the bushy thicket the doe stood trembling over the young
one to which she had given birth in the early part of
the night. A light wind began to breathe just before dawn,
and in its languid throbbing the slim twigs and half unfolded
leaves from time to time rustled stiffly. Over the tree-tops,
and from the open spaces in the wood, could be seen the
first pallor of approaching day; and one pink thread,
a finger long, outlined a lonely fragment of the horizon.
But in the bushy thicket it was dark. The mother could
not see her little one, but kept feeling it anxiously
and lightly with her silken nose. She was waiting till
it should be strong enough to rise and nurse.
As the pink thread became scarlet
and crept along a wider arc, and the cold light spread,
there came from a far-off hillside the trailing echo of
a howl. It was the cry of a wolf hunting alone. It hardly
penetrated the depths of the bushy thicket, [Page
143] but the doe heard it, and faced about to
the point whence it came, and stamped angrily with slim,
sharp hoof. Her muzzle was held high, and her nostrils
expanded tensely, weighing and analysing every scent that
came on the chill air. But the dread cry was not repeated.
No smell of danger breathed in her retreat. The light
stole at last through the tangled branches. Then the little
one struggled to its feet, its spotted sides still heaving
under the stress of their new expansion; and the doe,
with lowered head and neck bent far around, watched it
with great eyes as it pressed its groping mouth against
her udder and learned to feed.
Presently the sides of branch
and stem and leaf facing the dawn took on a hue of pink.
A male song-sparrow, not yet feeling quite at home after
his journey from the South, sang hesitatingly from the
top of a bush. A pair of crows squawked gutturally and
confidentially in a tree-top, where they contemplated
nesting. Everything was wet, but it was a tonic and stimulating
wetness, like that of a vigorous young swimmer climbing
joyously out of a cool stream. The air had a sharp savour,
a smell of gummy aromatic buds, and sappy twigs, and pungent
young leaves. But the body of the [Page 144]
scent, which seemed like the very person of spring, was
the affluence of the fresh earth, broken and turned up
to the air by millions of tiny little thrusting blades.
Presently, when the light fell into the thicket with a
steeper slant, the doe stepped away, and left her little
one lying, hardly to be discerned, on a spotted heap of
dead leaves and moss. She stole noiselessly out of the
thicket. She was going to pasture on the sprouting grasses
of a neighbouring wild meadow, and to drink at the amber
stream that bordered it. She knew that, in her absence,
the little one’s instinct would teach him to keep
so still that no marauder’s eye would be likely
to detect him.
Two or three miles away from the
thicket, in the heart of the same deep-wooded wilderness,
stood a long, low-roofed log cabin, on the edge of a narrow
clearing. The yard was strewn with chips, some fresh cut
and some far gone in decay. A lean pig rooted among them,
turning up the black soil that lay beneath. An axe and
black iron pot stood on the battered step before the door.
In the window appeared the face of an old man, gazing
blankly out upon the harsh-featured scene.
The room where the old man sat
was roughly ceiled and walled with brown boards. The sunlight
[Page 145] streamed in the window, showing
the red stains of rust on the cracked kitchen stove, and
casting an oblong figure of brightness on the faded patchwork
quilt which covered the low bed in the corner. Two years
earlier John Hackett had been an erect and powerful woodsman,
strong in the task of carving himself a home out of the
unyielding wilderness. Then his wife had died of a swift
consumption. A few weeks later he had been struck down
with paralysis, from which he partly recovered to find
himself grown suddenly senile and a helpless invalid.
On his son, Silas, fell the double task of caring for
him and working the scant, half-subjugated farm.
Streaks and twines of yellowish
white were scattered thickly amid the ragged blackness
of the old man’s hair and beard. The strong, gaunt
lines of his features consorted strangely with the piteous
weakness that now trembled in his eyes and on his lower
lip. He sat in a big home-made easy chair, which Silas
had constructed for him by sawing a quarter-section out
of a hogshead. This rude frame the lad had lined laboriously
with straw and coarse sacking, and his father had taken
great delight in it.
A soiled quilt of blue, magenta,
and white squares wrapped the old man’s legs, as
he sat by the window [Page 146] waiting
for Silas to come in. His withered hands picked ceaselessly
at the quilt.
“I wish Si’d come!
I want my breakfast!” he kept repeating, now wistfully,
now fretfully. His gaze wandered from the window to the
stove, from the stove to the window, with slow regularity.
When the pig came rooting into his line of vision, it
vexed him, and he muttered peevishly to himself.
“That there hog’ll
hev the whole place rooted up. I wish Si’d come
and drive him out of that!”
At last Si came. The old man’s
face smoothed itself, and a loving light came into his
eyes as the lad adjusted the pillow at his head. The doings
of the hog were forgotten.
Si bustled about to get breakfast,
the old man’s eyes following every movement. The
tea was placed on the back of the stove to draw. A plate
of cold buckwheat cakes was brought out of the cupboard
and set on the rude table. A cup, with its handle broken
off, was half filled with molasses, for “sweetenin’,”
and placed beside the buckwheat cakes. Then Si cut some
thick slices of salt pork and began to fry them. They
“sizzled” cheerfully in the pan, and to Si,
with his vigorous morning appetite, the odour was rare
and fine. But the old man was troubled by it. His hands
picked faster at the quilt. [Page 147]
“Si,” said he, in
a quavering voice, that rose and fell without regard to
the force of the words, “I know ye can’t help
it, but my stomach’s turned agin salt pork! It’s
been a-comin’ on me this long while, that I couldn’t
eat it no more. An’ now it’s come. Pork, pork,
pork, — I can’t eat it no more, Si! But there,
I know you can’t help it. Ye’re a good boy,
a kind son, Si, and ye can’t help it!”
Si went on turning the slices
with an old fork till the quavering voice stopped. Then
he cried, cheerfully:
“Try an’ eat a leetle
mite of it, father. This ’ere tea’s fine,
an’ll sort of wash it down. An’ while I’m
a working in the back field this morning I’ll try
and think of somethin’ to kinder tickle your appetite!”
The old man shook his head gloomily.
“I can’t eat no more
fried pork, Si,” said he, “not if I die fur
it! I know ye can’t help it! An’ it don’t
matter, fur I won’t be here much longer anyways.
It’ll be a sight better fur you, Si, when I’m
gone — but I kinder don’t like to leave ye
here all alone. Seems like I kinder keep the house warm
fur ye till ye come home! I don’t like to think
of ye comin’ in an’ findin’ the house
all empty, Si! But it’s been powerful empty, with
jist you an’ [Page 148] me, sence
mother died. It useter be powerful good, Si, didn’t
it, comin’ home and findin’ her a-waitin’
fur us, an’ hot supper ready on the table, an’
the lamp a-shinin’ cheerful? An’ what suppers
she could cook! D’ye mind the pies, an’ the
stews, an’ the fried deer’s meat? I could
eat some of that fried deer’s meat now, Si. An’
I feel like it would make me better. It ain’t no
fault of yours, Si, but I can’t eat no more salt
Si lifted the half-browned slices
of yellow and crimson on to a plate, poured the gravy
over them, and set the plate on the table. Then he dragged
his father’s chair over to the table, helped him
to tea and buckwheat cakes and molasses, and sat down
to his own meal. The fried pork disappeared swiftly in
his strong young jaws, while his father nibbled reluctantly
at the cold and soggy cakes. Si cleared the table, fed
the fire, dragged his father back to the sunny window,
and then took down the long gun, with the powder-horn
and shot-pouch, which hung on pegs behind the door.
The old man noticed what he was
“Ain’t ye goin’
to work in the back field, Silas?” he asked, plaintively.
“No, father,” said
the lad, “I’m goin’ a-gunnin’.
Ef I don’t I some of that fried deer’s meat
fur [Page 149] your supper to-night,
like mother useter fix fur ye, my name ain’t Silas
He set a tin of fresh water on
the window ledge within reach of his father’s hand,
gave one tender touch to the pillow, and went out quickly.
The old man’s eyes strained after him till he disappeared
in the woods.
Silas walked with the noiseless
speed of the trained woodsman. His heart was big with
pity for his father, and heavy with a sense of approaching
loss. But instinctively his eyes took note of the new
life beginning to surge about him in myriad and tumultuous
activity. It surged, too, in the answering current of
his strong young blood; and from time to time he would
forget his heaviness utterly for a moment, thrilled through
and through by a snatch of bird song, or a glimpse of
rose-red maple buds, or a gleam of ineffable blueness
through the tree-tops, or a strange, clean-smelling wind
that made him stop and stretch his lungs to take it in.
Suddenly he came upon a fresh deer-track.
The sorcery of spring was forgotten.
His heaviness was forgotten. He was now just the hunter,
keen upon the trail of the quarry. Bending low, silent
as a shadow, peering like a panther, he slipped between
the great trunks, and paused in the fringe [Page
150] of downy catkined willows that marked the
meadow’s edge. On the other side of the meadow he
saw the form of a doe, drinking. He heard on the wet air
the sharp, chiming brawl of the brook, fretted by some
obstruction. He took a careful aim. The doe lifted her
head, satisfied, and ready to return to her young one
in the thicket. A shot rang out across the meadow, and
she sprang into the air, to fall back with her slender
muzzle in the stream, her forelegs bent beneath her, her
hind legs twitching convulsively for a moment before they
stiffened out upon the grass.
As Silas staggered homeward he
was no longer the keen hunter. He no longer heard the
summons of the spring morning. All he thought of was the
pleasure which would light up the wan and piteous face
of the old man in the chair by the window the savoury
smell of the frying deer’s meat would fill the dusky
air of the cabin. As he crossed the chip-strewn yard,
he saw his father’s face watching for him. He dropped
his burden at the door, and entered, panting and triumphant.
“I’ve got it fur ye,
father!” he cried, softly touching the tremulous
hands with his big brown fingers.
“I’m right glad, Si,”
quavered the old man, “but [Page 151]
I’m a sight gladder to see ye back! The hours is
long when ye’re not by me! Oh, but ye do mind me
of your mother, Si!”
Si took the carcass to the shed,
dressed it carefully, and then, after cutting several
thick slices from the haunch, stowed it in the little
black hole of a cellar, beneath the cabin floor. He put
some fair potatoes to boil, and proceeded to fry the juicy
steaks which the old man loved. The fragrance of them
filled the cabin. The old man’s eyes grew brighter,
and his hands less tremulous. When the smoking and sputtering
dish was set upon the table, Silas again drew up the big
chair, and the two made a joyous meal. The old man ate
as he had not eaten for months, and the generous warmth
of the fresh meat put new life into his withered veins.
His under lip grew firmer, his voice steadier, his brain
more clear. With a gladness that brought tears into his
eyes, Silas marked the change.
“Father,” he cried,
“ye look more like yerself than I’ve seen
ye these two years past!”
And the old man replied, with
a ring of returning hope in his voice:
“This ’ere deer’s
meat’s more’n any medicine. Ef I git well,
ever, seems to me it’ll be according to what I eat
or don’t’ eat, more’n anything else.”
“Whatever ye think’ll
help ye, that ye shall hev, father,” declared Silas,
“ef I have to crawl on hands an’ knees all
day an’ all night fur it!”
Meanwhile, in the heart of the
bushy thicket, on the spotted heap of leaves, lay a little
fawn, waiting for its mother. It was trembling now with
hunger and chill. But its instinct kept it silent all
day long. The afternoon light died out. Twilight brought
a bitter chill to the depths of the thicket. When night
came, hunger, cold, and fear at last overcame the little
one’s muteness. From time to time it gave a plaintive
cry, then waited, and listened for its mother’s
coming. The cry was feeble, but there were keen ears in
the forest to catch it. There came a stealthy crackling
in the bushes, and the fawn struggled to its feet with
a glad expectation. Two green
eyes, close to the ground, floated near. There was
a pounce, a scuffle — and then the soft, fierce
whispering sound of a wildcat satisfying itself with blood.