WHITE GANDER was a fighter from the word go—or possibly a little sooner. No game-cock of faultless pedigree rejoiced more in bloody combat than this longnecked bird; for nature, who had given the game-cock long, sharp spurs, had blessed White Gander with a vicious bill and winigs strong enough to beat in a man's temples. These, and a dauntless heart enabled him to face the world, or such part of it as moved about Thompson’s farm. It lay beside a river.
Thompson’s farm, a few acres of partly cleared soil strewn with the rocks that lie like freckles upon all higher Muskoka. On hot summer afternoons, when the sun warmed the earth beneath the dense pines,
Thompson’s ducks and geese used to amble down the trail for a swim. White Gander at their head, walking like a general with his nose in the air. But exalted as was this position, one day he was promoted to an even higher rank. Old Dick, the hound, who had been watch-dog at the farm for more years than the three Thompson children counted among them, suddenly died: Maggy, the collie, was needed to follow the cows, and there was no other dog to take Dick’s place. Tramps were not unknown in those parts—usually halfbreeds from the Indian reservation a few miles up the river: sometimes, too. a wild creature from the bush stalked across the little farm: in either case there were three little children and a delicate young wife to be protected. For this proud cause the fighting gander was taken from his family and put into the field in which the log-cabin stood.
“They say a goose has no brains,” remarked Mr. Thompson, “but if some folks I knowT was as smart as
that gander of ours we wouldn’t recognize them. He’ll make pretty near as good a watch-dog as old Dick. Don’t you fret about old Dick, honey. A dog as good as him ain’t going to waste. I wouldn’t be surprised to find him helping St. Peter keep the Pharisees and the hypocrites out of heaven. Dick’d want a good hard job like that.”
And the farmer went away with his eyes glistening, for next to his wife and his children he had loved old Dick.
When White Gander understood his new duties, he overdid them with disconcerting zeal. Mr. and Mrs. Thompson alone were allowed to approach the cabin. The two little boys went in terror of their lives. Outside the sacred field he passed them with unseeing scorn, but let their little chubby bodies crawl through the fence, down he swooped with outspread wings and protruding tongue, a dreadful sight, causing dismal howls for “Muvver! MUVVER!” Not until Mrs. Thompson had made at least a score of trips across the field to bring them in under cover of her apron did White Gander understand they were to be left alone. After that he contented himself with distant hisses, but was more virulent than ever against Maggy. Poor Maggy! He never could be induced to accept her as one of the family. When she first bounded into the field, filled with self-conscious delight at a good day’s work done, she was met by a hurricane composed of two winged clubs and a pair of scissors. Yelling with dismay, she made for the gate, and the hurricane settled back into White Gander, and ate a blade or two of grass with a sidelong look, as if to say, “I dare you!”
Nothing, his attitude declared, could shake his conviction that Maggy was a bad egg. Even cries of protest from the cabin and little Allen’s “Sic urn,
Maddy! Bite ’is dutty head off!” failed to soften him. Maggy became expert at sneaking into the cabin by a back way in order to avoid his natural enemy.
One day when the farmer was logging down the river, the savage husky from the next concession broke his rope and loped through Thompson’s farm, leaving many mangled little goslings in his wake. Near the cabin he maimed a young pig, but when the old sow charged him furiously, his coward’s heart gave and he fled howling. With the marks of the tusks on his hide and the fear of death upon him he thrust his blood-stained jowl between the bars of White Gander’s enclosure, and seeing nothing for the moment but the snugness of the long grass beside the fence, crept inside to hide.
P'ROM his post near the cabin White Gander L had been listening with increasing irascibility to the uproar in the barnyard. He saw the husky slip through the fence and lie down with his head between his paws. The bird’s first impulse was to assault him frankly, as he did Maggy—but he had not been given that crafty,
snake-like head for nothing. Glancing at the open door of the cabin he saw the Thompson baby crawling about on the floor, alone and unprotected. The mother had taken the two little boys and gone to the spring. He, and he alone, was left to guard that tiny, gurgling thing. Steady, White Gander, steady!
“S-s-s-s-” he said to himself, “What right has that great ugly beast in my field! My field!— S-s-sI’ll teach him!”
Screening himself from view behind the cabin, he slunk across the field and entered the fringe of raspberry bushes by the fence. With the stealth of a scalphunting Indian he stole through the tangle till he reached the spot where the husky lay panting. The dog’s wicked eyes were fastened now on the doorway, where lay the Thompson baby kicking her little bare legs upon the floor. He knew that it was not given to him to put unasked one paw upon the threshold of a house, but he had run amuck and had forgotten the laws. The little, white, writhing thing fascinated him evilly. His mane lifted, he began to growl softly, lasciviously, and his body stiffened as he lay watching in the long grass.
PILOSE behind him at the edge of the bushes, White Gander heard the growl, and his gorge rose. Swift eyes picked on his objective. Silently he leaped upon the chosen spot, and setting his bill firmly in the dog’s mane, battered his head savagely with his wings. With an astounded yelp the husky rose and sailed into the middle of the field, and White Gander rode exulting on his back. Completely demoralized by the abruptness of the attack, utterly bewildered by those buffeting wings, the dog raced in blind circles, voicing his horror of his unseen assailant in howls that could be heard a farm away. White Gander held on grimly. No need to change such excellent tactics. When the husky took to rolling he merely shifted his position as if he were balancing upon a furry ball, and was careful to add a sharp bite whenever he selected a fresh billhold.
While he was thus agreeably employed, Mrs. Thomp-
son ran back from the spring, her pail thrown by the wayside. She had come through the uproar of the barnyard, had seen the dying pig and the little dead goslings, and leaving the children in the shelter of the barn had hurried on, white-faced. Long before she reached the gate her straining eyes saw her baby rolling gleefully upon the doorstep, while in the field a grey, white-winged animal spun about with dreadful clamour. A nearer view told her the truth. She let down the bars with fumbling fingers, ran past the struggle, snatched up the baby and shut the door upon the scene outside.
Had farmer Thompson been there she might have collapsed, so much do we lean on those who are big and strong. Now she showed the stuff that was in her frail body. It was necessary, after giving the baby a fierce hug and laying her in her crib, to sit down for a moment and steady knees that would tremble outrageously. Then she rose, took down the old shotgun from its nail, loaded it a? she had seen her husband do, and went outside.
She had no confidence in her marksmanship—indeed, a rifle and a rattlesnake were much the same in her esteem, and she had so far shunned an intimacy with
either. She did not dare aim from even the shortest distance lest she kill the gander; so she watched her chance, and when the husky began to roll again, came elose, pressed the muzzle against his upturned belly and pulled the trigger twice.... Blindly she turned, shaking with nausea, and felt her way back into the cabin ....
When Mr. Thompson came home, he saw the stiff body of the husky lying where it had died, and nearby, White Gander eating very quietly a choice meal of grain; and after he had heard the story, a furtive feeling of affection mingled with the farmer’s respect for the plucky bird.
After this episode, White Gander rightly considered himself Lord of the Universe. Everything ran from him— he had only to hiss contemptuously at a cow—even the horses gave him the road, although he was lamed for a week by a glancing kick which all his adroitness had failed to dodge. Still, that was only the fortunes of war! He would spar with one of these big beasts like a boxer, dancing here and there, expressionless eyes on the alert, until his opponent tired of the long wicked beak and left the combat with a bitter neigh.
It may be that all these triumphs turned White Gander’s head somewhat, and that was why he chose to attack the red bull. He was a savage bull, and had the whole field to the right of the gander’s enclosure to himself. One morning White Gander deliberately forsook his post and under no provocation whatever strutted into the field where Red Bull stood peacefully by the far fence.
Arrogantly uplifting his yellow bill, he strolled across and surveyed the great hind-quarters.
“Awk,” he remarked gently in his indescribable gander tongue. “Great lump! Never has respectable goose-egg hatched forth a gosling as ugly as you!”
THE bull wheeled angrily and made little dabs at the air with his stubs of horns.
“Who are you, snake-head, to talk of ugliness? If you could see yourself, you would die of shame!”
White Gander honked loudly and fluttered his wings. In the higher field beyond, two little children ran into the cabin, screaming, “Oh, muvver, muvver! Our gander’s gone off to fight the bull!"
Mrs. Thompson threw her mending on the floor. “Mercy! What can we do?”
“Pray,” said her husband laconically, going out to watch the fun.
The bull daintily pawed up a square of turf. “Snakehead!” he jeered. “Frog-toes! Long-necked hen!”
Long-necked hen! This was too much! With a scream of rage, White Gander threw caution to the winds and charged. The next moment he was flying quite without his own volition across the fence. He landed in a clump of fireweed and lay stunned, wondering what had happened. It was simple enough:—Red Bull had caught him on his nose and tossed him contemptuously out of his domain.
Mr. Thompson leaned on the fence and laughed till he cried. Red Bull turned his back and began to graze as quietly as if nothing had happened, and by and by White Gander got up dizzily and with one sheepish look plunged out of sight in the long, coarse grass.
“Oh, don’t laugh,” Mrs. Thompson begged, “he’s so ^shamed!”
“Maybe he is,” chuckled her husband, “but he won’t tackle that bull again.”
He was right. The gander recognized the inevitable, and henceforth left the bull discreetly alone. So for a long time the two held joint though divided sovereignty over the other creatures at Thompson’s farm,
ONE spring day, when the grey ground was turning green and the birds were coming back to the north, Red Bull was turned out into his field again. As he touched with delicate lips the new grass by the fence, two boys came along the road and teased him over the bars with a long whip. Hearing him bellow, Mr. Thompson came angrily from the barn and ordered them away; but it was long hours before Red Bull’s bellows ceased to ghake the fence-rails. To and fro he ran, stumbling and ¿haking his head.
At supper, the farmer abruptly laid down his knife.
“They’ve hurt„thatj5ull some way. Guess I’ll take a look at him.”
“Not while he’s like that, Joe,” pleaded his wife, “He’ll kill you . . . Listen!...”
A tremendous roar and a crash! Red Bull had flung his whole weight against the fence.
Mr. Thompson gave in reluctantly. “He’s suffering,” he muttered, but went on with his meal.
At dark, Red Bull’s voice was still, and when the moon rose they saw from the elevated cabin a black bulk standing quietly in a corner of the field. Taking a lantern and some primitive medicines, the farmer approached him with a beating heart and nonchalant exterior.
“Reddy, you old divvle,” he remarked genially, “what have you been doing to yourself? Come here,
boy—come here and let a friend give you a hand.”
Recognizing the friendly voice as one that had often in the past called him to food and shelter, the bull trembled and came towards him gingerly, as if not sure of his way. Mr. Thompson turned the lantern on him and watched him, puzzled.
“He looks all right,” he said to himself. “Eyes are kind of inflamed . . . .still...”
He stopped. Directly in the bull’s path was one of the large boulders with which the field was encrusted. Instead of swerving to avoid it, the big animal crashed full into it and fell upon his knees with a pitiful moan. At this the farmer knew the truth.
“Blind!” he whispered. “Stone blind!”
T3ECAUSE Red Bull was a valuable animal, at first they hoped to keep him in spite of his affliction; but it soon became apparent that he had not the patience to accustom himself to his bliiidness. His fierce heart snapped under the indignity: instead of moving cannily and allowing his remaining senses to supply the one stolen from him, he flung himself about anyhow, continually falling over obstacles and bellowing his disgrace to the world. At last it was decided to shoot him.
“At this rate he’ll be dead anyway before fall,” said the farmer. “I guess he’s one of them people that can’t adapt themselves. Well, I’ll do it to-morrow.”
“Better do it now, Joe, while your mind’s made up.”
“My mind’s made up to do it to-morrow,” he answered drily, and went off to clean his rifle.
During this conversation, White Gander was watching with puzzled eyes the antics of the bull in the field below. They had intrigued him for days. Clearly, here was something he should investigate. Mindful of his first conception, he slid with cautious determination through the fence and crept among the clumps of dead last-year’s weeds towards Red Bull.
Red Bull had for the time given up the struggle, and stood with disconsolate shoulders in the middle of the field. His blind eyes, rolling from side to side, rested on White Gander, passed him by, and commenced again
their uneasy wandering as if trying to regain their sight.
White Gander crooked his neck and closed one eye. He was entirely baffled. Etiquette required the bull to acknowledge his existence by attempting earnestly to toss him over the fence. Under the circumstances this would be only ordinary politeness.... He sidled a little closer and thrust his long neck offensively above the weeds.... Again the dead, smouldering eyes passed him by. If White Gander had been born a man he would have removed his hat and scratched his head.
“I’m dummed if I can make this out,” he told himself, and spying a succulent blade of grass, ate it with his eye on the enemy.
Suddenly the bull had a recurrence of hysteria and with a half groan, half bellow, began to run. Almost immediately he collided with a stump and fell heavily. He lay
still for a moment, rose as if dazed, and walking in a circle stumbled against it again. Then he stood still, and cursed the sun.
The gander placed himself under his muzzle.
“Awk,” he began, “why do you curse the sun?”
“Because it has gone out and left the world in darkness,” said the bull.
White Gander cocked an eye skyward. “It shines as brightly as it ever did, Red Bull. I think it is your eyes that have gone out.”
“Can you still see the grey rocks and the little growing things pushing out from the cracks?” asked the bull eagerly.
“I should think so!” White Gander sampled a bit of moss with an epicurean expression.
“Perhaps you can even see the birches by the trail?—but I think not, for I see neither trees nor trail.”
“The birches are quite plain from here. I can almost count their huds.”
“You cannot see what lies at my feet,” whispered the bull.
“New grass lies at your feet, Red Bull. Everything is as it is each spring.”
The bull groaned. “I am indeed blind!”
“Awk,” said White Gander, “I am sorry.”
So low had the bull been brought that even a gander’s sympathy was welcome.
“I am really sorry.” White Gander put his bill in the air and meditated. He was silent so long that Red Bull thought he had gone aw7ay and bellowed for him in sudden fright. The bird started and fluttered his wings.
“Be silent, great lump!” he hissed angrily. “Do you wish to deafen me? I am still here, under your silly nose!”
“Snake-head,” answered the bull with relief, “I am dumb.”
And so, having called each other names, the tw7o became fast friends.
ZOOMING from the cabin to look sorrowfully at the ^ doomed bull, Mrs. Thompson saw7 White Gander hissing and fluttering his wings before him. (She didn’t know7 it, of course, but he had just called the bull a great lump.)
“Surely that bird isn’t going to attack the poor blind thing!” she thought indignantly, and hurried indoors to where her husband sat surveying the now7 immaculate rifle.
Meanw7hile, White Gander settled his feathers and sent a comprehensive glance about. “You have got yourself into a nice fix,” he remarked. “There are enough rocks and stumps here to break your neck ten times over. Clearly, you need me to look after you! Well, I know of a better spot than this. Follow me!”
Above on the cabin steps, the farmer and his w7ife stood petrified, and Mr. Thompson's old clay, the favorite of his w7hole harem of pipes, fell from his hand and immediately disintegrated upon a convenient rock. Afterw7ards he lamented its demise with fitting profanity, but at the time he hardly noticed it, for in the field beyond he saw7 a strange sight. White Gander w7as leading the great bull across the rough ground, guiding him neatly past boulders
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and around the grubbed-up roots of trees with his indescribable “awk, awk” and an occasional warning honk. As they watched with open mouths, the pair went peaceably to a choice, smooth part of the field, and there they began to graze together.
The farmer was a man.... He scratched his head vigorously.
“I guess I’d better train one of Maggy’s pups for a watch-dog,” he remarked at last.
“I mean I ain’t going to kill that bull —now.”
THEN began for White Gander a strangely pleasant life, more pleasant than the days of his patriarchy, more pleasant even than his fighting career as the farm’s watch-dog. Not being human, he knew not the meaning of the word Samaritan; yet his hours were sweetened by the care of this great, helpless animal, who was more dependent on him than a newly hatched gosling.
He was used to a daily bath, and until then it had been one of the farmer’s joys to watch him march in solitary pomp down the road fo the river every morning at eight o’clock, as punctually as if he carried a watch in his feathery breast. Partly that the gander should not sacrifice his swim and partly because he intended to break up the old field, the farmer placed the pair in another enclosure, which stretched through a fringe of trees to the river. Before a week had passed it seemed as if they had always been there, so regular had their routine become. Every morning the gander led the bull to the bank, and while the one stood knee-deep in the pale green water, snorting his appreciation and apparently striving to imbibe the whole stream, the other went for short, graceful swims; thrusting his head under the surface to
grope for choice weeds, skirting the bank and tugging at the grasses that trailed out over the water, and sometimes, for the pure joy of the sport, paddling rapidly clean across the river and returning in the bubbles of his own wake. When the bull had drunk his fill, he would climb out on the bank, carefully feel his way inland a few paces, and there lie down with a gusty sigh. White Gander never got enough of the river, but because he knew that a capricious Nature had not formed Red Bull so that he could thrust his head under the water for juicy weeds, he would come out presently and lead him to lush, sweet grass, growing in a spot where the slanting rays of the early morning sun had already melted away the crispness of the Muskoka night. Oh, the glorious smell of breeze and trees and cool grass warming beneath the sun! One could do worse than be a gander! A long morning’s graze, a dozing afternoon in the shade of the pines, in the evening the river again, and from there, bed wherever they chose to sleep—this was the programme on fine days. When it rained they made the best of it. Red Bull had quantities of rich blood to keep the chill out; sometimes he grazed all day in a downpour without even seeking shelter. As for White Gander, rain was water, and welcome as such. And so the long summer days drew on.
SOMETIMES White Gander, as was his nature, assumed too much authority and took the bull into places where he had no right to be. For instance, one day when the river was low, he led him along its muddy margin into the field of barley that was Mr. Thompson’s especial pride and joy. Spying the ruddy back above the swaying beards, the farmer came running, and with many wonderful, panted words sent the pair on their way. But this was just White Gander’s zeal. He meant no harm by it. He was a true socialist.
One morning as the Thompsons sat at breakfast there came from the enclosure a terrific honking. Running out, they found White Gander. He was looking towards the cabin, paying but a half-hearted attention to the discreet attacks of Maggy’s woolly son. On their appearance he gave a squawk and made for the gate, stopped there and looked back over his shoulder. Then he lurched back, honked distractedly, and again tried to coax them to the gate. Farmer Thompson had seen old Dick do the same trick more than once—the time Maggy walked into the bear trap and the time, years ago, when baby Tom crawled into Red Bull’s field— but he had never seen a gander act that way before.
“Something’s happened to the bull!”
As if in answer, a despairing bellow came from the river. Manlike, the farmer leaped into the kitchen for his hat, and reappeared, bawling directions. Followed by the hired man and the summer boarder, he ran heavily down the road, and like a dog, White Gander ran ahead.
Red Bull was indeed in sore straits. He had got mired, and was slowly sinking to his death beneath the river. He was in to his shoulders already, and helpless as a new-born calf, although his earlier struggles had churned the water all about him into foam. A nearby brush-pile proved his salvation. Branch by branch they forced it beneath his chest and knees until they built a solid platform under his fore-feet. The yielding mud held against the equalized pressure, as soft snow holds beneath a snow-shoe. With a frantic scramble Red Bull drew his front half upon this blessed imitation of terra firma; and before the brush-pile was exhausted he pulled his great hindquarters from the mire with a sound like an immense cork coming from a stubborn bottle, and stood trembling and panic-stricken upon the bank.
“T) EDDY, old boy,” said the farmer AY severely, “you’re all mixed up in your ideas. You may chum with a gander, but you ain’t one—so after this use the river for drinking purposes only. It ain’t for bulls to swum in.”
Red Bull heartily seconded this opinion. “Tell me what the world looks like now,” he said on a hot September day as he and White Gander lounged in the shade where the breeze struck in from the river.
“Dry,” said the gander lazily . “And yellow in spots. And not so succulent as it used to be.”
The bull snorted. “Succulent! One would think you were speaking of a worm!”
“Ah, a worm!” sighed White Gander, “I could eat a good juicy one this minute!” “Have you no thoughts above eating?” cried the bull, “Here am I, blind as a new kitten, and you with your eyes—you look for worms!”
“It is life,” said the gander philosophically, “Well, I’ll do my best:—The sky, Reddy, is coloured like the eyes of the baby up at the cabin, only there is not the same twinkle in it*. There are clouds in it —big, rather succulent clouds—” “Succulent!” exploded the bull.
“I wish I could eat one of those clouds.” the gander murmured dreamily. “The— what was I talking about?—Yes. The trees on their beads in the river are as clear to-day as those right side up along the banks, only they are not quite so red and so yellow and so darkly green, and they have ’ that moist veil over them that looks so nice and yet has no taste at all. All the purple and gold flowers are out—”
Red Bull’s nostrils quivered. “I can smell them.”
THE gander clashed his bill in amusement. “Others smell them, too. Today a man came down the trail. He was as white as I am, Reddy, all over, and on his eyes were dark things such as horses wear.” (In this fashion did White Gander describe cream flannels and sunspectacles.) “When he came to where a large patch of the gold flowers grew, he said ‘Oh—’ I don’t know much mantalk, Reddy; but he said ‘Oh—’ and a little word on which he closed his mouth. And then he ran off, making queer noises, and later I saw Farmer Thompson driving him away. He was ignorant, He hadn’t known the gold flowers grew here.”
“Yellow flowers have made even me sneeze, but they are none the less beautiful.” And the bull became suddenly silent, thinking of the clumps of golden-rod he had seen in other days.
Now it must not be supposed from this conversation that the millenium flourished in the field with the bull and the gander. Neither would have been at home in a millenium. Sometimes sharp quarrels would arise over some trifling argument and the air would vibrate with challenging honks and bellows. Once, forgetting his strength, Red Bull came near to killing his friend. White Gander had really been unusually annoying, and the bull, seething with rage, caught him on his head and tossed him many feet away. The gander fell with a squawk and then there was a horrid silence. At first Red Bull was too angry to care, but by and by, as the silence grew more and more dreadful, he became more afraid than he had ever been in his whole life before. Carefully groping, which seemed to go endlessly, finally brought his muzzle against the gander, lying quietly on the moss.
“What shall I do?” he moaned. “He is dead.”
When White Gander’s senses returned, he found the bull nuzzling his feathers and bellowing softly. He bit his nose angrily.
“Keep your distance, oaf!” he hissed, “Isn’t it enough to knock me dizzy without singing in my ear like a sick cat?” “Forgive me,” said the bull humbly, “I am very unhappy. See?—You’ve made my nose bleed, but I don’t hold it against you.”
The gander chuckled. “If you hadn’t held it against me I wouldn’t have bitten it. That’s quite a good joke, Reddy.... Let us go down to the river.”
This was his second and last ride on the head of Red Bull.
TWO summers came and went; and the bull seemed to have forgotten that he had ever had eyes; and curious people had got used to the pair, and no longer annoyed them by peering over the fence. Life seemed to have been going on in this way for ever. New goslings appeared in the barnyard, knock-kneed calves made mewing sounds in the fields nearby, the Thompson children grew sturdy and seemed to change with each day that passed; but where the bull and gander lived all was as it had been in the beginning.
One afternoon in early summer, as Mr. Thompson was cutting across the little uncleared bush next to their enclosure, he saw through a break in the trees a shiny black back and an animated furry ball pass together along the trail towards the
river. The black bear is a harmless creature enough, but the temper of a bear with a cub is uncertain. The farmer sat discreetly on a log to let them by, and not being a man to sit and do nothing, took out his clasp-knife and began to whittle. The little bear ran on, but its mother lingered behind to finish some dainty she had discovered by the wayside. He wished he had obeyed a certain impulse and brought along his rifle, but it was too late now; and he cast a longing glance at the fat back, rich with the promise of gamey, pork flavoured steaks.
“Oh, well,” he sighed resignedly, stooping to ¿ick up another stick. Instantly he was on his feet and all the noises of the bush seemed to have given way to a high sweet babbling—children’s voices—children’s voices were coming along the trail towards the two bears!
Near the river, where the sun struck into the opening of the trail, two spots of scarlet appeared, to be swallowed up in a moment by trees— but the farmer knew well who they were. Only that morning had those new flannel blouses been pulled over the proud heads of Allen and Tom. Hissons!
With a warning shout he crashed through the bush to turn them back before they ran into actual danger—if danger there were. He was not sure of this—he was not sure of anything;—of how far his boys intended to penetrate the trail, of the temper of that dusky mother who now waited behind him with stiffened ruff and quivering nostrils, or whether she would presently call her cub back and swing off into the underbrush. He was not even sure what he himself could do, if the worst happened and he had to defend his own young with a clasp-knife six inches long. “Tom!—
Allen! Go back! Go Back!"
NOW a few minutes earlier, White Gander had remarked that the river was very low, was immediately seized with the wanderlust, and had pattered along its margin into the cool shadow of the neighboring bush. With Red Bull puffing at his tail he climbed up the bank and plunged into the thicket not far from the entrance to the trail.
Red Bull complained bitterly of the entangling underbrush.
“Be quiet!” snapped the gander. “I told you not to come. What have I done that I must have you always at my heels?” The bull was about to make some angry reply when they blundered into the trail, and the dean ground beneath his hoofs tranquilized him into letting the matter pass. In this way it came about that while the farmer was still whittling his stick the bull and the gander, the children and the approaching bears were all on the trail together.
“I hear voices,’,’ remarked Red Bull suddenly.
The gander looked to where the light struck on two red patches. “Those boy goslings of Farmer Thompson’s are just ahead. What a nuisance! They will be sure to see us!”
As he spoke a man’s deep voice pealed through the bush. "Tom!— Allen! Ga back!" and they heard loud crashes on their left.
“What was that?—What was that?” moaned Red Bull, beginning to paw the ground.
“It was only Farmer Thompson bellowing like a cow for his calves. They are always in some sort of mischief. Do keep still, lump! You’ll trample me!” “Oh, if I had eyes!” groaned the bull., “Are you sure there are only boys on the trail, Whitey? The air is heavy with a strange taint.”
The gander peered along the narrow,, sun-splashed clearing. “With them is a. small black dog of some kind,” he said* indifferently, “that is all.”
When their father called, the two children stopped and cast meaning glances at each other. Had he already discovered the loss of that axe which with the best intentions imaginable they had just dropped in the river?
“He wants us to come back,” explained Tom.
“He c’n want!” said little Allen. “Let’s run.”
CEIZING Tom’s hand, he was about to u set his fat legs in motion when the cub rolled into view over the top of a small mound and petrified him with covetousadmiration. They remained quiet until it drew near, and then Allen gave a great* appreciative chuckle.
“Puppy-dog!—Mine!” he cried, and fell upon it.
"Tom!—Allen! Go back! Go back!" their father screamed, but it was too late then.
The wild nature came out of the little beast as lightning bursts from a summer cloud. Squealing with rage and fright, it slashed out savagely, broke away, and sobbing like an angry baby, tumbled off to its mother.
It met her halfway. AÍ! day she had been in a bad temper, which the last few minutes of suspense had not softened, and now she was coming, bubbling with wrath, her hind feet falling over her front. One maternal paw swept her, offspring from her path, and with little eyes flaming she galloped down the trail. From the top of the mound she spied the two boys and drew up for one instant to survey them. Perhaps if they had not joined hands and fled from her shrieking she might have turned back even then; but their vociferous retreat fanned the fires in her blood and on she came with a squeal.
“Oh, my God!” cried the farmer, falling blindly over a root. “Too late! Too late!”
“Oh, snake-head, snake-head!—Oh, blind worm!” chanted Red Bull. “Rejoice with me, you who have no eyes! Now tell me what you see!.... and turn my head up the trail!”
The gander danced under his nose. “The children run for their lives! A black beast with a brown face chases them. It is still some trees behind. If you step on me, hulk, I’ll bite you!” he squawled.
“Baw!” bellowed the bull, “out of my way, worm! Oh, blinder than the blind, get beyond my hoofs! This fight is mine!”
“The children! Beware of the children!” screamed White Gander, fluttering ahead.
“Turn them from the trail, fool!”
HE HAD time to do it, and it was easier since the children always remembered him in his old role of the fighting gander. Hissing furiously, he bore down upon them, just as he used to in the days when he was watch-dog up at the cabin. They saw him loom up like a bad dream— he was almost as formidable as the bear at their heels—and with fresh shrieks they swerved aside. Poor little things! Caught between two enemies, they took to the only refuge left them, turned from the trail and flung themselves into the hedge of berry bushes that rose at that spot five feet high on either hand. Somehow they tore their way out, flew with bleeding faces through the dim tangle of the bush, and fell sobbing into their father’s arms.
“Make haste, lump! The way is clear!” honked White Gander.
Before the bear could turn from the trail in pursuit, he flung himself upon her, beating his wings in her face. It was all over in a moment. One contemptuous paw swept him aside, as if he were a thing of no importance—yet that tremulous attack had proved the bear’s undoing. Behind White Gander’s little wings a furious cyclone had swept down on her, unseen, and even as she realized her plight Red Bull met her with a crash. With a second’s grace her flail-like paw might have broken his neck; now she lay writhing under his stubs of horns, and as he had truly said a few heart-beats back, the fight was his.
He was mad with rage until he had killed her, and after he had gored and trampled the quiet form to satiation, he raised his head and called White Gander. There was no answer.... Only the wind rustled in the tops of the trees, and the voices of two sobbing children grew faint in the distance, and somewhere near, on the trail, a little cub cried pitifully for a mother who was dead ....
Half an hour later, the farmer returned to find the bull goring the dead bear. He leaned his rifle against a tree and approached trembling, for his strength was nearly sapped.
“Give over, Reddy!” he called softly, “There, boy—give over, I say!”
THE bull’s response was a roar of fury.
Mr. Thompson sighed, and was about to retreat when he saw a flicker of white in the bushes behind the bull. Falling back, he broke through the trail and made a detour around the maddened animal. All Red Bull’s senses were drowned in blood. He did not heed the crackle of the bushes as the farmer pressed through them, nor hear his sorrowful exclamation. There was White Gander, caught in midair among the thorns, limp as a dead
weed and streaked with scarlet. Careful hands extricated him, laid him on the ground, and felt for his heart. Then he was wrapped in the farmer’s coat and carried gently to the cabin.
“Take care of him,” was all the farmer said, handing his wife the inanimate bundle. She could not answer for the tears in her throat, but as he went out he saw the gander stretched on the kitchen table and her small brown fingers working over him swiftly.
With the aid of neighbors he managed to turn Red Bull back into his pasture. The little bear had fled long since to seek its fortune alone, and only the bloodstains on the trail told what tragedy had been averted there that day. But as the farmer went back to the cabin, Red Bull’s voice followed him, full of mounting terror, and there came sudden crashes as of yielding wood. Turning, he saw him battering at the fence.
“It’s a poor way to pay you back—but if he dies I’ll have to shoot you, old boy,” he muttei d.
“How is he?” he asked, coming into the kitchen and glancing with varied emotions towards the room in which Tom and Allen were expiating their sins in bed.
Mrs. Thompson looked grave. “I’ve done all I can, but he seems to be sinking.”
ONE of the neighbors nudged the hired man and winked, but the hired man looked at him coldly and his smile faded. Mr. Thompson bent over the faintly breathing bird. Lying in the straw
padded box, swathed in bandages, he was a ludicrous sight enough—and the farmer’s mouth was grim as he turned away.
“I guess I’ll do it now,” he said somewhat huskily, taking his rifle from the hands of the neighbor who had carried it up to the cabin and making a movement towards the door.
As if he had heard him, Red Bull, acres away in his pasture, went off into a paroxysm so terrible that the big kitchen seemed to swirl. At this White Gander opened one eye and gave forth a feeble squawk. And even the listening humans knew that it was his terse way of calling down anathemas upon the head of a noisy oaf.
Then Mr. Thompson smiled and hung the rifle upon the wall.
“Maybe, after all, he’ll pull through.”
A week or so later, White Gander, somewhat ragged of plumage but otherwise as debonair as ever, sauntered into the bull’s field.
“What are you howling for, lump?” he enquired. “I am here!”
“Snake-head,” wheezed Red Bull joyfully. “You flatter yourself if you think I howled for you.... However, I’m glad you’re back.”
“Awk,” said White Gander, “I am glad too—in a way. You made too much noise down here for me to enjoy my visit. . .. Ho hum! How hot the sun is! Well, follow me—you look thirsty!”
And the little gander led the great bull across the field to the river.