| Wild Animals I Have Known|
|by Ernest Thompson Seton|
|A stirring account of the lives of eight wild animals, including Lobo, the king of Currumpaw; Silverspot, the story of a crow; Raggylug, the story of a cottontail rabbit; Bingo, the story of a dog; the Springfield fox; the pacing mustang; Wully, the story of a yaller dog; and Redruff, the story of the Don valley partridge. Ages 11-14 |
THE SPRINGFIELD FOX
HE hens had been mysteriously disappearing for over a month;
and when I came home to Springfield for the summer holidays it
was my duty to find the cause. This was soon done. The fowls
were carried away bodily one at a time, before going to roost or
else after leaving,
which put tramps and neighbors out of court; they were not taken
from the high perches, which cleared all coons and owls; or left
partly eaten, so that weasels, skunks, or minks were not the guilty
ones, and the blame, therefore, was surely left at Reynard's door.
The great pine wood of Erindale was on the other bank of the
river, and on looking
care-  fully about the lower ford I saw a few
fox-tracks and a barred feather from one of our Plymouth Rock
chickens. On climbing the farther bank in search of more clews, I
heard a great outcry of crows behind me, and turning, saw a
number of these birds darting down at something in the ford. A
better view showed that it was the old story, thief catch thief, for
there in the middle of the ford was a fox with something in his
jaws—he was returning from our barnyard with another hen. The
crows, though shameless robbers themselves, are ever first to cry
'Stop thief,' and yet more than ready to take 'hush-money' in the
form of a share in the plunder.
And this was their game now. The fox to get back home must cross
the river, where he was exposed to the full brunt of the crow mob.
He made a dash for it, and would doubtless have gotten across
with his booty had I not joined in the attack, whereupon he
dropped the hen, scarce dead, and disappeared in the woods.
This large and regular levy of provisions wholly carried off could
mean but one thing, a family of little foxes at home; and to find
them I now was bound.
 That evening I went with Ranger, my hound, across the river into
the Erindale woods. As soon as the hound began to circle, we
heard the short, sharp bark of a fox from a thickly wooded ravine
close by. Ranger dashed in at once, struck a hot scent and went off
on a lively straight-away till his voice was lost in the distance away
over the upland.
After nearly an hour he came back, panting and warm, for it was
baking August weather, and lay down at my feet.
But almost immediately the same foxy 'Yap yurrr' was heard close
at hand and off dashed the dog on another chase.
Away he went in the darkness, baying like a foghorn, straight away
to the north. And the loud 'Boo, boo,' became a
low 'oo, oo,' and
that a feeble 'o-o' and then was lost. They must have gone some
miles away, for even with ear to the ground I heard nothing of
them though a mile was easy distance for Ranger's brazen voice.
As I waited in the black woods I heard a sweet sound of dripping
water: 'Tink tank tenk tink, Ta tink tank tenk tonk.'
 I did not know of any spring so near, and in the hot night it was a
glad find. But the sound led me to the bough of an oak-tree, where I
found its source. Such a soft sweet song; full of delightful
suggestion on such a night:
Tonk tank tenk tink
Ta tink a tonk a tank a tink a
Ta ta tink tank ta ta tonk tink
Drink a tank a drink a drunk.
It was the 'water-dripping' song of the saw-whet owl.
But suddenly a deep raucous breathing and a rustle of leaves
showed that Ranger was back. He was completely fagged out. His
tongue hung almost to the ground and was dripping with foam, his
flanks were heaving and spume-flecks dribbled from his breast and
sides. He stopped panting a moment to give my hand a dutiful lick,
then flung himself flop on the leaves to drown all other sounds
with his noisy panting.
But again that tantilizing 'Yap yurrr' was heard a few feet away,
and the meaning of it all dawned on me.
We were close to the den
where the little
 foxes were, and the old ones were taking turns in
trying to lead us away.
It was late night now, so we went home feeling sure that the
problem was nearly solved.
It was well known that there was an old fox with his family living
in the neighborhood, but no one supposed them so near.
This fox had been called 'Scarface,' because of a scar reaching
from his eye through and back of his ear; this was supposed to
have been given him by a barbed-wire fence during a rabbit hunt,
and as the hair came in white after it healed it was always a strong
The winter before I had met with him and had had a sample of his
craftiness. I was out shooting, after a fall of snow, and had crossed
the open fields to the edge of the brushy hollow back of the old
mill. As my head rose to a view of the hollow I caught sight of a
fox trotting at long range down the other side, in line to cross my
course. Instantly I held motionless, and did not even lower or turn
 head lest I should catch his eye by moving, until he went on
out of sight in the thick cover at the bottom. As soon as he was
hidden I bobbed down and ran to head him off where he should
leave the cover on the other side, and was there in good time
awaiting, but no fox came forth. A careful look showed the fresh
track of a fox that had bounded from the cover, and following it
with my eye I saw old Scarface himself far out of range behind me,
sitting on his haunches and grinning as though much amused.
A study of the trail made all clear. He had seen me at the moment I
saw him, but he, also like a true hunter, had concealed the fact,
putting on an air of unconcern till out of sight, when he had run for
his life around behind me and amused himself by watching my stillborn trick.
In the springtime I had yet another instance of Scarface's cunning.
I was walking with a friend along the road over the high pasture.
We passed within thirty feet of a ridge on which were several gray
and brown bowlders. When at the nearest point my friend said:
 "Stone number three looks to me very much like a fox curled up."
But I could not see it, and we passed. We had not gone many yards
farther when the wind blew on this boulder as on fur.
My friend said, "I am sure that is a fox, lying asleep."
"We'll soon settle that," I replied, and turned back, but as soon as I
had taken one step from the road, up jumped Scarface, for it was
he, and ran. A fire had swept the middle of the pasture, leaving a
broad belt of black; over this he skurried till he came to the
unburnt yellow grass again, where he squatted down and was lost
to view. He had been watching us all the time, and would not have
moved had we kept to the road. The wonderful part of this is, not
that he resembled the round stones and dry grass, but that he knew
he did, and was ready to profit by it.
We soon found that it was Scarface and his wife Vixen that had
made our woods their home and our barnyard their base of
Next morning a search in the pines showed a great bank of earth
that had been scratched
 up within a few months. It must have
come from a hole, and yet there was none to be seen. It is well
known that a really cute fox, on digging a new den, brings all the
earth out at the first hole made, but carries on a tunnel into some
distant thicket. Then closing up for good the first made and too
well-marked door, uses only the entrance hidden in the thicket.
So after a little search at the other side of a knoll, I found the real
entry and good proof that there was a nest of little foxes inside.
Rising above the brush on the hillside was a great hollow
basswood. It leaned a good deal and had a large hole at the bottom,
and a smaller one at top.
We boys had often used this tree in playing Swiss Family
Robinson, and by cutting steps in its soft punky walls had made it
easy to go up and down in the hollow. Now it came in handy, for
next day when the sun was warm I went there to watch, and from
this perch on the roof, I soon saw the interesting family that lived
in the cellar near by. There were four little foxes; they looked
curiously like little lambs, with their woolly coats, their long thick
in-  nocent expressions, and yet a second glance at their
broad, sharp-nosed, sharp-eyed visages showed that each of these
innocents was the makings of a crafty old fox.
They played about, basking in the sun, or wrestling with each other
till a slight sound made them skurry under ground. But their alarm
was needless, for the cause of it was their mother; she stepped
from the bushes bringing another hen—number seventeen as I
remember. A low call from her and the little fellows came
tumbling out. Then began a scene that I thought charming, but
which my uncle would not have enjoyed at all.
They rushed on the hen, and tussled and fought with it, and each
other, while the mother, keeping a sharp eye for enemies, looked
on with fond delight. The expression on her face was remarkable.
It was first a grinning of delight, but her usual look of wildness and
cunning was there, nor were cruelty and nervousness lacking, but
over all was the unmistakable look of the mother's pride and love.
They Tussled and Fought while their Mother Looked on with Fond Delight
The base of my tree was hidden in bushes and much lower than the
knoll where the den
 was. So I could come and go at will without
scaring the foxes.
For many days I went there and saw much of the training of the
young ones. They early learned to turn to statuettes at any strange sound,
and then on hearing it again or finding other cause for fear, to run
Some animals have so much mother-love that it overflows and
benefits outsiders. Not so old Vixen it would seem. Her pleasure in
the cubs led to most refined cruelty. For she often brought home to
them mice and birds alive, and with diabolic gentleness would
avoid doing them serious hurt so that the cubs might have larger
scope to torment them.
There was a woodchuck that lived over in the hill orchard. He was
neither handsome nor interesting, but he knew how to take care of
himself. He had digged a den between the roots of an old pine stump,
so that the foxes could not follow him by digging. But hard work
was not their way of life; wits they believed worth more than
elbow-grease. This woodchuck usually sunned himself on the
stump each morning. If he saw a fox near he went
 down in the
door of his den, or if the enemy was very near he went inside and
stayed long enough for the danger to pass.
One morning Vixen and her mate seemed to decide that it was
time the children knew something about the broad subject of
Woodchucks, and further that this orchard woodchuck would serve
nicely for an object-lesson. So they went together to the
orchard-fence unseen by old Chuckie on his stump. Scarface then
showed himself in the orchard and quietly walked in a line so as to
pass by the stump at a distance, but never once turned his head or
allowed the ever-watchful woodchuck to think himself seen. When
the fox entered the field the woodchuck quietly dropped down to
the mouth of his den: here he waited as the fox passed, but
concluding that after all wisdom is the better part, went into his
This was what the foxes wanted. Vixen had kept out of sight, but
now ran swiftly to the stump and hid behind it. Scarface had kept
straight on, going very slowly. The woodchuck had not been
frightened, so before long his head popped up between the roots
and he looked
 around. There was that fox still going on, farther
and farther away. The woodchuck grew bold as the fox went, and
came out farther, and then seeing the coast clear, he scrambled
onto the stump, and with one spring Vixen had him and shook him
till he lay senseless. Scarface had watched out of the corner of his
eye and now came running back. But Vixen took the chuck in her
jaws and made for the den, so he saw he wasn't needed.
Back to the den came Vix, and carried the chuck so carefully that
he was able to struggle a little when she got there. A low 'woof' at
the den brought the little fellows out like schoolboys to play. She
threw the wounded animal to them and they set on him like four
little furies, uttering little growls and biting little bites with all the
strength of their baby jaws, but the woodchuck fought for his life
and beating them off slowly hobbled to the shelter of a thicket.
The little ones pursued like a pack of hounds and dragged at his
tail and flanks, but could not hold him back. So Vixen overtook
him with a couple of bounds and dragged him again into the open
for the children to worry.
 Again and again this rough sport went on
till one of the little ones was badly bitten, and his squeal of pain
roused Vix to end the woodchuck's misery and serve him up at
Not far from the den was a hollow overgrown with coarse grass,
the playground of a colony of field-mice. The earliest lesson in
woodcraft that the little ones took, away from the den, was in this
hollow. Here they had their first course of mice, the easiest of all
game. In teaching, the main thing was example, aided by a
deep-set instinct. The old fox, also, had one or two signs meaning
"lie still and watch," "come, do as I do," and so on, that were much
So the merry lot went to this hollow one calm evening and Mother
Fox made them lie still in the grass. Presently a faint squeak
showed that the game was astir. Vix rose up and went on tip-toe
into the grass—not crouching but as high as she could stand,
sometimes on her hind legs so as to get a better view. The runs that
the mice follow are hidden under the grass tangle, and the only
way to know the whereabouts of a mouse is by seeing the slight
 shaking of the grass, which is the reason why mice are hunted only
on calm days.
Vix Shows the Cubs how to Catch Mice
And the trick is to locate the mouse and seize him first and see him
afterward. Vix soon made a spring, and in the middle of the bunch
of dead grass that she grabbed was a field-mouse squeaking his
He was soon gobbled, and the four awkward little foxes tried to do
the same as their mother, and when at length the eldest for the first
time in his life caught game, he quivered with excitement and
ground his pearly little milk-teeth into the mouse with a rush of
inborn savageness that must have surprised even himself.
Another home lesson was on the red-squirrel. One of these noisy,
vulgar creatures, lived close by and used to waste part of each day
scolding the foxes, from some safe perch. The cubs made many
vain attempts to catch him as he ran across their glade from one
tree to another, or spluttered and scolded at them a foot or so out
of reach. But old Vixen was up in natural history—she knew
squirrel nature and took the case in hand when the proper time
came. She hid the children and lay down flat
 in the middle of the
open glade. The saucy low-minded squirrel came and scolded as
usual. But she moved no hair. He came nearer and at last right overhead
"You brute you, you brute you."
But Vix lay as dead. This was very perplexing, so the squirrel
came down the trunk and peeping about made a nervous dash
across the grass, to another tree, again to scold from a safe perch.
"You brute you, you useless brute, scarrr-scarrrr."
But flat and lifeless on the grass lay Vix.
This was most tantalizing
to the squirrel. He was naturally curious and disposed to be
venturesome, so again he came to the ground and skurried across
the glade nearer than before.
Still as death lay Vix, "surely she was
dead." And the little foxes began to wonder if their mother wasn't
But the squirrel was working himself into a little craze of
foolhardy curiosity. He had dropped a piece of bark on Vix's head,
he had used up his list of bad words and he had done it all over
again, without getting a sign of life.
 So after a couple more dashes
across the glade he ventured within a few feet of the really
watchful Vix, who sprang to her feet and pinned him in a
"And the little ones picked the bones e-oh."
Thus the rudiments of their education were laid, and afterward as
they grew stronger they were taken farther afield to begin the
higher branches of trailing and scenting.
For each kind of prey they were taught a way to hunt, for every
animal has some great strength or it could not live, and some great
weakness or the others could not live. The squirrel's weakness was
foolish curiosity; the fox's that he can't climb a tree. And the
training of the little foxes was all shaped to take advantage of the
weakness of the other creatures and to make up for their own by
defter play where they are strong.
From their parents they learned the chief axioms of the fox world.
How, is not easy to say. But that they learned this in company with
their parents was clear.
Here are some that foxes taught me, without saying a word: —
Never sleep on your straight track.
 Your nose is before your eyes, then trust it first.
A fool runs down the wind.
Running rills cure many ills.
Never take the open if you can keep the cover.
Never leave a straight trail if a crooked one will do.
If it's strange, it's hostile.
Dust and water burn the scent.
Never hunt mice in a rabbit-woods, or rabbits in a henyard.
Keep off the grass.
Inklings of the meanings of these were already entering the little
ones' minds—thus, 'Never follow what you can't smell,' was wise,
they could see, because if you can't smell it, then the wind is so
that it must smell you.
One by one they learned the birds and beasts of their home woods,
and then as they were able to go abroad with their parents they
learned new animals. They were beginning to think they knew the
scent of everything that moved. But one night the mother took
them to a field where there was a strange black flat thing on the
 ground. She brought them on purpose to smell it, but at the first
whiff their every hair stood on end, they trembled, they knew not
why—it seemed to tingle through their blood and fill them with
instinctive hate and fear.
And when she saw its full effect she told them—
"That is man-scent."
Meanwhile the hens continued to disappear. I had not betrayed the
den of cubs. Indeed, I thought a good deal more of the little rascals
than I did of the hens; but uncle was dreadfully wrought up and
made most disparaging remarks about my woodcraft. To please
him I one day took the hound across to the woods and seating
myself on a stump on the open hillside, I bade the dog go on.
Within three minutes he sang out in the tongue all hunters know so
well, "Fox! fox! fox! straight away down the valley."
After awhile I heard them coming back. There I saw the
fox—Scarface—loping lightly across the river-bottom to the stream.
 went and trotted along in the shallow water near the margin
for two hundred yards, then came out straight toward me. Though
in full view, he saw me not but came up the hill watching over his
shoulder for the hound. Within ten feet of me he turned and sat
with his back to me while he craned his neck and showed an eager
interest in the doings of the hound. Ranger came bawling along the
trail till he came to the running water, the killer of scent, and here
he was puzzled; but there was only one thing to do; that was by
going up and down both banks find where the fox had left the
The fox before me shifted his position a little to get a better view
and watched with a most human interest all the circling of the
hound. He was so close that I saw the hair of his shoulder bristle a
little when the dog came in sight. I could see the jumping of his
heart on his ribs, and the gleam of his yellow eye. When the dog
was wholly baulked by the water trick, it was comical to see:—he
could not sit still, but rocked up and down in glee, and reared on
his hind feet to get a better view of the
slow-plod-  ding hound. With
mouth opened nearly to his ears, though not at all winded, he
panted noisily for a moment, or rather he laughed gleefully, just as
a dog laughs by grinning and panting.
Old Scarface wriggled in huge enjoyment as the hound puzzled
over the trail so long that when he did find it, it was so stale he
could barely follow it, and did not feel justified in tonguing on it at
As soon as the hound was working up the hill, the fox quietly went
into the woods. I had been sitting in plain view only ten feet away,
but I had the wind and kept still and the fox never knew that his
life had for twenty minutes been in the power of the foe he most
Ranger also would have passed me as near as the fox, but I spoke
to him, and with a little nervous start he quit the trail and looking
sheepish lay down by my feet.
This little comedy was played with variations for several days, but
it was all in plain view from the house across the river. My uncle,
impatient at the daily loss of hens, went out himself, sat on the
open knoll, and when old
Scar-  face trotted to his lookout to watch
the dull hound on the river flat below, my uncle remorselessly shot
him in the back, at the very moment when he was grinning over a
But still the hens were disappearing. My uncle was wrathy. He
determined to conduct the war himself, and sowed the woods with
poison baits, trusting to luck that our own dogs would not get
them. He indulged in contemptuous remarks on my by-gone
woodcraft, and went out evenings with a gun and the two dogs, to
see what he could destroy,
Vix knew right well what a poisoned bait was; she passed them by
or else treated them with active contempt, but one she dropped
down the hole of an old enemy, a skunk, who was never afterward
seen. Formerly old Scarface was always ready to take charge of the
dogs, and keep them out of mischief. But now that Vix had the
whole burden of the brood, she could no longer spend time in
breaking every track to the den, and was not always at hand
 to meet and mislead the foes that might be coming too near.
The end is easily foreseen. Ranger followed a hot trail to the den,
and Spot, the fox-terrier, announced that the family was at home,
and then did his best to go in after them.
The whole secret was now out, and the whole family doomed. The
hired man came around with pick and shovel to dig them out,
while we and the dogs stood by. Old Vix soon showed herself in
the near woods, and
led the dogs away off down the river, where she shook them off
when she thought proper, by the simple device of springing on a
sheep's back. The frightened animal ran for several hundred yards,
then Vix got off, knowing that there was now a hopeless gap in the
scent, and returned to the den. But the dogs, baffled by the break in
the trail, soon did the same, to find Vix hanging about in despair.
vainly trying to decoy us away from her treasures.
Meanwhile Paddy plied both pick and shovel with vigor and effect.
The yellow, gravelly sand was heaping on both sides, and the
shoulders of the sturdy digger were sinking below the level.
an hour's digging, enlivened by frantic rushes of the dogs after the
old fox, who hovered near in the woods, Pat called:
"Here they are, sor!"
It was the den at the end of the burrow, and cowering as far back
as they could, were the four little woolly cubs.
Before I could interfere, a murderous blow from the shovel, and a
sudden rush for the fierce little terrier, ended the lives of three.
The fourth and smallest was barely saved by holding him by his
tail high out of reach of the excited dogs.
He gave one short squeal, and his poor mother came at the cry, and
circled so near that she would have been shot but for the accidental
protection of the dogs, who somehow always seemed to get
between, and whom she once more led away on a fruitless chase.
The little one saved alive was dropped into a bag, where he lay
quite still. His unfortunate brothers were thrown back into their
nursery bed, and buried under a few shovelfuls of earth.
We guilty ones then went back into the house, and the little fox
was soon chained in
 the yard. No one knew just why he was kept
alive, but in all a change of feeling had set in, and the idea of
killing him was without a supporter.
He was a pretty little fellow, like a cross between a fox and a lamb.
His woolly visage and form were strangely lamb-like and innocent,
but one could find in his yellow eyes a gleam of cunning and
savageness as unlamb-like as it possibly could be.
As long as anyone was near he crouched sullen and cowed in his
shelter-box, and it was a full hour after being left alone before he
ventured to look out.
My window now took the place of the hollow basswood. A
number of hens of the breed he knew so well were about the cub in
the yard. Late that afternoon as they strayed near the captive there
was a sudden rattle of the chain, and the youngster dashed at the
nearest one and would have caught him but for the chain which
brought him up with a jerk. He got on his feet and slunk back to
his box, and though he afterward made several rushes he so gauged
his leap as to win or fail within the
 length of the chain and never
again was brought up by its cruel jerk.
As night came down the little fellow became very uneasy,
sneaking out of his box, but going back at each slight alarm,
tugging at his chain, or at times biting it in fury while he held it
down with his fore paws. Suddenly he paused as though listening,
then raising his little black nose he poured out a short quavering
Once or twice this was repeated, the time between being
occupied in worrying the chain and running about. Then an answer
came. The far-away Yap-yurrr of the old fox. A few minutes later a
shadowy form appeared on the wood-pile. The little one slunk into
his box, but at once returned and ran to meet his mother with all
the gladness that a fox could show. Quick as a flash she seized him
and turned to bear him away by the road she came. But the
moment the end of the chain was reached the cub was rudely
jerked from the old one's mouth, and she, scared by the opening of
a window, fled over the wood-pile.
An hour afterward the cub had ceased to run about or cry. I peeped
out, and by the light
 of the moon saw the form of the mother at full
length on the ground by the little one, gnawing at something—the
clank of iron told what, it was that cruel chain. And Tip, the little
one, meanwhile was helping himself to a warm drink.
On my going out she fled into the dark woods, but there by the
shelter-box were two little mice, bloody and still warm, food for
the cub brought by the devoted mother. And in the morning I
found the chain was very bright for a foot or two next the little
On walking across the woods to the ruined den, I again found signs
of Vixen. The poor heart-broken mother had come and dug out the
bedraggled bodies of her little ones.
There lay the three little baby foxes all licked smooth now, and by
them were two of our hens fresh killed. The newly heaved earth
was printed all over with tell-tale signs—signs that told me that here
by the side of her dead she had watched like Rizpah. Here she had
brought their usual meal, the spoil of her nightly hunt. Here she
had stretched herself beside them and vainly offered them their
 drink and yearned to feed and warm them as of old; but
only stiff little bodies under their soft wool she found, and little
cold noses still and unresponsive.
A deep impress of elbows, breasts, and hocks showed where she
had laid in silent grief and watched them for long and mourned as
a wild mother can mourn for its young. But from that time she
came no more to the ruined den, for now she surely knew that her
little ones were dead.
There she had Lain and Mourned
Tip the captive, the weakling of the brood,
was now the heir to all her love. The dogs were loosed to guard
the hens. The hired man had orders to shoot the old fox on
sight—so had I, but was resolved never to see her. Chicken-heads,
that a fox loves and a dog will not touch, had been poisoned and
scattered through the woods; and the only way to the yard where
Tip was tied, was by climbing the wood-pile after braving all other
And yet each night old Vix was there to nurse her
 baby and bring it
fresh-killed hens and game. Again and again I saw her, although
she came now without awaiting the querulous cry of the captive.
The second night of the captivity I heard the rattle of the chain,
and then made out that the old fox was there, hard at work digging
a hole by the little one's kennel. When it was deep enough to half
bury her, she gathered into it all the slack of the chain, and filled it
again with earth. Then in triumph thinking she had gotten rid of
the chain, she seized little Tip by the neck and turned to dash off
up the wood-pile, but alas only to have him jerked roughly from
Poor little fellow, he whimpered sadly as he crawled into his box.
After half an hour there was a great outcry among the dogs, and
by their straight-away tonguing through the far wood I knew they
were chasing Vix. Away up north they went in the direction of the
railway and their noise faded from hearing. Next morning the
hound had not come back. We soon knew why. Foxes long ago
learned what a railroad is; they soon devised several ways of
 to account. One way is when hunted to walk the rails for
a long distance just before a train comes. The scent, always poor
on iron, is destroyed by the train and there is always a chance of
hounds being killed by the engine. But another way more sure, but
harder to play, is to lead the hounds straight to a high trestle just
ahead of the train, so that the engine overtakes them on it and they
are surely dashed to destruction.
This trick was skilfully played, and down below we found the
mangled remains of old Ranger and learned that Vix was already
wreaking her revenge.
That same night she returned to the yard before Spot's weary limbs
could bring him back and killed another hen and brought it to Tip,
and stretched her panting length beside him that he might quench
his thirst. For she seemed to think he had no food but what she
It was that hen that betrayed to my uncle the nightly visits.
My own sympathies were all turning to Vix, and I would have no
hand in planning further
 murders. Next night my uncle himself
watched, gun in hand, for an hour. Then when it became cold and
the moon clouded over he remembered other important business
elsewhere, and left Paddy in his place.
But Paddy was "onaisy" as the stillness and anxiety of watching
worked on his nerves. And the loud bang! bang! an hour later left
us sure only that powder had been burned.
In the morning we found Vix had not failed her young one. Again
next night found my uncle on guard, for another hen had been
taken. Soon after dark a single shot was heard, but Vix dropped the
game she was bringing and escaped. Another attempt made that
night called forth another gun-shot. Yet next day it was seen by the
brightness of the chain that she had come again and vainly tried for
hours to cut that hateful bond.
Such courage and stanch fidelity were bound to win respect, if not
toleration. At any rate, there was no gunner in wait next night,
when all was still. Could it be of any use? Driven off thrice with
gun-shots, would she make another try to feed or free her captive
 Would she? Hers was a mother's love. There was
but one to watch them this time, the fourth night, when the
quavering whine of the little one was followed by that shadowy
form above the wood-pile.
But carrying no fowl or food that could be seen. Had the keen
huntress failed at last? Had she no head of game for this her only
charge, or had she learned to trust his captors for his food?
No, far from all this. The wild-wood mother's heart and hate were
true. Her only thought had been to set him free. All means she
knew she tried, and every danger braved to tend him well and help
him to be free. But all had failed.
Like a shadow she came and in a moment was gone, and Tip
seized on something dropped, and crunched and chewed with
relish what she brought. But even as he ate, a knife-like pang shot
through and a scream of pain escaped him. Then there was a
momentary struggle and the little fox was dead.
The mother's love was strong in Vix, but a higher thought was
stronger. She knew right
 well the poison's power; she knew the
poison bait, and would have taught him had he lived to know and
shun it too. But now at last when she must choose for him a
wretched prisoner's life or sudden death, she quenched the mother
in her breast and freed him by the one remaining door.
It is when the snow is on the ground that we take the census of the
woods, and when the winter came it told me that Vix no longer
roamed the woods of Erindale. Where she went it never told, but
only this, that she was gone.
Gone, perhaps, to some other far-off haunt to leave behind the sad
remembrance of her murdered little ones and mate. Or gone, may
be, deliberately, from the scene of a sorrowful life, as many a
wild-wood mother has gone, by the means that she herself had
used to free her young one, the last of all her brood.
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