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Title: Some Animal Stories
Author: Roberts, Charles G. D., Sir
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 "Some Animal Stories" ***

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[Illustration: Charles G. D. Roberts, title page]



                                 *SOME
                                 ANIMAL
                                STORIES*


                                   BY

                         CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS



                   NEW YORK E. P. DUTTON AND COMPANY
                 J. M. DENT & SONS LTD LONDON & TORONTO



                          All rights reserved

                       FIRST PUBLISHED . . . 1921
           REPRINTED . . . 1923, 1925, 1926, 1928, 1930, 1932

                        PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN



                               *CONTENTS*

Do Seek their Meat from God

"The Young Ravens that Call upon Him"

Strayed

The Watchers in the Swamp

Quills the Indifferent

Stripes the Unconcerned

The Black Mule of Aveluy

Star-Nose of the Under Ways

Kroof, the She-Bear

The Initiation of Miranda

A Royal Marauder



                         *SOME ANIMAL STORIES*



                     *DO SEEK THEIR MEAT FROM GOD*


One side of the ravine was in darkness.  The darkness was soft and rich,
suggesting thick foliage.  Along the crest of the slope tree-tops came
into view—great pines and hemlocks of the ancient unviolated
forest—revealed against the orange disc of a full moon just rising.  The
low rays slanting through the moveless tops lit strangely the upper
portion of the opposite steep,—the western wall of the ravine, barren,
unlike its fellow, bossed with great rocky projections, and harsh with
stunted junipers.  Out of the sluggish dark that lay along the ravine as
in a trough, rose the brawl of a swollen, obstructed stream.

Out of a shadowy hollow behind a long white rock, on the lower edge of
that part of the steep which lay in the moonlight, came softly a great
panther.  In common daylight his coat would have shown a warm fulvous
hue, but in the elvish decolourising rays of that half hidden moon he
seemed to wear a sort of spectral grey.  He lifted his smooth round head
to gaze on the increasing flame, which presently he greeted with a
shrill cry.  That terrible cry, at once plaintive and menacing, with an
undertone like the fierce protestations of a saw beneath the file, was a
summons to his mate, telling her that the hour had come when they should
seek their prey.  From the lair behind the rock, where the cubs were
being suckled by their dam, came no immediate answer.  Only a pair of
crows, that had their nest in a giant fir-tree across the gulf, woke up
and croaked harshly their indignation.  These three summers past they
had built in the same spot, and had been nightly awakened to vent the
same rasping complaints.

The panther walked restlessly up and down, half a score of paces each
way, along the edge of the shadow, keeping his wide-open green eyes upon
the rising light. His short, muscular tail twitched impatiently, but he
made no sound.  Soon the breadth of confused brightness had spread
itself further down the steep, disclosing the foot of the white rock,
and the bones and antlers of a deer which had been dragged thither and
devoured.

By this time the cubs had made their meal, and their dam was ready for
such enterprise as must be accomplished ere her own hunger, now grown
savage, could hope to be assuaged.  She glided supplely forth into the
glimmer, raised her head, and screamed at the moon in a voice as
terrible as her mate’s.  Again the crows stirred, croaking harshly; and
the two beasts, noiselessly mounting the steep, stole into the shadows
of the forest that clothed the high plateau.

The panthers were fierce with hunger.  These two days past their hunting
had been wellnigh fruitless. What scant prey they had slain had for the
most part been devoured by the female; for had she not those small blind
cubs at home to nourish, who soon must suffer at any lack of hers?  The
settlements of late had been making great inroads on the world of
ancient forest, driving before them the deer and smaller game. Hence the
sharp hunger of the panther parents, and hence it came that on this
night they hunted together. They purposed to steal upon the settlements
in their sleep, and take tribute of the enemies’ flocks.

Through the dark of the thick woods, here and there pierced by the
moonlight, they moved swiftly and silently.  Now and again a dry twig
would snap beneath the discreet and padded footfalls.  Now and again, as
they rustled some low tree, a pewee or a nuthatch would give a startled
chirp.  For an hour the noiseless journeying continued, and ever and
anon the two grey, sinuous shapes would come for a moment into the view
of the now well-risen moon.  Suddenly there fell upon their ears, far
off and faint, but clearly defined against the vast stillness of the
Northern forest, a sound which made those stealthy hunters pause and
lift their heads.  It was the voice of a child crying,—crying long and
loud, hopelessly, as if there were no one by to comfort it.  The
panthers turned aside from their former course and glided toward the
sound. They were not yet come to the outskirts of the settlement, but
they knew of a solitary cabin lying in the thick of the woods a mile and
more from the nearest neighbour.  Thither they bent their way, fired
with fierce hope.  Soon would they break their bitter fast.

Up to noon of the previous day the lonely cabin had been occupied.  Then
its owner, a shiftless fellow, who spent his days for the most part at
the corner tavern three miles distant, had suddenly grown disgusted with
a land wherein one must work to live, and had betaken himself with his
seven-year-old boy to seek some more indolent clime.  During the long
lonely days when his father was away at the tavern the little boy had
been wont to visit the house of the next neighbour, to play with a child
of some five summers, who had no other playmate.  The next neighbour was
a prosperous pioneer, being master of a substantial frame house in the
midst of a large and well-tilled clearing.  At times, though rarely,
because it was forbidden, the younger child would make his way by a
rough wood road to visit his poor little disreputable playmate.  At
length it had appeared that the five-year-old was learning unsavoury
language from the elder boy, who rarely had an opportunity of hearing
speech more desirable.  To the bitter grief of both children, the
companionship had at length been stopped by unalterable decree of the
master of the frame house.

Hence it had come to pass that the little boy was unaware of his
comrade’s departure.  Yielding at last to an eager longing for that
comrade, he had stolen away late in the afternoon, traversed with
endless misgivings the lonely stretch of wood road, and reached the
cabin only to find it empty.  The door, on its leathern hinges, swung
idly open.  The one room had been stripped of its few poor furnishings.
After looking in the rickety shed, whence darted two wild and hawklike
chickens, the child had seated himself on the hacked threshold, and
sobbed passionately with a grief that he did not fully comprehend.  Then
seeing the shadows lengthen across the tiny clearing, he had grown
afraid to start for home.  As the dusk gathered, he had crept trembling
into the cabin, whose door would not stay shut.  When it grew quite
dark, he crouched in the inmost corner of the room, desperate with fear
and loneliness, and lifted up his voice piteously.  From time to time
his lamentations would be choked by sobs, or he would grow breathless,
and in the terrifying silence would listen hard to hear if any one or
anything were coming.  Then again would the shrill childish wailings
arise, startling the unexpectant night, and piercing the forest depths,
even to the ears of those great beasts which had set forth to seek their
meat from God.

The lonely cabin stood some distance, perhaps a quarter of a mile, back
from the highway connecting the settlements.  Along this main road a man
was plodding wearily.  All day he had been walking, and now as he neared
home his steps began to quicken with anticipation of rest.  Over his
shoulder projected a double-barrelled fowling-piece, from which was
slung a bundle of such necessities as he had purchased in town that
morning.  It was the prosperous settler, the master of the frame house.
His mare being with foal, he had chosen to make the tedious journey on
foot.

The settler passed the mouth of the wood road leading to the cabin.  He
had gone perhaps a furlong beyond, when his ears were startled by the
sound of a child crying in the woods.  He stopped, lowered his burden to
the road, and stood straining ears and eyes in the direction of the
sound.  It was just at this time that the two panthers also stopped, and
lifted their heads to listen.  Their ears were keener than those of the
man, and the sound had reached them at a greater distance.

Presently the settler realised whence the cries were coming.  He called
to mind the cabin; but he did not know the cabin’s owner had departed.
He cherished a hearty contempt for the drunken squatter; and on the
drunken squatter’s child he looked with small favour, especially as a
playmate for his own boy. Nevertheless he hesitated before resuming his
journey.

"Poor little devil!" he muttered, half in wrath. "I reckon his precious
father’s drunk down at ’the Corners,’ and him crying for loneliness!"
Then he reshouldered his burden and strode on doggedly.

But louder, shriller, more hopeless and more appealing, arose the
childish voice, and the settler paused again, irresolute, and with
deepening indignation.  In his fancy, he saw the steaming supper his
wife would have awaiting him.  He loathed the thought of retracing his
steps, and then stumbling a quarter of a mile through the stumps and bog
of the wood road.  He was foot-sore as well as hungry, and he cursed the
vagabond squatter with serious emphasis; but in that wailing was a
terror which would not let him go on. He thought of his own little one
left in such a position, and straightway his heart melted.  He turned,
dropped his bundle behind some bushes, grasped his gun, and made speed
back for the cabin.

"Who knows," he said to himself, "but that drunken idiot has left his
youngster without a bite to eat in the whole miserable shanty?  Or maybe
he’s locked out, and the poor little beggar’s half scared to death.
_Sounds_ as if he was scared"; and at this thought the settler quickened
his pace.

As the hungry panthers drew near the cabin, and the cries of the lonely
child grew clearer, they hastened their steps, and their eyes opened to
a wider circle, flaming with a greener fire.  It would be thoughtless
superstition to say the beasts were cruel.  They were simply keen with
hunger, and alive with the eager passion of the chase.  They were not
ferocious with any anticipation of battle, for they knew the voice was
the voice of a child, and something in the voice told them the child was
solitary.  Theirs was no hideous or unnatural rage, as it is the custom
to describe it. They were but seeking with the strength, the cunning,
the deadly swiftness given them to that end, the food convenient for
them.  On their success in accomplishing that for which nature had so
exquisitely designed them depended not only their own, but the lives of
their blind and helpless young, now whimpering in the cave on the slope
of the moon-lit ravine.  They crept through a wet alder thicket, bounded
lightly over the ragged brush fence, and paused to reconnoitre on the
edge of the clearing, in the full glare of the moon.  At the same moment
the settler emerged from the darkness of the wood-road on the opposite
side of the clearing. He saw the two great beasts, heads down and snouts
thrust forward, gliding toward the open cabin door.

For a few moments the child had been silent.  Now his voice rose again
in pitiful appeal, a very ecstasy of loneliness and terror.  There was a
note in the cry that shook the settler’s soul.  He had a vision of his
own boy, at home with his mother, safe-guarded from even the thought of
peril.  And here was this little one left to the wild beasts!  "Thank
God!  Thank God I came!" murmured the settler, as he dropped on one knee
to take a surer aim.  There was a loud report (not like the sharp crack
of a rifle), and the female panther, shot through the loins, fell in a
heap, snarling furiously and striking with her fore-paws.

The male walked around her in fierce and anxious amazement.  Presently,
as the smoke lifted, he discerned the settler kneeling for a second
shot.  With a high screech of fury, the lithe brute sprang upon his
enemy, taking a bullet full in his chest without seeming to know he was
hit.  Ere the man could slip in another cartridge the beast was upon
him, bearing him to the ground and fixing keen fangs in his shoulder.
Without a word, the man set his strong fingers desperately into the
brute’s throat, wrenched himself partly free, and was struggling to
rise, when the panther’s body collapsed upon him all at once, a dead
weight which he easily flung aside.  The bullet had done its work just
in time.

Quivering from the swift and dreadful contest, bleeding profusely from
his mangled shoulder, the settler stepped up to the cabin door and
peered in.  He heard sobs in the darkness.

"Don’t be scared, sonny," he said, in a reassuring voice.  "I’m going to
take you home along with me. Poor little lad, _I’ll_ look after you if
folks that ought to don’t."

Out of the dark corner came a shout of delight, in a voice which made
the settler’s heart stand still. "_Daddy_, daddy," it said, "I _knew_
you’d come.  I was so frightened when it got dark!"  And a little figure
launched itself into the settler’s arms, and clung to him trembling.
The man sat down on the threshold and strained the child to his breast.
He remembered how near he had been to disregarding the far-off cries,
and great beads of sweat broke out upon his forehead.

Not many weeks afterwards the settler was following the fresh trail of a
bear which had killed his sheep.  The trail led him at last along the
slope of a deep ravine, from whose bottom came the brawl of a swollen
and obstructed stream.  In the ravine he found a shallow cave, behind a
great white rock.  The cave was plainly a wild beast’s lair, and he
entered circumspectly.  There were bones scattered about, and on some
dry herbage in the deepest corner of the den, he found the dead bodies,
now rapidly decaying, of two small panther cubs.



                *"THE YOUNG RAVENS THAT CALL UPON HIM"*


It was just before dawn, and a greyness was beginning to trouble the
dark about the top of the mountain.

Even at that cold height there was no wind.  The veil of cloud that hid
the stars hung but a hand-breadth above the naked summit.  To eastward
the peak broke away sheer, beetling in a perpetual menace to the valleys
and the lower hills.  Just under the brow, on a splintered and creviced
ledge, was the nest of the eagles.

As the thick dark shrank down the steep like a receding tide, and the
greyness reached the ragged heap of branches forming the nest, the young
eagles stirred uneasily under the loose droop of the mother’s wings. She
raised her head and peered about her, slightly lifting her wings as she
did so; and the nestlings, complaining at the chill air that came in
upon their unfledged bodies, thrust themselves up amid the warm feathers
of her thighs.  The male bird, perched on a jutting fragment beside the
nest, did not move.  But he was awake.  His white, narrow, flat-crowned
head was turned to one side, and his yellow eye, under its straight,
fierce lid, watched the pale streak that was growing along the distant
eastern sea-line.

The great birds were racked with hunger.  Even the nestlings, to meet
the petitions of whose gaping beaks they stinted themselves without
mercy, felt meagre and uncomforted.  Day after day the parent birds had
fished almost in vain; day after day their wide and tireless hunting had
brought them scant reward.  The schools of alewives, mackerel, and
herring seemed to shun their shores that spring.  The rabbits seemed to
have fled from all the coverts about their mountain.

The mother eagle, larger and of mightier wing than her mate, looked as
if she had met with misadventure. Her plumage was disordered.  Her eyes,
fiercely and restlessly anxious, at moments grew dull as if with
exhaustion.  On the day before, while circling at her viewless height
above a lake far inland, she had marked a huge lake-trout, basking near
the surface of the water.  Dropping upon it with half-closed, hissing
wings, she had fixed her talons in its back.  But the fish had proved
too powerful for her.  Again and again it had dragged her under water,
and she had been almost drowned before she could unloose the terrible
grip of her claws.  Hardly, and late, had she beaten her way back to the
mountain-top.

And now the pale streak in the east grew ruddy. Rust-red stains and
purple, crawling fissures began to show on the rocky face of the peak.
A piece of scarlet cloth, woven among the faggots of the nest, glowed
like new blood in the increasing light.  And presently a wave of rose
appeared to break and wash down over the summit, as the rim of the sun
came above the horizon.

The male eagle stretched his head far out over the depth, lifted his
wings and screamed harshly, as if in greeting of the day.  He paused a
moment in that position, rolling his eye upon the nest.  Then his head
went lower, his wings spread wider, and he launched himself smoothly and
swiftly into the abyss of air as a swimmer glides into the sea.  The
female watched him, a faint wraith of a bird darting through the gloom,
till presently, completing his mighty arc, he rose again into the full
light of the morning.  Then on level, all but moveless wing, he sailed
away toward the horizon.

As the sun rose higher and higher, the darkness began to melt on the
tops of the lower hills and to diminish on the slopes of the upland
pastures, lingering in the valleys as the snow delays there in spring.
As point by point the landscape uncovered itself to his view, the eagle
shaped his flight into a vast circle, or rather into a series of
stupendous loops.  His neck was stretched toward the earth, in the
intensity of his search for something to ease the bitter hunger of his
nestlings and his mate.

Not far from the sea, and still in darkness, stood a low, round hill, or
swelling upland.  Bleak and shelterless, whipped by every wind that the
heavens could let loose, it bore no bush but an occasional juniper
scrub.  It was covered with mossy hillocks, and with a short grass,
meagre but sweet.  There in the chilly gloom, straining her ears to
catch the lightest footfall of approaching peril, but hearing only the
hushed thunder of the surf, stood a lonely ewe over the lamb to which
she had given birth in the night.

Having lost the flock when the pangs of travail came upon her, the
unwonted solitude filled her with apprehension.  But as soon as the
first feeble bleating of the lamb fell upon her ear, everything was
changed. Her terrors all at once increased tenfold,—but they were for
her young, not for herself; and with them came a strange boldness such
as her heart had never known before.  As the little weakling shivered
against her side, she uttered low, short bleats and murmurs of
tenderness.  When an owl hooted in the woods across the valley, she
raised her head angrily and faced the sound, suspecting a menace to her
young.  When a mouse scurried past her, with a small, rustling noise
amid the withered mosses of the hillock, she stamped fiercely, and would
have charged had the intruder been a lion.

When the first grey of dawn descended over the pasture, the ewe feasted
her eyes with the sight of the trembling little creature, as it lay on
the wet grass. With gentle nose she coaxed it and caressed it, till
presently it struggled to its feet, and, with its pathetically awkward
legs spread wide apart to preserve its balance, it began to nurse.
Turning her head as far around as she could, the ewe watched its every
motion with soft murmurings of delight.

And now that wave of rose, which had long ago washed the mountain and
waked the eagles, spread tenderly across the open pasture.  The lamb
stopped nursing; and the ewe, moving forward two or three steps, tried
to persuade it to follow her.  She was anxious that it should as soon as
possible learn to walk freely, so they might together rejoin the flock.
She felt that the open pasture was full of dangers.

The lamb seemed afraid to take so many steps.  It shook its ears and
bleated piteously.  The mother returned to its side, caressed it anew,
pushed it with her nose, and again moved away a few feet, urging it to
go with her.  Again the feeble little creature refused, bleating loudly.
At this moment there came a terrible hissing rush out of the sky, and a
great form fell upon the lamb.  The ewe wheeled and charged madly, but
at the same instant the eagle, with two mighty buffetings of his wings,
rose beyond her reach and soared away toward the mountain.  The lamb
hung limp from his talons; and with piteous cries the ewe ran beneath,
gazing upward, and stumbling over the hillocks and juniper bushes.

In the nest of the eagles there was content.  The pain of their hunger
appeased, the nestlings lay dozing in the sun, the neck of one resting
across the back of the other.  The triumphant male sat erect upon his
perch, staring out over the splendid world that displayed itself beneath
him.  Now and again he half-lifted his wings and screamed joyously at
the sun.  The mother bird, perched upon a limb on the edge of the nest,
busily rearranged her plumage.  At times she stooped her head into the
nest to utter over her sleeping eaglets a soft chuckling noise, which
seemed to come from the bottom of her throat.

But hither and thither over the round bleak hill wandered the ewe,
calling for her lamb, unmindful of the flock, which had been moved to
other pastures.



                               *STRAYED*


In the Cabineau Camp, of unlucky reputation, there was a young ox of
splendid build, but of a wild and restless nature.

He was one of a yoke, of part Devon blood, large, dark-red, all muscle
and nerve, and with wide magnificent horns.  His yoke-fellow was a
docile steady worker, the pride of his owner’s heart; but he himself
seemed never to have been more than half broken in. The woods appeared
to draw him by some spell.  He wanted to get back to the pastures where
he had roamed untrammelled of old with his fellow-steers. The
remembrance was in his heart of the dewy mornings when the herd used to
feed together on the sweet grassy hillocks, and of the clover-smelling
heats of June when they would gather hock-deep in the pools under the
green willow-shadows.  He hated the yoke, he hated the winter; and he
imagined that in the wild pastures he remembered it would be for ever
summer. If only he could get back to those pastures!

One day there came the longed-for opportunity; and he seized it.  He was
standing unyoked beside his mate, and none of the teamsters were near.
His head went up in the air, and with a snort of triumph he dashed away
through the forest.

For a little while there was a vain pursuit.  At last the lumbermen gave
it up.  "Let him be!" said his owner, "an’ I rayther guess he’ll turn up
agin when he gits peckish.  He kaint browse on spruce buds an’
lung-wort."

Plunging on with long gallop through the snow he was soon miles from
camp.  Growing weary he slackened his pace.  He came down to a walk.  As
the lonely red of the winter sunset began to stream through the openings
of the forest, flushing the snows of the tiny glades and swales, he grew
hungry, and began to swallow unsatisfying mouthfuls of the long moss
which roughened the tree-trunks.  Ere the moon got up he had filled
himself with this fodder, and then he lay down in a little thicket for
the night.

But some miles back from his retreat a bear had chanced upon his
foot-prints.  A strayed steer!  That would be an easy prey.  The bear
started straightway in pursuit.  The moon was high in heaven when the
crouched ox heard his pursuer’s approach.  He had no idea what was
coming, but he rose to his feet and waited.

The bear plunged boldly into the thicket, never dreaming of resistance.
With a muffled roar the ox charged upon him and bore him to the ground.
Then he wheeled, and charged again, and the astonished bear was beaten
at once.  Gored by those keen horns he had no stomach for further
encounter, and would fain have made his escape; but as he retreated the
ox charged him again, dashing him against a huge trunk. The bear dragged
himself up with difficulty, beyond his opponent’s reach; and the ox
turned scornfully back to his lair.

At the first yellow of dawn the restless creature was again upon the
march.  He pulled more mosses by the way, but he disliked them the more
intensely now because he thought he must be nearing his ancient pastures
with their tender grass and their streams. The snow was deeper about
him, and his hatred of the winter grew apace.  He came out upon a
hill-side, partly open, whence the pine had years before been stripped,
and where now grew young birches thick together.  Here he browsed on the
aromatic twigs, but for him it was harsh fare.

As his hunger increased he thought a little longingly of the camp he had
deserted, but he dreamed not of turning back.  He would keep on till he
reached his pastures, and the glad herd of his comrades licking salt out
of the trough beside the accustomed pool.  He had some blind instinct as
to his direction, and kept his course to the south very strictly, the
desire in his heart continually leading him aright.

That afternoon he was attacked by a panther, which dropped out of a tree
and tore his throat.  He dashed under a low branch and scraped his
assailant off, then, wheeling about savagely, put the brute to flight
with his first mad charge.  The panther sprang back into his tree, and
the ox continued his quest.

Soon his steps grew weaker, for the panther’s cruel claws had gone deep
into his neck, and his path was marked with blood.  Yet the dream in his
great wild eyes was not dimmed as his strength ebbed away.  His weakness
he never noticed or heeded.  The desire that was urging him absorbed all
other thoughts,—even, almost, his sense of hunger.  This, however, it
was easy for him to assuage, after a fashion, for the long, grey,
unnourishing mosses were abundant.

By and by his path led him into the bed of a stream, whose waters could
be heard faintly tinkling on thin pebbles beneath their coverlet of ice
and snow.  His slow steps conducted him far along this open course.
Soon after he had disappeared, around the curve in the distance there
came the panther, following stealthily upon his crimsoned trail.  The
crafty beast was waiting till the bleeding and the hunger should do its
work, and the object of its inexorable pursuit should have no more heart
left for resistance.

This was late in the afternoon.  The ox was now possessed with his
desire, and would not lie down for any rest.  All night long, through
the gleaming silver of the open spaces, through the weird and chequered
gloom of the deep forest, heedless even of his hunger, or perhaps driven
the more by it as he thought of the wild clover bunches and tender
timothy awaiting him, the solitary ox strove on.  And all night, lagging
far behind in his unabating caution, the panther followed him.

At sunrise the worn and stumbling animal came out upon the borders of
the great lake, stretching its leagues of unshadowed snow away to the
south before him. There was his path, and without hesitation he followed
it.  The wide and frost-bound water here and there had been swept clear
of its snows by the wind, but for the most part its covering lay
unruffled; and the pale dove-colours, and saffrons, and rose-lilacs of
the dawn were sweetly reflected on its surface.

The doomed ox was now journeying very slowly, and with the greatest
labour.  He staggered at every step, and his beautiful head drooped
almost to the snow When he had got a great way out upon the lake, at the
forest’s edge appeared the pursuing panther, emerging cautiously from
the coverts.  The round face and malignant green eyes were raised to
peer out across the expanse.  The labouring progress of the ox was
promptly marked.  Dropping its nose again to the ensanguined snow, the
beast resumed his pursuit, first at a slow trot, and then at a long,
elastic gallop. By this time the ox’s quest was nearly done.  He plunged
forward upon his knees, rose again with difficulty, stood still, and
looked around him.  His eyes were clouding over, but he saw, dimly, the
tawny brute that was now hard upon his steps.  Back came a flash of the
old courage, and he turned, horns lowered, to face the attack.  With the
last of his strength he charged, and the panther paused irresolutely;
but the wanderer’s knees gave way beneath his own impetus, and his horns
ploughed the snow.  With a deep bellowing groan he rolled over on his
side, and the longing, and the dream of the pleasant pastures, faded
from his eyes.  With a great spring the panther was upon him, and the
eager teeth were at his throat,—but he knew nought of it.  No wild
beast, but his own desire, had conquered him.

When the panther had slaked his thirst for blood, he raised his head,
and stood with his fore-paws resting on the dead ox’s side, and gazed
all about him.

To one watching from the lake shore, had there been any one to watch in
that solitude, the wild beast and his prey would have seemed but a speck
of black on the gleaming waste.  At the same hour, league upon league
back in the depth of the ancient forest, a lonely ox was lowing in his
stanchions, restless, refusing to eat, grieving for the absence of his
yoke-fellow.



                      *THE WATCHERS IN THE SWAMP*


Under the first pale lilac wash of evening, just where the slow stream
of the Lost-Water slipped placidly from the open meadows into the
osier-and-bulrush tangles of the swamp, a hermit thrush, perched in the
topmost spray of a young elm tree, was fluting out his lonely and
tranquil ecstasy to the last of the sunset.  _Spheral, spheral, oh,
holy, holy, clear,_ he sang; and stopped abruptly, as if to let the
brief, unfinished, but matchlessly pure and poignant cadence sink
unjarred into the heart of the evening stillness.  One minute—two
minutes—went by; and the spaces of windless air were like a crystal
tinged with faint violet.  And then this most reticent of singers loosed
again his few links of flawless sound—a strain which, more than any
other bird-song on this earth, leaves the listener’s heart aching
exquisitely for its completion.  _Spheral, spheral, oh, holy, holy_—but
this time, as if seeking by further condensation to make his attar of
song still more rare and precious, he cut off the final note, that
haunting, ethereal—_clear_.

Again the tranced stillness.  But now, as if too far above reality to be
permitted to endure, after a few seconds it was rudely broken.  From
somewhere in the mysterious and misty depth of the swamp came a great
booming and yet strangulated voice, so dominant that the ineffable
colours of the evening seemed to fade and the twilight to deepen
suddenly under its sombre vibrations.  Three times it
sounded:—_Klunk-er-glungk_ ... _Klunk-er-glungk_ ... _Klunk-er-glungk_,
an uncouth, mysterious sound, sonorous, and at the same time half
muffled, as if pumped with effort through obstructing waters.  It was
the late cry of the bittern, proclaiming that the day was done.

The hermit-thrush, on his tree-top against the pale sky, sang no more,
but dropped noiselessly to his mate on her nest in the thickets.  Two
bats flickered and zigzagged hither and thither above the glimmering
stream.  And the leaf-scented dusk gathered down broodingly, with the
dew, over the wide solitudes of Lost-Water Swamp.

                  *      *      *      *      *      *

It was high morning in the heart of the swamp. From a sky of purest
cobalt flecked sparsely with silver-white wisps of cloud, the sun glowed
down with tempered, fruitful warmth upon the tender green of the
half-grown rushes and already rank water-grasses—the young leafage of
the alder and willow thickets—the wide pools and narrow, linking lanes
of unruffled water already mantling in spots with lily-pad and
arrow-weed.  A few big red-and-black butterflies wavered aimlessly above
the reed-tops.  Here and there, with a faint elfin clashing of
transparent wings, a dragon-fly, a gleam of emerald and amethyst fire,
flashed low over the water.  From every thicket came a soft chatter of
the nesting red-shouldered blackbirds.

And just in the watery fringe of the reeds, as brown and erect and
motionless as a mooring stake, stood the bittern.

Not far short of three feet in length, from the tip of his long and
powerful dagger-pointed bill to the end of his short rounded tail, with
his fierce, unblinking eyes round, bright and hard, with his snaky head
and long, muscular neck, he looked, as he was, the formidable master of
the swamp.  In colouring he was a streaked and freckled mixture of slaty
greys and browns and ochres above, with a freckled whitish throat, and
dull buff breast and belly—a mixture which would have made him
conspicuous amid the cool light green of the sedges, but that it
harmonised so perfectly with the earth and the roots.  Indeed, moveless
as he stood, to the undiscriminating eye he might easily have passed for
a decaying stump by the water side.  His long legs were of dull olive
which melted into the shadowy tones of the water.

For perhaps ten minutes the great bird stood there without the movement
of so much as a feather, apparently unconcerned while the small
inhabitants of the swamp made merry in the streaming sunshine.  But his
full round eyes took in, without stirring in their sockets, all that
went on about him, in air, or sedge, or water.  Suddenly, and so swiftly
that it seemed one motion, his neck uncoiled and his snaky head darted
downward into the water near his feet, to rise again with an eight-inch
chub partly transfixed and partly gripped between the twin daggers of
his half-opened bill.  Squirming, and shining silverly, it was held
aloft, while its captor stalked solemnly in through the sedges to a bit
of higher and drier turf.  Here he proceeded to hammer his prize into
stillness upon an old half-buried log.  Then, tossing it into the air,
he caught it adroitly by the head, and swallowed it, his fierce eyes
blinking with the effort as he slowly forced it down his capacious
gullet.  It was a satisfying meal, even for such a healthy appetite as
his, and he felt no immediate impulse to continue his fishing.
Remaining where he was beside the old log, thigh deep in the young
grasses and luxuriously soaking in the sunshine, he fell once more into
a position of rigid movelessness. But his attitude was now quite
different from that which he had affected when his mind was set on fish.
His neck was coiled backwards till the back of his head rested on his
shoulders, and his bill pointed skyward, as if the only peril he had to
consider seriously during his time of repose might come, if at all, from
that direction.  And though he rested, and every nerve and muscle seemed
to sleep, his gem-like eyes were sleeplessly vigilant.  Only at long
intervals a thin, whitish membrane flickered down across them for a
fraction of an instant, to cleanse and lubricate them and keep their
piercing brightness undimmed.

Once a brown marsh-hawk, questing for water-rats, winnowed past, only
ten or a dozen feet above his head. But he never stirred a muscle.  He
knew it would be a much more formidable and daring marauder than the
marsh-hawk that would risk conclusions with the uplifted dagger of his
bill.

In about half-an-hour—so swift is the digestion of these masters of the
swamp—the bittern began to think about a return to his easy and pleasant
hunting. But, always deliberate except when there was need for instant
action, at first he did no more than uncoil his long neck, lower his
bill to a level, and stand motionlessly staring over the sedge-tops.
One of the big red-and-black butterflies came wavering near, perhaps
under the fatal delusion that that rigid yellow bill would be a good
perch for him to alight on.  A lightning swift dart of the snaky head;
and those gay wings, after curiously adorning for a moment the tip of
the yellow bill, were deftly gathered in and swallowed—an unsubstantial
morsel, but not to be ignored when one is blest with a bittern’s
appetite.

After a few minutes more of statuesque deliberation, having detected
nothing in the landscape particularly demanding his attention, the
bittern lazily lifted his broad wings and flapped in slow flight, his
long legs almost brushing the sedge-tops, back to the post of vantage
where he had captured the chub.  As soon as he alighted he stiffened
himself erect, and stared about as if to see whether his flight had been
noticed. Then, presently, he seemed to remember something of importance.
This was the season of mating joys and cares.  It was time he signalled
his brown mate.  First he began snapping his bill sharply, and then he
went through a number of contortions with his throat and neck, as if he
were trying to gulp down vast quantities of air, and finding the effort
most difficult.  At length, however, the painful-looking struggle was
crowned with achievement.  Once more, as on the preceding evening, that
great call boomed forth across the swamp, sonorous yet strangulated,
uncouth yet thrilling and haunting, the very voice of solitude and
mystery:—_Klunk-er-glungk—Klunk-er-glungk—Klunk-er-glungk_.

Almost immediately came an acknowledgement of this untuneful love-song—a
single hoarse _quaw-awk_; and another snaky brown head and yellow dagger
bill were raised above the tops of the sedges.  The hen bittern, in
response to her mate’s cry, had just come off her nest.

For some tranquil moments the two eyed each other without stirring, and
it almost seemed as if their very immobility was a mode of expression, a
secret code for communication between them.  The result, if so, appeared
to be satisfactory.  The hen came stalking solemnly through the grass
and sedges towards the water’s edge, only pausing on the way to transfix
and gulp down a luckless frog.  And the stately male, once more
spreading his spacious vans, flapped slowly over and dropped again into
the grass some ten or a dozen feet from the nest.

The nest was a rather casual structure of dry grass and weeds, in a
hollow of the turf, and more or less concealed by leaning tufts of
swamp-grass.  It contained three large eggs of a dull greenish buff,
clouded with darker tones, and blending elusively with the soft
colourings of the nest.  These precious eggs the male bittern had no
intention of brooding.  His object was merely to stand guard over them,
with jealous vigilance, while his mate was away foraging.  The sun was
softly warm upon them, through the thin shadows of the grass blades, and
he knew they would not chill during her brief absence.  He took his post
just near enough to keep his eye upon the nest, without unduly drawing
attention to its hiding-place.

This patch of water-meadow, perhaps a half-acre in extent, on which the
bitterns had their nest, was one of many such tiny islands scattered
amid the interlacing channels of Lost-Water Swamp.  It formed a
congenial refuge for all that small life of the wilderness which loves
to be near water without being in it.  It was particularly beloved of
the meadow-mice, because the surrounding watercourses and morasses were
an effectual barrier to some of their worst enemies, such as foxes,
skunks, and weasels; and they throve here amazingly.  To be sure the
bittern would take toll of them when they came his way, but he did not
deliberately hunt them, rather preferring a diet of frogs and fish; and
moreover, his depredations upon the mice were more than counterbalanced
by his eager hostility to their dreaded foes, the snakes.  So, on the
whole, he might have been regarded by the mouse community as a
benefactor, though a rather costly one.

Even now, as he stood there apparently thinking of nothing but his
guardianship of the nest, he gave a telling example of his beneficence
in this regard.  There was a tiny, frightened squeak, a desperate small
rustling in the grass-stems, and a terrified mouse scurried by, with a
two-foot black snake at its tail.  The bittern’s head flashed down,
unerringly, and rose again, more slowly, with the snake gripped by the
middle. Held high in air, as if on exhibition, between the knife-edge
tips of that deadly yellow bill, the victim writhed and twisted, coiling
itself convulsively around its captor’s head and neck.  But with two or
three sharp jerks it was drawn further back, towards the base of the
mandibles, and then, with an inexorable pressure, bitten clean in two,
the halves uncoiled and fell to the ground, still wriggling
spasmodically.  With grave deliberation the bittern planted one foot
upon the head half, and demolished the vicious head with a tap of his
bill.  This done, he swallowed it, with determined and strenuous
gulpings.  Then he eyed the other half doubtfully, and decided that he
was not yet ready for it.  So, placing one foot upon it with a precise
air, as if in assertion of ownership, he lifted his head again and
resumed his motionless guarding of the nest.  If any mice were
watching—and their beady bright eyes are _always_ watching—they may well
have congratulated themselves that the pair of bitterns had chosen this
particular island for their nesting-place.

A little later in the morning—perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes after
the incident of the snake—the mice found yet another potent reason for
congratulating themselves on the presence of their expensive champion.
The hen bittern, apparently, had not been very successful in her
foraging.  She had shown as yet no sign of returning to the nest.  The
male was just beginning to get impatient.  He even went so far as to
move his head, though ever so slightly.  Indeed, he was on the very
point of beginning those grotesque snappings of the bill and gulpings of
air, which would be followed by his booming triple call, when he caught
sight of a dark form moving through the grass, beyond the nest.
Instantly he stiffened again into rigidity. Only, very slowly, the long
slender feathers which crowned his head and lay along his neck began to
rise.

The dark form, gliding stealthily among the grasses, was that of an
animal about two feet in length, low on the legs, slender, sinuous,
quick-darting.  The bittern had never chanced to observe a mink before,
but he needed no one to tell him that this creature was dangerous.
Ferocity and efficiency were written all over the savage, triangular
head, and lithe, swift body. But the intruder had evidently not yet
discovered the precious nest.  He was half a dozen paces away from it,
and not moving directly towards it.  He seemed quite otherwise occupied.
Indeed, in the very next moment he pounced upon a mouse, which he tore
and devoured with an eagerness which showed him to be hungry.  The
bittern, being blest with prudence and self-control, made no move to
meet trouble half-way. He waited, and hoped anxiously that the treasure
of the nest might escape discovery.

The mink, to do that sanguinary marauder justice, was not at the moment
thinking of any such luxury as eggs.  A restless and far-ranging slayer,
and almost as much at home in the water as on dry land, he had entered
the swamp in the hope of finding just such a happy hunting ground as
this bit of mouse-thronged meadow.  He had just arrived, after much
swimming of sluggish channels, scrambling over slimy roots, and picking
a fastidious way about dark pools of treacherous ooze, and he was now
full of blood-thirsty excitement over the success of his adventure.  His
acute ears and supersensitive nostrils had already assured him that the
meadow was simply swarming with mice.  His nose sniffed greedily the
subtle, warm mousy smells. His ears detected the innumerable, elusive
mousy squeaks and rustlings.  His eyes, lit now with the red spark of
the blood-lust, were less fortunate than his ears and nose, because word
of a new and dreadful foe had gone abroad among the mouse-folk, and
concealment was the order of the day.  But already, he had made one
kill—and that so easily that he knew the quarry here was not much
hunted.  He felt that, at last, he could afford to take life easily and
do his hunting at leisure.

He licked his lips, gave his long whiskers a brush with his fore-paws,
to cleanse them after his rather hasty and untidy meal, and was just
preparing to follow a very distinct mouse trail which lay alluringly
before his nose, when a chance puff of air, drawing softly across the
grass, bore him a scent which instantly caught his attention.  The scent
of bittern was new to him, as it chanced.  He knew it for the scent of a
bird, a water-bird of some kind,—probably, from its abundance, a large
bird, and certainly, therefore, a bird worth his hunting.  That the
hunting might have any possible perils for himself was far from
occurring to his savage and audacious spirit.

Curious and inquiring, he rose straight up en his hind-quarters in order
to get a good view, and peered searchingly over the grass-tops.  He saw
nothing but the green and sun-steeped meadow with the red-and-black
butterflies wavering over it, the gleam of the unruffled water, and the
osier-thickets beyond, their leafage astir with blackbirds and
swamp-sparrows. He looked directly at, and _past_, the guardian bittern,
not discovering him for a bird at all, but probably mistaking that
rigid, vigilant shape for an old brown stump.  For the mink’s eyes, like
those of many other animals, were less unerring than his ears and
nostrils, and much quicker to discern motion than fixed form. Had the
bittern stirred by so much as a hair’s breadth, the mink would have
detected him at once for what he was.  But there in the full glare of
the open, his immobility concealed him like a magic cloak.  The mink
looked at him and saw him not; nor saw another similar form, unstirring,
tensely watchful, over by the water-side.  The hen bittern, warned
perhaps by some subtle telepathic signal from her mate, had stopped her
fishing and stood on guard.

Having failed to detect the source of that strange, intriguing smell,
the mink concluded, from past experiences with partridge, grouse, and
duck, that it must come from a brooding mother, hiding on a nest in the
grass.  Nothing could be more satisfactory.  His eyes blazed blood-red
at the prospect of slaughter. Dropping down again upon all fours, he
darted forward, up the trail of the scent, soundless as a shadow and
swift as a shifting beam of light,—and came full upon the nest with its
three unsheltered eggs.  Instantly seizing the nearest one between his
agile forepaws, he crunched the shell and began greedily sucking up the
contents.

But the savour of the feast had hardly thrilled his palate when it
seemed as if the skies had fallen upon him.  A scalding anguish stabbed
his hunched-up shoulders, a smother of buffeting wings enveloped him,
and he was borne backward from the nest in an ignominious bundle, the
broken egg-shell still clinging to his nose.

At that moment when he had dropped upon all fours and darted forward
through the grass toward the nest, all the immobility of the watching
bittern had vanished.  His long crest standing straight up in his fury,
he had launched himself to the attack, covered the intervening distance
with two tremendous thrusts of his powerful wings, and fallen like a
cyclone upon the violator of his home.  The dagger of his bill had
struck deeply, though at random; his hard wing-elbows had landed their
blows effectively; and the impetus of his charge had swept the battle
clear of the nest, thus saving the two remaining eggs from destruction.
The same impetus carried him clear of his foe and a couple of paces
past, but he turned adroitly in the air and landed facing about, ready
for the inevitable counter-attack.

Amazed and startled though he was, and handled with a roughness quite
new to his experience, the mink was in no way daunted.  Rather he was so
boiling with rage that his wonted wariness forsook him completely.  With
a snarl that was almost a screech he sprang straight at the long,
exposed, inviting throat of his adversary.  Had those keen white fangs
of his, still dripping with egg, reached their aim, the fight would have
been over.  His leap was swift, true, and deadly.  But equally true, and
more swift, was the counter-stroke.  He was met, and stopped in mid-air,
by a thrust of the bittern’s bill, which, had he not twisted his head
just in time, would have split his skull.  As it was, it laid open one
side of his snarling face, destroyed one eye, and brought him heavily to
the ground.  Even under this punishment, however, he would not
acknowledge defeat.  Springing aside, with a lightning zigzag movement
to confuse the aim of that terrific bill, he darted low and made a leap
at his antagonist’s long, vulnerable legs.  He missed only by a hair’s
breadth, as the bittern, keenly alive to the risk of such a manoeuvre,
leapt nimbly aside and baulked him with a stiff wing-stroke.  He seized
the baffling wing and strove to pull his tall adversary down. But two
great pinion feathers came away in his jaws, and the next moment he got
another terrible, driving stab from the dagger beak, well forward on the
flank. It was a slanting thrust, or it would have pierced his lungs; but
it nearly knocked the wind out of him, and ploughed a deep red gash in
his glossy coat.

Screeching furiously, he doubled on himself like a snake to meet this
attack.  But at the same moment he cringed under another excruciating
stab, this time in the haunch; and looking up, he saw himself enveloped
in a cloud of blinding wings.  The hen bittern had arrived to join in
the defence of her nest.

Now, bloodthirsty and merciless marauder though he was, the mink’s
courage was a thing beyond dispute; and terribly though the fight had so
far gone against him, with a single foe to confront he would probably
have held on to the death.  But for all his fury he was not quite mad;
and this reinforcement of the enemy was too much for him.  Suddenly
straightening himself out long and small like an eel, he slipped from
under the terrifying storm of wings and stabs, and made off through the
grass at the best speed that in all his swift career he had ever
attained. He made for the water, which he felt would be his safest
refuge.  The angry bitterns were after him on the instant, flying as low
as possible and stabbing down at him through the grass-stems.  But his
cunning and slippery zigzags enabled him to dodge most of their thrusts;
and in their eagerness they got in each other’s way—which probably saved
him his bare life.  At length, streaming with blood, and leaving behind
him a red trail to proclaim his discomfiture to the mice, he reached the
water, and dived in.  Without daring to come to the surface he swam
across the channel—here about two score paces in width—and cautiously
raised his head behind a screen of over-hanging weeds. He saw his two
pursuers standing, motionless and erect, on the opposite bank, watching
with fierce eyes for him to reappear.  He decided not to reappear.
Submerging himself again, he swam on down stream till he had rounded a
sharp bend of the channel.  When he thought it prudent to show himself
once more, he was sheltered from those avenging eyes by a dense screen
of alder and willows.  These bushes were full of nesting red-wings, who
chattered at him angrily. He paid no heed to their scolding, but hurried
through the thicket, and on down the bank till he found an ancient
musk-rat hole.  Into this he crept eagerly, and lay down in the grateful
dark to nurse his wounds and his humiliation.

After the disappearance of the mink the hen bittern soon returned to her
nest.  But the male stayed where he was.  From time to time he would
snap up a butterfly or beetle, or spear a passing frog or chub or
sucker. But always his indignant heart was hoping that the mink would
return.  After an hour or two, however, his wrath died down and he began
to forget.

Then he would occasionally vary his still-hunting, by walking with slow,
meditative steps up and down the strip of bare ooze between the grass
and the water, feeling out with his sensitive claws the little
freshwater clams which lay hidden in the mud.  The clams were scarce,
however, so along about the middle of the afternoon he flapped lazily
back to his old fishing station on the other side of the meadow.

Later in the day, when the osiers were beginning to throw long shadows
across the water, and the red-and-black butterflies had grown too
indolent to dance, and the blue-and-amethyst dragon-flies had ceased
their hawking of mosquitoes over the lily-pads and arrow-weed, the great
bittern, full fed and at ease with life, flapped languidly up from the
water-side and dropped close beside the nest.  His brooding mate lifted
her head, as if in greeting, and laid it back at once between her
shoulders, with her yellow bill pointing skyward as was her vigilant
custom.

Soon the first warm tints of sunset began to stain the edges of the
clouds above the far fringes of the swamp.  Motionless and erect beside
his mate, the bittern watched the oncoming of the enchantment as his day
drew to its quiet close.  Suddenly the coloured quiet of the air was
disturbed by the beating of hurried wings.  He glanced upward, without
moving.  A mallard drake, in frantic flight, whirred past, fifteen or
twenty feet above his head, making for the water. Close after the
fugitive, and swiftly overhauling him with long, tremendous thrusts of
his mighty wings, came that most dreaded cut-throat of the air, a great
blue goshawk.  Swift and bullet-like was the flight of the desperate
fugitive; but that of the hawk was far swifter.  Had the water been two
feet further away the fate of the glossy drake would have been sealed.
He would have been overtaken, his throat torn out in mid-air, his body
carried off to the nearest tree-top to be plucked and devoured.  But
this time the inscrutable Fates of the wilderness, too seldom so lenient
to the weak, decided to favour him.  With a heavy-sounding splash he
shot down into the blessed water, and disappeared into safety beneath
the lily-pads, just in time.

The destroying talons of the great hawk clutched convulsively at the
dandy curled tips of his tail as he vanished.

With his arrowy speed, his precision of stroke, his audacity and fiery
spirit, the blue goshawk was little accustomed to the experience of
being baulked of his prey.  He knew well enough that his quarry would
not show itself again, but would swim away under water and only come up
to breathe in the safe shelter of some dense thicket of rushes.  With a
sharp yelp of wrath, he swept up from the water on a long, graceful
curve, wheeled sharply above the osiers, and sailed back low above the
bittern’s island, seeking other prey.  And his piercing gaze fell upon
the bittern, standing rigid beside the nest.

His swoop was instantaneous, straight and swift as a bolt from a
cross-bow.  But that coiled steel spring of the bittern’s neck was even
swifter; and as his talons struck downward, the bittern’s dagger thrust
caught him in the very centre of the impending claw, splitting the foot
fairly and disabling it.  Nevertheless, by the shock of the attack the
bittern was borne downward, and would have been caught in the breast or
throat by the other talon; but at the same instant his watchful mate,
who had half risen on the nest that her eggs might not be crushed in the
mêlée, delivered her thrust.  It went true.  And it had not only the
drive of her sinewy neck behind it, but also the full force of her
powerful thighs, as well as the assailant’s descending weight to drive
it home.  It caught the goshawk full in the base of the neck, pierced
clean through, and severed the spine.  And in a wild confusion of
sprawled legs and pounding wings the three great birds fell in a heap in
the grass, just beyond the nest.

The two bitterns nimbly extricated themselves, and with wings pounding,
stabbed savagely, again and again, at the unresisting body of the hawk.
Presently, as if by one impulse, they both stood up, erect and still as
images, their yellow bills dripping with blood. The male had a bleeding
gash along the side of his head, and had lost several of his haughty
crest feathers. But this concerned him little.  His heart swelled with
triumph.  He was forced to give it utterance.  He snapped his bill
sharply, gulped a few mouthfuls of air, and then sent forth his booming
challenge across the swamp:—_Klunk-er-glungk ... Klunk-er-glungk ...
Klunk-er-glungk_.

His mate spread her broad wings, shook herself till her ruffled plumage
fell into place, wiped her conquering bill on the grass, stepped
delicately back into the nest, and softly settled herself down upon her
two eggs, so miraculously preserved.

Silence fell on Lost-Water Swamp.  The air became gradually transfused
with amethyst and pale rose. And then, far and faint, tranquil and
poignant, came the entrancing cadence—_Oh, spheral, spheral, oh, holy,
holy, spheral_—the silver vesper ecstasy of the hermit-thrush, in his
tree-top against the pellucid sky.



                        *QUILLS THE INDIFFERENT*


Quills was born in a capacious hole in the heart of a huge and ancient
red maple, near the banks of the Tobique River, in New Brunswick.

The hole had to be capacious, for Quills’s mother was a fine porcupine,
in her prime, fully two and a half feet in length, massive in build, and
a good twenty pounds in weight; and, moreover, her armament of long,
bristling spines made it essential that she should not be unduly crowded
in her nest.  But the entrance was only large enough for her to squeeze
through it without discomfort, so the dusky interior was sheltered, warm
and dry.  It was also safe; for in all the wilderness there was no
savage marauder reckless enough to invade a porcupine’s nest while the
owner was at home.

In proportion to the size of his mother, Quills, like all young
porcupines, was an amazingly big baby—hardly smaller, indeed, than the
new-born cub of the black bear.  His length was about eleven inches, his
weight a shade over two pounds—and this when he was not yet twenty-four
hours old.  He was richly clothed with long, dark fur, almost black,
under which lay hidden his sprouting armament of spines, already
formidable, though only about half an inch in length. Born with the
insatiable appetite of his tribe, he lay stretched out between his
mother’s stumpy fore-legs, nursing greedily, with an incessant
accompaniment of tiny squeaks and squeals of satisfaction.  The sounds
were loud enough to attract the notice of two little black-and-white
woodpeckers who had just alighted on the trunk near the hole.  With
sleek heads cocked alertly, and bright eyes keen with interrogation,
they listened to the curious noises inside the tree.  Then they
clambered on up the trunk to a safer height, wondering, no doubt, that
any youngling should be guilty of such an indiscretion as thus to betray
the secret of its hiding-place.  They could not know that the porcupine
baby, almost alone among the babes of the wild, was exempted, through
the reputation of his spines, from the law of silence as the price of
life. Young or old, the porcupine will make a noise whenever it pleases
him to do so, and with a lofty indifference as to who his hearers may
be.

                  *      *      *      *      *      *

It was spring, and spring comes late to the high valley of the Tobique
stream.  The ancient red maple, still full of vigorous life in the
sap-wood of its outer shell, in spite of the great hollow at its
decaying heart, was mantled over every branch and twig with a glowing
veil of tiny rose-bud blooms, though the green of its leaf-buds was
hardly yet showing through the brown sheaths.  The ice had been broken
up and been swept away in tumbling masses, and the current of the swift
river, swollen with the spring freshet, filled the air about the
porcupine’s nest with a pleasant, softly thunderous roar.  From all the
open glades the snow was gone, though masses of it, shrunken and greyish
and sprinkled with dead leaves and twigs, still lingered in the fir
thickets and the deeper hollows.  On the drier hillocks and about the
rotting stumps a carpet of round, flat, yellowish-green and bronzy
leaves shielded the lurking pink-and-white blossoms and haunting
perfumes of the Mayflower, or trailing arbutus, the shy darling of the
Northern spring.  The fairy fragrance came and went elusively across the
pervading scent of moist earth and spicy balsam-tips, as the mild breeze
pulsed vaguely through the forest.

It was mid-afternoon of the second day of Quills’s life.  Pleasantly
fatigued from his double duty of nursing and growing, he fell into a
sound sleep.  Then his mother, spurred by the now insistent demands of
her own appetite, gently disentangled herself from the clutch of his
baby claws in her fur, crawled from the hole, and descended the trunk to
seek a hasty meal.

But what was haste for a porcupine would have been regarded at the
extreme of lazy loitering in any other creature of the wild.  At the
foot of the old maple she stood for some moments loudly sniffing the air
with her blunt nostrils.  Then, as if making up her mind that it was
hemlock she wanted, she ambled off with heavy deliberation to the
nearest hemlock tree, climbed it with a noisy rattling of claws, settled
herself comfortably in the first crotch, and fell to gnawing the rough
bark.  When she had taken the edge off her appetite with this fare—which
no stomach but a porcupine’s could ever digest—she crawled out along a
branch, as far as it would bear her weight, and, gathering a lot of the
slender twigs between her fore-paws, made a hearty dessert of the
dark-green, glossy frondage. Other hemlocks, standing at a greater
distance from her nest, already bore the conspicuous marks of her
foraging; but this one she had hitherto left untouched against the day
when she would be wanting to take her meals near home.

While his mother was away feeding, Quills had slept, soundly and
silently, for perhaps an hour or more. Then he woke up—hungry, of
course, as befitted a healthy young porcupine.  Finding no warm mother
to snuggle him and feed him, he at once set up his small but earnest
complaint of whines and squeals and grumbles, all unconcerned as to who
or what might overhear him.

As it chanced at this moment, a hungry weasel—the most insatiably
bloodthirsty of all the wilderness prowlers—was just approaching the
foot of the old maple, nosing out the somewhat stale trail of a rabbit.
As his keen ear caught these tell-tale sounds from within the tree, he
stopped short, and his malignant little eyes began to blaze.  Then he
glided around the great trunk, halted just below the hole, and sniffed
discriminately at the strong fresh scent upon the bark. But at this
point he hesitated—and it is not usual for a hungry weasel to hesitate.
The scent was porcupine, and a grown-up porcupine was a proposition
which not even his audacity was prepared to tackle.  The sounds from
within that tempting hole, to be sure, were the voice of a baby
porcupine.  But was the baby alone, or was the mother with it?  In the
latter case, he would as soon have jumped into the jaws of a lynx as
enter that hole.  The fresh scent on the bark offered no solution to the
problem.  Was it made in coming out or going in?  He sniffed at it
again, growing fiercer and more hungry every moment.

Suddenly he heard behind him a dry rattling of quills and a confused
noise of squeals and chattering grunts.  The mother porcupine was
hurrying across the moist turf, gnashing her jaws, and looking twice her
natural size with every quill on end.  In her rage and anxiety she was
making remarkable speed for a porcupine.  The weasel, his long white
fangs bared and his eyes red with disappointed fury, whipped about and
stood facing her till she was within three or four feet of him.  But for
all his rage he was no fool.  For her gnashing yellow teeth he had no
respect whatever.  But those deadly, poisonous, needle-sharp spines of
hers!  He had no wish to interview them too closely.  With eleventh-hour
discretion he slipped aside to make way for her, and glided off to pick
up again the trail of the rabbit.

The mother porcupine never even turned her head to see where the enemy
had gone to.  Wild with anxiety, she scrabbled up the trunk and into her
nest.  Her experienced nose, however, at once assured her that the
weasel had not been inside.  Instantly appeased, she stretched herself
on her side, drew the complaining youngster to her breast, licked and
nosed him for a few moments, and settled into a comfortable doze.

Having this hearty mother’s attention all to himself—an exceptional
advantage, as a porcupine baby has generally one brother or sister, if
not more, to share the maternal supply—young Quills grew and throve
amazingly.  And his armoury of spines throve with him.  In a few weeks
he was out of the hole and following his mother up into the hemlock
trees, where he speedily learned to feed on the glossy green tips of the
frondage.  From this diet he passed quickly to the stronger fare of the
harsh and bitter bark, the gnawing of which was a delight to his
powerful, chisel-like teeth. By the time the full flush of the Tobique
summer, ardent and swift, had crowded the rich-soiled valley with
greenery and bloom, Quills’s mother had grown altogether indifferent to
him.  She had long ago refused him her breasts, of which, indeed, he had
no further need.  But she still permitted him to follow her about, if he
wanted companionship, so long as he did not trouble her.  And in this
way he learned the few things—astonishingly few, it would seem—that a
porcupine needs to know in order to hold his own in the struggle for
existence.  He learned, among other things, that nearly all the green
stuff that the forest produced was more or less fit for his food, that
there were other trees besides the hemlock whose bark was tasty and
nourishing and pleasantly resistant to his teeth, and that in a broad,
sunny backwater of the river there grew a profusion of great round flat
leaves, the pads of the water-lily, which were peculiarly thrilling to
his palate. In fact, most of his learning had to do with food, which was
what he appeared to live for.  His enemies were few, and seldom
enthusiastic.  And he never troubled his head about avoiding them.  With
an indifference nothing less than colossal, he left it to them to avoid
him, if they wished; and they did so wish, ninety-nine times out of the
hundred.

Along towards the latter part of August, Quills found that his mother
was no longer indifferent.  She had grown actively unfriendly.  Whenever
he came near her she grunted and chattered to him in such an irritable
fashion that it was obvious, even to a not over-sensitive spirit like
his, that his companionship was distasteful to her.  This attitude
neither grieved nor angered him, however.  She was no longer of any
importance to him.  He simply quit following her, went his own way, and
forgot her.  Striking off on his own, and impelled by instinct to seek a
fresh range for himself, he plunged into the still, warm tide of the
sunny backwater and swam, with much splashing and little speed, to the
opposite bank.  Swimming was no task to him, for his coat of hollow
quills made it impossible for him to sink.  The backwater was not more
than thirty or forty yards in width, but when he had crossed it, and
crawled forth upon the opposite bank, he felt that he had found a new
world, and owned it.  He ambled joyously along the bank to a point where
he had marked a bed of bright-green arrow-weed, and gorged himself to
his great content on the shapely, pointed leaves and stout succulent
stalks.  Then he climbed a big poplar and curled up to sleep,
self-sufficient and pleased to be alone.

Quills was by this time more than half grown up, and, moreover, thanks
to his happily selected parentage and his ample nourishment when a baby,
he was as big and strong as many a less favoured porcupine achieves to
be at maturity.  In colour he was of a very dark brown, verging on
black, and peppered with a dingy yellowish white, his long fur being
dark with light tips, and his spines cream-coloured with black tips.
The spines on his body ranged from two to four inches in length, and
when he was not angry, they were partly concealed by the fur, which was
considerably longer.  The quills on his head and the sides of his face
were about an inch in length.  His short, blunt muzzle was free from
spines, but closely furred to the lips, and conspicuously adorned by his
large and prominent front teeth, his gnawing teeth, which were of a
vivid dark yellow colour.  His legs and all the under parts of his body
were clothed in dense, soft fur, entirely without spines.  His tail,
about five inches in length, was very thick and powerful, and heavily
armed with spines to the tip.  The spines on his body were for his
protection, but this armed tail was his one weapon of offence—a weapon
with which at a single stroke he could fill an enemy’s mouth or paws
with a hundred barbed and poisonous needles; and the peculiar deadliness
of these needles, large and small alike, lay in their power of swift and
inexorable burrowing.  Once their subtle points penetrated the skin,
their innumerable, microscopic, scale-like barbs would begin working
them inwards through the muscles, setting up violent inflammations as
they went, till they would reach some vital part and put their wretched
victim out of his misery.

So far in his career young Quills had had no occasion to test the
efficiency of that formidable tail of his as a weapon, though from time
to time he would stretch himself elaborately, leg after leg and claw
after claw, ruffle up all his spines as if to see that they were in
working order, and lash out alarmingly with the aforesaid tail by way of
keeping it efficient and ready for action.  And now, as luck would have
it, the first enemy he was to encounter was the very one against whom
his best defences were of least avail—namely, Man himself.  But
fortunately for young Quills, and for this his brief biography, the man
in question was neither needing meat—least of all, such harsh meat as
porcupine—nor of a destructive disposition.  He was magnanimous, and
Quills never knew that he held on to his little lease of life by favour.

The man had come up to the Tobique in a canoe, partly for the fishing,
partly to refresh his spirit with the clean airs of the wilderness.  He
left his guide frying bacon and trout for the midday meal, and strolled
up the backwater to cast a fly and see if there were any big fish
lurking in the shade of the lily-pads.  He forgot about his fishing,
however, when he caught sight of Quills, looking somewhat like a big
dilapidated bird’s nest, curled up asleep in the crotch of a young
poplar. Being interested in all the kindred of the wild, the man reeled
in his line, stood his rod carefully in a bush, and went and shook the
tree as hard as he could, to see what Quills would do.

Quills woke up with a startled squeak, dug his claws into the bark to
secure himself, and peered down to see what was the matter.  At sight of
this wanton disturber of his dreams he grew very angry.  He chattered
and grunted, and clashed his big yellow teeth loudly, and ruffled up his
deadly spines as a clear warning to the intruder to keep off.

The man laughed, as if pleased at this bold defiance. He looked about
for a long pole, thinking to poke Quills from his perch, so as to study
him a little nearer at hand.  But poles for poking porcupines do not lie
about the Tobique wilderness, as he presently realised. He decided to
climb the poplar, for a closer—but not too close—investigation.  But the
moment he began to climb, Quills, boiling with indignation, started down
to meet the danger half-way.  He came down backwards, with his tail
lashing savagely.  And he came down so astonishingly fast that the man
had barely time to drop to the ground and jump out of the way, chuckling
at the speedy success of his experiment.

"Half a jiffy, and the beggar would have made my face look like a
pin-cushion," he muttered approvingly.

Reaching the ground, Quills stopped and stood chattering his defiance.
The man, some paces distant, eyed him humorously for a few seconds, then
went and got his fishing-rod out of the bush.  With a bit of string from
his jacket pocket he tied his cloth cap over the butt of the rod, and
then, like a fencer with a button on his foil, with this weapon of
courtesy he came and made a gentle thrust at Quills’s blunt nose.  Quick
as a flash Quills whisked around and lashed at the impertinent weapon
with his tail.  The man at once withdrew it and examined his cap.  It
was stuck full, at that one slashing blow, with beautiful, polished,
black-tipped white quills.

"Thanks awfully, old chap," said he.  "They are lovely specimens, so I
won’t tease you any more." And, carrying his prize carefully before him,
he turned back to the canoe.  Quills glared after him, till his long
form had vanished through the trees.  Then his anger cooled, and
exultation at this easy and signal triumph took its place.  His spines
went down till they were hidden beneath the dark fur and he seemed to
have shrunk to half his size.  The stress of his emotions having made
him hungry—_anything_ will do to make a porcupine hungry—he crawled down
to the edge of the water and fell to feasting in a patch of arrow-weed.

                  *      *      *      *      *      *

Autumn on the Tobique passed swiftly in a blaze of colour.  A few sudden
touches of frost in the night, and then the maples stood glorious in
scarlet and crimson, the birches and poplars shimmered in pale gold, the
ash trees smouldered in dull purple, and the rowans flaunted their great
bunches of waxy orange-vermilion berries against the solid dark-green
background of hemlock and spruce.  The partridge-coveys whirred on
strong wing across the glowing corridors of the forest, under a sky of
sharp cobalt.  For a day or two every tree-top was elusively vocal with
the thin-drawn single notes of the migrating cedar wax-wings—notes which
were mere tiny beads of sound.  The ice which formed each night along
the edges of the shallow pools flitted away each morning before the
unclouded sun was two hours high.  And the air, stirred with light
breezes, sparkling, and rich with earth-scents, was like wine in the
veins of every creature alive.  One night came a light sifting of snow,
in gossamer flakes which vanished at the first touch of the sun.  Then
the breezes died away; the air, losing its crisp tang, grew balmy and
languorous, the sharp blue of the sky veiled itself in a tender opaline
haze; the wilderness seemed to fall asleep, its silence broken only by
the whispers of the falling leaves and, once in a while, the startling
_chirr-rr-rr_ of a red squirrel exulting over his hoard of beech-nuts.
Life for the moment had taken on the tissue of a dream.  It was the
magic "Indian Summer."  And folk in the scattered settlements, drinking
in the beauty and the wonder of it, were sad because they knew how
swiftly it must pass.

It passed, as it had come, in a night.  Day broke steel-grey and
menacing, with a bitter wind cutting down out of the North, and in a few
hours everything was rigid with frost.  Quills, though cold in reality
had small terror for his hardy and well-clad frame, had been disturbed
and annoyed by the sudden change. He didn’t like the wind.  It occurred
to him that a warm and sheltered retreat, like his dimly-remembered nest
in the heart of the old maple, would be a better sleeping-place than the
draughty branches of a hemlock or a spruce.  In this frame of mind he
thought of a tempting-looking hole which he had noticed under a big
boulder some fifty yards or so up the backwater. He knew, to be sure,
that the hole belonged to an old dog-fox, but that fact did not trouble
him.  His brain had only room for one idea at a time.  He set out
straightway for that hole.

At the entrance to the den the strong smell of fox seemed to him like a
challenge, and his spines rose angrily.  He had no idea whether the
owner was at home or not, and he made no attempt to find out.  By way of
precaution, however, he turned round before entering and backed in,
slashing vigorously with his armed tail as he did so.  The fox was not
at home. He found the retreat dry and warm—in fact, just what he wanted.
So, having well breakfasted before leaving his tree, he settled himself
down with his hind-quarters to the entrance, pretty well blocking it,
and unconcernedly went to sleep.

Presently the fox came trotting home, intent on getting out of the wind
and having a nap in his snug den.  But just before the threshold he
stopped short, the fur on his neck stood up, and his eyes went green. He
had scented the trail of Quills, and it led straight into his lair.
Stealthily he tiptoed forward, peered in, and saw confronting him that
spiny tail and rump, just inside the doorway.

His blood boiled at the intruder’s insolence.  But he was a wise old
beast, and in his rash youth he had once been lame for a month, with a
steely quill burning and festering under his knee-joint, through having
tried to interfere with a most insignificant-looking porcupine.  Curbing
his righteous wrath—as there was nothing else to do—he turned about and
with his scratching hind paws insultingly sent a shower of soiled earth
upon the slumbering Quills.  Then he trotted off to seek another
retreat.  Quills, thus rudely awakened, crawled forth, chattering
indignantly, and shook out the defilement from his long coat.  But, as
the fox was nowhere in sight, he promptly forgot his wrath and turned
into the den again to resume his nap.

Gradually, but inexorably, winter now closed down upon the valley of the
Tobique.  And it was a hard winter—for all the hunting beasts and birds,
a desperate winter.  The rabbits that autumn had been smitten with one
of their periodical epidemics, and died off like flies.  This did not
trouble Quills directly—a strict vegetarian, he was assured of plenty so
long as the forest stood.  But indirectly it made a vital difference to
him.  All the prowling and pouncing kindred—the great horned owls and
the eagles, the lynxes, foxes, martens, and minks, and even certain
surly old he-bears who were too restless to "hole-up" for the
winter—soon found themselves goaded by such a hunger as might at any
moment drive them to take unwonted risks.  Quills little guessed how
often, as he was gnawing complacently at his meal of hemlock bark, he
would be watched longingly by savage and hungry eyes.  But, had he
guessed it, his indifference would have remained quite unruffled.  He
had all he could eat, and a warm hole to sleep in, and why should he
borrow trouble?

But one biting December afternoon, when the straight shadows of the fir
trees were stretching long and blue across the snow, Quills’s
complacency got something of a shock.  Just as he was crawling
luxuriously into his den, one of those great horned owls which are the
feathered Apaches of the wilderness came winnowing low overhead on wings
as silent as sleep.  His round staring eyes caught sight of Quills’s
hind-quarters just vanishing into the hole.  There was no time to note
exactly what it was, and hunger had made the great bird rash even beyond
his wont. He swooped instantly and struck his terrible talons into the
tail and haunch.

With a loud hiss, like that of an angry cat, he let go precipitately and
fairly bounced up into the air again, both murderous talons stuck deep
with spines which seemed to burn into his sinews.  He flew in haste to
the nearest branch, steadied himself with difficulty on the perch, and
set himself to the painful task of plucking out the torments with his
beak, holding up first one claw and then the other.  With some of the
spines he was successful, but others he merely managed to nip off close
to the skin.  His feet began to swell immediately.  For several weeks he
could do no hunting, for the fiery anguish in them, but could only sit
moping in his hollow tree, where he would soon have starved but for the
food brought to him by his faithful mate.

As for Quills, this was his first experience of physical pain, and it
was his first taste of fear.  Whining and squealing and grunting all at
once, he shrank into his den, and, carefully parting the spines and fur
with his nose, strove to lick the wounds made by those steel-sharp
talons.  For a day or two he had no appetite, and stayed sulking in the
den.  But the healthy flesh, being unpoisoned, soon healed, and Quills
was himself again, except for a certain unaccustomed watchfulness. He
did not know what creature it was which had dared to attack him, so at
sight of any strange beast whatsoever, up would go his spines and he
would put himself on guard.  Even a malevolent—but to him
harmless—little weasel, or a scouting mink, he would honour with his
suspicions; and one day, when a gigantic bull moose came and stood
beneath the tree in which he was feeding, he chattered down at him
furiously and arrayed all his defences as if expecting immediate attack.
But as the huge black beast did not even trouble to look at him, his
fears were soon allayed.

A porcupine’s memory, however, seems to be extraordinarily short, and
Quills’s was no exception to the rule.  In the course of three or four
weeks, when his wounds no longer pricked him to remembrance, he forgot
all about the affair and recovered his old indifference.  One day when
he was returning to his den for a doze—and only a score of yards away
from the entrance—right into his pathway, with a noiseless pounce,
dropped a great, grey, furry beast with tufted ears, and long, white
snarling teeth, and huge pads of paws.  It crouched before him, its stub
of a tail twitching, and glared upon him with pale, cruel, moon-like
eyes.  Up went Quills’s spines at once, and he ducked his nose between
his fore-paws; but he was determined to get to his den, so he came right
on. Seeing, however, that the intruder showed no sign of getting out of
the way, Quills suddenly turned round and came on backwards, lashing out
fiercely with his tail.  The lynx was wild with hunger, but not to the
pitch of suicidal recklessness.  He ached intolerably for the
well-nourished flesh that he knew lay hidden beneath those bristling
spines, but he knew the price that he would have to pay for it.  With a
screech of disappointed rage, he restrained himself and slipped from the
path; and Quills, chattering noisily, disappeared into his hole.

As the long and bitter winter drew on, burying the wilderness under five
or six feet of snow and scourging it with storm and iron frost, Quills
had many more or less similar encounters with the lynxes, and twice with
a surly old black-bear.  Paradoxical as the statement may appear, he
usually faced the foe with his tail. And the result was always the same.
No prowler was prepared to pay the price which Quills would have exacted
for his carcase.  But along in March, when the snow had begun to settle
heavily under a week of thaw, Quills was confronted by a new enemy
before whom his indifference melted more swiftly than the snow.

Very early one morning, when the first ghost-grey light of dawn was
beginning to glimmer through the windless forest, Quills had just come
down out of an old hemlock, when he caught sight of a strange beast
gliding over the snow some thirty or forty yards away. The stranger,
dark brown in colour, with a bushy tail, long and low-set body,
weasel-shaped head, and grizzly-grey face with black snout, was somewhat
under three feet in length.  It was distinctly smaller, and at first
glance less dangerous-looking, than a lynx.  But some inherited instinct
told Quills at once that this was an enemy far more to be dreaded than
the fiercest of lynxes.  He had never seen a fisher before.  Fortunately
for the porcupine tribe, fishers were very scarce in the valley of the
Tobique.  But a chill of ancestral fear struck to Quills’s heart.

The fisher, catching sight of him, whirled in his tracks and darted at
him with a light swiftness and deadly intensity of purpose very
different from the hesitating attitude of Quills’s other foes.  And
Quills’s tactics were now different.  Jutting from the snow, near the
trunk of the hemlock, was a heavy windfall, its top supported by the
lower branches of a neighbouring beech tree.  Under this protection
Quills thrust his nose and head, clear to the shoulders, leaving only
his armed back and fiercely-slashing tail exposed to the assault.  He
was no more than in position ere the enemy was upon him.

Now, in nine cases out of ten—perhaps even in ninety-nine out of a
hundred—the fight between a porcupine and a fisher has but one result.
The fisher eats the porcupine.  He is incomparably the stronger. He is,
taking it all in all, the most savage, swift, and crafty of all the
marauders of the wilderness, and, above all else, for some reason as yet
unexplained by the naturalists, the porcupine’s quills, so deadly to
others, have for him comparatively few terrors.  They do not poison or
inflame his flesh, which seems to possess the faculty of soon rejecting
them and casting them forth again through the skin.  All he has to do is
to flip the victim over on its back—annexing as few spines as possible
in the act—and he has the unprotected throat and belly at the mercy of
his fangs.

In the present case, however, the too-confident fisher had an
exceptional porcupine to deal with. Quills was not only unusually large
and vigorous, but, _for a porcupine_, sagacious.  He had settled himself
down solidly into the snow, and when the fisher, dodging a blow of his
tail, and accepting a sharp dose of spines in the shoulder, tried to
turn him over with a twist of the paw, Quills resisted successfully,
and, with a timely swing of his haunches, stabbed his assailant’s whole
flank full of spines.

The fisher had expected some resistance, some more or less futile
defence, but this was attack.  Always short in temper, he flew into a
blind rage at the pain and the surprise of it.  He drew back a few
inches to gain impetus for the next effort, and this was his
mistake—this, and underrating his opponent.  At that very instant he got
a full, flailing stroke across his face from Quills’s tail.  It filled
his nose and mouth with spines—that was to be expected; but—for the blow
had surely been guided by the patron spirit of all the porcupines—it
also filled both his eyes.

With a screech of anguish he flung himself full on Quills’s back and
strove to bite down through the armour of spines.  But he was now
totally blind, and his jaws were stuck so full of spines as to be
practically powerless.  Meanwhile his mad struggles were simply driving
deeper and deeper into all his tender underparts those terrible
four-inch spikes which clothed the back of his intended victim.  All at
once the agony grew too appalling for even his indomitable spirit.  He
lurched off and dragged himself away, stumbling and staggering, and
bumping into tree trunk and bush, till he reached a thicket which he
felt to be dense enough to hide his defeat.  And here death came to him,
not too soon.

For some minutes after his defeated foe had gone, Quills remained with
his head thrust under the branch, chattering fierce defiance and lashing
wildly with his tail.  Then very cautiously he backed off and looked
about him.  He had been roughly mauled.  His spines and fur were
dishevelled, and he was bleeding from some deep scratches where his
assailant’s claws had got home.  But he was not seriously the worse from
his terrible encounter, and he had beaten, fairly and overwhelmingly,
the terrible killer of porcupines.  His sombre and solitary spirit
glowed with triumph. Rather hurriedly he crawled on to his lair, and
there set himself to a much-needed toilet.  And outside his retreat the
first long, level rays of the sunrise crept across the snow, touching
the trunks of the birches and the poplars to a mystical rose-pink and
saffron.



                       *STRIPES THE UNCONCERNED*


On the edge of evening, when the last of the light was gathered in the
pale-green upper sky, and all the world of the quiet backwoods clearings
was sunken in a soft violet dusk, a leisurely and self-possessed little
animal came strolling among the ancient stumps and mossy hillocks of the
open upland sheep-pasture.  He was about the size of an average cat, but
shorter of leg, with a long, sharp-muzzled head, and he carried his
broad feathery tail very high in a graceful arch, like a squirrel in
good humour.  Unlike most other creatures of the wild, his colouring was
such as to make him conspicuous rather than to conceal him.  He was
black, with a white stripe down his face, a white patch on the back of
his neck, and a white stripe all the way along each side of his body.
And, also unlike the rest of the furtive folk, he seemed quite
unconcerned to hide his movements from observation.  Neither was he for
ever glancing this way and that, as if on the watch for enemies.  Rather
he had the air of being content that his enemies should do the
watching—and avoid him.

The skunk—for such was the undignified appellation of this very
dignified personality of the wilderness—was pleasantly engrossed in his
own business.  That business, at the moment, consisted in catching the
big, fat, juicy, copper-brown "June-bugs" as they emerged from their
holes in the sod, crawled up the bending grass-stems, and spread their
wings for their heavy evening flight.  It was easy hunting, and he had
no need of haste.  To snap up these great slow and clumsy beetles as
they clung upon the grass-stems was as easy as picking strawberries,
and, indeed, not altogether dissimilar, as he would nip off the hard,
glossy wing-cases of the big beetles as one nips off the hull of the
berry before munching the succulent morsel.

Having slept the day through in his snug burrow, in the underbrush which
fringed the forest edge of the clearing, he had come forth into the dewy
twilight equipped with a fine appetite.  He had come with the definite
purpose of hunting "June-bugs," this being the season, all too brief,
for that highly-favoured delicacy.  At first he had thought of nothing
else; but when he had taken the edge off his hunger, he began to
consider the chances of varying his diet.  As he seized an unlucky
beetle, close to the edge of a flat, spreading juniper bush, a brooding
ground-sparrow flew up, with a startled _cheep_, from under his very
nose.  He dropped the beetle and made a lightning pounce at the bird.
But her wing had flicked him across the eyes, confusingly, and he missed
her.  He knew well enough, however, what her presence there among the
warm grass-tussocks meant.  He went nosing eagerly under the juniper
bush, and soon found a nest with four little brown-mottled eggs in it.
Tiny though they were, they made a tit-bit very much to his taste, all
the more so that they were very near hatching.  Having licked his jaws
and fastidiously polished the fur of his shrewd, keen face, he sauntered
off to see what other delicacies the evening might have in store for
him.

A little further on, toward the centre of the pasture, he came upon a
flat slab of rock, its surface sloping toward the south, its southward
edge slightly overhanging and fringed with soft grass.  He knew the rock
well—knew how its bare surface drank in the summer sun all day long, and
held the warmth throughout the dew-chill nights.  He knew, too, that
other creatures besides himself might very well appreciate this genial
warmth.  Stealthily, and without the smallest disturbance of the grassy
fringe, he sniffed along the overhanging edge of the rock.  Suddenly he
stiffened, and his sharp snout darted in under the rock.  Then he jerked
back, with the writhing tail of a snake between his jaws.

The prize was a big black-and-yellow garter snake, not far from three
feet long—not venomous, but full of energy and fight.  It tried to cling
to its hiding-place; but the shrewd skunk, instead of attempting to pull
it out straight, like a cork from a bottle-neck, ran forward a pace or
two and, as it were, "peeled" it forth.  It doubled out, struck him
smartly in the face with its harmless fangs, and then coiled itself
about his neck and fore-legs.  There was a moment of confused
rough-and-tumble, but the skunk knew just how to handle this kind of
antagonist.  Having bitten the reptile’s tail clean through, he
presently, with the help of his practised little jaws, succeeded in
getting hold of it by the back, an inch or two behind the head. This
ended the affair, as a struggle, and the victor proceeded to round off
his supper on snake.  He managed to put away almost all but the head and
tail, and then, after a meticulous toilet to fur and paws—for he was as
fastidiously cleanly as a cat—he sauntered back toward his burrow in the
underbrush, to refresh himself with a nap before seeking further
adventures.

Directly in his path stood three or four young seedling firs, about two
feet high, in a dense cluster.  Half a dozen paces beyond this tiny
thicket a big red fox, belly to earth, was soundlessly stalking some
quarry, perhaps a mouse, which could be heard ever so faintly rustling
the grass-stems at the edge of the thicket. To the skunk, with his
well-filled belly, the sound had no interest.  He rounded the thicket
and came face to face with the fox.

Neither in size, strength, nor agility was he any match for the savage
red beast which stood in his path, and was quite capable, indeed, of
dispatching him in two snaps of his long, lean jaws.  But he was not in
the least put out.  Watchful, but cool, he kept straight on, neither
delaying nor hastening his leisurely and nonchalant progress.  The fox,
on the other hand, stopped short.  He was hungry.  His hunting was
interfered with, for that rustling under the fir-branches had stopped.
His fine red brush twitched angrily. Nevertheless, he had no stomach to
tackle this easy-going little gentleman in the black-and-white stripes.
Showing his long white teeth in a vindictive but noiseless snarl, he
stepped aside.  And the skunk, glancing back with bright eyes of
vigilance and understanding, passed on as if the twilight world belonged
to him.  He knew—and he knew his enemy knew as well—that he carried with
him a concealed weapon of such potency that no fox, unless afflicted
with madness, would ever willingly run up against it.

Reaching his burrow in the underbrush without further adventure, he
found it empty.  His mate and her young ones—now three-quarters
grown—were scattered away foraging for themselves over the wide,
forest-scented clearings.  It was a spacious burrow, dug by a sturdy,
surly old wood-chuck, who, though usually as pugnacious as a badger and
an obstinate stickier for his rights, had in this case yielded without a
fight to the mild-mannered little usurper, and humped off in disgust to
hollow a new abode much deeper in the forest, where such a mischance
would not be likely to happen to him again.  Under the tenancy of the
skunk family the burrow was sweet and dry and daintily kept.  With a
little grumble of content deep in his throat he curled himself up and
went to sleep.

When he woke and set forth again to renew his foraging, although he had
only slept an hour, his vigorous digestion had quite restored his
appetite. He had no more thought for June-bugs.  He wanted bigger game,
more red-blooded and with some excitement in it.  He thought of the
farmyard, half a mile away across the clearings, down over the round of
the upland.  It was weeks now since he had visited it.  There might be
something worth picking up.  There might be a mother-hen with chickens,
in a pen which he could find a way into.  There might be a hen sitting
on her clutch of eggs in a stolen nest under the barn.  He had
discovered in previous seasons that most sitting hens had their nests
provided for them in secure places which he could in no way manage to
come at.  But he had also found that sometimes a foolish and
secretive—and very young—hen will _hide_ her nest in some such
out-of-the-way place as under the barn floor, where the troublesome
human creatures who preside over the destinies of hens cannot get at it.
Here she keeps her precious eggs all to herself till she has enough to
cover comfortably, and then she proceeds to the pleasant task of
brooding them, and has things all her own way till some night-prowler
comes along and convicts her, finally and fatally, of her folly.

A full moon, large and ruddy like a ripe pumpkin, was just rising behind
the jagged black tops of the spruce forest.  It threw long, fantastic,
confusing shadows across the dewy hillocks of the pasture. Hither and
thither, in and out and across the barred streaks of light, darted the
wild rabbits, gambolling as if half beside themselves, as if smitten
with a mid-summer madness by the capricious magic of the night.  But if
mad, they retained enough sound sense to keep ever at a prudent distance
from the leisurely striped wayfarer who appeared so little interested in
their sport.  Though they were bigger than he, they knew that, if they
should venture within reach of his pounce, his indifference would vanish
and his inexorable fangs would be in their throats.

Knowing his utter inability to compete with the speed of the rabbits,
now they were wide awake, the skunk hardly noticed their antics, but
kept on his direct path toward the farmyard.  Presently, however, his
attention was caught by the rabbits scattering off in every direction.
On the instant he was all alert for the cause.  Mounting a hillock, he
caught sight of a biggish shaggy-haired dog some distance down the
pasture.  The dog was racing this way and that as crazily, it seemed, as
the rabbits, with faint little yelps of excitement and whines of
disappointment. He was chasing the rabbits with all his energy; and it
was evident that he was a stranger, a new-comer to the wilderness world,
for he seemed to think he might hope to catch the fleet-foot creatures
by merely running after them.  As a matter of fact, he had just arrived
the same day at the backwoods farm from the city down the river.  His
experience had been confined to streets and gardens and the chasing of
cats, and he was daft with delight over the spacious freedom of the
clearings.  The skunk eyed him scornfully, and continued his journey
with the unconcern of an elephant.

A moment later the dog was aware of a little, insignificant
black-and-white creature coming slowly towards him as if unconscious of
his presence.  Another rabbit!  But as this one did not seem alarmed, he
stopped and eyed it with surprise, his head cocked to one side in
inquiry.  The skunk half turned and moved off slowly, deliberately, at
right angles to the path he had been following.

With a yelp of delight the dog dashed at this easy victim, which seemed
so stupid that it made no effort to escape.  He was almost upon it.
Another leap and he would have had it in his jaws.  But the amazing
little animal turned its back on him, stuck its tail straight in the
air, and jerked up its hindquarters with a derisive gesture.  In that
instant something hot and soft struck the inexperienced hunter full in
the face—something soft, indeed, but overwhelming, paralysing.  It
stopped him dead in his tracks. Suffocating, intolerably pungent, it
both blinded him and choked him.  His lungs refused to work, shutting up
spasmodically.  Gasping and gagging, he grovelled on his belly and
strove frantically to paw his mouth and nostrils clear of the dense,
viscous fluid which was clogging them.  Failing in this, he fell to
rooting violently in the short grass, biting and tearing at it and
rolling in it, till some measure of breath and eyesight returned to him.
Thereupon, his matted head all stuck with grass and moss and dirt, he
set off racing madly for the farmhouse, where he expected to get relief
from the strange torment which afflicted him. But when he pawed and
whined at the kitchen door for admittance, he was driven off with
contumely and broomsticks.  There was nothing for him to do but slink
away with his shame to a secluded corner between the wagon-shed and the
pig-pen, where he could soothe his burning muzzle in the cool winds and
fresh earth. On the following day one of the farm hands, with rude hands
and unsympathetic comment, scrubbed him violently with liquid soap and
then clipped close his splendid shaggy coat.  But it was a week before
he was readmitted to the comfortable fellowship of the farmhouse
kitchen.

For a moment or two, with a glance of triumph in his bright eyes, the
skunk had watched the paroxysms of his discomfited foe.  Then, dropping
the tip of his tail into its customary disdainful arch, he had turned
back towards his burrow.  This was a redoubtable foe whom he had just
put to rout, and he had expended most of his armoury upon him.  He had
no wish to risk another encounter until the potent secretion which he
carried in a sac between the powerful muscles of his thighs should have
had time to accumulate again.  He dropped, for that night, all notion of
the distinctly adventurous expedition to the farmyard, contenting
himself with snapping up a few beetles and crickets as he went.  He was
lucky enough to pounce upon an indiscreet field-mouse just as she
emerged from her burrow, and then a few minutes’ digging with his
powerful and expert fore-paws had served to unearth the mouse’s nest
with her half-dozen blind sucklings.  So he went home well satisfied
with himself.  Before re-entering he again made a careful toilet; and as
the opening of the sac from which he had projected the potent fluid into
his enemy’s face had immediately closed up tight and fast, he carried no
trace of the virulent odour with him.  Indeed, that fluid was a thing
which he never by any chance allowed to get on to his own fur.  Always,
at the moment of ejecting it, the fur on his thighs parted and lay back
flat to either side of the naked vent of the sac, and the long tail
cocked itself up rigidly, well out of the way. It was a stuff he kept
strictly for his foes, and never allowed to offend either himself or his
friends.

On entering his burrow he found there his mate and all the youngsters,
curled up together in the sleep of good digestion and easy conscience.
He curled himself up with them, that the supply of his high-explosive
might accumulate during another forty winks.

About an hour before the dawn he awoke again, feeling hungry.  The rest
of the family were still sleeping, having gorged themselves, as he might
have done had it not been for that encounter with the misguided dog.  He
left them whimpering contentedly in their cosy slumber, and crept forth
into the dewy chill alone, his heart set on mice and such-like
warm-blooded game.

The moon was now high overhead, sailing honey-coloured through a faintly
violet sky.  The rough pasture, with its stumps and hillocks, was
touched into a land of dream.

Now, it chanced that an old bear, who was accustomed to foraging in the
valley beyond the cedar swamp, had on this night decided to bring her
cub on an expedition toward the more dangerous neighbourhood of the
clearings.  She wanted to begin his education in all the wariness which
is so necessary for the creatures of the wild in approaching the works
and haunts of man.  On reaching the leafy fringe of bushes which fringed
the rude rail-fence dividing the forest from the pasture, she cautiously
poked her head through the leafage, and for perhaps a minute, motionless
as a stone, she interrogated the bright open spaces with eyes and ears
and nostrils.  The cub, taking the cue from his mother, stiffened to the
like movelessness at her side, his bright little eyes full of interest
and curiosity.  There was no sign of danger in the pasture. In fact,
there were the merry rabbits hopping about in the moonlight undisturbed.
This was a sign of security quite good enough for the wise old bear.
With crafty and experienced paws she forced a hole in the fence—leaving
the top rail, above the binder, in its place—and led the eager cub forth
into the moonlight.

The special notion of the bear in coming to the pasture was to teach her
cub the art of finding, unearthing, and catching the toothsome wild
mice. Keeping along near the fence, she sniffed the tussocky, uneven
grass with practised nose.  But the first thing she came upon was a
bumble-bees’ nest.  This was far more to her taste than any mice.  She
gave a low call to the cub; but the cub was preoccupied now, sniffing at
the rabbit tracks, and lifting himself on his hindquarters to stare
longingly at the rabbits, who were hopping off to discreeter distance.
The mother did not insist on his coming to watch her tackle the bees’
nest.  After all, he was perhaps a bit young to face the stings of the
angry bees, and she might as well have the little hoard of honey and
larvæ and bee-bread for herself.  The cub wandered off a little way,
with some vague notion of chasing the elusive rabbits.

Just then through the edge of the underbrush appeared the skunk,
stretching himself luxuriously before he started off across the pasture.
He saw the bear, but he knew that sagacious beast would pay him no
attention whatever.  He trotted out into the moonlight and pounced upon
a fat black cricket as an appetiser.

The cub caught sight of the pretty little striped creature, and came
darting clumsily and gaily to the attack.  He would show his mother that
he could do some hunting on his own account.  The striped creature
turned its back on him and moved off slowly. The cub was delighted.  He
was just going to reach out a rude little paw and grab the easy prize.
Then the inevitable happened.  The pretty striped creature gave its
stern a contemptuous jerk, and the deluded cub fell in a heap,
squealing, gasping, choking, and pawing convulsively at the horrible
sticky stuff which filled his mouth and eyes.

Just before the catastrophe occurred, the old bear had looked up from
her business with the bees, and had uttered a loud _woof_ of warning.
But too late.  The last thing in the world she wanted to do was to try
any fooling with a skunk.  But now her rage at the suffering and
discomfiture of her little one swept away all prudence.  With a grunt of
fury she charged at the offender.  One glance at the approaching
vengeance convinced the skunk that this time he had made a mistake.  He
turned and raced for the underbrush as fast as his little legs would
carry him.  But that was not fast enough.  Just as he was about to dart
under the fence, a huge black paw, shod with claws like steel, crashed
down upon him, and his leisurely career came to an end.

The bear, in deep disgust, scraped her reeking paw long and earnestly in
the fresh earth beneath the grass, then turned her attention to the
unhappy cub. She relieved her feelings by giving him a sharp cuff which
sent him sprawling a dozen feet.  Then, relenting, she showed him how to
clean himself by rooting in the earth.  At length, when he could see and
breathe once more with some degree of comfort, she indignantly led him
away back into the depths of the consoling forest.



                       *THE BLACK MULE OF AVELUY*


The mule lines at Aveluy were restless and unsteady under the tormented
dark.  All day long a six-inch high-velocity gun, firing at irregular
intervals from somewhere on the low ridge beyond the Ancre, had been
feeling for them.  Those terrible swift shells, which travel so fast, on
their flat trajectory, that their bedlam shriek of warning and the
rending crash of their explosion seem to come in the same breathless
instant, had tested the nerves of man and beast sufficiently during the
daylight; but now, in the shifting obscurity of a young moon harrowed by
driving cloud-rack, their effect was yet more daunting.  So far they had
been doing little damage, having been occupied, for the most part, in
blowing new craters in the old lines, a couple of hundred yards further
east, which had been vacated only two days before on account of their
deep-trodden and intolerable mud.  All day our ’planes, patrolling the
sky over Tara Hill and the lines of Regina, had kept the Boches’ airmen
at such a distance that they could not observe and register for their
batteries; and this terrible gun was, therefore, firing blind.  But
there came a time, during the long night, when it seemed to reach the
conclusion that its target must be pretty well obliterated.  Squatting
in its veiled lair behind the heights of Ancre, it lifted its raking
muzzle, ever so slightly, and put another two hundred yards on to its
range.

The next shell screamed down straight upon the lines.  The crash tore
earth and air.  A massive column of black smoke vomited upwards, pierced
with straight flame and streaked with flying fragments of mules and
ropes and tether-pegs.  Deadly splinters of shell hissed forth from it
on all sides.  The top of the column spread outwards; the base thinned
and lifted; a raw and ghastly crater, like some Dantesque dream of the
mouth of Hell, came into view; and there followed a faint, hideous sound
of nameless things pattering down upon the mud.

Near the edge of the crater stood a big, raw-boned black mule.  His team
mate and the three other mules tethered nearest to him had vanished.
Several others lay about on either side of him, dead or screaming in
their death agonies.  But he was untouched.  At the appalling shock he
had sprung back upon his haunches, snorting madly; but the
tethering-rope had held, and he had almost thrown himself.  Then he had
lashed out with his iron-shod heels.  But he was tough of nerve and
stout of heart far beyond the fashion of his kind, and almost at once he
pulled himself together and stood trembling, straining on the halter,
his long ears laid back upon his head.  Then his eyes, rolling white,
with a green gleam of horror at the centre, took note of the familiar
form of his driver, standing by his head and feeling himself curiously,
as if puzzled at being still alive.

This sight reassured the black mule amazingly.  His expressive ears
wagged forward again, and he thrust his frothing muzzle hard against the
man’s shoulder, as if to ask him what it all meant.  The man flung an
arm over the beast’s quivering neck and leaned against him for a moment
or two, dazed from the tremendous shock which had lifted him from his
feet and slammed him down viciously upon the ground.  He coughed once or
twice, and tried to wipe the reek of the explosion from his eyes.  Then,
coming fully to himself, he hurriedly untethered his charge, patted him
reassuringly on the nose, loosed the next mule behind him on the lines,
and led the two away in haste toward safer quarters.  As he did so,
another shell came in, some fifty yards to the left, and the lines
became a bedlam of kicking and snorting beasts, with their drivers,
cursing and coaxing, according to their several methods, clawing at the
ropes and hurrying to get their charges away to safety.

At any other time the big black mule—an unregenerate product of the
Argentine, with a temper which took delight in giving trouble to all in
authority over him—might have baulked energetically as a protest against
being moved from his place at this irregular hour.  But he was endowed
with a perception of his own interests, which came rather from the
humbler than the more aristocratic side of his ancestry.  He was no
victim of that childish panic which is so liable, in a moment of
desperation, to pervert the high-strung intelligence of the horse.  He
felt that the man knew just what to do in this dreadful and demoralising
situation.  So he obeyed and followed like a lamb; and in that moment he
conceived an affection for his driver which made him nothing less than a
changed mule.  His amazing docility had its effect upon the second mule,
and the driver got them both away without any difficulty.  When all the
rest of the survivors had been successfully shifted to new ground, far
off to the right, the terrible gun continued for another hour to blow
craters up and down the deserted lines.  Then it lengthened its range
once more, and spent the rest of the night shattering to powder the
ruins of an already ruined and quite deserted street, under the
impression that it was smashing up some of our crowded billets.  A
little before daylight, however, a shell from one of our forward
batteries, up behind Regina Trench, found its way into the lair where
the monster squatted, and rest descended upon Aveluy in the bleak
autumnal dawn.

This was in the rain-scourged autumn of 1916, when the unspeakable
desolation of the Somme battlefield was a sea of mud.  The ruins of the
villages—Ovillers, La Boisselle, Pozières, Courcelette, Martinpuich, and
all the others which had once made fair with flowers and orchards this
rolling plateau of Picardy—had been pounded flat by the inexorable guns,
and were now mere islands of firmer ground in the shell-pitted wastes of
red mire.  Men went encased in mud from boots to shrapnel helmet.  And
it was a special mud of exasperating tenacity, a cement of beaten chalk
and clay. The few spidery tram-lines ran precariously along the edges of
the shell-holes, out over the naked, fire-swept undulations beyond
Mouquet Farm and Courcelette, where they were continually being knocked
to pieces by the "whizz-bangs," and tirelessly rebuilt by our dauntless
pioneers and railway troops.  Scattered all about this dreadful naked
waste behind our front trenches lurked our forward batteries, their
shallow gun-pits cunningly camouflaged behind every little swell of
tumbled mud.

And this foul mud, hiding in the deep slime of its shell-holes every
kind of trap and putrid horror, was the appropriate ally of the Germans.
Stinkingly and tenaciously and treacherously, as befitted, it opposed
the feeding of the guns.  Two by two or four by four, according to their
size, the shells for the guns had to be carried up from the forward
dumps in little wicker panniers slung across the backs of horses and
mules. It was a slow process, precarious and costly, but it beat the
mud, and the insatiable guns were fed.

After the night when the mule-lines at Aveluy were shelled, the big
black mule and his driver were put on this job of carrying up shells to
the forward batteries. The driver, a gaunt, green-eyed, ginger-haired
teamster from the lumber camps of Northern New Brunswick, received the
order with a crooked grin.

"Say your prayers now, Sonny," he muttered in the mule’s big, waving
ear, which came to "attention" promptly to receive his communication.
"You’ll be wishing you was back in them old lines at Aveluy afore we’re
through with this job.  Fritzy over yonder ain’t goin’ to like you an’
me one little bit when he gits on to what we’re up to.  It ain’t like
haulin’ fodder, I tell you that.  But I guess we’ve got the nerve all
right."

Instead of rolling the whites of his eyes at him, in surly protest
against this familiarity, the black mule responded by nibbling gently at
the sleeve of his muddy tunic.

"Geezely Christmas," murmured the driver, astonished at this evidence of
goodwill, "but it’s queer, how a taste o’ shell-fire’ll sometimes work a
change o’ heart, even in an Argentine mule.  I only hope it’ll last,
Sonny.  If it does, we’re goin’ to git along fine, you an’ me."  And the
next time he visited the canteen he brought back a biscuit or two and a
slab of sweet chocolate, to confirm the capricious beast in its mended
manners.

Early that same afternoon the black mule found himself in new
surroundings.  He was at the big ammunition dump which lay concealed in
an obscure hollow near the ruins of Courcelette.  He looked with
suspicion on the wicker panniers which were slung across his sturdy
back.  Saddles he knew, and harness he knew, but this was a contraption
which roused misgivings in his conservative soul.  When the shells were
slipped into the panniers, and he felt the sudden weight, so out of all
proportion to the size of the burden, he laid back his long ears with a
grunt, and gathered his muscles for a protesting kick.  But his driver,
standing at his head, stroked his muzzle soothingly and murmured:
"There, there, steady, Son!  Keep your hair on!  It ain’t goin’ to bite
you."

Thus adjured, he composed himself with an effort, and the lashing kick
was not delivered.

"What a persuasive cuss you must be, Jimmy Wright!" said the man who was
handling the shells. "I wouldn’t trust you round with my best girl, If
you can get a bucking mule locoed that way with your soft sawder."

"It ain’t me," replied the New Brunswicker.  "It’s shell-shock, I guess,
kind of helped along with chocolate an’ biscuits.  He got a bit of a
shaking up when they shelled the lines at Aveluy night afore last, an’
he’s been a lamb ever since.  Seems to think I saved his hide for him.
He was the very devil to handle afore that."

For some way from the dump the journey was uneventful.  The path to the
guns led along a sunken road, completely hidden from the enemy’s
observation posts.  The dull, persistent rain had ceased for a little,
and the broad patches of blue overhead were dotted with our droning
aeroplanes, which every now and then would dive into a low-drifting rack
of grey cloud to shake off the shrapnel of the German "Archies."  Of
German ’planes none were to be seen, for they had all sped home to their
hangars when our fighting squadrons rose to the encounter.  The earth
rocked to the explosions of our 9.2 howitzers ranged about Pozières and
Martinpuich, and the air clamoured under the passage of their giant
shells as they went roaring over toward the German lines.  Now and again
a vicious whining sound would swell suddenly to a nerve-racking shriek,
and an enemy shell would land with a massive cr-r-ump, and a furious
blast of smoke and mud would belch upwards to one side or other of the
sunken road.  But none of these unwelcome visitors came into the road
itself, and neither the black mule nor Jimmy Wright paid them any more
attention than the merest roll of an eye to mark their billet.

"Change o’ heart hain’t spoiled old Sonny’s nerve, anyhow," thought the
driver to himself, with deep approval.

A little further on and the trail up to "X’s Group," quitting the
shelter of the sunken road, led out across the red desolation, in the
very eye, as it seemed to the New Brunswicker, of the enemy’s positions.
It was a narrow, undulating track, slippery as oil, yet tenacious as
glue, corkscrewing its laborious way between the old slime-filled
shell-pits.  From the surface of one of these wells of foul-coloured
ooze the legs of a dead horse stuck up stiffly into the air, like four
posts on which to lay a foot-bridge.  A few yards beyond, the track was
cut by a fresh shell-hole, too new to have collected any water.  Its raw
sides were streaked red and white and black, and just at its rim lay the
mangled fragments of something that might recently have been a mule.
The long ears of Wright’s mule waved backwards and forwards at the
sight, and he snorted apprehensively.

"This don’t appear to be a health resort for us, Sonny," commented the
New Brunswicker, "so we won’t linger, if it’s all the same to you."  And
he led the way around the other side of the new shell-hole, the big mule
crowding close behind with quivering muzzle at his shoulder.

However urgent Wright’s desire for speed, speed was ridiculously
impossible.  The obstinate pro-German mud was not lightly to be
overcome.  Even on the firmer ridges it clung far above the fetlocks of
the black mule, and struggled to suck off Wright’s hob-nailed boots at
every labouring step.  Though a marrow-piercing north-easter swept the
waste, both man and mule were lathered in sweat.  Half their energy had
to be expended in recovering themselves from continual slithering slides
which threatened to land them in the engulfing horrors of the
shell-holes.  For all that he had so little breath to spare, Jimmy
Wright kept muttering through his teeth strange expletives and
objurgations from the vocabulary of the lumber camps, eloquent but
unprintable, to which the black mule lent ear admiringly.  He seemed to
feel that his driver’s remarks, though he could not understand them,
were doubtless such as would command his fullest accord.  For his own
part he had no means of expressing such sentiments except through his
heels, and these were now all too fully occupied in their battle with
the mud.

By this time the black mule had become absolutely convinced that his
fate was in the hands of his ginger-haired driver.  Jimmy Wright, as it
seemed to him, was his sole protection against this violent horror which
kept bursting and crashing on every hand about him.  It was clear to him
that Jimmy Wright, though apparently much annoyed, was not afraid.
Therefore, with Jimmy Wright as his protector he was safe.  He wagged
his ears, snorted contemptuously at a 5.9 which spurted up a column of
mud and smoke some hundred yards to the left, and plodded on gamely
through the mud.  He didn’t know where he was going, but Jimmy Wright
was there, and just ahead of his nose, where he could sniff at him; and
he felt sure there would be fodder and a rub down at the end of the
weary road.

In the midst of these consoling reflections something startling and
inexplicable happened.  He was enveloped and swept away hi a deafening
roar.  Thick blackness, streaked with star-showers, blinded him.  Though
half stupefied, he kicked and struggled with all his strength, for it
was not in him to yield himself, like a stricken horse, to any stroke of
Fate.

When he once more saw daylight, he was recovering his feet just below
the rim of an old shell-hole.  He gained the top, braced his legs, and
shook himself vigorously.  The loaded panniers thumping heavily upon his
ribs restored him fully to his senses. Snorting through wide red
nostrils, he stared about him wildly.  Some ten paces distant he saw a
great new crater in the mud, reeking with black and orange fumes.

But where was Jimmy Wright?  The mule swept anxious eyes across the
waste of shell-holes, in every direction.  In vain.  His master had
vanished.  He felt himself deserted.  Panic began to clutch at his
heart, and he gathered his muscles for frantic flight.  And then he
recovered himself and stood steady.  He had caught sight of a
ginger-haired head, bare of its shrapnel helmet, lying on the mud at the
other side of the shell-hole from which he had just struggled out.

His panic passed at once, but it gave place to anxious wonder.  There,
indeed, was Jimmy Wright, but what was he doing there?  His body was
buried almost to the shoulders in the discoloured slime that half filled
the shell-hole.  He was lying on his face.  His arms were outstretched,
and his hands were clutching at the slippery walls of the hole as if he
were striving to pull himself up from the water.  This effort, however,
seemed anything but successful.  The mule saw, indeed, that his
protector was slowly slipping deeper into the slime.  This filled him
with fresh alarm.  If Jimmy Wright should disappear under that foul
surface, that would be desertion complete and final.  It was not to be
endured.

Quickly but cautiously the mule picked his way around the hole, and
then, with sagacious bracing of his hoofs, down to his master’s side.
But what was to be done next?  Jimmy Wright’s face was turned so that he
could not see his would-be rescuer.  His hands were still clutching at
the mud, but feebly and without effect.

The mule saw that his master was on the point of vanishing under the
mud, of deserting him in his extremity.  This was intolerable.  The
emergency quickened his wits.  Instinct suggested to him that to keep a
thing one should take hold of it and hold on to it.  He reached down
with his big yellow teeth, took hold of the shoulder of Jimmy Wright’s
tunic, and held on.  Unfamiliar with anatomy, he at the same time took
hold of a substantial portion of Jimmy Wright’s own shoulder inside the
tunic, and held on to that.  He braced himself, and with a loud,
involuntary snort began to pull.

Jimmy Wright, up to this point, had been no more than half conscious.
The mule’s teeth in his shoulder revived him effectually.  He came to
himself with a yell.  He remembered the shell-burst.  He saw and
understood where he was.  He was afraid to move for a moment, lest he
should find that his shoulder was blown off.  But no, he had two arms,
and he could move them.  He had his shoulder all right, for something
was pulling at it with quite sickening energy. He reached up his right
arm—it was the left shoulder that was being tugged at—and encountered
the furry head and ears of his rescuer.

"Sonny!" he shouted.  "Well, I’ll be d——d!"  And he gripped fervently at
the mule’s neck.

Reassured at the sound of his master’s voice, the big mule took his
teeth out of Wright’s shoulder and began nuzzling solicitously at his
sandy head.

"It’s all right, old man," said the New Brunswicker, thinking quickly,
while with his left hand he secured a grip on the mule’s head-stall.
Then he strove to raise himself from the slime.  The effort produced no
result, except to send a wave of blackness across his brain. Wondering
sickly if he carried some terrible injury concealed under the mud, he
made haste to pass the halter rope under his arms and knot it beneath
his chest.  Then he shouted for help, twice and again, till his voice
trailed off into a whimper and he relapsed into unconsciousness.  The
mule shifted his feet to gain a more secure foothold on the treacherous
slope, and then stood wagging his ears and gazing down on Jimmy in
benevolent content.  So long as Jimmy was with him, he felt that things
were bound to come all right.  Jimmy would presently get up and lead him
out of the shell-hole, and take him home.

Shell after shell, whining or thundering according to their breed,
soared high over the hole, but the black mule only wagged his ears at
them.  His eyes were anchored upon the unconscious sandy head of Jimmy
Wright.  Suddenly, however, a sharp voice made him look up.  He saw a
couple of stretcher-bearers standing on the edge of the shell-hole,
looking down sympathetically upon him and his charge.  In a second or
two they were beside him, skilfully and tenderly extricating Jimmy’s
body from the mud.

"He ain’t gone west this time," pronounced one, who had thrust an
understanding hand into the breast of the tunic.

Jimmy Wright opened his eyes wide suddenly.

"Not by a d——d sight I ain’t, Bill!" he muttered, rather thickly.  Then,
his wits and his voice coming clearer, he added: "But if I ain’t, it’s
thanks to this here old —— of an Argentine mule, that come down into
this hole and yanked me out o’ the mud, and saved me.  Eh, Sonny?"

The big mule was crowding up so close to him as to somewhat incommode
the two men in their task on that treacherous incline.  But they warded
off his inconvenient attentions very gently.

"He’s some mule, all right," grunted one of the bearers, as they got
Jimmy on to the stretcher and laboriously climbed from the shell-hole.



                     *STAR-NOSE OF THE UNDER WAYS*


He was in a darkness that was dense, absolute, palpable.  And his eyes
were shut tight,—though it made no difference, under the circumstances,
whether they were shut or open.  But if his sense of sight was for the
moment off duty, its absence was more than compensated for by the
extreme alertness of his other senses. To his supersensitive nostrils
the black, peaty soil surrounding him was full of distinct and varying
scents.  His ears could detect and locate the wriggling of a fat grub,
the unctuous withdrawal of a startled earth-worm.  Above all, his sense
of touch was so extraordinarily developed that it might have served him
for eyes, ears and nostrils all in one.  And so it came about that,
there in the blackness of his close and narrow tunnel, deep in the black
soil of the swamp, he was not imprisoned, but free and at large as the
swift hares gambolling overhead,—far freer, indeed, because secure from
the menace of prowling and swooping foes.

Star-nose was a mole.  But he was not an ordinary mole of the dry
uplands and well drained meadows, by any means, or he would not have
been running his deep tunnel here in the cool, almost swampy soil within
a few yards of the meandering channel of the Lost-Water.  In shape and
colour he was not unlike the common mole,—with his thick, powerful neck
of about the same size as his body, his great, long-clawed, immensely
strong, hand-like fore-feet, and his mellow, velvety, shadowy,
grey-brown fur.  But his tail was much longer, and thicker at the base,
than that of his plebeian cousin of the lawns.  And his nose,—that was
something of a distinction which no other beast in the world, great or
small, could boast of.  From all around its tip radiated a fringe of
feelers, no less than twenty-two in number, naked, flexible,
miraculously sensitive, each one a little nailless, interrogating
finger. It entitled him, beyond question, to the unique title of
Star-Nose.

This tireless worker in the dark was driving a new tunnel,—partly, no
doubt, for the sake of worms, grubs, and pupæ which he might find on the
way, and partly for purposes known only to himself.  At the level where
he was digging, a scant foot below the surface, the mould, though damp,
was fairly light and workable, owing to the abundance of fine roots and
decayed leafage mixed through it; and his progress was astonishingly
rapid.

His method of driving his tunnel was practical and effective.  With back
arched so as to throw the full force of it into his fore-shoulders, with
his hind feet wide apart and drawn well up beneath him, he dug mightily
into the damp soil straight before his nose with the long, penetrating
claws of his exaggerated and powerful fore-paws.  In great swift
handfuls (for his fore-paws were more like hands than feet), the
loosened earth was thrown behind him, passing under his body and out
between his roomily straddling hind legs.  And as he dug he worked in a
circle, enlarging the tunnel head to a diameter of about two-and-a-half
inches, at the same time pressing the walls firm and hard with his body,
so that they should not cave in upon him.  This compacting process
further enlarged the tunnel to about three inches, which was the space
he felt he needed for quick and free movement.  When he had accumulated
behind him as much loose earth as he could comfortably handle, he turned
around, and with his head and chest and forearms pushed the mass before
him along the tunnel to the foot of his last dump-hole,—an abrupt shaft
leading to the upper air.  Up this shaft he would thrust his burden, and
heave it forth among the grass and weeds, a conspicuous and contemptuous
challenge to would-be pursuers.  He did not care how many of his enemies
might thus be notified of his address, for he knew he could always
change it with baffling celerity, blocking up his tunnels behind him as
he went.

And now, finding that at his present depth the meadow soil, at this
point, was not well-stocked with such game—grubs and worms—as he chose
to hunt, he slanted his tunnel slightly upward to get among the
grass-roots near the surface.  Almost immediately he was rewarded.  He
cut into the pipe-like canal of a large earth-worm, just in time to
intercept its desperate retreat.  It was one of those stout,
dark-purplish lob-worms that feed in rich soil, and to him the most
toothsome of morsels.  In spite of the eagerness of his appetite he drew
it forth most delicately and gradually from its canal, lest it should
break in two and the half of it escape him.  Dragging it back into his
tunnel he held it with his big, inexorable "hands," and felt it over
gleefully with that restless star of fingers which adorned the tip of
his nose.  Then he tore it into short pieces, bolted it hurriedly, and
fell to work again upon his tunnelling.  But now, having come among the
grass-roots, he was in a good hunting-ground, and his work was
continually interrupted by feasting.  At one moment it would be a huge,
fat, white grub as thick as a man’s little finger, with a hard,
light-copper-coloured head; at the next a heavy, liver-coloured
lob-worm.  His appetite seemed insatiable; but at last he felt he had
had enough, for the moment.  He stopped tunnelling, turned back a few
inches, drove a short shaft to the surface as a new exit, and heaved
forth a mighty load of débris.

In the outer world it was high morning, and the strong sunlight glowed
softly down through the tangled grasses of the water-meadow.  The eyes
of Star-Nose were but two tiny black beads almost hidden in fur, but
after he had blinked them for a second or two in the sudden light he
could see quite effectively,—much better, indeed, than his cousin, the
common mole of the uplands.  Though by far the greater part of his
strenuous life was spent in the palpable darkness of his tunnels in the
under world, daylight, none the less, was by no means distasteful to
him, and he was not averse to a few minutes of basking in the tempered
sun.  As he sat stroking his fine fur with those restless fingers of his
nose, and scratching himself luxuriously with his capable claws, a big
grasshopper, dropping from one of its aimless leaps, fell close beside
him, bearing down with it a long blade of grass which it had clutched at
in its descent.  Star-Nose seized the unlucky hopper in a flash, tore
off its hard inedible legs, and started to eat it.  At that instant,
however, a faint swish of wings caught his ear and a swift shadow passed
over him.  At the touch of that shadow,—as if it had been solid and
released an oiled spring within his mechanism,—he dived back into his
hole; and the swooping marsh-hawk, after a savage but futile clutch at
the vanishing tip of his tail, wheeled off with a yelp of
disappointment.

It was certainly a narrow shave; and for perhaps a whole half-minute
Star-Nose, with his heart thumping, crouched in his refuge.  Then,
remembering the toothsome prize which he had been forced to abandon, he
put forth his head warily to reconnoitre.  The hawk was gone; but the
dead grasshopper was still there, green and glistening in the sun, and a
burly blue-bottle had just alighted upon it.  Star-Nose crept forth
cautiously to retrieve his prey.

Now at this same moment, as luck would have it, gliding along one of the
tiny run-ways of the meadow-mice, came a foraging mole-shrew, a
pugnacious cousin of the Star-Nose tribe.  The mole-shrew was distinctly
smaller than Star-Nose, and handicapped with such defective vision that
he had to do all his hunting by scent and sound and touch.  He smelt the
dead grasshopper at once, and came straight for it, heedless of whatever
might stand in the way.

Under the circumstances Star-Nose might have carelessly stood aside, not
through lack of courage, but because he had no special love of fighting
for its own sake.  And he knew that his cousin, though so much smaller
and lighter than himself, was much to be respected as an opponent by
reason of his blind ferocity and dauntless tenacity.  But he was no
weakling, to let himself be robbed of his lawful prey.  He whipped out
of his hole, flung himself upon the prize, and lifted his head just in
time to receive the furious spring of his assailant.

Between two such fighters there was no fencing.  The mole-shrew secured
a grip upon the side of the immensely thick and muscular neck of his
antagonist, and immediately began to worry and tear like a terrier. But
Star-Nose, flexible as an eel, set his deadly teeth into the side of his
assailant’s head, a little behind the ear, and worked in deeper and
deeper, after the manner of a bulldog.  For a few seconds, in that
death-grapple, the two rolled over and over, thrashing the grass-stems.
Then the long teeth of Star-Nose bit into the brain; and the
mole-shrew’s body, after a convulsive stiffening, went suddenly limp.

But the disturbance in the grass—there being no wind that golden
morning—had not escaped the eyes of the foraging marsh-hawk.  She came
winnowing back to learn the cause of it.  The sun being behind her,
however, her ominous shadow swept over the grass before her,—and
Star-Nose, unfailingly vigilant even in the moment of victory, caught
sight of it coming.  He loosed his hold on his dead adversary and
plunged for the hole.  At least he tried to plunge for it.  But the
plunge was little more than a crawl; for the teeth of the mole-shrew,
set deep in his neck, had locked themselves fast in death, and all that
Star-Nose could do was to drag the body with him.  This, however, he
succeeded in doing, so effectively that he was in time to back down into
the hole, out of reach, just as the hawk swooped and struck.

The clutching talons of the great bird fixed themselves firmly in the
protruding hind-quarters of the mole-shrew, and she attempted to rise
with her capture. But to her amazed indignation the prize resisted.
Star-Nose was holding on to the walls of his tunnel with all the
strength of his powerful claws, while at the same time struggling
desperately to tear himself loose from the grip of those dead teeth in
his neck. The contest, however, was but momentary.  The strength of
Star-Nose was a small thing against the furious beating of those great
wings; and in two or three seconds, unable either to hold on or to free
himself from the fatal incubus of his victim, he was dragged forth
ignominiously and swept into the air, squirming and dangling at the tip
of the dead mole-shrew’s snout.

Star-Nose was vaguely conscious of a chill rush of air, of a sudden
dazzling glare of gold and blue, as the victorious hawk flapped off
towards the nearest tree-top with her prize.  Then, suddenly, the grip
of the dead jaws relaxed and he felt himself falling. Fortunately for
him the hawk had not risen to any great height,—for the marsh-hawk,
hunter of meadow-mice, and such secretive quarry, does not, as a rule,
fly high. He felt himself turn over and over in the air, dizzily, and
then he landed, with a stupefying swish, in a dense bed of wild
parsnips.  He crashed right through, of course, but the strong stems
broke his fall and he was little the worse for the stupendous adventure.
For a few moments he lay half stunned.  Then, pulling himself together,
he fell to digging with all his might, caring only to escape from a
glaring outer world which seemed so full of tumultuous and altogether
bewildering perils.  He made the earth fly in a shower; and in an
unbelievably brief space of time he had buried himself till even the tip
of his tail was out of sight.  But even then he was not content.  He dug
on frantically, till he was a good foot beneath the surface and perhaps
a couple of feet more from the entrance.  Then, leaving the passage
safely blocked behind him, he enlarged the tunnel to a large chamber,
and curled himself up to lick his wounds and recover from his fright.

It was perhaps half an hour before Star-Nose completely regained his
composure and his appetite.  His appetite—that was the first
consideration.  And second to that, a poor second, was his need of
tunnelling back into his familiar maze of underground passages. Resuming
his digging with full vigour, he first ran a new shaft to the surface,
gathering in several fat grubs in his progress through the grass-roots.
Then, at about six inches below the surface—a depth at which he could
count upon the best foraging—he began to drive his tunnel.  His sense of
direction was unerring; which was the more inexplicable as there in the
thick dark he could have no landmarks to guide him.  He headed straight
for the point which would, by the shortest distance, join him up with
his own under-ways.

It happened, however, that in that terrible journey of his through the
upper air the swift flight of the hawk had carried him some distance,
and across the course of a sluggish meadow brook, a tributary of the
Lost-Water.  Suddenly and unexpectedly his vigorous tunnelling brought
him to this obstacle. The darkness before him gave way to a glimmer of
light.  He hesitated, and then burrowed on more cautiously.  A screen of
matted grass-roots confronted him, stabbed through with needles of sharp
gold which quivered dazzlingly.  Warily he dug through the screen,
thrust forth his nose, and found himself looking down upon a shimmering
glare of quiet water, about a foot below him.

Glancing upwards to see if there were any terrible wings in the air
above, Star-Nose perceived, to his deep satisfaction, that the steep
bank was overhung by a mat of pink-blossomed wild roses, humming
drowsily with bees.  The concealment, from directly overhead, was
perfect.  Reassured upon this point, he crawled forth, intending to swim
the bright channel and continue his tunnel upon the other side.  The
water itself was no obstacle to him, for he could swim and dive like a
musk-rat.  He was just about to plunge in, when under his very nose
popped up a black, triangular, furry head with fiercely bright, hard
eyes and lips curled back hungrily from long and keen white fangs.  With
amazing dexterity he doubled back upon himself straight up the slope,
and dived into his burrow; and the mink, springing after him, was just
in time to snap vainly at the vanishing tip of his tail.

The mink was both hungry and bad-tempered, having just missed a fish
which he was hunting amid the tangle of water-weeds along the muddy
bottom of the stream. Angrily he jammed his sharp snout into the mouth
of the tunnel, but the passage was much too small for him, and Star-Nose
was well out of reach.  He himself could dig a burrow when put to it,
but he knew that in this art he was no match for the expert little
fugitive. Moreover, keen though his appetite was, he was not
over-anxious to allay it with the rank and stringy flesh of the
Underground One.  He shook his head with a sniff and a snarl, brushed
the earth from his muzzle, and slipped off swiftly and soundlessly to
seek more succulent prey.

It was ten or fifteen minutes before Star-Nose again ventured forth into
the perilous daylight.  His last adventure had not in the least upset
him,—for to his way of thinking a miss was as good as a mile.  But he
was hungry, as usual, and he had found good hunting in the warm, light
soil just under the roots of the wild rose bushes along the bank.  At
length his desires once more turned towards the home tunnels.  He poked
his starry nose out through the hole in the bank, made sure that there
were no enemies in sight, slipped down to the water’s edge, and glided
in as noiselessly as if he had been oiled.  He had no mind to make a
splash, lest he should advertise his movements to some voracious pike
which might be lurking beneath that green patch of water-lily leaves a
little further up stream.

Deep below the shining surface he swam, straight and strong through a
world of shimmering and pellucid gold, roofed by a close, flat, white
sky of diaphanous silver, upon which every fallen rose-petal or drowning
fly or moth was shown with amazing clearness. As he reached the opposite
shore and clambered nimbly up through that flat silver sky, he glanced
back and saw a long grey shadow, with terrible jaws and staring round
eyes, dart past the spot from which he had just emerged.  The great pike
beneath the lilypads had caught sight of him, after all,—but too late!
Star-Nose shook himself, and sat basking for a few moments in the
comfortable warmth, complacently combing his face with his nimble
fore-paws.  He had an easy contempt for the pike, because it could not
leave the water to pursue him.

                  *      *      *      *      *      *

Some fifty yards away, on the side of the brook from which Star-Nose had
just come, beside a tiny pool in the deeps of the grass stood an immense
bird of a pale bluish-grey colour, motionless as a stone, on the watch
for unwary frogs.  The rich grasses were about two feet in height, and
the blue heron towered another clear two feet above them.  He was all
length,—long, stilt-like legs, long, snake-like neck, long, dagger-like
bill, and a firm, arrogant crest of long, slim, delicate plumes.  All
about him spread the warm and sun-steeped sea of the
meadow-grass,—starred thick with blooms of purple vetch and crimson
clover, and sultry orange lilies,—droning sleepily with bees and
flies,—steaming with summer scents, and liquidly musical with the songs
of the fluttering, black-and-white bobolinks, like tangled peals of tiny
silver bells.  But nothing of this intoxicating beauty did the great
heron heed. Rigid and decorative as if he had just stepped down from a
Japanese screen, his fierce, unwinking, jewel-bright eyes were intent
upon the pool at his feet.  His whole statuesque being was concentrated
upon the subject of frogs.

But the frogs in that particular pool had taken warning.  Not one would
show himself, so long as that inexorable blue shape of death remained in
sight.  Nor did a single meadow-mouse stir amid the grass-roots for
yards about the pool, for word of the watching doom had gone abroad.
And presently the great heron, grown tired of such poor hunting, lifted
his broad wings, sprang lazily into the air, and went flapping away
slowly over the grass-tops, trailing his long legs stiffly behind him.
He headed for the other side of the brook, and fresh hunting-grounds.

At the first lift of those great pale wings Star-Nose had detected this
new and appalling peril.  By good luck he was sitting on a patch of bare
earth, where the overhanging turf had given way some days before.
Frantically he began to dig himself in.  The soft earth flew from under
his desperate paws.  The piercing eyes of the heron detected the curious
disturbance, and he winged swiftly to the spot.

But Star-Nose, in his vigilance, had gained a good start.  In about as
much time as it takes to tell it, he was already buried to his own
length.  And then, to his terror, he came plump upon an impenetrable
obstacle—an old mooring stake driven deep into the soil.  In a sweat of
panic he swerved off to the left and tunnelled madly almost at right
angles to the entrance.

And just this it was—a part of his wonderful luck on this eventful
day—that turned to his salvation. Dropping swiftly to the entrance of
the all-too-shallow tunnel, the great heron, his head bent sideways,
peered into the hole with one implacable eye.  Then drawing back his
neck till it was like a coiled spring, he darted his murderous bill deep
into the hole.

Had it not been for the old mooring stake, which compelled him to change
direction, Star-Nose would have been neatly impaled, plucked forth,
hammered to death, and devoured.  As it was, the dreadful weapon merely
grazed the top of his rump—scoring, indeed, a crimson gash—and struck
with a terrifying thud upon the hard wood of the stake.  The impact gave
the heron a nasty jar.  He drew his head back abruptly, and shook it
hard in his indignant surprise.  Then, trying to look as if nothing
unusual had happened, he stepped down into the water with lofty
deliberation and composed himself to watch for fish.  At this moment the
big pike came swimming past again, hoping for another chance at the
elusive Star-Nose.  He was much too heavy a fish for the heron to
manage, of course; but the heron, in his wrath, stabbed down upon him
vindictively.  There was a moment’s struggle which made the quiet water
boil.  Then the frightened fish tore himself free and darted off, with a
great red wound in his silver-grey side, to hide and sulk under the
lilypads.

In the meantime Star-Nose, though smarting from that raw but superficial
gash upon his hind-quarters, was burrowing away with concentrated zeal.
He had once more changed direction, and was heading, as true as if by
compass, for the nearest point of the home-galleries.  He was not even
taking time to drive dump-shafts at the customary intervals, but was
letting the tunnel fill up behind him, as if sure that he was going to
have no further use for it.  He just wanted to get home.  Of course he
might have travelled much faster above ground; but the too-exciting
events of the past few hours had convinced him that, for this particular
day at least, the upper world of sun and air was not exactly a
health-resort for a dweller in the under-ways. Through all his
excitement, however, and all his eagerness for the safe home burrows,
his unquenchable appetite remained with him; and, running his tunnel as
close to the surface as he could without actually emerging, he picked up
plenty of worms and grubs and fat, helpless pupæ as he went.

It was past noon, and the strong sunshine, beating straight down through
the grass and soaking through the matted roots, was making a close but
sweet and earthy-scented warmth in the tunnel, when at last Star-Nose
broke through into one of his familiar passages, well-trodden by the
feet of his tribe.  Not by sight, of course,—for the darkness was black
as pitch,—but by the comfortable smell he knew exactly where he was.
Without hesitation he turned to the left, and scurried along, as fast as
he could, for the big central burrow, or lodge, where his tribe had
their headquarters and their nests.  The path forked and re-forked
continually, but he was never for one instant at a loss.  Here and there
he passed little short side-galleries ending in shallow pockets, which
served for the sanitation of the tribe.  Here and there a ray of
green-and-gold light flashed down upon him, as he ran past one of the
exit-shafts.  And then, his heart beating with his haste and his joy, he
came forth into a roomy, lightless chamber, thick with warmth and musky
smells, and filled with the pleasant rustlings and small contented
squealings of his own gregarious tribe.



                         *KROOF, THE SHE-BEAR*


[The next two stories are taken from _The Heart of the Ancient Wood_,
which tells how Kirstie Craig and her little daughter Miranda left the
Settlement to live by themselves in a cabin on the edge of an old wood.]


Spring came early to the clearing that year.  Kirstie’s autumn furrows,
dark and steaming, began to show in patches through the diminished snow.
The chips before the house and the litter about the barn, drawing the
sun strongly, were first of all uncovered; and over them, as to the
conquest of new worlds, the haughty cock led forth his dames to scratch.
"Saunders," Miranda had called him, in remembrance of a strutting beau
at the Settlement; and with the advent of April cheer, and an increasing
abundance of eggs, and an ever resounding cackle from his complacent
partlets, his conceit became insufferable.  One morning, when something
she did offended his dignity, he had the presumption to face her with
beak advanced and wide-ruffled neck feathers.  But Saunders did not know
Miranda.  Quick as a flash of light she seized him by the legs, whirled
him around her head, and flung him headlong, squawking with fear and
shame, upon his own dunghill.  It took him a good hour to recover his
self-esteem, but after that Miranda stood out in his eyes as the one
creature in the world to be respected.

When the clearing was quite bare, except along the edges of the forest,
and Kirstie was again at work on her fencing, the black-and-white cow
gave birth to a black-and-white calf, which Miranda at once claimed as
her own property.  It was a very wobbly knock-kneed little heifer; but
Miranda admired it immensely, and with lofty disregard of its sex,
christened it Michael.

About this time the snow shrank away from her hollow under the pine
root, and Kroof came forth to sun herself.  She had lived all winter on
nothing but the fat stored up in the spaces of her capacious frame.
Nevertheless she was not famished—she had still a reserve to come and go
on, till food should be abundant. A few days after waking up she bore a
cub.  It was the custom of her kind to bear two cubs at a birth; but
Kroof, besides being by long odds the biggest she-bear ever known in
that region, had a pronounced individuality of her own, and was just as
well satisfied with herself over one cub as over two.

The hollow under the pine root was warm and softly lined—a condition
quite indispensable to the new-comer, which was about as unlike a bear
as any baby creature of its size could well manage to be.  It was blind,
helpless, whimpering, more shapeless and clumsy-looking than the
clumsiest conceivable pup, and almost naked.  Its tender, hairless hide
looked a poor thing to confront the world with; but its appetite was
astounding, and Kroof’s milk inexhaustible.  In a few days a soft dark
fur began to appear.  As the mother sat, hour by hour, watching it and
suckling it, half erect upon her haunches, her fore-legs braced wide
apart, her head stretched as far down as possible, her narrow red tongue
hanging out to one side, her eyes half closed in rapture, it seemed to
grow visibly beneath her absorbing gaze.  Before four weeks had passed,
the cub was covered with a jet-black coat, soft and glossy.  This being
the case, he thought it time to open his eyes and look about.

He was now about the size of a small cat, but of a much heavier build.
His head, at this age, was shorter for its breadth than his mother’s;
the ears much larger, fan-like and conspicuous.  His eyes, very softly
vague at first, soon acquired a humorous, mischievous expression, which
went aptly with the erect, inquisitive ears.  Altogether he was a fine
baby—a fair justification of Kroof’s pride.

The spring being now fairly forward, and pale, whitish-green shoots
upthrusting themselves numerously through the dead leaves, and the big
crimson leaf-buds of the skunk-cabbage vividly punctuating the
sombreness of the swamp, Kroof led her infant forth to view their world.
He had no such severe and continued education to undergo as that which
falls to the lot of other youngsters among the folk of the ancient wood.
For those others the first lesson, the hardest and the most tremendous
in its necessity, was how to avoid their enemies.  With this lesson
ill-learned, all other found brief term; for the noiseless drama, in
which all the folk of the forest had their parts, moved ever, through
few scenes or through many, to a tragic close.  But the bear, being for
the most part dominant, had his immunities.  Even the panther, swift and
fierce and masterful, never deliberately sought quarrel with the bear,
being mindful of his disastrous clutch and the lightning sweep of his
paw. The bear-cub, therefore, going with its mother till almost full
grown, gave no thought at all to enemies; and the cub with such a
giantess as Kroof for its mother might safely make a mock even at
panthers.  Kroof’s cub had thus but simple things to learn, following
close at his mother’s flank.  During the first blind weeks of his
cubhood he had, indeed, to acquire the prime virtue of silence, which
was not easy, for he loved to whimper and grumble in a comfortable
little fashion of his own.  This was all right while Kroof was at home;
but when she was out foraging, then silence was the thing.  This he
learned, partly from Kroof’s admonitions, partly from a deep-seated
instinct; and whenever he was left alone, he held his tongue.  There was
always the possibility, slight but unpleasant, of a fox or a brown cat
noting Kroof’s absence, and seizing the chance to savour a delicate
morsel of sucking bear.

Wandering the silent woods with Kroof, the cub would sniff carefully at
the moist earth and budding shoots wheresoever his mother stopped to
dig.  He thus learned where to find the starchy roots which form so
large a part of the bear’s food in spring.  He found out the important
difference between the sweet ground-nuts and the fiery bitter bulb of
the arum, or Indian turnip; and he learned to go over the grassy meadows
by the lake and dig unerringly for the wild bean’s nourishing tubers.
He discovered, also, what old stumps to tear apart when he wanted a
pleasantly acid tonic dose of the larvæ of the wood-ant.  Among these
serious occupations he would gambol between his mother’s feet, or caper
hilariously on his hind legs.  Soon he would have been taught to detect
a bee tree, and to rob it of its delectable stores without getting his
eyes stung out; but just then the mysterious forest fates dropped the
curtain on his merry little play, as a reminder that not even for the
great black bear could the rule of doom be relaxed.

Kroof’s wanderings with the cub were in the neighbourhood of the
clearing, where both were sometimes seen by Miranda.  The sight of the
cub so overjoyed her that she departed from her usual reticence as to
the forest-folk, and told her mother about the lovely, glossy little dog
that the nice, great dog took about with her.  The only result was that
Kirstie gave her a sharp warning.

"Dog!" she exclaimed severely; "didn’t I tell you Miranda, it was a
bear?  Bears are mostly harmless, if you leave them alone; but an old
bear with a cub is mighty ugly.  Mind what I say now, you keep by me and
don’t go too nigh the edge of the woods."

And so, for the next few weeks, Miranda was watched very strictly, lest
her childish daring should involve her with the bears.

Along in the summer Kroof began to lead the cub wider afield.  The
longer journeys vexed the little animal at first, and tired him; so that
sometimes he would throw himself down on his back, with pinky-white
soles of protest in the air, and refuse to go a step farther.  But in
spite of the appeal of his quizzical little black snout, big ears, and
twinkling eyes, old Kroof would box him sternly till he was glad enough
to jump up and renew the march.  With the exercise he got a little
leaner, but much harder, and soon came to delight in the widest
wandering.  Nothing could tire him, and at the end of the journey he
would chase rabbits, or weasels, or other elusive creatures, till
convicted of futility by his mother’s sarcastic comments.

These wide wanderings were, indeed, the making of him, so that he
promised to rival Kroof herself in prowess and stature; but alas! poor
cub, they were also his undoing.  Had he stayed at home—but even that
might have little availed, for among the folk of the wood it is right at
home that fate most surely strikes.

One day they two were exploring far over in the next valley—the valley
of the Quah-Davic, a tract little familiar to Kroof herself.  At the
noon hour Kroof lay down in a little hollow of coolness beside a spring
that _drip-drop, drip-drop, drip-dropped_ from the face of a green rock.
The cub, however, went untiringly exploring the thickets for fifty yards
about, out of sight, indeed, but scrupulously never out of ear-shot.

Near one of these thickets his nostrils caught a new and enthralling
savour.  He had never, in his brief life, smelled anything at all like
it, but an unerring instinct told him it was the smell of something very
good to eat.  Pushing through the leafage he came upon the source of the
fragrance.  Under a slanting structure of logs he found a piece of
flesh, yellowish-white, streaked thickly with dark reddish-brown,—and,
oh, so sweet smelling!  It was stuck temptingly on a forked point of
wood.  His ears stood up very wide and high in his eagerness.  His
sensitive nostrils wrinkled as he sniffed at the tempting find.  He
decided that he would just taste it, and then go fetch his mother.  But
it was a little high up for him.  He rose, set his small white teeth
into it, clutched at it with his soft forepaws, and flung his whole
weight upon it to pull it down.

Kroof, dozing in her hollow of coolness, heard a small agonised screech,
cut short horribly.  On the instant her great body went tearing in a
panic through the under-brush.  She found the poor cub crushed flat
under the huge timbers of "a dead-fall," his glossy head and one paw
sticking out piteously, his little red tongue protruding from his
distorted mouth.

Kroof needed no second look to know in her heart he was dead, stone
dead; but in the rage of her grief she would not acknowledge it.  She
tore madly at the great timber,—so huge a thing to set to crush so small
a life,—and so astonishing was the strength of her claws and her vast
forearms that in the course of half an hour she had the trap fairly
demolished.  Softly she removed the crushed and shapeless body, licking
the mouth, the nostrils, the pitifully staring eyes; snuggling it
lightly as a breath, and moaning over it. She would lift the head a
little with her paw, and redouble her caresses as it fell limply aside.
Then it grew cold.  This was testimony she could not pretend to ignore.
She ceased the caresses which proved so vain to keep warmth in the
little body she loved.  With her snout held high in air she turned
around slowly twice, as if in an appeal to some power not clearly
apprehended; then, without another glance at her dead, she rushed off
madly through the forest.

All night she wandered aimlessly, hither and thither through the low
Quah-Davic valley, over the lower slopes of the mountain, through tracts
where she had never been, but of which she took no note; and toward noon
of the following day she found herself once more in the ancient wood,
not far from the clearing.  She avoided widely the old den under the
pine root, and at last threw herself down, worn out and with unsuckled
teats fiercely aching, behind the trunk of a fallen hemlock.

She slept heavily for an hour or two.  Then she was awakened by the
crying of a child.  She knew it at once for Miranda’s voice; and being
in some way stirred by it, in spite of the preoccupation of her pain,
she got up and moved noiselessly toward the sound.



                      *THE INITIATION OF MIRANDA*


That same day, just after noon-meat, when Miranda had gone out with the
scraps in a yellow bowl to feed the hens, Kirstie had been taken with
what the people at the Settlement would have called "a turn."  All the
morning she had felt unusually oppressed by the heat, but had thought
little of it.  Now, as she was wiping the dishes, she quite
unaccountably dropped one of them on the floor.  The crash aroused her.
She saw with a pang that it was Miranda’s little plate of many colours.
Then things turned black about her.  She just managed to reel across to
the bunk, and straightway fell upon it in a kind of faint.  From this
state she passed into a heavy sleep, which lasted for several hours, and
probably saved her from some violent sickness.

When Miranda had fed the hens she did not go straight back to her
mother.  Instead, she wandered off toward the edge of the dark fir-wood,
where it came down close behind the cabin.  The broad light of the open
fields, now green with buckwheat, threw a living illumination far in
among the cool arcades.

Between the straight grey trunks Miranda’s clear eyes saw something
move.

She liked it very much indeed.  It looked to her extremely like a cat,
only larger than any cat she had seen at the Settlement, taller on its
legs, and with a queer thick stump of a tail.  In fact, it was a cat,
the brown cat, or lesser lynx.  Its coat was a red brown, finely mottled
with a paler shade.  It had straight brushes of bristles on the tips of
its ears, like its big cousin, the Canada lynx, only much less
conspicuous than his; and the expression on the moonlike round of its
face was both fierce and shy.  But it was a cat, plainly enough; and
Miranda’s heart went out to it, as it sat up there in the shadows,
watching her steadily with wide pale eyes.

"Oh, pretty pussy! pretty pussy!" called Miranda, stretching out her
hands to it coaxingly, and running into the wood.

The brown cat waited unwinking till she was about ten paces off, then
turned and darted deeper into the shadows.  When it was all but out of
sight it stopped, turned again, and sat up to watch the eager child.  It
seemed curious as to the bit of scarlet at her neck. Miranda was now
absorbed in the pursuit, and sanguine of catching the beautiful pussy.
This time she was suffered to come almost within grasping distance,
before the animal again wheeled with an angry _pfuff_ and darted away.
Disappointed, but not discouraged, Miranda followed again; and the
little play was repeated, with slight variation, till her great eyes
were full of blinding tears, and she was ready to drop with weariness.
Then the malicious cat, tired of the game and no longer curious about
the ribbon, vanished altogether; and Miranda sat down to cry.

But she was not a child to make much fuss over a small disappointment.
In a very few minutes she jumped up, dried her eyes with the backs of
her tiny fists, and started, as she thought, for home.  At first she
ran, thinking her mother might be troubled at her absence.  But not
coming to the open as soon as she expected, she stopped, looked about
her very carefully, and then walked forward with continual
circumspection. She walked on, and on, till she knew she had gone far
enough to reach home five times over.  Her feet faltered, and then she
stood quite still, helplessly.  She knew that she was lost.  All at once
the ancient wood, the wood she had longed for, the wood whose darkness
she had never feared, became lonely, menacing, terrible. She broke into
loud wailing.

This is what Kroof had heard and was coming to investigate.  But other
ears heard it, too.

A tawny form, many times larger than the perfidious brown cat, but not
altogether unlike it in shape, crept stealthily toward the sound.
Though his limbs looked heavy, his paws large in comparison with his
lank body and small, flat, cruel head, his movements nevertheless were
noiseless as light.  At each low-stooping, sinuous step, his tail
twitched nervously.  When he caught sight of the crying child he
stopped, and then crept up more stealthily than before, crouching so low
that his belly almost touched the ground, his neck stretched out in line
with his tail.

He made absolutely no sound, yet something within Miranda’s sensitive
brain heard him, before he was quite within springing distance.  She
stopped her crying, glanced suddenly around, and fixed a darkly clear
look upon his glaring green eyes.  Poor little frightened and lonely
child though she was, there was yet something subtly disturbing to the
beast in that steady gaze of hers.  It was the empty gloom, the state of
being lost, which had made Miranda’s fear.  Of an animal, however
fierce, she had no instinctive terror; and now, though she knew that the
cruel-eyed beast before her was the panther, it was a sort of indignant
curiosity that was uppermost in her mind.

The beast shifted his eyes uneasily under her unwavering look.  He
experienced a moment’s indecision as to whether or not it was well,
after all, to meddle with this unterrified, clear-gazing creature.  Then
an anger grew within him.  He fixed his hypnotising stare more
resolutely, and lashed his tail with angry jerks. He was working himself
up to the final and fatal spring, while Miranda watched him.

Just then a strange thing happened.  Out from behind a boulder, whence
she had been eyeing the situation, shambled the huge black form of
Kroof.  She was at Miranda’s side in an instant; and rising upon her
hind quarters, a towering, indomitable bulk, she squealed defiance to
the panther.  As soon as Miranda saw her "great big dog,"—-which she
knew quite well, however, to be a bear,—she seemed to realise how
frightened she had been of the panther; and she recognised that strong
defence had come.  With a convulsive sob she sprang and hid her
tear-stained little face in the bear’s shaggy flank, clutching at the
soft fur with both hands.  To this impetuous embrace Kroof paid no
attention, but continued to glower menacingly at the panther.

As for the panther, he was unaffectedly astonished. He lost his
stealthy, crouching, concentrated attitude, and rose to his full height;
lifted his head, dropped his tail, and stared at the phenomenon.  If
this child was a protégée of Kroof’s, he wanted none of her; for it
would be a day of famine indeed when he would wish to force conclusions
with the giant she-bear.  Moreover, he recognised some sort of power and
prerogative in Miranda herself, some right of sovereignty, as it were,
which had made it distinctly hard for him to attack her even while she
had no other defence than her disconcerting gaze.  Now, however, he saw
clearly that there was something very mysterious indeed about her.  He
decided that it would be well to have an understanding with his mate—who
was more savage though less powerful than himself—that the child should
not be meddled with, no matter what chance should arise.  With this
conclusion he wheeled about, and walked off indifferently, moving with
head erect and a casual air.  One would hardly have known him for the
stealthy monster of five minutes before.

When he was gone Kroof lay down on her side and gently coaxed Miranda
against her body.  Her bereaved heart went out to the child.  Her
swollen teats, too, were hotly aching, and she had a kind of hope that
Miranda would ease that hurt.  But this, of course, never came within
scope of the child’s remotest idea. In every other respect, however, she
showed herself most appreciative of Kroof’s attentions, stroking her
with light little hands, and murmuring to her much musical endearment,
to which Kroof lent earnest ear. Then, laying her head on the fine fur
of the bear’s belly, she suddenly went fast asleep, being wearied by her
wanderings and her emotions.

Late in the afternoon, toward milking-time, Kirstie aroused herself.
She sat up with a startled air in her bunk in the corner of the cabin.
Through the window came the rays of the westering sun.  She felt
troubled at having been so long asleep.  And where could Miranda be?
She arose, tottering for a moment, but soon found herself steady; and
then she realised that she had slept off a sickness.  She went to the
door.  The hens were diligently scratching in the dust, and Saunders
eyed her with tolerance.  At the fence beyond the barn the
black-and-white cow lowed for the milking; and from her tether at the
other side of the buckwheat field, Michael, the calf, bleated for her
supper of milk and hay tea.  But Miranda was nowhere to be seen.

"Miranda!" she called.  And then louder,—and yet louder,—and at last
with a piercing wail of anguish, as it burst upon her that Miranda was
gone.  The sunlit clearing, the grey cabin, the dark forest edges, all
seemed to whirl and swim about her for an instant.  It was only for an
instant.  Then she snatched up the axe from the chopping log, and with a
sure instinct darted into that tongue of fir-woods just behind the
house.

Straight ahead she plunged, as if following a plain trail; though in
truth she was little learned in woodcraft, and by her mere eyes could
scarce have tracked an elephant.  But her heart was clutched by a grip
of ice, and she went as one tranced.  All at once, however, over the
mossy crest of a rock, she saw a sight which brought her to a
standstill.  Her eyes and her mouth opened wide in sheer amazement.
Then the terrible tension relaxed.  A strong shudder passed through her,
and she was her steadfast self again.  A smile broke up the sober lines
of her face.

"Sure enough," she muttered; "the child was right.  She knows a sight
more about the beasts than I do."

And this is what she saw.  Through the hoary arcades of the fir-wood
walked a huge black bear, with none other than Miranda trotting by its
side, and playfully stroking its rich coat.  The great animal would
pause from time to time, merely to nuzzle at the child with its snout or
lick her hand with its narrow red tongue; but the course it was making
was straight for the cabin. Kirstie stood motionless for some minutes,
watching the strange scene; then, stepping out from her shelter, she
hastened after them.  So engrossed were they with each other that she
came up undiscovered to within some twenty paces of them.  Then she
called out:

"Miranda, where _have_ you been?"

The child stopped, looked around, but still clung to Kroof’s fur.

"Oh, mother!" she cried, eager and breathless, and trying to tell
everything at once, "I was all lost—and I was just going to be eaten
up—and the dear, good, big bear came and frightened the panther away—and
we were just going home—and do come and speak to the dear, lovely, big
bear!  Oh, don’t let it go away! don’t let it!"

But on this point Kroof had her own views.  It was Miranda she had
adopted, not Kirstie; and she felt a kind of jealousy of Miranda’s
mother.  Even while Miranda was speaking, the bear swung aside and
briskly shambled off, leaving the child half in tears.

It was a thrilling story which Miranda had to tell her mother that
evening, while the black-and-white cow was getting milked, and while
Michael, the calf, was having its supper of milk and hay tea.  It made a
profound impression on Kirstie’s quick and tolerant mind.  She at once
realised the value to Miranda of such an affection as Kroof’s.  Most
mothers would have been crazed with foolish fear at the situation, but
Kirstie Craig was of no such weak stuff.  She saw in it only a strong
shield for Miranda against the gravest perils of the wood.



                         *A ROYAL MARAUDER[1]*


[1] This is the eleventh chapter of "RED FOX: the Story of His
Adventurous Career in the Ringwaak Wilds and of His Final Triumph over
the Enemies of His Kind."


The new lair on the ridge, being little more than a cleft in the rock,
had been accepted as a mere temporary affair.  Near by, however, was a
deep and well-drained pocket of dry earth, hard to come at, and
surrounded by an expanse of rocky débris where scent would not lie.
This was the place the foxes needed for security; and here, as soon as
the frost was well out, and the mother fox ready to resume her full
share of the hunting, the two dug out a new burrow, which ran far under
an overhanging rock.  Hither, with great satisfaction, they transferred
the bright-eyed woolly whelps.  So secure was the retreat that they were
comparatively careless about hiding the entrance or removing the
evidences of their occupancy.  In a little while the ground about the
hole was littered with the skins of rabbits, woodchucks, squirrels, with
feathers, and with musk-rat tails; while about the old den in the bank
below no such remnants had been allowed to collect.

In this difficult retreat Red Fox and his family had few neighbours to
intrude upon their privacy.  Over the naked ridge-crest the winds blew
steadily, sometimes humming to a gale; but they never disturbed the
quiet of that deep pocket in the rocks, with its little plot of bright,
bare soil where the young foxes played and sunned themselves.  No matter
what the direction of the wind, no matter from what quarter the driven
rain came slanting, the hollow was perfectly protected. On the top of
the bare rock which partly overhung it from the north Red Fox would
sometimes lie and watch, with eyes half-closed and mouth half-open, the
world of green and brown and purple and blue outspread below and around
him.  Far down, on both sides of the ridge, he would note the farmers of
both valleys getting in their crops, and the ceaseless, monotonous
toiling of the patient teams.  And far over to the eastward he would eye
the bold heights of old Ringwaak, with the crow-hunted fir-groves on its
flanks, and plan to go foraging over there some day, for sheer
restlessness of curiosity.

But though neighbours were few up here, there was one pair on whom Red
Fox and his mate looked with strong disapproval, not unmixed with
anxiety.  On an inaccessible ledge, in a ravine a little way down the
other side of the ridge, toward Ringwaak, was the nest of a white-headed
eagle.  It was a great, untidy, shapeless mass, a cart-load of sticks,
as it were, apparently dropped from the skies upon this bare ledge, but
in reality so interwoven with each point of rock, and so braced in the
crevices, that no tempest could avail to jar its strong foundations.  In
a hollow in the top of this mass, on a few wisps of dry grass mixed with
feathers and fur, huddled two half-naked, fierce-eyed nestlings, their
awkward, sprawling, reddish bodies beginning to be sprinkled with short
black pin-feathers.  All around the outer edges of this huge nest, and
on the rocks below it, were the bones of rabbits, and young lambs, and
minks, and woodchucks, with claws, and little hoofs, and bills, and
feathers, a hideous conglomeration that attested both the appetites of
the nestlings and the hunting prowess of the wide-winged, savage-eyed
parents.

Of the eagle pair, the larger, who was the female, had her aerial range
over Ringwaak, and the chain of lonely lakes the other side of Ringwaak.
But the male did all his hunting over the region of the settlements and
on toward the Ottanoonsis Valley.  Every morning, just after sunrise,
his great wings went winnowing mightily just over the crest of the
ridge, just over the lofty hollow where Red Fox had his lair. And as the
dread shadow, with its sinister rustling of stiff pinions, passed by,
the little foxes would shrink back into their den, well taught by their
father and mother.

When the weather was fine and dry, it was Red Fox’s custom to betake
himself, on his return from the night’s hunting, to his safe "lookout"
on the rocky summit above the den, and there, resting with his nose on
his fore-paws, to watch the vast and austere dawn roll up upon the
world.  Sometimes he brought his prey—when it was something worth while,
like a weasel or woodchuck or duck or rabbit—up to this lonely place to
be devoured at leisure, beyond the solicitude of his mate and the
irrepressible whimperings of the puppies.  He would lie there in the
mystic spreading of the grey transparencies of dawn till the first long
fingers of gold light touched his face, and the thin flood of amber and
rose washed all over the bald top of the rock.  He would watch, with
ceaseless interest, the mother eagle swoop down with narrowed wings into
the misty shadows of the valley, then mount slowly, questing, along the
slopes of Ringwaak, and finally soar high above the peak, a slowly
gyrating speck against the young blue.  He would watch the male spring
into the air resolutely, beat up the near steep, wing low over his rock,
and sail majestically down over the valley farms.  Later he would see
them return to the nest, from any point of the compass as it might
chance, sometimes with a big lake trout snatched from the industrious
fish-hawks, sometimes with a luckless mallard from the reed-beds
southward, sometimes with a long-legged, pathetic white lamb from the
rough upland pastures.  With keenest interest, and no small
appreciation, he would watch the great birds balance themselves, wings
half-uplifted, on the edge of the nest, and with terrible beak and claws
rend the victim to bloody fragments.  He marvelled at the insatiable
appetites of those two ugly nestlings, and congratulated himself that
his four playful whelps were more comely and less greedy.

One morning when, in the grey of earliest dawn, he climbed to his
retreat with a plump woodchuck in his jaws, it chanced he was in no
hurry for his meal. Dropping the limp body till he should feel more
relish for it, he lay down to rest and contemplate the waking earth.  As
he lay, the sun rose.  The female eagle sailed away toward Ringwaak.
The male beat up, and up, high above the ridge, and Red Fox paid no more
attention to him, being engrossed in the antics of a porcupine which was
swinging in a tree-top far below.

Suddenly he heard a sharp, hissing rush of great wings in the air just
above him, and glanced upward astonished.  The next instant he felt a
buffeting wind, huge wings almost smote him in the face,—and the dead
woodchuck, not three feet away, was snatched up in clutching talons, and
borne off into the air.  With a furious snarl he jumped to his feet; but
the eagle, with the prize dangling from his claws, was already far out
of reach, slanting down majestically toward his nest.

The insolence and daring of this robbery fixed in Red Fox’s heart a
fierce desire for vengeance.  He stole down to the ravine that held the
eyrie, and prowled about for hours, seeking a place where he could climb
to the ledge.  It was quite inaccessible, however; and the eagles,
knowing this, looked down upon the prowlings with disdainful serenity.
Then he mounted the near-by cliff and peered down directly into the
nest.  But finding himself still as far off as ever, and the eagles
still undisturbed, he gave up the hope of an immediate settlement of his
grudge, and lay in wait for the chances of the wilderness.  He was frank
enough, however, in his declaration of war; for whenever the eagle went
winging low over his rocky lookout, he would rise and snarl up at him
defiantly.  The great bird would bend his flight lower, as if to accept
this challenge; but having a wise respect for those long jaws and white
fangs which the fox displayed so liberally, he took care not to come
within their reach.

A few days later, while Red Fox was away hunting down in the valley, the
fox-puppies were playing just in the mouth of the den, when they saw
their slim mother among the rocks.  In a puppy-like frolic of welcome
they rushed to meet her, feeling secure in her nearness.  When they were
half-way across the open in front of the den, there came a sudden shadow
above them.  Like a flash they scattered,—all but one, who crouched flat
and stared irresolutely.  There was a dreadful whistling sound in the
air, a pounce of great flapping wings and wide-reaching talons, a
strangled yelp of terror.  And before the mother fox’s leap could reach
the spot, the red puppy was snatched up and carried away to the beaks of
the eaglets.

When he learned about this, Red Fox felt such fury as his philosophic
spirit had never known before.  He paid another futile visit to the foot
of the eagles’ rock; and afterward, for days, wasted much time from his
hunting in the effort to devise some means of getting at his foe.  He
followed the eagle’s flight and foraging persistently, seeking to be on
the spot when the robber made a kill.  But the great bird had such a
wide range that this effort seemed likely to be a vain one.  In whatever
region Red Fox lay in wait, in some other would the eagle make his kill.
With its immeasurable superiority in power of sight, the royal marauder
had no trouble in avoiding his enemy’s path, so that Red Fox was under
surveillance when he least suspected it.

It was one day when he was not thinking of eagles or of vengeance that
Red Fox’s opportunity came.  It was toward evening, and for a good
half-hour he had been quite out of sight, watching for a wary old
woodchuck to venture from its hole.  As he lay there, patient and
moveless, he caught sight of a huge black snake gliding slowly across
the open glade.  He hesitated, in doubt whether to attack the snake or
keep on waiting for the woodchuck.  Just then came that whistling sound
in the air which he knew so well.  The snake heard it, too, and darted
toward the nearest tree, which chanced to be a bare young birch sapling.
It had barely reached the foot of the tree when the feathered
thunderbolt out of the sky fell upon it, clutching it securely with both
talons about a foot behind the head.

Easily and effectively had the eagle made his capture; but, when he
tried to rise with his prey, his broad wings beat the air in vain.  At
the instant of attack the snake had whipped a couple of coils of its
tail around the young birch-tree, and that desperate grip the eagle
could not break.  Savagely he picked at the coils, and then at the
reptile’s head, preparing to take the prize off in sections if
necessary.

Red Fox’s moment, long looked for and planned for, had come.  His rush
from cover was straight and low, and swift as a dart; and his jaws
caught the eagle a slashing cut on the upper leg.  Fox-like, he bit and
let go; and the great bird, with a yelp of pain and amazement, whirled
about, striking at him furiously with beak and wings.  He got one buffet
from those wings which knocked him over; and the eagle, willing to shirk
the conflict, disengaged his talons from the snake and tried to rise.
But in an instant Red Fox was upon him again, reaching up for his neck
with a lightning-like ferocity that disconcerted the bird’s defence.  At
such close quarters the bird’s wings were ineffective, but his rending
beak and steel-like talons found their mark in Red Fox’s beautiful ruddy
coat, which was dyed with crimson in a second.

For most foxes the king of the air would have proved more than a match;
but the strength and cleverness of Red Fox put the chance of battle
heavily in his favour. In a few seconds he would have had the eagle
overborne and helpless, and would have reached his throat in spite of
beak and claw.  But at this critical moment the bird found an unexpected
and undeserved ally.  The snake which he had attacked, being desperately
wounded, was thrashing about in the effort to get away to some hiding.
Red Fox happened to step upon it in the struggle; and instantly, though
blindly, it threw a convulsive coil about his hind legs.  Angrily he
turned, and bit at the constricting coil.  And while he was tearing at
it, seeking to free himself, the eagle recovered, raised himself with
difficulty, and succeeded in flopping up into the air. Bedraggled,
bloody, and abjectly humiliated, he went beating over the forest toward
home; and Red Fox, fairly well satisfied in spite of the incompleteness
of his victory, proceeded to refresh himself by a hearty meal of snake.
He felt reasonably certain that the big eagle would give both himself
and his family a wide berth in the future.



                              Made at the
                              Temple Press
                               Letchworth
                            in Great Britain





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