– Chapter 2 –
Lightfoot the Deer’s New Antlers
Peter Rabbit was puzzled and curious again. He stared at Lightfoot the Deer a wee bit suspiciously. “Have you been tearing somebody’s coat?” he asked.
He didn’t like to think this of Lightfoot, whom he always had believed was quite gentle, harmless, and as timid as himself. However, what else could he think as he looked upon those rags hanging from his antlers?
Lightfoot slowly shook his head. “No,” he said, “I haven’t torn anybody’s coat.”
“Then what are those rags hanging on your antlers?” inquired Peter.
Lightfoot chuckled. “They are what is left of the coverings of my new antlers,” he explained.
“What’s that? What do you mean by new antlers?” Peter was sitting up very straight, with his eyes fixed on Lightfoot’s antlers as though he never had seen them before.
“Just what I said,” repeated Lightfoot. “What do you think of them? I think they are the finest antlers I’ve ever had. When I get the rest of those rags off, they will be as handsome a set as ever was grown in the Green Forest.”
Lightfoot rubbed his antlers against the trunk of a tree until some of the rags hanging on them dropped off.
Peter blinked very hard. He was trying to understand the meaning of this and he couldn’t. Finally he said so.
“I do not understand. Do you mean to tell me that those are not the antlers that you have had as long as I’ve known you? How can anything hard like those antlers grow? This sounds impossible! And if those are new ones, where are the old ones? The idea of trying to make me believe that antlers grow just like plants! I’ve seen Bossy the Cow all summer and I know she has got the same horns she had last summer. New antlers indeed!”
“You are quite right, Peter, quite right about Bossy the Cow. She never has new horns, and yet that isn’t any reason why I shouldn’t have new antlers, is it?” replied Lightfoot patiently. “Her horns are quite different from my antlers. I have a new pair every year. You haven’t seen me all summer, have you, Peter?”
“No, I don’t remember that I have,” replied Peter, trying very hard to remember when he had last seen Lightfoot.
“I know you haven’t,” said Lightfoot. “I know it because I have been hiding in a place you never visit.”
“What have you been hiding for?” Peter asked with great curiosity.
“For my new antlers to grow,” replied Lightfoot. “When my new antlers are growing, I want to be away by myself. I don’t like to be seen without them or with half grown ones. Besides, I am very uncomfortable while the new antlers are growing and I want to be alone.”
Lightfoot spoke as if he really meant every word he said, and still Peter couldn’t believe that those wonderful great antlers had grown out of Lightfoot’s head in a single summer. “Where did you leave your old ones and when did they come off?” he asked.
“They dropped off last spring and I don’t remember just where,” replied Lightfoot. “I was too glad to be rid of them to notice where they dropped. You see they were loose and uncomfortable, and I hadn’t any more use for them because I knew that my new ones would be bigger and better. I’ve got one more point on each than I had last year.” Lightfoot began once more to rub his antlers against the tree to get off the odd rags hanging to them and to polish the points. Peter watched in silence for a few minutes. Then, with his curiosity returning, he said: “You still haven’t told me everything about those rags hanging on your antlers.”
It is hard to believe what seems impossible. And yet what seems impossible to you may be a very commonplace matter to some one else. Peter Rabbit wanted to believe what Lightfoot the Deer had just told him, and yet somehow he found it confusing. If he had seen those antlers growing, it would have been another matter. However, he had only seen Lightfoot in the winter, and then Lightfoot had worn just such handsome antlers as he now had. So Peter really couldn’t be blamed for not being able to believe that those old ones had been lost and in their place new ones had grown in just the few months of spring and summer.
“I’m trying to believe you,” Peter said, quite humbly.
“It’s all true,” broke in another voice.
Peter jumped and turned to find his big cousin, Jumper the Hare. Unseen and unheard, he had come up behind them and had overheard what Peter and Lightfoot had said.
“How do you know it is true?” Peter asked for confirmation.
“Because I saw Lightfoot’s old antlers after they had fallen off, and I often saw Lightfoot while his new ones were growing,” Jumper replied.
“All right! I’ll believe anything that Lightfoot tells me if you say it is true,” declared Peter, who greatly admires his cousin, Jumper. “Now Lightfoot, please tell me about those rags.”
Lightfoot couldn’t resist the “please.”
“Those rags are what is left of a kind of covering which protected the antlers while they were growing” he said. “Very soon after my old ones dropped off the new ones began to grow. They were not hard, not at all like they are now. They were soft and very tender, and the blood ran through them just as it does through our bodies. They were covered with a sort of skin with hairs on it like thin fur. The ends were not sharply pointed as they are now, rather they were big and rounded, like knobs. They were not like antlers at all, and they made my head hot and were very uncomfortable. That is why I hid away. They grew very fast, so fast that every day I could see by looking at my reflection in water that they were a little longer. It seemed to me sometimes as if all my strength went into those new antlers. And I had to be very careful not to hit them against anything. In the first place it would have hurt, and in the second place it might have spoiled the shape of them.“
“When they had grown to the length you now see, they began to shrink and grow hard. The knobs on the ends shrank until they became pointed. As soon as they stopped growing the blood stopped flowing up in them, and as they became hard they were no longer tender. The skin which had covered them grew dry and split, and I rubbed it off on trees and bushes. The little rags you see are what is left, and I will soon be rid of those too. Then I shall be ready to defend myself if need be.”
Lightfoot tossed his head proudly and rattled his wonderful antlers against the nearest tree. “Isn’t he a sight to see,” whispered Peter to Jumper the Hare; “and did you ever hear of anything so wonderful as the growing of those new antlers in such a short time? Amazing.”
“It is,” replied Jumper, “and I tell you, Peter, I wouldn’t want to have Lightfoot try those antlers on me, beautiful as they are.”
Capture your thoughts in your P.L.A.Y. Adventures nature journal!
- What is the difference between antlers and horns?
- Who has horns? Who has antlers?
- Have you seen deer near your home? Where are they often seen? What time of day is it?
- Have you seen a buck with antlers? How many points?
- What other signs could you look for to know a deer was nearby? Hint: What is scat?
- Try using a book like Scats and Tracks of the Northeast to clearly identify what you’ve discovered in the fields or forest!