Some young fellows shooting at a mark in the meadow saw the flying deer, and popped away at her: but they were accustomed to a mark that stood still. It was all so sudden! There were twenty people who were just going to shoot her when the doe leaped the road fence, and went away across a marsh toward the foot-hills. It was a fearful gantlet to run. But nobody except the deer considered it in that light. Everybody told what he was just going to do! everybody who had seen the performance was a kind of hero-everybody except the deer.
The courage of the panting fugitive was not gone: she was game to the tip of her high-bred ears. But the fearful pace at which she had just been going told on her. Her legs trembled, and her heart beat like a trip-hammer. She slowed her speed perforce, but still fled industriously up the right bank of the stream. When she had gone a couple of miles, and the dogs were evidently gaining again, she crossed the broad, deep brook, climbed the steep, left bank, and fled on in the direction of the Mount Marcy trail. The fording of the river threw the hounds off for a time. She knew, by their uncertain yelping up and down the opposite bank, that she had a little respite; she used it, however, to push on until the baying was faint in her ears; and then she dropped, exhausted, upon the ground.
This rest, brief as it was, saved her life. Roused again by the baying pack, she leaped forward with better speed, though without that keen feeling of exhilarating flight that she had in the morning. It was still a race for life; but the odds were in her favor, she thought. She did not appreciate the dogged persistence of the hounds, nor had any inspiration told her that the race is not to the swift. She was a little confused in her mind where to go; but an instinct kept her course to the left, and consequently further away from her fawn. Going now slower, and now faster, as the pursuit seemed more distant or nearer, she kept to the southwest, crossed the stream again, left Panther Gorge on her right, and ran on by Haystack and Skylight in the direction of the Upper Ausable Pond. I do not know her exact course through this maze of mountains, swamps, ravines, and frightful wildernesses. I only know that the poor thing worked her way along painfully, with sinking heart and unsteady limbs, lying down "dead-beat" at intervals, and then spurred on by the cry of the remorseless dogs, until, late in the afternoon, she staggered down the shoulder of a Bartlett, and stood upon the shore of the lake. If she could put that piece of water between her and her pursuers, she would be safe. Had she strength to swim it?
At her first step into the water she saw a sight that sent her back with a bound. There was a boat midlake; two men were in it. One was rowing: the other had a gun in his hand. They were looking toward her: they had seen her. (She did not know that they had heard the baying of hounds on the mountains, and had been lying in wait for her an hour.) What should she do? The hounds were drawing near. No escape that way, even if she could still run. With only a moment's hesitation she plunged into the lake, and struck obliquely across.
Her tired legs could not propel the tired body rapidly. She saw the boat headed for her. She turned toward the centre of the lake. The boat turned. She could hear the rattle of the oar-locks. It was gaining on her. Then there was a silence. Then there was a splash of the water just ahead of her, followed by a roar round the lake, the words "Confound it all!" and a rattle of the oars again. The doe saw the boat nearing her. She turned irresolutely to the shore whence she came: the dogs were lapping the water, and howling there. She turned again to the centre of the lake.
The brave, pretty creature was quite exhausted now. In a moment more, with a rush of water, the boat was on her, and the man at the oars had leaned over and caught her by the tail.
"Knock her on the head with that paddle!" he shouted to the gentleman in the stern.
The gentleman _was_ a gentleman, with a kind, smooth-shaven face, and might have been a minister of some sort of everlasting gospel. He took the paddle in his hand. Just then the doe turned her head, and looked at him with her great, appealing eyes.
"I can't do it! my soul, I can't do it!" and he dropped the paddle.
"Oh, let her go!"
"Oh, no!" was the only response of the guide as he slung the deer round, whipped out his hunting-knife, and made a pass that severed her jugular.
The buck returned about the middle of the afternoon. The fawn was bleating piteously, hungry and lonesome. The buck was surprised. He looked about in the forest. He took a circuit and came back. His doe was nowhere to be seen. He looked down at the fawn in a helpless sort of way. The fawn appealed for his supper. The buck had nothing whatever to give his child--nothing but his sympathy. If he said anything, this is what he said: "I'm the head of this family; but, really, this is a novel case. I've nothing whatever for you. I don't know what to do. I've the feelings of a father; but you can't live on _them_. Let us travel."
The buck walked away: the little one toddled after him. They disappeared in the forest.