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´╗┐Title: Secrets of the Woods
Author: Long, William J. (William Joseph), 1867-1952
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Secrets of the Woods" ***

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SECRETS OF THE WOODS

Wood Folk Series Book Three

By William J. Long


               TO CH'GEEGEE-LOKH-SIS, "Little
               Friend Ch'geegee," whose
               coming makes the winter glad.



PREFACE

This little book is but another chapter in the shy 'wild life of the
fields and woods' of which "Ways of Wood Folk" and "Wilderness Ways"
were the beginning. It is given gladly in answer to the call for more
from those who have read the previous volumes, and whose letters are
full of the spirit of kindness and appreciation.

Many questions have come of late with these same letters; chief of which
is this: How shall one discover such things for himself? how shall
we, too, read the secrets of the Wood Folk? There is no space here
to answer, to describe the long training, even if one could explain
perfectly what is more or less unconscious. I would only suggest that
perhaps the real reason why we see so little in the woods is the way we
go through them--talking, laughing, rustling, smashing twigs, disturbing
the peace of the solitudes by what must seem strange and uncouth
noises to the little wild creatures. They, on the other hand, slip with
noiseless feet through their native coverts, shy, silent, listening,
more concerned to hear than to be heard, loving the silence, hating
noise and fearing it, as they fear and hate their natural enemies.

We would not feel comfortable if a big barbarian came into our quiet
home, broke the door down, whacked his war-club on the furniture,
and whooped his battle yell. We could hardly be natural under the
circumstances. Our true dispositions would hide themselves. We might
even vacate the house bodily. Just so Wood Folk. Only as you copy their
ways can you expect to share their life and their secrets. And it is
astonishing how little the shyest of them fears you, if you but keep
silence and avoid all excitement, even of feeling; for they understand
your feeling quite as much as your action.

A dog knows when you are afraid of him; when you are hostile; when
friendly. So does a bear. Lose your nerve, and the horse you are riding
goes to pieces instantly. Bubble over with suppressed excitement, and
the deer yonder, stepping daintily down the bank to your canoe in the
water grasses, will stamp and snort and bound away without ever knowing
what startled him. But be quiet, friendly, peace-possessed in the same
place, and the deer, even after discovering you, will draw near and show
his curiosity in twenty pretty ways ere he trots away, looking back over
his shoulder for your last message. Then be generous--show him the flash
of a looking-glass, the flutter of a bright handkerchief, a tin whistle,
or any other little kickshaw that the remembrance of a boy's pocket
may suggest--and the chances are that he will come back again, finding
curiosity so richly rewarded.

That is another point to remember: all the Wood Folk are more curious
about you than you are about them. Sit down quietly in the woods
anywhere, and your coming will occasion the same stir that a stranger
makes in a New England hill town. Control your curiosity, and soon their
curiosity gets beyond control; they must come to find out who you are
and what you are doing. Then you have the advantage; for, while their
curiosity is being satisfied, they forget fear and show you many curious
bits of their life that you will never discover otherwise.

As to the source of these sketches, it is the same as that of the
others years of quiet observation in the woods and fields, and some old
notebooks which hold the records of summer and winter camps in the great
wilderness.

My kind publishers announced, some time ago, a table of contents, which
included chapters on jay and fish-hawk, panther, and musquash, and a
certain savage old bull moose that once took up his abode too near my
camp for comfort. My only excuse for their non-appearance is that my
little book was full before their turn came. They will find their place,
I trust, in another volume presently.


CONTENTS

     TOOKHEES THE 'FRAID ONE
     A WILDERNESS BYWAY
     KEEONEKH THE FISHERMAN
     KOSKOMENOS THE OUTCAST
     MEEKO THE MISCHIEF-MAKER
     THE OL' BEECH PA'TRIDGE
     FOLLOWING THE DEER
       SUMMER WOODS
       STILL HUNTING
       WINTER TRAILS
       SNOW BOUND
     GLOSSARY OF INDIAN NAMES



SECRETS OF THE WOODS



TOOKHEES THE 'FRAID ONE

Little Tookhees the wood mouse, the 'Fraid One, as Simmo calls him,
always makes two appearances when you squeak to bring him out. First,
after much peeking, he runs out of his tunnel; sits up once on his hind
legs; rubs his eyes with his paws; looks up for the owl, and behind him
for the fox, and straight ahead at the tent where the man lives; then
he dives back headlong into his tunnel with a rustle of leaves and a
frightened whistle, as if Kupkawis the little owl had seen him. That is
to reassure himself. In a moment he comes back softly to see what kind
of crumbs you have given him.

No wonder Tookhees is so timid, for there is no place in earth or air or
water, outside his own little doorway under the mossy stone, where he is
safe. Above him the owls watch by night and the hawks by day; around him
not a prowler of the wilderness, from Mooween the bear down through a
score of gradations, to Kagax the bloodthirsty little weasel, but will
sniff under every old log in the hope of finding a wood mouse; and if he
takes a swim, as he is fond of doing, not a big trout in the river but
leaves his eddy to rush at the tiny ripple holding bravely across the
current. So, with all these enemies waiting to catch him the moment he
ventures out, Tookhees must needs make one or two false starts in order
to find out where the coast is clear.

That is why he always dodges back after his first appearance; why he
gives you two or three swift glimpses of himself, now here, now there,
before coming out into the light. He knows his enemies are so hungry, so
afraid he will get away or that somebody else will catch him, that they
jump for him the moment he shows a whisker. So eager are they for his
flesh, and so sure, after missing him, that the swoop of wings or the
snap of red jaws has scared him into permanent hiding, that they pass on
to other trails. And when a prowler, watching from behind a stump, sees
Tookhees flash out of sight and hears his startled squeak, he thinks
naturally that the keen little eyes have seen the tail, which he forgot
to curl close enough, and so sneaks away as if ashamed of himself. Not
even the fox, whose patience is without end, has learned the wisdom of
waiting for Tookhees' second appearance. And that is the salvation of
the little 'Fraid One.

From all these enemies Tookhees has one refuge, the little arched nest
beyond the pretty doorway under the mossy stone. Most of his enemies
can dig, to be sure, but his tunnel winds about in such a way that they
never can tell from the looks of his doorway where it leads to;
and there are no snakes in the wilderness to follow and find out.
Occasionally I have seen where Mooween the bear has turned the stone
over and clawed the earth beneath; but there is generally a tough root
in the way, and Mooween concludes that he is taking too much trouble
for so small a mouthful, and shuffles off to the log where the red ants
live.

On his journeys through the woods Tookhees never forgets the dangerous
possibilities. His progress is a series of jerks, and whisks, and jumps,
and hidings. He leaves his doorway, after much watching, and shoots
like a minnow across the moss to an upturned root. There he sits up and
listens, rubbing his whiskers nervously. Then he glides along the root
for a couple of feet, drops to the ground and disappears. He is hiding
there under a dead leaf. A moment of stillness and he jumps like a
jack-in-abox. Now he is sitting on the leaf that covered him, rubbing
his whiskers again, looking back over his trail as if he heard footsteps
behind him. Then another nervous dash, a squeak which proclaims at once
his escape, and his arrival, and he vanishes under the old moss-grown
log where his fellows live, a whole colony of them.

All these things, and many more, I discovered the first season that I
began to study the wild things that lived within sight of my tent. I
had been making long excursions after bear and beaver, following on
wild-goose chases after Old Whitehead the eagle and Kakagos the wild
woods raven that always escaped me, only to find that within the warm
circle of my camp-fire little wild folk were hiding whose lives were
more unknown and quite as interesting as the greater creatures I had
been following.

One day, as I returned quietly to camp, I saw Simmo quite lost in
watching something near my tent. He stood beside a great birch tree, one
hand resting against the bark that he would claim next winter for his
new canoe; the other hand still grasped his axe, which he had picked up
a moment before to quicken the tempo of the bean kettle's song. His dark
face peered behind the tree with a kind of childlike intensity written
all over it.

I stole nearer without his hearing me; but I could see nothing. The
woods were all still. Killooleet was dozing by his nest; the chickadees
had vanished, knowing that it was not meal time; and Meeko the red
squirrel had been made to jump from the fir top to the ground so often
that now he kept sullenly to his own hemlock across the island, nursing
his sore feet and scolding like a fury whenever I approached. Still
Simmo watched, as if a bear were approaching his bait, till I whispered,
"Quiee, Simmo, what is it?"

"Nodwar k'chee Toquis, I see little 'Fraid One'" he said, unconsciously
dropping into his own dialect, which is the softest speech in the world,
so soft that wild things are not disturbed when they hear it, thinking
it only a louder sough of the pines or a softer tunking of ripples on
the rocks.--"O bah cosh, see! He wash-um face in yo lil cup." And when
I tiptoed to his side, there was Tookhees sitting on the rim of my
drinking cup, in which I had left a new leader to soak for the evening's
fishing, scrubbing his face diligently, like a boy who is watched from
behind to see that he slights not his ears or his neck.

Remembering my own boyhood on cold mornings, I looked behind him to see
if he also were under compulsion, but there was no other mouse in sight.
He would scoop up a double handful of water in his paws, rub it rapidly
up over nose and eyes, and then behind his ears, on the spots that wake
you up quickest when you are sleepy. Then another scoop of water, and
another vigorous rub, ending behind his ears as before.

Simmo was full of wonder, for an Indian notices few things in the woods
beside those that pertain to his trapping and hunting; and to see a
mouse wash his face was as incomprehensible to him as to see me read a
book. But all wood mice are very cleanly; they have none of the strong
odors of our house mice. Afterwards, while getting acquainted, I saw him
wash many times in the plate of water that I kept filled near his den;
but he never washed more than his face and the sensitive spot behind his
ears. Sometimes, however, when I have seen him swimming in the lake
or river, I have wondered whether he were going on a journey, or just
bathing for the love of it, as he washed his face in my cup.

I left the cup where it was and spread a feast for the little guest,
cracker crumbs and a bit of candle end. In the morning they were gone,
the signs of several mice telling plainly who had been called in from
the wilderness byways. That was the introduction of man to beast. Soon
they came regularly. I had only to scatter crumbs and squeak a few times
like a mouse, when little streaks and flashes would appear on the moss
or among the faded gold tapestries of old birch leaves, and the little
wild things would come to my table, their eyes shining like jet, their
tiny paws lifted to rub their whiskers or to shield themselves from the
fear under which they lived continually.

They were not all alike--quite the contrary. One, the same who had
washed in my cup, was gray and old, and wise from much dodging of
enemies. His left ear was split from a fight, or an owl's claw,
probably, that just missed him as he dodged under a root. He was at
once the shyest and boldest of the lot. For a day or two he came with
marvelous stealth, making use of every dead leaf and root tangle to hide
his approach, and shooting across the open spaces so quickly that one
knew not what had happened--just a dun streak which ended in nothing.
And the brown leaf gave no sign of what it sheltered. But once assured
of his ground, he came boldly. This great man-creature, with his face
close to the table, perfectly still but for his eyes, with a hand that
moved gently if it moved at all, was not to be feared--that Tookhees
felt instinctively. And this strange fire with hungry odors, and the
white tent, and the comings and goings of men who were masters of the
woods kept fox and lynx and owl far away--that he learned after a day or
two. Only the mink, who crept in at night to steal the man's fish, was
to be feared. So Tookhees presently gave up his nocturnal habits and
came out boldly into the sunlight. Ordinarily the little creatures come
out in the dusk, when their quick movements are hidden among the shadows
that creep and quiver. But with fear gone, they are only too glad to run
about in the daylight, especially when good things to eat are calling
them.

Besides the veteran there was a little mother-mouse, whose tiny gray
jacket was still big enough to cover a wonderful mother love, as I
afterwards found out. She never ate at my table, but carried her fare
away into hiding, not to feed her little ones-they were, too small as
yet--but thinking in some dumb way, behind the bright little eyes, that
they needed her and that her life must be spared with greater precaution
for their sakes. She would steal timidly to my table, always appearing
from under a gray shred of bark on a fallen birch log, following the
same path, first to a mossy stone, then to a dark hole under a root,
then to a low brake, and along the underside of a billet of wood to
the mouse table. There she would stuff both cheeks hurriedly, till
they bulged as if she had toothache, and steal away by the same path,
disappearing at last under the shred of gray bark.

For a long time it puzzled me to find her nest, which I knew could not
be far away. It was not in the birch log where she disappeared--that was
hollow the whole length--nor was it anywhere beneath it. Some distance
away was a large stone, half covered by the green moss which reached up
from every side. The most careful search here had failed to discover any
trace of Tookhees' doorway; so one day when the wind blew half a gale
and I was going out on the lake alone, I picked up this stone to put in
the bow of my canoe. That was to steady the little craft by bringing her
nose down to grip the water. Then the secret was out, and there it was
in a little dome of dried grass among some spruce roots under the stone.

The mother was away foraging, but a faint sibilant squeaking within the
dome told me that the little ones were there, and hungry as usual. As I
watched there was a swift movement in a tunnel among the roots, and
the mother-mouse came rushing back. She paused a moment, lifting her
forepaws against a root to sniff what danger threatened. Then she saw
my face bending over the opening--Et tu Brute! and she darted into the
nest. In a moment she was out again and disappeared into her tunnel,
running swiftly with her little ones hanging to her sides by a grip that
could not be shaken,--all but one, a delicate pink creature that one
could hide in a thimble, and that snuggled down in the darkest corner of
my hand confidently.

It was ten minutes before the little mother came back, looking anxiously
for the lost baby. When she found him safe in his own nest, with the
man's face still watching, she was half reassured; but when she threw
herself down and the little one began to drink, she grew fearful again
and ran away into the tunnel, the little one clinging to her side, this
time securely.

I put the stone back and gathered the moss carefully about it. In a few
days Mother Mouse was again at my table. I stole away to the stone, put
my ear close to it, and heard with immense satisfaction tiny squeaks,
which told me that the house was again occupied. Then I watched to find
the path by which Mother Mouse came to her own. When her cheeks were
full, she disappeared under the shred of bark by her usual route. That
led into the hollow center of the birch log, which she followed to the
end, where she paused a moment, eyes, ears, and nostrils busy; then she
jumped to a tangle of roots and dead leaves, beneath which was a tunnel
that led, deep down under the moss, straight to her nest beneath the
stone.

Besides these older mice, there were five or six smaller ones, all shy
save one, who from the first showed not the slightest fear but came
straight to my hand, ate his crumbs, and went up my sleeve, and
proceeded to make himself a warm nest there by nibbling wool from my
flannel shirt.

In strong contrast to this little fellow was another who knew too well
what fear meant. He belonged to another tribe that had not yet grown
accustomed to man's ways. I learned too late how careful one must be in
handling the little creatures that live continually in the land where
fear reigns.

A little way behind my tent was a great fallen log, mouldy and
moss-grown, with twin-flowers shaking their bells along its length,
under which lived a whole colony of wood mice. They ate the crumbs that
I placed by the log; but they could never be tolled to my table, whether
because they had no split-eared old veteran to spy out the man's ways,
or because my own colony drove them away, I could never find out. One
day I saw Tookhees dive under the big log as I approached, and having
nothing more important to do, I placed one big crumb near his entrance,
stretched out in the moss, hid my hand in a dead brake near the tempting
morsel, and squeaked the call. In a moment Tookhees' nose and eyes
appeared in his doorway, his whiskers twitching nervously as he smelled
the candle grease. But he was suspicious of the big object, or perhaps
he smelled the man too and was afraid, for after much dodging in and out
he disappeared altogether.

I was wondering how long his hunger would battle with his caution, when
I saw the moss near my bait stir from beneath. A little waving of the
moss blossoms, and Tookhees' nose and eyes appeared out of the ground
for an instant, sniffing in all directions. His little scheme was
evident enough now; he was tunneling for the morsel that he dared not
take openly. I watched with breathless interest as a faint quiver nearer
my bait showed where he was pushing his works. Then the moss stirred
cautiously close beside his objective; a hole opened; the morsel tumbled
in, and Tookhees was gone with his prize.

I placed more crumbs from my pocket in the same place, and presently
three or four mice were nibbling them. One sat up close by the dead
brake, holding a bit of bread in his forepaws like a squirrel. The brake
stirred suddenly; before he could jump my hand closed over him, and
slipping the other hand beneath him I held him up to my face to watch
him between my fingers. He made no movement to escape, but only trembled
violently. His legs seemed too weak to support his weight now; he lay
down; his eyes closed. One convulsive twitch and he was dead--dead of
fright in a hand which had not harmed him.

It was at this colony, whose members were all strangers to me, that I
learned in a peculiar way of the visiting habits of wood mice, and at
the same time another lesson that I shall not soon forget. For several
days I had been trying every legitimate way in vain to catch a big
trout, a monster of his kind, that lived in an eddy behind a rock up at
the inlet. Trout were scarce in that lake, and in summer the big fish
are always lazy and hard to catch. I was trout hungry most of the time,
for the fish that I caught were small, and few and far between. Several
times, however, when casting from the shore at the inlet for small fish,
I had seen swirls in a great eddy near the farther shore, which told me
plainly of big fish beneath; and one day, when a huge trout rolled half
his length out of water behind my fly, small fry lost all their interest
and I promised myself the joy of feeling my rod bend and tingle beneath
the rush of that big trout if it took all summer.

Flies were no use. I offered him a bookful, every variety of shape and
color, at dawn and dusk, without tempting him. I tried grubs, which bass
like, and a frog's leg, which no pickerel can resist, and little frogs,
such as big trout hunt among the lily pads in the twilight,--all without
pleasing him. And then waterbeetles, and a red squirrel's tail-tip,
which makes the best hackle in the world, and kicking grasshoppers, and
a silver spoon with a wicked "gang" of hooks, which I detest and which,
I am thankful to remember, the trout detested also. They lay there in
their big cool eddy, lazily taking what food the stream brought down to
them, giving no heed to frauds of any kind.

Then I caught a red-fin in the stream above, hooked it securely, laid it
on a big chip, coiled my line upon it, and set it floating down stream,
the line uncoiling gently behind it as it went. When it reached the
eddy I raised my rod tip; the line straightened; the red-fin plunged
overboard, and a two-pound trout, thinking, no doubt, that the little
fellow had been hiding under the chip, rose for him and took him in.
That was the only one I caught. His struggle disturbed the pool, and the
other trout gave no heed to more red-fins.

Then, one morning at daybreak, as I sat on a big rock pondering new
baits and devices, a stir on an alder bush across the stream caught my
eye. Tookhees the wood mouse was there, running over the bush, evidently
for the black catkins which still clung to the tips. As I watched him
he fell, or jumped from his branch into the quiet water below and, after
circling about for a moment, headed bravely across the current. I could
just see his nose as he swam, a rippling wedge against the black water
with a widening letter V trailing out behind him. The current swept
him downward; he touched the edge of the big eddy; there was a swirl,
a mighty plunge beneath, and Tookhees was gone, leaving no trace but a
swift circle of ripples that were swallowed up in the rings and dimples
behind the rock.--I had found what bait the big trout wanted.

Hurrying back to camp, I loaded a cartridge lightly with a pinch of dust
shot, spread some crumbs near the big log behind my tent, squeaked the
call a few times, and sat down to wait. "These mice are strangers to
me," I told Conscience, who was protesting a little, "and the woods are
full of them, and I want that trout."

In a moment there was a rustle in the mossy doorway and Tookhees
appeared. He darted across the open, seized a crumb in his mouth, sat
up on his hind legs, took the crumb in his paws, and began to eat. I had
raised the gun, thinking he would dodge back a few times before giving
me a shot; his boldness surprised me, but I did not recognize him. Still
my eye followed along the barrels and over the sight to where Tookhees
sat eating his crumb. My finger was pressing the trigger--"O you big
butcher," said Conscience, "think how little he is, and what a big roar
your gun will make! Aren't you ashamed?"

"But I want the trout," I protested.

"Catch him then, without killing this little harmless thing," said
Conscience sternly.

"But he is a stranger to me; I never--"

"He is eating your bread and salt," said Conscience. That settled it;
but even as I looked at him over the gun sight, Tookhees finished his
crumb, came to my foot, ran along my leg into my lap, and looked into my
face expectantly. The grizzled coat and the split ear showed the welcome
guest at my table for a week past. He was visiting the stranger colony,
as wood mice are fond of doing, and persuading them by his example that
they might trust me, as he did. More ashamed than if I had been caught
potting quail, I threw away the hateful shell that had almost slain my
friend and went back to camp.

There I made a mouse of a bit of muskrat fur, with a piece of my leather
shoestring sewed on for a tail. It served the purpose perfectly, for
within the hour I was gloating over the size and beauty of the big trout
as he stretched his length on the rock beside me. But I lost the fraud
at the next cast, leaving it, with a foot of my leader, in the mouth
of a second trout that rolled up at it the instant it touched his eddy
behind the rock.

After that the wood mice were safe so far as I was concerned. Not a
trout, though he were big as a salmon, would ever taste them, unless
they chose to go swimming of their own accord; and I kept their table
better supplied than before. I saw much of their visiting back and
forth, and have understood better what those tunnels mean that one finds
in the spring when the last snows are melting. In a corner of the woods,
where the drifts lay, you will often find a score of tunnels coming
in from all directions to a central chamber. They speak of Tookhees'
sociable nature, of his long visits with his fellows, undisturbed by
swoop or snap, when the packed snow above has swept the summer fear away
and made him safe from hawk and owl and fox and wildcat, and when no
open water tempts him to go swimming where Skooktum the big trout lies
waiting, mouse hungry, under his eddy.


The weeks passed all too quickly, as wilderness weeks do, and the sad
task of breaking camp lay just before us. But one thing troubled me--the
little Tookhees, who knew no fear, but tried to make a nest in the
sleeve of my flannel shirt. His simple confidence touched me more than
the curious ways of all the other mice. Every day he came and took his
crumbs, not from the common table, but from my, hand, evidently enjoying
its warmth while he ate, and always getting the choicest morsels. But I
knew that he would be the first one caught by the owl after I left;
for it is fear only that saves the wild things. Occasionally one finds
animals of various kinds in which the instinct of fear is lacking--a
frog, a young partridge, a moose calf--and wonders what golden age that
knew no fear, or what glorious vision of Isaiah in which lion and lamb
lie down together, is here set forth. I have even seen a young black
duck, whose natural disposition is wild as the wilderness itself, that
had profited nothing by his mother's alarms and her constant lessons in
hiding, but came bobbing up to my canoe among the sedges of a wilderness
lake, while his brethren crouched invisible in their coverts of bending
rushes, and his mother flapped wildly off, splashing and quacking and
trailing a wing to draw me away from the little ones.

Such an one is generally abandoned by its mother, or else is the
first to fall in the battle with the strong before she gives him up as
hopeless. Little Tookhees evidently belonged to this class, so before
leaving I undertook the task of teaching him fear, which had evidently
been too much for Nature and his own mother. I pinched him a few times,
hooting like an owl as I did so,--a startling process, which sent the
other mice diving like brown streaks to cover. Then I waved a branch
over him, like a hawk's wing, at the same time flipping him end over
end, shaking him up terribly. Then again, when he appeared with a new
light dawning in his eyes, the light of fear, I would set a stick to
wiggling like a creeping fox among the ferns and switch him sharply with
a hemlock tip. It was a hard lesson, but he learned it after a few days.
And before I finished the teaching, not a mouse would come to my table,
no matter how persuasively I squeaked. They would dart about in the
twilight as of yore, but the first whish of my stick sent them all back
to cover on the instant.

That was their stern yet, practical preparation for the robber horde
that would soon be prowling over my camping ground. Then a stealthy
movement among the ferns or the sweep of a shadow among the twilight
shadows would mean a very different thing from wriggling stick and
waving hemlock tip. Snap and swoop, and teeth and claws,--jump for your
life and find out afterwards. That is the rule for a wise wood mouse.
So I said good-by, and left them to take care of themselves in the
wilderness.



A WILDERNESS BYWAY

One day in the wilderness, as my canoe was sweeping down a beautiful
stretch of river, I noticed a little path leading through the water
grass, at right angles to the stream's course. Swinging my canoe up to
it, I found what seemed to be a landing place for the wood folk on their
river journeyings. The sedges, which stood thickly all about, were here
bent inward, making a shiny green channel from the river.

On the muddy shore were many tracks of mink and muskrat and otter. Here
a big moose had stood drinking; and there a beaver had cut the grass and
made a little mud pie, in the middle of which was a bit of musk scenting
the whole neighborhood. It was done last night, for the marks of his
fore paws still showed plainly where he had patted his pie smooth ere he
went away.

But the spot was more than a landing place; a path went up the bank into
the woods, as faint as the green waterway among the sedges. Tall ferns
bent over to hide it; rank grasses that had been softly brushed aside
tried their best to look natural; the alders waved their branches
thickly, saying: There is no way here. But there it was, a path for
the wood folk. And when I followed it into the shade and silence of the
woods, the first mossy log that lay across it was worn smooth by the
passage of many little feet.

As I came back, Simmo's canoe glided into sight and I waved him to
shore. The light birch swung up beside mine, a deep water-dimple just
under the curl of its bow, and a musical ripple like the gurgle of water
by a mossy stone--that was the only sound.

"What means this path, Simmo?"

His keen eyes took in everything at a glance, the wavy waterway, the
tracks, the faint path to the alders. There was a look of surprise in
his face that I had blundered onto a discovery which he had looked for
many times in vain, his traps on his back.

"Das a portash," he said simply.

"A portage! But who made a portage here?"

"Well, Musquash he prob'ly make-um first. Den beaver, den h'otter,
den everybody in hurry he make-um. You see, river make big bend here.
Portash go 'cross; save time, jus' same Indian portash."

That was the first of a dozen such paths that I have since found cutting
across the bends of wilderness rivers,--the wood folk's way of saving
time on a journey. I left Simmo to go on down the river, while I
followed the little byway curiously. There is nothing more fascinating
in the woods than to go on the track of the wild things and see what
they have been doing.

But alas! mine were not the first human feet that had taken the journey.
Halfway across, at a point where the path ran over a little brook,
I found a deadfall set squarely in the way of unwary feet. It was
different from any I had ever seen, and was made like this: {drawing
omitted}

That tiny stick (trigger, the trappers call it) with its end resting
in air three inches above the bed log, just the right height so that a
beaver or an otter would naturally put his foot on it in crossing, looks
innocent enough. But if you look sharply you will see that if it were
pressed down ever so little it would instantly release the bent stick
that holds the fall-log, and bring the deadly thing down with crushing
force across the back of any animal beneath.

Such are the pitfalls that lie athwart the way of Keeonekh the otter,
when he goes a-courting and uses Musquash's portage to shorten his
journey.

At the other end of the portage I waited for Simmo to come round the
bend, and took him back to see the work, denouncing the heartless
carelessness of the trapper who had gone away in the spring and left an
unsprung deadfall as a menace to the wild things. At the first glance
he pronounced it an otter trap. Then the fear and wonder swept into his
face, and the questions into mine.

"Das Noel Waby's trap. Nobody else make-um tukpeel stick like dat," he
said at last.

Then I understood. Noel Waby had gone up river trapping in the spring,
and had never come back; nor any word to tell how death met him.

I stooped down to examine the trap with greater interest. On the
underside of the fall-log I found some long hairs still clinging in the
crevices of the rough bark. They belonged to the outer waterproof coat
with which Keeonekh keeps his fur dry. One otter at least had been
caught here, and the trap reset. But some sense of danger, some old
scent of blood or subtle warning clung to the spot, and no other
creature had crossed the bed log, though hundreds must have passed that
way since the old Indian reset his trap, and strode away with the dead
otter across his shoulders.

What was it in the air? What sense of fear brooded here and whispered in
the alder leaves and tinkled in the brook? Simmo grew uneasy and hurried
away. He was like the wood folk. But I sat down on a great log that the
spring floods had driven in through the alders to feel the meaning
of the place, if possible, and to have the vast sweet solitude all to
myself for a little while.

A faint stir on my left, and another! Then up the path, twisting and
gliding, came Keeonekh, the first otter that I had ever seen in the
wilderness. Where the sun flickered in through the alder leaves it
glinted brightly on the shiny puter hairs of his rough coat. As he went
his nose worked constantly, going far ahead of his bright little eyes to
tell him what was in the path.

I was sitting very still, some distance to one side, and he did not see
me. Near old Noel's deadfall he paused an instant with raised head, in
the curious snake-like attitude that all the weasels take when watching.
Then he glided round the end of the trap, and disappeared down the
portage.

When he was gone I stole out to examine his tracks. Then I noticed
for the first time that the old path near the deadfall was getting
moss-grown; a faint new path began to show among the alders. Some
warning was there in the trap, and with cunning instinct all the
wood dwellers turned aside, giving a wide berth to what they felt was
dangerous but could not understand. The new path joined the old again,
beyond the brook, and followed it straight to the river.

Again I examined the deadfall carefully, but of course I found nothing.
That is a matter of instinct, not of eyes and ears, and it is past
finding out. Then I went away for good, after driving a ring of stout
stakes all about the trap to keep heedless little feet out of it. But
I left it unsprung, just as it was, a rude tribute of remembrance to
Keeonekh and the lost Indian.



KEEONEKH THE FISHERMAN

Wherever you find Keeonekh the otter you find three other things:
wildness, beauty, and running water that no winter can freeze. There is
also good fishing, but that will profit you little; for after Keeonekh
has harried a pool it is useless to cast your fly or minnow there. The
largest fish has disappeared--you will find his bones and a fin or two
on the ice or the nearest bank--and the little fish are still in hiding
after their fright.

Conversely, wherever you find the three elements mentioned you will also
find Keeonekh, if your eyes know how to read the signs aright. Even in
places near the towns, where no otter has been seen for generations,
they are still to be found leading their shy wild life, so familiar with
every sight and sound of danger that no eye of the many that pass by
ever sees them. No animal has been more persistently trapped and hunted
for the valuable fur that he bears; but Keeonekh is hard to catch and
quick to learn. When a family have all been caught or driven away from
a favorite stream, another otter speedily finds the spot in some of his
winter wanderings after better fishing, and, knowing well from the signs
that others of his race have paid the sad penalty for heedlessness, he
settles down there with greater watchfulness, and enjoys his fisherman's
luck.

In the spring he brings a mate to share his rich living. Soon a family
of young otters go a-fishing in the best pools and explore the stream
for miles up and down. But so shy and wild and quick to hide are they
that the trout fishermen who follow the river, and the ice fishermen
who set their tilt-ups in the pond below, and the children who gather
cowslips in the spring have no suspicion that the original proprietors
of the stream are still on the spot, jealously watching and resenting
every intrusion.

Occasionally the wood choppers cross an unknown trail in the snow, a
heavy trail, with long, sliding, down-hill plunges which look as if a
log had been dragged along. But they too go their way, wondering a bit
at the queer things that live in the woods, but not understanding the
plain records that the queer things leave behind them. Did they but
follow far enough they would find the end of the trail in open water,
and on the ice beyond the signs of Keeonekh's fishing.

I remember one otter family whose den I found, when a boy, on a stream
between two ponds within three miles of the town house. Yet the oldest
hunter could barely remember the time when the last otter had been
caught or seen in the county.

I was sitting very still in the bushes on the bank, one day in spring,
watching for a wood duck. Wood duck lived there, but the cover was so
thick that I could never surprise them. They always heard me coming and
were off, giving me only vanishing glimpses among the trees, or else
quietly hiding until I went by. So the only way to see them--a beautiful
sight they were--was to sit still in hiding, for hours if need be, until
they came gliding by, all unconscious of the watcher.

As I waited a large animal came swiftly up stream, just his head
visible, with a long tail trailing behind. He was swimming powerfully,
steadily, straight as a string; but, as I noted with wonder, he made no
ripple whatever, sliding through the water as if greased from nose to
tail. Just above me he dived, and I did not see him again, though I
watched up and down stream breathlessly for him to reappear.

I had never seen such an animal before, but I knew somehow that it was
an otter, and I drew back into better hiding with the hope of seeing the
rare creature again. Presently another otter appeared, coming up stream
and disappearing in exactly the same way as the first. But though I
stayed all the afternoon I saw nothing more.

After that I haunted the spot every time I could get away, creeping
down to the river bank and lying in hiding hours long at a stretch; for
I knew now that the otters lived there, and they gave me many glimpses
of a life I had never seen before.

Soon I found their den. It was in a bank opposite my hiding place, and
the entrance was among the roots of a great tree, under water, where no
one could have possibly found it if the otters had not themselves shown
the way. In their approach they always dived while yet well out in the
stream, and so entered their door unseen. When they came out they were
quite as careful, always swimming some distance under water before
coming to the surface. It was several days before my eye could trace
surely the faint undulation of the water above them, and so follow their
course to their doorway. Had not the water been shallow I should never
have found it; for they are the most wonderful of swimmers, making no
ripple on the surface, and not half the disturbance below it that a fish
of the same weight makes.

Those were among the happiest watching hours that I have ever spent in
the woods. The game was so large, so utterly unexpected; and I had the
wonderful discovery all to myself. Not one of the half dozen boys and
men who occasionally, when the fever seized them, trapped muskrat in
the big meadow, a mile below, or the rare mink that hunted frogs in the
brook, had any suspicion that such splendid fur was to be had for the
hunting.

Sometimes a whole afternoon would go slowly by, filled with the sounds
and sweet smells of the woods, and not a ripple would break the dimples
of the stream before me. But when, one late afternoon, just as the pines
across the stream began to darken against the western light, a string
of silver bubbles shot across the stream and a big otter rose to the
surface with a pickerel in his mouth, all the watching that had not well
repaid itself was swept out of the reckoning. He came swiftly towards
me, put his fore paws against the bank, gave a wriggling jump,--and
there he was, not twenty feet away, holding the pickerel down with his
fore paws, his back arched like a frightened cat, and a tiny stream of
water trickling down from the tip of his heavy pointed tail, as he ate
his fish with immense relish.

Years afterward, hundreds of miles away on the Dungarvon, in the heart
of the wilderness, every detail of the scene came back to me again.
I was standing on snowshoes, looking out over the frozen river, when
Keeonekh appeared in an open pool with a trout in his mouth. He broke
his way, with a clattering tinkle of winter bells, through the thin edge
of ice, put his paws against the heavy snow ice, threw himself out with
the same wriggling jump, and ate with his back arched--just as I had
seen him years before.

This curious way of eating is, I think, characteristic of all otters;
certainly of those that I have been fortunate enough to see. Why they
do it is more than I know; but it must be uncomfortable for every
mouthful--full of fish bones, too--to slide uphill to one's stomach.
Perhaps it is mere habit, which shows in the arched backs of all the
weasel family. Perhaps it is to frighten any enemy that may approach
unawares while Keeonekh is eating, just as an owl, when feeding on the
ground, bristles up all his feathers so as to look as big as possible.

But my first otter was too keen-scented to remain long so near a
concealed enemy. Suddenly he stopped eating and turned his head in my
direction. I could see his nostrils twitching as the wind gave him its
message. Then he left his fish, glided into the stream as noiselessly as
the brook entered it below him, and disappeared without leaving a single
wavelet to show where he had gone down.

When the young otters appeared, there was one of the most interesting
lessons to be seen in the woods. Though Keeonekh loves the water and
lives in it more than half the time, his little ones are afraid of it as
so many kittens. If left to themselves they would undoubtedly go off
for a hunting life, following the old family instinct; for fishing is an
acquired habit of the otters, and so the fishing instinct cannot yet
be transmitted to the little ones. That will take many generations.
Meanwhile the little Keeonekhs must be taught to swim.

One day the mother-otter appeared on the bank among the roots of the
great tree under which was their secret doorway. That was surprising,
for up to this time both otters had always approached it from the river,
and were never seen on the bank near their den. She appeared to be
digging, but was immensely cautious about it, looking, listening,
sniffing continually. I had never gone near the place for fear of
frightening them away; and it was months afterward, when the den was
deserted, before I examined it to understand just what she was doing.
Then I found that she had made another doorway from her den leading out
to the bank. She had selected the spot with wonderful cunning,--a
hollow under a great root that would never be noticed,--and she dug
from inside, carrying the earth down to the river bottom, so that there
should be nothing about the tree to indicate the haunt of an animal.

Long afterwards, when I had grown better acquainted with Keeonekh's ways
from much watching, I understood the meaning of all this. She was simply
making a safe way out and in for the little ones, who were afraid of the
water. Had she taken or driven them out of her own entrance under the
river, they might easily have drowned ere they reached the surface.

When the entrance was all ready she disappeared, but I have no doubt
she was just inside, watching to be sure the coast was clear. Slowly her
head and neck appeared till they showed clear of the black roots. She
turned her nose up stream--nothing in the wind. Eyes and ears searched
below--nothing harmful there. Then she came out, and after her toddled
two little otters, full of wonder at the big bright world, full of fear
at the river.

There was no play at first, only wonder and investigation. Caution was
born in them; they put their little feet down as if treading on eggs,
and they sniffed every bush before going behind it. And the old mother
noted their cunning with satisfaction while her own nose and ears
watched far away.

The outing was all too short; some uneasiness was in the air down
stream. Suddenly she rose from where she was lying, and the little ones,
as if commanded, tumbled back into the den. In a moment she had glided
after them, and the bank was deserted. It was fully ten minutes before
my untrained cars caught faint sounds, which were not of the woods,
coming up stream; and longer than that before two men with fish poles
appeared, making their slow way to the pond above. They passed almost
over the den and disappeared, all unconscious of beast or man that
wished them elsewhere, resenting their noisy passage through the
solitudes. But the otters did not come out again, though I watched till
nearly dark.

It was a week before I saw them again, and some good teaching had
evidently been done in the meantime; for all fear of the river was gone.
They toddled out as before, at the same hour in the afternoon, and went
straight to the bank. There the mother lay down, and the little ones,
as if enjoying the frolic, clambered up to her back. Whereupon she slid
into the stream and swam slowly about with the little Keeonekhs clinging
to her desperately, as if humpty-dumpty had been played on them before,
and might be repeated any moment.

I understood their air of anxious expectation a moment later, when
Mother Otter dived like a flash from under them, leaving them to make
their own way in the water. They began to swim naturally enough, but the
fear of the new element was still upon them. The moment old Mother Otter
appeared they made for her whimpering, but she dived again and again, or
moved slowly away, and so kept them swimming. After a little they seemed
to tire and lose courage. Her eyes saw it quicker than mine, and she
glided between them. Both little ones turned in at the same instant and
found a resting place on her back. So she brought them carefully to
land again, and in a few moments they were all rolling about in the dry
leaves like so many puppies.

I must confess here that, besides the boy's wonder in watching the
wild things, another interest brought me to the river bank and kept me
studying Keeonekh's ways. Father Otter was a big fellow,--enormous he
seemed to me, thinking of my mink skins,--and occasionally, when his
rich coat glinted in the sunshine, I was thinking what a famous cap it
would make for the winter woods, or for coasting on moonshiny nights.
More often I was thinking what famous things a boy could buy for the
fourteen dollars, at least, which his pelt would bring in the open
market.

The first Saturday after I saw him I prepared a board, ten times bigger
than a mink-stretcher, and tapered one end to a round point, and split
it, and made a wedge, and smoothed it all down, and hid it away--to
stretch the big otter's skin upon when I should catch him.

When November came, and fur was prime, I carried down a half-bushel
basket of heads and stuff from the fish market, and piled them up
temptingly on the bank, above a little water path, in a lonely spot by
the river. At the lower end of the path, where it came out of the
water, I set a trap, my biggest one, with a famous grip for skunks and
woodchucks. But the fish rotted away, as did also another basketful in
another place. Whatever was eaten went to the crows and mink. Keeonekh
disdained it.

Then I set the trap in some water (to kill the smell of it) on a game
path among some swamp alders, at a bend of the river where nobody ever
came and where I had found Keeonekh's tracks. The next night he walked
into it. But the trap that was sure grip for woodchucks was a plaything
for Keeonekh's strength. He wrenched his foot out of it, leaving me only
a few glistening hairs--which was all I ever caught of him.

Years afterward, when I found old Noel's trap on Keeonekh's portage, I
asked Simmo why no bait had been used.

"No good use-um bait," he said, "Keeonekh like-um fresh fish, an'
catch-um self all he want." And that is true. Except in starvation
times, when even the pools are frozen, or the fish die from one of their
mysterious epidemics, Keeonekh turns up his nose at any bait. If a bit
of castor is put in a split stick, he will turn aside, like all the
fur-bearers, to see what this strange smell is. But if you would toll
him with a bait, you must fasten a fish in the water in such a way that
it seems alive as the current wiggles it, else Keeonekh will never think
it worthy of his catching.

The den in the river bank was never disturbed, and the following year
another litter was raised there. With characteristic cunning--a cunning
which grows keener and keener in the neighborhood of civilization--the
mother-otter filled up the land entrance among the roots with earth and
driftweed, using only the doorway under water until it was time for the
cubs to come out into the world again.

Of all the creatures of the wilderness Keeonekh is the most richly
gifted, and his ways, could we but search them out, would furnish a most
interesting chapter. Every journey he takes, whether by land or water,
is full of unknown traits and tricks; but unfortunately no one ever sees
him doing things, and most of his ways are yet to be found out. You see
a head holding swiftly across a wilderness lake, or coming to meet your
canoe on the streams; then, as you follow eagerly, a swirl and he is
gone. When he comes up again he will watch you so much more keenly than
you can possibly watch him that you learn little about him, except how
shy he is. Even the trappers who make a business of catching him, and
with whom I have often talked, know almost nothing of Keeonekh, except
where to set their traps for him living and how to care for his skin
when he is dead. Once I saw him fishing in a curious way. It was winter,
on a wilderness stream flowing into the Dugarvon. There had been a fall
of dry snow that still lay deep and powdery over all the woods, too
light to settle or crust. At every step one had to lift a shovelful of
the stuff on the point of his snowshoe; and I was tired out, following
some caribou that wandered like plover in the rain.

Just below me was a deep open pool surrounded by double fringes of ice.
Early in the winter, while the stream was higher, the white ice had
formed thickly on the river wherever the current was not too swift for
freezing. Then the stream fell, and a shelf of new black ice formed at
the water's level, eighteen inches or more below the first ice, some of
which still clung to the banks, reaching out in places two or three feet
and forming dark caverns with the ice below. Both shelves dipped towards
the water, forming a gentle incline all about the edges of the open
places.

A string of silver bubbles shooting across the black pool at my feet
roused me out of a drowsy weariness. There it was again, a rippling wave
across the pool, which rose to the surface a moment later in a hundred
bubbles, tinkling like tiny bells as they broke in the keen air. Two or
three times I saw it with growing wonder. Then something stirred under
the shelf of ice across the pool. An otter slid into the water; the
rippling wave shot across again; the bubbles broke at the surface; and
I knew that he was sitting under the white ice below me, not twenty feet
away.

A whole family of otters, three or four of them, were fishing there at
my feet in utter unconsciousness. The discovery took my breath away.
Every little while the bubbles would shoot across from my side, and
watching sharply I would see Keeonekh slide out upon the lower shelf of
ice on the other side and crouch there in the gloom, with back humped
against the ice above him, eating his catch. The fish they caught were
all small evidently, for after a few minutes he would throw himself flat
on the ice, slide down the incline into the water, making no splash or
disturbance as he entered, and the string of bubbles would shoot across
to my side again.

For a full hour I watched them breathlessly, marveling at their skill. A
small fish is nimble game to follow and catch in his own element. But at
every slide Keeonekh did it. Sometimes the rippling wave would shoot all
over the pool, and the bubbles break in a wild tangle as the fish darted
and doubled below, with the otter after him. But it always ended the
same way. Keeonekh would slide out upon the ice shelf, and hump his
back, and begin to eat almost before the last bubble had tinkled behind
him.

Curiously enough, the rule of the salmon fishermen prevailed here in
the wilderness: no two rods shall whip the same pool at the same time.
I would see an otter lying ready on the ice, evidently waiting for the
chase to end. Then, as another otter slid out beside him with his fish,
in he would go like a flash and take his turn. For a while the pool was
a lively place; the bubbles had no rest. Then the plunges grew fewer and
fewer, and the otters all disappeared into the ice caverns.

What became of them I could not make out; and I was too chilled to watch
longer. Above and below the pool the stream was frozen for a distance;
then there was more open water and more fishing. Whether they followed
along the bank under cover of the ice to other pools, or simply slept
where they were till hungry again, I never found out. Certainly they had
taken up their abode in an ideal spot, and would not leave it willingly.
The open pools gave excellent fishing, and the upper ice shelf protected
them perfectly from all enemies.

Once, a week later, I left the caribou and came back to the spot to
watch awhile; but the place was deserted. The black water gurgled and
dimpled across the pool, and slipped away silently under the lower edge
of ice undisturbed by strings of silver bubbles. The ice caverns were
all dark and silent. The mink had stolen the fish heads, and there was
no trace anywhere to show that it was Keeonekh's banquet hall.

The swimming power of an otter, which was so evident there in the winter
pool, is one of the most remarkable things in nature. All other animals
and birds, and even the best modeled of modern boats, leave more or less
wake behind them when moving through the water. But Keeonekh leaves no
more trail than a fish. This is partly because he keeps his body well
submerged when swimming, partly because of the strong, deep, even stroke
that drives him forward. Sometimes I have wondered if the outer hairs of
his coat--the waterproof covering that keeps his fur dry, no matter how
long he swims--are not better oiled than in other animals, which might
account for the lack of ripple. I have seen him go down suddenly and
leave absolutely no break in the surface to show where he was. When
sliding also, plunging down a twenty-foot clay bank, he enters the water
with an astonishing lack of noise or disturbance of any kind.

In swimming at the surface he seems to use all four feet, like other
animals. But below the surface, when chasing fish, he uses only the
fore-paws. The hind legs then stretch straight out behind and are used,
with the heavy tail, for a great rudder. By this means he turns and
doubles like a flash, following surely the swift dartings of frightened
trout, and beating them by sheer speed and nimbleness.

When fishing a pool he always hunts outward from the center, driving the
fish towards the bank, keeping himself within their circlings, and so
having the immense advantage of the shorter line in heading off
his game. The fish are seized as they crouch against the bank for
protection, or try to dart out past him. Large fish are frequently
caught from behind as they lie resting in their spring-holes. So swift
and noiseless is his approach that they are seized before they become
aware of danger.

This swimming power of Keeonekh is all the more astonishing when one
remembers that he is distinctively a land animal, with none of the
special endowments of the seal, who is his only rival as a fisherman.
Nature undoubtedly intended him to get his living, as the other members
of his large family do, by hunting in the woods, and endowed him
accordingly. He is a strong runner, a good climber, a patient tireless
hunter, and his nose is keen as a brier. With a little practice he could
again get his living by hunting, as his ancestors did. If squirrels and
rats and rabbits were too nimble at first, there are plenty of musquash
to be caught, and he need not stop at a fawn or a sheep, for he is
enormously strong, and the grip of his jaws is not to be loosened.

In severe winters, when fish are scarce or his pools frozen over, he
takes to the woods boldly and shows himself a master at hunting craft.
But he likes fish, and likes the water, and for many generations now
has been simply a fisherman, with many of the quiet lovable traits that
belong to fishermen in general.

That is one thing to give you instant sympathy for Keeonekh--he is
so different, so far above all other members of his tribe. He is very
gentle by nature, with no trace of the fisher's ferocity or the weasel's
bloodthirstiness. He tames easily, and makes the most docile and
affectionate pet of all the wood folk. He never kills for the sake of
killing, but lives peaceably, so far as he can, with all creatures. And
he stops fishing when he has caught his dinner. He is also most cleanly
in his habits, with no suggestion whatever of the evil odors that cling
to the mink and defile the whole neighborhood of a skunk. One cannot
help wondering whether just going fishing has not wrought all this
wonder in Keeonekh's disposition. If so, 't is a pity that all his tribe
do not turn fishermen.

His one enemy among the wood folk, so far as I have observed, is the
beaver. As the latter is also a peaceable animal, it is difficult to
account for the hostility. I have heard or read somewhere that Keeonekh
is fond of young beaver and hunts them occasionally to vary his diet
of fish; but I have never found any evidence in the wilderness to show
this. Instead, I think it is simply a matter of the beaver's dam and
pond that causes the trouble.

When the dam is built the beavers often dig a channel around either end
to carry off the surplus water, and so prevent their handiwork being
washed away in a freshet. Then the beavers guard their preserve
jealously, driving away the wood folk that dare to cross their dam or
enter their ponds, especially the musquash, who is apt to burrow and
cause them no end of trouble. But Keeonekh, secure in his strength,
holds straight through the pond, minding his own business and even
taking a fish or two in the deep places near the dam. He delights also
in running water, especially in winter when lakes and streams are mostly
frozen, and in his journeyings he makes use of the open channels that
guard the beavers' work. But the moment the beavers hear a splashing
there, or note a disturbance in the pond where Keeonekh is chasing fish,
down they come full of wrath. And there is generally a desperate fight
before the affair is settled.

Once, on a little pond, I saw a fierce battle going on out in the
middle, and paddled hastily to find out about it. Two beavers and a
big otter were locked in a death struggle, diving, plunging, throwing
themselves out of water, and snapping at each other's throats.

As my canoe halted the otter gripped one of his antagonists and went
under with him. There was a terrible commotion below the surface for a
few moments. When it ended the beaver rolled up dead, and Keeonekh shot
up under the second beaver to repeat the attack. They gripped on the
instant, but the second beaver, an enormous fellow, refused to go under
where he would be at a disadvantage. In my eagerness I let the canoe
drift almost upon them, driving them wildly apart before the common
danger. The otter held on his way up the lake; the beaver turned towards
the shore, where I noticed for the first time a couple of beaver houses.

In this case there was no chance for intrusion on Keeonekh's part.
He had probably been attacked when going peaceably about his business
through the lake.

It is barely possible, however, that there was an old grievance on the
beavers' part, which they sought to square when they caught Keeonekh on
the lake. When beavers build their houses on the lake shore, without the
necessity for making a dam, they generally build a tunnel slanting up
from the lake's bed to their den or house on the bank. Now Keeonekh
fishes under the ice in winter more than is generally supposed. As he
must breathe after every chase he must needs know all the air-holes and
dens in the whole lake. No matter how much he turns and doubles in
the chase after a trout, he never loses his sense of direction, never
forgets where the breathing places are. When his fish is seized he makes
a bee line under the ice for the nearest place where he can breathe and
eat. Sometimes this lands him, out of breath, in the beaver's tunnel;
and the beaver must sit upstairs in his own house, nursing his wrath,
while Keeonekh eats fish in his hallway; for there is not room for both
at once in the tunnel, and a fight there or under the ice is out of
the question. As the beaver eats only bark--the white inner layer of
"popple" bark is his chief dainty--he cannot understand and cannot
tolerate this barbarian, who eats raw fish and leaves the bones and fins
and the smell of slime in his doorway. The beaver is exemplary in his
neatness, detesting all smells and filth; and this may possibly account
for some of his enmity and his savage attacks upon Keeonekh when he
catches him in a good place.

Not the least interesting of Keeonekh's queer ways is his habit of
sliding down hill, which makes a bond of sympathy and brings him close
to the boyhood memories of those who know him.

I remember one pair of otters that I watched for the better part of a
sunny afternoon sliding down a clay bank with endless delight. The slide
had been made, with much care evidently, on the steep side of a little
promontory that jutted into the river. It was very steep, about twenty
feet high, and had been made perfectly smooth by much sliding and
wetting-down. An otter would appear at the top of the bank, throw
himself forward on his belly and shoot downward like a flash, diving
deep under water and reappearing some distance out from the foot of the
slide. And all this with marvelous stillness, as if the very woods had
ears and were listening to betray the shy creatures at their fun. For it
was fun, pure and simple, and fun with no end of tingle and excitement
in it, especially when one tried to catch the other and shot into the
water at his very heels.

This slide was in perfect condition, and the otters were careful not to
roughen it. They never scrambled up over it, but went round the point
and climbed from the other side, or else went up parallel to the slide,
some distance away, where the ascent was easier and where there was no
danger of rolling stones or sticks upon the coasting ground to spoil its
smoothness.

In winter the snow makes better coasting than the clay. Moreover it soon
grows hard and icy from the freezing of the water left by the otter's
body, and after a few days the slide is as smooth as glass. Then
coasting is perfect, and every otter, old and young, has his favorite
slide and spends part of every pleasant day enjoying the fun.

When traveling through the woods in deep snow, Keeonekh makes use of his
sliding habit to help him along, especially on down grades. He runs a
little way and throws himself forward on his belly, sliding through the
snow for several feet before he runs again. So his progress is a series
of slides, much as one hurries along in slippery weather.

I have spoken of the silver bubbles that first drew my attention to
the fishing otters one day in the wilderness. From the few rare
opportunities that I have had to watch them, I think that the bubbles
are seen only after Keeonekh slides swiftly into the stream. The air
clings to the hairs of his rough outer coat and is brushed from them as
he passes through the water. One who watches him thus, shooting down
the long slide belly-bump into the black winter pool, with a string
of silver bubbles breaking and tinkling above him, is apt to know the
hunter's change of heart from the touch of Nature which makes us all
kin. Thereafter he eschews trapping--at least you will not find his
number-three trap at the foot of Keeonekh's slide any more, to turn the
shy creature's happiness into tragedy--and he sends a hearty good-luck
after his fellow-fisherman, whether he meet him on the wilderness lakes
or in the quiet places on the home streams where nobody ever comes.



KOSKOMENOS THE OUTCAST

Koskomenos the kingfisher is a kind of outcast among the birds. I think
they regard him as a half reptile, who has not yet climbed high enough
in the bird scale to deserve recognition; so they let him severely
alone. Even the goshawk hesitates before taking a swoop at him, not
knowing quite whether the gaudy creature is dangerous or only uncanny.
I saw a great hawk once drop like a bolt upon a kingfisher that hung on
quivering wings, rattling softly, before his hole in the bank. But the
robber lost his nerve at the instant when he should have dropped his
claws to strike. He swerved aside and shot upward in a great slant to a
dead spruce top, where he stood watching intently till the dark beak of
a brooding kingfisher reached out of the hole to receive the fish
that her mate had brought her. Whereupon Koskomenos swept away to his
watchtower above the minnow pool, and the hawk set his wings toward
the outlet, where a brood of young sheldrakes were taking their first
lessons in the open water.

No wonder the birds look askance at Kingfisher. His head is ridiculously
large; his feet ridiculously small. He is a poem of grace in the air;
but he creeps like a lizard, or waddles so that a duck would be ashamed
of him, in the rare moments when he is afoot. His mouth is big enough
to take in a minnow whole; his tongue so small that he has no voice, but
only a harsh klr-rr-r-ik-ik-ik, like a watchman's rattle. He builds no
nest, but rather a den in the bank, in which he lives most filthily
half the day; yet the other half he is a clean, beautiful creature, with
never a suggestion of earth, but only of the blue heavens above and the
color-steeped water below, in his bright garments. Water will not wet
him, though he plunge a dozen times out of sight beneath the surface.
His clatter is harsh, noisy, diabolical; yet his plunge into the stream,
with its flash of color, its silver spray, and its tinkle of smitten
water, is the most musical thing in the wilderness.

As a fisherman he has no equal. His fishy, expressionless eye is yet the
keenest that sweeps the water, and his swoop puts even the fish-hawk to
shame for its certainty and its lightning quickness.

Besides all these contradictions, he is solitary, unknown,
inapproachable. He has no youth, no play, no joy except to eat; he
associates with nobody, not even with his own kind; and when he catches
a fish, and beats its head against a limb till it is dead, and sits with
head back-tilted, swallowing his prey, with a clattering chuckle
deep down in his throat, he affects you as a parrot does that swears
diabolically under his breath as he scratches his head, and that you
would gladly shy a stone at, if the owner's back were turned for a
sufficient moment.

It is this unknown, this uncanny mixture of bird and reptile that has
made the kingfisher an object of superstition among all savage peoples.
The legends about him are legion; his crested head is prized by savages
above all others as a charm or fetish; and even among civilized peoples
his dried body may still sometimes be seen hanging to a pole, in the
hope that his bill will point out the quarter from which the next wind
will blow.

But Koskomenos has another side, though the world as yet has found
out little about it. One day in the wilderness I cheered him quite
involuntarily. It was late afternoon; the fishing was over, and I sat
in my canoe watching by a grassy point to see what would happen next.
Across the stream was a clay bank, near the top of which a hole as
wide as a tea-cup showed where a pair of kingfishers had dug their long
tunnel. "There is nothing for them to stand on there; how did they begin
that hole?" I wondered lazily; "and how can they ever raise a brood,
with an open door like that for mink and weasel to enter?" Here were two
new problems to add to the many unsolved ones which meet you at every
turn on the woodland byways.

A movement under the shore stopped my wondering, and the long lithe form
of a hunting mink shot swiftly up stream. Under the hole he stopped,
raised himself with his fore paws against the bank, twisting his head
from side to side and sniffing nervously. "Something good up there," he
thought, and began to climb. But the bank was sheer and soft; he slipped
back half a dozen times without rising two feet. Then he went down
stream to a point where some roots gave him a foothold, and ran lightly
up till under the dark eaves that threw their shadowy roots over the
clay bank. There he crept cautiously along till his nose found the nest,
and slipped down till his fore paws rested on the threshold. A long
hungry sniff of the rank fishy odor that pours out of a kingfisher's
den, a keen look all around to be sure the old birds were not returning,
and he vanished like a shadow.

"There is one brood of kingfishers the less," I thought, with my glasses
focused on the hole. But scarcely was the thought formed, when a fierce
rumbling clatter sounded in the bank. The mink shot out, a streak of
red showing plainly across his brown face. After him came a kingfisher
clattering out a storm of invective and aiding his progress by vicious
jabs at his rear. He had made a miscalculation that time; the old mother
bird was at home waiting for him, and drove her powerful beak at his
evil eye the moment it appeared at the inner end of the tunnel. That
took the longing for young kingfisher all out of Cheokhes. He plunged
headlong down the bank, the bird swooping after him with a rattling
alarm that brought another kingfisher in a twinkling. The mink dived,
but it was useless to attempt escape in that way; the keen eyes above
followed his flight perfectly. When he came to the surface, twenty feet
away, both birds were over him and dropped like plummets on his head. So
they drove him down stream and out of sight.

Years afterward I solved the second problem suggested by the
kingfisher's den, when I had the good fortune, one day, to watch a pair
beginning their tunneling. All who have ever watched the bird have, no
doubt, noticed his wonderful ability to stop short in swift flight and
hold himself poised in midair for an indefinite time, while watching
the movements of a minnow beneath. They make use of this ability in
beginning their nest on a bank so steep as to afford no foothold.

As I watched the pair referred to, first one then the other would hover
before the point selected, as a hummingbird balances for a moment at the
door of a trumpet flower to be sure that no one is watching ere he goes
in, then drive his beak with rapid plunges into the bank, sending down a
continuous shower of clay to the river below. When tired he rested on a
watch-stub, while his mate made a battering-ram of herself and kept up
the work. In a remarkably short time they had a foothold and proceeded
to dig themselves in out of sight.

Kingfisher's tunnel is so narrow that he cannot turn around in it. His
straight, strong bill loosens the earth; his tiny feet throw it
out behind. I would see a shower of dirt, and perchance the tail of
Koskomenos for a brief instant, then a period of waiting, and another
shower. This kept up till the tunnel was bored perhaps two feet, when
they undoubtedly made a sharp turn, as is their custom. After that they
brought most of the earth out in their beaks. While one worked, the
other watched or fished at the minnow pool, so that there was steady
progress as long as I observed them.

For years I had regarded Koskomenos, as the birds and the rest of the
world regard him, as a noisy, half-diabolical creature, between bird and
lizard, whom one must pass by with suspicion. But that affair with the
mink changed my feelings a bit. Koskomenos' mate might lay her eggs like
a reptile, but she could defend them like any bird hero. So I took to
watching more carefully; which is the only way to get acquainted.

The first thing I noticed about the birds--an observation confirmed
later on many waters--was that each pair of kingfishers have their own
particular pools, over which they exercise unquestioned lordship. There
may be a dozen pairs of birds on a single stream; but, so far as I have
been able to observe, each family has a certain stretch of water on
which no other kingfishers are allowed to fish. They may pass up and
down freely, but they never stop at the minnow pools; they are caught
watching near them, they are promptly driven out by the rightful owners.

The same thing is true on the lake shores. Whether there is some secret
understanding and partition among them, or whether (which is more
likely) their right consists in discovery or first arrival, there is no
means of knowing.

A curious thing, in this connection, is that while a kingfisher will
allow none of his kind to poach on his preserves, he lives at peace with
the brood of sheldrakes that occupy the same stretch of river. And the
sheldrake eats a dozen fish to his one. The same thing is noticeable
among the sheldrakes also, namely, that each pair, or rather each mother
and her brood, have their own piece of lake or river on which no others
are allowed to fish. The male sheldrakes meanwhile are far away, fishing
on their own waters.

I had not half settled this matter of the division of trout streams when
another observation came, which was utterly unexpected. Koskomenos, half
reptile though he seem, not only recognizes riparian rights, but he is
also capable of friendship--and that, too, for a moody prowler of the
wilderness whom no one else cares anything about. Here is the proof.

I was out in my canoe alone looking for a loon's nest, one midsummer
day, when the fresh trail of a bull caribou drew me to shore. The trail
led straight from the water to a broad alder belt, beyond which, on the
hillside, I might find the big brute loafing his time away till evening
should come, and watch him to see what he would do with himself.

As I turned shoreward a kingfisher sounded his rattle and came darting
across the mouth of the bay where Hukweem the loon had hidden her two
eggs. I watched him, admiring the rippling sweep of his flight, like the
run of a cat's-paw breeze across a sleeping lake, and the clear blue
of his crest against the deeper blue of summer sky. Under him his
reflection rippled along, like the rush of a gorgeous fish through the
glassy water. Opposite my canoe he checked himself, poised an instant in
mid-air, watching the minnows that my paddle had disturbed, and dropped
bill first--plash! with a silvery tinkle in the sound, as if hidden
bells down among the green water weeds had been set to ringing by this
sprite of the air. A shower of spray caught the rainbow for a brief
instant; the ripples gathered and began to dance over the spot where
Koskomenos had gone down, when they were scattered rudely again as he
burst out among them with his fish. He swept back to the stub whence he
had come, chuckling on the way. There he whacked his fish soundly on
the wood, threw his head back, and through the glass I saw the tail of a
minnow wriggling slowly down the road that has for him no turning. Then
I took up the caribou trail.

I had gone nearly through the alders, following the course of a little
brook and stealing along without a sound, when behind me I heard the
kingfisher coming above the alders, rattling as if possessed, klrrr,
klrrr, klrrr-ik-ik-ik! On the instant there was a heavy plunge and
splash just ahead, and the swift rush of some large animal up the
hillside. Over me poised the kingfisher, looking down first at me, then
ahead at the unknown beast, till the crashing ceased in a faint rustle
far away, when he swept back to his fishing-stub, clacking and chuckling
immoderately.

I pushed cautiously ahead and came presently to a beautiful pool below
a rock, where the hillside shelved gently towards the alders. From the
numerous tracks and the look of the place, I knew instantly that I had
stumbled upon a bear's bathing pool. The water was still troubled and
muddy; huge tracks, all soppy and broken, led up the hillside in big
jumps; the moss was torn, the underbrush spattered with shining water
drops. "No room for doubt here," I thought; "Mooween was asleep in
this pool, and the kingfisher woke him up--but why? and did he do it on
purpose?"

I remembered suddenly a record in an old notebook, which reads:
"Sugarloaf Lake, 26 July.--Tried to stalk a bear this noon. No luck.
He was nosing alongshore and I had a perfect chance; but a kingfisher
scared him." I began to wonder how the rattle of a kingfisher, which is
one of the commonest sounds on wilderness waters, could scare a bear,
who knows all the sounds of the wilderness perfectly. Perhaps Koskomenos
has an alarm note and uses it for a friend in time of need, as gulls
go out of their way to alarm a flock of sleeping ducks when danger is
approaching.

Here was a new trait, a touch of the human in this unknown, clattering
suspect of the fishing streams. I resolved to watch him with keener
interest.

Somewhere above me, deep in the tangle of the summer wilderness, Mooween
stood watching his back track, eyes, ears, and nose alert to discover
what the creature was who dared frighten him out of his noonday bath.
It would be senseless to attempt to surprise him now; besides, I had
no weapon of any kind.--"To-morrow, about this time, I shall be coming
back; then look out, Mooween," I thought as I marked the place and stole
away to my canoe.

But the next day when I came to the place, creeping along the upper edge
of the alders so as to make no noise, the pool was clear and quiet, as
if nothing but the little trout that hid under the foam bubbles had ever
disturbed its peace. Koskomenos was clattering about the bay below as
usual. Spite of my precaution he had seen me enter the alders; but he
gave me no attention whatever. He went on with his fishing as if he knew
perfectly that the bear had deserted his bathing pool.

It was nearly a month before I again camped on the beautiful lake.
Summer was gone. All her warmth and more than her fragrant beauty still
lingered on forest and river; but the drowsiness had gone from the
atmosphere, and the haze had crept into it. Here and there birches and
maples flung out their gorgeous banners of autumn over the silent water.
A tingle came into the evening air; the lake's breath lay heavy and
white in the twilight stillness; birds and beasts became suddenly
changed as they entered the brief period of sport and of full feeding.

I was drifting about a reedy bay (the same bay in which the almost
forgotten kingfisher had cheated me out of my bear, after eating a
minnow that my paddle had routed out for him) shooting frogs for my
table with a pocket rifle. How different it was here, I reflected, from
the woods about home. There the game was already harried; the report of
a gun set every living creature skulking. Here the crack of my little
rifle was no more heeded than the plunge of a fish-hawk, or the groaning
of a burdened elm bough. A score of fat woodcock lay unheeding in that
bit of alder tangle yonder, the ground bored like a colander after their
night's feeding. Up on the burned hillside the partridges said, quit,
quit! when I appeared, and jumped to a tree and craned their necks
to see what I was. The black ducks skulked in the reeds. They were
full-grown now and strong of wing, but the early hiding habit was not
yet broken up by shooting. They would glide through the sedges, and
double the bogs, and crouch in a tangle till the canoe was almost upon
them, when with a rush and a frightened hark-ark! they shot into the air
and away to the river. The mink, changing from brown to black, gave up
his nest-robbing for honest hunting, undismayed by trap or deadfall;
and up in the inlet I could see grassy domes rising above the bronze and
gold of the marsh, where Musquash was building thick and high for winter
cold and spring floods. Truly it was good to be here, and to enter for a
brief hour into the shy, wild but unharried life of the wood folk.

A big bullfrog showed his head among the lily pads, and the little
rifle, unmindful of the joys of an unharried existence, rose slowly to
its place. My eye was glancing along the sights when a sudden movement
in the alders on the shore, above and beyond the unconscious head of
Chigwooltz the frog, spared him for a little season to his lily pads and
his minnow hunting. At the same moment a kingfisher went rattling by
to his old perch over the minnow pool. The alders swayed again as
if struck; a huge bear lumbered out of them to the shore, with a
disgruntled woof! at some twig that had switched his ear too sharply.

I slid lower in the canoe till only my head and shoulders were visible.
Mooween went nosing along-shore till something--a dead fish or a mussel
bed--touched his appetite, when he stopped and began feeding, scarcely
two hundred yards away. I reached first for my heavy rifle, then for
the paddle, and cautiously "fanned" the canoe towards shore till an
old stump on the point covered my approach. Then the little bark jumped
forward as if alive. But I had scarcely started when--klrrrr! klrrr!
ik-ik--ik! Over my head swept Koskomenos with a rush of wings and an
alarm cry that spoke only of haste and danger. I had a glimpse of
the bear as he shot into the alders, as if thrown by a catapult; the
kingfisher wheeled in a great rattling circle about the canoe before
he pitched upon the old stump, jerking his tail and clattering in great
excitement.

I swung noiselessly out into the lake, where I could watch the alders.
They were all still for a space of ten minutes; but Mooween was there, I
knew, sniffing and listening. Then a great snake seemed to be wriggling
through the bushes, making no sound, but showing a wavy line of
quivering tops as he went.

Down the shore a little way was a higher point, with a fallen tree that
commanded a view of half the lake. I had stood there a few days before,
while watching to determine the air paths and lines of flight that
sheldrakes use in passing up and down the lake,--for birds have runways,
or rather flyways, just as foxes do. Mooween evidently knew the spot;
the alders showed that he was heading straight for it, to look out on
the lake and see what the alarm was about. As yet he had no idea what
peril had threatened him; though, like all wild creatures, he had obeyed
the first clang of a danger note on the instant. Not a creature in the
woods, from Mooween down to Tookhees the wood mouse, but has learned
from experience that, in matters of this kind, it is well to jump to
cover first and investigate afterwards.

I paddled swiftly to the point, landed and crept to a rock from which I
could just see the fallen tree. Mooween was coming. "My bear this time,"
I thought, as a twig snapped faintly. Then Koskomenos swept into the
woods, hovering over the brush near the butt of the old tree, looking
down and rattling--klrrrik, clear out! klrrr-ik, clear out! There was a
heavy rush, such as a bear always makes when alarmed; Koskomenos swept
back to his perch; and I sought the shore, half inclined to make my next
hunting more even-chanced by disposing of one meddlesome factor. "You
wretched, noisy, clattering meddler!" I muttered, the front sight of my
rifle resting fair on the blue back of Koskomenos, "that is the third
time you have spoiled my shot, and you won't have another chance.--But
wait; who is the meddler here?"

Slowly the bent finger relaxed on the trigger. A loon went floating by
the point, all unconscious of danger, with a rippling wake that sent
silver reflections glinting across the lake's deep blue. Far overhead
soared an eagle, breeze-borne in wide circles, looking down on his
own wide domain, unheeding the man's intrusion. Nearer, a red squirrel
barked down his resentment from a giant spruce trunk. Down on my left
a heavy splash and a wild, free tumult of quacking told where the black
ducks were coming in, as they had done, undisturbed, for generations.
Behind me a long roll echoed through the woods--some young cock
partridge, whom the warm sun had beguiled into drumming his spring
love-call. From the mountain side a cow moose rolled back a startling
answer. Close at hand, yet seeming miles away, a chipmunk was chunking
sleepily in the sunshine, while a nest of young wood mice were calling
their mother in the grass at my feet. And every wild sound did but
deepen the vast, wondrous silence of the wilderness.

"After all, what place has the roar of a rifle or the smell of
sulphurous powder in the midst of all this blessed peace?" I asked half
sadly. As if in answer, the kingfisher dropped with his musical plash,
and swept back with exultant rattle to his watchtower.--"Go on with your
clatter and your fishing. The wilderness and the solitary place shall
still be glad, for you and Mooween, and the trout pools would be lonely
without you. But I wish you knew that your life lay a moment ago in the
bend of my finger, and that some one, besides the bear, appreciates your
brave warning."

Then I went back to the point to measure the tracks, and to estimate how
big the bear was, and to console myself with the thought of how I would
certainly have had him, if something had not interfered--which is the
philosophy of all hunters since Esau.

It was a few days later that the chance came of repaying Koskomenos with
coals of fire. The lake surface was still warm; no storms nor frosts had
cooled it. The big trout had risen from the deep places, but were not
yet quickened enough to take my flies; so, trout hungry, I had gone
trolling for them with a minnow. I had taken two good fish, and was
moving slowly by the mouth of the bay, Simmo at the paddle, when a
suspicious movement on the shore attracted my attention. I passed the
line to Simmo, the better to use my glasses, and was scanning the alders
sharply, when a cry of wonder came from the Indian. "O bah cosh, see!
das second time I catchum, Koskomenos." And there, twenty feet above
the lake, a young kingfisher--one of Koskomenos' frowzy-headed,
wild-eyed-youngsters--was whirling wildly at the end of my line. He had
seen the minnow trailing a hundred feet astern and, with more hunger
than discretion, had swooped for it promptly. Simmo, feeling the tug but
seeing nothing behind him, had struck promptly, and the hook went home.

I seized the line and began to pull in gently. The young kingfisher came
most unwillingly, with a continuous clatter of protest that speedily
brought Koskomenos and his mate, and two or three of the captive's
brethren, in a wild, clamoring about the canoe. They showed no lack of
courage, but swooped again and again at the line, and even at the
man who held it. In a moment I had the youngster in my hand, and had
disengaged the hook. He was not hurt at all, but terribly frightened; so
I held him a little while, enjoying the excitement of the others, whom
the captive's alarm rattle kept circling wildly about the canoe. It was
noteworthy that not another bird heeded the cry or came near. Even in
distress they refused to recognize the outcast. Then, as Koskomenos
hovered on quivering wings just over my head, I tossed the captive close
up beside him. "There, Koskomenos, take your young chuckle-head, and
teach him better wisdom. Next time you see me stalking a bear, please go
on with your fishing."

But there was no note of gratitude in the noisy babel that swept up the
bay after the kingfishers. When I saw them again, they were sitting on
a dead branch, five of them in a row, chuckling and clattering all at
once, unmindful of the minnows that played beneath them. I have no doubt
that, in their own way, they were telling each other all about it.



MEEKO THE MISCHIEF-MAKER

There is a curious Indian legend about Meeko the red squirrel--the
Mischief-Maker, as the Milicetes call him--which is also an excellent
commentary upon his character. Simmo told it to me, one day, when we had
caught Meeko coming out of a woodpecker's hole with the last of a brood
of fledgelings in his mouth, chuckling to himself over his hunting.

Long ago, in the days when Clote Scarpe ruled the animals, Meeko was
much larger than he is now, large as Mooween the bear. But his temper
was so fierce, and his disposition so altogether bad that all the wood
folk were threatened with destruction. Meeko killed right and left with
the temper of a weasel, who kills from pure lust of blood. So Clote
Scarpe, to save the little woods-people, made Meeko smaller--small as
he is now. Unfortunately, Clote Scarpe forgot Meeko's disposition; that
remained as big and as bad as before. So now Meeko goes about the woods
with a small body and a big temper, barking, scolding, quarreling and,
since he cannot destroy in his rage as before, setting other animals by
the ears to destroy each other.

When you have listened to Meeko's scolding for a season, and have seen
him going from nest to nest after innocent fledgelings; or creeping
into the den of his big cousin, the beautiful gray squirrel, to kill
the young; or driving away his little cousin, the chipmunk, to steal his
hoarded nuts; or watching every fight that goes on in the woods, jeering
and chuckling above it,--then you begin to understand the Indian legend.

Spite of his evil ways, however, he is interesting and always
unexpected. When you have watched the red squirrel that lives near your
camp all summer, and think you know all about him, he does the queerest
thing, good or bad, to upset all your theories and even the Indian
legends about him.

I remember one that greeted me, the first living thing in the great
woods, as I ran my canoe ashore on a wilderness river. Meeko heard me
coming. His bark sounded loudly, in a big spruce, above the dip of the
paddles. As we turned shoreward, he ran down the tree in which he was,
and out on a fallen log to meet us. I grasped a branch of the old log
to steady the canoe and watched him curiously. He had never seen a
man before; he barked, jeered, scolded, jerked his tail, whistled, did
everything within his power to make me show my teeth and my disposition.

Suddenly he grew excited--and when Meeko grows excited the woods are not
big enough to hold him. He came nearer and nearer to my canoe till
he leaped upon the gunwale and sat there chattering, as if he were
Adjidaumo come back again and I were Hiawatha. All the while he had
poured out a torrent of squirrel talk, but now his note changed; jeering
and scolding and curiosity went out of it; something else crept in.
I began to feel, somehow, that he was trying to make me understand
something, and found me very stupid about it.

I began to talk quietly, calling him a rattle-head and a disturber
of the peace. At the first sound of my voice he listened with intense
curiosity, then leaped to the log, ran the length of it, jumped down and
began to dig furiously among the moss and dead leaves. Every moment or
two he would stop, and jump to the log to see if I were watching him.

Presently he ran to my canoe, sprang upon the gunwale, jumped back
again, and ran along the log as before to where he had been digging. He
did it again, looking back at me and saying plainly: "Come here; come
and look." I stepped out of the canoe to the old log, whereupon Meeko
went off into a fit of terrible excitement.--I was bigger than he
expected; I had only two legs; kut-e-k'chuck, kut-e-k'chuck! whit, whit,
whit, kut-e-k'chuck!

I stood where I was until he got over his excitement. Then he came
towards me, and led me along the log, with much chuckling and jabbering,
to the hole in the leaves where he had been digging. When I bent over
it he sprang to a spruce trunk, on a level with my head, fairly bursting
with excitement, but watching me with intensest interest. In the hole
I found a small lizard, one of the rare kind that lives under logs and
loves the dusk. He had been bitten through the back and disabled. He
could still use legs, tail and head feebly, but could not run away.
When I picked him up and held him in my hand, Meeko came closer with
loud-voiced curiosity, longing to leap to my hand and claim his own, but
held back by fear.--"What is it? He's mine; I found him. What is it?" he
barked, jumping about as if bewitched. Two curiosities, the lizard
and the man, were almost too much for him. I never saw a squirrel more
excited. He had evidently found the lizard by accident, bit him to keep
him still, and then, astonished by the rare find, hid him away where he
could dig him out and watch him at leisure.

I put the lizard back into the hole and covered him with leaves; then
went to unloading my canoe. Meeko watched me closely. And the moment I
was gone he dug away the leaves, took his treasure out, watched it with
wide bright eyes, bit it once more to keep it still, and covered it up
again carefully. Then he came chuckling along to where I was putting up
my tent.

In a week he owned the camp, coming and going at his own will, stealing
my provisions when I forgot to feed him, and scolding me roundly at
every irregular occurrence. He was an early riser and insisted on my
conforming to the custom. Every morning he would leap at daylight from
a fir tip to my ridgepole, run it along to the front and sit there,
barking and whistling, until I put my head out of my door, or until
Simmo came along with his axe. Of Simmo and his axe Meeko had a mortal
dread, which I could not understand till one day when I paddled silently
back to camp and, instead of coming up the path, sat idly in my canoe
watching the Indian, who had broken his one pipe and now sat making
another out of a chunk of black alder and a length of nanny bush. Simmo
was as interesting to watch, in his way, as any of the wood folk.

Presently Meeko came down, chattering his curiosity at seeing the Indian
so still and so occupied. A red squirrel is always unhappy unless he
knows all about everything. He watched from the nearest tree for a
while, but could not make up his mind what was doing. Then he came down
on the ground and advanced a foot at a time, jumping up continually but
coming down in the same spot, barking to make Simmo turn his head and
show his hand. Simmo watched out of the corner of his eye until Meeko
was near a solitary tree which stood in the middle of the camp ground,
when he jumped up suddenly and rushed at the squirrel, who sprang to the
tree and ran to a branch out of reach, snickering and jeering.

Simmo took his axe deliberately and swung it mightily at the foot of
the tree, as if to chop it down; only he hit the trunk with the head,
not the blade of his weapon. At the first blow, which made his toes
tingle, Meeko stopped jeering and ran higher. Simmo swung again and
Meeko went up another notch. So it went on, Simmo looking up intently
to see the effect and Meeko running higher after each blow, until the
tiptop was reached. Then Simmo gave a mighty whack; the squirrel leaped
far out and came to the ground, sixty feet below; picked himself up,
none the worse for his leap, and rushed scolding away to his nest. Then
Simmo said umpfh! like a bear, and went back to his pipemaking. He had
not smiled nor relaxed the intent expression of his face during the
whole little comedy.

I found out afterwards that making Meeko jump from a tree top is one of
the few diversions of Indian children. I tried it myself many times
with many squirrels, and found to my astonishment that a jump from any
height, however great, is no concern to a squirrel, red or gray. They
have a way of flattening the body and bushy tail against the air, which
breaks their fall. Their bodies, and especially their bushy tails, have
a curious tremulous motion, like the quiver of wings, as they come down.
The flying squirrel's sailing down from a tree top to another tree,
fifty feet away, is but an exaggeration, due to the membrane connecting
the fore and hind legs, of what all squirrels practice continually. I
have seen a red squirrel land lightly after jumping from an enormous
height, and run away as if nothing unusual had happened. But though I
have watched them often, I have never seen a squirrel do this except
when compelled to do so. When chased by a weasel or a marten, or when
the axe beats against the trunk below--either because the vibration
hurts their feet, or else they fear the tree is being cut down--they
use the strange gift to save their lives. But I fancy it is a breathless
experience, and they never try it for fun, though I have seen them do
all sorts of risky stumps in leaping from branch to branch.

It is a curious fact that, though a squirrel leaps from a great height
without hesitation, it is practically impossible to make him take a jump
of a few feet to the ground. Probably the upward rush of air, caused by
falling a long distance, is necessary to flatten the body enough to make
him land lightly.


It would be interesting to know whether the raccoon also, a large,
heavy animal, has the same way of breaking his fall when he jumps from a
height. One bright moonlight night, when I ran ahead of the dogs, I saw
a big coon leap from a tree to the ground, a distance of some thirty
or forty feet. The dogs had treed him in an evergreen, and he left them
howling below while he stole silently from branch to branch until a good
distance away, when to save time he leaped to the ground. He struck with
a heavy thump, but ran on uninjured as swiftly as before, and gave the
dogs a long run before they treed him again.

The sole of a coon's foot is padded thick with fat and gristle, so that
it must feel like landing on springs when he jumps; but I suspect that
he also knows the squirrel trick of flattening his body and tail against
the air so as to fall lightly.

The chipmunk seems to be the only one of the squirrel family in whom
this gift is wanting. Possibly he has it also, if the need ever comes.
I fancy, however, that he would fare badly if compelled to jump from a
spruce top, for his body is heavy and his tail small from long living
on the ground; all of which seems to indicate that the tree-squirrel's
bushy tail is given him, not for ornament, but to aid his passage
from branch to branch, and to break his fall when he comes down from a
height.

By way of contrast with Meeko, you may try a curious trick on the
chipmunk. It is not easy to get him into a tree; he prefers a log or an
old wall when frightened; and he is seldom more than two or three jumps
from his den. But watch him as he goes from his garner to the grove
where the acorns are, or to the field where his winter corn is ripening.
Put yourself near his path (he always follows the same one to and fro)
where there is no refuge close at hand. Then, as he comes along, rush at
him suddenly and he will take to the nearest tree in his alarm. When
he recovers from his fright--which is soon over; for he is the most
trustful of squirrels and looks down at you with interest, never
questioning your motives--take a stick and begin to tap the tree softly.
The more slow and rhythmical your tattoo the sooner he is charmed.
Presently he comes down closer and closer, his eyes filled with strange
wonder. More than once I have had a chipmunk come to my hand and rest
upon it, looking everywhere for the queer sound that brought him
down, forgetting fright and cornfield and coming winter in his bright
curiosity.

Meeko is a bird of another color. He never trusts you nor anybody else
fully, and his curiosity is generally of the vulgar, selfish kind. When
the autumn woods are busy places, and wings flutter and little feet go
pattering everywhere after winter supplies, he also begins garnering,
remembering the hungry days of last winter. But he is always more
curious to see what others are doing than to fill his own bins. He
seldom trusts to one storehouse--he is too suspicious for that--but
hides his things in twenty different places; some shagbarks in the old
wall, a handful of acorns in a hollow tree, an ear of corn under the
eaves of the old barn, a pint of chestnuts scattered about in the trees,
some in crevices in the bark, some in a pine crotch covered carefully
with needles, and one or two stuck firmly into the splinters of every
broken branch that is not too conspicuous. But he never gathers much
at a time. The moment he sees anybody else gathering he forgets his own
work and goes spying to see where others are hiding their store. The
little chipmunk, who knows his thieving and his devices, always makes
one turn, at least, in the tunnel to his den too small for Meeko to
follow.

He sees a blue jay flitting through the woods, and knows by his unusual
silence that he is hiding things. Meeko follows after him, stopping all
his jabber and stealing from tree to tree, watching patiently, for hours
it need be, until he knows that Deedeeaskh is gathering corn from a
certain field. Then he watches the line of flight, like a bee hunter,
and sees Deedeeaskh disappear twice by an oak on the wood's edge, a
hundred yards away. Meeko rushes away at a headlong pace and hides
himself in the oak. There he traces the jay's line of flight a little
farther into the woods; sees the unconscious thief disappear by an old
pine. Meeko hides in the pine, and so traces the jay straight to one of
his storehouses.

Sometimes Meeko is so elated over the discovery that, with all the
fields laden with food, he cannot wait for winter. When the jay goes
away Meeko falls to eating or to carrying away his store. More often he
marks the spot and goes away silently. When he is hungry he will carry
off Deedeeaskh's corn before touching his own.

Once I saw the tables turned in a most interesting fashion. Deedeeaskh
is as big a thief in his way as is Meeko, and also as vile a
nest-robber. The red squirrel had found a hoard of chestnuts--small
fruit, but sweet and good--and was hiding it away. Part of it he stored
in a hollow under the stub of a broken branch, twenty feet from the
ground, so near the source of supply that no one would ever think of
looking for it there. I was hidden away in a thicket when I discovered
him at his work quite by accident. He seldom came twice to the same
spot, but went off to his other storehouses in succession. After an
unusually long absence, when I was expecting him every moment, a blue
jay came stealing into the tree, spying and sneaking about, as if a
nest of fresh thrush's eggs were somewhere near. He smelled a mouse
evidently, for after a moment's spying he hid himself away in the tree
top, close up against the trunk. Presently Meeko came back, with his
face bulging as if he had toothache, uncovered his store, emptied in
the half dozen chestnuts from his cheek pockets and covered them all up
again.

The moment he was gone the blue jay went straight to the spot, seized a
mouthful of nuts and flew swiftly away. He made three trips before
the squirrel came back. Meeko in his hurry never noticed the loss, but
emptied his pockets and was off to the chestnut tree again. When he
returned, the jay in his eagerness had disturbed the leaves which
covered the hidden store. Meeko noticed it and was all suspicion in an
instant. He whipped off the covering and stood staring down intently
into the garner, evidently trying to compute the number he had brought
and the number that were there. Then a terrible scolding began, a
scolding that was broken short off when a distant screaming of jays came
floating through the woods. Meeko covered his store hurriedly, ran along
a limb and leaped to the next tree, where he hid in a knot hole, just
his eyes visible, watching his garner keenly out of the darkness.

Meeko, has no patience. Three or four times he showed himself nervously.
Fortunately for me, the jay had found some excitement to keep his
rattle-brain busy for a moment. A flash of blue, and he came stealing
back, just as Meeko had settled himself for more watching. After much
pecking and listening the jay flew down to the storehouse, and Meeko,
unable to contain himself a moment longer at sight of the thief, jumped
out of his hiding and came rushing along the limb, hurling threats and
vituperation ahead of him. The jay fluttered off, screaming derision.
Meeko followed, hurling more abuse, but soon gave up the chase and
came back to his chestnuts. It was curious to watch him there, sitting
motionless and intent, his nose close down to his treasure, trying to
compute his loss. Then he stuffed his cheeks full and began carrying his
hoard off to another hiding place.

The autumn woods are full of such little comedies. Jays, crows, and
squirrels are all hiding away winter's supplies, and no matter how great
the abundance, not one of them can resist the temptation to steal or to
break into another's garner.

Meeko is a poor provider; he would much rather live on buds and bark
and apple seeds and fir cones, and what he can steal from others in the
winter, than bother himself with laying up supplies of his own. When the
spring comes he goes a-hunting, and is for a season the most villainous
of nest-robbers. Every bird in the woods then hates him, takes a jab at
him, and cries thief, thief! wherever he goes.

On a trout brook once I had a curious sense of comradeship with Meeko.
It was in the early spring, when all the wild things make holiday, and
man goes a-fishing. Near the brook a red squirrel had tapped a maple
tree with his teeth and was tasting the sweet sap as it came up
scantily. Seeing him and remembering my own boyhood, I cut a little
hollow into the bark of a black birch tree and, when it brimmed full,
drank the sap with immense satisfaction. Meeko stopped his own drinking
to watch, then to scold and denounce me roundly.

While my cup was filling again I went down to the brook and took a wary
old trout from his den under the end of a log, where the foam bubbles
were dancing merrily. When I went back, thirsting for another sweet
draught from the same spring, Meeko had emptied it to the last drop and
had his nose down in the bottom of my cup, catching the sap as it welled
up with an abundance that must have surprised him. When I went away
quietly he followed me through the wood to the pool at the edge of the
meadow, to see what I would do next.

Wherever you go in the wilderness you find Meeko ahead of you, and all
the best camping grounds preempted by him. Even on the islands he seems
to own the prettiest spots, and disputes mightily your right to stay
there; though he is generally glad enough of your company to share his
loneliness, and shows it plainly.

Once I found one living all by himself on an island in the middle of a
wilderness lake, with no company whatever except a family of mink, who
are his enemies. He had probably crossed on the ice in the late spring,
and while he was busy here and there with his explorations the ice broke
up, cutting off his retreat to the mainland, which was too far away for
his swimming. So he was a prisoner for the long summer, and welcomed me
gladly to share his exile. He was the only red squirrel I ever met that
never scolded me roundly at least once a day. His loneliness had made
him quite tame. Most of the time he lived within sight of my tent door.
Not even Simmo's axe, though it made him jump twice from the top of a
spruce, could keep him long away. He had twenty ways of getting up an
excitement, and whenever he barked out in the woods I knew that it was
simply to call me to see his discovery,--a new nest, a loon that swam up
close, a thieving muskrat, a hawk that rested on a dead stub, the mink
family eating my fish heads,--and when I stole out to see what it was,
he would run ahead, barking and chuckling at having some one to share
his interests with him.

In such places squirrels use the ice for occasional journeys to the
mainland. Sometimes also, when the waters are calm, they swim over.
Hunters have told me that when the breeze is fair they make use of a
floating bit of wood, sitting tip straight with tail curled over
their backs, making a sail of their bodies--just as an Indian, with no
knowledge of sailing whatever, puts a spruce bush in a bow of his canoe
and lets the wind do his work for him.

That would be the sight of a lifetime, to see Meeko sailing his boat;
but I have no doubt whatever that it is true. The only red squirrel
that I ever saw in the water fell in by accident. He swam rapidly to
a floating board, shook himself, sat up with his tail raised along his
back, and began to dry himself. After a little he saw that the
slight breeze was setting him farther from shore. He began to chatter
excitedly, and changed his position two or three times, evidently trying
to catch the wind right. Finding that it was of no use, he plunged in
again and swam easily to land.

That he lives and thrives in the wilderness, spite of enemies and hunger
and winter cold, is a tribute to his wits. He never hibernates, except
in severe storms, when for a few days he lies close in his den. Hawks
and owls and weasels and martens hunt him continually; yet he more than
holds his own in the big woods, which would lose some of their charm if
their vast silences were not sometimes broken by his petty scoldings.

As with most wild creatures, the squirrels that live in touch with
civilization are much keener witted than their wilderness brethren.
The most interesting one I ever knew lived in the trees just outside my
dormitory window, in a New England college town. He was the patriarch of
a large family, and the greatest thief and rascal among them. I speak
of the family, but, so far as I could see, there was very little family
life. Each one shifted for himself the moment he was big enough, and
stole from all the others indiscriminately.

It was while watching these squirrels that I discovered first that they
have regular paths among the trees, as well defined as our own highways.
Not only has each squirrel his own private paths and ways, but all the
squirrels follow certain courses along the branches in going from one
tree to another. Even the strange squirrels, which ventured at times
into the grove, followed these highways as if they had been used to them
all their lives.

On a recent visit to the old dormitory I watched the squirrels for a
while, and found that they used exactly the same paths,--up the trunk of
a big oak to a certain boss, along a branch to a certain crook, a jump
to a linden twig and so on, making use of one of the highways that I
had watched them following ten years before. Yet this course was not
the shortest between two points, and there were a hundred other branches
that they might have used.

I had the good fortune one morning to see Meeko, the patriarch, make a
new path for himself that none of the others ever followed so long as
I was in the dormitory. He had a home den over a hallway, and a hiding
place for acorns in a hollow linden. Between the two was a driveway; but
though the branches arched over it from either side, the jump was too
great for him to take. A hundred times I saw him run out on the farthest
oak twig and look across longingly at the maple that swayed on the other
side. It was perhaps three feet away, with no branches beneath to seize
and break his fall in case he missed his spring, altogether too much for
a red squirrel to attempt. He would rush out as if determined to try it,
time after time, but always his courage failed him; he had to go down
the oak trunk and cross the driveway on the ground, where numberless
straying dogs were always ready to chase him.

One morning I saw him run twice in succession at the jump, only to turn
back. But the air was keen and bracing, and he felt its inspiration. He
drew farther back, then came rushing along the oak branch and, before he
had time to be afraid, hurled himself across the chasm. He landed fairly
on the maple twig, with several inches to spare, and hung there with
claws and teeth, swaying up and down gloriously. Then, chattering his
delight at himself, he ran down the maple, back across the driveway, and
tried the jump three times in succession to be sure he could do it.

After that he sprang across frequently. But I noticed that whenever the
branches were wet with rain or sleet he never attempted it; and he never
tried the return jump, which was uphill, and which he seemed to know by
instinct was too much to attempt.

When I began feeding him, in the cold winter days, he showed me many
curious bits of his life. First I put some nuts near the top of an old
well, among the stones of which he used to hide things in the autumn.
Long after he had eaten all his store he used to come and search the
crannies among the stones to see if perchance he had overlooked any
trifles. When he found a handful of shagbarks, one morning, in a hole
only a foot below the surface, his astonishment knew no bounds. His
first thought was that he had forgotten them all these hungry days, and
he promptly ate the biggest of the store within sight, a thing I never
saw a squirrel do before. His second thought--I could see it in his
changed attitude, his sudden creepings and hidings--was that some
other squirrel had hidden them there since his last visit. Whereupon he
carried them all off and hid them in a broken linden branch.

Then I tossed him peanuts, throwing them first far away, then nearer and
nearer till he would come to my window-sill. And when I woke one morning
he was sitting there looking in at the window, waiting for me to get up
and bring his breakfast.

In a week he had showed me all his hiding places. The most interesting
of these was over a roofed piazza in a building near by. He had gnawed a
hole under the eaves, where it would not be noticed, and lived there in
solitary grandeur during stormy days in a den four by eight feet, and
rain-proof. In one corner was a bushel of corncobs, some of them two
or three years old, which he had stolen from a cornfield near by in the
early autumn mornings. With characteristic improvidence he had fallen
to eating the corn while yet there was plenty more to be gathered. In
consequence he was hungry before February was half over, and living by
his wits, like his brother of the wilderness.

The other squirrels soon noticed his journeys to my window, and
presently they too came for their share. Spite of his fury in driving
them away, they managed in twenty ways to circumvent him. It was most
interesting, while he sat on my window-sill eating peanuts, to see the
nose and eyes of another squirrel peering over the crotch of the nearest
tree, watching the proceedings from his hiding place. Then I would give
Meeko five or six peanuts at once. Instantly the old hiding instinct
would come back; he would start away, taking as much of his store as
he could carry with him. The moment he was gone, out would come a
squirrel--sometimes two or three from their concealment--and carry off
all the peanuts that remained.

Meeko's wrath when he returned was most comical. The Indian legend
is true as gospel to squirrel nature. If he returned unexpectedly and
caught one of the intruders, there was always a furious chase and a
deal of scolding and squirrel jabber before peace was restored and the
peanuts eaten.

Once, when he had hidden a dozen or more nuts in the broken linden
branch, a very small squirrel came prowling along and discovered
the store. In an instant he was all alertness, peeking, listening,
exploring, till quite sure that the coast was clear, when he rushed away
headlong with a mouthful.

He did not return that day; but the next morning early I saw him do the
same thing. An hour later Meeko appeared and, finding nothing on the
window-sill, went to the linden. Half his store of yesterday was gone.
Curiously enough, he did not suspect at first that they were stolen.
Meeko is always quite sure that nobody knows his secrets. He searched
the tree over, went to his other hiding places, came back, counted his
peanuts, then searched the ground beneath, thinking, no doubt, the wind
must have blown them out--all this before he had tasted a peanut of
those that remained.

Slowly it dawned upon him that he had been robbed and there was an
outburst of wrath. But instead of carrying what were left to another
place, he left them where they were, still without eating, and hid
himself near by to watch. I neglected a lecture in philosophy to see the
proceedings, but nothing happened. Meeko's patience soon gave out, or
else he grew hungry, for he ate two or three of his scanty supply of
peanuts, scolding and threatening to himself. But he left the rest
carefully where they were.

Two or three times that day I saw him sneaking about, keeping a sharp
eye on the linden; but the little thief was watching too, and kept out
of the way.

Early next morning a great hubbub rose outside my window, and I jumped
up to see what was going on. Little Thief had come back, and Big Thief
caught him in the act of robbery. Away they went pell-mell, jabbering
like a flock of blackbirds, along a linden branch, through two maples,
across a driveway, and up a big elm where Little Thief whisked out of
sight into a knot hole.

After him came Big Thief, swearing vengeance. But the knot hole was too
small; he couldn't get in. Twist and turn and push and threaten as he
would, he could not get in; and Little Thief sat just inside jeering
maliciously.

Meeko gave it up after a while and went off, nursing his wrath. But ten
feet from the tree a thought struck him. He rushed away out of sight,
making a great noise, then came back quietly and hid under an eave where
he could watch the knot hole.

Presently Little Thief came out, rubbed his eyes, and looked all about.
Through my glass I could see Meeko blinking and twitching under the dark
eave, trying to control his anger. Little Thief ventured to a branch a
few feet away from his refuge, and Big Thief, unable to hold himself a
moment longer, rushed out, firing a volley of direful threats ahead of
him. In a flash Little Thief was back in his knot hole and the comedy
began all over again.

I never saw how it ended; but for a day or two there was an unusual
amount of chasing and scolding going on outside my windows.

It was this same big squirrel that first showed me a curious trick
of biding. Whenever he found a handful of nuts on my windowsill and
suspected that other squirrels were watching to share the bounty, he had
a way of hiding them all very rapidly. He would never carry them direct
to his various garners; first, because these were too far away, and the
other squirrels would steal while he was gone; second, because, with
hungry eyes watching somewhere, they might follow and find out where he
habitually kept things. So he used to bide them all on the ground, under
the leaves in autumn, under snow in winter, and all within sight of the
window-sill, where he could watch the store as he hurried to and fro.
Then, at his leisure, he would dig them up and carry them off to his
den, two cheekfuls at a time.

Each nut was hidden by itself; never so much as two in one spot. For
a long time it puzzled me to know how he remembered so many places. I
noticed first that he would always start from a certain point, a tree or
a stone, with his burden. When it was hidden he would come back by the
shortest route to the windowsill; but with his new mouthful he would
always go first to the tree or stone he had selected, and from there
search out a new hiding place.

It was many days before I noticed that, starting from one fixed point,
he generally worked toward another tree or stone in the distance. Then
his secret was out; he hid things in a line. Next day he would come
back, start from his fixed point and move slowly towards the distant one
till his nose told him he was over a peanut, which he dug up and ate or
carried away to his den. But he always seemed to distrust himself; for
on hungry days he would go over two or three of his old lines in the
hope of finding a mouthful that he had overlooked.

This method was used only when he had a large supply to dispose of
hurriedly, and not always then. Meeko is a careless fellow and
soon forgets. When I gave him only a few to dispose of, he hid them
helter-skelter among the leaves, forgetting some of them afterwards
and enjoying the rare delight of stumbling upon them when he was
hungriest--much like a child whom I saw once giving himself a sensation.
He would throw his penny on the ground, go round the house, and saunter
back with his hands in his pockets till he saw the penny, which he
pounced upon with almost the joy of treasure-trove in the highway.

Meeko made a sad end--a fate which he deserved well enough, but which I
had to pity, spite of myself. When the spring came on, he went back to
evil ways. Sap was sweet and buds were luscious with the first swelling
of tender leaves; spring rains had washed out plenty of acorns in the
crannies under the big oak, and there were fresh-roasted peanuts still
at the corner window-sill within easy jump of a linden twig; but he took
to watching the robins to see where they nested, and when the young were
hatched he came no more to my window. Twice I saw him with fledgelings
in his mouth; and I drove him day after day from a late clutch of
robin's eggs that I could watch from my study.

He had warnings enough. Once some students, who had been friendly all
winter, stoned him out of a tree where he was nestrobbing; once the
sparrows caught him in their nest under the high eaves, and knocked
him off promptly. A twig upon which he caught in falling saved his life
undoubtedly, for the sparrows were after him and he barely escaped into
a knot hole, leaving the angry horde clamoring outside. But nothing
could reform him.

One morning at daylight a great crying of robins brought me to the
window. Meeko was running along a limb, the first of the fledgelings in
his mouth. After him were five or six robins whom the parents' danger
cry had brought to the rescue. They were all excited and tremendously in
earnest. They cried thief! thief! and swooped at him like hawks. Their
cries speedily brought a score of other birds, some to watch, others to
join in the punishment.

Meeko dropped the young bird and ran for his den; but a robin dashed
recklessly in his face and knocked him fair from the tree. That and the
fall of the fledgeling excited the birds more than ever. This thieving
bird-eater was not invulnerable. A dozen rushed at him on the ground
and left the marks of their beaks on his coat before he could reach the
nearest tree.

Again he rushed for his den, but wherever he turned now angry wings
fluttered over him and beaks jabbed in his face. Raging but frightened,
he sat up to snarl wickedly. Like a flash a robin hurled himself down,
caught the squirrel just under his ear and knocked him again to the
ground.

Things began to look dark for Meeko. The birds grew bolder and angrier
every minute. When he started to climb a tree he was hurled off twice
ere he reached a crotch and drew himself down into it. He was safe there
with his back against a big limb; they could not get at him from behind.
But the angry clamor in front frightened him, and again he started for
his place of refuge. His footing was unsteady now and his head dizzy
from the blows he had received. Before he had gone half a limb's length
he was again on the ground, with a dozen birds pecking at him as they
swooped over.

With his last strength he snapped viciously at his foes and rushed to
the linden. My window was open, and he came creeping, hurrying towards
it on the branch over which he had often capered so lightly in the
winter days. Over him clamored the birds, forgetting all fear of me in
their hatred of the nestrobber.

A dozen times he was struck on the way, but at every blow he clung to
the branch with claws and teeth, then staggered on doggedly, making no
defense. His whole thought now was to reach the window-sill.

At the place where he always jumped he stopped and began to sway,
gripping the bark with his claws, trying to summon strength for the
effort. He knew it was too much, but it was his last hope. At the
instant of his spring a robin swooped in his face; another caught him
a side blow in mid-air, and he fell heavily to the stones below.--Sic
semper tyrannis! yelled the robins, scattering wildly as I ran down the
steps to save him, if it were not too late.

He died in my hands a moment later, with curious maliciousness nipping
my finger sharply at the last gasp. He was the only squirrel of the lot
who knew how to hide in a line; and never a one since his day has taken
the jump from oak to maple over the driveway.



THE OL' BEECH PA'TRIDGE

Of all the wild birds that still haunt our remaining solitudes, the
ruffed grouse--the pa'tridge of our younger days--is perhaps the
wildest, the most alert, the most suggestive of the primeval wilderness
that we have lost. You enter the woods from the hillside pasture,
lounging a moment on the old gray fence to note the play of light and
shadow on the birch bolls. Your eye lingers restfully on the wonderful
mixture of soft colors that no brush has ever yet imitated, the rich old
gold of autumn tapestries, the glimmering gray-green of the mouldering
stump that the fungi have painted. What a giant that tree must have
been, generations ago, in its days of strength; how puny the birches
that now grow out of its roots! You remember the great canoe birches by
the wilderness river, whiter than the little tent that nestled beneath
them, their wide bark banners waving in the wind, soft as the flutter of
owls' wings that swept among them, shadow-like, in the twilight. A vague
regret steals over you that our own wilderness is gone, and with it most
of the shy folk that loved its solitudes.

Suddenly there is a rustle in the leaves. Something stirs by the old
stump. A moment ago you thought it was only a brown root; now it runs,
hides, draws itself erect--Kwit, kwit, kwit! and with a whirring rush of
wings and a whirling eddy of dead leaves a grouse bursts up, and
darts away like a blunt arrow, flint-tipped, gray-feathered, among the
startled birch stems. As you follow softly to rout him out again, and to
thrill and be startled by his unexpected rush, something of the
Indian has come unbidden into your cautious tread. All regret for the
wilderness is vanished; you are simply glad that so much wildness still
remains to speak eloquently of the good old days.

It is this element of unconquerable wildness in the grouse, coupled with
a host of early, half-fearful impressions, that always sets my heart to
beating, as to an old tune, whenever a partridge bursts away at my feet.
I remember well a little child that used to steal away into the still
woods, which drew him by an irresistible attraction while as yet their
dim arches and quiet paths were full of mysteries and haunting terrors.
Step by step the child would advance into the shadows, cautious as a
wood mouse, timid as a rabbit. Suddenly a swift rustle and a thunderous
rush of something from the ground that first set the child's heart to
beating wildly, and then reached his heels in a fearful impulse which
sent him rushing out of the woods, tumbling headlong over the old gray
wall, and scampering halfway across the pasture before he dared halt
from the terror behind. And then, at last, another impulse which always
sent the child stealing back into the woods again, shy, alert, tense as
a watching fox, to find out what the fearful thing was that could make
such a commotion in the quiet woods.

And when he found out at last--ah, that was a discovery beside which
the panther's kittens are as nothing as I think of them. One day in the
woods, near the spot where the awful thunder used to burst away, the
child heard a cluck and a kwitkwit, and saw a beautiful bird dodging,
gliding, halting, hiding in the underbrush, watching the child's every
motion. And when he ran forward to put his cap over the bird, it burst
away, and then--whirr! whirr! whirr! a whole covey of grouse roared up
all about him. The terror of it weakened his legs so that he fell down
in the eddying leaves and covered his ears. But this time he knew what
it was at last, and in a moment he was up and running, not away, but
fast as his little legs could carry him after the last bird that he saw
hurtling away among the trees, with a birch branch that he had touched
with his wings nodding good-by behind him.

There is another association with this same bird that always gives an
added thrill to the rush of his wings through the startled woods. It was
in the old school by the cross-roads, one sleepy September afternoon. A
class in spelling, big boys and little girls, toed a crack in front of
the waster's desk. The rest of the school droned away on appointed tasks
in the drowsy interlude. The fat boy slept openly on his arms; even the
mischief-maker was quiet, thinking dreamily of summer days that were
gone. Suddenly there was a terrific crash, a clattering tinkle of broken
glass, a howl from a boy near the window. Twenty knees banged the desks
beneath as twenty boys jumped. Then, before any of us had found his
wits, Jimmy Jenkins, a red-headed boy whom no calamity could throw off
his balance and from whom no opportunity ever got away free, had jumped
over two forms and was down on the floor in the girls' aisle, gripping
something between his knees--

"I've got him," he announced, with the air of a general.

"Got what?" thundered the master.

"Got a pa'tridge; he's an old buster," said Jimmy. And he straightened
up, holding by the legs a fine cock partridge whose stiffening wings
still beat his sides spasmodically. He had been scared-up in the
neighboring woods, frightened by some hunter out of his native coverts.
When he reached the unknown open places he was more frightened still
and, as a frightened grouse always flies straight, he had driven like a
bolt through the schoolhouse window, killing himself by the impact.

Rule-of-three and cube root and the unmapped wilderness of partial
payments have left but scant impression on one of those pupils, at
least; but a bird that could wake up a drowsy schoolroom and bring out
a living lesson, full of life and interest and the subtile call of the
woods, from a drowsy teacher who studied law by night, but never his
boys by day,--that was a bird to be respected. I have studied him with
keener interest ever since.

Yet however much you study the grouse, you learn little except how wild
he is. Occasionally, when you are still in the woods and a grouse walks
up to your hiding place, you get a fair glimpse and an idea or two; but
he soon discovers you, and draws himself up straight as a string and
watches you for five minutes without stirring or even winking. Then,
outdone at his own game, he glides away. A rustle of little feet on
leaves, a faint kwit-kwit with a question in it, and he is gone. Nor
will he come back, like the fox, to watch from the other side and find
out what you are.

Civilization, in its first advances, is good to the grouse, providing
him with an abundance of food and driving away his enemies. Grouse are
always more numerous about settlements than in the wilderness. Unlike
other birds, however, he grows wilder and wilder by nearness to men's
dwellings. I suppose that is because the presence of man is so often
accompanied by the rush of a dog and the report of a gun, and perhaps by
the rip and sting of shot in his feathers as he darts away. Once, in the
wilderness, when very hungry, I caught two partridges by slipping over
their heads a string noose at the end of a pole. Here one might as well
try to catch a bat in the twilight as to hope to snare one of our upland
partridges by any such invention, or even to get near enough to meditate
the attempt.

But there was one grouse--and he the very wildest of all that I have
ever met in the woods--who showed me unwittingly many bits of his life,
and with whom I grew to be very well acquainted after a few seasons'
watching. All the hunters of the village knew him well; and a half-dozen
boys, who owned guns and were eager to join the hunters' ranks, had a
shooting acquaintance with him. He was known far and wide as "the ol'
beech pa'tridge." That he was old no one could deny who knew his ways
and his devices; and he was frequently scared-up in a beech wood by a
brook, a couple of miles out of the village.

Spite of much learned discussion as to different varieties of grouse,
due to marked variations in coloring, I think personally that we have
but one variety, and that differences in color are due largely to the
different surroundings in which they live. Of all birds the grouse is
most invisible when quiet, his coloring blends so perfectly with the
roots and leaves and tree stems among which he hides. This wonderful
invisibility is increased by the fact that he changes color easily. He
is darker in summer, lighter in winter, like the rabbit. When he lives
in dark woods he becomes a glossy red-brown; and when his haunt is among
the birches he is often a decided gray.

This was certainly true of the old beech partridge. When he spread
his tail wide and darted away among the beeches, his color blended so
perfectly with the gray tree trunks that only a keen eye could separate
him. And he knew every art of the dodger perfectly. When he rose there
was scarcely a second of time before he had put a big tree between you
and him, so as to cover his line of flight. I don't know how many times
he had been shot at on the wing. Every hunter I knew had tried it many
times; and every boy who roamed the woods in autumn had sought to pot
him on the ground. But he never lost a feather; and he would never
stand to a dog long enough for the most cunning of our craft to take his
position.

When a brood of young partridges hear a dog running in the woods, they
generally flit to the lower branches of a tree and kwit-kwit at him
curiously. They have not yet learned the difference between him and the
fox, who is the ancient enemy of their kind, and whom their ancestors of
the wilderness escaped and tantalized in the same way. But when it is an
old bird that your setter is trailing, his actions are a curious mixture
of cunning and fascination. As old Don draws to a point, the grouse
pulls himself up rigidly by a stump and watches the dog. So both stand
like statues; the dog held by the strange instinct which makes him
point, lost to sight, sound and all things else save the smell in his
nose, the grouse tense as a fiddlestring, every sense alert, watching
the enemy whom he thinks to be fooled by his good hiding. For a few
moments they are motionless; then the grouse skulks and glides to a
better cover. As the strong scent fades from Don's nose, he breaks
his point and follows. The grouse hears him and again hides by drawing
himself up against a stump, where he is invisible; again Don stiffens
into his point, one foot lifted, nose and tail in a straight line, as if
he were frozen and could not move.

So it goes on, now gliding through the coverts, now still as a stone,
till the grouse discovers that so long as he is still the dog seems
paralyzed, unable to move or feel. Then he draws himself up, braced
against a root or a tree boll; and there they stand, within twenty feet
of each other, never stirring, never winking, till the dog falls from
exhaustion at the strain, or breaks it by leaping forward, or till the
hunter's step on the leaves fills the grouse with a new terror that
sends him rushing away through the October woods to deeper solitudes.

Once, at noon, I saw Old Ben, a famous dog, draw to a perfect point.
Just ahead, in a tangle of brown brakes, I could see the head and neck
of a grouse watching the dog keenly. Old Ben's master, to test the
splendid training of his dog, proposed lunch on the spot. We withdrew a
little space and ate deliberately, watching the bird and the dog with an
interest that grew keener and keener as the meal progressed, while Old
Ben stood like a rock, and the grouse's eye shone steadily out of the
tangle of brakes. Nor did either move so much as an eyelid while we ate,
and Ben's master smoked his pipe with quiet confidence. At last, after
a full hour, he whacked his pipe on his boot heel and rose to reach for
his gun. That meant death for the grouse; but I owed him too much of
keen enjoyment to see him cut down in swift flight. In the moment that
the master's back was turned I hurled a knot at the tangle of brakes.
The grouse burst away, and Old Ben, shaken out of his trance by the
whirr of wings, dropped obediently to the charge and turned his head to
say reproachfully with his eyes: "What in the world is the matter with
you back there--didn't I hold him long enough?"

The noble old fellow was trembling like a leaf after the long strain
when I went up to him to pat his head and praise his steadiness, and
share with him the better half of my lunch. But to this day Ben's master
does not know what started the grouse so suddenly; and as he tells you
about the incident will still say regretfully: "I ought to a-started
jest a minute sooner, 'fore he got tired. Then I'd a had 'im."

The old beech partridge, however, was a bird of a different mind. No dog
ever stood him for more than a second; he had learned too well what the
thing meant. The moment he heard the patter of a dog's feet on leaves
he would run rapidly, and skulk and hide and run again, keeping dog and
hunter on the move till he found the cover he wanted,--thick trees, or
a tangle of wild grapevines,--when he would burst out on, the farther
side. And no eye, however keen, could catch more than a glimpse of a
gray tail before he was gone. Other grouse make short straight flights,
and can be followed and found again; but he always drove away on strong
wings for an incredible distance, and swerved far to right or left; so
that it was a waste of time to follow him up. Before you found him he
had rested his wings and was ready for another flight; and when you did
find him he would shoot away like an arrow out of the top of a pine tree
and give you never a glimpse of himself.

He lived most of the time on a ridge behind the 'Fales place,' an
abandoned farm on the east of the old post road. This was his middle
range, a place of dense coverts, bullbrier thickets and sunny open spots
among the ledges, where you might, with good-luck, find him on special
days at any season. But he had all the migratory instincts of a
Newfoundland caribou. In winter he moved south, with twenty other
grouse, to the foot of the ridge, which dropped away into a succession
of knolls and ravines and sunny, well-protected little valleys, where
food was plenty. Here, fifty years ago, was the farm pasture; but now it
had grown up everywhere with thickets and berry patches, and wild apple
trees of the birds' planting. All the birds loved it in their season;
quail nested on its edges; and you could kick a brown rabbit out of
almost any of its decaying brush piles or hollow moss-grown logs.

In the spring he crossed the ridge northward again, moving into the
still dark woods, where he had two or three wives with as many broods of
young partridges; all of whom, by the way, he regarded with astonishing
indifference.

Across the whole range--stealing silently out of the big woods, brawling
along the foot of the ridge and singing through the old pasture--ran
a brook that the old beech partridge seemed to love. A hundred times
I started him from its banks. You had only to follow it any November
morning before eight o'clock, and you would be sure to find him. But why
he haunted it at this particular time and season I never found out.

I used to wonder sometimes why I never saw him drink. Other birds had
their regular drinking places and bathing pools there, and I frequently
watched them from my hiding; but though I saw him many times, after I
learned his haunts, he never touched the water.

One early summer morning a possible explanation suggested itself. I was
sitting quietly by the brook, on the edge of the big woods, waiting for
a pool to grow quiet, out of which I had just taken a trout and in which
I suspected there was a larger one hiding. As I waited a mother-grouse
and her brood--one of the old beech partridge's numerous families for
whom he provided nothing--came gliding along the edge of the woods. They
had come to drink, evidently, but not from the brook. A sweeter draught
than that was waiting for their coming. The dew was still clinging to
the grass blades; here and there a drop hung from a leaf point, flashing
like a diamond in the early light. And the little partridges, cheeping,
gliding, whistling among the drooping stems, would raise their little
bills for each shining dewdrop that attracted them, and drink it down
and run with glad little pipings and gurglings to the next drop that
flashed an invitation from its bending grass blade. The old mother
walked sedately in the midst of them, now fussing over a laggard, now
clucking them all together in an eager, chirping, jumping little crowd,
each one struggling to be first in at the death of a fat slug she had
discovered on the underside of a leaf; and anon reaching herself for a
dewdrop that hung too high for their drinking. So they passed by within
a few yards, a shy, wild, happy little family, and disappeared into the
shadow of the big woods.

Perhaps that is why I never saw the old beech partridge drink from the
brook. Nature has a fresher draught, of her own distilling, that is more
to his tasting.

Earlier in the season I found another of his families near the same
spot. I was stealing along a wood road when I ran plump upon them,
scratching away at an ant hill in a sunny open spot. There was a wild
flurry, as if a whirlwind had struck the ant hill; but it was only the
wind of the mother bird's wings, whirling up the dust to blind my eyes
and to hide the scampering retreat of her downy brood. Again her wings
beat the ground, sending up a flurry of dead leaves, in the midst of
which the little partridges jumped and scurried away, so much like the
leaves that no eye could separate them. Then the leaves settled slowly
and the brood was gone, as if the ground had swallowed them up; while
Mother Grouse went fluttering along just out of my reach, trailing a
wing as if broken, falling prone on the ground, clucking and kwitting
and whirling the leaves to draw my attention and bring me away from
where the little ones were hiding.

I knelt down just within the edge of woods, whither I had seen the last
laggard of the brood vanish like a brown streak, and began to look for
them carefully. After a time I found one. He was crouched flat on a
dead oak leaf, just under my nose, his color hiding him wonderfully.
Something glistened in a tangle of dark roots. It was an eye, and
presently I could make out a little head there. That was all I could
find of the family, though a dozen more were close beside me, under the
leaves mostly. As I backed away I put my hand on another before seeing
him, and barely saved myself from hurting the little sly-boots, who
never stirred a muscle, not even when I took away the leaf that covered
him and put it back again softly.

Across the pathway was a thick scrub oak, under which I sat down to
watch. Ten long minutes passed, with nothing stirring, before Mother
Grouse came stealing back. She clucked once--"Careful!" it seemed to
say; and not a leaf stirred. She clucked again--did the ground open?
There they were, a dozen or more of them, springing up from nowhere and
scurrying with a thousand cheepings to tell her all about it. So she
gathered them all close about her, and they vanished into the friendly
shadows.

It was curious how jealously the old beech partridge watched over the
solitudes where these interesting little families roamed. Though he
seemed to care nothing about them, and was never seen near one of his
families, he suffered no other cock partridge to come into his woods,
or even to drum within hearing. In the winter he shared the southern
pasture peaceably with twenty other grouse; and on certain days you
might, by much creeping, surprise a whole company of them on a sunny
southern slope, strutting and gliding, in and out and round about, with
spread tails and drooping wings, going through all the movements of a
grouse minuet. Once, in Indian summer, I crept up to twelve or fifteen
of the splendid birds, who were going through their curious performance
in a little opening among the berry bushes; and in the midst of
them-more vain, more resplendent, strutting more proudly and clucking
more arrogantly than any other--was the old beech partridge.

But when the spring came, and the long rolling drum-calls began to throb
through the budding woods, he retired to his middle range on the ridge,
and marched from one end to the other, driving every other cock grouse
out of hearing, and drubbing him soundly if he dared resist. Then, after
a triumph, you would hear his loud drum-call rolling through the May
splendor, calling as many wives as possible to share his rich living.

He had two drumming logs on this range, as I soon discovered; and once,
while he was drumming on one log, I hid near the other and imitated
his call fairly well by beating my hands on a blown bladder that I
had buttoned under my jacket. The roll of a grouse drum is a curiously
muffled sound; it is often hard to determine the spot or even the
direction whence it comes; and it always sounds much farther away than
it really is. This may have deceived the old beech partridge at first
into thinking that he heard some other bird far away, on a ridge across
the valley where he had no concern; for presently he drummed again on
his own log. I answered it promptly, rolling back a defiance, and also
telling any hen grouse on the range that here was another candidate
willing to strut and spread his tail and lift the resplendent ruff about
his neck to win his way into her good graces, if she would but come to
his drumming log and see him.

Some suspicion that a rival had come to his range must have entered
the old beech partridge's head, for there was a long silence in which
I could fancy him standing up straight and stiff on his drumming log,
listening intently to locate the daring intruder, and holding down his
bubbling wrath with difficulty.

Without waiting for him to drum again, I beat out a challenge. The roll
had barely ceased when he came darting up the ridge, glancing like a
bolt among the thick branches, and plunged down by his own log, where
he drew himself up with marvelous suddenness to listen and watch for the
intruder.

He seemed relieved that the log was not occupied, but he was still
full of wrath and suspicion. He glided and dodged all about the place,
looking and listening; then he sprang to his log and, without waiting to
strut and spread his gorgeous feathers as usual, he rolled out the long
call, drawing himself up straight the instant it was done, turning
his head from side to side to catch the first beat of his rival's
answer--"Come out, if you dare; drum, if you dare. Oh, you coward!"
And he hopped, five or six high, excited hops, like a rooster before
a storm, to the other end of the log, and again his quick throbbing
drumcall rolled through the woods.

Though I was near enough to see him clearly without, my field glasses,
I could not even then, nor at any other time when I have watched grouse
drumming, determine just how the call is given. After a little while
the excitement of a suspected rival's presence wore away, and he grew
exultant, thinking that he had driven the rascal out of his woods. He
strutted back and forth on the log, trailing his wings, spreading wide
his beautiful tail, lifting his crest and his resplendent ruff. Suddenly
he would draw himself up; there would be a flash of his wings up and
down that no eye could follow, and I would hear a single throb of his
drum. Another flash and another throb; then faster and faster, till
he seemed to have two or three pairs of wings, whirring and running
together like the spokes of a swift-moving wheel, and the drumbeats
rolled together into a long call and died away in the woods.

Generally he stood up on his toes, as a rooster does when he flaps his
wings before crowing; rarely he crouched down close to the log; but I
doubt if he beat the wood with his wings, as is often claimed. Yet the
two logs were different; one was dry and hard, the other mouldy and
moss-grown; and the drumcalls were as different as the two logs. After a
time I could tell by the sound which log he was using at the first beat
of his wings; but that, I think, was a matter of resonance, a kind of
sounding-board effect, and not because the two sounded differently as
he beat them. The call is undoubtedly made either by striking the wings
together over his back or, as I am inclined to believe, by striking them
on the down beat against his own sides.

Once I heard a wounded bird give three or four beats of his drum-call,
and when I went into the grapevine thicket, where he had fallen, I found
him lying flat on his back, beating his sides with his wings.

Whenever he drums he first struts, because he knows not how many pairs
of bright eyes are watching him shyly out of the coverts. Once, when I
had watched him strut and drum a few times, the leaves rustled, and two
hen grouse emerged from opposite sides into the little opening where his
log was. Then he strutted with greater vanity than before, while the two
hen grouse went gliding about the place, searching for seeds apparently,
but in reality watching his every movement out of their eye corners, and
admiring him to his heart's content.

In winter I used to follow his trail through the snow to find what he
had been doing, and what he had found to eat in nature's scarce time.
His worst enemies, the man and his dog, were no longer to be feared,
being restrained by law, and he roamed the woods with greater freedom
than ever. He seemed to know that he was safe at this time, and more
than once I trailed him up to his hiding and saw him whirr away through
the open woods, sending down a shower of snow behind him, as if in that
curious way to hide his line of flight from my eyes.

There were other enemies, however, whom no law restrained, save the
universal wood-laws of fear and hunger. Often I found the trail of a fox
crossing his in the snow; and once I followed a double trail, fox over
grouse, for nearly half a mile. The fox had struck the trail late the
previous afternoon, and followed it to a bullbrier thicket, in the midst
of which was a great cedar in which the old beech partridge roosted.
The fox went twice around the tree, halting and looking up, then went
straight away to the swamp, as if he knew it was of no use to watch
longer.

Rarely, when the snow was deep, I found the place where he, or some
other grouse, went to sleep on the ground. He would plunge down from
a tree into the soft snow, driving into it headfirst for three or four
feet, then turn around and settle down in his white warm chamber for the
night. I would find the small hole where he plunged in at evening, and
near it the great hole where he burst out when the light waked him.
Taking my direction from his wing prints in the snow, I would follow to
find where he lit, and then trace him on his morning wanderings.

One would think that this might be a dangerous proceeding, sleeping
on the ground with no protection but the snow, and a score of hungry
enemies prowling about the woods; but the grouse knows well that when
the storms are out his enemies stay close at home, not being able to
see or smell, and therefore afraid each one of his own enemies. There is
always a truce in the woods during a snowstorm; and that is the reason
why a grouse goes to sleep in the snow only while the flakes are still
falling. When the storm is over and the snow has settled a bit, the fox
will be abroad again; and then the grouse sleeps in the evergreens.

Once, however, the old beech partridge miscalculated. The storm ceased
early in the evening, and hunger drove the fox out on a night when,
ordinarily, he would have stayed under cover. Sometime about daybreak,
before yet the light had penetrated to where the old beech partridge was
sleeping, the fox found a hole in the snow, which told him that just in
front of his hungry nose a grouse was hidden, all unconscious of danger.
I found the spot, trailing the fox, a few hours later. How cautious he
was! The sly trail was eloquent with hunger and anticipation. A few feet
away from the promising hole he had stopped, looking keenly over the
snow to find some suspicious roundness on the smooth surface. Ah! there
it was, just by the edge of a juniper thicket. He crouched down, stole
forward, pushing a deep trail with his body, settled himself firmly and
sprang. And there, just beside the hole his paws had made in the snow,
was another hole where the grouse had burst out, scattering snow all
over his enemy, who had miscalculated by a foot, and thundered away to
the safety and shelter of the pines.

There was another enemy, who ought to have known better, following the
old beech partridge all one early spring when snow was deep and food
scarce. One day, in crossing the partridge's southern range, I met
a small boy,--a keen little fellow, with the instincts of a fox for
hunting. He had always something interesting afoot,--minks, or muskrats,
or a skunk, or a big owl,--so I hailed him with joy.

"Hello, Johnnie! what you after to-day--bears?"

But he only shook his head--a bit sheepishly, I thought--and talked of
all things except the one that he was thinking about; and presently he
vanished down the old road. One of his jacket pockets bulged more than
the other, and I knew there was a trap in it.

Late that afternoon I crossed his trail and, having nothing more
interesting to do, followed it. It led straight to the bullbrier thicket
where the old beech partridge roosted. I had searched for it many
times in vain before the fox led me to it; but Johnnie, in some of his
prowlings, had found tracks and a feather or two under a cedar branch,
and knew just what it meant. His trap was there, in the very spot where,
the night before, the old beech partridge had stood when he jumped for
the lowest limb. Corn was scattered liberally about, and a bluejay that
had followed Johnnie was already fast in the trap, caught at the base of
his bill just under the eyes. He had sprung the trap in pecking at some
corn that was fastened cunningly to the pan by fine wire.

When I took the jay carefully from the trap he played possum, lying limp
in my hand till my grip relaxed, when he flew to a branch over my
head, squalling and upbraiding me for having anything to do with such
abominable inventions.

I hung the trap to a low limb of the cedar, with a note in its
jaws telling Johnnie to come and see me next day. He came at dusk,
shamefaced, and I read him a lecture on fair play and the difference
between a thieving mink and an honest partridge. But he chuckled over
the bluejay, and I doubted the withholding power of a mere lecture; so,
to even matters, I hinted of an otter slide I had discovered, and of
a Saturday afternoon tramp together. Twenty times, he told me, he had
tried to snare the old beech partridge. When he saw the otter slide he
forswore traps and snares for birds; and I left the place, soon after,
with good hopes for the grouse, knowing that I had spiked the guns of
his most dangerous enemy.

Years later I crossed the old pasture and went straight to the bullbrier
tangle. There were tracks of a grouse in the snow,--blunt tracks that
rested lightly on the soft whiteness, showing that Nature remembered his
necessity and had caused his new snowshoes to grow famously. I hurried
to the brook, a hundred memories thronging over me of happy days and
rare sights when the wood folk revealed their little secrets. In the
midst of them--kwit! kwit! and with a thunder of wings a grouse whirred
away, wild and gray as the rare bird that lived there years before. And
when I questioned a hunter, he said: "That ol' beech pa'tridge? Oh, yes,
he's there. He'll stay there, too, till he dies of old age; 'cause you
see, Mister, there ain't nobody in these parts spry enough to ketch
'im."



FOLLOWING THE DEER

I was camping one summer on a little lake--Deer Pond, the natives called
it--a few miles back from a quiet summer resort on the Maine coast.
Summer hotels and mackerel fishing and noisy excursions had lost their
semblance to a charm; so I made a little tent, hired a canoe, and moved
back into the woods.

It was better here. The days, were still and long, and the nights full
of peace. The air was good, for nothing but the wild creatures breathed
it, and the firs had touched it with their fragrance. The faraway surge
of the sea came up faintly till the spruces answered it, and both sounds
went gossiping over the hills together. On all sides were the woods,
which, on the north especially, stretched away over a broken country
beyond my farthest explorations.

Over against my tenting place a colony of herons had their nests in some
dark hemlocks. They were interesting as a camp of gypsies, some going
off in straggling bands to the coast at daybreak, others frogging in
the streams, and a few solitary, patient, philosophical ones joining me
daily in following the gentle art of Izaak Walton. And then, when the
sunset came and the deep red glowed just behind the hemlocks, and the
gypsy bands came home, I would see their sentinels posted here and there
among the hemlock tips--still, dark, graceful silhouettes etched in
sepia against the gorgeous after-glow--and hear the mothers croaking
their ungainly babies to sleep in the tree tops.

Down at one end of the pond a brood of young black ducks were learning
their daily lessons in hiding; at the other end a noisy kingfisher, an
honest blue heron, and a thieving mink shared the pools and watched each
other as rival fishermen. Hares by night, and squirrels by day, and
wood mice at all seasons played round my tent, or came shyly to taste
my bounty. A pair of big owls lived and hunted in a swamp hard by, who
hooted dismally before the storms came, and sometimes swept within the
circle of my fire at night. Every morning a raccoon stopped at a little
pool in the brook above my tent, to wash his food carefully ere taking
it home. So there was plenty to do and plenty to learn, and the days
passed all too swiftly.

I had been told by the village hunters that there were no deer; that
they had vanished long since, hounded and crusted and chevied out of
season, till life was not worth the living. So it was with a start of
surprise and a thrill of new interest that I came upon the tracks of
a large buck and two smaller deer on the shore one morning. I was
following them eagerly when I ran plump upon Old Wally, the cunningest
hunter and trapper in the whole region.

"Sho! Mister, what yer follerin?"

"Why, these deer tracks," I said simply.

Wally gave me a look, of great pity.

"Guess you're green--one o' them city fellers, ain't ye, Mister? Them
ere's sheep tracks--my sheep. Wandered off int' th' woods a spell ago,
and I hain't seen the tarnal critters since. Came up here lookin' for um
this mornin'."

I glanced at Wally's fish basket, and thought of the nibbled lily pads;
but I said nothing. Wally was a great hunter, albeit jealous; apt to
think of all the game in the woods as being sent by Providence to help
him get a lazy living; and I knew little about deer at that time. So I
took him to camp, fed him, and sent him away.

"Kinder keep a lookout for my sheep, will ye, Mister, down 't this end
o' the pond?" he said, pointing away from the deer tracks. "If ye see
ary one, send out word, and I'll come and fetch 'im.--Needn't foller
the tracks though; they wander like all possessed this time o' year," he
added earnestly as he went away.

That afternoon I went over to a little pond, a mile distant from my
camp, and deeper in the woods. The shore was well cut up with numerous
deer tracks, and among the lily pads everywhere were signs of recent
feeding. There was a man's track here too, which came cautiously out
from a thick point of woods, and spied about on the shore, and went
back again more cautiously than before. I took the measure of it back to
camp, and found that it corresponded perfectly with the boot tracks
of Old Wally. There were a few deer here, undoubtedly, which he was
watching jealously for his own benefit in the fall hunting.

When the next still, misty night came, it found me afloat on the lonely
little pond with a dark lantern fastened to an upright stick just in
front of me in the canoe. In the shadow of the shores all was black as
Egypt; but out in the middle the outlines of the pond could be followed
vaguely by the heavy cloud of woods against the lighter sky. The
stillness was intense; every slightest sound,--the creak of a bough or
the ripple of a passing musquash, the plunk of a water drop into the
lake or the snap of a rotten twig, broken by the weight of clinging
mist,--came to the strained ear with startling suddenness. Then, as I
waited and sifted the night sounds, a dainty plop, plop, plop! sent the
canoe gliding like a shadow toward the shore whence the sounds had come.

When the lantern opened noiselessly, sending a broad beam of gray, full
of shadows and misty lights, through the even blackness of the night,
the deer stood revealed--a beautiful creature, shrinking back into the
forest's shadow, yet ever drawn forward by the sudden wonder of the
light.

She turned her head towards me, and her eyes blazed like great colored
lights in the lantern's reflection. They fascinated me; I could see
nothing but those great glowing spots, blazing and scintillating with
a kind of intense fear and wonder out of the darkness. She turned
away, unable to endure the glory any longer; then released from the
fascination of her eyes, I saw her hurrying along the shore, a graceful
living shadow among the shadows, rubbing her head among the bushes as if
to brush away from her eyes the charm that dazzled them.

I followed a little way, watching every move, till she turned again, and
for a longer time stared steadfastly at the light. It was harder this
time to break away from its power. She came nearer two or three times,
halting between dainty steps to stare and wonder, while her eyes blazed
into mine. Then, as she faltered irresolutely, I reached forward and
closed the lantern, leaving lake and woods in deeper darkness than
before. At the sudden release I heard her plunge out of the water; but
a moment later she was moving nervously among the trees, trying to stamp
herself up to the courage point of coming back to investigate. And
when I flashed my lantern at the spot she threw aside caution and came
hurriedly down the bank again.

Later that night I heard other footsteps in the pond, and opened my
lantern upon three deer, a doe, a fawn and a large buck, feeding at
short intervals among the lily pads. The buck was wild; after one look
he plunged into the woods, whistling danger to his companions. But the
fawn heeded nothing, knew nothing for the moment save the fascination
of the wonderful glare out there in the darkness. Had I not shut off
the light, I think he would have climbed into the canoe in his intense
wonder.

I saw the little fellow again, in a curious way, a few nights later.
A wild storm was raging over the woods. Under its lash the great trees
writhed and groaned; and the "voices"--that strange phenomenon of the
forest and rapids--were calling wildly through the roar of the storm and
the rush of rain on innumerable leaves. I had gone out on the old wood
road, to lose myself for a little while in the intense darkness and
uproar, and to feel again the wild thrill of the elements. But the night
was too dark, the storm too fierce. Every few moments I would blunder
against a tree, which told me I was off the road; and to lose the road
meant to wander all night in the storm-swept woods. So I went back for
my lantern, with which I again started down the old cart path, a little
circle of wavering, jumping shadows about me, the one gray spot in the
midst of universal darkness.

I had gone but a few hundred yards when there was a rush--it was not the
wind or the rain--in a thicket on my right. Something jumped into the
circle of light. Two bright spots burned out of the darkness, then two
more; and with strange bleats a deer came close to me with her fawn. I
stood stockstill, with a thrill in my spine that was not altogether
of the elements, while the deer moved uneasily back and forth. The doe
wavered between fear and fascination; but the fawn knew no fear, or
perhaps he knew only the great fear of the uproar around him; for he
came close beside me, rested his nose an instant against the light, then
thrust his head between my arm and body, so as to shield his eyes, and
pressed close against my side, shivering with cold and fear, pleading
dumbly for my protection against the pitiless storm.

I refrained from touching the little thing, for no wild creature likes
to be handled, while his mother called in vain from the leafy darkness.
When I turned to go he followed me close, still trying to thrust his
face under my arm; and I had to close the light with a sharp click
before he bounded away down the road, where one who knew better than
I how to take care of a frightened innocent was, no doubt, waiting to
receive him.

I gave up everything else but fishing after that, and took to watching
the deer; but there was little to be learned in the summer woods. Once
I came upon the big buck lying down in a thicket. I was following his
track, trying to learn the Indian trick of sign-trailing, when he shot
up in front of me like Jack-in-a-box, and was gone before I knew what it
meant. From the impressions in the moss, I concluded that he slept with
all four feet under him, ready to shoot up at an instant's notice, with
power enough in his spring to clear any obstacle near him. And then I
thought of the way a cow gets up, first one end, then the other, rising
from the fore knees at last with puff and grunt and clacking of joints;
and I took my first lesson in wholesome respect for the creature whom I
already considered mine by right of discovery, and whose splendid head
I saw, in anticipation, adorning the hall of my house--to the utter
discomfiture of Old Wally.

At another time I crept up to an old road beyond the little deer pond,
where three deer, a mother with her fawn, and a young spike-buck, were
playing. They kept running up and down, leaping over the trees that lay
across the road with marvelous ease and grace--that is, the two larger
deer. The little fellow followed awkwardly; but he had the spring in
him, and was learning rapidly to gather himself for the rise, and lift
his hind feet at the top of his jump, and come down with all fours
together, instead of sprawling clumsily, as a horse does.

I saw the perfection of it a few days later. I was sitting before my
tent door at twilight, watching the herons, when there was a shot and a
sudden crash over on their side. In a moment the big buck plunged out of
the woods and went leaping in swift bounds along the shore, head
high, antlers back, the mighty muscles driving him up and onward as if
invisible wings were bearing him. A dozen great trees were fallen across
his path, one of which, as I afterwards measured, lay a clear eight feet
above the sand. But he never hesitated nor broke his splendid stride.
He would rush at a tree; rise light and swift till above it, where he
turned as if on a pivot, with head thrown back to the wind, actually
resting an instant in air at the very top of his jump; then shoot
downward, not falling but driven still by the impulse of his great
muscles. When he struck, all four feet were close together; and almost
quicker than the eye could follow he was in the air again, sweeping
along the water's edge, or rising like a bird over the next obstacle.

Just below me was a stream, with muddy shores on both sides. I looked to
see if he would stog himself there or turn aside; but he knew the place
better than I, and that just under the soft mud the sand lay firm and,
sure. He struck the muddy place only twice, once on either side
the fifteen-foot stream, sending out a light shower of mud in all
directions; then, because the banks on my side were steep, he leaped for
the cover of the woods and was gone.

I thought I had seen the last of him, when I heard him coming, bump!
bump! bump! the swift blows of his hoofs sounding all together on the
forest floor. So he flashed by, between me and my tent door, barely
swerved aside for my fire, and gave me another beautiful run down the
old road, rising and falling light as thistle-down, with the old trees
arching over him and brushing his antlers as he rocketed along.

The last branch had hardly swished behind him when, across the pond,
the underbrush parted cautiously and Old Wally appeared, trailing a long
gun. He had followed scarcely a dozen of the buck's jumps when he looked
back and saw me watching him from beside a great maple.

"Just a-follerin one o' my tarnal sheep. Strayed off day 'fore
yesterday. Hain't seen 'im, hev ye?" he bawled across.

"Just went along; ten or twelve points on his horns. And say, Wally--"

The old sinner, who was glancing about furtively to see if the white
sand showed any blood stains,--looked up quickly at the changed tone.

"You let those sheep of yours alone till the first of October; then I'll
help you round 'em up. Just now they're worth forty dollars apiece
to the state. I'll see that the warden collects it, too, if you shoot
another."

"Sho! Mister, I ain't a-shootin' no deer. Hain't seen a deer round here
in ten year or more. I just took a crack at a pa'tridge 'at kwitted at
me, top o' a stump"--

But as he vanished among the hemlocks, trailing his old gun, I knew that
he understood the threat. To make the matter sure I drove the deer
out of the pond that night, giving them the first of a series of rude
lessons in caution, until the falling leaves should make them wild
enough to take care of themselves.



STILL HUNTING

October, the superb month for one who loves the forest, found me again
in the same woods, this time not to watch and, learn, but to follow the
big buck to his death. Old Wally was ahead of me; but the falling leaves
had done their work well. The deer had left the pond at his approach.
Here and there on the ridges I found their tracks, and saw them at a
distance, shy, wild, alert, ready to take care of themselves in any
emergency. The big buck led them everywhere. Already his spirit, grown
keen in long battle against his enemies, dominated them all. Even the
fawns had learned fear, and followed it as their salvation.

Then began the most fascinating experience that comes to one who haunts
the woods--the first, thrilling, glorious days of the still-hunter's
schooling, with the frost-colored October woods for a schoolroom, and
Nature herself for the all-wise teacher. Daylight found me far afield,
while the heavy mists hung low and the night smells still clung to the
first fallen leaves, moving swift and silent through the chill fragrant
mistiness of the lowlands, eye and ear alert for every sign, and face
set to the heights where the deer were waiting. Noon found me miles away
on the hills, munching my crust thankfully in a sunny opening of the
woods, with a brook's music tinkling among the mossy stones at my feet,
and the gorgeous crimson and green and gold of the hillside stretching
down and away, like a vast Oriental rug of a giant's weaving, to the
flash and blue gleam of the distant sea. And everywhere--Nature's last
subtle touches to her picture--the sense of a filmy veil let down ere
the end was reached, a soft haze on the glowing hilltops, a sheen as of
silver mist along the stream in the valley, a fleecy light-shot cloud on
the sea, to suggest more, and more beautiful, beyond the veil.

Evening found me hurrying homeward through the short twilight, along
silent wood roads from which the birds had departed, breathing deep of
the pure air with its pungent tang of ripened leaves, sniffing the first
night smells, listening now for the yap of a fox, now for the distant
bay of a dog to guide me in a short cut over the hills to where my room
in the old farmhouse was waiting.

It mattered little that, far behind me (though not so far from where
the trail ended), the big buck began his twilight wandering along
the ridges, sniffing alertly at the vanishing scent of the man on his
feeding ground. The best things that a hunter brings home are in his
heart, not in his game bag; and a free deer meant another long glorious
day following him through the October woods, making the tyro's mistakes,
to be sure, but feeling also the tyro's thrill and the tyro's wonder,
and the consciousness of growing power and skill to read in a new
language the secrets that the moss and leaves hide so innocently.

There was so much to note and learn and remember in those days! A bit of
moss with that curiously measured angular cut in it, as if the wood folk
had taken to studying Euclid,--how wonderful it was at first! The deer
had been here; his foot drew that sharp triangle; and I must measure and
feel it carefully, and press aside the moss, and study the leaves,
to know whether it were my big buck or no, and how long since he had
passed, and whether he were feeding or running or just nosing about and
watching the valley below. And all that is much to learn from a tiny
triangle in the moss, with imaginary a, b, c's clinging to the dried
moss blossoms.

How careful one had to be! Every shift of wind, every cloud shadow had
to be noted. The lesson of a dewdrop, splashed from a leaf in the early
morning; the testimony of a crushed flower, or a broken brake, or a
bending grass blade; the counsel of a bit of bark frayed from a birch
tree, with a shred of deer-velvet clinging to it,--all these were vastly
significant and interesting. Every copse and hiding place and cathedral
aisle of the big woods in front must be searched with quiet eyes far
ahead, as one glided silently from tree to tree. That depression in the
gray moss of a fir thicket, with two others near it--three deer lay down
there last night; no, this morning; no, scarcely an hour ago, and the
dim traces along the ridge show no sign of hurry or alarm. So I move on,
following surely the trail that, only a few days since, would have been
invisible as the trail of a fish in the lake to my unschooled eyes,
searching, searching everywhere for dim forms gliding among the trees,
till--a scream, a whistle, a rush away! And I know that the bluejay,
which has been gliding after me curiously the last ten minutes,--has
fathomed my intentions and flown ahead to alarm the deer, which are now
bounding away for denser cover.

I brush ahead heedlessly, knowing that caution here only wastes time,
and study the fresh trail where the quarry jumped away in alarm.
Straight down the wind it goes. Cunning old buck! He has no idea what
Bluejay's alarm was about, but a warning, whether of crow or jay or
tainted wind or snapping twig, is never lost on the wood folk. Now as he
bounds along, cleaving the woods like a living bolt, yet stopping short
every hundred yards or so to whirl and listen and sort the messages that
the wood wires bring to him, he is perfectly sure of himself and his
little flock, knowing that if danger follow down wind, his own nose will
tell him all about it. I glance at the sun; only another hour of light,
and I am six miles from home. I glance at the jay, flitting about
restlessly in a mixture of mischief and curiosity, whistling his
too-loo-loo loudly as a sign to the fleeing game that I am right here
and that he sees me. Then I take up the back trail, planning another
day.

So the days went by, one after another; the big buck, aided by his
friends the birds, held his own against my craft and patience. He grew
more wild and alert with every hunt, and kept so far ahead of me that
only once, before the snow blew, did I have even the chance of stalking
him, and then the cunning old fellow foiled me again masterfully.

Old Wally was afield too; but, so far as I could read from the woods'
record, he fared no better than I on the trail of the buck. Once, when I
knew my game was miles ahead, I heard the longdrawn whang of Wally's old
gun across a little valley. Presently the brush began to crackle, and
a small doe came jumping among the trees straight towards me. Within
thirty feet she saw me, caught herself at the top of her jump, came
straight down, and stood an instant as if turned to stone, with a spruce
branch bending over to hide her from my eyes. Then, when I moved not,
having no desire to kill a doe but only to watch the beautiful creature,
she turned, glided a few steps, and went bounding away along the ridge.

Old Wally came in a little while, not following the trail,--he had no
skill nor patience for that,--but with a woodsman's instinct following
up the general direction of his game. Not far from where the doe had
first appeared he stopped, looked all around keenly, then rested his
hands on the end of his long gun barrel, and put his chin on his hands.

"Drat it all! Never tetched 'im again. That paowder o' mine hain't
wuth a cent. You wait till snow blows,"--addressing the silent woods
at large,--"then I'll get me some paowder as is paowder, and foller the
critter, and I'll show ye--"

Old Wally said never a word, but all this was in his face and attitude
as he leaned moodily on his long gun. And I watched him, chuckling, from
my hiding among the rocks, till with curious instinct he vanished down
the ridge behind the very thicket where I had seen the doe flash out of
sight a moment before.

When I saw him again he was deep in less creditable business. It was a
perfect autumn day,--the air full of light and color, the fragrant
woods resting under the soft haze like a great bouquet of Nature's own
culling, birds, bees and squirrels frolicking all day long amidst the
trees, yet doing an astonishing amount of work in gathering each one his
harvest for the cold dark days that were coming.

At daylight, from the top of a hill, I looked down on a little clearing
and saw the first signs of the game I was seeking. There had been what
old people call a duck-frost. In the meadows and along the fringes of
the woods the white rime lay thick and powdery on grass and dead leaves;
every foot that touched it left a black mark, as if seared with a hot
iron, when the sun came up and shone upon it. Across the field three
black trails meandered away from the brook; but alas! under the fringe
of evergreen was another trail, that of a man, which crept and halted
and hid, yet drew nearer and nearer the point where the three deer
trails vanished into the wood. Then I found powder marks, and some brush
that was torn by buck shot, and three trails that bounded away, and a
tiny splash of deeper red on a crimson maple leaf. So I left the deer
to the early hunter and wandered away up the hill for a long, lazy,
satisfying day in the woods alone.

Presently I came to a low brush fence running zigzag through the woods,
with snares set every few yards in the partridge and rabbit runs. At
the third opening a fine cock partridge swung limp and lifeless from a
twitch-up. The cruel wire had torn his neck under his beautiful ruff;
the broken wing quills showed how terrible had been his struggle. Hung
by the neck till dead!--an atrocious fate to mete out to a noble bird.
I followed the hedge of snares for a couple of hundred yards, finding
three more strangled grouse and a brown rabbit. Then I sat down in a
beautiful spot to watch the life about me, and to catch the snarer at
his abominable work.

The sun climbed higher and blotted out the four trails in the field
below. Red squirrels came down close to my head to chatter and scold and
drive me out of the solitude. A beautiful gray squirrel went tearing by
among the branches, pursued by one of the savage little reds that nipped
and snarled at his heels. The two cannot live together, and the gray
must always go. Jays stopped spying on the squirrels--to see and
remember where their winter stores were hidden--and lingered near me,
whistling their curiosity at the silent man below. None but jays gave
any heed to the five grim corpses swinging by their necks over the
deadly hedge, and to them it was only a new sensation.

Then a cruel thing happened,--one of the many tragedies that pass
unnoticed in the woods. There was a scurry in the underbrush, and
strange cries like those of an agonized child, only tiny and distant,
as if heard in a phonograph. Over the sounds a crow hovered and rose and
fell, in his intense absorption seeing nothing but the creature below.
Suddenly he swooped like a hawk into a thicket, and out of the cover
sprang a leveret (young hare), only to crouch shivering in the open
space under a hemlock's drooping branches. There the crow headed him,
struck once, twice, three times, straight hard blows with his powerful
beak; and when I ran to the spot the leveret lay quite dead with his
skull split, while the crow went flapping wildly to the tree tops,
giving the danger cry to the flock that was gossiping in the sunshine on
the ridge across the valley.

The woods were all still after that; jays and squirrels seemed appalled
at the tragedy, and avoided me as if I were responsible for the still
little body under the hemlock tips. An hour passed; then, a quarter-mile
away, in the direction that the deer had taken in the early morning,
a single jay set up his cry, the cry of something new passing in the
woods. Two or three others joined him; the cry came nearer. A flock
of crossbills went whistling overhead, coming from the same direction.
Then, as I slipped away into an evergreen thicket, a partridge came
whirring up, and darted by me like a brown arrow driven by the bending
branches behind him, flicking the twigs sharply with his wings as he
drove along. And then, on the path of his last forerunner, Old Wally
appeared, his keen eyes searching his murderous gibbetline expectantly.

Now Old Wally was held in great reputation by the Nimrods of the
village, because he hunted partridges, not with "scatter-gun" and
dog,--such amateurish bungling he disdained and swore against,--but in
the good old-fashioned way of stalking with a rifle. And when he brought
his bunch of birds to market, his admirers pointed with pride to the
marks of his wondrous skill. Here was a bird with the head hanging by a
thread of skin; there one with its neck broken; there a furrow along
the top of the head; and here--perfect work!--a partridge with both eyes
gone, showing the course of his unerring bullet.

Not ten yards from my hiding place he took down a partridge from its
gallows, fumbled a pointed stick out of his pocket, ran it through the
bird's neck, and stowed the creature that had died miserably, without
a chance for its life, away in one of his big pockets, a self-satisfied
grin on his face as he glanced down the hedge and saw another bird
swinging. So he followed his hangman's hedge, treating each bird to his
pointed stick, carefully resetting the snares after him and clearing
away the fallen leaves from the fatal pathways. When he came to the
rabbit he harled him dexterously, slipped him over his long gun barrel,
took his bearings in a quick look, and struck over the ridge for another
southern hillside.

Here, at last, was the secret of Wally's boasted skill in partridge
hunting with a rifle. Spite of my indignation at the snare line, the
cruel death which gaped day and night for the game as it ran about
heedlessly in the fancied security of its own coverts, a humorous, half
shame-faced feeling of admiration would creep in as I thought of the old
sinner's cunning, and remembered his look of disdain when he met me one
day, with a "scatter-gun" in my hands and old Don following obediently
at heel. Thinking that in his long life he must have learned many things
in the woods that I would be glad to know, I had invited him cordially
to join me. But he only withered me with the contempt in his hawk eyes,
and wiggled his toe as if holding back a kick from my honest dog with
difficulty.

"Go hunting with ye? Not much, Mister. Scarin' a pa'tridge to death with
a dum dog, and then turnin' a handful o' shot loose on the critter, an'
call it huntin'! That's the way to kill a pa'tridge, the on'y decent
way"--and he pulled a bird out of his pocket, pointing to a clean hole
through the head where the eyes had been.

When he had gone I kicked the hedge to pieces quickly, cut the
twitch-ups at the butts and threw them with their wire nooses far into
the thickets, and posted a warning in a cleft stick on the site of the
last gibbet. Then I followed Wally to a second and third line of snares,
which were treated in the same rough way, and watched him with curiously
mingled feelings of detestation and amusement as he sneaked down the
dense hillside with tread light as Leatherstocking, the old gun over his
shoulder, his pockets bulging enormously, and a string of hanged rabbits
swinging to and fro on his gun barrel, as if in death they had caught
the dizzy motion and could not quit it while the woods they had loved
and lived in threw their long sad shadows over them. So they came to the
meadow, into which they had so often come limping down to play or feed
among the twilight shadows, and crossed it for the last time on Wally's
gun barrel, swinging, swinging.

The leaves were falling thickly now; they formed a dry, hard carpet over
which it was impossible to follow game accurately, and they rustled a
sharp warning underfoot if but a wood mouse ran over them. It was of
little use to still-hunt the wary old buck till the rains should soften
the carpet, or a snowfall make tracking like boys' play. But I tried
it once more; found the quarry on a ridge deep in the woods, and
followed--more by good-luck than by good management--till, late in the
afternoon, I saw the buck with two smaller deer standing far away on a
half-cleared hillside, quietly watching a wide stretch of country below.
Beyond them the ridge narrowed gradually to a long neck, ending in a
high open bluff above the river.

There I tried my last hunter's dodge--manoeuvered craftily till near the
deer, which were hidden by dense thickets, and rushed straight at them,
thinking they would either break away down the open hillside, and so
give me a running shot, or else rush straightaway at the sudden alarm
and be caught on the bluff beyond.

Was it simple instinct, I wonder, or did the buck that had grown old in
hunter's wiles feel what was passing in my mind, and like a flash take
the chance that would save, not only his own life, but the lives of
the two that followed him? At the first alarm they separated; the two
smaller deer broke away down the hillside, giving me as pretty a shot
as one could wish. But I scarcely noticed them; my eyes were following
eagerly a swift waving of brush tops, which told me that the big buck
was jumping away, straight into the natural trap ahead.

I followed on the run till the ridge narrowed so that I could see across
it on either side, then slowly, carefully, steadying my nerves for
the shot. The river was all about him now, too wide to jump, too
steep-banked to climb down; the only way out was past me. I gripped the
rifle hard, holding it at a ready as I moved forward, watching either
side for a slinking form among the scattered coverts. At last, at last!
and how easy, how perfectly I had trapped him! My heart was singing as I
stole along.

The tracks moved straight on; first an easy run, then a swift, hard rush
as they approached the river. But what was this? The whole end of the
bluff was under my eye, and no buck standing at bay or running wildly
along the bank to escape. The tracks moved straight on to the edge in
great leaps; my heart quickened its beat as if I were nerving myself for
a supreme effort. Would he do it? would he dare?

A foot this side the brink the lichens were torn away where the sharp
hoofs had cut down to solid earth. Thirty feet away, well over the
farther bank and ten feet below the level where I stood, the fresh earth
showed clearly among the hoof-torn moss. Far below, the river fretted
and roared in a white rush of rapids. He had taken the jump, a jump that
made one's nostrils spread and his breath come hard as he measured
it with his eye. Somewhere, over in the spruces' shadow there, he was
hiding, watching me no doubt to see if I would dare follow.

That was the last of the autumn woods for me. If I had only seen
him--just one splendid glimpse as he shot over and poised in mid-air,
turning for the down plunge! That was my only regret as I turned slowly
away, the river singing beside me and the shadows lengthening along the
home trail.



WINTER TRAILS

The snow had come, and with it a Christmas holiday. For weeks I had
looked longingly out of college windows as the first tracking-snows came
sifting down, my thoughts turning from books and the problems of human
wisdom to the winter woods, with their wide white pages written all over
by the feet of wild things. Then the sun would shine again, and I
knew that the records were washed clean, and the hard-packed leaves as
innocent of footmarks as the beach where plover feed when a great wave
has chased them away. On the twentieth a change came. Outside the snow
fell heavily, two days and a night; inside, books were packed away,
professors said Merry Christmas, and students were scattering, like a
bevy of flushed quail, to all points of the compass for the holidays.
The afternoon of the twenty-first found me again in my room under the
eaves of the old farmhouse.

Before dark I had taken a wide run over the hills and through the woods
to the place of my summer camp. How wonderful it all was! The great
woods were covered deep with their pure white mantle; not a fleck, not a
track soiled its even whiteness; for the last soft flakes were lingering
in the air, and fox and grouse and hare and lucivee were still keeping
the storm truce, hidden deep in their coverts. Every fir and spruce and
hemlock had gone to building fairy grottoes as the snow packed their
lower branches, under which all sorts of wonders and beauties might
be hidden, to say nothing of the wild things for whom Nature had been
building innumerable tents of white and green as they slept. The silence
was absolute, the forest's unconscious tribute to the Wonder Worker.
Even the trout brook, running black as night among its white-capped
boulders and delicate arches of frost and fern work, between massive
banks of feathery white and green, had stopped its idle chatter and
tinkled a low bell under the ice, as if only the Angelus could express
the wonder of the world.

As I came back softly in the twilight a movement in an evergreen ahead
caught my eye, and I stopped for one of the rare sights of the woods,--a
partridge going to sleep in a warm room of his own making. He looked all
about among the trees most carefully, listened, kwit-kwitted in a
low voice to himself, then, with a sudden plunge, swooped downward
head-first into the snow. I stole to the spot where he had disappeared,
noted the direction of his tunnel, and fell forward with arms
outstretched, thinking perhaps to catch him under me and examine his
feet to see how his natural snowshoes (Nature's winter gift to every
grouse) were developing, before letting him go again. But the grouse
was an old bird, not to be caught napping, who had thought on the
possibilities of being followed ere he made his plunge. He had ploughed
under the snow for a couple of feet, then swerved sharply to the left
and made a little chamber for himself just under some snow-packed spruce
tips, with a foot of snow for a blanket over him. When I fell forward,
disturbing his rest most rudely ere he had time to wink the snow out of
his eyes, he burst out with a great whirr and sputter between my left
hand and my head, scattering snow all over me, and thundered off through
the startled woods, flicking a branch here and there with his wings,
and shaking down a great white shower as he rushed away for deeper
solitudes. There, no doubt, he went to sleep in the evergreens,
congratulating himself on his escape and preferring to take his chances
with the owl, rather than with some other ground-prowler that might
come nosing into his hole before the light snow had time to fill it up
effectually behind him.

Next morning I was early afield, heading for a ridge where I thought the
deer of the neighborhood might congregate with the intention of yarding
for the winter. At the foot of a wild little natural meadow, made
centuries ago by the beavers, I found the trail of two deer which had
been helping themselves to some hay that had been cut and stacked there
the previous summer. My big buck was not with them; so I left the trail
in peace to push through a belt of woods and across a pond to an old
road that led for a mile or two towards the ridge I was seeking.

Early as I was, the wood folk were ahead of me. Their tracks were
everywhere, eager, hungry tracks, that poked their noses into every
possible hiding place of food or game, showing how the two-days' fast
had whetted their appetites and set them to running keenly the moment
the last flakes were down and the storm truce ended.

A suspicious-looking clump of evergreens, where something had brushed
the snow rudely from the feathery tips, stopped me as I hurried down the
old road. Under the evergreens was a hole in the snow, and at the bottom
of the hole hard inverted cups made by deer's feet. I followed on to
another hole in the snow (it could scarcely be called a trail) and then
to another, and another, some twelve or fifteen feet apart, leading in
swift bounds to some big timber. There the curious track separated into
three deer trails, one of which might well be that of a ten-point buck.
Here was luck,--luck to find my quarry so early on the first day out,
and better luck that, during my long absence, the cunning animal had
kept himself and his consort clear of Old Wally and his devices.

When I ran to examine the back trail more carefully, I found that the
deer had passed the night in a dense thicket of evergreen, on a hilltop
overlooking the road. They had come down the hill, picking their way
among the stumps of a burned clearing, stepping carefully in each
other's tracks so as to make but a single trail. At the road they had
leaped clear across from one thicket to another, leaving never a trace
on the bare even whiteness. One might have passed along the road a score
of times without noticing that game had crossed. There was no doubt now
that these were deer that had been often hunted, and that had learned
their cunning from long experience.

I followed them rapidly till they began feeding in a little valley, then
with much caution, stealing from tree to thicket, giving scant attention
to the trail, but searching the woods ahead; for the last "sign" showed
that I was now but a few minutes behind the deer. There they were at
last, two graceful forms gliding like gray shadows among the snow-laden
branches. But in vain I searched for a lordly head with wide rough
antlers sweeping proudly over the brow; my buck was not there. Scarcely
had I made the discovery when there was a whistle and a plunge up on
the hill on my left, and I had one swift glimpse of him, a splendid
creature, as he bounded away.

By way of general precaution, or else led by some strange sixth sense of
danger, he had left his companions feeding and mounted the hill, where
he could look back on his own track. There he had been watching me for
half an hour, till I approached too near, when he sounded the alarm and
was off. I read it all from the trail a few moments later.

It was of no use to follow him, for he ran straight down wind. The two
others had gone quartering off at right angles to his course, obeying
his signal promptly, but having as yet no idea of what danger followed
them. When alarmed in this way, deer never run far before halting to
sniff and listen. Then, if not disturbed, they run off again, circling
back and down wind so as to catch from a distance the scent of anything
that follows on their trail.

I sat still where I was for a good hour, watching the chickadees and
red squirrels that found me speedily, and refusing to move for all the
peekings and whistlings of a jay that would fain satisfy his curiosity
as to whether I meant harm to the deer, or were just benumbed by the
cold and incapable of further mischief. When I went on I left some
scattered bits of meat from my lunch to keep him busy in case the deer
were near; but there was no need of the precaution. The two had learned
the leader's lesson of caution well, and ran for a mile, with many
haltings and circlings, before they began to feed again. Even then they
moved along at a good pace as they fed, till a mile farther on, when,
as I had forelayed, the buck came down from a hill to join them, and all
three moved off toward the big ridge, feeding as they went.

Then began a long chase, a chase which for the deer meant a straightaway
game, and for me a series of wide circles--never following the trail
directly, but approaching it at intervals from leeward, hoping to circle
ahead of the deer and stalk them at last from an unexpected quarter.

Once, when I looked down from a bare hilltop into a valley where the
trail ran, I had a most interesting glimpse of the big buck doing the
same thing from a hill farther on too far away for a shot, but near
enough to see plainly through my field glass. The deer were farther
ahead than I supposed. They had made a run for it, intending to rest
after first putting a good space between them and anything that might
follow. Now they were undoubtedly lying down in some far-away thicket,
their minds at rest, but their four feet doubled under them for a jump
at short notice. Trust your nose, but keep your feet under you--that is
deer wisdom on going to sleep. Meanwhile, to take no chances, the wary
old leader had circled back, to wind the trail and watch it awhile from
a distance before joining them in their rest.

He stood stock-still in his hiding, so still that one might have
passed close by without noticing him. But his head was above the low
evergreens; eyes, ears, and nose were busy giving him perfect report of
everything that passed in the woods.

I started to stalk him promptly, creeping up the hill behind him,
chuckling to myself at the rare sport of catching a wild thing at his
own game. But before I sighted him again he grew uneasy (the snow tells
everything), trotted down hill to the trail, and put his nose into it
here and there to be sure it was not polluted. Then--another of his
endless devices to make the noonday siesta full of contentment--he
followed the back track a little way, stepping carefully in his own
footprints; branched off on the other side of the trail, and so circled
swiftly back to join his little flock, leaving behind him a sad puzzle
of disputing tracks for any novice that might follow him.

So the interesting chase went on all day, skill against keener cunning,
instinct against finer instinct, through the white wonder of the winter
woods, till, late in the afternoon, it swung back towards the starting
point. The deer had undoubtedly intended to begin their yard that day
on the ridge I had selected; for at noon I crossed the trail of the
two from the haystack, heading as if by mutual understanding in that
direction. But the big buck, feeling that he was followed, cunningly
led his charge away from the spot, so as to give no hint of the proposed
winter quarters to the enemy that was after him. Just as the long
shadows were stretching across all the valleys from hill to hill, and
the sun vanished into the last gray bank of clouds on the horizon, my
deer recrossed the old road, leaping it, as in the morning, so as to
leave no telltale track, and climbed the hill to the dense thicket where
they had passed the previous night.

Here was my last chance, and I studied it deliberately. The deer were
there, safe within the evergreens, I had no doubt, using their eyes for
the open hillside in front and their noses for the woods behind. It was
useless to attempt stalking from any direction, for the cover was so
thick that a fox could hardly creep through without alarming ears far
less sensitive than a deer's. Skill had failed; their cunning was too
much for me. I must now try an appeal to curiosity.

I crept up the hill flat on my face, keeping stump or scrub spruce
always between me and the thicket on the hilltop. The wind was in my
favor; I had only their eyes to consider. Somewhere, just within the
shadow, at least one pair were sweeping the back track keenly; so I
kept well away from it, creeping slowly up till I rested behind a great
burned stump within forty yards of my game. There I fastened a red
bandanna handkerchief to a stick and waved it slowly above the stump.

Almost instantly there was a snort and a rustle of bushes in the thicket
above me. Peeking out I saw the evergreens moving nervously; a doe's
head appeared, her ears set forward, her eyes glistening. I waved the
handkerchief more erratically. My rifle lay across the stump's roots,
pointing straight at her; but she was not the game I was hunting.
Some more waving and dancing of the bright color, some more nervous
twitchings and rustlings in the evergreens, then a whistle and a rush;
the doe disappeared; the movement ceased; the thicket was silent as the
winter woods behind me.

"They are just inside," I thought, "pawing the snow to get their courage
up to come and see." So the handkerchief danced on--one, two, five
minutes passed in silence; then something made me turn round. There in
plain sight behind me, just this side the fringe of evergreen that
lined the old road, stood my three deer in a row--the big buck on the
right--like three beautiful statues, their ears all forward, their eyes
fixed with intensest curiosity on the man lying at full length in the
snow with the queer red flag above his head.

My first motion broke up the pretty tableau. Before I could reach for my
rifle the deer whirled and vanished like three winks, leaving the heavy
evergreen tips nodding and blinking behind them in a shower of snow.

Tired as I was, I took a last run to see from the trail how it all
happened. The deer had been standing just within the thicket as I
approached. All three had seen the handkerchief; the tracks showed
that they had pawed the snow and moved about nervously. When the leader
whistled they had bounded straightaway down the steep on the other side.
But the farms lay in that direction, so they had skirted the base of
the hill, keeping within the fringe of woods and heading back for their
morning trail, till the red flag caught their eye again, and strong
curiosity had halted them for another look.

Thus the long hunt ended at twilight within sight of the spot where it
began in the gray morning stillness. With marvelous cunning the deer
circled into their old tracks and followed them till night turned them
aside into a thicket. This I discovered at daylight next morning.

That day a change came; first a south wind, then in succession a thaw,
a mist, a rain turning to snow, a cold wind and a bitter frost. Next
day when I entered the woods a brittle crust made silent traveling
impossible, and over the rocks and bare places was a sheet of ice
covered thinly with snow.

I was out all day, less in hope of finding deer than of watching the
wild things; but at noon, as I sat eating my lunch, I heard a rapid
running, crunch, crunch, crunch, on the ridge above me. I stole up,
quietly as I could, to find the fresh trails of my three deer. They
were running from fright evidently, and were very tired, as the short
irregular jumps showed. Once, where the two leaders cleared a fallen
log, the third deer had fallen heavily; and all three trails showed
blood stains where the crust had cut into their legs.

I waited there on the trail to see what was following--to give right of
way to any hunter, but with a good stout stick handy, for dealing with
dogs, which sometimes ran wild in the woods and harried the deer. For
a long quarter-hour the woods were all still; then the jays, which had
come whistling up on the trail, flew back screaming and scolding, and
a huge yellow mongrel, showing hound's blood in his ears and nose, came
slipping, limping, whining over the crust. I waited behind a tree till
he was up with me, when I jumped out and caught him a resounding thump
on the ribs. As he ran yelping away I fired my rifle over his head, and
sent the good club with a vengeance to knock his heels from under him. A
fresh outburst of howls inspired me with hope. Perhaps he would remember
now to let deer alone for the winter.

Above the noise of canine lamentation I caught the faint click of
snowshoes, and hid again to catch the cur's owner at his contemptible
work. But the sound stopped far back on the trail at the sudden uproar.

Through the trees I caught glimpses of a fur cap and a long gun and the
hawk face of Old Wally, peeking, listening, creeping on the trail, and
stepping gingerly at last down the valley, ashamed or afraid of being
caught at his unlawful hunting. "An ill wind, but it blows me good," I
thought, as I took up the trail of the deer, half ashamed myself to take
advantage of them when tired by the dog's chasing.

There was no need of commiseration, however; now that the dog was out
of the way they could take care of themselves very well. I found them
resting only a short distance ahead; but when I attempted to stalk them
from leeward the noise of my approach on the crust sent them off with a
rush before I caught even a glimpse of them in their thicket.

I gave up caution then and there. I was fresh and the deer were
tired,--why not run them down and get a fair shot before the sun went
down and left the woods too dark to see a rifle sight? I had heard that
the Indians used sometimes to try running a deer down afoot in the old
days; here was the chance to try a new experience. It was fearfully hard
traveling without snowshoes, to be sure; but that seemed only to even-up
chances fairly with the deer. At the thought I ran on, giving no
heed when the quarry jumped again just ahead of me, but pushing them
steadily, mile after mile, till I realized with a thrill that I was
gaining rapidly, that their pauses grew more and more frequent, and I
had constant glimpses of deer ahead among the trees--never of the big
buck, but of the two does, who were struggling desperately to follow
their leader as he kept well ahead of them breaking the way. Then
realizing, I think, that he was followed by strength rather than by
skill or cunning, the noble old fellow tried a last trick, which came
near being the end of my hunting altogether.

The trail turned suddenly to a high open ridge with scattered thickets
here and there. As they labored up the slope I had the does in plain
sight. On top the snow was light, and they bounded ahead with fresh
strength. The trail led straight along the edge of a cliff, beyond which
the deer had vanished. They had stopped running here; I noticed with
amazement that they had walked with quick short steps across the open.
Eager for a sight of the buck I saw only the thin powdering of snow;
I forgot the glare ice that covered the rock beneath. The deer's sharp
hoofs had clung to the very edge securely. My heedless feet had barely
struck the rock when they slipped and I shot over the cliff, thirty feet
to the rocks below. Even as I fell and the rifle flew from my grasp, I
heard the buck's loud whistle from the thicket where he was watching me,
and then the heavy plunge of the deer as they jumped away.

A great drift at the foot of the cliff saved me. I picked myself up,
fearfully bruised but with nothing broken, found my rifle and limped
away four miles through the woods to the road, thinking as I went that
I was well served for having delivered the deer "from the power of the
dog," only to take advantage of their long run to secure a head that my
skill had failed to win. I wondered, with an extra twinge in my limp,
whether I had saved Old Wally by taking the chase out of his hands
unceremoniously. Above all, I wondered--and here I would gladly follow
another trail over the same ground--whether the noble beast, grown weary
with running, his splendid strength failing for the first time, and his
little, long-tended flock ready to give in and have the tragedy over,
knew just what he was doing in mincing along the cliff's edge with his
heedless enemy close behind. What did he think and feel, looking back
from his hiding, and what did his loud whistle mean? But that is always
the despair of studying the wild things. When your problem is almost
solved, night comes and the trail ends.

When I could walk again easily vacation was over, the law was on, and
the deer were safe.



SNOW BOUND

March is a weary month for the wood folk. One who follows them then has
it borne in upon him continually that life is a struggle,--a keen, hard,
hunger-driven struggle to find enough to keep a-going and sleep warm
till the tardy sun comes north again with his rich living. The fall
abundance of stored food has all been eaten, except in out-of-the-way
corners that one stumbles upon in a long day's wandering; the game also
is wary and hard to find from being constantly hunted by eager enemies.

It is then that the sparrow falleth. You find him on the snow, a
wind-blown feather guiding your eye to the open where he fell in
mid-flight; or under the tree, which shows that he lost his grip in the
night. His empty crop tells the whole pitiful story, and why you find
him there cold and dead, his toes curled up and his body feather-light.
You would find more but for the fact that hunger-pointed eyes are
keener than yours and earlier abroad, and that crow and jay and mink
and wildcat have greater interest than you in finding where the sparrow
fell.

It is then, also, that the owl, who hunts the sparrow o' nights, grows
so light from scant feeding that he cannot fly against the wind. If he
would go back to his starting point while the March winds are out,
he must needs come down close to the ground and yewyaw towards
his objective, making leeway like an old boat without ballast or
centerboard.

The grouse have taken to bud-eating from necessity--birch buds mostly,
with occasional trips to the orchards for variety. They live much now
in the trees, which they dislike; but with a score of hungry enemies
prowling for them day and night, what can a poor grouse do?

When a belated snow falls, you follow their particular enemy, the fox,
where he wanders, wanders, wander's on his night's hunting. Across the
meadow, to dine on the remembrance of field mice--alas! safe now under
the crust; along the brook, where he once caught frogs; through the
thicket, where the grouse were hatched; past the bullbrier tangle, where
the covey of quail once rested nightly; into the farmyard, where the
dog is loose and the chickens are safe under lock and key, instead of
roosting in trees; across the highway, and through the swamp, and into
the big bare empty woods; till in the sad gray morning light he digs
under the wild apple tree and sits down on the snow to eat a frozen
apple, lest his stomach cry too loudly while he sleeps the day away and
tries to forget that he is hungry.

Everywhere it is the same story: hard times and poor hunting. Even the
chickadees are hard pressed to keep up appearances and have their sweet
love note ready at the first smell of spring in the air.

This was the lesson that the great woods whispered sadly when a few idle
March days found me gliding on snowshoes over the old familiar ground.
Wild geese had honked an invitation from the South Shore; but one can
never study a wild goose; the only satisfaction is to see him swing in
on broad wings over the decoys--one glorious moment ere the gun speaks
and the dog jumps and everything is spoiled. So I left gun and rifle
behind, and went off to the woods of happy memories to see how my deer
were faring.

The wonder of the snow was gone; there was left only its cold bitterness
and a vague sense that it ought no longer to cumber the ground, but
would better go away as soon as possible and spare the wood folk any
more suffering. The litter of a score of storms covered its soiled rough
surface; every shred of bark had left its dark stain where the decaying
sap had melted and spread in the midday sun. The hard crust, which made
such excellent running for my snowshoes, seemed bitterly cruel when I
thought of the starving wild things and of the abundance of food on the
brown earth, just four feet below their hungry bills and noses.

The winter bad been unusually severe. Reports had come to me from the
North Woods of deep snows, and of deer dying of starvation and cold in
their yards. I confess that I was anxious as I hurried along. Now that
the hunt was over and the deer had won, they belonged to me more than
ever more even than if the stuffed head of the buck looked down on
my hall, instead of resting proudly over his own strong shoulders. My
snowshoes clicked a rapid march through the sad gray woods, while the
March wind thrummed an accompaniment high up among the bare branches,
and the ground-spruce nodded briskly, beating time with their green
tips, as if glad of any sound or music that would break the chill
silence until the birds came back.

Here and there the snow told stories; gay stories, tragic stories, sad,
wandering, patient stories of the little woods-people, which the
frost had hardened into crust, as if Nature would keep their memorials
forever, like the records on the sunhardened bricks of Babylon. But
would the deer live? Would the big buck's cunning provide a yard large
enough for wide wandering, with plenty of browse along the paths to
carry his flock safely through the winter's hunger? That was a story,
waiting somewhere ahead, which made me hurry away from the foot-written
records that otherwise would have kept me busy for hours.

Crossbills called welcome to me, high overhead. Nothing can starve them
out. A red squirrel rushed headlong out of his hollow tree at the first
click of my snowshoes. Nothing can check his curiosity or his scolding
except his wife, whom he likes, and the weasel, whom he is
mortally afraid of. Chickadees followed me shyly with their
blandishments--tsic-a-deeee? with that gentle up-slide of questioning.
"Is the spring really coming? Are--are you a harbinger?"

But the snowshoes clicked on, away from the sweet blarney, Leaving
behind the little flatterers who were honestly glad to see me in the
woods again, and who would fain have delayed me. Other questions,
stern ones, were calling ahead. Would the cur dogs find the yard and
exterminate the innocents? Would Old Wally--but no; Wally had the
"rheumatiz," and was out of the running. Ill-wind blew the deer good
that time; else he would long ago have run them down on snowshoes and
cut their throats, as if they were indeed his "tarnal sheep" that had
run wild in the woods.

At the southern end of a great hardwood ridge I found the first path
of their yard. It was half filled with snow, unused since the last two
storms. A glance on either side, where everything eatable within reach
of a deer's neck had long ago been cropped close, showed plainly why the
path was abandoned. I followed it a short distance before running
into another path, and another, then into a great tangle of deer ways
spreading out crisscross over the eastern and southern slopes of the
ridge.

In some of the paths were fresh deer tracks and the signs of recent
feeding. My heart jumped at sight of one great hoof mark. I had measured
and studied it too often to fail to recognize its owner. There was
browse here still, to be had for the cropping. I began to be hopeful for
my little flock, and to feel a higher regard for their leader, who
could plan a yard, it seemed, as well as a flight, and who could not be
deceived by early abundance into outlining a small yard, forgetting the
late snows and the spring hunger.

I was stooping to examine the more recent signs, when a sharp snort
made me raise my head quickly. In the path before me stood a doe, all
a-quiver, her feet still braced from the suddenness with which she had
stopped at sight of an unknown object blocking the path ahead. Behind
her two other deer checked themselves and stood like statues, unable to
see, but obeying their leader promptly.

All three were frightened and excited, not simply curious, as they would
have been had they found me in their path unexpectedly. The widespread
nostrils and heaving sides showed that they had been running hard. Those
in the rear (I could see them over the top of the scrub spruce, behind
which I crouched in the path) said in every muscle: "Go on! No matter
what it is, the danger behind is worse. Go on, go on!" Insistence was
in the air. The doe felt it and bounded aside. The crust had softened
in the sun, and she plunged through it when she struck, cr-r-runch,
cr-r-runch, up to her sides at every jump. The others followed, just
swinging their heads for a look and a sniff at me, springing from hole
to hole in the snow, and making but a single track. A dozen jumps and
they struck another path and turned into it, running as before down the
ridge. In the swift glimpses they gave me I noticed with satisfaction
that, though thin and a bit ragged in appearance, they were by no means
starved. The veteran leader had provided well for his little family.

I followed their back track up the ridge for perhaps half a mile, when
another track made me turn aside. Two days before, a single deer had
been driven out of the yard at a point where three paths met. She had
been running down the ridge when something in front met her and drove
her headlong out of her course. The soft edges of the path were cut and
torn by suspicious claw marks.

I followed her flight anxiously, finding here and there, where the snow
had been softest, dog tracks big and little. The deer was tired from
long running, apparently; the deep holes in the snow, where she had
broken through the crust, were not half the regular distance apart.
A little way from the path I found her, cold and stiff, her throat
horribly torn by the pack which had run her to death. Her hind feet were
still doubled under her, just as she had landed from her last despairing
jump, when the tired muscles could do no more, and she sank down without
a struggle to let the dogs do their cruel work.

I had barely read all this, and had not yet finished measuring the
largest tracks to see if it were her old enemy that, as dogs frequently
do, had gathered a pirate band about him and led them forth to the
slaughter of the innocents, when a far-away cry came stealing down
through the gray woods. Hark! the eager yelp of curs and the leading
hoot of a hound. I whipped out my knife to cut a club, and was off for
the sounds on a galloping run, which is the swiftest possible gait on
snowshoes.

There were no deer paths here; for the hardwood browse, upon which deer
depend for food, grew mostly on the other sides of the ridge. That the
chase should turn this way, out of the yard's limits showed the dogs'
cunning, and that they were not new at their evil business. They had
divided their forces again, as they had undoubtedly done when hunting
the poor doe whose body I had just found. Part of the pack hunted down
the ridge in full cry, while the rest lay in wait to spring at the
flying game as it came on and drive it out of the paths into the deep
snow, where it would speedily be at their mercy. At the thought I
gripped the club hard, promising to stop that kind of hunting for good,
if only I could get half a chance.

Presently, above the scrape of my snowshoes, I heard the deer coming,
cr-r-runch! cr-r-runch! the heavy plunges growing shorter and fainter,
while behind the sounds an eager, whining trail-cry grew into a fierce
howl of canine exultation. Something was telling me to hurry, hurry;
that the big buck I had so often hunted was in my power at last, and
that, if I would square accounts, I must beat the dogs, though they were
nearer to him now than I. The excitement of a new kind of hunt, a hunt
to save, not to kill, was tingling all over me when I circled a dense
thicket of firs with a rush, and there he lay, up to his shoulders in
the snow before me.

He had taken his last jump. The splendid strength which had carried him
so far was spent now to the last ounce. He lay resting easily in the
snow, his head outstretched on the crust before him, awaiting the
tragedy that had followed him for years, by lake and clearing and winter
yard, and that burst out behind him now with a cry to make one's nerves
shudder. The glory of his antlers was gone; he had dropped them months
before; but the mighty shoulders and sinewy neck and perfect head showed
how well, how grandly he had deserved my hunting.

He threw up his head as I burst out upon him from an utterly unexpected
quarter--the very thing that I had so often tried to do, in vain, in the
old glorious days. "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? Well, here am I."
That is what his eyes, great, sad, accusing eyes, were saying as he laid
his head down on the snow again, quiet as an Indian at the torture, too
proud to struggle where nothing was to be gained but pity or derision.

A strange, uncanny silence had settled over the woods. Wolves cease
their cry in the last swift burst of speed that will bring the game in
sight. Then the dogs broke out of the cover behind him with a fiercer
howl that was too much for even his nerves to stand. Nothing on earth
could have met such a death unmoved. No ears, however trained, could
hear that fierce cry for blood without turning to meet it face to face.
With a mighty effort the buck whirled in the snow and gathered himself
for the tragedy.

Far ahead of the pack came a small, swift bulldog that, with no nose
of his own for hunting, had followed the pirate leader for mere love of
killing. As he jumped for the throat, the buck, with his last strength,
reared on his hind legs, so as to get his fore feet clear of the snow,
and plunged down again with a hard, swift sabre-cut of his right hoof.
It caught the dog on the neck as he rose on the spring, and ripped him
from ear to tail. Deer and dog came down together. Then the buck rose
swiftly for his last blow, and the knife-edged hoofs shot down like
lightning; one straight, hard drive with the crushing force of a ten-ton
hammer behind it--and his first enemy was out of the hunt forever.
Before he had time to gather himself again the big yellow brindle, with
the hound's blood showing in nose and ears,--Old Wally's dog,--leaped
into sight. His whining trail-cry changed to a fierce growl as he sprang
for the buck's nose.

I had waited for just this moment in hiding, and jumped to meet it. The
club came down between the two heads; and there was no reserve this
time in the muscles that swung it. It caught the brute fair on the head,
where the nose begins to come up into the skull,--and he too had harried
his last deer.

Two other curs had leaped aside with quick instinct the moment they saw
me, and vanished into the thickets, as if conscious of their evil doing
and anxious to avoid detection. But the third, a large collie,--a dog
that, when he does go wrong, becomes the most cunning and vicious
of brutes,--flew straight at my throat with a snarl like a gray wolf
cheated of his killing. I have faced bear and panther and bull moose
when the red danger-light blazed into their eyes; but never before or
since have I seen such awful fury in a brute's face. It swept over me
in an instant that it was his life or mine; there was no question or
alternative. A lucky cut of the club disabled him, and I finished the
job on the spot, for the good of the deer and the community.

The big buck had not moved, nor tried to, after his last great effort.
Now he only turned his head and lifted it wearily, as if to get away
from the intolerable smell of his dog enemies that lay dying under his
very nose. His great, sorrowful, questioning eyes were turned on me
continually, with a look that only innocence could possibly meet. No
man on earth, I think, could have looked into them for a full moment and
then raised his hand to slay.

I approached very quietly, and dragged the dogs away from him, one by
one. His eyes followed me always. His nostrils spread, his head came up
with a start when I flung the first cur aside to leeward. But he made no
motion; only his eyes had a wonderful light in them when I dragged his
last enemy, the one he had killed himself, from under his very head and
threw it after the others. Then I sat down quietly in the snow, and we
were face to face at last.

He feared me--I could hardly expect otherwise, while a deer has
memory--but he lay perfectly still, his head extended on the snow, his
sides heaving. After a little while he made a few bounds forward, at
right angles to the course he had been running, with marvelous instinct
remembering the nearest point in the many paths out of which the pack
had driven him. But he stopped and lay quiet at the first sound of my
snowshoes behind him. "The chase law holds. You have caught me; I am
yours,"--this is what his sad eyes were saying. And sitting down quietly
near him again, I tried to reassure him. "You are safe. Take your own
time. No dog shall harm you now."--That is what I tried to make him feel
by the very power of my own feeling, never more strongly roused than now
for any wild creature.

I whistled a little tune softly, which always rouses the wood folk's
curiosity; but as he lay quiet, listening, his ears shot back and forth
nervously at a score of sounds that I could not hear, as if above the
music he caught faint echoes of the last fearful chase. Then I brought
out my lunch and, nibbling a bit myself, pushed a slice of black bread
over the crust towards him with a long stick.

It was curious and intensely interesting to watch the struggle. At first
he pulled away, as if I would poison him. Then a new rich odor began to
steal up into his hungry nostrils. For weeks he had not fed full; he had
been running hard since daylight, and was faint and exhausted. And in
all his life he had never smelled anything so good. He turned his head
to question me with his eyes. Slowly his nose came down, searching for
the bread. "If he would only eat!-that is a truce which I would
never break," I kept thinking over and over, and stopped eating in my
eagerness to have him share with me the hunter's crust. His nose touched
it; then through his hunger came the smell of the man--the danger smell
that had followed him day after day in the beautiful October woods, and
over white winter trails when he fled for his life, and still the man
followed. The remembrance was too much. He raised his head with an
effort and bounded away.

I followed slowly, keeping well out to one side of his trail, and
sitting quietly within sight whenever he rested in the snow. Wild
animals soon lose their fear in the presence of man if one avoids all
excitement, even of interest, and is quiet in his motions. His fear was
gone now, but the old wild freedom and the intense desire for life--a
life which he had resigned when I appeared suddenly before him, and the
pack broke out behind--were coming back with renewed force. His bounds
grew longer, firmer, his stops less frequent, till he broke at last
into a deer path and shook himself, as if to throw off all memory of the
experience.

From a thicket of fir a doe, that had been listening in hiding to the
sounds of his coming and to the faint unknown click, which was the voice
of my snowshoes, came out to meet him. Together they trotted down the
path, turning often to look and listen, and vanished at last, like gray
shadows, into the gray stillness of the March woods.



GLOSSARY OF INDIAN NAMES

     Cheokhes, the mink.
     Ch'geegee-lokh, the chickadee.
     Cheplahgan, the bald eagle.
     Chigwooltz, the bullfrog.
     Clote Scarpe, a legendary hero, like Hiawatha, of the Northern
     Indians. Pronounced variously, Clote Scarpe, Groscap, Gluscap,
     etc.
     Deedeeaskh,  the blue jay.
     Hukweem, the great northern diver, or loon.
     Ismaques, the fish-hawk.
     Kagax, the weasel.
     Kakagos,  the raven.
     Keeokuskh, the muskrat.
     Keeonekh, the otter.
     Killooleet, the white-throated sparrow.
     Kookooskoos, the great horned owl.
     Koskomenos, the kingfisher.
     Kupkawis, the barred owl.
     Kwaseekho, the sheldrake.
     Lhoks, the panther.
     Malsun, the wolf.
     Meeko,the red squirrel.
     Megaleep, the caribou.
     Milicete, the name of an Indian tribe; written also Malicete.
     Mitches, the birch partridge, or ruffed grouse.
     Moktaques, the hare.
     Mooween, the black bear.
     Musquash, the muskrat.
     Nemox, the fisher.
     Pekquam, the fisher.
     Seksagadagee, the Canada grouse, or spruce partridge.
     Skooktum, the trout.
     Tookhees, the wood grouse.
     Upweekis, the Canada lynx.





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