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´╗┐Title: Wild Folk
Author: Scoville, Samuel
Language: English
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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.

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WILD FOLK


[Illustration: THE PINCUSHION OF THE WOODS]


WILD FOLK

by

SAMUEL SCOVILLE, JR.

Author of "Everyday Adventures"

With Illustrations by Charles Livingston Bull and Carton Moorepark



The Atlantic Monthly Press
Boston

Copyright, 1922, by
Samuel Scoville, Jr.

Printed in the United States of America



    _To my Son Gurdon Trumbull Scoville who has learned to know and
    love so many of our Lesser Brethren of Earth and Air and Water
    this book is dedicated_



CONTENTS


       I. THE CLEANLYS               1
      II. BLACKBEAR                 24
     III. THE SEVENTH SLEEPER       51
      IV. HIGH SKY                  74
       V. THE LITTLE PEOPLE         85
      VI. THE PATH OF THE AIR      107
     VII. BLACKCAT                 122
    VIII. LITTLE DEATH             137
      IX. BLACKCROSS               150
       X. SEA OTTER                 71



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


    _The Pincushion of the Woods_       Frontispiece
    _The First Journey_                            4
    _Bull Moose and Blackbear_                    44
    _The Thief_                                   62
    _The Safe Rabbit_                            130
    _The Killers_                                140
    _The Fox Family_                             154
    _Death in the Dark_                          158



WILD FOLK



I

THE CLEANLYS


All winter long the Barrens had slept still and white. Rows and
regiments of low pitch-pine trees, whose blue-green needles grow in
threes instead of the fives of the white or the twos of the Virginia
pines, marched for miles and miles across the drifted snow. Through
their tops forever sounded the far-away roar of the surf of the upper
air, like the rushing of mighty wings, while overhead hung a sky whose
cold blue seemed flecked with frost. The air tingled with the spicery
of myriads of pine trees. Grim black buzzards, on fringed, motionless
wings, wheeled and veered over this land of silence.

Then, with the suddenness of the South, spring came. The woods became
a shimmering pool of changing greens. The down-folded leaves of the
little lambskill stood erect again, like rabbits' ears, over
claret-colored flowers, and the soft warm air was sweet with the heavy
perfume of cream-white magnolia blossoms. On jade-green pools gleamed
the buds of yellow pond-lilies, like lumps of floating gold, and the
paler golden-club, whose blossoms look like the tongues of calla
lilies. Everywhere, as if set in snow, gleamed the green-and-gold of
the Barrens' heather above the white sand, which had been the bed of
some sea, forgotten a million years ago. In the distance, at the edges
of the Barrens, were glimpses of far-away meadows, all hazy with blue
toad-flax and rimmed with the pale gold of narrow-leaved sundrops with
their deep orange centres.

Through the woods wound a deep creek, whose water was stained brown
and steeped sweet with a million cedar roots. Unlike the singing
streams of the North, this brook ran stilly, cutting its deep way
through gold-and-white sand, and meeting never rock nor stone to make
it murmur. On its bank in the deepest part of the woods grew a vast
sweet-gum tree, covered with star-shaped leaves. Tangles of barbed
greenbrier set with fierce curved thorns, and stretches of sphagnum
bogs guarded the tree from the land side. In the enormous hollow
trunk, some fifty feet above the ground, a black hole showed.

There, one May afternoon, as the sun was westering far down the sky, a
small face appeared suddenly, framed in the dark opening. It was a
funny little face, surmounted by broad, pricked-up, pointed ears, and
masked by a black band, which stretched from above a pair of twinkling
golden eyes clear down to a small pointed muzzle. As the owner of the
face came out of the hollow and began to creep slowly and cautiously
down the side of the great tree, his fur showed in the sunlight a dull
brownish-gray, with black-tipped hairs on the back, while those on the
round little belly had white ends. Last of all appeared the
black-ringed, cylindrical tail which is the hall-mark of the aracoun,
raccoon, or coon, as red, white, and black men have variously named
the owner of said tail.

This particular little coon was the youngest of four fuzzy, cuddly,
blind babies, which had appeared in the old den-tree early in March.
His father was a wary, battle-scarred giant among his kind, who
weighed thirty pounds, measured three feet from the tip of his pointed
nose to the end of his ringed tail, and was afraid of nothing that
crawled, ran, swam, or flew.

As the little coon walked carefully, head-first, down the tree, he
showed his kinship to the bears by setting the naked black soles of
his little hind feet flat, instead of walking on his toes as most of
the flesh-eaters do. His forepaws were like tiny black hands, with a
very short little finger and the thumb the same length as the other
three long, supple fingers.

It was the first time that this particular youngster had ever ventured
out of the home-nest. A great bump in the middle of the trunk was his
undoing. He crept over the edge, but in reaching down for a safe grip
beyond, lost his hold and, with a wail of terror, fell headlong.
Fortunately for him, the gum was surrounded on three sides by shallow
pools of standing water. Into one of these the young climber fell with
a splash, and a second later was swimming for dear life back to his
family tree.

At the very first sound of that little SOS the head of Mother Coon
appeared in the opening, with three other small heads peering out from
behind her. Seeing the little coon struggling in the water, she
hurried down the tree, followed in procession by the rest of the
family, who had evidently resolved not to miss anything. By the time
she came to the bump, however, the small adventurer had reached the
trunk from which he had fallen. Fixing his sharp claws into the bark,
he climbed up the tree, bedraggled, wet, and much shocked at the
manifold dangers of life.

Seeing him safe, Mrs. Coon at once turned back. The three little coons
turned with her, and the reversed procession started up to the hole.
The littlest of the family climbed slowly and painfully as far as the
bump, whimpering all the time. There his feelings overcame him. He was
positive that never had any little coon suffered so before. He was wet
and shaken and miserable and--his mother had deserted him.

"Err, err, err," he began to cry, softly, but exceeding sorrowfully.

It was too much even for Mother Coon's stern ideals of child-training.
Once again she crept down the tree and, stopping on the bump, fixed
her claws firmly into the bark. Stretching far over the edge, she
reached down and gripped the little coon firmly but gently by the
loose skin of his neck and, turning around, swung him safely up in
front of her between her forepaws. Then, urging him on with little
pokes from her pointed nose, she convoyed him up the tree toward the
den, from which three little heads looked down. At times the memory
of his grief would be too bitter to be borne, and he would stop and
whimper and make little soft, sobbing noises. Then Mother Coon would
pat him comfortingly with her slim, graceful paws and urge him on
until at last he was safely home again. So ended well, after all, the
first journey into the world of any of this little family.

[Illustration: THE FIRST JOURNEY]

By this time the sun was set, and the old coon climbed down the tree
to the nearest pool, for a bit of supper. As she approached, there
were squeaks and splashes, and several cricket frogs dived into the
water ahead of her. Wading in, she looked around at the woods and the
tree-tops in the darkening light, in a vacant way, as if frogs were
the very last thing she had in mind; but under the water her slim
fingers were exploring every inch of the oozy bottom with such
lightning-like speed, that in less than a minute three frogs had been
caught, killed by a skillful nip, and thrown up on the dry bank.
Convinced that there were no more left in the pool, she approached her
supper-table; but before she would eat came the ceremony and ritual of
her tribe and blood.

No raccoon, in winter or summer, by night or by day, at home or in
captivity, will willingly eat any unwashed food except green corn. One
by one the dead frogs were plunged under the water from which they had
just been taken, and were washed and re-washed and rubbed and
scrubbed, until they were clean enough to suit Mrs. Coon. Then, and
not until then, were they daintily eaten. Thereafter soft little
chirring calls from the tree-top said that her babies were ready for
their supper, too; and she climbed back to the nest, where they
snuggled against her and nuzzled and cuddled and drank of the warm
milk which would not flow much longer for them, since mother raccoons
wean their children early.

While they were still at supper, there sounded from the black depths
of the pine forest a long whickering "Whoo-oo-oo-oo," much like the
wailing call of the screech-owl. It was Father Coon on his way home
from where he had been spending the night in one of his outlying
hunting-lodges, of which he had several within a radius of a few
miles; and a little later he joined the family. He brought Mother Coon
a little tidbit in the shape of a fresh-water mussel, which, although
the shell was still dripping, she climbed down and washed before she
cracked and ate it like a nut.

After supper, the two started off on a hunting-trip, while the babies
curled up in a round ball, to sleep until they came back. The gray
hour just before dawn found the hunters crouched in the long marshy
grass at the very tip of a point of land that ran into a little pond,
which was ringed around with the stunted pines of the Barrens. Just as
the first light showed in the sky, a flock of mallards, headed by a
magnificent drake with a bright green head, swung in to feed. Never a
sign nor sound betrayed the presence of the ambushers until the drake
reached the edge of the shore. The startled bird had not even time for
one quack before there was a splash, and old Father Coon had twisted
that gay and gallant neck and was back on the shore again, with the
quivering body thrown over his shoulder.

Part of the duck was washed and eaten then and there, and the rest was
carried back to the den-tree, where the four little coons were taught
to tear off little strips of the rich, dark meat, and to wash them
repeatedly before eating. That first taste of flesh and blood forever
barred them from the warm milky fountain which had been theirs before.
From this time on, they had to hunt for themselves.

The very next night their education began. In the warm fragrant dusk,
the whole family trotted in a long, leisurely procession through the
underbrush, until they came to a broad bank of warm, white sand that
overhung the deep waters of the stream which wound its silent way like
a brown snake through the Barrens. Here, in a half-circle, the whole
family crouched and dozed comfortably, with their pointed, striped
noses on their forepaws, while the dusk deepened into the
soft-scented, velvet blackness of a summer night. For long they stayed
there, in the still patience which only the wild folk possess.

At last, over the tips of the pointed cedars the moon rose, and turned
the white beach to silver. All at once, from where a sand spit sloped
gradually into the water, sounded a tiny splash, and out into the
moonlight crawled a monstrous, misshapen object. From under a vast
black shell ridged with dull yellow a snaky neck stretched this way
and that, surmounted by a fierce head, with a keen, edged beak and
gleaming, cruel eyes which stared up and down the whole beach. It was
a snapper, one of the largest of its kind, which weighed perhaps
half-a-hundred pounds and would have filled a small washtub.

As the great turtle crawled slowly up the bank, the little coons
crouched tensely, and turned their heads to see how the veteran
hunters of the family proposed to attack this demon of the stream. As
if asleep, both of them crouched motionless; for long ago they had
learned that watchful waiting is the best policy when Mrs. Snapper
comes out of the water of a spring night. Back and forth the monster
crawled heavily, stopping to look and listen for minutes at a time.
Satisfied at last that no danger threatened her on that lonely beach,
she chose a little ridge of loose sand not ten feet from the raccoon
family, and scrabbling with her hind legs and thrusting with her
thick, strong tail in the warm sand, dug herself in. There she stayed
all the night through, until she had laid a couple of hundred
parchment-covered, cylindrical eggs, the greatest delicacy on the
whole bill of fare of the hunting folk.

Just before dawn, she pulled herself heavily out of the hole she had
dug, and the loose sand poured in after her, filling the cavity and
covering the eggs that were hidden there. Not until the turtle had
smoothed over the displaced sand and waddled back into the stream did
the head of the raccoon family make a movement. He was no coward, but
he knew too much to trust his slim paws or his pointed nose anywhere
near Mrs. Snapper's shearing jaws. When the brown water at last
closed over her monstrous body, Father Coon led his waiting family to
the bank and deftly uncovered the newly laid eggs, on which they
feasted until sunrise sent them back to bed.

As the freshness of spring melted into the hot, green sweetness of
summer, the education of the little Cleanlys went on rapidly. They
soon became experts in breakfast-botany, and learned to dig for the
nutty tubers of the wild bean, with its brown purple blossoms, the
spicy roots of the wild sarsaparilla, with its five ashlike leaves and
fuzzy ball of white blossoms, the wild ginger, the spatterdock, and a
score or so of other pleasant-tasting wild vegetables. They learned,
too, how to hunt frogs, and to grub up mussels, and to catch those
little fresh-water lobsters, the crawfish, without getting their
fingers nipped.

The Cleanly children made few mistakes, and hardly ever disobeyed
their parents. There was a reason. Disobedience among the wild folk
means death, and he who makes one mistake often never gets a chance to
make another. The sister of the littlest coon was a sad example of
this fact. She decided to become a reformer. It seemed to her that it
would be pleasanter to hunt by daylight than after dark, so she tried
it--once. On her first (and last) trip she met old Sam Carpenter, a
Piny, who always carried a shotgun with him.

Of course, accidents will happen in wild-folk families just as among
us humans, only in a wild-folk family, an accident is more apt to be
fatal. It was the oldest of the three little Cleanlys, after the
reformer had gone, who suffered first. He had been hunting in the
wildest part of the five-mile circle, which the family used, and it
was after sunrise when he scrambled out of the shallow pool where he
had been frogging.

Suddenly from a dry dense thicket near by, there was a fierce hiss
like escaping steam, and from a tangle of fern darted the mottled
brown-and-white length of a great pine snake. Its curious pointed
head, with its golden, unwinking eyes, shot forward, and the next
second a set of sharp teeth closed on the soft nose of the small coon.
Unlike the poison people, the pine snake has no fangs, and its teeth
are used only to hold its prey for the grip of its choking, crushing
coils. This particular snake was nearly eight feet long, and as thick
around as a big man's wrist. Luckily for the little coon, the thick
bushes guarded him for an instant against the smothering coils.

Dragging back from the dreadful glare of the fixed, lidless eyes, he
tried to tear loose, and squalled with all his might for his mother.
Fortunately for him, she was not far away. Anyone who had ever watched
Mrs. Coon climb carefully down a tree-trunk, or move deliberately
through the thickets, would never have identified her with the furious
figure which flashed through the bushes at the very first cry of the
little coon. Before the great snake had time to draw its coils clear
of the branches, or even to disengage its head to meet the attack,
the raccoon was upon it, and sank her sharp teeth through the
reptile's spine just back of its head. At once the shut jaws gaped,
and the little coon sprang back from the heavy body, which writhed and
twisted and beat the bushes horribly in its death agony.

Mother Coon was always practical, with an open mind in regard to
matters of diet, and while her cub whimperingly licked, with a long,
pink tongue, a much-abused little nose, she began to strip off the
speckled skin of her late opponent, and to convert it into lengths of
firm, white meat on which the whole raccoon family fed full that
night.

It was the youngest of the family who was the next victim. Again it
was Mother Coon whose love and wisdom and courage outweighed chance on
the scales of life and death. He had been exploring the shallows of
the stream near a deserted cranberry bog. All the raccoon people like
to follow the shallows of a stream, on the chance of picking up frogs,
mussels, crawfish, and other water-food. A solitary rock off a tiny
island, in shallow water close to the bank, is always a favorite spot
for a hunting coon. Old Sam Carpenter knew all about raccoon habits,
and also about one of their weaknesses.

On this night the latest-born of the family came splashing down the
warm shallows, and half waded and half swam out to a tiny sandbar some
six feet from the bank. There he crouched and scanned the water in the
moonlight, on the chance that he might catch a sluggish, red-finned
sucker as it winnowed the water through its long wrinkled tube of a
mouth. Suddenly, against the yellow sand, he saw three or four
gleaming, silver disks, brighter even than the silver-scaled shiners
which he had often tried vainly to catch. Old Sam had begged from a
traveling tinker a few scraps of bright tin and strewn them near the
little islet.

No raccoon can help investigating anything that glistens in the water,
and this one felt that he must have his hands on that treasure-trove.
Wading carefully out into the shallows, he dabbled in the sand with
his slim forepaws, trying to draw some of the shining pieces in to
shore. Suddenly there was a snap that sent the water flying, a
horrible grinding pain, and the slender fingers of his right forepaw
were caught between the wicked jaws of a hidden steel trap.

"Oo-oo-oo-oo!" he cried, with the sorrowful wail of a hurt baby coon.

But this time Mother Coon was far away, around two bends of the
crooked stream, investigating a newly found mussel bed. The little
coon tried in vain to pull away from the cruel jaws, but they held him
unrelentingly. Then he attempted to gnaw his way loose, but only broke
his keen little teeth on the stubborn iron.

At first, he was easily able to keep himself above the water; yet, as
the minutes went by, the unremitting weight of the trap forced him
under more and more often, to rest from the weary, sagging pain. Each
time that he went down, it seemed easier and easier to stay there,
and to slip into oblivion under the glimmering water and forget the
torture that racked every nerve in his struggling little body. Yet, in
spite of his funny face and quiet ways, the little coon came of a
battling breed which never gives up. Once more he struggled up from
the soothing coolness of the water, and for the last time his cry for
help shuddered faintly across the Barrens. At last and at last, far
away down the stream, he heard the snap of a broken branch, and a
minute later the rapid pad-pad of flying feet along the sand, as he
fought weakly to stay above the surface, sure that the coming of his
mother meant rescue from all the treacheries that beset him.

In another minute she had reached the bank, and with a bound, her fur
bristling, was beside her cub, ready to fight for him to the last drop
of blood in her lithe, powerful body. Fortunately for her cub, the
years had brought to Mother Coon wisdom as well as courage. Once
certain as to what had happened, she decided instantly upon the stern
and only answer which the wild folk have for the snares of their cruel
human brethren. She waded out so that her back was under the exhausted
little body of her cub, and, ducking under, gripped the trap with one
of her flexible hands, strained the little paw away from it with the
other and with a few quick slashes of her sharp teeth severed the
three black, slim little fingers that the bitter jaws held fast.

As she cut off one after the other, she could feel the warm furry body
that rested upon hers thrill and quiver with the pain; but never a
sound nor a struggle came from the littlest of the coons. Another
minute, and slowly and limpingly he was creeping back to the den-tree.
Better, alas, for any child of the wild folk to go maimed and halt
through life than to fall alive into the hands of us humans!

The weeks went by. Summer waxed, until the Barrens were green waves,
starred and spangled with flowers, and echoing with bird-songs. All
through the long, warm, flower-scented nights the raccoon family
feasted and frolicked, and the little ones grew apace. One velvety
warm night, when the crescent moon had sunk in the west, Father Coon
led his family toward the farm lands, which year by year crept farther
into the Barrens. Beyond the woods they came to a field of towering
stalks, whose rustling leaves overshadowed plump ears of creamy corn,
swathed in green husks and wound with soft silk. At the sight the
leaders for once seemed to forget all their caution.

Into the field they rushed, like mad things, and, pulling down stalk
after stalk, they stripped off the husks from an ear, and took a bite
or so of the angel-food beneath, only to cast it aside and grasp
another. The little coons followed their parents' example, and pulled
and hauled and tore and chanked among the standing corn, until it
looked as if a herd of hungry cows had been there. The feasting kept
on until every coon, big and little, was brimming full of melting,
creamy corn.

As they ambled contentedly back toward the dense woods, there came a
sound which made Father Coon hurry them forward. Scarcely had they
reached the edge of the first thicket, when across the field dashed
three mongrel hounds, which belonged to Sam Carpenter, and were out
hunting to-night on their own account. There was no time to gain the
shelter of the trees. Just ahead of them one edge of the stream
touched the cleared country, while its farther bank was deep in the
Barrens. Following their leader, the whole family took to the water.
They had hardly reached the middle of the wide stream when, with a
splash, the dogs plunged in, only a few yards behind. Immediately
Father Coon dropped back, for when it comes to matters of life and
death it is always Father Coon who fights first. To-night, in spite of
numbers, the odds were all in his favor; for the raccoon is the second
cousin of those great water-weasels, the mink and the otter, and it is
as dangerous to attack him in the water as to fight a porcupine in his
tree or a bear in his den.

The first of the pack was a yellow hound, who looked big and fierce
enough to tackle anything. With a gasping bay, he ploughed forward,
open-mouthed, to grip that silent, black-masked figure which floated
so lightly in front of him--only to find it gone. At his plunge the
raccoon had dived deep, a trick which no dog has yet learned. A second
later, from behind, a slim sinewy hand closed like a clamp on the
dog's foreleg, too far forward to be reached by his snapping jaws. As
the hound lowered his head, vainly trying to bite, the raccoon
reached across with his other paw, and gripped his opponent
smotheringly by the muzzle.

Slowly, inexorably, he threw his weight against the dog's head, until
it sank below the surface. As the other dogs approached, the coon
manoeuvred so that the struggling body was always between himself
and his attackers. Never for an instant did he allow his prisoner's
head to come to the surface. Suddenly he released it, and flashed back
into the shadows. The body of the great hound floated on the surface,
with gaping jaws and unseeing eyes.

Once more the coon dived and dragged down, with the same deadly grip,
the smaller of his remaining opponents. This time he went under water
with him. The dog struggled desperately, but paws have no chance
against hands. Moreover, a raccoon can stay under water nearly five
minutes, which is over a minute too long for any dog. When the coon at
last appeared on the surface, he came up alone.

At that moment old Sam, aroused by the barking and baying of his dogs,
hurried to the bank and called off his remaining hound, who was only
too glad to swim away from the death in the dark, which had overtaken
his pack mates. A moment later the victor was on his way back to the
den-tree. The next morning, in a little inlet, where an eddy of the
stream had cast them, Sam found the bodies of the dogs who had dared
to give a raccoon the odds of the stream; and he swore to himself to
kill that coon before snow flew.

Many and many a time he tried. Everywhere the old Piny saw the tracks
of the family, the front paws showing claw-marks, while the hind paws,
set flat like those of a bear, made a print like a baby's bare foot.
One track always showed three claws missing. Yet, hunt as he would, he
could never surprise any of them again by day or night, while the many
traps he sowed everywhere caught nothing.

One September night summer passed on, and the next morning there was
the tang of frost in the air. The leaves of the sour-gum, the first
tree to turn, showed blood-red. Day by day the woods gleamed, as the
frost-fire leaped from tree to tree. The blueberry bushes ran in waves
of wine along the ground, the sassafras was all sunshine-yellow, the
white oaks old-gold, while the poison-ivy flaunted the regal red and
yellow of Spain.

Before long, the Hunter's Moon of October was in the sky; and the
night it was full, assembled the first coon-hunt of the season. Sam
Carpenter was there, and Mose Butler came with his Grip, while Charlie
Rogers brought Pet--famous coon dogs, which had never been known to
run on a false scent. Came also old Hen Pine, with his famous gun. It
had a barrel only about a foot long, for once, while hunting, the old
man had slipped into a bog, plugging the muzzle of his gun with mud.
The result was that the next time Hen fired it off, half the barrel
disappeared. He claimed, however, that, barrel or no barrel, it was
the best gun in the country, bar none. Anyway, a gun was only needed
to frighten a treed coon into coming down, since the etiquette of a
coon-hunt is the same as that of a fox-hunt--only the dogs must do the
killing.

It was just before midnight when the party reached the dense woods
where Sam Carpenter had so often seen the tracks of the Cleanlys.
Early in the evening the little family had found a persimmon tree
loaded down with sweet, puckery, orange-red fruit, and were ambling
peacefully toward one of their father's hunting-lodges in an old
crow's nest. They happened to pass the neck of woods nearest Sam's
cabin just as the whole party entered it. Lanterns waved, men shouted,
and dogs yipped and bayed among the trees, as they ran sniffing here
and there, trying to locate a fresh trail.

The fierce chorus came to the hunted ones like a message of death and
doom. If they scattered, some of the little coons would inevitably be
overtaken by this pack of trained dogs, directed by veteran hunters.
If they kept together, sooner or later they would be treed, and
perhaps all perish. Once again the leader faced the last desperate
duty of the father of a raccoon family. He dropped back to meet and
hold the ranging pack until Mother Coon could hurry the little ones
home by the tree-top route.

In another minute Nip, the last remaining dog of Sam's pack, caught
the scent, and with a bay that echoed through the tangled thickets and
across the dark pools of the marshland woods, dashed along the fresh
trail. Then happened something which had never before befallen the
luckless Nip in all his days and nights of hunting. From out of the
thickets toward which the trail led rushed a black-masked figure,
hardly to be seen in the gloom. Nip's triumphant bay changed to a
dismayed yelp, as a set of sharp claws dug bloody furrows down his
face and ripped his long silky ears to ribbons.

Before he could come to close grips his opponent had disappeared into
the depths of a thicket, and Nip decided to wait for the rest of the
pack. In a moment they joined him, with Grip and Pet leading. As they
approached the thicket they, too, had the surprise of their lives.
Contrary to all precedent a hunted coon, instead of running away,
attacked them furiously. It was very irregular and disconcerting. Even
as they were disentangling themselves from the clinging greenbrier and
matted branches, they were gashed and slashed by an enemy who flashed
in and out from the bit of open ground where he had waited for them.
The leaders of the pack yelped and howled, and stopped, until
reinforced and pressed forward by the slower dogs as they came up.

Little by little the old raccoon was forced back and compelled to make
desperate dashes here and there, to avoid being surrounded. At last,
he found himself driven beyond the area of the tangled thickets and
into a stretch of open ground. Spreading out, the dogs hemmed him in
on every side except one. Guarded on his flank by a long swale of the
spiked greenbrier, he rushed along the one line left open to him, only
to find himself in the open again. Just beyond him the cranberry
growers had left a great sweet-gum tree which, with the lapse of
years, had grown to an enormous size. As the pack closed around him,
the coon made a dash for his refuge and scuttled up the trunk, while
the dogs leaped high in the air, snapping at his very heels.

By the time the hunters came up, the whole clamoring pack, in a
circle, was pawing at the tree. When the men saw that Pet and Grip and
Nip, whose noses had never yet betrayed them, had their paws against
the trunk with the rest, they decided that the coon had been treed,
and was still treed, which did not always follow. The vast tree was
too large around either to climb or to cut. Raising the lighted
lantern which he carried, old Hen held it back of his head and stared
straight up into the heart of the great gum. At last, sixty feet above
the ground, against the blackness of the trunk showed two dots of
flaming gold. They were the eyes of the raccoon, as it leaned out to
stare down at the yellow blotch of light below.

Posting the dogs in a wide circle around the tree, the men built up a
roaring fire and sat down to wait for the coming dawn. For long they
talked and smoked and dozed over the fire, until at last a ghostly
whiteness seemed to rise from the ground. Little by little the shadows
paled, and the spectral tree-trunks showed more distinctly against the
brightening sky, while crimson bars gleamed across the gateway of the
east.

At the shouts of the men and the yelps and barks of the dogs below,
the old coon stiffened and stared down at them unflinchingly. Hen
Pine produced his cherished weapon. Aiming carefully above the treed
animal he fired, and the heavy load splashed and crashed through the
upper branches of the tree. Grimly the great raccoon faced his fate,
as the scattering shot warned him that his only chance for life was on
the ground. Slowly but unhesitatingly he moved down the side of the
tree, while the dogs below bayed and howled and leaped high in the
air. Beyond the dogs stood the men. In their faces showed no pity for
the trapped animal, who must fight for his life against such fearful
odds.

For a moment the coon looked down impassively at his foes. Then, just
as the golden rim of the rising sun showed above the tree-tops, he
turned like lightning and sprang out into mid-air, sideways, so that
he would land close to the trunk of the tree. As he came through the
air, spread out like a huge flying squirrel, his keen claws slashed
back and forth as if he were limbering up for action. He struck the
ground lightly and was met by a wave of dogs which swept him against
the tree. There with his back guarded by the trunk he made his last
stand.

At first, it seemed as if he would be overwhelmed as the howling pack
dashed at him, but it was science against numbers. Perfectly balanced,
he ducked and sidestepped like a lightweight champion in a
street-fight, slashing with his long, keen claws so swiftly that not
one of the worrying, crowded pack escaped. With flashing, tiny,
imperceptible movements he avoided time and again the snaps and
rushes of the best hounds there. Occasionally he would be slashed by
their sharp teeth, and his grizzled coat was flecked here and there
with blood; but it was difficult to secure a firm grip on his tough
loose hide, and none of the hounds were able to secure the fatal
throat-hold, or to clamp their jaws on one of those slender flashing
paws.

For the most part, the old champion depended upon his long claws,
which ripped bloody furrows every time they got home. Only in the
clinches, when held for a moment by one or more of his opponents, did
he use the forty fighting teeth with which he was equipped. When this
happened, the dog who exchanged bites with him invariably got the
worst of the bargain. The fighting was as fast as it was furious. In
less than a minute two or three of the pack limped out of the circle
with dreadful gashed throats or crunched and shattered paws. Then
nothing could be seen but a many-colored mass, with the gray and black
always on top. Suddenly it broke, and the great raccoon, torn and
bleeding, but with an air of grim confidence, was alone with his back
against the tree, while around him in an ever-widening circle the
hounds backed away, yelping with pain.

The raccoon recovered his wind and, wily fighter that he was, changed
his tactics. Without giving the dogs time to get back their lost
courage, he suddenly dashed forward with a grating, terrifying snarl,
the first sound that had come from him throughout the battle. As he
rushed at them, his hair bristled until he seemed to swell to double
his size.

For a second the ring held. Then with a yelp the nearest dog dived out
of the way and scuttled off. His example was too much for the others.
A second more, and the ring was broken and the dogs scattered. In vain
the men tried to rally them again. They had resolved to have no
further part or lot with that coon, who, without a backward look,
moved stiffly and limpingly toward the nearest thicket.

Not until he had plunged into a tangle of greenbrier, where no dog
could follow, did that pack recover its morale. Then indeed, safe
outside the fierce thorns, they growled and barked and raved and told
of the terrible things they would do to that coon--when they caught
him.

Half an hour later, and half a league farther, from a great gum tree
on the edge of a black silent stream, came the sound of soft,
welcoming love-notes.

Father Coon was home again.



II

BLACKBEAR


It was the high-water slack of summer. Up on Seven Mountains the woods
were waves of deep lush green; and in the hot September sunshine the
birds sang again, now that the moulting-moon of August had set. Yet
there was an expectancy in the soft air. Shrill, sweet insect-notes,
unheard before, multiplied. When the trees and the grass were all
dappled with patches of dark and moonshine, the still air throbbed
with the pulsing notes of the white tree-crickets; while above their
range the high lilt of their black brethren thrilled without a pause,
the unnoticed background of all other night-notes. From the bushes,
which dripped moonlight in the clearings, a harsh voice occasionally
said, solemnly, "Katy _did_!" A week later, all the open spaces on the
fringe of the woods would be strident with the clicking choruses of
the main host of the filmy green, long-winged insects, of which these
stragglers were but the advance-guard.

One morning, from the emerald-green of a swamp maple, a single branch
flamed out a crimson-red. The ebb of the year had begun. As the days
shortened, imperceptibly the air became golden, and tasted of frost.
Then through the lengthening nights the frost-fires began to blaze.
The swamp maples deepened to a copper-red and ended a yolk-yellow. On
the uplands, the sugar maples were all peach-red and yellow-ochre, and
the antlers of the staghorn sumac were badged with old-gold and
dragon's-blood red. The towering white ashes were vinous-purple, with
an overlying bloom of slaty-violet, shading to a bronze-yellow. The
scented trefoil leaves of the sassafras were all buttercup-yellow and
peach-red, and the sturdy oaks were burnt-umber.

Richest of all were the robes of the red oaks. They were dyed a dull
carmine-lake, while the narrow leaves of the beeches drifted down in
sheaves of gamboge-yellow arrow-heads. Closer to the ground was the
arrow-wood, whose straight branches the Indians used for arrow-shafts
before the days of gunpowder. Its serrated leaves were a dull garnet.
Lower still, the fleshy leaves of the pokeberry were all
carmine-purple above and Tyrian rose beneath. Everywhere were the
fragrant Indian-yellow leaves of the spice-bush, sweeter than any
incense of man's making; while its berries, which cure fevers, were a
dark, glossy red, quite different from the coral-red and orange
berries of the bittersweet, with its straw-yellow leaves. The fierce
barbed cat-brier showed leaves varying from a morocco-red to the
lightest shade of yolk-yellow, at times attaining to pure scarlet, the
only leaf of the forest so honored.

Through this riot of color, and along a web of dim trails, a great
animal passed swiftly and soundlessly, dull black in color, save for a
brownish muzzle and a white diamond-shaped patch in the centre of its
vast chest. This color, the humped hind quarters, and the head
swinging low on a long neck could belong to none other than the
blackbear, the last survivor of the three great carnivora of our
Eastern forests. It moved with a misleading loose-jointed gait, which
seemed slow. Yet no man can keep ahead of a bear, as many a hunter has
found to his cost.

Not so wise as the wolf, nor so fierce as the panther, the blackbear
has outlived them both. "When in doubt, _run_!" is his motto; and,
like Descartes, the wise blackbear founds his life on the doctrine of
doubt. As for the unwise--they are dead. To be sure, even this saving
rule of conduct would not keep him alive in these days of repeating
rifles, were it not for his natural abilities. A bear can hear a
hunter a quarter of a mile away, and scent one for over a mile if the
wind be right. He may weigh three hundred pounds and be over two feet
wide, yet he will slip like a shadow through tangled underbush, and
feed all day safely in a berry-patch, with half a dozen hunters
peering and hiding and lurking and looking for him.

To-day, as this particular bear faced the wind, it was evident from
her smaller size and more pointed head that she was of the attractive
sex. Her face was neither concave, like the grizzly bear, nor convex,
like the polar bear, but showed almost straight lines; and as she
stood there, black against the glowing background of the changing
leaves, her legs, with their flat-set feet, seemed comically like the
booted legs of some short fat man. The only part of the naming
color-scheme which appealed to her was that which she could eat.
Purple plums of the sweet-viburnum, wild black bitter cherries,
thick-skinned fox-grapes, shriveled rasping frost-grapes,
huckleberries with their six crackling seeds, blueberries whose seeds
are too small to be noticed--Mrs. Bear raked off quarts and gallons
and barrels of them all with her great claws, yet never swallowed a
green or imperfect one among the number. The fact that the bear is one
of the Seven Sleepers accounted for the appetite of this one. Although
the blackbear wears a fur coat four inches thick, and a waistcoat of
fat of the same thickness, it has found that rent is cheaper than
board, and spends the winter underground, living on the fat which it
has stored up during the fall. Some of the Sleepers, like the
chipmunk, take a light lunch to bed with them, in case they may be
hungry during the long night, and fill a little storehouse before they
turn in for their long winter nap. The bear and the woodchuck,
however, prefer to act the part of the storehouse personally; all of
which accounted for the appetite of this bear through the crisp fall
days. Ordinarily a creature of the twilight and the early dawn, yet
now she hunted through the broad daylight and far into the night, and
devoured with the utmost enthusiasm food of all kinds by the
hundredweight. Some of the selections on her menu-card would have been
impossible to any other animal than the leather-lined blackbear, the
champion animal sword-swallower.

One warm September morning, she began her day with a gallon of berries
which about exhausted the blueberry-patch where she had been feeding.
Thereupon she started to wander along her fifteen-mile range, in
search for stronger food. She found it. In a damp part of the woods
she dug up, and swallowed without flinching, many of the wrinkled flat
bulbs of the wild arum or Jack-in-the-pulpit. The juice of these roots
contains a multitude of keen microscopic crystals, which affect a
human tongue like a mixture of sulphuric acid and powdered glass;
nor does water assuage the pain in the least. Beyond the
Jacks-in-the-pulpits grew clumps of the broad juicy, ill-smelling
leaves of the skunk-cabbage, which bears the first flower of the year.
Mrs. Bear ate these greedily, although the tiniest drop of their
corroding juice will blister the mouth of any human.

Beyond the skunk-cabbage patch, on a limb of a shadbush, she
discovered a gray cone somewhat larger than a Rugby football, made of
many layers of pulpy wood-fibre paper. In and out of an opening in the
smaller end buzzed sullenly a procession of great, flat-faced,
black-and-white hornets. No insect is treated with more respect by the
wild folk than the hornet. Horses, dogs, and even men, have been
killed by enraged swarms. Unlike the single-action bee, whose barbed
sting can be used but once, the hornet is a repeater. It can and will
sting as early and as often as circumstances demand, and is most
liberal in its estimate. Moreover, every sting is as painful as a
bullet from a small-calibre revolver. Yet the bear approached the
nest without any hesitation and, rearing up on her hind quarters, with
one scoop of her paw brought the oval to the ground and was instantly
enshrouded in a furious, buzzing, stinging cloud. Unmoved by their
attacks, the imperturbable animal proceeded to gobble down both the
nest and its contents, licking up grubs, half-grown hornets, and
full-armed fighters alike, with her long flexible tongue, and
swallowing great masses of the gray soft paper. When at last only a
few scattered survivors were left, she lumbered off and followed a
path which, like all bear-trails, led at last to one of the dry,
pleasant, wind-swept hillsides that the bear-people love so well.
There she spent a happy hour before a vast ant-hill erected by fierce
red-and-black soldier ants. Sinking first one forepaw and then the
other deep into the loose earth, she would draw them out covered with
swarming, biting ants, which she carefully licked off, evidently
relishing their stinging, sour taste.

Thereafter, filled full of berries, bulbs, skunk-cabbage, hornets, and
ants, Mrs. Bear decided to call it a day, and curled herself up to
sleep under the roots of a fallen pine.

Another day she discovered groves of oak trees loaded down with
acorns. Better than any botanist she knew which were sweetest; and for
a week she ate acorns from the white oaks, the tips of whose leaves
are rounded, and the chestnut-oaks, whose leaves are serrated like
those of the chestnut tree. Then came a morning when, from a far-away
valley, floated a sound which sent her hurrying down from her tree,
although it was only the bell-like note of the flappy-eared hound
which belonged to Rashe Weeden, the trapper, who lived in the Hollow.
Yet the bear knew that a hound meant a hunter, and that a hunter meant
death. Only a straightaway run for miles and hours could save her, if
the hound were on her trail. Weeks of feasting had left her in no
condition for any such Marathon work.

Yet somewhere, during the hard-earned years of her long life, she had
learned another answer to this attack of the trailing hound. Down the
mountainside, straight toward the approaching dog she hurried,
following a deeply marked path. It led directly under the overhanging
branch of a great red oak. She followed it beyond the tree, and then
doubled and, directly under the limb, circled and confused the trail.
Then, still following her back track, she passed the tree and,
returning to it by a long detour, climbed it from the farther side,
and in a moment was hidden among the leaves. Nearer and nearer came
the tuneful note of the hunting dog who had betrayed so many and many
of the wood-folk to their death. Suddenly, as he caught the fresh
scent, his voice went up half an octave, and he rushed along the faint
path until he reached the red-oak tree. There he paused to puzzle out
the tangled trail. As he sniffed back and forth under the overhanging
limb, there was a tiny rustle in the leaves above him, hardly as loud
as a squirrel would make. Then a black mass shot down like a
pile-driver, a sheer twenty feet. The hound never knew what struck
him, and it was not until an hour later that Rashe Weeden found his
flattened carcass.

"Looked as if he'd been stepped on by one of them circus elephants,"
he confided afterwards to old Fred Dean, who lived over on the
Barrack, near him.

"Elephants be mighty scurce on Seven Mountains," objected the old man;
and the passing of that hound remains a mystery on the Barrack to this
day.

One bitter gray afternoon, when the flaming leaves had died down to
dull browns and ochres, word came to the wild folk that winter was on
its way to Seven Mountains. Little flurries of stinging snow whirled
through the air, and the wind shrieked across the marshland where the
bear was still hunting for food. As the long grass of the tussocks
streamed out like tow-colored hair, she shambled deep into the nearest
wood, until behind the massed tree-trunks she was safe from the fierce
fingers of the north wind, which howled like a wolf overhead. From
that day she stopped the search for food and started house-hunting.
Back and forth, up and down the mountains, in and out of the swamps,
across the uplands and along the edges of the hills, she hurried for
days at a time.

At last, on a dry slope, she found what she wanted. Deep in the
withered grass showed a vast chestnut stump. Starting above this on
the slope, in the very centre of a tangled thicket she dug a slanting
tunnel. The entrance was narrow, like the neck of a jug, and was so
small that it did not seem possible that the bear could ever push her
huge shoulders through. When it reached the stump, however, it widened
out into an oval chamber partly walled in by buttressed roots. Against
the slope she dug a wide flat shelf, which she covered deep with dry
leaves and soft grass, and sank beside the stump a small air-hole,
which led into the lower end of the burrow. With the same skill with
which she had picked and sorted berries, with her huge paws she
removed every trace of the fresh earth displaced by her digging. Then
she piled loose brush neatly around the entrance to the burrow, and
crawled in. Turning around at the foot of the tunnel, she crept back
head-first and, reaching out her paw, carefully corked the jug with
the brush which she dragged deep over the opening. Then, six feet
underground, on her dry warm bed, she curled up for a four months'
nap.

As the winter days set in, the driving snow drifted deep against the
stump, until even the thicket above it was hidden. Then came the
bitter cold. There were long days and nights when there was not a
breath of wind, and the mercury went down below all readings in the
settlements. In the forests and on the mountains great boulders burst
apart, and in places the frozen ground split open in narrow cracks a
hundred feet long. Life was a bitter, losing fight against cold and
hunger for many of the wood-dwellers; but, six feet underground, the
bear slept safe, at truce with both of these ancient foes of the wild
folk, while the warm vapor of her breath, freezing, sealed the sides
of her cell with solid ice. Not until spring unlocked the door, would
she leave that little room again.

Yet, in January, although the door was still locked by the snow and
barred by the ice, two tiny bearlings found their way in. They were
blind and bare, and both of them could have been held at once on the
palm of a man's hand. Yet Mrs. Bear was convinced that there had never
been such a beautiful and talented pair. She licked their pink little
bodies and nursed them and cuddled them, and the long freezing months
were all too short to show the full measure of her mother-love. As the
weeks went by, they became bigger and bigger. When they were hungry,
which was most of the time, they whimpered and nuzzled like little
puppies, and pushed and hurried and crowded, lest they might starve to
death before they could reach those fountains of warm milk which
flowed so unfailingly for them. When they were both full-fed, Mother
Bear would arch her vast bulk over them, and they would sleep through
the long dreamy, happy hours, wrapped up warm in her soft fur.

Then, one day--the fortieth after their arrival--a great event
occurred. Both the cubs opened their eyes. There was not much to see,
but the old bear licked them ecstatically, much impressed by this new
proof of their genius. From that time on, they grew apace, and every
day waxed stronger and friskier. Sometimes they would stand up and box
like flyweight champions, and clinch and wrestle and tumble around and
over the old bear, until she would sweep them both off their feet
with one turn of her great paw, and they would all cuddle down
together for a long nap.

Then came the Call. Perhaps it was the contralto note of the bluebird
from mid-sky, or the clanging cry of the wild geese going north; or it
might have been the scent of the trailing arbutus that came through
the solid walls of that little room. At any rate, deep underground,
beneath snow and ice and frozen brush, the little family knew that
spring had come. The cubs began to sniff and claw at the ice-bound
walls, and the old bear heaved her great bulk up and circled the
little cell uneasily.

Then, all in an hour, came the thaw. The ice melted and the snow
disappeared, until, one April day, with a slash of her paw the old
bear opened the door, and the whole family stumbled out into the blue
dawn of a spring day. Around then sounded the sweet minor notes of the
white-throated sparrows, and the jingling songs of the snowbirds;
while over on a sun-warmed slope a flock of tree-sparrows, on their
way to the Arctic Circle, sang a chorus like the tinkling of icicles.

The old bear stood long in the bright sunlight, sniffing and staring
with unseeing eyes--then lurched down to a little mountain stream a
hundred yards away, followed in small procession by her cubs. Once
arrived at the brook, she drank and drank and drank, until it seemed
as if her legs would double under her. After she had filled herself to
the bursting-point, the cubs had their first taste of water. It
seemed to them thin, cold, unstable stuff compared with what they had
been drinking. Their birthplace once abandoned, they never returned to
it. Thereafter they slept wherever and whenever the old bear was
sleepy, cuddled in her vast arms and against her warm fur.

That day, as they turned away from the brook, Mother Bear stopped and
stared long at the larger of her two cubs. Unlike the dull black of
his smaller sister, he was a rich cinnamon-brown in color. In years
past there had been a red cub in her family, and once even a
short-lived straw-yellow youngster; but this was her first experience
with a brownie, and the old bear grunted doubtfully as she led the way
up the mountainside.

At last and at last came the golden month of the wild
folk--honey-sweet May, when the birds come back, and the flowers come
out, and the air is full of the sunrise scents and songs of the
dawning year. The woods were white with the long snowy petals of the
shad-blow, and purple with amethyst masses of rhodora, when the old
bear began the education of her cubs. Safety, Food, More Food
comprised the courses in her curriculum. Less and less often did she
nurse them, as she taught them to find a variety of pleasant foods.
Because Mother Bear knew that disobedience was death, she was a stern
disciplinarian. On their very first walk, Blackie, the littlest of the
family, found it difficult to keep up with the old bear's swinging
gait. Little bears that fall behind often disappear. Accordingly, when
Blackie finally caught up, she received a cuff which, although it
made her bawl, taught her not to lag.

Brownie erred in the opposite direction. Big and strong and confident,
he once pushed ahead of his mother, along a trail that led up a
mountain-gorge where the soft deep mosses held the water like green
sponges. Suddenly, just as he was about to put his small paw into a
great bear-print in the moss, he received a left-hand swing which sent
him spinning off the trail into a tree-trunk, with the breath knocked
clear out of his small body. Then the old bear showed him what may
happen to cubs who think they know more than their mothers. From deep
under the moss, she had caught a whiff of the death-scent of man.
Reaching out beyond the trail, she raised without an effort, on a
derrick-like forepaw, a section of a dead tree-trunk, a foot in
diameter, and sent it squattering down full upon the paw-print. As the
end of the log sank in the moss, there was a fierce snap, and a series
of sharp and dreadful steel teeth clamped deep into the decayed wood.
Rashe Weeden, the trapper, who trapped bears at all seasons of the
year, had dug up a section of moss containing the bear-imprint, and
underneath it had set a hellish double-spring bear-trap. Let man or
beast step ever so lightly on the print which rested on the broad pan
of the trap, and two stiff springs were released. Once locked in the
living flesh, the teeth would cut through muscle and sinew, and crush
the bones of anything living, while the double-spring held them
locked. A vast clog chained to the trap kept the tortured animal from
going far, and a week later the victim would welcome the coming of the
trapper and the swift death he brought.

A few days later the little family saw an object lesson of what humans
do to bears, and what such a trap meant to them. They were following
one of the bear-paths which always lead sooner or later to hillsides
where there are berries and a view and no flies. Suddenly the wind
brought to the ears of the old bear the sound of sobbing. She stopped
and winnowed the air carefully through her sensitive nose. There was
the scent of bear, but no taint of man in the breeze, and she followed
the trail toward where the strange noises came from, around a bend in
the path. More and more slowly, and with every caution, she moved
forward, while her two cubs kept close behind like little shadows. As
the path opened into a little natural clearing, all three of them saw
a horrifying sight. There in front of them lay another smaller,
younger mother-bear. The cruel fanged jaws of a trap were sunk deep
into her shattered left fore-shoulder, while the clog was caught under
a stump. The prisoned animal had tugged and dragged and pulled,
evidently for long days and nights, as the ground was torn up for
yards and yards around her. At last, worn out by exhaustion and the
unceasing, fretting, festering pain of the gripping jaws, the captive
had sunk down hopelessly to the ground, and from time to time cried
out with a shuddering sobbing note. Her glazed, beseeching eyes had a
bewildered look, as if she wondered why this horror had come to her.
At her knees a little cub stood, and whimpered like a sorrowful baby
and then raised his little paws trustingly against the huge bulk of
his mother, who could help him no more. Another cub had climbed into a
little tree overhead, and looked down in wonder at the sorrowful sight
below.

The old bear took one long look while her cubs, terrified, crowded
close up against her. Then she turned, and plunged into the depths of
the nearest thicket. There was nothing to be done for the trapped one,
and she knew that, soon or late, death would stalk along the trail
which she had just left. Later that afternoon, when they were miles
from the place, the old bear's keen ear heard two distant shots from
far away across the mountain-ridges. As the twilight deepened, she led
her little family out in a search for food. All at once there came
from below them a strange little distress-note, which made Mother Bear
stop and look anxiously around to see if both of her cubs were safe.
Again it sounded, much nearer, and then from among the trees a small
dark animal hurried toward them. It was one of the cubs they had seen
earlier in the afternoon, escaped from the death which had overtaken
the others, running wailing and lonely through the darkening woods,
looking for its lost mother. At the sight of Mother Bear, it gave a
little whicker of relief and delight, and ran straight to her and
nuzzled hungrily under her warm fur, quite as if it had a right to be
there. Although the old bear growled a little at first, she was not
proof against the entreating whines of the little newcomer. As for
her own cubs, after carefully sniffing this new sister over and
finding her blacker even than Blackie, with a funny white spot near
the end of her small nose, they decided to recognize her as part of
the family. In another minute Spotty was feeding beside Blackie, and
from that day forward the old bear was trailed by three cubs instead
of two.

As summer approached, Mother Bear weaned her family and showed them
how to get their living from the land, as she did. She taught them all
about ants' nests and grubs, and showed them a score or so of sweet
and succulent roots. Only the root of the water-hemlock, with its
swollen, purple-streaked stem which tastes so sweet and is so deadly,
she taught them to avoid, as well as those fierce and fatal sisters
among the mushrooms, the death-angel and the fly-mushroom, whose stems
grow out of a socket, the danger-signal of their family.

Teaching the cubs to enjoy yellow-jackets' nests, one of the
delicacies on bear-menus, was a more difficult affair. At first,
Blackie and Spotty, after being stung on their soft little noses,
would have no further traffic with any such red-hot dainties. Brownie
was made of sterner stuff. After he had once learned how good
yellow-jacket grubs were, he hunted everywhere for the nests. When he
found one, he would dig it out, while the yellow-jackets stung his
nose until the pain became unendurable. Then he would sit up and rub
the end of it with both paws and bawl with all his might, only to
start digging again when the smart became bearable. Sometimes he
would have to stop and squeal frantically three or four times, to
relieve his feelings--but he always finished the very last grub.

When the weather grew warmer, the old bear took all the cubs down to
the edge of a hidden mountain-lake, and there taught them, one by one,
to swim, hiding the others safely on the bank. At first, Mother Bear
would allow each little swimmer to grip the end of her five-inch tail,
and be towed through the water. As soon, however, as they learned the
stroke, they had to paddle for themselves. One warm afternoon lazy
Brownie swam with her to the middle of the lake, and then tried to get
a tow back, only to receive a cuff that sent him two feet under water.
When he came to the surface again, he swam beside his mother as
bravely as if he had been born an otter and not a bear-cub.

When they were still a long distance from the shore, the old bear
raised her big black head out of the water and stared over toward a
little bay half a mile away. Her keen nostrils had caught the scent of
man across the still waters. Then, to his surprise, Brownie was again
given the privilege of a tow, and found himself whirling shoreward at
a tremendous rate. From the far-away inlet a lean, lithe canoe flashed
toward them as fast as Steve O'Donnell, the lumberjack, could paddle.
Steve had come over to the lake to estimate on some lumber, and had
seen the swimming bears. Hurriedly pitching into the canoe the long,
light, almost straight-handled axe, which was the article of faith of
all the woodcutters of that region, he started out to overtake the
fugitives.

Steve was not learned in bear-ways, or he would never have started in
a canoe after a swimming bear, without a rifle. As he came nearer and
nearer, and it became evident to the old bear that she would be
overtaken before she could reach shore, she turned and swam
unhesitatingly toward the canoe, while Brownie made the best of his
way ashore. Steve dropped his paddle and seized his axe, and when the
great head was close beside his craft, struck at it with all his
strength. He had yet to learn that the bear is an unsurpassed boxer,
and that few men are able to land a blow on one, even when swimming.
As his axe whizzed downward, it was suddenly deflected by a left turn,
given with such force that the axe was torn from the man's hands and
disappeared in the deep water. The next instant both the bear's paws
clutched the gunwale of the canoe, and a second later Steve was
swimming for his life in the cold water. Mrs. Bear paid no further
attention to him, but started again for the nearest shore. Overtaking
Brownie, she gave him another tow, and by the time Steve, chilled to
the bone, reached the farther shore, the whole bear family was miles
away.

By midsummer the cubs were half-grown, although they looked mostly
legs. One summer twilight a strange thing happened. The family had
reached one of their safe and pleasant hillsides, when there loomed up
before them a vast black figure among the trees, and out into the
open strode a blackbear of a size that none of the three little cubs
had ever seen before. In their wanderings they had met many other
bears. Most of these the old bear passed unseeingly, in accordance
with bear etiquette. Sometimes, if the stranger came too close, the
hair on Mother Bear's back would begin to bristle, and a deep,
threatening rumble, that seemed to come from underground, would warn
against any nearer approach.

To-night, however, when this newcomer lumbered up to the cubs, who
shrank behind their mother, Mother Bear made no protest. He sniffed at
them thoughtfully, and then said loudly, "Koff--koff--koff--koff."
Mother Bear seemed entirely satisfied with this sentiment, and from
that time on the stranger led the little band, and the cubs came to
know that he was none other than Father Bear. Bears mate only every
other year; but often a couple will join forces in the odd year, and
wander together as a family until winter.

Father Bear was a giant among his kind. He would tip the scales at
perhaps five hundred pounds, and stood over three feet high at his
foreshoulders, and was between six and seven feet long. In all the
emergencies and crises of everyday life, he showed himself always a
very present help in every time of trouble. Warier and wiser even than
Mother Bear, he piloted his little family into the wildest and
loneliest corners of all that wild and lonely land. Not for many years
had the old giant met his match. Of panther, Canada lynx, porcupine,
wolf, wolverine, and all the bears, black and brown, for a hundred
miles around, he was the acknowledged overlord. This sense of power
gave him a certain grim confidence, and he hunted and foraged for his
family, with none to hinder save only man, the king of beasts. Crafty
as he was powerful, the old bear fled into his most inaccessible
fastnesses at the slightest taint or trace of that death-bringer.

One curious custom he had. Whenever he approached certain trees in his
usual fifteen-mile range, he would examine them with great care for
several minutes. These trees always stood in a prominent place, and
were deeply scarred and furrowed with tooth-marks and claw-marks.
Father Bear, after looking them all over carefully, would sniff every
recent mark gravely. With his head on one side, he seemed to be
receiving and considering messages from unseen senders. Occasionally
the news that the tree brought seemed to enrage him profoundly.
Thereupon he would claw and chew the unoffending tree frothingly, and
then trot away growling deep in his throat. At other times, he would
raise his ears politely, as if recognizing a friend; or wrinkle his
nose doubtfully but courteously, as a well-bred bear might do who met
a stranger. Always, however, before leaving, he would stand up on his
hind quarters and claw the tree as high as he could reach, at the same
time drawing his teeth across it at right angles to the vertical
claw-marks. The cubs soon learned that these lone, marked trees were
bear-postoffices and that it was the duty of every he-bear of any
real bearhood to leave a message there, with tooth and claw, for
friend and foe to read.

When September came again, the family found themselves ranging far to
the north, in a country which the cubs had never seen before. There
they saw in the soft moss the deep marks of great splay hoofs; while
here and there the bark of the striped maple was torn off in long
strips seven or eight feet from the ground, and always on only one
side, so that the half-peeled tree never died, as did the girdled
trees attacked by the porcupine. One of the slow migrations of the
moose-folk, which take place only at intervals of many years, had set
in. Drifting down from the Far North, scattered herds had invaded the
old bear's northernmost range. Like the witch-hazel, which blooms last
of all the shrubs, the love-moon of the moose rises in the fall. The
males of that folk take hardly the stress and strain of courtship.
Bad-tempered at the best, a bull-moose is a devil unchained in
September. As the hunter's moon waxes in the frosty sky, he neither
rests, eats, or sleeps, but wanders night and day through the woods in
search of a mate. Woe be to man or beast who meets him then!

As the afterglow died out at the end of one of the shortening
September days, the bear family heard faintly from a far-away hillside
a short bellowing "Oh-ah! oh-ah! oh-ah!" Suddenly, not two hundred
yards away, on a hardwood ridge, came back a long ringing, mooing
call, which sounded like "Who-are-you! who-are-you!" It was the
answer of the cow-moose to her distant would-be lover. At the sound,
the ears of the great bear pricked up, and his deep-set, little eyes
twinkled fiercely in the fading light. Without a sound, he shambled
swiftly into the swamp toward the call. Hesitating for a moment,
Mother Bear followed him, and close behind her trailed the usual
procession. The frost in the air and the call, vibrant and pulsing
with warm life, had made the old bear hungry for fresh meat.
Unfortunately for him, as he approached the little ridge, a tiny
breeze sprang up. As the sensitive nostrils of the young cow-moose
caught the scent of danger, she drifted away into the woods like a
shadow, and was gone.

[Illustration: BULL MOOSE AND BLACKBEAR]

When the bear reached the ridge, he could not be convinced that she
had escaped. Everywhere lingered the warm delicious scent, so fresh
that his great jaws dripped as he glided silently and swiftly through
the thickets. Then, as he hunted, suddenly, silently, a vast bulk
heaved into view, looming high and huge and black above the saplings
and against the last red streak of the darkening sky. The cubs shrank
close to their mother, and she discreetly retired into the far
background, as into the clearing strode an enormous black beast with a
brown head and white legs, and with a long tassel of hair swinging
from its throat. Seven feet high at the shoulder, and more than ten
feet from tail to muzzle, stood the great bull-moose. The antlers
measured seven feet from tip to tip. With their vast, flat, palmated
spread, with eight curved, sharp prongs in front, a strong man could
not have carried them. Yet the moose switched them as easily as a girl
might settle her hat with a toss of her head.

At the sight of the prowling blackbear, all the devilish temper of the
thwarted, seeking, brooding bull broke loose. His deep-set, wicked
little eyes burned red, and with a roaring bellow he whirled up his
vast bulk over the bear. Ordinarily the bear would not have waited for
any trouble with a bull-moose in the month of September. To-night,
however, he was on his own range. Behind him watched his mate and his
cubs. The moose was a stranger and a trespasser. Morever, the
blood-hunger had seized upon the bear, and a bear that sees red is one
of the most dangerous opponents on earth. Throwing himself back upon
his massive haunches, he prepared for a fight to the finish. A moose
more experienced in bear-ways would have relied chiefly on his
antlers, whose sharp, twisted prongs would cut and tear, while the
immense flat plates of spreading horn were shields against any
effective counter-stroke. This particular bull-moose, however, had
never before met any opponent other than a moose who would await his
attack, and he did not know what a deadly infighter a bear is. His
only thought was to settle the battle before the other could escape.
With a bellowing squeal of rage, he pivoted on his hind legs and
struck two pile-driving blows, one after the other, with his ponderous
keen-edged hoofs. Such a blow would have disemboweled a wolf, or
killed a man, or even have shattered the huge bulk of another moose,
if once they had landed full and fair.

Just as the moose struck, the bear slipped forward and, sudden as the
smashing leads came, they were not so swift as the lightning-like
parries. As each fatal hoof came whizzing down, it was met at its side
by a deft snap of a powerful shaggy forearm, and glanced harmlessly
off the bear's mighty shoulders. The force of the leads and the drive
of the parries threw the bull off his balance, and for a moment he
staggered forward on his knees, pushing against the ground with
antlers and forelegs, to regain his balance.

That tiny tick of time, however, was all that the old bear needed.
With the dreadful coughing roar that a bear gives when fighting for
his life, he pivoted toward the right on his humped-up haunches.
Swinging back his enormous left paw, armed with a cestus of steel-like
claws, he delivered the crashing, smashing swing that only a bear can
give, one of the most terrible blows known to beasts or man. Every
ounce of strength in the ridged forepaw, every atom of force and
spring from the coiled masses of humped muscles of the enormous hind
quarters, went into that mighty blow. It landed full and fair on the
long neck, just back of the flat cheek-bone. The weight of the moose
approached a ton. Yet that dreadful shattering smash whirled the great
head around like a feather. There was a snap, a rending crack, and
the whole vast beast toppled over on his side, and, with one long
convulsive shudder, lay dead, his neck broken under the impact of that
terrible counter. The old bear rolled forward, but the black bulk
never quivered as he towered over his fallen foe, still the king of
his range.

All that fall the five kept together. Then, one day in November, their
leader disappeared. Mother Bear showed no anxiety, for she knew that
late to bed and early to rise is the motto of all he-bears, and that
her mate had left her only because he intended to stay up for weeks
after his family were asleep for the winter. Far up on the
mountainside the four found a dry cave with a tiny entrance, and spent
the winter there together.

When spring came again, the cubs were cubs no longer. Without Mother
Bear's bulk or shagginess, yet all three of them were sleek, powerful,
full-grown bears instead of the sprawly, leggy cubs of the season
before. Brownie was still the largest, but Spotty, the starved,
whimpering little cub of a year ago, was a close second to him. Not so
massive nor so powerful, yet she had a supple, sure swiftness that
made her his equal in their unceasing hunts for food. Hurry as he
would, a slim black nose with a silver spot near the end would often
be thrust in just ahead of him. There must have been some charm about
that spot, because Brownie never got angry, although usually any
interference with a bear's food is a fighting act.

As the weeks wore on toward summer, Blackie became every day more
snappish. She growled if Brownie came near her. Mother Bear also began
to develop a temper. Then came a warm night in late spring, when both
Blackie and Spotty disappeared. Brownie sniffed and searched and
hunted but no trace of either of them could he find. As the days
lengthened into June, the old bear became restless and more and more
irritable. One day in the middle of the month, she wandered back and
forth, feeding but little, and so cross that Brownie followed her only
at a safe distance. He, too, was uneasy and unhappy. Something, he
knew not what, was lacking in his life. As the late twilight faded, a
great honey-colored moon came up and made the woods so bright that the
veeries began to sing again their strange rippling chords, as if the
night-wind were blowing across golden harp-strings.

There before them, in a little glade, suddenly towered the black
figure of a giant bear. With a little whicker Mother Bear moved
forward to meet her mate, and a moment later led the way toward the
dim green fastnesses of the forest. Poor, untactful, unhappy Brownie
started to follow as of old. Both of them growled at him so fiercely
that he stopped in his tracks. As he watched them disappear into the
fragrant dark, he felt that the whole Round Table was dissolved. Never
again would the little family that had been so happy together be
united.

He turned and plunged into a near-by thicket, and hurried away lonely
and unhappy. For long he followed a faint trail, until it widened
into a green circle where some forgotten charcoal-pit had stamped its
seal forever upon the forest. The air was heavy with the drugged
perfume of chestnut tassels and the fragrance of wild grape, sweetest
of all the scents of earth. Then, under the love-moon of June, in the
centre of the tiny circle, there was standing before him a lithe,
black figure with a silver spot showing at the end of her slim tilted
nose--and all at once Brownie knew what his life had lacked. For long
and long the two looked at each other, and he was lonely and unhappy
no more.

Then slowly, slowly, the silver spot moved away, ahead of him, toward
the soft scented blackness of the deep woods. As he followed, he
stopped and rumbled out dreadful warnings to a large number of
imaginary bears, to beware that silver spot. While the veeries, whose
heartstrings are a lute, sang in the thicket, and a little owl crooned
a love-song from overhead, and the last of the hylas piped like pixies
from far away, the two followed the path of their honeymoon, until it
was lost in the depths of that night of love.



III

THE SEVENTH SLEEPER


In a far northwestern corner of Connecticut, the twenty-one named
hills of Cornwall slept deep under the snow. At the north lay the
Barrack, a lonely coffin-shaped hill, where, in the deep woods on the
top, lived old Rashe Howe and his wife, snowbound from December until
March. Never since the day that he journeyed to New York to hear Jenny
Lind sing, a half-century ago, had she spoken to him.

Two miles beyond, Myron Prindle and Mrs. Prindle lived on the bare top
of Prindle Hill, where in summer the hermit thrushes sang, and in
hidden bogs bloomed the pink-and-white lady-slipper, loveliest and
loneliest of all of our orchids. Then there were Lion's Head, and
Rattlesnake Mountain, where that king of the dark places of the forest
had a den. Beyond towered the Cobble, a steep cone-shaped hill, which,
a century ago, Great-great Uncle Samuel Sedgwick used to plough clear
to the top. He relied upon three yoke of oxen and the Sedgwick temper;
and on calm mornings could be heard discoursing to said oxen from the
top of the Cobble in three different towns.

Over beyond the Cobble was Dibble Hill, with its lost settlement of
five deserted houses crumbling in the woods. Coltsfoot, Green
Mountain, and Ballyhack stretched away to the south and the west; and
in the northwest was Gold Mountain, with its abandoned gold-mine, from
which Deacon Wadsworth mined just enough gold to pay for sinking the
shaft. Then came Blakesley Hill, climbed by a winding road three miles
long, and Ford Hill, populated by Silas Ford and twelve little Fords,
and Bunker Hill, traversed by the Crooked S's, which drove motorists
to madness.

Beyond them all was Great Hill, where grew the enormous tree which
could be seen against the sky-line for ten miles around. Six
generations of Cornwall people had planned to walk or drive or motor,
on some day, that never dawned, and look at that tree and find out
what it was. Some claimed that it was an elm, like the vast Boundary
Elm which marked a corner where four farms met. Others believed it to
be a red oak; while still others claimed the honor for a button-ball.
But no one yet has ever known for certain. In the very centre and
heart of all the other hills was Cream Hill, greenest, richest, and
roundest of them all. On its flanks were Cornwall Plains, Cornwall
Centre, and Cornwall Hollow; and at its foot nestled Cream Pond, with
Pond Hill sloping straight skyward from its northern shore.

Ever since November, Cream Hill had been in the clutch of winter.
There had been long nights when the cold stars flared and flamed in a
black-violet sky, and the snow showed cobalt-blue against the dark
tree-trunks. Then came the storm. For three days the north wind swept,
howling like a wolf, down from the far-away Catskills, whirling the
lashing, stinging snow into drifts ten feet deep. Safe and warm in
great white farmhouses, built to stand for centuries, human-folk
stayed stormbound. In the morning, again at noon, and once more in the
gray twilight, the men would plough their way through the drifts to
the barns, and feed and water the patient oxen, the horses stamping in
their stalls, the cows in stanchions, and the chickens, which stayed
on their roosts all through the darkened days. In field and forest the
Seven Sleepers slept safe and warm until spring, but the rest of the
wild folk were not at truce with winter but, hunger-driven, must play
at hide-and-seek with foe and food. Everywhere on the surface of the
snow the writings of their foot-prints appeared and reappeared, as
they were swept away by the wind or blotted out by the falling flakes.

Finally, the storm raged itself out, and by the afternoon of the third
day, the white unwritten page of the snow lay across hill and lake and
valley. The next morning it was scribbled and scrawled all over with
stories of the life which had pulsed and ebbed and passed among the
silent trees and across the snowbound meadows. Wherever the
weed-stalks had spread a banquet of seeds, there were delicate trails
and traceries. Some of them were made up of tiny, trident tracks where
the birds had fed--juncos with their white skirts and light beaks,
tree-sparrows with red topknots and narrow white wing-bars, and flocks
of redpolls down from the Arctic Circle, whose rosy breasts looked
like peach-blossoms scattered upon the white snow. Hundreds of larger
patterns showed where the mice-folk had feasted and frolicked all the
long night through. Down under the snow, their tunnels ran in mazes
and labyrinths, with openings at every weed-stalk up which they could
climb in hurrying groups into the outside world. Some of the trails
were lines of little paw-prints separated by a long groove in the
snow. These were the tracks of the deer-mice, whose backs are the
color of pine-needles, and who wear white silk waistcoats and silk
stockings and have pink paws and big flappy ears and lustrous black
eyes. The groove was the mark of their long slender tails. Near them
were lines of slightly larger paw-prints, with only occasional
tail-marks--the trail of the sturdy, short-tailed, round-headed
meadow-mouse.

Here and there were double rows of tiny exclamation points, separated
by a tail-mark. Wherever this track approached the mazes of the mice
paw-prints, the latter scattered out like the spokes of a wheel. This
strange track was that of the masked shrew, the smallest mammal in the
world, a tiny, blind death, whose doom it is to devour its own weight
in flesh and blood every twenty-four hours. Another track showed like
a tunnel, with its concave surface stamped with zigzag paw-marks. It
was the trail of the blarina shrew, which twisted here and there as if
a snake had writhed its way through the powdered snow. Again, all
other tracks radiated away from it; for the blarina is braver and
bigger and fiercer than its little blood-brother, the masked shrew.

Everywhere, across the fields and through the swamps and in and out of
the woods, was another track, made up of four holes in the snow, two
far-apart and two near-together. Overhead at night in the cold sky,
below those star-jewels, Mintaka, Alnilam, and Alnita, which gleam in
the belt of Orion, the same track appears where four stars form the
constellation of Lepus the Hare. Down on Connecticut earth, however,
the mark was that of the cottontail rabbit.

Among the many snow-stories which showed that morning was one tragedy
written red. It began with the trail of one of the cottontails. At
first, the near-together holes were in front of the others. That
marked where Bunny had been hopping leisurely along, his short
close-set forepaws making the near-together holes and his long
far-apart hind paws the others. At times, where the trail led in the
lee of thick bushes, a fifth mark would appear. This was the print of
the powder-puff that the rabbit wears for a tail, and showed where he
had sat down to rest or meditate in the snow. Suddenly, the wide-apart
marks appeared far in front of the other two. For some reason the
rabbit had speeded up his pace, and with every spring his long hind
legs had thrust themselves beyond and outside of the short forepaws. A
little farther along, the tracks of the two forepaws showed close to
each other, in a vertical instead of a horizontal line. This meant to
him who could read the writing that the rabbit was running at a
desperate speed. At the end of every bound he had twisted each
forepaw inward, so as to thrust them out with the greatest possible
leverage.

The trail zigzagged here and there and doubled back upon itself and
crossed and turned and circled. The snow said that the rabbit had been
running for his life, and every twist and turn told of the desperation
and dumb despair of his flight. Yet nowhere was there the print of any
pursuer. At last, in a little opening among the bushes, the trail
ended in a circle of trampled, ridged, and reddened snow. At the very
edge of the blood-stains a great X was stamped deep. Farther on was
the end of that snow-story--the torn, half-eaten body of the rabbit,
which had run a losing race with death. Again, to him who could read
the writing on the snow the record was a plain one. The X is the sign
and seal of the owl-folk, just as a K is the mark of the hawk-people.
On silent, muffled wings, the great horned owl, fiercest of all the
sky-pirates, had hunted down poor Cottontail. All his speed, his
twistings and turnings and crafty doublings, availed him not against
the swift flight and cruel, curved talons of this winged death.

Around the trees were other series of tracks, which went in fours,
something like the rabbit-tracks in miniature, except that they showed
tiny claw-marks. These were where the gray squirrels had ventured out
to dig under the snow, to find nuts which they had buried in the fall,
or where their more thrifty cousins, the red squirrels, had sallied
forth to look up hidden hoards in the lee of rocks and in hollow
trees. Crossing and recrossing fields and forests in long straight
lines were the trails of hunting foxes. The neat, clearly stamped
prints, with never a mark of a dragging paw, and the fact that they
did not spraddle out from a straight line, distinguished them from
dog-tracks. Along the brooks were the four- and five-fingered prints
of the muskrat, showing on either side of a tail-mark; and
occasionally the double foot-prints of that killer, the weasel, and
the rarer trail of his cousin, the mink. Only the signatures of the
Seven Sleepers were absent from the smooth page. The bear and the bat,
the woodchuck and the chipmunk, the raccoon, the jumping-mouse, and
the skunk were all in bed.

As the sun rose higher and higher on the first day after the storm,
the sky showed as blue and soft as in June, and at sunset the whole
western heavens seemed to open in a blaze of fiery amber. There were
strips of sapphire-blue and pools of beryl-green, while above was a
spindrift of flame the color of the terrible crystal. That night the
mercury crept up higher and higher in the thermometer that hung
outside of Silas Dean's store at Cornwall Centre. A little screech-owl
thought that spring had come, and changed his wailing call to the
croon which belongs to the love-month of May, and the air was full of
the tinkle and drip and gurgle of the thaw.

The next morning, in the wet snow a new trail appeared--a long chain
of slender delicate close-set tracks, like a pattern of intricate
stitches. The last of the Sleepers was awake, for the close-set
paw-prints were none other than those of the unhasting skunk. "Don't
hurry, others will," is his motto. It was just at dawn of the second
day of the thaw that he appeared in the sunlight. All night long he
had wandered slowly and sedately in and out of a circle not over two
hundred yards in diameter. In spite, however, of his preoccupied
manner and unhurried ways, there was not much that was edible which he
had overlooked throughout his range; and now, at sunrise, which was
his bedtime, he was on his way home.

The rays of the rising sun blazoned to the world the details of his
impressive personality. His most noticeable and overshadowing feature
was his huge, resplendent tail. It waved like a black and white banner
over his broad back. Throughout its long dark hair, coarse as tow,
were set bunches of white hairs, some of them so long that, when they
floated out to their full extent, the width of that marvelous tail
exceeded its length. At the very tip was a white tuft which could be
erected. Wise wild folk, when they saw that tuft standing straight up,
removed themselves elsewhere with exceeding rapidity. As for the
unwise--they wished they had. Between the small eyes, which were set
nearer to the pointed nose than to the broad ears, was a fine white
stripe running back to a white ruff at the back of the neck. From this
a wide white stripe extended across the shoulders, and branched down
either flank.

As he ambled homewards in the sunlight, the skunk had such an air of
innocence and helplessness, that a young fox, coming down the
hillside after a night of unsuccessful hunting, decided that the
decorative stranger must be some unusual kind of rabbit, and dashed
forward to catch it with a quick sidelong snap of his narrow jaws.
Unfortunately for him, the skunk snapped first. His ancestors had
learned the secret of the gas-attack a million years before the Boche.
As the fox rushed upon him, the skunk twisted its tail to one side
bringing into action two glands near the base of its tail which
secrete a clear golden fluid filled with tiny floating bubbles of a
devastating gas, against which neither man nor beast can stand.
Moreover, the skunk's accurate breech-loading and repeating weapon has
one other improvement not as yet found in any human-made artillery.
Each gland, beside the hole for long-range purposes, is pierced with a
circle of smaller holes, through which the deadly gas can be sprayed
in a cloud for work at close quarters.

Just as the jaws of the fox were opened to seize him, the skunk
compressed the mat of powerful muscles that encircled the two conical
scent-glands. From the circle of tiny openings a cloud of choking,
blinding, corrosive gas poured full into the fox's astonished face. To
human nostrils the very odor of the gas is appalling. A mixture of
garlic, sewer-gas, sulphur-matches, musk, and a number of other
indescribable smells only faintly defines it. A fox, however, is by no
means squeamish about smells. Many odors which are revolting and
unbearable to human nostrils arouse only pleasurable sensations in a
fox. What sent him rolling backwards over and over, and stiffened and
contracted his throat-muscles in spasms, was the choking acrid gas
itself. It strangled him just as the fumes of chlorine or ammonia gas
will choke a man. Only one thought remained in that fox's mind. Air,
air, fresh untainted air, preferably miles away. He departed to find
it, at an initial velocity of something less than a mile a minute,
while his adversary lowered his plumed tail and regarded him
forgivingly. Then, with mincing, deliberate steps, the skunk started
leisurely back to his home on the hillside, which had once been the
property of a grizzled old woodchuck.

On a day, however, the woodchuck had come back to his burrow, only to
find that he had been dispossessed. The woodchuck is a surly and
dogged fighter, and always fully able and disposed to protect his
rights. Yet it took but a single sniff to make this one abandon his
lands, tenements, and hereditaments, with all easements of ingress,
egress, and regress. From thenceforth, to the skunk belonged the whole
complicated system of tunnels and galleries. To him belonged the two
public entrances and a third concealed from sight in a little thicket.
To him came the cozy nest, with its three exits in the centre of a
maze of passages, the storehouses, the sand-piles, and the sun-warmed
slope where the former owner had been accustomed to take his ease.
From that day forward he occupied them all in undisturbed possession.

After the rout of the fox, the skunk slept until late in the
afternoon, and an hour before sunset was out again. Here and there,
through the bushes and among the trees, he tacked and zigzagged in an
apparently absent-minded way. Yet nothing that he could eat escaped
those small deep-set eyes or that long pointed nose. Near the edge of
the woods he passed under a sugar-maple tree. On a lower limb sat
Chickaree, the irritable, explosive red squirrel, nibbling away at a
long cylindrical object which he held tightly clasped in his forepaws.
As the skunk passed underneath, the squirrel stopped to scold at him
on general principles, and became so emphatic in his remarks that he
lost his hold of what he had been eating, and it fell directly in
front of the plodding skunk. It was only an icicle, but after one
sniff the skunk proceeded to crunch it down eagerly while the red
squirrel raved overhead. The day before, the squirrel had nibbled a
hole in the bark of one of the maple limbs, to taste the sweet sap
which the thaw had started flowing; and during the night the running
sap had frozen into a long sweet icicle, the candy of the wild folk,
which heretofore only the squirrels had enjoyed.

The last bit of frozen sweetness swallowed, the skunk ambled up the
hillside. Suddenly he stopped, and sniffed at a little ridge in the
snow which hardly showed upon the surface. Hardly had he poked his
pointed nose into the hummock, before it burst like a bomb, and out
from the snow started a magnificent cock grouse. During the storm he
had plunged into the drift for shelter, and the warmth of his body
had melted a snug little room for him under the snow. There, safe and
warm, he had feasted on the store of rich, spicy seeds that he found
on the sweet fern under the snow, and for long days and nights had
been safe from cold and hunger. The thaw, however, had thinned his
coverlet so that the fine nose of the skunk had scented him through
the white crystals.

As the partridge broke from the snow, his magnificent, iridescent,
black-green ruff stood out a full three inches around his neck, and
his strong wings began the whirring flight of his kind. The skunk shed
his slowness like a mask and, with the lightning-like pounce of the
weasel family, caught the escaping bird just back of the ruff and
snapped his neck asunder. There was a tremendous fluttering and
beating of brown mottled feathers against the white snow, and a minute
later he was feeding full on the most delicious meat in the world.

Before he had finished, there came an interruption. Down from the top
of the hill trotted another skunk, an oldtimer whose range marched
next to that of the first. As the newcomer caught sight of the dead
partridge, he hurried down to join in the feast. The other skunk
stopped eating at the sight of this unbidden guest, and made a kind of
chirring, complaining noise, with an occasional low growl. According
to skunk-standards that was a tremendous exhibition of rage, but the
second skunk came on unmoved. Under the Skunk Geneva Convention, the
use of aerial bombs or any form of gas-attack against skunk-kind is
barred. In a battle between skunk and skunk the fighters must depend
upon tooth and claw. Accordingly, when the stranger sniffed
approvingly at the half-eaten bird, he was promptly nipped by the
owner of the same, just back of the forepaw. He, in turn, secured a
grip on the first skunk's neck, and in a moment the atmosphere was
full of flying snow and whirling fur. The teeth of each fighter were
so fine and their fur so thick, that neither one could do much damage
to the other; but they fought and rolled and chirred and growled,
until they looked like a great black-and-white pinwheel.

[Illustration: THE THIEF]

The contest caught the eyes of an old red fox, who was loping around a
ten-mile circle in search of any little unconsidered trifle that might
come his way. He was a seasoned old veteran and, unlike the novice of
the day before, was well acquainted with skunk-ways. Not for any prize
that the country round about held would he have attacked either one of
that battling pair. His was a purely sporting interest in the fight,
until he happened to catch a glimpse of the partridge half-covered by
the loose snow. On the instant, he nobly resolved to play the
peacemaker and remove the cause of all the trouble. Step by step, he
stole up closer to the fighters, all set to turn and run for his life
if either one of them saw him. At last he was poised and taut on his
tiptoes not six feet from the prize. As an extra whirl of the
contestants carried them to the farthest circumference of the circle
of which the partridge was the centre, the fox started like a
sprinter from his marks, and reached the grouse in one desperate
bound.

Just at that instant a disengaged eye of the first of the skunks came
to the surface, in time to see his grouse departing toward the
horizon, slung over the shoulder of the fox, nearly as fast as if it
had gone under its own wing-power. Instantly the skunk released his
hold. His opponent did the same, and the two scrambled to their feet
and for a long moment stood sombrely watching the vanishing partridge.
Then, without a sound, they turned their backs on each other and
trotted away in opposite directions.

A week later the thaw was over, and all that hill-country was once
more in the grip of winter. When the temperature went down toward the
zero-mark, the skunk went back to bed. Rolled up in a round ball of
fur, with his warm tail wrapped about him like a fleecy coverlet, he
slept out the cold in the midmost chamber of his den on a bed of soft,
dry grass. At the first sign of spring he was out again, the latest to
bed and the earliest to rise of all the Sleepers.

At last the green banners of spring were planted on all the hills.
Underneath the dry leaves, close to the ground, the fragrant
pink-and-white blossoms of the trailing arbutus showed here and there;
while deeper in the woods leathery trefoil leaves, green above and
dark violet beneath, vainly tried to hide the blue-and-white-porcelain
petals of the hepatica. In bare spots the crowded tiny white blossoms
of the saxifrage showed in the withered grass, and the bloodroot,
with its golden heart and snowy, short-lived petals, and gnarled root
which drips blood when broken. A little later the hillsides were blue
with violets, and yellow with adder's-tongue with its drooping
blossoms and spotted fawn-colored leaves. Then came days of feasting,
which made up for the long lean weeks that had gone before. There were
droning, blundering June-bugs, crickets, grubs, grasshoppers,
field-mice, snakes, strawberries, and so many other delicacies that
the skunk's walk was fast becoming a waddle.

It was on one of those late spring days that the Artist and the Skunk
had their first and last meeting. Said artist was none other than
Reginald De Haven, whose water-colors were world-famous. Reginald had
a rosy face, and wore velvet knickerbockers and large chubby legs, and
made the people of Cornwall suspect his sanity by frequently
telescoping his hands to look at color-values. This spring he was
boarding with old Mark Hurlbutt, over on Cream Hill. On the day of the
meeting, he had been sketching down by Cream Pond and had taken a
wood-road home. Where it entered one of Mark's upper pastures, he saw
a strange black-and-white animal moving leisurely toward him, and
stood still lest he frighten it away. He might have spared his fears.
The stranger moved toward him, silent, imperturbable, and with an
assured air. As it came nearer, the artist was impressed with its
color-scheme. The snowy stripe down the pointed black nose, the mass
of white back of the black head, and, above all, the resplendent,
waving pompon of a tail, made it a spectacular study in blacks and
whites.

With tiny mincing steps the little animal came straight on toward him.
It seemed so tame and unconcerned, that De Haven planned to catch it
and carry it back to the farm wrapped up in his coat. As he took a
step forward, the stranger seemed for the first time to notice him. It
stopped and stamped with its forepaws, in what seemed to the artist a
playful and attractive manner. This, if he had but known it, was
signal number one of the prescribed three which a well-bred skunk
always gives, if there be time, even to his bitterest enemies.

As De Haven moved toward the animal, he was again interested to see
the latter hoist aloft the gorgeous black-and-white banner of its
clan. Rushing on to his ruin, he went unregardingly past this second
danger-signal. By this time, he was within six feet of the skunk,
which had now come to a full stop and was watching him intently out of
its deep-set eyes. As he approached still nearer, he noticed that
the white tip of the tail, which heretofore had hung dangling,
suddenly stiffened and waved erect. "Like a flag of truce," he
observed whimsically to himself. Never was there a more dreadful
misapprehension. That raising of the white tail-tip is the skunk's
ultimate warning. After that, remains nothing but war and carnage and
chaos.

If even then the artist had but stood stony still, there might have
been room for repentance, for the skunk is long-suffering and loath to
go into action. No country-bred guardian angel came to De Haven's
rescue. Stepping quickly forward, he stooped to seize the motionless
animal. Even as he leaned forward, his fate overtook him. Swinging his
plumed tail to one side, the skunk bent its back at the shoulders, and
brought its secondary batteries into action. A puff of what seemed
like vapor shot toward the unfortunate artist, and a second later he
had an experience in atmospheric values which had never come into his
sheltered life before. From the crown of his velour hat with the
little plume at the side, down to his suede shoes, he was Maranatha
and Anathema to the whole world, including himself. Coughing,
sneezing, gasping, strangling, racked by nausea and wheezing for
breath, his was the motto of the Restless Club: "Anywhere but here."
His last sight of the animal which had so influenced his life showed
it demurely moving along the path from which it had never once
swerved.

The wind was blowing toward the farmhouse, and although it was half a
mile away, old Mark Hurlbutt soon had advance reports of the battle.

"A skunk b'gosh!" he remarked to himself, stopping on his way to the
barn; "and an able-bodied one, too," he continued, sniffing the
breeze.

A minute later he saw someone running toward him, and recognized his
boarder. Even as he saw him, a certain aura which hung about the
approaching figure made plain to Mark what had happened.

"Hey! stop right where you be!" shouted the old man. "Another step an'
I'll shoot," he went on, aiming the shovel which he had in his hand
directly at the distressed artist's head, and trying not to breathe.

De Haven halted in his tracks.

"But--but--I require assistance," he pleaded.

"You sure do," agreed his landlord; "somethin' tells me so. Hustle
over back of the smoke-house and get your clothes off an' I'll join
you in a minute."

Mark hurried into the house, and was out again almost immediately with
a large bottle of benzine, a wagon-sponge, a calico shirt, and a pair
of overalls. As he came around the corner, the sight of the artist
posing all pink and white against the smoke-house, with a pile of
discarded clothes at his feet, was too much for the old man, and he
cackled like a hen.

"Darned if you don't look like one of them fauns you're all the time
paintin'," he gasped.

"Shut up!" snapped the artist. "You fix me up right away, or I'll put
these clothes on again and walk through every room in your house."

This threat brought immediate action, and a few moments later an
expensive and artistic suit of clothes reposed in a lonely grave back
of Mark's smoke-house, where they remain even to this day. Thereafter
the artist, scrubbed with benzine until he smelt like a garage, left
Cornwall forever. He was wearing a mackintosh of his own. Everything
else belonged to Mark.

"It's lucky for you that he went when he did," said old Hen Root the
next evening, when the story was told at Silas Dean's store at the
Centre. "You're gettin' on, Mark," he continued solemnly. "If he'd a'
stayed you might have got some kind of a stroke or other from
over-laughin' yourself. I didn't dare to do any work for nigh a week
after I first saw him telescopin' round in them velvet short pants."

"That's right," agreed Silas Dean heartily; "an' you ain't done any
since--nor before," he concluded, carefully closing the cracker-barrel
next to Hen.

It was, perhaps, the meeting with an eminent artist that aroused a new
ambition in the skunk's mind. At any rate, from that day he began to
haunt the farmyard. The first news that Mark had of his presence was
when a motherly old hen, who had been sitting contentedly on twelve
eggs for nearly a week, wandered around and around her empty nest
clucking disconsolately. During the night some sly thief had slipped
egg after egg out from under her brooding wings, so deftly that she
never even clucked a protest. In the morning there were left only
scattered egg-shells and a telltale track in the dust.

"Blamed old rascal," roared Mark. "First he loses me a good boarder
an' now he's ate up a full clutch of pedigree white Wyandotte eggs.
I'm goin' to shoot that skunk on sight."

Mark was mistaken. Early the next morning he opened the spring-house
to set in a pail of milk. There, right beside the magnificent spring
which boiled and bubbled in the centre of the cement floor, a
black-and-white stranger was contentedly drinking from a pan of milk
that had been placed there to cool. As Mark opened the door, the skunk
looked at him calmly, and then quietly raised the banner which had
waved over many a bloodless victory. Whereupon the owner of the
spring-house backed away, and waited until his visitor had finished
his drink and disappeared in a patch of bushes back of the milk-house.

"What about all that talk of shootin' that skunk at sight?" queried
Jonas, the hired man, that evening at supper.

"The trouble was, Jonas," returned Mark confidentially, "he got the
drop on me. If I'd shot I'd of lost one spring, six gallons of milk,
an' a suit of clothes."

"You men are a lot of cowards," scolded his wife. "I'd of found some
way to stop that skunk a-drinkin' up a whole pan of good milk right in
front of my eyes. He'd not bluff me."

"Mirandy," said Mark solemnly, "you take it from me that skunk ain't
no bluffer. If you don't believe it, telegraph Mr. De Haven."

In spite of her threat, it was Miranda herself who afterwards insisted
that the skunk should continue to live on the farm without fear or
reproach. Late one afternoon she had been coming down Pond Hill on a
search for a new-born calf which, as usual, had been hidden by its
mother somewhere in the thick woods. The path was sunken deep between
banks covered with the yellow blossoms of the hardhack. At one spot,
where the way widened into a rude road, a crooked green stem stretched
out across the pathway, and from it swayed a great rose-red flower
like some exquisite carved shell. It was the moccasin flower, the most
beautiful of our early orchids. Miranda bent down to pick it with a
little gasp of delight.

Suddenly, from just beyond, came a warning hiss, and in front of her
reared the bloated swollen body of a fearsome snake. The reptile's
head was flattened out until it was half as wide as her hand, and it
swelled and hissed rhythmically like the exhaust of a steam-pipe, and
repeatedly struck out in her direction, the very embodiment of blind,
venomous rage. Half paralyzed with fear, Miranda moved backward and
began to wonder what she would do. Night was coming on, and if she
went back over the hill, it would be dark before she could reach home.
As for going around, no power on earth would have persuaded her to
step into the thick bushes on either side of the path, convinced as
she was that they must be swarming with snakes.

At this psychological moment, ambling unconcernedly up the path, came
the same black-and-white beast about which she had spoken so bitterly
the day before. As it caught sight of the snake coiling and rearing
and hissing, the skunk's gait quickened, and it approached the
threatening figure with cheerful alacrity. The snake puffed and
hissed and struck, but the skunk never even hesitated. Holding the
reptile down with its slim paws it nibbled off the threatening head,
neatly skinned the squirming body, and before Mrs. Hurlbutt's
delighted eyes ate it up. Then, without apparently noticing her at
all, it went on up the hill until lost to sight among the hardhacks.

It would have been impossible to convince Miranda that the snake was
nothing but a harmless puff-adder, and that, in spite of its bluffing
ways, it had no fangs and never was known to bite. From that day on
the skunk was envisaged in her mind as the guardian angel of the farm,
and the edict went out that on no account was it to be molested. Not
even when most of the bees from one of Mark's cherished swarms
disappeared into its leather-lined interior, would Miranda permit any
adverse action.

"Some skunk that!" jeered Mark. "You let it get away with bees an'
boarders an' milk an' eggs, an' never say a word. I wisht you cared as
much for your husband."

"I might, if he was as brave--an' good-looking," murmured Miranda.

It was the sweet influences of the month of June which settled the
dispute. Jonas had been down in the sap-works, where the vast
sugar-maples grew below the milk-house meadow. As he came back up the
slope, the great golden moon of June was showing its rim over Pond
Hill. Ahead of him he saw a familiar black-and-white shape moving
toward the woods. Even as he watched, a procession came down to meet
him. At its head marched another full-grown skunk, while back of her
was a long winding procession of little skunks. One, two, three, four,
five, six--Jonas counted them up to ten, and the last one of all was
jet-black except for a tiny stripe of white on its muzzle. There was a
long pause as the lone skunk met the band. Then suddenly he was at the
head of it, and the long procession trailed contentedly after him.
Separated from him by a winter and a spring, Mrs. Skunk had rejoined
her mate, bringing her sheaves with her. Away from the tame folk to
return no more, the wild folk moved on and on into the heart of the
summer woods.



IV

HIGH SKY


"Clang! Clang! Clang!"--the sound drifted down from mid-sky, as if the
ice-cold gates of winter were opening. A gaggle of Canada geese,
wearing white bibs below their black heads and necks, came beating
down the wind, shouting to earth as they flew. Below them, although it
was still fall, the tan-colored marsh showed ash-gray stretches of new
ice, with here and there blue patches of snow. Suddenly, faint and far
sounded other notes, as of a distant horn, and a company of
misty-white trumpeter swans swept along the sky, gleaming like silver
in the sun. Down from the Arctic tundras they had come, where during
the short summer their great nests had stood like watchtowers above
the level sphagnum bogs; for the trumpeter swan, like the eagle,
scorns to hide its nest and fears no foe of earth or air.

As their trumpet notes pealed across the marsh, they were answered
everywhere by the confused cries and calls of innumerable waterfowl;
for when the swan starts south, it is no time for lesser breeds to
linger. Wisps of snipe and badlings of duck sprang into the air. The
canvasback ducks, with their dark red heads and necks, grunted as they
flew; the wings of the golden-eye whistled, the scaup purred, the
black ducks, and the mallards with emerald-green heads, quacked, the
pintails whimpered--the air was full of duck-notes. As they swept
southward, the different families took their places according to their
speed. Well up in the van were the canvasbacks, who can travel at the
rate of one hundred and sixty feet per second. Next came the pintails,
and the wood-ducks, whose drakes have wings of velvet-black, purple,
and white. The mallards and the black ducks brought up the rear; while
far behind a cloud of blue-winged teal whizzed down the sky, the
lustrous light blue of their wings glinting like polished steel in the
sunlight. Flying in perfect unison, the distance between them and the
main flock rapidly lessened; for the blue-winged teal, when it settles
down to fly, can tick off two miles a minute. A few yards back of
their close cloud followed a single green-winged teal, a tiny drake
with a chestnut-brown head brightly striped with green, who wore an
emerald patch on either wing.

In a moment the blue-wings had passed the quacking mallards and black
ducks as if they had been anchored in the sky. The whistlers and
pintails were overtaken next, and then, more slowly, the little flock,
flying in perfect form, began to cut down the lead of the canvasbacks
in front. Little by little, the tiny teal edged up, in complete
silence, to the whizzing, grunting leaders, until at last they were
flying right abreast of them. At first slowly, and then more and more
rapidly, they drew away, until a clear space of sky showed between the
two flocks, including the green-winged follower. Then, for the first
time, the blue-wings spoke, voicing their victory in soft, lisping
notes, which were echoed by a mellow whistle from the green-wing.

The sound of his own voice seemed suddenly to remind the latter that
he was one of the speed-kings of the sky. An inch shorter than his
blue-winged brother, the green-winged teal is yet a hardier and a
swifter bird. Unhampered by any flock-formation, the wing-beats of
this lone flyer increased until he shot forward like a projectile. In
a moment he was up to the leaders, then above them; and then, with a
tremendous burst of speed, he passed and went slashing down the sky
alone. Farther and farther in front flashed the little green-striped
head, and more and more faintly his short whistles came back to the
flock behind.

Perhaps it was his call, or it might have been the green gleam of his
speeding head, that caught the attention of a sky-pirate hovering in a
reach of sky far above. Like other pirates, this one wore a curling
black moustache in the form of a black stripe around its beak which,
with the long, rakish wings and hooked, toothed beak, marked it as the
duck-hawk, one of the fiercest and swiftest of the falcons. As the
hawk caught sight of the speeding little teal, his telescopic eyes
gleamed like fire, and curving down through the sky, in a moment he
was in its wake. Every feather of the little drake's taut and tense
body showed his speed, as he traveled at a two-mile-a-minute clip.

Not so with the lithe falcon who pursued him. The movements of his
long, narrow wings and arrowy body were so effortless that it seemed
impossible that he could overtake the other. Yet every wing-beat
brought him nearer and nearer, in a flight so swift and silent that
not until the shadow of death fell upon the teal did the latter even
know that he was being pursued. Then, indeed, he squawked in mortal
terror, and tried desperately to increase a speed which already seemed
impossible. Yet ever the shadow hung over him like a black shroud, and
then, in a flash, the little green-wing's fate overtook him. Almost
too quickly for eye to follow, the duck-hawk delivered the terrible
slash with which falcons kill their prey, and in an instant the teal
changed from a live, vibrant, arrow-swift bird to a limp mass of
fluttering feathers, which dropped like a plummet through the air.
With a rush, the duck-hawk swung down after his dead quarry, and
catching it in his claws, swooped down to earth to feast full at his
leisure.

Far, far above the lower reaches of the sky, where the cloud of
waterfowl were flying, above rain and storm and snow, was a solitude
entered by only a few of the sky-pilgrims. There, three miles high,
were naked space and a curved sky that shone like a great blue sun. In
the north a cluster of black dots showed against the blue. Swiftly
they grew in size, until at last, under a sun far brighter than the
one known to the earthbound, there flashed through the glittering air
a flock of golden plover. They were still wearing their summer suits,
with black breasts and sides, while every brown-black feather on back
and crown was widely margined with pure gold. Before they reached
Patagonia the black would be changed for gray; for the Arctic summer
of the golden plover is so short that he must moult, and even do his
courting, on the wing.

This company had nested up among the everlasting snows, and the
mileage of their flight was to be measured by thousands instead of
hundreds. To-day they were on their first lap of fifteen hundred miles
to the shores of Nova Scotia. There they would rest before taking the
Water Route which only kings of the air can follow. Straight across
the storm-swept Atlantic and the treacherous Gulf of Mexico, two
thousand four hundred miles, they would fly, on their way to their
next stop on the pampas of the Argentine. Fainter-hearted flyers
chose the circuitous Island Passage, across Cuba, Porto Rico, and
the Antilles, to the northern shore of South America. The
chuck-will's-widow of the Gulf States, cuckoos from New England,
gray-checked thrushes from Quebec, bank-swallows from Labrador,
black-poll warblers from Alaska, and hosts and myriads of bobolinks
from everywhere took the Bobolink Route from Florida to Cuba, and the
seven hundred miles across the Gulf to South America.

Only a few of the highest-powered water-birds shared the Water Route
with the plover. When this flock started, they had circled and wheeled
and swooped in the wonderful evolutions of their kind, but had
finally swung into their journey-gait--and when a plover settles down
to straight flying, it would seem to be safe from anything slower than
a bullet.

Far above the flock floated what seemed a fleck of white cloud blown
up from the lower levels. As it drifted swiftly down toward the
speeding plover, it grew into a great bird sparsely mottled with
pearl-gray, whose pointed wings had a spread of nearly five feet.
Driven down from Greenland by cold and famine, a white gyrfalcon was
haunting these solitudes like some grim ghost of the upper sky. His
fierce eyes were of a glittering black, as was the tip of his blue
hooked beak.

As the plover whizzed southward on their way to Summer, some shadow of
the coming of the falcon must have fallen upon them; for suddenly the
whole flock broke and scattered through the sky, like a dropped
handful of beads, each bird twisting and doubling through the air, yet
still shooting ever southward at a speed which few other flyers could
have equaled. Unluckily for the plover, the gyrfalcon is perhaps the
fastest bird that flies, and moreover it has all of that mysterious
gift of the falcon family of following automatically every double and
twist and turn of any bird which it elects to pursue. This one chose
his victim, and in a flash was following it through the sky. Here and
there, back and forth, up and down, in dizzy circles and bewildering
curves, the great hawk sped after the largest of the plover. As if
driven in some invisible tandem, the white form of the falcon kept an
exact distance from the plover, until at last the latter gave up
circling and doubling for a stretch of straight flight. In an instant,
the flashing white wings of the falcon were above it; there was the
same arrowy pounce with which the lesser falcon had struck down the
teal; and, a moment later, the gyrfalcon had caught the falling body,
and was volplaning down to earth with the dead plover in its claws.

For a time after this tragedy the sky seemed empty, as the scattered
plover passed out of sight, to come together as a flock many miles
beyond. Then a multitude of tiny black specks showed for an instant in
the blue. They seemed almost like motes in the sunlight, save that,
instead of dancing up and down, they shot forward with an almost
inconceivable swiftness. It was as if a stream of bullets had suddenly
become visible. Immeasurably faster than any bird of even twice its
size, a flock of ruby-throated humming-birds, the smallest birds in
the world, sped unfalteringly toward the sunland of the South. Their
buzzing flight had a dipping, rolling motion, as they disappeared in
the distance on their way to the Gulf of Mexico, whose seven hundred
miles of treacherous water they would cover without a rest.

As the setting sun approached the rim of the world, the lower clouds
changed from banks of snow into masses of fuming gold, splashed and
blotched with an intolerable crimson. Again the sky was full of birds.
Those last of the day-flyers were the swallow-folk. White-bellied tree
swallows; barn swallows, with long forked tails; cliff swallows, with
cream-white foreheads; bank and rough-winged swallows, with brown
backs--the air was full of their whirling, curving flight. With them
went their big brothers, the purple martins, and the night hawks, with
their white-barred wings, which at times, as they whirled downward,
made a hollow twanging noise. With the flock, too, were the swifts,
who sleep and nest in chimneys, and whose winter home no man yet has
discovered.

As the turquoise of the curved sky deepened into sapphire, a shadowy
figure came toward the circling, flashing throng of swifts and
swallows. The newcomer's great bare wings seemed made of sections of
brown parchment jointed together unlike those of any bird. Nor did any
bird ever wear soft brown fur frosted with silver, nor have wide
flappy ears and a hobgoblin face. Miles above the ground this
earth-born mammal was beating the birds in their own element. None of
the swallows showed any alarm as the stranger overtook them, for they
recognized him as the hoary bat, the largest of North American bats,
who migrates with the swallows and, like them, feeds only on insects.

As the sun sank lower, the great company of the bird-folk swooped down
toward the earth, for swallows, swifts, and martins are all
day-flyers. Not so with the bat. In the fading light, he flew steadily
southward alone--but not for long. Up from earth came again the great
gyrfalcon, his fierce hunger unsatisfied with the few mouthfuls torn
from the plover's plump breast. As his fierce eyes caught sight of
the flitting bat, his wings flashed through the air with the same
speed that had overtaken the plover. No bird that flies could have
kept ahead of the rush of the great hawk through the air.

A mammal, however, is farther along in the scale of life than a bird,
and more efficient, even as a flyer. As the pricked-up ears of the bat
caught the swish of the falcon's wings, the beats of its own
skin-covered pair increased, and the bird suddenly ceased to gain.
Disdaining to double or zigzag, the great bat flew the straightaway
race which the falcon loves, and which would have meant quick death to
any bird who tried it. Skin, however, makes a better flying surface
than feathers, and slowly but unmistakably the bat began to draw away
from its pursuer. The gyrfalcon is the speed-king among birds, but the
hoary bat is faster still. Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed before
the hawk realized that he was being outflown. Increase his speed as he
would, the bat, in an effortless nonchalant manner, moved farther
away. When only a streak of silver sky, with a shoal of little violet
clouds, was left of the daylight the gyrfalcon gave up the chase. As
he swooped down to earth like a white meteor, the brown figure of the
bat disappeared in the violet twilight, beating, beating his way
south.

As the sky darkened to a peacock-blue, and a faint amber band in the
west tried to bar the dark, suddenly the star-shine was full of soft
pipings and chirpings. The night-flyers had begun their journey, and
were calling back and forth heartening each other as they flew through
the long dark hours. Against the golden disc of the rising moon a
continuous procession of tiny black figures showed the whole sky to be
full of these pilgrims from the north. The "chink, chink" of the
bobolinks dropped through the stillness like silver coins; and from
higher up came the "tsip, tsip, tsip" of the black-poll warblers, all
the way from the Magdalen Islands. With them were a score or so of
others of the great warbler family. Black-throated blues, Cape Mays,
redstarts, golden-wings, yellow warblers, black-throated greens,
magnolias, myrtles, and tiny parulas--myriads of this many-colored
family were traveling together through the sky. With them went the
vireos, the orioles, the tanagers, and four different kinds of
thrushes, with a dozen or so other varieties of birds following.

Most of them had put on their traveling clothes for the long journey.
The tanagers had laid aside their crimson and black, and wore
yellowish-green suits. The indigo bird had lost his vivid blue, the
rose stain of the rose-breasted grosbeak was gone, along with the
white cheeks of the black-poll warbler and the black throat of the
black-throated green, while the bobolinks wore sober coats of
olive-buff streaked with black, in place of their cream-white and
velvet black.

Once during the night, as the army crossed an Atlantic cape, a
lighthouse flashed its fatal eye at them. Immediately the ranks of the
flyers broke, and in confused groups they circled around and around
the witch-fire which no bird may pass. For hours they flew in dizzying
circles, until, weary and bewildered, some of the weaker ones began to
sink toward the dark water. Fortunately for them, at midnight the
color of the light changed from white to red. Instantly the prisoners
were freed from the spell which only the white light lays upon them,
and in a minute the air was filled with glad flight-calls, as the
released ranks hurried on and away through the dark.

All night long they flew steadily, and turned earthward only at
sunrise. As the weary flyers sought the trees and fields for rest and
food, overhead, against a crimson and gold dawn, passed the
long-distance champion of the skies--the Arctic tern, with its
snow-white breast, black head, curved wings, and forked tail. Nesting
as far north as it can find land, only seven and a half degrees from
the Pole, it flies eleven thousand miles to the Antarctic, and,
ranging from pole to pole, sees more daylight than any other creature.
For eight months of its year it never knows night, and during the
other four has more daylight than dark. Scorner of all lands,
tireless, unresting, this dweller in the loneliest places of earth
flashed white across the dawn-sky--and was gone.



V

THE LITTLE PEOPLE


The swamp-maples showed rose-red and gold-green in the warm sunlight,
and the woods were etched lavender-brown against a heliotrope sky. The
bluebird, with the sky-color on his back and the red-brown of earth at
his breast, called, "Far-away! far-away! far-away!" in his soft sweet
contralto. From a wet meadow a company of rusty blackbirds, with short
tails and white eyes, sang together like a flock of creaking
wheelbarrows, with single split notes sounding constantly above the
squealing chorus. Beyond the meadow was a little pool, where the air
was vibrant with the music of the frogs. The hylas sang like a chest
of whistles so shrill that the air quivered with their song. At
intervals, a single clear flute-note rose above the chorus, the
love-call of the little red salamander; while the drawling mutter of
cricket-frogs, the trilled call of the wood-frogs, and the soft croon
of the toad added delicate harmonies. Near-by a song-sparrow sang
wheezingly from a greening willow tree, but its note sounded flat
compared with the shrill, high sweetness of the batrachian chorus.

Near the top of Prindle Hill was a dry warm slope, with stretches of
underbrush, pasture, and ledges of rock rising to the patch of woods
which crowned the crest of the hill. Beyond was a tiny lake.
Everywhere along the sunny slope were small round holes bored through
the tough turf. As the sun rose higher and higher, little waves of
heat penetrated deep below the grass-roots.

Suddenly, from out of one of the holes, a little pointed nose was
thrust, and a second later the first chipmunk of the year darted above
ground from the burrow where he had slept out the long winter. His
dark pepper-and-salt colored back had a black-brown stripe down the
centre and four others in pairs along either side, separated by strips
of cream-white. His cheeks, flanks, feet, and the underside of his
black fringed tail were of a light fawn-color, and he wore a silky
white waistcoat. Erecting his white-tipped tail, he sat up on his
haunches and tipping back his head, began to sing the spring song
which every chipmunk must sing when he first comes above ground at the
dawn of the year. "Chuck-a-chuck-a-chuck-a-chuck-a-chuck," he chirped
loudly, at the rate of two chirps per second.

At the very first note sharp noses and bright black eyes appeared at
every hole, and in a second a score or more other singers had whisked
out and joined in the spring chorus, each one bent on proving that his
notes were the loudest and clearest of any on the hill. One of the
last to begin was a half-grown chipmunk, who had been crowded out of
the family burrow by new arrivals the autumn before. Fortunately for
him, however, the next burrow was occupied by a chipmunk of an
inquiring disposition. Said disposition caused him to wait to
investigate the habits of a passing red fox. Thereafter his burrow was
to let, and was immediately taken possession of by the young chipmunk
aforesaid.

This new tenant came out timidly, even when he felt the thrill of
spring. Once above ground, however, he simply had to sing. At his very
first note, he sensed a difference between his voice and those of all
the others. Whereas they sang "Chuck-a-chuck-a-chuck," he sang
"Chippy, chippy, chippy." To his delighted ear his own higher notes
were far superior to those of his companions, and he shrilled away,
ecstatically, with half-closed eyes. Ten minutes went happily by. Then
a singer on the outskirts caught sight of a marsh-hawk quartering the
hillside, and gave the alarm-squeal as he dove into his hole. The song
broke in the middle, as every singer whisked underground and the
annual spring song was over. Thereafter the customary caution of a
chipmunk-colony was resumed.

At first, Chippy ventured but seldom outside of his new burrow. Far in
under the turf was the storehouse, filled by its first owner full of
hazel-nuts, cherry-pits, wild buckwheat, buttercup seeds, maple-keys,
and other chipmunk staples, all carefully cleaned, dried, and stored.
On these he lived largely during the first few weeks of spring. Then
came a day when he entered his front door with a flying leap, only to
find a burly and determined stranger blocking his way. A bustling and
lusty bachelor from another colony had spied the burrow from the
stone wall, the broad highway of all chipmunks, and had decided to
make it his own by right of conquest.

In vain Chippy fought for his home, at first desperately and then
despairingly. The other chipmunk had the advantage of weight,
experience, and position, and Chippy was forced slowly out into the
wide world. Squealing and chirping with rage, with his soft fur
fluffed up all over his sleek body, he came out into the sunlight. He
saw nothing, heard nothing, scented nothing, hostile. Yet, obeying the
little alarm-bell that rings in every chipmunk's brain, he dashed
desperately for the shelter of the stone wall. It was well for him
that he did. As he crossed the wide stretch of turf like a tawny
streak, there was a whirl of wing-beats, the flash of a gray-brown
body balanced by a narrow black-barred tail, and the shadow of death
fell upon him even as he neared his refuge. With a frightened squeal,
Chippy put every atom of the force which pulsed through his little
vibrant body into one last spring. Even as he disappeared headlong
into a chink between two large stones, a set of keen claws clamped
vainly through the long hairs of his vanishing tail, as a
sharp-shinned hawk somersaulted with a backward sweep of its wings, to
avoid dashing itself against the wall. For a moment it vibrated in the
air with cruel, crooked beak half-open, searching the wall with
unflinching golden eyes, and then skimmed sullenly away.

In a minute a pointed nose was poked out from the stones and carefully
winnowed the air. Satisfied that the coast was clear, Chippy at last
scurried up to the top of the wall, where he could see on all sides,
with a wide cranny conveniently near; for a chipmunk who desires to
live out all his days must never be more than two jumps from a hole.
Sitting up on the stone, he produced from one of the pockets which he
wore in either cheek a large hickory nut, which had been pouched there
all through his fight and flight. Holding it firmly in both his little
three-fingered, double-thumbed forepaws, he nibbled an alternate hole
in either side, through which he extracted every last fragment of the
rich, brown kernel within. While he ate, there was never a second
during which his sharp black eyes were not scanning every inch of the
circumference of which his stone was the centre. There was not an
instant that his sharp ears were not pricked up to catch the slightest
sound, and his keen nostrils to sniff the faintest scent, that would
indicate the approach of death in any of the many forms in which it
comes to chipmunks.

His meal finished, Chippy turned his instantaneous mind to the next
most important item of life. On his list of necessities, _Home_ stared
at him in capitals just under the item _Food_. A stone wall makes a
good lodging-house but a poor home, for it has too many doors.
Wherefore Chippy scampered along the top of the wall, his tail erect
like a plume, scanning the hillside as he ran for a good
building-site. At last, he came to a dry bank covered with short
twisted ringlets of tough grass, which sloped up from the stone wall
and ended in a clump of sweet fern. With a flying leap, he struck the
middle of the bank, and with another bound was safe in the depths of
the sweet fern.

From there he commenced to dig. No one has ever yet found a fleck or
flake of loose earth near the entrance to a chipmunk home. This is
because he always starts digging at the other end. Working like a
little steam-shovel, within a few days Chippy had dug a series of
intersecting tunnels, of which the main one ended between two stones
at the base of the wall. Far down among the roots of a rotting stump,
he made a warm nest of leaves and grass. From this sleeping-room a
twisted passage led to a rounded storeroom on the other side of the
stump. No less than three emergency entrances and exits were made
within a ten-foot circle; and beside the bedroom and storeroom he dug
a kitchen midden, where all refuse and garbage could be deposited and
covered with earth, in accordance with the custom of all properly
brought-up chipmunks. When at last every grain of earth had been
carried out through the first hole among the overshadowing ferns, he
sealed it up from the outside, and covered the packed earth with
leaves. Then he took a day off. Climbing to the top of the wall, he
perched himself where a single bound would take him to the main
entrance of his new home, and with his little nose pointed skyward
told the world, at the rate of one hundred and thirty chirps per
minute, what a wonderful home was his. Thereafter began an unending
search for food. On the far side of the slope he found a thicket of
hazel bushes, which had been overlooked by the rest of the colony.
Thence he would return to his burrow, looking as if he had a bad
attack of mumps. Really it was only nuts. Twelve hazel-nuts, or four
acorns, were Chippy's tonnage.

By the time the flood-tide of summer had set in, Chippy had reached
the high watermark of his youth. Larger, stronger, and swifter than
any of the younger members of the colony, he soon began to rival the
elders of the community in wisdom. Then suddenly there came to the
Little People of the Woods, a wandering demon of blood and carnage.
One sunny afternoon, while every chipmunk on that hillside was abroad,
playing, feasting, hoarding, singing, there flashed in among them a
reddish animal, with a long black-tipped tail, white chin and cheeks,
and a fierce pointed head. Sniffing here and there like a trailing
hound, it darted down upon the little colony.

It was the long-tailed, or great, weasel, whose movements are so swift
as to baffle even the quickest eye. Caught too far from their burrows,
the lives of four chipmunks went out like the puff of a candle. Then
the high alarm-squeal ran up and down the hillside, and every chipmunk
within hearing dived underground where they were all safe; for the
great weasel is just one size too large to enter a chipmunk's burrow.
Hither and there the weasel wound its way, like some fierce swift
snake. With its flaming eyes, white cheeks dabbled red with blood, and
flat triangular head swaying from side to side on a long neck, it
looked the very personification of sudden death.

Farthest from home of all the others, Chippy, the swift and wise,
faced the death which had overtaken the slow and foolish. For the
first time in his life he had climbed to the tiptop of an elm tree.
There among the topmost slender sprays he was feasting on elm-seeds,
and came hurrying down at the first alarm-note. Just as he had nearly
reached the ground, around the foot of the tree trunk was thrust the
bloody face of the killer. There is something so devilish and
implacable in the appearance of a hunting weasel, that it cows even
the bravest of the smaller animals. A gray old rat, ordinarily a grim
cynical fighter with no nerves to speak of, will run squealing in
terror from before a weasel; while a rabbit, when it sees the red
death on his trail, forgets his swiftness and cowers on the ground.

Something of the same spell came over Chippy as, for the first time,
he faced the demon of his tribe. Yet he kept his head enough to
realize that his only hope was aloft, and instantly whisked back up
the great trunk. Unfortunately for him the versatile weasel is at home
on, under, and above ground. The chipmunk had hardly reached the
topmost branch, when he felt it sway under the quick, darting motions
of his pursuer. Up and up he went, until he clung to the tiny swaying
twigs at the very spire and summit of the elm, seventy-five feet from
the ground.

In a moment, the bloody muzzle of his pursuer was sniffing along his
trail. Hunting by scent, like all of its kind, the weasel wound his
way up through the twigs, nearer and nearer to the trembling chipmunk.
Twelve inches away, the weasel stopped and, thrusting out its long
neck, seemed for the first time to see the little animal just above. A
green gleam showed in the depths of the malignant eyes.

As it shifted its weight on the swaying twigs preparatory to the
lightning-like pounce which would end the chase, the chipmunk, with a
little wailing cry, let go his hold and fell like a stone down through
the green screen of leaves and twigs that stretched between him and
the ground far below. Even as he whirled through space, his little
brain was alert to seize upon every chance for life. As he struck twig
after twig, he clutched at them with his forepaws but could get no
firm hand-hold. Fifty feet down, he managed to hook both of his little
arms across a twig about the size of a man's thumb. A cross-twig kept
his hold from slipping off, and swinging back and forth like a
pendulum, he at last managed to clamber up into a crotch of this outer
branch and crouched there, panting.

In a moment there was a scratching noise along the tree trunk, and the
weasel came down in long spirals instead of climbing straight down as
would a squirrel. The branch at the end of which the chipmunk was
perched ran out from the main trunk, then turned at right angles and
grew down almost perpendicularly, making a sharp elbow. The weasel
descended, weaving his broad, triangular head back and forth, with
little looping movements of his long neck, and sniffing the air as he
came. When he reached the branch where the chipmunk was, he stopped
and crept along the limb to the elbow. This was too much for him,
skillful climber as he was. The perpendicular drop of the branch, its
small size and smooth bark, all combined against him. Three times he
tried to follow it down. Each time he slipped so that it became
evident to him that another step would break his hold and send him
crashing to the ground.

All this time the chipmunk was in full sight, yet the bloodshot eyes
of his enemy seemed to overlook him entirely. Again and again the
weasel sniffed the air, and repeatedly returned to the limb, evidently
convinced that his intended prey was there.

Throughout, the chipmunk clung to the branch, silent and motionless.
Only the throbbing of his silky white breast showed how his heart
pounded as he watched the trailing death approaching. At last, the
weasel seemed to give up the hunt and reluctantly wound his way down
the main trunk and disappeared behind the tree.

For a full half-hour the chipmunk clung to his refuge without the
slightest movement. Finally, when it seemed as if his pursuer were
gone for good, the little animal moved cautiously up the branch, and
managed to negotiate the elbow which had baffled his heavier pursuer.
With the same caution he crept down the trunk and, after looking all
around, finally leaped to the turf beyond. As he struck the ground,
there was a rustle from the depths of a thicket a few rods away, and
out darted the weasel, which, with the fierce patience of his kind,
had been lurking there and came between the chipmunk and the scattered
homes of the colony.

Over the hilltop was the only way of escape. There lay a patch of deep
woods, where the trees grew thick and dark over a ledge of rock which
stretched up to the very summit. There, too, was hidden some mystery
as black as the shade above that lonely ledge. Often there had been no
return for chipmunks crossing that dark crest. Instinctively the
fugitive avoided the woods and circled the hill hoping to find some
refuge on the farther side.

Long ago, the weasel-folk have learned that a straight line is the
shortest distance between two points. Wherefore to-day the hunter
followed the diameter of the circle that the chipmunk was making
around the wooded hilltop. Like a flash, with tail up and head down,
the weasel wound his way among the rocks and crowded trees which
covered the hill's crest. As his triangular head thrust itself beyond
a pointed rock which jutted out from the ledge, his quick nostrils
caught a sinister, sickly scent, and he checked in his stride but--too
late. His flaming red eyes looked directly into the fixed glare of two
other eyes, black, lidless, with strange oval pupils, and set deep in
a cruel heart-shaped head, which showed a curious hole between eye and
nostril, the hall-mark of the fatal family of pit-vipers to which the
rattlesnake, copperhead, and moccasin belong.

For a second the fierce beast and the grim snake faced each other.
The eyes of none of the mammals have a fiercer, more compelling gaze
than those of the weasel-folk when red with the rage of slaughter. Yet
no beast can outstare that grim ruler of the dark places of the
forest, the timber rattlesnake, and in a moment the weasel started to
dodge back. Not even his flashing speed, however, availed against the
stroke of the snake. Faster than any eye could follow, the flat head
shot forward, gaping horribly, while two keen movable fangs were
thrust straight out like spear-points. They looked like crooked white
needles, each with a hole in the side below the point, from which
oozed the yellow venom. Before the darting weasel had time to gain the
shelter of the rock, both fangs had pierced his side, and the great
snake was back again in coil. Tottering as the deadly virus touched
the tide of his fierce blood, and knowing that his life was numbered
by seconds, the weasel yet sprang forward to die at death-grips with
his foe. As he came, the great snake struck again, but as it snapped
back into coil, the needle-like teeth of the other met in its brain.
The great reptile thrashed and rattled, but the grip of the red killer
remained unbroken long after both were still and stark.

Beyond the black circle of the woods, away from the fatal ledge and
through the sunlight, the chipmunk sped, expecting every minute to
hear the fierce patter of his pursuer close behind. Little by little
he circled, until at last, hardly able to believe in his own escape,
he found himself once more in the depths of his own burrow.

As the spring lengthened into summer, Chippy found himself strangely
interested in another burrow which had been dug near to his own. So,
too, were half a dozen other gay young bucks of the colony, who, with
tails erect and with sleek and well-groomed fur, frequently tried to
visit the owner of said burrow. She treated them all alike. Every
chipmunk who passed her front door received such a succession of nips
and scratches that he was only too glad to back out again in a hurry.

As time went by, with every new experience and with every new escape,
Chippy grew larger and wiser and stronger. Then came the glittering
summer afternoon when he won the right to rank with the bravest and
best of the colony. The heat eddied across the hill in shimmering
waves as he started home from where he had been foraging, his
cheek-pockets full of samples for his storehouse. As he neared his
front door by the stone wall he saw Death itself entering his little
neighbor's burrow. Black, sinuous, terrible, a giant blacksnake over
six feet in length had found its way from its den on the other side of
the hill to the chipmunk colony. Its smooth scales showed an absolute
black in the sunlight, and made a crisp, rustling noise as it streamed
over the dry leaves and grass of the hillside. Except for that sound,
there was silence. At times the great snake would stop and, raising
its head two feet from the ground and swaying back and forth, would
stare here and there with fixed lidless eyes while the white patch on
its lower jaw gleamed in the sun, and its long, black forked tongue
played in and out like the flicker of a flame.

Suddenly the snake shot into Chippy's burrow. Over a third of its
length had disappeared from sight when Chippy showed a flash of that
instantaneous, unreckoning courage which carries man or beast into the
front ranks of his kind. Perhaps what he did was to save himself from
future danger. Yet who can say that it was not a spark of the same
divine fire which glows in the heart of man that made him risk his
life for another? As he saw the fatal head disappear down the burrow,
with a lightning-like spring he leaped upon the disappearing body,
casting out his cherished nuts from his cheeks in mid-air. Opening his
wide-set jaws, he clamped them shut where the supple, flexible spine
of the snake ridged the smooth skin. The back of a blacksnake is a
mass of tough muscles, and its spine has the strength of a steel
spring. Yet the tremendous jaw-muscles of the chipmunk drove the
needle-pointed teeth deep into the twisted, over-lapping fibres.

The black column stiffened like an iron bar. Bracing his paws against
the sides of the hole, the chipmunk gnawed away desperately. Suddenly
the keen teeth grated, and then locked in the sinuous spine itself. As
they met, the great body surged forward and dragged the chipmunk into
the burrow. Once deep underground, there was danger that the snake
might find space to double back on its length and gain a fatal
head-hold with its sharp slanting teeth. Yet Chippy never loosed his
grip for an instant. Dragging back with all his strength, he forced
his clamped teeth deeper and deeper into the twisting spine. At last
through the cold, bubbling blood, he felt the fibres of the vertebrae
slowly give, until with a final rending tug he bit clear through the
spinal cord.

By this time he was well below ground, and only the snake's tail
thrashed and writhed ineffectually on the surface. Suddenly, as Chippy
still gnawed and tugged, the lashings of the tail lessened, and
through his clenched teeth he could feel something tugging and biting
at it. Little by little the struggles of the snake became fainter, and
Chippy no longer felt himself dragged forward. When at last they had
died down to convulsive twists and shudders, which would last for
hours, the battling chipmunk unlocked his jaws and backed out of the
burrow. Bloody, bruised and exhausted he found himself once more safe
in the sunlight.

Right in front of him was Nippy, worrying the wriggling tail with her
sharp teeth like a little terrier. Aroused far underground by the
sounds of the struggle she had rushed up toward the entrance. While
still a long distance from it, her quick little ears caught the fierce
hiss that the great snake gave at the first pang from the piercing
teeth; and though this was her first year alone in the world, she knew
that the sound meant death. Turning like a flash, she slipped into a
by-passage and escaped to the upper air by an emergency exit concealed
under a huckleberry bush. At her front door she found the tail of the
crippled snake thrashing back and forth, and pouncing upon it, she
helped her unseen ally by biting through the spine in two places at
its narrowest point. When Chippy appeared, she let go, and by degrees
the writhing body disappeared from the sight of the sun. Then, while
Chippy lay and panted, the little owner of the burrow began to seal up
the entrance of the haunted home in token that it was hers no longer.
The front door once shut and locked, she moved slowly toward the top
of the hill and--looked back.

Then was the time for Chippy to follow. Instead, he stiffly and
haltingly betook himself to his own burrow. When, two days later, he
came out, there was no trace of the fair and fleeting Nippy. For weeks
he sought her everywhere, in the woods and pastures, and even to the
shore of the little lake that cupped the farther side of the hill.

Then came a happening which drove all thoughts of anything but life
and death from the minds of all the dwellers on the hillside. The doom
which always hangs over the Little People fell upon them. In the gray
hour just before the dawn, one fatal day, what looked like a brown
squirrel, with a white throat and paws and a short tail, came to the
chipmunk colony. Yet no squirrel ever had such bloodred eyes, such a
serpent-like head, or a body so lithe and sinuous. The deadly visitor
was none other than the lesser, or short-tailed, weasel, far more
dangerous to the Little People than his larger kinsman, since he was
small enough to enter their burrows.

To-day he slipped like a shadow into the first burrow he found. It
happened to be the very one of which the stranger chipmunk had
dispossessed Chippy months before. This morning he had just waked up
in his round sleeping-room when he heard the patter of the weasel down
the long entrance tunnel. Out of one of his many exits the chipmunk
dashed, but as he came above ground, the weasel was hard on his heels,
and he turned to do battle for his life. As he was nearly as large as
the weasel, the fight did not seem an unequal one; yet the chipmunk
never had a chance. For a second the two faced each other, the
chipmunk crouched low, the weasel with its swaying head raised high.
Then the chipmunk lunged forward, desperately hoping to gain a grip
with its two keen gnawing teeth. With a curve of its supple body, the
weasel slipped the other's lead, and with almost the same motion gave
that fatal counter which no animal has yet learned to parry. With a
snap of the triangular muzzle, three of the long fighting teeth of the
killer pierced with diabolical accuracy the chipmunk's skull at the
exact point where it was thinnest, and crashed deep into its brain.

Stopping only to lap a little of the warm blood of its victim, the
weasel flashed into the next burrow, where a mother chipmunk slept
with her five babies, all rolled up in a round warm ball. To them all,
death came mercifully swift. Then into the next burrow and the next
this Death-in-the-dark hastened. None of the Little People he met
escaped. Some fought, others fled, but neither courage nor fleetness
availed. When, at last, the brown killer approached the burrow where
Chippy lived, it had left behind it a trail of nearly a score of dead
and dying victims, and yet was as tireless and terrible as ever. Each
time that it slaked its vampire-thirst with fresh blood, it seemed to
gain new strength and speed.

As the sun showed over Prindle Hill, Chippy started out of his front
door. Even as he thrust his head into the open, he caught the sound of
a faint squeal from a near-by burrow and saw the blood-stained muzzle
of the weasel show in the early sunlight. As he dived back, his
instantaneous brain seized upon the one way of escape remaining. The
weasel could outrun him, and with his unerring nose unravel any tangle
of tunnels. Yet the underground people have one last resource of their
own, which a million years of being hunted to the death have taught
them. To make use of this defense, however, the pursued must have a
substantial start over the hunter, and to-day Chippy had but a few
scant seconds, since the weasel had glimpsed the whisk of his tail as
he plunged headlong down his front entrance, and had instantly started
for his burrow.

With back humped high at every pattering plunge of its short legs, the
weasel looked like a great inch-worm measuring its way toward its
prey. Yet, clumsy as its gait appeared, it was scarcely an instant
before the bloody muzzle and red glaring eyes were thrust into the
hole down which the chipmunk had disappeared. Much can be done,
however, even in seconds, with a hair-trigger brain and nerves and
muscles tensed by the fear of death. Like a flash, Chippy traversed
the main passage of his burrow, dashed into a tunnel that forked off
to the right, and then dived into a smaller branch, which angled off
sharply from the larger tube. Then he suddenly doubled on his tracks,
and popped into another passage, which ran in a long slant up to
within a few inches of the surface of the hillside.

Once beyond the entrance to this last tunnel, the chipmunk dug for his
very life's sake. With flashing strokes of his forepaws, he dislodged
the soft earth at the sides of the passage, sweeping it back with his
hind feet; and, even as the weasel writhed his way along the main
passage, Chippy had sealed the doorway to the last tube which he had
entered, so carefully that the blocked entrance could not be told from
the rest of the surface of the passage-wall. Then he hurried swiftly
and silently toward the surface.

Even as he dug his way up through the tough grass-roots, his fierce
pursuer flashed into the tube from which the walled-up doorway led.
With nose close to the ground, the weasel had followed the chipmunk's
trail at full speed, nor had the branching and intersecting passages
slowed his speed even for a moment. Only when he came to the spot
where the chipmunk had doubled back to the sealed-up doorway, was he
checked. Even his keen nostrils could not follow the trail through
four inches of fresh earth.

As he came to a standstill, his microphonic ears caught the sound of
distant digging far above him. Instantly, without wasting any time in
hunting for the sealed tunnel, he turned and raced back to the
entrance-hole, with such speed that, just as the chipmunk pushed his
way to the surface well up the hillside, the weasel burst out of the
main entrance below and dashed after him.

If the weasel's speed had not been slowed by slaughter, the chase
would have been a short one. As it was, the chipmunk went over the
crest of the hill a few rods ahead; but the gap lessened as his
pursuer struck his gait and shot forward like an uncoiling spring.
This time it seemed as if the chipmunk's last chance for life were
gone. Above ground he was out-paced. To go underground again meant
certain death. A miracle had saved him before from the other
weasel--but nature seldom deals in miracles twice. Yet the little
animal never weakened. A rabbit so close to death would have quit and
cowered down, crying piteously until the weasel's teeth were in its
throat. A rat would have lost its head and, running itself to a
standstill, met its death frothing and squealing in mortal terror.

Chippy, however, concealed under his gentle, sprightly exterior a cool
little brain, nor did ever a braver heart beat than throbbed under his
white waistcoat. Although he seemed to be running at full speed, he
was really holding something in reserve and already his flash-like
mind had seized upon the one chance of life that was left. Earth and
air had betrayed him. Perhaps water would be kinder. Straight toward
the little lake he headed. Little by little the space between him and
the killer behind lessened. By the time he had reached the roots of a
black willow tree which stretched far out over the water, the
snake-head of the weasel was not six feet behind the fluffy tail which
Chippy still flaunted, the unlowered banner of his courage. Out upon
the tree trunk he rushed, until he reached the farthest fork. Then,
gathering himself together, he sprang from all four feet as if driven
by a released spring and struck far out in the still water.

The sound of his splash had hardly died away before his brown pursuer
launched himself into the air with a sort of double jump, starting
with a spring from his short forelegs and ending with a tremendous
drive from his squat hind legs. In spite of this clumsy take-off, the
fierce force that shows in everything a weasel does, drove him a foot
ahead of the chipmunk's mark. Followed a desperate race. Swimming high
with jerky, uneven, rapid strokes, the weasel rushed through the water
and foot by foot cut down the chipmunk's lead, until his teeth gnashed
a scant yard back of the other's shoulder. There however the weasel
hung. Swimming deeper, and with slower and more powerful strokes, the
chipmunk refused to break his stroke by looking back. Only when the
recurring ripples warned him that his pursuer was closing in on him
did he put more power into the deep, regular beat of his strong little
legs.

Slowly, very slowly, the better stroke began to tell. At first the
weasel only stopped gaining. Then, little by little, the gap between
the two widened. When it had stretched out to ten feet, the chipmunk
shot ahead as if the other were anchored. The weasel's strokes became
slower, and at last stopped. Flesh and blood, however fierce, has its
limitations. The weasel had risked everything on his first desperate
sprint. That failing, his reserves were gone, and he turned and slowly
and pantingly swam back to the shore and passed out of Chippy's life
forever.

Strongly and steadily the chipmunk swam on, until the farther shore, a
quarter of a mile away, was reached. Wearily Chippy dragged himself up
the beach to the dry hillside, staggering from exhaustion. There was
no stone wall near, nor had he the strength to dig even the beginning
of a burrow. Unprotected, in the open, he must take his chances until
his strength came back. Then it was that nature relented, and once
more another miracle was wrought for one of her loved Little People.
Out of a hole on the hillside half-hidden by the pink blossoms of a
steeple-bush, popped a small head, and for a golden moment Chippy
gazed long and long into the eyes of Nippy. Then she turned back into
her burrow, with a look that drew him totteringly after her. At the
flood-tide of their lives they had met to become the founders of
another colony, and to pass on undimmed the divine spark of courage
and endurance and love.



VI

THE PATH OF THE AIR


Deacon Jimmy Wadsworth was probably the most upright man in Cornwall.
It was he who drove five miles one bitter winter night and woke up
Silas Smith, who kept the store at Cornwall Bridge, to give him back
three cents over-change. Silas's language, as he went back to bed,
almost brought on a thaw.

The Deacon lived on the tiptop of the Cobble, one of the twenty-seven
named hills of Cornwall, with Aunt Maria his wife, Hen Root his hired
man, Nip Root his yellow dog and--the Ducks. The Deacon had rumpled
white hair and a serene clear-cut face, and even when working, always
wore a clean white shirt with a stiff bosom and no collar.

Aunt Maria was of the salt of the earth. She was spry and short, with
a little face all wrinkled with good-will and good works, and had
twinkling eyes of horizon-blue. If anyone was sick, or had unexpected
company, or a baby, or was getting married or buried, Aunt Maria was
always on hand, helping.

As for Hen, he cared more for his dog than he did for any human. When
a drive for the Liberty Loan was started in Cornwall, he bought a bond
for himself and one for Nip, and had the latter wear a Liberty Loan
button in his collar.

Of course, the farm was cluttered up with horses, cows, chickens, and
similar bric-a-brac, but the Ducks were part of the household. It came
about this way: Rashe Howe, who hunted everything except work, had
given the Deacon a tamed decoy duck, who seemed to have passed her
usefulness as a lure. It was evident, however, that she had been
trifling with Rashe, for before she had been on the farm a month,
somewhere in sky or stream she found a mate. Later, down by the
ice-pond, she stole a nest--a beautiful basin made of leaves and edged
with soft down from her black-and-buff breast. There she laid ten
blunt-ended, brown eggs, which she brooded until she was carried off
one night by a wandering fox. Her mate went back to the wilds, and
Aunt Maria put the eggs under a big clucking Brahma hen, who hatched
out six soft yellow ducklings.

They had no more than come out of the shell when, with faint little
quackings, they paddled out of the barnyard and started in single file
for the pond. Although just hatched, each little duck knew its place
in the line, and from that day on, the order never changed. The old
hen, clucking frantically, tried again and again to turn them back.
Each time they scattered and, waddling past her, fell into line once
more. When at last they reached the bank, their foster-mother scurried
back and forth squawking warnings at the top of her voice; but, one
after another, each disobedient duckling plunged in with a bob of its
turned-up tail, and the procession swam around and around the pond as
if it would never stop.

This was too much for the old hen. She stood for a long minute,
watching the ungrateful brood, and then turned away and evidently
disinherited them upon the spot. From that moment she gave up the
duties of motherhood, stopped setting and clucking, and never again
recognized her foster-children, as they found out to their sorrow
after their swim. All the rest of that day they plopped sadly after
her, only to be received with pecks whenever they came too near. She
would neither feed nor brood them, and when night came, they had to
huddle in their deserted coop in a soft little heap, shivering and
quacking beseechingly until daylight.

The next day Aunt Maria was moved by the sight of the six, weary but
still pursuing the indifferent hen, keeping up the while a chorus of
soft sorrowful little quackings, which ought to have touched her
heart--but didn't. By this time they were so weak that, if Aunt Maria
had not taken them into the kitchen and fed them and covered them up
in a basket of flannel, they would never have lived through the second
night.

Thereafter the old kitchen became a nursery. Six human babies could
hardly have called for more attention, or have made more trouble, or
have been better loved than those six fuzzy, soft, yellow ducklings.
In a few days, the whole home-life on top of the Cobble centred around
them. They needed so much nursing and petting and soothing, that it
almost seemed to Aunt Maria as if a half-century had rolled back, and
she was once more looking after babies long, long lost to her. Even
old Hen became attached to them enough to cuff Nip violently when that
pampered animal growled at the newcomers, and showed signs of
abolishing them. From that moment Nip joined the Brahma hen in
ignoring the ducklings completely. If any attention was shown them in
his presence, he would stalk away majestically, as if overcome with
astonishment that humans would spend their time over six yellow ducks
instead of one yellow dog.

During the ducks' first days in the kitchen, someone had to be with
them constantly. Otherwise all six of them would go "Yip, yip, yip,"
at the top of their voices. As soon as any one came to their cradle,
or even spoke to them, they would snuggle down contentedly under the
flannel, and sing like a lot of little tea-kettles, making the same
kind of a sleepy hum that a flock of wild mallards gives when they are
sleeping far out on the water. They liked the Deacon and Hen, but they
loved Aunt Maria. In a few days they followed her everywhere around
the house, and even out on the farm, paddling along just behind her,
in single file, and quacking vigorously if she walked too fast.

One day she tried to slip out and go down to the sewing-circle at Mrs.
Miner Rogers's at the foot of the hill; but they were on her trail
before she had taken ten steps. They followed her all the way down,
and stood with their beaks pressed against the bay-window, watching
her as she sat in Mrs. Rogers's parlor. When they made up their minds
that she had called long enough, they set up such a chorus of
quackings that Aunt Maria had to come.

"Those pesky ducks will quack their heads off if I don't leave," she
explained shamefacedly.

The road up-hill was a long, long trail for the ducklings. Every now
and then they would stop and cry with their pathetic little yipping
note, and lie down flat on their backs, and hold their soft little
paddles straight up in the air, to show how sore they were. The last
half of the journey they made in Aunt Maria's apron, singing away
contentedly as she plodded up the hill.

As they grew older, they took an interest in everyone who came; and if
they did not approve of the visitor, would quack deafeningly until he
went. Once Aunt Maria happened to step suddenly around the corner of
the house as a load of hay went past. Finding her gone, the ducks
started solemnly down the road, following the hay-wagon, evidently
convinced that she was hidden somewhere beneath the load. They were
almost out of sight when Aunt Maria called to them. At the first sound
of her voice, they turned and hurried back, flapping their wings and
paddling with all their might, quacking joyously as they came.

Aunt Maria and the flock had various little private games of their
own. Whenever she sat down, they would tug at the neatly tied bows of
her shoelaces, until they had loosened them; whereupon she would jump
up and rush at them, pretending great wrath; whereupon they would
scatter on all sides, quacking delightedly. When she turned back, they
would form a circle around her, snuggling their soft necks against her
gown until she scratched each uplifted head softly. If she wore
button-shoes they would pry away at the loose buttons and attempt to
swallow them. When she was working in her flower-garden, they would
bother her by swallowing some of the smallest bulbs, and snatching up
and running away with larger ones. At other times they would hide in
dark corners and rush out at her with loud and terrifying quacks, at
which Aunt Martha would pretend to be much frightened and scuttle
away, pursued by the six.

All three of the family were forever grumbling about the flock. To
hear them, one would suppose that their whole lives were embittered by
the trouble and expense of caring for a lot of useless, greedy ducks.
Yet when Hen suggested roast duck for Thanksgiving, Deacon Jimmy and
Aunt Maria lectured him so severely for his cruelty, that he was glad
to explain that he was only joking. Once, when the ducks were sick, he
dug angleworms for them all one winter afternoon, in the corner of the
pigpen where the ground still remained unfrozen; and Deacon Jimmy
nearly bankrupted himself buying pickled oysters, which he fed them as
a tonic.

It was not long before they outgrew their baby clothes, and wore the
mottled brown of the mallard duck, with a dark steel-blue bar edged
with white on either wing. The leader evidently had a strain of black
duck in her blood. She was larger, and lacked the trim bearing of the
aristocratic mallard. On the other hand, Blackie had all the wariness
and sagacity of the black duck, than whom there is no wiser bird. As
the winter came on, a coop was fixed up for them not far from the
kitchen, where they slept on warm straw in the coldest weather, with
their heads tucked under their soft, down-lined wings up to their
round, bright eyes. The first November snowstorm covered their coop
out of sight; but when Aunt Maria called, they quacked a cheery answer
back from under the drift.

Then came the drake, a gorgeous mallard with a head of emerald-green
and a snow-white collar, and with black, white, gray, and violet
wings, in all the pride and beauty of his prime. A few days and nights
before he had been a part of the North. Beyond the haunts of men,
beyond the farthest forests, where the sullen green of the pines
gleamed against a silver sky, a great waste-land stretched clear to
the tundras, beyond which is the ice of the Arctic. In this
wilderness, where long leagues of rushes hissed and whispered to the
wind, the drake had dwelt. Here and there were pools of green-gray
water, and beyond the rushes stretched the bleached brown reeds,
deepening in the distance to a dark tan. In the summer a heavy, sweet
scent had hung over the marshland, like the breath of a herd of
sleeping cattle. Here had lived uncounted multitudes of waterfowl.

As the summer passed, a bitter wind howled like a wolf from the North
with the hiss of snow in its wings. Sometimes by day, when little
flurries of snow whirled over the waving rushes; sometimes by night,
when a misty moon struggled through a gray wrack of cloud, long lines
and crowded masses of water-birds sprang into the air, and started on
the far journey southward. There were gaggles of wild geese flying in
long wedges, with the strongest and the wisest gander leading the
converging lines; wisps of snipe, and badlings of duck of many kinds.
The widgeons flew with whistling wings, in long black streamers. The
scaup came down the sky in dark masses, giving a rippling purr as they
flew. Here and there scattered couples of blue-winged teal shot past
groups of the slower ducks. Then down the sky, in a whizzing
parallelogram, came a band of canvasbacks, with long red heads and
necks and gray-white backs. Moving at the rate of a hundred and sixty
feet a second, they passed pintails, black duck, and mergansers as if
they had been anchored, grunting as they flew.

When the rest of his folk sprang into the air, the mallard drake had
refused to leave the cold pools and the whispering rushes. Late that
season he had lost his mate, and, lonely without her and hoping still
for her return, he lingered among the last to leave. As the nights
went by, the marshes became more and more deserted. Then there dawned
a cold, turquoise day. The winding streams showed sheets of sapphire
and pools of molten silver. That afternoon the sun, a vast globe of
molten red, sank through an old-rose sky, which slowly changed to a
faint golden green. For a moment it hung on the knife-edge of the
world, and then dipped down and was gone.

Through the violet twilight five gleaming, misty-white birds of an
unearthly beauty, glorious trumpeter swans, flew across the western
sky in strong, swift, majestic flight. As the shadows darkened like
spilt ink, their clanging notes came down to the lonely drake. When
the swans start south, it is no time for lesser folk to linger. The
night was aflame with its million candles as he sprang into the air,
circled once and again, and followed southward the moon path which lay
like a long streamer of gold across the waste-lands. Night and day and
day and night and night and day again he flew, until, as he passed
over the northwestern corner of Connecticut, that strange food sense
which a migrating bird has, brought him down from the upper sky into
the one stretch of marshland that showed for miles around. It chanced
to be close to the base of the Cobble.

All night long he fed full among the pools. Just as the first faint
light showed in the eastern sky, he climbed upon the top of an old
muskrat house that showed above the reeds. At the first step, there
was a sharp click, the fierce grip of steel, and he was fast in one of
Hen's traps. There the old man found him at sunrise, and brought him
home wrapped up in his coat, quacking, flapping, and fighting every
foot of the way. An examination showed his leg to be unbroken, and Hen
held him while Aunt Maria with a pair of long shears clipped his
beautiful wings. Then, all gleaming green and violet, he was set down
among the six ducks, who had been watching him admiringly.

The second he was loosed, he gave his strong wings a flap that should
have lifted him high above the hateful earth, where tame folk set
traps for wild folk. Instead of swooping toward the clouds, the
clipped wings beat the air impotently, and did not even raise his
orange, webbed feet from the ground. Again and again the drake tried
to fly, only to realize at last that he was clipped and shamed and
earthbound. Then for the first time he seemed to notice the six who
stood by, watching him in silence. To them he quacked, and quacked,
and quacked fiercely, and Aunt Maria had an uneasy feeling that she
and her shears were the subject of his remarks. Suddenly he stopped,
and all seven started toward their winter quarters; and lo and behold!
at the head of the procession marched the gleaming drake, with the
deposed Blackie trailing meekly in second place.

From that day forth he was their leader; nor did he forget his wrongs.
The sight of Aunt Maria was always a signal for a burst of impassioned
quackings. Soon it became evident that the ducks were reluctantly
convinced that the gentle little woman had been guilty of a great
crime, and more and more they began to shun her. There were no more
games and walks and caressings. Instead the six followed the drake's
lead in avoiding as far as possible humans who trapped and clipped the
people of the air.

At first the Deacon put the whole flock in a great pen where the young
calves were kept in spring, fearing lest the drake might wander away.
This, of course, was no imprisonment to the ducks, who could fly over
the highest fence. The first morning, after they had been penned, the
ducks sprang over the fence and started for the pond, quacking to the
drake to follow. When he quacked back that he could not, the flock
returned and showed him again and again how easy it was to fly over
the fence. At last he evidently made them understand that for him
flying was impossible. Several times they started for the pond, but
each time at a quack from the drake they came back. It was Blackie who
finally solved the difficulty. Flying back over the fence, she found a
place where a box stood near one of the sides of the pen. Climbing up
on top of this, she fluttered to the top rail. The drake clambered up
on the box, and tried to follow. As he was scrambling up the fence,
with desperate flappings of his disabled wings, Blackie and the
others, who had joined her on the top rail, reached down and pulled
him upward with tremendous tugs from their flat bills, until he
finally scrambled to the top and was safely over. For several days
this went on, and the flock would help him out of and into the pen
every day, as they went to and from the pond. When at last Aunt Maria
saw this experiment in prison-breaking, she threw open the gate wide,
and thereafter the drake had the freedom of the farm with the others.
As the days went by, he seemed to become more reconciled to his fate
and at times would even take food from Aunt Maria's hand; yet certain
reserves and withdrawings on the part of the whole flock were always
apparent, to vex her.

At last and at last, just when it seemed as if winter would never go,
spring came. There were flocks of wild geese beating, beating, beating
up the sky, never soaring, never resting, thrusting their way north in
a great black-and-white wedge, outflying spring, and often finding
lakes and marshes still locked against them. Then came the strange,
wild call from the sky of the killdeer, who wears two black rings
around his white breast; and the air was full of robin notes and
bluebird calls and the shrill high notes of the hylas. On the sides of
the Cobble the bloodroot bloomed, with its snowy petals and heart of
gold and root dripping with burning, bitter blood--frail flowers which
the wind kisses and kills. Then the beech trees turned all
lavender-brown and silver, and the fields of April wheat made patches
of brilliant velvet green.

At last there came a day blurred with glory, when the grass was a
green blaze, and the woods dripped green, and the new leaves of the
apple trees were like tiny jets of green flame among the pink and
white blossoms. The sky was full of waterfowl going north. All that
day the drake had been uneasy. One by one he had moulted his clipped
wing-feathers, and the long curved quills which had been his glory had
come back again. Late in the afternoon, as he was leading his flock
toward the kitchen, a great hubbub of calls and cries floated down
from the afternoon sky. The whole upper air was black with ducks.
There were teal, wood-ducks, baldpates, black duck, pintails, little
bluebills, whistlers, and suddenly a great mass of mallards, the green
heads of the drakes gleaming against the sky. As they flew they
quacked down to the little earthbound group below.

Suddenly the great drake seemed to realize that his power was upon him
once more. With a great sweep of his lustrous wings, he launched
himself forth into the air in a long arrowy curve, and shot up through
the sky toward the disappearing company--and not alone. Even as he
left the ground, before Aunt Maria's astonished eyes, faithful,
clumsy, wary Blackie sprang into the air after him, and with the
strong awkward flight of the black duck, which ploughs its way through
the air by main strength, she overtook her leader, and the two were
lost in the distant sky.

Aunt Maria took what comfort she could out of the five who remained,
but only now that they had gone, did she realize how dear to her was
Greentop, the beautiful, wild, resentful drake, and Blackie, awkward,
wise, resourceful Blackie. The flock too was lost without them, and
took chances and overlooked dangers which they never would have been
allowed to do under the reign of their lost king and queen. At last
fate overtook them one dark night when they were sleeping out. That
vampire of the darkness, a wandering mink, came upon them. With their
passing went something of love and hope, which left the Cobble a very
lonely place for the three old people.

As the nights grew longer, Aunt Maria would often dream that she heard
the happy little flock singing like teakettles in their basket, or
that she heard them quack from their coop, and would call out to
comfort them. Yet always it was only a dream. Then the cold came, and
one night a great storm of snow and sleet broke over the Cobble, and
the wind howled as it did the night before the drake was found.
Suddenly Aunt Maria started out of her warm bed, and listened. When
she was sure she was not dreaming, she awakened the Deacon, and
through the darkness they hurried down to the door, from the other
side of which sounded tumultuous and familiar quackings.

With trembling hands she lighted the lamp, and as they threw open the
door, in marched a procession. It was headed by Greentop, resentful no
more, but quacking joyously at the sight of light and shelter. Back of
him Blackie's soft, dark head rubbed lovingly against Aunt Maria's
trembling knees, with the little caressing, crooning noise which
Blackie always made when she wanted to be petted. Back of her,
quacking embarrassedly, waddled four more ducks who showed their youth
by their size and the newness of their feathering. Greentop and
Blackie had come back, bringing their family with them.

The tumult and the shouting aroused old Hen, who hurried down in his
night clothes. These, by the way, were the same as his day clothes
except for the shoes; for, as Hen said, he could not be bothered with
dressing and undressing except during the bathing season, which was
long past.

"Durned if it ain't them pesky ducks again," he said, grinning
happily.

"That's what it be," responded Deacon Jimmy, "I don't suppose now
we'll have a moment's peace."

"Yes, it's them good-for-nothin'--" began Aunt Maria; but she gulped
and something warm and wet trickled down her wrinkled cheeks, as she
stopped and pulled two dear-loved heads, one green and the other
black, into her arms.



VII

BLACKCAT


Above the afterglow gleamed a patch of beryl-green. Etched against the
color was the faintest, finest, and newest of crescent moons. It
seemed almost as if a puff of wind would blow it, like a cobweb, out
of the sky. As the shifting tints deepened into the unvarying
peacock-blue of a Northern night, the evening star flared like a lamp
hung low in the west while the dark strode across the shadows of the
forest, cobalt-blue against the drifted snow. As the winter stars
flamed into the darkening sky, a tide of night-life flowed and
throbbed under the silent trees. One by one the wild folk came forth,
to live and love and die in this their day, even as we humans in ours.

Long after the twilight had dimmed into the jeweled darkness,
opalescent with the changing colors of the Northern Lights, from the
inner depths of the woods there came a threat to the life of nearly
everyone of the forest folk. Yet it seemed but the mournful wail of a
little child. Only to the moose, the blackbear and the wolverine was
it other than the very voice of Death.

Fifty feet above the ground, from a blasted and hollow white pine, the
plaintive sound again shuddered down the wind. From a hollow under an
overhanging bough, a brownish-black animal moved slowly down the tree
trunk, headfirst, which position marked him as a past-master among the
tree folk. Only those climbers who are absolutely at home aloft go
forward down a perpendicular tree trunk. As the beast came out of the
shadow it resembled nothing so much as a big black cat, with a bushy
tail and a round, grayish head. Because of this appearance the
trappers had named it the blackcat. Others call it the fisher,
although it never fishes, while to the Indians it is the _pekan_--the
killer-in-the-dark. In spite of its rounded head and mild doggy face,
the fisher belongs to those killers, the weasels. Next to the
wolverine, he is the most powerful of his family, and he is far and
away the most versatile.

To-night, on reaching the ground, the pekan followed one of the many
runways he had discovered in the ten-mile beat that formed his
hunting-ground. Like most of the weasels, he lived alone. His brief
and dangerous family life lasted but a few days in the fall of every
year. When his mate tried to kill him unawares, the blackcat knew that
his honeymoon was over, and departed again to his hollow tree, many
miles from Mrs. Blackcat. To-night, as he moved at a leisurely pace
across the snow, in a series of easy bounds, his lithe black body
looped itself along like a hunting snake, while his broad forehead
gave him an innocent, open look. If in the tree he had resembled a
cat, on the ground he looked more like a dog.

There was one animal who was not misled by the frank openness of the
fisher's face. That one was a hunting pine marten, who had just come
across a red squirrel's nest made of woven sticks thatched with
leaves, and set in the fork of a moose-wood sapling some thirty feet
from the ground. Cocking his head on one side, the marten regarded the
swaying nest critically out of his bright black eyes. Convinced that
it was occupied, with a dart he dashed up the slender trunk, which
bent and shook under his rush.

But Chickaree had craftily chosen a tree that would bend under the
lightest weight, and signal the approach of any unwelcome visitor.
Before the marten had covered half the distance, four squirrels boiled
out of the nest and, darting to the end of the farthest twigs, leaped
to the nearest trees and scurried off into the darkness. The marten
had poised himself for a spring when he saw the fisher gazing up at
him. Straightway he forgot that there were squirrels in the world.
With a tremendous spring, he landed on the trunk of a near-by hemlock
and slipped around it like a shadow.

It was too late. With a couple of effortless bounds, the blackcat
reached the trunk and slipped up it with the ease and speed of a
blacksnake. The marten doubled and twisted and turned on his trail,
and launched himself surely and swiftly from dizzy heights at arrowy
speed. Yet, spring and dash as he would, there was always a pattering
rush just behind him. Before the branches, which crackled and bent
under the lithe golden-brown body, had stopped waving, they would
crash and sag under the black weight of the fisher. With every easy
bound the black came nearer to the gold. The pine marten is the
swiftest tree-climber in the world, bar one. The blackcat is that one.
As the two great weasels flashed through the trees, they seemed to be
running tandem. Every twist and turn of the golden leader was followed
automatically by the black wheeler, as if the two were connected by an
invisible, but unbreakable bond.

Under the strain it was the nerves of the marten which gave way first.
Not that he stopped, and cowered, helpless and shaking, like the
rabbit-folk, nor ran frothing and amuck as do rat-kind when too hardly
pressed. No weasel, while he lives, ever loses his head completely.
Only now the marten ran more and more wildly, relying on straight
speed and overlooking many a chance for a puzzling double, which would
have given him a breathing-space. The imperturbable blackcat noted
this, and began to take short cuts, which might have lost him his prey
at the beginning of the hunt.

At last, the long and circling chase brought them both near an
enormous white pine, which towered some forty feet away from the
nearest tree. A bent spruce leaned out toward the lone pine. With a
flying leap, the marten reached the spruce and flashed up the trunk,
with never a look behind. His crafty pursuer saw his chance. Landing
in a lower crotch of the spruce, with a flying take-off he launched
himself outward and downward into mid-air, with every ounce and atom
of spring that his steel-wire muscles held. It seemed impossible that
anything without wings could cover the great gap between the two
trees; but the blackcat knew to an inch what he could do, and almost
to an inch did the distance tax his powers. In a wide parabola his
black body whizzed through the air half a hundred feet above the
ground, beginning as a round ball of fur, which stretched out until
the fisher hung full length at the crest of his spring. If the tree
had been a scant six inches farther away, the blackcat would never
have made it. As it was, the huge clutching, horn-colored claws of his
forepaws just caught, and held long enough to allow him to clamp down
his hold with his hind paws.

The marten, who had started fifty feet ahead of the blackcat and had
lost his distance by having to climb up, jump, and then climb down,
passed along the trunk of the pine on his way to the ground just as
the blackcat landed, his lead cut down to a scant ten feet. Without a
pause, the pekan deliberately sprang out into the air and disappeared
in a snow bank full forty feet below. Not many animals, even with a
snow buffer, could stand a drop of that distance, but the great black
weasel burst out of the snow, his steel-bound frame apparently
unjarred, and stood at the foot of the tree.

As the marten reached the ground and saw what was awaiting him, his
playful face seemed to turn into a mask of rage and despair. The round
black eyes flamed red, the lips curved back from the sharp teeth in a
horrible grin, and with a shrieking snarl and a lightning-like snap
he tried for the favorite throat-hold of the weasel-folk. He was
battling, however, with one quite as quick and immeasurably more
powerful. With a little bob the blackcat slipped the lead of his
adversary, and the flashing teeth of the marten closed only on the
loose tough skin of the fisher's shoulder. Before he could strike
again the blackcat had the smaller animal clutched in its fierce
claws, with no play to parry the counter-thrust of the black muzzle.
In another second, the golden throat was dabbled with blood, which the
fisher drank in great gulps like the weasel that he was. According to
human notions, the dreadful and uncanny part of the contest was that,
throughout the whole fight and the blood-stained finish, the
blackcat's face was the mild, reflective, round face of a gentle dog.

His first blood-thirst slaked, the fisher slung the limp body of the
marten over his shoulder with a single flirt of his black head, and
winding his way up the tree trunk, cached it for a time in a
convenient crotch, feeling sure that no prowler would meddle with a
prey which bore upon its pelt the scent and seal of the blackcat.

All through a two-day snowstorm, the fisher had kept to his tree, and
his first kill that night only sharpened the blood-lust which swept
raging through his tense body. Following the nearest runway, he came
to the shore of a wide, rapid, little forest river, which at this
point had a fall which insured current enough to keep it from
freezing. Near its bank, the ranging blackcat came upon a fresh track
in the soft snow. First there were five marks--one small, two large,
and two small. The next track showed only four marks with the order
reversed, the larger marks being in front, instead of behind the
smaller. A little way farther on, and the smaller marks, instead of
being side by side, showed one behind the other.

The blackcat read this snow-riddle at a glance. The five marks showed
where a northern hare, or snowshoe rabbit, had been sitting; the fifth
mark being where its bobbed tail had touched the snow. The larger
marks had been the marks of the fur snowshoes, which it wears in
winter on its big hopping hind-legs, and the smaller the mark of the
little forepaws which, when he was sitting, naturally touched the
ground in front of the hind paws. When the hare hopped the position
was reversed, as the big hind paws, with every hop, struck the ground
in front of the others, the hare traveling in the direction of the
larger marks. The last tracks showed that the hare had either scented
or seen its pursuer; for a hare's eyes are so placed that it can see
either forward or backward as it hops. As the little forelegs touched
the ground, they were twisted one behind the other so as to secure the
greatest leverage possible.

The blackcat settled doggedly down to the chase. Although far slower
in a straightaway run than either the hare or the fox, it can and will
run down either in a long chase, although it may take a day to do it.
To-night the chase came to a sudden and unexpected end. The hare
described a great circle nearly half a mile in diameter, at full
speed, and then, whiter than the snow itself, squatted down to watch
his back trail and determine whether his pursuer was really intending
to follow him to a finish. Before long, the squatting hare saw a black
form on the other side of the circle, with humped back looping its way
along. At such a sight the smaller cottontail rabbit would have run a
short distance, and would then have crouched in the snow, squealing in
fear of its approaching death. The hare is made of sterner stuff.
Moreover, this one was a patriarch fully seven years old--a great age
for any hare to have accomplished in a world full of foes.

Wabasso, as Hiawatha named him, had not attained to this length of
years without encountering blackcats. In some unknown way, probably by
a happy accident, he had learned the one defense which a hare may
interpose to the attack of a fisher, and live. Reaching full speed
almost immediately, he cleared the snow in ten-foot bounds, four to
the second, while the wide, hairy snowshoes, which nature fits to his
white feet every winter, kept him from sinking much below the surface.

The keen eyes of the blackcat caught sight of the hare's first bound
in spite of his protective coloration, and he at once cut across the
diameter of the circle. In spite of this short cut, the hare reached
the bank of the open river many yards ahead. Well out in the midst of
the rushing icy water lay a sand bar, now covered with snow. To the
blackcat's amazement and disgust, and contrary to every tradition of
the chase, this unconventional hare plunged with a desperate bound
fully ten feet out into the icy water. Wabasso was no swimmer, and had
evidently elected to travel by water in the same way which he had
found successful by land. Kicking mightily with his hind legs he
hopped his way through the water, raising himself bodily at every
kick, only to sink back until but the top of his white nose showed.
Nevertheless, in a wonderfully short time he had won his way through
the wan water, and lay panting and safe on the sand bank. If pursued,
he could take to the water again and hop his way to either shore,
along which he could run and take to the water whenever it was
necessary.

To-night no such tactics were needed. The fisher, in spite of his
name, hates water. He can swim, albeit slowly and clumsily, in the
summer time. As for leaping into a raging torrent of ice-cold
water--it was not to be considered. The blackcat raced up and down the
bank furiously, and not until convinced that the rabbit was on that
snow bank for the night, did he give up the hunt and go bounding along
the bank of the river after other and easier prey. For the first time
that night the mildness of his face was marred by a snarling curl of
the lips, showing the full set of cruel fighting teeth with which
every weasel, large or small, is equipped.

As the blackcat followed the line of the river, his sharp ear caught a
steady and monotonous sound, like someone using a peculiarly dull saw.
Around a bend the still water was frozen. Against the side of the bank
an empty pork-keg had drifted down from some lumberman's camp, and
frozen into the ice. In front of the shattered keg crouched a
large, blackish, hairy animal, gnawing as if paid by the hour. It was
none other than the Canada porcupine--"Old Man Quillpig," as he is
called by the lumberjacks, who hate him because he gnaws to sawdust
every scrap of wood that has ever touched salt. The porcupine saw the
blackcat, but never ceased gnawing. Many and many an animal has
thought that he could kill sluggish, stupid Quillpig. The wolf, the
lynx, the panther, and the wildcat all have tried--and died. So
to-night the porcupine kept on with his gnawing, under the star-shine,
convinced that no animal that lived could solve his defense.

[Illustration: THE SAFE RABBIT]

But the blackcat is one of two animals which have no fear of the
quillpig. Blackbear is the other. With its swift, sinuous gait, the
pekan came closer, whereupon Quillpig unwillingly stopped his sawing
and thrust his head under the broken, frozen staves of the barrel. His
belly hugged the ground, and in an instant he seemed to swell to
double his normal size as he erected his quills and lashed this way
and that with his spiked tail. Pure white, with dark tips, the quills
were thickly barbed down to the extreme point, which is smooth and
keen. The barbs are envenomed, and wherever they touch living flesh
cause it to rankle, swell, and fester for all save the pekan, whose
flesh is immune to the virus.

To-night the blackcat wasted no time. Disregarding the bristling
quills and the lashing tail, the crafty weasel suddenly inserted a
quick paw beneath the gnawer, and with a tremendous jerk tipped him
over on his bristling back. Before the quillpig could right himself,
the fisher had torn open his unguarded belly, and proceeded to eat the
quivering, flabby meat as if from the shell of an oyster, or to be
more accurate, a sea urchin. Throughout these proceedings he
disregarded the quills entirely. Many of them pierced his skin. Others
were swallowed along with the mouthfuls of warm flesh, which he tore
out and greedily devoured. By reason of some unknown charm, the barbed
quills work out of a blackcat without harm, and pass through his
intestines in clusters, like packages of needles, without any
inconvenience, although in any other animal save the bear they would
inevitably cause death.

As the pekan ate and ate, the stars began to dim in the blue-black
sky, and a faint flush in the east announced the end of his hunting
day. With a farewell mouthful, he started back through the snow for
his hollow tree, making a long detour, to bring in the cached marten.
As he approached the tree from whose crotch the slim golden body
dangled, his leisurely lope changed into a series of swift bounds. For
the first time, a snarl came from behind the pekan's mask. The dead
marten was gone from the tree. In an open space which the wind had
swept nearly clear of snow, it lay under the huge paws of a shadowy
gray animal, with luminous pale yellow eyes, a curious bob of a tail,
and black tufted ears. For all the world, it looked like a gray cat,
but such a cat as never lived in a house. Three feet long, and forty
pounds in weight, the Canada lynx is surpassed in size only among its
North American relatives by that huger yellow cat, the puma or
panther.

At the snarl of the fisher, the cat looked up, and at the sight of the
gliding black figure gave a low spitting growl and contemptuously
dropped his great head to the marten's bloody throat. For a moment the
big black weasel and the big gray cat faced each other. At first
sight, it did not seem possible that the smaller animal would attack
the larger, or that, if he did, he would last long. The fisher was
less than half the size and weight of the lynx, who also outwardly
seemed to have more of a fighting disposition. The tufted ears alert,
the eyes gleaming like green fire, and the bristling hair and arched
back, contrasted formidably with the broad forehead and round, honest
face of the fisher.

So, at least, it seemed to young Jim Linklater, who, with his uncle
Dave, the trapper, lay crouched close in a hemlock copse. Long before
daylight, the two had traveled on silent snowshoes up the river bank,
laying a trap-line, carrying nothing but a back-load of steel traps.
At the rasping growl of the lynx, they peered out of their covert only
to find themselves not thirty feet away from the little arena.

"That old lucifee'll rip that poor, little, black innocent to pieces
in jig-time," whispered young Jim.

Old Dave shook his grizzled head. He pulled his nephew's ample ear
firmly and painfully close to his mouth.

"Son," he hissed, "you and that lucifee are both goin' to have the
surprise of your lives."

Unwitting of his audience, the weasel approached the cat swiftly.
Suddenly with a hoarse screech, the lynx sprang, hoping to land with
all his weight on the humped-up black back, and then bring into play
his ripping curved claws, while he sank his teeth deep into his
opponent's spine.

It was at once evident that lynx tactics have not yet been adapted to
blackcat service. Without a sound, the pekan swerved like a shadow to
one side, and almost before the lynx had touched the ground, the
fisher's fierce cutting teeth had severed the tendon of a hind leg,
while its curved claws slashed deep into the soft inner flank.

The great cat screeched with rage and pain and sheer astonishment. As
he landed, the crippled leg bent under him. Even yet he had one
advantage which no amount of courage or speed on the part of the pekan
could have overcome. If only the lynx had gripped the dead marten, and
sprung out into the deep snow, the fisher would have had to fight a
losing fight. Like the hare, the lynx is shod with snowshoes in the
winter, on which he can pad along on snow in which a fisher would sink
deep at every step. In spite of his formidable appearance, however,
the lynx has a plentiful lack of brains. As his leg doubled under his
weight, this one in a panic threw himself on his back, the traditional
cat attitude of defense, ready to bring into action all four of his
sets of ripping claws, with his teeth in reserve.

Against another of the cat tribe such a defense would have been good.
Against the pekan it was fatal. No battler in the world is a better
in-fighter than the blackcat, and any antagonist near his size, who
invites a clinch, rarely comes out of it alive. The pekan first
circled the spinning, yowling, slashing lynx more and more rapidly,
until there came a time when the side of the gray throat lay before
him for a second unguarded. It was enough. With a pounce like the
stroke of a coiled rattler, the pekan sprang, and a double set of the
most effective fighting teeth known among mammals met deep in the
lynx's throat. With all of his sharp eviscerating claws, the great cat
raked his opponent. But the blackcat, protected by his thick pelt and
tough muscles, was content to exchange any number of surface slashes
for the throat-hold. Deeper and deeper the crooked teeth dug; and then
with a burst of bright blood, they pierced the jugular vein itself.
The struggles of the lynx became weaker and weaker, until, with a last
convulsive shudder, the gray body stretched out stark in the snow. The
weasel lay panting and lapping at the hot, welling blood, while his
own ran down his black fur in unconsidered streams.

It was young Jim who first broke the silence.

"Those pelt'll bring all of twenty-five dollars," he remarked,
stepping forward.

"Help yourself," suggested old Dave, not stirring, however, from where
he stood.

At the voices the black weasel sprang up like a flash. With one paw on
the dead lynx and another on the marten, he faced the two men in
absolute silence. The eyes under the mild forehead flamed red and
horrible and the dripping body quivered for another throat-hold.

"Seems like Mr. Blackcat wants 'em both," murmured the old man,
discreetly withdrawing from the farther side of the copse. Jim gazed
into the flaming eyes a moment longer and then followed his uncle.

"He don't look so blame innocent after all," he observed.



VIII

LITTLE DEATH


For three long months the blue-white snow had lain over the gold-white
sand among the dark-green pitch pines standing like trees from a
Noah's Ark. To-day the woods were a vast sea of green, lapping at the
white sand-land that had been thrust up, a wedge from the South, into
the very heart of the North. A crooked stream had cut its course deep
through the forest. On its high bank the ghost-like glory of a
mountain laurel overhung the dark water. Close to the water's edge
were clumps of the hollow, crimson-streaked leaves of the pitcher
plant, lined with thousands of tiny teeth all pointing downward, traps
for unwary insects. All the winter these pitchers had been filled with
clear cone-shaped lumps of ice; but to-day, above the fatal leaves, on
long stems, swung great blossoms, wine-red, crimson, aquamarine,
pearl-white, and pale gold.

From overhead came the trilling song of the pine warbler, like a
chipping sparrow lost in the woods; and here and there could be caught
glimpses of his pale yellow breast and white wing-bars. Below, among
the tangled scrub oaks, flitted the brilliant yellow-and-black prairie
warbler, while everywhere the chewinks called "Drink your tea," and
the Maryland yellow-throat sang "Witchery, witchery, witchery," while
jays squalled in the distance, and crimson-crested cardinals whistled
from the thickets. In the sky, like grim black aeroplanes, wheeled the
turkey buzzards, sailing in circles without ever a wing stroke. Gray
pine-swifts, with brilliant blue patches on their sides, scurried up
and down tree trunks and along fallen logs, and brown cottontail
rabbits hopped across the paths, showing their white powder puffs at
each jump. A huge, umber-brown-and-white pine snake, with a strange
pointed head, crawled slowly through the brush while rows of painted
turtles dotted the snags which thrust out here and there above the
stream.

Earth, air, and water, all swarmed with life at this dawn of the year.
The underground folk were awake, too. Down below the surface, the
industrious mole, with his plush fur and spade-like hands, dug
incessantly his hunting-tunnels for earthworms. Above him, in wet
places, his cousin, the star-nosed mole, whose nose has twenty-two
little fingers, drove passages through the lowest part of the moss
beds and the soft upper mould.

Still nearer the surface, just under the leaf-carpet, sometimes
digging his own way, sometimes using the tunnels of the meadow-mice
and deer-mice, and occasionally flashing out into the open air, lived
the smallest mammal. Of all the tribes of earth, of all the bat-folk
who fly the air, or the water-people who swim the seas and rivers and
lakes, no mammal is so little. From the tip of his wee pointed muzzle
to the base of his tiny tail, he was just about the length of a man's
little finger, or about two and a half inches. Nature had handicapped
her smallest child heavily. Blind, earless, and tiny, yet every
twenty-four hours he must kill and eat his own weight in flesh and
blood; for so fiercely swift are the functions of his strange, wee
body, that, lacking food for even six hours, the blind killer starves
and dies.

To-day, near the edge of the stream, in the soft, white sand, his
trail showed. It looked like a string of tiny exclamation points.
Suddenly, from a patch of dry leaves there sounded a long rustling,
like the crawling of a snake. Nothing could be seen, yet the leaves
heaved and moved here and there, as something pushed its way under the
surface of the leaf-carpet. Then, the masked shrew--for so we humans
have named this escape from Lilliput--flashed out into the open. His
glossy, silky fur was brown above and whitish-gray underneath; and
between the hidden, unseeing eyes and the holes which took the place
of ears was a dark smoky-gray mark, like a mask. His head angled into
a long whiskered snout, so pointed that from above the shrew looked
like a big pen. This flexible muzzle he twisted here and there,
sniffing uncertainly, for the shrew has but little sense of smell. In
fact, he seems to have traded the greater part of his other senses for
a double portion of two--touch and hearing. Not even the long-eared
rabbit can detect the faintest shade of a sound quicker than the
shrew, and only the bat equals his sense of touch. Like that flyer,
the shrew can detect an obstacle in time to avoid it, even when
running at full speed, by becoming conscious of some subtle change in
the air-pressure.

Among the great throng of little wild folk playing at hide-and-seek
with death among the fallen logs, and in the labyrinth of passageways
in the beds of sand and moss and fern, no one was swifter than this
one, the smallest of them all. A flash here, a glimpse farther on, and
he was gone, too fast to be followed by human eyes. In one of his rare
pauses he might have been mistaken for a tiny mouse by reason of his
general coloration; yet the shrew is as different from the mouse as a
lynx from a wolf. No mouse has long, crooked, crocodile jaws, filled
with perhaps the fiercest fighting teeth of any mammal; nor does any
mouse have the tremendous jaw muscles which stood out under the soft
fur of this beastling.

To-day, as the shrew sniffed here and there, trying to locate trails
which a weasel or a dog could have followed instantly, his quick ear
caught some tiny sound from the near-by burrow of a meadow-mouse. With
a curious pattering, burrowing run, unlike the leaps and bounds of the
mice-people, he started unerringly toward a narrow opening almost
hidden under an overhanging patch of yellow-green sphagnum moss.
Disappearing down the tunnel, he dashed along furiously, while his
long widespread whiskers gave him instant notice of the turns and
twists of the tunnel, which he threaded at full speed.

[Illustration: THE KILLERS]

Ahead of him fled a young meadow-mouse, on his way to join other
members of the family who were having a light lunch on what was left
in the storehouse of their winter's supplies. Hearing the rapid
pattering and sniffing behind him, the mouse made the fatal mistake of
keeping on to the storeroom--a large chamber underground, where three
grown mice were feasting. Confident in the fighting ability of his
family, he had yet to learn that odds are nothing to a shrew. In spite
of his speed, the mouse dashed into the round room only a little ahead
of his pursuer. The storehouse was large enough to make a good
battleground, but, unfortunately for the mice, contained only one
entrance.

Then followed a battle great and grim. The mice were on their own
ground, four against one and that one only a tiny blind beastling less
than half the size and weight of any one of them. It did not seem as
if the shrew had a chance against the burly, round-headed
meadow-voles, who are the best fighters of all the mice-folk. Yet the
issue was never in doubt. The shrew attacked with incredible
swiftness. No one of his four foes could make a motion that his quick
ear and uncanny sense of touch did not at once detect. Moreover,
throughout the whole fight, he never for an instant left the
exit-tunnel unguarded. Time and again, from out of the whirling mass
of entangled bodies, a meadow-mouse would spring to the door to
escape. Always it ran against the fell jaws of the little blind death,
and bounded back from the latter's rigid steel-like body. Again and
again the mice leaped high, and like little boxers thrust the shrew
away from them by quick motions of their forepaws. At times they would
jump clear over him, slashing and snapping as they went, with their
two pairs of long curved sharp teeth. The shrew's snout, however, was
of tough leathery cartilage. Its tiny hidden and unseeing eyes needed
no protection, while its thick fur and tough skin could be pierced
only by a long grip, which he prevented by his tactics. Never using
his forefeet like the mice, he stood with feet outspread and firmly
braced, head and snout pointing up, and constantly darted his jaws
forward and downward with fierce tearing bites. With each one he
brought no less than six pointed fighting teeth into play. These,
driven by the great muscles of the shrew's neck and jaws, made ghastly
ripping cuts through the thin skins of the mice. The latter kept up a
continual squeaking as they moved, but the little killer fought in
absolute silence. His wee body seemed to have an inexhaustible store
of fierce strength and endurance, and throughout the battle it was
always the shrew who attacked and the mice who retreated. Like the
raccoon, the shrew is perfectly balanced on all four feet, and can
move forward, backward, or sidewise with equal readiness. With swift
little springs this one constantly tried for a throat-hold; yet amid
the tangle and confusion of the struggle, never once did he fail to
guard the one way out.

Round and round the storehouse the battle surged for a long half hour,
with the shrew always between the doorway and his struggling, leaping
opponents. The grain-fed mice lacked the blood-bought endurance of
their opponent. The young mouse who had led the shrew to the
storehouse was the first to go. In the very middle of a leap, he
staggered and fell at the feet of his enemy. Instantly the long curved
jaws closed on his head, and the fierce teeth of the shrew crunched
into his brain.

It was the beginning of the end. One by one the others fell before the
automatic rushes and slashes of the little fighting-machine, until
only one was left, a scarred, skilled veteran, who had held his own in
many a fight. As he felt his strength ebbing, with a last desperate
effort the mouse dodged one of the shrew's rushes, and managed to sink
his two pairs of curved teeth into the tough muscles of the other's
neck. Then a horrifying thing happened. Without even trying to break
the mouse's grip, the shrew bent nearly double, and buried his pointed
muzzle deep into the soft flesh below the other's foreleg. Driven by
the cruel hunger which ruled his life, he ate like fire through skin
and flesh and bone. The mouse fought, the shrew ate, and the outcome
was certain, as it must be when a fighter who depends on four teeth
dares the clinch with one who uses twelve. Even as the mouse unlocked
his jaws for a better hold he tottered and fell dead under the feet of
the other.

For long days and nights the shrew stayed in the storeroom, until all
that remained of the meadow-mice were four pelts neatly folded and
four skeletons picked bare of even a shred of flesh. Moreover, the
store of seeds left by the mice was gone, too.

Finally, one morning, as the sun came up over the pines, the little
masked death flashed out of the burrow with the same pattering rush
with which he had entered, and hurried toward a near-by brook, to
quench an overpowering thirst. As he approached the bank, he passed
one of his larger brethren, the blarina, or mole shrew, whose track in
the sand was like an uncovered tunnel filled with zigzag paw-prints.
Although both were blind, each felt the other's presence, and it was
fortunate for the smaller of the two that the blarina had also just
fed, since shrews allow no ties of blood to interfere with their
eminently practical appetites.

Just before the little blind runner reached the bank, he encountered
another wanderer, whom few of the smaller animals meet and live. It
was that demon of the woods, the short-tailed weasel, going to and fro
in the earth, seeking whom he might devour. Behind him, as always, was
a trail of dead and dying animals. Into every hole large enough to
admit his slim body, he wormed his way like a hunting snake, and
passed, swift and silent as death itself, through brush-piles, hollow
logs, and up and down trees, to peer into the round window of a
woodpecker's home or a squirrel's nest. Meadow-mice, deer-mice,
chipmunks, rats, rabbits, and even squirrels in their trees the slayer
ran down to their death; for, unlike the shrews, a weasel kills from
blood-lust and not from hunger.

Like some great inch-worm, the weasel looped its way along, until its
path crossed that of the shrew pattering toward the brook. Even in the
face of this incarnate terror of the wild folk the little shrew
showed all the stubborn courage of his race and, refusing to turn
aside, passed within an inch of the deadly jaws of the red killer.
Nothing in nature, save the stab of one of the coiled pit-vipers, is
swifter than the pounce of the weasel. In his grip the shrew, despite
all of his fierce courage, would have had no more chance than a man
ground by the frightful teeth of a killer whale. Against the larger
mammals, however, this fierce fragment of flesh and blood has one last
defense, which saved him that day.

As the weasel caught a whiff of the pungent, evil odor of the shrew's
fur, he drew aside, his lips curled back over his sharp teeth in a
grimace of disgust, and the masked beastling passed unscathed. At a
little cove by the edge of a stump, the shrew drank deep. The pointed
snout had just come to the surface, when his quick hearing caught from
overhead a tiny flutter of sound. Long ages of sudden death from the
air for the shrew-folk made the next movement of this one automatic.
As if this sound-wave from overhead had touched some reflex, he dived
into the water at the first vibration, like a frog, and swam deep down
under the overhanging bank. A fraction of a second later a pair of
sharp, cramped talons sank deep into the bank where he had stood,
printing in the sand the "K" signature of the hawk-folk, and a
buff-waistcoated sparrow hawk swooped into the air again, with a
shrill disappointed, "killi, killi, killi!"

As the little fugitive swam along the bank something long and sinuous
passed him like a flash in the golden water. For a land animal a shrew
is no mean swimmer; but the banded watersnake outswims the fish on
which it feeds. This one went past the speeding mammal so fast, that
it showed only a blur of dingy brown markings on its back and a gleam
of marbled red blotches on its belly, as it disappeared in a hole
which sloped under the bank. Although not venomous, the banded
watersnake has within its flat triangular head a mouthful of sharp
teeth which it is always willing to use, and is an exceptionally
active, powerful serpent. Even one of the larger mammals might well
have hesitated before attacking one in its own den.

Not so the shrew. By the swirl and suction of the water, he knew that
something large and living had gone by. That was enough. Food meant
everything, size and odds nothing, in his life. The snake had scarcely
time to turn around in its dark burrow, before its cold unwinking eyes
saw a dark little figure come out of the water and rush up the long
slope that led to the hollow under the bank. Although less than two
feet long, the watersnake was more than ten times the size of the
shrew, and it seemed as unequal a combat as would be one between a man
and any of the vast monsters spawned of the primeval ooze. The serpent
threw itself into the figure-of-eight coil from which it fights, and
to the advantages of size, weight, and strength added that of
position, since the shrew had to fight uphill. Yet, like the
meadow-voles, the snake never had a chance. As the wide-open jaws
touched the whiskered muzzle, the shrew swerved, and escaped the
snapping teeth by the width of a hair, while the crooked crocodile
jaws clinched in the large muscles at the angle of the snake's jaw.
The barred serpent hissed fiercely, throwing off the sickening
effluvium like decayed fruit, which is one of the defenses of a
fighting watersnake, and threw its thick body into swift changing
loops and coils, hurling the shrew back and forth. The little animal
held on with its death grip, and the crooked jaws burrowed deeper and
deeper, bringing into play the long rows of sharp cutting teeth.

A watersnake is not a constrictor, and the sandy sides of the den were
too soft and narrow to enable it to dislodge the shrew's grip by
battering the animal against the walls of the burrow; but again and
again it tried to throw its coils over its opponent's rigid body, so
as to afford leverage enough to tear the punishing jaws loose. Each
time, by a swift movement, the shrew would escape the changing loops,
and never for an instant ceased to drive its teeth deeper, until they
cut clear through the snake's temporal muscles, and its lower jaw
dangled limp and useless. Freed then from any fear of attack, the
shrew sank his long curved teeth deliberately into the reptile's
brain, and although the snake still struggled, the battle was over.

Once more the ever-hungry little mammal claimed the spoils of victory.
Only when there was nothing left of the snake but a well-picked
skeleton, did he leave the den. Then again he drank deeply, plunged up
through the water, and landed after dark on the same little beach
from which he had dived days before. As he scurried across an open
space in the woods, a dark shadow drifted down from the tree tops and
two great wings hovered over him, so muffled by soft feathers that not
even the shrew heard a single beat or flutter from them. A second
longer above ground, and all his fierceness and courage and swiftness
would have availed him nothing against the winged death that
overshadowed him.

At that instant, far and faint came a little twittering note from
under the leaf carpet. It was only the shadow of a sound, but in a
wink the shrew was gone, following the love call of his mate
underground. Overhead sounded the deep and dreadful voice of a barred
owl, as it floated back to its tree top, disappointed for once of its
prey.

At midnight Ben Gunnison, the peddler, reached the little glade where
the shrew had disappeared. Trying for a short cut through the Barrens,
Ben had followed the old cattle-trail from Perth Ambov, unused for
more than a century. At first it stretched straight and plain through
the pitch-pine woods. Beyond Double Trouble and Mount Misery, it began
to wind, and by the time he had reached Four Mile he was lost. For
long he staggered under his heavy pack through thickets of scrub oak,
white-cedar swamps, and tangles of greenthorn. By the time he had
reached the little opening, he was exhausted, and putting his pack
under his head for a pillow, lay down under a great sweet-gum tree to
sleep out the night.

Just before dawn he was awakened by high-pitched, trilling, elfin
music. Opening his eyes, he saw in the light of the setting moon two
tiny things chasing each other round and round his pack, singing as
they ran. Even as he listened, he heard from overhead an ominous
cracking noise, and leaped to his feet just as a decayed stub whizzed
down, landing with a crash on his pack. As long as he lives, Ben will
believe that two fairies saved his life.

"Don't tell me," he would say. "I _saw_ 'em. Little weeny fellows half
the size of a mouse callin' me to get up. An' I got up. That's the
reason I'm here to-day, bless 'em."



IX

BLACKCROSS


After running twenty miles, old Raven Road stopped to rest under a
vast black-oak tree. Beyond its sentinel bulk was Wild-Folk Land.
Where hidden springs had kept the wet grass green all winter, the
first flower of the year had forced its way through the cold ground.
Smooth as ivory, all crimson-lake and gold-green on the outside, the
curved hollow showed a rich crimson within. Cursed with an ill name
and an evil savor, yet the skunk cabbage leads the year's procession
of flowers.

Among the dry leaves of the thickets showed the porcelain petals of a
colony of hepatica, snow-white, pale pink, violet, deep purple, pure
blue, lilac, and lavender. Beyond them was a patch of spice-bush,
whose black fragrant branches snapped brittle as glass, and whose
golden blossoms appear before the leaves. At the foot of a bank,
hidden by the scented boughs, bubbled a deep unfailing spring, and
from it a little trickle of water wound through the thicket into the
swale beyond. Growing wider and deeper with every rod, it ran through
a little valley hidden between two round, green hills, which widened
into a stretch of marshland filled with reeds and thickets of wild
rose, elderberry, and buttonbush, laced and interlaced with the
choking orange strands of that parasite, the dodder.

Beside the stream, and at times crossing it, a path, trodden deep,
twisted in and out of the marsh. It was too narrow to have been made
by human feet, nor could any man have found and followed so unerringly
the little ridges of dry going hidden away between the bogs and under
the lush growth. Packed hard by long years of use, nowhere in the
path's whole length did any paw-print show. Only in snow-time was the
white page printed deep with tracks like those of a dog, but cleaner
cut and running in a straight line instead of spraddling to one side.
Nor was there ever in these trails the little furrow which a dragging
paw makes. Only a fox could have made that long straight line, where
every paw-print was stamped in the soft snow as if with a die. From
Cold Spring to Darby Creek the long narrow valley belonged to the
fox-folk.

Close beside the spring itself, at the very edge of its fringe of
bushes, was a deep burrow that ran out into the open field, and yet
was so cunningly hidden by a rock and masked by bushes and long grass
that few humans ever suspected that a sly, old, gray fox had lived
there for a fox-lifetime, or nearly ten years. His range extended to
the swamp on the south, and up through the tangle of little wooded
hills and valleys to the north known throughout the countryside as the
Ridge.

The other end of Fox Valley, and all the Darby Creek country from
Fern Valley to Blacksnake Swamp was owned by a red-fox family. They
were larger than the gray foxes and the blood of long-ago English
foxes, brought over by fox-hunting colonial governors, ran in their
veins. To the strength and size of the American fox they added the
craft of a thousand generations of hunted foxes on English soil.

Both fox families kept, for the most part, strictly to their own
range, for poaching in a fox country always means trouble. Both ranges
were well stocked with rabbits, three varieties of mice, birds, frogs,
and the other small deer on which foxes live. Occasionally the hunters
of both families would make a foray on some far-away farm and bring
back a plump hen, a pigeon, or sometimes a tame duck. Never did the
hunter rob a near-by farm, or go twice in succession to the same
place; for it is a foolish fox who will make enemies for himself on
his own home ranges--and foolish foxes are about as common as white
crows.

The red-fox range included a number of well-hidden homes. Rarely did
they occupy the same house two seasons in succession, for experience
has taught foxes that long leases are neither sanitary nor safe. This
year they were living on the slope of a dry hillside in the very heart
of a beech wood. Long years before they had fashioned their very first
home, and during every succeeding year of occupancy had added
improvements and repairs, until it was as complete a residence as any
fox family could wish. The first burrow, which was some nine inches in
diameter, ran straight into the hillside for about three feet; then
it angled sharply along the side of a hidden rock, and ran back some
twenty feet more. From off the main shaft branched different
galleries. One led to a storehouse, and another to a chamber where the
garbage of the den was buried; for there are no better housekeepers
among the wild folk than the foxes. Last and best hidden of all was
the sleeping-room, fully twelve inches across, and carefully lined
with soft, dry grass.

The perpendicular air shaft ran from the deepest part of the tunnel to
the centre of a dense thicket on the hillside. In an irregular curve
of some twenty feet, two more entrances were dug. Both of these joined
the main shaft after describing an angle. Last of all was the
emergency exit, the final touch which makes a fox home complete. It is
always concealed carefully, and is never used except in times of great
danger. This one was dug down through a decayed chestnut stump some
two feet high, hidden in a fringe of bushes some distance up the
hillside, and wound itself among the roots, and connected with the
sleeping-chamber. Back of the main entrance lay a chestnut log fully
three feet through, and screened from the hilltop by a thicket
interlaced with greenbrier. This was the watchtower and sun-parlor of
the fox family. From it they could survey the whole valley, while one
bound would bring them to any one of the regular entrances.

On a day in early April, full of sunshine and showers blowing across a
soft spring sky, the old dog fox approached the den, carrying a
cottontail rabbit slung over one shoulder. As he came to the main
entrance, he suddenly stopped and, with one foot raised, stood
motionless, sniffing a faint scent from the depths of the burrow.
Without entering, he laid the rabbit down at the lip of the opening
and withdrew; for no dog fox may enter his burrow after the cubs
arrive. There were three of them--blind, lead-colored little kittens,
who nuzzled and whimpered against Mother Fox's warm body and fed
frantically every hour or so during the first days of their new life.
For the next three weeks Father Fox hunted for five. Squirrels, red
and gray, chipmunks, birds, rabbits, and scores and scores of mice,
found their way into the den.

The ninth day of the cubs' life on earth marked an event more
important to Mother Fox than the Declaration of Independence, or the
promulgation of the Suffrage Amendment. On that date, all three of her
cubs opened their eyes! Twelve nights later, when the May moonlight
made a new heaven and a new earth, they took their first journey. It
was only twenty feet, but it covered the distance from one world to
another. For a moment three sharp little noses peered out wonderingly
at the new world. It was roofed with a shimmering sky instead of damp
earth, and was big and boundless and very, very beautiful. Altogether
the newcomers approved of it highly, although there did seem to be a
great waste of air, and it was not so warm and cozy as the world
underground.

[Illustration: THE FOX FAMILY]

Then the trio of little heads disappeared, and Mother Fox came out and
winnowed the air through the marvelous mesh of her nostrils. Convinced
that all was safe, she called her cubs out with one of those wild-folk
signals pitched below the range of human ears. A moment later, the
cubs were out and about in the dangerous, delightful world of
out-of-doors. With their long, sprawly legs and heads too big for
their bodies, they had something of the lumbering, appealing looks
that puppies have. Their broad foreheads and pricked-up ears seemed
enormous compared with their little faces. Each one in turn put his
head to one side and looked engagingly at the new world. With their
soft woolly backs and round little stomachs, they seemed made to be
patted and cuddled. Yet, playful and confiding as they appeared, a
profound wisdom and craft looked out from their young eyes, which is
never seen in those of any other animal.

Mother Fox watched them with much pride. Forgotten were the nine cubs
of the year before, and the quartettes and sextettes of many a
yesteryear. Never before, in her opinion, had there ever been three
cubs so wise and beautiful and remarkable as these. Suddenly she
raised her voice in the squalling screech of a vixen. Again and again
the fierce uncanny sound shuddered away over the hills, and a pair of
newly arrived summer boarders, who were strolling along Raven Road in
the moonlight, returned with exceeding haste to old Mose Butler's
farmhouse, and reported to their grinning host that they had heard the
scream of a panther.

From far down Darby Creek came the answering bark of the old fox. Only
the sudden explosive quality of the sound made it resemble in any way
the bark of a dog. A curious screeching quality of tone ran through
it, and it sounded as if made by some animal who was trying to bark
but had never really learned how. Then, with the disconcerting
suddenness of a fox, Father Fox stood before his new family for the
first time. From his narrow jaws swung a fringe of plump mice, with
their tails ingeniously crossed so that they could all be carried by
one grip of the narrow jaws. Dropping them, the old fox stared
solemnly at his family grouped in the moonlight, and then growled deep
and approvingly in his throat. Two of the cubs wore the usual clouded
pale yellow of a young red fox. The third, however, showed, faintly
outlined, a velvety black face, ears, muzzle, and legs, with a silky
black streak down his back, crossed at the shoulders by a similar
stripe shading into reddish and silver-gray, while his little black
tail had the silver tip which is the hall-mark of the rare cross-fox,
which is sometimes born into a red-fox family.

From that night the training of the little fox family began. Father
Fox no longer brought his kill directly to the den. Instead, he hid it
not too carefully some fifty yards away, and the cubs learned to know
the scent of food--flesh or fowl--and to dig it out from under piles
of leaves or brush, or even from under an inch or so of freshly dug
earth. Then, with tiny growls, they would crouch and steal forward and
pounce upon the defenseless kill, with tremendous exhibitions of
craft and ferocity. They went out on little hunting-trips by night,
with Mother Fox, to lonely hillside pastures, where she taught them to
hunt field-mice in the withered grass. In the starlight, they would
steal up to some promising clump, and rising on their hind legs peer
far forward, with ears pricked up to catch the faintest squeak and
eyes alert to note the tiniest movement in the grass. They learned to
spring and pounce like lightning, with outspread paws, just ahead of
where the grass stirred ever so slightly. If successful, they would
kill with one nip a plump, round-headed, short-tailed meadow-mouse.
Every night they went farther and farther, until at last with Mother
Fox they covered the whole range, at the brisk walk which is the usual
hunting-gait of a fox, with frequent pauses and sniffings and
listenings.

It was Father Fox who first took them into the sunlight, which was as
strange and unnatural to fox children as midnight out-of-doors would
be to a human child. He it was who taught them, when in danger, to
stand still and keep on standing still--one of the most difficult
courses in the wild-folk curriculum. Sometimes they met man, whose
approach through the woods or across the fields sounded as loud to the
fox children as the rumble of an auto-truck would sound to the human
child. Crouched in the bleached tawny grass, absolutely immovable, the
foxes looked so much like tussocks that it would have taken a trained
eye indeed to have discovered them.

Just as the cubs had grown old and wise enough to be left in and
about the burrows alone, the Sword fell. That night both of the old
foxes were abroad on a hunt too long for the untrained muscles of the
cubs. Awaiting their return, the little foxes were playing and
frolicking silently around the den. They had learned that the scent of
man or dog means death to foxes, and to seek safety in their burrow at
any strange sound. No one of them knew that a shadow in the air, which
drifted silently nearer to the den, might conceal any danger. Suddenly
the shadow fell, and seemed to blot out the little straw-colored cub
farthest from the burrow. He had but time for a terrified whicker,
when a double set of steel-like talons clamped through his soft fur
clear to his heart, and in a second the little body shot up through
the air and disappeared in the darkness. A few moments later, from a
far-away clump of trees, sounded the deep sinister "Hoo, hoo, hoo,
hoo, hoo" of the great horned owl.

Once having found the fox family, Death followed fast on its trail.
One morning the largest cub awoke, and decided to take a stroll by
himself in the sunlight, without waiting for Father Fox to come, and
without waking the rest of the family, who slept curled up together in
the sleeping-room of the den. Stealing out of the main burrow, the
little cub sniffed the air wisely, and examined the landscape from
under wrinkled brows with an air of profound consideration. At first
he followed a winding path which ran through a bit of woodland where
Mother Fox had taken him once before by night. Finding no trace of
game there, he left the path and climbed up a rocky hillside half
covered with brush and trees. Just as he was turning a corner of a
little rocky ledge which jutted out in front of him, he heard a low
thick hiss. Directly in front of him, in an irregular loop, lay a
hazel-brown snake, dappled with blunt Y's of a rich chestnut color,
its head and neck being the color of rusty copper.

[Illustration: DEATH IN THE DARK]

For a second the young fox looked into the lidless, deadly eyes of the
copperhead, with their strange oval pupils, the hall-mark of the fatal
pit-vipers. All in one flash, the grim jaws of the snake gaped open,
the two movable fangs of the upper jaw unfolded and thrust straight
out like tiny spearheads, and the fatal crooked needles stabbed deep
in the cub's soft side. Growling fiercely in his little throat, he
clenched his sharp teeth through the snake's spine; but even as he
closed his jaws, the fatal virus touched the tide of his life and he
fell forward.

The wild folk have no tears, nor may they show their sorrow by the
sobs and wailing of humankind, yet there was something in the dumb
despair of the two foxes who had followed the trail of their lost cub,
as they hung over the soft little body, that showed that the love of
our lesser brethren for their little ones is akin to the love of
humankind. Thereafter all the watchfulness and the love and the hope
of the two were concentrated on the little fox with the black cross on
his back. Night and day Mother Fox guarded him. Day and night Father
Fox taught and trained him, until he had acquired much of the lore of
fox-kind. He learned to catch birds and mice and frogs and squirrels,
and even the keen-eared cottontail rabbit, whose eyes can see forward
and backward equally well. He learned, too, the lessons of prudence
and foresight which keep foxes alive when ice and snow have locked
many of their larders. Once, when he was crossing a pasture with
Father Fox, the latter stopped and stood like a pointing dog, one
velvety black bent forefoot in the air, while with outstretched muzzle
he sniffed the faintest of warm scents, which seemed to float from a
clump of tangled dry grass. Stealing forward like a shadow, the old
fox sprang at the tussock. Before he landed, a plump quail buzzed out
of the cover like a bullet, to be caught by the fox in mid-air.
Underneath a fringe of dry grass was a round nest of pure white,
sharp-pointed eggs--so many of them that they were heaped up in
layers.

After eating the quail, the old fox carefully carried off the eggs and
hid them under layers of damp moss, where they would keep indefinitely
and be a resource in the famine days that were yet to come.

Another day the cub learned the advantage of teamwork. On that day the
two old foxes were hunting together, and, as usual, Blackcross tagged
along. Near the middle of a great field, a flock of killdeer were
feeding--those loud-voiced plover, which wear two rings around their
white necks. For a moment the two foxes stood motionless, staring at
the distant birds. Then, without a sound, Mother Fox turned back. For
a moment Blackcross could watch her as she made a wide detour around
the field, and then she disappeared from sight. Father Fox lay still
for several minutes, with his wise head resting on his forepaws. Then,
while Blackcross stayed behind, the old fox started deliberately
toward the flock of feeding birds. At times he would stop, and bound
high in the air, and scurry up and down, waving his flaunting brush
and cutting curious capers, moving gradually nearer and nearer to the
flock.

The killdeer, which are wise birds in spite of their loud voices,
moved farther and farther away toward the end of the pasture, ready to
spring into the air and flash away on their long narrow wings if the
fox came too near, but evidently much interested in his antics as they
fed. Gradually the curveting fox edged the flock clear across the
field, until they were close to a thicket that lay between the field
and a patch of woods beyond. Then he redoubled his efforts, prancing
and bounding and rolling over and over, while his fluffy tail showed
like a plume above the long grass, and the birds stopped feeding and
watched him with evident curiosity.

Suddenly, when the attention of the whole flock was fixed on the
performing fox, there was a rustle in the thicket, and out flashed a
tawny shape. Before the flock could spring into the air, Mother Fox
had caught one bird in her teeth and beaten down another with her
paws.

Another morning Blackcross learned what happens to foxes who poach on
their neighbor's preserves. In the early dawn-light, he was loping
along the upper end of the valley with Father Fox. Suddenly the fur
bristled all along the latter's back, and he gave a little churring
growl. Right ahead of him, trotting along a path made by a generation
of red-fox pads, came the old gray fox who lived by Cold Spring, a
dead cottontail rabbit swung over one shoulder. The poacher was caught
with the game. With another growl, the old red fox sprang at the
trespasser. The gray fox was a mile from his burrow, and knowing that
the red fox could outpace him, decided to fight for his booty. With a
quick flirt of his head, he tossed the rabbit into a near-by bush, and
with bristling back awaited the attack.

Walking stiff-legged like two dogs, and growling deep in their
throats, the two came together, until they stood sidewise to each
other, sparring for an opening. Finally, the old red fox snapped at
the other's foreleg, with a movement more like the slash of a wolf
than the bite of a dog. The gray fox dropped his head, and the bared
teeth of the two snicked together. Again the red fox made the same
lead, and met with the same block. The third time he feinted, and as
the other dropped his head, whirled and brought his brush, with a
blinding, stinging swish, across the eyes of the gray fox. Before the
latter could recover, the narrow jaws of the red fox had met in the
soft flesh just above the gray hind leg. A wolf would have hamstrung
his opponent and killed him at his leisure; but foxes rarely fight to
the death. As the old gray fox felt the rending teeth tear through his
soft skin, he yelped, tore himself loose, and started full-speed for
his den. For two hundred yards the red fox pursued him, with such
swiftness that he managed to nip his unprotected hind quarters several
times. At each bite the fleeing gray fox yelped with the high, shrill,
sorrowful note of a hurt little dog; and when Father Fox returned to
claim the spoils of victory, all that could be seen of the other was a
gray streak moving rapidly toward Cold Spring.

As the cub reached his full stature, he ranged farther and farther
afield with the two old foxes. He learned all the hiding and camping
places of the range, and how to sleep out in a blaze of sunlight in
some deserted field, looking for all the world like a tussock of tawny
blackened grass, or, if so be that he hunted by day and slept by
night, he found that he wore a blanket on his back which kept him warm
even during the coldest nights. As for his unprotected nose and four
paddies, he wrapped them up warm in the fluffy rug of his thick soft
brush. By the time frost had come, his fur had grown long and glossy
and very beautiful, with the velvet cross of midnight-black bordered
with old-gold, silver, and tawny-pink, his black brush waving aloft
like a white-tipped plume.

Death came with the frost, in the form of traps, hounds and hunters.
Old Father Fox taught him how to escape them all. Many years ago he
had lived across the hills on the lonely Barrack, where the Deans and
the Blakesleys and the Howes and the Baileys and the Reeds have a
far-away hill country of their own. Old Fred Dean lived there, and
prided himself on both the wild and the tame crops which he raised on
his hill farm. He made the whitest, sweetest maple sugar in the
world, and harvested hickories, chestnuts, butternuts, and even
hazel-nuts. It was his fur crop, however, which was the most
profitable. Foxes, raccoons, skunks, muskrat, mink--the old man knew
how to trap them all.

In Father Fox's second year, he was caught in a trap which Fred had
cunningly hidden in the snow among a maze of cattle tracks--the last
place where a fox would suspect danger. The fox finally managed to
work his imprisoned foot out of the gripping jaws; but it had cost him
four toes to learn that the scent of man or iron meant death to foxes.
He never forgot, and he taught Blackcross to fear the tiniest whiff of
either. As for dogs, the old fox taught his cub that no dog can
overtake a fox going uphill or in the rough, and that shifting sand
and running water are the fox's friends, since his scent will lie in
neither. He taught him all the cut-offs, the jumps, and the run-backs
of the range, and finally the cherished fortresses where, as a last
resort, he might take refuge.

When it came to hunters, the young fox had to take his chances. In the
last analysis a man's brain can outwit that of a fox. It was when the
blaze and the glow of the crimson and gold frost-fires had died away
to the russet of late fall that the fox family was most in danger, for
the Raven Hunt Club needed a fox. Three times now the men had dressed
themselves with great care, in wonderful scarlet coats and shiny
top-boots, while the women wore comfortable breeches and uncomfortable
collars; and they had all jumped fences and waded brooks and crashed
through thickets; but never a fox could they find, so close had the
dwellers in Fox Valley lain hidden. In fact, the last hunt had been a
drag-hunt, and the pack had followed for hours the scent of a bag of
anise which had been dragged the day before by a string, through the
woods and across the fields, by a sleepy stable-boy on a broken-down
hunter. But you cannot rise in your stirrups and shout "Tally-ho!" or
"Stole away!" or any of the other proper hunting remarks, over a bag
of anise. Then, too, the hounds have nothing to worry and kill at the
end of the hunt; nor can the brush be cut off for a trophy, for an
anise bag hasn't any brush.

Thanksgiving was two scant weeks away, and it was absolutely necessary
for the happiness of the Hunt that a live fox be secured at once.
Accordingly the Raven Hunt Club offered fifty dollars for a live red
fox. Grays were barred, because they prefer to hide in burrows and be
safe rather than run and be killed. For a week all the farmers' boys
for miles around Fox Valley trapped desperately, but without success.
Father Fox had not paid four toes for nothing. Then they sent for Fred
Dean. Thereafter, one night Blackcross, while hunting over a hilltop
pasture, noted a long, freshly turned furrow that ran straight across
the field, which was filled with old chaff taken from deserted barns
and smelt delightfully of mice. Along the furrow and through the
litter the young fox nosed his way, ready to pounce upon the first
mouse which darted out. Suddenly there was a snap, and Blackcross was
caught by his slim dark muzzle. There the old trapper found him the
next morning, hardly alive; and when he saw that he had secured a
cross-fox, demanded a hundred from the committee instead of the
offered fifty. Said committee took the fox, and advertised far and
wide that the Thanksgiving Hunt would be after such a fox as had never
been hunted before in the memory of man.

The holiday turned out to be one of those rare and fleeting days of
Indian summer which Autumn sometimes borrows from her sister. The pack
was in fine fettle. The horses and the hunters were fit, and the hunt
breakfast excellent. Everybody was thankful--except the shivering
little fox. For days he had been cooped in a dirty wire cage, and
eaten tainted meat and drunk stale water, and he was stiff and sore
from his night in the trap and from lack of exercise. Just at sunrise
on Thanksgiving morning, he was crammed into a bag, and then let out
two fields ahead of the pack. As he shot into the sunlight, there was
a chorus of shouts, yells, and yelps, and a crowd of men, women,
horses, and hounds rushed after him in a tremendous burst of speed.

The young fox's legs tottered under him as he ran. Moreover, for a
mile around the country was level. As he crossed the first field, the
pack was already at the farther wall, and would surely have overtaken
him in the third field if it had not been for one of the old fox's
lessons. The pasture sloped up to where a sand bank showed as a great
crescent gash in the turf. Springing to the side of the bank, the fox
clung to it like a fly, scurried along its side, cleared the stone
wall beyond, and headed for the thickets of Fox Valley. The shifting
sand left no track or scent, and while the pack puzzled out the trail,
Blackcross won to the shelter of the nearest thicket.

Up and down the hillsides, across marshes and through tangles of
underbrush, he doubled, checked, turned, and twisted. Raven Hunt,
however, boasted the best pack of fox-hounds in the state, nor had
Blackcross either the strength or endurance for a long run. His pace
became slower and slower, while the bell-like notes of the hounds and
the shouts of the hunters sounded ever nearer and louder.

Only just in time the beset fox saw looming up before him the best
hidden of all the fox fortresses in the Valley. It seemed only an
impenetrable tangle of greenbrier on the hillside--that vine whose
stems are like slim, green wires, studded everywhere with up-curved
thorns through which neither man nor beast can force a way. Through
the very middle of the tangle ran the naked trunk of a fallen
chestnut, showing just above the barbed vines. As the pack scrambled
through the barway at the foot of the hill, the little fox ran along
the log, and with all his last remaining strength sprang far out
across the interlaced tangle of vine and thorn, where the smooth
needles under a little white pine made a tiny island in the thicket.
From there the fox bounded over a narrow belt of greenbrier into a
mass of wild honeysuckle, whose glossy green leaves and bending
vine-stocks carpeted the hill at that point fully two feet deep.
Across the yielding surface he hurried, until he reached the entrance
of a little tunnel beneath the vines, entirely hidden from sight by
the drooping leaves. Through this he crept noiselessly, beneath the
green carpet, until he reached the entrance to a burrow which led far
up the hillside and had no less than three well-concealed exits.

For a long hour the pack and the hunters and the horses circled and
beat and trampled back and forth through the thicket, and as far into
the greenbrier tangle as they could force a way; but no one of them
found the lost trail. A hundred dollars had been spent and nothing
killed. Everybody agreed that it was a most unfortunate ending to a
good day--everybody, that is, except the fox.

As the months wore on, Blackcross hunted more and more by himself, nor
did he use any of the family dens. This was partly because snow leaves
a telltale trail, which he who hunts can read, and partly because of a
difference in the attitude toward him of the old foxes. Among the wild
folk the love and care of parents cease when their children have
become full-grown. This is part of nature's plan to scatter families,
and prevent the in-breeding which will weaken the stock. At last the
time came when Mother Fox no longer allowed him the freedom of the den
in which he had been born, and Father Fox growled in his throat when
he met him carrying his kill.

Then the love-moon of the foxes in February showed in the sky, and
something drove Blackcross far afield--something that called and
cried, and would not let him sleep, and took away even the interest
and joy of a successful hunt. Across the ridges, through Fern Valley
and beyond Blacksnake Swamp he journeyed, until, far beyond them all,
he found a lonely valley shut in on all four sides by steep slopes,
and untenanted by any of the fox-folk. On the crest of one of the
hills stood an abandoned haystack, left by some thriftless farmer
years before, and so bleached and weathered by sun and storm that it
was useless as hay, but an ideal place for a fox-warren. Under this
Blackcross dug a home with many entrances, all of them cunningly
concealed by the overhanging hay. Through the centre of the stack
itself, he ran a series of tunnels and rooms, besides the safer ones
far underground.

Finally, it was almost completed--almost but not quite. Night after
night the young fox barked from the top of the hill with a sharp
staccato screech, which could be heard a long mile away. Then came the
night of the full moon. There was no snow and overhead in the crisp
air wheeled Orion the Hunter, Lepus the Hare, the Great and Little
Dog, and all the other mighty constellations of winter. Under the
sheen and shimmer of the stars and through the still moonlight,
Blackcross sent his bark echoing and ringing, until at long last it
was answered by a curious, high-pitched squall which to Blackcross
contained all the magic and music of sky and earth. Nearer and nearer
the sound approached, until finally, in the moonlight, a slim tawny
figure stole up to the stack. For a moment black muzzle and tawny
touched. Then Blackcross turned and disappeared down one of the
entrances to his burrow, and the stranger followed. At last, his home
was complete.



X

SEA OTTER


The short Arctic summer had flung its flower fields among the glaciers
of the Siberian coast, like many-colored jewels set in crystal. Flocks
of skuas, jaegers, and little auks circled and screamed above the
smoky green waters of the Straits; and far out from shore a bed of
kelp writhed and tossed like a mass of golden-brown sea snakes.

There, cradled on the swaying stems, a water-baby was born. He had a
funny little nose, with a padded cushion on top which made it look
like the ace of spades, and his round, blunt head was of a dingy white
color, while the rest of his fifteen inches was covered with a loose,
kinky, gray-brown coat. Its harsh outer surface, sprinkled with long
white hairs, covered a velvet-like inner fur that gave promise of the
glory that was yet to be.

In spite of his insignificant appearance, the little cub was of blood
royal, of the lineage of the sea otter, that king of fur-bearers, who
wears a fortune on his back and is dogged by death every moment of his
life. Vitus Behring and his shipwrecked crew discovered them in 1741,
in the surf and shallows around a barren island, in the sea which now
bears his name. When they won their way back to Asia, sly, wise
Chinese merchants paid their weight in silver for the new furs, so
lustrous, silky, and durable, which the sailors had been using for
coats and blankets. In Russia they came to be worth their weight in
gold, outranking even the royal sables, which none but the Tsar and
his nobles might wear. To-day the pelt of a sea otter is worth its
weight in platinum or palladium.

This last-born princeling soon learned how to float on his back, with
his round little head just showing above the kelp. For the most part,
however, he lived clasped in his mother's arms and wrapped in the
silky folds of her fur, while he nuzzled and fed against her warm
breast, making happy little chirps and grunts of satisfaction, quite
like a human baby.

To-day, as they rocked back and forth in the swinging water, the
kelp-carpet in front of them parted, and a great, blunt, misshapen
head thrust itself into the air a few yards away. It had little eyes
set high in the skull, while the ears showed below the grinning mouth
filled full of blunt teeth like white water-worn pebbles--the hallmark
of a sea otter.

The newcomer was none other than Father Otter, come to look over his
son and heir. He did not come very close to his family, for mother
otters do not permit even their mates to approach too near a newborn
cub. As the old dog otter stretched himself out on the kelp-raft, his
cylindrical body, all gleaming ebony and silver in the sunlight,
showed nearly as long as that of a man, and weighed perhaps a hundred
and twenty-five pounds. It was the great otter's pelt, however, that
stamped him as the sea king that he was. Lustrous as light on the
water, the inner fur had a close pile like velvet and, frosted with
long white hairs, showed a tinge of silver-purple gleaming through its
long loose folds.

For some time the old dog otter gravely surveyed his mate and his new
cub, approvingly. Then he scanned sea and sky and kelp, listening the
while with a pair of the sharpest ears that ever guarded the life of
one of the wild folk, at the same time winnowing the air through a
pair of nostrils that could smell smoke--that danger-signal to all
wild people--a mile away. There was no sign of danger anywhere, and a
moment later he disappeared under the water, after the food which his
vibrant body unceasingly required.

For long after his disappearance the mother otter anxiously studied
the horizon for the tiniest danger-signal. Convinced at last that all
was well, she stretched herself out on the slow-swinging kelp, for one
of those periods of quiet happiness which come even into the lives of
the hunted. While her cub snuggled against her soft fur, she tossed a
kelp-bulb high into the air, catching it like a ball, first in one
bare little palm, then in the other, while she sang the cradle-song
which all little sea otters know. High and shrill she chirped and
twittered like a bird, in the midst of that lonely sea, clasping her
sleepy baby closer as she sang.

There seemed no living thing near, yet death is never far from the sea
otter. From mid-sky what seemed a dark wisp of cloud drifted toward
the sea. Driven down by hunger from the North, an eagle owl, all buff
and gray and brown, was crossing from Asia to America; for, unlike
most of his fierce clan, he hunted by day. Larger than that
death-in-the-dark, the great-horned owl, or that fierce white ghost of
the North, the snowy owl, he skimmed down toward the kelp-bed, his
round, fixed eyes gleaming red and horrible in the sunlight. Muffled
by the softest of down, his great wings, although they had a spread of
nearly five feet, were absolutely noiseless.

Not until the shadow of the bird, like the shadow of death itself,
fell upon her cub, did the otter have the slightest warning of any
danger. By that time it would have been too late for any other
creature to escape. No animal, however, on land or sea can dive with
the sea otter. Just as the crooked talons were closing, she slipped
through the kelp into the water, without a splash, like something
fluid, her cub clasped close, while overhead the baffled owl snapped
its beak like a pistol shot, and flew on toward the Alaskan coast.

Down through the swaying tangles she twisted her way like an eel,
until she passed clear through the floating bed of this strange growth
of the sea, which grows with its roots in the air. There the water
darkened, and as she neared the bottom a shape flashed ahead of her,
lighted with that phosphorescence which all dwellers in the northern
seas seem to acquire. The otter recognized the glowing figure as that
of a sea bass, a bronze-green fish hardly to be distinguished from
the small-mouthed black bass of fresh water. The bass was no mean
swimmer, but the long, oar-like, webbed hind legs of the sea otter
twisted over and over each other like the screw of a propeller, and
drove her through the water with such tremendous speed that, in spite
of the handicap of the cub, she soon swam down the fish, following its
every twist and turn, and in less than a minute had caught it in her
blunt teeth. Then, with the plump fish in her jaws, she swam up again
through the kelp, and fed full, never for a moment, however, loosening
her grip of her cub--for the babies of the sea folk who wander only a
few feet from their mothers may never return.

The meal finished, the great otter climbed out on a pinnacle of rock
just showing above the kelp. Immediately from a miracle of lithe,
swift grace, she changed into one of the slowest and most awkward of
animals. The webbed flipper-like hind feet, which drove her with such
speed through the water, were of very little use on land, and her tiny
forepaws were so short that they seemed to have no wrists at all.
Slowly and painfully she waddled up on the rock, and there preened and
cleaned and combed and licked every inch of her fur just as a cat
would do, until it shone in the sunlight like a black opal.

As the weeks went by, the cub was trained in the lessons of the sea.
He learned to enjoy salads of kelp-sprouts, and to dive with his
mother to the bottom of the shallows, and watch her grind her way
through the great clams of the northwest, whose bivalves are a foot
in width, or crunch with her pebble-like teeth into the white meat of
the vast, armored crabs of those seas. Another one of her favorite
foods was the sea urchin--that chestnut burr of the sea. Protected by
a bristling hedge of steel-sharp spines, it would seem safe from any
attack. Yet, just as the squirrel on land opens without injury the
real chestnut burr, so the sea otter had learned the combination which
unlocked this little spiked safe of the sea, and devoured with much
relish every one she could find.

As the weeks went by, the larder of the kelp-bed began to empty. The
clam-beds had been stripped, the sea urchins were gone, and the fish
had learned to keep away. Little by little, the mother otter hunted
farther and farther from the safety of the kelp; until there came a
day when, driven by hunger, she followed a fleeing pollock out into
the open sea. The big gleaming fish, with the black line along its
silver sides, swam far and fast. Yet, if the otter had not been
hampered by her clinging cub, the chase would have been a short one.
As it was, she did not overtake the fugitive until it was fully a
quarter of a mile away from the kelp. In desperation it swam down into
the lower depth, until the dull green of the water changed to black;
but always the weasel of the sea was hard on its track, following the
phosphorescent trail which the fleeing fish left behind.

Suddenly, as the pollock dived to even lower depths, in the hope that
the water-pressure might drive back its pursuer, a grotesquely
horrible head thrust itself up from the darkness right in its path.
Dark, and shining like wet rubber, the shape resembled nothing so much
as that of a great, double-headed sledgehammer. From either of the
living hammer-heads gleamed a greenish, malignant eye. Before the
pollock could dart aside, the great hammer-head shark turned partly
over, there was a flash of sharp teeth, and the fugitive fish
disappeared.

A second later the ridged, gray, fifteen-foot body shot toward the
otter, with such speed that the water fairly hissed from the
scimetar-shaped side-fins. The sea otter is among the swiftest
swimmers of the mammals, but no air-breathing creature can compete in
speed with a shark. Almost instantly the hammerhead was upon her. The
jaws of all the sharks are so undershot that, in order to grip their
prey, they must perforce turn over on their sides. This peculiarity of
their kind was all that saved the otter. For a second the grim head
overshadowed her. Then, with a twist of its long tail, shaped like the
fluke of an anchor, the shark turned over and the vast mouth swung
open, armed with six rows of inch-long, steel-sharp, triangular teeth,
whose edges were serrated like a saw. Each separate tooth was curved
back toward the gullet, so that for any living thing caught in their
dreadful grip there was no more chance of escape than there would be
from the interlocking cogwheels of a stone-crusher.

As the jaws of death gaped for the sea otter, with a writhe of her
swift body she flashed to one side, while the little cub whimpered in
her arms and the fatal teeth of the shark just grazed her trailing,
flipper-like hind legs, so close they snapped behind her. Swerving
beneath the great bulk, the otter began a desperate flight for life.
Every foot of the shark's gaunt, stripped body was built for speed.
There was not a bone anywhere under his drab and livid skin--only
rings and strips and columns of tough, springy cartilage, which
enabled him to cut through the water like a blade of tempered gray
steel. With the rush of a torpedo the grim figure shot after the
fleeing otter, who had but one advantage and that was in length. It
takes a six-foot body less time to turn than one that measures fifteen
feet. In a straightaway race, the fish would have overtaken the mammal
in a few seconds; but when it came to twisting, turning, and doubling,
the sea otter had an advantage, albeit of the slightest. Again and
again the desperate sea mother avoided death by an inch. More than
once the ringing jaws of the great fish snapped together just behind
her, and only the tiny tick of time which it took to turn over saved
her. Desperately she sought to win the refuge of the kelp-bed; but
always the gray shape thrust itself between her and safety.

At last an ally of the sea folk joined in the hunt. Water was claiming
her toll of oxygen from the alien within her depths. A sea otter can
stay under for half an hour at a pinch--but not when swimming at full
speed, with the laboring heart pumping blood at capacity; and this one
realized despairingly that soon she must breathe or die. Little by
little she shaped her course toward the surface, dreadfully fearing
lest the second she must spend in drawing one deep breath would be her
last. She flashed upward through a whole gamut of greens--chrome,
cedar, jasper, myrtle, malachite, emerald, ending with the pulsing,
golden sap-green of the surface. Swim as she would, however, the
monstrous head was always just at her flank, and the slightest pause
would give those fatal teeth their grip. Once again she avoided by a
hair's breadth a snap of the deadly jaws, and struggled despairingly
toward the upper air.

As the great fish turned to follow, out from the sunlight, through the
gleaming water, shot a long dark body. Away from the safety of the
kelp to the head of horror with its implacable eyes came the old dog
otter, for the creed of the sea otter is unchanging--one mate for life
and death. With his round misshapen head bristling and his snaky black
eyes gleaming like fire, this one crossed the vast back of the shark
like a shadow. As the great fish turned to follow the fleeing mother,
the blunt pebble-teeth of the dog otter, which can grind the flintiest
shells to powder, fastened themselves with a bull-dog grip just behind
the last fin of the shark, where its long, sinuous tail joined the
body. With all the force of his tremendous jaws, the great sea otter
clamped his teeth through the masses of muscles, deep into the
cartilage column, crushing one of its ball-and-socket joints.

Like a steel spring, the shark bent almost double on itself. Just as
the gaping jaws were about to close, with a quick flirt of his body
the otter swung across to the other side, without relaxing for an
instant the grip of those punishing teeth. The undershot jaws of the
great fish could not reach the head of its tormentor, fixed as it was
in the central ridge of the shark's back. Again and again the
hammer-head bent from side to side; but each time the old dog otter
evaded the clashing teeth and ground to bits joint after joint of the
shark's spine, while the lashing tail-strokes became feebler and
feebler. Not until the mother otter and her cub were safe on their way
to the kelp-bed, breathing great life-saving draughts of fresh air at
the surface, did the grim jaws of the old otter relax. Then, with an
arrowy dive and double, he shot under and over the disabled fish, and
sped away to join his mate in the hidden thickets of the kelp.

The swift Arctic summer soon passed, to be followed by the freezing
gales of an Arctic winter. With the storms would come an enemy from
the land, fiercer and more fatal than any foe that menaced the otter
family by sea or sky; for these sea otter were among the last of their
race, and there was a price upon their pelts beyond the dreams of the
avarice of a thousand murky Aleuts and oily Kolash and Kadiakers, to
say nothing of a horde of white adventurers from all the five
continents of earth. Only in storms, when the kelp-beds are broken and
the otter are forced to seek the shelter of beaches and sea caves, do
hunters still have a chance to secure these rarest of all the
fur-bearers.

At last came the first of the great winter gales. Day after day the
wind howled up from the southeast, the storm quarter of that coast,
and the air throbbed with the boom of breakers, while all the way down
the Straits the white-caps foamed and roared among a tangle of
cross-currents.

Out at sea, the great kelp-raft on which the otter family had lived
since spring was at last broken and scattered under the pounding of
the gale. Otter need sleep as much as humans, and like them, too, must
sleep where they can breathe. Battered and blinded by the gale, the
little family started to hunt for some refuge where they might slumber
out the storm. Along all the miles of coast, and among the myriads of
barren islands, there seemed to be no place where they could find a
yard of safety. At the first sign of bad weather every strip of beach
was patrolled and every islet guarded.

To lonely little Saanak the dog otter first led them, hoping to find
some tiny stretch of safe beach among the water-worn boulders piled
high along the shore. A mile to windward he stopped, thrust his blunt
muzzle high up into the gale, and winnowed the salt-laden air through
the meshes of his wonderful nostrils. Then he turned away at right
angles, toward another island. A little band of Indian hunters,
starved with cold, had built far back among the rocks a tiny fire.

Smoke spells death to a sea otter. Beyond Saanak the wary veteran
visited other beaches, only to detect the death-scent of human
footprints, although they had been washed by waves and covered by
tides. In far-away Oonalaska, he sought the entrance of a sea cave in
whose winding depths, many years before, he had found refuge. As he
thrust his head into the hidden opening, his sturdy breast struck the
strands of a net made of sea-lion sinews, so soaked and bleached by
salt water that it bore even to his matchless nostrils no smell of
danger. With a warning chirp, he halted his mate following close
behind, and backed out carefully, without entangling himself among the
wide meshes.

Agonizing for sleep, the little band turned back and journeyed wearily
to the far-away islet of Attoo, the westernmost point of land in North
America. In its lee was a sheltered kelp-raft never broken by the
waves, although too near shore to be a safe refuge except in a storm.
There, in the very centre of the heaving bed, with the waves booming
outside, the otter family slept the sleep of utter exhaustion, their
heads buried under the kelp-stems and their shimmering bodies showing
on the surface.

At the foot of a high bluff on Kadiak Island crouched Dick Barrington,
on his first otter-hunt. Dick was the son of a factor of the Hudson
Bay Company, which, in spite of kings and parliaments, still rules
Arctic America. With him as a guide was Oonga, the chief of a tribe of
Aleutian hunters.

"Stick to old Oonga," the factor had advised. "He knows more about sea
otter than any man in his tribe. At that there's only one chance in a
thousand that you'll get one."

The old chief had allowed the rest of the band to slip away one by
one, each choosing the islet or bit of shore where he hoped to draw
the winning number in this lottery of the sea. Hour after hour went
by, and still the old man sat huddled under the lee of the cliff. At
last, he suddenly stood up. Although the gale seemed still at its
height, his practised eye saw signs that it was about to break, and in
a moment, with Dick's help, he had launched the triple-pointed,
high-sterned _bidarka_, a little craft made of oiled sea-lion skins,
and as unsinkable as any boat could be.

A few quick strokes of the paddle, and they were beyond the breakers.
Then, straight across the bay, through the rush and smother of the
storm, they shot toward Attoo. Steering by unknown ranges and glimpses
of dim islands, old Oonga held his course unfalteringly, until, just
as the gale began to slacken, they reached the kelp-bed in the lee of
the little island. Across the hollow tendrils the old chief guided the
bidarka silently, in a zigzag course. Suddenly he stretched out his
paddle, and, touching Dick on the shoulder, pointed to a dark spot
showing against the kelp a hundred yards away.

With infinite care the two edged the canoe along, until there before
them lay asleep the mother otter, her cub clasped tight in her arms.
Even as they watched, the little otter nuzzled its small white nose
against its mother's warm breast. As she felt its touch, without
opening her eyes she clasped the cub tighter in her arms, with a
curiously human gesture, and wrapped it close in her long silky fur,
which had a changing shimmer and ripple through it like watered
silk--a pelt with which a man might ransom his life.

As Dick gripped the short heavy club which the old chief had placed at
his feet at the beginning of the voyage, and looked down upon the
pair, it seemed to him as if the great sea had taken him into her
confidence and entrusted the sleeping mother and child to him.
Suddenly, in the silence, with sea and sky watching, he knew that he
could no more strike down that mother sleeping before him with her
dear-loved cub in her arms, than he could have killed a human child
entrusted to his care. With a quick motion, he splashed the water over
the sleeping otter with the end of his club. So swiftly that the eye
could scarcely follow her motion, the great otter flashed out of sight
under the kelp, with her cub still held close. Once again, mother-love
had been too strong for death.





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this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
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