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

One day they were lying out in the grass as usual, and our little Calf was having a great game of romps with the little Hind. The Stag was not with them, but Aunt Yeld was standing sentry, when all of a sudden she came back in a great fluster, not at all like a stag, as she was always trying to be.

“Quick, quick, quick!” she said. “I can wind them and I can see them. Call your Calves and let us go. Quick, quick!”

Then the two mothers rose up in a terrible fright. “Quick,” said Aunt Yeld again. “Run away as fast as you can!”

“But our Calves can’t keep up if we go fast,” pleaded the two mothers.

“Bless the Calves, I never thought of that,” said Aunt Yeld. “Wait a minute; look!”

Then they looked down across the rolling waves of grass flecked by the shadows of the flying clouds, and a mile and a half away they saw a moving white mass, with a dark figure before it and another dark figure behind it. The mass stood in deep shadow, for a cloud hung over it; but the cloud passed away and then the sun flashed down upon it, and what the Deer saw (for they have far better eyes than you or I) was this. Twenty-five couples of great solemn hounds trotting soberly over the heather with a horseman in a white coat at their heads and another at their sterns, and the coats of hounds and horses shining as glossy as their own. A fresh puff of wind bore a wave of strange scent to the nostrils of the Deer, and our little Calf snuffed it and thought it the most unpleasant that he had ever tasted. “Remember it, my son,” whispered his mother to him, “nasty though it be, and beware of it.”

But Aunt Yeld stood always a little in advance, talking to herself. “I passed just in front of the place where they are now on my way back from breakfast this morning,” she murmured. “I trust that scent has failed by this time. Ah!”

And as she spoke some of the hounds swung suddenly with one impulse towards them, but the horseman behind them galloped forward quick as thought, and turned them back; and there came on the wind the sound of a shrill yelp, which made all three of the Hinds to quiver again. Then the mass began to move faster than before, and the Deer watched it go further and further away from them till at last it settled down to its first pace and vanished out of sight.

“Well, that is a mercy,” said Aunt Yeld with a deep sigh. “I thought it was full early yet for those detestable creatures to begin their horrible work again. I think that we are safe now, but I’ll just make sure in case of accidents.”

And with that she began to trot about in the strangest fashion. For she made a great circle to the track by which she had come back from feeding in the early morning, and ran back along it for some way, and then she turned off it, and after a time made another circle which brought her to a little stream. Then she ran up the water and made another circle which brought her back again.

“There,” she said, “if they do follow us, that will puzzle them.” But the Lady Tawny had been looking at her Calf all the time, and now she spoke: “I am afraid to stay here any longer, Aunt Yeld. I will take my Calf far away to a quiet spot that I know of, and do you stop with sister and look after her.”

So they parted, and very sad they were at parting. She led her Calf away slowly, that he might not tire, but they had not gone very far when there ran past them a great Buck-Rabbit. He neither saw nor heard them, for his eyes were starting out of his head with fright; and he went on only for a little way and then lay down and squealed most miserably. Then they heard a faint sound rather like the yelp that they had heard from the hound, but much smaller; and presently there came five little bits of brown bodies, long, and lithe and slender, racing along on their tiny short legs far faster than you would have thought possible. They were following the line of the Rabbit, and the old mother Weasel led the way, speaking to the scent as loud as she could (and that was not very loud), “Forward, children, forward, forward,” and the four little Weasels joined in chorus, “Forward, forward, forward”; then she cried, “Blood, children, blood,” and they answered at the top of their pipes, “Blood, blood, blood, blood.” And their fierce little eyes flashed, and their sharp little teeth gleamed as they dashed away through the grass; and I am afraid that the Buck-Rabbit had but a poor chance with them, though he was nearly as big as the whole five of them put together. For I suppose that, for its size, there is no creature on earth so fierce and bloodthirsty as a weasel; but remember, too, that he is also the pluckiest little beast that there is, and would fight you and me if we drove him too far.

The Calf was very much puzzled. “Why doesn’t the Rabbit run on, mother, if he is afraid of the Weasels?” he said. “I should have run on as far as I could. Will they leave him alone because he lies down and squeals?”

But she answered sadly, “No, no! and, my son, if ever it should befall you that you must run for your life, as I fear may be only too likely, then keep up a brave heart and run on till you can run no more.”

And he answered, “Yes, mother,” and thought to himself that he would fight to the end too; for he hoped one day to grow into a good stag and have horns to fight with; and besides he was a brave little fellow. And, for my part, I think that the Calf was right; and if (as I hope may never be) after you are grown up, disappointment should lie in wait for you at every turn, and fate and your own fault should hunt you to despair, then run on bravely, and when you can run no more, face them and dare them to do their worst; but never, never, never lie down and squeal.

So they journeyed on for three whole days, often stopping that the Calf might rest. And on the third day as they were passing along one side of a combe, they saw another strange sight. For on the other side the rock came through the soil, and there at the foot of the rock stood a ruddy-coloured creature with a white throat, and prick ears, and a sharp nose, and a bushy tail that tapered to a point and ended in a white tag. She carried a rabbit in her mouth, and round her stood five little Cubs, jumping and scrambling and playing, and crying out, “Rabbit for dinner, rabbit for dinner!” For a time she looked at them with the rabbit still in her mouth while they danced around her, till presently one ran up behind one of his brothers and rolled him over, and the other lay on his back kicking and struggling while the first pretended to kill him; and then a third came up and caught one of them by the scruff of the neck and made him open his mouth so wide that you would have thought he could never have shut it again. And then the old Vixen laid the rabbit on the ground, and said, “Worry, worry, worry!” and the Cubs dashed at it and began biting at it and tearing, and pulling, and scratching, till they rent it all to pieces. Then one little fellow got hold of a whole hind-leg and ran away to eat it by himself, and the rest cried out, “Greedy, greedy!” and ran after him to take it from him; and they scuffled and worried and snarled till you would have thought that they meant to eat each other up as well as the rabbit. But it was only play, though rough play, for Foxes are rough fellows; and all the time the old Vixen sat on her haunches smiling and saying, “That’s my little Cubs! that’s my little Cubs!”

Then the Hind and Calf passed on, and she led him into a great deep wood of oak-coppice, where there was hardly a tree that was not oak, except now and again a mountain-ash. And they passed through the bright silver stems of the young trees and under the heavy foliage of the old ones; till they saw a mountain-ash shake its golden berries over their heads, and came to a hollow where a tiny stream came trickling down, almost hidden among hart’s-tongues. There she laid him down; and this wood was their new home.

Soon after, the dry weather came to an end, and the South-West wind came laden with rain from the sea. But the Hind and Calf lay sheltered in the wood, and heard the wind singing above them, and saw the scud drifting slowly in great columns down the valley. They roamed far through the wood, for it seemed to cover the valley’s side for miles, and he watched her as she looked about for ivy, which was her favourite food, and envied her when she reared up to pluck some tempting morsel hanging from the oak trees. Nor would he let her have all the good things to herself, for he would nuzzle at the green leaves between her lips and pretend to enjoy them greatly.

A very happy peaceful life it was, for they were never disturbed, though occasionally they saw company. They had not been there but very few days, when very early in the morning they saw the old Vixen come stealing into the wood with a Cub in her mouth. She looked so weary and footsore, that though deer do not like rough, unmannerly creatures such as foxes, which feed on flesh, the Hind could not help saying, “Why, Mrs. Vicky, you look dreadfully tired.”

But the Vixen hardly turned her head, and then only to answer very roughly, “No, I am not tired, I am not tired,” though after a time she added “thank you” in rather a surly tone; for in Devon nobody is altogether uncivil. And she went plodding on.

“Have they been disturbing your earth?” asked the Hind. “I hope the Cubs are all well.” Then the Vixen could not help stopping to say: “Yes, they’m well. This is the last of mun. Twenty mile and more have I gone back and ’vor with mun this blessed night. They was rather a late litter, you see, and I was obliged to carry mun. But I’m not tired, oh no, I am not tired my lady.” And she went on again doggedly with her Cub, though they could see that she was so tired that she could hardly move. And let me tell you that it was a great stretch of civility for the Vixen to call the Hind “my lady,” for Foxes are very independent, and like a great many other people think that they must show their independence by being uncivil; whereby they only prevent others from seeing what brave, patient creatures they really are.

The very next morning they saw a new visitor come in, a grey old person as big as the Vixen, with a long sharp nose, and a deal of white about his face, a very little short tail, and four short clumsy legs. He was waddling along slowly, and grumbling to himself: “’Tisn’t often that I spake, but spake I will. ’Tis mortal hard that he should come and take my house. ’Tis my house, I made mun, and I digged mun. ’Tisn’t right; ’tisn’t rasonable.”

“What is it, old Grey?” said the Hind.

The Badger looked up and stared. Then he said very slowly “Aw!” drawing out the word till he could collect his wits. “Well, look ’ee, ’tis like this. Two days agone, I think ’twas two days the old Dog-Fox you know mun, he that hath so much white to his brush well, he cometh to me, and saith he, ‘Brocky,’ he saith that’s a name he calleth me, Brocky, friendly like, though he warn’t no friend o’ mine that I know of Well, he saith, ’Brocky, I know of so pretty a nest of Rabbits as a Badger could wish to see. I can’t dig mun out,’ he saith, ’but you can. Oh! what I would give to be able to dig like you, Brocky!’ he saith. ’Come ‘long wi’ me, and I’ll show ‘ee.’ Well, now I’ll tell ’ee which way we went.”

“No, never mind that,” said the Hind, “we musn’t keep you, you know.”

“Aw!” said the Badger, “well, we come to the bury, and wonderful sweet they rabbits did smell, sure enough. ‘Now,’ he saith, ’I’ll leave ‘ee.’ And I digged the rabbits out; I forget how many there was eight or nine I think I ate mun all up, I know, and very sweet they was, I won’t deny that. And them I went ’oom, but bless your life, when I got there I couldn’t go into mun. Oh! ’twas terrible sure enough; ’twas more than my poor nose could stand. And the old Fox he looketh out and saith, ‘Tis wonderful kind of you, Brocky,’ he saith, ’to give me your house. Mrs. Vicky liketh it wonderful, she doth. Ah! I wish I could dig like you, Brocky,’ he saith. And he’s taken my house, and here I be. ’Tisn’t right; ’tisn’t rasonable.”

And he waddled away growling out, “’Tisn’t rasonable,” for, being a Devonshire Badger, he was of course fond of long words, though he might not always understand their meaning. And the Calf could hardly help laughing as he saw the poor, stupid old fellow blundering on his way.

But if he fared ill, the Vixen and her Cubs fared well enough. The Cubs grew so fast that they began to look after themselves, and they were often to be seen wandering about the wood, grubbing after beetles and gobbling up the fallen berries. And the Calf grew also, for he was now four months old, you must remember; and of all the months in his life, those first four were, I suspect, the happiest.