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

They were glad to get on to the heather again, and to hear the breeze singing over the moor, and still more glad when they caught the wind of deer and found Aunt Yeld and Ruddy among them. And Lady Ruddy had kept her promise to her little Hind and had given her a little Stag for a brother, a fine little fellow, who was already beginning to shed his white spots and grow his brown coat. But almost directly after they arrived the stags began belling and fighting again, and there was no peace for nearly a month until they had tired themselves out and settled down to live quietly for another year.

Then came a week of sharp frost, which made the ground too hard for the hounds to trouble them; and they really began to think that they might enjoy a quiet winter. Their winter-friends came flocking back to them, the Woodcock arriving one bright moonlight night with the whole of her own family and two or three more families besides. They all settled down above the cliffs where the springs were kept unfrozen by the sea, and night after night while the moon lasted the Pricket saw them grubbing in the soft ground with their long bills, and growing fatter and fatter. But at length one morning the Sea-gulls came in screaming from the sea to say that the west wind and the rain were coming; and that very night the frost vanished. Then came three days of endless grey clouds and mizzling rain, and then the sun and blue sky returned; and the Deer moved out of the covert to the open ground to enjoy St. Martin’s summer.

But one day while they were lying in the great grass tufts in the middle of the wet ground, they were startled by the approach of horses and hounds; and they leaped to their feet and made off in all haste. There were but two hounds after them, but for all that the Hind and the Pricket were never more alarmed, for scent as they knew was good, and the pace at which those two hounds flew after them was terrible. They had not run above a quarter of a mile when Aunt Yeld turned off in one direction, and Ruddy with her Yearling and her Calf in another; but the hounds let them go where they would, and raced after our Pricket and his mother as if they had been tied to them. They both ran their hardest, but they could not shake off those two hounds, and presently they parted company and fled on, each of them alone. The Pricket made for the cliffs, dashing across the peat-stream without daring to wait for a bath; and as he cantered up the hill towards the refuge that he had chosen, he caught sight of his mother racing over the yellow grass at her topmost speed, and no longer one couple but sixteen couples of hounds racing after her in compact order, not one of them gaining an inch on his neighbour. He saw her gallop up to a gate in a fence and fly over it like an arrow from the bow; and a few minutes after her the hounds also came to the same gate and flew over it likewise, without pausing for an instant, like a handful of white blossoms driven before the wind. Then he turned into the plantation, frightened out of his life, and ran down through them, leaping desperately over the stunted trees and scaring the Woodcocks out of their five wits. And from the plantation he ran down through the oak-woods on the cliff, and from thence to the beach, and then without pausing for a moment he ran straight into the sea and swam out over the waves as only a deer can swim.

The cool water refreshed him; and presently he stopped swimming and turned round, floating quietly on the surface, to see if he was still in danger. But the woods were all silent, and there was no sign of hound or horse on the shore or on the cliff-paths; so after waiting for another quarter of an hour he swam back, and climbed up over the cliff again till he found a stream of fresh water. There he drank a good draught, and passing on came upon a Woodcock, one of those that he had frightened on his way down. The little bird was rather cross at having been disturbed in the middle of her day-dreams, for she said: “What on earth made you come tearing through this wood in that mad way just now? There was nobody hunting you, and nothing of any kind to frighten you. I was in the middle of a delightful dream about Norway, and you quite spoilt it.” But he soon soothed her, for woodcocks are easy-going little creatures, and went away and lay down, very much relieved to know that he was unpursued.

When evening came he went away to seek his mother, but he could not find her; and all next day he wandered about asking every deer that he met if they had seen her, but not one could tell him anything. He met Aunt Yeld and Ruddy, but they knew nothing, and he could not ask the hounds who might have told him; so at last very sorrowfully he gave up searching and made up his mind that she would never come back. And he was right, for she never did come back, and he never saw her again. But, after all, he was old enough to take care of himself, and it was time for him to be making his own way in the world. There were plenty of young deer of his own age to keep him company, and Aunt Yeld and Ruddy’s little daughter were still left for old friends. So he settled down comfortably on Dunkery, and by good luck was little troubled the rest of the winter by the hounds.

At last the spring came again and all was peace on the moor. The ash sent forth its green shoots, and as usual all the young male deer came crowding up to eat them; and our Deer got a larger share this spring, for he was bigger and stronger and could drive the yearlings away. But about the middle of April his head began to ache again, and not only to ache but to irritate him a great deal. It grew worse and worse every day, and one morning it got so troublesome on one side that he gave his head an extra violent shake; and lo and behold! the horn on that side began to totter, and before he could understand what had happened, it fell to the ground. For a minute or two he stood still trembling with pain, for the air struck cold on to the place from which the horn had dropped, and hurt him dreadfully. The pain soon got better, and he went away to hide himself, for he felt very much ashamed at having but one horn. But after a few hours the other side of his head grew as bad as the first, and he was wondering what on earth he should do, when who should come by but another Two-year-old, with both horns still on his head? Now this Two-year-old was rather smaller than our Deer, and rather disliked him because he took a larger share of the ash-sprouts; so thinking that this would be a fine opportunity of taking his revenge, he came at him at once with his head lowered. And our Deer ran away what else could he do with only one horn against two? and as he bounded under the oak bushes he knocked his remaining horn against a branch, and thump! off it came as suddenly as the other. But he was able to crow over the Two-year-old in a few days when he too had shed his horns, for our Deer had got the start of him in growing a new pair, and could show two inches of growing velvet where the other could only show one.

So when the autumn came and the velvet began to peel, our Deer found that he had bigger horns than any other deer of his own age, brow, trey and upright, very strong and well-grown; such was his good luck in being an early calf and having had so good a mother. And when another year came (for the years, as you will find out to your cost some day, fly away much faster as one grows older) and he had shed his old horns and grown his new pair, he carried on each horn, brow, bay and trey, with two on top on one side and upright on the other, or nine points in all.

Now towards the end of that summer a great big Stag came up to him and said, “My fine young fellow, it is time that you had nothing more to do with hinds and young things; you must come and be my squire.” Now our Deer thought it a great compliment to be noticed by so splendid an old fellow, and went with him gladly enough. The pair of them were constantly together for several weeks; and our Deer found it not unpleasant, for the old Stag knew of all the best feeding grounds, and, though he took all the best of the food for himself, left plenty and to spare for the squire. But it was a shame to see how wasteful this greedy old fellow was. For if they went into a turnip-field he would only take a single bite out of a turnip, worry it out of the ground, and go on to another; while often he would pick up scores of roots and throw them over his head, from mere mischief and pride in the strength of his neck. Again, in the corn-fields he was so dainty that he would not take a whole ear of corn, but would bite off half of it and leave the rest to spoil. Now a hind, as our Deer knew from observing his mother, is far more thrifty. She will take four or five bites out of a turnip before she pulls it out of the ground and leaves it, and she takes the whole of an ear of corn instead of half. But I am sorry to say that our young Deer took example from the great Stag, and soon became as wasteful and mischievous as he was in his feeding; and indeed I never saw nor heard of a stag that had not learned this very bad habit.

The only occasions on which the old Stag did not keep his squire with him was when he went to lie down in the covert for the day after feeding. The lazy old fellow was very particular about his bed, and was aware of all kinds of quiet places in the cliffs, where he knew that the hounds would be unlikely to find him. Or sometimes he would tell his squire to stop for a minute, and then he would make a gigantic bound of twenty feet or more into the midst of some dense thicket, and say to him quietly: “Now I am quite comfortable. Do you go on and lie down by yourself; but don’t go too far, and keep to windward of me, so that I can find you if I want you.”

And our Deer used to go as he was told, never doubting that all was right; nor was it until late in the autumn that he found out his mistake. For one day while he was lying quietly in the short plantation above the cliffs he heard the familiar cry of hounds, and presently up came the old Stag. He jerked his head at him, just as the other old stag had done when he was a calf, and said very roughly: “Now, then, give me your bed, young fellow, and run instead of me. Look sharp.” And our Deer jumped up at once, but he was so angry and astonished at being treated in this way now that he was grown up, that he quite forgot his manners, and said very shortly, “Sha’n’t!”

“How dare you? Go on at once,” said the old Stag, quivering with rage and lowering his head, but our Deer lowered his head too and made ready to fight him, though he was but half of his size; and it would have gone hard with him, if just at that moment the hounds had not come up. Then the old Stag threw himself down into his bed with a wicked chuckle; and the hounds made a rush at our Deer and forced him to fly for his life. So there he was, starting alone before the hounds for the first time, and with only a few minutes to make up his mind whither he would go. But what other refuge should he seek but the wood where his mother had led him as a calf? So he left the covert at once and started off gallantly over the heather.

He ran on for five or six miles, for he had been frightened by finding the hounds so close to him when the old Stag drove him out. But after a time he stopped and listened, for he had heard no voice of hounds behind him since he left the covert, and began to doubt whether they were chasing him after all. He pricked his ears intently, and turned round to find if the wind would bear him any scent of his enemies. No! there was not a sign of them. Evidently they were not following him, and he was safe. And this indeed was the case, for, though he did not know it, some men had seen the two deer turn and fight, and, marking the spot where the old Stag had lain down, had brought the hounds back and roused him again. But our Deer was too wary to make sure of his safety without the help of a peat-stream, so he cantered on to the next water and ran up it for a long way till it parted into three or four tiny threads, for he was now on the treacherous, boggy ground where the rivers rise. Then he left the stream and lay down in the tall, rank grass, meaning to wait there till night should come, if he were undisturbed. And lonely though it was, he felt that he was on friendly ground, for all round him the tiny brown streams were singing their song.

Through heather and woodland, through meadow and lea We flow from the forest away to the sea. In cloud and in vapour, in mist and in rain We fly from the sea to the forest again. Oh! dear is the alder and dearer the fern, And welcome are kingfisher, ousel and herne, The swan from the tide-way, the duck from the mere, But welcome of all is the wild Red-Deer. Turn down to the sea, turn up to the hill, Turn north, turn south, we are with you still. Though fierce the pursuer, wherever you fly Our voices will tell where a friend is nigh, Your thirst to quench, and your strength to stay, And to wash the scent of your feet away. Lie down in our midst and know no fear, For we are the friends of the wild Red-deer.

So there he lay for two hours and more, never doubting but that he was safe, till suddenly to his dismay he thought he heard the voice of a hound, very faint and far away. He lay quite still, and after a time he thought he heard it again; but he could hardly think that the hounds could follow his line after so long a time. He waited and waited, distinctly hearing the sound come nearer, though very slowly, till presently a Blackcock came spinning up to him, whom he recognised as one of the old Greyhen’s children. “Beware, my lord, beware,” he said; “they’m coming slowly, but they’m a-coming, and I am bound to warn ’ee.”

“Are they come to the water?” he asked.

“No,” said the Blackcock, “but they’m almost come to it. Bide quiet, and I will keep watch. The old Stag managed to beat the hounds on the cliffs, and as they could not find mun again, the men after waiting a long time laid the pack on your line, and faint though scent was, they have followed it slowly, and follow it yet.”

So the Blackcock watched, and saw the hounds puzzling out the scent inch by inch with the greatest difficulty. There were but very few horsemen with them, though the moor was dotted in all directions with a hundred or more of them that had given up the chase and were going away. But a few still stuck to the hounds, which never ceased searching in all directions for the line of the Deer. At last after much puzzling the hounds carried the scent to the water, and there they were brought to their wits’ end; but they tried up and up and up with tireless diligence till they came to a place where a huge tuft of grass jutted out high over the water from the bank, and there they stopped.

“Oh, my lord, my lord,” whispered the Blackcock, “you didn’t never brush the grass as you passed, surely?”

But while he spoke a hound reared up on his hind-legs and thrust his nose into the grass tuft, and said, “Ough! he has passed here;” and the Deer knew the voice as that of the black and tan hound that had led the way to his hiding-place once before when he was a calf. Yet he lay still, though trembling, while the hounds searched on closer and closer to him, albeit with little to guide them, for the scent was weak from the water that had run off his coat when he left the stream. At last, one after another, they gave up trying, and only the black and tan hound kept creeping on with his nose on the ground, till at last he caught the wind of the Deer in his bed, and stood rigid and stiff with ears erect and nostrils spread wide. Then the Blackcock rose and flew away crying, “Fly, my lord, fly,” and the Deer jumped up and bounded off at the top of his speed.

He heard every hound yell with triumph behind him, but he summoned all his courage, and set his face to go over the hill to the valley whither the Wild-Duck had guided him two years before. And he gained on the hounds, for he was fresh, whereas they had worked hard and travelled far to hunt him to his bed. So he cantered on in strength and confidence over bog and turf-pit till he gained the hilltop, and on down the long slope which led to the valley, and through the oak-coppice to the water. Then he jumped in and ran down, while the merry brown stream danced round him and leaped over his heated flanks, refreshing him and encouraging him till he felt that he could run on for ever.

He followed it for full two miles and would have followed it still further, when all of a sudden a great Fish like a huge bar of silver came sculling up the stream to him and motioned him back.

“What is it, my Lord Salmon?” he asked.

“There are men on the bank not far below the bridge,” answered the Fish. “Turn back, for your life. Do you know of a good pool within reach upward?”

“Not one,” said the Stag; “but hide yourself if you can, my Lord Salmon, for the hounds will be down presently.”

But for all the Salmon’s warnings he went on yet a little further, for he knew that he should find another stream flowing into that wherein he stood, before he reached the bridge. So down he went till he reached it, and then without leaving the water he turned up this second stream for another mile. Then at last he went up into the covert, turning and twisting as he had seen old Aunt Yeld on the moor, and picking out every bit of stony ground, just as his mother had taught him.

Meanwhile he heard the hounds trying down the other stream far beyond the spot where he had left it; and when at last they tried back up the water after him the evening was closing in, and the scent was so weak and all of them so tired that they could only hunt very slowly. So he, like a cunning fellow, kept passing backward and forward through the wood from one stream to the other, till at last he began to grow tired himself; when luckily he met the Salmon again, who led him down to a deep pool, where he sunk himself under the bank, as he had once seen Aunt Yeld sink herself. He lay there till night came and the valley was quiet and safe, and then he jumped out and lay down, very thankful to the friendly waters that had saved his life.