A CRY IN THE NIGHT





William J. Long







This is the rest of the story, just as I saw it, of the little fawns

that I found under the mossy log by the brook. There were two of them,

you remember; and though they looked alike at first glance, I soon

found out that there is just as much difference in fawns as there is in

folks. Eyes, faces, dispositions, characters,--in all things they were

as unlike as the virgins of the parable. One of them was wise, and the

other was very foolish. The one was a follower, a learner; he never

forgot his second lesson, to follow the white flag. The other followed

from the first only his own willful head and feet, and discovered too

late that obedience is life. Until the bear found him, I have no doubt

he was thinking, in his own dumb, foolish way, that obedience is only

for the weak and ignorant, and that government is only an unfair

advantage which all the wilderness mothers take to keep little wild

things from doing as they please.



The wise old mother took them both away when she knew I had found them,

and hid them in a deeper solitude of the big woods, nearer the lake,

where she could the sooner reach them from her feeding grounds. For

days after the wonderful discovery I used to go in the early morning or

the late afternoon, while mother deer are away feeding along the

watercourses, and search the dingle from one end to the other, hoping

to find the little ones again and win their confidence. But they were

not there; and I took to watching instead a family of mink that lived

in a den under a root, and a big owl that always slept in the same

hemlock. Then, one day when a flock of partridges led me out of the

wild berry bushes into a cool green island of the burned lands, I ran

plump upon the deer and her fawns lying all together under a fallen

treetop, dozing away the heat of the day.



They did not see me, but were only scared into action as a branch, upon

which I stood looking for my partridges, gave way beneath my feet and

let me down with a great crash under the fallen tree. There, looking

out, I could see them perfectly, while Kookooskoos himself could hardly

have seen me. At the first crack they all jumped like Jack-in-a-box

when you touch his spring. The mother put up her white flag--which is

the snowy underside of her useful tail, and shows like a beacon by day

or night--and bounded away with a hoarse _Ka-a-a-a-h!_ of warning.

One of the little ones followed her on the instant, jumping squarely in

his mother's tracks, his own little white flag flying to guide any that

might come after him. But the second fawn ran off at a tangent, and

stopped in a moment to stare and whistle and stamp his tiny, foot in an

odd mixture of curiosity and defiance. The mother had to circle back

twice before he followed her, at last, unwillingly. As she stole back

each time, her tail was down and wiggling nervously--which is the sure

sign, when you see it, that some scent of you is floating off through

the woods and telling its warning into the deer's keen nostrils. But

when she jumped away the white flag was straight up, flashing in the

very face of her foolish fawn, telling him as plain as any language

what sign he must follow if he would escape danger and avoid breaking

his legs in the tangled underbrush.



I did not understand till long afterwards, when I had watched the fawns

many times, how important is this latter suggestion. One who follows a

frightened deer and sees or hears him go bounding off at breakneck pace

over loose rocks and broken trees and tangled underbrush; rising swift

on one side of a windfall without knowing what lies on the other side

till he is already falling; driving like an arrow over ground where you

must follow like a snail, lest you wrench a foot or break an ankle,--

finds himself asking with unanswered wonder how any deer can live half

a season in the wilderness without breaking all his legs. And when you

run upon a deer at night and hear him go smashing off in the darkness

at the same reckless speed, over a tangled blow-down, perhaps, through

which you can barely force your way by daylight, then you realize

suddenly that the most wonderful part of a deer's education shows

itself, not in keen eyes or trumpet ears, or in his finely trained

nose, more sensitive a hundred times than any barometer, but in his

forgotten feet, which seem to have eyes and nerves and brains packed

into their hard shells instead of the senseless matter you see there.



Watch the doe yonder as she bounds away, wig-wagging her heedless

little one to follow. She is thinking only of him; and now you see her

feet free to take care of themselves. As she rises over the big

windfall, they hang from the ankle joints, limp as a glove out of which

the hand has been drawn, yet seeming to wait and watch. One hoof

touches a twig; like lightning it spreads and drops, after running for

the smallest fraction of a second along the obstacle to know whether to

relax or stiffen, or rise or fall to meet it. Just before she strikes

the ground on the down plunge, see the wonderful hind hoofs sweep

themselves forward, surveying the ground by touch, and bracing

themselves, in a fraction of time so small that the eye cannot follow,

for the shock of what lies beneath them, whether rock or rotten wood or

yielding moss. The fore feet have followed the quick eyes above, and

shoot straight and sure to their landing; but the hind hoofs must find

the spot for themselves as they come down and, almost ere they find it,

brace themselves again for the push of the mighty muscles above.



Once only I found where a fawn with untrained feet had broken its leg;

and once I heard of a wounded buck, driven to death by dogs, that had

fallen in the same way never to rise again. Those were rare cases. The

marvel is that it does not happen to every deer that fear drives

through the wilderness.



And that is another reason why the fawns must learn to obey a wiser

head than their own. Till their little feet are educated, the mother

must choose the way for them; and a wise fawn will jump squarely in her

tracks. That explains also why deer, even after they are full grown,

will often walk in single file, a half-dozen of them sometimes

following a wise leader, stepping in his tracks and leaving but a

single trail. It is partly, perhaps, to fool their old enemy, the wolf,

and their new enemy, the man, by hiding the weakling's trail in the

stride and hoof mark of a big buck; but it shows also the old habit,

and the training which begins when the fawns first learn to follow the

flag.



After that second discovery I used to go in the afternoon to a point on

the lake nearest the fawns' hiding-place, and wait in my canoe for the

mother to come out and show me where she had left her little ones. As

they grew, and the drain upon her increased from their feeding, she

seemed always half starved. Waiting in my canoe I would hear the

crackle of brush, as she trotted straight down to the lake almost

heedlessly, and see her plunge through the fringe of bushes that

bordered the water. With scarcely a look or a sniff to be sure the

coast was clear, she would jump for the lily pads. Sometimes the canoe

was in plain sight; but she gave no heed as she tore up the juicy buds

and stems, and swallowed them with the appetite of a famished wolf.

Then I would paddle away and, taking my direction from her trail as she

came, hunt diligently for the fawns until I found them.



This last happened only two or three times. The little ones were

already wild; they had forgotten all about our first meeting, and when

I showed myself, or cracked a twig too near them, they would promptly

bolt into the brush. One always ran straight away, his white flag

flying to show that he remembered his lesson; the other went off

zigzag, stopping at every angle of his run to look back and question me

with his eyes and ears.



There was only one way in which such disobedience could end. I saw it

plainly enough one afternoon, when, had I been one of the fierce

prowlers of the wilderness, the little fellow's history would have

stopped short under the paw of Upweekis, the shadowy lynx of the burned

lands. It was late afternoon when I came over a ridge, following a deer

path on my way to the lake, and looked down into a long, narrow valley

filled with berry bushes, and with a few fire-blasted trees standing

here and there to point out the perfect loneliness and desolation of

the place.



Just below me a deer was feeding hungrily, only her hind quarters

showing out of the underbrush. I watched her awhile, then dropped on

all fours and began to creep towards her, to see how near I could get

and what new trait I might discover. But at the first motion (I had

stood at first like an old stump on the ridge) a fawn that had

evidently been watching me all the time from his hiding sprang into

sight with a sharp whistle of warning. The doe threw up her head,

looking straight at me as if she had understood more from the signal

than I had thought possible. There was not an instant's hesitation or

searching. Her eyes went direct to me, as if the fawn's cry had said:

"Behind you, mother, in the path by the second gray rock!" Then she

jumped away, shooting up the opposite hill over roots and rocks as if

thrown by steel springs, blowing hoarsely at every jump, and followed

in splendid style by her watchful little one.



At the first snort of danger there was a rush in the underbrush near

where she had stood, and a second fawn sprang into sight. I knew him

instantly--the heedless one--and knew also that he had neglected too

long the matter of following the flag. He was confused, frightened,

chuckle-headed now; he came darting up the deer path in the wrong

direction, straight towards me, to within two jumps, before he noticed

the man kneeling in the path before him and watching him quietly.



At the startling discovery he stopped short, seeming to shrink smaller

and smaller before my eyes. Then he edged sidewise to a great stump,

hid himself among the roots, and stood stock-still,--a beautiful

picture of innocence and curiosity, framed in the rough brown roots of

the spruce stump. It was his first teaching to hide and be still. Just

as he needed it most, he had forgotten absolutely the second lesson.



We watched each other full five minutes without moving an eyelash. Then

his first lesson ebbed away. He sidled out into the path again, came

towards me two dainty, halting steps, and stamped prettily with his

left fore foot. He was a young buck, and had that trick of stamping

without any instruction. It is an old, old ruse to make you move, to

startle you by the sound and threatening motion into showing who you

are and what are your intentions.



But still the man did not move; the fawn grew frightened at his own

boldness and ran away down the path. Far up the opposite hill I heard

the mother calling him. But he heeded not; he wanted to find out things

for himself. There he was in the path again, watching me. I took out my

handkerchief and waved it gently; at which great marvel he trotted

back, stopping anon to look and stamp his little foot, to show me that

he was not afraid.



"Brave little chap, I like you," I thought, my heart going out to him

as he stood there with his soft eyes and beautiful face, stamping his

little foot. "But what," my thoughts went on, "had happened to you ere

now, had a bear or lucivee lifted his head over the ridge? Next month,

alas! the law will be off; then there will be hunters in these woods,

some of whom leave their hearts, with their wives and children, behind

them. You can't trust them, believe me, little chap. Your mother is

right; you can't trust them."



The night was coming swiftly. The mother's call, growing ever more

anxious, more insistent, swept over the darkening hillside. "Perhaps,"

I thought, with sudden twinges and alarms of conscience, "perhaps I set

you all wrong, little chap, in giving you the taste of salt that day,

and teaching you to trust things that meet you in the wilderness." That

is generally the way when we meddle with Mother Nature, who has her own

good reasons for doing things as she does. "But no! there were two of

you under the old log that day; and the other,--he's up there with his

mother now, where you ought to be,--he knows that old laws are safer

than new thoughts, especially new thoughts in the heads of foolish

youngsters. You are all wrong, little chap, for all your pretty

curiosity, and the stamp of your little foot that quite wins my heart.

Perhaps I am to blame, after all; anyway, I'll teach you better now."



At the thought I picked up a large stone and sent it crashing, jumping,

tearing down the hillside straight at him. All his bravado vanished

like a wink. Up went his flag, and away he went over the logs and rocks

of the great hillside; where presently I heard his mother running in a

great circle till she found him with her nose, thanks to the wood wires

and the wind's messages, and led him away out of danger.



One who lives for a few weeks in the wilderness, with eyes and ears

open, soon finds that, instead of the lawlessness and blind chance

which seem to hold sway there, he lives in the midst of law and order--

an order of things much older than that to which he is accustomed, with

which it is not well to interfere. I was uneasy, following the little

deer path through the twilight stillness; and my uneasiness was not

decreased when I found on a log, within fifty yards of the spot where

the fawn first appeared, the signs of a big lucivee, with plenty of

fawn's hair and fine-cracked bones to tell me what he had eaten for his

midnight dinner.



Down at the lower end of the same deer path, where it stopped at the

lake to let the wild things drink, was a little brook. Outside the

mouth of this brook, among the rocks, was a deep pool; and in the pool

lived some big trout. I was there one night, some two weeks later,

trying to catch some of the big trout for my next breakfast.



Those were wise fish. It was of no use to angle for them by day any

more. They knew all the flies in my book; could tell the new Jenny Lind

from the old Bumble Bee before it struck the water; and seemed to know

perfectly, both by instinct and experience, that they were all frauds,

which might as well be called Jenny Bee and Bumble Lind for any sweet

reasonableness that was in them. Besides all this, the water was warm;

the trout were logy and would not rise.



By night, however, the case was different. A few of the trout would

leave the pool and prowl along the shores in shallow water to see what

tidbits the darkness might bring, in the shape of night bugs and

careless piping frogs and sleepy minnows. Then, if you built a fire on

the beach and cast a white-winged fly across the path of the firelight,

you would sometimes get a big one.



It was fascinating sport always, whether the trout were rising or not.

One had to fish with his ears, and keep most of his wits in his hand,

ready to strike quick and hard when the moment came, after an hour of

casting. Half the time you would not see your fish at all, but only

hear the savage plunge as he swirled down with your fly. At other

times, as you struck sharply at the plunge, your fly would come back to

you, or tangle itself up in unseen snags; and far out, where the verge

of the firelight rippled away into the darkness, you would see a sharp

wave-wedge shooting away, which told you that your trout was only a

musquash. Swimming quietly by, he had seen you and your fire, and

slapped his tail down hard on the water to make you jump. That is a way

Musquash has in the night, so that he can make up his mind what queer

thing you are and what you are doing.



All the while, as you fish, the great dark woods stand close about you,

silent, listening. The air is full of scents and odors that steal

abroad only by night, while the air is dew-laden. Strange cries, calls,

squeaks, rustlings run along the hillside, or float in from the water,

or drop down from the air overhead, to make you guess and wonder what

wood folk are abroad at such unseemly hours, and what they are about.

So that it is good to fish by night, as well as by day, and go home

with heart and head full, even though your creel be empty.



I was standing very still by my fire, waiting for a big trout that had

risen and missed my fly to regain his confidence, when I heard cautious

rustlings in the brush behind me. I turned instantly, and there were

two great glowing spots, the eyes of a deer, flashing out of the dark

woods. A swift rustle, and two more coals glow lower down, flashing and

scintillating with strange colors; and then two more; and I know that

the doe and her fawns are there, stopped and fascinated on their way to

drink by the great wonder of the light, and by the witchery of the

dancing shadows that rush up at timid wild things, as if to frighten

them, but only jump over them and back again, as if inviting them to

join the silent play.



I knelt down quietly beside my fire, slipping on a great roll of birch

bark which blazed up brightly, filling the woods with light. There,

under a spruce, where a dark shadow had been a moment agone, stood the

mother, her eyes all ablaze with the wonder of the light; now staring

steadfastly into the fire; now starting nervously, with low questioning

snorts, as a troop of shadows ran up to play hop-scotch with the little

ones, which stood close behind her, one on either side.



A moment only it lasted. Then one fawn--I knew the heedless one, even

in the firelight, by his face and by his bright-dappled Joseph's coat--

came straight towards me, stopping to stare with flashing eyes when the

fire jumped up, and then to stamp his little foot at the shadows to

show them that he was not afraid.



The mother called him anxiously; but still he came on, stamping

prettily. She grew uneasy, trotting back and forth in a half circle,

warning, calling, pleading. Then, as he came between her and the fire,

and his little shadow stretched away up the hill where she was, showing

how far away he was from her and how near the light, she broke away

from its fascination with an immense effort: _Ka-a-a-h! ka-a-a-h!_

the hoarse cry rang through the startled woods like a pistol shot; and

she bounded away, her white flag shining like a wave crest in the night

to guide her little ones.



The second fawn followed her instantly; but the heedless one barely

swung his head to see where she was going, and then came on towards the

light, staring and stamping in foolish wonder.



I watched him a little while, fascinated myself by his beauty, his

dainty motions, his soft ears with a bright oval of light about them,

his wonderful eyes glowing like burning rainbows kindled by the

firelight. Far behind him the mother's cry ran back and forth along the

hillside. Suddenly it changed; a danger note leaped into it; and again

I heard the call to follow and the crash of brush as she leaped away. I

remembered the lynx and the sad little history written on the log

above. As the quickest way of saving the foolish youngster, I kicked my

fire to pieces and walked out toward him. Then, as the wonder vanished

in darkness and the scent of the man poured up to him on the lake's

breath, the little fellow bounded away--alas! straight up the deer

path, at right angles to the course his mother had taken a moment

before.



Five minutes later I heard the mother calling a strange note in the

direction he had taken, and went up the deer path very quietly to

investigate. At the top of the ridge, where the path dropped away into

a dark narrow valley with dense underbrush on either side, I heard the

fawn answering her, below me among the big trees, and knew instantly

that something had happened. He called continuously, a plaintive cry of

distress, in the black darkness of the spruces. The mother ran around

him in a great circle, calling him to come; while he lay helpless in

the same spot, telling her he could not, and that she must come to him.

So the cries went back and forth in the listening night,--_Hoo-wuh_,

"come here." _Bla-a-a, blr-r-t_, "I can't; come here." _Ka-a-a-h,

ka-a-a-h!_ "danger, follow!"--and then the crash of brush as she

rushed away followed by the second fawn, whom she must save, though she

abandoned the heedless one to prowlers of the night.



It was clear enough what had happened. The cries of the wilderness all

have their meaning, if one but knows how to interpret them. Running

through the dark woods his untrained feet had missed their landing, and

he lay now under some rough windfall, with a broken leg to remind him

of the lesson he had neglected so long.



I was stealing along towards him, feeling my way among the trees in the

darkness, stopping every moment to listen to his cry to guide me, when

a heavy rustle came creeping down the hill and passed close before me.

Something, perhaps, in the sound--a heavy, though almost noiseless,

onward push which only one creature in the woods can possibly make--

something, perhaps, in a faint new odor in the moist air told me

instantly that keener ears than mine had heard the cry; that Mooween

the bear had left his blueberry patch, and was stalking the heedless

fawn, whom he knew, by the hearing of his ears, to have become

separated from his watchful mother in the darkness.



I regained the path silently--though Mooween heeds nothing when his

game is afoot--and ran back to the canoe for my rifle. Ordinarily a

bear is timid as a rabbit; but I had never met one so late at night

before, and knew not how he would act should I take his game away.

Besides, there is everything in the feeling with which one approaches

an animal. If one comes timidly, doubtfully, the animal knows it; and

if one comes swift, silent, resolute, with his power gripped tight, and

the hammer back, and a forefinger resting lightly on the trigger guard,

the animal knows it too, you may depend. Anyway, they always act as if

they knew, and you may safely follow the rule that, whatever your

feeling is, whether fear or doubt or confidence, the large and

dangerous animals will sense it instantly and adopt the opposite

feeling for their rule of action. That is the way I have always found

it in the wilderness. I met a bear once on a narrow path--but I must

tell about that elsewhere.



The cries had ceased; the woods were all dark and silent when I came

back. I went as swiftly as possible--without heed or caution; for

whatever crackling I made the bear would attribute to the desperate

mother--to the spot where I had turned back. Thence I went on

cautiously, taking my bearings from one great tree on the ridge that

lifted its bulk against the sky; slower and slower, till, just this

side of a great windfall, a twig cracked sharply under my foot. It was

answered instantly by a grunt and a jump beyond the windfall--and then

the crashing rush of a bear up the hill, carrying something that caught

and swished loudly on the bushes as it passed, till the sounds vanished

in a faint rustle far away, and the woods were still again.



All night long, from my tent over beyond an arm of the big lake, I

heard the mother calling at intervals. She seemed to be running back

and forth along the ridge, above where the tragedy had occurred. Her

nose told her of the bear and the man; but what awful thing they were

doing with her little one she knew not. Fear and questioning were in

the calls that floated down the ridge and across the water to my little

tent.



At daylight I went back to the spot. I found without trouble where the

fawn had fallen; the moss told mutely of his struggle; and a stain or

two showed where Mooween grabbed him. The rest was a plain trail of

crushed moss and bent grass and stained leaves, and a tuft of soft hair

here and there on the jagged ends of knots in the old windfalls. So the

trail hurried up the hill into a wild rough country where it was of no

use to follow.



As I climbed the last ridge on my way back to the lake, I heard

rustlings in the underbrush, and then the unmistakable crack of a twig

under a deer's foot. The mother had winded me; she was now following

and circling down wind to find out whether her lost fawn were with me.

As yet she knew not what had happened. The bear had frightened her into

extra care of the one fawn of whom she was sure. The other had simply

vanished into the silence and mystery of the great woods.



Where the path turned downward, in sight of the lake, I saw her for a

moment plainly, standing half hid in the underbrush, looking intently

at my old canoe. She saw me at the same instant and bounded away,

quartering up the hill in my direction. Near a thicket of evergreen

that I had just passed, she sounded her hoarse _K-a-a-h, k-a-a-h!_

and threw up her flag. There was a rush within the thicket; a sharp

_K-a-a-h!_ answered hers. Then the second fawn burst out of the

cover where she had hidden him, and darted along the ridge after her,

jumping like a big red fox from rock to rock, rising like a hawk over

the windfalls, hitting her tracks wherever he could, and keeping his

little nose hard down to his one needful lesson of following the white

flag.





A CRADLE HYMN A DARING UNDERTAKING. facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback