Secret of the Woods
William J. Long

Part 2 out of 3

matter how great the abundance, not one of them can resist the
temptation to steal or to break into another's garner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

"Got what?" thundered the master.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

"Sho! Mister, what yer follerin?"

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

Wally gave me a look, of great pity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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