O F ALL the young deer in the great herd,—and there were many,—Little Spot was the most wilful. He was called Little Spot because he was marked exactly like his mother, who was known as Big Spot. Each had a white spot between the eyes. Now, Big Spot was one of the wisest leaders among all the reindeer people. She was wise in the ways of the wolf and the bear, and she was wise in the ways of men. Under her leadership the herd thrived and increased and was seldom troubled.
But with all her wisdom, Big Spot was a poor mother. You see, she was just like a great many other mothers—she spoiled her children. So Little Spot, who was so like his mother, had never been taught to mind. Almost from the day of his birth, which had been in the spring before the snow had melted, he had been headstrong and wilful. He had been a handsome baby, as reindeer babies go, and his mother had been very proud of him. Perhaps that is why she spoiled him. Anyway, he went where he pleased and did what he pleased and was forever in trouble of some sort. When he got his first horns, two sharp spikes, he made such a nuisance of himself that he soon became known as the worst young deer in the whole herd. Other young deer would have nothing to do with him, because he was so overbearing. He was a little bigger and a little stronger than any others of his own age, and this, together with the fact that he had been allowed to have his own way, had quite spoiled him.
"My son," said his mother, when she found him with a small band of caribou which he had run away to join, "follow me to the top of yonder hill. I want to talk to you."
"I don't want to be talked to," said Little Spot, with an angry toss of his head. "I know what you want. You want me to go back with the herd. I'm not going. I'm going to stay with my wild cousins, the caribou. I don't want to go back to the herd. I won't go back to the herd." He stamped his feet in the naughtiest way.
"Very well," said his mother. "You may stay with your cousins, the caribou. But remember that if you need me, you will find me on the top of that hill over there."
Little Spot tossed his head. He sniffed. You see, he didn't like it at all that his mother should think that he had any need of her. Had he not horns already? He felt quite equal to taking care of himself. So he tossed his head and sniffed, then went over to join some of the young caribou about his own age.
His mother said nothing more, but slowly walked away in the direction of the hill. When she reached the top, she stood motionless for a long time. Looking up, Little Spot could see her against the sky and, he, being a foolish young deer, became very angry. He felt that she was keeping watch over him. So he pretended not to see her, and, when presently the small band of caribou started to move away briskly, he trotted along with them. They were glad to have him; at least they made no objections. The farther he got from that hill where his mother still stood, the bigger and more important he felt. He was out in the Great World now. He was master of his own movements. There was no one to make him do this or do that. He held his head high and he stepped high. You see, he was trying to look as important as he felt.
Without warning, four great gray wolves swept out from behind some willow trees to cut off the young caribou from the remainder of the band. Such terror as there was then! Each young caribou started in a different direction. It was well for Little Spot that he was swifter of foot than any of the others. At the first glimpse of the dreaded wolves, he had whirled about and started back for that hill where his mother was. They were the first wolves he had ever seen, but he knew what they were. Not once did he look behind to see what was happening to the young caribou. Forgotten was all his pride. He wanted his mother, and he wanted her as he had never wanted her before. Was she not the wisest of all the mothers of the big herd? She would know what to do. She would know how to care for him.
He looked over to the top of that little hill. For a moment it seemed as if his heart stopped beating. He could not see Big Spot anywhere. Had she left him after all? Had she started off on that long swift trot of hers to get back to the herd? The mere thought that he might never see her again gave added speed to Little Spot. Never had he run as he was running now. But it was not good running. It was unwise running, for it was taking his wind and his strength. He was panting hard when he came over the top of the hill. There, in a little hollow just beyond, stood his mother.
"What is it, my son?" said she, as little Spot crowded against her, panting as if he could never get his breath again. "What is it, my son? I thought you wanted to go out into the Great World."
"Wolves!" panted Little Spot, "Wolves! We must run!"
His mother merely walked up to the brow of the hill and looked back. "Truly, my son, they are wolves," said she, and returned to him as if wolves were the most commonplace things in the world.
"They are wolves."