Again an almost overwhelming fear possessed the hunted vole, his limbs stiffened, his condition seemed helpless. He crawled slowly hither and thither, now passing some fellow-creature huddled in the corner of a blind alley; now lifting himself above ground to seek refuge in another part of the burrow; now pausing to listen to cries of pain which indicated how thoroughly the "vears" were fulfilling their gruesome work. It seemed that the whole colony of voles was being exterminated.

Bewildered, after an hour of unmitigated dread, he quitted the place of slaughter, where every nook and corner reeked of blood or of the weasels' scent, and limped through the grass towards the hedge. In a hollow among the scattered stones he stayed till terror no longer benumbed him, and he could summon courage to seek an early meal in the root-field beyond the pasture. Directly the day began to dawn, he cautiously returned to his burrow. Though numerous traces of the havoc of the night remained, he knew, from the staleness of the weasels' scent, that his foes had departed.

At noon his mate came again to her nest, and searched for her missing offspring. But the taint of blood on the floor of the chamber told her only too well that henceforth her mothering care would be needed solely by the young mouse that she had rescued in her flight. The day passed uneventfully; the weasels did not repeat their visit. At nightfall the mother mouse, stealing into the wood, found both her enemies caught in rabbit-traps set beside the "runs" among the hawthorns.

For a while peace reigned in the underground dwellings of the mossy pasture, and the young field-vole thrived amazingly; from the very outset fortune favoured him above the rest of his species. After the wholesale destruction that had taken place, little risk of overcrowding and its attendant evils remained, and, for the lucky mice surviving the raid, food was plentiful, even when later, in winter, they were awakened by some warm, bright day, and hunger, long sustained, had made them ravenous. Kweek, having no brother or sister to share his birthright, was fed and trained in a manner that otherwise would have been impossible, while his parents were particularly strong and healthy. These circumstances undoubtedly combined to make him what he eventually became— quick to form an opinion and to act, and able, once he was fully grown, to meet in fight all rivals for the possession of any sleek young she-vole he happened to have chosen for his mate.

Soon after his eyes were open, the adult voles of the colony began to harvest their winter supplies. Seeds of all kinds were stored in shallow hiding places — under stones, or under fallen branches — or in certain chambers of the burrow set apart for that especial purpose; and as each granary was filled its entrance was securely stopped by a mound of earth thrown up by the busy harvesters.

The first solid food Kweek tasted was the black, glossy seed of a columbine, which his mother, busily collecting provender, chanced to drop near him as she hurried to her storehouse. Earlier in the night, just outside the burrow, he had watched her with great curiosity as she daintily nibbled a grain of wheat brought from a gateway where the laden waggons had passed. He had loitered near, searching among the grassroots for some fragment he supposed his mother to have left behind, but he found only a rough, prickly husk, that stuck beneath his tongue, nearly choked him, and drove him frantic with irritation, till, after much violent shaking and twitching, and rubbing his throat and muzzle with his fore-paws, he managed to get rid of the objectionable morsel. Something, however, in the taste of the husk so aroused his appetite for solid food, that when his mother dropped the columbine seed he at once picked it up in his fore-paws, and, stripping off the hard, glossy covering, devoured it with the keen relish of a new hunger that as yet he could not entirely understand. His growth, directly he learned to feed on the seeds his mother showed him, and to forage a little for himself, was more rapid than before. Nature seemed in a hurry to make him strong and fat, that he might be able to endure the cold and privation of winter.

By the end of November, when at night the first rime-frosts lay on the fallow, and the voles, disliking the chill mists, seldom left their burrow, Kweek was already bigger than his dam. He was, in fact, the equal of his sire in bone and length, but he was loose-limbed and had not filled out to those exact proportions which, among voles as among all other wildlings of the field, make for perfect symmetry, grace, and stamina, and come only with maturity and the first love season.

When about two months old, Kweek, for the first time since the weasels had visited the burrow, experienced a narrow escape from death. The night was mild and bright, and the vole was busy in the littered loam of the hedgerow, where, during the afternoon, a blackbird had scratched the leaves away and left some ripe haws exposed to view. Suddenly he heard a loud, mocking call, apparently coming from the direction of the moon: " Whoo-hoo ! Whoo-hoo-o-o-o!" It was a strangely bewildering sound; so the vole squatted among the leaves and listened anxiously, every sense alert to catch the meaning of the weird, foreboding voice. " Whoo-hoo! Whoo-hoo-o-o-o!" — again, from directly overhead, the cry rang out into the night. A low squeak of warning, uttered by the father vole as he dived into his burrow, caused the young mice foraging in the undergrowth to bolt helter-skelter towards home. Kweek, joining in the general panic, rushed across the field, and had almost disappeared underground when he felt the earth and the loose pebbles falling over him, and at the same time experienced a sharp thrill of pain. Fortunately, his speed saved him—but only by an inch. The claws of the great brown owl, shutting like a vice as the bird " stooped" on her prey, laid hold of nothing but earth and grass, though one keen talon cut the vole's tail as with a knife, so that the little creature squealed lustily as he ran along the gallery to seek solace from his mother's companionship in the central chamber beyond. Yet even there he was not allowed to remain in peace. Maddened by the scent of a few drops of blood coming from his wound, the adult voles chased him from the burrow, and drove him out into the field. Luckily for him the brown owl had meanwhile flown away with another young vole in her claws. Kweek remained in safety under the hawthorns till the grey dawn flushed the south-east sky; then, his injured tail having ceased to bleed, he ventured without fear among his kindred as they lay huddled asleep in the recesses of their underground abode.