The Christmas Reindeer  by Thornton W. Burgess

The Great Mill

N EVER had Tuktu seen so many deer together. Behind her, on both sides, in front of her, all along that hillside, the deer were moving forward. On the farther hillside countless numbers also were moving toward the head of the valley. They were moving slowly, but steadily, as with a purpose. As they drew near the upper end of the valley, Tuktu saw that there was a level plain surrounded by the hills. Out into the middle of this plain moved the great herd of deer. Then it was that Tuktu discovered that young deer and the mothers with the fawns were gradually being pushed to the center. She knew what it meant. She knew that presently that great herd would be milling on that plain.

Many times had Tuktu watched the deer mill. She had seen them mill in the great corrals into which they were driven for the yearly counting and ear-marking. She had seen them mill when they were grazing. But never had she seen such a mill as this one. Presently, Whitefoot began to trot. He had joined the ring of deer circling the outer edge of the great herd. There was a constant shifting and Tuktu saw that gradually the biggest and finest of the bucks were working to the outer edge of the herd. From Whitefoot's back she looked over what was like a forest of dead tree branches, all clashing and tossing as if in a wind. They were the newly-grown antlers of the deer not yet wholly out of the velvet, strips of the brown skin fluttering from them like pennants. Only the fawns were without antlers, for the does among the reindeer have antlers just as do the bucks. It is only in the caribou tribe that this happens in the deer family.

Faster and faster trotted that outside ring. More and more quiet became the great mass within the ring. Presently, all were still and only the outer deer were moving. Whitefoot was a splendid animal. That is why he had been chosen for a pack-deer. So, he continued to trot in the outer circle. Click, click, click, click, click, sounded the feet of the trotting deer. There is no sound like it in all the animal world. It comes from within the foot as the deer steps, sometimes it is when the weight is put on the foot and sometimes when it is lifted from the foot. It is not made by the snapping together of the two parts of the hoof, as long was supposed, even by the herders themselves. The sound comes from within the foot, and just its purpose no one knows. Click, click, click, click, click—never had Tuktu seen the deer trot in a mill as they were now trotting. It seemed as if each was trying to show his best pace and each was trying to look his best. They had had plenty of food and their new coats for the coming winter had grown. All the old hair had fallen, giving way to the new hair.

Suddenly the deer stopped. They stopped and stood motionless. A moment later they started trotting again. Tuktu had been on the far side at the upper end of the plain, farthest from the curtain of beautiful mist. Now, when she came around, she saw that standing just outside the edge of that many- colored curtain was a magnificent reindeer. He stood motionless, his head held proudly to show to best advantage his widespreading antlers with many points.

Once more the herd began to mill. Presently, it stopped as abruptly as before. This time, when Whitefoot brought Tuktu around where she could see, there were two deer standing motionless, one behind the other, at the edge of the beautiful mist.

So it went on, until seven deer were standing there. Tuktu knew what it meant. She knew that she was looking at the chosen deer of the Good Spirit. She knew that one more was to be chosen. So far, she had not seen the choosing. Each time she had been on the far side of the herd when it had so abruptly stopped.

Perhaps you can guess how her heart was beating with excitement, as once more the outer ring of deer took up that fast, clicking trot. Would the eighth and last deer be chosen while she was on the far side and could not see?

Round and round the deer trotted. Once more Tuktu was coming in sight of the seven chosen deer. It seemed to Tuktu as if from that colored mist there shot out a flash of light. The deer stopped. Motionless they stood, as if frozen in their tracks. Tuktu held her breath. She saw that the head of every deer was turned toward that shining curtain of colored mist. A ray of light shot out from it. It touched a splendid deer two places ahead of Whitefoot. At its touch he stepped out from the circle and slowly took his place with the seven standing deer. It was Speedfoot, the finest deer in Kutok's herd.

The sound of a silver whistle was heard and the eight deer began to move forward. Slowly, proudly they walked. The leader disappeared in the wonderful mist. The second followed; and so on until the last one had vanished. Then once more the outer deer of the great herd began to mill. Tuktu saw that no longer were the does and fawns standing motionless within that milling circle. They were all headed in one direction and that was toward a low place in the hills leading out of the valley—a pass out to the great wide prairie. The time had come for the herd to leave the Valley of the Good Spirit.

Would Whitefoot insist on going with them? Or, when they had left the valley, would he take her back to the camp?

He was once more bringing her around to the point nearest the cloud of mist, wherein the eight chosen deer had disappeared. Tuktu looked eagerly to see if by any chance she might get one more glimpse of them. And even as she looked, that ray of light shot out once more, and this time it touched Whitefoot. Whitefoot stepped out from the herd and stood motionless.