THE WOLF HUNT
 IT was a bright day in August. The whispering rustle of
the leaves as they turned their white sides to the soft
breath of the southwest wind, the buzzing of the
ostentatiously busy bees, the lapping of the river as
it gurgled happily along on its everlasting travels,
the half-drowsy note of a thrush, and the peevish cry
of a catbird seemed only to accentuate the Sabbath hush
that was upon all nature.
The day was very warm, but the deep shade of the elms
in front of the cabin afforded a delightful retreat,
almost as cool as a cellar.
Tom and Liney Fox had walked over to visit Balser and
Jim; and Sukey Yates, with her two brothers, had
dropped in to stay a
 moment or two, but finding
such good company, had remained for the day.
The children were seated at the top of the slope that
descended to the river, and the weather being too warm
to play any game more vigorous than "thumbs up" they
were occupying the time with drowsy yawns and still
more drowsy conversation, the burden of which was borne
Balser often said that he didn't mind "talking parties"
if he could only keep Tom Fox from telling the story of
the time when he went to Cincinnati with his father and
saw a live elephant. But that could never be done; and
Tom had told it twice upon the afternoon in question,
and there is no knowing how often he would have
inflicted it upon his small audience, had it not been
for an interruption which effectually disposed of
"Cincinnati" and the live elephant for that day.
A bustling old hen with her brood of downy chicks was
peevishly clucking about, now and then lazily
scratching the earth,
 and calling up her
ever-hungry family whenever she was lucky enough to
find a delicious worm or racy bug.
The cubs were stretched at full length in the bright
blaze of the sun, snoring away like a pair of
grampuses, their black silky sides rising and falling
with every breath. They looked so pretty and so
innocent that you would have supposed a thought of
mischief could never have entered their heads.
(Mischief! They never thought of anything else. From
morning until night, and from night until morning, they
studied, planned, and executed deeds of mischief that
would have done credit to the most freckle-faced boy
in the settlement. Will you tell me why
 it is
that the boy most plentifully supplied with freckles
and warts is the most fruitful in schemes of mischief?)
A flock of gray geese and snowy ganders were floating
on the placid surface of the river, opposite the
children, where a projection of the bank had caused the
water to back, making a little pool of listless eddies.
Suddenly from among the noiseless flock of geese came a
mighty squawking and a sound of flapping wings, and the
flock, half flying, half swimming, came struggling at
their utmost speed toward home.
"Look, Balser! Look!" said Liney in a whisper. "A
Balser turned in time to see a great, lank, gray wolf
emerge from the water, carrying a gander by the neck.
The bird could not squawk, but flapped his wings
violently, thereby retarding somewhat the speed of Mr.
Balser hurried to the house for his gun, and with Tom
Fox quickly paddled across the river in pursuit of the
wolf. The boys
 entered the forest at the place
the wolf had chosen. White feathers form the gander
furnished a distinct spoor, and Balser had no
difficulty in keeping on the wolf's tract. The boys had
been walking rapidly for thirty or forty minutes, when
they found that the tracks left by the wolf and the
scattered feathers of the gander led toward a thick
clump of pawpaw bushes and vines, which grew at the
foot of a small rocky hill. Into the thicket the boys
cautiously worked their way and, after careful
examination they found, ingeniously concealed by dense
foliage, a small hole or cleft in the rocks at the base
of the hill, and they at once knew that
 the wolf
had gone to earth, and that this was his den.
Foxes make for themselves and their families the
snuggest, most ingenious home in the ground you can
possibly imagine. They seek a place at the base of a
hill or bluff, and dig what we would call in our houses
a narrow hallway, straight into the hill. They loosen
the dirt with their front feet, and throw it back of
them; then with their hind feet they keep pushing it
farther toward the opening of the hole, until they have
cast it all out. When they have removed the loose dirt,
they at once scatter it over the ground and carefully
cover it with leaves and vines, to avoid attracting
unwelcome visitors to their home.
When the hallway is finished, the fox digs upward into
the hill, and there he makes his real home. His reason
for doing this is to prevent water from flowing through
his hall into his living apartment. The latter is often
quite a cave in the earth, and furnishes as roomy and
cozy a home for
 Mr. and Mrs. Fox and their
children as you could find in the world. It is cool in
summer and warm in winter. It is softly carpeted with
leaves, grass, and feathers, and the foxes lie there
snugly enough when the winter comes on, with its
freezing and snowing and blowing.
When the fox gets hungry he slips out of his cozy home,
and briskly trots to some well-known chicken roost; or
perhaps he finds a covey of quails huddled under a
bunch of straw. In either case he carries home with him
a dainty dinner, and after he has feasted, he cares not
how the wind blows, nor how the river freezes, nor how
the snow falls, for he is housed like a king, and is as
warm and comfortable and happy as if he owned the earth
and lived in a palace.
Wolves also make their dens in the earth, but they
usually hunt for a place where the hallway, at least,
is already made for them. They seek a hill with a rocky
base, and find a cave partially made, the entrance to
which is a small opening between the rocks. With
 this for a commencement, they dig out the interior and
make their home, somewhat upon the plan of the fox.
The old wolf which Balser and Tom had chased to earth
had found a fine dinner for his youngsters, and while
the boys were watching the hole, no doubt the wolf
family was having a glorious feast upon the gander.
The boys, of course, were at their rope's end. The dogs
were not with them, and, even had they been, they were
too large to enter the hole leading to the wolf's den.
So the boys seated themselves upon a rock a short
distance from the opening, and after a little time
adopted the following plan of action.
Balser was to lie upon his breast on the hillside, a
few yards above the opening of the wolf den, while Tom
was to conceal himself in the dense foliage, close to
the mouth of the cave, and they took their positions
accordingly. Both were entirely hidden by vines and
bushes, and remained
 silent as the tomb. They had
agreed that they should lie entirely motionless until
the shadow of a certain tree should fall across Tom's
face, which they thought would occur within an hour.
Then Tom, who could mimic the calls and cries of many
birds and beasts, was to squawk like a goose, and tempt
the wolf from his den so that Balser could shoot him.
It was a harder task than you may imagine to lie on the
ground amid the bushes and leaves; for it seemed, at
least so Tom said, that all the ants and bugs and worms
in the woods had met at that particular place, and at
that exact time, for the sole purpose of "drilling" up
and down, and over and around, his body, and to bite
him at every step. He dared not move to frighten away
the torments, not to scratch. He could not even
grumble, which to Tom was the sorest trial of all.
The moment the shadow of the tree fell upon his face
Tom squawked like a goose, so naturally, that Balser
could hardly believe
 it was Tom, and not a real
goose. Soon he uttered another squawk, and almost at
the same instant Mr. Wolf came out of his hall door,
doubtless thinking to himself that that was his lucky
day, for he would have two ganders, one for dinner and
one for supper, and plenty of cold goose for breakfast
and dinner the next day. But he was mistaken, for it
was the unluckiest day of the poor wolf's life. Bang!
Went Balser's gun, and the wolf, who had simply done
his duty as a father, by providing a dinner for his
family, paid for his feast with his life.
"We'll drag the body a short distance away from the
den," said Balser, "and you lie down again, and this
time whine like a wolf. Then the old she-wolf will come
out and we'll get her too."
"I wouldn't lie there another hour and let them ants
and bugs chaw over me as they did, for all the wolves
in the state."
"But just think, Tom," answered Balser,
 "when the
wagons go to
Brookville this fall we can get a shilling apiece for
the wolfskins! Think of it! A shilling! One for you and
one for me. I'll furnish the powder and shot if you'll
squawk and whine. Squawks and whines don't cost
anything, but powder and lead does. Now that's a good
fellow, just lie down and whine a little. She'll come
out pretty quick."
Tom still refused, and Balser still insisted. Soon
Balser grew angry and called Tom a fool. Tom answered
in kind, and in a moment the boys clinched for a fight.
They scuffled and fought awhile, and soon stumbled over
the dead wolf and fell to the ground. Balser was lucky
enough to fall on top, and proceeded to pound Tom at a
"Now will you whine?" demanded Balser.
"No," answered Tom.
"Then take that, and that, and that. Now will you
 "No," cried Tom, determined not to yield.
So Balser went at it again, but there was no give up to
stubborn Tom, even if he was on the under side.
At last Balser wiped the perspiration from his face,
and sitting astride of his stubborn foe, said:—
"Tom, if you'll whine I'll lend you my gun for a whole
"And powder and bullets?" asked Tom.
"Well, I guess not," answered Balser. "I'll lick you
twenty times first."
"If you'll lend me your gun and give me ten full loads,
I'll whine till I fetch every wolf in the woods, if the
bugs do eat me up."
"That's a go," said Balser, glad enough to compromise
with a boy who didn't know when he was whipped.
Then they got up, and were as good friends as if no
trouble had occurred between them.
Balser at once lay down upon the
hill-  side above the
wolf den, and Tom took his place to whine.
The boys understood their job thoroughly, and Tom's
whines soon brought out the old she-wolf. She looked
cautiously about her for a moment, stole softly over to
her dead mate, and dropped by his side with a bullet
through her heart.
Tom was about to rise, but Balser said:—
"Whine again; whine again, and the young ones will come
Tom whined, and sure enough, out came two scrawny,
long-legged wolf whelps.
The boys rushed upon them, and caught them by the back
of the neck, to avoid being bitten, for the little
teeth of the pups were as sharp as needles and could
inflict an ugly wound. Balser handed the whelp he had
caught to Tom, and proceeded to cut two forked sticks
from a tough bush, which the children called "Indian
arrow." These forked branches the boys tied about the
necks of the pups, with which to lead them home.
 Tom then cut a strong limb from a tree with his
pocket-knife. This was quite an undertaking, but in
time he cut it through, and trimmed off the smaller
branches. The boys tied together the legs of the old
wolves and swung them over the pole, which they took
upon their shoulders, and started home leading the
pups. They arrived home an hour or two before sunset,
and found that Liney and Sukey had arranged supper
under the elsm.
The boys scoured their faces and hands with soft soap,
for that was the only soap they had, and sat down to
supper with cheeks shining, and hir pasted to their
heads slick and tight.
"When a fellow gets washed up this way, and has his
hair combed so slick, it makes him feel like it was
Sunday," said Tom, who was uneasily clean.
"Tom, I wouldn't let people know how seldom I washed my
face if I were you," said Liney, with a slight blush.
"They'll think you clean up only on Sunday."
 Tom, however, did not allow Liney's remarks to
interrupt his supper, but continues to make sad havoc
among the good things on the log.
There was white bread made form wheat flour, so snowy
and light that it beat cake "all holler!" the boys
"allowed." Wheat bread was a luxury to the settler
folks in those days, for the mill nearest to the Blue
River settlement was over on Whitewater, at Brookville,
fifty miles away. Wheat and the skins of wild animals
were the only products that the farmers could easily
turn into cash, so the small crops were too precious to
be used daily, and wheat flour bread was used only for
special occasions such as Christmas, or New Year's or
Usually three of four of the farmers joined in a little
caravan and went in their wagons to Brookville twice a
year. They would go in the spring with the hides of
animals killed during the winter, that being the
hunting season, and the hides then taken being of
 superior quality to those taken at any other time.
Early in the fall they would go again to Brookville, to
market their summer crop of wheat.
Mr. Fox and a few neighbours had returned from an early
trop to market only a day or two before the children's
party at Balser's home, and had brought with them a few
packages of a fine new drink called coffee. That is, it
was new to the Western settler, at the time of which I
write, milk sweetened with "tree sugar" being the usual
Liney had brought over a small gourdful of coffee as a
present to Mrs. Brent, and a pot of the brown beverage
had been prepared for the supper under the elms.
The Yates children and Tom were frank enough to admit
that the coffee was bitter, and not fit to drink; but
Liney had made it, and Balser drank it, declaring it
was very good indeed. Liney knew he told a story, but
she thanked him for it, nevertheless, and said that the
Yates children and Tom were
 so thoroughly
"county" and green that she couldn't expect them to
like a civilized drink.
This would have made trouble with Tom, but Balser, who
saw it coming, said:—
"Now you shut up, Tom Fox." And Balser had so recently
whipped Tom that his word bore the weight of authority.
Besides the coffee and the white bread there was a
great gourd full of milk with the cream mixed in, just
from the spring-house, delicious and cold. There was a
cold loin of venison, which had been spitted and roated
over a bed of hot coals in the kitchen fireplace that
morning. There was a gourd full of quail eggs, which
had been boiled hard and then cooled in the
spring-house. There were heaping plates of fried
chicken, and rolls of glorious yellow butter just from
the churn, rich with the genuine butter taste, that
makes one long to eat it by the spoonful; then there
was a delicious apple pie, sweet and crusty, floating
in cream almost as thick as molasses in winter.
 They were backwoods, homely children; but the
supper to which they sat down under the elms was fit
for a king, and the appetite with which they are it was
too good for any king.
During the supper the bear cubs had been nosing about
the log table, begging each one by turns for a bite to
eat. They were so troublesome that Jim got a long
stick, and whenever they came within reach he gave them
a sharp rap upon the head, and soon they waddled away
in a pet of indignant disgust.
For quite a while after Jim had driven them off there
had been a season of suspicious quietude on the part of
Suddenly a chorus of yelps, howls, growls, and whines
came from the direction of the wolf pups. The attention
of all at the table was, of course, at once attracted
by the noise, and those who looked beheld probably the
most comical battle ever fought. Tom and Jerry, with
their everlasting desire to have their noses into
 did not concern them, had gone to
investigate the wolf pups, and in the course of the
investigation a fight ensued, whereby the wolves were
liberated. The cubs were the stronger, but the wolves
were more active, thus the battle was quite even. The
bears, being awkward, of course, were in each other's
way most of the time, and would fall over themselves
and roll upon the ground for a second or two, before
they could again get upon their clumsy feet. The
consequence was that the wolves soon had the best of
the fight, and, being once free from the cubs,
scampered off to the woods and were never seen again.
When the wolves had gone the cubs turned round and
round, looking for their late antagonists; but, failing
to find them, sat down upon their haunches, grinned at
each other in a very sill manner, and then began to
growl and grumble in the worst bear language any one
had every heard.
Balser scolded the cubs roundly, and told them he had
taught them better than to
 swear, even in bear
talk. He then switched them for having liberated the
wolves, and went back to supper.
The switching quieted the bears for a short time, but
soon their spirit of mischief again asserted itself.
After another period of suspicious silence on the part
of the cubs, Jim put a general inquiry to the company:—
"What do you s'pose they're up to this time?"
"Goodness only knows," responded Balser. "But if I hear
another grunt out of them, I'll take a stick to them
that'll hurt, and off they'll go to their pen for the
The settlers frequently caught swarms of bees in the
woods, and Balser's father had several hives near the
house. These hives were called "gums," because they
were made form sections of a hollow gun tree, that
being the best wood for the home of the bees. These
hollow hums were placed on end upon small slanting
platforms, and were covered with clapboards, which
 were held tightly in their place by heavy stones.
There was a small hole, perhaps as large as the end of
your finger, cut in the wood at the base, through which
the bees entered, and upon the inside of the hive they
constructed their comb and stored their honey.
I told you once before how bears delight to eat fish
and blackberries. They are also very fond of honey. In
fact, bears seem to have a general appetite and enjoy
everything, from boys to blackberries.
Hardly had Balser spoken his threat when another duet
of howls and yelps reached his ears.
"Now what on earth is it?" he asked and immediately
started around the house in the direction whence the
howls had come.
"Geminy! I believe they've upset the bee-gum," said
"Don't you know they have?" asked Balser. By that time
the boys were in sight of the bears.
 "Well, I know now they have, if that suits you
any better. Golly! Look at them paw and scratch, and
rub their eyes when the bees sting. Good enough for
you. Give it to 'em, bees!" And Jim threw back his head
and almost split his sides with laughter.
Sure enough, the bears had got to nosing about the
bee-gums, and in their every hungry greediness had
upset one. This, of course, made the bees very angry,
and they attacked the cubs in a buzzing, stinging swarm
that set them yelping, growling, and snapping, in a
most desperate and comical manner. All their snapping
and growling, however, did no good, for the bees
continued to buzz and sting without any indication of
being merciful. A little of his sort of thing went a
long was with the black mischief-makers, and they soon
ran to Balser and Jim for help. The bees, of course,
followed, and when the boys and girls saw the bees
coming toward them they broke helter-skelter in all
 ran as fast as they could go. The
bears then ran to the river, and plunged in to escape
When the gum had been placed in position again and the
bees had become quiet, the cubs, thinking the field
clear came out of the water dripping wet. Then they
waddled up close to the girls, and out of pure mischief
shook themselves and sprinkled the dainty clean frocks
with a shower form their frowzy hides.
That sealed the fate of the cubs for the day, and when
Balser marched them off to their pen they looked so
meek and innocent that one would have thought that they
had been attending bear Sunday-school all their lives,
and were entirely lacking in all unwarrantable and
They went to bed supperless that evening, but had their
revenge, for their yelps and whines kept the whole
family awake most of the night.
By the time the bears had been put to bed, darkness was
near at hand, so the
sup-  per dishes and gourds
were washed and carried to the kitchen. Then the
visitors said good night and left for home.