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Title: Lobo, Rag and Vixen - Being The Personal Histories Of Lobo, Redruff, Raggylug & Vixen
Author: Seton, Ernest Thompson, 1860-1946
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Lobo, Rag and Vixen - Being The Personal Histories Of Lobo, Redruff, Raggylug & Vixen" ***

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[Illustration: LOBO, RAG, AND VIXEN]



LOBO, RAG, AND VIXEN

AND PICTURES

BY

ERNEST SETON-THOMPSON

AUTHOR OF "WILD ANIMALS I HAVE KNOWN," "ART ANATOMY
OF ANIMALS," ETC.

BEING THE PERSONAL HISTORIES OF

LOBO
REDRUFF
RAGGYLUG &
VIXEN

NEW YORK
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
1908



_NOTE TO THE READER_

_These Stories, selected from those published in "Wild Animals I Have
Known," are true histories of the animals described, and are intended to
show how their lives are lived.

Though the lower animals have no language in the full sense as we
understand it, they have a system of sounds, signs, touches, tastes, and
smells that answers the purpose of language, and I merely translate
this, when necessary, into English._

     _ERNEST SETON-THOMPSON

     144 Fifth Avenue, New York
     May 7, 1899_



ILLUSTRATIONS


                         FACING
                          PAGE

LOBO AND BLANCA . . . . . .  18
REDRUFF SAVING RUNTIE . . .  60
MAMMY! MAMMY! . . . . . . .  78
THEY TUSSLED AND FOUGHT . . 126



LOBO

THE KING OF CURRUMPAW

I


Currumpaw is a vast cattle range in northern New Mexico. It is a land of
rich pastures and teeming flocks and herds, a land of rolling mesas and
precious running waters that at length unite in the Currumpaw River,
from which the whole region is named. And the king whose despotic power
was felt over its entire extent was an old gray wolf.

Old Lobo, or the king, as the Mexicans called him, was the gigantic
leader of a remarkable pack of gray wolves, that had ravaged the
Currumpaw Valley for a number of years. All the shepherds and ranchmen
knew him well, and, wherever he appeared with his trusty band, terror
reigned supreme among the cattle, and wrath and despair among their
owners. Old Lobo was a giant among wolves, and was cunning and strong in
proportion to his size. His voice at night was well-known and easily
distinguished from that of any of his fellows. An ordinary wolf might
howl half the night about the herdsman's bivouac without attracting more
than a passing notice, but when the deep roar of the old king came
booming down the cañon, the watcher bestirred himself and prepared to
learn in the morning that fresh and serious inroads had been made among
the herds.

Old Lobo's band was but a small one. This I never quite understood, for
usually, when a wolf rises to the position and power that he had, he
attracts a numerous following. It may be that he had as many as he
desired, or perhaps his ferocious temper prevented the increase of his
pack. Certain is it that Lobo had only five followers during the latter
part of his reign. Each of these, however, was a wolf of renown, most of
them were above the ordinary size, one in particular, the second in
command, was a veritable giant, but even he was far below the leader in
size and prowess. Several of the band, besides the two leaders, were
especially noted. One of those was a beautiful white wolf, that the
Mexicans called Blanca; this was supposed to be a female, possibly
Lobo's mate. Another was a yellow wolf of remarkable swiftness, which,
according to current stories, had, on several occasions, captured an
antelope for the pack.

It will be seen, then, that these wolves were thoroughly well-known to
the cowboys and shepherds. They were frequently seen and oftener heard,
and their lives were intimately associated with those of the cattlemen,
who would so gladly have destroyed them. There was not a stockman on the
Currumpaw who would not readily have given the value of many steers for
the scalp of any one of Lobo's band, but they seemed to possess charmed
lives, and defied all manner of devices to kill them. They scorned all
hunters, derided all poisons, and continued, for at least five years, to
exact their tribute from the Currumpaw ranchers to the extent, many
said, of a cow each day. According to this estimate, therefore, the band
had killed more than two thousand of the finest stock, for, as was only
too well-known, they selected the best in every instance.

The old idea that a wolf was constantly in a starving state, and
therefore ready to eat anything, was as far as possible from the truth
in this case, for these freebooters were always sleek and
well-conditioned, and were in fact most fastidious about what they ate.
Any animal that had died from natural causes, or that was diseased or
tainted, they would not touch, and they even rejected anything that had
been killed by the stockmen. Their choice and daily food was the
tenderer part of a freshly killed yearling heifer. An old bull or cow
they disdained, and though they occasionally took a young calf or colt,
it was quite clear that veal or horseflesh was not their favorite diet.
It was also known that they were not fond of mutton, although they often
amused themselves by killing sheep. One night in November, 1893, Blanca
and the yellow wolf killed two hundred and fifty sheep, apparently for
the fun of it, and did not eat an ounce of their flesh.

These are examples of many stories which I might repeat, to show the
ravages of this destructive band. Many new devices for their extinction
were tried each year, but still they lived and throve in spite of all
the efforts of their foes. A great price was set on Lobo's head, and in
consequence poison in a score of subtle forms was put out for him, but
he never failed to detect and avoid it. One thing only he feared--that
was firearms, and knowing full well that all men in this region carried
them, he never was known to attack or face a human being. Indeed, the
set policy of his band was to take refuge in flight whenever, in the
daytime, a man was descried, no matter at what distance. Lobo's habit of
permitting the pack to eat only that which they themselves had killed,
was in numerous cases their salvation, and the keenness of his scent to
detect the taint of human hands or the poison itself, completed their
immunity.

On one occasion, one of the cowboys heard the too familiar rallying-cry
of Old Lobo, and stealthily approaching, he found the Currumpaw pack in
a hollow, where they had 'rounded up' a small herd of cattle. Lobo sat
apart on a knoll, while Blanca with the rest was endeavoring to 'cut
out' a young cow, which they had selected; but the cattle were standing
in a compact mass with their heads outward, and presented to the foe a
line of horns, unbroken save when some cow, frightened by a fresh onset
of the wolves, tried to retreat into the middle of the herd. It was only
by taking advantage of these breaks that the wolves had succeeded at all
in wounding the selected cow, but she was far from being disabled, and
it seemed that Lobo at length lost patience with his followers, for he
left his position on the hill, and, uttering a deep roar, dashed toward
the herd. The terrified rank broke at his charge, and he sprang in among
them. Then the cattle scattered like the pieces of a bursting bomb. Away
went the chosen victim, but ere she had gone twenty-five yards Lobo was
upon her. Seizing her by the neck he suddenly held back with all his
force and so threw her heavily to the ground. The shock must have been
tremendous, for the heifer was thrown heels over head. Lobo also turned
a somersault, but immediately recovered himself, and his followers
falling on the poor cow, killed her in a few seconds. Lobo took no part
in the killing--after having thrown the victim, he seemed to say, "Now,
why could not some of you have done that at once without wasting so much
time?"

The man now rode up shouting, the wolves as usual retired, and he,
having a bottle of strychnine, quickly poisoned the carcass in three
places, then went away, knowing they would return to feed, as they had
killed the animals themselves. But next morning, on going to look for
his expected victims, he found that, although the wolves had eaten the
heifer, they had carefully cut out and thrown aside all those parts that
had been poisoned.

The dread of this great wolf spread yearly among the ranchmen, and each
year a larger price was set on his head, until at last it reached
$1,000, an unparalleled wolf-bounty, surely; many a good man has been
hunted down for less. Tempted by the promised reward, a Texan ranger
named Tannerey came one day galloping up the cañon of the Currumpaw. He
had a superb outfit for wolf-hunting--the best of guns and horses, and a
pack of enormous wolf-hounds. Far out on the plains of the Panhandle, he
and his dogs had killed many a wolf, and now he never doubted that,
within a few days, old Lobo's scalp would dangle at his saddle-bow.

Away they went bravely on their hunt in the gray dawn of a summer
morning, and soon the great dogs gave joyous tongue to say that they
were already on the track of their quarry. Within two miles, the grizzly
band of Currumpaw leaped into view, and the chase grew fast and furious.
The part of the wolf-hounds was merely to hold the wolves at bay till
the hunter could ride up and shoot them, and this usually was easy on
the open plains of Texas; but here a new feature of the country came
into play, and showed how well Lobo had chosen his range; for the rocky
cañons of the Currumpaw and its tributaries intersect the prairies in
every direction. The old wolf at once made for the nearest of these and
by crossing it got rid of the horsemen. His band then scattered and
thereby scattered the dogs, and when they reunited at a distant point of
course all of the dogs did not turn up, and the wolves, no longer
outnumbered, turned on their pursuers and killed or desperately wounded
them all. That night when Tannerey mustered his dogs, only six of them
returned, and of these, two were terribly lacerated. This hunter made
two other attempts to capture the royal scalp, but neither of them was
more successful than the first, and on the last occasion his best horse
met its death by a fall; so he gave up the chase in disgust and went
back to Texas, leaving Lobo more than ever the despot of the region.

Next year, two other hunters appeared, determined to win the promised
bounty. Each believed he could destroy this noted wolf, the first by
means of a newly devised poison, which was to be laid out in an entirely
new manner; the other a French Canadian, by poison assisted with certain
spells and charms, for he firmly believed that Lobo was a veritable
'loup-garou,' and could not be killed by ordinary means. But cunningly
compounded poisons, charms, and incantations were all of no avail
against this grizzly devastator. He made his weekly rounds and daily
banquets as aforetime, and before many weeks had passed, Calone and
Laloche gave up in despair and went elsewhere to hunt.

In the spring of 1893, after his unsuccessful attempt to capture Lobo,
Joe Calone had a humiliating experience, which seems to show that the
big wolf simply scorned his enemies, and had absolute confidence in
himself. Calone's farm was on a small tributary of the Currumpaw, in a
picturesque cañon, and among the rocks of this very cañon, within a
thousand yards of the house, old Lobo and his mate selected their den
and raised their family that season. There they lived all summer, and
killed Joe's cattle, sheep, and dogs, but laughed at all his poisons and
traps, and rested securely among the recesses of the cavernous cliffs,
while Joe vainly racked his brain for some method of smoking them out,
or of reaching them with dynamite. But they escaped entirely unscathed,
and continued their ravages as before. "There's where he lived all last
summer," said Joe, pointing to the face of the cliff, "and I couldn't do
a thing with him. I was like a fool to him."



II


This history, gathered so far from the cowboys, I found hard to believe
until, in the fall of 1893, I made the acquaintance of the wily
marauder, and at length came to know him more thoroughly than anyone
else. Some years before, in the Bingo days, I had been a wolf-hunter,
but my occupations since then had been of another sort, chaining me to
stool and desk. I was much in need of a change, and when a friend, who
was also a ranch-owner on the Currumpaw, asked me to come to New Mexico
and try if I could do anything with this predatory pack, I accepted the
invitation and, eager to make the acquaintance of its king, was as soon
as possible among the mesas of that region. I spent some time riding
about to learn the country, and at intervals, my guide would point to
the skeleton of a cow to which the hide still adhered, and remark,
"That's some of his work."

It became quite clear to me that, in this rough country, it was useless
to think of pursuing Lobo with hounds and horses, so that poison or
traps were the only available expedients. At present we had no traps
large enough, so I set to work with poison.

I need not enter into the details of a hundred devices that I employed
to circumvent this 'loup-garou'; there was no combination of strychnine,
arsenic, cyanide, or prussic acid, that I did not essay; there was no
manner of flesh that I did not try as bait; but morning after morning,
as I rode forth to learn the result, I found that all my efforts had
been useless. The old king was too cunning for me. A single instance
will show his wonderful sagacity. Acting on the hint of an old trapper,
I melted some cheese together with the kidney fat of a freshly killed
heifer, stewing it in a china dish, and cutting it with a bone knife to
avoid the taint of metal. When the mixture was cool, I cut it into
lumps, and making a hole in one side of each lump, I inserted a large
dose of strychnine and cyanide, contained in a capsule that was
impermeable by any odor; finally I sealed the holes up with pieces of
the cheese itself. During the whole process, I wore a pair of gloves
steeped in the hot blood of the heifer, and even avoided breathing on
the baits. When all was ready, I put them in a raw-hide bag rubbed all
over with blood, and rode forth dragging the liver and kidneys of the
beef at the end of a rope. With this I made a ten-mile circuit, dropping
a bait at each quarter of a mile, and taking the utmost care, always,
not to touch any with my hands.

Lobo, generally, came into this part of the range in the early part of
each week, and passed the latter part, it was supposed, around the base
of Sierra Grande. This was Monday, and that same evening, as we were
about to retire, I heard the deep bass howl of his majesty. On hearing
it one of the boys briefly remarked, "There he is, we'll see."

The next morning I went forth, eager to know the result. I soon came on
the fresh trail of the robbers, with Lobo in the lead--his track was
always easily distinguished. An ordinary wolf's forefoot is 4-1/2 inches
long, that of a large wolf 4-3/4 inches, but Lobo's, as measured a
number of times, was 5-1/2 inches from claw to heel; I afterward found
that his other proportions were commensurate, for he stood three feet
high at the shoulder, and weighed 150 pounds. His trail, therefore,
though obscured by those of his followers, was never difficult to trace.
The pack had soon found the track of my drag, and as usual followed it.
I could see that Lobo had come to the first bait, sniffed about it, and
had finally picked it up.

Then I could not conceal my delight. "I've got him at last," I
exclaimed; "I shall find him stark within a mile," and I galloped on
with eager eyes fixed on the great broad track in the dust. It led me to
the second bait and that also was gone. How I exulted--I surely have him
now and perhaps several of his band. But there was the broad paw-mark
still on the drag; and though I stood in the stirrup and scanned the
plain I saw nothing that looked like a dead wolf. Again I followed--to
find now that the third bait was gone--and the king-wolf's track led on
to the fourth, there to learn that he had not really taken a bait at
all, but had merely carried them in his mouth. Then having piled the
three on the fourth, he scattered filth over them to express his utter
contempt for my devices. After this he left my drag and went about his
business with the pack he guarded so effectively.

This is only one of many similar experiences which convinced me that
poison would never avail to destroy this robber, and though I continued
to use it while awaiting the arrival of the traps, it was only because
it was meanwhile a sure means of killing many prairie wolves and other
destructive vermin.

About this time there came under my observation an incident that will
illustrate Lobo's diabolic cunning. These wolves had at least one
pursuit which was merely an amusement, it was stampeding and killing
sheep, though they rarely ate them. The sheep are usually kept in flocks
of from one thousand to three thousand under one or more shepherds. At
night they are gathered in the most sheltered place available, and a
herdsman sleeps on each side of the flock to give additional protection.
Sheep are such senseless creatures that they are liable to be stampeded
by the veriest trifle, but they have deeply ingrained in their nature
one, and perhaps only one, strong weakness, namely, to follow their
leader. And this the shepherds turn to good account by putting half a
dozen goats in the flock of sheep. The latter recognize the superior
intelligence of their bearded cousins, and when a night alarm occurs
they crowd around them, and usually, are thus saved from a stampede and
are easily protected. But it was not always so. One night late in last
November, two Perico shepherds were aroused by an onset of wolves. Their
flocks huddled around the goats, which being neither fools nor cowards,
stood their ground and were bravely defiant; but alas for them, no
common wolf was heading this attack. Old Lobo, the weir-wolf, knew as
well as the shepherds that the goats were the moral force of the flock,
so hastily running over the backs of the densely packed sheep, he fell
on these leaders, slew them all in a few minutes, and soon had the
luckless sheep stampeding in a thousand different directions. For weeks
afterward I was almost daily accosted by some anxious shepherd, who
asked, "Have you seen any stray OTO sheep lately?" and usually I was
obliged to say I had; one day it was, "Yes, I came on some five or six
carcasses by Diamond Springs;" or another, it was to the effect that I
had seen a small 'bunch' running on the Malpai Mesa; or again, "No, but
Juan Meira saw about twenty, freshly killed, on the Cedra Monte two days
ago."

At length the wolf traps arrived, and with two men I worked a whole week
to get them properly set out. We spared no labor or pains, I adopted
every device I could think of that might help to insure success. The
second day after the traps arrived, I rode around to inspect, and soon
came upon Lobo's trail running from trap to trap. In the dust I could
read the whole story of his doings that night. He had trotted along in
the darkness, and although the traps were so carefully concealed, he had
instantly detected the first one. Stopping the onward march of the pack,
he had cautiously scratched around it until he had disclosed the trap,
the chain, and the log, then left them wholly exposed to view with the
trap still unsprung, and passing on he treated over a dozen traps in the
same fashion. Very soon I noticed that he stopped and turned aside as
soon as he detected suspicious signs on the trail, and a new plan to
outwit him at once suggested itself. I set the traps in the form of an
H; that is, with a row of traps on each side of the trail, and one on
the trail for the cross-bar of the H. Before long, I had an opportunity
to count another failure. Lobo came trotting along the trail, and was
fairly between the parallel lines before he detected the single trap in
the trail, but he stopped in time, and why and how he knew enough I
cannot tell; the Angel of the wild things must have been with him, but
without turning an inch to the right or left, he slowly and cautiously
backed on his own tracks, putting each paw exactly in its old track
until he was off the dangerous ground. Then returning at one side he
scratched clods and stones with his hind feet till he had sprung every
trap. This he did on many other occasions, and although I varied my
methods and redoubled my precautions, he was never deceived, his
sagacity seemed never at fault, and he might have been pursuing his
career of rapine to-day, but for an unfortunate alliance that proved his
ruin and added his name to the long list of heroes who, unassailable
when alone, have fallen through the indiscretion of a trusted ally.

[Illustration: Lobo and Blanca.]



III


Once or twice, I had found indications that everything was not quite
right in the Currumpaw pack. There were signs of irregularity, I
thought; for instance there was clearly the trail of a smaller wolf
running ahead of the leader, at times, and this I could not understand
until a cowboy made a remark which explained the matter.

"I saw them to-day," he said, "and the wild one that breaks away is
Blanca." Then the truth dawned upon me, and I added, "Now, I know that
Blanca is a she-wolf, because were a he-wolf to act thus, Lobo would
kill him at once."

This suggested a new plan. I killed a heifer, and set one or two rather
obvious traps about the carcass. Then cutting off the head, which is
considered useless offal, and quite beneath the notice of a wolf, I set
it a little apart and around it placed six powerful steel traps properly
deodorized and concealed with the utmost care. During my operations I
kept my hands, boots, and implements smeared with fresh blood, and
afterward sprinkled the ground with the same, as though it had flowed
from the head; and when the traps were buried in the dust I brushed the
place over with the skin of a coyote, and with a foot of the same animal
made a number of tracks over the traps. The head was so placed that
there was a narrow passage between it and some tussocks, and in this
passage I buried two of my best traps, fastening them to the head
itself.

Wolves have the habit of approaching every carcass they get the wind of,
in order to examine it, even when they have no intention of eating it,
and I hoped that this habit would bring the Currumpaw pack within reach
of my latest stratagem. I did not doubt that Lobo would detect my
handiwork about the meat, and prevent the pack approaching it, but I did
build some hopes on the head, for it looked as though it had been thrown
aside as useless.

Next morning, I sallied forth to inspect the traps, and there, oh, joy!
were the tracks of the pack, and the place where the beef-head and its
traps had been was empty. A hasty study of the trail showed that Lobo
had kept the pack from approaching the meat, but one, a small wolf, had
evidently gone on to examine the head as it lay apart and had walked
right into one of the traps.

We set out on the trail, and within a mile discovered that the hapless
wolf was Blanca. Away she went, however, at a gallop, and although
encumbered by the beef-head, which weighed over fifty pounds, she
speedily distanced my companion who was on foot. But we overtook her
when she reached the rocks, for the horns of the cow's head became
caught and held her fast. She was the handsomest wolf I had ever seen.
Her coat was in perfect condition and nearly white.

She turned to fight, and raising her voice in the rallying cry of her
race, sent a long howl rolling over the cañon. From far away upon the
mesa came a deep response, the cry of Old Lobo. That was her last call,
for now we had closed in on her, and all her energy and breath were
devoted to combat.

Then followed the inevitable tragedy, the idea of which I shrank from
afterward more than at the time. We each threw a lasso over the neck of
the doomed wolf, and strained our horses in opposite directions until
the blood burst from her mouth, her eyes glazed, her limbs stiffened
and then fell limp. Homeward then we rode, carrying the dead wolf, and
exulting over this, the first death-blow we had been able to inflict on
the Currumpaw pack.

At intervals during the tragedy, and afterward as we rode homeward, we
heard the roar of Lobo as he wandered about on the distant mesas, where
he seemed to be searching for Blanca. He had never really deserted her,
but knowing that he could not save her, his deep-rooted dread of
firearms had been too much for him when he saw us approaching. All that
day we heard him wailing as he roamed in his quest, and I remarked at
length to one of the boys, "Now, indeed, I truly know that Blanca was
his mate."

As evening fell he seemed to be coming toward the home cañon, for his
voice sounded continually nearer. There was an unmistakable note of
sorrow in it now. It was no longer the loud, defiant howl, but a long,
plaintive wail: "Blanca! Blanca!" he seemed to call. And as night came
down, I noticed that he was not far from the place where we had
overtaken her. At length he seemed to find the trail, and when he came
to the spot where we had killed her, his heart-broken wailing was
piteous to hear. It was sadder than I could possibly have believed.
Even the stolid cowboys noticed it, and said they had "never heard a
wolf carry on like that before." He seemed to know exactly what had
taken place, for her blood had stained the place of her death.

Then he took up the trail of the horses and followed it to the
ranch-house. Whether in hopes of finding her there, or in quest of
revenge, I know not, but the latter was what he found, for he surprised
our unfortunate watchdog outside and tore him to little bits within
fifty yards of the door. He evidently came alone this time, for I found
but one trail next morning, and he had galloped about in a reckless
manner that was very unusual with him. I had half expected this, and had
set a number of additional traps about the pasture. Afterward I found
that he had indeed fallen into one of these, but such was his strength,
he had torn himself loose and cast it aside.

I believed that he would continue in the neighborhood until he found her
body at least, so I concentrated all my energies on this one enterprise
of catching him before he left the region, and while yet in this
reckless mood. Then I realized what a mistake I had made in killing
Blanca, for by using her as a decoy I might have secured him the next
night.

I gathered in all the traps I could command, one hundred and thirty
strong steel wolf-traps, and set them in fours in every trail that led
into the cañon; each trap was separately fastened to a log, and each log
was separately buried. In burying them, I carefully removed the sod and
every particle of earth that was lifted we put in blankets, so that
after the sod was replaced and all was finished the eye could detect no
trace of human handiwork. When the traps were concealed I trailed the
body of poor Blanca over each place, and made of it a drag that circled
all about the ranch, and finally I took off one of her paws and made
with it a line of tracks over each trap. Every precaution and device
known to me I used, and retired at a late hour to await the result.

Once during the night I thought I heard Old Lobo, but was not sure of
it. Next day I rode around, but darkness came on before I completed the
circuit of the north cañon, and I had nothing to report. At supper one
of the cowboys said, "There was a great row among the cattle in the
north cañon this morning, maybe there is something in the traps there."
It was afternoon of the next day before I got to the place referred to,
and as I drew near a great grizzly form arose from the ground, vainly
endeavoring to escape, and there revealed before me stood Lobo, King of
the Currumpaw, firmly held in the traps. Poor old hero, he had never
ceased to search for his darling, and when he found the trail her body
had made he followed it recklessly, and so fell into the snare prepared
for him. There he lay in the iron grasp of all four traps, perfectly
helpless, and all around him were numerous tracks showing how the cattle
had gathered about him to insult the fallen despot, without daring to
approach within his reach. For two days and two nights he had lain
there, and now was worn out with struggling. Yet, when I went near him,
he rose up with bristling mane and raised his voice, and for the last
time made the cañon reverberate with his deep bass roar, a call for
help, the muster call of his band. But there was none to answer him,
and, left alone in his extremity, he whirled about with all his strength
and made a desperate effort to get at me. All in vain, each trap was a
dead drag of over three hundred pounds, and in their relentless fourfold
grasp, with great steel jaws on every foot, and the heavy logs and
chains all entangled together, he was absolutely powerless. How his huge
ivory tusks did grind on those cruel chains, and when I ventured to
touch him with my rifle-barrel he left grooves on it which are there to
this day. His eyes glared green with hate and fury, and his jaws snapped
with a hollow 'chop,' as he vainly endeavored to reach me and my
trembling horse. But he was worn out with hunger and struggling and loss
of blood, and he soon sank exhausted to the ground.

Something like compunction came over me, as I prepared to deal out to
him that which so many had suffered at his hands.

"Grand old outlaw, hero of a thousand lawless raids, in a few minutes
you will be but a great load of carrion. It cannot be otherwise." Then I
swung my lasso and sent it whistling over his head. But not so fast; he
was yet far from being subdued, and, before the supple coils had fallen
on his neck he seized the noose and, with one fierce chop, cut through
its hard thick strands, and dropped it in two pieces at his feet.

Of course I had my rifle as a last resource, but I did not wish to spoil
his royal hide, so I galloped back to the camp and returned with a
cowboy and a fresh lasso. We threw to our victim a stick of wood which
he seized in his teeth, and before he could relinquish it our lassoes
whistled through the air and tightened on his neck.

Yet before the light had died from his fierce eyes, I cried, "Stay, we
will not kill him; let us take him alive to the camp." He was so
completely powerless now that it was easy to put a stout stick through
his mouth, behind his tusks, and then lash his jaws with a heavy cord
which was also fastened to the stick. The stick kept the cord in, and
the cord kept the stick in, so he was harmless. As soon as he felt his
jaws were tied he made no further resistance, and uttered no sound, but
looked calmly at us and seemed to say, "Well, you have got me at last,
do as you please with me." And from that time he took no more notice of
us.

We tied his feet securely, but he never groaned, nor growled, nor turned
his head. Then with our united strength we were just able to put him on
my horse. His breath came evenly as though sleeping, and his eyes were
bright and clear again, but did not rest on us. Afar on the great
rolling mesas they were fixed, his passing kingdom, where his famous
band was now scattered. And he gazed till the pony descended the pathway
into the cañon, and the rocks cut off the view.

By travelling slowly we reached the ranch in safety, and after securing
him with a collar and a strong chain, we staked him out in the pasture
and removed the cords. Then for the first time I could examine him
closely, and proved how unreliable is vulgar report where a living hero
or tyrant is concerned. He had _not_ a collar of gold about his neck,
nor was there on his shoulders an inverted cross to denote that he had
leagued himself with Satan. But I did find on one haunch a great broad
scar, that tradition says was the fang-mark of Juno, the leader of
Tannerey's wolf-hounds--a mark which she gave him the moment before he
stretched her lifeless on the sand of the cañon.

       *       *       *       *       *

I set meat and water beside him, but he paid no heed. He lay calmly on
his breast, and gazed with those steadfast yellow eyes away past me down
through the gateway of the cañon, over the open plains--his plains--nor
moved a muscle when I touched him. When the sun went down he was still
gazing fixedly across the prairie. I expected he would call up his band
when night came, and prepared for them, but he had called once in his
extremity, and none had come; he would never call again.

       *       *       *       *       *

A lion shorn of his strength, an eagle robbed of his freedom, or a dove
bereft of his mate, all die, it is said, of a broken heart; and who will
aver that this grim bandit could bear the threefold brunt, heart-whole?
This only I know, that when the morning dawned, he was lying there still
in his position of calm repose, but his spirit was gone-the old
king-wolf was dead.

       *       *       *       *       *

I took the chain from his neck, a cowboy helped me to carry him to the
shed where lay the remains of Blanca, and as we laid him beside her, the
cattle-man exclaimed: "There, you _would_ come to her, now you are
together again."



REDRUFF

THE STORY OF THE DON VALLEY PARTRIDGE

I


Down the wooded slope of Taylor's Hill the Mother Partridge led her
brood; down toward the crystal brook that by some strange whim was
called Mud Creek. Her little ones were one day old but already quick on
foot, and she was taking them for the first time to drink.

She walked slowly, crouching low as she went, for the woods were full of
enemies. She was uttering a soft little cluck in her throat, a call to
the little balls of mottled down that on their tiny pink legs came
toddling after, and peeping softly and plaintively if left even a few
inches behind, and seeming so fragile they made the very chicadees look
big and coarse. There were twelve of them, but Mother Grouse watched
them all, and she watched every bush and tree and thicket, and the whole
woods and the sky itself. Always for enemies she seemed
seeking--friends were too scarce to be looked for--and an enemy she
found. Away across the level beaver meadow was a great brute of a fox.
He was coming their way, and in a few moments would surely wind them or
strike their trail. There was no time to lose.

'_Krrr_! _Krrr_! (Hide! Hide!) cried the mother in a low, firm voice,
and the little bits of things, scarcely bigger than acorns and but a day
old, scattered far (a few inches) apart to hide. One dived under a leaf,
another between two roots, a third crawled into a curl of birch-bark, a
fourth into a hole, and so on, till all were hidden but one who could
find no cover, so squatted on a broad yellow chip and lay very flat, and
closed his eyes very tight, sure that now he was safe from being seen.
They ceased their frightened peeping and all was still.

Mother Partridge flew straight toward the dreaded beast, alighted
fearlessly a few yards to one side of him, and then flung herself on the
ground, flopping as though winged and lame--oh, so dreadfully lame-and
whining like a distressed puppy. Was she begging for mercy--mercy from a
bloodthirsty, cruel fox? Oh, dear, no! She was no fool. One often hears
of the cunning of the fox. Wait and see what a fool he is compared with
a mother-partridge. Elated at the prize so suddenly within his reach,
the fox turned with a dash and caught--at least, no, he didn't quite
catch the bird; she flopped by chance just a foot out of reach. He
followed with another jump and would have seized her this time surely,
but somehow a sapling came just between, and the partridge dragged
herself awkwardly away and under a log, but the great brute snapped his
jaws and bounded over the log, while she, seeming a trifle less lame,
made another clumsy forward spring and tumbled down a bank, and Reynard,
keenly following, almost caught her tail, but, oddly enough, fast as he
went and leaped, she still seemed just a trifle faster. It was most
extraordinary. A winged partridge and he, Reynard, the Swift-foot, had
not caught her in five minutes' racing. It was really shameful. But the
partridge seemed to gain strength as the fox put forth his, and after a
quarter of a mile race, racing that was somehow all away from Taylor's
Hill, the bird got unaccountably quite well, and, rising with a decisive
whirr, flew off through the woods, leaving the fox utterly dumfounded to
realize that he had been made a fool of, and, worst of all, he now
remembered that this was not the first time he had been served this
very trick, though he never knew the reason for it.

Meanwhile Mother Partridge skimmed in a great circle and came by a
roundabout way back to the little fuzz-balls she had left hidden in the
woods.

With a wild bird's keen memory for places, she went to the very
grass-blade she last trod on, and stood for a moment fondly to admire
the perfect stillness of her children. Even at her step not one had
stirred, and the little fellow on the chip, not so very badly concealed
after all, had not budged, nor did he now; he only closed his eyes a
tiny little bit harder, till the mother said:

'_K-reet_,' (Come, children) and instantly, like a fairy story, every
hole gave up its little baby-partridge, and the wee fellow on the chip,
the biggest of them all really, opened his big-little eyes and ran to
the shelter of her broad tail, with a sweet little '_peep peep_' which
an enemy could not have heard three feet away, but which his mother
could not have missed thrice as far, and all the other thimblefuls of
down joined in, and no doubt thought themselves dreadfully noisy, and
were proportionately happy.

The sun was hot now. There was an open space to cross on the road to the
water, and, after a careful lookout for enemies, the mother gathered the
little things under the shadow of her spread fantail and kept off all
danger of sunstroke until they reached the brier thicket by the stream.

Here a cottontail rabbit leaped out and gave them a great scare. But the
flag of truce he carried behind was enough. He was an old friend; and
among other things the little ones learned that day that Bunny always
sails under a flag of truce, and lives up to it too.

And then came the drink, the purest of living water, though silly men
had called it Mud Creek.

At first the little fellows didn't know how to drink, but they copied
their mother, and soon learned to drink like her and give thanks after
every sip. There they stood in a row along the edge, twelve little brown
and golden balls on twenty-four little pink-toed, in-turned feet, with
twelve sweet little golden heads gravely bowing, drinking, and giving
thanks like their mother.

Then she led them by short stages, keeping the cover, to the far side of
the beaver-meadow, where was a great, grassy dome. The mother had made
a note of this dome some time before. It takes a number of such domes to
raise a brood of partridges. For this was an ant's nest. The old one
stepped on top, looked about a moment, then gave half a dozen vigorous
rakes with her claws. The friable ant-hilt was broken open, and the
earthen galleries scattered in ruins down the slope. The ants swarmed
out and quarrelled with each other for lack of a better plan. Some ran
around the hill with vast energy and little purpose, while a few of the
more sensible began to carry away fat white eggs. But the old partridge,
coming to the little ones, picked up one of these juicy-looking bags and
clucked and dropped it, and picked it up again and again and clucked,
then swallowed it. The young ones stood around, then one little yellow
fellow, the one that sat on the chip, picked up an ant-egg, dropped it a
few times, then yielding to a sudden impulse, swallowed it, and so had
learned to eat. Within twenty minutes even the runt had learned, and a
merry time they had scrambling after the delicious eggs as their mother
broke open more ant-galleries, and sent them and their contents rolling
down the bank, till every little partridge had so crammed his little
crop that he was positively misshapen and could eat no more.

Then all went cautiously up the stream, and on a sandy bank, well
screened by brambles, they lay for all that afternoon, and learned how
pleasant it was to feel the cool, powdery dust running between their hot
little toes. With their strong bent for copying, they lay on their sides
like their mother and scratched with their tiny feet and flopped with
their wings, though they had no wings to flop with, only a little tag
among the down on each side, to show where the wings would come. That
night she took them to a dry thicket near by, and there among the crisp,
dead leaves that would prevent an enemy's silent approach on foot, and
under the interlacing briers that kept off all foes of the air, she
cradled them in their feather-shingled nursery and rejoiced in the
fulness of a mother's joy over the wee cuddling things that peeped in
their steep and snuggled so trustfully against her warm body.



II


The third day the chicks were much stronger on their feet. They no
longer had to go around an acorn; they could even scramble over
pine-cones, and on the little tags that marked the places for their
wings, were now to be seen blue rows of fat blood-quills.

Their start in life was a good mother, good legs, a few reliable
instincts, and a germ of reason. It was instinct, that is, inherited
habit, which taught them to hide at the word from their mother; it was
instinct that taught them to follow her, but it was reason which made
them keep under the shadow of her tail when the sun was smiting down,
and from that day reason entered more and more into their expanding
lives.

Next day the blood-quills had sprouted the tips of feathers. On the
next, the feathers were well out, and a week later the whole family of
down-clad babies were strong on the wing.

And yet not all--poor little Runtie had been sickly from the first. He
bore his half-shell on his back for hours after he came out; he ran less
and cheeped more than his brothers, and when one evening at the onset of
a skunk the mother gave the word '_Kwit, kwit_' (Fly, fly), Runtie was
left behind, and when she gathered her brood on the piney hill he was
missing, and they saw him no more.

Meanwhile, their training had gone on. They knew that the finest
grasshoppers abounded in the long grass by the brook; they knew that the
currant-bushes dropped fatness in the form of smooth, green worms; they
knew that the dome of an ant-hill rising against the distant woods stood
for a garner of plenty; they knew that strawberries, though not really
insects, were almost as delicious; they knew that the huge danaid
butterflies were good, safe game, if they could only catch them, and
that a slab of bark dropping from the side of a rotten log was sure to
abound in good things of many different kinds; and they had learned,
also, the yellow-jackets, mud-wasps, woolly worms, and hundred-leggers
were better let alone.

It was now July, the Moon of Berries. The chicks had grown and
flourished amazingly during this last month, and were now so large that
in her efforts to cover them the mother was kept standing all night.

They took their daily dust-bath, but of late had changed to another
higher on the hill. It was one in use by many different birds, and at
first the mother disliked the idea of such a second-hand bath. But the
dust was of such a fine, agreeable quality, and the children led the way
with such enthusiasm, that she forgot her mistrust.

After a fortnight the little ones began to droop and she herself did not
feel very well. They were always hungry, and though they ate
enormously, they one and all grew thinner and thinner. The mother was
the last to be affected. But when it came, it came as hard on her--a
ravenous hunger, a feverish headache, and a wasting weakness. She never
knew the cause. She could not know that the dust of the much-used
dust-bath, that her true instinct taught her to mistrust at first, and
now again to shun, was sown with parasitic worms, and that all of the
family were infested.

No natural impulse is without a purpose. The mother-bird's knowledge of
healing was only to follow natural impulse. The eager, feverish craving
for something, she knew not what, led her to eat, or try, everything
that looked eatable and to seek the coolest woods. And there she found a
deadly sumach laden with its poison fruit. A month ago she would have
passed it by, but now she tried the unattractive berries. The acrid
burning juice seemed to answer some strange demand of her body; she ate
and ate, and all her family joined in the strange feast of physic. No
human doctor could have hit it better; it proved a biting, drastic
purge, the dreadful secret foe was downed, the danger passed. But not
for all--Nature, the old nurse, had come too late for two of them. The
weakest, by inexorable law, dropped out. Enfeebled by the disease, the
remedy was too severe for them. They drank and drank by the stream, and
next morning did not move when the others followed the mother. Strange
vengeance was theirs now, for a skunk, the same that could have told
where Runtie went, found and devoured their bodies and died of the
poison they had eaten.

Seven little partridges now obeyed the mother's call. Their individual
characters were early shown and now developed fast. The weaklings were
gone, but there was still a fool and a lazy one. The mother could not
help caring for some more than for others, and her favorite was the
biggest, he who once sat on the yellow chip for concealment. He was not
only the biggest, strongest, and handsomest of the brood, the best of
all, the most obedient. His mother's warning '_rrrrr_' (danger) did not
always keep the others from a risky path or a doubtful food, but
obedience seemed natural to him, and he never failed to respond to her
soft '_K-reet_' (Come), and of this obedience he reaped the reward, for
his days were longest in the land.

August, the Molting Moon, went by; the young ones were now three parts
grown. They knew just enough to think themselves wonderfully wise. When
they were small it was necessary to sleep on the ground so their mother
could shelter them, but now they were too big to need that, and the
mother began to introduce grown-up ways of life. It was time to roost in
the trees. The young weasels, foxes, skunks, and minks were beginning to
run. The ground grew more dangerous each night, so at sundown Mother
Partridge called '_K-reet_' and flew into a thick, low tree.

The little ones followed, except one, an obstinate little fool who
persisted in sleeping on the ground as heretofore. It was all right that
time, but the next night his brothers were awakened by his cries. There
was a slight scuffle, then stillness, broken only by a horrid sound of
crunching bones and a smacking of lips. They peered down into the
terrible darkness below, where the glint of two close-set eyes and a
peculiar musty smell told them that a mink was the killer of their fool
brother.

Six little partridges now sat in a row at night, with their mother in
the middle, though it was not unusual for some little one with cold feet
to perch on her back.

Their education went on, and about this time they were taught
'whirring.' A partridge can rise on the wing silently if it wishes, but
whirring is so important at times that all are taught how and when to
rise on thundering wings. Many ends are gained by the whirr. It warns
all other partridges near that danger is at hand, it unnerves the
gunner, or it fixes the foe's attention on the whirrer, while the others
sneak off in silence, or by squatting, escape notice.

A partridge adage might well be 'foes and food for every moon.'
September came, with seeds and grain in place of berries and ant-eggs,
and gunners in place of skunks and minks.

The partridges knew well what a fox was, but had scarcely seen a dog. A
fox they knew they could easily baffle by taking to a tree, but when in
the Gunner Moon old Cuddy came prowling through the ravine with his
bob-tailed yellow cur, the mother spied the dog and cried out _Kwit!
Kwit_!" (Fly, fly). Two of the brood thought it a pity their mother
should lose her wits so easily over a fox, and were pleased to show
their superior nerve by springing into a tree in spite of her earnestly
repeated '_Kwit! Kwit!_' and her example of speeding away on silent
wings.

Meanwhile, the strange bob-tailed fox came under the tree and yapped and
yapped at them. They were much amused at him and at their mother and
brothers, so much so that they never noticed a rustling in the bushes
till there was a loud _Bang! bang!_ and down fell two bloody, flopping
partridges, to be seized and mangled by the yellow cur until the gunner
ran from the bushes and rescued the remains.



III


Cuddy lived in a wretched shanty near the Don, north of Toronto. His was
what Greek philosophy would have demonstrated to be an ideal existence.
He had no wealth, no taxes, no social pretensions, and no property to
speak of. His life was made up of a very little work and a great deal of
play, with as much out-door life as he chose. He considered himself a
true sportsman because he was 'fond o' huntin',' and 'took a sight o'
comfort out of seein' the critters hit the mud' when his gun was fired.
The neighbors called him a squatter, and looked on him merely as an
anchored tramp. He shot and trapped the year round, and varied his game
somewhat with the season perforce, but had been heard to remark he could
tell the month by the 'taste o' the patridges,' if he didn't happen to
know by the almanac. This, no doubt, showed keen observation, but was
also unfortunate proof of something not so creditable. The lawful season
for murdering partridges began September 15th, but there was nothing
surprising in Cuddy's being out a fortnight ahead of time. Yet he
managed to escape punishment year after year, and even contrived to pose
in a newspaper interview as an interesting character.

He rarely shot on the wing, preferring to pot his birds, which was not
easy to do when the leaves were on, and accounted for the brood in the
third ravine going so long unharmed; but the near prospect of other
gunners finding them now, had stirred him to go after 'a mess of birds.'
He had heard no roar of wings when the mother-bird led off her four
survivors, so pocketed the two he had killed and returned to the shanty.

The little grouse thus learned that a dog is not a fox, and must be
differently played; and an old lesson was yet more deeply
graven--'Obedience is long life.'

The rest of September was passed in keeping quietly out of the way of
gunners as well as some old enemies. They still roosted on the long,
thin branches of the hardwood trees among the thickest leaves, which
protected them from foes in the air; the height saved them from foes on
the ground, and left them nothing to fear but coons, whose slow, heavy
tread on the limber boughs never failed to give them timely warning. But
the leaves were falling now--every month its foes and its food. This was
nut time, and it was owl time, too. Barred owls coming down from the
north doubled or trebled the owl population. The nights were getting
frosty and the coons less dangerous, so the mother changed the place of
roosting to the thickest foliage of a hemlock-tree.

Only one of the brood disregarded the warning _'Kreet, kreet_.' He stuck
to his swinging elm-bough, now nearly naked, and a great yellow-eyed owl
bore him off before morning.

Mother and three young ones now were left, but they were as big as she
was; indeed one, the eldest, he of the chip, was bigger. Their ruffs had
begun to show. Just the tips, to tell what they would be like when
grown, and not a little proud they were of them.

The ruff is to the partridge what the train is to the peacock--his chief
beauty and his pride. A hen's ruff is black with a slight green gloss. A
cock's is much larger and blacker and is glossed with more vivid
bottle-green. Once in a while a partridge is born of unusual size and
vigor, whose ruff is not only larger, but by a peculiar kind of
intensification is of a deep coppery red, iridescent with violet, green,
and gold. Such a bird is sure to be a wonder to all who know him, and
the little one who had squatted on the chip, and had always done what he
was told, developed before the Acorn Moon had changed, into all the
glory of a gold and copper ruff-for this was Redruff, the famous
partridge of the Don Valley.



IV


One day late in the Acorn Moon, that is, about mid-October, as the
grouse family were basking with full crops near a great pine log on the
sunlit edge of the beaver-meadow, they heard the far-away bang of a gun,
and Redruff, acting on some impulse from within, leaped on the log,
strutted up and down a couple of times, then, yielding to the elation of
the bright, clear, bracing air, he whirred his wings in loud defiance.
Then, giving fuller vent to this expression of vigor, just as a colt
frisks to show how well he feels, he whirred yet more loudly, until,
unwittingly, he found himself drumming, and tickled with the discovery
of his new power, thumped the air again and again till he filled the
near woods with the loud tattoo of the fully grown cock-partridge. His
brother and sister heard and looked on with admiration and surprise; so
did his mother, but from that time she began to be a little afraid of
him.

In early November comes the moon of a weird foe. By a strange law of
nature, not wholly without parallel among mankind, all partridges go
crazy in the November moon of their first year. They become possessed of
a mad hankering to get away somewhere, it does not matter much where.
And the wisest of them do all sorts of foolish things at this period.
They go drifting, perhaps, at speed over the country by night, and are
cut in two by wires, or dash into lighthouses, or locomotive headlights.
Daylight finds them in all sorts of absurd places, in buildings, in open
marshes, perched on telephone wires in a great city, or even on board of
coasting vessels. The craze seems to be a relic of a bygone habit of
migration, and it has at least one good effect, it breaks up the
families and prevents the constant intermarrying, which would surely be
fatal to their race. It always takes the young badly their first year,
and they may have it again the second fall, for it is very catching; but
in the third season it is practically unknown.

Redruff's mother knew it was coming as soon as she saw the frost grapes
blackening, and the maples shedding their crimson and gold. There was
nothing to do but care for their health and keep them in the quietest
part of the woods.

The first sign of it came when a flock of wild geese went _honking_
southward overhead. The young ones had never before seen such
long-necked hawks, and were afraid of them. But seeing that their mother
had no fear, they took courage, and watched them with intense interest.
Was it the wild, clanging cry that moved them, or was it solely the
inner prompting then come to the surface? A strange longing to follow
took possession of each of the young ones. They watched those arrowy
trumpeters fading away to the south, and sought out higher perches to
watch them farther yet, and from that time things were no more the same.
The November moon was waxing, and when it was full, the November madness
came.

The least vigorous of the flock were most affected. The little family
was scattered. Redruff himself flew on several long erratic night
journeys. The impulse took him southward, out there lay the boundless
stretch of Lake Ontario, so he turned again, and the waning of the Mad
Moon found him once more in the Mud Creek Glen, but absolutely alone.



V


Food grew scarce as winter wore on. Redruff clung to the old ravine and
the piney sides of Taylor's Hill, but every month brought its food and
its foes. The Mad Moon brought madness, solitude, and grapes; the Snow
Moon came with rosehips; and the Stormy Moon brought browse of birch and
silver storms that sheathed the woods in ice, and made it hard to keep
one's perch while pulling off the frozen buds. Redruff's beak grew
terribly worn with the work, so that even when closed there was still an
opening through behind the hook. But nature had prepared him for the
slippery footing; his toes, so slim and trim in September, had sprouted
rows of sharp, horny points, and these grew with the growing cold, till
the first snow had found him fully equipped with snowshoes and
ice-creepers. The cold weather had driven away most of the hawks and
owls, and made it impossible for his four-footed enemies to approach
unseen, so that things were nearly balanced.

His flight in search of food had daily led him farther on, till he had
discovered and explored the Rosedale Creek, with its banks of
silver-birch, and Castle Frank, with its grapes and rowan berries, as
well as Chester woods, where amelanchier and Virginia-creeper swung
their fruit-bunches, and checkerberries glowed beneath the snow.

He soon found out that for some strange reason men with guns did not go
within the high fence of Castle-Frank. So among these scenes he lived
his life, learning new places, new foods, and grew wiser and more
beautiful every day.

He was quite alone so far as kindred were concerned, but that scarcely
seemed a hardship. Wherever he went he could see the jolly chickadees
scrambling merrily about, and he remembered the time when they had
seemed such big, important creatures. They were the most absurdly
cheerful things in the woods. Before the autumn was fairly over they had
begun to sing their famous refrain, '_Spring Soon_,' and kept it up with
good heart more or less all through the winter's direst storms, till at
length the waning of the Hungry Moon, our February, seemed really to
lend some point to the ditty, and they redoubled their optimistic
announcement to the world in an 'I-told-you-so' mood. Soon good support
was found, for the sun gained strength and melted the snow from the
southern slope of Castle Frank Hill, and exposed great banks of fragrant
wintergreen, whose berries were a bounteous feast for Redruff, and,
ending the hard work of pulling frozen browse, gave his bill the needed
chance to grow into its proper shape again. Very soon the first bluebird
came flying over and warbled as he flew '_The spring is coming_.' The
sun kept gaining, and early one day in the dark of the Wakening Moon of
March there was a loud '_Caw, caw_,' and old Silverspot, the king-crow,
came swinging along from the south at the head of his troops and
officially announced

     'THE SPRING HAS COME.'

All nature seemed to respond to this, the opening of the birds' New
Year, and yet it was something within that chiefly seemed to move them.
The chickadees went simply wild; they sang their '_Spring now, spring
now now--Spring now now_,' so persistently that one wondered how they
found time to get a living.

And Redruff felt it thrill him through and through. He sprang with
joyous vigor on a stump and sent rolling down the little valley, again
and again, a thundering '_Thump, thump, thump, thunderrrrrrrrr_,' that
wakened dull echoes as it rolled, and voiced his gladness in the coming
of the spring.

Away down the valley was Cuddy's shanty. He heard the drum-call on the
still morning air and 'reckoned there was a cock patridge to git,' and
came sneaking up the ravine with his gun. But Redruff skimmed away in
silence, nor rested till once more in Mud Creek Glen. And there he
mounted the very log where first he had drummed and rolled his loud
tattoo again and again, till a small boy who had taken a short cut to
the mill through the woods, ran home, badly scared, to tell his mother
he was sure the Indians were on the war-path, for he heard their
war-drums beating in the glen.

Why does a happy boy holla? Why does a lonesome youth sigh? They don't
know any more than Redruff knew why every day now he mounted some dead
log and thumped and thundered to the woods; then strutted and admired
his gorgeous blazing ruffs as they flashed their jewels in the sunlight,
and then thundered out again. Whence now came the strange wish for
someone else to admire the plumes? And why had such a notion never come
till the Pussywillow Moon?

     _'Thump, thump, thunder-r-r.r-r-r-rrrr'_
     _'Thump, thump, thunder-r-r-r-r-r-rrrr'_

he rumbled again and again.

Day after day he sought the favorite log, and a new beauty, a rose-red
comb, grew out above each clear, keen eye, and the clumsy snow-*shoes
were wholly shed from his feet. His ruff grew finer, his eye brighter,
and his whole appearance splendid to behold, as he strutted and flashed
in the sun. But-oh! he was _so lonesome now_.

Yet what could he do but blindly vent his hankering in this daily
drum-parade, till on a day early in loveliest May, when the trilliums
had fringed his log with silver stars, and he had drummed and longed,
then drummed again, his keen ear caught a sound, a gentle footfall in
the brush. He turned to a statue and watched; he knew he had been
watched. Could it be possible? Yes! there it was--a form--another--a shy
little lady grouse, now bashfully seeking to hide. In a moment he was by
her side. His whole nature swamped by a new feeling--burnt up with
thirst--a cooling spring in sight. And how he spread and flashed his
proud array! How came he to know that that would please? He puffed his
plumes and contrived to stand just right to catch the sun, and strutted
and uttered a low, soft chuckle that must have been just as good as the
'sweet nothings' of another race, for clearly now her heart was won.
Won, really, days ago, if only he had known. For full three days she had
come at the loud tattoo and coyly admired him from afar, and felt a
little piqued that he had not yet found her out, so close at hand. So it
was not quite all mischance, perhaps, that that little stamp had caught
his ear. But now she meekly bowed her head with sweet, submissive
grace--the desert passed, the parch-burnt wanderer found the spring at
last.

       *       *       *       *       *

Oh, those were bright, glad days in the lovely glen of the unlovely
name. The sun was never so bright, and the piney air was balmier sweet
than dreams. And that great noble bird came daily on his log, sometimes
with her and sometimes quite alone, and drummed for very joy of being
alive. But why sometimes alone? Why not forever with his Brownie bride?
Why should she stay to feast and play with him for hours, then take some
stealthy chance to slip away and see him no more for hours or till next
day, when his martial music from the log announced him restless for her
quick return? There was a woodland mystery here he could not clear. Why
should her stay with him grow daily less till it was down to minutes,
and one day at last she never came at all. Nor the next, nor the next,
and Redruff, wild, careered on lightning wing and drummed on the old
log, then away up-stream on another log, and skimmed the hill to another
ravine to drum and drum. But on the fourth day, when he came and loudly
called her, as of old, at their earliest tryst, he heard a sound in the
bushes, as at first, and there was his missing Brownie bride with ten
little peeping partridges following after.

Redruff skimmed to her side, terribly frightening the bright-eyed
downlings, and was just a little dashed to find the brood with claims
far stronger than his own. But he soon accepted the change, and
thenceforth joined himself to the brood, caring for them as his father
never had for him.



VI


Good fathers are rare in the grouse world. The mother-grouse builds her
nest and hatches out her young without help. She even hides the place of
the nest from the father and meets him only at the drum-log and the
feeding-ground, or perhaps the dusting-place, which is the club-house of
the grouse kind.

When Brownie's little ones came out they had filled her every thought,
even to the forgetting of their splendid father. But on the third day,
when they were strong enough, she had taken them with her at the
father's call.

Some fathers take no interest in their little ones, but Redruff joined
at once to help Brownie in the task of rearing the brood. They had
learned to eat and drink just as their father had learned long ago, and
could toddle along, with their mother leading the way, while the father
ranged near by or followed far behind.

The very next day, as they went from the hill-side down toward the creek
in a somewhat drawn-out string, like beads with a big one at each end, a
red squirrel, peeping around a pine-trunk, watched the processing of
downlings with the Runtie straggling far in the rear. Redruff, yards
behind, preening his feathers on a high log, had escaped the eye of the
squirrel, whose strange, perverted thirst for birdling blood was roused
at what seemed so fair a chance. With murderous intent to cut off the
hindmost straggler, he made a dash. Brownie could not have seen him
until too late, but Redruff did. He flew for that red-haired cutthroat;
his weapons were his fists, that is, the knob-joints of the wings, and
what a blow he could strike! At the first onset he struck the squirrel
square on the end of the nose, his weakest spot, and sent him reeling;
he staggered and wriggled into a brush-pile, where he had expected to
carry the little grouse, and there lay gasping with red drops trickling
down his wicked snout. The partridges left him lying there, and what
became of him they never knew, but he troubled them no more.

The family went on toward the water, but a cow had left deep tracks in
the sandy loam, and into one of these fell one of the chicks and peeped
in dire distress when he found he could not get out.

This was a fix. Neither old one seemed to know what to do, but as they
trampled vainly round the edge, the sandy bank caved in, and, running
down, formed a long slope, up which the young one ran and rejoined his
brothers under the broad veranda of their mother's tail.

Brownie was a bright little mother, of small stature, but keen of wit
and sense, and was, night and day, alert to care for her darling chicks.
How proudly she stepped and clucked through the arching woods with her
dainty brood behind her; how she strained her little brown tail almost
to a half-circle to give them a broader shade, and never flinched at
sight of any foe, but held ready to fight or fly, whichever seemed the
best for her little ones.

[Illustration: Redruff saving Runtie.]

Before the chicks could fly they had a meeting with old Cuddy; though it
was June, he was out with his gun. Up the third ravine he went, and
Tike, his dog, ranging ahead, came so dangerously near the Brownie brood
that Redruff ran to meet him, and by the old but never-failing trick led
him on a foolish chase away back down the valley of the Don.

But Cuddy, as it chanced, came right along, straight for the brood, and
Brownie, giving the signal to the children, '_Krrr, krrr_' (Hide, hide),
ran to lead the man away just as her mate had led the dog. Full of a
mother's devoted love, and skilled in the learning of the woods she ran
in silence till quite near, then sprang with a roar of wings right in
his face, and tumbling on the leaves she shammed a lameness that for a
moment deceived the poacher. But when she dragged one wing and whined
about his feet, then slowly crawled away, he knew just what it
meant--that it was all a trick to lead him from her brood, and he struck
at her a savage blow; but little Brownie was quick, she avoided the blow
and limped behind a sapling, there to beat herself upon the leaves
again in sore distress, and seem so lame that Cuddy made another try to
strike her down with a stick. But she moved in time to balk him, and
bravely, steadfast still to lead him from her helpless little ones, she
flung herself before him and beat her gentle breast upon the ground, and
moaned as though begging for mercy. And Cuddy, failing again to strike
her, raised his gun, and firing charge enough to kill a bear, he blew
poor brave, devoted Brownie into quivering, bloody rags.

This gunner brute knew the young must be hiding near, so looked about to
find them. But no one moved or peeped. He saw not one, but as he tramped
about with heedless, hateful feet, he crossed and crossed again their
hiding-ground, and more than one of the silent little sufferers he
trampled to death, and neither knew nor cared.

Redruff had taken the yellow brute away off down-stream, and now
returned to where he left his mate. The murderer had gone, taking her
remains, to be thrown to the dog. Redruff sought about and found the
bloody spot with feathers, Brownie's feathers, scattered around, and now
he knew the meaning of that shot.

Who can tell what his horror and his mourning were? The outward signs
were few, some minutes dumbly gazing at the place with downcast,
draggled look, and then a change at the thought of their helpless brood.
Back to the hiding-place he went, and called the well-known '_Kreet,
kreet_.' Did every grave give up its little inmate at the magic word?
No, barely more than half; six little balls of down unveiled their
lustrous eyes, and, rising, ran to meet him, but four feathered little
bodies had found their graves indeed. Redruff called again and again,
till he was sure that all who could respond had come, then led them from
that dreadful place, far, far away up-stream, where barbed-wire fences
and bramble thickets were found to offer a less grateful, but more
reliable, shelter.

Here the brood grew and were trained by their father just as his mother
had trained him; though wider knowledge and experience gave him many
advantages. He knew so well the country round and all the
feeding-grounds, and how to meet the ills that harass partridge-life,
that the summer passed and not a chick was lost. They grew and
flourished, and when the Gunner Moon arrived they were a fine family of
six grown-up grouse with Redruff, splendid in his gleaming copper
feathers, at their head. He had ceased to drum during the summer after
the loss of Brownie, but drumming is to the partridge what singing is to
the lark; while it is his love-song, it is also an expression of
exuberance born of health, and when the molt was over and September food
and weather had renewed his splendid plumes and braced him up again, his
spirits revived, and finding himself one day near the old log he mounted
impulsively, and drummed again and again.

From that time he often drummed, while his children sat around, or one
who showed his father's blood would mount some nearby stump or stone,
and beat the air in the loud tattoo.

The black grapes and the Mad Moon now came on. But Redruff's brood were
of a vigorous stock; their robust health meant robust wits, and though
they got the craze, it passed within a week, and only three had flown
away for good.

Redruff, with his remaining three, was living in the glen when the snow
came. It was light, flaky snow, and as the weather was not very cold,
the family squatted for the night under the low, flat boughs of a
cedar-tree. But next day the storm continued, it grew colder, and the
drifts piled up all day. At night the snowfall ceased, but the frost
grew harder still, so Redruff, leading the family to a birch-tree above
a deep drift, dived into the snow, and the others did the same. Then
into the holes the wind blew the loose snow--their pure white
bed-*clothes, and thus tucked in they slept in comfort, for the snow is
a warm wrap, and the air passes through it easily enough for breathing.
Next morning each partridge found a solid wall of ice before him from
his frozen breath, but easily turned to one side and rose on the wing at
Redruff's morning '_Kreet, kreet, kwit_.' (Come children, come children,
fly.)

This was the first night for them in a snowdrift, though it was an old
story to Redruff, and next night they merrily dived again into bed, and
the north wind tucked them in as before. But a change of weather was
brewing. The night wind veered to the east. A fall of heavy flakes gave
place to sleet, and that to silver rain. The whole wide world was
sheathed in ice, and when the grouse awoke to quit their beds, they
found themselves sealed in with a great, cruel sheet of edgeless ice.

The deeper snow was still quite soft, and Redruff bored his way to the
top, but there the hard, white sheet defied his strength. Hammer and
struggle as he might he could make no impression, and only bruised his
wings and head. His life had been made up of keen joys and dull
hardships, with frequent sudden desperate straits, but this seemed the
hardest brunt of all, as the slow hours wore on and found him weakening
with his struggles, but no nearer to freedom. He could hear the
struggling of his family, too, or sometimes heard them calling to him
for help with their long-drawn plaintive '_p-e-e-e-e-e-t-e,
p-e-e-e-e-e-t-e_.'

They were hidden from many of their enemies, but not from the pangs of
hunger, and when the night came down the weary prisoners, worn out with
hunger and useless toil, grew quiet in despair. At first they had been
afraid the fox would come and find them imprisoned there at his mercy,
but as the second night went slowly by they no longer cared, and even
wished he would come and break the crusted snow, and so give them at
least a fighting chance for life.

But when the fox really did come padding over the frozen drift, the
deep-laid love of life revived, and they crouched in utter stillness
till he passed. The second day was one of driving storm. The north wind
sent his snow-horses, hissing and careering over the white earth,
tossing and curling their white manes and kicking up more snow as they
dashed on. The long, hard grinding of the granular snow seemed to be
thinning the snow-crust, for though far from dark below, it kept on
growing lighter. Redruff had pecked and pecked at the under side all
day, till his head ached and his bill was wearing blunt, but when the
sun went down he seemed as far as ever from escape. The night passed
like the others, except no fox went trotting overhead. In the morning he
renewed his pecking, though now with scarcely any force, and the voices
or struggles of the others were no more heard. As the daylight grew
stronger he could see that his long efforts had made a brighter spot
above him in the snow, and he continued feebly pecking. Outside, the
storm-horses kept on trampling all day, the crust was really growing
thin under their heels, and late that afternoon his bill went through
into the open air. New life came with this gain, and he pecked away,
till just before the sun went down he had made a hole that his head, his
neck, and his ever-beautiful ruffs could pass. His great, broad
shoulders were too large, but he could now strike downward, which gave
him fourfold force; the snow-crust crumbled quickly, and in a little
while he sprang from his icy prison once more free. But the young ones!
Redruff flew to the nearest bank, hastily gathered a few red hips to
stay his gnawing hunger, then returned to the prison-drift and clucked
and stamped. He got only one reply, a feeble '_peete, peete_,' and
scratching with his sharp claws on the thinned granular sheet he soon
broke through, and Graytail feebly crawled out of the hole. But that was
all; the others, scattered he could not tell where in the drift, made no
reply, gave no sign of life, and he was forced to leave them. When the
snow melted in the spring their bodies came to view, skin, bones, and
feathers--nothing more.



VII


It was long before Redruff and Graytail fully recovered, but food and
rest in plenty are sure cure-alls, and a bright, clear day in midwinter
had the usual effect of setting the vigorous Redruff to drumming on the
log. Was it the drumming, or the tell-tale tracks of their snowshoes on
the omnipresent snow, that betrayed them to Cuddy? He came prowling
again and again up the ravine, with dog and gun, intent to hunt the
partridges down. They knew him of old, and he was coming now to know
them well. That great copper-ruffed cock was becoming famous up and down
the valley. During the Gunner Moon many a one had tried to end his
splendid life, just as a worthless wretch of old sought fame by burning
the Ephesian wonder of the world. But Redruff was deep in woodcraft. He
knew just where to hide, and when to rise on silent wing, and when to
squat till overstepped, then rise on thunder wing within a yard to
shield himself at once behind some mighty tree-trunk and speed away.

But Cuddy never ceased to follow with his gun that red-ruffed cock; many
a long snap-shot he tried, but somehow always found a tree, a bank, or
some safe shield between, and Redruff lived and throve and drummed.

When the Snow Moon came he moved with Graytail to the Castle Frank
woods, where food was plenty as well as grand old trees. There was in
particular, on the east slope among the creeping hemlocks, a splendid
pine. It was six feet through, and its first branches began at the tops
of the other trees. Its top in summer-time was a famous resort for the
bluejay and his bride. Here, far beyond the reach of shot, in warm
spring days the jay would sing and dance before his mate, spread his
bright blue plumes and warble the sweetest fairyland music, so sweet and
soft that few hear it but the one for whom it is meant, and books know
nothing at all about it.

This great pine had an especial interest for Redruff, now living near
with his remaining young one, but its base, not its far-away crown,
concerned him. All around were low, creeping hemlocks, and among them
the partridge-vine and the wintergreen grew, and the sweet black acorns
could be scratched from under the snow. There was no better
feeding-ground, for when that insatiable gunner came on them there it
was easy to run low among the hemlock to the great pine, then rise with
a derisive _whirr_ behind its bulk, and keeping the huge trunk in line
with the deadly gun, skim off in safety. A dozen times at least the pine
had saved them during the lawful murder season, and here it was that
Cuddy, knowing their feeding habits, laid a new trap. Under the bank he
sneaked and watched in ambush while an accomplice went around the Sugar
Loaf to drive the birds. He came trampling through the low thicket where
Redruff and Graytail were feeding, and long before the gunner was
dangerously near Redruff gave a low warning '_rrr-rrr_' (danger) and
walked quickly toward the great pine in case they had to rise.

Graytail was some distance up the hill, and suddenly caught sight of a
new foe close at hand, the yellow cur, coming right on. Redruff, much
farther off, could not see him for the bushes, and Graytail became
greatly alarmed.

'_Kwit, kwit_' (Fly, fly), she cried, running down the hill for a start.
'_Kreet, k-r-r-r_' (This way, hide), cried the cooler Redruff, for he
saw that now the man with the gun was getting in range. He gained the
great trunk, and behind it, as he paused a moment to call earnestly to
Graytail, 'This way, this way,' he heard a slight noise under the bank
before him that betrayed the ambush, then there was a terrified cry from
Graytail as the dog sprang at her, she rose in air and skimmed behind
the shielding trunk, away from the gunner in the open, right into the
power of the miserable wretch under the bank.

_Whirr_, and up she went, a beautiful, sentient, noble being.

_Bang_, and down she fell--battered and bleeding, to gasp her life out
and to lie a rumpled mass of carrion in the snow.

It was a perilous place for Redruff. There was no chance for a safe
rise, so he squatted low. The dog came within ten feet of him, and the
stranger, coming across to Cuddy, passed at five feet, but he never
moved till a chance came to slip behind the great trunk away from both.
Then he safely rose and flew to the lonely glen by Taylor's Hill.

One by one the deadly cruel gun had stricken his near ones down, till
now, once more, he was alone. The Snow Moon slowly passed with many a
narrow escape, and Redruff, now known to be the only survivor of his
kind, was relentlessly pursued, and grew wilder every day.

It seemed, at length, a waste of time to follow him with a gun, so when
the snow was deepest, and food scarcest, Cuddy hatched a new plot. Right
across the feeding-ground, almost the only good one now in the Stormy
Moon, he set a row of snares. A cottontail rabbit, an old friend, cut
several of these with his sharp teeth, but some remained, and Redruff,
watching a far-off speck that might turn out a hawk, trod right in one
of them, and in an instant was jerked into the air to dangle by one
foot.

Have the wild things no moral or legal rights? What right has man to
inflict such long and fearful agony on a fellow-creature, simply because
that creature does not speak his language? All that day, with growing,
racking pains, poor Redruff hung and beat his great, strong wings in
helpless struggles to be free. All day, all night, with growing torture,
until he only longed for death. But no one came. The morning broke, the
day wore on, and still he hung there, slowly dying; his very strength a
curse. The second night crawled slowly down, and when, in the dawdling
hours of darkness, a great Horned Owl, drawn by the feeble flutter of a
dying wing, cut short the pain, the deed was wholly kind.

       *       *       *       *       *

The wind blew down the valley from the north. The snow-horses went
racing over the wrinkled ice, over the Don Flats, and over the marsh
toward the lake, white, for they were driven snow, but on them,
scattered dark, were riding plumy fragments of partridge ruffs--the
famous rainbow ruffs. And they rode on the wind that night, away, away
to the south, over the dark lake, as they rode in the gloom of his Mad
Moon flight, riding and riding on till they were engulfed, the last
trace of the last of the Don Valley race.

For no partridge is heard in Castle Frank now--and in Mud Creek Ravine
the old pine drum-log, unused, has rotted in silence away.



RAGGYLUG

THE STORY OF A COTTONTAIL RABBIT


Raggylug, or Rag, was the name of a young cottontail rabbit. It was
given him from his torn and ragged ear, a life-mark that he got in his
first adventure. He lived with his mother in Olifant's swamp, where I
made their acquaintance and gathered, in a hundred different ways, the
little bits of proof and scraps of truth that at length enabled me to
write this history.

Those who do not know the animals well may think I have humanized them,
but those who have lived so near them as to know somewhat of their ways
and their minds will not think so.

Truly rabbits have no speech as we understand it, but they have a way of
conveying ideas by a system of sounds, signs, scents, whisker-touches,
movements, and example that answers the purpose of speech; and it must
be remembered that though in telling this story I freely translate from
rabbit into English, _I repeat nothing that they did not say_.



I


The rank swamp grass bent over and concealed the snug nest where
Raggylug's mother had hidden him. She had partly covered him with some
of the bedding, and, as always, her last warning was to 'lay low and say
nothing, whatever happens.' Though tucked in bed, he was wide awake and
his bright eyes were taking in that part of his little green world that
was straight above. A bluejay and a red-squirrel, two notorious thieves,
were loudly berating each other for stealing, and at one time Rag's home
bush was the centre of their fight; a yellow warbler caught a blue
butterfly but six inches from his nose, and a scarlet and black ladybug,
serenely waving her knobbed feelers, took a long walk up one grassblade,
down another, and across the nest and over Rag's face--and yet he never
moved nor even winked.

[Illustration: 'Mammy, Mammy!' he screamed, in mortal terror.]

After awhile he heard a strange rustling of the leaves in the near
thicket. It was an odd, continuous sound, and though it went this way
and that way and came ever nearer, there was no patter of feet with
it. Rag had lived his whole life in the swamp (he was three weeks old)
and yet had never heard anything like this. Of course his curiosity was
greatly aroused. His mother had cautioned him to lay low, but that was
understood to be in case of danger, and this strange sound without
footfalls could not be any to fear.

The low rasping went past close at hand, then to the right, then back,
and seemed going away. Rag felt he knew what he was about, he wasn't a
baby; it was his duty to learn what it was. He slowly raised his
roly-poly body on his short, fluffy legs, lifted his little round head
above the covering of his nest and peeped out into the woods. The sound
had ceased as soon as he moved. He saw nothing, so took one step forward
to a clear view, and instantly found himself face to face with an
enormous Black Serpent.

"Mammy," he screamed in mortal terror as the monster darted at him. With
all the strength of his tiny limbs he tried to run. But in a flash the
Snake had him by one ear and whipped around him with his coils to gloat
over the helpless little baby bunny he had secured for dinner.

"Mammy--Mammy," gasped poor little Raggylug as the cruel monster began
slowly choking him to death. Very soon the little one's cry would have
ceased, but bounding through the woods straight as an arrow came Mammy.
No longer a shy, helpless little Molly Cottontail, ready to fly from a
shadow: the mother's love was strong in her. The cry of her baby had
filled her with the courage of a hero, and-hop, she went over that
horrible reptile. Whack, she struck down at him with her sharp hind
claws as she passed, giving him such a stinging blow that he squirmed
with pain and hissed with anger.

"M-a-m-m-y," came feebly from the little one. And Mammy came leaping
again and again and struck harder and fiercer until the loathsome
reptile let go the little one's ear and tried to bite the old one as she
leaped over. But all he got was a mouthful of wool each time, and
Molly's fierce blows began to tell, as long bloody rips were torn in the
Black Snake's scaly armor.

Things were now looking bad for the Snake; and bracing himself for the
next charge, he lost his tight hold on Baby Bunny, who at once wriggled
out of the coils and away into the underbrush, breathless and terribly
frightened, but unhurt save that his left ear was much torn by the
teeth of that dreadful Serpent.

Molly had now gained all she wanted. She had no notion of fighting for
glory or revenge. Away she went into the woods and the little one
followed the shining beacon of her snow-white tail until she led him to
a safe corner of the Swamp.



II


Old Olifant's Swamp was a rough, brambly tract of second-growth woods,
with a marshy pond and a stream through the middle. A few ragged
remnants of the old forest still stood in it and a few of the still
older trunks were lying about as dead logs in the brushwood. The land
about the pond was of that willow-grown, sedgy kind that cats and horses
avoid, but that cattle do not fear. The drier zones were overgrown with
briars and young trees. The outermost belt of all, that next the fields,
was of thrifty, gummy-trunked young pines whose living needles in air
and dead ones on earth offer so delicious an odor to the nostrils of the
passer-by, and so deadly a breath to those seedlings that would compete
with them for the worthless waste they grow on.

All around for a long way were smooth fields, and the only wild tracks
that ever crossed these fields were those of a thoroughly bad and
unscrupulous fox that lived only too near.

The chief indwellers of the swamp were Molly and Rag. Their nearest
neighbors were far away, and their nearest kin were dead. This was their
home, and here they lived together, and here Rag received the training
that made his success in life.

Molly was a good little mother and gave him a careful bringing up. The
first thing he learned was 'to lay low and say nothing.' His adventure
with the snake taught him the wisdom of this. Rag never forgot that
lesson; afterward he did as he was told, and it made the other things
come more easily.

The second lesson he learned was 'freeze.' It grows out of the first,
and Rag was taught it as soon as he could run.

'Freezing' is simply doing nothing, turning into a statue. As soon as he
finds a foe near, no matter what he is doing, a well-trained Cottontail
keeps just as he is and stops all movement, for the creatures of the
woods are of the same color as the things in the woods and catch the eye
only while moving. So when enemies chance together, the one who first
sees the other can keep himself unseen by 'freezing' and thus have all
the advantage of choosing the time for attack or escape. Only those who
live in the woods know the importance of this; every wild creature and
every hunter must learn it; all learn to do it well, but not one of them
can beat Molly Cottontail in the doing. Rag's mother taught him this
trick by example. When the white cotton cushion that she always carried
to sit on went bobbing away through the woods, of course Rag ran his
hardest to keep up. But when Molly stopped and 'froze,' the natural wish
to copy made him do the same.

       *       *       *       *       *

But the best lesson of all that Rag learned from his mother was the
secret of the Brierbrush. It is a very old secret now, and to make it
plain you must first hear why the Brierbrush quarrelled with the beasts.

     _Long ago the Roses used to grow on bushes that had no thorns. But
     the Squirrels and Mice used to climb after them, the cattle used to
     knock them off with their horns, the Possum would twitch them off
     with his long tail, and the Deer, with his sharp hoofs, would break
     them down. So the Brierbrush armed itself with spikes to protect
     its roses and declared eternal war on all creatures that climbed
     trees, or had horns, or hoofs, or long tails. This left the
     Brierbrush at peace with none but Molly Cottontail, who could not
     climb, was hornless, hoof-less and had scarcely any tail at all.

     In truth the Cottontail had never harmed a Brierrose, and having
     now so many enemies the Rose took the Rabbit into especial
     friendship, and when dangers are threatening poor Bunny he flies to
     the nearest Brierbrush, certain that it is ready, with a million
     keen and poisoned daggers, to defend him._

So the secret that Rag learned from his mother was, 'The Brierbrush is
your best friend.'

Much of the time that season was spent in learning the lay of the land,
and the bramble and brier mazes. And Rag learned them so well that he
could go all around the swamp by two different ways and never leave the
friendly briers at any place for more than five hops.

It is not long since the foes of the Cottontails were disgusted to find
that man had brought a new kind of bramble and planted it in long lines
throughout the country. It was so strong that no creatures could break
it down, and so sharp that the toughest skin was torn by it. Each year
there was more of it and each year it became a more serious matter to
the wild creatures. But Molly Cottontail had no fear of it. She was not
brought up in the briers for nothing. Dogs and foxes, cattle and sheep,
and even man himself might be torn by those fearful spikes: but Molly
understands it and lives and thrives under it. And the further it
spreads the more safe country there is for the Cottontail. And the name
of this new and dreaded bramble is--_the barbed-wire fence_.



III


Molly had no other children to look after now, so Rag had all her care.
He was unusually quick and bright as well as strong, and he had
uncommonly good chances; so he got on remarkably well.

All the season she kept him busy learning the tricks of the trail, and
what to eat and drink and what not to touch. Day by day she worked to
train him; little by little she taught him, putting into his mind
hundreds of ideas that her own life or early training had stored in
hers, and so equipped him with the knowledge that makes life possible to
their kind.

Close by her side in the clover-field or the thicket he would sit and
copy her when she wobbled her nose 'to keep her smeller clear,' and
pull the bite from her mouth or taste her lips to make sure he was
getting the same kind of fodder. Still copying her, he learned to comb
his ears with his claws and to dress his coat and to bite the burrs out
of his vest and socks. He learned, too, that nothing but clear dewdrops
from the briers were fit for a rabbit to drink, as water which has once
touched the earth must surely bear some taint. Thus he began the study
of woodcraft, the oldest of all sciences.

As soon as Rag was big enough to go out alone, his mother taught him the
signal code. Rabbits telegraph each other by thumping on the ground with
their hind feet. Along the ground sound carries far; a thump that at six
feet from the earth is not heard at twenty yards will, near the ground,
be heard at least one hundred yards. Rabbits have very keen hearing, and
so might hear this same thump at two hundred yards, and that would reach
from end to end of Olifant's Swamp. A single _thump_ means 'look out' or
'freeze.' A slow _thump thump_ means 'come.' A fast _thump thump_ means
'danger;' and a very fast _thump thump thump_ means 'run for dear life.'

At another time, when the weather was fine and the bluejays were
quarrelling among themselves, a sure sign that no dangerous foe was
about, Rag began a new study. Molly, by flattening her ears, gave the
sign to squat. Then she ran far away in the thicket and gave the
thumping signal for 'come.' Rag set out at a run to the place but could
not find Molly. He thumped, but got no reply. Setting carefully about
his search he found her foot-scent, and following this strange guide,
that the beasts all know so well and man does not know at all, he worked
out the trail and found her where she was hidden. Thus he got his first
lesson in trailing, and thus it was that the games of hide and seek they
played became the schooling for the serious chase of which there was so
much in his after-life.

Before that first season of schooling was over he had learnt all the
principal tricks by which a rabbit lives, and in not a few problems
showed himself a veritable genius.

He was an adept at 'tree,' 'dodge,' and 'squat;' he could play
'log-lump' with 'wind,' and 'baulk' with 'back-track' so well that he
scarcely needed any other tricks. He had not yet tried it, but he knew
just how to play 'barb-wire,' which is a new trick of the brilliant
order; he had made a special study of 'sand,' which burns up all scent,
and he was deeply versed in 'change-off,' 'fence,' and 'double,' as
well as 'hole-up,' which is a trick requiring longer notice, and yet he
never forgot that 'lay-low' is the beginning of all wisdom and
'brierbrush' the only trick that is always safe.

He was taught the signs by which to know all his foes and then the way
to baffle them. For hawks, owls, foxes, hounds, curs, minks, weasels,
cats, skunks, coons, and men, each have a different plan of pursuit, and
for each and all of these evils he was taught a remedy.

And for knowledge of the enemy's approach he learnt to depend first on
himself and his mother, and then on the bluejay. "Never neglect the
bluejay's warning," said Molly; "he is a mischief-maker, a marplot, and
a thief all the time, but nothing escapes him. He wouldn't mind harming
us, but he cannot, thanks to the briers, and his enemies are ours, so it
is well to heed him. If the woodpecker cries a warning you can trust
him, he is honest; but he is a fool beside the bluejay, and though the
bluejay often tells lies for mischief you are safe to believe him when
he brings ill news."

The barbed-wire trick takes a deal of nerve and the best of legs. It was
long before Rag ventured to play it, but as he came to his full powers
it became one of his favorites.

"It's fine play for those who can do it," said Molly. "First you lead
off your dog on a straightaway and warm him up a bit by nearly letting
him catch you. Then keeping just one hop ahead, you lead him at a long
slant full tilt into a breast-high barb-wire. I've seen many a dog and
fox crippled, and one big hound killed outright this way. But I've also
seen more than one rabbit lose his life in trying it."

Rag early learnt what some rabbits never learn at all, that 'hole-up' is
not such a fine ruse as it seems; it may be the certain safety of a wise
rabbit, but soon or late is a sure death-trap to a fool. A young rabbit
always thinks of it first, an old rabbit never tries it till all others
fail. It means escape from a man or dog, a fox or a bird of prey, but it
means sudden death if the foe is a ferret, mink, skunk, or weasel.

There were but two ground-holes in the Swamp. One on the Sunning Bank,
which was a dry sheltered knoll in the South-end. It was open and
sloping to the sun, and here on fine days the Cottontails took their
sunbaths. They stretched out among the fragrant pine needles and
winter-green in odd, cat-like positions, and turned slowly over as
though roasting and wishing all sides well done. And they blinked and
panted, and squirmed as if in dreadful pain; yet this was one of the
keenest enjoyments they knew.

Just over the brow of the knoll was a large pine stump. Its grotesque
roots wriggled out above the yellow sand-bank like dragons, and under
their protecting claws a sulky old woodchuck had digged a den long ago.
He became more sour and ill-tempered as weeks went by, and one day
waited to quarrel with Olifant's dog instead of going in, so that Molly
Cottontail was able to take possession of the den an hour later.

This, the pine-root hole, was afterward very coolly taken by a
self-sufficient young skunk, who with less valor might have enjoyed
greater longevity, for he imagined that even man with a gun would fly
from him. Instead of keeping Molly from the den for good, therefore, his
reign, like that of a certain Hebrew king, was over in four days.

The other, the fern-hole, was in a fern thicket next the clover field.
It was small and damp, and useless except as a last retreat. It also was
the work of a woodchuck, a well-meaning, friendly neighbor, but a
hare-brained youngster whose skin in the form of a whip-lash was now
developing higher horse-power in the Olifant working team.

"Simple justice," said the old man, "for that hide was raised on stolen
feed that the team would 'a' turned into horse-power anyway."

The Cottontails were now sole owners of the holes, and did not go near
them when they could help it, lest anything like a path should be made
that might betray these last retreats to an enemy.

There was also the hollow hickory, which, though nearly fallen, was
still green, and had the great advantage of being open at both ends.
This had long been the residence of one Lotor, a solitary old coon whose
ostensible calling was frog-hunting, and who, like the monks of old, was
supposed to abstain from all flesh food. But it was shrewdly suspected
that he needed but a chance to indulge in a diet of rabbit. When at last
one dark night he was killed while raiding Olifant's hen-house, Molly,
so far from feeling a pang of regret, took possession of his cosy nest
with a sense of unbounded relief.



IV


Bright August sunlight was flooding the Swamp in the morning. Everything
seemed soaking in the warm radiance. A little brown swamp-sparrow was
teetering on a long rush in the pond. Beneath him there were open spaces
of dirty water that brought down a few scraps of the blue sky, and
worked it and the yellow duckweed into an exquisite mosaic, with a
little wrong-side picture of the bird in the middle. On the bank behind
was a great vigorous growth of golden green skunk-cabbage, that cast a
dense shadow over the brown swamp tussocks.

The eyes of the swamp-sparrow were not trained to take in the color
glories, but he saw what we might have missed; that two of the
numberless leafy brown bumps under the broad cabbage-leaves were furry,
living things, with noses that never ceased to move up and down whatever
else was still.

It was Molly and Rag. They were stretched under the skunk-cabbage, not
because they liked its rank smell, but because the winged ticks could
not stand it at all and so left them in peace.

Rabbits have no set time for lessons, they are always learning; but what
the lesson is depends on the present stress, and that must arrive
before it is known. They went to this place for a quiet rest, but had
not been long there when suddenly a warning note from the ever-watchful
bluejay caused Molly's nose and ears to go up and her tail to tighten to
her back. Away across the Swamp was Olifant's big black and white dog,
coming straight toward them.

"Now," said Molly, "squat while I go and keep that fool out of
mischief." Away she went to meet him and she fearlessly dashed across
the dog's path.

"Bow-ow-ow," he fairly yelled as he bounded after Molly, but she kept
just beyond his reach and led him where the million daggers struck fast
and deep, till his tender ears were scratched raw, and guided him at
last plump into a hidden barbed-wire fence, where he got such a gashing
that he went homeward howling with pain. After making a short double, a
loop and a baulk in case the dog should come back, Molly returned to
find that Rag in his eagerness was standing bolt upright and craning his
neck to see the sport.

This disobedience made her so angry that she struck him with her hind
foot and knocked him over in the mud.

One day as they fed on the near clover field a red-tailed hawk came
swooping after them. Molly kicked up her hind legs to make fun of him
and skipped into the briers along one of their old pathways, where of
course the hawk could not follow. It was the main path from the
Creekside Thicket to the Stove-pipe brush-pile. Several creepers had
grown across it, and Molly, keeping one eye on the hawk, set to work and
cut the creepers off. Rag watched her, then ran on ahead, and cut some
more that were across the path. "That's right," said Molly, "always keep
the runways clear, you will need them often enough. Not wide, but clear.
Cut everything like a creeper across them and some day you will find you
have cut a snare. "A what?" asked Rag, as he scratched his right ear
with his left hind foot.

"A snare is something that looks like a creeper, but it doesn't grow and
it's worse than all the hawks in the world," said Molly, glancing at the
now far-away red-tail, "for there it hides night and day in the runway
till the chance to catch you comes."

"I don't believe it could catch me," said Rag, with the pride of youth
as he rose on his heels to rub his chin and whiskers high up on a smooth
sapling. Rag did not know he was doing this, but his mother saw and
knew it was a sign, like the changing of a boy's voice, that her little
one was no longer a baby but would soon be a grown-up Cottontail.



V


There is magic in running water. Who does not know it and feel it? The
railroad builder fearlessly throws his bank across the wide bog or lake,
or the sea itself, but the tiniest rill of running water he treats with
great respect, studies its wish and its way and gives it all it seems to
ask. The thirst-parched traveller in the poisonous alkali deserts holds
back in deadly fear from the sedgy ponds till he finds one down whose
centre is a thin, clear line, and a faint flow, the sign of running,
living water, and joyfully he drinks.

There is magic in running water, no evil spell can cross it. Tam
O'Shanter proved its potency in time of sorest need. The wild-wood
creature with its deadly foe following tireless on the trail scent,
realizes its nearing doom and feels an awful spell. Its strength is
spent, its every trick is tried in vain till the good Angel leads it to
the water, the running, living water, and dashing in it follows the
cooling stream, and then with force renewed takes to the woods again.

There is magic in running water. The hounds come to the very spot and
halt and cast about; and halt and cast in vain. Their spell is broken by
the merry stream, and the wild thing lives its life.

And this was one of the great secrets that Raggylug learned from his
mother--"after the Brierrose, the Water is your friend."

One hot, muggy night in August, Molly led Rag through the woods. The
cotton-white cushion she wore under her tail twinkled ahead and was his
guiding lantern, though it went out as soon as she stopped and sat on
it. After a few runs and stops to listen, they came to the edge of the
pond. The hylas in the trees above them were singing '_sleep, sleep,_'
and away out on a sunken log in the deep water, up to his chin in the
cooling bath, a bloated bullfrog was singing the praises of a '_jug o'
rum._'

"Follow me still," said Molly, in rabbit, and 'flop' she went into the
pond and struck out for the sunken log in the middle. Rag flinched but
plunged with a little 'ouch,' gasping and wobbling his nose very fast
but still copying his mother. The same movements as on land sent him
through the water, and thus he found he could swim. On he went till he
reached the sunken log and scrambled up by his dripping mother on the
high dry end, with a rushy screen around them and the Water that tells
no tales. After this in warm, black nights, when that old fox from
Springfield came prowling through the Swamp, Rag would note the place of
the bullfrog's voice, for in case of direst need it might be a guide to
safety. And thenceforth the words of the song that the bullfrog sang
were, '_Come, come, in danger come_.'

This was the latest study that Rag took up with his mother-it was really
a post-graduate course, for many little rabbits never learn it at all.



VI


No wild animal dies of old age. Its life has soon or late a tragic end.
It is only a question of how long it can hold out against its foes. But
Rag's life was proof that once a rabbit passes out of his youth he is
likely to outlive his prime and be killed only in the last third of
life, the downhill third we call old age.

The Cottontails had enemies on every side. Their daily life was a series
of escapes. For dogs, foxes, cats, skunks, coons, weasels, minks,
snakes, hawks, owls, and men, and even insects were all plotting to
kill them. They had hundreds of adventures, and at least once a day they
had to fly for their lives and save themselves by their legs and wits.

More than once that hateful fox from Springfield drove them to taking
refuge under the wreck of a barbed-wire hog-pen by the spring. But once
there they could look calmly at him while he spiked his legs in vain
attempts to reach them.

Once or twice Rag when hunted had played off the hound against a skunk
that had seemed likely to be quite as dangerous as the dog.

Once he was caught alive by a hunter who had a hound and a ferret to
help him. But Rag had the luck to escape next day, with a yet deeper
distrust of ground holes. He was several times run into the water by the
cat, and many times was chased by hawks and owls, but for each kind of
danger there was a safeguard. His mother taught him the principal
dodges, and he improved on them and made many new ones as he grew older.
And the older and wiser he grew the less he trusted to his legs, and the
more to his wits for safety.

Ranger was the name of a young hound in the neighborhood. To train him
his master used to put him on the trail of one of the Cottontails. It
was nearly always Rag that they ran, for the young buck enjoyed the runs
as much as they did, the spice of danger in them being just enough for
zest. He would say:

"Oh, mother! here comes the dog again, I must have a run to-day."

"You are too bold, Raggy, my son!" she might reply. "I fear you will run
once too often."

"But, mother, it is such glorious fun to tease that fool dog, and it's
all good training. I'll thump if I am too hard pressed, then you can
come and change off while I get my second wind."

On he would come, and Ranger would take the trail and follow till Rag
got tired of it. Then he either sent a thumping telegram for help, which
brought Molly to take charge of the dog, or he got rid of the dog by
some clever trick. A description of one of these shows how well Rag had
learned the arts of the woods.

He knew that his scent lay best near the ground, and was strongest when
he was warm. So if he could get off the ground, and be left in peace for
half an hour to cool off, and for the trail to stale, he knew he would
be safe. When, therefore, he tired of the chase, he made for the
Creekside brier-patch, where he 'wound'--that is, zigzagged--till he
left a course so crooked that the dog was sure to be greatly delayed in
working it out. He then went straight to D in the woods, passing one hop
to windward of the high log E. Stopping at D, he followed his back trail
to F, here he leaped aside and ran toward G. Then, returning on his
trail to J, he waited till the hound passed on his trail at I. Rag then
got back on his old

[Illustration]

trail at H, and followed it to E, where, with a scent-baulk or great
leap aside, he reached the high log, and running to its higher end, he
sat like a bump.

Ranger lost much time in the bramble maize, and the scent was very poor
when he got it straightened out and came to D. Here he began to circle
to pick it up, and after losing much time, struck the trail which ended
suddenly at G. Again he was at fault, and had to circle to find the
trail. Wider and wider the circles, until at last, he passed right under
the log Rag was on. But a cold scent, on a cold day, does not go
downward much. Rag never budged nor winked, and the hound passed.

Again the dog came round. This time he crossed the low part of the log,
and stopped to smell it. 'Yes, clearly it was rabbity,' but it was a
stale scent now; still he mounted the log.

It was a trying moment for Rag, as the great hound came sniff-sniffing
along the log. But his nerve did not forsake him; the wind was right; he
had his mind made up to bolt as soon as Ranger came half way up. But he
didn't come. A yellow cur would have seen the rabbit sitting there, but
the hound did not, and the scent seemed stale, so he leaped off the log,
and Rag had won.



VII


Rag had never seen any other rabbit than his mother. Indeed he had
scarcely thought about there being any other. He was more and more away
from her now, and yet he never felt lonely, for rabbits do not hanker
for company. But one day in December, while he was among the red
dogwood brush, cutting a new path to the great Creekside thicket, he saw
all at once against the sky over the Sunning Bank the head and ears of a
strange rabbit. The new-comer had the air of a well-pleased discoverer
and soon came hopping Rag's way along one of _his_ paths into _his_
Swamp. A new feeling rushed over him, that boiling mixture of anger and
hatred called jealousy.

The stranger stopped at one of Rag's rubbing-trees--that is, a tree
against which he used to stand on his heels and rub his chin as far up
as he could reach. He thought he did this simply because he liked it;
but all buck-rabbits do so, and several ends are served. It makes the
tree rabbity, so that other rabbits know that this swamp already belongs
to a rabbit family and is not open for settlement. It also lets the next
one know by the scent if the last caller was an acquaintance, and the
height from the ground of the rubbing-places shows how tall the rabbit
is.

Now to his disgust Rag noticed that the new-comer was a head taller than
himself, and a big, stout buck at that. This was a wholly new experience
and filled Rag with a wholly new feeling. The spirit of murder entered
his heart; he chewed very hard with nothing in his mouth, and hopping
forward onto a smooth piece of hard ground he struck slowly:

'_Thump--thump--thump_,' which is a rabbit telegram for 'Get out of my
swamp, or fight.'

The new-comer made a big V with his ears, sat upright for a few seconds,
then, dropping on his fore-feet, sent along the ground a louder,
stronger, '_Thump--thump--thump_.'

And so war was declared.

They came together by short runs sidewise, each one trying to get the
wind of the other and watching for a chance advantage. The stranger was
a big, heavy buck with plenty of muscle, but one or two trifles such as
treading on a turnover and failing to close when Rag was on low ground
showed that he had not much cunning and counted on winning his battles
by his weight. On he came at last and Rag met him like a little fury. As
they came together they leaped up and struck out with their hind feet.
_Thud, thud_ they came, and down went poor little Rag. In a moment the
stranger was on him with his teeth and Rag was bitten, and lost several
tufts of hair before he could get up. But he was swift of foot and got
out of reach. Again he charged and again he was knocked down and bitten
severely. He was no match for his foe, and it soon became a question of
saving his own life.

Hurt as he was he sprang away, with the stranger in full chase, and
bound to kill him as well as to oust him from the Swamp where he was
born. Rag's legs were good and so was his wind. The stranger was big and
so heavy that he soon gave up the chase, and it was well for poor Rag
that he did, for he was getting stiff from his wounds as well as tired.
From that day began a reign of terror for Rag. His training had been
against owls, dogs, weasels, men, and so on, but what to do when chased
by another rabbit, he did not know. All he knew was to lay low till he
was found, then run.

Poor little Molly was completely terrorized; she could not help Rag and
sought only to hide. But the big buck soon found her out. She tried to
run from him, but she was not now so swift as Rag. The stranger made no
attempt to kill her, but he made love to her, and because she hated him
and tried to get away, he treated her shamefully. Day after day he
worried her by following her about, and often, furious at her lasting
hatred, he would knock her down and tear out mouthfuls of her soft fur
till his rage cooled somewhat, when he would let her go for awhile. But
his fixed purpose was to kill Rag, whose escape seemed hopeless. There
was no other swamp he could go to, and whenever he took a nap now he had
to be ready at any moment to dash for his life. A dozen times a day the
big stranger came creeping up to where he slept, but each time the
watchful Rag awoke in time to escape. To escape yet not to escape. He
saved his life indeed, but oh! what a miserable life it had become. How
maddening to be thus helpless, to see his little mother daily beaten and
torn, as well as to see all his favorite feeding-grounds, the cosey
nooks, and the pathways he had made with so much labor, forced from him
by this hateful brute. Unhappy Rag realized that to the victor belong
the spoils, and he hated him more than ever he did fox or ferret.

How was it to end? He was wearing out with running and watching and bad
food, and little Molly's strength and spirit were breaking down under
the long persecution. The stranger was ready to go to all lengths to
destroy poor Rag, and at last stooped to the worst crime known among
rabbits. However much they may hate each other, all good rabbits forget
their feuds when their common enemy appears. Yet one day when a great
goshawk came swooping over the Swamp, the stranger, keeping well under
cover himself, tried again and again to drive Rag into the open.

Once or twice the hawk nearly had him, but still the briers saved him,
and it was only when the big buck himself came near being caught that he
gave it up. And again Rag escaped, but was no better off. He made up his
mind to leave, with his mother, if possible, next night and go into the
world in quest of some new home when he heard old Thunder, the hound,
sniffing and searching about the outskirts of the swamp, and he resolved
on playing a desperate game. He deliberately crossed the hound's view,
and the chase that then began was fast and furious. Thrice around the
Swamp they went till Rag had made sure that his mother was hidden safely
and that his hated foe was in his usual nest. Then right into that nest
and plump over him he jumped, giving him a rap with one hind foot as he
passed over his head.

"You miserable fool, I kill you yet," cried the stranger, and up he
jumped only to find himself between Rag and the dog and heir to all the
peril of the chase.

On came the hound baying hotly on the straight-away scent. The buck's
weight and size were great advantages in a rabbit fight, but now they
were fatal. He did not know many tricks. Just the simple ones like
'double,' 'wind,' and 'hole-up,' that every baby Bunny knows. But the
chase was too close for doubling and winding, and he didn't know where
the holes were.

It was a straight race. The brier-rose, kind to all rabbits alike, did
its best, but it was no use. The baying of the hound was fast and
steady. The crashing of the brush and the yelping of the hound each time
the briers tore his tender ears were borne to the two rabbits where they
crouched in hiding. But suddenly these sounds stopped, there was a
scuffle, then loud and terrible screaming.

Rag knew what it meant and it sent a shiver through him, but he soon
forgot that when all was over and rejoiced to be once more the master of
the dear old Swamp.



VIII


Old Olifant had doubtless a right to burn all those brush-piles in the
east and south of the Swamp and to clear up the wreck of the old
barbed-wire hog-pen just below the spring. But it was none the less hard
on Rag and his mother. The first were their various residences and
outposts, and the second their grand fastness and safe retreat.

They had so long held the Swamp and felt it to be their very own in
every part and suburb--including Olifant's grounds and buildings--that
they would have resented the appearance of another rabbit even about the
adjoining barnyard.

Their claim, that of long, successful occupancy, was exactly the same as
that by which most nations hold their land, and it would be hard to find
a better right.

During the time of the January thaw the Olifants had cut the rest of the
large wood about the pond and curtailed the Cottontails' domain on all
sides. But they still clung to the dwindling Swamp, for it was their
home and they were loath to move to foreign parts. Their life of daily
perils went on, but they were still fleet of foot, long of wind, and
bright of wit. Of late they had been somewhat troubled by a mink that
had wandered up-stream to their quiet nook. A little judicious guidance
had transferred the uncomfortable visitor to Olifant's hen-house. But
they were not yet quite sure that he had been properly looked after. So
for the present they gave up using the ground-holes, which were, of
course, dangerous blind-alleys, and stuck closer than ever to the briers
and the brush-piles that were left.

That first snow had quite gone and the weather was bright and warm until
now. Molly, feeling a touch of rheumatism, was somewhere in the lower
thicket seeking a tea-berry tonic. Rag was sitting in the weak sunlight
on a bank in the east side. The smoke from the familiar gable chimney of
Olifant's house came fitfully drifting a pale blue haze through the
under-woods and showing as a dull brown against the brightness of the
sky. The sun-gilt gable was cut off midway by the banks of brier-brush,
that purple in shadow shone like rods of blazing crimson and gold in the
light. Beyond the house the barn with its gable and roof, new gilt as
the house, stood up like a Noah's ark.

The sounds that came from it, and yet more the delicious smell that
mingled with the smoke, told Rag that the animals were being fed cabbage
in the yard. Rag's mouth watered at the idea of the feast. He blinked
and blinked as he snuffed its odorous promises, for he loved cabbage
dearly. But then he had been to the barnyard the night before after a
few paltry clover-tops, and no wise rabbit would go two nights running
to the same place.

Therefore he did the wise thing. He moved across where he could not
smell the cabbage and made his supper of a bundle of hay that had been
blown from the stack. Later, when about to settle for the night, he was
joined by Molly, who had taken her tea-berry and then eaten her frugal
meal of sweet birch near the Sunning Bank.

Meanwhile the sun had gone about his business elsewhere, taking all his
gold and glory with him. Off in the east a big black shutter came
pushing up and rising higher and higher; it spread over the whole sky,
shut out all light, and left the world a very gloomy place indeed. Then
another mischief-maker, the wind, taking advantage of the sun's absence,
came on the scene and set about brewing trouble. The weather turned
colder and colder; it seemed worse than when the ground had been covered
with snow.

"Isn't this terribly cold? How I wish we had our stove-pipe brush-pile,"
said Rag.

"A good night for the pine-root hole," replied Molly, "but we have not
yet seen the pelt of that mink on the end of the barn, and it is not
safe till we do."

The hollow hickory was gone--in fact at this very moment its trunk,
lying in the wood-yard, was harboring the mink they feared. So the
Cottontails hopped to the south side of the pond and, choosing a
brush-pile, they crept under and snuggled down for the night, facing the
wind but with their noses in different directions so as to go out
different ways in case of alarm. The wind blew harder and colder as the
hours went by, and about midnight a fine, icy snow came ticking down on
the dead leaves and hissing through the brush heap. It might seem a poor
night for hunting, but that old fox from Springfield was out. He came
pointing up the wind in the shelter of the Swamp and chanced in the lee
of the brush-pile, where he scented the sleeping Cottontails. He halted
for a moment, then came stealthily sneaking up toward the brush under
which his nose told him the rabbits were crouching. The noise of the
wind and the sleet enabled him to come quite close before Molly heard
the faint crunch of a dry leaf under his paw. She touched Rag's
whiskers, and both were fully awake just as the fox sprang on them; but
they always slept with their legs ready for a jump. Molly darted out
into the blinding storm. The fox missed his spring, but followed like a
racer, while Rag dashed off to one side.

There was only one road for Molly; that was straight up the wind, and
bounding for her life she gained a little over the unfrozen mud that
would not carry the fox, till she reached the margin of the pond. No
chance to turn now, on she must go.

Splash! splash! through the weeds she went, then plunge into the deep
water.

And plunge went the fox close behind. But it was too much for Reynard on
such a night. He turned back, and Molly, seeing only one course,
struggled through the reeds into the deep water and struck out for the
other shore. But there was a strong headwind. The little waves, icy
cold, broke over her head as she swam, and the water was full of snow
that blocked her way like soft ice, or floating mud. The dark line of
the other shore seemed far, far away, with perhaps the fox waiting for
her there.

But she laid her ears flat to be out of the gale, and bravely put forth
all her strength with wind and tide against her. After a long, weary
swim in the cold water, she had nearly reached the farther reeds when a
great mass of floating snow barred her road; then the wind on the bank
made strange, fox-like sounds that robbed her of all force, and she was
drifted far backward before she could get free from the floating bar.

Again she struck out, but slowly--oh so slowly now. And when at last she
reached the lee of the tall reeds, her limbs were numbed, her strength
spent, her brave little heart was sinking, and she cared no more whether
the fox were there or not. Through the reeds she did indeed pass, but
once in the weeds her course wavered and slowed, her feeble strokes no
longer sent her landward, and the ice forming around her, stopped her
altogether. In a little while the cold, weak limbs ceased to move, the
furry nose-tip of the little mother Cottontail wobbled no more, and the
soft brown eyes were closed in death.

       *       *       *       *       *

But there was no fox waiting to tear her with ravenous jaws. Rag had
escaped the first onset of the foe, and as soon as he regained his wits
he came running back to change-off and so help his mother. He met the
old fox going round the pond to meet Molly and led him far and away,
then dismissed him with a barbed-wire gash on his head, and came to the
bank and sought about and trailed and thumped, but all his searching was
in vain; he could not find his little mother. He never saw her again,
and never knew whither she went, for she slept her never-waking sleep in
the ice-arms of her friend the Water that tells no tales.

Poor little Molly Cottontail! She was a true heroine, yet only one of
unnumbered millions that without a thought of heroism have lived and
done their best in their little world, and died. She fought a good fight
in the battle of life. She was good stuff; the stuff that never dies.
For flesh of her flesh and brain of her brain was Rag. She lives in him,
and through him transmits a finer fibre to her race.

And Rag still lives in the Swamp. Old Olifant died that winter, and the
unthrifty sons ceased to clear the Swamp or mend the wire fences. Within
a single year it was a wilder place than ever; fresh trees and brambles
grew, and falling wires made many Cottontail castles and last retreats
that dogs and foxes dared not storm. And there to this day lives Rag. He
is a big, strong buck now and fears no rivals. He has a large family of
his own, and a pretty brown wife that he got no one knows where. There,
no doubt, he and his children's children will flourish for many years
to come, and there you may see them any sunny evening if you have learnt
their signal code, and choosing a good spot on the ground, know just how
and when to thump it.



VIXEN

THE SPRINGFIELD FOX

I


The hens had been mysteriously disappearing for over a month; and when I
came home to Springfield for the summer holidays it was my duty to find
the cause. This was soon done. The fowls were carried away bodily one at
a time, before going to roost, or else after leaving, which put tramps
and neighbors out of court; they were not taken from the high perches,
which cleared all coons and owls; or left partly eaten, so that weasels,
skunks, or minks were not the guilty ones, and the blame, therefore, was
surely left at Reynard's door.

The great pine wood of Erindale was on the other bank of the river, and
on looking carefully about the lower ford I saw a few fox-tracks and a
barred feather from one of our Plymouth Rock chickens. On climbing the
farther bank in search of more clews, I heard a great outcry of crows
behind me, and turning, saw a number of these birds darting down at
something in the ford. A better view showed that it was the old story,
thief catch thief, for there in the middle of the ford was a fox with
something in his jaws--he was returning from our barnyard with another
hen. The crows, though shameless robbers themselves, are ever first to
cry 'Stop thief,' and yet more than ready to take 'hush-money' in the
form of a share in the plunder.

And this was their game now. The fox to get back home must cross the
river, where he was exposed to the full brunt of the crow mob. He made a
dash for it, and would doubtless have gotten across with his booty had I
not joined in the attack, whereupon he dropped the hen, scarce dead, and
disappeared in the woods.

This large and regular levy of provisions wholly carried off could mean
but one thing, a family of little foxes at home; and to find them I now
was bound.

That evening I went with Ranger, my hound, across the river into the
Erindale woods. As soon as the hound began to circle, we heard the
short, sharp bark of a fox from a thickly wooded ravine close by. Ranger
dashed in at once, struck a hot scent and went off on a lively
straight-away till his voice was lost in the distance away over the
upland.

After nearly an hour he came back, panting and warm, for it was baking
August weather, and lay down at my feet.

But almost immediately the same foxy '_Yap yurrr_' was heard close at
hand and off dashed the dog on another chase.

Away he went in the darkness, baying like a foghorn, straight away to
the north. And the loud '_Boo, boo_,' became a low '_oo, oo_,' and that
a feeble 'o-o' and then was lost. They must have gone some miles away,
for even with ear to the ground I heard nothing of them, though a mile
was easy distance for Ranger's brazen voice. As I waited in the black
woods I heard a sweet sound of dripping water: '_Tink tank tenk tink, Ta
tink tank tenk tonk_.'

I did not know of any spring so near, and in the hot night it was a glad
find. But the sound led me to the bough of an oak-tree, where I found
its source. Such a soft, sweet song; full of delightful suggestion on
such a night:

     Tonk tank tenk tink
     Ta tink a tonk a tank a tink a
     Ta ta tink tank ta ta tonk tink
     Drink a tank a drink a drunk.

It was the 'water-dripping' song of the saw-whet owl.

But suddenly a deep raucous breathing and a rustle of leaves showed that
Ranger was back.

He was completely fagged out. His tongue hung almost to the ground and
was dripping with foam, his flanks were heaving and spume-flecks
dribbled from his breast and sides. He stopped panting a moment to give
my hand a dutiful lick, then flung himself flop on the leaves to drown
all other sounds with his noisy panting. But again that tantalizing
'_Yap yurrr_' was heard a few feet away, and the meaning of it all
dawned on me.

We were close to the den where the little foxes were, and the old ones
were taking turns in trying to lead us away.

It was late night now, so we went home feeling sure that the problem was
nearly solved.



II


It was well known that there was an old fox with his family living in
the neighborhood, but no one supposed them so near.

This fox had been called 'Scarface,' because of a scar reaching from his
eye through and back of his ear; this was supposed to have been given
him by a barbed-wire fence during a rabbit hunt, and as the hair came in
white after it healed, it was always a strong mark.

The winter before I had met with him and had had a sample of his
craftiness. I was out shooting, after a fall of snow, and had crossed
the open fields to the edge of the brushy hollow back of the old mill.
As my head rose to a view of the hollow I caught sight of a fox trotting
at long range down the other side, in line to cross my course. Instantly
I held motionless, and did not even lower or turn my head lest I should
catch his eye by moving, until he went on out of sight in the thick
cover at the bottom. As soon as he was hidden I bobbed down and ran to
head him off where he should leave the cover on the other side, and was
there in good time awaiting, but no fox came forth. A careful took
showed the fresh track of a fox that had bounded from the cover, and
following it with my eye I saw old Scarface himself far out of range
behind me, sitting on his haunches and grinning as though much amused.

A study of the trail made all clear. He had seen me at the moment I saw
him, but he, also like a true hunter, had concealed the fact, putting on
an air of unconcern till out of sight, when he had run for his life
around behind me and amused himself by watching my stillborn trick.

In the springtime I had yet another instance of Scarface's cunning. I
was walking with a friend along the road over the high pasture. We
passed within thirty feet of a ridge on which were several gray and
brown bowlders. When at the nearest point my friend said:

"Stone number three looks to me very much like a fox curled up."

But I could not see it, and we passed. We had not gone many yards
farther when the wind blew on this bowlder as on fur.

My friend said, "I am sure that is a fox, lying asleep."

"We'll soon settle that," I replied, and turned back, but as soon as I
had taken one step from the road, up jumped Scarface, for it was he, and
ran. A fire had swept the middle of the pasture, leaving a broad belt of
black; over this he skurried till he came to the unburnt yellow grass
again, where he squatted down and was lost to view. He had been watching
us all the time, and would not have moved had we kept to the road. The
wonderful part of this is, not that he resembled the round stones and
dry grass, but that he _knew he did_, and was ready to profit by it.

We soon found that it was Scarface and his wife Vixen that had made our
woods their home and our barnyard their base of supplies.

Next morning a search in the pines showed a great bank of earth that had
been scratched up within a few months. It must have come from a hole,
and yet there was none to be seen. It is well known that a really cute
fox, on digging a new den, brings all the earth out at the first hole
made, but carries on a tunnel into some distant thicket. Then closing up
for good the first made and too well-marked door, uses only the entrance
hidden in the thicket.

So after a little search at the other side of a knoll, I found the real
entry and good proof that there was a nest of little foxes inside.

Rising above the brush on the hillside was a great hollow basswood. It
leaned a good deal and had a large hole at the bottom, and a smaller one
at top.

We boys had often used this tree in playing Swiss Family Robinson, and
by cutting steps in its soft punky walls had made it easy to go up and
down in the hollow. Now it came in handy, for next day when the sun was
warm I went there to watch, and from this perch on the roof, I soon saw
the interesting family that lived in the cellar near by. There were four
little foxes; they looked curiously like little lambs, with their
woolly coats, their long, thick legs and innocent expressions, and yet a
second glance at their broad, sharp-nosed, sharp-eyed visages showed
that each of these innocents was the makings of a crafty old fox.

They played about, basking in the sun, or wrestling with each other till
a slight sound made them skurry under ground. But their alarm was
needless, for the cause of it was their mother; she stepped from the
bushes bringing another hen--number seventeen as I remember. A low call
from her and the little fellows came tumbling out. Then began a scene
that I thought charming, but which my uncle would not have enjoyed at
all.

They rushed on the hen, and tussled and fought with it, and each other,
while the mother, keeping a sharp eye for enemies, looked on with fond
delight. The expression on her face was remarkable. It was first a
grinning of delight, but her usual look of wildness and cunning was
there, nor were cruelty and nervousness lacking, but over all was the
unmistakable look of the mother's pride and love.

The base of my tree was hidden in bushes and much lower than the knoll
where the den was. So I could come and go at will without scaring the
foxes.

[Illustration: They tussled and fought while their mother looked on with
fond delight.]

For many days I went there and saw much of the training of the young
ones. They early learned to turn to statuettes at any strange sound, and
then on hearing it again or finding other cause for fear, to run for
shelter.

Some animals have so much mother-love that it overflows and benefits
outsiders. Not so old Vixen it would seem. Her pleasure in the cubs led
to most refined cruelty. For she often brought home to them mice and
birds alive, and with diabolical gentleness would avoid doing them
serious hurt so that the cubs might have larger scope to torment them.

There was a woodchuck that lived over in the hill orchard. He was
neither handsome nor interesting, but he knew how to take care of
himself. He had digged a den between the roots of an old pine-stump, so
that the foxes could not follow him by digging. But hard work was not
their way of life; wits they believed worth more than elbow-grease. This
woodchuck usually sunned himself on the stump each morning. If he saw a
fox near he went down in the door of his den, or if the enemy was very
near he went inside and stayed long enough for the danger to pass.

One morning Vixen and her mate seemed to decide that it was time the
children knew something about the broad subject of Woodchucks, and
further that this orchard woodchuck would serve nicely for an
object-lesson. So they went together to the orchard-fence unseen by old
Chuckie on his stump. Scarface then showed himself in the orchard and
quietly walked in a line so as to, pass by the stump at a distance, but
never once turned his head or allowed the ever-watchful woodchuck to
think himself seen. When the fox entered the field the woodchuck quietly
dropped down to the mouth of his den; here he waited as the fox passed,
but concluding that after all wisdom is the better part, went into his
hole.

This was what the foxes wanted. Vixen had kept out of sight, but now ran
swiftly to the stump and hid behind it. Scarface had kept straight on,
going very slowly. The woodchuck had not been frightened, so before long
his head popped up between the roots and he looked around. There was
that fox still going on, farther and farther away. The woodchuck grew
bold as the fox went, and came out farther, and then seeing the coast
clear, he scrambled onto the stump, and with one spring Vixen had him
and shook him till he lay senseless. Scarface had watched out of the
corner of his eye and now came running back. But Vixen took the chuck in
her jaws and made for the den, so he saw he wasn't needed.

Back to the den came Vix, and carried the chuck so carefully that he was
able to struggle a little when she got there. A low '_woof_' at the den
brought the little fellows out like school-boys to play. She threw the
wounded animal to them and they set on him like four little furies,
uttering little growls and biting little bites with all the strength of
their baby jaws, but the woodchuck fought for his life and beating them
off slowly hobbled to the shelter of a thicket. The little ones pursued
like a pack of hounds and dragged at his tail and flanks, but could not
hold him back. So Vix overtook him with a couple of bounds and dragged
him again into the open for the children to worry. Again and again this
rough sport went on till one of the little ones was badly bitten, and
his squeal of pain roused Vix to end the woodchuck's misery and serve
him up at once.

Not far from the den was a hollow overgrown with coarse grass, the
playground of a colony of field-mice. The earliest lesson in woodcraft
that the little ones took, away from the den, was in this hollow. Here
they had their first course of mice, the easiest of all game. In
teaching, the main thing was example, aided by a deep-set instinct. The
old fox, also, had one or two signs meaning "lie still and watch,"
"come, do as I do," and so on, that were much used.

So the merry lot went to this hollow one calm evening and Mother Fox
made them lie still in the grass. Presently a faint squeak showed that
the game was astir. Vix rose up and went on tip-toe into the grass--not
crouching, but as high as she could stand, sometimes on her hind legs so
as to get a better view. The runs that the mice follow are hidden under
the grass tangle, and the only way to know the whereabouts of a mouse is
by seeing the slight shaking of the grass, which is the reason why mice
are hunted only on calm days.

And the trick is to locate the mouse and seize him first and see him
afterward. Vix soon made a spring, and in the middle of the bunch of
dead grass that she grabbed was a field-mouse squeaking his last squeak.

He was soon gobbled, and the four awkward little foxes tried to do the
same as their mother, and when at length the eldest for the first time
in his life caught game, he quivered with excitement and ground his
pearly little milk-teeth into the mouse with a rush of inborn
savageness that must have surprised even himself.

Another home lesson was on the red-squirrel. One of these noisy, vulgar
creatures, lived close by and used to waste part of each day scolding
the foxes, from some safe perch. The cubs made many vain attempts to
catch him as he ran across their glade from one tree to another, or
spluttered and scolded at them a foot or so out of reach. But old Vixen
was up in natural history--she knew squirrel nature and took the case in
hand when the proper time came. She hid the children and lay down flat
in the middle of the open glade. The saucy low-minded squirrel came and
scolded as usual. But she moved no hair. He came nearer and at last
right overhead to chatter:

"You brute you, you brute you."

But Vix lay as dead. This was very perplexing, so the squirrel came down
the trunk and peeping about made a nervous dash across the grass, to
another tree, again to scold from a safe perch.

"You brute you, you useless brute, scarrr-scarrrrr."

But flat and lifeless on the grass lay Vix. This was most tantalizing to
the squirrel. He was naturally curious and disposed to be venturesome,
so again he came to the ground and skurried across the glade nearer than
before.

Still as death lay Vix, "surely she was dead." And the little foxes
began to wonder if their mother wasn't asleep.

But the squirrel was working himself into a little craze of foolhardy
curiosity. He had dropped a piece of bark on Vix's head; he had used up
his list of bad words, and he had done it all over again, without
getting a sign of life. So after a couple more dashes across the glade
he ventured within a few feet of the really watchful Vix, who sprang to
her feet and pinned him in a twinkling.

"And the little ones picked the bones e-oh." Thus the rudiments of their
education were laid, and afterward, as they grew stronger, they were
taken farther afield to begin the higher branches of trailing and
scenting.

For each kind of prey they were taught a way to hunt, for every animal
has some great strength or it could not live, and some great weakness or
the others could not live. The squirrel's weakness was foolish
curiosity; the fox's that he can't climb a tree. And the training of the
little foxes was all shaped to take advantage of the weakness of the
other creatures and to make up for their own by defter play where they
are strong.

From their parents they learned the chief axioms of the fox world. How,
is not easy to say. But that they learned this in company with their
parents was clear. Here are some that foxes taught me, without saying a
word:--

Never sleep on your straight track.

Your nose is before your eyes, then trust it first.

A fool runs down the wind.

Running rills cure many ills.

Never take the open if you can keep the cover.

Never leave a straight trail if a crooked one will do.

If it's strange, it's hostile.

Dust and water burn the scent.

Never hunt mice in a rabbit-woods, or rabbits in a henyard.

Keep off the grass.

Inklings of the meanings of these were already entering the little ones'
minds--thus, 'Never follow what you can't smell,' was wise, they could
see, because if you can't smell it, then the wind is so that it must
smell you.

One by one they learned the birds and beasts of their home woods, and
then as they were able to go abroad with their parents they learned new
animals. They were beginning to think they knew the scent of everything
that moved. But one night the mother took them to a field where was a
strange black flat thing on the ground. She brought them on purpose to
smell it, but at the first whiff their every hair stood on end, they
trembled, they knew not why-it seemed to tingle through their blood and
fill them with instinctive hate and fear. And when she saw its full
effect she told them--

"_That is man-scent_."

[Illustration]



III


Meanwhile the hens continued to disappear. I had not betrayed the den of
cubs. Indeed, I thought a good deal more of the little rascals than I
did of the hens; but uncle was dreadfully wrought up and made most
disparaging remarks about my woodcraft. To please him I one day took
the hound across to the woods and seating myself on a stump on the open
hillside, I bade the dog go on. Within three minutes he sang out in the
tongue all hunters know so well, "Fox! fox! fox! straight away down the
valley."

After awhile I heard them coming back. There I saw the
fox--Scarface--loping lightly across the river-bottom to the stream. In
he went and trotted along in the shallow water near the margin for two
hundred yards, then came out straight toward me. Though in full view, he
saw me not, but came up the hill watching over his shoulder for the
hound. Within ten feet of me he turned and sat with his back to me while
he craned his neck and showed an eager interest in the doings of the
hound. Ranger came bawling along the trail till he came to the running
water, the killer of scent, and here he was puzzled; but there was only
one thing to do; that was by going up and down both banks find where the
fox had left the river.

The fox before me shifted his position a little to get a better view and
watched with a most human interest all the circling of the hound. He was
so close that I saw the hair of his shoulder bristle a little when the
dog came in sight. I could see the jumping of his heart on his ribs,
and the gleam of his yellow eye. When the dog was wholly baulked by the
water trick it was comical to see:--he could not sit still, but rocked
up and down in glee, and reared on his hind feet to get a better view of
the slow-plodding hound. With mouth opened nearly to his ears, though
not at all winded, he panted noisily for a moment, or rather he laughed
gleefully just as a dog laughs by grinning and panting.

Old Scarface wriggled in huge enjoyment as the hound puzzled over the
trail so long that when he did find it, it was so stale he could barely
follow it, and did not feel justified in tonguing on it at all.

As soon as the hound was working up the hill, the fox quietly went into
the woods. I had been sitting in plain view only ten feet away, but I
had the wind and kept still and the fox never knew that his life had for
twenty minutes been in the power of the foe he most feared. Ranger would
also have passed me as near as the fox, but I spoke to him, and with a
little nervous start he quit the trail and looking sheepish lay down by
my feet.

This little comedy was played with variations for several days, but it
was all in plain view from the house across the river. My uncle,
impatient at the daily loss of hens, went out himself, sat on the open
knoll, and when old Scarface trotted to his lookout to watch the dull
hound on the river flat below, my uncle remorselessly shot him in the
back, at the very moment when he was grinning over a new triumph.



IV


But still the hens were disappearing. My uncle was wrathy. He determined
to conduct the war himself, and sowed the woods with poison baits,
trusting to luck that our own dogs would not get them. He indulged in
contemptuous remarks on my by-gone woodcraft, and went out evenings with
a gun and the two dogs, to see what he could destroy.

Vix knew right well what a poison bait was; she passed them by or else
treated them with active contempt, but one she dropped down the hole, of
an old enemy, a skunk, who was never afterward seen. Formerly old
Scarface was always ready to take charge of the dogs, and keep them out
of mischief. But now that Vix had the whole burden of the brood, she
could no longer spend time in breaking every track to the den, and was
not always at hand to meet and mislead the foes that might be coming too
near.

The end is easily foreseen. Ranger followed a hot trail to the den, and
Spot, the fox-terrier, announced that the family was at home, and then
did his best to go in after them.

The whole secret was now out, and the whole family doomed. The hired man
came around with pick and shovel to dig them out, while we and the dogs
stood by. Old Vix soon showed herself in the near woods, and led the
dogs away off down the river, where she shook them off when she thought
proper, by the simple device of springing on a sheep's back. The
frightened animal ran for several hundred yards; then Vix got off,
knowing that there was now a hopeless gap in the scent, and returned to
the den. But the dogs, baffled by the break in the trail, soon did the
same, to find Vix hanging about in despair, vainly trying to decoy us
away from her treasures.

Meanwhile Paddy plied both pick and shovel with vigor and effect. The
yellow, gravelly sand was heaping on both sides, and the shoulders of
the sturdy digger were sinking below the level. After an hour's digging,
enlivened by frantic rushes of the dogs after the old fox, who hovered
near in the woods, Pat called:

"Here they are, sor!"

It was the den at the end of the burrow, and cowering as far back as
they could, were the four little woolly cubs.

Before I could interfere, a murderous blow from the shovel, and a sudden
rush for the fierce little terrier, ended the lives of three. The fourth
and smallest was barely saved by holding him by his tail high out of
reach of the excited dogs.

He gave one short squeal, and his poor mother came at the cry, and
circled so near that she would have been shot but for the accidental
protection of the dogs, who somehow always seemed to get between, and
whom she once more led away on a fruitless chase.

The little one saved alive was dropped into a bag, where he lay quite
still. His unfortunate brothers were thrown back into their nursery bed,
and buried under a few shovelfuls of earth.

We guilty ones then went back into the house, and the little fox was
soon chained in the yard. No one knew just why he was kept alive, but in
all a change of feeling had set in, and the idea of killing him was
without a supporter.

He was a pretty little fellow, like a cross between a fox and a lamb.
His woolly visage and form were strangely lamb-like and innocent, but
one could find in his yellow eyes a gleam of cunning and savageness as
unlamb-like as it possibly could be.

As long as anyone was near he crouched sullen and cowed in his
shelter-box, and it was a full hour after being left alone before he
ventured to look out.

My window now took the place of the hollow basswood. A number of hens of
the breed he knew so well were about the cub in the yard. Late that
afternoon as they strayed near the captive there was a sudden rattle of
the chain, and the youngster dashed at the nearest one and would have
caught him but for the chain which brought him up with a jerk. He got on
his feet and slunk back to his box, and though he afterward made several
rushes he so gauged his leap as to win or fail within the length of the
chain and never again was brought up by its cruel jerk.

As night came down the little fellow became very uneasy, sneaking out of
his box, but going back at each slight alarm, tugging at his chain, or
at times biting it in fury while he held it down with his fore-paws.
Suddenly he paused as though listening, then raising his little black
nose he poured out a short, quavering cry.

Once or twice this was repeated, the time between being occupied in
worrying the chain and running about. Then an answer came. The far-away
_Yap yurrr_ of the old fox. A few minutes later a shadowy form appeared
on the wood-pile. The little one slunk into his box, but at once
returned and ran to meet his mother with all the gladness that a fox
could show. Quick as a flash she seized him and turned to bear him away
by the road she came. But the moment the end of the chain was reached
the cub was rudely jerked from the old one's mouth, and she, scared by
the opening of a window, fled over the wood-pile.

An hour afterward the cub had ceased to run about or cry. I peeped out,
and by the light of the moon saw the form of the mother at full length
on the ground by the little one gnawing at something--the clank of iron
told what, it was that cruel chain. And Tip, the little one, meanwhile
was helping himself to a warm drink.

On my going out she fled into the dark woods, but there by the
shelter-box were two little mice, bloody and still warm, food for the
cub brought by the devoted mother. And in the morning I found the chain
was very bright for a foot or two next the little one's collar.

On walking across the woods to the ruined den, I again found signs of
Vixen. The poor heart-broken mother had come and dug out the bedraggled
bodies of her little ones.

There lay the three little baby foxes all licked smooth now, and by them
were two of our hens fresh killed. The newly heaved earth was printed
all over with tell-tale signs--signs that told me that here by the side
of her dead she had watched like Rizpah. Here she had brought their
usual meal, the spoil of her nightly hunt. Here she had stretched
herself beside them and vainly offered them their natural drink and
yearned to feed and warm them as of old; but only stiff little bodies
under their soft wool she found, and little cold noses still and
unresponsive.

A deep impress of elbows, breast, and hocks showed where she had laid in
silent grief and watched them for long and mourned as a wild mother can
mourn for its young. But from that time she came no more to the ruined
den, for now she surely knew that her little ones were dead.



V


Tip, the captive, the weakling of the brood, was now the heir to all her
love. The dogs were loosed to guard the hens. The hired man had orders
to shoot the old fox on sight--so had I, but was resolved never to see
her. Chicken-heads, that a fox loves and a dog will not touch, had been
poisoned and scattered through the woods; and the only way to the yard
where Tip was tied was by climbing the wood-pile after braving all other
dangers. And yet each night old Vix was there to nurse her baby and
bring it fresh-killed hens and game. Again and again I saw her, although
she came now without awaiting the querulous cry of the captive.

The second night of the captivity I heard the rattle of the chain, and
then made out that the old fox was there, hard at work digging a hole by
the little one's kennel. When it was deep enough to half bury her, she
gathered into it all the slack of the chain, and filled it again with
earth. Then in triumph thinking she had gotten rid of the chain, she
seized little Tip by the neck and turned to dash off up the woodpile,
but alas only to have him jerked roughly from her grasp.

Poor little fellow, he whimpered sadly as he crawled into his box. After
half an hour there was a great outcry among the dogs, and by their
straight-away tonguing through the far woods I knew they were chasing
Vix. Away up north they went in the direction of the railway and their
noise faded from hearing. Next morning the hound had not come back. We
soon knew why. Foxes long ago learned what a railroad is; they soon
devised several ways of turning it to account. One way is when hunted to
walk the rails for a long distance just before a train comes. The scent,
always poor on iron, is destroyed by the train and there is always a
chance of hounds being killed by the engine. But another way more sure,
but harder to play, is to lead the hounds straight to a high trestle
just ahead of the train, so that the engine overtakes them on it and
they are surely dashed to destruction.

This trick was skilfully played, and down below we found the mangled
remains of old Ranger and learned that Vix was already wreaking her
revenge.

That same night she returned to the yard before Spot's weary limbs could
bring him back and killed another hen and brought it to Tip, and
stretched her panting length beside him that he might quench his
thirst. For she seemed to think he had no food but what she brought.

It was that hen that betrayed to my uncle the nightly visits.

My own sympathies were all turning to Vix, and I would have no hand in
planning further murders. Next night my uncle himself watched, gun in
hand, for an hour. Then when it became cold and the moon clouded over he
remembered other important business elsewhere, and left Paddy in his
place.

But Paddy was "onaisy" as the stillness and anxiety of watching worked
on his nerves. And the loud bang! bang! an hour later left us sure only
that powder had been burned.

In the morning we found Vix had not failed her young one. Again next
night found my uncle on guard, for another hen had been taken. Soon
after dark a single shot was heard, but Vix dropped the game she was
bringing and escaped. Another attempt made that night called forth
another gun-shot. Yet next day it was seen by the brightness of the
chain that she had come again and vainly tried for hours to cut that
hateful bond.

Such courage and stanch fidelity were bound to win respect, if not
toleration. At any rate, there was no gunner in wait next night, when
all was still. Could it be of any use? Driven off thrice with gun-shots,
would she make another try to feed or free her captive young one?

Would she? Hers was a mother's love. There was but one to watch them
this time, the fourth night, when the quavering whine of the little one
was followed by that shadowy form above the wood-pile.

But carrying no fowl or food that could be seen. Had the keen huntress
failed at last? Had she no head of game for this her only charge, or had
she learned to trust his captors for his food?

No, far from all this. The wild-wood mother's heart and hate were true.
Her only thought had been to set him free. All means she knew she tried,
and every danger braved to tend him well and help him to be free. But
all had failed.

Like a shadow she came and in a moment was gone, and Tip seized on
something dropped, and crunched and chewed with relish what she brought.
But even as he ate, a knife-like pang shot through and a scream of pain
escaped him. Then there was a momentary struggle and the little fox was
dead.

The mother's love was strong in Vix, but a higher thought was stronger.
She knew right well the poison's power; she knew the poison bait, and
would have taught him had he lived to know and shun it too. But now at
last when she must choose for him a wretched prisoner's life or sudden
death, she quenched the mother in her breast and freed him by the one
remaining door.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is when the snow is on the ground that we take the census of the
woods, and when the winter came it told me that Vix no longer roamed the
woods of Erindale. Where she went it never told, but only this, that she
was gone.

Gone, perhaps, to some other far-off haunt to leave behind the sad
remembrance of her murdered little ones and mate. Or gone, may be,
deliberately, from the scene of a sorrowful life, as many a wild-wood
mother has gone, by the means that she herself had used to free her
young one, the last of all her brood.





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