The trail of the sandhill stag
It was a very hot day. The water in the ponds was warm with the heat of the sun. So Yan went to the spring, the only place where he could find a cool drink. As he bent down beside the spring, his eye fell on a small hoof-mark in the sand — a sharp and elegant track. He became excited, because he knew it was the track of a wild deer.
"There are no deer in those hills now," the hunters told him. But when the first snow came, Yan, remembering the foot-mark in the sand, took his rifle and said to himself, "I am going into the hills every day till I bring back a deer."
Yan was a tall, strong lad of about nineteen. He was no hunter yet, but he was a wonderful runner, and full of energy. Day after day he was in the hills, and night after night he returned to his shanty, disappointed. But one day, far from his shanty, he found at last the trail of a deer, — and again he was excited. He thought, "At the other end of that line of tracks in the snow is the creature that made them. In time I shall find the maker."
The tracks were not fresh, so he did not know in which direction to go. But, going up hill, he came to a clear track in a sandy place. Away he went with a new fire in his blood. The trail grew fresher as he ran over hills and through woods. He followed the trail all day, until it became too dark to see any marks; then he returned home.
In the morning he went out again. There were tracks so fresh that he could easily follow them. As he stole along, watching the marks at his feet, suddenly two gray animals sprang out of a grove close by. They ran to a bank fifty yards away and then turned to gaze at him. He felt rather than saw the softness of their gaze and he stood still, as if in a spell. Only the sound, "Oh, oh-h-h!" came from his throat. They seemed to forget him completely and began to bound up and down in play. It was wonderful to watch them. By a very light touch of their toes they could rise six or eight feet in the air. Yan could not take his eyes off these beautiful creatures. Higher and higher they rose each time, swinging their bodies gracefully. Sometimes these birds without wings seemed to hang in the air, when they sprang across some deep canyon. They were already far away, but he watched them until they were all out of sight. Then he realized that he forgot to shoot at them.
He went back to the place where they began to play, and found one track. But where was the next? He found another track fifteen feet away, and then another twenty feet away. Then the distances between the tracks increased to twenty-five and sometimes to thirty feet. "Oh!" Yan thought, "they do not run at all, they fly; and once in a while they come down again to touch the ground with their elegant hoofs. Well, I'm glad they got away. I have seen something today that no one else has ever seen."
Yet, when the morning came, the old hunting instinct was again in his heart. "I must go to the hills," he said, "and follow the trail of those deer. My strength against their strength, my gun against their speed." He walked and ran all day, looking for their tracks in the snow, but now snow began to fall and covered up every track.
The next day and the next, and Yan was still in the hills, but he did not find any tracks or signs of deer. The weeks went by, and he ran many miles and spent many cold days and freezing nights in the snow-covered hills, but all in vain. Soon the hunting season was over.
A year passed. The desire to hunt arose again in Yan's heart.