| Wild Animals I Have Known|
|by Ernest Thompson Seton|
|A stirring account of the lives of eight wild animals, including Lobo, the king of Currumpaw; Silverspot, the story of a crow; Raggylug, the story of a cottontail rabbit; Bingo, the story of a dog; the Springfield fox; the pacing mustang; Wully, the story of a yaller dog; and Redruff, the story of the Don valley partridge. Ages 11-14 |
THE STORY OF THE DON VALLEY PARTRIDGE
OWN the wooded slope of Taylor's Hill the Mother Partridge
led her brood; down toward the crystal brook that by some strange
whim was called Mud Creek. Her little ones were one day old but
already quick on foot, and she was taking them for the first time to
She walked slowly, crouching low as she went, for the woods were
full of enemies. She was uttering a soft little cluck in her throat, a
call to the little balls of mottled down that on their tiny pink legs
came toddling after, and peeping softly and plaintively if left even
a few inches
 behind, and seeming so fragile they made the very
chickadees look big and coarse. There were twelve of them, but
Mother Grouse watched them all, and she watched every bush and
tree and thicket, and the whole woods and the sky itself. Always
for enemies she seemed seeking—friends were too scarce to be
looked for—and an enemy she found. Away across the level
beaver meadow was a great brute of a fox. He was coming their
way, and in a few moments would surely wind them or strike their
trail. There was no time to lose.
'Krrr! Krrr!' (Hide!! Hide!) cried the mother in a low firm voice,
and the little bits of things, scarcely bigger than acorns and but a
day old, scattered far (a few inches) apart to hide. One dived under
a leaf, another between two roots, a third crawled into a curl of
birchbark, a fourth into a hole, and so on, till all were hidden but
one who could find no cover, so squatted on a broad yellow chip
and lay very flat, and closed his eyes very tight, sure that now he
was safe from being seen. They ceased their frightened peeping
and all was still.
Mother Partridge flew straight toward the
 dreaded beast, alighted
fearlessly a few yards to one side of him, and then flung herself on
the ground, flopping as though winged and lame—oh, so dreadfully
lame—and whining like a distressed puppy. Was she begging for
mercy—mercy from a bloodthirsty, cruel fox? Oh, dear no! She
was no fool. One often hears of the cunning of the fox. Wait and
see what a fool he is compared with a mother-partridge. Elated at
the prize so suddenly within his reach, the fox turned with a dash
and caught—at least, no, he didn't quite catch the bird; she flopped
by chance just a foot out of reach. He followed with another jump
and would have seized her this time surely, but somehow a sapling
came just between, and the partridge dragged herself awkwardly
away and under a log, but the great brute snapped his jaws and
bounded over the log, while she, seeming a trifle less lame, made
another clumsy forward spring and tumbled down a bank, and
Reynard, keenly following, almost caught her tail, but, oddly
enough, fast as he went and leaped, she still seemed just a trifle
faster. It was most extraordinary. A winged partridge and he,
Rey-  nard, the Swift-foot, had not caught her in five minutes' racing.
It was really shameful. But the partridge seemed to gain strength as
the fox put forth his, and after a quarter of a mile race, racing that
was somehow all away from Taylor's Hill, the bird got
unaccountably quite well, and, rising with a derisive whirr, flew
off through the woods leaving the fox utterly dumfounded to
realize that he had been made a fool of, and, worst of all, he now
remembered that this was not the first time he had been served this
very trick, though he never knew the reason for it.
Meanwhile Mother Partridge skimmed in a great circle and came
by a roundabout way back to the little fuzz-balls she had left
hidden in the woods.
With a wild bird's keen memory for places, she went to the very
grass-blade she last trod on, and stood for a moment fondly to
admire the perfect stillness of her children. Even at her step not
one had stirred, and the little fellow on the chip, not so very badly
concealed after all, had not budged, nor did he now; he only closed
his eyes a tiny little bit harder, till the mother said:
 'K-reet!' (Come, children) and instantly like a fairy story, every
hole gave up its little baby-partridge, and the wee fellow on the
chip, the biggest of them all really, opened his big-little eyes and
ran to the shelter of her broad tail, with a sweet little 'peep peep'
which an enemy could not have heard three feet away, but which
his mother could not have missed thrice as far, and all the other
thimblefuls of down joined in, and no doubt thought themselves
dreadfully noisy, and were proportionately happy.
The sun was hot now. There was an open space to cross on the
road to the water, and, after a careful lookout for enemies, the
mother gathered the little things under the shadow of her spread
fantail and kept off all danger of sunstroke until they reached the
brier thicket by the stream.
Here a cottontail rabbit leaped out and gave them a great scare.
But the flag of truce he carried behind was enough. He was an old
friend; and among other things the little ones learned that day that
Bunny always sails under a flag of truce, and lives up to it too.
 And then came the drink, the purest of living water, though silly
men had called it Mud Creek.
At first the little fellows didn't know how to drink, but they copied
their mother, and soon learned to drink like her and give thanks
after every sip. There they stood in a row along the edge, twelve
little brown and golden balls on twenty-four little pink-toed,
in-turned feet, with twelve sweet little golden heads gravely
bowing, drinking and giving thanks like their mother.
Then she led them by short stages, keeping the cover, to the far
side of the beaver-meadow, where was a great grassy dome. The
mother had made a note of this dome some time before. It takes a
number of such domes to raise a brood of partridges. For this was
an ant's nest. The old one stepped on top, looked about a moment,
then gave half a dozen vigorous rakes with her claws. The friable
ant-hill was broken open, and the earthen galleries scattered in
ruins down the slope. The ants swarmed out and quarrelled with
each other for lack of a better plan. Some ran around the hill with
vast energy and little purpose, while a few of the more sensible
 to carry away fat white eggs. But the old partridge, coming
to the little ones, picked up one of these juicy-looking bags and
clucked and dropped it, and picked it up again and again and
clucked, then swallowed it. The young ones stood around, then one
little yellow fellow, the one that sat on the chip, picked up an
ant-egg, dropped it a few times, then yielding to a sudden impulse,
swallowed it, and so had learned to eat. Within twenty minutes
even the runt had learned, and a merry time they had scrambling
after the delicious eggs as their mother broke open more
ant-galleries, and sent them and their contents rolling down the
bank, till every little partridge had so crammed his little crop that
he was positively misshapen and could eat no more.
Then all went cautiously up the stream, and on a sandy bank, well
screened by brambles, they lay for all that afternoon, and learned
how pleasant it was to feel the cool powdery dust running between
their hot little toes. With their strong bent for copying, they lay on
their sides like their mother and scratched with their tiny feet and
flopped with their wings, though they had
 no wings to flop with,
only a little tag among the down on each side, to show where the
wings would come. That night she took them to a dry thicket near
by, and there among the crisp, dead leaves that would prevent an
enemy's silent approach on foot, and under the interlacing briers
that kept off all foes of the air, she cradled them in their
feather-shingled nursery and rejoiced in the fulness of a mother's
joy over the wee cuddling things that peeped in their sleep and
snuggled so trustfully against her warm body.
The third day the chicks were much stronger on their feet. They no
longer had to go around an acorn; they could even scramble over
pine-cones, and on the little tags that marked the places for their
wings, were now to be seen blue rows of fat blood-quills.
Their start in life was a good mother, good legs, a few reliable
instincts, and a germ of reason. It was instinct, that is, inherited
habit, which taught them to hide at the word from their
 mother; it
was instinct that taught them to follow her, but it was reason which
made them keep under the shadow of her tail when the sun was
smiting down, and from that day reason entered more and more
into their expanding lives.
Next day the blood-quills had sprouted the tips of feathers. On the
next, the feathers were well out, and a week later the whole family
of down-clad babies were strong on the wing.
And yet not all—poor little Runtie had been sickly from the first.
He bore his half-shell on his back for hours after he came out; he
ran less and cheeped more than his brothers, and when one
evening at the onset of a skunk the mother gave the word 'Kwit,
kwit' (Fly, fly), Runtie was left behind, and when she gathered her
brood on the piney hill he was missing, and they saw him no more.
Meanwhile, their training had gone on. They knew that the finest
grasshoppers abounded in the long grass by the brook;
that the currant-bushes dropped fatness in the form of smooth,
green worms; they knew that the dome of an ant-hill rising against
the distant woods stood for a garner of plenty; they knew
strawberries, though not really insects, were almost as delicious;
they knew that the huge danaid butterflies were good, safe game, if
they could only catch them, and that a slab of bark dropping from
the side of a rotten log was sure to abound in good things of many
different kinds; and they had learned, also, that yellow-jackets,
mud-wasps, woolly worms, and hundred-leggers were better let
It was now July, the Moon of Berries. The chicks had grown and
flourished amazingly during this last month, and were now so
large that in her efforts to cover them the mother was kept
standing all night.
They took their daily dust-bath, but of late had changed to another
higher on the hill. It was one in use by many different birds, and at
first the mother disliked the idea of such a second-hand bath. But
the dust was of such a fine, agreeable quality, and the children led
the way with such enthusiasm, that she forgot her mistrust.
After a fortnight the little ones began to droop and she herself did
not feel very well. They were always hungry, and though they ate
 enormously, they one and all grew thinner and thinner. The mother
was the last to be affected. But when it came, it came as hard on
her—a ravenous hunger, a feverish headache, and a wasting
weakness. She never knew the cause. She could not know that the
dust of the much-used dust-bath, that her true instinct taught her to
mistrust at first, and now again to shun, was sown with parasitic
worms, and that all of the family were infested.
No natural impulse is without a purpose. The mother-birds
knowledge of healing was only to follow natural impulse. The
eager, feverish craving for something, she knew not what, led her
to eat, or try, everything that looked eatable and to seek the coolest
woods. And there she found a deadly sumac laden with its poison
A month ago she would have passed it by, but now she tried the
unattractive berries. The acrid burning juice seemed to answer
some strange demand of her body; she ate and ate, and all her
family joined in the strange feast of physic. No human doctor
could have hit it better; it proved a biting, drastic purge, the
dreadful secret foe was downed, the danger
 passed. But not for
all—Nature, the old nurse, had come too late for two of them. The
weakest, by inexorable law, dropped out. Enfeebled by the disease,
the remedy was too severe for them. They drank and drank by the
stream, and next morning did not move when the others followed
the mother. Strange vengeance was theirs now, for a skunk, the
same that could have told where Runtie went, found and devoured
their bodies and died of the poison they had eaten.
Seven little partridges now obeyed the mother's call. Their
individual characters were early shown and now developed fast.
The weaklings were gone, but there were still a fool and a lazy
one. The mother could not help caring for some more than for
others, and her favorite was the biggest, he who once sat on the
yellow chip for concealment. He was not only the biggest,
strongest, and handsomest of the brood, but best of all, the most
obedient. His mother's warning 'rrrrr' (danger) did not always keep
the others from a risky path or a doubtful food, but obedience
seemed natural to him, and he never failed to respond to her soft
 'K-reet' (Come), and of this obedience he reaped the reward, for his
days were longest in the land.
August, the Molting Moon, went by; the young ones were now
three parts grown. They knew just enough to think themselves
wonderfully wise. When they were small it was necessary to sleep
on the ground so their mother could shelter them, but now they
were too big to need that, and the mother began to introduce
grown-up ways of life. It was time to roost in the trees. The young
weasels, foxes, skunks, and minks were beginning to run. The
ground grew more dangerous each night, so at sundown Mother
Partridge called 'K-reet,' and flew into a thick, low tree.
The little ones followed, except one, an obstinate little fool who
persisted in sleeping on the ground as heretofore. It was all right
that time, but the next night his brothers were awakened by his
cries. There was a slight scuffle, then stillness, broken only by a
horrid sound of crunching bones and a smacking of lips. They
peered down into the terrible darkness below, where the glint of
two close-set eyes
 and a peculiar musty smell told them that a
mink was the killer of their fool brother.
Six little partridges now sat in a row at night, with their mother in
the middle, though it was not unusual for some little one with cold
feet to perch on her back.
In the Moonlight
Their education went on, and about this time they were taught
'whirring.' A partridge can rise on the wing silently if it wishes, but
whirring is so important at times that all are taught how and when
to rise on thundering wings. Many ends are gained by the whirr. It
warns all other partridges near that danger is at hand, it unnerves
the gunner, or it fixes the foe's attention on the whirrer, while the
others sneak off in silence, or by squatting, escape notice.
A partridge adage might well be 'foes and food for every moon.'
September came, with seeds and grain in place of berries and
ant-eggs, and gunners in place of skunks and minks.
The partridges knew well what a fox was, but had scarcely seen a
dog. A fox they knew they could easily baffle by taking to a tree,
but when in the Gunner Moon old Cuddy came prowling through
the ravine with his bob-tailed
 yellow cur, the mother spied the dog
and cried out, 'Kwit! kwit!' (Fly, fly). Two of the brood thought it a
pity their mother should lose her wits so easily over a fox, and
were pleased to show their superior nerve by springing into a tree
in spite of her earnestly repeated 'Kwit! kwit!' and her example of
speeding away on silent wings.
Meanwhile, the strange bob-tailed fox came under the tree and
yapped and yapped at them. They were much amused at him and at
their mother and brothers, so much that they never noticed a
rustling in the bushes till there was a loud Bang! bang! and down
fell two bloody, flopping partridges, to be seized and mangled by
the yellow cur until the gunner ran from the bushes and rescued
Cuddy lived in a wretched shanty near the Don, north of Toronto.
His was what Greek philosophy would have demonstrated to be an
He had no wealth, no taxes, no social pretensions,
and no property to speak
 of. His life was made up of a very little
work and a great deal of play, with as much out-door life as he
chose. He considered himself a true sportsman because he was
'fond o' huntin',' and 'took a sight o' comfort out of seein' the
critters hit the mud, when his gun was fired. The neighbors called
him a squatter, and looked on him merely as an anchored tramp.
He shot and trapped the year round, and varied his game somewhat
with the season perforce, but had been heard to remark he could
tell the month by the 'taste o' the partridges,' if he didn't happen to
know by the almanac. This, no doubt, showed keen observation,
but was also unfortunate proof of something not so creditable. The
lawful season for murdering partridges began September 15th, but
there was nothing surprising in Cuddy's being out a fortnight ahead
of time. Yet he managed to escape punishment year after year, and
even contrived to pose in a newspaper interview as an interesting
He rarely shot on the wing, preferring to pot his birds, which was
not easy to do when the leaves were on, and accounted for the
 the third ravine going so long unharmed; but the near
prospect of other gunners finding them now, had stirred him to go
after 'a mess o' birds.' He had heard no roar of wings when the
mother-bird led off her four survivors, so pocketed the two he had
killed and returned to the shanty.
The little grouse thus learned that a dog is not a fox, and must be
differently played; and an old lesson was yet more deeply
graven—'Obedience is long life.'
The rest of September was passed in keeping quietly out of the
way of gunners as well as some old enemies. They still roosted on
the long thin branches of the hardwood trees among the thickest
leaves, which protected them from foes in the air; the height saved
them from foes on the ground, and left them nothing to fear but
coons, whose slow, heavy tread on the timber boughs never failed
to give them timely warning. But the leaves were falling
now—every month its foes and its food. This was nut time, and it
was owl time, too. Barred owls coming down from the north
doubled or trebled the owl population. The nights were
frosty and the coons less dangerous, so the mother changed the
place of roosting to the thickest foliage of a hemlock-tree.
Only one of the brood disregarded the warning 'Kreet, kreet.' He
stuck to his swinging elm-bough, now nearly naked, and a great
yellow-eyed owl bore him off before morning.
Mother and three young ones now were left, but they were as big
as she was; indeed one, the eldest, he of the chip, was bigger.
Their ruffs had begun to show. Just the tips, to tell what they
would be like when grown, and not a little proud they were of
The ruff is to the partridge what the train is to the peacock—his
chief beauty and his pride. A hen's ruff is black with a slight green
gloss. A cock's is much larger and blacker and is glossed with
more vivid bottle-green. Once in a while a partridge is born of
unusual size and vigor, whose ruff is not only larger, but by a
peculiar kind of intensification is of a deep coppery red, iridescent
with violet, green, and gold. Such a bird is sure to be a wonder to
all who know him, and the little one who had squatted on the chip,
and had always done what
 he was told, developed before the
Acorn Moon had changed, into all the glory of a gold and copper
ruff—for this was Redruff, the famous partridge of the Don Va1ley.
One day late in the Acorn Moon, that is, about mid-October, as the
grouse family were basking with full crops near a great pine log on
the sunlit edge of the beaver-meadow, they heard the far-away
bang of a gun, and Redruff, acting on some impulse from within,
leaped on the log, strutted up and down a couple of times, then,
yielding to the elation of the bright, clear, bracing air, he whirred
his wings in loud defiance. Then, giving fuller vent to this
expression of vigor, just as a colt frisks to show how well he feels,
he whirred yet more loudly, until, unwittingly, he found himself
drumming, and tickled with the discovery of his new power,
thumped the air again and again till he filled the near woods with
the loud tattoo of the fully grown cock-partridge. His brother and
sister heard and looked on with admiration
 and surprise; so did his
mother, but from that time she began to be a little afraid of him.
In early November comes the moon of a weird foe. By a strange
law of nature, not wholly without parallel among mankind, all
partridges go crazy in the November moon of their first year. They
become possessed of a mad hankering to get away somewhere, it
does not matter much where.
And the wisest of them do all sorts of
foolish things at this period. They go drifting, perhaps, at speed
over the country by night, and are cut in two by wires, or dash into
lighthouses, or locomotive headlights. Daylight finds them in all
sorts of absurd places, in buildings, in open marshes, perched on
telephone wires, in a great city, or even on board of coasting
vessels. The craze seems to be a relic of a bygone habit of
migration, and it has at least one good effect, it breaks up the
families and prevents the constant intermarrying, which would
surely be fatal to their race. It always takes the young badly their
first year, and they may have it again the second fall, for it is very
catching; but in the third season it is practically unknown.
 Redruff's mother knew it was coming as soon as she saw the frost
grapes blackening, and the maples shedding their crimson and
gold. There was nothing to do but care for their health and keep
them in the quietest part of the woods.
The first sign of it came when a flock of wild geese went honking
southward overhead. The young ones had never before seen such
long-necked hawks, and were afraid of them. But seeing that their
mother had no fear, they took courage, and watched them with
intense interest. Was it the wild, clanging cry that moved them, or
was it solely the inner prompting then come to the surface? A
strange longing to follow took possession of each of the young
ones. They watched those arrowy trumpeters fading away to the
south, and sought out higher perches to watch them farther yet, and
from that time things were no more the same. The November
moon was waxing, and when it was full, the November madness
The least vigorous of the flock were most affected. The little
family was scattered. Redruff himself flew on several long erratic
night journeys. The impulse took him southward,
 but there lay the
boundless stretch of Lake Ontario, so he turned again, and the
waning of the Mad Moon found him once more in the Mud Creek
Glen, but absolutely alone.
Food grew scarce as winter wore on. Redruff clung to the old
ravine and the piney sides of Taylor's Hill, but every month
brought its food and its foes. The Mad Moon brought madness,
solitude, and grapes; the Snow Moon came with rosehips; and the
Stormy Moon brought browse of birch and silver storms that
sheathed the woods in ice, and made it hard to keep one's perch
while pulling off the frozen buds. Redruff's beak grew terribly
worn with the work, so that even when closed there was still an
opening through behind the hook. But nature had prepared him for
the slippery footing; his toes, so slim and trim in September, had
sprouted rows of sharp, horny points, and these grew with the
growing cold, till the first snow had found him fully equipped with
snow-shoes and ice-creepers. The cold weather had driven
most of the hawks and owls, and made it impossible for his
four-footed enemies to approach unseen, so that things were
His flight in search of food had daily led him farther on, till he
had discovered and explored the Rosedale Creek, with its banks of
silver-birch, and Castle Frank, with its grapes and rowan berries, as
well as Chester woods, where amelanchier and Virginia-creeper
swung their fruit-bunches, and checkerberries glowed beneath the
He soon found out that for some strange reason men with guns did
not go within the high fence of Castle Frank. So among these
scenes he lived his life, learning new places, new foods, and grew
wiser and more beautiful every day.
He was quite alone so far as kindred were concerned, but that
scarcely seemed a hardship. Wherever he went he could see the
jolly chickadees scrambling merrily about, and he remembered the
time when they had seemed such big, important creatures. They
were the most absurdly cheerful things in the woods. Before the
autumn was fairly over they had begun to
 sing their famous
refrain, 'Spring Soon,'
and kept it up with good heart more or less
all through the winter's direst storms, till at length the waning of
the Hunger Moon, our February, seemed really to lend some point
to the ditty, and they redoubled their optimistic announcement to
the world in an 'I-told-you-so' mood.
Soon good support was found,
for the sun gained strength and melted the snow from the southern
slope of Castle Frank Hill, and exposed great banks of fragrant
wintergreen, whose berries were a bounteous feast for Redruff,
and, ending the hard work of pulling frozen browse, gave his bill
the needed chance to grow into its proper shape again. Very soon
the first bluebird came flying over and warbled as he flew 'The
spring is coming.' The sun kept gaining, and early one day in the
dark of the Wakening Moon of March there was a loud 'Caw, caw,'
and old Silverspot, the
king-  crow, came swinging along from the
south at the head of his troops and officially announced
All nature seemed to respond to this, the opening of the birds' New
Year, and yet it was something within that chiefly seemed to move
them. The chickadees went simply wild; they sang their 'Spring
now, spring now now—Spring now now,' so persistently that one
wondered how they found time to get a living.
And Redruff felt it thrill him through and through. He sprang with
joyous vigor on a stump and sent rolling down the little valley,
again and again, a thundering 'Thump, thump, thump,
thunderrrrrrrrr,' that wakened dull echoes as it rolled, and voiced
his gladness in the coming of the spring.
Away down the valley was Cuddy's shanty. He heard the drum-call
on the still morning air and 'reckoned there was a cock patridge to
git,' and came sneaking up the ravine with his gun. But Redruff
skimmed away in silence, nor rested till once more in Mud Creek
Glen. And there he mounted the very log where first he
drummed and rolled his loud tattoo again and again, till a small
boy who had taken a short cut to the mill through the woods, ran
home, badly scared, to tell his mother he was sure the Indians were
on the war-path, for he heard their war-drums beating in the glen.
Why does a happy boy holla? Why does a lonesome youth sigh?
They don't know any more than Redruff knew why every day now
he mounted some dead log and thumped and thundered to the
woods; then strutted and admired his gorgeous blazing ruffs as
they flashed their jewels in the sunlight, and then thundered out
again. Whence now came the strange wish for someone else to
admire the plumes? And why had such a notion never come till the
'Thump, thump, thunder-r-r-r-r-r-rrrr'
'Thump, thump, thunder-r-r-r-r-r-rrrr'
he rumbled again and again.
Day after day he sought the favorite log, and a new beauty, a
rose-red comb, grew out above each clear, keen eye, and the
clumsy snowshoes were wholly shed from his feet. His ruff grew
finer, his eye brighter, and his whole
ap-  pearance splendid to
behold, as he strutted and flashed in the sun. But—oh! he was so
Yet what could he do but blindly vent his hankering in this daily
drum-parade, till on a day early in loveliest May, when the
trilliums had fringed his log with silver stars, and he had drummed
and longed, then drummed again, his keen ear caught a sound, a
gentle footfall in the brush. He turned to a statue and watched; he
knew he had been watched. Could it be possible? Yes! there it
was—a form—another—a shy little lady grouse, now bashfully
seeking to hide. In a moment he was by her side. His whole nature
swamped by a new feeling—burnt up with thirst—a cooling spring
in sight. And how he spread and flashed his proud array! How
came he to know that that would please? He puffed his plumes and
contrived to stand just right to catch the sun, and strutted and
uttered a low, soft chuckle that must have been as good as the
'sweet nothings' of another race, for clearly now her heart was won.
Won, really, days ago, if only he had known. For full three days
she had come at the loud tattoo and
 coyly admired him from afar,
and felt a little piqued that he had not yet found out her, so close at
hand. So it was not quite all mischance, perhaps, that little stamp
that caught his ear. But now she meekly bowed her head with
sweet, submissive grace—the desert passed, the parch-burnt
wanderer found the spring at last.
Oh, those were bright, glad days in the lovely glen of the unlovely
name. The sun was never so bright, and the piney air was balmier
sweet than dreams. And that great noble bird came daily on his
log, sometimes with her and sometimes quite alone, and drummed
for very joy of being alive. But why sometimes alone? Why not
forever with his Brownie bride? Why should she stay to feast and
play with him for hours, then take some stealthy chance to slip
away and see him no more for hours or till next day, when his
martial music from the log announced him restless for her quick
return? There was a woodland mystery here he could not clear.
Why should her stay with him grow daily less till it was
 down to
minutes, and one day at last she never came at all. Nor the next,
nor the next, and Redruff, wild, careered on lightning wing and
drummed on the old log, then away up-stream on another log, and
skimmed the hill to another ravine to drum and drum. But on the
fourth day, when he came and loudly called her, as of old, at their
earliest tryst, he heard a sound in the bushes, as at first, and there
was his missing Brownie bride with ten little peeping partridges
Redruff skimmed to her side, terribly frightening the bright-eyed
downlings, and was just a little dashed to find the brood with
claims far stronger than his own. But he soon accepted the change,
and thenceforth joined himself to the brood, caring for them as his
father never had for him.
Good fathers are rare in the grouse world. The mother-grouse
builds her nest and hatches out her young without help. She even
hides the place of the nest from the father and meets
 him only at
the drum-log and the feeding-ground, or perhaps the dusting-place,
which is the club-house of the grouse kind.
When Brownie's little ones came out they had filled her every
thought, even to the forgetting of their splendid father. But on the
third day, when they were strong enough, she had taken them with
her at the father's call.
Some fathers take no interest in their little ones, but Redruff joined
at once to help Brownie in the task of rearing the brood. They had
learned to eat and drink just as their father had learned long ago,
and could toddle along, with their mother leading the way, while
the father ranged near by or followed far behind.
The very next day, as they went from the hill-side down toward the
creek in a somewhat drawn-out string, like beads with a big one at
each end, a red squirrel, peeping around a pine-trunk, watched the
procession of downlings with the Runtie straggling far in the rear.
Redruff, yards behind, preening his feathers on a high log, had
escaped the eye of the squirrel, whose strange perverted thirst for
birdling blood was roused at what seemed so
 fair a chance. With
murderous intent to cut off the hindmost straggler, he made a dash.
Brownie could not have seen him until too late, but Redruff did.
He flew for that red-haired cutthroat; his weapons were his fists,
that is, the knob-joints of the wings, and what a blow he could
strike! At the first onset he struck the squirrel square on the end of
the nose, his weakest spot, and sent him reeling; he staggered and
wriggled into a brush-pile, where he had expected to carry the little
grouse, and there lay gasping with red drops trickling down his
wicked snout. The partridges left him lying there, and what
became of him they never knew, but he troubled them no more.
Redruff Saving Runtie
The family went on toward the water, but a cow had left deep
tracks in the sandy loam, and into one of these fell one of the
chicks and peeped in dire distress when he found he could not get
This was a fix. Neither old one seemed to know what to do, but as
they trampled vainly round the edge, the sandy bank caved in, and,
running down, formed a long slope, up which the young one ran
and rejoined his brothers
 under the broad veranda of their mother's
Brownie was a bright little mother, of small stature, but keen of
wit and sense, and was, night and day, alert to care for her darling
chicks. How proudly she stepped and clucked through the arching
woods with her dainty brood behind her; how she strained her little
brown tail almost to a half-circle to give them a broader shade, and
never flinched at sight of any foe, but held ready to fight or fly,
whichever seemed the best for her little ones.
Before the chicks could fly they had a meeting with old Cuddy;
though it was June, he was out with his gun. Up the third ravine he
went, and Tike, his dog, ranging ahead, came so dangerously near
the Brownie brood that Redruff ran to meet him, and by the old but
never failing trick led him on a foolish chase away back down the
valley of the Don.
But Cuddy, as it chanced, came right along, straight for the brood,
and Brownie, giving the signal to the children, 'Krrr, krrr' (Hide,
hide), ran to lead the man away just as her mate had led the dog.
Full of a mother's devoted
 love, and skilled in the learning of the
woods, she ran in silence till quite near, then sprang with a roar of
wings right in his face, and tumbling on the leaves she shammed a
lameness that for a moment deceived the poacher. But when she
dragged one wing and whined about his feet, then slowly crawled
away, he knew just what it meant—that it was all a trick to lead
him from her brood, and he struck at her a savage blow; but little
Brownie was quick, she avoided the blow and limped behind a
sapling, there to beat herself upon the leaves again in sore distress,
and seem so lame that Cuddy made another try to strike her down
with a stick. But she moved in time to balk him, and bravely,
steadfast still to lead him from her helpless little ones, she flung
herself before him and beat her gentle breast upon the ground, and
moaned as though begging for mercy. And Cuddy, failing again to
strike her, raised his gun and firing charge enough to kill a bear, he
blew poor brave, devoted Brownie into quivering, bloody rags.
This gunner brute knew the young must be hiding near, so looked
about to find them. But
 no one moved or peeped. He saw not one,
but as he tramped about with heedless, hateful feet, he crossed and
crossed again their hiding-ground, and more than one of the silent
little sufferers he trampled to death, and neither knew nor cared.
Redruff had taken the yellow brute away off down-stream, and now
returned to where he left his mate. The murderer had gone, taking
her remains, to be thrown to the dog. Redruff sought about and
found the bloody spot with feathers, Brownie's feathers, scattered
around, and now he knew the meaning of that shot.
Who can tell what his horror and his mourning were? The outward
signs were few, some minutes dumbly gazing at the place with
downcast, draggled look, and then a change at the thought of their
helpless brood. Back to the hiding-place he went, and called the
well-known 'Kreet, kreet.' Did every grave give up its little inmate
at the magic word? No, barely more than half; six little balls of
down unveiled their lustrous eyes, and, rising, ran to meet him, but
four feathered little bodies had found their graves
in-  deed. Redruff
called again and again, till he was sure that all who could respond
had come, and led them from that dreadful place, far, far away
up-stream, where barb-wire fences and bramble thickets were
found to offer a less grateful, but more reliable, shelter.
Here the brood grew and were trained by their father just as his
mother had trained him; though wider knowledge and experience
gave him many advantages. He knew so well the country round
and all the feeding-grounds, and how to meet the ills that harass
partridge-life, that the summer passed and not a chick was lost.
They grew and flourished, and when the Gunner Moon arrived
they were a fine family of six grown-up grouse with Redruff,
splendid in his gleaming copper feathers, at their head. He had
ceased to drum during the summer after the loss of Brownie, but
drumming is to the partridge what singing is to the lark; while it is
his love-song, it is also an expression of exuberance born of health,
and when the molt was over and September food and weather had
renewed his splendid plumes and braced himself up again, his
spirits revived, and finding himself one day
 near the old log he
mounted impulsively, and drummed again and again.
From that time he often drummed, while his children sat around,
or one who showed his father's blood would mount some nearby
stump or stone, and beat the air in the loud tattoo.
The black grapes and the Mad Moon now came on. But Redruff's
brood were of a vigorous stock; their robust health meant robust
wits, and though they got the craze, it passed within a week, and
only three had flown away for good.
Redruff, with his remaining three, was living in the glen when the
snow came. It was light, flaky snow, and as the weather was not
very cold, the family squatted for the night under the low, flat
boughs of a cedar-tree. But next day the storm continued, it grew
colder, and the drifts piled up all day. At night, the snow-fall
ceased, but the frost grew harder still, so Redruff, leading the
family to a birch-tree above a deep drift, dived into the snow, and
the others did the same. Then into the holes the wind blew the
loose snow—their pure white bed-clothes, and thus tucked in they
slept in comfort, for the
 snow is a warm wrap, and the air passes
through it easily enough for breathing. Next morning each
partridge found a solid wall of ice before him from his frozen
breath, but easily turned to one side and rose on the wing at
Redruff's morning 'Kreet, kreet, kwit.' (Come children, come
This was the first night for them in a snow-drift, though it was an
old story to Redruff, and next night they merrily dived again into
bed, and the north wind tucked them in as before. But a change of
weather was brewing. The night wind veered to the east. A fall of
heavy flakes gave place to sleet, and that to silver rain.
The whole wide world was sheathed in ice, and when the grouse
awoke to quit their beds, they found themselves sealed in with a
great cruel sheet of edgeless ice.
The deeper snow was still quite
soft, and Redruff bored his way to the top, but there the hard,
white sheet defied his strength. Hammer and struggle as he might
he could make no impression, and only bruised his wings and
head. His life had been made up of keen joys and dull hardships,
with frequent sudden desperate
 straits, but this seemed the
hardest brunt of all, as the slow hours wore on and found him
weakening with his struggles, but no nearer to freedom. He could
hear the struggling of his family, too, or sometimes heard them
calling to him for help with their long-drawn plaintive
They were hidden from many of their enemies, but not from the
pangs of hunger, and when the night came down the weary
prisoners, worn out with hunger and useless toil, grew quiet in
despair. At first they had been afraid the fox would come and find
them imprisoned there at his mercy, but as the second night went
slowly by they no longer cared, and even wished he would come
and break the crusted snow, and so give them at least a fighting
chance for life.
But when the fox really did come padding over the frozen drift, the
deep-laid love of life revived, and they crouched in utter stillness
till he passed. The second day was one of driving storm. The north
wind sent his snow-horses, hissing and careering over the white
earth, tossing and curling their white manes
 and kicking up more
snow as they dashed on. The long, hard grinding of the granular
snow seemed to be thinning the snow-crust, for though far from
dark below, it kept on growing lighter. Redruff had pecked and
pecked at the under side all day, till his head ached and his bill was
wearing blunt, but when the sun went down he seemed as far as
ever from escape. The night passed like the others, except no fox
went trotting overhead. In the morning he renewed his pecking,
though now with scarcely any force, and the voices or struggles of
the others were no more heard. As the daylight grew stronger he
could see that his long efforts had made a brighter spot above him
in the snow, and he continued feebly pecking. Outside, the
storm-horses kept on trampling all day, the crust was really
growing thin under their heels, and late that afternoon his bill went
through into the open air. New life came with this gain, and he
pecked away, till just before the sun went down he had made a
hole that his head, his neck, and his ever-beautiful ruffs could pass.
His great broad shoulders were too large, but he could now strike
downward, which gave him
 fourfold force; the snow-crust
crumbled quickly, and in a little while he sprang from his icy
prison once more free.
But the young ones? Redruff flew to the nearest bank, hastily
gathered a few red hips to stay his gnawing hunger, then returned
to the prison-drift and clucked and stamped. He got only one reply,
a feeble 'peete, peete,' and scratching with his sharp claws on the
thinned granular sheet he soon broke through, and Graytail feebly
crawled out of the hole. But that was all; the others, scattered he
could not tell where in the drift, made no reply, gave no sign of
life, and he was forced to leave them. When the snow melted in
the spring their bodies came to view, skin, bones, and
It was long before Redruff and Graytail fully recovered, but food
and rest in plenty are sure cure-alls, and a bright clear day in
midwinter had the usual effect of setting the vigorous Redruff to
drumming on the log. Was it the drumming, or the tell-tale tracks
snow-  shoes on the omnipresent snow, that betrayed them
to Cuddy? He came prowling again and again up the ravine, with
dog and gun, intent to hunt the partridges down. They knew him of
old, and he was coming now to know them well. That great
copper-ruffed cock was becoming famous up and down the valley.
During the Gunner Moon many a one had tried to end his splendid
life, just as a worthless wretch of old sought fame by burning the
Ephesian wonder of the world. But Redruff was deep in woodcraft.
He knew just where to hide, and when to rise on silent wing, and
when to squat till overstepped, then rise on thunder wing within a
yard to shield himself at once behind some mighty tree-trunk and
But Cuddy never ceased to follow with his gun that red-ruffed
cock; many a long snapshot he tried, but somehow always found a
tree, a bank, or some safe shield between, and Redruff lived and
throve and drummed.
When the Snow Moon came he moved with Graytail to the Castle
Frank woods, where food was plenty as well as grand old trees.
There was in particular, on the east slope among the
hemlocks, a splendid pine.
It was six feet through, and its first
branches began at the tops of the other trees. Its top in
summer-time was a famous resort for the bluejay and his bride.
Here, far beyond the reach of shot, in warm spring days the jay
would sing and dance before his mate, spread his bright blue
plumes and warble the sweetest fairyland music, so sweet and soft
that few hear it but the one for whom it is meant, and books know
nothing at all about it.
This great pine had an especial interest for Redruff, now living
near with his remaining young one, but its base, not its far-away
crown, concerned him. All around were low, creeping hemlocks,
and among them the partridge-vine and the wintergreen grew, and
the sweet black acorns could be scratched from under the snow.
There was no better feeding-ground, for when that insatiable
gunner came on them there it was easy to run low among the
hemlocks to the great pine, then rise with a derisive whirr behind
its bulk, and keeping the huge trunk in line with the deadly gun,
skim off in safety. A dozen times at least the pine had
 saved them
during the lawful murder season, and here it was that Cuddy,
knowing their feeding habits, laid a new trap. Under the bank he
sneaked and watched in ambush while an accomplice went around
the Sugar Loaf to drive the birds. He came trampling through the
low thicket where Redruff and Graytail were feeding, and long
before the gunner was dangerously near Redruff gave a low
warning 'rrr-rrr' (danger) and walked quickly toward the great pine
in case they had to rise.
Graytail was some distance up the hill, and suddenly caught sight
of a new foe close at hand, the yellow cur, coming right on.
Redruff, much farther off, could not see him for the bushes, and
Graytail became greatly alarmed.
'Kwit, kwit' (Fly, fly), she cried, running down the hill for a start.
'Kreet, k-r-r-r' (This way, hide),
cried the cooler Redruff, for he
saw that now the man with the gun was getting in range. He gained
the great trunk, and behind it, as he paused a moment to call
earnestly to Graytail, 'This way, this way,' he heard a slight noise
under the bank before him that betrayed the ambush, then there
ter-  rified cry from Graytail as the dog sprang at her, she rose
in air and skimmed behind the shielding trunk, away from the
gunner in the open, right into the power of the miserable wretch
under the bank.
Whirr, and up she went, a beautiful, sentient, noble being.
Bang, and down she fell—battered and bleeding, to gasp her
life out and to lie, mere carrion in the snow.
It was a perilous place for Redruff. There was no chance for a safe
rise, so he squatted low. The dog came within ten feet of him, and
the stranger, coming across to Cuddy, passed at five feet, but he
never moved till a chance came to slip behind the great trunk away
from both. Then he safely rose and flew to the lonely glen by
One by one the deadly cruel gun had stricken his near ones down,
till now, once more, he was alone. The Snow Moon slowly passed
with many a narrow escape, and Redruff, now known to be the
only survivor of his kind, was relentlessly pursued, and grew
wilder every day.
It seemed, at length, a waste of time to
fol-  low him with a gun, so
when the snow was deepest, and food scarcest, Cuddy hatched a
Right across the feeding-ground, almost the only good
one now in the Stormy Moon, he set a row of snares. A cottontail
rabbit, an old friend, cut several of these with his sharp teeth, but
some remained, and Redruff, watching a far-off speck that might
turn out a hawk, trod right in one of them, and in an instant was
jerked into the air to dangle by one foot.
Have the wild things no moral or legal rights? What right has man
to inflict such long and fearful agony on a fellow-creature, simply
because that creature does not speak his language? All that day,
with growing, racking pains, poor Redruff hung and beat his great,
strong wings in helpless struggles to be free. All day, all night,
with growing torture, until he only longed for death. But no one
came. The morning broke, the day wore on, and still he hung there,
slowly dying; his very strength a curse. The second night crawled
slowly down, and when, in the dawdling hours of darkness, a great
Horned Owl, drawn by the
 feeble flutter of a dying wing, cut short
the pain, the deed was wholly kind.
The wind blew down the valley from the north. The snow-horses
went racing over the wrinkled ice, over the Don Flats, and over the
marsh toward the lake, white, for they were driven snow, but on
them, scattered dark, were riding plumy fragments of partridge
ruffs—the famous rainbow ruffs. And they rode on the winter wind
that night, away and away to the south, over the dark and
boisterous lake, as they rode in the gloom of his Mad Moon flight,
riding and riding on till they were engulfed, the last trace of the
last of the Don Valley race.
For now no partridge comes to Castle Frank. Its woodbirds miss
the martial spring salute, and in Mud Creek Ravine the old pine
drum-log, since unused, has rotted in silence away.
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