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Title: Red Ben - the fox of Oak Ridge
Author: Lippincott, Joseph Wharton
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:                               Courtesy Black Fox Magazine
                      “Blackie instantly stopped”]



                                RED BEN
                          the fox of Oak Ridge


                                   by
                       Joseph Wharton Lippincott
                     _Author of_ BUN—a wild rabbit

                          [Illustration: Fox]

                      Illustrations by the author

                          THE PENN PUBLISHING
                          COMPANY PHILADELPHIA
                                  1919

                               COPYRIGHT
                                1919 BY
                                THE PENN
                               PUBLISHING
                                COMPANY

              [Illustration: RED BEN—THE FOX OF OAK RIDGE]


                      RED BEN—THE FOX OF OAK RIDGE


                                  _To
                         a true lover of nature
                              —my father_



                              INTRODUCTION


There is reason for the fox being termed the shrewdest of wild
creatures. Unlike the deer and other vegetarians whose dinners often
grow under their noses, he rarely gets a meal without outwitting other
animals. He lacks the climbing ability of the opossum, the sharp claws
of the lynx, the protective odor of the skunk, the diving powers of the
otter—he is indeed just a little wild dog, a wonderfully bright,
hardworking little animal whose cunning alone can lead him from his
enemies and keep away the pangs of hunger.

He has been so persistently hunted by man that he is almost untameable;
but as far as he dares to be, he is friendly under ordinary
circumstances and fond of wandering around man’s dwellings. Chicken
stealing is charged against him; but after all he holds the same
position in the animal world that the wise old crow does among the
birds—his good deeds and his crimes nearly balance. In “Bun, a Wild
Rabbit,” the fox appeared as one of many woods creatures encountered by
that doughty cottontail; but, to do him justice, a separate volume was
required.

Foxes are much more plentiful than generally supposed. It is almost safe
to say that wherever there are woods there are foxes, yet so wonderfully
clever are they that few are seen. Whoever can distinguish their tracks
from those of other animals is usually not disposed to tell of the
discovery of fox “sign.” The friend of the fox fears the fox’s enemy;
the trapper fears a competitor; and so the wily creature weaves his
trail endlessly about the country side, unwatched except by the very few
“who know.”

Imagination must play a part in making the story of a wild animal
complete, especially that of such an intensely shy and crafty creature
as a fox; but nothing is included here which does not fall within the
actual powers of the swift and wily red fox of today. Indeed there are
numbers of them very much like Red Ben. Parts of his story are written
in the snows of many woodlands besides Oak Ridge, and adventures such as
his are still happening in the quiet of moonlit nights.

As fast as man thinks out new methods of destruction, the fox finds
fresh tricks through which to escape. And may he ever escape! For when
the edges of our old fields no longer bear the imprint of his tireless
feet, when the woodlands that delighted his wild little heart have been
usurped by the tame dog and the tame cat, then indeed will have departed
half their charm, half the thrill of winter walks.

                                                                J. W. G.

Bethayres, Pa.



                                Contents


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
  I. The Coming of the Red Fox                                        13
  II. The Den                                                         20
  III. Learning to Hunt                                               35
  IV. Other Woodsfolk                                                 45
  V. Gray Fox                                                         56
  VI. A Long Chase                                                    67
  VII. Red Ben Is Alone                                               75
  VIII. The Woods Awake                                               83
  IX. Studying the Enemy                                              93
  X. Jim Crow’s Signal                                               101
  XI. How Others Hunt                                                110
  XII. Ben’s Hundred Dollar Fox                                      121
  XIII. Red Ben Travels                                              130
  XIV. Blackie                                                       138
  XV. Freedom Is Sweet                                               153
  XVI. The Road to the Sea                                           162
  XVII. The Other Fox                                                172
  XVIII. Home Again                                                  183



                             Illustrations


  “Blackie instantly stopped”                             _Frontispiece_
                                                                    PAGE
  Fox track                                                           18
  “A gray squirrel was watching her”                                  21
  “He became indignant”                                               39
  Coon tracks                                                         40
  “Flying Squirrel, one of the very nicest of the woodsfolk”          52
  “Gray Fox was waiting to trap him”                                  61
  Red Ben                                                             63
  Red Ben’s Mother                                                    72
  The Mole                                                            85
  Deer Mouse                                                          86
  Shrew                                                               86
  “’Possum fell over backwards”                                       90
  “They sat on their tails and held hands”                           113
  “Muskrat was busy pulling up grass”                                115
  “A turkey buzzard had been circling over him”                      133
  “They tore at each other through the wire”                         140
  “She stood on the threshold of the pen”                            154
  “Two coons who were having a loud altercation”                     163
  ’Possum tracks                                                     166
  “Holding to a limb with all four feet”                             185



                                RED BEN,
                          The Fox of Oak Ridge



                               CHAPTER I
                       THE COMING OF THE RED FOX


In the state of New Jersey there are still thousands of acres of
low-lying woodlands, called pine barrens, where man has done little
except chop down a few trees. Slowly but surely, however, the farmers
are each year pushing their clearings deeper into this section,
gradually overcoming the last barriers which Nature sets up to protect
her own.

Ben Slown was one of these farmers. When the forest had been cut, he
built a square house and a square barn. He planted straight-rowed
orchards, he fenced in square, flat fields. He succeeded so well in
stamping out all the natural loveliness that other practical farmers
came there to start practical farms like his.

Soon there was a village; but Ben Slown’s square fields and the edge of
the wild, interesting Pine Barrens were never separated, because no plow
could conquer Oak Ridge and Cranberry Swamp.

The Ridge was a long mound covered with laurel, pines and white oaks.
Cranberry Swamp, on the other hand, was low, wet ground which bore a
nearly impenetrable mass of greenery, largely made up of tall cedars,
holly bushes and cat briars. Through the swamp flowed a little creek in
whose deep eddies green waterweeds swung with the current, giving
glimpses now and then of turtles and slender, watchful pike.

When Ben Slown first planned to come to the Pine Barrens, his friends
gloomily shook their heads.

“The foxes and other varmints will drive you out,” they warned. “You
won’t be able to raise a chicken. The coons and crows will eat your
corn. The woodchucks will destroy your vegetables. There are critters
enough in the Barrens to keep you from being lonely, but they won’t be
the kind of neighbors you want.”

“You just watch me,” boasted the farmer, “I’ll fix the varmints.”

He was no sooner settled in his new place than he began to put traps and
poison around the cleared ground. All the little creatures that still
lived there, and the others which came out of the woods at night to
marvel at the strange new things to be seen—mice, snakes, birds,
rabbits, mink, muskrats, woodchucks, coons, possums, skunks, foxes, deer
and a lot of others—all suffered the same ill-treatment. But most of all
he feared and hated the foxes, for they were clever enough to give him a
little trouble. One after another was destroyed, however, and the farmer
was having everything his own way when all at once there was a newcomer
on the Ridge.

This was a red fox, a beautiful creature several inches taller than any
of the gray foxes that lived in the Barrens. She found the farmer’s
poisoned baits, but instead of taking them she took a chicken, and that
right before his face.

This was the first fowl a fox had taken from Ben Slown, and therefore he
complained all the more loudly; so loudly indeed that the neighbors
began to think the destruction of the red fox the only thing that
interested him. Instead of asking about his health, whoever met him
would say, “Well, Ben, have you caught that pesky fox yet?” or perhaps,
“Say, Ben, that old red fox of yours is bothering me now. Why don’t you
keep her at home?”

Ben would mutter something, then pass on, his brows puckered from
worrying over how to get rid of her. He might have worried far more had
he known that in a burrow near the south end of Oak Ridge the red fox
had four fine little fox pups.

Weeks went by, and still the fox and her tracks were seen occasionally,
and still the farmer worried over that chicken he had lost. Then, one
fine day, when the mice seemed scarce and the pups were very hungry, the
fox dashed among the hens and took away another, this time a big white
one.

[Illustration: Fox Track.]

The farm yard was in an uproar. Chickens cackled and rushed about, cows
mooed, sheepdogs barked, and Ben Slown, snatching his rifle from the
rack, shot twice at the fox before she reached the woods, two fields
away.

He was too much excited to aim well; the bullets went wild and the fox
went on. The farmer, however, would not believe he had made a clean
miss. Out to the fields he ran to see if a tuft of fur could be found on
the ground.

He was walking around and around, growing more and more angry because
where the fox had been he found only the white feathers of his pet hen,
when out from the woods burst a neighboring farmer.

“Ben,” this man called, “Ben, get your shovel, quick! I’ve just found
the red fox’s den!”



                               CHAPTER II
                                THE DEN


When the fox was making her wild rush to the woods, with the white hen
held high in her strong jaws, she was thinking more about the four
hungry pups in the home burrow than about the fuss she had left behind
in the farmyard. In the friendly shelter of the woods, however, she
began to feel very uneasy about it all. Everything had certainly gone
wrong.

She laid down the limp body of the hen and looked back. Through the
laurel and the straight trunks of the pines she could see the flat
stretch of the fields she had just left. Ben Slown’s hurrying figure was
there, but too far back to worry her now. There were no dogs loose,
nothing else moving except three crows that were circling to find out
what had happened to arouse the farmer.

[Illustration: “A gray squirrel was watching her”]

Ahead of her lay Oak Ridge and the Swamp. What breeze there was came
from that direction, laden with the smell of sweet fern. Still she felt
uneasy. Her quick ear caught the scratching of claws on bark—a red
headed woodpecker was examining a dead oak; that was all right. So also
was the barking of a gray squirrel which was watching her from the limb
of a pine. But why were the blue jays calling so loudly on the Ridge?
Perhaps some enemy was near the pups.

Quickly picking up the hen she galloped towards the Ridge in that
wonderfully silent way known only to the wild things.

She did not know that, though her own graceful body fitted into the
woods like an illusive shadow, the white hen stood out like a beacon
light. She did not know that on the Ridge it caught the eye of a friend
of Ben Slown and held it while she circled the den and then called out
the puppies to the feast. Her mother love had indeed overcome natural
caution.

The den was nothing more than the enlarged burrow of an old woodchuck,
who, years before, had been driven from the fields below. To the four
puppies, however, it was all that a home ought to be. Wonderful to these
was its narrow passage with the half turn at the end and the snug bed so
far from the dangers of the world outside; wonderful too its collection
of feathers and pieces of fur which told of happy feasts; but best of
all was the sandy, sun bathed entrance in which they had basked and
played on never to be forgotten May mornings in their early puppyhood.

Their father had never come to Oak Ridge to help the mother in feeding
and protecting them. To her tireless energy they owed everything.
Therefore to her they looked for everything, and she had never
disappointed them. Nor would she ever disappoint them as long as they
needed her and there was breath in her faithful body, for such is mother
love in the fox world!

Here Ben Slown’s pet white hen found her last resting place. Into the
mouth of the den, among the waiting pups, she was dropped, feathers and
all, and down their little throats she passed, piece-by-piece, amid
growling and crunching and pulling and fighting, for in no other way did
they know how to show their thorough enjoyment.

A glorious feast it was! And when they were through, the mother, who had
all this time been on guard, picked up for her share the bones that were
left. She was still nosing about among the feathers when a man’s cough,
from somewhere below in the woods, gave sudden warning of danger. Down
she crouched, motionless in a moment; and without need of further
signal, into the den tumbled the frightened pups.

The mother waited, with ears pointed to catch the slightest new sound.
In the burrow behind her appeared a small head with ears cocked in the
same way. Both heard the crack of a breaking twig.

Now the old fox slipped into the bushes and cautiously circled until she
caught the scent of Farmer Slown and his friend, and heard their clothes
scraping through the bushes. Amid the laurel she caught a glimpse of
them sneaking along as noiselessly as they knew how to, the farmer in
the lead, holding his long gun. They certainly looked as if they meant
mischief.

Between them and the den the anxious fox ran to lead them away. A dog
would have followed her in a rush, but the men were so busy in
“pussy-footing” that they did not see her pass.

“Now,” whispered Ben’s friend, “look for the den right above that bunch
of bushes ahead. Careful!”

Ben looked. First he saw a lot of white feathers which made him growl to
himself; then he made out the mouth of the burrow, and last of all the
sharp nose and bright eyes of the inquisitive pup. Ben looked at the pup
and the pup looked back at him; neither had ever seen the other before,
but fate had already decreed that they should meet often in the days to
come. And so they watched each other now, until a fluffy feather, a
beautiful white one, was picked up by an eddy of wind and whirled around
and around the little fox’s head.

That reminded Ben of his troubles. He threw his rifle to his shoulder,
only to find that at his first movement the pup had vanished in the
burrow.

“Shucks! You little varmint!” he muttered. “We’ll get you all right. Up
with the shovel, John, and let’s see dirt fly. Remember though, when we
get the pups, that sharp faced one must be mine. He thinks he’s smart.”

Friend John took off his coat and dug with a will, while Ben sat on the
wheat sack they had brought along to put the pups in. Both became
greatly excited at actually having the young red foxes in their power.
After the friend had dug a long while he looked inquiringly at Ben.

“When are you going to do a little digging yourself, Ben?” he asked
suspiciously. Ben saw that the end was nearly reached, so took up the
shovel with a laugh. The bag he stuffed well into the burrow to stop it
up and to keep any fox from dashing out.

Meanwhile the four pups were cowering against the wall of earth at the
very end of their home. Three were in one corner and the inquisitive one
in another, all listening to the shovel coming nearer and nearer. Every
time it jarred on a stone, the shivers ran up and down their spines; but
they could do nothing, the burrow had no outlet besides the one the men
were in.

Ben had a very healthy fear of being bitten; therefore the sight of the
first little fox unnerved him completely. He knew that all of them were
lightning quick, like bombshells on four legs. But Ben was cunning. He
quickly thought out an elaborate plan of capture.

First of all he threw several shovels of earth over them, and pushed it
in solidly so that they were buried tight. After that they could not
move until Ben’s big hand picked them out by the scruff of the neck, one
at a time.

The first poor, scared little fellow glared and kicked, but was somehow
stuffed into the empty wheat sack. Two more followed him in the same
way. Then the exultant farmer felt all around in the earth for more, and
found none. He dug a little and felt around again. His hand slipped
along the flank of the last pup, the inquisitive one that had crawled
into a far corner of the den.

Suspicious at once, Ben poked a little farther. Had the little fox
growled or moved an inch, or even trembled, he would have been
discovered. But the loose, cold earth was mixed with his fur and his
body was as rigid as the side of the burrow. Ben’s fingers at last moved
on and the danger was past.

“Have you really got them all?” the other man asked.

“Every one!” growled Ben, getting up and giving the bag a shake. “Fill
up the hole a bit, John, so no old cow can break her leg in it.”

Some minutes later the men reached the fields with their precious bag.
Here Ben passed it over for his friend to carry awhile, and the latter
took his first peep inside.

“Why, there are only three here!” he exclaimed. “I saw at least four
when the old vixen carried that hen of yours to the den. You’ve
certainly left one. Good thing we buried him. Back we’ll have to go.”

Meanwhile, however, there was frantic work going on at the den. The
mother, who during the digging had been anxiously running to and fro in
cover of the bushes, crept cautiously to the ruined home as soon as the
men had left. She found a great ugly hole, with fresh dirt on all sides,
but no sign of the happy pups who used to welcome her.

Around and around the lonely creature wandered, hunting with all her
mother’s love. At last she jumped into the partly filled hole and
sniffed and dug a little and then sniffed some more and listened.
Something there suggested to her to dig deeper. So she set to work in
earnest, tearing up the loose dirt with her forepaws and pulling it back
in a heap behind her.

Every little while she jumped out to look around, then whisked back to
her work, until at last she heard the buried pup sniffing and burrowing
in his prison. Now she dug as she had never dug before, spurred by noisy
activity of the little fox, who knew perfectly well that his mother was
trying to reach him.

Rip, rip, rip, went her claws through the last strip of earth, and out
popped the head of the pup, only to be seized and pulled almost off his
body in his mother’s haste to get him out. She had heard the men coming.

The heavy pup was almost more than the old fox could carry; but somehow
she dragged him out of the hole and leaped for the bushes, pulling him
along by the loose skin at the back of his neck. The sudden shouts from
the surprised men only served to spur her on, not, as they hoped, to
make her drop her burden.

She knew the farmer had a gun. Bang! She was not hurt! The bullet only
tore up the ground behind her. Bang! Another shot whizzed past. And then
her jaws slipped on the pup’s neck and she dropped him.

The little fox rolled over, caught his balance and began to run entirely
on his own hook. His legs were a bit wabbly, he did not know just where
to go, but how he did work to get away! Into the bushes he went and on
to more bushes; and then, right before him, he found his mother loping
along, a safe, loving guide. His little heart beat easier then, but on
he went, ever following that beautiful furry tail with the pure white
tip. On and on and on, the two ran into the heart of Cranberry Swamp and
to safety.



                              CHAPTER III
                            LEARNING TO HUNT


The pup went to sleep beside his mother in a bed of leaves under a
fallen tree. With her there, he did not feel cold nor miss the other
pups so much. He wondered where they were and would not have been
surprised had they joined him at any moment; but his mother knew they
were gone forever. Her joy at having this one little fellow left to her
was almost pitiful. All through the long night she cuddled and tenderly
licked him.

Just as the sky began to brighten for the day, she slipped out to get a
drink and something to eat. A little distance from the fallen tree was a
path. Here she made her first stop, to examine the ground and find out
what creatures had passed that way during the night. Moving slowly, with
her keen nose to the earth, she suddenly became aware of something
following her. Around she whirled with teeth bared for defense, only to
find herself looking into the mild, half ashamed eyes of the pup who,
too lonely to stay in the bed, had noiselessly crept after her.

He hung his head now and looked wistfully at his mother until she licked
his nose to show she forgave him and would let him come with her. In
this way he started on his first big hunt.

A rabbit had travelled the path shortly before them, so the mother moved
with caution. Whenever she sniffed at the fresh tracks, the pup, who
followed close at her heels, sniffed too and understood perfectly well
that a rabbit was near. When she at last sighted Bunny and crouched, the
pup copied her movement exactly, and when she leaped he sprang too, all
atremble with excitement. The old rabbit jumped quickly enough to get
away, but the pup saw him and enjoyed all the thrills of his first
chase.

Farther on they met a black and white skunk ambling home to his den. The
pup, seeing him far ahead, crouched in readiness for attack. Here was a
beautiful creature, no larger than the rabbit, actually coming towards
him as though it wanted to be caught for breakfast. It never occurred to
him that the skunk was a privileged character in the woods, whom foxes
as well as smaller and larger animals had learned to let pass with
plenty of room between. The mother, however, knew all about skunks and
saw that trouble was coming. She rushed at the pup, nipped his ear and
fairly shouldered him out of the way of the other animal.

The skunk saw at once that all the disturbance was only over a young fox
who had not sense enough to know that every path belonged to him.
Therefore, he passed grandly, without even slackening his pace or
changing his direction one inch.

[Illustration: “He became indignant”]

The pup, sniffing along the trail behind him, caught a disagreeable,
musky smell which told, far better than his eyes could, that this animal
was to be left alone. He followed him very carefully at what seemed a
safe distance, until he became indignant and whirled half around with
feathery tail straight in the air. That was warning enough to satisfy
even the pup’s inquisitive mind, so he turned back with a bound and
found his mother sitting in the path amusedly watching him. She saw that
the little fox had already learned caution—the most important lesson of
the woods.

A few yards farther they circled a marshy place where spring frogs were
singing merrily; “peep, peep—peep,” they sang, over and over again.
There seemed to be one piping from the bank, almost under the pup’s
nose, but he could not find it, nor could he find any of the others, for
they were in the water with only their small noses and eyes stuck out
behind the blades of grass and twigs.

[Illustration: Coon Tracks]

The old fox examined the mud for tracks, satisfied herself that those
she found were made by a coon and not by man or dog, then turned to look
for the pup. He was in the act of springing on something he had found in
the grass. Up went his front paws, and then down he came right on top of
a mouse which had been feeding on winter dried cranberries clinging to
vines near the water. The pup had smelled it and found its hiding place
all by himself. Now he tussled with the furry little creature until it
had squeaked its last squeak.

The mother let him eat it all, then led away to Goose Creek. Here the
incautious pup surprised a great blue heron in the act of catching a
minnow. With a mighty flapping of big wings the scared bird started over
the water, his long legs tucked up under his tail, his neck doubled
back, so that it seemed only half its real length. When he got well
away, his angry challenge—“u-r-g-h-h-, u-r-g-h, urgh, urgh”—could be
heard all over Cranberry Swamp, warning his mate and all the other birds
and animals, too, that there was danger lurking near.

A red squirrel ran out on a limb nearby to see what had disturbed the
old fisherman. Two crows circled cautiously in that direction, a pair of
wood ducks sprang from a pool below and winged their way up the creek
towards a safer feeding ground; the frogs stopped peeping, and the lone
kingfisher, sitting on a stub in the stream, enjoying the first rays of
the morning sun, darted away with a rattling scream.

It was a wonderful lesson to the pup. It taught him that he must be
careful not to disturb any creature that can spread alarm and excite the
whole wood. It awoke in him the true fox nature which prompts the wisest
of them to travel with all the noiseless stealth of a crafty Indian. He
found out then what he saw more and more clearly the longer he lived,
that there is a bond joining together the woods folk into one great
family, for mutual protection.

He was the one feared, the outcast, this time; but at another time it
might be a man with a gun, or a big hound, whom he would flee from, when
warned, with the same dread as Blue Heron.

Now, he slunk back of some bushes and waited there while the noise and
excitement died down.

Red Squirrel, however, kept his bright eyes on him, and fussed and
scolded, without a stop. To him the branches were just like so many
paths, over which he could run like the wind from one tree to another,
until he reached the little hole in the hollow cedar he lived in, or
dashed to another safe little hole under the roots of a magnolia, not
far away. Therefore, when he was off the ground, why should he fear a
fox, especially a young one like this? “Bur-r-r-r-r-r-r,” he fairly
shouted as he danced and fumed first on one limb, then on one nearer,
until so close overhead that the fox could see the four sharp teeth with
which he gnawed nuts so easily.

There was something, however, which Red Squirrel had not thought about.
With a young fox, or with any young animal, there is usually a mother.
The annoying little nut eater had one glimpse of a red streak flinging
itself at him from behind, then in a fright he lost his footing on the
low limb, fell into the bushes, and had to run with all his might to get
up the next tree without being punished. Very quiet after that, he let
the foxes trot off unmolested.



                               CHAPTER IV
                            OTHER WOODSFOLK


The mother led the way towards the nest under the fallen tree, but was
stopped in the old path by the sound of a man’s footsteps. Quickly she
slipped into the bushes. The pup was not sure what to do. However, when
he saw Farmer Ben’s friend, John, stalking down the path, he scrambled
out of the way in a hurry.

“Well, if there isn’t Ben’s little sharp-nosed fox!” muttered the man in
surprise. “Ben’s fox! Ha, ha. I should like to see Ben catch him now!”
He saw how wonderfully the wild little animal melted away among the
shadows, then he stalked off with many a shake of the head as he thought
of his chickens at home.

Everyone he met after that had to be told the good joke about the den
and Ben’s sharp-nosed fox, so the story spread, and “Ben’s fox” became
for a time the special joy of all the village gossips, who liked Ben
none too well. Those whom he had angered with sly bargains in the past,
said that he himself was like a cunning fox—a _black_ one; so it was a
fox against a fox. “Black Ben against Red Ben,” someone of doubtful wit
expressed it. This amused a number of the boys, and at once gave the
little red fox a nickname. Through all his later career he was known as
Red Ben.

When people good naturedly teased Ben Slown, who never could enjoy a
joke on himself, he grew more and more surly. He soon saw that, until he
caught the foxes, he would always be plagued, especially when someone
lost a chicken. So he began to scheme and set more traps. He had always
hated foxes, but never more bitterly than now.

With little suspicion of this, the mother was teaching Red Ben the
tricks that every wise fox must know. Night after night they hunted mice
together, or lay in wait for fat muskrats in the swamp, or chased big
Bun or the other cottontail rabbits.

Often they played in the moonlight and wrestled and rolled by the hour
in a sandy hillock near the Ridge. Both thoroughly enjoyed this. The
usual game was a mock fight. The mother would rush at the pup and roll
him head over heels, then hold him to the ground while he tried with all
his might to break away. Sometimes she would pretend to bite a foot or a
leg, or to tear an ear, he meanwhile striving to protect himself.

At first she was very careful not to hurt him, but as he grew stronger
he also gained a wonderful quickness which often surprised the mother,
whose own motions, although almost like lightning, were soon no match
for his. Then the games became wildly exciting. The pup could escape the
old fox’s rushes, and himself nip and worry and trip and get away, and
then roll over and over with her, in a lightning battle to get the
throat-hold which ended every game.

All this was splendid training for Red Ben. He could practice all kinds
of fighting tricks and learn how to deal with an animal larger and
stronger than himself. Had his little brothers lived to be his
playmates, he might never have had this experience, which meant so much
to him later on.

His cleverness and growing strength made him a wonderful companion for
the old fox. She would go nowhere without him, and began to rely more
and more on his help in their hunts.

It happened that wild strawberries were especially good that year, and
so were eaten occasionally by the foxes, who picked up those the village
children did not find. After them the cherries ripened, and the big
mulberry tree at the corner of Ben Slown’s fence began to drop delicious
fruit. Fat robins, starlings and black birds picked their share, but at
night, especially after a rain heavy enough to knock down a good supply,
the Oak Ridge animals fairly swarmed around the mulberry tree.

The shy red foxes usually reached it after the last sign of the sun had
left the sky, so it was not strange that on one evening they found there
ahead of them one of the deer from Cranberry Swamp with her two spotted
fawns. The watchful doe scented them, gave one quick snort and led the
fawns away in great bounds, for fear they were in danger. All three
leaped over the field fence as if it had been a bush in the path.

The rush of the deer to cover frightened two rabbits just as the foxes
came cautiously out of the wood. Away dashed Red Ben to head them off,
but too late. When he returned, a huge coon hurried to the tree and
began to swallow mulberries as fast as he could pick them up. The mother
fox, however, took no notice of old Ring Tail, and he was too busy to
worry over the foxes just then.

Up in the tree, Red Ben heard an occasional squeak, and soon spied a
little brown squirrel which was quite the prettiest creature he had ever
seen. While he watched, it suddenly sprang into the air with feet
outstretched and sailed to a fence post near the wood; there it alighted
almost as softly as a leaf, looking so much like a clinging piece of
bark that the pup could hardly believe it was anything alive. This was
Flying Squirrel, one of the very nicest of the woodsfolk.

While he was busy with the juicy mulberries the pup did not keep a very
good watch behind him, and so was surprised suddenly to find White
Stripe, the skunk, nosing around close by. He, too, liked the
mulberries, it seemed. The fox kept one eye on him, but found he
attended strictly to his own business.

A moment later a furry gray creature, nearly his own size, came
stealthily along the fence. The pup was worried and ready to run at the
slightest sign from his mother, but she kept right on nosing about, and
old Possum joined the feeding. He, however, crawled up the big tree,
where he wandered from limb to limb, picking off the ripest fruit and
often by mistake knocking down some to the creatures below.

[Illustration: “Flying Squirrel, one of the very nicest of the
woodsfolk”]

It was a weird assemblage that the moon looked down upon that night. Two
small coons came from the swamp with their mother for a hurried look
around; White Stripe’s mate, a wonderful white skunk, also appeared, and
a brown screech owl sat on a nearby pine limb to watch and whinny
softly, so that his mate, who was looking for mice farther along the
fence, might always know where to find him.

By this time Red Ben knew most of the wood creatures, and they knew him.
Ringtail, Possum, White Stripe and Screech Owl were hunters; like
himself they preferred meat to grass, fruit, roots and nuts. Although
each had a scent entirely his own, each also had the “hunter” smell,
quite different from the meadow mice, who lived on seeds and grass, or
from Red Squirrel, who ate nuts, mushrooms and buds. Quite different too
from the deer and from Bun, the big rabbit who lived near one of the
farm gardens and enjoyed parsnips, string beans and other vegetables,
whenever the clover was scarce.

The woodsfolk could be divided into two big families—the first one made
up of those who hunt and the other of those who are hunted. The hunters
get used to seeing each other and to running across each other’s trails
at night. As long as there is food enough for all, they rarely quarrel;
but jealousy and suspicion keep them from being real friends. Red Ben
did not think of playing with the young coons; nor would young skunks
have interested him at all as playmates.

The four-footed hunters all had teeth very much like those of a dog or a
cat, while the little animals that they hunted had gnawing teeth, like
those of the mouse. Even the woodchuck and the muskrat had gnawing
teeth; they liked to eat grass and tender roots. Screech Owl and other
hunters among the birds, from big Bald Eagle all the way down to little
Sparrow Hawk, had hooked beaks and long sharp claws or talons, with
which to catch their prey.



                               CHAPTER V
                                GRAY FOX


At first Red Ben saw no other foxes, and rarely came across the tracks
of any, for Ben Slown’s traps did their work well. There was, however,
one cunning old fellow who paid a visit to the Ridge whenever there was
especially good hunting weather. With him, on one never to be forgotten
night in late August, Red Ben had an adventure.

He and his mother had gone to Ben Slown’s fields to hunt the little
short tailed meadow mice which were so plentiful there that their paths
had been gnawed through the grass in every direction. They had caught
two, and were once more entering Oak Ridge wood, when Red Ben noticed
that his mother hesitated to go farther and kept anxiously looking into
the shadows. He heard a deer snort; then, in the half darkness of the
wood, he caught the glint of two eyes.

This new creature was certainly no coon or possum; the eyes were higher
above the ground than either of these would hold its head. Quickly it
moved into the moonlight and showed itself to be a fox, not unlike the
mother in form, but gray in color, with reddish legs and a tail entirely
lacking the beautiful roundness of the red fox’s.

Instinctively the pup stood as straight and tall as he could, while
along his back the hair fairly tingled with dislike. He saw his mother
try to slip away, and then crouch suddenly with ears back and warning
whine. He saw Gray Fox trot up, walk around her, and then bare his teeth
in a snarl that sent off the soft-eyed mother in a hurry. How his heart
pounded then, and how the fury welled up in his breast!

Gray Fox next turned in the direction of Red Ben, but stopped short when
he found the young fox facing him without flinching. Stiff legged and
disdainful he slowly walked forward, and got the surprise of his life as
Red Ben flew at him like a fury, bit him on the side of the head, again
on the foot when he reared up, and then on the tip of his precious nose.
Back he staggered, snarling angrily, but scarcely knowing what to do.

Then Red Ben, remembering well the holds his mother had taught in their
games, flew at his thick neck, caught the heavy, loose skin behind the
ear and closed his sharp teeth until they nearly met.

Gray Fox’s red eyes glared back at him furiously, as he struggled this
way and that, but he could not turn to bite while those jaws kept their
hold. Fear grew until he was in a panic. What if the mother fox were to
return now and fall on him from behind? He threw himself on the ground,
then rolled over, clawing like a cat, and dragging Red Ben down with him
so suddenly that all the breath was knocked out of him and his fine hold
loosened.

This gave Gray Fox a wonderful chance. He was the first on his feet. He
leaped for the throat hold.

Red Ben, still gasping, was pinned to the ground, almost throttled. The
big, heavy enemy had all the advantage—it never had been an equal fight,
and now Red Ben was down.

Oh, if his mother would only come! That wonderful, faithful, swift
little mother who could be so very fierce when he was in danger. Somehow
the very thought of her gave him courage. He made one mighty kick and at
the same instant snapped at the fat ear of the beast above.

Luck was with him; he nipped its tender edge, and Gray Fox gave a
scream. The jaws were loosened, and in that instant Red Ben’s lightning
speed saved him. He rolled over, leaped to his feet and shot away.
Dizzily he circled some bushes, with the other close behind; then
something warned him to stop. Gray Fox had vanished.

[Illustration: “Gray Fox was waiting to trap him”]

Had he not been a red fox, raised by one of the wisest of mothers, Red
Ben would probably have made a fatal mistake, for, well hidden behind
the bushes, Gray Fox was waiting to trap him when he came around. The
thing was planned so well that had Red Ben kept on, he would almost have
walked into the other’s mouth.

Just in time he guessed the trick and crouched to look all around. He
was out of breath; he could hardly stop his panting to listen. His neck
ached and strained muscles quivered, but what mattered that, when he was
free and able to match wits against wits?

Often his mother had hidden this way to catch him in their games. He
remembered now that she had always lain in wait somewhere ahead,
therefore Gray Fox would do the same—the safest road was that by which
he had come.

Dodging bushes and shadowy places he started back. There was no sound,
no movement anywhere ahead; the noise and fury of the fight had scared
away the other wild things and even quieted the night singing insects.
Red Ben himself felt the awe of it all. He moved without stirring a
leaf, at first in a cautious trot, then a gallop and at last a full run.
Faster, faster—until on the hard woods path he let out every ounce of
speed he had. It was the wonderful speed of the red fox, no longer just
a cub.

[Illustration: Red Ben]

Gray Fox was left far behind: and to prevent his following the trail,
Red Ben made circles in the dense swamp, circles that went around and
around with apparently no end, for he leaped far to one side before
shooting away to his old haunt by the fallen tree.

Here he crouched, waiting for whatever might happen next. Had Gray Fox
been able to follow him, Red Ben would have fought to the death. He was
on home ground here; he would run no more. His spirit had not been
broken; far from it! From the bottom of his heart he despised the big
gray bully. He hated the strong smell of him still lingering in his
nostrils. But he knew Gray Fox was the stronger.

When, after hours of searching, his mother at last found him, the fierce
glitter was still in his eyes. He was crouching in the same spot,
watching with all the intense excitement of the young creature which,
for the first time, is forced to take care of itself in a big world.

Anxiously sniffing his head and neck, the old fox quickly learned
through the scent much of the story of the fight. She found the cuts
about the throat and licked them free from poison. She also licked off
the dirt that still clung to his soft fur, looked him all over for other
scars, and then mothered him until his high strung nerves were soothed
and he limped stiffly after her for a sleep under the fallen tree.

While he curled up in a round ball, with head buried between his fluffy
tail and the even softer fur of his flank, the mother kept watch. She
too was curled up in a tight, comfortable little ball, but she kept her
chin resting on her fluffy tail so that her nose and eyes as well as
both ears could be on guard.

The moon had gone down, and around them now were the blackness and the
stillness of that weird part of the night which comes just before the
light of day. Night prowlers, large and small, were resting, waiting for
the Sun’s signal which would drive them to their beds. Day loving
creatures felt the coming of the dawn, but dared not stir yet. The red
fox’s eyes drowsily closed, then opened with a snap: from far away
floated the clear baying of a hound.



                               CHAPTER VI
                              A LONG CHASE


Well the mother knew what that baying meant. Months before she had left
her own hills beyond the big river, to escape the keen scented hounds
and to raise her family here in the Pine Barrens, unmolested by them.
Had one at last traced her? Was he on her trail now, following her
footprints unerringly to the fallen tree?

She looked at the sleeping pup. He certainly could not take care of
himself in a long chase. If the hound found where they were, she would
have to run for both of them. But she must wait until there was no doubt
that he was on her trail and not following Gray Fox or some other woods
creature.

For an hour she lay there, while the musical notes of the hound rang out
in the breezeless morning air. He was working out a difficult trail, the
one left by Red Ben in his night escape. How well those circles had been
made! But circles could only delay, not stop a trailer like this hound.
The oftener he found himself going around in aimless rings, the more
determined he grew, until at last he was working along the swamp
dangerously near the foxes.

Red Ben was wide awake, but understood that he was to hide there while
his mother took care of the dog. He had never seen a hound, so was full
of curiosity. Just as he had once watched Ben Slown from the mouth of
the burrow, he now peeped between the limbs of the old tree to see the
lanky black and white creature with the flapping ears come roaring up
the trail.

Behind the hound came Farmer Slown’s woolly dog Shep and a white fox
terrier. Their noses were not keen enough for trailing, so they
encouraged the hound to do the work while they enjoyed the fun of it.
Red Ben had seen them before; they usually accompanied the farmer in his
walks.

Instinctively he knew then that Farmer Slown was somehow connected with
the hound and this hunt. He was instantly more than ever on the alert;
undoubtedly the farmer was somewhere near.

Through the bushes came the clumsy dogs, with a great crashing of dry
twigs, quite different from Red Ben’s silent way of moving. He could see
the excited glare of their eyes, the red tongues and white teeth. The
hound, a huge creature, seemed to guess the fallen tree was a “foxy”
place: nose in air, he turned to it, full of suspicion. The other dogs
followed expectantly.

Red Ben’s heart beat against his ribs. Should he run? Did they see him?
Something inside him seemed to warn, “wait, wait, don’t move!”

And then a wild cry of joy came from the little fox terrier. He had seen
the mother. She had deliberately run past him to draw attention from the
pup, but he did not have sense enough to guess that. With another yell
he bounded after her, and after him came Shep. The hound alone stood
there doubtfully, but he could not bear to be left alone. With a mighty
bellow from his deep lungs he too rushed after the old fox, and went
crashing towards Oak Ridge on the fresh trail.

Again Red Ben had escaped. He heard the hound go farther and farther
into the Barrens; fainter came the baying, always fainter until it died
away entirely.

The swamp once more breathed freely and naturally. Blue jays called,
flickers whinnied, two of Red Squirrel’s cousins came out of their hole
under a cedar root, Gray Squirrel was calling out, “Fee-we-e-e-e-k, kek,
kek, kek, fee-wee-e-e-e-k”—everywhere within sight things seemed
peaceful and happy.

Yet, somewhere in the Pine Barrens, Red Ben knew his mother was running
on and on, with death on her trail. One slim red fox against three dogs.
Would she ever come back?

[Illustration: Red Ben’s Mother]

Red Ben crept from under the tree and looked all around. The red
squirrels scolded at him, but he did not notice them; he had made up his
mind to follow his mother. Full of trouble and scarcely knowing where to
go, he at last wandered to Oak Ridge. Through its leafy tangles he
trotted, in the direction he had last heard the hound. A branch of the
old woods path ran here, and with the instinct of the fox to take always
the best road, he followed it.

Suddenly, however, something unfamiliar appeared ahead and caused him to
stop as if frozen. It did not move, he could not make out what it was,
but he knew that never before had it been there when he followed this
path.

Cautiously he slipped into the woods and circled until he caught the
scent on the faint breeze. One sniff was enough. It was Farmer Slown!

Away ran Red Ben, not knowing, however, how narrow had been his escape.
Ben Slown, gun in hand, was sitting there watching the trail. At that
moment he was looking in the other direction, whence he expected the
mother to run ahead of the hound.

Red Ben knew now the danger of moving about in daytime. At night man is
asleep or else blundering about blinded by the dark. His traps and his
poisoned baits may do harm then, but he himself is made harmless. There
is not a creature of the wild that does not learn this.

To Red Ben the world seemed full of enemies. He dared not go farther,
nor wander back; so he crouched in the laurel bushes and waited. And
then he heard, far away, the baying of the hound. Nearer it came. It
thrilled the young fox: he knew his mother was not far off.



                              CHAPTER VII
                            RED BEN IS ALONE


Nervously Red Ben wandered out of the laurel and up the Ridge. Something
seemed to lead him in that direction. Ahead rang the clear notes of the
eager hound and another sound, the sharp yelp of Shep; the fox terrier
had dropped far behind. Then Red Ben caught a glimpse of a brilliantly
red body weaving its way among the laurel clumps, his mother, at last!

Down the Ridge he loped to meet her, into her path, directly before her.
Joyfully he sprang to lick her lips in greeting.

She stopped, but only for an instant. Her mouth was open, the hot breath
came in quick pants, and her beautiful tail dragged the ground.

Had something gone wrong? Red Ben had only to listen to the coming hound
to know. In her own hilly country beyond the river, the mother could
have dodged the dogs and lost them among the rocks, but on this luckless
morning in the flat Barrens, when there was no wind, and when the damp
ground held the scent no matter how she broke and twisted the trail,
they could not be shaken off.

She loped bravely on, with Red Ben close behind. On the Ridge, every
part of which she knew so well, it might be possible to fool the hound
before her strength gave way. She went to the top, then tried the trick
of making two circles and running back on her trail until there was a
good chance to leap far to one side. If the dogs did not see her, nor
find where the trail began again after her great leap, she would be
safe. Up to this time Red Ben had stayed with her, listening, watching,
scheming as he ran. Now he deliberately went in the other direction,
leaving the double track just in time to miss being seen. Up the Ridge
behind him rushed the dogs in full cry. But suddenly there was quiet;
they were trying to unravel the trail at the place where the foxes
doubled back.

When next Red Ben heard them they were strangely near. He ran to the
other side of the Ridge, but heard them still—they were following him!
No longer was the mother between. It was Red Ben now who had to show his
cunning.

Down to Cranberry Swamp he ran and through it to a log he knew about,
which lay across Goose Creek. Beyond this was more swamp and then
another long stretch of the Pine Barrens.

Red Ben, hot, mud splashed and winded, was loping through the Barrens,
clambering under fallen trees, running along the tops of logs and doing
everything else he could think of to make the trail hard to follow, when
all at once an animal sprang up from its bed almost under his nose.

Red Ben whirled back as he recognized the furious snarl of Gray Fox! The
hound and Shep could be no worse than this enemy. What ill luck had
brought him here? He ran the way he had come, dodging under the fallen
trees as before, until close ahead he heard the dogs, coming surely and
fast. Then with a mighty leap to one side, such as his mother had made,
he left a gap in the trail and ran in a new direction. The hound lost
his trail, found the fresh one of Gray Fox, and after a moment’s
hesitation followed it straight away into the Pine Barrens. Red Ben was
saved!

Now he could rest and enjoy the music of the chase and wonder how Gray
Fox liked it all; but soon he started back to find his mother. Fear was
gone. He had done big things.

Night found Red Ben still alone. The old fox had not come to the bed
under the fallen tree in Cranberry Swamp, so all alone he curled up and
slept. Towards morning he crawled stiffly out and wandered over to the
Ridge. It was strangely quiet and deserted there too. Red Ben stood
beside a great oak and called. It was just a short, lonely cry, but had
the mother heard it she would have answered and come bounding to find
him.

For a long time he waited there, hopefully. Then he called again and
waited, and still again; but that time there was such a lonely wail in
the cry that Jim Crow and his mate came flying over, to find out what
was going on. They saw Red Ben crouching miserably against the butt of
the old oak, and at once set up a great cawing.

If there is anything unusual happening in the woods, a crow will call
together all the other crows within hearing, to look into the matter.
That is why _every_ crow knows so much; what one finds, all are given a
chance to see.

Red Ben, sick at heart and more lonely than ever, slipped into the
bushes and hid. This was the best thing he could have done, for when the
flock of crows could no longer see him, they feared he might be playing
some trick on them. Up they flew with more cawing and scolding; but
there was no fun in scolding an animal that could not be seen, so one
after another drifted away and left him.

He called no more, but wandered about the Ridge where he had last seen
his mother. In this way he came to the place in which Ben Slown had
crouched with his gun the day before. He examined the spilled tobacco
and tracks in the path, then sniffed them all over again. Impossible as
it seemed for his mother’s and Ben Slown’s tracks to be found together,
he had nevertheless caught a trace of her scent here.

He did not know that while he led the hound into the Barrens beyond the
Swamp, the tired mother had started after him along the path where
crouched the waiting, sinister figure of the farmer. He only knew that
she had gone, leaving him—the fatherless, brotherless, playmateless
little fox pup of Oak Ridge—alone.



                              CHAPTER VIII
                            THE WOODS AWAKE


The moon was shedding its silvery light in checkerboard patches under
the high oaks on the Ridge. In the fields below hung a heavy mist, and
everywhere was the glitter of wet leaves, for a thunder storm had only
recently passed.

All the woodsfolk were out playing or feeding, while the insects drummed
and sang their loudest, since the moisture had refreshed the whole woods
world.

Under one of the oaks sat Red Ben. This new feel of the air and ground,
after many hot, dry days and nights, had awakened in him too a longing
to play or rather, perhaps, a longing to have someone to play with.
Three miserable, lonely days had passed since he lost his mother, three
nights of watching and waiting and hoping for her return.

Now he could find nothing better to do than watch the other creatures
enjoying themselves in the moonlight. Already a few acorns were sweet
enough to be eaten by the little animals that gnaw, and already the
hunters, knowing this, were wandering from tree to tree searching for
any little nut eater that was unwary enough to be caught.

So still was Red Ben that the others scarcely noticed him. One tiny
shrew mouse after another went skipping by, in their search for insects;
sometimes one would burrow swiftly under the leaves and come out at
quite another spot. Restless little creatures they were, with long noses
and eyes so small they could scarcely be seen.

[Illustration: The Mole]

If they had flat front feet like those of the mole, and were not the
tiniest little furry creatures in the woods, they would often be taken
for moles. Their fur is almost the same.

The mole, living entirely in his narrow burrows under the ground, has no
need for eyes and so has lost the use of those nature first gave him;
the shrew, living partly above the ground but mostly in burrows, needs
to see a little, and so has very small eyes; the active deer mouse which
scorns burrowing and usually lives in hollow trees like the squirrels,
needs sharp eyes and so has immense ones.

To protect his big eyes from twigs and briars in the dark, Deer Mouse
has a regular fence of whiskers, while Shrew’s little eyes only need a
few small whiskers and old Mole needs no whiskers at all.

[Illustration: Deer Mouse]

[Illustration: Shrew]

In his habit of running around in the woods at night, Red Ben was very
much like Deer Mouse, and so had many long whiskers. Some stuck up from
each side of his nose and curved over the eyes; some, and these were
really eyebrows, started above his eyes and curved down.

Therefore, on the darkest night, Red Ben could safely wander through the
woods. Before a hidden briar could touch either eye, it would hit one of
the hairs and give warning in time for the fox to shut his eyes quickly
and also duck his head. The long whiskers were often very useful to him.

The shrews interested Red Ben, but because they had the hunter smell, he
did not try to catch them. They were so small that worms and beetles
were their chief prey.

On the damp ground the woods creatures could jump about without a
rustle. That is what they like to do. The mice wait at the entrance of
their homes until the way seems safe, then dash to the nearest bush and
hide. If they see no owl or other hunter they make a dash to the next
bush and so on until they safely reach the feeding ground. A rustle
would catch the attention of any waiting owl and bring him swooping
down.

Red Ben saw deer mice watching inquisitively from the edges of laurel
clumps, also little burrowing pine mice whose sharp eyes fairly twinkled
in the moonlight. He saw Brown Weasel chase a nimble deer mouse up an
oak, and then he saw Flying Squirrel and his family having a rollicking
game of tag around the largest limbs. Fat toads sat about, lazily
watching for beetles. The pleasant rain had been taken in through the
pores of their skin instead of through their mouths, but they had had
enough to satisfy them.

On all sides there were little things moving, even from up in the air
and down in the ground came squeaks of various kinds. Everyone seemed to
have a play fellow—except Red Ben.

At last, however, a little possum came ambling through the wood all
alone. Red Ben watched him sniff about and climb among some fallen
branches. When the gray creature, with little bright eyes, caught sight
of the interested fox, he crouched on one of the limbs and gazed back
just as interestedly.

Red Ben’s playfulness surged over him; he pranced forward, reared on his
hind legs and waved his front paws enticingly in front of the little
possum’s nose. But Possum fell over backwards, terror in his eyes. Once
on the ground he scurried for a tree, and climbed up in a panic. Red
Ben, however, was just as quick. Thinking it was all a game, he chased
after him, leaped high into the air and caught the scaly tail just as it
was getting out of reach.

Down plumped the little possum, with wide open, hissing mouth. But
instead of running, he lay where he had fallen.

Red Ben was greatly surprised. He had meant no harm. Carefully he
sniffed and pawed the motionless creature. Yes, his playfellow was
certainly dead. For a minute or two he walked around. There was nothing
he could do, so he decided to leave the place.

[Illustration: “Possum fell over backwards”]

Just as he reached the next tree, however, he heard a scraping noise and
whirled around in time to see the apparently dead possum go up the oak’s
trunk even faster than the first time. Sticking his sharp little toe
nails into the crevices of the rough bark, he could get a good hold
where Red Ben’s toes, which were formed for running, could not have
gripped at all. When nearly at the top of the tree, he stopped to look
down at Red Ben, grinning. The fox had at first fooled the little
possum, but now the little fellow had done some fooling himself.

Red Ben looked around for the mice and other little creatures, but found
that they had vanished. Being the color of the dead leaves and limbs
near which they played and fed, and knowing all the holes and how best
to reach the nearest one, all of them could hide quickly. They had been
frightened. Many minutes would pass before they dared to crawl out
again.



                               CHAPTER IX
                           STUDYING THE ENEMY


When Red Ben was trotting back to the Swamp, he heard Farmer Slown’s
hound baying. He stopped at once to listen. It was not the joy cry that
comes with the scent of a fresh trail; there was, indeed, a wail at the
end that puzzled him. He listened a while in silence, then, pointing his
sharp nose in that direction, barked back his defiance. “Yap, yap,
ya-rrrrr.” After a pause he barked again.

The hound, who was tied in the barnyard and howling simply because he
felt lonely, heard the fox and at once grew quiet. Farmer Slown heard
him too, through his open window. He, however, did not remain quiet. He
fussed and fumed the rest of the night, and made more plans to catch the
fox which was so bold as to bark at him.

Red Ben, meanwhile, stole along the fence towards the farm buildings. He
was drawn by an irresistible curiosity. It was here his greatest enemy
lived, the one who was somehow connected with the disappearance of his
mother and of his brothers.

The farm was very quiet in the darkness. The chickens were still asleep
on their roosts, and no animal stirred. Even the windmill over the well
had stopped turning, and so gave forth none of its usual creaks and
groans.

The damp air, however, was laden with scents. The fox’s keen nose picked
out the odor of perspiring horses, of sheep and of pigs. It caught, too,
the peculiar smell of man and the smell of smoke and cooked food and
slops, which always is found where man lives. There was also a dull,
nameless scent made up of a hundred different things, like the grease on
wagon axles, old harness, rusting iron, clothes out to dry and other
things about which Red Ben knew nothing.

This was indeed a new world to the young fox, who had often wandered
near the place with his mother, but never before ventured so close.
Weird shapes of wagons made him keep away from the barn shed. He feared,
too, the windmill, which he had once seen move in a suspicious way. Nor
did he care about coming closer to the pigs, lying in filthy sties and
grunting in their sleep. Altogether he much preferred the clean woods,
where sweeter scents filled his nostrils and no weird creations of man
lay strewn about in all their ugliness.

It was the chicken house that interested Red Ben most. From its open
windows came occasional sleepy clucks and murmurs as the closely packed
fowls jostled each other in their dreams. Suddenly, too, a rooster
crowed, so sharply that the fox leaped to one side. Other roosters in
the little house took up the challenge and crowed. They were heard by
roosters at the next farm, who thereupon crowed too and woke up the
roosters in the village, who also felt like crowing. Day had not yet
come, however; it was only the moonlight they saw, so all promptly went
to sleep again.

Red Ben knew very well that each crow came from a toothsome fowl, so he
took a most natural interest in this chorus. When once it was over,
however, he felt uneasy. Instinct warned him he was being watched. He
looked all around and then, happening to glance up, caught the hostile
eye of a big gray cat, watching him from the hen house roof.

He had never before seen a cat, and so was suspicious at once,
especially as this one now opened its mouth to give vent to a yowl of
indignation. He sidled off towards the wood, keeping a watchful eye on
grim pussy.

There was straw scattered around on the ground, and from a bunch of this
he startled a feathered whirlwind, in the shape of a guinea hen who had
been sitting there on a nest of her eggs. Red Ben jumped backwards,
ready for a dash in any direction.

“Chah! Che, che, chahhh!” screamed the guinea as she ran about. “Chah!
Chah!” came shrilly from the trees nearby where all the other guineas
were roosting. The chickens awoke and cackled, the hound bayed, Shep
barked from the locked stable, and in the midst of it the little fox,
the innocent cause of all this hubbub, slipped away towards the quiet,
friendly wood.

His anxiety lest something follow made him careless and brought him face
to face with a cow, lying down in the meadow. Dodging her surprised
snort, he ran full tilt into another who, in turn, drove him to a third,
and so on until he had somehow escaped the herd and was fairly flying
towards the wood. Not till he was in its cool shadows, among the silent
woodsfolk, could he once more feel safe.

From the farm still came the “chahhh” of the excited guineas, and when,
with the first rays of the sun, Ben Slown stepped out of his house, a
mass of guinea feathers met his gaze. They were strewn all about the
half eaten body of the guinea hen who once had faithfully sat on her
nest back of the hen house.

Farmer Slown did not look for feathers on the nose of the big cat. He
never found out that the sight of the guinea running about in the dark
was too much for the hunter instinct of his pet. Instead, he remembered
only the barking of the fox in the night, and shook his fist in the
direction of the Ridge.



                               CHAPTER X
                           JIM CROW’S SIGNAL


Instead of sleeping under the fallen tree in Cranberry Swamp, where the
fleas had become too lively for comfort, Red Ben had made it a practice
to pick out a new place nearly every day. This time he chose a laurel
clump on the top of Oak Ridge. There was an advantage in this high bed;
he could keep an eye on Ben Slown’s farm, whence he now expected trouble
of some kind to come.

He had lately paid special attention to the danger signals of all the
wild creatures, and on them relied for first warning, so he curled up in
his usual tight ball, with eyes closed, but ears uncovered to take in
every sound.

The “check, check” of red wing blackbirds, the rasp of brown thrashers,
the screech of sparrow hawks and the rustlings of a great wood full of
happy life went through his ears unheeded. The bark of Red Squirrel made
him look up for a moment, to make sure that the little fellow was only
talking to his mate; so also did the whirring of a grouse that some
prowling hunter had scared up nearby; but during most of the time he
could doze.

From a pine, near the fields below, came an occasional reassuring “caw”
from Jim Crow, who was keeping guard while the crow flock fed in the
sheep pasture. Everything seemed all right to him. To be sure there were
two red-tail hawks soaring high in the sky, but they were not worth
bothering over at that distance. All at once, however, a man, followed
by dogs, came from behind the farm buildings.

“Caw, caw!” called the old crow sharply, to tell the others that
something suspicious was in sight. A moment later he recognized Ben
Slown and instantly flew out of his tree with the real danger call.
“Cawr, cawr, cawr!” repeated again and again, as the other crows flew up
too and scattered in the direction of the Barrens.

The first call awoke Red Ben, and the second brought him to his feet in
a bound. All he needed was the sight of the crows, flying towards the
Barrens, to convince him that it was Ben Slown who was coming. Only the
approach of a well known gun carrier could make those wise birds leave
the neighborhood of the Ridge like that.

He watched the farmer and his three dogs, then trotted down the far side
of the Ridge, crossed Cranberry Swamp and entered the Barrens. There was
a definite plan in all this. Gray Fox had freed him from Ben Slown’s
dogs once before, now he could do it again.

Red Ben knew the old bully’s range rather well, and wasted no time in
reaching the most likely thicket. Sure enough, the smell of Gray Fox was
there in plenty, the smell Red Ben had such reason to fear and dislike.
He sneaked cautiously up wind and spied the sleeping fox curled up under
a pepper bush.

He stood there undecided what to do. It was dangerous to trifle with
Gray Fox. But matters were decided for him by an eddy of wind which
carried his own scent into the thicket.

Gray Fox’s nose twitched; he looked up, recognized Red Ben and sprang to
his feet with a snarl. Back dashed the young fox, and after him came the
angry gray. Through the woods they sped towards Cranberry Swamp where,
Red Ben felt sure, the farmer was already hunting for him.

The gray bully was bent on revenge this time; he would teach the red
upstart a thing or two! But just as they neared the log that crossed
Goose Creek, the bay of a hound floated through the woods from straight
ahead. Red Ben dashed across the log, but Gray Fox hung back and finally
sneaked away to hide. And so it happened that when the black and white
hound, Shep and the fox terrier crossed the log on Red Ben’s trail from
the Ridge, they found the fresh, straight-away track of Gray Fox, and
followed it.

While Ben Slown sat on the Ridge waiting for a shot and while Red Ben
lay comfortably in the Swamp, Gray Fox, rage in his heart, was leading
the dog chorus on a wild chase far into the Barrens, to a deep hole he
knew about. The entrance was too narrow to admit the large dogs, and the
little fox terrier could be held at bay. It was well for Gray Fox that
this hole was so far from the Ridge that Ben Slown could not hear the
hound baying there.

All this time Jim Crow was keeping his eye on the whereabouts of the
farmer. Silently he would circle the Ridge, high over the trees, until
he saw the crouching figure, then he would alight in a tall tree at some
distance in the Swamp and by his “cawr, cawr, cawr,” keep back all the
crows that started to return in the direction of the Ridge. By watching
him Red Ben, too, knew where the enemy was lying in wait.

When later Jim Crow saw the disgusted farmer start for his home, he flew
joyously over the woods spreading the news with a “caw—caw—caw.” Soon
afterwards he drew all the crows to the meadow by calling as rapidly as
he could get out the sounds, “Cehr, cehr, cehr, cehr, cehr.”

Jim Crow’s language was becoming well known to Red Ben. Before the sun
rose each morning, Jim would talk to the other crows. “Caw-caw,” he
would begin. Another would answer, “Caw-cehr, cehr, cehr,” and then from
all over the Ridge would come other caws of various kinds. No two crows
spoke at once. If Jim had something important to tell, all the rest
listened. By the time the sun was nearly showing above the horizon the
band had started towards the feeding ground. Usually this was in one of
the fields, but visits to the river flats and to cranberry bogs were not
uncommon.

If a large hawk, or owl, was discovered by a crow, he called, “Caw, caw,
caw, caw, caw,” and brought to the spot every full grown crow within
hearing. One after another would then dive at the big bird and harass
him until he escaped from the neighborhood.

Once when Red Ben had discovered a dead crow and had pulled it out for
inspection, another crow, flying over, caught sight of the apparently
murdered bird and shot down with a furious “Cahrrrr,” which others,
appearing from all sides at this harsh call, repeated until the woods
resounded.

Sometimes a crow would vary his caws with a melodious “Kruck—kruck,”
which resembled one of Blue Jay’s favorite notes, but was much louder.

As Red Ben now rolled himself into the usual tight little ball, for
sleep, he heard once more the joyous “Caw—caw—caw” of the old black
sentinel and, with that ringing in his ears, contentedly closed his
eyes.



                               CHAPTER XI
                            HOW OTHERS HUNT


With the first signs of darkness, Red Ben uncurled himself and took a
long stretch. Then he gaped until nearly every tooth in his head was
bared. After that he realized how ravenously hungry he felt, also how
bad this dry, hot night would be for hunting.

Far away he heard a great horned owl hooting. “Who—who, who—whoo,” it
said, over and over again. Nearby, Screech Owl was crooning to his
little mate, very softly. They, too, were hunters and knew that there
was little use in settling down to work until the dew had gathered in
the fields and made the withered grass luscious enough to entice the
rabbits and mice into the open. All had to have water, and for most of
the little creatures that gnaw, it was safer to sip the dew than to take
the long trip to Goose Creek.

Suddenly a weird scream filled the woods. It had scarcely ceased when
another pierced the air, this time much closer to Red Ben. The fox
cowered back and waited. Again the scream, and then a ghostlike, whitish
shadow flitting between the trees.

Barn Owl, strangest of all the creatures of the night, was flying to his
hunting ground. Many a silly ghost story has been started by a glimpse
of him—innocent old mouse eater—in his moonlight travels through the
woods. By day he rested in a hollow tree, or hid in dense tangles high
above the ground. Now and then he found a roosting place on the rafters
of some tumble down barn. By night he searched the meadows for mice and
moles, doing great good to the lands of the farmers.

Red Ben had often seen Barn Owl’s white form, but never before heard his
call so near at hand. In the summer he had come across two of the old
bird’s youngsters squatting forlornly beside the stump of an old hollow
tree, which had been their home until a woodcutter had felled it the day
before.

[Illustration: “They sat on their tails and held hands”]

The fox had come too close to the suspicious birds and had nearly been
caught by the quick blow both aimed at him with their long talons. One
reached out so far that he lost his balance and toppled over. Struggling
violently to get on his feet, he clawed his brother, by mistake, and
received a sound whack in punishment.

Forgetting brotherly love and fear of the fox pup, they then flew at
each other in a fury and had a good fight. At last, exhausted, they sat
on their tails and held hands while hissing defiance at each other in a
comical way.

Red Ben was very much interested in the strange pair, and made a
practice of taking a look at them every night. The devoted old mother
fed them regularly, often leaving beside them several more mice than
their stomachs had room for. These, however, they ate during the day,
swallowing fur, tails, feet and everything, but later spitting up in
neat balls all the bones and undigestible parts.

At last a day came when they were not to be found near the tree.
Overhead, however, sounded a rasping call. Red Ben looked up and saw two
monkey faces, rimmed in white, looking down at him from a high limb.
Their wings had grown long and they had learned to fly. Soon four big
barn owls, instead of two, would be quartering the meadows in moonlit
nights.

The pangs of hunger soon drove Red Ben to begin to hunt along Goose
Creek. In daytime, rows of mud turtles, coiled water snakes and greenish
black bull frogs were usually to be found there on floating logs,
warming themselves in the sunshine. At night, some of these ventured to
come ashore after insects.

[Illustration: “Muskrat was busy pulling up grass”]

Picking his way cautiously along the water’s edge, Red Ben noticed a
muskrat swimming in the middle of the sluggish stream. Hoping it would
land near him, he hid, but the wily rat went ashore on the far bank
where he was safe from the fox, but not from a brown mink whose fierce
eyes were also watching.

Mink was a swift swimmer whose thick fur shed water quite as well as
that of Muskrat. He dove into the stream as noiselessly as a snake, swam
under the surface until at a point below Muskrat, who just then was busy
pulling up grass which he expected to carry to the stream and wash
before eating.

Red Ben, in his excitement, leaped out on a bar of sand where he could
see the chase more easily. Screech Owl, too, having caught a glimpse
from a distant cedar, flew to a limb over the stream. All the creatures
within that angle of the creek except poor old Muskrat seemed to know
that something was going to happen. Even the bats flitted about without
their usual dips and rushes after low flying bugs.

Muskrat, with mouth full of grass and roots, turned back just as Mink’s
head came above the steep bank. For one breathless second the two furry
creatures looked at each other, then the rat plunged headlong for the
stream. Like a football player he charged down the bank, throwing the
small but fierce Mink head over heels into the water. Muskrat dove and
vanished so quickly among the stems of the spatterdocks and golden clubs
that Mink was confused, and actually lost him.

A swirl near Red Ben showed him where Muskrat entered the under-water
burrow in the bank, leading to his home. In the clear stream the fox had
a glimpse of the brown body with forepaws held against its sides,
driving itself through the water by great strokes of its webbed hind
feet. Its long, flat, almost hairless tail acted as a rudder to guide
its course.

Seeing nothing more of either animal, Red Ben trotted on. Ahead was a
dead tree on which were large, black objects. These he knew were turkey
buzzards which by day soared far and wide over the Barrens, searching
for any dead animals that would afford them a feast. Here they gathered
in the evening, a gruesome, ill smelling assemblage.

The fox avoided the tree and swung into the old wood path. It was the
best thing he could have done that night, for it brought him face to
face with a meal. Trotting along quite unconcernedly, his attention held
by the buzzard tree, he was met by an explosion of rage, almost under
his nose. He leaped wildly, to avoid he knew not what. Almost at the
same moment he recognized the big gray tom-cat which had treated him so
uncivilly when he visited Ben Slown’s farm.

His dignity had been badly jarred, and he felt angry all over. This
stealthy, hostile creature, which belonged at the farm, had no right to
dispute his way in the wild Barrens. Besides which it had a freshly
killed wild rabbit under its paws.

As the two eyed each other, Red Ben felt the fur tingling along his
spine. The alluring scent of the rabbit filled his hungry nostrils. He
stepped closer—yes, the rabbit certainly was a fat one! Still nearer he
went, always watching the furious eyes that glared at him. How the cat
could growl! Now his nose was within a few inches of the rabbit. His
eyes dropped for the fraction of a second, just to have one good look at
it, and in that instant the raging cat struck with both front paws.

But Red Ben was not there. He had been quick enough to leap away from
those claws. Back he circled and again dodged a furious blow. The
hateful growl of the cat rose into a high pitched shriek of rage. Losing
all caution, he made a spring after the fox, who neatly side stepped it
and picked up the rabbit on the run. A yowl followed him, but as he
looked over his shoulder, he saw the cowardly cat actually turn tail and
dash for home.

This was the beginning of Red Ben’s rule over Oak Ridge and Cranberry
Swamp. Before October ended, every animal who lived there had learned
not to trifle with him. He knew them all by that time and respected
their rights, but woe to the one that tried any mean tricks on him. He
was growing big and strong, and very wonderful looking, in his
orange-red fur, which, responding to the first frosts, was becoming long
and rich. The most conspicuous thing to be seen on the Ridge was Red
Ben, but he took care that he seldom was seen. Nevertheless his fame was
growing.



                              CHAPTER XII
                        BEN’S HUNDRED DOLLAR FOX


Ben Slown had a good many days of corn husking ahead of him that Autumn.
Every morning he carried his gun out to the field, turned loose the
eager black and white hound with instructions to “sick ’em,” then busied
himself in the profitable task of stripping the long yellow ears.

The hound would hunt through the woods, and, by the manner of his
yelping, tell Ben Slown what he was finding there. A quick short yelp or
two meant he had scared up a rabbit. An angry, loud baying in one spot
meant that Gray Squirrel, or Red Squirrel, had been treed and was making
fun of him from a safe height.

When the hound ran Woodchuck, or Muskrat, into a burrow, his baying was
muffled, on account of his nose being in the mouth of the hole. But when
he rushed full tilt through the woods with a musical “wu—uh, wu-uh,
wu—uh” at regular intervals, that meant fox; and, near the Ridge, fox
meant Red Ben.

Ben Slown no sooner would hear that, than down he would throw the corn
bundle and off he would run for his gun, which was never left very far
from his hands. Off, too, would dash Shep and the fox terrier, who
ordinarily busied themselves with digging for mice around the corn
shocks.

In the excitement, Red Ben always managed to get away, usually by
hunting up Gray Fox, or some other member of the gray family, whom he
had learned to find in the Pine Barrens a mile down Goose Creek. The
hound had discovered that any other fox was easier to follow than Red
Ben, so he gladly changed trails.

On one occasion, after a long, hard run, Red Ben, circling back by a new
route, came across the scent of a fox entirely a stranger to him. With
his usual caution he looked about and presently caught sight of a red
creature like himself, watching him intently.

For a full minute he and the other fox studied each other without
moving. Not since his mother vanished had Red Ben seen a red fox, and
never before had he seen an animal quite so unkempt looking as this one.
The red fur was all mangy and torn, the tail almost a stick.

Red Ben, in all the magnificence of his perfect coat, seemed like a
different kind of animal from this wretched little she-fox. And yet
there was a brightness of eye, as well as an alertness about her which
commanded attention.

The baying of the hound close by changed the scene all too quickly. Red
Ben went on his way in graceful bounds, the little she-fox watching him
till out of sight, then herself vanishing in the wood.

This kind of daily persecution by Ben Slown and his hound wore heavily
on Red Ben. The sleepless days, hard runs and constant worry made him
unfit for hunting during the night. Often he went hungry. He quickly
became embittered and reckless. Instead of running after swift rabbits
and spending hours in digging out mice, he fell into the easy habit of
catching the fat, stupid chickens and ducks that could be picked up at
any farm yard without his expending much energy.

His cunning in work of this kind seemed endless. He learned how to catch
the guinea hens in the gray light of early morning, how to climb over
and under chicken yard fences and how to enter hen houses through
windows. He became the vexation and terror of every poultry man within
three or four miles of the Ridge. Bounties were offered in three
villages for his capture. One hundred dollars in all hung over his head;
and still he somehow managed to live on his much loved Ridge—the only
place he knew as home.

To children Red Ben naturally became a real hero; stories of his cunning
took the place of fairy tales, besides which he seemed to have a
friendly as well as inquisitive feeling towards them which led him to
follow them about in the woods on their winter-green and holly picking
expeditions, cautiously of course, but showing in one so wild an
interesting trustfulness.

Sometimes he would be glimpsed as he watched them from some thicket, far
enough away to satisfy his shyness; at other times his orange colored
form would slip past as silently as a shadow, to be swallowed
immediately in the tangles all about. So the children, with their sharp
eyes, had the thrill of seeing him more often than anyone else; and of
all the hungry woods creatures he had first choice of crusts and lunch
scraps they dropped.

Every fox is likely sooner or later to do something foolish that gets
him into trouble, but Red Ben’s wonderful luck seemed unending. He was
often seen when running ahead of the dogs. Perhaps some old farmer would
be driving home his cows, when into the country road ahead would plunge
the fox, his bright fur and big, bushy tail leaving no doubt as to his
identity.

“Ah, there goes a hundred dollars,” the old man would sigh, as he
thought of the reward, then he would admiringly watch the graceful fox
until out of sight around the bend in the road, and pray that the dogs
might not get him after all.

Red Ben of course jumped into the road ahead of the cows so that these
big footed creatures, which kicked up the dust so plentifully as they
walked, would spoil his trail before the dogs would get there. It was
one of his ways of eluding them.

Everyone who saw the red fox talked about it and about the reward, and
though to the children he was always Red Ben, to the farmers he was now
Ben’s Hundred Dollar Fox.

“He’s the most valuable thing on your old farm, Ben,” some neighbor
would tell Farmer Slown.

“And he won’t be there much longer,” Ben would answer in his usual ugly
manner.

“How’s that? Are you going to try sticky fly paper next?” But Ben would
stalk off without answer.

The answer came when five of the village dogs died from some mysterious
poison for foxes they had picked up in the fields. After that people
began to pass Ben Slown on the road without speaking.



                              CHAPTER XIII
                            RED BEN TRAVELS


On the first very chilly night of the season, Red Ben, trotting briskly
along the woods path towards Cranberry Swamp, came face to face with
Gray Fox. According to the law of the woods the old fellow had no right
to hunt on another fox’s home ground; but what cared he, where the
despised red fox was concerned? This time, however, he did grow a trifle
worried. Red Ben was beginning to look very different from the thin,
long legged pup he used to be.

Each slowed down to a cautious walk and resolved that the other should
get out of his way. The result of course was that they met, and in an
instant were locked in furious battle. On their hind legs and on the
ground, they tussled and rolled and bit and scratched until fur flew.

Once again Red Ben’s training helped him. He fought with the speed of
lightning—the kind of fighting his mother had taught him. He tore Gray
Fox on this side and that, mauled and pummeled him, threw him down; and
when the snarling old enemy tried to get away, Red Ben followed with
speed that was irresistible, nipping, worrying and driving him on. There
had probably never been a more bitter fight in the history of the
Barrens.

When the completely whipped gray reached his own range there was not a
particle of courage left in him. Never would he dare to face again the
Red Fox of Oak Ridge. But Red Ben was not so happy as he might have
been. As his enemy vanished in the woods, he felt more than ever before
the loneliness of his life.

[Illustration: “A turkey buzzard had been circling over him”]

This feeling surged over him until it became unbearable. He wandered
over to Cranberry Swamp, and finally to the very end of his hunting
territory, where he had seen the mangy little she-fox; but this time she
was not there, so he did not stop. Something drove him on, into the land
of the unknown in the direction of the rising sun, whence the faint
night breeze was coming, bearing innumerable scents. It was then he
heard, far behind him, probably all the way from the Ridge, the bay of a
hound. He stopped to listen; sitting there in the lonesome Barrens, he
picked out, one after another, the joy notes of Farmer Slown’s big
brute, following his trail. That decided him. There would be no turning
back.

Full of bitterness now, he hastened on until broad daylight came.
Fortunately he had caught a few crickets and two deer mice on the way.
These had helped to sustain his strength, but he was very tired. For
nearly an hour a turkey buzzard had been circling over him; now close,
now far, but always within sight. It was like a bad omen.

Badly as he needed a rest, it was not for him to enjoy one that day.
Scarcely had he found a soft bed in a pepper bush thicket, when once
more he heard the hound. Evidently the patient dog had been unravelling
the trail for hours; now he was coming close.

Up jumped Red Ben and once more loped off towards the East. He was soon
skirting farms he had never seen before, and crossing cement roads lined
with prickly hedges, or wire. Behind him the noise was growing. Other
dogs, picked up from the farms, were joining in the chase. Each time he
looked back over the fields he could see several of them, running in
loose pack formation, with Ben Slown’s black and white hound in the
lead.

Red Ben suddenly realized he was getting tired out. A kind of
desperation seized him. He crossed barn yards, where the children
delightedly shouted at him; dodged down roads in plain sight of people
in automobiles, and in his ignorance of the country, did other things
which in the old days on the Ridge would have seemed impossibly
reckless.

Everyone shouted and cheered and followed as well as they could, until
Red Ben lost them in a friendly wood. Here he threw himself down,
panting as never before. His limbs ached all over and smarted where he
had been bitten in the fight with Gray Fox; he felt indeed as if he
could never get up. But when the dogs came over the meadow in plain
view, he somehow jumped up once more and circled the wood; then he found
the scent of another fox.

With new hope he turned into the wind and followed it unerringly until
he reached long rows of wire pens in which were a number of creatures
that seemed to be foxes, but were black. He had stumbled upon a fox
ranch, kept by a dealer who raised the beautiful black ones for their
pelts, which he sold. Every fox Red Ben saw there was worth many
hundreds of dollars.

Scarcely knowing what to do, he followed the outer fence a short
distance, then slipped to a thicket where he could hide and watch what
would happen.

The dogs came soon in a long line, five of them, with Ben’s big hound
still in front. They blundered into the first line of wire, looked up,
and saw the foxes running in all directions. At this sight, one mighty
yell burst from every one of them. They leaped around the outer
enclosure in frantic efforts to get in. Trails were forgotten now that
foxes were actually in sight. Indeed the one idea of each was to catch a
fox before the others got him; so they jostled each other and scrambled
and fought, with such a din that the ranch owner came running out with
his gun and broke up the party with two stinging loads of bird shot, one
of which peppered the black and white hound in a way he would not soon
forget.

Quiet instantly followed. The black foxes were so well protected by the
double line of fencing that they were not in the least hurt, or even
much scared. They soon slipped out of their shelters and basked in the
sun, while Red Ben in his thicket sprawled out flat and slept. His first
day of travel had been an eventful one.



                              CHAPTER XIV
                                BLACKIE


In the afternoon, soft snow, the first that Red Ben had ever seen, fell
for several hours. He did not fear it, but wondered at its whiteness,
which soon wiped out the green and brown colors of his thicket and
deadened all the woodland scents he was used to. Nevertheless, as soon
as darkness made it safe to move about, he crept out of his hiding place
and again visited the fox ranch. On three sides he found thickly planted
spruce trees, which sheltered the yards, and made them so secluded and
cozy that the timid animals could live there almost as happily as in the
North Woods, whence those came which had not been born in captivity.

The whole ranch was enclosed with the strong wire which had kept out the
dogs. Inside this fence were the pens, each holding a pair of the
wonderful silver black foxes. A shed ran along their northern side,
giving protection against rain and the coldest winds.

Red Ben moved stealthily between the snow laden spruce boughs, climbed
the outside fence with the ease of a cat, and approached the first pen.
Here stood watching him a beautiful fox, jet black to the tip of her
tail, which was pure white. Blackie seemed mightily interested in Red
Ben. She even stuck her dainty black nose through the wire for him to
touch, which he did rather shyly.

This friendliness was such a new thing to him, used as he was to the
intensely suspicious, shy creatures of the woods, that it thrilled his
every nerve. He scarcely looked at the other foxes, preferring to romp
about Blackie’s pen in a spirited game, thought out on the spur of the
moment, in which they had races and tag, in spite of the wire between.

When the fun was at its height there was a sudden rush: Red Ben found
himself facing, instead of gentle Blackie, a tall, lean, black fox,
whose jealous snarl at once showed him to be a rival.

[Illustration:                               Courtesy Black Fox Magazine
              “They tore at each other through the wire”]

Only the fence between prevented a furious fight. As it was, indeed,
they tore at each other through the wire, Red Ben charging against it
again and again in vain attempt to break through. There was an over-hang
of wire at the top which stopped him from climbing over, and wire laid
along the ground in a way to make digging-under nearly impossible, so
he, a creature of the wild, could not get in.

The black rival meanwhile did all he could to tease and anger him; but
worst of all was the way he bossed and maltreated poor Blackie, who
seemed to live in constant fear.

Red Ben was fairly raging. He felt as he had long ago, when Gray Fox
treated his mother so badly. Somehow he would get in! But whenever he
tried to climb up the wire, the other fox bit his toes cruelly and
gloated over his helpless fury.

It was after one of these climbs that he found a ladder leaning against
the shed. He had never before seen one, but was clever enough to guess
that it might be climbed. One foot at a time, his big tail helping to
balance him, he moved up the slippery rungs. Almost at the top he lost
his footing and fell all the way down with a thud, but, none the worse
for this, he tried again, and actually reached the roof.

Now, at last, he could look down on Blackie and know that one jump would
bring him to her side, where he could give the lean, black bully the
thrashing he deserved.

Proudly he stood there, while all the foxes in the row of pens watched
and waited. Something was warning him not to leap. If he did, could he
get out again? Was not this a kind of trap?

Although Blackie was coaxing him, his caution held him back. He climbed
down the same way he had come up and trotted away, not however without
first taking a last jolly romp with Blackie and giving a good growl of
warning to her disagreeable, black companion. He had three mice for
supper. They had been overtaken by the snow away from home, and were
rushing back in long leaps when he found them. As soon as dawn came he
was again cozily hidden in the thicket.

Later in the morning he noticed excitement among the foxes and saw a boy
wheeling a barrow laden with things which he put in the pens. He saw
that this boy somehow entered without climbing over the wire.

Red Ben was exceedingly interested in this, so interested that he did
not note how carefully the boy walked around Blackie’s pen, looking at
the tracks in the snow, nor how long a time he spent fixing something in
the pen. Red Ben, indeed, had not yet learned that snow holds footprints
and tells the story of the night travels of every creature that touches
it. How, therefore, could he guess that everything about his visit was
plain to this wide awake boy, who, thrilled by the idea of a big, wild
fox being near, was plotting to catch him?

The sun melted very little of the snow, so when he started out that
night, the ground was still white and cold. He hurried to Blackie, who
frisked about in great excitement at seeing him again. Eagerly he tried
the spot where the boy had entered with food and water, but of course
was stopped by the peg on the door. Blocked in that hope, he turned to
the ladder, and soon was once more on the shed roof, looking down at
Blackie’s companion, who was in his usual disagreeable, jealous mood.

It was then that he noticed, for the first time, a ladder leading from
the roof into the pen—a ladder very much like the one he had just
climbed. He went towards it cautiously. It had not been there the night
before. There was also about it the scent of the boy, but no more
noticeably than on other things, such as the gate. Still, he feared it.

Perhaps he would have left the place without venturing to set foot on
it, if at that moment Blackie had not given a shrill whine of fear. She
was crouching in a corner of the pen with the black fox standing
menacingly before her.

Down the ladder sprang Red Ben, his heart fairly afire. Before the
snarling black knew what had happened, he was rolling in a whirlwind of
snow, with jaws like iron closing on his furry neck. His snarl suddenly
changed into a whine of abject fear; then Red Ben let him up.

However, the black one was treacherous. He sneaked around the pen, and
when Red Ben was looking with wild eyes at the ladder which had suddenly
fallen, rushed up and caught him in the flank. Down went Red Ben, but so
quickly that the other was also thrown off his feet.

How they fought, there in the dark, on the trampled snow! How fur flew!
Little tufts of it dotted the yard; black tufts they were, worth many
dollars apiece. But what cared Red Ben?—as soon as the ladder fell he
knew he had been trapped—he, who had laughed at all the traps on Oak
Ridge. Bitterly he fought until the black one had more than enough and
cowered like a scared rat in the farthest corner of the shed. Then Red
Ben let loose his muscles in the wildest leaps and the most frantic
rushes of his life. Madly he ran around and around the enclosure, or up
the quivering wire.

Blackie could not be made to understand what was the matter. She was a
ranch bred fox; this was her home. But to Red Ben, reared in the wild
tangles of the Ridge and Swamp, freedom meant everything. He would have
it!

In the morning he was still climbing or digging, still pushing and
pulling at the door, or tearing up and down the yard. Even the coming of
the delighted boy did not calm him for an instant. With red fur standing
on end, eyes flashing, sharp teeth bared as he panted from exertion, he
was the wildest looking creature seen on the ranch for many a day.

Finally he dropped to the ground, exhausted, but not discouraged.
Blackie came timidly to him then and licked his bruised and torn feet,
and the bites on his ears which, without her care in taking out the
poison, might have turned into angry sores.

With her so close, Red Ben seemed to forget the wire that held him in;
but the instant he heard a footstep approaching, all his fears awoke and
he was once more the untamed, splendidly active creature so admired by
the boy.

In the afternoon, the boy’s father, who owned the ranch, came home from
a long trip he had made the day before. After seeing his family, his
first thought was of the valuable foxes, so the boy, hoping to give him
a pleasant surprise, said nothing about having trapped a new fox, but
eagerly led him to the pens.

As these two came through the spruce trees, Red Ben flattened himself
against the ground under the shed, hoping to be passed unseen. But the
man noticed the tufts of fur lying about the pen and strode over there.

“Why, what’s all this, son?” he asked. “Have Blackie and her friend had
a disagreement? This looks pretty bad. They are the best pair of all. If
anything happened to one of them, I don’t know what I should do.”

At this the boy began to feel mighty uncomfortable. All the joy of the
surprise was suddenly gone. He hung back, fearful of what his father
would say when he found out what really had happened.

“This is awful!” his father went on. “Something has gone wrong. What
could it be?” And then, as if in answer to the question, Red Ben sprang
up in all his wildness and dashed up the wire like a cat, only to be
thrown down by the netting at the top.

The old rancher stepped back in a dazed way, then with sudden suspicion,
looked at his son. He read part of the story in the poor boy’s unhappy
face, and drew out the rest with a few questions.

He was a sensible father. He gulped down all his disappointment about
the injury to one of his favorites, gave the boy a hearty slap on the
shoulder, just to show it was all right, and congratulated him on his
cleverness in outwitting a fox.

“You were mighty smart to cut the three bottom rungs off that ladder to
keep the blacks from climbing out before the other fox knocked the
ladder down. Suppose you see, now, whether you can set a trap in the pen
that will catch that big, red scalawag and not the others. His fur is
wonderful, the longest I ever saw. We’ll make him into a fine rug for
the parlor.” With that he strode off without noticing what a woeful
glance the boy gave the “fine rug,” so wonderfully alive at that moment.



                               CHAPTER XV
                            FREEDOM IS SWEET


Red Ben’s doom seemed sealed. Even if he scorned the box trap set for
him by the dutiful boy, he was still in the rancher’s power. He knew all
about box traps. Instead of getting caught himself, he drove Blackie’s
companion into it and every now and then looked in through a crack to
see how the black fellow was enjoying the place. Shut in there, the
other fox could growl and be as nasty as he chose.

After that, Red Ben once more began his attacks on the wire. He never
lost hope of getting away. The gate, too, he worked over nearly half the
night. It shook when he struck it. It seemed the weakest part of the
pen. He pawed its edges, climbed up its sides, and then all at once felt
it give. He had sawed the peg until it moved back. The gate swung open,
he was free!

Cautiously he slipped out and started for the spruce trees, then stopped
suddenly and looked back. Blackie was not following. She stood on the
threshold of the pen looking after him. Instantly he turned back and
began to coax her. He would run towards the thicket, and then back
again. He pulled at her velvety ears and played in front of her. Still
she would not venture out.

[Illustration:                               Courtesy Black Fox Magazine
                “She stood on the threshold of the pen”]

At last, however, she very carefully took a few steps, and then a few
more. With Red Ben beside her, almost shoving her along, she came to the
tall outside wire, under which a hole was soon dug. Once past this she
had the whole country before her, the Pine Barrens, the swamps,
everything that delighted Red Ben. But the farther they went from the
ranch, the more nervous she became. Twice she started back, only to he
coaxed forward again by her ever faithful companion. Every bush and tree
was something new to her, every shadow and strange scent a cause of
fear. In all her life she had never gone farther than around and around
her little pen, and now she wanted to go around and around in the same
way, instead of straight ahead with Red Ben.

A dog barked from a nearby farm house. Blackie instantly stopped. The
dog barked again; the wind had brought to him the scent of the foxes. He
was coming nearer to investigate. Red Ben did not move. He knew it was a
small dog he had seen several times from a distance. Again the bark,
very near and very loud.

Blackie crouched for an instant, then turned. Red Ben could not stop
her. She was panic stricken in this strange new place. Over the snow she
sped, back to the pen and to her favorite bed in the old shed. This was
home to her. Here she felt safe. Red Ben could love his woods, but she
was a ranch bred fox.

Red Ben stood at the entrance of the pen and waited, but she would not
move. He wandered out to the spruce trees and called, but she did not
come. Out in the woods he called again. Mournfully the woods echoed it.
“Yap, Yarrrrrr,—Yap, Yarrrrrr.”

There was no answer.

Into the woods he wandered, scarcely knowing where. On and on in the
steady lope he always used when getting away from his enemies. The
rancher could come now and fuss and fume all he wanted to. He would find
a fox in his trap all right, but not the Red Fox of Oak Ridge.

And Blackie? Long after Red Ben had vanished, she became uneasy. Perhaps
he would not return. She once more stood on the threshold of the pen,
looking out at the woods where she had last seen him. Poor, silly
Blackie! For once in her life she too felt lonely. Raising her head she
barked, and then barked again, until her lonesomeness affected the other
foxes in the nearby pens and they too barked. It was a wonderful chorus,
a goodby to the big, wild fox.

Many miles from the ranch, Red Ben lay down to rest and lick his wire
torn feet. He was in a small swamp, where a stream of brownish water
flowed between soft masses of sphagnum moss. The first signs of dawn
were in the sky. Hardly had he made himself comfortable when a swishing
of wings made him look up in time to see a flock of black ducks going
over. They swerved, threw out their feet, and with a lot of splashing
settled in a shallow pool nearby.

New strength seemed to shoot into Red Ben’s tired limbs. He was almost
famished, and here was meat. Stealthily he slipped along the ground
towards the water, guided by the soft quacks of the drakes, which were
steering the flock carefully nearer to the bank. There, more water weeds
and snails could be found.

Soon Red Ben could see the dark forms and hear the water being filtered
through the fringes of their bills as they sifted out all that was
eatable. The feeding was good; they were having a fine time.

Nearer to shore they came, the wary drakes examining its edges and
seeing nothing to alarm them. One climbed up on the bare mud near some
bushes. He flapped his wings and then began to oil his feathers. First
he rubbed his bill on the oil that every duck has at the point on his
back where the tail feathers begin; then he rubbed his oily bill over
his feathers. This kept water from soaking them and made him able to
swim or dive a long time without getting his feathers wet. Another duck
joined him and began to arrange its feathers in like manner.

Suddenly a red streak shot out of the bushes. The first duck saw it and,
with a startled quack, leaped into the air; but the second duck, being
behind the other, did not see it in time. It leaped, but the streak
leaped too and brought it down. Amid wild quacking and splashing as the
flock flew up, Red Ben proudly carried off the first real meal he had
tasted for two days.

After that he scraped away the snow from the leaves in a clump of laurel
and, with nose buried in his fur and covered by his warm, bushy tail,
slept through the long day. Downy woodpeckers hammered the old limbs
overhead, hawks screeched, and quail, running past to get a drink at the
stream, rustled the leaves where the snow was thin; but still Red Ben
slept on.

All the terrors of his day in the pen were wiped out by that sleep. Even
beautiful Blackie, whom he had played with and loved, became fainter in
his memory, like part of a wonderful dream.



                              CHAPTER XVI
                          THE ROAD TO THE SEA


Towards evening clouds began to gather; then a gentle wind from the
South brought the first signs of thawing weather. Later a warm rain
drenched the woods, washing away the snow and leaving the swamps cloaked
in vapor.

This was the kind of winter weather the woodsfolk preferred to any
other. Nearly all of them came out. Even the raccoons and the skunks,
who sleep in cold weather no matter how long it lasts, crept forth to
have a good hunt before the next cold spell began.

[Illustration: “Two coons, who were having a loud altercation”]

They had never before seen Red Ben, so each eyed him very carefully and
left plenty of room between. As usual, the coons followed the water, the
possums wandered along the edges of the swamp, and the skunks roamed the
open places. None of them seemed sociable. The only ones Red Ben saw
together were two coons who were having a loud altercation in the top of
a hollow hickory. Each wanted the hollow entirely for himself, but
neither could throw the other out of the tree.

In the stream a mink suddenly appeared. He had a frog in his jaws which
he carried ashore and left on a tussock of grass. Returning to the water
he dove, searched the muddy bottom, found another frog that was
hibernating there, and laid it on the tussock beside its fellow. When he
had collected four fat ones he finished his meal, leaving what he did
not need, for other less expert hunters, like the possum, to find, if
they could.

A larger animal than the mink also came swimming down the stream; it had
a flatter head and lighter color. Red Ben, who was sitting on a high
part of the bank watching all that was going on, saw at once that this
was a creature not to be found in Goose Creek and Cranberry Swamp. It
was an otter, on its way to winter quarters farther down the stream.
Like most of the other woodsfolk, it had to find a snug, safe hole to
live in during the many cold days ahead.

Even the big owls always sought holes when the leaves fell from the
trees and the North Wind began to moan in the woods. They hunted out
hollows in trees; so did the animals that could climb; but the others,
the mink, the skunk, the muskrat and the weasel, slept in holes in the
ground. These they dug themselves, if they had to; but generally it was
possible for them to find old holes that would do very well. They were
very lazy about that kind of thing, far different from animals like the
squirrels, which built such snug nests for themselves in summer as well
as in winter.

Red Ben found a possum carrying his bed along with him. Instead of
holding the grass in his mouth as a squirrel would, he wrapped his queer
tail around a big pile of it. Whenever he came across some more material
that was suitable, he stopped, picked it up with a front foot and,
reaching under his body, tucked it also into the bundle. The tail was
curved down and then under his body, so the ends of the grass stuck out
on each side, making him look, from the rear, like a little haystack
wandering about.

[Illustration: Possum Tracks]

It was not difficult to get food. There were still acorns under the oaks
and fruit under the wild apple and persimmon trees. Red Ben, who of
course knew nothing of this part of the country, found the trees by
following the trails of the creatures that lived in the neighborhood. He
looked for wild ducks as he later travelled down the edge of the stream,
but found them too wild to be caught. The farther he went the more ducks
he saw. The stream was joining other streams and getting wider and
wider, until suddenly it came out of the woods and wound through a flat
stretch of grass land.

There was now a different scent in Red Ben’s nostrils, a dull roar
always in his ears. He had reached the salt marshes, close to the ocean;
just beyond them were the waves of the Atlantic hurling themselves on
the hard beach of sand. Here were coon tracks in all directions, but no
signs of other woods animals.

Red Ben trotted cautiously to the big sand dunes that edged the beach.
Beyond them was the roar he had heard all the way from the woods.
Climbing the soft sand, he looked over the top of the dunes and saw
before him the Ocean, stretching as far as his eye could travel. For a
long while he stood there watching the waves. Then he saw a fox, a gray,
trotting along the beach. It was not afraid; why should he be cautious?

Down the dune he loped and over the hard, shell studded beach, to the
very edge of the water. The gray walked forward to meet him, saw he was
a stranger and at once put on all the hostile airs he could.

Red Ben, however, was not surprised. By this time he knew a good deal
about gray foxes. He walked around the other, eyeing him sharply, but
giving him every chance to attack if he wanted to. The gray was fooled.
With a snarl he leaped at the apparently stupid red, only to be met by a
blaze of teeth. The fight was over in a moment. The gray did not stop
running until he had the big sand dunes between him and that red
whirlwind.

Red Ben found crabs, fish, snails and clams washed up on the beach. He
had never seen so much food. Some he ate, and some he carried to the
dunes and buried for future use. He did not know that a new supply was
washed in by every tide. Soon, however, he gave up the idea of burying
all the fish he found; there were hundreds of them! Here indeed was the
place in which to live and hunt—no traps, no hounds, no hunger. Red Ben
sprang into the air in pure joy and raced down the beach and back again,
and in and out of the dunes, and then off to the woods to find a resting
place for the day.

All through January and the first weeks of cold February he lived by the
sea. Then one warm night the loneliness came upon him again. The woods
were wet and sweet, the ground was thawing; Spring seemed in the air.
Instead of going to the beach, he wandered about the woods and then
started West, towards the Pine Barrens. Often he stopped, but always
trotted on again; something was calling him. Was it the sunny Ridge, so
far from the angry winds and mists of the ocean? Red Ben did not know,
but each hour brought him nearer.

With day came a change in the air. Snow began to fall, very softly, but
very thick. Nearly blinded, Red Ben curled up under a laurel bush and
waited, while inch by inch the flakes rose on the ground around him. No
creature was stirring. There was something so determined in the way the
snow fell that they were cowed and glad to hide in their snug beds. All
night, too, it snowed, and all the next day. Red Ben lay now in a room
of snow; on all sides and on top, except where his breath had thawed a
hole, was the white blanket. He was completely snowed in.



                              CHAPTER XVII
                             THE OTHER FOX


On the second night the snow stopped falling, but the icy northwest wind
came in shrieking blasts, whirling the flakes in every direction. It was
a terrible time for any creature without a snug home.

Red Ben’s snow covering was whipped away; in the height of the storm he
floundered through the drifts until glad to stop behind a pile of brush
which offered some shelter. Here he came across a mink, also snow bound
and also half famished. There was an ominous glitter in the old mink’s
eye. Hunger was making him dangerous. Red Ben crouched warily at the
edge of the brush. The mink curled up inside it, fairly bristling with
bad temper. Each hungrily watched the other. If the storm kept up there
would be a cruel fight, and one of them might never be seen again.

They were still watching each other when morning came. Both had made
short trips into the deep snow, only to return disheartened. But the sun
at last appeared and turned the world into a shimmering wonderland. It
warmed the air and melted the top of the snow so that it would pack
under the feet of the small woods creatures. The squirrels came out of
their holes in the hollow oaks and rushed to the nearest places in which
they remembered having hidden nuts. Crows cawed and walked along the
edges of the streams where the water had melted the snow. Wherever tall
weeds grew, there was great feasting. Flocks of little juncos and
chickadees were picking the seeds out of the dry tops.

The sour old mink slipped out of the brush pile, gave Red Ben a last
wicked look, then went bounding away. Now that the snow was melting and
heavy, instead of powdery as at first, his wide spreading toes kept him
from sinking out of sight.

Red Ben was much heavier and could not spread his toes. He therefore
sank up to his middle at every step. The squirrels laughed and barked at
him from safe perches; the little birds flew away ahead of him; the
crows set up a great racket and swooped at his head as if to pick out
his eyes; but still he kept on, hunting for something to eat. Following
the bed of the nearest stream, he escaped some of the deepest snow and
went a long distance before night. Never before had he travelled so long
in daylight, but never had he been so hungry, nor found so little to
eat.

The snow froze as soon as the sun sank. Where it had been thawed on top,
a hard crust quickly formed. On this, Red Ben could walk cautiously, but
not run, because it broke with him so easily. Again and again he saw
rabbits and tried to catch them, only to find himself floundering in the
snow at the first big jump. After losing one particularly fat one, and
seeing its white tail go bobbing away, he suddenly noticed that
something was following his own trail. There were shadows that slunk
about wherever he went.

Quickly slipping behind a snow covered holly bush, Red Ben waited. A
gray form, and then another, came cautiously along, nosing his tracks
and looking ahead: a gray fox and his mate. Red Ben sprang up, and the
pair floundered back in a panic. But every time he looked around again,
they were still following him, watching his every move with a hungry
gleam in their eyes such as was in those of the old mink, such as,
indeed, was now also coming into his own eyes. Were they hoping he would
catch some creature which they could share in eating, or were they
hoping to eat him when his strength gave out and he dropped helpless in
the treacherous snow?

When hunter grimly hunts hunter in the woods, it is indeed a time of
starvation. Not for years had there been such a snow in the Pine
Barrens. Red Ben longed for the country he had learned to know so well,
the Ridge, Cranberry Swamp and the edge of Ben Slown’s farm lands. There
he would know just where to dig for mice under the snow, or to hunt for
frozen apples. He stopped every now and then to rest and to flash his
keen, white teeth at the two grays. How he would punish them when the
snow went away!

Suddenly he found that the grays were slinking nearer. They were lighter
than he and could walk much more easily on the snow crust. When he
growled, they growled back. Their sharp teeth and hungry eyes showed
plainly, when they were close. It was two against one, and Red Ben was
no longer the tireless, iron muscled fox which had so often outrun the
hounds. His limbs ached, his empty stomach burned his very heart, his
tail dragged through the snow. And yet he was as proud as ever. He threw
up his head and stood his full height. The grays shrank back, just a few
feet.

They let him plunge further into the woods; their time would come, they
could wait. They had not travelled a long distance and were not yet
weakening from the hunger.

Red Ben felt the ground slope sharply; suddenly he slipped headlong into
the bed of a stream. He knew the grays would come now. If he would only
get up quickly enough to meet them both! With a great struggle he threw
off the masses of loose snow and stood with feet wide apart, waiting.
Every hair stood on end, his big tail waved menacingly, he was for the
moment as formidable and wonderful as ever.

The grays stood cautiously watching. Why did they not give him a chance
to fight? He would show them! But it was not he they were watching. A
shadow was stealing along the stream bed—a shadow like Red Ben’s. He saw
it and whirled around. The shadow stopped. Facing him, at a little
distance, stood a splendid red fox.

Red Ben noted the perfect form, rich fur and fresh look of this
newcomer. Three against one it would be now! The grays waited
expectantly. Red Ben and the new fox looked at each other. None moved.

The wind sighed in the pines overhead and beat brittle oak twigs against
each other. The grays circled suspiciously; something was wrong. Red Ben
watched them out of the corners of his eyes. The wind had brought to him
clearly the scent of the red fox. His nose was telling him more truly
than his eyes that this beautiful creature was the same as the mangy,
wretched little red fox he had once seen in the Barrens months before,
when Ben Slown’s hound had driven him some distance from the Ridge.

He walked slowly towards her. There was no unfriendly snarl at his
approach. Her eyes sparkled; she frisked up to him, shyly, indeed, but
quite as if he were an old friend who had come back after a long
journey. She had not forgotten him. And Red Ben? His big heart began to
pound against his ribs. Long ago, in his loneliness, he had looked for
her—one of his own kind—a red fox like his mother.

He looked around for the two grays; the cowards had already gone, taking
for granted that the newcomer was Red Ben’s mate. Would she be his mate?
How pleasantly different the bleak woods seemed all of a sudden as these
two wandered away together to food stores the pretty she-fox had
collected in times of plenty, just as Red Ben had collected and hidden
the first fish he had found on the beach. First he would follow her,
then she would follow him, and so they broke a new path into the silent
woods.



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                               HOME AGAIN


The great snow stayed in the woods for weeks. All that time and longer
Red Ben and his new found comrade kept near the stream where they had
met. She knew no other home land, and he cared only to be where she was.
On moonlight nights they went hunting together, then hurried back to
romp and play like two big cubs. Red Ben seemed suddenly young again,
carefree, happy beyond words.

When April brought the first flowers and the hum of bees, when the
summer birds began to fill the woods, and all the little animals to go
about with the Spring joy in their hearts, two and two, wherever they
were seen, Red Ben and his little mate started on a journey—a long
night’s journey—to Oak Ridge. Again the longing for home was tugging at
Red Ben. Once started, he could hardly stop an instant to rest.

Just as the sun rose they crossed the log over Goose Creek, trotted up
the old woods path and looked from the Ridge over Ben Slown’s broad
fields, lying so peacefully under the morning mist. Jim Crow’s
“caw—caw—caw,”—all’s well—echoed through the woods quite in the old way.
White Stripe, too, was lumbering along the path just as he had when Red
Ben first saw him and nearly got into trouble. Bun, the big farm rabbit,
passed ahead of the old skunk, and far down the Ridge, Red Ben saw a
possum cautiously shuffling along.

[Illustration: “Holding to a limb with all four feet”]

There was something familiar about the possum. Red Ben watched for a
moment, then playfully pranced to meet him. It was the little possum,
now grown very big and fat, who had been so frightened when Red Ben
tried to play with him. And now, too, he almost went over backwards with
fright and scuttled up the first tree he could find, holding to a limb
with all four feet as if his life depended on it. Poor, scared, little
possum!

Red Ben and his mate did not stop there; they were hunting something
very important, a snug, safe den. They found just what they wanted in a
tumbled down old mill on Goose Creek. Parts of the walls still stood,
but enough big stones had fallen to make a great pile of rock, under
which a burrow was run without much digging. On the top of one of the
walls they could lie in the pleasant sun and look down at the water
rushing by, and at the fish coming up the creek to spawn in the
shallows, where the young ones, when they hatched, would be safe. First
came the long nosed, slim pike, then the fat suckers and last of all the
silver sided herring, hundreds of them, fresh from the ocean.

Here four little fox pups were born—Red Ben’s children. They looked like
him, and like him they were strong and wise and merry. With their
parents keeping guard on the top of the old wall, they could play all
through the long days. Many were the romps they had together, but none
so exciting as those in which Red Ben joined; then all four would pile
on top of him and bury their little noses in his soft fur trying to hold
him down; but somehow he would suddenly roll them all off and go dashing
about the old mill with all of them close at his heels, yelping with
delight.

Care free days were these: indeed, a change had come over the Ridge. Red
Ben had noticed it at once. There were no gun shots, no hounds, no grim
signs of Ben Slown’s work. The farmer had moved away, disgusted with the
place and with his neighbors. His poison baits and traps, set for Red
Ben, his big brute of a hound, all had gotten him into trouble with the
villagers. The foxes had won, Ben Slown had to move.

The man who bought the farm had no use for a gun. He let the fence rows
grow up with weeds and berries for the birds, so that his corn and fruit
would not be disturbed by them. He let the woodchucks and the children
of Bun feed at will in his meadows, and grow so plentiful that no fox
would ever need a chicken for a meal.

Once in a while—very seldom—he would steal into the woods, come, up
wind, towards the old mill and cautiously peep at the little red foxes.
Only Red Ben saw him, and Red Ben seemed to understand. He never gave an
alarm to stop their play.

Year after year Red Ben, with his faithful, pretty mate, raised little
red foxes in the old mill. Year after year he hunted on the Ridge and on
clear nights barked his defiance to any and all the gray foxes of the
Barrens. “Yap, yap, yrrrrrr,” over the farmlands it would echo, and all
the people who heard it would stop their work, or reading, for an
instant to say to each other excitedly, “Listen! The Fox of Oak Ridge!”


                                THE END



                          Transcriber’s Notes


--Copyright notice provided as in the original—this e-text is public
  domain in the country of publication.

--In the text versions, delimited italics text in _underscores_ (the
  HTML version reproduces the font form of the printed book.)

--Silently corrected palpable typos; left non-standard spellings and
  dialect unchanged.





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