Ernest Thompson Seton
Part 2 out of 4
THE LESSON ON TRAPS
A Calf had died in branding-time and now, two weeks later, was in
its best state for perfect taste, not too fresh, not
over-ripe--that is, in a Wolf's opinion -and the wind carried
this information afar. The Yellow Wolf and Duskymane were out for
supper, though not yet knowing where, when the tidings of veal
arrived, and they trotted up the wind. The Calf was in an open
place, and plain to be seen in the moonlight. A Dog would have
trotted right up to the carcass, an old-time Wolf might have
done so, but constant war had developed constant vigilance in the
Yellow Wolf, and trusting nothing and no one but her nose, she
slacked her speed to a walk. On coming in easy view she stopped,
and for long swung her nose, submitting the wind to the closest
possible chemical analysis. She tried it with her finest tests,
blew all the membranes clean again and tried it once more; and
this was the report of the trusty nostrils, yes, the unanimous
report. First, rich and racy smell of Calf, seventy per cent.;
smells of grass, bugs, wood, flowers, trees, sand, and other
uninteresting negations, fifteen per cent.; smell of her Cub and
herself, positive but ignorable, ten per cent.; smell of human
tracks, two per cent.; smell of smoke, one per cent.; of sweaty
leather smell, one per cent.; of human body-scent (not
discernible in some samples), one-half per cent.; smell of iron,
The old Wolf crouched a little but sniffed hard with swinging
nose; the young Wolf imitatively did the same. She backed off to
a greater distance; the Cub stood. She gave a low whine; he
followed unwillingly. She circled around the tempting carcass; a
new smell was recorded--Coyote trail-scent, soon followed by
Coyote body-scent. Yes, there they were sneaking along a near
ridge, and now as she passed to one side the samples changed, the
wind had lost nearly every trace of Calf; miscellaneous,
commonplace, and uninteresting smells were there instead. The
human track-scent was as before, the trace of leather was gone,
but fully one-half per cent, of iron-odor, and body smell of man
raised to nearly two per cent.
Fully alarmed, she conveyed her fear to the Cub, by her rigid
pose, her air intent, and her slightly bristling mane.
She continued her round. At one time on a high place the human
body scent was doubly strong, then as she dropped it faded. Then
the wind brought the full calf-odor with several track-scents of
Coyotes and sundry Birds. Her suspicions were lulling as in a
smalling circle she neared the tempting feast from the windward
side. She had even advanced straight toward it for a few steps
when the sweaty leather sang loud and strong again, and smoke and
iron mingled like two strands of a parti-colored yarn. Centring
all her attention on this, she advanced within two leaps of the
Calf. There on the ground was a scrap of leather, telling also of
a human touch, close at hand the Calf, and now the iron and smoke
on the full vast smell of Calf were like a snake trail across the
trail of a whole Beef herd. It was so slight that the Cub, with
the appetite and impatience of youth, pressed up against his
mother's shoulder to go past and eat without delay. She seized
him by the neck and flung him back. A stone struck by his feet
rolled forward and stopped with a peculiar clink. The danger
smell was greatly increased at this, and the Yellow Wolf backed
slowly from the feast, the Cub unwillingly following.
As he looked wistfully he saw the Coyotes drawing nearer, mindful
chiefly to avoid the Wolves. He watched their really cautious
advance; it seemed like heedless rushing compared with his
mother's approach. The Calf smell rolled forth in exquisite and
overpowering excellence now, for they were tearing the
meat, when a sharp clank was heard and a yelp from a Coyote. At
the same time the quiet night was shocked with a roar and a flash
of fire. Heavy shots spattered Calf and Coyotes, and yelping like
beaten Dogs they scattered, excepting one that was killed and a
second struggling in the trap set here by the ever-active
wolvers. The air was charged with the hateful smells redoubled
now, and horrid smells additional. The Yellow Wolf glided down a
hollow and led her Cub away in flight, but, as they went, they
saw a man rush from the bank near where the mother's nose had
warned her of the human scent. They saw him kill the caught
Coyote and set the traps for more.
THE BEGUILING OF THE YELLOW WOLF
The life game is a hard game, for we may win ten thousand times,
and if we fail but once our gain is gone. How many hundred times
had the Yellow Wolf scorned the traps; how many Cubs she had
trained to do the same! Of all the dangers to her life she best
October had come; the Cub was now much taller than the mother.
The wolver had seen them once--a Yellow Wolf followed by another,
whose long, awkward legs, big, soft feet, thin neck, and skimpy
tail proclaimed him this year's Cub. The record of the dust and
sand said that the old one had lost a right front toe, and that
the young one was of giant size.
It was the wolver that thought to turn the carcass of the Calf to
profit, but he was disappointed in getting Coyotes instead of
Wolves. It was the beginning of the trapping season, for this
month fur is prime. A young trapper often fastens the bait on the
trap; an experienced one does not. A good trapper will even put
the bait at one place and the trap ten or twenty feet away, but
at a spot that the Wolf is likely to cross in circling. A
favorite plan is to hide three or four traps around an open
place, and scatter some scraps of meat in the middle. The traps
are buried out of sight after being smoked to hide the taint of
hands and iron. Sometimes no bait is used except a little piece
of cotton or a tuft of feathers that may catch the Wolf's eye or
pique its curiosity and tempt it to circle on the fateful,
treacherous ground. A good trapper varies his methods continually
so that the Wolves cannot learn his ways. Their only safeguards
are perpetual vigilance and distrust of all smells that are known
to be of man.
The wolver, with a load of the strongest steel traps, had begun
his autumn work on the 'Cottonwood.'
An old Buffalo trail crossing the river followed a little draw
that climbed the hills to the level upland. All animals use these
trails, Wolves and Foxes as well as Cattle and Deer: they are the
main thoroughfares. A cottonwood stump not far from where it
plunged to the gravelly stream was marked with Wolf signs that
told the wolver of its use. Here was an excellent place for
traps, not on the trail, for Cattle were here in numbers, but
twenty yards away on a level, sandy spot he set four traps in a
twelve-foot square. Near each he scattered two or three scraps of
meat; three or four white feathers on a spear of grass in the
middle completed the setting. No human eye, few animal noses,
could have detected the hidden danger of that sandy ground, when
the sun and wind and the sand itself had dissipated the man-track
The Yellow Wolf had seen and passed, and taught her giant son to
pass, such traps a thousand times before.
The Cattle came to water in the heat of the day. They strung down
the Buffalo path as once the Buffalo did. The little Vesper-birds
flitted before them, the Cowbirds rode on them, and the
Prairie-dogs chattered at them, just as they once did at the
Down from the gray-green mesa with its green-gray rocks, they
marched with imposing solemnity, importance, and directness of
purpose. Some frolicsome Calves, playing along-side the trail,
grew sober and walked behind their mothers as the river flat was
reached. The old Cow that headed the procession sniffed
suspiciously as she passed the "trap set," but it was far away,
otherwise she would have pawed and bellowed over the scraps of
bloody beef till every trap was sprung and harmless.
But she led to the river. After all had drunk their fill they lay
down on the nearest bank till late afternoon. Then their unheard
dinner-gong aroused them, and started them on the backward march
to where the richest pastures grew.
One or two small birds had picked at the scraps of meat, some
blue-bottle flies buzzed about, but the sinking sun saw the sandy
A brown Marsh Hawk came skimming over the river flat as the sun
began his color play. Blackbirds dashed into thickets, and easily
avoided his clumsy pounce. It was too early for the Mice, but, as
he skimmed the ground, his keen eye caught the flutter of
feathers by the trap and turned his flight. The feathers in their
uninteresting emptiness were exposed before he was near, but now
he saw the scraps of meat. Guileless of cunning, he alighted and
was devouring a second lump when--clank--the dust was flirted
high and the Marsh Hawk was held by his toes, struggling vainly
in the jaws of a powerful wolf-trap. He was not much hurt. His
ample wings winnowed from time to time, in efforts to be free,
but he was helpless, even as a Sparrow might be in a rat-trap,
and when the sun had played his fierce chromatic scale, his
swan-song sung, and died as he dies only in the blazing west, and
the shades had fallen on the melodramatic scene of the Mouse in
the elephant-trap, there was a deep, rich sound on the high flat
butte, answered by another, neither very long, neither repeated,
and both instinctive rather than necessary. One was the
muster-call of an ordinary Wolf, the other the answer of a very
big male, not a pair in this case, but mother and son -
Yellow Wolf and Duskymane. They came trotting together down the
Buffalo trail. They paused at the telephone box on the hill and
again at the old cottonwood root, and were making for the river
when the Hawk in the trap fluttered his wings. The old Wolf
turned toward him,-a wounded bird on the ground surely, and she
rushed forward. Sun and sand soon burn all trail-scents; there
was nothing to warn her. She sprang on the flopping bird and a
chop of her jaws ended his troubles, but a horrid sound--the
gritting of her teeth on steel--told her of peril. She dropped
the Hawk and sprang backward from the dangerous ground, but
landed in the second trap. High on her foot its death-grip
closed, and leaping with all her strength, to escape, she set her
fore foot in another of the lurking grips of steel. Never had a
trap been so baited before. Never was she so unsuspicious. Never
was catch more sure. Fear and fury filled the old Wolf's heart;
she tugged and strained, she chewed the chains, she snarled and
foamed. One trap with its buried log, she might have dragged;
with two, she was helpless. Struggle as she might, it only worked
those relentless jaws more deeply into her feet. She snapped
wildly at the air; she tore the dead Hawk into shreds; she roared
the short, barking roar of a crazy Wolf. She bit at the traps, at
her cub, at herself. She tore her legs that were held; she gnawed
in frenzy at her flank, she chopped off her tail in her madness;
she splintered all her teeth on the steel, and filled her
bleeding, foaming jaws with clay and sand.
She struggled till she fell, and writhed about or lay like dead,
till strong enough to rise and grind the chains again with her
And so the night passed by.
And Duskymane? Where was he? The feeling of the time when his
foster-mother had come home poisoned, now returned; but he was
even more afraid of her. She seemed filled with fighting hate. He
held away and whined a little; he slunk off and came back when
she lay still, only to retreat again, as she sprang forward,
raging at him, and then renewed her efforts at the traps. He did
not understand it, but he knew this much, she was in terrible
trouble, and the cause seemed to be the same as that which had
scared them the night they had ventured near the Calf.
Duskymane hung about all night, fearing to go near, not knowing
what to do, and helpless as his mother.
At dawn the next day a sheepherder seeking lost Sheep discovered
her from a neighboring hill. A signal mirror called the wolver
from his camp. Duskymane saw the new danger. He was a mere Cub,
though so tall; he could not face the man, and fled at his
The wolver rode up to the sorry, tattered, bleeding She-wolf in
the trap. He raised his rifle and soon the struggling stopped.
The wolver read the trail and the signs about, and remembering
those he had read before, he divined that this was the Wolf with
the great Cub--the She-wolf of Sentinel Butte.
Duskymane heard the "crack" as he scurried off into cover. He
could scarcely know what it meant, but he never saw his kind old
foster-mother again. Thenceforth he must face the world alone.
THE YOUNG WOLF WINS A PLACE AND FAME
Instinct is no doubt a Wolf's first and best guide, but gifted
parents are a great start in life. The dusky-maned cub had had a
mother of rare excellence and he reaped the advantage of all her
cleverness. He had inherited an exquisite nose and had absolute
confidence in its admonitions. Mankind has difficulty in
recognizing the power of nostrils. A Gray-wolf can glance over
the morning wind as a man does over his newspaper, and get all
the latest news. He can swing over the ground and have the
minutest information of every living creature that has walked
there within many hours. His nose even tells which way it ran,
and in a word renders a statement of every animal that recently
crossed his trail, whence it came, and whither it went.
That power had Duskymane in the highest degree; his broad, moist
nose was evidence of it to all who are judges of such things.
Added to this, his frame was of unusual power and endurance, and
last, he had early learned a deep distrust of everything strange,
and, call it what we will, shyness, wariness or suspicion, it was
worth more to him than all his cleverness. It was this as much as
his physical powers that made a success of his life. Might is
right in wolf-land, and Duskymane and his mother had been
driven out of Sentinel Butte. But it was a very delectable land
and he kept drifting back to his native mountain. One or two big
Wolves there resented his coming. They drove him off several
times, yet each time he returned he was better able to face them;
and before he was eighteen months old he had defeated all rivals
and established himself again on his native ground; where he
lived like a robber baron, levying tribute on the rich lands
about him and finding safety in the rocky fastness.
Wolver Ryder often hunted in that country, and before long, he
came across a five-and-one-half-inch track, the foot-print of a
giant Wolf. Roughly reckoned, twenty to twenty-five pounds of
weight or six inches of stature is a fair allowance for each inch
of a Wolf's foot; this Wolf therefore stood thirty-three inches
at the shoulder and weighed about one hundred and forty pounds,
by far the largest Wolf he had ever met. King had lived in Goat
country, and now in Goat language he exclaimed: "You bet, ain't
that an old Billy?" Thus by trivial chance it was that Duskymane
was known to his foe, as 'Badlands Billy.'
Ryder was familiar with the muster-call of the Wolves, the long,
smooth cry, but Billy's had a singular feature, a slurring that
was always distinctive. Ryder had heard this before, in the
Cottonwood Caņon, and when at length he got a sight of the big
Wolf with the black mane, it struck him that this was also the
Cub of the old Yellow fury that he had trapped.
These were among the things he told me as we sat by the fire at
night. I knew of the early days when any one could trap or poison
Wolves, of the passing of those days, with the passing of the
simple Wolves; of the new race of Wolves with new cunning that
were defying the methods of the ranchmen, and increasing steadily
in numbers. Now the wolver told me of the various ventures that
Penroof had made with different kinds of Hounds; of Foxhounds too
thin-skinned to fight; of Greyhounds that were useless when the
animal was out of sight; of Danes too heavy for the rough
country, and, last, of the composite pack with some of all kinds,
including at times a Bull-terrier to lead them in the final
He told of hunts after Coyotes, which usually were successful
because the Coyotes sought the plains, and were easily caught by
the Greyhounds. He told of killing some small Gray-wolves with
this very pack, usually at the cost of the one that led them; but
above all he dwelt on the wonderful prowess of "that thar cussed
old Black Wolf of Sentinel Butte," and related the many attempts
to run him down or corner him--an unbroken array of failures. For
the big Wolf, with exasperating persistence, continued to live on
the finest stock of the Penroof brand, and each year was teaching
more Wolves how to do the same with perfect impunity.
I listened even as gold-hunters listen to stories of treasure
trove, for these were the things of my world. These things indeed
were uppermost in all our minds, for the Penroof pack was lying
around our camp-fire now. We were out after Badlands Billy.
THE VOICE IN THE NIGHT AND THE BIG
TRACK IN THE MORNING
One night late in September after the last streak of light was
gone from the west and the Coyotes had begun their yapping
chorus, a deep, booming sound was heard. King took out his pipe,
turned his head and said: "That's him--that's old Billy. He's
been watching us all day from some high place, and now when the
guns are useless he's here to have a little fun with us."
Two or three Dogs arose, with bristling manes, for they clearly
recognized that this was no Coyote. They rushed out into the
night, but did not go far; their brawling sounds were suddenly
varied by loud yelps, and they came running back to the shelter
of the fire. One was so badly cut in the shoulder that he was
useless for the rest of the hunt. Another was hurt in the
flank--it seemed the less serious wound, and yet next morning the
hunters buried that second Dog.
The men were furious. They vowed speedy vengeance, and at dawn
were off on the trail. The Coyotes yelped their dawning song, but
they melted into the hills when the light was strong. The hunters
searched about for the big Wolf's track, hoping that the Hounds
would be able to take it up and find him, but they either could
not or would not.
They found a Coyote, however, and within a few hundred yards they
killed him. It was a victory, I suppose, for Coyotes kill Calves
and Sheep, but somehow I felt the common thought of all: "Mighty
brave Dogs for a little Coyote, but they could not face the big
Wolf last night."
Young Penroof, as though in answer to one of the unput questions,
"Say, boys, I believe old Billy had a hull bunch of Wolves with
him last night."
"Didn't see but one track," said King gruffly.
In this way the whole of October slipped by; all day hard riding
after doubtful trails, following the Dogs, who either could not
keep the big trail or feared to do so, and again and again we had
news of damage done by the Wolf; sometimes a cowboy would report
it to us; and sometimes we found the carcasses ourselves. A few
of these we poisoned, though it is considered a very dangerous
thing to do while running Dogs. The end of the month found us a
weather-beaten, dispirited lot of men, with a worn-out lot of
Horses, and a foot-sore pack, reduced in numbers from ten to
seven. So far we had killed only one Gray-wolf and three Coyotes;
Badlands Billy had killed at least a dozen Cows and Dogs at fifty
dollars a head. Some of the boys decided to give it up and go
home, so King took advantage of their going, to send a letter,
asking for reënforcements including all the spare Dogs at the
During the two days' wait we rested our Horses, shot some game,
and prepared for a harder hunt. Late on the second day the new
Dogs arrived--eight beauties--and raised the working pack to
The weather now turned much cooler, and in the morning, to the
joy of the wolvers, the ground was white with snow. This surely
meant success. With cool weather for the Dogs and Horses to run;
with the big Wolf not far away, for he had been heard the night
before; and with tracking snow, so that once found he could not
baffle us,--escape for him was impossible.
We were up at dawn, but before we could get away, three men came
riding into camp. They were the Penroof boys back again. The
change of weather had changed their minds; they knew that with
snow we might have luck.
"Remember now," said King, as all were mounting, "we don't want
any but Badlands Billy this trip. Get him an' we kin bust up the
hull combination. It is a five-and-a-half-inch track."
And each measured off on his quirt handle, or on his glove, the
exact five and a half inches that was to be used in testing the
tracks he might find.
Not more than an hour elapsed before we got a signal from the
rider who had gone westward. One shot: that means "attention," a
pause while counting ten, then two shots: that means "come on."
King gathered the Dogs and rode direct to the distant figure on
the hill. All hearts beat high with hope, and we were not
disappointed. Some small Wolf tracks had been found, but here at
last was the big track, nearly six inches long. Young Penroof
wanted to yell and set out at full gallop. It was like hunting a
Lion; it was like finding happiness long deferred. The hunter
knows nothing more inspiring than the clean-cut line of fresh
tracks that is leading to a wonderful animal, he has long been
hunting in vain. How King's eye gleamed as he gloated over the
RUN DOWN AT LAST
It was the roughest of all rough riding. It was a far longer hunt
than we had expected, and was full of little incidents, for that
endless line of marks was a minute history of all that the big
Wolf had done the night before. Here he had circled at the
telephone box and looked for news; there he had paused to examine
an old skull; here he had shied off and swung cautiously up wind
to examine something that proved to be an old tin can; there at
length he had mounted a low hill and sat down, probably giving
the muster-howl, for two Wolves had come to him from different
directions, and they then had descended to the river flat where
the Cattle would seek shelter during the storm. Here all three
had visited a Buffalo skull; there they trotted in line; and
yonder they separated, going three different ways, to
meet--yes--here--oh, what a sight, a fine Cow ripped open, left
dead and uneaten. Not to their taste, it seems, for see! within a
mile is another killed by them. Not six hours ago, they had
feasted. Here their trails scatter again, but not far, and the
snow tells plainly how each had lain down to sleep. The Hounds'
manes bristled as they sniffed those places. King had held the
Dogs well in hand, but now they were greatly excited. We came to
a hill whereon the Wolves had turned and faced our way, then fled
at full speed,--so said the trail,--and now it was clear that
they had watched us from that hill, and were not far away.
The pack kept well together, because the Greyhounds, seeing no
quarry, were merely puttering about among the other Dogs, or
running back with the Horses. We went as fast as we could, for
the Wolves were speeding. Up mesas and down coulees we rode,
sticking closely to the Dogs, though it was the roughest country
that could be picked. One gully after another, an hour and
another hour, and still the threefold track went bounding on;
another hour and no change, but interminable climbing, sliding,
struggling, through brush and over boulders, guided by the
far-away yelping of the Dogs.
Now the chase led downward to the low valley of the river, where
there was scarcely any snow. Jumping and scrambling down hills,
recklessly leaping dangerous gullies and slippery rocks, we felt
that we could not hold out much longer; when on the lowest,
dryest level the pack split, some went up, some went down, and
others straight on. Oh, how King did swear! He knew at once what
it meant. The Wolves had scattered, and so had divided the pack.
Three Dogs after a Wolf would have no chance, four could not kill
him, two would certainly be killed. And yet this was the first
encouraging sign we had seen, for it meant that the Wolves were
hard pressed. We spurred ahead to stop the Dogs, to pick for them
the only trail. But that was not so easy. Without snow here and
with countless Dog tracks, we were foiled. All we could do was to
let the Dogs choose, but keep them to a single choice. Away we
went as before, hoping, yet fearing that we were not on the right
track. The Dogs ran well, very fast indeed. This was a bad sign,
King said, but we could not get sight of the track because the
Dogs overran it before we came.
After a two-mile run the chase led upward again in snow country;
the Wolf was sighted, but to our disgust, we were on the track of
the smallest one.
"I thought so," growled young Penroof. "Dogs was altogether too
keen for a serious proposition. Kind o' surprised it ain't turned
out a Jack-rabbit."
Within another mile he had turned to bay in a willow thicket. We
heard him howl the long-drawn howl for help, and before we could
reach the place King saw the Dogs recoil and scatter. A minute
later there sped from the far side of the thicket a small
Gray-wolf and a Black One of very much greater size.
"By golly, if he didn't yell for help, and Billy come back to
help him; that's great!" exclaimed the wolver. And my heart went
out to the brave old Wolf that refused to escape by abandoning
The next hour was a hard repetition of the gully riding, but it
was on the highlands where there was snow, and when again the
pack was split, we strained every power and succeeded in keeping
them on the big " five-fifty track," that already was wearing for
me the glamour of romance.
Evidently the Dogs preferred either of the others, but we got
them going at last. Another half hour's hard work and far ahead,
as I rose to a broad flat plain, I had my first glimpse of the
Big Black Wolf of Sentinel Butte.
"Hurrah! Badlands Billy! Hurrah! Badlands Billy!" I shouted in
salute, and the others took up the cry.
We were on his track at last, thanks to himself. The Dogs joined
in with a louder baying, the Greyhounds yelped and made straight
for him, and the Horses sniffed and sprang more gamely as they
caught the thrill. The only silent one was the black-maned Wolf,
and as I marked his size and power, and above all his long and
massive jaws, I knew why the Dogs preferred some other trail.
With head and tail low he was bounding over the snow. His tongue
was lolling long; plainly he was hard pressed. The wolvers' hands
flew to their revolvers, though he was three hundred yards ahead;
they were out for blood, not sport. But an instant later he had
sunk from view in the nearest sheltered caņon.
Now which way would he go, up or down the caņon? Up was toward
his mountain, down was better cover. King and I thought "up," so
pressed westward along the ridge. But the others rode eastward,
watching for a chance to shoot.
Soon we had ridden out of hearing. We were wrong--the Wolf had
gone down, but we heard no shooting. The caņon was crossable
here; we reached the other side and then turned back at a gallop,
scanning the snow for a trail, the hills for a moving form, or
the wind for a sound of life.
"Squeak, squeak," went our saddle leathers, "puff-puff" our
Horses, and their feet "ka-ka-lump, ka-ka-lump."
WHEN BILLY WENT BACK TO HIS MOUNTAIN
We were back opposite to where the Wolf had plunged, but saw no
sign. We rode at an easy gallop, on eastward, a mile, and still
on, when King gasped out, "Look at that!" A dark spot was moving
on the snow ahead. We put on speed. Another dark spot appeared,
and another, but they were not going fast. In five minutes we
were near them, to find--three of our own Greyhounds. They had
lost sight of the game, and with that their interest waned. Now
they were seeking us. We saw nothing there of the chase or of the
other hunters. But hastening to the next ridge we stumbled on the
trail we sought and followed as hard as though in view. Another
caņon came in our path, and as we rode and looked for a place to
cross, a wild din of Hounds came from its brushy depth. The
clamor grew and passed up the middle.
We raced along the rim, hoping to see the game. The Dogs appeared
near the farther side, not in a pack, but a long, straggling
line. In five minutes more they rose to the edge, and ahead of
them was the great Black Wolf. He was loping as before, head and
tail low. Power was plain in every limb, and double power in his
jaws and neck, but I thought his bounds were shorter now, and
that they had lost their spring. The Dogs slowly reached the
upper level, and sighting him they broke into a feeble cry; they,
too, were nearly spent. The Greyhounds saw the chase, and leaving
us they scrambled down the caņon and up the other side at
impetuous speed that would surely break them down, while we rode,
vainly seeking means of crossing.
How the wolver raved to see the pack lead off in the climax of
the chase, and himself held up behind. But he rode and wrathed
and still rode, up to where the caņon dwindled--rough land and a
hard ride. As we neared the great flat mountain, the feeble cry
of the pack was heard again from the south, then toward the high
Butte's side, and just a trifle louder now. We reined in on a
hillock and scanned the snow. A moving speck appeared, then
others, not bunched, but in a straggling train, and at times
there was a far faint cry. They were headed toward us, coming on,
yes! coming, but so slowly, for not one was really running now.
There was the grim old Cow-killer limping over the ground, and
far behind a Greyhound, and another, and farther still, the other
Dogs in order of their speed, slowly, gamely, dragging themselves
on that pursuit. Many hours of hardest toil had done their work.
The Wolf had vainly sought to fling them off. Now was his hour of
doom, for he was spent; they still had some reserve. Straight to
us for a time they came, skirting the base of the mountain,
We could not cross to join them, so held our breath and gazed
with ravenous eyes. They were nearer now, the wind brought feeble
notes from the Hounds. The big Wolf turned to the steep ascent,
up a well-known trail, it seemed, for he made no slip. My heart
went with him, for he had come back to rescue his friend, and a
momentary thrill of pity came over us both, as we saw him glance
around and drag himself up the sloping way, to die on his
mountain. There was no escape for him, beset by fifteen Dogs with
men to back them. He was not walking, but tottering upward; the
Dogs behind in line, were now doing a little better, were nearing
him. We could hear them gasping; we scarcely heard them bay--they
had no breath for that; upward the grim procession went, circling
a spur of the Butte and along a ledge that climbed and narrowed,
then dropped for a few yards to a shelf that reared above the
canon. The foremost Dogs were closing, fearless of a foe so
Here in the narrowest place, where one wrong step meant death,
the great Wolf turned and faced them. With fore-feet braced, with
head low and tail a little raised, his dusky mane a-bristling,
his glittering tusks laid bare, but uttering no sound that we
could hear, he faced the crew. His legs were weak with toil, but
his neck, his jaws, and his heart were strong, and--now all you
who love the Dogs had better close the book--on--up and
down--fifteen to one, they came, the swiftest first, and how it
was done, the eye could scarcely see, but even as a stream of
water pours on a rock to be splashed in broken Jets aside, that
Dogs came pouring down the path, in single file perforce, and
Duskymane received them as they came. A feeble spring, a
counter-lunge, a gash, and "Fango's down," has lost his foothold
and is gone. Dander and Coalie close and try to clinch; a rush, a
heave, and they are fallen from that narrow path. Blue-spot then,
backed by mighty Oscar and fearless Tige--but the Wolf is next
the rock and the flash of combat clears to show him there alone,
the big Dogs gone; the rest close in, the hindmost force the
foremost on--down-to their death. Slash, chop and heave, from the
swiftest to the biggest, to the last, down--down--he sent them
whirling from the ledge to the gaping gulch below, where rocks
and snags of trunks were sharp to do their work.
In fifty seconds it was done. The rock had splashed the stream
aside--the Penroof pack was all wiped out; and Badlands Billy
stood there, alone again on his mountain.
A moment he waited to look for more to come. There were no more,
the pack was dead; but waiting he got his breath, then raising
his voice for the first time in that fatal scene, he feebly gave
a long yell of triumph, and scaling the next low bank, was
screened from view in a caņon of Sentinel Butte.
We stared like men of stone. The guns in our hands were
forgotten. It was all so quick, so final. We made no move till
the Wolf was gone. It was not far to the place: we went on foot
to see if any had escaped. Not one was left alive. We could do
nothing--we could say nothing.
THE HOWL AT SUNSET
A week later we were riding the upper trail back of the Chimney
Pot, King and I. "The old man is pretty sick of it," he said.
"He'd sell out if he could. He don't know what's the next move."
The sun went down beyond Sentinel Butte. It was dusk as we
reached the turn that led to Dumont's place, and a deep-toned
rolling howl came from the river flat below, followed by a number
of higher-pitched howls in answering chorus. We could see
nothing, but we listened hard. The song was repeated, the
hunting-cry of the Wolves. It faded, the night was stirred by
another, the sharp bark and the short howl, the signal "close
in"; a bellow came up, very short, for it was cut short.
And King as he touched his Horse said grimly: "That's him, he is
out with the pack, an' thar goes another Beef."
THE BOY AND THE LYNX
He was barely fifteen, a lover of sport and uncommonly keen, even
for a beginner. Flocks of Wild Pigeons had been coming all day
across the blue Lake of Cayggeonull, and perching in line on the
dead limbs of the great rampikes that stood as monuments of fire,
around the little clearing in the forest, they afforded tempting
marks; but he followed them for hours in vain. They seemed to
know the exact range of the old-fashioned shotgun and rose on
noisy wings each time before he was near enough to fire. At
length a small flock scattered among the low green trees that
grew about the spring, near the log shanty, and taking advantage
of the cover, Thorburn went in gently. He caught sight of a
single Pigeon close to him, took a long aim and fired. A sharp
crack resounded at almost the same time and the bird fell dead.
Thorburn rushed to seize the prize just as a tall young man
stepped into view and picked it up.
"Hello, Corney! you got my bird!"
"Your burrud! Sure yours flew away thayre. I saw them settle
hayer and thought I'd make sure of wan with the rifle."
A careful examination showed that a rifle-ball as well as a
charge of shot had struck the Pigeon. The gunners had fired on
the same bird. Both enjoyed the joke, though it had its serious
side, for food as well as ammunition was scarce in that backwoods
Corney, a superb specimen of a six-foot Irish-Canadian in early
manhood, now led away to the log shanty where the very scarcity
of luxuries and the roughness of their lives were sources of
merriment. For the Colts, though born and bred in the backwoods
of Canada, had lost nothing of the spirit that makes the Irish
blood a world-wide synonym of heartiness and wit.
Corney was the eldest son of a large family. The old folks lived
at Petersay, twenty-five miles to the southward. He had taken up
a "claim" to carve his own home out of the woods at Fenebonk, and
his grown sisters, Margat, staid and reliable, and Loo, bright
and witty, were keeping house for him. Thorburn Alder was
visiting them. He had just recovered from a severe illness and
had been sent to rough it in the woods in hope of winning some of
the vigor of his hosts. Their home was of unhewn logs, unfloored,
and roofed with sods, which bore a luxuriant crop of grass and
weeds. The primitive woods around were broken in two places: one
where the roughest of roads led southward to Petersay; the other
where the sparkling lake rolled on a pebbly shore and gave a
glimpse of their nearest neighbor's house-- four miles across the
Their daily round had little change. Corney was up at daybreak to
light the fire, call his sisters, and feed the horses while they
prepared breakfast. At six the meal was over and Corney went to
his work. At noon, which Margat knew by the shadow of a certain
rampike falling on the spring, a clear notification to draw fresh
water for the table, Loo would hang a white rag on a pole, and
Corney, seeing the signal, would return from summer fallow or
hayfield, grimy, swarthy, and ruddy, a picture of manly vigor and
honest toil. Thor might be away all day, but at night, when they
again assembled at the table, he would come from lake or distant
ridge and eat a supper like the dinner and breakfast, for meals
as well as days were exact repeats: pork, bread, potatoes, and
tea, with occasionally eggs supplied by a dozen hens around the
little log stable, with, rarely, a variation of wild meat, for
Thor was not a hunter and Corney had little time for anything but
A huge four-foot basswood had gone the way of all trees. Death
had been generous--had sent the three warnings: it was the
biggest of its kind, its children were grown up, it was hollow.
The wintry blast that sent it down had broken it across and
revealed a great hole where should have been its heart. A long
wooden cavern in the middle of a sunny opening, it now lay, and
presented an ideal home for a Lynx when she sought a sheltered
nesting-place for her coming brood.
Old was she and gaunt, for this was a year of hard times for the
Lynxes. A Rabbit plague the autumn before had swept away their
main support; a winter of deep snow and sudden crusts had killed
off nearly all the Partridges; a long wet spring had destroyed
the few growing coveys and had kept the ponds and streams so full
that Fish and Frogs were safe from their armed paws, and this
mother Lynx fared no better than her kind.
The little ones--half starved before they came--were a double
drain, for they took the time she might have spent in hunting.
The Northern Hare is the favorite food of the Lynx, and in some
years she could have killed fifty in one day, but never one did
she see this season. The plague had done its work too well.
One day she caught a Red-squirrel which had run into a hollow log
that proved a trap. Another day a fetid Blacksnake was her only
food. A day was missed, and the little ones whined piteously for
their natural food and failing drink. One day she saw a large
black animal of unpleasant but familiar smell. Swiftly and
silently she sprang to make attack. She struck it once on the
nose, but the Porcupine doubled his head under, his tail flew up,
and the mother Lynx was speared in a dozen places with the little
stinging javelins. She drew them all with her teeth, for she had
"learned Porcupine" years before, and only the hard push of want
would have made her strike one now.
A Frog was all she caught that day. On the next, as she ranged
the farthest woods in a long, hard hunt, she heard a singular
calling voice. It was new to her. She approached it cautiously,
up wind, got many new odors and some more strange sounds in
coming. The loud, clear, rolling call was repeated as the mother
Lynx came to an opening in the forest. In the middle of it were
two enormous muskrat or beaver-houses, far bigger than the
biggest she ever before had seen. They were made partly of logs
and situated, not in a pond, but on a dry knoll. Walking about
them were a number of Partridges, that is, birds like Partridges,
only larger and of various colors, red, yellow, and white.
She quivered with the excitement that in a man would have been
called buck-fever. Food--food--abundance of food, and the old
huntress sank to earth. Her breast was on the ground, her elbows
above her back, as she made stalk, her shrewdest, subtlest stalk;
one of those Partridges she must have at any price; no trick now
must go untried, no error in this hunt; if it took hours--all day
--she must approach with certainty to win before the quarry took
Only a few bounds it was from wood shelter to the great
rat-house, but she was an hour in crawling that small space. From
stump to brush, from log to bunch of grass she sneaked, a
flattened form, and the Partridges saw her not. They fed about,
the biggest uttering the ringing call that first had fallen on
Once they seemed to sense their peril, but a long await dispelled
the fear. Now they were almost in reach, and she trembled with
all the eagerness of the hunting heart and the hungry maw. Her
eye centred on a white one not quite the nearest, but the color
seemed to hold her gaze.
There was an open space around the rat-house; outside that were
tall weeds, and stumps were scattered everywhere. The white bird
wandered behind these weeds, the red one of the loud voice flew
to the top of the rat-mound and sang as before. The mother Lynx
sank lower yet. It seemed an alarm note; but no, the white one
still was there; she could see its feathers gleaming through the
weeds. An open space now lay about. The huntress, flattened like
an empty skin, trailed slow and silent on the ground behind a log
no thicker than her neck; if she could reach that tuft of brush
she could get unseen to the weeds and then would be near enough
to spring. She could smell them now--the rich and potent smell of
life, of flesh and blood, that set her limbs a-tingle and her
The Partridges still scratched and fed; another flew to the high
top, but the white one remained. Five more slow-gliding, silent
steps, and the Lynx was behind the weeds, the white bird shining
through; she gauged the distance, tried the footing, swung her
hind legs to clear some fallen brush, then leaped direct with all
her force, and the white one never knew the death it died, for
the fateful gray shadow dropped, the swift and deadly did their
work, and before the other birds could realize the foe or fly,
the Lynx was gone, with the white bird squirming in her jaws.
Uttering an unnecessary growl of inborn ferocity and joy she
bounded into the forest, and bee-like sped for home. The last
quiver had gone from the warm body of the victim when she heard
the sound of heavy feet ahead. She leaped on a log. The wings of
her prey were muffling her eyes, so she laid the bird down and
held it safely with one paw. The sound drew nearer, the bushes
bent, and a Boy stepped into view. The old Lynx knew and hated
his kind. She had watched them at night, had followed them, had
been hunted and hurt by them. For a moment they stood face to
face. The huntress growled a warning that was also a challenge
and a defiance, picked up the bird and bounded from the log into
the sheltering bushes. It was a mile or two to the den, but she
stayed not to eat till the sunlit opening and the big basswood
came to view; then a low "prr-prr" called forth the little ones
to revel with their mother in a plenteous meal of the choicest
THE HOME OF THE LYNX
At first Thor, being town-bred, was timid about venturing into
the woods beyond the sound of Corney's axe; but day by day he
went farther, guiding himself, not by unreliable moss on trees,
but by sun, compass, and landscape features. His purpose was to
learn about the wild animals rather than to kill them; but the
naturalist is close kin to the sportsman, and the gun was his
constant companion. In the clearing, the only animal of any size
was a fat Woodchuck; it had a hole under a stump some hundred
yards from the shanty. On sunny mornings it used to lie basking
on the stump, but eternal vigilance is the price of every good
thing in the woods. The Woodchuck was always alert and Thor tried
in vain to shoot or even to trap him.
"Hyar," said Corney one morning, "time we had some fresh meat."
He took down his rifle, an old-fashioned brass-mounted
small-bore, and loading with care that showed the true rifleman,
he steadied the weapon against the door-jamb and fired. The
Woodchuck fell backward and lay still. Thor raced to the place
and returned in triumph with the animal, shouting: "Plumb through
the head--one hundred and twenty yards."
Corney controlled the gratified smile that wrestled with the
corners of his mouth, but his bright eyes shone a trifle brighter
for the moment.
It was no mere killing for killing's sake, for the Woodchuck was
spreading a belt of destruction in the crop around his den. Its
flesh supplied the family with more than one good meal and Corney
showed Thor how to use the skin. First the pelt was wrapped in
hardwood ashes for twenty-four hours. This brought the hair off.
Then the skin was soaked for three days in soft soap and worked
by hand, as it dried, till it came out a white strong leather.
Thor's wanderings extended farther in search of the things which
always came as surprises however much he was looking for them.
Many days were blanks and others would be crowded with incidents,
for unexpectedness is above all the peculiar feature of hunting,
and its lasting charm. One day he had gone far beyond the ridge
in a new direction and passed through an open glade where lay the
broken trunk of a huge basswood. The size impressed it on his
memory. He swung past the glade to make for the lake, a mile to
the west, and twenty minutes later he started back as his eye
rested on a huge black animal in the crotch of a hemlock, some
thirty feet from the ground. A Bear! At last, this was the test
of nerve he had half expected all summer; had been wondering how
that mystery "himself" would act under this very trial. He stood
still; his right hand dived into his pocket and, bringing out
three or four buckshot, which he carried for emergency, he
dropped them on top of the birdshot already in the gun, then
rammed a wad to hold them down.
The Bear had not moved and the boy could not see its head, but
now he studied it carefully. It was not such a large one--no, it
was a small one, yes, very small--a cub. A cub! That meant a
mother Bear at hand, and Thor looked about with some fear, but
seeing no signs of any except the little one, he levelled the gun
Then to his surprise down crashed the animal quite dead; it was
not a Bear, but a large Porcupine. As it lay there he examined it
with wonder and regret, for. he had no wish to kill such a
harmless creature. On its grotesque face he found two or three
long scratches which proved that he had not been its only enemy.
As he turned away he noticed some blood on his trousers, then saw
that his left hand was bleeding. He had wounded himself quite
severely on the quills of the animal without knowing it. He was
sorry to leave the specimen there, and Loo, when she learned of
it, said it was a shame not to skin it when she "needed
a fur-lined cape for the winter."
On another day Thor had gone without a gun, as he meant only to
gather some curious plants he had seen. They were close to the
clearing; he knew the place by a fallen elm. As he came to it he
heard a peculiar sound. Then on the log his eye caught two moving
things. He lifted a bough and got a clear view. They were the
head and tail of an enormous Lynx. It had seen him and was
glaring and grumbling; and under its foot on the log was a white
bird that a second glance showed to be one of their own precious
hens. How fierce and cruel the brute looked! How Thor hated it!
and fairly gnashed his teeth with disgust that now, when his
greatest chance was come, he for once was without his gun. He was
in not a little fear, too, and stood wondering what to do. The
Lynx growled louder; its stumpy tail twitched viciously for a
minute, then it picked up its victim, and leaping from the log
was lost to view.
As it was a very rainy summer, the ground was soft everywhere,
and the young hunter was led to follow tracks that would have
defied an expert in dryer times. One day he came on piglike
footprints in the woods. He followed them with little difficulty,
for they were new, and a heavy rain two hours before had washed
out all other trails. After about half a mile they led him to an
open ravine, and as he reached its brow he saw across it a flash
of white; then his keen young eyes made out the forms of a Deer
and a spotted Fawn gazing at him curiously. Though on their trail
he was not a little startled. He gazed at them open-mouthed. The
mother turned and raised the danger flag, her white tail, and
bounded lightly away, to be followed by the youngster, clearing
low trunks with an effortless leap, or bending down with catlike
suppleness when they came to a log upraised so that they might
He never again got a chance to shoot at them, though more than
once he saw the same two tracks, or believed they were the same,
as for some cause never yet explained, Deer were scarcer in that
unbroken forest than they were in later years when clearings
He never again saw them; but he saw the mother once--he thought
it was the same--she was searching the woods with her nose,
trying the ground for trails; she was nervous and anxious,
evidently seeking. Thor remembered a trick that Corney had told
him. He gently stooped, took up a broad blade of grass, laid it
between the edges of his thumbs, then blowing through this simple
squeaker he made a short, shrill bleat, a fair imitation of a
Fawn's cry for the mother, and the Deer, though a long way off,
came bounding toward him. He snatched his gun, meaning to kill
her, but the movement caught her eye. She stopped. Her mane
bristled a little; she sniffed and looked inquiringly at him. Her
big soft eyes touched his heart, held back his hand; she took a
cautious step nearer, got a full whiff of her mortal enemy,
bounded behind a big tree and away before his merciful impulse
was gone. "Poor thing," said Thor, "I believe she has lost her
Yet once more the Boy met a Lynx in the woods. Half an hour after
seeing the lonely Deer he crossed the long ridge that lay some
miles north of the shanty. He had passed the glade where the
great basswood lay when a creature like a big bob-tailed Kitten
appeared and looked innocently at him. His gun went up, as usual,
but the Kitten merely cocked its head on one side and fearlessly
surveyed him. Then a second one that he had not noticed before
began to play with the first, pawing at its tail and inviting its
brother to tussle.
Thor's first thought to shoot was stayed as he watched their
gambols, but the remembrance of his feud with their race came
back. He had almost raised the gun when a fierce rumble close at
hand gave him a start, and there, not ten feet from him, stood
the old one, looking big and fierce as a Tigress. It was surely
folly to shoot at the young ones now. The boy nervously dropped
some buckshot on the charge while the snarling growl rose and
fell, but before he was ready to shoot at her the old one had
picked up something that was by her feet; the boy got a glimpse
of rich brown with white spots--the limp form of a newly killed
Fawn. Then she passed out of sight. The Kittens followed, and he
saw her no more until the time when, life against life, they were
weighed in the balance together.
THE TERROR OF THE WOODS
Six weeks had passed in daily routine when one day the young
giant seemed unusually quiet as he went about. His handsome face
was very sober and he sang not at all that morning.
He and Thor slept on a hay-bunk in one corner of the main room,
and that night the Boy awakened more than once to hear his
companion groaning and tossing in his sleep. Corney arose as
usual in the morning and fed the horses, but lay down again while
the sisters got breakfast. He roused himself by an effort and
went back to work, but came home early. He was trembling from
head to foot. It was hot summer weather, but he could not be kept
warm. After several hours a reaction set in and Corney was in a
high fever. The family knew well now that he had the dreaded
chills and fever of the backwoods. Margat went out and gathered a
lapful of pipsissewa to make tea, of which Corney was encouraged
to drink copiously.
But in spite of all their herbs and nursing the young man got
worse. At the end of ten days he was greatly reduced in flesh and
incapable of work, so on one of the "well days" that are usual in
the course of the disease he said:
"Say, gurruls, I can't stand it no longer. Guess I better go
home. I'm well enough to drive to-day, for a while anyway; if I'm
took down I'll lay in the wagon, and the horses will fetch me
home. Mother'll have me all right in a week or so. If you run out
of grub before I come back take the canoe to Ellerton's."
So the girls harnessed the horses; the wagon was partly filled
with hay, and Corney, weak and white-faced, drove away on the
long rough road, and left them feeling much as though they were
on a desert island and their only boat had been taken from them.
Half a week had scarcely gone before all three of them, Margat,
Loo, and Thor, were taken down with a yet more virulent form of
chills and fever.
Corney had had every other a "well day," but with these three
there were no "well days" and the house became an abode of
Seven days passed, and now Margat could not leave her bed and Loo
was barely able to walk around the house. She was a brave girl
with a fund of drollery which did much toward keeping up all
their spirits, but her merriest jokes fell ghastly from her wan,
pinched face. Thor, though weak and ill, was the strongest and
did for the others, cooking and serving each day a simple meal,
for they could eat very little, fortunately, perhaps, as there
was very little, and Corney could not return for another week.
Soon Thor was the only one able to rise, and one morning when he
dragged himself to cut the little usual slice of their treasured
bacon he found, to his horror, that the whole piece was gone. It
had been stolen, doubtless by some wild animal, from the little
box on the shady side of the house, where it was kept safe from
flies. Now they were down to flour and tea. He was in despair,
when his eye lighted on the Chickens about the stable; but what's
the use? In his feeble state he might as well try to catch a Deer
or a Hawk. Suddenly he remembered his gun and very soon was
preparing a fat Hen for the pot. He boiled it whole as the
easiest way to cook it, and the broth was the first really
tempting food they had had for some time.
They kept alive for three wretched days on that Chicken, and when
it was finished Thor again took down his gun--it seemed a much
heavier gun now. He crawled to the barn, but he was so weak and
shaky that he missed several times before he brought down a fowl.
Corney had taken the rifle away with him and three charges of gun
ammunition were all that now remained.
Thor was surprised to see how few Hens there were now, only three
or four. There used to be over a dozen. Three days later he made
another raid. He saw but one Hen and he used up his last
ammunition to get that.
His daily routine now was a monotony of horror. In the morning,
which was his "well time," he prepared a little food for the
household and got ready for the night of raging fever by putting
a bucket of water on a block at the head of each bunk. About one
o'clock, with fearful regularity, the chills would come on, with
trembling from head to foot and chattering teeth, and cold, cold,
within and without. Nothing seemed to give any warmth--fire
seemed to have lost its power. There was nothing to do but to lie
and shake and suffer all the slow torture of freezing to death
and shaking to pieces. For six hours it would keep up, and to the
torture, nausea lent its horrid aid throughout; then about seven
or eight o'clock in the evening a change would come; a burning
fever set in; no ice could have seemed cool to him then;
water--water--was all he craved, and drank and drank until three
or four in the morning, when the fever would abate, and a sleep
of total exhaustion followed.
"If you run out of food take the canoe to Ellerton's," was the
brother's last word. Who was to take the canoe?
There was but half a Chicken now between them and starvation, and
no sign of Corney.
For three interminable weeks the deadly program dragged along. It
went on the same yet worse, as the sufferers grew weaker--a few
days more and the Boy also would be unable to leave his couch.
Despair was on the house and the silent cry of each was, "Oh,
God! will Corney never come?"
THE HOME OF THE BOY
On the day of that last Chicken, Thor was all morning carrying
water enough for the coming three fevers. The chill attacked him
sooner than it was due and his fever was worse than ever before.
He drank deeply and often from the bucket at his head. He had
filled it, and it was nearly emptied when about two in the
morning the fever left him and he fell asleep.
In the gray dawn he was awakened by a curious sound not far
away--a splashing of water. He turned his head to see two glaring
eyes within a foot of his face--a great Beast lapping the water
in the bucket by his bed.
Thor gazed in horror for a moment, then closed his eyes, sure
that he was dreaming, certain that this was a nightmare of India
with a Tiger by his couch; but the lapping continued. He looked
up; yes, it still was there. He tried to find his voice but
uttered only a gurgle. The great furry head quivered, a sniff
came from below the shining eyeballs, and the creature, whatever
it was, dropped to its front feet and went across the hut under
the table. Thor was fully awake now; he rose slowly on his elbow
and feebly shouted "Sssh-hi," at which the shining eyes
reappeared under the table and the gray form came forth. Calmly
it walked across the ground and glided under the lowest log at a
place where an old potato pit left an opening and disappeared.
What was it? The sick boy hardly knew--some savage Beast of prey,
undoubtedly. He was totally unnerved. He shook with fear and a
sense of helplessness, and the night passed in fitful sleep and
sudden starts awake to search the gloom again for those fearful
eyes and the great gray gliding form. In the morning he did not
know whether it were not all a delirium, yet he made a feeble
effort to close the old cellar hole with some firewood.
The three had little appetite, but even that they restrained
since now they were down to part of a Chicken, and Corney,
evidently he supposed they had been to Ellerton's and got all the
food they needed.
Again that night, when the fever left him weak and dozing, Thor
was awakened by a noise in the room, a sound of crunching bones.
He looked around to see dimly outlined against the little window,
the form of a large animal on the table. Thor shouted; he tried
to hurl his boot at the intruder. It leaped lightly to the ground
and passed out of the hole, again wide open.
It was no dream this time, he knew, and the women knew it, too;
not only had they heard the creature, but the Chicken, the last
of their food, was wholly gone.
Poor Thor barely left his couch that day. It needed all the
querulous complaints of the sick women to drive him forth. Down
by the spring he found a few berries and divided them with the
others. He made his usual preparations for the chills and the
thirst, but he added this--by the side of his couch he put an old
fish-spear--the only weapon he could find, now the gun was
useless--a pine-root candle and some matches. He knew the Beast
was coming back again--was coming hungry. It would find no food;
what more natural, he thought, than take the living prey lying
there so helpless? And a vision came of the limp brown form of
the little Fawn, borne off in those same cruel jaws.
Once again he barricaded the hole with firewood, and the night
passed as usual, but without any fierce visitor. Their food that
day was flour and water, and to cook it Thor was forced to use
some of his barricade. Loo attempted some feeble joke, guessed
she was light enough to fly now and tried to rise, but she got no
farther than the edge of the bunk. The same preparations were
made, and the night wore on, but early in the morning, Thor was
again awakened rudely by the sound of lapping water by his bed,
and there, as before, were the glowing eyeballs, the great head,
the gray form relieved by the dim light from the dawning window.
Thor put all his strength into what was meant for a bold shout,
but it was merely a feeble screech. He rose slowly and called
out: "Loo, Margat! The Lynx--here's the Lynx again!"
"May God help ye, for we can't," was the answer.
"Sssh-hi!" Thor tried again to drive the Beast away. It leaped on
to the table by the window and stood up growling under the
useless gun. Thor thought it was going to leap through the glass
as it faced the window a moment; but it turned and glared toward
the Boy, for he could see both eyes shining. He rose slowly to
the side of his bunk and he prayed for help, for he felt it was
kill or be killed. He struck a match and lighted his pine-root
candle, held that in his left hand and in his right took the old
fish-spear, meaning to fight, but he was so weak he had to use
the fish-spear as a crutch. The great Beast stood on the table
still, but was crouching a little as though for a spring. Its
eyes glowed red in the torchlight. Its short tail was switching
from side to side and its growling took a higher pitch. Thor's
knees were smiting together, but he levelled the spear and made a
feeble lunge toward the brute. It sprang at the same moment, not
at him, as he first thought--the torch and the boy's bold front
had had effect--it went over his head to drop on the ground
beyond and at once to slink under the bunk.
This was only a temporary repulse. Thor set the torch on a ledge
of the logs, then took the spear in both hands. He was fighting
for his life, and he knew it. He heard the voices of the women
feebly praying. He saw only the glowing eyes under the bed and
heard the growling in higher pitch as the Beast was nearing
action. He steadied himself by a great effort and plunged the
spear with all the force he could give it.
It struck something softer than the logs: a hideous snarl came
forth. The boy threw all his weight on the weapon; the Beast was
struggling to get at him; he felt its teeth and claws grating on
the handle, and in spite of himself it was coming on; its
powerful arms and claws were reaching for him now; he could not
hold out long. He put on all his force, just a little more it was
than before; the Beast lurched, there was a growling, a crack,
and a sudden yielding; the rotten old spear-head had broken off,
the Beast sprang out--at him--past him --never touched him, but
across through the hole and away, to be seen no more.
Thor fell on the bed and lost all consciousness.
He lay there he knew not how long, but was awakened in broad
daylight by a loud, cheery voice:
"Hello! Hello!--are ye all dead? Loo! Thor! Margat!"
He had no strength to answer, but there was a trampling of horses
outside, a heavy step, the door was forced open, and in strode
Corney, handsome and hearty as ever. But what a flash of horror
and pain came over his face on entering the silent shanty!
"Dead?" he gasped. "Who's dead--where are you? Thor?" Then, "Who
is it? Loo? Margat?"
"Corney--Corney," came feebly from the bunk. "They're in there.
They're awful sick. We have nothing to eat."
"Oh, what a fool I be!" said Corney again and again. "I made sure
ye'd go to Ellerton's and get all ye wanted."
"We had no chance, Corney; we were all three brought down at
once, right after you left. Then the Lynx came and cleared up the
Hens, and all in the house, too."
"Well, ye got even with her," and Corney pointed to the trail of
blood across the mud floor and out under the logs.
Good food, nursing, and medicine restored them all.
A month or two later, when the women wanted a new
leaching-barrel, Thor said: "I know where there is a hollow
basswood as big as a hogshead."
He and Corney went to the place, and when they cut off what they
needed, they found in the far end of it the dried-up bodies of
two little Lynxes with that of the mother, and in the side of the
old one was the head of a fish-spear broken from the handle.
The History of a Jack-rabbit
The Little Warhorse knew practically all the Dogs in town. First,
there was a very large brown Dog that had pursued him many times,
a Dog that he always got rid of by slipping through a hole in a
board fence. Second, there was a small active Dog that could
follow through that hole, and him he baffled by leaping a
twenty-foot irrigation ditch that had steep sides and a swift
current. The Dog could not make this leap. It was "sure medicine"
for that foe, and the boys still call the place "Old Jacky's
Jump." But there was a Greyhound that could leap better than the
Jack, and when he could not follow through a fence, he jumped
over it. He tried the Warhorse's mettle more than once, and Jacky
only saved himself by his quick dodging, till they got to an
Osage hedge, and here the Greyhound had to give it up. Besides
these, there was in town a rabble of big and little Dogs that
were troublesome, but easily left behind in the open.
In the country there was a Dog at each farm-house, but only one
that the Warhorse really feared; that was a long-legged, fierce,
black Dog, a brute so swift and pertinacious that he had several
times forced the Warhorse almost to the last extremity.
For the town Cats he cared little; only once or twice had he been
threatened by them. A huge Tom-cat flushed with many victories
came crawling up to where he fed one moonlight night. Jack
Warhorse saw the black creature with the glowing eyes, and a
moment before the final rush, he faced it, raised up on his
haunches,--his hind legs,--at full length on his toes,--with his
broad ears towering up yet six inches higher; then letting out a
loud churrr-churrr, his best attempt at a roar, he sprang five
feet forward and landed on the Cat's head, driving in his sharp
hind nails, and the old Tom fled in terror from the weird
two-legged giant. This trick he had tried several times with
success, but twice it turned out a sad failure: once, when the
Cat proved to be a mother whose Kittens were near; then Jack
Warhorse had to flee for his life; and the other time was when he
made the mistake of landing hard on a Skunk.
But the Greyhound was the dangerous enemy, and in him the
Warhorse might have found his fate, but for a curious adventure
with a happy ending for Jack.
He fed by night; there were fewer enemies about then, and it was
easier to hide; but one day at dawn in winter he had lingered
long at an alfalfa stack and was crossing the open snow toward
his favorite form, when, as ill-luck would have it, he met the
Greyhound prowling outside the town. With open snow and growing
daylight there was no chance to hide, nothing but a run in the
open with soft snow that hindered the Jack more than it did the
Off they went--superb runners in fine fettle. how they skimmed
across the snow, raising it in little puff-puff-puffs, each time
their nimble feet went down. This way and that, swerving and
dodging, went the chase. Everything favored the Dog,--his empty
stomach, the cold weather, the soft snow,--while the Rabbit was
handicapped by his heavy meal of alfalfa. But his feet went
puff--puff so fast that a dozen of the little snow-jets were in
view at once. The chase continued in the open; no friendly hedge
was near, and every attempt to reach a fence was cleverly stopped
by the Hound. Jack's ears were losing their bold up-cock, a
sure sign of failing heart or wind, when all at once these flags
went stiffly up, as under sudden renewal of strength. The
Warhorse put forth all his power, not to reach the hedge to the
north, but over the open prairie eastward. The Greyhound
followed, and within fifty yards the Jack dodged to foil his
fierce pursuer; but on the next tack he was on his eastern course
again, and so tacking and dodging, he kept the line direct for
the next farm-house, where was a very high board fence with a
hen-hole, and where also there dwelt his other hated enemy, the
big black Dog. An outer hedge delayed the Greyhound for a moment
and gave Jack time to dash through the hen-hole into the yard,
where he hid to one side. The Greyhound rushed around to the low
gate, leaped over that among the Hens, and as they fled cackling
and fluttering, some Lambs bleated loudly. Their natural
guardian, the big black Dog, ran to the rescue, and Warhorse
slipped out again by the hole at which he had entered. Horrible
sounds of Dog hate and fury were heard behind him in the
hen-yard, and soon the shouts of men were added. How it ended he
did not know or seek to learn, but it was remarkable that he
never afterward was troubled by the swift Greyhound that formerly
lived in Newchusen.
Hard times and easy times had long followed in turn and been
taken as matters of course; but recent years in the State of
Kaskado had brought to the Jack-rabbits a succession of
remarkable ups and downs. In the old days they had their endless
fight with Birds and Beasts of Prey, with cold and heat, with
pestilence and with flies whose sting bred a loathsome disease,
and yet had held their own. But the settling of the country by
farmers made many changes.
Dogs and guns arriving in numbers reduced the ranks of Coyotes,
Foxes, Wolves, Badgers, and Hawks that preyed on the Jack, so
that in a few years the Rabbits were multiplied in great swarms;
but now Pestilence broke out and swept them away. Only the
strongest--the double-seasoned--remained. For a while a
Jack-rabbit was a rarity; but during this time another change
came in. The Osage-orange hedges planted everywhere afforded a
new refuge, and now the safety of a Jack-rabbit was less often
his speed than his wits, and the wise ones, when pursued by a Dog
or Coyote, would rush to the nearest hedge through a small hole
and escape while the enemy sought for a larger one by which to
follow. The Coyotes rose to this and developed the trick of the
relay chase. In this one Coyote takes one field, another the
next, and if the Rabbit attempts the "hedge-ruse" they work from
each side and usually win their prey. The Rabbit remedy for this,
is keen eyes to see the second Coyote, avoidance of that field,
then good legs to distance the first enemy.
Thus the Jack-rabbits, after being successively numerous, scarce,
in myriads, and rare, were now again on the increase, and those
which survived, selected by a hundred hard trials, were enabled
to flourish where their ancestors could not have outlived a
Their favorite grounds were, not the broad open stretches of the
big ranches, but the complicated, much-fenced fields of the
farms, where these were so small and close as to be like a big
One of these vegetable villages had sprung up around the railway
station of Newchusen. The country a mile away was well supplied
with Jack-rabbits of the new and selected stock. Among them was a
little lady Rabbit called "Bright-eyes," from her leading
characteristic as she sat gray in the gray brush.
She was a good runner, but was especially successful with the
fence-play that baffled the Coyotes. She made her nest out in an
open pasture, an untouched tract of the ancient prairie. Here her
brood were born and raised. One like herself was bright-eyed, in
coat of silver-gray, and partly gifted with her ready wits, but
in the other, there appeared a rare combination of his mother's
gifts with the best that was in the best strain of the new
Jack-rabbits of the plains.
This was the one whose adventures we have been following, the one
that later on the turf won the name of Little Warhorse and that
afterward achieved a world-wide fame.
Ancient tricks of his kind he revived and put to new uses, and
ancient enemies he learned to fight with new-found tricks.
When a mere baby he discovered a plan that was worthy of the
wisest Rabbit in Kaskado. He was pursued by a horrible little
Yellow Dog, and he had tried in vain to get rid of him by dodging
among the fields and farms. This is good play against a Coyote,
because the farmers and the Dogs will often help the Jack,
without knowing it, by attacking the Coyote. But now the plan did
not work at all, for the little Dog managed to keep after him
through one fence after another, and Jack Warhorse, not yet
full-grown, much less seasoned, was beginning to feel the strain.
His ears were no longer up straight, but angling back and at
times drooping to a level, as he darted through a very little
hole in an Osage hedge, only to find that his nimble enemy had
done the same without loss of time. In the middle of the field
was a small herd of cattle and with them a calf.
There is in wild animals a curious impulse to trust any stranger
when in desperate straits. The foe behind they know means death.
There is just a chance, and the only one left, that the stranger
may prove friendly; and it was this last desperate chance that
drew Jack Warhorse to the Cows.
It is quite sure that the Cows would have stood by in stolid
indifference so far as the Rabbit was concerned, but they have a
deep-rooted hatred of a dog, and when they saw the Yellow Cur
coming bounding toward them, their tails and noses went up; they
sniffed angrily, then closed up ranks, and led by the Cow that
owned the Calf, they charged at the Dog, while Jack took refuge
under a low thorn-bush. The Dog swerved aside to attack the Calf,
at least the old Cow thought he did, and she followed him so
fiercely that he barely escaped from that field with his life.
It was a good old plan--one that doubtless came from the days
when Buffalo and Coyote played the parts of Cow and Dog. Jack
never forgot it, and more than once it saved his life.
In color as well as in power he was a rarity.
Animals are colored in one or other of two general plans: one
that matches them with their surroundings and helps them to
hide--this is called "protective"; the other that makes them very
visible for several purposes--this is called "directive."
Jack-rabbits are peculiar in being painted both ways. As they
squat in their form in the gray brush or clods, they are soft
gray on their ears, head, back, and sides; they match the ground
and cannot be seen until close at hand--they are protectively
colored. But the moment it is clear to the Jack that the
approaching foe will find him, he jumps up and dashes away. He
throws off all disguise now, the gray seems to disappear; he
makes a lightning change, and his ears show snowy white with
black tips, the legs are white, his tail is a black spot in a
blaze of white. He is a black-and-white Rabbit now. His coloring
is all directive. How is it done? Very simply. The front side of
the ear is gray, the back, black and white. The black tail with
its white halo, and the legs, are tucked below. He is sitting on
them. The gray mantle is pulled down and enlarged as he sits, but
when he jumps up it shrinks somewhat, all his black-and-white
marks are now shown, and just as his colors formerly whispered,
"I am a clod," they now shout aloud, "I am a Jack-rabbit."
Why should he do this? Why should a timid creature running for
his life thus proclaim to all the world his name instead of
trying to hide? There must be some good reason. It must pay, or
the Rabbit would never have done it.
The answer is, if the creature that scared him up was one of his
own kind--i.e., this was a false alarm--then at once, by showing
his national colors, the mistake is made right. On the other
hand, if it be a Coyote, Fox, or Dog, they see at once, this is a
Jack-rabbit, and know that it would be waste of time for them to
pursue him. They say in effect, "This is a Jack-rabbit, and I
cannot catch a Jack in open race." They give it up, and that, of
course, saves the Jack a great deal of unnecessary running and
worry. The black-and-white spots are the national uniform and
flag of the Jacks. In poor specimens they are apt to be dull, but
in the finest specimens they are not only larger, but brighter
than usual, and the Little Warhorse, gray when he sat in his
form, blazed like charcoal and snow, when he flung his defiance
to the Fox and buff Coyote, and danced with little effort before
them, first a black-and-white Jack, then a little white spot, and
last a speck of thistledown, before the distance swallowed him.
Many of the farmers' Dogs had learned the lesson: "A grayish
Rabbit you may catch, but a very black-and-white one is
hopeless." They might, indeed, follow for a time, but that was
merely for the fun of a chivvy, and his growing power often led
Warhorse to seek the chase for the sake of a little excitement,
and to take hazards that others less gifted were most careful to
Jack, like all other wild animals, had a certain range or country
which was home to him, and outside of this he rarely strayed. It
was about three miles across, extending easterly from the centre
of the village. Scattered through this he had a number of
"forms," or "beds" as they are locally called. These were mere
hollows situated under a sheltering bush or bunch of grass,
without lining excepting the accidental grass and in-blown
leaves. But comfort was not forgotten. Some of them were for hot
weather; they faced the north, were scarcely sunk, were little
more than shady places. Some for the cold weather were deep
hollows with southern exposure, and others for the wet were well
roofed with herbage and faced the west. In one or other of these
he spent the day, and at night he went forth to feed with his
kind, sporting and romping on the moonlight nights like a lot of
puppy Dogs, but careful to be gone by sunrise, and safely tucked
in a bed that was suited to the weather.
The safest ground for the Jacks was among the farms, where not
only Osage hedges, but also the newly arrived barb-wire, made
hurdles and hazards in the path of possible enemies. But the
finest of the forage is nearer to the village among the
truck-farms--the finest of forage and the fiercest of dangers.
Some of the dangers of the plains were lacking, but the greater
perils of men, guns, Dogs, and impassable fences are much
increased. Yet those who knew Warhorse best were not at all
surprised to find that he had made a form in the middle of a
market-gardener's melon-patch. A score of dangers beset him here,
but there was also a score of unusual delights and a score of
holes in the fence for times when he had to fly, with at least
twoscore of expedients to help him afterward.
Newchusen was a typical Western town. Everywhere in it, were to
be seen strenuous efforts at uglification, crowned with
unmeasured success. The streets were straight level lanes without
curves or beauty-spots. The houses were cheap and mean structures
of flimsy boards and tar paper, and not even honest in their
ugliness, for each of them was pretending to be something better
than itself. One had a false front to make it look like two
stories, another was of imitation brick, a third pretended to be
a marble temple.
But all agreed in being the ugliest things ever used as human
dwellings, and in each could be read the owner's secret
thought--to stand it for a year or so, then move out somewhere
else. The only beauties of the place, and those unintentional,
were the long lines of hand-planted shade-trees, uglified as far
as possible with whitewashed trunks and croppy heads, but still
lovable, growing, living things.
The only building in town with a touch of picturesqueness was the
grain elevator. It was not posing as a Greek temple or a Swiss
chalet, but simply a strong, rough, honest, grain elevator. At
the end of each street was a vista of the prairie, with its
farm-houses, windmill pumps, and long lines of Osage-orange
hedges. Here at least was something of interest--the gray-green
hedges, thick, sturdy, and high, were dotted with their golden
mock-oranges, useless fruit, but more welcome here than rain in a
desert; for these balls were things of beauty, and swung on their
long tough boughs they formed with the soft green leaves a
color-chord that pleased the weary eye.
Such a town is a place to get out of, as soon as possible, so
thought the traveller who found himself laid over here for two
days in late winter. He asked after the sights of the place. A
white Muskrat stuffed in a case "down to the saloon"; old Baccy
Bullin, who had been scalped by the Indians forty years ago; and
a pipe once smoked by Kit Carson, proved unattractive, so he
turned toward the prairie, still white with snow.
A mark among the numerous Dog tracks caught his eye: it was the
track of a large Jack-rabbit. He asked a passer-by if there were
any Rabbits in town.
"No, I reckon not. I never seen none," was the answer. A
mill-hand gave the same reply, but a small boy with a bundle of
newspapers said: "You bet there is; there's lots of them out
there on the prairie, and they come in town a-plenty. Why,
there's a big, big feller lives right round Si Kalb's
melon-patch--oh, an awful big feller, and just as black and as
white as checkers!" and thus he sent the stranger eastward on his
The "big, big, awful big one" was the Little Warhorse himself. He
didn't live in Kalb's melon-patch; he was there only at odd
times. He was not there now; he was in his west-fronting form or
bed, because a raw east wind was setting in. It was due east of
Madison Avenue, and as the stranger plodded that way the Rabbit
watched him. As long as the man kept the road the Jack was quiet,
but the road turned shortly to the north, and the man by chance
left it and came straight on. Then the Jack saw trouble ahead.
The moment the man left the beaten track, he bounded from his
form, and wheeling, he sailed across the prairie due east.
A Jack-rabbit running from its enemy ordinarily covers eight or
nine feet at a bound, and once in five or six bounds, it makes an
observation hop, leaping not along, but high in the air, so as to
get above all herbage and bushes and take in the situation. A
silly young Jack will make an observation hop as often as one in
four, and so waste a great deal of time. A clever Jack will make
one hop in eight or nine, do for observation. But Jack Warhorse
as he sped, got all the information he needed, in one hop out of
a dozen, while ten to fourteen feet were covered by each of his
flying bounds. Yet another personal peculiarity showed in the
trail he left. When a Cottontail or a Wood-hare runs, his tail is
curled up tight on his back, and does not touch the snow. When a
Jack runs, his tail hangs downward or backward, with the tip
curved or straight, according to the individual; in some, it
points straight down, and so, often leaves a little stroke behind
the foot-marks. The Warhorse's tail of shining black, was of
unusual length, and at every bound, it left in the snow, a long
stroke, so long that that alone was almost enough to tell which
Rabbit had made the track.
Now some Rabbits seeing only a man without any Dog would have
felt little fear, but Warhorse, remembering some former stinging
experiences with a far-killer, fled when the foe was seventy-five
yards away, and skimming low, he ran southeast to a fence that
ran easterly. Behind this he went like a low-flying Hawk, till a
mile away he reached another of his beds; and here, after an
observation taken as he stood on his heels, he settled again to
But not for long. In twenty minutes his great megaphone ears, so
close to the ground, caught a regular sound -crunch, crunch,
crunch--the tramp of a human foot, and he started up to see the
man with the shining stick in his hand, now drawing near.
Warhorse bounded out and away for the fence. Never once did he
rise to a "spy-hop" till the wire and rails were between him and
his foe, an unnecessary precaution as it chanced, for the man was
watching the trail and saw nothing of the Rabbit.
Jack skimmed along, keeping low and looking out for other
enemies. He knew now that the man was on his track, and the old
instinct born of ancestral trouble with Weasels was doubtless
what prompted him to do the double trail. He ran in a long,
straight course to a distant fence, followed its far side for
fifty yards, then doubling back he retraced his trail and ran off
in a new direction till he reached another of his dens or forms.
He had been out all night and was very ready to rest, now that
the sun was ablaze on the snow; but he had hardly got the place a
little warmed when the "tramp, tramp, tramp" announced the enemy,
and he hurried away.
After a half-a-mile run he stopped on a slight rise and marked
the man still following, so he made a series of wonderful quirks
in his trail, a succession of blind zigzags that would have
puzzled most trailers; then running a hundred yards past a
favorite form, he returned to it from the other side, and settled
to rest, sure that now the enemy would be finally thrown off the
It was slower than before, but still it came--"tramp, tramp,
Jack awoke, but sat still. The man tramped by on the trail one
hundred yards in front of him, and as he went on, Jack sprang out
unseen, realizing that this was an unusual occasion needing a
special effort. They had gone in a vast circle around the home
range of the Warhorse and now were less than a mile from the
farm-house of the black Dog. There was that wonderful board fence
with the happily planned hen-hole. It was a place of good
memory--here more than once he had won, here especially he had
baffled the Greyhound.
These doubtless were the motive thoughts rather than any plan of
playing one enemy against another, and Warhorse bounded openly
across the snow to the fence of the big black Dog.
The hen-hole was shut, and Warhorse, not a little puzzled,
sneaked around to find another, without success, until, around
the front, here was the gate wide open, and inside lying on some
boards was the big Dog, fast asleep. The Hens were sitting
hunched up in the warmest corner of the yard. The house Cat was
gingerly picking her way from barn to kitchen, as Warhorse halted
in the gateway.
The black form of his pursuer was crawling down the far white
prairie slope. Jack hopped quietly into the yard. A long-legged
Rooster, that ought to have minded his own business, uttered a
loud cackle as he saw the Rabbit hopping near. The Dog lying in
the sun raised his head and stood up, and Jack's peril was dire.
He squatted low and turned himself into a gray clod. He did it
cleverly, but still might have been lost but for the Cat.
Unwittingly, unwillingly, she saved him. The black Dog had taken
three steps toward the Warhorse, though he did not know the
Rabbit was there, and was now blocking the only way of escape
from the yard, when the Cat came round the corner of the house,
and leaping to a window-ledge brought a flower-pot rolling down.
By that single awkward act she disturbed the armed neutrality
existing between herself and the Dog. She fled to the barn, and
of course a flying foe is all that is needed to send a Dog on the
war-path. They passed within thirty feet of the crouching Rabbit.
As soon as they were well gone, Jack turned, and with-out even a
"Thank you, Pussy," he fled to the open and away on the
The Cat had been rescued by the lady of the house; the Dog was
once more sprawling on the boards when the man on Jack's trail
arrived. He carried, not a gun, but a stout stick, sometimes
called "dog-medicine," and that was all that prevented the Dog
attacking the enemy of his prey.
This seemed to be the end of the trail. The trick, whether
planned or not, was a success, and the Rabbit got rid of his
Next day the stranger made another search for the Jack and found,
not himself, but his track. He knew it by its tail-mark, its long
leaps and few spy-hops, but with it and running by it was the
track of a smaller Rabbit. Here is where they met, here they
chased each other in play, for no signs of battle were there to
be seen; here they fed or sat together in the sun, there they
ambled side by side, and here again they sported in the snow,
always together. There was only one conclusion: this was the
mating season. This was a pair of Jack-rabbits--the Little
Warhorse and his mate.
Next summer was a wonderful year for the Jack-rabbits. A foolish
law had set a bounty on Hawks and Owls and had caused a general
massacre of these feathered policemen. Consequently the Rabbits
had multiplied in such numbers that they now were threatening to
devastate the country.
The farmers, who were the sufferers from the bounty law, as well
as the makers of it, decided on a great Rabbit drive. All the
county was invited to come, on a given morning, to the main road
north of the county, with the intention of sweeping the whole
region up-wind and at length driving the Rabbits into a huge
corral of close wire netting. Dogs were barred as unmanageable,
and guns as dangerous in a crowd; but every man and boy carried a
couple of long sticks and a bag full of stones. Women came on
horseback and in buggies; many carried rattles or horns and tins
to make a noise. A number of the buggies trailed a string of old
cans or tied laths to scrape on the wheel-spokes, and thus add no
little to the deafening clatter of the drive. As Rabbits have
marvellously sensitive hearing, a noise that is distracting to
mankind, is likely to prove bewildering to them.
The weather was right, and at eight in the morning the word to
advance was given. The line was about five miles long at first,
and there was a man or a boy every thirty or forty yards. The
buggies and riders kept perforce almost entirely to the roads;
but the beaters were supposed, as a point of honor, to face
everything, and keep the front unbroken. The advance was roughly
in three sides of a square. Each man made as much noise as he
could, and threshed every bush in his path. A number of Rabbits
hopped out. Some made for the lines, to be at once assailed by a
shower of stones that laid many of them low. One or two did get
through and escaped, but the majority were swept before the
drive. At first the number seen was small, but before three miles
were covered the Rabbits were running ahead in every direction.
After five miles--and that took about three hours--the word for
the wings to close in was given. The space between the men was
shortened up till they were less than ten feet apart, and the
whole drive converged on the corral with its two long guide wings
or fences; the end lines joined these wings, and the surround was
complete. The drivers marched rapidly now; scores of the Rabbits
were killed as they ran too near the beaters. Their bodies
strewed the ground, but the swarms seemed to increase; and in the
final move, before the victims were cooped up in the corral, the
two-acre space surrounded was a whirling throng of skurrying,
jumping, bounding Rabbits. Round and round they circled and
leaped, looking for a chance to escape; but the inexorable crowd
grew thicker as the ring grew steadily smaller, and the whole
swarm was forced along the chute into the tight corral, some to
squat stupidly in the middle, some to race round the outer wall,
some to seek hiding in corners or under each other.
And the Little Warhorse--where was he in all this? The drive had
swept him along, and he had been one of the first to enter the
corral. But a curious plan of selection had been established. The
pen was to be a death-trap for the Rabbits, except the best, the
soundest. And many were there that were unsound; those that think
of all wild animals as pure and perfect things, would have been
shocked to see how many halt, maimed, and diseased there were in
that pen of four thousand or five thousand Jack-rabbits.
It was a Roman victory--the rabble of prisoners was to be
butchered. The choicest were to be reserved for the arena. The
arena? Yes, that is the Coursing Park.
In that corral trap, prepared beforehand for the Rabbits, were a
number of small boxes along the wall, a whole series of them,
five hundred at least, each large enough to hold one Jack.
In the last rush of driving, the swiftest Jacks got first to the
pen. Some were swift and silly; when once inside they rushed
wildly round and round. Some were swift and wise; they quickly
sought the hiding afforded by the little boxes; all of these were
now full. Thus five hundred of the swiftest and wisest had been
selected, in, not by any means an infallible way, but the
simplest and readiest. These five hundred were destined to be
coursed by Greyhounds. The surging mass of over four thousand
were ruthlessly given to slaughter.
Five hundred little boxes with five hundred bright-eyed
Jack-rabbits were put on the train that day, and among them was
Little Jack Warhorse.
Rabbits take their troubles lightly, and it is not to be supposed
that any great terror was felt by the boxed Jacks, once the
uproar of the massacre was over; and when they reached the
Coursing Park near the great city and were turned out one by one,
very gently,--yes, gently; the Roman guards were careful of their
prisoners, being responsible for them,--the Jacks found little to
complain of, a big inclosure with plenty of good food, and no
enemies to annoy them.
The very next morning their training began. A score of hatchways
were opened into a much larger field--the Park. After a number of
Jacks had wandered out through these doors a rabble of boys
appeared and drove them back, pursuing them noisily until all
were again in the smaller field, called the Haven. A few days of
this taught the Jack-rabbits that when pursued their safety was
to get back by one of the hatches into the Haven.
Now the second lesson began. The whole band were driven out of a
side door into a long lane which led around three sides of the
Park to another inclosure at the far end. This was the Starting
Pen. Its door into the arena--that is, the Park--was opened, the
Rabbits driven forth, and then a mob of boys and Dogs in hiding,
burst forth and pursued them across the open. The whole army went
bobbing and bounding away, some of the younger ones soaring in a
spy-hop, as a matter of habit; but low skimming ahead of them all
was a gorgeous black-and-white one; clean-limbed and bright-eyed,
he had attracted attention in the pen, but now in the field he
led the band with easy lope that put him as far ahead of them all
as they were ahead of the rabble of common Dogs.
"Luk at thot, would ye--but ain't he a Little Warhorse?" shouted
a villainous-looking Irish stable-boy, and thus he was named.
When halfway across the course the Jacks remembered the Haven,
and all swept toward it and in like a snow-cloud over the drifts.
This was the second lesson--to lead straight for the Haven as
soon as driven from the Pen. In a week all had learned it, and
were ready for the great opening meet of the Coursing Club.
The Little Warhorse was now well known to the grooms and
hangers-on; his colors usually marked him clearly, and his
leadership was in a measure recognized by the long-eared herd
that fled with him. He figured more or less with the Dogs in the
talk and betting of the men.
"Wonder if old Dignam is going to enter Minkie this year?"
"Faix, an' if he does I bet the Little Warhorse will take the
gimp out av her an' her runnin' mate."
"I'll bet three to one that my old Jen will pick the Warhorse up
before he passes the grand stand," growled a dog-man.
"An' it's meself will take thot bet in dollars," said Mickey,
"an', moore than thot, Oi'll put up a hull month's stuff thot
there ain't a dog in the mate thot kin turrn the Warrhorrse oncet
on the hull coorse."
So they wrangled and wagered, but each day, as they put the
Rabbits through their paces, there were more of those who
believed that they had found a wonderful runner in the Warhorse,
one that would give the best Greyhounds something that is rarely
seen, a straight stern chase from Start to Grand Stand and Haven.
The first morning of the meet arrived bright and promising. The
Grand Stand was filled with a city crowd. The usual types of a
racecourse appeared in force. Here and there were to be seen the
dog-grooms leading in leash single Greyhounds or couples,
shrouded in blankets, but showing their sinewy legs, their snaky
necks, their shapely heads with long reptilian jaws, and their
quick, nervous yellow eyes--hybrids of natural force and human
ingenuity, the most wonderful running-machines ever made of flesh
and blood. Their keepers guarded them like jewels, tended them
like babies, and were careful to keep them from picking up odd
eatables, as well as prevent them smelling unusual objects or
being approached by strangers. Large sums were wagered on these
Dogs, and a cunningly placed tack, a piece of doctored meat, yes,
an artfully compounded smell, has been known to turn a superb
young runner into a lifeless laggard, and to the owner this might
spell ruin. The Dogs entered in each class are paired off, as
each contest is supposed to be a duel; the winners in the first
series are then paired again. In each trial, a Jack is driven
from the Starting-pen; close by in one leash are the rival Dogs,
held by the slipper. As soon as the Hare is well away, the man
has to get the Dogs evenly started and slip them together. On the
field is the judge, scarlet-coated and well mounted. He follows
the chase. The Hare, mindful of his training, speeds across the
open, toward the Haven, in full view of the Grand Stand. The Dogs
follow the Jack. As the first one comes near enough to be
dangerous, the Hare balks him by dodging. Each time the Hare is
turned, scores for the Dog that did it, and a final point is made
by the kill.
Sometimes the kill takes place within one hundred yards of the
start--that means a poor Jack; mostly it happens in front of the
Grand Stand; but on rare occasions it chances that the Jack goes
sailing across the open Park a good half-mile and, by dodging for
time, runs to safety in the Haven. Four finishes are possible: a
speedy kill; a speedy winning of the Haven; new Dogs to relieve
the first runners, who would suffer heart-collapse in the
terrific strain of their pace, if kept up many minutes in hot
weather; and finally, for Rabbits that by continued dodging defy
and jeopardize the Dogs, and yet do not win the Haven, there is
kept a loaded shotgun.
There is just as much jockeying at a Kaskado coursing as at a
Kaskado horse-race, just as many attempts at fraud, and it is
just as necessary to have the judge and slipper beyond suspicion.
The day before the next meet a man of diamonds saw Irish
Mickey--by chance. A cigar was all that visibly passed, but it
had a green wrapper that was slipped off before lighting. Then a
word: "If you wuz slipper to-morrow and it so came about that
Dignam's Minkie gets done, wall,--it means another cigar."
"Faix, an' if I wuz slipper I could load the dice so Minkie would
flyer score a p'int, but her runnin' mate would have the same bad
"That so?" The diamond man looked interested. "All right--fix it
so; it means two cigars."
Slipper Slyman had always dealt on the square, had scorned many
approaches--that was well known. Most believed in him, but there
were some malcontents, and when a man with many gold seals
approached the Steward and formulated charges, serious and
well-backed, they must perforce suspend the slipper pending an
inquiry, and thus Mickey Doo reigned in his stead.
Mickey was poor and not over-scrupulous. Here was a chance to
make a year's pay in a minute, nothing wrong about it, no harm to
the Dog or the Rabbit either.
One Jack-rabbit is much like another. Everybody knows that; it
was simply a question of choosing your Jack.
The preliminaries were over. Fifty Jacks had been run and killed.
Mickey had done his work satisfactorily; a fair slip had been
given to every leash. He was still in command as slipper. Now
came the final for the cup--the cup and the large stakes.
There were the slim and elegant Dogs awaiting their turn. Minkie
and her rival were first. Everything had been fair so far, and
who can say that what followed was unfair? Mickey could turn out
which Jack he pleased.
"Number three!" he called to his partner.
Out leaped the Little Warhorse,--black and white his great ears,
easy and low his five-foot bounds; gazing wildly at the unwonted
crowd about the Park, he leaped high in one surprising spy-hop.
"Hrrrrr!" shouted the slipper, and his partner rattled a stick on
the fence. The Warhorse's bounds increased to eight or nine feet.
"Hrrrrrr!" and they were ten or twelve feet. At thirty yards the
Hounds were slipped--an even slip; some thought it could have
been done at twenty yards.
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