The blind doe
Once upon a time there was a deer—a doe—who gave birth to two little deers; and, as is very rare with such animals, the little deers were twins. However, a wildcat ate one of them; and the second, a female, had to live her childhood without a playmate.
She was such a beautiful little creature, nevertheless, that all the mother deers in the forest wished she belonged to them; and to show their affection they were always nipping gently at her ribs with their lips.
Every morning when the little deer got up out of bed, her mother would make her say the catechism which all deers learn when they are babies:
- I must smell of each green leaf before I eat it; because some green leaves are poisonous.
- I must stop and look carefully up and down the brook before I lower my head to drink; for otherwise an alligator may eat me.
III. I must lift my head every half hour and sniff carefully in all directions; otherwise a panther may steal up and catch me.
- I must look ahead of me when I am grazing in a meadow; otherwise a snake may bite me.
All good fawns learn this catechism by heart; and when this little deer could say it all by herself, her mother began to let her go away from home alone.
One afternoon in summer, when the fawn was wandering over the mountain side looking for the tenderest tufts of grass, she saw a tree with a hollow trunk in front of her. Inside it a number of small slate-colored bags were hanging.
“What in the world is that?” said the little deer to herself. She had never seen anything of just that kind! Now deers, like people, are inclined to be a bit disrespectful towards things they don’t understand. Those puffy slate-colored bags seemed to her about the most ridiculous things there was on earth! So she butted them with all her might.
She now saw that she had made a great dent in the bags, which began to drip with drops of shining fluid. At the same time a swarm of reddish flies, with narrow waists, came out, buzzing around and walking about, over their broken nest.
The little deer edged nearer. Curiously, those red flies did not seem to mind at all! And what about that juicy-looking stuff? Carefully, gently, the fawn stretched out her head till she was able to touch one of the drops of fluid with the tip of her tongue.
What a surprise, what a wonderful surprise, for such a little, and such an inexperienced deer! She smacked her lips and licked her nose with her tongue, hurrying to lap up all the drops she could find. For they were honey, honey of the sweetest kind. And the red flies were bees! They did not sting because they had no stingers! There are bees like that, you know, in South America.
Not content with the few drops that were slowly oozing out of the cracks in the bags, the little deer now broke all the nests down and ate every bit of the honey in them; then, leaping and jumping with pride and delight, she hurried home to tell her mother all about it.
But the mother deer frowned severely:
“Look out for bees’ nests, my child!” she exclaimed earnestly. “Honey is very good to eat; but it is dangerous to get at it. Keep away from all the nests you see!”
“But bees don’t sting, mamma!” the little deer objected gleefully. “Hornets sting, and wasps sting; but bees, no!”
“That isn’t so, my dear!” the mother answered. “You had good luck, that’s all. Bees are quite as bad as wasps. Now mind me, child, or some day you’ll be sorry.”
“All right, mamma, I’ll be careful,” said the little deer.
But the first thing she did the very next morning was to take one of the paths that people had made over the mountains. She had figured out that, running along in the open, she could cover more ground and see the bees’ nests better!
And at last the search of the little deer was successful. She came upon a nest of bees—as she thought—black ones this time, with yellow sashes about their belts; and many of them were walking over the outside of the nest. The nest, also, was of a different color, and much larger than the bags the little deer had found the day before. But such things made no difference to her. “If the nest is larger,” she concluded simply, “the honey is probably sweeter and there’s more of it!”
But then she suddenly remembered all that her mother had said. “Oh, mother is too afraid! All mothers are too afraid!” And she finished by giving a lusty butt at the nest.
In a second or two she had bitterly repented of her folly. The “bees” were ordinary bees and there were thousands of them. They rushed forth from the nest in a great swarm, settled all over the head, neck, and shoulders of the little deer, and even under her belly and on her tail. And they stung her all over, but worst of all about the eyes. There were more than ten stings to each eye!
The little deer, wild with pain and fright, began to run screaming away. She ran and ran. But finally she had to stop, because she could no longer see where she was going. Her eyes were all swollen; so swollen she could not open them. Trembling with fear and smarting with pain, she stopped where she was and began to cry piteously:
The mother deer was much worried when the afternoon wore on and her child did not come home; and at last she started out to look for her, following by smell, as deers can, the tracks of her little one over the hillsides. What was her despair when, finally, she heard the disobedient fawn weeping in the distance; and how much blacker her despair became when she found that the child was blind!
Slowly the two deers started home again, the fawn’s nose resting on her mother’s hip. And along the road all the old bucks and does came up to examine the little one’s eyes and give their opinions as to a cure. The mother deer did not know what to do. She had no plasters nor poultices to soothe the pain in her child’s eyes. She learned ultimately that across the mountains lived a man who was skillful with remedies. This man was a hunter, and traded in venison. But, from all reports, she concluded that he was quite a kind-hearted person.
Though the doe shivered at the thought of visiting a man who made his living on the slaughter of deer, she was willing to risk anything for her offspring. However, she had never met the man personally, and she thought it best to ask for a letter of introduction from the Anteater, who was supposed to be on very good terms with all the human kind.
It was night; and the panthers and wildcats were rampant through all the forest; but the mother deer did not wait an instant. She covered her little one carefully with branches so that no one could find her, and then made off toward the Anteater’s house. She went so fast and so far that she was faint with fatigue when she arrived there; and once, on the road, she escaped only by merest chance from the fangs of a mountain lion.
The Anteater was one of the smaller members of his tribe—a yellow little fellow with a black cape thrown over his shoulders and reaching down to the waist, where it was tied under his belly with black strings.
Just how or why the Anteater became so friendly with the hunter, no one in the forest knew; but some day the truth will be known, doubtless.
At any rate, the poor doe arrived at the house where the Anteater lived.
“Tan! Tan! Tan!” she knocked, panting.
“Who’s that?” answered the Anteater sleepily.
“It’s me!” said the doe; though she corrected herself almost immediately, and said: “It is I—a deer, the mother of the twins!”
“I see,” said the Anteater. “So it’s you! Well, what do you want?”
“I want you to introduce me to the hunter. The fawn, my daughter, is blind!”
“You don’t say so? That little fawn that everybody makes so much of? She’s a dear little thing! I don’t have to be asked twice to do a favor when that child is concerned! I’ll introduce you gladly. But you won’t need a letter. Just show the man this, and he’ll do all you ask.”
The Anteater rummaged around in the leaves for a while and at last stretched his tail out. On the tip of it was the head of a snake, completely dried, and with the poison fangs still in it.
“Thanks ever so much,” exclaimed the doe. “But that man is a venison hunter! Do you think this is all I need?”
“Quite!” the Anteater averred.
“You are a very kind-hearted Anteater,” the doe replied, her eyes filling with tears. But she did not prolong the conversation. It was getting to be very late, and she had to be at the hunter’s lodge by daybreak.
She hurried back to her house and got the fawn, who still lay there weeping in her bed. Together they made their way toward the village where the hunter lived. They stole along very softly, keeping close to the walls of the houses, so that the dogs would not see nor hear them.
At the door of the hunter’s cottage the mother knocked loudly:
“Tan! Tan! Tan!”
And the little deer knocked as loudly as she could.
“Ta! Ta! Ta!”
“Who’s there?” a voice called from within.
“It’s us,” said the fawn.
“It’s we,” corrected the mother. “We are friends of the Anteater, and we have the snake’s head!”
“I see,” said the hunter opening the door. “What can I do for you?”
“My daughter, this little fawn here, is blind. Can you help her?”
And the mother deer told the whole story about her child and the bees.
“Hum!” said the man. “Just let me see what ails this nice young lady!”
Reentering the cottage, the hunter soon came back with a rather high stool, on which he set the fawn in such a manner that he could examine her eyes without bending over. Then he took out a big lens and began to look at the stings, while the mother deer stood by, holding a lantern around her neck so that the “doctor” could see better. For the sun had not yet risen.
“Oh, there’s nothing to worry about,” the hunter said to the fond parent, helping her little one out of the chair. “It’s only a matter of time and care. Wrap her head up, and keep a bandage with this ointment across her eyes. Then keep her in the dark for twenty days. After that, have her wear these yellow glasses for a week or two; and by that time she will be all right.”
“Thanks, many, many thanks,” said the mother deer warmly and gratefully. “And now, sir, how much do I owe you?”
“Nothing at all, nothing at all, madam,” the hunter replied with a smile. “But one thing more: look out for the dogs in the next house. A man lives there who keeps hounds especially for chasing deer.”
At this news the mother deer and her child were so scared they hardly dared breathe; and as they went away they walked on tiptoe, and stopped every few feet. Even at that the dogs heard them and gave chase for nearly a mile into the forest. But the mother deer found a narrow path, opening into the bush where the blind fawn could run quite safely; and they made good their escape.
The little deer got well, just as the hunter had said she would; though the care and trouble it cost the mother to keep her fawn shut up for twenty long days inside a hollow tree, she only knew. Inside there you could not have seen your hand before your face! But at last, one morning, the mother deer brushed aside the branches she had woven across the hole in the tree so tightly as to keep out all light; and the fawn, now with the yellow glasses on her nose, came out into the broad day.
“Oh, I can see now, mamma, I can see all right!”
And the mother deer, to tell the truth, had to go and hide her head in a clump of bushes to conceal the tears of joy that came to her eyes when she saw her little one cured at last. In two weeks, the glasses were laid aside.
As time wore on, the fawn, though happy to be quite herself again, began to grow sad. She was anxious to repay the hunter for his kindness to her; and she could think of no possible way of doing it.
One day, however, an idea occurred to her. As she was trotting along the shore of a pond she came upon a feather which a blue heron had let fall there. “I wonder if that good man would like it?” she thought. And she picked it up.
Then, one night when it was raining hard and the dogs would probably be under cover, she started out for the hunter’s cottage.
The man was reading in his bedroom, feeling quite cozy besides, for he had just completed a thatched roof for his cabin when the rain began. Now he was quite safe and dry out of reach of the storm.
“Tan! Tan! Tan!”
When he opened the door, the little deer, whom he had treated and of whom he had often thought since then, was standing there in the rain, with the heron’s plume, all wet and drooping, in her mouth.
“Here is something I have brought for you,” the fawn explained.
But the hunter began to laugh.
The little deer went off home in great shame and sorrow. She thought the man had laughed in ridicule of her poor gift! So thereafter she went looking for a better, bigger feather to give her benefactor; and this time she found some plumes that were truly splendid ones; and she was careful to keep them clean and dry.
Again she went back, one night, to the hunter’s cabin; and this time he did not laugh. He was a courteous, polite man; and he understood that, the other time, he had hurt his little friend’s feelings by laughing at her. Instead, he now invited her indoors, drew the high chair up to the table and gave her a saucerful of honey. Gobble, gobble! The little deer lapped the sweet up in mad delight.
From that time on, the two became great friends. The fawn spent a great deal of her time collecting heron plumes, which the man sold for a large sum of money. And every time she came in with a feather, the hunter gave her a jar of honey; and occasionally he offered her a cigar, which the little deer ate, but, of course, did not smoke. Smoking is bad even for deers.
Whole nights the two friends thus spent together, talking in front of the open fire, while the wind was howling outside; for the deer made her visits only in stormy weather when dogs would be sure not to be about. In a short time whenever the skies were dark and gave promise of a bad night, the hunter began to expect these visits. He would light a lamp, set a jar of honey on the table, take out a book and begin to read, waiting for the “Tan! Tan! Tan!” of the little deer, who remained his loyal friend all her life.