William J. Long
WOOD FOLK SERIES BOOK VI
In the original preface to "Northern Trails" the author stated that, with the solitary exception of the salmon's life in the sea after he vanishes from human sight, every incident recorded here is founded squarely upon personal and accurate observation of animal life and habits. I now repeat and emphasize that statement. Even when the observations are, for the reader's sake, put into the form of a connected story, there is not one trait or habit mentioned which is not true to animal life.
Such a statement ought to be enough, especially as I have repeatedly furnished evidence from reliable eye-witnesses to support every observation that the critics have challenged; but of late a strenuous public attack has been made upon the wolf story in this volume by two men claiming to speak with authority. They take radical exception to my record of a big white wolf killing a young caribou by snapping at the chest and heart. They declared this method of killing to be "a mathematical impossibility" and, by inference, a gross falsehood, utterly ruinous to true ideas of wolves and of natural history.
As no facts or proofs are given to support this charge, the first thing which a sensible man naturally does is to examine the fitness of the critics, in order to ascertain upon what knowledge or experience they base their dogmatic statements. One of these critics is a man who has no personal knowledge of wolves or caribou, who asserts that the animal has no possibility of reason or intelligence, and who has for years publicly denied the observations of other men which tend to disprove his ancient theory. It seems hardly worth while to argue about either wolves or men with such a naturalist, or to point out that Descartes' idea of animals, as purely mechanical or automatic creatures, has long since been laid aside and was never considered seriously by any man who had lived close to either wild or domestic animals. The second critic's knowledge of wolves consists almost entirely of what he has happened to see when chasing the creatures with dogs and hunters. Judging by his own nature books, with their barbaric records of slaughter, his experience of wild animals was gained while killing them. Such a man will undoubtedly discover some things about animals, how they fight and hide and escape their human enemies; but it hardly needs any argument to show that the man who goes into the woods with dogs and rifles and the desire to kill can never understand any living animal.
If you examine now any of the little books which he condemns, you will find a totally different story: no record of chasing and killing, but only of patient watching, of creeping near to wild animals and winning their confidence whenever it is possible, of following them day and night with no motive but the pure love of the thing and no object but to see exactly what each animal is doing and to understand, so far as a man can, the mystery of its dumb life.
Naturally a man in this attitude will see many traits of animal life which are hidden from the game-killer as well as from the scientific collector of skins. For instance, practically all wild animals are shy and timid and run away at man's approach. This is the general experience not only of hunters but of casual observers in the woods. Yet my own experience has many times shown me exactly the opposite trait: that when these same shy animals find me unexpectedly close at hand, more than half the time they show no fear whatever but only an eager curiosity to know who and what the creature is that sits so quietly near them. Sometimes, indeed, they seem almost to understand the mental attitude which has no thought of harm but only of sympathy and friendly interest. Once I was followed for hours by a young wolf which acted precisely like a lost dog, too timid to approach and too curious or lonely to run away. He even wagged his tail when I called to him softly. Had I shot him on sight, I would probably have foolishly believed that he intended to attack me when he came trotting along my trail. Three separate times I have touched a wild deer with my hand; once I touched a moose, once an eagle, once a bear; and a score of times at least I have had to frighten these big animals or get out of their way, when their curiosity brought them too near for perfect comfort.
So much for the personal element, for the general attitude and fitness of the observer and his critics. But the question is not chiefly a personal one; it is simply a matter of truth and observation, and the only honest or scientific method is, first, to go straight to nature and find out the facts; and then—lest your own eyesight or judgment be at fault—to consult other observers to find if, perchance, they also have seen the facts exemplified. This is not so easy as to dogmatize or to write animal stories; but it is the only safe method, and one which the nature writer as well as the scientist must follow if his work is to endure.
Following this good method, when the critics had proclaimed that my record of a big wolf killing a young caribou by biting into the chest and heart was an impossibility, I went straight to the big woods and, as soon as the law allowed, secured photographs and exact measurements of the first full-grown deer that crossed my trail. These photographs and measurements show beyond any possibility of honest doubt the following facts: (1) The lower chest of a deer, between and just behind the forelegs, is thin and wedge-shaped, exactly as I stated, and the point of the heart is well down in this narrow wedge. The distance through the chest and point of the heart from side to side was, in this case, exactly four and one-half inches. A man's hand, as shown in the photograph, can easily grasp the whole lower chest of a deer, placing thumb and forefinger over the heart on opposite sides. (2) The heart of a deer, and indeed of all ruminant animals, lies close against the chest walls and is easily reached and wounded. The chest cartilage, except in an old deer, is soft; the ribs are thin and easily crushed, and the spaces between the ribs are wide enough to admit a man's finger, to say nothing of a wolf's fang. In this case the point of the heart, as the deer lay on his side, was barely five eights of an inch from the surface. (3) Any dog or wolf, therefore, having a spread of jaws of four and one-half inches, and fangs three quarters of an inch long, could easily grasp the chest of this deer from beneath and reach the heart from either side. As the jaws of the big northern wolf spread from six to eight inches and his fangs are over an inch long, to kill a deer in this way would require but a slight effort. The chest of a caribou is anatomically exactly like that of other deer; only the caribou fawn and yearling of "Northern Trails" have smaller chests than the animals I measured.
So much for the facts and the possibilities. As for specific instances, years ago I found a deer just killed in the snow and beside him the fresh tracks of a big wolf, which had probably been frightened away at my approach. The deer was bitten just behind and beneath the left shoulder, and one long fang had entered the heart. There was not another scratch on the body, so far as I could discover. I thought this very exceptional at the time; but years afterwards my Indian guide in the interior of Newfoundland assured me that it was a common habit of killing caribou among the big white wolves with which he was familiar. To show that the peculiar habit is not confined to any one section, I quote here from the sworn statements of three other eyewitnesses. The first is superintendent of the Algonquin National Park, a man who has spent a lifetime in the North Woods and who has at present an excellent opportunity for observing wild-animal habits; the second is an educated Sioux Indian; the third is a geologist and mining engineer, now practicing his profession in Philadelphia.
ALGONQUIN PARK, ONTARIO, August 31, 1907.
This certifies that during the past thirty years spent in our Canadian wilds, I have seen several animals killed by our large timber wolves. In the winter of 1903 I saw two deer thus killed on Smoke Lake, Nipissing, Ontario. One deer was bitten through the front chest, the other just behind the foreleg. In each case there was no other wound on the body.
[Signed] G.W. BARTLETT, Superintendent.
I certify that I lived for twenty years in northern Nebraska and Dakota, in a region where timber wolves were abundant.... I saw one horse that had just been killed by a wolf. The front of his chest was torn open to the heart. There was no other wound on the body. I once watched a wolf kill a stray horse on the open prairie. He kept nipping at the hind legs, making the horse turn rapidly till he grew dizzy and fell down. Then the wolf snapped or bit into his chest.... The horse died in a few moments.
[Signed] STEPHEN JONES (HEPIDAN).
I certify that in November, 1900, while surveying in Wyoming, my party saw two wolves chase a two-year-old colt over a cliff some fifteen or sixteen feet high. I was on the spot with two others immediately after the incident occurred. The only injuries to the colt, aside from a broken leg, were deep lacerations made by wolf fangs in the chest behind the foreshoulder. In addition to this personal observation I have frequently heard from hunters, herders, and cowboys that big wolves frequently kill deer and other animals by snapping at the chest.
[Signed] F.S. PUSEY.
I have more evidence of the same kind from the region which I described in "Northern Trails"; but I give these three simply to show that what one man discovers as a surprising trait of some individual wolf or deer may be common enough when we open our eyes to see. The fact that wolves do not always or often kill in this way has nothing to do with the question. I know one small region where old wolves generally hunt in pairs and, so far as I can discover, one wolf always trips or throws the game, while the other invariably does the killing at the throat. In another region, including a part of Algonquin Park, in Ontario, I have the records of several deer killed by wolves in a single winter; and in every case the wolf slipped up behind his game and cut the femoral artery, or the inner side of the hind leg, and then drew back quietly, allowing the deer to bleed to death.
The point is, that because a thing is unusual or interesting it is not necessarily false, as my dogmatic critics would have you believe. I have studied animals, not as species but as individuals, and have recorded some things which other and better naturalists have overlooked; but I have sought for facts, first of all, as zealously as any biologist, and have recorded only what I have every reason to believe is true. That these facts are unusual means simply that we have at last found natural history to be interesting, just as the discovery of unusual men and incidents gives charm and meaning to the records of our humanity. There may be honest errors or mistakes in these books—and no one tries half so hard as the author to find and correct them—but meanwhile the fact remains that, though six volumes of the Wood Folk books have already been published, only three slight errors have thus far been pointed out, and these were promptly and gratefully acknowledged.
The simple truth is that these observations of mine, though they are all true, do not tell more than a small fraction of the interesting things that wild animals do continually in their native state, when they are not frightened by dogs and hunters, or when we are not blinded by our preconceived notions in watching them. I have no doubt that romancing is rife just now on the part of men who study animals in a library; but personally, with my note-books full of incidents which I have never yet recorded, I find the truth more interesting, and I cannot understand why a man should deliberately choose romance when he can have the greater joy of going into the wilderness to see with his own eyes and to understand with his own heart just how the animals live. One thing seems to me to be more and more certain: that we are only just beginning to understand wild animals, and it is chiefly our own barbarism, our lust of killing, our stupid stuffed specimens, and especially our prejudices which stand in the way of greater knowledge. Meanwhile the critic who asserts dogmatically what a wild animal will or will not do under certain conditions only proves how carelessly he has watched them and how little he has learned of Nature's infinite variety.
WILLIAM J. LONG
WAYEESES THE STRONG ONE
THE OLD WOLF'S CHALLENGE
WHERE THE TRAIL BEGINS
NOEL AND MOOKA
THE WAY OF THE WOLF
THE WHITE WOLF'S HUNTING
TRAILS THAT CROSS IN THE SNOW
GLOSSARY OF INDIAN NAMES
"A QUICK SNAP WHERE THE HEART LAY"
"THE TERRIBLE HOWL OF A GREAT WHITE WOLF"
"WATCHING HER GROWING YOUNGSTERS"
"AS THE MOTHER'S LONG JAWS CLOSED OVER THE SMALL OF THE BACK"
"THE SILENT, APPALLING DEATH-WATCH BEGAN"
WAYEESES THE STRONG ONE
The Old Wolf's Challenge
We were beating up the Straits to the Labrador when a great gale swooped down on us and drove us like a scared wild duck into a cleft in the mountains, where the breakers roared and the seals barked on the black rocks and the reefs bared their teeth on either side, like the long jaws of a wolf, to snap at us as we passed.
In our flight we had picked up a fisherman—snatched him out of his helpless punt as we luffed in a smother of spray, and dragged him aboard, like an enormous frog, at the end of the jib sheet—and it was he who now stood at the wheel of our little schooner and took her careening in through the tickle of Harbor Woe. There, in a desolate, rock-bound refuge on the Newfoundland coast, the Wild Duck swung to her anchor, veering nervously in the tide rip, tugging impatiently and clanking her chains as if eager to be out again in the turmoil. At sunset the gale blew itself out, and presently the moon wheeled full and clear over the dark mountains.
Noel, my big Indian, was curled up asleep in a caribou skin by the foremast; and the crew were all below asleep, every man glad in his heart to be once more safe in a snug harbor. All about us stretched the desolate wastes of sea and mountains, over which silence and darkness brooded, as over the first great chaos. Near at hand were the black rocks, eternally wet and smoking with the fog and gale; beyond towered the icebergs, pale, cold, glittering like spires of silver in the moonlight; far away, like a vague shadow, a handful of little gray houses clung like barnacles to the base of a great bare hill whose foot was in the sea and whose head wavered among the clouds of heaven. Not a light shone, not a sound or a sign of life came from these little houses, whose shells close daily at twilight over the life within, weary with the day's work. Only the dogs were restless—those strange creatures that shelter in our houses and share our bread, yet live in another world, a dumb, silent, lonely world shut out from ours by impassable barriers.
For hours these uncanny dogs had puzzled me, a score of vicious, hungry brutes that drew the sledges in winter and that picked up a vagabond living in the idle summer by hunting rabbits and raiding the fishermen's flakes and pig-pens and by catching flounders in the sea as the tide ebbed. Venture among them with fear in your heart and they would fly at your legs and throat like wild beasts; but twirl a big stick jauntily, or better still go quietly on your way without concern, and they would skulk aside and watch you hungrily out of the corners of their surly eyes, whose lids were red and bloodshot as a mastiff's. When the moon rose I noticed them flitting about like witches on the lonely shore, miles away from the hamlet; now sitting on their tails in a solemn circle; now howling all together as if demented, and anon listening intently in the vast silence, as if they heard or smelled or perhaps just felt the presence of some unknown thing that was hidden from human senses. And when I paddled ashore to watch them one ran swiftly past without heeding me, his nose outstretched, his eyes green as foxfire in the moonlight, while the others vanished like shadows among the black rocks, each intent on his unknown quest.
That is why I had come up from my warm bunk at midnight to sit alone on the taffrail, listening in the keen air to the howling that made me shiver, spite of myself, and watching in the vague moonlight to understand if possible what the brutes felt amid the primal silence and desolation.
A long interval of profound stillness had passed, and I could just make out the circle of dogs sitting on their tails on the open shore, when suddenly, faint and far away, an unearthly howl came rolling down the mountains, ooooooo-ow-wow-wow! a long wailing crescendo beginning softly, like a sound in a dream, and swelling into a roar that waked the sleeping echoes and set them jumping like startled goats from crag to crag. Instantly the huskies answered, every clog breaking out into indescribable frenzied wailings, as a collie responds in agony to certain chords of music that stir all the old wolf nature sleeping within him. For five minutes the uproar was appalling; then it ceased abruptly and the huskies ran wildly here and there among the rocks. From far away an answer, an echo perhaps of their wailing, or, it may be, the cry of the dogs of St. Margaret's, came ululating over the deep. Then silence again, vast and unnatural, settling over the gloomy land like a winding-sheet.
As the unknown howl trembled faintly in the air Noel, who had slept undisturbed through all the clamor of the dogs, stirred uneasily by the foremast. As it deepened and swelled into a roar that filled all the night he threw off the caribou skin and came aft to where I was watching alone. "Das Wayeeses. I know dat hwulf; he follow me one time, oh, long, long while ago," he whispered. And taking my marine glasses he stood beside me watching intently.
There was another long period of waiting; our eyes grew weary, filled as they were with shadows and uncertainties in the moonlight, and we turned our ears to the hills, waiting with strained, silent expectancy for the challenge. Suddenly Noel pointed upward and my eye caught something moving swiftly on the crest of the mountain. A shadow with the slinking trot of a wolf glided along the ridge between us and the moon. Just in front of us it stopped, leaped upon a big rock, turned a pointed nose up to the sky, sharp and clear as a fir top in the moonlight, and—ooooooo-ow-wow-wow! the terrible howl of a great white wolf tumbled down on the husky dogs and set them howling as if possessed. No doubt now of their queer actions which had puzzled me for hours past. The wild wolf had called and the tame wolves waked to answer. Before my dull ears had heard a rumor of it they were crazy with the excitement. Now every chord in their wild hearts was twanging its thrilling answer to the leader's summons, and my own heart awoke and thrilled as it never did before to the call of a wild beast.
For an hour or more the old wolf sat there, challenging his degenerate mates in every silence, calling the tame to be wild, the bound to be free again, and listening gravely to the wailing answer of the dogs, which refused with groanings, as if dragging themselves away from overmastering temptation. Then the shadow vanished from the big rock on the mountain, the huskies fled away wildly from the shore, and only the sob of the breakers broke the stillness.
That was my first (and Noel's last) shadowy glimpse of Wayeeses, the huge white wolf which I had come a thousand miles over land and sea to study. All over the Long Range of the northern peninsula I followed him, guided sometimes by a rumor—a hunter's story or a postman's fright, caught far inland in winter and huddling close by his fire with his dogs through the long winter night—and again by a track on the shore of some lonely, unnamed pond, or the sight of a herd of caribou flying wildly from some unseen danger. Here is the white wolf's story, learned partly from much watching and following his tracks alone, but more from Noel the Indian hunter, in endless tramps over the hills and caribou marshes and in long quiet talks in the firelight beside the salmon rivers.
Where the Trail Begins
From a cave in the rocks, on the unnamed mountains that tower over Harbor Weal on the north and east, a huge mother wolf appeared, stealthily, as all wolves come out of their dens. A pair of green eyes glowed steadily like coals deep within the dark entrance; a massive gray head rested unseen against the lichens of a gray rock; then the whole gaunt body glided like a passing cloud shadow into the June sunshine and was lost in a cleft of the rocks.
There, in the deep shadow where no eye might notice the movement, the old wolf shook off the delicious sleepiness that still lingered in all her big muscles. First she spread her slender fore paws, working the toes till they were all wide-awake, and bent her body at the shoulders till her deep chest touched the earth. Next a hind leg stretched out straight and tense as a bar, and was taken back again in nervous little jerks. At the same time she yawned mightily, wrinkling her nose and showing her red gums with the black fringes and the long white fangs that could reach a deer's heart in a single snap. Then she leaped upon a great rock and sat up straight, with her bushy tail curled close about her fore paws, a savage, powerful, noble-looking beast, peering down gravely over the green mountains to the shining sea.
A moment before the hillside had appeared utterly lifeless, so still and rugged and desolate that one must notice and welcome the stir of a mouse or ground squirrel in the moss, speaking of life that is glad and free and vigorous even in the deepest solitudes; yet now, so quietly did the old wolf appear, so perfectly did her rough gray coat blend with the rough gray rocks, that the hillside seemed just as tenantless as before. A stray wind seemed to move the mosses, that was all. Only where the mountains once slept now they seemed wide-awake. Keen eyes saw every moving thing, from the bees in the bluebells to the slow fishing-boats far out at sea; sharp ears that were cocked like a collie's heard every chirp and trill and rustle, and a nose that understood everything was holding up every vagrant breeze and searching it for its message. For the cubs were coming out for the first time to play in the big world, and no wild mother ever lets that happen without first taking infinite precautions that her little ones be not molested nor made afraid.
A faint breeze from the west strayed over the mountains and instantly the old wolf turned her sensitive nose to question it. There on her right, and just across a deep ravine where a torrent went leaping down to the sea in hundred-foot jumps, a great stag caribou was standing, still as a stone, on a lofty pinnacle, looking down over the marvelous panorama spread wide beneath his feet. Every day Megaleep came there to look, and the old wolf in her daily hunts often crossed the deep path which he had worn through the moss from the wide table-lands over the ridge to this sightly place where he could look down curiously at the comings and goings of men on the sea. But at this season when small game was abundant—and indeed at all seasons when not hunger-driven—the wolf was peaceable and the caribou were not molested. Indeed the big stag knew well where the old wolf denned. Every east wind brought her message to his nostrils; but secure in his own strength and in the general peace which prevails in the summer-time among all large animals of the north, he came daily to look down on the harbor and wag his ears at the fishing-boats, which he could never understand.
Strange neighbors these, the grim, savage mother wolf of the mountains, hiding her young in dens of the rocks, and the wary, magnificent wanderer of the broad caribou barrens; but they understood each other, and neither wolf nor caribou had any fear or hostile intent one for the other. And this is not strange at all, as might be supposed by those who think animals are governed by fear on one hand and savage cruelty on the other, but is one of the commonest things to be found by those who follow faithfully the northern trails.
Wayeeses had chosen her den well, on the edge of the untrodden solitudes—sixty miles as the crow flies—that stretch northward from Harbor Weal to Harbor Woe. It was just under the ridge, in a sunny hollow among the rocks, on the southern slope of the great mountains. The earliest sunshine found the place and warmed it, bringing forth the bluebells for a carpet, while in every dark hollow the snow lingered all summer long, making dazzling white patches on the mountain; and under the high waterfalls, that looked from the harbor like bits of silver ribbon stretched over the green woods, the ice clung to the rocks in fantastic knobs and gargoyles, making cold, deep pools for the trout to play in. So it was both cool and warm there, and whatever the weather the gaunt old mother wolf could always find just the right spot to sleep away the afternoon. Best of all it was perfectly safe; for though from the door of her den she could look down on the old Indian's cabin, like a pebble on the shore, so steep were the billowing hills and so impassable the ravines that no human foot ever trod the place, not even in autumn when the fishermen left their boats at anchor in Harbor Weal and camped inland on the paths of the big caribou herds.
Whether or not the father wolf ever knew where his cubs were hidden only he himself could tell. He was an enormous brute, powerful and cunning beyond measure, that haunted the lonely thickets and ponds bordering the great caribou barrens over the ridge, and that kept a silent watch, within howling distance, over the den which he never saw. Sometimes the mother wolf met him on her wanderings and they hunted together. Often he brought the game he had caught, a fox or a young goose; and sometimes when she had hunted in vain he met her, as if he had understood her need from a distance, and led her to where he had buried two or three of the rabbits that swarmed in the thickets. But spite of the attention and the indifferent watch which he kept, he never ventured near the den, which he could have found easily enough by following the mother's track. The old she-wolf would have flown at his throat like a fury had he showed his head over the top of the ridge.
The reason for this was simple enough to the savage old mother, though there are some things about it that men do not yet understand. Wolves, like cats and foxes, and indeed like most wild male animals, have an atrocious way of killing their own young when they find them unprotected; so the mother animal searches out a den by herself and rarely allows the male to come near it. Spite of this beastly habit it must be said honestly of the old he-wolf that he shows a marvelous gentleness towards his mate. He runs at the slightest show of teeth from a mother wolf half his size, and will stand meekly a snap of the jaws or a cruel gash of the terrible fangs in his flank without defending himself. Even our hounds seem to have inherited something of this primitive wolf trait, for there are seasons when, unless urged on by men, they will not trouble a mother wolf or fox. Many times, in the early spring, when foxes are mating, and again later when they are heavy with young and incapable of a hard run, I have caught my hounds trotting meekly after a mother fox, sniffing her trail indifferently and sitting down with heads turned aside when she stops for a moment to watch and yap at them disdainfully. And when you call them they come shamefaced; though in winter-time, when running the same fox to death, they pay no more heed to your call than to the crows clamoring over them. But we must return to Wayeeses, sitting over her den on a great gray rock, trying every breeze, searching every movement, harking to every chirp and rustle before bringing her cubs out into the world.
Satisfied at last with her silent investigation she turned her head towards the den. There was no sound, only one of those silent, unknown communications that pass between animals. Instantly there was a scratching, scurrying, whining, and three cubs tumbled out of the dark hole in the rocks, with fuzzy yellow fur and bright eyes and sharp ears and noses, like collies, all blinking and wondering and suddenly silent at the big bright world which they had never seen before, so different from the dark den under the rocks.
Indeed it was a marvelous world that the little cubs looked upon when they came out to blink and wonder in the June sunshine. Contrasts everywhere, that made the world seem too big for one little glance to comprehend it all. Here the sunlight streamed and danced and quivered on the warm rocks; there deep purple cloud shadows rested for hours, as if asleep, or swept over the mountain side in an endless game of fox-and-geese with the sunbeams. Here the birds trilled, the bees hummed in the bluebells, the brook roared and sang on its way to the sea; while over all the harmony of the world brooded a silence too great to be disturbed. Sunlight and shadow, snow and ice, gloomy ravines and dazzling mountain tops, mayflowers and singing birds and rustling winds filled all the earth with color and movement and melody. From under their very feet great masses of rock, tossed and tumbled as by a giant's play, stretched downwards to where the green woods began and rolled in vast billows to the harbor, which shone and sparkled in the sun, yet seemed no bigger than their mother's paw. Fishing-boats with shining sails hovered over it, like dragon-flies, going and coming from the little houses that sheltered together under the opposite mountain, like a cluster of gray toadstools by a towering pine stump. Most wonderful, most interesting of all was the little gray hut on the shore, almost under their feet, where little Noel and the Indian children played with the tide like fiddler crabs, or pushed bravely out to meet the fishermen in a bobbing nutshell. For wolf cubs are like collies in this, that they seem to have a natural interest, perhaps a natural kinship with man, and next to their own kind nothing arouses their interest like a group of children playing.
So the little cubs took their first glimpse of the big world, of mountains and sea and sunshine, and children playing on the shore, and the world was altogether too wonderful for little heads to comprehend. Nevertheless one plain impression remained, the same that you see in the ears and nose and stumbling feet and wagging tail of every puppy-dog you meet on the streets, that this bright world is a famous place, just made a-purpose for little ones to play in. Sitting on their tails in a solemn row the wolf cubs bent their heads and pointed their noses gravely at the sea. There it was, all silver and blue and boundless, with tiny white sails dancing over it, winking and flashing like entangled bits of sunshine; and since the eyes of a cub, like those of a little child, cannot judge distances, one stretched a paw at the nearest sail, miles away, to turn it over and make it go the other way. They turned up their heads sidewise and blinked at the sky, all blue and calm and infinite, with white clouds sailing over it like swans on a limpid lake; and one stood up on his hind legs and reached up both paws, like a kitten, to pull down a cloud to play with. Then the wind stirred a feather near them, the white feather of a ptarmigan which they had eaten yesterday, and forgetting the big world and the sail and the cloud, the cubs took to playing with the feather, chasing and worrying and tumbling over each other, while the gaunt old mother wolf looked down from her rock and watched and was satisfied.
Noel and Mooka
Down on the shore, that same bright June afternoon, little Noel and his sister Mooka were going on wonderful sledge journeys, meeting wolves and polar bears and caribou and all sorts of adventures, more wonderful by far than any that ever came to imagination astride of a rocking-horse. They had a rare team of dogs, Caesar and Wolf and Grouch and the rest,—five or six uneasy crabs which they had caught and harnessed to a tiny sledge made from a curved root and a shingle tied together with a bit of sea-kelp. And when the crabs scurried away over the hard sand, waving their claws wildly, Noel and Mooka would caper alongside, cracking a little whip and crying "Hi, hi, Caesar! Hiya, Wolf! Hi, hiya, hiya, yeeee!"—and then shrieking with laughter as the sledge overturned and the crabs took to fighting and scratching in the tangled harness, just like the husky dogs in winter. Mooka was trying to untangle them, dancing about to keep her bare toes and fingers away from the nipping claws, when she jumped up with a yell, the biggest crab hanging to the end of her finger.
"Owee! oweeeee! Caesar bit me," she wailed. Then she stopped, with finger in her mouth, while Caesar scrambled headlong into the tide; for Noel was standing on the beach pointing at a brown sail far down in the deep bay, where Southeast Brook came singing from the green wilderness.
"Ohe, Mooka! there's father and Old Tomah come back from salmon fishing."
"Let's go meet um, little brother," said Mooka, her black eyes dancing; and in a wink crabs and sledges were forgotten. The old punt was off in a shake, the tattered sail up, skipper Noel lounging in the stern, like an old salt, with the steering oar, while the crew, forgetting her nipped finger, tugged valiantly at the main-sheet.
They were scooting away gloriously, rising and pounding the waves, when Mooka, who did not have to steer and whose restless glance was roving over every bay and hillside, jumped up, her eyes round as lynx's.
"Look, Noel, look! There's Megaleep again watching us." And Noel, following her finger, saw far up on the mountain a stag caribou, small and fine and clear as a cameo against the blue sky, where they had so often noticed him with wonder watching them as they came shouting home with the tide. Instantly Noel threw himself against the steering oar; the punt came up floundering and shaking in the wind.
"Come on, little sister; we can go up Fox Brook. Tomah showed me trail." And forgetting the salmon, as they had a moment before forgotten the crabs and sledges, these two children of the wild, following every breeze and bird call and blossoming bluebell and shining star alike, tumbled ashore and went hurrying up the brook, splashing through the shallows, darting like kingfishers over the points, and jumping like wild goats from rock to rock. In an hour they were far up the mountain, lying side by side on a great flat rock, looking across a deep impassable valley and over two rounded hilltops, where the scrub spruces looked like pins on a cushion, to the bare, rugged hillside where Megaleep stood out like a watchman against the blue sky.
"Does he see us, little brother?" whispered Mooka, quivering with excitement and panting from the rapid climb.
"See us? sartin, little sister; but that only make him want peek um some more," said the little hunter. And raised carelessly on his elbows he was telling Mooka how Megaleep the caribou trusted only his nose, and how he watched and played peekaboo with anything which he could not smell, and how in a snowstorm—
Noel was off now like a brook, babbling a deal of caribou lore which he had learned from Old Tomah the hunter, when Mooka, whose restless black eyes were always wandering, seized his arm.
"Hush, brother, and look, oh, look! there on the big rock!"
Noel's eyes had already caught the Indian trick of seeing only what they look for, and so of separating an animal instantly from his surroundings, however well he hides. That is why the whole hillside seemed suddenly to vanish, spruces and harebells, snow-fields and drifting white clouds all grouping themselves, like the unnoticed frame of a picture, around a great gray rock with a huge shaggy she-wolf keeping watch over it, silent, alert, motionless.
Something stirred in the shadow of the old wolf's watch-tower, tossing and eddying and growing suddenly quiet, as if the wind were playing among dead oak leaves. The keen young eyes saw it instantly, dilating with surprise and excitement. The next instant they had clutched each other's arms.
"Ooooo!" from Mooka.
"Cubs; keep still!" from Noel.
And shrinking close to the rock under a friendly dwarf spruce they lay still as two rabbits, watching with round eyes, eager but unafraid, the antics of three brown wolf cubs that were chasing the flies and tumbling over some invisible plaything before the door of the den.
Hardly had they made the discovery when the old wolf slipped down from the rock and stood for an instant over her little ones. Why the play should stop now, while the breeze was still their comrade and the sunshine was brighter than ever, or why they should steal away into the dark den more silently than they had come, none of the cubs could tell. They felt the order and they obeyed instantly—and that is always the wonder of watching little wild things at play. The old mother wolf vanished among the rocks and appeared again higher on the ridge, turning her head uneasily to try every breeze and rustle and moving shadow. Then she went questing into the spruce woods, feeling but not understanding some subtle excitement in the air that was not there before, and only the two Indian children were left keeping watch over the great wild hillside.
For over an hour they lay there expectantly, but nothing stirred near the den; then they too slipped away, silently as the little wild things, and made their slow way down the brook, hand in hand in the deepening shadows. Scarcely had they gone when the bushes stirred and the old she-wolf, that had been ranging every ridge and valley since she disappeared at the unknown alarm, glided over the spot where a moment before Mooka and Noel had been watching. Swiftly, silently she followed their steps; found the old trails coming up and the fresh trails returning; then, sure at last that no danger threatened her own little ones, she loped away up the hill and over the topmost ridge to the caribou barrens and the thickets where young rabbits were already stirring about in the twilight.
That night, in the cabin under the cliffs, Old Tomah had to rehearse again all the wolf lore learned in sixty years of hunting: how, fortunately for the deer, these enormous wolves had never been abundant and were now very rare, a few having been shot, and more poisoned in the starving times, and the rest having vanished, mysteriously as wolves do, for some unknown reason. Bears, which are easily trapped and shot and whose skins are worth each a month's wages to the fishermen, still hold their own and even increase on the great island; while the wolves, once more numerous, are slowly vanishing, though they are never hunted, and not even Old Tomah himself could set a trap cunningly enough to catch one. The old hunter told, while Mooka and Noel held their breaths and drew closer to the light, how once, when he made his camp alone under a cliff on the lake shore, seven huge wolves, white as the snow, came racing swift and silent over the ice straight at the fire which he had barely time to kindle; how he shot two, and the others, seizing the fish he had just caught through the ice for his own supper, vanished over the bank; and he could not say even now whether they meant him harm or no. Again, as he talked and the grim old face lighted up at the memory, they saw him crouched with his sledge-dogs by a blazing fire all the long winter night, and around him in the darkness blazing points of light, the eyes of wolves flashing back the firelight, and gaunt white forms flitting about like shadows, drawing nearer and nearer with ever-growing boldness till they seized his largest dog—though the brute lay so near the fire that his hair singed—and whisked it away with an appalling outcry. And still again, when Tomah was lost three days in the interior, they saw him wandering with his pack over endless barrens and through gloomy spruce woods, and near him all the time a young wolf that followed his steps quietly, with half-friendly interest, and came no nearer day or night.
All these things and many more the children heard from Old Tomah, and among all his hunting experiences and the stories and legends which he told them there was not one to make them afraid. For the horrible story of Red Riding Hood is not known among the Indians, who know well how untrue the tale is to wolf nature, and how foolish it is to frighten children with false stories of wolves and bears, misrepresenting them as savage and bloodthirsty brutes, when in truth they are but shy, peace-loving animals, whose only motive toward man, except when crazed by wounds or hunger, is one of childish curiosity. All these ferocious animal stories have their origin in other centuries and in distant lands, where they may possibly have been true, but more probably are just as false to animal nature; for they seem to reflect not the shy animal that men glimpsed in the woods, but rather the boastings of some hunter, who always magnifies his own praise by increasing the ferocity of the game he has killed, or else the pure imagination of some ancient nurse who tried to increase her scant authority by frightening her children with terrible tales. Here certainly the Indian attitude of kinship, gained by long centuries of living near to the animals and watching them closely, comes nearer to the truth of things. That is why little Mooka and Noel could listen for hours to Old Tomah's animal stories and then go away to bed and happy dreams, longing for the light so that they might be off again to watch at the wolf's den.
One thing only disturbed them for a moment. Even these children had wolf memories and vied with Old Tomah in eagerness of telling. They remembered one fearful winter, years ago, when most of the families of the little fishing village on the East Harbor had moved far inland to sheltered cabins in the deep woods to escape the cold and the fearful blizzards of the coast. One still moonlit night, when the snow lay deep and the cold was intense and all the trees were cracking like pistols in the frost, a mournful howling rose all around their little cabin. Light footfalls sounded on the crust; there were scratchings at the very door and hoarse breathings at every crack; while the dogs, with hackles up straight and stiff on their necks, fled howling under beds and tables. And when Mooka and Noel went fearfully with their mother to the little window—for the men were far away on a caribou hunt—there were gaunt white wolves, five or six of them, flitting restlessly about in the moonlight, scratching at the cracks and even raising themselves on their hind legs to look in at the little windows.
Mooka shivered a bit when she remembered the uncanny scene, and felt again the strong pressure of her mother's arms holding her close; but Old Tomah brushed away her fears with a smile and a word, as he had always done when, as little children, they had showed fear at the thunder or the gale or the cry of a wild beast in the night, till they had grown to look upon all Nature's phenomena as hiding a smile as kindly as that of Old Tomah himself, who had a face wrinkled and terribly grim, to be sure, but who could smile and tell a story so that every child trusted him. The wolves were hungry, starving hungry, he said, and wanted only a dog, or one of the pigs. And Mooka remembered with a bright laugh the two unruly pigs that had been taken inland as a hostage to famine, and that must be carefully guarded from the teeth of hungry prowlers, for they would soon be needed to keep the children themselves from starving. Every night at early sunset, when the trees began to groan and the keen winds from the mountains came whispering through the woods, the two pigs were taken into the snug kitchen, where with the dogs they slept so close to the stove that she could always smell pork a-frying. Not a husky dog there but would have killed and eaten one of these little pigs if he could have caught him around the corner of the house after nightfall, though you would never have suspected it if you had seen them so close together, keeping each other warm after the fire went out. And besides the dogs and the wolves there were lynxes—big, round-headed, savage-looking creatures—that came prowling out of the deep woods every night, hungry for a taste of the little pigs; and now and then an enormous polar bear, that had landed from an iceberg, would shuffle swiftly and fearlessly among the handful of little cabins, leaving his great footprints in every yard and tearing to pieces, as if made of straw, the heavy log pens to which some of the fishermen had foolishly confided their pigs or sheep. He even entered the woodsheds and rummaged about after a stray fishbone or an old sealskin boot, making a great rowdydow in the still night; and only the smell of man, or the report of an old gun fired at him by some brave woman out of the half-open window, kept him from pushing his enormous weight against the very doors of the cabins.
Thinking of all these things, Mooka forgot her fears of the white wolves, remembering with a kind of sympathy how hungry all these shy prowlers must be to leave their own haunts, whence the rabbits and seals had vanished, and venture boldly into the yards of men. As for Noel, he remembered with regret that he was too small at the time to use the long bow which he now carried on his rabbit and goose hunts; and as he took it from the wall, thrumming its chord of caribou sinew and fingering the sharp edge of a long arrow, he was hoping for just such another winter, longing to try his skill and strength on some of these midnight prowlers—a lynx, perhaps, not to begin too largely on a polar bear. So there was no fear at all, but only an eager wonder, when they followed up the brook next day to watch at the wolf's den. And even when Noel found a track, a light oval track, larger but more slender than a dog's, in some moist sand close beside their own footprints and evidently following them, they remembered only the young wolf that had followed Tomah and pressed on the more eagerly.
Day after day they returned to their watch-tower on the flat rock, under the dwarf spruce at the head of the brook, and lying there side by side they watched the play of the young wolf cubs. Every day they grew more interested as the spirit of play entered into themselves, understanding the gladness of the wild rough-and-tumble when one of the cubs lay in wait for another and leaped upon him from ambush; understanding also something of the feeling of the gaunt old she-wolf as she looked down gravely from her gray rock watching her growing youngsters. Once they brought an old spyglass which they had borrowed from a fisherman, and through its sea-dimmed lenses they made out that one of the cubs was larger than the other two, with a droop at the tip of his right ear, like a pointed leaf that has been creased sharply between the fingers. Mooka claimed that wolf instantly for her own, as if they were watching the husky puppies, and by his broken ear said she should know him again when he grew to be a big wolf, if he should ever follow her, as his father perhaps had followed Old Tomah; but Noel, thinking of his bow and his long arrow with the sharp point, thought of the winter night long ago and hoped that his two wolves would know enough to keep away when the pack came again, for he did not see any way to recognize and spare them, especially in the moonlight. So they lay there making plans and dreaming dreams, gentle or savage, for the little cubs that played with the feathers and grasshoppers and cloud shadows, all unconscious that any eyes but their mother's saw or cared for their wild, free playing.
Something bothered the old she-wolf in these days of watching. The den was still secure, for no human foot had crossed the deep ravine or ventured nearer than the opposite hilltop. Her nose told her that unmistakably; but still she was uneasy, and whenever the cubs were playing she felt, without knowing why, that she was being watched. When she trailed over all the ridges in the twilight, seeking to know if enemies had been near, she found always the scent of two human beings on a flat rock under the dwarf spruces; and there were always the two trails coming up and going down the brook. She followed once close behind the two children, seeing them plainly all the way, till they came in sight of the little cabin under the cliff, and from the door her enemy man came out to meet them. For these two little ones, whose trail she knew, the old she-wolf, like most mother animals in the presence of children, felt no fear nor enmity whatever. But they watched her den and her own little ones, that was sure enough; and why should any one watch a den except to enter some time and destroy? That is a question which no mother wolf could ever answer; for the wild animals, unlike dogs and blue jays and men, mind strictly their own business and pay no attention to other animals. They hate also to be watched; for the thought of watching always suggests to their minds that which follows,—the hunt, the rush, the wild break-away, and the run for life. Had she not herself watched a hundred times at the rabbit's form, the fox's runway, the deer path, the wild-goose nest? What could she expect for her own little ones, therefore, when the man cubs, beings of larger reach and unknown power, came daily to watch at her den?
All this unanswered puzzle must have passed through the old wolf's head as she trotted up the brook away from the Indian cabin in the twilight. When in doubt trust your fears,—that is wolf wisdom in a nutshell; and that marks the difference between a wolf and a caribou, for instance, which in doubt trusts his nose or his curiosity. So the old wolf took counsel of her fears for her little ones, and that night carried them one by one in her mouth, as a cat carries her kittens, miles away over rocks and ravines and spruce thickets, to another den where no human eye ever looked upon their play.
"Shall we see them again, little brother?" said Mooka wistfully, when they had climbed to their watch-tower for the third time and seen nothing. And Noel made confident answer:
"Oh, yes, we see um again, lil sister. Wayeeses got um wandering foot; go 'way off long ways; bimeby come back on same trail. He jus' like Injun, like um old camp best. Oh, yes, sartin we see um again." But Noel's eyes looked far away as he spoke, and in his heart he was thinking of his bow and his long arrow with the sharp point, and of a moonlit night with white shapes flitting noiselessly over the snow and scratching at the door of the little cabin.
The Way of The Wolf
A new experience had come to the little wolf cubs in a single night,—the experience of fear. For weeks they had lain hid in the dark den, or played fearlessly in the bright sunshine, guarded and kept at every moment, day or night, by the gaunt old mother wolf that was their only law, their only companion. At times they lay for hours hungry and restless, longing to go out into the bright world, yet obeying a stronger will than their own, even at a distance. For, once a wild mother in her own dumb way has bidden her little ones lie still, they rarely stir from the spot, refusing even to be dragged away from the nest or den, knowing well the punishment in store if she return and find them absent. Moreover, it is useless to dissimulate, to go out and play and then to be sleeping innocently with the cubs when the old wolf's shadow darkens the entrance. No concealment is possible from wolf's nose; before she enters the den the mother knows perfectly all that has happened since she went away. So the days glided by peacefully between sleep and play, the cubs trusting absolutely in the strength and tenderness that watched over them, the mother building the cubs' future on the foundation of the two instincts which are strong in every wild creature born into a world of danger,—the instinct to lie still and let nature's coloring hide all defenseless little ones, and the instinct to obey instantly a stronger will than their own.
There was no fear as yet, only instinctive wariness; for fear comes largely from others' example, from alarms and excitement and cries of danger, which only the grown animals understand. The old wolf had been undisturbed; no dog or hunter had chased her; no trap or pitfall had entangled her swift feet. Moreover, she had chosen her den well, where no man had ever stood, and where only the eyes of two children had seen her at a distance. So the little ones grew and played in the sunshine, and had yet to learn what fear meant.
One day at dusk the mother entered swiftly and, without giving them food as she had always done, seized a cub and disappeared. For the little one, which had never before ventured beyond sight of the den, it was a long journey indeed that followed,—miles and miles beside roaring brooks and mist-filled ravines, through gloomy woods where no light entered, and over bare ridges where the big stars sparkled just over his ears as he hung, limp as a rabbit skin, from his mother's great jaws. An owl hooted dismally, whoo-hooo! and though he knew the sound well in his peaceful nights, it brought now a certain shiver. The wind went sniffing suspiciously among the spruce branches; a startled bird chirped and whirred away out of their path; the brook roared among the rocks; a big salmon jumped and tumbled back with resounding splash, and jumped again as if the otter were after him. There was a sudden sharp cry, the first and last voice of a hare when the weasel rises up in front of him; then silence, and the fitful rustle of his mother's pads moving steadily, swiftly over dry leaves. And all these sounds of the wilderness night spoke to the little cub of some new thing, of swift feet that follow and of something unknown and terrible that waits for all unwary wild things. So fear was born.
The long journey ended at last before a dark hole in the hillside; and the smell of his mother, the only familiar thing in his first strange pilgrimage, greeted the cub from the rocks on either side as he passed in out of the starlight. He was dropped without a sound in a larger den, on some fresh-gathered leaves and dead grass, and lay there all alone, very still, with the new feeling trembling all over him. A long hour passed; a second cub was laid beside him, and the mother vanished as before; another hour, and the wolf cubs were all together again with the mother feeding them. Nor did any of them know where they were, nor why they had come, nor the long, long way that led back to where the trail began.
Next day when they were called out to play they saw a different and more gloomy landscape, a chaos of granite rocks, a forest of evergreen, the white plunge and rolling mist of a mountain torrent; but no silver sea with fishing-boats drifting over it, like clouds in the sea over their heads, and no gray hut with children running about like ants on the distant shore. And as they played they began for the first time to imitate the old mother keeping guard over them, sitting up often to watch and listen and sift the winds, trying to understand what fear was, and why they had been taken away from the sunny hillside where the world was so much bigger and brighter than here. But home is where mother is,—that, fortunately, is also true of the little Wood Folk, who understand it in their own savage way for a season,—and in their wonder at their new surroundings the memory of the old home gradually faded away. They never knew with what endless care the new den had been chosen; how the mother, in the days when she knew she was watched, had searched it out and watched over it and put her nose to every ridge and ravine and brook-side, day after day, till she was sure that no foot save that of the wild things had touched the soil within miles of the place. They felt only a greater wildness, a deeper solitude; and they never forgot, though they were unmolested, the strange feeling that was born in them on that first terrifying night journey in their mother's jaws.
* * * * *
Soon the food that was brought home at dawn—the rabbit or grouse, or the bunch of rats hanging by their tails, with which the mother supplemented their midday drink of milk—became altogether too scant to satisfy their clamorous appetites; and in the bright afternoons and the long summer twilights the mother led them forth on short journeys to hunt for themselves. No big caribou or cunning fox cub, as one might suppose, but "rats and mice and such small deer" were the limit of the mother's ambition for her little ones. They began on stupid grubs that one could find asleep under stones and roots, and then on beetles that scrambled away briskly at the first alarm, and then, when the sunshine was brightest, on grasshoppers,—lively, wary fellows that zipped and buzzed away just when you were sure you had them, and that generally landed from an astounding jump facing in a different direction, like a flea, so as to be ready for your next move.
It was astonishing how quickly the cubs learned that game is not to be picked up tamely, like huckleberries, and changed their style of hunting,—creeping, instead of trotting openly so that even a porcupine must notice them, hiding behind rocks and bushes and tufts of grass till the precise moment came, and then leaping with the swoop of a goshawk on a ptarmigan. A wolf that cannot catch a grasshopper has no business hunting rabbits—this seemed to be the unconscious motive that led the old mother, every sunny afternoon, to ignore the thickets where game was hiding plentifully and take her cubs to the dry, sunny plains on the edge of the caribou barrens. There for hours at a time they hunted elusive grasshoppers, rushing helter-skelter over the dry moss, leaping up to strike at the flying game with their paws like a kitten, or snapping wildly to catch it in their mouths and coming down with a back-breaking wriggle to keep themselves from tumbling over on their heads. Then on again, with a droll expression and noses sharpened like exclamation points, to find another grasshopper.
Small business indeed and often ludicrous, this playing at grasshopper hunting. So it seems to us; so also, perhaps, to the wise old mother, which knew all the ways of game, from crickets to caribou and from ground sparrows to wild geese. But play is the first great educator,—that is as true of animals as of men,—and to the cubs their rough helter-skelter after hoppers was as exciting as a stag hunt to the pack, as full of surprises as the wild chase through the soft snow after a litter of lynx kittens. And though they knew it not, they were learning things every hour of the sunny, playful afternoons that they would remember and find useful all the days of their life.
So the funny little hunt went on, the mother watching gravely under a bush where she was inconspicuous, and the cubs, full of zest and inexperience, missing the flying tidbits more often than they swallowed them, until they learned at last to locate all game accurately before chasing or alarming it; and that is the rule, learned from hunting grasshoppers, which a wolf follows ever afterward. Even after they knew just where the grasshopper was hiding, watching them after a jump, and leaped upon him swiftly from a distance, he often got away when they lifted their paws to eat him. For the grasshopper was not dead under the light paw, as they supposed, but only pressed into the moss waiting for his chance to jump. Then the cubs learned another lesson: to hold their game down with both paws pressed closely together, inserting their noses like a wedge and keeping every crack of escape shut tight until they had the slippery morsel safe under their back teeth. And even then it was deliciously funny to watch their expression as they chewed, opening their jaws wide as if swallowing a rabbit, snapping them shut again as the grasshopper wiggled; and always with a doubt in their close-set eyes, a questioning twist of head and ears, as if they were not quite sure whether or not they were really eating him.
Another suggestive thing came out in these hunts, which you must notice whether you watch wolves or coyotes or a den of fox cubs. Though no sound came from the watchful old mother, the cubs seemed at every instant under absolute control. One would rush away pell-mell after a hopper, miss him and tumble away again, till he was some distance from the busy group on the edge of the big lonely barren. In the midst of his chase the mother would raise her head and watch the cub intently. No sound was uttered that human ears could hear; but the chase ended right there, on the instant, and the cub came trotting back like a well-broken setter at the whistle. It was marvelous beyond comprehension, this absolute authority and this silent command that brought a wolf back instantly from the wildest chase, and that kept the cubs all together under the watchful eyes that followed every movement. No wonder wolves are intelligent in avoiding every trap and in hunting together to outwit some fleet-footed quarry with unbelievable cunning. Here on the edge of the vast, untrodden barren, far from human eyes, in an ordinary family of wolf cubs playing wild and free, eager, headstrong, hungry, yet always under control and instantly subject to a wiser head and a stronger will than their own, was the explanation of it all. Later, in the bitter, hungry winter, when a big caribou was afoot and the pack hot on his trail, the cubs would remember the lesson, and every free wolf would curb his hunger, obeying the silent signal to ease the game and follow slowly while the leader raced unseen through the woods to head the game and lie in ambush by the distant runway.
From grasshoppers the cubs took to hunting the wood-mice that nested in the dry moss and swarmed on the edges of every thicket. This was keener hunting; for the wood-mouse moves like a ray of light, and always makes at least one false start to mislead any that may be watching for him. The cubs soon learned that when Tookhees appeared and dodged back again, as if frightened, it was not because he had seen them, but just because he always appears that way. So they crouched and hid, like a cat, and when a gray streak shot over the gray moss and vanished in a tuft of grass they leaped for the spot—and always found it vacant. For Tookhees always doubles on his trail, or burrows for a distance under the moss, and never hides where he disappears. It took the cubs a long while to find that out; and then they would creep and watch and listen till they could locate the game by a stir under the moss, and pounce upon it and nose it out from between their paws, just as they had done with the grasshoppers. And when they crunched it at last like a ripe plum under their teeth it was a delicious tidbit, worth all the trouble they had taken to get it. For your wolf, unlike the ferocious, grandmother-eating creature of the nursery, is at heart a peaceable fellow, most at home and most happy when mouse hunting.
There was another kind of this mouse chasing which furnished better sport and more juicy mouthfuls to the young cubs. Here and there on the Newfoundland mountains the snow lingers all summer long. In every northern hollow of the hills you see, from a distance, white patches no bigger than your hat sparkling in the sun; but when you climb there, after bear or caribou, you find great snow-fields, acres in extent and from ten to a hundred feet deep, packed close and hard with the pressure of a thousand winters. Often when it rains in the valleys, and raises the salmon rivers to meet your expectations, a thin covering of new snow covers these white fields; and then, if you go there, you will find the new page written all over with the feet of birds and beasts. The mice especially love these snow-fields for some unknown reason. All along the edges you find the delicate, lacelike tracery which shows where little feet have gone on busy errands or played together in the moonlight; and if you watch there awhile you will surely see Tookhees come out of the moss and scamper across a bit of snow and dive back to cover under the moss again, as if he enjoyed the feeling of the cold snow under his feet in the summer sunshine. He has tunnels there, too, going down to solid ice, where he hides things to keep which would spoil if left in the heat of his den under the mossy stone, and when food is scarce he draws upon these cold-storage rooms; but most of his summer snow journeys, if one may judge from watching him and from following his tracks, are taken for play or comfort, just as the bull caribou comes up to lie in the snow, with the strong sea wind in his face, to escape the flies which swarm in the thickets below. Owl and hawk, fox and weasel and wildcat,—all the prowlers of the day and night have long since discovered these good hunting-grounds and leave the prints of wing and claw over the records of the wood-mice; but still Tookhees returns, led by his love of the snow-fields, and thrives and multiplies spite of all his enemies.
One moonlit night the old wolf took her cubs to the edge of one of these snow-fields, where the eager eyes soon noticed dark streaks shooting hither and yon over the bare white surface. At first they chased them wildly; but one might as well try to catch a moonbeam, which has not so many places to hide as a wood-mouse. Then, remembering the grasshoppers, they crouched and crept and so caught a few. Meanwhile old mother wolf lay still in hiding, contenting herself with snapping up the game that came to her, instead of chasing it wildly all over the snow-field. The example was not lost; for imitation is strong among intelligent animals, and most of what they learn is due simply to following the mother. Soon the cubs were still, one lying here under shadow of a bush, another there by a gray rock that lifted its head out of the snow. As a dark streak moved nervously by one of these hiding-places there would be a rush, a snap, the pchap pchap of jaws crunching a delicious morsel; then all quiet again, with only gray, innocent-looking shadows resting softly on the snow. So they moved gradually along the edges of the great white field; and next morning the tracks were all there, plain as daylight, telling their silent story of good hunting.
To vary their diet the mother now took them down to the shore to hunt among the rocks for ducks' eggs. They were there by the hundreds, scattered along the lonely bays just above high-water line, where the eiders had their nests.
At first old mother wolf showed them where to look, and when she had found a clutch of eggs would divide them fairly, keeping the hungry cubs in order at a little distance and bringing each one his share, which he ate without interference. Then when they understood the thing they scattered nimbly to hunt for themselves, and the real fun began.
Now a cub, poking his nose industriously into every cranny and under every thick bush, would find a great roll of down plucked from the mother bird's breast, and scraping the top off carefully with his paw, would find five or six large pale-green eggs, which he gobbled down, shells, ducklings and all, before another cub should smell the good find and caper up to share it. Again he would be startled out of his wits as a large brown bird whirred and fluttered away from under his very nose. Sitting on his tail he would watch her with comical regret and longing till she tumbled into the tide and drifted swiftly away out of danger; then, remembering what he came for, he would turn and follow her trail back to the nest out of which she had stolen at his approach, and find the eggs all warm for his breakfast. And when he had eaten all he wanted he would take an egg in his mouth and run about uneasily here and there, like a dog with a bone when he thinks he is watched, till he had made a sad crisscross of his trail and found a spot where none could see him. There he would dig a hole and bury his egg and go back for more; and on his way would meet another cub running about with an egg in his mouth, looking for a spot where no one would notice him.
From mice and eggs the young cubs turned to rabbits and hares; and these were their staple food ever afterward when other game was scarce and the wood-mice were hidden deep under the winter snows, safe at last for a little season from all their enemies. Here for the first time the father wolf appeared, coming in quietly one late afternoon, as if he knew, as he probably did, just when he was needed. Beyond a glance he paid no attention whatever to the cubs, only taking his place opposite the mother as the wolves started abreast in a long line to beat the thicket.
By night the cubs had already caught several rabbits, snapping them up as they played heedlessly in the moonlight, just as they had done with the wood-mice. By day, however, the hunting was entirely different. Then the hares and rabbits are resting in their hidden forms under the ferns, or in a hollow between the roots of a brown stump. Like game birds, whether on the nest or sitting quiet in hiding, the rabbits give out far less scent at such times than when they are active; and the cubs, stealing through the dense cover like shadows in imitation of the old wolves, and always hunting upwind, would use their keen noses to locate Moktaques before alarming him. If a cub succeeded, and snapped up a rabbit before the surprised creature had time to gather headway, he dropped behind with his catch, while the rest went slowly, carefully, on through the cover. If he failed, as was generally the case at first, a curious bit of wolf intelligence and wolf training came out at once.
As the wolves advanced the father and mother would steal gradually ahead at either end of the line, rarely hunting themselves, but drawing the nearest cub's attention to any game they had discovered, and then moving silently to one side and a little ahead to watch the result. When the cub rushed and missed, and the startled rabbit went flying away, whirling to left or right as rabbits always do, there would be a lightning change at the end of the line. A terrific rush, a snap of the long jaws like a steel trap,—then the old wolf would toss back the rabbit with a broken back, for the cub to finish him. Not till the cubs first, and then the mother, had satisfied their hunger would the old he-wolf hunt for himself. Then he would disappear, and they would not see him for days at a time, until food was scarce and they needed him once more.
One day, when the cubs were hungry and food scarce because of their persistent hunting near the den, the mother brought them to the edge of a dense thicket where rabbits were plentiful enough, but where the cover was so thick that they could not follow the frightened game for an instant. The old he-wolf had appeared at a distance and then vanished; and the cubs, trotting along behind the mother, knew nothing of what was coming or what was expected of them. They lay in hiding on the lee side of the thicket, each one crouching under a bush or root, with the mother off at one side perfectly hidden as usual.
Presently a rabbit appeared, hopping along in a crazy way, and ran plump into the jaws of a wolf cub, which leaped up as if out of the ground, and pulled down his game from the very top of the high jump which Moktaques always gives when he is suddenly startled. Another and another rabbit appeared mysteriously, and doubled back into the cover before they could be caught. The cubs were filled with wonder. Such hunting was never seen before; for rabbits stirred abroad by day, and ran right into the hungry mouths instead of running away. Then, slinking along like a shadow and stopping to look back and sniff the wind, appeared a big red fox that had been sleeping away the afternoon on top of a stump in the center of the thicket.
The old mother's eyes began to blaze as Eleemos drew near. There was a rush, swift and sudden as the swoop of an eagle; a sharp call to follow as the mother's long jaws closed over the small of the back, just as the fox turned to leap away. Then she flung the paralyzed animal back like a flash; the young wolves tumbled in upon him; and before he knew what had happened Eleemos the Sly One was stretched out straight, with one cub at his tail and another at his throat, tugging and worrying and grumbling deep in their chests as the lust of their first fighting swept over them. Then in vague, vanishing glimpses the old he-wolf appeared, quartering swiftly, silently, back and forth through the thicket, driving every living thing down-wind to where the cubs and the mother were waiting to receive it.
That one lesson was enough for the cubs, though years would pass before they could learn all the fine points of this beating the bush: to know almost at a glance where the game, whether grouse or hare or fox or lucivee, was hiding in the cover, and then for one wolf to drive it, slowly or swiftly as the case might require, while the other hid beside the most likely path of escape. A family of grouse must be coaxed along and never see what is driving them, else they will flit into a tree and be lost; while a cat must be startled out of her wits by a swift rush, and sent flying away before she can make up her stupid mind what the row is all about. A fox, almost as cunning as Wayeeses himself, must be made to think that some dog enemy is slowly puzzling out his cold trail; while a musquash searching for bake-apples, or a beaver going inland to cut wood for his winter supplies of bark, must not be driven, but be followed up swiftly by the path or canal by which he has ventured away from the friendly water.
All these and many more things must be learned slowly at the expense of many failures, especially when the cubs took to hunting alone and the old wolves were not there to show them how; but they never forgot the principle taught in that first rabbit drive,—that two hunters are better than one to outwit any game when they hunt intelligently together. That is why you so often find wolves going in pairs; and when you study them or follow their tracks you discover that they play continually into each other's hands. They seem to share the spoil as intelligently as they catch it, the wolf that lies beside the runway and pulls down the game giving up a portion gladly to the companion that beats the bush, and rarely indeed is there any trace of quarreling between them.
Like the eagles—which have long since learned the advantage of hunting in pairs and of scouting for game in single file—the wolves, when hunting deer on the open barrens where it is difficult to conceal their advance, always travel in files, one following close behind the other; so that, seen from in front where the game is watching, two or three wolves will appear like a lone animal trotting across the plain. That alarms the game far less at first; and not until the deer starts away does the second wolf appear, shooting out from behind the leader. The sight of another wolf appearing suddenly on his flank throws a young deer into a panic, in which he is apt to lose his head and be caught by the cunning hunters.
Curiously enough, the plains Indians, who travel in the same way when hunting or scouting for enemies, first learned the trick—so an old chief told me, and it is one of the traditions of his people—from watching the timber wolves in their stealthy advance over the open places.
The wolves were stealing through the woods all together, one late summer afternoon, having beaten a cover without taking anything, when the puzzled cubs suddenly found themselves alone. A moment before they had been trotting along with the old wolves, nosing every cranny and knot hole for mice and grubs, and stopping often for a roll and frolic, as young cubs do in the gladness of life; now they pressed close together, looking, listening, while a subtle excitement filled all the woods. For the old wolves had disappeared, shooting ahead in great, silent bounds, while the cubs waited with ears cocked and noses quivering, as if a silent command had been understood.
The silence was intense; not a sound, not a stir in the quiet woods, which seemed to be listening with the cubs and to be filled with the same thrilling expectation. Suddenly the silence was broken by heavy plunges far ahead, crash! bump! bump! and there broke forth such an uproar of yaps and howls as the cubs had never heard before. Instantly they broke away on the trail, joining their shrill yelpings to the clamor, so different from the ordinary stealthy wolf hunt, and filled with a nameless excitement which they did not at all understand till the reek of caribou poured into their hungry nostrils; whereupon they yelped louder than ever. But they did not begin to understand the matter till they caught glimpses of gray backs bounding hither and yon in the underbrush, while the two great wolves raced easily on either side, yapping sharply to increase the excitement, and guiding the startled, foolish deer as surely, as intelligently, as a pair of collies herd a flock of frightened sheep.
When the cubs broke out of the dense cover at last they found the two old wolves sitting quietly on their tails before a rugged wall of rocks that stretched away on either hand at the base of a great bare hill. In front of them was a young cow caribou, threatening savagely with horns and hoofs, while behind her cowered two half-grown fawns crowded into a crevice of the rocks. Anger, rather than fear, blazed out in the mother's mild eyes. Now she turned swiftly to press her excited young ones back against the sheltering wall; now she whirled with a savage grunt and charged headlong at the wolves, which merely leaped aside and sat down silently again to watch the game, till the cubs raced out and hovered uneasily about with a thousand questions in every eye and ear and twitching nostril.
The reason for the hunt was now plain enough. Up to this time the caribou had been let severely alone, though they were very numerous, scattered through the dense coverts in every valley and on every hillside. For Wayeeses is no wanton killer, as he is so often represented to be, but sticks to small game whenever he can find it, and leaves the deer unmolested. As for his motive in the matter, who shall say, since no one understands the half of what a wolf does every day? Perhaps it is a mere matter of taste, a preference for the smaller and more juicy tidbits; more likely it is a combination of instinct and judgment, with a possible outlook for the future unusual with beasts of prey. The moment the young wolves take to harrying the deer—as they invariably do if the mother wolf be not with them—the caribou leave the country. The herds become, moreover, so wild and suspicious after a very little wolf hunting that they are exceedingly difficult of approach; and there is no living thing on earth, not even a white wolf or a trained greyhound, that can tire or overtake a startled caribou. The swinging rack of these big white wanderers looks easy enough when you see it; but when the fleet staghounds are slipped, as has been more than once tested in Newfoundland, try as hard as they will they cannot keep within sight of the deer for a single quarter-mile, and no limit has ever yet been found, either by dog or wolf, to Megaleep's tirelessness. So the old wolves, relying possibly upon past experience, keep the cubs and hold themselves strictly to small game as long as it can possibly be found. Then when the bitter days of late winter come, with their scarcity of small game and their unbearable hunger, the wolves turn to the caribou as a last resort, killing a few here by stealth, rather than speed, and then, when the game grows wild, going far off to another range where the deer have not been disturbed and so can be approached more easily.
On this afternoon, however, the old mother wolf had run plump upon the caribou and her fawns in the midst of a thicket, and had leaped forward promptly to round them up for her hungry cubs. It would have been the easiest matter in the world for an old wolf to hamstring one of the slow fawns, or the mother caribou herself as she hovered in the rear to defend her young; but there were other thoughts in the shaggy gray head that had seen so much hunting. So the mother wolf drove the deer slowly, puzzling them more and more, as a collie distracts the herd by his yapping, out into the open where her cubs might join in the hunting.
The wolves now drew back, all save the mother, which advanced hesitatingly to where the caribou stood with lowered head, watching every move. Suddenly the cow charged, so swiftly, furiously, that the old wolf seemed almost caught, and tumbled away with the broad hoofs striking savagely at her flanks. Farther and farther the caribou drove her enemy, roused now to frenzy at the wolf's nearness and apparent cowardice. Then she whirled in a panic and rushed back to her little ones, only to find that all the other wolves, as if frightened by her furious charge, had drawn farther back from the cranny in the rocks.
Again the old she-wolf approached cautiously, and again the caribou plunged at her and followed her lame retreat with headlong fury. An electric shock seemed suddenly to touch the huge he-wolf. Like a flash he leaped in on the fawns. One quick snap of the long jaws with the terrible fangs; then, as if the whole thing were a bit of play, he loped away easily with the cubs, circling to join the mother wolf, which strangely enough did not return to the attack as the caribou charged back, driving the cubs and the old he-wolf away like a flock of sheep. The coast was now clear, not an enemy in the way; and the mother caribou, with a triumphant bleat to her fawns to follow, plunged back into the woods whence she had come.
One fawn only followed her. The other took a step or two, sank to his knees, and rolled over on his side. When the wolves drew near quietly, without a trace of the ferocity or the howling clamor with which such scenes are usually pictured, the game was quite dead, one quick snap of the old wolf's teeth just behind the fore legs having pierced the heart more surely than a hunter's bullet. And the mother caribou, plunging wildly away through the brush with the startled fawn jumping at her heels, could not know that her mad flight was needless; that the terrible enemy which had spared her and let her go free had no need nor desire to follow.
* * * * *
The fat autumn had now come with its abundant fare, and the caribou were not again molested. Flocks of grouse and ptarmigan came out of the thick coverts, in which they had been hiding all summer, and began to pluck the berries of the open plains, where they could easily be waylaid and caught by the growing wolf cubs. Plover came in hordes, sweeping over the Straits from the Labrador; and when the wolves surrounded a flock of the queer birds and hitched nearer and nearer, sinking their gray bodies in the yielding gray moss till they looked like weather-worn logs, the hunting was full of tense excitement, though the juicy mouthfuls were few and far between. Fox cubs roamed abroad away from their mothers, self-willed and reveling in the abundance; and it was now easy for two of the young wolves to drive a fox out of his daytime cover and catch him as he stole away.
After the plover came the ducks in myriads, filling the ponds and flashets of the vast barrens with tumultuous quacking; and the young wolves learned, like the foxes, to decoy the silly birds by rousing their curiosity. They would hide in the grass, while one played and rolled about on the open shore, till the ducks saw him and began to stretch their necks and gabble their amazement at the strange thing, which they had never seen before. Shy and wild as he naturally is, a duck, like a caribou or a turkey, must take a peek at every new thing. Now silent, now gabbling all together, the flock would veer and scatter and draw together again, and finally swing in toward the shore, every neck drawn straight as a string the better to see what was going on. Nearer and nearer they would come, till a swift rush out of the grass sent them off headlong, splashing and quacking with crazy clamor. But one or two always stayed behind with the wolves to pay the price of curiosity.
Then there were the young geese, which gathered in immense flocks in the shallow bays, preparing and drilling for the autumn flight. Late in the afternoon the old mother wolf with her cubs would steal down through the woods, hiding and watching the flocks, and following them stealthily as they moved along the shore. At night the great flock would approach a sandbar, well out of the way of rocks and brush and everything that might hide an enemy, and go to sleep in close little family groups on the open shore. As the night darkened four shadows would lengthen out from the nearest bank of shadows, creeping onward to the sand-bar with the slow patience of the hours. A rush, a startled honk! a terrific clamor of wings and throats and smitten water. Then the four shadows would rise up from the sand and trot back to the woods, each with a burden on its shoulders and a sparkle in the close-set eyes over the pointed jaws, which were closed on the neck of a goose, holding it tight lest any outcry escape to tell the startled flock what had happened.