The Christmas Reindeer  by Thornton W. Burgess

When the World Was Young

L ITTLE Spot, the wilful young reindeer, trembled as he crowded up to his mother. He couldn't get close enough to her. He no longer wanted to be out in the Great World by himself. He wondered that his mother did not run. Every moment or two he looked back to see if those wolves were coming up over the hill. But Big Spot seemed in no hurry at all. You see, she was wise with the wisdom of experience. She didn't want Little Spot to get over his fright so soon that he would forget the lesson he had learned. Then, too, she wanted him to get rested a little and get his wind back.

At last, she quieted Little Spot's fears. "Those wolves did not chase you, my son," said she. "They chased the young caribou, and it is very fortunate for you that they did."

"I'm sure I could run faster than those wolves," said Little Spot boastfully.

"Yes, you could," replied his mother. "You could run faster than they could for a while, but you do not know the patience of wolves, my dear. You would have run so hard and so fast that presently you would have tired yourself out so that the wolves would have had no trouble in catching you. Ever since you were a little fawn I have told you about the wolves, and that they are our worst enemies; but I don't think you ever have believed it. Now you have seen them and you know what they are like. The wolves are very smart people. They watch for a deer to stray away. Then they get between the herd and that deer. When this happens, that deer will not live long."

"Have the deer always been afraid of the wolves?" asked Little Spot.

"Ever since the days when the world was young," replied his mother.

"Tell me about the days when the world was young," begged Little Spot.

For a few moments his mother said nothing. Gradually, into her big, dark eyes there crept a far-away look. "Once upon a time," she began at last, "the world was mostly water, like the salt water that you saw in the summer."

"But where did the deer live then?" interrupted Little Spot.

"There were no deer then," said his mother. "There were no deer and there were no wolves and there were none of those two-legged creatures called men. You see, Old Mother Nature had not made them yet, for there was no land for them to live on. But by and by there was land and then for a very long time Old Mother Nature was very, very busy making the different kinds of people to live on the land. Some of these people she made to live where it was summer all the year round."

You should have seen Little Spot's big ears prick up at that. "Is there such a place?" he cried.

His mother nodded. "Yes," said she, "I am told there is a land where it is summer all the time. How do you think you would like that?"

Little Spot thought it over for a moment. "I shouldn't like it," he decided. "Why, if it is summer all the time, there can be no snow! What a strange land it must be without the beautiful snow. I shouldn't like it."

His mother again nodded her head approvingly. "Neither should I, my son," said she. "But it seems that in those days when the world was young, all the people, big and little, wanted to live where it was summer. So after awhile it became difficult for all the people to get food enough. It was then that the hard times began, and some of the big people began to hunt the little people for food.

"Now, it happened that Mr. and Mrs. Caribou, the first of all the caribou, had wandered beyond the land where it was summer all the time. They had come to the land where it was summer for half the year and winter for the other half. When the winter came, they moved back, because you see they were not fitted to make their living when snow covered the ground, and they were not clothed warmly enough to stand the bitter winds. But they always stayed as long as they could before moving south, for they loved the Northland. Then, too, they felt safer there, for there were fewer to hunt them.

"It was on the edge of the Northland that Old Mother Nature found Mr. and Mrs. Caribou looking longingly at the land they must leave because of the coming of the snow and ice. 'How would you like to live in the Northland all of the time?' asked Old Mother Nature.

"Mr. Caribou looked at Mrs. Caribou, and Mrs. Caribou looked at Mr. Caribou, and then both looked at Old Mother Nature. Mr. Caribou spoke rather hesitatingly. 'We could not eat when all the ground is covered with snow,' said he.

" 'There is always plenty of food beneath the snow,' replied Old Mother Nature. 'You could dig away the snow with your feet and find plenty.'

" 'But we should freeze,' protested Mrs. Caribou, and shivered; for in those days the coats of the caribou were thin."

" 'But supposing I gave you warm coats and fitted you to live in the Northland; would you do it?' Old Mother Nature asked.

"Again Mr. Caribou looked at Mrs. Caribou and Mrs. Caribou looked at Mr. Caribou, then both nodded.

"So Mother Nature gave them warm coats. She gave them each a thick mantle of long hair on the neck, so that it hung down and the wind could not get through it. She fashioned their feet so that they were different from the feet of any other of the deer family, and they could walk in snow and on soft ground, where others could not go. Then she sent them into the Northland, and there the caribou have been ever since."

"But what about the reindeer?" cried Little Spot.

"I am coming to that," replied his mother.