. Then a twig
snapped in the dense growth beyond the water-meadow. Jabe furtively
lifted the bark, and mumbled in it caressingly. The next momentso
suddenly and silently that it seemed as if he had taken instant shape
in the moonlightappeared a gigantic moose, standing in the meadow,
his head held high, his nostrils sniffing arrogant inquiry. The
broadly-palmated antlers crowning his mighty head were of a spread and
symmetry such as Jabe had never even imagined.
Almost imperceptibly the Hunter raised his riflea slender shadow
moving in paler shadows. The great bull, gazing about expectantly for
the mate who had called, stood superb and indomitable, ghost-gray in
the moonlight, a mark no tyro could miss. A cherry branch intervened,
obscuring the foresight of the Hunter's rifle. The Hunter shifted his
position furtively. His crooked finger was just about to tighten on the
trigger. At this moment, when the very night hung stiller as if with a
sense of crisis, the giant bull turned, exposing his left flank to the
full glare of the moonlight. Something gleamed silver down his side, as
if it were a shining belt thrown across his shoulder.
[Illustration: SOMETHING GLEAMED SILVER DOWN HIS SIDE.]
With a sort of hiss from between his teeth Jabe shot out his long
arm and knocked up the barrel of the rifle. In the same instant the
Hunter's finger had closed on the trigger. The report rang out,
shattering the night; the bullet whined away high over the treetops,
and the great bull, springing at one bound far back into the thickets,
vanished like an hallucination.
Jabe stood forth into the open, his gaunt face working with
suppressed excitement. The Hunter followed, speechless for a moment
between amazement, wrath and disappointment. At last he found voice,
and quite forgot his wonted courtesy.
Dn you! he stammered. What do you mean by that? What in
But Jabe, suddenly calm, turned and eyed him with a steadying gaze.
Quit all that, now! he retorted crisply. I knowed jest
what I was doin'! I knowed that bull when he were a leetle, awkward
staggerer. I brung him up on a bottle; an' I loved him. He skun out
four years ago. I'd most ruther 'ave seen you shot than that
ther' bull, I tell ye!
The Famous Hunter looked sour; but he was beginning to understand
the situation, and his anger died down. As he considered, Jabe, too,
began to see the other side of the situation.
I'm right sorry to disapp'int ye so! he went on apologetically.
We'll hev to call off this deal atween you an' me, I reckon. An' there
ain't goin' to be no more shooting over this range, if I kin
help itan' I guess I kin!till I kin git that ther' white-slashed
bull drove away back over on to the Upsalquitch, where the hunters
won't fall foul of him! But I'll git ye another guide, jest as good as
me, or better, what ain't got no particular friends runnin' loose in
the woods to bother 'im. An' I'll send ye 'way down on to the Sevogle,
where ther's as big heads to be shot as ever have been. I can't do
Yes, you can! declared the Famous Hunter, who had quite recovered
What is it? asked Jabe doubtfully.
You can pardon me for losing my temper and swearing at you!
answered the Famous Hunter, holding out his hand. I'm glad I didn't
knock over your magnificent friend. It's good for the breed that he got
off. But you'll have to find me something peculiarly special now, down
on that Sevogle.
WHEN THE BLUEBERRIES ARE RIPE
THE steep, rounded, rock-scarred face of Bald Mountain, for all its
naked grimness, looked very cheerful in the last of the warm-coloured
sunset. There were no trees; but every little hollow, every tiny
plateau, every bit of slope that was not too steep for clinging roots
to find hold, was clothed with a mat of blueberry bushes. The berries,
of an opaque violet-blue tone (much more vivid and higher in key than
the same berries can show when picked and brought to market) were so
large and so thickly crowded as to almost hide the leaves. They gave
the austere steeps of Old Baldy the effect of having been dyed with a
wash of cobalt.
Far below, where the lonely wilderness valley was already forsaken
by the sun, a flock of ducks could be seen, with long, outstretched
necks rigid and short wings swiftly beating, lined out over a breadth
of wild meadow. Above the lake which washed the foot of the
mountain,high above the water, but below the line of shadow creeping
up the mountain's face,a single fish-hawk circled slowly, waiting for
the twilight coolness to bring the big trout to the surface to feed.
The smooth water glimmered pallidly, and here and there a spreading,
circular ripple showed that the hungry fish were beginning to rise.
Up in the flood of the sunset, the blueberries basked and glowed,
some looking like gems, some like blossoms, according to the fall of
the light. Around the shoulder of the mountain toward the east, where
the direct rays of the sun could not reach, the light was yet abundant,
but cool and tender,and here the vivid berries were beginning to lose
their colour, as a curved moon, just rising over the far, ragged rim of
the forest, touched them with phantom silver. Everywhere jutting rocks
and sharp crevices broke the soft mantle of the blueberry thickets; and
on the southerly slope, where sunset and moonrise mingled with
intricate shadows, everything looked ghostlike and unreal. On the
utmost summit of the mountain a rounded peak of white granite, smoothed
by ages of storm, shone like a beacon.
[Illustration: AN OLD SHE-BEAR WITH TWO HALF-GROWN CUBS.]
The only berry-pickers that came to these high slopes of Bald
Mountain were the wild kindreds, furred and feathered. Of them all,
none were more enthusiastic and assiduous than the bears; and just now,
climbing up eagerly from the darkening woods below, came an old
she-bear with two half-grown cubs. They came up by easy paths,
zigzagging past boulder and crevice, through the ghostly, noiseless
contention of sunlight and moonlight. Now their moving shadows lay one
way, now the other; and now their shadows were suddenly wiped out, as
the two lights for a moment held an even balance. At length having
reached a little plateau where the berries were particularly large and
close-clustered, the old bear stopped, and they fell joyously to their
On these open heights there were no enemies to keep watch against,
and there was no reason to be wary or silent. The bears fed noisily,
therefore, stripping the plump fruit cleverly by the pawful, and
munching with little, greedy grunts of delight. There was no other food
quite so to their taste as these berries, unless, perhaps, a
well-filled honey-comb. And this was their season for eating, eating,
eating, all the time, in order to lay up abundant fat against the long
severity of winter.
As the bushes about them were stripped of the best fruit, the shaggy
feasters moved around the shoulder of the mountain from the gold of the
sun into the silver of the moon. Soon the sunset had faded, and the
moon had it all her own way except for a broad expanse of sea-green sky
in the west, deepening through violet to a narrow streak of copper on
the horizon. By this time the shadows, especially on the eastern slope,
were very sharp and black, and the open spaces very white and radiant,
with a strange transparency borrowed from that high, pure atmosphere.
It chanced that the little hollow on which the bears were just now
revelling,a hollow where the blueberries were unbelievably large and
abundantwas bounded on its upper side, toward the steep, by a narrow
and deep crevice. At one end of the cleft, from a rocky and shallow
roothold, a gnarled birch grew slantingly. From its unusual situation,
and from the fact that the bushes grew thick to its very edge, this
crevice constituted nothing less than a most insidious trap.
One of the cubs, born with the instinct of caution, kept far away
from the dangerous brink without having more than half realized that
there was any danger there whatever. The other cub was one of those
blundering fellows, to be found among the wild kindreds no less than
among the kindreds of men, who only get caution hammered into them by
experience. He saw a narrow break, indeed, between the berry patch and
the bare steep above,but what was a little crevice in a position like
this, where it could not amount to anything? Had it been on the other
side of the hollow, he would have feared a precipice, and would have
been on his guard. But, as it was, he never gave the matter a second
thought, because it did not look dangerous! He found the best berries
growing very near the edge of the crevice; and in his satisfaction he
turned his back to the height and settled himself solidly upon his
haunches to enjoy them. As he did so the bushes gave way behind him, he
pitched abruptly backwards, and vanished with a squeal of terror into
the narrow cleft of darkness.
The crevice was perhaps twelve feet deep, and from five to eight in
width all the way to the bottom. The bottom held a layer of earth and
dead leaves, which served to ease the cub's fall; but when he landed
the wind was so bumped out of him that for a minute or two he could not
utter a sound. As soon as he recovered his voice, however, he began to
squeal and whine piteously for his mother.
The old bear, at the sound of his cry as he fell, had rushed so
hastily to his aid that she barely escaped falling in after him.
Checking herself just in time, by digging all her mighty claws into the
roots of the blueberries, she crouched at the brink, thrust her head as
far over as she could, and peered down with anxious cries. But when the
cub's voice came back to her from the darkness she knew he was not
killed, and she also knew that he was very near,and her whinings
changed at once to a guttural murmur that must have been intended for
encouragement. The other cub, meanwhile, had come lumbering up with
ears wisely cocked, taken a very hasty and careful glance over the
edge, and returned to his blueberries with an air of disapproval. It
was as if he said he always knew that blundering brother of his would
get himself into trouble.
For some minutes the old bear crouched where she was, straining her
eyes to make out the form of her little one. Becoming accustomed to the
gloom at last, she could discern him. She could see that he was moving
about, and standing on his hind legs, and striving valiantly to claw
his way up the perpendicular surface of smooth rock. She began to reach
downwards first one big forepaw and then the other, testing the rock
beneath her for some ledge or crack that might give her foothold by
which to climb down to his aid. Finding none, she again set up her
uneasy whining, and moved slowly along the brink, trying every inch of
the way for some place rough enough to give her strong claws a chance
to take hold. In the full, unclouded light of the white moon she was a
pathetic figure, bending and crouching and straining, and reaching down
longingly, then stopping to listen to the complaints of pain and terror
that came up out of the dark.
At last she came to the end of the crevice where grew the solitary
birch tree,the frightened captive following exactly below her and
stretching up toward her against the rock. At this point, close beside
the tree, some roots and tough turf overhung the edge, and the old
bear's paws detected a roughness on the face of the rock just below.
This was enough for her brave and devoted heart. She turned around and
let her hind quarters carefully over the brink, intending to climb down
backwards as bears do. But beyond the first unevenness there was
absolutely nothing that her claws could take hold of. Her great body
was half way over, when she felt herself on the point of falling.
Making a sudden startled effort to recover herself, she clutched
desperately at the trunk of the birch tree with one arm, at the roots
of the berry-bushes with the other,and just managed to regain the
For herself, this mighty effort was just enough. But for the
birch-tree it was just too much. The shallow earth by which it held
gave way; and the next moment, with a clatter of loosened stones and a
swish of leafy branches, it crashed majestically down into the crevice,
closing one end of it with a mass of boughs and foliage, and once more
frightening the imprisoned cub almost out of his senses.
At the first sound of this cataclysm, at the first rattle of loose
earth about his ears, the cub had bounced madly to the other end of the
crevice, where he crouched, whimpering. The old bear, too, was daunted
for some seconds; but then, seeing that the cub was not hurt, she was
quick to perceive the advantage of the accident. Standing at the
upturned roots of the tree, she called eagerly and encouragingly to the
cub, pointing out the path of escape thus offered to him. For some
minutes he was too terrified to approach. At last she set her own
weight on the trunk, testing it, and prepared to climb down and lead
him out. At this, however, the youngster's nerve revived. With a joyful
and understanding squeal, he rushed forward, sprawled and clawed his
way over the tangle of branches, gained the firm trunk,and presently
found himself again beside his mother among the pleasant, moonlit
berry-bushes. Here he was fondled and nosed and licked and nursed by
the delighted mother, till his bruised little body forgot its hurts and
his shaken little heart its fears. His cautious brother, too, came up
with a wise look and sniffed at him patronizingly; but went away again
with his nose in the air, as if to say that here was much fuss being
made over a very small matter.
THE GLUTTON OF THE GREAT SNOW
NORTHWARD interminably, and beneath a whitish, desolate sky,
stretched the white, empty leagues of snow, unbroken by rock or tree or
hill, to the straight, menacing horizon. Green-black, and splotched
with snow that clung here and there upon their branches, along the
southward limits of the barren crowded down the serried ranks of the
ancient fir forest. Endlessly baffled, but endlessly unconquered, the
hosts of the firs thrust out their grim spire-topped vanguards, at
intervals, into the hostile vacancy of the barren. Between these dark
vanguards, long, silent aisles of whiteness led back and gently upward
into the heart of the forest.
Out across one of these pale corridors of silence came moving very
deliberately a dark, squat shape with blunt muzzle close to the snow.
Its keen, fierce eyes and keener nostrils were scrutinizing the white
surface for the scent or trail of some other forest wanderer. Conscious
of power, in spite of its comparatively small staturemuch less than
that of wolf or lynx, or even of the foxit made no effort to conceal
its movements, disguise its track or keep watch for possible enemies.
Stronger than any other beast of thrice its size, as cunning as the
wisest of the foxes, and of a dogged, savage temper well known to all
the kindred of the wild, it seemed to feel secure from ill-considered
Less than three feet in length, but of peculiarly massive build,
this dark, ominous-looking animal walked flat-footed, like a bear, and
with a surly heaviness worthy of a bear's stature. Its fur, coarse and
long, was of a sooty gray-brown, streaked coarsely down each flank with
a broad yellowish splash meeting over the hind quarters. Its powerful,
heavy-clawed feet were black. Its short muzzle and massive jaw, and its
broad face up to just above the eyes, where the fur came down thickly,
were black also. The eyes themselves, peering out beneath overhanging
brows, gleamed with a mixture of sullen intelligence and implacable
savagery. In its slow, forbidding strength, and in its tameless
reserve, which yet held the capacity for outbursts of ungovernable
rage, this strange beast seemed to incarnate the very spirit of the
bitter and indomitable North. Its name was various, for hunters called
it sometimes wolverene, sometimes carcajou, but oftener Glutton, or
Through the voiceless desolation the carcajouit was a
femalecontinued her leisurely way. Presently, just upon the edge of
the forest-growth, she came upon the fresh track of a huge lynx. The
prints of the lynx's great pads were several times broader than her
own, but she stopped and began to examine them without the slightest
trace of apprehension. For some reason best known to herself, she at
length made up her mind to pursue the stranger's back trail, concerning
herself rather with what he had been doing than with what he was about
Plunging into the gloom of the firs, where the trail led over a
snow-covered chaos of boulders and tangled windfalls, she came
presently to a spot where the snow was disturbed and scratched. Her
eyes sparkled greedily. There were spatters of blood about the place,
and she realized that here the lynx had buried, for a future meal, the
remnant of his kill.
Her keen nose speedily told her just where the treasure was hidden,
and she fell to digging furiously with her short, powerful fore paws.
It was a bitter and lean season, and the lynx, after eating his fill,
had taken care to bury the remnant deep. The carcajou burrowed down
till only the tip of her dingy tail was visible before she found the
object of her search. It proved to be nothing but one hind quarter of a
little blue fox. Angrily she dragged it forth and bolted it in a
twinkling, crunching the slim bone between her powerful jaws. It was
but a morsel to such a hunger as hers. Licking her chops, and passing
her black paws hurriedly over her face, as a cat does, she forsook the
trail of the lynx and wandered on deeper into the soundless gloom.
Several rabbit-tracks she crossed, and here and there the dainty trail
of a ptarmigan, or the small, sequential dots of a weasel's foot. But a
single glance or passing twitch of her nostril told her these were all
old, and she vouchsafed them no attention. It was not till she had gone
perhaps a quarter of a mile through the fir-glooms that she came upon a
trail which caused her to halt.
It was the one trail, this, among all the tracks that traversed the
great snow, which could cause her a moment's perturbation. For the
trail of the wolf-pack she had small concernfor the hungriest wolves
could never climb a tree. But this was the broad snowshoe trail, which
she knew was made by a creature even more crafty than herself. She
glanced about keenly, peering under the treesbecause one could never
judge, merely by the direction of the trail, where one of those
dangerous creatures was going. She stood almost erect on her haunches
and sniffed the air for the slightest taint of danger. Then she sniffed
at the tracks. The man-smell was strong upon them, and comparatively,
but not dangerously, fresh. Reassured on this point, she decided to
follow the man and find out what he was doing. It was only when she did
not know what he was about that she so dreaded him. Given the
opportunity to watch him unseen, she was willing enough to pit her
cunning against his, and to rob him as audaciously as she would rob any
of the wilderness kindreds.
Hunting over a wide range as she did, the carcajou was unaware till
now that a man had come upon her range that winter. To her experience a
man meant a hunterandtrapper, with emphasis distinctly upon the
trapper. The man's gun she fearedbut his traps she feared not at all.
Indeed, she regarded them rather with distinct favour, and was ready to
profit by them at the first opportunity. Having only strength and
cunning, but no speed to rely upon, she had learned that traps could
catch all kinds of swift creatures, and hold them inexorably. She had
learned, too, that there was usually a succession of traps and snares
set along a man's trail. It was with some exciting expectation, now,
that she applied herself to following this trail.
Within a short distance the track brought her to a patch of trampled
snow, with tiny bits of frozen fish scattered about. She knew at once
that somewhere in this disturbed area a trap was hidden, close to the
surface. Stepping warily, in a circle, she picked up and devoured the
smallest scraps. Near the centre lay a fragment of tempting size; but
she cunningly guessed that close beside that morsel would be the
hiding-place of the trap. Slowly she closed in upon it, her nose close
to the snow, sniffing with cautious discrimination. Suddenly she
stopped short. Through the snow she had detected the man-smell, and the
smell of steel, mingling with the savour of the dried fish. Here, but a
little to one side, she began to dig, and promptly uncovered a light
chain. Following this she came presently to the trap itself, which she
cautiously laid bare. Then, without misgiving, she ate the big piece of
fish. Both her curiosity and her hunger, however, were still far from
satisfied, so she again took up the trail.
The next trap she came to was an open snarea noose of bright wire
suspended near the head of a cunningly constructed alley of fir
branches, leading up to the foot of a big hemlock. Just behind this
noose, and hardly to be reached save through the noose, the bait had
evidently been fixed. But the carcajou saw that some one little less
cunning than herself had been before her. Such a snare would have
caught the fierce, but rather stupid, lynx; but a fox had been the
first arrival. She saw his tracks. He had carefully investigated the
alley of fir branches from the outside. Then he had broken through it
behind the noose, and safely made off with the bait. Rather
contemptuously the old wolverene went on. She did not understand this
kind of trap, so she discreetly refrained from meddling with it.
[Illustration: CREPT SLOWLY AROUND THE RAGING AND SNARLING
Fully a quarter mile she had to go before she came to another; but
here she found things altogether different and more interesting. As she
came softly around a great snow-draped boulder there was a snarl, a
sharp rattle of steel, and a thud. She shrank back swiftly, just beyond
reach of the claws of a big lynx. The lynx had been ahead of her in
discovering the trap, and with the stupidity of his tribe had got
caught in it. The inexorable steel jaws had him fast by the left fore
leg. He had heard the almost soundless approach of the strange prowler,
and, mad with pain and rage, had sprung to the attack without waiting
to see the nature of his antagonist.
Keeping just beyond the range of his hampered leap, the carcajou now
crept slowly around the raging and snarling captive, who kept pouncing
at her in futile fury every other moment. Though his superior in sheer
strength, she was much smaller and lighter than he, and less
murderously armed for combat; and she dreaded the raking, eviscerating
clutch of his terrible hinder claws. In defence of her burrow and her
litter, she would have tackled him without hesitation; but her sharp
teeth and bulldog jaw, however efficient, would not avail, in such a
combat, to save her from getting ripped almost to ribbons. She was far
too sagacious to enter upon any such struggle unnecessarily. Prowling
slowly and tirelessly, without effort, around and around the excited
prisoner, she trusted to wear him out and then take him at some deadly
Weighted with the trap, and not wise enough to refrain from wasting
his strength in vain struggles, the lynx was strenuously playing his
cunning antagonist's game, when a sound came floating on the still air
which made them both instantly rigid. It was a long, thin, wavering cry
that died off with indescribable melancholy in its cadence. The lynx
crouched, with eyes dilating, and listened with terrible intentness.
The carcajou, equally interested but not terrified, stood erect, ears,
eyes and nose alike directed to finding out more about that ominous
voice. Again and again it was repeated, swiftly coming nearer; and
presently it resolved itself into a chorus of voices. The lynx made
several convulsive bounds, wrenching desperately to free his imprisoned
limb; then, recognizing the inevitable, he crouched again, shuddering
but dangerous, his tufted ears flattened upon his back, his eyes
flickering green, every tooth and claw bared for the last battle. But
the carcajou merely stiffened up her fur, in a rage at the prospective
interruption of her hunting. She knew well that the dreadful,
melancholy cry was the voice of the wolf-pack. But the wolves were not
on her trail, that she was sure of; and possibly they might pass
at a harmless distance, and not discover her or her quarry.
The listeners were not kept long in suspense. The pack, as it
chanced, was on the trail of a moose which, labouring heavily in the
deep snow, had passed, at a distance of some thirty or forty yards, a
few minutes before the carcajou's arrival. The wolves swept into view
through the tall fir trunksfive in number, and running so close that
a table-cloth might have covered them. They knew by the trail that the
quarry must be near, and, urged on by the fierce thrust of their
hunger, they were not looking to right or left. They were almost past,
and the lynx was beginning to take heart again, when, out of the tail
of his eye, the pack-leader detected something unusual on the snow near
the foot of the big rock. One fair look explained it all to him. With
an exultant yelp he turned, and the pack swept down upon the prisoner;
while the carcajou, bursting with indignation, slipped up the nearest
The captive was not abject, but game to the last tough fibre. All
fangs and rending claws, with a screech and a bound he met the
onslaught of the pack; and, for all the hideous handicap of that thing
of iron on his leg, he gave a good account of himself. For a minute or
two the wolves and their victim formed one yelling, yelping heap. When
it disentangled itself, three of the wolves were badly torn, and one
had the whole side of his face laid open. But in a few minutes there
was nothing left of the unfortunate lynx but a few of the heavier
bonesto which the pack might return laterand the scrap of fur and
flesh that was held in the jaws of the trap.
[Illustration: SNAPPED BACK AT HIM WITH A VICIOUS GROWL.]
As the carcajou saw her prospective meal disappearing, her rage
became almost uncontrollable, and she crept down the tree-trunk as if
she would fling herself upon the pack. The leader sprang at her,
leaping as high as he could against the trunk; and she, barely out of
reach of his clashing, bloody fangs, snapped back at him with a vicious
growl, trying to catch the tip of his nose. Failing in this, she struck
at him like lightning with her powerful claws, raking his muzzle so
severely that he fell back with a startled yelp. A moment later the
whole pack, their famine still unsatisfied, swept off again upon the
trail of the moose. The carcajou came down, sniffed angrily at the
clean bones which had been cracked for their marrow, then hurried off
on the track of the wolves.
Meanwhile, it had chanced that the man on snowshoes, fetching a wide
circle that would bring the end of his line of traps back nearly to his
cabin, had come suddenly face to face with the fleeing moose. Worn out
with the terror of his flight and the heart-breaking effort of
floundering through the heavy snowwhich was, nevertheless, hard
enough, on the surface, to bear up his light-footed pursuersthe great
beast was near his last gasp. At sight of the man before him, more to
be dreaded even than the savage foe behind him, he snorted wildly and
plunged off to one side. But the man, borne up upon his snowshoes,
overtook him in a moment, and, suddenly stooping forward, drew his long
hunting-knife across the gasping throat. The snow about grew crimson
instantly, and the huge beast sank with a shudder.
The trapper knew that a moose so driven must have had enemies on its
trail, and he knew also that no enemies but wolves, or another hunter,
could have driven the moose to such a flight. There was no other hunter
ranging within twenty miles of him. Therefore, it was wolves. He had no
weapon with him but his knife and his light axe, because his rifle was
apt to be a useless burden in winter, when he had always traps or pelts
to carry. And it was rash for one man, without his gun, to rob a
wolf-pack of its kill! But the trapper wanted fresh moose-meat. Hastily
and skilfully he began to cut from the carcass the choicest portions of
haunch and loin. He had no more than fairly got to work when the
far-off cry of the pack sounded on his expectant ears. He laboured
furiously as the voices drew nearer. The interruption of the lynx he
understood, in a measure, by the noises that reached him; but when the
pack came hot on the trail again he knew it was time to get away. He
must retreat promptly, but not be seen retreating. Bearing with him
such cuts as he had been able to secure, he made off in the direction
of his cabin. But at a distance of about two hundred yards he stepped
into a thicket at the base of a huge hemlock, and turned to see what
the wolves would do when they found they had been forestalled. As he
turned, the wolves appeared, and swept down upon the body of the moose.
But within a couple of paces of it they stopped short, with a snarl of
suspicion, and drew back hastily. The tracks and the scent of their
arch-enemy, man, were all about the carcass. His handiworkhis clean
cuttingwas evident upon it. Their first impulse was toward caution.
Suspecting a trap, they circled warily about the body. Then, reassured,
their rage blazed up. Their own quarry had been killed before them,
their own hunting insolently crossed. However, it was man, the
ever-insolent overlord, who had done it. He had taken toll as he would,
and withdrawn when he would. They did not quite dare to follow and seek
vengeance. So in a few moments their wrath had simmered down; and they
fell savagely upon the yet warm feast.
The trapper watched them from his hiding-place, not wishing to risk
attracting their attention before they had quite gorged themselves. He
knew there would be plenty of good meat left, even then; and that they
would at length proceed to bury it for future use. Then he could dig it
up again, take what remained clean and unmauled, and leave the rest to
its lawful owners; and all without unnecessary trouble.
As he watched the banqueting pack, he was suddenly conscious of a
movement in the branches of a fir a little beyond them. Then his quick
eye, keener in discrimination than that of any wolf, detected the
sturdy figure of a large wolverene making its way from tree to tree at
a safe distance above the snow, intent upon the wolves. What one
carcajouGlutton, he called itcould hope, for all its cunning, to
accomplish against five big timber-wolves, he could not imagine. Hating
the Glutton, as all trappers do, he wished most earnestly that it
might slip on its branch and fall down before the fangs of the pack.
There was no smallest danger of the wary carcajou doing anything of
the sort. Every faculty was on the alert to avenge herself on the
wolves who had robbed her of her destined prey. Most of the other
creatures of the wild she despised, but the wolves she also hated,
because she felt herself constrained to yield them way. She crawled
carefully from tree to tree, till at last she gained one whose lower
branches spread directly over the carcass of the moose. Creeping out
upon one of those branches, she glared down maliciously upon her foes.
Observing her, two of the wolves desisted long enough from their
feasting to leap up at her with fiercely gnashing teeth. But finding
her out of reach, and scornfully unmoved by their futile
demonstrations, they gave it up and fell again to their ravenous
The wolverene is a big cousin to the weasel, and also to the skunk.
The ferocity of the weasel it shares, and the weasel's dauntless
courage. Its kinship to the skunk is attested by the possession of a
gland which secretes an oil of peculiarly potent malodour. The smell of
this oil is not so overpowering, so pungently strangulating, as that
emitted by the skunk; but all the wild creatures find it irresistibly
disgusting. No matter how pinched and racked by famine they may be, not
one of them will touch a morsel of meat which a wolverene has defiled
ever so slightly. The wolverene itself, however, by no means shares
this general prejudice.
When the carcajou had glared down upon the wolves for several
minutes, she ejected the contents of her oil-gland all over the body of
the moose, impartially treating her foes to a portion of the nauseating
fluid. With coughing, and sneezing, and furious yelping, the wolves
bounded away, and began rolling and burrowing in the snow. They could
not rid themselves at once of the dreadful odour; but, presently
recovering their self-possession, and resolutely ignoring the polluted
meat, they ranged themselves in a circle around the tree at a safe
distance, and snapped their long jaws vengefully at their adversary.
They seemed prepared to stay there indefinitely, in the hope of
starving out the carcajou and tearing her to pieces. Perceiving this,
the carcajou turned her back upon them, climbed farther up the tree to
a comfortable crotch, and settled herself indifferently for a nap. For
all her voracious appetite, she knew she could go hungry longer than
any wolf, and quite wear out the pack in a waiting game. Then the
trapper, indignant at seeing so much good meat spoiled, but his
sporting instincts stirred to sympathy by the triumph of one beast like
the carcajou over a whole wolf-pack, turned his back upon the scene and
resumed his tramp. The wolves had lost prestige in his eyes, and he now
felt ready to fight them all with his single axe.
From that day on the wolf-pack cherished a sleepless grudge against
the carcajou, and wasted precious hours, from time to time, striving to
catch her off her guard. The wolf's memory is a long one, and the feud
lost nothing in its bitterness as the winter weeks, loud with storm or
still with deadly cold, dragged by. For a time the crafty old carcajou
fed fat on the flesh which none but she could touch, while all the
other beasts but the bear, safe asleep in his den, and the porcupine,
browsing contentedly on hemlock and spruce, went lean with famine.
During this period, since she had all that even her great appetite
could dispose of, the carcajou robbed neither the hunter's traps nor
the scant stores of the other animals. But at last her larder was bare.
Then, turning her attention to the traps again, she speedily drew upon
her the trapper's wrath, and found herself obliged to keep watch
against two foes at once, and they the most powerful in the
wildernessnamely, the man and the wolf-pack. Even the magnitude of
this feud, however, did not daunt her greedy but fearless spirit, and
she continued to rob the traps, elude the wolves, and evade the
hunter's craftiest efforts, till the approach of spring not only eased
the famine of the forest but put an end to the man's trapping. When the
furs of the wild kindred began to lose their gloss and vitality, the
trapper loaded his pelts upon a big hand-sledge, sealed up his cabin
securely, and set out for the settlements before the snow should all be
gone. Once assured of his absence, the carcajou devoted all her
strength and cunning to making her way into the closed cabin. At last,
after infinite patience and endeavour, she managed to get in, through
the roof. There were suppliesflour, and bacon, and dried apples, all
very much to her distinctly catholic tasteand she enjoyed herself
immensely till private duties summoned her reluctantly away.
Spring comes late to the great snows, but when it does come it is
swift and not to be denied. Then summer, with much to do and little
time to do it in, rushes ardently down upon the plains and the
fir-forests. About three miles back from the cabin, on a dry knoll in
the heart of a tangled swamp, the old wolverene dug herself a
commodious and secret burrow. Here she gave birth to a litter of tiny
young ones, much like herself in miniature, only of a paler colour and
softer, silkier fur. In her ardent, unflagging devotion to these little
ones she undertook no hunting that would take her far from home, but
satisfied her appetite with mice, slugs, worms and beetles.
Living in such seclusion as she did, her enemies the wolves lost all
track of her for the time. The pack had broken up, as a formal
organization, according to the custom of wolf-packs in summer. But
there was still more or less cohesion, of a sort, between its scattered
members; and the leader and his mate had a cave not many miles from the
As luck would have it, the gray old leader, returning to the cave
one day with the body of a rabbit between his gaunt jaws, took a short
cut across the swamp, and came upon the trail of his long-lost enemy.
In fact, he came upon several of her trails; and he understood very
well what it meant. He had no time, or inclination, to stop and look
into the matter then; but his sagacious eyes gleamed with vengeful
intention as he continued his journey.
About this timethe time being a little past midsummerthe man
came back to his cabin, bringing supplies. It was a long journey
between the cabin and the settlements, and he had to make it several
times during the brief summer, in order to accumulate stores enough to
last through the long, merciless season of the great snows. When he
reached the cabin and found that, in spite of all his precautions, the
greedy carcajou had outwitted him and broken in, and pillaged his
stores, his indignation knew no bounds.
The carcajou had become an enemy more dangerous to him than all the
other beasts of the wild together. She must be hunted down and
destroyed before he could go on with his business of laying in stores
for the winter.
For several days the man prowled in ever-widening circles around his
cabin, seeking to pick up his enemy's fresh trail. At last, late one
afternoon, he found it, on the outskirts of the swamp. It was too late
to follow it up then. But the next day he set out betimes with rifle,
axe and spade, vowed to the extermination of the whole carcajou family,
for he knew, as well as the old wolf did, why the carcajou had taken up
her quarters in the swamp.
It chanced that this very morning was the morning when the wolves
had undertaken to settle their ancient grudge. The old leaderhis mate
being occupied with her cubshad managed to get hold of two other
members of the pack, with memories as long as his. The unravelling of
the trails in the swamp was an easy task for their keen noses. They
found the burrow on the dry, warm knoll, prowled stealthily all about
it for a few minutes, then set themselves to digging it open. When the
man, whose wary, moccasined feet went noiselessly as a fox's, came in
eyeshot of the knoll, the sight he caught through the dark jumble of
tree-trunks brought him to a stop. He slunk behind a screen of branches
and peered forth with eager interest. What he saw was three big, gray
wolves, starting to dig furiously. He knew they were digging at the
When the wolves fell to digging their noses told them that there
were young carcajous in the burrow, but they could not be sure whether
the old one was at home or not. On this point, however, they were
presently informed. As the dry earth flew from beneath their furious
claws, a dark, blunt snout shot forth, to be as swiftly withdrawn. Its
appearance was followed by a yelp of pain, and one of the younger
wolves drew back, walking on three legs. One fore paw had been bitten
clean through, and he lay down whining, to lick and cherish it. That
paw, at least, would do no more digging for some time.
The man, in his hiding-place behind the screen, saw what had
happened, and felt a twinge of sympathetic admiration for his enemy,
the savage little fighter in the burrow. The remaining two wolves now
grew more cautious, keeping back from the entrance as well as they
could, and undermining its edges. Again and again the dark muzzle shot
forth, but the wolves always sprang away in time to escape punishment.
This went on till the wolves had made such an excavation that the man
thought they must be nearing the bottom of the den. He waited
breathlessly for the dénouement, which he knew would be exciting.
He had not long to wait.
On a sudden, as if jerked from a catapult, the old carcajou sprang
clear out, snatching at the muzzle of the nearest wolf. He dodged, but
not quite far enough; and she caught him fairly in the side of the
throat, just behind the jaw. It was a deadly grip, and the wolf rose on
his hind legs, struggling frantically to shake her off. But with her
great strength and powerful, clutching claws, which she used almost as
a bear might, she pulled him down on top of her, striving to use his
bulk as a shield against the fangs of the other wolf; and the two
rolled over and over to the foot of the knoll.
It was the second young wolf, unfortunately for her, that she had
fastened upon, or the victory, even against such odds, might have been
hers. But the old leader was wary. He saw that his comrade was done
for; so he stood watchful, biding his chance to get just the grip he
wanted. At length, as he saw the younger wolf's struggles growing
feebler, he darted in and slashed the carcajou frightfully across the
loins. But this was not the hold that he wanted. As she dropped her
victim and turned upon him valiantly, he caught her high up on the
back, and held her fast between his bone-crushing jaws. It was a final
and fatal grip; but she was not beaten until she was dead. With her
fierce eyes already glazing she writhed about and succeeded in fixing
her death-grip upon the victor's lean fore leg. With the last ounce of
her strength, the last impulses of her courage and her hate, she
clinched her jaws till her teeth met through flesh, sinew and the
cracking bone itself. Then her lifeless body went limp, and with a
swing of his massive neck the old wolf flung her from him.
Having satisfied himself that she was quite dead, the old wolf now
slunk off on three legs into the swamp, holding his maimed and bleeding
limb as high as he could. Then the man stepped out from his
hiding-place and came forward. The wolf who had been first bitten got
up and limped away with surprising agility; but the one in whose throat
the old carcajou had fixed her teeth lay motionless where he had
fallen, a couple of paces from his dead slayer. Wolf-pelts were no good
at this season, so the man thrust the body carelessly aside with his
foot. But he stood for a minute or two looking down with whimsical
respect on the dead form of the carcajou.
Y' ain't nawthin' but a thief an' stinkin' Glutton, he muttered
presently, an' the whole kit an' bilin' of ye's got to be wiped out!
But, when it comes to grit, clean through, I takes off my cap to ye!
WHEN THE TRUCE OF THE WILD IS DONE
BY day it was still high summer in the woods, with slumbrous heat at
noon, and the murmur of insects under the thick foliage. But to the
initiated sense there was a difference. A tang in the forest scents
told the nostrils that autumn had arrived. A crispness in the feel of
the air, elusive but persistent, hinted of approaching frost. The still
warmth was haunted, every now and then, by a passing ghost of chill.
Here and there the pale green of the birches was thinly webbed with
gold. Here and there a maple hung out amid its rich verdure a branch
prematurely turned, glowing like a banner of aërial rose. Along the
edges of the little wild meadows which bordered the loitering brooks
the first thin blooms of the asters began to show, like a veil of blown
smoke. In open patches, on the hillsides the goldenrod burned orange
and the fireweed spread its washes of violet pink. Somewhere in the top
of a tall poplar, crowning the summit of a glaring white bluff, a
locust twanged incessantly its strident string. Mysteriously,
imperceptibly, without sound and without warning, the change had come.
Hardly longer ago than yesterday, the wild creatures had been unwary
and confident, showing themselves everywhere. The partridge coveys had
whirred up noisily in full view of the passing woodsman, and craned
their necks to watch him from the near-by branches. On every shallow
mere and tranquil river-reach the flocks of wild ducks had fed boldly,
suffering canoe or punt to come within easy gunshot. In the heavy grass
of the wild meadows, or among the long, washing sedges of the lakeside,
the red deer had pastured openly in the broad daylight, with tramplings
and splashings, and had lifted large bright eyes of unterrified
curiosity if a boat or canoe happened by. The security of that great
truce, which men called close season had rested sweetly on the
Then suddenly, when the sunrise was pink on the mists, a gunshot had
sent the echoes clamouring across the still lake waters, and a flock of
ducks, flapping up and fleeing with frightened cries, had left one of
its members sprawling motionless among the flattened sedge, a heap of
bright feathers spattered with blood. Later in the morning a rifle had
cracked sharply on the hillside, and a little puff of white smoke had
blown across the dark front of the fir groves. The truce had come to an
All summer long men had kept the truce with strictness, and the
hunter's fierce instinct, curbed alike by law and foresight, had
slumbered. But now the young coveys were full-fledged and strong of
wing, well able to care for themselves. The young ducks were full
grown, and no longer needed their mother's guardianship and teaching.
The young deer were learning to shift for themselves, and finding, to
their wonder and indignation, that their mothers grew day by day more
indifferent to them, more inclined to wander off in search of new
interests. The time had come when the young of the wilderness stood no
longer in need of protection. Then the hand of the law was lifted.
Instantly in the hearts of men the hunter's fever flamed up, and,
with eager eyes, they went forth to kill. Where they had yesterday
walked openly, hardly heeding the wild creatures about them, they now
crept stealthily, following the trails, or lying in ambush, waiting for
the unsuspicious flock to wing past. And when they found that the game,
yesterday so abundant and unwatchful, had to-day almost wholly
disappeared, they were indignant, and wished that they had anticipated
the season by a few hours.
As a matter of fact, the time of the ending of the truce was not the
same for all the wild creatures which had profited by its protection
through the spring and summer. Certain of the tribes, according to the
law's provisions, were secure for some weeks longer yet. But this they
never seemed to realize. As far as they could observe, when the truce
was broken for one it was broken for all, and all took alarm together.
In some unexplained way, perhaps by the mere transmission of a general
fear, word went around that the time had come for invisibility and
craft. All at once, therefore, as it seemed to men, the wilderness had
Down a green, rough wood-road, leading from the Settlement to one of
the wild meadows by the river, came a young man in homespun carrying a
long, old-fashioned, muzzle-loading duck-gun. Two days before this he
had seen a fine buck, with antlers perfect and new-shining from the
velvet, feeding on the edge of this meadow. The young woodsman had his
gun loaded with buckshot. He wanted both venison and a pair of horns;
and, knowing the fancy of the deer for certain favourite pastures, he
had great hopes of finding the buck somewhere about the place where he
had last seen him. With flexible larrigans of oiled cowhide on his
feet, the hunter moved noiselessly and swiftly as a panther, his keen
pale-blue eyes peering from side to side through the shadowy
undergrowth. Not three steps aside from the path, moveless as a stone
and invisible among the spotted weeds and twigs, a crafty old
cock-partridge stood with head erect and unwinking eyes and watched the
dangerous intruder stride by.
Approaching the edge of the open, the young hunter kept himself
carefully hidden behind the fringing leafage and looked forth upon the
little meadow. No creature being in sight, he cut straight across the
grass to the water's edge, and scanned the muddy margin for
foot-prints. These he presently found in abundance, along between grass
and sedge. Most of the marks were old; but others were so fresh that he
knew the buck must have been there and departed within the last ten
minutes. Into some deep hoof-prints the water was still oozing, while
from others the trodden stems of sedge were slowly struggling upright.
A smile of keen satisfaction passed over the young woodsman's face
at these signs. He prided himself on his skill in trailing, and the
primeval predatory elation thrilled his nerves. At a swift but easy
lope he took up that clear trail, and followed it back through the
grass toward the woods. It entered the woods not ten paces from the
point where the hunter himself had emerged, ran parallel with the old
wood-road for a dozen yards, and came to a plain halt in the heart of a
dense thicket of hemlock. From the thicket it went off in great leaps
in a direction at right angles to the path. There was not a breath of
wind stirring, to carry a scent. So the hunter realized that his
intended victim had been watching him from the thicket, and that it was
now a case of craft against craft. He tightened his belt for a long
chase, and set his lean jaws doggedly as he resumed the trail.
The buck, who was wise with the wisdom of experience, and apprised
by the echoes of the first gunshot of the fact that the truce was over,
had indeed been watching the hunter very sagaciously. The moment he was
satisfied that it was his trail the hunter was following, he had set
out at top speed, anxious to get as far as possible from so dangerous a
neighbourhood. At first his fear grew with his flight, so that his
great, soft eyes stared wildly and his nostrils dilated as he went
bounding over all obstacles. Then little by little the triumphant
exercise of his powers, and a realization of how far his speed
surpassed that of his pursuer, reassured him somewhat. He decided to
rest, and find out what his foe was doing. He doubled back parallel
with his own trail for about fifty yards, then lay down in a thicket to
watch the enemy go by.
In an incredibly short time he did go by, at that long, steady swing
which ate up the distance so amazingly. As soon as he was well past,
the buck sprang up and was off again at full speed, his heart once more
thumping with terror.
This time, however, instead of running straight ahead, he made a
wide, sweeping curve, tending back toward the river and the lakes. As
before, only somewhat sooner, his alarm subsided and his confidence,
along with his curiosity, returned. He repeated his former manoeuvre of
doubling back a little way upon his trail, then again lay down to wait
for the passing of his foe.
When the hunter came to that first abrupt turn of the trail he
realized that it was a cunning and experienced buck with which he had
to deal. He smiled confidently, however, feeling sure of his own skill,
and ran at full speed to the point where the animal had lain down to
watch him pass. From this point he followed the trail just far enough
to catch its curve. Then he left it and ran in a straight line shrewdly
calculated to form the chord to his quarry's section of a circle. His
plan was to intercept and pick up the trail again about three quarters
of a mile further on. In nine cases out of ten his calculation would
have worked out as he wished; but in this case he had not made
allowance for this particular buck's individuality. While he imagined
his quarry to be yet far ahead, he ran past a leafy clump of mingled
Indian pear and thick spruce seedlings. Half a minute later he heard a
crash of underbrush behind him. As he turned he caught a tantalizing
glimpse of tawny haunches vanishing through the green, and he knew that
once again he had been outplayed.
This time the wise buck was distinctly more terrified than before.
The appearance of his enemy at this unexpected point, so speedily, and
not upon the trail, struck a panic to his heart. Plainly, this was no
common foe, to be evaded by familiar stratagems. His curiosity and his
confidence disappeared completely.
[Illustration: RUNNING IN THE SHALLOW WATER TO COVER HIS SCENT"]
The buck set off in a straight line for the river, now perhaps a
half-mile distant. Reaching it, he turned down the shore, running in
the shallow water to cover his scent. It never occurred to him that his
enemy was trailing him by sight, not by scent; so he followed the same
tactics he would have employed had the pursuer been a wolf or a dog. A
hundred yards further on he rounded a sharp bend of the stream. Here he
took to deep water, swam swiftly to the opposite shore, and vanished
into the thick woods.
Two or three minutes later the man came out upon the river's edge.
The direction his quarry had taken was plainly visible by the splashes
of water on the rocks, and he smiled grimly at the precaution which the
animal had taken to cover his secret. But when he reached the point
where the buck had taken to deep water the smile faded. He stopped,
leaning on his gun and staring across the river, and a baffled look
came over his face. Realizing, after a few moments, that he was beaten
in this game, he drew out his charge of buckshot, reloaded his gun with
small duckshot, and hid himself in a waterside covert of young willows,
in the hope that a flock of mallard or teal might presently come by.
THE WINDOW IN THE SHACK
THE attitude in which the plump baby hung limply over the woman's
left arm looked most uncomfortable. The baby, however, seemed highly
content. Both his sticky fists clutched firmly a generous chunk of
new maple-sugar, which he mumbled with his toothless gums, while his
big eyes, widening like an owl's, stared about through the dusk with a
From the woman's left hand dangled an old tin lantern containing a
scrap of tallow candle, whose meagre gleam flickered hither and thither
apprehensively among the huge shadows of the darkening wood. In her
right hand the woman carried a large tin bucket, half filled with
fresh-run maple-sap. By the glimmer of the ineffectual candle, she
moved wearily from one great maple to another, emptying the birch-bark
cups that hung from the little wooden taps driven into the trunks. The
night air was raw with the chill of thawing snow, and carried no sound
but the soft tinkle of the sap as it dript swiftly into the birchen
cups. The faint, sweet smell of the sap seemed to cling upon the
darkness. The candle flared up for an instant, revealing black,
mysterious aisles among the ponderous tree-trunks, then guttered down
and almost went out, the darkness seeming to swoop in upon its defeat.
The woman examined it, found that it was all but done, and glanced
nervously over her shoulder. Then she made anxious haste to empty and
replace the last of the birchen cups before she should be left in
darkness to grope her way back to the cabin.
The sap was running freely that spring, and the promise of a great
sugar-harvest was not to be ignored. Dave Stone's house and farm lay
about three miles distant, across the valley of the Tin Kittle, from
the maple-clad ridge of forest wherein he had his sugar-camp. The camp
consisted of a little cabin or shack of rough boards and an open shed
with a rude but spacious fireplace and chimney to accommodate the great
iron pot in which the sap was boiled down into sugar. While the sap was
running freely, the pot had to be kept boiling uniformly and the
thickening sap kept skimmed clean of the creaming scum; and therefore,
during the season, some one had to be always living in the camp.
Dave Stone had built his camp at an opening in the woods, in such a
position that, from its own little window in the rear, he could look
out across the wide valley of the Tin Kittle to a rigid grove of firs
behind which, shielded from the nor'easters, lay his low frame house,
and red-doored barn, and wide, liberal sheds. The distance was only
about three miles, or less, from the house to the sugar-camp. But Dave
Stone was terribly proud of the prosperous little homestead which he
had carved for himself out of the unbroken wilderness on the upper Tin
Kittle, and more than proud of the slim, gray-eyed wife and three
sturdy youngsters to whom that homestead gave happy shelter. On the
spring nights when he had to stay over at the camp, he liked to be able
to see the grove that hid his home.
It chanced one afternoon, just in the height of the sap-running,
that Dave Stone was called suddenly in to the settlement on a piece of
business that could not wait overnight. A note which he had endorsed
for a friend had been allowed to go to protest, and Dave was excited.
Ther' ain't nothin' fer it, Mandy, said he, but fer ye to take
the baby an' go right over to the camp fer the night, an' keep an eye
on this bilin'.
But, father, protested his wife, in a doubtful voice, how kin I
leave Lidy an' Joe here alone?
Oh, there ain't nothin' goin' to bother them, an' Lidy 'most
ten year old! insisted Dave, who was in a hurry. Don't fret, mother.
I'll be back long afore mornin'!
As the children had no objection to being left, Mrs. Stone suffered
herself to be persuaded. In fact, she went to her new duty with a
certain zest, as a break in the monotony of her days. She had lent a
hand often enough at the sugar-making to be familiar with the task
awaiting her, and it was with an unwonted gaiety that she set out on
what appeared to her almost in the light of a little adventure.
But it was later than she had intended when she actually got away,
the baby crowing joyously on her arm, and the children calling gay
good-byes to her from the open door. Jake, the big brown retriever,
tried to follow her; and when she ordered him back to stay with the
children, he obeyed with a whimpering reluctance that came near
rebellion. As she descended the valley, her feet sinking in the snow of
the thawing trail, she wondered why the dog, which had always preferred
the children, should have grown so anxious to be with her.
When she reached the camp, she was already tired, but the pleasant
excitement was still upon her. When she had skimmed the big,
slow-bubbling pot of syrup, tested a ladleful of it in the snow, poured
in some fresh sap, and replenished the sluggish fire, dusk was already
stealing upon the forest. In her haste she did not notice that the
candle in the old lantern was almost burned out. Snatching up the
lantern, which it was not yet necessary to light, and the big tin
sap-bucket, and giving the baby, who had begun to fret, a lump of hard
sugar to keep him quiet on her arm, she hurried off to tend the
farthest trees before the darkness should close down upon the silences.
* * * * *
When the last birch cup had been emptied into the bucket, the candle
flickered out; and for a moment or two the sudden blackness seemed to
flap in her face, daunting her. She stood perfectly still till her eyes
readjusted themselves. She was dead tired, the baby and the brimming
bucket were heavy, and the adventurous flavour had quite gone out of
In part because of her fatigue, she grew suddenly timorous. Her ears
began to listen with terrible intentness till they imagined stealthy
footsteps in the silken shrinkings of the damp snow. At last her eyes
mastered the gloom till she could make out the glimmering pathway, the
dim, black trunks shouldering up on either side of it, the clumps of
bushes obstructing it here and there. Tremblingclutching tightly at
the baby, the lantern, and the sap-bucketshe started back with
furtive but hurried footsteps, afraid to make any noise lest she
attract the notice of some mysterious powers of the wilderness.
As the woman went, her fears grew with her haste till only the
difficulties of the path, with the weight of her burdens, prevented her
from breaking into a run of panic. The baby, meanwhile, kept on sucking
his maple-sugar and staring into the novel darkness. The woman's breath
began to come too fast, her knees began to feel as if they might turn
to water at any moment. At last, when within perhaps fifty paces of the
shack, to her infinite relief she saw a dark, tall figure take shape
just over the top of a bush, at the turn of the trail. She had room for
but one thought. It was Dave, back earlier than he had expected. She
did not stop to wonder how or why. With a little, breathless cry, she
exclaimed: Oh, Dave, I'm so glad! Take the baby! and reached forward
to place the little one in his arms.
Even as she did so, however, something in the tall, dim shape rising
over the bush struck her as unfamiliar. And why didn't Dave speak? She
paused, she half drew back, while a chill fear made her cheeks prickle;
and as she slightly changed her position, the dark form grew more
definite. She saw the massive bulk of the shoulders. She caught a glint
of white teeth, of fierce, wild eyes.
With a screech of intolerable horror, she shrank back, clutching the
baby to her bosom, swung the brimming bucket of sap full into the
monster's face, and fled with the speed of a deer down another trail
toward the shack. She was at the door before her appalled brain
realized that the being to which she had tried to hand over the child
was a huge bear.
Bewildered and abashed for a few seconds by the deluge of liquid and
the clatter of the tin vessel in his face, the animal had not instantly
pursued. But he was just out of the den after his long winter sleep and
savage with hunger. Moreover, he had been allowed to realize that the
dreaded man-creature which he had met so unexpectedly was afraid of
him! He came crashing over the bushes, and was so close at the woman's
heels that she had barely time to slam the shack door in his face.
As she dropped the rude wooden latch into place, the woman realized
with horror how frail the door was. Momentarily she expected to see it
smashed in by a stroke of the monster's paw. She did not know a bear's
caution, his cunning suspicion of traps, his dread of the scent of man.
There was no light in the shack, except a faint red gleam from the
open draft of the stove, and the gray pallor of the night sky
glimmering in through the little window. The woman was so faint with
fear that she dared not search for the candles, but leaned panting
against the wall and staring at the window as if she expected the bear
to look in at her. She was brought to her senses in a moment, however,
by the baby beginning to cry. In the race for the shack, he had lost
his lump of sugar, and now he realized how uncomfortable he was. The
woman seated herself on the bench by the stove and began to nurse him,
all the time keeping her eyes on the pale square of the window.
[Illustration: SNIFFED LOUDLY ALONG THE CRACK OF THE DOOR.]
When the door was slammed in his face, the bear had backed away in
apprehension and paused to study the shack. But at the sound of the
baby's voice he seemed to realize that here, at least, were some
individuals of the dreaded man tribe who were not dangerous. He came
forward and sniffed loudly along the crack of the door till the woman's
heart stood still. He leaned against it, tentatively, till it creaked,
but the latch and hinges held. Then he prowled around the shack,
examining it carefully, and doubtless expecting to find an open
entrance somewhere. In his experience, all caves and dens had
entrances. At last the window caught his attention. The woman heard the
scratching of his claws on the rough outer boarding as he raised
himself. Then the window was darkened by a great black head looking in.
Throwing the baby into the bunk, the woman snatched from the stove a
blazing stick, rushed to the window with it, and made a wild thrust at
the dreadful face. With a crash the glass flew to splinters, and the
black face disappeared. The bear was untouched, but the fiery weapon
had taught him discretion. He drew back with an angry growl, and sat
down on his haunches as if to see what the woman would do next. She,
for her part, after this victory, grew terribly afraid of setting the
dry shack on fire; so she hurriedly returned the snapping, sparkling
brand to the stove. Thereupon the bear resumed his ominous prowling,
round and round the shack, sometimes testing the foundations and the
door with massive but stealthy paw, sometimes sniffing loudly at the
cracks; and the woman returned to the comforting of the baby.
In time the little one, fed full and cherished, went to sleep. Then,
with nothing left to occupy her mind but the terrors of her situation,
the woman found those stealthy scratchings and sniffings, and the
strain of the silences that fell between, were more than she could
endure. At first, she thought of getting a couple of blazing sticks,
throwing open the shack door, and deliberately attacking her besieger.
But this idea she dismissed as quite too desperate and futile. Then she
remembered that bears were fond of sweets. A table in the corner was
heaped with great, round cakes of fragrant sugar, the shape of the pans
in which they had been cooled. One of these she snatched up, and threw
it out of the window. The bear promptly came around to see what had
dropped, and fell upon the offering with such ardour that it vanished
between his great jaws in half a minute. Then he came straight to the
window for more, and the woman served it out to him without delay.
[Illustration: MADE A WILD THRUST AT THE DREADFUL FACE.]
The beast's appetite for maple-sugar was amazing, and as the woman
saw the sweet store swiftly disappearing, her fear began to be tempered
with indignation. But when her outraged frugality led her to delay the
dole, her tormentor came at the window so savagely that she made all
haste to supply him, and fell to wondering helplessly what she should
do when the sugar was all gone.
As she stood at the window, watching fearfully the vague, monstrous
shape of the animal as he pawed and gnawed at the last cake, suddenly,
far across the shadowy valley, a red light leaped into the sky. For a
moment the woman stared at it with an absent mind, absorbed in her own
trouble, yet noticing how black and sharp, like giant spears upthrust
in array, the tops of the firs stood out against the glow. For a moment
she stood so staring. Then she realized where that wild light came
from. With a cry she turned, rushed to the door, and tore it open. But
as the dark of the forest confronted her, she remembered! Slamming and
latching the door again, she rushed madly back to the window, and stood
there clutching the frame with both hands, praying, and sobbing, and
And the bear, having finished the sugar, sat up on his haunches to
gaze intently, ears cocked and jaws half open, at that far-off, fiery
brightness in the sky of night.
As the keen tongues of flame shot over the treetops, the woman
clutched at her senses, and tried to persuade herself that it was the
barn, not the house, that was burning. It was, in truth, quite
impossible to discern, at that distance, which it was. It was not both;
of that she was certain. She also told herself that, if it was
the house, it was too early for the children to be asleep; and even if
they were asleep, Jake would wake them; and presently some
neighbours, who were not more than a mile away, would come to comfort
their fears and shelter them. She would not allow herself to harbour
the awful thought that the fire might have caught the children in their
sleep. Nevertheless, do what she could to fight it away, the hideous
suggestion kept clamouring at her brain, driving her to a frenzy. Had
she been alone in this crisis, the great beast watching and prowling
outside the shack would have had no terrors for her. But the baby! She
could not run fast with that burden. She could not leave him behind in
the bunk, for the bear would either climb in the window or batter in
the door when she was gone. Yet to stand idle and watch those leaping
flamesthat way lay madness. Again her mind reverted to the blazing
brand with which she had driven the bear from the window. If she took
one big enough and carried it with her, the bear would probably not
dare even to follow her. She sprang eagerly to the stove, but the fire
was already dying down. It was nothing but a heap of coals, and in her
stress she had not noticed how cold it had grown in the shack. She
looked for wood, but there was none. She had forgotten to bring in an
armful from the pile over by the sugar-boiler. Well, the plan had been
an insane one, hopeless from the first. But, at least, it had been a
plan. The failure of it seemed to leave her tortured brain a blank. But
the coldthat was an impression that pierced her despair. She went to
the bunk, and covered the sleeping baby with warm blankets. As she
leaned over him, she heard the bear again, sniffing, sniffing along the
crack at the bottom of the door. She almost laughedthat the beast
should want anything more after all that sugar! Then she felt herself
sinking, and clutched at the edge of the bunk to save herself. She
would lie down by the baby! But instead of that she sank upon the floor
in a huddled heap.
Her swoon must have passed imperceptibly into the heavy sleep of
emotional exhaustion, for she lay unstirring for some hours. The crying
of the little one awoke her.
Stiff, half frozen, utterly dazed, she pulled herself up to the
bunk, nursed the child, and soothed him again to sleep. Then the
accumulation of anguish which had overwhelmed her rolled back upon her
understanding. She staggered to the window.
The dreadful illumination across the valley had died down to a faint
ruddiness, just seen through the thin tops of the firs. The
firewhether it had been the barn or the househad burned itself out.
Whatever had happened, it was over. As she stood shuddering, unable to
think, not daring to think, her eyes rested upon the bear, huge and
formless in the gloom, staring at her, not ten feet away. She answered
the stare fixedly, no longer aware of fearing him. Then she saw him
turn his head suddenly, as if he had heard something. And the next
moment he had faded away swiftly and noiselessly into the darkness,
like a startled partridge. She heard quick footsteps coming up the
trail. A dog's fierce growl broke into a bark of warning. That was
Jake's bark! She almost threw herself at the door, and tore it open.
* * * * *
Dave Stone had got back from the settlement earlier than he
expected, driving furiously the last two miles of his journey, with his
eyes full of the red light of that burning, his heart gripped with
intolerable fear. He had found his good barn in flames, but the
children safe, the house untouched, the stock rescued. The children,
prompt and resourceful as the children of the backwoods have need to
be, had loosed the cattle from the stanchions and got them out in time.
Neighbours, hurrying up in response to the flaming summons, had found
the children watching the blaze enthusiastically from the doorstep, as
if it had been arranged for their amusement. Seeing matters so much
better than they might have been, Dave was struck with a new
apprehension, because Mandy had not returned. It was hardly conceivable
that she had failed to see the flames from the window of the shack!
Then why had she not come? Followed by Jake, he had taken the camp
trail at a run to find out what was the matter.
As he drew near the shack, the darkness of it chilled him with
dread. No firelight gleam showed out from the window! And no red glow
came from the boiling-shed! The fire had been allowed to die out under
the sugar-pot! As the significance of this dawned upon him, his keen
woodsman's eyes seemed to detect through the dark a shape of thicker
blackness gliding past the shack and into the woods. At the same moment
Jake growled, barked shortly, and dashed past him, with the hair
bristling along his neck.
The man's blood went to ice, as he sprang to the door of the shack,
crying in a terrible voice: Mandy! Mandy! Where are But before the
question was out of his mouth, the door leaped open, and Mandy was on
his neck, shaking and sobbing.
The children? she gasped.
Why, they're all right, mother! replied the man cheerfully.
It was only the barnan' they got the critters out all safe! But
what's wrong here? An' what's kep' you? An' didn't you
But he was not allowed to finish his questionings, for the woman was
crying and laughing and strangling him with her wild clasp. Oh, Dave!
she managed to exclaim. It was the bearas tried to git usall night
long! An' he's et up every crum of the last bilin'.
THE RETURN OF THE MOOSE
TO the best of my knowledge, ther' ain't been no moose seen this
side the river these eighteen year back.
The speaker, a heavy-shouldered, long-legged backwoodsman, paused in
his task of digging potatoes, leaned on the handle of his broad-tined
digging fork, and bit off a liberal chew from his plug of black
tobacco. His companion, digging parallel with him on the next row,
paused sympathetically, felt in his trousers' pocket for his own plug
of black jack, and cast a contemplative eye up the wide brown slope
of the potato-field toward the ragged and desolate line of burnt woods
which crested the hill.
The woods, a long array of erect, black, fire-scarred rampikes,
appeared to scrawl the very significance of solitude against the lonely
afternoon sky. The austerity of the scene was merely heightened by the
yellow glow of a birch thicket at the further upper corner of the
potato-field, and by the faint tints of violet light that flowed over
the brown soil from a pallid and fading sunset. As the sky was scrawled
by the gray-and-black rampikes, so the slope was scrawled by zigzag
lines of gray-and-black snake fence, leading down to three log cabins,
with their cluster of log barns and sheds, scattered irregularly along
a terrace of the slope. A quarter of a mile further down, beyond the
little gray dwellings, a sluggish river wound between alder swamps and
rough wild meadows.
As the second potato-digger was lifting his plug of tobacco to his
mouth, his hand stopped half way, and his grizzled jaw dropped in
astonishment. For a couple of seconds he stared at the ragged
hill-crest. Then, it being contrary to his code to show surprise, he
bit off his chew, returned the tobacco to his pocket, and coolly
remarked: Well, I reckon they've come back.
What do you mean? demanded the first speaker, who had resumed his
There be your moose, after these eighteen year! said the other.
Standing out clear of the dead forest, and staring curiously down
upon the two potato-diggers, were three moose,a magnificent, black,
wide-antlered bull, an ungainly brown cow, and a long-legged,
long-eared calf. A potato-field, with men digging in it, was something
far apart from their experience and manifestly filled them with
Keep still now, Sandy, muttered the first speaker, who was wise in
the ways of the wood-folk. Keep still till they git used to us. Then
we'll go for our guns.
The men stood motionless for a couple of minutes, and the moose came
further into the open in order to get a better look at them. Then,
leaving their potato forks standing in their furrows, the men strode
quietly down the field, down the rocky pasture lane, and into the
nearest house. Here the man called Sandy got down his gun,an old
muzzle-loading, single-barrelled musket,and hurriedly loaded it with
buckshot; while the other, who was somewhat the more experienced
hunter, ran on to the next cabin and got his big Snider rifle. The
moose, meanwhile, having watched the men fairly indoors, turned aside
and fell to browsing on the tiny poplar saplings which grew along the
top of the field.
[Illustration: A MAGNIFICENT, BLACK, WIDE-ANTLERED BULL, AN
UNGAINLY BROWN COW, AND A LONG-LEGGED, LONG-EARED CALF.]
Saying nothing to their people in the houses, after the reticent
backwoods fashion, Sandy and Lije strolled carelessly down the road
till the potato-field was hidden from sight by a stretch of young
second-growth spruce and fir. Up through this cover they ran eagerly,
bending low, and gained the forest of rampikes on top of the hill. Here
they circled widely, crouching in the coarse weeds and dodging from
trunk to trunk, until they knew they were directly behind the
potato-field. Then they crept noiselessly outward toward the spot where
they had last seen the moose. The wind was blowing softly into their
faces, covering their scent; and their dull gray homespun clothes
fitted the colour of the desolation around them.
Now it chanced that the big bull had changed his mind, and wandered
back among the rampikes, leaving the cow and calf at their browsing
among the poplars. The woodsmen, therefore, came upon him unexpectedly.
Not thirty yards distant, he stood eying them with disdainful
curiosity, his splendid antlers laid back while he thrust forward his
big, sensitive nose, trying to get the wind of these mysterious
strangers. There was menace in his small, watchful eyes, and altogether
his appearance was so formidable that the hunters were just a trifle
flurried, and fired too hastily. The big bullet of Lije's Snider went
wide, while a couple of Sandy's buckshot did no more than furrow the
great beast's shoulder. The sudden pain and the sudden monstrous noise
filled him with rage, and, with an ugly grunting roar, he charged.
Up a tree, Sandy! yelled Lije, setting the example. But the bull
was so close at his heels that he could not carry his rifle with him.
He dropped it at the foot of the tree, and swung himself up into the
dead branches just in time to escape the animal's rearing plunge.
Sandy, meanwhile, had found himself in serious plight, there being
no suitable refuge just at hand. Those trees which were big enough had
had no branches spared by the fire. He had to run some distance. Just
as he was hesitating as to what he should do, and looking for a rock or
stump behind which he might hide while he reloaded his gun, the moose
caught sight of him, forgot about Lije, and came charging through the
weeds. Sandy had no more time for hesitation. He dropped his unwieldy
musket, and clambered into a blackened and branchy hackmatack, so small
that he feared the rush of the bull might break it down. It did,
indeed, crack ominously when the headlong bulk reared upon it; but it
stood. And Sandy felt as if every branch he grasped were an eggshell.
Seeing that the bull's attention was so well occupied, Lije slipped
down the further side of his tree and recaptured his Snider. He had by
this time entirely recovered his nerve, and now felt master of the
situation. Having slipped in a new cartridge he stood forth boldly and
waited for the moose to offer him a fair target. As the animal moved
this way and that, he at length presented his flank. The big Snider
roared; and he dropped with a ball through his heart, dead instantly.
Sandy came down from his little tree, and touched the huge dark form
and mighty antlers with admiring awe.
In the meantime, the noise of the firing had thrown the cow and calf
into a panic. Since the woods behind them were suddenly filled with
such thunders, they could not flee in that direction. But far below
them, down the brown slopes and past the gray cabins, they saw the
river gleaming among its alder thickets. There was the shelter they
craved; and down the fields they ran, with long, shambling, awkward
strides that took them over the ground at a tremendous pace. At the
foot of the field they blundered into the lane leading down to Sandy's
Now, as luck would have it, Sandy had that summer decided to build
himself a frame house to supplant the old log cabin. As a preliminary,
he had dug a spacious cellar, just at the foot of the lane. It was deep
as well as wide, being intended for the storage of many potatoes. And,
in order to prevent any of the cattle from falling into it, he had
surrounded it with a low fence which chanced to be screened along the
upper side with a rank growth of burdock and other barnyard weeds.
When the moose cow reached this fence, she hardly noticed it. She
was used to striding over obstacles. Just now her heart was mad with
panic, and her eyes full of the gleam of the river she was seeking. She
cleared the fence without an effortand went crashing to the bottom of
the cellar. Not three paces behind her came the calf.
By this time, of course, all the little settlement was out, and the
flight of the cow and calf down the field had been followed with eager
eyes. Everyone ran at once to the cellar. The unfortunate cow was seen
to have injured herself so terribly by the plunge that, without waiting
for the owner of the cellar to return, the young farmer from the third
cabin jumped down and ended her suffering with a butcher knife. The
calf, however, was unhurt. He stood staring stupidly at his dead mother
and showed no fear of the people that came up to stroke and admire him.
He seemed so absolutely docile that when Sandy and Lije came proudly
down the hill to tell of their achievement, Sandy declared that the
youngster should be kept and made a pet of.
Seems to me, he said to Lije, that seein' as the moose had been
so long away, we hain't treated them jest right when they come back. I
feel like we'd ought to make it up to the little feller.
FROM THE TEETH OF THE TIDE
HITHERTO, ever since he had been old enough to leave the den, the
mother bear had been leading her fat black cub inland, among the
tumbled rocks and tangled spruce and pine, teaching him to dig for
tender roots and nose out grubs and beetles from the rotting stumps.
To-day, feeling the need of saltier fare, she led him in the opposite
direction, down through a cleft in the cliffs, and out across the
great, red, glistening mud-flats left bare by the ebb of the terrific
From the secure warmth of his den the cub had heard, faint and far
off, the waves thundering along the bases of the cliffs, when the tide
was high and the great winds drew heavily in from sea. The sound had
always made him afraid; and to-day, though there was no wind, and the
tide was so far out that it made no noise but a soft whisper, silken
and persuasive, he held back with babyish timidity, till his mother
brought him to his senses with an unceremonious cuff on the side of the
head. With a squall of grieved surprise he picked himself up, shaking
his head as if he had a bee in his ear, and then made haste to follow
obediently, close at his mother's huge black heels.
From the break in the cliffs, where the bears came down, ran a ledge
of shelving rocks on a long, gradual slant across the flats toward the
edge of low water. The tide was nearing the last of the ebb; and now,
the slope of the shore being very gradual, and the difference between
high and low water in these turbulent channels something between forty
and fifty feet, the lapsing fringes of the ebb, yellow-tawny with silt,
were a good three-quarters of a mile away from the foot of the cliffs.
The vast spaces between were smooth, oily, copper-red mud, shining and
treacherous in the sun with the narrow black outcrop of the ledge drawn
across on so gentle a slant that before it reached the water it was
running almost on a parallel with the shoreline.
Along the rocky ledge the old bear led the way, pausing to nose at a
patch of seaweed here and there or to glance shrewdly into the shallow
pools among the rocks. The cub obediently followed her example, though
doubtless with no idea of what he might hope to find. But the upper
stretches of the ledge, near high-water mark, offered nothing to reward
their quest, having been dry for several hours, and long ago thoroughly
gone over by earlier foragers. So the bears pushed on down toward the
lower stretches, where the ledges were still wet, and the long,
black-green weed-masses still dripping, and where the limpet-covered
protuberances of rock still oozed and sparkled. With her iron-hard
claws the mother bear scraped off a quantity of these limpets, and
crushed them between her jaws with relish, swallowing the salty juices.
The cub tried clumsily to imitate her, but the limpets defied his too
tender claws, so he ran to his mother, thrust her great head aside, and
greedily licked up a share of her scrapings. The sea flavour tickled
his palate, but the rough, hard shells exasperated him. They hurt his
gums, so that he merely rolled them over in his mouth, sucked at them a
few moments, then spat them out indignantly. His mother thereupon
forsook the unsatisfactory limpets, and went prowling on toward the
water's edge in search of more satisfying fare. As they left the
limpets, a gaunt figure in gray homespuns, carrying a rifle, appeared
on the crest of the cliffs above, caught sight of them, and hurriedly
took cover behind an overhanging pine.
The young woodsman's first impulse was to try a long shot at the
hulking black shape so conspicuous out on the ledge, against the bright
water. He wanted a bearskin, even if the fur was not just then in prime
condition. But more particularly he wanted the cub, to tame and play
with if it should prove amenable, and to sell, ultimately, for a good
amount, to some travelling show. On consideration, he decided to lie in
wait among the rocks till the rising tide should drive the bears back
to the upland. He exchanged his steel-nosed cartridges for the more
deadly mushroom-tipped, filled his pipe, and lay back comfortably
against the pine trunk, to watch, through the thin green frondage, the
foraging of his intended prey.
The farther they went down the long slant of the ledge, the more
interested the bears became. Here the crows and gulls had not had time
to capture all the prizes. There were savoury blue-shelled mussels
clinging under the tips of the rocks; plump, spiral whelks between the
oozy tresses of the seaweed; orange starfish and bristly sea-urchins in
the shallow pools. All these dainties had shells that the cub's young
teeth could easily crush, and they yielded meaty morsels that made
beetles and grubs seem very meagre fare. Moreover, in the salty bitter
of this sea-fruit there was something marvelously stimulating to the
appetite. From pool to pool the old bear wandered on, lured ever by
richer prizes just ahead; and the cub, stuffed till his little stomach
was like a black furry ball, no longer frisked and tumbled, but waddled
along beside her with eyes of shining expectancy. As long as he was not
too full to walk, he was not too full to eat such delicacies as these.
The fascinating quest led them on and on till at last they found
themselves at the water's edge.
By this time they had travelled a long way from the cleft in the
cliffs by which they had come down from the uplands. A good half-mile
of shining mud separated them, in a direct line, from the cliff base.
And the woodsman on the height, as he watched them, muttered to
himself: Ef that old b'ar don't look out, the tide's a-goin' to ketch
her afore she knows what she's about! Most wish I'd 'a' socked it to
her afore she'd got so fur outJiminy! She's seed her mistake now! The
While bear and cub had their noses and paws busy in a little dry
pool, on a sudden a long, shallow, muddy-crested wave had come hissing
up over their feet and filled the pool to the brim with its yellow
flood. Lifting her head sharply, the old bear glanced at the far-off
cliffs, and at the mounting tide. Instantly realizing the peril, she
started back at a slow, lumbering amble up the long, long path by which
they had come; and the cub started too at a brave gallopnot behind
her, for he was too much afraid of the hissing yellow wave, but close
at her side, between her sheltering form and the shore. He felt that
she could in some way ward off or subdue the cold and terrifying
For perhaps two minutes the cub struggled on gamely, although, owing
to the fact that at this point their path was almost parallel with the
water, the fugitives made no perceptible gain, and the rising wave was
on their heels every instant. Then the greedy feeding produced its
effect. The little fellow's wind gave out completely. With a whimper of
pain and fright he dropped back upon his haunches and waited for his
mother to save him.
The old bear turned, bounced back, and cuffed him so bruskly that he
found breath enough to utter a loud squall and go stumbling forward for
another score of yards. Then he gave out, and sank upon his
too-distended stomach, whimpering piteously.
This time the mother seemed to perceive that his case was serious,
and her anxious wrath subsided. She licked him assiduously for a few
seconds, whining encouragement, till at last he got upon his feet
again, trembling. The yellow flood was now lapping on the ledge all
about them. But a rod or two farther on the rocks bulged up a couple of
feet above the surrounding slope. Thrusting the exhausted youngster
ahead of her with nose and paws, the old bear gained this point of
temporary vantage; and then, worried and frightened, sat down upon her
haunches and stared all around her, as if trying to decide what should
be done. The cub lay flat, with legs outstretched and mouth wide open,
The tide, meanwhile, was mounting so swiftly that in a few moments
the rise of rocks had become almost an island. The ledge was covered
before them as well as behind, and the only way still open lay straight
over the glistening mud. The old bear looked at it, and whined, knowing
its treacheries. And the woodsman, watching with eager interest from
the cliffs, muttered:
Take to it, ye old bug-eater! Ther' ain't nawthin' else left fer ye
This was apparently the conclusion of the old bear herself; for now,
after licking and nuzzling the cub for a few seconds till he stood up,
she stepped boldly off the rock and started out over the coppery flats.
The cub, having apparently recovered his wind, followed
brisklyprobably much heartened by the fact that his progress was in a
direction away from the alarming waves.
There was desperate need of haste, for when they left the rocky lift
the tide was already slipping around upon the flats beyond it.
Nevertheless, the old bear moved with deliberation. She could not hurry
the cub; and she had to choose her path. By some instinct, or else by
some peculiar keenness of observation, she seemed to detect the
honey-pots, or deep pockets of slime, that lay concealed beneath the
uniformly shining surface of the mud; for here she would make an
aimless detour, losing many precious seconds, and there she would
side-step suddenly, for several paces, and shift her course to a new
parallel. Outside the honey-pots, the mud was soft and tenacious to a
depth varying from a few inches to a couple of feet, but with a hard
clay foundation beneath the slime. Through this clinging red ooze the
old bear, with her huge strength, made her way without difficulty; but
the cub, in a few moments, began to find himself terribly hampered. His
fur collected the mud. His little paws sank easily, but at each step it
grew harder to withdraw them. At last, chancing to stagger aside from
his mother's spacious tracks, he sank to his belly in the rim of a
Panic-stricken, he floundered vainly, his nose high in the air and
his eyes shut tight, while his mother, unconscious of what had
happened, ploughed doggedly onward. Presently he opened his eyes. His
mother was now perhaps ten or a dozen feet ahead, apparently deserting
him. Right behind, lapping up to his very tail, was the crawling wave.
A heart-broken bawl burst from his throat.
At that cry the old bear came dashing back, red mud half-way up her
flanks and plastered all over her shaggy chest. Taking in the situation
at a glance, she seized the cub by the nape of the neck with her teeth,
and tried to drag him free. But he squealed so lamentably that she
realized that the hide would yield before the mud would. The attempt
had taken time, however; and the tide was now well up in the fur of his
back. Thrusting her paw down beneath his haunches, she tore him clear
with a mighty wrench and a loud sucking of the baffled mud. That stroke
sent him head over heels some ten feet nearer safety. By the time he
had picked himself up, pawing fretfully at the mud that bedaubed his
face and half blinded him, his mother was close behind him, nosing him
along and lifting him forward skilfully with her fore paws.
The slope of the flats was now so gradual as to be almost
imperceptible; and the tide, therefore, seemed to be racing in with
fiercer haste, as if in wrath at being so long balked of its prey.
Engrossed in her efforts to push the cub forward, the mother now lost
some of her fine discrimination in regard to honey-pots. She pushed
the cub straight into one; but jerked him back unceremoniously before
the mud had time to get any grip upon him. Pausing for a moment to
scrutinize the oozy expanse, she thrust the little animal furiously
along to the left, searching for a safe passage. Before she could find
one, however, the tide was upon them, their feet splashing in the thin
A broken soap-box, tossed overboard from some ship, came washing up,
and stranded just before them. With a whimper of delight, as if he
thought the box a safe refuge, the cub scrambled upon it; but his
mother ruthlessly tumbled him off and hustled him onward, floundering
Ye'll hev to swim fer it, Old Woman! growled the now excited
watcher behind the pine-tree on the cliff.
As the creeping flood by this time overspread the ooze for a couple
of yards ahead of them, the mother could no longer discriminate as to
what lay beneath it. She could do nothing now but dash ahead blindly.
Catching up the cub between her jaws, in a grip that made him squeal,
she launched herself straight toward shore, hardly daring to let her
feet rest an instant where they touched. Fortune favoured her in this
rush. She got ahead of the tide. She gained upon it, perhaps twice her
body's length. Then she paused, to drop the cub. But the pause was
fatal. She began to sink instantly. She had come upon a honey-pot of
stiffer consistency than the rest, which had sustained her while she
was in swift motion, but now, in return for that support, clutched her
in a grip the more inexorable. With all her huge strength she strained
to wrench herself clear. But in vain. She had no purchase. There was
nothing to put forth her strength upon. In her terror and despair she
squealed aloud, with her snout high in air as if appealing to the
blank, blue, empty sky. The cub, terror-stricken, strove to clamber
upon her back.
That harsh cry of hers, however, was but the outburst of one
moment's weakness. The next moment the indomitable old bear was
striving silently and systematically to release herself. She would
wrench one great fore arm clear, lift it high, and feel about for a
solid foundation beneath the ooze. Failing in this, she would yield
that paw to the enemy again, tear the other loose, and feel about for a
foothold in another direction. At the same time she drew out her body
to its full length, and lay flat, so that she might gain as much
support as possible by distributing her weight. Because of this
sagacity, and because the mire at this point had more substance than in
most of the other honey-pots, she made a good fight, and almost, but
not quite, held her own. By the time the tide had once more overtaken
her she had sunk but a little way, and was still far from giving up the
Yet for all the great beast's strength, and valour, and devotion,
there could have been but one end to that brave battle, and mother and
cub would have disappeared, in a few minutes more, under the stealthy,
whispering onrush of the flood, had not the whimsical Providenceor
Hazardof the Wild come curiously to their aid. Among the jetsam of
those restless Fundy tides almost anything that will float may appear,
from a matchbox to a barn. What appeared just now was a big spruce log,
escaped from the boom on some river emptying into the bay. It came
softly wallowing in, lipped by the little waves, and passed close by
the nose of the old bear, where she struggled with the water up to her
[Illustration: PULLED THE BUTT UNDER HER CHEST.]
Quick as thought she flashed up a heavy paw, caught the log by one
end, and pulled the butt under her chest. The purchase thus gained
enabled her to free the other pawand in a few seconds more the weight
of the fore part of her body was on the end of the log, forcing it down
to the mud. Greedy as that mud was, it was yet incapable of engulfing a
full-grown spruce timber quickly enough to defeat the bear's purpose.
Stretching far forward on the submerged log, she strained her muscles
to their utmost, and slowly drew her hind quarters free from the deadly
grip that held them. Then, seizing in her jaws the cub, which was
swimming and whimpering beside her, she carefully felt her way farther
along the log, and sat down upon it to rest, clutching the youngster
closely in one great fore arm.
Not till the tide had risen nearly to her neck did the mother move
again. She was recovering her strength. Utterly daunted by the peril of
the honey-pots, she chose rather to trust the tide itself. At last,
catching the cub again by the back of the neck, she swam for the shore.
The tide was now within a couple of hundred yards from the bases of the
cliffs, and lapping upon solid, sun-baked clay. The strong flood
helping her, she swam fast, though laboriously by reason of the burden
in her teeth. Soon her hinder feet struck groundbut she was afraid to
trust it, and nervously drew them up beneath her. A few moments more
and she felt undeniably firm footing; whereupon she plunged forward
with a rush, and never paused, even to drop the squirming cub, till she
was above high-water mark.
When, at last, she set the little beast down, she was in such a
hurry to get away from the shore and back into the secure green woods
that she would not trust him to follow her, as usual, but drove him on
ahead, as fast as he could move, toward the cleft in the cliffs. As
they turned up the rugged trail her haste relaxed, and she went more
slowly, but still driving the cub ahead of her, that she might be quite
sure that the honey-pots would not reach up and clutch at him again.
As the muddy, weary, bedraggled, pathetic-looking pair passed within
tempting range of the pine-tree on the cliff-top, the woodsman
instinctively threw forward his rifle. But the next moment he dropped
it, with a slight flush, and gave a quick glance around him as if he
feared that unseen eyes might have taken note of the gesture.
Hell! he muttered, I'd 'a' been no better'n a murderer, 'f
I'd 'a' gone an' plugged the Old Girl now!
THE FIGHT AT THE WALLOW
FAR to the northeast of Ringwaak Hill, just beyond that deep,
far-rimmed lake which begets the torrent of the Ottanoonsis, rise the
bluff twin summits of Old Walquitch, presiding over an unbroken and
almost untrodden wilderness. Some way up the southeasterly flank of the
loftier and more butting of the twin peaks ran a vast, open shelf, or
terrace, a kind of barren, whose swampy but austere soil bore no growth
but wiry bush. The green tips of this bushy growth were a favoured
browse of the caribou, who, though no lovers of the heights, would
often wander up from their shaggy and austere plains in quest of this
aromatic forage. But this lofty mountainside barren had yet another
attraction for the caribou. Close at its edge, just where a granite
buttress fell away steeply toward the lake, a tiny, almost
imperceptible spring, stained with iron and pungent with salt, trickled
out from among the roots of a dense, low thicket. Past the bare spot
made by these oozings, and round behind the thicket, led a dim trail,
worn by the feet of caribou, moose, bear, deer, and other stealthy
wayfarers. And to this spring, when the moon of the falling leaves
brought in the season of love and war, the caribou bulls were wont to
come, delighting to form their wallow in the pungent, salty mud.
The bald twin peaks of Old Walquitch were ghostly white in the flood
of the full moon, just risen, and swimming like a globe of witch's fire
over the far, dark, wooded horizon. But the bushy shelf and the spring
by the thicket, were still in shadow. Along the trail to the spring,
moving noiselessly, yet with a confident dignity, came a paler shadow,
the shape of a huge, gray-white caribou bull with wide-spreading
At the edge of the spring the bull stopped and began sniffing the
sharp-scented mud. Apparently he found no sign of a rival having passed
that way before him, or of a cow having kept tryst there. Lifting his
splendid head he stared all about him in the shadow, and up at the
bare, illuminated fronts of the twin peaks.
[Illustration: HE 'BELLED' HARSHLY SEVERAL TIMES ACROSS THE DARK
As the light spread down the mountain to the edge of the shelf, and
the moon rose into his view, he belled harshly several times across
the dark wastes outspread below him.
Receiving no answer to his defiance, the great bull turned his
attention again to the ooze around the spring. After sniffing it all
over he fell to furrowing it excitedly with the two lowermost branches
of his antlers,short, broad, palmated projections thrust out low over
his forehead, and called by woodsmen the ploughs. Every few seconds
he would toss his head fiercely, like an ordinary bull, and throw the
ooze over his shoulders. Then he pawed the cool, strong-smelling stuff
to what he seemed to consider a fitting consistency, sniffed it over
again, and raised his head to bell a fresh challenge across the
spacious solitudes. Receiving no answer, he snorted in disgust, flung
himself down on the trampled ooze, and began to wallow with a sort of
slow and intense vehemence, grunting massively from time to time with
The wallow was now in the full flood of the moonlight. In that
mysterious illumination the caribou, encased in shining ooze, took on
the grotesque and enormous aspect of some monster of the prediluvian
slimes. Suddenly his wallowing stopped, and his antlers, dripping mud,
were lifted erect. For a few moments he was motionless as a rock,
listening. He had caught the snapping of a twig, in the trail below the
edge of the shelf. The sound was repeated; and he understood. Blowing
smartly, as if to clear the mud from about his nostrils, he lurched to
his feet, stalked forth from the wallow, and stood staring arrogantly
along the trail by which he had come. The next moment another pair of
antlers appeared; and then another bull, tall but lean, and with long,
spiky, narrow horns, mounted over the edge of the shelf, and halted to
eye the apparition before him.
The newcomer was of a darker hue than the lord of the wallow, and of
much slimmer build,altogether less formidable in appearance. But he
looked very fit and fearless as, after a moment's supercilious survey
of his rival's ooze-dripping form, he came mincing forward to the
attack. The two, probably, had never seen each other before; but in
rutting season all caribou bulls are enemies at sight.
The white bullno longer white now, but black and silver in the
moonlightstood for some seconds quite motionless, his head low, his
broad and massive antlers thrust forward, his feet planted firmly and
apart. Ominous in his stillness, he waited till his light-stepping and
debonair adversary was within twenty feet of him. Then, with an
explosive blowing through his nostrils, he launched himself forward to
Following the customary tactics of his kind, the second bull lowered
his antlers to receive the charge. But in the last fraction of a breath
before the crash, he changed his mind. Leaping aside with a lightning
alertness more like the action of a red buck than that of a caribou, he
just evaded the shock. At the same time two of the spiky prongs of one
antler ripped a long gash down his opponent's flank.
Amazed at this departure from the usual caribou tactics, and
smarting with the anguish of that punishing stroke, the white bull
whirled in his tracks, and charged again, blind with fury. The slim
stranger had already turned, and awaited him again, with lowered
antlers in readiness, close by the edge of the wallow. This time he
seemed determined to meet the shock squarely according to the rules of
the gamewhich apparently demand that the prowess of a caribou bull
shall be determined by his pushing power. But again he avoided, leaping
aside as if on springs; and again his sharp prongs furrowed his enemy's
flank. With a grunt of rage the latter plunged on into the wallow,
where he slipped forward upon his knees.
Had the newcomer been a little more resourceful he might now have
taken his adversary at a terrible disadvantage, and won an easy
victory. But he hesitated, being too much enamoured of his own method
of fighting; and in the moment of hesitation opportunity passed him by.
The white bull, recovering himself with suddenly awakened agility, was
on his feet and on guard again in an instant.
These two disastrous experiences, however, had added wariness and
wisdom to the great bull's fighting rage. His wound, his momentary
discomfiture, had opened his arrogant eyes to the fact that his
antagonist was a dangerous one. He stood vigilant and considering for a
few seconds, no longer with his feet planted massively for a resistless
rush, but balanced, and all his forces gathered well in hand; while his
elusive foe stepped lightly and tauntingly from side to side before
When the white bull made up his mind to attack again, instead of
charging madly to swab his foe off the earth, he moved forward at a
brisk stride, ready to check himself on the instant and block the
enemy's side stroke. Within a couple of yards of his opponent he
stopped short. The latter stood motionless, antlers lowered as before,
apparently quite willing to lock horns. But the white bull would not be
lured into a rush. Fiercely impatient he stamped the ground with a
broad, clacking forehoof.
Just at this moment, as if in response to the challenge of the hoof,
the stranger charged like lightning. But almost in the same motion he
swerved aside, seeking again to catch his adversary on the flank. Swift
and cunning as he was, however, the white bull was this time all
readiness. He whirled, head down. With a sharp, dry crash the two sets
of antlers came together, and locked.
That this should have happened was the irremediable mistake of the
slim stranger. In that close encounter, fury against fury, force
against force fairly pitted, his speed and his agility counted for
nothing. For a few seconds, indeed, in sheer desperation he succeeded
in withstanding his heavier and more powerful foe. With hind feet
braced far back, haunches strained, flank heaving and quivering, the
two held steady, staccato grunts and snorts attesting the ferocity of
their efforts. Then the hind foot of the younger bull slipped a little.
With a convulsive wrench he recovered his footing; and again the
struggle hung at poise. But it was only for a few moments. Suddenly, as
if he had felt his opportunity approach, the white bull threw all his
strength into a mightier thrust. The legs of his adversary seemed to
crumple up like paper beneath him.
This would have been the end of the young bull's battlings and
wooings; but as his good luck would have it, it was at the very edge of
the shelf that he collapsed. Disengaging his victorious antlers, the
conqueror thrust viciously and evisceratingly at the victim's exposed
flank. The latter was just struggling to rise, with precarious foothold
on the loose-turfed brink of the steep. As he writhed away wildly from
the goring points, the bushes and turf crumbled away, and he fell
backwards, rolling and crashing till he brought up, battered but whole,
in a sturdy thicket of young firs. Regaining his feet he slunk off
hurriedly into the dark of the woods. And the victor, standing on the
brink in the white glare of the moonlight, belled his triumph
hoarsely across the solemn spaces of the night.
A sound of footfalls, hesitating but apparently making no attempt at
concealment, came from the bend of the trail beyond the wallow; and the
great white bull wheeled savagely to see what was approaching. As he
glared, however, the angry ridge of hair cresting his neck sank
amiably. A young cow, attracted by his calls and the noise of the
battle, was coming around the thicket.
At the edge of the thicket, not a dozen paces from the black
ooze-bed of the wallow, the cow paused coyly, as if doubtful of her
welcome. She murmured in her throat, a sort of rough allurement which
seemed to the white bull's ears extraordinarily enticing. He answered,
very softly, and stepped forward a pace or two, inviting rather than
pursuing. Reassured, the young cow advanced confidently and eagerly to
At this moment, out from the heart of the thicket plunged a towering
black form, with wide, snarling jaw's agleam in the moonlight. It
seemed to launch itself through the air, as if from a height. One
great, taloned paw struck the young cow full on the neck, a crashing
blow, shattering the vertebrae through all their armour of muscle. With
a groan the stricken cow sank down, her outstretched muzzle smothered
in the ooze of the wallow; and the monstrous bulk of the bear fell upon
her, tearing the warm flesh hungrily.
In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the most hot-headed and
powerful bull of the caribou will shrink from trying conclusions with a
full grown black bear. The duel, as a rule, is too cruelly one-sided.
The bear, on the other hand, knows that a courageous bull is no easy
victim; and the monster ambuscaded in the thicket had been waiting for
one or both of the rivals to be disabled before making his attack. The
approach of the young cow had been an unexpected favour of the Powers
that order the wilderness; and in clutching his opportunity he had
scornfully and absolutely put the white bull out of the reckoning.
But this bull was the exceptional one, the one that confounds
generalizations, and confirms the final supremacy of the unexpected. He
was altogether fearless, indifferent to odds, and just now flushed with
overwhelming victory. Moreover, he was aflame with mating ardour; and
the mate of his desire had just been brutally struck down before his
eyes. For a moment or two he stood bewildered, not daunted, but amazed
by the terrific apparition and the appalling event. Then a mad fire
raged through all his veins, his great muscles swelled, the stiff hair
on his neck and shoulders stood straight up, his eyes went crimsonand
without a sound he charged across the wallow.
When the bulls of the caribou kin fight each other, the weapons of
their sole dependence are their antlers. But when they fight alien
enemies they are wont to hold their heads high and strike with the
battering, knife-edged weapons of their fore-hoofs. The bear, crouched
upon his quivering prey, was too absorbed and too scornful to look for
any assault. The bull was upon him, therefore, before he had time to
guard his exposed flank. From the corner of his eye, he saw a big
glistening shape which reared suddenly above him, and, clever boxer
that he was, he threw up a ponderous forearm to parry the blow. But he
was too late. With all the force of some seven hundred pounds of rage,
avenging rage, behind him, these great hoofs, with their cutting edges,
came down upon his side, smashing in several ribs, and gashing a wide
wound down into his loins. The shock was so terrific that his own
counter stroke, usually so swift and unerring, went wild altogether,
and he was sent rolling clear of the body of his prey.
Instantly upon delivering his stroke, the white bull had pranced
lightly aside, knowing well enough the swift and deadly effectiveness
of a bear's paw. But he struck yet again, almost, it seemed, in the
same breath, and just as the bear was struggling up upon his haunches.
Frantically, out of his astonishment, fury, and pain, the bear
attempted to guard. He succeeded, indeed, in warding off those deadly
hoofs from his flank; but he caught an almost disabling blow on the
point of the left shoulder, putting his left forearm out of business.
With a squawling grunt he swung about upon his haunches, bringing his
right toward the enemy, and sat up, savagely but anxiously defensive.
Sore wounded though he was, the bear was not yet beaten. One fair
buffet of his right paw, could he but land it in the proper place,on
nose, or neck, or legmight yet give him the victory, and let him
crawl off to nurse his hurts in some dense covert, leaving his broken
foe to die in the wallow. But the white bull, though he had underrated
his former antagonist, was in no danger of misprizing this one. He was
now as wary as he had, in the previous case, been rash. Moreover, he
had had a dreadful object lesson in the power of the bear's paw. The
body of the cow before him kept him from forgetting.
Stepping restlessly from side to side, threatening now with hoof and
now with antlers, he seemed each instant upon the point of a fresh
attack; and the bear, with swaying muzzle and blazing, shifting eyes,
kept following his every motion. Again and again he gathered his
muscles for a fresh chargebut each time he checked himself with a
realization that the body of the slain cow was exactly in his way,
hampering his avoidance of a counter-stroke.
After some minutes of this feinting, the caribou stood still,
deliberating some new move. Instantly the bear, also, became motionless
as a stone. The sudden peace was like a shock of enchantment, a violent
sorcery, and over it the blue-white, flooding shine of the moonlight
seemed to take on some sinister significance. The seconds lengthened
out as a nightmare, till at last the stupendous stillness was broken by
the wild clamour of a loon, far down on the lake. As the distant cry
shrilled up the mountainside, the white bull stirred, shook his
antlers, and blew loudly through his nostril. It was a note of
challengebut in it the bear divined a growing hesitancy. Perhaps,
after all, this fight, which had gone so sorely against him, might not
have to be fought out! He dropped, whirled about so quietly one could
hardly follow the motionand in a flash was up again on his haunches,
right paw uplifted, eyes blazing vigilant defiance. But he had
retreated several feet in that swift manoeuvre! His move was a
confusion of defeatbut his attitude was a warning that he was
dangerous in defeat. The bull followed, but only for a couple of steps,
which brought him so that he bestrode the body of the cow. Here he
halted, still threatening; and again the two confronted each other
This time, however, the spell was broken by the bear himself.
Suddenly he repeated his former manoeuvre; and again turned to face his
adversary. But the bull did not follow. Without a movement he stood, as
if content with his victory. And after a few moments the bear, as if
realizing that the fight was over, flung himself aside from the trail
and went limping off painfully through the bushes, keeping a watchful
eye over his shoulder till he vanished into a bunch of dense spruce
against the mountainside.
[Illustration: IN A FLASH WAS UP AGAIN ON HIS HAUNCHES.]
The white bull eyed his going proudly. Then he looked down at the
torn and lifeless body between his feet. He had not really taken note
of it before. Now he bent his head and sniffed at it with wondering
interrogation. The spreading blood, still warm, smote his nostrils; and
all at once, it seemed, death and the fear of death were borne in upon
his arrogant heart. He tossed his head, snorting wildly, flung himself
clear of the uncomprehended, dreadful thing upon the ground, bounded
over the wallow as if it, too, had grown terrifying, and fled away up
the trail through the merciless, unconcealing moonlight, till he
reached the end of the open shelf and a black wood hid his sudden fear
of the unknown.
Sonny and the Kid
THE little old gray house, with its gray barn and low wagon shed,
stood in the full sun at the top of a gullied and stony lane. Behind it
the ancient forest, spruce and fir and hemlock, came down and brooded
darkly over the edge of the rough, stump-strewn pasture. The lane,
leading up to the house from the main road, climbed between a sloping
buckwheat field on the one hand and a buttercupped meadow on the other.
On either side of the lane, cutting it off from the fields, straggled a
zigzag snake fence, with milk-weed, tansy, and mullein growing raggedly
in its corners.
At the head of the lane, where it came out upon the untidy but
homely looking yard, stood a largish black and tan dog, his head on one
side, his ears cocked, his short stub of a tail sticking out straight
and motionless, tense with expectation. He was staring at a wagon which
came slowly along the main road, drawn by a jogging, white-faced
sorrel. The expression in the dog's eyes was that of a hope so eager
that nothing but absolute certainty could permit him to believe in its
approaching fulfilment. His mouth was half open, as if struggling to
aid his vision.
He was an odd looking beast, formidable in his sturdy strength and
his massiveness of jaw; and ugly beyond question, but for the alert
intelligence of his eyes. A palpable mongrel, he showed none the less
that he had strains of distinction in his ancestry. English bull was
the blood most clearly proclaimed, in his great chest, short, crooked
legs, fine coat, and square, powerful head. His pronounced black and
tan seemed to betray some beagle kinship, as did his long, close-haired
ears. Whoever had docked his tail, in his defenceless puppyhood, had
evidently been too tender-hearted to cut those silken and sensitive
ears. So Sonny had been obliged to face life in the incongruous garb of
short tail and long earswhich is almost as unpardonable as yellow
shoes with a top hat.
When the wagon drew close to the foot of the lane, Sonny was still
uncertain. There might be other white faced sorrels than lazy old Bill.
The man in the wagon certainly looked like his beloved master, Joe
Barnes; but Joe Barnes was always alone on the wagon-seat, while this
man had a child beside him, a child with long, bright, yellow hair and
a little red cap. This to Sonny was a bewildering phenomenon. But when
at last the wagon turned up the lane, his doubts were finally resolved.
His stub of a tail jerked spasmodically, in its struggle to wag. Then
with two or three delirious yelps of joy he started madly down the
lane. At the sound of his voice the door of the gray house opened. A
tall, thin woman in a bluish homespun skirt and red calico waist came
out, and moved slowly across the yard to welcome the new arrivals.
When Sonny, yelping and dancing, met the creaking wagon as it bumped
its way upward over the gullies, his master greeted him with a Hello,
Sonny! as usual; but to the dog's quick perception there was a
difference in his tone, a difference that was almost an indifference.
Joe Barnes was absorbed. At other times, he was wont to seem warmly
interested in Sonny's welcoming antics, and would keep up a running
fire of talk with him while the old sorrel plodded up the lane. To-day,
however, Joe's attention was occupied by the yellow-haired child beside
him; and Sonny's demonstrations, he knew not why, became perceptibly
less ecstatic. It was of no consequence whatever to him that the child
stared at him with dancing eyes and cried delightedly, Oh, Unc' Joe,
what a pretty doggie! Oh, what a nice doggie! Can I have him, Unc'
All right, Kid, said Joe Barnes, gazing down adoringly upon the
little red cap; he's yourn. His name's Sonny, an' he's the best dawg
ever chased a chipmunk. He'll love ye, Kid, most as much as yer old
Unc' Joe an' Aunt Ann does.
When the yard was reached, the tall woman in the red calico waist
was at the side of the wagon before the driver's Whoa! brought the
horse to a stop. The little one was snatched down from the seat and
hugged vehemently to her heart.
Poor lamb! Precious lamb! she murmured. I'll be a mother to you,
I want my mummie! Where's she gone to? cried the child, suddenly
reminded of a loss which he was beginning to forget. But his aunt
changed the subject hastily.
Ain't he the livin' image of Jim? she demanded in a voice of
wondering admiration. Did ever you see the likes of it, father?
Under the pretence of examining him more critically, Joe took the
child into his own arms, and looked at him with ardent eyes. Yes,
said he, the Kid does favour Jim, more'n his But he checked himself
at the word. An' he's a regular little man too! he went on. Come all
the way up on the cars by himself, an' wasn't a mite o' trouble, the
Utterly engrossed in the little one, neither Joe nor his wife gave a
look or a thought to Sonny, who was leaping upon them joyously. For
years he had been almost the one centre of attention for the childless
couple, who had treated him as a child, caressing him, spoiling him,
and teaching him to feel his devotion necessary to them. Now, finding
himself quite ignored, he quieted down all at once and stood for a few
seconds gazing reproachfully at the scene. The intimacy with Joe and
Ann which he had so long enjoyed had developed almost a human quality
in his intelligence and his feelings. Plainly, now, he was forgotten.
His master and mistress had withdrawn their love and were pouring it
out upon this stranger child. His ears and stub tail drooping in
misery, he turned away, walked sorrowfully over to the horse, and
sniffed at the latter's nose as if to beg for some explanation of what
had happened. But the old sorrel, pleasantly occupied in cropping at
the short, sweet grass behind the well, had neither explanation nor
sympathy to offer. Sonny went off to his kennel, a place he scorned to
notice, as a rule, because the best in the house had hitherto been held
none too good for him. Creeping in with a beaten air, he lay down with
his nose on his paws in the doorway, and tried to understand what had
come upon him. One thing only was quite clear to him. It was all the
fault of the child with the yellow curls.
Sonny had had no experience with children. The few he had met he had
regarded with that impersonal benevolence which was his attitude toward
all humanity. His formidable appearance had saved him from finding out
that humanity could be cruel and brutal. So now, in his unhappiness, he
had no jealous anger. He simply wanted to keep away from this small
being who had caused his hurt.
But even this grace was not to be allowed him. By the time Joe
Barnes and Ann, both trying to hold the little one in their arms at the
same time, had made their impeded way to the house, the little one had
begun to find their ardour a shade embarrassing. To him there were lots
of things better than being hugged and kissed. This shining green
backwoods world was quite new to his city born eyes, and he wanted to
find out all about it, at once, for himself. He began struggling
vigorously to get down out of the imprisoning arms.
Put me down, Unc' Joe! he demanded. I want to play with my
All right, Kid, responded Joe, complying instantly. Here Sonny,
Sonny, come an' git acquainted with the Kid!
Yes, come and see the Kid, Sonny! reëchoed the woman, devouring
the little yellow head with her eyes. His real name was Alfred, but Joe
had called him the Kid, and that was to be his appellation
Hearing his name called, Sonny emerged from his kennel and came
forward, but not with his wonted eagerness. Very soberly, but with
prompt obedience he came, and thrust his massive head under Joe's hand
for the accustomed caress. But the caress was not forthcoming. Joe
simply forgot it, so absorbed was he, his gaunt, weather-beaten face
glowing and melting with smiles as he gazed at the child.
Here's your dawg, Kid! said he, and watched delightedly to see how
the little one would go about asserting proprietorship.
The woman was the more subtle of the two in her sympathies. Sonny,
she said, pulling the dog forward, here's the Kid, yer little master.
See you mind what he tells you, and see you take good keer o' him.
Sonny wagged his tail obediently, his load of misery lightening
under the touch of his mistress's hand. He leaned against her knees,
comforted for a moment, though his love was more for the man than for
her. But he would not look at the Kid. He shut his eyes with an
expression of endurance as the little one's hand patted him vehemently
on the face, and his stub tail stopped wagging. In a dim way he
recognized that he must not be uncivil to this small stranger who had
so instantaneously and completely usurped his place. But beyond this he
could think of nothing but his master, who had grown indifferent.
Suddenly, with a burst of longing for reconciliation, he jerked
abruptly away from the child's hands, wriggled in between Joe's legs,
and strove to climb up and lick his face.
At the look of disappointment which passed over the child's face Joe
Barnes felt a sudden rush of anger. Stupidly misunderstanding, he
thought that Sonny was merely trying to avoid the child. He
straightened up his tall figure, snatched the little one to his breast,
and exclaimed in a harsh voice, If ye can't be nice to the Kid, git
The words Git out! with the tone in which they were uttered, would
have been comprehensible to a much meaner intelligence than Sonny's. As
if he had been whipped, he curled down his abbreviated tail, and ran
and hid himself in his kennel.
Sonny didn't mean to be ugly to the Kid, father, protested Ann,
He jest don't quite understand the situation yet, an' he's wonderin'
why ye don't make so much of him as ye used to. I don't blame him fer
feelin' a leetle mite left out in the cold.
Joe felt a vague suspicion that Ann might be right; but it was a
very vague suspicion, just enough to make him feel uneasy and put him
on the defensive. Being obstinate and something of a crank, this only
added heat to his irritation. I ain't got no use fer any dawg that
don't know enough to take to a kid on sight! he declared, readjusting
the little red cap on the child's curls.
[Illustration: HE CURLED DOWN HIS ABBREVIATED TAIL, AND RAN.]
Of course, father, acquiesced Ann discreetly; but you'll find
Sonny'll be all right.
Here the child, who had been squirming with impatience, piped up, I
want to go an' see my doggie in his little house! he declared.
Oh, no, Kid, we're goin' to let Sonny be fer a bit. We're goin' to
see the calf, the pretty black an' white calf, round back o' the barn,
now. You go along with Aunty Ann while I onhitch old Bill. An' then
we'll all go an' see the little pigs.
His mind altogether diverted by the suggestion of such strange
delights, the little fellow trotted off joyously with Ann, while Joe
Barnes led the old sorrel to the barn, grumbling to himself at what he
chose to call Sonny's ugliness in not making friends with the Kid.
* * * * *
From that hour Sonny's life was changed. In fact, it seemed to him
no longer life at all. His master's indifference grew swiftly to an
unreasoning anger against him; and as he fretted over it continually, a
malicious fate seemed to delight in putting him, or leading him to put
himself, ever in the wrong. Absorbed in longing for his master, he
hardly thought of the child at all. Several times, in a blundering
effort to make things right with Sonny and the Kid, Joe seated himself
on the back doorstep, took the little one on his knee, and called Sonny
to come and make friends. At the sound of the loved summons Sonny shot
out from the kennel, which had become his constant refuge, tore wildly
across the yard, and strove, in a sort of ecstasy, to show his
forgiveness and his joy by climbing into Joe's lap. Being a large dog,
and the lap already filled, this meant roughly crowding out the Kid, of
whose very existence, at this moment, Sonny was unaware. But to the
obtuse man Sonny's action seemed nothing more than a mean and jealous
effort to supplant the Kid.
To the Kid this proceeding of Sonny's was a fine game. He would
grapple with the dog, hug him, pound him gleefully with his little
fists, and call him every pet name he knew.
But the man would rise to his feet angrily, and cry, If that's all
ye're good fer, git! Git out, I tell ye! And Sonny, heartsore and
bewildered, would shrink back hopelessly to his kennel. When this, or
something much like it, had happened several times, even Ann, for all
her finer perceptions, began to feel that Sonny might be a bit nicer to
the Kid, and, as a consequence, to stint her kindness. But to Sonny,
sunk in his misery and pining only for that love which his master had
so inexplicably withdrawn from him, it mattered little whether Ann was
neglectful or not.
Uneventfully day followed day on the lonely backwoods farm. To
Sonny, the discarded, the discredited, they were all hopeless days,
dark and interminable. But to the Kid they were days of wonder, every
one. He loved the queer black and white pigs, which he studied intently
through the cracks in the boarding of their pen. He loved the calf, and
the three velvet-eyed cows, and the two big red oxen, inseparable yoke
fellows. The chickens were an inexhaustible interest to him; and so
were the airy throngs of buttercups afloat on the grass, and the yet
more aërial troops of the butterflies flickering above them, white and
brown and red and black and gold and yellow and maroon. But in the last
choice he loved best of all the silent, unresponsive Sonny, of whose
indifference he seemed quite unaware. Sonny, lying on the grass, would
look at him soberly, submit to his endearments without one answering
wag of the tail, and at last, after the utmost patience that courtesy
could require, would slowly get up, yawn, and stroll off to his kennel
or to some pretended business behind the barn. His big heart harboured
no resentment against the child, whom he knew to be a child and
irresponsible. His resentment was all against fate, or life, or
whatever it was, the vague, implacable force which was causing Joe
Barnes to hurt him. For Joe Barnes he had only sorrow and hungry
Little by little, however, Sonny's lonely and sorrowful heart, in
spite of itself, was beginning to warm toward the unconscious child.
Though still outwardly indifferent, he began to feel gratified rather
than bored when the Kid came up and gaily disturbed his slumbers by
pounding him on the head with his little palm and tumbling over his
sturdy back. It was a mild gratification, however, and seemed to call
for no demonstrative expression.
Then, one noon, he chanced to be lying, heavy-hearted, some ten or a
dozen paces in front of the kitchen door, while Joe Barnes sat on the
doorstep smoking his after-dinner pipe, and Ann bustled through the
dish washing. At such times, in the old happy days, Sonny's place had
always been at Joe Barnes's feet; but those times seemed to have been
forgotten by Joe Barnes, who had the Kid beside him. Suddenly, tired of
sitting still, the little one jumped up and ran over to Sonny. Sonny
resolutely pretended to be asleep. Laughingly the child sprawled over
him, pulled his ears gently, then tried to push open his eyes. A little
burst of warmth gushed up in Sonny's sad heart. With a swift impulse he
lifted his muzzle and licked the Kid, a generous, ample lick across the
Alas! as blundering fate would have it, the Kid's face was closer
than Sonny had imagined. He not only licked it, but at the same time
bumped it violently with his wet muzzle. Taken by surprise and
half-dazed, the Kid drew back with a sharp little Oh! His eyes grew
very wide, and for an instant his mouth quivered as if he was going to
cry. This was all Joe Barnes saw. Springing to his feet, with a
smothered oath, he ran, caught the Kid up in his arms, and gave Sonny a
fierce kick in the ribs which sent him rushing back to his kennel with
a howl of grief and pain.
Ann had come running from the house in amazement. The Kid was
sobbing, and struggling to get down from Joe's arms.
Ann snatched him away anxiously. What did Sonny do to ye, the bad
dawg! she demanded.
He ain't bad. He's good. He jest kissed me too hard! protested the
little one indignantly.
He hurt the Kid's face. I ain't right sure but what he snapped at
him, said Joe Barnes.
He didn't hurt me! He didn't mean to, went on the Kid.
Of course he didn't, said Ann with conviction. Father, ye're too
hard on the dawg. Ye hadn't oughter have kicked him.
An obstinate look settled on Joe Barnes's face. Yes, I had, too.
'N' he'll be gittin' more'n that, ef he don't l'arn not to be ugly to
the Kid, he retorted harshly. Then, with an uneasy sense that, whether
right or wrong, he was in the minority, he returned to the doorstep and
moodily resumed his smoking. Ann called Sonny many times to come out
and get his dinner. But Sonny, broken-hearted, and the ruins of all his
life and love and trust tumbled about his ears, would not hear her. He
was huddled in the back of his kennel, with his nose jammed down into
* * * * *
Two days later it happened that both Joe and Ann went down together
into the field in front of the house to weed the carrot patch. They
left the Kid asleep in his trundle bed, in the little room off the
kitchen. When they were gone, Sonny came out of his kennel and lay down
in the middle of the yard, where he could keep a watchful eye on
everything belonging to Joe Barnes.
It was the Kid's invariable custom to sleep soundly for a good two
hours of the early afternoon. On this afternoon, however, he broke his
custom. Joe and Ann had not been ten minutes away, when he appeared in
the kitchen door, his yellow hair tousled, his cheeks rosy, his plump
fists trying to rub the sleep out of his eyes. His face was aggrieved,
because he had woke up and found himself alone. But at the sight of
Sonny the grievance was forgotten. He ran to the dog and began to maul
His recent bitter experience raw in his heart, Sonny did not dare to
respond, but lay with his nose on his paws, unstirring, while the child
sprawled over him. After a few minutes this utter unresponsiveness
chilled even the Kid's enthusiasm. He jumped up and cast his eyes about
in search of some diversion more exciting. His glance wandered out past
the barn and up the pasture toward the edge of the forest. A squirrel,
sitting on a black stump in the pasture, suddenly began jumping about
and shrilly chattering. This was something quite new and very
interesting. The Kid crawled through the bars and started up the
pasture as fast as his sturdy little legs could carry him.
The squirrel saw him coming, but knowing very well that he was not
dangerous, held his ground, bouncing up and down on the stump in
vociferous excitement. When the Kid was within three feet of him, he
gave a wild K-r-r-r-r! of derision, and sprang to another stump. With
eyes dancing and eager little hands outstretched, the Kid
followedagain and again, and yet againtill he was led to the very
edge of the wood. Then the mocking imp in red fur whisked up an ancient
hemlock, and hid himself, in silence, in a high crotch, tired of the
At the edge of the woods the Kid stopped, peering in among the
shadows with mingled curiosity and awe. The bright patches of sunlight
on the brown forest floor and on the scattered underbrush allured him.
Presently, standing out in conspicuous isolation, a great crimson
toadstool caught his eye. He wanted the beautiful thing intensely, to
play with. But he was afraid. Leaning his face against the old fence,
he gazed through desirously. But the silence made him more and more
afraid. If only the squirrel would come back and play with him, he
would not be afraid. He was on the point of giving up the beautiful
crimson toadstool and turning back home, when he saw a little gray bird
hopping amid the lower limbs of a spruce in among the shadows.
Tsic-a-dee-dee! whistled the little gray bird, blithely and
reassuringly. At once the shadows and the stillness lost their terrors.
The Kid squeezed boldly through the fence and started in for the
Just as he reached the coloured thing and stooped to seize it, a
sharp Tzip, tzip! and a rustling of stiff feathers startled him.
Looking up, he saw a bright-eyed brown bird running hither and thither
before him, trailing one wing on the ground as if unable to fly. It was
such a pretty bird! And it seemed so tame! The Kid felt sure he could
catch it. Grabbing up the crimson toadstool, and holding it clutched to
his bosom with one hand, he ran eagerly after the brown bird. The bird,
a wily old hen partridge, bent on leading the intruder away from her
hidden brood, kept fluttering laboriously on just beyond his reach,
till she came to a dense patch of underbrush. She was just about to
dive into this thicket, when she leaped into the air, instead, with a
frightened squawk, and whirred up into the branches of a lofty birch
Bitterly disappointed, the Kid gazed up after her, still clutching
the bright toadstool to his breast. Then, by instinct rather than by
reason, he dropped his eyes to the thicket, and stared in to see what
had frightened away the pretty brown bird.
At first he could see nothing. But to his sensitive little nerves
came a feeling that something was there. Gradually his eyes,
accustoming themselves to the gloom, began to disentangle substance and
shadow. Then suddenly he detected the form of a gray crouching animal.
He saw its tufted ears, its big round face, with mouth half open
grinningly. Its great, round, pale, yellow green eyes were staring
straight at him.
In his fright the Kid dropped his toadstool and stared back at the
gray animal. His first impulse was to turn and run; but, somehow, he
was afraid to do thatafraid to turn his back on the pale-eyed,
crouching shape. As he gazed, trembling, he saw that the animal looked
like a huge gray cat.
[Illustration: IN HIS FRIGHT THE KID DROPPED HIS TOADSTOOL AND
STARED BACK AT THE GRAY ANIMAL.]
At this thought he felt a trifle reassured. Cats were kind, and nice
to play with. A big cat wouldn't hurt him, he felt quite sure of that.
But when, after a minute or two of moveless glaring, the big cat, never
taking its round eyes from his face, began to creep straight toward
him, stealthily, without a sound, then his terror all came back. In the
extremity of his fear he burst out crying, not very loud, but softly
and pitifully, as if he hardly knew what he was doing. His little hands
hanging straight down at his sides, his head bent slightly forward, he
stood helplessly staring at this strange, terrible cat creeping toward
him through the thicket.
* * * * *
Sonny, meanwhile, had grown uneasy the moment the Kid climbed
through the bars into the pasture. The Kid had never gone into the
pasture before. Sonny got up, turned round, and lay down in such a
position that he could see just what the child was doing. He knew the
little one belonged to Joe Barnes; and he could not let anything
belonging to Joe Barnes get lost or run away. When the Kid reached the
edge of the woods and stood looking through the fence, then Sonny
roused himself, and started up the pasture in a leisurely, indifferent
way, as if it was purely his own whim that took him in that direction.
He pretended not to see the Kid at all. But in reality he was watching,
with an anxious intentness, every move the little one made. He was
determined to do his duty by Joe Barnes.
But when at last the Kid wriggled through the fence and darted into
the gloom of the forest, Sonny's solicitude became more personal. He
knew that the forest was a place of many strange perils. It was no
place for the Kid. A sudden fear seized him at thought of what might
happen to the Kid, there in the great and silent shadows. He broke into
a frantic run, scrambled through the fence, picked up the little
adventurer's trail, and darted onward till he caught sight of the Kid's
bright curly head, apparently intent on gazing into a thicket. At the
sight he stopped abruptly, then sauntered forward with a careless air,
as if it was the most ordinary chance in the world that he should come
across the Kid, away off here alone.
Instinctively, under the subtle influence of the forest silence,
Sonny went forward softly, on his toes, though anything like stealth
was altogether foreign to him. As he crept up, he wondered what it was
in the thicket to keep him so still. There was something mysterious
about it. The hair began to rise along Sonny's back. Then, a moment
later, he heard the Kid crying. There was no mistaking the note of
terror in that hopeless, helpless little sound. Sonny did not need to
reason about it; his heart understood all that was necessary. Something
was frightening the Kid. His white teeth bared themselves, and he
At this instant there came a crackling and swishing in the thicket;
and the Kid, as if released from a spell, turned with a scream and
started to flee. He tripped on a root, however, and fell headlong on
his face, his yellow curls mixing with the brown twigs and fir needles.
Almost in the selfsame second a big gray lynx burst from the green of
the underbrush and sprang upon the little, sprawling, helpless form.
But not actually upon it. Those outstretching, murderous claws never
actually sank into the Kid's flesh. For Sonny was there just as soon as
the lynx was. The wild beast changed its mind, and attack, just in time
to avoid being taken at a serious disadvantage. The rush of Sonny's
heavy body bore it backward clear of the Kid. The latter scrambled to
his feet, stifled his sobs, and stared open-mouthed at the sudden fury
of battle which confronted him.
Had Sonny not been endowed with intelligence as well as valour, he
would have fallen victim almost at once to his adversary's terrific,
raking hind claws. But fortunately, during his pugnacious puppyhood he
had had several encounters with war-wise, veteran cats. To him, the
lynx was obviously a huge and particularly savage cat. He knew the
deadly power of its hind claws, with all the strength of those great
hind quarters behind them. As he grappled with the screeching lynx,
silently, after the fashion of his bull ancestors, he received a
ripping slash from one of its armed fore paws, but succeeded in fixing
his grip on the base of the beast's neck, not far from the throat.
Instantly he drew himself backward with all his weight, crouching flat,
and dragging the enemy down with him.
In this position, Sonny, backing and pulling with all his strength,
the spitting and screeching cat was unable to bring its terrible hinder
claws into play. The claws of the beast's great fore paws, however,
were doing cruel work on Sonny's back and sides; while its long fangs,
pointed like daggers, tore savagely at the one point on his shoulder
which they could reach. This terrible punishment Sonny took stoically,
caring only to protect the tender under part of his body and his eyes.
His close grip on the base of the animal's neck shielded his eyes, and,
according to the custom of his tenacious breed, he never relaxed his
hold for a moment, but kept chewing in, chewing in, inexorably working
his way to a final, fatal grip upon the throat. And not for a moment,
either, did he desist from his steady backward pull, which kept the foe
from doubling upon him with its hind quarters.
For several minutes the furious struggle went on, Sonny, apparently,
getting all the worst of it. His back and shoulders were pouring blood;
while his enemy showed not a hurt. Then suddenly the gray beast's
screeching took on a half strangling sound. With its mouth wide open it
ceased to bite, though its fore paws raked and clawed more desperately
than ever. Sonny's relentless hold was beginning to throttle. His mouth
was now too full of long fur and loose skin for him to bite clean
through the throat and finish the fight. But he felt himself already
Suddenly, as he continued that steady backward drag, the resistance
ceased. The lynx had launched itself forward in one last convulsive
struggle to free itself from those strangling teeth at its throat. For
a second or two Sonny felt himself overwhelmed, engulfed, in a vortex
of rending claws. In a tight ball of hate and ferocity and horror the
two rolled over and over in the underbrush. Sonny, doubled up hard to
protect his belly, heard a shrill cry of fear from the Kid. At the
sound he summoned into his strained nerves and muscles a strength
beyond the utmost which he had yet been able to put forth. His jaws
worked upward, secured a cleaner grip, ground slowly closer; and at
last his teeth crunched together. A great shudder shook the body of the
lynx. It straightened out, limp and harmless.
For perhaps a minute Sonny maintained his triumphant grip, shaking
the foe savagely. Satisfied, at last, that he was meeting with no more
resistance, he let go, stood off, and eyed the body with searching
suspicion. Then he turned to the Kid. The Kid, careless of the blood
and wounds, kissed him fervently on the nose, called him Poor Sonny!
Dear, good Sonny! and burst into a loud wailing.
Knowing that the one thing now was to get the Kid home again as soon
as possible, Sonny started, looking back, and uttering a little
imperative bark. The Kid understood, and followed promptly. By the time
they reached the fence, however, Sonny was so weak from loss of blood
he could hardly climb through. The Kid, with blundering but loving
efforts, helped him. Then he lay down.
At this moment the voices of Joe and Ann were heard, shouting,
calling wildly, from the yard. At the sound, Sonny struggled to his
feet and staggered on, the Kid keeping close beside him. But he could
manage only a few steps. Then he sank down again.
The man and woman came running up the pasture, calling the Kid; but
the latter would not leave Sonny. He trotted forward a few steps, and
stopped, shaking his head and looking back. When Joe and Ann came near
enough to see that the little one's face and hair and clothes were
splotched with blood, fear clutched at their hearts. My God! what's
happened to him? gasped Ann, striving to keep up with her husband's
pace. But Joe was too quick for her. Darting ahead, he seized the
little one, lifted him up, and searched his face with frantic eyes. For
all the blood, the child seemed well and vigorous.
What's it mean, Kid? Ye ain't hurtye ain't hurttell me ye ain't
hurt, Kid! What's all this blood all over ye? he demanded
By this time Ann was at his side, questioning with terrified eyes.
Tain't me, Unc' Joe! protested the Kid. I ain't hurted. It's poor
Sonny. He's hurted awful. He killed the great, biggreat, big the
Kid was at a loss how to explain, the great, big, dreadful cat, what
was goin' to eat me up, Sonny did.
Joe Barnes looked at the dog, the torn sides, streaming red wounds,
and bloody muzzle. Woodsman that he was, he understood. Sonny! he
cried in a piercing voice. The dog raised his head, wagged his stump of
a tail feebly, and made a futile effort to rise.
Gulping down something in his throat, Joe Barnes handed the child
over to Ann, and strode to Sonny's side. Bending over him, he tenderly
gathered the big dog into his arms, holding him like a baby. Sonny
reached up and licked his chin. Joe turned and hastened back to the old
gray house with his burden.
Come along, mother, he said, his voice a little unsteady. You'll
have to look out for the Kid all by yerself for a bit now. I reckon I'm
goin' to hev' about all I kin do, a-nursin' Sonny.