Animal Heroes

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Author: Ernest Thompson Seton

III the Home of the Lynx

At first Thor, being town-bred, was timid about venturing into the woods beyond the sound of Corney’s axe; but day by day he went farther, guiding himself, not by unreliable moss on trees, but by sun, compass, and landscape features. His purpose was to learn about the wild animals rather than to kill them; but the naturalist is close kin to the sportsman, and the gun was his constant companion. In the clearing, the only animal of any size was a fat Woodchuck; it had a hole under a stump some hundred yards from the shanty. On sunny mornings it used to lie basking on the stump, but eternal vigilance is the price of every good thing in the woods. The Woodchuck was always alert and Thor tried in vain to shoot or even to trap him.

"Hyar," said Corney one morning, "time we had some fresh meat." He took down his rifle, an old-fashioned brass-mounted small-bore, and loading with care that showed the true rifleman, he steadied the weapon against the door-jamb and fired. The Woodchuck fell backward and lay still. Thor raced to the place and returned in triumph with the animal, shouting: "Plumb through the head—one hundred and twenty yards."

Corney controlled the gratified smile that wrestled with the corners of his mouth, but his bright eyes shone a trifle brighter for the moment.

It was no mere killing for killing’s sake, for the Woodchuck was spreading a belt of destruction in the crop around his den. Its flesh supplied the family with more than one good meal and Corney showed Thor how to use the skin. First the pelt was wrapped in hardwood ashes for twenty-four hours. This brought the hair off. Then the skin was soaked for three days in soft soap and worked by hand, as it dried, till it came out a white strong leather.

Thor’s wanderings extended farther in search of the things which always came as surprises however much he was looking for them. Many days were blanks and others would be crowded with incidents, for unexpectedness is above all the peculiar feature of hunting, and its lasting charm. One day he had gone far beyond the ridge in a new direction and passed through an open glade where lay the broken trunk of a huge basswood. The size impressed it on his memory. He swung past the glade to make for the lake, a mile to the west, and twenty minutes later he started back as his eye rested on a huge black animal in the crotch of a hemlock, some thirty feet from the ground. A Bear! At last, this was the test of nerve he had half expected all summer; had been wondering how that mystery "himself" would act under this very trial. He stood still; his right hand dived into his pocket and, bringing out three or four buckshot, which he carried for emergency, he dropped them on top of the birdshot already in the gun, then rammed a wad to hold them down.

The Bear had not moved and the boy could not see its head, but now he studied it carefully. It was not such a large one—no, it was a small one, yes, very small—a cub. A cub! That meant a mother Bear at hand, and Thor looked about with some fear, but seeing no signs of any except the little one, he levelled the gun and fired.

Then to his surprise down crashed the animal quite dead; it was not a Bear, but a large Porcupine. As it lay there he examined it with wonder and regret, for. he had no wish to kill such a harmless creature. On its grotesque face he found two or three long scratches which proved that he had not been its only enemy. As he turned away he noticed some blood on his trousers, then saw that his left hand was bleeding. He had wounded himself quite severely on the quills of the animal without knowing it. He was sorry to leave the specimen there, and Loo, when she learned of it, said it was a shame not to skin it when she "needed a fur-lined cape for the winter."

On another day Thor had gone without a gun, as he meant only to gather some curious plants he had seen. They were close to the clearing; he knew the place by a fallen elm. As he came to it he heard a peculiar sound. Then on the log his eye caught two moving things. He lifted a bough and got a clear view. They were the head and tail of an enormous Lynx. It had seen him and was glaring and grumbling; and under its foot on the log was a white bird that a second glance showed to be one of their own precious hens. How fierce and cruel the brute looked! How Thor hated it! and fairly gnashed his teeth with disgust that now, when his greatest chance was come, he for once was without his gun. He was in not a little fear, too, and stood wondering what to do. The Lynx growled louder; its stumpy tail twitched viciously for a minute, then it picked up its victim, and leaping from the log was lost to view.

As it was a very rainy summer, the ground was soft everywhere, and the young hunter was led to follow tracks that would have defied an expert in dryer times. One day he came on piglike footprints in the woods. He followed them with little difficulty, for they were new, and a heavy rain two hours before had washed out all other trails. After about half a mile they led him to an open ravine, and as he reached its brow he saw across it a flash of white; then his keen young eyes made out the forms of a Deer and a spotted Fawn gazing at him curiously. Though on their trail he was not a little startled. He gazed at them open-mouthed. The mother turned and raised the danger flag, her white tail, and bounded lightly away, to be followed by the youngster, clearing low trunks with an effortless leap, or bending down with catlike suppleness when they came to a log upraised so that they might pass below.

He never again got a chance to shoot at them, though more than once he saw the same two tracks, or believed they were the same, as for some cause never yet explained, Deer were scarcer in that unbroken forest than they were in later years when clearings spread around.

He never again saw them; but he saw the mother once—he thought it was the same—she was searching the woods with her nose, trying the ground for trails; she was nervous and anxious, evidently seeking. Thor remembered a trick that Corney had told him. He gently stooped, took up a broad blade of grass, laid it between the edges of his thumbs, then blowing through this simple squeaker he made a short, shrill bleat, a fair imitation of a Fawn’s cry for the mother, and the Deer, though a long way off, came bounding toward him. He snatched his gun, meaning to kill her, but the movement caught her eye. She stopped. Her mane bristled a little; she sniffed and looked inquiringly at him. Her big soft eyes touched his heart, held back his hand; she took a cautious step nearer, got a full whiff of her mortal enemy, bounded behind a big tree and away before his merciful impulse was gone. "Poor thing," said Thor, "I believe she has lost her little one."

Yet once more the Boy met a Lynx in the woods. Half an hour after seeing the lonely Deer he crossed the long ridge that lay some miles north of the shanty. He had passed the glade where the great basswood lay when a creature like a big bob-tailed Kitten appeared and looked innocently at him. His gun went up, as usual, but the Kitten merely cocked its head on one side and fearlessly surveyed him. Then a second one that he had not noticed before began to play with the first, pawing at its tail and inviting its brother to tussle.

Thor’s first thought to shoot was stayed as he watched their gambols, but the remembrance of his feud with their race came back. He had almost raised the gun when a fierce rumble close at hand gave him a start, and there, not ten feet from him, stood the old one, looking big and fierce as a Tigress. It was surely folly to shoot at the young ones now. The boy nervously dropped some buckshot on the charge while the snarling growl rose and fell, but before he was ready to shoot at her the old one had picked up something that was by her feet; the boy got a glimpse of rich brown with white spots—the limp form of a newly killed Fawn. Then she passed out of sight. The Kittens followed, and he saw her no more until the time when, life against life, they were weighed in the balance together.

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Chicago: Ernest Thompson Seton, "III the Home of the Lynx," Animal Heroes, ed. Darwin, Francis, Sir, 1848-1925 and Seward, A. C. (Albert Charles), 1863-1941 and trans. Teixeira De Mattos, Alexander, 1865-1921, Miall, Bernard in Animal Heroes Original Sources, accessed August 10, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4T79V4FTK94DS56.

MLA: Seton, Ernest Thompson. "III the Home of the Lynx." Animal Heroes, edited by Darwin, Francis, Sir, 1848-1925 and Seward, A. C. (Albert Charles), 1863-1941, and translated by Teixeira De Mattos, Alexander, 1865-1921, Miall, Bernard, in Animal Heroes, Original Sources. 10 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4T79V4FTK94DS56.

Harvard: Seton, ET, 'III the Home of the Lynx' in Animal Heroes, ed. and trans. . cited in , Animal Heroes. Original Sources, retrieved 10 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4T79V4FTK94DS56.