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Title: Master Reynard - The History of a Fox
Author: Fielding, Jane
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.

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[Illustration]


MASTER REYNARD

The History of a Fox

From Animal Autobiographies by J. C. Tregarthen

Revised by

JANE FIELDING



New York
A. L. Chatterton Co.

Copyright, 1913
A. L. Chatterton Co.



MASTER REYNARD


The earth where I was born was far down the face of a steep cliff
and opened on a sloping shelf of turf, from the edge of which the
undercliff fell sheer to the sea. The entrance we used most was
slightly above the level of the springy sward and led by a small
tunnel to a roomy chamber where daylight never penetrated.

There on the bare dry ground the vixen laid us--my two sisters and me.
If I was like the baby cubs I have since seen, I was born blind, my
muzzle was blunt and rounded, and my coat as black as a crow, the only
white about me being a few hairs in the tag of my tiny brush. Even at
the time when I first remember what I was like my fur was still a very
dark color and bore no resemblance to the russet hue of a full-grown
fox.

This was a few weeks after my eyes were opened, when, after awaking
from our first sleep, we were in the habit of sunning ourselves just
inside the mouth of the earth. It was there, with my muzzle resting on
the vixen's flank, that I got my earliest glimpse of the world. The
turf was then almost hidden by pink flowers, over the heads of which
I could see, between two of the pinnacles that bordered the ledge,
the sea breaking on a reef where the cormorants used to gather at low
water and stand with folded or outstretched wings until the rising
tide drove them to the big white rock beyond.

So few things moved within our field of vision that every creature we
saw afforded us the keenest interest. Sometimes during days together
nothing stirred but the stems of the thrift and the surf about the
reef, for the sky was cloudless when the hot weather set in. Now and
again a red-legged crow came and perched on one of the pinnacles,
crying "Daw, daw!" until its mate joined it, and then, all too soon,
they took wing and flew away; at times a hawk or a peregrine would
glide by and break the monotony of our life.

Our narrow green was dotted by five boulders, and one of these we
could see from the earth. On this our most frequent visitor alighted.
It was an old raven, who presently dropped to the ground, walked up
to the remains of any fowl or rabbit lying near the heap of sandy soil
which my mother had scratched out when making the earth, and pecked,
pecked, pecked, until only the bones were left. Then, uttering his
curious "Cawpse, cawpse!" he would hop along the ground, flap his
big black wings, and pass out of sight. I feel sure that he saw us
watching him, for his eyes often turned our way.

One afternoon, to our astonishment, a half-grown rabbit came lopping
along, and stopped to nibble the turf at a spot barely a good spring
from the vixen. She, usually very drowsy, half opened her eyes and
turned her face towards the intruder, but she did not rise to her
feet. We youngsters were beside ourselves with excitement, but were
not allowed to scramble over her side to drive away this audacious
trespasser on our private domain. This, I think, was owing to my
mother's great anxiety on our account.

I have never known a vixen so determined that her cubs should lie
hidden by day; but then we were her first litter. She would constantly
warn us against venturing out whilst the sun was up. So particular
was she that we were not permitted to expose as much as our muzzles
outside the earth, though birds and rabbits moved about there freely.
We could not understand the restriction, and I fear that we thought it
unkind of her to confine us to a cramped, stuffy hole the summer day
through, when we longed to be gambolling about the sward or basking
in those warm corners under the boulders which retained some of their
heat even after the sun went down.

It is true that I tried hard to get my liberty. Time after time, when
I thought she had dozed off, I endeavored to squeeze between her and
the low roof. It was of no use, though I used the utmost stealth and
trod as lightly as a feather. Never once did I catch her napping. On
the few occasions when I was on the point of succeeding she seized me
between her velvety lips and put me back in my place between my two
little sisters.

Thus, by the kindest of mothers, I was disciplined in the ways of the
wild creatures, learning, by constant correction and example, that the
world outside the earth is denied to us by day, and is ours to move
and play and seek our prey in only by night.

And how short those nights were! What a weary, weary time it was,
awaiting their approach! How impatiently we watched their slow
advent! how we tingled with delight in every limb on seeing the shadow
of the high boulder creep and creep across the turf until it reached
the pinnacle that had a patch of golden lichen on it! Then, as the sun
sank behind the headland, the nearer sea became sombre, the bright
expanse beyond darkened, and at last the stars would begin to show in
the sky. By this my mother had shaken off her drowsiness, the glow
had come back into her green eyes, and, rising to her feet, she would
leave the earth. If she detected no danger, she would call us to her.
What a moment that was! the pent-up energy of hours of restraint
breaking out in such rompings and runnings after our own brushes as
I have never seen in any other young creatures. Wearying at last of
these antics and of jumping over the back of the vixen, who watched
us with loving eyes, we settled down to the game of lurk and pounce
amongst the boulders. To our great delight, the vixen often joined in
this before setting out in search of food. Her nimbleness and skill in
dodging filled us with amazement. Like a flash she was on us; there
was no avoiding her rushes, though she always avoided ours, and her
movements were as silent as the passing of a shadow when a swift cloud
crosses the sun.

I shall never forget those frolics in which she shared; they not only
were useful training for the life before us, as I afterwards realized,
but also induced in us a fondness for her so great that we could not
bear to have her out of our sight when she left us to seek the food we
needed. We would watch her as she followed the narrow track that wound
up the cliff, till from the rocks near the top she looked down to
assure herself of our safety before going inland. And that was not the
last we saw of her. Times and times I have caught sight of her bright
eyes glittering like twin stars on the summit of the ivy-covered scarp
where the magpies built.

A more affectionate mother cubs never had; but for the life of me I
could not understand why she was so anxious about our safety: I had
neither seen nor heard anything in our little world to alarm me.
Whether she had or not I do not know, but she was haunted by the
dread of something, as I could tell by the way she used to look about
her and listen when watching our gambols, and by her starting at the
slightest unusual sound. Her nervousness made me nervous, and, thus
infected by my mother's fears, I got to be afraid without in the least
knowing what there was to be afraid of.

These vague fears were on two occasions the cause of false alarms.
Once, somewhere along the cliff a dry stick snapped. That was enough.
My sisters and I fled in terror to our den, where we were joined a
minute later by the anxious vixen who had just left us for a foraging
expedition. There was no danger: it was merely a lumbering badger
which crossed our playground later on; but I have learnt since that no
wild thing can hear the snap of a twig without alarm. The badger was a
strange-looking creature: his face was white, with black stripes from
ear to muzzle; his gray hair all but swept the ground; and he walked
not lightly on his toes as we do but heavily on the soles of his feet.

At another time the whistling of harvest curlews frightened us almost
out of our lives. These were both needless terrors; but soon I was
brought face to face with evidence of a real enemy, the one, no doubt,
of whom my mother lived in such dread. It was not many days after the
coming of the whimbrels--for the moon, a mere sickle then, had not
waxed to half its full size--when two incidents occurred which proved
to me, a raw, heedless cub, that there was serious ground for fear.
Both happened in broad daylight, one close on the heels of the other.

One drowsy noon we were watching from our usual place the old raven
pecking at the hind-quarters of a rabbit, when with an awful thud
a big stone struck the turf close to him, bounded off, and rolled
towards the corner of our playground. In a twinkling, before it had
stopped rolling, we had retreated to the very end of the earth and
there lay trembling, and wondering, even in our consternation, whether
the mischievous magpies, who had set up a sudden clamor, were not the
cause of our discomfiture. When we stole out in the quiet and dusk,
my mother walked straight to the stone and smelt it, and I, being
curious, must needs follow her example. What an awesome smell it had!
The scent was unlike anything I had sniffed before, and surely not the
scent of any beast of the field! The vixen, who stood there watching
me, noted the cold shiver it sent through my young limbs and seemed by
her expressive face to say: "The creature that tainted that stone is
the cause of all my fears," and, further, if I read aright the sad
look that rose to her eyes: "He will prove your scourge as he has
proved mine." My story will tell whether it has been so.

In our games that night I avoided the corner where the stone lay, and
so did my sisters. I noticed, too, that the vixen was away in quest
of food a shorter time than usual, and did not go out a second time
as she had generally done since our appetites had grown. We had,
therefore, to satisfy our hunger on the gosling she had brought.
This we broke up ourselves with our sharp milk teeth, chattering and
quarrelling as was our wont whilst the meagre feast lasted. The vixen
contented herself with a few old bones.

The other incident was graver, causing injury to my mother. It
happened thus. She had gone out one night shortly after--for the moon
was still not quite full--but, though absent till nearly dawn, she
failed to procure any food. I remember our impatience at her long
absence and our disappointment on seeing her issue from the furze
without even a few mice in her mouth. However, there was no help for
it. The sun was reddening the sky near the horizon, so, supperless and
sullen, we curled ourselves up and fell asleep. On awakening, as we
did before our usual time, we began to cry pitifully for food, and
at length, driven to desperation by our complaints, the vixen stole
out at noon, not under cover of mist or fog but with the sun shining
in the bluest of skies. Ravenous with hunger, we crowded the mouth of
the earth, listening for the sound of her returning steps. Long, long
we harkened without catching any whisper of her approach. At last we
heard a muffled, double report, and after an interval the faint patter
of her pads. In my anxiety to see what she had brought I put my head
out and kept my eyes fixed on the run in the yellow furze through
which she always came. Never shall I forget my horror at what I saw.
Instead of her russet face with its black and white marking, her mask
below the eyes was all blood and dreadful to behold. I am ashamed to
say it, but her appearance terrified me, though I loved her as I loved
my life. She staggered into the earth, and took no more notice of us
than, if we had been strange cubs, which alarmed me more than her
dazed look. The reason of her plight was a puzzle to me, and though
the stone, with its horrid association, forced itself upon my notice
as a possible cause, I dismissed the idea that it could have done the
injury, inasmuch as it was lying where it had rolled. No; in a vague
way I attributed her state to the daylight, so great had my fear of it
became. Ah me, how ignorant I was in those far-away days!

We were free now to go and come as we listed, but, famished though we
were, not one of us attempted to leave the earth except to get a drink
of water, and we lay huddled together, looking out of the corners of
our eyes at our poor mother, as miserable and forlorn a litter of
foxes as could anywhere be found. In the depth of the night, however,
the pangs of hunger compelling us, we left the vixen, who seemed to
be asleep, and crept out. Being bigger than my sisters, I felt called
upon to take the lead, and neither of them showed any inclination to
dispute it with me. But where to take them, or how to get a supper, I
had not an idea.

I am not going to cast one word of blame on my mother for delaying
to teach us to shift for ourselves. It was out of affection that
she kept us so long to the nursery; and how could she possibly have
foreseen the calamity that had so unexpectedly disabled her and thrown
us on our own resources? And, lest a suspicion of neglect towards
us should attach to her memory, I must here say what I have not yet
mentioned--that by the death of the dog-fox, my father, the burden
of our upbringing from the day of our birth fell wholly on my little
mother. What labor and sacrifice this must have meant! After we were
weaned, how often have I seen her go without her share of the prey
that we greedy cubs might suffer no sint! When has cliff or moor
witnessed greater devotion, greater unselfishness? And now she lay
in the earth so sorely wounded as to be indifferent to our helpless
plight. I will not dwell on my feelings, but they made it difficult to
focus my thoughts on the undertaking before me.

For a minute or two I sat on my haunches near the big boulder,
considering gravely where I should go, my sisters the while
cruising restlessly up and down the turf with all the impatience of
irresponsibility, awaiting development. This to-and-fro movement of
theirs added to my bewilderment, and even the bats flitting about were
a trifle disconcerting to a cub with three routes to choose from, each
in its turn more inviting than the others.

There was the patch leading to the upper cliff; there was, I assumed,
a way down the undercliff; and there was, I knew, a track between the
two which the badger had worn. I have never been up the cliff, and
after the vixen's recent experience dared not go, though it was night,
and nothing stirred but the reeds about our drinking-place and the
leaves of the gnarled tree where the magpies built.

In the end I decided, if I could find a way, to go down the cliff.
There was a sandy cove below that I had often longed to reach in
my mother's absence, but my strength was unequal to the descent. I
determined to try to go there now. So, leading the others past the
little basin where we quenched our thirst, I brought them along the
cliff to a place where the sheer precipice changed into a succession
of ledges, down which we leaped until brought to a standstill above a
wall of nearly perpendicular rock. It was impossible to reach the flat
shelf below by leaping: we should have broken our bones; and there
we stood staring over the brink at the smooth rock beneath us, and
wondering how we could pass it.

Again my sisters looked to me to take the lead, so, putting forth all
the power of my untried claws, I began, brush first, to crawl down
a fissure that lay aslant the precipitous face of the great slab.
This I followed, partly by feeling with my hind claws where foothold
permitted a firm grip, partly by turning my face and seeing where
the easiest line of descent lay. At last I succeeded in reaching the
bottom without mishap. My sisters imitated me, coming down more easily
than I had done, probably on account of their greater skill and lesser
weight.

A creek, too wide to jump, now separated us from the sand, but, taking
to the water, we waded until we lost bottom, and then, for the first
time in our lives, by swimming crossed deep water. More bedraggled
creatures than we looked on landing it would be difficult to imagine;
but we shook ourselves from muzzle to tag, making the spray fly from
our wet coats, and set about searching for something to eat. Where
the beach met the cliff was a cave that ran a long way in and had two
lesser caves opening out of it. We explored these without finding in
either of them anything except dry seaweed and pieces of cork, so we
retraced our steps and made for the other side of the cove. There,
just beyond the ribs of a wreck that projected from the sand, we
came on a big jelly-fish. Though we should have turned up our noses
at such food in ordinary times, it was a windfall in our famished
condition, and we swallowed the quivering mass with gusto, sand and
all. Good food or bad, it filled our stomachs and stopped the gnawing
pangs of hunger.

We then clambered to the top of some rocks that stood out above the
sand, and found there a small pool of water, temptingly clear. Being
thirsty after our meal, we began to lap it. Ugh! it was nasty to the
taste, but, what was worse, the mistake was a blow to my conceit, for
I was humiliated by the reproachful glances my sisters shot at me.
To avoid them I raised my eyes, and, as I did so, caught sight of
the vixen on the cliff at the spot where we had taken to the ledges.
Then it came home to me that I had done wrong to leave the earth
without her, and, fearing she would be angry, I hid myself amongst
the rocks, as did my sisters. The vixen, usually quick as lightning
in her movements, came but very slowly down the cliff on the line
we had taken, and as slowly crossed the sand to the cave. This she
entered, and for a time was lost to view. My inclination nearly led me
to quit my hiding-place and go after her; but again fear checked me,
and I remained where I was. On leaving the cave, she with difficulty
followed our trail to the spot where we had eaten the jelly-fish, and,
not seeing us, seemed to lose heart, for she sank to the ground and
called us with a most piteous cry, which at once drew us to her side.
I can see even now the delight on her poor face as we bounded towards
her across the sand that separated us. After licking us with her
swollen tongue, she led us up the cliff by a much easier path than the
one we had followed in descending, and we soon reached the level of
our earth. We proceeded towards it in single file by the narrowest of
paths, passing our usual drinking-place, where for a reason I am going
to explain, the supply was so scanty that we found barely enough water
to quench our thirst. The vixen was curled up at the mouth of the den
when we reached it, and we had to climb over her back to get to our
sleeping-places.

A short period free from troubles followed, during which my mother
rapidly recovered. Nevertheless, the wounds on her face were barely
healed when there befell one of the greatest calamities of my eventful
life--a calamity that was near putting an end to us all.

Before attempting to describe it, I must mention the sufferings we
endured in the days following our adventure down the cliff, through
the gradual drying up of the water that supplied our drinking-place.
Night after night, when we repaired to the basin that the falling
water had hollowed in the rock, I had noticed that the stream, which
came from some hidden source beneath a pile of boulders, got smaller
and smaller, and, after the very hot weather set in, dwindled to
a mere trickle. To such a thin thread did it shrink that from the
mouth of the earth, which was not many yards away, we could no longer
hear it splashing into the basin. Now and then, especially when some
animal, generally the badger, had been there before us, we were driven
to such an extremity as to be compelled to lick the dew off the turf
to cool our tongues until the water had collected again.

It was a terrible time. To this day we speak of the year of my birth
as the Dry Year, and indeed I, who was a May fox, was nearly three
moons old before I saw rain, which fell on the afternoon of the day
when the curlews' whistling scared us. I remember, though not as
vividly as the rainbow seen that day, the embrowned turf of our
playground being dotted with slugs which the downpour had enticed out
of the sunless crevices of the rocks.

The rain had ceased before nightfall, and the following day the sky,
which had been black and lowering, became as cloudless as before,
whilst the heat, previously intense, became well-nigh unbearable.
Hour after hour we lay in the deep shade of the bracken fronds at
the entrance, panting for breath and longing for the water we were
not allowed to get before dusk. At the first sign of twilight,
and even whilst the after-glow suffused the sky, we rushed to the
drinking-place, our three masks completely filling the basin, which
we soon lapped dry. Almost as refreshing as the water we swallowed
was the cool spray--despite the rain it was no more--that fell on our
heads from the lip of the rock above.

For several days from dawn to dusk we thus endured the agony of
parching thirst, till at last, when our tongues lolled out, and one of
my sisters showed signs of utter exhaustion, the vixen so far yielded
to our entreaties as to permit us to slink out, one by one, to drink.

Unfortunately we could not reach the reeds about the water without
exposing ourselves to the eyes of the magpies overhead. On spying
us they set up such a clamor that every bird and beast for a great
distance along the cliffs must have known that a fox was moving, and
rejoiced at our misfortune.

[Illustration: "THESE BLACK AND WHITE PESTS."]

We have many enemies, but none whom we despise so much as magpies,
crows, and jays. Their treatment of us is as unprovoked as it is
insulting. We have never injured them, and yet, as I shall tell later,
the pariahs of the wild, that gorge on our unburied kills, seek every
opportunity of betraying us.

Those cliff magpies, at whose tongues we suffered such indignities,
must have spent their days in watching our movements. After my sisters
had had their drink, it took hours for the basin to refill, yet as
soon as my muzzle projected beyond the bracken when I went to take my
turn, the hateful wretches would cry out, "There he is!"

I never grew indifferent to this daily annoyance, and in a rage I used
to lap up what water there was in choking haste, so as to escape the
mobbing of these black and white pests who flew just beyond my reach,
and at times even brushed with their wings the tops of the tall reeds
about the basin.

We were not the only sufferers from the drought. Indeed everything
suffered, and most of all perhaps the herbage. The thrift and white
campion that covered the ledges, the ferns that found root-hold in the
crannies and crevices of the rocks, and the stone-crop and lichens
growing on the rocks themselves, drooped and withered; and at last
the boggy ground above the drinking-place caked and dried, so that
the reeds turned yellow, and rattled rather than swished when the
night wind stirred them. Under the scorching sun the thread of water
shrank and shrank until it dripped drop by drop, and finally dried up
altogether. At my last visit to the drinking-place the smooth basin
was hot with the fierce rays, and the moss about the edge of the
rock above was nearly as moistureless as the crinkled lichen on the
pinnacles.

In these conditions it was impossible to remain where we were, and
that night my mother reluctantly decided to abandon our home and to
lead us up the cliff. Would that she had taken us the moment the stars
showed, instead of waiting until deep night; for the delay nearly
proved fatal to us all. A fox's life is so short that he cannot forget
even the groundless scares his fears make him the victim of, so it
is not to be wondered at that the events of the night I am about to
describe are almost as vivid to me still as at the time they happened.

My sisters had returned once more from the dried-up basin to which
they had been some five or six times since sunset, and joined me where
I lay near the mouth of the earth, waiting for the dew to fall and
listening for the footsteps of the vixen who had gone to get ready the
new lair. It was a beautiful night--the sea calm, and the surf about
the reef alight with phosphorescence, whilst the furze-bushes and the
clump of brambles near the reeds were dotted with glow-worms. There
was even a solitary one on the drooping bracken above the entrance.
A wind of summer strength stirred the withered herbage and murmured
around the precipitous crags above our heads, but, save the boom from
the great cave below when the tide rose, all was still. Suddenly,
without warning of any kind, there came a flash of light from the
cliffs above the sandy cove where we had eaten the jelly-fish. It died
away and then returned, more brightly than before. It was not nearly
so fierce as the lines of fire I had seen zigzagging the black sky
on the afternoon of the heavy rain, nor was there any thunder with
it as then, but there was a strange, crackling noise, as of animals
crunching bones.

Immediately flames leapt in great tongues from the brambly thicket
beyond the reeds. These drove us to the den; and there we crouched
listening to the awful sound, which grew louder and louder. Soon a
faint glare lit up a part of the earth as far in as the spot where two
rocks narrowed the tunnel. Before this I was on the point of bolting;
but now fear seized my limbs and I could not rise, could only crouch
closer and closer to the earth like my sisters. Whilst we lay there
huddled together and crying out for the vixen she returned, darkening
the tunnel as she came towards us. Scarcely had she joined us when an
evil-smelling fog rolled in, causing us to keep our muzzles close to
the ground. Then the fire swept past the earth, lighting it up to the
end where we lay. Panic-stricken though I was, I remember noticing how
the smooth floor gleamed, and how curiously the light glowed on the
vixen's fur. Suddenly the heat became less intense, and a current of
fresh air entering the earth revived us as we lay panting at the point
of suffocation.

The crackling and roar of the flames had long died away before we
dared to quit our sanctuary, and when at last we ventured to the mouth
of the earth, what a sight met our gaze! Our playground was charred,
except for a narrow strip near its edge, and towards this a thin line
of fire moved slowly, blotting out the criss-cross tracks we had worn
between the boulders. A ring of sparks encircled the raven's perch,
and crept higher and higher, consuming the lichen, and leaving bare
rock in its train; where the brambles had stood was a heap of glowing
ash; grasses and reeds had disappeared; in short, the place which had
been our little world and of which we knew every blade and spray, was
as nearly past recognition as a corn-field after harvest. Away towards
the west great ruddy flames leapt from the furze brake and lit up sky
and sea and headland with such a lurid light as I had never seen;
whilst on the near slopes a hundred smaller fires flickered and died,
to blaze again and re-illuminate the great piles of bared rock. Sparks
falling from above showed that the ivy round the home of the magpies
had not escaped; and as the birds had mobbed me most unmercifully that
very day, I rejoiced in their misfortune.

The vixen, satisfied at last that she might venture forth, took up
my puny sister, who was then unable to stand, and set out for the
steep path by which she usually reached the top of the cliff. My other
sister and I trod closely on her heels as she picked her way over the
heated ground and skirted the glowing remains of the furze-bushes. In
the ascent my pads were rather badly burnt and my fore-legs singed
by a fire which suddenly broke out in some smouldering heather into
which they sank. The glimpse I got of the face of the precipice showed
that the ivy had lost all its leaves, the bared stems standing out
plainly against the black fissures that seamed the great wall of rock
besprinkled with sparks which in their fall resembled shooting stars.

When we reached the summit we could hear the magpies calling out,
but, to do them justice, they were not mobbing us then. Once beyond
the blackened ground we ranged up one on each side of the vixen, and
after crossing fields of stubble and turnips and getting far beyond
the reek of the burning, we caught the scene of the brook for which
she was making. We struck it where it wound through marshy ground on
the outskirts of a furze brake, and in a trice were up to our bellies
in the delicious cool stream with our tongues hard at work. The water
was cold and sweet; there was plenty of it, and we lapped and lapped
as long as we could take in a drop. In all my life I never again
enjoyed a drink like that, and the mud that stuck to my legs seemed to
soothe the pain of the burns.

My little sister was able to follow us now without assistance, but the
vixen, who was exhausted with carrying her so far, went at a walking
pace between the stems of the furze and kept looking back to see that
she was keeping up with us, though she took no notice whatever of my
other sister who was going on three legs, or of myself whose poor feet
were so tender that I hardly dared touch the ground.

Emerging from the furze we came upon a circle of turf, where we
caught sight of at least a dozen rabbits scurrying to the holes that
honey-combed the ground at the foot of a high cairn. One of these had
been enlarged, as the heap of fresh earth showed, and into it the
vixen led us to a dry and sweet-smelling den, where she left us, to
procure food. In there it seemed as still as death to us who had had
the roar of the sea in our ears all our lives, but the lair was very
comfortable, and roomy enough for us to stand side by side whilst
the vixen distributed the rabbit she presently brought us. We found,
too, on curling ourselves up, that, big as we were, we could lie close
together without trespassing on the tunnel as we had latterly done in
the cliff earth. So, as we were thoroughly weary, we soon forgot the
dangers we had passed and fell asleep, our mother lying between us and
the opening, as was her invariable custom.

I was startled out of my sleep by a stamping overhead, caused by the
rabbits in the heart of whose burrow we were lying. The noise, which
broke out again and again just as I was on the point of dropping
off, irritated me so much that at last I got on my hind-legs, thrust
my muzzle into the hole in the roof, and breathed loudly through
my nostrils. This snorting was not without result, for after the
stampede that followed there was quiet for a long time. Nevertheless
the tiresome creatures had spoilt my day's rest and, try as I might,
I could not doze off again. My sisters slept through it all, and the
vixen showed no sign of being disturbed, except that she half opened
her eyes when the rabbits scampered over the spot where she lay.
It was very early, as I could tell by the scent of the furze that
stole along the tunnel and almost overpowered the flavor of rabbit,
from which the den was never quite free. To pass the weary hours I
licked the mud off my legs, which still smarted, and, whilst I did
so, thought of our narrow escape, and wondered in a vague way whether
fires were to be numbered amongst the regular troubles of a fox's life.

At length the vixen roused herself, and when the coolness and smell of
the air warned her that the sun had set, she rose and led us forth,
not for our usual gambols, but, as it proved, for our first lesson
in hunting. I suspected something unusual was afoot the moment she
ordered us to follow her across the stream, whither she had taken us
to drink; and the further we got from the earth, the more excited
I grew at the prospect of the adventures before us. It was most
exhilarating to be wandering over the broad, high country, which, in
comparison with our ledge at the foot of the precipice, seemed like
the roof of the world. For nights and nights past I had yearned to
accompany my mother on her rounds, and the unexpected gratification of
my intense longing thrilled every fibre of my being. So great was my
excitement that I quite forgot not only a loose milk tooth that had
been worrying me, but even the tenderness of my poor pads, on which I
had with difficulty limped to the drinking-place.

The vixen ran steadily some dozen paces in front, and side by side
we cubs followed in her train, noiselessly as shadows. It fascinated
me to watch her lissom movements as she stole along, and to note the
ripples that ruffled her smooth coat when she crossed the broken
ground. We had passed over one hill and were breasting the next beyond
before I began to wonder what we were going to see and how soon, and
then, without warning, she reared on her hind-legs, listened with ears
erect, and pounced on something in a patch of rushes, in which she
buried her long muzzle. The next instant she came trotting back to my
little sister, and gave her the mouse she held between her lips. Her
quick hearing had detected its movements in the undergrowth.

But mousing was apparently not the chief business of the night, for,
without dwelling, she stepped across the dried-up runnel which the
rushes fringed, and headed for the craggy ridge above. In her progress
up the steep slope she kept scanning the ground to right and left of
the trail as if she expected at any moment to see the prey she was in
search of, and when near the crest, she crouched and crawled forward
with the utmost caution. With breathless excitement we wormed our
bodies along in her wake, as though we had been trained to it. But we
had not; we were imitating her instinctively, and kept our distance as
faithfully as the shadow of her brush that darkened the moonlit ground
in front of us.

On reaching the ridge I could not help shifting my gaze to glance
at the wide marshland below us, so strikingly unlike any scene my
young eyes had looked on. Here and there on the level expanse sheets
of water and a winding stream shone like silver, and from the great
reed-beds about them came a soft voice like the murmur of waves on a
distant beach. This was the expression of a stolen instant, and no
sooner were my eyes back on the vixen than she sank to the ground as
though she had suddenly lost the use of her legs. We did the same.
This pleased her, as I could tell by the expression of satisfaction
in the eager face which she turned slowly towards us and as slowly
withdrew, brushing aside as she did so the dry bents that rose a good
way up her long ears.

At first I wondered what she had found, as the only living
things visible to me were some rabbits far below on the lip of a
funnel-shaped warren. But presently over her head I saw the tips of
the ears of a rabbit quite close to us, and my heart began to thump
as it had perhaps never done before. The sight of the living prey had
awoke in me the dormant spirit of the hunter that has hardly slumbered
since; and not in me only--my sisters were evidently as excited as I
was, for their brushes were lashing mine as wildly as mine did theirs.

The rabbit meanwhile winded danger and, as its nostrils showed, kept
sniffing the air to try and locate it. When it succeeded, its eyes
fell, not on a stealthy enemy thirsting for its blood but--so sudden
was the vixen's change of attitude and demeanor--on a harmless,
playful fox rolling on her back as I had seen her roll in utter
guilelessness a hundred times. The rabbit started, as well it might,
and I expected to see it dive into its hole; but, marvellous to
relate, instead of seeking safety it regained its composure and
resumed its nibbling on an almost bare patch, towards which the
assumed frolics of the vixen and the slant of the ground were leading
her. Then, with one of the lightning-like rushes which made her look
a blurred mass even to our quick eyes, she was on it, and when she
faced us the rabbit's head and hind-quarters hung limp as she held it
across her mouth.

On witnessing the kill we cubs jumped to our feet, eager to partake of
the first course of our supper. But when we attempted to take it from
her mouth, to our amazement the vixen snarled at us as she had never
done before. My little sister, to whom she had always been so tender,
was the last to try, and, incredible as it may seem, the vixen turned
on her like a fury.

Nothing but my desire to record faithfully the impressions of that
time would make one own that I considered my mother unnatural and
cruel in denying food to the weakling among her cubs. If the water
which had cooled our parched throats the night before scalded us
we should not have been so taken aback as by this sudden change of
conduct on her part. It was simply incomprehensible. Had something
outside our knowledge caused her to turn against us? If not, what did
she mean by her harshness?

It did occur to me that this unaccountable behavior might be feigned,
and that presently she would drop the rabbit at our feet and be again
the affectionate mother she had always been. Indeed, I watched her
out of the corners of my eyes from the spot to which I had retired,
expecting to see her snarl relax into a grin. But in this I was
disappointed, for, on reaching a ledge below, to which we followed
her at a respectful distance, she devoured every bit of the luscious
morsel before our eyes, though she knew well enough that we were
ravenously hungry. The delicious smell of the hot entrails which the
wind brought us put the keenest edge on my appetite--already sharp
set by the previous night's shortness--and with the strong craving to
satisfy it came the novel thought of satisfying it with a rabbit of
my own catching. The bunnies were still playing about on the edge of
the warren, and whilst the vixen kept shifting her gaze from them to
me, licking her blood-stained lips, the lesson she wished to teach
suddenly flashed upon me, and the explanation of her conduct was
complete. She was saying as plainly as could be: "There is your prey.
I have shown you how to catch it. Go and get your own supper." I
required no further prompting. Then and there I began my first stalk
under the eyes of all I loved in the world.

Summoning my untried powers, I wormed myself over the ground towards
a single bush that screened me from the observation of most of the
rabbits. Its shelter gained, I looked back and up to where three pairs
of green eyes regarded my every movement, and then peeped with the
utmost caution round the corner of the furze towards my prey. The
bunnies were all there and thoroughly alert, and so disconcerting did
I find their united gaze that I drew my head back to consider the
situation. When I peeped again half their number showed their white
scuts and went to ground, and the other half seemed prepared to follow
their example.

Satisfied that direct approach was out of the question, I walked
aslant the slope towards a piece of flat ground on a level with the
warren, as though I were engaged on some engrossing pursuit in that
direction. As I went I did not even squint at the rabbits, though it
cost me an effort to look straight before my muzzle. My simulated
detachment from my prey must, I felt sure, have excited the admiration
of my dear mother, and so must the thoroughness with which I gave
myself over to the antics that took me at first farther and farther
away and then nearer and nearer to the few remaining rabbits, whose
curiosity had got the better of their fears. The silly creatures were
quite taken in by the capers I cut, and one at least realized his
danger too late, for ere he could reach his hole I snapped him up and
bore him up the hill towards the vixen.

Insignificant as the incident appears to me now, it was one of the
greatest events of my life. Every fox is proud of his first skill,
and I was no little elated by mine. Indeed, I felt I must make some
sort of demonstration in honor of the occasion. Imagine me, then, a
handsome young dog-fox, head erect, ears pricked, brush on end and
well fluffed out, trotting along on the very tips of my toes with
my first rabbit between my jaws, and you have a picture of me as I
swaggered over the bare turf in the moonlight, before the eyes of my
admiring mother and jealous sisters. I shall never forget the pride I
felt nor the inner voice that kept whispering, "You are able to get
your own living now, my boy, but don't be too highly elated!"

I got on rapidly after this my first experience. How could I do
otherwise, with such a clever and painstaking little mother as I had
to instruct me in the wiles and ways of our craft? In a short time I
became expert not only in catching young rabbits, rats, moles, and
mice, but in picking up the feathered prey that frequented fen and
hillside.

Of course I met with many disappointments; pheasants, partridges and
wild-duck often escaped my clutches when I already considered them
mine. My failures were due chiefly to inexperience, but in a measure
also to the intrusion of other foragers, who turned up at critical
moments and ended for me the work of hours. On one occasion a hunted
hare passed between me and a covey of partridges I was drawing up to;
but the birds, who squatted in a circle with their heads outwards,
as their custom is, did not rise until a pack of stoats came along
on his line, and with their noisy yelpings broke the silence of the
roosting-place. On another, the sudden appearance of a poaching cat
defrauded me of a pheasant on the edge of the pine-wood; but that
night I killed before the darkness faded, and had buried what I could
not eat before the vixen raised the "dawn" cry.

After good hunting we used to romp home together over the furze-dotted
land or across the fen, and from sheer high spirits vixen and cubs
alike used to bound over the bushes or clumps of rushes and sags
across our path. Week after week nothing happened to disturb our peace
or excite our fears, but, for all our apparent security, we were never
abroad at sunrise unless a thick fog lay over the land.

In those expeditions I used latterly to separate myself from the vixen
on reaching the hunting-ground and seek my prey alone, rejoining her
when she sounded the call to leave the trail or ambuscade. In this way
I became more and more independent, and at times would turn a deaf
ear to her summons. Twice I was so belated that the pools by the way
reflected the rosy fore-glow of the dreaded sun as I scurried past
them.

I may have spent a month in the vixen's company before I could make
up my mind to shake off her authority and forage where I pleased. She
was conscious that I chafed at the restraint which she considered
necessary, and was no doubt prepared for the serious step I had
resolved on. Nevertheless, when the night came, it was not without a
sense of shame at breaking away from one who had been so tender and
forbearing that I sidled past her where she sat outside the earth
playing with my sisters. I had rather expected she would exercise
her authority and call me back. Though she stopped her gambols and
looked wistfully at me, she made no protest, and I passed on my way
unchallenged; but I was glad when the bushes hid me from her sight
and from the questioning eyes of my sisters, who seemed very much
astounded at my going off alone.

Soon after crossing the stream I began to rehearse the plan I had
surreptitiously formed in the earth. As it promised success, I decided
to go through with it, though a darker night would have suited my
purpose better. Clouds indeed there were, but white and fleecy, only
slightly veiling the light of the full moon, which shone very brightly
as it crossed the deep blue spaces between. The self-confidence I
felt in the earth had been oozing out of me as I threaded my lonely
way through brake and reed-bed, but it returned when, after trotting
across the quaking bog that trembled under my light steps like a
jelly-fish, I came at last in sight of the pool where I intended to
lie in wait for wild-fowl.

Although I had taken a short cut over the treacherous morass to
forestall the duck, I feared that they might have settled in the water
before I reached my ambush, and it was with eager eyes that I scanned
the surface from a clump of rushes on a finger of land that jutted a
little way into the pool. All was well! Not a bird floated on the open
water between the beds of lilies or in the lanes between the floating
grasses. The only things that caught my eye were a moorhen and the
trail of light she left behind her as she swam the gloomy water, which
was shadowed by some alders.

Crossing the baked and cracked mud left exposed by the sunken pool,
I entered the water, swam over to the islet, and secreted myself on
the margin of a tiny creek just above a line of stranded feathers.
There, screened from the keen eyes of flighting wild-fowl, I began my
vigil with all the hope that waits on inexperience. Crouching beneath
my ambush, I heard a few distant cries, which came, I should think,
from birds feeding on the edge of the tide. So faint were they as to
be audible only when the fitful breeze lulled and the tall, feathery
reeds about the pool ceased rustling.

Presently, from the water between two lily-beds a silvery fish jumped
thrice in quick succession, as if pursued by some invisible foe; of
the latter I saw no sign, unless its presence was indicated by a swirl
in the water near where the fish fell. The long silence which followed
was broken at last by a swish of wings--an inspiriting sound after
the tedious wait--and some wild-fowl wheeled in a wide circle above
my head before settling on one of the many pools that glistened on
the wide marshland below them. As I lost the sound, I feared that the
birds had dropped in elsewhere, but round they came again, and, with a
splash that made me tingle with excitement, a mallard and three ducks
alighted on the water midway between the islet and the reeds. They
were evidently ill at ease, though they seemed to me so secure that I
could not imagine what they could be so suspicious of--certainly not
of the peregrine that harassed them at sunrise; and at the time I knew
nothing of the monster pike that tenanted the pool, and took toll of
feather as well as of fin. Could it be that they had got some inkling
of my presence? I crouched absolutely motionless whilst their restless
eyes searched the tangle on the island, and when they stared at the
patch where I was hiding I scarcely dared to breathe.

Before settling down to feed they cruised restlessly up and down,
and even whilst they gobbled the green weed they kept looking so
persistently my way that I began to think they could scent me, though
they had only bills for noses. I had marked the mallard for my prey.
He was a plump bird, and I had to keep my tongue from licking my
lips at the prospect of the feast; for he was very tempting to an
appetitie sated of rabbit, and by this time I knew every feather of
the plumage that covered his juicy flesh. Just then it vexed me to
hear the vixen's call, far off though it was, as I feared she might
hit my trail, follow it, and spoil my hunting. Her yapping caused all
four birds to raise their heads and listen, but they showed no further
sign of alarm, as every creature of the wild knows that dead silence
precedes the kill and that it need have no dread of a noisy fox.

The ducks were near enough now for me to see the least movement of
the mallard's eyes, the white of which, even when his head was down,
showed that he was in deadly fear of something. "Fool!" thought I,
"eat your supper in peace; but when you land on the mud of the creek,
where lie yesternight's imprints of your webbed feet, then look about
you."

[Illustration: "HIS BEADY EYES GLEAMED."]

And yet I was mistaken; at that instant an enemy was within a few
yards of him. I had warning of its approach, for I saw the moonlight
catch a heave of the water, just as from the cliff I had seen it
catch the glassy surface of the curling wave; but in my inexperience
I never dreamt that the glint could be caused by a rival for the
bird. I was now to learn better, as with a great flapping of wings and
a loud quack the mallard disappeared below the surface. I remember
nothing about the three ducks for I nearly jumped out of my skin; and
my stupefaction was complete when I saw a big animal appear at the
surface and leave the water with the mallard in his mouth.

The sight of this brute with my bird enraged me so much that at
first I was on the point of springing across the creek and taking
it from him. I would have done so had he been only half his size,
but I was afraid of the strong, queer-looking creature. His body was
very long, his legs short but massive, and his tail, which tapered
to a point, stretched across the mud and just touched the water. He
had no ears--at least, nothing worth the name; his eyes were small,
his whiskers very long and white, and his jaws so heavy that they
frightened me. How he enjoyed the mallard, the rascal! How his beady
eyes gleamed until he saw me back out of my ambush; and then what
an evil look rose to them! That was enough to scare me without the
frightful grimace and hissing that accompanied it.

I lost no time in getting out of sight of such a horror. I crossed
the pool, dreading at every stroke that the fearsome beast would
seize me from beneath, as he had seized the mallard, pull me under,
and--disgusting thought!--perhaps eat me. I looked back on landing,
and again when I reached the reeds; then, as I saw no trace of him and
had dry land in front, I cursed him to my heart's content. I had been
deprived of my supper in the last watch of the night, and it would
take me all my time to reach the earth before dawn, even by way of the
quaking bog. I gnashed my strong teeth as I hurried across the fen,
swearing that I would be avenged on that thief if chance threw me in
his way again; and though a fox may not be able to choose place and
time, he generally gets his wrongs righted in the end. I own that for
the moment the sight of the strong, fierce brute must have unnerved
me; why else should the rustling of a vole on the bank of our own
stream scare me so and cause me to run home in breathless haste?

When I reached the earth the vixen and my sisters were lying near the
entrance, looking as happy and contented as mother and whelps can
look. With misfortune written on my crestfallen face, I stood before
them bedraggled and panting, as complete a picture of misery as can
well be imagined. My mother looked me up and down with sympathetic
eyes that told her thoughts, and though she never said a word I read
in their varying expressions: "You are miserable and discomfited, my
cub; you are evidently paying dear for your freedom. Nevertheless I
admire your independence and, for all your wayward spirit, I am proud
of you."

Crimson streaks marked the low sky to the east before I followed the
others to the den for, rather than retire supperless, I stayed outside
to crunch a few dry bones. It had been a most unsatisfactory night's
hunting, and, though I tried hard to get the evil-looking brute with
the webbed feet out of my mind, I seemed, even till I fell asleep, to
be watching that rascally otter lying his full length and holding in
his fore-paws the fattest mallard I had ever seen.

Despite my disappointment and fear, I resolved to visit the fen again
a few nights later, and it vexed me greatly when the vixen objected
and insisted that I should join her and my sisters in an expedition
to the hill beyond it. I was sulky at the start, and lagged behind
the others all the way across the marshland, but I closed up when
we breasted the hill, and shook off the last traces of ill-temper on
seeing the vixen steal towards an enclosed field some little distance
down from the crest. I watched her closely whilst she reconnoitered at
a gap in the rude stone wall, and, from the fixity of her gaze, felt
almost sure that she espied game. All doubt was dispelled when, with
the stealthiest of movements, she came back to me and, as if I was the
most amiable cub in the world and worthy of the post of honor, led me
round to the meuse through which the game had entered the field, and
left me to watch it.

As I lay there, within a spring of the scent-tainted run that recalled
a trail I had once followed on the fen, I became uncontrollably
curious to see the animal that had but shortly before passed along
it. I felt sure the creature was in the field, and no sooner had the
vixen disappeared round the corner of the long wall than I left my
hiding-place, crawled up the face of the enclosure as quietly as a
fly, and peeped through a break in the top whence a stone had fallen.
Ah! there he was, for all the world like an immense rabbit, nibbling
the clover right out in the middle of the square field. Of course I
ought to have returned to my ambush at once, but curiosity held me to
the spot, and whilst I was taking a last look, I caught sight of the
vixen stealing over the wall on the further side into the tangle that
filled the corner and, in fact, grew all round the field at the foot
of the wall. In this she was lost to view, till presently her mask
appeared again between some seeding thistles about thirty yards from
the unsuspicious hare.

Now began one of the most thrilling stalks I ever witnessed, though,
owing to the astonishing way the vixen hid herself, I could see little
of her but her ears. To have rendered herself so inconspicuous she
must have grovelled along on her belly in some slight hollow of the
ground not visible to me; for the clover was not more than an inch
high and of itself afforded very little concealment. The nearer she
got the more excited I became; and for the life of me I could not
understand--even now I cannot understand--why the hare, of all animals
the timidest and most watchful, neither saw, heard, nor scented her.
Inch by inch the clever little stalker wound her way until nearer
approach without discovery must have been impossible. I was wondering
why she delayed making one of her lightning-like rushes, when, with
a tremendous bound, the hare started off in a direction wide of my
station. The vixen, who was in swift pursuit, made a desperate effort
to turn him; but in this she would have failed, despite her wonderful
fleetness, had not my little sister, whether by accident or design I
do not know, suddenly showed herself at the gate for which the hare
was heading. This had the effect of sending him towards the meuse I
had been set to watch and of reminding me of my duty.

The hare was yet some thirty yards down the hill but coming like the
wind, when I dropped quietly into my ambush and gathered my legs
under me. What a row he made as he dashed through the brambles and
came through the hole at the foot of the wall! Never shall I forget
the excitement of the moment when, with his ears thrown back on his
shoulders, he came in sight. I made my spring as he flashed by, and
though I only knocked him over, I was on him and bore him down before
he could recover himself. The vixen, who came up the next moment, was
delighted to find me standing over my first hare; and when in response
to her call my sisters joined us, she distributed the portions into
which she had broken it up. There was much chattering over the
feast--the contented chattering that attends good hunting.

Thus did our mother teach us to act in concert--the method sometimes
employed by dog and vixen if hares are scarce and wild, but more
commonly adopted when driving rabbits from a brake where there are no
holes in which they can get to ground.

Our supper over, the vixen led us along the crest of the hill to a
small clump of wind-clipt pines, which are still standing, whence can
be obtained a view of the fen on the one side and of the sand-hills
on the other. This was my first sight of the dunes and of the
farm-buildings on the edge of them. Whilst we stood there a loud bark,
thrice repeated, came from within the trees about the buildings.

"What is that?" I asked, somewhat alarmed.

"That is the voice of a dog--the voice of an enemy."

Then she warned us never under any circumstances to go near the place,
"for," said she, "danger lurks there, and perhaps death."

Wise little mother, if I had only heeded thy warning, what anguish and
degradation I might have been spared!

Day was already dawning, and I wondered that she so long delayed
returning to the earth. To jog her memory I kept glancing first at her
and at the eastern sky, but to my surprise she took no notice. Her
face was very sad, and she seemed lost in thought. I believe she was
thinking of the time, now close at hand, when we must separate from
her and face the dangers of life alone.

But it was not her intention to go back to the cairn, for on reaching
the foot of the hill she turned aside and brought us to another earth,
before which lay an enormous heap of yellowish soil. This, as it
proved, was to be our new home; and from the fresh trail that led to
it, I judged that at least one animal would share it with us.

A little way inside the entrance, which was a large one, the tunnel
divided; and when the vixen and my sisters disappeared in the branch
leading to the left, I, curious to see our new neighbor, followed
the trail along the other. On and on I stole through a low winding
passage, which penetrated so far that I thought I should never reach
the object of my search.

At last I came on his lair at a spot where the tunnel suddenly
widened, and the sight of it made me stand agape. Instead of the
bare ground, which is a fox's couch, and on which I expected to see
the creature curled up, before me rose a great heap of dried grass
that filled the chamber from side to side, and reached almost to the
roof. So effectually did it conceal its occupant that not a hair of
him could I see. The slight rustling of the bed would have told me
he was there, even had my nostrils not given undeniable proof of his
presence; and as my curiosity, now thoroughly aroused, would not let
me retire before I had had at least a glimpse of the creature, I drew
near with the utmost caution, craned my neck over the broad edge, and
looked down on him.

My eye! he was a monster. It surprised me to see how big he was; but
what really took me aback was his very pale color, which showed even
in the darkness of the den. I had expected to see a gray creature,
like the badger on the cliffs, and not a white one nearly twice his
size. My first impulse was to retreat, but on regaining my composure,
I resolved to stay and have a good look at him.

His broad side rose and fell with his slow, heavy breathing; his
eye--I could see but one--was closed, and there was no sign of
vigilance about the small limp ears. To all appearance he was in a
deep sleep, which I believed, as well I might, that had done nothing
to disturb. For if my approach had been as noiseless as the incoming
of the fresh air that sweetens the close atmosphere of our dens, not
less so was my examination of the formidable creature, though it was
made with breathless wonderment.

Yet before I could bark in his ear and run away, as I was tempted to
do, he sprang suddenly to his feet with a loud snarl, which nearly
frightened me out of my skin. Fortunately, he did not snap at me as I
drew back, or pursue me as I bolted at full speed along the tunnel;
indeed, judging from his subsequent conduct, I should say that his
venerable face was one grin from ear to ear when he discovered it was
a chit of a fox cub that had scared him.

My mother, whom the loud snarl had brought in hot haste to my side,
was very angry with me for trespassing on the badger's private
quarters instead of following her into the part of the sett she had
appropriated. No doubt it was a foolish thing to intrude on the
privacy of so powerful an animal; but I had no occasion to regret my
misconduct, for the badger, far from resenting it, became my best
friend. Every morning after that I used to peep at him; but instead
of creeping in stealthily, as I had done at first, I walked in as if
I were going to my own den, and to apprise him of my approach gave a
stifled bark on reaching the turn by the rock, beyond which a short
length of straight tunnel led to his lair. Though I seldom neglected
to warn him of my coming I believe it was unnecessary, as he got
to know my light footstep so well that he did not take the trouble
to raise his head on the rare occasions when I forgot to signal my
approach. Sleepy though he always was after his night's round, he
never failed to wink at me with the eye that was uppermost. Sometimes
he would wink twice; but beyond that he never got.

He must have been a good fellow, this distinguished member of the
oldest family amongst animals, to put up with these dawn visits of a
fox who was still under the partial tutelage of his mother. I have
often wondered why he did so, but never been quite sure. If I may
give my reason--and be it understood that it involves no slur on the
badger's fame--I should say it was because of his friendless state.
I say, "friendless," inasmuch as he was never seen in company with
the only other badger in the countryside, the one that dwelt on the
cliffs; and he kept quite aloof from the other creatures of the wild.

I have always felt proud that he should have thought me worthy of the
least consideration; but this did not make me blind to his faults. I
don't refer to his living on beetles and wasp-grubs, nor do I mean
the trick of sleeping with one paw in his mouth, or the queer way he
had of running back-wards into the earth, at which little game I once
surprised him; no, I am thinking of a bad habit from which we suffered
much annoyance, and which I am very loth to mention, much less dwell
on. But it must be stated, and at some length, on account of my story;
it was this: he could not keep his claws from digging.

What made his offence ten times worse in our ears was that as far
as our vulpine wits could enlighten us--and we discussed the matter
again and again--there was no necessity for his self-imposed labor.
Any reasonable creature would have thought the sett was more than
complete, inasmuch as the part of the hill it tunnelled in all
directions was like a vast honey-comb. It held quarters for a whole
swarm of badgers; and yet the old fellow must needs keep burrowing
farther and farther in, opening out more chambers and galleries, as
if it were not commodious enough for his individual requirements. Of
course he was free to add to the accommodation of the sett, whether
he really did feel cramped for room or only imagined that he did;
nevertheless we foxes accounted it a grievance to have to put up with
the din he made in digging, which, as it reverberated along the hollow
ways, resembled the rumbling of thunder more than any other sound, and
prevented us from getting a wink of sleep in the long, dragging hours
during which it lasted.

This was only the first stage of the annoyance. A more serious trouble
was the way the great heap kept on increasing with the excavated
soil that he fetched out by the barrow-load about once a week on the
average, generally in the small hours of the morning when we were away
foraging. The enormous mound made us hang our heads in shame every
time we passed in and out. And as if this were not enough to betray us
to our enemies, on our return home one morning we found his great bed
lying atop of the pile, which now looked like a haycock in the midst
of the brake. At the sight of this my mother lost her temper, and
heaped such unrestrained abuse on the badger that I could not keep my
jaws closed. It pains me to this day to remember that I dared reply to
her; but how, when my old friend was attacked in such bitter terms,
could I honorably keep silence? That day I had to be content with the
draughty corner of the den, apart from my mother and sisters, who
edged away from me as if I were mangy. I spent miserable hours lying
there; but about noon the vixen walked over to me, licked my face with
her hot tongue, and curled up by my side. These tender attentions
soothed my injured feelings, and I soon fell into a peaceful sleep.

I do not reproach the badger for changing his bed, I cannot reproach
him for his cleanliness, and I have no wish to disparage his great
industry; my object is to set down the truth, and I think that this
corpulent creature had to make work to keep his fat down and, even in
times of famine, to dig willy-nilly to prevent his claws growing into
his flesh.

Of course, had the matter of digging by day, in which lay the sting
of the underground annoyance, been brought to an issue, we foxes had
not a shadow of right on our side; because we knew that the earth
belonged to the badger by right of excavation, and that we were there
on sufferance only as long as he found us tolerant and agreeable.
We did well to endure what we could not cure, for, had it come to a
quarrel, to a conflict with tooth and claw, the badger could have
made mincemeat of our whole party without sustaining a scratch. So we
prudently refrained from making any comment in his hearing, and, as he
could read nothing from my looks, he had not the faintest suspicion of
the grumbling to which I had to listen, or of the difficult part I had
to play to keep on good terms with my family.

So things went on until a common trouble befell both the badger and
ourselves, and immediately following it, calamities so dire as almost
to dwarf into nothingness the annoyances of which so much had been
made.

We had frequented the sett for perhaps a month, when, on returning
early one morning from hunting on the moors, we found, to our
astonishment, the entrances to the earth blocked and the badger shut
out. Thought I, "This misfortune to himself and to us is the result
of his misdoings," and I fully expected to see the vixen pour out the
vials of her wrath; but, to my surprise, all she did was to cruise up
and down in a fever of anxiety, with a watchful eye on the desperate
efforts the badger was making to remove the faggots jammed into the
hole. Failing to remove them by tugging, he began to bite through the
thick, tough stems as though they were reeds; and in my inexperience
I thought he would soon succeed in chopping a way in. But whoever had
placed the faggots there had done his work too well for the entry to
be hurriedly effected, so that gray dawn found the badger but little
advanced with his stubborn task and us cubs roaming restlessly about,
eyeing him at his work.

The only time I got in his way he turned his nervous face and snarled
at me as though I were a stranger. Seeing what deadly earnest he was
in, I gave him a wide berth, and sat on the top of the heap with my
brush to him, blinking at the sky that was now all read as if the
cliffs were a-fire far, far away beyond the fen. Every now and again,
when the vixen came my way, I caught her casting uneasy glances
towards the east, and the instant the glaring rim of the sun showed,
she stole away and we in her train, leaving my old friend biting and
pounding in his apparently hopeless toil.

If his efforts looked hopeless, the journey before us was certainly
disagreeable. I shall not soon forget that crossing of the fen, which,
as bad luck would have it, was as free from mist as the gilded crests
of the tor that seemed to stare at us belated creatures of the night,
abroad at such an uncanny hour. The vixen took advantage of every bit
of cover within easy reach of the bee-line to the cairn earth, for
which she was making; but for all that, there were many exposed places
that could not be avoided, and there the cruel sun had us at his
mercy, and blinded us with his naked rays. Nor were we alone in our
misfortune. Half-way over, at a spot where the glittering pools lay
thickest, we met a vixen and four cubs heading straight for our sett.
She, too, was all anxiety; and seeing this, I began to wonder why the
stopping of an earth should occasion such widespread consternation.

My mother traversed the mossy spaces between the pools at the utmost
speed of the weakly cub by her side, whilst my sister and I followed
a little to one side, so as to avoid treading on the long, terrifying
shadows they cast. On coming within sight of the earth she stopped
suddenly in her stride, and as she did so my astonished eyes lighted
on the object which had arrested her steps. It was the enemy--it was
man. I recognized him at first sight, unlike though he was to the
being I had vaguely imagined. There is no reason for surprise that I
did. For what beast of the field or wild stands erect with such ease
on his hind-feet, or has face, fore-paws and ears as bare of fur as
is the skin of a mangy fox? Moreover, I caught his scent; and it was
the same scent as had tainted the stone on the cliff, that tainted the
faggots--evidence hardly less convincing than the steady gaze of his
eyes and the shout he raised. At the awful sound we turned tail and
melted into the brake.

Round and round the great furze cover we stole, until I thought that
the vixen would never come to a standstill; but at last she chose for
sanctuary a tangled corner near a runnel, and there, amidst the russet
bracken, my weary sisters curled themselves up and fell asleep.

Whether the vixen slept at all I cannot say, but I do not think
she did, for she was wide awake when I dropped off, and she was
all eyes and ears when I was startled out of my sleep by three
noisy wood-pigeons overhead. As we looked at one another across the
tiny stream, a strange sound reached me from the direction of the
wood below the tor, or, it might be, from the tor itself. It was a
high-pitched note, very penetrating, and a little like a cock's crow,
though differing from it even more than a curlew's whistle does from
an otter's. The instant I heard it I knew that it came from no bird's
throat, but whence it came I could not tell.

What a simpleton I was at that time! The toot of the horn is as
familiar to me now as the clatter of shod horses. I know, too, now
what it portends; but at that moment, though fear was mingled with my
curiosity, I should not have been very uneasy, save for the obvious
anxiety of my mother. Not that she fussed about as if flurried, but
I could see her alarm in her unusual alertness. When a cock-pheasant
flew past and skimmed the brake that mantled the steep slope below us,
her eyes followed it with an eagerness that seemed to demand from it
the secret of its startled flight.

Again the horn sounded, this time from the neighborhood of the
withered oak between us and the tor. Then I heard a horse galloping
and saw a flash of scarlet at the foot of the slope where the pheasant
had dropped in. What did it all mean? Were we foxes in any way
concerned in the unwonted proceedings that were disturbing the great
silence that had till then brooded over the cover? The suspense, the
uncertainty, which the vixen's evident distress intensified, the vague
sense of danger, were painful; but all doubts were soon dispelled,
"Eloo in! Hi, Forester! Eloo in!" The rasping yell with which this was
uttered betokened some sinister happening, though we looked in vain to
the vixen, round whom my sisters gathered, to enlighten us as to its
nature.

At this point my recollection is blurred, save for two things, the
crashing noise in the brake and the flight of the vixen and my sisters
along the watercourse, with the pack in pursuit. I shall always hear
the one and see the other. If ever I was terrified in my life it was
then; and between the clamor of the hounds and the thundering tread
of a hundred galloping horses I was so bewildered that I knew not
where to turn. But as the noise died away my nerves steadied, and,
rising from my crouching attitude, I peeped through the furze to try
to discover what was happening. For a long time I could see nothing in
the deserted valley below; but, continuing my watch, I perceived the
vixen and my little sister coming along the open bank of the stream,
with the leading hounds in close pursuit and apparently gaining at
every stride.

I am too old now to feel strongly as I did then, but still I am
affected at the recollection of the vixen striving to save my sister
by devices such as a partridge will employ to divert an enemy from its
young. How the chase ended I could not see; but the sudden ceasing of
the clamor made me fear the worst.

In the silence that succeeded I made for the cairn earth, expecting to
get in there; but that, too, was stopped. Whilst I was debating what
to do, I heard the huntsman's voice, and had scarcely regained my old
station by the watercourse when the hounds opened on my line. They
were coming towards me at a great pace. Without an instant's delay I
was off, and, stealing down the long slope, reached the edge of the
cover, where I checked my steps to look out and see that the coast was
clear. Except the blazing sunlight, there was nothing in the bottom or
on the bare slope beyond to scare me, and as the hounds were half-way
down the hill, I committed myself to the open.

I had not got far when there was a scream, a human scream, fit to
wake the dead. It startled me horribly, but did not cause me to
deviate a hair's-breadth from the direction in which I had set my
head. Near the brow I stopped and looked back at the crowd of dogs
and horsemen. It puzzled me then, it puzzles me yet, to know why they
should wish to kill me, but I had not a doubt that was their object.
The clamor did not greatly terrify me at that stage of the chase, as I
felt sure I should be able to elude my pursuers in the fen for which I
was making.

I held about the same lead across the next valley and up the hill
beyond, but the heat of the sun was beginning to tell on me before
I reached the wide belt of rushes near the mere. When I had crossed
it the hounds had greatly reduced the distance between us; I was
beginning to flag, and the sanctuary I sought was nearly two miles
away. The going was heavy over the marshland, where never a breath
stirred, but I struggled on as best I could towards the islet of my
favorite pool, spreading terror amongst grebe and hern along the
silent ways I threaded.

At length I gained the pool, and as I left the finger of land jutting
towards the islet and took to the water, I felt I was near an asylum
at last. Vain hope! When I was barely half-way across an accursed
magpie espied me, and came and hovered just over my head, making
a loud chattering noise that the hounds must have heard. I looked
straight before my muzzle, pretending to take no notice of the
plague, and as soon as I landed, lay down in my old ambush that half
concealed me from the exasperating bird. "The pest will surely hold
his tongue now that I am in lair," thought I. But no; he chattered
louder than ever, as if it delighted him to betray me to the pack,
whose whimpering I could now hear. In my exhausted condition I was
very loth to move, but, seeing that to remain there was certain death,
I left my hiding-place and plunged into the water on the further side
of the islet. My tormentor came with me, and never shall I forget his
harsh, jeering cries whilst I swam to the nearest alders, and even
whilst I made my slow way through the sparse thorns that ran up to
the furze about the earth. Under the close brake I was free from the
traitor, and it cheered me to be so near the sett and a safe refuge.
As I followed the beaten track leading to it I was indifferent to my
pursuers, for I felt sure that the badger must long ere this have
opened a way in.

Alas! it had proved beyond his powers. The ground about the faggots
was littered with the bits he had chopped off, but he had failed to
effect an entry. Realizing my desperate position, I almost gave myself
up for lost. Fortunately, in my extremity--and a fox's brain is never
clearer than then--I wondered where the badger had bestowed himself.
Where he could get I could get, and if I could only trace him I might,
despite the stiffness of my limbs and the nearness of the hounds, even
yet escape with my life.

Picking up his trail, I followed it along the base of the hill to
a thicket, dense and matted as bramble, blackthorn and furze could
make it. Through this I passed until I reached a small cave at the
foot of a sheer wall of rock. The trail led inwards, and at the very
back I came on my friend. He looked most vicious at first; but when
he recognized the bedraggled cub before him, the expression of his
venerable face quickly changed to one of compassion, and then again
to hate as he heard the hounds, now running mute, crash through the
undergrowth. It was an awful moment. It behoved me to find, and that
instantly, some secure position out of reach of the infuriated pack.
The leading hounds were at the mouth of the cave when, by a last
effort, I gained a scanty ledge, almost too narrow for foothold, a
little way above the badger's head. I was never in a more desperate
position, but fear glued me to the spot; and better vantage-ground for
viewing the fight that followed could not have been. "Keep cool," I
shouted to my old friend as well as I could for panting; and before I
could repeat my warning, the hounds were on him.

There are things which seem incredible unless witnessed; and I
would not now submit the evidence of my own eyes did I not feel it
my bounden duty to record the facts which redound to the fame of
the badger and to the glory of the wild. But how is it possible to
describe what happened so the picture presented may approach in
vividness the savage scene I looked upon? I have seen the waves dash
and dash again into a cavern, only to be as often rolled back till the
tide had spent its force and left the cave as silent as at first. The
inrush of the pack was like the on-coming of an irresistible wave; but
the badger, with his back to the low arch, was not to be overwhelmed
whilst he could keep his feet and ply jaw and claw. Only three hounds
could get at him at a time; and when it came to deadly fang work,
what were these soft creatures of the kennel to the most formidable
beast of the brake? As fast as the badger could deal with them, hound
after hound withdrew howling, till there was scarcely one of the
twenty couple composing the pack on whom his terrible jaws had not
closed.

While the fray was at its height the badger was at times partly hidden
under his assailants, and thus arose no small danger to myself. One
big brute of a hound there was who espied me where I stood, still as
if carved in stone, save for my heaving flank and lolling tongue. This
must have caught his eye, and time after time he leapt at me from the
backs of the writhing mass below; but for want of steady foothold,
he failed as often to reach me. The last time he fell he slipped
between two hounds, and the badger had him at his mercy. It did my
ears good to hear him howl; and no sooner did the badger let him go
than he retreated over the backs of the hounds behind with a celerity
which did credit even to his long legs. Through the creeper that half
curtained the mouth of the cave I saw him take up his station amongst
the rearmost ranks of those hounds who were baying their loudest from
the brambles.

Shortly after this, one of two mounted men, whose progress was
arrested by the thicket, jumped from his horse and plunged into the
tangle. Only his hot face and bald head showed above the brake as he
came slowly along, cracking his whip as best he could for the briers
that reached to his neck and clung to his red sleeve. Whilst he fought
his way through, the other kept screaming at the top of his voice:
"Whip 'em off! The brute'll murder my best hounds!" The huntsmen had
no difficulty in whipping off the crew of howlers outside; but it was
no easy task to call off the staunch hounds that, despite the terrible
punishment they were receiving, would have carried on the fight until
they dropped from exhaustion. At last he succeeded, remounted his
horse, and rode away with the other.

In the silence that ensued my position appeared to me still most
unenviable. Would the badger, on whom I had brought all this trouble,
avenge himself on me for the wrong I had done him? I tried to read his
intentions, but he gave no sign. Presently he looked up at me, and in
fear and trembling I returned his gaze. A wild light blazed in his
black eyes, but no trace of rage against myself. Then I took courage,
though obliged to look away from his blood-stained face, so horrible
was the sight it presented. His must have been a noble nature to bear
such punishment without resentment, and I am glad he never guessed my
fears.

How I wronged this chivalrous old aristocrat in thinking it possible
he could use his giant strength to crush the life out of a helpless
cub! The old fellow was as friendly as though nothing had happened
when, at last, falling rather than leaping, I came down from my perch
to try to find relief from the cramp that was knotting my muscles.
His awful panting had by that time somewhat subsided; but I was truly
sorry to see him in such a deplorable state, and I suppose I showed it
in my face, for he said: "Do not grieve on my account, little brother.
I shall soon recover from my scratches."

My legs were too stiff to let me lie down, so I stood by his side
whilst he licked his wounds and smoothed his ruffled coat, and at
nightfall, when he left, I staggered after him as best I could. After
drinking at a spring on the way, we came to the earth, from the mouth
of which, as I rejoiced to see, the faggots had been removed. There
the badger left me and went up the hill toward the farm-land over
which he wandered nearly every night in search of food. At what time
he returned I do not know, as I did not awake till late the following
afternoon, when I was aroused from my deep sleep by the noise he made
on resuming his excavations.

There are some things which I would gladly be silent about, but which
are necessary to the completeness of my story.

Chief of these are the grievous losses on that day's cub hunting.
My little sister and--sadder still--my dear mother were killed by
the hounds. It was best they should die together, for the cub was so
dependent on the vixen, and the vixen so inseparable from the cub,
that I am sure they could not have lived happily apart. Our common
trouble drew my surviving sister and myself closer to each other, and
for a few weeks we lived together in the earth, though we went our
several ways at night, and very seldom hunted in concert.

The close of this period is marked by an event of great moment to
myself, which, though it does not redound to my credit, must be told
in some detail.

It is necessary first to state that for some reason the hounds gave
up coming to our country, and that in their place a murderous
gang of ruffians infested the district, and by traps, by poisoned
carcasses, by terriers, by digging and by filling the earths with
smoke, succeeded in destroying nearly every fox in the countryside.
Fortunately our earth proved impregnable to the spade and proof
against smoke; whilst the badger made such havoc with the dogs that
were sent against us that, after two determined but futile assaults,
we were left in peace. For a time we had to exercise the utmost
caution in avoiding the numerous traps, which were artfully concealed
in the runs leading from the earth; but afterwards these were removed,
and we might roam without molestation over our desolate wilds.

Hares had been all but exterminated, and rabbits and wild-fowl so
shot down and thinned that it was hard to get a living, and at last
my necessities tempted me to that most perilous of undertakings, a
raid on the poultry of the neighboring farm. Besides the everlasting
crowing of the cocks, I had heard the noise made by the flocks of
housed turkeys, geese, and ducks, as I returned at dawn from the empty
warren on the dunes; and this had set me longing for them.

I did not enter lightly on this my first foray, which I knew to be
fraught with danger. My plans were laid with the fullest deliberation,
and in the deep silence of my den I carefully thought out every step
in my expedition. One of the strong points of a fox is attention to
details. We go over and over every turn, we weigh every chance, and
try to foresee every contingency. Indecision and flurry are not in our
nature; we know what we are going to do, and we go coolly through with
it. Our best-laid schemes may and do miscarry at times; nevertheless,
with the overconfidence of cubhood, I really thought that the
precautions I meant to take excluded all risks to my skin. Why, I had
mapped out in my brain every inch of the incursion; I had selected the
best way of approach; I was prepared with the safest line of retreat;
and, what is of no small moment, I had arranged for the disposal of
the kill, which was likely to be a big one.

Eager as I was to realize my sanguine expectations, I twice postponed
my visit, hoping for the cover of a storm that threatened; but on
the third night, though the weather had cleared, I resolved to defer
the raid no longer. The crescent moon was just above the hill when
I stretched myself at the mouth of the earth and set out to put
well-matured plans into execution. I walked up the rugged hillside
with all the circumspection and gravity becoming a great undertaking,
and stayed awhile on the crest to reconnoitre the scene of my
operations. The farm-house, the outbuildings, the yards, were all
silent. No foot stirred, no bark of dog broke the stillness which
brooded over the rugged slope, the smooth fields, and the endless
waste of sand beyond.

Satisfied that the coast was clear, I made my way down the hill
by a path my pads had laid--for I was on my trail leading to the
dunes--and, keeping to the shelter of a hedge of blackthorns, reached
the wall under the elms. Over it I crawled to the lower yard where
the big pool is. Its muddy edge was white with stranded feathers, and
so was the track leading past the mowhay, where rats were rustling in
the straw. But I left them behind, and with stealthy stride reached
the scene of action. A cock, unsuspicious of my presence, crowed in
the first house I came to, but the door was a new one, and a weasel
could not have got under it; so I passed in disgust to the next shed,
which contained the turkeys. But if the hen-house was effectually
closed, the turkey-house was hermetically sealed, and I thought that
the farmer must be a cruel brute not to give the poor birds better
ventilation.

"They would be but dry eating, even if I could get them," said I, as
I crossed the deeply-rutted road to the big house where my nose told
me the geese were shut up. This building boasted a tall chimney, which
made it look quite lofty; but it was on a small hole in the bottom of
the door, from which came the goodliest of smells, that I fixed my
attention, and without a moment's delay I set about enlarging it. The
wood round it was very rotten, but I could not make the opening as big
as I wished, on account of a piece of iron which was fastened across
the door on the inside, some five or six inches above the level of
the ground. Whilst I was at work the cackling inside was deafening;
and when, by a furious effort, I squeezed my way in, I found myself
in a veritable pandemonium. I really think that geese take their
troubles more noisily than any birds in the world, except, perhaps,
guinea-fowls; and I, who love quiet, would have left them severely
alone if I could have got at the fowls or the turkeys. Their clumsy
wings, too, can make you see stars if they catch you fairly across
the eyes, as theirs caught me more than once before my work was done.

Now it is one thing to slay in hot blood, another to tell at your
ease what happened. I will merely say that the lust for slaughter was
strong in me, and that in a short time all the flock but one lay dead
on the stone floor.

Not an instant did I waste before setting about the next step in my
projected night's work, the removal of the biggest bird to the dune I
had chosen for my cache. I hoped to take all--it could be done--but
I would make sure of the best. My grandest victim was the gander. I
had pulled him out from under two geese, and was bearing him over the
bodies of the flock towards the door, when, to my horror, I saw that
the hole had been stopped from the outside.

While the killing went on I had been deaf to everything, and I believe
that a wagon might have passed through the yard without my noticing
it. But now I became alive to every sound. I dropped the gander and
listened. At first I could hear nothing but the thumping of my own
heart, still affected by the speed of the kill; but presently the
silence was broken by the sound of a man's footsteps on the stones at
the back of the house. A few minutes later I heard the heavy tread on
the roof, whereat I fell into a state of abject terror, which caused
me to run round the walls like a rat in a trap.

My enemy did not remain long, and when he came down he made for the
farm-house, muttering as he went. Now, thought I, is the moment to
regain my freedom. Escape by the door seemed out of the question; a
small paneless window through which I could see a single star was
hopelessly beyond my reach; but a third outlet, the chimney, remained,
and by it I might find deliverance.

Here I met with an unexpected, but not insuperable, difficulty; for a
foot or so up, the flue was choked with old nests. I closed my eyes
whilst I pulled them down; but the suffocating dust, which there was
no draught to carry away, compelled me to return every now and again
to the floor to breathe. This inconvenience, however, was a mere
trifle, and after drawing a few breaths I returned to my work. It
cheered me to hear the debris falling, and to know that every stroke
of my fore-paws brought me nearer to my liberty. Imagine my dismay,
then, on discovering, after all my toil, that a flat stone capped the
chimney and prevented my escape. Though it smelt abominably, I made
frantic efforts to remove it. I pawed it, I bit it, I tried to raise
it with the top of my poll, with my arched back, but place myself
as I might, I could not find a position that enabled me to get good
purchase owing to the width of the chimney. Had it been half an inch
narrower, I might have managed to dislodge the stone, heavy though it
was, for I had felt it yield a little when I made my greatest effort.
But there was no result from what force I could use, and seeing that I
was only wasting time and strength, I scrambled down the flue to the
heap of fallen rubbish, which gave way under me and spread out over
the floor.

The geese lay as I had left them. It was a big kill, and no mistake.
The floor was white with birds, and in places they were two deep. As
became a dog-fox I had done my work well, and the birds were all dead
except one, which raised its head now and again in the far corner
under the window. I had not the least inclination to touch it again,
and though I must have been very hungry, I did not think of eating.
I was in a trap; I knew it, so did my enemy, and I knew that he knew
it. That he would return at daybreak I felt sure, and that he would
kill me I had little doubt. At the very thought I grovelled with
fear among the bodies of my victims, until the determination to live
aroused me to fresh exertions. In my desperation I tried to bite away
the nails that studded the sound wood about the hole by which I had
entered; I tried to dig my way under the door, but I did not succeed
in dislodging a single stone. Oh for half an hour of my friend the
badger! I made frantic, unavailing leaps at the open window; I cruised
round and round the walls until I must have travelled miles; time
after time I scrambled up the chimney, only in the end to resume my
aimless rounds. At length, weary with my endeavors, continued through
many hours, I lay down again, panting, amongst the geese.

The stillness of that dead-house was profound. Outside, too, all was
still, save for the soughing of the wind in the leafless elms. This
was the voice of an old friend, and it soothed me somewhat till it
brought back to my mind the picture of the reeds bending over the
rippled surface of my favorite pool. At the thought of my freedom
in the fen I jumped to my feet and tried again and again, without
success, each possible outlet, and then once more lay down with
heaving side and lolling tongue to wait for the end.

Presently a cock crowed; and at last dawn peeped through the window,
and found me a more pitiable object than the old goose who squinted
at me every time she raised her blood-stained head. It would be day
soon, but as yet the light was gray. It was the hour that had ofttimes
surprised me in the midst of my hunting, and hurried me across the
misty fen to my kennel in the brake; the hour when every carnivorous
creature of the night steals by hidden ways to his retreat, and
conceals himself from the cruel eye of day.

As the light grew stronger I found myself rising involuntarily to my
feet to return to the earth, but the strong walls compelled me to
stay and await my fate. Soon a pale, rosy light suffused the sky, and
presently the first beam of sunshine came in at my window and fell on
an old spider's web stretched over a hole in the wall of the chimney.
I envied the owner of the web: I envied the dead geese: I would at
that moment have been even the broken starling's egg lying there on
the waste-heap, or the skeleton of a fly dangling at the end of the
gossamer.

I heard a door slammed and the noise of footsteps. They were
deliberate, heavy, merciless, and they were approaching the door
behind which I stood listening. Just when I expected to see it
slightly opened, and was on the point of shamming dead, there was
a loud kick against it which upset my plan and made me rush up the
chimney.

Then the door was unbarred and opened.

"All dead, are 'ee?"

"Aye, all dead."

After a pause the newcomer added:

"You're as putty a lot ever I reared; in another month you'd have been
ready for market, and I looked to 'ee to pay part of the rent."

Then in a voice like thunder he bawled out:

"Where art thee, Master Reynard? Ah, thee scoundrel, thee needn't try
to get out by the chimbley! thee'rt wastin' thy precious time. I'll
help thy lordship through the front door in a minute. An'rew, bring
the sack here."

Presently I heard two men below, and the door closed behind them.

"He's up the chimbley and safe enuf. You hold the sack whilst I stir
him up with this eer pole."

Two awful thumps I endured without flinching, but the third knocked
my hind-legs from under me, and I fell all of a heap into the bag.

"So far, so good. Now we'll tie a stone to the sack and drop the lot
into the deep corner of the goslin' pool. The varmint must die. I'll
go and fetch a bit of rope."

Whilst the farmer was gone the man opened the mouth of the sack and
looked down on me. Not satisfied, apparently, with the half light
of the outhouse, he took me into the open and peered at me again. I
thought I recognized him the first time he inspected me; but now, with
the morning sun on his ruddy cheeks I was quite sure. He was the first
man I had seen, the man who was on the cairn the morning my mother was
killed by the pack; he was the man who, I felt certain, had stopped
the earths. I was calm now. I had gone through the agony of death, but
still I did not want to die. Life was sweet, very sweet. I was not
like a mangy old fox; I was in the pride of my cub-hood.

"What a beauty!" said the earth-stopper, as he continued to gaze at
me. "What a grand fox, to be sure! If An'rew can save 'ee, then thee
shan't die, now there." Saying this he let go his hold on the sack and
turned away. You can depend upon it I made a quick exit and sped off.
I hope no serious harm came to Andrew.

I sought a new home, looking therefor on the great moors. For a time
I had a life comparatively free from care, but though few of the
changes in the autumn life of the wild escaped me, I was slow to
interpret those signs that foretold the severe weather that was to
suddenly set in. It is, however, hardly matter for wonder that I was
blind to the warnings they conveyed, for the frosts of our peninsula
are, as a rule, so slight as to relax their feeble grip by noon-day;
even the smallest birds suffer little discomfort. Indeed, I have
sometimes thought that migratory birds flock to our shores because of
the mildness of the climate and the hospitality its feeding grounds
offer; but this is only the view of a fox, who welcomes these aliens,
and takes heavy toll of their number. Whatever the cause may be,
there is no doubt about the fact. This year, however, the flocks of
fieldfares, always the first to arrive, were earlier than was their
wont. I noted, too, that despite the normal mildness of the weather,
our few hibernating creatures suddenly withdrew into their winter
quarters; the hedge-hogs to the drifts of leaves and hollow holes of
dead trees, and the dormice to their nests in the low bushes. These
incidents did not seem to concern me; though I was surprised at the
abandonment of the fen by the otters, till presently I learnt that the
late salmon had already passed up the river. That seemed to explain
it; for the otters always follow the salmon, as every fox knows who
has had the luck to find a half-eaten fish on the bank.

I am convinced that all these creatures were conscious of approaching
hard weather; and when I discovered that the squirrels with which the
wood abounded, had sought their nests in the top-most branches of the
red pines, a sense of the evil times before us came to me, too.

I noticed while I lay from dawn to sunset amongst the undergrowth
that a strange calm, presaging sudden change of weather, brooded over
the solemn wood. The silence was unbroken until twilight, when the
starlings settled in and mingled their vespers with the soughing of
the rising wind. Then when I left my lair, threaded the boles of the
pines and came to the beeches, the leaves crackled under foot, a sign
of cold, dry weather; but I did not feel the keen wind until I gained
the shoulder of the ridge to the north, which is crowned by the tor.
At midnight on the moors the cold became intense; when, near dawn,
I crossed the upland road which since some heavy rains had been a
quagmire, I found it hard as rock, and the backwater of the pool above
the ford was frozen to the edge of the current. On the marshy ground
below, the cracking of the ice under my tread disturbed several snipe;
and between the alders and my own lair two woodcock got up, which,
from their weary flight, I should say had only just arrived.

My snug kennel under the furze looked doubly snug that cold, hard
dawn; and whatever privations the future might have in store, there
was at least every token of present abundance.

"The long-bills are pretty plentiful," thought I, as I curled up on my
dry couch. "Hungry times are over; there will be food galore now."

I slept through the day and sought the fen at nightfall, to find
the pool and the mere, or rather those parts of them that remained
unfrozen, crowded with wild-fowl. Strangers though we were to one
another, they proved very wary and difficult of approach, despite the
curiosity my appearance aroused in them.

So matters stood for some time, during which I cared to remain out
only part of the night; but when my coat got thick enough to resist
the piercing cold I hunted far and late, seldom reaching my kennel
before the sun showed red above the sea.

During the period of dry frost I fared well enough; but a snow-storm
which occurred at the time of the new moon and lasted for two days and
two nights, rendered foraging difficult, and made me feel a stranger
in my own country. Except in rudest outline, it was no longer like
itself. The fen was a great white plain, broken by a big and a small
pool and the winding stream that fed them. In place of the sombre
array of pines under the tor, usually as marked a feature in our
landscape as were the great reed-beds themselves, a vast slope of snow
met the eye; and the tor might have been a fleecy cloud in the leaden
sky. Strangest of all was the aspect of the dunes, which looked like
great waves of pure foam arrested in their roll.

Many a time I scanned this white undulating waste for the hare that
frequented the sand-hills, hoping to mark him in a position where it
would be possible to stalk him. I say, "possible" because of the great
powdery drifts that rose like new dunes across my hidden trails and
barred my progress in every direction. Moreover, each fall of snow
caused me fresh trouble; for it stultified the knowledge I had gained,
and compelled me to find new ways to my hunting grounds.

To add to my difficulties, soon only a few landmarks were left, and
these hard to recognize--horseshoe of thatch about the short chimney
was all there was to show the position of the cottage, and it was hard
to believe that the snow-laden elms were the same trees whose golden
leafage but a month before had cast so deep a shadow on the farmyard
where the cock pheasant had been feeding with the fowls. On the edge
of the ploughed field next the mowhay were the tracks made by the two
wary rabbits whose home was under the big rick, and the few partridges
which had escaped our jaws kept near the rubbing post in the middle of
the field.

But I recall that fallow best by the course I had across it after the
little jack-hare, who led me such a round as I have seldom gone. I
lost sight of him in the field beyond the orchard, where the turnips
lay in heaps, but followed his line up and down the hill to the head
of the fen, across which he went almost in the teeth of a raging
blizzard. He had ringed the bulrushes in the heart of the bog before
making one of his baffling sidelong leaps, and then set his face for
the foot-hills under my lair. The scent was hot amongst the scattered
furze-bushes through which he led me, and so heavily clogged were
his feet with snow that I felt sure I should overtake him before he
reached the tamarisks on the other side of the hill; but I underrated
his endurance. I followed him to the waste of sand-hills, only to find
that he had disappeared in a drift at the foot of the highest dune. In
his desperation--for I was all but on him--he must have plunged into
this and worked his way far in, as I could not find him, though I dug
and dug into the smothering mass in every direction. Nothing remained
but to make my weary way home through the blinding, driving storm.
There are more blanks than prizes in the life of even a clever fox.

The scent lay wonderfully that night, and I followed it as easily
as I had shortly before followed the scent of a bittern across the
snow between the reed-bed and the bulrushes. It was in this isolated
clump that the otters so often laid up before the frost hardened the
trembling mass environing it; but now I noticed that some of these
wily creatures had beaten a deep track across the narrow neck of the
big bend of the river, though I did not once get a glimpse of them.

I must pass over much detail of the varying fortunes of that eventful
time to speak of the mis-adventures that befell me on an expedition
when I unwittingly exposed myself to a great danger, and was lucky to
escape with my life. I had risen from my kennel, stretched myself,
sniffed the biting wind, listened, shaken my thick coat, and then, as
was my wont since giving up my journeys to the hills, first visited
the few remaining bits of boggy ground in sheltered places of the
brake, with the hope of picking up one of the woodcock that resorted
there to feed. I approached one spot after another against the wind
and with the utmost stealth; but, despite my extreme caution, I
succeeded only in flushing the birds, so wary had they become through
being harassed--chiefly, I believe, by young cubs.

After lapping some water below a cascade hung with icicles, I left
the soft margin of the rapid runnel which had been riddled by the
bills of the woodcock and, emerging from the furze, stole down to the
thicket of blackthorns. But my nose told me a fox had been there
already; so I at once made for my favorite pool, whence the cries of
various wild-fowl reached my ears. I knew that they consisted of duck,
widgeon, and teal; but from the noise they made, I judged them to be
more numerous than usual, and so they proved.

Through a gap in the reeds I gazed once and again at the tantalizing
sight. What more maddening spectacle for a hungry fox than that of
game beyond reach? I ransacked my brain to discover a way to get at
them. It was beyond my powers. The edge of the acre of water that
remained open was a score of yards from the reeds and scarcely less
from the island. There was only one course practicable, to disturb the
birds and to take up a hidden position from which I should be within
striking distance of the pool. The snowy surface which ringed them in
denied concealment save at one point, and that was much too far from
the water to suit my methods, for the scanty bit of cover was too long
springs from the brink of the ice. Any attempt to rush the birds from
there seemed vain. Many a time since the frost set in I had stood and
weighed the chances it offered, only to scorn the idea of using it
for an ambuscade. To-night, somehow--was it because of my ravenous
hunger?--the clump of sags, though weighed down by the snow, did not
look quite so hopeless as before the last fall; and I decided to
accept its hard conditions and give it a trial. It was an exasperating
thing to be obliged to scare the birds; but there was no help for it,
and so forward I went.

My forefoot was hardly through the fringe of reeds when a mallard saw
me and gave the alarm. In an instant a hundred pairs of eyes were
turned on me; and, as if fascinated by the sight of so fine a fox,
their owners did not take wing until I was nearly half-way across
the snow. Then, with a loud "quar, quar, quar" from the ducks, all
the birds rose in a confused company, the noise of their wing-beats
drowning for a moment the loud rustling of the swaying reeds. I
watched them divide into their several skeins, which then wheeled
above my head and flew seawards, the widgeon in the van.

Before seeking my ambush, I crossed the ice to the other side of the
pool, in the hope of finding a disabled bird in the thick cover, but
saw nothing save a few dead starlings that had fallen from their
roosting perches on the reeds. The flesh of starlings is nearly as
loathsome to me as the flesh of carrion-feeding birds; so I left
their stark bodies lying there, and trotted over the wide stretch of
snow to the island. When crossing, I noticed a small hole in the ice.
It had been made and kept open by otters that they might come there
to breathe whilst fishing; but I did not know this at the time. The
island, though it reeked with the smell of duck, was blank; so I made
for the sags again, and crawled under them carefully in order not to
disturb their white coating. Gently as I pushed my pointed muzzle
between the stems the frozen snow rattled down in a shower, and this
caused me much misgiving, for I feared that the exposed blades, black
with decay, would be sure to excite the suspicion of the quick-eyed
fowl, and warn them off the water.

When ensconced, I found that my ambush barely screened me, and, what
was more serious, it seemed much farther from the pool than in the
bloodthirsty moment when I had decided to use it. However, being in,
I meant to stay, and so, the tip of my muzzle between two bent blades
that grew a few inches in front of the clump, and nothing but the tag
of my brush projecting at the rear, I began my vigil. It was bitter
work watching with the gale in your teeth, but I might have noticed
it less had the ambush been a little nearer the water. Nevertheless,
being of a sanguine temperament, I threw sense and sinew into my work
as if success were assured. My ears were spread their widest, to catch
any sound that reached them above the lapping of the water and the
swish of the encompassing reeds; my eyes, if not fixed on the pool,
scanned the snowy space between; and my legs were gathered under me
ready to spring. One by one some feathers the ducks had left, drifted
to the nearer side and were lost to sight; once I caught the faint
wing-beats of passing wild-fowl and, raising my eyes, saw the long
wedge of them black against the bright stars; but not a bird settled
on the water.

Hour after hour passed in this manner, and my patience was just giving
out when an incident occurred that dispelled all thought of trying
my luck elsewhere. It was not the fish that jumped clear of the
surface, which induced me to stay, but the great boil in the water
near where it fell. I believed this had been caused by an otter, and
quite expected to see the creature land on a small jagged point of
ice hard by, where the snow had been much trampled. Nor did mere
curiosity keep me an interested spectator: I was expecting to get fish
for supper after my wasteful friend had taken one or two bites of
his prey. Whilst I watched for his appearance, and watched in vain,
a rather larger fish leapt out--once--twice; and the third time it
was hardly above the surface when the open jaws of a huge pike showed
close behind it, and I could see the bristling array of teeth before
a tremendous swirl hid them again. In all my experiences I have only
once witnessed anything that took me more by surprise; and from that
night I have never swum across to the island without fear of being
seized by the grim monster which I now knew tenanted the pool.

The pike had scarcely disappeared before three teal, whose flight I
had not heard, settled in the middle of the water and set my brush
waving with excitement. Totally unsuspicious of my presence they swam
towards me, and approached so close to the ice as to be completely
hidden by the bank of snow near its edge. Judging their position as
well as I could by the delicious scent that reached me, I made two
tremendous leaps, which landed me amongst them before they could take
wing. But on account of the spray and the shock of the icy-cold water
I missed all three; though my jaws snapped close over the spot where
one of them dived. He came up yards away from where I was awaiting
him, rose as only a teal can rise, and flew off in company with his
mates, who were wheeling about overhead.

With a rankling sense of failure I scrambled with some difficulty on
to the ice, shook my coat and, turning my back on my ambush, trotted
off as briskly as I could in the direction of the mere. Through the
long wait on the snow and the coldness of the water into which I had
plunged, my feet were so benumbed that I could scarcely feel them
under me when crossing the bog. Nevertheless, I stumbled on until
warmth came back to them, and then hunted the waste beyond, working
across the wind on the margin of the laid reed-beds in the hope of
scenting moorhens or water-rail to break my long fast. Most carefully
did I try the patches of sedgy cover in the loops of the stream where
I had seldom failed; but even there I met with disappointment, the
few birds I winded evading me by diving under the ice which in places
covered the strong current.

I must have trotted miles along the zigzag course I took, before I
reached the expanse of windswept snow under which lay the frozen mere.
From inside the fringe of reeds I could hear the honking of the geese
on the open water, and at times a sound that was new to me, a wild
trumpeting which seemed to come from where the sea was thundering on
the bar. For a fox naturally prompt in decision, I stood there long,
considering whether to make a journey that offered but poor prospect
of success. In the wild-fowl's feeding-ground I had come from there
was at least makeshift for an ambush; on the level ice-field before
me there was not cover enough to hide a mouse, and the chance of a
kill was very, very small. Choice of supper, however, lay between
cold starling, bitter and dry, and hot goose, sweet and juicy--if I
could get it--and goose or nothing was my resolve. I set my face for
the spot where the scarcely discernible specks on the snow showed
the game to be thickest; and if my coat turned white in winter like
that of a stoat I had seen a few nights before, I might have stolen
at least part of the way unobserved. As it was, my reddish-brown fur,
though lighter than in the summer, made me as conspicuous as a crow on
a stubble to the noisy sentinels overhead, which at once spread the
cry of "Fox afoot!" far and wide over the great mere. The only method
possible, then, in this wild-goose chase, was to keep going with the
most nonchalant air at my command, as if my sole object in approaching
the pool was to wash down a heavy supper; and it was lucky for my plan
that my thick coat hid my prominent ribs and concealed my half-starved
condition.

Presently I could see that the wild-fowl lining the margin of the ice
were nearly all geese; but what riveted my gaze was a small group of
big white birds beyond, whose heads towered high above the mass of
insignificant-looking duck that crowded the water.

"Halloo! something new in the feather line," thought I. "What monsters
are these?"

And then it occurred to me that, as I had never cast eyes on their
kind before, it might be that these strangers had never set eyes on a
fox, and would entertain no fear of such an innocent-looking creature
come to quench his thirst. This line of reasoning seemed so plausible
that I licked my dry chops at the prospect of a lordly feast, and
for a moment felt inclined to despise such small birds as geese.
These latter had for some time held their heads turned my way; so,
to show that concealment was not dreamt of, I stood still, raised
my mask to the moon, just risen above the headland, and, though it
cost me a great effort, barked as joyously as only a full-fed fox can
bark. Rarely in my chequered life have I given utterance to notes so
expressive of content; and as the geese seemed greatly taken by the
music, I continued to indulge them, at the same time lessening the
distance that separated us.

We were getting on quite good terms with one another--at least, so I
thought--until I was within--well, it is difficult to judge distance
over snow--perhaps fifty yards of them. Then I saw unmistakable
signs of restlessness. To lull suspicion I waved my brush in my most
fascinating manner; I rolled on my back, hoping to prove to them that,
murderer though I might be by repute, I was really a playful creature,
even on that wild winter's night; and in order to reassure the more
timorous, including a fine gander, who had retired from the front to
the rear rank, I began to cut capers, running after my brush in small
circles, or rather in a spiral which would bring me, as I could see
out of the corner of my eye, within rushing distance of two of the
most curious of my admirers.

It was all in vain; my back was to the cowardly crew when they rose;
but even then I should have seized a laggard had I sprung a few hairs
higher, for the tip of my muzzle actually touched his cold webbed
foot. In my fall on the edge of the ice I all but lost my balance and
toppled into the water. Was I enraged when I recovered myself? I need
not enlarge on that.

The flight of the geese alarmed the duck, which rose in a big cloud
from the mere, with a noise that would, I am sure, have bewildered any
animal except a fox, or perhaps an otter. But I ignored it, and amidst
their silly clamor and the loud whirr of their wings that momentarily
drowned the gale, fixed my eyes on the three swans--for such they
were--who did not take flight like the others, but swam up and down
the rough water in a manner which, if not expressive of contempt, was
at least aggressive and provocative. Their attitude was a revelation
to me; no bird had ever dared challenge me before; and if they see as
foxes do, these black-billed strangers who stared so hard must have
read blank amazement on my innocent face as I read defiance on theirs.
Nor was I free from irritation at the bravado conspicuous in their
puffed-out breasts and beruffled plumage.

Suddenly my demeanor changed from amazement to rage. This certainly
they must have known from my flaming eyes, bristling fur, and
fluffed-out brush lashing from side to side; but up and down they
swam, hissing out their summons to come and do battle, if I dared. A
fox shrink from combat with feathered foes? Never! I jumped into the
water, and swam across the strong current for the spot they had chosen
for the contest. All three preserved their determined front until I
was close enough to see the yellow on their bills and the snake-like
look in their evil eyes, but at my next stroke two of them beat the
water with their great wings, rose in the air, and with loud-creaking
pinions flew over my head.

"Cowards!" said I. "Why did you not stand your ground?"

Whilst I wondered that the remaining bird did not follow their
example, a streak of blood on his white plumage told me he was
wounded; and the instant it caught my eye I felt he was mine. I never
doubted I should kill him as soon as I could close my jaws on his long
white neck; the only thing that troubled me was how I should manage
to land him on the ice with such a strong stream running. He was the
biggest of the three, a magnificent bird, and, except for his bill,
as white as the snow. To my astonishment, wounded though he was, he
actually swam to meet me and struck the first blow. Before I could
close with him he stretched his head over mine, caught me by the left
ear, and pressed me under water. For all my frantic struggles, I was
half drowned when I succeeded by a desperate effort in disengaging
myself from his grip. Rising close to him, I seized his neck through
the thick coat of feathers that protected it, and hung on. The
commotion that followed baffles description. With one wing--for the
other lay helpless--he lashed the water and spun around in circles,
taking me with him. It would have been better to let go than be
carried by the strong current I knew not whither; but in such a case a
fox can never resolve to relinquish his hold, and it was fortunate for
me that, before I had been taken out into the middle of the mere, my
teeth slipped off the smooth oily feathers.

I had had enough. Exhausted and benumbed, I made for the ice, now a
long way off, and fighting the current with all my strength, had got
at length within a few yards of the jagged edge when, to my horror,
I heard the swan coming up, and gaining on me at every stroke. I did
my very utmost to reach the ice, but in vain; he was on me before
I could land. Again I was immersed; twice I planted my feet on the
edge, only to be pulled back. I had caught a Tartar, and escape seemed
impossible; even if he did not drown me, I feared I should be sucked
under the ice. The thought of losing my life roused me to a supreme
effort. With gnashing teeth I turned on my persecutor. My onset must
have terrified him, for he quailed before it and retreated a few yards
into the mere. With the help of my brush I whipped round, gained the
rough edge, and, putting forth my last bit of strength, dragged myself
on to the ice, and fell, utterly spent, just beyond his reach.

For a time I lay there motionless, but by-and-by fear moved me to
turn my head and look for my enemy. There he was, proudly swimming up
and down before me with blood-stained breast and drooping wing, still
defiant. It was the most humiliating moment of my life. Presently
I rose and shook myself, but to no purpose. My bedraggled coat had
frozen, and hung stiffly on me. I exchanged looks of vengeance with
my terrible foe and slunk away.

What a weary journey it was over the snow! How I floundered through
the deep drift that separated me from my cover, and how glad I was to
reach the friendly shelter of the brake! It was good to be screened
from the eyes of the countless wild-fowl who had watched the fight,
and whose cries had sounded like jeers as I tottered across the wide
ice-field. There is little bark left in a fox when the quacking of
ducks disconcerts him and makes his brake a welcome refuge.

I sat down under the furze, brushed the bloody feather from my muzzle
and licked my paws, which had been cut by the sharp-edged ice in my
mad struggles to get out of the water. Though dawn was some two hours
off, I had no heart for any more hunting; so I made for my lair, which
I reached by way of the brambly thicket above the quarry, and, after
shaking my coat again, crept to where my snug kennel lay under its
double roof of gorse and snow. There, hidden from all eyes and from
the bright lights of the frosty sky, I curled up in the cup of dry
spines with my brush about my nose, and heedless of the gale that
raged above but could not reach me, forgot my troubles in sleep.

The hounds drew the tor wood once, and only once, after the thaw, and
did not pay a single visit to our brake, though the earth was stopped
three times before the end of the season. The explanation is probably
to be found in the heavy rains which flooded the fen and made the
country unfit for hunting; big pools were found where none were seen
before, and the springs which broke out in many new places, together
with the surface-drainage of rain and melted snow, not only kept them
full, but seemed to turn every bit of spongy ground into a quagmire.

Left to myself, I was as happy as a fox can be, and, forgetting the
hardships I had passed through, looked forward with pleasurable
anticipation--as, indeed, every wilding does--to the golden days of
summer, when troubles are few and delights many. Yet the tamarisks had
hardly begun to feather before there was brought into the countryside
a hound which proved the most terrible enemy that ever shadowed my
life.

That the farmer had need of a more watchful guardian for the poultry
yard than old Shep I knew well enough from the serious losses he had
sustained. Besides fowls and ducks, even geese and turkeys had been
carried off, some by day under cover of mist and drizzling rain, but
mostly at night. I had seen foxes returning from that direction with
birds in their mouths; I had actually come on the caches, both inside
and outside our brake, where they had buried what they could not take
away; and this wholesale plundering caused me great anxiety, because
I knew it would lead to reprisals. But I never dreamt in my most
troubled moments of the scourge that was being prepared. Even had I
known that old Shep was to be superseded and another farm-dog put in
his place the news would not have alarmed me in the least, because of
the contempt I felt for the few specimens I had seen. But I was now to
learn that there are farm-dogs and farm-dogs.

As soon as the new dog was led home I came on evidence of his work.
I found the body of a fox near the gap of a reclaimed field that had
recently been filched from our cover, and could see by the fang-marks
in his chest that he had been murdered. Now it was impossible that
old Shep should be the culprit. He was always asleep at midnight,
and bore a good character amongst us for utter harmlessness; yet
everything pointed to his guilt. A double trail led from the warm
carcass towards the farm buildings, and one was the trail of a dog.
I walked slowly up the hill, trying to unravel the mystery, and had
scarcely passed over the crest when a loud bay, very different from
old Shep's, broke the stillness of the night and explained everything.
Whilst I listened it was repeated again and again, and its meaning was
unmistakable. It was a warning to the fox from the new guardian of
the farmyard that the days of robbery without punishment were past,
and that a new régime had begun. I yapped no reply, for it was best
to let this dangerous customer believe that the fox he had killed was
a stranger to the district, and that none frequented the wild within
reach of his voice.

I was very miserable now. Putting all together, I was convinced that
the newcomer would prove a dangerous enemy; and yet I felt that I
ought to see him, for I recollected my mother's story of the fox who,
like the otter in the quaking bog, judged the jackass by his bray, and
suffered agonies until he cast eyes on him.

The opportunity offered a few days later without my seeking it. On a
lovely spring morning such as Nature often lavishes on her wildlings,
I lay stretched out amongst the scattered furze-bushes enjoying the
warmth of the sun, without a thought of any intrusion on the peaceful
scene. The lambs were bleating in the field next the dunes, the rooks
cawing in the leafing elms, and the farm-boy, whom I could not see for
the thicket of blackthorns at the foot of the croft, was singing the
drowsy song he sang always at his work. A magpie on the tallest of the
blackthorns seemed unusually interested in either the boy or his work;
but I thought nothing of that. Presently, however, to my surprise, it
began mobbing some creature. Then I rose to my feet, almost expecting
to view a fox, when, to my amazement, I saw a huge dog leave the
thicket and come into the open. It was the new hound, and the sight
of him made me catch my breath. What struck me most--for without it,
size and strength of jaw signify nothing--was the speed I read in his
long muscular limbs. He moved with an ease I had never seen in any
other dog. Had his hind-quarters sloped like mine, I should, like
the magpie, have taken him for a denizen of the wild; but the defect
betrayed him as the servant of man.

My curiosity was excited, and I would not steal away to the near
brake until I had discovered what his business was. It was of the
simplest. He stopped about half-way up the hill at a spot full in
the hot sun, turned round two or three times as I do to make my bed,
and laid himself down amongst the tussocks of grass. I watched his
bloodshot eyes blink in the blazing light; noted his restlessness,
the twitching of his cropped ears, and the quivering of his great
nostrils, even whilst he seemed to doze; studied his huge bull-terrier
head, raised when a yellowhammer settled on the golden bush behind
him; shuddered at the array of crowded teeth when he yawned.

He may have lain an hour amid the bright new herbage before the boy
whistled. His ears showed that he heard, but he took no further
notice. When the whistle was repeated he growled. Then the boy
screamed, as I have heard the huntsman scream after me; and the great
brindled brute leapt to his feet and bounded down the hill at a pace I
had not thought any creature capable of. I knew then that no fox could
get away from him in the open, or escape with his life when overtaken.

"No more stealing of old gobblers," said I under my breath as I slunk
away to the earth.

For some days I scarcely slept on account of the worry; and the more
I thought it over in the quiet of my kennel, the surer I felt that
this great restless hound would render life unbearable by invading my
cover. Was it likely that a creature pricked by pride of limb and of
fang would be content to wander within the narrow confines of a dozen
fields criss-crossed with trails, and never trespass on the environing
wilds to which the trails led? Impossible! Is there not an eternal
feud between the tame and the wild canine? This half-wild protege
of man, free to wander at will and wreak his vengeance on us hated
dwellers in the brake, able too by speed and strength to carry out his
fell designs, was certain, sooner or later, to follow the cursed scent
that lingers where we tread, and track me to my hidden lair.

The days went by, however, and I was not molested; though night after
night, as I heard his threatening bay, I asked myself, How long shall
I be left in peace? When a fortnight passed without a sign, I began to
think that this sharer of man's hearth might, after all, be nothing
more than a noisy farmyard braggart, brave enough, perhaps, on grass
or plough-land, but afraid to trespass on the waste. Rudely was my
mistake brought home to me.

Now what I am going to tell is not something I have heard: I saw it
with my own eyes on the moor which rises from the head of the fen. I
was trotting along at the time, planning how best to work the ground
on such a still night, when a fox--a stranger to me--came over the
brow on my left, and dashed across my front at a gallop. At first
I thought he must have some game in sight; but as neither hare nor
leveret was to be seen, I could not help, in the absence of any
apparent reason for his conduct, imagining that he must be mad, like
a fox I once saw crossing the bar. Strange fancy, perhaps; but then,
what sane animal, and, above all, what fox, would waste his speed
after nothing? And what in the world was there for the fugitive to fly
from? Suddenly I thought of the hound, and as suddenly, just when the
fox had disappeared where the land dipped, I heard the thud of heavy
feet. Peeping between two boulders that concealed me from view, I saw
him come over the crest at the spot where I first caught sight of the
fox. He was running by scent, but at so tremendous a pace that I
feared the fox could not live before him.

His silence chilled me more than his loud bay; but though I could not
detect the faintest whimper, every moment there was a strange clicking
sound--a noise foreign to the moorland. When he came abreast of me
I saw it was caused by the broken chain that hung from his neck and
struck the steel collar he wore. In a twinkling the dusky fiend had
disappeared in the gloom, his head set for the tor. I listened. After
a time I heard him crash through a long bramble thicket. Then a long
interval. Then the owls, which had been very noisy, suddenly ceased
their midnight chorus. They were watching the tragic chase between
the boles of the pines. How it ended I never knew; but I am inclined
to think that the fox reached the rocks and escaped. If he had been
killed, the foxes which lodged on the western slope of the tor would
have forsaken their coverts, at least for a time; and this they did
not do.

That night it was useless to try to hunt, as I kept looking back every
dozen strides for fear the hound might be following me. At last I gave
it up; but I did not return along my usual trail, laid when the night
had no fear for me. I avoided open ground as much as possible, to
steal along tangled dips and gullies. Before crossing a ridge I halted
to peer through the darkness, fearful of seeing the sinister green
eyes that would apprise me of the hound's approach.

On reaching the double trail, I cleared it at a bound, as though it
had been a line of fire, and made for the river at the spot where it
spreads over the marshes; for I hoped by swimming it at its widest
part to add to the difficulties of the hound if he should follow me.
Although the precautions I took proved unnecessary, I mention a few of
them to show the fear the creature had inspired in me. After that I
used to foil the runs in the brake for the purpose of puzzling him if
he chanced to strike my night's trail and tried to trace me to my lair.

But of what avail were all my wiles against a creature so endowed? At
length the marvellous powers he possessed enabled him not only to find
my kennel, but to approach it so noiselessly as almost to surprise me
in my sleep. Had it not been for the slight rustling of the furze,
caused by his grim protruding muzzle, he must have taken me where I
lay as a fox takes a rabbit in its seat. As it was it was a close
call. Enraged at my escape, he came crashing after me. I led him to
the cover beyond the quarry, where the furze was close and stunted,
and where the runs were so small that he had to force a way along
them. In these unfavorable conditions I thought he would soon tire of
pursuit; but to my surprise he persisted hour after hour, despite the
stifling atmosphere of the brake on such a close, hot day. Could he
have driven me into the open I should have been at his mercy; I knew
this as well as he, and never gave him the chance he longed for.

In the end I wearied him out, and none too soon, for I was almost
spent before he relinquished the chase. I had escaped, but my dread of
the fiend was greater than ever--so great, indeed, that I never went
near the brake again as long as he lived.

The silence of the night at this time was painful. A dog-fox dared
no longer call to his mate for fear of betraying his whereabouts to
the hound, now abroad at all hours. I hardly dared sleep two days
following, in the same place, lest in his wanderings he should have
come upon my couch and be there awaiting me. I lived under a reign of
terror, and the gloom that brooded over brake, tor, and fen spread to
the higher moors, where the hound had once been seen. But, gloom or no
gloom, I had to have food though every journey I made to the fen was
at the risk of my life.

Generally I was through early enough to enable me, by hurrying, to
be back in my couch in gorse or heather before dawn. One morning,
however, I was so late that I decided to lie up for the day in the fen
rather than risk crossing the moors after daybreak.

Through the mist that lay over the heart of the bog I could just make
out the tall clump of rushes where I meant to lie up if the slough
should yet prove firm enough to bear my weight. On striking the river,
which was much above the previous summer's level, I waded into the
water, and, to throw the hound out in the event of his following me,
floated some distance with the current before landing on the opposite
side. As I rustled through the flags and the belt of reeds, whose
dew-laden plumes were sparkling in the first rays of day, a heron rose
lazily and, skimming a reed bed, flew away towards the half-risen sun,
leaving me, as far as I could see, the sole tenant of the silent
marshland. Only the bare, flat quagmire now lay between me and my
harborage, and, anxious to be hidden from sight, I lost no time in
setting out across the treacherous surface.

I selected a line which seemed to promise the firmest footing, and
stepped with all possible lightness. Yet, in spite of every care, I
sank deep in places, and midway the crust was so thin that for a while
I was in great danger of foundering. However, by putting forth all my
strength, I was able, at last, to free myself from the clutches of the
more liquid mire and reach the drier, sounder surface between it and
the rushes. I was indeed glad to feel the solid ground under my feet
once more.

Had I realized the peril before setting out I should not have
attempted to cross. I ought, perhaps, to have turned back on striking
the dangerous zone; but, once embarked on an undertaking, it is not in
my nature to retreat, for there is that in a fox which makes him go
through with his purpose at all hazards, though it may compel him to
pass between the legs of the huntsman's horse or traverse a bog that
threatens to swallow him up.

At last, exhausted and bemired, I entered the clump, whose shadow lay
like a wide road across that part of the quagmire where it fell, and
chose for my couch a tall heap of dead reeds just inside the wall of
pale green stems. It seemed to have served for a nest of the captive
wild swan, and had probably been floated to the spot by the subsiding
flood.

To reach my bed I had to cross the stream which drained the pool
within the dense ring of bulrushes; and as I waded through it a
well-known scent reached my nostrils, and told me that the wiliest
creature of the night had also sought this isolated retreat to hover
in. I watched the sedgy islet whence the scent proceeded, expecting to
get a glimpse of the otter couching there; but he lay low and did not
expose a hair, despite the crackling of the reeds as I made my bed.

I was free now to attend to my toilet and prepare for the rest I so
much needed. With my pads dirty as they were, sleep was out of the
question; so I licked them and my legs as clean as I could, and, thus
refreshed, soon dozed off, with a sense of security to which I had
long been a stranger.

I slept soundly, without the horrid dreams of the previous weeks,
and was awakened at last by the hum of insects. A year before, when
I often lay in the fen, my ears would not have noticed this loud
undertone of noonday life; but latterly I had, for the most part,
kennelled in the moors, where were only noiseless butterflies and
lizards, silent as sphinxes. I was not really sorry to be disturbed,
for it was delightful to lie there, vaguely conscious of the warmth
of the sun and looking about me in a drowsy way. I turned my blinking
eyes now to the distant mere, sparkling at the end of a vista in the
reeds, now to the hoary summit of the tor seen against the blue sky,
and again to the water-insects at sport on a small pool just beyond
the black shadow which had crept up well-nigh to the foot of the
bulrushes.

Presently, tiring of the view, I was about to drop asleep again, when
I heard a noise which, if it had been less violent, I should have
thought to be caused by an animal shaking itself. It was followed by a
commotion on the river-bank, and then, to my horror, the hound burst
through the reeds. He had followed my trail to that point, and guessed
where I was, for he kept looking at the clump, and even at the part of
it where I was crouching. He threw up his nose and sniffed the air,
as I could see by the working of his gleaming nostrils; but there was
no wind to carry the scent across the morass--not enough, indeed, to
stir he light feathery tops of the reeds behind him.

Soon he advanced to the very edge of the bog and looked longingly at
the clump, as if he were eager to reach it but dared not risk the
crossing. At last, after running up and down the edge several times,
apparently in search of a hard place, he decided to brave the danger,
and with cat-like steps, ludicrous to watch in such a monster, began
the perilous passage. He was soon up to his knees, and the deeper he
went the greater my excitement grew. Every instant I expected to see
him sink out of sight. So sure of it did I feel that I almost ventured
to show myself and fling at the fiend the reproaches that crowded to
my tongue. But though his progress was very slow, he was inch by inch
reducing the distance that separated us.

Before long he was near enough for me to hear the sucking noise made
by the slough as it reluctantly released its grip on the long muscular
legs. He did not pick and chose his way, or deviate by a reed's
breadth from the straight course that would bring him to the gap
in the belt of rushes made by the overflow. Now he was on the most
treacherous part of the quagmire, which shook with the struggle he
made to keep his head above the surface. With dilated pupils I watched
what must be his last efforts. I noted the rise of the mire on his
collar, till at last it rose no farther, but still he came on; and
then I noticed the liquid mud raised in front of him like the ripple
in front of a swan. Wading he must have been, though he looked exactly
as though he were swimming; and his great red tongue lolled out with
the frantic exertions.

When he got nearer his feet must have found the bottom, for his
shoulders rose free of the surface; and I saw his hair bristle as
though something had suddenly angered him. He had scented me or the
otter, or both; and in his haste to add to the number of his victims,
he ploughed through the last score yards of mud like a mad creature.
Along the muddy bed of the overflow he toiled step by step; and the
instant he entered the pool, I rose to my feet, doubtful whether to
stay or retreat, and paused to listen before committing myself.

At that moment I heard a sullen plunge, then another, as two otters
dived into the pool. Thinking there was safety in numbers, I decided
to remain in hiding rather than trust to my slight chance of escape
across the bog. The wild struggles of the hound told me he had viewed
the otters; but he must have lost them again for presently all was
very quiet, though I could hear him at times nosing the rushes and
ferns round the pool, as if in search of them. My eyes were as alert
as my ears, and soon caught a heave on the surface of the overflow and
the gleam of an otter's back as the creature rounded the shallow bend
leading to the river. A few seconds later I saw the other otter glide
noiselessly away, and then a great fear seized me as I realized that I
was left alone with the hound.

Scarcely were my eyes back on the pool before he landed on the islet,
where he stood with the water dripping from his brindled coat, whilst
with nostrils raised he sniffed the air. As I watched him through the
stems, I became aware that he winded me; and when I saw him take to
the water and head straight; for my hiding-place, I stole silently but
swiftly away and, fearful of trusting to the muddy bed of the stream,
committed myself to the bog.

I trod its treacherous surface as lightly as I could, but because of
the smallness of my feet I kept breaking through the crust, and made
only slow progress. Nevertheless I succeeded in getting farther than
I expected before the hound sighted me. As soon as he did he burst
through the rushes and, making a tremendous spring, landed within a
few yards of where I was struggling with the mire.

This wild leap of his saved me. Had he been content to follow at his
best pace, the chances are that he would have caught me before I
could reach the bank of the river; but now, through the violence of
his fall, he was so deeply embedded that I gained many yards before
he could extricate himself. Indeed, by the time he had done so I
had reached the more liquid part of the morass where I had all but
foundered at sunrise. With the double danger threatening me, I exerted
myself even more than then; but, madly as I struggled, my progress
was not nearly as fast as that of the hound, now overhauling me. It
was horrible to hear this murderous fiend whimpering and whining in
his eagerness to get at me, and to feel that I was scarcely advancing
at all. I was like a fox in a nightmare, only I was never more wide
awake in my life. Fright however kept urging me on, and to my joy I at
last felt firmer ground under my feet.

The bank gained, I turned my head for an instant, and saw my pursuer
seemingly stuck in the treacherous mud-belt; but I did not waste
precious time watching him. That he still reckoned me his I felt sure;
that I should escape I had little hope; nevertheless, I meant to do my
utmost to save my life. I galloped down-stream close to the water's
edge, took the otter's path across the neck of the bend, swam the
river, and on landing plunged into the great reed-brakes.

On, on I went at my full speed, driven by mortal fear. I knew I was
not yet out of danger. Here a wild-duck rose in affright, there a
moorhen scurried out of my way; but I kept straight on past clumps of
osmunda ferns and flags, and across backwaters till at last, after
swimming a maze of water-ways, I came to the grassy promontory that
flanks the inflow of the river into the mere.

For a moment I stood there irresolute. Should I take to the water or
trust to the bordering reeds? Whilst I hesitated, I thought I heard
the hound coming, and the next instant dropped into the stream.
Partly by swimming, but chiefly by the aid of the current, I succeeded
in reaching the nearest islet of the little archipelago that studded
the rippled expanse. There I hoped to find refuge from my relentless
pursuer.

I had arrived only just in time, for, peeping through the sedgy growth
that covered my hiding-place, I saw the hound gallop to the end of the
promontory and stand gazing over the wide surface. Then he withdrew to
the brake that rose like a lofty wall about the mere. I could trace
his progress by the rising of the wild-fowl whose sanctuaries he
invaded, and later by the glimpse I got of the angered swan swimming
defiantly across the narrow opening of a big creek about which the
array of reeds was densest. I saw no further sign of the brute that
had so rudely violated the summer peace of the fenland, but wisdom
seemed to dictate that I should look elsewhere for a more peaceful
home.



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

Page 12: Changed "night" to "nights."
  (Orig: And how short those night were!)

Page 20: Changed "crusing" to "cruising."
  (Orig: crusing restlessly up and down the turf)

Page 23: Changed "noes" to "noses."
  (Orig: turned up our noes at such food)

Page 37: Changed "exhilirating" to "exhilarating."
  (Orig: It was most exhilirating to be wandering)

Page 40: Changed "thristing" to "thirsting."
  (Orig: stealthy enemy thristing for its blood)

Page 42: Changed "lucious" to "luscious."
  (Orig: every bit of the lucious morsel)

Page 53: Changed "malard" to "mallard."
  (Orig: a loud quack the malard disappeared)

Page 53: Changed "mallord" to "mallard."
  (Orig: How he enjoyed the mallord,)

Page 67: Changed "nothinginess" to "nothingness."
  (Orig: dwarf into nothinginess the annoyances)

Page 71: Changed "manteled" to "mantled."
  (Orig: skimmed the brake that manteled the steep slope)

Page 74: Changed "pursurers" to "pursuers."
  (Orig: I should be able to elude my pursurers)

Page 76: Changed "rocognized" to "recognized."
  (Orig: he rocognized the bedraggled cub)

Page 81: Changed "grievious" to "grievous."
  (Orig: Chief of these are the grievious losses)

Page 92: Changed "be" to "he."
  (Orig: killed by the pack; be was the man who,)

Page 103: Changed "waching" to "watching."
  (Orig: It was bitter work waching with the gale in your teeth,)

Page 132: Changed "pursurer" to "pursuer."
  (Orig: and saw my pursurer seemingly stuck)





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