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- Types of Children's Literature - 90/107 -
tearing down the hillside straight at him. All his bravado vanished like a wink. Up went his flag, and away he went over the logs and rocks of the great hillside; where presently I heard his mother running in a great circle till she found him with her nose, thanks to the wood wires and the wind's messages, and led him away out of danger.
One who lives for a few weeks in the wilderness, with eyes and ears open, soon finds that, instead of the lawlessness and blind chance which seem to hold sway there, he lives in the midst of law and order-- an order of things much older than that to which he is accustomed, with which it is not well to interfere. I was uneasy, following the little deer path through the twilight stillness; and my uneasiness was not decreased when I found on a log, within fifty yards of the spot where the fawn first appeared, the signs of a big lucivee, with plenty of fawn's hair and fine-cracked bones to tell me what he had eaten for his midnight dinner.
Down at the lower end of the same deer path, where it stopped at the lake to let the wild things drink, was a little brook. Outside the mouth of this brook, among the rocks, was a deep pool; and in the pool lived some big trout. I was there one night, some two weeks later, trying to catch some of the big trout for my next breakfast.
Those were wise fish. It was of no use to angle for them by day any more. They knew all the flies in my book; could tell the new Jenny Lind from the old Bumble Bee before it struck the water; and seemed to know perfectly, both by instinct and experience, that they were all frauds, which might as well be called Jenny Bee and Bumble Lind for any sweet reasonableness that was in them. Besides all this, the water was warm; the trout were logy and would not rise.
By night, however, the case was different. A few of the trout would leave the pool and prowl along the shores in shallow water to see what tidbits the darkness might bring, in the shape of night bugs and careless piping frogs and sleepy minnows. Then, if you built a fire on the beach and cast a white-winged fly across the path of the firelight, you would sometimes get a big one.
It was fascinating sport always, whether the trout were rising or not. One had to fish with his ears, and keep most of his wits in his hand, ready to strike quick and hard when the moment came, after an hour of casting. Half the time you would not see your fish at all, but only hear the savage plunge as he swirled down with your fly. At other times, as you struck sharply at the plunge, your fly would come back to you, or tangle itself up in unseen snags; and far out, where the verge of the firelight rippled away into the darkness, you would see a sharp wave-wedge shooting away, which told you that your trout was only a musquash. Swimming quietly by, he had seen you and your fire, and slapped his tail down hard on the water to make you jump. That is a way Musquash has in the night, so that he can make up his mind what queer thing you are and what you are doing.
All the while, as you fish, the great dark woods stand close about you, silent, listening. The air is full of scents and odors that steal abroad only by night, while the air is dew-laden. Strange cries, calls, squeaks, rustlings run along the hillside, or float in from the water, or drop down from the air overhead, to make you guess and wonder what wood folk are abroad at such unseemly hours, and what they are about. So that it is good to fish by night, as well as by day, and go home with heart and head full, even though your creel be empty.
I was standing very still by my fire, waiting for a big trout that had risen and missed my fly to regain his confidence, when I heard cautious rustlings in the brush behind me. I turned instantly, and there were two great glowing spots, the eyes of a deer, flashing out of the dark woods. A swift rustle, and two more coals glow lower down, flashing and scintillating with strange colors; and then two more; and I know that the doe and her fawns are there, stopped and fascinated on their way to drink by the great wonder of the light, and by the witchery of the dancing shadows that rush up at timid wild things, as if to frighten them, but only jump over them and back again, as if inviting them to join the silent play.
I knelt down quietly beside my fire, slipping on a great roll of birch bark which blazed up brightly, filling the woods with light. There, under a spruce, where a dark shadow had been a moment agone, stood the mother, her eyes all ablaze with the wonder of the light; now staring steadfastly into the fire; now starting nervously, with low questioning snorts, as a troop of shadows ran up to play hop-scotch with the little ones, which stood close behind her, one on either side.
A moment only it lasted. Then one fawn--I knew the heedless one, even in the firelight, by his face and by his bright-dappled Joseph's coat-- came straight towards me, stopping to stare with flashing eyes when the fire jumped up, and then to stamp his little foot at the shadows to show them that he was not afraid.
The mother called him anxiously; but still he came on, stamping prettily. She grew uneasy, trotting back and forth in a half circle, warning, calling, pleading. Then, as he came between her and the fire, and his little shadow stretched away up the hill where she was, showing how far away he was from her and how near the light, she broke away from its fascination with an immense effort: _Ka-a-a-h! ka-a-a-h!_ the hoarse cry rang through the startled woods like a pistol shot; and she bounded away, her white flag shining like a wave crest in the night to guide her little ones.
The second fawn followed her instantly; but the heedless one barely swung his head to see where she was going, and then came on towards the light, staring and stamping in foolish wonder.
I watched him a little while, fascinated myself by his beauty, his dainty motions, his soft ears with a bright oval of light about them, his wonderful eyes glowing like burning rainbows kindled by the firelight. Far behind him the mother's cry ran back and forth along the hillside. Suddenly it changed; a danger note leaped into it; and again I heard the call to follow and the crash of brush as she leaped away. I remembered the lynx and the sad little history written on the log above. As the quickest way of saving the foolish youngster, I kicked my fire to pieces and walked out toward him. Then, as the wonder vanished in darkness and the scent of the man poured up to him on the lake's breath, the little fellow bounded away--alas! straight up the deer path, at right angles to the course his mother had taken a moment before.
Five minutes later I heard the mother calling a strange note in the direction he had taken, and went up the deer path very quietly to investigate. At the top of the ridge, where the path dropped away into a dark narrow valley with dense underbrush on either side, I heard the fawn answering her, below me among the big trees, and knew instantly that something had happened. He called continuously, a plaintive cry of distress, in the black darkness of the spruces. The mother ran around him in a great circle, calling him to come; while he lay helpless in the same spot, telling her he could not, and that she must come to him. So the cries went back and forth in the listening night,--_Hoo-wuh_, "come here." _Bla-a-a, blr-r-t_, "I can't; come here." _Ka-a-a-h, ka-a-a-h!_ "danger, follow!"--and then the crash of brush as she rushed away followed by the second fawn, whom she must save, though she abandoned the heedless one to prowlers of the night.
It was clear enough what had happened. The cries of the wilderness all have their meaning, if one but knows how to interpret them. Running through the dark woods his untrained feet had missed their landing, and he lay now under some rough windfall, with a broken leg to remind him of the lesson he had neglected so long.
I was stealing along towards him, feeling my way among the trees in the darkness, stopping every moment to listen to his cry to guide me, when a heavy rustle came creeping down the hill and passed close before me. Something, perhaps, in the sound--a heavy, though almost noiseless, onward push which only one creature in the woods can possibly make-- something, perhaps, in a faint new odor in the moist air told me instantly that keener ears than mine had heard the cry; that Mooween the bear had left his blueberry patch, and was stalking the heedless fawn, whom he knew, by the hearing of his ears, to have become separated from his watchful mother in the darkness.
I regained the path silently--though Mooween heeds nothing when his game is afoot--and ran back to the canoe for my rifle. Ordinarily a bear is timid as a rabbit; but I had never met one so late at night before, and knew not how he would act should I take his game away. Besides, there is everything in the feeling with which one approaches an animal. If one comes timidly, doubtfully, the animal knows it; and if one comes swift, silent, resolute, with his power gripped tight, and the hammer back, and a forefinger resting lightly on the trigger guard, the animal knows it too, you may depend. Anyway, they always act as if they knew, and you may safely follow the rule that, whatever your feeling is, whether fear or doubt or confidence, the large and dangerous animals will sense it instantly and adopt the opposite feeling for their rule of action. That is the way I have always found it in the wilderness. I met a bear once on a narrow path--but I must tell about that elsewhere.
The cries had ceased; the woods were all dark and silent when I came back. I went as swiftly as possible--without heed or caution; for whatever crackling I made the bear would attribute to the desperate mother--to the spot where I had turned back. Thence I went on cautiously, taking my bearings from one great tree on the ridge that lifted its bulk against the sky; slower and slower, till, just this side of a great windfall, a twig cracked sharply under my foot. It was answered instantly by a grunt and a jump beyond the windfall--and then the crashing rush of a bear up the hill, carrying something that caught and swished loudly on the bushes as it passed, till the sounds vanished in a faint rustle far away, and the woods were still again.
All night long, from my tent over beyond an arm of the big lake, I heard the mother calling at intervals. She seemed to be running back and forth along the ridge, above where the tragedy had occurred. Her nose told her of the bear and the man; but what awful thing they were doing with her little one she knew not. Fear and questioning were in the calls that floated down the ridge and across the water to my little tent.
At daylight I went back to the spot. I found without trouble where the fawn had fallen; the moss told mutely of his struggle; and a stain or two showed where Mooween grabbed him. The rest was a plain trail of crushed moss and bent grass and stained leaves, and a tuft of soft hair here and there on the jagged ends of knots in the old windfalls. So the trail hurried up the hill into a wild rough country where it was of no use to follow.
As I climbed the last ridge on my way back to the lake, I heard rustlings in the underbrush, and then the unmistakable crack of a twig under a deer's foot. The mother had winded me; she was now following and circling down wind to find out whether her lost fawn were with me. As yet she knew not what had happened. The bear had frightened her into extra care of the one fawn of whom she was sure. The other had simply vanished into the silence and mystery of the great woods.
Where the path turned downward, in sight of the lake, I saw her for a
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