The Moose and the Rusty Jones18 April 2014
Oats were scarce and precious, so Rusty did not try that experiment again. But the oats were not wasted; for a pair of saucy, smartly feathered "Whiskey Jacks," or Canada jays-known to Rusty as "Moose-birds" who frequented the moose-yard, lost no time in picking them up, to the very last grain. Nothing was small enough to escape their bright, confiding, impudent eyes.
Meanwhile the body of the dead calf, rigid and pathetic, had lain ignored in the very centre of the hollow. At last Rusty took notice of it, and decided that it was a blot upon the kindly scene. He decided to get rid of it. Seizing it by the rigid hind legs he started to drag it to the side of the yard, intending to hoist it up over the edge. But the cow, seeing suddenly to remember that this dead thing had been her calf, ran at him with an angry grunt. Startled and indignant; Rusty struck her a sharp blow across the muzzle, and shouted at her with that voice of assured authority which he used with the yoke of oxen on the farm. The stupid cow drew back, puzzled both by the blow and the shout. To add to her bewilderment the sagacious old bull, who had become as devoted to Rusty as a faithful dog, lunged at her so fiercely with his massive, unantlered head that she went sprawling half-way across the hollow. And there she stood, wagging her long ears in puzzled discomfiture, while Rusty laboriously hoisted the awkward weight and pushed it forth upon the upper level of the snow. This accomplished, he dragged it a few yards away and left it behind a white-domed bush, where it would no longer offend his vision. Then he went down again into the hollow and stroked the big bull's muzzle, and scratched his ears, and talked to him, and finally gave him a generous portion of salt as a reward for his fidelity. The calf crowded up appealingly and was granted a small lump; and then the cow, forgetting her resentment, came nosing in to claim her share. But Rusty, still indignant at her, would only allow her to lick the last grain or two from his palm.
'That'll 'lam yeh," said he severely, "not to be gittin' so fresh. "
On Rusty's next visit to the moose-yard, two days later, he was at first surprised to observe the numerous tracks of wild creatures on the surrounding snow. The neat footprints of foxes predominated, and the slender trails of the weasels. But there were also, standing out conspicuously, the broad, spreading pad-marks of a big lynx. Rusty examined them all intently for a few moments, then stepped round behind the shrouded bush to look at. the body of the dead calf. The news of a banquet had spread swiftly among the hungry wild folk, and the carcass was half gnawed away. He scratched his red head thoughtfully, and peered about him to see 'if he could catch sight of any of the banqueters. Some thirty or forty paces away the tops of a buried spruce sapling had been jarred clear of its swathing and stood out sharply against the whiteness. He eyed it piercingly, understandingly-and presently, through the thick green, made out the form of a red fox, crouching motionless.
In a few seconds the fox, perceiving that he was detected, stood up, and stared Rusty in the eyes with a fine assumption of unconcern. He yawned, scratched his ear with his hind paw, flicked his splendid, tawny brush, and trotted away with elaborate deliberation, as much as to say "That, for you!" till he had gained cover. Rusty, who knew foxes, could picture the furry humbug throwing dignity to the winds and running for dear life as soon as he felt himself out of sight.
"Gee," he muttered," that red beggar's got a fine pelt on him!" He wondered how many dollars it would be worth. He called to mind also those tracks of the big lynx, and wondered what a lynx pelt would fetch. He thought what a scheme it would be to set traps around the dead calf. But this plan he threw overboard promptly with a grunt of distaste. He had always detested the idea of trapping. Then he thought of his gun-which he used chiefly against the marauding hawks when' they came after his chickens.
"Easy enough to get a shot at that red varmin, he's so dam bold an' sassy, , he mused, still dwelling on the price of that fine pelt. Then his thoughts turned to the owner of the pelt. He had rather liked the audacious insolence of the creature such a brave piece of camouflage in the face of the enemy! .
"After all,' he murmured to himself, "I guess I won't bother. It don't seem quite fair, when they're all so starved, an' I've tricked 'em all mto comin' round here by putt in' out that there carcass. I better let 'em all have a good time while it lasts. An' besides, if I fired a gun here now it would scare my moose out A' their senses. "
Having come to this decision he turned back to the mooseyard, thinking with a deprecating grin: "But what a blame fool father would call me, if he knew! An' maybe he'd be right!"
At last, at long last, the grip of that inexorable winter loosened suddenly, and fell away. As the snow shrank, assailed above by warm rains and. ardent suns, mysteriously undermined beneath, the tangled undergrowth began to emerge, 'black and sodden, from its hiding, and the valley became more difficult to traverse. The moose were soon able to forage for themselves, and Rusty's visits to the hollow under the hemlock grew more and more infrequent. They were no longer needed, indeed; but he had become so attache to his charges, and to the sagacious old bull in particular, that he hated to let them s' quite out of his life. It had to be, however; and in this fashion, finally, came it about.
One morning, after an arduous struggle, he arrived, wet and exasperated, at the hollow under the hemlock, to find that the cow and the yearling had gone. But there, all expectant, was the faithful bull, who knew that this was Rusty's usual hour of coming. Rusty had his pockets filled with dry com-cake and salt, and these the bull devoured appreciatively, stopping now and then to nuzzle the boy lovingly with his long, sensitive upper lip. At last, with a shamefaced grin, Rusty flung his arms about the great animal's neck, and murmured: "Goodbye, you old beggar. Take care o'yerself, an' keep out way 0' the hunters when next Fall comes 'round. Gee, what a pair horns must have on that big head o' yourself.
He turned away rather hurriedly, and started homeward on a longer but less obstructed route than that by which he had come.
He had not gone many paces, however, when he was startled to feel a long muzzle thrust over his shoulder, gently brushing his neck. Noiselessly as a cat the bull had followed him. Deeply touched, but somewhat embarrassed to know what to do with him, Rusty fondled the devoted beast affectionately, and continued his journey. The bull accompanied him right up to the edge of the open, in full view of the farmyard. The farmer was lowering his bucket into the well, and the sharp clanking of the chain rang on the still spring air. The big black and white farm-dog, barking loudly, came capering down the slope to greet Rusty. The bull halted, waving his long ears.
"Better quit now!." said Rusty. "Good-bye, an' take keer O'yerself!"
Not allowing himself to look round he trotted forward to --meet the noisy dog; and the gaunt, dark form of the great moose faded back, soundlessly as a shadow, into the trees.
-The world's greates Short Stories. (Concluded)