| Among the Night People|
|by Clara Dillingham Pierson|
|Stories of animals of the night for young children, relating the activities of raccoons, skunks, moths, foxes, fireflies, and weasels. Since we can't understand animal language, the author depicts the animals talking to each other in English, but she does it so skillfully that you can imagine that they are using their own ways of communicating through voice and gesture. Ages 5-7 |
THE GREEDY RED FOX
HE Red Fox had been well brought up. His mother was a
most cautious person and devoted to her children. When
he did things which were wrong, he could never excuse
himself by saying that he did not know better. Of
course it is possible that he was like his father in
being so reckless, yet none of his two brothers and
three sisters were like him. They did not remember
their father. In fact, they had never seen him, and
their mother seldom spoke of him.
His mother had taken all the care of her six children,
even pulling fur from her own belly to make a soft nest
covering for them when they were first born. They were
such helpless babies. Their
 eyes and ears were closed for some time, and all they
could do was to tumble each other around and drink the
warm milk that their mother had for them.
They had three burrows to live in, all of them in an
open field between the forest and the farmhouse.
Sometimes they lived in the first, sometimes in the
second, and sometimes in the third. One night when
their mother went out to hunt, she smelled along the
ground near the burrow and then came back. "There has
been a man near here," she said, "and I shall take you
That excited the little Foxes very much, and each
wanted to be the first to go, but she hushed them up,
and said that if they talked so loudly as that some man
might catch them before they moved, and then—.
She said nothing more, yet they knew from the way she
moved her tail that it would be dreadful to have a man
 While she was carrying them to another burrow one at a
time, those who were left behind talked about men. "I
wish I knew why men are so dreadful," said the first.
"It must be because they have very big mouths and sharp
"I wonder what color their fur is," said another.
Now these young Foxes had seen nobody but their mother.
If she had not told them that different animals wore
different colored furs, they would have thought that
everybody looked just like her, with long
reddish-yellow fur and that on the hinder part of the
back quite grizzled; throat, belly and the tip of the
tail white, and the outside of the ears black. They
were very sure, however, that no other animal had such
a wonderful tail as she, with each of its long, reddish
hairs tipped with black and the beautiful brush of pure
white at the end. In fact, she had told them so.
 The next time their mother came back, the four children
who were still there cried out, "Please tell us, what
color is a man's fur?"
She was a sensible and prudent Fox, and knew it was
much more important to keep her children from being
caught than it was to answer all their questions at
once. Besides, she already had one child in her mouth
when they finished their question, and she would not
put him down for the sake of talking. And that also
was right, you know, for one can talk at any time, but
the time to do work is just when it needs to be done.
After they were snugly settled in the other burrow, she
lay down to feed them, and while they were drinking
their milk she told them about men. "Men," she said,
"are the most dreadful animals there are. Other
animals will not trouble you unless they are hungry,
but a man will chase you even when his stomach is full.
 They have four legs, of course,—all animals
have,—but they use only two to walk upon. Their
front legs they use for carrying things. We carry with
our mouths, yet the only thing I ever saw a man have in
his mouth was a short brown stick that was afire at one
end. I thought it very silly, for
breathing some of the smoke, and he let the stick burn
up and then threw the fire away. However, men are
exceedingly silly animals."
One of the little Red Foxes stopped drinking long
enough to say, "You
didn't tell us what color their fur
"The only fur they have," said Mother Fox, "is on their
heads. They usually have fur on the top and back parts
of their heads, and some of them have a little on the
lower part of their faces. They may have black, red,
brown, gray, or white fur. It is never spotted."
The children would have liked to ask more questions,
but Mother Fox had eaten
 nothing since the night before, and was in a hurry to
begin her hunt.
One could never tell all that happened to the little
Red Foxes. They moved from burrow to burrow many
times; they learned to eat meat which their mother
brought them instead of drinking milk from her body,
they frolicked together near the doorway of their home,
and while they did this their mother watched from the
edge of the forest, ready to warn them if she saw men
or dogs coming.
She had chosen to dig her burrows in the middle of a
field, because then there was no chance for men or Dogs
to sneak up to them unseen, as there would have been in
the forest, yet she feared that her children would be
playing so hard that they might forget to watch. They
slept most of the day, and at night they were always
awake. When they were old enough, they began to hunt
for themselves. Mother Fox gave them a great deal of
 good advice and then paid no more attention to them.
After that, she took her naps on a sunny hillside,
lying in a beautiful soft reddish-yellow bunch, with
her bushy tail curled around to keep her feet warm and
shade her eyes from the light.
The six brothers and sisters seldom saw each other
after this. Foxes succeed better in life if they live
alone, and of course they wanted to succeed. The
eldest brother was the reckless one. His mother had
done her best by him, and still he was reckless. He
knew by heart all the rules that she had taught him,
but he did not keep them. These were the rules:
"Always run on hard, dry things when you can. Soft,
wet places take more scent from your feet, and Dogs can
follow your trail better on them.
"Never go into any place unless you are sure you can
"Keep your tail dry. A Fox with a wet tail cannot run
 "If Dogs are chasing you, jump on to a rail fence and
run along the top of it or walk in a brook.
"Always be willing to work for your food. That which
you find all ready and waiting for you may be the bait
of a trap.
"Always walk when you are hunting. The Fox who trots
will pass by that which he should find."
For a while he said them over to himself every night
when he started out. Then he began to skip a night
once in a while. Next he got to saying them only when
he had been frightened the day before. After that he
stopped saying them altogether. "I am a full-grown Fox
now," he said to himself, "and such things are only
good for children. I guess I know how to take care of
He often went toward the farmhouse to hunt, sometimes
for grapes, sometimes for vegetables, and sometimes for
heartier food. Collie had chased him away, but
 Collie was growing old and fat and had to hang his
tongue out when he ran, so the Red Fox thought it only
fun. He trotted along in the moonlight, his light,
slender body seeming to almost float over the ground,
and his beautiful tail held straight out behind. His
short, slender legs were strong and did not tire
easily, and as long as he could keep his tail dry he
outran Collie easily. Sometimes he would get far ahead
and sit down to wait for him. Then he would call out
saucy things to the panting Dog, and only start on when
Collie's nose had almost touched him.
"Fine evening!" he once said. "Hope your nose works
better than your legs do."
That was a mean thing to say, you know, but Collie
always kept his temper and only answered,
"It's sweating finely, thank you." He answered that way
because it is the sweat on a Dog's nose which makes it
possible for him to smell
 and follow scents which dry-nosed people do not even
Then the Fox gave a long, light leap, and was off
again, and Collie had to lie down to breathe. "I
think," said he, "that I can tend Sheep better than I
can chase Foxes—and it is a good deal easier."
didn't like to be beaten and he lay awake
the rest of the night thinking how he would enjoy
catching that Fox. Every little while he heard the Red
Fox barking off in the fields, and it made him twitch
his tail with impatience.
Now the Red Fox was walking carefully toward the
farmhouse and planning to catch a Turkey. He had
watched the flocks of Turkeys all afternoon from his
sleeping-place on the hillside. Every time he opened
his eyes between naps he had looked at them as they
walked to and fro in the fields, talking to each other
in their gentle, complaining voices and
mov-  ing their heads back and forth at every step. If his
stomach had not been so full he would have tried to
catch one then. He made up his mind to try it that
night, and decided that he would rather have the plump,
light-colored one than any of her darker sisters. He
did not even think of catching the old Gobbler, for he
was so big and strong and fierce-looking. He had just
begun to walk with the Turkey mothers and children.
During the summer they had had nothing to do with each
When the Red Fox reached the farmyard, he found them
roosting on the low branches of an apple-tree. A long
board had been placed against it to let the Chickens
walk up. Now the Chickens were in the Hen-house, but
the board was still there. The Red Fox looked all
around. It was a starlight night. The farmhouse was
dark and quiet. Collie was nowhere to be seen. Once
 a Horse stamp in his sleep. Then all was still again.
The Red Fox walked softly up the slanting board. The
Gobbler stirred. The Red Fox stopped with one foot in
the air. When he thought him fast asleep he went on.
The Gobbler stirred again and so did the others. The
Red Fox sprang for the plump, light-colored one. She
jumped also, and with the others flew far up to the top
of the barn. The Red Fox ran down the board with five
buff tail-feathers in his mouth. He was much out of
patience with himself. "If I
hadn't stopped to pick
for her," he said, "I could have caught one of the
others easily enough."
He sneaked around in the shadows to see if the noise
made by the turkeys had awakened the farmer or Collie.
The farmhouse was still and dark. Collie was not at
home. "I will look at the Hen-house," said the Red
 He walked slowly and carefully to the Hen-house. The
big door was closed and bolted. He walked all around
and into the poultry yard. There was a small opening
through which the fowls could pass in and out. The Red
Fox managed to crawl through,
but it was not
easy. It squeezed his body and crushed his fur. He
had to push very hard with his hind feet to get through
at all. When he was inside it took him some time to
get his breath. "That's the tightest place I ever was
in," said he softly, "but I always could crawl through
a very small hole."
He found the fowls all roosting too high for him.
Perhaps if the Hen-house had been larger, he might have
leaped and caught one, but there was not room for one
of his finest springs. He went to the nests and found
many eggs there. These he broke and ate. They ran
down in yellow streams from the corners of his
 mouth and made his long fur very sticky. You can just
imagine how hard it would be to eat raw eggs from the
shell with only your paws in which to hold them.
One egg was light and slippery. He bit hard to break
that one, and when it broke it was hollow. Not a drop
of anything to eat in it, and then it cut his lip a
little, too, so that he could not eat more without its
hurting. He jumped and said something when he was cut.
The Shanghai Cock, who was awakened by the noise, said
that he exclaimed, "Brambles and traps!" but it may not
have been anything so bad as that. We will hope it was
The Shanghai Cock awakened all the other fowls. "Don't
fly off your perch!" he cried. "Stay where you are!
Stay where you are!
STAY WHERE YOU ARE!" The other Cocks kept saying "Eru-u-u-u," as
they do when Hawks are near. The Hens squawked and
 squawked until they were out of breath. When they got
their breath they squawked some more.
The Red Fox knew that it was time for him to go. The
farmer would be sure to hear the noise. He put his
head out of the hole through which he had come in, and
he pushed as hard as he could with his hind feet and
scrambled with his fore feet. His fur was crushed
worse than ever, and he was squeezed so tightly that he
could hardly breathe. You see it had been all he could
do to get in through the hole, and now he had nine eggs
in his stomach (excepting what had run down at the
corners of his mouth), and he was too large to pass
The fowls saw what was the matter, and wanted to laugh.
They thought it was very funny, and yet the sooner he
could get away the better they would like it. The Red
Fox had his head outside and saw a light flash in the
farmer's room. Then he
 heard doors open, and the farmer came toward the
Hen-house with a lantern in his hand. Collie came
trotting around the corner of the house. The Red Fox
made one last desperate struggle and then lay still.
When the farmer picked him up and tied a rope around
his neck, he had to pull him backward into the
Hen-house to do it. The Red Fox was very quiet and
gentle, as people of his family always are when caught.
Collie pranced around on two legs and barked as loudly
as he could. The fowls blinked their round yellow eyes
in the lantern light, and the farmer's man ran out for
an empty Chicken-coop into which to put the Red Fox.
Collie was usually quite polite, but he had not
forgotten how rude the Red Fox had been to him, and it
was a fine chance to get even.
"Good evening!" he barked. "Oh, good
I'm glad you came. Don't
 think you must be going. Excuse me, but your mouth
worked better than your legs,
The Red Fox shut his eyes and pretended not to hear.
The dirt from the floor of the Hen-house had stuck to
his egg-covered fur, and he looked very badly. They
put him in a Chicken-coop with a board floor, so that
couldn't burrow out, and he curled down in a little
heap and hid his face with his tail. Collie hung
around for a while and then went off to sleep. After
he was gone, the Red Fox cleaned his fur. "I got
caught this time," he said, "but it won't happen again.
Now I must watch for a chance to get away. It will
It did come. But that is another story.
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