Read CHAPTER I of The Story of a Red Deer, free online book, by J. W. Fortescue, on

Once upon a time there was a little Red-Deer Calf. You know what a Red-Deer is, for you of all boys have been brought up to know, though it may be that you have never seen a calf very close to you. A very pretty little fellow he was, downy-haired and white-spotted, though as yet his legs were rather long and his ears were rather large, for he was still only a very few weeks old. But he did not think himself a baby by any means, for he was an early calf and had been born in the second week in May; and a birthday in the second week in May is the greatest event that can occur in a Red-Deer’s family.

The first thing that he remembered was that he found himself lying very snug and warm in a patch of fern, with the most beautiful pair of brown eyes that ever were seen gazing straight down upon him. And soon he was aware that they were the eyes of the Hind his mother, that they followed him whereever he went, and watched over him whatever he did, and that, whatever he might want, she was there to provide it for him. She always had a cosy bed ready for him in grass or fern; she washed him clean and brushed his little coat with her tongue every morning; and she taught him but two lessons to lie as still as a mouse, and to do just as he was bid. For every morning before dawn she had to go afield to feed herself, farther than the little Calf could travel with her; and as she had no nurse to leave in charge of him, she just tucked him up as closely as she could, and told him to lie still till she came back. And like a good little fellow he obeyed her; which was well for him, for if he had taken it into his head to jump up and look about him, some evil man or beast might have seen him and made away with him; and then this story would never have been written.

Always just before the sun rose she came back, and every day she seemed to love him better, and every day he felt that she was more than the whole world to him. And morning after morning up rose the blessed sun, and drove the mist away, and sent a little ray forward through the fern to kiss him and bid him good-morrow. And the mist left a drop on every blade and blossom, and said, “Good-bye, my little fellow; I shall come back again this evening;” and the drops nodded and sparkled and twinkled, and kept whispering, “Yes, coming back this evening,” over and over again, till the sun said that he could stand it no longer and was obliged to dry them all up. Then rose a hum of many wings as the flies woke up, and went out for their day’s work; but the breeze moved like a sentry over the bed of the little Calf and said to them, “Move on, move on; this little Calf must not be disturbed;” and they dared not disobey, for they knew that, if they did, he was certain sooner or later to send for his big brother, the Westerly Gale, who would blow them away with a vengeance. And all through the day the breeze kept singing through the graceful, yielding grass and the stubborn wiry heather; while mingled with it came snatches of a little song from the brown peat-stream in the combe below him. He could not make out much of it except these words, which came over and over again:

Mother and child come here, come here,
I am the friend of the Wild Red-Deer

For some time they moved but little distant from the place where he was born, for his legs could not yet carry him very far; but as he grew stronger they wandered farther, till at last one day he found himself on high ground, and saw the world that he was to live in, his heritage of Exmoor. You know it, for you have seen it, fold upon fold of grass and heather, slashed by deep combes and merry babbling streams, and bounded on the one hand by the blue sky and on the other by the blue sea. It was all his own, for he was a wild Red-Deer. And he looked upon it with his great round eyes, and pricked his ears and tossed his little head; for the sun was shining warm above him, and the soft west wind blew fresh and untainted over the sea and flew across the moor, catching up all that was sweetest on its way from grass and gorse and heather, and bearing it straight to his nostrils. And he threw his little nose into the air and snuffed up the full, rich breeze; for no creature has a finer scent than a deer; and he felt that this was life indeed.

Then they went down, leaving the song of the wind ever fainter behind them; and in its stead rose the song of the peat-stream bidding them come down to it. So they went; and there it was trickling down as clear as crystal, though as yellow as amber. There was but little water in it that fine midsummer, but it hastened on none the less over the stones in a desperate hurry, as are all Exmoor streams, to get to the sea. And it whispered its song as it went, but so low that they heard no words. They passed by a little shallow, and there the Calf saw dozens of little fry, scurrying about from stone to stone; and just below the shallow they came to a little brown, oily pool in a basin of rock. The Calf looked into it, and there he saw his own little form, and behind it his mother’s sweet eyes watching over him. And then for the first time he noticed that his own coat was spotted while his mother’s was red. But while he was staring at the water a fly suddenly came, and began to dance a reel over it to show what a fine fellow he was, when all of a sudden a neat little body, all brown and gold and red spots, leaped up out of the water, seized the fly in his mouth and fell back with a splash which broke the pretty picture all to pieces.

He shrank back, for he was rather startled, but his mother soon comforted him. “It was only a little Trout, my dear,” she said, “only a greedy little Trout.”

“But he was such a pretty little fellow,” he said, for he had quite got over his fright; “I wish he would jump again.”

But the Hind looked grave. “We are never unkind to the Trout,” she said, “for they belong to the peat-stream, but you must never become familiar with them. Fallow-Deer, I believe, treat them as equals,” and here she looked very proud, “but we do not. They are a lazy lot of fellows whose forefathers would not take the trouble to go down to the sea, whereby they might have grown into noble fish, with a coat as bright as the moon on the water. But they would not, and so they have remained small and ugly, and they never lose their spots. You must never be rude to them, for that would be unworthy of a Red-Deer, but you must never make great friends with them. You may talk to little Salmon when we see them, for they lose their spots, but not to the Trout.” For the Hind was a great lady, with much pride of race, which though it made her civil to every one, taught her to be shy of idlers and low company.

“But, mother,” said the poor little Calf, “I’ve got a spotted coat.”

“But you will lose it, my darling,” she said tenderly. “No, no, my child will be a true Red-Deer.”

So they left the water, and presently stopped while his mother plucked at a tuft of sweet grass among the heather; when to his astonishment a little grey ball of fur came bounding out of a hole in the ground, and another at his heels, and three more after them. And they ran round and round and played like mad things. And presently another, far bigger than they, came up slowly out of another hole, sat up on her hind-legs, pricked her ears, and began to look about her. Then catching sight of the Calf she crouched down, and began in a very shrill voice: “Why, my dear tender heart” (for she was not only a Rabbit, but a Devonshire Rabbit, and of course spoke broad Devon), “if it isn’t my little maister, and her ladyship too, begging your pardon, my lady. And sweetly pretty he is, my lady; and butiful you’m looking too, in your summer coat, so glossy as a chestnut, sure enough. And dear heart alive, how he groweth. Why, ’twas but a few days agone that my Bucky saith to me I don’t rightly remember how many days agone, but I mind ’twas the very day when the old Greyhen up to Badgworthy came to ask me if I had seen her poult for she’s lost a poult, my lady, hath the poor soul, as your ladyship knoweth. Well, my Bucky saith to me, ‘Bunny,’ saith he, ’you may depend that young maister will grow to be so fine a stag as ever was seen on Exmoor.’” Then without pausing an instant she called out at the top of her voice to one of the little rabbits: “Flossy-a! Come back, little bittlehead, come back, or the fox will catch ’ee!”

The Hind listened very graciously to this long speech, for she loved to hear good words of her Calf, and she was just a little pleased to hear of her own good looks. But she could not help looking beautiful, and she looked all the more so because she very seldom thought about it. So she returned the compliment by asking after Bunny and her family.

“Oh! thank you, my lady,” answered Bunny, “I reckon we’m well. There han’t been no man this way this long time, thanks be; and there’s plenty of meat, and not too much rain. And the family’s well, my lady; look to mun playing all around, so gay; and my third family this spring, my lady that I should say so! No, I reckon I can’t complain; but oh, my lady! they foxes, and they weasels! They do tell me that the old vixen from Cornham Brake hath five cubs; and I can’t abide a vixen never could. And they weasels they’m small, but they’m worse than foxes. Now there’s my Bucky. He can’t bide home, he saith, these fine days, but must go and lie out. I says to mun, ‘Bucky,’ I says, ’’tis very well for the likes of her ladyship to lie out every day, but you should bide home to bury.’ But no, he would go. ’Well then, Bucky,’ I says, ’I reckon that you’ll grow a pair of horns like his lordship, brow, bay, and trey, Bucky,’ I says, ’and turn to bay when the weasel’s after ‘ee.’ And with that he layeth back his ears and away he goeth Flossy-a, come back, will ’ee, or I’ll give you what vor! Now there’s that Flossy, my lady, so like to her father as my two ears. She won’t bide close to bury; and they do tell me that the vixen to Cornham has moved this way. It won’t do, my lady, it won’t do. Oh dear, dear, dear!” And she stopped for want of breath.

“Well, good evening, Bunny,” said the Hind very kindly, “I must take my little son home. I shall see you again very soon.”

“And good evening to your ladyship,” answered Bunny, “and good evening to you, my pretty dear. Ah! you’m his lordship’s son sure enough. I mind the time ”

But the Hind had moved on out of hearing, for when once an old Doe-Rabbit begins to talk she never stops. Then presently the Calf said: “Mother, who is his lordship?” And she answered: “He is your father, my darling. For the Red-Deer are lords of this forest, and he is the lord of them all. And brow, bay, trey is the coronet that every good Stag wears, and which you too shall wear in due time, when you grow up.” And he said no more, for to his mind there was nothing on earth half so beautiful as she was, and he asked no better than to grow up to be such another.