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

Early one morning, it must have been almost the last week in September, the peace of the oak-coppice was disturbed by a terrible clamour. It began with a single deep “Ough, ough, ough!” then another voice chimed in with rather a shriller note, and then another and then another, and then a whole score more joined them in one thundering chorus. And the Hind started to her feet in alarm, and led the Calf out of the wooded valley to the open moor above. There they stood listening; while the whole valley was filled with the tumult, as if a hundred demons had been let loose into it. Now and again it ceased for a moment, and all was still; then it began again with “Ough, ough, ough!”; and it was hard to say exactly where the sound came from, for one side of the valley said it would hold it no longer, and tossed it over to the other, and the other said it wouldn’t hold it either and tossed it back, so that the noise kept hovering between the two in the most bewildering way. But after a short time the clamour drew nearer to the Hind and Calf, and presently out came one of the Fox-cubs, with his tongue lolling and his back crooked, looking desperately weary and woe-begone. He went on for a little distance, as if to go away over the moor, but soon stopped and flung back with desperation into the covert. And the Hind trotted gently away, anxious but not alarmed. “They are not after us, my son, I think,” she said. Then the noise drew closer and closer, and out bounded a whole pack of hounds, with bristles erect and gleaming eyes, throwing their tongues furiously on the line of the Cub. They flashed over the scent for fifty yards, still yelling with all their might, and then they fell silent and spread out in all directions. Presently they recovered the line of the Cub, and turned back into the covert yelling louder than ever; but meanwhile two wild puppies had crossed the scent of the Hind and Calf and started after them as fast as they could run.

Then the Hind turned and fled and the Calf with her, as he had never fled before; but his poor little legs began speedily to tire, and he could not have held out for much longer, when suddenly he found himself poked down quick as thought by his mother’s nose into a tuft of fern. “Lie still, my son, till I come back,” she whispered; and so she left him. And there he lay panting, while the voices of the puppies came closer and closer to his hiding-place; but he never moved, for his mother had bid him lie still. Then they rushed past him with a wild cry, for his mother had waited to lead them after herself; and their voices died away, and all was silent. Presently he heard a dull sound, coming drum, drum, drum, louder and louder and louder; and then the earth began to shake, and a huge dark body seemed to be coming almost on to the top of him, but suddenly swerved aside just in time, and left him unharmed. Then the drumming died away, and after a time he heard a dismal yelping such as he had once heard before; but he did not know that it was a man and horse that had nearly galloped on to the top of him, and would have galloped quite on the top of him if the horse had not shied, nor that the man had given the puppies a thrashing for running a deer when they had been told to run a fox.

He was beginning to hope that his mother would soon come back, when he heard two voices quite unlike any that he had ever heard before, and saw riding towards him two people. One was a man with fair hair and blue eyes, and a face burned brown by the sun, and the other a girl, a year or thereabout younger than the man. She, too, had bright blue eyes, and very fair hair, and a very pretty face at least the man seemed to think so, for he was always looking at it though of course the Calf, having never seen such creatures before, could not judge if they were pretty or ugly. They came on till they were only at a little distance from him, and the man pulled up and, pointing to him, said very low, “Look.” And the girl whispered, “What a little duck! I wish I could take him home with me.” But the man said, “No, no, no. His mother will come and take him home presently, and the sooner we leave him alone the better she will be pleased.” So they rode away, and he could hear them talking as they rode, for they seemed to have a great deal to say to each other. But what they talked about, and how they came to stay alone on the hill when the hounds were running down in the valley, is more than I can tell you.

Before very long his mother came back to him, and you may guess how glad he was to see her, and how she rejoiced to see him. After looking round to see that all was quiet, she led him away over the heather, and then down a very steep hill-side among stunted gorse and loose stones, hot and burning from the sun. “See, my son,” she said, “this is the first time that you have been chased by hounds, but I fear that it may not be the last. Now, remember, no hound can run fast over this short gorse, for his feet are soft; while we do not mind it, for our feet are hard. And these loose stones are almost better for us than the gorse, for our scent hardly lies on them and they hurt a hound’s feet almost as much as the gorse.” So they went to the bottom of the hill, and there was a peat-stream singing its song; but all that the Calf could hear of it was this:

I carry no scent, come here, come here;
I am the friend of the wild Red-Deer.

The Hind led him up a shallow for a little way, and then she jumped out on to the opposite bank and followed it upwards for a little way, and then she jumped into the water again and went down for a full hundred yards till they came to a comfortable shady spot, where they both left the water and lay down together. “Now, my son,” she said, “here is another little lesson for you to learn. The song of the water is true; it carries no scent, and no hound can follow us in it unless he can see us. But a hound will always try the bank to find out where we have left the water; if we enter it up the stream he will try upward, and if we enter it down the stream he will try downward. So always, if you have time, try to make them work upward when you mean to go down, and downward when you mean to go up, as I have shown you to-day.” And like a wise little fellow he took care to remember what she taught him.

They lay there together till the sun began to fall low, and then they rose and went down to the water to cross it. And there what should they see but a large shoal of little Fish with bright red spots, and bands, like the marks of a finger, striping their sides from gills to tail; for the stream was so clear that they could distinguish every mark upon them. The little Fish seemed to be very anxious about something, for they kept darting about, now spreading out and now all coming together again; and the Calf could hear them whispering, “Shall we ask her? Shall we, shall we?” And at last one little Fish rose, with a little splash, and said in a watery little voice:

“Oh! please can you tell us how far it is to the sea?”

“Why, my little fellow,” said the Hind, “surely it isn’t time for you to go to sea yet?”

“Oh, no,” said the little Salmon, “for we haven’t got our silver jackets yet. But we are so looking forward to it. Will our silver jackets come soon, do you think?”

“Not just yet, I expect,” said the Hind kindly; “you must have patience, you know, for a little time, only for a little time.”

“Oh,” said the little Salmon, in a sadly disappointed tone; and the whole shoal began to move away, but almost directly came back and began popping up to the surface of the water by dozens, saying, “Thank you,” “thank you,” “thank you.” For little Salmon are not only very well-bred but very well-mannered besides, which all well-bred creatures ought to be, but unfortunately very often are not.

So they left the little Salmon, and went their way to the cliffs that overhang the sea, where they made their home in a great plantation of Scotch firs, so closely cropped by wind and salt that they cannot grow up into trees but run along the ground almost like ivy. And let me warn you, by the way, when you ride fast through these stunted plantations, as I hope you may many times, to grip your saddle tight with your legs and keep your toes turned in, or you may find yourself on the ground on the broad of your back; which will not hurt you in the least, but may lose you your start in a good run. Well, here they lay, and very much the Calf liked his new home; but they had not been there for three days when one morning they heard faint sounds of a great trampling of hoofs. It lasted for a long time, but they lay quite still, though the Hind was very uneasy. Then suddenly they heard the voice of hounds rise from the coverts on the cliff below them, and a man screaming at the top of his voice. The sounds came nearer, and then there was a great clatter of branches, and the great Stag, whom they had known on the moor, came bounding leisurely through the thicket. His head was thrown back and his mouth wide open; and very proud and very terrible he looked as he cantered straight up to them. He jerked his head impatiently at them, and said very sternly, “Off with you! quick!” And the Hind jumped up in terror and the Calf with her; and as they ran off they could see the old Stag lie down in their place with his great horns laid back on his shoulders, and his chin pressed tight to the ground.

But they had no time to lose, for the hounds were coming closer; so they bustled for a little way through the thicket, and then the Hind led the Calf into a path, because of course his little legs could not keep pace with hers in the tangle of the plantation. Thus they ran on for a little way, till they heard the sound of a horse coming towards them, when they turned into the thicket again and lay down. And presently a man in a red coat came trotting by with his eyes fixed on the ground, and meeting the hounds stopped them at once. Then he pulled out a horn, blew one single note, and trotted away with the hounds, just three couple of them, at his heels.

But the Hind and Calf lay still; and presently they heard two more horses coming gently along the path, and two human voices chattering very fast. And who should ride by but the pretty girl whom he had seen looking at him a few days before! A man was riding with her, but not the man that he had seen with her before, for this one was dark, and besides he was rather older; but as they passed they saw her smile at him, and open her pretty eyes at him, in a way that seemed to please him very well.

So they rode on till their chattering could be heard no more; and then another man came riding by on a grey horse, quite alone, whom the Calf recognised as the fair man that had been with the girl when first he saw her; and very doleful and miserable he seemed to be. For he stopped on the path opposite to them, looking down at the ground with a troubled face, and kept flicking savagely at the heather with his whip, till at last he flicked his poor horse on the nose by mistake, and was obliged to pat him and tell him how sorry he was. How long he might have stopped there no one knows; but all of a sudden the Hind and Calf heard a wild sound of men hallooing, and the horn sounding in quick, continuous notes. Then the man’s face brightened up directly, and he caught hold of the grey horse by the head and galloped off as fast as he could go.

Directly after this, the Deer heard a mighty rush of hoofs all hastening to the same spot, the sound growing gradually fainter and fainter until all was still. But they lay fast till a white Sea-gull flew high over their heads chirping out, “They’re gone, they’re gone,” in a doleful voice; not, you know, because he was sorry that all the men and horses were gone, but because Sea-gulls, for some reason, can never say anything cheerfully. And then the Hind arose and led the Calf cautiously out of the plantation to the open moor; and as they went they saw a long string of horses, reaching for two or three miles, toiling painfully one after the other; while far ahead the hounds, like white specks, kept creeping on and on and on, with a larger speck close to them which could be nothing else than a grey horse. So the Hind led the Calf on to a quiet combe, and there they lay down in peace.

And when the sun began to sink they saw, far away, the hounds and a very few horses with them, returning slowly and wearily home. But presently they were startled by voices much closer to them, and they saw the fair man on the grey horse and the pretty girl, riding side by side. The Hind was a little alarmed at first, but there was no occasion for it; for the pair were riding very close together, so close that his hand was on her horse’s neck, and they seemed to be far too much occupied with each other to think of anything else. So they passed on; and after they were gone there came a loose horse, saddled and bridled, but covered all over with mire, and with a stirrup missing from the saddle. And presently he lay down and rolled over and over till the girths parted with a crack and left the saddle on the ground; then he got up, hung up one hind-leg in the reins, and kicked himself free; then he lay down again, and rubbed his cheeks against the heather until he had forced the bridle over his head; then he gave himself a great shake to make quite sure that he had got rid of everything, and at last he went down to the water and drank, and wandered off grazing as happy as could be.

Last of all came a man tramping wearily over the heather, with a stirrup in his hand; but the Calf hardly recognised him as the dark man whom he had seen in the morning, for his hat was crushed in, and his clothes caked with mire from head to foot. And he toiled on, looking round him on all sides, till he caught his foot in a tussock of grass, and fell on his nose; and what he said when he got up I don’t know, though I might guess, for he looked very cross.

So he too passed out of sight, and the sun went down, and the mist stole over the face of the moor, and the Hind and Calf were left alone with the music of the flowing water to sing them to sleep. But they never saw that old Stag again.