IN the Cabineau
Camp, of unlucky reputation, there was a young ox of splendid
build, but of a wild and restless nature.
He was one of a yoke, of part
Devon blood, large, dark-red, all muscle and nerve, and
with wide magnificent horns. His yoke-fellow was a docile
steady worker, the pride of his owner’s heart; but
he himself seemed never to have been more than half broken
in. The woods appeared to draw him by some spell. He wanted
to get back to the pastures where he had roamed untrammelled
of old with his fellow-steers. The remembrance was in
his heart [Page 66] of the dewy mornings
when the herd used to feed together on the sweet grassy
hillocks, and of the clover-smelling heats of June when
they would gather hock-deep in the pools under the green
willow-shadows. He hated the yoke, he hated the winter;
and he imagined that in the wild pastures he remembered
it would be for ever summer. If only he could get back
to those pastures!
One day there came the longed-for
opportunity; and he seized it. He was standing unyoked
beside his mate, and none of the teamsters were near.
His head went up in the air, and with a snort of triumph
he dashed away through the forest.
For a little while there was a
vain pursuit. At last the lumbermen gave it up. “Let
him be!” said his owner, “an’ I rayther
guess he’ll turn up agin when he gits puckish. He
kaint browse on spruce buds an’ lung-wort [Page
Plunging on with long gallop through
the snow he was soon miles from camp. Growing weary he
slackened his pace. He came down to a walk. As the lonely
red of the winter sunset began to stream through the openings
of the forest, flushing the snows of the tiny glades and
swales, he grew hungry, and began to swallow unsatisfying
mouthfuls of the long moss which roughened the tree-trunks.
Ere the moon got up he had filled himself with this fodder,
and then he lay down in a little thicket for the night.
But some miles back from his retreat
a bear had chanced upon his foot-prints. A strayed steer!
That would be an easy prey. The bear started straightway
in pursuit. The moon was high in heaven when the crouched
ox heard his pursuer’s approach. He had no idea
what was coming, but he rose to his feet and waited [Page
The bear plunged boldly into the
thicket, never dreaming of resistance. With a muffled
roar the ox charged upon him and bore him to the ground.
Then he wheeled, and charged again, and the astonished
bear was beaten at once. Gored by those keen horns he
had no stomach for further encounter, and would fain have
made his escape; but as he retreated the ox charged him
again, dashing him against a huge trunk. The bear dragged
himself up with difficulty, beyond his opponent’s
reach; and the ox turned scornfully back to his lair.
At the first yellow of dawn the
restless creature was again upon the march. He pulled
more mosses by the way, but he disliked them the more
intensely now because he thought he must be nearing his
ancient pastures with their tender grass and their streams.
The snow was deeper about him, and his hatred of the [Page
69] winter grew apace. He came out upon a hill-side,
partly open, whence the pine had years before been stripped,
and where now grew young birches thick together. Here
he browsed on the aromatic twigs, but for him it was harsh
As his hunger increased he thought
a little longingly of the camp he had deserted, but he
dreamed not of turning back. He would keep on till he
reached his pastures, and the glad herd of his comrades
licking salt out of the trough beside the accustomed pool.
He had some blind instinct as to his direction, and kept
his course to the south very strictly, the desire in his
heart continually leading him aright.
That afternoon he was attacked
by a panther, which dropped out of a tree and tore his
throat. He dashed under a low branch and scraped his assailant
off, then, wheeling about savagely, put the brute to flight
[Page 70] with his first mad charge.
The panther sprang back into his tree, and the ox continued
Soon his steps grew weaker, for
the panther’s cruel claws had gone deep into his
neck, and his path was marked with blood. Yet the dream
in his great wild eyes was not dimmed as his strength
ebbed away. His weakness he never noticed or heeded. The
desire that was urging him absorbed all other thoughts,—even,
almost, his sense of hunger. This, however, it was easy
for him to assuage, after a fashion, for the long, gray,
unnourishing mosses were abundant.
By and by his path led him into
the bed of a stream, whose waters could be heard faintly
tinkling on thin pebbles beneath their coverlet of ice
and snow. His slow steps conducted him far along this
open course. Soon after he had disappeared, around a curve
in the distance [Page 71] there came
the panther, following stealthily upon his crimsoned trail.
The crafty beast was waiting till the bleeding and the
hunger should do its work, and the object of its inexorable
pursuit should have no more heart left for resistance.
This was late in the afternoon.
The ox was now possessed with his desire, and would not
lie down for any rest. All night long, through the gleaming
silver of the open spaces, through the weird and checkered
gloom of the deep forest, heedless even of his hunger,
or perhaps driven the more by it as he thought of the
wild clover bunches and tender timothy awaiting him, the
solitary ox strove on. And all night, lagging far behind
in his unabating caution, the panther followed him.
At sunrise the worn and stumbling
animal came out upon the borders of the great lake, stretching
its leagues of unshadowed snow away to the [Page
72] south before him. There was his path, and
without hesitation he followed it. The wide and frost-bound
water here and there had been swept clear of its snows
by the wind, but for the most part its covering lay unruffled;
and the pale dove-colors, and saffrons, and rose-lilacs
of the dawn were sweetly reflected on its surface.
The doomed ox was now journeying
very slowly, and with the greatest labor. He staggered
at every step, and his beautiful head drooped almost to
the snow. When he had got a great way out upon the lake,
at the forest’s edge appeared the pursuing panther,
emerging cautiously from the coverts. The round tawny
face and malignant green eyes were raised to peer out
across the expanse. The laboring progress of the ox was
promptly marked. Dropping its nose again to the ensanguined
snow, the beast resumed his pursuit, first [Page
73] at a slow trot, and then at a long, elastic
gallop. By this time the ox’s quest was nearly done.
He plunged forward upon his knees, rose again with difficulty,
stood still, and looked around him. His eyes were clouding
over, but he saw, dimly, the tawny brute that was now
hard upon his steps. Back came a flash of the old courage,
and he turned, horns lowered, to face the attack. With
the last of his strength he charged, and the panther paused
irresolutely; but the wanderer’s knees gave way
beneath his own impetus, and his horns ploughed the snow.
With a deep bellowing groan he rolled over on his side,
and the longing, and the dream of the pleasant pastures,
faded from his eyes. With a great spring the panther was
upon him, and the eager teeth were at his throat,—but
he knew nought of it. No wild beast, but his own desire,
had conquered him [Page 74].
When the panther had slaked his
thirst for blood, he raised his head, and stood with his
fore-paws resting on the dead ox’s side, and gazed
all about him.
To one watching from the lake
shore, had there been any one to watch in that solitude,
the wild beast and his prey would have seemed but a speck
of black on the gleaming waste. At the same hour, league
upon league back in the depth of the ancient forest, a
lonely ox was lowing in his stanchions, restless, refusing
to eat, grieving for the absence of his yoke-fellow [Page