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Title: The Adventures of Fleetfoot and Her Fawns
Author: Chaffee, Allen
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Adventures of Fleetfoot and Her Fawns" ***

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AND HER FAWNS ***



                           THE ADVENTURES OF
                               FLEET FOOT
                             AND HER FAWNS

                       A True-to-Nature Story for
                       Children and Their Elders

                                   BY
                             ALLEN CHAFFEE

                               Author of
          “Twinkly Eyes,” “The Little Black Bear,” “Trail and
             Tree Top,” and “Lost River, or The Adventures
                     of Two Boys in the Big Woods”

                              ILLUSTRATED

                         MILTON BRADLEY COMPANY
                       SPRINGFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS



                                  ————


                           Copyright 1920, by
                         MILTON BRADLEY COMPANY

                           SPRINGFIELD, MASS.

                        Adventures of Fleet Foot
                   Bradley Quality Books for Children



                                  ————



                                   TO
                                 POLLY
                             WHO IS A DEAR
                                HERSELF



                                  ————



CONTENTS


  · CHAPTER I.—THE SPOTTED FAWNS.

  · CHAPTER II.—A FOXY TRICK.

  · CHAPTER III.—AT THE VALLEY FARM.

  · CHAPTER IV.—THE ROUND-UP.

  · CHAPTER V.—A SON OF THE WILD.

  · CHAPTER VI.—A STRANGE FRIENDSHIP.

  · CHAPTER VII.—A WIT OUT-WITTED.

  · CHAPTER VIII.—STEEP TRAILS.

  · CHAPTER IX—THE OGRE OF THE AIR.

  · CHAPTER X.—WILD GRAPES.

  · CHAPTER XI.—SPECKLED TROUT.

  · CHAPTER XII.—THE VICTOR.

  · CHAPTER XIII.—THE QUEER FEATHERS.

  · CHAPTER XIV—STARVATION TIME

  · CHAPTER XV.—THE GRAY WOLVES.

  · CHAPTER XVI.—THE FARMER’S PLAN.


                                  ————



               THE ADVENTURES OF FLEET FOOT AND HER FAWNS



CHAPTER I.—THE SPOTTED FAWNS.


“Me-o-ow!” screamed Old Man Lynx, from the heart of the woods. The two
spotted fawns heard the cry from their laurel copse on the rim of Lone
Lake. But, though their big, soft eyes were round with terror, so
perfectly had they been trained, they never so much as twitched an ear.
Well did they know that the slightest movement might show to some
prowler of the night just where they lay hidden.

Next morning, no sooner had the birds begun to chirp themselves awake,
than Mother Fleet Foot fed the fawns as usual and ate her own light
breakfast of lily pads, Then she lined up the two fawns before her.

“Children,” she said, in deer language, “you have a great deal to learn
before ever you can take care of yourselves in these woods. From now on
we are going to have lessons.”

“Yes, Mother,” bleated the little ones, “but what are lessons.”

“They are going to be as much like play as we can make them,” said Fleet
Foot. “You need practice in running, and we must play ‘Follow the
Leader’ every day. Mother, of course, will be the leader. It will be
lots of fun.”

The fawns waggled their ears in delight.

“Now listen, both of you,” said Fleet Foot. “_This_ means danger! Follow
me!” And she stamped her foot three times and whistled, as she leaped
away through the bushes.

“Just watch my white flag, and you’ll know where to follow,” she called;
and she showed them how, when she ran, she held the white lining of her
tail straight up to show which way she had gone. This was because her
brown back might not show between the tree-trunks.

“And when I give the danger signal, you must give it, too, to warn the
others,” she added, leaping back to their side.

“What others?” asked the tinier fawn.

“Any deer within ear-shot. That is how we help each other. And
remember—obey on the instant! It is the only safe way!”

Suddenly she gave the danger signal!

This time it was in real alarm, for she had spied a black snake wiggling
toward them. The fawns bounded after her, just in time to escape the
ugly fellow. And, because woods babies learn quickly they remembered to
give their own tiny stamp and whistle, their own wee white flags
wig-wagging behind them. Fleet Foot could have killed the snake with her
sharp fore-hoof, but a deer’s long legs are better suited to running
away when danger is near.

The next day she taught them to leap exactly in her footprints. She took
short steps, so that it would be easy for them. Great skill and
experience is needed for a deer to know where and how to put his feet
down when he makes those great leaps of his. He may land, now among the
rocks, now in marshy ground, slipping over mosses and scrambling over
tree-trunks. It would be only too easy to break one of those slender
legs, and be at the mercy of his enemies.

By the time the fawns were six weeks old, they had learned just how to
land without stumbling and hurting their frail ankles. Then, one day,
young Frisky Fox, hiding at the edge of the clearing, saw a strange
sight. In fact, he thought he had never seen anything quite so odd in
all his life.

Down four little trails from the hill-top came four does, Fleet Foot
among the number. And close behind each doe came her two fawns. Then a
fifth mother came from the other side of the meadow. She had only one
baby with her.

It was to be a sort of party. But the fawns were most unwilling to get
acquainted, as their mothers intended them to do. The baby bucks made at
each other with heads lowered, ready to fight. The infant does backed
timidly away to the edge of the meadow. But their mothers insisted, with
gentle shakings of their heads and shovings of their velvet noses.

They were pretty creatures, these baby deer, with their soft
orange-brown coats spotted with white, and their great innocent brown
eyes! Everything about them, from their slender legs to their swinging
stride, was graceful.

Now the mothers formed in line, the little ones trailing along behind
them. “Ah!” thought Frisky Fox, “a game of ‘Follow the Leader’.” He and
his brothers had often played it with Father and Mother Red Fox.

At first the does ran slowly around the clearing, then they quickened
their pace, the little ones trying their best to keep up.

Suddenly Fleet Foot, who was in the lead, leaped over a fallen log at
the edge of the glade and off into the woodland. The other does
followed. Then came Fleet Foot’s youngest. This little scamp only ran
around the log, while her brother crawled under.

But that was not what Fleet Foot wanted. She came back, stamping her
foot for attention.

“Do just as I do!” she insisted. “Now come back and try it over again.”
And she trotted out into the glade, and circled around it, the tinier
fawn close at her heels, till she came to the log again.

“Now!” she stamped, taking the leap once more. The fawn followed till
she came to the log, then stopped short, with her nose against it. Fleet
Foot hurdled back, and coming up behind, butted the youngster with her
head till the fawn tried to jump. This time the little creature went
over, as light as a bit of thistle-down—probably much to her own
surprise.

Then Fleet Foot turned to the larger fawn. “Come, now, there’s nothing
like trying,” she urged. But he only gave a ba-a-ah! and wriggled under
the tree-trunk again.

“Follow me,” his mother bade him. First she led him several times around
the glade. “Now!” she stamped, leaping the log once more. This time he
followed without stopping to think about it.

The other fawns behaved much the same way, but at last their mothers had
them all in line. Then what a race they had! First around and around the
opening, faster and faster and faster. Then, without warning, across the
log and back again, till every infant buck and doe of them could do it
perfectly.

“Um!” sniffed Frisky Fox. “Wouldn’t one of those little fellows make
good eating? I’d certainly like to try it!” For the smell of venison
that blew to his nostrils on the breeze fairly made his mouth water.

But Frisky was too wise a pup to think for an instant he could catch
one. And so he finally trotted off to stay his appetite with field mice.
But he told Father Red Fox about it that night in the den on the
hillside, and the older fox made up his mind that next day he would be
the one to watch when the fawns came to the meadow. If he couldn’t catch
one, at least he liked to know all that went on in the woods. One never
knew when an odd bit of knowledge might come in handy to a fellow that
lives by his wits.

That day the fawns were being drilled to run around and around in
circles. They made a track like a figure 8, only with three loops
instead of two. Sometimes one of the little fellows would slip and
stumble.

“I have it,” Father Red Fox told himself. “The fawns are learning to
make a quick turn. Because they’d break their legs if they were to
stumble that way in the underbrush.”

The old fox knew that he could never catch one by the usual methods. He
did wonder, though, if he might not corner one by trickery. So, gliding
from tree-trunk to tree-trunk, he crept nearer the unsuspecting little
school, keeping always on the side where the wind could tell no tales!



CHAPTER II.—A FOXY TRICK.


Now it was chiefly in a spirit of mischief that Father Red Fox decided
to chase the fawns. To tell the truth, the old fellow was proud of his
wits; and though he knew he could not hope to catch them and bring them
down by a straightaway race, he thought he might use some trickery on
them.

So, he watched and waited till he should find them alone. After an hour
or more in the racing meadow, Fleet Foot called to her little ones with
a “He-eu” and a stamp of her little fore-hoof, and led them back to Lone
Lake, where they all waded out after their supper of lily pads. Every
minute of the time Father Red Fox was right behind, but always with the
wind in his face, so that she wouldn’t catch his musky scent on the
breeze with that wonderful nose of hers.

Now Father Red Fox knew one thing about Fleet Foot, the doe. He knew
that when she heard a sound that alarmed her, she always ran straight
away from the sound, without once stopping to see what made it. No
sooner, therefore, was she neck-deep in Lone Lake, with her back to the
shore, than he cracked a twig behind her.

The doe, hearing that, supposed of course it must be Old Man Lynx, at
least, or perhaps a big black bear, as nothing so small and dainty as a
fox ever made a sound like that.

She was terribly frightened, and whistling the fawns to follow, she swam
straight across the Lake, never once stopping for breath till they
scrambled up the opposite bank.

But Father Red Fox had raced around the upper end of the Lake, just far
enough back in the woods so that she couldn’t see him. And the instant
the tired little family planted their hoofs on dry ground, Red Fox,
hiding behind a boulder, cracked an even larger twig, and made them
think there was another bear on that side of the Lake.

So she had to lead them back across the Lake again, to the third line of
shore. But Father Red Fox was there before her and cracked another twig
to make her think there was a bear on that side, too.

This time the fawns were fairly gasping for breath, their little spotted
sides heaving painfully and their big eyes round with fright. But there
was no help for it; Fleet Foot had to make them swim back across the
Lake to the fourth bank, where she hoped to get into the woods before
the three bears could catch her. She was quite worn out, herself, by
now, and it was only the fear of death that kept her in the race at all.
But finally up the bank she stumbled, and on down a forest trail, her
fawns following desperately.

Father Red Fox laughed as he ran around the Lake. They were all so worn
out that it should be an easy matter to corner them. In fact, that
wicked fellow had one of the meanest plans in his black heart that ever
deserved the name of a foxy trick. And so far it had worked.

Fleet Foot, believing she had nothing less than a bear on her trail,
raced on and on till her flanks dripped foam and her legs felt weak and
wobbly—which was just what the old fox intended. On he raced after her,
knowing she wouldn’t stop even to turn her head.

Then, suddenly, he made a short cut in the trail and headed her straight
toward a brush heap. The tired doe drew her trembling legs together for
the leap that would carry her over in safety. But there was not quite
enough spring left in those delicate hind quarters. She came down too
soon, catching one of her slim feet in the brush. It broke her leg.

Ah, but Red Fox had hoped it would be one of the fawns. Fleet Foot he
dared not approach, because she could strike him with her sharp
fore-hoofs, and punish him severely. In fact, had she known it was only
a fox behind her, she would have stopped to face him long ago.

The fawns—little rascals that they were—had not tried to leap the brush
heap; they had left the trail and gone around it, hiding—when their
mother fell—by crawling under a juniper bush. And there they waited,
without so much as waggling an ear, till Red Fox had given up his quest
in disgust and trotted away home.

But their troubles were not ended. For one thing, they were hungry.
Besides, what was Fleet Foot to do, helpless there where a real bear
might find her?

Just then they heard a cowbell.

Clover Blossom, the soft-eyed Jersey at the Valley Farm, must have found
a broken place in the pasture fence, and wandered into the woods again.
She loved to go exploring.

This time she gave the Boy a chase. Here it was, nearly dark! Straining
his ears to catch the sound, he decided he must creep very softly upon
her, or she would never let him catch her.

The Boy, however, was not the only one to hear the tinkle of the
cowbell. Though Clover Blossom grazed quite unaware that she was being
watched, as an actual fact she had quite an audience of wood folk around
her, peering and sniffing and studying the situation. Softly, silently,
creeping through the hazel copse, came Frisky, the fox pup, as curious
as his nose was long. Then came Bobby, Madame Lynx’s kitten, to whose
nostrils the odor was most tempting, though he did not dare attack an
animal so large. Crouched flat along a low-hanging branch, he peered and
peered with his narrow gold-green eyes, his claws working nervously into
the bark.

Came also Unk-Wunk, the Porcupine, rattling his slow way up a beech tree
from whose top he could see all that was going on. He, too, watched
curiously as the Jersey wandered from one huckleberry bush to another,
lowing faintly now and then as she realized that she needed to be
milked.

But the two who were most interested as she came their way were the
hungry fawns. They had waited hours for the familiar stamp of their
mother’s foot that should call them to her, and for the warm milk that
had never failed them when they needed it, and their little stomachs
ached worse and worse.

The hot sun had crept across the sky, and the birds who had chirped and
warbled over their breakfast had come out again for the cool of the late
afternoon to chatter over their worms. Then the sun had grown large and
red in the west, and the crickets had begun to chirp, and the
white-footed deer mice to scuttle through the leaves in search of
beetles. Finally the shadows had grown long and black, and the woods
full of a breathing silence, and still they waited for their mother to
come and feed them.

Then, at last, they crept to where Clover Blossom mooed her invitation
for some one to relieve her udders of their creamy burden. And when the
Boy finally peered through the bushes beyond which she stood, he stopped
amazed. For there on either side of her a tiny fawn stood nursing!

“Something must have happened to their mother,” he told himself. “I
wonder if I could coax them to go home with Clover Blossom?”

Then he heard a rustle behind him. Bobby Lynx was slinking home. (He was
ever a coward where human beings were concerned.) The next instant the
boy spied Fleet Foot, lying helpless in the brush heap.

In her exhaustion after the chase, the pain of her broken leg, and her
terror, as she listened, hour after hour, for the coming of stealthy
padded feet, she had been too weak to struggle. Then had come a kindly
stupor.

The Boy set about applying such first aid as he had at his command.
First knotting her fore feet together with his handkerchief so that she
could not struggle, he searched until he found a cedar sapling very
nearly the size of the leg that was broken. With his jack-knife he made
two length-wise slits and removed the bark in two pieces, as nearly the
same size as he could make them. They were just long enough to reach
below the foot of the deer and above the knee.

These he lined comfortably with dry moss and crumpled grass, for he was
going to be as tender of the doe as he would be of a person. Next he
tore his shirt, which was an old one, into bandages the width of his
wrist, knotting their ends together. For splints he went down to Lone
Lake and gathered a bundle of good strong rushes.

But when he tried to set the bone, Fleet Foot struggled so that he had
to run home for his father.

The Valley Farmer was a man who could not see any creature suffer, so he
came straight back with his son. Lifting her to the ground, the farmer
braced himself and held the injured leg while the Boy gently but firmly
grasped it with one hand above the fracture and one below. My! How it
must have hurt! But his practised fingers pulled the two pieces of bone
in opposite directions till he got them end to end! Fleet Foot tried
hard to struggle free, for of course she did not understand. But she was
helpless. Then the Boy worked the bones, ever so gently, till a slight
thud announced to his listening ear that they had fitted together right.
Next, he applied the padded halves of the cedar bark, which—as he had
intended—did not reach quite around the leg. For, in this way, he could
tie them more firmly, as he bandaged them immovably in place with the
strips of his torn shirt.

“There!” the Farmer sighed at last. “That ought to heal. I don’t see why
a few weeks of rest and good feeding ought not to set her on her feet
again. But we’ll have to make a litter to take her home.”



CHAPTER III.—AT THE VALLEY FARM.


Now that her broken leg had been set so skillfully, Fleet Foot felt
better. And the fawns were content to get their supper of the Jersey
cow.

But the Boy and his father had to face the problem of getting them all
back to the Valley Farm.

“How can we make a litter?” asked the Boy, who was not so skilled in
wood-craft as the Farmer.

“First, find two good long poles,” his father directed. “I wish we’d
brought an axe, but perhaps you can manage with your jack-knife.” And
under his direction the Boy found what he needed. Next they peeled the
bark from a chestnut tree, and on this they arranged a mattress of dried
moss, then tied it firmly between the two long poles. Stretching this
flat on the ground, they laid Fleet Foot on it and carried her home in
state, one of them shouldering either end of the litter.

“She ought to ride easy on that,” said the backwoodsman. But the doe
shrank back in fear when the Boy tried laying his hand caressingly on
her velvet throat. For every moment she expected they would kill her.

The fawns followed Clover Blossom, and finally they came out into the
star-lit meadow, where Fleet Foot caught the odor of cows and sheep from
the big red barn. The next thing she knew, she was lying on a mound of
sweet-smelling dried clover, in a clean stall of that same barn, and
there was a pail of water beside her. She roused herself to drink
feverishly, standing on three legs, but she could not eat. Then followed
a few hours when she slept despite her fears, because she was too tired
to keep awake.

In the pink dawn she awoke at the sound of the milk-pails, and her first
thought was of the fawns. The Boy brought her a hatful of grass; but her
great eyes only searched wistfully through the woodland and meadow
before the open door, and on to the dew-wet forest where she thought
they waited, and she struggled weakly to get to her feet and go to them.

“She’s worrying about her babies,” said the Boy. “Can’t we show them to
her?” he begged his father.

“The only trouble with that,” the farmer replied, “is that, once they
get a sight of her, they won’t have anything more to do with Clover
Blossom, and she’s got to take care of them till their own mother is
well again. But that leg will heal quickly. The bone was broken in only
one place. We’ve got to keep her quiet, though,—and the fawns are better
off where they are.”

Thus several weeks went by, till at last Fleet Foot was able to trip
daintily into the pasture lot. But still she worried about the fawns.
She was comfortable and well fed, and was even becoming used to the Boy,
who brought her food and water every morning and sometimes a few grains
of rock salt. Through the bars of the open doorway she could gaze
straight into the cool green woods all day. Had it not been for her
longing for the fawns, she would have been quite content to lie still
and get well.

The bone had set quickly, for her life in the open had given her pure
blood and much reserve strength. But she was anxious to make her escape
and search for her babies. Little did she dream, in the confusion of
sounds and smells that filled the barn every day, that the pair actually
came to Clover Blossom’s stall.

Meantime, the fawns throve on the Jersey milk. Though too shy to mingle
with the cows and sheep in the pasture lot, they spent their days in a
clump of alders down by the brook.

“Won’t they be happy when they get their own mother back?” the Boy
exclaimed to his father one evening.

The Father looked at his son in a puzzled way.

“The doe has disappeared,” he announced. “I had just taken the splints
off her leg. It was healed as good as new. Thought I’d turn her loose in
the pasture to limber up a bit, when—would you believe it?—she leaped
clean over that fence, and off into the woods out of sight.”

“Honestly?” exclaimed the Boy. “Without so much as a thank you! And what
will become of her now?”

“Oh, she’ll be all right. But isn’t it a shame now we didn’t let her
have her fawns?”

“Perhaps we can keep them ourselves,” ventured the Boy wistfully, for he
loved pets. “We could tame them and let them grow up with the cows.
They’re half tame already.”

“I don’t believe a wild thing is ever really happy that way,” mused the
Farmer. “Do you?”

“No, perhaps not,” decided the Boy. “And besides, their mother will
break her heart if she never finds them again.”

“She’ll feel badly, of course. But don’t you see, the fawns will take to
the woods again, sooner or later, unless we keep them tied all the time.
And then do you know what would happen? They wouldn’t know how to take
care of themselves, without their mother’s training.”

“Oh,” said the Boy. “And some hungry animal might catch them for its
dinner!”

“I’m afraid so,” agreed the Farmer. “It is always the young animals that
have lost their mothers that get caught.”

“Say, I’ve noticed a funny thing,” said the Boy, a few days later.
“Clover Blossom has been giving more milk lately, and yet the fawns
aren’t weaned.”

“You didn’t see what I saw last night,” said the Farmer, smiling. And he
told the Boy where to watch.

Meantime what had become of Fleet Foot? First she leaped the fence, and
took to the trail down which Clover Blossom had wandered—here over the
smooth pine needles, there through the crackling oak leaves, and yonder
over a fallen log. And as she went, she nibbled course after course of
the dainties of the woodland.

How fit she felt, after her long imprisonment! How swift her slender
hoofs, how strong her long hind legs that could send her over a hazel
copse like steel springs! And how good it was to be alive in a world all
sunshine and dancing butterflies and tinkling streams!

But where were her fawns? She searched and searched for some sign of the
little fellows. But she searched in vain. And all the joy went out of
life again.

Then, one evening, as she stood on a hill-top watching the Boy drive the
cows home from pasture, she saw something that made her lonely heart
beat high with hope. She couldn’t make out the little spotted coats so
far away, but she did see their red-brown outlines, so tiny beside the
cows, and the furtive way they shied along, as if they never could get
used to coming right out in the open. And her anxious mother-heart
assured her that they were worth a closer view.

So, the next night, before they turned off the lane to the pasture lot,
the fawns heard the little stamp that had always been their mother’s
signal. “Wait where you are—and hide!” she bade them with her whistled
“Hiew!” “I will come to you.”

And they obeyed, thrilling with a great wave of homesick longing for the
mother they had thought lost to them. The Boy, tip-toeing back to see
what had become of his pets, found the doe in the pasture lot, nursing
her fawns.

And though he did not know it, she stayed with them until the first gray
light in the east warned her that she must leave them for the day. For
the fence was too high for the fawns to leap.

The next night the Boy watched again, from the cover of the hay-stack.
Before long the doe leaped smoothly into the pasture, stamping for the
fawns. Then he saw the flash of her white tail signaling for them to
follow, and after that, two tinier tails wig-wagging through the dusk as
they disappeared in the alders down by the brook that ran through the
lower end of the pasture.

The Boy stared after them awhile, a smile of sympathy in his eyes.
Then—ever so softly, so as not to alarm them—he slipped across to where
she had leaped the fence, and lifted the top bars away.

The next morning the fawns were gone!


                                  ————



CHAPTER IV.—THE ROUND-UP.


Once back in the good green woods, both Fleet Foot and the fawns capered
joyously.

It was good just to be alive.

Up and down through the forest trails they galloped,—down to Lone Lake,
then back to Pollywog Pond and along the familiar trails on the slopes
of Mt. Olaf. Summer was even riper and lovelier than when they had been
taken to the Valley Farm,—and to the fawns, remember, it was their first
taste of mid-summer in the Maine woods.

These tiny fellows leaped and gamboled hide-and-seek, till you would
have thought they would have broken their fragile legs among the
boulders and fallen tree-trunks. But their mother knew her training had
been thorough, and they would know just how to leap and land with
safety.

“Hello, there!—Chick-a-dee-dee, Chick-a-dee-dee,” a little gray bird in
a black cap kept calling, as he followed from tree to tree.

When at last they had had their dinner of warm milk, and Fleet Foot had
cropped her fill of the tender green things that lay like a banquet
table everywhere about them, she led them to a little rocky ledge that
over-looked Lone Lake, where they could lie under the partial shade of a
clump of yellow birch trees and rest, while she chewed her cud. The
black fly season was well past, and there was nothing to disturb them
save a passing swarm of midges that couldn’t begin to bite through their
thick fur.

(They little dreamed that Frisky, the Red Fox Pup, was peering down on
them from a higher crag, where he, too, crouched on the red-brown soil
that proved such a perfect cam-ou-flage.)

No one save a fox could have seen the fawns, so long as they lay still,
their tawny orange-brown coats blended so perfectly with the ground. And
if anyone had noticed the white spots on their sides, he would have
taken them for a glint of the creamy birch-bark.

At first the ’two youngsters watched a yellow-jacketed bumble-bee, who
bumbled and tumbled among the perfumed spikes of the Solomon’s seals.
Then their ears pricked to a new voice.

“Greetings, my friends!” called a cheery red-brown coated bird who had
been rustling about among the dead leaves just behind them.

He was as large as a robin, with even longer beak and tail, and his
creamy breast was streaked with darker brown.

“Hello, Thrush,” bleated the fawns in shy friendliness.

“You mustn’t look for any nest in the bushes around here, because you
won’t find it,” twittered Thrush, in a tone Old Man Red Fox would have
been suspicious of. “Listen! I am going to give you a concert!” And he
flew to the birch tree over their heads.

There followed a program of the most varied trills and whistles the
fawns had ever heard; and though his voice was not so sweet toned as
some of the tinier birds’, his throaty trills and liquid, low-pitched
chirps and whistles were just as delightful as they could be.

There were bird calls all around them, “Pee-wees” and “Chip-chip-chips”
and “Wee-wee-wee-wees” and all sorts of soft little calls and answers.

They none of them minded the fawns in the least, except those who had
nests on the ground. They always watched nervously when the frisky
fellows capered too near, with their sharp little hoofs, though they
knew the fawns wouldn’t hurt an ant if they knew it.

Every now and again the singers would cease, when one of the soft
patches of white cloud got in front of the sun; for instantly the air
grew chilly, and a breeze started all the tree-tops to waving till the
birds had to hang on hard.

Then the Lake would ruffle into tiny wave-lets and grow dark green like
the woods along the shore-line. For before, the water had lain as still
as a silver mirror, reflecting the pale blue of the warm sky.

In weather like this, it was good just to lie still and watch and
listen, or drowse off with the sun warm on one’s fur and the spicy earth
smells in one’s nostrils. The green world was so interesting.

When a passing cloud of a darker gray brought the big drops pattering
about them for a few minutes, they merely scampered under an
over-hanging boulder, where they huddled together on a drift of leaves,
and watched it all.

Later, when the bull-frogs began their “Ke-dunk, ke-dunk,” down under
the banks of Lone Lake, where the ducks were feeding their nestlings,
and the sun began to send long red beams slanting through the
tree-trunks, Fleet Foot led them down to a shallow cove for a taste of
lily pads, and they waded in and tried a nibble of everything she
tasted.

After that came a night under a drooping pine tree, whose lowest branch
roofed over a boulder in the most inviting way, and the wind droned
through the branches and blew the mosquitoes all away, and they lay
snuggled warmly together on the fragrant needles, and watched the stars
come out.

In the morning they were just starting out on an exploring tour when
they were alarmed by the baying of a hound.

Now Lop Ear had always had an important duty at the Valley Farm. It had
been his part to round up the cows when night came, or when any of them
went astray in the woods. And all day yesterday he had missed Fleet Foot
from her stall in the hay-barn.

True, she had always seemed different from the regular cows. Until she
came there with her broken leg, he had always supposed she belonged in
the woods. But surely, surely the Farmer would not have kept her there
unless she belonged there, reasoned the, faithful dog. And now she was
gone!

There was but one thing to do: he must go in search of her and bring her
home.

All that day he tried in vain to find her trail. The next morning he was
up with the sun. This time he would search farther afield. “Wow!
Bow-wow! Wow-wow-wow!” Here was a footprint, unless his nose deceived
him! What’s more, they had passed that way not ten minutes since! It was
but a matter of following the trail, and he would be nipping at their
heels and driving them back to the Farm.

“Wow-wow-wow!” he bayed; and Frisky, the Red Fox Pup, heard and came
trotting to peek at him and see what it was all about.

The sound filled the fawns with uneasiness. They had always been afraid
of Lop Ear, with his nipping and yapping around the cattle.

“Children,” bade Fleet Foot sternly, “hurry to that clump of bracken and
lie down. Stretch your heads and fore legs out straight in front of you
and lie there as flat as you can make yourselves,—while I lead this
hound off somewhere where he’ll lose your scent.”

The fawns obeyed instantly.

Fleet Foot then doubled back on her trail, and with a stamp and a snort
to call the hound’s attention, she soon had him following her great
bounds in quite the opposite direction. She kept just far enough ahead
of him to make sure he wouldn’t give up the chase—though she could
easily have out-distanced him.


                                  ————



CHAPTER V.—A SON OF THE WILD.


Now Frisky, the Red Fox Pup, admired no one so much as he did his
father. And he had heard his father tell how he had chased the doe and
her fawns that dreadful day when Fleet Foot broke her leg.

Not that the little rascal really wanted to hurt those gentle soft-eyed
babies. He wasn’t hungry, and besides, he couldn’t have killed them had
he wanted to. He just thought it would be fun to play that he was Father
Red Fox and give them a good scare. (But how were the fawns to know
that?) In other words, like a great many very young persons, he didn’t
stop to think of the other fellow’s point of view in the matter.

Thus, no sooner had he seen Fleet Foot headed in the other direction,
leaving the fawns unprotected, than he pranced merrily up to them, his
yellow eyes gleaming with mischief.

“Yip, yip!” he yelled at them in his high-pitched little voice.

Now the fawns had been told to lie still. But how could they, when
danger was almost upon them? They were certainly not going to lie there
and let this little wild dog bite them!

With a bleat of alarm they sprang to their feet and raced through the
brush, leaping over bush and brier and boulder as if their very lives
depended on it.

But Frisky Fox could also leap bush and brier and boulder. And he came
leaping after, just two jumps behind them!

Now around a clump of greenbriar, down a trail of dainty pointed hoof
prints that led through brush head high,—up hill, down hill the trio
sped, startling the pheasants and sending them into the air with a
whirr.

Here the trail turned abruptly down the side of a precipice, and the
fawns followed, while Frisky, having paused for a moment when his tail
got caught in a bramble, had to come trotting after with his nose to the
ground, as he could no longer see them.

Now the fawns had never been taught that water carries no scent. They
just happened to go splashing across a bit of a frog pond that lay
cupped among hillocks of seedling pines. But looking back at every
seventh leap or so, they could see that the fox pup followed his nose to
the water’s edge, and there stopped and sniffed all about uncertainly,
before again catching a glimpse of them.

But though the chase went merrily on (that is, merrily on the fox’s
part), the fawns had learned a valuable lesson.

They now made straight for Lone Lake, and my! You should have seen the
ducks take flight as these two alarming little fellows came splashing in
among them!

A deer, when pursued by hounds, will always take to water when he can,
and the hounds have no scent to follow. Then, unless there is a hunter
along, and he catches sight of his quarry, and fires, the deer are safe.

The Red Fox Pup uses his eyes, as well as his nose, and he was so close
behind, and understood so well this trick of taking to water, (for he
escaped the hounds that way himself), that he wasn’t fooled the least
little bit in the world. Not he!

Only once they had taken the plunge, the little fellows decided to swim
out to a reedy islet where they could rest. And the fox pup didn’t think
it worth while to get his fur wet. For when his great brush of a tail
gets wet, it is so heavy that it weighs him down, and he can’t run
nearly so fast, so the mice all get away.

Of course the fawns thought it was all their own cleverness, and you
should have heard them telling Fleet Foot about it when she found them
there!

The fawns never tired of watching the life that stirred everywhere about
them, their great soft eyes filled with pleasant wonder.

One day it would be the one soft cluck of Mother Grouse Hen, calling to
her chicks to hide before Frisky Fox should pass that way.

When he had passed, looking so wise and knowing, (with his bright eyes
peering into every nook and corner, and his pointed little nose testing
the air for a taint), Mother Grouse Hen would give a different sort of
cluck; and back the frightened chicks would come to her, and she would
gather them comfortingly under her wings, pressing each wee brown baby
to her down-covered breast to reassure him.

Then she would utter a soft, brooding cluck that told them how she loved
them, and how safe they were with Mother to look out for them.


                                  ————



CHAPTER VI.—A STRANGE FRIENDSHIP.


What was the matter with the hen-roost at the Valley Farm, the fox pup
asked himself? He had killed so many field mice in the course of the
summer that he felt he was really entitled to one of the farmer’s nice
fat hens,—because the mice might have destroyed the farmer’s crops, had
Frisky not prevented.

At the same time he knew that Lop Ear, the hound at the Valley Farm,
would have another opinion in the matter.

Frisky sat up and thought.

Lop Ear would give the alarm, and then, even if he threw the hound off
the scent, there would be men with guns, and more dodging of bullets
than he cared to risk. He had often seen it, watching from his hill-top
in the woods. And he always tried to profit by other people’s
experience.

Suddenly his bright eyes began to snap. The very idea! He would make
friends with Lop Ear.

Then Lop Ear might try to be sound asleep on the night when Frisky
visited the chicken coop; and should the Hired Man get out his gun, the
hound would surely lose his trail.

Thereafter, for days on end, Frisky made the strangest advances to the
dignified old hound, whenever the latter fared forth into the woods to
catch him a mouse for supper. It was very much like a puppy trying to
coax an old dog to play.

“Come chase me!” Frisky would invite, dancing ahead just out of Lop
Ear’s reach. Then, “I’ll chase you,” he would vary the program. And Lop
Ear (half unwillingly) played the role assigned him, till at last he
came to look on his evening ramble in the woods with Frisky as a
distinct part of his day’s pleasuring.

Not that Frisky ever came within reach of Lop Ear’s jaws. No, indeed!
That was carrying the thing a bit too far. But he did finally get the
hound to the point where he no longer considered it his duty to try to
make an end of the young fox. And he really enjoyed their games of hide
and seek.

The Boy from the Valley Farm did not know what to make of Lop Ear’s
growing fondness for solitary rambles.

One night, when the October moon gleamed cool and sparkling through the
fringe of fir trees, young Frisky Fox might have been seen loping softly
through the corn-field.

“Who goes there?” bayed Lop Ear, as he leaped the barn-yard fence.

“Come and play,” coaxed Frisky. “You can’t catch me!” and leaping up the
sloping roof of the hen-house, he squeezed gracefully through the barred
window. A moment more and there was a stifled squawk and Frisky squeezed
his way back through the bars, dragging a hen behind him.

But alas for the best laid plans.

“Bow-wow-wow! You can’t do that, you know!” suddenly bayed Lop Ear.
“That’s carrying the game a little too far. After all, I have my duty to
perform.”

“What is it?” yelled the Hired Man, poking his head from his
sleeping-room in the barn-loft. “A fox, eh?” and he grabbed for his gun,
leaning far out to scan the moonlit fields.

Frisky Fox, by keeping the shed between himself and the gun, made off
through the corn-field with the hen across his shoulder.

Lop Ear, his warning uttered, now dashed madly in quite the wrong
direction,—for the memory of the fox pup’s friendship was strong upon
him. But the Hired Man was not to be fooled.

In less time than it takes to tell it, he was out circling the field,
gun in hand. And the bright moonlight soon showed him where the
cornstalks rustled with Frisky’s passing.

“Hi, there!” yelled the Hired Man, gun in hand, as he raced around the
corn-field.

But Frisky was an excellent judge of distance, and he knew to a
certainty that he was out of gun range.

He therefore deliberately stopped where he was and snatched a bite of
his hen.

As the Hired Man came nearer, the fox pup ran farther, always keeping
just about so much distance between himself and the gun. He could easily
have out-distanced his pursuer. But he was in a mischievous mood
to-night, and it pleased him to see how far he could go toward devouring
the entire hen while the angry man looked on.

He did it, too, saucily enough, gobbling a bite here and a bite there,
looking back over his shoulder the while at the man with the gun. One or
two shots did ring out on the crisp night air, kicking up the dirt a few
rods behind him, but Frisky Fox ate on, secure by those few rods of
space, as well he knew.

Only once did he miscalculate, the shot landing so near him that he knew
the next one would surely get him if the Hired Man tried again.

Quick as a flash the clever rascal toppled over on his side, playing
dead. The ruse worked, for the Hired Man did not shoot again. And while
he was fumbling his way through the corn-field to where he believed the
fox lay waiting, Frisky was making for the woods with his nimble black
feet fairly twinkling over the ground.

Throwing himself at last on the soft pine needles on a little hill-top,
he peered through the moonlight to where the Hired Man was staring
helplessly about him wondering where the dead fox lay. Frisky laughed
silently at the success of his ruse,—the first time he had ever played
’possum himself, though he had seen it done once before, when his mother
had been hard pressed. In her case she had actually let the boy pick her
up, when he found her with one foot in a trap. But to her surprise he
had only released her with pitying words and a caress on her silky red
head.

No such treatment could be expected of the Hired Man, Frisky knew.

Lop Ear, slinking back to the barn-yard with tail between his legs, was
just unlucky enough to catch the Hired Man’s notice as the latter was
returning foxless.

“Here,” he ordered threateningly. “Put your nose to that trail and
follow it, or I’ll show you what’s what!”

The next thing Frisky knew, he heard the baying of his one-time friend
close on his trail. With a yawn and a lick at his jaws, where a feather
still clung, he struck off as easily as if he had just arisen from a
sound night’s sleep.

He didn’t even bother to keep very far ahead of the dog.


                                  ————



CHAPTER VII.—A WIT OUT-WITTED.


Not that Frisky Fox believed greatly in Lop Ear’s friendship.

Not after the way the hound had given the alarm at the chicken coop!

But he knew that at any moment he could so far outdistance that doubtful
ally that he wasn’t in the slightest danger. The ground was firm and
dry, and he had all the advantage of his lighter weight and nimbler
feet.

Had there been soft snow on the ground it might have been different. But
the first frost had not yet ripened the hazel nuts in the woods around
Mt. Olaf.

Once, just to punish him, Frisky turned back and bared his teeth so
viciously at Lop Ear that the hound was driven back—to the Hired Man’s
amazement.

Then Frisky tripped his way down to Rapid River and crossed on the wet
brook stones, leaving no scent for Lop Ear to follow.

The hound well off the trail, Frisky again crossed the stream farther up
on a fallen log. And circling around through the shadows, he was soon
following the Hired Man, slipping behind trees and boulders and smiling
from ear to ear as the latter stumbled along with his useless gun.

When at last the hound stopped short at the river bank, where he lost
the scent, the Hired Man gave it up in disgust, and went back home to
his bed.

And Frisky, the handsome little scoundrel, calmly sought out the dry
south side of a hill which would shelter him from the wind and slept
with his black legs doubled under him and his white-tipped brush of a
tail curled comfortably around him to keep out the draft.

Shrewd, cautious, daring, the Red Fox Pup bade fair at this stage of his
career to develop the best set of brains in all the North Woods.

Yet there was one at the Valley Farm that could out-wit him.

Frisky was sitting on his haunches a few days later in the midst of the
now deserted hay field, listening for the squeak of a meadow mouse, when
something made him prick up his ears.

There was something about that squeak that sounded just a wee bit
different from any squeak he had ever heard before.

But no, there it was again, unmistakably the tiny voice of a mouse on
the other side of the field. The fox pup had such needle-sharp ears that
he could hear fainter sounds than any human being ever could have.

But though Frisky Fox was clever, the Boy at the Valley Farm was more
so. And the Boy sat behind a bush at the farther end of the field, as
motionless as the gray stump that Frisky thought he was. This time the
joke was on the Red Fox Pup, for the squeaks he heard issued from the
Boy’s pursed lips. It was an excellent imitation.

He tip-toed nearer and nearer the tiny squeaks, while the Boy gazed at
the graceful fellow through his new field glasses.

He was a handsome fellow, was Frisky Fox, with his yellow-red coat
shining sleek in the sunlight. And my! How his great plume of a tail
fluffed out behind him! His tail was nearly as long as the rest of his
body put together, and it fluffed out nearly as broadly. Mother Red Fox
certainly had a son to be proud of!

Of a sudden a little breeze shifted around to where it brought the foxy
one a faint scent. It told his keen black nose there was something down
there besides the bush.

It wasn’t a mouse, either!

“No, sir, that’s no field mouse,” said Frisky’s nose, as the Red Fox Pup
circled to windward of the tiny squeaking sounds.

“That’s the Boy at the Valley Farm! That’s what that is! Now I’ll just
pretend not to see him at all till I get behind that rock, then I’ll
race for the woods.”

For Frisky didn’t know that the thing the Boy was pointing at him was
only a pair of field glasses. And it wouldn’t have made much difference
even had he known. Frisky did not like to be watched. He therefore did
exactly as he had planned, crossing the field with seeming lack of
interest in anything save the purple and yellow of asters and golden-rod
and the scarlet of woodbine, and the blue of the Indian summer sky, till
he felt himself out of range.

At the instant of his discovery that it was one of those dangerous human
creatures that sat there like a stump he had cocked his ears sharply and
leaped fully two feet into the air in his surprise.

That was the only sign he made, however, of the extreme anxiety that set
his heart to thumping, till he was just on the edge of the woods; then
he suddenly looked back with one of his thin, husky barks, to know why
the Boy should have tried to fool him.

But afterwards, from the shelter of the barberry vines that fringed the
old stone wall, he peered and peeked and wondered about it all as long
as the Boy remained.


                                  ————



CHAPTER VIII.—STEEP TRAILS.


These hot days in August, when the trout took to the very deepest,
coldest pools they could find, and hid themselves all day under the
over-hanging rocks, and every creature that couldn’t take to the water
longed for rain, Fleet Foot used to lead her little family up the steep
trails to the top of Mount Olaf or some near-by mountain-top, where the
wind blew cool night and day.

These trips were full of much joy for the fawns, for there was all the
spice of adventure in following a winding hoof-path that led—they knew
not where. For one never knew what might be just around the next turn.

How their hearts thumped when they came suddenly to the edge of a
precipice, where they could look down at Beaver Brook tumbling over the
rocks away, ’way down below I Or perhaps they could get just a glimpse
of Lone Lake lying gleaming in the hollow of the hills.

Not that there was any trail in the real sense of the word.

Left to themselves, they could not have told one rock from another, save
here and there where a bit of mica gleamed silver against the gray, or a
scraggly pine leaned too far out over a ledge to look safe.

But to their mother their trail was as plain as the nose on your face.
It was just a matter of turning and twisting, here to pass between those
two queer-shaped boulders, and there to go around that flat rock which
teetered alarmingly beneath one’s feet. She had been over it all so many
times that she had learned the look of each new turn of the pathway. Had
so much as one pinnacle been out of place, she would have known,—and
wondered why.

One still, sunshiny morning, after they had drunk their fill at a cool
green pool of Beaver Brook, they started up the mountain-side for a day
under the shade of the last fringe of evergreens before one came to the
bare, rocky ridges, where it got too cold for anything to grow, except
in sheltered crevices.

The fawns danced and capered to the music of the bird song that filled
the woods, while Fleet Foot cropped all sorts of delicious tid-bits,—now
a clump of oyster mushrooms growing shelf-like on a fallen log, and now
a bunch of blue-berries, plump and juicy and sun-sweet. Life was one
long holiday.

One misty morning, as Fleet Foot was leading them in great bounds
through the tall meadow grass, the fawns came to a sudden stand-still,
their eyes popping with surprise. For they had just barely escaped
stepping on the writhing coils of a great long snake.

Their bleat of fear brought Fleet Foot instantly.

“Pouf! That’s only a garter snake,” she reassured them, with one glance
at the length-wise stripes (yellow and dark gray). “That’s nothing to be
afraid of. The only kind you want to look out for is the kind with
cross-wisp stripes. I don’t believe there is more than one snake in all
the North Woods that is poisonous,—and there are at least a dozen that
are perfectly harmless.”

“What is the poisonous one?” bleated the trembling fawns.

“The rattler. But you won’t see one of those in a year’s time,—not in
these woods, where it gets so cold in winter. They love it hot and dry,
and so of course they live mostly out West, though you do find a few
sometimes among the rocks on the warm south side of a mountain.”

“Oo! What if we’d meet a rattler?” shivered the fawns.

“Well, he’d warn you before you went too near.”

“Warn us?—How?”

“He’d rattle, of course. He has a little set of bones on his tail that
he can rattle, and when you hear that, you need to look out, and get
away quickly.”

“Are the others really harmless, Mother?”

“Harmless to fawns. That is, they have no poison bite. Snakes do a lot
of good, eating pests.”

“But I don’t like snakes,” insisted the tinier fawn.

“Well, neither does Mother. But it’s so silly, children, to be afraid.
Where is that garter snake? Gone, to be sure! And even the rattler only
strikes because he thinks you are going to kill him.”

The fawns were very thoughtful after that. “Mother,” they finally
bleated, “Seems as if even the meanest creatures in the woods had _some_
use.”

“That’s right,” their mother answered them.


                                  ————



CHAPTER IX—THE OGRE OF THE AIR.


It was one of those breezy days when white wind clouds piled up against
the sky, and patches of shadow traveled across the mountain-sides.

Fleet Foot had decided to take the fawns to Mountain Pond, in the pass
between Mount Olaf and Old Bald-face, a peak that had been burned bare
of trees by a forest fire, and now grew nothing much save blue-berries
for the bears to feast on.

Fleet Foot wasn’t a bit afraid of bears at this time of year, knowing
how greatly they prefer a vegetarian diet, though, at that, she didn’t
intend to go too near. (After all, the steep gulch of Beaver Brook Bed
lay between the two mountain-sides.)

They had a lovely time at the Pond, where they met several other does,
with their fawns, and the youngsters played together while their mothers
gossiped over their cuds. The cool breeze ruffled their fur
delightfully, and they found enough shade in the patch of woods that
huddled in the head of the gulch.

As the sun neared the tops of the purple peaks that faded away to the
west, the little group started back down the trail to where there was
more herbage to browse upon, Fleet Foot lingering along to allow the
fawns plenty of time to pick out a sure footing. For it was their first
trip over this particular trail.

Carefully they wound over a great over-hanging boulder, on the edge of
which they paused to peer, with braced hoofs, over the precipice, which
here dropped sheer to the rocks below. Just beyond, the first falls of
Beaver Brook dashed green-white over the ledges.

Then Fleet Foot hurried on to the foot of the falls, where one might
take a shower bath in the spray.

“Come on, children,” she whistled over her shoulder, her eyes on the
path ahead. And the tinkle of the falling water filled her ears till she
could not have heard their foot-steps following, had she tried.

But fawns will be fawns. And the youngsters stopped to watch a queer
shadow that now danced across their path. Cloud shadows they had watched
all day, but this one was different. In the first place, it was such a
tiny thing,—for a cloud. And it danced about in the most amusing
manner,—much faster than any cloud shadow they had seen before. In fact,
it seemed to be going around and around them in big circles. And it
looked exactly as if the little cloud had wings like a bird.

Alas for two such little helpless ones!—Had they but looked above their
heads, instead of at the circling shadow, they would have discovered
that it was a giant bird that made it. In short, it was Baldy the Eagle,
the ogre of the air,—and an ogre that especially delighted in having
fawn for supper!

An ugly fellow was Baldy, with his great curved beak and his great
yellow claws. His body alone was bigger than that of the fawns, and his
wings spread out like the wings of an aeroplane. He was mostly a muddy
brown, with white head and fan-spread tail, and he smelled horribly
fishy, for he isn’t a bit particular about what he eats, and frequently
stuffs himself so full of the spoiled fish he finds on the shore that he
can’t even fly.

The air hissed to his wings.

He waited now till he felt that Fleet Foot was surely too far away to
come to their rescue, should he attack the fawns. For he knew from
experience that with her sharp hoofs she could put up a fight he would
rather not face.

For a while he wandered if he should just simply drop down upon one of
the little fellows and pin his talons into his back, and fly away to his
nest. But it would be awfully heavy to carry and of course it would kick
and wriggle, ’till like enough he would be unable to manage his
feathered aeroplane, and they would run into some jagged rock.

If the fawns had been orphans, he might have killed one right there, and
no one would have interfered.

But they were not orphans, and their mother would come racing back and
cut him to pieces with those knife-edged fore-hoofs.

Ha! An idea popped into his ugly old head.—He would scare one of the
fawns off the edge of the precipice, and it would leap to its death on
the rocks below; and then he could wait till Fleet Foot had gone, for
his feast.

Swooping lower and lower, while still the foolish fawns stared
innocently at the dancing shadow, he suddenly flapped his wings about
the tinier fawn, startling him terribly, but not enough to make him back
off the cliff.

Stronger measures must be tried,—and there was no time to waste; for at
the fawn’s first bleat of terror, Fleet Foot heard and was now leaping
like the wind, back the trail to his rescue.

Swooping again, Baldy began beating the little fellow with great heavy
blows of his middle wing joints. It hurt dreadfully, and the frightened
fawn turned first this way, then that, in his endeavor to get away.
Nearer and nearer the edge of the precipice he crowded. Now one hind
foot had actually slipped off the rock face, and he had to struggle to
regain his balance.

Then the one thing happened that could have saved him. Fleet Foot
reached the spot. Rearing furiously on her hind legs, she struck at
Baldy’s head with her sharp hoofs, tearing great wounds in his scalp.
Then, with a scream of rage and pain, he raised his wings and slanted
swiftly upward, wings hissing, to his granite peak.

The fawn was not seriously hurt,—only terribly frightened. His back was
bruised, but that would heal, and he would be none the worse for his
experience.

But where was the other fawn?—They found him wedged in between the
boulders,—the one place where he could ever have escaped the beat of
those wings. Fleet Foot praised him mightily for having so much sense,
and he felt quite cocky,—though of course his brother was the real hero
of the day.

One other danger marred their summer.

Every now and again, as they were passing beneath some low-hanging
branch, they would catch a glimpse of a tawny form flattened along the
limb, watching them with pale yellow eyes that gleamed through narrowed
lids.

Perhaps it would be in a deep, dark hemlock thicket, or a cedar swamp,
that they would meet the giant cat.

He was a ferocious-looking fellow, was Old Man Lynx, with his great,
square, whiskered face, and his ears with their black tassels and the
black stripe down the middle of his back. And my, how his claws crunched
the bark as he sharpened them! How his whiskers twitched and his mouth
watered as the fawns passed beneath him! He seemed all teeth and claws.

Perhaps the little family would be drowsing peacefully in the shade of a
long September afternoon when suddenly some spirit of their ancestors,
(or was it some guardian angel of their antlered tribe?) would whisper
“Danger!” and set their fur to rising along their spines in a cold
shiver of nameless fear.

Had Old Man Lynx ever really put it to the test, he could have won out
with Fleet Foot. But he knew the sharp drive of her little hoofs, and he
was terribly afraid of pain. (Did he not wear a great scar in his side,
due to an adventure of his rash young days, when a fat buck had given
him a rip with his antlers?)

Perhaps that was why Fleet Foot always raced away in a wide curve that
presently brought her back to where she could peer curiously at the
invader of her solitude, without herself being seen.

She used to spy in the same way on Old Man Red Fox, and Frisky, his
promising young hopeful.

In fact, what with Frisky spying on the fawns, and the fawns watching
Frisky, these children of hostile tribes kept pretty close track of one
another.

The summer passed on the whole, however, with no more adventure than the
sound of the lonely “Hoo-woo-o-o-o” of a loon at twilight, or the sudden
whirr of a startled pheasant’s wings, or a quarrel between some wicked
red squirrel caught robbing a crow’s nest. (Or was it a crow that had
robbed the squirrel’s little hoard, and was getting handsomely scolded
for his villainy?).


                                  ————



CHAPTER X.—WILD GRAPES.


It had been one of those cool, crisp days when the sun shone just warm
enough to feel good to the furred and feathered folk. Frisky, the Red
Fox Pup, had been creeping up on a flying squirrel, who sat nibbling the
ripe berries of the Solomon’s Seal with her three little ones beside
her, when the entire family took alarm and went leaping back to the
beech-nut tree.

Now Frisky had not reached the age of six whole months in vain. He had
sharp eyes, and he used them. And he had never seen a squirrel that
could spread sail like that. He felt that his eyes must have deceived
him.

He forgot his surprise at the very next turn of the trail, when he
suddenly spied a tangle of wild grape vine that hung in a canopy of the
luscious purple clusters over the stag-horn sumac.

Frisky Fox had never seen wild grapes before, though he had often passed
the vines when the fruit was green. Now his keen little nose told him
enough to make him eager for a taste.

But the fruit hung just too high. Leaping into the air, he occasionally
got a nibble from the low-hanging bunches. But these only served to whet
his appetite for more.

To add to his discontent, Fairy the Flying Squirrel suddenly sailed down
from a tree-top, alighting on the very top of the grapevine canopy. And
there she perched saucily and munched and sucked at grape after grape
before his very eyes.

This was too much for Frisky. Around and around the vines he circled,
screwing up his courage for a leap.

He finally discovered a place where the vine hugged a slanting tree
trunk, and he climbed as far as he could.

The next instant Fairy had sailed back to her branch as easily as if she
had been laughing at him. But Frisky didn’t mind that. It would take
just a stretch of his neck and his jaws would close on a great cluster
of the fragrant fruit.

If young Frisky Fox had only been content with that one taste, all might
have been well. But just beyond was a larger bunch. Frisky gave a leap,
landing on his tip-toes on crossed vines. But the vines parted beneath
his weight, and down he plunged—almost to the ground, but not quite. Not
far enough for a foot-hold.

And there he hung, head downward, hind legs tangled in the vines, unable
to better his position!

My, how he writhed and squirmed, and bit at the vine that shackled him!
But to no avail! He was a prisoner, just as surely as if he had been
tied with a rope. Little his brains availed him now.

If any one had asked young Frisky Fox, as he hung head downward from
that grapevine, what he thought of the situation, he would have said it
couldn’t be worse.

Yet it speedily became worse,—so much worse, indeed, that Frisky
redoubled his efforts to free himself,—though he had an awful feeling
that it was no use.

It was Tattle-tale the Jay who warned him.

Tattle-tale kept pretty close track of all that went on in the forest,
and then told all he knew.

So many times had he flown ahead of Frisky Fox, screaming at the top of
his lungs: “A Fox! A Fox! Beware!” that Frisky had come to dread the
sound of his voice.

This time Tattle-tale, who played no favorites, was doing Frisky a good
turn, but the little fox was in no position to appreciate the fact.

“Look out, there! Look out, everybody,” Tattle-tale was screaming. “Old
Man Lynx is coming!”

“Old Man Lynx!” squeaked Shadow Tail, the Red Squirrel, making for his
hole in the oak tree.

“OLD MAN LYNX, Mammy, Old Man Lynx!” squealed Timothy Cottontail,
hopping madly for a hollow log.

“Old Man Lynx!” grunted Unk-Wunk, the Porcupine. “A lot I care!” And he
rolled himself up into a prickly ball in the top of a swaying birch
tree.

“Old Man Lynx!” thought Frisky Fox, fairly beside himself with frenzy.
Hanging there heels uppermost in the grapevine, he was as helpless as a
mouse in a trap. And here was the great cat, his ancient enemy,
creeping, creeping, creeping through the shadows, his nose sniffing this
way and that for the scent that would tell him where to find a good
supper.

Another moment and out of the tail of his eye he saw the great, heavy,
bob-tailed cat, with his cruel face, squared off with a fringe of
whiskers that framed his chin, and sharp ears tasseled with little tufts
of fur at their tips.

The yellow eyes gleamed evilly as Old Man Lynx caught sight of Frisky
hanging there so helplessly, and his grizzled gray-brown fur rose along
his spine.

Now he was wriggling along the ground flattened out like a snake. Now he
was creeping up the tree trunk as silently as a shadow, and now he was
gathering his legs beneath him for the leap that would land him squarely
on Frisky Fox.

Frisky knew that one crunch of those gleaming teeth would end it all, so
far as the Red Fox Pup was concerned.

But Frisky had a trick up his sleeve. His wits were still in working
order.

“What a pity!” sighed Shadow Tail, the Red Squirrel, as he peered from
his hole in the oak tree.

For Old Man Lynx had no objection what-ever to having fox for supper.
The only objection he had to foxes was that he could never catch one.

For to look at poor Frisky Fox, his red-brown fur still soft and silky,
his black feet tapering so delicately and his white throat exposed, it
didn’t seem as if he had a show in the world of escaping the huge cat.

But Old Man Lynx was stupid. He had nothing but his powerful muscles and
his murderous teeth and claws, whereas Frisky had the nimble wit of one
who lives by being both hunter and hunted.

And even as he waited for the leap for which he saw the Lynx preparing,
he thought of a way out of both the grapevine and the danger he was in.

The next instant the Old Man gave one of his blood-curdling screeches,
by which he so often paralyzed his prey with fright. Then he dropped to
the branch just above, claws out for Frisky Fox.

But the very instant his heavy form touched the tangled vines, they gave
way beneath him, and he, too, went crashing down in a net-work that held
him fast. And, what’s more, his huge weight loosed the vines that held
Frisky prisoner.

But wait! With his great steel claws the giant cat wrenched himself
free. Frisky made for a clump of greenbriar, for his leg had gone to
sleep, and he couldn’t run right till it had had time to wake up.

Was Old Man Lynx to get him after all?

There was only one reason why he didn’t—he had no great fondness for
brambles. Cats, wild and tame, are mighty fond of their own skins, and
Old Man Lynx was no exception. He’d have to be mighty hungry before he’d
either scratch his fur out or get it wet.

While Old Man Lynx thought it over, Frisky Fox was certainly not
standing still. Not Frisky! He was struggling so hard to tear himself
free that the brambles were all trimmed up with little tufts of his
tawny coat.

That the gray form crouched so near him meant to spring he could easily
guess, and his heart thumped so loudly in his furry chest that he could
hardly breathe. Eyes straining wide with fright, as he tugged this way
and that, (for he was really caught fast again), he suffered far more
from terror than from the pain of the brambles. His leg was awake now,
and with one last twinge he wrenched himself loose.

At the same instant the great gray cat launched itself almost upon him.

But Frisky was too quick for it. By the time Old Man Lynx had reached
the spot, Frisky was tearing down the slope.

Now lynxes have poor eyesight. Following their nose is their one best
guide. Of this Frisky was aware, as his mother had told him so.

He could hear the great cat scrambling after him at a terrific pace. But
he was going too fast to try any dodges, for one stumble and the other
would be upon him. If it had been Mother Red Fox, she could have laughed
at her pursuer. But Frisky was only a pup, remember, and his short legs
had all they could do to keep ahead of such a big fellow.

Just as he was beginning to wonder how long this would keep up, he
recalled something else his mother had taught him. Lynxes cannot swim.
At least, they won’t. The river was just off to the left, and with a
quick turn and a sidewise leap that might or might not throw the Old Man
off his scent, he dashed for the water.

On the very brink of the moonlit current, he suddenly remembered one
thing more. The last time he had tried that swim he had let his tail get
so wet and heavy that he had only reached the other bank by hanging on
to his father’s brush. Now there was no one to tow him. Should he risk
it, or was he safer where he was?

To cross or not to cross, that was the question before him.

If he trusted his fate to the current, he might drown. And if he
remained on the same side with Old Man Lynx, he might meet another fate.

There was but a heart’s beat to decide.

Ah! What was that dark object just upstream? Could it be a log? What
luck! Frisky veered to the right, his long agile leaps once more
outdistancing the merciless form behind him.

He reached the log. Alas, it reached only half way across! But he raced
that half. Then one of his powerful forward leaps and he had landed
within easy swimming distance of the other shore!

Old Man Lynx stood raging on the bank he had left, afraid to risk it.
His disappointed screech sent shivers along Frisky’s spine, but he knew
he was safe.

Pup-like, no sooner was his mind relieved of worry than he burrowed into
an old gopher hole and fell fast asleep.


                                  ————



CHAPTER XI.—SPECKLED TROUT.


The still warmth of Indian summer passed, with its dreamy days and its
crisp nights ablaze with twinkling stars.

And Fleet Foot left the fawns to shift more and more for
themselves,—though they still followed her about. At first they were
puzzled and a little hurt by her growing indifference. Then, as they
began to feel the strength of their coming buck-hood, they began to
enjoy their taste of freedom.

Indeed, the little rascals even began to watch the bucks, (their big
cousins and uncles), who were returning in little bands from their
summer’s wanderings. Someday they, too, would have those lordly antlers,
and they, too, could join their bachelor explorations, while the does
and younger fawns remained safely behind in the low-lands.

Now no longer could they hear Vesper Sparrow trilling in the meadows and
locusts twanging in the tree-tops. The brook beds were drying, ’and the
deer now pastured along the sedgy shore-line of Lone Lake or splashed
knee-deep in the shallows, while here and there the scarlet of a maple
told of approaching winter.

No longer did the gabbling of countless ducks fill their ears when the
pink sunsets tinted the Lake. Instead, there were many V-shaped flocks
constantly migrating to the Southland, where the waters would not
freeze.

Now it was that the speckled trout, whom all summer long they had
watched flashing silvery through the shallows, began putting on their
coats of many colors.—At least the bride-grooms did. The prospective
brides remained a quiet brown, for reasons the fawns were soon to learn.
(For October is the month when trout start housekeeping together.)

In the early summer the fawns had watched these same finny fellows
racing and leaping up the water-falls to the rapids. With the long, hot
days, they had taken to the deep, shadowy pools—those watery caverns
that afford such peaceful coolness everywhere along Beaver Brook.

Now as the woods turned red and gold, the trout changed their cream
colored vests to the most vivid orange, which looked gay enough with
their red and white fins.

Their coats were still olive-green, mottled with darker splotches, and
on their sides the green melted into yellow, with the little red spots
and speckles that give the trout their name.

Their thousands of tiny scales were like suits of mail,—which came in
very handy when they fought, as you shall see.

Now the fawns noticed that the larger and brighter colored fish were
prospecting around in the shallows, where the water ran fastest,
shoveling the gravel about with their bony noses, aided by their tails.
Each trout soon had a little nest scooped out in the stream bed, and
over it he stood guard, (or perhaps we ought to say swam guard),
defending his homestead against all comers.

Sometimes a larger trout would come by and try to steal the nest of a
smaller fish; and then what a fight they had! How they butted each other
about, ramming each other’s soft sides, and even, at times, biting each
other on the lip. It must have hurt dreadfully, because each trout had a
mouthful of the sharpest teeth, that turned backward, so that when they
caught a worm he was hooked as surely as he would be on the end of a
fish-line.

In trout-land, you know, it is the father of the family that makes the
nest. He it is who wears the gayest clothing, too,—because if the mother
were too bright colored, her enemies could see her on her nest.

Once the nests were ready the mother trout came swimming upstream and
promptly set to work filling them with leathery yellow-brown eggs, which
they covered with gravel so that no pike or other cannibal of the
river’s bottom could find and make a breakfast off of them.

The fawns marveled as they watched, day after day, till at last the
trout all went back into deep water for the winter, leaving the eggs
behind them. And Fleet Foot explained how, next spring, each leathery
brown egg that had escaped the cannibal fish and the muskrats would be
burst open by the baby trout inside, and out would wiggle the teeniest,
weeniest troutlet you can possibly imagine!


                                  ————



CHAPTER XII.—THE VICTOR.


One evening when the frost lay glittering in the moonlight, the fawns
were suddenly awakened, in their soft beds of drifted leaves, by a loud
belling down on the lake shore; and wide-eyed, they tip-toed down to see
what it meant.

There on the muddy beach—stamped with long lines of little cloven hoof
prints—stood a handsome buck, with polished antlers, dancing about as if
too full of energy to stand still.

Now the fawns had never seen their father, for he had been killed by a
hunter. And the other bucks of the herd had been rambling about all
summer in the higher hills.

They now saw Fleet Foot mince daintily down to inspect the new-comer,
who was belling his greeting at the top of his lungs.

But the meeting was brought to a sudden end. For out of the woods
pranced another buck, belling a saucy challenge to a fight. Fleet Foot
withdrew to a safe distance, as did the fawns, and watched admiringly as
the two bucks came together; and the excitement, no less than the keen,
frosty air, set the blood to racing hot through their young veins.

Stamping their steel-shod hoofs defiantly and tossing their antlered
heads in the pride of their strength, the two bucks bellowed their
battle challenge.

“Well, where did you come from?” shrilled Fleet Foot’s champion.

“Never mind that. I’ve come to stay,” bellowed the new-comer. “If either
of us has got to go, it will be yourself, because I’m the strongest.”

“Not if I know myself!”

“Look out! The strongest wins!”

“Yes, the strongest wins. So look out for your own self!” and the first
buck gave a shrill snort of defiance.

Straightway the pair began dancing a sort of war-dance around each
other. Slim and supple, they looked about equally fit.

Fleet Foot stepped gracefully a little nearer, and stood looking on,
with her back to the fawns,—who thought best to keep their distance.
They noticed that another little audience had gathered on the opposite
side of the lake,—a couple of yearling bucks with proud spikes of horns
and three with two-pronged antlers.

Around and around the two combatants tip-toed, heads flung back, chins
in air. Then they lowered their antlers like shields, and Fleet Foot’s
champion got in a good dig at the other’s ribs. With a bellow of rage,
the second buck came plunging, and the two crashed together, antlers
against antlers. Their sharp hoofs fairly ploughed the ground as they
strove and struggled and pushed each other about, the very whites of
their eyes showing in their rage.

“There’s ginger for you!” thought the fawns.

Now the fighting pair were shouldering each other about roughly with
their horns, lips foaming, gasping for breath,—almost locking horns in a
butting match. At last the first buck lifted his knife-edged forelegs
and struck at the intruder. The next moment he was belling in triumph,
for he had cut a great gash in the other’s shoulder, and the latter had
had enough.

The victor now turned for the look of admiration he felt he ought to
find in Fleet Foot’s eyes. But instead, he barely caught a glimpse of
her dancing away through the thicket, with just one merry backward
glance to see if he would race her.

But he knew where to follow; for there was the faintest, loveliest
perfume on the air where she had passed.

The fawns gazed after the pair, as they disappeared, then found
themselves alone. All that month, while the woods turned from scarlet
and yellow to brown and gray, and the nights grew frosty under the
stars, the fawns were left very much to their own devices. But they were
well capable of looking out for themselves at this time of year, for
they found a beech wood and began fattening on the beech nuts against
the increasing chill.

Their coats were changing from tawny red to bluish gray, and their fur
thickening to keep a layer of warm air next their skins. There were
coarser hairs growing out as well, that helped to shed the rain. Their
new fur glistened in the sunshine, and the fawns raced and hurdled in
the keen air, and took running high jumps to work off their surplus
energy.

Then Fleet Foot and the winning buck returned, and with them came two of
the young bucks who had watched the battle. The six ranged happily from
cranberry bog to evergreen swamp, feasting, feasting, feasting on
mosses, lichens, anything and everything that grew, till their sides
rounded with their winter plumpness, and a layer of warm fat lay just
underneath their skins.

But with the first powdering of snow came a new danger. The hunting
season had opened, and to the huntsman our little family meant merely a
few pounds of venison for his table, and the pride of a pair of antlers
to hang his gun upon.

To the buck, however, one little bullet might in an instant rob him of
life and the keen joy of his airy speed, and all the glad wonderful
world about them, and leave his family defenseless through the long,
hard winter.

He was therefore more than wary. With the first crash of the Hired Man’s
thunder stick, he led his little herd to a distant cedar swamp, where
they were soon joined by other groups as nervous as themselves at this
new peril that could pick them out and wound them from so far away.

Sometimes, even then, a member of the band would have a race for his
life.—And sometimes he never came back! But Fleet Foot and her five
pulled through in safety.

Then the thunder-stick ceased to roar in the woods about Mount Olaf. The
“season” was over, and the entire, band set about making active
preparations for the on-coming winter. Already there were chill, drizzly
days when all the world looked gray.

The former rivals now chewed their cuds together as peacefully as you
please, the bucks sleeping on one side of the thicket, the does and
their fawns on the other.

Then came a big surprise for the fawns.

It was a surprise for the Red Fox Pup as well.


                                  ————



CHAPTER XIII.—THE QUEER FEATHERS.


Frisky, the Red Fox Pup, had learned many lessons since the day he so
nearly hanged himself in the wild grape-vines.

There was the day of the first snow, for instance.

Awakening one morning, cramped and chilled because he had not lined his
bed deeply enough with leaves to keep off the cold, he peered from his
little den on the hillside with wide eyes.

The air seemed filled, as far as he could see, with tiny white feathers,
and the ground was covered with them.

He peered this way and that, wondering what kind of birds they could be
whose plumage was being shed so freely. It must be a flock large enough
to cover the whole sky, he decided, mystified.

He crept stealthily from the den, afraid, because he did not understand.

The instant his black feet touched the cold stuff, he leaped high into
the air, with a yip of fright and amazement. But when he opened his
mouth he got a taste of the falling flakes.

“Ha!” he said to himself, “that accounts for it. It is just rain turned
white.”

Still, he crept warily down to Pollywog Pond for his breakfast, stepping
high, because he hated wet feet.

Arrived at the pond he stopped for a drink, when his lapping tongue came
plump against a film of something hard and shining that seemed to cover
the water. What could it be, he asked himself, lapping up a mouthful of
the snow-flakes to ease his thirst. (He wisely held them in his mouth
till they had melted, for fear of chilling his stomach.)

It was certainly very queer. Now the very trees were beginning to be
outlined in white. It made the world look quite a different place.

As for the deer, they took to a thicket of poplar, birch and spruce, on
which they could feed when the snow lay deep.

There was one other to whom winter brought a change and that was Old Man
Lynx.

Now it is very, very seldom that good luck falls right at one’s feet
undeserved.

So Old Man Lynx warned himself when he came upon the muskrat in the
trap.

Of course the giant cat did not know it was a trap, as he circled around
and around the struggling rat. His green eyes gleamed hungrily in his
tawny face, and he crouched so close to the snow crust that his whiskers
dragged on the ground. His tasseled ears twitched nervously, his stubby
tail thrashed the earth and his claws were bared in a fringe across the
great awkward paws, as he crept nearer and nearer the struggling bait.

To the nostrils of the cat tribe the musky smell of the water-rat is
most tempting, and his mouth watered till he licked his jaws at thought
of the feast within such easy reach.

And yet—and yet—some spirit of the wild—some instinct of the dumb brute
who must fight to live—seemed to warn him that where man had been, there
would be trouble for him. And he circled his prey without quite daring
to close in upon it and end its squeaking protest.

Now the Hired Man at the Valley Farm had not meant the trap for Old Man
Lynx. He had placed it there on the bare chance of there being a wolf at
large in the forest around Mount Olaf.

As the midwinter dawn deepened from salmon to rose, and the snow began
to glitter in the sun’s first rays, Old Man Lynx decided that the thing
was altogether too mysterious to be wholesome. Instead, he trotted down
to Lone Lake, where muskrats were supposed to be. And he promised
himself that even were it too late in the day to catch a rat, he could
at least afford the pleasure of sniffing at the chimneys to their round
houses,—those air-holes in the top, where their musky breath steamed
out, while the rats themselves lay snug and warm within.

Then, suddenly, just as Old Man Lynx was passing a snow-laden clump of
spruces, he caught a little movement in their lower branches. Circling
till he had the ribbon of the wind in his nostrils, he discovered that
it was a covey of grouse.

Grouse! How infinitely more delicious than muskrat—more tender even than
rabbit! Now indeed he was glad he had saved his appetite.


                                  ————



CHAPTER XIV—STARVATION TIME


Fleet Foot, the Doe, would never have dreamed of taking her fawns down
to the hay-stack at the Valley Farm, had not the Farmer and his Boy set
her leg the summer before, and gained her confidence by their kindness.

But, though the herd had selected a south-west slope where the feeding
was good, and though they had trampled the snow till it raised them
higher and higher, and they could browse on the limbs of the fir trees,
it was proving a cruel winter. As blizzard followed blizzard, and bark
and browse alike were frozen stiff, they huddled together, weak with
hunger.

Then the thought of the big hay-mow provided for the sheep and cattle
proved too much for Fleet Foot, and she resolved to take the fawns, (now
well grown,) slip down under cover of the early winter dusk, and there
help herself to the few mouthfuls she could reach through the bars. For
part of the hay stood in the open meadow, with only a canvas over top to
keep it dry, and a few bars to keep it from being blown away.

The other deer of the herd, though they were starving, were far too
timid to make the venture with her. To them it seemed a perilous
undertaking to go so near human-kind. For they had seen many things in
the woods. They had seen the Hired Man with his long black stick that
spoke like thunder, and killed more surely than tooth or claw. They
preferred to starve!

For Fleet Foot, the dangers of traveling alone with the fawns through
the winter woods were many. First there was the chance of meeting Old
Man Lynx. For now they would not have the protection of the hoofs and
horns of the herd.

Then they might get lost and freeze, should another storm catch them far
from the herd-yard. But, once having made up her mind, Fleet Foot
whistled to the fawns and started off in a series of long, graceful
bounds that carried them over one snow-bank after another.

Had they dared delay, they would have sunk to their knees in the hard,
dry snow to rest for a while and nibble the tops of some bush that
promised a few mouthfuls of supper, for their empty stomachs fairly
hurt. And if it had been freezing in the herd-yard, with its wall of
snow, and the crowding bodies that helped keep each other warm, imagine
how cold Fleet Foot’s little family must have been, out on the open
hill-top! The savage wind and the snow-filled air made it all but
impossible at times to draw breath.

But worst of all was the shadow of fear that never left the doe’s
anxious mother heart. The tree-trunks crackled alarmingly with the
frost, keeping her alert for enemies, and the wind tore savagely through
the brush. Of a sudden Fleet Foot’s spine began to prickle! It was one
of those mysterious things that she had never been able to account for.
But it usually meant danger!

Half blindly, they had been making their way, hardly able to see in the
green-black of the darkness. But they marked their path by the darker
blackness of the clumps of spruce trees, which to their trained instinct
pointed the way like a map.

Again a chill ran down their spine and the hair raised along the backs
of their necks! Some instinct told them real danger was near—what
danger, they could not know. Rolling their startled eyes behind them,
they could see points of light gleaming at them through the darkness.

At length, through the winter night, came a long, shrill cry like that
of a hound, only wilder and more terrifying. Then came another, and a
third. It was an uncanny sound, that of the three gray wolves, watching
from behind the snowy evergreens.

Fleet Foot knew, more by instinct than experience, what they were, for
their like she had never seen before. Nor had any one in those woods
known a winter when these ravenous beasts had come down out of the
Canadian wilds. But it had been handed down from grand-sire to grand-son
that once, when the snows were uncommonly deep, and half the wild folk
starved and frozen, wolves had come down from the far North in search of
prey.

There were three of the lean gray shapes, like collie dogs, yet so much
larger and fiercer—large enough to attack even bigger game than Fleet
Foot, the doe.

Should worst come to worst, she would have no more chance with even one
such foe than a rabbit with a hound. It would all be a matter of which
could run the faster. And she had to look out for the fawns!

Their one chance of escape lay in their nimble heels. They might, for a
time, outspeed their enemies, if their strength held out. The combined
hoofs and antlers of the herd might have fought off the beasts for a
time, but the herd-yard was now too far away for Fleet Foot ever to
reach it with the fawns before those lean gray shapes would be at their
throats. The Valley Farm lay straight ahead, and her fear of man shrank
to nothing beside the terrors behind her.

Yes, the one hope on the horizon lay at the Valley Farm, where the fear
of man might keep the wolves from following.

And to the Farm Fleet Foot and the fawns now sped with their great,
bounding strides that took whole drifts at a leap. Would their feet slip
in the darkness, crippling them and leaving them helpless almost within
sight of safety?

On and on they ran, and behind them through the forest crept the three
gray shapes, slinking along like shadows with glowing coals for eyes.
Every now and again their barking howl, long drawn out and fearful, tore
the darkness. Could they reach the Valley Farm, Fleet Foot asked herself
with pounding heart?

It was hard going through the powdery snow, into which she sank
dangerously every time she came to a drift too wide to leap. And the
fawns were having an even harder time, the cold cutting into their lungs
’till it hurt.

At last, straight ahead, gleamed the dim lighted windows of the
farmhouse. A few more bursts of speed would get them over the fence and
into the pasture lot, and perhaps the wolves would stop at the boundary
of man’s domain. But—could they make it? Could they reach that fence
before their grim pursuers?

Their eyes were fairly popping with the effort they were making. Here
was a mammoth drift that in summer had been a creek, and there a patch
of the higher wind-swept ground where the ice might take their hoofs
from under them.

Ah! The fence at last! One leap over its smooth pyramid, and with a
sobbing cough, Fleet Foot and the fawns were safe, with the wolves not
ten paces behind!

Then, suddenly, the door at the farmhouse opened, throwing a long streak
of lamp-light across the snow!

The wolves slunk back in fear. But so, too, did Fleet Foot. The terror
of the great gray beasts behind her, all her old fear of man flooded
back upon her, and what to do she did not know. She dared not go back,
nor could she go forward. So she stood stock still, her fawns huddling,
trembling against her sides. The sudden light half-blinded her, and made
the darkness blacker. What could be its meaning? Curiosity might, at
another time, have conquered fear, but now she was trembling in every
joint, her spent lungs wheezing with the effort she had made. This was
far different from slipping in under cover of darkness as she had
planned.

“Father! Come quick! I do believe there is a deer out there—no, a doe,
and two fawns!” cried the Boy of the Valley Farm, as the light from the
open door threw a long ray across the barn-yard to the pasture beyond.

“Wait! I’ll get her for you!” exclaimed the Hired Man, springing for his
gun. But at the Boy’s sharp command he dropped it, shame-faced.

Then from farther back in the evergreens came the spine-chilling howl of
the gray wolves, baying their lost prey.

“Wolves, my son!” exclaimed the Farmer, joining the group in the
doorway. “Wolves from Canada. It’s a hard winter that has brought them
down. I don’t remember seeing wolves since I was a little shaver, forty
years ago. And I expect that is what has driven the deer so close. Sh!
Come out-side.” The two closed the door behind them. “We mustn’t
frighten them away, or the wolves will get them, sure.”


                                  ————



CHAPTER XV.—THE GRAY WOLVES.


“That’s what I heard,” exclaimed the Boy at the Valley Farm. “Wolves!
Imagine! I didn’t suppose they ever came into these woods.”

“It’s been an unusual winter,” his father assured him, stepping out into
the snowy barn-yard. “I saw them once when I was ten years old. But I
thought they had been driven away for good. I suppose the rabbits all
froze, up where they come from, and they got so starved they were driven
to it. They’ve certainly been chasing these deer.”

For as their eyes became accustomed to the snowy darkness, they could
once more see the shadowy forms of Fleet Foot and the fawns by the
hay-mow.

“It must have been those wolves that I heard ten minutes back,” said the
Farmer, rubbing his unmittened hands together.

“Just see how hollow these poor things look!” exclaimed the Boy. “They
must be starving. Let’s go back inside, so they won’t be afraid.”

They met the Hired Man just starting forth with his gun. “I’m going for
those wolves,” he hastened to explain.

“That’s more like it,” said the Farmer.

Here they were at last, beside the hay-stack, Fleet Foot and her fawns.
And as three disappointed howls arose from the woods at their back, the
famished deer turned to snatch their first ravenous mouthfuls from
between the bars of the crib. They paused in their banquet only long
enough to stare at the Hired Man, as with snow-shoes strapped to his
feet, he strode down the Old Logging Road,—Lop Ear, the Hound, at his
heels.

“Who-o-o-o!” howled the three gray wolves from the blackness of the
woods. The Hired Man raised his thunder-stick and fired—straight between
a pair of the red eyes that gleamed at him through the night.

“Yoo-o-o-o!” screamed one of the wolves, as he fell, while the cries of
the other two retreated into the forest. And Whoo Lee, the great barred
owl, could have told you that they carried their tails between their
legs. Their weird voices faded rapidly into the depths of the woods; for
wolves travel fast on their round, furry feet, which spread out beneath
them like round snow-shoes.

The Hired Man strode on down the Old Logging Road past the charred
trunks which the forest fire had swept,—standing like white ghosts now
in their snowy mantles,—and on nearly to Lone Lake. But never a sign of
the gleaming eyes of the two remaining wolves could he see, though his
ears shuddered at the weird howls that rang down the wind, and Lop Ear
bristled and growled.

Fleet Foot and the starving fawns nibbled and nibbled at the
hay-mow,—for the time, at least, safe and happy. But could they ever get
back to the herd-yard, with those wolves still at large?

For once they were in luck. The Hired Man was not the only hunter who
followed the wolves that night. Old Man Lynx, that fierce, furry fellow
with tassels on his ears and claws that could rend like steel hooks, had
also been driven down to the Valley by the winter’s famine. He, too,
heard the howling of the wolves.

He heard the piercing scream of the wolf the Hired Man had shot, and he
knew what it meant. The lynx was hungry, for the storms had lasted many
days, and the rabbits and grouse hens hid away where he could not find
them. On his own wide, spreading paws, therefore, he set out over the
snow to find the wolf that had fallen. His heart was glad at the
unexpected feast in store, and he whined hungrily under his breath.

Every now and again he had to pause to bite off the icy balls that had
formed under his warm feet. But before ever the Hired Man had turned
back from Lone Lake, Old Man Lynx was peering and sniffing at the wolf
that lay dead.

One thing he did not know, though. No sooner had the two remaining
wolves raced to Lone Lake, with their tails between their legs, and the
roar of the thunder-stick in their ears, than it occurred to them that
they were still ravenously hungry. And the one that had fallen would go
far toward easing that terrible emptiness that drew their sides together
and made them desperate. (For wolves are cannibals!)

So, back the horrid beasts came, running on their furry snow-shoes—back
down the wind, which told the noses of these great wild dogs as plainly
as words that Old Man Lynx was there before them.

“Who-o-o-o,” they howled wrathfully, speeding back through the
burnt-wood, over whose ghost-like trunks they leapt in the darkness so
fast that no Hired Man could have shot them had he tried.

Old Man Lynx raised his whiskered face and yowled an answering
challenge.

“Ye-ow-w-w!” he screamed at them defiantly. Then he bent his head to
snatch another mouthful of the meat he knew the wolves were on their way
to claim.

“Ye-ow-w-w!” he screamed again, as the wolf cry swept nearer. This time
he saw two pairs of red eyes gleaming in the darkness.

“I got here first, and I’ll make it hot for the first one that comes
within reach of my claws,” he warned them, in tones they understood
without words.

“We are two to your one!” they answered him.

Little did Old Man Lynx imagine that he had an ally so near. To him it
was merely a case of having found a meal in the wolf the Hired Man had
shot, and of having the rest of the pack demand it of him. So the giant
cat took his stand, with claws outspread over the prize, his savage face
tense with hate. His green eyes blazed at them through the darkness.

The cowardly wolves paused just out of reach, neither one of them quite
daring to begin the attack, yet willing to fall in, should the other go
first, for both were wild with hunger.

Old Man Lynx was not afraid. He meant merely to meet each wolf as he
came, and fight him off with tooth and claw—or if worst came to worst,
he could climb the nearest tree. For the power to climb is the one great
advantage that cats have over all members of the dog tribe.

Old Man Lynx himself was lean with famine, for the great storm had made
hunting all but impossible for him. Not so much as a wood-mouse had
shown its tracks on the snow for days. And there had been nothing in his
rocky den save the dried and frozen bones of dinners long since past.

To surrender his supper to-night might mean starvation and actual death
to him. But so it did to the wolves. It was to be a fight for life!

Now a lynx’s claws are like so many little curved swords of poisoned
steel,—and he had five on each foot. He could dig at a wolf’s
unprotected sides with his hind legs while his fore legs were clinging
to the throat in which he would try to fasten his fangs.

The gray wolves knew all this, for Old Man Lynx visited the same
Canadian wilds that they had come from. But even so, in another moment
they had taken the leap—together! And there was more lynx fur flying
than wolf fur—as Whoo Lee, the owl overhead, could have told you.

Just in the nick of time for Old Man Lynx, the Hired Man returned. When
he heard the shrill chorus of returning wolves, he had hastened back,
his great snow-shoes shuffling their way down the Old Logging Road at a
speed of which he had not known them capable.

He was not thinking of Fleet Foot and the fawns. But with the barn full
of cattle, it would never do to leave such beasts at large in the
forest. When he heard Old Man Lynx, however, the Hired Man understood
just what was going on. He had not lived in the back-woods for nothing
all his days. And he decided to draw a little nearer, in the hope of
getting another shot or two at the great gray terrors from the North.


                                  ————



CHAPTER XVI.—THE FARMER’S PLAN.


It was thus at the very moment that Old Man Lynx was striking out with
bared claws, and the gray wolves were closing in on him both at once,
that his unexpected ally reached the scene.

The Hired Man raised his gun, pointing it straight between two gleaming
eyes that shone out in the darkness. He had to do it quickly, they
jumped about so fast. Then a shot rang out on the silent night!

It singed a streak across the lynx’s flank, but it felled the wolf whose
jaws were just about to clamp about his leg. A second shot nicked the
tasseled ear of the great cat fighting so desperately. But it singed the
fur on the neck of the second wolf, just in time to check him, as his
fangs were finding their way through the thick fur ruff that protected
the lynx’s throat. At this second shot, the wolf, with a howl of terror,
tucked his tail between his legs and ran.

The Hired Man hesitated, then decided that the lynx had won the right to
live by his pluck. Thus Old Man Lynx was left, somewhat the worse for
the meeting, but still able to enjoy the rest of his meal; while the
Hired Man, counting the night well spent, shuffled home on his
snow-shoes. But there was still a gaunt gray wolf at large in the
forest—and Fleet Foot and the fawns had still to get back to the
herd-yard before morning found them in the haunts of man!

But strange things can happen. No sooner had the lone gray wolf fled
from the unexpected slaughter than the wind shifted, and he caught an
odor most agreeable to his palate. For his gaunt sides were so hollow
that every rib showed. It was an odor he had never before followed up.
He had not met it in his Northern wilds, but it smelled porky and
delicious.

It was on the trunk of a wild apple tree that he found the little round
bristly fellow. And he could see, by the gray light of dawn, that his
black sides bulged with fat, in a winter when all the furry folk were
lean and hungry.

That alone was puzzling. But what surprised him even more was that this
queer fellow showed no sign of fear. He was singing a little song, all
in one flat key—“Unk-wunk, unk-wunk, unk-wunk.” It was a young
porcupine, one of these prickly fellows so like a tiny bear, only with
long black needles instead of fur. The gray wolf did not know how
terrible those needle-like quills can be, when once they get in one’s
paw. For they are barbed like a hook on the end, and when they stick
into one, it hurts worse to pull them out than to leave them where they
are. The wood folk that lived around Lone Lake knew enough to leave
Unk-Wunk strictly alone. So, he was never afraid. But the wolf did not
know. And when the little porcupine, instead of climbing higher, out of
his reach, came lazily back down the trunk and began to gnaw the frozen
bark, the wolf thought it was easy game.

Thus, without so much as wondering what made this strange beast so
fearless, he leaped open-jawed upon the little porcupine. There was just
one howl of agony, as he clamped his jaws on those barbed quills, and it
was not the porcupine who gave it!

Whining and clawing at his tortured mouth, the wolf rolled about in the
snow-drift, choking and spluttering in mingled wrath and terror. For
Unk-Wunk’s terrible barbed quills were working deeper and deeper into
the roof of his mouth. Finally he rolled over on them, and they pierced
through to the brain. That was the last of the great gray wolf that had
come down out of the North to prey upon the forest folk around the
Valley Farm.

Unk-Wunk, without in the least realizing that he had done so, had
performed a public service. And in particular, he had made it safe for
Fleet Foot and her fawns to go back home to the deer yard in the gray of
the winter dawn.

“I tell you what,” said the Farmer to his son next day. “I’ve a plan
that I think will interest you.”

“What is it?” asked the Boy, eagerly.

“Just this: I’ve plenty of hay this year, (more than enough for the
stock,) and I’m going to pitch a little of it out, after this, every
time the storms make it hard for the deer. I declare, I can’t bear to
think of their being so starved!” And he gazed thoughtfully out over the
drifting snow, as he thought how Fleet Foot had braved everything to
reach their hay-stack.

“Hurray!” shouted the Boy. “May I pitch some out right now? Poor things,
there wasn’t much they could reach between the bars,” and he gazed at
the dainty footprints the fawns had made the night before.

The deep, dry snow was followed by a freeze that left a glistening crust
over every drift. Once more Fleet Foot and the rest of the deer could
run nimbly on their spreading hoofs; and young Frisky Fox and Mother
Grouse Hen and Mammy Cotton tail, the brown bunny, could foot their way
across the white expanse in search of food. For they were sure of at
least a fighting chance of getting home again.

Fleet Foot and the fawns, returning every night to the hay-stack, with a
little band whose sides were as pinched with hunger as their own, now
passed Old Man Lynx without a fear. For where there was footing that
would bear their weight, they knew they could outspeed him.

Hereafter the snow might whirl and the spruce trees bend and sway in the
wind that wailed through their tops, but the white-tailed deer of the
woods about Mount Olaf were always sure of a little hay to tide them
over the month of hunger.

“Father,” said the Boy, “I’ve made a birthday resolution. I am going to
befriend every furred and feathered creature in these woods.”

“All of them?” his Father asked. The Hired Man paused in the smoking of
his traps to listen. “You aren’t going to tell us we can’t do any more
trapping this winter?”

“You can trap muskrats,” said the Boy thoughtfully. “And, of course,
wolves, if any more should come. And weasels—the wicked creatures! They
are only cruel, blood-thirsty ruffians who kill without need, just for
the love of killing.”

“What about Old Man Lynx?”

“Well, I know he is not popular. But, after all, he’s a good mouser. And
we must spare our mousers, the fox and the skunk and the big barn
owl,—for the mice destroy our grain, and I don’t know anything muskrats
are good for except their fur. I’m not quite sure about the wild cat,
but he doesn’t do much harm, does he, as long as there are fish to be
caught? And he is a good mouser.”

“What about bears?” asked the Hired Man, with one foot on the chopping
block.

“Never do any great amount of harm,” returned the Farmer. “They can
catch mice with the best of them. Besides, they’re mostly vegetarians.
It isn’t once in a coon’s age you’ll find one of these black bears that
would harm a baby, if you let him alone.”

“The deer seem awfully afraid of bears.”

“They have a lot more reason for being afraid of men,” said the Farmer,
eyeing the Hired Man’s gun.

“And porcupines? What about porcupines?” asked the latter.

“They mind their own business,” spoke up the Boy. “Let them live. You’ll
have plenty to do, hunting animals like wolverines and martins and mink
and weasels. But don’t any one hurt my friends!”

Thus Fleet Foot and her fawns were allowed to live happily on, as season
followed season in the good green woods.





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