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

One day when they were out at feed our Pricket caught sight of a little brown bird with a full dozen of little chicks cheeping all round her; and as he was always anxious to make new friends he trotted up to scrape acquaintance with the stranger. But what was his astonishment when the little bird fluffed out her wings and flew at him.

“You dare to touch mun,” she said furiously, “you dare to touch mun, and I’ll peck out the eyes of ’ee.”

“But, my dear soul,” he said, “I won’t do you any harm.”

“Oh, beg your pardon,” said the little bird, “I didn’t see who it was, and I made sure that it was one of they sheep-dogs. But I don’t mind ever to have seen one of you here; I thought you belonged farther down the valley.”

“But I come from the moor,” he said.

“I ha’n’t never been on the moor,” said the little bird, “but there’s more of ’ee down the valley, at least I think there be, for, begging your honour’s pardon, I don’t rightly know who you be. Do ’ee want to know the way? Then follow down the river till you’m clear of the woods and then turn up over the fields, till you see another wood, and that will bring ’ee to the place where your friends be. And I beg your honour’s pardon for mistaking your honour for a sheep-dog, for I’ve never seen the like of you before, but they sheep-dogs do worry us poor Partridges terrible.”

And she bustled away with her Chicks. But the Pricket was so much excited to hear of other Deer that he entreated his mother to go where the Partridge had told them. And they went just as she had said, over the fields and into the wood that she spoke of, but to their disappointment saw no sign of a deer there. So they passed on through the wood to the valley again, and then they came to a park with the river running through it, and great trees bigger than he had ever seen, beech and oak and lime and chestnut, some in rows and some in clumps, a beautiful expanse of green, all dripping in the morning dew. And there the Pricket saw deer, and he was so delighted that he ran on by himself to speak to them; but he was puzzled, for some of them were black, and some were white, and some were red, and the greater part were spotted; while not one was near so big as he was, though many of them had growing horns as big as his own and bigger. So he made sure that they must all be calves with some new description of horn, and going up to the biggest of them he said rather patronisingly, “Good morning, my little friend.”

But the other turned round and said, “Little friend! Do you know who I am, sir? I am the Master-Buck of this park, sir, and I’ll trouble you not to call me your little friend.”

“But why don’t you come to the woods and on to the moor?” said the Pricket, astonished. “I’ve never seen you there.”

“Did you hear me say that I was the Master-Buck of this park, sir?” said the Fallow-Buck, “and do you know what that means? I am lord of the whole of this herd, and master of everything inside this park-fence. What do I want with woods and moors, when I have all this beautiful green park for a kingdom, and all this grass to feed on in the summer, and hay, sir, hay brought to me in the winter? Do you get hay brought to you in the winter, sir?”

“Why,” broke in the Pricket, “do you mean to say that you can’t feed yourself?”

But here the Hind trotted up and fetched her son away. “They are only miserable little tame Fallow-Deer,” she said. “You should never have lowered yourself to speak to them.”

“No, mother,” he answered; “but fancy preferring to live in a wretched little park instead of wandering free through the woods and over the moor! Do let me go back and thrash him.”

But when the Fallow-Buck heard this he trotted away as quick as he could; and mother and son went back into the wood. And as they entered it a very handsome bird with a grey back and a rosy breast and bright blue on his wings fluttered over their heads screeching at the top of his voice. “Come in,” he said, “please to come right in. But we Jays be put here to scritch when any stranger cometh into the wood, and scritch I must and scritch I shall.” And certainly he did, in a most unpleasant tone, for he had been watching a brood of another bird’s chicks instead of minding his proper business, and so had missed them when they first came in. So he screeched double to make up for lost time.

Then presently there came towards them another bird, walking very daintily on the ground. He had a green neck and bright red round his eyes, and a coat which shone like burnished copper mixed with burnished gold. He stopped as they came up, and waiting till the Pricket had wandered a little way from his mother, he went up to him and said in a very patronising tone: “Welcome, young sir, welcome to my wood. I have not the pleasure of knowing who you are, but my name I expect is familiar to you. Phasianus Colchicus, ahem ” and he strutted about with great importance. “You have heard of me, no doubt.”

“I am afraid not,” said the Pricket very civilly. “You see, I come from the moor. But I thought that I saw one or two birds like you as we passed through this wood.”

“Like me,” said the bird suspiciously; “are you quite sure that they were like me, like me in every way?”

“Well,” said the Pricket hesitating, “they had pretty white rings round their necks ?”

“What!” broke in the bird, “rings round their necks, and like me! Oh, the ignorance of young people nowadays. My dear young friend, you have a great deal to learn. Have I a white ring round my neck? No. Well, now I must ask your pardon if I turn my back upon you for one moment.” And round he turned very slowly and ceremoniously and stood with his back to the Pricket, who stared at it not knowing what to say.

“Well,” said the bird, looking over his shoulder after a time. “You make no remark. Is it possible that you notice nothing? My dear young friend, let me ask you, do you see any green on my back?”

“No,” said the Pricket, and honestly he did not.

“So,” said the bird very tragically. “Look well at that back, for you will never see such another again, my young friend. I am one of the old English breed, the last of my race, the last of those that, coming centuries ago from the banks of the Phasis, made England their home and were, I may venture to say, her greatest ornament. But now a miserable race of Chinese birds has come in, and go where I will I see nothing but white-ringed necks and hideous green backs. My very children, now no more, took them for wives and husbands, and I alone am left of the old pure breed, the last of the true Pheasants, the last king of this famous wood, the last and the greatest bless me, what’s that? Kok, kok, kok, kok, kok.” Thereupon he flipped up into a larch-tree and began at the top of his voice: “You wretched creature, how often have I forbidden you the woods? Go home and catch mice, go home. My dear young friend, let me entreat you to drive that wretch away.”

And the Pricket looking round saw a little black and white Cat slinking through the wood close by, a thing he had never seen before and did not at all like the sight of. She took not the least notice of the Pheasant till the Hind trotted down through the covert and said very sternly: “Go home, Pussy, go home. How dare you come out into the woods? Take care, or you’ll come to a bad end.” And the Cat ran away as fast as she could; and I may as well say that she did come to a bad end the very next week, for she was caught in a trap and knocked on the head, which last is the fate of all poaching cats sooner or later. So if ever you own a cat, be careful to keep it at home.

“Ah!” said the old Cock-Pheasant, much relieved, as the Cat disappeared. “Is that your mother, my young friend? What an excellent person! You must introduce me some day, but really at this moment I feel quite unfit to leave this tree.”

So they left him sitting in the larch tree, not looking at all kingly, and wandered about the wood, finding it very much to their liking; for there was dry ground and wet ground, sunny beds and shady beds, warm places and cool places, and great quiet and repose. And that is why all wild animals love Bremridge Wood and always have loved it.

Now some days after they had made their home there, the Pricket became troubled with a good deal of itching in the velvet on his head. He shook his head violently, but this did no good except to make the velvet fall down in little strips, so at last he picked out a neat little ash-tree and rubbed and scrubbed and frayed till all the velvet fell to the ground, and he was left with a clean little pair of smooth white horns. At this he was so pleased with himself that he must needs go down to the river to look at himself in the water; and after that he could not be satisfied till he had passed through the deer-park to let the Fallow-Deer see him. But here he was a little abashed, for the horns of the Bucks were many of them much bigger than his own, though flat, like your hand, and, as he thought, not nearly so handsome.

The Hind now became restless and inclined to wander, so that they went the round of all the woods in the neighbourhood; and thus it was that one day they came upon ground covered with rhododendrons, and azaleas, and tall pine-trees of a kind that they had never seen before. They would hardly have ventured upon it if they had not heard the quacking of wild-ducks, which led them on till they came upon a little stream. They followed the water downward till they came to a waterfall, where they stopped for a minute in alarm; for at its foot lay the remains of three little ducks quite dead, little more indeed than heaps of wet feathers, only to be recognised by their poor little olive-green beaks. But they still heard quacking below, and going on they presently found a dozen Mallards and Ducks exactly like those that they had seen on the moor, all full-plumed and full-grown.

The Hind went up to them at once, but they took not the least notice of her. She wished them good-morning, but still they took no notice; so then she said in her gentlest voice: “I am afraid that you have had a dreadful misfortune with your little Flappers.”

Then at last a little Duck turned round and said very rudely: “Ey? What yer s’yin’?”

“Your little Ducklings which I saw lying dead by the fall,” she said.

“Well,” said the Duck still more rudely, “let ’em lie there. I can’t be bothered with ’em. Who asked you to come poking your nose into our water?”

The Hind was very angry, for she had never been spoken to like this, and she remembered how very differently the Duck had talked to her on the moor. So instead of leaving these disgraceful little Ducks alone, which would perhaps have been wiser, she began to scold them. “What,” she said, “do you mean to say that you let the poor little things drown for want of proper care? I never heard of such a thing. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”

And then all the Ducks broke out in chorus. “’Ow, I s’y, ’ere’s an old party come to teach us ’ow to bring up our chicks,” said one. “Shall I just step out and teach your little feller ’ow to run?” said another. “Look out, little ’un, or your ’orns will drop off,” said a third; and this annoyed the Pricket very much, for how could his horns be dropping off, considering that they were only just clean of velvet? “The old ’un hasn’t got no ’orns,” said a fourth; “there’s an old Cow in the next field. Shall I go and borrow a pair for you, mum? She’ll be ’appy to lend ’em, I’m sure.” And they all burst out laughing together, “Quar, quar, quar, quar!” And I am sorry to say that the Ducks laughed even louder than the Mallards.

Altogether they were so rude, and impudent, and vulgar, and odious, that the Deer walked away with great dignity without saying another word. And as they went they saw an old grey Fox crouching down in the rushes by the water-side, as still as a stone, and quite hidden from view. Then the Hind turned to warn the Ducks, but she could hardly utter a word before they all came swimming down, laughing, “Quar, quar, quar,” till she couldn’t hear herself speak. Presently they turned to the bank, still laughing, and waddled ashore one after another; when all of a sudden up jumped the Fox, caught the foremost Mallard by the neck, threw him over his back, and trotted away laughing in his turn. And the rest of the ducks flew back to the water fast enough then, you may be sure, and were sorry when it was too late that they had been so rude. But the truth is, that these were not true wild-ducks, but what are called tame wild-ducks, which had been bought in Leadenhall Market. And this accounted for their bad manners, their ugly language, and their conceit; for like a great many other creatures that are bred in towns, they thought they knew everything, whereas in reality they could not take care of their children nor even of themselves.

The Hind was very much disgusted, and began to think that she had wandered too far from the moor, as indeed she had. For on their way back to Bremridge Wood they were chased by a sheep-dog, and when they shook him off by jumping a hedge they found themselves in the middle of a lot of bullocks, which ran together and galloped after them and tried to mob them. So they decided to have no more to do with a country where there were so many tame things, but to go straight back to the moor. The Pricket thought that it might be pleasanter only to move up to their old home in the woods higher up the valley, but the Hind was impatient to return to the moor. There was no one to warn her not to go, and they set out that very same night.